Andy Ross 2018-05-20
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Duke and Duchess of Sussex
"There is power in love."


2018 May 20

Amazing Apotheosis

The Royal Household

The Duchess of Sussex .. devotes her time to supporting a number of charities and organisations .. Her Royal Highness became involved with the organisation One Young World in 2014 .. Her Royal Highness became a Global Ambassador for World Vision in 2016.

AR Cherry-picked résumé.

Big Banks Boost Brexit Budgets

Financial Times

Big banks are budgeting for Brexit. Some will spend over £100 million to reorganise their businesses and transfer parts from London by March 2019. Costs have risen because of uncertainty.

Most financial services businesses said agreement on a Brexit transition had not changed their planning timelines. Banks will create new entities to do business with their EU clients.

Banks will move minimal numbers of people from London. Uncertainty has forced banks to devise multiple plans, adding to Brexit costs. The rising costs are generating frustration.

AR What a waste of money, all made ultimately by tithing the people's transactions.

Cosmic Censorship Confuted

Kevin Hartnett

A deep question in general relativity has been answered. The strong cosmic censorship conjecture, proposed in 1979 by Roger Penrose, concerns the inner workings of black holes. Mihalis Dafermos and Jonathan Luk have proved the conjecture false.

In classical physics, if you know the laws governing a physical system plus its initial state, you can predict its evolution indefinitely far into the future. But Einstein's field equations fail to predict the evolution of spacetime inside a rotating black hole. Penrose proposed his strong cosmic censorship conjecture to obscure that failure.

Beyond a black hole event horizon, beyond another horizon known as the Cauchy horizon, Einstein's equations allow many configurations of spacetime to unfold. The Penrose conjecture says the Cauchy horizon cannot exist because it is unstable. Any passing gravitational waves should collapse that horizon into a singularity.

Dafermos and Luk show the spacetime at the Cauchy horizon is less warped than Penrose imagined. Observers crossing the Cauchy horizon are not torn apart by tidal forces, so spacetime extends beyond the horizon. Spacetime can extend in any number of ways, but this does not invalidate Einstein's equations.

Einstein's equations quantify how spacetime changes over time. For the equations to be soluble, spacetime has to be sufficiently smooth. Predictability fails because the spacetime beyond the Cauchy horizon is not sufficiently smooth.

Einstein's field equations can be written in this compact form:

Rμν − ½Rgμν = 8πG Tμν

where Rμν is the Ricci curvature tensor, R is the scalar curvature, gμν is the metric tensor, G is Newton's gravitational constant, Tμν is the stress-energy tensor, and the speed of light c = 1.

AR Quantum gravity will have something to say about this. I propose a Feynman integral of all spacetimes beyond the Cauchy horizon.

Harry marries Meghan

Owen Humphreys/Pool/AFP/Getty Images
Harry and Meghan, St. George's Chapel, Windsor

Trump, May
Trump and May meet July



2018 May 19

Harry Marries Meghan

BBC News

The couple will now be known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

2018 May 18


Rex Tillerson

A responsibility of every American citizen to each other is to preserve and protect our freedom by recognizing what truth is and is not, what a fact is and is not, and begin by holding ourselves accountable to truthfulness and demand our pursuit of America's future be based on facts.

If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.


Bill Gates

When I walked in, his first sentence kind of threw me off. He said: "Trump hears that you don't like what Trump is doing." And I thought: "Wow, but you're Trump." I didn't know the third-party form was always expected: "Gates says that Gates knows that you're not doing things right."


Edward Lucas

The Trump administration has boosted the US contribution to European security.

NATO is grappling with new technology in warfare. UK capabilities are in demand here. This may result in a British secretary-general for NATO in 2020.

NATO logistics have decayed since the cold war. A new Joint Support and Enabling Command in Ulm, Germany, will help. Spending money on dual-use infrastructure offers Germany an easy way to raise its defense spending from 1.2% of GDP.

Despite Trump and Brexit, NATO ties Europe to the US and the UK to Europe.

AR NATO secretary-general Tony Blair, anyone?

Brexit: Customs Union

Financial Times

Theresa May says the UK will remain in a customs union with the EU after 2021 until an alternative to a hard border in Ireland is found, removing the need for a customs border.

May says the UK will still have an independent trade policy, though it will be unable to negotiate different tariffs with countries that already have a deal with the EU.

EU officials say the UK cannot use maintaining the status quo in Northern Ireland as a backdoor to a trade deal that circumvents single market membership.

Brexit: No Joke

The Guardian

Government ineptitude over Brexit used to be funny. Not now. In June the European Council is due to review progress.

Theresa May will now try to keep the UK within the EU external tariff system after Brexit until it can sort out the border in Ireland. The agreement is not final and the EU27 has not been consulted.

Parliament and the people have not yet been consulted. MPs may decide on a second referendum. Northern Ireland voters may reject a hard Brexit.

Brexit: Utter Farce

Gina Miller

Theresa May says the two customs union options her cabinet discussed have been ditched. The new wheeze is to extend some customs rules into 2021. The EU had already rejected the two options and is likely to reject the new proposal at its June summit.

Any extension will have to be on current terms, abiding by all EU rules and free movement. The EU has released a slide titled EU/UK Possible Framework for the Future Partnership Discussions. The UK cannot achieve a deal as a third country that is equal or superior to EU membership.

No one in full possession of their senses could say that what Britain is now doing is in the best interests of the country. Surely it is time we went back to the people who raised the curtain on this utter farce in the first place.

2018 May 17

Europe Closes Ranks Against Trump

The Times

EU leaders have gathered in Sofia for a summit meeting to save the Iran nuclear deal.

European Council president Donald Tusk: "Looking at latest decisions of Donald Trump someone could even think: with friends like that who needs enemies. But frankly, EU should be grateful. Thanks to him we got rid of all illusions. We realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm."

French president Emmanuel Macron: "When challenges threaten to destabilise the world, the only solution is to join our forces to respond in one voice. European sovereignty is the guarantor of international stability."

German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We have made our position clear on issues of trade, such as trade issues with the United States. Our common position is that we want an unlimited exemption but are in turn prepared to talk about the reciprocal reduction of trade barriers."

UK prime minister Theresa May: "We are not leaving Europe."

The Third German Empire

Ross Douthat

The first modern German empire was announced in 1871 and died in 1918. The second German empire died in 1945. The third German empire, built slowly over three generations, wields power in Berlin and Brussels over a polyglot sprawl of member states.

The European Union might fall. The possibility of such a fall has been haunting the continent for a decade. With the rise in Italy of a populist coalition, it has reached the core of the union.

The crisis pits liberalism against illiberalism, freedom against authoritarianism. It is also a struggle of nations against empire. The liberal aspect of the system is under strain because the imperial aspect was exploited unwisely by leaders in Germany.

This disastrous imperial dynamic was behind the fiscal policy imposed on PIGS in the wake of the Great Recession. Angela Merkel then took it upon herself to make migration policy for the continent. Resistance to her open door for refugees and migrants goes far to explain the rise of populism.

Member states are asked to surrender to a new form of empire in the name of universal liberalism. But nationalists in Britain, Italy, Poland, and Hungary want to have their cake and eat it. This German empire is unlikely to evolve into a United States of Europe.

AR The Third Empire (das Dritte Reich) is a tainted name, unveiling this essay as an attempt to besmirch the EU dream of rising above the tribal loyalties of vulgar nationalism.

My response: Don't knock the EU — aim to improve it!

Planet Earth

Shannon Hall

A Mars-sized object named Theia collided with the early Earth roughly 100 million years after the formation of the solar system. The crash threw molten rock into orbit that then formed the Moon.

Jeffrey Andrews-Hanna: "Not only was the Earth struck by multiple impactors, but it was then re-impacted by the debris and moonlets that were created by those impacts in the first place."

Debris in orbit would have coalesced to form the Moon and many smaller moonlets. The gravitational dance between the moonlets would cause some to crash down onto the young Earth. They could have added enough rock on a spot to build the first continent.

Planet Nine

Shannon Hall

Astronomers have spotted an object whose orbit was likely shepherded by a planet hiding way out beyond Pluto. This Planet Nine could have about 10 times the mass of Earth.

The new object has an orbit tilted at almost 1 rad with respect to the plane of the solar system. A handful of Kuiper belt objects have orbits that loop outward toward the same quadrant of the solar system, a phenomenon that would be extremely unlikely to happen by chance. Over time, Planet Nine would push these objects into ever higher orbital inclinations.

The new object fits perfectly with predictions. Juliette Becker: "The second you put Planet Nine in the simulations, not only can you form objects like this object, but you absolutely do."

AR Seems like good science to me.

Xi Jinping, Marx

Wang Zhao / AFP
Xi Jinping gives a speech on the 200th birthday of Karl Marx

Souvenirs of my Tuesday
hike around Studland

Netta won the Eurovision
Song Contest for Israel

On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach

Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan

Irina Shayk
Irina Shayk
Festival de Cannes

AR Très élégant!

Israel, Iran


2018 May 16



North Korea threatens to abandon planned talks between leader Kim Jong Un and US president Donald Trump if Washington insists on pushing it into a corner on nuclear disarmament.

NK first vice minister of foreign affairs Kim Kye Gwan: "We have never had any expectation of US support in carrying out our economic construction .. our country is neither Libya nor Iraq which have met miserable fate."

The NK statement says the Max Thunder 2018 air combat drill is against the declaration signed last month between the Koreas.


Martin Wolf

Americans and Europeans have a preponderant share of the global economy. The 14% of humanity that lives in advanced countries generates 60% of world output at market prices and 41% at PPP. This imbalance will not last.

Chinese political stability is fragile and renewal of the Communist party is essential. But after the financial crisis and the rise of populism, the ability of the West to run its economic and political systems well is dubious. The failures of democracy and the market economy are producing not reform but impotent rage.

China will become a great power within a global civilization. A US economic embargo on China will not halt Chinese progress. America will fail, as it has in managing the global commons or achieving stability in the Mideast.


Der Spiegel

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron agree on Donald Trump. His withdrawal from the Iran deal is the most dangerous and cavalier foreign policy decision that a US president has made since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Europeans are united in seeking to preserve the deal with Iran. An attack on the Iran deal is an attack on the pride of European foreign policy. Europe has shown unity on the Iran deal and the EU was a decisive participant in the talks.

Trump has humiliated Europe. Macron fawned over him in the White House, Merkel swung by for lunch, and Boris Johnson also flew over to save the deal, but all in vain. Trump backed out of the deal in the most brutal way possible.

Trump has accused his NATO partners of being freeloaders, he withdrew from the Paris climate agreement despite massive protest, and he is posturing to start a trade war with the EU. But his violation of the Iran deal hits Europe hard.

As soon as Trump exited from the Iran deal, John Bolton crowed "We're out of the deal" three times. Bolton is thought to have authored the speech and architected the withdrawal. His Iran plan: "To stop Iran's bomb, bomb Iran."

Wolfgang Ischinger: "Another dramatic wake-up call for the European Union to finally get a grip on itself .. I cannot imagine a better motivation than this shock from Trump."


The Times

Brexit secretary David Davis has told prime minister Theresa May that her favored plan for a customs partnership with the EU could be illegal under international trade law. The attorney-general's office will give a legal opinion before the cabinet makes its final decision. The office will also consider the legality of the competing "maximum facilitation" model, also open to WTO challenge.

Labour may support Britain remaining in the single market after leaving the EU. Shadow Brexit minister Paul Blomfield: "We are going to make our decision on the amendments that come back from the Lords when the government brings the legislation back from the Lords."

About half of the Labour peers supported an amendment to make membership of the EEA a negotiating objective for the government. Member states of the EEA have free movement of goods, services, people, and capital with the EU and are part of the single market but not the customs union. Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein are members.

About a dozen Conservative MPs favor EEA membership, plus the SNP and the Liberal Democrats.

AR Remain in EU is best, join EEA is next best.

Tom Wolfe

William Cash

The Man in the White Suit became my literary hero. At Cambridge, I wrote a thesis on his satire and sent him a copy.

Over the next few years, I kept gently asking how he was getting on with his new novel. Wolfe: "Mr Cash, I find it hard to write if I have any money in my bank account."

Wolfe published Bonfire of the Vanities when he was 57. This gave him great literary status anxiety. The trepidation caused him to retire to bed in the weeks before it hit the stands in 1987.

The pains subsided once the reviews and sales figures came in. Bonfire was No 1 on the New York Times bestseller list for two months and sold more than 800,000 copies in hardback.

Wolfe was a moralist in the tradition of Mark Twain. He went out of his way to distance himself from being labeled a satirist: "I want to see myself as whatever the big league writer is."

He said he had no desire to write an autobiography. His clothes were a form of disguise or literary costume.

AR His novels put him in the big league.

2018 May 15

American Renaissance

David Brooks

In this era of local renaissance and national apocalypse, I hear people wondering if maybe America can be like Italy — dysfunctional on the national level but with strong localities and a lovely lifestyle.

Local improvement can go only so far when national politics is a meat grinder. The good news is the solutions to our civic problems already exist. We just need to transform these local stories into a coherent national story.

Brexit — Right

The Times

Theresa May confronted Jacob Rees-Mogg at a meeting with Tory MPs designed to break the deadlock over Britain's future customs arrangements with the EU.

"A certain kind of Leaver has always loathed the idea of exit talks, as though European permission were needed, and hates even more the prospect of entanglement in budget payments, regulatory agencies and the like."
Janan Ganesh

Brexit — Left

The Guardian

Brexit is still a steaming mess going nowhere fast. With her cabinet still split over customs arrangements, Theresa May set up two rival teams to fight it out. Negotiations in Brussels are at a standstill.

"Jeremy Corbyn does not have a better plan for Brexit than Theresa May."
Rafael Behr

2018 May 14

A Historic Day

David Harris

May 14, 1948, was the date when the modern state of Israel was born.

May 14, 2018, is the date of the transfer of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Every country ought to have the right to choose its own capital. Israel alone has found itself in the unique position of having its self-declared capital in Jerusalem, while other nations insist it's in Tel Aviv, where they locate their embassies and residences.

The original UN resolution recommending a two-state solution, adopted in November 1947, designated Jerusalem as a city with no sovereign affiliation to the proposed Arab and Jewish states. The Arab world rejected the resolution in and declared war on Israel. But Israel prevailed.

For nearly seven decades, we have witnessed the anomaly of world leaders, whose countries reject Jerusalem as the capital, traveling precisely to that city to meet with Israeli presidents and prime ministers, to see Knesset members, and to hold dialogues in the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Donald Trump recognized reality. Jerusalem is Israel's capital.

2018 May 13

Trump Shootout

Niall Ferguson

Washington foreign policy experts find Donald Trump's decision to exit one nuclear deal (with Iran) only to enter another (with North Korea) baffling.

They clearly never saw The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Like Clint Eastwood's Blondie, Trump understands that only one of his antagonists has a loaded gun. North Korea needs to be treated differently from Iran.

Blondie: "You see, in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: those with loaded guns and those who dig." North Korea became a nuclear state. But Iran now has to dig.

Trust Me

Theresa May

Brexit provides the opportunity to build a new relationship with the EU where we are close trading partners and strong allies but with the British government in control:

I will ensure that we take back control of our borders.
I will ensure that we take back control of our money.
I will ensure that we take back control of our laws.

We will leave the single market.
We will leave the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy.
We will leave the customs union.

Any deal with the EU must protect our precious United Kingdom.
Any agreements must create as little friction as possible for trade.
We must not constrain our ability to negotiate trade agreements.

The path I am setting out is the path to deliver Brexit.

Soft Brexit

Chuka Umunna

A hard Brexit was not on the ballot paper in the 2016 referendum. Labour peers supported amendments to keep Britain part of the European Economic Area.

Leaving the EEA would be a bad decision. The EEA is massively important for Britain's economic health and a significant contributing factor to our growing positive services trade balance. Claims that the EEA would stop rail or water nationalization, prevent the creation of regional investment banks, or block more public housing are rubbish.

I hope the Labour front bench will back the idea of negotiating to stay in the EEA.

2018 May 12

Europe Can Act

Steven Simon, Jonathan Stevenson

President Trump has treated Europe like a doormat, questioning the value of NATO, ridiculing the mission of the European Union, and dismissing European exhortations on policy matters.

The European Union has yet to act like an organization with a GDP roughly equal to that of the United States. Continuing to do business with Iran would mitigate the effect of the US sanctions.

The Trump administration is threatening to wreak havoc on EU economies. European capitals might expel US ambassadors. They could show the Trump administration lacks allied support.

A Brexit Vote

Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska

Theresa May says parliament will have a meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement with the EU.

An amendment to the withdrawal bill would ensure that the government cannot implement Brexit before parliament has approved the final deal. A Lords amendment would stop the government from offering Westminster a false choice between accepting the deal or having no deal at all.

Reversing Brexit is easier said than done. So far neither the Conservative party nor Labour has been keen to hold a referendum on the final deal. To call for a referendum, the parties would have to be confident that they had the public with them, but the country remains divided.

The bigger problem is that the British debate ignores the fact that the EU27 also has a voice. All EU member states would have to agree to a last-minute UK request. But they and the EU institutions want to get Brexit out of the way ahead of the European Parliament elections in 2019.

Westminster parliamentarians should force the prime minister to soften her red lines before too late.

Olde England

Marina Hyde

The House of Lords joins the BBC, the judiciary, the civil service, and the free press in the range of British institutions being blamed by Brexiteers for sabotage.

What is the England these Brexiteers want to return to, if it isn't the House of Lords, Test Match Special on the Beeb, the quiet Rolls-Roycery of the civil service, out-of-touch high court judges, and a press who've mostly printed any old lie about the EU for decades? That is their romanticised past, their Albion.

Quantum Reality

James Gleick

Quantum theory is a successful theory but it defies common sense.

From one point of view, quantum physics is just a useful tool kit. If you want to make better lasers or transistors, the Schrödinger equation is your friend. But when you ask what it all means, you find problems.

The Copenhagen interpretation says nothing is definite in the quantum world until someone observes it. Physics can help us order experience but cannot provide a complete picture of reality. This seems incoherent.

The many-worlds interpretation says every quantum event is a fork in the road. Each fork creates a new universe, and everything that can happen does happen, in one universe or another. This is ridiculous.

We who search for meaning in quantum physics are only human.

2018 May 11

Brexit Vote Delay

Financial Times

Theresa May has postponed key Brexit legislation with no agreement in sight on future customs policy. She had wanted the customs arrangements and the Irish border issues settled before the EU summit in June, but a breakthrough is unlikely at the Brexit committee meeting next week. The government dare not bring back two key Brexit bills to the House of Commons until the autumn for fear the prime minister could be defeated.

EU budget commissioner Günther Oettinger: "Madame May is weak and Boris Johnson has the same
hair-do as Trump .. We can only hope that sensible citizens will put Madame May on the path to a
clever Brexit."

Britain Woos Turkey

Financial Times

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan will make a three-day visit to Britain that will include a meeting with the Queen. His trip comes during a Turkish parliamentary and presidential election campaign conducted under a state of emergency and with a key presidential candidate in jail.

British−Turkish relations have grown closer since the Brexit referendum. During the Brexit campaign, Michael Gove had accused Brussels of appeasement toward Ankara, and Boris Johnson won a prize for a limerick:

   There was a young fellow from Ankara
   Who was a terrific wankerer
   Till he sowed his wild oats
   With the help of a goat
   But he didn't even stop to thankerer

Sack BoJo

Philip Collins

Theresa May should sack her foreign secretary. His insubordination has now become so overt that he is asking for the bullet. There is no case for not sacking him, given that he does his job so badly and behaves even worse. Boris Johnson will not be a serious threat to the prime minister after she has dispatched him.


The Guardian

A cabinet minister: "The prime minister wants to find a way through this that keeps the party together. Her instinct is to stick as closely to the status quo as she can get away with .. We'll end up with a fudge on the customs union just so we can say we've delivered Brexit."

2018 May 10

Israel Targets Iran

Jerusalem Post

IAF jets struck dozens of Iranian targets in Syria after 20 rockets were fired towards Israel's front defensive line in the Golan Heights by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force.

The targets all belonged to the Quds Force in Syria and included intelligence sites, logistics headquarters, a military compound, and logistics complex, weapons storage sites, intelligence systems and installations, observation, military posts, and military hardware in the buffer zone.

IDF: "It will take Iran a long time to rehabilitate the infrastructure that was destroyed overnight."

AR More war coming soon.

Trump Declares Trade War On China

Martin Wolf

The Trump administration has presented China with an ultimatum on trade:

China will reduce the US-China trade imbalance by $100 billion in the 12 months beginning
    June 1, 2018, and by another $100 billion in the 12 months beginning June 1, 2019.
China will eliminate subsidies conducive to excess capacity, strengthen intellectual property,
    and eliminate technology-related requirements for joint ventures.
China will withdraw requests for WTO consultations relating to tariff actions on intellectual
China will not oppose US imposition of restrictions on investments from China in sensitive
    US technology sectors and will afford US investors in China fair market access and treatment.
China will reduce tariffs in other sectors to equivalent US levels and open access to services
    and farm products as the US specifies.
China will not oppose any punitive US tariffs or import restrictions and will withdraw its
    WTO complaint that it is not being treated as a market economy.

Trump aims to force the Chinese to sue for terms.

AR China will not comply. Sad, sad, sad.

2018 Europe Day

I Am a European

Winston Churchill
May 9, 1948

We hope to reach again a Europe united but purged of the slavery of ancient, classical times, a Europe in which men will be proud to say: "I am a European."

We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think as much of being a European as of belonging to their native land, and that without losing any of their love and loyalty of their birthplace.

We hope wherever they go in this wide domain, to which we set no limits in the European Continent, they will truly feel: "Here I am at home. I am a citizen of this country too."

AR Amen

A Better Deal?

The New York Times

By reneging on the Iran nuclear deal, President Trump says he will be able to get a better deal. His decision will allow Iran to resume a robust nuclear program and lay conditions for a possible wider war in the Mideast. The Europeans and Iranians say they will stick to the deal.

AR Scrap a working deal with flaws and fall into purgatory — the sad tale of Trump and Brexit.

Lords: Negotiate EEA Deal

Financial Times

The House of Lords has voted in favour of keeping Britain in the European single market. A majority of 29 lords voted for the UK to negotiate continued membership of the EEA — the Norwegian model.

AR EEA — a better deal?

2018 May 8

Trump Dumps Iran Deal

Jerusalem Post
2133 Israel Time

President Donald Trump said he was reimposing economic sanctions on Iran and pulling the United States out of an international agreement aimed at stopping Tehran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "If the agreement had been maintained, it would have allowed Iran enough material to develop a full arsenal of bombs."

Israeli defense minister Avigdor Liberman: "President Trump, leader of the free world, said this evening to the Ayatollahs in a clear and decisive voice: enough!"

Iran Nuclear Deal

Boris Johnson

Faced with an array of unappetising options, there is a deep wisdom in choosing the one with the smallest downside and then fixing its limitations. So it is with the Iran nuclear agreement that President Trump is now reviewing. Of all the options we have for ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon, this pact offers the fewest disadvantages.

It has weaknesses, certainly, but I am convinced they can be remedied. US and UK diplomats have been working alongside their French and German counterparts to reach a joint approach toward Iran. It would be a mistake to walk away from the nuclear agreement and remove the restraints that it places on Iran.


Bourne river in Bournemouth, on the hottest early May bank holiday on record

James Webb ST
James Webb Space Telescope
expected to launch in 2020,
cost $8.8 billion


Star Wars

Spiegel: 4 out of 128

Haven Hotel
Haven Hotel, Mayday

Milky Way
Gaia image shows
dimming and reddening
of 87 million stars


2018 May 7

Mystery Numbers Explained

Kevin Hartnett

Mathematicians are fascinated by how mirror symmetry involves zeta values.

The zeta values are numbers generated by taking an infinite sum:
ζ(1) = 1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + ...
ζ(x) = 1 + 1/2x + 1/3x + 1/4x + ...

For even positive integers we find:
ζ(2) = 1 + 1/22 + 1/32 + 1/42 + ... = π2/6
ζ(4) = 1 + 1/24 + 1/34 + 1/44 + ... = π4/90

The zeta values for complex x appear in the Riemann hypothesis.

Physicists working on string theory aim to explain the world as made of strings woven through an additional 6 spatial dimensions. Attempts to understand those 6 dimensions led both to algebraic geometry and to symplectic geometry. Mirror symmetry links the two geometries.

By mirror symmetry, a calculation on one space generates numbers that match the numbers generated by a different calculation on the other space. Points whose coordinate values are integers become points whose coordinate values are multiples of different zeta values. The mapping effectively rotates the space.

The SYZ conjecture (blog April 11) says you can take one mirror space, break it down into pieces, process the pieces, and use the processed pieces to make the other mirror space. Most of the pieces from the first space are the same but some are special. We now know that each special piece maps to a zeta value.

Mirror symmetry is moving from revelation toward understanding.

2018 May 6

America, China, Britain, Germany

Niall Ferguson

The First World War was born when the German economy was overtaking the British economy and "Made in Germany" was the sign of the times. Germany had imperial ambitions and built a big navy. Britain and Germany fell into the trap of war.

America and China seem about to fall into the same trap. China's economy is overtaking that of America, and the Chinese slogan "Made in China 2025" catches the mood of the times. President Xi Jinping plans global deals and the People's Liberation Army is beefing up.

Like the Germans a century ago, the Chinese no longer worry that Anglophone democracy might be superior to their political system. The Communist Party's monopoly on power is now touted as a source of strength. President Xi is on top, as Kaiser Wilhelm II once was in Berlin.

A hundred years ago, Britain had a treaty obligation to uphold the neutrality of Belgium. When Germany invaded Belgium, the UK government said this was grounds for war. Henry Kissinger said a rigid alliance system condemned Britain and Germany to war in 1914.

Today, America is obliged by treaty to regard any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means as a threat to regional peace and security. US forces will defend Taiwan. Statesmen in Washington and Beijing must relax.

2018 May 5

Karl Marx

Jason Barker

On May 5, 1818, in the German town of Trier in the Moselle Valley, Karl Marx was born. In 1837, he abandoned a legal career and studied the speculative philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel at the University of Berlin. He said Hegel's "grotesque craggy melody" repelled him at first but soon had him dancing in the streets.

Marx argued that capitalism is driven by a divisive class struggle in which the ruling class appropriates the surplus labor of the working class as profit. He was convinced that capitalism has an inbuilt tendency to destroy itself. But he found no magic formula for resolving the contradictions that global capitalism entails.

Hegel had built his system of dialectical idealism with layers of negations and contradictions. Marx refused to accept that ideas drive history. He upended Hegelian idealism to invent dialectical materialism. Whereas Hegel had advocated a rational liberal state, Marx said there was no need for a state at all.

AR My deep study of Hegel revealed a vision that got lost in Marxism. Lenin was good on the radical thrust of Hegelian thought and Mao Zedong was good on the dialectic of contradiction, but Heidegger countered them by stressing the decisive role of folk tradition in breeding a solidarity hard enough to change history.


Sophia Besch

The debate over British participation in the ESA program Galileo is part of the Brexit negotiations. The EU does not want to rely on the UK for technology used in Galileo. The UK is threatening to stop tech transfers to the EU and build a competing satellite program.

Galileo is the European global navigation satellite system, conceived as a competitor to the American GPS, and is planned to be up and running by 2020. It will include an encrypted Public Regulated Service (PRS) reserved for EU militaries and governments.

Around three-quarters of UK space spending is via ESA, which acts as the procurement agent for Galileo. ESA is not part of the EU but Brexit may affect how the UK can participate. The EU is the largest funder of ESA and sets the procurement rules for Galileo.

The UK wants to maintain access to Galileo data after Brexit. It wants to use the PRS and it wants UK companies to bid for Galileo contracts. But the EU can cancel Galileo contracts without penalty once a supplier is no longer based in an EU member state.

The UK government wants guaranteed access to PRS. The Commission says this would require security guarantees to protect sensitive EU information after Brexit. The UK doubts that the EU would ever sign off on a PRS deal.

The UK now threatens to opt out of Galileo altogether. Loss of British expertise would be a loss to ESA. Strategic autonomy was part of the rationale for building Galileo, as GPS is controlled by the US military, but some say Brexit Britain can no longer be trusted.

AR Brexit is the Black Death for the EU and the UK.

Vesicles and Viruses

Carrie Arnold

Cells package messages in extracellular vesicles. Perhaps cells started using vesicles for communication first and viruses copied them, or cells stole the idea from viruses, or both evolved in tandem. In any case, it began billions of years ago.

Extracellular vesicles and exosomes range in size from 30 nm up 1 μm. They can carry several types of RNA, including mRNAs and microRNAs that affect gene expression. The fact that vesicles can carry RNAs invites comparisons to viruses.

Some vesicles resemble viruses. Retroviruses drape a second layer over their protein shell by wrapping themselves in pieces of their host cell membrane. Viruses get their coats by hijacking the cell pathway for making exosomes and extracellular vesicles.

Not all the viruses encased in cell-derived envelopes are fully intact and functional. Many are viral trash heaps that do nothing. But in some cases, on the surface, these vesicles carrying viral junk look nearly identical to those carrying cellular RNA.

Around 8% of the human genome came from viruses. Although some of this DNA is junk, these viral genes provide a genetic tool kit for evolution to play with. Parts of the genome we used to think of as junk actually have important functions.

AR Cell news is vesicular, fake news is viral, and the Black Death was bacterial.

2018 Star Wars Day

English Local Elections

BBC News

Local elections in England covered 150 councils and 4,371 seats.
Number of councillors:

Labour 2,323 (+62)
Conservative 1,330 (−32)
Liberal Democrat 536 (+75)
Green 39 (+8)
UKIP 3 (−123)
Other 143 (+10)

The Guardian
Councils gained (+)/lost (−):

+4/−6  Conservative
+3/−3  Labour
+4/−0  Liberal Democrat
+4/−6  No overall control

UKIP were all but wiped out. UKIP general secretary Paul Oakley: "Think of the Black Death in the Middle Ages. It comes along and it causes disruption, and then it goes dormant. And that's exactly what we're going to do. Our time isn't finished, because Brexit is being betrayed."

AR Brexit betrayed? Bring it on!

Hubble Trouble

Ramin Skibba

Measurements of the Hubble constant have returned contradictory results.

John Peacock says there may be no problem. Unknown errors can creep into the calculations. He separates measurements into separate classes that are independent from one another and considers possibly underestimated errors and biases that could systematically shift a measurement up or down. Take these unknown unknowns into account, and the Hubble discrepancy melts away.

Researchers continue to improve their estimates of the Hubble constant.

AR Don't panic.

2018 May 3

Luftwaffe Typhoons Ready 4 Combat

The Times

Germany is unable to meet its NATO obligations in an emergency.

The Luftwaffe has 4 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets ready for combat out of a fleet of 128. The German navy has 0 combat-ready submarines out of 6, and 9 out of 15 active frigates in full service. The German army has 95 operational tanks out of 244.

The German government budget allocates an extra €1.5 billion for defense this year, taking its total funding to €38.5 billion, or about 1.2% of GDP.

Funding is projected to rise to €41.5 billion next year, to 1.3% of GDP, but the budget foresees a fall as a proportion of GDP by 2022.

AR Trump was right to flag this issue.

2018 May 2

The Shortest History of Germany

James Hawes

In his acclaimed new bestseller, now in paperback, James Hawes tells the story of Europe's most admired and feared country, from Julius Caesar to Angela Merkel.

AR Excellent, wonderful, right on the ball — I just spent the better part of three days scanning the familiar outlines and unexpected details in this racy little page-turner with a clear plot and an urgent message. With a postscript dated January 2018, it brings us bang up to date, too.

2018 May 1

Trump America and Brexit Britain

Jacob Rees-Mogg

The election of Donald Trump depended upon similar factors to those that led to Brexit. US foreign policy had consistently supported UK engagement with the EU. Trump supports the UK decision to leave the EU out of conviction and principle.

The standard US view was that the UK could temper EU hostility. A key member state was a true friend who could advance US interests. The US accepted that the UK could not always be as supportive as it might otherwise have been.

Free from its ties to the EU, the UK will be able to cooperate more fully with the US in its global efforts. The UK can have a real special relationship. The US and UK can push shared values, rather than being held back by the EU.

Perhaps Britain will at last play the Greeks to America's Romans.

AR For two millennia, the Germanic people in the Rhine-Elbe region have played the central role in continental affairs. The British Isles were marginal until modern times. Americans see Germans too as the Greeks to their stardom as Roman imperialists.

But all that is moot in a world where China and India will change the game and machines will change it further. As a Germanic language, English will not take root in lands where machines can handle local languages and bury imperialism.

Perhaps Brits, like Germans, will rise above nationalism.

Das Schweigen der Linken

Jana Hensel

Seit die AfD in den Bundestag eingezogen ist und der Rechtspopulismus die Debatten beherrscht, wirken die hiesigen Schriftsteller, Künstler und Intellektuellen wie paralysiert.

Die intellektuelle Rechte hat sich in den vergangenen Monaten einhelliger und sichtbarer und lauter formiert als je zuvor in der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik.

Man kann das Schweigen der Intellektuellen im Kampf gegen den Rechtspopulismus als einen nachvollziehbaren Ausdruck einer tieferen Verunsicherung ihres Selbstverständnisses werten.

Es ist eine Art solidarischerer Einspruch gefordert. Der Zuzug der Flüchtlinge versetzt unser Land nicht in einen Ausnahmezustand. Unsere Kultur ist nicht bedroht.

AR Vielleicht nicht gleich — aber langsam und allmählich doch.

Cosmic Expansion

Leah Crane

The European Space Agency has released the biggest ever 3D map of the Milky Way based on data from its Gaia satellite. The map shows the location and brightness of some 1.7 billion stars.

Analysis of the data helps us measure the Hubble constant, the rate of cosmic expansion. We have two ways to determine the rate and they have always returned different values. The new data makes the gap worse.

One determination comes from the cosmic microwave background (CMB). We use CMB data to find the rate of expansion at 12 Ts ABB and plug the rate into models of cosmic evolution to predict the present rate.

The other method involves measuring the distances to stars called Cepheid variables to calculate the present rate directly. This method gives a value more than 9% higher than the CMB method.

Gaia measured 50 Cepheids. Something seems to be wrong with our models of cosmic evolution. Maybe our guesses about dark matter and dark energy are wrong.

AR Our guesses about dark stuff were always stabs in the dark.


Rodrigo Koxa sets world record for largest wave ever ridden

Bend It or Brexit

Low cognitive flexibility
correlates strongly with
feeling positive toward
Brexit and negative
toward immigration
and the EU

Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP
replaces Amber Rudd
as home secretary

No Brexit


2018 April 30

Social Responsibility

Ben Chu

UK fund manager Euan Stirling: "Being a .. chief executive .. requires a personal motivation that goes beyond simply amassing a fortune. It requires an understanding of where the company sits within the society within which it operates."

He was addressing the AGM of a building company that created a £100 million bonus scheme for its chief executive. Asset managers like Stirling are hard to portray as heroes, but the idea that they are part of a neoliberal conspiracy is a caricature.

BlackRock manages assets worth $6 trillion. Its boss Larry Fink: "To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate."

The proper role of asset managers is to be stewards of companies on behalf of you and me.

AR Role of boards too — so we ran at SAP.

US Intelligence

Michael V. Hayden

The veneer of civilization is quite thin. An an intelligence officer, I have learned that the traditions and institutions that protect us from living "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" lives are fragile and demand tending. In America today, they are under serious stress.

What do you do with someone who does not distinguish between truth and untruth? We in the intelligence world have dealt with obstinate and argumentative presidents through the years. But we have never served a president for whom ground truth really doesn't matter.

On a recent visit to the CIA, I wondered whether the officers I saw realized how much we are now counting on them. They know we traditionally rely on their truth-telling to protect us from our enemies. Now we need it to save us from ourselves.

AR We always have — a pearl of wisdom.

UK Immigration

The Times

UK home secretary Amber Rudd has resigned after she admitted misleading parliament over the existence of official targets for deporting illegal immigrants. The policy led to the Windrush scandal. Rudd: "I should have been aware of this and take full responsibility for the fact that I was not."

UK prime minister and former home secretary Theresa May set the approach to illegal immigration and remained involved in the policy. Labour described Rudd as May's human shield. David Lammy: "The real issue is the 'hostile environment' policy that caused this crisis in the first place."

AR The real issue is insular nationalism.

UK Roads

The Times

UK roads are ranked 27th in the world for quality, behind many EU member states. Local authorities repeatedly warn that UK roads are crumbling for lack of money. Industry estimates repairs costing £9.3 billion are needed.

UK transport secretary Chris Grayling: "The solution cannot simply be to come up with more and more money and to fill potholes that simply collapse a year or two later .. You get far fewer holes appearing in intact roads than roads that have been regularly dug up .. So we are going to create a default that you have to look first at laying the utilities under the pavements rather than under the roads."

Utility companies should pay more for inspection of their roadworks. At present, councils can let shoddy work go unchallenged.

AR Bad roads drive me daily to despair.

2018 April 29



NK leader Kim Jong Un told SK president Moon Jae-in that he will shut down his main nuclear test site in May. He said he was not the kind of person who would fire nuclear weapons at the South or toward the United States.

Kim said Pyongyang will change its time zone by half an hour to align with Seoul time.


Dorian Lynskey

On 1 February 2018, Labour MP Chuka Umunna announced the existence of the grassroots coordinating group (GCG): "This is nothing to do with the Labour leadership. Brexit is bigger than that .. I am a quarter Irish, I have a Danish niece, nephew and brother-in-law, a French aunt and Spanish nationals in my family. I feel intensely not just British and Nigerian, but European."

The ideal anti-Brexit scenario goes like this. In October or November 2018, the government conclude negotiations and present the final Brexit deal to parliament. MPs vote to reject it and pass legislation for another referendum with a "No Brexit" option on the ballot. Remain succeed in winning the referendum. The government asks the EU to revoke article 50 before 29 March 2019.

Between them, Open Britain (the largest following and the strongest connections with the media and MPs), Britain for Europe and the European Movement (branches around the country ready to spring into action when a referendum is announced), Scientists For EU and Healthier IN the EU (maestros of social media), InFacts (an unrivalled data resource), Our Future, Our Choice, and For our Future's Sake (speak to younger voters), and Best for Britain (uses its war chest to fund polling, advertising, and regional barnstorms) cover the bases.

There are already half a million new voters since June 2016. The British electorate are predicted to be firmly pro-remain by 2021. Brexit is not inevitable.

Adapted from D. E. Wagner et al., Science 10.1126/science.aar4362 (2018)
Graphic depiction of developmental trajectories in zebra fish embryos

Jeff Bezos
Amazon boss Jeff Bezos
(worth $90 billion) with his
Boston Dynamics dog

Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in,
DMZ, Korea

In deutschen Städten sind
Menschen mit Kippa auf
die Straße gegangen, um
gegen Antisemitismus
zu protestieren

Kim Kardashian
Kim Kardashian: beauty
with Armenian roots

"I truly believe that these
cytoplasmic protrusions
are key in the health and
disease states of humans."
Stephanie Cherqui

Macrons Trumps

"The EU is not perfect
but it was the best idea
we had .. for me, Brexit
still makes no sense."
Jürgen Klopp

Bill Bragg
The UK fishing industry is
a tiny part of GDP. Fishing
treaties and quotas were
fixed long ago. Britain let
fishers sell their quotas
abroad and cannot just
take back control.

Der Super-Boom der
deutschen Wirtschaft
scheint am Ende



Eggs Become Animals

Jordana Cepelewicz

Researchers have traced the patterns of gene expression in every cell in embryos of zebra fish during their first 24 hours. They measured the expression of messenger RNA in each of the cells and used bar codes to show where each cell came from.

Development is often visualized as a tree. But cells with different developmental histories can end up reaching similar destinations. Cells may be more plastic than we thought, and may commit to becoming specific tissues relatively late.

Cellular plasticity disrupts the tree metaphor. Certain cells express marker molecules for more than one developmental fate. These cells may live at the borders between tissues. Rather than opting to become one tissue type, they maintain ambiguity.

With more data sets from a wider variety of organisms, we could ask broader questions about development. The technologies show us how to make specific cell types. Bioengineers would know when to turn certain genes on or off.

2018 April 28

Science and the Future

Freeman Dyson

Your gravitational energy is negative when you are close to a massive object and approaches zero as you move away toward infinity. Any object whose motions are dominated by gravity will have energy decreasing as temperature increases and energy increasing as temperature decreases.

Where gravity is dominant, the second law of thermodynamics causes local contrasts to increase together with entropy. That is why the diversity of astronomical and terrestrial objects and ecosystems tends to increase with time.

Scaling laws say that two measurable quantities vary together in a particular way. A scaling law says the rate of increase or decrease for quantity A is a fixed number k times the rate for quantity B. The scaling law then says A varies with the kth power of B.

In biology, the fourth power of an animal's energy consumption scales with the cube of its mass. This scaling law holds accurately for mammals and birds. The heart rates of mammals scale inversely with the one-quarter power of mass.

Genetic drift scales with the inverse square root of population. The square root scaling results from the statistical averaging of random events. If a small population is inbreeding, the rate of drift of the average genotype increases and big fluctuations in phenotype appear.

We can foresee developments that would result in permanent genetic isolation of human communities. Some people may choose to give birth to genetically modified children. Others may emigrate from planet Earth and build societies far away in space.

Public highways will carry passengers and freight around the solar system and pioneers will breed organisms designed to live in artificial ecologies. People colonizing a cold and airless world might use genetic engineering to adapt their children to the environment.

Cheap space travel requires highways for escape from high-g planets such as Earth and for long-distance travel between low-g destinations. The high-g highway could be a powerful laser beam pointing upward, with spacecraft taking energy from the beam to fly up and down. The low-g highway could be a system of solar-powered refueling stations for spacecraft driven by ion-jet engines.

Cheap deep-space survival requires genetic engineering of warm-blooded plants. These could grow on the surface of any cold object in the solar system. A greenhouse cavity filled with warm air would sustain a diverse ecology. Small objects in the solar system have enough surface area to provide homes for a much larger population than Earth.

AR Freeman Dyson is a living global (not merely national) treasure.

Did Galileo Kill God?

Josephine Livingstone

Galileo said the Earth moves around the Sun. His story became part of a grand narrative: Europe moved forward from religion and ignorance toward science and modernity.

Michael Hobart says Renaissance mathematics reconceived numeracy as a tool for describing the quantities of things into an abstract system for describing relations between them. We moved from alphabetic literacy as the underlying information technology, framing a presumptive harmony of science and religion, to the new information technology of relational math, framing a world of law.

Galileo said the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics.

AR Slogan on one of my old teeshirts: Go Galileo!

2018 April 27

Singular Power

Steven Pinker

General AI does not exist at present. It is probably an incoherent concept, a sloppy extrapolation of individual differences among human beings. Intelligence has to be defined relative to goals and the knowledge needed to attain them.

The argument against doomsday fear of existing AI extends to more powerful systems. Any system that monomaniacally pursued one goal while being oblivious to every other goal is not artificially intelligent but artificially stupid. It is unlike anything a technologically sophisticated society would ever invent and empower.

Scenarios in which AI takes over the world commit the fallacy that intelligence implies a will to power. This comes from confusing two traits that are bundled in Homo sapiens because we are products of Darwinian natural selection.

AR Contra Nick Bostrom.

One Last Referendum

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood

Margaret Thatcher called referendums a device of dictators and demagogues. The "will of the people" is all too often inconsistent, ill-informed, or dangerously repressive. Postwar Germany excluded referendums from its constitution.

I suggest the UK should not in future let representative parliamentary democracy be compromised by referendums. Parliament should take an early opportunity to legislate their abolition.

Britain needs to hold one final referendum. It should decide, once the terms for leaving the EU are known, whether the UK should pursue Brexit or withdraw its Article 50 notification and remain.

British representative democracy has been compromised by the 2016 referendum. MPs feel unable to vote to remain: the cost in terms of loss of public trust in the political process seems too high.

The 2016 referendum offered a deceptively binary choice which, although strictly advisory only, was given in circumstances that made the result politically compelling, requiring parliament to initiate a Brexit process.

Let the public now finally decide the question. Then legislate to ensure that never again will parliamentary representatives feel bound by a referendum to sacrifice their own mature judgment on the altar of public opinion.

AR Hear, hear.

2018 April 26

Macron Rips Trumpism


French president Emmanuel Macron addressed a joint session of of Congress. He wants to bind the Trump administration into the existing Western international system and to position France as the gateway between America and the European Union.

"We can choose isolationism, withdrawal, and nationalism. This is an option. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears. But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world. It will not douse but inflame the fears of our citizens."

"Other powers with the strongest strategy and ambition .. will not hesitate once again to advocate their own model .. I do not share the fascination for new strong powers, the abandonment of freedom and the illusion of nationalism."

"This requires more than ever the United States involvement as .. the one who invented this multilateralism. You are the one who has to help now to preserve and reinvent it."

He agreed to seek a new deal with Iran but said they should honor the existing pact: "We signed it, both the United States and France. That is why we cannot say we should get rid of it like that."

He jabbed US trade policies: "We need a free and fair trade .. a commercial war opposing allies is not consistent with our mission, with our history, with our current commitments for global security."

On climate change: "Let us work together in order to make our planet great again and create new jobs and new opportunities while safeguarding our Earth. We are killing our planet. Let us face it: There is no planet B."

Macron says the United States and France are locked in a special relationship. He is emerging as Europe's most dynamic leader.

Perfectoid Geometry

Gilead Amit

Arithmetic deals with the properties of whole numbers. Geometry is built on ideas of continuity and spatial relationships. Mathematicians have long sought to build bridges between them.

There are infinitely many prime numbers but no discernible pattern to their appearance along the number line. The Riemann hypothesis says their frequency follows a rule expressed in the Riemann zeta function (blog 2007-03-18). It is known to hold for the first 10 trillion primes, but a general proof has yet to emerge.

Alexander Grothendieck introduced a spectrum Spec(Z) for the set Z of signed integers that might offer insights into the distribution of primes. But he did not work out its geometry or solve the Riemann hypothesis.

Peter Scholze, 30, a professor at the University of Bonn, has extended that work to construct perfectoid geometry, built on a system of numbers known as the p-adics: For prime p, you can write a positive integer n as a p-adic number by writing n in base p and reversing the digit order. In perfectoid geometry, a prime number, represented by its associated p-adics, can be made to behave like a variable in an equation. Scholze and others have used the approach to solve or clarify many problems in arithmetic geometry.

Scholze has made progress in working out the geometry you would see if you zoomed in on the curve Spec(Z) around the point for a prime p. He hopes his work will advance the Langlands program to build a grand unified theory of arithmetic, geometry, and analysis (blog 2018-03-21).

AR Scholze deserves a Fields Medal.

2018 ANZAC Day

Americans and Nazis

Alex Ross

The Nazis idolized many aspects of American society. Hitler praised America as the one state that had made progress toward a primarily racial conception of citizenship. What set Hitler apart was his conception of himself as an artistic genius.

The Holocaust has moments of international congruence. The British Empire was Hitler's ideal image of a master race in dominant repose. The Armenian genocide led him to think no one would care much about the fate of the Jews.

The Nazis were not wrong to cite American precedents. Enslavement of African-Americans was written into the US Constitution. Thomas Jefferson spoke of the need to "eliminate" or "extirpate" Native Americans.

American insouciance in the wake of mass death impressed Hitler. He made frequent mention of the American West in the early months of the Soviet invasion: "Europe — and not America — will be the land of unlimited possibilities."

AR Still a shocking story.

Tunneling Nanotubes

Viviane Callier

Tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) about 50 nm wide and 150 to 200 μm long extend between cells. Tumor cells use TNTs to share molecular messages in the form of microRNA. Cancer cells resistant to chemotherapy drugs use the messages to confer their resistance on their neighbors.

TNTs appear in a wide variety of cell types and are morphologically diverse. They appear not only in the context of cancer but also in normal embryonic development. They transfer all kinds of cargo beyond microRNA, including messenger RNA, proteins, viruses, and even whole organelles.

Cells actively regulate the transfer of mRNA between cells. Oxidative stress induces an increase in the rate of transfer, while heat shock induces a decrease. Cancer cells are often form many more TNTs than normal healthy adult cells do.

Brain activity drives tumor progression in gliomas, which are full of tumor microtubes. Chemotherapy or radiation kills isolated cancer cells, but those connected to each other through tumor microtubes and TNTs survive. In response to stress, the cancer cells form more tumor microtubes and connect with neighboring healthy cells.

TNTs play a role in the immune system. Their function involves dendritic cells, which connect with each other via TNTs. HIV and other viruses can exploit TNTs to spread among dendritic cells.

Prions and other misfolded proteins hijack TNT networks. Disease caused by prions could spread between cells through TNTs. Once in the nervous system, the prions pass from one neuron to another through TNTs and thus reach the brain.

TNTs help the heart recover from heart attacks. After an attack, damaged mitochondria release reactive oxygen species that alarm nearby stem cells, which start producing more mitochondria and directing TNTs toward the injured cells. The stem cells give them new mitochondria.

AR A new world of fun at the cellular level!

2018 April 24

Making France Great Again


Donald Trump is not the only president who wants to make his country great again. Emmanuel Macron wants to restore France's prestige and global influence: "I'm here to deal with the President of the United States, and the people of the United States elected Donald Trump."

To give Macron what he wants, Trump has to go back on his vow to tear up the Iran deal, give the EU a permanent waiver from US tariffs on aluminum and steel imports, and keep US troops in Syria. Macron: "If you make war against everybody .. it doesn't work. You need allies. We are the ally."

France is currently the most functional member of the EU, a key NATO power, a member of the UN Security Council, and in the lead due to the partial eclipse of two of America's other traditional allies in Europe. Britain is all but overwhelmed by its plans to leave the EU, a factor that diminishes its usefulness to the United States as a key continental power. Germany under Angela Merkel has even less leeway to uphold the second pillar of the Western alliance.

France 1, Germany 0

Der Spiegel

Emmanuel Macron has established France as the leading nation in Europe. Angela Merkel senses the shift in power. She was seen as the key figure in Europe, but now everyone wants to talk to Macron.

Macron has a self-confidence possessed by few French leaders since Charles de Gaulle. He has convinced the French that their future is in Europe. The conflict between Germany and France is over the future of the eurozone.

Today, Macron is in Washington with Trump. For three days, Donald and Emmanuel will be celebrating the Franco-American friendship. Berlin needs to show support for EZ reform.

Brexit Customs

Gideon Rachman

The Brexit deal still has to be negotiated and approved by the UK parliament. If parliament says no, Britain could crash out of the EU without a deal. Or the government could fall, leading to a general election and a fresh approach.

The Lords voted to amend Brexit by asking the government to negotiate a customs union. The Lords can be overruled by the Commons. But the Commons could also vote for a customs union and so defeat the government.

Customs union marks the frontier between hard and soft Brexit. Hard Brexit will disrupt trade and force a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Hardliners say soft Brexit would be a national humiliation.

Brexit Jeopardy

Rafael Behr

Theresa May wants Brexit to mean no customs union. But the Lords want the Brexit bill to advocate a customs union. Now EU negotiators dismiss ideas of maintaining an invisible border in Northern Ireland without a customs union.

May is fighting parliament for control over Brexit. Another Brexit bill amendment would force ministers to take instruction from MPs on what to do next if May's deal is defeated. It would remove some of the jeopardy from the end game.

May needs maximum jeopardy to impose discipline on her party. She needs her MPs to dread triggering a general election. Her team hints that votes on the customs union might escalate to votes of confidence in the government.

2018 St George's Day



This week, NK leader Kim Jong Un will meet SK president Moon Jae-in at the Korean DMZ. In May or June, Kim will meet US president Donald Trump.

Kim is vulnerable economically. NK exports to China are down 95% year on year, at only $9 million in February. Imports were down by about a third to $103 million, according to official Chinese data.

Wide domestic use of the dollar and the renminbi limits NK control of credit and inflation. His weak economy forced Kim to reach out to Seoul, Washington, and Beijing. China can cut off delivery of free crude oil at any time.

Kim is content with his nuclear program and his status as a military leader. His nuclear weapons pose a real threat to global security. He feels confident that foreign leaders will treat him as an equal.

If it came to war, North Korea would inflict massive damage on SK, Japanese, and US citizens. But the regime would sustain enormous losses.

EZ Reform

Wolfgang Münchau

Germany has closed the doors on serious EZ reform. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron have different visions of the future. Germany will not agree to a central EZ budget to weather macroeconomic shocks.

A slowing global economy or a trade war are existential risks for an unreformed EZ. Macron's reforms would make a start on infrastructure to weather a crisis. An EZ breakup would be a disaster for Germany.

2018 Earth Day

Climate Change


Dear leaders,

My generation is so done with your talk. I'm a 16-year-old sophomore in high school. I want to travel the world and see all its natural wonders.

But I'm growing up at a time when the world and all its life systems are falling apart. Climate change has loomed over my every life decision, every time I try to plan for the future. When I think of adulthood, I see my home being flooded, I see deathly heat waves, droughts, famine and intense, deadly storms.

I see insects, allergens, and diseases spreading to places where they shouldn't naturally be. I see countless people dying from toxic drinking water, food full of chemicals, and air thick with pollutants. I see millions upon millions of refugees fleeing homes in regions that have become uninhabitable. I see wars and conflict over dwindling resources.

You are leaving my generation with a world that is unlivable. You have the power to save your kids. You have the power to tackle the defining issue of our time head on. But you've chosen not to.

Late last summer, I founded a youth climate action movement, Zero Hour. We're called Zero Hour to remind people that now is the time to act on climate change. We are organizing the Youth Climate Weekend in Washington DC this July.

Jamie Margolin

2018 April 21

Germany and Immigration

Der Spiegel

Many Germans feel like foreigners in in their own country. Almost every fourth child born in Germany in 2016 had a foreign mother. Today one out of five people living in the country has immigrant roots.

Some Germans fear their government is leading them toward a bleak future. A conspiracy theory holds that sinister powers are planning to swap out the ethnic German population and replace it with foreigners. Large segments of the German population are suffering from a kind of stress relating to identity.

Heimat mixes the feeling of home with a sense of belonging and familiarity. Hermann Bausinger: "Heimat is the product of a feeling of conformity with a person's own small world. When people are no longer secure in their surroundings, when they are constantly exposed to irritations, then that Heimat is destroyed."

The government intends to deport more people. But Germany took in a huge number of immigrants, many of them poorly educated or illiterate. Around two thirds of children with immigrant backgrounds in large cities go to elementary schools where most of the students are immigrants or socially disadvantaged.

Jens Schneider studies the chances for social advancement among immigrant families living in cities: "Socialization via work did wonders for the guest workers and it still works today."

AR Arbeit macht frei.

Climate Change

Joachim Müller-Jung

Because of a break: in the sea, in the ice, in the countryside and at high altitudes, climate change is getting faster and faster and leaves its mark more radically than ever in the data series.

Switty times for good predictions: climate change overturns. That's the way it sounds more and more often. But is that true? Are the previous predictions still valid? For those who have been critical of climate research for decades and dismiss climate forecasts — often politically motivated — as a hoax, they have never been so. For the others who have remained on the carpet of scientific empiricism, an oppressive realization condenses: climate forecasts are actually not only caught up in reality, they are increasingly overtaken — and therefore remain a delicate business.

AR Google "translation"

2018 April 20

Quantum Time

Michael Brooks

Time traps us in an eternal present as it conveys us from the past to the future. Most modern efforts to understand it begin with the second law of thermodynamics. This says that the entropy of the universe always increases.

But the second law of thermodynamics only applies to closed systems whose total energy remains unchanged. Relativity says time stops for speeding photons. And almost all the basic laws of physics are reversible in time.

Carlo Rovelli and others aim to dig deeper. Thermodynamics uses statistically averaged properties of large numbers of atoms to finesse our ignorance of what individual atoms are doing. This averaging process recalls quantum uncertainty.

Quantum theory and relativity disagree on time. In the equations of quantum theory, time is not a dynamic component of the fabric of the universe, as it is in relativity. It is a steady beat of a clock against which the processes of reality play out.

In 1972, Alain Connes discovered a quantum version of time in algebra that John von Neumann had developed to explore quantum theory. In 1994, Connes met Rovelli and they began to collaborate.

Connes and Rovelli agree that time's arrow emerges from interactions between microscopic quantum objects and macroscopic classical objects. Before interaction, we have only probabilities concerning the properties of a quantum object. Afterwards, uncertainty collapses into classical certainty.

But the uncertainty principle says our knowledge of the quantum world is limited even after measurement. The more precisely we know one property, the less we know its complementary property. Since all measurement outcomes are probabilistic, varying from case to case, the order in which we make measurements determines their outcome.

There is no unique order of time in the quantum world. Temporal order appears only when processes such as measurement irreversibly turn quantum phenomena into observable classical phenomena. Applied to thermal systems, what emerges matches the second law of thermodynamics.

Perhaps entanglement creates time. In this view, time originates from the distribution of quantum matter relative to the background space. The background space takes on the role of a clock, but one in many superposed states simultaneously, with each element in the superposition beating out a different time.

Different distributions of matter with varying degrees of entanglement give something equivalent to a collection of different entropy states, despite the universe as a whole having every state coexisting and no passing time.

If physics tells us that the experience of now and the difference between past and future are not fundamental to the fabric of reality, perhaps we need to marry physics and psychology.

Rovelli: "I don't think we're anywhere near the end of the story."

AR I proposed a psychophysics of now in my 2006 paper About Time. Now I hope to extend the story with an epistemology of quantum phenomena.

TESS launch

TESS launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on April 18.
TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) will orbit between the Earth and the Moon.
It will seek planets orbiting 200 000 nearby stars and identify the best ones.

Hottest April day
here in my lifetime:
spent it hiking 30 km
and sea bathing

Janelle Monáe
Pynk (4:28)

5-color graph with 826 vertices

Tomahawk launch
US Navy
USS Monterey fires Tomahawk

Missile over Syria
US, UK, France hit Syria:
"Mission Accomplished"

"James Comey is a proven
LEAKER & LIAR .. a weak and
untruthful slime ball."
Donald Trump


"This president is unethical,
and untethered to truth and
institutional values. His
leadership is transactional,
ego driven and about
personal loyalty."
James Comey

Symphony of the Seas
Cutout view


2018 April 19

Brexit — EU Action

Financial Times

Brussels is issuing dozens of legal proposals to prepare the EU for a hard Brexit.

The European Commission has drafted the proposals to amend laws and give special powers to regulators in the case of a No Deal scenario. The proposals cover a wide range including trade quotas, the car industry, transport companies, the European Space Agency, financial services, and professional qualifications.

The push is intended to reduce uncertainty.

Brexit — Lords Defeat

The Guardian

The UK government has suffered two big defeats in the House of Lords on the Brexit bill.

Peers backed an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill that would force the government to explain what it has done to pursue remaining in a customs union. They also passed a separate amendment that would limit the power of ministers to slash red tape without the approval of parliament.

Peers and MPs will keep playing with the bill in a process known as "ping pong".

British Housing

The Times

The Victorians built homes so well that most are still standing today. Britain's new build homes will not be standing so proud in future.

The broken British housing market is far too reliant on a small number of large private companies. Poor workmanship, low build standards, tiny rooms, too few and too small windows, and a lack of architectural imagination are commonplace. These symptoms have been left to fester by weak regulation.

Builders find it all too easy to cut corners to boost profits, leaving the mess for future generations to clear up.

AR British housing and roads are poor, British health care and school systems are overstretched, and British prospects look bleaker than those of many other EU member states. So go for hard Brexit — logisch, nicht?

2018 April 18

A Better Place

Daniel Finkelstein

Economic growth makes countries get richer, healthier, better educated, more liberal, and more equal. Over time the effect is transformative.

Before his death last year, Hans Rosling wrote Factfulness to summarise the lessons he had learnt. He found that public understanding of the world is skewed. We are more pessimistic than is warranted, less aware of the way the world is improving than we should be, more aware of individual catastrophes than of global trends.

Rosling: "Poor developing countries no longer exist as a distinct group .. Today most people, 75%, live in middle-income countries. Not poor, not rich, but somewhere in the middle and starting to live a reasonable life."

Big drivers of this change are improvements in public health and women's education. As more women learn to read and write, they understand better how to take advantage of public health provision, fewer children die in infancy, and the birth rate falls as parents stop having large families as an insurance policy.

Most people when asked about the world's population place too many people in Europe and the Americas and too few in Africa and Asia. By 2100 more than 80% of the world's population will live in Africa and Asia. The largest proportion of that increase will be in Africa.

The world is making progress. The past five years has been the greatest in history for the reduction of child mortality. Global capitalism is not a gigantic flop and neither are aid programs.

Bill Gates: "The only reason things have improved is because people get upset about things and decide to do something about it."

Old Graph Problem Is Yielding

Evelyn Lamb

In 1950, Edward Nelson asked a question. Draw a graph of points connected by lines, all the same length and all in the plane, and color all the points so that no two connected points have the same color. What's the smallest number of colors you need to color any such graph, even one with an infinite number of vertices?

The problem is now known as the Hadwiger−Nelson problem or the problem of finding the chromatic number of the plane. Researchers soon found that the infinite graph can be colored by no fewer than 4 and no more than 7 colors.

Aubrey de Grey posted an paper stating that the chromatic number of the plane is at least 5. He showed how to draw a planar unit-distance graph that can't be colored with only 4 colors. He found such a graph with 20 425 vertices and later shrank it to 1581 vertices.

De Grey pitched the problem of finding the minimal 5-color graph as a Polymath problem. Work on Polymath problems is done publicly, and anyone can contribute. Someone soon found a graph with 1577 vertices. Marijn Heule has now lowered this number to 826 vertices.

AR Old problem? It's younger than me!

2018 April 17

Iran−Israel War?

Thomas L. Friedman

Israeli jets attacked Syria's T4 air base last Monday. Back in February, an Iranian drone launched by a Quds Force unit operating out of the T4 base was shot down after it penetrated Israeli airspace. It may have been part of a military strike on Israel.

If Iran were to strike back at Israeli targets, Israel may use the opportunity to make a major counterstrike on Iran's entire military infrastructure in Syria. Israel will not let Iran establish a massive missile threat in Syria.

Iran claims it is setting up bases in Syria to protect it from Israel. But its network of bases and missile factories in Syria appears to be a power play by Quds Force leader Qassem Suleimani to extend Iran's grip on key parts of the Sunni Arab world.

Lost Civilizations?

Adam Frank

Direct evidence of an industrial civilization in the geologic record wouldn't go back past 2.6 My BP. Perhaps an early mammal rose briefly to civilization building during the Paleocene epoch about 60 My BP. The fraction of life that gets fossilized is small and variable, so we could miss an event that only lasted 100 ky.

Our activity has already laid down traces that will be detectable 100 My in the future. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon back into the atmosphere that was once part of living tissues. This ancient C is depleted in one of its three naturally occurring isotopes. The more fossil fuels we burn, the more the balance of these C isotopes shifts. Increases in temperature also leave isotopic signals.

Some 56 My BP, Earth passed through the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). During the PETM, the planet's average temperature climbed 7 K above today and typical summer temperatures at the poles reached 20 C. Looking at the isotopic record from the PETM, scientists see both C and O isotope ratios spiking in exactly the way we expect to see in the Anthropocene record. Other events in the Cretaceous left the ocean anoxic for many millennia.

These events almost certainly do not indicate previous nonhuman industrial civilizations. The PETM isotope spikes rise and fall over hundreds of ky, but we're dumping fossil C into the atmosphere much faster than that. So if an earlier industrial era is short-lived, we might find it hard to see it.

Perhaps some planets have cycles of civilization building and collapse. If a civilization uses fossil fuels, the climate change they trigger can lead to ocean anoxia and other conditions for making new fossil fuels. The demise of a civilization might sow the seed for new civilizations later.

2018 April 16

The President Is Not Above The Law

The New York Times

President Trump may act to cripple or shut down an investigation by America's top law-enforcement agencies into his campaign and administration. Lawmakers need to be preparing now for that possibility.

If Trump takes such drastic action, he will be striking at the foundation of the American government, attempting to set a precedent that a president, alone among American citizens, is above the law. What can seem now like a political sideshow will instantly become a constitutional crisis.

For months, investigators have been examining whether Trump's campaign conspired with the Russian government to undermine American democracy, and whether the president misused his power by obstructing justice in an effort to end that investigation.

The president is not a king but a citizen, deserving of the presumption of innocence and other protections, yet also vulnerable to lawful scrutiny.

2018 April 15

Russia Resurgent

Michael Burleigh

Russia today is a resource kleptocracy in which a privileged elite hide their wealth in Western banks. Vladimir Putin and his supporters are driven by nationalism and realpolitik. They find it easy to interfere in Western democracy.

The Syrian civil war is playing out a major sectarian conflict between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. Israel fears that Iran is establishing bases in Syria. Turkey aims to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state.

Thanks to Russians, Iranians, and Hezbollah, Bashar al-Assad has routed the rebels. Putin can make life difficult for the West in other crises. Russia aims to become the dominant power in the Mideast.

AR The Anglo-American alliance and Russia are on a collision course. If they do collide, the United States will win. But the UK will lose unless France is in the alliance too. If the AA warlords push too hard, France will hang back with Germany.

The Order of Time

Carlo Rovelli

Time is familiar and intimate. We inhabit time as fish live in water. Our being is in time.

Time passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level. The difference is small but can be measured with precision timepieces. A clock placed on the floor runs a little more slowly than one on a table.

Einstein understood this slowing down of time a century before we had clocks precise enough to measure it. He imagined that the Sun and the Earth each modified the space and time that surrounded them. This modification of the structure of time influences the movement of bodies, causing them to fall toward each other.

The Earth is a large mass and slows down time in its vicinity. If things fall, it is due to this slowing down of time. Where time passes uniformly, as in deep space, things do not fall, they float.

A clock on a table and another on the ground run at different speeds. The question of which one tells the time is meaningless. There is a different time for every point in space. We describe how things evolve in local time, and how local times evolve relative to each other.

Time is elastic in our personal experience of it. Before Einstein showed how time really is elastic, how did we get it into our heads that time passes everywhere at the same speed? It was certainly not our direct experience of the passage of time.

When trains become commonplace and fast, the problem arises of synchronising clocks between one city and another. The young Einstein worked in the Swiss Patent Office, dealing with patents relating to the synchronisation of clocks at railway stations. It dawned on him that the problem of synchronising clocks was ultimately insoluble.

AR Time, entropy, quantum gravity — my garden of eternal delight.

2018 April 14

How to Become an Intellectual

Paul J. Griffiths

Intellectuals think a lot. To prepare yourself for a life of thought:

1 Find something to think about. This may be easy, like falling in love. But you can only love what you see, and what you see is given in part by location and chance. Your topics need not be things you love or like. Follow what provokes thought in you.

2 Find time. Spend at least three hours every day, excepting sabbaths and vacations, on your intellectual work. Those hours need to be free from distractions. Undistracted time is when intellectual work is done. Learn to be alone as you work.

3 Gain skills and knowledge. Once you know what you want to think about, learn whatever skills are necessary for good thinking about it, and whatever body of knowledge is requisite for such thinking. The most essential skill is attention.

4 Find interlocutors. Solitude must grow out of and continually be nourished by conversation with your interlocutors. You need them. Seek the interlocutors you need by attending closely to work of the sort you hope to do.

An intellectual life is hard and lonely. Live it only if you have to.

Semi-Classical Gravity

Anil Ananthaswamy

John Wheeler: "Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells spacetime how to curve."

General relativity works on scales where classical physics rules. But quantum particles don't have definite positions before you measure them, so you can't predict how they will curve spacetime. In situations where both gravitational and quantum effects are big — no answer.

In the semi-classical Einstein equation, the energy-momentum tensor is replaced by a quantum expectation value that represents the average matter distribution you would expect to obtain from many measurements. This lets matter be quantum while its gravitational effects are classical. It often seems to work.

The semi-classical Einstein equation can't cope with the moment when a quantum state vector collapses to a point in spacetime. Allowing superpositions in spacetime can let signals go faster than light or break the predictably probabilistic nature of quantum systems.

We say the collapse is due to an act of measurement that shifts the quantum world into classical certainty. But soon after the big bang, collapsing quantum states are thought to have played a key role in cosmic development. A cosmic collapse has no measurement.

A spontaneous collapse model lets unmeasured quantum states collapse randomly. The half-life to collapse for a single quantum particle in an entangled bunch is very long, but if one goes, they all go. As bunch size and the number of particles in it increases, the probability approaches 1 that the quantum state of the bunch will collapse. Microscopic bunches stay quantum; macroscopic bunches become classical.

A collapse model with semi-classical Newtonian gravity says individual collapse events happen randomly at specific points in spacetime, causing matter to take up definite positions and fix gravity. Spacetime remains classical, without superposition.

If gravity is a quantum force, it should create entanglement. An experiment to test this lets two masses, each of them in a separate superposition of states, fall freely. The interaction between them is gravitational. Test whether the quantum states of the two masses are entangled with each other: If they are, gravity is a quantum force and semi-classical gravity is dead.

Carlo Rovelli: "I bet 99 to one that the outcome will be consistent with gravity having quantum properties."

AR I do too — blog 2018-03-08.

2018 April 13

A German Revolution?

Anna Sauerbrey

Last Saturday the CDU Werteunion met in Schwetzingen to adopt a conservative manifesto. They oppose political Islam and will defend European culture. They demand a halt to immigration.

The anchor of German conservatism in the Bundestag is the CSU, whose caucus leader says a silent majority in Germany is underrepresented and awaits a conservative revolution.

The new conservatives see immigration not just as a problem for the welfare system, integration, housing, and security. Many frame it as an existential threat to Germany and the West.

AR Schwetzingen — ideal base for a cultural revival!

Republican Doom?

The New York Times

House Speaker Paul Ryan's retirement announcement blindsided House Republicans. Candidates and their campaigners were counting on him to lead them to victory in the November midterm elections.

Ryan's retirement makes it harder to prevent Democrat control of the House. Up to 50 Republican seats are at risk. In many districts, Trump's approval rating is well below 40%, which spells doom.

Former Republican representative Thomas M. Davis III: "This is the nightmare scenario."

AR Trump is already the nightmare scenario.

Life on Venus?

New Scientist

Venus looks bad for life. At the surface there's no water, temperatures reach 750 K, and the atmospheric pressure is 90 bar. But about 50 km above the surface, sulphuric acid clouds have relatively mild temperatures and pressures.

Discoveries of ever more microbes on Earth that live in acidic conditions is strengthening the case. Every major branch of life has acidophiles. Such organisms consume the sulfur compounds identified in the Venusian clouds.

Venus may have hosted liquid water on its surface for at least 2 billion years of its existence, say NASA simulations. The acid clouds may have been cool and dilute enough to sustain life.

At least three major international missions aim to revisit Venus over the next decade.

AR See blog 2017-11-14, 2015-08-31, 2014-12-23.

2018 April 12

The Law and the President

The New York Times

Early Monday morning, FBI agents raided the New York office, home and hotel room of the personal lawyer for the president of the United States. They seized evidence of possible federal crimes, including bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations related to payoffs made to women who say they had affairs with the president.

That evening the president surrounded himself with the top American military officials and launched unbidden into a tirade against the top American law enforcement officials. His former campaign chairman is under indictment and his former national security adviser has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators. His son-in-law and other associates are also under investigation.

Donald Trump has spent his career in the company of developers and celebrities, and also of grifters, cons, sharks, goons, and crooks. He cuts corners, he lies, he cheats, he brags about it, and for the most part, he's gotten away with it, protected by threats of litigation, hush money, and his own bravado. Those methods have their limits.


Terry Eagleton

John Gray is a misanthrope for whom human life has no unique importance. He believes that all humanists have done is substitute humanity for God. What remains is the kind of atheism that renounces God while having a low estimate of humanity.

When Jesus speaks of salvation in terms of feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, he speaks as a devout Jew, for whom the spiritual is in the first place a matter of how one behaves toward others. Judaism forbids making images of God, because the only image of God is human flesh and blood. The Jewish God is of the future, and the only image of the future is the failure of the present.

AR A world has a timestamp as its epistemic anchor. My world now is at the intersection of all accessible futures.

Symphony of the Seas

Royal Caribbean
Symphony of the Seas: 362 m long, 228 000 gross tons, 6680 passengers

Vladislav Surkov says Russia
has ended its epic journey
toward the West after four
centuries of vain attempts to
join Western civilization.

"As long as there are people
sitting in Russia whose job
it is to try and interfere
with elections around the
world, this is going to be
an ongoing conflict."
Mark Zuckerberg

Calabi-Yau manifold 2D slice of 6D Calabi−Yau
quintic manifold

Wearing your outdoor shoes
indoors can risk your health.
Microbes out on the street
will stick to your shoes.
Keeping shoes on at home
spreads everything you
stepped in that day.


Voters want a referendum
on the final Brexit terms.
A new poll finds 44% say
yes to a vote on the
terms, only 36% no.

Mouse brain Tony Zador explains
MAPseq (2:50)

Houses of Parliament by Monet Claude Monet
Houses of Parliament

Credit Suisse Exhibition:
Monet and Architecture
National Gallery, London
9 April — 29 July 2018

"Der deutsche Staat
kapituliert vor dem Islam.
Wer die Grundwerte nicht
akzeptiert, soll gehen."

Bassam Tibi

Prinz Eugen NHHC
Third Reich warship Prinz Eugen
survived both WW2 and two
nuclear bombs at Bikini

Bundeswehr FAZ
Bundeswehr: "Die bisher
beschrittenen Wege zur
Beschaffung von Ausrüstung
der Bundeswehr führen schon
heute nicht zu voll einsatz-
bereiten Streitkräften, für
moderne digitalisierte Land-
streitkräfte erscheinen sie
weitgehend ungeeignet."



2018 April 11


Martin Wolf

China is a rising power. Its GDP per head in 2017 was 14% of US levels at market prices and 28% at PPP. Its total GDP in 2017 was 62% of US levels at market prices and 119% at PPP.

China is spending a high share of GDP on R&D to drive innovation. China is also an increasingly formidable military power. Any idea that America can prevent China from innovating its way to prosperity is mad.

China has a planned market economy and an undemocratic political system. Recent failures of free markets and the rise of populism in the West have strengthened the appeal of both.

America has strong regional allies, but the US president is waging economic war on them. If a US decision to attack North Korea led to the devastation of Seoul and Tokyo, the US alliances would be over. China would win.

America can insist that China abide by its commitments. But the real threat to the West is its own decadence. The West must learn from China.

Commonwealth Cannot Save Brexit Britain

Philip Murphy

When Britain voted for Brexit, as the director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies I said:
"If the Commonwealth is the future, then we're in even more trouble than I thought."

In 2015, the Commonwealth Secretariat claimed to prove the existence of a Commonwealth effect with data that purported to show that trade in goods and services between Commonwealth nations had been growing at almost 10% a year for two decades and would exceed $1 trillion by 2020. In 2015, about 44% of UK goods and services went to the EU and about 9% to the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth is seen as a special asset to the UK. During the 2016 referendum campaign, some Leavers presented it as a direct alternative to the EU. Most Commonwealth members say membership of both organizations was not only wholly compatible but also mutually beneficial.

Brexit is unlikely to enhance British trade with Commonwealth countries. A UK government driven by the anti-immigration agenda of Leave voters is unlikely to make great strides in the Indian market, where many see the Commonwealth as little more than a quaint relic of British imperialism.

The Commonwealth cannot rescue the UK from the folly of Brexit.

Mirror Symmetry

Kevin Hartnett

In 1991, string theorists found that numbers emerging from one kind of geometric world exactly matched numbers from a different such world. Mathematicians now study this duality as mirror symmetry. They have found many more instances of such duality.

Decades ago, physicists went looking for extra dimensions. String theorists try to model fundamental particles as tiny vibrating strings. They found the strings would exist in 10 dimensions, our 4D spacetime plus 6 unseen dimensions, and found two very different ways to describe the extra dimensions: Complex manifolds arise in algebraic geometry, whereas symplectic manifolds arise from phase spaces in physics.

Mathematicians aim to explain mirror symmetry by breaking down symplectic and complex manifolds into basic elements called torus fibers. You can glue lots of lower dimensional tori together to build a higher dimensional shape. Just as you can use 1D circles to construct a torus fibration of a 2D sphere, you can construct a 3D torus fibration of the 6D symplectic and complex spaces that feature in mirror symmetry.

A torus fibration reduces one mirror space to elements you can use to build the other. To convert a symplectic space into its complex mirror, perform a torus fibration on the symplectic space to get a lot of tori, each with a radius. Take the reciprocal of the radius of each torus and use tori with reciprocal radii to build a new space.

The SYZ conjecture proposes torus fibration as a general approach for converting any symplectic space into its complex mirror. The conjecture says a torus fibration is the key link between symplectic and complex spaces. Proving it is a foundational question in mirror symmetry.

2018 April 10

Peace in Ireland

Hillary Clinton

Twenty years ago, the Good Friday agreement helped bring an end to decades of conflict and violence in Northern Ireland. Today, the agreement stands as a shining example of what's possible when citizens come together to demand peace.

Some say the agreement has outlived its usefulness, but they are wrong. Countless people in Northern Ireland are alive today, rather than in early graves, because of it. The last thing we can afford to do is become complacent.

I continue to believe in the value of the EU, and of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace. We cannot allow Brexit to undermine the peace that people voted and even died for. Reinstating the border would be an enormous setback.

The Evolution of Consciousness

Siri Hustvedt

Antonio Damasio interprets the evolution of mind and culture through his theory of homeostasis as dynamic self-regulation. The move from homeostasis to feeling requires a nervous system that allows an animal to map its own bodily structures and experiences.

Organisms with nervous systems feel, and the evolution of feeling lets subjectivity and consciousness develop. Feeling is the mental expression of homeostasis. In this story, a form of awareness appears in all animals equipped with nervous systems.

For early cognitive scientists, the mind was software running on the brain as hardware. Now they say consciousness is embodied, embedded, enacted, and extended. Damasio finds in homeostasis a broader perspective that binds bacteria to human beings.

Damasio is wary of an algorithmic account of humanity. Our ability not only to image our experiences but to reflect on them releases us from being strictly bound by our genetic inheritance. This constitutes our freedom as a species.

The Strange Order of Things by Antonio Damasio

AR See my 2003 article on Damasio on consciousness.

2018 April 9

US−China Trade

Peter Navarro

China promised in 2001 to trade by WTO rules. Instead it has broken the rules on the way to growing its annual GDP from $1.3 trillion to $11.2 trillion. Since 2001, America has lost millions of manufacturing jobs.

President Donald Trump is cutting taxes, deregulating industry, unleashing the US energy sector, and making progress on trade. But the Chinese have refused to end their unfair trade practices. The US trade deficit in goods with China has grown from $347 billion in 2016 to $375 billion in 2017.

China steals US intellectual property and forces US companies operating in China to surrender their technologies in exchange for access. Chinese sovereign wealth funds and other state actors aim to buy up US companies in artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum computing, self-driving vehicles, automated machine tooling, and advanced medical devices. If China captures these industries, America will not have an economic future.

The president imposed $50 billion of tariffs on Chinese products and implemented investment restrictions to prevent Chinese state capital from investing in America. The Trump agenda has put the US economy on a path to robust growth and corporate earnings. Trump seeks shared prosperity based on a fair and reciprocal global trading system.

Detailed Brain Maps

Monique Brouillette

A new map of 50 000 neurons in the cerebral cortex of a mouse shows where the cell bodies of every neuron sit and where they send their axons. A neural map of this size and detail has never been made before.

Tony Zador used genomic information to put a unique RNA bar code into each individual neuron. He then dissected the brain into cubes and fed the pieces into a DNA sequencer. The result was a 3D rendering of 50 000 neurons in the mouse cortex mapped with single cell resolution.

Multiplexed analysis of projections by sequencing (MAPseq) can be used to find new cell types and projection patterns. Researchers inject an animal with GM viruses loaded with known RNA sequences that give each neuron a distinctive bar code. When they cut the brain into sections, the bar codes help them track neurons from slide to slide.

MAPseq will enable us to map and compare the neural pathways of large numbers of brains. With lots of neurological data, we can look for patterns that reflect general principles of how the brain works.

2018 April 8


Madeleine Albright

Fascism and the tendencies that lead toward it pose a more serious threat now than at any time since 1945.

Its return is not hindered by the volatile presidency of Donald Trump. Instead of mobilizing international coalitions to take on world problems, Trump touts the doctrine of every nation for itself. Instead of engaging in creative diplomacy, he has insulted US neighbors and allies, walked away from key international agreements, mocked multilateral organizations, and stripped the State Department of its resources and role.

A great nation does not align itself with dictators and autocrats, ignore human rights, declare open season on the environment, or disdain the use of diplomacy. America should embody the values of a free society.

UK−EU Trade

Larry Elliott

The UK has run a trade deficit with the EU in goods and services combined in every year since 1999. The deficit doubled from £41 billion to £82 billion between 2012 and 2016. It is now 4% of GDP and rising.

UK trade with the rest of the world was broadly in balance from 1999 to 2011. Since 2012, a UK surplus has increased from £8 billion to £39 billion. The UK manufactured goods deficit with Germany has increased by 5% pa, with France by 7% pa, and with the rest of the EU by 11% pa.

The single market and the customs union create a free trade area only in goods. The UK surplus in services with the EU has been growing, but it has not offset a growing deficit in manufactured goods. The trend will continue unless EU barriers to trade in services are removed.

Trade deficits are bad. The need to finance them tends to raise interest rates, reduce productivity growth, and leave workers with lower wages and skills. Their causes include high interest rates, an over-valued currency, low investment, and poor management.

AR Freeing UK−EU services trade is the right answer. Brexit blocks it.

2018 April 7

Good Science

Adam Becker

A basic principle of scientific practice is that a new theory should be falsifiable. But for a theoretical physicist, spinning new ideas about how the world could be is essential. The inflexible standards of falsifiability and observability might be neat guidelines or heuristics, but they are not measures of the quality of a scientific theory.

There are no genuinely falsifiable scientific theories, as the history of science shows. Newtonian gravity was ultimately thrown out, but not merely in the face of data that threatened it. Only when Einstein came up with a viable alternative theory did the scientific community move on.

When new experiments threatened the conservation of energy in a certain kind of radioactive decay, Wolfgang Pauli came up with what came to be known as the neutrino. Invoking the invisible to save a theory from falsification is sometimes the right scientific move. What was once unobservable can become observable, as the neutrino shows.

Richard Feynman pointed out that two wildly different theories that have identical observational consequences can give you different perspectives on problems. They lead you to different answers and different experiments to conduct in order to discover the next theory. Some of the most interesting scientific work gets done when scientists develop bizarre theories in the face of something new or unexplained.

2018 April 6

Bank Heist

Ed Conway

The single most significant economic decision of the past decade in the UK was the response by the Bank of England to the financial crisis. Quantitative easing made the wealthiest 10% of households £350,000 richer than they would have been. It was the single biggest distribution of wealth in modern history.

The Bank of England pumped £435 billion into the economy as the thin end of a monetary wedge. In the wake of the financial crisis, the Bank and its counterparts around the world went to extreme lengths to prevent a repeat of the Great Depression. QE was arguably the most fateful economic decision of modern times.

AR Disaster capitalism struck and the workers of the world paid out.

Quantum Thermodynamics 2

Vlatko Vedral

Thermodynamics predates quantum theory. Entanglement and superposition break all the usual rules of dynamics. There are no obvious quantum equivalents of classical thermodynamic concepts like heat or entropy.

A quantum heat engine has been built using atoms trapped inside a diamond. Atoms trapped inside special cavities absorb and emit energy in a way that shows they are in a superposition of a high and low energy state. Light is produced more quickly than the classical rules of thermodynamics predict, proving that quantum heat engines can bend the rules.

The flow of time might be recast by quantum thermodynamics. No physical law forbids any natural processes from going backwards except the second law of thermodynamics. Its insistence that entropy must increase suggests that time somehow arises from entropy changes.

Quantum theory predicts that the overall amount of disorder in the universe must remain constant. This implies that if you look at the universe as a whole, entropy is unchanging and so there is no time. Time ticks only in small patches where entropy is changing.

AR At the cosmic level we reach the eternal Einstein block universe. At the quantum level we are in chaotic spacetime foam with no smooth time flow. Times flows for us, aiming for classical clarity as we play quantum sudoku.

My verdict: Entropy is an epistemic concept.

2018 April 5

Threat To World Peace

Simon Kuper

John Bolton takes office as US national security adviser on April 9. Bolton has consistently favored bombing and regime change in Tehran and Pyongyang. A warmonger is about to start work a few steps from Donald Trump in a White House almost devoid of bureaucratic procedures.

New US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is an Iran hawk too. History may repeat itself as reality TV. In 2001, the Bush administration thought it was pursuing American interests when it started the Iraq war. Today war in the Trump world is chiefly an expression of a desire to punish foreigners and recall a time when America ruled the roost.

You don't need to be a "very stable genius" to grasp all this, but few people are interested. The day after Bolton's appointment was the only day last month that Bolton prompted more Google searches in the US than Stormy Daniels. Four days later, the Daniels−Bolton ratio was more than 20 to one.

We struggle to focus on what matters in the Trump show. Ask how Trump will impact the world.

World War III

US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross belittled trade tensions between the United States and China. He predicted they would lead not to "World War III" but to peace talks.

2018 April 4

Quantum Thermodynamics

Katia Moskvitch

The second law of thermodynamics says entropy never decreases in an isolated system. Heat always moves from hot to cold. The law seems to explain the arrow of time.

Researchers have made heat flow from a cold quantum object to a hot one. They took molecules that each had one carbon, one hydrogen, and three chlorine atoms, and used a magnetic field to align the nuclear spins of the C and H nuclei. The nuclei became correlated in a 2-qubit state.

Entropy measures the number of different configurations a system can be in. Quantum correlations affect entropy. A 2-qubit system can be in states 00, 01, 10, and 11. Comparing the entropy of the single qubits to the entropy of the correlated system can measure the amount of correlation.

The experiment begins with the two particles strongly correlated. As the experiment progresses, the correlation weakens. The sum of the individual entropies decreases.

The weakening of the correlation is like a gradient driving the heat from the colder to the hotter body. The cold qubit gets colder, the hot qubit hotter. There is a trade-off between correlations and entropy, effectively reversing the arrow of time in the system.

A puzzle in cosmology is why the universe began in such a low-entropy configuration. Connecting entropy to entanglement might help us understand the cosmological arrow of time.

AR I like it. A supercorrelated (highly self-entangled) primordial universe loses entropy as it condenses into an ever more specific state with time. So symmetry breaking and phase changes no longer have to raise entropy, which I have found problematic ever since contemplating the time-reversal critique by Dieter Zeh.

2018 April 3

Politics of Devotion

Rafael Behr

UK prime minister Theresa May is a devout Christian. She finds comfort in submission to duty above economics and trade. For a religious person, purity of intent is much more important than outcome.

For hardcore Leavers, the paramount virtue in Brexit is the raw will that it be done. Quibbling about the consequences is an act of bad faith. Questioning the method is treason.

Religiosity is surging among Remainers too. Some of them see the EU as a totem of liberal virtue. In this tribe, Brexit is contaminated by mass credulity and racism.

Waiting for the Messiah

Rachel Sylvester

British politics needs a saviour. Theresa May is fulfilling her duty toward Brexit with saintly devotion but an air of sacrifice as she enacts a policy she fears will make the country poorer and less safe.

The centrist mainstream seems dead and buried. More than half of the British public do not feel any of the political parties represent their views. But they lack a credible alternative.

Many voters would love a better choice. The decaying political system adds to a sense that politics is in limbo. A new party would tap into a desire for change.

2018 April 2

Democratic Renewal

George Weigel

Populist assaults on democracy in America and Europe arise from:
Economic dislocations and inequalities resulting from globalization
Fears in Europe of loss of national sovereignty to transnational bureaucracies
Elitist skepticism, mockery, scorn, and disdain for traditional cultural institutions
Skepticism and contempt for the democratic inability to cope with modernity
The cult of license, leading to cultural disorientation and anger among many
Populist wrath directed against the conservative establishment

Democratic renewal will be based on truths:
Human folly excepted, nothing in history is permanent, including democracy.
Democracy requires a democratic polity, a market economy, and a vibrant public moral culture.
Democratic politics and free economies cannot be sustained by a liberal culture, which cannot
    enforce civility and tolerance.
Free markets are essential to the democratic project but need direction to help rebuild the
    foundations of civic life.
Renewal is not advanced by indulging in fantasies about implausible or impossible alternatives.

A democratic political system is the only serious option.

2018 Easter Sunday


Paul Keating

A monarchy is a tyranny. Australians are borrowing the monarch of another country. No great country borrows the monarch of another country.

I have no doubt Prince Charles believes Australia should be free of the British monarchy. He is a great friend of Australia. His commitment to naturalism, to heritage, to science, to innovation, and to beauty speaks volumes of his intellect and integrity.

Prince Charles will always be welcome in Australia. But we can do without a monarch. Australia is entitled to be a great country.

Britizen Jon

Rowan Williams

It's important to be reminded how easily democracies lose their grip, morally and politically, and how societies slide towards repression and self-destructive policies in pursuit of short-term goals. I read [the novel] as a plea for a more grown-up politics — desperately needed at the moment.

AR Thank you, Rowan.

A Cool Young Cosmos?

Liz Kruesi

In July 2017, Rennan Barkana heard from Judd Bowman, a radio astronomer in Australia. Bowman and his team had picked up a surprising signal.

The Experiment to Detect the Global Epoch of Reionization Signature (EDGES) team thought they had not only found the first stars in the universe but also that the young cosmos was surprisingly cool. Barkana guessed they might have seen ordinary matter interacting with dark matter.

The EDGES team had probed the neutral H gas that filled the universe during the 10 Ps or so ABB. These were the dark ages when the afterglow that became the CMB was absorbed at some wavelengths. EDGES searched for the absorption pattern.

The absorption pattern stretched as it flew toward us for 13 billion years. Its stretch shows how long the signal has been traveling, its width tells us for how long the gas was absorbing the CMB light, and its intensity tells us the temperature of the gas and the afterglow at the time.

It seems the neutral gas was colder than predicted. Barkana thought perhaps "millicharged" dark matter interacted weakly with ordinary matter. Intergalactic gas might have cooled by dumping heat into the dark matter sector.

Cosmologists compared such dark matter to CMB data, supernova data, particle accelerator data, and work on primordial nucleosynthesis. They found that millicharged dark matter must be too rare to explain the EDGES data.

The EDGES team took exceptional care. Any flaw in their work will be hard to find.

AR Stay skeptical.

"The concept of the soul
is an unshakeable basis
for compassion,
recognition, and love."
Marilynne Robinson



2018 March 31

Islam in Europe

Wolfgang Schäuble

Islam has become a part of Europe. Antisemitism is gaining strength through migration and a hatred of Israel fueled by radical forces in the Islamic world. Radical Muslims in Europe are spreading an irrational hatred of Jews.

The great task for liberal societies is to preserve tolerance and religious freedom under conditions of rapid change and mass migration. This is the great stress test for Western democracies.

2018 Good Friday

Good Friday Belongs To Germany

Reinhard Bingener

Debate in Germany over whether Islam belongs to Germany is fruitless. The Christian religion does not worship the lofty strength of an almighty God, but a dying man hanging on a cross. Christianity is about a changed understanding of power.

Anyone who claims to practice Christian politics is lying. Those who talk of Christianity and the West cannot separate themselves from suffering in the world. An enlightened Christian can hardly deny Muslims the right to live out their religion in Germany.

A policy oriented on the Christian character of Germany need not fully meet Christian ethical ideals. The Christian faith does not call for disregarding limits or ignoring natural worries. All this must be part of a policy that calls on Christianity.

Germany and Islam

Jochen Bittner

German interior minister Horst Seehofer says Islam does not belong to Germany. Yet it was Germans who made mistakes in dealing with Muslims. They thought guest workers would go home again, they embraced foreigners regardless of their values, and they failed to ask how to reconcile Islam with liberal democracy.

Many Germans think Islam is incompatible with Western values. Yet the fact that there are liberal Muslims in Germany suggests the opposite. A few Muslims speak out against false dogma or a literal reading of the Quran, but they encounter hostility from fellow Muslims in Germany.

In a 2016 survey, almost a half of Turkish immigrants and their descendants considered it more important to abide by religious commands than by the laws of the country they live in, a third said Muslims should try to build a fundamentalist social order, and a half said there was only one true religion.

Muslim intolerance for people with other beliefs and contempt for liberalism compounds a feeling widespread among Muslims of not belonging to Germany anyway.

Islam in Germany

Yassin Musharbash

My suggestions:

1 Say what you mean
Horst Seehofer said Islam does not belong to Germany. He explained that of course the Muslims living here belonged to Germany. Better to cite problems and propose or demand solutions.

2 There are no taboos
Some Muslims living in Germany have a poor understanding of Islam. But nothing prevents anyone from addressing these issues. All the main ones have been openly debated for years.

3 The Quran is not a manual
The Quran is hard to read, part prescriptive, part poetic, and sometimes contradictory. It does not justify breaking the law. Almost all Muslims see jihadism as a perversion of their faith.

4 Separate the issues
A Muslim does not always do as he does it because of Islam. Not all terrorists are Muslims. Antisemitism and neglect of women and girls are not just Muslim problems.

5 Germany is not Saudi Arabia
How to exercise religious freedom is unresolved. It is no good to allow minarets in Germany only if churches are allowed in Saudi Arabia. We can aim to do better.

Germany has bigger fish to fry than Islam.

End of a union

The end is nigh — one year to the apocalypse

Tony Blair
Tony Blair

Kim, Xi

Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan

Kapitän zur See Jörg-Michael
Horn: "Ich muss zugeben, dass
ich .. das Vertrauen in die
politische Führung
verloren habe."


2018 March 29


Tony Blair

Brexit is the most important decision the British people have taken since the end of WW2. It is no betrayal to allow them to revisit the decision. The case for letting the people make the final decision is common sense.

We face a dilemma. Either we keep to EU rules or we are free to diverge, in which case the disruption to trade and consequent economic damage will be large. The government approach up to now has rested on having our cake and eating it.

Europe is not going to agree this. The deal the government struck on transitional arrangements was a concession that, during the transition, we will remain bound fully by European rules, though we will have lost our say over them. Resolution of the dilemma was postponed.

The government will turn to fudge. They will understand that they have somehow to get past March 2019. Then they can negotiate, safe in the knowledge that the issue will be whatever deal they do versus no deal.

Parliament has a duty to foil this strategy. A vote is only meaningful if it is on a proposition that allows us to know with precision what our future path looks like before we take it. Exposing the strategy of fudge, and preventing it, should be the overriding aim of the opposition.

The sensible strategic course for the government is to share the responsibility. Put the proposition to parliament. Then let the people make the final judgement.

There is no serious disagreement among serious people about the economic consequence of Brexit. Growth estimates for the next 5 years are the worst in over half a century. Over time, jobs and business are going to bleed away.

The geopolitical damage is the missing dimension to the Brexit debate. Soon China will rival America, India have a bigger economy than Germany, and Britain will look small. Like France or Germany, we will be obliged to advance our interests through a European union.

The Brexit mandate was not a vote for Global Britain. Those who voted for Brexit because they feared the future shaped by free market globalisation will realise they will have to embrace it more fully. Only parliament can save us now.

AR Blair is Britain's greatest living political prophet. He was not consumed by the fires of Iraq but steeled by them. Heed his voice and repent, o BeLeavers, or be as Gadarene swine!


John Gray

Universities have become institutions devoted to the eradication of thought crime. An inquisitorial culture has taken over. Universities enforce a hyperliberal ideology that aims to purge any trace of other views of the world.

Traditional liberalism depended on the premise that truth should be valued as an end in itself. But this was hard to square with utilitarian values. Liberalism was a problematic offshoot from traditional monotheism, a new religion venerating the human species as the Supreme Being.

Liberals who rail at populist movements say voters who support them are deluded or deceived. They reject the possibility that these movements are exploiting needs that highly individualist societies cannot satisfy. Such needs stand in the way of schemes for transnational government or an expanding global market.

Liberals say totalitarian movements are corrupt religions but resist the claim in their own case. They have faith that humankind is evolving toward a worldwide society based on liberal values. Sweep away the tyrants and their regimes, and a new humanity will emerge from the ruins.

Hyperliberals promote an exorbitant version of liberalism. They believe a new society will appear once we have been stripped of our historic identities. In principle, all identities are equal in being cultural constructions. But in practice some identities are more equal than others.

Hyperliberal snowflakes who deny the facts may undo the liberal West.

AR Gray is one of the greatest British political philosophers.

2018 March 28

China Throws Trump Curveball


When US president Donald Trump finally meets NK leader Kim Jong Un, the specter of China will also be in the room.

SK presidential press secretary Yoon Young-chan: "What is happening now is beyond what the (government) has been predicting and (Seoul) will need to keep an eye on the situation with all possibilities in mind."

Federation of American Scientists Defense Posture Project director Adam Mount: "The very fact of this meeting alone, and certainly the tenor of the Chinese statement about it, really does increase Kim Jong Un's leverage in the upcoming talks. It shows that Kim has a friend in Beijing."

AR I hope President Trump stays smart here.

Kim Jong Un Meets Xi Jinping

The Times

NK leader Kim Jong Un traveled to China to meet President Xi Jinping in Beijing. Kim: "We are determined to turn the North-South relationship into one of reconciliation and of cooperation. Denuclearization can be achieved if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create a peaceful and stable environment, and take tandem measures in phases."

AR Kim is a shrewd operator, more so than Trump, I fear.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Antisemites

Daniel Finkelstein

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says he saw a street mural of stereotypical Jews playing Monopoly on the backs of the poor and failed to see it was antisemitic.

Over the weekend, members of the Jewish community in London gathered in Parliament Square to protest. The atmosphere was was depressing as we stood outside chanting. Had it really come to this? And might it rain?

Zionism has ceased to refer simply to the creation of Israel and become the symbol of colonialism. Anti-Zionism is now a statement of opposition to western capitalism and of confidence that there is a workable popular alternative to the free market economy.

The idea that there is a global conspiracy of bankers, Zionist colonialists, and freemasons to oppress the workers of the world is dangerously bonkers.

AR A bonkers idea, a temptingly false narrative.

2018 March 27

Can A Novel Be Atheist?

M. M. Owen

Ian McEwan says the novel is "a deeply moral form, in that it is the perfect medium for entering the mind of another." But three of his novels seem to tell a different story.

Enduring Love (1997) centers on the couple Joe and Clarissa. Joe represents science, and Clarissa the arts. Jed thinks Joe is in love with him and that the two men are destined to be together. Joe fears Jed is but Clarissa thinks he is misunderstood. Narrative gives Jed his deluded romantic vision and narrative obscures the truth from Clarissa. Our craving for narrative deludes us. Clarissa is wrong about Jed and Joe is right.

Atonement (2001). In 1935, Briony falsely identifies Robbie, the secret lover of her older sister Cecilia, as a rapist. Robbie goes to jail, and he and Cecilia are not reunited until after World War 2. In fact they are never reunited at all. In a metafictional twist, the postscript reveals that the novel was written by the elderly Briony to atone for ruining their love. Briony says the novelist is "also God .. there is nothing outside her."

Saturday (2005) juxtaposes science and literature in neurosurgeon Perowne and his poet daughter Daisy. In the climactic scene, Baxter breaks in to the Perowne family home and threatens to rape Daisy. Drunk and suffering from Huntington's disease, he demands that Daisy read one of her poems. Baxter is so moved by the poem that tragedy is averted. But his mood swing might have more to do with his disease.

AR McEwan is one of the best British novelists.

2018 March 26

Genes and Schooling

Matt Ridley

Genes influence intelligence. Measures of general intelligence derived from IQ tests have about 30% heritability in childhood, 40-50% in adolescence, and 60% in adulthood. This increasing heritability with age makes sense: adults are free to find their own intellectual level, whereas children can be forced by pushy parents and good schools, or by bad friends and bad schools.

A new study finds that selective schools add almost nothing to the exam results of students, because the advantages teenagers come out with are for the most part genetic. So all those talented Etonians were pretty talented to start with. Genes cannot be wished away.

David Reich: "Well-meaning people who deny the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations are digging themselves into an indefensible position, one that will not survive the onslaught of science."

Marooned by Brexit

Yasmeen Serhan

After the Brexit referendum, nearly 5 million people across Europe were suddenly unsure of their rights. Most of these are people legally resident in the UK but from elsewhere in Europe and unsure whether they can stay. The same is true of British citizens who live across the Channel.

The uncertainty is already having consequences. Statistics reveal a Brexodus as a decreased number of EU nationals come to work in the UK and an increased number are leaving. Thousands of Britons have applied for German citizenship since the Brexit vote.

The European Court of Justice is considering a case brought by five UK nationals seeking to retain their EU citizenship after Brexit. If the court deems EU citizenship irremovable, it could have big implications for all Brits. Until then, they will be in limbo.

AR My leaving little England to go and live in liberal Germany would be like choosing sides in a culture war. It would be a lifetime vote against the UK.

2018 March 25

Bigger Than Facebook

Ethan Zuckerman

Mark Zuckerberg acknowledges the massive data compromise that allowed Cambridge Analytica to obtain extensive psychographic information about 50 million Facebook users. Aleksandr Kogan used the Facebook Graph API, which until April 2015 allowed people to build apps that harvested data from Facebook users.

The problem is way bigger than Facebook. Most ad-supported websites track their users, as part of agreements to make their ad inventory more valuable. Facebook cannot protect us from manipulative advertising targeted to our psychographic profile when their business model is built on selling this form of persuasion.

Zuckerberg admits it might be time for regulation of Facebook. Never before have we had the technological infrastructure to support the weaponization of emotion on a global scale. The people who built this infrastructure have a moral obligation to address the known bugs that are corroding democracy.

AR The era of Big Data anarchy is over.

Enough march

Lexey Swall
March for our Lives, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC

Titan NASA

"We have a basic responsibility
to protect people's data and
if we can't do that then we
don't deserve to have
the opportunity."
Mark Zuckerberg

Unternehmen Michael

"Schlacht gewonnen,
Engländer sind total

Kaiser Wilhelm II
21. März 1918

Dirty Nix

Cambridge Analytica head
Alexander Nix was recorded
boasting about using
"beautiful Ukrainian girls"
to entrap political opponents
of clients and offering
bribes to smear opponents
as corrupt.

AR Bad


Italian villa AR

Poole bikers AR

Poole Bay AR

Sandbanks AR

Poole dippers AR

Poole residents braved
snow this morning

Inna Vladimirskaya IV
Inna Vladimirskaya
swims regularly in the icy
river Dnieper, Ukraine

Ion channel


The United Nations

Bret Stephens

In 1994, John Bolton said that if the UN Secretariat building in New York "lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

The UN is a never-ending scandal disguised as an everlasting hope. The hope is that dialog can overcome distrust and collective security can be made to work in the interests of humanity. Reality says otherwise.

Confronted with the record of failure, UN defenders typically point to the bad behavior of individual states as the cause of UN failures and insist that the core problem is a dearth of financial resources and legal authorities.

Total expenditure for the UN system in 2016 was around $49 billion. The UN adopted what were supposed to be landmark reforms more than a decade ago. Yet the mismanagement, corruption, abuses, and moral perversities remain.

All this attests to the truth of Bolton's quip about the UN losing 10 floors.

AR A template for Leaver attacks on the EU.

2018 March 24

Cambridge Analytica

Brittany Kaiser

I was the business development director at Cambridge Analytica. Our work with Leave.EU involved analysis of data provided by UKIP, who had undertaken a survey on why people wanted to leave the EU, and they also had membership data. That was work that would normally be paid for.

I briefed senior Leave.EU officials on the results of the research, but the campaign never received a final report because it unexpectedly backed out of a contract. I was continually told I could go along with the narrative that we did work on it.

AR Data mining is a legitimate activity — when openly and legally paid for.


Leah Crane

Saturn's largest moon, Titan, looks like the best place in the solar system to look for truly alien life. In January 2005, the NASA Cassini mission landed a probe on Titan's surface. It survived for a few hours and sent back 350 grainy images and a trickle of data.

Titan is about 1.4 Tm from Earth. It has a dense atmosphere, mountain ranges with peaks rising 3.3 km into the haze, and clouds that release seasonal downpours that flow into lakes and seas. Titan is the only place in the solar system besides Earth known to have liquids on its surface.

Titan's surface temperatures rarely rise above about 90 K. Its rocks are made of water ice, its streams flow with methane and ethane, and its nitrogen-heavy skies produce various organic compounds. Life based on liquids other than water might be possible.

In July 2017, researchers picked up the signature of vinyl cyanide in Titan's atmosphere. Also known as acrylonitrile, this compound could form structures equivalent to the membranes that hold living cells together on Earth. No one has yet made membranes from vinyl cyanide in the laboratory, but there is a lot of it on Titan.

On Earth, living cells also require nucleic acids such as DNA to transfer genetic information from one generation to the next, and proteins to do the self-replication. Researchers report first evidence that Titan's atmosphere contains ingredients that can create all manner of these macromolecules.

Dragonfly is a planned mission to launch a sophisticated drone in 2025 to arrive at Titan in 2030 and search for signs of prebiotic chemistry. The drone will use a radioisotope thermoelectric generator to charge its battery and to keep its electronics and scientific instruments warm.

The Dragonfly team hope to convince NASA that it should get the $850 million designated for the next mission under the New Frontiers Program.

AR Trust Trump to waste the money first on war.

2018 March 23

Warpath: US vs World

The New York Times

The good thing about John Bolton, President Trump's new national security adviser, is that he says what he thinks. The bad thing is what he thinks. There are few people more likely to lead the country into war. His selection is alarming.

Bolton believes the United States can do what it wants without regard to international law, treaties, or previous commitments. He has argued for attacking North Korea and disparaged diplomatic efforts. He wants to abrogate the deal with Iran and has called for bombing Iran.

AR Code Red alarm

EU Agrees Brexit Transition

Financial Times

European leaders on Friday agreed to extend UK de facto EU membership until the end of 2020. Meeting in Brussels, the other 27 EU countries took only minutes to sign off on a transition period and guidelines for EU strategy negotiating a future relationship.

AR Stay of execution

2018 March 22

Fascist Folklore

Pankaj Mishra

A Canadian academic who insists that gender and class hierarchies are ordained by nature and validated by science has suddenly come to be hailed as a public intellectual. His apotheosis speaks of a crisis at least as deep as the one signified by the rise of Donald Trump.

Jordan Peterson diagnoses this crisis as a loss of faith in old verities. He offers to alleviate the resulting desperation of meaninglessness with the help of the great myths and religious stories of the past. He says men represent order, and chaos is symbolically associated with the feminine. Men failing to toughen up are pathetic losers.

Reactionary white men will surely be thrilled by his loathing for social justice warriors. Those embattled against political correctness on university campuses will heartily endorse his claim that some disciplines in universities are hostile to men. Islamophobes will take heart from his speculation that feminists avoid criticizing Islam because they unconsciously long for masculine dominance. Libertarians will cheer his glorification of the individual striver.

Thomas Mann wrote in 1936 of an extensive moral devastation that knows no values, no good or evil, no morality. The foundations collapsed, triggering the cataclysms of the twentieth century. We are in the midst of a similar intellectual and moral breakdown.

2018 March 21

The Langlands Program

Kevin Hartnett

Robert Langlands is the winner of the 2018 Abel Prize. He started a program to explore a deep connection between number theory and analysis that has big consequences for questions about the properties of prime numbers.

Langlands first articulated his vision for the program in 1967. Generations of mathematicians have taken up and expanded upon it. The Langlands program is often called a search for a grand unified theory of mathematics.

Mathematicians seek to find patterns involving prime numbers. For example, all primes that can be expressed as a sum of two squares leave a remainder of 1 when divided by 4. Gauss generalized this result in a reciprocity law.

Langlands proposed a vast extension of the reciprocity law. He suggested that the prime numbers encoded in higher-degree equations should be in a reciprocity relationship with harmonic analysis, which grows out of calculus.

Mathematicians working in the Langlands program are solving other problems too. Andrew Wiles proved Fermat's Last Theorem in part using links between number theory and analysis that Langlands had predicted.

God's Book

Erica Klarreich

Paul Erdős liked the idea that God has a Book containing the perfect proof of every mathematical theorem: "You don't have to believe in God, but you should believe in The Book."

In 1994, Martin Aigner came up with the idea of trying to produce God's Book. He and Günter Ziegler started collecting beautiful proofs. Erdős contributed before he died in 1996. Proofs from THE BOOK was published in 1998.

The book is a glimpse of mathematical heaven. It presents proofs of dozens of theorems from number theory, geometry, analysis, combinatorics, and graph theory. It has gone through 5 editions, each with new proofs added, and has been translated into 13 languages.

In January 2018, Ziegler and Aigner were awarded the Steele Prize for Mathematical Exposition.

The Book
Günter Ziegler

A proof is something that convinces the reader that a theorem is true. A beautiful proof should not be too long, it must be clear, it must include a special idea, and it might connect things that seemed unconnected. Some theorems have different perfect proofs for different readers.

Andrew Wiles' proof of Fermat's Last Theorem is a hundred pages long, or many hundred pages, depending on how much number theory you assume when you start. My understanding is that there are lots of beautiful observations and ideas in there. Perhaps his proof belongs in the Book.

The first step is to establish a theorem. It may be ugly, and far too long, but it must be correct and complete. If others find it interesting, they can simplify it and and make it more elegant. In the end you have the Book proof.

So the ugly proofs have their role. To make short and surprising proofs, you need a lot of confidence. One way to get the confidence is to know the theorem is true.

We are preparing a sixth and final edition of Proofs from THE BOOK.

2018 Vernal Equinox

The Chinese Dream

People's Daily

President Xi Jinping described how to make the Chinese dream come true:

1 Xi urged the CPC leadership to overcome difficulties. Adhering to the socialist system with
    Chinese characteristics is the only way for China to achieve socialist modernization and to
    create better lives for all Chinese nationals.

2 Xi laid out the roadmap to national rejuvenation:
    Continue with comprehensive reform and opening up
    Uphold socialism with Chinese characteristics and the rule of law
    Uphold the core values of Chinese socialism
    Further improve people's standard of living and eliminate poverty
    Improve the environment and build a beautiful China
    Build a world-class military under CPC leadership
    Uphold "One Country, Two Systems"
    Defend the sovereignty of Chinese territory

3 Xi said China wants to contribute Chinese wisdom to global governance and to show its
    determination to work for an equal, open, and peaceful world:
    Build a community with a shared future for mankind
    Promote economic globalization and free trade
    Promote connectivity under the Belt and Road initiative
    Promote win-win cooperation

AR Good

Project HAMMER

Silicon Republic

NASA project HAMMER (hyper-velocity asteroid mitigation mission for emergency response) is intended to save the Earth from an ELE (extinction level event) collision with an asteroid.

Discovered on September 11, 1999, asteroid 101955 Bennu has a mean diameter of almost 500 m, a mass of almost 80 megatons, and an average orbital velocity of 28 km/s. Bennu will come perilously close as it flies past Earth in the next century. A collision would release as much energy as an estimated 1200 megatons of TNT.

Russian scientists say a large thermonuclear warhead could destroy Bennu.

AR Do it right — recall the movie Deep Impact (1998).

2018 March 19

Brexit Progress

Financial Times

The UK and the EU have agreed on a transition: From March 2019 to December 2020, the UK will have to abide by all existing EU rules but will lose its say in the decision making process.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier: "We were able to agree this morning .. on a large part of what will make up an international agreement for the ordered withdrawal of the UK."

On Ireland, the UK has agreed to include a legal backstop that would keep Northern Ireland in parts of the single market and the customs union.

Barnier: "The backstop will apply unless or until another solution is found."

Russia to UK: Prove It Or Apologise

BBC News

The EU offers the UK unqualified solidarity in tensions with Russia over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says the UK will have to provide evidence of its claims or apologise.

Putin! Thanks, UK

The Times

Vladimir Putin secured a decisive victory in the Russian presidential election. He took more than 76% of the vote in early results.

Campaign spokesman Andrei Kondrashov: "Ten days ago sociologists had believed [the turnout] would be about 50 to 60%. Now we can see that the number is higher than we expected. Much higher. This is largely thanks to the UK."

In response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson has accused Putin of having a secret chemical weapon program. International inspectors are heading to Britain today for samples of the nerve agent used in Salisbury.

Russian Threat

The Times

NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg urges the alliance to improve its defensive capabilities and to add hybrid warfare to the agenda of the next NATO−Russia Council.

Stoltenberg: "We must be alert and resolute .. Russia must not miscalculate. We are always ready to respond when an ally is attacked militarily .. Moscow have clearly stated in their doctrine that they are prepared to use nuclear weapons in regional conflicts .. We see the danger that Russia could gradually move from using conventional weapons to nuclear weapons."

2018 March 18



President Donald Trump fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe and tweeted: "It is part of this administration's ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the special counsel investigation, which continue to this day."

Fired FBI Director James Comey, in a tweeted reply to Trump: "Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not."

Former CIA director John Brennan, in a tweeted reply to Trump: "When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history."

Burn It Down, Rex
Michelle Goldberg

Rex Tillerson holds Donald Trump in contempt and disagrees with large parts of his agenda. Tillerson was a vastly more respected businessman than Trump, but now the first line of his obituary will be about a year of failure as America's lead diplomat, ended with a tweet. The only way he will ever change that is by joining those who would bring this despicable presidency down.

Russian Fascism

Timothy Snyder

Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin imagined a Russian Christian fascism. Born in 1883, he was expelled in 1922 by the Soviets, embraced the cause of Benito Mussolini, and wrote first for White Russian exiles and then for future Russians who would see the end of Soviet power.

In about twenty books in Russian and another twenty in German, Ilyin expressed his metaphysical and moral justification for political totalitarianism in practical outlines for a fascist state. He found ways to present the failure of the rule of law as Russian virtue.

Ilyin confronted Russian problems with German thinkers. As a student at Moscow, he studied the philosophies of Kant and Hegel. As he read Hegel on the penetration of Spirit into the world, he proclaimed a Hegelian renaissance but doubted that historical change was only a matter of Spirit.

Lenin wrote under the pseudonym "Ilyin" and the real Ilyin reviewed some of that pseudonymous work. When Ilyin was arrested by the Cheka as an opponent of the revolution, Lenin intervened on his behalf. They both began from an appreciation of Hegel's promise of totality.

Ilyin left Russia in 1922. He visited Italy and published admiring articles about Il Duce. For Ilyin, the teachings of Jesus were the words of a failed God with a doomed Son. Ilyin maintained that Christianity actually meant the call of the philosopher to apply violence in the name of love.

Ilyin saw the fascist seizure of power as an act of salvation. He took from Mussolini the concept of a "chivalrous sacrifice" that fascists make in the blood of others. Ilyin: "The fact of the matter is that fascism is a redemptive excess of patriotic arbitrariness."

From 1922 to 1938, Ilyin lived in Germany. He praised Hitler's seizure of power in 1933 and thought Hitler was right to blame Jews for the evils that had befallen Germany. But Hitler regarded Russians as subhumans, so Ilyin moved to Switzerland, convinced that in time Russians would demonstrate a superior fascism.

After 1945, Ilyin presented the war as one of a series of Western attacks on Russian virtue: "The Russian nation, since its full conversion to Christianity, can count nearly one thousand years of historical suffering."

The fascist language of organic unity remained central to Ilyin. His postwar writings are consistent with the advocacy of fascism in his major works. The national dictator, he said, must be hard: "Power comes all by itself to the strong man [who] hardens himself in just and manly service."

The Leader would be personally and totally responsible for every aspect of political life, as chief executive, chief legislator, chief justice, and commander of the military. Elections were a ritual of submission before the Leader: "We must reject blind faith in the number of votes and its political significance."

Russia today is the fruit of his vision. Vladimir Putin was elected president in 2000, and turned general corruption into official kleptocracy. Once the state became the center of crime, the rule of law became incoherent and reform unthinkable.

Putin rehabilitated Ilyin as a Kremlin court philosopher. Today, Putin proclaims not law in Russia but the defeat of the European Union. In 2011/12, Putin announced a rival Eurasian Union that would overcome the EU and extend from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

From 1991 to 2012, Russian-Ukrainian relations were defined according to international law. Since 2012, Russian policy toward Ukraine has been made on the basis of Ilyin's organic model.

In the spring of 2016, Russian military intelligence boasted of efforts to help Donald Trump win. No longer just Russian philosophy, this is now American life.

Spacetime Fluid?

Jon Cartwright

General relativity describes spacetime expanding from an infinitesimal singularity. The stuff within spacetime is governed by quantum theory. All the forces, except maybe gravity, come in finite quanta.

A quantum theory of gravity entails building smooth spacetime from atoms of space, as Bei Lok Hu calls them. Fluid dynamics describes smooth fluids whose molecules are ultimately governed by quantum theory. Hu says spacetime is a fluid.

Daniele Oriti used loop quantum gravity to describe the atoms of space. He used group field theory to show how they could undergo phase changes and found what looked like the expanding spacetime of our universe. The big bang was a moment of condensation.

2018 St Patrick's Day

Beware The Big Five

Tamsin Shaw

The Big Five — Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google — were founded by young visionaries and grew organically within the ecology of the open Internet. The US government has seen them as an essential national security asset.

The Big Five hold immense troves of personal data on their users. The domestic use of their resources for political influence seemed not to bother policymakers. This changed when the Russians hijacked social media to distribute disinformation.

Information warfare is the exploitation of IT for the purposes of propaganda, disinformation, and psychological operations. Liberal democracies are vulnerable to information warfare. The civic trust that shores up US political institutions is fragile.

The US government has exploited the private sector to expand its national security capabilities. It has supported the Big Five partly because they increase its soft power globally. Vladimir Putin has shown how easy it is to subvert that power.

Black Holes

Jennifer Ouellette

Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne said the Hawking radiation emitted by a black hole would be too hopelessly scrambled to retrieve any useful information about what fell into it, even in principle. Others say information somehow escapes black holes. Wild ideas as to how:

Black hole complementarity: Information that crosses the event horizon both reflects back out and passes inside, never to escape. No observer can be both inside and outside the event horizon, so no contradiction arises.

Firewalls: Observers falling into a black hole encounter an impenetrable wall of fire at the event horizon. This idea sacrifices one of three postulates: the equivalence of gravitation and acceleration; unitarity; or locality.

Black hole fuzzballs: These are packed full of strings, have a definite surface, and emit thermal radiation with a spectrum like Hawking radiation. Information is not lost because there is no event horizon.

ER = EPR: Faraway points in spacetime are entangled via microscopic wormholes. A wormhole links the interior of the black hole directly to its Hawking radiation, so information need not pass through the event horizon.

Apparent horizon: Hawking proposed thinking of the event horizon not as a definite line in the sky but a zone where information is only temporarily confined and eventually escapes, scrambled.

AR I see the event horizon as like the potential wall around an atomic nucleus, and Hawking radiation, carrying information, as like quantum tunneling through the nuclear wall. But I don't think this works out mathematically.

2018 March 16

Saudi Arabia vs Iran

The Times

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman threatens a new Mideast arms race: "Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb we will follow suit as soon as possible."

The crown prince says of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: "He wants to create his own project in the Middle East, very much like Hitler, who wanted to expand at the time. Many countries around the world and in Europe did not realise how dangerous Hitler was until what happened happened. I don't want to see the same events happening in the Middle East."

He then boasts: "Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia. Its army is not among the top five armies of the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy. Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia."

The Saudis propose to build 16 nuclear plants over the next 25 years with US support.

AR This is a potential nuclear catastrophe in the making. With uncritical US-UK support, the crown prince could develop into a dangerous despot. We must use our leverage to hold Saudi Arabia to higher standards.

2018 March 15

New Cold War

Lawrence Freedman

Vladimir Putin is not one to accept criticism from the West. Russia has been on the receiving end of sanctions and diplomatic slights ever since Crimea was annexed in March 2014. He may even wonder whether the tension will help him get re-elected as president.

There are no credible opposition figures because murders, imprisonments, and denunciations have left few to take on the role. Putin looks set to be in power until he is 71. Western governments responding to Russian disruption need to deal with him.

Comparisons are being made with the Cold War. NATO generals describing the Russian conventional forces facing the Baltic states cannot forget that nuclear power is the foundation of Russia's claims to great power status. But Russia is far weaker than the Soviet Union was.

The Soviet Union had the second-largest economy in the world. Russia's GDP is about 60% that of France and Britain, 40% of Germany's, and not even 8% of the US GDP. In addition its economy is extremely dependent upon energy exports.

China is a far more important player in international politics and economics. Russian dissidents say exaggerating Moscow's attacks gives Putin an aura he does not deserve. He wants Russia to look like a great power.

2018 March 14

Bioelectricity Guides Growth

Katia Moskvitch

Michael Levin investigates the role of the brain and nervous system in dictating the shapes and identities of emerging limbs and body structures. His team has amassed evidence that the embryo is molded by bioelectrical signals, particularly ones that emanate from the young brain long before it is even a functional organ.

All cell membranes have embedded ion channels, protein pores that act as pathways for ions. Differences between the number of ions inside and outside a cell result in its resting potential. Vary this potential by opening or blocking the ion channels, and you change the signals exchanged with the cells all around.

Levin and his team changed the resting potential of cells in flatworms and produced worms with two heads or with tails in unexpected places. In tadpoles, they reprogrammed the identity of large groups of cells at the level of entire organs, making frogs with extra legs and changing gut tissue into eyes, simply by hacking the local bioelectric activity that provides patterning information.

The brain and nervous system are also involved in patterns of bioelectric information affecting development. The right electrical potential lets neurotransmitters go in and out of gates in a membrane. Once in, they can trigger specific receptors and initiate further cellular activity.

Bioelectricity works over long distances, mediated by the neurotransmitter serotonin. Levin and his team showed that the brain helps to shape development well before the nervous system is even fully developed. The nervous system plays a much more important role in how organisms build themselves than previously thought.

The work has obvious implications for the treatment and prevention of developmental malformations and birth defects. Levin speculates that in future we may be able to manipulate how cells communicate with each other electrically and let them fix various problems.

Stephen Hawking

Pi Day
π = 3.14 ..

Albert Einstein
was born 139
years ago

The Theory of Everything
2014 movie about
Stephen Hawking

A Brief History of Time

Schmalspurbahn trifft Omnibus
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Bernhard Kretzschmar
Deutung des Daseins
Städtischen Galerie, Dresden
bis zum 13. Mai

World Wide Web
Tim Berners-Lee

I want the web to reflect our
hopes and fulfil our dreams.
To be offline is to be excluded
from opportunities to learn
and earn, to access valuable
services, and to participate
in democratic debate.
I'm still an optimist.

Prince Charles

SPARC reactor


Stephen Hawking

Stuart Clark

Stephen Hawking, the world-famous theoretical physicist, has died at the age of 76.

Hawking discovered what might be the clue to the theory of everything. Roger Penrose had proved that if Einstein's general theory of relativity is correct, at the heart of every black hole must be a singularity. Hawking reversed the arrow of time to show that the universe of general relativity began in a singularity.

But general relativity ignores quantum mechanics. A "theory of everything" was needed to unite the two. For Hawking, the Big Bang singularity showed the need for quantum gravity.

Hawking met his match in 1972. Jacob Bekenstein thought thermodynamics should apply to black holes. A black hole hides its singularity behind an event horizon. Hawking had shown that the area of a black hole's event horizon never decreases but increases when matter falls into it.

Bekenstein suggested that the area of the horizon measures its entropy. Hawking set out to prove him wrong. But instead he discovered the precise form of the mathematical relationship between entropy and the event horizon. It was his greatest breakthrough.

Anything that has entropy also has a temperature, and anything that has a temperature can radiate. But general relativity says nothing can escape from a black hole. Quantum mechanics says fleeting pairs of particles and antiparticles are constantly popping in and out of existence, and near an event horizon a pair can be separated: one falls into the hole while one escapes forever. The orphaned particles stream out as thermal radiation.

Hawking had discovered black hole radiation, and with it the black hole information loss paradox. The Bekenstein−Hawking entropy equation is the one Hawking wanted engraved on his tombstone.

Raphael Bousso: "Hawking's 1976 argument that black holes lose information is a towering achievement, perhaps one of the most consequential discoveries on the theoretical side of physics since the subject was invented."

Sean Carroll: "I think most physicists would agree that Hawking's greatest contribution is the prediction that black holes emit radiation .. Hawking radiation is the single biggest clue we have to the ultimate reconciliation of quantum mechanics and gravity, arguably the greatest challenge facing theoretical physics today."

A Brief History of Time
Peter Guzzardi

Professor Hawking was the rare academic who wanted to bring his esoteric scholarly work to the attention of the masses.

The job of editing his first popular book fell to me. The manuscript was a slender but extremely dense 100 pages, describing the quest for one theory that could unite particle physics and astrophysics. As Stephen would so poetically put it, with a grand unified theory that explained both these fields we would understand everything — "for then we would know the mind of God."

A Brief History of Time became a #1 bestseller, was translated into more than 35 languages, and sold more than 10 million copies.

2018 March 13



President Trump taps CIA director Mike Pompeo to be the new secretary of state, replacing Rex Tillerson. Pompeo:

"I am deeply grateful to President Trump for .. this opportunity to serve as Secretary of State. His leadership has made America safer and I look forward to representing him and the American people to the rest of the world to further America's prosperity."

Aaron David Miller

Having worked for half a dozen secretaries of state, I thought I'd seen most everything when it came to bureaucratic intrigue and soap opera politics, particularly regarding relations between the White House and State Department. Well, welcome to Trumpland.

If you needed further evidence that the Trump administration is the most idiosyncratic of any in the modern period, this decision should remove all doubt. The firing of a secretary of state on social media is both humiliating and without precedent.

Trump vs Germany

Der Spiegel

President Donald Trump will slap a punitive tariff on imported steel and threatens to do the same for imported automobiles. "Trade wars are good, and easy to win," he tweeted.

A cycle of tariffs and reciprocal tariffs can quickly grow into a global trade war. Protectionist policies pursued by populists and nationalists harm economic growth and endanger international prosperity. A trade war has no winner.

Trump says Germany is flooding the world with goods and importing fewer. There is a gap in the trade of goods. But services are in balance, and digital services are dominated by American giants.

Three scenarios:
1 Trump's threat proves to be no more than talk.
2 America isolates itself and Europe and Asia pull closer together.
3 A trade war marks the end of an era.

Trade After Brexit

David Böcking

German industry leaders are happy with the status quo in relations between the UK and the EU, says the Voice of German Industry (BDI).

A hard Brexit could cost German industry an extra €9 billion and lead to enormous costs
    and delays, especially for the auto industry.
A customs union would let the UK and EU countries set no extra tariffs on mutual trade
    and allow simplified customs controls.
A comprehensive FTA could let most duties be abolished, but controls and proofs of origin
    for goods would still be needed.

The BDI appeals for agreement soon at least on a transition phase.

Spring Statement

The Guardian

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (treasury secretary) Philip Hammond boasted of what good shape the economy is in as Brexit approaches. After a slightly better performance in 2017 than expected, the OBR now thinks growth will be 1.5% in 2018, up from the 1.4% previously predicted.

AR So all will be well in the best of all possible worlds.

2018 March 12

The Global Arms Trade


The volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2013−17 (period P2) was 10% higher than in 2008−12 (period P1).

The flow of arms increased to Asia and the Mideast between P1 and P2, while the flow to Africa and Europe decreased. The five biggest exporters (the United States, Russia, France, Germany, and China, in order of sales) together accounted for three-quarters of all arms exports in P2.

The United States accounted for a third of total arms exports in P2. Its arms exports increased by a quarter between P1 and P2. US arms exports in P2 were 58% higher than those of Russia. The United States supplied major arms to 98 states in P2. Exports to Mideast states accounted for half of all US arms exports in P2.

Arms exports by Russia decreased by 7% between P1 and P2. France increased its arms exports by over a quarter between the two periods, while arms exports by Germany fell by 14%, but German arms exports to the Mideast more than doubled.

Arms imports by Mideast states in the region doubled between P1 and P2, and accounted for a third of global arms imports in P2. In P2, Saudi Arabia was the world's second largest arms importer, with imports more than double those in P1. Arms imports by Egypt trebled between P1 and P2.

India was the world's largest importer of major arms in P2 and accounted for 12% of the global total. Russia supplied most of its arms imports in P2. India's total arms imports increased by a quarter between P1 and P2, but its imports from the United States rose more than fivefold. Pakistan's arms imports decreased by a third between P1 and P2.

China's arms exports rose by 38% between P1 and P2, with Pakistan the main recipient. China's arms imports fell by 19%.

2018 March 11

My New Mission

Prince Charles

I have been reflecting on how best to ensure my charities can keep doing the best for those people they have been set up to help. One change involves the work I have been doing with our homes and communities.

The thoughtful planning, design, and craftsmanship that for centuries have gone into creating some of the best-loved and most characterful aspects of our communities has, I believe, had a direct and positive impact on the people who live in them.

Sadly, the skills that have helped create these wonderful places are now at risk of dwindling. Stonemasons, carpenters, and other artisanal craftsmen and women who specialise in a whole range of unique heritage crafts have been disappearing.

I believe that new construction should respect the timeless principles of proportion, scale, and local identity and be sympathetic to their surrounding environment.

The elements that link communities to the natural environment around them are also under threat. Our understanding of where our food comes from and what makes a healthy diet has in some cases disappeared altogether.

Over the years, I have founded a range of different charities. We are combining the areas of culture, heritage, built environment, and community education into a new organisation to be called The Prince's Foundation.

2018 March 10

Utopia for Realists

Rutger Bregman

A basic income would liberate the people — perhaps €1,000 a month, given unconditionally as a cash grant or through the tax system as a negative income tax.

A basic income is all about the freedom to say no. That's a privilege for the rich right now. With a basic income, you can say no to a job you don't want to do, say no to a city in which you no longer want to live, say no to an employer who harasses you at work. That's what real freedom looks like.

The basic income is unconditional. With the transfer of money there is a transfer of dignity, of bargaining power, and of responsibility. People have to make their own choices.

Dereliction of Duty?

Jonathan Stevenson

U.S. national security adviser Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster performed brilliantly in the first Gulf War and later became the exemplar of U.S. counterinsurgency prowess. Along the way, he earned a Ph.D. in American history and published a widely acclaimed book, Dereliction of Duty (1997).

McMaster seemed to be an enlightened realist. He was known for speaking truth to power, and his criticism of national security officials reflected a conviction that officers were obliged to avoid repeating the mistakes of their predecessors, even if it meant challenging their superiors.

President Trump is not interested in making decisions systematically. McMaster approved a new national security strategy that reads in part as political cover for Trump's chumminess with Vladimir Putin. McMaster is following this president into policy hell.

2018 March 9

Trouble in Europe

Helen Thompson

Across Europe, the old centrist parties have lost support for their pro-EU/EZ stances.

EU policies on a range of issues from budgets to asylum are now beyond the control of national governments and are often set within the European Council. EZ participation requires governments to forsake policy tools they had used for economic management and gives the ECB power to override national economic legislation.

Voters across the continent have responded by giving more power to strident populists.

The center-left parties have been hit especially hard in Germany, France, and Italy. Part of this is driven by popular rejection of their immigration and refugee policies, part from their cuts in welfare spending and loosened labor laws, and part from their elevation of a technocratic ideal over the daily lives of millions of Europeans.

The fate of Italy under populism could endanger the future of the European project.

Nuclear Fusion

Hannah Devlin

A major new US initiative aims to put fusion power on the grid within 15 years.

The MIT project, in collaboration with Commonwealth Fusion Systems, will use new high-temperature superconductors (yttrium-barium-copper oxide, YBCO) to make extra-strong magnets. These will need less power to contain the ultra-hot plasma in the fusion chamber.

The "smallest private-funded affordable robust compact" (SPARC) reactor will generate about 100 MW of heat in 10 s pulses producing more than twice the power used to heat the plasma. The aim is to demonstrate practical production of positive net energy from fusion.

Fusion benefits:
No shortage of hydrogen fuel
No greenhouse gas emissions
No radioactive waste problem

MIT research VP Maria Zuber: "If we succeed, the world's energy systems will be transformed. We're extremely excited about this."

Einstein's Equations

Kevin Hartnett

General relativity is still mathematically mysterious. Einstein had to fall back on approximations rather than exact solutions for his equations.

The black hole stability conjecture is that if you jolt spacetime, it shakes like jelly, then settles back down again. More formally, it says solutions to Einstein's equations are stable under perturbation.

General relativity says spacetime is something like a rubber sheet. As objects move around, the shape of the sheet changes in response. The field equations take information about curvature and energy at each point and tell you the shape of spacetime in the future.

Stability proofs need to keep track of what is going on in spacetime as the solution evolves. A coordinate system, or gauge, must let you measure distances and identify points in spacetime, with no coordinate singularities and a way to measure the size of waves. For the black hole stability conjecture, the gauge has to evolve as the shape of spacetime evolves.

The new results make partial progress toward a proof of the conjecture.

Jupiter south pole

Jupiter's south pole

American Greed

Having Javanka work
in the White House is
nepotism gone nuts

The Question
Harold Macmillan

"Are we now to isolate
ourselves from Europe, at
a time when our own strength
is no longer self-sufficient and
when the leading European
countries are joining together
to build a future of peace and
progress, instead of wasting
themselves in war?"

"Trump .. has a picture of
world trade in his head that
bears as little resemblance
to reality as his vision of an
America overrun by violent
immigrants. And his notion of
what to do .. amounts to no
more than a bar stool rant."
Paul Krugman

Theresa May

Merkel gerettet:
SPD GroKo Ja

Durdle Door
Matt Hardy
Dorset coast yesterday

Sarmat warheads
Sarmat warheads

"What's the point of Brexit?
Many people were promised
all sorts of glittering utopian
things. Now Theresa May tells
us .. we will be poorer."
Nick Clegg

Solar panels
Conserve Energy Future


2018 March 8

Juno Observes Jupiter

Hannah Devlin

The NASA Juno spacecraft has found that Jupiter's striped bands, caused by powerful winds, extend to a depth of about 3 Mm below the surface. The inner 96% of the planet rotates as a solid body, yet is a dense mixture of H and He gas.

The bands are part of a deep convection system that causes variations in the gravitational field detected by Juno. The atmosphere comprises about 1% of the mass of the planet, compared to about a millionth on Earth.

The upper Jovian atmosphere is a cloud layer of H and He, with 1% traces of methane and ammonia, that becomes denser with depth. About 10% toward the center, the H is ionized as a metallic gas approaching the density of water. About 20% toward the center, the He condenses into rain. In the deep interior, where pressures are about 1 TPa, the gas may form a thick soup enriched with heavy metal rocks.

The $1.1 billion Juno mission may end in July with a dive into the depths.

Quantum Gravity

Natalie Wolchover

Sougato Bose and others propose a lab experiment to show whether two objects can become entangled with each other through their mutual gravitational attraction. They can do so only if gravitation is a quantum interaction.

Put a microdiamond containing some 10^11 carbon atoms into a quantum superposition of two locations. To do this, embed a nitrogen atom in the diamond, next to a vacancy in the diamond's structure, and zap it with a microwave pulse. An electron orbiting the nitrogen-vacancy system both absorbs the light and doesn't, and the system enters a quantum superposition of two spin directions (up and down). Subject the diamond to a magnetic field, which makes up-spins move left while down-spins go right. The diamond follows a superposition of two trajectories.

Do all this to two diamonds suspended next to each other in an ultracold vacuum. Switch off the trap holding them and watch the two diamonds fall vertically through the vacuum, feeling a mutual gravitational attraction.

If gravity is a quantum interaction, each component of one diamond's superposition will experience a stronger or weaker gravitational attraction to the other, depending on whether the other's superposition component is closer or further away.

In each case, the different gravitational attraction affect the evolving components of the diamonds' superpositions. The two diamonds will show correlations in the spin directions of their two nitrogen-vacancy systems.

After the diamonds have fallen side by side for about 3 s, pass them through another magnetic field that brings the branches of each superposition back together. Let the two diamonds enter separate devices that measure the spin directions of their nitrogen-vacancy systems.

Running the experiment over and over and comparing many pairs of spin measurements can show correlation to demonstrate entanglement.

AR Bet that gravity is a quantum interaction.

2018 March 7

Brexit: The Essence

Donald Tusk

The European Council confirms its readiness to initiate work towards a free trade agreement, to be finalised and concluded once the UK is no longer a member state. Such an agreement cannot offer the same benefits as membership and cannot amount to participation in the single market or parts thereof.

Being outside the customs union and the single market will inevitably lead to frictions. Divergence in external tariffs and internal rules, as well as absence of common institutions and a shared legal system, necessitates checks and controls to uphold the integrity of the EU single market as well as of the UK market. This unfortunately will have negative economic consequences.

AR Memo to May: End this tragic farce.

Brexit: EU Leadership Needed

Daniel Finkelstein

Brexiteers used to say the EU would easily come to terms if the UK left. But the EU was fixated on political integration and would not relax the four freedoms. I thought they would offer a standard trade deal on bad terms.

In Italy, a struggle for power between the populists and the far right has begun. In Germany, a grand coalition deal leaves the populist AfD party as the main opposition. Populism is in the driving seat in Poland, Hungary, and Austria.

Britain has opted to leave the EU. British aspirations may be unattainable but they aren't mad. Brits want a close trading relationship that benefits producers and consumers across Europe — but not closer integration.

The argument that if Britain were to get good terms then everyone will want to leave suggests the EU lacks confidence. Flexibility and leadership from Brussels would strengthen the EU and increase its solidarity.

AR Lord Finkelstein forgets the issues of regulatory divergence and repudiation of shared jurisdiction, not to mention discrimination over citizenship.

2018 March 6

No More Nork Nukes?

The New York Times

NK leader Kim Jong Un has told SK envoys he is willing to begin negotiations with the United States on abandoning its nuclear weapons and would suspend all nuclear and missile tests during talks.

SK president Moon Jae In: "The North Korean side clearly stated its willingness to denuclearize. It made it clear that it would have no reason to keep nuclear weapons if the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed."

The two Koreas will prepare for a summit meeting in Freedom House, Panmunjom. Before Kim and Moon meet, the countries will install a hotline to reach each other directly.

Moon hopes an NK freeze on nuclear and missile tests will prompt President Trump to agree to open a dialog.

Brexit: No Control

David Allen Green

Last week the EU published a draft withdrawal agreement. Other than the provisions on the Irish border, one can see what the final document may look like.

The status quo will continue until 2020, if not beyond. UK ministers will still claim loudly that Brexit means the UK is taking back control of the trio of its borders, its money, and its laws. But the detail defeats the rhetoric.

The UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019. If the transition period ends on 31 December 2020, the result is a Brexit in name only, at least for a few years.

Brexit: Duty vs Reality

Rachel Sylvester

Theresa May is leading the UK toward a Brexit she does not believe is in the national interest. Yet she sees it as her duty to implement it. This is an extraordinary position for a prime minister to be in.

Asked if she thought leaving the EU was worth it, May said: "The British people voted for Brexit and I think it's incumbent on their politicians to deliver on the decision that we asked them to take."

May has admitted that the country will be worse off after Brexit. Her negotiating position is based on limiting the damage. Taking back control is being exposed as a phoney display of assertiveness.

Extend the Article 50 process. Let the UK not leave the EU until the end of the transition period. Give parliament a meaningful vote on the terms of Brexit.

AR Remain until at least the end of 2020.

2018 March 5

Sen Capitalism

Tim Rogan

Moral and spiritual relationships are important. Material fixes such as a universal basic income are not always enough. A rational distribution of prosperity can redress only material inequality.

Amartya Sen treats material inequality through the moral frameworks and social relationships that mediate economic exchanges. To understand famine, look for malfunctions of the moral economy that moderates demands on a scarce commodity. To solve material inequality, improve the moral relationships.

Sen studied economics but always linked our material needs with our moral lives. The theory of welfare promoted the idea that states could legitimate redistribution by appeal to utilitarian principles. Sen said maximizing utility is not the only concern, and making policy as if it were is a form of tyranny.

Economic rationality harbors a hidden politics that can damage the moral economies people build up to govern their own lives. In commercial societies, individuals pursue economic ends within agreed social and moral frameworks. The social and moral frameworks are the coefficients of prosperity.

Moral economies are contested and evolving. People are more than cold calculators of rational utility and societies are more than engines of prosperity. Sen is the great critic of capitalism.

2018 March 4

Brexit: The Speech

The Observer

Theresa May's Brexit speech on Friday was a defeat for:

The Leaver vision of a sovereign country freed from the constraints imposed by
    European politicians, laws, and regulations
Remainers who hoped against hope that Britain would draw back from this gross
    act of national self-harm
All who rightly fear for the country's future prosperity, cohesion, and jobs
Young people who will perforce inhabit an ugly new world of harder borders,
    work permits, bureaucracy, and pervasive state intrusion
The UK

Her speech marked a moment of British retreat from the shared ideals and principles of collaborative internationalism that have guided the western democracies since 1945. It presaged a historic abdication of leadership. The future toward which she is leading us will make Britain a poorer, meaner, lonelier, and shabbier place.

Admit we made a mistake in 2016 and humbly ask for time to reconsider.

2018 March 3

Human History

David Graeber, David Wengrow

The standard story of social inequality is that civilization invariably puts in charge a small elite who grab more and more of the pie, and they can only be dislodged by catastrophe. But is it true?

Evidence for institutional inequality in prehistory is sporadic. Over tens of thousands of years, we see only monuments and magnificent burials to indicate the growth of ranked societies. In the seasonal environments of the last ice age, our ancestors shifted back and forth between alternative social arrangements, permitting the rise of authoritarian structures during certain times of year.

There is no support for the view that agriculture marked a major transition in human societies. The transition from living mainly on wild resources to a life based on food production typically took thousands of years. The spread of farming to secondary areas turns out to have been a process that sometimes failed, leading to demographic collapse for the farmers, not the foragers.

Civilization does not come as a package. There is no evidence that top-down structures of rule are the necessary consequence of large-scale organization. It is not true that ruling classes, once established, cannot be gotten rid of except by general catastrophe. Egalitarian cities, even regional confederacies, are historically quite commonplace.

The most painful loss of human freedoms began at the level of gender relations, age groups, and domestic servitude. Look there to understand how some people turned wealth into power.

AR I find this case overstated, hence unconvincing.

Natural Beauty

Daniel Cossins

Most physicists love beauty. The principle of naturalness is the belief that the laws of nature ought to be beautiful. It suggests there is a reason for things being as they are.

It seems the mass of the Higgs should be about 10^19 GeV, but in fact it is 125 GeV. In supersymmetry, SUSY, with a heavy twin for every known particle, the sparticles would drive the Higgs mass down just as much as the known particles drive it up, giving the Higgs a natural mass.

SUSY not only explains the Higgs mass but also elegantly unifies the electroweak and strong forces and explains dark matter. Unfortunately, searches for sparticles at energy scales just beyond the Higgs have come up empty.

The Higgs mass seems unnatural and improbable. But in only one universe there is nothing to define that probability. In a multiverse, the vast number of worlds could give it a natural probability.

A team led by Nima Arkani-Hamed has proposed a theory with N copies of the standard model, where N is a large number, that all exist in the same universe. The copies differ only in the Higgs mass, which sets the masses of all other particles in a copy. The Higgs mass we see is about as light as it can be, so perhaps lighter is more natural.

AR Are the N copies in a quantum state space? If so, good.

2018 March 2

New Russian Nukes

Fred Kaplan

President Vladimir Putin boasted that Russia is developing new types of nuclear weapons that will be invulnerable to US missile defense systems:

A nuclear-tipped cruise missile with a nuclear engine
Ballistic missiles with multiple independently maneuverable warheads
A hypersonic air-launched attack missile

This is not a revival of the Cold War. Russia would be no match for America in a direct confrontation, and Putin is no Stalin. Then again, Trump is a dim shadow of past US presidents, too.

AR A Russian investment in national pride — still a waste of money.

Brexit: May Work

Financial Times

Theresa May has sought to reassure business leaders that Britain will commit to regulatory standards similar to the EU's after Brexit to maintain the free flow of goods.

But she warned that the EU and UK will lose some access to each other's markets. She promised that Britain would not try to undercut the EU in areas such as regulation and state aid, and confirmed that the UK would abide by the rules of EU agencies on medicines, chemicals, and aviation.

Her conciliatory tone was intended to reassure Europeans.

AR Much more clarity — but Ireland is still unsolved.

Brexit: May Speech

The Times

Theresa May will make a major Brexit speech today.

May: "I want the broadest and deepest possible agreement, covering more sectors and cooperating more fully than any free trade agreement anywhere in the world today."

She will say any deal must meet five tests:
1 Respect the referendum result
2 Protect people's jobs and security
3 Be consistent with the values of a tolerant, open democracy
4 Not weaken the ties that bind the UK
5 Not unravel

AR My suggestion: fudge test 1 and stay in the EU.

Brexit: EU Draft Agreement

David Allen Green

The EU draft withdrawal agreement at last offers something substantial to focus on. By preparing the first draft, the EU has taken the lead and may keep it until the deal is done.

The agreement needs to be final by October. Parts will need to be revised and amended. But most of it merely translates into formal legal prose the December joint report. There is nothing new in it.

The draft is clear and well drafted, practically a legal document. It sets out the Irish border proposals in a schedule as a protocol. It will concentrate minds wonderfully.

AR The May team needs to get real on Ireland.

Brexit: Hostility

Rafael Behr

The Conservatives are struggling to agree on Brexit. A scorched-earth ethos has captured the party. On the forced march from reality, nothing of Europhile Conservatism can be left standing.

Some Brexiteers are even trashing the Good Friday agreement, which impedes a hard break between the UK and the EU. They seek to see its success in underpinning peace as failure.

Extreme Brexiteers will only be satisfied by a hard Brexit. A section of the Tory party is implacably hostile to the European project. The EU cannot ignore that hostility.

AR The May team could expel the extremists.

2018 March 1

Sustainable Energy

James Temple

A growing number of US cities and states have proposed or legislated producing all electricity from renewable energy sources like solar and wind within a few decades. But insisting on renewable sources is wastefully expensive and needlessly difficult.

A recent study determined that solar and wind energy alone could reliably meet about 80% of recent US annual electricity demand, but massive investments would be needed to avoid major blackouts. Pushing to 100% would be prohibitively expensive.

The basic problem is that the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow. The study found there are gaps in renewable-energy production even on a continental scale.

Relying on these sources alone would requiring building many more solar and wind farms to produce excess energy during sunny and windy periods, plus huge storage systems that can bank the energy. And build lines to transmit the electricity around the country.

Storage systems are incredibly expensive in the case of batteries, and geographically limited in the case of pumped hydroelectric. Nationwide, they would cost more than $2.5 trillion.

The First Stars

Andrew Griffin

Astronomers have detected radio signals from the very first stars ever, dating back to 180 My ABB. UV light from the stars lit up the hydrogen around them, causing the radio emissions.

Alan Rogers: "This is the first real signal that stars are starting to form .. some of the radiation from the very first stars is starting to allow hydrogen to be seen."

Ron Ekers: "This is one of the most technically challenging radio astronomy experiments ever attempted .. we will have to wait for independent confirmation."

Brian Schmidt: "While the detection appears robust, it is an incredibly challenging measurement, and needs to be confirmed. The fact that the detection is much stronger than expected .. might reflect new physics."


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