BLOG 2013 Q3
Science vs. Humanities
The New Republic
"The promise of science is to enrich
and diversify the intellectual tools of humanistic scholarship,
not to obliterate them."
"Scientists can say anything they want ... But everything
they say may not be met with grateful jubilation."
Saudi Arabian Madness
A leading Saudi Arabian cleric says
women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with
clinical problems. Women are still banned from driving in the Islamic kingdom.
How about male drivers damaging their testicles? Or any passengers risking
their gonads? Or clerics losing their minds?
Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident in most
regions of the globe, says a new assessment by the UN Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change. It is extremely likely that human influence has
been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th
century. The evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better
observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response
and improved climate models.
Machines are becoming part of our transactive
memory. Our brains are terrible at recalling details, so we rely on
devices like search engines and smartphones to handle them for us. To
retrieve information on the fly in daily life, we rely on transactions
with other people. But as transactive partners machines have several
advantages. Just as we learn who knows what in our families and offices,
we are learning what computers store and how to access it. Our memory is
all around us.
AR See Alva Noë:
Out Of Our Heads
Stephen Fry joins other authors and
artists to demand an end to mass spying on citizens by US and UK
"Privacy and freedom from state intrusion are
important for everyone. You can't just scream 'terrorism' and use it as
an excuse for Orwellian snooping."
The London group Index on
Censorship launched the petition urging government leaders to state
their opposition to all systems of mass surveillance. Chief executive
Kirsty Hughes: "Snooping and surveillance on this scale is not only an
invasion of privacy, it also undermines the basis of democracy and
anticipate, as it will
make your narrative
Take extra care with your
sources other than
those originating from the
Science Britannica, with Brian Cox, was not
just a kiddies' TV guide to Great British scientists but a sad,
jingoistic embarrass-ment. Surely the point about science and discovery
is that it's universal.
Cox wants to make science trendy and
cool. He tells us that the really mad, bad, and dangerous-to-know lads
weren't poets but scientists, but he needs to use the tools of drama and
fiction to make his story halfway interesting. This rehash of the
gulf between art and science shows how little he sees or
AR Science deserves better.
is better unsung.
Since David Cameron became
Conservative Party leader in 2005, membership has almost halved. But
mainstream party membership has declined throughout the Western world.
In the UK, some 1% of the population is a member of a party, down
from 3% three decades ago.
Pope Francis says the church has no right to "interfere spiritually" in the lives of gays and lesbians. He
says women must play a key role in church decisions and brushed off
critics of abortion and gay marriage. The church will "fall like a house
of cards" if it fails to find a "new balance" between its spiritual and
political missions, he warned in the magazine
Me in Mallorca
Something about the Muslim
cultural tradition seems to
be inimical to doing
Between 20% and 25% of
all Nobel prizes have gone
to Jews, who are
1% of the world's population.
It's nonsense to talk about
Jews being a race. That's
where Hitler went wrong.
Daniel C. Dennett
Steven Pinker published a
manifesto on science and Leon Wieseltier attacked it.
1991, I wrote that the traditional American intellectuals were ignorant of many of the
accomplishments of our time. Their culture dismissed science, used its own
jargon, and washed its own laundry.
intellectuals are still not communicating with scientists. Scientists are
communicating directly with the general public. Wieseltier's clueless attack
on science is evidence that he doesn't know this, and doesn't even know that
he doesn't know.
UK patients in NHS hospitals
are 45% more likely to die
than those in the US. Death rates in the NHS are higher than in six other
AR I blame the rich
who have private medical care outside the NHS. The UK has lost its social solidarity.
QS World University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
University College London
Imperial College London
University of Oxford
University of Chicago
dominance is suspect:
check the ranking
2013 September 30
I am heading up to Manchester this morning to attend
the Conservative conference. My message is that the 2014 European
parliamentary elections are a huge opportunity. The rise of UKIP has changed
the national debate. I now hear echoes of our policy platform coming out of
the Tory machine.
Without the significant rise of UKIP across the country
there would be no referendum pledge. I believe that at the coming Euro
elections those Conservatives who believe in our national independence
should lend their vote to UKIP. This will help to toughen up the referendum
A huge UKIP success next year will cause tremors in Brussels
and could help Cameron with his negotiations. Speculations about possible
deals between UKIP and the Tories are missing the point. UKIP is creating
its own political ground. We are opposed to almost everything Cameron
AR The UKIP agenda: Fortress
UK. It must be stopped.
2013 September 29
UK defense secretary Philip Hammond has announced that the
MOD is set to recruit hundreds of computer experts as cyber reservists to
help defend UK national security. A new Joint Cyber Reserve will put
reservists alongside regular forces to protect critical computer networks
and safeguard vital data.
Hammond: "In response to the growing cyber
threat, we are developing a full-spectrum military cyber capability,
including a strike capability, to enhance the UK's range of military
capabilities. Increasingly, our defense budget is being invested in high-end
capabilities such as cyber and intelligence and surveillance assets to
ensure we can keep the country safe. The Cyber Reserves will be an essential
part of ensuring we defend our national security in cyberspace. This is an
exciting opportunity ..."
Recruiting for the Joint Cyber Reserve will
commence in October.
Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine
were all under Turkish control for centuries, conquered and colonized by the
Ottomans. Although the Ottomans were Muslims, large populations of
Christians and Jews continued to live and prosper across the Ottoman empire.
The Turks came swarming across the Anatolian plain like many other
fierce central Asian nomads both before and after them. But these predators
got down off their horses and converted to Islam, then defeated the
Byzantines in Constantinople in 1453 CE.
The Ottoman golden age endured
for centuries. Ottoman emperors conquered half of Europe and the whole of
the north Africa coast as far as Morocco. They also controlled the Islamic
holy sites of Mecca and Medina and adopted the title of caliph, leader of
The Ottoman administration rested on the custom of
kidnapping Christian boy children from the Balkans year after year,
converting them to Islam, and turning them into soldiers or civil servants,
depending on their gifts. Thus they built Europe's first functioning
In 1923, Kemal Ataturk, the Turkish hero of Gallipoli,
buried the Ottoman empire and abolished all its symbols. This removed a
central point of reference for Muslims everywhere. The Ottomans had
developed laws for both Muslims and Christians, and sustained a model of
AR Buoyed by recent
German trade and investment, the Turks could dominate the Mideast again.
2013 September 28
US President Barack Obama spoke by telephone Friday with
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the first direct conversation between
leaders in Washington and Tehran since 1979. Obama: "While there will surely
be important obstacles to moving forward and success is by no means
guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution."
The UN Security Council voted unanimously Friday to require
Syria to eliminate its arsenal of chemical weapons, or face consequences.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: "Today's resolution will ensure that the
elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons program happens as soon as
possible and with the utmost transparency and accountability."
Professor Brian Cox is a pop star: "I really love that
people, especially young people, are inspired by science. But ... I'm a
greying bloke in an anorak. The star of the show should be the science."
As a boy, Cox used to go bus-spotting in Manchester. After that he
started on planes. But in 1984 he had an epiphany at a Duran Duran concert.
"My dad told me I had to go to look after my sister. I noticed that the hall
was full of this incredible energy. And it was these girls screaming with
desire. And I thought: that's what I want!"
Cox joined a rock band
and toured with them for a couple of years. But he stuck with science. He
got his PhD and various research fellowships, and still teaches quantum
mechanics and relativity.
He steers clear of headline battles about
the origin and meaning of life: "I gave a talk to some kids recently and the
very first question one asked afterwards was: can I be a scientist and still
believe in God? I said yes and meant to add more. But they all started
applauding ... I'm not a guru on a mountain top passing down judgments."
2013 September 27
US secretary of state John Kerry and Iranian foreign
minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met at the UN in New York. It was the first
substantive high-level US-Iran meeting since the 1979 Islamic revolution and
a fresh start for nuclear negotiations. The meeting was chaired by EU
foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who said she and Zarif both wanted a
deal concluded and implemented within a year.
think all of us were pleased that the foreign minister came today, that he
did put some possibilities on the table. Now it's up to people to do the
hard work of trying to fill out what those possibilities will do."
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council
have agreed on a compromise deal over Syria that largely meets Russian
wishes. US ambassador to the UN in New York Samantha Power tweeted that there is now a UN draft resolution on the destruction of Syrian chemical
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wants Israel to
join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Many Israelis agree about Israel
finally owning up to its nuclear arsenal. Tel Aviv has for decades
maintained a policy of deliberate ambiguity about its nuclear stockpile.
Nonproliferation experts at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimate
that Israel has 80 nuclear warheads and enough fissile material for many
Generations of Israeli leaders have refused to mention those
weapons. Today a debate is raging within the country about whether the time
has come to drop the facade and admit to being a nuclear power. Monterey
Institute of International Studies professor Avner Cohen says the official
silence prevents Israeli politicians from debating the merits of the program
or from providing proper oversight.
The Labour comfort zone is a place where the
public is prized over the private, market failure is heralded but state
failure is ignored, investments are made but no cuts, good things are free
and bad things are banned.
Ed Miliband wants to freeze energy prices: "If
competition fails and if there's evidence that it fails in particular
markets, should a a regulator act? And if the regulator fails, as has
happened in this market, should government act? Absolutely." He says this
out of conviction. He sounds as if he thinks profit and
profiteering are the same thing.
Miliband thinks business and
the media are too powerful, the political class makes a fetish of
markets, and money has become the measure of too much. His father Ralph
wrote a book saying it is impossible to legislate your way to the promised
land. As prime minister, Ed would surely prove his father right.
2013 September 26
Timothy Garton Ash
Can the European tortoise somehow outrun the
American eagle and the Chinese dragon?
Angela Merkel's new government
may be a grand coalition that eases German EZ policy, but the soft
underbelly of Europe will continue to bleed. Merkel lacks a strategic
partner in the European Union. France is weakened by domestic economic
problems and slow reform. Britain is in thrall to Eurosceptics who have
launched David Cameron on a foolish course of attempted renegotiation of the
terms of UK membership of the EU.
The EU is a giant, weary tortoise,
with chancellor Merkel sitting astride its shell, trying to steer its woozy
head and coax its bleeding underbelly across stony ground. But the US eagle
suffers shrieking brinkmanship in Washington, and faces deep problems of
neglected infrastructure and imperial and welfare overstretch. And the
Chinese dragon shows no signs of political reform to head off a deeper
crisis over the next decade.
All the runners have problems.
2013 September 25
I bring peace and friendship from Iranians to
Americans. The supreme leader of Iran has said that should negotiations be
necessary for the national interest of the country, he is not opposed to
them. The supreme leader has given permission for my government to negotiate
freely on these issues.
AR Seems an offer
In the standard Big Bang model, the universe exploded out
of a singularity. But it is hard to explain the almost completely uniform
temperature of the BB universe. Most cosmologists say the young universe
inflated a small patch into what we see.
In an arXiv preprint,
Perimeter cosmologist Niayesh Afshordi and team consider a model of our 4D
spacetime universe as a brane floating in a 5D bulk universe. If the bulk
universe contained stars, some of them could collapse into 5D black holes.
In 4D spacetime, a black hole is bounded by a 2D spherical surface called an
event horizon. But the event horizon of a 5D black hole is a 3D hypersphere.
The team modeled the death of a 5D star and found that the ejecta would form
an expanding 3-brane around the event horizon. The bulk universe could be
old enough for the brane to be near thermal equilibrium.
says our spacetime universe might be such a brane, and we might see its
growth as cosmic expansion: "Astronomers measured that expansion and
extrapolated back that the universe must have begun with a big bang, but
that is just a mirage."
Out of the White
Cosmic censorship hides most spacetime singularities behind
event horizons, but we live in the causal future of the big bang
singularity. Could the big bang be also hidden behind a horizon, hiding us
from the decadence of a naked singularity? A braneworld cosmology with both
4D induced and 5D bulk gravity lets the universe emerge as a spherical
3-brane from a 5D black hole.
AR If the CMB detail fits, this is a runner.
Trident is the most expensive project on the
Treasury books. The renewal program is set to consume £20 billion and rise
to a reputed £100 billion over 20 years.
The Trident nuclear deterrent
bears no reference to any plausible threat to the UK. A former head of US
Strategic Air Command once said it baffled him. Trident relies on US
supplies and maintenance, yet its use is predicated on America hesitating to
go nuclear against a hypothetical attacker. The British deterrent had to
deter in case the US one did not. It made no sense.
deterrence is rooted in the mad scenario of mutual assured destruction. But
either the west would stand together under the US nuclear umbrella or it
would be doomed. The idea that Britain is made one jot safer by a £100
billion Armageddon weapon lurking in the Atlantic is absurd.
AR Scrap it. Rely on US boomers.
2013 September 24
I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon. I chose the
Society of Jesus. A Jesuit is a person who is not centered in himself. The
Society's center is Christ and his church. The image of the church I like is
that of the holy, faithful people of God, on the journey through history.
The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and
religious imperatives. God manifests himself in history. Time initiates
processes, and space crystallizes them. God is in the processes. We must
initiate processes rather than occupy spaces. This gives priority to
When we desire to encounter God, we would like to verify him
immediately by an empirical method. But you cannot meet God this way. A
contemplative attitude is necessary. God is always first and makes the first
move. You never know where and how you will find him.
Christian is a restorationist, he will find nothing. Those who today always
look for disciplinarian solutions have a static and inward-directed view of
things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology. God has revealed himself as
history, not as a compendium of abstract truths.
AR This suggests the neo-Hegelian concept of
history I developed in CORAL.
Cliodynamics is the study of human history using big data
to predict the future and to test theories about the past. You build a model
of history and test it using real data.
Peter Turchin and his team
analyzed how social norms spread that allowed societies to expand across
millions of people. The standard story is that humans invented agriculture
around 10 000 years ago, providing resources that freed people up for other
ventures. Turchin disagrees: "Competitions between societies, which
historically took the form of warfare, drive the evolution of complex
The team built two mathematical models for predicting the
spread of complex societies. One was based on agriculture, ecology, and
geography. The other included those factors plus warfare. The team used data
from historical atlases to test these models. The model with warfare
predicted about 65% of the historical variance, while the agricultural model
explained only about 16%.
The model is crude and includes no
population data, but it predicted the spread of large states between
1500 BCE and 1500 CE. Later, when the Soviet Union was established, the
United States still had raw capitalism. The Red Scare and its socialist
ideas led the bosses to pay their workers more. A few decades later,
economic competition forced the USSR to collapse and lose the Cold War.
Based on the news coverage, India has an
extraordinarily high frequency of rape. Yet India has one of the lowest
levels of reported rape in the world. The UN found the incidence of rape in
India for 2010 to be less than 2 per 100 000 people, compared with over 25
in the US and the UK, and 120 in South Africa. India does have a huge
problem in monitoring rape and taking steps to reduce it.
tend to prefer boys over girls. The relatively higher mortality rates of
girls compared with boys is mainly due to neglect of their health. Male
priority in care continues to raise the mortality rates of adult women above
those of men. The wide use of new techniques for determining the sex of
fetuses has led to numerous selective abortions of female fetuses.
Female literacy and schooling cut down child mortality and work against
neglecting the health of girls. They also help to cut down fertility rates.
In India, 9 of the 20 largest states now have fertility rates below the
replacement level. Yet educated mothers seem almost as keen on having boys
rather than girls as uneducated mothers are, unaware of the oddity of seeing
girls as inferior to boys.
There is a regional dimension to the
problem. In the northern and western states, there is clear evidence of
extensive use of selective abortion of female fetuses. In the states in the
south and east of India, we do not typically find evidence of its widespread
use. Any explanation will demand a fuller understanding of diverse
AR The big regional
difference is Islam (legacy of the Mughal empire) and its sexist
2013 September 23
Monday: 68 dead so far, about 10 hostages remain with up to
15 Islamist Al-Shabaab gunmen. Kenyan military tweeted that most of the
hostages had been rescued. Israeli special forces are at the scene.
The annual toll from firearms in the United States
is running at 32 000 deaths and climbing, even though the general crime rate
is now 40% lower than it was in 1980.
For all the wars in American
history since 1775, the death toll is about 1 171 000. The number killed by
firearms in the US since the day Robert F. Kennedy was shot in 1968 is 1 384
000. So over 200 000 more Americans lost their lives from firearms in the
last 45 years than in all US wars ever.
People are trying to make
life safer. On US roads, there has been a huge effort in the past 50 years.
By 2015, road deaths are predicted to fall below those caused by firearms
In the 12-year US war on terror, homeland security spending
has added up to some $650 billion. But there have been fewer than 20
terror-related deaths on American soil since 9/11, compared with about
364 000 deaths caused by privately owned firearms.
The gun lobby is
too powerful to challenge. People despair of the inaction. America is in a
jam. International pressure may reduce future slaughter. The world cannot
stand idly by.
In December 2011, the last US army convoy drove
out of Iraq.
Since then, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has
consolidated his rule. He has eliminated his leading Sunni rivals, tightened
his control over Iraqi security services, violated an agreement on Sunni and
Kurdish rights, and allowed Iran to fly weaponry into Syria through Iraqi
airspace. Reports say Baghdad is helping Damascus conceal chemical
stockpiles and is ready to help Tehran develop its nuclear program.
The United States lost the Iraq war. Iran won.
In 73 CE, after a Jewish revolt against the Romans,
the last thousand or so rebels were besieged in the fortress of Masada, near
the Dead Sea. As the Romans stormed the fortress, the rebels chose death
before slavery. The men killed their wives and children, then each other,
until the last man killed himself, according to historian Flavius Josephus.
After the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948, Masada became a symbol
of heroism and sacrifice. New soldiers were taken there to swear that Masada
would not fall again. But some now say the myth of Masada was either
exaggerated or invented.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor Guy Stiebel: "If you put me in a corner and ask do you think
they committed suicide, I will say yes. But this was not a symbolic act, it
was a typical thing to do back then ... At the end of the day, it's an
excellent story and setting, you can't ask for more."
AR Fundamentalist bloodbath.
2013 September 22
President Obama stuck to the US Constitution. By doing
so, he opened the way for a much better resolution of the issue. Had he
acted alone, he would have violated both the Constitution and international
law. Instead, he is now pursuing a path that accords with the rule of law.
The deliberation prompted by Obama's appeal to Congress created the
space for an alternative to force, as intended. The Constitution makes clear
that the president can only run hostile military actions once they are
authorized by Congress. The only exception is for national self-defense.
Congress should have a say on the difficult issue of whether to use
military force against another sovereign. Claims to the contrary reflect a
deep misunderstanding of the principle at stake. Avoiding immediate recourse
to military action should be seen as a triumph for the Constitution.
In 1999, Eric Schlosser was invited to Vandenberg
Air Force base in California to witness the launch of a Titan II missile:
"My God! Watching that missile take off, seeing it soar over the coast of
Mexico — it was visceral. These are real! They work! That ICBM was more
powerful than any cold war story I'd heard."
Command and Control is his take on the terrifying and surreal world of
nuclear weapons. He spent time with more than 100 bomber pilots, nuclear
scientists, and weapons designers, as well as reviewing thousands of pages
of newly released official documents: "I really went down the rabbit hole
into the nuclear madness ... Our ability to create dangerous things exceeds
our ability to control them. We are talking about hubris."
computer program called QUICK COUNT allowed war planners to identify
"desired ground zeros" in Soviet cities so as to maximize the number of
civilians killed in a nuclear strike. In 1961, the Pentagon instigated a war
plan that would be unstoppable once the nuclear button was pushed, killing
220 million people in the Soviet Union and China within the first three
Schlosser: "I've spent six
years in the most crazy nuclear shit imaginable, that at times made me
question mankind. But ... I wouldn't have written this book if I thought we
Why do people keep entering doctoral programs in the
humanities? As graduate students they are risking six years of their lives
and a mound of debt to get a shot at a tenure-track job.
It's a lottery.
Most reputable doctoral programs are funded.
Tuition is free and the student gets a stipend to live on. Students are
taking five years to study something they're passionate about, for a shot at
a tenure-track position years down the line, and a shot at a
tenured position in the long run with unbeatable benefits and job security.
The downside is that it's extremely unlikely that they'll get the job.
Consider what my colleagues and I accepted in journalism.
Our shot at making a living wage is not necessarily better
than a shot at making a living wage in academia. Hardly any job in
journalism even approaches the five-year security of a doctoral program, let
alone of a tenured faculty position.
Anyone saying humanities
programs are a terrible bet is buying into the idea that a tenured
job is so desirable that not getting one equals failure. If after years as a grad student,
you can't land a tenure-track job, or
after the next few years don't get tenure, you've still been
getting paid for five to twelve years. Whether you're less employable than
otherwise depends on what you'd have done instead.
market outside academia right now is scary. Most humanities doctoral
students are unlikely to have busted their asses to land secure and well
paid jobs in nursing or accounting. Perhaps they would have done something
with equally poor pay and prospects, like music or hitch-hiking
One Atlantic editor with a doctorate wasn't excited about academia by the time he graduated, and he wouldn't advise most
people to follow him. But now I work for him, so there are
worse ways to go.
2013 September 21
Benjamin Disraeli began his career as a lawyer. But the
law bored him, and in 1826 he published the first of many novels. In 1837,
at age 32, he was elected to Parliament as the Tory member for Maidstone. He
rose slowly and first served briefly as prime minister in 1868. He was prime
minister again from 1874 to 1880 and enacted major social reforms. He died
Disraeli stands outside convention. His romantic attitude
toward Queen Victoria is reflected in his political career and his early
novels. In his youth, he wanted to be a poet of genius and a political
thinker of fire and imagination. Like Shelley he saw poets as hidden kings,
and sought to show that a man of genius could reform a corrupt society
through clarity of vision.
One Nation Tories
Benjamin Disraeli coined the notion of One Nation
Conservatism to engage workers and bridge the social divide. One Nation
Tories say societies live and grow organically, and the upper classes have
paternalistic obligations to the lower classes.
passed big social reforms. Later the Tories moved away from paternalism
toward free market capitalism. But ONC survived into the Reagan-Thatcher
years. David Cameron called Disraeli his favorite Conservative.
AR Good idea, but let's see more convincing
We have a leader now. Ed Miliband won the leadership
election, I lost. We spend our time wanting Ed to succeed. We think it would
be a good thing for Labour to win the next election. My political career
will end without me having been leader of the Labour party and prime
minister, I expect, and that's fine. I don't think Ed Miliband
spends any time thinking I'm trying to get his job.
three years we are starting to get some growth. The government is complacent
that they've got a recovery when there are a lot of risks out there.
Everyone in the shadow cabinet today would find it difficult to go into
coalition with Nick Clegg, but if there is a hung parliament then I'd be
willing to be part of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats if that was the
only way forward.
AR One Nation Labour?
Unions versus the rest, more like.
2013 September 20
A constructive approach to diplomacy means
engaging with one's counterparts to address shared concerns and achieve
shared objectives. More than a decade and two wars after 9/11, al-Qaeda and
other militant extremists continue to wreak havoc. The unilateral approach,
which glorifies brute force and breeds violence, is clearly incapable of
solving issues such as terrorism and extremism.
My approach to foreign policy
seeks to resolve these issues by addressing their underlying causes. We must
work together to end unhealthy rivalries and interferences. The vicious
battles in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria are over the nature of those
countries' identities and their consequent roles in the world. Without
comprehending the role of identity, many issues we all face will remain
AR A good basis for a good
In response to the Snowden revelations, Barack
Obama pleads for debate and a review of the Patriot Acts. Al Gore calls the
NSA snooping "obscenely outrageous", John McCain says a review is "entirely
appropriate", and the Senate holds public hearings to expose security chiefs
as shifty mafia bosses.
In the UK, nothing. The Snowden dumps show US
and UK agents up to the same tricks. They shared data via Prism and
circumvented national domestic oversight regimes. The GCHQ tapped submarine
cables to gather mass data, and the NSA paid £100 million to let a crowd of
US officials access the data.
Britons seem to see the GCHQ as a club
of amiable gentlemen in shabby tweed jackets who behave badly but have
hearts of oak. In fact they have created a monster. Britons are subject to
massive unwarranted surveillance that is insecure and unaccountable. They
should learn from the American response.
Simon Jenkins says GCHQ circumvented the law. The
intelligence and security committee I chair has investigated that claim and
reported to parliament that GCHQ had legal warrants in every case. UK
intelligence agencies have to go through a lengthy legal procedure before
they can examine any British citizen's email or phone conversations.
Sir Simon accuses the US of "aping the totalitarian regimes it professed to
guard against" in its collection of intelligence data. Does he believe that
there are independent Russian and Chinese judges and committees empowered to
examine the secret files of their intelligence agencies?
government has now conceded the need for greater powers for the intelligence
and security committee. The intelligence agencies will no longer be able to
refuse it any information it seeks. We now have the statutory power to
investigate MI6, MI5, and GCHQ operations. Our budget is being almost
doubled and our staff strengthened.
The British public are well aware
that its intelligence agencies have neither the time nor the remotest
interest in the emails or telephone conversations of well over 99% of the
population who are neither potential terrorists nor serious criminals.
Modern computer technologies permit the separation of data of interest from
AR Let's see how many UK
citizens take up the debate.
2013 September 19
Just back from 3 days in Mallorca. Didn't need a beach break but relished
the influx of observational data for an anthropological analysis of seaside
holiday traditions then and now. And found the time to read:
Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow
Terri S. Lodge, Matthew Wallin
Iran's new President Hassan
Rouhani has signaled his government's interest in addressing the world's
concerns over his nation's nuclear program: He said
Iran will never develop nuclear weapons.
Barack Obama and Rouhani have exchanged letters. Obama: "Negotiations with
the Iranians is always difficult. I think this new president is not going to
suddenly make it easy."
A final deal will probably look like this:
Iran will retain a small level of enrichment capability under a very strict
regimen of inspections by the
IAEA, which will also have ready access. Some would rather continue to
fight for complete Iranian capitulation and zero ability to conduct nuclear
activities. But this is not realistically attainable by means short of a
major military intervention.
AR Go easy:
A peaceful nuclear Iran is far better than a regional war.
I am pro-Russian. I respect your dignity and your
right to self-determination. I believe you should live according to the
dictates of your conscience, not your government.
President Putin and
his associates punish dissent and imprison opponents. They rig your
elections. They control your media. They foster rampant corruption.
President Putin has given you an economy that is based almost entirely on a
few natural resources that will rise and fall with those commodities.
Capital is fleeing Russia.
President Putin rules by corruption,
repression, and violence. He rules for himself, not you.
in the greatness of the Russian people. I believe you deserve a government
that believes in you and answers to you.
Pravda readers may smirk ironically.
2013 September 16
Richard Dawkins / John Crace
Abstract: I was born in 1941 and
went to Oundle boarding school. Shortly after my confirmation I may have
been foolish enough to believe in the possibility of an intelligent
designer, but I have long since exposed the pathetic fallacy of that belief.
In the early 1970s, I started work on The Selfish Gene. I had no idea when I
was writing the first chapter just how remarkable the book would be ...
Keywords: Me me meme
2013 September 15
When you're in government, you're in a goldfish
bowl. Every reverberation means you lose some perspective. But once you've
gone it's very different. At the
Committee, you're not governing the fate of countries in the same way.
But I've been frustrated for two or three years. I've had a feeling that
I've got experience and ideas and things to say, and I've not really been
able to say them. As I was telling the IRC staff, the non-profit sector can
do some things much better than government, and one of those things is
innovation. It's incredibly refreshing.
Good luck, David.
2013 September 14
Atonement last night: watched
Untergang (for the n-th time)
Russia and the United States have agreed a framework to
eliminate Syria's chemical weapons.
Syria has applied to join the
Chemical Weapons Convention.
that's a relief.
2013 September 13
Russian President Vladimir Putin is a key player in
the Syrian conflict. Moscow is concerned that Islamist extremism in Syria
could have serious consequences for Russia, as he explained in
The New York Times.
Russia wants to eliminate Syria's chemical
weapons for three reasons:
1 The weapons
could trigger US-led intervention in Syria, which Moscow opposes.
2 The poison gas could fall into the hands of
3 Armed Syrian
rebels could use these weapons against Israel.
US President Barack
Obama and his secretary of state John Kerry see that the Moscow proposal is
an opportunity to avoid war. Despite Washington's recent frustrations with
Russia, Obama knows he needs a partnership with Putin.
Islamist extremism is growing in strength from Kabul to Damascus, but is
more of a threat to Russia that it is to the United States. Centers of
Islamism such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar support Syrian rebels and subsidize
the militant underground in the Russian Caucasus.
Central Asian countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are also a threat.
Kremlin fear of armed jihad is a key factor in Russian foreign policy.
Islamist victory in Syria is in the interests of neither Russia nor America,
not to mention Israel.
The Fresh Expressions initiative is a partnership
between the Church of England and the British Methodist Church, and has been
taken up around the world. Its principles: listening, service, incarnational
mission, and making disciples.
Cultures are never static. Accelerated
change, the complexity of a joined up multicultural world, and the fluidity
of the resulting cultures make our times profoundly unpredictable. In the
praxis of mission, one size cannot fit all.
The incarnation of Christ
is unique. This is the basis for our salvation. The church is Christ taking
flesh in a context. But mission is a voyage of discovery. Not knowing the
outcome at the beginning is normal for Christian mission.
Williams defined church as "what happens when people encounter the Risen
Jesus and commit themselves to sustaining and deepening that encounter in
their encounter with each other".
Christ is the unchangeable
foundation for all mission. Our world needs a foretaste of a future secured
AR Curious metamorphosis:
Christ becomes a psychosocial icon, a limiting ideal (supremum, math) for self and social life, a hub
for a cloud cluster, and a zero (infimum, math) in a space of souls, conceived
as eternal shapes analogous to blobs (binary large objects) in (Hilbert) space.
That sounds raving mad, I guess, so let me just say — psychon woo-woo!
2013 September 12
Vladimir V. Putin
Syria is witnessing an armed conflict between
government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few
champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda
fighters and extremists battling the government.
peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their
own future. We are protecting international law. We need to use the UN
Security Council to keep international relations from sliding into chaos.
No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every
reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian army but by opposition
forces, to provoke intervention by their foreign patrons, who would be
siding with the fundamentalists.
Military intervention in internal
conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States.
Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of
democracy but as relying solely on brute force. We must stop using the
language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and
A new opportunity to avoid military action has
emerged in the past few days. Judging by the statements of President Obama,
the United States sees this as an alternative to military action. We must
work together to keep this hope alive.
I disagree with American
exceptionalism. It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see
themselves as exceptional. God created us equal.
Kenneth M. Pollack
The case for staying out:
1 The United States has no vital interests in
2 Any intervention in Syria could
repeat the Iraq experience.
The case for intervention:
1 Humanitarian: Absent decisive foreign
intervention, the Syrian civil war will probably roil on for
years and will likely result in many more killed.
Terrorism: Horrific terrorist groups find comfortable bases and breeding
grounds amid civil wars.
The longer the Syrian civil
war burns, the worse this gets.
3 Geostrategic: The United
States has strategic interests in the region. Spillover from the Syrian
civil war is threatening the stability of neighbors.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)
movement against Israel is based on a dangerous and inaccurate analogy
between Israel and apartheid South Africa. It is often fueled by
interactions with Palestinians living under Israeli control. American Jewish
leaders fail to understand the power of such interactions because they
rarely have them.
The Hillel organization oversees Jewish life on US college campuses. Its
2010 guidelines urge local chapters not to host speakers who deny the right
of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and
recognized borders; delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to
Israel: or support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the
State of Israel.
For centuries, when Jews lived in the Diaspora as a
persecuted minority, we had to understand the societies around us. Because
we lacked power, we had to be smart to survive. Have we forgotten the
importance of listening?
2013 September 11
President Barack Obama: "Our ideals and principles, as well
as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership
of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be
Obama called the Russian proposal encouraging and asked
Congress to postpone a vote on authorizing military force against Syria,
also giving more time for UN inspectors to report their findings.
Maryland Democrat Congressman Elijah Cummings: "I thought he made a great
The United States
● Has for decades resisted
calls to reform the UN Security Council. It defends a system that grants
the US, UK, Russia, China, and France a veto over world affairs.
Agreed in 1997 to decommission its 31 kilotons of sarin, VX, mustard gas,
and other agents within
10 years, but failed to do so. In 2012 it claimed
they would be gone by 2021.
● Pushed a law through Congress in 1998
forbidding international weapons inspectors from taking
samples of chemicals
in the US and allowing the president to refuse unannounced inspections.
● Used millions of gallons of chemical weapons in Vietnam, Laos, and
Cambodia. It also used them
during its destruction of Falluja in 2004, then
lied about it.
● Provides cover for Israel's weapons of mass
destruction. Israel has developed its nuclear arsenal
in defiance of the
NPT, and the US supports it.
● Remains outside the jurisdiction of
the International Criminal Court, after declaring its citizens
prosecution. Gitmo defies international justice.
AR The United State has no moral case in Syria.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has
engaged a philosopher to help with its next report on how to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions.
Oxford University professor John Broome is
a lead author of the IPCC report due out next April. Broome:
"Many people, some
living, others yet to be born, will die from the effects of climate change.
Is each death equally bad? How bad are those deaths collectively? Many
people will die before they bear children, so climate change will prevent
the existence of children who would otherwise have been born. Is their
non-existence a bad thing?"
Global Warming Policy Foundation director
Benny Peiser: "I don't think philosophers are good advisers on these
questions because they haven't got a clue."
AR So every day I don't father a child is bad? Who
can I sue?
One thing that sets humans apart from other animals is
our capacity for counterfactual thinking. Stories are complex counterfactual
explorations of possible outcomes. These surrogate experiences build up our
knowledge and help us adapt to new situations. Almost a quarter of our
waking lives are spent in imagined worlds. They are as useful to us as lived
Trades Union Congress
8-11 September 2013
Richard Dawkins, 72, says in his
autobiography that a master at his prep school was a pedophile: "I don't
think he did any of us any lasting damage."
An Appetite for Wonder
Higgs Kills Space Brains
Models of universal expansion suggest a future
filled with Boltzmann brains.
Endless time and energy let anything happen, so conscious entities would pop
out of the vacuum.
But if the Higgs field is metastable, it can end
the universe before the brains take over. When the Higgs field flips into a
lower energy state, a new big bang bursts and destroys our universe.
It seems physical laws favor a metastable Higgs. If the field flips and the
new bubbles grow faster than the universe is expanding, it will kill off
Sir Cliff Richard releases his 100th album, featuring classic rock'n'roll
tracks, in November.
Cliff, 72, released his debut album in 1959. He
is the only artist to have had at least one UK top five album in each of the
last seven decades: 14 of them reached #1 in the UK and a further 54 made
the top 10. He has also sold 21.5 million singles in the UK.
Diana Nyad, 64, completes
Cuba-Florida swim, 35 years after first trying.
ever give up.
You're never too old to
chase your dreams."
Burning Man 2013
The record breaking sixth Bournemouth Air Festival drew to a spectacular
close with the general view that it was greatest show yet. An action-packed
show together with glorious sun drew 1.3 million visitors to the
2013 September 10
US secretary of state John Kerry mooted that a US attack
might be avoided if Syria were to give up its chemical weapons. Kerry had
spoken to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. Syrian foreign minister
Walid Moallem said Lavrov had proposed that Syria's chemical weapons be put
under international control as a way of forestalling an attack.
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton called the idea that Syria
might give up its chemical weapons an "important step" if the Russians and
the Syrians followed up on it. She said she would support Obama.
President Barack Obama: "It's certainly a positive
development when the Russians and Syrians both make gestures towards dealing
with these chemical weapons."
Bild reported that German
intelligence intercepted communications that indicate Syrian president
Bashir al-Assad had repeatedly denied his military approval for chemical
A French defense ministry official said al-Assad ordered the
attack because he feared a major rebel attack from the suburbs that could
have endangered his control of Damascus.
minister Laurent Fabius said the Russian proposal "deserves a thorough
Today in Bournemouth, Ed Miliband will say: "I
respect those who worry about change. I understand, but I disagree. It is
the right thing to do. Change can happen. Change must happen. And I am
absolutely determined that this change will happen."
leaders demand a collective link between the party and the unions. Miliband:
"I want to make each and every affiliated trade union member a real part of
their local party, making a real choice to be part of our party so they can
have a real voice in it."
Labour still relies on the unions for most
of its funding. Miliband will attack David Cameron: "One Nation
Conservatives would be turning in their graves if they could hear the nasty
divisive small minded rhetoric of the leader of a once great party."
AR One Nation Conservatism was created by
Victorian prime minister Benjamin Disraeli. Modern Tories would do well to
recall his achievement.
2013 September 9
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem says Syria
welcomes the Russian proposal that it put its chemical weapons under
international control. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that to
avert military strikes Syria should put its chemical weapons under
international control and join the Organization for the Prohibition of
AR Good move. Perhaps
Obama can respond.
New Australian PM Tony Abbott was portrayed as a
misogynist reactionary dimwit. But he left outgoing PM Kevin Rudd stonkered
and wombattered. The Australian economy is strong after 22 years of
growth, but not strong enough to save the Labor
government Abbott destroyed.
Boringsville conservatism won.
Exciting conservatism slashes government spending. BoreCons look for
efficiencies, protect key public services, and plot slow but steady paths to
balanced budgets. They’re more interested in cutting household electricity
bills than (futile) attempts to stop climate change. They respect ordinary
voters more than clever critics.
BoreCons — Abbott in Australia,
Stephen Harper in Canada, John Key in New Zealand, and Angela Merkel in
Germany — know ideologues don't win elections. Abbott was portrayed as a
Catholic fundamentalist, but he didn't push his personal views. Because
voting is compulsory in Australia and because of the alternative vote
electoral system, he had to reach beyond his core supporters.
is positive about government. Nearly every time he finds a way of cutting
Australia's budget deficit, he finds a way to spend it. He capped foreign
aid spending but will spend that saving on roads. He proposes a new tax on
big business but will use the revenues to fund a parental leave scheme.
Asked to choose between fulfilling spending pledges and hitting deficit
targets, he would spend.
Abbott wants government to be the friend of
the Australian people, not their enemy. After announcing a subsidy in
Tasmania, he said market capitalism is not the only conservative belief:
jobs, fairness, and family are at least as important. He wants to increase
defense spending and curtail immigration. He rejects same-sex marriage. And
he rejects green climate change policies. He refuses to accept inflated
energy prices, fewer manufacturing jobs, and higher carbon taxes as the
price for a futile gesture.
At some point BoreCons may need to become
BolderCons. The breakdown of the family, the decline of traditional
industries, the rise of economic superpowers in the East, and aging
populations are big challenges. But at least Abbott won.
AR A victory for common sense.
Labour leader Ed Miliband has run up the white
flag. At the Trades Union Congress in Bournemouth this week he will
doubtless pose as independent, but in battling
Unite he has shown the
decisiveness of a dishcloth.
Look at the election of Miliband minor
to the party leadership in 2010. As you will recall, his older brother got
more votes both from MPs and Euro-MPs and from ordinary Labour Party
members. David Miliband won on the first ballot, on the second ballot, and
even on the third ballot. He only lost on the fourth ballot, by 1.3%,
because of thousands of orchestrated votes from the likes of Unite and the
GMB, which sent out ballot papers in envelopes marked "Vote Ed".
Labour has taken £12 million from Unite since the election. Ed Miliband
depends on the union barons. Yet he could still become prime minister. Unite
cannot bully the present government. Ed Miliband is a different story.
AR Labour will flounder, then David will
ride to the rescue.
Brian D. Earp
Does the religious circumcision of young boys violate their
constitutional rights to bodily integrity and autonomy? A German court said
yes, and Muslim and Jewish commentators were outraged.
circumcision is an ancient tribal tradition. Both the Jewish and the Islamic
versions stem from patriarchal tribalism. Both brand a child with a
religious affiliation. Both are equivalent in medical ethics to criminal
assault of a minor.
The religious metaphysic does not square well
with the normative basis of secular ethics. Even religious freedom has its
limits. But the Muslim and Jewish commentators cried Islamophobia and
In the modern world, we are entitled to conclude that a
religion has its dark side or that a moral norm it favors is preposterous
and harmful. One such norm is to cut off healthy and functional parts of the
genitals of girls or boys.
There seems no good reason to refrain from
criticizing an idea or custom just because it is rooted in religion.
Reasoned criticism is not equivalent to prejudice against a religion. It
must be allowed.
AR Hear, hear.
Circumcision is barbaric. I was thus mutilated.
2013 September 8
President Obama said 11 years ago: "What I am
opposed to is dumb wars."
Obama was headed toward unilateral action.
It lacked UN, NATO, EU, UK, or other backing. His going to Congress made the
plan presumptively more legitimate.
A No vote would offer a
legitimate if temporarily "humiliating" way out of what is looking more and
more like an inexplicable strategic mistake.
No one contests that
hideous events are underway in Syria, that someone has gassed civilians, and
that something should be done. But no one has shown that US military action
is an effective response.
The errors made in the West after 9/11 exposed a
contempt for democratic due process given teeth by the digital revolution.
The financial crash increased the focus on domestic security.
true lesson of 9/11 is that globalization means more than market
opportunities and economic problems. Pathologies respect no borders. Even if
you ignore Islamist fanatics, they will attack you.
Syria is an
opportunity to shape a Mideast polity that is stable and democratic.
Naoki Higashida invites you to imagine living without your faculty of
speech. Explaining basic needs is as beyond your powers as a chat with a
friend. Now imagine that your mind is a room where radios tuned to different
stations are all blaring out voices and music. The radios have no controls,
the room has no exit, and relief comes only with exhausted sleep. Sensory
input is flooding in too, unfiltered and overwhelming. Even your sense of
time has gone. This is autism.
Naoki was born in 1992 and was only 13
when he authored
The Reason I
Jump. His autism was severe, but thanks to an ambitious teacher and his
own persistence, he learned to spell out words on an alphabet grid. Naoki
communicates by pointing to the letters on the grid to spell out words a
helper transcribes. His book offers proof of a mind as curious, subtle, and
complex as any. Naoki has empathy and likes company. People with autism are
2013 September 7
Iran reportedly plans to attack American targets in
Iraq in response to US intervention in Syria. Iran already supports
President Bashar al-Assad and coordinates with the Lebanese Shiite militia
Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside him.
An Iranian decision to
attack Americans makes no strategic sense. Shiite Tehran wants to see
al-Assad emerge victorious in his civil war against a Sunni opposition. But
the rulers in Iran are pushing ahead with nuclear enrichment. Starting a war
with the United States now would defeat their purpose.
President Hassan Rouhani and his team look milder. Rouhani tweeted a Jewish
New Year greeting and his foreign minister condemned the Holocaust. Rouhani:
"If something happens to the Syrian people, the Islamic Republic will do its
religious and humanitarian duties to send food and medicine."
Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Guards elite Quds force head Qasem Suleimani
warned that a US attack on Syria would result in the destruction of Israel.
Suleimani reportedly instructed Shiite militias in Iraq to target the US
You can't condemn people of an earlier era by the
standards of ours. I look back to my childhood and see things like caning,
like mild pedophilia, and can't find it in me to condemn it by the same
standards as I or anyone would today. We must beware of lumping all
pedophiles into the same bracket.
Archbishop Rowan Williams is a
lovely man, extremely kind, intelligent, and nice. I'm just baffled by his
entire belief system. The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most
unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty,
unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic
cleanser. Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is a nice man too, but he seemed
to tell me my attacking God was antisemitic, as though God were a Jew. The
God of the Old Testament is nastier than the God of the New Testament, as
Christians never tire of telling us.
I wasted my time at school. The
school had a squash court and I became obsessed with squash. I liked
knocking the ball against the wall by myself. I would watch games of squash
from the gallery, waiting for the game to end. One day, when I was about 11,
there was a master in the gallery with me. He pulled me onto his knee and
put his hand inside my shorts. He did no more than have a little feel, but
it was extremely disagreeable as well as embarrassing. Many of my friends
had the same experience with him. I don't think he did any of us any lasting
2013 September 6
UK prime minister David Cameron said Russian president
Vladimir Putin was "miles away" from the truth about the gas attack in
Syria: "This G20 was never going to reach conclusions on Syria. The
divisions are too great."
Friedrich Nietzsche: "If you gaze long into an
abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."
American seem indifferent
to the deaths of more than 125 000 Syrians, all too many of them
noncombatants, but outraged that a small percentage died in chemical weapons
attacks. What this says about the American moral compass is troubling.
It has taken more than two years for the White House to come up with a
strategy toward this conflict. The war may continue to rage. Regime change
is not the immediate goal. Our missiles will achieve very little. The best
case for the use of force is that punitive strikes may somehow inhibit the
future use of chemical weapons. There is little conceivable threat to our
vital national security interests here, but Congress has never yet turned
down a presidential request to authorize the use of force.
ambassador Samantha Power is a strong advocate of the "responsibility to
protect" the innocent from systematic killing. In the case of Syria, she is
chiming in about the culpability of the Assad regime in the matter of
chemical weapons use.
The abyss asks us how we see our power. Gazing
into it can be good for the soul.
Science is not philosophy. The credibility of
physicists and biologists and economists on the meaning of life cannot be
owed to their work in physics and biology and economics, however
A few weeks ago Steven Pinker (blog
August 7) published a
defense of scientism. The translation of nonscientific discourse into
scientific discourse is the central objective of scientism. It is also the
source of its intellectual inadequacy.
Pinker rejects the momentous
distinction between the study of the natural world and the study of the
human world. But the relations among the facts of the world of human spirit
are incommensurate with the uniformities of natural processes. We are
animals, but we are animals who live in culture.
Pinker proposes for
the humanities a "consilience" with science, where the beneficiary would be
the humanities. Consilience is not so much a convergence of the sciences
with the humanities as a convergence of the sciences upon the humanities.
Science is rational, but science is not all that is rational. Philosophy
and literature and history and critical scholarship also espouse skepticism,
debate, precision, and empirical tests. The suggestion that only science
recognizes the complexity of the world betrays a contempt for humanistic
AR The claimed
incommensurability may be spurious. This is Pinker's bold claim.
2013 September 5
President Barack Obama took his case for attacking Syria
overseas and gained momentum in the Senate. His deputies faced tough
questions from lawmakers and Russia warned against unilateral action. Top 5:
1 The president challenged other nations to
join him in upholding global treaties banning the use of chemical weapons. A
number of countries support action if the allegations hold up.
2 Members of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee said they wanted no US ground forces in Syria. JCS chair Martin
Dempsey: "I can never drive the risk of escalation to zero."
3 The Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave
Obama some momentum on proposed military action in Syria. They set a 60-day
deadline for use of force, with an option for an additional 30 days.
4 Russian President Vladimir Putin said he
"doesn't exclude" backing a UN resolution for military action given
irrefutable proof Syria's government is behind the attack.
5 The politics of seeking congressional approval
have favored bipartisanship. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plan was
put together and approved across party lines.
Labour leader Ed Miliband became the agent of
Britain bowing out of any military response to the use of chemical weapons
by the Syrian regime. The vote was the biggest moment of his leadership and
says more about him than anything else he has done.
rejected the call by President Obama that Assad be held accountable, turned
down the US appeal for a punitive response, and decided not to heed
President Hollande. Yet Labour backed Obama in 2008 and 2012 and celebrated
Hollande as French president. These men are their natural friends.
Everyone knew where David Cameron stood, but Labour said they wanted
evidence. The government motion was opposed and defeated. Now Labour will
only back action if there is a "very significant change" such as a direct
threat to national security.
Ed Miliband could have accepted the
government motion gracefully. But no. His technique for victory is to follow
behind the leader, wait for a slip, and exploit it. He did it to his
brother. He hopes to do it to David Cameron. He is a political vulture. As
prime minister he would be a disaster.
Jews are unwelcome in many parts of the world.
Public opinion surveys show that almost 90% of the citizens of Egypt,
Lebanon, and Jordan have a very unfavorable opinion of Jews and less than 3%
a positive impression.
The very existence of Israel is understood as a
provocation by many in the Muslim world. Many people are outraged by
Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israel who are untroubled by
oppression of Palestinians in Lebanon and Syria, or the fate of the Kurds,
Tamils, Tibetans, or Chechens.
Christian and Muslim notions of
Jewishness have little or nothing to do with the behavior or beliefs of
actual Jews. The more indebted Christianity and Islam are to Judaism, the
more they turn against their Jewish sources.
anti-Judaism seems distinct from appreciating Jewish traditions. Hannah
Arendt and Isaiah Berlin showed that Jews can use and invert antisemitic
prejudices. It's hard to imagine Disraeli or Proust, not to mention the
history of American comedy, outside of this dynamic. A central aspect of
Jewish history is the way Jews react to what the world thinks about them.
AR Arabs are Semites. So Arab anti-Zionism and
anti-Judaism are not antisemitic.
2013 September 4
President Obama promised Republicans that US strikes
against Syria would be part of a wider push to boost the rebels and
"degrade" the Assad regime. A draft resolution authorizes the use of force
but sets a time limit of 60 days and bars US ground troops from combat
Obama flew to Europe last night to meet President Putin
of Russia, the host of the G20 summit in St Petersburg. Former Soviet
President Mikhail Gorbachev urged both leaders to sit down and reverse a
"dangerous" cooling of relations between Washington and Moscow.
We are not yet anywhere near the nadir of the
humanitarian crisis already consuming five countries at the heart of the
Mideast. Much of Syria could become a dangerous no man's land. This is one
of the terrible consequences of failure to break the diplomatic and military
The Israeli Ministry of Defense and the US Missile
Defense Agency held a defense drill on Tuesday. An Israeli Air Force F-15
launched a Blue Sparrow missile resembling a Scud to test Arrow systems.
Israel is developing four layers of missile defense: Iron Dome for short
and medium range rockets, David's Sling for medium and long range rockets,
Arrow 2 to hit projectiles in the upper atmosphere, and Arrow 3 to hit
missiles in space.
AR The systems are a
wise investment for a neighbor of Syria.
2013 September 3
UK military chiefs are being ejected from US meetings
about Syria following the vote against military action. At US Central
Command in Tampa, Florida, British officers are no longer trusted with
high-level intelligence about the conflict. An official: "No British
officers are now engaged in military planning for Syria at Central Command
and none of them will be involved in the execution of the operation."
AR After the vote a Downing Street source
called Ed Miliband a "f****** c***" (to quote the Times) — now the
UK top brass will no doubt continue the chorus of epithets.
The debates about attacking Syrian targets will
waste no time on the impact on Christians in Syria.
Christians in the
Mideast have understood, after centuries of experience, that western
promises are worthless. They reckon that their only guarantee of survival is
stability, their only hope for equality is secularism, and their two great
enemies are Islamic zeal and anarchy. Wherever a strongly Islamic regime is
in power, Christians suffer.
In Iraq, murders, kidnappings,
intimidation, and expulsions have reduced the Christian community to total
ruin. Many Iraqi refugees left to join the Christians of Syria and are now
persecuted by the rebels. Large areas of Syria are under sharia law
administered by Saudi judges. Christians are required to pay the jizya, the
tax imposed on infidels.
In Egypt, the West tolerated the Muslim
Brotherhood, not a party but an unreconstructed Islamist movement, which
sought to reshape Egypt until the army intervened. Muslims assume that
Egyptian Christians are second-class citizens. Since the intervention,
Christian churches, convents, monasteries, and schools have been looted and
Western refusal to acknowledge the maltreatment of Christians
by Islamic governments is shameful.
Star Trek persists because it captures a deep and
abiding divide. Mr Spock speaks for the rational self and thinks the mind is
a mechanism that works logically, Captain Kirk for the belief that what
governs our life is not only irrational but inexplicable, and the better for
Writers on mind and brain tend to divide into Spocks and Kirks,
either embracing the idea that consciousness can be located in a web of
brain tissue or debunking it. For the past decade, the Spocks have been
running the Enterprise. Now we have a Kirkist backlash.
argue that brain science promises much and delivers little. The left-right
brain split insisted on a far neater break within our heads (Spock bits to
the left, Kirk bits to the right) than is now believed to exist. Mirror
neurons were used to explain the origins of human empathy and sociability.
But our selves shape our brains as much as our brains our selves.
Once upon a time, a father began to obsess over child pornography and then
to molest his daughter. He had a tumor, pressing on the piece of the brain
associated with social and sexual inhibitions. When it was removed, the
wayward desires vanished. Later the tumor began to grow back, and with it
the urges. You have to respect the power of the meat to change the morals.
Autism is a wiring problem, not a result of
refrigerator mothers. Schizophrenia looks more likely to be cured by getting
the brain chemistry right than by looking for traumas in childhood. We are
in better shape in our mental breakdowns if we understand the brain
breakdowns that help cause them.
Philosophy may dissolve into
psychology and then into neurology, but Spocks and Kirks will go on.
2013 September 2
UK prime minister David Cameron faces mounting pressure
to reverse his decision to rule out military intervention in Syria. Senior
figures from each main party urged him to seize on President Obama's
decision to delay military action.
US foreign secretary John Kerry
said Syrian government forces used sarin in the Damascus attack:
"Bashar al-Assad now joins the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein who used
Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal: "The Syrian
regime has crossed all the lines with its tyranny ... It's time for us to
ask international community to carry out its responsibility and put an end
to this tragedy that is entering its third year."
Barack Obama's decision to seek the approval of
Congress before initiating international action against Syria has profound
implications for both David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Far from the president
questioning the prime minister's judgment, he has decided to follow his
example. What could better demonstrate the common political values that bind
the United States and the United Kingdom together?
leader, Miliband must be concerned at the battering that Britain's
reputation as a robust ally has taken. He should acknowledge that his
concerns about premature military action are now being met. He and Cameron
should meet privately and discuss whether there is now sufficient common
ground that would allow them to agree a common British policy together with
our international allies.
Britain's period of global irrelevance only lasted
about 24 hours. We had flunked the global virility test, and in military
terms we were a bunch of useless, toothless eunuchs. The French were tougher
than us, for goodness' sake!
Barack Obama decided that the views of
London were too important to ignore. He iced the plan to bomb today and
announced a postponement. That delay is a huge tribute to the prime
After due consideration, I bet Washington will endorse a
limited and punitive strike against Assad. The government should lay a new
motion before parliament, inviting British participation.
Barack Obama came to Washington to end wars, not to
start them. In his keynote speech on May 23 at the National Defense
University in Washington, he called for an end to the "boundless war on
terror" and "perpetual wartime footing" that has existed in the US since
In going to Congress for authorization of any military
operation in Syria, we see Obama as both former law professor and
pragmatist. He could have justified attacking the Assad regime on
humanitarian grounds to prevent further massacres of the Syrian people with
chemical weapons. But a congressional authorization on the use of force in
Syria will help Obama to authorize any additional military actions down the
road in Syria. It will also help him over Iran.
AR With this decision Obama earned his 2009 Peace Prize.
2013 September 1
Air Festival day 4
Great day out with the folks at Miramar
Hotel on the Bournemouth seafront cliffs. We sat on a terrace
crowded lawn enjoying drinks and snacks and applauded as if we were at a
fly-by went on for 5 hours. A series of aircraft flew great stunts over
Poole Bay, where several big Royal Navy ships including HMS Northumberland
were anchored among a flotilla of yachts.
The show opened with a bang
as an RAF Typhoon performed astonishing feats of climbing and turning.
The last flying Fairey Swordfish biplane then trundled by a few times and
the compere reminded us that just such a "Stringbag" had delivered the
torpedo that crippled the Bismarck in 1941. A few modern RN helicopters
accompanied a noisy Royal Marines assault landing onto the crowded beach.
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight came by, the big Lancaster flanked
by a Hurricane and a Spitfire. The Spit was the PR Mk XIX maintained by
Rolls-Royce, and had a Griffon engine, which has a different and harder
sound than the unforgettable purr of the Merlins on the other two planes. A
Meteor and a Vampire jet then reminded me of my schooldays, when they flew
over my school regularly.
The Flying Fortress "Sally B", star of the
movie Memphis Belle, flew smoothly by for us, slowly enough for me to check
it out carefully through my 7x50 naval binoculars. Hawker Hunter "Miss
Demeanour" made a few fast runs and closed the show with a bang as it zoomed
past at transonic speed. Sea Vixen "Foxy Lady" and Avro Vulcan "Delta
Lady" had mechanical troubles and couldn't make the show.
President Barack Obama is asking Congress to vote on whether
to use military force in Syria "to deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade the
potential for future uses of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass
Obama: "While I believe I have the authority to carry
out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I
know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our
actions will be even more effective."
Good move. Perhaps he wants a no.
|Spitfire PR Mk
Fortress "Sally B"
My room: a graphic
Daniel Goldhagen argues that anti-Semitism is
an almost pathological prejudice that spans centuries and cultures and therefore
is a uniquely destructive force that has redoubled its strength
thanks to a new age of globalization and information sharing.
Look for the reason in Judaism. Originally a racist religion, it often
a Jews-first polity. This can be okay, even benign, but it can look bad. By the way,
Arabs are Semites too, so
"anti-Semitism" is a poorly
could be the
Reza Aslan has performed a public service with this
readable review of the life and times of Jesus the Nazarene ...
Noise is the archenemy of any serious
thinker. A great mind can have great thoughts only if all its powers of
concentration are brought to bear on one subject, in the same way that a
concave mirror focuses light on one point. A great mind becomes ordinary the
moment its energies are dispersed. Even people who are not philosophers lose
whatever ideas their brains can carry in consequence of brutish jolts
AR Schoppi —
2013 August 31
Air Festival day 3: Swimming in the warm waters of Poole Bay, I looked up to
see the Hawker Hunter "Miss Demeanour" doing a fast low pass over the sea, its
Rolls-Royce Avon jet engine on reheat pumping out a wall of noise as the jet
passed, plus a happy streak of black smoke across the skyscape.
Later, at home in the garden, I looked up to see and hear the old Avro Lancaster
bomber lumbering low overhead. I discovered that an estimated 400 000 people
had packed the beaches to watch the show.
President Barack Obama said he was "war weary" but determined
to hold Syria accountable for using banned chemical weapons. He is
considering a limited response to the Syrian attack. A military strike could
entail cruise missiles fired from US Navy ships at Syrian command targets.
US Intelligence Report
1 A chemical
weapons attack killed more than 1400 people August 21.
2 The Syrian government launched a rocket attack
on the area.
3 Confidence is high that the
regime was responsible for the attack.
Syrian opposition was not capable of staging the attack.
5 The Syrian regime tried to clear the area to
end opposition attacks.
Lessons of Defeat
Cameron needs to explain why the Western alliance
matters and why Britain matters to it. He needs to argue that our role in
enforcing treaties and protecting civilians from tyrants is in the national
interest. He needs to persuade his own party that to be simultaneously
Eurosceptic and unwilling to act together with America is to risk
David Cameron is facing calls from ministers to
overhaul his political operation after a "catastrophic failure of
intelligence" led to the first government defeat on the possible deployment
of British troops in generations. Tories concerned that he will emerge as a
weakened leader of a diminished country are calling for a shakeup.
Four Lucky Breaks
You and I are impurities in the physical universe.
Physics uses simple symmetry principles to construct complicated laws of the
universe. A thing is symmetrical if there is something you can do to it so
that after you have finished doing it, it looks the same as before. Four
lucky broken symmetries:
1 The laws of physics seem to act equally in all
directions. This symmetry gives rise to the inverse square law of gravity.
Lights seem to drop off in brightness as the inverse square as well. But the
farther away we look, the more galaxies we can see. Taken to the logical
extreme, in every direction you look you should eventually see a star, and
the entire sky should appear as bright as the surface of the sun. An
asymmetry in time darkens the sky. There were no stars when time began.
2 Antimatter is the mirror image of ordinary
matter. A positron is like an electron except that it has a positive charge
instead of a negative one. Every type of particle has an antimatter version.
The laws of physics seem to be almost exactly the same for a universe filled
with matter or antimatter. Matter and antimatter should have annihilated one
another long ago. But in the very early universe, a symmetry broke, and
about a billion and one particles appeared for every billion antiparticles.
3 The second law of
thermodynamics says the universe gets more and more disordered over time. We
say entropy increases. Time seems to acquire an arrow when we track
complicated systems. Your brain distinguishes between past and future. New
memories make your brain more complicated over time. If entropy increases,
the early universe started off in a state of low entropy. In space you can
go forward and backward, but in time we can only go forward. This is a
4 A symmetry breaks to
give particles mass. In the Higgs model, Higgs bosons pop out of the vacuum
and allow particles to acquire mass. Quarks and electrons get their mass
from the Higgs. Proton mass is much higher than the mass of its quarks, but
electrons need their mass, since a world with a massless electron is far
different from our own. Electrons allow for a flow of electricity, and for
sharing between atoms. Without electrons binding to protons, there would be
no you or me.
AR Perspectivizes Syria, does it not?
2013 August 30
Air Festival day 2: Sitting at home minding my computer, I found the peace interrupted by the joyously thunderous roar of a Eurofighter Typhoon doing a
fast low pass over the neighborhood as it turned back to entertain the spectators on
For 272 Against 285
UK PM David Cameron was humiliated as MPs
rejected action against the Syrian regime. Labour opposition leader Ed
Miliband condemned Cameron's "cavalier and reckless" leadership and said action was now off the agenda. Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron: "There
should be no rush to take military action."
US Secretary of Defense
Chuck Hagel: "Every nation has a responsibility to make their own
decisions, and we respect that of any nation."
America is not interested in regime change in Syria.
Obama does not want to be a wartime president. His red line of the use of
chemical weapons is ridiculous. The death toll in Syria stands at more than
a hundred thousand people. Who cares whether people were killed with shells,
mortar, or gas?
The West has been evening the odds in Syria by
drip-feeding supplies and weaponry to rebel forces. This has turned the
conflict into an interminable meat-grinder, in which no side has the
decisive edge. Flattening out some more of Assad's tactical advantages will
only maintain this grisly status quo.
The conflict in Syria is a
black hole for extremists. Assad's army is supported by Hezbollah and Iran.
On the rebel side, the Free Syrian Army includes the Islamic State in Iraq
and Syria (ISIS) faction, and Jabhat Al-Nusra is linked with Al-Qaeda.
Victory for either side would be bad for the West.
AR Sad but true.
2013 August 29
Bournemouth Air Festival 2013 day 1: Moments after swimming in Poole Bay, I
looked up to see an Avro Lancaster bomber fly by, flanked by a Hawker
Hurricane and a Supermarine Spitfire, their total of six unmuffled Rolls-Royce Merlin
V12 engines purring in perfect harmony.
President Barack Obama says the
United States has concluded Syria carried out chemical weapons attacks
against its people: "If in fact we make a choice to have repercussions for
the use of chemical weapons, then the Assad regime will have received a
pretty strong signal that in fact it had better not do it again."
Syrian UN ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari:
"We are not warmongers, we are a peaceful nation seeking stability in the
area. The Syrian government is against the use of chemical weapons by all
means — this is a moral obscenity."
UN and Arab League special envoy
to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi: "Syria is now undoubtedly the most serious crisis
facing the international community."
China Daily: "Any military
intervention into Syria would have dire consequences for regional security
and violate the norms governing international relations." Chinese foreign
minister Wang Yi: "A political resolution has, from the very beginning, been
the only way out for the Syrian issue. China calls on all sides to exercise
restraint and remain calm."
US officials stress that
America will not act unilaterally. France has pledged to take part in
any action, but the UK will wait for the UN report. UN officials say they
need a week or more to produce it. The US and UK
will today publish a summary of intelligence on Syrian
responsibility for the gas attack.
In the UK, public opposition to
military intervention in Syria has hardened, as support for punitive action
dropped yesterday to 22% and opposition grew to 51%. British prime minister
David Cameron will open a parliamentary debate today on delaying any
— with reporting by
The Times, and
James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies
Amy Smithson: "Not doing anything tells Assad he's not going to get
punished, go out and use the chemicals. Striking the chemical sites presents
a very real risk of releasing toxic chemicals over nearby civilian
populations. Not striking the chemical sites leaves Assad with potent
weapons in his hands that he's shown he's willing to use."
of Michigan history professor
Juan Cole: "This is more about Washington saving face, it seems to me,
than it is a consequential intervention in the Syrian conflict. When you're
in a position where it is assumed that the United States must do something,
a couple of Tomahawks make a statement."
Problem From Hell
Syria is de facto breaking up into jihadist-run
"emirates" and Alawite rump states. It is also the scene of a proxy war that
pits al Qaeda affiliates backed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia against Hezbollah,
backed by Iran. It's a problem from hell.
The issue now is the use of
neurotoxins as weapons against civilians. It seems inconceivable that the
United States will not respond. But Russia and China will almost certainly
veto a UN resolution on Syria. Russia is a Syrian ally, and Russia and China
are generally staunchly against any kind of international intervention in
the affairs of other countries. Although the United States regularly
infringes the sovereignty of countries such as Pakistan and Yemen with CIA
drone strikes, the Syrian regime is not threatening the United States.
The Arab League has not endorsed any military action against Assad. NATO
member Turkey could invoke Article 5 because Syria has often fired into its
territory. So far, the Turks have not done so, but the new atrocity might
The Muslim Brotherhood
Syria is the epicenter of a widening regional
conflict. Saudi Arabia sees Iran as a threat to its security. In many
respects the Syrian war is a proxy war between the Saudis and Iran. The
Saudis can weaken Iran by depriving it of its Syrian allies.
In Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood fights beside al
Qaeda jihadists. The House of Saud is concerned that the Brotherhood could
threaten its religious and political legitimacy. Since 2011, the Saudis have
worked to undermine the Brotherhood in Egypt. Turkey supports the
Brotherhood and may dominate Syria if the Saudis fail to act.
Arabia and Israel have parallel interests in Syria. Both want to see Iran
weakened, neither wants to see Assad last, and neither want to see the
Brotherhood or al Qaeda take control. An American attack on Syria will do
nothing to help.
2013 August 28
The Arab League threw its weight behind the judgment
that the Assad regime was responsible for the chemical attack last week as
US and UK preparations for military intervention in Syria continued.
British CDS General Sir Nick Houghton will outline options for targeted
attacks at a meeting today of the UK NSC. He is expected to tell ministers
the UK could assist US forces with cruise missile strikes.
The Syria that will emerge if Bashar Assad
wins will be a dangerous place. Assad will rule a rump country in Western
Syria, with the support of Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
They will be engaged in a running battle with Sunni insurgents who will turn
to foreign allies to assist a jihadist struggle, which will spread through
the region and fuel international terror.
Are we being urged to act just
for show? Much of what we did in the Cold War was just for show. It
demonstrated that the Western allies were united and committed to resisting
tyranny. The Korean war was hugely unpopular in America, yet it signaled to
the Soviet Union that the United States would act if pushed too far. So if
all we now do is act for show it will still be worthwhile.
The Limits of Action
Aaron David Miller
Q What are US
objectives in Syria?
A Pretty limited.
The Obama administration cannot hope to play the lead role in stopping
the Syrian civil war and become the dominant architect in replacing the
Assad regime with a democratic polity. The United States can try to make a
difference on the humanitarian side, the political side, the military side,
and the diplomatic side. The president hopes to restore credibility to his
own red lines on chemical weapons and keep on the right side of history.
Q Does a military strike serve US interests?
A Yes, but very imperfectly.
States must contend with a fragmenting state that's spewing sectarian
violence, hemorrhaging refugees, offering up opportunities for extremists,
and spreading instability to its neighbors. If the United States is going to
use military force, it must go well beyond symbolic warnings. Assad must go.
But getting rid of Assad by no means guarantees stability, the end of civil
war, or a victory for the pro-Western opposition in Syria.
Q How important is Syria to President Obama?
A So far, not very.
Syria is a breeding
ground for extremism, sectarian violence, and proliferation and use of
chemical weapons. The Syrian civil war is a cruel and bloody war that
America can't end, and it shouldn't be stuck with the enormous bill for
cleaning up. Assuming the lion's share of responsibility for getting rid of
Assad and supporting whatever government replaces him is neither a vital
American value nor a vital national interest. Obama knows it.
2013 August 27
We Must Act
Consider the Mideast: Syria is mired in carnage, Egypt
is in chaos, Iran is a theocratic dictatorship.
In Egypt, the
military have aborted a democratically elected government and are repressing
a political party. But the Muslim Brotherhood was changing the constitution
and taking control of the commanding heights of the state in pursuit of
values that contradict everything we stand for.
Egypt is imbued with
a fierce national pride. Its people are disdainful of naive Western critics.
Condemning the military will not get us any nearer to a return to democracy.
Think of Syria disintegrated, divided in blood, the nations around it
destabilized, waves of terrorism rolling over the population of the region,
with Assad in power, Iran ascendant, and bitter sectarian fury. It is time
we took the side of the people who want what we want.
A struggle is
going on for the future of Islam. Extremists are attempting to create a
political Islam at odds with the modern world. They must be defeated.
AR Blair is a Christian and works for
Israel. But he is right.
Those who jump into humanitarian wars for moral
reasons should also want to win them. Cruise missiles fired from destroyers
can send a message but they cannot decide the outcome of a war. There has to
be a strategic motivation behind the moral one. Whatever is done should be
well considered. Starting a war is easier than winning it.
Those who can see the images of murdered Syrian
children and not feel the impulse to invade the country have lost their
humanity. But the emotions triggered by pictures of dead children cannot be
the decisive factor. Military successes do not always bring improvements for
the people involved. Alternatives to a military strike must be considered.
— Die Tageszeitung
The United States will decide for or
against a military reaction. President Obama is concerned about securing
Syrian chemical weapons. But he will also consider the consequences for the
region. The Syrian war has long since crossed the borders into Lebanon and
Iraq. Berlin wants to be on the side of its allies, without military
— Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
2013 August 26
The present task is to get UN inspectors into
Syria. The evidence of this crime degrades fast. We need something
sharp, quick, specific, punishing, and preferably legitimized by the UN.
Syria is far more complex and has far greater geostrategic consequences than
Bosnia ever had. Iraq, Afghanistan, and the economic crisis have robbed us
of both the credibility and the capabilities we had then.
and China still veto sanction against this terrible crime, we are faced with
1 We can acquiesce in a breach
of international law and damage the UN.
can take unilateral action and damage the UN.
Punishing Syria like this will only worsen World War IV. The UN is
broken by its democracy of unequal partners. We need a
GO reflecting demographic and
Kurt Gödel ist vor allem bekannt für seinen
1933 veröffentlichten Beweis, dass die Mathematik letztendlich nicht
eindeutig widerspruchsfrei ist.
Gödel hat auch "bewiesen", dass Gott
existiert. Sein Gottesbeweis verwendete eine Variation des ontologischen
Gottesbeweises. Demzufolge gehört es zu einem vollkommenen Wesen wie Gott,
dass es auf jeden Fall auch die Eigenschaft besitzt, zu existieren. Denn
sonst wäre es nicht vollkommen. Der Gott der Logiker besitzt die
Eigenschaft, vollkommen zu sein.
Gödels Beweisführung beginnt etwa
Axiom 1. Entweder eine Eigenschaft oder ihre Negation ist positiv,
niemals aber beides.
Axiom 2. Eigenschaften, die notwendigerweise aus
einer positiven Eigenschaften folgen,
müssen ebenfalls positiv sein.
Definition. Ein Wesen ist Gott-artig, falls es alle positiven Eigenschaften
Christoph Benzmüller und Bruno Woltzenlogel Paleo haben
eine Variante von Gödels Gottesbeweis formalisiert und im Computer
überprüft. Ergebnis: "Wir können nun also mit großer Gewissheit behaupten:
Die logische Argumentationskette in diesem Gottesbeweis ist nachweisbar
AR Hanebücherei! Gödel hat sich
mit logischer Wortspinnerei zum Wahnsinn amüsiert.
2013 August 25
The Syrian foreign ministry says Syria will
cooperate with UN inspectors "to expose the false allegations of the
terrorist groups accusing the Syrian forces of using chemical weapons". The
government said its soldiers had found chemical supplies when they entered a
rebel stronghold near Damascus.
International aid group Doctors
Without Borders said that on the morning of the reported attack, medical
centers received about 3600 patients with symptoms indicating exposure to a
chemical nerve agent. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the
deaths of 322 people, most killed by toxic gas.
An audio message
posted on YouTube, purportedly from al-Nusra leader Abu Muhammad al-Joulani,
accuses the Syrian regime of bombarding the site "with tens of missiles"
carrying a "suffocating chemical agent" and killing hundreds.
President Barack Obama and UK PM David Cameron have discussed "a serious
response" to the attacks. US Secretary of State John Kerry called his
regional counterparts and the secretary general of the Arab League. Western
defense chiefs including US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Martin
Dempsey, US commander in the Mideast General Lloyd Austin, UK armed forces
head General Sir Nick Houghton, and a French chief meet in Jordan Monday to
The US military is positioning assets in the region.
destroyers USS Ramage, USS Mahan, USS Gravely, and USS Barry, all
equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles, are now deployed in the eastern
Mediterranean Sea. UK capability in theater includes a nuclear-powered
Trafalgar-class submarine on patrol. RAF Tornados can use Cyprus as a base
to launch attacks.
A Syrian government information minister dismissed
the possibility of an attack: "The basic repercussion would be a ball of
fire that would burn not only Syria but the whole Middle East."
The New York Times, and
The Sunday Times
Government routinely abuses its power to classify
information. But there are many legitimate reasons for governments to keep
secrets. Most of what Manning and Snowden leaked
shows US agencies working hard at their jobs. America has been aggressively
collecting mass data to discover and derail terrorist
attacks in advance.
Snowden documents reveal that Britain runs a
secret station in the Mideast to intercept and process vast quantities of
emails, phone calls, and web traffic. The station extracts data from the
underwater cables in the region. The data is processed for intelligence,
then passed to GCHQ and shared with the NSA.
Worldwide internet traffic plunged
by 40% as all Google services went down for a few minutes Friday night.
NHS Checks Useless
UK National Health Service health checks offered to
millions of people over 40 are a useless waste of money that may do more
harm than good, say reviewers. Royal College of GPs chairwoman Dr Clare
Gerada: "You always find something that you can't explain and then you do
more tests. We're constantly having to explain to patients that actually
there's nothing wrong."
2013 August 24
Elysium has a message. In 2154, the poor live in squalor on
Earth while the rich live in space station Elysium. Earth man Max (Matt
Damon) gets a lethal dose of radiation and asks his buddy Spider to get him
up to Elysium for a cure. Spider prepares Max for a mission. An Elysium
governor has asked a boss to write a reboot program for Elysium. The boss
uploads the code to his brain and becomes the target. Max wins. A point is
AR I liked it. As a critique of apartheid it worked. Rich and
poor are one species and must share. As an action movie it hit the usual
notes — too much gory violence and not enough technoclarity — but I'm a
gourmet technopurist with a dislike of bloody primitivism so don't listen to
me on that. It was formulaic and reckless, sure, but it worked. I suspect it
was written in precise accordance with the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet (blog
July 19) by someone who thought no one cares about technoplausibility but
everyone likes a script heavily salted with profanity, gore enough to sicken
a surgeon, and fight scenes that would soon kill any real protagonists. What
turned me on were the hints of technowizardry on show in Elysium. I guess
I'm losing the testo-fueled savagery of my younger years.
Bradley Manning wishes to transition and to be known
henceforth as Chelsea. In June 2013, there were at least 61 trans prisoners
in the US prison system.
In the United States, more than 200 000 men are raped
behind bars each year. Trans prisoner
Cece McDonald wrote recently of the unique torture inflicted on one trans
woman in prison, including "sexual harassment during cross-gender strip
searches" that "included ridiculing her anatomy, threatening her, and
exposing her to male inmates".
Many things are
torture to the trans individual. Through forced strip searches, the US
government started to torture Chelsea in 2011. Her ordeal has only just
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is
stepping down. As of noon Eastern, Microsoft stock climbed nearly 6%. Since
2000 when Big Steve took over from Bill Gates, the company dug itself a
Under Ballmer, Microsoft should have done more than just mimic
Apple and Amazon and Google. Some say Surface and Azure and Bing are
superior to what came before. But they came too late.
squeezing its own Windows customers. The perception was that the company was
giving them shoddy software and forcing them to use it. Microsoft needs new
Working hard to earn a living is not an ideal
way of life. Even those with a work ethic concede that a lifetime of work
earns an easeful retirement early enough in life to allow you a few years to
The state has reasons of its own for requiring
everyone to keep busy. Economists and politicians fret about the cost of an
aging population. If their bodies can be kept going, the old folk can stay
in work for longer and cost less. But keeping those bodies going is
expensive, and the longer the old work, the fewer jobs there are for the
Leisure is so terrifying in our culture that we cut it up into
small chunks throughout our working year in case too much will drive
us mad, and leave most of it to the end, in the hope of an early death.
AR Work and rest — not my idea of a
life choices dichotomy. How about mission accomplished and then rounded to a
2013 August 23
We at the
Guardian had been having a perfectly cordial conversation with British
government officials when they suddenly changed their mind. I had already
made arrangements in the United States, and I tried to persuade the
officials that smashing hard drives was pointless. But they wouldn't be
persuaded. So I moved the reporting out of London and destroyed the material
The British are complacent about these things. An
Englishman's home is his castle, and they can't imagine the police coming
through the front door. But the police may already be inside their homes.
They don't even need to go through the front door.
AR Unless British
citizens wake up and defend their freedoms, the establishment will proceed
with stealth toward a Big Brother state behind a smokescreen of paranoid
propaganda about Europe and mindless monarchism. Arise and be (not) counted!
Christians are fleeing the Mideast. Today over 10 million
Christians in the Mideast make up some 5% of the regional population. A
century ago they made up 20%. The fall is due to emigration, high Muslim
birth rates, and marginalization and targeting of Christians in Arab
● Egypt. Islamist thugs
have attacked and burned down churches across Egypt. Christians, who make up
10% of the Egyptian population, had complained that a new constitution
passed by the Morsi government infringed on their rights. An estimated
100 000 of them left Egypt in 2011.
Syria. Syrian Christians tacitly supported the regime of President Assad,
which historically favored and protected religious minorities. About a third
of the Christians in northeastern Syria have fled the country in the past
● Libya. Around 60 Christians
were rounded up by extremists on suspicion of immigrating from Egypt. The
militants tortured several of them and killed one. Earlier this year, four
Christians were accused of proselytizing to Muslim Libyans. Now there is an
exodus of Christians.
● Iraq. Since 2003,
the Christian Iraqi population may have dropped by half, according to the
CIA. Half the Iraqis who fled the country in 2010, about 200 000 people,
were Christians. Only 3% of the Iraqi population are now Christian.
The region boasted a sizable Jewish population a few decades ago. But then
things changed. Around World War II there were 100 000 Jews in Egypt, in a
community with roots going back to the pharaohs. Now only a few dozen
remain. First the Jews, then the Christians.
This is war, World War IV. The West should respond ethically by restricting Muslim immigration and taking
in Christians as
Whenever I hear people dismiss movies as fantasy
and make a hard distinction between film and life, I think this is just a
way of avoiding the power of cinema. What is it about cinema? My answers:
Cinema is created with light. Most creation myths start with darkness, and
then light, which leads to distinguishing one thing from another, and
ourselves from the rest of the world. Light is at the core of who we are and
how we understand ourselves.
The desire to make images move, the need to capture movement, seemed to be
with us in stone age cave paintings. I think this need to recreate movement
is a mystical urge.
3 Time. The pioneers
of cinema were taking reality and interpreting it, reshaping it, and trying
to find meaning in it. The cut from one image to another is a shift from one
vantage point to another, still within one continuous action.
4 Language. We have no choice but to treat all
these moving images coming at us as a language. We want to understand what
we see and find the tools to sort it all out. We agree that verbal literacy
is necessary. Now we need to stress visual literacy in our schools.
Archaeologists have made many discoveries by studying the refuse of earlier
civilizations. We have to do the same thing with film. We need to take pride
in our cinema, our great American art form.
AR Yes! Tonight
2013 August 22
When you work on your computer, electrons work for
you. Your brain causes your fingers to press keys and so on to cause
electrons to flow in the processor and onward to the screen. This kind of
causation is all around us. In Darwinian evolution, the environment works on
genetic structure from the top down.
Causation from the top down
allows the emergence of complex systems with new kinds of behavior from
simpler ones. Thus computers and brains can have causal power in their own
right, despite being made up of transistors or neurons. Reductionists insist
the physics at the bottom is causally closed. But:
1 Top structure channels bottom interactions.
Computer wiring constrains the motion of electrons to create new
possibilities that do not exist for free electrons. Such constraints
underlie the emergence of computation. The physics makes things happen, but
the context determines what will happen.
In billiard ball mechanics, balls with fixed behavior interact via fixed
laws to determine behavior at the top. But in quantum physics or biology,
context affects the lower entities and shapes how they behave. A neutron
lasts about 15 minutes when free, but for billions of years when bound in a
3 Some things only exist in
higher structures. Symbiotic partners cannot survive when separated. The
Cooper pairs in superconductors are pairs of electrons that would normally
repel each other, but the lattice structure lets bound pairs form. We cannot
deduce superconductivity bottom up.
Reductionists ask how neurons can
have causal powers when their behavior is fixed by superstring physics. The
higher levels like electrons and neurons are riders on this underlying
causation. Causation from neurons to electrons acts top down.
In Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein
dismantled a myth. The myth was about the nature and primacy of interiority
and has been at the heart of western thought since Augustine. It was that
thinking is something we do in our heads. It then becomes language and
emerges in speech.
Wittgenstein said thinking is like language and
follows rules: "It is not possible to obey a rule 'privately': otherwise
thinking one was obeying a rule would be the same thing as obeying it."
Thinking is a social activity. The public realm has priority over the
private and inner. Meaning is use.
Wittgenstein urged students to
give up philosophy and go do something useful. Philosophy is not about
building intellectual foundations but about creating better maps of what
people are doing when they say the things they do. Philosophers are like
therapists, trying to undo muddles.
2013 August 21
Egypt is grappling with its own ungovernability. It
signals a more general collapse of statehood in the Mideast. The region
cannot sustain wars in Syria and Egypt without wrecking peace treaties and
risking wider conflict. If things go badly, Israel will be drawn into the
Mohamed ElBaradei resigned as Egyptian
vice-president. He has abandoned the fight for the middle ground between a
military dictatorship, an Islamic autocracy, and the roar of the crowd. For
most Egyptians, he was a symbol of a doomed engagement with the West.
Syria may be sliced up, with the Alawites claiming a heartland.
Thousands of Syrian Kurds, have been crossing into Iraqi Kurdistan. They are
keen to form a Kurdish statelet, perhaps with Turkish Kurds. in Libya,
eastern Cyrenaica wants greater autonomy. Yemen is a failed state.
The spreading Mideast crisis is as ominous as the prelude to war in 1914.
Egypt risks a long civil war. Regional governments are lining up. Supporting
the Egyptian military are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab
Emirates, and even Israel. Supporting the Muslim Brotherhood are Turkey,
Qatar, and Iran. We all lose if war and insurrection spread.
The Chinese government aims to upgrade the
environmental sector to the rank of a key industry. The sector is expected
to grow at twice the rate of the wider economy and to earn over $700 billion
Beijing wants to make more energy-efficient power plant
equipment, more cars and buses running on liquefied natural gas, and more
wind and solar farms, as well as nuclear power plants. Other priorities
include treating waste water, expanding the power grid, and constructing
subway systems. The Chinese are looking at modern German control technology
Threat of legal action could have stopped reporting
on the American and British government surveillance revealed by the Snowden
documents. Government officials visited the Guardian offices to demand the
destruction or surrender of all the NSA files held there. GCHQ technicians
watched as Guardian employees pulverized the hard drives and memory chips
that had stored the encrypted files.
2013 August 20
Angela Merkel looks set to win another term as
German chancellor. She will boast a record matched by only two of her
postwar predecessors: Konrad Adenauer, who restored respect for the Germans,
and Helmut Kohl, who reunited them. Adenauer created her Christian Democrat
creed and Kohl was her mentor, but they were both patriarchs. Merkel wears
her nickname "Mutti" as a badge of honor.
Merkel, 59, grew up in East
Germany and takes Europe seriously. She has cultivated an unthreatening,
homely image, but her integrity, intelligence, and insight lend her words
weight. Last week she gave notice that the EU might have to "give something
back" to nation states. German talk about restoring powers to national
governments suggests that something is finally stirring in the eurozone.
Polls suggest that half of all Germans would ditch the euro and stop
bailouts tomorrow. The markets have been calmer since the Germans underwrote
the ECB promise to do whatever it takes to prevent the eurozone from
collapsing, but the gap is widening between north and south. Migration from
the south toward Britain and Germany have pushed immigration and welfare to
the top of the agenda.
Benjamin Y. Fong
The Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative
Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative promises fine control over the seat of
consciousness. One day, having monitored the active brain from birth to
adulthood and uncovered both the constitutional and environmental factors of
various disorders, we may be able to tell the developmental story in which
selves emerge in neurological terms.
The trouble with the BRAIN initiative is in how it impacts
human problems. For example, low socioeconomic status at birth is associated
with a greater risk of developing schizophrenia, but most research into
schizophrenia today is carried out by neurobiologists and geneticists. This
reflects an assumption that it is better to change the brain than to change
the environment that spoils it.
Psychology has looked at how we
engage with the world and grow into social beings with the hope of improving
our lives. Neuroscience is a harbinger of a new psychological paradigm that
replaces the socially formed self with the active brain. Neuroscientists
repress all that we know about the alienating and dissatisfying world in
which we live and the harmful effects it has on the psyche.
Writer: Take A Break
I'm a publisher. I know many writers and admire
their work, but I prefer readers. Readers want to find something new.
Writers have found it and seek to deliver it to the world. Not all can write
well. Nearly everyone wants to be an author, but readers are an endangered
species. The literary equivalent of channel surfing is replacing the
prolonged concentration required to tackle a book. Books are suffering in
the reduced attention spans of readers.
As ever more writers dive into the shrinking pool of
readers, the laws of the market threaten to turn the cash nexus in book
publishing on its head. Increasing numbers are paying to write. The point
where readers are being paid cannot be far off. Sometimes it seems that my
job as an editor comprises little more than hacking away at the tangle of
poorly crafted words to admit sunlight for the few that are left. I propose
a Year of Not Writing.
AR Perhaps this
is good advice. A blog should be enough for now.
Emirates Executive invites you to charter a luxury Airbus. Emirates SVP
Adnan Kazim: "We have seen an increasing demand in the private travel
segment, especially in the Middle East and Europe."
Das letzte Kapitel:
Wenn ein Mensch stirbt
Spiegel TV (84 min)
My car has British plates:
fight with the GB
gatekeepers is thus won.
Cars: A Rant
(PDF, 4 pages, 432 KB)
Human-relevant levels of added sugar consumption increase female mortality
and lower male fitness in mice
Fifty Shades Of Pants
The E.L. James novel
Fifty Shades of Grey has sold more than 70
and is the fastest-selling paperback of all time.
is joining the
bandwagon with a new line of lingerie.
Worse Than Kafka
US surveillance programs are secret.
The court proceedings that enable them and the legal rationales that justify
them are secret too. The reasons for all this secrecy are also secret.
fighting for the right to disclose exactly what cooperation it provides to
security services, but having to do this without
admitting that it provides any.
Nobody knows how much this is happening
because no one can talk about it.
2013 August 19
The social covenant creates society. To strengthen
1 You construct an environment of
2 You create a very strong
environment of supportive communities.
focus intensely on the education system.
You expect those who succeed to share with those who have less.
danger in a multicultural society is that every ethnic group and religious
group becomes a pressure group, putting our people's interest ahead of the
national interest. The lessons:
don't try to impose your views on the majority population.
2 You are Jewish and you're English and you have
to negotiate that.
3 You realise there is
such a thing as anti-Semitism.
A very individualistic self-centred
society doesn't really have space for God.
Lord Sacks, 65, will soon step down as Chief Rabbi.
2013 August 18
HS2: £80 000 000 000?
The Institute of Economic Affairs predicts that the
cost of the projected high-speed rail link HS2 linking London with the North
will rise to at least £80 billion. Special interest lobbying could add
around £30 billion in costs for route changes and tunneling to protect the
environment and buy off opposition.
author Richard Wellings: "It's time the government abandoned its plans to
proceed with HS2. The evidence is now overwhelming that this will be
unbelievably costly to the taxpayer while delivering incredibly poor value
Department for Transport: "HS2 is absolutely vital
for this country, providing a huge economic boost which will generate a
return on investment that will continue paying back for generations to
AR Scrap it and improve the road
system. That's where the real economic boost lies. Consider the loss every
day due to traffic congestion, slow and bumpy roads, dirty and inefficient
vehicles, poor routes and junctions, inadequate parking, and decades of
planning neglect. Tens of billions can turn the tide.
When I was 18 years old, I won a place at
Oxford University. I experienced the sort of confidence and entitlement that
the combination of money, status, and a private education confer. Yet I've
come to believe that Oxford and Cambridge are part of the problem, not the
Oxbridge graduates dominate British public life, and those
graduates are largely drawn from private schools. Oxford and Cambridge are
part of the mechanism by which the elite consolidates its power and augments
its influence. An Oxbridge degree is still a golden ticket to the best
careers and prospects.
We, the people, pay for Oxford and Cambridge.
And yet the people are barely even getting a look in. Without fairness and
equality, Oxbridge will continue to provide the stamp of quality that a
privileged elite uses to tighten grip on jobs, wealth, property, power, and
AR Societies have always bred
hereditary elites. The challenge is to give those elites enough social
conscience to behave fairly toward the masses. The British elite serves a
corrupt and ingrown establishment that shows little understanding of progress,
fairness, or even common decency.
2013 August 17
Elysium director Neill Blomkamp has a vision of
2154. The top 1% has abandoned Earth for luxury space station Elysium. Earth
is a totalitarian nightmare slum in which citizens live like rats.
Blomkamp decided that the only contemporary location that could accurately
convey the grimness of life on Earth in century 22 was a garbage dump in
Mexico City: "It was pretty goddamn terrible."
Elysium runs with that
idea, its bleak future Earth looking less lived-in than royally shat on:
"Battered, fucked up, hammered on. I love that, though. It makes it feel
real. My main thing is realism."
In his worlds, robots and aliens mix
with humans, high-tech body modification is rife, and society is screwed. He
grew up in apartheid-era Johannesburg and fell for sci-fi early, notably
Alien and its sequel.
"The only way things will change is if we're
smart enough to develop technology that can think us out of this, meaning
augmenting ourselves genetically to be smart enough to change shit."
AR That's not the only way, but things will
certainly change that way.
In the last three years, British wages adjusted for
inflation fell by an average 5.5%. Across the European Union, wages declined
by 0.7%. In Germany wages rose by 2.7%.
Many companies in the UK now
rely on part-time and "zero hours" contracts with no guaranteed minimum
working week. These companies pay by the hour, and if there is no work there
is no pay. Some 1.4 million Britons are underemployed, on top of 2.5 million
registered as unemployed.
Low wages and underemployment hit hard
after the recent round of UK government spending cuts. Social welfare is set
for an annual rise of 1%, but inflation now runs at 2.8%. Finance minister
George Osborne said the British social system is "broken" and called for
Although workers with an annual income of less than £10 000
no longer pay taxes, the government has cut the top tax rate from 50% to
45%. Critics see a war of rich against poor.
I feel like I've landed on a blighted island where a corrupt elite
preys on human dregs. The social extremes at both ends have become loathsome
and the middle is tearing apart.
2 A demographic
Palestinian majority in a single state
Israel carries forward its current policies with full US support.
1993 Oslo Accords determined that Gaza and the West Bank are an indivisible
entity. Israel moved at once to separate them and to create a vastly
expanded Greater Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Meanwhile Israel is
incorporating the territory on the Israeli side of the separation wall.
Israel has also been clearing the Jordan Valley of Palestinians and
preparing for eventual integration of the region within Israel. That will
complete the isolation of any West Bank Palestinian entity. The areas that
Israel is taking over will be virtually free of Arabs. There will be no
Israel has made its intentions clear by
announcing new construction in East Jerusalem and in scattered settlements,
while also extending its list of settlements that receive special subsidies
to encourage building and inducements for Jewish settlers.
an overwhelming international consensus in support of option 1.
AR I vote for option 3. Progress beats a lazy
consensus based on past realities.
Max Tegmark: "Inflation is saying, hey, there's something totally screwed up
with what we're doing ... All of our problems with inflation and the measure
problem come immediately from our assumption of the infinite."
Doron Zeilberger wants to do away with infinity altogether. There is a
largest number. Start at 1 and just keep on counting and eventually you will
go to a kind of limit. Zeilberger: "I call it N0." If you try to add 1 to
N0, you get either an overflow error or a reset to zero. Zeilberger:
"We can redo mathematics postulating that there is a biggest number and make
Tegmark: "When quantum mechanics was discovered, we realized that classical
mechanics was just an approximation. I think another revolution is going to
take place, and we'll see that continuous quantum mechanics is itself just
an approximation to some deeper theory, which is totally finite."
2013 August 16
Pericles by William Shakespeare
AR A charming and
extremely enjoyable performance
Egypt under General Abd al-Fattah al-Sissi is so
polarized that people no longer feel empathy for others. The intellectuals
spout propaganda, those who ask critical questions risk violent attack, and
the Muslim Brotherhood, instead of seeking to limit violence within its
ranks, is amplifying its rage.
National Salvation Front spokesman
Khaled Daud says the attack on Muslim Brotherhood camps was no massacre:
"The majority of Egyptians think the Brotherhood should be dealt with even
Since opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei resigned
from the transition government after the bloodbath on Wednesday, Egyptian
liberals have been blasting him as a traitor.
April 6 Youth Movement
co-founder Ashrif Arubi: "People are happy that the Brothers were killed ...
The Egyptians no longer see the authorities as their opponents."
The New York Times
In a rebuke to Egypt's military-backed
government for its brutal crackdown on supporters of ousted president
Mohamed Morsi, President Obama has canceled longstanding joint military
exercises with the Egyptian army.
AR Get real, Obama: Crushing the deathwish
fanaticism of hardcore Islamists takes a brutal crackdown. Egyptians may
thus learn that even tolerating intolerance in their midst is dangerous.
This paradox is the price of disentangling passionate faith
in a transcendent godhead from politics.
Amir D. Aczel
The question is not why unlikely coincidences occur
in our lives but how to define the unlikely. Probabilities are defined as
relative measures in a sample space, which is the set of all possible
outcomes of an experiment. We generally assume that every elementary outcome
of the experiment has an equal likelihood. If we can define a sample space
in a situation, then we can measure probabilities.
coincidences embody the blade of grass paradox. If you were to stand in a
meadow and reach down to touch a blade of grass, there are millions of grass
blades that you might touch. But you will, in fact, touch one of them. The a
priori fact that the blade you touch will be any particular one has an
extremely tiny probability, but such an occurrence must take place if you
touch a blade of grass.
The devil is in the details of how we
interpret what we see in life. Psychology plays a key role. We tend to
remember coincidences and conveniently forget the rest. We also need to
identify the correct sample space. Since there may be no correct way to do
so in many cases involving rare events, the occurrence of startling
coincidences in everyday life may well remain a mystery.
AR In 2001, Aczel wrote the excellent popular
Entanglement. Einstein famously said quantum entanglement was "spooky"
and Erwin Schrödinger found it so absurd he told a notorious cat story to
lampoon it. It is the manifestation in quantum theory of the pervasive
appearance among quantum phenomena of mathematically interesting
Speaking from the Christian tradition, the idea
that being spiritual is just about having nice experiences is rather
laughable. Most people who have written seriously about the life of the
spirit in Christianity and Judaism spend a lot of their time telling you how
absolutely bloody awful it is. The last thing it is about is the placid hum
of a well-conducted meditation. At the very least, spiritual care means
tending to every possible dimension of sense of the self and each other. It
is about filling out human experience as fully as possible.
2013 August 15
Aslan Divorced Jesus
Reza Aslan lives with his Christian wife and their
twin sons in Hollywood Hills. He runs a production company that develops
content about the Mideast, is a consultant for movies, and appears regularly
"There are times when I'm invited to dinners or
parties at celebrities' homes — no I don't want to name names — and I'm
like: 'Ooh, all these cool celebrities!' But nobody wants to talk to anybody
but me. In LA, the celebrities view the intellectuals as the celebrities."
Aslan was born to ostensibly Muslim parents in Tehran in 1972. The
family fled to the United States in 1979. Aslan had no religious instruction
as a child, yet he went on to attend Harvard Divinity School. He now teaches
creative writing at University of California, Riverside.
"Jesus and I are like a married couple that are divorced but will always be
friends — more than friends. You can't spend your life studying the world's
religions and take any one of those religions all that seriously."
AR The secret is all in the packaging. My CORAL
was too dull. Watch out for the movie treatment of Zealot, starring a
handsome young stud with smouldering Jewish looks.
Traditional payment systems charge merchants a fee
for every sale. The fee is too high for small sums.
anyone with a US bank account make free micropayments in Bitcoins. It will
handle tiny Bitcoin transactions "off-blockchain" to skip algorithmic
validation across the network and instead send them directly between two
accounts and validate them later.
The big innovation with Bitcoin was
not the currency but the network around it and the process of moving sums
from one account to another. The virtual currencies before Bitcoin all
required a central authority to move and confirm transactions.
AR If every surfer made a micropayment to read
this page, I'd have a business model that makes sense for this blog. More to
the point, if the big banks had stirred themselves to implement
micropayments already instead of paying themselves criminally big bonuses,
I'd be in business already.
Dark Energy From
The Higgs field may explain dark energy. The known
particle fields create an energy density in the universe, but the simplest
versions of the standard model predicted an enormous energy density.
Observations show that galaxies are accelerating away from each other, and
the dark energy is much weaker than predicted.
A new scalar field
outside the standard model, without the Higgs, would have zero energy
density. But if the fundamental fields merge at extremely high energies, a
unified high-energy field exists out there. If the new scalar field can use
the Higgs to link up to this field, it can gain energy.
seesaw mechanism would relate the two fields. Since the unification field is
so energetic, the new scalar field would have the same order of magnitude as
the observed dark energy.
Higgs seesaw mechanism as a source for dark energy
Lawrence M. Krauss
and James B. Dent
2013 August 14
Benjamin Netanyahu believes Israel is at the
forefront of the clash of civilizations between the West and Islam. He finds
the international community's focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
shortsighted and wrongheaded. He also believes Israel's retreat to the 1967
borders will not solve the core issue. Israel will still be surrounded by a
civilization that intends to erase Israel. He is a man with a dark world
AR It saddens me to say I think
he's probably right.
What Jesus Wasn't
Reza Aslan says the foundational Christian belief
about Jesus, namely that he was both human and divine, is "anathema" to
Jewish tradition. Judaic doctrine about this matter is not nearly so simple.
Aslan offers an ambitious and polemical
counter-narrative to what he imagines is the New Testament portrayal of
Jesus Christ. His core thesis is that the "real" Jesus of Nazareth was an
illiterate peasant from the Galilee who zealously aspired to depose the
Roman governor of Palestine and become the King of Israel. But the only
novelty in Zealot is its reductionist portrayal of Jesus as a political
Aslan dismisses the NT accounts of the early life and
teachings of Jesus prior to his "storming" of Jerusalem and his subsequent
arrest and crucifixion. He even insists that Jesus' zealous assault on the
Jerusalem Temple is the "singular fact that should color everything" we read
about Jesus. For Aslan, his crucifixion for the crime of sedition against
the Roman state is "all one has to know" about Jesus.
Aslan portrays Jesus as a faithful Jew intent on being crowned King of
Israel. He offers a stereotype of Jesus as an intolerant nationalist prone
to violence toward Gentiles and whose charity and love extend only to other
Jews. This distorted and unflattering depiction creates an image of the Jews
as intolerant of the presence of others in their land.
Aslan distorts or ignores portrayals of both the Jews and their religion
in Jesus' day. He seems to think that no trace of Judaism was allowed to
survive in the Holy Land after 70 CE. In his account, rabbinic Judaism is
entirely a product of diaspora Jews who many decades later began to develop
a less virulently racist version of the Jewish religion.
know that Jews and Christians reject his interpretation of history.
AR I haven't read Aslan's book yet, but I get
the impression he spins the whole story as a parable for the current
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Israelis as Romans and Palestinians as
Jews. I was tempted to spin the story that way in my 2012 book draft
CHRIST, but soon saw that it was a
travesty. Christian emphasis on peace and love — an inheritance from
Buddhist tradition in my spin — ruins the political reading that seems
dominant among Islamists, and indeed Muslims generally. Reza needs to get
out more, intellectually speaking. But I shall say more when I've read his
Aslan The Zealot
Fox News anchor Lauren Green challenged
author Reza Aslan for writing Zealot. Aslan made a show of insisting that he
possesses not only the academic credentials but also the professional duty
to do so. For scholars of religion, the conflation of the academic study of
religion with personal religious identification is a familiar
Aslan would probably have been cut more slack by
specialists had he simply said that he was working as an outsider to the
field. His claims are more grandiose, but his reconstruction of the life of
Jesus invests a surprisingly literalist faith in some parts of the gospel
narratives. His historical reconstruction is partial in both senses of the
In 1906, Albert Schweitzer published a dense academic book
reviewing dozens upon dozens of lives of Jesus. It makes the decisive point
that efforts to reconstruct the life of Jesus are bound to fail both because
the historical archive is so irreparably fragmentary and because every life
of Jesus inevitably emerges as a portrait with an uncanny resemblance to its
author. Lives of Jesus tell us far more about those who create them than
about the historical Jesus.
Zealot is a remix of existing
scholarship, sampled and reframed to make a culturally relevant intervention
in the post-9/11 world. The whole spectacle has been painful to watch.
AR Mention of Schweitzer has triggered my
memory: In August 2010 I mailed Aslan a review copy of my book
Great. He didn't reply, but he may well have tracked my blog, in which case
he would have seen my promotion in July 2012 of my failed book
the back cover text:
|Jesus the Nazarene was a Palestinian. After
training in the Mideast and India, he almost got himself martyred as
a freedom fighter in Jerusalem. But he survived, and traveled back
east to continue his work under the name Yus Asaf and become a
revered old sage in Kashmir.
If this was the real story,
Christianity is only a chapter between Buddhism and Islam in a saga
that continues with science, communism, and globalization. Behind
the scenes is an ongoing search for a deeper understanding of who we
are and why we are here on this planet.
This critical manifesto
will shock traditional Christians. They need to wake up and face the
Then I read Schweitzer's magisterial tome and saw the light. A cathartic
rethink later I wrote CORAL. Aslan will have missed that twist, but perhaps
he was prompted or at least encouraged to write Zealot by my CHRIST manifesto.
Consciousness After Death In Rats?
For a brief time after their hearts stop beating,
electrical activity that some scientists have linked to consciousness in
humans continues in the brains of rats. Jimo Borjigin of the University of
Michigan led an experiment with this result described August 12 in
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The team implanted electrodes on the surface of the brains
of nine rats, then injected the animals with potassium chloride, causing
their hearts to stop beating and blood to stop flowing. For up to 30
seconds, the electrodes detected gamma waves. In humans, scientists say
gamma waves could play a role in consciousness.
In earlier rat
research, Borjigin observed a sudden release of neurotransmitters at the
moment of death. If what they see in rats has human analogs, she said, the
combination of neurochemical surge and continued electrical activity could
be involved in near-death experiences, NDEs.
Borjigin et al.: "By
presenting evidence of highly organized brain activity and neurophysiologic
features consistent with conscious processing at near-death, we now provide
a scientific framework to begin to explain the highly lucid and
realer-than-real mental experiences reported by near-death survivors."
Electrical activity in the rats lasted no longer than 30 seconds. The
signals recorded have not been detected in human patients monitored as they
died, perhaps because the signals are relatively weak, and the EEG machines
used to detect brain activity in patients take readings from their scalps,
not directly from brain tissue.
Borjigin says the study raises
questions about the nature of consciousness.
Something like this result reduces NDE reports to triviality, I'm
glad to say.
2013 August 13
This blog needs an upgrade to feature more of my immortal thoughts in long
format. The effort of composition will be amply rewarded by syndication of
the reproduction and translation rights.
If Californians are to invest in a new transportation
system, it should ideally be:
Immune to weather
Resistant to earthquakes
Tolerable to those along the route
The Hyperloop (or something
similar) is, in my opinion, the right solution for the specific case of high
traffic city pairs that are less than about 1500 km apart. Around that
inflection point, I suspect that supersonic air travel ends up being faster
and cheaper. With a high enough altitude and the right geometry, the sonic
boom noise on the ground would be no louder than current airliners. A quiet
supersonic plane immediately solves every long distance city pair without
the need for a vast new worldwide infrastructure.
Hyperloop (PDF: 57 pages, 3.9 MB)
Elon Musk's "hyperloop" would convey passengers from
San Francisco to LA in half an hour. A pod would carry 28 passengers through
a tube at speeds of up to 760 miles per hour, propelled by a linear motor
and riding on a cushion of air.
The system is an alternative to the high speed rail system
planned in California. Musk says that at $6 billion, his hyperloop would
cost a tenth as much as the planned California project, and be much faster
and safer. His estimate is a guess.
The idea of pushing pods along
with air in a pneumatic tube is old. The hyperloop system operates under low
pressure, which will require a lot of energy. Each pod will suck in air at
the front and duct it around its body so that it rides on air.
Religion and IQ
A scientific review has concluded that religious
people are less intelligent than non-believers. The analysis, led by
University of Rochester professor Miron Zuckerman, found a reliable negative
relation between intelligence.
One of the studies analyzed
the beliefs of 1,500 children with with IQs over 135. The study began in
1921 and continues today. Even in extreme old age the subjects had much
lower levels of religious belief than the average population.
review of 63 studies conducted between 1928 and 2012 found that 53 of the
studies showed a negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity,
while 10 showed a positive one. Gender and education were not correlated
with belief. The weakest correlation with IQ was among the pre-college
Attempts to explain the relation say religious beliefs
are irrational, unscientific, untestable, and hence unappealing to
intelligent people who know better.
Freeman Dyson on Robert
I don't mind what happens.
Truth is a
The posterior probability of a hypothesis
H is a function of its prior probability and its compatibility with the
P(H|E).P(E) = P(E|H).P(H)
P is a function such
P(H|E) = posterior probability
of H given E
P(E) = prior probability of E
P(E|H) = posterior probability
of E given H
P(H) = prior probability of H
Why I Quit
Martin Amis recalls why
he quit as New Statesman
"I had to give it up because I didn't write a word of fiction
once I was editor. It gave me so much satisfaction to open the paper on
Friday when it was all done that I thought I'd better give this up because I
won't write another word."
Open Education Database
OEDb is a comprehensive online education directory for both free and
for-credit learning options.
2013 August 12
Atomic Clocks — Quantum Sims
Many problems in physics feature quantum behavior too
complex for computers to simulate. Examples include high-temperature
superconductivity and magnetism, both involving electron behavior in solids.
This can be modeled using atoms cooled to picokelvin
temperatures. But that's cold.
Atomic clocks work at microkelvin temperatures, which is much warmer.
In an atomic clock based on an ensemble of strontium atoms trapped by a
series of lasers, a laser pumps in energy and the atoms oscillate between
their ground state and an excited state, providing a regular tick.
But the frequency changes with the number of atoms, which is bad
for a clock but good for a simulation. The atoms behave like electrons in
magnetic materials. The strontium atoms in the ground state can be used to
simulate spin-down electrons, and the excited atoms spin-up electrons.
2013 August 11
Aslan is an Iranian-American and a Muslim. Reviewers spanning the
theological spectrum have reacted with hostility toward Zealot, his new
academic book about the historical Jesus.
Aslan: "About 90% of the
scholarly historical study of Islam is written by Christians or Jews. Very
few scholars of religion who are Muslim write about Christianity."
The academic world is hostile to believers and Aslan is a believer. But in
his book he rejects the virgin birth of Jesus and concludes that Jesus was
in fact crucified, putting him at odds with mainstream Islam.
"I don't know why everyone isn't obsessed with Jesus. He is the most
interesting person who ever lived."
It's life, Jim,
but not as we know it
Douglas Heaven + AR
For years, Artificial Intelligence was
dominated by grand plans to build machines that performed like the human
mind. Now we have made them, but their reasoning is unfathomable to us.
At frst, AI researchers tried to emulate human thinking with programmed
rules. Write enough rules and success would follow. But it was too hard, and
the funding dried up.
Then the researchers embraced machine learning.
Now computers teach themselves from big data. With enough data, machines can
learn to do things that look intelligent. Many of them use Bayesian
statistics (see left).
Take language translation. Twenty years ago,
IBM used machine learning to teach a computer to translate between English
and French by feeding it bilingual documents containing millions of
sentences translated into both languages. The system spotted correlations
between words and phrases in the two languages and reused them for fresh
translation. But the results were still full of errors. They needed more
Like IBM, Google started by training algorithms to
cross-reference documents written in many languages. But they soon saw that
the results would be better if the translator learnt how people actually
spoke the languages. Google turned to its vast web indexes. They let the
translator access every sentence written on the internet in the target
language. The translator knows the relative frequency of a vast number of
word sequences and calculates the probability of what comes next. Its power
comes from big data.
In the early days of AI, explainability was
prized. When a machine made a choice, a human could trace why. Yet the
reasoning made by a data-driven artificial mind today is a massively complex
statistical analysis of a vast number of data points. Even if a skilled
technician could trace the code, it might not be meaningful, because the
decision was not made from a set of rules that a human can check.
Some say it is time to give up on expecting human explanations. The danger
is that we give up asking questions. Then the human story goes black.
2013 August 10
Marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 substance in
the United States. Yet marijuana does not lead to significant addiction in
the medical sense, or lead to morphine, heroin, or cocaine addiction.
In fact marijuana leads to dependence in fewer than one in
ten users, a lower rate than cocaine or heroin. Tobacco does so in around a
third of smokers, many of whom go on to die because of it.
Some marijuana users get withdrawal
symptoms, but the physical symptoms of marijuana addiction are nothing like
those of other drugs. A caution: Regular teenage use may reduce IQ and risk
Medical marijuana is not new. Hundreds
of journal articles, mostly from before 1930, describe its use to treat
neuralgia, convulsive disorders and so on. Most papers since then are on the
harm it can do.
Until 1943, marijuana was prescribed for neuropathic
pain. When marijuana became a schedule 1 substance in 1970, there was a void
in our knowledge. Since then we have made progress.
IBM researcher Dharmendra Modha is trying to build a brain.
In 2006, he founded the Almaden Institute of Cognitive Computing in Silicon
Valley. Since then, he and his team have worked to recreate biological
intelligence with computer hardware and software. At first they tried to
clone the brain using everyday chips and code, but now they're building a
new type of chip core and a new programming language.
neurosynaptic core mimics neurons and synapses. Modha: "This tiny little
neurosynaptic core really breaks from the von Neumann architecture. It
integrates processor and memory and communication."
programming language lets apps run on neurosynaptic cores. Modha: "It is not
meaningful to adapt languages from the past era to this architecture. It is
like forcing a square peg into a round hole."
Modha compares the project to the creation of FORTRAN, designed over half a
century ago at IBM.
Richard Dawkins tweet: "All the world's Muslims have
fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in
the Middle Ages, though."
People with a connection to Trinity College have won 32 Nobel Prizes. If
you exclude the peace prize and the prize for literature, only two Muslim
scientists are laureates: Abdus Salam for physics and Ahmed Zewail for
chemistry. And only 17 women have ever been awarded one of the scientific
Since the prizes were first awarded in 1909, of 863
individual winners, 338 have been American or based in the United States. A
further 119 have been British, 101 German, and 65 French. Most of the
remainder come from other Western nations. The contrast is greater if peace
and literature are omitted. As for university affiliations, US institutions
and Oxbridge dominate the lists. Harvard has 147 winners.
science is a Western phenomenon. To ask about Muslims is to miss the point.
China has just 8 Nobel laureates, 6 of them affiliated with Western
universities. Japan has 20.
Richard Dawkins tweet: "Why
mention Muslim Nobels rather than any other group? Because we so often hear
boasts about (a) their total numbers and (b) their science."
President of the British Humanist Association Jim
Al-Khalili: "The comfortable compatibility between science and religion in
medieval Baghdad contrasts starkly with the contradictions and conflict
between rational science and many religious faiths in the world today."
2013 August 9
The first robot with an emergent theory of mind is
iCub. A team at INSERM in Lyon, France, gave iCub a biomimetic architecture,
with an episodic memory and a semantic memory.
has both a self and a simulated internal self. When iCub moves its arm, it
instructs the arm to move and records the result. In parallel, it gives the
same instructions to simulated iCub, which uses knowledge to predict the
outcome and updates its knowledge base by comparing predictions and real
outcomes. The team then linked the simulated iCub to a person, rather than
itself, by synchronizing simulated iCub to that person.
typically acquire theory of mind around the age of 3 or 4, as shown by the
Sally-Anne test. In it, a child is shown two characters, Sally and Anne.
Sally puts her ball in a basket and leaves, then Anne moves Sally's ball
into a box. The child is asked where Sally will look for her ball when she
returns. Children who have theory of mind will correctly say that Sally will
look in the basket, even though they know the ball is now in the box.
In the test, iCub passed by comparing its own record of events with the
record belonging to simulated iCub. Team leader Peter Dominey: "We get
theory of mind for free."
Raymond Tallis was the Professor of Geriatric
Medicine at the University of Manchester. He calls the reduction of human
minds to brain activity "one of the world's fastest growing faiths" and says
that while Homo sapiens can be understood in biological terms, people
Tallis exposes the
nonsense talked by religious people who support the idea of a just war yet
believe it is sinful to take a life in the case of terminal illness: "I
believe it is not those who support assisted dying but those who oppose it
who have a moral case to answer."
shoot horses, don't they?
2013 August 8
When I was 16 years old, I read
The Brothers Karamazov
by Fyodor Dostoevsky. In the Grand Inquisitor scene, Ivan tells Alyosha a
story about Jesus coming back to earth during the time of the Inquisition.
Jesus begins performing miracles, and he's arrested by the Inquisitors, who
sentence him to death.
The night before the burning, the Grand
Inquisitor visits Jesus in his cell. Jesus doesn't speak, but the Grand
Inquisitor says the Church has become more important than Jesus himself:
"Anyone who can appease a man's conscience can take his freedom away from
Jesus simply walks up
to the Grand Inquisitor and gives him a kiss. With that scene, Dostoevsky
opened my eyes to the notion that the Church's conception of Jesus is
inextricable from its political, religious, and economic interests.
Jesus refused to recognize the power of the Jewish authorities to define the
Jewish religion for him. His ministry was founded upon the idea that the
kingdom of God he envisions is a reversal of the social order. It's not just
about the meek inheriting the earth. It's about the powerful disinheriting
That is an enormous threat, as Dostoevsky says, to those
whose authority comes from their ability to appease a man's conscience.
Submit to our authority, and we will give you salvation. Jesus said
salvation is an internal matter.
Keep calm, and those in power lose their air of authority.
2013 August 7
Lib Dems: Ban Cars
Liberal Democrat policy makers want to ban most cars
from British roads by 2040. Their plan to stop all but the lowest carbon
emitting vehicles from domestic use will be discussed at the party
conference next month in Glasgow. They also propose to introduce road
Over 162 000 new cars were registered in the UK in July
2013, 12.7% more than in July 2012. The 2013 total so far is over 1.3
million, 10.3% more than the same period in 2012.
AR Absolutely wrong policy, illustrating the
perverted thinking that got Britain into its austerity mess. The right
response of our political servants to the burgeoning popularity of cars,
despite the numerous and painful obstacles put in the way of car owners and
drivers, is to reflect that since cars are essential to modern life as most
people live it, policy should nudge car makers to civilize cars (by making
them smaller, cleaner, safer, and so on) and should manage the environment
to contain them (by building more and better roads and user-friendly parking
facilities). To their credit, Germans have done this, and are reaping the
benefits not only in a cleaner and more modern street scene but also in
flourishing industrial activity to support and sustain car culture. The
British propensity to deny and dismiss as dirty a healthy expression of
human nature is also manifest in other areas of life.
This is an extraordinary time for the understanding
of the human condition. Intellectual problems from antiquity are being
illuminated by insights from the sciences of mind, brain, genes, and
evolution. The defining practices of science are designed to circumvent the
errors and sins to which scientists, being human, are vulnerable. Science is
not an imperialistic drive to occupy the humanities. Science is
distinguished by an explicit commitment to two ideals:
1 The world is intelligible. The phenomena we
experience may be explained by principles that are more general than the
phenomena themselves. These principles may in turn be explained by more
fundamental principles, and so on. The commitment to intelligibility
gradually validates itself as more and more of the world becomes explicable
in scientific terms.
2 The acquisition of
knowledge is hard. The world does not go out of its way to reveal its
workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies,
and superstitions. Most of the traditional causes of belief are generators
of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge. To understand the
world, we must cultivate workarounds for our cognitive limitations.
The moral worldview of any scientifically literate person requires a radical
break from religious conceptions of meaning and value. Political debates
have traditionally been deliberated through case studies, rhetoric, and
"Hippo" (highest-paid person's opinion), and the controversies have careened
without resolution. Our conceptions of politics, culture, and morality have
much to learn from our best understanding of the physical universe and of
our makeup as a species.
AR Science done
right represents the highest peak of our achievement as a species. If we
deny its authority or dismiss its verdicts, we diminish ourselves.
Peter Capaldi is the
12th Time Lord,
the next Doctor Who
A new study shows
that people who are happy but have little or no sense of meaning in their lives have the
same gene expression patterns as people who are enduring chronic
adversity. While being happy is about feeling good, meaning is derived from
contributing to others or to society in a bigger way.
perspective on human
A top secret NSA program allows analysts to search
with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online
chats, and the browsing histories of millions of individuals worldwide.
AR I find this a reassuring benefit of
modern search technology.
Jan Mieszkowski on
banality of intellect
2013 August 6
As national elections loom, the Christian Democrats
poll 42%, a shade ahead of the combined opposition. Angela Merkel is heading
for four more years. Her liberal coalition partners are hanging in there at
the minimum 5%.
Merkel is the ultimate
survivor. When Fukushima erupted, she decreed a shutdown for German
reactors, even though she had just extended their lives. She made a U-turn
toward the Promised Land of sustainable energy.
She is deliciously diffuse in her
rhetoric. She lulls the other side. A former apostle of free markets and low
taxes, she has yielded to same-sex marriage and gender quotas and showered
the populace with social-welfare goodies.
Peer Steinbrück is the
Social Democrat candidate for chancellor. He is an honorable man, but his
jokes backfire and his arguments fall flat. In a direct vote, 58% would vote
for Merkel and only 27% for Steinbrück. Merkel will win.
American NSA agents work at the spy base in Bad
Aibling, Germany. The facility includes giant golf ball radomes for
surveillance hardware. They were officially closed in 2004, but the
Americans there were secretly replaced by German military specialists. The
Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) hosts NSA agents there in a windowless
building called the Tin Can. The BND lets them send mass metadata to US
databases for storage and analysis.
The American economic system is frequently
rigged by those at the top. Rich Americans are gaming the system to increase
their wealth, they are pulling up the ladder behind them, they insulate
themselves from the people over whose lives they wield great influence, and
they aren't even punished like regular people when they break the rules. Remedies:
financial industry sucks money away from other activities. Its profits are
disconnected from the success of the
economy. Reform it.
policy: Change tax law to treat renters and owners equitably, rather than
mortgage interest but not rent to be
welfare: End subsidies that protect big multinationals more than taxpayers.
incentives: Fire the worst teachers and reward better teaching with pay.
● The payroll
tax: This is a tax on employment. Abolish it.
Occupational licensing: Change laws that disadvantage small entrepreneurs
little capital or have trouble navigating the
● The tax
code: End the complexity that rewards tax attorneys, accountants, and the
rich enough to pay them, at a huge deadweight
cost to the economy.
● The patent
system: A property system that exposes anyone who enters an industry to
unavoidable and potentially crippling legal liability is an affront to
justice. Change it.
prohibition: The black market it spawns imposes high costs on poor
Americans. End it.
American public policy should redistribute
ill-gotten wealth away from rich rent-seekers who game the system. It should
not take earned wealth from people who accrued it by creating value for
others. In 2017, a new president will enter the White House and inherit a
system where redistribution is discouraged and he or she has tremendous
discretion to redistribute wealth. We're likely to see more patronage than
2013 August 5
Syria is a living nightmare. Egypt hovers on the
brink. But the fundamental problems of the region are finally being brought
to the surface in a way that allows them to be confronted and overcome.
Reviving the Mideast peace process is a huge achievement.
The status quo in the region will not hold. The choice is between evolution
and revolution. Evolution is definitely preferable if it is attainable. In
Syria, people have had a taste of politics conducted by firestorm. Across
the region, there is a fatigue with wild disorder.
There is a
burgeoning acceptance that religious freedom is a necessary part of free and
open societies. This issue is at the core of Mideast problems. Neither do
closed economies fit with open societies. The need for economic reform to
provide jobs is absolute.
Reza Aslan wrote Zealot not to contemplate Jesus of
Nazareth as a source of ultimate meaning, but to investigate and describe
the story of his life. So Jesus was the leader of a nationalist revolt
against Rome who was punished for sedition, not blasphemy: "I have not come
to bring peace, but the sword."
Aslan argues that the universalist
pacifism ascribed to Jesus was superimposed on him in the climate created by
the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE. Once Jewish resistance to
Rome was quashed, followers of Jesus revised their faith to promote meek
acceptance of imperial authority.
Aslan emphasises the explanatory
power of context. His approach refuses to acknowledge prophecy, when
individuals discern important truths about the world in ways that rise above
the circumstances of their lives. Belief that not all concepts can be
reduced to historical context is central to religious faith.
The Ross Ploy
Chuck Ross had written a mystery novel that had been
turned down everywhere he sent it. So he retyped an award-winning novel —
Steps, by Jerzy Kosinski — and submitted it to 14 major publishers and 13
top agents. But he didn't put a title or Kosinski's name on it. They all
turned it down. None recognized what they were rejecting.
written his mystery novel in his spare time. He put a little seal on the
last few pages of the manuscript, so that editors would have to remove the
seal to read the climax. But when they all sent the manuscripts back to him,
with letters of rejection, the seals on the last few pages were all
unbroken. No one had read to the end.
Then he got the idea to send Kosinski's prize-winning book in without
Kosinski's name on it. He wanted to see if even a proven bestseller, without
a well-known byline, would get a fair shake. He found out. When the news of
his ploy was publicized, none of the publishers and agents took any more
interest in his own work than before.
Ross wrote a terrific piece
about the Kosinski stunt for a magazine. It got a good reception, and he did
more work for the magazine. He went on to writing and editing jobs at a
series of publications. He has made a lifelong career from the work. Along
the way, he got married and has four children. He is now 61 and has no
AR The arts publishing
"industry" is a swamp of cronyism, laziness, groupthink, and demented greed.
2013 August 4
As a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try
to be kinder.
Each of us is born with a series of built-in
1 We're central to the universe,
2 We're separate from the universe,
3 We're permanent.
We believe them
viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs
over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is
to be less selfish, more aware of what's actually happening in the present
moment, more open, and more loving.
How might we become more loving, more open,
less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc, etc?
ways. Education, art, prayer, meditation, a frank talk with a dear friend,
establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition — all these are
good. Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. As you
get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. Hurry up.
Speed it along. Start right now.
The New York
University of Miami philosopher Colin McGinn has agreed to
leave his tenured post after allegations of sexual harassment brought by a
graduate student. In his
blog, McGinn tried to defend himself in convoluted
posts that struck even his friends as unhelpful.
McGinn, 63 (left), says he
had "a warm, consensual, collaborative relationship" with the student, a
doctoral candidate who worked as his research assistant in 2012. They
exchanged "banter referring to sexual matters" but not "sexual banter"
— a crucial distinction.
The student is concerned that the
affair might damage
her academic career. Her boyfriend said she had been subject to months of
unwanted innuendo and propositions from McGinn, documented in numerous
e‑mails and text messages of an explicit sexual nature.
hints at a bigger problem. Women have been unwilling to discuss it publicly,
lest it harm their careers. Philosophy has a tradition of developing ideas
through face-to-face and sometimes brutal debate. People call it the combat
sport of academia.
AR Colin may recall
the sexual politics of his sparring partner
2013 August 3
David King and Richard Layard
The accumulation of carbon dioxide
in the atmosphere is now 400 parts per million and rising. Normal politics
and diplomacy are unlikely to solve the problem of climate change. We can
still save the planet, but the effort needs to be international.
We suggest a project to produce bulk electricity more
cheaply by solar energy than by any fossil fuel. The scientific challenges
involved in achieving this goal are great. They involve the collection of
the energy, its storage, and its distribution.
A timetable is
essential. We suggest 2025 as a target date. By then we should expect to see
bulk solar electricity supplied commercially at an unsubsidized price. A
good target for then would be at least 1 GW supplied to cities worldwide,
All G20 countries would be invited to join in. The United
States and China would play leading roles. Each country that joins the
project should spend the money on research and development at home, but
within the context of a globally agreed plan.
Collection of solar
energy by photovoltaic cells is getting cheaper and is already nearly
economic in sun-rich environments. Every continent has areas with such
environments. The cost of electricity distribution is also falling. For
storage, we need breakthroughs in the science of batteries.
interests in the oil and gas industry limit President Obama's ability to tax
carbon or subsidize clean energy. But science is different. The project
could be financed from the research budget. This is far more important than
putting a man on the moon.
2013 August 2
Timothy Garton Ash
Federal Republic of Germany is as solidly bourgeois liberal democracy. It
has not only absorbed the huge costs of unification but also made economic
reforms by consensus and restored its global competitiveness. Asked what
feelings Germany awakes in her, Angela Merkel once replied: "I think of
well-sealed windows. No other country can make such well-sealed and nice
According to a BBC poll, Germany is the most popular
country in the world. It also has a rapidly aging population. Without
immigration, its population might fall from over 80 million today to under
60 million in 2050. Its economy is brilliant at making things that people
want to buy but weaker in services. German companies are outstanding at
incremental technical improvements but less good at disruptive innovation.
The country has many good universities, but none to compete with Oxford or
European monetary union was
not a German project to dominate Europe but a European project to constrain
Germany. The Germans were never asked in a referendum if they wanted to give
up the Deutschmark, but Germany accumulated a trade surplus with the rest of
the EU, from the birth of the euro up to 2011, of more than $1 trillion.
Germany had not sought this leadership role in Europe.
approaching a moment of truth in the European Union. Fritz Stern described
German reunification in 1990 as Germany's second chance. Its first chance
came in the years before 1914. But it blew that chance in two world wars and
the Holocaust. Domestically, Germany has used its second chance well. The
European question is upon it now, in the years before 2014.
AR I heartily endorse Angela Merkel's windows
Brain science helps fill the hole left by the
atrophy of theology and philosophy, but the brain is not the mind.
Neuroscience is as vibrant as ever, and it still has a big pull on research
funding. But as a cultural dish, the brain is almost cooked. The woo peaked
in 2008. Pop neuroscience began to wither.
2008 may also have been
the high point for critical neuroscience blogging.
Neuroskeptic wrote his first posts that autumn, in the darkest moments
of the neurobabble epidemic. If peak neuro has already come and gone, then
the recent rash of brain bashing may be too late.
Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience
AR I finished composing my
Godblogs in the summer of 2008.
It felt like a peak experience.
2013 August 1
Reza Aslan, bestselling author and scholar of
religion, is now a liberal folk hero. He rhetorically demolished Fox News
host Lauren Green in an interview last week about his book Zealot, after
Green demanded to know what gave a Muslim the right to write a book about
Jesus. The clip went viral and sales of Zealot shot up.
presents Jesus as a rebel: "That's a guy I want to know. Hopefully it's a
guy you want to know. If I do have some kind of philosophical objective —
behind my secret Muslim objective — I want to show people you can be a
follower of Jesus without necessarily being a Christian."
think of Jesus as a pacifist, but the real Jesus challenged the Roman
occupation of Jerusalem, and he was executed for it. A rebel who died
instead of recreating the kingdom of David was disqualified from being the
Jewish messiah. Aslan: "Jesus was a Jew, remember, and according to Judaism
... a dead messiah is not the messiah anymore."
cosmopolitan, Hellenized Jews who were able to travel and who could buy into
the concept of a godlike man then took up his story. Aslan: "It kind of
makes sense to them, actually. They start to adopt it, and as a result,
something very interesting happens. The Hellenists are ultimately kicked out
of Jerusalem for preaching this message, and the more they preach it in this
Greek and Roman culture, the more Greek and Roman the message becomes. The
less Jewish the message becomes."
The Gospel writers decided to downplay not only
the fact that Jesus was a Jew but also his revolutionary zeal. Aslan: "If
you're a Christian in 70 CE, and you want to continue preaching this gospel,
you don't want to keep preaching it to Jews ... What you really want to do
is preach it instead to the Romans."
The similarities between music and language
suggest a common origin. Many aspects of language are mediated by regions of
the right hemisphere that also mediate the performance and experience of
music. These right hemisphere regions correspond to areas in the left
hemisphere involved with language production and comprehension.
The control of voice and respiration
needed for singing apparently came into being long before it was needed for
language. But the syntax of music is simpler, less highly evolved, than that
of language, suggesting an earlier origin. In infants, musical aspects of
language such as intonation and rhythm develop first, and syntax and
vocabulary come later.
Music communicates emotion. Our love of music
reflects our ancestral ability to make and hear basic emotional sounds. In
traditional societies, making music plays an integral and integrative role
in rituals and daily life. It binds people together by helping them to feel
their shared way of life. Human vocal skill evolved from song to poetry to
Reza Aslan is a scholar
of religions and a Muslim.
His new book
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
is a New York Times
bestseller and #1 on Amazon.
Pope Francis on gays:
"Who am I to judge?"
The British Home Office has launched a
campaign to tackle illegal immigrants. Vans tour immigrant areas
in London bearing a billboard (photo).
Why not simply give volunteers pots of
paint and ask them to brand homes and shops with a special sign?
(Tip: Yellow stars have been done already.)
UKIP leader Nigel
"I think the tone of the
bill-boards is nasty, unpleasant, Big Brother."
Live Long In Dorset
East Dorset is has
the highest life expectancy in the UK for men (average 83) and
women (86), according to data from the Office for National
Statistics. Close to both forest and coast, the area is fast
becoming the country's most desirable neighborhood. Residents
enjoy a long and healthy life as well as the highest marriage
rate in the country.
AR Glad I live in East Dorset, then.
The RAF bombed
Hamburg repeatedly in the last week of July 1943. Some 3 000
Allied aircraft dropped 9 kilotons of bombs and created a
firestorm that killed or wounded some 80 000 civilians and
destroyed 250 000 homes and houses in the city. Warm dry weather
helped create a tornado of fire that rose 500 m. British
officials called it the Hiroshima of Germany, and the USAAF
estimated the raids did more damage than the atom bomb on
2013 July 31
For most of human history, average people
had a quality of life that was little better than in ancient
Rome. Then the first industrial revolution, beginning in 1750 or so in
England, and the second industrial revolution, beginning around 1870 and
centered mostly in the United States, accelerated progress.
1969 and 1974 this great acceleration began to taper off. The rate at which
life is improving in America has slowed. Most economists say the machinery
of innovation is now more organized and sophisticated than ever and human
intelligence is more efficiently marshaled by spreading education and
expanding global connectedness, so progress will continue. Others are more
pessimistic. One view is that for the next decade or two the US economy will
grow at less than half the rate it averaged in the twentieth century, and
that the social transformations brought by the information and robotics
revolution will not rival those of the past.
We think of the desire
to be American as a form of idealism, but it also relates to economic
growth. The certainty that the future will be much better than the past is
the American Dream.
AR Two centuries of
Anglo-American (AA) global hegemony are coming to an end. The entire world
is catching up, now and in the coming decades. The
Globorg era is about to
begin. The third industrial revolution (computers and robots) will be
followed by a fourth, the biotech revolution, to bring on the Nietzschean
superman. For the trend, see Coral.
2013 July 30
The UK government is pushing its
Help to Buy scheme and the US Congress protects the home mortgage
interest tax deduction.
Life Index shows no correlation between home ownership and housing
satisfaction and quality. Mexico, Nepal, and Russia all have home ownership
rates of more than 80%, while the French, German, and Japanese rates are 40
to 50%. The US and the UK rates are about 65 to 70%.
American and British households, their home equity is their primary
financial asset. They put the bulk of their savings into a highly volatile
asset that is subject to disaster risk and which should return at best the
average rate of local wage and population growth.
individuals cannot calculate the running costs and financial risks of their
housing investment as opposed to renting and putting their savings in other
assets. Investment in housing is less productive than that in new
businesses, infrastructure, or research and development.
Most Israelis have concluded there is no
Palestinian partner for peace. Limited Palestinian self-governance protects
Israel from having to choose between being a Jewish state or a democratic
Jewish nationalist attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank have
crossed into Israel, with arson, vandalism, and violence against Palestinian
citizens of Israel. Jewish activists in the West Bank have expanded their
demographic battle to cities in Israel, buying homes in Palestinian
Israeli Jews but not Palestinians have
collective rights to land, immigration, symbols such as their own flag, and
commemorations. Jews and non-Jews cannot legally marry. Residents of
Jerusalem homes have been evicted to make room for Jewish former owners and
US Secretary of State John Kerry has concentrated
on 1967 issues such as borders and security. If the talks break down,
Israelis may ask whether the time has come to abandon hopes of a full peace.
AR Jewish racism is as ugly as apartheid.
2013 July 29
British National Health Service medical director
Sir Bruce Keogh says the NHS must adopt the huckster mentality of
electronics hardware businesses and change the "inbuilt mindset that better
quality costs more" to survive in the era of austerity: "My challenge is:
every other aspect of industry has to improve the quality they offer for
less. So we need to change that mindset."
Electronic devices work or they don't. Health is human.
Wagner's antisemitism is repulsive to a degree that is almost toxic to deal
with. He was a visionary, but a ruthless one, and a pretty unsavory human in
many ways. That was what made him who he was, and what drove him. It's
partly why we listen to Wagner. It takes the audience into dark, murky,
In 1881, Wagner wrote to King Ludwig II of
Bavaria: "I hold the Jewish race to be the born enemy of pure humanity and
everything noble in it." His argument was disgusting. Yet many of his
closest colleagues and friends were Jews.
Can of worms it takes a philosopher to open cleanly.
2013 July 28
NSA: The Decision Problem
The ultimate goal of signals intelligence and
analysis is to learn not only what is being said, and what is being done,
but what is being thought. Search engines bring this goal within reach. The
machine does not need to know what you think. A reasonable guess is good
Data mining, on the scale now
practiced by Google and the NSA, is the realization of what Alan Turing was
getting at in 1939 when he wondered "how far it is possible to eliminate
intuition, and leave only ingenuity" in reducing intuition to a mechanical
Turing knew it is the metadata that counts. If you capture enough links, over time, you can establish meaning, follow ideas,
and reconstruct someone's thoughts. In 1936, aged 24, he wrote a
mathematical paper on the question of whether there could ever be any
systematic mechanical procedure to determine, in a finite number of steps,
whether any given string of symbols was a provable statement or not.
The answer was no. No matter how much digital horsepower you have at
your disposal, there is no systematic way to determine, in advance, what
every given string of code is going to do except to let the code run, and
find out. For any system complicated enough to include even simple
arithmetic, no firewall that admits anything new can ever keep everything
The United States has established a coordinated
system that links suspect individuals to dangerous ideas. But it will never
be entirely possible to systematically distinguish truly dangerous ideas
from good ones that appear suspicious, without trying them out. Any system
with the power to protect itself against dangerous ideas will also block
original and creative thoughts. This is the fatal flaw in the ideal of a
We need to conduct our data collection and data
mining in the open, where it belongs. Reasonable people might well support
the maintenance of a global Internet memory buffer for law enforcement
purposes, with access to the repository controlled under open rules by an
open court. We need to be wary.
Compared with Britain, Germany has stronger
notions of communal welfare and communal oversight. The British see Germany
booming while Britain has lost its way, and look for a secret recipe for
this success. Just under 100 000 Britons live in Germany, around a third of
them British soldiers and their families.
Germany has a renting culture.
Tenants enjoy secure and affordable accommodation and can treat a rental
flat as a home. Over half of all Germans own their own homes, but few
Germans see their home as their main investment. Around half of the home
owners own them outright, with no mortgage or outstanding loan. Germans are
smug about this.
In industry, workers have accepted years of wage
restraint. A desire for consensus underpins the German business model, which
emphasizes harmonious relations between unions and employers. The German
apprenticeship system is excellent. Despite the crisis in the country's European
export markets, the unemployment rate in Germany is the lowest in Europe.
Germany is a society driven by rules. These often serve to enhance
communal life at the expense of individual freedom, such as the restriction
on Sunday trading. Customer service can be dismal. A more serious problem is
the attitude to immigration. There are few non-white faces in positions of
authority. Turks form the largest ethnic minority group.
much to admire about Germany: the quality of the childcare, the relish with
which Germans enjoy their beautiful countryside, the freshness and seasonal
rhythm of German food, and the success of their manufacturing industry. By
comparison, Britain often seems a more fragmented society.
AR The social solidarity may be correlated with
2013 July 27
The National Security Agency keeps track of phone
calls, monitors communications, and analyzes Google searches and other
online activity. It can access virtually all communications entering,
leaving, or going through the United States. About one third of all
international telephone calls in the world enter, leave, or transit the
country, and virtually all Internet communications in the world pass through
the United States. The NSA has direct access to the fiber-optic cables that
now carry most communications data. The cable-tapping operation is codenamed
UPSTREAM. It appears to be both far more secret and far more invasive than
the PRISM program revealed by Edward Snowden.
The NSA has secretly
installed filters on the telecommunications switches throughout the country.
For example, much of the communications to and from the northwestern United
States pass through an AT&T building on Folsom Street in San Francisco,
where a secret room is filled with computers and software from Narus, a
company that specializes in spyware. Fiber-optic cables feed into a prism
that creates a copy of the data. The duplicate beam goes into the Narus
equipment, which scans the traffic for selectors in messages to be
retransmitted in full to the NSA for further analysis. Both UPSTREAM and
PRISM may be only the tips of a much larger system.
Larry Alex Taunton and his Christian organization
asked a number of students who had left the church during high school to
share their stories. According to Taunton, they mostly had personal
disappointments with the church, rather than disagreements with Christian
dogma or religion as a whole.
Taunton's analysis in effect dismissed
these atheists' nonbelief and foreclosed other possible explanations for
their apostasy. When he interviewed members of atheist societies: "With few
exceptions, students would begin by telling us that they had become atheists
for exclusively rational reasons."
Christianity involves believing in
virgin birth and tales of a man performing various improbable miracles.
It requires belief in a god who chose to redeem humankind by means of a
human sacrifice. Belief in these stories is a prerequisite for membership in
the church. Atheists don't believe them.
2013 July 26
Car papers done, weather cleared, planning next book.
David Sloan Wilson
Economics is caught between the idea that we
need market processes to proceed unhindered and the idea that a healthy
economy requires regulation. Evolutionary theory can help. The traits that
maximize the advantage of an individual, relative to the members of its
group, are typically different from the traits required for the group to
function as a whole. This potential for conflict lies behind theories of
The biological world has its own version of the
invisible hand. Cells, multicellular organisms, and social insect colonies
are all higher-level social units that function without the lower-level
units having the welfare of the higher-level units in mind. Selection
operates on the higher-level units. Evolutionary economics can reconcile
self-organizing processes with regulation. The evolutionary paradigm
provides a new set of tools.
AR This is
the only sensible way to repair economic theory.
2013 July 25
Mood lifted: Rain overnight, garage roof good, went swimming this morning
(overcast, air temp 17 C).
How To Spend £50 000
The cost of the high speed train project HS2 is now
well over £42 billion and will likely rise over £50 billion. For this, UK
taxpayers get 20 minutes off the journey time from London to Birmingham in
2030. Less than 5% of British passenger travel is by rail. Other ways to
spend the money:
1 Potholes: The asphalt industry
says it needs £10.5 billion to fix crumbling roads and fill potholes
around the country. Let's give them £5 billion.
2 Rail improvements: A study on upgrading rail infrastructure between
London and Manchester for
£2.6 billion calculated a
benefit-cost ration of more than 5. Let's improve other rail lines and local
rail networks for £10 billion on rail altogether.
3 Spend £10 billion on roads bypassing villages
and making A-roads dual carriageway.
third runway at Heathrow: cost £17 billion.
Add £2 billion for cycle paths nationwide.
Spend the last £6 billion on more broadband networks, so we can work at home
and forget the train.
These projects will provide work in the
construction industry right away and start bringing benefits soon.
AR I'd dump HS2 too, but double the spend on
fixing roads (1) and halve the spend on rail (2).
Psychopaths Have Feelings Too
In research reported in the journal Brain, a team from
Groningen University, the Netherlands, suggests that psychopaths can turn
their empathy on or off at will.
The study compared 18 convicted criminal psychopaths with a group of
ordinary individuals. They were asked to watch film clips of one hand
touching another in loving, painful, socially rejecting, or neutral ways.
Their responses, shown on brain scans, were compared with those seen when
they engaged in similar hand interactions themselves.
The result was
that when watching the clips, psychopaths generally displayed a reduced
level of brain responses linked to empathy. But when asked to empathize,
they were able to activate the circuits.
The study focused on the
brain's mirror neurons, which activate the same brain regions that
contribute to our own pain and distress when we see another person suffering
the same way. In psychopaths, the mirror system seems not to be automatic
but to be deliberately switched on or off.
Zeal is a jealous passion for the sanctity of God and
a fierce desire for revenge on God's enemies. In Judea at the time of Jesus,
zeal was both a religious passion and a political one. God had promised the
land of Israel to his people forever, yet now the Romans were in charge.
Religion and politics combined in the idea of the Messiah.
Reza Aslan says the
real Jesus bears little resemblance to the Christian image of the gentle
shepherd. The Christian gospel writers tried to make their story conform
with Jewish expectations about the Messiah. Jesus: "Give back to Caesar the
property that belongs to Caesar, and give back to God the property that
belongs to God." Aslan interprets Jesus as demanding that the land and
people of Israel be returned to God and freed from Roman control. Jesus was
crucified next to fellow rebels.
The Jesus of the Gospels is much
more than a Jewish nationalist. His words had a broader and more mysterious
application. Jesus radicalized the language of Jewish messianism in such a
way that it could be turned against Judaism itself. This act of religious
creativity led to the Christian notion of the son of God.
AR This is more or less my take on Jesus in
2013 July 24
Misery and despair: Dull weather, car and unpacking issues still unresolved,
the prospect of living on a nation-sized scrap-heap off the map of places
where good things are happening, bombarded daily with royal trivia under a
government that sees fit to impose a secretive and heavy-handed regime of
spying and censorship on its citizens, combine to make me yearn to break
free of this penal servitude.
New York v
New York was in a bad way by 1993. Then it
elected Rudy Giuliani as mayor. He set about reducing the city establishment
and reforming welfare. He transferred money to cleaning the streets and
policing them properly. He backed the police against the protesters and
rights extremists. He cut taxes for businesses and for people. He attracted
back the wealthy and the mobile.
In Detroit they
didn't do that. Greater Detroit contains some of the wealthiest places and
people in the United States. Yet these people don't want to live in the
city. The tax and welfare policies and above all the failure of crime policy
have driven them out and bankrupted the city.
The Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, replaces DSM-IV,
which appeared in 1994. Everyone in North America who hopes their health
insurance will cover or defray the cost of treatment for their mental
illness must first receive a diagnosis that bears a DSM numerical code.
The DSM presents itself as a manual for clinicians. Hence it came as a
bombshell when, a week before DSM-5 was published, US National Institute for
Mental Health head Thomas Insel announced that the NIMH was going to abandon
the DSM because it dealt only with symptoms. He wanted science.
DSM is a living, organic creature. About a thousand individuals served as
work group advisors. Many thousands of students, technicians, secretaries
and so on must also have been involved. This enterprise is fully supported
by the immense American Psychiatric Association, with its 36 000 members.
The classification of mental illnesses is not at all like the
classification of animals, vegetables, or minerals. Perhaps the DSM will be
regarded as a reductio ad absurdum of the botanical project in the field of
insanity. The DSM does not represent the nature or reality of the varieties
of mental illness.
AR No indeed:
Neuroscience is still young and unripe. Give it time.
Sloterdijk follows Nietzsche in seeing the plight of humanity
after the death of God as a catastrophe the true dimensions of
which we do not yet fully appreciate. His impatience with
Marxism evolves into a defense of liberal capitalism. He presents communism
and Christianity as ideologies driven by resentment and fantasies of
Earth and its moon seen by
Cassini spacecraft orbiting
Saturn, 1440 Gm (80 light
minutes) away, 2013-07-19
again at that dot.
That's here. That's home.
That's us. On it
you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard
of, every human being who ever
was, lived out their lives ...
mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."
UK v EU
The Japanese government
130,000 British jobs could be at stake if the UK pulls out of
the European Union. It warns that Japanese companies invest in
the UK because they see it as a gateway to European markets.
Europhile MPs agree, Eurosceptics are angry.
THE BEAT SHEET
Break Into Act
The Promise of the Premise
Bad Guys Close In
All is Lost
Dark Night of the Soul
Break Into Act Three
Success is stumbling from
failure to failure with no
The British Holocaust denier David Irving
has announced that he will visit Berlin. In 1993 he was banned
from entering Germany, but the ban was recently lifted. Now he
plans to address a small meeting in Berlin.
parliamentary leader Volker Beck called on the Berlin
association of hotels and guest houses (Dehoga) to refuse Irving
accommodation or a conference room. Dehoga complied.
kind of belated resistance to "fascism" and the Third Reich is
trite and naive.
AR Such a
ban only makes cheap publicity for a bad historian.
Top 10 budget restaurants
South Coast Roast
Bournemouth Pizza Co
Little Pickle Deli Cafe
The young Jacques Derrida fell in love with the work
of Jean-Paul Sartre:
"I recognize my debt, the filiation, the huge
influence, the huge presence of Sartre in my formative years."
But he found
Being and Nothingness to be philosophically weak,
outshone by his readings of Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger.
From 1960, Derrida lectured in Paris on Heidegger's
Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics and What Is Metaphysics.
In 2008, the UK Department of Health recommended
the Liverpool Care Pathway as a model of good care. It would
give doctors and nurses a structure for managing terminally ill
patients. People destined to die in a hospital bed would get the same
care as at a hospice.
But the LCP became a byword for negligence.
Patients were treated callously, like items on a conveyor belt.
Some were left without proper food or water and inappropriately sedated.
Baroness Neuberger: "Caring for the dying must never
again be practised as a tick-box exercise and each patient must be cared
for according to their individual needs and preferences, with those of
their relatives or carers being considered too."
Life in Poole
2013 July 23
Car drama: All forms done except HMRC form NOVA, which requires an
astonishingly opaque series of registrations and inputs through a blizzard
of online pages that still leave me baffled, all designed to secure the tax
authorities against VAT fraud but all too much for a naive innocent like me.
At least the promised rain has held off for long enough to let me finish sealing
the garage roof.
2013 July 22
Hint of rain overnight: Now the weathermen warn of flooding.
Britain Should Copy Germany
Berlin is now the capital of a united Germany. I
see not the slightest sign of German militarism. I see a culture so
generally cool and herbivorous that the bicycle is king. The most serious
public order problem at the moment is the tendency of Berliners to pursue
the logic of FKK by fucking in their magnificent parks, and such is the
climate of political correctness that the fines for it are means tested.
Berlin doesn't feel like the new imperial capital. What hits you is how
much of the city was pulverized. This was the city at the center of Europe's
two worst bouts of psychosis, fascism and then communism. I can understand
why my grandfather's generation felt as it did, but it is time to embrace
the new Germany. We have much to learn and to understand, to admire and to
copy, and nothing to fear.
SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe moves up to the
supervisory board in May 2014. His American partner Bill McDermott will
become sole CEO. Snabe, a mild-manned Dane, complemented dynamic market man
McDermott since the pair took over in 2010. McDermott is based in the United
States, Snabe in Europe.
SAP chairman Hasso Plattner: "I am
incredibly proud of what Jim and Bill have achieved together since they took
the lead as co-CEOs in February 2010. They have exceeded my expectations in
expanding SAP's market leadership and profitable growth through a relentless
focus on innovation and customer success."
Once upon a time, a young man named Bill Gates had a
vision. He saw "a PC on every desk, and every machine running Microsoft
software". And it came to pass, and Bill became the richest man on Earth.
the software for the operating system and the Office applications that made
personal computer hardware work. Software is expensive to write, but then
costs nothing to copy. And because for a long time Microsoft Windows had a
monopoly, Bill and his friends made money and got rich.
But then came
the internet. A little company called Netscape rose to exploit it with a
program called a web browser.
In 1995, Bill composed a famous
internal memo: "Developments on the internet over the next several years
will set the course of our industry for a long time to come ... I want to make
clear that our focus on the internet is crucial to every part of our
business. The internet is the most important single development to come
along since the IBM PC was introduced in 1981."
Gates saw that every
part of Microsoft should become network focused. And he made it happen. He
turned the company on a dime. But in his determination to destroy Netscape
he landed Microsoft in court. Microsoft appealed, and survived.
2000, Gates stepped down from his position as CEO and began to disengage
from the company. The folk he left in charge, chief among them Steve
Ballmer, lacked his vision.
Microsoft is set to change. Last week, in
a long internal memo, Ballmer announced a "far-reaching realignment of the
company that will enable us to innovate with greater speed, efficiency and
capability in a fast-changing world ... to execute even better on our strategy
to deliver a family of devices and services that best empower people for the
activities they value most and the enterprise extensions and services that
are most valuable to business."
I am not a fan of the male sandal. Feet are funny
looking things at the best of times, and men don't attend to their feet in
the way many women do. Flip-flops on hot pavements are not an acceptable
match. Such an open and flimsy shoe on grubby city pavements can only do a
foot harm. I say deck shoes and I say boat shoes. Espadrilles are OK.
Loafers count as acceptable summer shoes. Men's sandals: no.
AR This is absurd. Are men expected to torture
their feet all summer long in stinky, sweaty cages just to meet this prissy
concept of looking good? Flip-flops are fine on city streets for me. They
add just enough distance from dirt and discomfort. What's not fine is public
tolerance of filthy streets. Clean them! Direct your rhetoric streetward,
2013 July 21
Hard and dirty work: Got up onto the old garage roof and put down a new waterproof layer.
The UK recovery is the slowest for more than a
century. Exports are effectively unchanged, despite a 25% devaluation.
Company investment is down by 34%. Real wages are 9% below their peak. The
British are running down their savings and taking on mortgages. They debate
the inadequacies of the public sector, not those of the private.
London and the southeast, the regions show virtually no private sector
entrepreneurial activity. An average British-owned manufacturing company in
the regions has 14 employees. Their owners are too focused on income, and
the financial system that supports them too focused on commissions. This is
no basis for recovery.
Britain needs to see a sustained growth of
demand. We have to get serious about infrastructure. The housing market
needs root and branch reform. Above all, there has to be a sense of
mobilization. Instead we get nonsense babble about the EU and endless
nostalgic festivals about world wars one and two. Welcome to Fantasy UK.
Swiss economist and investor Marc Faber is certain a
global recession will follow the US Federal Reserve policy of printing
money. Faber: "I think somewhere down the line we will have a massive wealth
destruction. I would say that well-to-do people may lose up to 50% of their
Euro Pacific Capital CEO Peter
Schiff says the collapse in 2008 was just a foretaste of the crash to come.
Schiff: "If we keep doing this policy of stimulus and growing government,
it's just going to get worse for the average American. Our standard of
living is going to fall."
Real estate mogul Donald Trump warns that the United States
could soon go down like Spain or Greece, teetering on the edge of financial
ruin. Trump: "When you're not rich, you have to go out and borrow money.
We're borrowing from the Chinese and others."
Robert Wiedemer foresees much more widespread economic destruction in his
best-seller Aftershock. Wiedemer: "The data is clear, 50% unemployment, a
90% stock market drop, and 100% annual inflation ... starting in 2013."
2013 July 20
No news is good news: The sun shines and the beach this morning was great,
with enough surf to make the simple act of bathing fun again.
2013 July 19
The UK Ministry of Defence banned the new Chief of the
Defence Staff (CDS), General Sir Nick Houghton, from contributing to a book
criticizing British military performance in Iraq and Afghanistan. MoD
officials suppressed six chapters written by serving generals for the book
British Generals in Blair's Wars, which includes essays by 26 senior
military and civilian figures, some critical of senior command and the
political leadership of the campaigns.
Houghton, who took over from General Sir David Richards this week, had been
invited to contribute an analysis of how to conduct strategy. Book co-editor
Professor Sir Hew Strachan: "It was vital for the book and almost impossible
to replace ... If we are going to go into lessons learned there has to be
serious discussion, not one that is simply silenced because of some sort of
orthodoxy about how civil-military relations should be conducted."
AR The ministry should relax. All those knights
of the realm are surely respectable enough to be trusted to debate policy in
an academic book. If not, the queen needs to reconsider her generosity with
Richard Waters + AR
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich says smart devices
like watches and glasses are the next big thing. Digital intelligence and
connectivity will creep into many different personal items, as well as the
things in the internet of things. Devices for the ears, eyes, wrists, and
fingers will pervade our world.
The benefits of such
things will likely overcome resistance to adoption. People will get
comfortable with them and develop new cultural and social norms for their
use. The Apple iWatch may herald a generation of smart watches next year,
and Google Glass is stirring debate about spectacles that can monitor and
record everything in front of the wearer. Two visions of wearable tech:
1 It will seep into everyday life, through
gadgets that perform a function but remain largely invisible. Wristbands
made by Nike and Jawbone are examples, collecting data and reporting back to
apps for tracking and analyzing fitness and health.
2 It will take on personal computing by hosting
many of the killer apps on smartphones. By opening up the new devices as
platforms for third party developers, their makers will open a space to come
up with must-have apps for the gadgets.
Personal computers and the
internet took years to tame. For anything that has to be integrated into
personal life so completely, the key is seamlessness. Things that make life
simpler are likely to lead the way, so long as their hardware is invisible
and their functions are automatic.
Early apps for such
gadgets will civilize the smartphone. Mobile phones tyrannize us by crashing
into conversations and turning pedestrians into absent-minded hunchbacks.
The revolution will follow when enough people wear their devices, creating a
constellation that gives new meaning to the cloud.
Save the Cat!
Summer movies are often described as formulaic. A
formula lays out what should happen when in the screenplay. The formula came
from a 2005 guidebook by
Save the Cat!
Snyder broke down the classic three-act structure
into a detailed
beat sheet, 15 key story beats that have to happen, and then gave each
of those beats a name and a screenplay page number. Each page of a
screenplay is expected to equal a minute of film, so the guide is a
minute-to-minute movie formula.
The beat sheet has taken over
Hollywood screenwriting. Movies big and small stick closely to the beats and
page counts. The formula threatens the world of original screenwriting as we
You can find the beats, as prescribed, in virtually every
major release in theaters today. The big studios increasingly rely on a few
blockbusters for their profits. But big budgets mean big risks. And the best
way to reduce the risks is to stick with the formula. Even Steven Spielberg
Alain de Botton
Politicians say education needs to get better,
particularly in maths. In this account, the point of education is to make
you a good worker, able to pull in a good salary and help the GDP of the
The true purpose of education is to help us with the many
ways in which we end up less than we can be. Entering adult life without any
technical or professional skills is a disaster, but there are other
problems, such as emotional health. Our education system leaves us woefully
unprepared for such challenges as how to be a good partner, how to stay
sane, and how to put the time we have on this planet to good use.
need to grow more used to the idea of transmitting wisdom down the
generations. Educationalists often say that wisdom is not something that one
person can ever teach another. But there is more than enough information
about it in the canon of culture. We just need to get it out in time.
Arab League Backs Kerry Plan
US Secretary of State John Kerry's plan for restarting peace
talks between Israel and the Palestinians has won the backing of the Arab
League. The last round of direct talks broke down two years ago over the
issue of settlements. Kerry says the plan gives Israel the promise of peace
with the Arab world.
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas
says Israel must freeze settlement building before stalled peace talks can
resume. Israel gave final approval Wednesday for the construction of more
than 700 new settlement homes halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Ishtayeh: "It has become a trend to see such
Israeli behavior each time an American or an international official visits
the region to push forward the negotiation track."
AR If Israeli settlements are an outrage, then
so are Palestinian babies. Flooding the region with angry new mouths lacking
education is no peace plan.
2013 July 18
We are approaching a point of no return
regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The relative security calm that
we have recently enjoyed creates a dangerous illusion that our problems have
Among the Palestinians there is a growing sense of anger
and frustration. At the end of the day, the Palestinians will take to the
streets, leading to another round of bloody violence. And the construction
of settlements is not stopping. Soon no Israeli government will be able to
dismantle them in an orderly fashion.
In the long term the
Palestinians will not lose from the shift to the one remaining reality, a
state from the sea to the river, one state for two nations. When we get
there, we will face an immediate existential threat of the erasing of the
identity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and in a few years the
reality of the country's demographics will become a Palestinian-Arab
majority and a Jewish minority, along with all that entails.
leaders in Israel and the Palestinian leadership both lack the willpower to lead us to a two-state solution, then it would be best to begin
thinking about the bi-national alternative in realistic terms.
don't wish to continue ruling over another people and thus turn into an
ostracized apartheid state, there is no alternative but to grant full
rights, including the right to vote, to Palestinians. In such a scenario,
there is no need to hold further discussions about the future of the Jewish
and democratic vision as put forth by our founding fathers. It will melt
away and disappear.
Everyone knows what a settlement will entail:
— Establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state along 1967 lines with
— Symbolic right of return for refugees, with
financial compensation to diaspora Palestinians
— Dismantling of
settlements beyond agreed borders and compensation to evicted settlers
Political partition of Jerusalem
— A solution regarding sovereignty over
the holy sites in the Old City
— A diplomatic solution over the contours
of Israel's eastern border and the Jordan Valley.
This is Benjamin
Netanyahu's moment of truth. He can prove that he is a leader who is capable
of grasping the gravity of the situation, a leader capable of understanding
the critical need to rise above himself and establish a proper set of
priorities, and a leader capable of shepherding the nation to the right
2013 July 17
Relative peace descends on me here: British authorities issue a health alert
after four consecutive days of hot sunny weather. It hasn't rained for over
a week, and soon they'll declare a drought.
India fears that Pakistan backs the Afghan Taliban to
create a Pakistani client state, and Pakistan fears the prospect of
Afghanistan becoming an Indian client state. If India pours in resources to
prop up the Afghan state, Pakistan will ramp up its support for the Taliban.
But Indian aid cannot enable the ANA to reconquer the Pashtun areas of
Afghanistan, nor can Pakistani aid enable the Taliban to conquer the rest of
Pakistan and Afghanistan blend into each other. Around 35 million
Pashtuns live on either side of the border, most of them in Pakistan.
Pakistan needs to prevent more Pakistani Pashtuns joining the Islamist
revolt, as the Afghan Taliban try to recover the Pashtun areas of Pakistan
under the banner of jihad. Pakistanis assume the present Afghan regime is
doomed and think they need the Afghan Taliban to combat the Indian
Pakistan wants peace in Afghanistan. The Pakistani
military has pressed the Afghan Taliban to join in the peace process. A
lasting settlement will have to be between the Taliban and a mixture of
other forces. The Taliban do not have enough support for outright victory,
but some of them expect it anyway. If the Afghan presidential elections next
year fail to produce a legitimate and credible victor, the Afghan state
The Arab Spring was a product of the youth
bulge. It was an unfocused, chaotic, exuberant, violent, adolescent temper
tantrum forged into a political movement, and it has failed to produce
immediate liberal democracy. But when teenagers become adults, the youth
bulge becomes a demographic dividend, leaving everyone better off. This is
what will happen next in much of the Mideast.
Bitcoin Winkle Wrinkle
The Winklevoss twins lost out to Mark Zuckerberg
on Facebook. Now they plan to launch an Exchange Traded Fund that tracks
Bitcoin. The Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust will expose investors to the virtual
currency. But the fund may never hit the market because Authorized
Participants are needed to build the funds and it is too hard for them to
profit from it.
Never Give Up
Successful people have one thing in common. Their
ferocious drive and hunger for success makes them never give up. Many have
failed numerous times, but they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and
carry on trying. If you want to succeed you should expect failure along the
way. Failure can spur you on and make you try harder. Every failure
increases the hunger for success. Don't be beaten, take responsibility for
failure, and start all over from a stronger position. The one thing
successful people never do is give up.
2013 July 16
A University of Tennessee study finds six kinds of
1 The largest group comprises
cultural nonbelievers and intellectual atheists. They take it as obvious
that exclusive religious truth claims must be false.
2 Anti-theists score high on measures of anger,
autonomy, narcissism, and dogmatism but low on measures of positive
relations with others.
3 Non-theists find
religion is completely irrelevant.
Ritual atheists find utility in tradition and ritual. They see them as
practices for living and achieving happiness. This covers many American
5 Seeker agnostics are spiritual
but not religious. They treat religious practices as effective even though
the explanation is obvious nonsense.
Activists hold strong beliefs on ethical and environmental issues.
AR This is a simplistic and superficial
The top-down model of publishing is doomed. The
landscape of huge bureaucratic trade houses, with multiple layers of
editors, vast publicity departments, and books fed to them by literary
agents, that survive thanks to a few star authors, is bound for extinction.
We need to rethink the entire business model. Five principles for fixing
1 Decentralization: It seems mad
to let giant conglomerates rule the world from New York. Regional publishing
can revitalize reading. The gatekeeping function of a centralized elite is a
barrier to the flourishing of vital writing.
2 Autonomy: All concerned need to be freed from
production lines for literary products with marketing plans and corporate
strategies. Writers should write for new audiences, and readers should
decide what they read.
Responsiveness: Nearly everything from the major trade houses is junk,
creations of marketing strategies. The best of the independent publishers
are on the right track.
Bigness is the bane of any creative activity. The giant organizations have
hierarchies that need to be flattened. Writing is corrupted by authors who
want to be at the top of the heap.
Risk: Publishers overestimate risk and go with the existing formula. The
best university presses are exceptions. Publishers would soon make money if
agents and editors lost their veto on new ideas.
We need a
AR This is no manifesto for a
A miscellany of jokes
Boston Dynamics unveils its humanoid robot Atlas:
height 1.9 m, mass 150 kg
EADS cut corners making the Eurofighter. The
German government faces billions in added costs. By the end of this
year, Germany will have spent almost all of the €14.7 billion approved
for the program. The estimated cost for the 143 Eurofighters ordered to
date is now €16.8 billion by 2018. A planned 37 further jets will
cost billions more.
German voters will not learn the full truth
until after the election in September.
2013 July 15
The car saga goes on. Before the car can be taxed and registered, it needs a
commission notice from the Vehicle Notification Agency. This in turn
requires exact documentary proof of the changes made to the headlights, the
speedometer, and the fog lights. Since the fog lights are already okay, they
cause another delay because I need documented proof of their okayness. The
form payment is another GBP 100. I am slowly going crazy with this
pettifogging bureaucratic nightmare.
A Goodreads infographic looks at how we abandon our reading of a book.
Almost 2 in every 5 readers always read on to the end, even if the book is
bad, or dull, or difficult. The rest will quit some books at some point.
Their main reason is that life is too short. The Goodreads top five
abandoned books is currently topped by The Casual Vacancy
by J.K. Rowling and Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.
2013 July 14
I have just read Susan Greenfield's novel 2121,
and it sent me to sleep. Professor Baroness Greenfield may not find a cure
for Alzheimer's, but she has found a cure for insomnia. As a novelist, she
is a fabulous pharmacologist.
Greenfield: "My personal view is that
social networking and video games and endless surfing are leading to a
society I personally would like to be different. I want people to think, to
have a strong sense of individuality, to have a private life that nobody
shares or hacks into."
Martin Amis caused a stir in 2010 by suggesting
"euthanasia booths" for elderly people. His response now: "It's going to be
the biggest demographic change in the history of the world. The subterranean
dialog in government throughout the west is how are we going to pay for the
old? And the only way to do it is to tax the young. ... I don't want my
children to spend their lives slaving to maintain an elderly population."
Healthcare is also about human relationships.
Being helpless in a hospital bed and having someone hold your hand or speak
kindly to you is like feeling the safety rope on the cliff edge. Being in a
hospital bed and feeling that no one is in charge or gives a damn is one of
the most frightening things I have ever experienced.
2013 July 13
Labour leader Ed Miliband's promise to reform his
party's relationship with its union paymasters will cost it millions. The
alleged attempt by the Unite union to rig the selection of a parliamentary
candidate was the tipping point.
Collusion between Labour and the unions to diddle millions out of trade
unionists by inertia selling is indefensible. The Conservative Party has not
protested because its growing dependence on a small number of very large
private donors is a shabby business too.
A big donation to either
main party can ease a rich man's passage on to the Honours List and into the
Lords, where he becomes a legislator. Nobody approves of this. Cash gets you
access at Westminster. It taints public life.
Within five years
Labour will be facing bankruptcy. Tory fund raising will then come under
attack. Half a century of truce on funding will shatter. Both parties will
discover an interest in the idea of regular state funding for their
administration and campaigning costs.
Commons are things that are widely shared as a
matter of law or convention. A common is a public park, a work of timeless
literature no longer under copyright, an invention of societal value on
which no patent is pending, silence, an ocean beach, the air we breathe, the
water we drink. The commons is a realm of wealth for all.
The tragedy of the commons
is a parable that market fundamentalists take as demonstrating the futility
of public or shared ownership. When everybody is responsible, no one is. But
back in the days when farmers really did share land, they didn't behave like
the clods in the market model. They worked together to maintain the land.
The commons' single biggest contemporary success story is the World Wide
Web. Wikipedia is a similarly social phenomenon, enabling people to share
expertise free of charge. We must never, ever take the commons for granted.
AR This blog is a common, until I can
2013 July 12
British car parks are behind the times. All the German car parks I recall
let you pay after parking for the time you used, and have machines that take
coins or notes and give change. All the British ones make you pay in advance
for a period likely exceeding your stay, require payment of awkward amounts
in heavy coins, don't give change, and involve leaving tickets in cars
announcing how long they will be unattended. Many British car parks are open
lots, or cramped buildings with narrow ramps, poor
layouts, and evidence of neglect. Most of the German Parkhaus interiors I
recall were clean and fresh, with the sites in a city linked to street signs
giving updates on free places.
So Brits need to brace up and demand
better parking. Zero tolerance for slack in such minor aspects of daily life
can begin to buck up an entire culture. Perhaps then we can fix British
roads, where potholes and patches on patches make a bumpy ride that ages
cars and distracts and annoys drivers. Perhaps then in turn we can update
British houses, which on average are way behind German ones in build quality
and ergonomic design detail. Perhaps then in turn I can begin to enjoy
living in the land of my childhood, where typical local street scenes still
look alarmingly similar to those of my youth.
Every day in China, hundreds of messages are sent from
government offices to website editors around the country. Authorities have a
toolbox of phrases to guide website editors on how to deal with sensitive
Xiao Qiang and his staff at the School of Information,
Berkeley, have assembled an archive of more than 2,600 directives that
website editors across China have received during the last ten years.
In late June, ten scholars of Chinese law, politics, society, and
language attended a workshop at Berkeley to join Xiao and his staff in
analyzing the archive. Highlights:
A principal aim is to prevent unapproved groups from organizing
through the Internet.
Because political power and commercial interests are commonly
intertwined in China,
censorship often merges with
something that resembles commercial reputation management.
● A directive to
block an item of news may come out before the news itself appears.
● The regime still
lumps political speech together with pornography.
● Officials tend to
be more protective of their own jurisdictions than those of others.
● Editors may be
instructed to report on a trial but not on the subsequent execution.
● News of suicides
China's rulers have built a gargantuan Internet
censorship system, many times larger than any comparable effort. The efforts
of the NSA are not nearly as far reaching.
Germans say they reformed their jobs market and
controlled their unit labor costs, while peripheral EZ countries gorged
themselves on cheap euro credit. When the crisis struck, EU agencies sought
to bail out the peripheral countries at the expense of German taxpayers.
This narrative has popular appeal. But it understates how much Germany
has gained from the euro and how much it would lose from its collapse. The
EZ crisis arose from a transatlantic banking crisis. Now Europe is in a mess
that cannot be solved by deflation on the periphery. The situation in the
south is politically unsustainable.
The solution is to go ahead with banking
union and deepen fiscal integration. EZ states need structural reform.
Federalism is more likely to lead to institutional convergence than mere
The author of The Da Vinci Code has done it again. He
makes you want to turn the pages even though every page you turn
demonstrates abundantly his complete lack of talent as a writer.
A canny bad writer keeps out of the way so that
the reader's mind can get to work with its own stock of clichés, but Dan
Brown shows deadly signs of an ambition to add poetry to his prose. He has
put prodigies of effort into mugging up the scholarly background of his
story, but his learning has been hard won. It must have been, because it is
so heavily worn.
Dante was a bad choice, I think. Most of Brown's
huge audience won't have a clue what he's talking about. If they want to
find out, I recommend my new translation of The Divine Comedy.
2013 July 11
Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel says we
can only prevent terrorist attacks by allowing telecommunications
monitoring: "The work of intelligence agencies in democratic states was
always vital to the safety of citizens and will remain so
in the future."
Peter Nolan says the world has hosted the emergence
of a limited number of dominant businesses, almost entirely rooted in
advanced countries. Systems integrator companies, with strong brands and
superior technologies, are at the apex of value chains that serve the global
Global production and distribution is organized under
the aegis of these companies: 100 giant firms, all from the high-income
countries, account for over three-fifths of the total R&D expenditure among
the world's top 1400 companies. They are the fount of progress in the era of
Take China. In 2007-09, foreign-invested companies
were responsible for 28% of its industrial added value, 66% of its output
from high-tech industries, 55% of its exports, and 90% of its exports of new
and high-tech products. China is a crucial contributor to systems managed by
But China is not buying the world. Between 1990 and 2012,
the global stock of outward FDI soared from $2.1 trillion to $23.6 trillion.
High-income countries still accounted for 79% of this in 2012, when annual
FDI for the US was $5.2 trillion, the UK $1.8 trillion, and China $509
Hardly any globally significant companies are Chinese. The
Chinese economy remains dependent on the know-how of others. This explains
China's desperate efforts to acquire know-how. In the end almost all global
companies are likely to become deeply involved in China.
John Gray condemns humanism, which he defines as
1 The human animal is the site
of some kind of unique value in the world.
The human mind reflects the order of the cosmos.
3 History is a story of human advance, with
rationality increasing over time.
"Human uniqueness is a myth
inherited from religion, which humanists have recycled into science ...
Science and the idea of progress may seem joined together, but the end
result of progress in science is to show the impossibility of progress in
The hope for progress can consist only in the belief
that there is some form of collective human life in which the capacity for
barbarism will rarely find expression, and in which human creative and
cooperative potential can be realized without hindrance. Hope is a virtue,
and we should not give it up so easily.
Joseph J. Ellis
Edmund Morgan was revered among historians. He
was a tough editor who believed that the cogency of your argument was
inseparable from the lucidity of your prose. His most frequent marginal
comment: "What is the story?" Let the story drive the narrative. The most
important decision is what to leave out.
AR Good advice.
Pope Francis is canonizing John Paul II in record
time. John Paul II presided over the church during its pedophile
scandal, and he gave the handling of that problem to Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger. John Paul II stood firm on such matters as homosexuality and
married or female priests.
Modern popes use canonization to give the popehood a kind of infallibility. Each time
a pope canonizes a pope he closes a circuit of authentications.
It is sad to see Pope Francis play the
same old game. In promoting John Paul II he is exalting a man who resisted change.
Long and disturbing promotional
video packs some hard truths in a scary shell. The message is urgent:
Get your money out of Britain and avoid tax hikes, devaluation, economic
collapse, and total ruin. The comparison with Weimar Germany strikes
me as alarmist.
2013 July 10
British Public Wrong
A new survey for the Royal Statistical Society
and Kings College London shows public opinion is wrong about major social
Benefit fraud: People think 24% of benefit
spending is fraudulently claimed. In fact 0.7% is fraudulent.
Immigration: People think 31% of the population are recent immigrants. In
fact 13% are, or about 15% including illegal immigrants. People think black
and Asian people make up 30% of the population. In fact they make up 11%.
Crime: People do not believe crime is falling. In fact crime incidents
were 19% lower in 2012 than in 2006/07 and 53% lower than in 1995. Most
people think violent crime is rising. In fact it has fallen from almost 2.5
million incidents in 2006/07 to under 2 million in 2012.
pregnancy: People think 15% of of girls under 16 get pregnant every year. In
fact about 0.6% do.
Foreign aid: Many people think foreign aid is in
the top three items of Government spending. In fact it makes up 1.1% of
Pensions: Many people think more is spent on Jobseeker
Allowance than pensions. In fact 15 times more is spent on pensions.
The creation of Penguin Random House shrinks the Big
Six, which publish most books in the United States, to the Big Five: PRH,
HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan.
Consolidation carries costs. Writers and agents have lower advances and
fewer options to turn their manuscripts into money. Legacy publishing does
best in nonfiction by providing the resources for research, editing, and
marketing. In more commercial genres, writers are winning with
self-publishing, often with an agent who packages a book with freelance
editors and marketers.
Whether literary culture is best served by the Big Five is moot. Publishers
may need to revive their brands by making them more distinctive for
consumers, or be left with Random Penguin.
Susan Greenfield has written a shonky science
fiction novel set in 2121.
A lot of bad stuff happened. We fixed climate change by banning all
cars, but Internet porn replaced sex and social networks replaced meeting.
Society fragmented into two groups. The Neo-Puritans spotted what was
happening, migrated to a new land, and live like Mormons. The Others like
dancing and shiny lights.
The chapters are narrated by various
lifeless caricatures that regurgitate Greenfield's theories. The plot: a
government guy decides the Others are a problem. He sees three options:
change their brains to be more like N-Ps, keep them as pets, or commit
genocide. He goes for brain change. We can skip the rest.
it sucks. As for science, what science? Greenfield's hypothesis is that an
unquantified level of exposure to an unspecified subset of modern
technologies may be affecting an indeterminate number of people's brains in
an undefined way, with a number of results. She calls it mind change.
Greenfield thinks humanity is in decline, and my generation proves it.
AR Sorry, Susan.
2013 July 9
UK Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards:
"The public have a sense that advantage has been taken of them, that bankers
have received huge rewards, that some of those rewards have not been
properly earned, and in some cases have been obtained through dishonesty,
and that these huge rewards are excessive, bearing little or no relation to
the work done."
The payment protection insurance (PPI)
scam is the biggest scandal in the history of British banking. First, two
1 Libor, the London
Interbank Offered Rate, is a range of interbank lending rates, set after
consultation between the British Bankers Association and a host of
participating banks. In global markets, $360 trillion of deals are pinned to
Libor. The risk is that a bank on a Libor panel might make a manipulative
input, trying to move Libor up or down so as to influence interest rates or
the value of its swaps portfolio. After the crisis, it turned out that that
was exactly what had been happening, across an entire swath of the industry.
It was criminal fraud. So far, Barclays has paid fines of about £290 million
and RBS paid a total of about £390 million in fines. Since RBS is 82% owned
by the taxpayer, we pay.
2 British banks
were involved in money laundering and drug dealing. In August 2012, the New
York State Department of Financial Services accused Standard Chartered of
scheming with the Iranian government to hide more than $250 billion in
deals. In September the bank paid a total of $667 million in settlements and
accepted deferred prosecution. HSBC was next. US prosecutors said the bank
had laundered at least $881 million in money for Mexican and Colombian
cartels, and another $660 million in sanctions-avoiding transfers with Iran,
Cuba, Sudan, Libya and Burma. They paid a fine of $1.92 billion and also
accepted deferred prosecution.
3 The PPI
scandal is a shocker because it involves systematic cheating of bank
customers. Payment protection insurance covered customers who owed payments
which for one reason or another they were no longer in a position to make.
But most of the people who bought the policies would not have been able to
use them. Two categories of people who were not eligible to make claims
against PPI were the self-employed and anyone with a pre-existing medical
condition. They were sold it anyway. They weren't told the basic facts about
the insurance they were buying. It was a scam, designed to extract extra
revenue from gullible punters. The latest estimate for the cost of the
scandal is £16 billion.
Banking is based on trust. In the PPI
scandal, banks broke that trust. That makes it the worst scandal in the
history of British banking.
back. In December 2012, a new government under prime minister Shinzo Abe
promised bold measures to beat deflation. Abe appointed a new governor of
the Bank of Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda, who learned his economics at Oxford.
Kuroda aims to double the money supply within two years.
closely modeled on Japan's economic program of 1931-36. Faced with the
consequences of the crash of 1929, finance minister Korekiyo Takahashi took
Japan off the gold standard, ramped up government spending, and ordered the
central bank to finance it. The effect was the fastest recovery of any major
The UK too executed a bold policy experiment. In 1932, the
new chancellor, Neville Chamberlain, announced that sterling would be
devalued to return the price levels to those of 1929. A boom in
housebuilding gave Britain the thousands of semis that line the streets
today and made British GDP grow at 4.5% a year up to 1936.
and Chamberlain were elected ministers of finance, not appointed central
bank governors. Monetary policy became a tool of government. An elected
politician is better able to commit to a high inflation target to inflate
away the value of its debts. In both Japan and the UK, the government got
serious about beating deflation.
In the new world of Abenomics, the
Bank of Japan is independent in name alone. By contrast, the UK stumbles on
with fiscal austerity combined with a low inflation target overseen by an
independent central bank. Future generations will be astonished. Japan is
showing the way back to the future.
AR The UK needs a boom in
housebuilding today. Compared with the German housing stock, the British
stock is a national disgrace.
2013 July 8
The National Security Agency
The NSA is tasked to know everything of importance
that happens outside of the United States. We're in bed together with the
Germans the same as with most other Western countries.
Some Five Eye Partners go beyond what the NSA does. The
British GCHQ system Tempora is the SIGINT community's first full-take
Internet buffer. It snarfs everything, in a rolling buffer to allow
retroactive investigation without missing a bit.
The NSA and its
partners do full dragnet data collection for telephone calls, text, and
data. At present, full-take collection ages off quickly due to its size,
unless an analyst has tasked a target or communication. The metadata ages
off less quickly.
After the NSA targets a user, the analyst can do
whatever they want. The target's machine belongs to the US government.
The Guardian NSA files
Chinese president Xi Jinping and
Russian president Vladimir Putin
On House of Lords reform in the UK, the
coalition first wanted to abolish the lot of them and replace them with
a directly elected chamber. Their next idea was to appoint Lords to reflect
the national vote share in the previous general election.
House of Lords has provided a more coherent and successful opposition to
recent governments than the opposition in the Commons has, even though
its quality has been diminished by stuffing of the benches with failed
and retired politicians.
The spying row threatens to overshadow US-EU trade
EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmström:
"Mutual trust and confidence have been seriously eroded and I expect the
US to do all that it can to restore them ... Should you fail to
demonstrate the benefits of the terrorist financing tracking program and
passenger name record instruments for our citizens and the fact that
they have been implemented in full compliance with the law ...
be obliged to reconsider if the conditions for their implementation are
Washington had lobbied Europeans for the agreements
as part of the GWOT.
If it looks like a c*** and has the effect
of a c*** then it probably is a c***. President Obama's inability to use
the "c" word in relation to Egypt is because as soon as the United
States declares that the Egyptian government has been overthrown by a
coup it is legally bound to cut off aid to Egypt.
Being An Animal
Evolution places humans among animals, not only
in body but in mind. Charles Darwin: "Even insects express anger,
terror, jealousy, and love." But his views on animal consciousness were
rejected. Primatologist Jane Goodall was mocked by her peers for
speaking of chimpanzee emotions.
These days, studies of animal
intelligence are ubiquitous. And the environmental challenges that might
prompt the evolution of consciousness are widespread. Among these is
sociality. Consciousness is necessary to be an individual, and the
animal kingdom teems with it.
USS Jimmy Carter
Former US President Jimmy Carter won the 1998 UN Human Rights Award
and the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize. The $3 billion sub USS Jimmy Carter
monitors global Internet traffic by tapping undersea fiber optic cables.
The US Navy says it carries advanced technology for naval special
warfare and tactical surveillance. It violates the civil liberties
2013 July 7
Economists and their followers brought the world
to the brink of catastrophe in 2008. For them, money is a medium of
exchange. Most western macroeconomic policies up to 2008 were designed to
stop governments spending money and to make central banks control inflation.
Money is a socially created system of transferable credit, a way of
keeping account of what people owe each other. The financial crisis was
caused by banks creating money beyond government control. On the eve of the
crash, they had made some $25 trillion in the United States alone.
But the banks were not virtuous guardians of monetary purity. They took
advantage of deregulation to print money that funded property and other
asset bubbles. These assets were massively overvalued. Financiers say
taxpayers should pay back debts at face value through austerity.
Felix Martin argues that mainstream economics is seriously flawed. He
says "the current strategy of trying to sweat these debt mountains off over
time" is neither feasible nor desirable. He favors "engineering a few years
of significantly higher inflation" to write them off.
Leslie H. Gelb and Dimitri K. Simes
Russia and China cooperated
in the Snowden affair. Their policies toward Syria have paralyzed the UN
Security Council. Their hacking and cyberattacks cause concern in
Washington. They have slowed efforts to end Iran's nuclear weapons program.
And China is now carrying out its largest ever joint naval exercises with
Russia and China appear to be seeking greater
clout at the expense of the United States. They seem to see less cost in
challenging the United States and fewer rewards for partnership. These
calculations stem from two perceptions:
They see American decline and decadence. The United States is holding on to
ties with Europe and parts of Asia but losing economic leverage and moral
authority in the rest of the world. Disengagement from Iraq and Afghanistan
without victory seems to devalue US military superiority.
2 Russian and Chinese
elites consider American foreign policy objectives fundamentally hostile to
their vital interests. They view American democracy promotion not as
reflecting a commitment to freedom but as a selective crusade to undermine
governments threatening to the United States.
China and Russia have a
history of mutual distrust as well as conflicting economic interests. But
they share an interest in maintaining partnerships with the United States
and the European Union. These are powerful reasons for staying on good terms
with Washington, but not enough to halt the anti-American tack in Beijing
President Obama should see China and Russia as
significant powers with their own interests. Washington can only manage
security threats around the world with their cooperation. To gain that
cooperation, the White House must show that American leadership is essential
to solving world problems.
What Do Women Want?
Anthropology professor Sarah Blaffer Hrdy says
female promiscuity among monkeys and baboons evolved to mask paternity. A
male that was unsure which babies were his would be less prone to murder
Her idea revolved around orgasm. Female climax in
humans has been viewed by many evolutionary psychologists as biologically
meaningless. Hrdy says it evolved in primates to ensure that females are
libertines, that they move efficiently from one round of sex to the next and
frequently from one partner to the next, building toward climax. The
advantages range from the safeguarding against infanticide to gathering more
varied sperm and so raising the odds of genetic compatibility and healthy
Female desire is not mostly sparked or sustained by
emotional intimacy and safety. The assumption that female eros is much
better made for monogamy than the male libido is scarcely more than a
2013 July 6
Mark P. Mills
What makes Big Data useful is software. When the first microprocessor
was invented in 1971, software was a $1 billion industry. Software today has
grown to a $350 billion industry. Big Data analytics will grow software to a
multi-trillion dollar industry.
Isaac Asimov called the idea of using massive data sets to predict human
behavior psychohistory. The bigger the data set, he said, the more
predictable the future. With Big Data analytics, we can see beyond
apparently random data points to the big picture.
Big data sets can
reveal trends that tell us what will happen without the need to know why.
With robust correlations, observational data can yield enormously predictive
tools. The why of many things that we observe, from entropy to evolution,
has eluded physicists and philosophers. Big data may amplify our ability to
make sense of nearly everything in the world.
Business plans $3
trillion in global information and communications technology (ICT)
investment over the next decade. This puts Big Data in
the same league as Big Oil, projected to spend $5 trillion over the decade.
All this is bullish for the future of the global economy.
An Armenian Sketchbook is a memoir by Vasily
Grossman about the two months he spent there in 1961. Earlier that year the
KGB had confiscated his typescripts of Life and Fate, in which he compared Soviet and Nazi concentration camps and said the Stalin and Hitler
regimes were mirror images.
sketchbook is the most personal of Grossman's works. It reads as if he is
chatting to the reader about the landscape and the people he meets. He was
preoccupied with the Shoah and sensed a fellow feeling between Jews and
Armenians. Awareness of the Armenian genocide informs the memoir.
Grossman: "Perfection is always simple, and it is always
natural. Perfection is the deepest understanding and fullest expression of
what is essential. Perfection is the shortest path to a goal, the simplest
proof, and the clearest expression."
2013 July 5
The American Revolution
To see whether the United States would have been
better off without its revolution, look at Canada.
In Canada, the abolition of slavery began almost 20 years earlier than
in the United States. In the United States, more than 2 million people were
incarcerated in 2011. The United States ranks first in the world in the
number of prisoners per capita. Canada ranks 136th.
work longer hours and have fewer paid vacations and benefits than their
counterparts in most advanced countries. The United States ranks 51st in
life expectancy at birth, and this year tied for 14th in life satisfaction
in an OECD study. Canada was 8th, Australia 12th. Another report ranked the
United States 10th in the world for happiness, again behind Canada and
The Canadian, Australian and British governments have
shown they can get things done. Washington is paralyzed by partisanship and
gridlock. The American Revolution wedded us to practices or institutions
that seem counterproductive or dysfunctional today.
Jefferson: "Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with
the progress of the human mind."
Gordon S. Wood
United States citizens have built a temple to
preserve and display the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and
the Bill of Rights. At the National Archives in Washington, these sacred
scriptures are enshrined in bronze-framed, bulletproof, moisture-controlled
glass containers that have been drained of all harmful oxygen. During the
day, these Charters of Freedom are on display in the rotunda of the National
Archives. At night, the containers are lowered into a massive sealed vault
of concrete and steel.
For Pauline Maier, the shrine resembles the
altars of her Catholic girlhood. On the new altar's surface are spread out
the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but at the center of the shrine,
held up in what looks like a tabernacle or monstrance, is the most holy
document of all: the Declaration of Independence. The erection of a shrine
for the worship of the Declaration of Independence strikes Maier as
The Declaration of Independence was a workaday document
of the Second Continental Congress in 1776. In essence the Congress replaced
the British Crown in American political life. Congress was the entire
central government for the colonies. At the time, most Americans still
favored reconciliation with Great Britain, within the British Empire but
tied as separate colonies only to the King, not Parliament. The colonists
anticipated by nearly two centuries the commonwealth theory of the British
The Declaration was the product of many busy men working
under very tight time constraints. Thomas Jefferson wrote the initial draft,
then Congress edited the committee's draft into a distinguished document.
Jefferson's preamble with its ringing phrases about equality and rights made
the Declaration the most sacred of all American political documents.
2013 July 4
Glorious Fourth — busy day 4 me.
Mil Bag MB MB
Egyptian military arrest Muslim
Brotherhood supreme leader Mohammed Badie for inciting violence against
protesters outside MB HQ, Cairo, Sunday, when 8 protesters were killed.
AR Bye bye baddy Badie!
Whether the Egyptian army's actions amount to a
military coup can be debated. But they amount to a ruinous intervention into
politics. Rejecting the results of elections and setting aside a country's
basic law is a step that no army should ever take.
President Mohamed Morsi is not blameless. The political charge sheet against
him is long and detailed, but to make him entirely responsible for the
disappointments of the past two years is absurd. He should not be blamed for
the failure of the Egyptian economy to provide enough jobs. Morsi went along
with the IMF plans for an end to subsidies on food and utility prices that
would only create more austerity, but so did most of the opposition. As for
reviving the tourism sector, the main obstacle is the
The Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters are social
conservatives who pose a threat to civil rights. But the biggest and most
immediate danger to the country is to the political rights that all
Egyptians won with the overthrow of Mubarak.
I back the army for
now. Islamist extremism has no place in democratic politics. I look forward
to the presidency of
The Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that we have no
reasonable expectation of privacy in the phone numbers we dial, as opposed
to the content of the calls. Today I see an urgent need to rethink. US law
has not kept up with the new intrusions on our privacy made possible by
The rationale for the distinction between the
contents of a communication and its participants originated in the view that
we expect our phone conversations to be private but not the numbers we call.
The lack of a legally recognized privacy interest allows the NSA to vacuum
up metadata wholesale.
The claim that we have no privacy interest in
our metadata because we share it with communications companies is a fiction.
These companies should be viewed as custodians with a duty to protect
confidentiality. Only in extraordinary circumstances should this
confidentiality be broken.
conversations with lawyers and doctors are protected because our legal and
medical systems cannot work unless communications shared within them retain
presumptive confidentiality. The law should recognize our legitimate
expectations of privacy in a wired world.
2013 July 3
Busy getting getting into some sort of order for the new life of austerity
in England. If the mind dwells on higher things, the whole adventure can
work out. Much has been sacrificed but much remains to be won. Meanwhile,
the portrait at left shows how I look after 16 days in the town of my
earliest memories. The beard is untrimmed because I temporarily mislaid the
recharger for my shaver in the jumble of boxes currently cluttering my room
and my lockup a few miles away.
Edward Snowden has done us all a great service.
The extent of surveillance by American and British security services is
staggering. For years the US has been accusing China of stealing
intellectual property. Do we need to suspect the US now? In the UK the
Tempora program violates the EU data protection directives, which are law in
Britain. Snowden needs shelter. Germany should offer it.
Mideast Plague Goes Global
When the Black Death exploded in Arabia in the
14th century, killing a third of the population, it spread across the
Islamic world via infected religious pilgrims. Today, the world is
threatened with a new plague: Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). This
coronavirus was discovered in Jordan in March 2012, and as of June 26, there
have been 77 confirmed cases. Saudi Arabia had 62 of them, 34 fatal.
This fall, millions of devout Muslims will descend upon Saudi Arabia's holy
sites in one of the largest annual migrations in history. In 2012, about 6
million pilgrims came to Saudi Arabia to perform their holy rituals, and
this number is predicted to rise in 2013. In Mecca alone, millions of
pilgrims will fulfill the religious obligation of circling the Kaaba, and
will spread their pathogens as they do so.
MERS kills more than half
of all its victims. The MERS coronavirus is new to our species, and the
human immune response to infection is so extreme it can be deadly. The virus
spreads between people via close contact, shared medical instruments, and
coughing. Once inside the human lung, it sparks a series of reactions that
all but destroy normal lung function. Survivors may need years of
Controlling the spread of the virus is only half the
battle. We have is no MERS vaccine, drug, or simple diagnostic test. And
once MERS patients are identified, caring for them presents its own
challenges. Not only is the treatment for MERS intensive and complicated,
but health care workers must carefully protect themselves so as to minimize
the risk of contracting or unwittingly spreading infection.
praises Saudi Arabia for "urgently taking crucial actions" in this crisis.
But the Saudi Ministry of Health is understaffed and in need of assistance.
Participants at a recent WHO meeting in Cairo agreed on the urgency of the
situation and agreed that the world is at a critical point in the trajectory
of the MERS outbreak. We could be dragged into another Black Death as MERS
2013 July 2
The NSA program Boundless Informant processes
connection data from all incoming telephone calls in near real time. It
records just the metadata for the calls, but this is a gold mine for
investigators. The NSA also bugged the building of the EU diplomatic
delegation to the United States and infiltrated its internal computer
network. It did the same for the EU mission at the UN in New York.
Cyber Command chief General Keith Alexander is the director of the NSA. It
has long had close and secret relationships with many telecommunications
companies. Alexander recently spoke at a technology symposium in Washington:
"As great as we have it up there, we cannot do it without your help."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "The monitoring of
friends — this is unacceptable. It can't be tolerated. We are no longer in
the Cold War. Trust has to be the basis of our cooperation."
President François Hollande: "We cannot accept this kind of behavior between
partners and allies. We ask that this stop immediately."
of State John Kerry: "Every country in the world that is engaged in
international affairs and national security undertakes lots of activities to
protect its national security and all kinds of information contribute to
The NSA report leaked by Ed Snowden is really
about the mellowing of the surveillance state. In the aftermath of 9/11, the
program was authorized solely by the White House. Everyone was worried about
security, not privacy. In 2004, the Department of Justice concluded that NSA
collection of bulk Internet metadata was illegal. In 2007, the president's
surveillance program officially ceased. In 2008, Congress passed the FISA
Amendments Act facilitating NSA surveillance but mandating the report
Snowden leaked. In 2011, bulk collection of Internet metadata stopped.
Government surveillance is subject to bureaucratic bogdown. Leaks are a
crucial part of this ecosystem of restraint.
William Lane Craig has a devoted following among evangelical Christians.
Some of them say "God is working something" in his philosophy of religion.
Craig found Jesus at high school in Illinois. In due course he wrote a
doctoral dissertation on theology at the University of Birmingham, England,
and another one at the University of Munich. He held the presidency of the
Evangelical Philosophical Society, which lets philosophers present the
latest deliverances of analytic philosophy as they pertain to defending the
Christian faith in the vernacular world, from 1996 to 2005. During that
time, the society began holding an apologetics conference alongside the
annual scholarly meeting. For many, Craig is the man who saved their faith.
The Bible Institute of Los Angeles — Biola
— invited Craig on board. The school was soon attracting more than 100
master's students at a time. Craig: "More often than not, it is what you are
rather than what you say that will bring an unbeliever to Christ."
2013 July 1
Revise, Revise, Revise
Revision as we now understand it — where authors,
before they publish anything, will spend weeks tearing it down and putting
it back together again — is a consequence of the typewriter. As our
technology changes once again, that literary style may be undergoing another
Ernest Hemingway changed
the typescript of his novels dramatically from one version to the next. He
invoked the iceberg: "There is seven-eighths of it under the water for every
part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens
Most Modernist writers, like Hemingway, wrote by hand
and then painstakingly typed up the results. That took time, but seeing
their writing in such dramatically different forms encouraged them to revise
it aggressively. Modernism became a new literary ideal. Modernists were
united in the belief that careful and substantial reworking would ultimately
produce the best literature.
Today, most of us compose directly on
our computers. Instead of generating physical page after physical page,
which we can then reread and reorder, we now create a living document that,
increasingly, is not printed at all until it becomes a final, published
product. We now revise in real time. Perhaps this is encouraging more
spontaneous and conversational kinds of literary writing.
AR A hint to revise
Coral — thoroughly.