Common planets, incremental change, Moldova, capitalist theory, animal mind-melds and the (not so) Dark Ages

But the biggest surprise is this: there’s a whole class of worlds in between the size of Earth and Neptune, called either super-Earths or mini-Neptunes, where a rocky core is surrounded by a hydrogen-and-helium envelope of gas. This class not only exists, but it’s the most common type of planet in the Universe, to the best of our knowledge.

So why don’t we have even one in our Solar System?

Believe it or not, the chances are very good that we did. Once.

Imagining an effective strategy aimed at social transformation is an intrinsically complex matter, and no single method will succeed. A viable strategic mix must include, among other things, efforts to roll back the size and scope of the state incrementally. Government is unlikely to vanish all at once, so it is illegitimate to object that incremental changes can be reversed. (Of course they can — eternal vigilance, you know.)

Bringing down pro-EU governments fits all too well with Russia’s ambitions in the region. In which case the EU’s denial of budgetary support to Moldova is political suicide. Without that support, Moldova will collapse. And a failed state sandwiched between the unstable Ukraine and fragile Balkans – and featuring a pro-Kremlin enclave described by the FTas a “flashpoint – is the last thing the EU needs. It should think again.

There are other responses to the claim that socialism is more just and humane than capitalism, but I would like to focus on the one that I’ve often used: socialism in practice has always and everywhere tended to lead, to the degree that it is consistently applied, not to freedom and material well-being, but to tyranny and want. In other words, while socialism in theory may be all good things to all good people, the more government has practiced collectivism and central planning to achieve its goals of justice and equality, the farther it has fallen short of those goals.

In recent years, scientists have wondered what brains could do if they were linked together into even bigger networks. Miguel A. Nicolelis, director of the Center for Neuroengineering at Duke University, and his colleagues have now made the idea a bit more tangible by linking together animal brains with electrodes.

The idea that economic integration leads inexorably to political integration or is in itself sufficient was the brainchild of Jean Monnet, the “Father of Europe”. But it is based on a misreading of the unification process of Germany in the 19th century, which involved a customs union called theZollverein. This misconception continues to undermine the single currency because its advocates fail to appreciate that a polity’s primary concern is security rather than trade, as Otto von Bismarck, the “Father of Germany”, well understood. The great perversion for many people across Southern Europe is that the euro, by undermining economic security, has stoked political instability and a widespread feeling of powerlessness.

The aim? To perfect and mass-produce a novel silicon-based version of the transistor. This minute, solid device, no bigger than a fingernail, would be composed of silicon treated chemically in complex ways. It promised unprecedented standards of reliability to electronic devices. Shockley was counting on the reality that, in high-stakes defense markets, performance always trumped mere price. To accomplish his ambition, he urgently needed a competent chemist. He knew that Moore had recently turned down a position at a nuclear weapons lab in California. Might this young scientist be interested in the race to produce a reliable silicon transistor instead?

For many, the Middle Ages are ineradicably reprehensible, as well as comic: knights immobilized in their armor, fat monks panting after licentious nuns, ladies locked into chastity belts. The stand-bys of eighteenth-century derision have stood the test of time. Remember those angels dancing on a pinpoint? They still dance for those who believe that the medieval schools were engaged in a wasted intellectual effort.

Unfair! the medievalists have shouted, from the days when Edward Gibbon cried “Gone Away!” and set the enlightened hounds on the scent of decay and moldy monks that in his nostrils accompanied the fall of the Roman Empire. Unfair because it has been found again and again that our skills, laws, liberties, nations, and languages are the result of hard work in the millennium reputed dark, unlit by reason, and recessive from the sunshine of the classical civilizations, when perfectly formed philosophers sat debating in public colonnades, monk-free.


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