BLOG 2012 Q4

The Gravity Recovery and
Interior Laboratory (GRAIL)
mission mapped the lunar
gravity field from the
satellites Ebb and Flow
(blog December 17)

Life of Pi

General Norman Schwarzkopf

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Schwarzkopf directed the buildup of 700 000 coalition troops. Operation Desert Storm began on 1991-01-17. They called him "Stormin' Norman."

A Short History
Of Nearly Everything

Bill Bryson

At last I read it:
A wonderful ramble
through science.

2012 December 31

Fiscal Cliff Agreement
CNN, 21:49 ET

A deal was reached between Congressional leaders and the White House late Monday night. The agreement brokered by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was later signed off on by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid during calls with President Barack Obama. The plan postpones the sequester by two months.

$1 Trillion
Financial Times

OPEC, the oil cartel, led by Saudi Arabia, will pocket a record of more than US$1 trillion in net oil revenues in 2012. United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, the most influential members of the cartel, are home to 3 of the world's 10 largest sovereign wealth funds. The benchmark closed at or above $100 every trading day in 2012, except a few in June and July.

2012 December 30

Spent hours reading about the Mongol warlords Genghis Khan and Hulagu and the Turk warlord Timur
(Tamerlane, a.k.a. The Sword of Islam): horrific.

The Fun Stuff
Parul Sehgal

Virginia Woolf: "Oh, yes dear reader: the essay is alive. There is no reason to despair."

James Wood: "Surely Woolf knew that her prose had to sign itself. So her essays, both in texture and in content, were self-advertisements."

Wood says George Orwell "almost certainly" got his "eye for didactic detail from Tolstoy" and that
Ian McEwan in turn "learned quite a lot about narrative stealth and the control of disgust from Orwell."

Wood on Cormac McCarthy's apocalyptic novel The Road: "As long as language can be used to recount the worst, then the worst has not arrived. ... When does narrative, language end?"

V. S. Naipaul wrote home to his family in Trinidad during his lonely years studying at Oxford:
"I have got to show these people that I can beat them at their own language."

Daniel Mendelsohn says Susan Sontag had "aspirations that were at odds with her temperament and her talent." Her self-consciousness and "inability to resist any opportunity to interpret" made her an exciting critic but a clunky and banal novelist.

Mendelsohn attributes Jonathan Franzen's habit of "snide superiority" to a case of arrested adolescence so severe it amounts to a "political and aesthetic autism."

Christopher Hitchens described Rebecca West as "a superbly intelligent woman, whose feminism was above all concerned with the respect for, and the preservation of, true masculinity."

Katie Roiphe: "The really ghastly thing about trying to convey to a white man the reality of the Negro experience has nothing whatever to do with the fact of color, but has to do with this man's relationship to his own life. He will face in your life only what he is willing to face in his."

Virginia Woolf wrote that personality is the essayist's "most dangerous and delicate tool."

2012 December 29

Red Book
David Bentley Hart

Carl Jung began receiving revelations in 1913, when he was 38 years old. He undertook to lay open his thoughts in the Red Book, an immense illuminated manuscript on cream vellum, copiously illustrated with elaborate painted panels and bound in red leather.

The Red Book is saturated in imagery and concepts drawn from the Gnostic systems of late antiquity. Its spiritual logic is one of a saving wisdom vouchsafed through a private revelation. For Jung, Gnostic myth was a poignantly confused way of talking about the universal human tragedy.

We have learned to see nature as a machine. The story of evolution appears to concern only a mindless process of violent attrition and fortuitous survival. In such a cosmos, many of us imagine transcendence solely as an absolute absence of God from the world.

Life of Pi
Jonathan Romney

Ang Lee and his team have devised an aesthetic for Yann Martel's fanciful novel Life of Pi. Lee has decided that the appropriate keynote is beauty, of a luminous, heightened, almost abstract nature. A teenage boy and a ferocious tiger must coexist on a small boat set adrift in a sea of kitsch.

The first half hour is a luminously shot account of Pi's upbringing. Emigrating to Canada, Pi survives a storm at sea and finds himself adrift in a lifeboat in the company of a Bengal tiger, an orangutan, a hyena and a zebra. The film squeezes more narrative life from Pi's ordeal than the book does.

The point is to go beyond kitsch in search of visual transcendence. Lee identifies the color of fantasy, and not surprisingly, it's a little garish. If you can bear to let your cynicism slip, you might be swept up in some scenes. But as a coherent film experience, Life of Pi is fatally scuppered by mysticism.

2012 December 28

Britain In Europe
The Guardian

EC president Herman Van Rompuy: "If every member state were able to cherry-pick those parts of existing policies that they most like, and opt out of those that they least like, the union in general, and the single market in particular, would soon unravel. All member states can, and do, have particular requests and needs that are always taken into consideration as part of our deliberations. I do not expect any member state to seek to undermine the fundamentals of our cooperative system in Europe."

VR: "Britain's contribution is greater, I think, than it sometimes realizes itself. It has been crucial in building the EU's centerpiece, the single European market, now the largest market in the world, and the common rules for the common market that are necessary for it to function. British expertise in the fields of foreign policy, finance, and trade shape the EU's policies in these fields. It has led the way on climate change and development aid. It has offered us the English language, now in practice the lingua franca of Europe."

German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble: "Without the EU as an amplifier, Britain's influence in the world would be lessened. No European country alone can make its voice heard in today's globalized world. Europe needs an ongoing critical debate about the best way forward. The British voice is sorely needed in this competition of ideas."

WS: "The political stability and economic prosperity European integration has secured have benefited the UK as much as they have the continent. As an EU member, Britain has enjoyed unrestricted access to the world's largest single market. The EU has benefited tremendously from British membership. The UK is one of Europe's strongest, most innovative economies. London is the financial capital of Europe."

A.C. Grayling

The world is so rich in interest and in puzzles, and the task of finding out as much as we can about it is going to take us many millennia to complete. Discovery is exciting.

People like narratives, they like to have an explanation, they like to know where they are going. They like the answer handed to them by somebody authoritative with a big beard. And that is a betrayal of the fact that we have intelligence and so we should be questioning, challenging, trying to find out.

The dryads and the nymphs used to be in the trees and in the streams. After that they evaporated into the wind and the sun. The gods went from the surface of the earth to the mountaintops, then into the sky, and finally beyond space and time altogether.

Extreme strands of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism force people to narrow their horizon of vision down so that they are almost blind, almost infantilized, as if in a straitjacket. But every religion goes through a fundamentalist phase and every religion leaves its fundamentalist rump.

Almost any religion can be explained to another person in about half an hour. But to know anything about astrophysics or biology or anything that really gives us an insight into the real beauty of the universe takes years of study.

The meaning of life is what you make it. There will be as many different meaningful lives as there are people to live them.

Judy Greer
Hermione Hoby

Judy Greer has made around 80 movies in Hollywood. But she launches straight into confessional mode:
"Oh my God: I totally just had like a 10-minute conversation with someone and I've got no idea who they were." She says "fuck" a lot.

Greer's latest film is Playing for Keeps, a cliched romcom in which a string of soccer moms throw themselves at a washed-up footballer: "These girls who work at the cupcake shop by my rehearsal space were like: 'Ohmygod we love you, we love you. You were in Bridesmaids and you were so awesome!' And I said: 'I wasn't in Bridesmaids. I promise you, I wish I was in that movie, I am not in it.' Another person said, 'Oh you were in 27 Dresses!' And I said, 'Yeah!' And she said: 'That was my favorite movie until Bridesmaids came out and now Bridesmaids is my favorite movie!' And I was like, yeah."

Greer was in the TV comedy Arrested Development, playing a personal assistant to a man whom she's fond of flashing with the line: "Say goodbye to these!" She was in LA shooting a new series and told its creator: "'Oh, yeah, thanks by the way for all the people flashing their tits at me all the time,' And he was, like: 'What? Do people do that?' Yes people fucking do that. That's all they do. I get flashed all the time. It's mostly men."

Life of Pi
Chris Tookey

This must be the most beautiful film of the year, a technical marvel, and magic realism at its most magical. It tells the story of an Indian teenager named Pi shipwrecked in a lifeboat with a ravenous Bengal tiger. They encounter many marvels — a sky full of flying fish, an ocean brimming with iridescent jellyfish, a carnivorous island — all brought to the screen with dreamlike intensity. The story's lyricism and the movie's visual magnificence make this an unmissable experience.

AR Chris and I knew each other in Oxford in 1970.

2012 December 27

Peter Higgs

Richard Dawkins often concentrates his attack against religion on fundamentalists. But there are many believers who are not fundamentalists. Dawkins is almost a fundamentalist himself, of another kind.

The growth of our understanding of the world through science weakens some of the motivation which makes people believers. But that's not the same thing as saying they're incompatible. It's just that some of the traditional reasons for belief, going back thousands of years, are rather undermined.

Anybody who is a convinced but not a dogmatic believer can continue to hold his belief. This means you have to be rather more careful about the whole debate between science and religion than some people have been in the past.

At the CERN meeting on the Higgs boson on July 4, the response of the audience was overwhelming. It wasn't like a scientific seminar, it was like the end of a football match when the home team has won, and that was what was overwhelming to me, to be a part of that. It was the feeling that it's arrived at last!

My Guardian Angel
Mary Kenny

Richard Dawkins on child abuse by Catholic priests: "Horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place."

Several events inflicted psychological damage in my childhood, yet the form of Catholicism in which I was raised was basically warm hearted, and I adored the rituals and the general reassurance that my guardian angel would watch over me and I shouldn't do anything to shame him.

There were abiding rules but there was also tolerance for the sinner. You were told that if you steal, you must make restitution. You should never let the sun go down on your anger and if you're having a rotten time, offer it up. None of this had a psychologically damaging effect on me.

Antarctica seems to
be warming fast

Alan Turing
Michael Saler

Turing defined the logic of a computer. At the age of 23, he solved the decision problem of whether there was a mechanical, finite procedure to distinguish provable from unprovable mathematical statements within a formal system. His 1936 paper describes a hypothetical machine with a central processing unit that uses an infinite strip of tape for memory, a program, and input and output data. It can execute any computable program by manipulating the symbols on the tape. He showed that the machine would be unable to decide the validity of all mathematical statements. He had defined a schema for the computer. He died in 1954, just shy of 42.

AR He built on Gödel's work,
but did well anyway.


Toymakers Tremble:
Tots Turn To Tablets

Financial Times

The hottest gift for children this holiday season is a tablet. Analysts predict 2012 will be the year children will unwrap tablets at trendsetting rates. Traditional toy companies are scrambling to stay relevant. Mattel's #1 selling product this year is a plastic cellphone case.

One Nation Under God?
Molly Worthen

Chreasters attend church only on Christmas and Easter. Even the nones mark the birth of Jesus with a day off.

Nones are nothing new. The past was not a golden age of faith. In medieval times, ordinary people often skipped church and had a feeble grasp of basic Christian dogma. American rates of church affiliation have long been higher than those of Europe, but rates of church attendance have never been as sterling as the Christian Right suggests.

Now that the nones are declaring themselves, America's Christian consensus is crumbling.

Arnold Schwarzenegger,
65, will star in Ten

AR Do Americans really want
a guy like this in every school?

Do less, not more:
All or nothing


Climate Change
New Scientist

Conclusions from
IPCC draft report:

decreasing trends
Tropical cyclones:
no big changes
Gulf stream:
unlikely to collapse
Arctic ice:
ice-free summers by 2100
Sea level rise:
greater than feared
cooling effect lower
Global warming:
over 8 K by 2300

Tau Ceti Planet
The Independent

A planet 5 times the mass of
Earth is thought to be orbiting
in the habitable zone around
Tau Ceti, a star like our sun
just 12 light years away.

AR Maybe we can move there
if it gets too hot here.


2012 Boxing Day

Lord of the Rings — Part III

Give Chuck A Chance
Thomas L. Friedman

President Obama is considering appointing Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense.

Hagel said that his job as a U.S. senator was not to take orders from the Israel lobby but to advance U.S. interests. He believes that being committed to Israel's survival doesn't mean going along with Israel's self-destruction. He believes that the only thing standing between Israel and national suicide is America and its willingness to tell Israel the truth.

Hagel prefers a negotiated solution to Iran's nuclear program. He wants to engage Hamas to see if it can be moved from its extremism. He believes that the Pentagon budget must be cut. He is averse to going to war again in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hagel is out of the mainstream. His voice would be valuable right now.

AR Someone in America needs to play hardball with Israel.

Think Negative
Oliver Burkeman

The Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome said that sometimes the best way to address an uncertain future is to premeditate on evils.

Saras Sarasvathy interviewed 45 successful entrepreneurs, and almost none embraced the idea of writing comprehensive business plans or conducting extensive market research. Rather than choosing a goal and then making a plan to achieve it, they took stock of the means and materials at their disposal, then imagined the possible ends. They asked how great the loss would be if their venture failed, and went ahead if the potential loss seems tolerable.

Steve Jobs: "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way that I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose."

Saudi Arabia
Hugh Eakin

With three quarters of the Saudi population of 28 million under the age of thirty, Saudi Arabia faces many of the same social problems as Egypt and Yemen. Nearly 40% of Saudis aged 20 to 24 are unemployed, and drawn to radicalism. The country suffers from a housing crisis and chronic inflation, there is recurring domestic terrorism, and the cities are plagued by poverty, drugs, and street violence.

The Al Saud dynasty often seems geriatric and disconnected. Only Egypt ranks ahead in Facebook usage in the region, and a high proportion of Saudis now use Twitter and YouTube. This has made it easier to expose alleged corruption by members of the royal family. There are thousands of princes in the royal family, each getting a share of the mostly hidden national budget.

Karen Elliott House sees a country whose people are seething with discontent and whose leadership reminds her of the dying decade of the Soviet Union. She finds appalling evidence that some women are subjected to virtual slavery.

Thomas W. Lippman finds scant evidence that any substantial portion of the Saudi population wants to replace the regime. He laments the Saudi education system, which has produced a lost generation of young Saudis. The Saudi government has made hardly any progress in weaning itself from oil.

The current U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James B. Smith, says the three pillars of the U.S.–Saudi relationship are oil security, stability, and counterterrorism.

2012 Christmas Day

Lord of the Rings — Part II

The Moral Animal
Jonathan Sacks

The majority of people in Britain and America declare allegiance to a religious faith. In an age of science, that is surprising. Natural selection should favor the ruthless and altruists should die before passing on their genes to the next generation. Yet all societies value altruism.

Neuroscientists say we have mirror neurons that lead us to feel pain when we see others suffering. We pass on our genes as individuals but we survive in groups, and groups can exist only when individuals act for the sake of the group. We form larger and more complex groups than any other species.

We have two patterns of reaction: one instinctive and emotive, the other reflective and rational. The fast track helps us survive, but it can lead us to impulsive and destructive acts. The slow track leads us to considered behavior, but it is often overridden. We are sinners and saints, egotists and altruists.

Religion helped us survive because it strengthens and speeds up the slow track. It reconfigures our neural pathways, turning altruism into instinct. It remains a powerful community builder. The idea that society can do without it flies in the face of history and biology.

2012 Christmas Eve

Lord of the Rings — Part I


Christianity is in danger of being wiped out in the Mideast because of Islamic oppression. Between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the region have left or been killed over the past century. Muslim-majority countries are the most hostile to Christians.

Christianophobia arose in Egypt after 1973 when the quadrupling of oil prices gave Saudi Arabian religious extremists the money to export their intolerant views. The idea of jihad is deeply embedded in Islam, making it susceptible to violent extremism.

Iraq has also witnessed the decimation of its Christian community. In 1990 there were between 1.2 to 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. By 2003, there were around 500,000. Today there are less than 200,000.

US-EU Geostrategy
Edward Luce

The geostrategic benefits of a transatlantic partnership are recognized on both sides. By 2030, Asia's economy will be larger than that of the US and EU combined. By acting now, the US and EU still possess the leverage to set global standards for China and others.

2013 presents the best moment for a serious US trade initiative since 2008. Most European governments are enthusiastic. Europe may attract derision in the US but no one associates it with a giant sucking sound. The issue would attract bipartisan support.

2012 December 23

Integrated Health And Medicine
Charles Windsor

I advocate an integrated approach to medicine and health. Integrated medicine integrates the best of new technology and current knowledge with ancient wisdom to include mind, body, and spirit. Integrated health is an approach which respects and includes the physical and social environment.

Modern medicine still tends to be based on the notion of the body as a machine, of disease as the consequence of breakdown of the machine, and of the doctor's task as repair of the machine.

We need to understand how symptoms may often simply be a metaphor for underlying disease and unhappiness. Treatment may often be effective because of its symbolic meaning to the patient. We can no longer see mind and body as separate entities. They are one and the same thing.

Good medicine should aim for a better balance between what science and technology may demand and what patients may actually want and need. What seems to go missing all too easily is the art of thoroughly understanding the patient's narrative.

We could improve health through a range of better integrated interventions and programs. We need to deploy approaches which retain empathy, compassion, and the enduring values of the caring professions.

AR Well said.

Guns In America
Piers Morgan

In the last years, there have been a series of gun-related tragedies in America. Each sparked a brief debate about guns. Yet each debate fizzled out with zero action being taken. Now, following the grotesque slaughter of 20 innocent young children in Newtown, the mood has changed.

The senseless killing has to stop. High-powered assault rifles of the type used at Aurora and Newtown belong in the military and police, not in civilian hands. High-capacity magazines, too, should be banned. And background checks on anyone buying guns in America should be stringently enforced.

Law-abiding Americans who use guns for hunting and sport or who want to protect themselves must be respected. But this is a vital debate for the country. Some 12,000 people are murdered in the United States with guns every year, compared with just 35 in Britain, where there are strong gun laws.

AR Well said 2.

2012 December 22

Obama Picks Kerry

President Barack Obama nominates Senator John Kerry to be the next secretary of state: "Over these many years, John's earned the respect and confidence of leaders around the world. He is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training."

Outgoing secretary of state Hillary Clinton called the pick "excellent."

AR Good pick. Now Chuck Hagel.

NRA: Put Guns In Schools
Financial Times

The National Rifle Association wants to put "good guys with guns" in every school in the United States and is starting a "national school shield" program with an unlimited budget.

AR Who pays all those thousands of "good guys" and who checks there are no bad ones?

Old Russian proverb: "When the guns talk, the muses fall silent."

Japan And Israel
Japan Times

Japan and Israel have a lot in common. Temperamentally, Israelis and Japanese are opposites, but both nations have smart people. Yet Japan stagnated two decades ago, while Israel now is roaring ahead.

Israel is full of entrepreneurs, encourages new businesses. Israelis welcome risk and are not cowed by failure. They are informal in their dealings and say what they think, leading to more innovation.

Japan has produced many great entrepreneurs but has not empowered enough new ones. Japanese society is hierarchical, everyone shows deference, and decisions need consensus, reducing innovation.

The Japanese island mentality is getting worse as fewer Japanese work or study abroad. By contrast, Israelis travel the world and tap foreign markets. Japan can learn from Israel.

AR Japan certainly needs a few changes.

2012 December 21

Murdoch Presidency Bid
Carl Bernstein

Press baron Rupert Murdoch tred to support the presidential candidacy of General David Petraeus in the 2012 election. In 2011, Fox News president Roger Ailes dispatched Fox emissary K.T. McFarland to Afghanistan to urge Petraeus to run for the Republican nomination for president, bankrolled by Murdoch, as revealed in a tape recording of a Petraeus and McFarland meeting obtained by Bob Woodward.

AR So Murdoch is Machiavellian, Fox is evil, Petraeus didn't bite, Woodward still lives. Ho hum.

Five Top Tips
Richard Branson

1 Listen more than you talk
2 Keep it simple
3 Take pride in your work
4 Have fun, success will follow
5 Rip it up and start again

AR Thanks, good advice.

Roger Scruton

High culture is concerned with the true, the beautiful, and the good. Fake culture marginalizes truth. American composer John Cage made his reputation with a happening in which a pianist in concert dress sits silently at the piano for exactly 273 seconds. Similar episodes occurred in the visual arts. In each case, the critics projected the fake to the public as the real thing. Fake culture is like corrupt politics.

2012 December 20

Pope Benedict XVI

The Christmas stories in the New Testament convey the message that Jesus was born to offer the world a peace universal in scope and transcending all limitations of space and time. The liberation he brought to his people was about conquering sin and death forever. The birth of Christ challenges us to reassess our priorities, our values, our very way of life.

Christians should engage with the world. But they should transcend ideology. Christians fight poverty out of a belief that we have a duty to care for the weakest and most vulnerable. Christians oppose greed and exploitation. The birth of Jesus marks the end of the old order. Now there is a new king, who relies not on the force of arms, but on the power of love.

Get Mad, Get Even
Michael Kimmel

Men and boys are responsible for almost all violent crimes in America. From an early age, boys learn that violence is an admired form of conflict resolution. They learn it from their fathers, from a media that glorifies it, from a culture saturated in images of heroic and redemptive violence, and from each other.

Young men learn that they are entitled to feel like a real man, and that they have the right to annihilate anyone who challenges that sense of entitlement. They learn that "aggrieved entitlement" is a legitimate justification for violent explosion. Our ideals of manhood have became entangled with violence.

Many of these young mass murderers are white. Only white boys expand the range of their revenge so far as to seek to destroy the entire world. The proximate causes of this tragedy were lax gun laws and mental illness, but we can only understand it by adding these elements to our equation.

Boys and young men who have exploded in a paroxysm of vengeful violence in recent years were conformists to norms of masculinity that prescribe violence as a solution. Like real men, they didn't just get mad, they got even. We must transform that definition of manhood.

Fist Fighters
New Scientist

Human hands are good for tool manipulation. David Carrier says many hand shapes would have allowed greater dexterity, but only one hand shape lets us make a fist with a thumb as buttress. Among primate hands, ours is unique for its ability to form a fist with the thumb outside the fingers. When athletes hit a punching bag using a normal fist, a fist with the thumb stuck out, and with an open palm, they could generate more than twice the force with a normal fist as with the thumb-stuck-out fist. The force was the same with a normal fist and with an open palm, but a fist concentrates the force. High levels of testosterone cause men's ring fingers to be longer than their index fingers. Long ring fingers might make a better fist.

2012 December 19

Europe: Back In 2013
Ruchir Sharma

The aggregate capitalization of the Greek stock market is less than Costco. In Italy, the stock market now has a total value about the same as Apple's.

Peripheral European markets have surpassed the lows typical of regional crises. But peripheral Europe cannot just abandon the euro. The region can regain competitiveness only by tolerating a collapse in wages and employment. This process is slow and difficult.

The strongest signal of recovery in crisis-torn countries is the return of the current account to surplus. Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Italy are on track to shift into current account surplus next year. Europe is also making the necessary adjustment in labor costs.

The recovery in Europe will come. One way to think about the future of Europe is to ponder this question: can Italy be worth no more than Apple?

Zadie Smith

It might be useful to distinguish between pleasure and joy. A lot of people seem to feel that joy is only the most intense version of pleasure. That has not been my experience.

I experience at least a little pleasure every day. I seem to get more than the ordinary satisfaction out of food, for example. But until recently I had known joy only six times in my life, and each time tried to forget it soon after it happened, out of the fear that the memory of it would dement and destroy everything else. Three of those times I was in love. Twice I was on drugs. Once I was in water.

I suppose a neuroscientist could explain why the moment after giving birth can feel ecstatic, or swimming in a mountain lake with somebody dear to you. Perhaps the same synapses that ecstasy falsely twanged are twanged authentically by fresh water, certain epidurals, and oxytocin. And we don’t need to be neuroscientists to know that wild romantic crushes do something ecstatic to our brains.

Real love came much later. It lay at the end of a long and arduous road. The thing no one ever tells you about joy is that it has very little real pleasure in it. Joy is such a human madness.

Genes, Cells, and Brains
Steven Poole

Hilary and Steven Rose lambast the armchair theorizing of evolutionary psychology and scorn the neuromyths sold to the educational establishment. Evo-devo and epigenetics make the old genetic determinism untenable, genomics and stem-cell therapy have thus far failed to usher in a miraculous new age of medicine, and Big Pharma is shutting down research into mental health disorders in favor of more profitable diseases. The Roses say we are living through the "commodification of bioinformation" as vast new DNA biobanks are built from national populations, and note that screening for genetic predisposition to diseases "serves to expand the potential demand for drugs to people with no symptoms" to create "a new kind of patient, the at-risk individual" and hence "a fresh market of unforeseeable size".

AR Steven Rose wrote a good brain book many, many years ago.

2012 December 18

Comforts Of Apocalypse
Scientific American

University of Minnesota neuroscientist Shmuel Lissek believes that the concept of doomsday evokes an innate fear response: "Apocalyptic beliefs make existential threats predictable." When an unpleasant or painful experience is predictable, we relax. Doomsday preppers who assemble their bunker and canned food, he says, are engaged in a proven therapy in times of trouble.

University of Kent psychologist Karen Douglas suspects that conspiracy theorists share attributes with those who believe in an impending apocalypse: "One trait I see linking the two is the feeling of powerlessness, often connected to a mistrust in authority."

Harvard psychiatrist Steven Schlozman finds that people frequently romanticize the end times. They imagine surviving, thriving, and going back to nature: "All of this uncertainty and all of this fear comes together and people think maybe life would be better."

AR Prep talk for 2012-12-21


For almost a year the Grail twin satellites Ebb and Flow orbited the Moon. Now NASA has crashed them into a lunar mountain.
Ebb and Flow were as big as washing machines and crashed at over 6000 km/s. They flew near each other in the same orbit
and broadcast their position 5 times a second with an accuracy of 50 nm to map the lunar gravitational field until they completed
their mission and ran out of fuel. Their measurements helped to discover magma channels hundreds of km long inside the Moon.

The Independent

Tony Blair started representing the Middle East Quartet — the UN, EU, US, and Russia — a few weeks after leaving Downing Street.

But Palestinian Authority aide Mohammed Shtayyeh says:
"The Quartet has been
useless, useless, useless."

"Always the statement of the Quartet really means nothing because it was always full of what they call constructive ambiguity that really took us to nowhere. You need a mediator who is ready to engage."


Death Star
Death Star

We the people petition the United States government to secure funding and resources to begin construction on a Death Star by 2016.

By focusing our defense
resources into a space-
superiority platform and
 weapon system such as a
Death Star, the government
can spur job creation.

AR This is no spoof.

Apollo 17
Apollo 17 Astronaut Harrison Schmitt, December 13, 1972

AR The End:
We never went back.


IBM announces a technological breakthrough. It has verified in a manufacturing environment the feasibility of using light instead of electrons to transmit data. It proved the concept of silicon nanophotonics in 2010: to integrate electrical and optical devices on the same piece of silicon, enabling chips to communicate using pulses of light, so they can be smaller, faster, and cooler.

The development is part of the IBM exascale computing program to build a supercomputer than runs at 1 exaflops. Photons move much faster than electrons: photonic data can run through the new chip at 25 Gbps.

The Boxer APC could be the
next export bestseller for
the German arms industry.
Moscow is interested.

US Navy stealth drone

Global Trends 2030

Pope Benedict XVI
on the nativity

Adam Kirsch
Martin Amis

Mughal India:
Art, Culture and Empire

British Library, London
2012-11-09 — 2013-04-02

2012 December 17

American Mental Health
Tim Stanley

America is gearing up for a big discussion about gun control. The United States has seen 62 mass shootings since 1982. Mental illness was apparent in over half of the killers before the crime took place. The idea that violence can be used to make a statement is encouraged by the gun fetish, but the problem extends to the failure to build a welfare system capable of dealing with such people. The underfunding of mental healthcare must be addressed.

Obama Pick Preview

AR John Kerry at state and Chuck Hagel in defense? Sounds good to me.

P2P Lending
The Independent

Peer-to-peer lenders will challenge major financial institutions, says Bank of England director of financial stability Andrew Haldane: "I see opportunity knocking for finance. Hopefully, the growth of peer-to-peer lenders and those involved in crowd-funding will help solve the problems we have with lending for small and medium enterprises."

P2P lenders match up firms in need of cash with investors:
Zopa has lent £250 million since being founded in 2005.
Funding Circle has lent £66 million.

Crowd funding raises a small amount from each of a large number of funders:
Crowdcube has lent £4.5 million since being set up in 2010 and has 25,000 registered investors.

The P2P industry has advanced an estimated £300 million to individuals and small businesses in the UK so far in 2012.

AR For all who could use an injection of liquidity, so to speak.

2012 December 16

Guns In America
Tim Walker

The Newtown shootings might prompt the United States into tightening gun laws. Democratic congressman John Larson: "Politics be darned. Of the 12 deadliest shootings in our nation's history, half of them have happened in the last five years."

Politicians fear the National Rifle Association. Formed in 1871, it has become an aggressively libertarian organization proclaiming the civil right of citizens to bear arms. In 2010 it had a budget of $307 million, and now has 4.3 million members.

In 2008, the NRA spent $100 million lobbying against Barack Obama. In 2012, Mitt Romney wooed NRA members: "We need a president who will stand up for the rights of hunters, sportsmen, and those seeking to protect their homes and their families."

In April 2012, two-thirds of Americans had a favorable view of the NRA. Since then, there have been mass shootings in Seattle, in Aurora, Colorado, in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in Minneapolis, in Portland, Oregon, and now in Newtown, Connecticut.

2012 December 15

Jared Diamond
Jackson Lears

Jared Diamond burst into prominence at the age of sixty, in 1997, with Guns, Germs, and Steel. The book won a Pulitzer Prize and became the basis for a TV series. Diamond said it was an answer to Yali, a man he had met in New Guinea in 1972, who asked: "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?"

Diamond says we are WEIRD — Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. He thinks we should consider following traditional societies by spreading child care among a local network of providers, respecting the knowledge of elders, adopting agricultural practices designed to anticipate food shortages, learning multiple languages, and embracing a healthier diet.

AR Liked the book, not sure I like being weird.

New photos of me

2012 December 14

SAP Xmas Party
SAP has posted 11 consecutive quarters of double-digit growth and is now the most valuable company in Germany. The party was a great opportunity for me to catch up with old friends. I guess you could say my going was like a Muslim going on the hajj to Mecca.

Nassim Nicolas Taleb

Historical accounts of scientific and technological discovery focus on the role of luck as opposed to plans. But luck cannot drive policy. The benefit has to be in the payoff function. The gains need to be large and the errors small or harmless. The mathematical term is convexity. You get more gain than pain from a random event if the performance curve is convex (bulges rightward). Then you are harmed less by an error (or a variation) than you can benefit from it, and uncertainty is welcome.

In complex systems with opaque chains of cause and effect, tinkering vastly outperforms teleology. But tinkering needs to be convex. Cooking relies entirely on the heuristics of trial and error. We change the mix and taste it. We keep it if we like it, otherwise we try again. We can retain the upper bound and be unaffected by adverse outcomes. Evolution is a convex function of stressors and errors: genetic mutations come at no cost and are retained only if they are an improvement. It's a ratchet.

Antifragile phenomena have a convexity bias. If you inject uncertainty into a convex exposure such as some types of research, the result improves, since uncertainty increases the upside but not the downside. This differential maps the way antifragile phenomena reward risk:

1 With convexity we gain more from improving the payoff function than from knowing what we want.
2 Research payoffs have fat tails. Most gains come from the rare black swans.
3 To harvest black swans, you need to act opportunistically by switching and ratcheting up.
4 New theory is born from (convex) practice more often than teleological planning.
5 Optionality works by finding out what doesn't work. We need to pay for negative results.

Seeing God
Oliver Sacks

There are many accounts of intense religious experience in epileptic seizures. Recordings show an exact synchronization of the epiphany with a spike in epileptic activity in the temporal lobes.

Other states permeated by religious joy and awe include out-of-body experiences (OBEs) and near-death experiences (NDEs). Both cause vivid and compelling hallucinations. An OBE can be produced experimentally with simple equipment to confuse visual and proprioceptive input. An NDE usually goes through characteristic stages. One seems to be moving effortlessly and blissfully along a dark corridor or tunnel towards a wonderful living light. The dark tunnel may represent constriction of the visual fields due to low blood pressure in the eyes, and the bright light a flow of excitation from the brainstem.

The spiritual tendency lies deep in human nature and seems to have its own neurological basis. Neuroscientists find physiological changes not only in OBEs and NDEs but also in prayer and meditation.

2012 December 13

Eurozone Banking Union
Leszek Balcerowicz

EU leaders are gathering for another crisis summit. Averting crises depends more on implementing sound domestic policies than on EU governance.

France must undertake domestic reforms. The European social model is not a large welfare state. A federal Europe is not the solution to the economic ills of the eurozone.

A eurozone banking union has been proposed to solve the problem of dangerous financial links between governments and domestic banks. But consider crises:

1 Fiscal problems lead to a financial catastrophe, as in Greece. Excessive accumulation of public debt imperils domestic lenders. Perverse global regulations must go. Fiscal discipline must be strengthened.

2 A financial crisis leads to a fiscal one, as in Ireland, Spain, the UK and US. A private credit boom turns to bust and strains government finances. Policies that encourage banks to lend into bubbles must go.

A banking union needs a detailed plan. We need regulatory reform and improved policies in problem countries, especially the largest.

AR France, be warned!

Cut Pentagon Spending
Robert G. Gard and John Johns

American power is more than military power. A national security strategy must be based on current and future threats. The economic crisis is the greatest threat to national security.

America needs political will to kill unnecessary and expensive projects. Our nuclear weapons policy is based on Cold War conditions that no longer exist. The Pentagon is expected to spend more than $700 billion on nuclear weapons over the next 10 years, for little added security. The F-35 program is slated to cost $1.5 trillion over its lifetime. These are resources that are desperately needed elsewhere.

Reducing wasteful spending on unneeded programs and outdated strategy will save money and enhance national security. Continuing to waste money is bad policy and bad for security.

2012 December 12

N. Korea: "Look at me!"
Benjamin Habib

North Korea's Unha-3 rocket launch has political motives:

1 It commemorates the first anniversary of Kim Jong Il's death. Elections and leadership transitions in
    other countries have put proliferation talks on hold. The launch raises NK visibility.
2 It helps leverage more aid from the international community to fill gaps in the NK domestic economy.
    Kim Jong Un can increase his domestic legitimacy with aid deliveries.
3 It enhances the NK nuclear deterrence posture and increases NK strategic leverage.

Shimon Peres

We have to open negotiations without prior conditions. We already have a foundation for an agreement: two states and the settlement blocks. There will be three blocks, and we shall give the Palestinians an equal piece of land. Israel doesn't have a better choice than the two-state solution.

In 1948, we were a small group of 650,000 people surrounded by tremendous hostility, outgunned, outnumbered, without natural resources. We had a war before we had a state. We had an army before we had a government. We didn't have a chance, yet we made peace with Egypt and Jordan. We started to make peace with the Palestinians. There is a Palestinian Authority and there is sort of a relationship.

Look at relations with Arabs in Israel itself: It looks like an impossible relationship. But if you look a bit closer, there are islands of peace between us. Take health care. There is not a single hospital in Israel that doesn't have Arab nurses, doctors, patients and Jewish doctors, nurses and patients working together without problems. It's complete peace in the hospitals.

Not everything that happens in the Middle East is connected to Israel. The bloodshed in Syria is not connected to Israel. Egypt has nothing to do with Israel. And the same goes for Tunisia and Yemen. There are some fanatics who try to introduce the conflict between us and the Palestinians as an excuse for their extremism, but they are a minority.

There is not yet a new Mideast. There is a divorce from the old Mideast, but not yet a new Mideast. We're in a period of transition. But the process has started. The young generation has already achieved something. First of all, they got rid of their dictators. They pushed their countries to elections. They didn't know how to win elections, but they did introduce elections.

The problem of Iran is a global problem. Israel doesn't have to monopolize it. And I prefer to go with a coalition led by the United States. President Barack Obama, in my judgment, is a serious and constant leader. He is against Iranians having a bomb because it's a danger to the world. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin told me he can't stand a nuclear bomb in the hands of the Iranians.

Writing Novels
Ian Rankin

Writers have to be proactive. It's hard to get noticed by traditional publishers. You need a great idea, but then you've got to carry it through. If you get it right, you'll be a success. But there's an element of luck.

When I wrote my first crime novel, I was doing a PhD in Scottish literature at Edinburgh University. I went to the university writer-in-residence, Allan Massie, and said, "I seem to have accidentally written a crime novel, while striving to write literature." He said, "Don't worry about it. Do you think John Buchan ever worried about whether he was writing literature or not?"

My first novel was turned down by half a dozen publishers. I remember going into a bookshop in Edinburgh in about 1992, and they had none of my books on the shelves. I walked up to a member of staff and said, "How come you've not got any Ian Rankin books?" And he said, "Oh, he's just not very popular." It made me more bloody-minded than ever.

My biggest breakthrough was probably when I won the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger award for Black and Blue in 1997. That convinced me, my publishers, and the public at large that I had a future.

AR Writing philosophy for the masses is similar.

2012 December 11

Hawking Prize
The Guardian

Stephen Hawking has won the $3m Special Fundamental Physics Prize for a lifetime of achievements, including the discovery that black holes emit radiation, and his deep contributions to quantum gravity and aspects of the early universe.

Hawking was selected by an independent committee of physicists including Ed Witten and Alan Guth. Unlike the Nobel prize, experimental proof of theoretical work is not required. The award is funded by Russian internet mogul Yuri Milner.

AR Good for Hawking — congratulations!

Drone War
Gideon Rachman

Former US ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker: "What do we want to be as a nation? A country with a permanent kill list? ... A country that instructs workers in some high-tech operations center to kill human beings on the far side of the planet because some government agency determined that those individuals are terrorists?"

Drones have blurred the line between war and assassination. Somebody suspected of plotting a terrorist attack on the soil of the US or the UK would be subject to arrest and prosecution. But if the suspects are in the tribal areas of Pakistan, they can simply be blown away.

Americans say strikes are precisely targeted and civilian casualties minimal. In a war on terror, it is legitimate to attack al-Qaeda forces in Pakistan. International law may be no concern to many citizens, but the attacks set a bad precedent.

AR War is hell. Better zap a few ragheads than have car bombs in our cities. But where the soil is makes no diff in a globalized world, so why not forget the law and zap suspicious persons here too?

Stealth Drones
Danger Room

The services are revamping arsenals for a new era. The USAF still wants 1,763 F-35 JSFs plus up to 100 next-generation bombers but canceled a plan to develop an attack drone jet and abandoned its UAV development roadmap. It is even reconsidering a promise to make the NGB optionally manned, citing potential high cost. It seems likely that USAF UAV initiatives are thriving within the classified budget.

Bill Sweetman on new stealth drone work by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman

2012 December 10

EU vs. UK
Financial Times

EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmström has told David Cameron he cannot simply pick and choose which European cross-border crime-fighting powers the UK will adopt in future. Conservatives want to reclaim powers in areas including policing, employment law, and fisheries. Cameron may hold a referendum on the result in 2015. In 2014 the UK will activate a provision in the Lisbon treaty to opt out of 136 EU laws on terrorism and crime, then opt in to selected ones. Malmström: "On each of these opt-ins there will have to be a negotiation and the other member states will have to agree."

Mughal India

The Mughal emperors ruled India from 1526 to 1858. They were Muslims descended from Genghis Khan. Akbar the Great reigned from 1556 to 1605. He gathered artists and craftsmen from Persia, Central Asia, and the Hindu kingdoms of India, and commissioned illustrated works of poetry and history and translations of Hindu classics.

Schlossplatz IX

The Observer

Italian prime minister
Mario Monti says he will
resign as soon as he has
passed a key budget law.
He said so hours after
former clown and criminal
Silvio Berlusconi said he
would seek office again.

AR Can no one rescue
Italy from the SB?

AR I'm currently reading
Tom Wolfe's novel
Back to Blood.

German Boxer APC
in Afghanistan.
Saudi Arabia wants to
buy hundreds of them.


Vinton Cerf
Vinton Cerf

Salman Rushdie

Before the fatwa in 1989,
Salman Rushdie wrote
two great books:
Midnight's Children (1980)
and Shame (1983).
Since the fatwa, he has
not written any.


Three changes in the new 5th
edition of the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental

Asperger's syndrome is gone:
its symptoms fall under a wider
diagnosis of autism spectrum

Temper tantrums will be
diagnosed as disruptive mood
dysregulation disorder.

What used to be gender
identity disorder becomes
gender dysphoria.

2012 December 9

Morsy Retracts

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy has canceled most of the decree that gave him sweeping powers. The move may end the political crisis. But the cancellation was not retroactive, so decisions such as approval of the draft constitution still stand. Opposition figures already dismiss it. One: "This is a farce."

All Or Nothing Mafia
Tharwat al-Chirbawi

Muslim Brotherhood frontman Morsy doesn't make decisions alone. He obeys MB leader Mohamed Badi. The goal is a sharia state. The MB won't share power and it has an efficient militia. If opposition continues, the militia will start to poke out eyes and tear out tongues. They'll stop at nothing.

Red Line
Fred Kaplan

President Obama warns the Syria that any use of chemical weapons would cross a red line. Why?

Syria has stockpiled roughly 500 tons of a lethal nerve gas called sarin. That's enough to kill millions of people and cause utter mayhem. Attacking the chemical stockpiles could scatter the gas and cause mayhem too. So U.S. experts are reportedly instructing rebel officers on how to secure chemical sites. Some of the rebels may be jihadists. Red lines galore.

The Holocaust
Timothy Snyder

The Holocaust can be seen as the final catastrophe following World War I. Hitler falsely held the Jews responsible for the German defeat and the postwar settlement. In Nazi Germany, Jews were stripped of civil rights and pressured to emigrate. In World War II, SS organizations could operate effectively in states where political institutions were destroyed and the previous legal order obliterated.

Hitler and Stalin invaded Poland from both sides in 1939. SS groups killed educated Poles, German laws were imposed, and Jews were expelled from their homes. After Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, German power extended over the major Jewish settlements in Europe. The SS began to organize the mass killing of Jews in a zone where first the Soviets had destroyed independent states and then the Germans had destroyed Soviet institutions. Then the Holocaust spread eastward and westward.

2012 December 8

Going Crazy In Tehran
Christopher de Bellaigue

Gohar Homayounpour finds that "today's sexuality is still Freud's sexuality" in Tehran. After five years as a psychoanalyst in the Iranian capital, Homayounpour has analyzed more than enough Oedipus complexes and incestuous dreams to inspire the "note to myself" called Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran.

Homayounpour feels the distance between the exile and the country to which she returns. In America she had drifted in a fog of exoticism. Now, with her francophone painter, she discusses "the loneliness, the individualism, the lack of human relationships" in Western society and the fantasy of dying unnoticed in a Paris apartment.

Coming home was a disappointment. She finds she "preferred the distance I could keep from people in the West, especially if I wanted to be left alone, or get some work done". She confesses that "there are so many neurotic gains to be had from the process". The talking cure has been taken to heart in Iran.

How Cats Make U Crazy
Steve Connor

Scientists have discovered how the parasite Toxoplasma gondii passes from the human gut to the brain.

Toxoplasma completes its life cycle in cats, which shit the parasite, and drives rats and mice to be eaten by cats. When eaten by a human it can infect the dendritic white blood cells of the immune system and use them to cross the blood-brain barrier. Infected human dendritic cells secrete the neurotransmitter GABA normally produced by brain cells. GABA can inhibit the sense of fear and anxiety. Infected rats and mice lose their fear of cats.

Toxoplasma can produce L-dopa. So it may trigger psycho effects in humans, including schizophrenia.

2012 December 7

Inside Jokes
Tim Lewens

Matthew Hurley, Daniel Dennett, and Reginald Adams say we find things funny when our expectations are overturned. This theory works well for jokes. Wordplay is amusing because the lead line encourages one understanding of a term but the punchline reveals another. Bob Monkhouse: "I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my father. Not screaming and terrified like his passengers."

They nuance their theory:
1 The surprise must overturn committed expectations.
2 The surprise must lack negative emotional valence.
3 Our expectations must be swiftly overwhelmed.

Comic timing, and other aspects of delivery, can help. A talented performer can lead the audience down the wrong road via gesture or tone of voice, but an incompetent one gives the punchline away in delivery. There are good adaptive reasons for being wired up to get pleasure from detecting errors in our beliefs about the world. Things get more complicated with farting jokes.

2012 December 6

Amber Case

Cyborg anthropology is the study of the interaction between humans and technology, and how technology affects culture. A cyborg is someone who interacts with technology. Everyone that uses technology is a superhuman. When you use a social network, your sense of self extends into that virtual space.

We have all of these devices now that are sensors for sound, noise, temperature, images, location, air quality and so on. All of this data is interesting, but all of the devices speak different languages. What we need is a common language that allows all of these devices to communicate with one another.

2012 December 5

Global Gateway
Gerry Grimstone

David Cameron knows the importance of the City of London. Financial and related professional services employ almost 10% of the UK workforce, contributed £63 billion in tax last year, and is by far the largest British export earner. Yet the City is under attack.

The City is the BRIC capital of the world. It sits at the center of a global network that facilitates business between Brazilians, Russians, Indians, and Chinese. But it still needs Europe. A high proportion of EU financial market activity is concentrated in the UK.

It really is poppycock to believe that the City can survive in its present form if it is not an integral part of the European financial and professional services single market. Our role in Europe is as important as our role in the UK. We need to protect and promote the single market.

Higgs Hangover
Glenn Starkman

The discovery of the Higgs boson here at CERN was great. It was the last undiscovered particle of the Standard Model. After 45 years, many billions of dollars, many careers worth of concerted effort, in hundreds of universities and laboratories around the world, we have finally done the work on the most successful theory of science, as measured by the number of decimal places to which its predictions have been tested. The LHC gives us no experimental hint of anything Beyond the Standard Model.

Hence the long faces. We want more. Look for the classic symptoms of grief:
Denial. The BSM dog did not bark in the night. Face it: there is no dog.
Anger. At those who doubt the need for BSM physics.
Bargaining. Perhaps BSM is beyond our universe. If go for a multiverse we can run free again.
Depression. No more meal tickets. Hurry up and find a superpartner!

2012 December 4

5 K

The planet must not be allowed to warm more than 2 K, say speakers at the Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar. But a new study shows the increase may be 5 K.

Between 1990 and 2011, global emissions of carbon dioxide have increased by 54%. Humans will release over 35 gigatons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in 2012 alone. China produces 28% of global emissions, the United States 16%, the European Union 11%, and India 7%. Developing countries accounted for 35% of the global CO2 emissions in 1990 but 58% in 2011.

An increase of 2 K would result in polar glacial melt, rising sea levels, droughts, and waves of migration worldwide. An increase of 5 K would be fatal.

Nature climate change

Mohamed ElBaradei

The army let the Muslim Brotherhood rush parliamentary elections and win a landslide victory.

The new president and the military junta fought for power. The president won and added legislative power to his executive role. He then neutered the judiciary and forbade any review of his decrees.

The Brotherhood had packed the assembly drafting a new constitution with Islamists. The assembly has produced a document that violates freedom of religion and speech and fails to check executive power.

Egypt is divided between Islamists and the rest, in a National Salvation Front coordinated by me.

Is God Happy?
Leszek Kołakowski

The future Buddha was happy as long as the grim realities of life were unknown to him. At the end of his life, he attained Nirvana. Can Nirvana be described as happiness? Nirvana entails the abandonment of the self. Happiness without a subject seems absurd.

Both Buddhism and Christianity suggest that the ultimate liberation of the soul is also perfect serenity. But being human involves the ability to feel compassion. Happiness as an immutable condition is not accessible to us, except perhaps for mystics.

We are told that God loves His creatures, and love is an emotion. If He is perfectly immutable, He cannot be perturbed by our misery. But if He is indifferent, how can He be a loving father? And if He is not immutable, then He feels sorrow. In either case, God is not happy.

Jesus Christ was not happy. Nor are we happy. We can never forget the existence of evil and the misery of the human condition. If we believe that all is right with the world because it is under the constant guidance of God, are we happy? No.

2012 December 3

LeWeb Paris 2012
At the event in Paris, December 4-6, LeWeb focuses on hyperconnectivity and the Internet of Things: It's not just us who will be connected to the internet and each other, but the objects around us too.

Fight For Freedom
Vinton Cerf

The internet empowers each one of us. Today more than two billion people are online. But this free and open net is under threat. Governments are enacting new laws threatening online free expression.

The International Telecommunication Union opens on December 3 in Dubai. It brings together regulators from around the world. Several governments reportedly propose to ban anonymity from the web. Others have proposed moving the management of domain names and internet addresses to the UN. Yet other proposals would require internet content providers to pay new tolls. Only governments vote at the ITU.

The multi-stakeholder model of internet policy development is the only sensible way forward.
Transparency and openness are keys to informed participation in policy making.

Within a few years the net is predicted to be serving four billion users. We believe the present approach is best positioned to keep up with the net's exponential growth. The practices that have created the internet allow for a broad range of business models. The critical technical standards developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force and the World Wide Web Consortium create interoperability.

The future of the net is far from assured. History is rife with examples of governments controlling access to information and inhibiting freedom of expression. We must make sure that the internet stays free.

UK Euro Trade Attack
Financial Times

The City of London should be deposed as the euro's main financial hub, says Banque de France governor Christian Noyer, who sees "no rationale" for allowing it to be offshore: "Most of the euro business should be done inside the euro area." Noyer is on the ECB governing council. Britain fears a plot to shift financial services from the City to the continent.

AR No surprise that the EUSSR wants to control euro trade. If the UK wants the business, it can always join the currency.

Ice On Mercury?
New Scientist

Mercury is a planet of extremes, from 100 K by night to 700 K by day. NASA Messenger data now suggests there are 100 gigatons of water ice at the poles, in craters that never see sunlight. The data shows hydrogen at bright spots discovered by radar in 1992. Laser data also suggests patches of ice.

The brightest regions in radar images match cold areas where ice can exist on the surface. The areas that are bright in the radio images but dark to the laser are warmer patches where ice is stable only if buried under 10 cm of other material. The other material may be organic compounds delivered by comet or asteroid impacts.

The findings suggest that Mercury has a potentially habitable subsurface zone. Life is unlikely to exist in these zones, because the water pockets would be very small. But they could support a human base on Mercury one day. A joint European and Japanese mission to Mercury is set to launch in 2015.

AR A base on Mercury could generate solar power for a starship.

Color Glass Condensate?
New Scientist

Particles behaving oddly at the LHC seem to hint at a previously unseen color glass condensate. Nuclear particles are made of quarks held together by gluons. Gluons are the bosons of the color force. Theory says that at relativistic speeds, particles flatten and gain new gluons, creating a color glass condensate.

The hints come from the CMS detector. Researchers smashed together beams of protons with beams of lead ions, producing showers of subatomic particles that flew off at high speed. They were trying something else, but analysis of the data revealed that certain pairs of particles flung out were correlated in unexpected ways.

Similar effects are seen in collisions that create a quark-gluon plasma, as existed just after the big bang. Ripples in the plasma can nudge emitted particle pairs in a way that looks like the CMS patterns. In a color glass condensate, the wave functions of the new gluons may be entangled. We need more data.

AR This story is not about everyday color, or glass, or condensation.

2012 December 2

AR Re below, World War III was the war against Soviet communism, which we won 23 years ago.
World War IV will be the struggle that builds a new political order in the Islamic world:
WWIV = We Win Islamic Victory

2012 December 1

Mideast Mess
Frida Ghitis

The Mideast is a giant mess that won't let the United States pivot toward Asia. It hogs the spotlight. It would still monopolize attention even without oil or the Arab-Israeli conflict. As it has for centuries, the Mideast stands at the center of historical currents and conflicting ideologies.

The region is in crisis because it suffers from endemic corruption, poor governance, discrimination against women, and serious economic problems. Rival philosophies are battling for the future. Democracy supporters may have become more muscular, but other determined fighters aspire to create profoundly anti-woman, anti-liberal, and anti-American states:

Cairo protesters are boiling with rage against President Morsy, who grabbed powers in an apparent move to dictatorship. They worry about the Muslim Brotherhood. One Arab observer compared Morsy to Khomeini. Morsy insists his move is necessary and only temporary. We need to review our alliances.

The United States cannot stop worrying about Iran. Oil is not the issue: we could still buy oil from a nuclear Iran. But their nuclear program may trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. Iran vows it will accelerate enriching uranium despite sanctions. Tehran is still shipping weapons to Hamas in Gaza.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine remains a challenge to American influence. Hamas vows to destroy Israel. The Palestinian Authority refuses to talk and blames Israel. The PA took its case to the UN, where Arab, Muslim, and Non-Aligned Movement (AMNAM) states endorsed its statehood, decoupled from peace.

Some 40,000 people have died in civil war in Syria. The rebels are struggling to overthrow the Assad regime. But we worry about events after the fall. The opposition includes not only progressives but also extremists who want to build a supranational Islamic caliphate. We cannot afford to ignore them.

President Obama might like to move on, but the Mideast remains top of the agenda.

AR WWIII = We Will kill Islam (one hopes not)

Hitler In India
Dilip D'Souza

My wife teaches kids in Mumbai. She asked a class of 25 to say who they most admired: Hitler came top with 9 votes, Mahatma Gandhi got 1 vote. Back in 2002, the Times of India reported that 17% of students in elite Indian colleges "favored Adolf Hitler as the kind of leader India ought to have."

Indians buy thousands of copies of Mein Kampf every month in multiple editions. I found at that in 51 customer ratings 35 gave it five stars. Reports say it has become a must-read for business school students.

Shiv Sena party chief Bal Thackeray (d. Nov. 17) admired Hitler and the Nazis. In a 1993 interview: "There is nothing wrong if [Indian] Muslims are treated as Jews were in Nazi Germany." BT: "If you take Mein Kampf and if you remove the word Jew and put in the word Muslim, that is what I believe in."

AR Islam has a PR problem.

Lawrence of Arabia

How To Create A Mind
Ray Kurzweil

A grand project is under way to understand the human brain. When we understand how the brain works, we shall use the results to create more intelligent machines. The neocortex is basically a large pattern recognizer.

Compare how humans and computers play chess. Deep Blue analyzed the logical implications of 200 million board positions per second. Kasparov analyzed less than one position per second. But Kasparov had learned about 100,000 board positions. He looks at the chessboard and compares what he sees to all the positions he has mastered, all at the same time.

Rolling Stones

Jacket patch for
the nuke team

Howard Davies

It seems 68% of the French are pessimistic about the future. Despite the Moody downgrade, French borrowing costs remain low, but French unit labor costs have risen by 20% more than German since the euro launch, and French public spending is well above the EU norm. If a thing can't go on for ever it will probably end one day.

The People's Daily
The Communist Party
of China bought it.

Curiosity took this picture of
itself on Mars to let mission
engineers check its health.

AR How?


David Cameron — Angela Merkel
Angela rescued David on Friday with his plan to cut the cost of Brussels bureaucracy. The talks fell apart when Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, and Britain said the proposed deal was unacceptable. But the new alliance between London and Berlin was the biggest result of the summit. Senior German figures found it "completely unacceptable" for European presidents Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso to isolate Britain in the talks.

2012 November 30

Jerusalem Post

UN General Assembly votes on Palestinian statehood: 138 in favor, 9 against, 41 abstentions

PA President Mahmoud Abbas: "The moment has arrived for the world to say clearly:
Enough of aggression, settlements, and occupation."

Palestinian demands:
— The independence of the state of Palestine
— With east Jerusalem as its capital
— On all the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967
— To live in peace and security alongside the state of Israel
— With the refugee issue solved on the basis of Resolution 194

PM Binyamin Netanyahu on his critique of Israel:
"These are not the words of a man who wants peace."

Kosher Jesus
Sarah Posner

Asher Intrater is a Messianic Jew. He believes that Jesus is the Jewish messiah, and that the Bible prophesizes that God's plan is for him to return to Jerusalem, prevail in an apocalyptic battle with the Antichrist, and rule the world from the Temple Mount.

His congregation, Ahavat Yeshua (Love of Jesus), meets in Jerusalem. Jewish prayers are said, but the congregational leader adds a blessing for "Yeshua HaMoshiach" (Hebrew for Jesus the Messiah).

Messianic Jews evangelize to Jews in Israel, but it is far less aggressive and overt than their evangelizing in the United States. Under Israel's immigration laws, Jews who are considered to have abandoned their Judaism are not permitted to obtain citizenship.

Intrater: "Just as the first Holocaust and World War II ended up in the rebirth of the nation of Israel, so will the second Holocaust and World War III end up in the birth of the Millennial kingdom of peace and prosperity on earth."

AR These are not the words of a man who wants peace.

2012 November 29

Blasphemie, von Gunnar Schedel
Hegelsaal, Schulgasse, Heidelberg

AR Watched LAWRENCE OF ARABIA instead.

Antisemitism In Hungary
Der Spiegel

Marton Gyöngyösi is the deputy parliamentary leader for the Jobbik party, which won 17% of the vote in Hungary's 2010 elections.

In a debate over Israel's action last week in Gaza, Gyöngyösi demanded that "all Jews living in Hungary be registered" and that "Jews, particularly those in parliament and the government, be evaluated for the potential danger they pose to Hungary."

Budapest historian Kristian Ungvary: "That was pure national socialism in parliament." He has long argued that Jobbik is like the Arrow Cross, the Hungarian national socialist party in the Hitler era. Jobbik politicians vehemently deny any similarity.

Gyöngyösi's comments triggered widespread indignation and disgust in Hungary. Several hundred people wearing Jewish stars gathered to protest "creeping fascism" in parliament.

TThe government released a statement condemning Gyöngyösi's statements and pledging to fight extremism and racism. It reads like a form statement.

Bestiality In Germany
New Statesman

Sex with animals is not currently illegal in Germany. The law was changed in 1969, at the same time as sex between adult men was decriminalized. Madeleine Martin, an animal protection officer from Hesse, says there are "animal brothels" and calls for the government to recriminalize bestiality.

German animal lovers aren't giving up without a fight. Michael Kiok, chairman of zoophile pressure group ZETA: "We see animals as partners and not as a means of gratification."

Evidence shows that inter-species sex is both widespread and widely condemned. The mere fact that legal prohibitions are so commonplace suggests that it has long been a problem. As philosopher Peter Singer pointed out, interspecies sex is one of the last taboos in Western society.

Nukes In America
Danger Room

The Pentagon has signed a contract with Boeing for a prototype tail kit for its B61 nuclear bomb. The fins and control systems will make the B61 mod 12 the most accurate nuke ever. The B61 was first fielded in 1968. The United States has other bunker-busting nukes for any showdown with North Korea or Iran. The B61 mod 12s are meant to replace the 180 or so earlier mods currently deployed in Europe to deter the Red Army. The Life Extension Program will cost an estimated $10 billion.

2012 November 28

Global Brain
Thomas W. Malone

Collective intelligence is groups of individuals acting collectively in ways that seem intelligent. A new kind of collective intelligence is enabled by the Internet. Think of Google or Wikipedia. We're likely to see lots more examples over the coming decades.

At the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence we ask how people and computers can be connected so that they act more intelligently. We're trying to measure collective intelligence. We found three factors:

1 The average social perceptiveness of the group members
2 The evenness of conversational turn taking
3 The percentage of women in the group

We define intelligence the same way psychologists define intelligence at the individual level. The most intelligent person is the one who's best at picking up new things quickly. That's essentially the definition we used for groups as well.

As all the people and computers on our planet get more closely connected, it's useful to think of them as a kind of global brain. Our work may be helpful in understanding and accelerating this move toward a more collectively intelligent planet.

The perspective of collective intelligence gives us new ways of understanding what it means to be human in the first place. Most of what we think of as human intelligence arises in our interactions with other human beings.

AR Globorg

Biggest Black Hole Blast Ever Seen
Scientific American

Computer models of the early universe look good except that their ratio of the mass of black holes in galaxy centers to the rest of the matter in galaxies is too big. It seems galaxies throw off much of the mass that would have fallen into their central black holes.

Supermassive black holes are the most energetic objects known. Some galaxies containing active black holes, called quasars, shine more brightly than anything else seen. Simulations show that if a quasar can throw off a lot of mechanical energy, then galaxy masses can match observations.

Researchers at the ESO VLT in Chile studied a giant cloud of ionized hydrogen blasted away from a quasar at a speed of 0.025c. The ejection shows how young galaxies can lose mass by turning the energy we usually see as radiation into kinetic energy. This could explain the observed masses of galaxies and sizes of the black holes at their centers.


The Onion is proud to announce that North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un, 29, has officially been named the newspaper's Sexiest Man Alive for the year 2012.

With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman's dream come true.

Structural Realism
Eric Scerri

Structural realism goes back to Henri Poincaré: what survives when scientific theories change is not so much the content (entities) as the underlying mathematical structure (form).

Structural realism works for the periodic table. In 1869, when Dmitri Mendeleev published it, nobody knew about the substructure of the atom or that it contains protons, electrons and neutrons. This knowledge came from quantum theory. Electrons occur in shells, and the number of outer electrons governs the chemistry of an element and determines where it fits in the periodic table. This is structure.

Structural realism also works for modern biology. In 1859, when Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution, the theory lacked a physical mechanism on which selection acted. This was eventually provided by the discovery of DNA, which has played a similar role in biology to that of the electron in chemistry. DNA determines the genetic code according to the sequence of bases. This is structure too.

AR A useful way to consider science.

2012 November 27

The Decline Of The West
Niall Ferguson

China has quadrupled average incomes relative to America in one generation.

The West is at a different phase both in development and culturally from emerging economies. This is bringing back one of the most remarkable shifts in the global balance of economic power.

Western ascendancy is coming to an end, after 500 years of divergence, when the west got much richer than everybody else. The tide has turned.

The rest of the world, led by China, have been downloading our killer applications. They have been imitating the things that work well in the West, particularly in the realm of business. This is great.

Things that used to work well in the West don't work so well now. Many Western economies are crushed by debt. The debt represents a tax on the future. They act as a major check on economic dynamism.

We've moved a long way from our ideals of self-sacrifice for the future that characterized the West during its glory days of industrialization, imperialism, and war. After World War II, most Western countries decided to create generous welfare states. They reduced inequality. But they became victims of their own success. They became financially unsustainable.

Structural budget deficits are symptoms of a more profound problem. Regulation and bureaucracy are becoming more burdensome in Western countries but are becoming less so in emerging markets.

The rule of law in the United States is becoming the rule of lawyers. The legal profession has become a big cost for business. Any big organization needs a huge compliance department and teams of lawyers.

China has a different rule of law question. China is acquiring a huge middle class with its rapid growth. The middle class wants the rule of law and representative government and freedom of the press.

AR Ferguson = Spengler (well, not quite)

French Revolution
Financial Times

French government minister Arnaud Montebourg is a firebrand leftist under Socialist president François Hollande. Montebourg threatened to nationalize a steelmaking site belonging to ArcelorMittal, the European steelmaker controlled by Indian businessman Lakshmi Mittal.

It is wrong for Hollande to hold Mittal to informal promises made several years ago and misguided of companies to woo politicians with pledges they cannot keep. Hollande should clamp down on Montebourg. His government risks earning a reputation as anti-business.

AR If "clamp down" means off with his head, I agree.

Netanyahu To Win?
Tobias Buck

Israel's latest clash with Hamas is over. The ceasefire appears to be holding. Critics ask why the Israeli army did not go into Gaza and crush the Hamas rocket squads once and for all.

Benjamin Netanyahu faces a general election in January. Those who dislike his ceasefire are likely to go further to the right. That does not tip the parliamentary balance of left and right.

Security and defense are again central to the debate. If rocket fire from Gaza resumes, Netanyahu will be accused of failure. If the the ceasefire holds, he will be favorite to win.

AR Did Netanyahu hit Gaza now to boost his poll rating?

Iron Dome
Ted Postol

Iron Dome worked very well, better than expected. The system was designed to defend relatively small populated areas against quite primitive short-range rockets that travel 15 to 25 kilometers.

The speed of the Hamas rockets is in the range of 500 meters per second. Scuds that can travel 600 kilometers are traveling at 2,200 meters per second. An ICBM is traveling at 7,000 meters per second.

Two rockets launched by Hamas had a range of about 65 kilometers. That gets you to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. I understand that one of these rockets was shot down. The other one they didn't try to shoot down because it was going to fall in a place that was not populated.

Iron Dome has a short-range radar that measures the locations of rockets as they are fired and some advanced methods for estimating their trajectory. They have to be fast, because it could be 90 seconds from launch to impact.

Then they fire an interceptor toward the rocket. The radar guides the interceptor until it acquires the target with its infrared sensor. Then the infrared homes in. The interceptor has to be very rapidly maneuverable. It has to detect wobbles and make final adjustments.

Iron Dome is optimized to be efficient and not fire at rockets that pose no threats. But if an interceptor looks like it's going to miss, the system will launch a second interceptor.

2012 November 26

Sweetheart Deals
Spiegel Online

States and banks prop each other up like two old drunks. Governments are addicted to borrowed money, and banks help them by purchasing sovereign bonds. In return, the banks expect a guaranteed bailout if they get in a fix.

Greece is de facto insolvent but it still issues bonds to Greek banks, which buy them not only because they have high yields, but also because they can deposit them as collateral for cash.

Spanish and Italian banks are also buying up sovereign bonds issued by their own governments. They borrow cheap ECB money and reinvest it in sovereign bonds. The ECB charges 1% interest, the sovereign bonds yield up to 6%.

When European governments formulate new regulations for the banking industry, they steer clear of dealing with banks financing states:

1 New rules oblige banks to increase the capital backing risky investments and loans. Everything is risky except sovereign bonds, which need no capital backing.

2 New rules oblige banks to keep enough liquid assets on hand to survive for 30 days without fresh funding from capital markets. Liquid assets include sovereign bonds.

3 France levies a financial transaction tax on each trade of French company shares and on certain derivatives. The tax does not apply to trades involving bonds.

European banks now hold some €1.6 trillion in sovereign bonds.

2012 November 25

Blair Backs Europe
The Observer

Tony Blair warns that a British disengagement from the European Union would be a disaster. As more senior Tories back moves to pull the UK out of the EU mainstream, Blair will seek to rally the business community behind a campaign to halt the Eurosceptic bandwagon before too late.

Blair believes that with economic rivals such as China, India, Brazil, and Russia emerging in the global power game, EU membership was never more important. The postwar argument for Europe was about war and peace, but now the case for Europe is about power versus irrelevance.

On Wednesday, Blair will argue that the EU needs to promote a grand plan, to say that member states can best take on these huge economic powers as a united bloc. Nearly half of UK exports go to EU member states while half of foreign direct investment in the UK is from EU countries.

Business leaders are uneasy about Tory Eurosceptics and voter hostility to Europe. CBI president Sir Roger Carr says EU membership is a launchpad for business: "Whatever the popular appeal may be of withdrawal, businessmen and politicians must keep a bridge to Europe firmly in place."

AR Good old Blair, fighting for a new job after his Mideast flop.

Der Spiegel

Syria and Iran have criticized the planned stationing of NATO Patriot missiles in Turkey. The Syrian foreign minister called the planned deployment on the border a new provocation. The Iranian parliamentary president said in Damascus: "The internal crisis in Syria cannot be solved with the deployment of such weapons." Russia also spoke out against the plan. Turkey sees the missiles as a response to repeated border violations by the warring factions in Syria.

AR I back Turkey.

Andy Ross

The greatest story ever told starts with the gods and ends for now with us. Along the way came Jews, Christians, Muslims, Communists, the Holocaust, and the Apollo moon shots. It is a story of human triumphs and tragedies, of slow advance from a planet populated by ignorant savages to the modern world of networking and robots.

How we rose from surviving as naked apes to living as smart nodes in a globalized ecosystem is a story well worth telling and retelling until we all know the truth and learn to love it. Andy Ross tells it as the story of a tribal god that grew to drive billions of believers before it became the inner self of the global organism, Globorg.

AR Revised today.

Avantguard unmanned ground combat vehicle tested and certified by the Israeli army for border patrol

Morsi Power Grab
The Guardian

Member of the European Parliament Marietje Schaake: "President Morsi placed himself and all his decisions above the law. The danger of a presidential tyranny looms. The EU should send a clear signal and freeze all financial assistance to the Egyptian government."

AR Yes, yes, yes!

Morsy Dictator

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy has issued an order preventing any court from overturning his decisions, allowing him to run the country unchecked until a new constitution is drafted. Demonstrators in Cairo protested against Morsy and the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, with some chanting "birth of a new pharaoh" and "Morsy the dictator."

AR No, no, no!

The European Space Agency makes its plans

UK-Poland Relations
Financial Times

Britain and Poland are going different ways in the European Union. Britain's fight over the EU budget is straining its EU ties, while Poland seeks closer ties. Noting that the two countries had "historically excellent relations", Poland's Oxford-educated foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said: "But if you ask me if people in Poland have noticed that Britain wants to cut the European budget by €200 billion, where Germany is in favor of a more ambitious budget, I'm forced to tell you, yes they've noticed."

The Petraeus Affair
Dana Milbank

Former general David Petraeus has now seen both sides of bipolar Washington. He resigned as CIA director because an FBI probe uncovered an extramarital affair with his biographer. Yet the FBI investigation found only a few e-mails, no evidence that  the affair harmed his spy work or compromised national security.

It was a private affair,
of no public interest.

Image Credit: Stephen Mudge
Solar eclipse, 2012-11-14
APOD 2012-11-21

A Sexy, Sensual Carmen

The English National Opera
production promises passion,
lust, and violence. Artistic
director John Berry said the role
of Carmen is sexy and sensual
and the audience will feel the
heat of the visceral and brutal
show, but adds: "Everybody can
take their mum to see it."

London Coliseum
2012-11-21 — 2012-12-09

No Quick Fix

Egypt hopes to broker a ceasefire agreement but talks have hit a brick wall. Hamas wants an end to the blockade of Gaza. Israel fears a renewed influx of weapons to militants.

The leader of Hamas rejected demands to stop rocket fire: "We don't accept Israeli conditions because it is the aggressor. We want a cease-fire along with meeting our demands."

Israel wants international guarantees that Hamas will not rearm or use the Sinai peninsula for militant activity.

2012 November 24

Jonathan Zimmerman

Screenwriting sometimes entails selling a screenplay. Always it involves writing a book. It is a craft, its values are commercial, and its target is the audience.

Screenwriting requires tools. Success is easily quantifiable. The trained eye has no trouble separating the professional from the amateur.

Syd Field set the template. Learning to write, speak, and eventually think in the three-act structure was key. His method is elegant.

Christopher Vogler: "Stories built on the model of the Hero's Journey have an appeal that can be felt by everyone because they well up from a universal source in the shared unconscious and reflect universal concerns."

Blake Snyder: "Put yourself in the shoes of the customer, the person who's paying good money, including parking and a babysitter, to come see your film."

David Mamet: "It is not your responsibility to know the answers, but it is your responsibility to know and to ask the right questions over and over."

2012 November 23

Cuts And Perks

Angela Merkel is determined not to isolate David Cameron in the EU budget negotiations: "The positions are still quite far apart, and if we need a second stage, then we will take the time for it."

Merkel thinks agreement on the seven-year framework is a far better solution than falling back on annual budgets. Germans calculate that only another few billion needs to be trimmed to reach an overall cut of €50 billion, which would bring the UK on board.

Council president Van Rompuy hopes to break the stalemate by restoring billions in funding for agriculture and poor regions to please France and Italy. Administrative costs for salaries and benefits for eurocrats are intact for now. Diplomats expect symbolic cuts there.

A Trillion Euros For What?

The European Union quarter in Brussels is enjoying a building boom. An art deco pile is being converted into a palace fit for a European president, at a cost of €300 million. The European parliament is upgrading its environs with a history theme park, at a cost of €100 million. Not long ago it made a multimedia tribute to itself in the Parliamentarium, at a cost of €20 million.

To be a eurocrat is to escape the pain of austerity. They work easy hours and take Friday afternoons off. Their children are educated for free at high-quality private schools. They retire at 63 on generous pensions and many retire early on full pensions. Staff not living in their native country receive a salary top-up for being expatriates. Yet administration takes up less than 7% of the overall EU budget.

The commission issued a "Myth Buster" leaflet in 23 languages to try to highlight the benefits of EU spending. It points to the example of building and supplying medical centers in Guatemala, where 61 of the 65 objectives were met and 130,000 people may have benefited. It is easy for critics to find laughable or shocking examples of ridiculous EU-funded projects.

Institute for European Environmental Policy senior policy analyst Keti Medarova-Bergstrom: "Appropriate EU action can be cost saving for member states, rather than cost increasing. Therefore, possible administrative costs should be seen as investment in improving the implementation and result orientation of future spending."

>> EU scandal

No Victory

In military terms, the conflict between Israel and Hamas is asymmetric. Israel Defence Forces used fighter jets, drones, precision guided missiles, tanks, heavy artillery, and naval vessels to pound the Gaza Strip, drawing on years of work by Israeli intelligence officers. The Hamas military wing and other militant groups have fired an intense barrage of rockets and missiles at Israel, but most landed in open fields or were intercepted by Iron Dome.

Institute for National Security Studies analyst Yiftah Shapir: "This is a classic example of asymmetric warfare. This is the type of warfare that takes place not on the ground but on TV and computer screens all over the world. One side is trying to show the world how miserable and how much of an underdog they are, while not being afraid and not losing."

Retired Israeli general Shlomo Brom: "This is the kind of encounter that cannot end with a knockout. It ends with both sides counting the points that they have achieved. The problem is that this is too complicated for the Israeli public. The people want a victory and they don't understand that there are no victories in these conflicts."

Gaza Test For Iran Confrontation

The conflict between Hamas and Israel was a practice run for a confrontation with Iran, featuring improved rockets that can reach Jerusalem and new antimissile systems to counter them.

Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael B. Oren: "In the Cuban missile crisis, the U.S. was not confronting Cuba, but rather the Soviet Union. In Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel was not confronting Gaza, but Iran."

The missile defense campaign over Israeli territory is the most intense yet in combat anywhere. It could change warfare in the same way that air power in the Spanish Civil War shaped combat in the skies. A historic battle of missile versus missile defense played out in the skies over Israel. The Iron Dome system shot down 350 incoming rockets, 88% of all targets assigned to the missile defense interceptors.

Before the conflict began, Hamas was estimated to have amassed an arsenal of 10,000 to 12,000 rockets. Israeli officials say their strikes on Hamas rocket depots severely reduced the arsenal. And most of the approximately 1,500 rockets fired by Hamas in this conflict were on trajectories toward unpopulated areas. Iran is certain to be studying the results.

>> Conflict timeline

2012 November 22

Gaza Ceasefire
Jerusalem Post

PM: We're ready to take a harsher stance if truce fails
PM: Israel is giving the cease-fire with Hamas a chance
Barak: Truce is a set of understandings between Israel and Egypt, Hamas and Egypt
IDF official: Hamas will be shocked by level of damage in Gaza

Israel-Hamas Truce
Paula Newton

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy navigated a minefield of competing interests to bring Hamas to the table and got its leadership to agree to a cease-fire. Brokering that deal has given him political capital.

Woodrow Wilson Center Mideast scholar Aaron David Miller: "For a civilian president in Egypt perceived as a weak leader, he has, much to everyone's surprise, delivered."

Hamas took on Israel more boldly than ever before. They may get an easing of the Gaza economic blockade. PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction no longer speak for all Palestinians.

Miller: "Hamas has emerged stronger, it has consolidated its control over Gaza and it has gained now more legitimacy. Look what they accomplished; they, rather than Abbas, has put the Palestinian issue back on the international stage."

Victory For Hamas?
Ulrike Putz

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu: "We need to navigate this ship of a state in stormy waters with responsibility and wisdom, that's how a responsible government acts. We've executed a military action but also stayed open for a diplomatic solution."

Haaretz analyst Anshel Pfeffer says the crisis has propelled Morsi into the role of an important regional statesman.

Hamas rockets rained down on Israel and were able to hit both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The ceasefire agreement calls for a partial lifting of the blockade on Gaza. The Hamas leadership didn't cave. The Netanyahu administration may have helped a Hamas resurgence by negotiated with them while ignoring PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Yedioth analyst Alex Fishman: "Hamas has morphed from the enemy that must be brought down to the enemy that is the lesser of two evils."

In the Gaza Strip, thousands took to the streets to celebrate what they see as a victory.

Fuller reports and timeline for operation Pillar of Defense

Iran Behind Hamas
Frida Ghitis

In the latest fighting in Gaza, Iran casts an ominous shadow. The standoff between Iran and the West over Iran's nuclear program frames Israeli tactics and strategy in Gaza and influences the international response. When Israelis see a rocket launched from Gaza, the thought that one day that rocket could carry a nuclear payload burns hot in their mind.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has long armed Israel's enemies. Iran has threatened to unleash attacks against Israel and "wipe it off the face of the Earth" in case of a hit on its nuclear installations. Those attacks could come from Hamas and Hezbollah. The prospect that Iran could hand them nuclear materials is more realistic than a direct nuclear attack from Iran.

Israeli air attacks in Gaza depleted a Hamas arsenal it sees as part of Iran's preparations in case of war with Israel. Israeli officials say the missiles launched against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were made in Iran, shipped in pieces to Sudan and then moved through Egypt and into tunnels to Gaza, where they were assembled with the help of Iranian operatives in Gaza.

In October, Israeli fighter jets are believed to have bombed an arms factory in Sudan. The facility is said to have made missiles for Hamas and was operated by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The Israeli attacks against Gaza destroyed Iran's most dangerous weapons arrayed in Gaza, launched with increasing brazenness by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Hamas PM Ismail Haniya traveled to Iran earlier this year. The Hamas charter opposes any negotiations with Israel and declares "Israel will exist ... until Islam will obliterate it." The charter also quotes an ancient Islamic scripture about "killing the Jews."

Israel And Northern Ireland
Richard Haass

A ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas is not peace. British experience in Northern Ireland can help: London persuaded the Provisional IRA that it would never be able to shoot or bomb its way into power and opened a political path instead.

Israel cannot bludgeon the Palestinians into submission. Israel needs a partner for peace. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank wants to make peace but is weak. Hamas is strong but will not reject violence. So Israel can work to strengthen the PA or it can work to moderate Hamas.

In the fighting, Hamas has again failed to get results. Qatar's prime minister visited Gaza and gave financial support, freeing Hamas from dependence on Iran and Syria. Hamas is in competition with the PA to represent Palestinians. But Hamas is in tune with the zeitgeist and can work with Egypt.

Israel can outline a fair and comprehensive settlement and define a path for getting there. In Northern Ireland, the Provisional IRA put down their arms, entered the political process, and reached an agreement. Israel can persuade Hamas to do the same.

2012 November 21

BBC, 17:31 GMT

Israel and Hamas have agreed a ceasefire, say Egyptian and Hamas officials,
to start 19:00 GMT (21:00 local time)

Report: Israel, Hamas Agree Cease-Fire
Jerusalem Post
19:12 Israel Time

Egyptian official says formal announcement of truce to be made shortly following Morsi, Clinton meeting in Cairo; sources say Israel will not lift Gaza blockade; IAF strikes, rocket fire continue.

"Hamas blesses the attack in Tel Aviv and sees it as a natural response to the Israeli massacres."
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri

"The bombing must go on. We defend ourselves. We have no other choice."
Tel Aviv office worker Ron Ginat

"Loving my beautiful new store that just opened at Mecca Mall in Saudi Arabia!"
Paris Hilton

Israel vs. Gaza

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met for more than two hours with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She is expected to meet later with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy.

Clinton: "President Obama asked me to come to Israel with a very clear message. America's commitment to Israel's security is rock solid and unwavering. That is why we believe it is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza. The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike."

Netanyahu: "Obviously, no country can tolerate a wanton attack on its civilians. Now, if there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem through diplomatic means, we prefer that. But if not, I'm sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever actions necessary to defend its people."

Netanyahu said Israel was fighting back with "surgical operations against terrorists at a time when our own population is being bombarded by rocket attacks."

Netanyahu: "If we hope to make these tactics illegitimate, they should be condemned in the most forceful terms by all responsible members of the international community. The moment we draw symmetry between the victims of terror and the unintended casualties that result from legitimate military action against the terrorists, the minute that false symmetry is drawn, the terrorists win."

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev: "We want a new reality."

AR Sobering to recall the 2008 battle.

2012 November 20

Jerusalem Post
17:48 Israel Time

In a joint press conference with UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, PM Binyamin Netanyahu said:
"If a long-term solution can be put in place through diplomatic means then Israel would be a willing partner to such a solution."

AR Yes, of course. If only.

End In Sight?
15:56 GMT

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy: "The travesty of the Israel aggression on Gaza will end in a few hours."

Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan: "It's in the hands now of the Israelis. I think the Egyptians are waiting for some support, promised support, from the United States in order to make an end for that."

Hamas al Qassam Brigades commander Mohammed al-Deif: "The ground operation that they keep threatening of waging will be the greatest hope to release our prisoners."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on her way.

AR You couldn't make this stuff up.

Israeli Ground Invasion
Mike Mount

Thousands of Israeli troops with tanks and armored vehicles are poised on Gaza's borders ready to move in. The Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said war planning is complete and the troops are ready to move in if necessary. Israel is well aware that a ground invasion would carry broad risks.

Palestinian health officials said 104 people have died and another 860 have been wounded in Gaza since Israel began its offensive in response to incessant rocket attacks by militants. Israeli officials say three people have died and 68 have been wounded in Israel as the result of rocket fire from Gaza.

Militants in Gaza have fired nearly 1,000 rockets at Israel since the conflict began. Israel has targeted more than 1,300 sites in its bombing campaign. Ambassador Oren said at the current rate of activity military action could last 45 days to 100 days. He said Hamas has 10,000 to 11,000 rockets left.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said no option had been ruled out and at this stage everything depends on the action of Hamas. A ground decision would be easier for Israel if Hamas were to launch rockets that hit Tel Aviv or caused a high number of civilian casualties.

More Perfect Union
Gideon Rachman

Britain might suffer if it leaves the European Union. But the idea that British demands are so unreasonable that they can never be met is wrong. And without British participation, the EU can forget about becoming a global power.

The case for keeping Britain within the EU is strong. The EU aimed to overcome the divisions that led Europe into repeated wars. Britain was active in most of those wars. The eurozone crisis has already led many Americans and Asians to doubt the EU. If Britain opted out, it would look even more wobbly.

Germans increasingly distinguish between law-abiding northern Europeans and the unreliable and indebted south. They regret that Switzerland and Norway opted not to join the EU. The departure of the UK would further weaken the north. Even the French might miss British support on some issues.

Eurocrats say the British make impossible demands. But a budget freeze seems reasonable. So does cutting Eurocrat perks. Repeal of job-killing social legislation and reduction of EU powers in internal affairs would help. Repatriating powers would help the UK government win a referendum on Europe.

Iron Dome Iron Dome

Iron Dome

Israel Versus Hamas

Benjamin Netanyahu:
"In my talks with leaders, I emphasize the effort Israel is making to avoid hitting civilians, and this at a time when Hamas and other terrorist organizations are making every effort to hit civilian targets in Israel."

AR Israel is right, Hamas is wrong. Arabs must declare their acceptance of this basic moral truth, otherwise we face a clash of civilizations.


Oxytocin Boosts Monogamy
Journal Of Neuroscience

The hormone oxytocin could promote fidelity in men.
Dirk Scheele et al.:
"Oxytocin may help maintain monogamous relationships ... When approaching or being approached by an attractive woman ... intranasal administration of oxytocin caused monogamous men to prefer a greater distance."

Israel Opens
Gates Of Hell

Jerusalem Post

The Israeli Air Force has hit
20 underground sites housing
long-range launchers capable
of striking Tel Aviv and killed Hamas military head Ahmed
 Jabari in Gaza.

Hamas says Israel "opened the gates of hell" with the killing.

IDF spokesman:
"The first aim of this operation is to bring back quiet to southern Israel, and the second target is to strike at terror organizations."

AR Well done, lads.

Martin Amis
has led a sedentary
writer's life

How Many?
The Sun

Lord Patten earns £110,000 a year as BBC Trust chairman. He also has 10 other jobs paying him an extra £200,000 a year. The former Tory Cabinet minister is also Chancellor of Oxford University.

AR Such rampant cronyism is killing Britain.

Is He Serious?
Jerusalem Post

Egyptian Salafist jihadi Murgan Salem al-Gohary said on Egyptian Dream TV2 that the Great Sphinx and the pyramids of Giza are "idolatrous" and must be destroyed.

AR Perhaps humans really are getting dumber.

Why are American Jews
so often rich and smart?

2012 November 19

Financial Times

EU officials have begun work on a plan to create a long-term budget without the UK. The plan may be a negotiating ploy to try to put more pressure on David Cameron to compromise. Downing Street on Sunday rejected the idea of a budget deal without Britain as unacceptable.

Cameron wants a freeze in the budget of roughly €1 trillion for 2014-2020 to keep spending at 2011 levels. Sweden has taken a similar position to the UK. But France disagrees. François Hollande: "Above all, spending on the common agricultural policy must be preserved."

The planned alternative budget would be annual, which under EU rules requires qualified majority votes. The traditional 7-year budget requires unanimity. But revenue in an annual budget still requires unanimity. A diplomat: "It would be a technical nightmare."

2012 November 18

Nathan J. Brown

Violence between Israel and the Hamas-controlled "statelet" of Gaza serves domestic politics. Palestinians fear that the Israeli government is making war with an eye to upcoming elections. Israelis suspect that Hamas — "Islamic Resistance Movement" — is lobbing rockets because it is tired of taunts that it is not living up to its middle name.

Both sides know they cannot win. The Israelis cannot dislodge Hamas from Gaza without unacceptable cost and endless occupation. But they want to punish the movement to deter it from future violence. Hamas knows that the damage it inflicts serves no strategic value, but it hopes that its rockets will cause dislocation and panic in Israel.

The United States will be seen as complicit in the Israeli offensive. Egypt, which now tilts toward Hamas, is embarrassed. The United States has pretended that the Israeli-Palestinian issue could be dealt with as if Hamas does not exist. But Hamas dominates Gaza. The movement runs everything in Gaza. Gaza residents see no alternative.

Ray Kurzweil

Imagine that while you are sleeping a team scans your brain. They also record any bodily details that might reflect on your state of mind. They copy this mind file to a nonbiological body that looks and moves like you and can pass for you. In the morning you are told what happened and you meet You 2. You 2 is talking about his life as if he were you.

You 2 could go around claiming to be you. All of your friends and loved ones would be happy with You 2. So you don't need that old body and brain anymore, right?

Your sense of identity is still with you. You 2 is a different person. He is extremely similar, because he also shares all of your neocortical patterns and connections. Or he did when he was created, but then the two of you started to go your own ways. You are still around, so You 2 is not you.

Now imagine you have an operation to replace a very small part of your brain with a nonbiological unit. As promised, the procedure works just fine. You are still you. Then you decide to have different region of your brain replaced. Again, you're still you. You keep going until eventually you've changed every part of your brain. Each time things went well and you didn't lose any of your personality, skills, or memories. There was never a you and a You 2. You still exist. Everything is fine.

But now you are entirely equivalent to You 2. After the gradual replacement scenario, you have all of the neocortical patterns and connections that you had originally, only in a nonbiological substrate, which is also true of You 2.

We are not the stuff that makes up our bodies and brains. The particles in our cells flow through us. Putting nonbiological systems into our bodies and brains will be the same. It won't change our identity any more than the natural replacement of our biological cells does. We have already largely outsourced many of our memories to our devices and the cloud. The devices will get smaller until they fit in our bodies. We won't lose them that way. And we'll do most of our thinking in the cloud.

AR This is exactly the scenario on my GIG book. We both got it from Dave Chalmers.

Project Orion
The Observer

The European Space Agency may join the United States in building the Orion spaceship. The plan stems from the NASA decision to privatize crew and cargo flights to the International Space Station, with leaves ESA without a role in running the ISS.

The Orion Multiple Purpose Crew Vehicle is designed to carry astronauts on missions of up to six months to the Moon or beyond. The first two test flights may take place around 2017 using existing Atlas V launchers. A bigger rocket is being developed.

2012 November 17

Nazi China
Foreign Policy

He Di, 65, is in an ideological war. He aspires to live in a world of liberty, democracy, and free markets. But universal values clash with the revolutionary ideology of the Communist Party and Mao Zedong.

Shanghai historian Xu Jilin: "The history of Germany and Japan in the 1930s shows that if statism fulfills its potential, it will lead the entire nation into catastrophe ... What a strong state needs most is democratic institutions, a sound constitution, and the rule of law to prevent power from doing evil."

He traces the drift to 2003. The Hu administration started back down the old road of central planning. He thinks the combination of extreme nationalism, extreme populism, and state capitalism looks Nazi.

Adam Kirsch

To write about the great is to subordinate them to the reader: the reader can regard himself as the heir to all the ages, because he preserves in imagination what no longer exists in fact.

On publication day, an author should burn a copy of his book, to acknowledge that what he accomplished is negligible compared to what he imagined and intended.

Speech is an action, writing an act whose audience is always primarily oneself. To become memorable or brilliant, language needs to be fertilized by egotism.

Philosophy and history never say anything true about the world, only about the experience of being in the world. Some sensibilities require the illusion of objectivity to get their version of the truth spoken.

One begins writing as a detour away from life that is supposed to return one to the main road of life further on. Only gradually does it become clear that the detour is really a fork in the road.

The future will be made up of beings that will understand us better than we can understand ourselves. The writer's aspiration is to leave a body of evidence for the future to interpret.

The pursuit of outward status and the pursuit of inward perfection can both be understood as ways of imposing direction, and therefore narrative, on a life.

2012 November 16

Gaza Fallout
Hala Gorani

Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said Israel felt compelled to respond to relentless Palestinian rocket attacks into southern Israel. But Palestinians in Gaza say that what the Israeli military calls surgical strikes kill civilians and they are cut off from the world by a blockade.

This is the most serious Israeli offensive on Gaza since 2009. Israel's military says preparations are being made for a ground offensive, should the need arise. Already this offensive is causing regional rifts. Egypt was so angry it has recalled its ambassador to Israel.

Regionally, the Mideast is looking more and more unstable. The Syrian civil war is spilling over into Lebanon, the Golan Heights, Jordan, and Turkey. Israeli concern about Iran's nuclear program and the possibility that it will strike Iranian nuclear facilities are adding to tensions.

The moribund Mideast peace process is suffering another setback. Some accuse Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of launching this offensive to benefit politically from taking tough action against Hamas. Peace talks between Israel and Fatah or Hamas look unlikely.

Karl Marx, Banker
Karl Sternberg

If Karl Marx had been alive in 2007, he would have been working for a bank. Banks had reached a state of communist perfection. The workers took home everything. the capital holders were left with nothing. Marx would have been laughing all the way from the bank.

The beneficiaries of the communist banking system are squealing. Many in banking seem not to have noticed that they recently brought the world economy to its knees. Bankers need rescuing from themselves. Regulation can reimpose a capitalist system on the banks.

The banks need to be humble about how much value they really add to the economy. Only productive investment generates growth. The banks do not have the investment ideas: businessmen do. The banks are just transferring money around the economy.

A healthy, prosperous, contributing City needs more capitalism and less communism. Ignore the alarmist warnings that we are committing national suicide by regulatory interventions. Boring and reliable banks will deliver national competitive advantage in future.

2012 November 15

Gaza Battle
Yaakov Lappin

Hamas felt confident over the ascendancy of its fellow Islamists in the region and attempted to set new rules on the Gaza border. But it mistook Israeli restraint for weakness. By firing more and more indiscriminate rocket barrages into Israel, Hamas overplayed its hand. Israel once again has proved its intelligence capabilities in Gaza not only by targeting Ahmed Jabari but also by removing most of Hamas' long-range underground rocket launchers in the first wave of air strikes. Operation Pillar of Defense shows Israel will defend its civilians.

Terry Eagleton

Jacques Derrida was a Jew from Algeria. He felt like an an outsider. He wrote of the absolute singularity of every human being.

Deconstruction holds that nothing is ever entirely itself. There is a certain otherness lurking within every assured identity. No system is never quite as stable as it seems. When François Mitterrand came to power in 1981, Derrida was invited to set up an international college of philosophy in Paris. He was feted as an intellectual superstar.

An American comic book featured a sinister Doctor Deconstructo. But Derrida simply asked whether we know what we mean.

Zoe Williams

Schizophrenia is the most common cause of hospitalization. Mental health units are overcrowded. Patients are often put on drugs and get no talking therapies. After a decade or two, the side-effects of the drugs may shorten lives by decades.

The early intervention program (EIP) was supposed to help. Clinical psychologist Dr Alison Brabben: "It was quite a break away from traditional mental health services. Previously, schizophrenia was seen as a purely biological condition, the diagnosis was made and then people were given a pill to try to make the symptoms better. No one ever asked about people's lives."

The chemical explanation for psychosis is incomplete. Black groups have far higher rates, but not in Africa or the Caribbean. The problem is not being black, it's being black in Britain.

2012 November 14

No Solar Power For Europe
Spiegel Online

The Desertec Industrial Initiative was the most ambitious solar energy project ever when it was founded in 2009. Industrialists, politicians, and environmentalists all liked it. The idea was to pipe solar thermal power from the Sahara Desert via Mediterranean power lines to Europe.

Today there is still little to show for the project. Political backing evaporating when the Arab Spring destabilized the region. The projected budget was €400 billion and funding dried up. No country wants to import power only to compromise energy security.

Last week, Desertec failed to seal a deal on three Moroccan solar power plants when Spain pulled back. The initiative was launched with a long list of corporate shareholders and partners. Siemens and Bosch will quit at the end of the year.

Real Work
John Kay

Manufacturing fetishism is the idea that manufacturing is the central economic activity and everything else is somehow subordinate. Business people express it when they equate wealth creation with private sector production. But when you look at the value chain of manufactured goods we consume today, you quickly appreciate how small a proportion of their value is represented by manufacturing and assembly.

Physical labor for manufacturing is a cheap commodity in a globalized world. But the skills and capabilities that turn that labor into products of extraordinary complexity and sophistication are not. Manufacturing was once a principal source of low-skilled employment but this is no longer true in advanced economies. Most unskilled jobs in developed countries are in personal services. Workers in China cannot serve you lunch, collect your refuse, or bathe your grandmother. Anyone who thinks these are not real jobs does not understand work.

Higgs Update
New Scientist

The Higgs is proving far too well behaved. The standard model must be incomplete as it doesn't cover dark matter and gravity.

The Higgs is detected by the particles it decays into. One anomaly was a lack of tau leptons in the debris. Now experimentalists from CMS and ATLAS say the number of tau particles detected has crept up. So no problem there. The standard model says the Higgs boson has mirror symmetry. Now CMS confirms this with a statistical significance of 2.5 sigma. Only one hint of a problem: the Higgs seems to decay twice as often as predicted into pairs of photons.

Steven Weinberg: "The particle discovered at the LHC looks more and more like the particle that was predicted." He says it will be a nightmare if the LHC finds the Higgs behaves as predicted.

Philip Roth
James Walton

Philip Roth: "My autobiography would consist almost entirely of chapters about me sitting alone in a room looking at a typewriter." When his relationship with Claire Bloom was in its first romantic flush, he invited her to spend three weeks at his home in rural Connecticut. According to her autobiography, he then spent every day writing in his study, and every evening reading Russian novels.

Roth started by exposing the Jewish Newark where he grew up. Rabbis denounced him for supplying ammunition to the gentiles. Roth's response was Portnoy's Complaint, America’s bestselling novel of 1969. Roth: "I don't want to read fiction, I don't want to write it, and I don't even want to talk about it anymore. I dedicated my life to the novel. At the exclusion of nearly everything else. It's enough!"

AR Quite right. Knowing when to stop is good.

Ray Monk
The Guardian

Ray Monk has published his third biography, this one of Robert Oppenheimer. His two previous biographies were on Ludwig Wittgenstein and on Bertrand Russell.

Monk studied Wittgenstein's philosophy of mathematics at Oxford. Michael Dummett said it was conventionalist, while Crispin Wright argued for its strict finitism. Monk: "My thought was that if you had any understanding of the spirit in which Wittgenstein wrote, there was no way you could attribute those positions to him."

His biography of Wittgenstein was a success. He was invited to teach a class on Wittgenstein at Southampton University, got a job there, and has been there ever since.

AR I studied Wittgenstein with Dummett and Wright a few years before Monk. Did I miss the chance of a lifetime there? No: see my next book.

2012 November 13

What Do Animals Want?
Marian Stamp Dawkins

The hard problem of consciousness is still very hard, and to try and rest your ethical case on proving something that has baffled people for years seems to me to be not good for animals. If you think about human beings, the way to get them to change their behavior is to show them that their own self-interest lies in doing something. Animal welfare improves human health, it improves the health of their children, it gives them better food, it gives them better quality of life. Those arguments may actually be much more powerful for people who aren't already convinced about animal welfare than trying to use an argument based on animal consciousness.

Are Humans Getting Dumber?
The Guardian

Stanford geneticist Gerald Crabtree believes that an average Greek from 1000 BCE was brighter than most of us. Our intellects have probably been sinking since the invention of farming and city life.

In the past, when our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers, stupidity was often punished by death. Enormous evolutionary pressure bore down on them, selecting out the dimwits. But not today.

Crabtree estimates that 2 to 5 thousand genes play a role in human intellectual ability, and that each of us carries two or more mutations that arose in the past millennia. "We, as a species, are surprisingly intellectually fragile and perhaps reached a peak 2,000 to 6,000 years ago."

Other geneticists say enormous evolutionary pressure may not be necessary to maintain our intelligence. Crabtree: "Remarkably it seems that although our genomes are fragile, our society is robust almost entirely by virtue of education, which allow strengths to be rapidly distributed to all members."

AR Probably wrong. Selection pressures have changed, not disappeared. Until recently, dim men joined armies and got killed. Dim women got diseases and had sick kids.

Higgs Disaster?
New Scientist

The Higgs boson gathers mass from everything it touches, so its mass should balloon from 125 GeV to 10^19 GeV, the Planck scale, where things go berserk and gravity is strong enough to fill the universe with stormy spacetime.

Perhaps we can reining in the Higgs mass and save our universe by invoking a new symmetry of nature. If supersymmetric sparticles partnered each standard model particle, their fluctuations could cancel each other out. If we don't find sparticles with low masses, we can tweak the theory to give them higher masses. Or we can just accept the vast discrepancy between the Higgs's actual mass and that predicted by quantum theory: if things were different we wouldn't exist. This is anthropic reasoning.

The mass of the new particle is 125 GeV, about as small as it can be. If it were just a few GeV lighter, the lowest energy state of the vacuum would dip below zero. Then at any moment the universe could tunnel into total ruin.

2012 November 12

The United States will pump more oil than Saudi Arabia by 2017.

AR Yeah! Time to emigrate!

Christ is now History

MTV Europe Music Awards
Festhalle, Frankfurt
November 11, 2012

How to Create a Mind
New Scientist

A brain grows according to certain rules and contains repeating patterns. All you need to understand it are the rules and how the basic neural building blocks work.

Reverse engineering the brain is only the start. The results will then be forward engineered. Ray Kurzweil says this will happen in the next decade or two.

Falcon Eagle
The Washington Times

China bills its new stealth jet,
the J-31, as the only 5G stealth
light combat jet in the world
after the F-35 Lightning II.

The first videos show smoke trailing from the aircraft, a sign of poor fuel burn. China has met technical problems developing combat jet engines. Analysts say the J-31 engine is a Russian design, the Klimov RD-93.

The timing of the debut is political.

AR A technical expert says
Chinese jet engines "suck".

HM Revenue and Customs
investigation reveals drug
dealers, gun runners, and
offshore accounts.

AR An Oxford colleague
was HSBC CEO and my
mother banks there.


2012 November 11

Britain No, France No
Spiegel Online

Politicians in Brussels and Berlin are unhappy with President François Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron. European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said that with its anti-EU course London has "taken leave of its senses" while France has too little industry and innovation.

The UK parliament recently passed a non-binding resolution demanding substantial cuts to the €1 trillion budget recently proposed by the European Commission. France has threatened to veto the budget if it doesn't include a continuation of generous agricultural subsidies.

AR Britain and France can kill the European Union. But what then?

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
The World In 2012
United Kingdom
GDP growth: 0.7%
GDP: $2,511 billion
Inflation: 2.9%
Population: 63.1 million
GDP per head: $39,770
GDP growth: 0.0%
GDP: $2,732 billion
Inflation: 1.7%
Population: 63.6 million
GDP per head: $42,930

BBC Crisis

The Observer

The BBC is in crisis in its history after the dramatic resignation of its director general, George Entwistle, after just 54 days in the job. Entwistle was engulfed in the crisis following confirmation that the BBC had wrongly implicated former senior Tory politician Lord McAlpine in a story about pedophilia.

Max Hastings

The British are currently convulsed about pedophilia. Accusations of child abuse against Jimmy Savile have triggered a wave of other charges. A Conservative politician has been accused in a case of mistaken identity. David Cameron was confronted on ITV with a list of 40 named pedophiles.

Pedophilia was not always unpardonable. When I was at school we sniggered that some schoolmasters sexually exploited pupils. In the Church such malpractices have been widespread. The public obsession with pedophilia is madness. Child abuse demands a proportionate response.

2012 November 10

Buddhist Ecology
David P. Barash

The Buddha urged his followers to be sensitive to the suffering of all sentient beings. For Buddhists, no one exists as a permanent structure distinct and isolated from the rest of the world. Trying to locate an inviolate particle of selfhood within anyone is like peeling an onion. For Buddhists and ecologists alike, we are all created from spare parts scavenged from the same cosmic junk heap.

There are many connections between Buddhism and ecology. By contrast, the Abrahamic religions start from an assumption of separateness. With dualism overcome and the world seen in its wholeness, it is absurd to consider any natural process as wrong. It is what it is. Embedded in an ecological world view is a notion of things in flux, which is convivial to an evolutionary perspective.

Ecology is a practical corrective to human hubris. It subverts our egocentric insistence on separateness and our inclination to ride roughshod over the rest of the natural world. Buddhism is no less subversive. Martyrdom is out of fashion, but the consequences of combining Buddhism and ecological wisdom might be equally significant. Instead of losing a life, we just might expand it.

AR One prefers not to associate science with religion. Science is beyond religion.

2012 November 9

Hu Keynote

In his keynote at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, President Hu emphasized the central role of economic development and striking a balance between the government and financial markets. He set the 2020 target to double per capita income in China from 2010 levels.

"We should firmly maintain the strategic focus of boosting domestic demand, speed up the establishment of a long-term mechanism for increasing consumer demand, unleash the potential of individual consumption, increase investment at a proper pace, and expand the domestic market."

AR Hu hum, just another doubling.

Hu Jintao

Hu Jintao will soon steps down as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. Hu, 69, cemented China's position as a rising global power.

An engineer by training, Hu worked his way up the ranks of the party and in 1997 became the youngest member of the Politburo Standing Committee. At the 16th Party Congress in 2002, he succeeded President Jiang Zemin as Communist Party chief and then became state president.

Hu championed balanced and sustainable development. Under his watch, China has become the world's second largest economy. He has improved the Chinese military and boosted national pride. In 2012, China docked a manned spacecraft, orbited a female astronaut, and deployed an aircraft carrier.

Faced with ethnic unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang, Hu showed his steely side by cracking down harshly. His regime showed little tolerance toward political opposition. China has kept a tight control of the media, especially the social media community.

Hu failed to narrow the country's widening wealth gap. China still has more than 100 million people living in poverty. The top 10% of households have 57% of total income and 85% of total assets. Hu resisted pressure to reform the political system. Corruption is now endemic.

Current Vice President Xi Jinping will likely take over from Hu as General Secretary. Xi will manage China's emergence as a global superpower.

AR Hu was a product of the system.

Obama's Victory
Robert Reich

Latinos, African-Americans, and young people have become the most reliable Democratic voting blocs. And white men have become the mainstays of the Republican party. This is good news for Democrats and a troubling omen for Republicans.

But Democrats will need to do more than rely on Republican electoral stupidity. Democrats will need to champion immigration reforms, paid family and medical leave for women, expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, and income-contingent college loans. All these are good policies.

The wages of white men without college degrees are less than they were 35 years ago, adjusted for inflation. Democrats could have pushed for a nationwide system of productivity bargains, as in Germany. They could have insisted that America’s trading partners have a minimum wage. And they could have reduced taxes on the middle and working class, and raised them on the rich.

AR They can start now.

2012 November 8

Red China — No Change
Financial Times

President Hu Jintao outlined a conservative vision for the future of China. He said China must stay with socialism as power is handed to a new generation. Hu: "We must not take the old path that is closed and rigid, nor must we take the evil road of changing flags and banners."

Speaking in the Great Hall of the People, Hu, who will hand power to Xi Jinping, warned that "the party, even the country, could perish" if the anti-corruption campaign is not successful. Hu also unveiled the ambitious goal to double per capita income by the end of 2020.

A Progressive Surge
The Nation

A country reeling from one disaster has dodged another. President Obama's re-election has evoked relief. The voters defeated a living symbol of plutocracy.

A Mitt Romney victory would have imperiled the security of all but those insulated by extreme wealth from basic concerns like finding housing. It would have been viewed as a validation of radical individualism. It would have empowered social forces that oppose progress in the United States.

The new Democratic majority in the Senate is more progressive than before. The new caucus provides majority leader Harry Reid with an opening to respond to pressure for reform of Senate rules. The House remains in Republican hands. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi will have a hard time.

We need to put the jobs crisis first, shifting the frame of national discussion away from the deficit and toward investments in education and infrastructure.

AR Address the fiscal cliff first, please.

The Next Battle
Financial Times

Barack Obama won a convincing electoral victory over Mitt Romney. It will spark a bitter debate among demoralized Republicans. Democrats increased their Senate majority and Republicans maintained control of the House, setting the stage for renewed gridlock on Capitol Hill.

The White House and Congress face a looming fiscal cliff. Obama promised to work with Congress to reduce the deficit and reform the tax system. Republican House speaker John Boehner said the mandate from voters was for political leaders to "find a way to work together".

AR Time to inch toward coalition politics.


Jonathan Yeo
(I've Got You) Under My Skin
Circle Culture Gallery, Berlin
2012-11-09 — 2013-01-12

U.S. Capitalism
Jakob Augstein

The United States armed forces can destroy anything on Earth within an hour. Yet Hurricane Sandy tore down power lines dangling from wooden poles over the streets of Brooklyn and New Jersey. New York City hospitals had to be evacuated.

America is a country of total capitalism. Its functionaries have no need of public hospitals or of a reliable power supply to private homes. American society is in ruins and its government is crippled. Romney and Obama are two faces of a broken system. It doesn't matter who wins. Both are in the hands of big business. Greed and religion dominate public opinion. The American downfall has begun.

Divided States of America

2012 November 7

Obama: Four More Years

Why Mitt Romney Lost
Jacob Weisberg

Mitt Romney lost in part due to his own weaknesses as a candidate. The Obama campaign put Romney on the defensive early about his work at Bain Capital, and left him there. The Republican nominee made any number of horrendous gaffes. He ran a disastrous Republican convention. He never found a narrative that middle-class voters could relate to.

But even a clumsy candidate might have won if not for the GOP's growing extremism. The Republican strategy of making the election a referendum on Obama's handling of the economy was sound enough, but the Republican Party couldn't pass the credibility test itself. The GOP sounded like a bizarre fringe party, not a responsible governing one.

To win the nomination, Romney had to behave like a right-wing extremist. He had to pass muster with the right-wing base on taxes, immigration, climate change, abortion, and gay rights. When he tried, much too late, to move closer to the center, Republicans kept popping up with disgusting reminders of the GOP's retrograde views on gender issues.

Demographic change and better economic circumstances stand to make the Republican road back to the White House an even steeper climb in future years. The party has to present a more conciliatory and reasonable face to sell itself to swing voters. It must cut loose its theocrats and liberate itself from the Tea Party. Let the recriminations begin.

Good For Science

It was a good night for science. Voters endorsed one of the most scientifically accomplished administrations in U.S. history. Obama has been a great supporter of science education and research, he has appointed science-friendly people to science posts, and he gave a great shout-out to science just a few weeks after taking office:

"Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health, protection of the environment, increased efficiency in the use of energy and other resources, mitigation of the threat of climate change, and protection of national security."

The election was also an affirmation of the magical powers of math, statistics, and social science research. Polls gave Bayesian statistics god Nate Silver the raw data to predict electoral outcomes with satisfying accuracy. Numbers work!

The Religious Right Is Dead
Damian Thompson

Last night was a victory for America's emerging secular liberal majority. The United States is still pious by European standards, but the gap is narrowing every year. The Religious Right united around a candidate who, by most standards, is not even a Christian. Also, America has just re-elected its first post-Christian president. Barack Obama's churchgoing is no more than Chicago politics: why else would a sophisticated Harvard-educated lawyer sit through years of incoherent ranting by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright? Americans, welcome to Europe!

Britain And Germany
Financial Times

Angela Merkel will dine with David Cameron at the Downing Street tonight and attempt to avert another European diplomatic debacle. In a prior phone call, Merkel told Cameron: "There seemed to be a lot of euroskepticism at your party conference."

Germany and Britain could champion a shared vision of Europe with fiscal discipline and open markets. Merkel wants a budget deal in November to resolve the eurozone crisis and move toward political and economic union. Cameron needs her support to realign Britain so that it retains a key role in Europe but stands aside from eurozone integration.

Merkel has retreated from freezing the EU budget to accept a small increase to help fund development in Poland and other eastern partners. Poland's foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski studied politics at Oxford, admired Margaret Thatcher, and became a fiscal hawk, but he wants help from Europe.

The mood toward the UK in the German political establishment is a mix of exasperation and concern. CDU European affairs spokesman Michael Stübgen: "I think it would be better if the UK remained in the EU. But in recent years, Cameron has developed a European style which cannot be sustained for long."

Former SPD foreign affairs spokesman Karsten Voigt: "Germany al­ways wanted Britain to stay in the EU and to play an active role in it. But in the last years I find more and more politicians who are simply giving up. In the end Britain has to decide whether they really want to be in or out."

German-born Labour MP Gisela Stuart: "I don’t think we have ever been further apart in my memory. I just feel there is nothing in common ... both sides are fed up with each other."

Britain And Germany
Janan Ganesh

David Cameron hosts the star among western leaders in Downing Street today. Angela Merkel has approval ratings that put others to shame. She presides over a prosperous Germany that dominates the European Union. There is little anxiety when Germany prescribes fiscal rectitude for southern Europe, outmatches France for control of the EU agenda, or radiates impatience with the UK. She can be confident of re-election next year.

The UK and Germany are growing apart. Cameron vetoed a fiscal pact from Berlin, then Germany nixed the proposed merger of BAE Systems and EADS. The Anglo-German relationship was an improvised answer to French pressure for protectionism and heavy regulation. When Paris sought to go against the United States, London and Berlin preserved the Atlantic relationship. Now Germany feels it can prevail in Europe without British help.

British Conservatives admire the German economic model, but they want the UK to be a global trader. There is little in common between the Tories and the other center-right parties in Europe. The British don't get that Germany will do almost anything to preserve the euro. The Germans still think euroskepticism is a Tory whim rather than the will of the British electorate. Merkel may not like it, but Cameron is as pro-Europe as he can be.

2012 November 6

U.S. Presidential Election
Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut
Das Haus der Kultur, Heidelberg

Filled to capacity with Heidelberg students: over 90% for Obama

Israel And Iran Talk In Brussels
The Guardian

Israeli and Iranian officials met in Brussels to talk about banning nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction from the Mideast. A participant described the mood as respectful and positive. Billed as an academic seminar, the event included Israeli ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff and Iranian ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh. The delegations met with representatives from Arab states and others to propose a conference on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Mideast. Finnish diplomat Jaakko Laajava is organizing the planned conference in Helsinki, sponsored by the UN.

Peter Sloterdijk
Carlin Romano

Peter Sloterdijk is 65. His Critique of Cynical Reason (1983) sold 40,000 copies in its first few months.
Now he teaches philosophy and co-hosts a TV show.

Sloterdijk sees humanism as a domestication of men: our institutions are human zoos. When he channels Heidegger he emits hot gas. When he concentrates on anthropology he shines. He seems the most French of current German philosophers.

Sloterdijk: "Truth games of the philosophical type, if they are not to sink into anodyne salon conversation, cannot and must not be confined within the frames of an epistemological establishment or within institutions of a politics of knowledge that's given once and for all. ... For 200 years, everything that has fired authentic thinking has come from nonphilosophy erupting into philosophy."

Fairy Tales
Max Ross

Jack Zipes: "I have endeavored to demonstrate that the historical evolution of storytelling reflects struggles of human beings worldwide to adapt to their changing natural and social environments."

As an oral form, fairy tales have been around for millennia. The Grimm brothers altered the folk tales they collected. They created an ideal type for the fairy tale that reflected their preferences.

Zipes loathes Disney's movies. He criticizes Disney's editorializing, he says the characters are stereotypes, and he sees blatant and rampant sexism. But his arguments are ridiculous.

The fairy tale thrives in places folklore scholars ignore. Zipes should listen to hip-hop.

Sacks: a brief life

My Vision For America
Barack Obama

My Vision For America
Mitt Romney

When hardship hits, America is at its best. There are no Democrats or Republicans during a storm, only fellow Americans.

Governor Romney has started calling himself an agent of change. But it's not the change we need. We know what real change looks like:

— Change is an America where people of every age have the
    skills and education that good jobs require.

— Change is an America that's home to the next generation of
    manufacturing and innovation.

— Change is an America that turns the page on a decade of war
    to do some nation-building here at home.

— Change is an America where we reduce our deficit by cutting
    spending where we can, and asking the wealthiest Americans
    to go back to the income tax rates they paid when Bill Clinton
    was president.

The folks at the very top don't need another champion in Washington. The people who need a champion in Washington are the Americans whose letters I read at night, the men and women I meet on the trail every day. When these Americans do well, America does well. That's the change we need right now.

America is a place where freedom rings. America is a land of opportunity. But lately, for too many Americans, opportunity has not exactly come knocking. Together with Paul Ryan, I've put forward an economic recovery plan:

1 We will produce more of the energy we need to heat our homes, fill our cars, and make our economy grow. By 2020, we will achieve North American energy independence.

2 We will retrain our work force for the jobs of tomorrow and ensure that every child receives a quality education no matter where they live. Parents and students need to have greater choice.

3 We will make trade work for America. We'll open more markets to American agriculture, products, and services. And we will finally hold accountable any nation that doesn't play by the rules.

4 We will restore fiscal sanity to Washington by bringing an end to the federal spending and borrowing binge.

5 We will champion small business, the great engine of job creation in our country, by reforming the tax code and updating and reshaping regulations that have suffocated economic growth.

The problems we need to overcome now are not bigger than we are. We can defeat them.

Red China, Black Jet

China's new stealth fighter jet,
the J-31 "Falcon Eagle", made
its maiden flight in Shenyang
on Halloween.

CCTV 4 report (0:58)






CGI previews

AR 31 = 16 + 15
>> Falcon Eagle :)

The Novella
Ian McEwan

Reëlect Obama
The New Yorker

AR Love that "ë"

2012 November 5

America Votes
Edward Luce

On Wednesday morning, U.S. voters will probably awaken to wonder what the fuss was about. In all probability, Barack Obama will be the next president, the Senate will remain narrowly Democratic, and the House will still be comfortably Republican. After two years and $6 billion in election spending, American government will still face the worst gridlock in recent history.

AR True, but who dares to revise the constitution?

Nuclear Iran
David Patrikarakos

At Israel's National Institute of Security Studies in Tel Aviv, a group of Israeli experts met to play a war game exploring an Israeli strike against Iran on November 9, 2012. Participants were divided into groups for Israel, Iran, the United States, Russia, Hezbollah, and so on. The Netanyahu actor was a former deputy foreign minister of Israel.

After the Israeli attack on Iran, the Iranians responded by launching missiles against Israel. They asked Jordan and Egypt to cancel their peace treaties with Israel and tried to get Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza to join in. But they stopped short of attacking U.S. targets.

The "U.S. President" reiterated his support for Israel and raised the alert status of forces in the Mideast. The Israelis asked Washington to help prevent Hezbollah and Hamas joining in, to help shoot down Iranian missiles, and to keep up the pressure on Iran in the UN Security Council.

To finish the job, the Israelis launched a second wave of strikes against Iran hours after the first. Iran's nuclear facilities were almost totally destroyed. Hezbollah and Hamas played only a token role and Iranian missiles had only limited effect. Iran failed to get sanctions on it lifted or have sanctions imposed on Israel. Iran was the loser.

Netanyahu actor Yehuda Ben-Meir: "The principal insight we gained was that following an Israeli attack the entire world was interested in calming the region down. Before the attack everyone had something to say on a possible attack but once it became a fait accompli the world wanted to know what would happen next, and everyone's goal was to contain the situation and to prevent escalation."

AR Risky

How Authors Write
Jason Pontin

Jack Kerouac claimed to have typed On the Road in 1951 in a delirium of "spontaneous prose" onto a 120-foot roll of teletype paper. His first draft really was produced without paragraph breaks on a continuous roll of paper. The prose is celebrated for its ecstatic lyricism.

Nicholson Baker's novel The Mezzanine (1988) includes numerous footnotes. They are so long and involved they drown the narrative. Baker wrote The Mezzanine with a word processing program that made it easy to insert and format footnotes.

German writer W. G. Sebald composed strange meditations on the Holocaust. His books begin quietly but pursue a decaying orbit around the central tragedy. The books include fugal digressions, descents into the past through nested narrators, and very long sentences. Most idiosyncratic of all are the uncaptioned, grainy black-and-white photographs.

Authors are excited to experiment not by publishing media but by the technologies they use to compose them. Even when a writer's style is informed by a publishing platform, it's often because that technology is also an authoring tool: blogging programs publish blogs to the Web but they are also word processors.

Jennifer Egan's novel A Visit from the Goon Squad includes a chapter written as a series of Microsoft PowerPoint slides and presented as made by a daughter for whom they are a natural idiom. In early 2012, Egan published a short story entirely in the form of tweets. She wanted to write a story that seemed to be told inadvertently.

Kerouac, Baker Sebald, and Egan were all writing when new media were everywhere, but what got their juices going were technologies of composition. Literary writers are solitary creatures. Their keyboards and pens are real. Websites and books are mere mechanisms of distribution.

AR The style of this blog is definitely shaped by my software.

2012 November 4

EU vs. UK
The Observer

The European Union budget crisis is set to deepen. European parliament leaders vow to block any freeze on spending from 2014 to 2020. They favor increases even higher than the 5% the commission asked for.

Austrian Socialist MEP Hannes Swoboda: "We need a budget that is fulfilling its task and the task is [economic] growth and employment. Particularly in the poorest regions of the EU, we need growth."

Britain and Germany have been demanding EU spending cuts. British negotiators now fear that Germany will relent and back a small budget increase to assist economic growth in poorer EU nations.

Pole Positions
The Independent

The Canadian government wants Polish migrants in Britain to start a new life in Canada. Canada has vacancies in construction and transport, and Poles from the UK already speak English.

Canada's Immigration minister Jason Kenney held a meeting with Poles in the UK at the Canadian High Commission in London to discuss the issue: "Many of you would find a better job in Canada."

AR The UK needs its Poles.

White Man's Burden
Tom Scocca

White men are supporting Mitt Romney to the exclusion of logic or common sense, in defiance of normal Americans. Without this tribal appeal, Romney's candidacy would not be viable. Most kinds of Americans see no reason to vote for him.

AR It's not racist to hope that a rich man can fix the economy.

2012 November 3

Red China
Bernhard Zand

The 18th national congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) begins on November 8. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao will be succeeded by Prime Minister Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping. The change of power will remain within the unspoken contract that Mao Zedong made with the people: We rule, you obey. In the last 10 years, Chinese GDP quintupled and the number of people who live on less than $2 a day went down by 250 million.

Gulf Threat
The Independent

The UK government is expected to discuss the threat posed by Iran with officials in the Gulf region. Leaders in Saudi Arabia and the UAE are concerned that Iran might try to block the Strait of Hormuz.

Britain has Royal Navy minesweepers in the Gulf region and David Cameron is considering deploying RAF Typhoons to a base in Abu Dhabi. The government is keen to reassure its Gulf allies of British backing if tensions with Iran escalate. BAE Systems says the UAE has "genuine" interest in buying 60 Typhoons.

UK government statement: "The UK regularly deploys Typhoons to UAE as part of our routine exercise program and to demonstrate our military commitment to UAE and the security of the region."

Donald Keene
Martin Fackler

Donald Keene, 90, professor emeritus at Columbia University, is now a Japanese citizen. Dr Keene is a prominent figure in Japanese literary and intellectual circles. The Japanese emperor awarded him one of Japan's highest honors for his contributions to Japanese literature.

Dr Keene first visited Japan during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. His affection for Japan began in 1940 as a student at Columbia, when he read a translation of the Tale of Genji. It was his first encounter with Japan's delicate sense of beauty and its acceptance that life is fleeting and sad.

When the United States entered the war, he enlisted in the Navy and learned Japanese to become an interpreter and intelligence officer. After the war, he pioneered academic studies of Japan in the United States. He has written about 25 books on Japanese literature and history.

In Japan, he befriended some of Japan's best known fiction writers, including Yukio Mishima, Kenzaburo Oe, Junichiro Tanizaki, and Takashi Tsujii. Dr Keene retired only last year from Columbia. He plans to spend his final years in Japan as a gesture of gratitude.

AR When I lived in Japan, I read a book or two by Keene plus novels by Mishima, Oe, Tanizaki et al.

2012 November 2

Israel Versus Iran
James Blitz

Benjamin Netanyahu's red line for Iran is when it has 240 kg of HEU. This is enough to convert into enough WGU to build one nuclear bomb. Israeli officials say Iran will reach the red line next summer.

But enough WGU for one bomb is not a program. After one nuclear test, they would have to wait. Even with more WGU, Iran would still need months to make a bomb. The IAEA would see what Iran was doing.

International sanctions are working. Debate around the Iranian Supreme leader is intensifying. If the Israelis wait, they may get more arms from the United States to help them strike alone.

HEU = highly enriched uranium (U-235 at 20% concentration)
WGU = weapons grade uranium (U-235 at 90% concentration)

Mark Malloch-Brown

The EU budget is a runaway monster. The Commission proposes an increase of 11% over present spending to take the budget over 1.1% of income. Eurocrats need to practice the austerity they preach. EU policies go unreformed, its funds are patronage, and its salaries and benefits are unaccountable.

Britain accepted a nominal rise in the EU budget from €100 billion in 2004 to €129 billion in 2011. But it is one thing to have spent more in good times, quite another to spend more when the domestic budget is being squeezed. It is not hypocrisy to say spend less in bad times. Circumstances change.

European politicians will see the vote as confirmation of a British national madness. Ever since Britain entered the European Union, oppositions have jeered at British governments forced to defend Brussels. If the Westminster political class has given up on Brussels, why bother to placate them?

EU vs. UK
Spiegel Online

The United Kingdom will not accept the European Union budget proposal of €1 trillion and demands cuts. Brussels is losing patience.

European Commissioner for Financial Programming and Budget Janusz Lewandowski: "We can't finance more Europe with substantially less money. ... Of course I am also referring to Great Britain. Either they see their future in the European Union in the long term or they don't."

British PM David Cameron: "This government is taking the toughest line in these budget negotiations of any government since we joined the European Union. At best we would like it cut, at worst frozen, and I'm quite prepared to use the veto if we don't get a deal that's good for Britain."

German chancellor Angela Merkel: "I don't want to throw more vetoes into the room. It doesn't help bring about a solution."

John Burnside

Solitude is a place of purification. Our aspiration for traveling to that place might be the simple pleasure of being freed of pettiness and corruption. For me, being alone is about staying sane in a noisy and cluttered world, but it is also a way of opening out a creative space.

Temporary dwellers in the wilderness are renewed by a spell of lonely contemplation. Then they return to the fray. The committed wilderness dwellers are after something more. To take oneself out into the wilderness as part of a spiritual quest is one thing, but to remain there is another. The wilderness is a place of becoming lost, as much as found. We need to beware of forest thinking. The wilderness is filled with dragons, but only some of them are natives. The rest come with the pilgrim.

No matter how sublime or close to the divine my solitary hut in the wilderness might be, it is a sterile paradise of emptiness and rage unless I am prepared to return to the social world. Solitude offers us not an escape or a paradise, but a way back to that world.

Comic Insights
Jerry Seinfeld

I can sit down at any time with a problem, and if I sit there and don't allow my mind to have distractions, my mind will eventually start to work on it on its own. It's like a biosphere situation. I isolate myself.

I always consider sitting the accomplishment. If I could boil it down to the essence of becoming a really fine comedian, it's just getting your ass from upright to seated.

An hour a day. That was my first goal. Sometimes I had to trick myself to get myself to write. I'd put the cookies by my notebook. It's like a mousetrap. I go get the cookies, then I look in the notebook, and the next thing I know, I'm writing.

2012 All Saints Day

UK Rebels: Cut EU Pay
Financial Times

The UK government lost a Commons vote over the EU budget. Labour and eurosceptic Tory MPs backed an amendment demanding a pay cut.

David Cameron: "At best we would like it cut, at worst frozen, and I'm quite prepared to use the veto if we don't get a deal that's good for Britain."

The non-binding vote was put it forward by Mark Reckless: "In the long run we will begin to get money and power back from Europe."

AR EU reform has to start somewhere. Cutting Brussels fat cat pay is a good start.

The Square Kilometer Array
will offer great new views
of the cosmic distribution
of neutral hydrogen

2012 October 31

Israel Versus Iran
Ehud Barak

The Iranians are still resolved to build nuclear weapons. Success would trigger an arms race in the Mideast. Saudi Arabia would turn nuclear within weeks, Turkey would turn nuclear in years, and Egypt would have to follow. The world would start the countdown to the nightmare of nuclear material in the hands of terrorists.

I am extremely skeptical about the chances that the ayatollahs will sit together at any point in the foreseeable future and decide to give up their intention to go in the footsteps of Pakistan and North Korea and turn into a military nuclear power. They think of themselves as a major regional power and are determined not to fall into the trap that, in their judgment, the late Gaddafi fell into.

Israel reserves the right to act alone. The question is when the Iranians come into the zone of immunity, where no surgical attack can delay them significantly. Any operation against Iran would be less dangerous now than when the country has crossed the nuclear threshold.

Step Back, Romney
Martin Wolf

Americans agree that the performance of their economy has been disappointing. Many voters blame the president. Economic challenges:

1 Demand: America runs deficits with foreigners. When households and businesses run surpluses, the government runs the deficits. For balance, either household spending or business investment must soar.

2 Supply: In the long run, the determinant of growth is rising productivity. American productivity comes from new technology, which depends on government support.

3 Inequality: Since the crisis, 90% of US income gains have gone to the top 1% of earners. New growth has not spread economic wellbeing. Children dependent on their parents are disadvantaged.

4 Fiscal solvency: With high unemployment and public debt, fiscal deficits cannot be cut without risking a collapse in demand. A recovery would cut the fiscal deficit. Healthcare spending is bad for solvency.

Obama offers no reforms to reignite dynamism. Romney wants to increase defense spending and cut taxes. Americans have a choice between low ambitions and a return to the policies that led to the crisis.

Randy Penguin
CNN Money

Penguin and Random House intend to combine operations. Bertelsmann, the Germany-based parent company of Random House, will own 53% of the new venture. Penguin's UK parent company, Pearson, will control the remaining 47%.

AR When Bertelsmann took over Springer in 1998/99, I moved on to SAP.

2012 October 30

EU President
Tony Blair

Out of this European crisis can come the opportunity to achieve a model of European integration that is sustainable. A Europe-wide election for the presidency is the most direct way to involve the public. People can understand an election for a big post held by one person.

If eurozone structures lead to a Europe that is fundamentally divided politically as well as economically, rather than a Europe with one political settlement that accommodates different levels of integration within it, the European Union will be on a path to breakup.

British Nukes
The Guardian

Threatening to slaughter cities full of civilians is atrocious. UK defense secretary Philip Hammond's claim that a continuous at-sea deterrent based on submarines filled with ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads remains "the ultimate safeguard of our national security" is ludicrous. The price tag on some estimates could be £100 billion over 30 years.

The present UK government inherited a commitment for overpriced aircraft carriers of dubious use. Now it binds its successors into another ruinous purchase by sinking so much money that cancellation becomes unthinkable. The urgency is bogus. Other aspects of foreign policy are open to rational debate. With the bomb, the sole test is the bloody union jack.

2012 October 29

Edward Luce

This weekend the Obama campaign added an exclamation mark to its "Forward" slogan. "I guess it's better than backward," said Bruce Springsteen.

President Obama can do no more than promise voters the economy will mend and insist it won't under Mitt Romney. Yet Obama has shown little ability to sharpen his message on the economy, let alone offer a big vision of the future. Bill Clinton outshone him at the convention.

Barack Obama's people skills are not improving. Most people in Washington assume that it was only Republican intransigence that scuppered a bargain during the debt ceiling drama of August 2011. But the president made almost no effort to build trust with his Republican interlocutors.

Many white voters believe Obama is un-American. Some still deny he was born in America. Next time Springsteen does an Obama event, he should sing "Born in the USA".

"No, No, No"
The Telegraph

Tensions are rising between Britain and Germany over the future of the European Union. German diplomat Rudolf Adam, deputy head of mission at the German embassy in London, told a UK government ministerial aide that David Cameron's stance on Europe meant Britain would "just see the red lights of the train that has already left the station".

Adam: "If you ask a German politician, he will probably talk about the federal states of Europe, and a European army. For the last 20 years from Britain, the comment on Europe has been 'No, no, no, we don't want this, we don't want that'. If you want to bring your power and your influence to bear, why does your government not develop a vision of what Europe should be like?"

Dig Lit
Stephen Marche

The story of how literature went digital begins in 2002 when Google developed a machine for turning books into data. To the people of the book, Google Books is a sacrilege.

The digital humanities are the next big thing. But literature cannot meaningfully be treated as data. Literature is the opposite of data. The Epic of Gilgamesh, the first story, is the story of a hero who has contact with the ineffable. The very first work of surviving literature is on a subject that transcends data. And we will never know most of literature. Huge swathes of the tradition are absent or in ruins. Literature is haunted by entropy.

The experience of the mystery of language is the original literary sensation. Any meaningful line in literature reveals a fugitive release from the status of information. Shakespeare, from Macbeth: "Light thickens, and the crows make wing to the rooky wood." As data, nonsense, and yet the words illuminate their moment. The reality of context is ineluctable. The algorithmic analysis of texts is reductionist. Meaning is mushy.

But a free, complete, professionally curated, global library is more than just a dream. Thanks to our machines, we will soon be able to read anything, anywhere, at any time.

Schwetzingen Schlossgarten, 2012-10-28

Human Brain Project

Blue Brain Project

Tomorrow Project USA

China Versus United States

Democracy Promotion

"You know, kids have good
instincts. They look at the
other guy and say, well,
that's a bullshitter."
Barack Obama

UK Says No To US

Following rising tensions with Iran, US diplomats lobbied for the use of British bases in Cyprus, and for permission to fly from bases on Ascension Island in the Atlantic and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, both British territories.

Downing Street: "We are working closely with the US with regard to UK bases" but "the government does not think military action is the right course at this point of time".

AR Tail bites dog.

Apollo and Mars
The race for space and
the human condition

Poor responses to the
3/11 nuclear disaster

Benoit Mandelbrot
Mathematical genius
from Poland

Jimmy Savile
Jimmy Savile
Sex Offender
Financial Times

BBC presenter Jimmy Savile was a pedophile who abused his power as a star in the 1970s to groom child victims. The BBC filmed an interview with a victim but suppressed it.

The BBC collects annual revenues of £3.6 billion from fees that all UK viewers must pay. It has a grey corporate culture.

Child Abuse
Suzanne Moore

Vulnerable children come first. Whether a few highly paid TV executives get pensioned off is not the point. This is a story about abuse that flourished in plain sight. The BBC bosses appear to lack empathy.

The BBC recently aired a series about the dilemmas social workers face in such cases. The culture that saw girls as untrustworthy has not gone.

Comic Jerry Sadowitz
on Jimmy Savile, 1988

(audio, 49 s, adult)

2012 October 28

Human Brain Project

The Human Brain Project aims to recreate the human mind inside a supercomputer. It is the next step after the Blue Brain Project, which since 2005 has created a virtual replica of part of a mammalian neocortex by feeding a computer with vast quantities of data and algorithms produced from studying tiny slivers of rat brain. That team has used the simulator to map the neural circuitry behind thinking.

Blue Brain head Henry Markram said the breakthrough was proof the "brain in a box" concept works. Now his team joins with other scientists to create the Human Brain Project, which aims to scale up their model to recreate an entire human brain. If their bid for €1 billion of EU funding is successful, Markram says they are a decade away from producing a synthetic mind that could think and talk like we do.

Moon Shot Ideas

The Arizona State University Center for Science and the Imagination (CSI) will bring sci-fi writers together with engineers and technologists to spark new "moon shot" ideas. CSI director Ed Finn: "It brings together a variety of different people who wouldn't usually work together. We want to create conversations that cut across all these different boundaries and get people thinking."

Intel is working with the CSI to create the Tomorrow Project USA, a new website for expert conversation on the future. Intel technology evangelist Steve Brown: "In science fiction writing and the conversations, you can explore how the technology can impact in both positive and negatives."

2012 October 27

From Earth To Mars
Artemis Westenberg and Chris Carberry

On August 6, 2012, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL, a.k.a. Curiosity) landed on Mars. Led by NASA, this mission is truly international. Although the United States stepped back from participation in the European Space Agency ExoMars missions, the international community should use the launch window in 2018 to plan a robotic mission that will move us closer to the goal of a Mars Sample Return mission. If NASA, ESA, Russia, and other space agencies work together, they can mount a major mission.

2012 October 26

Powell Praises Obama
Geoff Dyer

Republican former secretary of state Colin Powell says Mitt Romney has not "thought through" many issues: "I'm not quite sure which Governor Romney we would be getting with respect to foreign policy."

Powell praised Barack Obama for ending the war in Iraq, winding down the Afghanistan conflict, and for a "very, very solid" record on counter-terrorism. In the last debate Romney agreed with Obama on many issues and avoided direct confrontations, partly to avoid gaffes and partly to look more presidential.

Obama states his case in Rolling Stone

Multitier Europe
Charles Grant

The euro crisis is changing the European Union. Three tiers are emerging:

Tier 1 The 17 eurozone countries will submit national budgets and some economic policies to the control of EU institutions. This tier will hold regular meetings of its finance ministers and heads of government and probably have its own budget.

Tier 2 The "eurozone plus" countries, such as Poland, that aspire to join the euro will accept much of the same supervision of budgetary and economic policy as the first tier. They will also join eurozone members in the banking union.

Tier 3 The UK and a few others that do not wish to give up any more economic sovereignty will wish to remain involved in the single market, trade policy, and so on.

New Tier 1 policies may harm the single market for countries like Britain, Sweden, and Poland. But EU leaders are unlikely to offer a special deal to the UK. If Britain blocks a new EU treaty, the result will probably be a Tier 1 treaty.

Life in Tier 3 need not be uncomfortable for the UK. Yet successive British governments have done too little to forge alliances with the central Europeans, Nordics, and Dutch, who tend to think alike. No one wants the UK to join Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland in Tier 4.

Sex and World Peace
Valerie M. Hudson

There is a strong and significant link between state security and women's security. The best predictor of a state's peacefulness is not its level of wealth, its level of democracy, or its ethno-religious identity. The best predictor is how well its women are treated.

Those who say the world is becoming more peaceful forget that violence against women in many countries is becoming more prevalent, and dwarfs the violence produced through war and armed conflict. A country is not at peace when its women are subject to femicide.

Stephen Greenblatt

From 300 BCE, Alexandria was the capital of Egypt and the commercial hub of the eastern Mediterranean. Its Museum contained most of the intellectual inheritance of Greek, Latin, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Jewish cultures. The Ptolemaic kings gave leading scholars tenure at the Museum and use of the library.

Euclid developed his geometry in Alexandria. Archimedes laid the foundation for calculus. Eratosthenes calculated its circumference of the Earth to within 1%. Galen revolutionized medicine. Astronomers postulated a heliocentric universe. Geometers deduced the exact length of a year and proposed a 'leap day' every fourth year. Engineers developed hydraulics and pneumatics. Anatomists studied the brain, the nervous system, the heart, and the digestive system. Their achievements were staggering.

The Alexandrian library covered the entire range of intellectual inquiry. Alexandrian scholars developed new techniques of comparative analysis and commentary. Ptolemy Philadelphus commissioned seventy scholars to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. The Septuagint became the Old Testament.

Peter Russell and Eckhart Tolle say consciousness is no-thing (YouTube, 3:52)

AR Tolle has no more charisma than me!

2012 October 25

William J. Bennett

In the third debate, Barack Obama was aggressive and provocative. He landed more punches, trying to characterize Mitt Romney as amateur and reckless. He wanted to destroy Romney, but he fell short. Romney looked more like the president and Obama the challenger.

Romney emphasized peace and diplomacy. He agreed with Obama on many issues. Romney distanced himself from President George W. Bush and said the United States should "help the world of Islam and other parts of the world reject this radical violent extremism."

Air Strike
The Guardian

Sudan accuses Israel of carrying out an air strike on an arms factory that killed two people. Bombs from four aircraft struck a complex and triggered a blast that rocked Khartoum.

Officials showed journalists video of a huge crater and two destroyed buildings. They said an analysis of rocket debris and other remains proved Israel was behind the attack.

Sudan may go to the UN security council. Israeli officials declined to comment. Israel has no diplomatic relations with Sudan and believes it supplies arms to militants in Gaza.

Where Good Ideas Come From
Steve Johnson

As life gets bigger, it slows down. Flies die young, elephants die old. The hearts of small animals pump faster than those of big ones. Max Kleiber found a law: metabolism to the fourth power scales inversely to mass. So the number of heartbeats per lifetime is stable, but bigger animals take longer to have them.

Geoffrey West investigated whether Kleiber's law applied to cities. West and his team collected data on dozens of cities around the world. They found that Kleiber's law governs the energy and transportation growth of city living. From an energy perspective, an elephant is a big mouse and a city is a big elephant.

West and his team found another power law. Data for creativity and innovation also followed a fourth-power law, like Kleiber's law, but the scaling was positive, not negative. An average resident in a city with a population of 5 million people generated almost 3 times more innovation than one in a town of 100,000.

AR I guess the laws would scale to Globorg.

Constructor Theory
David Deutsch

As I speak, information starts as electrochemical signals in my brain, then it gets converted into sound waves, then into the vibrations of a microphone, then into electricity, and so on. The information has remained unchanged throughout the process. The way to get this substrate independence of information is to refer it to a level of physics that is more fundamental than things like laws of motion.

Constructor theory is an idea I had for generalizing the quantum theory of computation to cover all physical processes. A universal quantum computer can simulate any other finite physical object with arbitrary accuracy, so the set of all possible computations of a universal computer corresponds to the set of all possible motions of anything. But the quantum theory of computation can't tell you which program corresponds to which physical object. We need a generalization of the theory that assigns to each program the corresponding real object.

In constructor theory, science is formulated in terms of the difference between transformations that are possible and those that are impossible. If a transformation is impossible, then constructor theory says there is a law of physics that makes it impossible. Conversely, if no law of physics makes it impossible, then it's possible.

Karen Wiesner explains how to write a novel in 30 days

2012 October 24

Martin Wolf

How badly has the U.S. economy performed under President Barack Obama? In Q2 of 2012, real GDP was 5.2% higher than in Q4 of 2008. Unemployment at 7.8% in September was the same as in January 2009.

Stanford professor John Taylor, a member of Mitt Romney's economic team, says strong growth normally follows U.S. financial crises, but not this time. He blames bad policy.

1 Is he right? No. The aftermaths of systemic financial crises are worse than those of other downturns. In their book This Time is Different, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff characterize a systemic financial crisis by a real estate bubble and high levels of debt.

2 Is speed of recovery is a good measure of success? No. The recent recession was marked by a weak contraction, not a weak recovery. The recovery seems weak because the contraction was mild, given the scale of the crisis. That was a policy success.

3 Is it valid to focus on U.S. experience alone? No. Reinhart and Rogoff reject American exceptionalism. The U.S. performance in this crisis has been better than the average of other rich countries hit by recent systemic banking crises.

We have no reason to regard the performance of the U.S. economy under President Obama as poor. His policy limited the severity of the recession. Given the crisis, the U.S. economy has performed quite well.

AR Blame Bush, not Obama.

Eat Coal, Make Gas
MIT Technology Review

Companies can now extract fuel from coal beds by using microbes that eat coal and excrete methane. Much of the natural gas found in coal beds is produced by naturally occurring microbes that feed on coal. Researchers have found ways to stimulate the microbes to produce more methane, allowing vast amounts of buried coal to be converted into natural gas.

The idea of using microbes is not new. But researchers have identified the different microbes that work together to turn coal into methane. They can find out which microbes live in a coal bed and what nutrients to pump in for them. Improved DNA sequencing allows a company to sample a coal bed, determine which organisms are present, and feed them a optimal mix.

Costs are low enough to make the approach profitable in the United States. But it could be even more promising in China, where prices for natural gas are high and the gas is a clean alternative to their coal.

AR Energy crisis bye-bye.


George W. Bush
Mission accomplished:
George W. Bush on USS
Abraham Lincoln, May 2003

Bush Won
Gregor Peter Schmitz

George W. Bush won the third debate. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney exchanged platitudes about events in the Mideast. The embassy attack in Libya has kept America fixated on the war on terror. For Romney the main issue was Iran versus Israel. Both debaters like drones. Both know the public is tired of war.

USS America
US Navy
USS America

The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ships America and Tripoli can operate F-35B jump jets. Other assault ships can fly helicopters plus Harrier jump jets, but are built around huge well decks to launch and recover small craft for moving Marines onshore. America and Tripoli lack well decks and have extra space for aircraft and their fuel and ammo. The F-35B could be years away from ops.

Tim Walker: Story Teller
Somerset House, London
2012-10-18 — 2013-01-27

Hilary Mantel
On Fiction

Freeman Dyson
On Wittgenstein
And Nietzsche

2012 October 23

Third Presidential Debate

A forceful President Barack Obama put Republican challenger Mitt Romney on the defensive on foreign policy. Obama played the experienced commander-in-chief in explaining policy and attacking the views of Romney, who ended up supporting Obama on several key issues.

Analysts agreed that Obama won the debate on points, but Romney established credibility as a leader. Obama sought to highlight Romney's lack of foreign policy experience. Romney argued that a strong foreign policy and national defense depends on a strong economy.

Romney pushed for a comprehensive strategy "to get the Muslim world to reject extremism on its own." Obama: "What we need to do with respect to the Middle East is strong, steady leadership, not wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map."

Full debate transcript

AR I thought Romney came out better. Obama seemed angry, bad tempered, and caught up in details. Romney seemed calm, pacific, and in command of a good view of the big picture.

Bush Won
Peter Beinart

Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney won. George W. Bush won the foreign policy debate. The framework for understanding the world he put in place after 9/11 still holds. The Bush administration defined American foreign policy as American military policy.

Obama and Romney discussed foreign policy almost exclusively through the Bush prism. They focused on countries where the United States is either at war or soon could be. There was virtually no discussion of global shifts in economic power. The war on terror still holds sway.

George W. Bush believed that al Qaeda was equivalent to the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Wrong. What made Moscow and Berlin dangerous was their economic strength. The American economy has been weakened by the Bush legacy of imperial wars and financial crisis.

High Five
Mark Preston

1 Obama won final debate, but no knockout.

2 Romney presented his five-point plan to revive the economy.

3 Obama said his first job as commander in chief was to keep the American people safe.

4 Romney: "America has a responsibility and the privilege of helping defend freedom and promote the principles that make the world more peaceful." Obama: "America remains the one indispensable nation. And the world needs a strong America."

5 It is now a race to November 6.

No Revolution
Hussein Agha and Robert Malley

Darkness descends upon the Arab world. Death and destruction attend a fight for a better life. The only consistent program is religious and is stirred by the past. The fight between Islamism and Arab nationalism has been long and bloody. To many, Arab nationalism was an unnatural Western import. Islamists helped topple the nationalists. They reckon they have corrected history. Amid chaos and uncertainty, the Islamists alone offer a vision for the future.

Berlin, Europe
Gideon Rachman

Berlin is increasingly the de facto capital of the European Union. The shift in power from Brussels to Berlin has been accelerated by the euro crisis. German chancellor Angela Merkel still goes to summits in Brussels but she is now the most important leader at the table.

The leaders of all the other big EU nations are in a weak position. Spain and Italy are struggling with debt crises. The British have opted out of the single currency and are marginalized. The Poles have a relatively small economy. France's various proposals for eurozone bonds, banking unions, infrastructure spending, and common social programs all look like attempts to get German taxpayers to subsidize France.

Exasperation with laxity and incontinence elsewhere in Europe is making the Germans insist on the need for more German virtues. The Germans are determined to make Europe work.

How to write a book in 30 days
The Guardian

Stage 1: days 1-6
Create your preliminary outline with characters, setting, and plot

Stage 2: days 7-13
Research your novel to write with authority and confidence

Stage 3: days 14-15
Reinforce the structure and evolution of your story

Stage 4: days 16-24
Introduce the formatted outline into a document ready for editing

Stage 5: days 25-28
Evaluate your formatted outline for weak or missing elements

Stage 6: days 29-30
Revise your first draft and make final checks

AR It's high time for me to follow this advice.

2012 October 22

Africa is Big
The Economist

World Bank economist Wolfgang Fengler is optimistic about Africa:

1 Older population: Most Africans are living longer and having fewer children.
2 Rapid urbanization: Improving efficiency is luring investors to capital cities.
3 Technology impact: Africa is a global pioneer in banking on mobile devices.
4 Better governance: Economic management by officials has improved.

Merkel Warns Cameron
Financial Times

Angela Merkel will seek to cancel the November European budget summit if David Cameron stands by his intention to veto any increase in spending.

The European Commission wants more than €1 trillion for the years 2014 to 2020, or nearly 1.1% of European GDP. Merkel backs a compromise that would cap EU spending at 1% of GDP. The compromise has the backing of at least six other EU member states: the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Finland, and the Czech Republic.

Cameron will be a hero at home if he drops another V-bomb, but EU officials warn that it could wreck the December summit on building a banking union.

Peter Hitchens
Decca Aitkenhead

Peter Hitchens knows his new book about drugs, The War We Never Fought, will go down badly among metropolitan liberals: "Almost certainly the battle to halt the spread of mind-altering drugs is lost."

Every week in the Mail on Sunday, Hitchens delivers a thunderous sermon against the moral degradation of all things modern. He abhors libertarianism and laments the passing of Christian values.

Hitchens: "Drug-taking is the purest form of self-indulgence." It cuts the link between work and reward, making "deferred gratification appear a waste of time and a foolish rejection of readily available delight".

In an ideal world, Hitchens would outlaw alcohol and tobacco too. Although he does drink, he hasn't been drunk since he was 15. But he needs a strong caffeine hit every morning before he can start writing.

Hitchens, 60, is the younger brother of Christopher, who died last year. The brothers were never close in adulthood. Peter is a devout Anglican who lives with his wife and three children in Oxford.

The Economist

European Airbus are proposing a launch trolley powered by linear induction motors to get planes airborne. The engineers call their proposal Eco-climb. The aircraft would sit on a platform that ran along a track on the runway. The platform would accelerate to take-off speed and the plane would lift into the air under its own power. Such an electromagnetic catapult could launch the plane at higher speed, letting it climb faster, save fuel, make less noise, and use a shorter runway.

According to Airbus, Eco-climb would reduce fuel consumption by 3% on a typical 900 km flight, even with existing aircraft designs. But it would also allow for the design of lighter aircraft, with smaller engines, which would cut fuel consumption, noise, and emissions further.

General Atomics has already built and tested a similar system for the next generation of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. An electromagnetic catapult has several advantages over steam catapults. Whereas a steam cat lets rip with a constant force, the speed and power of an EM cat can be controlled to moderate the acceleration. That puts less stress on the aircraft and extends its life. The force could be kept within the 2.5 g typically felt in a modern airliner at take-off.

One could also use EM cats for landing. If an incoming aircraft landed on a moving platform equipped with a linear motor, the current in the motor could be reversed to slow it down. Then planes could do without landing gear, saving still more weight.

AR Good idea in principle, but you'd need EM cats at every airport for emergencies.

2012 October 21

Tim Adams

Facebook launched as a public company on 18 May 2012. Mark Zuckerberg, 28, found his personal wealth exceeding $20 billion. At the end of the first day of trading, Facebook was worth $135 billion. Professional investors shorted Facebook from the start. Traders had valued Facebook at 24 times annual revenue, but only 6 times for Google. Yet Google made $88 from each of its users, Facebook only $15. Zuckerberg saw himself not as a billionaire businessman but as a man on a mission to make folks make friends. When Facebook signed up its billionth user, its market value was less than half than on 18 May.

Charles III
Nick Cohen

Charles Windsor is next in line to be king of the UK. The attorney general, Dominic Grieve MP QC, has blocked a legal decision to allow the public to read Prince Charles' letters to politicians and civil servants. Grieve said the letters contained his "deeply held personal views and beliefs" about public affairs, which would make politicians unwilling to "engage" with him in future. The tribunal Grieve overruled said the prince was engaged in a "massive extension" of lobbying that went far beyond precedent and convention. The heir to the throne is not neutral and the state must cover up this fact. Charles Windsor is wholly unsuitable to be king.

2012 October 20

British Toff Dodges Train Fare
Daily Mail

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne traveled on a Virgin Trains service from Wilmslow to Euston. He sat in a first-class seat with a standard-class ticket. Fellow passengers said that when the ticket collector confronted Osborne he refused to move on and sit with those in the cheaper seats.

Osborne asked to remain in first class but the guard said if he wanted to stay, he must pay. Osborne agreed to pay for the upgrade: £189.90 for him and his aide. He sent his police protection officer off to standard class. As the train pulled in at Euston, two police officers met Osborne to take him away.

AR Osborne gets his money from the taxpayer. Why should he hand it over to filthy rich capitalist train boss Sir Richard Branson to waste on space travel?

Eurozone Reprieve
Financial Times

French and German leaders have agreed on a timetable for eurozone banking union.

François Hollande: "Those who are most eager to talk about political union are sometimes those who are most reticent about taking urgent decisions that would make it inevitable."

Angela Merkel: "We've always found ways and means to come to converging views, and we've even found a possibility this time to come to a solution on a matter of substance."

AR Quiet flows the Rhine.

Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present
National Gallery, London, 2012-10-31 — 2013-01-20

Hilary Mantel Wins Booker
Robert McCrum Interview

Celebrity Flops
The Daily Beast

Celebrity memoirs can be flops. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Total Recall has sold only 27,000 copies since its October 1 release, 21,000 of them in the first week. Alec Baldwin's A Promise to Ourselves has sold only 13,000 hardcover copies since its September 2008 release. By contrast, J.K. Rowling's A Casual Vacancy moved 375,000 in its first six days.

TV Debate

Mr. President, have you
looked at your pension?

You know, I don't look at
my pension. It's not as
big as yours so it doesn't
take as long.

Well, let me give you
some advice.

I don't check it that often.

Let me give you some advice.
Look at your pension. ...

Candy Crowley
We're way off topic here,
Governor Romney.

Another Planet

Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory have
found an Earth-sized planet
4.4 light years (about 40 Pm)
away in nearby star system
Alpha Centauri B. But it's
too hot for life.

Who I Am
Pete Townshend

In 1964 I began playing guitar the way I was always meant to play it. I wasn't trying to play beautiful music, I was confronting my audience with the awful, visceral sound of what we all knew was the single absolute of our frail existence — one day an aeroplane would carry the bomb that would destroy us all in a flash.

Darwin Smeared

Paul Johnson's brief biography of Charles Darwin is horribly wrong. He captures Darwin's early life fairly well and his overview of Darwin's theory of evolution is clear and accurate. But then he says Darwin's theory led to eugenics and forced sterilization, United States anti-immigrant policies between the wars, Nazi racial theories, and communist mass murders. The book masquerades as an objective biography before descending into mud-slinging nonsense.

2012 October 19

Scientists Turn Fresh Air Into Gasoline
The Independent

A small British company has produced gasoline from air using a revolutionary technology that promises to solve the energy crisis and curb global warming.

Air Fuel Synthesis in Stockton-on-Tees has produced a gallon of fuel since August at a small refinery that makes gasoline from carbon dioxide and water vapor. The company plans to build a larger plant soon, and also plans to produce aviation fuel. The process is powered by electricity from the grid.

Institution of Mechanical Engineers head of energy and the environment Tim Fox: "It sounds too good to be true, but it is true ... It's a small pilot plant capturing air and extracting CO2 from it based on well known principles ... they have put the whole thing together and shown that it can work."

CEO Peter Harrison: "We've taken carbon dioxide from air and hydrogen from water and turned these elements into petrol ... It's a much cleaner and clearer product than petrol derived from fossil oil. We don't have any of the additives and nasty bits found in conventional petrol."

Future Europe
David Miliband

The euro crisis is transforming the European Union. The old dream of ever closer union was ambiguous.
A two-speed Europe still had one destination. That metaphor must go.

David Owen argues for a two-tier Europe, with a top tier of countries that merge their governance into a single government and a second tier embracing a restructured single market plus various social and environmental norms. But this is not a recipe for renewal.

Another alternative is variable geometry. This makes the EU a club of clubs and avoids imposing second-class status on countries outside the euro. But it does not resolve Europe's democratic deficit.

Philip Stephens

Will Britain exit the European Union? PM David Cameron fears the issue may split his party. Coalition partner Nick Clegg cannot help him. Labour leader Ed Miliband will not risk political capital on Europe.

Successive British governments have bet that more federally-minded Europeans would bend to their demands for special treatment. But other European leaders are tired of London's demands for exemptions and opt-outs. They have to rescue the euro. If Britain wants out, they say, it should get out.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has lost patience. Cameron has ignored overtures from Italian PM Mario Monti. Spanish leader Mariano Rajoy now looks to Berlin rather than London. French president François Hollande is no close chum. British refusal to help with the euro has baffled even Sweden. Others are tired of British lecturing. It may be time for the Brexit.

2012 October 18

Tripping To Alpha Centauri
New Scientist

Alpha Centauri is roughly 4.3 light years (40 Pm) away. In 1968, Freeman Dyson suggested sending his proposed Orion spacecraft to the star system. Powered by the shockwaves from a series of nuclear explosions to some 3% of light speed, it would have weighed a few thousand tons, used a few million bombs, cost a few trillion dollars, and taken 130 years to get there.

The new planet is called Alpha Centauri Bb. Its surface is probably molten lava and is no place for life, but its neighbors might be. If the planet has siblings orbiting further out, they might be good places to live. If you took along a big antenna, you could tune into Earth TV. If you were there now, you could watch Barack Obama campaigning for the presidency against John McCain.

2012 October 17

Barack Obama And Mitt Romney Debate Science
Scientific American

1 Innovation and the Economy
We must create an environment where invention, innovation, and industry can flourish. Innovation is the key to economic growth and job creation, and increasingly important to American competitiveness in the global economy.
2 Climate Change
We have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation. Economic growth and technological innovation, not economy-suppressing regulation, is the key to environmental protection in the long run.
3 Research and the Future
I strongly support investments in research and development that help spur America innovation. I am a strong supporter of federally funded research, and continued funding would be a top priority in my budget.
4 Pandemics and Biosecurity
I will continue to work to strengthen our systems of public health so we can stop disease from spreading across our borders. I will encourage advancements in research and manufacturing to increase scientific understanding of new pathogens and improve response time.
5 Education
Early in my administration, I called for a national effort to move American students to the top of the pack in science and math achievement. America remains gridlocked in an antiquated system controlled to a disturbing degree by the unions representing teachers.
6 Energy
I know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the global economy in the 21st century. An expansion in the affordable, reliable supply of domestically produced energy can bolster the competitiveness of virtually every industry within the country.
7 Food
I have been working to safeguard our food supply, prevent foodborne illnesses and improve consumers’ knowledge about the food they eat. In a Romney Administration, the FDA will work closely with industry, and collaborate with researchers and state agencies, to develop specific guidance.
8 Fresh Water
My Administration released a national clean water framework aimed at developing a comprehensive approach to protecting the health of America's waters. I will modernize the federal laws and regulations governing water use to enable smarter, more collaborative, more flexible, and more cost-effective approaches.
9 The Internet
I support legislation to protect intellectual property online, but any effort to combat online piracy must not reduce freedom of expression, increase cybersecurity risk, or undermine the Internet. I would rely primarily on innovation and market forces, not bureaucrats, to shape the Internet and maximize its economic, social and scientific value.
10 Ocean Health
I made it a priority of the federal government to ensure a proactive approach to improving the conservation of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes. A Romney Administration will safeguard the long-term health of fisheries, while welcoming input from the fishermen most affected at every step.
11 Science in Public Policy
I directed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to ensure that our policies reflect what science tells us without distortion or manipulation. In a Romney Administration, sound science will inform sound policy decisions, and the costs and benefits of regulations will be properly weighed in that process.
12 Space
I am committed to strengthening the base for America's next generation of spaceflight. Rebuilding NASA, restoring U.S. leadership, and creating new opportunities for space commerce will be hard work.
13 Critical Natural Resources
My support for the development alternatives to rare earth materials is helping to ensure we have the materials necessary to propel our high-technology economy forward. The key to guaranteeing the quality and availability of these resources is a modernized regulatory regime.
14 Vaccination and Public Health
I fought for the Affordable Care Act, which will make sure all Americans have access to quality preventive health care services. The first priority must be to ensure that America has adequate supplies of safe and effective vaccines.

Steven Levy reports on Google data centers

2012 October 16

Christiane Amanpour

Iran and its nuclear ambitions present a strategic dilemma. A resolution would require a functional relationship between Iran and the United States. The relationship has been dysfunctional since 1979.

So far the Obama administration has launched covert actions and sabotage efforts against Iranian nuclear facilities. It has also imposed the toughest sanctions ever on Iran. The sanctions are hurting. But they have not changed the government's position that it has the right to enrich uranium under international law. President Obama says there is still time for diplomacy to work.

In his recent foreign policy speech, Mitt Romney said: "I'll put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability."

UK Versus EU
Spiegel Online

The UK government want no part of further integration in the European Union. The Euro Group will form a hard core of countries working together more closely. The dream of Greater Europe is over.

For Germans, the British provided a counterweight to France and guaranteed smooth relations with the United States. Berlin still wants integration to be available to all EU members, but Chancellor Merkel has long accepted that there is no way back to the center of the union for the British. European security and defense policy seemed to make little sense without the UK until now, but in future Germany, France, and Poland will promote EU cooperation on security policy.

The British are perceived as a divisive force in the European Parliament. Prime Minister Cameron hopes to delay an official exit from the EU, but close to a half of all Britons say they would vote to withdraw from the EU in a referendum. Foreign Secretary William Hague has announced a comprehensive audit of the impact of EU law on Britain, to report by the end of 2014. If London takes powers back from Brussels, it will contravene the EU Treaty.

Euro Group President Juncker and European Commission President Barroso wanted to convene a constitutional convention, with the idea of moving toward a United States of Europe. Now a convention initiated by Britain could lead to a new division of Europe.

Cuban Missile Crisis
Noam Chomsky

The "world stood still" 50 years ago in late October, from the announcement that the Soviet Union had placed nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba until the crisis was averted, said historian Sheldon Stern.

In 1962, war was avoided by Khrushchev's willingness to accept Kennedy's hegemonic demands. But we can hardly count on such sanity forever. It's a near miracle that nuclear war has so far been avoided.

As Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein said almost 60 years ago, we must face a choice that is "stark and dreadful and inescapable": "Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?"

2012 October 15

Right Thinking
Janet Daley

Expectations of universal entitlements are so high that no amount of taxing the rich will make them affordable. All you do by soaking wealth creators is to undermine economic growth and job creation. We need to lower expectations. The crash of 2008 was caused by governments allowing banks to take ludicrous risks with credit to make a boom they could milk for entitlement spending.

Globorg Is Stuck
Larry Summers

The United States is peering over a fiscal cliff, Europe staggers on without a growth strategy, and Japan stagnates. The BRIC countries face corruption and financial impediments to growth as demographic trends blight their prospects. The orthodox view emphasizes austerity and structural measures for growth. The IMF says more demand will promote growth.

Gordon Brown

UNESCO figures show that birth and background matter far more in deciding children's prospects than talent and merit, and that for millions of children educational opportunity is a hollow promise. The way forward is to invest in education. Education First is bringing together UN and World Bank institutions to work with governments to deliver new school places and train new teachers.

Vlatko Vedral thinks thermodynamics can provide a new theory of everything

Felix Baumgartner jumps from an altitude of 39 km

Malala Yousufzai
"I don't mind if I have to
sit on the floor at school.
All I want is education.
And I'm afraid of no one."
Malala Yousufzai

Nobel Peace Prize 2012

To the European Union, which
"for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe"

Hawker Hurricane
Foto: Gary Dawson
Hawker Hurricane
Zum Verkauf
Baujahr: 1942
Motor: Rolls-Royce Merlin
Bewaffnung: 12 x Browning MG
Voll restauriert, neuwertig
Verkauf: Brooklands, Dez. 3
Preispunkt: £1.7 Million

A Christian neurosurgeon
offers "proof" of heaven

— but Colin Blakemore
says he has no proof

Fave Page
on my blog after this one,
say reader stats, is:

Some British Literary Figures
Amis, Fenton, Hitchens,
 McEwan, Rushdie:
A Portrait Gallery

Curiosity has found a little silver thingy on Mars. Rover team meteorologist Keri Bean:
"Last night was crazy —
we had to quickly come up with a totally new plan."

AR Just such a find was a plot driver in my novel

Borromean rings

Rod Stewart, 67, explains in his forthcoming autobiography how he got tired of sleeping with women he barely knew: "I remember being at a hotel in Cannes and we were shagging ourselves rotten, and I said, 'This is fucking depressing.'"
Rod has been married 3 times and has 8 children.

Cygnus bubble
Mount Wilson Observatory
Experts say the solar system sized bubble in Cygnus is not a Dyson sphere.

Jail The Sods

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a constitutional fundamentalist. He applies the words in the Constitution as they were understood by the people who wrote them:
"The death penalty? Give me a break. It's easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years it was criminal in every state."

AR The next wave.

2012 October 14

Wolf Blitzer

Mitt Romney on how he handles his first moments onstage at a presidential debate: "I write my dad's name at the top of the piece of paper to remind myself of all that he sacrificed to give me the opportunities I now have."

His wife Ann Romney: "As soon as he gets on stage ... he takes off his watch and puts it on the podium ... then he writes 'Dad' on the piece of paper." She also said her husband next makes eye contact with her in the audience. "He has to find where I am."

Niall Ferguson

Joe Biden played the debate for laughs. Democrats want to make being in the 47% a badge of honor. But the real distributional issue the country faces is between generations. Paul Ryan: "A debt crisis is coming. We can't keep spending and borrowing like this. We can't keep spending money we don't have."

At $16 trillion, the U.S. public debt now exceeds 100% of GDP. In the absence of the kind of reforms of Medicare, Social Security, and the tax system that Paul Ryan advocates, it will keep on growing. Asked what he and President Obama intend to do about it, Biden responded with blarney. He turns 70 this year.

Life And Death
Sam Harris Forum

Materialists claim that thought is no more than a state of the brain. For materialists, intentionality is either an illusion or an inherent property of certain material structures such as nervous systems. Ideas and minds only exist in physical systems such as brains and cannot exist outside such systems. An afterlife is compatible with materialism only if our minds can continue after death in a material vehicle other than an organic body.

We need a functioning brain to experience ourselves and our personalities. If the brain is damaged, experience will be compromised. But it does not follow that physical brain functions are the ultimate source of our personal experiences. No matter how well we correlate brain states with mental states, we cannot prove causation from correlation.

Many mind-matter dualists have definite ideas about the nature of the soul. Reports of near-death experiences (NDE) often echo religious scriptures. But no one has yet applied these ideas to prove or disprove the reality of souls or out-of-body experience (OBE).

Sam Harris says Eben Alexander doesn't know what he is talking about

2012 October 13

Does the EU deserve its Nobel?
Gideon Rachman

The decision to award the European Union the Nobel Peace Prize is a trifle odd. There are several other potential candidates for keeping the peace in Europe:

1 The Americans
3 Modernity

The EU would doubtless like to take the credit, and it surely did no harm. EU leaders have learned
the habit of intensive cooperation with each other, which will be crucial to preserving the union.
A Nobel Peace Prize for the EU is no more absurd than one for Barack Obama after a year in office.

Todd S. Purdum

Joe Biden: prolix, hair-plugged, imprecise, plagiaristic, gassy, meandering, serious, sober, curious, well staffed, well briefed, and well informed.

In Danville, Kentucky, he was priest to Paul Ryan's flummoxed altar boy, scoutmaster to Ryan's nervous, tongue-tied knot-tier. His smile veered between amused and condescending as he referred to Ryan as "my friend."

Ryan kept his head down and looked to his notes. He is no dope, and he had his moments, but he was on the ropes throughout.

Biden comment: "A bunch of stuff." Ryan response: "It's Irish." Biden: "Malarkey."

2012 October 12

Biden Versus Ryan
The New York Times

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Paul D. Ryan quarreled fiercely in their debate.

Biden on Romney and Ryan: "These guys bet against America all the time."

Ryan on the 47% gaffe: "I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way."

Biden in reply: "But I always say what I mean. And so does Romney."

Ryan on Libya: "Look, if we're hit by terrorists, we're going to call it what it is, a terrorist attack."

Biden on threatening Iran: "The last thing we need is another ground war in the Middle East."

Ryan on Medicare: "We are not going to jeopardize this program, but we have to save it."

Biden on abortion: "I do not believe we have the right to tell women that they can't control their body."

Austerity, Budgets, Crisis
Samuel Brittan

The UK current deficit in 2012-13 will be £95 billion, or 6% of GDP. British policy between the wars focused on the gold standard and fiscal austerity and was counterproductive. Real output in 1938 was barely above the 1918 level and public debt remained above its pre-WWI level until 1990. Austerity and a balanced budget will not end the crisis.

Deficits, Euro, Failure
Jeremy Warner

Deficit reduction is costing more than it saves. The IMF used to think that for every 1% of GDP reduction in the deficit, there would be a 0.5% reduction in output. In fact the effect is more than twice as bad.

The effect of consolidation on growth depends on how it is done. Higher taxes and cuts in capital spending are much worse for output than cuts in entitlements and current spending. Deficit reduction programs in the eurozone are weighted to tax increases. The UK structural deficit ranks higher than almost anywhere in the eurozone, yet it enjoys low interest rates and market confidence because the government has offset the fiscal squeeze with loose monetary policy and currency devaluation.

The eurozone does not have this option. The IMF approach is failing in the eurozone. The problem is not the fiscal medicine, it is the euro.

AR I used to think "loose monetary policy and currency devaluation" was a cheap trick that fooled no one. Now I see it fools all the punters in Club Med. Why should the falling denomination of their wages and prices in euros bother them any more than their worthless currencies did before?

2012 October 11

BAE-EADS Deal Collapses
Financial Times

Attempts to create a European rival to Boeing have collapsed. Government officials in London, Paris, and Berlin blamed each other for not backing the merger. A senior German official:
"Clearly we were concerned about Germany being marginalized in the deal."
Shares in BAE fell, shares in EADS rose.

Auf Wiedersehen, UK
Philip Stephens

As communism crumbled in 1989, Foreign Office diplomats urged Margaret Thatcher to seek "better and closer relations with Germany". She scoffed, and Britain was marginalized.

Relations between Angela Merkel and David Cameron are cool. Asked when the two leaders will next meet, a German official remarked, "What's the point?"

Goodbye Europe
Financial Times

David Cameron wants to review EU citizens' right to live and work in the UK. Brussels threatens to take the UK to court if it fails to respect EU laws. EU social affairs commissioner László Andor: "There is no evidence that the workers who come to the UK are crowding out British workers."

AR If Germans can't work in the UK, what about me, here, now?

The Matrix
Physics arXiv Blog

Quantum chromodynamics describes how quarks and gluons form atomic nuclei. By using the world's most powerful supercomputers, physicists have managed to run discrete lattice simulations of cubes of cosmos a few fm in size (1 fm = 10^-15 m). They are indistinguishable from the real thing. So how could we know whether we live in a Matrix?

Silas Beane, at the University of Bonn, Germany, and a few pals say that if we live in a simulation there ought to be a cutoff in the spectrum of high energy particles, and there is such a cutoff in the energy of cosmic ray particles, the Greisen-Zatsepin-Kuzmin (GZK) cutoff: "The ... angular distribution of the highest energy components would exhibit cubic symmetry in the rest frame of the lattice, deviating significantly from isotropy."

We could do the measurement with current technology. We would see the orientation of the lattice on which our universe is simulated. But the effect is only measurable if the lattice cutoff is the same as the GZK cutoff, which is about 10^-27 m. If the spacing is much smaller, we'll see nothing.

AR Nix: the Planck lattice spacing is 10^-35 m. And it's a foam, not a cubic lattice.

2012 October 10

Frankfurt Book Fair
As an author I need to kiss the pretty face of the publishing industry and feed its gourmet mouth.
Instead I toured its digestive processes and observed its assholes in action.

Euro Capital Flight
Financial Times

The IMF warns that unless the eurozone resolves its capital crisis, bank balance sheets will contract, damaging growth and raising unemployment. Capital flight from the eurozone periphery to the core could force European banks to dump €2 trillion (over 7%) of their assets by the end of 2013.

Pew: 1 in 5 Americans Say No To Religion
Michelle Boorstein

When the Pew Research Center asked U.S. adults to choose from a long list religious affiliations, 1 in 5 chose "nothing in particular" or agnostic or atheist, including 1 in 3 of adults under 30.

About 1 in 2 Americans say they are Protestant. Two thirds of the "nones" are Democrat, forming a quarter of the Democratic base. White evangelicals make up a third of the Republican base.

The "nones" are liberal on social issues, but 1 in 3 of them care if the president is a believer, 2 in 3 say they believe in a universal spirit, 1 in 5 say they pray every day, and 1 in 20 attend weekly services.

Who I Am
Pete Townshend

I think if I hadn't been bullied into the Who, I would have been happier as an art student. I would have been happier in a Brian Eno world. That was the stuff I was trained to do — to think differently, to think outside the box, about installations, the coming of computers, the way that computers would change the language, blah blah fucking blah. I've been talking about it all my life as a rock star and people have been going, 'For fuck's sake — shut up and play your guitar.'

I've felt too old to be doing it since I lost my hair and people started to say, 'Roger Daltrey looks in good shape, but that guy Townshend looks like a bank manager', or more recently 'a vicar', or more recently still 'a pedophile vicar'. And there has been a sense, too, that I can do what I do simply because I'm healthy and I've survived. I can jump about and ape the old stuff. But for me, the job was to write the songs, to do the creative work.

2012 October 9

World Economic Outlook

The recovery has suffered new setbacks.
Uncertainty weighs heavily on the outlook.
Policies have not rebuilt confidence.
Tail risks continue to preoccupy investors.

Projected global growth is weaker.
Output is expected to remain sluggish.
Unemployment is likely to stay elevated.
And financial conditions will remain fragile.

Downside risks have increased.
There is now a chance of global growth falling.
This juncture presents major difficulties.
Injections of liquidity are having a positive impact.

Reducing the risks will require care.
More adjustment in deficit economies
and more demand in surplus economies
would contribute to stronger growth for all.

David Eagleman

Phi is "a voyage from the brain to the soul" by Giulio Tononi. His central idea is that consciousness is integrated information. Tononi has devised a set of equations that capture an organism's levels of differentiation and integration. His final measure for the degree of consciousness is denoted by phi.

This book is a narrative fiction in which Galileo Galilei is swept from scene to scene by Francis Crick, Alan Turing, and Charles Darwin. Galileo meets people with brain damage and sees that not all brain areas are equal for consciousness. The book is bold and experimental. It is a masterwork.

AR I'm still annoyed that Tononi found excuses not to talk to me at ASSC XIII in 2009.

Topology In The TOE
Physics arXiv Blog

Perimeter Institute researcher Xiao-Gang Wen combines topology, symmetry, and quantum mechanics in a new theory that predicts new states of matter and allows the creation of artificial vacuums.

Topology is used to explain how quantum particles cannot form pairs but do form triplets called Efimov states. The particles are connected like Borromean rings: three loops intertwined in such a way that cutting one releases the other two. Only three rings can be connected in this way, not two.

Symmetry is basic for states of matter such as liquids and solids. When a liquid freezes, the atoms become locked into a crystal lattice with discrete translation symmetry. A phase change induces symmetry breaking.

Quantum phases of matter such as superconductivity and superfluidity also result from symmetry breaking. Their topological properties, combined with symmetry, explain how these phases form, just as Borromean rings explain Efimov states.

Wen explores the properties of matter with more general and complex topological links between particles. He finds that topological order is due to long-range quantum entanglements that lead to amazing emergent phenomena. For example, photos are fluctuations of the quanglements and fermions are the quanglement defects.

2012 October 8

The Mantle Of Leadership
Mitt Romney

This century began with terror, war, and economic calamity. It is our duty to steer it onto the path of freedom, peace, and prosperity.

I will put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have. I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region, and work with Israel to increase our military assistance and coordination. For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated.

Iran is sending arms to Assad because they know his downfall would be a strategic defeat for them. We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran.

I will pursue a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. I will evaluate conditions on the ground and weigh the best advice of our military commanders. And I will affirm that my duty is to the security of the nation.

The attacks on America last month are expressions of a larger struggle that is playing out across the broader Mideast. The fault lines of this struggle can be seen clearly in Benghazi.

We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Mideast when our words are not backed up by deeds, when our defense spending is being arbitrarily and deeply cut, when we have no trade agenda to speak of, and the perception of our strategy is not one of partnership, but of passivity. It is time to change course in the Mideast.

AR Is this good? It's not bad.

Tiger: Globorg "on the ropes"
Financial Times

Tracking Indices for the Global Economic Recovery (TIGER) shows global recovery to be on the ropes, despite the best efforts of central banks to boost demand. Economic data and confidence indicators have deteriorated since earlier in the year across the G20, apart from the United States. The financial markets remain relatively strong.

AR The money men always win, even on Titanic.

Mars Bugs
New Scientist

Pioneers on Mars will need food, fuel, and shelter. Shipping it all from Earth is not on, but synthetic microbes would be easy to carry in a spacecraft. Once on Mars, they could feed and breed and pave the way for a human settlement.

NASA Synthetic Biology Initiative head Lynn Rothschild aims to build designer microbes for future crewed space missions. Synthetic biologists have built a biological toolkit consisting of chunks of genes, called biobricks, that can be inserted into microbes to change how they work.

The thin Martian air is rich in CO2 and N2. An ancient cyanobacterium called Anabaena metabolizes the gases to make sugars. Rothschild: "As long as it has warmth and some shielding from ultraviolet light radiation, it should do well on gases in the Mars atmosphere."

With the right biobricks, Anabaena can be made to share its sugar to feed colonies of other bacteria that make oil or plastics for settlers. A team has even tweaked a bacterium that drinks human urine to help form calcium carbonate for cementing Martian sand into bricks for builders.

AR This is good: the bugs can work for us here too.

2012 October 7

Another UK Veto
Financial Times

David Cameron may block a proposed €1 trillion European Union 7-year spending plan. European diplomats fear Cameron is serious about demanding a budget freeze at the November EU summit and British diplomats fear a confrontation between London and the rest of the EU. A veto would help Cameron at home but a split EU budget would divide Europe. The PM will not surrender the British rebate won by Margaret Thatcher in 1984. Tory MPs want a referendum on Europe.

David Cameron: "If it comes to saying no to a deal that isn't right for Britain, I'll say no."

ET Solar Power
Ross Andersen

The Sun beams solar energy onto the Earth at a rate of 170 PW. At the present doubling rate for energy use, in 400 years we will need that much energy and more.

Freeman Dyson predicted that any civilization that lives long enough will soon need so much energy that it builds a huge shell of solar panels around its home star. Astronomers call these shells Dyson spheres. To find advanced alien civilizations, look for Dyson spheres. They should give off a heat signature that we could see through our infrared telescopes.

Last month a trio led by Penn State astronomer Jason Wright began a search for Dyson spheres in the Milky Way. Their project was awarded a grant from the Templeton Foundation. The trio will scan three different infrared sky surveys. They will look for Dyson spheres in our galaxy and for whole galaxies with excess waste heat from technological megastructures.

Wright: "More than once some inexplicable object has been discovered that looked like aliens, and then slowly it became clear that it was a very interesting, but totally natural, phenomenon."

AR Dyson spheres caught my imagination decades ago. Alien civilizations are a natural phenomenon.

2012 October 6

The Guardian

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is under attack. At a press conference in Tehran he blamed the plummeting value of the rial on western sanctions and a "propaganda campaign" by his opponents.

Ahmadinejad has suffered a series of setbacks in his feud with the conservatives. Tehran's Grand Bazaar went on strike and hundreds of protesters took to the streets chanting anti-government slogans. Iranian state TV reported the closure of the bazaar and the discontent about the devaluation of currency.

Fundamentalists accuse Ahmadinejad and his allies of undermining clerical power and advocating nationalism and cultural openness. Under Iranian law, Ahmadinejad cannot run again in 2013.

English Students In Germany
Spiegel Online

Massive tuition hikes and deep cuts to university funding in the UK are driving students to Germany. The London office of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) reports a sharp increase in students interested in pursuing degrees in Germany.

Robert Chesters studied neuroscience at King's College London. Now he is starting a master's degree in cellular and molecular neuroscience in Tübingen, where all his lectures are in English: "It's a good alternative. I just couldn't have afforded to study in England."

The Free University of Berlin offers many courses in English. The number of British students at the university has doubled over the last five years. Sam Dolbear has begun a doctoral degree in philosophy there: "From an English perspective, the German university system really has a lot to offer."

Germany recorded Europe's largest growth in English-language master's courses over the last two years. There are now about 650. Engineering and science programs in Germany are particularly popular. All this can help the German economy too.

AR More German-speaking British graduates will smooth Anglo-German relations.

British pop culture 50 years ago: James Bond and the Beatles

YouTube, 16 s

Zookeys calls the newly discovered dinosaur species Pegomastax africanus.
University of Chicago professor Paul Sereno: "It looks like a fanged vampire parrot."

John Gapper

America has seized the lead in mobile broadband and launched 4G services before others. Fracking and horizontal drilling for natural gas could support its energy needs for 100 years. Sure it has economic problems, but it can reinvent itself through technology.

Arizona State University professor Daniel Sarewitz: "The United States lacks a strategic approach to science and technology but the environment for innovation is very fertile."

Tag der deutschen Einheit
Waldwanderung in
16 Bilder


Visions 2013
2013 calendar by
Josephine Wall

The End Of Men?
John Harris

Hanna Rosin says women are doing better than men. Men are seen as slovenly and inept, women as stronger and more ambitious. Patriarchy is still here but millions of men have "lost the architecture of manliness".

What has the average white male got to hang on to? An affected interest in football? Some vague idea that you can show who's boss in the bedroom? Or just a retreat into macho infantilism?

2012 October 5

Romney Wrong

Mitt Romney disowned his earlier claim that 47% of Americans were "victims" dependent on government: "Now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right. In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong."

AR Another flip-flop, like on Romneycare in the debate. Is he mellowing into a patrician liberal?

Sex Wars
Michele Pridmore-Brown

In the dialectics of sexual evolution, male strategies and female counterstrategies escalate over time. Males want to score at all costs, females want the most viable offspring. But humans need to cooperate to raise children to adulthood. Mothers and children are more likely to survive in an extended network. We are the species for whom life is about partnerships.

Women are handicapped in competitive careers by taking time out for maternity. Genghis Khan fathered a lot of kids, but many male rivals had few or none. Cleopatra had only four kids, perhaps no more than her female slaves. Risks can pay off in reproductive terms for males in a way they don't for females. Males are selected to go for all or nothing.

A Casual Hit
USA Today

The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling's first adult novel, is #1 on USA Today's Best-Selling Books list. It bumps another kind of adult novel, E.L. James' erotic Fifty Shades of Grey, which has been #1 for 21 of the past 23 weeks. Rowling's publisher says The Casual Vacancy has sold 375,000 copies in all formats. A fan: "Jo has a wonderful way with words that makes it easy for me to keep turning the pages."

AR If my next book does that, I'll be happy.

Omega-3 Supplements
The Atlantic

As we get older, our telomeres shorten. Researchers gave two groups of adults doses of omega-3 supplements and gave another group placebos. The adults given the fish oil for a while had longer telomeres than the placebo group. Telomere length showed a significant correlation with lowered ratios of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 in the blood. The fish pill groups also showed lower oxidative stress.

So getting enough omega-3 fatty acid to change the balance of oils in your system may help preserve your telomeres and reduce the risks of aging. Another result from the experiment associated omega-3 fatty acid supplements with lowered inflammation, which may be responsible for the changes in telomere length. Boosting omega-3 intake with a nutritional supplement is an easy way boost health prospects.

2012 October 4

The First Presidential Debate

Reihan Salam: Mitt Romney pressed the reset button last night on his campaign. He presented himself as a compassionate centrist.

Ilyse Hogue: Mitt Romney spouted inaccuracies, obfuscations, and flat-out lies. His big, bold idea tonight was "never mind."

Timothy Stanley: Barack Obama defended his record. By contrast, Romney was on fire. He delivered the superior performance.

Paul Begala: There were no knockout punches, but Mitt Romney landed more jabs. President Obama seemed frustrated.

Ruben Navarrette: The debate was a pretty clear victory for Mitt Romney. But there were no zingers, just lots of facts and figures.

LZ Granderson: President Obama was being himself. He's a very thoughtful, introspective man. Mitt Romney didn't give voters the specifics of his plans.

Julian Zelizer: Obama used much of his time to hammer away at Romney's proposed fiscal policies. Romney went on the offensive.

Bob Greene: Policy talk is probably fun for Obama and Romney. Seriousness can be reassuring once in a while.

Hilary Rosen: Romney had the president on the defensive a few times tonight. I am hoping the fact checkers do their job.

AR Does Obama really want the job?

Posthumous Entanglement
Anil Ananthaswamy

Physicists have shown that particles that did not exist at the same time can be entangled.

If you have two pairs of entangled photons, taking one photon from each pair and entangling them disengages the two original pairs, and creates a second, fresh entanglement between the two, left out photons. Start with an entangled pair of photons, P1 and P2, and "kill" the quantum state of P1 by measuring it. P2 lives on. A moment later, create a new entangled pair, P3 and P4. If you now entangle P2 and P3, you entangle P4 with P1, even though P1 is "dead". You can check that P4 is entangled with P1 by measuring its state, which depends on the states measured for P1, P2, and P3. Now P4 is entangled with a photon that is already dead. The result could boost quantum cryptography.


AR Since entanglement survives spatial separation it must also work for temporal separation, by relativity. But good to confirm this.

2012 October 3

Martin Wolf

Growth in productivity peaked in the decades after World War II. Then growth decelerated again.
There were three industrial revolutions:

1 The age of steam culminated with the railway.

2 The age of electricity and the internal combustion engine brought domestic plumbing, radio and telephone, chemicals and petroleum. Motor power replaced animal power, running water replaced the manual hauling of water and slops, oil and gas replaced the hauling of coal and wood, electric lights replaced candles, and electric appliances revolutionized communications and domestic labor. Society industrialized and urbanized. Life expectancy soared.

3 The age of information is still going.

AR Forget gross growth and celebrate organizational growth toward Globorg.

2012 October 2

Jan Westerhoff

Philip K. Dick said reality is what doesn't go away if you stop believing in it. Two definitions of reality:

1 Reality = A world without us, a world untouched by human desires and intentions. By this definition, things like languages and wars are not real. But at least it gets human subjectivity out of the picture.

2 Reality = The most fundamental things that everything else depends on. In the material world, stuff depends on atoms, atoms on elementary particles, and so on. So ordinary things are not part of it.

When we ask whether something is real or not, these two definitions are what we should have in mind.

AR I say reality is the whole lot, from top to bottom and from subjectivity to objectivity.

Math: The Ultimate Reality
New Scientist

Mathematical structures don't seem to be physical at all. Max Tegmark: "Space and time themselves are contained within larger mathematical structures. ... I believe that physical existence and mathematical existence are the same, so any structure that exists mathematically is also real. Other mathematical structures correspond to other universes."

Brian Greene: "There's a lot of math out there. Today only a tiny sliver of it has a realization in the physical world. Pull any math book off the shelf and most of the equations in it don't correspond to any physical object or physical process."

All mathematical structures can be derived from the empty set, the set that contains no elements. If this set represents 0, you can then define the number 1 as the set that contains only the empty set, 2 as the set containing the sets representing 0 and 1, and so on. Eventually you get all of mathematics. Ian Stewart calls this "the dreadful secret of mathematics: it's all based on nothing".

AR I say all reality can be modeled in set theory, and the null base shows nothing is left out.

The European Mess
Gideon Rachman

The European Union is dealing with the consequences of the hubris of the great Europeans of the past. Men such as Helmut Kohl and Jacques Delors dreamed of a united Europe, with a single currency at its core. It has turned into a nightmare.

Who is to blame?
1 The Germans
2 The southern Europeans
3 The Anglo-Saxons

Rather than attacking each other, Europeans should blame the great Europeans. Kohl drove through the unification of Germany. Delors constructed the European single market. But on the euro they flunked.

2012 October 1

Greek Pain
Mohamed El-Erian

Official sector involvement, OSI, is the notion that governments and similar institutions may need to accept a reduction in their contractual claims on Greece. Official creditors resist OSI because their lending to Greece was an emergency intervention. They expect preferential treatment.

Yet without further debt reduction, Greece has little hope. More than three years into a series of relief programs, Greece has consistently failed to generate growth, to control its explosive debt dynamics, and to attract new capital. Virtually all of the targets have been missed.

The situation could well get even worse. No realistic amount of domestic austerity and structural reforms can work unless Greece regains more operational flexibility. The time has come for European creditor governments to think long and hard about the costs and benefits of OSI for Greece.

The End Of Men
Hanna Rosin

The primary victims of our latest economic disaster have been men. Our struggling middle class is slowly turning into a matriarchy, with men increasingly absent as women make all the decisions.

Evolutionary psychologists say we are all imprinted with adaptive imperatives from the past. Men are faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources, a trait that shows up in contemporary life as a drive to either murder or win on Wall Street. Women are more nurturing and compliant, suiting them perfectly to raise children and create harmony among neighbors. This is the natural order.

But now it seems as if those fixed roles are more fungible than we ever imagined. A female-dominated society does not necessarily translate into a soft feminine utopia. Women are becoming more aggressive and even violent in ways we once thought were exclusively reserved for men. The story we believed about ourselves is no longer true. There is no natural order, only the way things are.

There is still a gender wage gap, women still do most of the childcare, and the upper reaches of power are still dominated by men. But the modern economy is becoming a place where women hold the cards.

AR Patriarchic religion is historically a means for men to maintain their collective grip.

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