BLOG 2015 Q4


What Is Islam?
Shahab Ahmed

"Not merely field changing,
but the boldest and best
thing I have read in
any field in years."
Noah Feldman

"What Shahab Ahmed has
accomplished in this book
is to create a postcolonial
ontology of Islam."
Robert Wisnovsky

Lemmy, Motörhead
Ace of Spades

Hulton Archive
Fairy Tales
Ellen Handler Spitz

Fairy tales seek the truth
and glimpse greater things.
We are hooked by the imagery
and by the gaps, by deep
yearning and terror.
They beckon us.

Poor Sauds

The Saudi ministry of finance
will roll out austerity reforms
and privatization plans. The
Saudi budget deficit in 2015 is
about $100 billion and revenue
$160 billion. Fiscal discipline
may reduce the deficit in 2016
with revenues forecast at
$140 billion.

AR Stop funding Salafism.

Chen Man
China counters terrorism

AR Here in Poole the warm
weather continues. Before
breakfast I ran miles along
the beach and returned to
where I'd parked my shoes
to find them gone — I had
to run home barefoot.
Tough feet, old shoes,
no problem.

AR Gray was at my Oxford
college, a year ahead of me.
Once over brandy and cigars
in the SCR, I told Isaiah Berlin
that I was trying to reconcile
Hegel and Frege in logic via
set theory and he replied with
an ironic smirk: "Good luck!"



AI Aces IQ Tests

MIT Technology Review

IQ tests usually include verbal reasoning questions that are hard for an AI. Huazheng Wang and others at the University of Science and Technology of China and at Microsoft Research in Beijing built a deep learning machine that outperforms most humans at them.

Data mining techniques can analyze huge bodies of texts to find the links between words they contain. The statistics of word patterns show how words relate to each other in a huge parameter space. Words are represented by vectors in this space. Google language translation takes word sequences in different languages represented by similar vectors as translations of each other.

Words with multiple meanings make IQ questions harder, so the new approach takes each word and looks for other words that often appear nearby, then checks how their vectors are clustered, then looks up the words in a dictionary and matches the clusters to each meaning by comparing sample sentence vectors to the clusters. An algorithm sets an approach for each category of IQ question.

The team compared their AI scores on IQ tests with human scores. Average human scores were lower. Human performance on these tests tends to correlate with educational background. The AI method scored better than most university graduates.

Black Holes

New Scientist

FRBs, fast radio bursts, are thought to come from deep space. So far, 11 have been observed. They may be signals from black holes behaving in a new way.

In one approach to quantum gravity, the quanta of spacetime are tiny interlocking loops. A black hole might shrink to a density where the loops press together and bounce. As the black hole shrinks, the probability of quantum tunneling rises until it pops out as a white hole, spewing out hot stuff.

Carlo Rovelli and others calculated that an exploding black hole would emit signals at a wavelength equal to its diameter. For primordial black holes, the wavelength is between infrared and radio waves. Their predictions for an exploding or bouncing black hole signal match the observed FRBs.

Time slows down in a gravitational field. A massive black hole with stronger time dilation would take longer to bounce. Primordial black holes are generally tiny, like ticking time bombs. The smaller ones will explode earlier in cosmic history, with FRBs at shorter wavelengths. This could be tested.

More prosaic ideas come to mind. FRBs may be emitted by young pulsars. Or they may be the call sign of a distant alien civilization.

2015 December 30

Imperial Europe

Edward Lucas

Imperial Europe prizes effectiveness over democracy and national sovereignty. The ship may sink. The best bet for vassal states like Britain or France is to stay on board.

The imperial competition directorate is a formidable bureaucratic weapon with prosecutorial powers. Charged with maintaining the integrity of the single market, it defends consumers against monopolies and protectionist governments and it can levy fines that humble the biggest global companies. Singlemarketland is the richest and most powerful economic entity in the world.

The imperial eurozone is turning into the state of Euroland, with an interventionist central bank, a bailout fund, enforceable fiscal rules, and common banking supervision. North European exporters will benefit from an artificially low exchange rate and will subsidize the south Europeans to reform and regain competitiveness.

The imperial passport-free travel zone is turning into Schengenland. With 26 countries, this incipient superstate is a benefit that ordinary Europeans truly value. It has come under threat from terrorism and uncontrolled migration, so Schengenland now has its own army to protect its external frontier and police to ensure an effective criminal justice system.

Most voters are not yet ready to accept imperial Europe and to forswear national sovereignty. They could sink the ship. But the consequences would be catastrophic.

Ahmed on Islam

Elias Muhanna

Shahab Ahmed was a scholar of Islamic studies at Harvard. He argued that the interpretation of Islam through western scholarship obscured the historical and human phenomenon of Islam. He died this year aged 48.

At Princeton, Ahmed studied the Satanic Verses incident in which the Prophet Muhammad was said to have mistaken some verses suggested by Satan as being part of the divinely revealed Koran. Ahmed found a consensus on the event in contrast to the doctrinal rejection that emerged centuries later.

At Harvard, Ahmed taught graduate seminars. He covered a tremendous braid of narratives in an intellectual tradition spanning over a millennium. He left the Satanic Verses project incomplete but wrote an introduction: What Is Islam?

A belt of Muslim societies stretched for five centuries from eastern Europe and southern Asia into northern India. Islam embraced the rationalism of Avicenna, Sufi mysticism, a celebration of art, a taste for literary ambiguity, and distinctions between public and private selves and legal and other norms.

Avicenna advanced the idea of a superior truth accessible to philosophers and a lesser version of that truth communicated via such prophets as Muhammad. This understanding of the relationship between reason and revelation prompted charges of heresy, but Avicenna won the argument across the Islamic world.

Ahmed defines Islam as an engagement with the larger reality within which the Koran was revealed. The history of Islam comprehends not only literalists who hold to the Koran and the Hadith but also Islamic philosophy and Sufism, and everything in between. The challenge facing modern reformers is to use the history to explore Islam.

2015 December 29

The Year in Review

US Department of State

US foreign policy achievements in 2015:
Diplomatic relations re-established with Cuba
Winning fight against violent extremists
Protecting Arctic climate and communities
Iran peaceful nuclear program ensured
Stemming tide of Ebola outbreak
Committing to ambitious development goals
Open door to free trade
Protecting health of our ocean
Strongest climate agreement ever negotiated
Bringing peace, security to Syria

AR Uh? This is Orwellian.

US vs Daesh

Foreign Policy

In a 2007 report, Professor Joseph Nye and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said that to solve its problems the United States needs a mix of hard and soft power. Their commission included former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel; Senator Jack Reed, now the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Representative Mac Thornberry, now the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee; and former CENTCOM commander Marine General Tony Zinni. The big line in the report: "Soft power is the ability to attract people to our side without coercion."

A smart power campaign directed against Daesh might look like this:
1 Recognize that the cost will be high.
2 Seek a collective, truly international strategy for the region.
3 Focus on drafting and resourcing a powerful collective strategic narrative.
4 Jobs, jobs, jobs.

Some cynics will say that this sounds laughable.

AR Well, yes: A narrative is more than a soundbite.

Germany vs Daesh

Constanze Stelzenmüller

When Germany recently signed up to the coalition against Daesh, the world took note. Its postwar polity had saddled Germany with the reputation of being shackled by remorse for the second world war and the Holocaust or even of freeloading on defense and security.

Germany inched its way into post-cold war military deployments only cautiously and slowly. It refused to join US-led coalitions in Iraq or Libya. But since 1999 Germany has committed thousands of troops to missions worldwide and is doing its bit in NATO operations.

Germany is not alone in struggling to articulate security strategy in a changing global order. We must make our democracies more resilient. But we must also make clear that we stand with our allies. Attacks or provocations will have consequences.

Responses need not always be military. Sanctions and diplomacy have worked against both Iran and Russia. The mass flight of Syrians from their homeland has alarmed and infuriated Daesh. Germany has responded well.

AR True: Without people Daesh is dead.

Saudi Arabia vs Daesh

Nawaf Obaid

Daesh is at war with the Saudi religious establishment to determine who espouses the purest tenets of Sunni Islam. As the custodian of the holy sites and the host for the hajj, Saudi Arabia leads all Muslims in fighting Daesh. Its new Muslim coalition to fight terrorism confirms that it is neither the source of Daesh nor aligned with Daesh. Consider:

1 Both Saudi Arabia and Daesh claim to be Salafi. This is how the Prophet's followers under the first three caliphs practiced Islam. The kingdom is Salafi, but the Daesh claim to be Salafi has no theological basis. Daesh follows a sect known as the Kharijites, who defected from the ummah during the reign of the fourth caliph Ali (whom they assassinated). The Kharijites said anyone who disagreed with them should be murdered as infidels (takfir), including women and children (isti'rad), or tortured to test their faith (imtihan).

2 Daesh has committed an act of disobedience that nullifies its Salafi pretenses. In original Islam, the highest authority is the guardian of the ummah (wali al amr). Saudi Arabia is this authority today. King Salman is the wali al amr. The proclamation (bay'ah) is a contract between the ruler and the ruled in which the ruler swears to promote Islam and the welfare of the ruled, and the ummah swears to obey (ta'ah) the tenets of Islam and follow the wali. The bay'ah is fundamental to Salafism. Daesh has broken the bay'ah.

3 Daesh and Saudi Arabia are locked in a theological struggle from which only one can emerge victorious. The core mission of Daesh is to restore the caliphate. Given that Saudi Arabia is the epicenter of Islam, the Daesh road to the caliphate lies through the Saudi kingdom and people.

Daesh is a threat to the entire world. Only a coalition led by Saudi Arabia can both defeat and delegitimize it in the eyes of all Muslims.

AR We need to rid the world of Salafism.

2015 December 28

Daesh in Iraq


Iraqi troops have retaken the city of Ramadi from Daesh. Iraqi TV showed Iraqi soldiers celebrating the "liberation" of the city, about 110 km from Baghdad. Ramadi fell to Daesh in May. It citizens are mostly Sunni and the Iraqi troops are mostly Shiites.

US-led coalition spokesman Colonel Steve Warren: "The clearance of the government center is a significant accomplishment and is the result of many months of hard work by the Iraqi Army, the Counter Terrorism Service, the Iraqi Air Force, local and federal police and tribal fighters."

Daesh in Afghanistan

Robert Fisk

US commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan General John F. Campbell says Daesh has surfaced in Afghanistan.

President Obama says the US "commitment to Afghanistan and its people endures" and Afghan forces are "fighting for their country bravely and tenaciously" as they try to hold urban areas. UK General Dannatt last week on the fall of Sangin: "We left Afghanistan in a situation where the Afghans were in control and the future was in their hands. It is not a great surprise that the Taliban have continued to push in southern Afghanistan."

We invaded Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Now we want the Taliban to fight against Daesh.

Daesh in Gaza

Sarah Helm

Hamas runs the de facto government of Gaza. Its members are seen as infidels by Daesh because they place the battle for Palestine before the campaign for a caliphate. Daesh supporters in Gaza have been firing rockets into Israel.

A video posted online by Daesh on June 30, 2015, shocked Hamas: "The point of jihad is not to liberate land, but to fight for and implement the law of God ... We will uproot the state of the Jews and you [Hamas] and Fatah [the PLO faction] ... and you will be overrun by our creeping multitudes."

In recent months, Hamas has persuaded moderate Salafi sheikhs to help convince jihadists that their interpretation of Islam is wrong. Sheikh Omar Hams, director of the Saudi-sponsored Ibn Baz Institute: "A Salaf means an original ancestor, one of those who lived close to the Prophet and observed his actions intimately, followed his ways and his words literally."

The nightmare of being locked inside Gaza with Daesh is worse than all other nightmares the Gazans have faced. If Daesh gains a foothold there, Israel will have to find a solution.

Climate Change


The United States is far from alone in dealing with deadly, destructive weather at the moment.

Heavy rains in parts of South America, blamed on El Nino, have displaced more than 150,000 people across Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Swaths of northern England have disappeared under mammoth flooding, prompting evacuations and dozens of urgent warnings.

Authorities in Spain and Australia, meanwhile, are fighting to get devastating fires under control.

2015 December 27

European Borders

Daniel Johnson

Well over a million asylum seekers gatecrashed EU borders in 2015.

In Hungary, prime minister Viktor Orban stopped the influx with border fences, ignoring threats of sanctions from Brussels and Berlin. In Poland the nationalist Law and Justice party swept to power in October on an anti-immigration ticket.

Countries across Europe blame Germany for the migration crisis. British Labour MP Frank Field: "Defending our borders will become the dominant issue in British politics. It will be the defining issue in the forthcoming EU referendum."

Europe has a problem with the integration of Islam. Countries with the largest Muslim minorities have been the least successful at integrating them. Tighter border controls are clearly necessary for the prevention of terrorism.

Border anxiety looks certain to overshadow 2016.

Trident Renewal

Paul Ingram

BASIC advocates delaying the UK Trident renewal project. The risk of delay has been overstated. The underwater battle space is under major transition, and it is far from clear how new Trident submarines will be able to evade detection from emerging ASW capabilities.

A focus on CASD is a symbolic test of commitment to nuclear deterrence. CASD is grossly extravagant. The case for CASD centers on crisis stability. A future government may not be able to scramble an SSBN onto patrol fast enough. But a surprise attack on the UK is unlikely.

New underwater drones could torpedo Trident

Gott und die Welt verleugnet

Amazon-Rezension von Andy Ross

Warum es die Welt nicht gibt von Markus Gabriel

Die Welt existiert nicht, weil sie zu groß und unbegrenzt wäre - so Gabriel. Die Welt ist die Summe aller Sinnfelder aber nur Sinnfelder existieren. ...


... Durch diesen Mangel zu schauen ist für uns in Richtung Gott und die Welt zu bewegen, schon wieder in einer Dialektik. Meiner Ansicht nach könnte man die Ideen von Hegel soweit modern umsetzen. Dies scheint mir aber wesentlich weiter als Gabriel zu gehen gewagt hat.

Fazit: Gabriel hat anscheinend Gott und die Welt noch nicht ausreichend verstanden.

2015 December 26

John Gray, Isaiah Berlin

Richard Lofthouse

John Gray (Exeter, 1968) on Isaiah Berlin (Corpus, 1928): "I revere and even love him."

Fleeing the Bolsheviks in Petrograd in 1920, Berlin's wealthy Jewish family went to Riga and then to London. He was 11. He went on to outscore the future philosopher A.J. Ayer at finals, take a second first in PPE with less than a year's study, win a Prize Fellowship to All Souls aged 23, and many years later become the inaugural President of Wolfson College and the President of the British Academy.

Gray enjoyed his undergraduate and graduate years at Exeter, where he studied PPE before completing a D.Phil. He left Oxford for the London School of Economics when the chair of Professor of European Thought was created for him. He retired in 2008. He has written more than 30 books and hundreds of reviews and essays.

The Silence of Animals (Gray, 2013) begins with a citation by Arthur Koestler, imagining civilized apes living in harmony with the treetops, while the Neanderthals trampled the forest. From the point of view of the apes, says Koestler, the humans were a barbaric relapse of history. Gray: "Whereas the Victorians retched at the idea of being among the apes, it is in fact humans who have turned out to be the most destructive species."

Gray is scathing about political progress. Getting rid of Hussein in Iraq or Gaddafi in Libya did not result in greater freedoms and democracy. Gray predicted that al-Qaeda would be followed by something worse, he was laughed at, and now we have Daesh. He sees no steady advance toward greater civilization or even human decency. His ethics are based on a negative concept of liberty: "Negative freedom is true freedom because it best captures what makes freedom valuable, which is the opportunity it secures to live as you choose."

Isaiah Berlin: An Interpretation of His Thought (Gray, 1996) cites Berlin: "[T]o sacrifice the present to some vague and unpredictable future is a form of delusion which leads to the destruction of all that alone is valuable in men and societies ... the purpose of life is to be lived."

Forget your delusions, says Gray, and you will be much happier.

2015 Christmas Day

Der Sinn der Religion

Markus Gabriel

Die Welt gibt es nicht. Auch Gott kann es demnach nicht geben, wenn wir unter "Gott" ein solches Prinzip verstehen. Wir wissen nicht einmal, wer wir selbst sind, sondern befinden uns auf der Suche. Wie Kierkegaard und Heidegger erkannt haben, sind wir genau diejenigen Wesen, die sich auf dieser Selbstsuche befinden.

Religion ist das Gegenteil einer Welterklärung. ... Man könnte leicht provokativ sogar sagen, dass der Sinn der Religion die Einsicht ist, dass es Gott nicht gibt, dass Gott kein Objekt oder Supergegenstand ist, der den Sinn unseres Lebens garantiert.

Wer sich mit der Gottesfrage unabhängig von der Geschichtlichkeit des Geistes befasst, verfehlt die Frage eigentlich schon. Dies haben die deutschen Idealisten, aber auch Gadamer zutreffend unterstrichen. Gottes Existenz ist kein Problem der Naturwissenschaften, da Gott selstverständlich nicht im Universum vorkommt.

AR Gut gesagt, Gabriel.



Christmas Eve: Asteroid 2003 SD220 zooms past Earth about 11 Gm away
Christmas Day: Full moon at 11:11 GMT

"We have peace. And that
is what we mark tomorrow
as we celebrate the birth of
God's only son, Jesus Christ, the
prince of peace. As a Christian
country, we must remember
what his birth represents:
peace, mercy, goodwill,
and, above all, hope."
David Cameron

Six Eyes

Senior British spies briefed
Angela Merkel on the threat
posed by Daesh. In return,
she briefed the heads of MI5,
MI6, and GCHQ on Russia. Germany is not a member of
the Five Eyes US-UK-C-A-NZ
intelligence community.

"Today we are setting out
a modern legal framework
which brings together current
powers in a clear and
comprehensible way ...
that sets new standards for
openness, transparency
and oversight."
Theresa May


2015 Christmas Eve


Simon Jenkins

London is to get £5 million of government money to study its need for more concert halls, after £111 million was spent between 2005 and 2007 on the Royal Festival Hall. A garden bridge over the Thames at £100 million or more is currently attracting pledges of public money. Crossrail was easy to fund at £15 billion and Crossrail 2 will cost £27 billion.

Any other part of the UK asking for such sums would be laughed out of court. Walk around parts of north Manchester, South Yorkshire, or Teesside and you could still be in cold war eastern Europe. These places are economically destitute. High speed rail benefits the richer end of a line and will help London rather than Birmingham or Manchester.

Capital city UK must stop sucking up cash and help the rest. All public sector jobs not essential to London should be moved out of town. New transport investment should be between regional centers, not into London. Higher education should move out. Getting students out of London would energize the provinces and relieve the London rental market.

London does not need more big projects. They should be shared across the UK.

AR Poole needs more.

2015 December 23

Britain and Europe

William Hague

As foreign secretary, I was closely acquainted with central bodies of the European Union but had no enthusiasm for them. The European Commission could benefit from spending cuts, the European Court of Justice seems detached from reality, and the European Parliament does not remotely provide democratic accountability. My old friends and colleagues want to leave the EU.

Yet here I part company with them. I distinguish between deploring the state of the organization and deciding it is best to leave it. The importance of the negotiations the prime minister has launched should not be underestimated. What happens at the end of them will make a huge difference to party sentiment, media perceptions, government unity, and British voters.

Without the UK, the EU would be weaker. Amid all the clumsy bureaucracy and failed ideas, the EU has provided the structure and the standards for new democracies across central Europe to establish themselves. The UK would be weakened too. Nationalist dismemberment of the UK or of the EU would only increase the dangers of a turbulent Mideast and a volatile world economy. It is not in our interests for either union to fall apart. I am unlikely in 2016 to vote for Brexit.

Germany and Europe

Edward Lucas

Germans have worked hard to purge the crimes of the Nazi era. Europe is now facing a new Germany. It dominates Europe and enforces rules it believes to be right.

Germans feel they have done the right thing by taking a million asylum seekers this year. They are now asking other Europeans to help out by integrating migrants in their societies too. Germany is also promoting a paramilitary force to police external EU borders.

Germany runs the eurozone and has bailed out sinking south Europeans. It praises progress in Ireland, Spain and Portugal, and expects Greece to improve budget discipline and public administration.

Germany runs European foreign policy too. It dragged reluctant eastern and southern European governments into supporting sanctions on Russia and is even pushing for a deal with Turkey.

Modern Germany wants a strong economic and political order in Europe. Brits see the EU as a shipload of bossy bureaucrats holding them back, and nationalist Brits want to abandon ship in a dangerous old lifeboat. Germans want to make the EU work.

2015 December 22

Apple vs UK 1

Financial Times

Apple opposes a proposed new UK surveillance law. Other big US tech groups agree that the British bill sets a dangerous precedent for national spy agencies.

UK home secretary Theresa May introduced the measures in a draft investigatory powers bill. The bill gives police and security services access to the internet usage records of every UK citizen without prior judicial authorization.

Apple submitted written evidence to the committee scrutinizing the bill. British demands for access to data held in other countries would "immobilize substantial portions of the tech sector" and "likely be the catalyst for other countries to enact similar laws, paralyzing multinational corporations under the weight of what could be dozens or hundreds of contradictory country-specific laws."

Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, and Microsoft will submit joint evidence to the committee.

Apple vs UK 2

The New York Times

Apple says UK lawmakers who talk about gaining court-ordered access to iPhone data do not understand the technology: "The best minds in the world cannot rewrite the laws of mathematics."

Washington lawmakers are calling for the kind of access to text messages and cellphone data that they have with telecom providers.

Apple: "Law enforcement today has access to more data — data which they can use to prevent terrorist attacks, solve crimes and help bring perpetrators to justice — than ever before in the history of our world."

Physics vs Psychology


Modern theories in physics reflect a dangerous departure from the scientific method. Theory has detached itself from experiment. No one has the faintest idea how to access the tiny distance scale of string theory, or on a big scale to see past our cosmic horizon.

George Ellis and Joe Silk: "Physicists, philosophers and other scientists should hammer out a new narrative for the scientific method that can deal with the scope of modern physics."

Bayesian confirmation theory allows for the fact that modern scientific theories typically reach beyond what can be directly observed. It changes the perceived probability of a theory as new information comes in. The Bayesian framework is flexible and connects to the psychology of reasoning.

Richard Dawid cites three arguments that lead string theorists to trust string theory:

1 Only one version of string theory achieves unification in a consistent way. No other theory of everything has been found that works. String theory is the only game in town.

2 String theory grew out of the Standard Model, which also had no alternatives for years. This argument supports argument 1 by showing it has worked before in similar contexts.

3 String theory has unexpectedly delivered explanations for several other theoretical problems aside from the unification problem it was intended to address.

Including such arguments in Bayesian theory opens the floodgates to abandoning scientific principles. Dawid: "But acknowledging that non-empirical confirmation is part of science ... provides a better basis for having that discussion than pretending that it wasn't there."

Bayesian theory does not distinguish between different kinds of certainty. Carlo Rovelli says the confirmation of atomic theory should not be measured in the same units as that of string theory. He warns: "Do not trust your own thinking."

AR Good advice to all thinkers.

Seasonal greetings to all my readers: Keep fit and feel well

Joey and Bob

Liam Fox

The fact that a British prime
minister has been effectively
forced to take the political
begging bowl around European
capitals in order to make the
laws that he believes necessary
for Britain is the best possible
demonstration of the problem.
It is time for us to recover our
birthright. That is why I'll be
campaigning to leave."

AR Fox is a loyal servant
of the UK state.

Female Beauty
Mathilde Grafström

RIA Novosty
Russian S-400 ADS in Syria
grounds US warplanes

Toward Armageddon

"2016 will be the year we
achieve something really vital,
fundamentally changing the UK's
relationship with the EU and
finally addressing the concerns
of the British people."
David Cameron

Tim Peake

COP 21

President Putin orders
Russian military to be
"extremely tough" on
threats in Syria

English Housing
Martin Wolf

The UK government has made English housing too expensive.
It subsidizes home ownership,
penalizes the rental sector,
and neglects poorer people.
It should free up greenbelts
and reward new building.

Angela Merkel
Person of the Year

AR Governments worldwide
must team up to kill off these
financial vampires that suck
hard earned money from
regular taxpayers.

AR Forget the prophecies:
at worst they will parallel the
hints attributed to Jesus in
the New Testament concerning
the Roman destruction of the
Second Temple in Jerusalem in
70 CE and the defeat of the
militants at Masada in 73 CE.
The Romans survived all that
well enough for centuries.


2015 December 21

Against Action

Scientific Alliance

COP21 has changed little. Signatories can make their excuses and promise to do better next time.

The UK Committee on Climate Change says Britain faces steeper emissions cuts. It advises ministers that more than half of new cars will have to be powered by electricity by 2030 and most electricity will have to come from low-carbon sources by 2040 to have any impact on emissions. Solar and wind energy will do little to help as long as they form only a small part of the generating mix. A consensus is growing on the need to develop new technology and invest in nuclear power.

After Paris, those expecting more concerted action will be disappointed. Pragmatism will prevail.

Against Brexit

Wolfgang Münchau

The UK decided long ago not to join the euro and the Schengen zone. But the argument that formal British exit from the EU now would merely confirm that decision is invalid.

The influx of refugees into Germany and the terrorist attacks in France have put a de facto end to Schengen. Border controls are back. And the eurozone will not become a federal union. With no banking or fiscal union the euro is in effect a fixed exchange rate system.

The substantive disagreement between Britain and its EU partners is not technically complicated. Brussels is good at fixing legally intractable disputes. But in the past 20 years a gulf of mutual separation and alienation has opened between Britain and other European countries.

Globalization and European integration produced losers, including some in the UK. Yet overall the country did not lose. Britain could become a leader in Europe.

Against Christmas

Joan Collins

Christmas is a joyous time in our house and I never fail to revel in it. I was raised with Christian values by a Church of England mother to the amusement of my Jewish father and my Buddhist uncle George. I was told that I could choose my own religious beliefs when I grew up.

Multicultural as we were, Christmas was joyously celebrated each year. We had a small tree, simple decorations, one gift each and a stocking for Jackie, my cousins and me. This would contain a small puzzle, a tiny book or comic strip and a few sweets or an orange. How things have changed!

At Christmas in Birmingham a few years ago a cab driver told me: "We can't even call it Christmas — it's Winterfest here — otherwise it offends them."

Against Daesh

Mustafa Akyol

The Daesh magazine Dabiq recently attacked the old idea of "irja" (postponing). Faced with strife among the first Muslims, proponents of irja said the question of who is a true Muslim should be postponed to the afterlife. Faith was for God to judge.

The "murjia" (postponers) soon sank as a heretical sect. They left a mark in Hanafi-Maturidism in the Balkans, Turkey, and Central Asia, but today there are no murjia. The word irja is seldom heard among Islamic theologians.

The authors of the Dabiq article accuse other Islamist rebel groups in Syria of irja because they do not chop off hands and heads or force women into black bags. Many millions of Muslims around the world engage in irja. They cite the verse saying there is no compulsion in religion, accept modern liberalism, or recall Sufism. Daesh targets them all.

Fellow Muslims, wear the irja badge with pride. It denotes piety with humility. Only the arrogant judge other men in the name of God.

2015 December 20

Saudi Initiative

The New York Times

Saudi Arabia will organize a military coalition of 34 Islamic nations against terrorism. A Saudi prince said it would not be limited to fighting Daesh but that Riyadh would "coordinate and support military operations to fight terrorism" across the Muslim world.

The minister cited not only Turkey and Egypt but also Pakistan and Malaysia as members of the coalition, though the latter said they were unaware of the plans. Muslim countries not cited include Iran, Iraq, Oman, Algeria, Indonesia, and Afghanistan.

Saudi Arabia finances the Wahhabi religious schools and clerics spreading extremism. The proposed coalition may be an attempt to divert attention from the Saudi military intervention in Yemen and defer a reckoning for its own role in spawning jihad.

Conservative Thought

Roger Scruton

The paucity of conservative thought is partly the effect of the dominance of the left. If you come out as a conservative in a university context, you will find yourself very much on the margins. Conservative thought consists in recognizing that human life is an end in itself and not a means to replace itself with something else.

Liberation and social justice have been bureaucratized. Social justice has become a process of legislating to ensure that nobody is discriminating or standing out above anybody else. Liberty is conceived as a form of empowerment from the state in the form of vouchers or privileges. Both those ideals have become the property of the state.

The traditional way to reconcile a serious moral order with economic freedom was through religion, which removed certain things from the market. Sex is removed from the market and made into a religious ceremony. This the great benefit that religion has conferred on people down the centuries.

Rites of passage are not personal possessions but possessions of the whole community. They are the ways the community defines itself and its obligation toward the next generation. My marriage means my children as much as my wife, and those children are the product of our union. Our whole being on Earth is vindicated in them.

Homosexuality is not one thing. Lesbianism is usually an attempt by a woman to find the love she can no longer get from men. Male homosexuality is hugely promiscuous. There is also an obsession with the sexual organs and with the young. Homosexual desire between men is not the same as heterosexual desire. This does not mean condemning people or discriminating against them.

Muslims have to face the fact that in the UK women do not hide their face in public. We define our relations with each other through the idea of the I-thou relationship. We have to stand up not only for free speech but also for all that we have inherited from the Enlightenment and from Christianity.

2015 December 19

The Secret State

Matthew Parris

UK ministers are increasingly slipping through contentious laws in statutory instruments (SIs). Primary legislation is passed by parliament as acts that often delegate power to ministers to frame detailed orders in SIs. The SIs are the real nitty-gritty.

Modern governance micromanages our lives. This requires fiddly regulations. We hate them but we need them. The secondary legislation can also be "not in front of the children" lawmaking, the children being MPs. The SI is discreet. Government departments love short acts and long SIs.

The House of Lords can kill SIs by a "fatal resolution" but rarely do so. Lord Strathclyde proposes to revoke its license to kill and leave a mere power of delay. This would make the SI route even more attractive to government business managers.

This issue should worry lawmakers. The lords' remit is to ask whether an SI is technically sound, no more. Imagine a new act authorizing the home secretary to do anything she liked through secondary legislation. Faced with her Home Office General Powers (Slaughter of Male Babies) Regulations (2015), the peers would be powerless to stop the slaughter.

Parliament needs a way to stop dodgy secondary powers being sneaked into draft legislation. MPs vent their rage about threats to parliamentary sovereignty from abroad and nod through the undermining of democracy by our executive at home.

AR Ich vertraue die SI-Verfasser nicht mehr als die Bürokraten in Brussels.


Brendan Simms

A hostile British exit from the European Union would be bad for the UK. A legislative repatriation of UK sovereignty as the EU slipped into crisis would be shattering for the EU.

Existing views of the EU make little sense. The belief in Berlin and Brussels that political union will follow currency and fiscal union in the eurozone is doomed to failure. Austerity will crush the periphery and leave Germany in control. The UK vision of a looser EU fails in face of a belligerent Russia. The looser the bonds, the weaker the EU response to outside threats. A weak and unstable EU is not in British interests.

A single EZ state needs to be constructed by consolidating debt, foreign policy, and border security.
It would save the euro and enable NATO to secure the east for generations. A united EZ in confederation with the UK and in NATO is in British interests.

AR Ich habe dieses Stück schon im Blog zitiert (2015-07-11) — aber es hat noch Wucht.

2015 December 18

Merkel Gives Cameron Hope

The Times

Angela Merkel threw David Cameron a lifeline last night by promising European Union treaty change after he was forced to start retreating from his demand to limit migrant benefits.

The German chancellor came to his rescue during lively late-night talks at a summit in Brussels. Cameron said the talks had cleared "a pathway to an agreement" but that it would be difficult.

Merkel macht Cameron Hoffnung

Der Spiegel

Kein großer Fortschritt in der Flüchtlingskrise, weiteres Tauziehen mit den Briten - die Gipfelnacht von Brüssel brachte wenig gute Neuigkeiten. Doch Kanzlerin Merkel ist voller Optimismus.

Die beteiligten Staats- und Regierungschefs haben vor allem über die Flüchtlingskrise und Großbritanniens Forderung nach Reformen der Europäischen Union diskutiert. Merkel setzt darauf, dass Reformen zunächst zwar viel Zeit kosten, die Effekte dann aber schnell spürbar seien werden.

Deeper Learning

Will Knight

Gary Marcus founded Geometric Intelligence while on leave from NYU. He says his work on how the human mind works can help researchers make better artificial intelligence.

Algorithms that roughly model neurons and synapses gave rise to an approach known as deep learning. But deep learning systems need to be fed many thousands of examples to learn something, which is not how the human mind works. The brain can acquire deeper abstractions from relatively little data. Machines that learn such abstractions quickly would be an improvement.

Marcus became fascinated by the mind in high school after reading The Mind's I, an anthology edited by Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett, as well as Hofstadter's book Gödel, Escher, Bach. Around then, work in AI used logical programming languages, which soon proved impossibly complicated. Artificial neural networks eventually led to the modern deep learning approach.

Marcus computerized the analysis of cognitive research data. He says the human mind learns both from examples and by generating rules. Hence Geometric Intelligence.

AR The Hofstadter and Dennett books fascinated me too. Hence Mindworlds.

2015 December 17

Britain in Europe

Sir John Major

The British government's renegotiation of the terms of UK membership of the European Union is important but it should not decide whether or not we remain inside the EU. Flirting with leaving is dangerous. Splendid isolation would not be in our interests. If we left the EU it would not be a friendly departure; it would be very acrimonious.

Britain Stronger in Europe

The Guardian

Britain Stronger in Europe campaign head Lord Rose says the UK would have to pay £11 billion in new tariffs if it left the EU and had to trade with the EU using WTO rules.

Campaigners for Brexit propose a deal ending all budget contributions, ending free movement, repatriating economic regulations, and yet retaining full access to the single market.

Rose: "They do not have a credible or achievable alternative which can replicate, let alone improve upon, the benefits the single market brings, and if they were to pursue their terms as currently proposed there would be a real risk of Britain leaving Europe with no trade deal at all."

UK prime minister David Cameron wants a political agreement that the issues concerning the UK will be addressed in time for detailed agreement at an EU summit in February.

German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We will not call into question the core principles of European integration. These include in particular the principle of free movement and the principle of non-discrimination between European citizens."

AR I back Merkel on this.

2015 December 16

Paris: One Small Step

Martin Wolf

The Paris climate agreement is more than the world could have reasonably expected a year or two ago. But it is also less than we need to steer our civilization on Earth from possible disaster.

The negotiators showed that the global community can agree to act in response to a shared danger. A process of peer review will ensure transparent and comprehensive reporting and monitoring. But a global carbon price is needed. So is technological innovation. This agreement is only a small step.

Peake Experience

The Times

British astronaut and former Apache pilot Major Tim Peake is the 221st person to live aboard the International Space Station. His working day there will be filled with studies in physiology, biology, space science, fundamental physics, materials science, and Earth observation.

Peake: "The first sunrise was spectacular!"

Sacred Egregores

Sarah Perry

Taboos and fetishes can be weaponized. Holding them sacred can be an engine of cooperation or a destructive plague. Preference falsification, the tendency for people to express a public preference differing from their private preference, is part of the mechanism. When people falsify their preferences, they can no longer team up to desacralize taboos and fetishes.

Ideas of what is sacred can cause people both to lie and to change their private preferences. The ideas can bind people and blind them. Things held sacred define an in-group and an out-group. When values are costly enough to assure sincerity, attacking rivals or heretics provides evidence of commitment. A battle over what is sacred is won when dissent is replaced by preference falsification. Most people can alter their perception of what is sacred based on social cues.

People have a dual self. The bee self is social, observant of the sacred, and highly public. The ape self likes instant gratification and is resistant to cultural expectations. The bee self is usually seen from the imagined perspective of others. The ape self is felt from inside. Holding costly ideals sacred involves a negotiation between the ape self and the bee self. The bee self demands husbandry of preferences to balance different preferences.

An egregore is an occult concept representing a thought form or collective group mind. Examples are gods or demons or dictator cults. Positing beings like governments, religions, or institutions may seem odd, but the actions of a government are built via human agents. Obeying an egregore can look like preference falsification. The idea that people can agree to choose or create an egregore on the bee level that gives them the most benefits on the ape level presupposes freedom of choice. That freedom is vulnerable to virulent sacred egregores.

AR Allah!

2015 December 15

Defeating Nationalism

Gideon Rachman

FN leader Marine Le Pen says politics is increasingly a contest between nationalists and globalists. The defeat of FN and the climate accord were successes for the globalists. Ultimately, the nations of the world are compelled to work together in the common good.


Lamenting Israel

Ron Rosenbaum

The state of Israel may not survive. This is my lament.

Nukes. Ayatollah Khameini: "Some Zionists have said that due to the outcome of the nuclear negotiations, we have been relieved from worry about Iran for 25 years. But we say to them, you will essentially not see the next 25 years, and with the grace of God, something by the name of the Zionist regime will no longer exist in the region."

In a nuclear exchange, even if an Israeli retaliation resulted in the loss of millions of Iranians, millions more would survive, while most of the Jews in Israel would be dead. With one bomb.

Knives. Daesh beheading videos flaunt a knife cutting a throat. The fetishization of knifing began with the knives drawn through the throats of Daesh captives, in episodes redolent of ritual slaughter, now urged upon all Palestinians as a sacred act.

No two-state solution is going to overcome the incessant Palestinian incitement to murder Jews and to celebrate the murderers as martyrs in the cause of destroying the Zionist entity. No political settlement is going to end the threat of knife murderers.

Siege. Look around Israel on a map:

North: Hezbollah in Lebanon has up to 100,000 missiles. It is now allied with a nuclear superpower on the ground. Hezbollah has an umbrella.

East: Daesh may already be in the West Bank and Gaza, and is just across the border in Syria. The beheaders will soon be near the city limits of Tel Aviv.

South: Hamas still has a sacred mission embedded in its covenant to murder all Jews.

West: Any properly equipped fishing trawler has the capacity to lob a nuclear weapon onto Haifa.

Blame religion.


2015 December 14

Defeating Daesh

Café Philo

AR Our meeting last night of a couple of dozen amateur philosophers was animated and passionate. The consensus was that Daesh represents a serious threat to western values and interests that has to be met at the level of ideas before final victory can be declared. My argument that we need to put a secular frame around the belief structures of all three Abrahamic monotheisms met with general acceptance. The Christian fundamentalist among us dissented.

EU Exceptions

Boris Johnson

Denmark and Britain are both members of the European Union. We both hold dear the four freedoms: cross-border movement of goods, people, services, and capital.

Danish property law is exceptional. A Dane can easily buy a home in the UK, but the Danes make it difficult for a Brit to buy one in Denmark. They negotiated their exemption when they joined the Common Market.

Like the Danes, Britain is a special case. Like Germany, the UK is one of the biggest magnets for immigrants. Unlike Germany, the UK has a high rate of population growth, largely driven by recent immigration.

We need to hear soon about how Parliament can halt the tide of EU regulation and regain some control of our borders. If the Danes can be exceptional, so can we.

2015 December 13

Paris Climate Deal

The Guardian

1 Limit: Governments agreed to limit warming to 1.5 K above pre-industrial levels. A rise of more than 1.5 K risks triggering serious tipping points in global climate. A 1 K rise is already fact.

2 Promises: Pledges so far to cut or curb carbon emissions will not prevent a rise of 2 K and may lead to a 2.7 K rise.

3 Goal: Countries pledge to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases — for net zero emissions between 2050 and 2100.

4 Review: A review of pledges every five years is intended to keep warming under 2 K.

5 Losses: A mechanism for addressing the financial losses vulnerable countries face from climate impacts excludes compensation.

6 Money: Finance to help developing countries adapt to climate change and transition to clean energy is not legally binding. A flow of $100 billion a year will continue beyond 2020.

AR Encouraging show of global cooperation, tho nature may overrule our efforts.

Festung Europa

The Times

David Cameron says he is ready to send British police, border guards, or the army to help to guard Europe's external border. He made the offer in return for concessions on his demands for a new relationship between Britain and the EU. Germany and France are tabling plans to create an EU border and coastguard force with the power to override the national sovereignty of Greece and Italy to secure external frontiers.

AR Bang on. Good plan.

I Am A Muslim

Fareed Zakaria

I think of myself first and foremost as an American. As an immigrant, that identity came to me through deep conviction and hard work. I also think of myself as a husband, father, guy from India, journalist, New Yorker and (on my good days) an intellectual. But in today's political climate, I must embrace another identity. I am a Muslim.

I am not a practicing Muslim. The last time I was in a mosque, except as a tourist, was decades ago. My wife is Christian, and we have not raised our children as Muslims. I am completely secular in my outlook. I am appalled by Donald Trump's bigotry and demagoguery not because I am a Muslim but because I am an American.

AR Mistrustful as I am of Islam, I support Fareed 100%.

2015 December 12

Rightists Rising

The New York Times

Established parties across Europe and the United States are struggling to counter right-leaning populists like Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen in France, and Viktor Orban in Hungary.

Le Pen is now a contender for the French presidency in 2017. She campaigns against the Islamization of France and against the French government: "They are pulling out all the stops for the migrants, the illegals, but who is looking out for our retirees? They are stealing from the poor to give to foreigners who did not even ask our permission to come here."

Trump wants to close American borders to Muslims. Le Pen: "Seriously, have you ever heard me say something like that? I defend all the French people in France, regardless of their origin, regardless of their religion."

Establishment parties have failed to solve the economic problems that vex most voters. Europeans are gloomy about the state of their economies, and most expect children to be worse off than their parents. In the United States, most voters say government polices since 2008 have benefited the wealthy at the expense of the rest.

Even before the migrant crisis and the recent terrorist attacks, the populists scored big gains in a dozen countries in 2014 EU elections and led the polling in Britain and France.

Russians Riled

Slavoj Žižek

Daesh is a religious gang controlling a small patch of mostly desert land. We should focus on destroying it. But as fierce clashes between the Russian army and Daesh terrorists raged across Syria, a number of injured jihadis entered Turkish territory and were admitted into military hospitals. Turkey was discreetly helping Daesh not only by treating its wounded fighters but also by facilitating the oil exports from its territories and by brutally attacking the Kurdish forces. The Turks even shot down a Russian fighter attacking Daesh positions in Syria.


Michael Ignatieff

Daesh are trying to provoke an apocalyptic confrontation with the West. The human flight from Syria reflects a failure of US and Western policy in response. Syrians see that peace will not return before their children are grown up, and that even if peace does come there will be nothing to return to. So they are flooding into Germany.

The United States cannot afford to leave Germany to take them all. Germans are bearing the weight of the collapse of Syria, but America bears responsibility for its causes. The Obama administration should say yes to the UNHCR appeal to settle 65,000 refugees on an expedited basis.

Taking 65,000 people is a political gesture to encourage others. The goal is to relieve the pressure on the frontline states. The refugees present a national security challenge as much as a humanitarian crisis. Helping Europe deal with them is critical to the battle against jihadi nihilism.

2015 December 11

Angela Fights For Europe

Jochen Bittner

Angela Merkel has long kept Germany out of war. With her decision to send warplanes to Syria, she is acting in the Mideast to save Europe.

The war in Syria pits the authoritarians Assad and Putin and the liberals of Europe and America against Daesh, which seeks to upend them all in its caliphate. By acting in Syria, Merkel is fighting less to destroy Daesh than to save EU solidarity.

Xenophobic views have broken into the mainstream in Europe. If Marine Le Pen becomes the next president of France, she will all but dismantle the European Union. Britain and others would follow France, leaving Germany isolated.

Merkel will show that Germany can take firm action alongside France and Britain against a common European threat.

David Cameron

Financial Times

UK prime minister David Cameron failed to convince Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo to back his plan to reform benefits for EU migrants.

Szydlo: "Free movement of people is a fundamental thing ... we will be convincing our partners to keep this in place ... There is a common direction and the future discussions in January will only take us closer to a solution."

Cameron: "I want to keep Britain in a reformed EU."

Donald Trump

Melanie Phillips

US presidential hopeful Donald Trump says Muslims should be banned from entering the United States until the administration can work out just what drives Islamic violence. His comments are not just ludicrous but morally and politically illiterate, making no distinction between Islamic extremists and the millions of Muslims who live decent, unthreatening lives.

Banning Trump or calling him a fascist is merely an attempt to silence him. The British and French public may not care for Trump or Marine Le Pen, yet they understand that they are saying what is all too obvious but mainstream politicians deny, that the European Union is now a threat to public safety and that Muslim society provides the toxic sea in which Islamic terrorism swims.

Trump was wrong to call for a total ban. But it is perfectly reasonable to object to further large-scale Muslim immigration. The public have had it up to here with politicians and the intelligentsia refusing to acknowledge the fanatical religious roots of Islamic terrorism. They are enraged by the reflexive charge of Islamophobia to silence legitimate concerns.

Arabs vs Aryans


A proxy war between the Sunni Arabs in the Gulf and the Shiite Aryans of Iran is raging in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are disinclined to carry out strikes against Daesh targets if doing so helps Iran's allies in Damascus and Baghdad. They see Daesh as worse for Iran than for Arabs.

LSE professor Fawaz Gerges: "ISIS doesn't just exist in Syria and Iraq, it has major constituency supporters in almost all Arab countries, including Saudi, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Jordan. ... Also, remember that one of the largest contingencies within ISIS are the Saudis."

2015 December 10

Angela Merkel


Angela Merkel became German Chancellor in 2005. This year she managed EU debt crises, led the western response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, and rose to the migrant and refugee crisis.

Merkel agreed to bail Greece out on strict terms. She chose to welcome refugees as casualties of radical Islamist savagery, not carriers of it. And she decided to deploy troops abroad in the fight against Daesh. Merkel brandished values of humanity, generosity, and tolerance. German strength would be used wisely and well, shedding an old and haunting national identity.

The woman who had trained as a quantum chemist made her stand. Protesters called her a traitor, allies warned of revolt, and opponents warned of economic collapse and cultural suicide. Merkel: "Wir schaffen das."

Life and Daesh

Fazel Hawramy, Shalaw Mohammed, Kareem Shaheen

Daesh militants have tightening their grip on Raqqa and Mosul. Raqqa resident Tim Ramadan describes the city now as a giant prison. Mosul resident Raafat Alzirai: "Mosul has become like a big prison and people appear to be sedated with the hope that one day things will change."

Daesh bans smoking and punishes people caught listening to music or using the internet or mobile phones. Hundreds are defying a ban on leaving, often paying smugglers to get them out.

In Raqqa, men must wear loose clothes and unshaven beards and are stopped and searched at random. Women stay indoors. Electricity is available sporadically, based chiefly on the whim of the militants. Propaganda is everywhere. Minor infractions earn a few dozen lashes in a public square. Teenagers run security in the city. Others are sent off as suicide bombers.

Ramadan: "In school ... they bring a bomb to class to show it to the children and tell them they have nothing to fear from it because they are men, and the creative writing exercise is about a boy whose father carries out a suicide bombing ... Can you imagine living like this for another ten years?"

AR No. Common humanity demands a response.

2015 December 9


The Guardian

Jersey is a small island in the English Channel where almost any tax could be avoided. Bankers and tax exiles moved in, driving up prices and importing the morals of the City of London. Their profits in 2007 were more than £1 billion.

Before the crisis, rich Brits put their money into Jersey, where foreign businesses paid no tax and local firms paid just 20%. Jersey helped anyone to avoid anything. It was consistently ranked among the top jurisdictions worldwide facilitating illicit financial flows and capital flight, ahead of the British Virgin Islands, Panama, and Gibraltar.

In 1997, European Union officials took action. They required all member states to tax local and nonlocal companies the same. Jersey's business model was at risk. If it raised taxes, its trade would go to the Isle of Man, Dublin, Singapore, or Hong Kong.

So in 2008, Jersey abolished taxes for all companies except financial firms (which paid 10%) and utilities (20%). Between 2009 and 2010, tax receipts from companies fell by two thirds. The government has failed to fill the gap, and now its budget deficit is £145 million. Officials plan to cut benefits for pensioners, single parents and young people, and to lay off public sector workers.

Jersey's financial sector is still seven times larger than the agricultural and hospitality sectors put together. Its economy is hollowed out. Jersey bet its future on finance and let its other industries shrivel — like another, bigger island off the coast of France.

Imperial Rome

G.W. Bowersock

Mary Beard and Tom Holland have written histories of Rome. Beard starts with Cicero in 63 BCE and closes with the emperor Caracalla in 212 CE, a century before the conversion of Constantine to Christianity. Holland starts in 40 CE with Caligula and tells the story of Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, the megalomaniac who let Rome burn in 64 CE. It seems the name of Christ was known in Rome when Claudius expelled the Jews from the city in around 50 CE.

2015 December 8

Jihadi Prophecy

Rukmini Callimachi

Daesh want the United States and its allies to be dragged into a ground war. The group bases its ideology on prophetic texts stating that Islam will be victorious after an apocalyptic battle to be set off once Western armies come to the region.

Daesh propaganda is rife with references to apocalyptic prophecy about the last great battle that sets the stage for the end times. Terrorism experts say it is a powerful recruiting tool. Potential fighters are promised a chance to battle Western interests and fulfill ancient Islamic prophecies.

The scripture they reference describes a battle in Dabiq and al-Amaq in northern Syria. The countdown to the apocalypse begins once the "Romans" set foot there. Dabiq is now the name of a Daesh magazine that promotes the looming apocalypse. Amaq is the name of a Daesh news agency.

The Obama administration has armed and supported militias in Iraq and Syria to give a local veneer to the tip of the sword, with mixed results. Proponents of a ground assault say an even bigger recruiting drive than the apocalyptic prophecy is the Daesh promise of a caliphate.

Faith Is Not the Problem

Rachel Sylvester

A paper for the UK government says that in many parts of urban Britain different tribes are living "together apart" with an internal cohesion but at best benign indifference and at worse malign antipathy to outsiders. Zygmunt Bauman speaks of "mixophobia" created by insecurity.

The Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life called for the UK to be de-Christianized. But downplaying religion overall is foolish. Not faith but but extremism is the problem. The passerby at Leytonstone station was right to tell the jihadist knife man: "You ain't no Muslim, bruv."

AR Jihadis are like the Waco Koreshis.


Buff Turns 60
The New York Times

The US Air Force Boeing B-52 Stratofortress was built during the Eisenhower administration. Its vacuum tubes have been replaced
with microchips, but its engines still connect to the cockpit by cables and pulleys. The first B-52 rolled out in 1954, the last in 1962.
The Air Force took more than 740 of them at around $8 million each, and 76 are still in the USAF bomber fleet.

Defense officials keep planning replacements. A nuclear-powered bomber was too radioactive, the supersonic B-58 kept crashing,
and the B-70 spewed toxic exhaust. The B-1 flew fast and low, but design flaws and engine fires dogged it in the 1991 Gulf war and
have limited it since. The B-2 had a delicate stealth skin and became known as the $2 billion bomber that cannot go out in the rain.
The next contender, the LRSB, is decades away, so the B-52 is expected to keep flying until at least 2040.

Aircrews in Vietnam called the B-52 the Buff, the big ugly fat fucker. Buffs began bombing South Vietnam in 1965, and in 1972 waves
of them rained bombs on Hanoi in North Vietnam. In the Gulf war, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and the Iraq war, Buffs demoralized enemy
ground troops by first dropping tons of leaflets and then returning the next day with the goods.

The Air Force is trying to change the image of the B-52 to precision weapon. Laser targeting pods under the wings let them drop
smart bombs. Afghanistan Buff pilot Lt Col Sarah Hall: "We're as accurate as a fighter. And sometimes just the sight of the B-52 is
enough to end the fight. The enemy just takes off."

Regional election results:
François Hollande / Soc: 23%
Nicolas Sarkozy / Rep: 27%
Marine Le Pen / Nat: 30%

Shores of Sputnik
Planum, Pluto

Son of Robin Hood

RAF Tornado GR4

LISA Pathfinder


2015 December 7


Barack Obama

The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us.

We will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless. Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon? This is a matter of national security.

60% of Americans disapprove of how Obama is handling terrorism

Plague and Hellfire

The Guardian

The V&A has a new display of European arts and crafts from the age of Caravaggio to the time of Napoleon. Wax tableaux from Naples show emaciated corpses rotting on plague-ridden streets and a screaming soul suffering the fires of hell. An ivory sculpture by Joachim Henne depicts death as a wasted, skeletal maniac waving two drumsticks, beating the march of war and disease.

Plague still menaced Baroque Europe and holy wars ravaged it. But Europe grew and by the age of Napoleon it dominated the world. This is a rich series of galleries to see again and again, a walk from darkness into light. We live in a world the Enlightenment made, the world of science and technology, but it grew from an age when everyone looked death in the eye every day.

2015 December 6

Daesh Plague

Niall Ferguson

Hilary Benn, Wednesday: "We are here faced by fascists."

Wrong. We cannot cram today's problems into the framework of the last century. Fascism was hierarchical, Islamism is a loose network. Fascism was national, Islamism is international.

Dostoevsky, in Crime and Punishment, gave the nihilist murderer Raskolnikov a feverish dream:
"Whole settlements, whole cities and nations, were infected and went mad. Everybody was in a state of alarm, and nobody understood anybody ... People killed each other with senseless rage. Whole armies were mustered against each other, but as soon as the armies were on the march they began suddenly to tear themselves apart. ... Everything and everybody went to wrack and ruin."

This is Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Nigeria today: Islamic extremists turn to massacre while western liberals refuse to see the threat. Dostoevsky's plague is raging. Yet Hilary Benn thinks we are fighting fascists.

AR This is Zombie Apocalypse, WWZ.

Warum es die Welt nicht gibt

Hannah Lühmann

Martin Heideggers Frage nach dem Sinn von Sein ist legendär. Markus Gabriel fragt, warum es alles gibt, nur nicht die Welt.

Ein Sinnfeld ist bei Gabriel der Bereich, in dem bestimmte Gegenstände erscheinen. Wenn wir etwa versuchten, einen Tisch unter dem Aspekt seiner physikalischen Beschaffenheit zu untersuchen, dann wäre dies eben der Tisch in einem naturwissenschaftlichen Sinnfeld. Die physikalische Beschreibung ist aber nur eine von vielen.

Gabriel möchte einen neuen Realismus begründen, der naturwissenschaftlichen Fundamentalismus ebenso wie einen radikalen Perspektivismus vermeiden soll. Für ihn ist Erkenntnis die angemessene Erfassung eines Gegenstandes innerhalb der Regeln seines Sinnfeldes. Er wendet sich gegen den Neurokonstruktivismus, der versucht, der Philosophie die Aufgabe der Begriffsklärung abzunehmen, indem sie alles auf Gehirnaktivitäten als Fundament zusammenschnurren lassen.

Das Erscheinen der Phänomene und die Tatsache, dass sie für uns Menschen immer in Sinnfeldern erscheinen, gehörten zu ihrer Existenz. Sinn sei eine ontologische Kategorie, auch etwas prinzipiell Unabgeschlossenes, weil er endlos Bedeutung produziert.

Gabriel hat das Heidegger-Vehikel aus der Garage geholt und es mit einer neuen Politur behandelt

AR Sinn war für Frege nicht ontologisch. Gabriel schlägt eine Neuigkeit vor.

2015 December 5


Jamie Bartlett

Late Monday night in Dresden, Germany, former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson gave a speech to a large group of PEGIDA supporters.

After Tommy left the EDL he spent time in jail and then worked with The Quilliam Foundation. He still thinks Islam poses a real and growing risk to the culture and identity of Europe. In Prague he met representatives from PEGIDA and the Czech group Bloc Against Islam.

Czech Republic president Milos Zeman spoke at a Bloc rally: "We have no problems with foreigners: there are half a million in the Czech Republic. But this culture is not compatible with ours. Ours is not a culture of murder or religious hatred. The immigrants are young men. Why are these men not fighting for the freedom of their country against Islamic State? Why do they come to Europe? Why don't they stay to make their own countries better?"

Robinson met with PEGIDA organizer Siegfried "Siggy" Däbritz and Bloc leader Martin Konovka. They agreed on a big demonstration on February 6 under the banner:


They say the influx of immigrants from Muslim majority countries poses an existential threat to European identity. They are not racist but talk of human rights, free expression, and democracy.

A UK branch of PEGIDA is planned. Tommy: "No alcohol at any future demonstration. No fighting with the far left. It's too serious now for that stuff."

Destroy Daesh

John Gray

The liberal order in Europe is history. The progressive narrative of freedom has left liberal Europeans unaware of its fragility. Overthrowing despots in the name of freedom, we have put our own freedom at stake. The danger to freedom now is not state power but its absence.

The migrant crisis is driven by a flight from failed or failing states. Many of the migrants are fleeing countries whose states were dismantled by western policies. The West cleared zones of anarchy in which Daesh has thrived. The process released the forces of theocracy.

European institutions lack the capacity to tackle a security challenge of this magnitude. The nation states of Europe are seizing control of their borders to stem a mounting threat to their security. This looks like the beginning of the end of the era of mass migration into Europe.

The European Union claims many of the prerogatives of statehood but cannot deliver the safety that states exist to serve. The Daesh strategy of savagery serves an apocalyptic myth of cataclysmic battles and a universal caliphate. We must destroy Daesh by military force.

AR Tim Snyder said stateless zones led to the Holocaust (blog 2015-09-18).

2015 December 4

Right Call on Syria

Financial Times

After the Paris attacks, France made a specific request to Britain to assist it in targeting Daesh over Raqqa. For the UK to have refused its closest European military ally would have been a dereliction of duty. It would have been especially hard to justify after the passage of a UN Security Council resolution that calls on nations to take all necessary measures to degrade Daesh.

Chatham House experts discuss UK air strikes in Syria

Climate Change

Scientific Alliance

President Hollande said of COP 21: "This is about the future of the planet, the future of life." In fact, the natural world has evolved and developed through ice ages and warm periods. The geographical spread of some species will change and some species may be pushed into extinction, but the natural world will adapt.

Some changes may be uncomfortable for humans. But we can adapt to cope with them. Our main problem is to save cities swamped by the rise in sea levels. Higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide may accelerate this process by a few decades, but it seems inevitable until the Earth enters the next cooling phase.

The Earth has warmed up by an average of 1 K since pre-industrial times, according to some data sets. But the increase is greater at the poles than at the equator, the land masses of the northern hemisphere have warmed much more than south of the equator, and much of the increase is due to warmer nights.

Carbon dioxide is vital for life. Its presence in the air helps trap heat from the Sun, which stops Earth freezing over. Ocean acidification is no problem. Seawater is slightly alkaline and highly buffered, and even large increases in dissolved CO2 only nudge the pH closer to neutral. Sea life evolved over periods when CO2 levels were much higher.

New observations are consistent with the projections of climate models. Given their wide range of outputs, this is unsurprising. Science should be objective and scientists dispassionate.

2015 December 3

Destroy Daesh

Financial Times

RAF Tornado jets launched air strikes against Daesh targets in Syria, a few hours after the House of Commons voted 397 to 223 in favor of extending the strikes over Iraq to Syria.

The debate lasted over 10 hours and ended for Labour when shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn defied his leader to plead passionately for MPs to do their "moral duty" and stand up to the "fascists" in Syria. He sat down to rapturous applause. Conservative foreign secretary Philip Hammond closed the debate and hailed Benn's powerful oration as "outstanding — one of the great speeches".

AR Benn should be the next Labour leader. He would do well.

ESA Launches LISA


A hundred years ago Einstein published his theory of general relativity. Yesterday the European Space Agency launched the LISA (laser interferometer space antenna) Pathfinder mission into space. Inside the satellite two 5 cm gold-platinum cubes will float 35 cm apart in a chamber where their position is measured by a laser with picometer precision. Once the satellite is in near-zero gravity at Lagrange point L1 any movements will be analyzed for evidence of gravity waves, as predicted by Einstein's theory. The mission is a proof of concept for a bigger LISA array.

AR Gravity wave astronomy could tell us a lot about black holes.

2015 December 2


Margaret Wertheim

First coined in 1995 by David Chalmers, the hard problem of consciousness highlights the distinction between registering and actually feeling a phenomenon. Such feelings are qualia.

Physicalists say science can explain consciousness. But if physical laws are causally closed, then consciousness is irrelevant. If a zombie world can be like ours except that its people have no qualia, then physicalists cannot explain qualia.

Modern science left humans feeling like pigs in space. Our moral universe was erased. Then physicists saw a way back for consciousness in our world. In quantum mechanics the observer might be actively involved in constructing reality.

Some physicists want to forget about consciousness, while others seek its neural correlates. Will they explain qualia? Chalmers says no. He insists on the primacy of subjective experience.

AR On pigs in space, see Warum es die Welt nicht gibt by Markus Gabriel.

2015 December 1

Bombs on Raqqa Fill Daesh with Joy

Jürgen Todenhöfer

Since the Paris attacks, western politicians have been walking into a trap. After 9/11, George W Bush's "war on terror" turned out to be a terrorist recruitment program. Daesh is Bush's baby.

Raqqa is a favorite target of western bombers, even though only a couple of thousand Daesh fighters remain in the city. France is currently bombing everything that looks like camps or barracks. And for every murdered child, there will be new terrorists.

More bombing will fill Daesh fighters with joy. We could only make them happier if we were to send in ground troops as well. Daesh fanatics are desperate to live out their imaginary apocalyptic showdown between good and evil by fighting against western troops on the ground.

Ways to beat Daesh:
1 Stop Gulf states delivering weapons to terrorists in Syria and Iraq.
2 Help Turkey seal its long border with Daesh-occupied territory.
3 Bring peace to Iraq and Syria by integrating Sunnis into political life.

AR If it's joy they want, let's give it to them.

Carbon Cuts Cost

Bjorn Lomborg

A Paris treaty will achieve very little in temperature reductions but could cost at least $1 trillion a year. We owe the world more, both in terms of tackling climate change and in spending resources wisely.

If all the promised carbon cuts are made, emissions will fall by 56 billion tons of CO2 by 2030. The cuts needed to stop warming of more than 2 K are over 100 times bigger.

Cutting temperatures by even a trivial amount will cost trillions. Spending money that way — while billions lack food, health, water and education — is nothing short of immoral.

AR Carbon taxes will only please politicians.

COP 21

  IMF Top Ten
  GDP per head at PPP
as % of US in 2014
  1 US 100  
  2 Australia 86  
  3 Germany 85  
  4 Canada 83  
  5 France 74  
  6 UK 73  
  7 Japan 69  
  8 South Korea 65  
  9 Italy 65  
  10 Spain 62  


Houses of Parliament
from the South Bank

  Budget deficit  
    % of GDP  
  2015-16 3.9  
  2016-17 2.5  
  2017-18 1.2  
  2018-19 0.2  
  2019-20 surplus 0.5  
  2020-21 surplus 0.6  
  Cash borrowing  
    £ billion  
  2015-16 73.5  
  2016-17 49.9  
  2017-18 24.8  
  2018-19 4.6  
  2019-20 surplus 10.1  
  2020-21 surplus 14.7  
  Public spending  
    £ billion  
  2015-16 756  
  2016-17 773  
  2017-18 787  
  2018-19 801  
  2019-20 821  
  2020-21 857  


The Perfect Theory
Pedro G. Ferreira

Artist and Empire
Tate Britain, London
2015-11-25 — 2016-04-10


2015 St Andrew's Day

Responsible Development

Narendra Modi

Democratic India is among the world's fastest-growing economies. We are striving to meet the aspirations of 1.25 billion people. The instinct of our culture is to take a sustainable path to development. When a child is born, we plant a tree. Since ancient times, we have seen humanity as part of nature, not superior to it.

The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities should be the bedrock of our collective enterprise. The lifestyles of a few must not crowd out opportunities for the many still on the first steps of the development ladder. Our targets must seek to drive restraint in use of fossil fuel and moderation in our lifestyles.

EU-Turkey Deal

Financial Times

European Union leaders have granted Turkey fast-tracked visa privileges, €3 billion in aid, and a new push for EU membership talks. In return, Turkey will choke off the migrant flow into Europe, offer work rights to 2.2 million Syrians, and take back some asylum seekers who moved on into Europe.

Turkish premier Ahmet Davutoglu called the summit a "new beginning" in EU-Turkey relations but warned: "Nobody can guarantee anything. I wish I could say the numbers will decline but I cannot because we don't know what will happen in Syria."

2015 November 29


The New York Times

German chancellor Angela Merkel has so far rejected requests to limit the influx of newcomers into Germany. But she and other European leaders have tightened asylum policy, restricted family reunions for refugees, and campaigned to keep people from setting out for Europe. Balkan nations on the migrant trail have been encouraged to bar all but Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan refugees.

The new policy culminates in a summit meeting of the European Union with Turkey today. Turkey seeks €3 billion to help care for the 2.2 million refugees it houses. EU leaders are likely to resume negotiations on Turkish EU membership. Carnegie Europe director Jan Techau: "They urgently need Turkey, and without Turkey, they cannot possibly reduce the pressure on their borders."

2015 November 28

International Security

Department of Politics and International Relations
University of Oxford

The one-day conference International Security: Scholarship and Practice explored the ways Oxford scholars are addressing some of the pressing security concerns of the day, from cybersecurity and violent extremism to the resurgence of authoritarianism and the changing ethics of armed conflict.

AR I found this an excellent opportunity to enjoy stimulating and fruitful exchanges with numerous  leading thinkers on global security issues.

2015 November 27

UK Prosperity

Martin Wolf

George Osborne wants to turn the UK into the most prosperous major economy in the world. According to the IMF, the UK is #6 among the "top ten" major economies (excluding small states such as Switzerland and Singapore). Since 1980, the UK has overtaken Italy, and the IMF forecasts the UK will overtake France by 2020. This depends on rising British productivity.

The fiscal deficit is expected to turn into a surplus by 2020. With net foreign borrowing forecast at 2.1% of GDP in 2021, the UK private sector must go into a deficit of 3.3% of GDP. Household gross debt would rise to 163% of income by 2021. This is almost as high as the peak of 168% in 2008. The UK will not become the most prosperous major economy in the world.

Partners Against Daesh

Jean-Yves Le Drian

France and the UK have celebrated the fifth anniversary of a historic commitment. The Lancaster House treaty affirms that there can be no threat to one of our countries that is not a threat to the other. It is a promise that France and the UK will continue tackling their shared security challenges shoulder to shoulder.

Like France, the UK is working to defeat Daesh. Over Syria, British aircraft are supporting the coalition with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. It is now crucial to strike Daesh in Syria.


Christoph Reuter

Daesh may have established several cells in Europe. A million refugees have made Europeans vulnerable. Daesh can exploit this.

Former Iraqi military intelligence agency colonel Haji Bakr managed the strategic expansion of Daesh. Now Daesh is dug in and air strikes alone will not root it out.

Western troops could only launch a ground offensive with Russian agreement. If the West sided with Assad, all the rebels would side with Daesh.

The United States is stymied. In Syria, its Kurdish ally is the enemy of NATO ally Turkey. In Iraq, militias backed by Iran are enemies of both Daesh and America.

Daesh pursues realpolitik. To defeat them, we must do the same.

2015 November 26

Re: Autumn Statement

Martin Wolf

Osborne's starting points remain unchanged and questionable. He insists, above all, that the UK should run an overall fiscal surplus in "normal times". In other words, the government should not borrow to invest, however much higher are the expected returns than the cost of borrowing. It is impossible to understand why such a rule makes sense.

AR Debt repayments are hostage to changing global fortunes. Crisis or war can make debt burdens onerous. Also, the temptation for government to pay off troublesome opponents or special interests by incurring new debt is evidently irresistible. If times are good, the opportunity cost of zero debt can be high. But the private sector can step in.

2015 November 25

Autumn Statement

George Osborne

The Autumn Statement I gave today delivers on the promise we made to the British people that we would put their security first by:
Taking the difficult decisions to live within our means and bring our debts down,
Defending our country's interests abroad and keeping our citizens safe at home.

This Spending Review builds on that with:
Full funding for the Five Year Forward View the NHS put forward
The biggest real terms increase to the basic State Pension in 15 years
A doubling of the housing budget to over £2 billion a year
The phasing out entirely of the local government grant
A new apprenticeship levy to deliver 3 million apprenticeships
Real terms protection of schools budget
The largest ever investment in free childcare
The improvement in our finances used to help on tax credits
An average saving of £30 from projected energy bills

Five years ago our job was to rescue Britain. Today our job is to rebuild Britain.

Spending Review

George Osborne

Since 2010, no economy in the G7 has grown faster than Britain. Our economy this year is predicted to grow by 2.4%.

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast today is that the economy will grow robustly every year, living standards will rise every year, and more than a million extra jobs will be created over the next five years.

The improvement in the nation's finances allows me to:
1 Borrow £8 billion less than we forecast
2 Spend £12 billion more on capital investment
3 Reach the same goal of a surplus while cutting less in the early years

Our approach is to reform and rebuild. The reforms will:
1 Develop a modern, integrated, health and social care system
2 Spread economic power and wealth
3 Extend opportunity
4 Reinforce our national security

In this Spending Review, we choose to build. I am:
1 Doubling the housing budget
2 Extending the Right to Buy to housing association tenants
3 Accelerating housing supply
4 Addressing the housing crisis in London
5 Raising rates of Stamp Duty on purchase of additional properties
For we are the builders.

Today we deliver the Spending Review of a One Nation government.

AR Well done, George!

Quantum Gravity

Don Lincoln

Einstein's theory of general relativity stated that space bends and stretches under the influence of matter and energy. His theory revolutionized our vision of the universe. It explains the behavior of orbiting binary pulsars and the orbit of Mercury. But the beginning of the universe and the region near the center of a black hole are quantum worlds.

Einstein saw the need to understand the quantum realm. General relativity uses differential equations to describe a smooth and differentiable space. In contrast, quantum mechanics describes a quantized world. The mathematics of the two theories are fundamentally at odds. A theory of quantum gravity remains one of the open goals of modern science.

Black Hole Starivores

New Scientist

A fast radio burst (FRB) detected in 2007 released more energy in a few milliseconds than the sun does in a month. Since then, we have found 10 more. A study suggests that when a black hole ingests an inward spiraling neutron star, they interact to generate an FRB.

As a black hole moves within the magnetic field of a neutron star, their orbital and spin motion generates an electric current that flows along the magnetic field lines between them. The power grows as the black hole and neutron star spiral closer. In the few milliseconds before they merge the radiation rises steeply. From a remote galaxy the radio waves appear as an FRB with a distinct fingerprint, with radio emission rising to a double peak in brightness.

Such bursts could help test the theory of general relativity. When two very massive objects collide, the shock should make waves in spacetime. No one has yet seen gravitational waves. But new instruments like LIGO should be able to spot them from an FRB collision.

AR On starivores see a book I edited: The Beginning and the End by Clément Vidal (Springer 2014).

2015 November 24

The Perfect Theory

Pedro G. Ferreira

The theory of general relativity is the scientific equivalent of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Both are unique works of genius and each could only have been done by one individual.

Albert Einstein struggled for seven years to get it right. He worked on his ideas and equations exhaustively and then presented his theory in a series of lectures in November 1915, culminating in a final presentation on November 24. He published the theory on December 2.

The European Space Agency mission Lisa Pathfinder is designed to help find the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein's theory, It is scheduled for launch on December 2.

Daesh vs Rest

New Statesman

Islamic State sees itself as a state. It believes it has achieved the Sunni ideal of a caliphate. It believes it must ultimately confront and then defeat the West in a big battle between truth and falsehood. But it would rather be left to consolidate its position for now.

Daesh is dispirited by the mass migration of Syrian refugees into Europe. It has appealed to them to migrate to the caliphate rather than to the lands of the infidel. Smuggling fighters into France who had posed as refugees may have been designed to exploit fears about the security risk posed by accepting Syrian refugees. For Daesh, any Muslim not backing its project is guilty of heresy.

Daesh wants to eradicate the gray zone of coexistence. Its aim is to divide the world into Muslim and infidel, black and white. It believes that by polarizing the world it will hasten the return of the messiah. This may be its undoing. The wider world is waking up to a threat it cannot ignore.

Britain must decide whether it wants to join in the fight against Daesh or whether it is content to sit on the sidelines. We can join France and the United States at the head of a coalition or we can gamble that others will do the work for us. We cannot win a reprieve from the jihadists.

David Cameron will make a final effort to win a parliamentary majority for bombing in Syria. He may be forced to accept a further diminution of UK standing among allies. The United States, France, and Australia are growing tired of our inability to pull our weight. Russia and Iran have their own interests in Syria that do not necessarily converge with our own.

The British position, of joining the coalition in Iraq but stopping at the borders of Syria, is morally indefensible. The UK is not served well by the impression of British decline and retreat. We are still the fifth wealthiest nation in the world. It matters what we do when our friends are under attack.

2015 November 23

We Will Win

David Cameron

Our Strategic Defence and Security Review is a comprehensive plan to back our armed forces, counter-terrorism police, and intelligence agencies with the resources they need to defeat terrorism and to tackle the many other threats we face.

The United Kingdom will meet the NATO target of spending 2% of our GDP on defence and the UN target of spending 0.7% of GNI on development, while also increasing investment in our security and intelligence agencies and in counter-terrorism.

We will tackle the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism and refocus our aid budget to support fragile and broken states and regions, to prevent conflict and promote the rule of law, good governance, and the growth of democracy.

Our strategy includes deepening our resources and international cooperation on counter-terrorism to detect and foil plots from wherever they emanate in the world. So along with 1,900 new staff for our agencies and increased investment in counter-terrorism police, we will invest in a new generation of surveillance drones.

We will use our renewed economic strength to defeat the terrorist threat and help keep us safe for generations to come.

UK Defense

Financial Times

David Cameron will today pump an extra £12 billion into strengthening UK defenses. The 2015 defense review will include a 30% increase in the counter-terrorism budget, £2 billion on special forces, and a focus on cyber defenses.

The budget increase for defense kit over the next decade will take total spending to £178 billion. The additional spending will maintain defense spending at 2% of GDP, in line with the NATO target.

The budget will include funding for nine Boeing P-8 aircraft to take on the Russian submarine threat. The plan also brings forward the procurement of 24 F-35 aircraft for two new aircraft carriers.

Mistakes were made in the 2010 defense review in 2010, which did not do enough to fight new threats such as cyber attacks or Islamist terrorism and which axed UK maritime surveillance capability. The Boeing P-8 maritime patrol aircraft will fill the gap left by by scrapping Nimrod.

P-8A Poseidon Type 26 Global Combat Ship F-35B Lightning II Scout SV

"The United Nations Security
Council has unanimously backed
action against this evil death
cult in both Syria and Iraq."
David Cameron

ISIL controls an area bigger
than the British Isles

Russians bomb Daesh oil assets

Credit: Shakh Aivazov
Grozny, 1995

Chris Watt Photography
Gordonstoun School in Moray,
Scotland, was founded in 1934
by Kurt Hahn. Princes Philip
and Charles both went there.
Charles described it as
"Colditz in kilts"


2015 November 22


Geert Wilders

Europe has become unsafe as a result of decades of mass immigration from Islamic countries. We should respond to the crisis by voting on crucial national policies in binding referendums.

Leaving the European Union would let the Netherlands adopt its own asylum policies. Support is growing for my Party for Freedom in the Netherlands. We do not want to bring in large numbers of people from a less liberal and less secular culture.

Dutch political elites think they know better than the people. In a direct democracy, citizens are sovereign. The Netherlands would benefit from direct democracy.


Tom Holland

Jihadis are engaged in a thousand-year struggle for global supremacy against Christianity.

When Muhammad embarked on his prophetic mission, most people in the Mideast were Christian. Yet by 650 CE, soon after his death, Arab armies had conquered most of the region and many Christians were under their rule. The Byzantine Empire lost huge territories but still held out.

Christendom did not collapse. In the age of the Crusades it began to go on the offensive. Summoned by the Pope in 1096 to defend the holy sites of Jerusalem, Christian armies set for the Holy Land. In 1099, the Crusaders broke into Jerusalem, and the streets of the city flowed with blood.

Jerusalem remained in Christian hands for less than a century. By 1400, a chain of Muslim lands stretched from the Atlantic to the China Sea. In 1453 the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and made it a bastion of Islam. In 1529, and again in 1683, an Ottoman army almost took Vienna.

Then the British Empire arose. Muslims could no longer ignore the sheer scale of their decline. It was they who were now the imperial subjects, and Islam was looked down on as backward. Many in the Muslim world looked to the golden age of the Caliphate for their inspiration.

Today some two-thirds of Muslims worldwide want to see the restoration of a caliphate.


Karen Armstrong

Daesh savagery has roots in the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia. Members of the Saudi ruling class applaud Wahhabi opposition to Shia and its Salafist adherence to the original practices of Islam.

Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-91 CE) said everyone should study the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet. He opposed Sufism and Shia as heresy. His patron was Muhammad Ibn Saud, a local warlord. Saud enforced Wahhabi Islam with the sword while Wahhab promoted study and debate.

After Wahhab died, Saud's son began the wholesale slaughter of resistant populations. His army sacked Karbala and slaughtered thousands of Shias, and Mecca surrendered to him in 1803. Then the Ottomans defeated him in 1815.

Wahhabism arose again with the help of Lawrence of Arabia. The Saudi chieftain carved out a kingdom with his devout Bedouin army, the Ikhwan, who massacred apostates in their thousands, slaughtered women and children, and slit the throats of all male captives. The Ikhwan continued to raid British protectorates, and even attacked the Saudi king until finally he quashed them in 1930.

The Saudi kingdom abandoned jihad and Wahhabism became a conservative movement. But the oil price rise in 1973 gave the kingdom all the petrodollars it needed to export Wahhabism. Its mosques and madrasas indoctrinated a generation of Muslims with intolerant sectarianism.

Like the Ikhwan, Daesh represents a rebellion against the official Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia. Its caliphate has no support internationally and is derided throughout the Muslim world.


Bernard Jenkin

France has deployed carrier-borne aircraft to bomb Syria. Britain cannot. After the 2010 strategic defense and security review, Sea Harriers jets, the Invincible class carriers, and Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft were all scrapped. Now Russian submarines lurk near Britain undetected. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan used up most British reserves. Now land vehicles are worn out and Tornados are running out of flying hours. The 2015 review is due tomorrow.

2015 November 21


Ben Rhodes

President Obama believes that ground invasions and occupations of countries in the Mideast are not the most effective way of addressing terrorism. US Special Forces will go into Syria to facilitate operations by Kurds and Sunni Arab forces.

There is a humanitarian challenge. Displaced families need a safe haven. There will have to be continued investment in welcoming Syrian refugees to different countries. President Obama admires what Chancellor Merkel has done.


Helen Lewis

Dabiq is a magazine distributed by Daesh. University of Arizona professor Shahira Fahmy found that Dabiq images promoting the idea of an idealistic caliphate far outnumbered photographs of killings and torture. Overall, only 5% of imagery produced and distributed by Daesh is violent.

A Quilliam Foundation report found that the propaganda Daesh distributes in the Mideast often shows the group "administering its civilian population, cleaning the streets, fitting electricity pylons, fixing sewage systems, purifying water, collecting blood donations, providing health care and education" to reassure people that they are living under a functional authority.

Daesh is media literate. Fahmy points to images showing serenity and repentance "suggesting that any individual will always be embraced by the organization and forgiven for past affiliations upon joining the caliphate" alongside others promoting the idea of victimization by the West.

Saudi Arabia

Kamel Daoud

Black Daesh, white Daesh: Islamic State, Saudi Arabia. Daesh feeds on Wahhabism.

Saudi Arabia exports Wahhabism, which aims to restore a caliphate centered on the holy book and the holy sites. Born in massacre and blood, it manifests itself in a surreal relationship with women, a prohibition against infidels treading on sacred territory, and ferocious religious laws. Saudi Arabia is a Daesh that has made it.

The West salutes the Saudi theocracy as its ally but ignores its global sponsorship of Islamist culture. The Saudi royals are caught in a trap. Their clergy produces Islamism, which both threatens the country and gives legitimacy to the regime. Religious television channels have an immense transformative influence on the society.

Islamist newspapers cast the West as a land of infidels. The Paris attacks were the result of its onslaught against Islam. Muslims and Arabs are the enemies of Crusaders and Jews. The Palestinian question, the rape of Iraq, and the memory of colonial trauma are packaged into a messianic discourse meant to seduce the masses.

Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia.


Michel Houellebecq

French governments have long failed to protect the population.

Opinion polls reveal that the French population has always:
Maintained its trust in and solidarity with its police officers and armed forces
Disliked the sermonizing from the left on how to treat migrants and refugees
Been suspicious of the foreign military adventures its leaders have chosen

French politics is discredited. The solution is direct democracy.

AR Last time the French tried that they ended up with Napoleon.

2015 November 20


Adam Kirsch

Captivity is a historical novel about the Roman Empire. Jesus, Claudius, Caligula, Pontius Pilate, and Philo of Alexandria all make cameo appearances. György Spiró views them through a Jewish lens.

The first century CE is well documented. Spiró draws on the histories of Tacitus and Suetonius, the writings of Josephus and Philo, the New Testament, and the Talmud. These sources tell us about the politics of imperial Rome, the religious fervor of Jerusalem, and the ethnic strife of commercial Alexandria, all in the decades up to about 70 CE.

The tale begins with Uri, a poor Jew living in a hovel in Roman ghetto. He is brainy but scrawny and lives on Roman welfare. Like Forrest Gump, he blunders through the margins of historical events.

In Rome, we are shown gladiatorial combat, a client's morning visit to his patron, and a public execution. These scenes introduce us to Roman brutality, hierarchy, and corruption. Uri's father is casually asked for a huge loan by a princely Jewish friend of Caligula, and forced deep into debt.

As favor in return, Uri gets permission to go to Jerusalem. There he ends up in jail, in the same cell with Jesus and two thieves on the eve of the crucifixion. Jesus goes unnamed, and Uri finds out only much later who he is, when the Nazarene cult has turned Jesus into the Christian messiah.

When Uri makes it to Alexandria, he settles into an ancient version of New York City. He becomes the confidant of Philo the philosopher and witnesses a pogrom. This violent uprising of Greeks against Jews reminds us of the Holocaust. By the end of the tale, Uri has survived the Jewish War. Christianity appears as a last echo of Judaism.

A deep pessimism or fatalism pervades this novel. It is a profound meditation on what Judaism meant, and means.

2015 November 19


Bashar al-Assad

Daesh does not have its natural social incubator within Syria. Jihadists feed on the support of the Turks and the Saudis and Qatari, and of course the western policy that supported the terrorists in different ways. Daesh started not in Syria but in Iraq, and before that in Afghanistan.

The timetable for elections in Syria starts after defeating terrorism. You cannot achieve anything politically while you have the terrorists taking over many areas in Syria. After that, one year and a half to two years is enough for any transition.

Economics of Terrorism

John Gapper

To judge by Paris, Islamic State prefers to outsource. From its supply chain to its event planning, it is a multinational. Yet the economic impact of Islamist terrorists is usually minimal apart from on tourism and travel.

For this reason alone, talk of war on Daesh is misguided. The Islamists have formed a state within Syria and Iraq by controlling the local oil industry. Their attacks in "the gray zone" aim to foment a clash of civilizations.

The Paris attacks may dent the economies of several European countries if governments respond by reinstating border controls. Citigroup economists warned this week of a growing backlash against a key element of globalization.

The recent pause in globalization was not due to global jihad. Terrorism is a marketing campaign for recruits. Set against natural events and the rhythm of industry and trade, its effects are economically minor.

War of Ideas

David Aaronovitch

A recent conference in London on Muslim integration aimed to get people of different beliefs to debate with Islamic scholars and academics. Participants attacked the idea of deradicalization as an aspect of western prejudice against Muslims.

This is the stuff taught in British colleges and universities. It says Muslims are radicalized because they are victims of Islamophobia, and any attempt to deal with radicalization that does not admit this is Islamophobic.

Many Muslims will use this view to oppose the UK strategy of tackling extremism by banning preachers from the internet, vetting the political views of people working with children, and blacklisting and banning Muslim groups.

The strategy will provoke resistance. Better to fight the ideas of apologists and relativists with better ideas.

2015 November 18

Smash Daesh

The New York Times

There is no consensus on how to defeat Islamic State. But a resolution of the Syrian conflict and a broader reform of Islam must be part of a solution. If the United States decided to remove the Assad government, it would have the support of Saudi Arabia and Turkey but not of Russia or Iran.

Washington Institute fellow Ehud Yaari: "To beat ISIS, you need the enlistment of the Sunni forces. That won't happen as long as Assad remains in power in Damascus. The shortest and most effective way to deal with ISIS is for the United States and Russia to come to an agreement about the removal of Assad, and they will get support from others. Then the Sunni forces, the rebels, can deal with ISIS on the ground."

Russian experts say the wellspring of radical religious ideology is Saudi Arabia and the Sunni states of the Persian Gulf. Gennady V. Gudkov: "The roots are not in Syria. The problem is far more serious. All the world leaders should think of this: A significant part of the Islamic religion is infected with a tumor that is metastasizing."

A military solution is likely to meet brutality with brutality. To tame an Islamist insurgency in Chechnya, Russians destroyed the capital, Grozny, and even held the families of jihadists hostage.

Former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit: “With this enemy, we have to push aside arguments on law, morality, and comparisons of security and the rights of the individual. That means to do what they did in World War II to Dresden. They wiped it off the map. That is what has to be done to all the territorial enclaves that ISIS is holding."

Finally eradicating all violent jihadi groups will probably require drastic reform of governments in the Mideast: greater accountability, fair justice, better schools, more job prospects.

Reforming Islam

Usama Hasan

Islam is in the middle of a reformation. It needs time to adapt to the modern world. The Ottoman caliphate abolished poll taxes on infidels, gave equal citizenship rights to all Abrahamic monotheists, and scrapped traditional Islamic punishments such as the death penalty for apostates.

Islamic thinkers, theologians, and activists are contributing to the reformation. They are grappling with universal human rights, shared values with other religions and philosophies, gender equality, the status of minorities, the separation of mosque and state, a critique of Islamic scripture, and the promotion of scientific and rational thinking. All agree that Islam needs to be reconciled with the modern world and its interpretations normalized.

Fundamentalist regimes such as those of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, northern Nigeria, and Islamic State have reinstated abhorrent practices from early Islam. Islamic State barbarism has helped show that a future Islam must be based on liberty, equality, and fraternity.

Jihadi Cool

Scott Atran

Islamic State exploits chaos. Its strategy:
1 Hit soft targets. Disperse the efforts of the enemy and drain it.
2 Strike victims when their guard is down. Sow fear, damage economies.
3 Capture the rebelliousness, energy, idealism, and self-sacrifice of youth.
4 Expose the weakness of the West by pushing it to fight directly.

Islamic State spearheads radical Arab Sunni revivalism. This is a dynamic, revolutionary, counter-cultural movement of world-historic proportions. Treating it as terrorism reflects incomprehension of its alluring moral mission to save the world. Its leaders seek to create chaos in the land of the infidel. They see the fact that Europe needs mass immigration to maintain a big workforce as a godsend. European intolerance of immigration makes for chaos they can exploit.

A thrilling cause inspires them. Jihad is fraternal, dynamic, glorious, cool, and persuasive. In 2014 more than 1 in 4 French youth aged 18-24 had a favorable opinion of ISIS, yet fewer than 1 in 12 of the French are Muslim. ISIS recruiters are expert at linking personal grievances into a universal theme of persecution against all Muslims. The ISIS e-zine Dabiq appeals to Muslims caught between the caliphate and the infidel by quoting Osama Bin Laden: "The world today is divided."

AR I was impressed by Atran's 2010 book Talking to the Enemy.

2015 November 17

After the Attacks

The New York Times

Islamic State terrorist attacks are hard to anticipate or prevent. In Europe each one intensifies the xenophobia of nationalists ever ready to demonize Muslims and shut down EU internal borders. Adopting draconian measures of the sort demanded by FN president Marine Le Pen can only further alienate the 5 million Muslims in France.

Prevention of further attacks will require threatened states to find a way to end the Syrian civil war. In Vienna, US and Russian delegates agreed on a draft plan for a phased transition to an interim government and elections in Syria. At the G20 meeting in Turkey, US President Obama talked privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Clash of Civilizations

Gideon Rachman

Samuel Huntington predicted in 1993 that international politics would be dominated in this century by a clash of civilizations. Hardline Islamism is on the rise worldwide as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have used oil money to spread intolerant forms of Islam around the world.

Malaysia has a Muslim Malay majority and an ethnic Chinese minority, but Arab influences have eroded the Malay variant of Islam and replaced it with a more austere and exclusive interpretation.

In Bangladesh, radical Islamists are behind a spate of recent murders and attacks on Christians, Hindus, and Shia Muslims.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is accused of tolerating anti-Islamic prejudice and violence, and in recent months his Hindu nationalist BJP has ramped up anti-secular and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has let religion become much more central to Turkish politics and identity.

In Europe, the migrant crisis had helped to fuel the rise of anti-Muslim parties and social movements.

In the United States, anti-Muslim rhetoric is also rising.

2015 November 16


David Cameron

I am determined to prioritize the resources we need to combat the terrorist threat. This is a generational struggle that demands we provide more manpower to combat those who would destroy us and our values.

AR Count me in.


Philip Stephens

The murders in Paris were an act of war and a gift to xenophobes. Islamic State wants to provoke an anti-Islamic backlash.

The far right will draw false connections between migration and terror. The French National Front makes scant distinction between violent jihadis and peaceful Islam. For them every Muslim refugee is a potential terrorist. Marine Le Pen is seen as a credible candidate in the contest for the French presidency in 2017.

Destruction of Islamic State strongholds in Iraq and Syria will not wipe it out. Ending the war requires a political agreement.

AR Ending it requires military victory first.


Edward Lucas

The security order that protects our civilization has become fragile. It cannot cope with the influx of migrants from failed and failing states. Nor is it managing to deal with the presence of alienated religious and ethnic minorities inside our borders. On current form, defeat looms.

To recover we must want to win. We can only argue convincingly with jihadists if we believe in our ideas as strongly as they believe in theirs. International law, diplomacy and institutions are good ways of settling differences with people who accept the rules of the game. Faced with jihadists who will ruthlessly use force and take risks in pursuit of victory, seeking compromise is a guarantee of defeat, not of peace.

To win, we must accept a few sacrifices. Business and finance are the servants of our civilization, not its masters. Our business people must disentangle themselves from the people who want to destroy us. The European Union needs to start behaving like a great power. No one country can win alone. Together we can win.

AR Without victory, there is no survival.

2015 November 15


Michael Burleigh

The mindless, random violence of Beirut, Benghazi, or Baghdad has come to a European capital. This new assault may well be the beginning of a long wave of assaults. We must grasp this, fast.

Chaotic migration is one consequence as the Mideast unravels. But a campaign of destruction by Islamist fanatics who hate our way of life is more. This is war, said François Hollande. This is total war, added Nicolas Sarkozy.

AR What the fanatics want is a single global polity. The Islamist rhetoric is utter rot. The reality will be Big Brother writ large — GLOBORG


Niall Ferguson

Edward Gibbon described the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in six volumes between 1776 and 1788. He covered more than 1,400 years of history: Decline shaded into fall, with monotheism acting as a kind of imperial dry rot.

Bryan Ward-Perkins writes in The Fall of Rome (2005) that what happened was "violent seizure ... by barbarian invaders" with "horrors and dislocation" marking the "end of civilization" within a single generation.

Peter Heather writes in The Fall of the Roman Empire (2005) of the disastrous effects of mass migration and organized violence: "For the adventurous, the Roman empire ... presented an unprecedented opportunity to prosper ... the Roman state became its own worst enemy."

Like the Roman Empire before it, the European Union has allowed its defenses to crumble. The great migration of 2015 brought millions, most hoping only for a better life. But as Gibbon saw, convinced monotheists pose a grave threat to a secular empire.

Ward-Perkins: "Romans before the fall were as certain as we are today that their world would continue for ever substantially unchanged. They were wrong."

AR History is not destiny. GLOBORG changes everything.

My political friends in
Poole Park, shot by:

Me today

Margaret Thatcher's
blunder corrected


Ice volcano on Pluto

Amedeo Modigliani
A Chinese collector just paid
$170 million in New York
for this 1918 painting

"Modigliani painted Nu couché
in a world at war ... This is a
beautiful act of defiance."
Jonathan Jones

"The climate problem has to
be solved in the rich countries.
China and the US and Europe
have to solve CO2 emissions,
and when they do, hopefully
they'll make it cheap enough
for everyone else."
Bill Gates



2015 November 14


Marine Le Pen

Nous vivons l’horreur. Nous vivons une tragédie nationale.

Hier soir la capitale de la France a subi des attaques d’une barbarie inouïe qui montrent une nouvelle escalade dans la violence du terrorisme islamiste. Pour la sixième fois en 2015, il a frappé notre pays.

La France et les Français ne sont plus en sécurité.

Le président de la République a annoncé l'état d'urgence et le contrôle temporaire aux frontières, c'est bien. Mais quoi qu'en dise l'Union européenne, il est indispensable que la France retrouve la maîtrise de ses frontières nationales définitivement.

La France doit enfin déterminer quels sont ses alliés et quels sont ses ennemis. Ses ennemis, ce sont ces pays qui entretiennent des relations bienveillantes avec l'islamisme radical, ce sont aussi ces pays qui ont une attitude ambiguë avec les entreprises terroristes.

Enfin, le fondamentalisme islamiste doit être anéanti.

AR Laissez Frontex de contrôle des frontières extérieures de l'UE, laissez OTAN mènent des attaques sur Daesh


Spiegel Online

Chancellor Angela Merkel denied on TV that she had lost control of the refugee crisis: "The chancellor has the situation under control, also the entire government."

On finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble describing the refugee crisis as an avalanche, she said: "I say we should show a friendly face of Germany."

On whether her claim "We can do it" still held, she said: "I believe we must nevertheless work toward doing it, and I have no doubt that we can do it."

AR I fear she's lost it.


Benjamin R. Teitelbaum

The Swedish government has announced that Sweden is reintroducing border controls. Across Europe, states like Austria and Germany too are calling for Europe to reinforce its external borders. Swedish efforts have turned to repatriating migrants or relocating them to neighboring states.

Danish migration minister Inger Stojberg said her country would not accept them: "Sweden has had an irresponsible refugee policy for years. They have put themselves in this situation."

Sweden has a population of less than 10 million, but it has been absorbing 10,000 asylum seekers a week, and expects the total number this year to reach 190,000. Municipalities complain that they lack housing, teachers, and doctors for them.

The Sweden Democrats have grown fast since entering Parliament in 2010. Prime minister Stefan Lofven called them neo-fascists. When they criticized his policy months ago for its blindness to logistical and economic pitfalls, he dismissed them. Now they call the tune.

AR Europe faces an existential problem. The crisis will kill the union unless EU leaders rise to the occasion. I say: FESTUNG EUROPA

2015 November 13

Lawrence of Arabia

Bethan Staton

Artists deconstruct the legacy of Lawrence of Arabia this month in an exhibition in Amman, Jordan, organized by Tom Hunter. Lawrence fought alongside Arab forces in the 1916-18 revolt against the Ottoman empire. Lawrence's memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom created a mystique. His whole life seems an orientalist fantasy.

The classic movie Lawrence of Arabia is omnipresent in the exhibition. The film defined the story of Lawrence and the Arab revolt. The narrative it depicts casts a white male adventurer as the leading protagonist of an Arab struggle.

Photographer Lubna Anani: "It's such a horrible movie. It puts Lawrence as the hero. Those people that sacrificed their lives for their freedom, in the movie they show them like thieves, like savages."

Hunter: "You're selling an idea. You're selling a beautiful white man with blue eyes. And he becomes the Madonna of the Desert, and everyone else are his understudies."

Anani: "We're very aggressively putting ourselves in the picture."

AR Is nothing sacred? Lawrence is the Prophet of Anglo-Arab friendship, the movie a supreme classic. Colonialism be damned — the historical truth is clear. David Cameron loves the movie. I do too.

Blood Pressure

The New York Times

Researchers find that driving systolic blood pressure to levels far below what current guidelines recommend — less than 120 instead of 140 or 150 mm Hg (1 mm Hg = 133 Pa) — can save lives and prevent heart disease and strokes.

In a study of over 9,000 patients aged 50 and older with high blood pressure and at least one other risk factor for heart disease, half were assigned to a systolic pressure target below 140 and half were assigned a target pressure of less than 120. After an average of 3.2 years, there were 26% fewer deaths and 38% fewer cases of heart failure among patients who hit a target of 120 rather than 140. To get down to 120, patients took an average of one additional blood pressure pill a day.

Dr. Marc Alan Pfeffer said that previously if a patient over 50 years old with a risk factor for heart disease came into his office with systolic pressure of 136 he would pat the patient on the back, but now he would wish to prescribe more drugs.

Dr. Michael Alderman says the study results mean 6 people per 1,000 annually would avoid a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure: "If there were no, or minimal, harms like a safe one-time vaccination, it would be a no-brainer. But if it means decades-long pill taking by generally healthy folks, the decision gets more difficult."

AR Moral: Keep fit and eat and drink healthily. Don't do drugs.

2015 November 12

Asteroid Rights

The Times

The world's first trillionaires could grow rich by mining asteroids. US Congress has passed legislation granting US companies "finders keepers" rights to natural resources claimed in space. That might includes terabuck quantities of precious and rare metals and water.

AR Or will a Bill Gates of robotics get there first?

Twin Venus

The Independent

The nearby red dwarf star Gliese 1132 has a Venus-like planet in orbit around it. GJ 1132b is slightly larger than the Earth and and has a surface temperature of 500 K, too hot for life as we know it but cool enough to keep an atmosphere. Gliese 1132 is 39 light years away, so this is the nearest rocky exoplanet yet discovered.

AR Twin Earth must be nearby too.

2015 November 11


Patrick Cordingley

We in the UK need to face up to the folly of our huge investment in nuclear weapons. We are bound by our mutual defense agreement with the United States. Our Trident system relies heavily on American expertise and is effectively part of the US fleet. We should explain to the Americans and NATO that the money we spend on our nuclear deterrent would be better spent elsewhere.

AR Investing in the US fleet is money well spent.


Brendan Simms, Timothy Less

The problem with the European Union is its ideology.

The ruling elites transferred power from national capitals to the central European institutions too quickly for most electorates. The EU is reneging on its commitment to democracy. Unless Europeans can solve this problem, the union will be on a glide path to collapse. States will resort to unilateral solutions to urgent problems, member states will start to fragment, Germany will assert its power more forcefully over the rest, and then concessions will loosen the union.

If Britain chose to leave the EU, the states that remained would face the prospect of remaining in a German empire writ large, or leaving. The first to go would probably be states such as Denmark, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. With each departure, the rump union would become ever more dominated by Germany, and others would bail out rapidly. Germany would soon be alone.

Imagine that in 2016 or early 2017, Geert Wilders wins the Dutch elections and forms a rejectionist coalition. Germany unilaterally grants Britain a new deal on membership and Britain votes to stay. Then Marine Le Pen wins the French election in 2017 and demands more concessions. Germany refuses. This triggers French exit. The Netherlands is the next to go. Within weeks, most other states decide to go too, including the UK, and by 2018 the EU is dead.

A collapse would send shock waves around the world.


Walter Laqueur

Timothy Snyder set the Holocaust in the frame of brutal Nazi rule over the lands between Germany and Soviet Russia and the horrific toll in lives taken by the two battling powers. Now he interprets the Holocaust as arising when Hitler faced what he took to be looming ecological crisis and national starvation.

Holocaust researchers have long debated the motive. Some say Hitler aimed from the beginning to rid Europe of the Jews. Others say his aim was less clear and the decision process was driven by unfolding events.

One dispute concerns the date of the decision to destroy European Jewry. At issue is whether it was made because the war in the East was not going well for Germany (December 1941) or because a German victory appeared close at hand (July 1941) and the Nazis were riding a wave of triumphalism.

Snyder offers a maddening combination of right and wrong, imagination and fantasy, good sense and absurdity. His "discoveries" about the Holocaust do further harm to a field of study already disfigured by misguided work.

AR In CORAL I say Hitler was moved by ambition to be an Antichrist.

2015 November 10

UK vs EU

Financial Times

UK prime minister David Cameron writes to EC president Donald Tusk to set out four objectives of his EU reform plan:

1 Protect the single market for Britain and for others outside the eurozone.

2 Write competitiveness "into the DNA" of the European Union.

3 Change the EU treaty to exclude the UK from "ever closer union" and strengthen the role of
    national parliaments.

4 Restrict access to welfare payments for migrant workers.

AR No big problem there, we presume.


Paul Krugman

Mortality among middle-aged white Americans has been rising since 1999. Suicide is way up, and so are deaths from drug poisoning and the chronic liver disease that excessive drinking can cause. A number of studies have shown that life expectancy for less-educated whites is falling across much of the nation.

America has both a much weaker welfare state and a much stronger role for traditional religion and values than any other advanced country. Life expectancy is high and rising in the Northeast and California, where social benefits are highest and traditional values weakest. Low and stagnant or declining life expectancy is concentrated in the Bible Belt.

Perhaps middle-aged whites have lost the narrative of their lives. They were raised to believe in the American Dream, and are coping badly with its failure to come true. Universal health care, higher minimum wages, aid to education, and so on would do a lot to help Americans in trouble. But they may not be enough to cure existential despair.

2015 November 9

Science Spending

The Times

The UK spends far less on science than any other leading country. Taxpayer funding is 0.49% of GDP for research compared with 0.9% in Germany and the US.

House of Commons science and technology committee chair Nicola Blackwood: "Spending on science and innovation is not a state subsidy. It is a strategic investment that creates jobs, increases productivity and attracts inward investment."

Professor Brian Cox: "Anything less than a long-term commitment to increased investment in science will be grossly negligent and damage our country, perhaps irreparably."

False Economy

The science committee report calls for a steady increase in research funding to nearly double its present level. Pure research is essential for the new industries that generate future growth, and private sector R&D cannot be relied on to fill gaps left by public cuts.

Overall spending on R&D in the UK is 1.6% of GDP, compared with a US 2.8%, the German 2.9%, and an OECD target of 3%. British private sector R&D spending slumped in 2008-09 and has yet to return to previous levels. UK government spending on research has been cut under austerity.

A recent study put the ROI on scientific research at 20% pa. Few investments can match R&D for impact on competitiveness and productivity, and none comes close in terms of social spillover.


Oliver Morton

Geoengineering might be a way to soften the blow of human-created climate change with technology. At present, over 80% of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels. The world uses a lot of energy, and will be using even more energy soon.

France and Sweden both transitioned very well onto nuclear. If you want to cut 30-40% of your fossil fuel budget, you can transition to nuclear. Cutting it all the way back to zero is really hard.

The real challenge of geoengineering is developing the institutions that might use it in a just and responsible way. These are notional technologies. Implementing them might be quite difficult.

2015 November 8

Islamic State Global Threat

James Rubin

Islamic State has always had the potential to become a global terrorist organization. With its tens of thousands of motivated fighters, many willing to conduct suicide missions, its control of extensive territory in which terrorist acts can be planned and terrorists trained, and its financial wherewithal, this organization has far more capability than al-Qaeda ever did. Islamic State also has thousands of adherents with European and American passports.

After 9/11, we in the West pledged never again to allow a global terrorist organization the freedom to fund, plan and train for terrorism from its home base the way al-Qaeda did in Afghanistan. If Islamic State goes global, then our governments will have broken that pledge. It's not too late to start fighting the fire before it goes global. But doing so means a lot more than modest airstrikes and a small contingent of special forces.

The Rise of the Robots

The Observer

Artificial intelligence and new robots will wipe away entire swaths of work and radically reshape society. A new report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch looks at the likely effects: Jobs wiped out will be up to 35% of all workers in the UK and 47% of those in the US.

Human workers this century may go the way of horses in the last. There were 21 million horses in the US in 1900. By 1960, there were just 3 million.

Carl Benedikt Frey: "There will be people who own the AI, and therefore own everything else ... Homo sapiens will be split into a handful of gods, and then the rest of us. I think our best hope going forward is figuring out how to live in an economy of radical abundance, where machines do all the work, and we basically play ... You have to think about a universal income."

Productivity is the key to economic growth. The latest round of innovation in robots and AI is likely to power its continued rise. But unless it is carefully managed, the gains may be captured by shareholders and highly educated knowledge workers, leaving most people out in the cold.

AR Time for a new ethic: Every human citizen on Earth has a right to basic economic security. What are the criteria for citizenship — submission to Allah?




Die Experimentieranlage Wendelstein 7-X im IPP-Teilinstitut Greifswald soll die Kraftwerkstauglichkeit
von Fusionsanlagen des Typs "Stellarator" demonstrieren. A: Konzept. B: Magnete. C: Bau.


Vishal Mangalwadi

Redefining banking to survive
and thrive in a digital world


2015 November 7


Michael Brooks

Nuclear fusion: The Wendelstein 7-X stellarator in Greifswald, Germany, is about to fire up. The €1 billion WX-7 is a toroidal chamber 16 m in diameter containing hot (100 MK) plasma. Extra twists and turns in its donut shape optimize the magnetic fields that contain and compress the circulating plasma. If the fusion reactions can be stabilized, the design will point the way to building a commercially viable fusion reactor. If the W7-X works well, work on ITER could be abandoned.

Nuclear fission: The aging set of UK nuclear reactors was not optimized for electricity generation but compromised so that they could also produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. The new generation of fission reactors is much better. The European Pressurised Reactor is not only more efficient but also more complicated and expensive.

Renewables: Improvements in technology, coupled with taxes on carbon emissions, will make energy from wind and solar comparable in price with fossil electricity within a few years.

Chunks and Precedence

Corey S. Powell

Physicists have two rulebooks for nature. General relativity accounts for gravity and big things. Quantum mechanics handles the other forces and small things. Think of the two as smooth versus chunky. If you try to interpret smooth relativistic laws in a chunky quantum style, or vice versa, things go wrong. Perhaps string theory can do better.

Craig Hogan asks whether there is a quantum of space. If there is, string theory is in trouble. Chunks would be a new way to understand space and time. Hogan recalls how depth emerges in a TV picture made of flat pixels and suggests spacetime might emerge from the chunks.

Hogan and his collaborators have built a chunk detector, a holometer. This consists of a laser beam, a beam splitter, and two mirrors to bounce the split beams back along an orthogonal pair of long tunnels. If space is chunky, the locations of the mirrors will jitter. When the two beams are recombined, any discrepancy will reveal the chunk size. Hogan expects first results this year.

Lee Smolin thinks the parts of the universe may be linked not only across space but also across time. His principle of precedence explains the emergence of laws. If you do an experiment that has been done before, you expect the same outcome. Consistent outcomes suggest a fixed natural law. Smolin says the laws may emerge over time, as quantum systems copy previous systems.

One way to test this is to do a new experiment with no precedent for it to copy. If the principle of precedence is correct, the initial results of the experiment will look random. But as the experiment is repeated, precedence builds up and the results become predictable. Precedence would reach up to cosmic scales.

AR Hogan and his holometer are repurposing LIGO kit from the graviton hunters, Smolin is sailing very close to the deeply unfashionable theory of morphic resonance.

2015 November 6

US vs China

Geoff Dyer

USS Theodore Roosevelt sailed 400 km south of the Spratly Islands. US defense secretary Ashton Carter visited the aircraft carrier and said: "Many countries in the region are coming to the United States and asking us to do more with them so that we can keep the peace out here."

Over the past two years, the United States has agreed to closer military co-operation with Japan, the Philippines, and Australia. Next in line is Malaysia. China has reacted angrily to recent US operations in the South China Sea, accusing Washington of violating its sovereignty.

Gunships vs Jihadis

The Times

US commanders retook a big patch of ground in northern Syria from Islamic State by using feared ground-attack aircraft for the first time.

An AC-130H Specter gunship and A-10 Thunderbolt II Warthog tank-busters flew in support of Kurdish and allied Arab forces, who recaptured the ground.

The Specter and Warthogs flew from an airbase in Turkey and devastated the jihadis. The operation is a possible template for future advances.

The Warthog was feared by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and beloved by US troops. The Specter was originally used in Vietnam.


Anil Ananthaswamy

A popular theory of consciousness is that in unconscious perception information is processed locally in the brain, and in conscious perception the information is broadcast over the entire cortex.

When volunteers view stimuli that may or may not enter conscious awareness, their brains show identical EEG activity for the first 270 ms. If perception is subliminal, the brain activity peters out, but when volunteers become conscious of the stimuli, there is a sudden burst of widespread brain activity 300 ms after the stimulus. This burst has an EEG signal called P3b, and has been called a neural correlate of consciousness.

Now a team has detected P3b during unconscious processing of stimuli. This suggests that P3b is not a neural correlate of consciousness, contradicting the popular theory.


Matthieu Ricard et al.

Meditation techniques for training the mind hold great potential for supplying cognitive and emotional benefits.

When we meditate, nothing changes in the surrounding environment, but the meditator regulates mental states to achieve a form of inner enrichment. This experience affects brain functioning and its physical structure. Meditation can rewire brain circuits to produce salutary effects not just on the mind and the brain but on the entire body.

In open presence or pure awareness, the mind is calm and relaxed, not focused on anything in particular yet vividly clear.


Jenny Hendrix

Our view of reality, our structures of meaning, and our sense of identity are all touched and transformed by our technologies. The digital mind uses information as a means to an end, but for Sven Birkerts contemplation is the "alpha and omega" of thinking.

Transcendentalists found meaning in and through unmediated attention to the natural world. A new transcendentalism would bring digital technology to the same kind of transformative attention that they brought to the natural world.

2015 November 5

Internet Privacy

Financial Times

UK prime minister David Cameron says the Investigatory Powers Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation his government will implement. The new draft bill seeks to reconcile the need for citizens to keep their data private with the role of the security services for public safety.

UK intelligence agencies need to retain strong surveillance powers, but the bill introduces judicial oversight over how they operate. At present, ministers sign interception warrants allowing the agencies to see the content of communications. The bill proposes a double lock: warrants will be approved by not only a minister but also a senior judge.

The extra safeguard will boost public trust. It will reassure US companies asked to hand over data to UK authorities. But the bill requires that internet and phone companies keep internet connection records for up to 12 months. The police argue that accessing these records is increasingly important for their work, such as tracing child abusers.

UK home secretary Theresa May should rethink the proposal to retain the web browsing records of British citizens. In our age, a person's browsing history offers a detailed insight into their life. Yet the bill suggests that police officers may access such data without ministerial or judicial warrant.

2015 November 4


Steve Silberman

Neurotribes is the most personal thing I've ever written. I wanted to look at autism as a human community, instead of a condition or a disorder. One of the things I do is frame autism not purely in a clinical or self-help context, but in a social justice context. I came to it thinking I was going to study a disorder. But what I ended up finding was a civil rights movement being born.

It used to be that all discussion of autism was, in a sense, behind the backs of autistic adults, as if they were children, as if these adults were invisible. In fact, they're all around us.

Der Westen hat die Wahrheit verloren

Vishal Mangalwadi

Heute sagt an den Universitäten niemand mehr, dass es die Wahrheit gibt oder dass sie erkennbar ist. Jeder, der behauptet, es gebe eine Wahrheit oder er kenne sie, gilt als Fundamentalist. Der Islam ist nicht euer Problem: Ihr habt die Wahrheit verloren, deshalb werdet ihr die Freiheit verlieren. Wenn die Zeit der freien Debatte vorbei ist, werden diejenigen, die Macht haben, über andere bestimmen.

Europa und der Westen fallen auseinander, weil sie ihr christliches Markenzeichen, die Kategorie der Wahrheit verloren haben. Es wird heidnisch, weil es um Geschichten und Mythen geht. Es geht um Meinungen, um eigene Überzeugungen. Reformen beginnen mit einer Person, die etwas verstanden hat und dafür gerade steht.

AR Die Wahrheit wird durch rigoroses Denken anhand der Fakten erkannt. Wissenschaftler und manche Philosophen (auch ich) verstehen dies schon.

Stress at Work

Joan Kingsley

A little bit of stress is part of normal life, but feeling dread, or fretting over things out of work hours, is a sure sign that you are overly stressed. Signs include:

Feeling panicky
Being unable to focus
Feeling like you can't cope
Having difficulty staying in the moment
Feeling overwhelmed
Having a dry mouth
Getting butterflies
A racing heartbeat

It you have these symptoms for too long, you could be at risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and a low immune system.

Avoiding stress is very simple: Take more breaks.

2015 November 3

UK vs EU

Financial Times

German chancellor Angela Merkel has given qualified backing to proposals by UK chancellor George Osborne for EU reform and for a two-speed Europe.

Merkel told the BDI conference in Berlin that Germany would support some of the British demands for EU reform: "Where there are justified concerns, whether competitiveness or better functioning of the EU, the British concerns are our concerns."

BDI president Ulrich Grillo: "Not all countries want a closer union. We must respect this ... Germany needs the UK."


Lawrence Krauss

Humanism offers one of the most important drivers of change that can improve our future.

It is possible to imagine a future without the tyranny of religious myth and superstition. The most important goal in educating our children should be to encourage them to question everything. Encouraging skeptical thinking helps create lifelong learners and citizens who can responsibly address the demands of a democratic society.

Many of the specific claims of the sacred books of the world's major religions are not valid. There may be places in the world where one risks decapitation for questioning certain religious claims, but in a rational world it is hard to argue that questioning these, or a host of others of dubious repute, should be viewed as inappropriate.

Education is inseparable from teaching doubt. Informed doubt is the essence of science.

2015 November 2

Blockchain Technology

The Economist

Bitcoin is a currency based on cryptography, but its blockchain technology has wider applications. The blockchain enables people who neither know nor trust each other to pay bills correctly without trusted third parties such as banks. It can work for other transactions too.

The blockchain is a database that contains the payment history of every bitcoin in circulation. This distributed ledger is openly replicated on thousands of nodes around the world. Its security is guaranteed by the mathematics of the consensus mechanism for updating it.

Say Alice wants to pay Bob. Their bitcoin wallets access the blockchain rather as a browser accesses the web. The transaction starts when wallet A proposes writing a block to decrement wallet A and increment wallet B. The proposal propagates over the network and nodes check the ledger to see if wallet A has the bitcoin Alice wants to spend. If it does, nodes called miners bundle the proposal with other transactions to create a new block for the blockchain.

To make a block, a hash function converts the data into a string of digits of fixed length. The hashing is one-way and the hash is unique. It goes into the header of the proposed block. Header and hash function define a mathematical puzzle that can only be solved by trial and error. Across the network, miners grind through trillions of trials until a miner finds a solution. Other nodes quickly check it (solving is hard but checking is easy), and each node that confirms it updates the blockchain. The hash of the header identifies the new block, which is now in the ledger. Alice pays Bob.

The puzzle adds security. Since you cannot predict which miner will solve a puzzle, you cannot predict who will update the blockchain, so cheating is hard. Each new header contains a hash of the previous block header, and so on all the way back, concatenating the blocks into a chain. From the ledger you can check the new block header, but any change in the chain changes all the later blocks and triggers rejection of the ledger.

Alice could cheat Bob by erasing her payment history, solving the puzzle, and producing a new version of the blockchain. But nodes always work on the longest version of the blockchain, and in the time she needed, the rest of the network would have lengthened the original blockchain. If two miners both solve a puzzle they only cause a temporary fork in the chain. The puzzle also adds incentive: Making a new block mines new bitcoin, so the winning miner earns money.

The blockchain is an open platform and it can be a registry of anything worth tracking closely. But it may not scale. To authenticate miners, the bitcoin architecture forces them to work on puzzles. This adds up to a lot of wasted energy. And bitcoin blocks are far too small for bank workflows. New code will handle large numbers of smaller transactions outside the blockchain and support much bigger blocks. But the improvements require community agreement.

Blockchain Banking

Financial Times

Banks are racing to harness blockchain technology. They think it can cut costs by $20 billion and transform the industry by letting them overhaul banking infrastructure, speed settlements, and streamline stock exchanges. Applications include storing client identities, handling cross-border payments, clearing and settling bond or equity trades, and self-executing contracts.

At first the lack of a central authority provoked consternation among financial institutions. But now the technology is heralded as the ultimate back office makeover for banks. Ironically, libertarians had conceived the idea of the blockchain to circumvent the global banking system.

Blockchain holds revolutionary promise. Banks can use its unforgeable record of identity. Insurers can use its full records of personal transactions. Governments are investigating its potential for medical records and electoral voting systems.

A similar open source technology will write smart contracts that execute trades automatically. An effort is on to build a standardized technology platform.

AR If I were still at SAP, I would work on this platform.

2015 November 1


Jonathan Leader Maynard

Britain faces a choice: Full replacement of the Vanguard-class submarines that launch Trident missiles or complete nuclear disarmament, or something in between.

The UK cannot carry on using the existing submarines much longer, and designing nuclear cruise missiles for its attack submarines would not save money. But Britain could end the present continuous at-sea deterrent (CASD) and build fewer new submarines, or work with France to provide a joint CASD rather than two separate ones.

Unilateral nuclear disarmament is not an option:

1 Nuclear crises and stand-offs look unlikely now. But when only one state in a dispute has nuclear weapons, the nuclear power can always threaten escalation until its opponent has no defense.

2 Full disarmament leaves the UK dependent on the United States for security. We cannot assume the US president will always be willing to risk US citizens to retaliate against a UK aggressor.

3 If one is willing to disarm, one may as well use the chance to elicit some multilateral disarmament measures from other states, rather than going it alone.

4 A world free from the risk of nuclear conflict will only be achieved by a massive multilateral effort to internationalize the ownership of nuclear technology and a dense global regulatory framework.

The British deterrent does close to nothing to protect national security today. CASD is designed to protect the UK against a Cold War threat. That scenario has vanished. Alternatives to CASD include a force capable of CASD but not always active, or a lesser force that would be deployed only when the risk of crisis rises.

The UK should buy the smallest and cheapest nuclear deterrent that maintains strategic flexibility. A new plan could save billions.

AR I say go for joint CASD with France to form a European deterrent with an EU fund to pay for it.


Niall Ferguson

The presidency of the United States is still the top job. The commander-in-chief of the world's strongest military is the chief executive officer of the world's biggest economy. POTUS is potent.

Americans choose their next president a year from now. Among the people who currently seem most likely to get the job are several who are not remotely qualified to wield such power.

With Donald Trump it is not what he says but the way that he says it. He is a throwback to a bygone era when white Americans felt superior to everyone else, and were happy to let them know it.

The American people give the top job to whichever candidate best reflects their mood. Right now, that mood is ugly. And so is the Donald.



Asteroids can contain water, oxygen, metals, and so on that astronauts could use at a much lower cost than hauling stuff from Earth. There are hundreds of thousands of asteroids.

Planetary Resources co-founder Eric Anderson estimates a megaton-size asteroid could contain more than $100 billion worth of materials for use in space and on Earth.

Two years ago, NASA planned to grab an asteroid and tow it into lunar orbit. The agency now plans to send a robotic spacecraft to retrieve a boulder from the surface of an asteroid in 2020.

NASA planetary science director Jim Green: "Asteroids are a hot topic, a stepping stone to Mars."

Schlossplatz IX

2015 All Hallows Day

Hallo an Alle am Schlossplatz IX zum Allerheiligen!

Missions to the Moon
(HD, 3 min)


Henry Kissinger could stare
at the abyss with aplomb.

He applied his mind to the
problem of making the world
safe for limited nuclear war.
In his fantasy, after battlefield
nuclear weapons had reduced
Central Europe to a smoking
radioactive ruin, the United
States would pause to chat
with the Kremlin about
what to do next.

His next abyss was carpet
bombing in Vietnam.

M.C. Escher

WHO puts bacon, sausages
and hot dogs in the same
carcinogen league as Pu

China Daily
Queen Elizabeth II and
President Xi Jinping ride
to Buckingham Palace


2015 Halloween


New York Times

The Vienna summit on the Syrian war includes Iran, along with the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. The war began in 2011, has killed a quarter-million people, is causing the biggest refugee crisis since WW2, and is a breeding ground for Islamic State.

A few weeks ago, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said any new talks with the United States were forbidden. He described the United States as a persistent enemy of the Islamic revolution, and said that despite the nuclear agreement, it needed to be kept at a distance.

But the Supreme Leader may be giving more room to President Hassan Rouhani, who advocates more open engagement with the rest of the world. There is already tacit cooperation between Iran and the United States in Iraq, where both are fighting Islamic State.

Iran claims to be the most influential power in the region. Former Iranian diplomat and nuclear negotiator Seyed Hossein Mousavian: "Following the nuclear agreement, Iran is now ready to cooperate on crisis management in the Middle East."

2015 October 30

UK vs EU

Financial Times

David Cameron and George Osborne want to smooth coexistence of the EU single market with the EZ. Their demands include:
An emergency brake for non-euro countries to delay a vote threatening the single market
A ban on discrimination against financial groups on the basis of their location
Recognition of the EU as a multicurrency union
Open up the process of EZ policymaking
A guarantee that non-euro countries will not be saddled with EZ bailout costs
Affirmation that non-euro countries need not follow initiatives driven by EZ integration

Better Li Battery

Clive Cookson

Cambridge University chemistry professor Clare Grey and her team have made a breakthrough in the development of lithium-air batteries. If their technology can be commercialized, it will give electric cars batteries that cost and weigh 5 times less than today's lithium-ion cells. Lithium-air cells have an energy density potentially 10 times greater than that of lithium-ion cells.

A lithium-air cell generates electricity by combining lithium with oxygen to form lithium peroxide. It is then recharged by applying a current to reverse the reaction. Running these reactions reliably over many cycles is the challenge.

The Cambridge scientists adjusted the chemistry to make it more controllable. Their demonstration system is 90% efficient and can be recharged 2,000 times. But it will need at least another decade of development.

2015 October 29


Financial Times

US trade representative Mike Froman says a British exit from the EU would leave it facing the same tariffs and other restrictions as emerging economies such as Brazil, China, and India. Brexit fans say the UK could negotiate its own trade agreements with the US and others.

The US is now focusing on regional trade negotiations such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and on negotiations with the EU. Froman: "I think it is absolutely clear that Britain has a greater voice at the trade table being part of the EU, being part of a larger economic entity."

Norway No Way

The Times

Norway is no model for a future British relationship with the European Union. David Cameron used the platform of the Nordic summit to say so.

Both Norway and Switzerland are outside the EU and both make uncomfortable compromises. Norway opted to stay in the European Economic Area, but must accept the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. It makes big payments to Brussels but has no vote there.

Britain cannot settle for that.

Work and Pay, Have No Say

Espen Barth Eide

EFTA members Finland, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway negotiated with the European Community to form the EEA in 1992. Austria, Finland, and Sweden all joined the EU in 1995. Norway voted to stay out.

We do not help make decisions in Brussels but we loyally abide by them. We incorporate about three quarters of all EU legislative acts into Norwegian legislation. We have accepted the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. We follow EU product standards, and financial and employment regulations, and make substantial contributions to the EU budget. Choosing this track would leave the UK committed to the four freedoms, but with no say over EU policies.

Switzerland has an array of bilateral agreements with the EU. This is an even more cumbersome way of integrating into Europe. Every western European country has chosen to take part in the European integration process.

2015 October 28

A Plan for Climate

Martin Wolf

The climate conference in Paris in December is unlikely to mark a decisive turn in global efforts to curb catastrophic climate change. But it might mark the end of the beginning.

Our overriding goals for this century should be the elimination of mass poverty and risk of catastrophic climate change. The case for early action is overwhelming. Any investments in energy, transport, and urban infrastructure will lock in the carbon intensity of our economies.

The climate risks are large and the costs of addressing them bearable. But the path for emissions needed to deliver a 50-50 chance of limiting the increase in temperature to 2 K is radically new. On anything like our present path the cuts in emissions will not occur. Fortunately, new technology can spur a revolution in energy generation and storage, in energy savings, in transport, and in carbon capture and storage.

This revolution needs state support. New technologies and lifestyles can benefit national economies without taking account of the impact on the climate. Rapid dissemination of innovation and assistance to poorer countries is needed for new energy and transport systems.

A relatively pragmatic approach combined with accelerating technological change can avert disaster. The effort must begin with a good agreement in Paris.

A Plan for Syria

Jimmy Carter

In 2011, when protesters in Syria demanded political reforms, President Assad saw this as an effort to overthrow his regime and decided to stamp it out. Earlier this year I questioned President Putin about his support for Assad. He said the only real chance of ending the conflict was for the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia to prepare a comprehensive peace proposal.

The decision by Russia to support the Assad regime with military forces has helped clarify the choice between a political process and more war. Assad will not end the war by accepting concessions imposed by the West, but is likely to do so if urged by his allies. An acceptable government could then be established in Syria and a concerted effort made to stamp out Islamic State.

2015 October 27

Conservative Poland

Timothy Garton Ash

Poland is the biggest success story of post-communist Europe and the leading regional power between an overstretched Germany and a rampant Russia. As Spain and Italy struggle with the effects of the eurozone crisis, and Britain has marginalized itself until its referendum on EU membership, the rest of Europe needs Poland more than ever.

The Law and Justice (PiS) party won because the Civic Platform government looked tired. This was clear earlier this year when the incumbent president Bronisław Komorowski was unexpectedly defeated by the younger PiS candidate Andrzej Duda.

Cosmological Principle

New Scientist

The cosmological principle: Zoom out far enough and the universe should exhibit a drab homogeneity. But a giant void in the universe almost 2 billion light years wide seems to contradict it. Another enormous structure strung out over 4 billion light years is too crowded: The Huge Large Quasar Group contains 73 quasars. And a colossal group of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) appears to form a ring 5.6 billion light years across.

Rainer Dick regards the huge structures as evidence of other dimensions intruding into our own. M theory suggests we live in an 11D universe, and brane theory suggests that our universe is a 4D membrane floating in a sea of similar branes in extra dimensions. Looking into a region where another brane is overlapping with our own might skew our redshift measurements.

In Big Bang cosmology, the further away an object, the faster it appears to recede and the bigger its redshift. Astronomers regard objects with the same redshift as a structure, like the GRB ring or the huge quasar group. A homogeneous universe could appear to contain massive structures and enormous voids, yet still obey the cosmological principle.

2015 October 26

Lords Turn Bolshy


UK tax credit cut legislation is delayed as the House of Lords defies the government. At least Baroness Manzoor's "fatal motion" was rejected.

Poland Turns Right

Financial Times

Law and Justice party (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski celebrated with new prime minister Beata Szydlo as Poland turned right in an election that erased leftist parties from the political map.

Mistrustful of Brussels, suspicious of foreign capital, and espousing a social agenda rooted in conservative Catholicism, the right won back control after 8 years of centrist rule.

Kaczynski is expected to be the supreme authority behind the scenes. A fierce critic of Moscow, he has said that in power his party would oppose any proposals for Poland to accept more refugees.

David Cameron will see PiS as a key ally in blocking future transfers of power to Brussels. But he will get no support from them to discriminate against the Polish community in the UK.

Syria Turns Bad

Charles Glass

Syrians today are enduring a brutal ordeal that reenacts the drama of their ancestors a century ago. Thousands of Russian military advisers are joining the fight on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad, as Iran and Hezbollah have from the beginning. The United States and its regional allies are increasing the flow of arms to the rebels. Neither side has the power to defeat the other.

Last year, the regime seemed to be gaining the upper hand. A year later, the regime is in retreat. Palmyra is in the hands of ISIS militants. The death toll has climbed to at least 320,000. Out of a total population of 22 million before the war, more than 4 million Syrians have fled the country, and another 7.6 million are displaced within it. Masses of Syrians are seeking refuge in Europe.

A consensus among the United States and its allies held that Assad's alliance with Iran was detrimental to their interests. These powers perceived Iran using to its advantage indigenous Shiites in the region along with the Alawite minority in Syria. They sought to eclipse them on the battlefields of Syria. The war is a free-for-all in which everyone pursues his own interests.

2015 October 25


Bill Bryson

Britain has never been so rich and the amount of money and possessions most people have cannot be compared with what people had when I first arrived. And yet the country behaves as if it has never been so poor. It feels like we are permanently in this age of austerity.


Martin Amis

Jeremy Corbyn and I were both born in 1949, and for most of my twenties I was on the staff of the New Statesman. There were identikit Corbyns everywhere. In those years before Margaret Thatcher, everyone was old left.

Corbyn is undereducated. His schooling dried up when he was 18, at which point he had two E-grade A-levels to his name. He seems incurious about anything beyond his immediate sphere.

He is humorless. Arguing for a UK where every house has a garden, Corbyn elaborated as follows: "Anyone who wants to be a beekeeper should be a beekeeper."

He is without the slightest grasp of the national character. His proposal to leave NATO causes only exasperation in London and puzzlement in Washington. His proposal to scrap the army would be a spear through the British soul.

Turning to Corbyn's foreign policies, heed his Churchillian call for "political compromise" with ISIS.

Generously equipped with the encysted dogmas of the old left, Corbyn nonetheless gawkily embodies one of its noblest themes: the search for something a bit better than what exists today.

A slicker Corbyn with a new suit and a new smile is close to inconceivable. It is far easier to imagine a Labour party that in any sane view is undeserving of a single vote.


Tony Blair

I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong. Even though Saddam had used chemical weapons extensively against his own people, against others, the program in the form that we thought it was did not exist in the way that we thought.

2015 October 24

Schmoozing China

Niall Ferguson

Forty years ago, the US opening to China was a strategic move. Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon transformed the Cold War from a duel into a multiplayer game.

The UK government is making another strategic move. Its reorientation of UK foreign policy is as much about geopolitics as about economics. The UK has been the top destination for Chinese capital in Europe, but since 2010 Britain has fallen behind.

The real economic issue is the potentially vast amount of Chinese money that could flow abroad in future years. The Bank of England estimates that China's gross international investment position could reach 30% of world GDP by 2025, compared with around 5% now.

Forty years ago, the Chinese economy accounted for about 2% of global GDP. By 2020 the Chinese share will be nearly 19%. At PPP the US share will be 15%.

AR This not an alternative but a complement to EU membership.


Der Spiegel

Patriotische Europäer gegen Islamisierung des Abendlandes (PEGIDA) is demonstrating again in Germany. A prominent PEGIDA supporter regrets that concentration camps are unavailable as a solution to the refugee crisis.

Bundesminister des Innern Thomas de Maizière describes PEGIDA leaders as hard-core right-wing extremists but his domestic intelligence service is not even monitoring the movement.

Verfassungsschützer Gordian Meyer-Plath is reluctant to take on PEGIDA, which he calls a populist far-right movement rooted in anger but no threat to German freedom and democracy.

Bundesjustizminister Heiko Maas condemns PEGIDA as a German disgrace.

AR Rather a sign of robust civic engagement.

Spooky Loophole

John Markoff

A group led by Ronald Hanson at Delft University of Technology all but proved quantum nonlocality with a "loophole-free" Bell test: "We have confirmed that there is spooky action at distance."

MIT physicist David Kaiser: "The experiment has closed two of the three major loopholes beautifully, but two out of three isn't three. I believe in my bones that quantum mechanics is the correct description of nature. But to make the strongest statement, frankly we're not there."

The NSF has financed Kaiser and Alan Guth to close the third loophole using light from distant objects on different sides of the galaxy in 2016, and then light from quasars in 2017 and 2018.

AR See blog 2015-09-03.

2015 October 23


George Eaton

The UK unfurled the red carpet for President Xi Jinping. David Cameron pledges that the UK will be China's best partner in the west.

In contrast to France and Germany, Britain had never made a sustained attempt to court China. The government is now hurrying to catch up, betting that the potential gains far outweigh the risks.

Some risks arise from China's offshore military activity, its cyber-attacks on western firms, and its burgeoning alliance with Russia.

Life on Mars

Michael Brooks

We have now seen signs of flowing water on Mars. We have found organic matter on Mars. We know that organic molecules have assembled into microbes in some of the most extreme environments on Earth. It seems possible that the same has happened on Mars.

Such simple life may be scattered through the galaxy. Life on Earth may have been seeded by microbes ejected from the Martian surface as a result of a meteor shower. If this theory is right, we are all Martians.

Science has moved on. The intriguing issue is not whether there is life elsewhere but what it takes to evolve intelligence and consciousness.

AR I agree. This is why I let Apollo go 45 years ago and went on to Mindworlds.

2015 October 22

Nuclear Power

Julie Girling

The Hinkley C nuclear power reactor project in Somerset is important for the future of the South West and UK energy mix. For our region, this news is a welcome boost to jobs and growth.

There is huge scope for our local businesses to work with the Hinkley developers to secure new revenue streams for this and future projects. The Southern Powerhouse has truly arrived.

AR Julie is an excellent MEP.


Technology Review

TerraPower is a spin-off of Intellectual Ventures, which was founded by Nathan Myhrvold. The company pursued a novel technology, the traveling wave nuclear reactor.

TerraPower director of innovation Jeff Latkowski: "The traveling wave reactor was the focus of our early work, and it's still the baseline product of the company. But we are looking at other projects that we believe address the three critical areas for nuclear power: safety, the environment, and costs."

TerraPower is exploring molten salt reactors, which offer safety and economic advantages. The reactions slow as the fuel heats up, and in the event of an accident the fuel drains into a sealed underground chamber and cools off. No fuel fabrication is required, power density and efficiency are high, enriched uranium is needed only for startup, uranium dissolves well in the chloride solution, and the waste can be reused as fuel.

TerraPower is also exploring thorium reactors.

AR Memo to Nathan: Go for thorium.

Green Power

The Guardian

The Committee on Climate Change report due in November will propose carbon budgets more than ten years into the future.

Committee chair Lord Deben: "The 2020s are crucial in setting the direction for UK power generation, and to ensure the UK can meet its 2050 climate change commitments cost-effectively. The key tools are already in place to deliver the investment in low-carbon generation that is required. The government must now urgently clarify the direction of future policy."

The UK green energy industry is now worth £122 billion and employs 460,000 people. But some of its government subsidies are due to expire within this parliament.

The full cost of new gas-fired generation will reach £85 per MWh for new plants coming online in 2020, and £95 per MWh for 2025, including the likely cost of carbon. Wind and solar projects are under contract to deliver electricity at £83 per MWh from 2016-17, but these prices rise by about £10 per MWh if the intermittency of renewables is taken into account.

A carbon price that reflects the full cost of emissions could increase the cost of gas-fired generation to around £100 per MWh.

AR Emissions-free and non-intermittent nuclear power can be much cheaper.

2015 October 21

Russian Med Threat

Financial Times

NATO wargame Trident Juncture in the western Mediterranean will feature 36,000 troops with 140 planes and 60 ships, and continue into November.

Russia has a disruptive presence in the eastern Mediterranean. Russian military assets in Latakia and Tartus open up the southern flank of NATO to provocation and threaten freedom of navigation for NATO forces. New Russian navy berthing rights in Cyprus bring Russian surveillance and EW assets close to the British air base at Akrotiri.

NATO supreme allied commander General Philip Breedlove: "Since Crimea we have worked on assuring our allies and now we have to look at how that assurance lends itself to deterrence."

A senior NATO official: "In Kaliningrad, in occupied Crimea — which they are turning into a fortress — and now in Syria, we see similar concentrations of forces designed to stop NATO's freedom of action and navigation."

NATO supreme commander for transformation General Denis Mercier: "We are exercising in a scenario where NATO does not necessarily have the balance of military power."

AR NATO member Turkey is at risk.

Wilders Warning

Calla Wahlquist

Geert Wilders, speaking near Perth, Australia: "You will have millions of people coming to Australia, like we do in Europe, and you will not be able to handle it. You should be a sovereign country that closes your borders to those kinds of immigrants."

Those kind of immigrants are Muslims. Wilders' Party for Freedom leads the polls in the Netherlands. Wilders flew to Australia to launch the Australian Liberty Alliance: "If you read their manifesto it is clear that they are the freedom fighters of Australia."

AR Not racist but anti-Islamist, and rightly too.

New Realism

Richard Wolin

University of Bonn professor of philosophy and chair of epistemology Markus Gabriel, 29, is a new realist. Why the World Does Not Exist, translated by Gregory Ross, is his attempt to free philosophy from the dead ends of postmodernism and social constructivism.

Gabriel: "If we think about the world, what we grasp is something different than what we want to grasp. We can never grasp the whole. It is in principle too big for any thought."

For Gabriel, to exist means to appear in a Seinfeld: a finite domain of meaningful connections, in contrast to the world as a totality.

AR This has sound formal precedents in the set theory I studied 40 years ago. See Mindworlds
(PDF: 162 slides, 7 MB) slides 45-60.

2015 October 20

Saint Paul

G.W. Bowersock

Saint Paul is the apostle we love to hate. The Jew from Tarsus devoted himself to spreading the message of Jesus. But Paul had never met Jesus.

He had difficulty in launching his evangelical career. He was known as the persecutor who had become an evangelist. He and the apostle Peter divided up the missionary work of the Christians, so that Peter would preach to the Jews and Paul to the gentiles.

Jews had to live by the Torah. But as Paul told the Galatians, the law could be fulfilled by following a single precept: Love your neighbor as yourself. In saying this, he effectively collapsed into one Jesus' two greatest commandments, to love God and to love your neighbor.

Lutheran theologian Adolf von Harnack said Paul delivered the Christian religion from Judaism. Paul said he was the apostle of the nations (in Hebrew "goy"). Paul breaks up the category of nations into Greeks and barbarians. The barbarians are to the Greeks what the Greeks are to the Jews.

Rabbinical scholar Jacob Taubes expounded the view at a Heidelberg seminar in 1987 that Paul was a Jewish zealot. Taubes was being deliberately provocative.

AR I was in Heidelberg in 1987 but I don't recall Taubes. I do recall encountering Shimon Peres at the Heiliggeistkirche with Helmut Kohl.

2015 October 19


David Cameron

Extremists jeopardize our democracy. Our counter-extremism strategy sets out to tackle this poison on every level:

1 This is a generational battle. Defeating our enemies will take time, patience, and adaptability.

2 This is a battle of ideas. Extremists infect public debate, divide our communities, and advance a warped world view.

3 Extremists attempt to justify their views and actions through a perverted, illiberal, and hostile interpretation of Islam.

We must own this problem. But our Muslim communities must own it too. I am confident we will defeat the extremists.

Threatened Europe

Niall Ferguson

Europe looks a mess. The European Union has a monetary union at its core, but not all EU members are EZ members. Countries share a single currency yet run separate fiscal policies. The financial crisis led to much higher unemployment in peripheral countries because they fell behind German labor costs. When the going got tough, the Germans got tougher.

The EU fiscal compact of 2012 requires EZ members to run more or less balanced budgets. Bundesrepublik Europa will speak German on public finances. This can work if the ECB adopts quantitative easing, but it may not produce much growth. Without growth, Europe cannot create new jobs, much less absorb millions of poor refugees.

Seen in a wider perspective, the great shift from the west to the rest goes on. This is the biggest global economic change in 500 years, when Ming China led the world, until living standards began to improve dramatically in western Europe and in places where Europeans settled in large numbers, notably America. European empires soon dominated the world.

Today China and other countries have copied what after 1500 made Europe so successful. Europe and the west now suffer from institutional degeneration and face a new threat. Radical Islam is the ideological epidemic of our time, just as Bolshevism was an ideological epidemic a century ago. Islamic extremism is a global threat to western civilization.

The last mass movement of people into western Europe was in the aftermath of WW2. Millions of ethnic Germans settled in what became the Federal Republic. Today the newcomers to Germany are mostly Muslim in religion. Nothing saved Europe from fascism and communism or from the mass migrations that followed. Europe today is no safer from Islamic extremism.

2015 October 18


Xi Jinping

The UK has stated that it will be the western country that is most open to China. This is a visionary and strategic choice that fully meets Britain's own long-term interest.

AR Xi makes a much better partner than Mideast despots.

Visit Finland

Jupiter (1:01)

Trident D5
Weight: 60 Mg
Range: 8 Mm
CEP: 100 m
Payload: up to 12 x W88

Yield: up to 475 kt
Length: 175 cm
Diameter: 55 cm
Weight: up to 360 kg


2015 October 18


Norman Stone

A terrible shadow is falling over Turkey. The Islamist government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made the fatal mistake of intervening in the formerly Ottoman territory of Syria.

Millions of Syrian refugees live in Turkish camps, or beg in Istanbul, or cluster in ports a few miles from Europe. Some of them teach the Koran and segregate boys and girls.

Another problem crosses national borders. Kurds in and around Turkey have long been treated as second class citizens. Now Kurdish militants want a separate Kurdistan.

The Erdogan government worked well for a decade. Turkey should have been celebrating a triumphant Republic Day next week. Instead in Ankara they talk of Turkish civil war.

2015 October 17

President Putin vs Caliph Ibrahim

Mark Leonard

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a.k.a. Caliph Ibrahim of Islamic State, holds no fear for Russian president Vladimir Putin. The rise of the caliphate is an opportunity for him.

By entrenching Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in power, Putin is compelling western countries to engage with Moscow in a different way. US president Barack Obama was forced to meet him at the UN last month. So far German chancellor Angela Merkel refuses to link the situation in Syria to sanctions on Ukraine.

Putin favors authoritarian governments over popular uprisings: "Instead of settling conflicts it [the advancement of democracy] leads to their escalation, instead of sovereign and stable states we see the growing spread of chaos, and instead of democracy there is support for a very dubious public ranging from open neofascists to Islamic radicals."

Putin is executing his war on revolutions both on the practical level and as a battle of ideas. For some time, he has been building links with authoritarian powers in the Mideast. His plans for Syria parallel the long war he fought in Chechnya up to 2009. After 9/11, Putin sold that war to the west as a common struggle with Islamic terrorism.

Russian foreign and defense policy council chairman Fyodor Lukyanov says Putin is trying to build in Syria the de facto equivalent of an Alawite Israel, a defensive secular enclave against an uncontrolled spread of the caliphate.

Putin smells American weakness. If the west goes to war alongside Putin and Assad, it will bury the Arab spring and expose western idealism as hypocrisy.


David Brooks

The American school system was designed over 100 years ago. Its focus is downloading content into student minds, with success measured by standardized tests. It is unsuited for modern work.

You can look up any fact on your phone. Rote tasks can be done better by computers. Today we need to take content off center stage and emphasize the relational skills future workers will need.

Wisdom starts with three steps: basic factual acquisition, pattern formation, and mental reformation. At this point information becomes knowledge. After living with knowledge for years, wisdom dawns.

The cathedrals of knowledge and wisdom are based on the foundations of factual acquisition and cultural literacy. New technology has not changed the stairway from information to knowledge to wisdom. Rules come first.

2015 October 16

Labour Has Lost It

James Steel

The British Labour party is 90 seats short of a functional majority in Parliament and has permanently lost 40 seats to the SNP. After the boundary review in 2018, Conservatives will gain a further 20 to 40 seats.

Labour has to fight the SNP in Scotland, UKIP in the north, and Conservatives in southern England. It was in trouble even before it elected Corbyn, but now it is clearly not a credible party of government. It has retreated into its comfort zone and started thinking with its heart.

Economic changes have left Labour behind. The West is aging and no longer has the growth that previously sustained its standard of living, so austerity is permanent. The old Labour industrial class united in solidarity has gone, replaced by individualist consumers, for whom global brands now mean more than governments.

ESA-Roscosmos Moon Mission

Pallab Ghosh

European Space Agency head Johann-Dietrich Wörner wants international partners to build a lunar base. ESA will partner with Russian space agency Roscosmos to send a lander to the south pole of the Moon looking for water and raw materials to support future astronauts. Roscosmos mission Luna 27 is set for launch in 2020.

ESA head of lunar exploration Bérengère Houdou: "We have an ambition to have European astronauts on the Moon. There are currently discussions at international level going on for broad cooperation on how to go back to the Moon."

ESA lead scientist James Carpenter: "The south pole of the Moon is unlike anywhere we have been before. The environment is completely different, and due to the extreme cold there you could find large amounts of water ice and other chemistry which is on the surface, and which we could access and use as rocket fuel or in life support systems to support future human missions."

ESA is developing a lander that uses cameras and a laser guidance system to sense the terrain and decide during the approach whether the landing site is safe. A drill 2 m long will collect samples for an onboard lab like that on the Philae comet lander.

Mission approval is due in late 2016.

2015 October 15

KIC 8462852

Ross Andersen

The Kepler Space Telescope has found something odd.

Tabetha Boyajian: "We'd never seen anything like this star. It was really weird. We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out."

People were looking for tiny dips in the light emitted by stars. Human cognition remains unsurpassed in certain sorts of pattern recognition. Planet Hunters is a program that asked citizen scientists to examine light patterns emitted by the stars, from the comfort of their own homes. They found an "interesting" and "bizarre" light pattern from KIC 8462852.

The pattern suggests there is a big mess of matter circling the star. This mess is in a tight formation big enough to block a substantial number of photons that would have otherwise made it to Kepler.

SETI researchers have long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars.

Jason Wright: "Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build."

AR It could be a Dyson swarm.

2015 October 14

Cultural Appropriation

Yo Zushi

The latest round of strictures on how individuals can present themselves comes from those who consider themselves progressives united against the menace of cultural appropriation.

From Katy Perry's adoption of geisha garb at the 2013 American Music Awards to Lena Dunham's cornrows and their supposed flaunting of racial identity theft, all cultural cross-pollination now seems to be fair game for a drubbing at the hands of the new race activists.

This rage against cultural appropriation is understandable. Yet simply to point out instances of appropriation in the assumption that the process is by its nature corrosive serves no end but to essentialize race as the ultimate component of human identity.

None of us can, or should, own hip-hop, cornrows, or the right to wear a kimono. Appropriation herds culture and tradition into the pen of a moral ownership like copyright, which may suit a lawyer but jars with our human impulse to like what we like and create new things out of it.

Appropriation tests imaginary boundaries. It questions them and exposes the performative aspects of our racial and cultural identity. Sometimes we have to let culture do its thing.

AR Is obsession with the Bible an appropriation of Jewish culture?

2015 October 13

UK vs EU

Financial Times

UK prime minister David Cameron has been urged to produce a formal written proposal by early November for EU reform if he is still aiming for a deal at the December EU summit.

French finance minister Michel Sapin: "I understand that they want a better dialogue between those in the eurozone and those that are out. That makes sense. They want to simplify rules. We agree too. But surely this alone can't explain the deep motivations of the UK. We're struggling a bit there. We're not the only one in Europe."

Belgian deputy prime minister Didier Reynders: "We are ready to discuss a lot of things. But the next step is to receive from the UK some proposals. What are the real requests?"

2015 October 12


Lord Rose of Monewden

Those of you who know me will know that I am not an uncritical fan of the European Union. Far from it. That's why I signed a letter arranged by Business for Britain calling for reform of the EU. Wanting reform, however, is not the same as wanting to leave.


Michael Brooks

Carlo Rovelli has struck gold. This book began life as a series of articles in an Italian newspaper. The English edition has 83 pages. Brief but masterful expositions of quantum mechanics, relativity, particle physics, thermodynamics, and other fields, were translated with the help of two poets. This is physics as romantic poetry.

Rovelli admits that he cannot construct a clear, communicable notion of the nature of time, and the intersection of gravity, quantum mechanics and thermodynamics has raised a tangle of problems where we are still in the dark. Rovelli envies the youth of neuroscience, which stands now where physics stood before Einstein.

AR On the deep confluence of physics and neuroscience see my book Mindworlds.

2015 October 11


Peter Hennessy and James Jinks

Operation Relentless covers the UK nuclear weapons firing chain from the prime minister to the V-class submarines armed with Trident missiles.

After becoming PM in 2010, David Cameron had to write his letters of last resort for the four Trident sub commanders. Each of them has a sealed letter from C-in-C Fleet laying down when to open the sealed envelope from the PM.

Cameron: "I asked John Major in and asked for his advice and I talked to him about it. I also talked to the chiefs of staff, I talked to CDS. But then, in the end, it is you in the office on your own. ... It is a very big moment."

In a crisis, if he is still alive, the PM starts Operation Relentless. He needs the right people with him for briefing, together with two officers and the cryptography to send the message to a bunker deep beneath the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall.

Former Ministry of Defence permanent secretary Sir Frank Cooper said a British PM would never give up Britain's place as a nuclear-weapons state as long as the memory of 1940, standing alone, and the Battle of Britain remained fresh.

Cameron in his Downing Street office: "I obviously feel the 1940 example strongly in a lot of ways. You can't not think that just through those doors there, this amazing decision, correct decision, was made to fight on, and that is an electrifying thought when you're prime minister."

His childhood home was close to the government Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston and to the nearby Ban the Bomb peace camp outside RAF Greenham Common.

Cameron: "I don't think Britain will give up nuclear deterrence altogether. I think that is out. I'd be very surprised if that happened in my lifetime. What I'm saying is that, at the moment, we have a deterrent that is the real thing, that is the genuine article, it's as good as it could be, it is submarine based, it's continuously at sea and all the rest of it."

Any change of policy would affect not only Britain but also the entire NATO alliance. Since 1963 the UK independent nuclear capability has provided NATO members with a nuclear umbrella.

Cameron affirmed last week: "Because our independent nuclear deterrent is our ultimate insurance policy, this government will order four new Trident submarines."


Lawrence M. Krauss

The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics goes jointly to Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald for work on neutrinos.

Astrophysicists detect neutrinos to look deep into stellar interiors, such as the center of the sun or of a supernova. In the standard model, neutrinos are massless. But if they had a tiny mass, this might account for puzzlingly low count rates in solar neutrino detectors.

There are three neutrino flavors (electron, muon, tau), and a quantum theory of flavor oscillations says that if a neutrino has a small mass, it can change from one flavor to another as it travels through space. Each one can convert into a particle (electron, muon, or tau lepton) when it interacts with ordinary matter. The flavor oscillates as time passes, so a solar neutrino changes back and forth as it travels. A detector that counted only electron neutrinos would record low count rates.

Toward the end of the last century, Arthur McDonald led a team in Canada that built a detector capable of counting all three flavors. It contained tons of heavy water, in which some of the hydrogen atoms are replaced by deuterium. All kinds of neutrinos could scatter off the deuterium, breaking it apart into a proton and a neutron, and the neutrons could then be counted. The detector counted the number of neutrinos predicted by the best solar models, suggesting that neutrinos do oscillate.

Around the same time, a team in Japan led by Takaaki Kajita built a detector for neutrinos coming through atmosphere. Cosmic rays collide with air to produce showers of particles including muon neutrinos, which scatter off hydrogen nuclei in the detector to make muons. The detector counted neutrinos coming straight down and neutrinos coming up through the Earth. The rates for the two directions were different, suggesting that neutrinos oscillate for longer on the long route.

Because standard model neutrinos are massless, the discovery of neutrino mass flags new physics, yet to be explored.

2015 October 10

Putin vs Islamic State

Rachel Polonsky

After Vladimir Putin met with Barack Obama at the UN on September 28, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova spoke: "We would prefer not to have been right."

If in the Mideast, she continued, we saw a single example of a developing democratic state with flourishing citizens, perhaps we might trust US proposals. Instead, we see nothing but poverty, ruin and terrorism. It was time to collaborate on a logical strategy to defeat Islamic State.

On September 13, on Russian state TV, Moscow State University faculty of world politics dean Andrei Kokoshin said US policy had reached a dead end because it was guided by "a sacred faith in democracy, and the illusion that all democracies will naturally be US allies".

Islamic State is at least as grave a threat to Russian national security as to the security of Europe. A map of the world as Islamic State would like to see it in 2020 shows swathes of Russia in black, renamed Qoqzaz and Khurasan. If we cannot support Russia in its mission, we should step aside.

Russia Needs Syria

Amy Knight

The Kremlin decision to intervene in Syria was urged on Putin this summer by senior members of his team. With the conflict in Ukraine still unresolved and Putin increasingly isolated by the West, intervention in the Mideast was intended to reassert Russia as a major world power.

Putin stated at the UN in September that Russia was committed to keeping the Assad regime in power. A total collapse of the Syrian state would threaten its strategic position in the Mideast. Russia views Islamic insurgents as not only a threat to Assad but also a potential threat at home.

Russia has a long history with Syria. The Soviet Union signed a secret pact with Syria in 1946. Syria had the largest Communist Party in the Arab world and significant oil and gas reserves. In 1971 the Soviets leased a naval base at Tartus that now hosts a Russian fleet.

Russia has sold arms to Syria for decades. Moscow wrote off much old debt but sales continue. Deputy Russian prime minister Dmitry Rogozin: "Our guys in Syria are suppressing a war against Russia on distant plains. Anyone who does not understand is a fool or an enemy."

Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber, as used in Syria

Apollo 17 astronaut
Harrison Schmitt
December 1972

Apollo 14 commander
Alan Shepard
February 1971

My new apartment

25 Jahre Deutsche Einheit


2015 October 9

Putin's Policy

Edward N. Luttwak

President Vladimir Putin says he is fighting extremism in Syria. His bombing campaign has hit few Islamic State targets. Aircraft have flown and dropped bombs, but the Russians have no more ground intelligence in place to identify targets than the United States has. Putin is certainly guilty of defending the Assad regime.

Putin believes that the president of a country should give a high priority to the enhancement of its own power. He has two aims in Syria: Keep the Tartus naval base that makes Russia a Mediterranean power at low cost, and demonstrate that it really pays to serve Russia. He has already won the credibility competition.

Putin differs from President Barack Obama in his understanding of diplomacy. The Obama version is that the practicalities of a transaction are less important than their decoration with fashionably modish principles and procedures. Everything has to go through an indecision machine that delays actions inordinately.

When Netanyahu heard that Putin was sending fighter-bombers to Syria, over which Israeli fighter-bombers also operate, he asked Putin for a meeting. Putin invited him to Moscow, where they agreed that the Russians would telephone Yossi Cohen before taking off to bomb, while Israel would announce flights to Nikolai Patrushev.

Putin played no games with Netanyahu and simply conceded Israel's right to bomb in Syria. Israeli radar can see aircraft from the moment they take off from the Russian base. The operating rule is that when one side does any bombing, the other side must stay on the ground. Both Putin and Netanyahu hit their targets hard.

Brain Breakthrough

New Scientist

A computer model of a tiny piece of rat brain fires like the real thing. The model simulates 30 micrograms of tissue with 31,000 neurons and their 37 million synapses.

Henry Markram: "The digital piece of tissue behaved very similarly to what we see in the brain. We see the same patterns of firing, with the same delay."

Anil Seth: "As one of the first concrete outputs from the billion-euro Human Brain Project this had to be a substantial piece of work, and it is."

2015 October 8

Russia Gets Tough


Syrian ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad said around 40% of Islamic State infrastructure in Syria has been destroyed since Russia began its military operation in the country.

AR At last someone has the balls to go in there and kill the wackos before they do any more damage. Unfortunately it will probably lead to more chaos in the short term, not less.

Europe Gets Stronger

Ulrich Speck

Three crises threaten the European Union: the euro, Ukraine, and refugees. But the union is tackling them together. With the possible exception of Britain, no country wants to leave.

Berlin is the power center. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has set up an informal system of governance with partners President François Hollande of France, European Council president Donald Tusk, and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

The euro crisis emerged five years ago. Pessimists said it exposed a fundamental flaw in the currency union architecture. Now Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain are recovering, while Greece is out of critical condition. The currency is all the stronger for it.

The Ukraine conflict has moved from the military to the diplomatic arena. The United States has put its weight behind the Minsk agreement. Russia has been checked, giving Ukraine the opportunity to build a stronger state. The union was tested and it became stronger.

The refugee crisis is a challenge for Europe as a whole. Member states have taken a contentious but successful vote to spread the burden of accepting the refugees.

The new European Union is built around cooperation among nation states. The German chancellor is the power broker. Members get a framework to tackle the challenges of globalization.

AR Very Nietzschean.

Britain Gets Greater

David Cameron

I believe we're on the brink
Of something special in our country.
This year, we've seen more people in work
Than at any time in our history;
More of our children starting university
Than ever before;
More British entrepreneurs setting up shop
Than anywhere else in Europe.

Wages are rising.
Hope is returning.
We're moving into the light.
But we’re not there yet.
We're only halfway through.
We can make this
A defining decade for our country:
The turnaround decade.

And our goal is
A Greater Britain.
With strong defence
And a strong economy.
A National Health Service
That's there for everybody,
And schools
That stretch our children.

And over the next five years we will show
That the deep problems in our society are not inevitable.
That a childhood in care
Doesn't have to mean a life of struggle.
That a stint in prison
Doesn't mean you'll get out and do the same thing all over again.
That being black, or Asian, or female, or gay
Doesn't mean you'll be treated differently.

A Greater Britain,
Made of greater expectations.
Where renters become homeowners,
Employees become employers,
A small island becomes an even bigger economy,
And where extremism is defeated once and for all.
A country raising its sights,
Its people reaching new heights.

A Greater Britain,
Made of greater hope,
Greater chances,
Greater security.
So let's get out
And make it happen.
Together we can build
That Greater Britain.

AR Dave is a great prime minister.

2015 October 7

Deport Migrants

The Times

UK home secretary Theresa May called yesterday for a new deportation system to eject failed asylum seekers who do not have passports. She was accused of irresponsible rhetoric after her hardline conference speech on cutting migrant numbers.

Failed asylum seekers will be deported from Europe within weeks under an EU plan. More than 400,000 people who entered the EU in the first half of this year are expected to have their asylum claims rejected. EU border guard agency Frontex will help with deportations.

May speech headlines

Phree Markets

Cass R. Sunstein

George Akerlof and Robert Shiller believe that once we understand human psychology, we will be less keen on free markets. In their view, companies exploit human weaknesses because the market makes them do it. Those who fail to exploit people will lose out to those who do.

Akerlof and Shiller say phishermen (such as banks, drug companies, real estate agents, and cigarette companies) get phools (such as investors, sick people, homeowners, and smokers) to behave in the interest of the phisherman but not of the phool. In their view, phishing for phools is the leading cause of the worst financial crises. A lot of people run serious health risks from overeating, tobacco, and alcohol. The resulting premature deaths are not a product of rational decisions. Many people face debilitating financial insecurity, largely as a result of their own mistaken decisions. Even bad government is a product of phishing and phoolishness.

The idea that free markets work, and that government is the problem, is itself a phish for phools that does not capture reality. The United States has suffered from the fact that free markets make people free not only to choose but also free to phish, and free to be phished.

AR Even phishers are phools.

2015 October 6

Building Britain

George Osborne

What the British people said to us in May couldn't have been clearer. We elect you to do a job, so take decisions, don't duck them. We’ve had our instructions from the British people and today I announced:

A devolution revolution. We're going to allow local government to keep the rates they collect from business. All £26 billion of business rates will be kept by councils instead of being sent up to Whitehall. This is the biggest transfer of power to our local government in living memory.

Building the share owning democracy. Next Spring we will make Lloyds shares available to every member of the public, at a discount. Small shareholders will get priority and long-term investors will get a bonus.

A major plan to get Britain building. I'm not prepared to turn around to my children and say I'm sorry we didn't build for you. So we will set up an independent National Infrastructure Commission, sweep away planning rules on brownfield sites, and create British Wealth Funds to invest billions in British infrastructure.

Future favors the bold. So we've got to be the builders, the people with the new ideas. The people open to the new thinking. Accept when others have got it right. The people with the plan for the future.

Some stand on the sidelines. Some want to knock things down. But we are the builders, building for the working people of Britain.

AR A (Stalinist?) Five Year Plan from GO, heir apparent for the top job.

2015 October 5

Russia vs America

Zbigniew Brzezinski

Russia has chosen to intervene militarily in Syria without cooperation with the United States. American credibility in the Mideast is at stake. US officials must convey to Moscow the demand that it cease and desist from military actions that affect American assets.

The Russian naval and air assets in Syria are vulnerable, isolated from their homeland. They could be neutralized. Or Russia might be persuaded to cooperate in seeking a wider accommodation to a regional problem that transcends the interests of a single state.

France and Britain can no longer play a decisive role in the Mideast. The region is split on religious, political, ethnic, and territorial lines, and slipping into more violence. This calls for outside assistance but not for neocolonial domination. US power is needed.

AR No, NATO power is needed. We can tame Russian power with NATO.

UK vs EU

The Independent

Governments use the European Union to bypass national democracy and pass laws that national parliaments would reject. Home Office minister Karen Bradley said at the Conservative party conference that representatives of other EU member states sometimes ask British MEPs to push legislation through the European Parliament to prevent their home legislatures from blocking it. UKIP MEP Gerard Batten: "This is hard evidence that this government uses the EU to undermine national democracy."

AR Surprise! Politicians misuse EU institutions!

Art vs Design

Alva Noë

We cannot use neuroscience to explain art and its place in our lives. Rather, art can help us frame a better picture of our human nature.

Artists make stuff. They sometimes make stuff that works, but its value as art never boils down to its working. I guess artists make stuff because making stuff is special for us. Making activities constitute us as a species.

Human beings are designers by nature. We are makers and consumers of technologies. Tools and technologies organize us both individually and collectively. They organize us insofar as they are embedded in our lives.

Art begins when we are unable to take the background of our familiar technologies and activities for granted. Art makes things strange. Art disrupts plain looking to disclose what plain looking conceals.

A work of art is a strange tool. It affords us the opportunity to bring into view everything that was hidden in the background. Art is a way of investigating the world and ourselves.

AR I recall Alva from Tucson. He's a fine philosopher.

2015 October 4

Russians in Syria

Sunday Times

President Vladimir Putin's government asked America to clear air space over northern Syria. Moscow would commence airstrikes against terrorist targets at the request of President Bashar al-Assad.

President Barack Obama had protested about Russian forces in Syria. Putin had said his only intention was to neutralize Islamic State. The US military in Baghdad agreed to hold deconfliction sessions with the Russians to avoid mid-air collisions.

Russia is fighting to shore up Assad. The Homs and Hama regions where Russia carried out its first airstrikes are of vital strategic importance to the regime. They link Damascus to the coastal area including Latakia and Tartus, where Russia operates a naval facility.

Meanwhile hundreds of Iranian troops arrived in apparent preparation for a ground offensive. The Iranian soldiers include members of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and may fight alongside Hezbollah guerrillas and Assad's forces.

Senator John McCain blames "a total lack of American leadership" for allowing "a Russian autocrat to join with an Iranian theocrat to prop up a Syrian dictator".

2015 October 3


Tim Flannery

An evolutionary understanding of the emotions helps us to see other animals as individuals.

Elephants are intelligent, social, emotional, playful, and compassionate. But their societies differ from our own. Clans of females led by matriarchs periodically associate in larger groups. Elephants can recognize up to a thousand individuals. Sometimes they even bury their dead.

Dogs behave much like wolves. The best wolves are brilliant leaders that pursue lifelong strategies in order to lead their families to success. The similarities between wolves and humans are arguably more extensive than those between humans and any other animal.

Sperm whales live in clans with distinctive dialects of sonar clicks. These are learned and act as markers of clan identity. Clan members spend extended periods nuzzling one another or staying in body contact. Presumably they can memorize large social networks.

Killer whales have a different social organization. They have a long period of lactation and females experience menopause. Killer whales also observe food taboos and are strongly xenophobic. Clans of salmon eaters never mix with mammal eaters. Each clan has its own vocalizations.

Prior to the domestication of plants and the invention of writing, the differences between human societies and those of elephants, dogs, killer whales, and dolphins were a matter of degree, not kind. We are not alone on Earth.

2015 October 2

Theories of Everything

Lawrence M. Krauss

When quantum mechanics is combined with relativity, the laws that govern matter and energy depend on the scale at which you measure them. On small scales, for short times, there is an uncertainty in the energy and momenta of elementary particles. Virtual particles can pop briefly in and out of the vacuum, and to calculate the force between two particles, you need to consider them all. There is a way to calculate the resulting force so that it does not become infinite.

Scaling arguments reveal connections between theories. In quantum chromodynamics the strong force between quarks gets weaker as the quarks are brought closer together. Since the electroweak force gets stronger at small distances, at sufficiently small scales they may become a single force. String theorists say even gravity merges at sufficiently small scales with the other forces. Superstring theory may get rid of the infinities. Some call it a theory of everything.

2015 October 1


Simon Jenkins

I can recall no head of the army and no serious academic strategist with any time for the Trident missile. It is merely a token of support for an American nuclear response. No modern danger, such as from terrorism, is deterred by Trident.

Trident missiles come from America and their use without American permission is inconceivable. The decision on the related submarine replacement program will have nothing to do with national defense. Trident is about diplomatic clout, global posturing, domestic grandstanding, and huge sums of public expenditure.

AR Not "merely" a token of support but precisely that. We buy into US deterrence. This is priceless (or rather worth a hundred billion, which comes close).


Philip Stephens

Angela Merkel held out a hand of welcome. But Syrians fleeing barrel bombs and beheading did not need her permission to climb into boats. The forces driving the movement of people are heedless also of the discord between European capitals.

The challenge is immense. Populists have seized the opportunity. No one can be surprised at their appeal to fearful Europeans. However well the inflow is handled, stresses and dislocation are inevitable. But you cannot build a wall around Europe.

The European Union stands for cooperation. Its founding insight was that states can best achieve their national goals by pooling sovereignty. The logic of cooperation is as compelling as ever. But the EU political elites have lost the trust of their citizens.

UK vs EU

Nigel Lawson

I have decided to accept the position of president of Conservatives for Britain. We will be campaigning for the UK to leave the European Union unless there is real reform.

The EU is slow to react and resists change. Its democratic deficit has a counterpart in a bureaucratic surplus boosted by a belief in regulation. Creation of the United States of Europe has no democratic mandate anywhere in Europe and is wholly unacceptable to the UK.

The integration never stops. The founding right for people to be able to live and work freely in other EU countries now requires integrated solutions to issues such as vetting refugees and manning borders. Monetary union will require full fiscal and political union.

I would set out some red lines:
1 End the automatic supremacy of EU law over UK law.
2 Let the UK negotiate its own free trade deals with countries worldwide.
3 Let the UK control immigration from other EU countries.
4 Renounce the absolute commitment to ever closer union.

AR Lawson im Klartext: Resist pan-German hegemonism.

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