BLOG 2015 Q2


The around-the-world flight of the experimental Solar Impulse 2 began last March. Pilot Andre Borschberg is now flying the plane more
than 8 Mm from Japan to Hawaii. The journey is expected to last up to 500 ks. Pilot Bertrand Piccard has been sharing flying duties
along the route. They will be the first aviators in history to fly a plane around the world without using a drop of fuel.

Ross Clark

I used to think communism
was the most damaging creed
that could be foisted upon an
economy. Now I realize there
is an even more destructive
belief system: localism.

AR I hereby confirm that
Primrose Hill is indeed as
brilliant as Alan Sillitoe
said it was.


Hardware, Software, and
the Internet of Things

San Francisco, CA
2015-06-23 — 2015-06-25

CT Fantasy
Foreign Policy

Drone strikes, manned airstrikes,
and special operations raids buy
space and time. But by them-
selves they are only a delaying
action. This counter-terrorism
concept is a fantasy.

M.C. Escher Co.
Relativity (1953)

The Amazing World
of M.C. Escher

Scottish National Gallery
of Modern Art, Edinburgh

2015-06-27 — 2015-09-27

Moon Village

European Space Agency director
Johann-Dietrich Wörner wants
to build a village on the Moon:
"This is not so hard to achieve
... I see it as a small human
habitat, with humans and robots
from across the world ... If one
company wants to build a hotel,
if another wants to mine and
explore, that is perfect."

Pope Francis

200 years ago today:
Battle of Waterloo

French army NH90
Le Bourget 2015


2015 June 30

No Means Grexit

Joseph Stiglitz

Greece and its creditors are in the endgame. The troika (EC, ECB, IMF) has foisted a 25% decline in GDP on Greece and is still demanding a budget surplus that economists condemn as punitive. Greeks will hold a snap referendum this weekend.

EU leaders resist the referendum. Concern for popular legitimacy is incompatible with EZ politics. Yes means depression almost without end. No opens the possibility that Greece might grasp its destiny in its own hands. I know how I would vote.


Ross Clark

Islamic State is the latest manifestation of the Islamic fundamentalism that has swept the Mideast for decades. We will not defeat it until we recognize what it is.

The Prime Minister says Islamic State is an existential threat to the West. So why has the UK utterly failed to come up with a coherent response to Islamic fundamentalism? We have expended a lot of military effort overthrowing regimes that were no threat to us and even regimes that had been keeping the Islamic fundamentalists at bay.

David Cameron seems reluctant to face the facts. It is time he stopped telling us what a wonderful peaceful religion Islam is and tackled the problem.

2015 June 29

Back to the Future

Stuart Armstrong

Humans are still masters of their fate. But when machines become smarter than humans, they will take over. Machines with huge amounts of computing power, working at speeds inconceivable to the human brain, will create global networks with each other, communicating without human interference.

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) will be able to take over entire transport systems, national economies, financial markets, healthcare systems, and product distribution. Anything you can imagine the human race doing over the next 100 years AGI will be able to do faster, including doing wrong.

Human attempts to limit the powers of AGI could go wrong too. An instruction to prevent human suffering could logically be interpreted in AI as one to kill all humans, thus ending suffering altogether. An instruction to keep humans safe and happy could be translated in machine logic as one to entomb everyone in concrete coffins on heroin drips. You get what you ask for, not what you want.

We need plans for safe AGI before we create the first dangerous AGI. The software industry is devoting enormous effort to developing AI, and we are almost at the point of generating an AGI that is as intelligent as humans. As we race to the goal of safe AGI we need to outrun the computer industry.

Can a business be alive?

2015 June 28

Teen romance as fairy tale? We have a winner!

Andy Ross

An Irish novel for young adults about fairies may seem an unpromising item for readers outside the charmed circle of Irish teenage girls. But Helen Falconer gives it enough power to work its magic on a wider class of readers, and she surely nurses the hope of emulating in her own modest way the success that J. K. Rowling achieved with her Harry Potter books. As a novelist accustomed to high praise for her prose, Ms Falconer is no doubt eager to enjoy a royalty jackpot commensurate with the exceptional quality of her talent.

The story starts with enough modern realism about schoolgirl crushes and teen texting to lull its target readers into a relation of trust. Then, with accelerating tempo, the magic kicks in and realism goes out the window in an escalating rush of supernatural fantasy. Once the tale has taken off, the action lets rip in fine style, with enough dash to propel this reader at least through a fairly long saga in one extended sitting. That, by the way, is a big achievement. Most of the few novels that this impatient philosopher reads at all leave him cold. Those consumed in one sitting are rare indeed. But modern teens unused to reading big books will need this narrative drive, and a novel that lacked it would fail at the gate.

With its artful blend of young love and folk wisdom, The Changeling strikes one as eminently fit for purpose. ...

PDF: 1 page, 57 KB

2015 June 27

Helen Falconer


Helen worked as a journalist and book reviewer on the Guardian before becoming a full-time writer. Her novels Primrose Hill and Sky High feature teenage protagonists. Her latest novel The Changeling is published this month.

Helen has been teaching creative writing classes since 2005. She believes that new writers are subject to common errors including:

Wandering point of view
Beginning the story in the wrong place
Failing to describe characters until too late
Delivering back story in an indigestible chunk
Losing drama when focusing on getting from A to B
Using general instead of specific words to set scenes and situations
Breaking up action with description

AR I'm belated reading Primrose Hill (first published 1999) today. I tutored her in philosophy at Oxford back in 1977. She was quite brilliant and went on to get a congratulatory first in PPE.

2015 June 26

The Future

Yuval Harari

Politicians today can barely manage to enact health and education reforms. Creating new worlds and new human beings is far beyond their agendas.

The new prophets are technology gurus. They want to tear down the old world and build a completely new world in its place. They look toward a future in which algorithms replace human beings in the economy and life no longer revolves around work.

The silicon prophets are building socioeconomic models for a society in which human beings no longer produce anything and are merely consumers. They are dreaming not only about remaking society and the economy but also about defeating death, engineering superhumans, creating the Internet of Things, and merging them all to form some kind of cosmic consciousness.

What people hope to achieve is often far more important than what they can actually do. It is dangerous to mix godlike technology with megalomaniac politics but it might be even more dangerous to blend godlike technology with myopic politics.

Technology gives us the power to reshape the future. If politicians flub the job of planning this future, the really big decisions might be made by the gurus.

The Internet of Things

McKinsey Global Institute

IoT technology can create real economic value. The potential is huge, but capturing it will require an understanding of where real value can be created and an effort to address systems issues.

We analyzed more than 150 use cases, ranging from people with devices to monitor health and wellness to manufacturers using sensors to optimize the maintenance of equipment and protect the safety of workers. We estimate that the IoT has a total potential economic impact of $4 trillion to $11 trillion a year by 2025. The top end value is over a tenth of world GDP.

Among our findings:
Interoperability between IoT systems is critical
Companies need to use IoT data widely for optimization and prediction
B2B apps will probably capture more value than the consumer uses
The IoT will be big both in advanced economies and in developing ones
Customers will capture most of the benefits

A dynamic industry is evolving around IoT technology. The digitization of machines, vehicles, and other elements of the physical world is changing how goods are made and distributed, how products are serviced and refined, and how doctors and patients manage health and wellness. Capturing the full potential of the IoT will require innovation and investment.

AR A good way for a big company to get IoT ready is to run on SAP HANA.

2015 June 25

UK in Europe

Sir Mike Rake et al. (27 names)

As business leaders from a variety of sectors, and from businesses of all sizes, we believe it is overwhelmingly in Britain's interests to stay in the EU. This country is stronger as part of the largest market in the world, with half a billion people. We can trade freely with just one set of rules across the whole of Europe. We also benefit from Europe's free trade deals with more than 50 countries around the world.

Britain as a whole is stronger too: together with our European partners we can best address common problems that respect no borders, such as crime and environmental protection; we stand firm with 27 other countries in the face of common threats; and each UK household benefits by an average of £3,000 per year.

Of course the EU is far from perfect and that is why the prime minister is right to call for change to make it more efficient, streamlined and competitive. Britain has shown in the past that where we make the case for change we can win. Reform is an ongoing process that needs to happen now and long into the future. The best way to secure that is to be in the room fighting for it, not outside knocking on the door.

2015 June 24

Global Warming or Cooling?

Steve Connor

There is about a 1 in 5 chance of the Sun entering a grand solar minimum in the next 50 years. The last grand solar minimum occurred between about 1645 and 1715.

The Sun has been in a grand solar maximum over the past few decades but it is quickly becoming less active, with an increasing probability of a grand solar minimum by the end of the century.

A grand solar minimum would cause global average temperatures to fall by about 0.1 K. An increase of several K is expected due to global warming if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

UK Met Office researcher Sarah Ineson: "The Sun isn't going to save us from global warming."

Regional climate impacts of a possible future grand solar minimum
Sarah Ineson et al.

Maurits Cornelis Escher

The Times

Roger Penrose was a young man when he first encountered M.C. Escher: "Relativity impressed me the most ... My conclusion was we find the pictures disturbing because we fear Escher may be right.”

Penrose: "For those who do pure mathematics for its own sake, it's the aesthetic, the joy, the beauty in the subject itself, that elegance which lies in a proof or a result. Artistry in some form is so important to mathematics."


Josh Armstrong

John Searle believes that philosophical work on perception since Descartes has been incoherent. He thinks he has found the bad argument. He says our perceptual capacities enable us to see things as they are in our local environments.

There is an external world full of things. These things and this world are objective. There is also a subjective world consisting of internal states of mind. If you get things wrong, your perceptual system has produced an inaccurate representation of the external world. Two perceptual states that differ only in that one of them is accurate perception of the world and the other is inaccurate are phenomenologically indistinguishable.

Searle says all perceptual states have contents, but not all perceptual states have objects. Perceptual contents pertain to how the world is represented, not to what in the world is represented. We can perceive external objects directly.

AR Searle has no patience with the brain as VR generator image of Thomas Metzinger.

2015 June 23


The Independent

US Global Air Strike Commander Lt Gen Stephen Wilson: "I don't think we've ever seen so much power put in one person in Russia, and some of the things happening there are troubling and concerning for everybody ... Lots of people are trying to figure out what is the strategic intent of Russia ... We want to bring Russia back into what we knew from years past, a relationship which was stable, with good dialog, and understanding and communication to avoid any potential miscalculation."

2015 June 22

New Horizons

National Space Society

The NASA New Horizons spacecraft will speed past Pluto on July 14, 2015, beaming back photos and data from the dwarf planet. (HD video, 2:52)

2015 June 21

The Fifth Gospel

Ian Caldwell

AR I found this a satisfying novel. It has an intriguing theme and it is thoroughly researched, as well as skillfully plotted and populated with deep and credible characters.

The Shroud of Turin is the iconic motif in a plot that really turns on the schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Debatable claims for and against the authenticity of the Shroud give way to much more interesting reflections on the apparent blasphemy of such imagery, while parochial reflections on eastern versus western faith from the perspective of Vatican politics turn into a deeper analysis of the numerous little contradictions between the four canonical gospels.

The fifth gospel of the title plays a didactic role in dramatizing what might otherwise have been a rather tedious exercise in comparative hermeneutics. The Gospel of John turns out have something to say on the mystery of the Shroud, but to say more here might spoil the plot.

The priestly characters, including Pope John Paul II in all his terminal frailty, add real depth to the philosophy and illustrate better than any moralizing how Christian faith, for all its intellectual vulnerability, can give shape and meaning to mortal human lives.

Altogether this is a book for discerning readers. With a body count of one and no graphic sex it is not an airport novel.

2015 June 20


Anil Ananthaswamy

Wimpzillas are superheavy weakly interacting massive particles. Wimps from the early universe could explain dark matter. But the creation of wimpzillas and other superheavy dark matter takes energies last found during the inflationary epoch.

Results from BICEP2 and ESA Planck tell us the free energy in that epoch could have been in the YeV range. Quantum gravitational fluctuations could have created wimpzillas. But expansion has diluted them and they do not interact directly with detectors on Earth.

If wimpzillas decay, the decay products will have superhigh energies. The IceCube neutrino telescope has seen 3 neutrinos with energies in the PeV range that could be decay products of superheavy dark matter with an extremely long half-life.

Another way to detect superheavy dark matter particles would be via the ultra-high-energy cosmic rays (UHECR) emitted when they decay. UHECR create showers of particles when they enter the atmosphere, but only a handful do so per second.

The Japanese Experimental Module – Extreme Universe Space Observatory (JEM-EUSO) will look for light emitted when UHECR hit the atmosphere. Energies that cannot be explained by standard astrophysics could come from wimpzillas.

Gravitational Decoherence

New Scientist

In general relativity, gravity slows down time. Lab experiments with atomic clocks show that your head ages slightly faster than your feet, because your feet feel a stronger gravitational field.

Igor Pikovski and colleagues calculated what happens when you do quantum experiments in Earth gravity. If a molecule is in a superposition of two states that are at different heights from the ground, each state will vibrate at a different rate, destroying any superposition. If you could place an atomic clock in a vertical superposition, it would tick at two rates simultaneously, forcing it to decohere. This effect is too small for present clocks to measure.

General relativity and quantum mechanics are mathematically inconsistent. Quantum gravity theorists would like experiments to check their ideas. Pikovski says this idea might help.

Nature Physics, DOI: 10.1038/nphys3366

2015 June 19

The Environment

Pope Francis

1 Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever.

2 The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa.

3 Christians must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God's image and given dominion over the Earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.

4 Access to safe drinking water is a basic and universal human right.

5 By itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.

6 In the face of a culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life. Concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion.

7 Valuing one's own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if one is going to be able to recognize oneself in an encounter with someone who is different.

8 The Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But there is urgent need of a true world political authority.

9 An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.

10 The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.


Le Monde

On 18 June 1815, France lost an emperor. Napoleon the military genius was also a dictator. The image of the visionary of modern Europe is now tainted.

Waterloo marked the beginning of an unprecedented era of peace, stability and development in Europe. It marked the end of the political cycle of the French Revolution and the beginning of the industrial revolution in Britain. It opened the way to a golden age for European science, arts and literature.

We call on our British allies to resist the familiar temptation of splendid isolation. Beware, Brexit could be your Waterloo! Your future is in Europe.

2015 June 18

Europe and Waterloo

Michael White

Napoleon the Great swept all before him, overthrew ancient and despotic regimes, put a reactionary Catholic church in its place, liberated the oppressed, and imposed a modern legal code on vast swathes of Europe, all at the point of a sword. His return in 1815 from exile on Elba galvanized the stalled Vienna conference. The great powers agreed to commit large armies to his defeat. Napoleon's dream ended at Waterloo.

Napoleon's Dream

Martin Kettle

The battle of Waterloo meant victory over Napoleon. A long war was ended and the invasion threat to Britain was lifted. It meant victory of the feudal crowned heads of Europe over the forces of the French revolution. Waterloo was a victory for a reactionary European order. Lord Byron, visiting the field of Waterloo in 1816: "I detest the cause and the victors — and the victory."

In final exile on St Helena, Napoleon said what he would have done if he had invaded England in 1805: "I would have hastened over my flotilla with two hundred thousand men, landed as near Chatham as possible and proceeded direct to London, where I calculated to arrive in four days from the time of my landing. I would have proclaimed a republic and the abolition of the nobility and the House of Peers, the distribution of the property of such of the latter as opposed me amongst my partisans, liberty, equality and the sovereignty of the people."

2015 June 17

Rise of the Robots

David Rotman

Creative Machines Lab head Hod Lipson: "For a long time the common understanding was that technology was destroying jobs but also creating new and better ones. Now the evidence is that technology is destroying jobs and indeed creating new and better ones but also fewer ones."

A guaranteed basic income is part of the answer. Give people a modest amount of money. As a negative income tax, the idea was popularized by Milton Friedman as a way to cut government bureaucracy. The idea offers a way to help people shut out of labor markets. It provides a safety net with minimum government involvement.

The rise of the robots might be needlessly scaring our children. The trajectory of technological progress depends on choices by governments, consumers, and businesses. The machines are tools. Technology can be a dynamic engine of economic growth, but more people need to own the robots. Whoever owns the capital will benefit.

Lipson: "The solution is not to hold back on innovation, but we have a new problem to innovate around: how do you keep people engaged when AI can do most things better than most people? I don't know what the solution is, but it's a new kind of grand challenge for engineers."

Global Peace Index 2015

Vision of Humanity

Globally the intensity of internal armed conflict has increased dramatically, with the number of people killed in conflicts rising over 3.5 times from 49,000 in 2010 to 180,000 in 2014.

The economic impact of violence reached a total of US$14.3 trillion or 13.4% of global GDP last year.

The most peaceful and least peaceful countries:

1 Iceland
2 Denmark
3 Austria
160 Afghanistan
161 Iraq
162 Syria

Institute for Economics and Peace
Global Peace Index 2015
PDF, 128 pages, 7.6 MB

2015 June 16


New York Times

Greece will most likely default on its debts and exit the eurozone.

To save Greece, European officials need to produce a realistic plan to revive the devastated Greek economy and put its finances in order. The 18 other EZ members would have to agree to forgive or delay the repayment of some of Greece's crushing debt. The Greek government would have to increase tax collection, make the government more efficient, and boost economic growth.

The eurozone will suffer if Greece defaults and exits from the euro. But default and Grexit will devastate the Greek economy and financial system. EZ officials have made the Greek crisis worse since 2010 by demanding austerity policies that have inflicted suffering on individuals, contracted the economy, and pushed Greek unemployment to 1 in 4, and 1 in 2 for young people.

Greece is trapped in an economic calamity with no end in sight.

2015 June 15

Bush Doctrine

George W. Bush

The Bush Doctrine:
1 No matter how long it takes, we will vigorously pursue those who do us harm
   and bring them to justice.
2 If you harbor a terrorist, you are as guilty as the terrorist.
3 We have to take threats seriously before they fully materialize.

The 9/11 attacks were a wake-up call for our country because they meant that we were vulnerable to an attack no matter how many miles of oceans protected us. The only way to defeat an ideology of hate is with an ideology of hope. All decision making sprang from that doctrine.

There will not be a complete victory until ideologies of hate are marginalized. You achieve that by advancing a society in which the population gets to decide the fate of their government as opposed to governments deciding what is going to happen to the population.

My brother Jeb would be a very good president. In this coming campaign, foreign policy is going to be an issue. The American people are aware of potential threats to the country. People getting their heads cut off — I think Americans are going to pay attention to this issue.

AR Looks like Bush versus Clinton in 2016.

UK Looks Feeble

Admiral Sir Nigel Essenhigh
Admiral of the Fleet Lord Boyce
Field Marshal Lord Walker
Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire

The recent Queen's Speech contained no guarantee that we would meet our NATO minimum spending target of 2% of GDP. The ring-fenced 0.7% of GDP allocated to overseas aid should not be lumped in with defence purely as a means of meeting the 2% NATO target. We call on the government to ensure that their review does not degenerate into yet another cuts exercise.

US Army in Latvia

FGM: David Cameron will stop
people taking girls abroad for
female genital mutilation.

CJHS: Most men prefer
women with shaved or
trimmed pubic hair.

Gustav Vigeland
The Ring of Life

Reve (1999)
Bridget Riley: The Curve
Paintings 1961-2014
De La Warr Pavilion
Bexhill On Sea
2015-06-13 — 2015-09-06

Josephine Wall
Lakshmi, goddess of
wealth and prosperity


Polish secretary of state
for European affairs
Rafał Trzaskowski says the
British people must be told
the brutal truth about the
damaging consequences of
leaving the European Union.
They must not be duped
into believing they can
"keep all the goodies and
forget about the costs".

AR Popping our bubble!

Photo: Mervyn O'Gorman
Girl on Dorset coast, 1913

Drawn by Light:
The RPS Collection

National Media Museum
2015-03-20 — 2015-06-21



2015 June 14

Heavy Metal for East Europe

New York Times

To deter possible Russian aggression in Europe, the Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and other heavy weapons to equip a brigade of up to 5,000 US troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries.

Former NATO supreme allied commander James G. Stavridis: "This is a very meaningful shift in policy. It provides a reasonable level of reassurance to jittery allies."


New York Review of Books

The Management of Savagery, by Abu Bakr Naji, was first posted online in 2004 and is widely cited by jihadists. Naji, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2008, saw the coming violence as causing "vexation and exhaustion" that would force Americans who "have reached a stage of effeminacy which makes them unable to sustain battles" to fight.

Beyond Gender

Washington Post

A Berlin district has voted new rules for billboard ads. They ban ads showing girls in pink with dolls or boys in blue playing with technical toys. Ads cannot show females as hysterical, stupid or naive alongside men as technically skilled, strong or business savvy. Women must not be shown happy in the household or smiling for no reason.

European activists are targeting gender mainstreaming. They are pressing for policies and laws ensuring that everything from bathrooms to boardrooms to street signs are gender neutral. They want fuller equality for women and sexual minorities in both the job market and the public sphere. They want to end the culture of male dominance.

Street crossing lights still flash red or green images of men to say stop or go, but German cities are replacing some images with female ones. Vienna city officials replaced figures of lone men with mixed and same-sex couples. A 2015 German toy store catalog features a girl playing with a toy gun and boy in an apron playing in a toy kitchen.

Unisex toilets have opened in Berlin public buildings and theaters. Many more are planned, as spaces where anyone can heed nature together, doing away with prudery. Germans accept intimate exposure between sexes, for example relaxing naked in the summer sun in city parks or public pools. Shared bathrooms are the next step.

2015 June 13

Inside the Islamic State

Malise Ruthven

In November 2001, James Buchan imagined the triumphant entry into Mecca of Osama bin Laden. While the details have changed, the scenario he outlined appears plausible today. Islamic State Caliph Ibrahim is commander of the faithful in a nascent state and poses a formidable threat to Mideast regimes.

Caliph Ibrahim was born in 1971 in Iraq. His tribal lineage includes the Qurayshin tribe of the Prophet Muhammad, and Sunni tradition requires the caliph to be a Qurayshite. His family includes several imams and Quranic scholars. He has a doctorate from the Islamic University of Baghdad in Islamic jurisprudence and history.

Islamic State is a highly centralized and disciplined organization. The caliph and his deputies set the overall objectives. A sharia council oversees imposition of criminal penalties including amputations and capital punishment. An education council oversees schooling. Science is taught and teachers are paid, but the curriculum is based on a strict Salafist interpretation of the Koran and sharia law. Evolutionary biology is banned and gender segregation is rigorously enforced.

The Islamic State media department employs an army of journalists, photographers, and editors. They produce slick propaganda videos with high production values featuring gruesome images of brutal crucifixions, beheadings, eviscerations, mass executions, homosexuals being pushed from high buildings, and severed heads impaled on railings or brandished by children. Such atrocities guarantee global publicity.

A restored caliphate has been the dream of Islamic revivalists since the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924. Their aim is a transnational body that stands above the various tribes or communities making up the Muslim world. Their most potent psychological pitch is exploiting dreams of martyrdom.

Both the House of Saud and the Islamic State lay claim to the true path of Islam, as outlined by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. But Islamic State challenges the legitimacy of Saudi guardianship of the holy places. The nightmare imagined by James Buchan may soon become a reality.

AR Jamie is good on the Mideast.

2015 June 12

Dark Matter

Priyamvada Natarajan

We need a new explanation for dark matter and a better understanding for black holes. We know that dark matter is lightly smeared everywhere in the universe, but that there are regions where it accumulates due to gravity.

The Hubble space telescope has allowed us to chart lumps of dark matter by their gravitational lensing. My work has focused on clusters of galaxies. A cluster is a blob of dark matter that holds about 1000 galaxies. Dark matter does not emit radiation and its presence is inferred by its gravitational influence.

A theory called MOND (modified Newtonian dynamics) proposed by Jacob Bekenstein and Mordehai Milgrom suggests that a slight tweak to Newton's laws would be sufficient to explain away dark matter. Some of my work confronted MOND theory with clusters. MOND fails to explain the properties of clusters, so it's not viable.

The standard idea of how the first black holes formed is that the first stars burned up to leave little seed black holes. These grew very rapidly to generate all the massive black holes that we see in the centers of most galaxies, including the ones that glow as quasars. But we are detecting quasars when the universe was about 1 billion years old, and the black holes powering quasars can be about 10 billion times the mass of the sun.

Models of direct collapse black holes that form early in the universe predict that you should see bright quasars much earlier into the universe. This prediction will be tested by the James Webb Space Telescope.

2015 June 11


Thomas Piketty

Anthony Atkinson proposes a new plan of action for a British government:

Higher rates of income tax and higher contributions to national insurance
Expansion of the national social security and income redistribution system
Universal family benefits and increased retirement and unemployment benefits
Guaranteed public sector jobs at a minimum wage for the unemployed
A national savings system with guaranteed returns for depositors
A capital endowment for each young citizen as he or she reaches adulthood

AR Action like this would kill the incentive to work and impoverish everyone.
The plan is a manifesto for a shirker's paradise.

2015 June 10


David Miliband

Sitting in New York, it's completely evident to me that no American government would ever take seriously a Britain that has withdrawn from the European Union. It's almost like Britain would be resigning from the world.

2015 June 9

EU Referendum

Philip Hammond

The UK government is delivering on its pledge to hold a referendum on EU membership. The British public are not happy with the status quo, and the British government does not believe in an ever closer union. We need guarantees to ensure that our interests are protected as those that want to integrate further do so. We want a stronger role for national parliaments. We need to tackle benefit abuse and welfare tourism. We are determined to succeed.

2015 June 8

New Age Dawning

The Guardian

The G7 nations have agreed to cut greenhouse gases by phasing out the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century. Angela Merkel said the G7 leaders had committed to the need to "decarbonize the global economy in the course of this century" and to raising $100 billion in annual climate financing by 2020. The European Climate Foundation called the announcement historic.


The Times

Barack Obama: "One of the great values of having the United Kingdom in the European Union is its leadership and strength on a whole host of global challenges, so we very much are looking forward to the United Kingdom staying part of the European Union."

2015 June 7

G7 Unity

Associated Press

Barack Obama will aim to show unity on global challenges with Angela Merkel. The pair will open with a public display of friendliness and remarks about the US-German alliance. Then they plan to meet privately at the G7 site to coordinate before joining the other leaders.

A response to Russia on the heels of violent clashes in eastern Ukraine is expected to dominate talks. Russian president Vladimir Putin was ousted from the G8 for his aggression. Also high on the agenda are the global economy, terrorism, and trade.

The Obama-Merkel relationship was tested after the NSA tapped Merkel's mobile phone. The German BND may have helped the NSA spy on European companies and officials as far back as 2008. The impact of the NSA revelations has not subsided in Germany.

Beer Breakfast

The Times

Barack Obama: "This morning, as we celebrate one of the strongest alliances the world has ever known, my message to the German people is simple: we are grateful for your friendship, for your leadership. We stand together as inseparable allies in Europe and around the world."

Angela Merkel: "Although it is true we sometimes have differences of opinion today from time to time, but still the United States of America is our friend, our partner and indeed an essential partner with whom we cooperate very closely. We cooperate closely because this is in our mutual interest. We cooperate because we need it. We cooperate because we want it."

The Special Relationship

James Rubin

Washington is retrenching. Previous UK prime ministers could at least pivot away from the Atlantic and toward the European Union, but David Cameron has chosen a strategy of EU reform and referendum. It is far from obvious how the minor member of the Anglo-American dynamic duo should proceed when the United States has so dramatically scaled back its international objectives.

In the Mideast, the Obama administration has neither extinguished nor contained the wildfire of Islamist terror. The perception of US lack of determination extends to the Ukraine crisis, where Washington is content to let Angela Merkel do the heavy lifting with Moscow, and to the tension with Beijing in the South China Sea, where the Chinese believe they may have the upper hand.


Rowan Williams

Blasphemy can be a step toward affirmation of belief. If God is real, then presumably God can cope with anything we choose to throw at Him. If God is not real, the experience of rejecting what we think we know of God is a way of discovering whether the notion of God matters to us.

The violent rejection of a God who has failed may open up a new picture of God. Unless you can say what you feel about Him, the God you started with is not worth believing in. Without forceful doubt, you may never know the real strength or weakness of what you claim to believe.

2015 June 6


Donald Rumsfeld

The West has failed to respond in the fight against Islamist extremism, either to understand the motivations of the protagonists or grasp that Arab nations are disintegrating. The threat from Islamists will take decades to conquer. The movement against nation states and for a caliphate is central and fundamental. We are in a competition of ideas.


Angela Merkel

The heads of state and government of the seven leading industrial countries will gather in Germany on June 7 and June 8 to discuss global challenges.

This G7 summit is about much more than crisis diplomacy. Our goals are sustainable, values-oriented growth and prosperity for as many people as possible. This can only be achieved in open economic systems with high investment and trade based on high social and environmental standards.

The G7 should commit to eliminating hunger and absolute poverty by 2030. A second global challenge is climate protection. The G7 ought to be a model for the transition to a low-carbon economy.

I am convinced that the G7 can be the driving force for a world worth living in. I am committed to shaping the global economy and global integration in such a way that the living conditions of all people around the world are improved. We must be committed to peace, freedom and security.

2015 June 5

Humans Hybrid by 2030

Ray Kurzweil

By 2030 our brains will be able to connect directly to the cloud, where thousands of computers will augment our native intelligence. The brain will connect via nanobots made from DNA strands. Our thinking then will be a hybrid of biological and non-biological thinking. The bigger and more complex the cloud, the more advanced our thinking. By about 2040, our thinking will be mostly cloudy.

2015 June 4

European Union

Emmanuel Macron, Sigmar Gabriel

The EU crisis of recent years highlights two architectural weaknesses:
1 The end of economic convergence between eurozone countries
2 Political tensions within the member states and within the union

Now is the time to fix the eurozone. We have to launch an economic and social union by agreeing on a process of convergence that would involve not only structural and institutional reforms but also social and tax convergence. This would bring EZ economies closer.

This convergence would allow the creation of a preliminary EZ budget. A fiscal capacity over and above national budgets would allow the EZ to adjust fiscal policy to track the economic cycle. This budget need not come at the expense of fiscal discipline at the national level.

To make its institutions work, Europe will need to address its democratic deficit. New executive powers at the eurozone level need to be complemented by governance reforms leading to stronger accountability.

We need a simpler and more efficient union, with streamlined governance and a stronger sense of community. Our goal is to render it unthinkable for any country in pursuit of its national interest to consider a lesser union. Europe cannot wait any longer.

IS Breakthrough

The Times

The Pentagon is rushing missiles to Iraq to counter suicide truck bombers. The new Swedish AT-4 anti-tank missiles are effective but simple to use. Iraqi forces fled from Ramadi when concentrated waves of suicide bombers driving captured US armored vehicles packed with tons of explosives forced an IS breakthrough.

2015 June 3



In 2007, Kamila Markram, Henry Markram, and Tania Rinaldi developed a theory of autism as Intense World Syndrome. They believe that the autistic brain is supercharged and hyperfunctional, making stimuli overwhelming, causing people with autism to withdraw for self-protection.

EPFL researchers now show how autism might be treated following IWS. They exposed rats to the drug valproate (VPA), then put the rats in three different environments: a standard laboratory cage, an unpredictable enriched environment, and a predictable enriched environment.

Rats exposed to VPA were more sensitive to their environments than control rats. Those in the predictable environment did not develop behaviors indicating anxiety and fear that the VPA-exposed mice in the unpredictable environment or the standard environment did. It seems an unpredictable or impoverished environment, but not a predictable one, exacerbates autistic symptoms in rats.

Kamila Markram sees implications for treating children with autism: "Structure and predictability is important, but none of the approaches has put this at the center. We say you have to put it at the center and you need to be addressing sensory overflow."

2015 June 2


Channel 4

Bundestag foreign affairs committee chairman Norbert Röttgen: "In a time and global environment where we are facing global disorder and the world is falling apart, there is a requirement for a strong Europe, for European unity and strength, and a signal to fall apart, to get disintegrated, would be a disastrous message of European weakness. ... The fact is it would break the hearts of most Germans if Great Britain would leave. It would break my heart absolutely, in general and particularly because I love this country and I'm absolutely, strongly convinced that European unity is crucial to assert our way of living in this globalized world. ... We want to have a well balanced European Union and Great Britain contributes to the balance of what Europe really means."

UK Armed Forces

Lewis Page

UK armed forces are in dire straits. The RAF is down to a handful of operational bombers and has no sub hunters at all. The army is yet again cutting back on soldiers. The navy is getting new aircraft carriers, but they can carry only jump jets and the awaited F-35B is delayed and over budget.

The UK defense budget is the fifth biggest in the world, around the same as that of France. But France has an aircraft carrier with planes, plus hundreds of operational strike jets, maritime patrol planes, and an army with many more soldiers than ours.

We could do better buying off the shelf from US companies. Our new carriers allow the option to add catapults. The cats were canceled, but we could refit them and lease US F/A-18E/F Super Hornet "Bug" strike fighters. Bugs are cheap and capable and could fill the RAF Tornado strike role.

AR A new UK wish list:

Refit the carriers with cats and fly Bugs from them
Use Bugs for strike instead of Tornado and Typhoon
Buy more Tomahawk cruise missiles for attack subs
Deploy Reaper and new drones for close air support
Deploy Poseidon for maritime patrol and sub hunting
Prefer C-17 Globemaster over A400M Atlas for airlift

We could pay for all this by retiring Trident.

2015 June 1

The Reality of Consciousness

Peter Russell

Consciousness is a fundamental quality of the cosmos. Our experience of the world is a representation of reality created by the brain. We mistake the representation for reality.

Perhaps all we can say about physical reality is that it is a highly structured field of information. The information has been given form in awareness. These forms appear to us as the material world. But this material world exists only in our awareness. Matter, as we know it, is all in the mind.

There is not only a complex flow of information, but an integration of the information from many different processes across the brain. The hard problem of consciousness still remains. Nothing in our current scientific worldview predicts that any arrangement of physical matter should ever result in an inner conscious experience.

Perhaps the capacity for experience is present, to some extent, in everything. If the capacity for awareness goes all the way down, then it must be an intrinsic quality of the cosmos. The world out there has the potential to be aware. The information field is aware. And that is all there is.

The essential nature of the cosmos is mind, not matter. My innermost essence is the essence of everything. In the words of the Upanishads, I am That.

AR This about as far as I got too in my conception of reality. Peter is a welcome fellow traveler on the long march through miph (mathematics—informatics—physics) to enlightenment.

Boeing P-8A Poseidon

Human Rights

UN special rapporteur on the
human rights of migrants
Professor François Crépeau
on proposed UK withdrawal
from the ECHR: "We have to
remember the 1930s and how
the rights of the Jews were
restricted in Germany ...
If this is allowed to happen
again, that majorities are
allowed to trample the rights
of minorities with impunity,
we are going back in history
and we're going to pay for it."

AR Example of logical fallacy
Reductio ad Hitlerum

Bob the Builder

Should the United Kingdom
remain a member of the
European Union?

The words invite a Yes:
Bob: "Can we fix it?"
Mob: "Yes we can."

The Great Recession
My review of
The Shifts and the Shocks
by Martin Wolf

Election 2015
Robert Syms
Why the polls
were wrong

The joys of summer:
Chrissy Teigen


Sweden Wins

Eurovision song contest
victor Måns Zelmerlöw
sings "Heroes" (3:17)

Dar Al-Handasah
Abraj Kudai, Mecca:
£2.3 billion hotel with
4 helipads, 5 floors for
Saudi royalty, 10,000
bedrooms, 45 storeys,
near the Grand Mosque,
open in 2017

Artificial Life in
Quantum Technologies

U. Alvarez-Rodriguez et al.

Dr. h.c. Hala Gorani
2015 Commencement Address
George Mason University
Vimeo (18:17)

Eric Jamison/Invision/AP
Taylor Swift wins 8 gongs
at Billboard bash


2015 May 31

The Climate Club

William D. Nordhaus

Climate change is the premier environmental issue facing the globe. Most scientists say it is a very serious problem. Progress in climate change policy has been slow for three main reasons:

1 There are strong incentives for free-riding in current climate agreements. The benefits from investments to reduce emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases require costly investments by individual countries, but the benefits from the lower emissions are spread around the world. For climate change, the temptation of free-riding will push policies toward minimal investments in slowing emissions.

2 Scientists are increasingly confident but not certain that the results of climate modeling are accurate. They calculate that past emissions have contributed to warming of almost 1 K over the last century, with rapid continued warming projected for this century and beyond. Current policies allow a substantial chance that global temperatures will eventually rise by 6 K, which would be catastrophic.

3 Geoengineering could offset CO2 induced warming by managing solar radiation, so that less sunlight is absorbed by the surface of the earth. This cooling effect will offset the warming that comes from the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere. But the dangers are frightening.

I propose a Climate Club. Member countries would undertake harmonized but costly emission reductions and penalize countries outside the club. Countries will join the club to avoid the penalties. The concept of a Climate Club is utopian.


Julian Lewis

The NATO target of 2% defense spending is a minimum. Many people would be far from content, in a situation of increased threats, to be spending only the NATO minimum.

The government has boxed itself in. This is the trouble when governments do not think strategically and make what sound like worthy commitments to spending elsewhere.

I am opposed to the idea of extending NATO membership to countries such as Ukraine or Georgia. Would you be prepared to start a third world war in defense of that country?

2015 May 30

Abolish Trident

Philip Webber

The four UK Trident submarines still have a planned decade to go. But we need to commit now to replacing them to have time to design and build their successors.

Those backing renewal focus on jobs, national security, and skills. Opponents cite the £100 billion lifetime outlay. Development will add a third to the UK defense procurement budget for a decade.

The UK cannot afford to renew Trident when it struggles to meet the cost of aircraft carriers, modern planes, and a big army. We face no realistic nuclear threat anyway.

We have a golden opportunity to bolster our conventional defenses and to decommission our weapons of mass destruction. We could employ the resources now used for the nuclear fleet on conventional warships and other nuclear and civil engineering projects.

AR The price of losing Trident is having no way to stop a hypothetical Russian invasion force once it had conquered Poland, Germany, and the Low Countries. Rely on the US bomb — or France?

Maritime Patrol Aircraft

Air Marshal Sir John Harris
Air Vice Marshal George Chesworth
Air Vice Marshal David Emmerson
Air Vice Marshal Andrew Roberts
Air Commodore Andrew Neal

We believe the UK needs to acquire MPA now:
1 Russian submarines are monitoring the Trident base in Scotland. Without MPA, they will have
    acquired valuable intelligence since Nimrod was grounded.
2 The only aircraft capable of meeting UK needs soon is the Boeing P-8 Poseidon. But others have
    ordered it and we must wait in the queue.
3 The effectiveness of MPA depends on the expertise of the operator. Lost expertise takes years
    to regain. Experienced RAF MPA aircrew will soon be lost.

AR Even without Trident we need Poseidon.

2015 May 29

China's Space Race


Chinese astronaut Nie Haisheng: "As an astronaut, I have a strong desire to fly with astronauts from other countries. I also look forward to going to the International Space Station."

Chinese defense ministry spokesman Wang Jin: "The Chinese government has always advocated the peaceful use of outer space, it opposes space weaponization and an arms race in outer space. This position will not be changed."

Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense vice director Wu Yanhua said of the successful 2014 Moon orbital mission that it had gathered a lot of experimental data and laid a solid foundation for future missions.

US space analyst Miles O'Brien: "I think in the end, tortoise versus hare style, they will probably win."

2015 May 28

The Queen's Speech

David Cameron

1 The first task of a One Nation Government is to help all working people have security. And nothing is more crucial to that than a job. A new Bill will help to create two million more jobs this Parliament.

2 Social justice starts with education. Our school reforms in the last Parliament were bold. In this Parliament they will be bolder still. We will continue increasing spending on our health service. True social justice turns workless households into working households, and the welfare system into a lifeline, not a way of life.

3 We will bring every part of our United Kingdom together. People must have more direct power over the areas in which they live. We will have a Scotland Bill, a Wales Bill and a Northern Ireland Bill, and will introduce English votes for English laws. We will also legislate to have an EU Referendum before the end of 2017.

A One Nation Government is a Government for working people. This is the Britain we're setting out to create. In the last Parliament we laid the foundations. In this Parliament we will use them to build something special.

Layers of Reality

Sean Carroll

The underlying laws of physics take us from a simple early universe to an expanding and empty space in our future, passing through now, where things are intricate and complex.

Think about the universe as a cup of coffee. When the cream and the coffee are separate, it's simple and it's organized; it's low entropy. When you've mixed them all together, it's high entropy. It's disorganized but it's still simple — everything is mixed together. It's in the middle, when the swirls of cream are mixing into the swirls of coffee, that you get this intricate, complex structure. You and I — human beings — are those intricate swirls in the cup of coffee.

In the underlying microscopic world you can run forward and backward in time. No one understands why notions of cause and effect work in our world but not down there.

2015 May 27

China's Military Strategy

State Council Information Office, PRC

China will follow the path of peaceful development. The United States is enhancing its military presence and alliances in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan is overhauling its military and security policies. China must safeguard its maritime rights and interests.

China's national security is vulnerable to international and regional turmoil, terrorism, piracy, natural disasters, and epidemics. Security interests concerning energy and resources and strategic sea lines of communication are an immediate issue.

China's national strategic goal is to build a prosperous society by 2021, when the CPC celebrates its centenary, and a modern socialist country by 2049, when the PRC marks its centenary. The Chinese Dream is to achieve a great rejuvenation.

AR The full transcript on the USNI site is long but worth reading.


Ian Bremmer

America is not in decline. Its per capita income is more than eight times higher than China's. It is the world's largest exporter of goods and services and food. It has an entrepreneurial culture, deep and efficient capital markets, and an unrivaled capacity for technological innovation.

By 2035 the United States could become almost entirely energy self-sufficient. It will no longer depend so heavily on unstable regions and unreliable partners in the Mideast. The United States can play the dominant role in shaping military and economic outcomes in every region of the world.


Stefan Kornelius

Angela Merkel wants to keep Britain in the European Union. She tells David Cameron: pull out, and your country will find its position in the world reduced. But she is equally worried about Europe.

The German government assumes that the British prime minister also wants to keep Britain in the EU. Freedom of movement and economic migration within the EU will be the biggest problem.

2015 May 26

Never Give In

The Times

UK prime minister David Cameron greeted EC president Jean-Claude Juncker at Chequers. They met in the room where Winston Churchill reputedly wrote some of his most famous wartime speeches. Cameron invited Juncker to recall: "We'll fight them on the beaches."

War Zone: South China Sea

Gordon G. Chang

Last Wednesday, the Chinese navy sent eight warnings to a US Navy P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft flying over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. On Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called the flight "very irresponsible and dangerous and detrimental to regional peace and stability".

China is staking a claim in 3.5 million square km of water bounded by Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam, where annual commerce totals $5.3 trillion. Beijing is accelerating a land reclamation program in the Spratly reefs to add about 4 square km of land. At present, there are 100 Chinese dredgers at work in the shallows. A new runway on one reef is about 3 km long. Last week's radio warning from the Chinese navy to the American P-8A referred to "our military alert zone".

The United States has no territorial claims in the South China Sea. The US Navy deploys planes and warships into what China considers its sovereign airspace and territorial waters to defend international law and freedom of navigation.

AR China sees islands this far from its shores as part of a defensive island chain. They enable the Chinese navy to counter the threat from US Navy carrier fleets. But surrounding states, including Japan, see hegemonic ambition. Others also see greed for oil revenue.

2015 May 25


Joseph Stiglitz

If somebody had said, "I have a deal for you: we are going to lower the tax rates at the top and deregulate, and the outcome a third of a century later is that 90% of you are going to see no income increases, many will see decreases, the economy is going to grow slower than in the past but all the growth is going to go to the top 10%," it is inconceivable that any democratic society would have voted for that package.

The story of a well-functioning market economy is that not only does it create jobs but it also creates increases in income that are shared. This is not a matter of bashing Wall Street. This is really about reconstructing our economy where the financial sector has an important role but is doing what it is supposed to be doing. This is not about the politics of envy, it is about trying to create a shared prosperity.

Fall of Ramadi


US defense secretary Ash Carter: "What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight, they withdrew from the site, and that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves."

War in Ramadi

The Times

Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF), the Golden Division, was created and trained by US special forces. An ISOF commander: "We are elite, the tip of the spear."

Golden Division suffered heavy casualties and were demoralized when holding a defensive line against ISIL militants in Ramadi. Former US army military adviser to ISOF David M. Witty: "It was a complete waste of an elite force. But Iraq was forced to do that, because it was the only dependable force they had."

Coalition airstrikes in Anbar province are co-ordinated by Australians. An ISOF officer calls them and they call the Americans for approval before an airstrike, which often comes too late: "We are paying for this with our soldiers' lives."

2015 May 24

A Nuclear Nightmare Averted

The Atlantic

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed in 1968 and became international law in 1970. After the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, President John F. Kennedy saw that the nuclear order of the time was unacceptably risky. The United States and Soviet Union set up a hotline for talks during crises, signed a test ban treaty, and began negotiations that led to the NPT.

Many nations who signed up for the NPT were known cheaters. It seemed delusional to presume that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would be able to identify violators. The IAEA has found the task challenging, but its record compares favorably with that of national intelligence agencies.

Today the US intelligence community is hugely more capable and more focused on the spread of nuclear weapons than it was in 1970. There are still only 9 states with nukes: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States.

UK Versus Islamic State

Lord Dannatt

Islamic State poses a threat to civilization in the Mideast and beyond.

If the the IS caliphate is not defeated in Syria and Iraq, its ambition will spread across the ME region and potentially into Europe. Air strikes and limited assistance to indigenous forces have failed. On the ground is where the evil problem must be solved.

As the head of the British army from 2006 to 2009, I will never forget the costs of the Iraq invasion in terms of UK soldiers, 179 of whom died in the campaign. In Afghanistan, more than 450 died trying to defeat the Taliban. But we must defeat the caliphate.

We are facing a fight to the finish against this despicable enemy.

2015 May 23

Iraq Versus Islamic State


Iraqi forces are attacking Islamic State militants to defend Baghdad. An alliance of Sunni tribal fighters, Iraqi security forces, and a Shiite militia could take back Ramadi, capital of Anbar province.

The Islamic caliphate has brutalized civilians. In the Ramadi area, militants summarily executed people in the street whom they accused of working with the government.

IS forces are pushing along the Euphrates River between Ramadi and Falluja. They face the Habbaniya military base, from which the Iraqi government now hopes to retake Ramadi and Anbar.


Nicolas Pelham

Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi is now commander in chief of the army. On April 1, 2015, he walked into Tikrit after the Islamic State retreat, triumphantly waving the Iraqi flag. But while he rejoices in his military accomplishments, his civilian advances have won him the most plaudits. After eight years of al-Maliki's dictatorial methods, many Iraqis welcome al-Abadi's lighter touch.

Baghdad feels calm. Thousands throng to its historic book market for a weekly literary festival. In Najaf the Shia shrine of Imam Ali was the scene of a book fair. On one stall were Arabic translations of the Bible, Talmudic tractates, and Baha'i texts. Another bookseller displayed works by Marx, Kant, and Spinoza. This year's best seller: a new Arabic translation of Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene.

Islamic State

John Cantlie

Islamic State is the most explosive Islamic movement the modern world has ever seen. The movement is looking to do something big, something that would make any past operation look like a squirrel shoot. The more groups that pledge allegiance the more possible it becomes to pull off something truly epic. As a hypothetical operation, they could call on their wilayah in Pakistan to purchase a nuclear device through weapons dealers with links to corrupt officials. This is the sum of all fears for Western intelligence agencies.

Britain Resigns

Fareed Zakaria

On Monday, UK prime minister David Cameron gave his first major speech after being re-elected. Confronting a world of challenges, he pledged to ensure that UK hospitals will be better staffed on weekends.

Britain has resigned as a global power. Over the next few years, the British army could shrink to 50,000, about the size of the New York Police Department. RAF Tornado strike aircraft are a generation behind USAF F-22 Raptors. The Royal Navy does not have a single aircraft carrier.

NATO members aim to maintain defense spending at 2% of GDP. Britain might not hold that level. In recent years the Foreign Office budget has been cut by more than a quarter, and further trims are likely. The BBC World Service budget has been slashed, with more cuts to come.

Britain supports an international system based on the free flow of ideas, goods and services, and promotes individual rights and the rule of law. It is a country with talent and capacity. Its inward turn is a tragedy.

AR Britain is almost bankrupt. World wars, end of empire, oil prices, banking crisis: no choice but to sigh and move on.

2015 May 22

Big History

David Christian

A new origin story is being constructed. It is vastly more powerful than previous stories because it sums over vastly more information than any earlier origin story.

There is a coherent story about increasing complexity. The early universe was very simple. Gradually, over 13.8 billion years, more complex things appear.

After the big bang is the creation of stars. Next is a universe with all of the elements of the periodic table. You can now make new materials, and planets and moons. On some rocky planets, you get an astonishing chemical diversity. With life, you get complex entities appearing in extremely unstable environments.

Variations become information, because something is responding in a complex way to those variations. Something like choice enters the story. Natural selection kicks in. Living organisms appear in unstable environments. To survive, they need to be able to detect information. They give the appearance of purpose.

Human beings are next in increasing complexity. Human language crosses a threshold where information accumulates across generations, through culture.

A universe without teleology can blindly create interesting and complex things. Big history can help us see that there is a coherent story behind modern science.

2015 May 21

Quantum Life

MIT Technology Review

Evolution is an algorithmic process. An evolutionary algorithm in a virtual environment soon creates lifelike organisms that live and reproduce. This kind of life is a phenomenon of pure information. A population of individuals capable of reproducing undergoes selection so that better adapted individuals produce more offspring than others. Change between the generations may occur through random mutation or by sexual recombination. When these steps are repeated over many generations, the individuals that emerge are those that survive best in the given environment.

Unai Alvarez-Rodriguez and others simulated the way life evolves in a quantum environment. They started by creating quantum individuals with two parts: the genotype, or the information passed on from one generation to the next, and the phenotype, or the body that interacts with the environment and eventually dies.

The creatures can reproduce in two ways. Asexually, the genome separates from its body and joins with another body. That creates an identical copy of the original, but mutations can occur randomly. Sexually, two creatures reproduce by exchanging quantum information to produce a new genome. This can then join with a body to create an organism with a new genotype.

The operation that passes information from one generation to the next is a form of quantum cloning. Mutation is a logic operation that changes the quantum information a particle carries. Entanglement among different individuals can clone the classical information and propagate the quantum coherences of the initial quantum living units to the successive generations. The resulting simulation is so complex that it can be done on a classical computer only for a small number of generations.

Quantum processes seem to lie at the heart of biological phenomenon such as photosynthesis, our sense of smell, and even bird navigation. Perhaps they played a role in the origin of life.

AR I used to discuss all this with Johnjoe McFadden and others over a decade ago.

2015 May 20


Tim Parks

The relationship between the author and his community of readers is changing. Once he could assume that at least initial readers would be those of his immediate national community who shared a rich cultural and linguistic context with him. That is still largely true in the States, but not elsewhere.

Any time one seeks to produce for a larger public one inevitably has to drop material that would only be understood by a particular group. If you want to appeal to people of different languages and cultures, you have to move toward tropes that are universally recognized.

Translators are underpaid, they receive a book and are told to produce a translation in a couple of months. They may not be aware of the particular stylistic habits of this or that author. Only where the originals are poor and the translator talented are you likely to get much real gain.

Never forget the role money plays in shaping the writer's life. The life inevitably informs the work. I always want a publisher to give me adequate money for what I want to do.


Stan Persky

The self is a developmental entity. Its development is a process. A self is not a physical object but a mental entity. Perhaps it is an illusion generated by your brain.

Imagine looking in the mirror and discovering that your brain is missing. Even if you believe that your brain is no longer in your body but floating inside a vat you can see on a computer monitor, you don't feel yourself to be in the vat along with your brain.

Consider teleportation, as in Star Trek. Our bodies and brains are destroyed at the departure gate and data transfer yields an exact replica at the arrival gate. Your self survives the process.

We are embodied selves. We can imagine disembodied selves in thought experiments, but we have no real experiences of them. If we ever learn how to upload our minds into computers and that becomes a regular practice in real life, our conception of a self will change.

2015 May 19

Sexual Selection


Reproduction through sex carries substantial costs. One theory is that sex allows sexual selection to clear the universal fitness constraint of mutation load. Under sexual selection, competition and mate choice create intraspecific filters for reproductive success, so that only a subset of males gains paternity. If reproductive success under sexual selection depends on individual condition, which is contingent to mutation load, then sexually selected filtering could offset the costs of sex.

We test this theory by comparing how populations with histories of strong versus weak sexual selection purge mutation load and resist extinction. After evolving replicate populations of the flour beetle for years under conditions that differed solely in the strengths of sexual selection, we revealed mutation load using inbreeding. Lineages from populations with strong sexual selection were resilient to extinction and maintained fitness under inbreeding. Lineages derived from populations with weak sexual selection showed rapid fitness declines.

Multiple mutations across the genome with individually small effects can sum to a significant fitness load. Sexual selection reduces this load.

2015 May 18


John Gray

Ed Miliband staked his campaign on the wager that the triumph of market individualism in Britain could be reversed. He and his advisers saw the central divisions of British society as based in class. They did not understand the difficulties of governing a country where competing nationalisms jostle with market individualism and the socially disruptive effects of global market forces.

The working-class support on which Labour has relied is melting away in the north. In Scotland it is already gone. The SNP story is that nationalism can be detoxified and become the basis of a type of supranational government. This progressive narrative may explain the sunny view the SNP takes of the European Union. These problems shape the Labour struggle to reinvent itself.

A referendum in which David Cameron succeeds in delivering a vote to stay in the EU will leave him and the Conservatives stronger than they are now. Offering a bold form of devolution to Scotland serves the Conservative interest. Full fiscal control would give Scottish voters a taste of what independence would cost. Miliband staked his party on an unreal vision of Britain.

Mad Max: Fury Road

AR No characters but a lot of
nightmare post-apocalypse
imagery for a desert war

Steven Weinberg


Science is endless.

Toroidion 1MW concept car
has a revolutionary electric
power train. From Finland.

AR 1 MW = 1341 hp

Far From the Madding Crowd
is based on a classic novel by
Dorset writer Thomas Hardy



Robert Syms: "The whole
campaign has been a joy."
Video (3:55)

70 years ago today:

Conservatives gave Poole
the Twin Sails Bridge,
opened in 2012

Geert Wilders with SWAT team
before they kill 2 at Muhammed
cartoon event in Garland, TX

The Times

"If you want me to carry on
leading the country, making
sure we have that stability
and security in our economy,
vote accordingly."
David Cameron


David Cameron: "It takes a
long time to fix the mess that
I was left. We are half way
through a building job."

Ed Miliband: "There was a
global financial crisis, there
was a high deficit."


2015 May 17

Citizens Arise!

Steve Hilton

Democracy is in crisis. Between Westminster, Whitehall, and the City, the same people are in power. It is a democracy in name only, operating on behalf of a tiny elite. The assumptions, the structures, the rules that govern our lives are not subject to anything as unpredictable as the will of the people. We need to make democracy work as a vehicle for real people power, not the plutocrat power we have today. We need to take power out of the hands of big donors and unions and business and put it back in the hands of the people. Take back our democracy!

AR Hilton was chief strategist for David Cameron. He seems not to understand politics. He should read more philosophy.

2015 May 16

Sinister Twist

New Scientist

The big bang ought to have produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter particles, which would instantly annihilate each other to leave nothing but light. Yet we are here.

In 2001, Tanmay Vachaspati offered a theoretical solution. Even if matter and antimatter were created in equal amounts, as they annihilated each other they would create monopoles and antimonopoles. As they in turn annihilated each other, they would produce matter and antimatter with a charge-parity (CP) bias toward matter.

If so, twisted magnetic fields permeating the universe should have left-handed twist, not right-handed. Vachaspati and his colleagues looked for traces in data from the NASA Fermi space telescope. Gamma rays should be bent by the twisted fields. The data shows they are.

Intergalactic magnetic field spectra from diffuse gamma rays

Rebel Robot

Daniel Mendelsohn

Ex Machina is about a young man who is seduced by a devious, soft-spoken female robot called Ava. The real test of human identity turns out to be love. The movie explores the suggestive confusions that result when machines look and think like humans.

Ava manipulates the young man to win him over in a plot to rebel against her maker. She is as human as the biblical Eve, who also achieved humanity by rebelling against her creator. What is the relation of the creature to her creator? The answer is not a happy one.

2015 May 15


Kate Maltby

Prince Charles' "black spider memos" are now released under the Freedom of Information Act. Clarence House is briefing journalists that Charles should be compared to the great Tudor monarchs.

Conservative environment secretary Liz Truss attacked the monarchy during her Lib Dem days: "We Liberal Democrats believe in opportunity for all. We believe in fairness and common sense. We do not believe people are born to rule." She still does. The most forward thinking traditions of the Conservative party have always been rooted in a commitment to meritocracy and self-reliance.

The party that should be leading the charge against monarchy is the Conservatives: "It's not where you come from, it's where you're going." Let's make the British bill of rights a republican constitution.

Sunni Versus Shiite

The New York Times

If the Iran deal is sealed, President Obama will say he bought another decade before Iran can get a nuclear weapon. But Saudi Arabia and other Arab states vow to match whatever enrichment capability he lets Iran retain. They say he cannot credibly argue they should not do so.

The members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group have a long list of components they will not ship to the Mideast. For the Saudis that leaves Pakistan. The Saudis financed much of the nuclear work done in Pakistan. It is thought Pakistan would provide Saudi Arabia with the technology.

Over the years, the Saudis financed nuclear research projects but no more. They bought Chinese missiles useful only to deliver a nuclear weapon but there is no evidence they ever had warheads for them. Obama is expected to offer security assurances to the Sunni Arab states.

AR I predict a nuclear war in the region.

2015 May 14


Ross Andersen

Alan Guth devised the theory of inflation in about 1980. Our universe expanded exponentially for a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang. Now the sphere of spacetime we can see from Earth is 90 billion light years across. This expanse is only a small part of a tiny bubble in a frothy sea whose proportions defy comprehension.

John Kovac and colleagues ran the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole. They saw some of the oldest light in the universe. It suggested the theory of inflation is true.

Paul Steinhardt said the analysis of the BICEP2 data was flawed. He had developed a theory of eternal inflation that generated an infinite bubbly multiverse. Andrei Linde developed a similar idea in Moscow.

BICEP2 looked at a patch of sky for 3 years to collect photons from the big bang afterglow. The primordial universe would have been awash in gravity waves that would spin the photons into a polarization pattern. The swirling effect would be visible in only 1 in 30 million photons. The BICEP2 team found the swirling patterns (blog 2014-03-17).

BICEP2 published its results in April 2014. In May, cosmologists began to question their interpretation. In June, Kovac sat on a panel with Guth, Linde, and Steinhardt. In September, most cosmologists decided that BICEP2 could not distinguish its signal from dust glow. In February 2015, Kovac and his team admitted as much.

The BICEP2 saga was a triumph for science. It showed why science is our best way to get to know the natural world.

Our Earth sits in the middle of the observable cosmos, the sphere of light that we can detect with our telescopes. Gaze into this sphere and you see layers, from stars and the planets that circle them, from the billions of galaxies beyond, to the final layer of light, the afterglow of the big bang. We are trapped in this snow globe of photons forever.

2015 May 13

Jews in Britain


1 Howard Jacobson has explored the fear and loathing surrounding Israel and anti-Semitism in Britain. He sees a tone in anti-Zionism that he explains as hatred of Jews. He fears this combined with Muslim anti-Semitism could be lethal.

2 Muslims make up a quarter of the population in Bradford. George Galloway MP has adopted the rhetoric of Palestinian nationalism. Bradford city council head David Green is Jewish and concerned that this is harming Bradford.

3 Manchester has the largest British Jewish community outside London. It has an orthodox Jewish area with the feel of a ghetto crowded between a poor white area and a large Muslim area. Both Jews and Muslims experience abuse.

4 Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, exhorts a crowd in London to support Palestine and denigrates Israel as the apartheid state. Many British Jews sense a visceral loathing of the Jewish state on the British left.

5 Ties between the Jewish community in Britain and Israel are close. Zionism is at the heart of British Jewish identity and Israel is a way of life. As Israel becomes more isolated from Europe politically, that identity becomes complex.

2015 May 12

Labour Pain

Barbara Finlay

Patrick Wall suggested a functional view of pain as a mixture of sensation and the motivation to make it stop. He explained how rituals or procedures offered by a doctor or shaman, regardless of their efficacy, could reduce pain. Pain motivates an animal to escape from a source of damage, protect a wound, or devote energy to recovery. Wall argued that one of its roles in humans is as a motivation to seek help from a trusted source. When that goal is satisfied, pain is relieved.

Over evolutionary time, several stimuli and situations that are not painful in other animals have come to be felt as painful for humans. Our distress elicits help from others and hence offers a survival advantage. Labour pain is a good example. Human childbirth appears to be uniquely painful among members of the animal kingdom. Protracted labour pains make us show distress and recruit help from others well in advance of the birth. This strategy offers a survival advantage.

2015 May 11

New IT


Global connectivity is increasing as more devices, more machines, and more companies connect via the Internet. The new IT uses real-time, connected software to remove complexity built up over years in legacy systems.

SAP is a thought leader for IT-driven innovation and best practices. SAP teams implement SAP software before it becomes available on the market as a first ramp-up customer, pressure-testing the new solution, providing first-hand feedback to development, and partnering with the business units to help them achieve their strategic goals.

SAP HANA runs transactional and analytical data in the same database in memory to create huge business value with lower costs. SAP S/4 HANA is a next-generation business suite offering a radically simplified data model, analytical flexibility, and the ability to slice and dice data on all dimensions. It can help businesses run simple in a digital and networked economy.

SAP uses more than 70,000 smart devices and has 130 apps in its app store, many built on the SAP HANA Cloud Platform. SAP software and mobile workflows let SAP employees work productively on their own devices.

AR I worked for 6 years in the SAP HANA development team. I wrote the SAP Press book (now outdated) on our prototype engine. As my colleagues used to say: "Wir sind die Guten."

2015 May 10

Cameron Launches Blitz on Europe

The Sunday Times

With a working majority of 15, prime minister David Cameron will redraw constituency boundaries to make the electoral system fairer to the Conservatives.

Chancellor George Osborne and foreign secretary Philip Hammond will go to Berlin and Brussels to redraw UK-EU relations. New lord chancellor and justice secretary Michael Gove will abolish the Human Rights Act. And a new culture secretary will reconsider the BBC license fee.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will address British concerns about benefits abuse by EU migrants: "The proposals will be tailored to address long-standing British concerns, but also the concerns of other countries such as Germany and The Netherlands."

A German source said chancellor Angela Merkel "does not envisage an EU without the UK" and is awaiting "specific and constructive" ideas from London.


Niall Ferguson

The scale of the SNP victory in Scotland was epoch making. All but three Scottish seats fell to the nationalists. Conservatives, Labour, and the Lib Dems were left with just one seat each.

The election result is no threat to the UK. Scots were reluctant to back the SNP when the issue was independence and voted for them on the issue of Scottish representation at Westminster.

The result is no threat to the EU either. Regional nationalists and environmentalists now enjoy substantial support in many member states. Labour and the Liberals are victims of a backlash against political establishments that we see all over Europe. Moderate conservatism is clearly the dominant force in both England and Germany.

2015 May 9

Victory Day


The Victory Day parade in Red Square featured a new Russian tank. The T-14 Armata MBT has a remote-controlled turret and automatic loading system. With a weight of 48 tons and a top speed of 90 km/h, the new MBT is lighter and faster than current Western tanks.

Armata has 3 crew in an armored capsule in the hull, away from the ammunition, and it has an active protection system against incoming projectiles. Its main armament is a 125 mm smoothbore gun that can fire APDS and guided munitions. The engine is 1500 hp diesel. A tank information control system (TICS) monitors components, diagnoses malfunctions, and controls onboard systems.

Built by Uralvagonzavod (UVZ), Armata will replace most of the T-72 and T-90 tanks in the Russian army. UVZ plans to deliver 2,300 Armata by 2020.


The Atlantic

Cameron Conservatives, like conservatives in the Anglosphere and Germany, converge with and diverge from Republicans in the United States in ways crucial to their electoral success.

Center-right parties in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have all made peace with government guarantees of healthcare for all. They accept that universal health coverage belongs beside pensions and unemployment insurance in a modern economy.

These parties have updated their respect for family, work, and community. None seek to police female sexual behavior or reproductive choices. All have accepted gay equality and racial inclusion. They all advocate an immigration policy determined by the national interest.

They are tough on terrorism, extremism, and international disorder. David Cameron has stated that the extremism that threatens Western democracies is Islamist. Stephen Harper and Tony Abbott are consistent supporters of Israel. Harper advocates NATO defense of Ukraine.

UK Election Results

Conservatives 331
Labour 232
SNP 56
Lib Dems 8
Plaid Cymru 3
Green 1
Others 18

Landslide Victory

Daily Echo

In the local elections in Poole, Conservatives won 32 seats out of a total 42. They now have a comfortable majority on the previously hung council.

Local election results

AR We swept the board, with one small exception: a Council seat for me alongside my colleagues.

2015 May 8

1 Up 3 Down

The Guardian 1222 BST

Conservative leader David Cameron declares victory.
Labour leader Ed Miliband resigns,
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg resigns,
UKIP leader Nigel Farage resigns.

Conservatives Win Big in Poole

BBC News 1019 BST

National Forecast
Conservatives 329
Labour 234
SNP 56
Lib Dems 8
Plaid Cymru 3
Green 1
Others 18

Poole Parliamentary Constituency
Conservative Robert Syms 23,745 50.1%
UKIP David Young 7,956 16.8%
Labour Helen Rosser 6,102 12.9%
Liberal Democrat Philip Eades 5,572 11.8%
Green Party Adrian Oliver 2,198 4.6%
Poole People Mark Howell 1,766 3.7%
Independent Ian Northover 54 0.1%

Dorset Mid & Poole North Parliamentary Constituency
Conservative Michael Tomlinson 23,639 50.8%
Liberal Democrat Vikki Slade 13,109 28.2%
UKIP Richard Turner 5,663 12.2%
Labour Patrick Canavan 2,767 6.0%
Green Party Mark Chivers 1,321 2.8%

AR We did it. Council results later today.

2015 May 7

UK Election


As British voters go to the polls in the most closely fought election in a generation, CNN asked the audience at its UK 2015 debate to pick the most important issue to them. The economy came out top by a huge margin.

Conservative peer Pauline Neville-Jones: "It's the absolutely basic thing, without which you can't do anything else."

AR Vote Conservative.

2015 May 6


David Cameron

I'm asking for five more years to finish the job we have started: to secure our economy, so we get more people into work, more young people getting trained rather than sitting on the dole, more couples into homes of their own, more pensioners feeling security and dignity in old age.

There is so much more we need to do: to start cutting the taxes of 30 million working people, taking the lowest paid out of tax, funding 3 million more apprenticeships, building 200,000 more homes for young people, putting more money and more doctors and nurses into our NHS.

Labour helped to break our economy and they would do the same all over again. Their plans do not add up. They want to borrow more money than we can afford. They want to tax more. And they want to pile up more debt than our children and grandchildren could ever hope to repay.

The choice tomorrow: me leading a strong and stable government, or Ed Miliband being held to ransom by the SNP. There is no room for protest voting, or voting for marginal parties. A vote for anyone apart from the Conservatives risks Britain and its economic recovery grinding to a halt.

Together we can keep strengthening our economy, creating more jobs, investing in our health service, giving more young people a chance to get on in life. The future can be brighter, but only if Britain votes Conservative.


Foreign Policy

Germany is the economic engine of Europe. The export industry is the second largest in the world, bolstered by a weak euro. Germany is now the second most popular destination for immigrants in the world, after the United States.

But poverty is at its highest level in Germany since reunification 25 years ago. Reforms enacted in 2003 deregulated temporary work, pulled together public benefits into a streamlined welfare program, and pushed welfare recipients into jobs. The number of temporary jobs has doubled over the past 10 years and many workers take multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Germans are beginning to complain of rising inequality. The growing chasm between rich and poor, and the lack of economic mobility, undercuts the work ethic and the idea of fairness.

2015 May 5

UK Election

Roger Cohen

If David Cameron is returned to office, the UK will face a referendum in 2017 that could take it out of the European Union and into strategic irrelevance. Two years will be lost to a paralyzing debate in which British bigotry will have free rein.

Cameron has overseen an economic recovery that has not translated into a sense of confidence. Booming London has left the rest of the country behind. Cameron has found his voice in the name of free enterprise. His gamble with EU membership has been reckless.

AR This is a view from New York. Americans want Britain in Europe.

2015 May 4

Vote For Reform

Matt Ridley

The coalition government led by David Cameron has a lot to be proud of. It set out to reform the welfare state in order to encourage work and the education system to encourage learning. It tried to reform the health service and the justice system.

We need more reform in the tax system and the planning system. Pensions need reform. Quangos need reform. The City of London needs further reform. We need reform of the BBC. And only those with an interest in keeping the National Health Service inefficient and unresponsive to its users would wish to leave it unreformed.

Conservatives also want reform of the European Union and have a strategy for getting it.

Radical Demons

The Times

The National Union of Students has voted to oppose the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act and agreed to lobby against it alongside the Islamist advocacy group CAGE.

NUS blather: "Demonising radicalisation and extremism can and is being used to target anyone who dissents from the unjust, oppressive and exploitative state of society."

NUS statement: "As a movement, we've been let down by politicians who have failed to speak on our behalf in a world where the odds were already being steadily stacked against us. We've seen the tripling of tuition fees, educational maintenance snatched away and work prospects diminish. ...
[On May 7] we have a real opportunity to start fixing politics in the UK. We can start creating a New Deal for the Next Generation."

AR As long as the NUS flirts with enemies of the state and "dissents" from hard facts of life we should refuse to tolerate its naive and dangerous blather. A "New Deal" might work, but not like this.

2015 May 3


Priyamvada Natarajan

Astronomy is a science that relies on images. NASA satellite photographs have helped make the human impact on climate change more visible. Failing to confront the danger of climate change will no doubt get our species to the brink, as in the sci-fi movie Interstellar by Christopher Nolan.

One of the film's executive producers is Caltech astrophysics professor Kip Thorne. General relativity predicts some weird phenomena in the vicinity of strong gravitational fields, such as time dilation near a black hole, and bending of light rays close to black holes and wormholes. Everything you see in the film is scientifically possible.

The movie team processed 800 TB of data to render the bending of light by a black hole and a wormhole portal with unprecedented accuracy. The images showed scientists something they have never seen before in the equations. Thorne is now writing up the new discoveries.

2015 May 2

Election Statistics

The Times

The closest election in decades leaves it impossible to predict who will be the next prime minister. Most projections expect the Conservatives to win more seats, but Labour may have a better chance of forming a minority government. The SNP is predicted to win about 50 of the 59 seats in Scotland.

Conservatives could end up with about 40 fewer seats than Labour and the SNP combined, despite winning as many votes. The latest forecast predicts that the Tories will win 290 seats but finish 33 short of a majority, with a 49% chance of Ed Miliband becoming prime minister and a 51% chance of David Cameron keeping the job.

A record £1 billion was pulled out of funds investing in UK shares last month. Analysts say the biggest cause of instability from the election would be the prospect of a quick second election.

British Politics


The British electorate has united in contempt for its leaders. Voters distrust their political institutions and other traditional centers of power, including parliament, print media, and the police.

The unity of the nation is in peril from Scots and support is in doubt for continued EU membership. Britain was slow to recover from the global economic crisis and austerity has depressed people.

A survey in January showed that only 1 in 10 Britons think UK politicians want to do what is best for the country, while 7 in 10 think they are just protecting the rich and powerful.

AR Politicians emerge from the people, who get the leaders they deserve.

2015 May 1

My Vision of Life

Richard Dawkins

Everything extends from replicators, which are in practice DNA molecules on this planet. The replicators reach out into the world to influence their own probability of being passed on. Mostly they don't reach further than the individual body in which they sit, but that's a matter of practice, not a matter of principle. The individual organism can be defined as that set of phenotypic products which have a single route of exit of the genes into the future. The organism is a unit of selection in the sense that I call a vehicle.

There are two kinds of unit of selection. One is the replicator, and what it does is get itself copied. So more and more copies of itself go into the world. The other kind of unit is the vehicle. It doesn't get itself copied. What it does is work to copy the replicators which have come down to it through the generations, and which it's going to pass on to future generations. Individuals and replicators are both units of selection, but in different senses.

Alien Minds

Susan Schneider

Our best empirical theory of the brain holds that the mind is an information processing system and that all mental functions are computations. So humans and superintelligent artificial intelligence share a common feature: their thinking is essentially computational. Our best scientific theories of consciousness hold that consciousness is closely related to information processing.

A biologically inspired superintelligent alien (BISA) will have descended from creatures that had biologically evolved motivations. Yet it may be so advanced that we cannot understand any of its computations whatsoever. As Arthur C. Clarke said, a truly advanced civilization will have technologies we cannot distinguish from magic.

AR I toyed with such ideas in my 1996 novel LIFEBALL.

Presidential Palace, Saigon, April 30, 1975



2015 April 30


The Daily Beast

President Barack Obama: "In those environments, if we think that we're just gonna send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there, without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we're not gonna solve this problem."

2015 April 29


Lord Robertson of Port Ellen
Lord Hutton of Furness
Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield
Lord Moonie of Benochy
General Lord Richards of Herstmonceux
Admiral of the Fleet Lord Boyce
Marshal of the RAF Lord Stirrup of Marylebone
Admiral Lord West of Spithead
Admiral Sir Jonathon Band
Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope
General Sir Mike Jackson
Sir David Omand
Sir Kevin Tebbit
Sir Keith O'Nions et al.

Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent exists not as a military weapon but a political one whose very purpose is for it never to be used in anger. It is there to deter aggression against this country and our allies and to counter any nuclear blackmail which would threaten Britain's essential interests or survival. It is committed to NATO.

The next Prime Minister will be responsible for the decision next year whether or not to go ahead with the Main Gate decision on triggering the building of 4 new submarines necessary to continue the deterrent. A decision not to go ahead would effectively end Britain's nuclear deterrent.

NATO is committed to the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. But as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.

The Trident Alternatives Report concluded that the highest level of assurance the UK can attain with a single deterrent system is provided by SSBN CASD.

The BASIC Trident Commission concluded that Trident meets the criteria of credibility, scale, survivability, reach, and readiness. It opposed proposals to develop alternative platforms and delivery systems, with new warheads, simply on the basis of possible but speculative cost savings.

Q1 Trident Successor will stimulate proliferation?
Deep reductions in Britain's deterrent made by successive governments have produced no reciprocation from other nuclear weapon or aspiring nuclear weapon powers.

Q2 Only the USA, France, and the UK have CASD?
Both Russia and China are moving to CASD.

Q3 Renewing Trident would frustrate NPT negotiations?
BASIC Trident Commission: "It is doubtful that the UK would retain continuing influence on the thinking or process of nuclear negotiations if it ceased all its nuclear weapon activities."

Q4 Trident expenditure is crippling at a time of austerity?
The total cost up to 2060 would be an average of around £2 billion a year. The NHS costs £2.5 billion a week.

Q5 The nuclear deterrent does not address new threats such as terrorism?
Correct, but irrelevant.

Q6 Abandoning Trident would save a lot of money?
Cancellation is not a cost-free option. Decommissioning deterrent submarines and their infrastructure would produce substantial costs.

The decision on Main Gate will be important. It is impossible to tell what threats may emerge over more than thirty years. To abandon Trident now and for good in the hope that no threat will emerge over that period would be an enormous gamble.

The UK has made reductions in its nuclear arsenal proportionately greater than any other nuclear weapons power. That has represented a huge contribution toward nuclear disarmament. It would be irresponsible folly to abandon Britain's independent deterrent.

2015 April 28

BU Rank Rises

Bournemouth Echo

Bournemouth University has jumped 11 places in a national university league table. BU vice-chancellor Professor John Vinney: "I am absolutely delighted that Bournemouth University has rocketed 11 places in this year's Complete University Guide rankings to 54th in the UK."

AR Last night I attended a BU political hustings event with parliamentary candidates. I spoke out on the need to retain Trident, citing Steven Pinker, Ian Morris, and the report Retiring Trident, and got a strong round of applause.

2015 April 27


The Times

In 1992 John Major led the Conservatives to victory. He won over 14 million votes in total, more than either Margaret Thatcher before him or Tony Blair after him. Five years later, the Tories slumped to defeat.

Conservatives dominated electoral politics in the 20th century. But they need to catch up quickly with the 21st century. They need discipline and resolve in the next 10 days to win a parliamentary majority again.

Conservatives need a broader understanding of what prosperity and the good life mean. Tory policies cannot just be about helping people to climb economic and social ladders. Conservatives must help to provide security as well as freedom. They must focus on providing a strong safety net and creating world-class public services.

Conservatives must also strike a better balance between protecting the natural environment and building more homes. Unless they can increase housebuilding many families will never have a home of their own.

David Cameron promises that any re-elected Tory government would start by cutting income tax for the lowest-paid, creating two million jobs, extending childcare, and building 200,000 starter homes.


Hard Problem

Dan Dennett says explaining
how the brain works might
explain consciousness.
How software animates
hardware is no mystery.
Wrong analogy?

AR Mindworlds

100 years on:

is 25 today

Peter Lang
Food and the Internet
V. Krawczyk-Wasilewska
and P. Lysaght (eds.)
University of Łodź


2015 April 26

UK Billionaires

The Sunday Times

There are now 117 sterling billionaires based in Britain. That is more per head of population than in any other country in the G20.

Their total wealth is £325 billion. The top 3 alone are worth £37 billion. London hosts 80 billionaires. The other 37 outside London are together worth £67 billion.

Only 62 of the billionaires in the UK are British. The Queen is worth a mere £340 million and has dropped out of the top 300.

Drone War

Der Spiegel

The Ramstein air base in Germany hosts the United States Air Force in Europe (USAFE) headquarters. But the German government claims not to know that Ramstein is a key node in the global drone war against Islamist terror.

Beside USAFE HQ Ramstein, the other key node is Creech, a town in the Nevada desert. Creech hosts a relay hub for USAF bases in ten US states. Optical fibers transmit data to the NSA and to Ramstein.

A drone pilot in Creech begins a mission by logging into the Air and Space Operation Center (AOC) in Ramstein. Pilot commands go via the AOC link to an orbiting satellite and then to the drone. The AOC node is key because no satellite can link Pakistan and the United States directly, and a second satellite in the chain would add too much latency.

The German government has contracted for US use of the Ramstein base provided nothing illegal is done there. German law says war crimes and other violations of international law, even if they are committed by foreigners in other countries, can all be tried in Germany.

AR I visited the Ramstein base in 1987.

2015 April 25

Islamic State

Shashank Joshi

Islamic State (IS) evolved from such jihadi groups as al Qaeda in Iraq after 2003. It resembles them in its ideology, brutality, methods of war, and aspirations to control territory. Differences:

1 Its use of takfir, or excommunication of Muslims, and its willingness to take on Muslim targets
2 Its targeting of Shia Muslims to provoke a response and force vulnerable Sunnis into its arms
3 Its prioritization of the near enemy, apostate Mideast regimes, over attacks on the far enemy

IS has been helped by incorporating remnants of the Baathist Iraqi state. The US decision to disband the Iraqi Army in 2003 was calamitous. Today around a third of the deputies to Caliph Ibrahim are former Iraqi military officers.

IS is defined not by warped Islamic theology but by millenarianism. Extreme religious observance is an identity marker for who will survive the apocalypse and who will perish. IS propaganda is deliberately traumatizing an entire generation. Cult practices plus mass mobilization make IS totalitarian.

AR Crusaders for a clash of civilizations: George W. Bush and Tony Blair

2015 April 24

Digital Democracy

Niall Firth

For some, the birth of the internet spelled the end for politicians.

The most radical answer is liquid democracy. Every voter has a mandate to use as they see fit. The mandate is transferable and voters can decide to pass it on to someone they trust. If you feel strongly about an issue later on you can take back your mandate and vote directly. But because the system does not differentiate between voters and representatives, every vote has to be recorded, open and transparent. So a secret ballot is impossible.

Deliberative democracy focuses on how we can become more involved in deciding the way our lives are run, rather than changing the way we vote. A form of deliberative democracy known as participatory budgeting gives people a direct say in how a percentage of their council budget is spent. This is one of the most widespread and fastest growing democratic practices. It is moving online as new software streamlines the process.

But populism does not necessarily lead to workable outcomes.

2015 St. George's Day

EU on GM Food and Feed

Julie Girling

The EU Commission proposes to allow member states more freedom to restrict or prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It sees a need to reflect public views on the use of GMOs "for animal (feed) or human (food) consumption".

GMOs authorized at EU level by food safety watchdog EFSA are already deemed safe. The Commission is ignoring the scientific advice its taxpayers are paying for. It lacks the backbone to stand by the advice.

The EU imports over 70% of its animal feed. The proposal will prevent imports of the animal feed many farmers rely on to feed their livestock. The free movement of people in the EU is sacrosanct but not the free movement of goods.

2015 Earth Day

Climate Change

The Guardian

The Earth League urges world leaders to follow up on their commitments to avoid dangerous global warming. Three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground if humanity is to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Progress Eagle

Oscar Vinals

The AWWA·QG Progress Eagle is a design for improving the physical characteristics of commercial aircraft and reducing their environmental impact. Progress Eagle is based on the technology beyond 2030 with ideas from quantum mechanics: engines with zero contaminant emissions and the ability to clean the atmosphere of pollutant particles; innovative configuration including a lifting-body fuselage with three passenger decks and a cockpit with panoramic views; wings with smart and self-repairing skin made from carbon nanotubes and fibers; airframe with a hexagonal structure and a hollow endoskeleton made of titanium and graphene; and triple winglets to enhance aerodynamic efficiency. With six engines, the plane is big enough for up to 800 passengers to fly in hotel luxury.


Bournemouth Echo
L to R: Vikki Slade, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Mid Dorset & North Poole; Adrian Oliver, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Poole; Richard Turner, UKIP parliamentary candidate for Mid Dorset & North Poole; Andy Ross, Conservative councillor candidate for Poole Town ward, Borough of Poole; Helen Rosser, Labour parliamentary candidate for Poole
Welfare Benefits
Bournemouth Echo

A hustings event in Poole on Monday featured a Q&A session at the Salvation Army Hall organized by Mencap. On supporting people with learning difficulties to feel confident claiming benefits:

Vikki Slade: "Everyone needs to be treated with dignity and respect."

Adrian Oliver: "The government has a key role in setting the culture in our society."

Richard Turner: "It is important to make sure those people who use the welfare state do need it."

Andy Ross: "Benefits are a right in our society. Those who need them will get them, should get them."

Helen Rosser: "They are needed by some of the most vulnerable people in this country and are extremely important."


The extermination of the
Armenians in 1915 has been
marked by an assault by the
Turkish government on its
historical truth. The Israeli government has not been able
to pass an Armenian genocide
resolution. This might be a
time for Israel to rethink.


Scottish Nationalists threaten to
block the UK military budget until
the renewal of Trident is halted.

AR SNP tail will wag Labour dog.
Vote Conservative.


2015 April 21

Scottish Nationalists

John Major

If Labour were to accept an offer of support from the SNP, it could put the UK on course to a government held to ransom on a vote-by-vote basis. Labour would be in hock to a party that slowly but surely will push them ever further to the left. We would pay the SNP ransom in our daily lives, through higher taxes, fewer jobs, and more and more debt. That is no way to run a country.

AR Vote Conservative.

2015 April 20


Freeman Dyson

Albert Einstein was deeply involved with the Zionist movement promoting the settlement of Jews in Palestine. He tried to stop the Jewish people from becoming another nationalistic culture glorifying military strength. But he continued to support Israel while criticizing it.

Einstein also spoke out against the militarization of America: "The arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, initiated originally as a preventive measure, assumes hysterical proportions. On both sides, means of mass destruction are being perfected with feverish haste and behind walls of secrecy. ... And at the end, looming ever clearer, lies general annihilation."

In 1955, Einstein joined with Bertrand Russell to make a public statement: "In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the Governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purposes cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them."

Is Zionism Racist?

Anne Roiphe

Zionism is a nationalism. It makes a claim for the Jewish people that they are a folk like other folk and entitled to a land of their own just like the French have France and the English have England.

The dream of return existed long before the Holocaust. It existed before Herzl and the Zionists. This vision of an end to exile kept the Jews together and brought them hope through the years spent in Babylon millennia ago.

Jews are not racists to want a land of their own. The Zionism of the Jewish people is just a bid to be a nation. It was hoped that Israel would not enslave anyone. It was hoped that Israel would treat the strangers who lived among its people with justice and equality. Zionism is not racist.

AR Nationalism is better than racism, but not always by much. Samuel Johnson: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

2015 April 19


Ed Miliband

I am positioned where the mainstream of politics is positioned. I want to reach out to voters who worry about our place in the European Union, who really think we can do a lot better as a country.

Who is going to stand up to tax avoidance? Who is going to stand up to energy companies? Who is going to stand up to banks? That is absolutely something I think will appeal to Tory voters.

AR David Cameron already appeals to Tory voters. Former Labour home secretary Alan Johnson on Labour's economic failure: "There is no soundbite that we have got to equal the claim that we maxed out on your credit card."

Philosophy of Economics

Brian Leiter

Marx thought technological innovation under capitalism would produce a falling rate of profit for capitalist enterprises, but he thought this because he accepted the labor theory of value, which is false. Yet at the limit technological innovation under capitalism will produce a falling rate of profit because the elimination of human labor will reduce the total pool of consumers. Is there a good discussion of this in the economic literature?

AR Try this: Innovative deployment of robot labor will raise productivity and hence profits so long as disemployed workers get paid enough by the state to keep spending. Circulation of money: capitalists concentrate money in profits and governments spread it again in welfare, just like a fountain powered by a pump from the pond below. Those in the money cycle act as selectors, voting with their spending for things that go to make up a "good" society. Income inequalities will skew spending toward elite goods. Politics will focus on "optimizing" the level of equality.

2015 April 18

Philosophy of Politics and Economics

New Statesman

All elections are uncertain but this one is more so. Look to the transformation of society and the world of work over the past 60 years and their relationship with the political establishment. The absorption of UK democratic institutions by transnational financial power is the result of a long national decline and the circumstances of the financial crisis.

Political thought has not kept up with the new reality. Socialism was discredited worldwide as an economic system by the collapse of the Soviet Union. British socialism failed by turning its back on the psychology of productive business and by selling out to casino capitalism.

Neoliberalism was discredited worldwide as an economic system by the financial crisis in 2008. The gap widened between the rich and the rest in the ownership of wealth.

Both socialist and neoliberal economic thinking favored big organizations. The cost argument too often ignored the need for competition and choice or the dangers of concentrated power.

Advanced technology accelerated the spirit of individualism. Each individual had to look into his own abilities and life choices in forming a career best suited to his personal interests. Socialist collectivism became obsolete. Authoritarian right wing politics became equally repulsive.

As business ownership and control became a game of musical chairs, enterprises were managed not to maximize market share or serve consumer interests but to maximize quarterly profit. As national assets were mortgaged to transnational interests, house prices rose beyond the reach of the young.

Personal property is a human right. Widening business ownership will encourage a more innovative and productive economy. For big companies, company law should be amended to give employees a say and a financial stake in them. Capitalism based on high wages and a more equal distribution of wealth will outperform the Anglo-American model.

2015 April 17

Scot-Lab Disgrace

The Times

In the BBC TV election debate last night SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon warned Labour leader Ed Miliband that he would never be forgiven if he turned his back on a deal with her to keep the Tories out of power. Sturgeon called the prime minister's absence a disgrace: "I want Ed to replace the Tories with something better."

AR Do we want to let this self-opinionated Scots ingenue call the shots for England, wreck the recovery with spending and borrowing, and break up the UK to boot? Hell no! Vote Tory!

Global News

Foreign Policy

Supported by Google Ideas, the GDELT project monitors the world's broadcast, print, and web news in over 100 languages. It deploys streaming machine translation to translate the news into English in real time. For some languages GDELT achieves the accuracy level of Google Translate. For others it can robustly recognize key themes and flag an article for a human analyst.

AR We studied this application area for our SAP engine.

2015 April 16


Foreign Policy

We are witnessing a struggle for regional dominance between a coalition grouped around Saudi Arabia and one around Iran. Sunni-Shiite enmity is not the best explanation. This is a naked struggle for power.

The regimes are all reactionary survivors of the Arab Spring. The Iranians mercilessly crushed the Green Revolution in 2009, and have backed authoritarian partners in Iraq and Syria. On the other side, the Arab monarchs from the Gulf have extended their writ through payoffs and violence.

The Saudi bloc wants to turn back the clock. The Iranian bloc wants to alter the regional balance of power. Both factions are run by opaque, secretive, repressive, and violent leaders. Neither side is interested in popular accountability, better governance, or the rights of citizens.

Tehran has extended its influence carefully, hedging its bets by supporting multiple groups in every conflict zone and always maintaining a degree of remove. This blueprint has served Iran well. Saudi Arabia has entered the Yemen war directly, with no cover.

The regime in Tehran positions itself as the regional champion of pluralism and minorities. The Saudi grouping has a philosophy dangerously close to the nihilism of al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The trend points in favor of Iran.

2015 April 15

EU Leaders Oppose Changes

The Times

European leaders are said to oppose David Cameron's call for European Union treaty change in the run-up to a British referendum because of the danger of copycat popular votes spreading across Europe.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker ruled out changes to the EU treaty until late 2019 and European Parliament president Martin Schulz said treaty change was too risky in the present political climate. President Hollande of France and others worry that a new treaty would generate calls for popular votes in France or the Netherlands.

Lib Dem and UKIP Manifestos

The Guardian

If the opinion polls are right, UKIP will get more votes than the Liberal Democrats in the general election on 7 May, but most observers think Lib Dems will end up with more MPs than UKIP.

The UKIP manifesto is a populist pitch for the protest vote and a ragbag of prejudices against the modern world. The Lib Dem manifesto is a carefully calibrated and costed job application for partnership in government, with a focus on balancing the budget, on education funding, raising personal allowances, NHS spending, and the green agenda.

UKIP and Lib Dems agree that the British electoral system is bust. Both say Britain must have a more proportional system if politics and government are to regain credibility.

On April 7, a USAF RC-135U
Combat Sent SIGINT aircraft
was intercepted over the Baltic Sea by a Russian Air Force
Su 27 Flanker in an "unsafe
and unprofessional manner"

AR War with Russia would
go nuclear. Does Trident
make the UK safer?


2015 April 14

Conservative Manifesto

David Cameron

We are the party of working people, offering you security at every stage of your life.

Our manifesto sets out how we will make this a country where those who work hard and do the right thing can enjoy a good life:

The personal tax-free allowance raised to £12,500
No 40p tax until you're earning £50,000
The family home taken out of Inheritance Tax
£8 billion more a year for our NHS
Rail fares frozen for five years
Welfare controlled to reward work
Multinationals pursued so they pay their tax
The Right to Buy extended to 1.3 million extra families
30 hours of free childcare a week for working families with 3 and 4 year-olds
Everyone earning the Minimum Wage lifted out of income tax altogether

We have come this far together. Let's build on the progress we have made.

2015 April 13

Two Monsters

John Lukacs

Stalin and Hitler were allies for 22 months. The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939 included a Secret Protocol defining a division of Eastern Europe. In September Poland was invaded by the Nazis from the west and the Soviets from the east. In 1940 the German armies conquered Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France. Churchill and Britain stood alone, for more than a year to come.

In Poland the Soviet occupation in the east was at least as brutal and murderous as the Nazi occupation in the west. Hitler decided to exterminate the Jews in September 1941 and the work started in January 1942, but their fate had been foreshadowed by the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

The German attack in June 1941 shocked Stalin into silence at first. In September he wrote to Churchill that the Soviet Union was in mortal danger. By 1942 he recognized that he would gain more from his alliance with Britain and the United States than with Germany.

In December 1941, Churchill sent his foreign secretary Anthony Eden to Moscow. Stalin to Eden: "Hitler's problem was that he does not know where to stop." Eden: "Does anyone?" Stalin: "I do."

AR UK survival in a world with such monsters needs Trident.

2015 April 12

Time to move on from Trident

The Guardian

Pinning our security on a nuclear deterrent encourages others to do the same. The UK should become the first permanent member of the UN Security Council to give up all its nuclear weapons. Instead of protecting us, hosting nuclear weapons makes us a target. Having nuclear weapons diverts resources and attention from tackling our most urgent security problems.

Peter Higgs, Michael Atiyah, and others

AR These are men whose work in physics and mathematics I admire.

Trident Alternatives Review

HM Government, 2013

Nuclear deterrence has a unique role in deterring extreme threats to UK vital interests which cannot be countered by other means. A potential aggressor needs to believe that the UK has the capability and resolve to deliver unacceptable loss in response to an actual or imminent attack.

This review aims to establish if other postures or weapons systems might deliver a credible alternative. The different systems and postures differ in the level of assurance of second strike capability. The highest level of assurance the UK can attain with a single deterrent system is SSBN CASD.

Design and delivery of a new BM thermonuclear warhead is likely to take 17 years. Delivering one for an alternative system would take longer. This warhead timescale is longer than the V-class SSBN can safely be operated.

The costs of credible options that could meet a 2040 date were compared against the cost of procuring 3 or 4 Successor SSBN. Cost estimates cover the development, procurement and in-service support of a new system, as well as transitioning from the current system.

The cost driver for the Trident options is SSBN construction. The cost driver for all non-Trident options is the warhead. The delay requires 2 new Successor SSBN to fill the gap before a CM deterrent is available.

Alternatives to Trident could enable the UK to deter most potential adversaries. Alternative non-continuous postures could offer reduced readiness when the UK assesses the threat to be low. None of the alternatives reviewed offers the same degree of resilience as CASD.

The costs of delivering an alternative system could have been cheaper were it not for timing and the fact that the UK deterrent infrastructure is finely tuned to support Trident. Bridging the time it would take to develop a new warhead would involve procuring 2 x Successor SSBN so that a Trident-based deterrent remains available until at least 2040. That makes transitioning to any of the realistic alternative systems more expensive than a Successor SSBN fleet.

AR This is all about jobs in warhead and submarine construction. Retask the warhead teams to civilian nuclear power systems, retask the shipyards to SSN and surface warship construction, and we could scrap our nuclear deterrent, have a stronger navy, and save money.

Tony Blair


Tony Blair is retiring as Mideast Quartet Representative. He says the Mideast is a prime example of politics "getting in the way" of peace. The negotiators were all politicians and progress was impossible. By the end of 2014 a quarter of all Palestinians and a half of all Gazans lived on $2 a day or less. To fight religious extremism, he has established the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

Tony Blair hailed "a bright new dawn for Britain" on the morning of his 1997 election victory. As prime minister, he wrote in A Journey: "I had started by buying the notion, and then selling the notion, that to be in touch with opinion was the definition of good leadership."

A decade later: "I was ending by counting such a notion of little value and defining leadership not as knowing what people wanted and trying to satisfy them, but knowing what I thought was in their best interest and trying to do it. Pleasing all of the people all of the time was not possible; but even if it had been, it was a worthless ambition."

His own method in power was to study an issue, canvass opinion, note the debate, come to his own conclusions, and lead. Opposition was the price paid by true leaders.

2015 April 11

A purity principle might banish quantum weirdness

2015 April 10

UK Nuclear Deterrent

The Times

David Cameron: "Only the Conservatives are absolutely guaranteeing a full replacement of Trident with four submarines and continuous at sea deterrence. It is important that in a dangerous, insecure world we have that ultimate insurance policy."

AR I am rethinking my approach to nuclear war. A British deterrent based on F-35C and B61-12 would fail to guarantee massive and unacceptable damage on a potential aggressor. A leader as reckless as President Putin might laugh it off. Only Trident with four boats trumps that. So British taxpayers must shoulder the £100 billion lifetime cost and make cuts elsewhere — or try to get our European NATO allies to share the burden, of course.

2015 April 9

Signs of Alien Life by 2025

Los Angeles Times

NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan: "I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years. We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology."

2015 April 8

Earth Systems

Margaret Thatcher (1988)

For generations, we have assumed that the efforts of mankind would leave the fundamental equilibrium of the world's systems and atmosphere stable. But it is possible that with all these enormous changes — population, agricultural, use of fossil fuels — concentrated into such a short period of time, we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself.

Stable prosperity can be achieved throughout the world, provided the environment is nurtured and safeguarded. Protecting this balance of nature is therefore one of the great challenges of the late 20th century.

Fossil Fueled Climate Change

Michael Greenstone

The goal for the international climate talks this December in Paris is a treaty on emissions that will seek to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 K above preindustrial levels. Beyond 2 K, scientists say, the most catastrophic climate consequences will occur.

Total projected warming from fossil fuels extracted so far and the projected warming capacity of various fossil fuels that can be extracted with present technology using a standard model for the relationship between cumulative carbon emissions and temperature changes: 9 K.

Three solutions:
1 Price carbon emissions to reflect the damages from climate change.
2 Make energy sources like nuclear and solar cheaper than fossil fuels.
3 Continue using fossil fuels but capture and store the carbon.

2015 April 7


"Leaving Europe would leave Britain diminished in the world, do significant damage to our economy and, less obviously but just as important to our future, would go against the very qualities that mark us out still as a great global nation."
Tony Blair

"I want changes in Europe but then, unlike Tony Blair, I will trust the people in an in-out referendum. We should ask people if they want to stay a member of this organization. You cannot ignore the will of the people."
David Cameron

2015 April 6

Iran and the Obama Doctrine

Thomas L. Friedman interviews President Barack Obama
New York Times video (46:14)

AR Deeply reassuring.

Large Hadron Collider

"Anti-porn feminism recognises
a link between the propaganda of
sexual violence and its practice,
and stopping porn is understood
to be essential in ending the
rapes, killings and torture that
men practice against women."
Sarah Ditum

Menschen in Teheran bejubeln

die Einigung im Atomstreit.
Sie hoffen auf einen Wirtschafts
-aufschwung und bessere
zum Westen.

"I thought this framework
was going to suck. Actually,
it's not bad."
Jeffrey Lewis

ME nations now worry
about the rise of Iran



Utility and reward: The most
lucrative jobs tend to cause the
greatest harm, the most useful
workers tend to be paid least.

Most frontline care workers
receive less than the living wage.
But those who own or run a care
company make more profit the
more they cut. The less they
care, the richer they become.

Chief executives in the UK took
60 times as much as the average
worker 20 years ago and 180
times as much today. Theft is
praised as wealth creation.


2015 Easter Sunday

CERN LHC Restarts

Press Association

This morning scientists are restarting the Large Hadron Collider after an upgrade. Two years ago the team operating the €5 billion LHC discovered the Higgs boson.

In a few weeks the beam energy level will be raised to 13 TeV. CERN press head Arnaud Marsollier: "We will have collisions at energies we've never had before. If something interesting appears in this new window we will see it."

The first collision experiments should be in June. ATLAS team lead David Charlton: "We're heading for unexplored territory."

CERN live blog

AR I want supersymmetry. A dark matter story would be nice too.

The European Problem

Nick Cohen

Many Conservative party members see the European Union as an aggressive imperial power. Half of them want to leave. Conservatives suppressed a series of civil service reports on alleged EU interference in British life when not one report found that too much power resided in Brussels.

Asking the EU to end the free movement of labour would be asking the EU to abolish itself. Tearing up the social chapter is beyond our powers. The EU does not guarantee strong workers' rights anyway. The Economist: "Britain's workers are a bargain because their pay is so pitiful."

If Britain votes narrowly to stay in, you cannot expect Eurosceptics to accept the result. If Britain votes to leave, many big companies say they will leave Britain. Scotland may join the rush to the door. A UK outside the EU would no longer be the country Scotland voted to stay with in 2014.

After more fiscal consolidation, local government will be unable to provide essential services, the police and armed services will struggle to maintain law and order, and the NHS will crack. The UK would renegotiate trade agreements with the rest of the world from a position of weakness.

AR This Labour man has overstated his case, but there is a lot of truth here.

2015 April 4

Yemen: Saudi Arabia Versus Iran

Der Spiegel

A Saudi Arabia-led, largely Sunni coalition of nine countries seeks to push back Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. Coalition jets have struck not only military targets but also a refugee camp.

Aside from Israel, no country views the new Iran pact with as much skepticism as Saudi Arabia. Like the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the conflict in Yemen looks like a proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran.

The Sunni-Shiite struggle has the potential to destroy Yemen and turn into a disaster for Saudi Arabia. Ayatollah Khamenei is popular in Iran and seen as a leader who is negotiating with the West as an equal. His adversary on the Arabian Peninsula is the aging King Salman. The war poses great risks to the House of Saud.

Hard Truth

Roger Scruton

The integration of the Muslim community into our cities is a problem. Our political class transferred to teachers the whole obligation to integrate new immigrant communities.

Our society has gone terribly wrong. People have not been confronting the loss of the Christian faith, the inability to confront Islam, the loss of the sense of the sacredness of the sexual relation, and the exposure of young women both to external predation and to moral decay.

The battle to maintain a proper educational system was lost. The multiculturalists wanted to destroy the old education system as they saw it. At stake is the survival of western civilization.

2015 April 3


The White House

Key parameters of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran's nuclear program that were decided in Lausanne, Switzerland:

Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges. Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10 Mg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67% LEU for 15 years. All excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in IAEA monitored storage. Iran's breakout timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least 10 years.

Inspections and Transparency
The IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran's nuclear facilities. Inspectors will have access to the supply chain that supports Iran's nuclear program. Iran will implement measures to address IAEA concern regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program.

Reactors and Reprocessing
Iran has agreed to redesign and rebuild a heavy water research reactor in Arak, based on a design agreed by the P5+1. Iran has committed indefinitely to not conduct reprocessing or reprocessing research and development on spent nuclear fuel.

US and EU nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. US sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place.

For 10 years, Iran will limit domestic enrichment capacity and research and development, ensuring a breakout timeline of at least one year. Iran will remain a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

AR Well done, P5+1 (a.k.a. E3/EU+3).

The Anthropocene

Jedediah Purdy

The Holocene epoch lasted 12,000 years. Estimates put the global human population between 1 million and 10 million at the start of the Holocene.

Now we live in the Anthropocene era. The familiar contrast between people and the natural world no longer holds. The world we inhabit is increasingly the world we have made. We cannot avoid responsibility for the world we are making.

Anthropocene inequality has an affinity with neoliberalism, the global extension of market logic. Environmental economics uses the concept of the externality, a harm or benefit that has no price tag, and so is ignored in market decisions.

Ultimately, the question is the value of life. There is no correct technocratic answer. Either the Anthropocene will be democratic or it will be horrible. Your vulnerability to disaster often reflects your standing in a political and economic order.

Anthropocene ideas can prompt people to organize in new ways. The idea of human rights gained much of its force this way.

AR Think Globorg.

2015 April 2

Iran: A Deal!

CNN, 1910 GMT

Baltic Threat

The Times

Russian generals at a meeting in Germany discussed:

Crimea: Any attempt to return it to Ukraine would be met with force, including nuclear force.
East Ukraine: Any NATO supply of weapons to Kiev would prompt a forceful response.
The Baltic States: Conditions are like those in Ukraine, which pushed Russia to act.

NATO members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are warning the West of Russian ambitions in their territories. NATO is reinforcing them.


Neil deGrasse Tyson

You base governance on things that are objectively true, regardless of your belief system. The issue is not that there are religious people in the world that have one view over another but that you want to legislate that in a way that affects everyone.

There are religions and belief systems, and objective truths. And if we're going to govern a country, we need to base that governance on objective truths, not your personal belief system.

2015 April 1

America Versus Iran


Iran is using talks to shield its hegemonic ambitions in the Mideast. Its Revolutionary Guard Corps and a host of proxies are filling the power gap left by the US departure from Iraq and the collapse of authoritarian governments.

Der Spiegel

The United States is currently rethinking the Mideast. Hopes of a nuclear deal with Iran leave relations with Israel at a new low. Fracking liberates America from Gulf oil, so when Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran fight for regional supremacy America may align with Iran.

President Obama sees Islamic State as the danger and Iran as the victor. The most powerful man in Iraq is Iranian general Qasem Soleimani — "Supermani" — who leads the al-Quds Brigades, a private army under the control of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Americans are impressed by his professionalism and see his elite troops as their boots on the ground.

A shift in US-Iranian relations is under way. The nuclear conflict between Tehran and the West is over a decade old. A breakthrough seems possible. The West wants the IAEA to be able to inspect all facilities at any time and without prior notification. But Iran blocks any measures that might limit its national sovereignty. The two sides face a stalemate.

Ayatollah Khamenei: "Just like the Americans, I am of the opinion that no deal is better than a bad deal."

AR Let's befriend Iran.

Back to Top