BLOG 2013 Q1


Stonework by my nephew #3


As Air Force One flies
Barack Obama to Miami,
deputy press spokesperson
Josh Earnest tells onboard
reporters: "The bellicose
rhetoric emanating from
North Korea only deepens
that nation's isolation. The
United States remains
committed to safeguarding
our allies in the region and
our interests that are located there."

>> more

Korean War

Kim Jong Un says "the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation".

The USAF flew B-2 bombers over Korea in military exercises. US Forces Korea: "The United States is steadfast in its alliance commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea, to deterring aggression, and to ensuring peace and stability in the region."

>> more

Made in USA

Google is working with Foxconn to assemble its new headset at a facility in Santa Clara, California. The small scale, high cost, and complexity of the project's initial run makes it practical to base manufacturing operations near Google HQ. Only a few thousand Google Glass devices will roll off the line in the coming weeks. Manufacturing locally will allow Google engineers to be closely involved with the production process and facilitate quick fixes and personal customization. Many parts are sourced in Asia.


Spamhaus blacklists servers used to spew forth spam around the net. Last week, a spammer launched a massive distributed denial of service attack on Spamhaus that knocked it offline. The attack was so big it blocked DNS servers and slowed down the internet for users worldwide. Spamhaus reacted by turning to CloudFlare, which can spread the traffic over a larger bandwidth. CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince likened the attacks to digital nuclear bombs. Cyberbunker, a web hosting service housed in a disused nuclear bunker in the Netherlands, may be the culprit. It was recently added to a Spamhaus blacklist.

AR I felt the blast.

Cyprus EZ Model
Financial Times

After Cyprus, EZ leaders will push the risks of paying for bank bailouts from taxpayers to private investors. Eurogroup president and Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem: "Taking away the risk from the financial sector and taking it on to the public shoulders is not the right approach. If we want to have a healthy, sound financial sector, the only way is to say: Look, there where you take the risks, you must deal with them, and if you can't deal with them you shouldn't have taken them on and the consequence might be that it is end of story."

AR Quite right. Sanity at last.

Russian Response
Der Spiegel

Russian state TV news anchor Dmitry Kiselev called the EZ action in Cyprus "destructive" and said the last time a European government acted so recklessly was when Adolf Hitler robbed the Jews. Nazi propaganda described their money as "dirty" — how EZ officials now describe Russian money in Cyprus.

AR EZ goes it loose,
to quote a phrase.

The Guardian

If you say it over and over again, "Jesus" morphs into Cheesus.
Lovers of Cheesus celebrate the cross of Good Friday as a moment of triumph. This is theologically illiterate. Cheesus is Jesus-lite, a romantic infatuation. No PR agency in the world could sell the message of a man who told his followers they too would go the way of the cross.

Pink Floyd
The Dark Side of the Moon

Album released 40 years ago,
when the UK was being held
to ransom by the National
Union of Mineworkers.

Bibi Says Sorry
Jerusalem Post

As Barack Obama was leaving Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu called Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and apologized for mistakes in the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. The two agreed to make up.

AR Bibi saw sense.

Axis of evil

Data from the 4-year ESA Planck spacecraft mission shows the universe is slightly older than we thought and fits the inflationary scenario. Lingering mysteries include a cosmic "axis of evil" and an odd cold spot.

ESA Planck CMB Map

The European Space Agency has released the most detailed map yet of the cosmic microwave background. The map, made by the Planck telescope, reveals tiny variations in the average temperature of about 3 K. Cooler regions (blue) are more dense and later seed stars and galaxies. The data suggests the universe is about 13.82 billion years old. Normal matter seems to comprise 4.9%, dark matter 26.8%, and dark energy 68.3% of the universe. This is a snapshot of the universe about 12 Ts after the big bang.

Robert Lustig

Sugar is the real villain in the obesity epidemic. Cocaine and heroin are deadly because they are addictive and toxic, and so is sugar: "We need to wean ourselves off. We need to
de-sweeten our lives."

"The food industry has made it into a diet staple because they know when they do you buy more. This is their hook."

Fat Chance: The Bitter
Truth About Sugar

Can Russia Save Cyprus?
Der Spiegel

Europe is clueless following the rejection by Cyprus of the EU bank rescue package. Rich Russians launder money in Cyprus, so Cyprus is appealing to Russia for help.

AR Monday the UK helicoptered cash into Cyprus for stranded British servicemen. Maybe it should helicopter the men out: Cyprus could implode.

Top 5 Arms Exporters

Ranking for 2008-2012:

USA 30%
Russia 26%
Germany 7%
France 6%
China 5%

China pushed the UK out of the top 5: 55% of its arms exports went to Pakistan.

German history


St. Patrick's Day Party
Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut
Haus der Kultur, Heidelberg

AR Didn't go.

TSC 2013
Taj Mahal
TSC 2013
Agra, India
Setting the Agenda for a Science of Information
By A. K. Mukhopadhyay
PDF: 85 slides, 10 MB

FAA 787 OK

Federal Aviation Administration approves Boeing 787 Dreamliner battery fix and gives go-ahead for test flights. The fix improves insulation between battery cells, puts the battery in a fireproof box, and allows any smoke to vent outside the aircraft. Boeing wants resumed flights within weeks.

Falkland Islands

Falkland islanders referendum:
"Do you want to stay British?"
Electorate 1,650; turnout 92%;
result 99.8% yes; 3 voted no.

One Ring To Rule Them All

Google has built rings that not only adorn a finger but also let wearers log in to a computer or online account. It says using a ring to log in is less risky than reusing passwords.

2013 Easter Sunday

After God
New Statesman

1 Alain de Botton

The challenge of our times is not to measure the god-shaped hole, but to fill it. Three ways:

For centuries in the west, priests were there to take care of your soul. The deep self has not lost its aches and pains simply because some scientific inaccuracies have been found in the bible. Psychotherapy remains a minority activity, out of reach of most people. Christian societies would imagine there was something wrong with you if you had no priest, but we usually assume that therapists are there solely for moments of extreme crisis. There is also an issue of branding. Therapy is depressing. It has a long way to go to plug the gap left by the priesthood.

Claims that culture could stand in for scripture still sound eccentric or insane. But the qualities that the religious locate in their holy texts can often be found in works of culture. Novels and philosophy can impart moral instruction and offer consolation. Equivalents to the ethical lessons of religion lie scattered across the cultural canon. The notion of replacing religion with culture only sounds odd because universities fail to train students to use culture as a repertoire of wisdom.

Some say art museums are our new churches. But art museums abdicate their potential to function as new churches by failing to frame their collections in a way that links them to our inner needs. A walk through a museum of art should amount to a structured encounter with ideas that are easy to forget but are vital to remember. The challenge is to change our art museums to serve the needs of psychology as effectively as they formerly served those of theology. In the course of casting off bad ideas, secularists have lost useful and attractive aspects of the faiths.

2 Francis Spufford

Richard Dawkins shows indifference to all religions except Christianity. He feels he is locked in righteous combat with the powers of darkness. For him the world is obscured by a layer of corrupting gunk that purports to mediate between us and meaning but actually hides the truth. We need to take up the wire wool of reason and scrub the lies away. We need no priests. We can and must see the world as it is.

But the project is impossible. Direct apprehension of truth is not available, except via the hard work of science. That gunk the New Atheists scrub away is the accumulating deposit of human culture. It grows faster than they can remove it. We'll never arrive at the Year Zero where everything means only what science says it should, for our imaginations will never stop. We cannot disenchant the world. Even advocacy for disenchantment becomes a new enchantment, with prophets, heresies, and myths.

Alain de Botton finds virtues and beauties in religion. He seeks to reconcile unbelief with a fertile culture. Maybe we are entering a more tolerant phase, where atheists abandon the impossible task of trying to abolish religion and tackle instead the more useful task of sorting the good kinds from the bad.

3 Jim Al-Khalili

As a scientist, I have an unshakeable conviction that our universe is comprehensible. There is no need for a supernatural being to fill the gaps in our understanding. We shall fill them with answers arrived at by examining hypotheses, testing our theories, and dropping them if they conflict with empirical data. Scientists are constantly subjecting our worldview to scrutiny. This is the opposite of blind faith.

Not all scientists abandon a view when proved wrong, and not everyone with religious faith follows it blindly. If you are convinced that there is a deeper significance to the universe or a spiritual meaning to your life, I shall not try to convince you otherwise. But I take issue with the arrogant attitude that religious faith is the only means of providing us with a moral compass. That idea is nonsense.

We still have a long way to go to rid the world of the bigotry and injustice that come with religion. But we can afford to moderate our criticism and tolerate those with a faith. I believe we are winning the argument. This is no time for complacency, but we are now in a strong position to change attitudes, to correct laws, and to build a fairer society in which religion does not confer special privileges.

Our society is no longer predominantly religious. Atheists are the mainstream. We cannot afford to be complacent or conciliatory on the evil intent of religious fanatics, the stubborn ignorance of creationists, or the injustices against women or minority groups in the name of barbaric medieval laws, but we can take a softer approach. Some atheists will call me an accommodationist. I call myself a humanist.

4 Karen Armstrong

Most of us are introduced to God and Santa Claus at about the same, but over the years our views of Santa mature and change, while our notion of God often gets stuck at an infantile level.

Religious thinking in the west is often remarkably undeveloped, even primitive. Maimonides and Aquinas both insisted that God was not another being. God, said Aquinas, is being itself.

The biblical God is a starter kit. Throughout history, many people have been content with a personalized deity, not because they believed in it but because they learned to behave in a way that made it real. Religion is a form of practical knowledge, like driving or dancing, not the quest for an abstract truth. Usually religion is about doing things and it is hard work. The Christian Trinity was a new way of thinking, an activity rather than a metaphysical truth. It is probably because most western Christians have not been instructed in this exercise that it remains incomprehensible or absurd.

If you don't do religion, you don't get it. Originally, belief meant commitment. When Jesus asked his followers to have faith, he was asking his disciples to give all they had to the poor, live rough, and work selflessly for the coming of a kingdom in which rich and poor would sit together at the same table. Real faith demands overcoming selfishness to bring new meaning into our world.

5 Richard Holloway

No matter how they answer the God question, generous-minded people could profit from adopting an attitude of critical sympathy toward religion and maybe even try it.

Most religions have two main departments. Natural theology addresses ultimate questions about our universe, so natural theologians are like philosophers, and they usually end up in a kind of agnosticism. Revealed theology tries to work out the meaning of the messages that God has sent us from beyond to answer our questions. Revelation is what you get when you go to the synagogue or church or the mosque. You get instructions from God to do this or abjure that.

The problem is the circularity of the claims made by exponents of revealed theology. If you ask them how they know that the words they quote came from God, they say the Bible or the Quran or the Whatever tells them so. To the question of where all this stuff came from, the obvious answer is that it came from us. All these sacred texts are creations of the human imagination, crafted to tell a story. They are myths. A myth is a story that encodes but does not necessarily explain a universal human experience. Ask of a myth not whether it is true or false but whether it is dead or alive.

2013 March 30

A.C. Grayling

Austerity in hard economic times mean giving up the car, going out less often, cutting not just amenities but necessities, or what we think are necessities. The people who take the hardest hit are the poor and vulnerable.

Most of the things that are most valuable in human life do not cost money. It might be pleasurable to dine with friends in a fine restaurant, but to meet them on a park bench in the sunshine can be good too. Material possessions can become an impediment.

Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher of antiquity, said that the truly rich person is he who is satisfied with what he has. Enforced austerity might teach one to be grateful not to be burdened with more than is sufficient.

So long as people measure their worth by how much they earn or own, they will think that having less is austerity, that living more simply is austerity, that getting to know their own locale rather than rushing to distant beaches is austerity.

2013 March 29

Chinese Supremacy
Ian Johnson

China's territorial claims to islands and waters in East Asia have turned bellicose and even provocative. The Philippines and Japan say they will become "strategic partners" in settling their maritime disputes with China. Japan is one of the world's most capable maritime powers, and actively defends claims to the disputed islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

These problems predate the People's Republic of China. Many Chinese are convinced that old maps and imperial records imply historical Chinese control. In 1895, China and Japan fought a war and Japan annexed the islands. Now that China's economy has surpassed that of Japan, the two countries are locked in their most sustained and bitter dispute since World War II.

Arvind Subramanian argues that China will eclipse the United States even if Washington pulls off a turnaround by balancing the budget and getting growth back on track. Within the foreseeable future, China will surpass the United States as the world's biggest economy. China will be in a position to dominate it politically as well. The best Washington can do is prepare for relative decline.

Edward Luttwak predicts that China cannot rise as a superpower in its current incarnation. Its growth will cause countries to band together and stymie its rise. Germany's economic and military growth caused France and England to ally with each other, and China's rise to the top is causing a reaction, not only in Japan and the Philippines but also in the United States.

In 2010, China responded to the arrest of a Chinese fishing captain who had violated Japanese territorial waters by issuing inflammatory statements, arresting Japanese businessmen, and effectively suspending rare earth shipments to Japan. Then it sought to make a deal with Japan. But the Japanese were alarmed, and this prompted the national government to take action.

All rising powers cause a reaction, and rarely gain hegemony unless they create or take advantage of a historic turning point, such as a war. The United States used Japan's defeat and the decline of Britain and France after World War II to move decisively into the Pacific as a donor of economic aid. By contrast, China is seen as a predator and a challenge to its neighbors.

Katy Waldman

Graham Hill sold his Internet company for millions in the late 1990s and went on a shopping binge. But it failed to buy him happiness, so he downsized to a 39 sqm studio: "My space is small. My life is big."

Hill has a point. Many people amass belongings not because they have to, but because they want to. Such conspicuous consumption and waste seems obnoxious and can imply unhealthy psychic needs.

Minimalism has roots in the spiritual asceticism of Zen, Jain, early Christians, and Gandhi. In 1936, Richard Gregg coined the term "voluntary simplicity" to describe the lifestyle. It still wins converts.

Everett Bogue had an epiphany in 2009 that led him to quit his New York job, sell his possessions, and wander around the world. After three years of living out of one bag, he blogged: "Fuck Minimalism."

Dave Bruno lives in California with his wife and children. He takes walks, gardens, and spends time with his family. He calls it simple living, not minimalism, and thinks you can own stuff and still live simply.

AR This is how I plan to live.

2013 March 28

Martin Wolf


1 The eurozone can do the right thing in the end. Superior alternatives assume a nonexistent degree of solidarity among member states. Short of funding a tax haven, the present plan is the least bad one.

2 Euros are not all equal. Nearly all euros are bank liabilities. The value of a euro of bank liabilities depends on the solvency of the bank and the government behind the bank. If both are insolvent, lenders may lose much of their money and find the rest frozen behind controls.

3 The relationship between banks, sovereigns, and the eurozone is complicated. There is no EZ consensus on the principle that creditors, not taxpayers, should pay if a bank becomes insolvent. The German government would rescue Deutsche Bank if it were in trouble.

4 The "bad marriage" that binds EZ members together has got worse.

College Grads In Coffee Shops
Megan McArdle

Too many college kids are living in Mom's basement, or working at Starbucks. Grad school often makes it worse. Skilled workers with higher degrees are ending up in jobs that don't need degrees.

The average cognitive load of the jobs done by college students spiked in 1990-2000, as the IT revolution created new roles for thinkers. Then it started to fall. Now college students do more routine work.

It seems we no longer need so many skilled workers doing hard jobs with a big analytical component. Grads who can't get those jobs are taking less skilled ones. Unskilled workers are dropping out.

We may be over-investing in college:
1 A lot of college attendance is seat warming rather than useful learning.
2 More students with degrees end up in jobs that don't make use of them.
3 A substantial number of kids drop out, with debts but no job prospects.

Yet the wage premium for a college graduate is higher than ever. Lower skilled workers are falling out of the higher paying jobs as college graduates move down the skill ladder. College graduates are having trouble getting good jobs, but the unskilled workers are doing even worse. This doesn't prove that college degrees are raising wages.

This is bad news. Kids are still taking expensive college courses, but the credentials are often inflated tickets to routine service jobs. If you plan to major in English, get ready for a career at Starbucks.

The Guardian

The word for "ungoogleable" — "impossible to find via web search" — is gone from the Swedish lexicon published by The Language Council of Sweden.

The term had become a notable neologism during 2012, but Google's lawyers got wind of the council's intentions and told it the company did not want its trademark diluted. Google proposed the definition "something that cannot be found on the web using Google" together with a trademark notification.

Instead, the council dropped the word from its list. Council director Ann Cederberg: "Google asked the Language Council to amend the definition of the word. Today, we instead are deleting the word, marking our displeasure with Google's attempts to control the language."

Cederberg: "One purpose of the neologisms list is to show how society and language development interact with each other. Google wanted to amend the definition and add a disclaimer about its trademark ... We have neither the time nor the inclination to pursue the lengthy process that Google is trying to start."

AR Google has forgotten its motto: "Don't be evil." Free speech implies we must stop lawyers trying to tell us what we may and may not say.

2013 March 27

Dark Matter
Andrew Pontzen

Carlos Frenk proposed dark matter long ago. Today it is orthodoxy. Wherever dark stuff accumulates normal matter follows, drawn by its gravity, to form stars and galaxies. Dark matter explains the fact that clusters of galaxies whirl around too fast for the amount of ordinary matter in them. And patterns in the CMB reveal matter in the early universe poised between gravitational contraction and expansive pressures in a way that agrees with dark matter theory.

My research suggests that to reproduce the facts we need dark matter as a cold soup that barely moves at all. The energy from exploding supernovas and stuff falling into black holes sends vast quantities of gas swirling violently around. My simulations suggest that, if normal gas is shaken enough, it swirls dark matter around too. Dark matter particles could then be jostled by normal matter just enough to stop it clumping too densely.

The NASA gamma-ray telescope Fermi offers evidence for the idea of normal matter kicking dark matter around. Cold dark matter theory suggests you can see its particles collide and annihilate in a flash of gamma rays. But annihilating superparticles would produce gamma rays with a spread of energies, unpredictably. Frenk: "The case is absolutely fascinating, but I don't think we've found anything yet."

Dark Mind
Max Liu

David Shields wants to forge a literary form that can articulate experience and assuage loneliness: "The only way out is deeper in." He reveres Proust but no longer has the patience to read him. He reads because he wants to watch others thinking and he writes from the compulsion to share his mind's movements. But he believes writers must confront "the marginalization of literature by more technologically sophisticated and thus more visceral forms".

2013 March 26

Cyprus EZ Deal
Der Spiegel

How far can one bend to a country like Cyprus without losing credibility? The most important glue holding the EZ together is the mutual confidence of its members, but Club Med countries are increasingly furious over the austerity diktats from Berlin, Brussels, and Frankfurt.

Cypriots see themselves as the innocent victims of a ruthless bailout policy. They say their business model differs only slightly from those of Ireland, Luxembourg, and the UK. But now, says a Cypriot diplomat, "the German public only associates us with money laundering, the Russian mafia, and oligarchs".

The Germany intelligence agency BND portrayed Cyprus as a hub for money laundering. Wealthy Russians liked the setup and invested billions in Cyprus, avoiding the Russian tax collector. According to the BND, 80 Russia oligarchs have sheltered their money on the island.

President Anastasiades initially opposed the EZ plan to introduce a mandatory levy on savings deposits to bridge the funding gap. When he acquiesced, he insisted that small deposits also be levied, only to claim afterwards that the hardliners from Germany had supported the inclusion of ordinary savers. He had wanted to protect large investors.

Berlin rejects all blame for the crisis.

AR I back Berlin: Close down the tax havens. Give law-abiding taxpayers a break.

German Europe
Gideon Rachman

Cyprus has been forced to succumb to the will of Germany. Germanophobia is unfair. German taxpayers will once again be funding the biggest single share of yet another eurozone bailout. Yet growing German power is now the main theme in European politics.

The European Commission, the IMF, and the ECB took the lead in the Cyprus negotiations. But no deal could go through without the German government. The Germans have a clear and consistent analysis of the problem. They believe that fiscal profligacy or faulty business models lie at the heart of the crisis, and the solution is austerity, allied to structural reform.

The notion that Europe should be driven forward by a Franco-German partnership was crucial to French thinking. But any notion that France is playing an equal role to Germany has disappeared. Germany is writing the cheques, enforcing the rules, and increasingly making them up as well. That is a dangerous situation for Europe.

AR Not really. Recall the Holy Roman Empire. Ample precedent, I'd say.

Pierre Manent

The ancient world turned on city states and empires. The city is the smallest human association capable of self-government. The empire is the most extensive possible grouping under a single sovereign. Athens was a city. Rome was an empire.

Cicero was a major reference for Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Medieval thinking is divided between those who carry on the ancient tradition and those who announce or prepare the work of the moderns. Europe was in search of an order.

Modernity was defined by a movement toward a reordering. Medieval authors were caught up for ten centuries in confusion. The rupture associated with Machiavelli and with Luther allowed a fresh start.

Machiavelli stated that fortune favors the bold. He dismissed moral precepts and traditional inhibitions. He reduced all the virtues to hope and courage. It was a call to revolution.

Luther attacked ecclesiastical mediation between man and God. The rupture empowered temporal authorities. The repository of religious authority became the community of believers. The Reformation was a national revolution.

With the Church set aside, the social world accelerated. The nation became the natural framework of civilized human life. Europeans felt that they inhabited the most perfectly developed political form.

During the twentieth century, the nation state was discredited and now belongs to a past age. Europeans are in transition from one type of human association to another.

AR Family — tribe — nation — polity: EU or EZ? No, GO! The Cloud!

Jerome Burne

Brain parasites can change behavior:

A parasitic wasp attaches its eggs to the belly of an orb spider. They zombify the spider to spin a cocoon for the baby wasps when they emerge.

A parasitic fungus infects an ant. The ant seeks out a spot on a tree about 25 cm above its trail, facing northwest. At noon, it bites a leaf, holds on, and dies by nightfall. A few days later, a tube sprouts from its head and emits fungus spores to infect more ants.

A worm reproduces in sheep. It hijacks the brain of an ant, which it programs to climb to the top of a blade of grass every evening and hold on tight. The ant waits all night for a grazing sheep to eat it. If it's still there in the morning, it climbs down to avoid the sun. In the evening, it climbs up and tries again.

A parasite called Toxoplasma gondii reproduces in cat guts. To get there, it prompts its host to risk being eaten by a cat. Rats infected with Toxo like the smell of cat urine. Toxo in brain areas controlling fear and pleasure damps down alarm at the smell of cat urine and boosts the pleasure hormone dopamine instead. Toxo is linked in humans to disturbed behaviors such as reckless driving and a greater risk of suicide. Studies show men infected with Toxo become introverted and wear rumpled old clothes, whereas infected woman dress smartly and become more trusting and sociable.

The influenza vaccine changes human behavior. A study of 36 academics (a) two days before and (b) two days after getting a jab showed that from (a) to (b) they almost doubled the number of people they interacted with and cut the amount of time they spent with each person by a factor of more than ten — ideal to spread the virus.

AR Zombies 'r' us. Genes 'n' memes.

2013 March 25

EU Approves Cyprus Deal
Financial Times

EU ministers have approved a deal on Cyprus. The deal leaves accounts worth less than €100,000 untouched. But those above that level in Laiki Bank will be severely cut. The losses on large deposits in Bank of Cyprus could reach 40%. The deal releases a €10 billion bailout package and saves the island from bankruptcy. It will destroy the offshore financial business that was the engine of the island's economy.

AR No pain, no gain.

EZ Breakup Looms
Wolfgang Münchau

A eurozone that comprises countries as diverse as Germany and Cyprus is not sustainable. An operational banking union with supervision, resolution, and deposit insurance is the minimal condition to make a monetary system work. But the eurozone does not meet it. Germany says it is too expensive.

The crisis over Cyprus illustrates the problem. It began when EZ officials decided to tax insured deposits, failing to see the danger of a bank run. The Cypriot government committed three blunders:

1 Its failed appeal to Russia for help offended Germans.
2 Its days of silence toward European officials lost trust.
3 Its proposal to raid the pension fund was abhorrent.

The eurozone makes repeated policy errors. The policy of adjustment via austerity turned a recession into a depression in Italy. A policy that goes against the interests of the people is immoral.

AR The EZ can only work well when Germans learn how to lead it.

R.I. Moore

David Nirenberg argues that hostility to Judaism was deeply and pervasively woven into the fabric of Western Christianity. The early Christians defined their beliefs in opposition to Judaism. Christians said that in refusing to acknowledge Christ, Jews had failed to follow their own prophets.

England prospered in the years after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Jews flourished with it, and their culture and expertise had much to offer. But after a hundred years, the king regulated the loans made by Jewish lenders. The Jews were thrown out in 1290. The story was similar elsewhere in Europe.

The legacy of the Christian Church was anti-Judaism. Enlightenment figures found in Jews an archetypal avarice and deviousness, and in Judaism a primitive superstition. Marx called for the emancipation of mankind from Judaism. Weber rehabilitated capitalism by associating it with Protestantism.

Muhammad faced a paradox in embracing a revelation from which everything must begin afresh while continuing to respect the authority of the Hebrew scriptures. His followers depicted Jews as resisting the revelation of Muhammad and even plotting against him. The seeds had been planted.

Martin Luther's onslaughts on the Jews arose from his anxiety that the world was converting to Judaism. Nirenberg: "Luther's reconceptualization of the ways in which language mediates between God and creation was achieved by thinking with, about, and against Jews and Judaism."

AR All dead weight in spaceship Earth.

2013 March 24

Are We All Martians?
Lawrence Krauss

NASA says the Curiosity rover found proof of running water not so long ago on Mars. When it drilled into a rock in an ancient stream bed, it discovered sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and carbon, which could feed life.

The clay discovered in the drill sample was gray, not red. Life on Earth was possible because no free oxygen existed on the planet at first. Organic materials exposed to oxygen get oxidized, releasing energy we use for life, in a slow burn.

Oxidized iron is red rust. The fact that not all the surface stuff on Mars is oxidized suggests the early wet environment was not oxidizing and not entirely acidic, so early life could have burned some of the material in the gray clay for energy.

If we find evidence for life on Mars, the big question will be whether it is or was related to us. Material routinely travels between Earth and Mars, and microbes could too. Perhaps life first originated on Mars and then was transported to Earth. If that's true, I'm a Martian.

Iraq War For Oil
Antonia Juhasz

Big Oil won the Iraq war. Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq's domestic oil industry was nationalized and closed to foreigners. Today it is largely privatized, and dominated by Big Oil. ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, and service companies such as Halliburton are all doing business in Iraq. The war let them in.

Oil was the aim of the Iraq war. In 2000, Big Oil spent big money to get oilmen Bush and Cheney into office. The National Energy Policy Development Group reviewed Iraq and reported in May 2001 that Mideast countries should be urged "to open up areas of their energy sectors to foreign investment".

Before the invasion, two things stood in the way: Saddam Hussein and Iraqi law. The invasion got rid of Hussein. Some Bush insiders said they should change the law through the coalition government of Iraq. Instead, the Bush administration drafted a law for a newly elected Iraqi government to pass.

The Iraq Hydrocarbons Law would lock the nation into private foreign investment on terms friendly to Big Oil. The Iraqi government was pushed to pass it but refused. So in 2008, the oil companies simply signed contracts that provide all of the access and most of the terms they wanted.

Law or no law, the new contracts open Iraq to Big Oil. Iraqi oil production has increased by more than 40% since 2008 to 3 million barrels a day, 80% of it exported. The Iraqi oil and gas sectors rely largely on imported labor. In the war for oil, the losers were the Iraqi people.

AR A big round of thanks to Bush for cheap oil.

2013 March 23

Who Owns The Future?
Jaron Lanier

Cloud software will weaken nearly every present job. The only one left standing will be the owner of the biggest computer on the network. The biggest computer and the biggest data guarantee success. Politics then becomes about the computer instead of the agenda.

If there were micro payments made to the people who fed the big data, there would still be an economy. We choose not to intervene in the market, which is just is an algorithmic result of things we do. Instead of allowing human politics to decide, we let the market sort out our affairs.

Markets need to be honest. We constant find companies like Google saying they are honest brokers. No, they are commercial concerns. There is a smugness to the tech world. But the only proper attitude is that the profession of engineering is there to serve people.

Currently if you have a big computer then you get to keep your data secret, and you have tremendous rights. I would like to see everybody have their autonomy and social mobility independently of some big company. Government must rule on the basics of digital identity.

AR The IT revolution is decoupling effort from reward in the economy. Pay is a political issue: If we accept a market rigged by IT we accept that people who get lucky get rich, while others starve. This cannot stand: We need a principled basis for paying people to live normal lives. We need a right to pay for poor people and a duty to pay back for rich people, all governed by Go(...) and IT.

Chinua Achebe
The Guardian

Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian writer. His first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958) sold more than 10 million copies. A quote: "The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one."

Achebe won the Man Booker prize in 2007. Elaine Showalter, said he had "inaugurated the modern African novel". Nadine Gordimer said his fiction was "an original synthesis of the psychological novel, the Joycean stream of consciousness, the postmodern breaking of sequence" and that Achebe was "a joy and an illumination to read".

In a 1975 essay, Achebe said Joseph Conrad turned Africa into "a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril", asking: "Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind?"

Born in 1930 and taught at the University of Ibadan, Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart in English, saying "the English language will be able to carry the weight of my African experience". In 1990, a car accident in Nigeria left him paralyzed and he moved to the United States. He was a professor at Brown University until his death, aged 82.

AR Fair comment on Conrad: Recall Colonel Kurtz (Marlo Brando) in Apocalypse Now, based on Heart of Darkness. The Cambodians were mere bodies in the horror show.

2013 March 22

Richard Nash

Publishing is the business of literature. The system produces great literature in spite of itself. Until recently, unpublished manuscripts were lost, so the universe of knowledge excludes books that were never published. From what is published we choose what we celebrate, and we say the system produced these celebrated works.

Like tables and chairs, books have receded into the backdrop of human life. The book is a technology so pervasive that it reaches the status of nature. Books virtually began consumer capitalism. The bookstore is the model for the supermarket. Digital publishing increased the number of published titles. The number of independent publishers rose with the growth of superstore bookstores, which needed the indie offerings to fill their shelves.

With digital publishing, the cost of creating the text is fixed but the marginal cost for mass consumption is zero. Books reward iteration for readers too. The more you read, the better you get at it, the more fun you have. Books are recipes for the imagination. The book is already good enough. Its job is to deliver a very large set of words.

As for publishers, there is marketing and discovery. Editors add value beyond their editorial skills: they bring relationship skills. People work hard on books that become bestsellers, but what really matters is luck and network effects. Almost all books are commercial flops, but some achieve spectacular success.

Publishing is about making culture. The margin on books is low because it takes so long to discover whether or not you like a book. Publishers cut prices to persuade us to risk wasting our time. But selling a book is not the only way to generate revenue from all the cultural activity around literature and ideas. Book culture is the swirl and gurgle of idea and style in the expression of stories and concepts. Publishers are where the shit hits the fan.

Algebra Breakthrough Wins Abel Prize
Jacob Aron

Mathematician Pierre Deligne of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton has won the $1 million Abel prize. He proved the last of the four conjectures proposed in 1949 by André Weil to tackle the problem of solving polynomial equations within number systems known as finite fields.

Weil suggested describing the number of possible solutions in each finite field by counting certain points on a related shape, using a zeta function. Proving his four statements about the zeta function would confirm that this is the way to tackle polynomial equations within finite fields.

Three of the statements were soon proved, but the last was harder. Finding a cohomology would crack the problem, but it was tricky. Deligne did so in 1974, and won the Fields medal in 1978. Cambridge mathematician Timothy Gowers calls him "one of the absolute all-time greats".

2013 March 21

Europe Versus Cyprus
Christian Rickens

In the spat between Cyprus and the European Union, Russia might ride to the rescue. Russian investors have parked billion in Cyprus. When the Nicosia parliamentarians voted unanimously against the EU bailout package, their main concern was not small savers but maintaining their tax haven.

The Cyprus package called for €10 billion from the ESM plus €6 billion from the levy. If the Euro Group let go the levy, any country in trouble in future would play hardball with Brussels and play havoc with financial markets. European taxpayers will lose trust if their austerity pays for mismanagement in the Med.

Nicosia hopes Moscow will overlook the tax loss from rich Russians banking in Cyprus and bail out the banks. They can offer a natural gas deal that trades Russian access to their deposits for cash. It must be cash. A loan would drive Cypriot sovereign debt too high. If Russia says no, say hi to a new eurocrisis.

Russian Reaction
Financial Times

Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev lambasted EU handling of the Cyprus debt crisis. Cypriot finance minister Michael Sarris met senior Russian officials to seek aid from the Kremlin to bail out its banks. Officials in Moscow are skeptical: Russian businessmen invest using commercial criteria.

Israel Versus Islam
Jerusalem Post

The relationship between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu started off badly in 2009. Washington thought Israel and the Palestinians were close to an agreement. Obama told Netanyahu that progress on the Palestinian track would make it easier to enlist the Arab world in efforts to stop Iran. He seemed to think the proverbial Arab street would be more accepting of Israel if it did right by the Palestinians.

Netanyahu took the opposite approach. Tackle Iran and its nuclear program first, then deal with the Palestinians. A proud Iran would use Hamas and Hezbollah to foul up any diplomatic process. Land for peace never worked in the past. The Arab street looks at the conflict through religion. The Muslim Brotherhood wants an Islamic state and views Israel as alien and unacceptable in the Mideast.

AR Israel versus Iran and Islam: war on two fronts.

2013 March 20

Berlin Can Lead On Syria
Ulrich Speck

On all recent questions of war and peace, Germany has disagreed with the other leading European powers. Berlin opposed the intervention in Libya in 2011, it was reluctant to help France in Mali in January, and it still resists arming the rebels in Syria. So Europe is failing to exert its full power.

Germans still find comfort in the pacifism they adopted in reaction to the horrors of the second world war. They are proud they opposed the Iraq war ten years ago. Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to a push by Britain and France for Europe to lift its arms embargo on Syria thus: "Just the fact that two have changed their minds doesn't mean that the other 25 have to follow suit."

Germany can slow or prevent action by France and Britain by denying access to EU resources. Berlin does not have the military assets that Paris and London have. But Germany is widely seen as a neutral player that can do business with both sides. Hosting a Syria conference in Berlin would advance European interests in the Mideast and let Germany shine as a peacemaker.

UK Budget
Financial Times

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne ordered ministers to come up with £2.5 billion of extra spending cuts. Faced with stagnant growth and disintegrating debt targets, the chancellor will present a budget for "people who want to work hard and get on".

The chancellor is expected to raise the personal tax allowance to £10,000 in 2014, to defer a planned rise in fuel duty, and to trim current spending to promote growth. Any good news in the 2013 budget will be dwarfed by the scale of the UK borrowing crisis.

AR Ask the Saudis for a handout.

2013 March 19

CORAL is now for sale in the new updated version:
Cropped and clarified Christians
Enhanced and extended Revelation
Extended notes and references

Saudi Arabia
Yasmin Alibhai Brown

Prince Charles' wife Camilla wore an unsecured headscarf on her trip to Saudi Arabia. It slipped off and almost uncovered all her hair. According to Saudi Wahhabi Islam, uncovered hidden female tresses are as licentious as exposed pubic hair. The Duchess' shamelessness must have prompted diplomatic jitters.

Charles is keen on Islamic thought but never gets into Mideast politics. To expect him to stand up for human rights is about as hopeless as expecting him to champion equal rights. The real iniquity is the way the UK sucks up to Saudi Arabia, knowing its tyrannical governance and malevolent global influence.

Saudi Arabia is slowly handing some pitifully small rights to women. Female politicians have been given an advisory role and smart young women are able to work under restrictive conditions. But at this pace the world will end before Saudi women achieve full human status. Black cloaks render them invisible.

Saudi funded Wahhabis are everywhere, successfully eradicating all diversity and ease in Islam, aggressively exporting their own brand. I have seen the results of this infiltration in Tanzania, India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Egypt, and in Western cities. The ideology fosters intolerance and extremism.

The oil.

Cyprus, Europe
Financial Times

Cypriot authorities are renegotiating the terms of a €10 billion bailout to scrap its levy on small account holders and instead seize more from larger depositors and businesses. Banks are closed to avoid a bank run as the government responds to the deal struck with the eurozone and the IMF.

2013 March 18

Cyprus, Europe
Financial Times

Just as the eurozone had begun to set the right course in its struggle with an ever-mutating debt crisis, it relapsed into its old vice. Faced with a drowning member state, instead of throwing Cyprus a lifebelt, leaders put a millstone around its neck.

The Cyprus deal imposes a tax on all depositors down to the smallest ones. The small savers are betrayed. A future European banking system must shield taxpayers from the losses of banks.

AR Big banks are saved, small savers are wiped out: TIME TO REVOLT!

Iraq Ten Years On
Ed Husain

Saddam Hussein did not expect his rule to end so abruptly. His fall must have encouraged Arab opposition activists across the Mideast. But if they were directly inspired by the fall of Saddam, they would have risen a decade ago.

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities, Arab governments used the ensuing "war on terror" to quell domestic dissent. When opposition Islamist parties questioned the legitimacy of Arab dictators, they were seen as al Qaeda sympathizers and imprisoned.

From 2001 to 2011, government repression of Islamists signaled to young Arabs that Islamism could not overthrow autocratic regimes. Islamists failed to gain political office, and the corruption and nepotism of regimes in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt sank deeper.

Social media like Facebook and Twitter helped young Arabs bypass communications controlled by their dictators. The Arab youth used modern technology to amplify the mood music of Western belief that Arabs too could be free. The Arab Spring was going to happen with or without Saddam Hussein.

Iraq is not a success. It is now an ally of Iran, home to a prime minister who persecutes his own political opposition, and unashamedly supports the Assad regime in Syria.

AR Bush lost the plot for the West.

2013 March 17

Mental Illness

To ease the heartache of a stillbirth, Kelli Montgomery chose rigorous exercise, yoga, and meditation over the antidepressants and sleeping pills that her physicians suggested.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the bible for mental health professionals. A new campaign will seek to block the May release of the next edition, DSM-5.

The American Psychiatric Association dismisses DSM-5 critics as alarmist. Dr. Carl Bell: "All the good epidemiological studies unfortunately show that one in five people have a psychological disorder."

The APA says the DSM-5 is sound. Dr. David Kupfer: "The development of DSM-5 began with an unprecedented process of research evaluation that included a series of white papers and 13 scientific conferences supported by the National Institutes of Health. This preparation brought together more than 400 international scientists and produced a series of monographs and peer-reviewed journal articles."

Primary care doctors too often dispense anti-psychotic drugs. Montgomery: "I had no mental illness. I had never been medicated. I had not even suggested that I was depressed."

David Randall

The number of people aged over 65 in the UK is set to rise from 10 million in 2010 to 15 million in 2030. Many are alarmed by the rising cost of pensions and healthcare.

A new Lords report says businesses should let older people work for longer and people should agree they have no right to be idle for the final third of their lives.

We tend to see retirement as the end. More than a third of women aged 60-64 and a quarter of men aged 65-69 may still be in full or part-time work, but we pay the rest off.

It is high time we harnessed the powers of the retired and semi-retired in a volunteer force. It would end the wicked waste of millions of our more experienced people.

2013 March 16

Muslim Brotherhood On Women
The New York Times

The Muslim Brotherhood has long preached that Islam required women to obey their husbands in all matters. In a statement on a proposed United Nations declaration to condemn violence against women, the Brotherhood issued a list of objections:

Wives should not have the right to file legal complaints against their husbands for rape.
Wives need their husbands' consent in matters like travel, work, or use of contraception.
Husbands should not be subject to the punishments meted out for the rape of a stranger.
Husbands must have guardianship over their wives, not equal partnerships with them.
Daughters should not have the same inheritance rights as sons.

Egyptian UN representative Pakinam El-Sharkawy said the Egyptian government objected to the UN declaration only over issues like whether to call restrictions on abortion acts of violence against women. That offended the cultural norms in many Arab and African countries: "We can't give women the freedom to have abortions whenever they want."

Muslim Brother Abu Salam says husbands should keep their wives under tight control: "It's the nature of the weak to overstep the required framework if she is given the space and the freedom, like children."

The Brotherhood says the UN proposals are "destructive tools meant to undermine the family as an important institution" that "would drag society back to pre-Islamic ignorance".

The Book Trade
Der Spiegel

Publishers used to publish enough bestsellers to subsidize diversified lists of prestige titles. Profits depended on their monopoly position. Without them, readers and writers would have no books at all.

Now they're on the defensive. Bookstores and the recommendation system are at risk with the rise of online booksellers like Amazon that let customers recommend books to each other. Self-publishing threatens to cut out traditional middlemen. And cheap e-books are endangering printed books.

People are buying fewer printed books, and buying more of those they do buy online. Online bookstores now have a market share of almost 20%. The big bookstore chains have failed to find a way to fight back.

Amazon is fighting the literary aristocracy. The company wants the business to itself. It locks in e-book customers and demands big discounts from publishers. Some say it is destroying book culture. Yet Amazon depends on people valuing books enough to buy a Kindle to read them.

People read and write a lot, and they are publishing more books than ever before. And it's never been this easy to publish a text as a book, at least in electronic form. All it takes is a few clicks. It's as easy as buying a book. Reading and writing is a mass phenomenon.

Amazon is dominant in the e-book market, with a market share of over 40%. Its customers rank and evaluate their purchases, as a crowd, and give Amazon the data for free. Almost everything can be logged: how fast people read, which text they highlight, and where they stop reading. The data may soon help authors to rewrite their books in response to reader reactions.

Publishers are realizing they need to catch up. They are hoping to learn from the mistakes of the music industry. When the first e-book readers came on the mass market, customers weren't forced into piracy, as in the music industry. And they let authors hold onto their digital rights.

Bestselling authors are rare. Only a small group of writers can support themselves with writing, and that elite is shrinking. Meanwhile, the number of books sold in the middle of the pack declines from year to year. Publishing literary books is still a gamble.

Hilary Putnam
M.T. Nicholson

Harvard philosopher Hilary Putnam is a lucidly self-aware neurotic. Born in 1926 in Chicago, he was raised an atheist and progressive. At age 50, he abandoned communism. At 68, he had his Bar Mitzvah.

Putnam denies a clean distinction between facts and values. Scientists agree that simpler theories are better but have no rulebook to say so. They appeal to the greater pragmatic value of simpler theories or to the lack of explanatory value in added complications. Facts are inextricably tied to values.

Putnam says meaning is external and normative. The meaning of our statements is derived from their causal relation to an external world. Symbols derive their content from a complex network of information, metaphor, and history. A brain map of a speaker is not enough to interpret what they say.

Putnam believes in an external reality compatible with our ordinary human values. He has faith in our ability to represent reality correctly. But he finds it hard not to go relativist.

2013 March 15

Beware the Ides of March

2013 + 44 — 1 (they skipped 0) = 2056 years ago today, Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome.

Beware the View From Nowhere
The Atlantic

Wonkery can only take a blogger so far.

The View from Nowhere is a bid for trust, a preemptive defense against accusations of bias, and an attempt to secure a kind of legitimacy that is denied to those who stake out positions or betray a point of view. Claiming objectivity is not a source of authority.

In journalism, real authority starts with reporting. Knowing your stuff, mastering your beat, being right on the facts, digging under the surface of things, finding out what happened, verifying what you heard, illuminating a murky situation because you understand it better than most. Doing the work!

The Ross Blog embodies that kind of journalism. But Ross tries to bolster his authority by invoking The View from Nowhere. When Ross writes as if politics is about dispassionately identifying the best means to a universally agreed end, he isn't just disagreeing with values not his own, he is disappearing them.

The audience gets resentful when journalists treat their own values as normative. Ross is more than capable of providing the View from Somewhere.

Don't confuse facts and values.

AR Well, should I adopt a point of view?

2013 March 14

CORAL peace: my revisions are satisfactory to me.

Life On Mars?
Phil Plait

The Mars Curiosity rover has found an environment on Mars that was once warm and wet, with a chemistry that would support Earth-like life. Curiosity drilled into a rock and found evidence of clay minerals. The water that formed these minerals was neutral, not too strongly acidic or basic. Curiosity also found sulfur, phosphorus, and carbon, all ingredients for life as we know it.

Curiosity did not find evidence of life. It has been looking for organic compounds but has not yet found them. But it did find conditions were once conducive for it. The region where Curiosity landed was once very wet, and for a long time. It was probably a lake bed, fed by a river or stream that spread out into an alluvial fan. Fairly fresh water once stood where the rover sits now.

NASA has been looking for life, or at least the conditions for it. Now we have speculation based on solid scientific evidence. Mars may have once been suitable for life. Ice has been found just under the surface at mid-latitudes, insulated by the rock and dust above it. Evidence that standing water existed is everywhere, from dry lake beds like this one to strong hints of ancient oceans.

Curiosity has been sent to the right place
Emily Lakdawalla

Curiosity has found a rock that contains evidence for a past environment that would have been suitable for Earth-like microorganisms. The mineralogical and geomorphological observations suggest that the rover is on an ancient Martian lakebed. The rock contains both oxidized and reduced forms of the same elements, so there are chemical gradients that life could potentially exploit as an energy source.

AR Good news

David Foster Wallace told students in 2005 that they can choose how to make meaning out of their lives. In the tides of boredom that wash over us in our daily lives, anyone who harnesses the power of his own attention is king. We can, as he says, "choose what we worship".

2013 March 13

There Is Only Awe
Rachel Aviv

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976) by Julian Jaynes was his only book. He said his inspiration arose from an episode of "darkest distress" when he was despairing over the question of how we can know anything. He heard a voice: "Include the knower in the known!"

As a doctoral student at Yale, Jaynes concluded that consciousness was a function of language. He read ancient texts and saw that consciousness emerged in the time between the Iliad and the Odyssey. The actors in the Iliad have no concept of a personal mind, but 300 years later Odysseus is a modern hero.

Jaynes: "The gods were ... man's volition. They occupied his nervous system, probably his right hemisphere." The Trojan War was fought by men with bicameral minds. In moments of stress, their servile left hemispheres took hallucinated voices in their right "god" hemispheres as commands.

By about 3 MBP, turmoil in the Mideast led to mass migrations. The gods fell silent and retreated to the sky. Humans were left alone, groping for answers. They still heard a voice, but they knew it was their own. Jaynes: "The mighty themes of the religions of the world are here sounded for the first time."

Consciousness can only be described through metaphor and analogy. Jaynes noted that writers tend to describe their work in bicameral terms as a form of listening: they hear a voice and take dictation.

Jaynes regarded science as a new attempt by humans to establish contact with a "lost ocean of authority". Science offers a rational splendor that explains everything. In return the adherent receives a world view, a total explanation of man.

Jaynes lived alone in a single room on the Princeton campus. Jaynes: "Our search for certainty rests in our attempts at understanding the history of all individual selves and all civilizations. Beyond that, there is only awe."

2013 March 12

Books After Amazon
The Independent

Waterstones hopes that books with extra "bonus" material will be enough to persuade paperback fans to shun Amazon and return to the High Street. The promotion is one of several innovative marketing tactics being adopted by booksellers in an attempt to compete with cut-price online rivals.

Bookseller editor Tom Tivnan: "All bookshops are having to innovate and do special things to survive. It's part of the whole package of how to reform themselves. They have to work out what things they can do that online retailers can't ... One of the buzzwords in publishing and bookselling is discoverability."

More than 400 UK bookshops closed in 2012, leaving fewer than 2,000 bookshops in Britain, less than half as many as 7 years ago. Ebook sales doubled in 2012 to £260 million, while physical book sales fell to £1.5 billion, 5% down from 2011.

AR Am I the only one who often buys hardbacks, if only to enjoy their physical quality compared to a cheap paperback, on the grounds that the time spent reading the thing has an opportunity cost that outweighs the price anyway? A good book, like a Blu-ray movie, has value that amply rewards the price. Time is too valuable to waste reading cheap crap.

Nuclear Power, Safer And Cheaper
MIT Technology Review

Transatomic is developing a nuclear reactor that it says will cut the overall cost of a nuclear power plant in half. Its updated molten-salt reactor is highly resistant to meltdowns and small enough to be built in factories and shipped by rail. It can burn nuclear waste and includes new safety features. Transatomic says it can build a 500 MW power plant for $1.7 billion, roughly half current price levels.

AR I buy it as a low carbon planet saver.

2013 March 11

NK Annuls Armistice
American Forces Press

NK annulled the armistice agreement of 1953 and cut off the hot line to SK. The NK press reported that "the US has reduced the armistice agreement to a dead paper."

General James D. Thurman, commander of Combined Forces Command and US Forces Korea, today opened the annual Key Resolve exercise. About 13 000 US and SK participants are honing the skills necessary to defend SK, including improving the operational capabilities of combined US and SK forces, coordinating and executing the deployment of US reinforcements, and maintaining SK military combat capabilities. Thurman: "For 60 years, the armistice agreement has ensured peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."

AR NK has no chance against USSK resolve.

Invisible Armies
James Blitz

We may see a return of "conventional" warfare between nations if Japan and China or the United States and Iran go to war. But irregular war is more common. Max Boot: "Much of the world's population lives in states whose present boundaries were determined in insurgencies waged by or against their ancestors."

Early guerrillas rarely achieved their aims, but insurgencies have been much more effective in defeating established powers since 1945. Wars nowadays are played out on TV screens as well as real battlefields. Unless an insurgency is put down quickly and effectively, it saps the will of the military to continue.

The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts underscored the importance of winning over hearts and minds rather than merely killing the enemy. Guerrilla movements prevail when they have access to foreign funding, arms training and havens. Boot: "No other factor correlates so closely with insurgent success."

Pinker Tweets
Leon Wieseltier

Thomas Nagel wrote "the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false" and Steven Pinker tweeted it was "the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker".

Nagel: "In the present climate of a dominant scientific naturalism, heavily dependent on speculative Darwinian explanations of practically everything, and armed to the teeth against religion ... I would like to extend the boundaries of what is not regarded as unthinkable."

Nagel is being denounced for heresy. He is a philosopher. In American intellectual life, scientists often do the work of philosophers, but the history of science is a history of mistakes. The provenance of an idea reveals nothing about its veracity. Accept the truth from whoever utters it, said the rabbis.

AR Darwinist logic is good even if it looks imperialist.

2013 March 10

The Undivided Past
Mark Mazower

David Cannadine looks at what historians have said about religion, nation, class, gender, race, and civilization. He dismisses the idea of history as identity politics. He suggests that the only solidarity that is acceptable is solidarity with humankind. Nazism took the shine off nationalism, and divisions of class trumped race in the British empire. Cannadine seeks to do away with such categories.

Historians are members of their societies, and human society has not yet taken a global form. There is still virtually no shared consciousness globally of common struggles or common achievements. Even our most urgent global issues tend to be tackled regionally or nationally. There may be many things beyond our differences. But it is not yet clear that there is any history.


     David Bowie's new album

The French navy will invade Britain this weekend: 200 troops, 43 vehicles, and 4 helicopters from 2 landing craft and a new landing catamaran will storm a beach at Gosport, Hampshire.

Sergey Brin

Google Glass can shoot video and stream it online — that's cool. Wearable computing with voice control will become pervasive. Google co-founder Sergey Brin (above) suggests you can whirl your child around by their arms and say: "OK, Glass, take video!" He says ordinary smartphones are "emasculating".

Anyone wearing Google Glass can beam their story to the web. Google knows this is an issue: "It may be that new social norms develop with Glass, where people develop an informal way of showing that they're not using it — say, wearing it around their neck to signal they aren't using it or being distracted by it."

The Borg

The Borg is the software system at the heart of Google. It parcels out work across the company's vast fleet of computer servers. It's one of the secrets of Google becoming the dominant force on the web. Google is now building a new version called Omega.

>> more

Brits Die Younger
The Guardian

People in the UK enjoy fewer years of good health before they die than the citizens of most comparable European countries.

The UK ranked 12th out of 19 countries of similar affluence in 2010 in terms of healthy life expectancy at birth, according to an analysis from data collected by the IHME.

UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt called the result shocking. Despite more funding and reforms, the UK has not risen in rank since 1990.

AR What a bloody shambles.

China Defense Up 10%

China will increase its defense budget by 10.7% this year, to Rmb 720 billion ($116 billion). The overall economic growth target is 7.5%.

Watch Boston Dynamics robot BigDog use jaws and head to hurl cinder blocks (47 s)

2013 March 9

North Korea
Andreas Lorenz

Pyongyang propaganda says NK forces will flush the Americans mercilessly into the sea, destroy South Korea, and turn Seoul into a nuclear sea of ​​fire, and even annihilate the US aggressors in a pre-emptive nuclear strike. All this is driven by revolutionary ideology and love for NK dictator Kim Jong Un.

The regime vowed to end a nonaggression pact with SK and cut its hot line to Seoul, and threatens to annul the 1953 Korean ceasefire agreement. In the coming weeks, NK forces will launch a major military exercise and may test another ballistic missile. SK experts cannot exclude a new NK attack:

1 The NK bosses are convinced the rest of the world wants to oust them. They think they have a right to nuclear weapons and big ballistic missiles.

2 The NK bosses must confirm their leadership by protecting the masses from their enemies and blaming their misery on foreign sanctions.

3 The NK bosses are testing their new political limits. In China, Xi Jinping is the new head of state. In SK, Park Geun Hye is the new president.

The NK fate depends on China. Beijing need only cut off oil and food to kill the NK regime. The CPC Central Committee want to keep the NK alliance. CPC chief Xi plans to reconsider the NK issue after the People's Congress. Beijing professor Shi Yinhong: "Relations are currently in the toilet."

The Professor, the Bikini Model, and the Suitcase Full of Trouble
Maxine Swann

In November 2011, Paul Frampton, a theoretical physicist, met Denise Milani, a Czech bikini model, on an online dating site. Soon they were chatting online nearly every day. Frampton, 68, had been a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was lonely since his divorce.

Milani agreed to meet Frampton in La Paz, Bolivia, where she was doing a photo shoot. In January 2012, Frampton set out for Bolivia and finally arrived in La Paz four days later. By then, Milani had been called away to another photo shoot in Brussels. She sent him a ticket to Buenos Aires and said another ticket to Brussels was on the way. She asked him to do her a favor: bring her a bag she had left in La Paz.

Nine days after Frampton arrived in Bolivia, a man handed him a bag out on the dark street in front of his hotel. It was an utterly commonplace black suitcase with wheels, and it was empty. He wrote to Milani, asking why it was so important. She told him it had sentimental value. The next morning, he filled it with his dirty laundry and headed to the airport.

Frampton flew from La Paz to Buenos Aires. He waited for the e-ticket to Brussels. He checked two bags, his and hers, and went to the gate. He heard his name called over the loudspeaker. At the airline counter, he was greeted by several policemen. Soon he was under arrest.

Frampton ended up in Devoto, an old-style jail in Buenos Aires. It seems a classic tale. Those who know Frampton well portray him as a kind of idiot savant. He grew up in England, matriculated at Oxford, and was awarded his doctorate in 1968. As Frampton tells it, his life is just a line of impressive grades, advanced degrees, and citations of his work in cosmology and physics.

His defense unraveled. There were damning text messages on his cellphone. He tried to shrug them off as jokes. In November 2012, he was sentenced to 4 years 8 months for drug smuggling.

AR Thank God I'm not that bad.

2013 March 8

CORAL news: Wrote 8 good new pages for inclusion in Revelations.
Now I need to delete 8 pages elsewhere to make room for them.
At least I used the time failing to visit India to some purpose.

Philip Stephens

NATO was robbed of its founding mission by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Events in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Libya saved it. NATO became an operational alliance.

A decade is several lifetimes in geopolitics. The appetite for intervention has been sated in Washington, even though the Mideast is in flames, Syria is fighting a civil war, Iran is building a bomb, jihadist extremism has spread into Africa, cyberspace risks mass disruption, and rising states are arming fast.

NATO requires military capabilities to confront new threats. They have to be paid for, but no one wants to pick up the bill. Most of the European members of NATO long ago abandoned their commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defense. Britain and France are hollowing out their militaries. Even former communist states have axed their forces.

The U.S. share of NATO spending has jumped to almost 75%. But sequestration has brought down the curtain on the era of American military plenty. Even if the White House and Congress strike a fiscal deal, the U.S. defense budget faces deep cuts. Politicians in Washington are not willing to pay for Europe.

Anyone who thinks the advanced nations can afford to spend less on safeguarding their security need only glance at the threats. They all require collective defense.

Chinese Parliament Has 83 Billionaires
Financial Times

The People's Republic of China parliamentary delegates this year include 83 dollar billionaires, according to a rich list. The United States has no billionaires in the House of Representatives or the Senate.

AR Corruption, guaranteed.

2013 March 7

Christiane Amanpour

The Catholic Church says a vow of celibacy not only underscores the commitment of seminarians to their vocation but also recalls Christ's own celibacy. But a new pope could change church law to allow all priests to marry.

In 1967, Pope Paul VI published an encyclical defending the tradition of celibacy as a superior way of achieving grace that freed priests from familial obligations in order to devote themselves to God and that mirrored heaven as a place without marriage.

In 1993, Pope John Paul II said celibacy did "not belong to the essence of the priesthood" but there was "no doubt about its suitability and indeed its appropriateness to the demands of sacred orders."

Reverend Joseph Fessio says celibacy is a discipline and not a dogma but still important: "It's something the church in its wisdom for 2000 years has recognized as a closer, more exact, more profound following of the example Jesus set us."

AR Sexual self-discipline is essential to a true spiritual vocation. Its best expression is in celibacy. Married priests lack transcendent vision. As family men, they have practical concerns. But for the daily life of a priest, the practical concerns are paramount. As long as priests uphold the vision without succumbing to the Filth (blog March 3), the church can survive. At root, the church is a patriarchy. If that visionary sexual control is lost, human hopes of transcendence crash down in ruin. We become brutes, bonking our brains out in a world run by machines.

Mathematical Physics
Brian Greene

James Clerk Maxwell realized that light was an electromagnetic wave. His equations showed that light speed should be about 300 Mm/s. This was good, but his equations left a nagging loose end: speed relative to what? Einstein argued that scientists needed to take the equations more seriously. Light speed is 300 Mm/s relative to anything. This led to the special theory of relativity, and eventually to the general theory, Einstein's theory of gravity.

Steven Weinberg: "Our mistake is not that we take our theories too seriously, but that we do not take them seriously enough." Weinberg was referring to the prediction of the cosmic microwave background radiation, the afterglow of the big bang. Einstein understood how a set of mathematical equations can seem real. But he did not take his own general theory seriously enough to believe its prediction of black holes, or of an expanding universe. Others did.

Quantum mechanics used to be seen as relevant only to small things. But in 1957, Hugh Everett took the mathematics seriously. Everett argued that Schrödinger's equation should apply to everything. This led him to the idea of a quantum multiverse. The multiverse has since become a pervasive feature of much mathematics that purports to offer us a deeper understanding of reality. Taken to this extreme, mathematics is reality.

AR The foundation of mathematics is in set theory. The cumulative hierarchy of pure well-founded sets founds all the rest, and it collapses under scrutiny into the unstable but fertile duality of the null set and the universal set — this is the vision I articulated in the logical trilogy I wrote in the 1970s.

2013 March 6

CORAL news: Inspiration for revision has dawned on me.
— Cut a couple of pages from the Christians chapter (which still has too much guff in it)
— Add a couple of pages to the Revelation chapter (on Wittgenstein, Kripke, and Wilber)
It should take me a week or so to prepare a new edition.

Leszek Kolakowski
Barton Swaim

Leszek Kolakowski was a historian of ideas, first at Warsaw University, then at Oxford. His magisterial trilogy Main Currents of Marxism (1978) demolished a sham philosophy. His daughter Agnieszka Kolakowska compiled some of his essays in Is God Happy?

"What Is Socialism?" (1956) is a satirical enumeration of things that socialism wasn't supposed to be: "a state whose neighbors curse geography"; "a state that produces superb jet planes and lousy shoes"; "a state whose philosophers and writers always say the same things as the generals and ministers, but always after the latter have said them."

"Genocide and Ideology" (1977) asked why Soviet communism attracted so many artists and intellectuals and Nazism so few. Nazis straightforwardly promoted Teutonic rule and the conquest of Europe. Communism, on the other hand, "never preached conquest, only liberation from oppression; it never extolled the state as a value in itself, only stressed the necessity of reinforcing the state as an indispensable lever to destroy the enemies of freedom."

"Totalitarianism and the Virtue of the Lie" (1983) explained why a society based on disinformation cannot survive: "Even in the best of conditions the massive process of forgery cannot be completed: it requires a large number of forgers who must understand the distinction between what is genuine and what is faked."

Seven essays cover theological subjects, including the problem of evil and the impossibility of separating the historical Jesus from Western culture and history.

"Erasmus and his God" (1965) describes how Erasmus tried to combine the "faith alone" approach of Luther and Calvin with a Catholic emphasis on works and moral virtue. Kolakowski saw this as "a particular instance of the difficulty inherent in any doctrine which views genuine human effort as the unique source of moral value while at the same time refusing to acknowledge any human contribution to the results of that effort."

"Crime and Punishment" (1991) rejected the idea that punishment must be utilitarian and defended retribution.

AR When Kolakowski was at All Souls, I once explained to him my interest in Hegelian philosophy. He responded with a smile that hovered between impish and tragic.

2013 March 5

Steven Snyder

Struggle is essential for career advancement. Embrace struggle as an art to be mastered. Seek out situations where there is rapid change. Look for projects that expand your skills and capabilities.

Performance is best when goals are difficult but still attainable with effort and imagination. If you find yourself easily meeting your goals, they are too easy. Set a higher bar for yourself. Receiving valid feedback is the most valuable of gifts, allowing you to step outside your delusional cocoon and become connected with external metrics of success.

The more anchored and centered you are, the less likely you will be thrown off balance by challenges. Train yourself in a set of daily and weekly practices that keep you on a steady course: exercise, meditation, journaling, prayer, or even just walking in the woods. Build a support community to give you the advice and assistance you need.

By challenging yourself, readily embracing feedback, and remaining grounded and centered, you can embrace struggle head on and use it as fuel for your career. These practices are the foundation.

Colin McGinn

Ray Kurzweil has a pattern recognition theory of mind (PRTM). A stimulus is presented, say, the letter "A", and little brain machines respond by breaking it down and processing its parts: thus "A" is analyzed into a horizontal bar and two angled lines meeting at a point. The neural machine recognizes that the stimulus is an instance of the letter "A". Other letter recognizers combine to recognize, say, the word "APPLE". This procedure is hierarchical. There are some 300 million such modules across the brain.

But pattern recognition is only part of the activity of the mind. When I see an apple as red, the color is simply a sensory quality. Thinking about an absent object is not perceptual recognition. Nor do such mental phenomena as emotion, imagination, reasoning, willing, intending, or feeling pain and pleasure fit the PRTM. Kurzweil has switched from patterns as stimuli in the external environment to patterns as mental entities, without saying so. The PRTM does not generalize beyond perception.

Kurzweil makes relentless and unapologetic use of homunculus language. But neurons don't say things or predict things or see things. People say and predict and see. Such anthropomorphic descriptions of cortical activity must ultimately be replaced by literal descriptions of electric charge and chemical transmission. Homunculus talk can give rise to the illusion that one is nearer to accounting for the mind. Talk of pattern recognition by neurons is already too mentalistic.

Neuroscientists cannot claim that we have observed information transmission in the brain. This is a theoretical description. The brain is causally connected to the mind and the mind contains and processes information. Telephone lines convey information because conscious subjects are at either end of them, exchanging information in the ordinary sense. Neurons are the causal background to the transactions. The brain does not process information or send signals or receive messages. People do.

AR Mind versus brain is an instance of the subject—object dichotomy that we can only accept as fundamental (as an axiom in my psychophysics). But then performing a "homuncular" reduction to minimal parts that correlate 1:1 is fine. Information has subjective and objective sides. Bits are rock bottom. As qubits, they make a physical base for the rest. Mental entities are patterns of (qu)bits. QED

2013 March 4

Swiss: Curb Corporate Pay
Financial Times

Swiss voters want curbs on corporate wages and on company boards: 68% of voters approved rules giving shareholders a binding say on executive pay, banning golden hellos and goodbyes, requiring annual re-elections for directors, and threatening criminal sanctions for non-compliance.

UK chancellor George Osborne plans to try to revise the EU bonus cap, but his prospects are slim. A big majority of EU member states is willing to sign up to the deal. A diplomat: "It's really too late. We don't want to stigmatize one member state but we've come to the end of the argument."

AR Vox pop is clear: corporate robbers must be stopped.

Taj Mahal

2013 March 3-9

Toward a Science of Consciousness
East-West Views on Brain, Mind and Reality
Dayalbagh Educational Institute
Agra, India

AR To my great regret, I'm not there.


Sheikh wagon:
Mercedes G63 AMG
6x6 with 544 HP V8

Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger
Hitler's Philosopher

Martin Heidegger joined the Nazi party in 1933. He spoke out on the need to Nazify German universities and was made rector at the University of Freiburg, where he removed all the Jews and let Brownshirts patrol the campus. He died in 1976, unrepentant.

2013 March 3

John Cornwell

Pope Benedict XVI loved being Pope. Yet he said he wasn't up to it any more. Up to what? He spent most of his time writing, tinkling on the piano, and stroking his cat. He was waited on hand and foot, with a handsome secretary to do his every bidding.

He quit to save the Catholic Church from ignominy. A report on the state of the Curia landed on his desk in January. It revealed that what he called the Filth had entered the bureaucracy. He resigned in February. Now all the senior bureaucrats lose their jobs.

The Curia is a big operation. Rivalries, vendettas, ambition, calumny, backstabbing, and intrigues are endemic. Some of the bureaucrats are actively gay men, others have a weakness for sex with minors. And the people who procure these sexual services are greedy.

Benedict has resigned to purge the Filth. He has given the Church a chance to start again. He would be happy with a smaller Church exerting pressure on sexually active Catholics to play by the rules. If his gamble works, the Church can reform. If not, doom.

Tammy Oler

Wool was a short story about a post-apocalyptic future in which society has been driven underground into a vast silo. Hugh Howey published it as a e-book on Amazon in 2011. Within three months, it was a Kindle best-seller. Readers asked Howey for the rest of the story, so he decided to write it.

By January 2012, Howey had self-published five serial stories about the silo and collected them into the Wool Omnibus. It landed on the New York Times best-seller list. By the end of 2012, Howey had deals with publishers to release print editions worldwide and optioned the film rights to Ridley Scott.

The silo is a self-sustaining community with full employment and universal access to education and health care. More than 100 floors deep and connected by only a staircase, the silo limits mobility and communication, separating the machine deck at the bottom from the mayor and sheriff up top.

The stories invert the traditional power dynamic between author and fan. By reaching out to Howey and posting rave reviews, fans helped conjure up the fictional world. And Howey converted interest in the first story into dedicated fandom and more sales. He is now writing a sequel called Dust.

2013 March 2

Telepathy In Rats!
Michael Bywater

Scientists have invented a new channel of communication, direct communication between brains. Rat A learns where the food is, and communicates it directly into the brain of Rat B, initially by fine wires running between their brains, and subsequently over the internet.

What's passing between the two rats is information, and information technologies grow exponentially. Imagine a world where I deliver this straight into your brain, via the Cloud. It seems fanciful. But 20 years ago, so much of today seemed fanciful that if someone had suggested it we'd have laughed. Sergey Brin of Google says smartphones are emasculating. He doesn't know the half of it.

AR The CORAL cloud!

Benefits, Bonuses, Caps
Giles Fraser

In the UK this year, benefit entitlements will be capped. According to the government, the benefit cap is necessary. But when it comes to capping bankers' bonuses, the Tories say no. They say if these pin-striped pricks don't get what they want, they will fly off to Singapore. Well, let them go.

London is not just a playground for the super rich. The bankers got us into the financial mess, yet whenever there is talk of limiting the bonus culture that incentivized their absurd risk culture, the government sides with them. The poor are capped, the rich are protected. This cannot go on.

AR The UK is a land of gross moral desolation.

The Case Against Religion
Bryan Appleyard

A.C. Grayling makes his case against religion and outlines the humanist alternative.

Grayling: "Atheism is to theism as not stamp-collecting is to stamp-collecting." This is a ruse to get the horsemen off the charge that they write about religion while knowing nothing of theology. If religion is like belief in fairies, then there is no need to understand it and it should be exposed and refuted.

Western humanism is a very small sect in the context of global beliefs and world views. The idea that it could and should become a world ideology is both wildly improbable and extremely dubious. Like it or not, religions are here to stay. Most thinkers accept some sort of evolutionary explanation. Religious faith is not remotely like belief in fairies. It is deeply embedded in human nature.

Grayling says religion has nothing to offer the world. But religion will teach you more about the human condition than anything written by the four horsemen of the atheist apocalypse.

AR I know the truth here: see CORAL.

2013 March 1

European Multiculturalism
Jens-Martin Eriksen, Frederik Stjernfelt

Last summer, the director of Norway's Trondheim Museum of Art, Pontus Kyander, decided that the museum should no longer fly the Norwegian flag. He said it was divisive, that it rallied only ethnic Norwegians and Christians.

The battle over symbols in Europe has intensified. Ethnically distinct groups increasingly demand that they be able to practice their own customs and receive special dispensations for particular religious practices. Muslim organizations in Norway demand special police uniforms for female officers, special opening hours for public swimming pools dedicated exclusively to Muslim women, special hours in fitness centers, special bathing curtains for Muslim boys to protect them from being exposed to other children, special diets in schools, special prayer rooms in airports, and interpretation facilities in all public institutions for those who don't speak the language. These demands are on the agenda in many European countries. Muslims also want to import spouses from their home countries. Meeting their demands is causing massive social problems.

Muslims seek segregation from the mainstream. Pontus Kyander's flag ban is one absurd reaction. Political correctness makes honest discussion impossible. Neither side dares address the real problem: Islamic dogmatism.

AR The only solution is zero tolerance of exceptions for any religion.

MIT Technology Review

Pairs of rats can communicate through brain chips and collaborate to perform a task. Brain activity recorded in one rat was translated into pulses transmitted to another rat that had been trained to push a lever in response to a pattern of electrical stimulation in its brain. The rats worked together. If the second rat chose the wrong lever, then the first rat changed its brainwaves, which improved the chances in the next trial.

The research was led by Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University Medical Center. The team trained a rat to choose between a right or left lever to push depending on which of two LEDs lit up. If the rat pushed the correct lever, it got a rewarding sip of water. The researchers recorded the electrical activity of the rat's motor cortex and translated the activity in the two cases into more or fewer pulses. They sent the pulses to the implant in the brain of another rat in a separate chamber. That rat had been trained to respond to pulse patterns in a similar way.

With no cue but the pulses, the second rat chose the correct lever 64% of the time, and both rats got a reward. When the second rat got it wrong, the first rat noticed because it did not get a second reward. So in the next trial, the first rat would try harder and make a stronger signal. This was the collaboration.

The team is working on "swarms" of rats that cooperate via brain chips.

AR Swarms of roborats — woohoo — can't wait!

David Bowie: The Next Day

Two Clowns
Der Spiegel

In the Italian election, comedian Beppe Grillo's party emerged as the kingmaker. Global investors are unhappy. European politicians fear a renewed euro crisis.

Ratings agency Moody's says it will downgrade the country from its current BAA2 rating — two notches above junk status — if reform efforts wane.

German former finance minister and Social Democratic chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück: "I am horrified that two clowns won the election."


Richard Seymour exposes Christopher Hitchens as a liar, an "ouvrierist", a plagiarist, and an "amanuensis" for the George W. Bush administration.
>> more

Beppe Grillo
Beppe Grillo

The Great Illusion of the Self

Roger Scruton
On Conservatism

Climate Tipping Point
New Scientist

We are on the cusp of a tipping point in the climate. If the global climate warms another half a degree, a large expanse of the Siberian permafrost will start to melt uncontrollably. A vast mass of greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere.

The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet. A huge region of Siberian permafrost and clathrates that trap methane could undergo runaway decomposition: as it melts, microbes in the soil will eat the carbon and produce heat, melting more soil and releasing more methane.

Anton Vaks of the University of Oxford and colleagues have studied the history of the Siberian permafrost going back half a million years. They say today's permafrost is likely to become vulnerable when we hit 1.5 K of global warming. We already have more than half of that.

The methane released could be equivalent to over 250 gigatons of CO2. This is not much compared to the vast amount humans are likely to emit. And much of the methane will be converted to CO2 by microbes in the soil, reducing the warming effect.

2013 February 28

EU Bank Deal Done
Financial Times

Bankers' bonuses are to be capped at 2x bankers' salaries and banks will be subject to a strict transparency regime, under a provisional EU deal including concessions to cushion the most severe pay crackdown since the 2008 financial crisis.

The breakthrough paves the way to enact the Basel III capital rules for avoiding another banking crisis. The European parliament negotiators insisted on pay curbs as their price for passing Basel, which requires banks to reveal their taxes and profits.

The deal preserves the freedom for national authorities to require banks to hold more capital, but the remuneration exemptions dash hopes in the City of London. UK chancellor George Osborne must now decide whether to accept the deal.

AR If Osborne fights this, to preserve the freedom of bank robbers to pig out on the hard-earned cash of the workers, he and his bunch of Tory toffs will deserve to be flushed down the toilet of history.

China: Drop North Korea
Deng Yuwen

China should reconsider its alliance with NK and press for Korean reunification:

1 Although NK is socialist, like China, their differences are much larger than those between China and the West.

2 NK has dubious strategic value as an ally. If the US felt threatened by NK and launched a pre-emptive attack on it, China would be dragged in. China is strong enough to cut loose.

3 NK will not reform and open up to the world. Once the door of reform opened, the regime could be overthrown. China need not help a regime that will fail sooner or later.

4 NK is pulling away from Beijing. The Chinese recall their shared sacrifice during the Korean war. But NK erased Chinese graves and rewrote the history of the war to give itself all the credit.

5 NK has nuclear weapons. The capricious Kim regime uses nuclear weapons to negotiate with the US, but NK can also use nuclear blackmail against China.

AR Yes: China should act here.

2013 February 27

Financial Times

Investors had assumed that a coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani would form a government. But the comedian Beppe Grillo had the last laugh. His Five Star Movement won 25% of the national vote. The Democrats squandered a lead that looked unassailable. Silvio Berlusconi's People of Liberty lost 6 million votes compared with 2008. Mario Monti won only 10% of the vote.

The triumph of the Five Star Movement is a damning verdict against Italy's political class. But the economic crisis and the austerity imposed on the country by the Monti government were important factors. Democracy is often a messy business. It would be wrong to interpret this result as a vote against the euro. Opinion polls show that support for the euro in Italy remains high.

The Democrats and their allies should be allowed to form a government, seeking alliances from across the political spectrum. It may be able to pass such changes as cutting the cost of politics, changing electoral law, and reducing conflicts of interest. But it would only work if markets decided not to turn against Rome. The eurozone should expect renewed turbulence.

Beppe Grillo
Simon Jenkins

Beppe Grillo is a rollicking satirist with a clear message: austerity, the euro, and corruption are jointly to blame for Italy's ills. We can argue the issues, but why bother when no one listens? Just tell those in charge, as he says, to fuck off.

Beppe Grillo's Blog

I don't know what we can do: hand back the country to Berlusconi ... It's truly a crime against the galaxy ... They can no longer succeed against us ... They need psychiatric analysis. They are failed people. They've been there for 25, or 30 years, and they have brought the country to the point of catastrophe ... Italy's problem is this set of people.

AR It seems Italians have had it up to ... with politics.

Chinese Navy Backfires
Foreign Policy

The Chinese navy is embarking on a supersonic bomber program. The "new" bombers are licensed copies of the cold-war Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire nuclear bombers. It seems the once-feared ship-killer aircraft will be built with engines imported from Russia.

The Chinese will use the Backfires over the Pacific to carry large anti-ship missiles. The Soviet navy used them for this role over the Atlantic. The Chinese navy would use them to replace its Xian H-6 bombers (a version of the obsolete Soviet Tu-16 Badger).

2013 February 26

German President Wants More Europe
Quentin Peel

German president Joachim Gauck has preached a good sermon on the subject of Europe. He admits the rising tide of criticism of the European Union and is clear that "more Europe" must be built from the bottom up on citizen consent and not as a continuing elite project.

Gauck appealed to the British not to walk away from the EU: "More Europe cannot mean Europe without you." Young Germans experience more Europe than any previous generation. But there is still no "shared narrative" for Europe to unite the 27 nations in the midst of an economic crisis.

Europe has a canon of values to unite it, including peace, freedom, democracy, the rule of law, equality, human rights, and solidarity. Gauck wants to create not a united states of Europe, but a commonwealth of nations, and a space for debate. It will require a common language: English.

Catholic Church Sex Scandal
Christiane Amanpour

The Vatican announced that the archbishop of Scotland is resigning after accusations of decades-long sexual misconduct. An American cardinal is facing fresh allegations of covering up abuse. And Italian newspapers published sordid accounts of homosexuality and blackmail within the Church hierarchy.

Gay former Dominican friar Mark Dowd: "When you have this culture of secrecy and guilt and repression, you have conditions which foster the potential for blackmail and for manipulation ... About half, if not more, of all the people attracted into seminaries in the priesthood are gay themselves."

Vatican journalist Marco Politi says Pope Benedict XVI "had, from the beginning, crises with Islam, crises with the Jews, crises with the world of the science because of the condom and HIV ... Here in the Vatican, there are monsignors who have love affairs, with women and with men. But they hide it."

When Cardinal Ratzinger became pope, he wanted to turn a new page on the sex abuse scandal. Politi: "He understood how deep this problem was. But he has not had the courage to order all the bishops to open the archives to see the hidden victims, which are still thousands and thousands all over the world."

Hard Science
Samuel Arbesman

When scientists think about truth, they often think about it as their ability to explain our world. These explanations can take many forms, from basic empirical laws to grand theories. These theories can unify various phenomena that we see in the world, describe the mechanisms of the universe beyond what we can see with our own eyes, and yield predictions about how the world should work.

Scientists always understand that our view of the world is in draft form. What we think the world looks like is constantly subject to refinement and even sometimes a complete overhaul. When properly internalized, this can be exciting. Science is always in draft form, and this is most clear at the frontier. We are still improving our view of the world and reducing error in our understanding.

We pride ourselves on our ability to understand our universe. But what if this intuition is wrong? Do hard pieces of reasoning mean that eventually there will be answers to the riddle of the universe that machines can spit out but we cannot grasp? Quite possibly. The hard science is coming. We've grasped the low-hanging fruit. We made the machines: we can be proud of their discoveries too.

AR When we see this horizon, we'll know the Singularity has dawned.

Arrow 3

Israel Arrow Test

Israel carried out a successful test of the Arrow 3 missile defense interceptor. Set to become operational in around 2016, the Arrow 3 missile defense system is designed to seek and destroy missiles like the Iranian Shihab 3.

The test was led by technicians from Israel Aerospace Industries and a team from the US Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency: "The Israeli and American teams congratulated one another warmly."

The Arrow 3 does not need to know the exact location of the incoming missile when it takes off to intercept it. Once in space, it locates the target rapidly. The United States has earmarked $250 million for four Arrow 3 batteries.


Deutschland hat seine Waffengeschäfte mit Golfstaaten im vergangenen Jahr mehr als verdoppelt. Bahrain, Katar, Kuwait, Oman, die Vereinigten Arabischen Emirate und Saudi-Arabien: Insgesamt wurden 2012 die Ausfuhr von Rüstungsgütern in diese sechs Staaten des Golf-Kooperationsrats im Wert von 1,42 Milliarden Euro genehmigt. Im Jahr 2011 habe der Wert bei knapp 570 Millionen Euro gelegen. Der mit weitem Abstand größte Anteil entfiel 2012 auf Saudi-Arabien.

Gay Report, Pope Quits
The Guardian

La Repubblica newspaper links the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of gay prelates in the Vatican. His decision to resign came on the day he received a dossier compiled by three cardinals that depicted the Vatican as a seething hotbed of intrigue, including a faction whose members were "united by sexual orientation" and subject to "external influence" from laymen with whom they had links of a "worldly nature" — gay sex and blackmail.

AR Church and sex —
can of worms.

How it will feel to wear
Google Glass (video)

AR Cool — I want it!

Saudi Arabia will
remain a Western ally
continue to reform
reshape the Mideast
keep pumping oil
keep buying arms
avoid civil war
not get nukes

Hasso Plattner
SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner, 69, has taken The Pledge. He plans to give away at least half of his fortune, estimated by Forbes magazine at $7.2 billion (€5.4 billion). He will become the first German member of the exclusive club started a few years ago by U.S. billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Over a hundred billionaires, mostly in America, have taken The Pledge to give away at least half their wealth. Buffett: "It's not a legal contract, it's a moral promise."

AR Saint Hasso

How To Create a Mind

Ray Kurzweil, 64, has a new job at Google: "Right now we're giving machines more and more intelligence, and in the end, the machines will always win."

The human brain is the most powerful thinking machine available today, so it is logical that we look to the brain for ideas on how to make devices smarter. Kurzweil's "pattern recognition theory of mind" (PRTM) "describes the basic algorithm of the neocortex."

Kurzweil sees nanoscale devices that will work inside our bodies. They will link to the cloud, to the vast power of Googleworld.

AR Borg

UK vs. EU

Poll of UK voters on EU:
Stay in: 1 in 3
Get out: 1 in 2
No vote: 1 in 6

List of 15 priorities:
1 Healthcare
2 Education
3 Growth
14 EU

Sein Kampf

Benedikt XVI. rief die katholische Kirche und ihre Mitglieder zur Erneuerung auf. Kirche und Gläubige sollten "sich neu Gott zuwenden, um Hochmut und Egoismus zu begegnen". Dies bedeute einen "spirituellen Kampf, weil der Geist des Bösen versucht, uns vom Weg zu Gott abzubringen."

2013 February 25

The Theoretical Minimum
Leonard Susskind

There are a lot of people reading physics in popular literature that they don't understand, not because it's too advanced but because it isn't advanced enough. But they're not about to plough through a big fat textbook. So to help them I wrote The Theoretical Minimum.

The language of physics is mathematics, and it cannot be done honestly without mathematics. That makes it inaccessible. Physics is perceived as a lonesome, nerdy kind of enterprise that has very little to do with human feelings and the things that excite people day to day about each other. I believe that scientists should spend as much time as possible explaining. Physics is a very human enterprise.

2013 February 24

He's Back
The Independent

Timur Vermes, 46, has written a satire about Hitler. The book has sold more than 400,000 copies in six months and is #1 bestseller. The English version appears next year. Vermes, who has worked as a journalist and ghost writer, says "it was just great fun" to write.

The novel tells how Hitler, who "fell asleep" in 1945, reawakens in Berlin in 2011. People assume he's a professional comedian who has perfected a brilliant doppelgänger act. He is soon preparing his political comeback. The satire is written in the first person.

Vermes read and reread Mein Kampf and spent weeks reading Hitler's Führer monologues. The result has led some to accuse the author of taking tastelessness to extremes. Süddeutsche Zeitung: "We laugh, but it's a laugh that sticks in our throats".

Er ist wieder da: Der Roman
Timur Vermes

Sommer 2011. Adolf Hitler erwacht auf einem leeren Grundstück in Berlin-Mitte. Ohne Krieg, ohne Partei, ohne Eva. Im tiefsten Frieden, unter Tausenden von Ausländern und Angela Merkel. Gegen jegliche Wahrscheinlichkeit startet er eine neue Karriere im Fernsehen. Eine Persiflage? Eine Satire? Polit-Comedy? All das und mehr: Timur Vermes' Romandebüt ist ein literarisches Kabinettstück erster Güte.

"Einerseits ist das brüllend komisch, denn der Mann trifft den Jargon des Diktators perfekt. Andererseits bleibt einem das Lachen schnell im Hals stecken."
— Stern

AR Erinnert mich an den lustigen 1986 Roman Briefe in die chinesische Vergangenheit.

2013 February 23

UK Loses AAA
Financial Times

Moody's Investors' Service stripped the UK of its AAA credit rating, lowering it to AA1, saying sluggish economic growth and austerity will affect its finances for years and citing the "policy commitment to austerity" as a "drag" on the economy.

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne: "Far from weakening our resolve to deliver our economic recovery plan, this decision redoubles it."

AR The government position reminds me of British army generals in World War I, when appalling losses, far from weakening their resolve to deliver their victory plan, caused them to redouble their losses.

Israel Versus BDS
Rachel Shabi

George Galloway said he doesn't debate with Israelis or recognize Israel. In response, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement national committee has stated that it doesn't call for the avoidance of people purely on the basis of nationality.

The BDS renaissance in the Arab world is partly due to the failures and conceits of the peace industry. Many left-leaning Jews don't join the BDS movement because the boycott is seen as rage against people, rather than an effective political tool.

When westerners use the BDS card, it just seems like bad politics by proxy. The Israel hate in such circles is often focused on the people, not the state. This is no way to build a movement that includes Jewish and Israeli advocates of equal rights for all.

American BAM
David Eagleman

The brain is composed of 100 billion neurons, each connected to many thousands of its neighbors. Each neuron relays information in miniature voltage spikes, which then become chemical signals. Most neurons signal many times per second. If each signaling event were to make a sound as loud as a pin dropping, the cacophony from a single human head would blow out all the windows.

A new kind of science is required. Our thoughts, desires, agonies, and ecstasies all emerge from the neural landscape. A deeper understanding of mental illness will improve early detection, resources, and rehabilitation. Then we can stop using our prisons as a de facto mental health care system. We can tackle drug crime by decoding the circuitry and pharmacology in the brain of the addict.

A better understanding of the brain will steer the future of our technologies. You can't pull a piece of circuitry out of your smartphone and expect the phone to function. But when a young child with severe epilepsy has half of her brain surgically removed, she tends to do just fine: the remaining brain tissue automatically rewires itself to take over responsibility for the parts that are missing.

We don't know how to build self-configuring machines like these. When a Mars rover loses a wheel, it becomes another piece of space junk. Imagine a future in which we capitalize on the principles of neural reconfiguration, producing devices that flexibly adapt rather than bust. For now, the brain is the only functioning example of such futuristic machinery on our planet.

AR Obama's BAM: brain activity map (blog Feb 18)

2013 February 22

Daniel Burrus

Over the next 10 years, smartphones will get far more advanced:

3D display
Your smartphone will have a 3D display and a 3D web browser, and you won't need special glasses for it. So instead of just viewing web pages on your smart phone, you'll be able to go into virtual environments and maneuver in them, like you do in a game. Or you'll see things sticking out from the screen, again without the special glasses. 3D will be a game-changer for business.

Biometric security
Instead of passwords, you will access sites using biometric authentications. Advanced screen resolution and sensors on the phone will make this possible. For example, your touch-screen will recognize your fingerprint, and your phone's front-facing camera will identify you. Your voice, your keystrokes, and your touch patterns are unique. The biometrics used will depend on the level of security you want.

Wireless payments
Your smartphone will become your wallet. Google has a mobile wallet that will soon work with many credit cards. It is secure and enables you to make payments with your smartphone. As every financial service firm gets into mobile payments, you will move from a leather wallet to a smartphone wallet. Near-field communications chips (NFC) will allow for secure and easy payment.

Personal agent
Your intelligent agent will get smarter. As agents advance, they will turn into personal assistants and will search the web for you and bring back focused, relevant information based on how long you have used your e-agent and how well it knows you. It will compile, present, and share what you want or need. And it will have a face and a personality that you choose. Celebrities will license their images for agents.

No more screens
Some smartphones will have no screens. The traditional smartphone with a screen won't go away, but you will have a no-screen option. Without the screen, you get rid of much of the need for a big battery. Think of a no-screen smartphone as like jewelry people wore on Star Trek. It will be touch and voice activated. When you tap it, you'll connect to your agent up in the cloud. Your agent will give you stuff verbally.

Your smartphone will interface with smart surfaces. We already have touch and voice-operated intelligent screens as tabletop computers that access the internet. By placing your smartphone on these surfaces, the two will link together. And your agent will flow from your smartphone to the screen.

Hot Dress
Daily Beast

When you get excited in one of Studio Roosegaarde's dresses, you just can't hide it. The dresses become transparent based on personal interactions between partners, or whenever the wearer gets aroused. The Intimacy dresses are made from leather and smart e-foils that monitor the wearer's heart rate. The dress starts out either black or white, but the higher the pulse, the more see-through it becomes. Each dress has a microchip in it that responds to the pulse by making the material transparent. Daan Roosegaarde: "With some people you want to show more and some people you want to show less."

AR Take care running upstairs.

Galloway Snubs Israel
The Guardian

Respect party MP George Galloway walked out of a debate at Oxford University after discovering that his debating opponent Eylon Aslan-Levy was an Israeli citizen. The motion was that "Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank" and he was for it, his opponent against.

Galloway: "You said 'we'. Are you an Israeli?"

Aslan-Levy: "I am, yes."

Galloway: "I don't debate with Israelis. I have been misled, sorry." (Walks out)

Aslan-Levy afterwards: "I am appalled that an MP would storm out of a debate with me for no reason other than my heritage."

Galloway later on Facebook: "I refused this evening at Oxford University to debate with an Israeli, a supporter of the apartheid state of Israel. The reason is simple: no recognition, no normalisation. Just boycott, divestment and sanctions, until the apartheid state is defeated. I never debate with Israelis nor speak to their media. If they want to speak about Palestine — the address is the PLO."

Galloway has an honorary Palestinian passport.

AR GG is a rotter.

2013 February 21

China Hacks America: The Mandiant Report
John Avlon, Sam Schlinkert

The Chinese government just got caught. Cybersecurity consultant Mandiant released a report offering a detailed look at Chinese army involvement in hacking into American government and corporate websites.

PLA Unit 61398 is identified by the report as the most prolific hacking group inside the Chinese government. Dedicated to infiltrating English-language sites, the unit recruits English-language proficient speakers and experts in computer security, but otherwise scrubs any mention of its organization from Chinese-language websites. Its 12-story building in Shanghai contains as many as 2,000 personnel. Special high capacity fiber optics were installed when the building was constructed in 2007 and the outfit uses over 1,000 servers.

In a 3-year investigation, Mandiant documented Unit 61398 hacking into 141 companies (including 115 in the U.S.) across 20 industries, and stealing terabytes of data in sustained attacks. The longest persistent attack documented by Mandiant lasted 58 months. The largest recorded theft was 6.5 TB from one company over 10 months.

Given the recent attacks, it's a good time to be a company that specializes in Chinese cybersecurity threats. Mandiant says it took in more than $100 million in revenue in 2012. The Mandiant report is the first detailed public analysis of PLA cyberattacks. Mandiant anticipates reprisals.

Chinese Hacking
James Fallows

Chinese hackers are a serious source of threats. But CSIS fellow James Lewis says the leading problem in cyberspace is Russia, and next is Israel: "The Chinese would be in the top three, maybe the top two, leading problems in cyberspace. They're not close to being the primary problem."

Chinese ministry spokesman Hong Lei: ''Making unfounded accusations based on preliminary results is both irresponsible and unprofessional, and is not helpful for the resolution of the relevant problem. China resolutely opposes hacking actions and has established relevant laws and regulations and taken strict law enforcement measures to defend against online hacking activities.''

America Envies Germany
The Atlantic

Americans envy Germany. In his latest State of the Union, President Barack Obama plugged Germany, not only as a manufacturing powerhouse, but also as a standard for vocational training for young people.

A big factor in Germany's manufacturing and export success is its vibrant SME (small and medium-size enterprise) sector. Germany has a lot of Fortune 500 companies, but what sets it apart are its SMEs.

About 99% of all German companies are SMEs, and around two-thirds of all German workers are employed in them. That's the same as the EU average but higher than the UK and much higher than the US.

Germany's manufacturing SMEs are world-class. Nearly a third of its SME workers are in manufacturing, but they account for 40% of Germany's total exports (compared to 31% for American SMEs).

A typical enterprise will focus on making a single, high quality product. Many manufacturing SMEs are world market leaders in their field and have a relentless drive to produce high quality products, as well as stellar productivity and an obsession with improving operational performance.

The conventional wisdom in the US is that manufacturing can't compete with low-cost labor in China. Germany has shown this viewpoint to be utter rubbish. German workers in SMEs also all have quality, affordable health care. In the US, many workers in SMEs have inferior health care, if any at all.

Germany is the world's fourth-largest economy, with a sizable trade surplus, broadly shared prosperity, and an enviable living standard. Its example is the envy of many Americans.

Higgs Doom?
Lisa Grossman

Is the Higgs boson a harbinger of the apocalypse? Physicists say the mass of the Higgs-like particle announced last summer show our universe is teetering on the edge of chaos.

Fermilab physicist Joseph Lykken: "It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable. At some point, billions of years from now, it's all going to be wiped out. The universe wants to be in a different state, so eventually to realize that, a little bubble of what you might think of as an alternate universe will appear somewhere, and it will spread out and destroy us."

Theory predicted that if the Higgs boson is heavier than about 129 GeV, the universe should be safe. The particle matching the Higgs found at the LHC has a mass of about 126 GeV. But the relationship between the Higgs mass and the vacuum of space depends on the mass of the top quark. So if the top quark mass is not what we think, the vacuum might hold.

Anomalies with the Higgs measurement include its decay into photons more often than predicted. So we may yet find hints of SUSY. If so, it might save us from destruction.

2013 February 20

North Korea
Kurt Campbell

North Korea's third nuclear test is a challenge all round. For South Korea, it reminds the new president that NK is untamed. For Japan, it dashes hopes for a breakthrough in kidnapping cases. And for the US, it shows that NK is pursuing a serious nuclear capability. For China, the relationship with NK has gone through phases:

1 Conflict divided Korea. Since 1953, NK has been a buffer between China and the US forces in SK. For decades, NK was sustained by fraternal communist countries. China indulged NK.

2 Since the fall of communism, NK has been isolated. A series of bluffs and gambits secured money, food, and energy from other countries while it pursuied nuclear and missile dreams.

3 In recent years, NK has undertaken a series of escalating and provocative acts that have rendered diplomacy virtually irrelevant. The new test pushes the limit of indulgence.

Euro Crisis
Martin Wolf

The risk of an immediate eurozone crisis is reduced. Germany wants to keep the eurozone intact, vulnerable countries are sticking with austerity policies, and the ECB took bold initiatives.

But survival is not certain. The currency union is a bad marriage. A good marriage is one spouses would enter again. Many eurozone members would say no. To make this bad marriage good, the zone needs to manage a quick return to economic health and introduce reforms to prevent a new crisis.

A return to health has three components: writing off old debt, rebalancing, and financing new debt. Risk sharing and fiscal transfers are not going to happen. More debt write-offs are needed. Resistance is strong, but it may be futile. The road is hard and long.

Fiscal reforms are contractionary. Countries with private sector debt overhangs are unlikely to see a private sector resurgence. External demand is weak. Competitiveness is low. ECB financing prevented collapse but required fiscal tightening. Results are dismal.

Those who believe the eurozone is saved must assume either an extraordinary economic turnaround or a willingness of those trapped in deep recessions to soldier on, year after grim year. Not likely.

Breakthrough Prize
The Guardian

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and venture capitalist Yuri Milner have jointly established the biggest annual prize in the history of science to reward research into curing diseases and extending human life. The first 11 winners of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation each receive $3 million.

Milner, who has homes in Moscow and California, is a Russian internet investor who quit a PhD in physics and invested in social networking. Last year he gave out prizes to theoretical physicists. They too were each worth $3 million: 9 inaugural winners won a total of $27 million. They formed a committee to choose winners of the future annual prize.

Milner persuaded his fellow internet billionaires to join him in rewarding the life sciences. Together with Zuckerberg, Brin, and Brin's wife, Anne Wojcicki, the sponsors will split the cost of the inaugural prizes and of the next 5 annual awards. The winners will join a growing selection committee to vote on future winners. Chair of the new foundation is Apple chairman Art Levinson.

Breakthrough Prizewinners

Cornelia I Bargmann, Rockefeller University
David Botstein, Princeton University
Lewis C Cantley, Weill Cornell Medical College and New York Presbyterian hospital
Hans Clevers, Hubrecht Institute
Titia de Lange, Rockefeller University
Napoleone Ferrara, University of California, San Diego
Eric S Lander, MIT and Harvard Medical School
Charles L Sawyers, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Bert Vogelstein, Johns Hopkins University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Robert A Weinberg, MIT and Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Shinya Yamanaka, Kyoto University and University of California, San Francisco

Bionic Bugs
Emily Anthes

The US military wants ultra-small flying robots for surveillance missions in dangerous territory. Building them is not easy, but DARPA has a proof of existence of small-scale flying machines in the form of insects. If the military began with live insects, they'd already be halfway to their dream machines.

Michel Maharbiz, at the University of California, Berkeley, figured that beetles are the best for the job. The flower beetle is more than 5 cm long. Maharbiz's team popped one in the freezer to anesthetize it, then poked a needle through the exoskeleton, making small holes directly over the brain and the base of the optic lobes, and over the basalar muscles that modulate wing thrust on either side. Thin steel wires through the holes plugged into a package of electronics mounted with beeswax on the beetle's back. This backpack included a radio receiver, a circuit board, and a battery.

A team member called up their Beetle Commander software on a laptop and issued the signal. The insect's wings began to flap. The bug took flight. The beetle flew on its own, but as it cruised across the room, the researchers overlaid their own commands. They pinged the basalar muscles, prompting the beetle to steer a course through the air.

Backyard Brains is a company started by Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo to sell low-cost kits for any interested amateur who wants to play neuroscientist. Their RoboRoach is very much like the bionic beetles from the Maharbiz team. The cockroach relies on its long, fluid-filled antennas for a host of sensory and navigational functions, so its nervous system is easy to hack: all you have to do is thread a wire inside each antenna. The wires run into a small black box Marzullo glues onto its head. He plugs this connector into the roach backpack. The electronics are adapted from a widely available toy, a plastic worm called the HexBug. Now anyone can experiment with bionic bugs at home.

AR First find a roach at home ...

2013 February 19

CORAL news: made half a dozen minor (almost trivial) changes to the online file for future sold copies.
The changes are not worth listing for those who have the first copies — just enjoy your rare original!

Disarmed Europe
Gideon Rachman

Since 2008, most big European countries have cut defense spending. The British Royal Air Force now has just a quarter of the number of combat aircraft it had in the 1970s. The Royal Navy has about a quarter of the number of ships it had. The British army is scheduled to shrink to 82,000 soldiers, its smallest size for 200 years.

And yet the UK has the fourth-largest military budget in the world. Much European military spending goes on pensions or pay, not equipment. The Belgians did well in the Libyan campaign of 2011, but one critic calls the Belgian military "an unusually well-armed pension fund".

The United States alone accounts for about three-quarters of NATO defense spending. But Americans are preparing for a new age of military austerity. The Pentagon could cut $1 trillion in defense spending over the next decade. And it will concentrate on the Pacific. The US Navy currently devotes half its resources to the Pacific and half to Europe and the Mideast, but in future, Asia will get 60%. Last year, Asian nations spent more on military force than European countries.

Europeans seem more worried by the damage austerity could do to its social model than by any military threat. Politicians are trying to protect health and social budgets ahead of defense spending. But with the Mideast in turmoil, Iran belligerent, Russia resurgent, and Chinese defense spending almost trebled in the last decade, Europeans may need their forces.

AR As Barack Obama told Mitt Romney, times change. Spend where it helps, not where it looks good.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

Sales of arms and military services by the SIPRI Top 100 largest arms-producing companies totaled $410 billion in 2011, a 5% decrease in real terms from 2010. Expansion into the cybersecurity market is a clear trend. SIPRI arms industry expert Dr Susan Jackson: "Arms producing and military services companies have been taking steps to insulate themselves against austerity measures."

AR By selling internet paranoia.

2013 February 18

Brain Activity Map Project
New York Times

The Obama administration is planning a decade-long scientific effort to examine the workings of the human brain and build a comprehensive map of its activity. The BAM project could cost billions of dollars.

The Human Genome Project cost $3.8 billion. It began in 1990 and reached its goal of mapping all the genes in human DNA ahead of schedule in 2003. A study showed it returned $800 billion by 2010.

BAM differs from the European Human Brain Project that will invest €1 billion in an effort to simulate a brain. Critics say the simulation will use knowledge that is still theoretical, incomplete, or inaccurate.

BAM will be organized by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. A meeting at Caltech was attended by NIH, DARPA, and NSF, scientists, and representatives from Google, Microsoft, and Qualcomm.

The Brain Activity Map project and the challenge of functional connectomics
AP Alivisatos, M Chun, GM Church, RJ Greenspan, ML Roukes, R Yuste
Neuron, June 2012

Herr Doktor
Fabienne Hurst

In Germany, a "Doktor" title helps an ambitious person get ahead. But instead of doing the work themselves, many hire a ghostwriter to write a thesis for them.

When he finished his doctorate in philosophy, Dr G couldn't get a job, so he joined a ghostwriting agency: "I find it great to discover things. In no other profession would I gain such a wide range of knowledge."

Often he's only given a general subject, and doesn't even know the name of the university, doctoral advisor, or client. Dr G: "These are people who have absolutely no intellectual ambitions. One can tell from their spelling errors that they would never be able to get a PhD the normal way."

He can write a thesis in about three months. So far all of them have been accepted by the universities. Dr G: "If the universities functioned properly, my job wouldn't exist."

2013 February 17

Blade Runner
The Independent

Oscar Pistorius is "numb with shock, as well as grief" after his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp died on the bathroom floor of his mansion, shot four times. Prosecutors say Pistorius "repeatedly and intentionally" shot his girlfriend while she cowered behind a locked bathroom door.

Pistorius was not the "squeaky clean" hero previously portrayed in the press. In 2009 he spent 17 hours in jail after being charged with common assault. Lawyer Charlotte Harris: "It's very likely to be a circus trial ... You have a beautiful woman and a national hero who has succeeded against all the odds."

AR Beautiful woman — the man's an idiot.

Faith In Fiction
Ian McEwan

Like a late Victorian clergyman doubting in the dark, I have moments when my faith in fiction falters. I don't know how or where to suspend my disbelief. I don't believe a word of it.

When the god of fiction deserts you, everything must go. The book-lined church, the respectful congregation, the reviewer's blessing or curse. My doubter's heart fails when I wander into a bookstore and see the towers on the tables, the taglines above the cover art, the earnest plot summaries.

I'm 64. If I'm lucky, I might have 20 good reading years left. Teach me about the world! Bring me the cosmologists, the annalists, the philosopher, the neuroscientist, the mathematician, the historian. A few widely spaced pleasures apart, what will I have or know at the end of yet another novel?

Such apostasy creeps into the wide gap that separates finishing one novel and starting the next. Months can go by. Then there comes a shift. I have a memory of myself as a child, caressing a detail in a novel. The experience showed me how the worlds of fact and fiction can interpenetrate.

Things that never happened can tangle with things that did. The atheist may lie down with the believer, the encyclopedia with the poem. You can put everything to use when you return to the faith.

AR Even CORAL :)

2013 February 16

Net Wisdom
Robert Cottrell

I read all day. I recommend the best pieces each day on my website, The Browser. My wisdom:

1 This is a great time to be a reader. The amount of good writing freely available online far exceeds what the consumer might have encountered in printed media. Only 1% is of value to the intelligent general reader, but even that's an embarrassment of riches. To read the blog of a political scientist, or an anthropologist, or a lawyer, or an information technologist, is about as good as reading their mind.

2 The writer is everything. Good writers write good pieces, regardless of subject and regardless of publication. When print media ruled, your basic unit of consumption was the publication. The publisher was the guarantor of quality. But many online publishers subtract value by filling the space between reader and writer with banner ads. A new business model for reading and writing online will prevail in which readers reward directly the writers they admire.

3 We overvalue new writing and undervalue older writing. The newspaper industry told us for decades that today's newspaper is essential but yesterday's newspaper is worthless. Online, you can call up a year-old piece as easily as you can call up a day-old piece. A wise new hire for any long-established newspaper or magazine would be a smart, disruptive archive editor.

4 The internet is a force for brevity. When you're writing online, you don't have to fill an expected space or length, or to introduce and source every person or fact you mention.


Planet Mercury

The NASA Messenger space probe has been orbiting Mercury for two years. A new color video shows the entire surface. Enhanced colors reveal differences in structure and composition of the rocks on the surface of Mercury, said David Blewitt, Johns Hopkins University, at an AAAS meeting.

Blewitt: "The colors represent real differences in the composition of the rocks on the surface. The orange areas represent volcanic plains and the areas of deep blue are reflections of blue light."

Mercury is a planetary oddball. It is the only planet in a spin-orbit resonance with the Sun, making exactly 3 turns on its axis for every 2 revolutions about the Sun, and its temperatures go from 70 K at night to 700 K by day. At the poles there are craters in shadow where water ice has collected.

Close encounter with
an asteroid

My boxer nephew #4:
Mo Karbo training Mike Ross

EU-US Trade

Barack Obama mentioned a transatlantic trade pact during his State of the Union address. The EU and the US vowed to complete trade talks within two years. Together, the EU and US account for nearly half of world economic output. European Commission president José Manuel Barroso: "It is a boost to our economies that does not cost a cent of taxpayer money."

State of the Union

Barack Obama proposes to reignite the engine of America's economic growth by raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour, tied to the cost of living, and by avoiding the automatic $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, half from the defense budget, that start March 1. He wants more revenues, largely from closing personal and company tax loopholes, for the next round of deficit reduction.

Obama plans to reduce pollution, prepare for climate change, and speed the transition to sustainable energy.

Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI

Joseph Ratzinger was unlikely
ever to thrill the planet's
billion or so Roman Catholics.
He leaves a sense of drift
and disappointment.

The child abuse scandal has
not been resolved, nor has
the church's loss of authority
and self-confidence been
reversed. In the west, the
decline in church attendances
and in vocations for the
priesthood have been neither
confronted nor resolved.

Governments in Catholic
countries press on with their
plans for gay marriages or
easier abortion. The church
has squandered its moral
authority across the world
over child abuse. Benedict
was an interim pope.

2013 February 15

Cosmic Rays Come From Supernovas
Lisa Grossman

Cosmic rays are charged particles from space, usually protons, accelerated to almost the speed of light. The material blown out by exploding stars forms a shock wave. Protons get caught in magnetic fields that bounce them back and forth across the shock, and each time they get a kick. When their energy is high enough, they escape, as cosmic rays. The rays are deflected by magnetic fields on their way to Earth, scrambling their directions, but when the fast protons collide with slow protons further out, they emit gamma rays, which travel to us in straight lines.

Stefan Funk and colleagues at SLAC, California, used the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope to observe the two brightest supernova remnants in the galaxy. The gamma ray photons from the proton collisions have a minimum energy of 150-200 MeV. The team found lots of gamma rays with that energy or higher coming from that region. So cosmic rays come from supernovas in the Milky Way.

Quantum Uncertainty in a Grain of Sand
Jacob Aron

A drum no bigger than a grain of sand is now the largest object shown to obey the uncertainty principle. This principle limits how far you can simultaneously determine both the position and momentum of a particle and is known to apply to quantum particles, but it is hard to test for large objects.

Tom Purdy and colleagues at the University of Colorado, Boulder, made a drum by stretching a 40 nm sheet of silicon nitride over a square frame with sides of 0.5 mm and put the drum inside a vacuum chamber cooled to a few degrees above 0 K. They measured the position of the skin at any moment by firing a stream of photons at it. This made the drum vibrate at an unknown speed and caused the predicted error in their momentum measurement.

The uncertainty principle on this scale could affect the hunt for gravitational waves. Gravitational wave detectors look for very slight changes in the distance between two test masses caused by passing spacetime ripples. Quantum uncertainty could overwhelm these very small changes.

Mehdi Hasan

On February 15, 2003, over a million anti-war protesters gathered in Hyde Park. A decade on, they stand vindicated. The hawks were wrong. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, no ties between secular Saddam and Islamist Osama. The invasion failed to usher in a democratic revolution.

The Iraq war was a strategic disaster. The invasion and occupation undermined the moral standing of the western powers, empowered Iran and its proxies, heightened the threat from al-Qaeda, and sent a signal to "rogue" regimes that the best way to deter an attack was to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Over the past ten years, Iraqis have witnessed the comprehensive destruction of their country. The post-Saddam government is consumed by divisions and by corruption. The human rights of the Iraqi people are violated with impunity. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is leading his country toward dictatorship.

2013 February 14

The Jackal
Ken Gordon

Andrew Wylie may recall that Valentine's Day 2013 marks the 24th anniversary of the Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Wylie is a hero in Rushdie's recent memoir Joseph Anton. In a narrative of betrayals, Wylie provides Rushdie with counsel, housing, friendship, and all sorts of other support.

Wylie does the hard and sometimes blunt work of negotiating the best advances and royalties for the best authors. By focusing on the backlists of talented authors, he ensures that their worthwhile books remain in print. Rushdie gives us a personal look at his relationship with Wylie, and shows just how much writers need men of action like Wylie.

Wylie extracts more value for authors from their works amid the troubled book business. He is a businessman with a literate sensibility.

Harvard Man
Craig Lambert

Andrew Wylie is a literary agent. The Wylie Agency, founded in 1980, with offices in midtown Manhattan and in London, represents hundreds of clients, including the biggest names in the business. In book publishing, the new titles are where the up-front sizzle is, but a strong backlist of previous titles is where the money is. Wylie makes money for his clients by concentrating on their backlist.

The British press dubbed Wylie "The Jackal" in 1995 after Martin Amis deserted his previous agent for the Wylie agency, which won him a big advance for his next novel. Wylie says his own clients are equally free to move on. He generally represents established writers and tends to move them toward the larger and richer publishers. The smaller publishers do the legwork of finding and grooming new authors, then Wylie reads the reviews and eats their lunch.

Wylie: "A writer arrives with a fully formed personality and set of beliefs, powerfully expressed. I become so enraptured by their interests, knowledge, and means of expression that nothing can distract me. My ability to transmit the writer's qualities, to persuasively describe them with admiration, is strong because I have this sort of hollow core: I take on the author's identity."

2013 February 13

The Nuclear Threat
Sam Nunn

The steady progress made by North Korea on its nuclear and missile programs is deeply concerning. I would urge China to intensify its leadership role in helping to solve this crisis. I think we can greatly diminish the risk of a nuclear explosion in Europe or the United States within the next 10 years.

The Iranians know that if they develop nuclear weapons, they will be in tremendous jeopardy from military capabilities of their neighbors and of the United States. I think 2013 is a crucial year. We need a dialogue with the Iranians. We have to give the Iranians an idea of what the possibilities would be if they gave up their quest for a nuclear weapon.

Five years ago, 40 countries had weapons-usable nuclear materials. Now there are only 28. Some big avalanches are threatening to come down the mountain, with Iran and North Korea. But when you look at the avalanches that have missed us so far, there is something to be grateful for.

Stanley Cavell
Charles Petersen

Stanley Cavell on fraud in art: "There is no one feature, or definite set of features, which may be described in technical handbooks ... There are no such proofs possible for the assertion that the art accepted by a public is fraudulent; the artist himself may not know."

Logical positivists questioned the value of poetry. They said its statements were not true or false, hence meaningless. But Cavell saw their fraudulence. He asked how we mean what we say. If we must bring a world with us to understand a definition, then we cannot define away ambiguity in words. Language is ambiguous because we do not all see the world in the same way. So we must dare to mean what we say, take responsibility for all the meanings our words might be taken to have.

Philosophers now see logical positivism as a dead end. Skeptics say we never can be absolutely certain of ourselves or our relation to the world, but that was what the logical positivists wanted. Their philosophy was fraudulent because under the banner of getting closer to the world, they moved further away from it.

Cavell was an American interpreter of ordinary language philosophy. The Oxford philosopher J.L. Austin would pick at a philosophical definition of a word to unveil an entire world that the definition had obscured. The ordinary language philosophers returned to the ordinary world — but they found that their travels had made it uncanny.

In response, Cavell embarked on a wholesale "reconstruction or resettlement of the everyday" through interpretations of literature and film. Reading the later Wittgenstein helped him see that there is no hope of building a nice new home there. We must turn to a philosophy of constant movement. Cavell found this in Emerson and Thoreau. Emerson: "Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning."

Cavell, now 86, calls his philosophy perfectionism.

2013 February 12

Astro Teller

It's often easier to make something 10 times better than it is to make it 10 percent better.

Because when you’re working to make things 10% better, you inevitably focus on the existing tools and assumptions, and on building on top of an existing solution that many people have already spent a lot of time thinking about.

But when you aim for a 10x gain, you lean instead on bravery and creativity. We chose to go to the moon, John F. Kennedy said, not because it was easy but because it was hard. Kennedy understood that bigger challenges motivate people.

We need 10x gains to solve some of the biggest problems facing humankind because our problems are exponentiating. We need to keep pace with these challenges and then pull ahead of them, and incremental thinking isn’t going to get us there. The only way we can do this is by shifting our focus toward moonshots.

Moonshot thinking
1 Starts with picking a big problem: something huge, long existing, or on a global scale
2 Involves articulating a radical solution that would solve the problem if it existed
3 Needs evidence that the proposed solution is not quite as crazy as it at first seems

"If you're not doing some things that are crazy, then you're doing the wrong things."
Larry Page

Steven Poole

Aristotle said the acorn grew into a seedling because its purpose was to become a mighty oak. Teleology can seem to imply an intention to pursue an end, or even reverse causation, acting back in time. For such reasons, teleology was disowned at the birth of modern science.

Kant said we see living beings in teleological terms but teleological explanation is unwarranted. Hegel had a teleological view of human affairs as the world-spirit pursuing an ultimate aim through the dialectical operations of history. Singularity theorists, who believe we are destined to merge with our machines, have a diluted Hegelian teleology.

Thomas Nagel seeks to resurrect teleology. He sees the appearance of conscious beings like us as the universe waking up. Doubts about Darwinian evolution motivate his teleology. He finds it implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents plus natural selection. Well, he'd better get used to it. The experts have done the math.

Fundamental teleology is not incoherent in cosmology. The problem for cosmic teleology is that we have no way to test it. Over cosmic time, why should we assume that creatures like us are the telos of the universe, when there is plenty of time left to go?

AR Teleology closes the circles that logic and science say should stay open, and thus demonstrates the irrationality at the heart of our rationality, hence the triviality of terrestrial life and human consciousness in the great scheme of things.




World history is the greatest story ever told. It starts with the gods and ends here and now, with us. We all want to know what happens next. Looking back we see a rich tapestry of good and bad actors — Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Communists, Nazis, and the heroes of Apollo. It is truly a tale of triumphs and tragedies.

Spiral dynamics is a color scheme for understanding history by tracing the evolution of complexity from humble origins. How we rose from surviving as naked apes to living as smart nodes in a globalized ecosystem is a story well worth telling in color. The tale has an amazing twist in the next chapter — the coral step in the spiral.

Paperback, 12.8 cm x 19.6 cm, 300 pages
ISBN 978-148234223-9

Wintry lake views at the
end of my summertime
favorite jogging trail

Black Mirror


Japan vs. Russia

Japan scrambled fighters
Thursday after Russian Su-27
jets entered Japanese airspace off Hokkaido. The incident occurred near territory disputed by Japan and Russia since the end of World War II. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to resolve the dispute over what Japan calls the Northern Territories and Russia calls the Kuril Islands.

AR This dispute featured
in my 1996 novel LIFEBALL,
set in 2013.

Aero India 2013
opened today in Bangalore.
The show began with flights
by helicopters, by a vintage
De Havilland Tiger Moth, and
by the Czech aerobatics team
Flying Bulls

Me First!

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "I am ready to be the first human to be sent to space by Iranian scientists."

AR Shoot him up!

Saudi Killer Goes Free

A Saudi preacher accused of raping and murdering his 5 year-old daughter Lama has been released. Lama suffered a crushed skull, broken back, broken ribs, a broken arm, and extensive bruising and burns. Social workers say she had been repeatedly raped.

Fayhan al-Ghamdi admitted inflicting the injuries after doubting the girl's virginity. A judge ruled that under Islamic law he must pay $50 000 to Lama's mother. This is half the payment for a boy. Fathers cannot be executed for killing their children in Saudi Arabia.

Veil Babies

In an interview on Saudi TV, Sheikh Abdullah Daoud said all female newborns should wear veils to protect them against sex attacks. He cited instances of babies being sexually molested in Saudi Arabia.

AR Forget the veils — Cut
the balls off any Saudi man
who touches a girl.

2013 February 11

American Growth
Larry Summers

Growth and job creation remain America's most serious national challenge. The US economy growth rate was 1.5% in 2012 and is predicted to be 1.4% during 2013, with rising unemployment.

A weak economy and limited job creation make growth in middle class incomes all but impossible, pressure budgets by restricting tax revenues, and threaten essential private and public investments in education and innovation. It undermines the American example to the world.

Americans can do better. An agenda:
1 Spread budget cuts over time: Sudden slashing of military and civilian spending will hurt.
2 Reform corporate tax: US companies are sitting on $2 trillion in cash awaiting tax relief.
3 Ease housing finance: The move against cheap mortgages has swung too far.
4 Push energy changes: Approve the Keystone pipeline and replace coal with natural gas.

Venture Capital View
The Telegraph

The British Venture Capital Association says addressing the need for growth had become more urgent than spending cuts. BVCA chairman Robert Easton: "The UK's fiscal position remains precarious so there is a limit to what stimulus can be delivered without adding to an already large debt burden."

The BVCA says tackling youth unemployment is priority #1. It calls for more flexibility on immigration to allow companies to look abroad for talent and skills. And it wants a smarter industrial policy focusing on key industries, technology, and science.

The BVCA also says the government can learn from the German approach by encouraging lending and investment through tax credits and guarantees. And the government should not raise capital requirements on banks above EU levels.

2013 February 10

Reading Warlord by Carlo D'Este

2013 February 9

Nightmare Scenario

Across-the-board U.S. defense spending cuts set to kick in March 1 and the possibility of the government operating under a continuing resolution instead of a budget for the rest of the year pose a "nightmare scenario" for the Defense Department.

Frank Kendall, deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the cuts translate to $50 billion over the rest of FY 2013. He added that DOD officials will try to protect units that are deploying sooner and to sustain current operations.

The Defense Department faces a national security environment that includes al-Qaida's activity in Africa, unrest in Syria, the unpredictability of Iran and North Korea, and the modernization of the Chinese and Russian militaries.

AR There are worse nightmare scenarios ...

Nightmare Scenarios
The Guardian

1 Humankind is overthrown by its own robots!
Robopocalypse author Daniel H. Wilson explains how to survive a robot uprising: Destroy a robot, take it apart, and use it against the other machines. He says humans are just an arms race in progress.

2 Genetically modified crops attack humanity!
Anne Swithinbank says if plants mobilize, gather your family and relocate to a very large bottle garden. Friendly plants will clean your air and recycle your effluent and may even let you eat them. The problem is finding a big enough bottle garden.

3 Virtual reality is so real, we may be already in it!
Christopher Brookmyre thinks we'll augment our brains so that we process our thoughts digitally. He finds the idea of waking up in a virtual reality quite appealing, but thinks we'd soon start moaning.

4 Social media over-sharing is used by a police state!
Vikki Stone worries that we're volunteering all this information and it's portrayed as very fun and jolly to be social and connected, but soon we'll never be able to get away from it. She and her other half would become freedom fighters.

5 A compulsory wonder-drug pacifies the populace!
Michael Smiley thinks we already live in a world where we're controlled by drugs that make us bypass our gut instincts, and that the only way to fight back would be to decide to be nice to other people.

2013 February 8

Ullrich Fichtner

A major summit of Europe's top intellectual icons met in Paris to discuss the future of Europe.

"Europe or Chaos?" featured Bernard-Henri Lévy, Umberto Eco, György Konrád, Juan Luis Cebrián, Julia Kristeva, Peter Schneider, and Hans Christoph Buch. The attendees mentioned Goethe and Herder, Husserl and Voltaire, Pushkin and Freud, Adenauer and de Gaulle, and Schuman and De Gasperi.

Europe, said the poets and thinkers, stands for enlightenment, humanism, universally applicable values, and the separation of church and state. Schneider said Europe boasts "the noblest of all cultures in the world." Eco read a long, baroque, confusing text. György Konrád mumbled about the "murderous, old dualities" that continue to exist in Europe. And so on.

The panel discussion followed a manifesto signed by Salman Rushdie, António Lobo Antunes, and others, published a few days earlier. The first sentences: "Europe isn't just in a crisis. Europe is dying. Europe as an idea, as a dream, as a project."

The assembled intellectuals forgot all nuance and seemed to rant. The rhetoric was childishly exaggerated and filled with plainly false arguments: Europe "is crumbling everywhere, from West to East, and from North to South. Populism and chauvinism of all stripes are on the rise."

This is not the continent most Europeans live on. The scenario ignores the European Union. The group reiterated that there is no alternative to Europe. But they have no idea why we need today's Europe.

Europe needs new thinkers. They were not invited.

AR They forgot to invite me.

Britain and Europe
David Miliband

David Cameron doesn't want to be the prime minister who takes Britain out of the European Union. But the problem with his promise of a referendum is that Britain's relationship with Europe in the next few years is going to be defined by the danger of a potential exit. Many Tories say the big issue is repatriation of powers. I say the big issues are innovation, energy, infrastructure, and migration.

A two-tier Europe is not the way we want to go. Britain and Germany, one of them in the euro, the other one out of the euro, will be two pillars of the European construction. This is not to exclude France, because the French-German alliance is special. But in spite of German and British differences, we have a lot of shared perspectives and common values. We should be pushing together for reforms.

AR David M gets my vote on this issue.

The Great Degeneration
Niall Ferguson

Symptoms of the relative economic decline of the West include slowing growth, crushing debts, aging populations, and anti-social behavior. Representative government, the free market, the rule of law, and civil society were once the four pillars of Western societies. In our time, these institutions have deteriorated in disturbing ways. Our democracies have broken the contract between the generations by heaping debts on our children and grandchildren. Our markets are distorted by over-complex regulations that are the disease, not the cure. The rule of law has become the rule of lawyers. And civil society has degenerated into uncivil society. Europeans and Americans are frittering away the inheritance of centuries. Arresting the degeneration will take heroic leadership and radical reform.

AR Ferguson sees the symptoms: CORAL may cheer him up.

2013 February 7

Gespräch zwischen Dieter Borchmeyer und Manfred Osten über die Wagner-Sozialisation Hitlers
DAI, Haus der Kultur, Heidelberg

Besteht ein Zusammenhang zwischen Richard Wagners Hoffnung auf eine ästhetische Weltordnung und der fatalen Theatralisierung der Politik durch Hitler?

Prof. Dr. Dieter Borchmeyer ist emeritierter Professor an der Universität Heidelberg, Präsident der Bayerischen Akademie der Schönen Künste und lehrt im Rahmen der Stiftungsdozentur "Heidelberger Vorträge zur Kulturtheorie" weiterhin an der Universität Heidelberg.

Der ehemalige Diplomat und langjährige Generalsekretär der Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung Manfred Osten ist Kulturwissenschaftler.

Emily Post

Laura Claridge

Etiquette is the measure of how we treat one another. It reaches across class, race, gender, and culture, and has long fashioned Americans' ideal of what it was to pursue a gracious and even a moral life. Attention to behavior preoccupied even the founders: George Washington wrote a book on it.

Etiquette (1922) by Emily Post sold over a million copies in its first few years. In 1976 and again in 1990, Life magazine lauded her as one of the most important Americans of the twentieth century. She was not alone in maintaining that the art of treating people well is the other side to the act of waging war.

French Nuclear Disaster Could Cost Half A Trillion Euros
Der Spiegel

In a new study of a nuclear disaster on the scale of Fukushima, the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) calculates that the Fukushima accident has cost Japan about 200 billion euros, but costs in France would be up to 500 billion euros, a quarter of French GDP.

IRSN chief Jacques Repussard: "A major accident would have horrific consequences, but it would not erase the country, so we have to talk about it, even if it is difficult."

IRSN study author Patrick Momal: "The probability of such accidents is extremely low, but estimates like these help decision makers to set the cost of preventive measures in perspective."

France plans to reduce the share of nuclear power in its energy mix from 75% today to 50% by 2025. Worldwide, according to the IAEA, 68 nuclear reactors are under construction. Of them, 29 are in China, 7 in India, 4 in South Korea, and 3 in Japan. Dozens more are planned.

2013 February 6

Gideon Rachman

The dispute between China and Japan over the islands known as the Diaoyu to the Chinese and the Senkaku to the Japanese could lead to war. The two powers' aircraft and ships shadowbox near the islands. A Chinese attack would trigger American security guarantees to Japan.

The United States is concerned that the new Japanese cabinet is full of hardline nationalists, who are inclined to confront China. Shinzo Abe, the new Japanese prime minister, rejects the "apology diplomacy" that Japan followed to atone for its aggression in World War II.

China now, like Germany 100 years ago, is a rising power that fears the established powers seek to block its rise. But the Chinese leadership is determined to avoid the mistakes of Germany and Japan. In a nuclear age, a 1914 crisis seems unlikely.

Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle
Arms Control Association Briefing Book

Iran apparently has still not made a strategic decision to pursue nuclear weapons and does not yet have the ingredients for an effective nuclear arsenal, but its capabilities are improving.

A deal that ties Iran's enrichment activities and its stockpiles to the needs of its nuclear power plants, combined with IAEA safeguards, could sufficiently guard against a nuclear-armed Iran.

Tighter international sanctions can help slow the advance of Iran's nuclear and missile programs and increase pressure on Tehran to negotiate seriously. Yet sanctions alone will not be enough.

The military option would be counterproductive and costly for all sides. Air strikes could set back Iran's program for no more than a few years and could lead Tehran to withdraw from the NPT.

The three rounds of nuclear talks in 2012 have revealed substantial differences between the two sides. Iran could make a deal and sanctions relief more likely if it cooperated with the IAEA.

2013 February 5

Jagdish Bhagwati

Al Gore considers globalization. He confines himself to outsourcing and robots and does not discuss economic integration or dimensions such as patents and migrations.

Gore accepts that outsourcing and robots depress wages. But an alternative narrative is that robots depress wages and that freer trade offsets the change.

Gore accepts that spread of new ideas to lands like China and India will stimulate them to win where we used to win. But no: as they become more similar to us, mutual benefit will increase.

But in the new world comparative advantage is fragile:

1 Firms need flexibility in firing if they are to hire.
2 Security does not come from lifetime employment.
3 Firms cannot train workers who are free to leave.

Gore accepts that we are doomed to greater inequality in a globalized world. But Indian growth has been inclusive, pulling more than 200 million above the poverty line.

Gore is persuasive on the dangers of global warming. We expect public funding of public goods. Should we give green technologies for free to China and India?

AR I had to edit freely. Authors: try to keep it short and clear.

Banking Crisis
Alistair Darling

The UK Chancellor George Osborne proposes ringfencing: separating a bank's retail and investment activities so that in a crisis we can save one part but let the other go to the wall. But in the face of panic and a collapse in confidence, I found we had to erect a firewall.

Ringfencing will not be enough. No government can say it will never have to bail out a bank or intervene in a crisis. In more tranquil times, a failed bank can be allowed to fail.

The Vickers Commission recommended a lending ratio of 25 to 1. The chancellor now wants a 33 to 1 ratio. A Vickers ratio is better than a ringfence. Also, bond holders must take losses in a failure. We cannot let them take the profits while taxpayers take the risk.

We cannot sort out UK banking problems until the eurozone does the same. The banking union will not work as proposed. French and German banks will not accept ringfencing.

Church Without God
Esther Addley

The Sunday Assembly is an atheist service run by two standup comedians in a former church in north London. Sanderson Jones: "I would go to a carol service or a friend's wedding, and there would be so much about it that I really liked — the togetherness, the rituals — but I just couldn't get past the God bit."

The service opens with a song, "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen, and features a reading, a moment of reflective silence, even a collection to pay for the rental of the church, during which people are invited to turn and greet those around them. After a sermon by a physicist on antimatter and the improbability of the universe, the congregation stands to sing Superstition by Stevie Wonder.

British Humanist Association CEO Andrew Copson: "I think it's an interesting development. "

2013 February 4

James Blitz

Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi says Tehran is ready to meet the E3+3 (US, UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany) to discuss sanctions.

The US is prepared to meet Iran bilaterally. US vice-president Joe Biden: "There has to be an agenda that they are prepared to speak to. We are not just prepared to do it for the exercise."

Energy sanctions have cut $46 billion of revenues, equivalent to 8% of GDP. Iran now has 40% inflation.

Rise of the Robots
Edward Luce

The United States is automating. The net increase in US manufacturing jobs since last July is zero. Yet in January manufacturing activity rose by its fastest rate since April.

Manufacturing employment is shrinking around the world. China is moving fast toward industrial robotics. But the distribution of the benefits is unsustainable. Middle income jobs have cratered.

The effects of technology are beginning to be felt in education and healthcare. Teachers will outsource lessons online and focus on personal care. Doctors will be freed from basic diagnostics to do the same.

Sustained growth is inconsistent with declining middle class incomes. Rage against the machine.

AR Bill Gates enthused about the move online on GPS this week.

Superbowl 2013 winner: Beyoncé

Black Hornet spy drone:
20 cm long, mass 15 g

Brigade Reconnaissance Force
Staff Sergeant Kevin Hough
deploys Black Hornet
in Afghanistan.

The European Space Agency plans to build a Moon base using 3D printers to transform raw lunar soil into walls for domes. ESA says autonomous robots will print a cellular structure to house four lunarnauts, ready for occupancy by about 2050, with 90% of the mass needed coming from lunar rock, so only the robots and small parts need be ferried from Earth.

Mahatma Gandhi
The Telegraph

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
has become a smiling saint who brought down the British Empire with civil disobedience.

The 1982 movie Gandhi shows him ejected from a first-class railway carriage in South Africa after a white passenger objects to sharing space with a "coolie". In fact, the railway company accepted his demand to travel first class. He argued that "respectable Indians" should not be obliged to use the same facilities as "raw Kaffirs". In Durban he won his action to end the indignity of Indians using the same entrance to the post office as blacks, and got three doors: one for Europeans, one for Asiatics, and one for Natives.

When former Viceroy of India
Lord Halifax saw Adolf Hitler in 1938, the Führer suggested he have Gandhi shot.

2013 February 3

Who in their right mind would want to move to Britain?
Lucy Mangan

UK government ministers are planning an ad campaign to deter a potential influx of EU immigrants. They can make it simple:

1 Inform those thinking of moving here that Britain is introducing a "spare room tax" for poor people on benefits. And that poor people "underoccupying" a property have to downsize, whether or not there is anywhere else to go.

2 While the health service is being privatized, while the school system is being reconfigured by a former journalist, while bankers and CEOs are being pampered by those charged with checking their rapacious greed, we are devoting large amounts of time and energy to the trivial pursuits of the royal family.

3 We are a country in which a certain amount of time and energy should be devoted to this question because Mr Money's elevation to the Earldom of Poo will cause unearned benefits to accrue not just to him and his wife but to generations of his family to come.

4 We are a country that has just rewritten its citizenship test so that it resembles, in the words of Migrants' Rights Network director Don Flynn, "an entry examination for an elite public school", thereby enshrining 18 acts of discrimination in one short document.

5 We are a bewildered wreck of a country, steeped in snobbery and led by a band of conscienceless hucksters with no greater goal than to strip the wealth and assets owned by the many and place them firmly in the hands of the few.

AR Lucy, I revised your list to make it more accessible to international readers.

Five reasons to leave Britain
Victoria Coren

Miriam Margolyes has take Australian citizenship: "I don't like class distinction and there is far too much of that in England. There's an energy here, an optimism, a vitality. I think England doesn't have that any more."

There are plenty of other things to complain about:

1 The British economy depends on the arms industry but we haven't had a civil war in over 400 years. How uncivil.

2 Newspapers keep on showing female celebrities wearing backless, sleeveless, plunging dresses on a red carpet in January, in central London, in the snow.

3 Nobody in the UK displays a house number properly. Some of the houses don't have numbers at all, they have names. And this in a country where the roads are all weird and wiggly.

4 Cigarettes are sold in newsagents. Disgusting to be tempted to buy mags with your fags.

5 If I have to listen to another person droning on about the class system, Jeez! Change the record!

AR Ditto, Victoria.

2013 February 2

Groundhog Day: 70 years ago today, General Paulus surrendered a Nazi army to the Soviets at Stalingrad.

Time Travel Movie
New Scientist

A time travel movie (1:51) made by a team led by Wolfgang Schleich, Uni Ulm, visualizes life inside an infinitely wide rotating cylinder of evenly spread dust called a Gödel universe.

The first scene is shot from the center of the universe and shows a nearby planet. Light rays move in spirals, and there is a radius beyond which the cylinder rotates faster than light, so the rays are reflected back, as from a mirror. Light from the planet's front gets squashed and light from the back is reflected off the horizon. The light from the back takes longer, so the view is older. You see two views, one old, one new, at once.

The second scene shows a ball moving along a closed timelike curve. The young ball gets hit by an older version of itself that has come from beyond the horizon. The young ball is hit off along the CTC. It flies fast into the future before looping around into the past, aging all the while. The ball comes back to the time and place of the collision, but this time as the older ball. After knocking its younger self onto the CTC, the old ball goes on.

Max Tegmark: "I find ray-tracing visualizations to be a powerful tool for deepening our understanding of general relativity."

2013 February 1

The Future
Al Gore

Six drivers of change:

1 A more globalized economy
2 Planetary communications and advanced robotics
3 Political influence and initiative shifting from west to east
4 Unsustainable population growth and resource depletion
5 New science that enables us to reshape the fabric of life
6 Unstable relations between civilization and the ecosystem

A planetary civilization is emerging.

"If you are concerned about the massive changes the world is just heading into, then you should read this book. If you aren't, then you must read it!"
Tim Berners-Lee

"The Dawk" vs. "Mad Willy"
The Guardian

Richard Dawkins is celebrated as an atheist, forever seeking to make a bonfire of the vanities and idiocies of religion. Less well known is his fondness for penis gags.

Lord Rowan Williams no longer leads the world's 77 million Anglicans and is now master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

RW "Religion has always been a matter of community building; a matter of building precisely those relations of compassion, fellow feeling and — I dare to use the word — inclusion, which would otherwise be absent from our societies."

RD "If I were a cultural Muslim, I would have something to say about that faith's appalling treatment of women — its appalling attitude to women — as well as various other moral points."

Dawkins' rhetorical ace was a passing reference to God as "the immortal knob-twiddler". This earned him a roar of laughter and applause for 10 seconds.

The Dawk lost to Mad Willy by 324 votes to 136.

Boeing C-17
Chinese Y-20
Spot the difference: present American and future Chinese military transports

AR January ends well:
CORAL is now finished
with new detail toward
the end, plus notes,
references, and index.
Now it has 300 pages.
Next week: read it all
again and correct it.

Two Billion Euro Winners
European Commission

The winners of the EU competition on Future and
Emerging Technologies will
 each receive €1 billion:

Graphene is an emerging nanotechnology where
discoveries in laboratories
are rapidly transferred to applications and products.

The Human Brain Project
will collect and integrate experimental data.
New supercomputing
techniques will impact
a range of industries.

Nadeem Aslam
Nadeem Aslam

UK Q4 GDP Down

The British economy
shrank 0.3% in Q4, 2012.
The economy has
stagnated for
10 quarters.
A triple-dipper

Austerity Chancellor
George Osborne:
"We have a
today that
a very

John Gapper

The World Economic Forum is infotainment. Its founder Klaus Schwab is an entrepreneur who founded a new business model. Davos has resilient dynamism:

1 It is serious. Participants discuss weighty topics and review the state of the world.

2 It is live. Media and entertainment companies have come to realise the value of live events.

3 It is a club. Entrance is restricted and it plays to people's vanity to be invited. It's a social network.

SoS Hillary Clinton

"We operate in places where we know that our facilities are being surveilled for potential attacks where we have a steady Intel stream of plotting."

"It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening."

David Cameron

2013 January 31

Perpetual Debt
Matthew Yglesias

In 1752, the UK converted its entire national debt into consolidated annuities, consols. The consols paid interest on an annual basis just like regular bonds, but with no requirement that the government ever redeem them by repaying the face value.

Today a consol would take advantage of low interest rates. The inflation-adjusted yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds is negative. Savers want to pay the American government to safeguard their money. For 30-year treasury bonds, rates are higher, but still far below the long-term average economic growth level. A sensible country would be using them to finance its debt.

At a time when demand for goods and services is depressed, demand for American government debt is high. Consols offer a safe high-yield investment for those willing to lock their money up forever. The ability to offer them credibly is a sign of strength.

AR Memo to UK: Consols are better than austerity.

Morsi in Berlin
Raniah Salloum

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi had to a lot of listen to criticism from German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. When a reporter asked him whether he would apologize for saying that Zionists were bloodsuckers, he thundered back that he had heard the question five times already that day.

Morsi played the role of solid statesman and head of a regional power in the Mideast. In the joint press conference with the chancellor, he said what people wanted to hear about Egypt's political future: democracy, rule of law, freedom of religion, the separation of state and religion.

But Merkel said nothing on Egypt's debt of €240 million to Germany, or on new German development projects. Merkel: "Jetzt kommt es darauf an, dass die Arbeit, die noch getan werden muss, auch getan wird" (Now it all depends on actually doing the work that needs to be done).

AR Well said, Angela.

2013 January 30

Leaving Europe Bad For Britain
Tony Blair

I completely agree about the need for reform and change in Europe. About the British relationship with Europe, I have difficulties with the notion that we commit now to putting into play the issue of whether Britain exits the European Union.

China has three times the population of the whole of the European Union, and will have the biggest economy in the world. If Britain wants weight today, we need Europe. The rationale for Europe in the 21st century is stronger than it has ever been.

For reasons of globalization, demography, and technology, all developed countries will have to change radically. The social model of Europe has got to reform. Europe is going to exist in a completely different economic and geopolitical context.

The concept of the single currency with the single market is a perfectly sensible concept. But in its execution there was not the proper alignment of the political desire to have a single currency with the economic decisions necessary to make it work.

Germans Who Agree With Cameron

Two politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition parties have voiced support for UK Prime Minister David Cameron's calls for a reform of the European Union.

CSU general secretary Alexander Dobrindt: "It would be totally wrong to react with kneejerk refusal to the intitiative of Prime Minister Cameron. If you condemn Cameron's idea of a referendum on Europe outright, you will fan mistrust of Europe, as if Europe has to hide from the people. ... It's clear that in an optimized Europe there can't be room for special rights for individuals, such as a British rebate."

FDP Bavarian economy minister Martin Zeil: "The British have had to undergo painful financial cuts to stabilize their state budget. So one can well imagine the frustration of the British when they see that other states have reacted in a far more lax way to their desolate financial situations. ... The issues he addressed are quite right, but ... an exit from the EU — that's wrong."

2013 January 29

For reasons too complicated to explain, I plan to return to the UK this summer.
The move will probably force a break in the continuity of this blog.

Euro Billions
Financial Times

Almost €100 billion of private funds flowed back into the eurozone periphery in late 2012 after action by the ECB encouraged reinvestment. The return of capital encourages policy makers to believe the eurozone crisis is over.

AR It's over when it's over, but not yet.

Muslim Brother Morsi
Dieter Bednarz, Volkhard Windfuhr

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is visiting Berlin this week to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Morsi says Egypt will fulfill all of its obligations, including both the peace treaty with Israel and a policy of close cooperation with the United States.

Morsi served as general inspector of the Muslim Brotherhood for years. MEMRI has published an old video of Morsi in an interview with an Arab network, calling Israelis "bloodsuckers" and "warmongers" and saying that there can be no peace with these "descendants of apes and pigs".

In 2004, Morsi, then an Egyptian MP, allegedly raged against the "descendants of apes and pigs" and said that there could be "no peace" with them. In 2009, referring to the Israelis, he said: "They all have the same nature. They are equally shaped by shrewdness, deception and hate."

AR Merkel must keep her distance.

2013 January 28

CORAL has grown in the revision to 294 pages and counting.
Will top out below 300 for rollout soon and a spring launch.

UK Economy Is Disaster
The Atlantic

The British economy is a disaster. After Olympic growth lifted it out of recession in Q3, Britain sank back with a GDP fall of 0.3% in Q4, the fourth shrink in five quarters. Britain is verging on a triple-dip recession, a.k.a. depression. The GDP is still more than 3% below its 2008 peak.

Zero growth coincides with austerity. Despite entering office with borrowing costs at 50-year lows, the Cameron coalition decided the government deficit was the chief threat to future prosperity. It raised taxes and cut the growth of spending. Public net investment has fallen by half the past three years.

Keynes said the boom, not the slump, is the time for austerity. This is more like an economic whodunit. The euro crisis has kept Britain from exporting its way out of trouble. And British industries like oil and finance have gone into decline. But the real puzzle is the collapse in productivity.

Britain has been adding jobs at a fair clip the past year or so. Unemployment has reached an 18-month low, and more people have a job today than in 2008. This combination of zero GDP growth with positive job growth means Britain is working more to do less. Thank goodness for stiff upper lips.

AR Back to the UK? One must be joking!

2013 January 27

Nadeem Aslam
Maya Jaggi

Nadeem Aslam, 46, says literature is a public act, and a powerful instrument against injustice. His debut novel, Season of the Rainbirds (1993), won prizes. His second, Maps for Lost Lovers (2004) won the Encore and Kiriyama awards, was shortlisted for the Dublin Impac prize, and was longlisted for the Man Booker prize. The Wasted Vigil (2008), his third, traces decades of Afghan history. The Blind Man's Garden, his fourth, is published in February.

Aslam was born in 1966 in Gujranwala, Pakistan. His father was a communist poet and film producer. His mother's side made money and were religious. Aslam: "My uncle's version of Islam was the same kind practiced by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan three decades later."

General Zia ul-Haq seized power in a military coup in 1977 and drove for Islamic values. Aslam's family fled into exile in 1980, settling in Huddersfield. Aslam's mother tongue is Punjabi, and he learned English by copying out entire novels by hand. He excelled at science and studied biochemistry at the University of Manchester, but dropped out "when I realized my English was good enough to do what I wanted".

Aslam: "I've more or less realized my writing has cost me almost everything. Sometimes friendship, love, because there's not enough time to be with people, and never enough money. Work can take so much out of you."

AR Must read.

2013 January 26

Frank Ramsey
A.C. Grayling

Frank Ramsey was an still undergraduate when he translated Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus from German into English. He became a fellow of King's College Cambridge at age 21.

Unrequited love for a married woman drove Ramsey to Vienna for psychoanalysis. There he befriended Wittgenstein, and later helped John Maynard Keynes to bring him back to Cambridge, where Wittgenstein had earlier worked under Bertrand Russell. Ramsey supervised Wittgenstein's Ph.D. for the Tractatus.

In philosophy, Ramsey advocated the redundancy theory of truth, stating that to describe a statement as true is equivalent to asserting it. This theory went on to have a huge impact on formal logic and epistemology. Ramsey also contributed new ideas to probability and economics, which Keynes described as remarkable, both in importance and difficulty.

In mathematics, Ramsey launched what is now known as Ramsey theory, which answers such questions as the party problem: what is the smallest number of invitees to a party such that at least some of them will know each other and some of them will not know each other?

Ramsey died in 1930, aged 26.

2013 January 25

UK vs. EU
Jean Pisani-Ferry

David Cameron's speech on Europe was predominantly tactical. So too are the reactions from Berlin and Paris. But the his speech raises questions of broader significance.

The European Union acts as if all members shared the same goal but were traveling at different speeds. So the euro is legally the currency of the whole EU, but some members benefit from derogations and can issue their national currency.

This unity has become a fiction. A set of rules, institutions, and instruments is being built for the current and future participants in the euro. This endeavor raises issues of political legitimacy.

If the euro members strive to define how much integration they need to make their currency union effective and resilient, why not ask how much integration is needed to ensure the effectiveness and resilience of the single market?

Labor regulations are repeatedly mentioned by British euroskeptics. But regulations on health and safety, equality in the workplace, or working time are an integral part of the single market.

Software Patents
The Guardian

Martin Goetz, now 83, was awarded the first patent on a piece of software in 1968, for a method of sorting data. It marked a watershed that would lead to the rise of Microsoft. He was working for a company called Applied Data Research: "IBM and other computer companies were giving away their software when they sold their computer. We were trying to sell out software, but selling against free software is very difficult."

A conference on software intellectual property issues persuaded him that a patent could be awarded for a piece of software. Copyright law would have protected the code he had written but not the method. Since then software patents have become enormously valuable. Recently Apple was awarded a billion dollars in damages over infringements by Samsung on a number of patents relating to smartphones and tablets.

Goetz: "It's a little bit of a mess."

2013 January 24

Cameron: Running Scared?
Christoph Scheuermann

David Cameron is afraid of his party, afraid of voters, and afraid of the European Union. He wants Europe to be a free trade zone with beach access.

Cameron could have pulled Britain from the brink. He could have proved that international clout is more important to him than getting patted on the back by his party friends. Instead he promised a referendum on the EU after the next general election. A referendum is not a strategy.

Cameron proposes to persuade the German chancellor, the French president, and all the other European leaders that he should get to pick the raisins from the cake while everyone else gets the crumbs. Britain should remain in the EU, he says, but he has no ideas for shaping it.

Cameron's vision of Europe has no depth. Apart from vague demands like competitiveness, flexibility, and fairness, he has no idea how the EU should develop. By trying to satisfy his radical backbenchers with the referendum pledge, he's launched into a game he can't win.

Cameron is right to question the growing budget of the European Commission and the lack of democracy in EU decision-making. He is wrong on the rest.

Cameron Critics: No
The Guardian

German chancellor Angela Merkel: "Germany, and I personally, want Britain to be an important part and an active member of the European Union. We are prepared to talk about British wishes but we must always bear in mind that other countries have different wishes and we must find a fair compromise."

French president François Hollande: "The United Kingdom can decide perfectly well by a referendum to stay or leave the European Union, it's a decision for the leaders and the British people to make. But what I say, in the name of France, and as a European, is that it's not possible to negotiate Europe to make that referendum. Europe has to be accepted as it is. We can make it evolve tomorrow, but we cannot dismiss it or diminish it under the pretext of proposing to stay in it."

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius: "You can't do Europe à la carte."

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle: "A politics of cherry picking will not work. Europe is not a sum of national interests but a community of fate in difficult times."

The leader of Austria's far-right Freedom party was the only European politician to follow Cameron and call for a referendum on whether Austria should give up the euro and leave the EU.

Labour leader Ed Miliband believes the PM will find he has made a strategic error as the Tory skeptics continue to make demands, his European partners reject his demands, and business blames him for creating years of uncertainty.

AR Going it alone is not an option for the UK.

2013 January 23

Cameron vs. EU
The Guardian

David Cameron confirmed plans to hold an in-out referendum by the end of 2017 and said: "The biggest danger to the European Union comes not from those who advocate change, but from those who denounce new thinking as heresy."

Cameron said he would campaign for Britain to remain in the EU with renegotiated membership terms: "When the referendum comes, let me say now that if we can negotiate such an arrangement, I will campaign for it with all my heart and soul."

Cameron wants to challenge the pledge to create an ever-closer union: "We understand and respect the right of others to maintain their commitment to this goal. But for Britain, and perhaps for others, it is not the objective."

Cameron: "It is neither right nor necessary to claim that the integrity of the single market or full membership of the European Union requires the working hours of British hospital doctors to be set in Brussels irrespective of the views of British parliamentarians and practitioners."

Cameron said he expected to table his demands in treaty negotiations to agree new governance arrangements for the eurozone.

David Attenborough

We are a plague on the Earth. It's coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It's not just climate change; it's sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now.

Harry Wales
Captain Harry Wales
in Afghanistan.
662 Squadron AAC:
"Go ugly early"

Another bad-air day in Beijing:
The WHO says an Air Quality
Index of 25 micrograms is Healthy. Beijing says a
300 reading is Bad and
500 is Hazardous.
Last weekend it
breached 700.

Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham in Girls
Brits debate body images

2013 January 22

POTUS Inaugural Address
Edward Luce

Barack Obama spoke on faith in America's future. His master of ceremonies Chuck Schumer reminded us that the US is in reality a constitutional monarchy: The "innate majesty" of US inaugurations "never fails to make our hearts beat faster".

Obama: "What makes us exceptional — what makes us American — is our allegiance to an idea."

Inside the loftiness was an agenda that was strikingly liberal in its core message: "The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob."

On the partisan divide: "We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate."

A hint of socialism: "We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of healthcare and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future."

A big ambition: "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."

For a day Washington was consumed with the elaborate staginess of a republican coronation.

A Twitter abridgment of the speech by Ian Bremmer: "Together, we will pursue my objectives."

Nagel Bomb
H. Allen Orr

Thomas Nagel insists that the mind-body problem invades our understanding of the entire cosmos and its history. If materialism can't explain consciousness, then it can't explain life, or the universe. Neo-Darwinism says natural selection adapts species to changing environments but cannot aim for a goal.

Nagel believes that neo-Darwinism must be supplemented by teleology. He doubts that self-reproducing life forms came into existence spontaneously or that random genetic mutations produced organisms. He cannot see how brains and neurons could give rise to the phenomenon of subjective experience.

Our inability to imagine a solution might reflect our cognitive limitations as evolved creatures. Although we cannot rule out the formal possibility of teleology in nature, science is about inference to the most likely hypothesis. For neo-Darwinism there is overwhelming evidence. For natural teleology there is none.

AR Darwin 1, Nagel 0

2013 January 21

Paul Collier

Until the Libyan revolution, Mali was not a fragile state. By the standards of low-income countries, it was secure. But the Tuareg minority was beyond the pale, and patronage and corruption were common.

The fall of Gaddafi inflicted an avoidable military threat on the region. Many of the weapons stockpiled in his country were seized by gangs bent on mischief. As there was no international operation to secure the stockpile, the urgent task was to protect neighboring regimes.

The Mali government received money for arms, but it was looted. This left the army ill matched against the experienced and motivated gangs that descended on it. Its soldiers were slaughtered, provoking a mutiny from the ranks and a seizure of power. Global and regional actors aiming to retake northern Mali were delayed by the 2012 African Union leadership elections. The enemy seized the rest of the country.

Victory for the Islamists was within reach. Mali would have become a second Somalia, with the Sahara as the Indian Ocean and the oil and gas facilities as the tankers. So France sent in troops. But as Libya showed, Europe lacks the military depth to mount the operation required.

The west has blundered so badly that it is in no position to condemn Algeria for taking tough action against kidnappers. Mali needs life support. The Islamic gangs are well equipped, but they have no government to keep them supplied, and they are divided. Perhaps the west can salvage the situation.

2013 January 20

Politicizing Science
Puneet Opal

United States Republicans are losing touch with science. Some deny evolution in favor of creationism, some say immunization to prevent cancer causes mental retardation in young girls, and some say the female body can prevent pregnancies after rape. Either they believe these things or they are throwing out red meat for bigots in their base.

American scientists tend to be Democrats. Some scientists feel they must also support Republicans, who will otherwise claim a liberal bias and ignore their policy advice. Social scientists already find their funding under political threat — bad news. Such threats are a sure way to taint their advice.

We should do all we can to promote scientific objectivity. Political choices can be made after the evidence is in, but the evidence should stand as is. If politicians reject it, their ignorance should be exposed, regardless of which side they stand. Some leftists too have dogmatic beliefs, for example on the dangers of vaccinations, genetically modified food, or nuclear energy.

The pursuit of science free of partisan dogma is a public good. We who care about science should promote education to increase the number of scientifically literate people. Politicians will respond.

AR I have edited this piece heavily. May Opal forgive me.

2013 January 19

Big Data, Big Insights
Trevor Butterworth

In a study of research methods in the age of digital journalism, a team led by Bristol University Professor Nello Cristianini looked at the gender ratios of men to women as subjects and sources in stories. They analyzed at 2.5 million stories and found men dominating in practically every topic analyzed. This kind of analysis is decisive on gender bias and any other comparable question.

Cristianini and his team did a general test for news media readability using Flesch scores, which assess the complexity of writing based on the length of words and sentences. Writing aimed at children tends to have a higher Flesch score than scholarship in the humanities.

According to their analysis of over 200 000 US and UK media stories, The Guardian is a more complex read than any of the other major publications, including The New York Times. So is the Daily Mail. Together, says Comscore, these three publications are the most read news sources in the world.

Cristianini et al. also measured the percentage of adjectives expressing judgments to assess the degree of linguistic subjectivity. Tabloid newspapers tended to be more subjective, while the Wall Street Journal was the most objective. Despite The Guardian and the Daily Mail's complex prose, the researchers found that, in general, readability and subjectivity tended to go together when they combined the most popular stories with writing styles.

When Cristianini et al. looked at the market demographics for the UK publications, they found "no significant correlation between writing style and topics, or between topics and demographics in respect to outlets. Thus, it appears, audiences relate more to writing style than to choice of topic".

2013 January 18

New Boomers
Danger Room

The U.S. Navy plans a missile submarine Ohio Replacement (OR) program featuring a drive train that will be almost silent and keep running for 50 years.

The Ohio boomers rely on stealth to hide from other subs, ships, and aircraft. The quieter the boats, the harder they are to find, even though each one displaces 19 000 tons and packs 24 Trident intercontinental ballistic missiles, each loaded with 3 independently targeted nuclear warheads.

The navy plans to give OR boomers the quietest nuclear engine yet by going to an electric drive. Current boomers have a direct mechanical connection to the props that drive the boat. Steam turbines driven by the nuclear power plant go through a mechanical gear train that makes noise. The new boats will use the power from the reactor to feed an electrical grid, with electric motors driving the sub.

The OR boats will also get a nuclear plant that will last the life of the boat. The present Ohio fleet requires a midlife refueling and overhaul that takes years and cost billions. The navy has 14 Ohio boomers, but the shorter midlife upgrades will allow the navy to reduce to 12 OR boats.

The navy plans to start work on the first OR boat in 2021 and to send it on patrol in 2031. The boomers should last until 2080.

UK vs. EU
Philip Stephens

Five years after the crash, the British economy is still flat on its back. Repair of UK finances has stalled. The health of the neighboring eurozone is far from assured and its future shape is unclear.

David Cameron responds by promising a vote on British membership of the EU. The rest of the world looks on in profound bafflement. Cameron wants a "new settlement" so Britain can repatriate powers from Brussels but keep privileged access to the single market. He promises a renegotiation and a referendum to ratify it if he wins the 2015 election. The irresistible force of rising Tory party europhobia meets the immovable object of geopolitical reality.

Margaret Thatcher: "Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community."

2013 January 17

CORAL is nearly done now: notes and references down, index to do. Then last checks and trims.

AR The end.


Lockheed Martin test pilot Billy Flynn: "Darth Vader never had a helmet like this ... This is an essential part of the F-35. It's what makes such a difference. ... It's virtual reality!"

The seat is comfortable. Press the starter. In 90 seconds, the plane is ready to fly. The instrument panel is a touch screen. You can talk to the aircraft, and it talks back. The F-35B can land itself, or hover at the touch of a button.

Royal Navy pilot "Wizzer" Wilson: "The new technology takes workload and risk away from the pilot ... It's a quantum step in every way from the Harrier."

Air Chief Marshal Sir Brian Burridge: "We could go 100% unmanned after F-35."

Steven Levy describes
how Facebook developed
Graph Search

Germany 2012
Financial Times

The German economy grew 0.7% in 2012, down from 3% in 2011. It contracted about 0.5% in Q4. The trade surplus contributed 1.1% of growth.The government ended the year with a fiscal surplus of 0.1% of GDP, the first balanced budget since 2007. Germany accounts for 28% of eurozone GDP. Recent business surveys indicate improving sentiment.

Chuck and Barack in Jordan

Library of Congress
Tom and Chuck in Vietnam

Chinese Y-8

Chinese J-10

Senkaku Islands

Chinese T-054

Robonaut 2 works in the International Space Station. R2 travelled to the station in February 2011 and currently works alongside six human colleagues. The robot can be teleoperated by humans on the ISS or from the ground, or it can work autonomously.

Trident And The British Nuclear Deterrent
James Blitz

Lame Piers Morgan
David Weigel

Piers Morgan, given a 9 pm
slot on CNN as part of some secretive money-burning
scheme (I'm guessing),
manages to combine the
tedium of "balanced" TV
talk with overwhelming

Morgan's latest viral hit
interview: His "confrontation"
with Alex Jones, the inherently
amusing conspiracy theorist
who promoted the overhyped
White House petition calling
for Morgan's deportation.

Jones is a motormouth whose
job is to blow up and shame a
buffoonish foreigner. Morgan's
job is to make an example of
the worst possible advocate
for gun rights, but he let
Jones steamroll him.

2013 January 16

Facebook Search
Financial Times

Facebook has launched an advanced search capability. CEO Mark Zuckerberg: "We're giving people the power and the tools to take any cut of the graph that they want and make any query they want."

Facebook search features were considered poor. But marketers will like the new graph search. Combining search-based advertising with the social network data of Facebook could make big bucks.

AR As a former SAP search evangelist I say this is big.

Why I Raise My Children Without God

I am a non-believer, and for years I’ve been on the fringe in my community. Here are a few of the reasons why I am raising my children without God:

— God is a bad parent and role model
— God is not logical
— God is not fair
— God does not protect the innocent
— God is not present
— God does not teach children to be good
— God teaches narcissism

When we raise kids without God, we tell them the truth. We are a very small part of a big machine. The realization of our insignificance gives us humility.

AR CNN put this story behind a warning about explicit content unsuitable for some readers.

Morsi Slurs Jews
New York Times

In 2010, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi delivered a speech urging Egyptians to "nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred" for Jews and Zionists. On television, he described Zionists as "these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs."

Morsi is now the president of Egypt. His political culture accepts such defamation of Jews as almost standard stump discourse. Any attempt to retract, or even clarify, his slurs would expose him to political attacks by opponents who already accuse him of softness toward the United States and Israel.

Anti-Defamation League deputy national director Kenneth Jacobson: "When the leader of a country has a history of statements demonizing Jews, and he does not do anything to correct it, it makes sense that many people in Israel would conclude that he cannot be trusted as a partner for peace."

AR Western politicians must shun him until he retracts the statements.

2013 January 15

Benjamin Netanyahu
Gideon Rachman

Next week, Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to win a third spell in office as Israel's prime minister. He has presided over an economic renaissance in Israel. Not a single Israeli has been killed by suicide bombing from 2009 to 2012, and Israel has avoided major wars.

Netanyahu can claim to have negotiated a difficult period with acumen. Many predicted that turmoil in the Arab world would spark an uprising among the Palestinians. Israel is concerned over developments in Syria and Egypt, but so far its national security is unaffected. Israel managed to cajole the world toward tougher sanctions on Iran. And when the Obama administration demanded a halt to Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, it was the Americans who blinked.

Yet future generations may look back on Netanyahu as a man who fatally undermined the Jewish state by failing to answer the big question about the Palestinians. Israel used to have decent relations with the two most important governments in the region, Egypt and Turkey. But the two countries are now more Islamist and less willing to accept Israeli dominion over the Palestinians. Israelis were stunned by the lack of European support for their position at the recent UN vote on Palestinian statehood.

Netanyahu pays lip service to the idea of a two-state solution. But settlement building continues and the Israeli government has humiliated and undermined the moderate Palestinian leadership on the West Bank. Such a policy risks leading Israel to disaster.

AR Bibi has done quite well in exploiting Arab hypocrisy.

2013 January 14


French President François Hollande decided to oppose Islamist fighters pushing into southern Mali. The German government decided to provide cargo planes and medical personnel.

Süddeutsche Zeitung:
A collection of Islamist terror groups have created an international network of evil in North Africa. They pay their way by trading in drugs, weapons, and people. They destabilize governments and threaten civilians. That has to be stopped. France has taken the first step. But France needs military assistance from its allies in Europe. The German government is hesitating while France is becoming exasperated. Nobody in Europe can ignore what is happening.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:
The biggest challenge now facing France is that of transforming their unilateral operation into a mission supported by the international community. The president knows that voters are not interested in seeing the former colonial power become involved in a complicated conflict in the deserts of Africa. The effort to help Mali will overextend the French military, and nobody wants to see them fail. Germany shares an interest in not allowing Mali to fall into the hands of Islamist terrorist groups.

Die Welt:
The former colonial power France became the first to help Mali with troops and weapons from its base in neighboring Senegal. The first successes against the Islamist rebels were reported, but it won't be enough. The 3,000 troops provided by the West African alliance ECOWAS won't be enough either.

Die Tageszeitung:
The problem with the French intervention is that it is French. French troops head out from former French colonies in Africa while cabinet ministers in Paris deny it. The operation only became official long after it had begun. On African policy, the French government believes it doesn't need to talk to anybody.

AR Support the French but give them an earful in private about going it alone.

British Europe Voices
Financial Times

David Cameron will move the date of his keynote speech on Europe to prevent a diplomatic and PR shambles. January 22 is the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Elysee treaty, a big day in the Franco-German calendar.

Cameron wants to navigate between pro-EU business leaders and his most rightwing MPs by renegotiating the UK relationship with the EU to avoid an exit.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the PM's strategy was "incredibly dangerous" and had left Mr Cameron in danger of "sleepwalking" Britain towards exit.

Maastricht rebellion leader Bill Cash: "There are profoundly good reasons for us to have a referendum."
Communities secretary Eric Pickles: "We shouldn't stay at any price."

The Tory Fresh Start group will propose a UK veto over future EU banking regulation, an opt-out from EU policing and criminal justice measures, and returned UK control over social and employment laws.

A BCC survey of businessmen found nearly half wanted to renegotiate the UK relationship with Europe while staying in the EU.

Sir Martin Sorrell warned political grandstanding could damage the UK negotiating position in Brussels.

Lord Wolfson: "There is little to fear from a two-speed Europe, as long as Britain remains in the slow lane."

AR Politics as usual in Perfidious Albion.

Hagel's Philosophy

In 2008, Senators Barack Obama, Chuck Hagel, and Jack Reed traveled together to Afghanistan and Iraq. For Obama it was an opportunity to see Hagel in action. As a decorated Vietnam vet, Hagel mingled with the soldiers with ease and authenticity. But for all of his empathy toward the grunts, he could play hardball with their commanders.

Today, Obama's decision to nominate Hagel as secretary of defense has started an ideological firestorm. Conservative groups question Hagel's commitment to Israel and whether he'd be tough enough on Iran. His defenders say he will be a counterweight to hawks both in and out of government.

Chuck Hagel grew up in western Nebraska. His grandfather was a World War I vet, his father a World War II vet. Chuck volunteered for the Army in 1967, and soon his brother Tom joined up too. Unusually, they were assigned to the same unit in Vietnam. One day in 1968, they were on patrol when shrapnel exploded around them. Chuck was a bloody mess, and Tom bandaged his chest to stop the bleeding. About a month later, they were in an armored vehicle when a mine went off, searing Chuck's face and puncturing his eardrums. Tom was unconscious, and Chuck pulled him from the burning wreckage to safety.

The brothers returned from Vietnam with a stack of medals and divergent views of the war. Tom was enraged at his government, and eventually his politics turned sharply to the left. But Chuck maintained that the war was fought for a noble cause, even if it had gone awry. It would take a long time for Chuck to begin reevaluating this position.

When the Bush administration went to war in Iraq, the dam burst for Hagel. Vietnam became his frame of reference for Iraq. Hagel read every book about Vietnam he could findn, obsessed with the parallels to Iraq. By 2007, he was making intemperate remarks about the administration's policies. He even said the impeachment of George W. Bush should be an option.

Hagel's willingness to stand up to both the CIA and the generals will surely prove useful to Obama. Then again, he hasn't been afraid to criticize Obama, either. The White House: "When Hagel speaks his mind, he's really telling you what he believes, and that's a characteristic the president likes."

AR If I'd been American I could have served in Vietnam too.

2013 January 13

Business Insider

SAP Business Suite software, used by companies to crunch financials and manage operations, now runs on SAP HANA. So customers can leave Oracle behind.

SAP HANA is an in-memory database and one of the company's fastest-growing products of all time. It can crunch numbers from an enormous database almost instantly, instead of the hours or days it can take with traditional databases.

SAP customers will not dump critical business databases in favor of an untested new product, but now that HANA has been on the market for about 18 months, with about 500 customers as of October, enterprises know what an in-memory database can do for them.

SAP cofounder and chairman Hasso Plattner: "We do not abandon the database vendors who carry us to success. Customers have a choice."

AR My former team developed HANA: great lads.

China Versus Japan
Business Insider

China is flying jet fighters over the East China Sea in support of regular Y-8 flights over the oil and gas fields under the sea. Some Y-8 variants perform EW and spy missions, and one variant is a gunship. The fields surrounding the Senkaku islands are contested between China and Japan.

Japan spotted aircraft in its Air Defense Identification Zone above the islands that it said were Chinese
J-7 and J-10 fighter jets. Japan responded by scrambling F-15 Eagles from Okinawa.

The Chinese jets are likely flying from Shuimen, where the airbase is defended by advanced S-300 missiles. China maintains 35 ships in the region, including the new Type 054 frigate and 7 submarines, including 4 Kilo-class subs, all less than 400 km from the contested islands.

The Well Tempered Mind
Daniel C. Dennett

Control in your commercial computer is a carefully designed top-down thing. Control in brains is very different. Each neuron imprisoned in your brain is a direct descendent of eukaryotic cells that lived and fended for themselves for about a billion years. When they joined forces into multi-cellular creatures, they became domesticated. They became part of larger organizations.

Maybe a lot of the neurons in our brains are motivated to be more adventurous, more exploratory or risky. They're struggling amongst themselves with each other for influence, just for staying alive. One of the amazing features of the brain is its tremendous plasticity. Neurons are eager to pitch in and do other work just because they don't have a job. They're unemployed.

My next project will be to look at cultural evolution. We have the model that culture consists of treasures. You amass them and bequeath them to your children. I think that vision is true of only the tip of the iceberg. Culture includes all kinds of bad habits and ugly patterns and stupid things. We may give our fleas to our children too. I think there are a lot of cultural fleas.

Seminary professors who teach pastors often are instrumental in starting them down the path of hypocrisy. The pastors speak from the pulpit quite literally, and if you weren't listening very carefully, you’d think this person really believes all this stuff. But they're putting in just enough hints for the sophisticates to understand this is all just metaphorical.

Suppose we face some horrific, terrible enemy, and here's two different armies we could use to defend ourselves, the Gold Army and the Silver Army. They're all armored and armed as well as we can do. The Gold Army has been convinced that God is on their side and this is the cause of righteousness. The Silver Army is entirely composed of economists who are all making side bets and calculating the odds. Which army do you want on the front lines?

2013 January 12

Germany, US to UK: Stay in EU

British Prime Minister David Cameron is under mounting pressure from the ultranationalist wing of his Conservative Party to exit the European Union.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle: "Germany desires a Great Britain that will remain a constructive and active partner in the EU ... the European house will also have different levels of integration, but we would like a deeper and better EU of 27, with Great Britain."

US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon: "We have a growing relationship with the European Union as an institution which has a growing voice in the world — and we want to see a strong British voice in that European Union. That is in the American interest."

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne: "More than half of all British exports go to the EU. ... But for us to stay in the European Union, the EU must change."

AR Yes, stay, and reform the EU.

The Hologenome
New Scientist

Our reproductive success may depend in part on the microbes living in us and on us, our microbiome. The hologenome theory of evolution says the unit of selection is the collective including the microbiome.

The separation of an organism from its microbiome is artificial. Most animals host a large array of microbes that are usually passed down from generation to generation, directly or indirectly. An animal's fitness often depends in part on the genes of the microbes it inherits. Natural selection sees a single organism and selects the combined genomes of the host and its microbiome.

Eugene Rosenberg predicts that most animals inherit much of their microbiome, related species have related microbiomes, and changes in the microbiome can allow the holobiont to adapt to changing circumstances.

2013 January 11

European Union
Financial Times

The UK has long been a reluctant European. The British sees membership of the European Union in economic terms, whereas France and Germany see it as a political project forged from the ashes of the second world war.

Germany now dominates Europe. For the foreseeable future, the EU will be divided between strong northern European creditors led by Germany and weak southern European debtors.

European reforms to shore up the single currency project will change it profoundly and irrevocably. They would create a tightly integrated core that the UK might never want to join.

The UK is a valued member of the European club. David Cameron should not raise false hopes that other members will agree to allow the UK to participate in the single market without accepting its fundamental rules and principles.

AR An integrated Europe with Germany at its heart is a natural and welcome development.

2013 January 10

Al Qaeda In Syria
Nada Bakos

In Syria, fighting the Assad regime is Jabhat al-Nusra, recently designated by the U.S. State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. Al-Nusra is the most effective arm of the Syrian insurgency and now fields about 5,000 fighters. It has declared itself a player in the fight for a global jihad.

Almost every foreign fighter entering Iraq to join al Qaeda in Iraq came through Syria. During the Iraq war, aides in Syria played a critical role in recruiting and planning outside Iraq. In 2006-07, 8% of al Qaeda in Iraq operatives were Syrians.

Al-Nusra is using some of the same tactics as al Qaeda in Iraq but it also is providing the people of Syria with a range of goods and services such as food, water, and medical care. This might signal that al-Nusra aspires to be more like Hezbollah or Hamas. If the Assad regime fails, groups like al-Nusra will dictate the direction and shape of a new Syria.

Al-Nusra is unlikely to settle for a political role in the new government. It may aim to play the spoiler for any transitional government and use its resources and political violence to empower and encourage other extremists. Al-Nusra could rekindle global jihad.

Stay In Europe
Financial Times

The Obama administration is concerned about a possible UK exit from the European Union following the British plan to renegotiate EU membership terms and hold a referendum.

Speaking at the U.S. embassy in London, U.S. assistant secretary for European affairs Philip Gordon said Europe was more effective when it worked together: "We have a growing relationship with the EU as an institution, which has an increasing voice in the world, and we want to see a strong British voice in that EU. That is in America's interests. We welcome an outward-looking EU with Britain in it."

David Cameron wants to negotiate a looser relationship with the EU core as part of talks on a new EU treaty to deepen eurozone economic union. A referendum is unlikely before 2017.

Latin America
Michael Anton

Tom Wolfe's Back to Blood is a novel about Miami and the Latinization of America. His focus is on the Cubans. He shows that assimilation is working well, and how confused racial categories have become. Miami today is the business and financial capital of Latin America.

In the bravura opening sequence on a police boat, and later when describing a drug dealer's arrest, Wolfe shows he can still write great action scenes. He also explores the serious subject of pornography addiction. Wolfe takes a hard stare into America's future.

Don't Burn Your Books
Nicholas Carr

Pundits assume the future of book publishing is digital. But rather than replacing printed books, e-books may be just another format, like paperbacks or audio books.

In America in 2012, the percentage of adults who have read an e-book rose from 16% to 23%. Among regular book readers, 89% said that they had read a printed book last year and only 30% an e-book. The annual growth rate for e-book sales fell in 2012 to about 34%. Total sales of e-readers fell by 36%.

E-book purchases are skewed toward fiction. Screen reading seems suited to light entertainment. Readers of heavier fare seem to prefer books you can set on a shelf.

2013 January 9

The Coolest Place In The Universe
Brian Cox

The discovery of a Higgs-like particle by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN was the greatest scientific story of 2012. The Higgs mechanism is a means of preserving certain nice symmetry properties. It gives mass to the fundamental particles by interacting with them. The strength of the interaction determines the mass of the particle. Every cubic meter of space is crammed with Higgs particles.

The Higgs particles are thought to have condensed out into the universe less than 1 ns after the Big Bang as the universe expanded and cooled. A naive calculation of the energy locked up in the Higgs condensate borders on the absurd: In every cubic meter of space the condensate stores 10^37 J, which is more energy than the sun outputs in 1000 years.

Theere are many differing Higgs-like theories, each leading to Higgs particles with different properties. Some of these theories predict that there is more than one type of Higgs particle. There is more work to do to pin down precisely which Higgs has been seen, but what has been produced and detected is a new particle that behaves roughly like the Standard Model Higgs Boson.

The discovery of the Higgs is not only a profound vindication of advanced mathematics and its application in theoretical physics but also a surprising engineering and political achievement. The LHC machine is 27 km in circumference and is constructed from 9300 superconducting electromagnets operating at less than 2 K. It is by far the largest refrigerator in the world.

Buried inside the magnets are two beam pipes containing beams of protons moving at 0.999999991c, circumnavigating the ring 11 245 times every second. Up to 600 million protons collide every second, each one re-creating the conditions present less than 1 ns after the Big Bang. Four giant detectors observe each collision, searching for new physical phenomena such as the Higgs.

CERN employs more than 10 000 physicists and engineers from 608 institutes in 113 countries. Its budget, shared between many nations, is approximately that of a medium-sized European university. Managed almost exclusively by scientists and engineers, it has consistently delivered on time and on budget. As a spin-off, it has invented the World Wide Web and medical technologies.

AR Cox is a good physicist who makes good BBC shows.

Hallstatt, Austria Hallstatt, China
Alpine town of Hallstatt, Austria
Replica of Hallstatt in Guangdong, China

Rethink Robotics

Eunuchs Of The Universe
Tom Wolfe

The Masters of the Universe just didn't get it when a bunch of weaklings, a bunch of nerds known as quants, shut the golden door flat in their faces.

Their first inkling came when the trading floors began to calm down. Before long they were sitting at desks behind banks of computer screens.

How To Be A Wanker
Victoria Beale

Alain de Botton has a formula:
mine the work of a great thinker for choice quotations and slot them into a beguilingly simple frame.

How To Think More About Sex brings out his worst tendencies:
"Sex came to be perceived as a useful, refreshing and physically reviving pastime, a little like tennis."

Perhaps the only upside of his gutting of the classics is that it might drive readers back to the works themselves. A book that mashes literature together with peppy crap can only be a middlebrow mess.

Black Beauty

A baseball-size black rock from Mars that landed in the Sahara desert is 2 billion years old and resembles rocks examined by the NASA rovers on Mars.

University of New Mexico curator and Institute of Meteoritics director Carl Agee: "Here we have a piece of Mars that I can hold in my hands. That's really exciting."

NWA 7034 contains water. The amount released during testing was 0.6%, much more than other Martian meteorites. More tests are under way.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/ submillimeter Array in Chile has captured the first image of a new planet being formed from the dust and gas surrounding a distant star. The image shows two streams of gas connecting the inner and outer disks of cosmic material surrounding the star HD 142527, about 450 ly from Earth.

Roula Khalaf

Salafis want to impose sharia.
They want to return to the form of Islam prevalent in the days of the Prophet. Aided by funding from Gulf states, the movement has spread widely across the Arab region.

Salafis were suppressed
but are angry.

Salafis are resisting a crackdown and organizing.

Salafis have welcomed funded and trained al Qaeda fighters.

Salafis are pressing for an Islamic constitution.

Salafis are few and poorly organized but aggressive.

Salafis resist government
attempts to disarm them.

2013 January 8

Drone Warrior
Peter Bergen

President Barack Obama has nominated John Brennan to be the next director of the CIA. Brennan dealt with the threat from al Qaeda and its allies by using drones and special forces.

In an April 30 speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, Brennan said: "There is nothing in international law that bans the use of remotely piloted aircraft for this purpose or that prohibits us from using lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield."

Brennan speaks Arabic and was once CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia. AQAP has not tried to launch an attack on a target in the West since an abortive attempt more than two years ago.

Brennan defends the use of drones in Pakistan and Yemen and their possible use in Mali. He says drone strikes are "ethical" because of "the unprecedented ability of remotely piloted aircraft to precisely target a military objective while minimizing collateral damage."

Kevin Kelly

Before the end of this century, 7 in 10 of today's jobs will be replaced by robots. The robot takeover is just a matter of time.

Baxter is a workbot from Rethink Robotics, one of a new class of industrial robots created to work alongside humans:

1 Baxter can look around and indicate where it is looking by shifting the cartoon eyes on its head. It can perceive humans working near it and avoid injuring them.

2 Baxter is smarter than other industrial robots. To train the bot you simply grab its arms and guide them in the correct motions and sequence. It learns the procedure and then repeats it.

3 Baxter is cheap. Priced at $22,000, Baxter is the first PC robot. As with the PC, the user can interact with it directly, immediately, without waiting for experts.

In the quadrant chart ABCD, the rows indicate whether robots will take over existing jobs or make new ones, and the columns indicate whether these jobs seem like jobs for humans or for machines.

Quadrant A: jobs humans can do but robots can do better

Quadrant B: jobs that humans can't do but robots can

Quadrant C: jobs created by automation, including new ones

Quadrant D: jobs only humans can do, until robots can too

This postindustrial economy will keep expanding, even though most of the work is done by bots, because part of your task tomorrow will be to find new things to do, which will later become jobs for robots. We will need a whole army of robot nannies, dedicated to keeping your personal bots up and running.

The real revolution erupts when everyone has a personal workbot. Imagine a bot that can assemble a stack of ingredients into a gift or make spare parts for the lawn mower or materials for the new kitchen. Imagine your kids running a dozen workbots in the garage, churning out parts for an electric-vehicle startup. Imagine your kids becoming appliance designers, making custom batches of dessert machines to sell to the millionaires in China. Personal robot automation will enable all that and more.

This is a race not against the machines but with them. You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots. Ninety percent of your coworkers will be unseen machines. Most of what you do will not be possible without them. Anything that seems like drudgery will be done by robots.

We need to let robots take over. They will help us find new ways to be more human.

2013 January 7

Leonard Mlodinow

Optogenetics involves inserting fiber optics into the brain to control neurons via pulses of light. The neurons are engineered to react to the light. A protein that can turn neurons on and off in response to light is inserted by transfection using a vector such as a virus to infect the target neuron and insert genes for making the protein. The neurons can then be controlled with light pulses.

The technique can be used in clinical studies of brain pathologies, for example to help us to understand the neural mechanisms that make dopamine give rise to feelings of reward and pleasure, and hence develop better treatments for depression; to map the circuitry involved in Parkinson's disease; and to explore abnormal gamma oscillations in schizophrenia and autism.

2013 January 6

Your Brain
Deepak Chopra

The secret to improving your brain is to understand it. The brain is the only organ that changes instantly according to how the mind relates to it. You can relate to your brain in positive or negative ways, and depending on which one you choose, your brain cells, neural pathways and areas of high and low activity will be altered. Thinking your brain into better functioning is the most efficient way to improve it.

Take care of stress. Avoid dulling routine. Do something creative every day. Read words that makes you feel uplifted. Take time to be in nature. Bond with another person who is heartwarming. Pay attention to being happy. Take time to relax, meditate and reflect. Deal with anger and anxiety. Focus on activity that makes you feel fulfilled. Give of yourself. Follow a personal vision. Attach yourself to a cause that is bigger than you are. Take the risk to love and be loved.

Get set in your ways. Don't look beyond your opinions, likes and dislikes. Isolate yourself from others. Take relationships for granted. Reconcile yourself to going downhill as you age. Forget about having ideals. Act on selfish impulses. Give in to anger and anxiety. Let life take care of itself. Go along to get along. Assume that you are automatically right. Avoid anything new or challenging. Put up with stress. Take no emotional risks. Distract yourself with mindless diversions.

Your brain embraces your every thought, word and deed. The best way to relate to it is to inspire it.

2013 January 5

Oswald Spengler
Robert W. Merry

Der Untergang des Abendlandes (Vol 1, 1918; Vol 2, 1922) by Oswald Spengler hit the German market like a boulder tossed upon an anthill. It sold a hundred thousand in eight years.

Spengler works by historical analogy. He rejects the notion that the West holds center stage in world history as the Ptolemaic system of history and posits his own Copernican discovery in the historical sphere, with no special position for the classical or Western civilizations relative to others.

He sees the great cultures as organisms whose phases of emergence, development, and decline are similar from culture to culture. Each civilization is born when a people develops a distinctive way of looking at the world. The new culture runs on for a thousand years or so unless interrupted by external forces. Then begins the civilizational phase, characterized by the deterioration of the culture.

Spengler distinguishes between culture and civilization. The former is the phase of creative energy. The latter is a time of materialism and imperialism. His civilizations: Western (Faustian), Greco-Roman (Apollonian), Indian, Babylonian, Chinese, Egyptian, Arabian (Magian), and Mexican (Aztec).

Spengler thought Germany would be the last nation of the West, spawning the Führer who would lead the West to its final civilizational glory of world dominance. But he rejected the Nazis.

America is the last nation of the West. America is destined to fulfill the vision of hegemonic zeal and a push toward dictatorship. Spengler's work stands as a great warning to Americans.

Harold Bloom

Harold Bloom was born in 1930. Yiddish was his first language. He discovered Kabbalah, then embraced Gnosticism as his personal religion. The Gnostic sees the divine as a spark within the self: a radiant imagination buried under the rock of everyday existence.

Bloom lived through a cataclysmic midlife crisis, followed by his most famous book, The Anxiety of Influence, which he wrote in a few days in the summer of 1967. Bloom discovered that writers, when they create new work, always misread their precursors. The insight is a Freudian one, as Bloom knew.

The original parent is the Jewish God, who for Bloom is the strangest and most absolute literary character of them all. This God comes too close to the self, and such intimacy is dangerous. In The Book of J, published in 1990, Bloom said the first author of the Hebrew Bible was a woman at the court of King Solomon. The book was a bestseller.

Bloom has taught in Israel and esteems Israeli writers. But his truer love is for Yiddish rather than Hebrew literature. As Yiddish culture waned, Bloom came to praise the works of Philip Roth, whom he has called our greatest living novelist. Being a Jew is for Bloom an emblem of the lone self, brooding powerfully over its status as wanderer and outcast.

In a recent book, The Anatomy of Influence, Bloom turns to the gospel of Mark, with its Jewish hero. Bloom takes us from Romanticism to religion and back again. Bloom is still our most inspirational critic, still the man who can enlighten us by telling us to read as if our lives depend on it. They do.

2013 January 4

Hell, Syria
Christoph Reuter

The Brigade of Death barreled through the countryside like a medieval army with modern weaponry, attacking village after village with helicopters and tanks. Soldiers and hired militias looted the houses and then burned them down. People were tortured and shot. After a few hours, the marauding troops would move on, leaving their scrawls on the walls.

Aziz taught English at the University of Idlib before returning to his village. Laughter helps against the horrors, he said. With his moustache and habit of rolling his eyes, he resembled Groucho Marx. He now wants to booby-trap washing machines, microwave ovens, and TV sets, turning them into hidden bombs.

Yassir owned a café. He discovered that his refrigerator had been blown open with hand grenades and that his desk was perforated with bullets from a machine gun. He also found the omnipresent words written by the regime troops, which he photographed before they were whitewashed: "Assad forever! Or we'll burn the country down!"

Robot Revolution
Jeremy Warner

Robert Gordon sees three periods of growth from new technology:

1 Steam, textiles, railways
2 Sanitation, electrification, cars and airplanes
3 Computing and communications

He thinks the IT revolution is over: social media don't add much.

Most people who work in computing disagree. The robot revolution has barely begun. The march of technology is a seamless advance from wheels and pumps to robots.

Japan sees robotics as the future and is investing accordingly. We are a long way from the sort of fully functioning human robots you see in science fiction movies, but the direction is clear. Artificial intelligence is coming on in leaps and bounds. Robots should free humans from everyday chores and power unlimited economic growth. The more robots you have, the more you can make.

Some see an apocalyptic threat. But as robots spread deeper into the workforce, we find ways of sharing the spoils more equitably, and robots create more new jobs than they destroy old ones.

AR Robots will change everything. The revolution has just begun.

2013 January 3

Parag Khanna

Burma was a battleground for Britain and Japan during World War II. In a 1962 coup, General Ne Win nationalized the economy and established military rule. In 1988, Burma became Myanmar, and the junta became the State Law and Order Restoration Council. SLORC ruled until 2011.

In 2013, Myanmar will host the World Economic Forum. In 2014 it will chair the ASEAN regional group, and in 2015 it may enter a new ASEAN Free Trade Area. By 2020, the population of Yangon might double from the current 5 million. Mobile penetration is 3 million but the population is 60 million.

Foreign investment is now pouring in, but Myanmar lacks the infrastructure to absorb it. Overseas Indians and Chinese make up 5% of the population. For China, Myanmar is a way to evade dependence on shipping via the Straits of Malacca. In 2011, China was by far the largest foreign investor in Myanmar.

Myanmar is now playing the field. India sees Myanmar as crucial for its Look East policy. Europe is a large investor. Russia may be a new arms supplier. Japan may produce cars in Myanmar. President Barack Obama visited in December. Myanmar may participate in Cobra Gold military exercises.

Iraq War
The Guardian

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain, examines the experience of a squad of soldiers on their return from Iraq: "I wanted to capture people talking past each other and this systemic dysfunction. That was the tone I was going for. A lot of things going on at once and not much making sense."

The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers, explores two individual soldiers and the hurried promise that one made to the other to keep him alive through their tour of duty: "It is a story about making a promise that you cannot keep."

Fire and Forget, edited by Matt Gallagher and Roy Scranton, displays in a range of stories the depth and breadth of the experience of the Iraq war. There is a tale of a soldier shooting an Iraqi boy, another of a recently returned Marine visiting a shopping mall while haunted by trauma, a description of a lost patrol, and a study of a veteran's harrowing search for a job on his return from war.

Fountain: "This was a bullshit war."

2013 January 2

The Internet
James Panero

The Internet is the great revolution of our time. The story of the cold war began with the nuclear bomb and ended with the Internet. But the Internet has quickly evolved into an even more effective weapon against totalitarianism than nuclear deterrence.

The Internet's Gutenberg moment was the development of the Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol, TCP/IP, where IP deals with addressing and forwarding and TCP contends with flow control and error correction. In 2005, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for the invention of TCP/IP.

In 1990, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. His CERN team developed the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). Facebook, Twitter, Google, Paypal, Skype, and YouTube all emerged thanks to HTTP, which in turn operates through TCP/IP.

Access to Internet-based information requires personal computer interfaces, routers, digital storage devices, broadband connections, and electricity. Good: The mutable quality of online information permits collaborative databases such as Wikipedia. Bad: Online information is volatile. As more and more data enters the cloud, a systemic loss could be catastrophic.

Google Art Project gives us access to visual artifacts as never before. But few would claim that the Metropolitan Museum should move its paintings to storage. The integration of digital maps, satellite images, 3D rendering, and street views can provide an unparalleled overview of a landscape. But Google Earth is no substitute for traveling.

2013 January 1

Military Mutants
Danger Room

The U.S. military is using or developing a wide range of technologies meant to give troops mutant powers: greater strength and endurance, superior cognition, better teamwork, fearlessness.

But the risks and ethics of these military human enhancements, including drugs, special nutrition, electroshock, gene therapy, and robotic implants and prostheses, are poorly understood, say the authors of a new report for The Greenwall Foundation.

An author: "With military enhancements and other technologies, the genie is already out of the bottle: the benefits are too irresistible, and the military-industrial complex still has too much momentum. The best we can do now is to help develop policies in advance to prepare for these new technologies."

Report: "Somewhere in between robotics and biomedical research, we might arrive at the perfect future warfighter: one that is part machine and part human, striking a formidable balance between technology and our frailties."

Enhanced Warfighters
The Greenwall Foundation

The United States military is making substantial investments to develop technologies that would enhance the ability of warfighters to complete their missions safely and effectively. Driven by neuroscience, biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, and other emerging technologies, this research includes combating sleep deprivation, improving cognitive performance, increasing strength, reducing muscle fatigue, and other enhancements to the human body and mind.

Human enhancement technologies challenge existing laws and policy, as well as underlying ethical values. But while the implications of human enhancement generally have been widely discussed, little analysis currently exists for the operational, ethical, and legal implications of enhancing warfighters.

AR Sounds like great news for GLOBORG.

Back to Top