Monday, February 27, 2012

Booms and flashes

A couple of recent articles in New Scientist about strange sounds and lights on Earth:
* Every so often, a loud booming noise is heard from over the horizon without any obvious explanation.
*Weird earthquake warning lights (one of 'seven wonders of the atmosphere').

Sunday, February 26, 2012

No flow

Three days ago I learned that I may have osteoarthritis in my right knee.  This is no big deal in the scheme of things. It is not unusual in someone of my age (I am 48), but nor is it very common, and it hit me like a hammer blow.

I have been fortunate with my health and have been cross country running for many years. I have trekked in some of the toughest and most beautiful terrain on Earth. This year I had started training for a spring event, and was particularly looking forward to it, not least because some other avenues in life seem dark, perhaps blocked.   Running in the woods and the hills when the sun is bright can be a peak experience:  I enter a state of flow -- a zone -- that I otherwise experience only a few activities such as music and thinking-and-writing (when the thinking-and-writing is going especially well.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The complex

Campbell Craig and Jan Ruzicka argue that 'the nonproliferation complex' -- 'a loose conglomeration of academic programmes, think tanks, NGOs, charitable departments and government departments all formally dedicated to the reduction of nuclear dangers' -- is based on a (self) deception. Excerpt:
To eliminate the danger of eventual nuclear war, we will have to embark on a far more revolutionary political project than the nonproliferation complex acknowledges, or perhaps is even aware of. A study from 1946, when only one nation had the bomb, captured the problem:

"Effective international control to guarantee that atomic weapons could not be used by an aggressor nation is virtually impossible under the present concept of a world divided into nations maintaining their full sovereignty. No system of inspection can be expected to be 100 per cent effective in such a world, and 99 per cent is no guarantee."

The authors of this statement, not dreamy idealists but the US joint chiefs of staff, recognised what the complex has avoided. Nuclear abolition is not going to happen unless a regime is devised capable of preventing a national from building a bomb on the sly. Such a regime would have to be more powerful than any existing state, so cannot be conceived as part of a world divided into sovereign nations. If you want to get to nuclear zero, this is the kind of political agenda you have to address. As long as the tacit twin goals of the complex -- selective non-proliferation and ineffectual abolition -- continue to shape the international agenda, one outcome is certain: a world filled with nuclear weapons.

Friday, February 10, 2012


...Religions have wisely insisted that we are inherently flawed creatures: incapable of lasting happiness, beset by troubling sexual desires, obsessed by status, vulnerable to appalling accidents and always slowly dying. 
They have also, of course, in many cases believe in the possibility that a deity might be able to help us. We see this combination of despair and hope with particular clarity at Jerusalem's Western or Wailing Wall, where Jews have, since the second half of the sixteenth century, gathered to ari their griefs and to be their creator for help. At the base of the wall, they have written down their sorrows on small pieces of paper, inserted these into gaps and mong the stones and hoped that God would be moved to mercy by their pain. 
Remove God from this equation and what do we have left? Bellowing humans calling out in vain to an empty sky This is tragic and yet, if we are to recuse a shred of comfort from the bleakness, at least the dejected are to be found weeping together...
-- from Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton

P.S. 16 Feb: 'Religions are human creations,' writes John Gray. 'When they are consciously designed to be useful, they are normally short-lived. The ones that survive are those that have evolved to serve enduring human needs - especially the need for self-transcendence.'

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Stephen Hester and the sheriff of Rockridge

Stephen Hester explained that he and his colleagues had a duty "to defuse the biggest time bomb in history in terms of bank balance sheets."

But who created the time bomb if not the banks and their chums in off-shore and secrecy jurisdictions, aided by politicians?

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

How some conservatives corrupt language

One has to jump through some hoops of rhetoric and framing to get from Margaret Thatcher's 'there is no such thing as society' to Mitt Romney's 'corporations are people, my friend' but there is a straight line linking the two.

Niall Ferguson's abuse of language is no less striking when he adopts Joseph Schumpeter's most famous phrase to write, with evident relish, of an upcoming attack on Iran that 'It feels like the eve of some creative destruction.'

Winston Churchill, a great conservative, would not have talked of war in this way.

An ocean was here...

...once, perhaps twice

Here's an image, taken in 2005, of ice near Mars's north pole: