The Green Zone is now Red

Recently I cited Patrick Cockburn on the increasingly dangerous situation in the Iraqi countryside. Now we find that even the Green Zone in Baghdad is at risk:

The US embassy in Baghdad circulated a memo to all Americans working for the US government in the Green Zone. It ordered them to wear protective gear whenever they were outside in the Green Zone, including just moving from one building to another. Guerrillas have managed to lob a number of rockets into the area in recent days, and killed one US GI on Tuesday.
The Green Zone is therefore actually the Red Zone. I.e., it is no longer an area of good security contrasting to what is around it. Senator McCain was more wrong than can easily be imagined. Not only can American officials not just stroll through Baghdad districts unarmed and unprotected by armor, but they can’t even move that way from one building to the next inside the Green Zone!

To extend Cocklburn’s earlier analogy, not only have the enemy occupied Reading: the corgis are now wearing flak-jackets in Buckingham Palace Gardens.

"Expressing the Intelligence that Guides Computation"

My friend Charlie just drew my attention to a wonderful website: Courses for the B.A. in Computer Science at Maharishi University of Management. Some examples of the Truly Wondrous courses that they offer:

Algorithms: The Dynamics of Intelligence — The Relationship of Structure and Dynamics as the Basis for Efficient and Practical Software Development (CS 435)
Compiler Construction: Connecting Name and Form — The Source of All Programming Languages in Grammar and Semantics (CS 440)
Computer Communication Networks: Connecting the Parts and Whole — Frictionless Flow of Information (CS 450)
Software Technologies: Advanced Principles of Natural Law in Software Systems (CS 455)

Beautiful stuff. Who knew that LALR(1) could have such cosmic significance? But the detailed course descriptions are even stranger. For example:

Nature’s Cosmic Computing: Harnessing the Organizing Power of Knowledge (CS 101)
This course investigates the most fundamental knowledge at the basis of all computing and modern computer technology, and how it is connected to principles of the Science of Creative Intelligence and Vedic Science. We will look at the structure of computing itself, of computer science, and of the wide range of computing applications that are primary to all areas of professions and life today. (4 units)

And if that isn’t enough, you can add a minor in World Peace. Cloud-cuckoo-land, through and through.

Saved by reviewers from a tedious and expensive disappointment

I was in a bookshop this afternoon (yeah, I do occasionally visit bricks-and-mortar book stores), and I came across a very large and dazzingly white volume, The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe by Michael Frayn. I’ve always enjoyed his work, all the way back to The Tin Men in 1965, and I was tempted. But it was $32.50, and I decided that I should read the reviews first and then see what Amazon’s price was.
I’m glad I waited. The reviews were, for the most part, scathing, replete with adjectives such as “meandering”, “repetitive”, “tedious”, and “naive”. Here’s one reviewer at

In the more technical earlier chapters he completely loses the scientific and mathematical thread, making errors such as the claim on p 41 where he states with forceful amazement that there are two square roots of negative numbers as if this is a surprise to the likely readership. What he really means is there are two square roots for any number, but he misses this obvious fact and repeats the schoolboy mistake later in the book. This simply sets the scene for a plethora of later errors of a more significant scientific nature. […] I completed the book due to my respect for the author – I would not recommend it to anyone else unless seeking a critical exercise in the poor use of logic.

For the record, the price is $21.45. However I spent that money on two more CDs of Jonny Hahn’s solo piano music instead. (It was a beautiful afternoon here in Seattle, and Jonny was playing in his usual spot next to the Public Market.) For my various flights over the last few weeks I loaded my iPod with Jonny’s albums Collage and Lost in the Inzone, set it on “Repeat”, plugged in my headphones, and relaxed….
UPDATE: Here’s Colin McGinn, a philosopher who knows what he’s talking about, politely eviscerating Mr. Frayn.

An awe-inspiring sight

In all of the chaos and confusion of the last couple of weeks, I forgot to blog about this….
At about 10:30am on Tuesday, March 13, I was walking from my apartment to the bus-stop on 2nd Avenue, to catch the bus to SeaTac and then fly to London. It was a bright, sunny morning. As I walked down 5th Avenue towards South Jackson Street, all of the seagulls and pigeons took off and started flying this way and that, making a tremendous racket. And suddenly they all disappeared, and everything was strangely quiet….
Looking up, I saw a Bald Eagle swooping towards me, and then lifting effortlessly over the Union Station buildings. It was unmistakable, and magnificent.

"It is as if the government in London had lost control of Reading"

There’s a sobering piece by Patrick Cockburn in the Independent entitled And they call it peace: Inside Iraq, four years on:

The difficulty of reporting Iraq is that it is impossibly dangerous to know what is happening in most of the country outside central Baghdad. Bush and Blair hint that large parts of Iraq are at peace; untrue, but difficult to disprove without getting killed in the attempt. My best bet was to go to Sulaymaniyah[…] then drive south, sticking to a road running through Kurdish towns and villages to Khanaqin, a relatively safe Kurdish enclave in north-east Diyala province, one of the more violent places in Iraq.
We start for the south through heavy rain, and turn sharp east at Kalar, a grubby Kurdish town, to Jalawlah, a mixed Kurdish and Arab town where there has been fighting. […] We go to the heavily guarded office of the deputy head of the PUK, Mamosta Saleh, who says the situation in Diyala is getting worse. The insurgents have control of Baquba, the provincial capital….
Baquba is only 30 miles from Baghdad. It is as if the government in London had lost control of Reading.

Or as if the government in Washington DC had lost control of Annapolis or Baltimore..

US vs French Medical Care

Over at HuffPo, Martin Varsavsky describes his experience of French health care:

The case: I had a 3 cm cut on my chest that urgently required stitches. I was rushed to Hopital St Antoine which is not far from Place des Vosges where we have an apartment (my wife is French and we come frequently to Paris). I was successfully treated and sent home in less than 90 minutes.

This is consistent with my memories of treatment in England, too; perhaps Alec can comment. And the bottom line:

America probably has the best doctors in the world, the best medical research in the world and the best hospitals in the world. Once an American medical professional gets to treat you the medical care is great. It is not the treatment itself that is better in France, indeed I am sure that on many occasions it could be worse. But what´s wrong with the American health experience is that it is invaded by a lot of elements that are foreign to medicine. The result is [that] Americans spend the most in the world on medicine but […] rank 48th in the world in life expectancy. France is 16th.

Free will at the FT

There’s a nice review of books related to the “free will” debate over at the Financial Times. If you’re unfamiliar with the radical findings of Libet et al, you should check it out. I’m regretting the fact that I didn’t pick up Four Views on Free Will by John Martin Fischer, Robert Kane, Derk Pereboom and Manuel Vargas, when I was recently in Blackwell’s. I guess I can wait until it’s released in the US….

Beyond Belief 2006

How I’m planning to spend much of this weekend: watching the videos of the Beyond Belief 2006 conference.

After two centuries, could this be twilight for the Enlightenment project and the beginning of a new age of unreason? Will faith and dogma trump rational inquiry, or will it be possible to reconcile religious and scientific worldviews? Can evolutionary biology, anthropology and neuroscience help us to better understand how we construct beliefs, and experience empathy, fear and awe? Can science help us create a new rational narrative as poetic and powerful as those that have traditionally sustained societies? Can we treat religion as a natural phenomenon? Can we be good without God? And if not God, then what?
This is a critical moment in the human situation, and The Science Network in association with the Crick-Jacobs Center brought together an extraordinary group of scientists and philosophers to explore answers to these questions. The conversation took place at the Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA from November 5-7, 2006.