Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Things to Read, 19th February

I have just arrived in Helsinki, where I am visiting current collaborators and future colleagues at the Helsinki Institute of Physics for a few days. I will give a talk next Wednesday, about which more later. In the meantime though, a quick selection of interesting things I have read recently:
  • Did you know that about 6 million years ago, the Mediterranean sea is believed to have basically evaporated, leaving a dry seabed? This is called the Messinian Salinity Crisis, which I first learned about from this blog. There's also an animated video showing a hypothesised course of events leading to the drying up:

    Very soon after, the Atlantic probably came flooding back in over the straits of Gibraltar – an event known as the Zanclean Flood – and, according to some models, could have refilled the whole basin back up in a very short time. Spare a thought for the poor hippopotamuses that got stuck on the seabed ...
  • A long feature in next month's issue of National Geographic Magazine is called The Drones Come Home, by John Horgan. Horgan has written a blog piece about this at Scientific American, which he has titled 'Why Drones Should Make You Afraid'. In the blog piece he has a bullet-point summary of the most disturbing facts about unmanned aircraft (military or otherwise) taken from the main piece. Some of these include:

    - "The Air Force has produced [a video showing] possible applications of Micro Air Vehicles [...] swarming out of the belly of a plane and descending on a city, where [they] stalk and kill a suspect."
    - "The Obama regime has quietly compiled legal arguments for assassinations of American citizens without a trial"
    - "The enthusiasm of the U.S. for drones has triggered an international arms race. More than 50 other nations now possess drones, as well as non-governmental militant groups such as Hezbollah."

    Scary stuff; worth reading the whole thing.
  • I wrote some time ago about Niall Ferguson's argument about economics with Paul Krugman (this was in the context of a lot of nonsense Ferguson was coming up with at the time, both in his Reith lectures for the BBC, and in other publications). I just learned (via a post by Krugman, who also just learned) that Ferguson had already apparently admitted that he got it wrong, about a year ago. Krugman's response to that is here; I'd add that I notice this admission didn't seem to stop Ferguson continuing the same economic reasoning in his Reith lectures a few months later!
  • A review of John Lanchester's new novel Capital, by Michael Lewis in the New York Review of Books. Quite often Almost always with the NYRB, I read reviews of books before I have read the actual book. In this case the result was to make me resolve to buy a copy.

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