Sunday, November 14, 2010

Muslim inventions that shaped the modern world

By Olivia Sterns for CNN

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Exhibition celebrates 1,000 years of "forgotten" Muslim heritage
  • From coffee to cranks, items we couldn't live without today are Muslim inventions
  • Modern hospitals and universities both began in 9th century North Africa
London, England (CNN) -- Think of the origins of that staple of modern life, the cup of coffee, and Italy often springs to mind.
But in fact, Yemen is where the ubiquitous brew has its true origins.
Along with the first university, and even the toothbrush, it is among surprising Muslim inventions that have shaped the world we live in today.
The origins of these fundamental ideas and objects -- the basis of everything from the bicycle to musical scales -- are the focus of "1001 Inventions," a book celebrating "the forgotten" history of 1,000 years of Muslim heritage.
"There's a hole in our knowledge, we leap frog from the Renaissance to the Greeks," professor Salim al-Hassani, Chairman of the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation, and editor of the book told CNN.
"1001 Inventions" is now an exhibition at London's Science Museum. Hassani hopes the exhibition will highlight the contributions of non-Western cultures -- like the Muslim empire that once covered Spain and Portugal, Southern Italy and stretched as far as parts of China -- to present day civilization.
Here Hassani shares his top 10 outstanding Muslim inventions:
1. Surgery
Around the year 1,000, the celebrated doctor Al Zahrawi published a 1,500 page illustrated encyclopedia of surgery that was used in Europe as a medical reference for the next 500 years. Among his many inventions, Zahrawi discovered the use of dissolving cat gut to stitch wounds -- beforehand a second surgery had to be performed to remove sutures. He also reportedly performed the first caesarean operation and created the first pair of forceps.
2. Coffee
Now the Western world's drink du jour, coffee was first brewed in Yemen around the 9th century. In its earliest days, coffee helped Sufis stay up during late nights of devotion. Later brought to Cairo by a group of students, the coffee buzz soon caught on around the empire. By the 13th century it reached Turkey, but not until the 16th century did the beans start boiling in Europe, brought to Italy by a Venetian trader.
3. Flying machine
"Abbas ibn Firnas was the first person to make a real attempt to construct a flying machine and fly," said Hassani. In the 9th century he designed a winged apparatus, roughly resembling a bird costume. In his most famous trial near Cordoba in Spain, Firnas flew upward for a few moments, before falling to the ground and partially breaking his back. His designs would undoubtedly have been an inspiration for famed Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci's hundreds of years later, said Hassani.
4. University
In 859 a young princess named Fatima al-Firhi founded the first degree-granting university in Fez, Morocco. Her sister Miriam founded an adjacent mosque and together the complex became the al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and University. Still operating almost 1,200 years later, Hassani says he hopes the center will remind people that learning is at the core of the Islamic tradition and that the story of the al-Firhi sisters will inspire young Muslim women around the world today.
5. Algebra
The word algebra comes from the title of a Persian mathematician's famous 9th century treatise "Kitab al-Jabr Wa l-Mugabala" which translates roughly as "The Book of Reasoning and Balancing." Built on the roots of Greek and Hindu systems, the new algebraic order was a unifying system for rational numbers, irrational numbers and geometrical magnitudes. The same mathematician, Al-Khwarizmi, was also the first to introduce the concept of raising a number to a power.
6. Optics
"Many of the most important advances in the study of optics come from the Muslim world," says Hassani. Around the year 1000 Ibn al-Haithamproved that humans see objects by light reflecting off of them and entering the eye, dismissing Euclid and Ptolemy's theories that light was emitted from the eye itself. This great Muslim physicist also discovered the camera obscura phenomenon, which explains how the eye sees images upright due to the connection between the optic nerve and the brain.
7. Music
Muslim musicians have had a profound impact on Europe, dating back to Charlemagne tried to compete with the music of Baghdad and Cordoba, according to Hassani. Among many instruments that arrived in Europe through the Middle East are the lute and the rahab, an ancestor of the violin. Modern musical scales are also said to derive from the Arabic alphabet.
8. Toothbrush
According to Hassani, the Prophet Mohammed popularized the use of the first toothbrush in around 600. Using a twig from the Meswak tree, he cleaned his teeth and freshened his breath. Substances similar to Meswak are used in modern toothpaste.
9. The crank
Many of the basics of modern automatics were first put to use in the Muslim world, including the revolutionary crank-connecting rod system. By converting rotary motion to linear motion, the crank enables the lifting of heavy objects with relative ease. This technology, discovered by Al-Jazari in the 12th century, exploded across the globe, leading to everything from the bicycle to the internal combustion engine.
10. Hospitals
"Hospitals as we know them today, with wards and teaching centers, come from 9th century Egypt," explained Hassani. The first such medical center was the Ahmad ibn Tulun Hospital, founded in 872 in Cairo. Tulun hospital provided free care for anyone who needed it -- a policy based on the Muslim tradition of caring for all who are sick. From Cairo, such hospitals spread around the Muslim world.
For more information on muslim inventions go to: muslimheritage.comFor more information about the exhibition at London's Science Museum go to:science museum.org.uk
Find this article at:
http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/01/29/muslim.inventions/index.html?hpt=C2

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi - Fighting for Democracy

Myanmar democracy icon Suu Kyi released

YANGON: Myanmar’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest Saturday, an official said, as crowds of excited supporters waited outside her home for a glimpse of their idol.
The crowd cheered and began to surge fowards as police began removing barricades around her crumbling mansion where she has been locked up by the military junta for most of the past two decades.
The authorities went inside to read the order to release her from house arrest, a government official said.
“She is released now,” said the official, who did not want to be named.
More than 1,000 people were gathered outside in hope of seeing the 65-year-old dissident, known to her supporters simply as “The Lady”.
Although she has been sidelined and silenced by the junta, occasionally released briefly only to be put back in confinement, for many in the impoverished nation she still embodies hope of a better future.
“I think of her as my mother and also my sister and grandmother because she’s the daughter of our independence leader General Aung San,” said 45-year-old Naing Naing Win. “She has her father’s blood.”
Despite the risks of opposing the military regime in a country with more than 2,200 political prisoners, many supporters wore T-shirts bearing her image and the words: “We stand with Aung San Suu Kyi.”
Undercover police were photographing and filming the crowds.
Myanmar’s most famous dissident has been under house arrest since 2003, just one of several stretches of detention at the hands of the ruling generals.
Her sentence was extended last year over a bizarre incident in which an American swam uninvited to her lakeside home, sparking international condemnation and keeping her off the scene for the first election in 20 years.
The democracy icon swept her party to victory in elections two decades ago, but it was never allowed to take power.
When last released in 2002 she drew huge crowds wherever she went, a reminder that years of detention had not dimmed her immense popularity.
Some fear that junta chief Than Shwe will continue to put restrictions on the freedom of his number one enemy.
But her lawyer Nyan Win has suggested she would refuse to accept any conditions on her release, as in the past when she tried in vain to leave Yangon in defiance of the regime’s orders.
Her struggle for her country has come at a high personal cost: her husband, British academic Michael Aris, died in 1999, and in the final stages of his battle with cancer the junta refused him a visa to see his wife.
She has not seen her two sons for about a decade and has never met her grandchildren.
Her youngest son Kim Aris, 33, arrived in Bangkok ahead of her release but it was unclear whether he would be allowed to visit his mother.
Suu Kyi’s freedom is seen by observers as an effort by the regime to tame international criticism of Sunday’s election, the first since the 1990 vote.
Western nations and pro-democracy activists have blasted the poll as anything but free and fair following widespread reports of intimidation and fraud.
Partial election results show that the military and its political proxies have secured a majority in parliament.
The NLD’s decision not to participate in the election deeply split Myanmar’s opposition and Suu Kyi’s party has been disbanded, leaving her future role uncertain.
Little is known about her plans although her lawyer says she has expressed a desire to join Twitter to reach out to the Internet generation.
Few expect her to give up her long struggle for freedom from repression and attention is now on whether she can reunite the splintered opposition and bring about the democratic change that has eluded Myanmar for so long.

DAISY KHAN

November 12, 2010

An Eloquent Face of Islam





DAISY KHAN had never seen so many Jews in her life. The year was 1974, and Ms. Khan, an awkward, artistic 16-year-old who had just emigrated from India to the suburban Long Island enclave of Jericho, N.Y., was attending her first day of school in America.
It was not going well.
Her fellow students giggled at the newcomer with the dark skin, exotic accent and unfamiliar religion. Few Muslims, it seemed, had ever attended the mostly Jewish Jericho High School. When a teacher asked her to stand and introduce herself, the questions came fast: Did she ride a camel? Did she ride an elephant?
“It was very strange when you are 16 years old and you have to explain your religion to an entire class,” Ms. Khan, now 52, recalled recently in the Upper West Side offices of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, her nonprofit group. “But that’s where my first activism began. I realized that actually I was a spokesperson for Islam.”
It is a role she now inhabits on a far larger scale. Since the summer, Ms. Khan, a former architectural designer, has emerged as an eloquent and indefatigable public face of the maelstrom surrounding Park51, the Islamic community center and mosque that she and her husband, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, are trying to build two blocks north of ground zero.
A modern Muslim who prefers high fashion to the hijab, Ms. Khan has become a lightning rod for the anger of right-wing bloggers and commentators who consider the Islamic center an affront to the victims of Sept. 11, or worse.
Despite her message of inclusion, Ms. Khan has been accused by critics of being an extremist in a moderate’s garb, hiding a conservative Islamic agenda behind a friendly, modern face. “Daisy Khan can say what she wants,” L. Brent Bozell III, the founder of the conservative Media Research Center, said on Fox News last month. “This is what you expect from a radical like her.”
Some Muslims, too, have criticized Ms. Khan and her husband, saying they represent an elite subset of American Islam that was naïve about the anger its plans might generate.
But as the project became daily grist for news talk shows and a flash point in the midterm elections, Ms. Khan has transformed herself from an obscure leader in the nonprofit world into a fierce spokeswoman, passionately defending the project and, inevitably, finding herself cast as the voice of moderate Islam.
She parries with news anchors like Christiane Amanpour, on the ABC News program “This Week,” and was even asked to intervene when a pastor threatened a Koran burning in Florida this past Sept. 11.
“We Muslims are really fed up of having to be defined by the actions of the extremists," Ms. Khan told Laura Ingraham, the Fox News host, in one of her first talk-show appearances last December. “We are law-abiding citizens. We are faithful people. We are very good Americans. And we need to project a different message of Islam, one of tolerance, love and the kind of commonalities we have with different faith communities.”
Fame for being a spiritual leader may seem an unlikely development for a woman who, in her early life, abandoned her faith, sickened by images of violence that many Americans now associate with Islam. And it was certainly not the role she had planned.
Born into an affluent family in Kashmir, Ms. Khan was trained from the start to prepare for a professional career. She absorbed tales of the United States from her grandfather Ghulam Hassan Khan, who studied civil engineering at Harvard during the 1920s. Her father, Nazir Khan, a former soccer player, urged her to train for the Olympics.
At 16, she left for the United States to pursue an education in art and design, professions then considered off limits to women in Kashmir. She arrived on Long Island, living with an aunt and uncle, Arfa and Faroque Khan, doctors who later helped found the Islamic Center of Long Island, one of the region’s prominent mosques.
Jericho, her new home, “was so Jewish that there was not a single Christmas tree,” she recalled. Peter Madoff, brother of Bernard, lived nearby; Ms. Khan once hopped a ride into Manhattan on his seaplane. She learned pop culture while baby sitting for neighbors: “I got to see America through the lens of what bedtime stories do people read, what television do kids watch.”
She tried to assimilate into school, dropping her given name, Farhat, in favor of Daisy. A talent for field hockey won friends, and — this being the 1970s — she picked up a guitar and deemed herself a flower child. “If I had lived in the States I probably would have been in Woodstock,” she laughed.
After high school, she took humanities classes at Long Island University and earned a degree from the New York School of Design. Then, in her early 20s, she decamped to Manhattan and embraced the professional life, pulling 80-hour weeks as an architectural designer. Meanwhile, she lived on the Upper West Side, and would meet other young Muslim professionals for brunch at Zabar’s or Barney Greengrass.
India seemed far away.
Her workaholic lifestyle left little room for religion, although it occasionally intruded. At business meetings in places like Texas and Colorado, people would ask quizzically about her faith.
Yet unbeknownst to friends, she was wrestling with Islam, a struggle brought on, in part, by the rise of an Iranian theocracy that suppressed women’s rights.
After some soul-searching, she decided to abandon Islam because, she said, “it was too painful to always defend the actions of people that I couldn’t relate to.” But the choice left her adrift. By her mid-30s, she was an upwardly mobile Manhattanite with a high-paying design job, yet she felt unfulfilled.
In 1987, Ms. Khan began work as a project manager at Shearson Lehman Brothers on the top floor of the World Trade Center. On lunch breaks, she would walk by Masjid al-Farah, a mosque on West Broadway in TriBeCa, where one day she stopped in and met Mr. Abdul Rauf, the imam. He preached a liberal, mellower type of Islam, with an emphasis on meditation and inclusiveness. She began sneaking away from work for Friday afternoon prayers.
Here was a place where, Ms. Khan believed, she could reconcile her American identity with her religious heritage. This imam did not ask her to don the hijab or lose her Americanized name. He encouraged her to speak about women taking an active role in Islam. The two became close, and a courtship ensued. They married in 1996. Friends describe the couple as equal but complementary partners. “He is the thinker; she is the doer,” said Muzaffar Chishti, a lawyer who directs a think tank on immigration issues at New York University Law School, and a longtime friend who grew up with Ms. Khan in Kashmir.
She became interested in helping other Muslims, especially younger professionals like herself, balance their modern lives with tradition. In 1997, she and the imam opened a nonprofit to help promote a more progressive Islam, which was later renamed the American Society for Muslim Advancement.
She gained a reputation as a bridge builder. In January 2002, the group held an exhibition of works by Muslim artists to commemorate Sept. 11. A “bread-fest” in 2003 at St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue brought together dozens of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders. A 2006 conference in Copenhagen culminated in a face-to-face meeting between conservative Muslim leaders and Flemming Rose, the Danish newspaper editor who published the cartoons depicting Muhammad that set off a worldwide controversy.
“This is the internal Muslim conversation that we almost never get to have,” said John S. Bennett, a former vice president of the Aspen Institute and a collaborator on many multifaith projects with Ms. Khan. “The Muslim world does not have many opportunities to continue this kind of dialogue.”
The couple’s reputation grew. Ms. Khan quit her corporate job to focus on nonprofit work, and the couple appeared more frequently on television specials about a new brand of moderate Islam. Ms. Khan was asked to join an advisory panel on education for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
The idea of an Islamic center, modeled after the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side, had been a goal of the couple’s since the late 1990s. Ms. Khan was aggressive and tenacious in her fund-raising, at one point mailing prewritten letters of support to friends and asking for a signature.
But she and her husband did not anticipate the enormous controversy that would ensue, she said. Or the personal stress. The proposal has brought death threats; these days, she barely sees her husband and has had trouble sleeping. “There are some days I am afraid to turn on the TV,” she said.
Joyce Dubensky, who has worked with the couple as head of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, said that Ms. Khan was “visibly shaken” when she saw her at a function earlier this year.
“She said, ‘Joyce, I can’t believe what they’re saying, and that they’re coming after us,’ ” Ms. Dubensky recalled. “ ‘If we can’t build an interfaith community center, who can?’ ”
Asked about the recent stress, Ms. Khan, a loquacious speaker, paused and stared into the distance. Then her smile and upbeat tone returned. “I believe this affliction, even though it has taken a personal toll on us, is going to result in something better for all of us.”
Last year, months before the mosque controversy began, Jericho High School inducted Ms. Khan into its alumni hall of fame. At the event, she reunited with Ira Greene, the social studies teacher who had first asked the awkward Kashmiri teenager to share her heritage with a class of strangers.
“She was a great kid, a terrific student,” Mr. Greene said on the telephone from Brooklyn, where he now practices law. “I think she had a sense of what she was going to do from that day, that she was going to be more of a public person than a private person.”

Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic

October 9, 2010

By JOHN MARKOFF


MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Anyone driving the twists of Highway 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles recently may have glimpsed aToyota Prius with a curious funnel-like cylinder on the roof. Harder to notice was that the person at the wheel was not actually driving.
The car is a project of Google, which has been working in secret but in plain view on vehicles that can drive themselves, using artificial-intelligence software that can sense anything near the car and mimic the decisions made by a human driver.
With someone behind the wheel to take control if something goes awry and a technician in the passenger seat to monitor the navigation system, seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in the nation. The only accident, engineers said, was when one Google car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light.
Autonomous cars are years from mass production, but technologists who have long dreamed of them believe that they can transform society as profoundly as the Internet has.
Robot drivers react faster than humans, have 360-degree perception and do not get distracted, sleepy or intoxicated, the engineers argue. They speak in terms of lives saved and injuries avoided — more than 37,000 people died in car accidents in the United States in 2008. The engineers say the technology could double the capacity of roads by allowing cars to drive more safely while closer together. Because the robot cars would eventually be less likely to crash, they could be built lighter, reducing fuel consumption. But of course, to be truly safer, the cars must be far more reliable than, say, today’s personal computers, which crash on occasion and are frequently infected.

The Google research program using artificial intelligence to revolutionize the automobile is proof that the company’s ambitions reach beyond the search engine business. The program is also a departure from the mainstream of innovation in Silicon Valley, which has veered toward social networks and Hollywood-style digital media.
During a half-hour drive beginning on Google’s campus 35 miles south of San Francisco last Wednesday, a Prius equipped with a variety of sensors and following a route programmed into the GPS navigation system nimbly accelerated in the entrance lane and merged into fast-moving traffic on Highway 101, the freeway through Silicon Valley.
It drove at the speed limit, which it knew because the limit for every road is included in its database, and left the freeway several exits later. The device atop the car produced a detailed map of the environment.
The car then drove in city traffic through Mountain View, stopping for lights and stop signs, as well as making announcements like “approaching a crosswalk” (to warn the human at the wheel) or “turn ahead” in a pleasant female voice. This same pleasant voice would, engineers said, alert the driver if a master control system detected anything amiss with the various sensors.
The car can be programmed for different driving personalities — from cautious, in which it is more likely to yield to another car, to aggressive, where it is more likely to go first.
Christopher Urmson, a Carnegie Mellon University robotics scientist, was behind the wheel but not using it. To gain control of the car he has to do one of three things: hit a red button near his right hand, touch the brake or turn the steering wheel. He did so twice, once when a bicyclist ran a red light and again when a car in front stopped and began to back into a parking space. But the car seemed likely to have prevented an accident itself.
When he returned to automated “cruise” mode, the car gave a little “whir” meant to evoke going into warp drive on “Star Trek,” and Dr. Urmson was able to rest his hands by his sides or gesticulate when talking to a passenger in the back seat. He said the cars did attract attention, but people seem to think they are just the next generation of the Street View cars that Google uses to take photographs and collect data for its maps.
The project is the brainchild of Sebastian Thrun, the 43-year-old director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, a Google engineer and the co-inventor of the Street View mapping service.
In 2005, he led a team of Stanford students and faculty members in designing the Stanley robot car, winning the second Grand Challenge of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a $2 million Pentagon prize for driving autonomously over 132 miles in the desert.
Besides the team of 15 engineers working on the current project, Google hired more than a dozen people, each with a spotless driving record, to sit in the driver’s seat, paying $15 an hour or more. Google is using six Priuses and an Audi TT in the project.
The Google researchers said the company did not yet have a clear plan to create a business from the experiments. Dr. Thrun is known as a passionate promoter of the potential to use robotic vehicles to make highways safer and lower the nation’s energy costs. It is a commitment shared by Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, according to several people familiar with the project.
The self-driving car initiative is an example of Google’s willingness to gamble on technology that may not pay off for years, Dr. Thrun said. Even the most optimistic predictions put the deployment of the technology more than eight years away.
One way Google might be able to profit is to provide information and navigation services for makers of autonomous vehicles. Or, it might sell or give away the navigation technology itself, much as it offers its Android smart phone system to cellphone companies.
But the advent of autonomous vehicles poses thorny legal issues, the Google researchers acknowledged. Under current law, a human must be in control of a car at all times, but what does that mean if the human is not really paying attention as the car crosses through, say, a school zone, figuring that the robot is driving more safely than he would?
And in the event of an accident, who would be liable — the person behind the wheel or the maker of the software?
“The technology is ahead of the law in many areas,” said Bernard Lu, senior staff counsel for the California Department of Motor Vehicles. “If you look at the vehicle code, there are dozens of laws pertaining to the driver of a vehicle, and they all presume to have a human being operating the vehicle.”
The Google researchers said they had carefully examined California’s motor vehicle regulations and determined that because a human driver can override any error, the experimental cars are legal. Mr. Lu agreed.
Scientists and engineers have been designing autonomous vehicles since the mid-1960s, but crucial innovation happened in 2004 when the Pentagon’s research arm began its Grand Challenge.
The first contest ended in failure, but in 2005, Dr. Thrun’s Stanford team built the car that won a race with a rival vehicle built by a team from Carnegie Mellon University. Less than two years later, another event proved that autonomous vehicles could drive safely in urban settings.
Advances have been so encouraging that Dr. Thrun sounds like an evangelist when he speaks of robot cars. There is their potential to reduce fuel consumption by eliminating heavy-footed stop-and-go drivers and, given the reduced possibility of accidents, to ultimately build more lightweight vehicles.
There is even the farther-off prospect of cars that do not need anyone behind the wheel. That would allow the cars to be summoned electronically, so that people could share them. Fewer cars would then be needed, reducing the need for parking spaces, which consume valuable land.
And, of course, the cars could save humans from themselves. “Can we text twice as much while driving, without the guilt?” Dr. Thrun said in a recent talk. “Yes, we can, if only cars will drive themselves.”

BLOODHOUND

How to Drive at 1,000 mph
Nov 10th 2010, 15:05 by P.M.
GOOD news that Cosworth, a British engineering company best known as the maker of high-performance motors, is supplying one of its Formula 1 engines to a team hoping to set a 1,000mph (1,609kph) land-speed record in Bloodhound SSC (for super-sonic car). It is heartening that even in these straitened times companies are prepared to support bold attempts to push human and technical abilities to new limits. More than 200 other firms will also be helping out.

The Cosworth CA2010 engine would give any car a bit of poke. But alone it is not enough to get the Bloodhound SSC into the record books. Sitting in the centre of the vehicle, the Cosworth engine will run as an auxiliary power unit to operate various systems. This includes delivering hydraulic power to start an EJ200 jet engine from a Typhoon Eurofighter. This will quickly propel the car to more than 200mph, at which point the third engine will be ignited: a novel hybrid rocket, fitted below the jet.
The rocket has been designed by Daniel Jubb, a 26-year-old rocketeer. It uses a rubber-based solid fuel, which burns only when it is oxidised in the presence of a catalyst and a substance called High Test Peroxide (HTP), a concentrated form of hydrogen peroxide. The Cosworth engine will also pump the HTP into the rocket. It has to deliver 800 litres of the stuff in just 20 seconds, and withstand 3G of acceleration forces for 40 seconds. In an F1 car the engine would have to endure maximum forces for just three or four seconds, but Cosworth reckons it will be up to the job.
With all three engines flat out, Bloodhound SSC should go through the sound barrier as it passes 750mph and then complete a measured mile at 1,000mph. The car will be stopped with the help of airbrakes and parachutes, cooled, refuelled and prepared for another run in under 60 minutes. The record is judged as the average speed of two runs in opposite directions held within an hour. According to their calculations, the Bloodhound team hope to reach a top speed of 1,050mph.
An impressive mock-up of the car has been built and, with the overall design now fixed, the actual vehicle will start to take shape at the Bloodhound team’s HQ in a borrowed warehouse in the historic dockside area of Bristol. The team is led by Richard Noble, who set the land-speed record at 633mph in Thrust 2 in October 1983. Mr Noble then went on to manage the Thrust SSC, which was driven by Andy Green, an RAF pilot. This car was the first to break the sound barrier, and the 763mph averaged by Wing Commander Green at Black Rock Desert, Nevada, in October 1997 remains the record. If all goes to plan, Wing Commander Green will attempt the 1,000mph record at Hakskeen Pan in South Africa’s Northern Cape in the summer of 2012.
Before that, though, an extensive period of fund-raising, construction and testing will have to be completed. Somewhat unusually for a team planning to set a new world record, all the technical details of the Bloodhound SSC are being published online, including engineering debates over the design of parts of the car. The reason for this is that the project is also being used as an education programme with some 4,000 schools taking part. The idea is to stimulate interest in science and engineering among pupils. Speed freaks should have a field day too with all the information, especially as Cosworth will be using its electronics systems to transmit 500 channels of data from Bloodhound SSC, and making it live on the internet. Babbage will be following the exploits.

OBAMA'S INDIA VISIT

The K-word
Nov 3rd 2010, 11:10 by A.R. | SRINAGAR
WILL Barack Obama, who arrives in India for his first official tour of the country in the next few days, be forced to utter the K-word? America has a tried-and-tested formula when asked if it will get involved in troubled Kashmir: after some 60 years of conflict, unless both Pakistan and India seek outsiders’ assistance, it will not push itself forward. And since India has no intention of doing so, that means America will stay away.

Yet as a presidential candidate Mr Obama promised to seek some sort of diplomatic resolution in Kashmir. He talked of deploying an envoy to encourage peaceful progress there. His envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, has mightily annoyed the Indians in the past by bringing up Kashmir as relevant to the wider region.

All this might have been quietly forgotten in Mr Obama's forthcoming trip, except for thedreadful events of the past five months, in which Indian security forces have killed more than 110 Kashmiri separatist protesters, some of whom had hurled stones at police, and injured many more.

As winter approaches in Kashmir—autumn leaves are being burnt in bonfires on roads, bundles of hay and cartloads of firewood are being brought in to the steep-rooved houses—there is no obvious sign of things improving. This week the state government closed its offices in Srinagar, the summer capital, and sent a convoy of 100 or so lorries to Jammu, the winter one, full of the paraphernalia of government. This could mark the start of a calmer period in the Kashmir valley, but in some places the authorities still feel the need to impose a curfew, and all over the region separatist and nationalist leaders enforce a largely effective hartal, or boycott of business activity, on most days of the month.

This week in Srinagar young boys continued to hurl stones at the police and other security forces, who are on the streets in great numbers. A visit by the Indian home minister did nothing to quell the anger. The deployment of a group of three independent “interlocutors” to the region, from Delhi, has so far served merely to provoke a backlash from Hindu nationalist agitators in other parts of India.

Anxiety lingers, too, over the coming year. This summer's protests had one saving grace: the Kashmiris used no weapons more powerful than stones. But anger among young Kashmiris is growing. Summer protests in 2008 and 2009 built up to this year's. With each death, and each example of police brutality, they grow more resentful and more radical.

Next year could be grimmer still. Kashmiris are eyeing events not far away, in Afghanistan, where 2011 could mark the start of the first efforts to withdraw NATO soldiers. Some draw comparisons to the withdrawal of Soviet forces at the end of the 1980s. That, by inspiring some Kashmiris to believe that “imperial” India could also be chased away through militant warfare, eventually led to violent conflict in the 1990s.

The authorities in Delhi are also watching events in Afghanistan closely. Any sign that the Taliban might have a chance of moving closer to power again in Kabul deeply troubles the Indians, who see the movement as close to Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, which is routinely blamed for trying to stir up violence in Kashmir and for inserting armed militants across the India-Pakistan line of control. All this, in other words, comes close to the most important foreign-affairs issue facing Mr Obama: how to get out of Afghanistan. In private, at least, he may feel obliged to utter the K-word.

American Success Story


Why is America so rich?
Nov 9th 2010, 13:50 by R.A. | LONDON
ECONOMIC gloom and doom aside, America remains the world's richest large country. It's generally estimated to have a per capita GDP level around $45,000, while the richest European nations manage only a $40,000 or so per capita GDP (setting aside low population, oil-rich states like Norway). Wealth underlies America's sense of itself as a special country, and it's also cited as evidence that America is better than other economies on a range of variables, from economic freedom to optimism to business savvy to work ethic.
But why exactly is America so rich? Karl Smith ventures an explanation:
I am going to go pretty conventional on this one and say a combination of three big factors
  1. The Common Law
  2. Massive Immigration
  3. The Great Scientific Exodus during WWII
You’ll notice that four of the top five countries in the Human Development Index have the Common Law and the top, Norway, is a awash in oil. Without the petro-kronors they probably wouldn’t be so hot.
You’ll also notice that 3 of the top 4, again with Norway the odd man out, are immigrant nations. The founder effect here should be clear.
The bonus from the great exodus is definitely waning. Most of our hey-day German and Jewish scientists are dying off, but its still given us a boost that lingers to this day. There is no fundamental reason why the US should be the center of the scientific world but for a time it was the only place in the world safe for many scientists.
It's a difficult question to tackle because there's so very much to it. America jumped to a huge productivity lead early last century by developing a resource- and capital-intense, high-throughput style of manufacturing producing mass market goods. The fractious, class-riven European continent struggled to copy this technology, and while adoption of these methods eventually led to a period of rapid catch-up growth, the process of catch-up was never quite completed. And so that's one gap to explore.
There's also the question of what exactly one is comparing. What if we take similar European and American metropolitan areas and adjust for human capital and hours worked? On that basis, the difference between America and northern Europe looks relatively small. One might then focus on the ways in which America's more integrated domestic market leads to a lower level of within-continent inequality, even though national inequality levels in Europe compare favourably with America's.
The size of the market may be more important than we imagine. As Mr Smith notes, four of the top five HDI countries share the Common Law. They also speak English. In a world in which national and cultural barriers still bite, America's wealth could be chalked up to the fact that it's a uniquely large and uniform nation. Common rules, culture, language, and so on facilitate high levels of trade and mobility. National and cultural barriers within Europe, by contrast, work to limit the extent to which the economic potential of the continent can be reached.
Mr Smith also gets at something important in discussing immigration and talent. The economic geography of the world is lumpy, and talent likes to clump together into centres of innovation. Through fortune and foresight, America managed to develop world-leading centres of talent in places like Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York. Relatively open immigration rules and the promise of a safe harbour for war refugees, including persecuted Jews, helped build these knowledge centres. When one combines that innovative capacity with a system that makes it relatively easy to develop ideas and relatively lucrative to exploit them economically, the potential is there for rapid and sustained growth.
America does seem to be special in important ways, but it's not always clear what those ways are. A liberal economic order and geographically mobile population are important, but so is the level of education, the promise of social mobility, and the openness of America's borders. It's worth keeping all of that in mind as the country's leaders think about the ways economic policy should change in the wake of the Great Recession.


Source : http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2010/11/growth