Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Washington Post
Charles Krauthammer, Obama’s Blame Bush policy
David Ignatius, More troops to Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal
Editorial: A recovery at last, but will it turn into a durable expansion?
Yossi Klein Halevi, In tablood cartoons and dinner party conversations, Israelis brace themselves for war with Iran

The New York Times
Editorial: Mrs. Clinton in Pakistan
Paul Krugman, This is the defining moment for healthcare reform
David Brooks, Does Obama have the determination it takes to be a war president?

The Telegraph
Jeff Randall, Tony ‘the twister’ Blair now wants a free ride on the Euro Express
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Central banks chill asset rally

The Independent
Editorial, A troubling lack of transparency
Steve Richards, Blair is the only man for this job
Excerpts from a Manmohan Singh speech, At long last there is real hope for peace between India and Pakistan

The Times
Editorial: Taking on the Taleban
Tony Brenton, Five ways Britain can get the most from Russia

From the FT’s comment section:

Samuel Brittan: Goodbye to the pre-crisis trend line
Philip Stephens: The future or the museum? Europe’s moment of choice
Martin Feldstein: Why the renminbi has to rise to address imbalances
Nigel Rudd: Close the funding gap for smaller businesses
Editorial: US engine revs up
Editorial: UK’s reset button with the Kremlin
Editorial: HMS Lloyds
Global Insight: Edward Luce, Disenchanted Americans feel they are still in slump
Market Insight: Gillian Tett, Lessons to be gleaned from Singapore’s property boom
Notebook: Jonathan Guthrie, Digital spies will tame the roadhogs
Lex: The agenda-setting column on business and finance

The Washington Post
Robert Kagan, Raise or fold with Iran?
E.J. Dionne Jr., Democrats should embrace Obama for the benefits he can bring

The Wall Street Journal
Karl Rove, Tuesday’s election and the Obama agenda: losses in Virginia and New Jersey could spook Congress
Editorial: All rise for president what’s-his-name: does the EU want a global leader or not?

The New York Times
Nicholas Kristof, More schools, less troops
Editorial: Ongoing agony of the banks

The Telegraph
Editorial: The EU: a Blair presidency would be bad news for Britain
Timothy Kirkhope, If we can’t stop the existence of a President of Europe, let’s hope he’s low key
David Blair, Tehran’s nuclear ambitions have overtaken Afghanistan as the biggest security problem

The Independent
Editorial: Breaking up the banks properly
Charles Clarke, Keep Blair away from the EU presidency

The Times
Editorial: Do something

The Guardian
Timothy Garton Ash, This EU job is no presidency and it won’t be Blair

From the FT’s comment section:
John Gapper: A three-way split is the most logical
Max Hastings: The west’s strategic options in Afghanistan
Peter Clarke: How to avoid a repeat of the Great Crash
Paavo Lipponen: The next stage is to work for a stronger Union
Kevin Brown: Asian summitry that hides a battle for influence
Editorial: Blair is the wrong man for EU job
Editorial: New powers for Federal Reserve
Global Insight: Ralph Atkins, Europe reaps rewards of short-time jobs
Market Insight: Tim Bond, Stimuli can be safely removed
Notebook: Jim Pickard, A big job requires a big name
Lex: The agenda-setting column on business and finance

Ian Holdsworth

At 48 I’ve probably left it too late to win Wimbledon or join Fabio Capello in South Africa next year to help England lift the World Cup. But I still harbour secret hopes of conjuring up the definitive explanation of physical reality in a grand theory of everything, and from there it would be a mere quantum jump to the Lucasian Professorship of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, the chair once held by Sir Isaac Newton.

(OK, I admit I was disappointed with my C grade Higher Maths A-level in 1979, but it would have been a different story if I’d remembered that the curve of a washing line is called a catenary – and on a good day I might have known that!)

Last week I learnt of a new setback for my cosmological ambitions.

I’d been pipped to the Lucasian post by one of the world’s most brilliant theoretical physicists, a founding father of string theory called Michael Green. He succeeds some of the greatest names in the history of science – not just Newton, but Charles Babbage, Paul Dirac and Professor Stephen Hawking, who’s had the job for the last 30 years.

I was devastated to be overlooked, but I’ve already adjusted. My new plan is to use the internet to make sure I’m ready when the position comes around next time.

The late American astronomer Carl Sagan is still a good place to start. I can just about follow his explanation on YouTube, from a television show way back when, of how to think in four dimensions.

But 10 or 11 dimensions is the norm for today’s proponents of M-theory, which is scientists’ best shot so far at fusing the two main theoretical foundations of contemporary physics: Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity and the quantum mechanics of Max Planck.

I don’t mind admitting I’ve lost sleep trying to visualise more than three dimensions. Here’s my best (Euclidean) stab at it so far:

Imagine a cube. Then imagine it packed with an infinite number of infinitely small light bulbs, so that every point in the cube can have its brightness turned up and down independently. That’s your fourth dimension – x, y, z and “b” for brightness. Superimpose further sets of infinitely small lightbulbs to represent other variable qualities – such as “spiciness”, “slinkiness”, “sassiness”, whatever takes your fancy – and you can twiddle imaginary knobs to mix in as many dimensions as you like.

If only Carl Sagan could do the video for me: How to escape from inside a cube whose “solid” walls exist only at one particular level of brightness (or even “sassiness”).

But apparently our universe is stranger even than this. According to string theory, we’re unaware of dimensions other than space and time because they are “curled up very tightly”.

So that’s farewell to Euclidean geometry then. I remember from my schooldays that if you draw a triangle on the surface of a sphere the angles in its corners will add up to more than 180 degrees – and that if you travel in any direction on that surface you’ll follow a curl back to your starting point. I must have been listening after all.

But how to visualise the multiple curled-up dimensions of M-theory?

Perhaps a cube packed with an infinite number of infinitely small combination locks. Each lock has a number of separate dials spinning from zero round to nine and then on to zero again, and each dial represents a curled-up dimension.

Cambridge’s new Lucasian professor has his own imagery. In a 1986 article for Scientific American, Michael Green wrote:

The idea of unobservably small dimensions can readily be understood by considering a simple, two-dimensional analogy. A hose is a two-dimensional surface that appears to be one-dimensional when it is observed at scales too coarse to resolve its thickness. In superstring theory it is likely that the size of the six curled-up dimensions is approximately the same as the length of the string. The world appears to have three spatial dimensions in the same sense that the string acts like a point particle.

Well I understand the first part. It seems I have a lot more studying to do. Warm congratulations on your appointment, Mr Green.

The Washington Post
Editorial: A civil rights advance
Michael Gerson, Democracy with a dose of moral clarity

The Wall Street Journal
Jeremy J. Siegel, Don’t blame Efficient Market Theory for the economic crisis
Holman Jenkins, Washington’s suicide mission
Declan Ganley, Stuck with the Lisbon Treaty and its anti-democratic formula

The New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman, On Afghanistan: instead of digging in, let’s reduce our footprint
Editorial: Microchips and monopolies

The Telegraph
Irwin Stelzer, Tony Blair would bring clout to the EU
Simon Heffer, The Tories’ plans to deal with Britain’s recession are still economically illiterate

The Independent
Hamish McRae, Prepare for a period of sullen calm
Mark Steel, This is what Blair does: he wrecks a place, then gets the job of uniting it

The Times
Anatole Kaletsky, Three cheers for the death of old economics
Phillip Collins, Progressive Tories must learn their own history

The Guardian
Simon Tisdall, Iraq’s last chapter is still not written


From the FT’s comment section:
Martin Wolf: How mistaken ideas helped to bring the economy down 
John Kay: ‘Too big to fail’ is too dumb an idea to keep
Paul Fishstein: Afghans need to find model of democracy
Charles Calomiris: Obama’s executive pay move is bad policy
Tim Leunig: How the Tories can curb public sector strikes
Editorial: Limping to Lisbon
Editorial: Asian co-operation must gain currency
Editorial: Competition rules
Global Insight: Roula Khalaf, Wait goes on for Dubai’s £10bn bond
Market Insight: John Plender, Rethinking capital structures
Notebook: Sue Cameroin, The ousting of Sir Christopher
Lex: The agenda-setting column on business and finance

The Washington Post
William Kristol, A good time to be a conservative

The Wall Street Journal
James Shinn, ‘Nato has the watches, we have the time’- the Taliban will simply wait us out
Ryan Streeter and Arthur C. Brooks, Freedom to prosper

The New York Times
David Brooks, The fatal conceit: the government has exposed itself as overconfident
Roger Cohen, On Afghanistan Britain resolves, US wavers

The Telegraph
Gerald Warner, A perfect excuse not to send Christmas cards
Mary Riddell, President Blair will be the price worth paying if he can transform Europe’s role

The Independent
Editorial: When it comes to the state, it is not the size that matters most
Simon Carr, Nothing is as it seems in the elliptical world of immigration
Steve Richards, Who will be toughest on the banks?

The Times
David Aaronovitch, It not immigration we really fear. It’s change
Ken Macdonald, Those in power tread a crooked moral line

The Guardian
George Monbiot, Making this ruthless liar EU president is a crazy plan. But I’ll be backing Blair

From the FT’s comment section:
Gideon Rachman: Europe does not need a big shot
Philip Stephens: Storms lie ahead for politics’ odd couple
Kenneth Griffin: We must overturn the status quo in derivatives
Michael Skapinker: Unions need to focus on jobs of the future
Editorial: Rebalancing Tories
Editorial: Iraq’s leaders have created a vacuum
Editorial: Testing strength
Notebook: Brian Groom, Football and big, bad Manchester
Global Insight: Quentin Peel, Nato’s dilemma in face of Russian muscle
Market Insight: David Roche, Why sovereign bond yields will explode
Blog: Energy Source, The struggle behind Nigeria’s oil production
Lex: The agenda-setting column on business and finance

The Washington Post
Fareed Zakaria, Obama should weigh troop level carefully and take his time

The Wall Street Journal
Gordon Crovitz, ‘Outsider trading’ and too much information
Sanford I. Weill and Judah S. Kraushaar, Six steps to revitalise the financial system
Joe Queenan, ‘Man up, Obama’ and other nonsense

The New York Times
Editorial: Obama should stop covering up painful truths
Ross Douthat, Benedict’s gambit

The Telegraph
Philip Johnston, Public services – like the NHS – should be run like no-frills airlines
George Pitcher, If gay Anglican priests object to women bishops so much, they will have to abandon their partners

The Indepedent
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, America’s racial divide is healing faster than our own
Bruce Anderson, Let’s have more rich bankers, not fewer
Robert Fisk, Beirut’s history cannot be traced to a mere ‘heritage trail’

The Times
Libby Purves, Question Time was not perfect, but good work chaps. Commendable courage
Caitlin Moran, Nation, I implore you, don’t judge a man by his biscuit

FT dot comment

FT dot comment is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Politics, economics, high finance and morality – this blog addresses the issues being considered by the FT’s comment team, and their thoughts.

FT dot comment: a guide

Christopher Cook is an FT editorial writer. Before joining the FT in 2008 as a Peter Martin Fellow, he worked for three years for the Conservative party.

Lorien Kite is deputy comment editor, a post he took up in 2009 after four years as a commissioning editor on the analysis page. He joined the FT in 2000.

Ian Holdsworth became assistant features editor in 2009 and was previously chief production journalist for the features pages.


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