Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

collaboration is important

Saturday, May 4th, 2019

Sixty years ago the British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow (1905-1980) delivered his famous lecture The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, published later the same year in book form. FT columnist Tim Harford celebrates the occasion this week in a column that reminds me that IIASA, the Austrian research institute with which I have been associated since my retirement from the UN in 2004, provides a meeting place for mathematicians, statisticians, social scientists -from sociologists to economists- and natural scientists -from biologists to physicists- to work together. This is an important public service, as Snow’s lecture and Harford’s column clearly show. (more…)

Sci-Fi predictions of the future

Saturday, March 16th, 2019

Zambian author Namwali Serpell has written an interesting essay for this week’s Sunday Book Review of the New York Times. She covers a lot of ground, including her own work. I particularly liked this example of predicting the future:

I write science fiction set in the near future, so I’m constantly testing my own powers of prophecy. I once wrote a story about a germaphobic couple who want to have sex without touching. They purchase the “TouchFeely” — my nod to the “Feelies” in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1932) — an apparatus that includes an electrified dildo and a sheath that respond remotely to each other. The year after the story came out, I learned about Hera and Zeus, “the world’s first internet-enabled” sex toys. These “teledildonic” devices uncannily resemble my fictional invention. I was a little disconcerted. My story is a satire about bourgeois disconnection. My characters each start affairs with the bot. One ends up choking on the dildo. But I’ll confess: I felt a perverse pleasure, too. It was as if I had conjured something into existence — the dream of every artist.

Namwali Serpell, “When Sci-Fi Comes True“, New York Times Sunday Book Review, 16 March 2019, page 15.

From Wikipedia, I learned that Ms Serpell (born 1980) moved to the US with her family when she was nine years old. Her father is a psychologist and her mother is an economist. She is associate professor of English at the University of California-Berkeley and visits Zambia annually.

life, death and consciousness

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

I finished reading this fascinating book, and would like to share a few segments with you. The entire book is useful for anyone considering the right to life of a fetus or the right to life (or death) of an unconscious, older person in a vegetative state. It has made me re-think my ‘living will’, my request that no special efforts be made to prolong my life should I become unconscious and unresponsive.

What is consciousness? This is a surprisingly complex question. The author of this book, British neuroscientist Adrian Owen, explains that “part of the problem is that questions about consciousness have as much to do with personal taste as science”. (more…)

chemical and conventional weapons in Syria

Monday, April 16th, 2018

FT chief foreign affairs columnist Gideon Rachman writes that destruction of chemical plants and deposits will have little effect on the war in Syria, even if the Assad regime refrains from using chemical weapons,  it is free to use conventional weapons against rebels and the civilian population. (more…)

Jan Morris at lunch with the FT

Sunday, March 25th, 2018

This week’s Lunch with the FT, hosted by FT political correspondent Henry Mance, is one of the best I have read. It is very entertaining.

Welsh historian and travel writer Jan Morris, CBE, FRSL (born 1926) published under her birth name (James) until 1972, when she had surgery and transitioned from living as a male to living as a female. Now aged 91, she continues to live with the woman she married in 1949. The couple had five children together. (more…)

lunch with the FT at Mar-a-Lago

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018

I am bored with Donald Trump, his family and his friends. What I most enjoyed in this week’s FT lunch with a close friend of Trump were the photos of Mar-a-Lago, where the lunch took place. Here are two of the photos. The first is a painting of Donald in his youth. (more…)

addition to my cv

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

Today I completed my facebook cv by adding the high school diploma I received in 1962. It is from Lincoln High School in Lincoln, Nebraska. Although it is a modest public school, its wiki page contains a list of notable alumni. I did not make the cut. I recognize only three names of those listed: Dick Cavett, Ted Sorensen and Charles Starkweather. (more…)

Trump’s private meeting with Putin

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

The meeting at the G20 summit on July 7 was unplanned and lasted an hour. Mr Putin’s translator was the only person who witnessed the event, so we are left with no record of the conversation. Julianne Smith explains why this is dangerous.

[I]nternational summits are not wedding receptions. World leaders do not wander from table to table, making small talk. Summits and the meals accompanying them are highly choreographed and scripted events and for good reason. ….

For one reason or another, while he was at the G20 dinner, Mr Trump decided that, irrespective of what his team had spent months planning, he would disregard both their guidance and standard protocol and meet Mr Putin for a second time. ….

Most troubling is that … [meeting without] an American translator … gave the Russians a huge advantage. It enabled Mr Putin to say things he might not have said in the presence of his own staff or Mr Trump’s. ….

Equally troubling was the fact that the meeting lasted an hour, which means it was neither happenstance nor a brief pull aside. …. Did Mr Trump, with his notorious pro-Russian views, promise to lift sanctions, give up on Ukraine or ignore Russia’s human rights abuses at home? We will never know.

…. It [also] sent a clear signal about how much the US values Russia, a signal that Mr Putin certainly relished.

Julianne Smith, “Putting aside protocol spells danger for Donald Trump”, Financial Times, 21 July 2017 (gated paywall).

Ms Smith is a former US Deputy National Security Adviser to Vice-President Joseph Biden and former Principal Director of European/Nato Policy at The Pentagon.

military and non-military spending on security

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

Princeton political scientist Andrew Moravcsik argues that Europe pays its fair share of Nato security once non-military spending is included along with military spending. This is an interesting perspective, as non-military spending does contribute to security, and 23 of the 28 Nato members are criticised for spending less than 2% of GDP on defence. (more…)

job losses in US retail sales

Friday, May 26th, 2017

Productivity is rising rapidly in the US retail sector, driven by a shift to large, self-service stores and, in recent years, to online shopping. Increased productivity brings decreased employment in the sector unless there is an offsetting increase in output. Nonetheless, the fragility of jobs in retail sales has been neglected by nearly all politicians, including Donald Trump.

FT columnist Edward Luce explains. (more…)