BLOG 2012 Q3

California, September 2012. Photo: LP


Kingsley Amis
rarely had a kind word
to say about his son
Martin's work

New Scientist

A tiny dot in space beyond Jupiter will shine bright in late 2013. The International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center announced a new comet yesterday after astronomers at the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) in Russia discovered it in September.

Comet ISON will be 1.4 Gm from the Sun on 28-29 November 2013. Its orbit suggests it is fresh from the Oort cloud. Its solar fly-by should vaporize its ice shell to release dust and give it a bright tail. It will fade in the Sun's glare but become easier to spot as it heads back toward the outer solar system. By 9 December it should be about as bright as Polaris, the North Star.


Sex is better for your happiness than money. Researchers say increasing sex from once a month to once a week is equivalent to the happiness generated by an extra $50,000 income for the average American.

The National Bureau of Economic Research puts dollar amounts on the happiness resulting from sex and its trappings. The happiest folks are married people, who report 30% more sex than singles. A lasting marriage equates to an extra $100,000 each year. Divorce has a happiness cost of $66,000 annually.

2012 September 30

Showdown With Iran
The Week

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu urges President Obama to draw a red line for Iran. Without it, the Islamic Republic will likely be within reach of a nuclear bomb in early 2013. Obama administration officials say Tehran will need at least a year to gather the enriched uranium, and even longer to weaponize it. Signs that time is running out:

1 Iran is getting more belligerent. Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops are now on the ground in Syria.

2 Iran accuses IAEA inspectors of being infiltrated by "terrorists and saboteurs" who used explosives to knock out power to a uranium enrichment facility.

3 The West is gathering an armada in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. Navy and others are massing warships to secure the oil lanes through the Strait of Hormuz.

4 Diplomacy is going nowhere. The former U.S. ambassador to Israel: "I am afraid that 2013 is going to be a year in which we're going to have a military confrontation with Iran."

2012 September 29

Governing The World
Paul Kennedy

Mark Mazower argues that the grand idea of governing the world as we know it is coming to an end. The United States use of the UN is subject to veto by Russia and China, mobs riot outside foreign embassies, and American neoconservatives celebrate the death of the UN. One can hope that the move to greater internationalism will not stop, because our present disorganized and disrupted world condition is not sustainable. But world affairs may have to get even worse before the idea moves forward again.

Israel's Red Line
Financial Times

Benjamin Netanyahu warns that Israel may take military action against Iran. His government had warned that it could launch a strike before November. In his speech at the UN, Netanyahu said Iran will cross a red line next summer. That would trigger a military strike. So the October surprise is off the menu.

Concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran are legitimate, but an Israeli attack is not warranted while there is still time for diplomacy and sanctions. The threat of an air strike in 2012 was premature. Adopting the new red line now would most likely be counterproductive. A diplomatic settlement should be our goal.

Israel Versus Iran
Mark Perry

Israeli has three options for attacking Iran:

1 Israeli commandos storm Iran's Fordow nuclear facility, remove as much enriched uranium as they can, and plant explosives to destroy the facility as they leave.

2 Israel bombs nuclear sites and strikes with sub-launched cruise missiles and Jericho missiles. Israel has a single shot at destroying Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

3 Israelis remove the Iranian leadership. This triggers an Iranian response targeting U.S. military assets in the region and gets the United States involved.

>>> Further options in detail

2012 September 28

Google Now
Tom Simonite

Google Now is Google's vision of how a smartphone can become a trusted assistant. It doesn't have a pretend personality but appears as a familiar search box. It can take voice commands or requests for information and responds with speech. It combines the data it collects on you with clues about your life sifted from Web searches and e-mails to meet your needs and even guess them in advance.

Google Now is a feature of Android. It pulls together everything Google knows about the world, and you, and hides that power behind a simple, automatic interface. It can automatically notify you about the weather, traffic, upcoming appointments, flights, nearby businesses, sports results, public transit and travel information, and movie show times. It's smart enough to prioritize, and it will get better as Google refines it. But it won't be given a personality. That's a design choice.

British Nukes
Shashank Joshi

Former UK Minister of Defence Nick Harvey said past British nuclear policy with Trident was to be able to "flatten Moscow" in retaliation for an attack. In fact the point of having one submarine always at sea (continuous at sea deterrence, CASD) was to insulate British nukes from a surprise attack by Moscow. Harvey's non-deployed nuclear arsenal, with the bomb and the delivery system stored separately, ready "for a rainy day" in a "Tuppeny Trident" approach, would be vulnerable to a first strike, unlike CASD.

AR RUSI man Joshi adds correct clarification and a welcome note of caution.

Financial Times

France is pushing for a bigger government stake in the proposed European defense and aerospace combo made from EADS and BAE. Apparently, Paris wants to raise its stake in the combo and is urging Berlin to follow suit, to form a blocking minority. London says this is unacceptable. The United States is a major military customer of BAE, and any government stakes with voting rights would be a problem.

Worst Air Loss Since Vietnam
The Atlantic

The Taliban attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan inflicted historic damage. Two Marines were killed and 8 Harrier jump jets were hit, with 6 destroyed and 2 damaged. The aircraft were the AV-8B+ variant equipped with APG-65 radar and AAQ-28 Litening II targeting pods. Harriers have been out of production since 1999, so the two damaged AV-8Bs may never fly again. The nearby Marines at Camp Freedom are now without effective fixed-wing air support. It was the worst day in U.S. Marine Corps aviation history since the Tet Offensive of 1968.

Nick Spencer

Francis Spufford defends his Christian belief by saying it is not assent to propositions that makes him a believer. He says that for him the feelings are primary. But:

1 By prioritizing feelings his claim abdicates reason.
2 His personal feelings need not be shared by others.
3 He oversteps the bounds of what can be said clearly.

The College Bubble
Andrew Ross

I teach at NYU. My paycheck depends on my students going deeply into debt. Unlike most other kinds of debt, student loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, and collection agencies are granted extraordinary powers to extract payments. Student lending is a lucrative sector of the financial industry.

In the years since the financial crash, the debts of banks are still being written off while the little people are expected to pay back theirs. In the absence of debt relief, the aggrieved talk about a double standard, and about debt refusal and debt strikes. Civil disobedience may be the only democratic option.

For many of my students, the price of learning is a form of indenture. The indentured go into debt to find work, and their wages are used to pay off the debts. Expecting young people to debt-finance their education — allowing Wall Street financiers to feed off their future — is immoral.

AR Absolutely. Get the vampires off student necks.

2012 September 27

Rule Of Law Can End Poverty
George Soros and Fazle Hasan Abed

We propose as UN Millennium Development Goals 2.0 targets:

1 Reduce statelessness and provide universal legal identity.
2 Ensure that people living in poverty know their rights.
3 Give everyone full access to the formal justice system.

A hard road still lies ahead. A billion people will still be living in extreme poverty in 2015.
Poverty will only be defeated when the law works for everyone.

AR I unwillingly paid Soros a tidy sum when he earned a pile by speculating against the pound in 1992.
I'm glad to see he's now using his talents responsibly.

Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey

When Hollywood first started portraying Jesus in films, one fundamentalist Christian fumed, "The picturing of the life and sufferings of our Savior by these institutions falls nothing short of blasphemy."

More recently, Andres Serrano's Piss Christ image of Jesus on the cross, submerged in the piss-artist's own urine, roused a crusade against the National Endowment for the Arts, and Chris Ofili's painting Holy Virgin Mary of a dark-skinned Madonna with photographs of vaginas surrounding her enraged New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Images of the sacred in the United States still generate intense conflict. But Americans have learned to live with it.

AR The outrage only gives free publicity to these minor atrocities.

The Casual Vacancy
J.K. Rowling

When I was writing The Casual Vacancy, I was often unhappy, but I knew exactly what had to happen to the characters, even if the scenes were difficult to write. It's a novel about self-deception, which is why unacknowledged problems and the blind spots in our self-awareness play a big role in it. But some characters in the novel are also firmly convinced that they are doing everything right.

Success has taken many cares out of my life. When I signed the American book contract for Harry Potter, I came into an enormous amount of money practically overnight. To this day, I don't take it for granted that I can pay my bills, and that I can keep my house. It may sound improbable, but even today I take nothing for granted. I'll never have another success like Harry Potter for the rest of my life.

British Nukes
The Guardian

Former UK Minister of Defence Sir Nick Harvey says the government review of the British nuclear deterrent is likely to suggest downgrading it.

British policy had been dictated by the cold war view that the only way to deter the Soviet Union from a nuclear attack was to ensure that the UK could "flatten Moscow" in minutes. The UK deployed Trident, with at least one armed submarine at sea 24/7 ever since.

Harvey: "If you can just break yourself out of that frankly almost lunatic mindset for a second, all sorts of alternatives start to look possible, indeed credible."

Alternatives under consideration include developing a nuclear warhead for a cruise missile that could be launched from existing submarines, Harvey said, and storing the warheads in a secure location. They could be mounted on missiles and put to sea when tensions rose.

AR As a former Ministry of Defence man, I agree that a stored cruise solution should now suffice.

Financial Times

EADS CEO Tom Enders failed to persuade German parliamentarians to back an EADS tie-up with BAE Systems. The parliamentarians left with "more questions than answers" and said it was "not a question of how, but whether" the plan would go ahead. Enders faces opposition in France too. He wants an end to daily influence from Berlin and Paris.

2012 September 26

Germany And The Euro
Martin Wolf

Germany has accumulated net claims in the eurozone by running large current account surpluses. The surpluses have exposed Germany to financial risk. The strategy has been at the expense of its people and their productivity. German real personal disposable incomes have risen little, constraining demand.

Curing the eurozone will impose inflation in Germany, recessions in eurozone markets, and resource transfers to partners. But a return to the Deutschmark would squeeze profits, raise productivity, and increase real consumer incomes. Germans could enjoy higher living standards. Exit is an option.

AR With no euro, Europe would renationalize and trade would decline.

Sacred Values
New Scientist

Notions of honor differ between the West and the Islamic region. Under Islam, a commitment to defending group honor is a sacred value that cannot be traded against material things or money. Sacred values are absolute and brook no compromise.

We think about sacred values differently to regular preferences. Brain scans show that the idea of being bribed to disavow a statement such as "I am a Pepsi drinker" produce activity in brain regions involved in calculating costs and benefits. But the prospect of selling out on statements such as "I believe in God" activate areas that play a role in retrieving rules. The brain processes sacred values as absolute and binding commandments.

Humans are empathic creatures who feel the pain of others as if it were our own. Arabs and Israelis report feeling equal empathy for their own people and less for the other. But brain imaging shows that regions implicated in thinking about the emotional states of others are equally active when Arabs and Israelis think about anyone suffering. People are more likely to feel empathy for each other when they hear the other's life story.

Religions play a role in sacralizing values. Religious rituals fuse a sense of self with group membership. Financial incentives to compromise on sacred values can cause moral outrage and rejection. People are more willing to compromise with others who recognize their sacred values.

2012 September 25

Make Rich Pay Tax
Hillary Clinton

One of the issues that I have been preaching about around the world is collecting taxes in an equitable manner. The elites of every country are making money. There are rich people everywhere and yet they do not contribute to the growth of their own countries.

This means leaders telling powerful people things they don't want to hear. It means being transparent about budgets and revenues, and bringing corruption to light. And it means putting into place regulations designed to attract and protect investment.

Animals Are Conscious
Marc Bekoff

Charles Darwin asked whether animals are conscious. Last July in Cambridge, a group of scientists including David Edelman, Philip Low, and Christof Koch discussed the question and proclaimed the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness:

"Non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates."

We should all stop the abuse of millions upon millions of conscious animals in the name of science, education, food, clothing, and entertainment. We owe it to treat them with compassion and empathy.

AR Good. Glad my old conference companions David and Christof are doing something useful here.

Nick Shakespeare on Salman Rushdie

The 2013 calendar GameBirds celebrates the timeless traditions and cheery charms of the British countryside


Pakistan railway minister
Ghulam Ahmad Bilour offers
a $100,000 reward for anyone who kills the man who made Innocence of Muslims: "I am a Muslim first, then a government representative."

Offending An
Imaginary God

Sam Harris

The latest wave of Muslim hysteria and violence has spread worldwide. The walls of our embassies and consulates have been breached, their precincts abandoned to triumphant mobs, and many people have been murdered, all in response to an unwatchable Internet video. The protesters are demanding that we conform to the strictures of Islamic law.

Here is where the line must be drawn and defended without apology: we are free to burn the Quran or any other book, and to criticize Muhammad or any other human being. Muslims must learn that if they make belligerent and fanatical claims upon the tolerance of free societies, they will meet the limits of that tolerance. It is time our government delivered this message without blinking.

AR Right on. Sam is back in good form here.

Charlie Hebdo
"You can't make fun of religion."
"Why not?"
"Because religion forbids it."

Afghan Murderers

Afghan police and army recruiters are processing 7,000 new applicants a month. Vetting has been tightened up since the rise in "green on blue" attacks. Now 1 in 35 applicants is rejected. At least 420 army applicants this year wanted to murder NATO troops.

Ruling Heaven
New Scientist

At a recent meeting of the International Astronomical
Union (IAU) in Beijing, members voted to redefine the astronomical unit (au):
1 au = 149 597 870 700 m

AR So near enough 150 Gm to make the mean diameter of Earth's solar orbit 300 Gm
(or 1 ks given relativity)

David Foster Wallace
A memorial page

The Accidental Empire
The Guardian

The B61 Bomb
Washington Post

The oldest weapon in the U.S. nuclear arsenal is the B61 bomb. It is due for a major upgrade to extend its life by 20 years.

The B61 is versatile. Some versions let users dial a yield (DAY) from a few kilotons up to half a megaton. One version is a ground penetrator for destroying hardened bunkers.

To ensure that the upgrades are reliable and safe, engineers simulate detonations in virtual tests. A supercomputer running 1.35 petaflops needs 500 hours to simulate a bang.

The upgrades to the 400 or so B61 bombs in the arsenal will cost $10 billion.

2012 September 24

Lynn Saxon

Charles Darwin once described how a female barnacle had two pockets in her shell, "in each of which she kept a little husband" who in turn were little more than bags of sperm.

The Australian marsupial antechinus male has a single mating season. When it comes around, he stops eating and frantically seeks females for sex. His digestive system breaks down, his stress hormones soar, and his immune system fails. In two weeks, he is done for and he dies.

The male redneck spider flips his body just above the jaws of the female, ready to be eaten during mating. As the female eats him, she mates for longer and gets more sperm for her eggs.

When a male honeybee mates with the queen, his penis explodes to become a plug inside her and he drops dead. The plug is meant to stop other males, but the queen can pop it out and mate again.

David K. Randall

When people are deprived of artificial light, they sleep through the night, at least at first. But after a while they begin to wake up a little after midnight, lie awake for a couple of hours, and then drift back to sleep again, in a pattern of segmented sleep referenced in historical records and early works of literature. People who adopt a split sleep schedule experience nighttime in a new way. They look forward to the time at night as a chance for some deep thinking.

Gradual acceptance of the notion that sequential sleep hours are not essential for high-level job performance has led to increased workplace tolerance for napping and other alternate daily schedules. Most of us are not fortunate enough to work in office environments that permit napping on the job, but greater tolerance for altered sleep schedules might be in our collective interest. Freeing ourselves from old ideas about sleep might help put many of us to rest.

My Amazon review of Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

2012 September 23

The Global Brain
Deepak Chopra

There's a fascinating connection between the social network and the brain. A human brain is a process, always in a state of dynamic flux. New connections and new cells are born. Because the brain processes reality, your personal reality changes.

The future in the Mideast seems to be a race between the mullahs and the iPad, between sermons in the mosque and tweets on a smartphone. After the Bush administration's disastrous invasion of Iraq, the number of cellphones in that country exploded, even amid social collapse. Young people desperate to be part of the wider world started expressing their yearning through social networks.

Tweets and texts were critical during the Arab Spring. Millions of tweets, texts, emails, and phone calls are neural signals in the global brain. A new identity is being formed, a global "we" that can topple the barriers of religion, tribalism, nationalism, and political oppression. Before the social network, it was hard to escape the mindset of a repressed culture. Now anyone can connect to the global brain.

AR This is not only indirect promotion for Chopra's new book God (blasphemy, anyone?) but also excellent promo for my GLOBORG views. Thanks, Deepak.

Joseph Anton
Salman Rushdie

Anton had lunch with Christopher Hitchens and Warren Beatty at the Beverly Hills Hotel. "Can I say," Warren Beatty said to him, "that when I saw you at dinner at Mr Chow the other day you were with a woman so beautiful that it made me want to faint?" He replied, "I'll call her. Maybe she can join us." Padma did join them, and deliberately did nothing to doll herself up, arriving in sweatpants and tank top. Warren Beatty looked faint and said to him, "You’ll excuse me if I make a fool of myself over your lady for five minutes. After that we can go on having lunch."

Margaret Drabble

Rushdie's memoir is more gripping than any spy story. The sections that describe his family background, the death of his father and his schooldays are excellent. It is at once a personal history, an account of a butterfly's wing called The Satanic Verses and an analysis of the catastrophic chaos that the flapping of those pages unleashed. Rushdie appears to take a gloomy view about the chaos. His book, as he puts it, was but the prologue and we are still grappling with the main event.

Nigel Farndale

Imagine (BBC 1) made Salman Rushdie seem sympathetic. This is a man whose new memoir about the fatwa is written in the third person. The third person! Alan Yentob's personal and touching documentary revealed how grim the fatwa really was. Not only did this documentary inspire feelings of sympathy in the viewer, it made its subject look noble. It reminded us what an elegant writer Rushdie used to be.

AR As Rushdie might say, WTF is Farndale?

Rushdie: I Insist on the right to freedom of expression

2012 September 22

PM International Congress
Rosengarten, Mannheim

The Guardian

Salma Yaqoob, 41, British mother of three sons, resigned last week as the leader of the Respect party. George Galloway, Respect party MP for Bradford West, prompted her to do so. He had said the Swedish charges against Julian Assange were not rape "as most people understand it" but just "bad sexual etiquette". Yaqoob: "I've always admired George's anti-imperialist stances ... But for me, to have to make a choice between that and standing up for the rights of women was a false choice."

Respect is an uneasy alliance of far left and Islamist far right. Gorgeous George seemed to dominate the party, and few people knew its leader was Yaqoob. "I know that we have fought those very reactionary forces, we challenged them from within. I get the hate calls. I get people in the streets saying, 'She is trying to wreck our homes'. I've had the death threats, that anyone who beheads me will go straight to heaven. Because I promote democracy, because I have a very clear stance on pluralism."

AR Galloway is an ambitious man. But Islam is too much for him.

Sir Salman Rushdie
Boyd Tonkin

As violent protests yet again convulse the Mideast, Salman Rushdie says, "We see these storms of birds at the slightest provocation all over the world ... When it happened to The Satanic Verses, it was kind of an early harbinger of what later became a storm."

New Statesman

Christopher Hitchens: "It seems that rumors of my life have also been exaggerated."

2012 September 21

Germany and Europe
The Guardian

Our portrait of Germany as the accidental empire has deconstructed the country now thrust into a leadership role in Europe. Assembling the parts into a whole, we see a country fundamentally unsuited to the task being asked of it: to lead the euro and with it the European Union out of the minefield.

German reluctance to use hard power is well known. It has been cautiously loosening the bonds that tie its army to constitutional red tape for twenty years now. But if being German is such a heavy burden that the country can only retreat from itself by hurling itself into the European project, if Europe in other words is a refuge, then Germany is uniquely unsuited to leading the charge.

European federalism is not enough. It needs leadership from a power which is as self-confident culturally and politically as it is economically. But it is almost as if you have to phone up Germany every day and tell them how much you love them. The European Union is a long way from a unifying vision.

David McAllister
The Guardian

He married in a kilt, supports Rangers, drinks Irn-Bru, and speaks English with a Scottish lilt. But David McAllister, 41, could one day be the chancellor of Germany. He has been a member of the Christian Democratic Union since his youth and they say he is the crown prince of Chancellor Angela Merkel. "Some even call me her pet," he sighs.

British Foreign Policy
Philip Stephens

British foreign policy has been balancing a special relationship with the United States against reluctant recognition of its continental neighbors. Washington is turning towards the Pacific, and Britain can expect a reduced role. Meanwhile the European powers are deepening integration to save the euro.

The deal between BAE Systems and EADS illustrates the dilemma. It is more a salvage than a merger. BAE thought it could strike out on its own in America, but it miscalculated and now wants to be rescued by Europe. The twin relationships with Europe and the United States are both essential anchors.

Does Mitt Romney Even Want To Be President?
Leslie Savan

Maybe all he really wanted was the Republican nomination. I can think of three good reasons:

1 Mitt watched as his father George Romney blew his chance at the nomination in 1968 by saying he had been brainwashed into supporting the Vietnam war. Mitt beat just the sort of "muttonheads" who had humiliated his dad. By letting Obama win, Mitt can avoid more gaffes and words "not elegantly stated" and people prying into his finances.

2 His nomination has already done something for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He helped to put Mormonism into the Republican Party hierarchy and got Christians to accept his faith.

3 He's not in this as a politician. Back in January, when Rick Santorum asked him why, if he'd been such a great governor, he didn't run for re-election, Mitt answered: "I went to Massachusetts to make a difference ... I was trying to help get the state into the best shape as I possibly could, left the world of politics, went back into business."

2012 September 20

Rx to Romney
Robert Shrimsley

The slogan "We are the 53%" could be as much as 53 times more popular than "We are the 1%". Try issuing a clarification: "When I said I didn't care about the 47% I was only talking about the period of the campaign. As your president I would govern for all Americans, not just the admirable, hard-working wealth creators, but also the undeserving, belly-crawling leeches. As your president I will be working actively to ensure you become a better human being, unless of course, I am forced to let you go."

We see an exciting opportunity to build you up in the public mind as the living embodiment of a popular plutocrat. For example, would you be willing to try shouting "Ryan, release the hounds" every time you are accosted by a poor voter? This might also work as a killer line in the presidential debates. We also advise ostentatiously washing your hands each time you are forced to greet someone on welfare.

BAE Systems
John Gapper

BAE wants to be taken over by EADS. The company that sold its stake in Airbus to invest in U.S. defense before the latest Pentagon cuts is once again dealmaking in haste. Many British MPs would like BAE to stay British rather than go European. But the EADS merger, in which it would hold a 40% share and oversee the defense side from London, may be best. It would take a company with better strategic and dealmaking skills to survive alone.


François Hollande and Angela Merkel will meet to discuss the proposed combination of EADS and BAE. Their approval is needed for the deal. EADS CEO Tom Enders said good governance is the go or no go for both companies. The deal would cut political meddling in EADS by Paris and Berlin but leave them as well as Madrid and London with a veto on decisions affecting their national security.

New Scientist

Frank Wilczek and Alfred Shapere claim to derive a paradox by combining special relativity with quantum mechanics. Special relativity states that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. But measuring a particle collapses its wave function, instantly affecting even remote quangled partners.

If two widely separated fireworks go off at the same, a spectator may see both simultaneously. An observer moving between them will see one firework exploding first. If you have three fireworks, you may expect six possible orders in which the events can occur, depending on your reference frame. But that is not how it works mathematically. Even if there is some reference frame where all events are simultaneous, the calculations only work if you swap the order of two at a time.

Applying special relativity to three quangled photons, you can have setups where photon A collapses either B or C but not both. All three photons seem to change instantly, but their wave functions can differ depending on your reference frame, creating a mathematical paradox.


2012 September 19

Britain And Germany
The Guardian

The German envoy in London, Georg Boomgaarden, has encountered none of the hostility that blighted previous ambassadorial stints. But the relationship is one-sided. About 300,000 Germans live in Britain, more than double the number of Britons in Germany. German tourists spend almost twice as much time in the UK as vice versa. There are 4 or 5 times more German students studying in British universities than vice versa, and British academia is packed with German lecturers. The ambassador points to the flow of British artists to Berlin and the strong interest in German science and innovation.

Coming up, in 2014, is the 75th anniversary of the start of the second world war, the 100th anniversary of the first, the 200th anniversary of the battle of Leipzig in which Prussia and Britain allied against Napoleon, and the 300th anniversary of the accession of the House of Hanover as the royal family of Great Britain. Boomgaarden: "There is such a richness and broad basis for our common history."

Some commentators argue that the Germans are guilty of economic imperialism, imposing austerity on everyone else while enjoying a high standard of living at home. Boomgaarden regards the criticism as unfair. "Whenever we don't lead we are accused of not doing it, whenever we lead we are accused of imperialism." After the Berlin Wall came down, a united Germany maintained the doctrine of "never be alone" and is united in its commitment to the European project and to saving the embattled euro.

Boomgaarden, 64, is a veteran diplomat. London is likely to be his last assignment before retirement. What does he like best about Britain? "I love this debating culture. Prime minister's questions is one of the best things you can see." And what does he dislike? "I would like to see more symbolic adherence to Europe. When I go to Ireland there is a European flag on each official building." His parting joke: "If Britain after the crisis could enter the euro, that would be wonderful."

Charlie Hebdo

French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has ridiculed the Prophet Mohammad by portraying him naked in cartoons, threatening to explode Muslims already incensed by the film Innocence of Muslims. The French government had urged the magazine not to print the images and is shutting down embassies and schools in 20 countries on Friday. Initial reaction from Muslim countries was critical.

Islamic Hate
Thomas L. Friedman

Cairo protester Khaled Ali: "We never insult any prophet — not Moses, not Jesus — so why can't we demand that Muhammad be respected?"

An insult does not entitle people to go out and attack embassies and kill innocent diplomats. That is shameful. The Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghans, and Sudanese who have been taking to the streets might want to look at the chauvinistic bile that is pumped out by some of their own media — on satellite TV and websites or sold in bookstores outside mosques — insulting Shiites, Jews, Christians, Sufis, and anyone else who is not a Sunni or fundamentalist Muslim.

The Middle East Media Research Institute, MEMRI, was founded in 1998 in Washington "to bridge the language gap between the Middle East and the West by monitoring, translating, and studying Arab, Iranian, Urdu and Pashtu media, schoolbooks, and religious sermons." MEMRI translates both the ugly stuff and the courageous reformist efforts. You can watch some hateful videos at MEMRI.

Killer on the Road
Ginger Strand

In 1980, Ronald Reagan expressed boundless faith in the American way. He asked: "Are you better off than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go buy things in stores than it was four years ago?" His redefinition of the national mission was offered in the simplest terms possible: America is succeeding if its citizens can go buy things. His landslide victory suggested the message had found its audience. It was a return to the American dream, defined as unfettered free enterprise, unabashed consumer­ism, and unflinching military prowess.

2012 September 18

Romney To Palestine: No
Jerusalem Post

Mitt Romney believes "the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace" and the Palestinians remain "committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel" so he endorses a strategy of maintaining the status quo. "And of course the Iranians would want to do through the West Bank exactly what they did through Lebanon, what they did near Gaza, which is that the Iranians would want to bring missiles and armament into the West Bank and potentially threaten Israel." He maintains that "President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus."

Obama Not To Blame
Gideon Rachman

Charles Krauthammer: "What we are seeing on the screen is the meltdown, collapse of the Obama policy on the Muslim world."

Wrong. Barack Obama has pursued policies in the Mideast that leave the United States better positioned to deal with the violence than it has been for decades. It was the invasion of Iraq that provoked fury across the Muslim world. Comparing the position now with that after the invasion of Iraq, the attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya recalls the attack on the UN mission in Baghdad in 2003. In both Benghazi and Baghdad, security was too relaxed. But in Libya there are no American soldiers to act as targets.

Republicans are divided over the Arab spring. Romney blames everything on Obama. This is laughable.

China Versus Japan
Financial Times

Tension between the world's #2 and #3 economies China and Japan over a group of disputed islands is escalating: 11 Chinese patrol boats are headed to the Senkaku archipelago and thousands demonstrated in Beijing to mark the 81st anniversary of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.

AR If I were rewriting LIFEBALL this is the political issue I'd build the plot around.

Dawn Of The Dinosaurs
Scientific American

Some 200 million years ago, over half the species on Earth died off. The dinosaurs first evolved about 25 million years before the mass extinction, but once their competition was gone they dominated life on Earth for the next 135 million years.

Many scientists blame the mass extinction between the Triassic and Jurassic periods on massive volcanic eruptions. A million cubic kilometers of lava coated the land and carbon dioxide levels doubled, causing massive global warming. In the oceans, rising acidity killed marine animals.

Puzzling details abound. Volcanic eruptions also release large amounts of sulfur compounds that reflect sunlight, causing cooling. A huge meteorite strike may have played a role. A crater of the right age about 40 km wide has been found in France.

2012 September 17

British Outlook Bleak
Larry Summers

British GDP has not yet returned to its pre-crisis level. The cumulative 5-year loss from this British downturn exceeds even that in the 1930s. Forecasts are bleak. But is the right response to double down on austerity or to change course?

Fiscal consolidation must be reversed soon. The principal factor holding back the British economy is lack of demand. The way to raise British output in future is to raise output today. The main concern over British credit is economic weakness, and the main way to get stronger is to grow. Now is the time for structural reforms, for measures to promote exports, and for housing investment. The public sector must stop exacerbating the contraction.

Islamist Rage
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Islam roared in rage again last week. Muslims who want to punish blasphemers are in the mainstream of contemporary Islam. Intolerance has become the defining characteristic of Islam.

Years ago, I blasphemed by associating terrorist attacks with theology, by criticizing the treatment of women in Islam, and by leaving the Muslim faith. Later I gave an interview to a Dutch newspaper that caused a delegation of ambassadors from Muslim countries to demand my eviction from the Dutch Parliament for hurting their feelings.

I became a combatant in the clash of civilizations, condemned to a life cordoned off from the rest of society. Salman Rushdie knows the dreary routine. He relates his story movingly in Joseph Anton.

Islamists in office will be subjected to the test of government. If they implement their philosophy fully and forcefully, they will strip women of their rights, murder homosexuals, constrain the freedoms of conscience and religion of non-Muslims, hunt down dissidents, persecute religious minorities, and pick fights with foreign powers.

It is foolish to derive laws for human affairs from gods and prophets. The ideals of the rule of law and freedom of thought, worship, and expression are more sacred than any religion.

Cairo protester Khaled Ali: "We never insult any prophet — not Moses, not Jesus — so why can't we demand that Muhammad be respected?"

AR No prophet deserves more respect than his doctrines, as revealed in the lives of his followers.

Salman Rushdie, 65, author of The Satanic Verses, on the movie Innocence of Muslims:
"The film is clearly a malevolent piece of garbage. The civilized response would be to say of the director: 'Fuck him. Let's get on with our day.' What's not civilized is to hold America responsible for everything that happens in its borders. That's crap. Even if that were true, to respond with physical attacks and believe it's OK to attack people because you're upset at this thing, that's an improper reaction. The Muslim world needs to get out of that mindset."

AR Debating whether to read Rushdie's overlong memoir Joseph Anton.

Schwetzingen, September 16, 2012

The Horror at Château d'Autet

While the French slobbered over Kate's breasts, the British media made do with her womb: is there anything occurring in there yet?

The Closer photos were taken where the couple expected privacy, but the public interest evidently excuses guessing about the couple's family planning, as well as exhaustive coverage of the duchess's blow-dries, dresses, make-up, eyebrows, knees and body language.

In exchange for their palaces and prestige, William and Kate perform, at what would normally be family events, domestic playlets for the camera.

Fairy Tales
Adam Kirsch

The classic fairy tales are perfect examples of memetic engineering. They compete for mental space over generations of cultural evolution, until only the fittest tales survive.

Philip Pullman: "I believe that every story is attended by its own sprite, whose voice we embody when we tell the tale, and that we tell it more successfully if we approach the sprite with a certain degree of respect and courtesy."

2012 September 16

Naval Armada Massing In Gulf
Sean Rayment

Israel and Iran are moving toward war. Last week Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "The world tells Israel wait, there's still time. And I say, wait for what? Wait until when?" A blockade of Gulf oil trade would be catastrophic for the global economy.

Naval assets from 25 nations are converging on the Gulf for an exercise. The armada includes three U.S. Nimitz class carrier groups, each supported by ballistic missile cruisers, frigates, destroyers, and assault ships carrying thousand of U.S. Marines and special forces.

The main threat to the armada comes from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps navy. The Iranians are expected to attack allied warships and merchant shipping using mini-subs, fast attack boats, mines, and shore-based anti-ship missiles.

Jerusalem Post

"If we could crack the secrets of the brain, which is the most amazing biological computer, we could revolutionize every aspect of human life," said Rafi Gidron, founder and chairman of Israel Brain Technologies, at the High Tech Industry Association (HTIA) international conference at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.

The Breakthrough Research And Innovation in Neurotechnology (BRAIN) prize is a $1 million award to any team or individual for a breakthrough in brain research with global implications.

Gidron asked what could be done if the human brain could be connected directly to machines, and listed a vast range of functions that could be triggered by thought. One in every four people is affected by brain disease, and brain technologies are changing our lives and the world. He was confident that the new prize would usher in a new era of discovery in brain research.

HTIA cochair Yossi Vardi once asked President Shimon Peres why Israel should push brain research, and Peres replied: "If you don't have land, better a brain."

Every Love Story is a Ghost Story
Benjamin Markovits

David Foster Wallace is one of those novelists who seem to push along the evolution of the form. He mixed high and low references, postmodern philosophy and popular television, mathematical theory and stoner slang. On his novel Infinite Jest his publisher joked: "Has anyone here actually read this thing?"

Biographer D.T. Max shows this is a guy who suffered. Wallace hanged himself in 2008, aged 46, after years of medicated depression. Max mines Wallace's work for sophisticated expressions of the author's mental states. The technique not only brings Wallace to life, it brings the work into play as well.

Wallace grew up in Urbana, where his father taught philosophy at the University of Illinois. He went to Amherst, the liberal arts college in Massachusetts, and graduated top of his class. He fell in love with technical philosophy and the foundations of mathematics, then moved on to postmodern fiction.

During one period of self-doubt, Wallace signed up for postgraduate work in philosophy at Harvard, then checked himself into the psychiatric institute at McLean Hospital. The four weeks he spent there, Max writes, changed his life: he got clean and spent the rest of his life as a recovering addict.

Mideast Arsonist

Egyptian Islamist Sheikh Khalid Abdullah hosts a TV show that baits liberals, Christians and Jews. Then he found an obscure, ill-made film online called the Innocence of Muslims. He broadcast clips from it last weekend, calling for its makers to be executed.

2012 September 15

Thomas Nagel

Alvin Plantinga is an evangelical Protestant. He says:

The scientific revolution occurred in Christian Europe because its great figures believed that God had created a law-governed natural order and created humans in his image.

Christians can "take modern science to be a magnificent display of the image of God in us human beings."

The theistic conception explains why science is possible: the fit between the natural order and our minds is produced intentionally by God.

Natural selection is interested, not in truth, but in appropriate behavior.

Faith is "a special gift from God, not part of our ordinary epistemic equipment."

Christian faith in the truth of the gospels is not defeated by the secular evidence against the possibility of resurrection.

I must say if I ever found myself flooded with the conviction that what the Nicene Creed says is true, I would think not that I was being granted the gift of faith but that I was losing my mind.

AR Nagel (what it's like to be a bat, the view from nowhere) is a better philosopher than Plantinga.

Tom Wolfe
John Walsh

Tom Wolfe is back. Next month sees the publication of Back to Blood, his first novel in eight years. And it threatens to do for Miami what The Bonfire of the Vanities did for New York in 1987 and A Man in Full did for Atlanta, Georgia, in 1998.

In 790 pages, Wolfe will turn his beady eye on "class, family, wealth, race, crime, sex, corruption and ambition in Miami," where the super-rich, with their yachts, Ferraris, and surgically enhanced girlfriends parade and play before the underclass.

All his books open with crowd scenes. The bigger the canvas, the better; the richer the protagonist, the greater the target. New York magazine: "Wolfe may live in a fancy block-long apartment on the Upper East Side, but he clearly does not stay indoors."

Wolfe defends the novelist's right to deal in the everyday: "It's important for the novelist to bring alive what Hegel called the zeitgeist. He thought every era had its own moral tone, that presses down on everyone living at the time."

The Rushdie Lessons
Michael Ignatieff

The affair began with The Satanic Verses burning in Bradford. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini fanned the flames into a global blaze with his fatwa on 14 February 1989. Salman Rushdie will tell us in his forthcoming memoir what the next decade was like for him. The risk to Rushdie was not from Islam but from a terrorist state. Iran is still a terrorist state.

Everyone in a free society shares the deepest possible interest in protecting Muslim minorities, indeed all faith communities, from discrimination, defamation, violence, or incitement to acts of hate. But no free society has an interest in protecting their doctrines, beliefs, and practices from criticism, scorn, ridicule, or belittlement. Faith has no privilege, and secular reason has none either.

Ian McEwan

The first few months were the worst. The mobs burned books in the street. They bayed for blood outside parliament and waved "Rushdie must die" placards. It was the opening chapter in a new unhappy book of modern history. The novel as a literary form is among the highest expressions of mental freedom and must be treasured and defended. A secular worldview is the best guarantor of religious freedom. But people who are secure in their God should be above taking physical revenge when offended.

William Dalrymple

The targeting of the Jaipur Literature Festival by opponents of Rushdie was a final death twitch of the Satanic Verses affair. Rushdie had requested we announce his appearance in advance, and as soon as we did so we were assailed by death threats: "rivers of blood will flow here if they show Rushdie". Rushdie agreed to appear by videolink. But we agreed not to play the video address live in front of a festival crowd that included burly protesters itching for a fight. The risk of violence was too high.

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie


My home office yesterday:
Image captured on Samsung Galaxy running Google Android, sent by e-mail to my Apple Airport, thence by wi-fi to my iMac, there processed with Adobe Photoshop, then e-mailed to my Lenovo ThinkPad running Microsoft Windows, and there built into this page using Microsoft Expression Web.

Cercopithecus lomamiensis

New species of monkey known locally as the lesula discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Angela Merkel:
"Das ist ein guter Tag für Deutschland, und es ist ein guter Tag für Europa."

The Primacy Of

Peter Russell
YouTube, 70 min
Over 100 000 views

AR Peter Russell wrote
The Awakening Earth:
The Global Brain (1982).
I liked it so much I cited
it in some of my books.

Salman Rushdie
The story behind
The Satanic Verses

AR Good book.

Shinichi Mochizuki
Shinichi Mochizuki

When It Happens To You
Molly Ringwald

Ringwald plays out the
tragedies of adult life, linking
the narratives of a couple
whose marriage has been
shelled by infidelity and
infertility with those of
family members and friends
facing their grief and the
challenges of forgiveness.
Her stories ring with

WB-57F Canberra
Canberras Over Afghanistan

NASA owns two WB-57F Canberra research airplanes. Based on a British bomber type that first flew in 1949 and set a world altitude record of over 20 km in 1957, the two old birds are now uniquely important warplanes. They are deployed in relay to Afghanistan carrying a new radio translator called "bacon" that connects fighters, bombers, spy planes, and ground radios to each other. With the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node system, the WB-57s serve as data hubs for net-centric warfare. The cost per year to keep the two planes flying is $100 million.

QS World University

Cambridge University
University College London
Oxford University
Imperial College London
University of Chicago

Blade Runner

Oscar Pistorius ran to victory in the men's 400 m T44 race, the final track event of the Paralympic Games in the Olympic Stadium, with a time of 46.68 s.

Paralympics 2012
The Guardian

Medals G S B
China 95 71 65
Russia 36 38 28
Britain 34 43 43

Richard Dawkins
in the Red Chair

(CNN, 3:25)

Russky Bridge, Vladivostok

2012 September 14

Peter Bergen

Innocence of Muslims portrays the Prophet Mohammed as a philandering child molester. News about the video has sparked outrage and mob attacks on American embassies and consulates in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. A YouTube trailer for the video was posted in July, but protests began in Egypt only when versions dubbed in Arabic appeared online and were broadcast by an Egyptian news channel.

Politicians and the media in the Muslim world play a role in stirring up violence in the wake of perceived attacks on Islam. When Florida pastor Terry Jones burned a copy of the Quran in March 2011, two weeks went by without any incident. But then President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan made a speech calling for his arrest. Within 24 hours, protesters stormed a United Nations compound in northern Afghanistan, killing seven foreign employees, and demonstrations across the country killed many more people.

President Karzai has released a public statement strongly condemning the recent "criminal act." This was not a reference to the assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya a day earlier that resulted in the four deaths there but to the release of the video denigrating the Prophet Mohammed. NATO forces in Afghanistan are steeling themselves. With allies like these, who needs enemies?

European Defense Politics
Financial Times

BAE Systems says it will walk away from talks with EADS unless the combo can run without political interference. BAE also wants its defense business to be based in the UK. A BAE deal with EADS would give BAE a strong balance sheet and a diversified portfolio.

EADS CEO Tom Enders wants to use the deal to reduce the level of political influence of the French and German governments, which have lost EADS contracts. EADS proposes that the French, German, and UK governments each have a golden share to let them block hostile takeovers but no more.

A Defense Dream
Alexander Nicoll

Spending by European NATO members fell 7% in real terms between 2006 and 2010. The fall is set to continue in the UK and in France. No new European manned aircraft are in prospect after the Typhoon generation. Projects for unmanned aircraft are likely to be smaller. EADS and BAE are also big in ships, helicopters, missiles, armored vehicles, and space. But they can get better global clout by combining.

BAE does big business with the Pentagon, while EADS has a large Airbus customer base. But the United States is a declining market. American defense companies seem set for a new wave of mergers. BAE has a key market in Saudi Arabia, and Asia is forecast to overtake Europe in defense spending this year.

Two very different corporate cultures need to agree terms. EADS is a case study in the pitfalls. The proposed deal could be seen as an EADS takeover of BAE. But the deal makes structural sense.

AR The deal could sink in politics. Blame France.

2012 September 13

European Federation
Financial Times

Europe must evolve to a federation of nation states, said José Manuel Barroso, Europe's top official, in his annual state of the union address. He said he wants unified banking supervision in the EU under the auspices of the ECB. His call for a new EU treaty may cause conflict. Barroso will present a blueprint outlining his new vision.

European Defense
Financial Times

European aerospace company EADS and British defense contractor BAE Systems are discussing a deal. The combo would have a joint market cap of €38 billion, compared with €41 billion for Boeing. The German and French governments have big stakes in EADS and the British government has a stake in BAE. The deal would give them all equal golden shares.

AR Europe is slowly becoming an entity that can deal as an equal with the United States and China.

California Sam Fraud
Associated Press

A California Coptic Christian convicted of financial crimes admitted his role in making the dubbed movie Innocence of Muslims. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, said he managed the company that produced the film but denied he directed it and said he knew Sam Bacile. Nakoula has numerous aliases.

The AP located Bacile via Morris Sadek, a conservative Coptic Christian who promoted the film. Egypt's Christian Coptic population claims a long history of discrimination and violence from the Arab majority.

Florida pastor Terry Jones: "Sam Bacile, that is not his real name. I just talked to him on the phone. He is definitely in hiding and does not reveal his identity. He was quite honestly fairly shook up concerning the events and what is happening. A lot of people are not supporting him."

The actors in the film issued a joint statement saying they were misled about the project and some dialogue was crudely dubbed during post-production. "The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer. We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred."

AR The "Israeli-American" cover was evidently a sleazy lie.

2012 September 12

Ja, aber
Der Spiegel

Das Bundesverfassungsgericht hat die Eilanträge gegen den Euro-Rettungsschirm ESM abgelehnt. Die Bundesregierung muss bei der Ratifizierung der Verträge aber sicherstellen, dass ihre Haftung begrenzt ist und neue Zahlungen nur nach Zustimmung möglich sind.

AR Gut!

Yes, But
Financial Times

The road is clear for the creation of the €500 billion eurozone rescue fund. The Karlsruhe justices have allowed Germany to sign the treaty setting up the ESM. But there must be no unlimited liability for Germany and the ceiling of €190 billion can only be increased with the assent of lawmakers.

AR Good!

Stop Threats
Jerusalem Post

German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière said the Israeli government should stop talking about attacking Iran: "In terms of military action against Iran this action is not illegitimate, but not wise."

Thirteenth European-Israeli Dialogue
Axel Springer AG and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue
Berlin, September 11, 2012

AR Unwise is right: Iran is cornered.

Innocence of Muslims
An abysmally bad movie

The Atlantic: 9/11/2012: Protesters in Cairo gathered at the U.S. embassy compound, scaled the walls and pulled down the American flag, and replaced it with a black flag bearing the slogan: "There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger." They are protesting an American film that insults Prophet Mohammed. The artless movie, Innocence of Muslims, was directed and produced in California.

The Wall Street Journal: Innocence of Muslims was characterized by its maker as a political effort to call attention to the hypocrisies of Islam. The movie features an actor portraying the Prophet as a pedophile, a womanizer, and a buffoon, who rises to advocate child slavery and extramarital sex in the name of religion. The film was apparently written, directed, and produced by an Israeli-American real-estate developer, Sam Bacile, 52, who said he raised $5 million from about 100 Jewish donors and, working with about 60 actors and 45 crew members, made the 2-hour movie in 3 months last year in California.

Time: Writer and director Sam Bacile says he intends his film to be a provocative political statement condemning Islam. He says he is an Israeli Jew, but Israeli officials say they have no record of him. The movie features an amateur cast performing a wooden dialogue depicting Muhammad as a feckless philanderer who approved of child sexual abuse, among other grossly insulting claims.

AR Bacile is guilty of criminal irresponsibility but the protesters are reacting idiotically.

The ABC Conjecture
Jacob Aron

Japanese mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki has apparently proved the ABC conjecture. First posed in 1985 by Joseph Oesterlé and David Masser, the conjecture concerns the addition of two integers to get another, a + b = c, and constrains the interactions of the prime factors of these numbers.

For example, 81 + 64 = 145 breaks down into 3^4 + 2^6 = 5 × 29. Simplified, the conjecture says that the large number of smaller primes on the equation's left-hand side is always balanced by a small number of larger primes on the right: the addition and multiplication restrict each other.

Last week, Mochizuki posted a series of papers on his website, one of which claims to prove the ABC conjecture, but the logic spreads over 500 pages and probes deep into the foundations of mathematics. Numbers are now defined in terms of sets, but Mochizuki translates fundamental mathematical ideas into objects that only exist in new conceptual universes, where he can "deform" integers and push such operations as multiplication and addition to the limit.

A verified proof of ABC would set off a chain reaction in mathematics. Fermat's last theorem is that there are no solutions to the equation a^n + b^n = c^n for n = 3 or more. Andrew Wiles proved it in 1993 using modern mathematics, but if the ABC conjecture is true then there are no solutions to the equation for sufficiently large n, which would simplify the proof.

AR I like set-theoretic foundations but maybe we can use new ideas.

Quantum Uncertainty
Geoff Brumfiel

A new experiment shows that measuring a quantum system does not necessarily introduce uncertainty. Aephraim Steinberg showed that measuring photons can introduce less uncertainty than stated by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, although the total uncertainty remains above the Heisenberg limit.

The team measured photon polarization states. Polarization in one plane is intrinsically tied to that in the other, and the principle sets a limit to the certainty with which both states can be known. They made a weak measurement of the photon’s polarization in one plane, then measured the polarization in the second plane. Then they made an exact or strong measurement of the first polarization to see if it had been disturbed. They sometimes found less disturbance to the other state than the principle predicted, as little as half of that predicted.

AR No big surprise there.

Nathan Myhrvold

I believe the world will need to rely on nuclear energy. No renewable energy technology can completely replace fossil fuels, which provide base-load power all day and night, regardless of whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. There is no carbon-free base-load power source except nuclear energy.

Conventional nuclear energy has drawbacks. If you tried to scale conventional nuclear energy to meet the world's energy needs, you'd run out of uranium. And the enrichment process is complicated, expensive, and wasteful. In the United States, more than 700,000 tons of depleted uranium sits in storage.

TerraPower uses that depleted uranium as fuel, turning the cheap by-product of today's reactors into enough electricity to power every home in America for a thousand years. The technology needs virtually no new enrichment facilities, which is important because enriched uranium is a proliferation risk.

TerraPower offers a path to zero-carbon, proliferation-resistant energy. There are a lot of challenges, but we are building on decades of research at the U.S. national labs. We're also working with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and similar agencies in other countries.

AR Good work: I say give Nathan all the support he needs.

2012 September 11

Battle For Euro
Gideon Rachman

The European Central Bank has fired its magic bullet. But it has wounded democracy in Europe. Previous European bailouts by Germany were subject to review by the German courts, but the ECB can only be checked by the European Court of Justice. At the ECB, Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann has just one vote, the same as the bankers of Malta or Slovenia. He cast the sole vote against the plan. Then the Bundesbank issued a statement that the ECB plans are "tantamount to financing government by printing banknotes" and could leave German taxpayers paying the bill. Since 1945, we agreed never again to leave a powerful and aggrieved Germany isolated at the heart of Europe.

Race And Sex
Niall Ferguson

The U.S. economy is in the tank. Manufacturing is contracting, consumer confidence is sliding, nearly 47 million Americans are on food stamps, and we're heading for a fiscal cliff. Yet President Obama is set to win 51% of the popular vote and 311 electoral college votes. He has a 3 in 4 chance of being reelected. When asked to choose between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, voters don't seem to be thinking about economics. Many say Romney just isn't likable. And women dislike Republican views on abortion and contraception. Maybe this election will split by race and sex.

Saudi Oil Bust
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

On present trends, Saudi Arabia will cease to be an oil exporter by 2030. The Saudis already consume all their gas and a quarter of their crude output of 11 million barrels a day. Residential use makes up half of consumption, and over two thirds of that is for air conditioning. Locals consume 250 liters per head per day of water, most of it from energy-guzzling desalination plants. And the government subsidizes fuel to placate the poor.

Jews In Germany
Spiegel Online

The debate over the legality of circumcision has shocked Jews living in Germany. They see circumcision as an essential ritual of their faith. Some opponents of the practice seem to suggest that Jews and Muslims wantonly mutilate and traumatize their children.

Some 104,000 Jews live in Germany. They suffer repeated attacks, mostly by right-wing extremists but also by Muslims. There were 13 violent attacks in the first half of 2012. There were 16 attacks on Jews and Jewish establishments in Germany in 2011, compared with 114 in France.

Berlin has Germany's largest Jewish community. Many Jews emigrated there from the former Soviet bloc after 1990. A Holocaust memorial has been built right next to the Brandenburg Gate. But the main synagogue in Munich resembles a fortress. Squad cars guard access to the building around the clock. Security increases when children travel back and forth to school. Authorities believe there is a serious threat of attack. Any desire for a relaxed relationship between Jews and other Germans would appear to be somewhat naïve.

AR I think circumcision is a primitive and ugly tradition and should be discouraged. Let baptism suffice for Jews and Muslims too.

A Sad Story

The course of Western civilization can be represented as the glorious erection of a colossal and superhuman Christ figure. But this millennial idol has a downside. Its human prototype in Jesus of Nazareth has lost credibility. The Jesus who lived in Galilee and died in Jerusalem bears no visible relation to the globalized subject of the modern world.

We have a new human symbol for our civilization. The history of religion went from Buddhism through Christianity to Islam. The human drama continued with science, communism, and globalization. In the modern world, the Holocaust is replacing the crucifixion as a grim reminder of the frailty of our dreams and the truth of human mortality.

AR Better.

2012 September 10

Germany And The Eurozone
George Soros

Lead or leave: this is a legitimate decision for Germany to make. Either throw in your fate with the rest of Europe, take the risk of sinking or swimming together, or leave the euro, because if you have left, the problems of the eurozone would get better.

Jo Nesbo
The Independent

Jo Nesbo wrote a series of novels set in Oslo featuring police detective Harry Hole. A typical Hole investigation combines stomach-churning violence, black humor, and state-of-the-nation addresses.

Nesbo, 52, has sold over 14 million books. Last year the Anders Breivik tragedy raised his profile. He rose with the boom in Scandinavian crime fiction and drama that saw Wallander and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo emerge from Sweden, and The Killing and Borgen from Denmark. Nesbo's Norwegian identity emerged and he was sought out to comment on the state of his nation.

Nesbo's parents fought on opposing sides during the Second World War. Then his father started his own business, but lost everything when the company folded. "My father was too proud to go bankrupt. He paid all his debts down to the last cent. I think it was to do with having fought for the Germans. He didn't want anyone to have anything on him. I really respected my father for doing that."

Nesbo started as a footballer but retired at 19 and became a stockbroker. By night, he was a pop star in in the rock band Di Derre. Now he plays the line between bestseller entertainment and social critique.

2012 September 9

Attacking Iran
Noah Shachtman

CSIS analyst Anthony Cordesman has put together a detailed plan for a strike on Iran. His conclusions:

1 Israel does not have the capability to carry out preventive strikes that could do more than delay Iran for a year or two. The idea of Israel launching a unilateral attack is almost as bad as allowing Tehran to continue its nuclear work unchallenged. It would invite waves of Iranian counterattacks and wreak havoc with the world's oil supply.

2 The United States might be able to delay the nuclear program for up to ten years. But the initial air strike alone will require full use of the main bomber force, suppression of enemy air defense systems, escort aircraft for the protection of the bombers, electronic warfare for detection and jamming, fighter sweeps and combat air patrols.

I Recall Reading
Giles Fraser

In the world of Total Recall our fantasies are generated by artificial memory implants. They strap you to a chair, wire up your head, and reconstruct the architecture of reality so that it is generated by your own desire. Be careful what you wish for.

The novelist David Foster Wallace, who took his own life four years ago after struggling with depression, did a brilliant job of exposing the nightmare of any reality that is determined by our own desire. "There is no such thing as atheism," he said, because we all worship something. "If you worship money, you will never have enough. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid. Worship your intellect, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out."

Reading loosens the bonds of the me culture and is a passport to freedom. Absorption in another world, forgetting oneself and the passage of time, enjoying solitude, delighting in something not constructed by my own wants and fears — I remember.

The Great Pretender
Angela Levin

Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara, died in 1991 aged 45. His mother, Jer Bulsara, who is 90 next month, sparkles when she talks about "my boy". She is a Parsee, a Zoroastrian, who believes in one invisible God and the tenets of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. Freddie's father, Bomi, was a cashier in the British Colonial Office. Freddie was born in Zanzibar in 1946.

Freddie went to a boarding school in India, then moved with the family to the UK in 1964 and went to Ealing Art College. He had countless male lovers in his life, but the real love of his life was a woman. Freddie met Mary Austin when he was in his 20s and she was 19. They were together for seven years and he later called her his common-law wife. He said she was the only person he truly loved.

The Guardian

In 1999, historian Rachel P. Maines published The Technology Of Orgasm. She described how in Victorian times "doctors inherited the job of producing orgasm in women because it was a job nobody else wanted." The vibrator inherited the job when they too got tired of it. A new film, Hysteria, released September 21, tells the true story of the vibrator's inception.

Hysteria (YouTube, 1:49)

2012 September 8

APEC Russia 2012
The New York Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the Asia-Pacific economic conference in Vladivostok to strengthen ties with the Pacific Rim: "Russian-Chinese relations are at an unprecedentedly high level, and we have a lot of mutual trust both in politics and economics."

The Russian government has spent more than $20 billion to spruce up the city. The Russky Bridge alone cost more than $1 billion.

AR I guessed in my 1996 novel LIFEBALL that Russia and Japan would fight over the Kuril Islands, a.k.a. the Northern Territories, in 2013. Could still happen.

Alien Life
The Sun

Astronomer Royal Lord Rees says we will be able to observe distant planets by 2025 and life beyond our solar system could be discovered within 40 years: "We know now that stars are orbited by retinues of planets just as our sun is. We have learned this in just the last decade, essentially. Within 10 or 20 years we will be able to image other planets like the earth, orbiting other stars. That will be a really exciting subject to see if there is evidence for life or not."

He was speaking on the meaning of life for the launch of:
Stephen Hawking's Grand Design

AR These are exciting times in astronomy, so long as the funding holds out.

The Pakistani nuclear threat to us all

Curiosity on Mars
Mars rover Curiosity has driven 112 m from the drop point now called Bradbury Landing. Its tire tracks were seen from the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Albert Schweitzer
Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965)
Nobel Peace Prize (1952)

"Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil."

By the same author:
The Psychiatric Study of Jesus

Royal Holloway
Click for more
Royal Holloway,
University of London.
Telegraph: "picturesque"

Michelle Obama
The New York Times

Barack Obama's lead character witness is the first lady: "Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means to want something more for your kids and grandkids. Barack knows the American dream because he's lived it, and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we're from, or what we look like, or who we love."

New Scientist

How do organisms assume their forms? One answer is that it is written in their DNA. By studying bizarre mutants such as flies with legs in place of antennae, we have identified many of the genes involved in development. But we are like a bunch of kids who have got their hands on an alien spacecraft and managed to work out roughly what the switches do by playing with them. We still have a long way to go.



Albert Schweitzer's classic
Von Reimarus zu Wrede (1906)
translated by W. Montgomery as The Quest of the Historical Jesus is well worth while.

Barack Obama
White House
President Barack Obama meets with actor Clint Eastwood on the patio outside the Oval Office.

2012 September 7

ECB Saves Euro
Financial Times

European Central Bank president Mario Draghi says the ECB will offer to purchase eurozone countries' short-term bonds in the secondary market in a program dubbed outright monetary transactions, OMT, to address distortions in financial markets.

OECD secretary-general José Angel Gurría: "This is your bazooka. This is the muscle and the firepower which is quite awesome because effectively, theoretically, it's unlimited."

AR Sigh of relief: Let's see if it works.

Placebo Effect
New Scientist

Siberian hamsters do little to fight an infection if the lights above their lab cage mimic the short days and long nights of winter. But changing the lighting pattern to give the impression of summer causes them to mount a full immune response. Likewise, patients who take what they think is a drug but is really a placebo can have twice the response of those who take no pills.

The immune system is so costly to run that a strong and sustained response can drain an animal's energy reserves. If an infection is not lethal, it pays to wait for a sign that fighting it will not endanger the animal in other ways. Siberian hamsters act on a cue that it is summer because food supplies are plentiful then. We respond to placebo treatment because it says "go" to our immune response.

Peter Trimmer and colleagues developed a computer model for the placebo effect. The model showed that in challenging environments animals live longer and sire more offspring if they endure infections without mounting an immune response. In more favorable environments, animals do better to mount an immune response and return to health as soon as possible. The results show a clear evolutionary benefit to switching the immune system on and off depending on environmental conditions.

Understanding the placebo effect from an evolutionary perspective

2012 September 6

Vote Democrat
Bill Clinton

In Tampa the Republican argument against the President's re-election was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn't finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in.

I like the argument for President Obama's re-election a lot better. He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long hard road to recovery, and laid the foundation for a more modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators.

What kind of country do you want to live in? If you want a you're-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility — a we're-all-in-this-together society — you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Bill Clinton

President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. Republican economic policies quadrupled the debt before I took office and doubled it after I left. No president could have repaired all the damage in just four years. But conditions are improving.

We Democrats think the country works better with a strong middle class, real opportunities for poor people to work their way into it, and a relentless focus on the future, with business and government working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity.

AR Prez 42 was better on both vision and debt than any recent Republican.

Junk DNA
New Scientist

The central dogma of molecular biology is that DNA consisted of recipes for proteins. The code is transcribed to make RNA copies of the recipes, and ribosomes read the recipes to make proteins. But little over 1% of our DNA codes for proteins. Dogmatists said the rest was mostly junk.

The Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) reveals that some of the "junk" DNA is vital. Transcription involves proteins binding near the genes to boost or block their activity. The binding sites act as switches. Four million switches have been found. Extrapolating, this accounts for 20% of the genome. Nearly every part of the genome is close to a switch, and most genes are influenced by numerous switches at the same time. But we don't know how many of the switches work. Up to 80% of the genome seems to be biochemically active. Much of it is transcribed into RNA, which does various jobs, but so far the known functions don't explain all the activity.

We can assess the importance of a stretch of DNA by seeing whether it accumulates mutations or is conserved by natural selection. Some of the DNA specific to primates seems to be conserved in humans. Or we can delete the DNA to see what happens. In mice huge chunks of DNA have been deleted without any obvious effect. The enormous variation in genome size between species suggests that some of their DNA really is junk.

2012 September 5

Good Politics, Bad Economics
Josef Joffe

In the council of the European Central Bank, Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann is just one of 23, with one vote, the same as Greece. He is gnashing his teeth as the ECB gears up to buy the debt of member states. Goodbye, old ECB. Hello Fed-in-Frankfurt. Instead of Germanizing Europe, the Germans are about to be Europeanized, if not Club Medicated. Weidmann has threatened to resign.

Weidmann is being squeezed by the two Marios: Italian prime minister Mario Monti and ECB president Mario Draghi. Now Angela Merkel wants to buy calm ahead of federal elections in 2013 and turn the ECB into a money machine, a lender of last resort. You do not have to be a central banker to predict the obvious: no market pressure, no reform. It would be back to the future, Italian-style.

Welcome to INDECT

The INDECT project has been initiated by the Polish Platform for Homeland Security. The Project proposal was submitted by the international, pan-European consortium of 17 partners, led by the AGH University of Science and Technology, Krakow, Poland. The consortium consists of 11 universities, 4 companies and 2 end-users (Police Service of Northern Ireland and Polish General Headquarters of Police). INDECT is a research project, allowing involved European scientists to develop new, advanced and innovative algorithms and methods aiming at combating terrorism and other criminal activities.

AR Whoah! KGB, here we come!

Malise Ruthven

The origins of Christianity are inseparable from the apocalyptic spirit described by Albert Schweitzer in The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906). Muhammad's original mission cannot be explained without reference to the apocalyptic admonitions in the Koran. Apocalyptic rumblings surrounded Luther's call for reforming the Catholic Church, Sabbatai Zevi's claim to be the Jewish messiah, and the Babist movement in Persia that evolved into Bahaism.

The Mormon Church evolved from a doomsday cult. The sense of impending disaster inspired the Latter Day Saints to make the great migration across the Great Plains and Rockies. The persecution suffered by the first Saints may be compared with that experienced by Muhammad's first Muslim converts in Mecca, while the utopian community forged by Joseph Smith under divine guidance in Nauvoo corresponds to Muhammad's reign in Medina.

Joseph Smith identified himself with the patriarchs of ancient Israel. He believed that the Savior's return must be preceded by an era of doom and destruction leading to the restoration of Israel. Smith's followers saw themselves as the true Israelites and as the agents of Jewish conversion. Mormons now emphasize the Jewish return to Israel and not conversion. This shift facilitates the cozy relationship between Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu.

2012 September 4

Marathon Man
Gideon Rachman

Presidential elections can turn on trivia. Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan was introduced as a fearless truth-teller, yet he lied about having run a marathon in under three hours. Democrats say he lied about everything from Medicare to the closure of a car plant. They will have a field day with the marathon man at their convention this week.

Tax Avoider Romney
Joseph Stiglitz

Conservative politicians in the United States underestimate the importance of publicly provided education, technology, and infrastructure. Economies in which government provides these public goods perform far better than those in which it does not. But public goods must be paid for.

If every individual devoted as much energy and resources as the rich do to avoiding their fair share of taxes, the tax system either would collapse or would have to become far more intrusive and coercive. A market economy could not work if every contract had to be enforced through legal action.

A system that taxes speculation at a lower rate than hard work distorts the economy. Those at the top accrue much of their money as rents, which arise not from making more pie but from grabbing more of the existing pie. Economic inequality translates into political inequality and economic weakness.

Mitt Romney may not be a tax evader but he certainly is a tax avoider. Such tax avoidance makes it difficult to finance the public goods without which a modern economy cannot flourish. More important, it undermines belief in the system's fairness.

Fatal Feline Attraction
The Independent

Evidence linking toxoplasma and schizophrenia came out of the Oxford laboratory of Professor Joanne Webster, while researching the parasite responsible for fatal feline attraction.

Webster revealed how toxoplasma infection can change the behavior of rats to make them easy prey for cats. Instead of freezing at the first whiff of cat urine, infected mice or rats go exploring. Toxoplasma parasites need to be eaten by a cat to complete the sexual stage of their life cycle.

Genes in the toxoplasma genome allow the parasite to make L-dopa, the molecular precursor of the neuromodulator dopamine. Webster showed that treating infected rats with haloperidol, an antipsychotic drug known to block dopamine, reverses the behavioral changes brought about by toxoplasma.

Toxoplasma infections in rodents and possibly humans could interfere with the normal dopamine processes of the brain. Dopamine is involved in a host of psychological conditions in humans. Webster: "I think what we are going to see in humans is going to be similar to what we see in rats."

AR Is this why some people are nuts about cats?

Templeton Awards
Nathan Schneider

The John Templeton Foundation has been stepping up its awards for philosophers to study what it calls the big questions: free will, the universe, evil, hope, consciousness. Last year the foundation awarded $1 million to scholars at the University of Oxford for the philosophy of cosmology and gave $3 million to Biola University in Los Angeles to support a new Center for Christian Thought. Biola hosts an annual course by William Lane Craig, the debater who in 2009 famously trounced Christopher Hitchens.

2012 September 3

UK Shock Therapy
Financial Times

David Cameron will try to revive Britain's stagnant economy and fend off growing Tory criticism of his leadership. George Osborne revealed plans for a small business bank sponsored by the government. Tories are calling for Cameron and Osborne to apply right-wing shock therapy to the flatlining economy.

Germans Nix Greece
Peter Spiegel

Only a quarter of Germans think Greece should stay in the eurozone or get more help for a bailout. But most in Italy and Spain do not want to cut Athens loose. Angela Merkel is under pressure in Europe to agree more time or money for Greece. The Greek program has slipped by €20 billion since February.

Das Narziss-Drama
Joachim Wetzky

Das Drama des narzisstisch verwundeten Menschen ist eine Geschichte der inneren Einsamkeit und der verzweifelten Suche nach Liebe und Anerkennung. Grundsätzlich beginnt diese Leidensgeschichte mit den Eltern, die ihrem Kind keine emphatischen Gefühle vermitteln können. Das Kind fühlt sich nicht geliebt so wie es ist, sondern es lernt, Rollen zu spielen.

Spirituell betrachtet hat der narzisstisch verwundete Mensch den Kontakt zum Sein verloren. Er lebt in einem selbstgeschaffenen Gefängnis der äußeren Suche nach Anerkennung und Liebe. Gleichzeitig ist er fasziniert von dem, was er auf der spirituellen Suche in sich findet. Den Höhepunkt dieser narzisstischen Nabelschau finden wir in der Suche nach Erleuchtung.

Der Spiegel

Bundesjustizministerin Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger will den Kauf von Informationen über deutsche Steuerschummler per Gesetz verbieten. Erst moderierte Finanzminister Wolfgang Schäuble den Vorstoß ab, nun verweigert ihr auch die eigene Partei den Rückhalt: "Die Mehrheit des Präsidiums sieht den Vorstoß skeptisch."

AR Ganz recht: Die Schummler schämen!

Martin Amis: Yobs, Aging, Death
Ron Rosenbaum

Martin Amis writes not only viciously satiric novels like Lionel Asbo but also books about the Holocaust, Stalinism, nuclear annihilation, and post-9/11 Islam.

On yobs: "I've always thought that people that are designated as yobs actually have quite a lot of native intelligence and wit."

On aging: "Your youth evaporates in your early 40s ... Then I find that in your 60s, everything begins to look sort of slightly magical again."

On death: "The way they made the Jews pay for their tickets in the railway cars to the death camps. Yeah, and the rates for a third-class ticket, one way. And half price for children."

2012 September 2

American Atheism
Peter McGrath

Atheism+ "is a safe space for people to discuss how religion affects everyone and to apply skepticism and critical thinking to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, GLBT issues, politics, poverty, and crime."

The founders of Atheism+ say divisiveness is not their aim, but looking through the blogs and comments in the weeks since A+ was mooted, divisions have emerged. A dissenting tweeter is "full of shit", while one supporter says daring to disagree with the A+ definition of progressive issues and not picking their side makes you an "asshole and a douchebag".

Pope Leo, in his letter of anathema to the patriarch of Constantinople in 1053 that split the Roman and Orthodox churches, managed to be more polite.

Thomas Kuhn
John Naughton

Fifty years ago, the University of Chicago Press published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn. Before Kuhn, our view of science was dominated by a heroic narrative of progress. Kuhn saw paradigm shifts. Sales of his book to date: 1.4 million.

Kuhn was a physicist and once taught a course on science for humanities students. When he first encountered Aristotelian physics he thought it was idiotic. He saw that to understand scientific developments one must understand the intellectual frameworks within which scientists work.

Kuhn said scientific developments happen in phases. Normal science lets a community of researchers who share a common intellectual framework or paradigm solve puzzles thrown up by anomalies between what the paradigm predicts and what is revealed by observation or experiment.

Over time, unresolved anomalies accumulate until some scientists begin to question the paradigm. The discipline enters a period of crisis, which is resolved by a shift from the old paradigm to a new one. Kuhn brought about a paradigm shift in our understanding of science.

AR This book meant a lot to me in the years 1972 to 1974.

2012 September 1

Leading From The Front
John McCain

A Republican foreign policy under Romney would be built on the abiding conviction that America's destiny is still in our hands. Republicans would restore America's leadership

1 In support of our friends and allies: Our friends and allies tell me they want more of America. People look to the United States for leadership.

2 On free trade: The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a worthy initiative. Trade should become a more strategic component of our response to the Arab Spring.

3 On national defense: The president has consistently gotten it backward, allowing budget arithmetic to drive military strategy.

4 On human rights: When people risk everything for their freedom, as they are doing in the Arab world today, our president should take their side.

Our friends and allies still have faith in America. Mitt Romney has this faith in America.

AR Military activism in the Arab world? Hmm.

New College of the Humanities
A.C. Grayling

We ought to be funding universities properly through tax. Higher education is an investment that society is making in itself. Cambridge University says it costs them £17,500 a year to educate a humanities student. NCH charges £18,000. A high-class education is fantastically expensive.

Higher education in the UK is biased toward people who have been to grammar schools and private schools. But social engineering should be done in primary and secondary education, not in tertiary education. Tertiary education should be about the very best and the very brightest.

Francis Spufford

"There's probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life."

The atheist slogan implies that enjoyment would be your natural state if you weren't being worried by hellfire preaching. What's wrong with this, apart from it being total bollocks, is that it buys into a picture of human life in which the parts around easy enjoyment are all you can see.

Suppose you are poor or unemployed, or a drug addict, or have lost your child. Stop worrying and enjoy your life! Anyone who isn't enjoying themselves is on their own. The message is a denial of hope or consolation on any but the most cheery reading of the human situation.

I am a Christian. I assent to the ideas because I have the feelings. My belief is sustained by emotions. I think the universe is sustained by love. The argument about whether the ideas are true or not is secondary for me. Emotions can fool you. Religion is a form of imagining.


The Meaning Of Life
Tim Rayner

We spend too much of our lives consumed with minor goals, where achieving these goals doesn't require us to reflect much on our deep values and desires, or the sense of personal possibility that we develop in the course of engaging with challenges and exploring our own capacities. If we approach the visioning task in the same pragmatic frame of mind that we apply to everyday tasks, we can dream a life goal that doesn't do justice to our deep values and desires. We need to get down to existential ground zero. If we don't break out of our comfort zones before imagining our destiny, we're always in danger of selling ourselves short.

Rayner on
Foucault on Heidegger

Arctic ice
A record Arctic ice melt in 2012 has already beaten the previous record, set in 2007, three weeks before the sea ice reaches its usual minimum, suggesting the global climate is breaking down more rapidly than expected.

2016: Obama's America
Rated PG for strong language
and smoking

Ludwig Wittgenstein

"Don't Think, Look!"

Ray Monk

Ludwig Wittgenstein referred to himself as a disciple of Freud. Like Freud, he took seriously the idea that our dream images reveal the unconscious parts of our minds. Philosophical confusion, he maintained, had its roots in pictorial thinking. He suggests we understand words as picking out not some single thing but a group of things that need not have anything in common. Like members of a family, they might have similarities and dissimilarities that overlap in various ways. Understanding is seeing connections.


"If a lion could talk, we
would not understand him."
Ludwig Wittgenstein

New Scientist

The largest 3D map of the sky ever used to measure large-scale structure shows that if you zoom out far enough, the universe is smooth and free of clumps. The universe was born smooth, but then gravity pulled matter together so that gas formed stars, galaxies, and clusters.

Now a team has analyzed data from the WiggleZ Dark Energy Survey, for which the Anglo-Australian Telescope mapped about 220,000 galaxies in a volume of space equivalent to a cube with 3 billion light years to a side. They found clustering only up to a scale of about a thousandth of that volume. The team's work does not rule out clustering at vast scales.


2012 August 31

Romney: Obama "Disappointment"
Financial Times

Mitt Romney: "Every president since the Great Depression who came before the American people asking for a second term could look back at the last four years and say with satisfaction: you are better off today than you were four years ago. Except Jimmy Carter. And except this president. ... Today, the time has come for us to put the disappointments of the last four years behind us. To forget about what might have been and to look ahead to what can be."

AR No soaring rhetoric there. Disappointing, even.

IAEA: Iran Doubles Nuclear Capacity
Jerusalem Post

Iran has doubled the number of uranium enrichment machines it has in an underground bunker, says the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, and cleanup activities at the Parchin military complex would hamper inspection of any previous nuclear weapons development. The number of enrichment centrifuges at Fordow, a site deep inside a mountain, doubled to 2,140 from 1,064 in May.

Iran has produced nearly 190 kg of higher-grade enriched uranium since 2010. It says it needs this material to fuel a medical research reactor. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: "Iran will never pursue nuclear weapons and will not give up its nation's right to peaceful nuclear energy. Our motto is nuclear energy for all, and nuclear weapons for none."

AR Time to get real with Iran.

David Foster Wallace
Ned Beauman

David Foster Wallace didn't think an account of his life would be much fun. He said that "fiction's about how to be a fucking human being." But the guy telling us this concluded that life wasn't worth living. His dealings with women were often pretty grimy. He once wondered aloud to his friend Jonathan Franzen whether his only purpose on earth was "to put my penis in as many vaginas as possible".

AR He's no hero, despite his interest in the foundations of math.

2012 August 30

Ryan Attack
Financial Times

In his first major address as the Republican VP nominee, Paul Ryan attacked Barack Obama: "Now all that's left is a presidency adrift, surviving on slogans that already seem tired, grasping at a moment that has already passed, like a ship trying to sail on yesterday's wind."

Republicans today see the state of the economy as the biggest threat to the nation. Ryan: "College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life."

Before he won a reputation as a fiscal hawk, Ryan supported many of the policies that grew the deficit. Obama adviser David Axelrod: "Ryan, who voted for two wars that weren't paid for, two budget-busting tax cuts, and an unpaid for Medicare Rx program, moralizing about debt?"

Winning Mate Ryan
Conrad Black

So far this century, the United States has outsourced nearly 50 million jobs while admitting 20 million unskilled aliens, thrown American lives and $2 trillion after nation-building in the Mideast, and inundated the world with trillions of dollars of worthless debt. The Obama administration has generated almost $20,000 of increased deficit for every person in the country, while net employment has declined.

Willard Mitt Romney has faced in all four directions on almost every major issue and has behaved like a consultant whose answer to everything is to assess the data, assemble the experts, deluge people with platitudes, and decide later. Until he chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney was being hammered by the Obama team. For the first time in history, a VP pick has changed the tenor of a campaign.

AR Do we trust the political judgment of Lord Black of Crossharbour?

Christ: A Solitary Holocaust
Andy Ross

Jesus the Nazarene was an apocalyptic prophet with a taste for mysticism. After preaching in Palestine he was crucified in Jerusalem. Either he expired on the cross or he survived and headed east to work under a new name and die an old sage. But all agree he started something big.

Perhaps Christianity is only a chapter between Buddhism and Islam in a long historical quest that continues with science, communism, and globalization. Yet even though the Christian myth led all too readily to the Holocaust, millions of believers still multiply and spread the faith. Here Andy Ross presents a new way to feel the force of monotheism.

AR Let's see how long I can live with this version :-)

2012 August 29

Ann: Trust Mitt
Financial Times

Mitt Romney was formally nominated by the Republican party to challenge Barack Obama. Chris Christie assailed Obama as a president who did not have the political courage to tackle big government: "Our problems are big and the solutions will not be painless. We all must share in the sacrifice." Romney's wife Ann simply asked voters to "trust Mitt".

2016: Obama's America
David Weigel

Dinesh D'Souza is the star and narrator of 2016: Obama's America. The movie is really too good to get pedantic about. There are no conspiracy theories about Obama. Instead, there is a deep dive into Barack Obama's known Communist associates, his late father's avowed socialism, and his mother's radicalism. We see a world map where America's nuke count drops to zero as as its enemies build and build. In another scene the Mideast unites into a swollen Caliphate surrounded by thorns. "A world without nuclear weapons?" scoffs D'Souza. "Dreamy idea."

2016: Obama's America
The New York Times

Dinesh D'Souza is no fan of President Obama. This strident documentary builds on D'Souza's 2010 cover article for Forbes. He argues that the president has emasculated NASA, refused to take a meaningful step against Iran's nuclear ambitions, and is willing to let Argentina reclaim the Falkland Islands from the British. He paints in ominous terms the president's conciliatory 2009 speech in Cairo and sees a future Mideast become a United States of Islam.

Islam: The Untold Story
The Guardian

In Islam: The Untold Story (ITV C4), historian Tom Holland asked, "Can a non-Muslim hope to understand the origins of the Muslim world?" George Washington University Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr: "No."

There are serious discrepancies between the Koran and the surviving documentary evidence for the birth of Islam. There is no mention of Mecca in any dateable text until 100 years after the Prophet Muhammad's death. Dr Nasr told Holland that what he had discovered was "quite interesting, so long as you don't try to impose your view on the Muslim world". Holland said the last thing he wanted was for any Muslim to take him seriously.

Katie Roiphe

In Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens wrote: "I want to stare death in the eye." In Mortality, he comes close to doing so. The book's power lies in its simplicity. He talks about his sense of loss, without getting lost in it: "to the dumb question 'why me?' the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: 'why not?' "

The Hitch has done something extraordinary in this book. He has created yet another style, another mode, on his death bed. The last section, which is made up of notes, scrawlings, and half-formed thoughts, is the saddest.

2012 August 28

Economics in Denial
Howard Davies

The financial crisis was a serious indictment of the economics profession. The Bank of England stimulated fresh ideas by organizing a conference earlier this year. Among its recommendations was that the study of economics should be set in a broader political context, with greater emphasis on the role of institutions. Students should be taught that economic models have some explanatory value, but economic agents may not behave as the models suppose. The Bank of England is right to issue a call to arms. Economists would be right to heed it.

Financial Technology
Andrew Lo

The financial system has reached a level of complexity that only power users can manage. But there are not enough power users to go around. Financial accidents can quickly extend far and wide.

While technology has advanced tremendously in the past century, human cognitive abilities have remained the same. Technology that leverages human activity often magnifies both our strengths and our weaknesses. The solution is not to forswear financial technology but to develop more advanced technology, so advanced that it becomes foolproof and invisible to the human operator. We need a version 2.0 of the financial system, one that recognizes the frailties and foibles of Homo sapiens by addressing Murphy's law as thoroughly as it exploits Moore's law.

Technology has made us the dominant species on the planet. But it brings unintended consequences. Financial technology can facilitate tremendous growth but can also lead to great devastation.

Saudi Arabia
Abeer Allam

The Saudi Arabian central bank's net foreign assets rose to a record $591 billion in June. King Abdullah, 88, has lost two of his appointed heirs in the Arab awakening. The new heir apparent is Prince Salman, 76. Reformers last year petitioned the king to establish a constitutional monarchy. He ignored the calls but announced subsidy packages worth $130 billion in salary raises for civil servants, and housing and unemployment benefits.

The country has no political parties, unions, or any aspects of civil society other than charitable organizations run by royals. The private sector is dominated by foreign workers, but new regulations set quotas for the employment of Saudi nationals. Saudis command higher salaries but lack job skills, so the quota system merely raises costs as businesses waste time seeking favors. Despite years of petitioning, women lack basic rights.

AR The thought that my cash donations for fuel help to finance this colossally dysfunctional waste of money makes me most unhappy.

Life On Europa

Jupiter's moon Europa hides an ocean of water beneath its icy crust that might harbor life. But the NASA plan to explore the moon with a spacecraft called the Jupiter Europa Orbiter would cost about $4.7 billion. Brazilian astrobiologist Pabulo Henrique Rampelotto now proposes sending three small spacecraft to Europa. Mission 1 would be an orbiter to measure the thickness of Europan ice and see how deep its oceans go. Mission 2 would launch a few years later to map the surface in visible and infrared light from orbit and determine if any organic chemicals are present. Mission 3 would land on the moon and use impactors to penetrate between 1 and 10 meters of ice, then beam data back to Earth.

AR Let the Saudis finance something worthwhile like exploring the moons of Jupiter. I'd be happy to see my cash donations go that way.

Rowan Williams on Narnia
John Gray

The Lion's World can be read with profit and enjoyment by anyone interested in fundamental questions about the place of humankind in the scheme of things. Williams argues that theism can counteract a narrowly anthropocentric viewpoint. Pointing to the central role of animals in Narnia, he notes that Aslan the lion is non-human. Narnia's talking beasts free the mind from what Williams describes as "the passionate campaign against nature itself that is typical of the most toxic kinds of modernity". Refashioning nature and human nature to fit ideas of perfection or progress dehumanizes humankind. Williams: "Humanity can be manipulated into a nightmare caricature of eternal life, but only by losing what makes it human."

AR Williams received a copy of my book G.O.D. Is Great — perhaps this is his reply.

Sweet Tooth
By Ian McEwan

"Sweet Tooth takes the expectations and tropes of the Cold War thriller and ratchets up the suspense ... This is his best book since Atonement."
Amanda Craig

"Forget the spy charade: this is a book about writing, wordplay, and knowingness."
Catherine Taylor

2012 August 27

Economic history of the world over 2 millennia:  Part 1  Part 2  Part 3

The horizontal scale is highly nonlinear.

Brisk and impressive scholarship
My Amazon review of Lost Christianities by Bart D. Ehrman

Anyone who wants to understand the emergence of the New Testament as a canonical anthology can profit from reading this book. The raw texts for the canon were a muddle of assorted memoirs, tracts, and letters written by people who mostly lacked sufficient understanding of what they were writing about to express themselves clearly. The result was a dismaying tangle of confused and competing doctrines that took time to settle into a stable foundation for an organized church. ...

Bart Ehrman has documented this development superbly. Yet he seems totally uncritical about the orthodox faith that emerged from the history. His easy acceptance of orthodoxy means he sees the trees in this study but not the forest. >>>

2012 August 26

Europe 25 Centuries On
Pierre Manent

Western civilization began with the Greek city. The Greeks learned to govern themselves. Imperial Rome brought unity and peace. The imperial idea was reborn in the Catholic or universal Church. Europeans lived under the mixed and competing authorities of the city, the empire, and the Church.

The Reformation brought a return to scripture. The modern political project was a response to the demoralizing contrast between what men said and what they did. The state monopolized authoritative speech. At first, the state allied itself with religion. At its full strength, it became the secular state.

The modern project continues. Representative democracy articulates actions in relation to speech. During an electoral campaign, everyone proposes all sorts of actions. As soon as the election is over, those who have won the majority proceed to enact their proposals. A transfer of power is accomplished.

In Europe, the political landscape has been leveled. The webs of conviction have unraveled. Political speech no longer aims to prepare for action. Speech itself is regarded as action. Offending speech acts are called phobias. Political correctness measures speech by the standard of invisible intentions.

The popular vote is a matter of indifference for the European political class. We will soon leave representative government behind and return to commandments, as regulations. The regulations reflect increasing globalization. Europe is disarmed in a world armed by Western civilization. What now?

AR We reap what we sow. We arm them, they grow strong, we grow rich.

Neil Armstrong
Apollo 11
Neil Armstrong, on Earth and working beside the Eagle lunar module on the Moon, July 20, 1969, photographed by Buzz Aldrin

Andy Ross
Me, today

Bad Not Mad
Anders Breivik wins 21 years
in jail at the Norwegian
taxpayers' expense.

AR A bullet in the brain
would be cheaper.

2012 August 25

Men, Who Needs Them?
Greg Hampikian

Our genus name Homo reflects an old patriarchal bias in science. Women are both necessary and sufficient for human reproduction, but men are neither. From the production of the first cell, the egg, to the raising of the child, fathers can be absent. Your life as an egg started in your mother's ovary. You were wrapped in your mother's fetal body as it developed within your grandmother.

Once your mother had grown up, you burst forth and glided along her oviduct, living on stuff she packed for you. Then, at some point, your father spent a few minutes close by, but then left. A little while later, you met some tiny cells from him that gave you a few picograms of DNA. Over the next nine months, you got all you needed from your mother. She bulked you up, and at birth she swathed you in billions of protective bacteria. If your mother breast-fed you, you suckled milk from her for many more months.

If a woman wants to have a baby without a man, she just needs sperm from a donor, and perhaps a straw. If all the men on earth died tonight, women could get by on frozen sperm. The children would be fine. Poverty is what hurts them, not the number or gender of parents. Women live longer, are healthier, and are far less likely to commit a violent offense. If men were cars, who would buy them?

Ian McEwan
Caroline Daniel

At 64, Ian McEwan has just published his 13th novel, Sweet Tooth. In the early 1970s, he entered a buoyant literary scene in London. This era forms the backdrop for Sweet Tooth. He worries that people will dislike it because he has "put some of my chums in. It's very self-indulgent."

2012 August 24

Vel d’Hiv, Juillet 1942
François Hollande

On July 16, 1942, early in the morning, 13,152 men, women, and children were arrested in their homes. Childless couples and single people were interned in Drancy, the others were taken to the Vélodrome d’Hiver. After five days in inhuman conditions and heartrending separations of parents and children, they departed for Auschwitz-Birkenau. There they were murdered.

The infamy of the Vel d’Hiv was part of the Holocaust. In all, 76,000 French Jews were deported to the death camps. Those people had trusted in France. In Paris in 1791, Jews had become full citizens for the first time in Europe. They found in France a land of welcome and a promise of protection. Seventy years ago, this promise and this trust were trampled underfoot.

The French police undertook to arrest the thousands of innocent people trapped on July 16, 1942. And the French gendarmerie escorted them to the internment camps. No German soldiers were mobilized at any stage of the operation. This crime was committed in France, by France, and against France, against her values, against her principles, against her ideal.

The Holocaust is on the school curriculum. The challenge is to fight tirelessly against not only the insult of Holocaust denial, but also the temptation of relativism. To pass on the history of the Shoah is to teach how uniquely appalling it was. By its nature, its scale, its methods, and the terrifying precision of its execution, that crime remains an abyss unique in human history.

AR Never forget. The Holocaust now is like the Crucifixion centuries ago.

André Glucksmann

The crisis of the European Union is a symptom of its civilization. It defines itself not by its identity but against its other. In historical terms, the European Union came together to oppose three evils: fascism, communism, and colonialism. These three evils gave rise to a common understanding of democracy. The member states are no longer forming a united front against external threats in the globalized world. Globalization brings global chaos. The players may not be keen on war, but everyone is playing his own game. In this anarchic confusion, Europe has to assert itself and face up to threats aggressively.

Philip Stephens

These are tempestuous times in China. Chinese officials are vexed that the Unites States supplies Taiwan with high-tech weaponry. A flare-up of the dispute with Japan about a group of islands in the East China Sea fit a new bellicosity in Beijing. Disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea, and Malaysia over various island outcrops in the South China Sea challenge the Sino-American relationship. American policymakers demand more transparency about China's rapid military build-up. As long as Chinese military capabilities and doctrines remain cloaked in mystery, U.S. hawks will fear the worst.

Emma Brockes

The U.S. reviews for Lionel Asbo, Martin Amis' latest novel, are not pretty:
The Washington Post described the novel as "ham-fisted" and "meandering" and suggested that Amis move back to England.
The Wall Street Journal: "He reads like a university don telling dirty jokes to astonish the groundlings while never letting them forget how well he knows his Milton."
The New York Observer: "The most marked characteristic of Lionel Asbo is its joylessness ... Lionel Asbo is a bad book."
The New York Times dismissed Asbo as "weary" and "pallid" and took swipes at two other Amis novels, Yellow Dog ("dreadful") and the Pregnant Widow ("tedious").

AR Martin should try something completely different.

Richard Dawkins: the Playboy interview

The US Army chose three companies to develop a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle to replace today's workhorse Humvee and heavy MRAP trucks. AM General, Lockheed Martin, and Oshkosh Defense each won about $30 million to refine their prototypes. The Pentagon wants up to
50,000 trucks for the Army and another 5,000 for the Marines, at $250,000 apiece.

Peter Sloterdijk
Peter Sloterdijk

Meine Amazon


Global Combat Ship

The UK Ministry of Defence unveils the Type 26 Global Combat Ship. The ships will displace 5400 tons and be 148 m long but have the radar signature of small fishing boats. Contractor BAE Systems designed the type with a hangar for a Merlin or Wildcat helicopter, vertical missile silos, a flexible mission space for boats or other vehicles, and a medium caliber deck gun. The Royal Navy will buy 13 of them to replace old Type 23 frigates, starting 2020.

BAE animation

Big Apple
Financial Times

Apple has became the most valuable company in history. At $665.15 a share, Apple's $623.5 billion market cap beats Microsoft's record of $620.6 billion, held since December 1999.

Mona Lisa
Leonardo da Vinci
Mona Lisa + Fibonacci spiral


The first published use of the Hindu numerals in the Western world was in MCCII (1202 CE), when Leonardo Pisano, a.k.a. Fibonacci, published Liber Abaci (book of calculation). He began:
"The nine Indian figures are: 987654321. With these nine figures, and with the sign 0, which the Arabs call zephyr, any number whatsoever is written."

Apocalypse Not
Matt Ridley

At least not from:
Chemical pollution
Epidemic diseases
Too many people
Too few resources

DNA Book
The Guardian

George Church and colleagues report in Science that they have encoded a book onto DNA. At 53,000 words, 11 images, and a computer program, it is the largest amount of data written artificially onto DNA molecules.

They say the cost of DNA coding is dropping so quickly that within a few years it could be cheaper to store data this way than on ROM media. In theory, 1 g of DNA can store up to 450 PB of data. DNA is good for data storage because it can be copied easily and read many years later.

Solar Ball
The Guardian

The sun is the most perfectly spherical natural object known in the universe. Jeffrey Kuhn and colleagues have shown that the sun's oblateness, scaled to the size of a beachball, is less than the width of a human hair. Only a silicon ball manufactured as a fiducial 1 kg mass is known to be more perfectly spherical. The results are reported in Science.

Neuroscientists say
free will is an illusion

From Bernoulli To Maxwell
Equations that rule the world
New Scientist, video, 3 min

The quantum multiverse:
Everett 55 years on

RQ-7 Shadow 600
RQ-7 Shadow 600
At the Farnborough airshow, Raytheon showcased its Pyros small tactical munition, a 6 kg bomb just 55 cm long designed for smaller drones, such as the AAI RQ-7 Shadow 600 with its 200 km range and 41 kg payload, including a laser designator to guide the bombs.

Set Theory

New Scientist

Symmetric 7-set
Venn diagram

2012 August 23

Joshua Mostafa

Peter Sloterdijk's Spheres trilogy (Sphären, 1998-2004) philosophizes about spaces of coexistence between human beings. Volume 1, Bubbles, describes micro-spheres: the womb, love bonds, and the link between God and man. Volume 2, Globes, deals with the world as a single macro-sphere. Volume 3, Foams, covers our contemporary network of social spheres, in which the bubbles keep popping.

Sloterdijk hosted a German TV show from 2002 until earlier this year. In 1983, his first major work,
Kritik der zynischen Vernunft, sold more copies than any other philosophy book since the war. His prolific writings draw both admiration and accusations of dilettantism.

Sloterdijk rejects individualism. The individual is created by a division of the self into subject and its own object, a foundational schizophrenia, which prevents us from understanding the "ecstatic entwinement of the subject in the shared interior".

Sloterdijk sees his trilogy as companion and continuation of Martin Heidegger's Sein und Zeit. He says Heidegger's mistake was to insist on our essential loneliness by trying to answer the who question before the where question. Before birth, we are in the mother's body, sharing her blood. Women are links in an intergenerational web of unbroken physical continuity stretching back into the oceans.

Sloterdijk denies that navel gazing is a useless and isolating activity. He calls modern individualism placental nihilism: by denying the significance of the placenta, we deny our fundamental connection to the world around us.

AR I enjoyed Sloterdijk's lecture on bubbles in Heidelberg 20 years ago.

2012 August 22

Facebook For Free
Washington Post

Facebook has more than 900 million users. It has reams of the personal information that marketers covet and already brings in $3.7 billion a year. Yet there are growing concerns about the long-term prospects for companies that are popular but do not charge users for services.

Traditional media companies that depend mainly on advertising for profits have struggled to maintain profits while moving their businesses online, where ad rates are lower and content is often free. Radio and television companies made billions of dollars serving commercials to captive audiences over many decades. But online the user is in charge. Off-point messages get tuned out. Newspapers increasingly charge those who regularly read their stories online. The New York Times reports more than 500,000 digital subscribers since it started charging readers last year.

Facebook is trading at more than 40 times its reported earnings. Buyers are investing more in potential growth than current profits. Apple trades at 15 times its earnings, General Motors at 7 times. Investors are pushing Facebook to find new ways to draw profit from its massive traffic.

Thucydides' Trap
Graham Allison

Can China and the United States escape Thucydides' trap? A rising power rivals a ruling power, as Athens did in 5th century BCE and Germany did 100-odd years ago. Most such challenges have ended in war.

Classical Athens was the center of civilization. This dramatic rise shocked Sparta, the established land power on the Peloponnese. At the end of 30 years of war, both states had been destroyed. Thucydides:
"It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable."

The rapid emergence of any new power disturbs the status quo. Germany after unification overtook Britain as Europe's largest economy. In 1914 and in 1939, the clash produced world wars.

If leaders in China and the United States do no better, historians of the 21st century will cite Thucydides in explaining the catastrophe that follows. The leaders must begin talking to each other more candidly.

Cheap Wonder Material
New Scientist

Nanocrystaline cellulose (NCC) is produced by processing wood pulp. The NSF says it will be a $600 billion industry by 2020.

NCC is transparent and has eight times the tensile strength of stainless steel, weight for weight, due to its dense array of microscopic crystals.

NCC is made from wood pulp hydrolyzed in acid. The crystals form a paste that can be applied as a laminate or processed into strands.

NCC will soon cost a few dollars a kilogram. It will replace some car parts and could make many plastics obsolete. And it's nontoxic.

2012 August 21

Europeans Unite!
Jürgen Habermas, Peter Bofinger, Julian Nida-Rümelin

The current crisis is not a euro crisis. Nor is it a European debt crisis. It is a crisis of refinancing affecting individual countries within the eurozone, and its main cause is inadequate institutions.

The solutions tried so far have failed. A lack of fiscal discipline at the national level would be solved by a rigorous policy of austerity. But the problem countries have failed to reduce their refinancing costs despite reforms and cuts that are unusually severe. A solution cannot be found at the national level.

The crisis is driven by the risk that an individual country might become insolvent. That risk can only be reduced by collective guarantees for government bonds in the eurozone. Concerns about disincentives can be allayed by combining collective guarantees with collective control over national budgets, overriding national sovereignty.

Only a politically united core Europe offers any hope of reversing the tragic decline of a true democracy built on the idea of the social state into a sham democracy governed by the money market.

We need to move toward political union. We cannot save the euro without accepting collective responsibility and redressing the institutional deficit in the eurozone. Without transparency, this will undermine the democratic foundations of the European Union. A supranational democracy is needed. A democratic core Europe should represent all citizens in the eurozone.

We must regulate the financial markets and correct the structural imbalances within the eurozone. For the first time in the history of capitalism, a crisis triggered by banks had to be resolved by governments forcing their citizens, as taxpayers, to pay for the losses incurred. Citizens are rightly outraged.

Obama's Gotta Go
Niall Ferguson

In his inaugural address, Barack Obama promised "not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth." Unfortunately the scorecard on his bold pledges is pitiful.

Unemployment has averaged over 8% this year. Real household income has dropped more than 5% since June 2009. Nearly 110 million individuals received a welfare benefit in 2011. The ratio of public debt to revenue has risen from 165% in 2008 to 262% this year.

It is five years since the financial crisis began, but the central problems — excessive financial concentration and excessive financial leverage — have not been addressed. Today 10 big financial institutions are responsible for three quarters of total financial assets under management in the United States, and the largest banks are at least $50 billion short of meeting new capital requirements.

By 2017, the IMF predicts the GDP of China will overtake that of the United States. Already 46% of Americans and 63% of Chinese believe that China is or will soon be the world's leading superpower.

In November, Obama will go head-to-head with his nemesis. Paul Ryan has a plan — as opposed to a narrative — for this country. Voters can let Obama's rambling, solipsistic narrative continue until they find themselves living in some American version of Europe, or they can opt for real change.

Icelandic Lessons
Steingrímur Sigfússon

Iceland's economy melted down in 2008. Its banking sector collapsed in a week. The krona plunged 40% against the euro. Inflation, interest rates, and the unemployment rate rose. Debt piled up, revenues shrank, and expenditure soared.

Now the fiscal deficit is below 2% of GDP and Iceland sells bonds in the international market. The 2011 growth rate was over 3% and the outlook for 2012 is similar, driven increasingly by business investment.

The Icelandic government pursued policies of social and economic inclusion. Those on higher incomes contributed more and those on lower incomes were sheltered. Welfare services were cut less than other areas of public spending.

2012 August 20

U.S. State Will Expand
Larry Summers

The central issue in the presidential election will be how to manage the federal government share of the overall economy. Preserving existing services will raise the public sector share:

1 Demographic change will expand federal outlays unless politicians degrade the protection of the elderly. About a third of the U.S. federal budget goes to supporting those aged over 65.

2 Rising debt and interest rates will raise the share of federal spending devoted to interest payments. In 2007, federal debt held by the public was about a third of GDP, but it will double by 2020.

3 Increases in the price of what the federal government buys relative to what the private sector buys will raise state costs, reflecting long term trends in globalization and technology.

4 Deferral of pension liabilities and infrastructure spending are unsustainable. Fewer tax returns are audited and tax evasion is rising, reflecting unsustainable cuts in spending.

The Ryan Plan
Martin Wolf

The Ryan plan follows a consistent line of Republican fiscal policy: tax cuts for the rich and cuts in spending on the poor. The idea that Republicans care about the deficit does not pass the laugh test. The Ryan plan offers upfront tax cuts plus cuts of a trillion dollars that would slash tax breaks for health insurance, mortgage interest, and the like. Federal debt would rise by $6 trillion over the next decade, but federal revenue and spending would be reduced by a few percent of GDP. The plan is not credible.

Like a Virgin
Aarathi Prasad

The ultimate solo parent of the future is a woman. She can use her own stem cells and an artificial Y chromosome to produce new eggs and sperm at any age. And she can let the embryo gestate in an artificial womb. If you grow a baby in a box you can manipulate the influences on it. The signals that make a mother happy are due to chemicals in the brain. You can replicate them.

2012 August 19

The Lion's World
Mark Vernon

Rowan Williams sees a need to "rinse out what is stale in our thinking about Christianity — which is almost everything". He reflects on the nature of mercy and portrays it as facing up to the truth about what you have done and who you are. The theistic insight is that this truth can only be seen when you are confronted by the divine. To be unmasked as God sees you is like the transformation that occurs when someone falls in love.

2012 August 18

The Social Conquest of Earth
Edward O. Wilson

The evolution of eusociality has thrown defenders of kin selection into disarray. I think this debate moves the study of social behavior into the same league as similar controversies in the rest of science.

Individual selection is responsible for much of what we call sin, while group selection is responsible for the greater part of virtue. Together they have created the conflict between the poorer and better angels of our nature. We have created a Star Wars civilization with stone-age emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology. We are confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life. If we can understand who we really are, then we can reach a much better world.

The evolution of eusociality
M.A. Nowak, C.E. Tarnita, E.O. Wilson
Nature, 2010

Eusociality, in which some individuals reduce their own lifetime reproductive potential to raise the offspring of others, underlies the most advanced forms of social organization and the ecologically dominant role of social insects and humans. Kin selection theory, based on the concept of inclusive fitness, has been the major theoretical attempt to explain the evolution of eusociality. We show the limitations of this approach.

2012 August 17

Pussy Riot
Peter Gabriel

A punk group plays rude, subversive music in a cathedral. When Vladimir Putin first came to power, he was a genuinely popular hero, bringing back services, prosperity and pride and many were willing to overlook the negatives. But each term of office has exposed more of what is rotten and seen the erosion of more and more human rights. The clampdown continues and so does the fall from grace. And yet there are brave young people willing to risk their freedom for a better, freer and more open Russia.

France and Germany
Romain Leick

French historian Max Gallo sees a parallel between the buildup to war in August 1914 and the current crisis in Europe.

Peter Sloterdijk says Europeans "have forsworn the military gods and completed a conversion from heroism to consumerism".

Jean-Pierre Chevènement sees the euro as an instrument of German domination in Europe.

Jacques-Pierre Gougeon says the French fear of being left behind reinforces the German aim to be the role model in Europe.

Pascal Bruckner says France and Germany are too closely intertwined to disengage. They are Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Theodore Dalrymple

Continued British aid to India is absurd. India has announced that it will send a space probe to Mars, something Britain cannot do. Indian president Pranab Mukherjee, when he was finance minister, said India didn't need British aid, which was "peanuts" anyway. The British government forgets that it required an Indian takeover of Land Rover and Jaguar to make a go of them.

David Graeber

Karl Jasper's Axial Age — the lifetimes of Pythagoras, Confucius, and the Buddha — corresponds almost exactly to the period in which coinage was invented. The three parts of the world where coins were first invented became the epicenters of Axial Age religious and philosophical creativity.

The Axial Age saw the first emergence of large professional armies. Coins emerged to pay these armies. Large numbers of slaves were needed to mine gold and silver for the coins. The resulting system of armies and slaves brought moral crises that led to the emergence of the great religions.

AR Karl Marx would have liked this story. Money crystalizes a concept of value within a social order. The moral crises reflected a need for higher values to keep the social order inflated. Without more sacred values to give life meaning and purpose, money grubbing is just killing and dying.

2012 August 16

American Government
Jeffrey Sachs

Paul Ryan's budget is heartless in the face of the crisis facing America's poor. It is also reckless, guaranteed to leave millions of children without the education and skills they will need as adults. The Democrats offer no progressive alternative. Both parties are accomplices to the premeditated asphyxiation of the state.

Total U.S. government revenues in 2011 came in at about a third of GDP. This compares with an average of a half of GDP in northern Europe. Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden get great value for their tax revenues: lower budget deficits, lower unemployment rates, lower public debt-to-GDP ratios, lower poverty rates, greater social mobility, better job training, longer life expectancy, lower greenhouse gas emissions, higher reported life satisfaction, and greater macroeconomic stability.

2012 August 15


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a major review of the country's defense strategy following the Arab Spring. Events in Egypt have destabilized Israel's southern border and the civil war in Syria could affect its northern border. Retired officer Uzi Dayan said the Muslim Brotherhood is forming a ring around Israel, with the Sinai as a new front and Syria as a Sunni Muslim state.

Déjà Vu
The Times

French President François Hollande interrupted his holiday as rioting ghetto youths in the city of Amiens torched cars and razed buildings. Blogger 8Z said the rioters suffer "oppression by fascist police" and described them as "the opposition" from former French colonies: "Algerians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Gabonese, Malians and Cameroonians."

The Times

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is back at her desk to face threats to the euro from Greece and Spain. On September 12, the constitutional court will rule whether the European Stability Mechanism is compatible with the German constitution. The German economy is more competitive than other European countries but it is exposed to global risks.

Financial Times

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to ask for a two-year extension of the Greek austerity program in talks with Angela Merkel and François Hollande. Greece is struggling to find another €11.5 billion of spending cuts to be made by 2014 under the current bailout deal. The extension plan calls for the cuts to be made by 2016.

Financial Times

The Spanish government is in talks with Brussels to allow tens of thousands of retail clients who bought risky savings products from now nationalized lenders to avoid losing their investments as part of Spain's bank bailout. In the proposed compromise, they will suffer an instant haircut, and then be repaid in full over time by their banks.


The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation toilet challenge winners:

1 California Institute of Technology wins $100,000 for its idea of a solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity.

2 Loughborough University, UK, wins $60,000 for a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water.

3 The University of Toronto, Canada, wins $40,000 for a toilet that sanitizes feces and urine and recovers resources and clean water.

AR I'm beginning to like how Bill is spending our Microsoft donations.

Hot Stuff

At the conference Quark Matter 2012, CERN LHC physicists report that they have cooked up the hottest ever quark soup. Colliding heavy ions momentarily created a quark-gluon plasma with a temperature of some 5.5 trillion K.

2012 August 14

Euro Collapse
Martin Hesse

Banks and investors are bracing themselves for a possible breakup of the eurozone. Cross-border lending among eurozone banks has reached its lowest level since 2007. Banks are even severing connections to their own subsidiaries abroad, preparing for the day that southern European countries reintroduce national currencies and devalue them.

Investors are looking for ways to protect their money. Capital is flowing northward from southern Europe, German real estate prices are rising rapidly, and large amounts of money are flowing into German sovereign bonds that pay zero interest. The stock market rally of the past weeks reflects a flight of capital into real assets. Speculators such as John Paulson and George Soros say they would bet on a collapse of the euro.

New Legal Challenge
Financial Times

A new challenge to the European Stability Mechanism has been filed in the German constitutional court, seeking to delay ratification by Germany until it has sought the opinion of the European Court of Justice. If the challenge is accepted, it could delay creation of the ESM by several months. The German court had promised to rule on previous challenges by September 12.

Tom Bartlett

New Atheists say religion poisons everything and we would be better off without it. But scientists are applying evolutionary theory to the study of religion. Their research suggests that religion or religious ideas can elicit such behavior as fairness, generosity, and honesty.

David Sloan Wilson sees religion as "the groupiest thing around" because it knits believers together. He claims to explain this by a theory of group selection. He sees New Atheist militancy as equivalent to religious fundamentalism.

Scott Atran calls religion an evolutionary byproduct or a cognitive accident but sees the upside of faith. He sees no need for group selection to explain the evolution of religion. Atran believes that "attacking obscurantist, cruel, lunatic ideas is always a good idea" but describes New Atheism as moronic.

Among the New Atheists, Daniel Dennett has analyzed religion most closely. In Breaking the Spell, he compares religion to a type of parasite that invades the brains of ants. "One of the good reasons for studying religion is that it does so much harm, and it's worth trying to figure out how to control it."

AR Dan's book makes the best scientific contribution to NA.

2012 August 13

R and R
Jacob Weisberg

Introducing his running mate against the backdrop of the USS Wisconsin on Saturday, Mitt Romney flubbed his easiest line: "Join me in welcoming the next president of the United States." There is no way to avoid reading this as a Freudian slip. Romney's chief problem as a candidate has been his substantive vacuity, his failure to stand for much beyond flexibility itself. In choosing Paul Ryan, he opted to outsource the content of his campaign to his opposite: a principled, conservative ideas man. Ryan is now the head of the Republican ticket, Romney the body.

AR As Tom Clancy might say, mission accomplished.

Boris Johnson

Some people had their doubts. They were worried that the transport network would not hold up. As things turned out, the network ran so smoothly that the International Olympic Committee, the hierarchs who were supposed to be in the Zil lanes, were on the Tube, because it was the fastest and most convenient way to get around. Then people worried about the security, and as things turned out the Armed Forces personnel worked with great smoothness and efficiency. And then people doubted that we could put on a Games to rival Beijing in 2008. Well, I reckon we've knocked Beijing into a cocked hat. For the first time since the end of the empire, London feels like the capital of the world.

AR BoJo has his epiphany.

London Olympics 2012
  Medals Gold Silver Bronze Total
  United States 46 29 29 104
  China 38 27 22 87
  Great Britain 29 17 19 65
  Russia 24 25 33 82
  Korea 13 8 7 28
  Germany 11 19 14 44
The Times Verdict

The Games ended last night with the greatest party in the history of the world. Looks like we got away with it. We don't really go in for boasting in this country, but it looks like London 2012 was, shall we say, not bad. Really quite good, in fact.

AR Yes, indeed. Well done, chaps.

Molly Ringwald
Photo: B.J. Holmes
Molly Ringwald, 44, starred in three classic coming-of-age films. Her second book, a novel, is out now. Next year she's releasing a new collection of jazz songs.
"I'm sort of a cultural icon."

2012 August 12

Paul Ryan
The New York Times

Mitt Romney has been criticized for not saying how he would reduce the national debt. Tapping Paul Ryan as his running mate changes that.

Ryan is chairman of the House Budget Committee. The Ryan budget would shrink the government and largely undo the social safety net. It would cut about $6 trillion from projected spending in the first 10 years and cut $4 trillion in revenues by slashing individual and corporate income taxes. When Ryan pushed ahead with his budget plan, Democrats saw it as a political windfall. Now the plan is part of the presidential race.

Romney wants a 20% cut in all rates without adding to annual budget deficits, to leave wealthy taxpayers with a large tax cut but 95% of Americans with a net tax increase. Romney and Ryan would extend the Bush-era tax cuts due to expire at year’s end. Ryan would also make Medicare a voucher program and Medicaid a block grant to states.

Ryan: "If we don't reform spending on government health and retirement programs, we have zero hope of getting our spending — and as a result out debt crisis — under control."

Rejoice! It's Ryan!
John Dickerson

The Ryan pick is thrilling. That's a first for Romney's campaign. Throughout the primaries, a segment of conservatives were lukewarm about him. Now conservatives have something to vote for. Paul Ryan is a revered figure in conservative circles. He is a conservative evangelist for the free market and lower taxes. Ryan is not a complement to Mitt Romney. He's an injection of energy.

AR Obama should have it easier now. For 99% of voters the choice is clear.

2012 August 11

Andrew Scull

Psychiatrists use simplistic diagnoses and loose criteria to transform normal problems into diseases. Thirty years ago they said less than 1 in 20 of Americans had an anxiety disorder, now they say 1 in 2 do. They call depression the common cold of psychiatry and diagnose hugely more cases of ADHD, juvenile bipolar disorder, autism, social phobia, PTSD, SAD, and a variety of other disorders. Psychiatry has lost its way.

AR We still lack a scientific theory of the mind. This will take time: see my book Mindworlds.

Online Advertising

Advertisers are wasting far too many dollars on digital display ads. The one true branding mechanism online is content marketing. Content marketing enables brands to share their story in long form and in their own words. For the first time ever, any brand can create its own content affordably and at scale. The story can come in the form of  blogs, articles, reviews, ebooks, or videos. Interesting content delivers informational or entertainment value.

In content marketing, content means the creation of original content or the curation of content for the benefit of your audience. Marketing means getting people to discover and engage with your content. You need to get your content discovered in a subtle way, without pushing it at people. Content marketing should be a pull strategy. Just like search was a decade ago and social was five years ago, content marketing is the next digital media revolution.

AR I can do that. Marketing managers of the world unite, and pay me!


Curiosity does a 360° scan of its landing site on Mars

Forbes Top Ten

Authors by income last year:
James Patterson: $94 million
Stephen King: $39 million
Janet Evanovich: $33 million
John Grisham: $26 million
Jeff Kinney: $25 million
Bill O'Reilly: $24 million
Nora Roberts: $23 million
Danielle Steel: $23 million
Suzanne Collins: $20 million
Dean Koontz: $19 million

The Harry Potter wave
has broken:
J.K. Rowling: $17 million

The Shades of Grey wave
has yet to peak.

Fifty Shades of Grey has become the bestselling book in British history. The erotic novel has sold over 5.3 million copies in print and e-book. Combined UK sales for the trilogy are in excess of 12 million copies.

Author E.L. James started to write Fifty Shades of Grey in January 2009 and published the first volume in June 2011: "This is my midlife crisis, writ large."

LRB reviewer Andrew O'Hagan called it "terrible writing about sex".


Nephi Subdues His Brothers
by Arnold Friberg

Are quantum states real?
Lucien Hardy

Consider theories in which reality is described by some underlying variables, each of whose values represents an ontic state. A quantum state corresponds to a distribution over the ontic states. Given three basic assumptions, we show that the distributions over ontic states corresponding to distinct pure states do not overlap. So we can deduce the quantum state from a knowledge of the ontic state. One assumption is that quantum transformations that do not affect a given pure quantum state can be implemented so as not to affect the ontic states in the support of that state. We prove that this assumption is violated in any model reproducing quantum theory in which the quantum state is not ontic.

Curiosity sent this image of its shadow on the Martian surface

2012 August 10

Fog Of War
Foreign Policy

The military in the United States means the active duty Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, plus the reserves and the National Guard. It is a specialized, hierarchically structured organization that's legally authorized to use lethal force to protect the state and advance its interests.

Military analysts call the ratio of combat versus non-combat troops the tooth to tail ratio (T3R). A 2007 study found that the U.S. military's T3R has declined substantially since World War I. The study defined combat troops as all "company size and above units of infantry, armor, cavalry, field artillery, air defense, artillery, attack and assault aviation, and combat engineers ... special operations forces" and so on. But in Iraq and Afghanistan, those combat troops spent a great deal of their time on everything from building schools to helping women join the workforce.

Our troops will spend more and more time on activities that don't much resemble traditional combat. They'll control drones from a safe distance, they'll mount offensive actions in cyberspace, and they'll engage in covert and clandestine activities more traditionally viewed as the work of secret agents.

Why I Love Mars
Greg Bear

Every now and then, I spend time on Mars. I dig my bare toes into the fine, red-orange soil, watch how it clings to my skin, and recall how alkaline the iron-rich dust is. The thin air makes me itch. Pretty soon I'll break out in what they call vacuum rose, as the blood boils under my skin, because the air on Mars is pretty nearly a vacuum.

As evening approaches, the sky is a dusty pink, tending to brown-black in the east. The sun is a brilliant disk in the west, one-third smaller than it looks on Earth. Feathery veils of dust hang near it and a few smeared clouds of ice crystals glint silver, but the rest of the sky is clear, and the stars above are bright and sharp. It's cold, about minus 40 C. Martians call this a balmy summer evening.

Of all the planets apart from Earth in our solar system, Mars is the most hospitable. ...

Secrets Of The Lota
Wajahat Ali

In America, we Muslims perform our rituals with stealth to avoid awkward confrontations. It's not easy to find a quiet space to pray or to explain to others your pre-prayer ablution, wudu, that requires your to wash your hands and feet five times a day.

The lota is a traditional hand-held vessel that contains water to follow toilet paper and moist wipes in cleaning up after a dump. We tend to keep the lota hidden out of shame and fear.

Muslims follow the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad by performing istinja, the act of washing the private parts with water, after committing najis, the elimination of "filth". Islam requires this act to be performed with the left hand, which in South Asia is the hand used for "other things". Muslims perform most actions, including eating, with their right hand.

Traditionally, the lota resembled a tea pot with a spout made of brass or copper. Modern Muslims tend to prefer plastic watering jugs for booty cleansing.

My roommate in law school was a white Army recruit who converted to Islam in college. He learned to love the lota: "Once you wash that crack, you never go back."

2012 August 9

Five Years On
The Times

On this day in 2007, the French bank BNP Paribas halted withdrawals from investment funds linked to the U.S. subprime mortgage market. The interbank lending market froze. It was the start of a catastrophe.

The credit expansion up to 2007 was founded on the premise that the business cycle had been tamed. This misconception produced the eurozone sovereign debt crisis, which has no remedy but austerity.

It seems likely that we are only halfway through this disaster. There is no easy remedy. Governments lack scope for fiscal stimulus. Banks need to restructure. The debt crisis will take years to put right.

Gülen Islamism
Maximilian Popp

Fethullah Gülen is one of the most influential preachers of Islam today. His followers have founded schools in 140 countries, a bank, media companies, hospitals, an insurance company, and a university. Some former followers call his movement a sect. Researcher Ursula Spuler-Stegemann: "It is the most important and most dangerous Islamist movement in Germany."

Gülen residences, or "houses of light," exist in many countries, including Turkey, the United States, and Germany. There are two dozen in Berlin alone. They offer a young man a home, often free of charge, in return for "hizmet" (service to Islam), and are run like monasteries. Alcohol and women are prohibited and a supervisor sets the daily routine. Residents read the Koran and study Gülen's writings every day. Often they cannot watch TV, listen to music, or read books that contradict Gülen's ideas.

Gülen portrays himself as akin to a Turkish Gandhi. One of his mantras is: "Build schools instead of mosques." But he disputes the theory of evolution and believes that scientific facts are only true if they agree with the Koran. After advising his supporters to undermine the Turkish state, he fled from Turkey in 1999. He now lives in exile in the United States.

2012 August 8

Just Do It
Daniel Finkelstein

With the London 2012 Olympics, we achieved something great, something wonderful, because we brooked no compromise. We spent billions on staging the Games. We took a ludicrous amount of trouble. We just did it, whatever it took. It has been worth it, even if it has been a bit mad.

John Kay

Probability theory is a marvelous tool for games of chance. But most of the problems we face are not like that. The range of outcomes is wider than we imagine. Often we do not comprehend what happened even after the event. The real world is characterized by radical uncertainty, and we deal with it by constructing simplifying narratives. Storytelling is the best means of making sense of complexity. The test of these narratives is whether they are believable. But we are predisposed to find evidence that confirms our existing beliefs, so we can easily fall for narratives that offer theories of everything.

The Ruins Of Empire
Pankaj Mishra

Shortly before Singapore fell to the Japanese, the exiled Dutch prime minister Pieter Gerbrandy told Churchill and others that "Japanese injuries and insults to the White population ... would irreparably damage white prestige unless severely punished within a short time". The Japanese were finally bombed into submission, but they had already destroyed the aura of European invincibility.

God And The Sacred
Scott Atran

Religion can produce solidarity and sacred causes so powerful that citizens are willing to kill or die for a common good. But religion can also hinder a society's ability to work out differences with others. That's the mess we find ourselves in today. In an age where religious and sacred causes are resurgent, there is urgent need for scientific effort to understand them.

AR Right. Read my new book CHRIST.

2012 August 7

Psychological Dissolution
Mario Monti

My government in Italy has ensured a rapid reduction of the budget deficit, passed structural reforms, and improved growth potential. Italy has also become more active on decisions facing the union. It is not about north and south, it is about the currency used by 330 million Europeans.

There are signs of a psychological dissolution of Europe. If the euro becomes a factor promoting Europe's drifting apart, then the foundation of the European project is destroyed. National leaders must explain to their people Europe's true situation and not give in to old prejudices.

In relation to its economic size, Italy has provided about the same percentage of aid for Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spanish banks as Germany has. Much of what Germany and France have done to rescue Greece has also helped German and French banks. Italy has actually given more than France or Germany if you consider the net return. The high interest rates that Italy is now paying on its sovereign bonds are subsidizing the low ones that Germany pays.

Christian Winter
William Dalrymple

The Arab Spring has been catastrophic for the 14 million Christians in the Mideast region. In Egypt, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood has brought anti-Coptic riots and church-burning. On the West Bank and in Gaza, the Christians are caught between Israeli settlers and radicalized Sunni Muslims. In Iraq, two thirds of the Christians have fled the country since the fall of Saddam. Syria took in many of them.

Syria has long been a refuge for the Christians of the Mideast. The Assads were Alawite, a syncretic Shia Muslim minority regarded by Sunni Muslims as heretical, and disparagingly referred to as Nusayris, or Little Christians. Syria's ancient Christian communities enjoyed relative security and stability. If a hardline salafist regime takes over in Syria, the end of Christianity in the Mideast may soon follow.

The Independent

The Saudi monarchy sees Mecca as a showcase of national pride. But residents of Mecca are beginning to refer to their city as Las Vegas. Once a dusty desert town struggling to cope with pilgrims on the Hajj, the city now boasts a glittering array of skyscrapers, shopping malls, and luxury hotels.

Citizens in Mecca and Medina see the nation's ancient heritage trampled under a construction mania backed by hardline clerics who preach against the preservation of their own history. Mecca, where the Prophet Mohamed once insisted all Muslims would be equal, has become a playground for the rich.

At over 600 m, the Royal Mecca Clock Tower soars over the Grand Mosque, the most sacred site in Islam. Work has begun on a billion-dollar expansion of the Grand Mosque to add 40 hectares for an extra 1.2 million pilgrims each year. It will make the mosque the biggest religious structure in the world.

The expansion will obliterate the area's cultural heritage. But Wahhabi fundamentalists say historical sites encourage "shirq" — the sin of idolatry — and should be destroyed. When the al-Saud tribes took power, they laid waste to cemeteries holding many of Islam's important figures. They have been destroying the country's heritage ever since.

AR Let the Wahhabis pave over the lot.

Adam Gopnik

Nearly 200 years ago, in Palmyra, New York, a man named Joseph Smith said that an angel named Moroni had directed him to a set of buried golden plates, inscribed with the Book of Mormon. The book is told in a flat first person: all its opening chapters begin "I, Nephi".

Mormonism was one of countless sects dating from the Second Great Awakening, which shaped the signature style of American Christianity. Smith held that God and angels and men were all members of the same species, so Jesus was conceived by "natural action" and God had one or more wives.

Mormonism was the great scandal of American nineteenth-century religion. Forced out of New York by fierce Protestant hostility, Smith and his followers began years of wandering. Smith was finally martyred by a mob in Carthage, Illinois, while in the local jail.

Brigham Young took the role of the apostle Paul for the Mormons. >>>

After the Civil War, Brigham Young sponsored the first Mormon department stores and commercial franchises. It was a victory of Gilded Age capitalism over Great Awakening spiritualism. The intensity of the faith got sublimated into missionary zeal and commerce.

Mormon art produced one camp genius, the painter Arnold Friberg. His image of Nephi looks exactly like Mitt Romney.

AR Strange sect — a Mormon president (in 2013) featured in my 1996 novel LIFEBALL.

2012 August 6

Quantum Waves
Marcus Chown

Erwin Schrödinger published his equation in 1926. The wave function encodes all the possible behaviors for a quantum system. If you know the wave function an atom in space, you can work out the probability of finding the atom at any location you please. But is the quantum wave function merely a probability distribution or the manifestation of a real, underlying wave?

London physicists Matthew Pusey, Terry Rudolph, and Jonathan Barrett imagined a hypothetical theory that completely describes a single quantum system such as an atom but without an underlying wave telling the particle what to do. They imagined bringing two independent atoms together and making a particular measurement on them. The theory predicted a different outcome than standard quantum theory. Rudolph: "Since quantum theory is known to be correct, it follows that nothing like our hypothetical theory can be correct."

The trio concludes that the wave function is more than just a probability distribution. The wave function has to be a real thing associated with a quantum system, informing it how to behave. The argument needs three assumptions:
1 A quantum system has its properties before they are measured.
2 The atoms in the thought experiment are independent of each other.
3 The laws of cause and effect hold.

Antony Valentini of Clemson University, SC, says the work shows that the wave function cannot be a mere abstract mathematical device but must be as real as the magnetic field around a bar magnet.

<<< Lucien Hardy at the Perimeter Institute, Canada, has obtained a similar result.

The Higgs Idea
Jeff Forshaw

The fundamental equations of physics can be written down on the back of an envelope. The nature of light, the workings of the sun, the laws of electricity and magnetism, the explanation for atoms, gravity and much more can all be expressed with breathtaking economy.

Symmetry often leads to elegant and compelling theories. Peter Higgs and the other physicists who proposed the Higgs boson saw that a symmetry seems say all the elementary particles should lack mass and so they figured out an ingenious solution.

The Higgs idea is that empty space is jammed full of Higgs particles that deflect otherwise massless particles as they move: the more a particle is jiggled by the Higgs particles the more it has mass. The equations maintain their symmetry and the particles gain mass.

AR Each explanation makes it clearer — or not.

Curiosity On Mars
Lisa Grossman

Now safely on the ground in the Gale Crater, Curiosity can begin its two-year mission: to find whether Mars has the ingredients for life.

The capsule containing the rover and descent vehicle entered the Martian atmosphere at 5900 m/s. Small charges detonated and ejected two blocks of tungsten, each of mass 75 kg, tilting the capsule so it could catch air and fly across the Martian landscape. The capsule steered itself using small rockets and autonomous navigation software.

At an altitude of 11 km, the spacecraft dropped six more 25 kg blocks to shift its orientation once more. Then it deployed a large supersonic parachute that slowed the spacecraft from 400 m/s to 80 m/s in about 100 s. The capsule dropped its heat shield and the cameras started looking for the ground.

At 1.6 km up, the parachute let go, and the descent vehicle plummeted in free fall until eight retrorockets roared to life. The vehicle slowed to a hover as the Sky Crane slowly lowered the Curiosity rover on three nylon tethers for the last 20 m of its trip to the Martian surface. The rover used its own wheels as landing gear.

The rover will now stretch its robotic arm and neck. The arm carries a suite of instruments including a camera that will zoom in on rocks. The neck is a mast carrying high-resolution cameras that will survey the surroundings, and a laser that will zap rocks from a distance to help reveal their composition. An onboard chemistry lab will be used to look for organic molecules and chemical energy sources that could have supported life.

The final destination is Aeolis Mons, a 5 km mountain in the middle of Gale Crater. The crater is thought to have been full of water for hundreds of millions of years.


The NASA Curiosity rover touched down in Gale Crater on Mars on August 6 at 07:33 CEST: "Touchdown confirmed. We are safe on Mars!"

Churchill: The Power of Words
The Morgan Library and Museum
225 Madison Avenue, New York
Until September 23, 2012

The Singularity Is Over
New Scientist

The Singularity is the rapture of the geeks. Faster and better machines will beget even better machines at an exponential rate until they rival human intelligence. Then we shall upload our consciousness into a computer and live forever.

The Singularity Is Near is a docudrama, co-directed by Ray Kurzweil, that tries to explain. It is a true story — about the past.

AR What The Bleep?

Boris for PM?
Philip Collins

Johnson's chances of getting to No 10 are, in his own words, only slightly bigger than "being decapitated by a frisbee, blinded by a champagne cork, locked in a disused fridge, or reincarnated as an olive".


BoJo's old school chum, David Cameron: “If any other politician anywhere in the world was stuck on a zip wire, it would be a disaster. For Boris it's an absolute triumph."

AR So DC can keep No 10.

U.S. Navy prototype Northrop Grumman X-47B Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System (UCLASS, a.k.a. UFO, unmanned flying object)

"Wissenschaft ist die kultivierte und methodisch durchgeführte Form der alltäglichen Selbst-verdinglichung des Daseins."

Martin Heidegger, interpretiert von Rüdiger Safranski in
Ein Meister aus Deutschland:
Heidegger und seine Zeit

AR Das ist ja eine Phrase!
Eigentlich ist "Verdinglichung" ein Wort von Georg Lukacs. Heidegger hätte im Zitat "Selbstvergegenständlichung" gesagt.

2012 August 5

Brussels, Awake!
Tony Blair

The design flaw of the euro is that it was a project driven by politics but expressed in economics.

Without growth, the union faces a downward spiral of rising unemployment, falling growth, lower tax receipts, and deeper cuts in spending. Without changes in internal labor markets, welfare provision, and state pension systems, a growth policy will be unaffordable.

What Europe now needs is a grand bargain, to put the euro on a sound footing. Germany has to agree to debt sharing and fiscal stimulus. Debtor nations have to agree to reform. A plan to clean up bank balance sheets is needed, along with changes to banking and fiscal policy.

The best thing now is for everyone to decide together on policies for growth, reform, and unity.

Winston Churchill
The Telegraph

Americans love Sir Winston Churchill. In 1963, President Kennedy gave him the only honorary U.S. citizenship ever awarded to a living person. He has a U.S. warship named after him and as many books are published about him in America as in Britain.

When the Morgan Library and Museum in New York staged an exhibition about Churchill this summer, the crowds exceeded all expectations. There were more than 30,000 visitors in the first six weeks. Exhibition co-curator Allen Packwood: "Our aim was to present Churchill in his own words. ... We wanted to show the blood, toil, tears and sweat that went into his compositions."

Among the exhibits are the notes for the speech that Churchill made in the House of Commons on September 11, 1940, two days after the start of the Blitz, in which he said that Hitler "hopes by killing large numbers of civilians, and women and children, that he will terrorize and cow the people of this mighty imperial city ... Little does he know the spirit of the British nation."

AR If I could, I'd be off to New York to pay my respects.

2012 August 4

The Naked and the TED
Evgeny Morozov

In their TED book Hybrid Reality, Parag Khanna and his wife boldly declare that "mastery in the leading technology sectors of any era determines who leads in geoeconomics and dominates in geopolitics." The Khannas: "Futurism is a combination of long-term and long-tail, separating the trends from the trendy and the shocks from the shifts, and combining data, reportage, and scenarios."

For the Khannas, technology is an autonomous force with its own logic that does not bend under the wicked pressure of politics or capitalism or tribalism. Technology is the magic wand that lifts nations from poverty, cures diseases, redistributes power, and promises immortality to the human race. The Khannas mean by the Hybrid Age a "new sociotechnical era that is unfolding as technologies merge with each other and humans merge with technology."

To speak of the Hybrid Age makes as much sense as to speak of the Nature Age. To posit that we are moving into the Hybrid Age is to believe that human nature changed sometime last year or so. The Hybrid Age is the preparation for the apotheosis of the Singularity. Those who believe in Ray Kurzweil's thesis have already accepted the fact that a few decades will transpire before it comes to pass, and so the Khannas move in to claim these decades as their own.

The Khannas are eschatological consultants. They run a for-profit consulting firm "providing insight into the implications of emerging technologies" that bears the proud name of the Hybrid Reality Institute. So far the firm's main accomplishment seems to be convincing the TED Conference to print its verbose marketing brochure as a book.

The TED mentality in the context of global affairs offers technological solutions to political problems. In the TED world, problems of aid and development are seen not as problems of weak and corrupt institutions but as problems of inadequate connectivity or too few gadgets. Nicholas Negroponte, having failed in his One Laptop Per Child quest, now wants to drop tablets from helicopters.

2012 August 3

My Advice On Syria
Kofi Annan

Aleppo is under siege and the prospect of the loss of thousands more civilian lives in Syria is very high. The UN has condemned the further descent to civil war but the fighting goes on. Jihadist elements have been drawn into the conflict. While the Security Council is trapped in stalemate, so too is Syria. Only a negotiated political transition can avoid a descent into a sectarian war.

It takes leadership to overcome the destructive lure of national rivalries. Russia, China, and Iran must persuade Syria's leadership to change course and embrace a political transition. Other countries must press the opposition to embrace an inclusive political process. The international community must unite and support a peaceful transition. Syria can still be saved from the worst calamity.

Robert Bellah

Religion is situated in the larger context of evolution. The human capacity to dance to a beat may be very important in the early phases of religion, language is an enormous increase in capacity that no other species has, and theory is a new capacity with immense potential. Definitions of religion too often concern only beliefs. Religion is not just bad science. It is about action, and faith is about trust. A religious life is a form of practice.

There is an immense variety of cultures. Yet all religions share some profound commitments. The great traditions can work together for a global civil society. The fundamental equality of all human beings is a Jewish and Christian truth, but that all human beings are brothers and sisters is a Confucian truth. In China there is a deep concern for Confucianism because the kind of Marxism they have is so vacuous.

Raymond Tallis

Philosophers avoid talking about sleep. They fear the sleep their own works may induce. I have dozed off while reading Heidegger's Being and Time. On other occasions I have woken with a start to discover that Kant's Critique of Pure Reason has fallen from my hand. There could be no more profound critique of reason. Nothing is more soporific than the egocentric tales of someone else's solipsistic dreams.

2012 August 2

UFO Wars
The Times

More U.S. Air Force crews are being trained to kill with unmanned aircraft from an office in America than from an armed cockpit flying over a conflict zone.

The U.S. Air Force has about 1300 drone pilot officers, most of them operating Predators, Reapers, and Global Hawks over Afghanistan. The drones take off and land from bases in Afghanistan but their operators sit in comfort 7000 miles away with a joystick, a laptop, and several flat-screen monitors that show the altitude and speed of the drones, maps, and potential targets. Last year 350 drone pilots were recruited compared with a combined total of 250 fighter and bomber pilots, and the fleet of Predator, Reaper, and Global Hawk drones has risen to nearly 300.

Remotely piloted aircraft cost a fraction of the price of a fully equipped fighter jet. The price of a Reaper is about $40 million. Each new F-35 stealth fighter will cost about $200 million.

Australian Navy Base
The Times

A U.S. Navy presence in Australia is mooted in a report presented to Congress. The report from the
Center for Strategic and International Studies suggests basing an aircraft carrier strike group at the HMAS Stirling naval base in Perth, Western Australia.

The strike group would consist of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, an air wing of up to nine squadrons, at least one guided missile cruiser, up to three guided missile destroyers, one or two nuclear powered submarines, and a supply ship.

Last year, an Australian Department of Defence review urged an expansion of the Stirling naval base in Perth, stating that it "could also be used for deployments and operations in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean by the U.S. Navy".

Greece Folds
Financial Times

Greece's three-party coalition has reached agreement on €11.5 billion of spending cuts over the next two years. Prime minister Antonis Samaras set aside demands for renegotiation to ease talks with the troika of EU and IMF lenders.

AR Relief for the euro.

Oracle Versus HP
Financial Times

Oracle is facing a damages claim for billions of dollars following its loss of a breach of contract lawsuit brought by Hewlett-Packard. Oracle announced last March that it would stop producing versions of its software to run on Itanium processors, which HP uses. HP has put its damages at $500 million since the announcement, with a potential total loss of $4 billion by 2020. The claim is set to be introduced in a second phase of the trial. Together with punitive damages, the claim may be for billions of dollars.

AR Puts Greece in perspective.

Energy For Free
Physics Arxiv Blog

How to extract more energy from entangled particles than classical thermodynamics allows:

A couple of years ago, Japanese physicists created an experimental version of Maxwell's demon. They lowered an energy barrier to allow a high-speed atom to jump up a step and then raised it to prevent the atom falling back down again. The atom slowly climbed a staircase even though no energy was added to the system. The experiment did not violate the second law of thermodynamics because they had to monitor the position of the atom to know when to raise and lower the barriers.

But in quantum theory, when two particles are entangled, a measurement on one gives you information about both particles. Imagine two boxes of particles with trap door between them. You want to use the trap door to guide the faster particles into one box and the slower particles into the other. If the particles in one box are entangled with the particles in the other, measurements in one box tell you about both sets of particles. You get information for free, and you can convert it into energy.

Now the race is on to do the experiment and see if it really works.

Thermodynamic work gain from entanglement
Ken Funo, Yu Watanabe, Masahito Ueda
arXiv:1207.6872v1 (2012)

Information heat engine: converting information to energy by feedback control
Shoichi Toyabe, Takahiro Sagawa, Masahito Ueda, Eiro Muneyuki, Masaki Sano
arXiv:1009.5287v2 (2010)

2012 August 1

Tim Doody

In 1966, at the International Foundation for Advanced Study, Menlo Park, California, Dr. James Fadiman watched four psychonauts sit back and enjoy an LSD trip. The volunteers had primed themselves with hard technical problems from their respective fields. Fadiman and his team were trying to determine if a low dose of acid, 100 micrograms, enhanced their creativity.

Over the preceding year, IFAS researchers had dosed a series of men for the study. Questioned shortly after their trips, the psychonauts said their minds had blossomed. They had beheld geometrical patterns glistening into infinity and said the experience had helped them solve their problems. A total of 26 men published a series of well received innovations shortly after their LSD trips.

The state of California outlawed LSD in 1966, and was soon followed by many other states and then the federal government. People said psychedelics offered a psychotic break, a glimpse of God, or a wacky trip, but no help at all for practical thinking.

In 2010, Fadiman published The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys. He advocated use of LSD and attacked the medical approach to psychedelic drug use that restricts access to only a few people for personal therapy.

Fadiman: "Why did our drug research frighten the establishment so profoundly? Why does it still frighten them? Perhaps because we were able to step off (or were tossed off) the treadmill of daily stuff and saw the whole system of life-death-life. We had discovered that love is the fundamental energy of the universe. And we wouldn't shut up about it."

London 2012: Michael Phelps becomes the greatest-ever Olympian after winning his 19th medal in the 4 x 200 m relay

Corruption, Nepotism, Mafia
Hans-Jürgen Schlamp

Jobs for your friends, contracts for your relatives, cash handouts for everyone: that's how politics works in Sicily. Now the island has €21 billion in debts and is on the verge of bankruptcy. Some 144,000 Sicilians get their salary from the state, many for doing almost nothing.

The mafia is strong in southern Italy. The Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the Camorra in Naples, and the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria together generate turnover of well above €100 billion a year, with an estimated profit of €70 billion in 2011. The mafia is Italy's biggest enterprise.

AR If the police can't kill the mafia, send in the Italian Air Force Typhoons.

American Atheists

Americans may be losing interest in religion. A recent poll showed that just 44% of Americans have much confidence in the church or organized religion.

The number of agnostics and atheists has doubled in the last 20 years. That rise is reflected in the popularity of neo-atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

Richard Martin

The author argues that thorium is the green fuel of the future.

Wired editor Chris Anderson:
"This fascinating and important biography of thorium also brings us a commodity that's rare in discussions of energy and climate change: hope."

2012 July 31

Totalitarian Capitalism
George Monbiot

Austerity implements the political doctrine of neoliberalism. The idea is that we are best served by maximizing market freedom and minimizing the role of the state. The free market will deliver efficiency and prosperity. The state and the market unite around the demands of giant corporations.

When the state cuts regulation and social provision, business is enriched. Through campaign finance, networking, and lobbying, big business then recruits the state to champion its interests. In Britain, corporations lobbied for programs that replaced public monopolies with private ones and persuaded the government to guarantee state funding.

Big business has persuaded the state to let it dump its environmental costs on the rest of us. It has vitiated anti-trust laws. It has excluded new entrants to the market and become too big to fail. If the market determines how societies evolve, and the market is dominated by giant corporations, then what big business wants is what we get.

The neoliberal doctrine has been disproved. Untrammeled markets were saved from collapse only by government intervention and massive injections of public money. Austerity has deepened the crisis while the winners stash their profits in tax havens. We live under totalitarian capitalism.

Palestinians Denounce Romney
Khaled Abu Toameh

Radical Palestinian groups criticized Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for meeting with Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney after Romney said Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

A senior Fatah official also criticized Fayyad and said Romney's refusal to meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit was "unacceptable."

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused Romney of insulting the feelings of Palestinians: "These are racist and extremist statements that deny the rights of the Palestinian people."

Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine all denounced Romney's remarks and called for a boycott.

AR Romney seems to have an equal-opportunity insult policy.

Typhoon Versus Raptor

German pilots flying the Eurofighter Typhoon have figured out how to shoot down the Lockheed Martin
F-22 Raptor in mock combat. Their tactics are revealed in the magazine Combat Aircraft.

In June, 150 German airmen and eight Typhoons arrived in Alaska for an American-led Red Flag exercise involving more than 100 aircraft from Germany, the U.S. Air Force and Army, NATO, Japan, Australia and Poland. Eight times during the two-week war game, German Typhoons flew one on one against F-22s in simulated dogfights.

The results surprised the Germans. "We were evenly matched," said Major Marc Gruene. "They didn't expect us to turn so aggressively."

Raptors excel at fighting from beyond visual range with their high speed and altitude, sophisticated radar, and AMRAAM missiles. But in a slower, close-up tangle called a merge, the bigger and heavier
F-22 is at a disadvantage. Gruene: "As soon as you get to the merge ... the Typhoon doesn't necessarily have to fear the F-22."

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the Raptor "far and away the best air-to-air fighter ever produced" and predicted "it will ensure U.S. command of the skies for the next generation."

AR At least the Luftwaffe and the RAF are flying a good dogfighter.

2012 July 30

Backing Israel
Financial Times

Mitt Romney in Jerusalem: "Make no mistake: the ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defenses. They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way. My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away, and neither will my country."

AR Good point, but a pity it was Mitt who made it.

Brits On Mitt
Edward Luce

The British media have a track record at detecting bluff. One example was their skepticism about why we invaded Iraq. Another is Mitt Romney's awfulness as a candidate. Headlines like "Mitt the Twit" showcase how childish British tabloids can be, but they reflect what many Republicans say in private.

From a Republican point of view, things could still get worse. Romney will select a running mate. He could make a bold choice, such as Condoleezza Rice, or he could choose a zombie. Next is the convention in Florida. His hints in Israel that he would strike Iran appealed to the retired Jewish vote. Then he has only the debates to survive. His Olympic performances in London show he is not quick on his feet.

AR Condie would be good, but Mitt is not so bold.

2012 July 29

Jim O'Neill

Before 2008, Spain was in good shape. Then the Spanish housing market bubble burst. Spain is now in recession. It may have a budget surplus in 2013, but more austerity will only hurt growth and jobs.

Weighted by GDP, eurozone deficit and debt levels are lower than those of the UK, the US, and Japan. Yet many national bond markets in the eurozone have become akin to distressed debt markets.

European Central Bank president Mario Draghi says there are no "taboos" for the bank and suggests that he is prepared to intervene in sovereign spreads. With Spain in trouble, it is time for action.

Guns Are Fun
Jeremy Clarkson

Barack Obama knows that asking a working-class American male to hand in his gun is like asking him to hand in his penis. Plus the constitution says you can have a gun to defend yourself from the British.

I once spent a pleasant evening in the Arizona desert with a squad automatic weapon and shot tracer rounds into the night sky until the desert caught fire. There’s no reason, in a civilized world, why a member of the public should have this gun. And no reason why anyone should cackle and squeal with joy as they fire it into the void. But I did. And you would too. And that is the problem.

AR Arabs say weapons are the adornments of a man.

Image: Pete Nikolaison

James Cameron's new home

Pandora, NZ

Avatar director James Cameron has bought 10 sq km of farmland around Lake Pounui, east of Wellington on the southern tip of North Island, New Zealand. He will have a glorious view. Toward the south is the open Pacific, stretching 3000 km to Antarctica. The waters of Cook Strait lie to the west and the snowcapped mountains of South Island form the southwest horizon. His new home is a 700 sq m cedar lodge situated above Lake Pounui, with views of Lake Wairarapa to the north, Rimutaka Forest Park to the west, and Palliser Bay to the south. An advance party has already furnished the rooms, stocked the pantry, and made the beds. Cameron will live here as he works on continuing the story of Pandora.

F-22 Raptor
The Air Force seems to have solved its F-22 Raptor mystery. The problem causing Raptor pilots to choke in their cockpits has been traced to a valve in the pressurized vest pilots wear. The valve inflated the vest, suffocating the pilots. Once it is replaced, the Air Force will release the flying restrictions on its premiere stealth jet.

Writing For Money
Tim Parks

Few novelists believe they will live entirely from their writing as soon as a first novel is published. The money indicates how much the publisher is planning to invest in you, how much they will push your book, and where you stand in relation to other authors. But almost the worst thing that can happen to writers is to get all the money and recognition they want right away. Then they drop all other work and rely on their books, and attract a crowd of people who hope to suck on their success.

I love the working class. When I talk to my lowlife friends and acquaintances, I'm amazed how brilliant they are.

Gentrification is like class cleansing. It's flushing out the proletariat by pressure and money. America is becoming more like a plutocracy than a democracy.

They talk about pornography becoming mainstream and accepted. Women will never assent to it.

Martin Amis

Nouriel Roubini

United States growth will slow further in the second half of 2012 and be even lower in 2013. Expectations of the fiscal cliff and uncertainty about the next president will reduce spending and growth to the end of 2012. With no growth in real wages, growth in consumption has been sustained by increasing public debt. In 2013, growth will be impeded by the eurozone crisis, a hard landing in China, slowed emerging economies, and higher oil prices. The U.S. economy will slow to stall speed.

2012 July 28

A Way To Save The Euro
Spiegel Online

Sahra Wagenknecht, the deputy floor leader for the Left Party in the Bundestag, has a plan to save the euro. She says we should just reboot the market economy and then cushion the fall:

1 A radical debt haircut: "The EU member states should resolve that all sovereign debt above a certain level will not be paid back." She proposes a cutoff at 60% of GDP. Several European banks and insurance companies would go bankrupt. "The financial industry has seriously underestimated the risks associated with sovereign bonds." She says "risk and liability are linked in a market economy."

2 A "technical moment of insolvency": The state would inject fresh capital into the banks so that they can continue serving those sectors that are required for them to manage customer accounts and extend loans to companies in the real economy. Much of the investment banking sector would be liquidated. The state would guarantee no more than €1 million per person for savings and life insurance.

3 Direct ECB finance for insolvent countries, up to 4% of GDP: "At the moment, the ECB is pouring money into the banks in the hope that they will invest a small percentage of it in sovereign bonds. It would be much more efficient to give this small percentage directly to the states."

Wagenknecht, now 43, wrote a university thesis on Hegel and Marx, joined the East German communist party SED in 1989, and according to her website "will finish shortly her doctorate in economics."

In Praise of Idleness
Ed Smith

Bertrand Russell suggested cutting the working day by half. His injunction should be embraced by managers and others who are trying to get the best out of their charges.

Excessive hard work is counterproductive. You cannot work all day, at least not at a high level. When you are performing near your limits, you use up your psychological resources very quickly. Stopping at the right moment is a vital form of self-discipline. And yet people condemn the optimal working day as contemptibly slack.

Workaholism is not correlated with success. If it was, Britain's two best prime ministers would have been Gordon Brown and Margaret Thatcher. Brown's exhausted rants are legendary. And though Thatcher boasted about hating holidays and needing only four hours' sleep a night, she burned herself out and her judgement slipped.

What some people call idleness is often the best investment. If we really want to be good at something, we should stop wasting time exhausting ourselves.

No Apology
Mitt Romney

From his 2010 book: "England is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn't make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn't been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler's ambitions."

AR Up yours, Mitt!

2012 July 27

"In Frankfurt we think the euro is irreversible"
Mario Draghi

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi praised the speed eurozone reforms and said the ECB would do "whatever it takes" to support the single currency. "Believe me, it will be enough," he said emphatically. "Within our mandate the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro."

AR What else could he say? If this is enough to rally markets, we're in trouble.

Talking Turkey
The Times

Barack Obama describes Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as one of the five foreign leaders with whom he is the friendliest. The two leaders speak often by telephone and President Obama regards him as an "outstanding partner". Vice President Joe Biden: "The way we look at Turkey is, it's the gateway, it's the hinge between the East and West. It has inordinate influence."

AR Turkey is the most promising power to put the Mideast in order.

Manifest Destiny
Condoleezza Rice

If Americans want to make the world a better place, the United States must stand up and promote the power and promise of free markets and free peoples.

Strength begins at home. Global leadership rests upon a strong economy built on fiscal discipline and robust private sector growth. But when a child's zip code determines whether she will get a good education, we are losing generations to poverty and despair. The crisis in education is the greatest single threat to our national strength and cohesion.

The American people have to be inspired to lead again. The United States is exceptional in the clarity of our conviction that free markets and free peoples hold the key to the future.

AR She wants a job under Mitt Romney.

2012 July 26

UK Losing AAA Rating
Financial Times

The UK will lose its AAA credit rating, leading bond investors warned after output fell 0.7% in Q2.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne admits the country has "deep-rooted economic problems" but says the coalition is "dealing with our debts at home and the debt crisis abroad".

Camilla Cavendish

A House of Lords Science and Technology Committee reported that England is unusual in having so few children continuing maths after the age of 16. We lag behind 21 countries in that respect, including the United States, Japan, Germany, Russia, and Scotland. The report also shows that many students choose computer science, chemistry, medicine, even engineering, without having done maths at A level.

I know that maths is the language of science, and that it underpins many of the inventions that are now big business. Yet for me the practical contribution of maths to Google, to mobile phone apps, or to a brilliant animated film, remains opaque.

AR Decades ago I taught A-level maths and physics at a private college in London. The maths was fun but the problems were like philosophical conundrums, free of all obvious relevance to the practical problems of daily life. Solving them was like solving crossword puzzles or playing solitaire, and the art was to feel the buzz as you got the knack and sped through them with increasing skill. Physics was more practical. There you could use the math skills to calculate amazing facts that gave you new insights into the architecture of the natural world and to feel the awesome power and exhilarating clarity of that enhanced perception. The two subjects went well together.

Mathematical thinking can be encouraged in many ways. For many years here in Germany I have seen how computer engineering and software development reward the same thinking. Learning maths the old way is like learning Latin. We cannot expect that approach to improve our economic dynamism. But learning mathematical skills in the context of software engineering, or of any other challenging practical task, such as financial accounting, can make the discipline come alive.

Meaning of Nothing
Ron Rosenbaum

In A Universe From Nothing, Lawrence Krauss doesn't seem to realize that a vacuum is not nothing. He and his colleagues haven't discovered anything at all about the nature of nothing changing. He has just revealed that he and his colleagues know nothing about nothing.

2012 July 25

Let The Euro Fall
Martin Feldstein

The declining value of the euro holds the key to the eurozone's survival. The euro has fallen in the past year by 15% relative to the US dollar. If it fell another 15% it would reach near parity with the dollar and would still be about 20% above its historic low of 84 cents. This would reduce the prices of eurozone exports and raise the cost of imports, easing the current account deficits of the Club Med countries, since much of their trade is outside the eurozone. The weaker euro would also boost German exports, raise German wages and prices, and balance trade within the eurozone.

SAP Earns Billions In Record Q2

Software license revenue rose in Q2 2012 by 26% to just over €1 billion, driven by double-digit growth in all regions. Service revenues rose by 21% to €3 billion. SAP HANA earned €85 million in Q2 and is expected to earn at least €320 million in 2012.

AR HANA — the Hanalyzer — is what I worked on.

Alice Thomson

Work makes people happy. The harder and more physical the work, the happier we are. The most satisfied people are those who toil in farming, forestry, and fishing. The most miserable people are those without jobs. More than 45% of unemployed people rate their life satisfaction as low or very low compared with only 20% among the employed. Many people say they want to work more rather than fewer hours. Work should be everyone's goal, whether in the fields, manufacturing, offices, or bringing up children. No job is a bad job. If only more of us worked, we would be physically and mentally better off.

Measuring National Well-being
UK Office for National Statistics

Professor Hassnain in search of the historical Jesus:
Strange combination of speculation and scholarship

2012 July 24

New World Order
Pat Buchanan

After September 11, George W. Bush went nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now American influence in the Mideast is at a nadir. Our alliances with Turkey and Saudi Arabia are frayed. Pakistan bristles. Israel impatiently dismisses our pathetic pleas for it to stop building settlements. And as the Muslim Brotherhood rose when Hosni Mubarak fell in Cairo, so it looks likely to rise again when Bashar al-Assad falls in Damascus. Turkish PM Recep Erdogan tells us that in his region democracy is a bus you get off when it reaches your stop. In the Islamic world, stronger than all our armies is the power of an idea whose time has come.

AR The idea is to mix religion and politics to break the capitalist world hegemony.

Make Math Mandatory
The Independent

Lord Rees, the Astronomer Royal and master of Trinity College, Cambridge: "We need to ensure that fewer people are bewildered and bamboozled by numbers." Lord Winston, the television presenter and professor of science and society at Imperial College London, says mathematics lies at the heart of rational decision making and everyone should aspire to understand its basic principles.

AR Lordly advice well taken. Cue for a new book: Make math sexy!

Atheists: Pick the Best of Religion, Leave the Rest
Alain de Botton
Video (20:04)

2012 July 23

Quantum Minds
Stephen M. Barr

Materialists say we are meat machines. They say physics has reduced the material world, including our minds and thoughts, to a closed system of cause and effect. But quantum mechanics spoils this view of things. If we say we can give a complete physical description of what goes on during a measurement, including the mind of the person doing the measuring, we get into trouble.

In quantum mechanics, even if you have complete information about the state of a physical system, the laws only give you probabilities of future outcomes. These probabilities are encoded in the wavefunction of the system. A probability only makes sense if it is the probability of something definite. When definite events occur, some probabilities should jump to 0 or 1. But the wavefunction does not jump.

The traditional view is that the definite events are the outcomes of measurements or observations. The observer must get a definite yes or no. The probabilities assigned to events refer only to prior states of knowledge. The wavefunction encodes states of knowledge, which jump after measurement. We can describe any physical device performing a measurement in a bigger wavefunction. If only physical entities are involved, there are no jumps. But there are jumps.

We can insist that only physical entities exist and that all observers and their minds are described by the equations. Then the quantum probabilities remain in limbo. They never collapse to 0 or 1. We get the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which reality divides into innumerable branches corresponding to all the possible outcomes of all physical situations. In the Many Worlds picture, you exist in a virtually infinite number of versions. It sounds crazy.

AR Sure. Blows your mind, does it not? This is where holding fast to one goal or god (in both an ancient and a more modern sense) in one world that keeps on growing can save a thinker from dissolving into a mess of horrible math.

Max Planck Institute for Astronomy on Königstuhl near Heidelberg
Open Day, 2012-07-22
Together with partners from Germany, Italy, and the United States, the MPIA is involved in the construction of the
Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham near Tucson, AZ

AR A good afternoon out it was too.

Lockheed Martin
First British Lightning

The UK Ministry of Defence has taken delivery of the first F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter from Lockheed Martin. Britain has initially ordered three fighters for test and evaluation, at an estimated cost of more than £300 million.

American Mideast Partners
Roula Khalaf

A conspiracy theory in Cairo says that Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's Islamist president, won the election thanks to backing from Washington. America has picked the Muslim Brotherhood as its new allies in the Mideast.

Hillary Clinton's trip to Egypt was part of the American adaptation to change in the Mideast. In both Egypt and Tunisia, Washington has learned to deal with the emerging political forces, and Islamists have seen the need for western assistance.

Washington must be ready to use its financial leverage with the Egyptian generals more forcefully if they obstruct the democratic transition.


Cassini photo animation
HD video (3:19)

Resisting Temptation
Scientific American

If your willpower is weak,
religion can help. Scientists tested subjects' self-control by asking them to endure discomfort to earn a reward, or to delay a payment to earn a larger one. Before the test, half of the participants were exposed to words with religious themes and half were tested without the religious primes. Those who saw the primes were willing to endure greater discomfort and delay gratification longer than those who did not.

It seems self-control depends on a limited energy source that can be depleted. Overdo it, and self-control will fatigue and fail. Subjects who had just resisted temptation showed reduced self-control when faced with another test compared with others who had been more indulgent. When adults who reported hourly on their cravings and desires were tested, those who had repeatedly denied their impulses that day were more likely to give in to temptations later.

Marissa Mayer
Marissa Mayer at
TechCrunch Disrupt,
New York, May 2012


Google executive Marissa Mayer has been appointed CEO of Yahoo.

AR It will be hard to turn
Yahoo around.

Obama gets an F
for Mideast peace

2012 July 22

Internet Addiction
Bill Davidow

The leaders of Internet companies can either hijack neuroscience to gain market share or they can let competitors do so. Achieving a goal or anticipating the reward for completing a task can excite neurons in the midbrain, which releases the neurotransmitter dopamine into the brain's pleasure centers. The release of dopamine forms the basis for nicotine, cocaine, and gambling addictions.

Concern over obsessive-compulsive behavior associated with computer games and the Internet is growing. Internet gaming companies now openly discuss compulsion loops that directly result in obsessions, and the goal of other applications is the same. When compulsive behavior undermines our ability to function normally, it enters the realm of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Perhaps one in ten Internet users have become so obsessed with the Internet that its use is undermining their social relationships, their family life and marriage, and their effectiveness at work. Many Internet companies are learning that addiction is good for business. By applying current neuroscience techniques we will be able to create ever more compelling obsessions in the virtual world.

AR Maybe I should go to rehab.

The Sunday Times

The wave of eros triggered by the Fifty Shades of Grey earthquake (UK sales currently 6.5 million) is spreading. Clandestine Press announces that it will release erotic versions of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey; Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, in which Jane will have "explosive sex" with Rochester; Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, in which Cathy will enjoy "bondage sessions" with Heathcliff; and even Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes stories, in which Sherlock and Watson will form a closer partnership.

Penguin's owner, Pearson plc, has just paid £74m to buy the self-publishing platform Author Solutions Inc. Fifty Shades of Grey came to the publishing world's attention because it had sold so staggeringly as a piece of self-published fan fiction. Last year, more than 200,000 books were self-published. Pearson has seen the value on the horizon of self-publishing as a huge, parallel books industry.

AR So I should self-publish an erotic history of philosophy.

2012 July 21

British Olympic Spirit
The New York Times

A Londoner: "It's as if someone else is throwing a party in our house, with a huge entry fee, and we're all locked in the basement. They're telling businesses to stockpile goods, advising people to stay at home, don't go anywhere, don't travel on the tube, stay on your sofa, like it's for your own safety. We have an army on the streets."

The Daily Mail reports that hundreds of thousands of tickets are still unsold, that no one wants to watch women play soccer, that some of the paths for the mountain bike competition will not be finished in time, that the security shambles could cause chaos for spectators, and that London's transport system has failed again.

The security company hired by the government at huge expense proved to be wildly incompetent. The Olympic brand managers say only official sponsors are allowed to appear to capitalize on the Games. Lawyers warned a company that wanted to start a social media campaign that it would be prosecuted if it used the word "Olympics."

Amid the wettest summer since records began, with deluges and floods, officials say they hope the rain will go away before the Games begin. The Olympic Stadium has no roof. Games chairman Sebastian Coe says some Olympic sites outside London are waterlogged and urges spectators to wear raincoats and rubber boots.

CHRIST reprint changes:
In the axiom on page 18, the second "and" now reads "are" to make a statement.
In Plato's allegory of the cave on page 29, a fire casts the shadows, not the sun.
On the cover, the spinal colophon is now smaller, hence no longer squashed.

George Orwell
Christopher Hitchens

George Orwell's diaries, from the years 1931 to 1949, can greatly enrich our understanding of how Orwell transmuted the raw material of everyday experience into his novels and polemics.

His study of unemployment and housing for the poor in the North of England stands comparison with Friedrich Engels' Condition of the Working Class in England. But with its additional information and commentary about the reading and recreational habits of the workers, the attitudes of the men to their wives, and the mixtures of expectation and aspiration that lent nuance and distinction to the concept of the proletariat, we can see the debt that later authors and analysts owed to Orwell.

By his determination to seek elusive but verifiable truth, he showed how much can be accomplished by an individual who unites the qualities of intellectual honesty and moral courage.

Christopher Hitchens

2012 July 20

HSBC "is one of the world's largest banking and financial services organisations. With around 7,200 offices in both established and faster-growing markets, we aim to be where the growth is, connecting customers to opportunities, enabling businesses to thrive and economies to prosper and, ultimately, helping people to fulfil their hopes and realise their ambitions."

British Bank Scandal Minister
The Independent

British Trade Minister Lord Green, is under mounting pressure to reveal what he knew about the money laundering scandal at HSBC when he was its CEO and chairman. The bank is also implicated in the interest rate fixing scandal rocking the City of London.

The scandals raise questions about the tenure of Lord Green as the head of the HSBC investment bank. A Labour source: "His submarine strategy of staying below the surface won't work." Labour leader Ed Miliband: "I think the very least he needs to do is come and answer questions about it."

Lord Green is not your everyday banker. Unfailingly courteous, cerebral and deeply religious, the tall, thin peer seems like the civil servant he was for years at the Ministry of Overseas Development. Then he joined McKinsey, the management consultancy, for a while. He joined HSBC in 1982 and became CEO in 2003 and chairman in 2006. Green is a minister of the Church of England and has written two books:

Serving God? Serving Mammon?
Good Value: Choosing a Better Life in Business

Was Lord Green too busy writing books?
James Moore

Lord Green's two books are on reconciling a deep and abiding faith in God with a life spent in servitude to mammon and on the morality of money after the economic crisis. He wrote them while running HSBC, where he spent a lot of time in airports and on airplanes. He did his writing then, when most bankers might have been reading company reports and drinking Bollinger.

No one need question Green's integrity. The cerebral businessman and part-time preacher turned minister isn't the type to play silly games with regulators. But he does have questions to answer.

AR God and mammon don't go well together, it seems.

2012 July 19

Israel Versus Iran
Financial Times

"We are on the same page at this moment," said Hillary Clinton to Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Tensions between the United States and Iran are rising as talks stall over Iran's nuclear program.

IEEE Spectrum

The Federal Reserve can increase the money supply without looking for gold or printing more dollars.
Only about $1 trillion of the roughly $10 trillion money supply exists in the form of paper cash and coins.
The Fed buys and sells government bonds and treasury bills on the open market.

The recent crisis should remind us of the dangers of runaway credit. But it's a mistake to yearn for a more solid foundation for the monetary system. Money is a social creation, just like language. What matters is not what it is, but what it does. Successful currencies lubricate commerce and help people work and create.

A brief history of money

No Bunny Should Suffer For Beauty

Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any way.

2012 July 18

German U-Turn
Hans-Olaf Henkel

Angela Merkel is more of a Neville Chamberlain than a Margaret Thatcher. But this time the French are threatening the Germans. In 2010, Merkel suggested Greece leave the eurozone, but Nicolas Sarkozy baulked, so she gave in and helped Greece. That turned out to be a bailout of French banks. Now Merkel has even adopted the French idea of a European economic government.

France can expect further concessions by Germany. A debt brake designed to stop politicians piling up debts is now part of the German constitution, but François Hollande refuses to adopt it. Under President Hollande, the risk of France becoming a bailout candidate is growing rapidly. There is no austerity program in France.

Lady Thatcher always wanted her money back, but Merkel spends her money to save the euro. She is all over Europe telling others what to do. Germans see her as a ruthless defender of German interests but forget who is paying the bill. The German constitutional court has asked President Joachim Gauck to refuse to sign the ESM deal. Perhaps this marks the end of appeasement.

AR Risky metaphor there.

The Avatar Economy
MIT Technology Review

Avatar robots remotely controlled by low-wage foreign workers could soon do low-status jobs profitably. Companies now sell robots that let users navigate in a remote working environment and interact through a screen. These systems are mostly used for high-end work by experts. But the next wave promises much more capability per dollar.

Progress toward the "avatarization" of the economy is limited by the speed and latency of Internet connections. A good connection to a robotic telepresence system needs a bandwidth of 160 Mbps. And if the distance between robot and worker is more than 3 Mm, the operator faces a 20 ms feedback lag. This need not be fatal: The U.S. military's drone control facility in Italy is over 4 Mm from Afghanistan.

Users in major U.S. and European cities will get 160 Mbps by 2015. Avatar workers are not far behind. Telepresence lets a thousand times as many workers compete virtually for the same work. No matter how low the pay, an avatar worker somewhere will do the job. Avatarization could begin on a mass scale within a decade.

AR Read my books and blogs: I've been predicting this for years.

HSBC Money Laundry
The Times

British bank HSBC stands accused of money laundering for drug cartels and terrorists around the world. The U.S. Department of Justice accuses the bank of allowing clients linked to Mexican drug gangs, al-Qaeda, and rogue regimes to move money around the world with little or no scrutiny. The HSBC money laundering occurred when Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, the Trade Minister, was its CEO.

HSBC allegedly supplied nearly $1 billion to the Al Rajhi Bank, Saudi Arabia, founded by Sulaiman bin Abdul Azis al-Rajhi, an early backer of al-Qaeda; supplied dollars to Islami Bank Bangladesh and Social Islami Bank in Pakistan, both linked to terrorist financing; cleared more than $290 million for a group of Russian "used-car salesmen"; and laundered money for a "pharmaceutical company" in Mexico. The bank could be fined more than $1 billion.

AR Wasn't HSBC originally founded on opium-war money? Lord Green is a respected senior member of my old Oxford college (I called him a "good man" in my blog for 2011-09-23).

2012 July 17


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Sinai desert between Israel and Egypt could become an "operational base" for jihadists if security is not maintained. Clinton: "We think this is a dangerous situation for both Egypt and Israel. It is also dangerous for Americans."

Clinton says Egypt's new president Mohamed Morsy recognizes the danger: "I think he is concerned about any part of the country that might cause problems for Egyptians and for others beyond his border." Egyptian protestors hurled tomatoes, shoes, and shouts of abuse.

AR Egypt is going down the tubes.


Hewlett-Packard says commercial memristor hardware will be available by the end of 2014 at the earliest. HP spokesman: "The science and technology are the easy part. Development costs at least 10 times as much as research, and commercialization costs 10 times as much as development."

Historically, electrical circuits were crafted with three basic building blocks: the capacitor, the resistor, and the inductor. But in 1971, University of California at Berkeley professor Leon Chua defined a fourth: the memristor. When current flows in one direction through a memristor, the electrical resistance increases. When current flows in the opposite direction, the resistance decreases. When the current is stopped, the memristor retains its last resistance, and when the flow of charge starts again, the resistance is retained. This property lets it store information, hence serve as computer memory.

In May 2008, HP announced that it had built a memristor. According to HP, it will significantly outperform flash memory: "It holds its memory longer, it's simpler, it's easier to make — which means it's cheaper — and it can be switched a lot faster, with less energy."

AR Getting this right could save HP.

2012 July 16

Europocalypse? Relax
Spiegel Online

The German Federal Constitutional Court says it will announce on September 12 its decision on whether to impose a temporary injunction against laws setting up the permanent bailout fund and the fiscal pact for the euro. So Europe hangs in limbo through August.

2012 July 15

Pork Fighters
The New York Times

The Obama administration needs to cut defense costs. Problems with two new jets show how poorly Pentagon procurement works.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was supposed to prove that the Pentagon could build a major new weapon system within budget, without delays. The Air Force, the Navy, and the Marines plan to buy more than 2 400 F-35s through 2037. But the project turned into the Pentagon's biggest budget buster.

A new report by the Government Accountability Office estimates the total cost of acquisition at nearly $400 billion. The price per plane has doubled since project development began in 2001. The plane will not be in full production until 2019, a delay of six years, and the planes made so far are being delivered late. There are problems integrating 24 million lines of software code in its computer systems.

Meanwhile, the F-22 Raptor, the most advanced stealth fighter jet in the world, is also mired in performance problems. Late last year, the Air Force stopped flying the planes, which cost $400 million each. Flights have since resumed, but are limited to within 30 minutes of a landing field.

Congress and defense contractors alike need to reform the acquisition system and rein in escalating costs. Billions are being wasted.

Pork Clerics
Spiegel Online

Greek leaders say they need more time to hit austerity targets demanded by their creditors. Greece has committed itself to saving an additional €11.5 billion over the two-year period from 2013 to 2014, but is having difficulties coming up with new cuts in addition to the present austerity measures. One idea is to cut by half the amount the state pays for the salaries of priests and bishops in Greece. At present, the state pays the entire salary of the 10 368 clerics in the country. If Athens made the Orthodox Church responsible for half of their salaries, it could save the taxpayer some €100 billion annually.

AR If Greece pays each average cleric €20 million a year, no wonder Greece is broke!

Joss Stone

Her 2003 debut album The Soul Sessions made her one of the UK's richest musicians.
But now singer Joss Stone, 25, once thought to be worth £10 million, says:
"I don't have that kind of money. It all went when I left EMI. I was flat even, down to nothing.
I wasn't even down to a million in the bank. What I had left was my house and three flats in Exeter
and that was it."
The Soul Sessions Volume 2
Interview in Daily Mail

Image: NASA/ESA/SETI Institute
Pluto and its five known moons:
new moon P5 is 10-25 km across

Seven Minutes Of Terror

Challenges of getting
Curiosity down onto Mars
Video, 5:08

Christian Beginnings
Rowan Williams

Geza Vermes is familiar with Jewish thinking in the age of Jesus and Paul. If he is right, claims about the revealed authority of the traditional Christian faith enshrined in the Nicene Creed are dubious.

Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla
1856-07-10 — 1943-01-07

AR Thanks to
Birgit Herklotz

2012 July 14

Charles Krauthammer

Egypt has experienced an Islamist sweep. The Muslim Brotherhood won the presidency and nearly half the seats in parliament, while more openly radical Islamists won a quarter. In Syria the Brotherhood will almost certainly inherit power. Jordan could well be next. And Hamas already controls Gaza.

The Arab Spring is a misnomer. This is an Islamist ascendancy, not a Facebook revolution but the beginning of an Islamist one. Radical Islam is the answer to nothing. Arab nationalism is dead and Islamism is its successor.

Alexis Madrigal

To figure out why we wear pants, consider the positioning of men on horses and women on bicycles.

Mounted Roman soldiers adopted braccae, or breeches. And the Qin in China continued the traditions of the cavalry-and-pants warriors they arose from. Mounted warriors were generally men of relatively high status, so the pants fashion spread easily in male society.

For women, the rational dress movement at the end of the nineteenth century coincided with the rising popularity of the bicycle. Women cast off their corsets and adopted bloomers, which were baggy pants, cinched at the knee. The rest is history.

Riding horses and bicycles required new dress codes before they could fit in. And the solutions stuck.

2012 July 13

MI6 Foiled Iranian Nukes Bid
The Telegraph

Sir John Sawers, the head of the British military intelligence service MI6, says covert operations by British spies delayed the Iranian development of nuclear weapons by up to six years. At a meeting of senior civil servants in London last week, he said that Iran was now "two years away" from becoming a nuclear weapons state and that without the MI6 work "you'd have Iran as a nuclear weapons state in 2008 rather than still being two years away in 2012."

Neither Arab Spring Nor Islamist Winter
Tzipi Livni

Whether we face an Arab spring or an Islamic winter depends on Egypt's president Mohamed Morsi and how the international community treats him. Two invitations sent to Cairo, one to attend a conference in Tehran next month, the other to meet Barack Obama, symbolize the choice Egypt faces.

Israel cannot remain complacent about upheaval in Egypt. Radical jihadist groups in Sinai aim to push Egypt to direct confrontation with Israel. For years, the Palestinian issue has been a cloud over relations between Israel and the Arab world. We need to solve our conflict with the Palestinians.

Predicting The Higgs
Steven Weinberg

The Standard Model features a symmetry between the electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force. But if nothing new were added to the electroweak theory, all elementary particles would be massless. The electroweak symmetry must be broken. It seems that scalar fields distinguish the weak force from electromagnetic forces, giving mass to the particles that carry the weak force and to other particles but leaving photons with zero mass.

Scalar fields would show up as new particles. Abdus Salam and I found we needed to put four scalar fields into our electroweak theory. Three of them gave mass to the W and Z particles that carry the weak force. These particles were discovered at CERN with the predicted masses. One was left over: the Higgs particle. The theory did not predict its mass.

2012 July 12

Europe Or Sink
The Times

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso says Britain would be reduced to the status of Norway or Switzerland if it left the European Union: "From a European perspective, I find it a little bit ironic that some people are suggesting for Britain a role comparable to that of, say, Norway or Switzerland ... Britain is expecting a bigger role in the world than small countries ... When the Prime Minister of Britain meets the President of the United States, or the President of China, he has much stronger status and much stronger leverage because everybody knows that Britain is a country that is very influential in the shaping of Europe."

AR Britain to Europe is more like Taiwan to China than Japan to China.

Nonstandard Higgs
New Scientist

The signature of the Higgs boson discovered at CERN does not exactly match the predictions of the Standard Model. The new particle may be a member of a more complete model that covers dark matter and gravity. That would be a cause for even greater celebration than the discovery of the Higgs.

AR Way to go, guys. Science never ends.

2012 July 11

Darwinian Banking
Matt Ridley

Investment bankers and the principals in financial companies have trousered an increasing share of the returns from the financial markets. Regulation has failed. Central banks have failed. The financial system has evolved into a mess. We need to let a better one evolve:

Tear down the barriers to the emergence of new clearing banks
Help supermarkets and phone companies set up financial services
Make it easier for customers to move between banks
Make regulation fall more heavily on the biggest companies
Break up state-owned banks into small units and sell them
Find ways to encourage competition between currencies

Martin Wolf

Since financial turmoil broke out in 2007, only the United States and Germany are above previous economic peaks. But the eurozone economy is stagnant and its unemployment rate is over 11%.

A number of economies are struggling with excessive leverage. Private sectors are running large surpluses of income over spending in all the large high-income countries. So these countries are running large current account surpluses or large fiscal deficits. Germany is doing the former. Others are running fiscal deficits. All this is the painful hangover after the great credit binge.

The big story is one of private sector de-leveraging, tempered by easy monetary policy and offset by the leveraging of government balance sheets. These things prevented a second great depression.

Melinda Gates
The Telegraph

Melinda Gates, 47, is co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She and her husband Bill control a foundation worth almost $34 billion, a sum higher than the GDP of many countries. Melinda has been dubbed joint president of the United Gates of America.

Bill and Melinda could have lavished their wealth on symphony orchestras, cultural institutions, or architecturally daring art galleries. Instead, they fund humanitarian causes. Melinda: "All lives have an equal value. Unwanted and unplanned pregnancies result in more than 200,000 women and girls dying in pregnancy and childbirth, and nearly three million babies dying in their first year of life. That's a shocking situation, but one that we can change."

Melinda was brought up in modest circumstances as a Catholic, which has led to criticism of her advocacy of birth control. "I can see what a massive benefit it represents for women struggling to give their children opportunities that will lift them out of poverty."

2012 July 10

Protecting The Bankers
Laurence Kotlikoff

The reforms proposed by the UK Independent Commission on Banking are feckless. It should call for banks to stick to their core roles: mediating the payments system and connecting lenders to borrowers.

The commission accepts faith-based casino banking and vast leverage. It advocates ring-fencing "good" banks, which hold good assets, have only good customers, and do only good things. The "bad" banks are the investment banks and other shady financial corporations. Both good and bad banks are asked to retain more capital against "risky" assets, submit to stress tests, and restructure their long-term debt.

The commission fails to identify the root causes of the financial crisis: opacity and leverage. Good assets can go bad. Today, UK gilts are "safe" assets. But the UK's long-term fiscal position is risky. The commission would allow good banks to borrow £25 for every pound of equity and invest it all in gilts. The banks would fail if gilt prices dropped by just 4%.

Without trust, creditors find no comfort in capital ratios. The commission raises the risk of financial collapse in times of crisis by leaving bad banks to sink or swim. It protects neither good nor bad banks. Nor does it protect the public. It protects the bankers.

Is the Web Driving Us Mad?
Tony Dokoupil

The Internet may be making us more depressed and anxious, prone to mood disorders, and even psychotic. In a brain scanner, Web users display fundamentally altered prefrontal cortexes. Their brains look like the brains of drug and alcohol addicts. Chinese researchers found significant abnormalities in the brains of video game addicts.

Numerous studies have shown that the more a person hangs out in the global village, the worse they are likely to feel. Web use often displaces sleep, exercise, and face-to-face exchanges. A recent study linked time online with mood disorders in young adulthood. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recognizes what it calls Facebook depression.

Sex Roles Challenged

In his 1948 study of the sex lives of fruit flies, British biologist Angus Bateman concluded that selection should universally favor "an undiscriminating eagerness in the males and a discriminating passivity in the females" to obtain mates. He followed Charles Darwin in accepting that males benefit by mating frequently and indiscriminately, with each successful copulation representing an extra chance to pass on their traits, while females mate infrequently, invest energy in rearing offspring and generally benefit by being choosy about mates. From that dynamic emerged the different sex roles.

Bateman tested the principle by breeding fruit flies that each contained a single pronounced trait. By looking for these traits in offspring, he could identify their parents. The results were codified into what became known as Bateman's principles, which mathematically described how sex differences in mating benefits and reproductive fitness could be measured.

A new replication of Bateman's work suggests the evolutionary dance between sexes is more complicated. UCLA biologist Patricia Gowaty and her colleagues duplicated Bateman's study design. They noticed that flies with pronounced traits from two parents were unfit and died before hatching. Bateman only counted adult flies, but Gowaty included the deceased juveniles. Her results show that his approach caused him to overestimate some numbers and underestimate others. In short, there was no evidence for eager males and finicky females.

University of Texas biologist Adam Jones has demonstrated that Bateman-style sexual selection applies to many species: "This study, while interesting, is not paradigm challenging. We now have studies from many other systems other than Drosophila (fruit flies) confirming the main conclusions of Bateman's original study. Thus, even if Bateman's study was flawed, as it certainly was by today's standards, the impact of his study on the field of evolutionary biology is secure."

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State U
This full-circle scene combines 817 images taken by the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity.
It shows the terrain surrounding the rover while it was stationary for four months of work during its most recent Martian winter.

Opportunity took the component images between Sol 2811 (2011-12-21) and Sol 2947 (2012-05-08) of its stay on Mars.
The image combines exposures through filters centered on wavelengths of 753 nm, 535 nm, and 432 nm, here in false color.

Taliban Shoot Woman
For Being Loved


A shot rings out.
The burka-clad woman on
the ground sits still.
The man shooting point-blank
at her fires again.
Still there is no reaction.
He fires a third shot.
Finally the woman slumps over.
But the man fires another shot.
And another, and another.
Nine shots in all.

Video (5:12)

AR Fucking barbarians.

Fifty Shades of Grey
E.L. James

In three months, E.L. James
has sold 4 million copies of her
erotic trilogy in the UK, to add
to the 15 million in the United
States and Canada, to make it
the fastest selling adult novel
of all time.

Why women love it
Zoe Williams

What men think of it
Ben Machell, Dan Masoliver,
Phil Hilton, John Sutherland,
Tim Lott, Robert Crampton

2012 July 9

Eurozone Crisis
Wolfgang Münchau

The EU has agreed a pathway toward a banking union. I think it was a step in the wrong direction. The summit made a concrete crisis resolution decision contingent on a future decision. They agreed that there shall be no common bank recapitalization until a full banking union is established. And the Bundesbank says the latter is not possible without a political union. If so, we won't solve the crisis for the next twenty years.

Germany will not agree to mutualized deposit insurance. It cannot even agree to give the ESM a banking license. If Germany cannot do the minimum necessary now, why should anybody think it can agree a political union? A narrow majority in Germany is still in favor of the euro but a majority is against further rescues. A group of economists led by Ifo president Hans-Werner Sinn has published a manifesto against a banking union.

2012 July 8

The Higgs Boson
Garance Franke-Ruta

The Higgs boson is the Higgs field quantum. The Higgs field pervades the universe and creates drag on particles. Finding the Higgs boson would confirm that the Higgs field exists. The interaction between the Higgs field or boson and other particles is the Higgs mechanism. The precise nature of the mechanism is still being worked out, but it is how particles acquire mass.

The Higgs boson needs a lot of energy to make and it decays very quickly, so it was really hard to find. By colliding very fast protons, a little bit of the Higgs field got chipped off into a boson that could be measured before decaying. Sort of like throwing a rock really hard at a wall that threw off a little bit of dust, and then scientists took a picture of the dust before it blew away. Except in this case the wall is also continuous and infinite, and invisible, and we all live inside it, and it gives us mass.

AR The original article was longer, confusing, and peppered with errors. I rewrote this part to get a clean intro to the nice metaphor she ended with.

Higgs Boson Continues To Not Make Sense
Robert Wright

My Atlantic colleague Garance Franke-Ruta has heroically assembled a layperson's description of what the Higgs boson is. I now report that I have read her piece and still don't get it. Her exposition is, so far as I know, without deficiencies. It's not her fault that subatomic reality is so strange.

AR Fair enough, quantum reality is really hard to get.

2012 July 7

PM International
BlueLine Akademie, Langen bei Frankfurt

To win you need:
* 100% product commitment
* Life changing goal

After Higgs
Sean Carroll

Particle physicists have long obsessed over the search for the Higgs because it was predicted by our best theories of fundamental interactions. Without the Higgs, we wouldn't understand how other elementary particles like quarks and electrons acquire their mass. In the real universe, a Higgs field pervades all of space, turning massless particles moving through it into massive ones. The Higgs boson is a propagating ripple in the Higgs field. But if you produce a Higgs, it will decay in about a zeptosecond.

We can now claim a working understanding of all the particles that make up ordinary matter around us. But we are nowhere near done. Most of the mass in the universe is not in ordinary matter but in mysterious dark matter. In many theoretical models, dark matter interacts with ordinary matter via the Higgs boson. We think there are many particles waiting to be discovered. By studying how the Higgs behaves, we can take the next steps to understand the fundamental architecture of reality.

AR Susy is next, then superstrings.

When should governments make cuts to repair their finances?
Paul Krugman: "Not now."
Austerity should be reserved for the good times, he says. In the bad times, they should pour money into public spending projects.

A Manifesto for
Economic Sense

Marxism today

Peter Higgs
Photo: Denis Balibouse/Reuters
Peter Higgs today

In Search of Susy
(video, 3:09)

"We thought that inflation predicted a smooth, flat universe. Instead, it predicts every possibility an infinite number of times. We're back to square one."
Paul Steinhardt

"Inflation has destroyed itself.
It logically self-destructed."
Max Tegmark


2012 July 6

Wolfson Economics Prize MMXII

The Wolfson Economics Prize winner is a team from Capital Economics led by Roger Bootle.
Leaving The Euro: A Practical Guide centers on the departure of a weak member:

1 A new currency is introduced at parity with the Euro on day 1 of an exit.

2 All wages, prices, loans and deposits are redenominated into it 1 for 1.

3 Euro notes and coins remain in use for small transactions for up to six months.

4 The exiting country immediately announces a regime of inflation targeting, adopts a set of tough fiscal rules, monitored by a body of independent experts, outlaws wage indexation, and announces the issue of inflation-linked government bonds.

5 The government redenominates its debt in the new national currency and states its intention to renegotiate the terms of this debt. This is likely to involve substantial default.

2012 July 5

A Quantum Leap
Lawrence Krauss

The idea of the Higgs particle was proposed nearly 50 years ago. If an otherwise invisible background field exists permeating empty space throughout the universe, then elementary particles can interact with this field. They will encounter resistance to their motion through their interactions with this field, and they will act like they have mass.

This phenomenon could not only explain why elementary particles like the particles that make up our bodies have the masses they do, but it could also illuminate why electromagnetism and the weak force are at a fundamental scale different manifestations of a single electroweak force. All of the predictions based on these ideas have turned out to be in accord with experiment.

In particle physics, for every field in nature there is an elementary particle that can be produced if one has sufficient energy to create it. So the Higgs field is associated with a Higgs particle. The CERN discovery represents a quantum leap in our understanding of nature at its fundamental scale.

Peter Higgs
Helen Rumbelow

Peter Higgs chose his particle over his wife. He lived a quiet life at the University of Edinburgh and married Jody Williamson, an American linguistics lecturer. On July 16, 1964, he read some new research papers: "I looked at one, realized what it meant, and then jumped up and shouted out loud, 'Oh shit!' " In a fever of excitement Higgs spent the weekend walking the hills outside Edinburgh. "When I came back to work on Monday, I sat down and wrote a new paper as fast as I could."

In 1965, Jody was pregnant and Higgs got a job at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jody went back to her family home in Illinois to have the baby. Freeman Dyson asked Higgs if he would like to come and present his theory to the Princeton physicists. The institute prided itself on giving lecturers a hard time, but Higgs survived. He earned a second invitation, to Harvard. When Higgs headed back to Edinburgh in 1966, his international reputation was established.

Fame put stress on his family life and Jody left him. Higgs gave up chasing glory and devoted himself to teaching. His flat in Edinburgh still looks like it did when she left some forty years ago. He doesn't have a television, doesn't use a computer, has someone else check his e-mail, and rarely answers the phone. He likes his books, his vinyl records, and his physics journals.

Photo by Stuart Wallace, 2012-07-05
Peter Higgs and the math of his field

Peter Higgs

If you were to scatter weak bosons off one another, which nobody has yet done, the theoretical account of this would be nonsense unless the Higgs particle existed. Of the various people who contributed to that piece of theory I was the only one who pointed to this particle as something that would be characteristic of that kind of theory and of interest for experimentalists.

People are looking at theoretical systems which go far beyond what can be verified experimentally at the moment — superstring theories, all these things which seem to be necessary to include gravity in the unification with other fundamental forces. The problem to me seems to be that the difficulty of experimentally checking whether such theories are right is getting worse and worse.

New Scientist

Abderrahmane Kheddar, director of the robotics laboratory, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Japan: "The ultimate goal is to create a surrogate, like in Avatar."

Researchers with the international Virtual Embodiment and Robotic Re-embodiment project used fMRI to scan the brain of university student Tirosh Shapira as he imagined moving different parts of his body.
Ori Cohen at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, and colleagues trained Shapira and created an algorithm that could distinguish between each thought of movement. The commands were then sent via the Internet to a small robot at the Béziers Technology Institute in France. Shapira controlled the robot in near real time with his thoughts. A camera on the robot's head let him see from the robot's viewpoint.

The next step is to improve the surrogate. The researchers are also fine-tuning their algorithm to look for patterns of brain activity. Cohen presented the results of the trials at BioRob 2012.

Video (2:09)

The Genius in All of Us
David Shenk

For those on their way to greatness, practice makes perfect:

1 Practice changes your body. Researchers have recorded a constellation of physical changes in those showing profound increases in skill level in any domain.

2 Skills are specific. If you become great at one skill, you don't suddenly become great at other skills. Changes are specific responses to particular requirements.

3 The brain drives the brawn. Even among athletes, changes in the brain are arguably the most profound, with an increase in precise task knowledge, a shift from conscious analysis to intuitive thinking, and elaborate self-monitoring.

4 Practice style is crucial. Ordinary practice, to reinforce your current skill level, is not enough. Deliberate practice involves repeatedly reaching further and accepting failures.

5 Many changes need long periods of time. You can't become great overnight. You need to invest something like 10 000 hours over 10 years, an average of 3 hours per day.

AR So I'm a great editor — hire me!

2012 July 4

O Happy Day:

Higgs Bagged
Celeste Biever

CERN: The Higgs boson has been discovered. The Standard Model of particle physics is now complete. A Higgs boson with a mass of around 125 to 126 GeV was seen separately by the twin CMS and ATLAS detectors at the LHC, each with a confidence level of 5 sigma. The odds against a fluke are better than a million to one. Rapturous applause, whistles, and cheers filled the auditorium at CERN.

"I think we have it"
The Times

LHC Director General Ralph Heuer said the combined efforts of an international team of thousands of scientists had found a particle entirely new to physics, which fits with the predicted properties of the Higgs: "I think we have it. Do you agree?" The answer was resounding and sustained applause.

Peter Higgs, who is now a strong contender for the Nobel Prize, said, "I am astounded at the amazing speed with which these results have emerged. They are a testament to the expertise of the researchers and the elaborate technologies in place. I never expected this to happen in my lifetime and shall be asking my family to put some champagne in the fridge."

Arise Sir Peter
The Telegraph

Professor Peter Higgs, the British scientist who first conjectured the "God particle", should be knighted and awarded a Nobel prize following the discovery of the Higgs boson, say leading physicists.

AR Hear, hear. Give him all the honors he can carry.

The Higgs Boson
The Guardian

The Higgs boson, named after the Edinburgh University physicist Peter Higgs, who proposed it in 1964, has become a major focus of research at the LHC.

The particle complements an invisible energy field that fills the vacuum of space. Without it, or something to do its job, there would be no stuff as we know it in the universe. The Higgs field switched on a trillionth of a second after the big bang. Before then, all of the particles in the universe were massless and zipped around at light speed. When the Higgs field switched on, particles such as quarks and electrons felt a drag from the field that we call mass. Photons are not dragged by the field and remain massless.

After Higgs comes Susy. Supersymmetry predicts the existence of several kinds of Higgs particles, plus a host of other particles that have yet to be discovered.

New Scientist: Celeste Biever tweets live from the seminar at CERN

09:49 CEST: If you add bottom quark decay channel you get 5.1 sigma!

09:39 CEST: Combine 4.1 sigma 1.25 GeV bump for diphoton decay mode with next decay mode from ZZ to 4 leptons and you get 5 sigma — rapturous applause.

2012 July 3

British Blackmail
Gideon Rachman

Former UK defense secretary Liam Fox rails against what he calls "diktat from Brussels". He wants Britain to demand repatriation of powers from the European Union: "Life outside the EU holds no terror."

There is an ugly element of blackmail in the Fox strategy. He and his allies know that the eurozone is fighting for its political and economic life. Even though Britain does not use the euro, the Foxes want to block agreements on the single currency unless the other EU countries make concessions on such British bugbears as fisheries policy, the common European arrest warrant, and the budget. Such blackmail would infuriate our neighbors and damage British interests.

One German policy maker talks cheerily of "rebuilding Europe from the rubble" if the euro collapses. If it does, some will blame the Germans, some will blame Club Med, and some will blame perfidious Albion.

Britain Versus Europe
The Independent

The European Union is Britain's biggest export market, with 53% of British goods purchased by fellow European nations in 2011. If the UK left the EU, we would have no say on the rules that govern the European single market, but we would still have to follow the rules to sell there. In 2011, Britain exported £159 billion of goods to the EU and imported goods worth £202 billion. By one estimate, if the UK were to leave the EU the British GDP would sink by 2.25%.

The UK makes an annual net contribution of €9 billion to the EU budget, equivalent to 0.6% of GDP, compared with a national budget deficit of 8.3% of GDP. The annual cost to the UK of EU regulation is £7.4 billion, but the regulation helps protect customers from big corporations. Between 2007 and 2013, the UK will make a net contribution of £7.1 billion to the European Common Agricultural Policy, which is wasteful. For what it's worth, British bankers generally favor staying in Europe.

The Hunt For Susy Higgs

CERN LHC physicists are preparing their latest news in the hunt for the Higgs boson. They need the Higgs to complete the Standard Model. Although it accounts for all the known forces and subatomic particles in the universe, the Standard Model is not the final theory of everything.

Supersymmetry goes further. Susy says that for every particle we know about, there is a corresponding superpartner of higher mass. So the electron is paired with a selectron and quarks with squarks. Susy was first developed several decades ago. Large particle accelerators revealed a slew of new quarks and bosons predicted by the Standard Model, but found no signs of the lightest superpartner, the stop squark, which is needed to explain many properties of the Higgs.

For two decades, physicists have tried explaining the absence of signs of Susy by tweaking the theory. The simplest versions of Susy have already been ruled out. Over the next few years, the LHC will run at higher and higher energies. Perhaps it will find signs of Susy.

2012 July 2

Best For Britain
David Cameron

It is vital for our country that we get our relationship with Europe right. We need to be clear about what we want, what we have, and the best way of getting what is best for Britain.

I am not against referendums on Europe. The single market is at the heart of the case for staying in the European Union. It also makes sense to cooperate with our neighbors to maximize our influence in the world and project our values. But the British people are not happy with what they have, and neither am I.

For those of us outside the eurozone, far from there being too little Europe, there is too much of it: too much cost, too much bureaucracy, too much meddling. The single currency is driving a process that will see its members take more and more steps towards fuller integration.

I will continue to work for a more flexible and less onerous position for Britain within the EU. We need to consider how best to proceed, whether in a general election or in a referendum.

Tim Montgomerie

David Cameron has finally mentioned a referendum on the British relationship with the European Union. His MPs are nearly all Eurosceptics and probably about one hundred are hardliners. The hundred want Britain to become a fully sovereign democracy again, with parliament deciding British policies.

Cameron should consider a double referendum: first to endorse a position for him to take to the negotiating table, and second to decide on accepting the deal or leaving the EU. For Eurosceptics, the idea of two votes will be too messy. They want out now. They think passion can prevail. It cannot.

AR The island realm will go its own way. Europe will become a new Byzantium. The accommodation of Britain and Europe may take a few more decades to sort itself out.

Lionel Asbo
Martin Amis

The eponymous Asbo is an unlovely vulgarian whose presence for 276 pages is frankly wearying. His counterpoint, the boring arts student Des, lightens the load at the cost of diluting the savage fun the Asbo saga throws up. As always with Amis, language gets in the way, and recherché words and phrases distract and bemuse ...

2012 July 1

Today I celebrate 25 years of living in Germany.

The Sunday Times

Physicists from Atlas and CMS, the two key experiments at CERN LHC, plan to announce on Wednesday that each team has exceeded the four-sigma confidence level (99.99% certainty) that they have found the Higgs particle.

CERN physicist John Ellis: "My understanding is that the Atlas and CMS experiments will each be above the four-sigma level. Their combined results will probably be above five sigma, but that work will not be complete by Wednesday."

CERN wants a confidence level of five sigma (99.99995%). The LHC has generated 1,600 trillion collisions between protons, but so far has seen fewer than 300 potential Higgs particles. Only now is it reaching the numbers needed for five sigma.

AR Success at last.