Tom Russell reviewed

by Chris Bertram on October 1, 2005

My interest in americana and similar was noted by a former student who runs the music pages of a local arts magazine, so I was drafted in to review a performance by “Tom Russell”: in Bristol the other day. As you’ll see from “the review in Decode magazine”: , I had a good time, and I’m hoping for similar commissions in the future!

Soft power, tough love

by Maria on October 1, 2005

A while back, I read Mark Leonard’s ‘Why Europe will run the 21st century’ . I enjoyed his defense of the insidious usefulness of soft power, even if I found myself feeling a lot less sanguine about its potential limits. A short piece about Uzbekistan in yesterday’s Financial Times snapped those limits sharply into focus.

Next Monday, the European General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will formally impose sanctions on Uzbekistan, almost five months after the massacre of protesting citizens in Andijan. What devastating blow will the GAERC deliver to the regime that slaughters protestors in their hundreds and boils dissidents alive? We will reduce the tiny amount of aid we now give Uzbekistan (about 8 million Euro p.a.), impose an arms embargo (though we sell them hardly any already), and stop issuing visas for ministers’ wives’ shopping trips to Paris. Soft power indeed.

The FT quotes a European diplomat saying “We’ve taken strong and determined actions which leave the Uzbeks in no doubt as to the strong feelings of the EU.” However, the Uzbek government already knew just how strongly the EU feels about its most recent actions and long decline into unapologetic authoritarianism. And it has known for a very long time that the EU has no bargaining or coercive power to effect any real change in Uzbekistan. [click to continue…]

Narcissism and the pro-war left

by Chris Bertram on October 1, 2005

I’ve been noticing a more and more frequent theme in the writings of the pro-war “left” recently, but no-one, I think, has managed to achieve “the narcissism and self-pity of John Lloyd”: in the Financial Times:

bq. The great betrayal of liberalism and of the left was not opposition to the war but the insouciant, opportunist, morally indignant denunciation of those who, for diverse motives to be sure, sought to give force to the rhetoric of liberation. They have been so content to denounce that they think nothing of what they damage. It is the idea, and ideal, of freedom itself.

Good intentions should count for nothing here. You backed a disastrous project, mismanaged by morons, sold by lies, and it has turned into a bloody mess. But those who point this out attack “freedom itself.” Sheesh!


by John Quiggin on October 1, 2005

The New York Times has an article by Brian Greene, a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia about Einstein’s famous equation E=mc². In it he says:

The standard illustrations of Einstein’s equation – bombs and power stations – have perpetuated a belief that E = mc² has a special association with nuclear reactions and is thus removed from ordinary activity.

This isn’t true. When you drive your car, E = mc² is at work. As the engine burns gasoline to produce energy in the form of motion, it does so by converting some of the gasoline’s mass into energy, in accord with Einstein’s formula. When you use your MP3 player, E = mc² is at work. As the player drains the battery to produce energy in the form of sound waves, it does so by converting some of the battery’s mass into energy, as dictated by Einstein’s formula. As you read this text, E = mc² is at work. The processes in the eye and brain, underlying perception and thought, rely on chemical reactions that interchange mass and energy, once again in accord with Einstein’s formula.

I only did high school science, but I’m sure I remember learning the exact opposite of this claim, that chemical reactions like combustion leave mass and energy unchanged, only converting some of the chemical energy in the fuel into kinetic energy, and some into heat, with a net increase in entropy. Only nuclear reactions, I was taught, converted mass to energy. Wikipedia seems to back this up, though it isn’t absolutely unambiguous.

Can anyone set me (or, less plausibly, Greene) straight here?

fn1. As an aside, I also remember reading that a more correct version would be E=M. The term in c² just reflects an arbitrary choice of units in the metric system. But maybe that’s wrong too.