BLOG 2013 Q2

Comet tank


Husain Haqqani

Pakistan is a young country with a lot of psychoses. India has never accepted it, but India never started a war. Most of Pakistan's problems are psychological.

The nuclear weapons have not made us secure. Now we're like the guy who keeps buying guns to protect himself, and then finds he can't sleep because he's afraid somebody will steal them.

Jean-Paul Sartre
Adam Kirsch

Sartre was a novelist, playwright, philosopher, and activist. His existentialism was a philosophy of liberty: We can always rebel against our circumstances by asserting our free will.

But Sartre began to worship at the altar of Communism. He became an apologist for oppression, so long as it came waving the banner of liberation. A great intellect does not make a great man.

Glastonbury 2011
Glastonbury 2013

Edinburgh Book Festival
2013 August 10-26

Karl Marx
Jonathan Sperber

Marxian communism was an elemental response to the productive forces unleashed by the industrial revolution. Lack of money vexed Karl Marx and shaped the fury of his philosophy. He sought to accommodate his Hegelian ideas to a more scientistic era, beginning with applying the dialectic to Darwinism. Engels redacted his ideas to iron out his ambivalence on positivism and to pass over his Hegelian critique of the conceptual foundations of the natural sciences.

2013 June 30

European Secrets Revealed
The Observer

National Security Agency worker Wayne Madsen has revealed that six European Union countries, in addition to the UK, colluded in mass harvesting of personal communications data. Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy had secret deals with the United States under SIGINT agreements to hand over data to the NSA if requested.

International intelligence agreements recognize three trust levels. The US is the first party, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand enjoy second party relationships, and Germany and France have third party relationships. Madsen said the NSA gets "the lion's share" of the SIGINT take, while the third parties get "highly sanitized intelligence".

Madsen remarked on the "sanctimonious outcry" of political leaders who were "feigning shock" about the revelations. German politicians had even accused the UK of spying. Madsen: "I can't understand how Angela Merkel can keep a straight face, demanding assurances from Obama and the UK while Germany has entered into those exact relationships."

US Spying On EU
Claus Hecking and Stefan Schultz

Revelations that the US National Security Agency targeted the European Union and several European countries with its spying activities have led to angry reactions in Europe.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz: "We need more precise information. But if it is true, it is a huge scandal. That would mean a huge burden for relations between the EU and the US. We now demand comprehensive information."

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn: "The EU and its diplomats are not terrorists. We need a guarantee from the very highest level that it stops immediately."

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: "If media reports are correct, then it is reminiscent of methods used by enemies during the Cold War."

European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Elmar Brok: "The spying has reached dimensions that I didn't think were possible for a democratic country. Such behavior among allies is intolerable."

CSU MEP Markus Ferber: "A democratic constitutional state that uses Stasi methods sacrifices all credibility as a moral authority. It has destroyed trust."

Green Party MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit: "A simple note of protest is not enough anymore. The EU must immediately suspend negotiations with the US over a free trade agreement."

Satel Sally and Scott O. Lilienfeld

The brain is a masterwork of nature endowed with cognitive powers that far outstrip the capacity of any silicon machine built to emulate it. Containing roughly 80 billion neurons, each of which communicates with thousands of other neurons, a human brain has more connections than there are stars in the Milky Way. How this neural edifice gives rise to subjective feelings is a mystery.

Brain scan images are not photographs of the brain in action in real time. Those beautiful colored images represent areas in the brain that are consuming most oxygen when a subject performs a task such as reading. If biological roots can be captured on a brain scan, it is too easy to assume that the behavior under scrutiny must be involuntary or uncontrollable.

Scientists have made great strides in showing how human thought and action unfold. A lower level of explanation is the neurobiological level. Genes direct neuronal development, neurons assemble into brain circuits. Information processing and neural network dynamics hover above. At the middle level are conscious mental states. Social and cultural contexts occupy the highest levels of the hierarchy.

Sam Harris says inquiry into the brain will eventually and exhaustively explain the mind and human nature, so ultimately neuroscience will dictate human values. But this is mindless hyping of neuroscience. The neurobiological domain is one of brains and physical causes. The psychological domain is one of people and their motives. Both are essential to a full understanding of why we act as we do.

The Enlightenment
John Gray

Anthony Pagden is an Enlightenment evangelist. For him, if the Enlightenment has been implicated in 20th-century crimes, that can only be because its values were misunderstood and misapplied, or else deliberately perverted. Enlightenment evangelists respond to the fact that some of the worst modern crimes have been committed by militant secular regimes with incredulity.

He is a fierce critic of moral relativism and attributes its spread to the Romantic movement. Modern relativism is at least as much a child of the Enlightenment as of the Romantics. He also dismisses the idea that Enlightenment thinking played a part in the development of scientific racism and scientific socialism. In fact, the potential for such crimes was latent in Enlightenment thinking.

Pagden is aware that we are still far from realizing Enlightenment ideals. But he is convinced it is because the lessons of the great Enlightenment thinkers have not been properly applied. His Enlightenment seems to have come into the world owing nothing whatever to western monotheism. In reality, some strands of Enlightenment thinking were inherited from religion.

Susan Greenfield
The Independent

Baroness Susan Greenfield has just published a novel. She already has 30 honorary degrees and, at 62, is still in the laboratory every morning at 7.30. The professor never takes a holiday. A few years ago, she coined the term "mind change" to describe the effects of internet use on the brain. 2121 is a dystopian novel influenced by 1984 and Brave New World.

Greenfield: "The evidence is there. What I've done is pull together the science, and suggested there is a new phenomenon that has analogies with climate change, in terms of being unprecedented, controversial, and global."

Greenfield doesn't like conventional activities, like cooking or gardening, and prefers to spend the weekends thinking. In her Oxford lab, she is working hard to find a cure for Alzheimer's. She's not a conventional scientist. Her A-levels were in classics and maths, and her first degree at Oxford was in philosophy and psychology. She only became a scientist because her tutor said it would be a laugh: "Oxford at that time put a premium on enthusiasm and motivation as opposed to box-ticking."

She was married to Peter Atkins, but they divorced in 2005. Her father was Jewish and her mother Christian, but both rejected religion. "I feel I'm spiritually like an autistic person. I have great respect for people with faith. I feel they have a dimension to their lives that I can't buy in on."

AR I met Susan in Sweden in 2001. She was fun to talk with.

2013 June 29

Fading Dream
Niall Ferguson

The American Dream is fading. Inequality is rising. Average income for the top 1% is roughly 30 times higher than the average income of the rest. The top 1% owns a third of the total US net worth and even more of the financial wealth. And social mobility is falling. Most Americans raised in the top fifth of incomes end up staying in the top two fifths. Most of those born in the bottom fifth end up staying in the bottom two fifths.

An elite of one or two million people dominate admissions to the top US colleges. They marry one another and live in fewer than a thousand exclusive neighborhoods. At the other end, there are dumps where nobody has more than a high school diploma, ever more children live with a single parent, ever more men are unemployed or work part time, and crime is rampant. If you were born there, you stay there, unless you go to jail.

Medicare is the federal government's most expensive welfare program. Federal spending on health care is around 5% of GDP but is forecast to double by the 2040s. Worse, the current share of federal spending on the young is around 10%, compared with over 40% for adults. Per capita government spending for the elderly is roughly double what it is for children. The child poverty rate is more than double the poverty rate for seniors.

American education is failing too. A third of high school graduates fail the mandatory Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. The United States is now halfway down the international league table for mathematical aptitude at age 15. A far higher proportion of kids are functionally illiterate in the United States than in Canada. Elite US educational institutions are reverting to their old role as finishing schools for the children of a hereditary elite.

Boris Johnson
Russell Brand

The episode of the much-loved political forum hosted by Sir David Dimbleby in which I participated was broadcast from the glistening riverside titty from which Boris Johnson presides over London life. Boris had invited the panel for drinks in his office. I was allowed a plus one, so I took my mum.

BoJo is kerfuffling around with beverages, jugs and glasses. I wind up chatting to Melanie Phillips. Melanie is beautiful. It is surprising and bizarre to see her contort on air into a taut, jabbing figure, untutored index finger fucking the audience in the face. Her opinions are like an arbitrary appurtenance that she pops on in public, like a daft hat that says "Immigrants Out" on the brim.

Fellow panelists Ed and Tessa are a couple of lovely labradors with wagging tails and wet noses, fetching the party line. Sir David is statesmanlike and twinkly. Only Boris concerns me. I liked his voice, his manner, his name, his vocabulary, his self-effacing charm, his humor, and of course his hair.

Boris is the most popular politician in the country. When I met him in his office, the nucleus of his dominion, I glanced at his library. Among the Wodehouses and the Euripides there were fierce economic tomes, capitalist manuals, bibles of domination. Eye-to-eye, the bumbling bonhomie appeared to be a lacquer of likability over a living obelisk of corporate power.

Johnson is the most dangerous politician in Britain, precisely because of his charm. The members of the Conservative party that are rallying to install him as leader are those to the right of David Cameron. In this age where politics is presented as entertainment, it's the most entertaining politicians who ascend.

2013 June 28

Progress: A certificate of compliance is on its way for the car and I can go ahead with the headlights investment. But all this will take time. Perhaps I should sell it and buy a cheap car.

Why It's Good To Be Wrong
David Deutsch

Human beings can be mistaken in anything they think or do. This is fallibilism. The fallibility that arises from the way our ideas connect with reality raises issues such as logical paradox and the limits of reason. A fallibilist cannot claim to be infallible even about fallibilism itself.

We are inclined to seek solid foundations. But experience is never direct. It is a sort of virtual reality, created by our brains using sketchy and flawed sensory clues. And the idea that your reminiscences are infallible is also heresy. If you take ideas seriously, there is no escape from the obligation to use reason and to give it priority over dogma, faith, and obedience. Nothing can infallibly tell you what is infallible.

Karl Popper proposes to assume there is no ideal source of knowledge, so we should replace the question of the sources of our knowledge by that of how can we detect and eliminate error. He says we can hope to do so if we set up traditions of criticism. Our systems of checks and balances are steeped in traditions that survive not because they are deferred to but precisely because they are not.

Fallibilism implies the possibility of knowledge. The very concept of error implies that truth exists and can be found. The inherent limitation on human reason, that it can never find solid foundations for ideas, is no limit on knowledge or progress.

Mid-Market Businesses
Financial Times

Research by GE Capital and Warwick Business School shows that UK mid-market businesses, defined as having turnover of £15 million to £800 million, grew almost as well as German companies last year. The survey predicts they will grow more next year than German, French, or Italian companies:

2013 June 27

More car frustration here. Britain can learn a lot from Germany about creating a dynamic and efficient business culture that truly supports customers instead of merely extracting their money.

William Dalrymple

Hostility between India and Pakistan lies at the heart of the war in Afghanistan. Many Afghans view the war as a Pashtun rebellion against President Hamid Karzai's regime. Tajiks make up 27% of the Afghan population but 70% of the officers in the army, so many Pashtuns support the Taliban.

Pakistan supports the Taliban because Pakistani generals fear being squeezed from north and south by India. After Americans ousted the Taliban, the government of Afghanistan became an ally of India. Karzai hated Pakistan, and India seized the opportunity to increase its influence in Afghanistan.

Pakistani generals have long viewed jihadis as a cheap and covert means to control events in Afghanistan. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the commander-in-chief of the Pakistan army, is obsessed by India. A senior British diplomat in Islamabad: "Afghanistan is ... an Indo-Pak proxy war."

Indian hawks want to take on a more robust military role in Afghanistan, to fill the security vacuum left by the US withdrawal, advance Indian regional interests, compete with China for influence in the country, and thwart Pakistan.

Anthony Kenny

C. S. Lewis was born in Belfast in 1898, served as an infantry officer in the first world war, earned firsts in classics and English at Oxford, and worked as college fellow there until 1954. In 1955, he became Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge, and died in 1963.

As a young man, Lewis converted from atheism to Christianity, and went on to write lively works of popular theology. His best known such work is Mere Christianity, published in 1952. American Christians regularly cite Mere Christianity as the most influential religious book of the twentieth century.

In 1948, Lewis debated with Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. He had attacked the thesis that nothing exists that is not part of nature. He maintained that it was self-refuting, since a thought or belief could not be true or rational if it were simply the undesigned product of cerebral motions. Anscombe replied that his argument confused reasons and causes. Defeated, Lewis lost confidence in his ability as a rational apologist for religion, and began to write Christian propaganda as fiction. He wrote The Chronicles of Narnia as a series of seven novels for children.

Lewis had a famous argument for Christianity. Jesus said he was God. Jesus was neither a deceiver nor deceived. Therefore Jesus was indeed God. Lewis wrote that Christ was not simply a great moral teacher and that a man who said the sort of things Jesus said was either the Lord or a liar or a lunatic. Yet biblical scholars today think it unlikely that Jesus made any claim to divinity, so the argument fails.

Sometimes Lewis felt a joyous need he met through God: "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

2013 June 26

Wrote to BMW explaining my headlights idea.

Robert W. Merry

Progress is the thesis that mankind has advanced from a state of cultural backwardness and folly to ever more elevated stages of enlightenment and civilization, and that this will continue into the future.

John Gray rejects it utterly. The fundamentals of his critique:

1 The idea of progress is merely a secular religion. Gray: "Humanists like to think they have a rational view of the world; but their core belief in progress is a superstition."

2 This humanist impulse is based upon a false view of human nature. Gray: "Technical progress leaves only one problem unsolved: the frailty of human nature.”

3 The underlying nature of humans is bred into the species. The instinct for survival is placed on hold under civilization but is never far from the surface.

4 The power of the progress idea stems in part from Christian doctrine. Classical thinkers saw humanity as reflecting the rest of the natural world, rather like the seasons.

Gray: "Godless mysticism cannot escape the finality of tragedy, or make beauty eternal. It does not dissolve inner conflict into the false quietude of any oceanic calm. All it offers is mere being."

AR John and I were at Oxford together.

5E Spynet
Jakob Augstein

Data collectors in the US and UK have no right to investigate German citizens. The Five Eyes alliance seems to have gotten completely out of control. A totalitarian security policy jeopardizes our security by the very actions that are supposed to protect it.

The German government must see to it that the intrusive 5E "protection" of German citizens ends immediately. The government has a fundamental obligation to protect its own citizens from the grasp of foreign powers.

AR Hysterical overreaction
betraying nationalist fallacy
that EU supranationalism
should have overcome
among Germans.

Sukhoi Su-35S: Flight demo,
analysis by Bill Sweetman

(YouTube, 3:37)

Paris Air Show 2013
Aviation Week

Bring Back National Service
Stephen Moss

Tory diehards say bring back national service. Remove the automatic association with the armed forces, apply it to both sexes, call it citizenship training or community service, and it could be good.

Future students could benefit from a year or two working in a hospital, the police, or the like. It would give them skills for university life. Disadvantaged youngsters and young people inclined to antisocial behavior would also benefit.

If the UK reintroduced national service, many young people would opt for the armed forces. Many others would choose civilian service. They could run food banks, get involved in aid programs, or work in schools or with the elderly, the sick, and the marginalized. They would learn a lot.

Crown Copyright
UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)

"The National Security Strategy sets out the challenges of a changing and uncertain world and places cyber attack in the top tier of risks, alongside international terrorism, a major industrial accident or natural disaster, and international military crisis. GCHQ, in concert with Security Service (also known as MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (also known as MI6) play a key role across all of these areas and more."

A monumental trilogy
by Jonathan Israel:
Radical Enlightenment
Enlightenment Contested
Democratic Enlightenment

Russell Brand

When comedian Russell Brand appeared on Question Time, the BBC took no chances. What if young Russell canceled his date on safety grounds, as he did yesterday with his Messiah Complex tour of the Mideast? The Beeb also rolled on London mayor Boris Johnson, Daily Mail jihadi Melanie Phillips, Lib Dem beefcake Ed Davey, and Labour sunshine Dame Tessa Jowell. Russell seemed to be thinking: "Who are these old people? Why are they dribbling on my show?"

Russell took a populist line, with his own distinctive dash of Hare Krishna. It was a great success. His forays against politicians were cheered enthusiastically. Everyone else was dull. When the audience laughed at a remark, Melanie scolded: "You're trivial and ignorant."

Ashmolean Museum
Faces in the Fire
Frank Holl, 1867

Frank Holl: Emerging
From The Shadows

Watts Gallery, Guildford
2013-06-18 — 2013-11-03

2013 June 25

My immigration news: my car dealer told me how much it will cost to make my German car UK-street legal by replacing the steerable xenon headlights with mirror-transformed beam profile units: GBP 1667.51. I shall write a long letter to BMW outlining how they can save production costs, acquire a valuable patent, increase the penetrating power of German businessmen in British markets, and delight British BMW customers who take their car on vacation in Europe, all by developing bilaterally enabled steerable xenon units that can be mirror-transformed with a simple software toggle. They can make the speedometer similarly mph-capable while they're at it. My proposed consultancy fee: a mere GBP 1667.51.

Jonathan Portes

The UK will be much better off if immigrants learn English soon after arriving, participate fully in the labour market, and send their children to schools that are not dominated by a single ethnic group.

Economic liberals believe that markets are usually the best way to allocate resources, so a more open approach to migration and trade will deliver better outcomes. We gain from free trade in cars with the European Union because trade increases competition between different producers, diversifies the supply chain across the EU, improves incentives for technological innovation, and has all sorts of other difficult to measure but important effects that increase productivity in the medium to long term.

The same is likely to be true of immigration. We will never know precisely how immigration impacts growth. But we do know enough to set a clear direction for policy.

2013 June 24

"Catastrophe — Unbearable"
The Guardian

German justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: "If these accusations are correct, this would be a catastrophe. The accusations against Great Britain sound like a Hollywood nightmare. The European institutions should seek straight away to clarify the situation."

Germans are highly sensitive to government monitoring, having lived through the Stasi secret police in communist East Germany and with lingering memories of the Gestapo under the Nazis.

German Social Democrat parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann: "This is unbearable. The government must clarify these accusations and act against a total surveillance of German citizens."

Christian Stöcker

The Anglo-American surveillance program Tempora is historic. Intelligence agencies have secretly built Big Brother. Their aim is to "master the internet" by scanning private and personal information about much of the population of the developed world. The potential for evil is endless.

The British GCHQ and the American NSA can eavesdrop on all transatlantic data traffic. The agencies cooperate in copying and caching data from the fiber optic cables and filtering it for analysis. In effect, every home is bugged, every letter is read, every phone is tapped.

The readers of this data don't even bother to deny what they are up to. The GCHQ spies don't comment on such things but say it serves the fight against terrorism and is subject to strict laws. NSA representatives say they only analyze the data they scan if they deem it necessary. All eyewash.

Would a free public agree to spy cameras in every living room, just in case a terrorist appears? Would we be happy to be told the image is only viewed when a spy considers it necessary? Of course not. Any government proposing such a program would be hounded out of office, and rightly so.

The fact that Anglo-American spies have been given untold power without public accountability is a scandal. The future will show whether we are strong enough to defeat this vast totalitarian project. National governments have deceived their voters. We must force them to defend our freedom.

Secret Surveillance
Douwe Korff

The European convention on human rights (ECHR) implies that a system of secret surveillance for the protection of national security may undermine democracy. Legislation allowing the secret monitoring of communications entails a threat of surveillance. Secret and unpublished rules are fundamentally contrary to the rule of law, and surveillance based on them always violates the ECHR.

The US and UK systems of internet surveillance violate these minimum safeguards. The US FISA allows the US authorities to spy on the internet activities and communications of anyone outside the country to monitor activities "of interest" to the government. The UK RIPA allows the UK government to do the same whenever a communication begins or ends in the UK.

Under the Human Rights Act, the British courts can at most declare the incompatibility of a British act of parliament with the HRA and the ECHR. So in the UK there is no effective remedy against the abuse of our rights that RIPA represents, and individuals who have a reasonable ground to believe their communications may have been caught can take their case directly to Strasbourg.

AR A perfect storm: The USUKCANZ Five Eyes (5E) spynet needs public debate and control.

2013 June 23

Blog junkie delays unpacking because room is too small — stuff is compacter in boxes for now — and despairs of filling out DVLA "Application for a first tax disc and registration of a used motor vehicle" — "See leaflet V355/5 for notes on filling in, as incomplete forms will be rejected".

NSA Surveillance
Bill Clinton

Freedom and security are mutually reinforcing. I think you're more secure if you have more freedom. Therefore I think we should be on guard for abuses of the use of technology by our government.

The most important thing is that we have accountability. Secret surveillance is subject to abuse if people lie to the courts or if the wrong people get hold of the information and try to use it to embarrass people.

This is one of those areas, which in my opinion will always be blurry and grey and make people uncomfortable. You can destroy freedom with false claims that you have to do it to make everybody secure, but usually when somebody's doing it, they don't give a rip about security, they're just trying to get more power.

Cutting US Nukes

President Barack Obama proposes deep cuts in US and Russian nuclear weapons arsenals while Pentagon war planners are working to make these weapons more accurate and deadly. The USAF plans to put nuclear cruise missiles on board B-2 stealth bombers and to field new and improved cruise missiles. Nuclear gravity bombs will get new tail kits to give them precision guidance.

Heritage Foundation think tank nuclear weapons analyst Michaela Dodge says cutting nuclear arsenals will reduce US security. Fewer weapons allow fewer targets, so the Pentagon won't be able to cover military targets in Russia, China, and elsewhere and war planners will target civilian populations.

Federation of American Scientists nuclear weapons analyst Hans Kristensen says the strategy of using delivery systems to improve the military capability of the US nuclear arsenal is undercutting the spirit of the president's promise to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in national strategy.

Preventing the use of nuclear weapons nowadays is much more complicated than it was in the days when Washington and Moscow kept the peace with the MAD idea of mutually assured destruction. But the horrifying damage nukes leave behind after the mushroom clouds blow away remains. Nuclear weapons produce fallout that can cause cancers, birth defects, and genetic damage for decades afterwards.

Pentagon planners foresee a new generation of stealthy nuclear cruise missiles capable of surviving and penetrating advanced air defenses. Present US cruise missiles date back to the cold war. By the mid-2020s, the USAF will deploy the new cruisers aboard a new long range strike bomber.

Ray Monk

Readers of popular physics don't understand quantum physics. It requires mastering mathematics that is beyond us. Lee Smolin reacts to this challenge by leaving out the math. Without the equations it is impossible to follow his arguments, because he is putting forward a speculative new foundation for the whole of theoretical physics.

Smolin believes that the best hope for bringing gravity into line with the rest of the currently accepted picture of reality lies in reaffirming the reality of time. Timelessness is a feature of mathematics. But physics concerns itself with things that exist in time. Smolin: "Either the world is in essence mathematical or it lives in time."

The universe of general relativity is represented by a mathematical object. Einstein: "People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion." Most of us may not need persuading that time is real, but there are those who do.

The Guardian

For most of my 20s and 30s I equated love with pain. Then I discovered that I could write. It was the writing that really put an end to failure. It is possible to recover from failure: to digest it, make use of it, and forget it.
Diana Athill

Failure is just another name for much of real life: much of what we set out to accomplish ends in failure. My own personal failure list is a long one. Get back on the horse that threw you, as they used to say. You learn as much from failure as you learn from success.
Margaret Atwood

When I was growing up, failure presented itself as something clear and public. Later, I realized that failure could also be private and hidden. It took me a long time to understand the nuances of success and failure. Early on, I knew that the primal sin of the artistic life was the sin against your own talent.
Julian Barnes

Failure is easy. I do it every day, I have been doing it for years. The zen of it is that success and failure are both an illusion. The problem is that success and failure are also real. I still have this big, stupid idea that you can make a book that shifts between its covers and will not stay easy on the page, a real novel, one that lives, talks, breathes, refuses to die. And in this, I am doomed to fail.
Anne Enright

You have to see failure as an opportunity. If the world doesn't value us, we won't value the world. We seek solace in books. One of the best ways of achieving mastery over failure is to relive it, over and over, in words. What writers at their best achieve is a saturation of shame, triumphing over it by excluding or extenuating nothing, possessing it as theirs, and handing it back again in comedy.
Howard Jacobson

Failure dominates my working life. To continue writing is to accept failure as a part of the experience. I prize this sense of failure. A creative life cannot be sustained by approval, any more than it can be destroyed by criticism. People say my writing is dreadful, pretentious, self-seeking shit. Other people say my writing is brilliant, beautifully crafted and freighted with the most sublime meaning. The criticism has long since ceased to bother me, but the price of this is that the praise is equally meaningless. Failure is perhaps the only success there is.
Will Self

Most people fail. We celebrate success, hope for the best, and admire determination. So we shy from acknowledging that there's a point at which it's pretty clear that whatever it is we're so determined to achieve is not going to happen. There's something to be said for giving up.
Lionel Shriver

2013 June 22

Austerity Has Failed
Martin Wolf

Austerity in the UK and in much of the EZ is a blunder. The British economy has now stagnated for almost three years. The EZ economy is forecast to expand by a mere 0.4% between 2010 and 2013, and a quarter of the labor force in Greece and Spain is unemployed. Maybe the EZ countries had to retrench, but:

— Germany and others could have used low interest rates to expand demand.
— The ECB could have offered more support sooner for sovereign debt crises.
— The emphasis could have been more on structural reforms and less on reduced spending.

The UK government could have increased public investment, cut taxes, and delayed spending cuts.
It did not do so because it believed:

1 Monetary policy alone could do the job. But fiscal policy works more directly and is easier to calibrate and undo later.

2 Its fiscal plans would reduce interest rates. But these are determined by the state of the economy, not that of the public finances.

3 Government deficits would crowd out private borrowing. But private firms were already reluctant to invest and consumers reluctant to spend.

4 The UK had too much debt. But the UK government started the crisis with very low net public debt relative to GDP. It still has a debt ratio way below its historical average.

5 The UK could not afford more debt. But that depends on the cost of debt. When debt is as cheap as it is today, the UK can hardly afford not to borrow.

6 The UK has very little excess capacity. But it is hard to accept that the UK is fated to produce less than its previous growth trend suggested.

Austerity has made things worse. The right approach is to strengthen the banking system, increase private sector incentives to invest, expand the money supply, and continue government borrowing and spending. It is not too late.

British Spy Agency GCHQ
The Guardian

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed what he called "the largest program of suspicionless surveillance in human history": "It's not just a US problem. The UK has a huge dog in this fight."

Together with the US National Security Agency (NSA), the UK agency GCHQ taps the fiber optic cables carrying phone calls and internet traffic worldwide. GCHQ says it has the "biggest internet access" of any member of the Five Eyes electronic eavesdropping alliance, comprising the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. GCHQ lawyers: "We have a light oversight regime compared with the US."

A source: "Essentially, we have a process that allows us to select a small number of needles in a haystack. We are not looking at every piece of straw. There are certain triggers that allow you to discard or not examine a lot of data so you are just looking at needles. If you had the impression we are reading millions of emails, we are not."

GCHQ operates legally under UK law. The 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) requires the tapping of defined targets to be authorized by a warrant signed by the home secretary or foreign secretary. But the foreign secretary can sign a certificate for the interception of broad categories of data if one end of the monitored line is abroad. Modern communications relay a proportion of internal UK traffic abroad and back.

GCHQ used the RIPA certificates to gather and process data relating to fraud, drug trafficking, and terrorism, but the criteria at any one time are secret. GCHQ audits its own compliance with the certificates and keeps the results secret.

The UK is well placed to tap transatlantic cables. In 2011, GCHQ had probes on more than 200 internet links, each carrying data at 10 Gbps. The internet buffering program Tempora can store 3 days of content data and 30 days of metadata.

The processing centers achieve massive volume reduction by filtering the data. The first filter dumps high-volume, low-value traffic. Others pull out data packets based on "selectors" of interest (40 000 for GCHQ and 31 000 for NSA). A training slide for new users: "You are in an enviable position — have fun and make the most of it."

AR Fun indeed — the technical challenges are fascinating for a search engine veteran like me.

The Enlightenment
Kenan Malik

The Enlightenment cleansed the European mind of medieval superstition and allowed the light of reason to shine upon human problems. For those who say it brought on the Holocaust, its rationalism was racist.

Jonathan Israel says there were two Enlightenments. Kant, Locke, Voltaire, and Hume provided its public face. But d'Holbach, Diderot, Condorcet, and Spinoza provided its heart and soul. The mainstream sought to limit reason by faith and tradition, while the radicals insisted on the supremacy of reason in human affairs.

Spinoza was a monist. He held that the entire cosmos, matter and mind, body and soul, is made of one substance: Deus sive Natura (God or Nature). For Israel, Spinoza "is only centrally important to the Enlightenment if you accept the premise that there is a connection between one-substance philosophy, the kind of philosophy which verges on materialism, and radical ideas about freedom and equality."

Like the Enlightenment, the Reformation had its radical and moderate wings. Luther and Calvin were conservative. They insisted on the absolute sovereignty of God over His creation. Magisterial Protestants accepted the divine right of kings. The radicals challenged monarchs too. They asserted the moral equality of all humans and pursued ideas of equality and democracy to their logical conclusions.

Being Creative
Austin Kleon

In this age of information abundance and overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what's really important to them. Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities. The way to get over creative block is to place some constraints on yourself. When it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom. Don't make excuses. Work with what you have, right now. The right constraints can lead to your best work.

2013 June 21

I need more Europe to simplify the burocratic nonsense standing between me and a quieter life back here in the rotting old UK.

Disunited Kingdom
Christoph Scheuermann

Decades ago, the United Kingdom was prosperous and London became a global financial center. The financial and real estate sectors grew to become the leaders among British industries. Then the crisis erupted in 2008.

Things have been going downhill ever since. Unemployment is now at almost 8%, and about a third of the population lives precariously. Millions of Britons don't eat properly and can't heat their homes in winter. The gap between rich and poor is growing, political debates are getting more heated, and a new party has emerged. The anti-Europe UK Independence Party (UKIP) won 23% of the vote in local elections in May.

In Lincolnshire, a few hours' drive northward from London, Victoria Ayling, Kevin Couling, and their three sons live in the village of Stickford. Ayling is a local politician and a member of UKIP. Public sentiment in their part of the kingdom is slipping from moderate conservatism to bulldog patriotism. Ayling says the success of UKIP is a symptom of a much larger cultural change. Her father made a fortune in furniture and her family had servants. She grew up in a country where old class distinctions were still intact and life was good for those on top.

But the working class began to rebel. Ayling believes this change roughly coincided with Great Britain's accession to the European Community in 1973, and hopes that UKIP will help the realm regain its old strength. She says the government should crack down on illegal immigrants and criminals, and that Cameron should block immigration from eastern Europe: "He has to declare a state of emergency and close the borders." Couling adds: "We are an island nation, and now we want to withdraw to our island."

The Scots, too, want independence. Dennis Canavan, 70, lives in the hills northeast of Glasgow. He was elected to the House of Commons for Labour in 1974. After 33 years in the British and Scottish parliaments he retired, but then Scottish Prime Minister Alex Salmond asked him to lead a new project. Canavan is now chairman of the "Yes Scotland" campaign and fighting for Scottish independence. He says Scotland would be better off without England. It would be richer and more peaceful and it could reverse recent cuts to social benefits. Canavan thinks Scotland is oppressed.

The Scots will vote in a referendum on independence from the UK in 2014. Across the realm, the edges are drifting away from the center, both among the regions and between the top and the bottom of society. The kingdom is unravelling.

Soft Target
Katie Arnold-Ratliff

Some 80 years ago, Allen Lane found himself stuck on a train with nothing to read. Having seen the first paperback books in London, Lane decided to create his own portable, inexpensive version of the format. He founded Penguin and published the first 10 titles in 1935.

In 2009, Penguin Group published The Book of Penguin: "This is a book about the most advanced form of entertainment ever. You can pause it at any time. Rewind and replay it if you miss a bit ... It'll fit in your pocket. It's interactive ... It's pretty cheap. It's completely free to share. And it lasts a lifetime. This is a book about books."

The 2012 BookStats survey revealed that in 2011 e-book net sales were double those of 2010. In the adult fiction category, e-book revenue outpaced that of print. Amazon reported higher 2011 sales of e-books than paperbacks and hardcovers combined. The 2013 BookStats report shows that e-book sales have grown 45% since 2011 and now constitute 20% of the trade market. Between 2011 and 2012, total mass market paperback sales fell by over 20%.

But the paperback is not dead. Penguin Books vice president and associate publisher Patrick Nolan: "Everyone in publishing talks about discoverability, and no one would argue that it's easier when there aren't physical copies of books around. There's no substitute."

2013 June 20

Junk everywhere, half of it in a drop-box a few miles away ...

A.A. Gill

The Old World patronizes America. But America and Europe are far more similar than they are different. The threads of the Old World are woven into the New. America is built out of European ideas, understanding, aesthetic, morality, assumptions, and laws. America grew tall out of old Europe.

A generation ago, there was a lot of talk of a brain drain. Brains were being lured to California by mere money. Mere money and space, and sun, and steak, and Hollywood, and more money and opportunity and optimism and openness. The brain drain was symbolic of a postwar self-pity.

The real brain drain was already 300 years old. The idea of America attracted the brightest and best from all over Europe. In 1776 the white and indentured population of America was 2.5 million. A hundred years later it was nearly 50 million. In 1890, America became the biggest industrial economy in the world. It now accounts for a quarter of the world's economy.

Europeans cultivate a snobbery about the parochialism of America. Apparently, only 35% of Americans have passports. That many! Why would you go anywhere else?

AR Indeed. Provincial Britain looks shabby and run down compared with provincial Germany.

2013 June 19

My truckload arrives today, with clothes, desk, books, armchair ...

Transatlantic Trade and Investment
Matthew Yglesias

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a big deal. TTIP aims to harmonize regulations on both sides of the Atlantic. Duplication of regulatory effort in the United States and the European Union impedes international commerce. According to proponents of TTIP, the gains of broad regulatory harmonization could amount to an economic boost of more than $100 billion a year in the United States and somewhat more than that in Europe. TTIP makes for freer trade.

AR Gets my vote: G8 meets pay their way with this sort of thing.

2013 June 18

Iranian Election
Irwin Cotler

Iranian president elect Rohani spoke of improving relations with the West, of establishing a ministry for women's affairs, and of creating more opportunities and freedoms for Iranian youth.

But Rohani presided over the secret advance of the Iranian nuclear program and once boasted: "While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan. In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan."

Rohani also presided over the crackdown on student protesters in 1999 and referred to Israel as "the great Zionist Satan" last year. He won in an electoral charade as one of a vetted group of candidates, all supreme loyalists to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


G8 leaders made a sweeping commitment to strengthen international corporate tax rules. They signed a 10-point Lough Erne Declaration calling for tax authorities around the world to share information and to change the rules that let multinational companies shift profits across borders to avoid taxes and require them to report what tax they pay where. At present, companies use shell companies in tax havens to hide their true ownership and avoid tax.

British PM David Cameron said the deal had "the potential to rewrite the rules on tax and transparency for the benefit of countries right across the world". A new mechanism "will identify where multinational companies are earning their profits and paying their taxes" and will "track and expose those who aren't paying their fair share". The declaration will help tax authorities to deal with multinationals and to develop a global model for information exchange.

AR More good news, assuming they really do it.

2013 June 17

Well, here I am in Poole, online at home thanks to Virgin media, enjoying weather 10 K cooler and urban streets with less class than those in Germany. But the local supermarket is well stocked and the sea looks inviting, so this little life goes on.

Christiane Amanpour

The stunning election victory for reform and moderation in Iran this weekend recalls the election in 1997, when the moderate cleric Mohammad Khatami won. He was the first since the 1979 Islamic Revolution to call for reform at home, and for a type of detente with the West and the rest.

The Iranian people say they want their next president to improve the dire economy that has plunged approximately half the country into poverty. But they also say they want better relations with the rest of the world, including the United States. They are tired of sanctions, isolation, and lurching from crisis to international crisis.

Hassan Rouhani calls for more moderate policies inside Iran and for constructive engagement abroad. He is a close ally of former Iranian Presidents Khatami and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Both swung their support behind Rouhani.

Back in 1997, President Khatami became the first Iranian leader to apologize for the 1979 hostage crisis, to denounce terrorism and the killing of civilians including Israeli civilians, to address the nuclear program, and more.

After 9/11, President Khatami sent condolences to the American people. Later when President George W. Bush sent forces into Afghanistan to despatch the Taliban and al-Qaeda, Iran played a crucial role for the United States in pulling together the political solution for the new Afghanistan.

But right after that mutual co-operation came President Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech, lumping Khatami's Iran with Iraq and North Korea. Blowback came in the form of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 2005 election, and the past eight excruciating years. Now there is a new day, and a new chance.

AR Good news at last.

Will physicists divorce
space and time?

The Nikkei 225 sank 5.6% in morning trading and the yen broke through Y95 per dollar. BNP Paribas chief Japan equity strategist Shun Maruyama: "Japan is a developed country, but in equities it is like an emerging market ... hot money is getting out of emerging markets, including Japan."

AR So Abenomics is risky.
Like my move to the UK,
land of the credit crunch.

99 Years Ago
Max Hastings

World War I broke out 100 years ago next summer. Most young Britons today learned to think of it as a pointless tragedy in which Britain's idiot generals committed mass murder. But the western Allies could only have avoided war by accepting German domination of Europe.

The Britain sacrifice to stop German militarists should be a matter of pride. I can think of no greater betrayal than to pretend it was all for nothing.

AR A greater betrayal is to forget it was futile mass murder. It didn't prevent WW2.

Does math exist?
Idea Channel
(video, 8:45)

British comic Russell Brand, 38, will tour the Mideast presenting his new Messiah Complex show in mosques and synagogues. He plans to cover "various social and religious figures and the reality of their lives" and to portray the complex as a mental disorder. The tour opens in August in Abu Dhabi.


We start to think like
songwriters, and once you get that habit, it stays with you all your life. It motors along in your subconscious, in the way you listen. ... You start looking round, and everything's a subject for a song.
Keith Richards

2013 June 14

Today the fridge goes, I pack up my electronics, and the hot silence of summer takes over.
Goodbye cruel world!

The Muslim Brotherhood
Marc Lynch

President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood has forced Egyptians to question the compatibility of Islamism and democracy. Many critics now view the Brotherhood as a monolithic radical organization bent on domination and the imposition of Islamic law and values through state power.

During the Sadat and Mubarak eras, the Muslim Brotherhood experienced reversals of fortune, developed a political machine, and waged ideological debates. In its disagreements about democracy, leadership, and engagement with society, the more moderate factions almost always lost.

The Muslim Brotherhood could avoid the tension between democracy and religious law so long as it was not in government. But once in power, it made error after error.The Brotherhood has utterly failed to build a broad national consensus.

British Girls in the Third Reich
Rachel Johnson

Sending your daughters to finishing school in Germany was the thing to do in the 1930s. Germany was probably our closest European partner at that time.

My maternal grandmother went to Bavaria as a schoolgirl. She was Jewish. She fell in love with a ski instructor from Freiburg, a member of the National Socialist party. Their relationship went wrong and she came back to England.

The women I interviewed said: "We had the best time of our lives." They felt fantastic being in Germany during the Third Reich. "It was the highlight of my life," one told me. They had everything, including sex. I asked them: "Were you in love at that time?" And they said: "All the time, with everybody." They typically spent six months there, went to parties and were celebrated.

They would see a sign at a swimming pool saying "No Jews," and they'd think: "What's a Jew?" They didn't know any Jews. Also, they were upper-middle class English girls, so their fathers were probably quite anti-Semitic. My mother-in-law's father was chairman of the Anglo-German Alliance. He would make speeches in the House of Lords saying Hitler is a sound chap.

"Hitler was marvellous, the problem was, he went a little bit too far," one of the women told me. They didn't know what the regime was doing, they didn't know about the Nuremburg laws. Nobody became suspicious. It was wilful blindness.

Things changed in September 1939, after the invasion of Poland.

2013 June 13

US-China Relations
China Daily

China Foreign Affairs University researcher Li Haidong: "For months, Washington has been accusing China of cyberespionage, but it turns out that the biggest threat to the pursuit of individual freedom and privacy in the US is the unbridled power of the government."

China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies researcher Zhang Tuosheng: "Beijing and Washington, instead of criticizing each other while hiding their own problems, should work together to facilitate a series of well-observed regulations."

Zhang says Washington should dump its practice of seeking "absolute safety" for itself while potentially damaging the interests of other nations in the process.


The Obama administration persuaded the European Commission to strip its data privacy legislation of a measure limiting the ability of US intelligence agencies to spy on EU citizens. The measure was known within the EU as the "anti-FISA clause" after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorizing the US government to eavesdrop on international phone calls and emails.

AR By "eavesdrop" we mean filter with a search engine.

Pope Pius XII
John Cornwell

Eugenio Pacelli was Pope Pius XII from 1939 to 1958. He failed to condemn the Nazi Holocaust. Pacelli worked as a canon lawyer before he was ordained bishop and dispatched to Germany.

By 1930, he had returned to the Vatican as Cardinal Secretary of State. He urged Heinrich Brüning, the Catholic Chancellor of Germany from 1930 to 1932, to enter a coalition with Hitler. Brüning refused.

In early 1933, Hitler put out feelers for a Reichskonkordat. He offered a guarantee of Catholic rights to religious practice in exchange for Church withdrawal from all social and political action and associations.

Pacelli declared the Reichskonkordat a triumph for the code of canon law, since it shifted governing authority over German Catholics to the Vatican. Hitler said the treaty meant Vatican recognition of the Nazi state and created a "sense of confidence" that would be "especially significant in the urgent struggle against international Jewry".

Pope Pius XII behaved toward the Nazi cause with what could be interpreted as moral indifference. He failed to excommunicate Hitler or Nazi Catholics, though later he excommunicated Italian Communists.

AR Another nail in the coffin of Catholic sanctimony.

2013 June 12

Christiane Amanpour

Turkey is a major regional power and a strong NATO partner. Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan has personal and political bonds with President Barack Obama and many Western leaders in Europe.

The protests started in Istanbul almost two weeks ago and have now spread across the country, with police using water cannon and tear gas and protesters throwing Molotov cocktails and fireworks.

Erdogan has been in power for more than a decade. But many Turks believe he has grown too authoritarian and arrogant. He said the protesters were riff raff but plans to talk to them today.

AR Time for Turks to step back from Islamism and embrace Europe again.

2013 June 11

US Security Scandal
Bundesjustizministerin Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger

Präsident Obama: "You can't have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience."

I don't agree. A society is less free the more its citizens are monitored, checked, and observed. Security in a democratic state based on law is not an end in itself but serves to secure freedom.

The Patriot Act signed into law days after 9/11 shifted the balance of freedom and security to the cost of freedom. Further laws quickly followed. They made significant inroads on American civil rights.

Benjamin Franklin: "People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both."

The global internet is indispensible for business, information sharing, and the fight for human rights in authoritarian states. Trust in these technologies is threatened by extensive eavesdropping.

The Science Delusion
Eric Banks

Curtis White is infuriated by neuroscientists: "Freed at last from the limits imposed by religion, science has extended its ambitions beyond the debunking of Christian dogma. It has now turned its attention to another old competitor, the secular world of the humanities and the arts."

He is adamant that scientists are creating a monster: "The thing that I find most inscrutable about all of the recent books and essays that have sought to give mechanistic explanations for consciousness, personality, emotions, creativity, the whole human sensorium, is how happy the authors seem about it."

But he fails to make a case that science is a matter of faith.

2013 June 10

All my furniture trucked off today. Now I sit on a plastic Klappstuhl in a bare room with a WAN cable snaking across it. The neswhound reports:

United Stasi of America
Daniel Ellsberg

Edward Snowden's leak of NSA material on PRISM is big. The government claims it has a court warrant — but it is from a kangaroo court with a rubber stamp. The intelligence committees in Congress have been co-opted by the spy agencies.

The United States is not now a police state. But it does have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state. There is no legitimate reason to hide programs that are blatantly unconstitutional in their breadth and potential abuse.

The Stasi were the secret police in communist East Germany (the DDR). Snowden reveals that the US intelligence community has become the United Stasi of America. The NSA surveillance programs are dangerous and unconstitutional.

René Descartes
David Wolf

Born in 1596, Descartes learned Aristotelian philosophy at one of the top Jesuit colleges in France.
He was a brilliant mathematician who asked the right questions.

Steven Nadler: "The exhaustive and exclusive division of mind and body — everything is either mental or physical — provides a metaphysical foundation for his new mechanistic picture of the world. Whatever takes place in the physical world is to be explained by material principles alone."

Descartes' Meditations are like a diary in which the narrator goes from doubting everything to understanding reality:

1 He resolves to discard all the beliefs that he can doubt.
2 He is left with just one statement: I think, therefore I am.
6 He knows the nature of mind and body, their duality, the existence of God, and
    the sure path to knowledge.

By constructing the Meditations around an undisclosed protagonist, Descartes invites the reader to become the meditator. The first letter in the Cartesian alphabet is I.

2013 June 9

James Cameron

I pursue the things that I like. I figure if I like it, somebody else is going to like it. I always feel like I carry an audience around in my mind and I can hear them arguing with each other about whether it's good or not. You've got to be merciless on yourself. Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.

2013 June 8

Simon Critchley

John Gray loathes the idea of progress. Human beings are killer apes that long to find a meaning to life. The idea that they can save the planet from environmental devastation is hubris. Human beings cannot be trusted because they will always deploy violence and terror in the name of some metaphysical project. The Earth is suffering from a plague of people. Homo rapiens is a filthy pest.

The Silence of Animals includes an argument for godless mysticism. The highest value in existence is to know that there is nothing of substance in the world. The forms of askesis that attempt to nullify the self occasion a turn toward the nonhuman world in its mere being. A godless mysticism does not redeem us, but it redeems us from the need for redemption, the need for meaning.

Gray is the Schopenhauer figure of our age. His passive nihilist looks at the world with a highly cultivated detachment and finds it meaningless. We are cracked vessels glued to ourselves in endless, narcissistic twittering. We are like moths wheeling around the one true flame.

AR But let's try and make the best of it.

2013 June 7

Future Schlock
Evgeny Morozov

The New Digital Age, by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, tells us: "The best thing anyone can do to improve the quality of life around the world is to drive connectivity and technological opportunity."

Schmidt and Cohen believe in the existence of "an online world that is not truly bound by terrestrial laws" but ignore how Google keeps running into trouble with pesky terrestrial laws. They say the digital revolution "is the first that will make it possible for almost everybody to own, develop and disseminate real-time content without having to rely on intermediaries" — as senior executives of the world's most powerful intermediary.

The new digital age sounds familiar: "To be sure, governments will always find ways to use new levels of connectivity to their advantage ... Of course, there will always be the super-wealthy people whose access to technology will be even greater ... there will always be some companies that allow their desire for profit to supersede their responsibility to users ... there will always be truly malevolent types for whom deterrence will not work."

Schmidt and Cohen are at their most shallow in their discussion of the radicalization of youth: "The most potent antiradicalization strategy will focus on the new virtual space, providing young people with content-rich alternatives and distractions that keep them from pursuing extremism ... Only when we have their attention can we hope to win their hearts and minds."

One day Google too will fall.

Washington Post

The US National Security Agency has direct access to the central servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple. The NSA program PRISM allows officials to mine data from audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs. A top secret PowerPoint presentation dated April 2013 describes the program.

2013 June 6

Physics: The Limits

String theory is a model, a framework, part of quantum field theory. And there are frustrating theoretical problems in quantum field theory that demand solutions. Our model of spacetime might be a derived concept. It seems to emerge from a more fundamental physical process that informs the mathematical pictures drawn by string theory and quantum field theory.
David J. Gross

Things at the subatomic level are simultaneously particles and waves. They appear to us as two different categories of being. Physics itself is riven by the competing frameworks of quantum theory and general relativity, whose differing descriptions of our world mirror the wave-particle tension. Where quantum theory describes the subatomic realm as a domain of individual quanta, all jitters and jumps, general relativity depicts happenings on the cosmological scale as a stately flow of smooth spacetime.
Margaret Wertheim

2013 June 5

Inner Speech
New Scientist

Children talk to themselves while playing. This private speech seems to develop out of social dialog with parents and caregivers. Over time, it is internalized as inner speech.

The inner commentary resembles a dialog between different points of view. Most adults report that their inner speech goes back and forth like a conversation. It is also abbreviated compared with external speech. People reporting their inner experience show it unfolding more quickly than normal speech would allow, suggesting compression.

Functional MRI studies show that inner speech activates the same neural networks external speech. One view is that inner speech is just external speech without articulation. The brain plans an utterance but stops short of firing motor neurons for vocalization.

Perhaps words in inner speech function as psychological tools to help us think and plan. Putting our thoughts into words gives them a more tangible form that makes them easier to use. Verbal thought may also facilitate communication between other cognitive systems in the brain.

Awareness of inner speech may be important for metacognition. People who use inner speech more often show better understanding of who they are as individuals. People with autism seem to use inner speech for different purposes. One neuroscientist reported reduced self-awareness after a stroke that damaged her language system.

An inner monolog can reinforce anxiety and depression by recycling thoughts it would be better to dump. People with schizophrenia can experience hearing a person speak when there is no one present. Auditory verbal hallucination may occur when individuals fail to recognize their own inner speech and attribute it to an alien voice.

Scientific study of inner speech will help us understand how thinking, language, cognition, and consciousness work together.


Israel Prepares
The Independent

Israeli politicians say Israel has the right to prevent weapons reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah warns of a strategic response to Israeli attacks.

Russia will deliver S300 missiles to Damascus. Israel threatens to destroy them. Defence minister Moshe Ya'alon said Israel will "know what to do" if the missiles are delivered.

In the Golan Heights, Ziv Peretz says: "I hope there's a war. Then we can kill them all, finish them all off. I doubt anything will happen, because the Arabs know they will lose."

New Mental Case

The psychiatry manual DSM-5 now lists "caffeine withdrawal"
as a condition with symptoms including fatigue, headache, and difficulty focusing.

AR Next time I can
call a psychiatrist.

Casper David Friedrich
The Wanderer Above
the Sea of Fog

2013 June 4

SAP Annual General Meeting
SAP Arena, Mannheim

SAP is riding high. The company now has a market cap of €72 billion, and its stocks rose by nearly 50% in 2012. Revenue for 2013 is expected to be close to €6 billion, and SAP projects that by 2015 its turnover will exceed €20 billion, with an operating margin of 35%. SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott says some 80% of Fortune 500 companies and almost all the top global brands use SAP software. The SAP brand is among the Top 100 global brands, and the "most valuable brand" on the DAX index.

The flagship SAP product is SAP HANA, "the fastest-selling business in history," which SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe says runs up to tens of thousands of times faster than previous database software, and generated almost €400 million revenue for SAP in 2012.

AR I guess my six years as a developer in the SAP HANA development team count as the peak of my professional career. I'd be hundreds of kiloeuros richer if I'd stayed on, and also if I'd put all my savings into SAP stocks. Instead I'm serving the world as an unpaid philosopher!

Something completely different

Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz — "law for the delegation of monitoring beef labeling" — was a valid German word until a regional parliament repealed it following the lifting of an EU recommendation to carry out BSE tests on healthy cattle.

2013 June 3

Angela Merkel

Europe is capable of change and reform. But we need to speed up European decision making and cut red tape. Europeans generate less than a quarter of global economic output but consume just under half the world total of social benefits. We need to ask how this can go on. Attitudes toward aging are changing and many old people have a lot to offer, so we extended the retirement age to 67.

For us in Germany, much depends on what happens in southern Europe. We are all in the same boat. No European country can be strong in the long term if others are not doing well. Budget consolidation and reform mandates were negotiated with the crisis-hit governments and are offset by our solidarity with them. The German government is planning a loan program for countries in southern Europe.

Economic coordination in Europe must be strengthened. This does not mean giving more power to Brussels. One day it might be worth strengthening the European Parliament, but now we face more pressing issues. These include how we intend to pay our way in future, how we can create new jobs, and much more. Once we have answered these questions, we can think about EU institutions.

The Problem Within Islam
Tony Blair

There is a problem within Islam. A strain within Islam has at its heart a view about religion and about the interaction between religion and politics that is not compatible with pluralistic, liberal, open-minded societies. At the extreme end of the spectrum are terrorists, but the world view goes deeper and wider.

The seeds of future fanaticism and terror, possibly even major conflict, are being sown. We have to help sow seeds of reconciliation and peace. But clearing the ground for peace is not always peaceful.

We resisted revolutionary communism by being resolute on security, but we defeated it by a better idea: Freedom. We can do the same with this. The better idea is a modern view of religion and its place in society and politics. There has to be respect and equality between people of different faiths.

We have to start with how to educate children about faith, here and abroad. Now, more than ever, we have to be strong and we have to be strategic.

Liberal Education
Donald Kagan

The idea of liberal education came to America from England. In Georgian England, a liberal education gave students the opportunity to make the right sort of friends. Teachers prized sociability above study. In the Victorian era, universities revived competitive exams and commissions investigating Oxford and Cambridge concluded: "It is the sole business of the University to train the powers of the mind."

The growth of industry and democracy led to a demand for a more practical schooling. The German idea of academic freedom made the university a place where knowledge was discovered and generated. Scientific method and the new values required specialist training rather than general education. The new champions changed the definition of liberal education in ways that shape our universities today.

The education provided at a typical American liberal arts college today comes closest to achieving the goals sought by English gentlemen in the eighteenth century. The search for universal knowledge has long since been abandoned. So has the pursuit of knowledge as an end in itself. The education fails to enhance students' understanding of their role as free citizens of a free society, with rights and duties.

A liberal education today should include a common core of studies for all its students. The core would include literature, philosophy, and history. It would show the student times and worlds quite different from our own. It would reveal that a good society requires citizens who understand and share its values. Colleges claiming to offer a liberal education must make their commitment to freedom clear.

2013 June 2

Spiral Dynamics

Yesterday I sold a wardrobe and dusted the space it vacated. Watching the little dust bunnies dance in the wake of the brush reminded me irresistibly of the movements of small spiders with long legs. That evening, I dined in Heidelberg and enjoyed an animated discussion with SAP colleague Otto about the dynamics of history and the inevitability or otherwise of the cyclic rise and fall of civilizations, before watching a big municipal fireworks show over the Old Bridge. The complex dynamics of the sparks in the aerial explosions reminded me of the growth and movement of trees and similar life forms. Last night, I dreamt of discovering a secret so profound it gave new meaning to the search for a dynamical understanding of life and consciousness. The secret was revealed when the dreamer watched a little plastic spring bounce along in the turbulent wake of a moving person. The little plastic spiral of just one or two turns had a radius that went smoothly from zero at the front end to a maximum and then to zero at the back end, like a typical quantum wave packet traced as a temporal sequence of cross sections in the complex plane to form a 3D object. The trick, said the dreamer, was to hold the ends of this little spiral and give it a good spin before releasing it to dance in the wake of the observer. Then its dynamical behavior as it bounced along irresistibly recalled the joyous gait of a happy puppy. The dreamer thought that unpacking the scientific content of this phenomenon would give us the key to understanding life as we know it. I offer this anecdote now as a small contribution to the enterprise of understanding the psychology of creative dreaming.

Islamic Republic of Turkey
The Atlantic

Turkey is booming. Much of the new wealth comes from Mideast oil money. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) wants to make Turkey more Islamic, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to change the Turkish constitution from a parliamentary to a presidential system. The AKP regime has built 17,000 new mosques since 2002. It plans an enormous mosque that will loom over Istanbul. Opposition MP Mehmet Ali Ediboglu calls it a step toward an Islamic republic.

Turk Spring
Der Spiegel

In Taksim Square, Istanbul, tens of thousands of rioters demanded the resignation of prime minister Erdogan. Police have arrested almost a thousand protesters.

2013 June 1

Nick Mount

How To Read Literature, by British literary theorist Terry Eagleton, sets out to revive the dying art of literary analysis. Eagleton provides practical tips for understanding style, characterization and narration, and for interpreting and evaluating literature. He argues that literary evaluation must be learned through practice. You have to learn the public criteria for what counts as excellence. His new book works well enough as a primer on literary analysis, but as an argument for the importance of that skill it fails.

Martin Dickson

Martin Amis is grappling with evil. The Holocaust is the subject of his new novel, now in its third draft. It is set in an unnamed Auschwitz. The genesis of the work was a bolt from the blue. "It was a very counter-intuitive one. It was imagining love at first sight at Auschwitz."

Amis confesses that he refined the evil and made it even worse. "I think that's what the Holocaust was: a very thorough, Germanic exploration of evil: we're in it now, let's see how evil we can be."

Critics will consider whether this novel deserves the critical acclaim Amis enjoyed for his earlier books. His 2012 novel Lionel Asbo received distinctly mixed reviews. Lionel Shriver: "I hate to say this, because my hopes were high, but this novel becomes well and truly dull."

Amis on younger novelists: "I don't read the younger ones. I only read the dead."

AR See my gloss on the descent into the Holocaust abyss in Coral.

Humans 2 Mars


Afghan War Will Cost UK
£40 000 000 000 by 2020

The Guardian

So far, the war in Afghanistan has cost Britain at least £37 billion. By 2020, the UK will have spent £40 billion on its Afghan campaign, equivalent to £2000 for every taxpaying household in the country and enough to pay for the entire careers of over 5000 police officers or nurses, or to fund free tuition for all students in British higher education for 10 years.

AR For ungrateful Afghans? This is suicidal madness.


SAP Aspies

SAP says it intends to gain "a competitive advantage" over its rivals by employing people with autism spectrum disorder. It plans to employ 650 autistic people by 2020, about 1% of its workforce. Research shows that aspies make more rational decisions than "neurotypicals" because they're less biased by emotion. SAP: "People with autism tend to be really good at identifying mistakes and sensing patterns, and turned out to be very good matches for software testing."

Alain De Botton

In 1876, Friedrich Nietzsche,
then 32, adopted a philosophy
that revered Ubermenschen.
The notoriety of the word owes
less to Nietzsche's philosophy
than to his sister Elisabeth's subsequent enchantment with National Socialism. Nietzsche's Ubermenschen were curious, artistically gifted, and sexually vigorous. Despite their dark
sides, they laughed, and they possessed what he called life.
Nietzsche: "Art is the great stimulant to life."
"Israel is the most threatened state in the world," said PM Binyamin Netanyahu to kick off national emergency week. It starts with a two-day chemical warfare drill.

Netanyahu: "In recent years we have significantly increased the preparedness of the home front vis-à-vis such attack. We are investing billions so that the home front will be better protected and better

Lee Smolin contradicts
Einstein on time

Ross on retooling God

2013 May 31

Humans 2 Mars

At the Humans 2 Mars Summit at George Washington University, scientists, NASA officials, private space company representatives, and others discussed the challenges of a human mission to Mars:

1 Getting off the Earth
2 Fuel storage
3 Advanced propulsion
4 Landing on Mars
5 Keeping the crew healthy
6 Protecting ourselves and the planet
7 Dealing with dust
8 Making the plan

Mind Over Brain
Sally Satel

Addiction is now labeled a brain disease because it is tied to changes in brain structure and function. Repeated use of drugs alter the neural circuits that mediate the experience of pleasure, motivation, inhibition, and so on. But the brain story leaves the addicted person in the shadows. To treat addicts and guide policy, we need to understand how addicts think. Details of their brains are irrelevant.

The brain defense is now common in the courtroom. But neuroscientists cannot yet go from aberrant brain function to the legal distinction between failing to control oneself and being unable to do so. The law excuses criminal behavior only when a causal factor produces an impairment so severe that it deprives the defendant of his or her rationality. Bad genes or bad parenting are no excuse.

No Better Place
MIT Technology Review

Better Place has run out of financing and will liquidate its assets. It was a bold effort to wean the world from oil by innovating with software and business models on top of existing electric vehicle technology. The big idea was hatched in 2005 when SAP golden boy Shai Agassi spoke at Davos. Agassi made a bold start in 2007 with Better Place. The failure highlights the challenges of innovation in the car market.

2013 May 30

Saudi Boom
Financial Times

An economic boom is gripping Saudi Arabia. The world's largest oil exporter is spending its money more freely than ever before, thanks to rising oil income, a big government spending program, and sweeping measures to get nationals into work. The al-Saud family plans to head off the economic discontent that triggered unrest in other Arab countries with growing populations, creaking infrastructure, and job shortages. Record oil receipts and a $130 billion spending program will fuel non-oil private sector growth of an estimated 7.6% this year, and hard currency reserves are now estimated to total over $500 billion.

Saudi Arabia is much less affluent than its smaller Gulf neighbors. Per capita GNP in 2012 was less than a third that of Qatar. There immigrants predominate, but in Saudi Arabia foreign nationals form less than a third of the population. Historically, immigrant workers have done low-paid jobs spurned by nationals taking life easy. That has begun to change, but the new policy of "Saudization" has its critics. Saudi workers are guaranteed good pay and enjoy generous subsidies in areas such as housing and fuel, which lowers their motivation and productivity. The boom is mainly in cities, which outgrow their amenities.

Saudi Oil
Foreign Policy

Last month, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal said Saudi Arabia is set to increase its production capacity by 20% by 2020. But then Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi said he didn't see that even by 2040. Naimi is a former engineer in Saudi Aramco, but Turki is a member of the royal House of Saud. How much oil to produce is a political decision.

Saudi Arabia contains civil unrest with high spending. The kingdom consumes more oil than Germany, leaving little over half for export. To meets its needs, it sets a "fair price" for oil, which has risen sharply in recent years. To balance its budget in future, Saudi Arabia will need to drill more at low prices or drill less and raise the price.

Saudi Arabia may have overstated its oil reserves by up to 40%, meaning that production at current levels is unsustainable. If so, the only way for the kingdom to make ends meet is to keep prices high. If the United States drills more, Saudi Arabia will drill less. Will we all pay a rising "fair price" for oil to fund Saudi Arabian spending?

Does Spelling Matter?
Nick Clark

Oxford English professor Simon Horobin spoke out at the Hay Literary Festival: "People like to artificially constrain language change. For some reason we think spelling should be entirely fixed and never changed. I am not saying we should just spell freely. But sometimes we have to accept spellings change."

AR Yes, lets go fonetic and lose the apostrofes.

2013 May 29

Euro Hawk
Der Spiegel

The Euro Hawk debacle has cost many millions of euro. German defense Minister Thomas de Maizère has shelved the issue until after the parliamentary elections in September. But the debate drones on.

Experts say combat drones should be equipped with "small, agile, and appropriate effectors" to minimize collateral damage. The defense industry is working hard to shrink drones and their weapons. European arms company MBDA makes a 6 kg Enforcer missile that could be mounted on a drone. Smaller missiles not only reduce collateral damage but also ease restrictions on their use.

The obstacle for Euro Hawk was that the US Air Force and Northrop Grumman were unwilling to release details to German authorities for type certification. Approval to fly over Germany is another hurdle.


In January, the Al Jazeera network acquired the Current TV network from Al Gore for some $500 million. Al Jazeera America will bring a lot of fresh energy as well as controversy to the TV news scene.

The Al Jazeera Arabic satellite television network launched in Doha, Qatar, in 1996. It was dubbed "terrorist TV" during the George W. Bush administration. The original AJ was once a mouthpiece for al Qaeda and has always been close to the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Jazeera English started broadcasting in 2006 and now claims to reach 260 million households worldwide.

Few cable providers carried Al Jazeera English in the past. Typically, subscribers buy collections of channels, and Current TV was well bundled. That positioning is basically what AJ paid for.

Web English
Robert McCrum

World Wide Web English is not really the kind people want to read in a book, a magazine, or even a newspaper. But a struggle against the abuse and impoverishment of English online is what George Orwell called "a sentimental archaism" when he said English was "in a bad way" in 1946.

Time for a new covenant. Among the guardians of contemporary culture (cyber and otherwise), Orwell remains a talisman. Those who assert the "democratic" and "free" qualities of the World Wide Web would probably cite his 1946 essay with approval in any discussion of English usage today.

AR Covenant, like commandments for "good" English? Pfui!

2013 May 28

Stay out of Syria!
David Bromwich

Syria has largely disintegrated. The government and its Alawite and Christian supporters have secured the west and the Islamist rebels are in the east.

A spate of recent articles suggest the US foreign policy elite is pushing for American military intervention in Syria. John McCain published a piece titled "Syria: intervention is in our interest" with detailed suggestions for action.

The Obama administration is choosing not to arm the rebels. Zbigniew Brzezinski: "The various schemes that have been proposed for ... intervention from around the edges of the conflict ... would simply make the situation worse."

Qatar and Saudi Arabia pay for the rebels to fight Hezbollah and the Alawites. Turkey supports the rebels. The entire region is hit with 1.5 million refugees.

Send arms to Syria!
The Guardian

Britain and France have forced a lifting of the EU arms embargo against Syrian rebels. All the other 25 out of 27 EU states opposed lifting the ban, but UK foreign secretary William Hague blocked a compromise deal. Arms deliveries can begin in August.

UK: Trident Best?
Financial Times

A Whitehall review of the British Trident nuclear deterrent concludes that continuing with a full like-for-like replacement is best.

Britain must decide by 2016 whether to replace all 4 Vanguard submarines that carry Trident. Lib Dems may back reducing the number of submarines to 2. Scaling down to 2 boats saves money but loses the continuous at-sea deterrence of the current system.

Conservatives and military chiefs say the UK needs 4 submarines at a capital cost of £20 billion. Cutting back from 4 to 2 could save £5 billion in capital costs and £1 billion in ongoing costs. Trident will soon take about a third of the UK defense procurement budget.

The review says more radical Lib Dem ideas, such as cruise missiles in Astute submarines, would cost more than replacing Trident.

AR Trident is heavy artillery for a total war of British national survival in a nightmare world of nuclear apocalypse. The capital cost of this "insurance" is £1000 for every taxpaying household in the UK.

2013 May 27

Yasmin Alibhai Brown

Around the world one finds disaffected Muslims who are consumed with bloodlust, who have lost the capacity for dialogue and compromise. Grievances have mutated into generalized brutishness.

Countless European Muslims oppose western policies. But we do so in democracies. The awful truth is that I could never work or write the way I do here in any Muslim country. They would silence me in days.

These nations do not understand freedom and democracy. Resistance by those who do is quickly snuffed out. Power is tied to domination and violence. Dependence on strong leaders has become hereditary.

The political is also personal. The fanatical followers are incapable of having fulfilling relationships with women. They bully and dominate their wives and sisters and see white females as sluts.

I see a connection between the violators and possessors of females and religious militants. Their masculinity is noxious, confused, untamed, and dangerous. We must change them.

AR This is a perceptive analysis. The danger of this male pathology stems from Abrahamic patriarchy but has been greatly reduced in Judaism and Christianity. Islam must either reform its male chauvinism (a possible but unlikely change) or go under (in blood and chaos, most likely).


Lady Gaga: "When you make music or write or create, it's really your job to have mind-blowing,
irresponsible, condom-less sex with whatever idea it is you're writing about at the time."

AR Is this advice I can use?

2013 May 26

Swedish Riots
The Observer

Last week, Stockholm was rocked by six nights of disorder, with countless cars set ablaze, fires in schools, police stations, and restaurants. Police estimate that more than 300 young people were directly involved, of whom 30 were arrested.

Sweden has taken in more than 11,000 refugees from Syria since 2012, and it has absorbed more than 100,000 Iraqis and 40,000 Somalis over the past two decades. First or second generation immigrants make up about a fifth of the population.

The riots were ignited when police shot dead an old Portuguese man. His neighbor: "They had a shitload of police here. You would have thought there was a huge group of terrorists, not a man with a little knife. If he was Swedish they never would have shot him."

Tax cuts and reduced welfare spending have raised inequality in Sweden. Unemployment is three times higher in Husby than in Stockholm as a whole, and those that do have jobs earn far less than the city average.

Esmail Jamshidi, a medical student born and raised in Husby: "It's a very recent development, this ghetto mentality. Immigrants come here, and most leave after a decade or two. A very small percentage of them don't, and this last group are left."

A Swedish handyman is busy repairing riot damage: "These people, they should integrate in this society and just try a little bit more to be like Swedish citizens."

Susan Greenfield
Clive Cookson

Susan Greenfield, 62, Oxford professor of pharmacology, former director of the Royal Institute, holder of lots of honorary degrees and awards, and since 2001 baroness in the House of Lords, has 3 priorities:

1 Alzheimer's research: She sees the amyloid plaques or tau protein tangles that build up in patients' brains as secondary effects of neurodegeneration and identifies the culprit as AChE peptide, a molecular fragment that breaks off from the enzyme acetylcholinesterase.

2 Consciousness. Some unknown system must meld all our neuronal assemblies, coming and going across the brain, into conscious subjectivity. Greenfield feels that an explanation will depend on physics as well as biology: "I'd love to work with a physicist to look at consciousness."

3 The impact of new digital technologies on the way we process information, the degree to which we take risks, our interactions with others, and even our own sense of identity. Greenfield: "Mind change is comparable to climate change, as a controversial, multifaceted, pervasive global issue."

Her novel 2121: A Tale From the Next Century will be released on July 1, 2013.

British Backlash
Andy Ross

The English Defence League said the brutal killing in Woolwich shows Britain is "at war" with Islamic extremism. A previously scheduled EDL march in Newcastle on Saturday, sparked by plans to open an Islamic school, drew well over 1500 people, three times as many as expected. A counter-demo by a group called Newcastle Unites drew about 400. Riot police kept the two marches apart.

Addressing the crowd in Newcastle, EDL leader Tommy Robinson said: "We cannot allow this soldier's death to be in vain." EDL chants of "Whose streets? Our streets" and "RIP Lee Rigby" rang out. Regional flags were on display, along with one marked "Taliban Hunting Club". Newcastle Unites supporters chanted: "Nazi scum, off our streets."

British National Party leader Nick Griffin called for a show of strength by activists in Woolwich next Saturday under the banner "United against Muslim terror". The BNP national organizer claims a "line has been drawn in the sand and it signals the beginning of the civil war we have predicted for years".

Islamophobic hate crimes are running at more than 10 times their usual rate. They include 9 attacks on mosques, assaults, racial abuse, and anti-Muslim graffiti. A petrol bomb was thrown at a mosque in Milton Keynes during Friday prayers. Muslim leaders accuse far-right extremists of capitalizing on the "sick and barbaric" murder of Rigby to fuel racial hatred.

The Tell Mama group monitors incidents of anti-Muslim abuse. Coordinator Fiyaz Mughal said Saturday 162 incidents had been reported in 48 hours, some 16 times the average before the Woolwich attack. Mughal said people are scared, particularly female Muslims in headscarves. A spokesman for Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks said: "Muslims at this moment are feeling a real and pervasive sense of fear."

A new poll shows nearly two-thirds of Britons believe there will be a "clash of civilizations" between British Muslims and white Britons, and over a third believe British Muslims pose a serious threat to democracy. But another third view Muslims as compatible with modern Britain, and two-thirds said they felt negatively about protests led by the BNP or EDL.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe is considering whether to apply to UK Home Secretary Theresa May to ban EDL and BNP demonstrations. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper: "We stand together against violent extremism, intolerance and hatred, whether it comes from Islamist extremists, the EDL, the BNP, or extremists of any kind."

Nearly 100 imams and Muslim groups have signed a letter condemning the "outrageous attack" on Rigby: "We share the absolute horror felt by the rest of British society at the sick and barbaric crime that was committed in the name of our religion. We condemn this heinous atrocity in the strongest possible terms. It is a senseless act of pure depravity worthy of nothing but contempt."

With reporting from the BBC, CNN, The Guardian, The Independent, and ITV News


Michael Adebolajo behind
Al Muhajiroun preacher
Anjem Choudary, 2007

Channel 4
Choudary said Friday that
Adebolajo was "making his
voice heard in blood"

German Gloom

The Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) released the results of a survey showing that exporting companies are losing their optimism. While 30% still expect overseas turnover to rise, 12% believe it will fall. EU statistics for 2013 Q1 show that 9 of 17 EZ states are now in recession: the EZ economy as a whole shrank by 0.2% and the German GDP grew by only 0.1%. The DIHK lowered its projection for German GDP growth for 2013 from 0.7% to 0.3%.

Lee Rigby
Lee Rigby, 25, a drummer in
the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
who had fought in Afghanistan, was butchered in Woolwich by Muslim fanatics. He leaves a widow and a son, 2.

Dan Dennet
Photo: Bettina Strauss
Daniel Dennett

Lockheed Martin
Human Universal Load Carrier

NASA X-1 exoskeleton

Big Data: Google

Google X Labs built the world's largest artificial neural network. It watched YouTube videos for a week and learned all about cats. Then it learned to recognize voices and interpret Google StreetView images. The work could boost Google Glass, Google image search, and even Google web search.

>> more

Big Data: SAP

SAP likes Big Data.
The SAP HANA platform
uses a new generation of
columnar databases resident
in memory and running on
multicore processors.

>> more


America braces for a plague
of billions of flying bugs.
University of Connecticut
biologist John Cooley:
"The people who say that it's
gross are probably the same people who are quite happy
to catch the subway in
Manhattan in close proximity
to a million-plus cockroaches.
Give me cicadas any day."

2013 May 25

Andy Ross

In around 2004, Woolwich fanatic Michael Adebolajo became Mujahid. He converted to Islam and took a new name. Mujahid means jihadist on the way of Allah.

Adebolajo, 28, and fellow suspect Michael Adebowale, 22, are in hospital after being shot by armed officers following the death of Lee Rigby. The initial police response was slow. Police arrived to find two men who had apparently just butchered another man, speaking relatively calmly to passers-by. Facing dangerous and armed suspects, they then waited for firearms teams to arrive.

Last year, Adebolajo complained of harassment by the British security service MI5, which had been observing him since 2005. Officials knew both suspects were involved on the fringes of militant activities. A friend of Adebolajo, Abu Nusaybah, said in a BBC Newsnight interview that Adebolajo had told him six months ago that MI5 had been "knocking on his door" and had added: "They are bugging me — they won't leave me alone." Nusaybah is now in police custody under the Terrorism Act.

Adebolajo grew up in England. His parents came from Nigeria and he went to church regularly. After he left college in 2003, his mother said he hung out with a bad crowd and joined a violent street gang. He then converted to Islam and began to attend meetings and demonstrations of the group Al Muhajiroun, which calls for imposition of sharia and restoration of the caliphate. The group was founded by Omar Bakri Mohammed, who said of the future assassin: "I knew him as Michael when he came to our meetings. He asked many questions about the religion."

In 2007, Bakri Mohammed called for his followers to kidnap British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and kill him them on video. His audio message: "If you meet Westerners, cut their throats." Pictures (left) show Adebolajo that year among protesters outside a London police station, behind Al Muhajiroun leader Anjem Choudary.

On Friday, Choudary said he had known Adebolajo: "He attended our meetings and my lectures ... He was a pleasant, quiet guy. He converted to Islam in about 2003. He was just a completely normal guy. He was interested in Islam ... He disappeared about two years ago."

Choudary added: "We must concentrate on why this incident took place. That is the presence of British forces in Muslim countries and the atrocities they've committed, and how the Muslim community in this country are under pressure due to draconian laws which have tried to silence them ... Some members of the Muslim community struggle to express themselves and he is making his voice heard in blood."

British National Party leader Nick Griffin visited Woolwich on Friday. He tweeted that the killers should be wrapped in "pig skin" and shot again. The English Defence League said the killing shows Britain is "at war" with Islamic extremism. It will stage a march on Saturday in Newcastle.

Ministers see the need to do more to prevent young people from getting involved with extremist groups. They will ask universities to draw up guidelines on how to handle unwelcome preachers.

Conservative Muslim forum vice-chair Mohammed Amin urged the government to publish a list of proscribed preachers: "Too many times institutions say they would have banned someone if they had known about their background, but by then it is too late. Only government has the resources to publish this list and to be free of the threat of legal action."

MI5 head Andrew Parker will report to the parliamentary committee probing what the service knew of the Woolwich terror suspects.

With reporting from Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Independent, and Der Spiegel

Ian Stewart + AR

In his 1959 Rede Lecture, C.P. Snow famously deplored what he saw as a gulf between the two cultures of arts and sciences.

A third culture overlapping art and science is mathematics. Though often called queen of the sciences, mathematics itself is not quite a science because mathematical truths are established by logical proof, not by experiment. But it lacks the freedom of expression so central to art, because it is constrained by the need to be consistent with established truths.

Although mathematics is rightly counted among the sciences for the purposes of government funding and educational administration, the nature and importance of mathematics do not rest solely on its practical uses. Mathematics may be one of the most creative areas of human activity.

Bertrand Russell: "Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty."

Jay Elwes + AR

Time Reborn author Lee Smolin says Einstein was wrong about time. We need to rethink the idea that physics is the search for timeless laws of nature.

The mathematization of physics and the reduction of the universe to a mathematical object have confused physicists. Smolin sees multiverse theory and other such concepts as nonsensical because they fail to take time into account. He thinks time has been pushed out of physics, and now is the time to pull it back in.

Smolin admits his diagnosis may be wrong. But he says only a falsifiable thesis is scientific. And too much physical theory today is metaphysics.

Weinstein's shenanigans

2013 May 24

Against Apostrophes
Matthew J.X. Malady

John Richards is the founder and chairman of the Apostrophe Protection Society: "The apostrophe plays a vital part in written English. Just take the sign outside a block of flats: Residents' refuse to be placed in bins. Remove the apostrophe and you see a very different notice."

But the trend looks unpromising for apostrophes as a standard in written English. Corporations remove them from their brand names. Texting teenagers drop them. Writers and language nuts have been saying they are unnecessary for decades.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves author Lynne Truss says the apostrophe was first used in the English language as a signifier of omitted letters during the 16th century, then for possessives in the 17th century, and its plural possessive form came in the 18th. Truss: "Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the world of punctuation."

English is full of confusing expressions, but we manage. University of Michigan language historian Anne Curzan: "The level of consistency we now have come to expect in terms of spelling and punctuation is a relatively new phenomenon."

MIT cognitive scientist Ted Gibson created the Kill the Apostrophe website. It claims the apostrophe "serves only to annoy those who know how it is supposed to be used and to confuse those who don't" and says apostrophes are redundant, wasteful, snobbish, and anachronistic.

Gibson points out that language is full of ambiguity, but again we manage: "We use whatever information sources there are — word frequencies, syntactic frequencies, local context, knowledge of what's possible and what’s impossible, world knowledge — to contextualize."

Gibson: "If we just had some time to learn the new writing of she'll or he'll, without the apostrophe, there'd be no problem. The context in which hell is used versus he'll are so different that there is just no way that people would have any trouble learning that."

Curzan: "In that instance, it's true that the apostrophe is useful. Removing it there would be a loss. Would people be hopelessly confused and unable to function? Unlikely."

Chairman Richards made no comment.

Geometric Unity
Alok Jha, Marcus du Sautoy

Eric Weinstein has a new theory to explain dark matter and dark energy, the generation problem in elementary particle physics, and the unification of quantum mechanics and general relativity. His 14D "observerse" has our 4D spacetime continuum embedded in it, has no missing dark matter, has dark energy as a fifth fundamental force, and includes more than 150 new elementary particles.

>> more

Boltzmann brains are free-floating conscious entities that form spontaneously in outer space

Expel The Extremists!
Daily Mail

Senior Tory MP Bob Stewart, a former Army colonel, called the Woolwich attack depraved and disgusting. He said the Human Rights Act should be scrapped immediately to allow the authorities to take tougher action against terror suspects and those who encourage them: "Personally I would like to see anyone who advocates violence out of our country on the first airplane back to wherever they came from. These people are advocating violence and I hate it. I have fought all my life as a soldier against terrorism and this actually irritates the hell out of me."

2013 May 23

The murder in London is a horror. The suffering of Muslims offers no excuse for it, of course, but the traditions of jihad and of halal slaughter don't exactly head off the danger of such bloodshed.

Pennies From Heaven
Michael Saler

Internet prophets predict that machines will soon outstrip humans and uplift us all to nerd nirvana. Skeptics are welcome to take a $25,000 course at Singularity University in Silicon Valley.

  To Save Everything, Click Here
  By Evgeny Morozov

Evgeny Morozov aims to debunk the belief that all problems can be fixed through logic and data. He was raised in Belarus during the waning years of the Soviet Union. The vogue for turning everyday activities into computer games that spit out token rewards has for him an unpleasantly familiar ring.

Internet zealots envision the internet as an autonomous entity with its own inherent logic and development. This ideology is a religion. Its proselytizers seek to reconfigure life by eliminating its bugs with their new tools. But not all bugs are bugs. Some bugs are features.

Morozov: "Technological amnesia and complete indifference to history remain the defining conditions of contemporary Internet debate."

  Who Owns the Future?
  By Jaron Lanier

Jaron Lanier is a repentant Silicon Valley pioneer. He sees danger in its ideology of freedom and empowerment. Information only appears to be free on the internet. In reality, users give personal data to companies and get services in return. The companies turn this data into Big Data and sell it to advertisers. They are getting filthy rich as they fob off users with treats.

Lanier says capitalism can survive only by monetizing all information. To balance the information economy, anyone who provides information that supports a profitable enterprise should receive a micropayment. We would have to pay for browsing online, but we would also be paid in turn with pennies from heaven.

AR Beware Neosoviet seduction by data-driven rationalism (DDR) but build out the information economy so that I can live on pennies from heaven — Thus spake Zaross.

"In American popular culture and opinion, Iran remains the embodiment of an extremist Islam that is no more rational than ... the Salafi extremism of Al-Qa'ida and the Taliban."

Three Nuggets
Daniel Dennett

1 Free Will

Free will is the most difficult and the most important philosophical problem confronting us today. It's important because of the longstanding tradition that free will is a prerequisite for moral responsibility. Our system of law and order, of punishment, and praise and blame, promise keeping, promise making, the law of contracts, and criminal law all depend on one notion or another of free will.

Neuroscientists, physicists, and philosophers say that science has shown us that free will is an illusion. They don't shrink from the implication that our systems of law are built on foundations of sand. In fact, there is nothing we have learned from neuroscience that undercuts the foundation for both the law of contract and criminal law. We don't have ultimate responsibility because our choices are always in some ways the result of things we didn't choose.

2 New Atheism

Spokespeople for religion chastise the new atheists for attacking the most simplistic forms of religious belief and leave their most intellectually subtle versions untouched. There's a smidgen of truth in that, but they bring it on themselves by changing the rules and shifting the goalposts. I have made a concerted effort over the years to understand sophisticated philosophical theology and have never come up with anything that I thought could sit in the light of day and be defended.

3 Philosophy

If I go to a scientific conference I come away with a bunch of new things to think about. If I go to a philosophy conference I may come away just having learned four more wrinkles in the debate about something philosophers have been thinking about for all my life.

The history of philosophy is a history of very tempting mistakes made by very smart people, and if you don't learn that history you'll make those mistakes again and again. One of the ignoble joys of my life is watching very smart scientists reinvent second-rate philosophical ideas.

AR DD near enough verbatim

2013 May 22

Richard Wagner was born 200 years ago today. Regarded as one of the greatest Germans of all time, he divides Germans as much as he delights them. Die Welt cultural commentator Manuel Brug: "Only Jesus, Napoleon, and Hitler have had more written about them."

>> more

Gideon Rachman

Euroskeptics claim that the euro crisis will lead to a more federal EU. But divisions within Europe are widening. Most EU countries outside the EZ will stay there. A United States of Europe is not inevitable.

Lord Lawson says the real economic opportunities for Britain now lie in emerging markets, and will be better exploited if the UK withdraws from the EU. But Britain still sells a lot more to Europe than to emerging markets. Norway and Switzerland are outside the EU, and to get access to the EU single market they have to accept rules they have no say in making. This is a bad deal for them.

Lord Lawson says EU membership has led British industry to miss opportunities in Asia. But German manufacturers have done very well exporting to China from inside the EU. And if Euroskeptics find the bureaucrats of Brussels high-handed, they should try Beijing. China would find it easier to push the British around if they left the EU, the world's largest trading bloc.

Other BRIC countries are no better. European law may be annoying, but it is a lot better than the Indian or Russian legal systems. The idea that Britain can do better in Asia by leaving the EU is absurd.

AR Forget emulating the USA with a USE. Perhaps a People's Republic of Europe?

Proving the hardest Weil conjecture won Pierre Deligne the 2013 Abel Prize

The Color of Money: Reclaiming our Humanity
WPC 14, Seattle, WA, April 10-13, 2013

Paul Gorski: "I got married. I participated in an oppressive tenure system at my university. I used big banks. These are some of the things that make me a racist, a sexist, and a heterosexist."

>> more

2013 May 21

Finished rereading The Stillborn God: Lilla is too indulgent of old theological confusions for my taste. After a good run-up to the Third Reich, his account falls apart and ends in confusion. The old ideas just don't work for Globorg — see Coral for a new account of the more recent years.

Financial Times

Berlin plans limited EU treaty changes to streamline EZ decision making. Angela Merkel is unhappy with the slow pace of EZ banking union but doesn't want to give the UK an opening to renegotiate the terms of its EU membership. David Cameron had planned to derail EZ reform to repatriate powers from Brussels.

Tools For Thinking
Daniel Dennett

1 Use your mistakes

Whenever you make a mistake, take a deep breath and then examine it ruthlessly and dispassionately. Savor your mistakes, delight in uncovering what led you astray. Then you can set them behind you and go on to the next big opportunity. Scientists make their mistakes in public so that everybody can learn from them. This way, you get the benefit of everybody else's experience, and not just your own. You can make big mistakes in public and emerge none the worse for it. People love it when somebody admits to making a mistake, and they love pointing out mistakes.

2 Respect your opponent

If there are obvious contradictions in your opponent's case, then you should point them out. If there are hidden contradictions, you should expose them to view and then dump on them. But don't overdo it. The thrill of the chase encourages uncharitable interpretation, which gives you an easy but irrelevant target. The best antidote I know for poor targeting is to (1) rephrase the target position as clearly and fairly as you can, (2) list any points of agreement, (3) mention anything you have learned, and (4) only then go ahead and rebut or criticize the position. Your targets will appreciate it.

3 The "surely" klaxon

When you're reading arguments, look for "surely" in the text and check each occurrence. The word "surely" marks the edge of what the author is sure about and hopes readers will also be sure about. The author makes a judgment call and has plumped for bald assertion, anticipating agreement. This is where you might find a "truism" that isn't true.

4 Answer rhetorical questions

Develop a sensitivity for rhetorical questions in any argument or polemic. They represent an author's eagerness to take a short cut. A rhetorical question is not meant to be answered. That is, the author doesn't bother waiting for you to answer since it's supposed to be obvious. But try to find a less obvious answer. If you find a good one, surprise your interlocutor with it.

5 Employ Occam's razor

A modern form of this old rule of thumb is: Don't multiply entities beyond necessity. Don't concoct a complicated theory if you can find a simpler one that works as well. But extensions of the principle are sometimes met with disagreement. Turning it into a metaphysical principle or fundamental requirement of rationality is ludicrous. It's just an old saying, like: Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

6 Don't waste your time on crap

Sturgeon's law: 90% of everything is crap. A good moral to draw from this observation is that when you criticize anything big or difficult, don't waste time hooting at the crap. Go after the good stuff or leave it alone. We can agree that there is a great deal of deplorable, second-rate stuff out there, of all sorts. So concentrate on the best stuff you can find, not the dregs.

7 Beware of deepities

A deepity is a proposition that seems both important and true, and profound, but does so by being ambiguous. On one reading, it is manifestly false, but it would be earth-shaking if it were true; on the other reading, it is true but trivial. The unwary listener picks up the glimmer of truth and the devastating importance and thinks: Wow, that's profound. Here's a deepity: Rowan Williams described his faith as "a silent waiting on the truth, pure sitting and breathing in the presence of the question mark".

AR Good man, Dan.

2013 May 20

Rereading The Stillborn God by Mark Lilla.

Much of my perspective in the orange, green, and yellow chapters of Coral seem to me now to fall in the shadow Lilla cast and hence invite more insightful thought and elaboration. For example, I should discuss Hobbes and Rousseau, say more about Kant and Hegel, quote Schleiermacher and Troeltsch. But a new edition will soon turn into a new book, with a more academic orientation. Then my hopes of wider sales will evaporate. Ah, the perils of authorship.

Donald Miller

I started Storyline after I’d accomplished all my goals and still wasn’t happy. I’d become a New York Times bestselling author and yet I was less happy after accomplishing my goals than I was before. So I began researching what really makes people happy and content. I found that it has nothing to do with fame or money and everything to do with the health of our relationships and our interest in our own work. Serving people rather than trying to impress them is the foundation. So I created a life plan for myself, then shared it with others and found that it helped them heal and recover from a life of pursuing success. Now I consider it my life's work. It fills my life with a deep sense of meaning.

Storyline is basically a company that helps people tell better stories with their lives. Through conferences, websites, and individualized training, we create life plans and career paths for people who want to live meaningful lives. What we all want most is a deep sense of meaning. When we find that, our emotional health stabilizes and we can enjoy life, regardless of our life circumstances. Every human being is searching for a deep sense of meaning and yet we're all chasing success.

Meaning is something we experience more than we attain. It's like finding a current in a river that carries you through life. And we begin to experience it when we have three things:

1 A project to work on that captures our passions and in some way serves others
2 A community, family, or partner to share love with
3 A redemptive perspective on our suffering

If we have those three things, we experience a deep sense of meaning. It sounds simple but it works.

AR Unusually for a live feed, I found this piece needed almost no editing. So it must be good.

Angus Roxburgh

Most Scots oppose leaving the EU. For them, UKIP might as well be named English Independence Party. Scotland can avoid the risk of being cast out of the EU by voting for independence from the UK before the English get the chance to vote on Europe.

Scotland will hold a referendum in September 2014 to decide whether to stay in the UK. A poll shows 36% of Scots support independence from the UK now (with 44% opposed), but 44% do (with 44% still opposed) if it looks like the UK will leave the EU.

With Nigel Farage and the "swivel-eyed loons" riding high in the English charts, Scots now have to consider passport controls and currency exchanges along the Tweed. Scots wait a lifetime for a referendum, and then two of them come along at once.

Mohsin Hamid

Islam is not a race, yet Islamophobia has racist characteristics. Most Muslims are born into their religion, but there are more than a billion variations of lived belief among people who call themselves Muslim. Islamophobes refuse to acknowledge these variations.

Lived religion is an individual thing. Very few people of any faith live their lives as literalist interpretations of scripture. Many people have little or no knowledge of scripture at all. Many others choose to interpret what they know in ways that fit their own moral sense of what is good. Still others live their lives divorced from any sense of faith.

People say my novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist is about a man who becomes an Islamic fundamentalist. He is a Pakistani student at Princeton. When he gets his dream job in New York, he exclaims, "Thank you, God!" That's the only real hint that he's religious. He doesn't quote scripture, he drinks and has sex out of marriage, and he could have secular views. And yet he calls himself a Muslim, and is angry with US foreign policy, and grows a beard. That leads people to read him as an Islamic fundamentalist.

Taylor Swift scooped 8 out of her 11 nominations at the Billboard music awards in Las Vegas,
including top artist and top Billboard 200 album for Red.

Saul Bellow
The Novelist
The Husband
The Father

Police hustled UKIP leader
Nigel Farage to safety in
Edinburgh after protesters
 shouted "UKIP scum off our streets!"


Google Worth
$300 000 000 000


Tories Rebel
David Cameron told Tories
years ago to "stop banging
on about Europe".

Now, while he is in the US,
about 114 Conservative MPs
voted in Parliament for an
amendment to the Queen's
Speech regretting the lack
of a bill promising an
EU referendum.

Labour and Lib Dems voted against the amendment, and
it was defeated by 272 votes
to 130. Cameron had ordered
his ministers to abstain but
told backbenchers they were
free to vote for it.

On May 13, a big flare erupted from the Sun, shown here on
the left edge.

2013 May 19

Bashar al-Assad

There cannot be a unilateral solution in Syria. The rebels are hundreds of different groups and bands. Each group has its local leader. We can't discuss a timetable with a party if we don't know who they are. Many are linked to foreign countries and cannot make a decision for themselves. They say they don't want a dialog with the Syrian state. Believing that a political conference will stop terrorism on the ground is unreal. In any case, to resign would be to flee.

The west lies and falsifies evidence to engineer wars. People from Hezbollah and Iran have been coming and going in Syria since long before the crisis. Intervention is a clear probability, especially after we've managed to beat back armed groups in many areas of Syria. As for excessive force, the issue is not the extent of the force used or the type of weapon but the nature and extent of the terrorism we have suffered, and thus what is a proper response.

Israelis In Golan
Daniella Cheslow

When Israel allegedly bombed weapons sites in Syria in early May, the Israeli government reacted coolly to Syrian threats of war and said Bashar al-Assad was too beleaguered to retaliate. But Israelis in the Golan Heights think differently. Alonei Habashan community manager Israel Bar: "We've lived here quietly for years, and all the sudden we feel threatened."

Elisha Yelin was among the young pioneers who founded Kibbutz Merom Golan, on the Syrian border, soon after Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War in 1967. On the night of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Yelin told me all the women and children were evacuated and the men were driven off to fight at the front. A Syrian division blazed into the Golan Heights, then stopped to wait for a second division to catch up. That delay cost Syria the Golan.

Yelin drove me down to the border crossing between Syria and Israel. Israel Radio played tape of Syria's minister of information saying the Golan Heights belong to Damascus. Yelin looked at the Syrian flag flying high: "I have no problem with the Syrian flag. This is a sign of government, of control, of something you can trust. I will be afraid if there will be no Syrian flag."

2013 May 18

Big Data

Big Data is the next big thing. It promises both total control and the logical management of our future lives. An estimated 2.8 ZB of data was created in 2012, with a predicted volume of 40 ZB by 2020. This exponential growth doubles every two years.

Google and Facebook are giants of Big Data. But many other organizations are analyzing all this data. Memory is cheap, so new computers can analyze a lot of data fast. Algorithms create order from chaos. They find hidden patterns and offer new insights and business models.

>> more

Billion-Euro Brain

At a TED conference in Oxford in 2009, Henry Markram announced a plan to deliver a sentient hologram within a decade. He hoped to wipe out all mental disorders and create a self-aware AI. And he said he would do all this by building a complete model of a human brain and running it on a supercomputer. In January 2013, the European Commission awarded him a billion euros to try.

>> more

On Dictionaries
David Skinner

Far Side cartoon: I'm a magazine editor, and the galley of an article comes back from a proofreader with a word circled and a comment in the margin like "Does this word exist?" Usually the word is simple and its meaning is obvious. Yes, of course it exists. There it is, on the page.

Or the reader asks, "Is this word in the dictionary?" I like dictionaries and use them often. But no dictionary contains every word in the language. New fields constantly generate words that aren't in a dictionary. Foreign words appearing in English are left out too. Words are invented all the time.

Some readers see dictionaries as legal code for language with verdicts on spelling and meaning and grammar. Others see them as less. A person of wide reading rarely needs their help. If you write for a living, you might occasionally stop and see what the dictionary has to say about a word. The lexicographer has boiled the entry down to basics, but you ask yourself if a given sense matches yours.

A committed writer should be wary of substituting a lexicographer's sense of a word for his own. There is always much more to know about a word than what a dictionary can tell you. A good writer tries to avoid saying what has already been said. Nothing worth writing is written from a dictionary.

On Autism

Temple Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, a successful businesswoman, and one of our most astute interpreters of autism.

>> more

2013 May 17

ER Want Brexit
Philip Stephens + AR

On the question of Europe, David Cameron is in office but not in power. The Eurosceptic Right (ER) is bundling him along the path to Brexit. British voters are cool on the EU and stone cold on the EZ. The
UKIP-ER line is that British troubles are down to Johnny Foreigner.

Brexit would be a hard blow to the EU as well as the UK. But the German and other EU governments have their own red lines. They can offer Britain assurances about the future, but they can't just let a member opt out of things it finds inconvenient. That way lies madness.

Some in the ER would consider staying in the EU on radically different terms. But the terms challenge such basic EU tenets as free movement of people, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and the single market. Britain's partners can only say No.

Cameron must win the next election to deliver on his pledge. Labour looks weak and its poll lead is soft. Ed Miliband could be pushed into promising a referendum too. A Labour government might well lose it. So even in opposition, the ER could get Brexit.

Vince Cable + AR

British Conservatives should know better. Global companies will ponder the wisdom of staying or investing in a country where they can expect years of debate over whether to tear up Britain's main trade and investment network.

A soft exit would keep access to the single market in return for a payment, like Norway. The UK would face the same regulations but have no vote in shaping them.

A hard exit from the single market would put the UK behind the same tariff wall as Turkey or Ukraine.

The net costs of EU membership are tolerable. So why should Britain leave the EU? Conservatives care about the City of London. They dislike EU financial services regulation, despite the crisis of 2008.

Mommy Merkel
Dirk Kurbjuweit

After eight years as chancellor, Angela Merkel defines an era.

Chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück says we are living in a second Biedermeier era. The first began in 1815 and ended in 1848. The era featured conservative monarchies in Germany. The Biedermeier style of the period furniture symbolizes a quiet, homey torpor. But revolution broke out in 1848, and by 1871 a new nation state was born.

Merkel is no absolutist monarch, but she has silenced dissent in Germany and created a torpid republic. She has built a cosy home and Germans seem to like it. The German economy is growing and incomes are rising. This nationalization of outlook is a hallmark of the Merkel era. The chancellor endorses European solidarity but not eurobonds.

Merkel would like other Europeans to learn from Germany. Thus Germany can extend its influence in the world. This attitude goes down well with German voters: Defend homeland values by working hard to enjoy a quiet life. The second Biedermeier era is even more Biedermeier than the first. As chancellor, Merkel quickly became Mommy.

Why not sit back and enjoy life with Mommy? Two reasons:
1 We need conflict and commotion to stay awake.
2 There's still plenty worth changing in Germany.

Against Empathy
Paul Bloom

Empathy is an instinctive mirroring of others' experience. Psychopaths lack empathy. Simon Baron-Cohen equates empathy erosion with evil. Maybe we should go for global empathic consciousness. But wait:

1 Empathy needs an identifiable victim. Psychologists asked subjects how much money they would give to help develop a drug that would save the life of one child, and asked others how much they would give to save eight children. The answers were about the same. A third group was told a child's name and age, and shown her picture, then donated far more.

2 Empathy doesn't help in politics. Politicians fight over whom we should empathize with. Liberals argue for gun control by focusing on the victims of gun violence. Conservatives point to the unarmed victims of crime. Liberals in favor of federal safety regulations invoke injured employees. Conservatives talk about small businessmen bankrupted by petty rules.

3 Empathy can pull us in the wrong direction. It can drive a lust for retribution heedless of consequences. People were asked how to punish a company for making a vaccine that killed a child. Some were told a big fine would make the company work harder on safety. Others were told a big fine would discourage it from making the vaccine, so lead to more deaths. Most wanted a big fine anyway.

Our best hope for the future is to see that even if we don't empathize with distant strangers, their lives have the same value as the lives of those we love. Empathy will have to yield to reason in future.

Karl Marx
Jonathan Sperber

Karl Marx had good ideas and bad ones. We should separate them. The bad include the labor theory of value, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, and the Hegelian view of human history as inevitable progress, for Marx from from slavery to communism. The good:

1 Ideas and their political movements are closely tied to social structures and their economic interests. Marx got the idea from Hegel.

2 Ostensibly free and voluntary market exchanges contain elements of domination and exploitation. Marx got the idea from Hegel.

3 A capitalist market economy isn't an automatically self-regulating system but periodically has crises. The latest one was in 2008.

AR I added the Hegel references.

2013 May 16

Japan Is Back
Financial Times

Japan grew faster than other G7 countries in 2013 Q1. Prime minister Shinzo Abe came to power in December and flooded the economy with cash. The yen has fallen by about 20% since he took over, and the stock market is up 70% in six months. Preliminary data show a real GDP increase of 0.9%, or 3.5% annualized, so Japan has outpaced the US, where Q1 GDP grew by an annualized 2.5%. Analysts say Abenomics has accelerated the recovery.

AR A lesson for all Austerians here.

Google All Access

Google has launched an on-demand subscription music service with web and mobile interfaces. It features millions of songs to play, recommendations, charts and playlists, and instant radio stations.

Everything from your Google Music locker is automatically pulled into Google Play Music All Access. Everything else an artist has on All Access is listed beneath your content and plays at a tap.

All Access is among the news at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco. Google launched its music locker service two years ago. Now Google Play users have a choice to stream rather than download.

The Next 100 Years
John Gray + AR

The next 100 years may too closely resemble the last 100 for comfort. We still don't have world peace or global government. Geopolitical rivalries merely have new players and higher stakes.

The dwindling significance of Europe as a global player is a fact. The European project produced 40 years of peace and prosperity. But austerity policies have plunged the southern half of the continent into a state of permanent depression. On the geopolitical map, Europe doesn't exist.

Russia too is less important. Today it boasts only natural resources. The country is ruled by spy services and organized crime. Russia is an extractive state, like China and India. Any new prosperity is distributed narrowly within a small elite.

Upheaval in the Arab world was fueled by the financial crash, which raised food prices. The cost of buying off mass discontent in Arab countries is rising. Oil-producing countries need high oil prices to fund public spending. Saudi Arabia heads off unrest with repression and spending programs.

Renewable energy may undermine the global stranglehold of the oil cartel. Higher oil prices boost other energy sources. Russia and Mideast producers depend on oil and will face crises. The United States has renewable energy, domestic oil and gas, and other sources of wealth, and so will emerge stronger.

The United States may rebound as a major manufacturing economy. It remains the global haven for capital. With huge inequalities of wealth, an endangered middle class, and many poor people, American capitalism is flawed. Yet Americans can cope better with low growth than any other people.

Without growth, the tacit compact on which democracy is based may break down. When the social product shrinks, issues of distribution become politically explosive, particularly if people see government working to transfer wealth to the few. Authoritarian regimes are also at risk, as in China.

Demographic factors are at work. The population of many poorer countries will rise, but many societies are aging fast. In Europe, Japan, and the United States, debt is left for future generations. When the next generation is smaller and poorer than the last, the pyramid scheme stops.

The Chinese government relies on growth to head off mass unrest. Corruption and elitism have hollowed out the state. Order could break down if the rate of growth falls for a few years in a row. But China is not going the way of the former Soviet Union. The idea that China has replaced the Soviet Union in a bipolar world is incorrect. China has returned to the role it played several centuries ago, as has India.

Democrats say their values are universal. Slavery and persecution are bad. Freedom and tolerance are good. But democracy can also work against human rights and universal values. Globalization has helped billions of people, but volatile global markets leave them as insecure as ever. We need new ideas.

AR My cut of a long text has changed its tone and tendency so far Gray may not recognize it.

Quantum Bayesianism
Hans Christian von Baeyer + AR

Physicists have grappled with quantum paradoxes for about a century. Quantum theory is still considered bizarre, a powerful recipe book for building gadgets but impossible to understand. Confusion about the meaning of quantum theory makes people think what it seems to be telling us about our world is irrelevant to everyday life and too weird to matter.

Quantum Bayesianism (QBism, "cubism") combines quantum theory with probability theory to recast the paradoxes and make them look less troubling. QBism recasts the the wave function as a mathematical tool that any observer can use to assign their justified belief that a quantum system will have a specific property. So the wave function reflects an individual's epistemological state.

AR This, more or less, has been my take for many years. If I were a young student again, I would study the view properly and map it to foundational work in modal logic. But I think von Baeyer in his account has confused subjective perspectives with personal and mental ideas that mess up the view. In my take, quantum mechanics reflects the logical necessity to model nature from within, to leave a part called the future unknown. But "cubism" is cute.

Prime Proofs
Lisa Grossman

A number p is prime if it's indivisible by anything but 1 and p. Twin primes are pairs of prime numbers such that their difference from each other is 2, so they are a distance of 2 apart. The twin prime conjecture states that there are infinitely many such pairs.

A new proof affirms the easier conjecture that there are infinitely many primes that have a neighboring prime a finite distance d away, for some d larger than 2. Yitang Zhang has shown that there is an infinite number of prime pairs for which d is at most 70 million. Now we only need to cut d down to 2 to prove the twin prime conjecture.

The Goldbach conjecture is that every even number greater than 2 is the sum of two primes. Harald Helfgott has now proved a related problem: the odd Goldbach conjecture, which states that every odd number above 5 is the sum of three primes.

AR No one said math was easy.

US Navy
Northrop Grumman X-47B UCAV makes historic flight from CVN-77 USS George H.W. Bush.

Dan Brown's Inferno
has lifted Dante's Inferno
to the top of UK retailer Waterstones' poetry
bestseller list.

Brown: "Dante has had enormous influence on the Christian view of hell."

Brown's Inferno
is released today.

Chinese Wing Loong drone

U.S. Reaper drone

Tinkerbella nana
Photo: J.T. Huber
Fairyflies are tiny wasps that lay their eggs inside the eggs of bugs, beetles, flies, and so on. Tinkerbella nana (above) is the smallest known insect: 7 males could line up in 1 mm.

Richard Feynman
A new viral video

Psycho vs. Psycho
The Observer

The British Psychological Society Division of Clinical Psychology calls for a "paradigm shift" on mental health to change the psychiatric model of mental distress as treatable by doctors using drugs. The DCP has "fundamental concerns about the development, personal impact and core assumptions" of psychiatric diagnoses.

DSM-5 is coming soon.

Austerity in the UK
Then and Now


Syria is awash in arms and rife with divisions. Hardline Islamists are fierce and effective rebel fighters. Violence will continue if the regime falls. Chaos, criminality, and warlordism beset the liberated areas. We should resist calls to supply the rebels with heavier weapons.

Dan Brown
Photo: Dan Courter
Dan Brown releases
Inferno next week

Dante's Divine Comedy has three acts: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso. Nicholas Lezard recommends a cartoon version of Dante's Inferno.

Benoît Mandelbrot
Father of long tails

Pankaj Mishra
Against the Brahmins

U.S. Department of Defense
Annual Report to Congress
Military and Security
Developments Involving the
People's Republic of China

Nigel Farage
Photo: Eddie Mulholland
UKIP leader Nigel Farage


New Statesman

Public Intellectuals
A.C. Grayling

People who are alert and engaged, who are eager to debate, and who have some expertise to offer, drive the public conversation.

Some public intellectuals have a committed political stance. Others try to occupy neutral ground. The danger is that people who emerge on the strength of expertise in a specialty are seen as oracles on everything else.

Public intellectuals have intelligence and engagement, and they speak out. Their ideas are the cogs of history, and drive its progress.

Quantum Gravity and LIGO
Freeman Dyson has doubts

Nigel Farage
UKIP leader Nigel Farage


2013 May 15

Brexit: Con
Charles Grant

Many British eurosceptics and European federalists say there's no point in the UK staying in the EU but outside the EZ. They say the EZ will set the agenda for the EU.

But a UK government can still reshape the EU. The scope of the EU goes beyond the EZ to include the single market, competition, trade, energy, transport, climate, the environment, farming, fishing, regional development, overseas aid, foreign policy, defense, enlargement, justice, and home affairs. The UK would have more clout in these areas if it:

1 Improved its economic performance
2 Strove to maintain the authority of the European Commission
3 Did a better job of making friends in the EU
4 Grasped that the EU has commitments as well as rules
5 Took the initiative and showed leadership where it has expertise

Brexit: Lab
Seumas Milne

David Cameron has not shot the UKIP fox with his promise of an EU referendum by 2017. The rise of UKIP is a xenophobic response to austerity and impotence.

British opponents of the EU lampoon Europe but are happy to bow down to the United States and the City of London. Their agenda after leaving the EU would be to protect the financial interests that led to crisis and ditch the social benefits that most British people like about the EU. An EU exit would risk unleashing a carnival of reaction, xenophobia, attacks on social rights, and lurches to the right.

The British EU debate has largely ignored the progressive case for change that is central to the struggle for change in Europe. The EU has entrenched a failed neoliberal model of capitalism with deregulation, privatization, and enforcement of corporate power over employment rights. Its undemocratic and dysfunctional structures have been exposed by the EZ crisis and the imposition of austerity.

Labour should back a referendum. Ed Miliband has argued for comprehensive EU reform. He needs to go a lot further to prevent the nationalist right dictating the EU agenda.

2013 May 14

Improve European Union
David Cameron

All Conservative cabinet ministers agree that we should be spending the next period improving the EU and improving our relations with the EU and then putting that choice to the British public in a referendum. That is our policy.

The speech I made on Europe had a very good reception from the business community in Britain, who support it by and large, and a very good reception right across the Conservative party and Conservative supporters. It also had a reasonable reception in Europe, with a number of key European players recognizing this was a legitimate agenda. That's a good start to the process.

AR I agree: Work to improve the EU. Let the UK be a good neighbor.

Dark energy
Stephen Battersby + AR

Dark energy makes up more than two-thirds of the universe, but we have no idea what it is or where it comes from. Caltech physicist Sean Carroll: "Nature has not been ready to give us any clues yet."
What we know so far:

1 Dark energy pushes. Space seems to be expanding ever faster, as if repelled by antigravity.

2 There's a lot of it. We can see how much matter there is in the universe, and the CMB from 12 Ts after the big bang lets us work out the total density of matter plus dark energy. About 68% of the universe (or 1 nJ/m^3) is dark and repulsive.

3 It's mysterious. As space expands there is more and more of it, pushing against the fading gravity of the rest. Maybe it's weird stuff called quintessence.

If dark energy keeps going, the stars and galaxies will accelerate off into the distance, leaving us in the dark. If it gets stronger, we might even be shredded in a Big Rip. We guess the dark energy density is fairly stable.

The Dark Energy Survey aims to look for signs of dark energy over a wide swathe of the sky. It will see lots of supernovas pumping out photons that are more or less redshifted by cosmic expansion. This lets us plot expansion over time and gives us a sky map of a few hundred million galaxies. Sound waves in the infant cosmos herded vast superclusters of galaxies that we can measure to work out a better history.

If photons interact with dark energy, it could rotate their polarization as they fly across the universe. The Planck team plans to measure the polarization of CMB photons. Carroll: "It is conceivable they will announce they have detected quintessence."

On Templeton
Sean Carroll

The John Templeton Foundation (JTF) supports research into the "Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality" and likes to promote the idea that science and religion are gradually reconciling.

Due to the efforts of many smart people over the course of many years, scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality have by a wide majority concluded that God does not exist. We have better explanations for how things work. The shift in perspective from theism to atheism is arguably the single most important bit of progress in fundamental ontology over the last five hundred years.

In my view, we have a responsibility to get the word out. And when we blur the lines between science and religion, we do the world a grave disservice. Religious belief exerts a significant influence over how the world is currently run. Understanding the fundamental nature of reality is a necessary starting point for productive conversations about morality, justice, and meaning.

The JTF has done its best to spread the impression that science and religion get along just fine. This impression is false. But if anyone is tempted to award me the Templeton Prize, I will totally accept it!

AR Keep dreaming, Sean.

2013 May 13

Ministerial Mutiny
The Guardian

Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind accused Conservatives pushing for an amendment to the motion welcoming the Queen's speech that laments the absence of an in/out referendum on EU membership of "showing very poor judgment".

AR Grammar: Rifkind accused (Conservatives pushing for (an amendment to (the motion welcoming (the Queen's speech)) that laments (the absence of (an in/out referendum on EU membership)))) of ...

Quantum Computer Quicker
Jacob Aron + AR

D-Wave sells quantum computers. They use an adiabatic approach on qubits to allow exponential speedup. But to be truly quantum, the qubits must be entangled. Tests of the D-Wave device show indirect evidence for entanglement.

Catherine McGeoch has shown that a D-Wave computer can beat regular machines. D-Wave hardware is designed to solve the traveling salesman problem, which lies behind many practical applications.

McGeoch ran the problem on a D-Wave Two computer, which holds 439 qubits in superconducting niobium loops, and also ran it using three leading algorithms running on a high-end PC. She gave each system roughly half a second to find the best solution to a version of the problem, and repeated the trial with 100 different versions. She then did the experiment for problems involving even more variables and a more complicated equation.

The D-Wave machine was much faster. It found the best solution every time within half a second. The three regular algorithms struggled to keep up for problems with more than 100 or so variables. The best of the three, CPLEX, had to run for half an hour on the largest problems.

Doctor Who?
Liel Leibovitz + AR

The BBC TV series Doctor Who has aired going on 800 episodes since it began in 1963. The Doctor, a member of a superior race called the Time Lords, occasionally slips into a new body, acquiring a new face and a new personality. Eleven actors have played him thus far.

Doctor Who was created by Sydney Newman, who was born in Toronto to Russian Jewish immigrants. Newman worked with the Canadian National Film Board and spent World War 2 making propaganda films. He eventually got a job at the BBC. In 1963, a few months after his arrival, he came up with the idea for the Doctor Who series.

Newman's hero is wildly intelligent and intergalactically cosmopolitan, with a biting sense of humor and a commitment to putting things right. He is constantly wandering, never at home. His relation is not to space but to time. Once he said his family sleeps in his mind, a haunting intimation of loss.

The Doctor is surrounded by a host of warlike species who view him as pesky and effete yet oddly omnipotent. Most celebrated among these baddies are the Daleks, crackly-voiced aliens who trundle around in armored turrets with little guns sticking out of them. Their creator was Terry Nation, who recalled the wartime terror of watching Germany led by a murderous maniac and who gave Daleks the catchphrase: "Exterminate!"

With this timeless conflict of the canny Jew versus the canned Nazis, Doctor Who ran for 26 seasons, finally fading away in 1989. By 2005, the British were ready for more. All the old enemies were back for another run, but new and more terrifying foes joined the party, making the Jewish theme even more obvious.

Chief among them was the Silence, a religious order devoted to ancient prophecies. Their terrifying quality is that people forget them immediately after seeing them. They travel the world with the sole purpose of assassinating the Doctor, lest he answer the oldest question in the universe. Recall that Exodus chestnut in which the creator says no man shall see his face and live: Doctor Who?

How To Make Sex Boring
Lisa Levy + AR

Alain de Botton is the author of How To Think More About Sex, an amusing little study of contemporary assumptions about sex, marriage, and relationships, regarded strictly from the point of view of a bored, married, middle-aged man who dabbles in philosophy and fancies himself an intellectual.

The man does not interrogate what a queer theorist might call heteronormative practices and he never explores any type of relationship outside of monogamous marriage. In fact his book utterly lacks imagination and a sense of curiosity. It might be the most boring book ever written about sex.

On eros: "The more closely we analyze what we consider 'sexy,' the more clearly we will understand that eroticism is the feeling of excitement we experience at finding another human being who shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence."

The only stands on show are against pornography and for adultery. The author advocates censorship of the internet but likes a bit of nookie on the side: "That a couple should be willing to watch their lives go by from within the cage of marriage, without acting on outside sexual impulses is a miracle of civilization and kindness for which they ought both to feel grateful on a daily basis."

AR Thumb firmly down.

2013 May 12

Syrian Somalia

The conflict in Syria is dragging in the entire region. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is now more vulnerable than ever. Analysts say Syria is in danger of becoming the next Somalia. But Syria would be worse. Its religious and ethnic fault lines extend across borders in every direction. Somalia never had chemical weapons, missiles, or modern armor. And Somalia never hosted a vicious struggle between Sunnis and Shiites. Why Syria suddenly looks more dangerous:

1 Israel
Israelis look on anxiously. They have not admitted carrying out air strikes, but they need to prevent the transfer of advanced missiles to Hezbollah. Assad has a history of not retaliating against Israel. But in weakening the Assad regime, Israel may strengthen well organized and potent jihadist groups.

2 Sectarianism
Syria has descended into sectarian horror. Moderates have been sidelined. The Free Syrian Army coexists with a strong Sunni jihadi element. The regime is mobilizing irregular Alawite militia and Hezbollah fighters. The Syrian opposition sees Iran and Hezbollah everywhere.

3 Existential Endgame
The Syrian regime is launching counterattacks against areas controlled by rebel factions. Assad relies on shabiha loyalists with an existential stake in the regime's survival. Some say give the rebels more missiles and communications and pick off regime forces from the air.

4 Chemical Weapons
For much of last year, Obama's "red line" seemed largely hypothetical. But as the regime grows more desperate and control of chemical weapons more difficult, it seems chemical agents have been used. How much, of what, by whom?

5 Refugees
Iraq: Weapons cross border for Syrian resistance, Syrian and Iraqi jihadists cooperating.
Turkey: Hosts 322,000 Syrian refugees, with another 100,000 clamoring to cross.
Jordan: Trying to cope with 450,000 Syrian refugees in makeshift camps.
Lebanon: Hosts 455,000 Syrian refugees. Salafists declare jihad against Syrian regime.

The United States and Russia are calling for an international conference. Secretary of State John Kerry: "The alternative is that Syria heads closer to the abyss, if not over the abyss and into chaos."

Political Philosophy
Michael Sandel

Freedom of speech is essential to democratic life. We can develop our human capacities more fully if we participate in self-government and deliberate about important public questions. Participating in self-government is character building. When we concern ourselves with public affairs and take responsibility for the fate of the community as a whole, we exercise faculties that would otherwise lie dormant.

Economics presents itself as an autonomous science. Economists often assume that markets don't touch or taint the goods they exchange. But the market mechanism changes the meaning of an activity and crowds out other attitudes and norms. We need to ask whether people making deals are acting voluntarily or are coerced by their circumstances, and whether what they do is degrading. We have to reason together in public about the right way to value goods.

Justice is a virtue of social institutions. Other virtues to do with community, fellow feeling, solidarity, self-government, and the scope and quality of public deliberation may all have a bearing on justice. What counts as a good society embroils us in questions of virtue and the good life.

Brain Bites

Brain surgery requires at least two frightening qualities in its practitioners: the will to make forcible entry into another person's skull, and the hubris to believe you can fix the problems inside.
Luke Dittrich

Brain images of twin girls joined at the head reveal a bridge between the thalamus of one girl and the thalamus of her sister. The thalamus joins the neural loops that create consciousness. The sensory input that one girl receives might cross that bridge to the other. One girl drinks, another girl feels it.
Susan Dominus

A professor of psychosomatics gave a lecture with two halves. In the first, he showed images of fleas, lice, people scratching, and the like. The second half showed soft down, baby skin, and bathers. Video cameras recorded the audience. People were scratching themselves much more during the first half than during the second.
Atul Gawande

We are our connectomes. Our unique selves are etched into the wiring of our brains. Connectomes are forever being molded and remolded by life experience. The connectome is where nature meets nurture. Advances in brain science and computer simulations of neural networks may mean a cure for death.
Evan R. Goldstein

When a criminal stands in court today, the legal system asks whether he is to blame. This is the wrong question to ask. The choices we make arise from our neural circuitry, and we have no meaningful way to tease the two apart. The more we learn, the more complicated blame becomes.
David Eagleman

Through studies of split-brain patients, neuroscientists regard the healthy brain as two different machines, cabled together and exchanging a torrent of data. When the primary cable is cut, information presented to one hemisphere goes unnoticed in the other.
David Wolman

To keep a donor's organs viable, the respirator is left on and the heart keeps beating until the surgeon removes the organs. Brain death is an artificial distinction constructed on an unsound conceptual foundation. Perhaps brain-dead patients aren't really dead at all.
Gary Greenberg

2013 May 11

Paul W. Ragan

Men who use abuse to control a woman are termed batterers. They have been studied for the presence or absence of alcohol or drug abuse, whether or not the violence is intrafamilial or extends outside the family, the presence or absence of criminality, and the presence or absence of personality disorders.

They often grow up in families fraught with strife, conflict, neglect, and violence. The theory is that early life experiences cause developmental arrest of their psychological maturation and personality formation. They are left with deep emotional needs they feel totally inadequate to satisfy. Their self-concept is so impaired and their self-esteem so low that they feel unable to compete in the adult game of attracting and keeping a mate. When their attempts are met by failure, their moral impairment and lack of empathy coupled with unbridled anger and rage drive them to brutal sadism.

Lawrence Rosen

Anne Norton denies that Islam and the west are involved in a clash of civilizations. She agrees with Jacques Derrida that Islam is "the other of democracy" because Muslim states could retain their distinctiveness while promoting democratic values.

Norton recognizes that valid differences of orientation exist. But she sees options for addressing the differences presented by a Muslim minority in a western country. One could defer to their distinctiveness. Or the majority could try to nudge "them" in the direction of being more like "us". Or one could try to move "us" closer to "them". She prefers the third option.

Common ground is not always easy to find. But perhaps if we just pretend to be receptive to our Muslim neighbors and no one disrupts our mutual inattention, we can all go about our separate lives, ignorant of our differences. Perhaps we can trust that all troublesome distinctiveness will drop out of the equation. But many will suspect that this is neither the most likely nor even the most desirable outcome.

Muslims appreciate the need for camouflage in the face of suspicion. But living as a chameleon may be harder now that we all notice each other noticing each other. Anonymity is stifling. We may avoid the clash at the cost of a diminished civilization.

Will Self

Alex Ross: "In the classical field it has long been fashionable to fence music off from society, to declare it a self-sufficient language."

Ross assumes a dichotomy between high and low art that leads him into reformulating the position he seems to renounce. The fact of Hitler's undoubted musicality torments Ross. Hitler was indeed a great music lover. He loved Wagner's music. The real shocker is that Alex Ross still believes there can be something morally ennobling about music.

Stalin had narrow but by no means vulgar musical tastes. A frequent attendee at the Bolshoi, he also listened to classical music on the radio, sang folksongs with a fine tenor voice, and audited every single recording made in the Soviet Union, writing judgements on the sleeves. Ross reads Shostakovich's Fourth and Fifth symphonies to refute the idea that music is a non-representational art form. He detects sarcasm and irony in many pieces Shostakovich composed during the early Stalin years.

The problem for classical music in the age of the dictators remains the same one that classical music retains to this day: it remains an art form tainted by association with vertiginous social hierarchies.

Ross offers a fascinating narrative of classical music under the tyrannies of Hitler and Stalin. But developments in compositional theory were irrelevant to what music was saying, or being made to say. Marshall McLuhan: "The medium is the message."

Eric Banks

Daniel Dennett says specialists can try talking to others: "To explain their position under these conditions helps them find better ways of making their points than they had ever found before."

Dennett presents intuition pumps to help us think more clearly, or with more insight, about such topics as consciousness, free will, meaning, and intentionality. Intuition pumps condense a complex technical scenario into a vivid story that makes a point. But we should beware of over-inflation. A flawed intuition pump, like Occam's Broom, sweeps inconvenient facts under the rug.

Douglas Hofstadter is best known for his 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach. Together with Emmanuel Sander, he now teases out the paradoxes and contradictions of analogy, which is vastly more complex than we tend to assume. When we try to make sense of an experience, we do so using a quick cognitive shorthand, forging analogies between the latest and past experiences.

The magic of analogical thinking is its odd recursiveness. Analogy as a rhetorical device is an almost endless source of such entanglements. Analogies can be creative, or mere wordplay.

2013 May 10

Say No To UK EU Referendum
Polly Toynbee

Half of all Tory MPs want out of the European Union now. David Cameron says he can win "fundamental reform" in Europe. His claim that it "is in Britain's interest to remain the country that is uniquely well connected to the world" is now the thin blue line between his party and UKIP.

Cameron has deliberately fudged. The UK will get no opt-outs, and any universal reforms must be small enough not to need treaty change. No one wants any referendums until the crisis is over. Austerity leaves rich Germany angry at paying for poor nations, and poor voters outraged at the cuts.

Voters who want out can vote for a party that wants out. Reasons to stay in are clear. US banks and financiers only stay in the City as a gateway to the EU. Japanese companies stay to trade in the EU. Trade with the EU from outside means obeying the rules with no say on them.

Labour is staunch on staying in Europe. Hold the line and hope to win through honesty and conviction. That way lies democratic legitimacy. If Labour fails to change the conversation and make the economy, growth, and jobs the great decider in 2015, it will have failed anyway.

Christopher Coker

War and humanity have evolved together from the beginning. But humans are fallible. Drone pilots sit at their consoles for hours analyzing video streams and suffer cognitive overload. Neuroscientists are being called in to help.

The systems will become more autonomous. By 2015, drones will be able to detect nearby aircraft and avoid them. They will soon process their own video streams and dock unaided with tankers for flight refueling. The pilots will be supervising robots.

Legal and moral debates about drones forget the speed of war. The digital world is outpacing human neural processing capabilities. Neurons for empathy and compassion in the prefrontal cortex are bypassed under stress. Moral behavior emerges from slow processes.

The US military plans to program machines with moral heuristics to serve as a conscience. Empathy and compassion will be beyond them, but they will be consistent. The reduction of inhumanity will balance the loss of humanity.

DARPA says it is blending the best of man and machine.

Alissa Quart

Neurohumanities (NH) may save the arts. Combining neuroscience with art offers instant credibility.

UC Berkeley philosopher Alva Noë, a neuroskeptic, sees the trend as a reaction to postmodernism. He argues that NH is a rejection of the critical theory that dominated the American humanities until the Sokal affair in 1996. Physics professor Alan Sokal submitted a spoof paper on science to Social Text, then revealed all to show the editors had no clothes. As critical theory dies, NH and literary Darwinism are growing.

Critical theory made a fetish of haze and ambiguity and what Noë calls "an allergy to anything essentialist". NH offers mastery and is highly reductive. Neuroscience is now the way to explain almost all human behavior.

London professor Semir Zeki, with the Institute of Neuroesthetics in London and UC Berkeley, organized a study in which 10 people were shown 300 paintings while their heads were in a functional MRI machine. They were asked to label the paintings as neutral, beautiful, or ugly. The paintings they thought were beautiful led to increased activity in their frontal cortex, while the ugly paintings led to a similar increase in their motor cortex. Zeki's latest paper: "The neural sources of Salvador Dali's ambiguity"

Literary Darwinism recently scored against feminism. Jonathan Gottschall compared over 1400 folktales from a range of cultures to examine the claim "that European tales reflect and perpetuate the arbitrary gender norms of western patriarchal societies" and found biosocial norms that all cultures perpetuate.

Noë says the NH trend reduces people and culture to things "to be manipulated or made marketable".

AR I know Alva Noë. See my Amazon review of his book Out of Our Heads.

2013 Ascension Day

David Pilling

Japan's new prime minister Shinzo Abe is ending 15 years of stagnation. Stock market gains have added nearly $1.5 trillion to the market capitalization of Japanese companies. Toyota tripled its net profits last year and sales at large retailers have posted their biggest gains in 20 years. The central bank predicts economic growth of 2.9% for 2013. As to why, two catalysts stand out:

1 The 2011 tsunami was a shock. The Japanese headed off a crisis by cutting energy consumption. Concern about energy caused businesses already full of complaints to talk of a mass exodus.

2 China's economy overtook Japan's in 2010. Beijing is pressing claims to the Japanese-administered Senkaku islands known as Diaoyu in China. Japan's new sense of purpose might be its reply.

Abe responded to the slogan "rich country, strong army" that rallied Japan after 1868. In Washington in February he said: "Japan must stay strong, strong first in its economy, and strong also in its national defense." After years of drift, Japan is reviving.

Israel and Syria
Amos Harel + AR

For decades, Syria was Israel's most feared enemy. But Syria cannot match Israel militarily and has found new ways to circumvent IDF superiority. The regime has focused on defensive weapons that can hinder an Israeli attack through the Golan Heights. And it supports Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.

The strategy persuaded Israel to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000. Both sides maintained a balance of deterrence. But the balance was wrecked by the Arab Spring. Suddenly, Israel stopped being afraid of Arab strength and began to be worried about Arab weakness. In Syria, revolt became civil war.

A quick end to the Syrian war would be a problem for Israel. A failed state along the border is harder to deter than a police state. If the Syrian opposition wins, it will quickly be dominated by jihadists.The longer the fighting continues, the more the regime is weakened. It looks like win-win.

Israel will act if Syrian weapons go to Hezbollah or fall into the hands of extremist rebels. IDF generals tend to take advantage of tactical opportunities. So far, Syria has not retaliated. Analysts believe the Syrian regime has no room to move. Retaliation would let the IDF destroy the Syrian air force.

Israel should consider the possibility of an Iranian or Lebanese response. Hezbollah is deeply involved in the civil war in Syria. Iranian Revolutionary Guard units are also present. Analysts say Syria's allies are too busy helping Assad fight for his survival and won't waste time on clashes with the IDF.

Moths Hear Bats

Greater wax moths have good hearing. They are also a pest. They grow up in beehives and eat beeswax. Adult moths gather in trees, where males sing high-pitched sunset songs to females.

Their predators are bats. While the male moth's calls range from 90-95 kHz, bats echolocate at over 100 kHz, and some bats can squeak at over 200 kHz.

Researchers tested the hearing of 20 adult greater wax moths by playing sounds and measuring the moths' tympanal membrane vibrations and auditory nerve signals.

Each sound was at 90 dB, less loud than most bat squeaks. All the moths' tympanal membranes vibrated strongly to 300 kHz sounds, and 15 of the 20 also showed strong neural signals.

The moths need to detect bat calls quickly to survive. A sensor with a faster response time will respond to higher frequencies. The moths' tympanal membranes are unusually thin.

2013 May 8

Israel Gambles
Foreign Policy

Israel's recent attacks risk retaliation and further destabilization of its neighborhood. The first attack sought to deny the transfer of arms that could alter the balance of power between Israel and Hezbollah. Iran provides Hezbollah with funding and weaponry. Syria serves as a transit route for Iranian forces and weapons. Israeli strategists are gambling on three things:

1 Syria will not respond. Israel is a whipping boy for Arab regimes seeking to distract attention from their own failures, and Assad is too embattled to risk escalation. The Syrian opposition charges that Assad has failed to protect Syrian soil. If Assad becomes desperate, he may attack Israel.

2 Hezbollah will not retaliate. Since 2006, Israel's border with Lebanon has been quiet. But now Hezbollah forces are fighting beside Assad and have lost popularity in the Arab world. Israel striking at Hezbollah's weapons damages its credibility. They may be tempted to react.

3 The Syrian regime will collapse. For Israel, the only thing worse than Assad's regime in Syria would be chaos in Syria. The country would become an incubator of jihad on Israel's border. Jihadists might use Syria's arsenals against Israel. The border would again be a war zone.

Israel alone can't resolve the chaos and uncertainty in Syria and Lebanon. Washington must act.

Mideast Catastrophe Looms
Fawaz A. Gerges

The Syrian struggle has not only spread into neighboring lands but is now a battlefield for Israel and Iran. The conflict is in danger of escalating into a regional war pitting Iran and Hezbollah against Israel, other regional powers, and the West.

Israeli involvement embarrasses the Syrian armed opposition because it not only puts them on the same side as Israel but also reinforces President Bashar al-Assad's claim that the struggle in Syria is a wider conspiracy spearheaded by Israel and its regional allies and Western powers.

Iran is unlikely to retaliate directly against Israel. Israel and its allies would have the upper hand. But it is likely to deepen its involvement in Syria to support Assad. Only a political solution can prevent a wider catastrophe in the Mideast.

No Referendum Now
David Cameron

From a letter to John Baron, MP, dated April 30:
"I completely understand the serious case you make for legislation. You know, however, that this Government's legislative programme is founded on the Coalition Agreement which did not include legislating in this Parliament for an In-Out referendum. For the Government to be able to bring forward the type of legislation you propose, we would require the agreement of our Coalition partners which, as things stand, is not forthcoming."

Brood II
The Independent

Billions of cicadas will overrun the eastern United States this spring. After 17 years underground, they will crawl out of the earth in search of sex. The 25 mm bugs will make a big noise, up to 94 decibels, as the males sing for mates. After a few weeks, they will die and their offspring will go to ground.

The males will come out first and climb up trees to grow wings and sing. When a female comes close, the male changes his song, does a dance, and mates. Each mated female lays 600 or so eggs on a branch. The offspring fall out of the trees and burrow into the earth, to emerge in 2030.

The mass emergence overwhelms predators. Ordinary cicadas come out every year around the world, but these are red-eyed magicicadas, unique to the US east coast. This year's invasion, Brood II, is one of the bigger ones. Experts estimate there are 30 billion cicadas lurking underground.

2013 May 7

CORAL is due for a new edition, with estimated release date 2014. The Right Reverend and Right Honorable Baron Williams of Oystermouth, a.k.a. Dr. Rowan Williams, formerly Archbishop of Canterbury and now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, says it's "a lively, provoking and hugely original essay" but feels the need for a more focused conclusion. I see scope to add cameos on medieval theology, imperial China, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, late German Protestantism and the Frankfurt school, existentialism and postmodernism, quantum mysticism and possible worlds, Sloterdijk bubbles, computational mathematics, the rise of Facebook and Twitter, and more besides. I guess the page count will rise to 400, but the main change will be a new summary and conclusion.

Brits Envy Germany
Carsten Volkery + AR

British socialists have long admired the German social market economy with its system of giving workers a say in corporate decision-making, its state-owned savings banks that promote public welfare, and its small and medium enterprises that plan for the long term.

Now the Conservative-Liberal coalition is using at German ideas to get the British economy growing again. It has launched apprenticeships for businesses to train their own employees, a new state-owned business bank to give loans to small and medium enterprises, and credit guarantees for exports.

The rethink began after the 2008 financial crash. The British economy was heavily reliant on banking and has yet to recover, but the German economy rebounded quickly. Manufacturing accounts for 21% of GDP in Germany but only 11% in Britain.

Labour Party leader Ed Miliband likes to talk about responsible capitalism. After learning how the German Sparkassen operate, he wants to set up similar regional banks if he is elected PM. He is also considering Mitbestimmung to add worker representatives to company boards. The British introduced the system in Germany after WW2.

The Enlightenment
Ollie Cussen

New Atheists brought the Enlightenment back to life. They traced all that was worth defending in our world to rationality, science, secularism, and democracy.

In 1784, Immanuel Kant saw the Enlightenment as humanity learning to think for itself, the start of a slow but inexorable triumph over myth and superstition. Some 20 years later, Hegel blamed the Enlightenment for sacrificing spirituality and tradition at the altar of reason and absolute freedom. Historians since then have failed to break the stalemate between Kantians and Hegelians.

Anthony Pagden argues that the Enlightenment was distinctive not for holding the humanities hostage to reason but instead for recognizing our common humanity. Cosmopolitanism arose as a way for humans to live together in harmony instead of killing each other. He imagines that without the Enlightenment, Europe could have been conquered by the Ottomans and converted to Islam. The Enlightenment discovered a timeless truth that had been obscured by religion.

Enlightened cosmopolitanism rejects religion as having any role to play in human understanding and organization. It is a hopeless model for modern global governance.

AR I think it's quite a good one.

2013 May 6

Britain's obsession with "punching above its weight" in the international arena is one cause of its pitiable present condition. Overblown and ill-configured defense forces, continuing post-imperial involvements around the globe, obsession with pomp and ceremony, and a surfeit of absurd institutions from the Knights of the Garter to the Lord Privy Seal, hold Britain back.

The United Kingdom could soon fragment. If Scotland becomes independent and Northern Ireland looks toward Eire, the rump state of Britain will no longer be Great. Perhaps this is an opportunity to revamp the state from top to bottom. Reducing the role of the monarchy, replacing the House of Lords with an elected chamber, and introducing a written constitution would be a start.

The most reasonable destiny for Britain thus reduced is as a member of a Nordic community including the Scandinavian states and others, and perhaps embracing Germany too. But the European Union needs an overhaul. Not before the fiscal showdown with the southern states finds a convincing resolution should the British public relax its Euroskepticism.

Thatcher vs. UKIP
Lord Renwick of Clifton + AR

Margaret Thatcher's critique of the European Union has become commonplace today. Hyper-bureaucracy, lack of accountability, over-regulation, and the stifling of job creation and enterprise should worry all member states. She would say Europe today is failing its citizens.

Today she would make a huge effort to change the EU from within before abandoning it. She would not resist further EZ integration, recognizing that Germany is determined to impose much greater discipline on the other participants.

But she would launch a crusade with Angela Merkel, the Dutch and Swedish prime ministers, and some of the East Europeans to change the direction of EU policy to foster growth and jobs and restore competitiveness. She would do so with such zest that UKIP would be roadkill.

2013 May 5

Happy Easter?
The Atlantic

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's decision not to attend today's Coptic Easter mass was no surprise. It follows a Brotherhood fatwa prohibiting Muslims from wishing Christians a happy Easter, because Muslims deny that Jesus was killed or crucified, whereas wishing Christians a merry Christmas is permissible, because Muslims accept that he was born.

The Easter ruling contrasts with the Brotherhood's otherwise vacuous approach to interpreting sharia. In 2012, Brotherhood leader Farid Ismail said sharia "means peace, security, equality, citizenship, freedom, and giving rights for people despite their religion or ethics or color or sex" but declined to be more specific. Brotherhood local governor Saad al-Husseini: "Everything I'm doing is sharia!"

By keeping its sharia vague, the Brotherhood prevents internal fissures from emerging that could undermine its power. The Brotherhood frames its views in sharia terms only when it seeks to justify theocratic ideas on which its cadres broadly agree, such as opposition to alcohol, bikinis, and Easter.

Jeffrey Frank

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was born 200 years ago today. For all his existential exertions, he will forever be associated with the "leap of faith" he made to live with the absurd idea that Jesus was simultaneously divine and yet much like other young men of his time.

Kierkegaard found the subjects he cared most about were hard to discuss. So he found a new way to do so, letting his various pseudonymous "authors" say what a pedagogical doctor of theology could not. Perceptive readers got the idea without being told explicitly what it was.

This technique is familiar today. Political candidates know that telling voters precisely what they stand for is asking for trouble. There are more effective ways to air their views. For Kierkegaard, subjectivity is truth. He became drawn to the mystery of silence.

American Umpire
David Allen

The United States has a complicated relationship with imperialism. It spread the gospel of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness less with gunboats than with missionaries and money men.

Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman sees not an American empire but a story of how democratic capitalism and the armed strength of American ideals built a world order more just than any in history. The United States cooperated in building the United Nations and led efforts to create international peace organizations and international law.

Americans enforced the law. They took on this responsibility because their domestic experience taught that an institution sometimes has to step in to keep order. In the early republic, the federal government was seen as an umpire between the states. This idea filtered through the history of the United States at home and abroad.

But the United States cannot be seen as a neutral arbiter. International politics has no umpires, only players strong and charismatic enough to impose their idea of what the rules should look like.

2013 May 4

Sack The Toffs
Daily Mail

The Conservatives must break the impression they are "privileged and out of touch" if they are to stand a chance of winning the next UK general election, says former party leadership contender David Davis: David Cameron should stop surrounding himself with fellow Old Etonians and show he understands the concerns of ordinary people.

UKIP kippt UK

Andrew Grice

The UK Independence Party emerged as a serious nationwide threat to Britain's three main parties after making unexpectedly big gains in local elections. BBC projected share of the national vote: Labour 29%, Conservatives 25%, UKIP 23%, Liberal Democrats 14%, others 9%.

UKIP supports withdrawal from the European Union. It now expects more than 100 councillors across the country. UKIP leader Nigel Farage: "This is a real sea-change in British politics. The people who vote for us are rejecting the establishment and quite right too. I don't think these votes are going away quickly."

Conservative MP John Baron urged David Cameron to table a bill in the next parliamentary session for an in/out referendum on Europe after the 2015 general election.

UKIP Clowns
The Guardian

Conservative MP Kenneth Clarke said UKIP has "fruitcakes, loonies, waifs, and strays" in its ranks and among its supporters. He added: "The political class are regarded as having got us into a mess. It's very tempting to go for a collection of clowns or indignant, angry people who promise that somehow they'll allow you to take revenge against the people who caused it."

UKIP leader Nigel Farage admitted his party was overstretched in vetting its 1,700 candidates.

UK Independence Party: "The European Union seemed a good idea in the 1970s but it's gone very, very wrong. Brussels has become a bureaucratic monster, strangling us all in red tape and massive waste. It's not just Britain that wants out of the EU. Many other Europeans would vote to leave, if given the chance."

New York Times

Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply. Baby boomers facing years of economic worry and with easy access to prescription painkillers may be vulnerable.

More Americans now die of suicide than in car accidents. In 2010 there were 33,687 road traffic deaths and 38,364 suicides. From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among people aged 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30%. Most suicides are men, by a ratio of over 3 to 1. Rates for men in their 50s jumped by nearly 50%.

Rutgers University sociologist Julie Phillips: "The boomers had great expectations for what their life might look like, but I think perhaps it hasn't panned out that way."

Adrian Raine

A low resting heart rate is a characteristic of aggressive and violent behavior and reflects a lack of fear. Mothers who smoke or drink during pregnancy are 2-3 times more likely to give birth to a child who will grow up to be violent. Lead exposure early in life damages the brain and increases the likelihood of adult crime. Men with cavum septum pellucidum are more likely to be psychopathic and criminal. The amygdala is shrunken by 18% in adult psychopaths and functions more poorly in psychopaths during moral decision making. Children lacking fear of punishment were more likely to be convicted 20 years later.

André Glucksmann

A pitiless new day is dawning. A generation that tamed the threat of nuclear war now faces the human bomb. The revelation of 9/11 is that human bombs claim the power to strike anywhere, anyhow, any time. A traditional war, however savage, comes to an end. Terrorist war knows no cease-fire. For the show of force it substitutes the show of hatred. Nourished by its own atrocities, it is inextinguishable. A contagion of hatred moves like a plague. Soon we may view the last century with nostalgia, despite Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Terrorists strive to mix these two ingredients into new cocktails of horror.

JP  An Israeli official says air strike targeted Syrian weapons shipment headed to guerrillas in Lebanon; Syrian chemical weapons facility not targeted.



Iran's Fordow nuclear complex is like a fortress. The enrichment centrifuges are underground and the facility is built into a mountain range. But Boeing has developed a new version of its bunker buster, the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, that can penetrate deeper, even through granite and steel, before it explodes. The MOP weighs about 14 tons and fits in B-2 and B-52 bombers. A new targeting system allows several bombs to hit exactly the same spot. The new version has not been drop tested, but Israeli Defense Force officials have seen videos of earlier drop tests.


New Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, 52, joined Intel in 1982 as an engineer and managed a "fab" that fabricates processor chips. Pundits speculate that Intel will focus on this side of its business. Intel makes 80% of all CPUs sold for PCs, but that market slumped 14% in Q1 as consumers turned to tablets and smartphones. Krzanich says Intel is well placed to expand into mobile markets.

Porn Studs
The Guardian

The journal Porn Studies debuts next spring. A call for papers solicits submissions for "the first dedicated, international, peer-reviewed journal to critically explore those cultural products and services designated as pornographic". The journal is open to work from sociologists, criminologists, technologists, and experts in cultural, media, and gender studies.

Deanna Durbin
Deanna Durbin

Her first screen kiss in 1939
made global headlines

Dan Dennett
Dan Dennett has been in troubled waters with his yacht Xanthippe: "But I do know what I'm doing!"

2013 May 3

Less Is More
Nils Klawitter + AR

Berlin social psychologist Harald Welzer points out that if everyone on Earth used the resources that Westerners do, we would need three planets. He accuses economists of seeing the world in terms of maximizing consumption. He wants to phase out the "totalitarian consumerism" that inflames desires people never knew they had.

British economist Tim Jackson is an expert on sustainable development and a professor at the University of Surrey. He calls capitalism a "gluttony machine" that asks us "to spend money we don't have on things that we don't need to create impressions that won't last on people we don't care about".

Economists have largely disregarded the environmental consequences of growth. Their benchmark of prosperity is gross domestic product. GDP does not factor in the overexploitation of resources, the destruction of biological diversity, air pollution, noise, soil degradation, or poisoned groundwater.

A wealth model built on chronic growth is no longer everyone's goal. But can we have prosperity without growth and growth without environmental damage? How can a shrinking economy work? A German parliamentary commission spent two years on these questions. It has now presented its report.

Oldenburg economist Niko Paech advocates a shrinking economy and preaches a new frugality. He attacks our "autistic faith in progress" and wants less material, less energy, less waste, and less pollution. The parliamentary commission finds growth with declining resource consumption nowhere at present.

Heidelberg economist Hans Diefenbacher has developed a national prosperity index that treats the negative impacts of economic activity as a reduction in welfare. The parliamentary commission used the index in a new way of measuring growth with an indicator called W3 based not only on wealth but also on social indicators.

David Bowie
Ian Buruma

Rock music involves a lot of posing. No one did it better than David Bowie. Born in 1947 in London and raised in a dreary suburb, young David was roused by American rock and roll. His pop career took off when Lindsay Kemp taught him to dance and introduced him to Kabuki. Bowie became a great poseur.

David and his wife Angela had a polymorphous perverse marriage. Androgyny was central to Bowie's freakish image in two movies. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) stars Bowie as a space alien. Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983) casts him as an army officer in a Japanese POW camp during WW2.

British rock in the 1970s became very camp. Bowie created his most famous role, Ziggy Stardust, as a kind of alter ego. Ziggy was a rock-n-roll messiah from outer space who is torn apart by his fans. Bowie moved on and started quoting Nietzsche on the death of God. But he never lost his sense of humor.

Bowie moved to Berlin and created some of his best music. His voice deepened and the lyrics darkened. By 2004, it looked as if it was over. He was married to Iman and they lived in New York. Then he made another album, The Next Day, announced on his 66th birthday. It is a highly professional album.

Translating Tolstoy
Kevin Mahnken

The translations of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (known as PV) span the golden age of Russian literature. It is easier to list the canonical prose authors they have neglected (Turgenev and Nabokov) than all of those they have translated. From the war against Napoleon to the heyday of Communism, the PV project is unique.

The husband and wife team works in two steps. Larissa makes a literal English rendition of the original, and Richard shapes the words into literary English without anachronisms. Now at last they have reached the end of Lev Tolstoy's major writings.

A hundred years ago, Constance Garnett was the main Russian interpreter of her generation. Her translations of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky were landmarks. But Vladimir Nabokov loathed her treatment of Tolstoy. He said the mortal sin of the translator was to sacrifice "absolute accuracy" for readability: "The clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase."

Russian writers thought Garnett churned out her translations with a meat grinder. All that came out was the insipid narrative voice of Constance Garnett. Nabokov: "The person who desires to turn a literary masterpiece into another language has only one duty to perform, and this is to reproduce with absolute exactitude the whole text, and nothing but the text."

Larissa: "We want to recreate Tolstoy in English. We want to bring the English reader to Tolstoy, not Tolstoy to the English reader."

Richard cites the FitzGerald translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Robert Graves tried to correct its distortions but made it dull: "And then you go back to FitzGerald and it sings. It sings the wrong song, but it sings. These are some of the ironies of translation."

AR I imbibed Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky via Garnett. Now I must start again with PV.

2013 May 2

Simplify your life to get a fresh feeling back into your day. I trashed more old papers and smashed a few old crocks today to clear up the clutter. The outlook is improving.

Live Long And Prosper
Douglas Heaven

A mechanism that controls aging has been identified in the hypothalamus. Researchers have used it to change the lifespan of mice.

The hypothalamus is the interface between the brain and the rest of the body, and is involved in controlling our automatic responses, hormone levels, sleep-wake cycles, immunity, and reproduction.

Dongsheng Cai at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and his colleagues noticed that aging mice produce increasing levels of nuclear factor kB (NF-kB), a protein complex that plays a big role in regulating immune responses. NF-kB is barely active in the hypothalamus of young mice but becomes very active in old mice.

The team tested three groups of mice: group 1 was given gene therapy that inhibits NF-kB, group 2 had gene therapy to activate NF-kB, and group 3 was left to age naturally. Group 3 lived between 600 and 1000 days, group 2 all died within 900 days, and group 1 lived for up to 1100 days.

The mice that lived longest also remained mentally and physically fit for longer. Post-mortem exams showed they had many chemical and physical qualities of younger mice.

NF-kB reduces the level of the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) produced by the hypothalamus. GnRH levels regulate egg production and fertility. The team gave another group of mice daily injections of GnRH for several weeks. These mice lived longer too, by similar lengths of time.

GnRH injections also resulted in new neurons in the brain. When injected into the hypothalamus, GnRH reversed widespread aging decline in other brain regions too. The injections even delayed aging in the mice in NF-kB group 2 that would otherwise have aged quickly. No mice showed serious side effects.

We could see drugs that slow aging in the next 20 years.

AR Too late for me then.

Social Psychology
Gary Marcus

Is social psychology in crisis? Diederik Stapel committed fraud in at least 54 scientific papers. Ap Dijksterhuis found that thinking about a professor before taking an exam improves your performance, while thinking about a soccer ruffian makes you do worse, but his finding may be weak or wrong.

Many key results of social psychology have been endlessly replicated, like the Milgram effect, where subjects apparently administered electrical shocks strong enough to injure others, simply because they'd been asked to do it. People are still extending that result. In one recent study, experimenters found that people would shock robots under similar circumstances.

Something positive has emerged. For years, it was difficult to publish a direct replication, or a failure to replicate an experiment, in a good journal. Now, the scientific culture has changed. Leading researchers in psychology have announced major efforts to replicate previous work, and to change the incentives so that scientists can do the right thing without feeling they are wasting time.

Perspectives in Psychological Science is accepting submissions for a new section of each issue devoted to replicability. Social Psychology is planning a special issue on replications of key results in social psychology. Other journals in neuroscience and medicine are making similar efforts.

2013 Mayday

AR The Roman calendar, with its year count going back to 1 CE, is a great way to remind us that time, the dimension of human experience, goes beyond our personal experience. That the old Romans saw fit to christen the calendar with a human sacrifice was no more than a reflection of the times. They could hardly have imagined how much bad metaphysics that gesture would lead to.

Once upon a time, I packed all my essential papers into a big silver case I called the ark of the covenant. I then moved to Germany, where I condensed the stuff in the ark and enriched it with new stuff. The process led to my production of this year's Coral bomb. Today I sealed a new condensate of essential stuff in a set of eight boxes I call the core archive. The boxes are surfaced in crimson linen, like quality books, and contain a critical mass of texts and images. Together they form a cuboid, with a volume of rather less than a fifth of a cubic meter, holding the accumulated wealth of my first sixty years. If fortune smiles, I shall let the Coral bomb trigger data fusion in the core archive and live happily ever after.

Arwa Damon, CNN

Sectarianism has returned with a vengeance in Iraq. Observers fear that tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq could escalate into war. Tensions are higher now than they have been for years. The Sunni minority is demonstrating more actively against the predominantly Shia government.

The conflict in Syria adds fuel to the fire. Iraq and Syria are battlefields for a power struggle between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. The Iraqi security forces are seen as protecting Shias and targeting Sunnis. The government was built on sectarian lines and has failed to forge a national identity.

AR A shooting war of Gulf states versus Iran would not only be as hideous as the Iran-Iraq war during the Reagan years but also impact us all via the price of oil.

Baltic Recovery
Martin Wolf + AR

Austerians say a financial crisis is a mark of moral turpitude, to be redeemed only by suffering. Latvia was hit by the crisis, recovered, and is now blooming. Is it?

Baltic states
Current account
Private sector
financial deficit
Net public
Estonia 1.3 16 19   4
Latvia 2.0 22 23   5
Lithuania 3.0 14 13 11

When financial apocalypse hit, the Balts pegged their currencies and embraced austerity. A rescue package was negotiated for Latvia in 2008, with support from the European Union, the IMF, the Nordic countries, and others.

Latvia achieved a public surplus of 0.8% in 2012. But its GDP shrank by 25% from 2007 Q4 to the trough and then grew by only 16% to 2012 Q4, for a net shrinkage of 12% over 5 years. The cumulative 5-year loss of output was 43% for Estonia, 77% for Latvia, 44% for Lithuania. The Latvian population shrank by 7.6% in the 5 years to the end of 2012 and the unemployment rate was still 14%.

Latvia suffered one of the biggest depressions in history. It is recovering. But the Balts had four huge advantages:
1 Latvian labor costs per hour, in 2012, were a quarter of the EZ average.
2 The Baltic economies are small and open. External adjustment is a more potent alternative to
    domestic stimulus than in larger economies.
3 Foreign-owned banks play a central role in the Baltic economies.
4 The Balts prefer an EU destiny to Russian domination. Other EU countries are less committed.

Latvia may be a model for tiny countries, but it is not one for Europe.

Daniel Dennett
Jennifer Schuessler

Daniel Dennett may be America's greatest living philosopher. At 71, he is the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He has presented himself for decades among his philosophical colleagues as a ruthless slayer of metaphysical fancy. He is famous in public for his blunt-talking atheist activism: "There's simply no polite way to tell people they've dedicated their lives to an illusion."

Dennett studied at Harvard with W. V. O. Quine and at Oxford with Gilbert Ryle. He says the mind is a collection of computerlike information processes, the self is a center of narrative gravity, and the elusive quality of subjective conscious experience is an illusion. If he had to do it all over again, he says, he'd still rather tackle free will and consciousness as a philosopher than as a scientist. That way, he says, he can think about all the cool theories and lab experiments without ever having "to do the dishes".

AR A fine philosopher in the gadfly tradition of Socrates.

The Art of Bravery
Salman Rushdie

If you know where to look, it is easy to find forbidden work online. But artists are in increasing danger, and not just artists. Rising numbers of journalists are being killed in pursuit of their work.

Violent and authoritarian regimes don't like the glare of negative publicity. If you can make them sufficiently uncomfortable, they frequently respond by setting people free or ceasing arrests.

Authoritarian rulers have an inflated sense of themselves and don't like being deflated. It is all the more important to continue to deflate them. Courageous people poke fun from inside these societies.

The desire for story is very deep in human beings. We are the only creature in the world that tells stories. Sometimes those are true stories and sometimes those are made up stories. The larger stories, the grand narratives that we live in, are part of the way in which we conduct the discourse of our lives.

Free expression is the right from which all other rights are derived. If you can't articulate ideas and if you can't articulate critiques of other peoples' ideas, then you're powerless. Authoritarian regimes increase their power by preventing people from expressing themselves.

AR Is it just me, or is SR getting rather self-important?

King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and his Queen Maxima

L'Hydroptère, a wind-powered hydrofoil racing yacht designed by Alain Thébault, can sail at 100 km/h


Margaret Thatcher
A new biography

Dalia Grybauskaite
Dalia Grybauskaite
President of Lithuania

Stephen Schwarzman
Stephen Schwarzman

Grand Auditorium,
Tsinghua University

THU in Top Universities

Bank of England
New UK £5 note

Departing Bank of England Governor Sir Mervyn King: "Sir Winston Churchill was a truly great British leader, orator, and writer. Above that, he remains a hero of the entire free world. His energy, courage, eloquence, wit, and public service are an inspiration to us all."

 New Statesman

When Martin Amis worked on the NS as literary editor in the late 1970s, he was baffled by the political commitment of Christopher Hitchens and James Fenton.

The Ring

Richard Wagner thought the status of art had reached a pinnacle in ancient Greece but collapsed into vulgarity and silliness in his day. The artist of the future would fuse the genius of Beethoven and Shakespeare into the new form of musical drama.

World Thinkers 2013

Richard Dawkins
Ashraf Ghani
Steven Pinker
Ali Allawi
Paul Krugman
Slavoj Žižek
Amartya Sen
Peter Higgs
Mohamed ElBaradei
Daniel Kahneman

Nuclear Doom
On Tap

"God for Harry, England,
and Saint George!"
Henry V

US Nukes

The Obama administration will spend $10 billion on upgrading nuclear bombs stored in Europe. Nearly 200 B61 gravity bombs stockpiled for use against the Soviet Union will get new tail kits to turn them into guided weapons for delivery by stealthy F-35 fighter-bombers. The Life Extension Program will produce B61 Mk12 bombs with 50 kiloton tactical yield. East European states welcome the bombs to deter Russia.

Eco Motors
VW engineer Rolf Hofbauer
invented the 2-stroke OPOC (opposed piston, opposed
cylinder) motor years ago.
Now Eco Motors founder Peter Hofbauer and others
are investing $200 million
to build them in China.

Red China has deployed DF-21D
anti-ship ballistic missiles that can take out US aircraft carriers near Taiwan. This will counter US Navy assets that Taiwan relies on in case of a crisis.

Military Might

The Real Karl Marx

2013 April 30

Tomas Palacios

Graphene is a one-atom thick layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice. Electrical currents move faster in graphene than in any other known material. Graphene is also the best thermal conductor we have. It is much lighter and stronger than steel. The "2D" layers are transparent and flexible.

The first application for graphene is probably as a replacement for indium selenide in solar cells. After that, we may see products such as cell phones integrated into the likes of the clothes and pieces of paper. Another direction is transparent displays. We could embed electronic displays almost everywhere.

We are working on how best to manufacture graphene. Several techniques look promising. Samsung recently made a single layer of graphene 75 cm in diameter. We hope to make graphene in the same way we print newspapers, in a roll to roll process. This will transform the economics of the industry.

Memory Implants
Jon Cohen

Theodore Berger, at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, has designed silicon chips that work like memory neurons. He wants to restore the ability to create long-term memories in people whose brains have suffered damage by implanting the chips in their brains.

The hippocampus makes short-term memories into long-term memories. Berger has developed equations that describe how electrical signals move through the neurons of the hippocampus to form a long-term memory, and he has shown that his equations match reality.

Berger defines memory as a series of electrical pulses over time that are generated by a number of neurons. You can put an electrode in and record something that matches this definition of a memory. You can find the set of neurons that make up this memory.

In graduate school at Harvard, Berger's mentor was Richard Thompson, who studied learning-induced changes in the brain. Thompson used a tone and a puff of air to condition rabbits to blink their eyes and aimed to deduce where the new memory was stored.

Thompson and Berger published the results in 1976. They inserted electrodes into rabbit hippocampus to monitor single neurons. They recorded the electrical spikes in the as rabbits developed a memory. The spikes formed patterns that revealed the code used to form a memory.

In the early 1990s, Berger and colleagues made computer chips that mimic the signal processing in the hippocampus. They input random pulses into the hippocampus, recorded the signals at various points to see how they were transformed, derived equations for the transformations, and implemented those equations in computer chips. Then they put electrodes into a brain slice, let their chip perform the transforms, and sent the output via other electrodes back to the brain slice.

Then they trained rats to push one of two levers to get a treat and recorded hippocampus traces. They modeled the signal transforms as the rats laid down memories as well as the code for the memory, and checked that their device could generate the memory code from the recorded input. When the rats were given a drug that blocked the ability to lay down memories, they forgot which lever gave the treat. The researchers pulsed the rat brains with the code and they again chose the right lever.

Last year, the scientists published primate experiments involving prefrontal cortex, which retrieves long-term memories created by the hippocampus. They put electrodes in monkey brains to capture the code in prefrontal cortex that the monkeys used to remember an image. Then they drugged the monkeys to impair that part of the brain. With implanted electrodes sending the correct code to prefrontal cortex, the monkeys succeeded at the image task.

Berger and his colleagues now plan human studies.

Russia vs. Japan
Financial Times

Four islands north of Japan, known in Russia as the Kuril Islands and in Japan as the Northern Territories, were occupied by the USSR at the end of WW2. Japan has made their return a condition for signing a WW2 peace treaty with Russia.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe met in Moscow and agreed to restart negotiations intended to resolve the dispute.

AR My 1996 novel LIFEBALL, set in 2013, used this issue as a plot driver.

2013 April 29

Katy Cowan

During my spare time, I run a popular blog. It started out small and grew organically. By 2012, my blog wasn't just a hobby anymore, but a monster of my own making. I'd lost the passion.

You might not realize it until that moment of clarity when the light bulb flashes in your head. I didn't want to waste all those years of hard work. I had to change it into something I was happy with.

I went back to basics. I looked to my audience and considered what they want. I got rid of anything they might find irrelevant and boring, and instead brought in new stuff I enjoy.

It's probably the best thing I ever did. I've got my passion back and I'm enjoying it again. Change is essential for any creative project. Listen to your gut feelings.

EZ Tax Shenanigans
Financial Times

The Netherlands and Luxembourg had booked foreign direct investment of $5.8 trillion by the end of 2012 — more than the US, UK, and Germany combined. The Netherlands attracted FDI of $3.5 trillion, of which $573 billion ended up in the real Dutch economy. Luxembourg booked $2.28 trillion in FDI but $122 billion entered the real economy. The "unreal" economy covers the finance and holding companies that help big businesses avoid tax.

OECD secretary-general Angel Gurría said business cannot be blamed for using the rules that policy makers have set up: "Tax planning strategies that exploit loopholes are mostly legal" yet "constitute a major risk to tax revenues, tax sovereignty, and tax fairness".

AR This is shameless abuse of weaknesses in EZ policy coordination. No wonder Chancellor Merkel wants standardization of EZ fiscal and monetary policy. The present shambles amounts to massive and cynical fraud against every honest EZ taxpayer.

Syrian Islamists
New York Times

In the Syrian city of Aleppo, rebels aligned with Al Qaeda control the power plant, run the bakeries, and head a court that applies Islamic law. Elsewhere, they have seized government oil fields, put employees back to work, and now profit from the oil. Across Syria, rebel-held areas are dotted with new courts.

This is the landscape President Obama confronts as he considers how to respond to growing evidence that Syrian officials have crossed his red line.

The Islamist character of the opposition reflects the failure of mainstream rebel groups to secure regular arms supplies. The rebel movement includes Qaeda-aligned jihadis seeking to establish an Islamic emirate, political Islamists inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, and others who want Sharia law.

Among the extreme groups is the Al Nusra Front, which cooperated with Al Qaeda in Iraq and claims responsibility for a number of suicide bombings. The group has set up camp in a former children's hospital in Aleppo and helped establish a Sharia commission in the eye hospital next door to govern the city's rebel-held neighborhoods. The commission runs a police force and a Sharia court.

The United States has designated Nusra a terrorist organization. As for the red line, the Obama administration says it needs more conclusive information before it acts.

AR President Assad is ineffectual. The rebellion is a tragedy.

2013 April 28

Bionic Superhumans
Ramez Naam

We're in the midst of a bionic revolution. The age when prostheses were largely inert pieces of wood, metal, and plastic is passing. Advances in microprocessors, interfaces with the human nervous system, and in battery technology are turning replacement limbs into active parts of the body.

These new prostheses will enhance human abilities. They will give us new powers and augment those we have. While present prostheses are still primitive, we can already see the trend when a monkey moves a robotic arm on the other side of the planet just by thinking about it.

We can now enhance brain function. The hippocampus helps make memories. If it's damaged, people have difficulty forming long-term memories. Researchers in 2011 created a chip that when implanted in brain-damaged rats could not only repair memory but also improve their ability to learn new things.

A 2012 study demonstrated that brain chips can boost intelligence in monkeys. Scientists implanted the chips in a set of monkeys and trained the monkeys to play a picture game. When the implant was activated, it raised their scores by an average of 10%. The implant made them smarter.

Technologies for boosting memory and intelligence are in very early stages, in animal studies only, and decades away from wide use. But the technology will sneak up on us, starting with people with disabilities, the injured, and the ill. Soon we'll be doing more and making us superhuman.

Aquatic Apes
The Observer

Perhaps humans lost their fur, started to walk upright, and developed big brains because they took to living by the water's edge. We have subcutaneous fat and a descended larynx, features common among aquatic animals but not other apes. The aquatic ape theory is backed by a growing group of scientists.

The theory was first proposed in 1960 by Alister Hardy, who believed apes learned to live on river banks and beaches. To keep their heads above water, they evolved an upright stance, freeing their hands to make tools for fishing. Then they lost their body hair and grew fat to keep warm in the water.

Peter Rhys Evans: "Humans have particularly large sinuses, spaces in the skull between our cheeks, noses and foreheads. But why do we have empty spaces in our heads? It makes no sense until we consider the evolutionary perspective. Then it becomes clear: our sinuses acted as buoyancy aids that helped keep our heads above water."

Michael Crawford: "DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is found in large amounts in seafood. It boosts brain growth in mammals. That is why a dolphin has a much bigger brain than a zebra, though they have roughly the same body sizes. The dolphin has a diet rich in DHA. Without a high DHA diet from seafood we could not have developed our big brains."

Forty years ago, Elaine Morgan wrote a popular account of the theory, The Descent of Women, which became a bestseller.

2013 April 27

Lithuanian Austerity
Dalia Grybauskaite

Lithuania is a small country. Our business community trades mostly with the eurozone, so we want to be part of the currency union. Our currency has been pegged to the euro since 2002, and a quarter of our national budget comes from the European Union. We understand the value of solidarity.

After 2009, the Baltic states had to implement very radical austerity measures. In Lithuania, we consolidated 12% of GDP in 2 years. We cut public salaries by 20% and pensions by 10%. Our adjustment was a lot deeper than what we see now in southern Europe. And we saw growth return after 2 years.

As for the crisis in Europe, the bottom line is that debt levels have to come down. The German people are largely responsible for paying for the bailouts. I cannot imagine a head of government whose country is paying for something not asking for certain conditions. It is legitimate that Berlin leads the way.

Chancellor Angela Merkel knows exactly how much every policy move costs for Germany. She is interested in the facts and tries to find a consensus. Because Germany pays for the bailouts and sets the conditions, she becomes a target. But if it weren't for Germany, the indebted countries would be bankrupt.

Why Priests?
Irish Times

Garry Wills asks how the priesthood become so central to the Roman Catholic Church. The early Christian community was an egalitarian movement without priests. Then Catholic priests used concepts provided by Thomas Aquinas to claim they transformed bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The doctrine of transubstantiation sought to impose a literal interpretation on a symbolic idea. Wills wants to restore the Eucharist to its original meaning as a thanksgiving meal. This opens the way to abolishing the priesthood entirely.

Schwarzman Scholars

American billionaire philanthropist Stephen A. Schwarzman, founder and chairman of the private equity firm Blackstone, has launched a scholarship program to send 200 graduates a year to study in China.

Schwarzman Scholars will fund scholarships for students from overseas to attend classes at Tsinghua University, Beijing. The endowment will fund the studies of 10 000 students over 50 years, 45% from the United States, 20% from China, and the rest from other parts of Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Each year, 200 students will take a one-year master's program at Tsinghua in public policy, economics and business, and international relations or engineering, starting in 2016.

The $300 million program will be jointly governed by the Schwarzman Education Foundation and Tsinghua University on matters including curriculum and faculty, and will enjoy full academic freedom, with no topic off limits in the classrooms. The students will take classes in English at Schwarzman College, which will be a new building on the Tsinghua campus.

The Schwarzman Scholars program aims to rival the Rhodes Scholarship program, which for over a hundred years has enabled foreign students to study at the University of Oxford, UK. A generation from now, the president of the United States will have been on a Schwarzman to Tsinghua, instead of a Rhodes to Oxford, as Bill Clinton did a generation ago.

Schwarzman is donating $100 million of his own $6.5 billion fortune to the fund. A further $100 million comes from private donors, including BP, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Boeing, GE, JPMorgan Chase, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Caterpillar, Credit Suisse, and Deloitte. Schwarzman is hoping to raise the remaining $100 million by the end of this year.

The program's advisory board includes Tony Blair, Henry Kissinger, Brian Mulroney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Kevin Rudd, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Yo-Yo Ma.

Tsinghua was founded in 1911, when the United States used Chinese government money to establish a school to prepare students sent to study in America. The university has graduated many Chinese leaders, including current President Xi Jinping and former President Hu Jintao.

Schwarzman: "For future geopolitical stability and global prosperity, we need to build a culture of greater trust and understanding between China, America and the rest of the world ... A win-win relationship of mutual respect between the West and China is vital, benefiting Asia and the rest of the world, and enhancing economic ties that could lead to a new era of mutual prosperity ... The board shares my belief that fostering connections between Chinese students, American students, and students from around the world is a critical aspect of ensuring geopolitical stability now, and into the future."

With input from BBC News, The Economist, Huff Post Business

The Rise of Big Data
AR + Kenneth Neil Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger

Fact 1 Big data: Today our world is flooded with well over a zettabyte of digital information.

Fact 2 Datafication: We can "datafy" many aspects of the world that we never could before.

Fact 3 Cheap hardware and powerful software enable us to use data in new ways:
   — We can collect and use all the data rather than trying to extract random samples.
   — We can shed our preference for cleaned and curated facts and accept dirty data.
   — We can give up our quest for the real causes and make do with correlations.

Datafication is not the same as digitization, which takes analog content and reduces it to lots of bits. Google Glass datafies the gaze and Twitter datafies stray thoughts. Once we datafy things, we can transform their purpose and enhance their value.

Big data will change how governments work. It will help them generate economic growth, provide public services, and fight wars. Open data initiatives will give public access to vast amounts of previously hidden government data. Antitrust laws are hard to apply to big data, but governments will need to protect personal privacy against companies like Amazon or Facebook.

Government with big data could become Big Brother. Big data exacerbates the asymmetry of power between the state and the people. It even allows authorities to track potential wrongdoers before they do wrong. Predictive systems may soon be able to drill down to individuals. Prevention is better than punishment, but it overrides free will. Big data will rock our world.

2013 April 26

The European Dream
AR + Simon Jenkins

The European Union has lost the support of two thirds of its citizens. Perhaps this is blowback from the politics of austerity, but anti-federalism was growing across Europe even before the credit crunch. The European dream is badly in need of a reality check.

A united Europe was the dream of bad men for many centuries. Today it cloaks the meddling and fraud of the EU. The idea that such an empire can wield power with the euro and still win the consent of European people is absurd. Democratic deficits are unsustainable.

The great achievement of modern Europe is national democracy. There is no way the EU can supplant it through the present EU parliament, which has no ministerial responsibility, no governing party discipline, and no identifiable political culture. It is a Potemkin parliament.

The introduction of the euro has forced a stark choice between more Europe and less Europe. But even after the EU, the nation states of Europe must discipline their dealings with each other, or they will lapse back into trade controls and mutual hostility.

Euroskeptics need a new vision of Europe. Closer European union started as an answer first to war and then to communism. So far so good. But then federalists pretended that a single currency could paper over economic differences. We need more respect for diversity.

The New Digital Age
Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen

Connectivity encourages and enables altruistic behavior. The best thing anyone can do to improve the quality of life around the world is to drive connectivity and technological opportunity. Most of the world’s population will soon enjoy open online communications and access to information.

We will soon live in a world where repressive states will have a dangerous advantage in targeting their citizens. People living in such places will have to fight harder for their rights. But they will have at their disposal tools and software designed to help safeguard citizens living under digital repression.

For every negative, there will be a counter-response that has the potential to be a substantial positive. People who try to perpetuate myths about religion, culture, ethnicity, or anything else will struggle to keep their narratives afloat amid a sea of newly informed listeners.

2013 April 25

Less Trust In European Union
The Guardian

Public confidence in the European Union has fallen to historic lows in the six biggest EU countries.
Percentage of nationals who said they tended not to trust the EU:

Mistrust EU Poland Italy France Germany Britain Spain
May 2007 18% 28% 41% 36% 49% 23%
Nov 2012 42% 53% 56% 59% 69% 72%

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) analyzed Eurobarometer polling data for Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Spain, and Poland: In 2007, trust prevailed over mistrust in all the countries except the UK, but by 2012 mistrust prevailed over trust by big margins in all but Poland.

ECFR Madrid office head José Ignacio Torreblanca: "The damage is so deep that it does not matter whether you come from a creditor, debtor country, euro would-be member or the UK: everybody is worse off. Citizens now think that their national democracy is being subverted by the way the euro crisis is conducted."

European Commission president José Manuel Barroso: "At a time when so many Europeans are faced with unemployment, uncertainty and growing inequality, a sort of European fatigue has set in, coupled with a lack of understanding. Who does what, who decides what, who controls whom and what? And where are we heading to?"

German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We still haven't found the answer to the question of whether we're actually now prepared to unite on common economic parameters inside the single currency area. If we want to have a common currency, a common Europe, we have to be ready to give up our hard-won habits ... That means we have to be prepared to accept that in the end Europe has the final word in certain things."

Polish PM Donald Tusk: "We can't escape this dilemma: how do you get a new model of sovereignty so that limited national sovereignty in the EU is not dominated by the biggest countries like Germany, for example."

AR Europe needs a new democratic revolution to sweep away the fat cats in Brussels and Strasbourg. I volunteer to draft the manifesto — can I get an EU grant to sponsor me?

2013 April 24

Iran Nears Red Line
Jerusalem Post

Former Israeli military intelligence head Amos Yadlin: "By the summer, Iran will be a month or two away from a decision about the bomb ... we are on a course of collision towards the end of the year."

Yadlin stressed that without a drastic change in the sanctions placed on the Islamic Republic, Iran would continue buying time and expanding its nuclear program. He added that of American military credibility is needed for negotiations. "This credibility will be achieved if the US aims a precise strike to stop the Iranian nuclear program and show that it can deal with the escalation that would follow this strike."

Iran has kept its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20% below 250 kg, the amount needed, if further processed, to make one nuclear bomb. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu set the 250 kg mark as the "red line" for a military strike in a UN speech last year. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayayollah Ali Khamenei has reportedly decided to rein in the country's nuclear progress in order to avoid crossing the red line.

AR Grasp the nettle: Humiliate the Islamic Republic, give the Iranian people a chance to break free of the mullahs, contain the blowback from Islamists worldwide, and declare victory in time for President Obama to cut a new deal with Gulf Arabs to cooperate with Israel in rebuilding the Mideast. But I don't see Obama doing it without a big jolt from Tehran.

2013 April 23

Barroso, Europe, Austerity
Financial Times

European Commission president José Manuel Barroso said that while he still believed in the need for sweeping economic reforms and drastic cuts in budget deficits, political and social acceptance of such policies was now at risk: "While this policy is fundamentally right, I think it has reached its limits in many aspects. A policy to be successful not only has to be properly designed, it has to have the minimum of political and social support."

AR My next austerity step is to stop eating to cut costs.

UK vs. EU
Thomas de Maizière

If the UK were to leave the EU, it would be a great disappointment to us in Germany. It would weaken NATO and weaken the British influence within NATO. From a military point of view, the disadvantages for Britain would be bigger than the advantages.

We in Germany would lose a strong partner for transatlantic cooperation with America and a pragmatic British approach to security issues. For the last five years, the German defense budget has been quite stable. In the future too, it will remain stable. This is nearly unique in Europe. Of the bigger countries, only Poland is in a similar position. I see reductions in Britain and France.

In the euro crisis, some countries call for German leadership. They criticize us when we say leadership means we Europeans shouldn't spend so much raising debts, and they say this is not good leadership. But when the leader only fulfills the wishes of the others, that is not leadership.


Liberal Democrat former armed forces minister Nick Harvey says Britain cannot afford a new Trident fleet. Lib Dems were infuriated by the PM's recent claim that the UK needed to retain a "continuous at-sea" deterrence to protect the country from rogue states such as North Korea. Harvey calls Trident as a "fantastically expensive insurance policy" that no longer makes sense: "Trident is, quite simply, a burden that distorts the defense budget."

AR Merge the British and French nuclear deterrents and let Europe pay — more.

America The Skittish
Stephen M. Walt

I am troubled about our collective inability to keep dangers in perspective and to respond to them sensibly. The speed with which the Tsarnaev brothers were identified was remarkable, but public officials shut down the entire city of Boston and several surrounding suburbs for most of the day, at an estimated cost of roughly $300 million. A teenage amateur paralyzed an entire American metropolis. Terrorists want a lot of people watching, and that's what the American media gave them.

Ever since 9/11, our political leaders have kept us disrobing in security lines, obsessing over every bizarre jihadi utterance, and constantly fretting about the Next Big One. Terrorism "experts" keep us on the edge of our seats, even though many other dangers pose a far greater risk. Bad things happen to good people, and it is the task of our political leaders to help us keep our heads even when awful things occur. The reaction to the Marathon attacks was grossly disproportionate.

Islamophobic Tweets?

Richard Dawkins: "Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Muhamed flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him as a serious journalist."

Tom Watson: "You really are a gratuitously unpleasant man."

Dawkins: "Actually no. Just frank. You'd ridicule palpably absurd beliefs of any other kind. Why make an exception for religion?"

Watson: "You are gratuitously unpleasant; I am just frank."

Dawkins: "A believes in fairies. B believes in winged horses. Criticise A and you're rational. Criticise B and you're a bigoted racist Islamophobe."

2013 April 22

US GDP To Grow 3%
Financial Times

The US GDP will become 3% bigger in July as billions of dollars of intangible assets enter the accounts. The revision adopts a new international standard in the biggest update since 1999 and rewrites history back to 1929. Bureau of Economic Analysis national accounts manager Brent Moulton: "We're capitalizing research and development and also this category referred to as entertainment, literary and artistic originals, which would be things like motion picture originals, long-lasting television programs, books, and sound recordings."

To Boldly Go
Martin Rees

Subjects that were once in the realm of science fiction are now serious. Predictions:

1 With big new telescopes, we can look for planets like Earth orbiting stars like our Sun.

2 Space trips for tourists around the Moon are likely soon, with round trips to Mars later.

3 In this century, flotillas of tiny robotic spacecraft will map the Solar System, initially for minerals.

4 In a century or more, human colonies are likely to be living independently on asteroids or on Mars.

5 Humans will be redesigned to cope with hibernation or suspended animation for interstellar travel.

6 New computers will create virtual universes containing artificial life, allowing virtual time travel.

2013 April 21

Andrew Zak Williams

New Atheists have recently been accused of Islamophobia. Sam Harris imagines a radical Islamist state acquiring long range nuclear weaponry. An avowedly suicidal regime makes nuclear deterrence a worthless currency. Harris anticipates the possibility that the United States may find itself having to press the button first. But so do we all.

One can dream up allegations about any religion that are so obscene that no believer should be expected to respond. But Islam's holy book, taken literally, demands an embrace of violence and reprisals that wouldn't be tolerated by any humanist ethos. These tenets and precepts have real consequences and repercussions for all of us.

We are used to seeing Muslim spokespersons choosing the aftermath of a terrorist attack carried out in the Prophet's name to practise mealy-mouthed equivocation at the price of heartfelt sympathy. Then again, many moderate Muslims are at the front of the queue deploring much that is done in the name of their faith.

The atheist community will not be bullied by lazy allegations of bigotry leveled against those who point out that a religion that harbors such extremes has some explaining to do. Resort to the tag "Islamophobia" is justified only if you adapt a bizarre definition of the word that is satisfied merely if the religion is held up to scrutiny.

2013 April 20

The Tsarnaev Brothers
Caitlin Dickson

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was originally from Chechnya and came to the United States with his family in either 2002 or 2003. He studied engineering at a community college in Boston. He was also a boxer, participating in a national Golden Gloves competition, and dreamed of fighting in the Olympics.

Tamerlan was a Muslim. He did not drink or smoke and said "there are no values anymore" and "people can't control themselves". After five years in the United States, he said: "I don't have a single American friend. I don't understand them." On YouTube he subscribed to a channel called "Allah is the One."

His brother Dzhokhar, 19, entered the U.S. at the same time and attended a public high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he became a Greater Boston League winter all-star for wrestling. He also won a scholarship of $2,500 from the city of Cambridge in 2011.

The area near Chechnya where the brothers originate has been a hotbed of Islamic insurgency. Their father Anzor Tsarnaev described Dzhokhar as "a true angel" and "a second-year medical student" in the United States: "He is such an intelligent boy. We expected him to come on holidays here."

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Douglas Yoffe: "I met him almost 10 years ago, I was down at one of the boxing gyms and he was boxing ... I said he must have had some fights in Russia, he was too polished for such a young kid. He was very relaxed, very smooth in the ring ... But he did have an arrogant, disdainful attitude."

FBI hatte Tamerlan Zarnajew schon 2011 im Visier

Tamerlan Zarnajew ist Anfang 2011 vom FBI befragt worden. Er soll "Anhänger eines radikalen Islam" gewesen sein und sich darauf vorbereitet haben, die USA zu verlassen, um sich Untergrundorganisationen anzuschließen.

AR Face facts: Islam again. We have a clash of civilizations. Nominative determinism: The original Tamerlane was the "Sword of Islam" in the 1300s who led Mongol hordes on rampages that killed an estimated 17 million people. See Coral.

UK and IMF to Fight
A Battle in May

Financial Times

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is preparing an aggressive battle with the IMF in May over the credibility of his Plan A for austerity in the UK. Osborne fears IMF officials will criticize his plan as part of a proxy attack on US Republicans.

AR He should be proud to do battle on behalf of US capital.

ET Homes?

The NASA Kepler orbiting
telescope has found three good candidates for habitable worlds outside our solar system:

Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f are the outermost of 5 planets around Kepler-62, which is 11 Em away.
Kepler-69c is on the edge of the habitable zone of Kepler-69, which is 25 Em away.

1 exameter = ca 105 light years


TMT Observatory Corporation

The Thirty Meter Telescope has go for construction on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. TMT will join 13 others on the peak but will dwarf them all: the biggest now are the twin 10 m Keck telescopes. If all goes well, its astronomy will start in 2021.

original trailer

Kim and Ri
NK supreme leader Kim Jong-un
and his new wife Ri Sol-ju

SK President Park
SK president Park Geun-hye

Emer O'Toole

Professor Jean-Denis Rouillon has been studying women's breasts. He has found that, after a year, the bosoms of young bra wearers sag an average of 7 mm more than free-range boobs. A Japanese experiment from 1990 had similar results. Science has blown the claim that all women need lifelong surgical supports across their upper torsos. Is it time to sack the straps?

AR Lose the bras, girls.
Be free.

NK Musudan


US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says NK is "skating very close to a dangerous line" as it heats up the rhetoric: "Their actions and their words have not helped defuse a combustible situation." He said the USSK is "fully prepared to deal with any contingency".

AR Skate and burn —
mixed metaphor

Seen in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead
(YouTube, 0:31) now has over a million views.


2 preview files, with
20 book pages each,
are now available


2013 April 19

David Simon

A sane man's contempt for the United States Senate must now be certain and complete. Given its null response to the mass murder of schoolchildren, those who still believe that our governance represents popular will are suckers or worse.

The higher house of our bicameral farce is one in which 40% of the American population choses 60% of the representation. And the lower house is gerrymandered to a point where a majority of American votes are guaranteed to achieve a minority of the representation. But focus on the money.

We have given our democratic birthright over to capital. The risk to political careerists from individual Americans who want stricter gun laws pales beside that from a lobbying group backed by those who profit from the fear and violence in our culture. Only cash has meaning to those who claim to represent us.

It isn't the American presidency that's broken, it's the legislative branch. The sin was the equivocation that declares money to be speech. The government has elevated money and guns over human life.

Philip Stephens

German power was central to Europe even before the principalities of the Holy Roman Empire were soldered together by Otto von Bismarck. Unification, and then reunification, turned the German question into the abiding dilemma of European geopolitics.

The euro was the price Helmut Kohl paid to Francois Mitterrand to win his blessing for reunification. It is not responsible for the financial mess in the British economy. But it is easy for those suffering from austerity to see the euro as a sinister German plot.

The progressive integration of the German economy with those in the east plays to the same conspiracy theory. In the early stages of the euro crisis, the gripe was about an absence of leadership. Yet many of those who fear Germany complain that Berlin prefers the role of a greater Switzerland to that of a big player in European defense.

The criticism of Germany that sticks is about the idea that all would be well if others behaved like Germans. Adjustment has to be symmetrical. For others to cut their deficits, Germany must shed some of its surplus and learn to carry European responsibilities.

Diane Johnson

Lawrence Wright tells a scary story in Going Clear. The Church of Scientology started as a method of psychological self-help, but now has at least $1 billion in liquid assets and property estimated at about the same amount, making it among the richer world religions.

Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, born in 1911 in Nebraska, had some talent as a writer and a good deal of personal charm. Though his life may have been spoiled by his own frailties, he apparently needed to see himself as a serious thinker, and maybe even was one.

In his book Dianetics, Hubbard describes the procedures to master in order to progress. Many members and former members claim to have gotten some benefit from the Scientology training. The people who grew up in the church were taught to despise "wog" (without goals) society.

Scientology uses lawsuits as a weapon. When in 1993 the IRS sent a bill to Scientology for $1 billion in back taxes, Scientologists infiltrated it, IRS agents were threatened, and their lives became a sea of legal and domestic torments. The agency capitulated and granted Scientology the status of a religion.

Emerging Consciousness
New Scientist

Sid Kouider at the ENS Paris and colleagues used EEG to record electrical activity in the brains of 80 infants while they were briefly shown pictures of faces.

In adults, awareness of a stimulus is linked to a two-stage pattern of brain activity. Areas of the visual cortex fire immediately after a visual stimulus. About 300 ms later other areas light up, including the prefrontal cortex. Conscious awareness emerges when the second stage reaches a threshold.

Kouider and colleagues put EEG caps on groups of babies aged 5, 12, and 15 months, to record brain activity as the babies were shown a series of rapidly changing images. Most of the images were randomly patterned ovals, but among them was a face, flashed for between 17 and 300 ms.

Each group responded to the face with the two-stage pattern. In the babies aged 12 and 15 months it arrived 800 to 900 ms after the image display. In the 5-month babies, there was a delay of more than 1 s before the second pattern appeared. In adults, it appears after 300 ms, on average.

The results are not direct evidence of subjective experience. We don't know how short the delay must be for awareness.

2013 April 18

Robert Darnton

The Digital Public Library of America is launched today. The holdings of U.S. research libraries, archives, and museums become available to everyone online and free of charge.

The DPLA expresses an Enlightenment faith in the power of communication. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin both believed that the health of the Republic depended on the free flow of ideas. Thanks to the Internet, we now can realize their dream. We can make all the collections of all our libraries accessible to all. That is the mission of the DPLA.

The DPLA will be a distributed system that will make the holdings of public and research libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies available via the web. The user-friendly interface will enable readers to consult works that used to be stored on inaccessible shelves or locked up in treasure rooms. Readers will simply navigate to the DPLA.

2013 April 17

The Magaret Thatcher state funeral today was a classic British exercise in imperial pomp, the greatest
since the funerals of Winston Churchill in 1965 and the Queen Mother in 2002.

Tom Chatfield

Top Ten Internet neologisms:

1 Avatars — This word for our digital incarnations has a mystic origin in the Sanskrit term avatara for a god descended from the heavens into earthly form.

2 Hashtags — Once an American shorthand for weight in pounds, the # sign was adopted by Bell engineers as the function symbol on their phones. Hashtags have come into their own on Twitter.

3 Scunthorpe problems — Entirely innocent words can fall victim to machine filth-filters thanks to unfortunate sequences of letters within them. The effect was labeled in honor of Scunthorpe in 1996, when AOL temporarily prevented any Scunthorpe residents from creating user accounts.

4 Trolling — The Old French verb troller means to wander around while hunting, and "trolling" entered English to describe fishing by trailing bait around. This idea of baiting the unwitting led to online trolling, where net users simulate naivety to ensnare the naive. Trolls are also monstrous Nordic creatures.

5 Memes — Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme" in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene to signify a unit of cultural transmission.

6 Spam — The most enduring gift of British comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus may be the reuse of the brand name used since 1937 by the Hormel Foods Corporation for spiced ham. Spamming came to describe any process of drowning out "real" content.

7 LOLs — If you type "LOL" or "lol", you're not literally laughing out loud. You're offering a kind of stage direction: dramatizing a move in a conversation through written words.

8 Meh — The supremely useful "meh" expresses a contemporary species of indifference. It suggests something like "OK, whatever" and was apparently first recorded in a 1995 episode of The Simpsons.

9 Cupertino errors — Also known as "auto-correct errors", a Cupertino error occurs when your computer thinks it knows what you're trying to say better than you do. The name comes from the California city where Apple has its headquarters.

10 Geeks — In Low German, a geck is a crazy person. In 1952, Robert Heinlein used "geek" in the sense of a freakishly adept technology enthusiast.

2013 April 16

Globorg 2020
Doug Gross

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt: "For every person online, there are two who are not. By the end of the decade, everyone on Earth will be connected."

About 38% of the world's population uses the internet in 2013, up from about 35% last year, according to the ITU. Poor and developing nations around the world are isolated by crumbling or nonexistent Web infrastructures, and others are hindered by factors ranging from geography to censorship.

Google supports a project called Geeks Without Frontiers, a nonprofit group that donates computers and related technology to poor areas around the world. The group now aims to bring wireless access to regions with no traditional Web access. In Africa, more people have access to a mobile phone than have access to electricity. Samsung is backing a project to turn old shipping containers into solar-powered, web-enabled classrooms in places like South Africa and Sudan.

Privacy is so last century!

The Facebook Home app integrates all of the social network's services into Android. Instead of having to download apps, access is consolidated on the user's home screen. Facebook says the data Home would collect is no different from what the site already tracks. Privacy is fast becoming an outdated concept.

David Rowan: "Our concept of privacy is very much a 20th century idea. All that personal data you are giving to these private companies they are making money on and they decide how it's going to be used. You lose control of that data."

Jaron Lanier says we pay for the big online services such as Google and Facebook by giving away information about ourselves that can be turned into big money.

Andrew Keen: "Facebook wants to know everything we do, so they can sell more advertising. It shows that Facebook has absolutely no respect for our privacy." He foresees a "scary, nightmarish, dystopian future" of "radical transparency" where every aspect of our existence is recorded: "Data distribution and the invasion of our privacy is the pollution of the big data age."

NK Nukes
Eli Lake

NK engineers launched a satellite into space December 2012. After the launch, US Navy ships recovered the front section of the rocket and found clues about NK warhead design. US officials say the NK missile cone had dimensions to fit a nuclear warhead for atmospheric reentry.

The Defense Intelligence Agency, in a classified assessment, expressed "moderate confidence" that NK "has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles". Intelligence has been building for years and now suggests NK has mastered miniaturization and warhead design.

2013 April 15

NK Has Won
Frida Ghitis

NK nuclear and missile technology has already found its way to the Mideast. The regime helped Syria develop a nuclear reactor. It has sold its wares to anyone willing to pay and works closely with Iran.

The crisis has already broadcast a message of encouragement to tyrants and regimes considering nuclear weapons. If you have nuclear capabilities, it doesn't matter how outrageously you behave, how horribly you mistreat your people, how flimsy your economy is. Superpowers are afraid of making you angry.

As NK threatened a "preemptive nuclear attack" on the US, the "final destruction" of SK, and a "nuclear attack" on Tokyo, world powers held talks with Iran over its nuclear program. The talks went nowhere.

Last September, Tehran and Pyongyang signed a cooperation agreement like the one NK signed with Syria a decade ago, which brought NK technicians to help Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad build a nuclear reactor that Israel destroyed in 2007. Iranian scientists observed the third NK nuclear test earlier this year.

AR If Obama were to nuke the NK nuke site, that would send a message too.

2013 April 14

News Is Bad 4U
Rolf Dobelli

News is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News flashes are bright-colored candies for the mind.
Today, we are beginning to recognize how toxic news can be:

News misleads
News is irrelevant
News has no explanatory power
News is toxic to your body
News increases cognitive errors
News inhibits thinking
News works like a drug
News wastes time
News makes us passive
News kills creativity

Books are good.

Unholy Trinity

This just in: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens are accused of Islamophobia.
All are accused by Nathan Lean, Murtaza Hussain, and Glenn Greenwald of New Atheist bigotry.

>> more

2013 April 13

SK Leader Battle Ready
New York Times

Her mother was shot by an assassin. Her father, a staunchly anti-Communist dictator, was similarly killed. And she survived a vicious razor attack to the face.

New SK president Park Geun-hye, 61, is as hard as they come. On learning that her father had died, her first concern was over an NK invasion. Her first question after an operation for the razor attack in 2006 was how her party was campaigning.

Park is so tough that her gender is a nonissue. Choi Jin, head of the Institute for Presidential Leadership in Seoul: "She dispelled whatever doubt there had been about a female president by showing that she was a strong-minded leader."

But she may go too far in hanging tough. She filled the top security posts in her cabinet and staff with former generals and plays hardball with the NK regime.

Was Richard Wagner the prophet and Adolf Hitler the disciple?
My illustrated cut of the troubled history of the Wagner family

2013 April 12

Cameron and Merkel
Press Association

David Cameron will discuss European reform with Angela Merkel on a visit to Germany this weekend.

Cameron: "We need a Europe that is more open, that is more competitive, that is more flexible, that thinks more about the cost that it's putting on businesses, particularly small businesses; we want a world that wakes up to this modern world of competition and flexibility. That is the aim."

CDU deputy parliamentary chairman Michael Meister: "We want to unify Europe and we have to do it together, and I think there are a lot of common ideas with the British side and the German side on it."

Maggie Dead
Mark Steel

If someone robs your house, you don't say: "I disagreed with the burglar's policy of tying me to a chair. But I did admire her convictions."

Maggie's supporters are insulting her memory with a funeral paid for by the taxpayer. They should say: "If you can't stand on your own two feet, you can't expect help from the state."

Iranian Standoff
The Atlantic

The impasse over the Iranian nuclear program may have reached a balance. Each party is more comfortable with the status quo than with any available alternative. Tehran is more inclined to stand its ground than make a deal, and Washington prefers the present impasse to war. Israel may feel less comfortable, but the risks of a unilateral Israeli strike might convince Israel to hold its fire. Iran has stopped short of their red line.

Pentagon Security Breach

Sensitive information about the NK nuclear program from a classified March 2013 report was discussed during an open hearing on Capitol Hill.

In a hearing to discuss the Pentagon budget, Representative David Lamborn read a sentence in a report by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA): "DIA assess with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles, however, the reliability will be low."

Officials said after the hearing that the sentence he read was "mistakenly" marked as unclassified.

AR All this reminds me of the foreplay to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Graft In China
Roderick MacFarquhar

The Little Red Book is gone. With the loss of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, China no longer has an ideology. New President Xi Jinping appeals to patriotism, but before the Chinese dream can move the masses, the country needs to fight corruption. New Premier Li Keqiang: "Since we have chosen public office we should give up all thought of making money."

So far, Xi and Li have pursued easier objectives, ordering officials to abandon high-style living. It seems some official departments are turning their canteens into luxury restaurants so that they can continue to enjoy their banquets. The regime goes after the small fry but is leery of targeting corruption in the higher ranks. Investigations reveal vast wealth accumulated by relatives of the party's inner circle and by the descendants of the old revolutionaries. The upper ranks of Chinese society form a robber baronage.

Officials bundle peasants off the land to sell it and get business kickbacks for factories that pollute the air and rivers. Transforming so corrupt a system from top to bottom has dire political implications. If the Chinese people don't tackle corruption, China will be doomed, but if they do tackle corruption the party will be doomed. China needs leaders who put people above party.

Rotten "Loathsome" Attack
Daily Mail

The artist formerly known as Johnny Rotten, John Lydon, says those now celebrating Margaret Thatcher's death are "loathsome". The former Sex Pistol added: "I'm not going to dance on her grave." He also denied being a misogynist and a Nazi.

Karen Armstrong

Good theology helps one to live for a while in silence. Apophatic theology is often called negative. It is a habit of mind that we have lost sight of in our talkative age of information.

Negative theology takes us through speech to another dimension of reality. The apophatic moment can only occur after a feast of noise. God is not goodness, not soul, not intellect. But a vigorous affirmation of God is an essential part of the process.

When we speak of God we have no idea what we are talking about. It is all too easy to turn what we call "God" into a being like ourselves, writ large, to give our prejudices a seal of transcendent approval. Apophatic silence is good.

AR Armstrong is nearly there. Zen is apophatic: Let silence peak in a moment of satori. Bang — all over. No God. No more blabber, just clarity and calm.

2013 April 11

NK: "War can break out any moment"

North Korea has erected at least one Musudan missile into its firing position. A US official said the erection may be a trial run to check everything works. The missile is an untested No-Dong-B BM-25 Musudan MRTBM (based on the Soviet R-27 SLBM) with a range up to 3,500 km (3.5 Mm) and 1.6 km CEP for its 1,200 kg (1.2 Mg) separating warhead.

China Forex $3.4T
Financial Times

China is again facing heavy capital inflows after its foreign exchange reserves jumped to $3.44 trillion — about as big as the German GDP — in Q1.

Money fled China in 2012. Its return stoked fast credit growth in Q1. The People's Bank of China has stepped up liquidity withdrawals to blunt the inflationary effect of the inflows. Beijing has capital controls to prevent speculative inflows, but investors are sneaking money in.

China's GDP grew at 7.9% in Q4 2012 and is expected to be higher for Q1 2013.

AR Would that we could share such pain.

OMG: English Evolves
New Scientist

OMG has a long history. In a 1917 letter from First Sea Lord Admiral Sir John Arbuthnot Fisher to First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Spencer Churchill, the old admiral wrote: "I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis — O.M.G. (Oh! My God!) — Shower it on the Admiralty!"

As for LOL, the textual speech act of laughing out loud is a stage direction for transient feelings. ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing) exceeds lolling in intensity, while ROFLMAO (rolling on the floor laughing my ass off) is more ironic. Or I can LMFAO (laugh my fucking ass off).

This is memetic evolution in action. Within a few letters and characters, deep layers of meaning are gathering. Texting was originally a test tool for network operators. But it caught on with young users who found its cryptic characters an ideally minimal medium in an era of information overload.

Some texters act "for the lulz". The lazy lower case letters and use of the "internet z" as a typo for "s" convey a shift of meaning. They connote subversion, as the name of the hacker collective LulzSec (Lulz Security — "the world's leaders in high-quality entertainment at your expense") suggests.

Online text acts are performative. Typing for lulz signals membership of a tribe. It adds wit to communicative intent. And it puts an exchange in a shell of self-reference. Even if the texted me resembles my true self, "I" remain an elaborate self-invention, performed letter by letter.

Tweeters sometimes outsource the composition of crucial text messages and status updates to their more eloquent friends. Their 140 characters are crafted and pitched to sound spontaneous — poetry.

Johnny Rotten Sexist Pig
The Independent

Former Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten, now known as John Lydon, 57, told Australian TV anchor Carrie Bickmore to "shut up when a man is talking". Lydon insulted Bickmore when she cut in with a question. He went on: "Stop it. You sound like one of them dreadful loud birds I don't like."

When she said he was offensive, he replied: "So are you when you do that. You have to learn what manners and respect is." A fellow TV anchor: "He was a flat-out sexist, misogynist pig."

2013 April 10

George Soros

The euro crisis threatens to destroy the European Union. Eurozone countries are indebted in a currency they don't control. They are held guilty and the structural defects of the euro go uncorrected.

The blueprint for the euro created two problems. The political problem is that Germany did not seek the dominant position into which it has been thrust and it is unwilling to accept the obligations and liabilities that go with it. The financial problem is that Germany is imposing the wrong policies on the eurozone. Austerity doesn't work. You cannot shrink the debt burden by shrinking the budget deficit.

In the bailout of Cyprus, Germany went too far. Attention focused on the impact of the rescue on Cyprus, but the impact on the European banking system is far more important. Banks will now have to pay risk premiums that fall more heavily on the weak.

The solution for problems of the eurozone is eurobonds. Countries that abide by the fiscal compact could be allowed to convert their entire stock of government debt into eurobonds. Germany has no right to prevent this. If Germany is opposed to eurobonds, it should consider leaving the euro.

If Germany left, the euro would depreciate. The debtor countries would be more competitive and their debt would become sustainable. By contrast, if Italy left, its debt burden would become unsustainable and would have to be restructured. This would plunge the global financial system into a meltdown.

Germans should choose between accepting eurobonds or leaving the euro. Authorizing eurobonds would benefit Germany. The cost of leaving the euro may be the end of the European Union.

Der Spiegel

When Margaret Thatcher came to power, she faced a Britain still dreaming of being a world power but blocked by the power of the trade unions. With aplomb, she neutered the unions and woke up the UK. But she also set up Britain for the growth of financial market capitalism and drove it to the brink of deindustrialization. She discredited the EU in the UK. She helped Ronald Reagan win the cold war, but on German reunification she was cold.
Die Welt

The social coldness that is making Britain shiver once again today is her legacy. After her forced resignation in 1990, she was asked what she had changed as leader of the country, and she answered: "Everything." That crowing answer is the key to understanding her. She was always a rebel.
Süddeutsche Zeitung

Thatcherism stands for deregulation, privatization, and the destruction of the welfare state. No one divided British society as much as Margaret Thatcher. She destroyed the trade unions and ruined the public sector. As soon as she gained office, she lowered the top tax rate from 83% to 60% and raised VAT from 8% to 15%. During her time in office she used up more than 100 ministers and surrounded herself with yes-men. Only one women made it into her cabinet.
Die Tageszeitung

Thatcher liberalized the British financial sector. The move triggered the massive boom of the City of London. Between 1993 and 2006, the British economy grew by 2.8% on average per year while unemployment fell from 9% to 4%. But since then, the world has learned that faith in free markets was a mistake. The Big Bang was followed by the Big Bust. Today prime minister David Cameron and his finance minister George Osborne look with envy at the industrial heart of the German economy.

Christopher Hitchens, December 1990

Margaret Thatcher, November 1990: "I make up my mind about people in the first 10 seconds, and I very rarely change it." Within minutes of first being introduced to me, Thatcher lashed me across the buttocks with a rolled-up parliamentary order paper.

It happened in 1977, when she was still leader of the opposition and was pandering to South African racists. I made the mistake of bowing as if to acknowledge some point of hers, and she took swift advantage of my posture by shrieking, "Bow lower!" and spanking me. Later, in 1979, she reversed her position and oversaw the transition of Rhodesia into Zimbabwe.

It is easy to summarize the foulness of the Thatcher years: the combination of Malthus and Ayn Rand that went to make up her social philosophy; the police mentality that she evinced when faced with dissent; the awful toadying to Reagan and Bush; the indulgence shown to apartheid; the coarse, racist betrayal of Hong Kong; the destruction of local democracy and autonomous popular institutions.

Thatcher was a radical and not a reactionary. She has shown that there is power and dignity to be won by defying the status quo.

2013 April 9

"Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out! Out! Out!"
Ian McEwan

Maggie Thatcher forced us to dislike her. She seemed intent on monetizing human value and famously cared little for the impulses that bind individuals into a society.

But before her reign TV schedules were a state secret not shared with daily newspapers. A special license was granted exclusively to the Radio Times. It was illegal to put an extension lead on your phone — you had to wait six weeks for an engineer. There was only one state-approved answering machine available. Electricity was a state monopoly. Thatcher swept all this away.

We live in a world that is harder and more competitive, and certainly more intently aware of the lure of cash. It is doubtful that we will ever undo her legacy.

With Denis Thatcher

David Cameron: "Margaret Thatcher succeeded against all the odds, and the real thing about Margaret Thatcher is that she didn't just lead our country, she saved our country, and I believe she will go down as the greatest British peacetime prime minister."
Tony Blair: "Margaret Thatcher was a towering political figure. ... Her global impact was vast."


Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)
The Iron Lady was the most charismatic British prime minister since Winston Churchill.
She was PM from 1979 to 1990.

With Ronald Reagan

Barack Obama: "The world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend. Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history — we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will."


Cyprus was partitioned in 1974. Its northern third remains under Turkish control.

Greek Cypriots in the south built a freewheeling banking center. They grew rich on chaos in Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union.

Real per capita Cypriot income quadrupled between 1975 and 2011. In US dollars, earnings per head rose by a factor of over 20 over the same period.

Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004 and the euro in 2008. But tax havens and brass plaque economies fell out of favor.

Wesley Clark on NK

Big Nuts Rise Faster
On Earth Than On Mars
MIT Technology Review

TU Braunschweig physicist
Carsten Guttler and colleagues have shown that Brazil nuts in a shaken container of mixed nuts would rise to the top more slowly on Mars than on Earth, and even more slowly on the Moon.

Dark Matter

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer was installed on the International Space Station in 2011 and has recorded more than 25 billion particle events, including 400,000 positrons. The results show "unexpected new phenomena" and will be published Friday.

Dark matter is unknown stuff that in total has six times more gravity than ordinary matter. Scientists think dark matter particles should occasionally hit one another, annihilating into positrons and electrons, which AMS can detect at higher energies (up to 350 GeV) and better precision than previous experiments. AMS has observed a uniform positron excess across the sky, suggesting a single explanation.


USSOS John Kerry, Tuesday:
"The bottom line is simply that what Kim Jong Un is choosing to do is provocative. It is dangerous, reckless. The United States will not accept the DPRK as a nuclear state."

AR Right on, John.


North Korea rattled off fresh volleys of bombast over the weekend, declaring that it had entered a "state of war" with SK and calling the US mainland a "boiled pumpkin".

AR Kim's the pumpkin!

2013 April 8

Nuclear Disparity
Leslie H. Gelb

President Obama has told Iran's leaders that if they come close to marrying a nuclear warhead with a missile that can hit the United States or our allies, they should expect a U.S. military attack, yet he's not nearly as tough with North Korea.

Is North Korea more or less dangerous than Iran?
Is President Ahmadinejad more or less crazy than President Kim Jong-un?
Is Pyongyang too far gone toward nukes to stop, while Tehran is not?
Is Israel more important to American security than South Korea and Japan?

Obama made his strongest statements against Iranian nukes to AIPAC, suggesting that Israel and oil count for more than Seoul and Tokyo. American tolerance of Kim's nukes may push South Koreans and Japanese toward their own nukes.

AR The US umbrella is effective against NK, which is constrained by China, but not against Iran, which wants a Holocaust.

Zen and the NHS
The Guardian

MIT grad Jon Kabat-Zinn discovered Zen in 1965: "That first class took the top off my head. I found a sense of largeness beyond my little preoccupations of what would happen to my future, or my relationships. It opened up a new dimension of being which could offer more meaning and enable me to interface more effectively with society in a way which could be healing and transformative."

Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program: an eight-week course of meditation and yoga that train practitioners to pay close attention to the current moment. Since then, a steady stream of academic papers, books, and randomized control trials led to hundreds of MBSR programs across the US.

In recent years, Kabat-Zinn has collaborated with psychologists in the UK who have adapted his work for Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), now recognized by NICE as a treatment for depression. Kabat-Zinn and others say mindfulness has unlimited applicability to healthcare issues. UK policymakers are keen to hear more.

AR Excellent move: I like Zen.

EZ Growth
Financial Times

The EZ risks drifting into prolonged stagnation. A recovery now looks fanciful. Even Germany has run out of steam. Growth will not come fast enough from structural reforms. Rich EZ countries need to help their poor partners.

SMEs are the engine of job creation. Yet they find loans hard to get and expensive. The ECB should lower its policy rate. It could offer cheap loans to banks or lend directly to SMEs.

AR Yes, lend me what I need to create an SME.

2013 April 7

Ban Killer Robots
Noel Sharkey

Some say robots could be more accurate in battle than human soldiers. But current machines have no way to conform to international law. Their sensing systems are not up to that. They lack the vital components of battlefield awareness and common sense reasoning to make decisions about whom to kill.

Robots do not have the agency to decide if striking a target is proportional to the expected military advantage. There is no metric for this. Much of war is art and not science. A military commander must make a qualitative decision about the civilian lives that can be risked for a military objective.

A robot has no moral agency. Some would hold the commander who sends a robot on a mission responsible. But the problem could lie with the mission programmer, the manufacturer, or an unknown subcontractor. Maybe the device was tampered with in the industrial supply chain or damaged in action. Forensics are difficult with complex devices.

The United States has the opportunity to take a lead. We need to think about how:

1 An adaptive enemy will exploit the weaknesses of robot weapons with spoofing or hacking.
2 Unknown computer programs will interact when swarms of robots meet.
3 Autonomous weapons could destabilize world security and trigger unintentional wars.

This month in London, a group will launch a civil society campaign to stop killer robots.

AR A ban would be hard to enforce, worse than a nuclear proliferation ban.

2013 April 6

Evgeny Morozov

In 2004, Google co-founder Larry Page predicted that online search "will be included in people's brains" so that "when you think about something and don't really know much about it, you will automatically get information".

Google didn't set out with a strategy for world domination. When last year Google announced it would bring the data collected through its online services together, the move made business sense. By tracking our every email, appointment, and social networking activity, Google Now can predict where we need to be, when, and with whom, to relieve us of making decisions. But six European countries are asking if Google's data policy violates their national privacy laws.

Europe is defending personal privacy as a human right. Google Glass is a line of smart glasses that privacy advocates compare to stylish CCTV cameras that people choose to wear on their heads. Were Google's privacy policy to stay in place and cover self-driving cars and Google Glass, our internet searches might be linked to our driving routes, and all the ads we saw linked to the scenery might be based on everything that Google already knows about us.

For many, this may be an enticing future. Only by understanding it can we get Google to act more responsibly. For an engineer, the past and the present are just raw materials for making a better future. Let's make it right.

Judith Miller

The Cairo subway was one of Hosni Mubarak's proudest achievements. It cost several billion dollars and was beautifully appointed. A special police unit kept the stations clean and safe. Then came the Egyptian revolution. Today, the subway is a wreck. The tile walls of its central hub, Tahrir Square, are chipped and filthy. Platforms are strewn with litter and passageways stink.

Egyptian women now fear shopping or taking cabs at night. Cairo police sit in their precinct houses and refuse to provide security. Tourists have vanished. Youth unemployment and inflation are high and rising, and much of the economy is unregulated and unofficial. Egypt imports roughly $60 billion worth of goods and services per year but exports under $25 billion.

Egypt spends about 20% of its budget on fuel subsidies, and Egyptians spend 70% of their income on subsidized food. But to secure the IMF loan Egypt needs to unlock more aid and investment, it must cut its subsidies and plan for growth. Many Egyptians blame the mess on the incompetence of President Mohammed Morsi and his ruling Muslim Brotherhood.

Rebecca Schuman

I deeply regret going to graduate school. It was a terrible idea. After years of trying, I will not get a job. Tenure-track positions in my field have about 150 applicants each. Multiply that chance by the 10 or so appropriate positions in the entire world, and you have about 6% chance of success. You wouldn't bet your life on such ludicrous odds.

Just go do something else. By the time you finish graduate school, you academic self will be the culmination of your entire self, and thus you will believe that not having a tenure-track job makes you worthless. You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a job, it will destroy you, and nobody outside of academia will understand why.

Don't resent the generation of full professors teetering toward retirement, cleaving resolutely to their positions. Their tenure lines will die with them. You don't need to put yourself through 5 to 10 years of the hardest work you will ever do, followed by years of rejection and dejection, simply to regret it. When it comes to graduate school, just say no.

AR Cheer up, Rebecca, write a rom-com screenplay about it!

2013 April 5

Narratives Of War
Michael Howard

Emile Simpson sees two kinds of war. Traditional bipolar conflicts are fought to establish military conditions for a political solution. A new kind of war seek political outcomes directly, usually via counterinsurgency. In the former, strategy is largely driven by the operational needs of warfare. But in the latter, operations are themselves political tools, used to undermine the adversary, deprive him of political support, and if possible to convert him. In both, the war aim is to convey a message.

In old wars, the primary audience was the enemy population. In new conflicts, the adversary is disparate, the people at home may be puzzled and divided, and a much of the audience is global. An operation that conveys one message to one audience may mean something else to another. The operations of the United States and its allies in the Mideast were intended to convey a message of liberation to local populations. But for many on the receiving end, and for many global observers, they were imperialist.

No responsible government now uses armed force without calculating the global impact of doing so. A strategic narrative is needed that explains why one is at war at all, and how the military operations can help. The narrative must not only be reasonable but also appeal to the emotions. Above all, it needs an ethical foundation. The wider audience must believe that one is fighting a just war. The genius of Winston Churchill in 1940 was to devise a strategic narrative that not only inspired Britons but also won the support of the United States. By contrast, Hitler had no good strategic narrative.

AR The Kim Jong Un strategic narrative fails too.

NK-UK Surprise
The Independent

UK PM David Cameron defended his decision to retain the Trident nuclear deterrent by citing the threat of an NK nuclear strike against the UK: "North Korea does now have missile technology that is able to reach, as they put it, the whole of the United States and if they are able to reach the whole of the United States they can reach Europe too. They can reach us too, so that is a real concern."

AR If NK can nuke the UK, then I'm a billionaire. If this is the best defense Cameron can find for Trident, then scrap it. If this is an acceptable threat claim, then what Tony Blair said about the Iraqi WMD threat was acceptable too.

2013 April 4

Lost In The Cloud
Douglas Heaven

Clusters of servers scattered worldwide now hold our music, photos, and mail. We are moving toward living our entire digital lives in the cloud. Your digital stuff now sits in vast data centers owned by the likes of Amazon, Google, or Microsoft. The cloud lets us access online services and digital possessions from any of our devices. It seems that by 2020 the cloud will run all digital life.

Storing your stuff with a service offered by a third party is like dumping your things in someone else's warehouse. But service agreements that would be unacceptable for a physical warehouse are standard for cloud storage. Though you technically retain copyright for stuff you create and upload, in fact the service terms generally reserve many rights. The services can delete files, or lose your stuff with impunity.

Our understanding of property is based on material objects, but digital information has no fixed physical existence. A digital file exists as a state of matter rather than matter itself. And your cloud possessions rarely exist in just one location. There is no way you can track them. If your file has already been uploaded by someone else, Dropbox will just link you to the existing files instead of uploading a duplicate. Your relation to your cloud property is confusing.

Some say we should restructure the basic architecture of the cloud to help bring it closer to traditional notions of property. One idea is modeled on a deposit box. For example, you would keep a photo on a small local server. There would be no doubt that you legally own a photo stored in your box. A Facebook image would be uploaded from your box whenever it was needed.

A cloud "doomsday event" such as a massive and widespread loss of data would jog our ideas.

Offshore Tax Haven
The Guardian

Millions of internal records have leaked from Britain's offshore financial industry. Thousands of holders of anonymous wealth are exposed by the British Virgin Islands (BVI) data leak, involving some $30 trillion stashed in overseas havens. Naming names may be damaging for many of the world's wealthiest people.

The BVI has incorporated more than a million offshore entities since it began marketing itself worldwide 30 years ago. The UK Foreign Office depends on the licensing revenue to subsidize the BVI, while lawyers and accountants in the City of London benefit from a lucrative trade as intermediaries. The 200 GB of BVI data covers more than a decade, as well as offshoots in Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Cook Islands.

AR All this is rank corruption. The BVI should be closed down immediately, by force if necessary.

2013 April 3

Big Data
Leon Wieseltier

Young man: "She told him that she loves me, which is an important data point." Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier would call this datafication: "To datafy a phenomenon is to put it in a quantified format so it can be tabulated and analyzed."

Sentiment analysis is a branch of digital analytics that seeks to identify the viewpoint(s) underlying a text span. This is accomplished by identifying the words in a proposition that originate in subjectivity, and thereby obtaining an accurate understanding of the feelings and the preferences that animate the utterance. This finding can then be tabulated and integrated with millions of similar findings, to create a vast repository of information about inwardness, which can be mined to detect patterns that will enable prediction, for example using the Good Grief Algorithm to detect dissatisfaction.

We are ambiguous beings. We frequently have mixed feelings, and are divided against ourselves. We use different words to communicate similar thoughts, but those words are not synonyms. Our meanings are often obscure. A choice is often a coarse and inadequate translation of a feeling. In an election, what matters is that I vote. The same is true of what I buy. A business wants my money. Its interest in my heart is owed to its interest in my money. In the scholarly papers on sentiment analysis, the examples given are restaurant reviews and movie reviews — a Rotten Tomatoes view of life.

Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier: "With the help of big data, we will no longer regard our world as a string of happenings that we explain as natural and social phenomena, but as a universe comprised essentially of information." The religion of information is here.

Union of Concerned Scientists

We put rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. We combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

What began as a collaboration between students and faculty members at MIT in 1969 is now an alliance of more than 400,000 citizens and scientists. UCS members are people from all walks of life. Our members understand that scientific analysis should guide our efforts to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.

AR Digital analytics is what the engine I worked on at SAP did. But data — even big data — needs a lot more than a few "good grief" algorithms to become real science.

2013 April 2

The Meme Hustler
Evgeny Morozov

Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, gave us such memes as open source, Web 2.0, government as a platform, and architecture of participation. He is a smooth and stylish self-promoter as well as a prolific blogger and tweeter. He says his company's vision is to "change the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators" and his personal credo is to "create more value than you capture".

As a young man, OR had hopes of writing deep books that would change the world. In 1978, he launched a consulting firm that specialized in technical writing. The growth of open source software was his first big break. He hosted a summit to define the concept, wrote provocative essays on it, produced a host of books and events to popularize it, and cultivated a network of thinkers for it.

To support his narrative about open source software, OR produced an account of the Internet that became the standard way to talk about its history. He saw that as software migrated from desktops to servers — now the cloud — it was counterproductive to fixate on licenses. As he saw it, many of the key developments of Internet culture were driven by open source behavior.

In 2004, OR hit on the idea of Web 2.0. He said Silicon Valley companies should heed the lesson of the 2001 market crash and find a way to make collective intelligence part of their business model. The label caught on, and OR ran events with titles like "Gov 2.0".

In public, OR presents himself as someone who just happens to excel at detecting emerging trends. He does so by monitoring a group he dubs the "alpha geeks" and promoting their ideas: "Just as gene engineering allows us to artificially shape genes, meme-engineering lets us organize and shape ideas so that they can be transmitted more effectively, and have the desired effect once they are transmitted."

With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, OR turned his attention to government reform. His writings on Gov 2.0 reveal the same talented meme-engineer who gave us open source and Web 2.0.

OR wants to redefine participation to something that arises from individual frustration with bureaucracies and usually ends with citizens using or building apps to solve their own problems. Debates about the content and meaning of specific reforms and institutions are replaced by governments calling on their citizens to help find spelling mistakes in patent applications or use their phones to report potholes. That politics can aspire to something more ambitious than bug-management is not an insight that occurs after politics has been refracted through the prism of open source software.

As The New Yorker reported in 2010, British PM David Cameron is using the OR memes in his BS:

David Cameron's Big Society
Lauren Collins

The Big Society is Cameron's plan to devolve power "from the elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street". The program comprises public-service reform (cutting red tape), community empowerment (transferring authority to the local level), and social action (encouraging voluntarism and philanthropy — getting people to do things for nothing that they used to get paid for).

This is Wikipedia government, intended to mend Broken Britain by way of piecework. Qualitatively, the goal is to compel a more robust citizenship, in which people must not only pay taxes and refrain from doing ill but actively seek to do good.

2013 April 1


SK President Park Geun-hye: “If there is any provocation against South Korea and its people,
there should be a strong response in initial combat without any political considerations."

Guardian Goggles: because life's too short to think for yourself
(video, 3:23)

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