Andy Ross 2017-03-28
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2017 March 28

End Times in the Anglosphere

Roger Cohen

When Donald Trump met Angela Merkel earlier this month, he put on one of his most truculent and ignorant performances. He told Merkel that Germany owes the United States hundreds of billions of dollars for defending it through NATO. He showed no interest in the European Union.

The European Union has provided peace and stability to hundreds of millions of people for 60 years. In myriad ways it has improved life for Europeans whose forebears lived in a charnel house. Truculent Trump has abdicated responsibility — Europe must step into the void.

"Big announcement by Ford today. Major investment to be made in three Michigan plants. Car companies coming back to U.S. JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!"

AR Fortunately, European civilization is deeper than its AA part.

2017 March 27

The End of History

Paul Sagar

Francis Fukuyama said the collapse of communism and the US victory in the cold war showed liberal capitalist democracy was the end of History. He recalled Georg Hegel, who said History is a process of resolving social contradictions via conflict to achieve higher integration, and Karl Marx, who predicted communism.

For Fukuyama, humanity developed in an upward arc from the Dark Ages to the Enlightenment, paving the way for democratic liberal capitalism. Modern science and technology, alongside market capitalism, explained our path to the top. Now History had ended — but critics see all this as no more plausible than Hegel or Marx.

Fukuyama noted the human need for recognition and respect, affirmed if necessary by force. People exhibit "megalothymia" — a desire not only to enjoy respect and recognition but also to dominate others in ostentatious and spectacular ways. If not channeled this can turn vicious, finding an outlet in domination and oppression.

Fukuyama said people who had lost greatness might lose patience with comforts that failed to feed megalothymia. He said their resentment would find a political outlet. He feared the emergence of demagogic strongmen promising mastery and domination. He cited an archetype of megalothymia: "a developer like Donald Trump."

2017 March 26

Testing Time

Anil Ananthaswamy

Special relativity has a symmetry called Lorentz invariance: The laws of physics are the same for any two observers moving at a constant speed relative to each other. So they observe each other's clocks running at different rates. Each observer feels stationary and see the other clock as ticking slowly — time dilation.

General relativity says clocks run differently if they experience different gravitational forces. Comparing atomic clocks aboard GPS satellites with those on Earth confirm the effect.

Most atomic clocks rely on the frequency of the microwaves emitted by electrons in caesium 133 atoms. New clocks using strontium atoms have at least three times the precision, barely gaining or losing a second over 15 billion years.

In a new test of time dilation, two optical fiber links, one between London and Paris and another between Paris and Braunschweig were used to compare strontium clocks in these locations. These clocks are moving at different velocities because of their position on the Earth. After one day, clocks in Paris and London should show a difference of 5 ns.

To compare them, the team synchronized lasers to the frequency of the radiation from each of the clocks, transmitted the laser beams over the fiber links, and superimposed the beams to detect any differences in frequency. They confirmed Lorentz invariance to less than 10 parts in a billion — the best result yet.

1 2 3 4 5
London, Saturday

60 Rome

Vor 90 Jahren gelang
Werner Heisenberg eine
revolutionäre Einsicht:


"Prayer is often just a jolly
good excuse to shut up
for a while and think."
Giles Fraser

Not Afraid
5 dead, 40 injured

Tobias Ellwood
Tobias Ellwood,
MP for Bournemouth East,
tried to save a stabbed
police officer.

Global Military Spending

United States $596 billion
Next 7 countries $567 billion
Rest of world $514 billion


"Oh, Donald. The ratings are in,
and you got swamped. Wow.
Now you're in the thirties?"
Arnold Schwarzenegger

"If this were TV, you'd be fired.
America, tell it like it is:
Donald, you're fired!"
Vicente Fox Quesada


Ministry of Defence
British troops deploy to Estonia

Chuck Berry

Erdogan Calls Merkel Nazi

Islamist Turkish president
Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses
Angela Merkel of using
Nazi methods.

AR That will boost her
reelection chances.

Merkel, Trump
Die Welt


2017 March 25

Cosmic Gold

Joshua Sokol

For 60 years, astrophysicists have thought supernova explosions make gold, along with dozens of other heavy elements on the bottom few rows of the periodic table. Now computer models of supernovas show this is unlikely. Perhaps colliding neutron stars forge heavy elements.

In 1957, physicists explained how exploding stars could make heavy elements. The Big Bang made hydrogen, helium, and lithium. Stars then cooked up progressively heavier elements up to iron.

To make nuclei bigger than iron, you can bombard iron nuclei with neutrons, which can be absorbed and decay into protons. Slow neutron capture, the s process, makes elements such as strontium, barium, and lead. Rapid neutron capture, the r process, beefs up nuclei to form heavy elements including uranium and gold.

A supernova occurs when a star collapses onto an iron core. Protons and electrons in the core are forced together, making neutrons. Textbooks say supernovas fuel the r process.

Supernovas make neutron stars. In a binary neutron star system, the stars lose energy and eventually collide. In the last few orbits, gravitational tides eject enormous amounts of material. Heavy nuclei form in about a second, but they are unstable. They decay to things like gold and platinum.

A supernova makes perhaps a Moon mass of gold. Neutron star mergers are rarer, but each one makes a Jupiter mass of gold. Think of r-process elements as chocolate. A universe enriched by supernovas would be like a cookie with an even glaze of chocolate. Neutron star mergers would form nuggets, as in chocolate chip cookies.

LIGO should soon be sensitive enough to detect neutron star mergers in distant galaxies.

AR See blog 2016-02-11/12, 2014-08-13.

Mathematics Prize


French mathematician Yves Meyer has won the 2017 Abel Prize for his pivotal role in the development of the mathematical theory of wavelets.

In signal processing, sound or image signals can be represented by specifying wavelet amplitudes in an orthonormal basis. Meyer developed a way to create wavelet bases and wavelet transforms tailored to a given application. Wavelet transforms are now used everywhere from JPEG compression to processing gravitational wave signals detected by LIGO.

Meyer: "You must dig deeply into your own self in order to do something as difficult as research in mathematics. You need to believe that you possess a treasure hidden in the depths of your mind, a treasure which has to be unveiled."

AR Good advice.

2017 March 24

Humans Have Bodies

Yuval Noah Harari

Mark Zuckerberg has published a manifesto on the need to build a global community. To implement his vision, he might have to jump headlong into a political minefield. But his willingness to formulate a political vision deserves praise.

Any effort to build a global community must go together with protecting and strengthening local ones. No nation, corporation, or global network can replace communities of people who know each other intimately. Without these groups, humans feel lonely and alienated.

Technology has been distancing us from our bodies. What people might really need are the tools to connect to their own experiences. In the name of sharing experiences, people let what they feel be determined by online reactions rather than by their own experience.

The current Facebook business model values time spent online over time spent offline. The best solutions for improving discourse may come from getting to know each other as whole people instead of just opinions. Humans have bodies.

AR My cut of the manifesto: blog February 21.

Islamist Terror

John Gray

The state has the primary function of providing security. By creating failed states, the West cleared zones of anarchy in which Daesh thrived. European governments are now adopting policies that will end mass migration into Europe.

Controlling the flows of people cannot neutralize Daesh militants who are already here. Some will have entered Europe years ago, or been born in a European country and then learned terrorist skills in war zones. A major terrorist threat can be created by very few people.

The European Union is weak in this regard because of freedom of movement. As a borderless zone, it can control the movement of people only at its perimeters. The result is an institution that cannot meet the primary and overriding need for safety that states exist to serve.

Daesh joins guerrilla warfare and spectacular acts of terror in its strategy. Daesh militants are possessed by faith. Their attacks are moves in a methodical strategy of savagery that serves an Islamist apocalyptic myth.

AR My new cut from a 2015 text.

The Terrorist

The Times

British citizen Khalid Masood, 52, born in the UK, was a Muslim convert, known to MI5, who had a range of previous convictions for assault, possession of offensive weapons, and public order offences, before committing the Westminster atrocity.

AR The UK is as infected as France or Germany. Brexit is no cure.

2017 March 23


The Times

World leaders condemned the attack on Westminster as they reacted with horror and sympathy.

French president François Hollande: "We are all concerned with terrorism. France, which has been struck so hard lately, knows what the British people are suffering today. It is clear that it is at the European level, and even beyond that, that we must organise ourselves."

German chancellor Angela Merkel: "Although the background to these acts is not yet clear, I reaffirm that Germany and its citizens stand firmly and resolutely alongside Britons in the struggle against all forms of terrorism."

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy: "Spain is with the British people. I condemn the attacks, solidarity with the victims."

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte: "Horrible images from London. The very heart of the city has been struck. Our thoughts are with the British people."

Europe at 60

Philip Stephens

British prime minister Theresa May will not attend celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

The Germans and the French have argued from the outset about the shape of Europe. For France, integration was about building a firebreak against the power of America. For Germany, Europe was a route to national reunification and from the demons of recent history.

Shortly before the Benelux nations came up with a blueprint for a European Economic Community, France had scuppered German plans for a European defense association. In the decades since the Rome treaty, German federalists have frequently collided with French nationalists.

The recent deluge of crises has drained confidence. A breakdown of the Brexit talks could destabilize the union.

Brexit Negotiations

Michel Barnier

The price of greatness is responsibility. When a country leaves the union, there is no punishment. There is no price to pay to leave, but we must settle the accounts.

We will tell the truth to our citizens about what Brexit means. We must do serious legal work with the United Kingdom on the long-term rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens living in the rest of the EU. But we can and we should agree, as soon as possible, on the principles of continuity, reciprocity, and non-discrimination so as not to leave these citizens in a situation of uncertainty.

I want to say this to our British partners. At the end of the day we both need a united Europe to reach a deal.

2017 March 22

His Wish Came True

Katy Waldman

Donald Trump has stumbled into an Aesop's fable of his own making. Having received what he so fervently wished for, he's now found that leading the free world is a miserable chore. As a candidate, he got to accuse the establishment of trashing the country. He played hype-man for a future in which he'd refresh our ideals. Now he's accountable in the present to all the men and women whose lives haven't become fairy tales since he took office. That's not fun. That's a full-time job, and that's the one thing Donald Trump has never wanted.

Trump No Care

Michael Tomasky

We have trouble believing what we see coming out of the Trump White House. Just a few weeks into this administration, it already seems clear that historians years from now will be asking how the Republicans could have let this happen. Trump is not fit to be president.

Republicans will support Trump, let him deport Muslims and crack down on undocumented Latinos, let him depart from party orthodoxy on trade, let him pursue risky policies with Vladimir Putin, turn a collective blind eye to the manifold ways in which he dishonors the office, as long as he signs legislation that rips up the liberal state. They just hope he doesn't start World War 3.

The American Health Care Act is an awkward hybrid of Obamacare and conservative talking points against Obamacare. It was immediately attacked by both Democrats and the most conservative Republicans. The GOP goal on Medicaid is simply to vastly reduce the amount of money the federal government sends to the states.

On Social Security, a plan was unveiled to eliminate a tax that high-income benefit recipients currently pay and would in turn cut benefits for most other recipients. Efforts to move on these fronts will require investments of political capital the Republican leaders no longer have.

On taxes, Trump wants to lower the corporate tax rate. Congressional Republicans will be for that but they will also want to push lower personal income tax rates. The trick will be to pass this off as revenue neutral. One recent GOP tax plan could add $2.4 trillion to the deficit over ten years.

If congressional Republicans find that Trump is no use in enabling them to undo all these liberal entitlements and slashing taxes again on the top 1%, the romance might be brief.

Republicans will hold ranks against political attacks against Trump. Over the years they have excused mountains of hypocrisy in their own leaders. It will be interesting to see how they defend a president who may owe his election in part to Russia.

Fortress UK

Financial Times

The EU Dublin rules dictate that asylum seekers must be processed in the first member state they enter. So the UK exports hundreds of asylum seekers to other EU member states if they have already been registered elsewhere.

The British Isles are rarely the first port of call for an asylum seeker, so the UK is a net beneficiary of the rules. But this cushy status quo might not last after Brexit. Other countries are already annoyed at British freeloading.

2017 March 21

The President Lies

David Leonhardt

US president Donald Trump has repeatedly accused Barack Obama of wiretapping his phones. FBI director James Comey says there is no information that supports the claim.

Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential campaign was an attack on the United States. Yet now it has become the subject of an escalating series of lies by the president and the people who work for him. The big question now is what really happened and who can uncover the truth.

The Republican House members questioning Comey acted like Trump staff members, decrying leaks about Russia's attack rather than the attack itself.

Democrat Adam Schiff: "Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated, and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated, and that the Russians used the same techniques to corrupt US persons that they have employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don't know, not yet, and we owe it to the country to find out."

2017 March 20

Global IT

Niall Ferguson

The IT revolution was largely a US achievement. Google and Facebook are expected to have a combined share of all digital advertising worldwide this year of 60%. Google is valued at $590 billion, Facebook about $400 billion. Google is essentially a vast global library, Amazon is a vast global bazaar, and Facebook is a vast global club.

Confronted with this revolution, the Europeans capitulated. Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (Fang) have got their teeth into the EU. Yet British and German politicians want social networks to censor the web. As if these companies were not already mighty enough, European politicians want to give them more power.

China fought back. Baidu (the Chinese search engine), Alibaba (the Chinese answer to Amazon), and Tencent (the nearest thing in China to Facebook) give Big Brother the big data to keep close tabs on Chinese netizens. Good luck to the US National Security Agency as it tries to get through the Great Firewall of China.

AR Globorg is the child of the IT revolution — Long live Globorg!

Making America Safe Again

Timothy Stanley

President Trump is giving the war hawks the money they want. This does not mean he is endorsing their global strategy. Sealing the borders is supposed to reduce the risk of another 9/11.

The most serious threat is China, but its goals appear to be about reclaiming bordering territories it says are its own. Russia remains a military paper tiger, and its conventional capabilities are limited. The UK has shown that domestic terror threats can be beaten by infiltration, data gathering and shared intelligence, and that working sensitively with Islamic communities reaps benefits.

Trump wants to make America great again. He is demanding huge sums of money to rearm. His opponents must prevent Fortress USA from becoming a launchpad for new conflicts.

Anglo-German Defense Cooperation

Financial Times

Britain and Germany are set to sign a new defense cooperation deal after the UK launches Brexit. The UK defense ministry said it was working with Germany "on a joint vision statement on future cooperation" while the German defense ministry confirmed it was working on joint projects.

London and Berlin defend a common front in eastern Europe. Britain is leading a new NATO deployment in Estonia and Germany is leading one in Lithuania.

AR Glad to hear it.

2017 March 19

American Protectionism: The Price

Financial Times

G20 finance ministers meeting in Baden-Baden failed to promote free trade thanks to US opposition.

American Protection: The Bill

Donald Trump

Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!

American Protection: The Facts

Ivo Daalder

Sorry, Mr President, that's not how NATO works. The US decides for itself how much it contributes to defending NATO.

This is not a financial transaction, where NATO countries pay the US to defend them. It is part of our treaty commitment. All NATO countries, including Germany, have committed to spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2024. Those who currently don't spend 2% of their GDP on defense are now increasing their defense budgets.

But no funds will be paid to the US. They are meant to increase NATO defense capabilities, given the growing Russian threat. Europe must spend more on defense, not as a favor (or payment) to the US but because their security requires it.

The US does provide a large military commitment to NATO. But this is not a favor to Europe. It is vital for our own security. We fought two world wars in Europe, and one cold war. Keeping Europe whole, free, and at peace, is a vital US interest.

A strong, united NATO, in which all contribute their fair share to defense, will secure that peace for all Alliance members.

AR The reign of POTUS 45 is an insult to the world.

2017 March 18

Trump and Merkel

The New York Times

German chancellor Angela Merkel and US president Donald Trump endured an awkward encounter — the great disrupter confronts the last defender of the liberal world order.

Worlds apart in style and policy, they made a show of working together, but they could not disguise the gulf that separates them on trade, immigration, and a host of other thorny issues.

Trump went further on the need for burden sharing in NATO, demanding not only that members increase their military spending as a percentage of GDP but also that they make reparations for past American contributions. He also said he believed that Germany, like China and other trading partners, had taken advantage of the United States.

Merkel drove home the point that trade with Germany benefits American workers by bringing a delegation of chief executives from BMW, Siemens, and other German companies with extensive American operations. Trump brought in his own contingent of chief executives from Dow Chemical, IBM, and and used the round table to promote apprenticeships.

Both said Germany and the United States must find a way.

AR If the way is for Germany to spend endless billions on arms that only ratchet up tensions on the Eastern Front, perhaps we need a rethink.


Mark Anderson

Sir Isaac Newton said the strength of gravity follows an inverse square law. Albert Einstein explained gravity in terms of massive objects curving spacetime. Mordehai Milgrom accounted for anomalous stellar motions in galaxies with his modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND) — when field strength drops below a particular (nano-g) value, gravity follows a new law. But MOND is ad hoc.

Astronomers took a fresh look at more than 150 spiral galaxies and found their stars had anomalously high speeds farther out from the center. Stacy McGaugh found a tight correlation between galactic rotation speeds and their distribution of visible matter, suggesting a new law, not mere dark matter.

John Moffat has modified MOND so that gravitational field strength follows an inverse square law closer in, only to peter out at galactic distances, where gravity behaves as in MOND. He says he can account for the rotations of galaxies and the odd dynamics of the Bullet Cluster. He also predicts potentially testable effects near black holes.

Erik Verlinde suggests gravity emerges from entangled qubits. Physicists can already show that, but only for anti-de-Sitter space (AdS). The vacuum seems to contain dark energy that accelerates the expansion of spacetime. Verlinde says dark energy acts like an elastic medium, which matter deforms, boosting gravity at long range, as in MOND.

We still need an underlying theory. Lee Smolin seeks to derive the MOND predictions from first principles in quantum gravity. No one is done yet.

AR It seems feasible to me that a theory of quantum gravity will predict fields stronger than in Newton or Einstein gravity for weak fields where the Planck limit is not far down and dimensional instability looms. Given dark energy, even nano-g variations seem possible. Without a theory, who knows? See blog February 2.


Theresa May will separate two great unions, the UK and the EU. The EU is a union of 28 states with over 500 million people, modern
in its institutions and diverse in its appurtenances, and beloved by many of its members. The UK is a union of 4 states with some
64 million people, antique in its institutions and ancient in its traditions, and also beloved by many of its citizens.

The EU might not survive 2017, given ongoing debt and immigration crises, new Brexit and defense spending crises, and nationalists
in France and Germany. The UK might not survive Brexit, given the risk of a hard divorce with no trade deal, acrimony over alimony,
and separatists in Scotland and Northern Ireland. If England and Wales were left alone, the UK would be gone.

May will recall the first two years in office of her illustrious processor Winston Churchill, who led a Britain that against all odds
defied Nazi Europe and survived, albeit as a junior member of the victorious Allies. Perhaps she imagines the UK can achieve
something similar today with the help of the Anglosphere. I think this is a historic blunder.

Dutch Elections

Centrist prime minister
Mark Rutte convincingly
sees off threat from
Trumpist contender
Geert Wilders.

AR Relief

Protect and Survive
People Power: Fighting for Peace
Imperial War Museum, London
2017-03-23 — 2017-08-28

Solar art
Solar Protest Event
Republican National Convention
Cleveland, July 2016

Pi Day

The End Is Nigh

UK parliament clears path for
government to trigger Brexit

"British unionist anti-Europeans,
having chosen to relinquish the
UK's principal export market and
a say on the laws that govern it,
will now advise Scotland not to
relinquish its principal export
market and a say on the
laws that govern it."
Janan Ganesh


O'Neill cylinder
O'Neill cylinder

48 and beyond
England applies
to join

"A united Ireland is not only credible but inevitable."
Siobhan Fenton


The House of Lords blocks
the UK government again:
Peers vote for a "meaningful"
parliamentary vote on the
final terms of withdrawal.


2017 March 17

United Kingdom

Theresa May

Yesterday the EU Withdrawal Bill received royal assent. Within the next two weeks, we will begin the negotiations to secure the UK departure from the EU. We will forge a more global Britain, securing a new partnership with Europe and reaching out to old friends and new allies alike.

The SNP is trying to force the UK government to agree to something that is fundamentally unfair to the Scottish people. It wants to ask them to make a crucial decision without the necessary information. They would not know what the new partnership with the EU would look like.

AR A vote for Brexit is OK but a vote for Scottish independence is not?

United Ireland

Stephen Collins

Brexit puts Northern Ireland up for discussion given that a majority there voted to remain in the EU.

On a practical level there are two massive problems. One is the €10 billion a year subsidy from the British exchequer to Northern Ireland and how that is going to be replaced without wrecking the economy of the entire island. The other is that there would still be resistance and possibly violent resistance from a loyalist minority.

The only united Ireland worth having is one that comes about because the people of the North want it.

United Europe

RAND Europe

Brexit creates new challenges for UK and European security:

— EU defense spending and industry
— UK and EU research and innovation
— European defense integration
— Future agreements on international sanctions
— Scotland and the nuclear deterrent
— Northern Ireland and border security
— Continued UK-EU collaboration on security

2017 March 16

Beyond Earth

Charles Wohlforth

Recent space entrepreneurs have accomplished amazing technical feats. And China may put crews on the Moon within 20 years. But these achievements are not in the same league as visiting Mars, and landing to stay is even further off.

Space radiation and the health hazards of weightlessness put destinations other than the Moon out of reach with current technology. The risk to passengers is too high. We need much faster spacecraft and much more knowledge of space travel.

Even with a safe mode of travel, moving many people to another planet would cost an enormous amount, far more than the passengers themselves could afford. No one has identified a space resource that would compensate for that investment.

A mission to send a few astronauts to Mars for a brief visit could cost a trillion dollars. Scant opportunities for a self-sustaining space colony exist in our celestial neighborhood. No place in our solar system is as hospitable to life as Earth.

Some exoplanets circling another star could harbor pleasant human habitats. But they are so far away that getting there would take something like a Star Trek warp drive. Saving this planet will have to come before sending colonists into space.

AR Quite right. First priority: Head off WW3.

World War 3

Youssef El-Gingihy

Three fronts are emerging as the loci for WW3:

1 The Europe-Russia front triggered by the Ukrainian conflict

The Ukrainian crisis was preceded by two decades of NATO expansion up to the borders of Russia, with increasing deployments of troops by both NATO and Russia, dangerous confrontations, and massive war games.

2 The Mideast cauldron centered on Daesh and the Syrian war

US Mideast geopolitical strategy is directed against Iran extending its influence through Syria and Lebanon. The Syrian war has seen Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey arming and funding radical jihadist groups. Daesh is aiding the strategy.

3 The Asia-Pacific front with the United States versus China

America and China are on a dangerous collision course. Trump has threatened a trade war with China. A war economy with militarization, mobilization, full employment, and jingoism is a solution to economic woes and social unrest.

AR A solution? This pundit is too pessimistic.

2017 March 15

Solar Power

Bill Gates

The sun is the most reliable, plentiful source of energy we have. As solar panel costs continue to fall, they are becoming a growing source of clean energy around the world. But we need to find efficient ways to store the energy from sunlight to make it available on demand.

Batteries are one solution. Even better would be a solar fuel. Fuels have a much higher energy density than batteries, making them far easier to use for storage and transportation. One ton of gasoline stores the same amount of energy as 60 tons of batteries.

Making solar fuel would solve the energy storage problem for solar energy. And it would provide a power source for our existing transportation infrastructure. We could continue to drive the cars we have now. They would be powered by fuel made from sunlight.

At Caltech, Nate Lewis and his team have reason to be optimistic. Green plants combine sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to store solar energy in chemical bonds. Nate's team is working with the same ingredients. They need to figure out how to do it better.

A group of investors and I recently launched Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund that will invest more than $1 billion in scientific discoveries that have the potential to deliver cheap and reliable clean energy to the world. Nate's team is looking good.

Hard Brexit

The Guardian

House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee: Hard Brexit would be "a very destructive outcome leading to mutually assured damage for the EU and the UK."

Theresa May: "One of the driving forces behind the union's creation was the remorseless logic that greater economic strength and security come from being united."

AR She was talking about the UK but the same logic applies to the EU.

2017 Pi Day

Minding Matter

Adam Frank

The interpretation of quantum physics remains as up for grabs as ever. When calculations are done with the Schrödinger equation, the wave function gives you only probabilities at the root level of reality. The act of making a measurement is said to collapse the wave function.

There are multiple interpretations of the the measurement problem. The Copenhagen interpretation says it highlights a barrier between epistemology and ontology by making explicit the role of the observer. In the multiverse interpretation, measurements make the universe split off into many parallel versions. Quantum Bayesianism takes the probabilities in quantum mechanics at face value to include the observing subject.

Putting the perceiving subject back into physics undermines the whole materialist perspective. Rather than trying to explain the mystery of mind by appeal to the mechanisms of matter, we must grapple with the intertwined nature of the two. We can move forward by acknowledging the multiple interpretations of quantum mechanics.

AR I am currently writing a paper proposing a new perspective on quantum theory.

String Theory and Loop Theory

Jon Cartwright

Quantum theory and general relativity are fundamentally incompatible. String theory and loop quantum gravity are two distinct attempts to reconcile them. They might turn out to be equivalent.

String theory says matter and energy are made of vibrating strings. Their vibration patterns appear as different particles. Among their oscillation modes is something that looks like a graviton. Strings vibrate in 11 dimensions and the theory predicts supersymmetry, but we have so far seen no supersymmetric partners.

Loop quantum gravity says spacetime comes in tiny loops, which evolve into a spinfoam. But spinfoams are too rigid to allow warped spacetime.

Years ago, Gerard 't Hooft and Leonard Susskind proposed that our 3D world could be a projection of information on its 2D boundary. Juan Maldacena conjectured an AdS/CFT duality that builds on their proposal. The holographic principle has matured into a major research area in string theory.

A calculation of holographic gravity done in the context of string theory can also be done using loop quantum gravity, with the same result. String and loop theorists now think of the holographic boundary as being anywhere in space. The part-loop, part-string physics that emerges can appear on the finest scales at a random slice through spacetime.

String theory and loop quantum gravity look different in the bulk, but they may cast the same shadow at the boundary. A reconciliation could reveal a deeper view.

AR My paper suggests a new way to build a quantum theory of spacetime.

2017 March 13

Europe Fights Back

Financial Times

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to the Dutch ban on a Turkish election rally in the Netherlands with anger, calling the Netherlands a "banana republic" and saying it would "pay the price" for its actions — "Nazism is alive in the west."

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte described the comments as bizarre and completely unacceptable. The diplomatic spat comes just days before the Dutch general election. Rutte has taken a tough stance to fend off a challenge from Geert Wilders.

Danish prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen canceled a meeting with his Turkish counterpart: "With the current Turkish attacks on Holland the meeting cannot be seen separated from that."

Austria, Switzerland, and Germany have also canceled Turkish campaign events in recent days.

AR Europe is reacting correctly to a serious threat. It would be folly to make a habit of letting politicians from Islamic countries hold election rallies in European countries which only incite Islamic immigrants to back political movements that have no place in Europe.

European Civil Rights

The Times

Sir, We write to urge MPs to support the House of Lords amendment guaranteeing the right of EU citizens who live in Britain to remain here after Brexit. Oxford University relies on EU citizens as lecturers, researchers and support staff. If they lost their right to work here, our university would suffer enormous damage which, given our role in research, would have reverberations across the UK.

Our EU colleagues are not reassured by a government which tells them that deportation is not going to happen but declines to convert that assurance into law; some are worried, some are already making plans to leave. Many of our staff do not know whether absences abroad on research contracts will count against them. Others do not know, however longstanding their work and residence, whether their children will be able to remain in the UK.

These are real and immediate concerns. There is no public or parliamentary intent to harm our EU colleagues: that can be translated into reassurance by accepting the Lords amendment. We ask MPs to vote accordingly and join us in pressing for reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals in the EU.

Signed: Oxford University vice-chancellor Louise Richardson and the heads of 35 Oxford colleges

AR I would have signed it too.

2017 March 12


The Guardian

Mathematics becomes beautiful through the power and elegance of its arguments and formulas, through the bridges it builds between previously unconnected worlds, when it surprises. For those who learn the language, maths has the same capacity for beauty as art, music, or stars on a dark night.

Paul Dirac: "It is more important to have beauty in one's equations than to have them fit experiment. It seems that if one is working from the point of view of getting beauty in one's equations, and if one has really a sound insight, one is on a sure line of progress."

Michael Atiyah: "Truth and beauty are closely related but not the same. You are never sure that you have the truth. All you are doing is striving towards better and better truths and the light that guides you is beauty. Beauty is the torch you hold up and follow in the belief that it will lead you to truth in the end."

Space Colonies

The Independent

British Interplanetary Society members are looking at how humans could start living in space in large numbers. Jerry Stone says we are now close to the point where such colonies could be built using material from the Moon and asteroids.

The space colonists would initially build and maintain solar panels that would be used to provide power on Earth. Other industries might later move into space to take advantage of the microgravity and cheap solar power.

Colonists could live on the inside surfaces of vast hollow cylinders, which would rotate to provide gravity. Gerard O'Neill once suggested the cylinders could be 4 miles in diameter and 20 miles long, to hold up to 10 million people.

AR We could sail to the stars in such cylinders.

2017 March 11

German Nukes

Rudolph Herzog

Germans are debating whether Germany should acquire nuclear weapons.

During the Cold War, US military strategists stationed vast numbers of nukes in Western Europe. In 1956, the US Strategic Air Command kept 91 nuclear bombs for East Berlin alone. The Soviet side amassed similar nuclear firepower.

Germany was home to the Pershing II, which could hit Moscow in 15 minutes. Neither side had time to think through an evolving situation rationally. The only certainty was that Germany would be Ground Zero for nuclear war.

During the Cold War, most of the borderlands between West and East Germany were sown with nuclear mines. If the Red Army attacked, NATO would turn the country into an apocalyptic mass of rubble to halt the advance of the Soviets.

Germany must stick to its hard-learned principles as a peaceful nation.

AR Britain and France must dedicate their nuclear forces to defending Europe.

Sailing Aliens

Ben Guarino

In 2007, an astrophysicist detected a fast radio burst (FRB) in archival data from a telescope in Australia. The burst lasted less than 5 ms and was extragalactic in origin. The power behind it was over 10^35 W. Astrophysicists have detected only 25 other FRBs since then.

The unknown source of FRBs prompted intense speculation. Some scientists say they come from massive neutron stars or maybe vanishing black holes. The latest idea is sailing aliens.

Avi Loeb and Manasvi Lingam say FRBs could be traced back to aliens who cruise through space on the wings of light sail technology. FRBs could be artificial beams for driving light sails. Alien traffic controllers would keep the beam aimed at the sail and distant observers would see only a flash as the beam pivoted across the universe.

Solar sailing has been a science-fiction concept for decades. Arthur C. Clarke described it in 1964. In 2018, the NASA NEA Scout will use a reflective sail to travel toward a lump of space rock.

Loeb and Lingam calculate that an FRB transmitter would beam sunlight at an area roughly twice the diameter of Earth. A solar sail big enough to catch these rays could propel a million-ton starship.

AR On FRBs see blog 2017-01-05, 2016-03-03, 2016-01-22, 2016-01-15.

2017 March 10

Nuclear War

Foreign Policy

Pyongyang is developing an offensive doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons in the early stages of a conflict. Last year, North Korea fired a No-dong missile to a point at sea at the same range as the SK port city of Busan. This time, NK launched four extended-range Scud missiles to a point at sea at the same range as the US Marine Corps Air Station near Iwakuni, Japan.

The United States and South Korea are currently holding the military exercise Foal Eagle. This latest annual joint exercise lasts two months and involves tens of thousands of US and SK military personnel, as well as an aircraft carrier, bombers, and F-35 aircraft based out of Iwakuni. Foal Eagle rehearses war plan OPLAN 5015 for a pre-emptive strike against NK.

Pyongyang plans to use nuclear weapons against US forces throughout Japan and SK to blunt an invasion. NK strategy depends on using nuclear weapons before the US can destroy them. NK ICBMs are intended to deter Donald Trump after Kim Jong Un obliterates Seoul and Tokyo. Both Kim and Trump will face enormous pressure to hit first or be beaten to the punch.

2017 March 9


Wang Yi

North Korea has ignored international opposition and insisted on advancing its nuclear and missile programs in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

The United States and the Republic of Korea are conducting military exercises on an enormous scale and putting more military pressure on North Korea.

The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming toward each other with neither side willing to give way. Are they really ready for a head-on collision?


Martin Wolf

Later this month, Theresa May will repudiate UK membership of the EU by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty.

These are going to be difficult negotiations, with a high chance of a calamitous outcome, with poisonous results.

The UK needs to achieve the best possible deal on trade. But the UK has a weak hand. The UK does far more of its trade with the rest of the EU than the rest of the EU does with the UK.

Sir John Major: "The most successful results are obtained when talks are conducted with goodwill: it is much easier to reach agreement with a friend than a quarrelsome neighbour. But, behind the diplomatic civilities, the atmosphere is already sour."

The government should not quibble over the terms of the divorce. The EU intends to ask for €60 billion, roughly 3% of UK GDP. Over a decade, 0.3% of GDP annually is petty cash. The future UK relationship with the EU is worth more than that.

2017 March 8

The Next War

William D. Hartung

President Trump loves generals. He has assembled the most military foreign policy team in memory, if not in American history. Everything is likely to be viewed through a military lens.

Trump also relies on a small circle of White House advisers led by Steve Bannon. In a best case scenario, the generals wrest control of presidential attention from Bannon and his minions when it comes to foreign policy decision making — assuming the generals have a saner perspective than an ideological Islamophobe.

The true test may come if Trump and Bannon push for military action against Iran. Another Mideast war is unlikely to be any more successful than the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts.

Donald Trump

Mark Danner

This is what it is to live in the realm of the Big Man. His drama perforce is ours — relentless political struggle, permanent revolution, shattering of norms, scandal and controversy, the capital deep in broken crockery.

President Trump is determined to change the office. We can be grateful that his need for continual disruption, constant outrage, maintaining an iron grip on the news cycle, and sheer winning without ever retreating means he has a grand proclivity for stepping on his own dick.

Crisis is the vital springboard of his presidency. The lower his poll numbers, the more outlandish his lies, the greater the resistance from opponents, the thicker his scandals and chaos, and the likelier he will be to seek to use a crisis to lever himself to a position of dominating power.

A terrorist attack on American soil would put Trump in a perfect position to act aggressively and comprehensively. His political drama will have been elevated from a battle against elites and the status quo to a heroic struggle for the survival of the nation.

Marine Le Pen

Robert Zaretsky

FN presidential candidate Marine Le Pen: "It's time we finished with the European Union."

The French Nouvelle Droite have left their imprint on the FN. These thinkers propose to bind Europe together by the irrefutable and irresistible claims of race and ethnicity.

FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen says France must work with Russia "to save boreal [northern] Europe and the white world" from the threats of immigration and globalization.

Marine Le Pen shares with her father an apocalyptic and racialist vision of global conflict.

Adolf Hitler

Richard J. Evans

Hitler was appointed as Reich chancellor in 1933. He had won mass support following an economic crisis. Whereas other politicians looked like mere administrators, he would put Germany first.

Hitler got the armed forces on his side by giving them massive increases in funding and a huge new armaments program. The Nazis reorganized education and culture to instill German patriotism.

Hitler was a media figure who gained popularity and controlled his country through speeches and publicity. He was temperamental, volatile, insecure, allergic to criticism, and often indecisive.

TSC 2017

"Those of us who appreciate
the power of science have
viewed science deniers as an
important annoyance ... but
now it's almost fashionable.
That's shocking."
Dan Dennett

NK missiles
Rodong Sinmun
NK to US: Please nuke me!

Trump on USS Gerald Ford
Washington Post
Titanic Trump

"Bad (or sick) guy!"

AR A tweet too far

Blackball Britain

A House of Lords report says
the UK could walk away from
the EU in 2019 without paying
a penny of the estimated
€60 billion Brexit bill.

AR Correct EU response:
economic blockade

Future of Europe
PDF: 32 pages, 5.8 MB

Boston Dynamics
Handle (1:36)
"Handle leverages our
team's experience with
the quadruped and
biped robots."
Marc Raibert


2017 March 7


Thomas Nagel

Daniel Dennett assumes we are physical objects and any appearance to the contrary must be accounted for in a way that is consistent with this truth.

Dennett says most of what we and our fellow organisms do to stay alive, cope with the world and one another, and reproduce is not understood by us or them. It is competence without comprehension.

He says that the manifest image of each species is a user illusion designed by evolution to fit the needs of its users. The underlying reality is accurately represented only by the scientific image.

Our user illusions are the products of bottom-up design, understandable through evolution by natural selection, a mindless process of accidental variation, replication, and differential survival.

Alan Turing saw how a machine could do arithmetic perfectly without knowing what it was doing. This competence does not depend on comprehension. Dennett says all the brilliance and comprehension in the world arises ultimately out of uncomprehending competences compounded over time.

Much of cultural evolution is as uncomprehending as biological evolution. All our capacities for understanding, all the values, perceptions, and thoughts that present us with the manifest image and allow us to form the scientific image, have their real existence as systems of representation in the central nervous system.

Our manifest image of the world and ourselves includes as a prominent part not only the physical body and central nervous system but the consciousness of ourselves and others. Dennett holds that consciousness is not part of reality in the way the brain is. Rather, it is a user illusion.

You may well ask how consciousness can be an illusion, since every illusion is itself a conscious experience. It seems the reality of my own consciousness is the one thing I cannot be deluded about. Dennett denies the authority of the first-person perspective with regard to consciousness.

According to Dennett, the representations that underlie human behavior are found in neural structures of which we know very little. The same is true of the similar conception we have of our own minds. That conception does not capture an inner reality.

Dennett concludes that we are not immediately aware of real subjective experiences because the reality of such phenomena is incompatible with scientific materialism.

We Are Not Just Animals

Roger Scruton

We distinguish people from the rest of nature. Human beings live in mutual accountability — on this fact is built the edifice of rights and duties.

Morality is like a field of flowers beneath which the corpses are piled in a thousand layers. It is an evolved mechanism whereby the human organism proceeds through life sustained on every side by bonds of mutual interest.

We human beings relate to one another not as objects but as subjects, as creatures who address one another as I to you — as Martin Buber said in his meditation I and Thou.

We understand ourselves in the first person. By speaking in the first person we can participate in dialogues founded on the assurance that, when you and I both speak sincerely, we are speaking our minds.

Philosophy has the task of describing the world in which we live — not the world as science describes it — in which we meet one another I to I.

2017 March 6

NK Deterrent


North Korea fired four ballistic missiles toward Japan early today. Military authorities in South Korea, Japan, and the United States say the four projectiles traveled almost 1,000 km toward the Sea of Japan. Prime minister Shinzo Abe said three landed inside Japan's exclusive economic zone. The firing is a response to joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States.

AR Let the historic mission of Donald Trump be to take down the NK regime before a tweetstorm flushes him away.

UK Deterrent

Wolfgang Münchau

My most dreaded chore this year will be to fill out an 85-page UK government application form that will give me, I hope, permanent residence in the UK after Brexit. The amendment to the Brexit bill voted by the House of Lords last week in support of a unilateral guarantee to EU nationals is a symbolic goodwill gesture, for which we will be eternally grateful.

AR Inexplicably, the UK has declared a kind of war against Europe. Voters fed a diet of mendacious propaganda decided by a narrow majority in a botched referendum to instruct their leaders to do this scurrilous deed, and no one more eminent than two former prime ministers has emerged to seek to stem the rush toward the abyss. This is a historic tragedy.

2017 March 5

Against Populism

Tony Blair

Politics is being reshaped in the United States and in Europe. At stake in the forthcoming elections in France and Germany will be the future of Europe.

The new populists are intent on blowing up traditional conservative politics. They believe that traditional culture is at risk from immigration and political correctness. Traditional conservatives are unsure whether to play along or to fight back.

Change is occurring both economically and culturally. Jobs are displaced and communities fractured as the force of globalization blurs old boundaries of nation, race and culture. The politicians of the center have become the managers of the status quo in an era when people want change.

For the progressive wing of politics, the correct strategy is build a new coalition out from the center. The center needs a new policy agenda. At its heart has to be an alliance between those driving the technological revolution and those responsible for public policy in government.

Any new agenda has to focus on these opportunities for radical change in the way that government and services like health care serve people. This must include how we prepare our work forces for the future, reform tax and welfare systems, and rebuild infrastructure and invest in communities.

Progressives must make the case for staying in a reformed European Union.

AR Technoglobalism (blog February 21)

Theresa May

Anne Perkins

Theresa May is the stealth prime minister. Her course through Brexit is still unknown. The only coherent alternative to her strategy of putting immigration controls ahead of prosperity and walking out of the single market is to deny that the referendum settled the matter.

May has placed the value of identity and community ahead of the needs of the economy. In the face of every grim economic forecast, she has remained unflinchingly true to tighter border controls. Her traditional emphasis on community over commerce is more closely aligned to ordinary voters than to any theoretical construct.

When May was growing up, her father was always on call for his parishioners. Her ambition was to be the first woman prime minister. She went up to Oxford to read geography, met Philip at a student Conservative Association disco, and married him in 1980.

In 2016, at the age of 59, May became prime minister. She had been home secretary since 2010. She has been prime minister for an extraordinary six months.

AR Traditionalism (blog February 12)

2017 March 4

Friendship with Russia

Simon Jenkins

US president Donald Trump says he likes Russian president Vladimir Putin and wants to get on with him. Those who feel the western approach to Russia since 1990 has been provocative and counterproductive might cheer at all this. We could stop fatuous sanctions, establish red lines around areas of aggression, and find areas of agreement and cooperation.

Trump is naive and lacking in executive competence. If he really intends a seismic shift in western policy toward Russia, the more we know about the backstory the better. Congress has set up a hue and cry, and tends to work thoroughly, so Trump would be well advised to come clean.

A rapprochement between America and Russia is a truly worthwhile objective. Its capacity to relieve tension, release resources, combat poverty, and save lives is colossal. A few lies and stumbles along the way would be a price worth paying.

AR We should cut Trump some slack on Russia.

Future of Europe

Ashley Fox

The European Commission white paper Future of Europe offers reflections and scenarios for the EU27 by 2025. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has decided to hand responsibility for what happens next to the member states.

The five options to be debated over the coming months range from stripping the EU back to the single market on through to a scenario under which Brussels would speak for Europe on foreign policy and trade and raise its own taxes. In between are the choices of doing nothing and ignoring the crises that threaten to engulf the EU, creating a multi-speed Europe in which member states choose how far to participate in common policies, and doing less more efficiently.

The EU27 member states must decide their own future. British Conservative MEPs will work alongside colleagues in the European Parliament to push for solutions they believe will leave the Union best placed to meet the challenges of the future.

AR Remain in the EU and shape the debate.

2017 March 3


Financial Times

NATO cannot deter Russia alone and must formulate a grand strategy for security in Europe with the EU, says NATO Deputy SACEUR Sir Adrian Bradshaw:

"It's the responsibility of NATO ... not only to be the architect and executor of military strategy, but to understand clearly how military strategy is integrated with the other arms of national power ... We need to move in the direction of the ability to formulate in the old-fashioned terms, grand strategy ... I think it has quite serious implications regarding the relationship between NATO and the EU."

He says NATO has made effective changes since 2014 including rapid response war games involving tens of thousands of troops in eastern Europe. But conventional military tools are insufficient — the west needs to develop hybrid deterrence.

2017 March 2

The US-UK Special Relationship

Anthony R. Wells

AR Dr Wells spoke at a seminar in Exeter College Oxford. Our discussion was animated and fruitful. He is the only living person to have worked for British intelligence and served in the Royal Navy as a British citizen and to have worked for US intelligence and the US Navy as a US citizen.

2017 March 1

Congress Speech

Donald Trump

What we are witnessing today is the Renewal of the American Spirit. America is strong, America is proud, and America is free.

America must put its own citizens first. We must restore integrity and the rule of law to our borders. Those given the high honor of admission to the United States should support this country and love its people and its values. We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America.

As promised, I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy Daesh — a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women, and children of all faiths and beliefs. We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, our current immigration system costs American taxpayers many billions of dollars a year. Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, will have many benefits.

America has spent approximately $6 trillion in the Mideast, all this while our infrastructure at home is crumbling. With this $6 trillion we could have rebuilt our country. To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking the Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States.

Education is the civil rights issue of our time. I am calling upon Members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth.

To keep America Safe we must provide the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need to prevent war and — if they must — to fight and to win. I am sending the Congress a budget that calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.

We strongly support NATO. But our partners must meet their financial obligations. We expect our partners, whether in NATO, in the Mideast, or the Pacific, to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost.

My job is to represent the United States of America. We want harmony and stability, not war and conflict. We want peace, wherever peace can be found.

When we celebrate our 250 years of glorious freedom, we will look back on tonight as when this new chapter of American Greatness began.

AR Much better!


US Navy
USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77)

President Trump will propose raising military spending by $54 billion — a nearly 10% increase
— and reducing spending by the same amount across much of the rest of the government.
Trump: "We have to start winning wars again."

Hidden Figures
Fox Movies

Brilliant movie for
all NASA fans

Last night's episode of SS-GB
distinguished the Wehrmacht
and the aristocratic Junckers
from Himmler and his racist
SS, so the plot is saved and
the nightmare can be
savored — AR

Oxford Today
Resistance is futile

Martin Schulz
Martin Schulz
SPD Kanzlerkandidat

Folklore book
Our book in Polish
(blog 2016-10-26)

UK by-elections:
Con win, Lab hold

Con 44%
Lab 37%
Lib Dem 7%

Stoke Central
Lab 37%
UKIP 25%
Con 24%

Oxford PPE graduates
have quite a lock on
British politics

British Road

"The country does not know
where it is going. We are on
this bus heading for Heathrow
— mendacious slogans on the
side — and we have no idea
what the destination is."
Lord Kerr

TRAPPIST-1 and its planets
(artist's conception)

The Prophet of

My review of
two books by
Yuval Harari

H.R. McMaster
US Army
Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster

Mark Zuckerberg
Presidência do México
Mark Zuckerberg


2017 February 28


John Major

I have watched with growing concern as the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic. Obstacles are brushed aside as of no consequence, whilst opportunities are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery.

Behind the diplomatic civilities, the atmosphere is already sour. A little more charm, and a lot less cheap rhetoric, would do much to protect the UK's interests.

There is a choice to be made, a price to be paid. We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support. It would make all previous rows over social policy seem a minor distraction.

I caution everyone to be wary of this kind of populism. It seems to be a mixture of bigotry, prejudice and intolerance. It scapegoats minorities. Here in the UK we should give it short shrift.

Outside the European Union, we become far more dependent upon the United States and upon a president less predictable, less reliable, and less attuned to our free-market and socially liberal instincts than any of his predecessors.

Freedom of speech is absolute in our country. It's not arrogant or brazen or elitist, or remotely delusional to express concern about our future after Brexit. Nor, by doing so, is this group undermining the will of the people; they are the people.

2017 February 27

The Reichstag Warning

Timothy Snyder

On February 27, 1933 the Reichstag parliament building burned, Adolf Hitler rejoiced, and the Nazi era began. A week later, the Nazi party, having claimed that the fire was the beginning of a major terror campaign by the Left, won a decisive victory in parliamentary elections.

The American Founding Fathers knew that the democracy they were creating was vulnerable to an aspiring tyrant who might seize upon some dramatic event as grounds for the suspension of US rights. The Reichstag fire created the occasion for a leader to eliminate all opposition.

Donald Trump once wrote that "civil liberties end when an attack on our safety begins" and now speaks unfavorably of democracy. After the next terrorist attack — or what seems to be a terrorist attack — US citizens must hold the Trump administration responsible for their security.

AR 84 years ago today.

2017 February 26

Why I am a Muslim

Reza Aslan

As a scholar of religions, I am often asked how I can still call myself a Muslim.

Religion and faith are not the same thing. Faith is mysterious and ineffable. It is an emotional, not necessarily a rational, experience. Religion is a fairly recent human invention.

Faith is a choice. You either believe there is something beyond the physical world (as I do), or you don't. You either believe you are more than the sum of your material parts (as I do), or you don't. You either believe in the existence of a soul (as I do), or you don't.

Religion is the language we use to express faith. It is a language made up of symbols and metaphors that allows people to express to each other (and to themselves) what is, almost by definition, inexpressible.

As the Sufi mystics say, religion is a "signpost to God."

A parable by the great Sufi master Jalal ad-Din Rumi:
A Persian, a Turk, an Arab and a Greek are traveling to a distant land when they begin arguing over how to spend the single coin they share in common. The Persian wants to spend the coin on angur; the Turk, on uzum; the Arab, on inab; and the Greek, on stafil.
A linguist passing by overhears the argument. "Give the coin to me," he says. Taking the coin, the linguist goes to a nearby shop and buys the travelers four small bunches of grapes.
"This is my angur!" cries the Persian.
"But this is what I call uzum," replies the Turk.
"You have brought me my inab," the Arab says.
"No! This in my language is stafil," says the Greek.
The travelers realize that they were all asking for the same thing, but in different languages.

Having drunk from many wells in my spiritual journey, I say, no matter the well, the water tastes just as sweet.

AR Sounds good to me.

2017 February 25

Human Evolution

Yuval Noah Harari

Evolution through intelligent design is already beginning to make inroads against evolution through natural selection, and will ultimately take its place.

Science might replace natural selection with intelligent design, and might even start creating non-organic life forms. People are already merging with their smartphones and their Facebook accounts. These are intelligent machines that constantly study us, adapt to our unique personality, and shape our worldview and our innermost desires. In the coming decades, we are likely to proceed much faster along this path.

In 2050, our smartphones will likely be embedded in our bodies via biometric sensors, monitoring our heart rates, blood pressure and brain activity 24 hours a day and analyzing this data to get to know our bodies better than we know them ourselves.

By 2100, humans and machines might merge so completely that humans will not survive if they are disconnected from the network. We are learning how to use AI and biotechnology to design animals and to upgrade humans into superhumans.

All our major problems are global in nature. To solve them, we need global cooperation. The current wave of nationalism is a kind of escapism. I hope people will wake up in time — but never under-estimate human stupidity.

AR This presages the Globorg mind merge of my Coral organism.

German Rearmament

Konstantin von Hammerstein

German foreign minister and former SPD head Sigmar Gabriel is using the battle over increased defense spending as a symbol of resistance against US president Trump.

A recent report paints a dark picture of the Bundeswehr. A tank battalion chosen as spearhead of the NATO Response Force had to borrow 15,000 pieces of equipment from 56 other army units. An artillery training battalion was supposed to have 24 Panzerhaubitzer but in fact it had just 7, all reserved for NATO, and had done no training for years. There is an endless list of such examples.

From the end of the Cold War to 2011, the Bundeswehr shrank from more than half a million soldiers to just 205,000. The number of Leopard 2 battle tanks in service fell from 2,000 to 225. Additional cuts announced in 2010 were a step too far. There is now a huge need for new equipment.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen says that in future defense needs, not budgets, will again determine spending — so 2% of GDP might not be enough.

Brexit: Blair Right

Anatole Kaletsky

Tony Blair calls for voters to think again about leaving the EU. His voice is loud enough to carry above the cabal of flatterers around Theresa May who consider his call an insurrection.

The Brexit referendum subverted British democracy in two ways. First, the leave vote was inspired mainly by resentments unconnected with Europe. Second, the government has exploited this confusion of issues to claim a mandate to do anything it wants.

May now claims the referendum as a mandate for controversial Conservative policies as necessary conditions for a successful Brexit. This has become a matter of national survival. Even proposals for a vote to guarantee rights for EU citizens already living in Britain are painted as treason.

The new priority should be to restart a rational debate about Britain's relationship with Europe. This means challenging the idea that a referendum permanently outweighs all other mechanisms of democratic politics. Voters should be allowed to change their minds.

Amendments to the Brexit legislation now passing through parliament should prevent any new relationship between Britain and the EU from taking effect unless approved by a parliamentary vote that allows for the possibility of continuing EU membership.

AR May may not like it, but I agree.

2017 February 24

Top of the Pack


President Donald Trump: "I am the first one that would like to see ... nobody have nukes, but we're never going to fall behind any country even if it's a friendly country, we're never going to fall behind on nuclear power. It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack."

The United States is in the midst of a $1 trillion, 30-year modernization of its aging triad of nuclear weapon systems. Trump is pressing NATO allies to pay more for their own defense: "They owe a lot of money."

The New START treaty between the United States and Russia requires that by February 5, 2018, both countries must limit their arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons to equal levels for 10 years. They may each have no more than 800 deployed and non-deployed land-based intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and heavy bombers equipped to carry nuclear weapons, with equal limits too on other nuclear weapons. Trump calls it "a one-sided deal."

Trump says China could solve the national security challenge posed by North Korea "very easily if they want to" — China opposes North Korean nuclear and missile programs and wants a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. He will push a missile defense system for US allies Japan and South Korea.

On the European Union: "I'm totally in favor of it. I think it's wonderful. If they're happy, I'm in favor of it."

World Economic League


World trade is likely to grow more slowly. New technologies are likely to reduce cross-border trade.

China overtakes the US to become #1 in 2029. Although President Trump will impact China and boost the US economy, China continues to grow much faster than the US.

India overtakes the UK and France in 2018, Germany in 2021 and Japan in 2024 to become #3. Later this century the Indian economy will be #1.

Korea overtakes the UK and France to become #7 by 2030. The sterling fall following the Brexit vote has pushed the UK down from #5 to #6, below France.

World Economic Growth


In 2014, world GDP was €59 trillion. G20 members accounted for 85%, EU28 for 24%, US for 22%, China for 13.4%.

From 2004 to 2014, China and India had the highest GDP growth and the Chinese share of world GDP trebled.

British Roads

The Times

The UK road network is ranked 27th in the world, behind all our main competitors. British drivers pay the world's highest rates of tax on diesel and the fifth highest on petrol, amounting to £33 billion each year, yet British roads are the most congested in western Europe.

Roads account for 89% of travel distance in the UK. Rail investment is almost nine times that of road investment per mile, but road upgrades deliver economic benefits that are 50% higher. The government is now investing £23 billion to improve the roads.

AR Not enough — double it, now, and maybe the roads will become fit for purpose before I get too old to drive.

2017 February 23

Nearby Star Has Seven Earthlike Planets

New Scientist

A nearby star has seven temperate Earth-size planets near each other. TRAPPIST-1, a small, dim star some 40 light years away, was observed by the Spitzer Space Telescope for weeks to find the planets.

The planets b-h are all larger than Mars and less than 20% bigger than Earth, and probably range from 0.4 to 1.4 times Earth mass. All orbit close to the star and take just days to circle it. Earlier studies suggested planets b-d were close enough to lose their water to space, but the same models show planets e-g could still host primordial oceans.

The retinue of planets is arranged like the large moons of Jupiter, and their gravitational dance has nudged them into harmonies. For every 8 times planet b circles the star, planet c orbits 5 times, planet d orbits 3 times, and planet e orbits twice.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, a team has looked for puffy atmospheres around the planets, and the James Webb Space Telescope may be able to analyze their atmospheric chemistry in 2019.

Seven temperate terrestrial planets around TRAPPIST-1

Recently, three Earth-sized planets were detected that transit a star with a mass 8% that of the Sun, located 12 parsecs away. Photometric monitoring reveals that at least seven planets with sizes and masses similar to those of Earth revolve around TRAPPIST-1. The six inner planets form a near-resonant chain and the seven planets have equilibrium temperatures low enough to make possible the presence of liquid water on their surfaces.

Water loss from terrestrial planets orbiting ultracool dwarfs

Ultracool dwarfs settle on the main sequence after about 1 Gyr. For brown dwarfs, this cooling never stops. Their habitable zones (HZ) thus sweep inward and their planets experience a runaway greenhouse phase too hot for liquid water prior to entering the HZ. The planets around the utracool dwarf TRAPPIST-1 may have retained some water in the HZ. Depending on their initial water contents, they could have enough water to remain habitable.

Strong XUV irradiation of the exoplanets orbiting TRAPPIST-1

TRAPPIST-1 is an ultracool dwarf star hosting transiting and temperate Earth-sized planets. We find its XUV irradiation of the planets to be many times stronger than experienced by Earth today. We show that the relatively close-in Earth-sized planets are subjected to sufficient XUV irradiation to significantly alter their atmospheres. Understanding whether this irradiation makes the planets more or less habitable is a complex question.

2017 February 22

Habitable Planets Found

NASA Announces Major Space Discovery
NASA TV, 1 pm ET


Yuval Harari

Dataism is a new ethical system that says humans were special and important because up until now they were the most sophisticated data processing system in the universe, but this is no longer the case. An external algorithm that understands you better than you understand them yourself is the switch from amplifying humans to making them redundant.

People will be willing to give up privacy in exchange for medical services that tell you the first day cancer cells start spreading in your body. In a few years the hundreds of millions of people who have no health care will have access to AI doctors on their mobile phones offering better care than anyone gets now. Driverless cars will drastically reduce accidents.

Humanity has proven its ability to rise to the challenge posed by dangerous new technologies. After thousands of years in which war seemed to be an inevitable part of human nature, we changed how international politics functioned. I hope we can also rise to the challenge of technologies like AI and genetic engineering.

US National Security

The New York Times

New US national security adviser Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster is a widely respected military strategist known for challenging conventional thinking and helping to turn around the Iraq war.

McMaster, 54, is a West Point graduate. He commanded a unit that helped win one of the biggest tank battles of the Gulf war, earning him the Silver Star. Then he earned a doctorate in military history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In 1997 he published a searing critique of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their performance during the Vietnam war in his book Dereliction of Duty.

In 2005 he led the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in regaining control of Tal Afar. The operation was cited as a textbook example in a manual on counterinsurgency doctrine prepared by General David Petraeus.

McMaster: "I look forward to joining the national security team and doing everything that I can to advance and protect the interests of the American people."

Senator John McCain: "I could not imagine a better, more capable national security team than the one we have right now."

Caliphate in Decline


Daesh has often been described as the richest terrorist organization in the world. Estimated revenues based on open source information about Daesh in its core territory in Syria and Iraq show that its revenue comes from taxes and fees; oil; and looting, confiscations, and fines.

Since 2014, Daesh annual revenue its down by over 50% to at most $870 million in 2016. Daesh has now lost most of its conquered territory in Iraq and much of that in Syria. But it can still carry out terrorist attacks outside its territory and wider efforts are still needed to defeat it.

2017 February 21

Building Global Community

Mark Zuckerberg

Our greatest opportunities are now global. Progress requires humanity coming together as a global community. Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community.

Building a global community that works for everyone starts with millions of smaller communities and intimate social structures. Our goal is to strengthen existing communities by helping us come together online. A healthy society needs these communities to support our personal, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Problems like terrorism, natural disasters, disease, refugee crises, and climate change need coordinated responses. For some of these problems, the Facebook community is in a unique position to help. Artificial intelligence can help us understand more quickly and accurately what is happening across our community.

We need ways to share new ideas and common understanding to work together. Social media provide more diverse viewpoints than traditional media. By increasing the diversity of our ideas and strengthening our common understanding, our community can have the greatest positive impact on the world.

Our society will reflect our collective values only if we engage in the civic process. The starting point for civic engagement is to support voting across the world. As we look ahead to building the social infrastructure for a global community, we will work on building new tools that encourage thoughtful civic engagement.

Facebook is a community of people. We need community standards that reflect our collective values for what should and should not be allowed. The community standards should reflect the cultural norms of our community. The approach combines a democratic process to determine standards with AI to help enforce them.

This is an important time in the development of our global community. I hope we take the long view and build the new social infrastructure to create the world we want for generations to come.

AR A bit long in the original, but practically a Globorg manifesto!

Pak Green Eagles
Pak Green Eagles
Islamic Republic of Pakistan nuclear missile

SS-GB got it wrong in the first
few seconds as a late-war Spit
in D-Day stripes landed on
the Mall in 1941.

Otherwise the evocation of
mood was superb. But the plot
is doomed to descend into a
tired tale of plucky Brits
versus evil Krauts.

Jürgen Habermas:
A living German

Kersti Kaljulaid
Estlands Präsidentin
Kersti Kaljulaid
"Wir dürfen gegenüber
Putin niemals wanken"

"It's all fake news"

AR I watched some of his
press conference yesterday.
It was insufferable,

American Association
for the Advancement
of Science

US SoD James Mattis
James Mattis says America
could moderate its NATO
commitment if member
states fail to meet
the 2% target

"I condemn the launch of a
ballistic missile by the DPRK"
Jens Stoltenberg

AR Penrose expounded his
twistor ideas in his book
The Road to Reality.

In 2004 I was impressed
and wrote a long review
(chapter 12, Mindworlds).
Here is my shorter cut:
JCS 12(2), 78-83 (2005)

I want to study twistors
again once I've buffed
up my math skills.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier
wird neuer Bundespräsident.
Er nennt Deutschland "Anker
der Hoffnung" in der Welt.

AR Deutschland vertritt
Vernunft und Mäßigung.



Daesh in Pakistan

William Dalrymple

Last week, a Daesh supporter struck a crowd of Sufi dancers celebrating in the great Pakistani shrine of Sehwan Sharif, killing almost 90. The attack demonstrated the reach of Daesh in Pakistan.

The wild and ecstatic night-long celebrations marking the Sufi saint's anniversary were almost everything Islamic puritans most disapprove of: loud music and love poetry, men dancing with women, hashish being smoked, Hindus and Christians welcome to join in.

Saudi oil wealth has been used to spread intolerant beliefs across the globe. Many Muslims have been taught a form of Islam from which Sufism is excluded. Hardline Wahhabi and Salafi fundamentalism advanced in Pakistan when the Saudis financed madrasas following the collapse of state education.

Sufism was an antidote to fundamentalist radicalism. One old fakir in the Sehwan shrine said of the Wahhabi mullahs: "Without love, they distort the true meaning of the teaching of the prophet."

AR Our new crusade will need to deal with Pakistan.

2017 February 20

UK-EU Divorce

Financial Times

EU Brexit negotiators expect to spend until Christmas on the divorce. This stalls trade talks until the €60 billion exit bill and expatriate citizen rights are resolved.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier favors a narrow divorce-first approach. UK Brexit secretary David Davis wants all elements of Brexit to be handled in parallel.

The Barnier plan anticipates deals on principles around money and citizen rights in time for EU-27 leaders to okay trade talks at their December summit.

German Rearmament

Thorsten Jungholt

There are good reasons to question the 2% target. It measures only expenditure, not efficiency. And it narrows the concept of security to the military when in fact we need to link diplomatic, developmental, and military efforts.

Germans should have said all this before accepting the target. Now Berlin will have to pay out and try to get value for money. German armed forces — both personnel and equipment — are indeed in a lamentable state.

Sweden Calm Friday

Louise Nordström

The Swedish government demands that the White House clarifies what US President Donald Trump meant while speaking at a Florida rally on Saturday during which he referred to what appeared to be a serious incident "last night in Sweden" — nothing spectacular happened in Sweden on Friday.

Enemy of the People

David Remnick

French revolutionary Robespierre: "The revolutionary government ... owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death."

For Lenin and Stalin, enemies of the people included clergy, intellectuals, monarchists, Trotskyists, rootless cosmopolitans, and prosperous farmers. To be branded an enemy of the people was to face a knock on the door in the middle of the night, a prison cell, the Gulag, an icy ditch ...

Donald Trump may not hear every historical echo in his "enemy of the American People" tweet. But the attacks on the legitimacy of the courts, on the intentions of the intelligence agencies, and on the patriotism of the press have become too repulsive to be discounted as mere sideshow.

AR Demagogue Trump is becoming an enemy of the people.

2017 February 19

Fake Prez?

Fake News!

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!
POTUS Donald Trump

"We need a free press. We must have it. It's vital ... if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started."
Senator John McCain

2017 February 18

Munich Security Conference

MSC 2017

"The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to our transatlantic alliance ... We will stand by Europe today and every day."
VPOTUS Mike Pence

NATO Spending

Konstantin von Hammerstein, Peter Müller

US secretary of defense James Mattis: "I owe it to you to give clarity on the political reality in the United States and to state the fair demand from my country's people in concrete terms. America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this Alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defense."

Germany is the economic powerhouse of Europe, with a big budget surplus in 2016. Berlin wants to take on more responsibility for global security. The Pentagon sees Germany as the most important country in Europe, and the pressure from Washington is only going to grow in intensity.

Politicians in Berlin are aware that their neighbors fear a militarily powerful Germany. That helps explain why German military spending in real terms ranks only third in Europe, behind the UK and France. Were Germany to spend 2% of GDP on defense, its annual defense budget would rise from its current level of €37 billion to over €60 billion. That would make Germany by far the largest military power on the continent.

AR Peace is best served by ensuring that European defense spending has a more integrated character. A race of nations to the 2% line would only exacerbate international tensions.


The Times

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker: "I do not like our American friends narrowing down this concept of security to the military. If you look at what Europe is doing in defense, plus development aid, plus humanitarian aid, the comparison with the US looks rather different."

German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel: "We in Europe will have to take on more responsibility but security policy should not be reduced to the size of defense budgets. If we do that we will not be able to fight climate change, or water shortages, or poverty, or the crises that lead to violent conflicts."

German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen: "Our American friends know well that their tone on Europe and NATO has a direct influence on the cohesion of our continent. A stable European Union is just as much in the American interest as a united NATO."

Tony Blair: "The British people voted to leave Europe, and I agree the will of the people should prevail. I accept right now there is no widespread appetite to rethink. But the people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit."

AR With Brexit the UK is endangering the stability of the EU and hence weakening NATO too, so UK defense spending must be discounted accordingly. The German commitment to reducing the refugee problem counts for quite a few pro mille points of GDP. Do the math!

Trump — Nixon

Elizabeth Drew

Alarming events surrounding the presidency of Donald Trump remind me of Watergate.

The events around Richard Nixon in 1973 and 1974 ended in a president having to leave office before the end of his term. Nixon used the instruments of government against his opponents, whom he defined as enemies. Watergate was a constitutional crisis.

Donald Trump is becoming more and more obsessed with leaks. Nixon hired burglars to stop leaks that enraged him. Nixon and Trump both assumed government workers were out to get them. As Nixon did, Trump views the press with hostility. Nixon refused to obey a court ruling, and Trump attacks the integrity of a federal judge who ruled against his order.

Trump might quit — or his presidency might meet an ending not of his choosing.

AR My thoughts exactly.

2017 February 17

Unfit to Serve

E.J. Dionne Jr.

The man serving as POTUS 45 plainly has no business being POTUS.
Questions about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russia will not go away.
It is only a matter of time — Americans need to face the truth.

American Autocracy

Jakob Augstein

It looks as if Donald Trump is not up to the job.

US intelligence service employees apparently gave the press incriminating material against Trump and his team. But anyone who sees the leaks as proof of the checks and balances of the US Constitution should think again. Trump seems to want an American autocracy, and the services are fighting back with autocratic methods.

America has become an unstable state.


Philip Stephens

Donald Trump imagined he could do as he pleased in the White House. The opening weeks of his presidency have been disastrous.

His hopes of a grand bargain with Vladimir Putin have dissolved. Firing Michael Flynn for lying to Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in Washington will not put things right. What did the president know and when?

The smiles in Moscow are turning to scowls. Putin hoped for a deal that would see the US president lift sanctions and acquiesce in Russian revanchism in return for notional cooperation in fighting Daesh. Such an agreement now looks impossible.

Consider the alt-facts. Flynn said that in three weeks the president had restored "America's leadership position" in the world.

Concerns About Science


Researchers are concerned at unprecedented levels about how a new presidential administration may undermine scientific work and delay its benefits.

AAAS CEO Rush Holt: "It used to be when someone would say they were concerned about the state of science, they were talking about funding for research ... What I hear now are concerns about what I would call an ongoing trend that goes back many years, even decades, where ideology and ideological assertions have been crowding out evidence in public and private debates and policymaking. It's reaching a place where people are truly troubled about what this means for the practice of science and the ability of science to bring its benefits to the population at large."

AAAS President Barbara Schaal: "This is not so that we can have our research grants, this is for the well-being of our nations and our global citizenry. The things that stimulate well-being, that give us a better life — adequate food, excellent health care, jobs — many of those things have basic science as an underpinning ... our concern is that the government won't have the scientific expertise that it will need to make the kind of standard policies that are going to be coming through Congress and by executive order."

2017 February 16

European Defense

Anne Applebaum

Donald Trump wrote in 2000 about defending Europe: "Their conflicts are not worth American lives."

The American political commitment to European security is waning rapidly. Britain, France, Germany and others should launch a new European security pact that reflects political reality.

Europe is at a major political turning point. A new organization could involve major new armaments, shared between countries. European countries can only gain from cooperating in cyber security and in procurement and operations.

NATO is poorly designed to confront terrorism and chaos in the south and hybrid warfare from Russia. A new European security pact is needed. Britain can take the lead.

Bootstrap Physics

Gabriel Popkin

Boiling water is an example of a phase transition. Hot water molecules jostle about vigorously and the fastest ones escape as steam. If you raise the pressure, you reach a critical point where it is hard to tell liquid and gas apart. The critical point is another phase transition.

Critical points are common. Ernst Ising imagined a magnetic material as made up tiny atomic magnets that can align N-S or S-N. Each tends to line up with its neighbors but can also flip randomly. The higher the temperature, the more likely a flip. But Ising could only build a 1D model.

Lars Onsager solved the 2D Ising model to show how a magnetic material above a critical temperature loses its magnetism. The 2D Ising model can simulate other phenomena that flip between states.

Alexander Polyakov saw that strongly coupled systems of fundamental particles could undergo phase transitions. For example, quarks are usually bound in nucleons by the strong nuclear force but at high energies they can reach a critical point and break free.

The 2D Ising model and the equations for elementary particles at their critical points share conformal symmetry. If the same were true of the 3D Ising model, its mathematical description might describe any strongly coupled system with the same symmetries.

Polyakov worked backwards to the equations. The more symmetries he had, the more he constrained the underlying equations. His technique is now known as the bootstrap method.

Several physicists are using the method to constrain the 3D Ising model more tightly and build a rigorous mathematical foundation. The Simons Foundation awarded them $10 million for the work.

AR Conformal symmetries are big for Penrose (The Road to Reality, §8.2, §27.12)

2017 February 15

The War for Civilization

Gideon Rachman

Donald Trump's ban on migrants and refugees from seven mainly Muslim countries may be just the beginning of repeated efforts in the US and Europe to restrict migration from the Muslim world.

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said at a Vatican seminar in 2014 that Judeo-Christian civilization is at the "beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism" — this is key to his role in the Trump administration.

In France, Marine Le Pen believes the West is engaged in a mortal struggle with radical Islam: "Washington, Paris and Moscow must form a strategic alliance against Islamic fundamentalism."

In the Netherlands, the Freedom party led by Geert Wilders is set to top the polls in next month's elections. In Germany, the AfD party is likely to become the first far-right party to enter the Bundestag since 1945.

Further jihadist attacks in the US and Europe will feed this fear and hostility. Demographic trends create pressure for migration from Muslim countries. The polemic is a foretaste of the future.



The Military Balance 2017 calculates that only two NATO member states met the 2% defense spending target in 2016. Greece spent 2.4%, Estonia 2.2%, and the UK only 1.98%.

The 2% target is now a political constraint for government leaders. The UK had committed in its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to clear the 2% bar. In the United States, the 2% figure became a symbol when Donald Trump hinted that US support could require NATO states to meet it.

There is no shared definition of defense budgets. NATO includes pensions, spending on peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, and research and development costs. The UN uses another definition. The UK reported £36.9 billion to the UN but £39.8 billion to NATO in 2013.

There is also no agreed source for calculating GDP share. The IISS collects GDP figures from the IMF World Economic Outlook database in US dollar terms. Different GDP figures will change the results, and whether or not states hit the 2% target depends on the sources and definitions.

European NATO member states increased real defense spending from US $255.7 billion in 2015 to US $256.5 billion in 2016, a 0.3% rise. Their overall GDP growth was 1.8%.

AR NATO says UK clears 2% bar.

2017 February 14

The Way of Love

Mustafa Akyol

Arnold Toynbee compared the crisis of Islam with that of the Jews two millennia ago. The Jews were a proud people defeated by a foreign empire. This ordeal bred two groups: Herodians (collaborators with Rome) and Zealots (militants against Rome).

Toynbee said modern Muslims have their own Herodians (such as Turkish founder Ataturk) and Zealots (like the Arabian Wahhabis). He predicted defeat for the Zealots. He forgot the third Jewish way, that of Jesus.

Muslims are going through a crisis very similar to the one Jesus addressed. The Muslim world has lost its early tolerance and suffocated in dogmatism. Jesus found a way out of a fixation on the letter of the law by looking instead at its purpose.

We Muslims can learn from Jesus.

Roger Penrose

Philip Ball

British mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose represents a generation who launched themselves into the universe armed only with their wits and imagination.

At Cambridge, Penrose studied algebraic geometry. While an undergraduate, he heard Fred Hoyle lecture on cosmology. Hoyle believed in a steady state universe and coined the term Big Bang in derision. Penrose: "I drew little pictures and convinced myself that what he said couldn't be true."

While a graduate student, Penrose saw an exhibition of art by M.C. Escher: "I was quite blown over. I came away and drew pictures of bridges and roads, which gradually simplified into the tribar."

Dennis Sciama prompted Penrose to a lecture by David Finkelstein, who was working on general relativity, black holes, and singularities. Penrose was hooked. In 1959 he travelled to Princeton to work with John Wheeler, who invented the term black hole.

Penrose showed that black holes could be real. Stephen Hawking saw the work and the pair began collaborating on gravitational singularities. But the concept of a singularity conflicts with quantum mechanics.

Penrose began in physics with quantum mechanics. A fundamental property of quantum particles is spin, but quantum spin seems to need objects to be spinning in twisted space. Their motion can be described using spinors.

Penrose developed a theory that adds a new twist to spinors. His twistors reveal deep connections between quantum theory and the shapes of spacetime. Penrose thinks twistors might lead to a theory of quantum gravity reconciling quantum theory and general relativity.

Penrose is 85. His ideas are still guided by an uninhibited spirit of inquiry.

2017 February 13


Daniel Dennett

Philosophy has not covered itself in glory. Sometimes, views can have terrifying consequences that might actually come true. I think what the postmodernists did was evil. They are responsible for the intellectual fad that made it respectable to be cynical about truth and facts.

Political activism is not my favourite activity but sometimes one has to engage in it. I begrudge every hour that I have to spend worrying about political issues. Every Republican senator has an opportunity to grow a spine and stand up for truth and justice and the rule of law.

The view of things getting better is the view of those who survive. The fact that we now understand more about how evolution works exposes the fragility of some features of our modern world. We now have to take care not to run off the cliff with our new technology.

No sooner do we develop the hardware to give the globe a nervous system than we spoil it. One danger of AI tools is that we become too dependent on them and give them more authority than they warrant. Technological oracles give very accurate results that we have no other way of getting. We get black box science.

Philosophers talk about the limits of comprehension. The only way we can make progress is by division of labor and specialization. Papers come out of CERN with 500 authors, not one of whom understands the whole paper or the whole science behind it. This is going to become more and more the meme. More and more, the unit of comprehension is going to be group comprehension.

2017 Darwin Day


Philip Ball

Life emerges naturally through the laws of physics and information theory. Information is physical and randomness is entropy. A demon using knowledge and intent to defy the laws of thermodynamics pays a penalty because it cannot have unlimited memory. When it clears its memory and erases information, it dissipates energy and increases entropy.

Living organisms have collectively been avoiding equilibrium since the origin of life. They harvest energy from their surroundings to capture and store information. Their genes are instructions for reaping negative entropy. An organism and its environment share information that helps the organism stay out of equilibrium.

Life is a computation that aims to optimize the storage and use of meaningful information. A lower limit on the energy used in computation is set by the cost of forgetting. The efficiency of the total computation done by a living cell is only a few times more than the thermodynamic limit.

Complex systems can absorb and dissipate energy in a fluctuating environment. As they do so, they generate entropy and tend to settle into well adapted and highly organized states. To use energy efficiently they can become prediction machines. Storing information with no predictive value has a cost, so they selectively harvest meaningful information.

Nonequilibrium systems maximize entropy. A system can maximize entropy over a time window into the future by comparing paths and taking the path of most entropy, with most options later. This drive to preserve freedom of future action creates outcomes that suggest intelligence.

AR This is the bright side.


SS-GB — Buckingham Palace, 1941
BBC One, 19 February, 9-10 pm, Ep 1/5

AR Nostalgia with a twist of "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet"





UK ranks 24th out
of 28 EU states
for renewable


Marine Le Pen will
pull France out
of € if she


2017 February 12


Jason Horowitz

White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon referred to the Italian philosopher Julius Evola in a Vatican speech in 2014.

Baron Giulio Cesare Andrea "Julius" Evola, who died in 1974, wrote on everything from Eastern religions to sex to alchemy. But he is best known as a leading proponent of Traditionalism.

Evola became a darling of Italian Fascists, and later Italian terrorists called themselves Children of the Sun after his vision of a Solar Civilization. He also inspired the Greek party Golden Dawn and the Hungarian party Jobbik.

Evola caught on in the United States with alt-right leaders, including US white supremacist Richard Spencer, who in the days after the presidential election led a crowd in chants of "Hail Trump!"

Born in 1898, Evola was a talented artist, who after fighting in World War I became a leading Dadaist. This gave way to a love for German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Evola's 1934 book The Revolt Against the Modern World cast materialism as eroding ancient values and saw the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, and humanism all as historical disasters that took man further away from the perennial truth.

Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini really liked Evola's 1941 book on racial doctrine. Evola eventually broke with the Italian Fascists because he considered them too tame. He preferred the Nazi SS as closer to his mythic ideal.

In his Vatican talk, Bannon also discussed Russian president Vladimir Putin, who is influenced by Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian Traditionalist who advocates Eurasianism to defend Europeans from democracy, liberty, and materialism.

Bannon on Evola: "We, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what he's talking about as far as Traditionalism goes."

2017 February 11


Francis Su

When I think of human flourishing, I think of virtue. If you have a playful mind or a playful spirit, or you seek truth, or pursue beauty, or fight for justice, or love another human being, these are activities that line up with certain virtues.

If I learn mathematics and become a better thinker, I develop perseverance and hopefulness. Some people experience transcendent wonder at seeing something true about the universe, which is a source of joy and flourishing.

When we talk about teaching mathematics, sometimes we forget these larger virtues we are seeking to cultivate in our students. We are really training habits of mind, and those habits of mind allow people to flourish no matter what profession they go into.

Connect with people in a deep way and you will draw more people into mathematics. Being a mathematician lets us see things more for what they are. Having a mathematical background helps people to be less governed by their biases.

Many of the people at research universities would never consider taking students from an undergraduate college. They miss a lot of talent.

US — China

People's Daily

US President Donald Trump had a long phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi said adhering to the one-China principle is the political cornerstone of China-US relations. Trump now understands the importance of US adherence to the one-China policy, and his administration will honor it.

The two leaders also agreed to cooperate in trade, investment, and international affairs.

AR Thank you, Xi.

Quantum Entanglement

Natalie Wolchover

When two quantum particles interact they can become entangled, with a single probability function describing both particles together. If two entangled photons are polarized in perpendicular directions, there is some probability that photon A is vertically polarized and photon B is horizontally polarized, and some chance of the opposite. However far apart they are, measure photon A to be vertically polarized and you know photon B is horizontally polarized.

In 1964, John Bell showed that if particles have definite states even when no one is looking (realism) and if no signal travels faster than light (locality), then there is an upper limit to the amount of correlation between the measured states of two particles. Experiments show that entangled particles are more correlated than the Bell limit, favoring quantum theory.

In a Bell test, entangled photons A and B fly apart to remote optical modulators that either block or pass photons, depending on the polarization angles. Bell assumed that the modulator settings are independent of the states of the photons. But if the modulators were not independent, this reduced freedom could explain apparent entanglement.

Bell test measuring devices have two possible settings (say 1 or 0), so two bits specify their settings when they are independent. In 2010, Michael Hall showed that if only one bit does so once in every 22 runs, this halves the number of possible measurement settings available in the 22 runs. This reduced freedom lets measurement outcomes exceed the Bell limit.

In a cosmic Bell test experiment, a team of researchers sent pairs of photons a long distance into optical modulators and tallied coincident detections. They attempted to maximize freedom by viewing a bright (but otherwise random) star, and, before each measurement, using the color of an incoming photon from the star to set the angle of a modulator. The photon colors were decided long ago, when they left their stars.

The team found that the measurement outcomes still exceeded the Bell limit. Nature would have had to restrict the possible measurement settings at least 600 years before the measurements occurred. Next, the team plans to use light from distant quasars to push further back in time, but most scientists bet on entanglement.

AR I do too. In my view, measurement that breaks entanglement reflects popping out of spacetime in a mindworld jump. This is an epistemic leap forward to reflect an ontic pop. The epistemo-ontic dialectic of successive temporal popouts has a model in axiomatic set theory.

2017 February 10

Brexit Deckchairs, Trump Titanic

Joseph O'Neill

While Leavers and Remainers argue with Lilliputian ferocity about hypothetical trading scenarios and legislative technicalities and putative deals, the UK faces its gravest national security threat since the second world war.

President Trump wants to bring about a Russian-American axis that would enfeeble NATO, destroy the European Union, and dominate a continent reduced to national fragments. He has instantly turned the US into a rogue state.

His impulsive actions as president add up to an agenda of unhinged belligerence and international lawlessness. He has shrunk the executive branch of government into a private dictatorial clique. He has excluded from his decision making process all the officials who would ordinarily be consulted. He has ridiculed countless respectable citizens.

Trumpism is a lethal, highly infectious political disease. Fight it or succumb to it.

The Brexit referendum took place in a world that no longer exists. Everybody assumed that the UK could negotiate its new trade and security arrangements in a geopolitically stable world. Everybody assumed the presence of a sane and friendly US president.

The new Brexit white paper cites the National Security Risk Assessment of 2015: "Our democratic and inclusive values are the foundation of our security and prosperity. We will continue to uphold these values against those who are intent on undermining them."

To get the US trade deal that the UK needs, Theresa May will be forced to align Britain geopolitically with Trump. She will have to let Trumpism become the foundation of UK security.

If the UK rushes ahead with article 50 notification next month, it will face a choice: either side with Europe in opposition to the Trump-Putin axis but get no US trade deal or make that trade deal but become a Trumpist American client state.

Europe must stand together against Trump. Brexit is deckchairs and Trump is Titanic.

AR My cooler shrink-wrap of a bravura source text. Audacious metaphor!

Generation Zero

Thomas Frank

In 2010, Steve Bannon made the documentary movie Generation Zero. From the text on the DVD case: "The current economic crisis is not a failure of capitalism, but a failure of culture."

Bannon says the culture wars and the financial crisis both share the same villain: the bad values that supposedly infected the 60s. That decade apparently introduced Americans to irresponsibility and self-indulgence. Blame is offloaded from Wall Street to the hippies.

Generation Zero is profoundly irresponsible. Once upon a time, there was a dreadful decade, then four decades later a terrible financial crisis, and the one somehow caused the other. Voiceover: "In history, there are four turnings. The crisis. The high. The awakening. The unravelling. History repeats itself. The untold story about the financial meltdown."

The theory is ridiculous. But it is a way to get casino capitalism out of the shadow for the financial crisis and blame instead the forces the family values crowd has been complaining about for years. Generation Zero connects the dots by means of a vast looping diagram of fantastic confusion.

AR My view too (February 5).

2017 February 9

Alternative for Germany

Frauke Petry

Patriotism is based on having a healthy attitude toward your own country and your own history. My parents taught us to be critical. And being a scientist makes you very critical because you have to analyze everything.

German governments in the past have proven that the relationship to Israel is very important. Israel has already experienced what Europe is starting to experience now in terms of illegal migration and terrorism. Germany and Israel have a special relationship.

We separate religion from the state in Europe. Islam has not accepted that yet. In the Mideast, you even see a rollback to a more conservative model of society where religion dominates public life. And that is something we seriously criticize, because we see many of the migrants and asylum seekers coming to Germany importing this model of society to Germany.

It is too easy to compare what happened to Jews in Germany with our present criticism of Islam. Muslims who have lived in Germany for a long time and accept that their own religion has problems belong to Germany. Without forgetting what happened to the Jews, we are concerned about Muslims coming from Africa or the Mideast, who do not even want to integrate or assimilate.

Someone asked thousands of Muslim immigrants to Europe for their views on whether Sharia law or national legislation dominated how they behave toward ethnic and religious minorities. Most of them said that Sharia was more important to them than national legislation. They also revealed very little tolerance for the Jews. They arrive with attitudes that are so alien to our common behavior and European attitudes that we have to say there is a problem.

In many ways Islam is stuck in the Middle Ages. Medieval views do not fit in a democratic context. Many Jews in Israel are faced with this problem in everyday life. They need not fear AfD. I understand the sensitivity in the Jewish community on these questions.

Hot Chips on Venus

Sebastian Anthony

Venus has a surface temperature of 750 K and an atmospheric pressure of 9 MPa — and boiling sulfuric acid rain. This is hard on normal digital computers. But electronics based on silicon carbide (SiC) can take it. NASA crafted a chip and ran it in a test rig at 1.26 MHz for almost 2 Ms:

"With further technology maturation, such SiC IC electronics could drastically improve Venus lander designs and mission concepts, fundamentally enabling long-duration enhanced missions to the surface of Venus."

AR I still fancy living in a sunlit city floating above the Venusian clouds (blog 2014-12-23).

Brexit Bill


The House of Commons has approved the EU (now) bill and passed it to the Lords for further debate. If all goes to plan, Theresa May will be able to pull the trigger in March.

AR Then bang — game over.

2017 February 8

US v Rising Reds

Robert Kagan

The ambition and activism of Russia and China are rising as the confidence and capacity of the United States declines. As they cross, we will see the existing order collapse and the world descend into a phase of brutal anarchy. The cost of that descent will be staggering.

The greatest check on Chinese and Russian ambitions has been the military and economic power of the United States and its allies. For decades, this global dominance has discouraged any serious challenge. Chinese and Russian leaders feared that aggressive moves would backfire.

In recent years, the democratic order has weakened and fractured at its core. Difficult economic conditions, the recrudescence of nationalism and tribalism, weak and uncertain political leadership, and new media have together produced a crisis of confidence in the liberal project.

Whether the United States is willing to continue upholding the strategic order has been in doubt for some time. American patience with the difficulties and costs of playing that global role have worn thin. The weakness and withdrawal encourage a bolder stance by the dissatisfied powers.

Rising powers produce the insecurity they claim to want to redress. The United States cannot and should not prevent China from being an economic powerhouse, nor should it wish for the collapse of Russia. As for military and strategic competition, security comes first.

AR My guess — US will squander its strength against Iran.

UK v Five Facts

Martin Wolf

HM Government white paper: "Whilst Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU, it has not always felt like that."

The UK parliament has always been sovereign. Its ability to trigger Brexit proves it. Yet, driven by the presumed will of the people, HMG plans to leave the single market and the customs union.

Five challenges:

1 Article 50 states that the EU treaties shall cease to apply two years after the notification. The European Council can extend this period but the chances are slim. Businesses will need clarity well before the end, so UK leverage will rapidly dwindle.

2 No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The UK team is negotiating with the European Commission, 27 member states, and the European Parliament. They feel no urgent need to reach an agreement.

3 The European Commission wants to start with the terms of the divorce before starting talks on a future framework and a transition. The UK team says nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Disagreement can halt progress.

4 The commission calculates that Britain owes €60 billion. This demand could prove to be the decisive stumbling block.

5 The divorce will cover outstanding commitments, civil rights and housekeeping issues, complex trading arrangements, and perhaps sectoral customs unions and "enhanced equivalence" for finance. The complexity could prove overwhelming.

The path on which the UK is launched is deeply against its interests.

AR HM government admits the sovereignty argument for Brexit is invalid. Parliamentarians failed yesterday to deplore the push for Brexit in view of this admission during the second reading of the EU Notification of Withdrawal Bill.


US Army
THAAD — Terminal High Altitude Area Defense — is a Missile Defense Agency (MDA) ABM system designed to shoot down
SRBM/MRBM/IRBM in their terminal phase using a kinetic interceptor. Prime contractor: Lockheed Martin

AR China and Russia released a joint statement in January opposing plans to deploy THAAD — CNN.

Tsar Bomba


Germany Second

Jan Böhmermann

AR German humor is alive
and funny. Stay cool during
the German with subtitles:
the great bulk is in English.

Who wants to be second?

Arabella sings a song for


Come back Obama!
would prefer Obama as Prez
oppose impeaching Trump


UK parliament gives
Theresa May OK to
trigger Article 50

The United Kingdom's exit
from and new partnership
with the European Union

HM Government
PDF: 77 pages, 1.7 MB

US Grand Strategy
in the Trump Era
Colin Kahl, Hal Brands

Hacksaw Ridge
God and war — a gory story

AR When will we ever learn?


2017 February 7

Trump as Antichine

People's Daily

Since January 20, Trump has hit out on different fronts. He has lashed out at Germany, Japan and Mexico and issued a ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, but he is clear that China will certainly take retaliatory measures against his provocations. Hitting out against China will be a risky move, for which Trump needs to find a good reason and be certain about the benefits.

AR Will be suicidal for his historical reputation.

Trump as Thor

The New York Times

The Doomsday Clock stands at 150 seconds before midnight — the closest since 1953 after the United States and Soviet Union tested hydrogen bombs.

Donald Trump has spoken about nuking terrorists and expanding US nuclear capabilities. He wants to keep other nations on edge about whether he will go nuclear. Republican and Democratic presidents have long sought to ensure that these weapons are not used lightly.

Senator Edward Markey and Representative Ted Lieu propose legislation to prohibit any president from launching a first-strike nuclear weapon without a declaration of war from Congress. The bill would not undercut the president's ability to respond on his own authority to a nuclear attack.

A Pentagon board recently proposed that the United States consider building more lower-yield nuclear weapons to provide an option for limited use in a regional conflict. The only legitimate role for nuclear weapons is deterrence. The absurd notion of a limited nuclear war needs to be rejected.

Trump commands about 4,000 nukes that he alone is empowered to launch. Any decision to do so would have to be made quickly. The president has yet to put together a nuclear strategy and has shown a troubling propensity to discount or reject expert advice.

Trump has assumed office at a difficult time, a time for restraint and careful deliberation. Nuclear weapons are too dangerous to be brandished as a cudgel.

AR POTUS tweets while world burns.

Trump as Nero

Klaus Brinkbäumer

The United States president is becoming a danger to the world.

Germany must stand up in opposition to POTUS 45 and his administration. Americans gave us our liberal democracy, but we will now have to build an alliance against Donald Trump.

The president of the United States is a liar and a racist. He is attempting a coup from the top. He fired an attorney general who held a differing opinion from his own and accused her of betrayal. This is the way of the tyrant.

Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon hold science and education in contempt. We need organizations like the UN, the WTO, the IPCC, NATO, and the EU. Bannon wants to wipe them away.

President Trump fuses public concerns with nationalism and xenophobia. Demagogues work that way. The fact that he is calling for "America first" and trying to force the rest of the world into humiliating concessions is absurd.

The German economy is a target of American trade policy and German democracy is antithetical to nationalism. It is high time to stand up for democracy, freedom, and western alliances.

Europe must start planning its political and economic defenses.

AR Germans are sensitive to echoes of 1933.

2017 February 6

Bump and Trexit

Ken Clarke

You cannot put new trading barriers between yourself and the giant free trade area upon which we have been dependent for the past 30 years without making yourself poorer. I think Brexit will make us poorer. If it turns out to be at some enormous cost and it brings an end to international investment in quite a lot of sectors of the economy, then it could be a disaster.

Every US president until the present one has found us more valuable because we are the leading bridge into the EU. We carry clout because we are one of the two or three big members of the EU. We are giving all that up as well. We are a trading nation and we have political interests in all parts of the world, where we will find our voice and our clout substantially diminished.

The government have got this slogan about a global Britain and want to illustrate this by having good photo opportunities with leading figures around the world. So I suppose they thought it was quite a political coup to finally land this first meeting with Donald Trump. But we happen to have a rather unpleasant and highly unpredictable American president. Perhaps he wants to have a trade deal with us while he's busy repudiating deals with everybody else but I don't think so.

I have never seen anything as mad or chaotic as this.

EZ Rider

Wolfgang Münchau

During the EZ crisis, Germany insisted on fiscal austerity for the bloc as a whole. It also gave itself a constitutional balanced budget rule. This stops the German public sector from running a deficit that could offset the surplus of the private sector. The German structural surplus grows from tough fiscal rules and a weak currency.

US NTC head Peter Navarro: "The German structural imbalance in trade with the rest of the EU and the US underscores the economic heterogeneity within the EU."

AR The € would be stronger if UK rode EZ too.

2017 February 5

A City on a Hill

The Atlantic

America, born with the aspiration of becoming a city on a hill, is in danger of becoming a fortress. America is witnessing a new wave of nativist populism claiming to have the solutions for fighting Islamist extremists who claim to offer an alternative to globalization and American hegemony.

Trump aims to defeat radical Islamists. In fact, the incompetent text of his executive order and the ethnocentric texture of the narrative that has accompanied it are bound to fail at achieving this objective. The ban not only weakens moderates in the Muslim world, but also gives a huge propaganda victory to radical Islamists.

Only an America that is open, free, and true to its values can summon the understanding, forge the alliances, and win the broad cooperation necessary to defeat radical Islamist extremism. Only an America that welcomes immigrants and refugees will continue to innovate and prosper.

AR If Salt Lake City is a Mormon Masada, the rest is toast.

Steve Bannon


White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon negotiated a seat for himself on the National Security Council. Donald Trump is not one to cede authority, but after the first days at 1600 Pennsylvania, as one veteran Republican said, "It's already over, and Bannon won."

Bannon noted repeatedly on his radio show that "we're at war" with radical jihadis around the world. This is "a global existential war" that likely will become "a major shooting war" in the Mideast.

Born in 1953, Bannon came from a blue collar, Irish-Catholic family of Democrats. In the US Navy he earned a master's degree in national security studies from Georgetown, followed by an MBA from Harvard. From there he went to Goldman Sachs, then left to run his own firm in Hollywood.

Bannon was captivated by The Fourth Turning, by William Strauss and Neil Howe, and made a film based on it, Generation Zero (2010, 2:02:35).

Bannon took command at Breitbart in 2012 and made it a home for the alt right: "Our big belief, one of our central organizing principles at the site, is that we're at war."

Former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro: "He regularly abuses people. He sees everything as a war. Every time he feels crossed, he makes it his business to destroy his opponent."

AR Generation Zero is terrible, dump-quality war porn.

2017 February 4

Voter Verdict

The Times

President Trump's first fortnight in the White House has pleased the voters who put him there:

"He's been outstanding" — Fred Wiseman
"I feel safer" — Sally Armstrong
"He's done what he promised" — Ron Syme

Pollster Tony Fabrizio: "The average American is tired of America being taken advantage of."

Trump has already blown it
Stephen M. Walt

Trump has squandered a genuine opportunity to put American foreign policy on a more solid footing and has managed to unite and empower opposition at home and abroad.

Trump picked several fights with China while undercutting the US position in Asia, badgered Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in an acrimonious phone call, picked another pointless fight with Mexico, announced an unlawful ban on Muslim immigrants, and shut the door on hundreds of extensively vetted refugees on Holocaust Remembrance Day — and then deliberately excluded any mention of Jews from the official statement on the day itself.

Meanwhile, he is openly flirting with a trade war that would damage the entire world economy and continuing to destabilize relations with America's closest allies.

Merkels Mauer

Der Spiegel

Kanzlerin Angela Merkel in Malta: "Wir haben es als EU der 27 in der Hand, wie stark, wie gut, wie schnell, wie präzise Europa ist und wie wir unsere Probleme lösen."

Trump beschert Merkel in der Flüchtlingskrise ein doppeltes Problem: Seine Politik beflügelt Europas Rechtspopulisten. Doch in der Flüchtlingspolitik ist die EU näher an Trump, als manche es wahrhaben wollen. Denn ähnlich wie der US-Präsident hat auch die EU nun beschlossen, an ihrer Südgrenze eine Mauer hochzuziehen — aus Sicherheitskräften, Auffanglagern und Küstenwachbooten.

AR EU builds southern border "wall" with security forces, collection camps, and coastguard boats.

Trump Takeover

Yonatan Zunger

Consider the facts:

Trump intends to do everything he said during the campaign, and more.
The regime's main organizational goal right now is to transfer all effective power to a tight
    inner circle. Departments are being reorganized or purged to effect this.
The inner circle is actively probing the means by which they can seize unchallenged power.
Crushing various groups are primary aims of the regime, and are likely to be acted on with
    greater speed than was earlier suspected.

Things can go wrong

AR Some Jewish paranoia there, but the echoes of 1933 are serious and chilling. Houston — we have a problem!

2017 February 3

A Dark View of Islam

The New York Times

President Trump has unveiled a dark vision of an America under siege by radical Islam. His suspicious view of Islam borrows from the clash of civilizations thesis of Samuel Huntington. Rejected by most serious scholars of religion and shunned by US presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, this dark view of Islam has flourished on the fringes of the American right.

White House Islam critic Steve Bannon says the Judeo-Christian West is at war with Islam: "There is a major war brewing, a war that's already global. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn't act ... To be brutally frank, Christianity is dying in Europe and Islam is on the rise."

AR This crusade against Islam is as ill-starred as the Nazi crusade against Communism. Lacking is due appreciation of the inner integrity of the opponent.

A Dark View of Politics

The New York Times

Donald Trump named Stephen Bannon to the NSC principals committee and downgraded the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the director of national intelligence will in future attend the principals committee meetings only where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are discussed.

Trump has no grounding in national security decision making, no sophistication in governance, and little apparent grasp of how to lead a great diverse nation. Bannon has positioned himself as a trusted aide, shutting out other voices that might offer alternative views. Trump's first spasms of policy making supply ample evidence that he needs advisers who can think strategically.

AR Trump is a weak man if he cannot take moral guidance from Obama.

A New View of Computing

W. K. Hensinger et al.

A large quantum computer may best be constructed using a modular approach. A trapped ion based scalable quantum computer module could be based on microwave quantum gates constructed using silicon fabrication techniques. A proposed design makes use of ion transport between modules. An error correction code can be implemented in the architecture and the modules could be used in alternative architectures.

AR This is a good step forward.

2017 February 2

Real Reality

Anil Ananthaswamy

Quantum theory treats forces as coming in quanta, but general relativity treats gravity as a smooth and continuous force. All efforts to quantize gravity have so far failed.

Juan Maldacena showed that, for a given volume of spacetime, a string theory describing gravity inside can be mathematically equivalent to a set of quantum equations describing the boundary of the volume without gravity. Maldacena duality hinted at a connection between general relativity and quantum mechanics.

Mark Van Raamsdonk looked at how the size of wormholes between two black holes reflects the entanglement of the black holes, as seen from the outside. He found that changing the amount of entanglement between the black holes changed the width of the wormhole, as if entanglement could create spacetime.

Leonard Susskind thinks spacetime in general is created by entanglement, but complexity is an issue. Quantum systems can be in a superposition of many states, and complexity grows exponentially with the number of states. The growth of black hole quantum complexity might be connected to the growth of spacetime inside them.

Sean Carroll and his team looked at Hilbert spaces. A Hilbert space represents all the possible states of a quantum system. Any Hilbert space can be broken into smaller such spaces. Carroll worked out the entanglement between the smaller constituent spaces. His team drew graphs in which the more entangled the parts, the closer they are together, and found some graphs for which moving from one position to another was relatively smooth, suggesting the smooth geometry of space could emerge from a quantum basis.

Erik Verlinde generalized Maldacena duality from anti-de Sitter space, which has a well defined boundary and volume, to our spacetime by seeing our cosmic horizon as a boundary. He showed how spacetime and gravity can emerge from entanglement and explain away dark energy.

Entanglement is information: the greater the entanglement between two systems, the more information they share. Quantum information underlying spacetime is not of or about anything. Qubits might be the foundation of real reality.

AR Continuing my own speculation (blog January 7), our growing spacetime bubble has a Maldacena boundary that we picture as a transparent threshold into a potentially infinite further spacetime. We can also see it as a firewall to uncountably many entangled qubits. With duality my bubble idea becomes a fruitful image rather than an odd fantasy.

2017 February 1

US v China

David Leonhardt

China remains far less powerful than the United States. But it has come a long way. Its economic progress and its ambitions, plus the size of its population, mean that China has become the only other potential global superpower.

Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The pact was always more about geopolitics than economics. Much of the Pacific Rim, including Australia, Vietnam and Malaysia, welcomed it as a way to offset Chinese power in Asia.

China is now trying to put together a different trade pact with some of the same countries. If China succeeds, it will gain more sway in Asia. Beijing will be able to say the United States has only a transactional interest in Asia.

AR Scrapping TPP — US own goal.

Tusk v Trump

BBC News

European Council President Donald Tusk warns that "worrying declarations" from US President Donald Trump challenge the EU.

In a letter to EU-27 leaders, Tusk said the new US administration was part of an external threat that also included an assertive China, an aggressive Russia, and radical Islam.

Tusk: "We cannot surrender to those who want to weaken or invalidate the Transatlantic bond, without which global order and peace cannot survive. We should remind our American friends of their own motto: United we stand, divided we fall."

AR US v EU — a tale of two Donalds.

Bannon v National Security

Asawin Suebsaeng

President Trump has appointed Stephen Bannon to the National Security Council. Bannon served seven years in the US Navy several decades ago and made his name in the private sector, Hollywood, and politics. He is obsessed with military history and the art of war.

A former Hollywood associate: "He constantly used military terms ... always spoke in terms of aggression. It was always on-the-attack, double down ... macho stuff."

Bannon: "Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that's my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment."

Hollywood writing partner and former close friend Julia Jones: "Steve is a strong militarist, he's in love with war — it's almost poetry to him. He's studied it down through the ages, from Greece, through Rome ... every battle, every war ... Never back down, never apologize, never show weakness ... He talked a lot about Sparta — how Sparta defeated Athens, he loved the story."

Bannon for NSC?
Nicole Gaouette

The National Security Council is a Cabinet-level group of agencies focused on national security that was established by President George H. W. Bush in 1989.

Former acting CIA chief Michael Morell: "Having somebody like Bannon in the room brings politics into a room where there should be no politics."

Senator Bernie Sanders: "Steve Bannon sitting on the National Security Council is dangerous and unprecedented. He must be removed."

Senator John McCain: "I am worried about the National Security Council ... The appointment of Mr. Bannon is ... a radical departure from any National Security Council in history."

AR Bannon — the hammer for Trump's Thor.

USS Georgia

USN photo # N-1841C-042
Ohio-class boomer USS Georgia (commissioned as SSBN-729 in 1984, redesignated to SSGN-729 in 2004).
Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines are set to replace them from 2031.

This is not what greatness
looks like.

The world rejects your fear,
hate-mongering, and bigotry.

As citizens of the world,
we stand united against
your brand of division.


AR #4,298,122+

More than 18,000 scientists
including 50 Nobel prizewinners
and 82 other awardees have
signed a petition and the
AAAS and the AAU have
issued statements
against the ban

Will Charles stay cool when
Trump visits Queen?

The Great Satan
US bans Iran citizens
Iran bans US citizens

Trump and May
Theresa May and Donald Trump
renew US-UK marriage vows

The probability of global
catastrophe is very high, and
the actions needed to reduce
the risks of disaster must
be taken very soon.
Atomic Scientists

2016 marks three consecutive
years of record warmth
for the globe

David Chalmers
David Chalmers

America First

Trump is emotionally invested
in Brexit. He feels that it and
his own victory are part of the
same movement. He wants
to get personally involved in
negotiating a trade deal
with the UK.

Trump is critical of NATO
and wants better relations
with Russia. He acts like he
wants the EU to fall apart.
His hostility rattles
EU leaders.

Origin of life

Oval Office
Credit: Kevin Dietsch
"Winston is back"
Churchill bust returns
to the Oval Office


2017 January 31

Trexit Disaster

Gideon Rachman

Donald Trump seems to offer Britain an exciting escape route from Europe. The UK can leap off the rotting raft of the EU and onto the gleaming battleship HMS Anglosphere.

Wrong. The election of Trump transforms Brexit from a risk into a disaster:

Theresa May forged a special relationship last Friday based on US-UK values. But on Saturday Trump dropped his "Muslim ban" bomb.

May wants the UK to champion global free trade. But Trump is the most protectionist US president since Hoover and could soon start slapping big tariffs on foreign goods.

May is a firm believer in the importance of NATO and the UN. But Trump has twice called NATO obsolete and is threatening to slash US funding of the UN.

May say Britain wants to work with a strong EU. But Trump is openly contemptuous of the EU and his aides have speculated that it might break up.

May sees an increased threat from a resurgent Russia. But Trump is already flirting with lifting sanctions.

UK foreign minister Boris Johnson talks up the prospects of a trade deal with Trump. Yet only a few months ago Boris was saying Trump was "clearly out of his mind" and betrayed a "stupefying ignorance" of the world.

A strong UK in the EU would keep its distance from Trump. Britain could defend free trade with the EU bulk behind it. Brexit Britain has embraced a US president Boris once called a madman.

AR Brexit Britain — not the EU bulldog but the US poodle.

The "Muslim Ban"

Sam Harris

President Trump has had a busy first week in office. Christian fundamentalism has become the least of our concerns. Our democracy has been engulfed by a hurricane of lies.

I think Trump's "Muslim ban" is unethical toward refugees and doomed to be ineffective in stopping the spread of Islamism.

Most of the opposition to his order is contaminated by identity politics and liberal delusion. The opponents continue to lie about the problem of Islamism.

One can speak about the ideological roots of Islamism and jihadism and about the need for reform in Islam without lapsing into bigotry or disregarding the suffering of refugees.

If liberals who refuse to speak honestly on these topics continue to march with Islamists, denigrate free speech, and oppose the work of reformers in the Muslim community, they will only further provoke and empower Trump.

The next acts of jihadist terrorism in America will most likely be met with terrifying countermeasures by the Trump administration. If liberals continue to lie about the causes of terrorism and lock arms with Islamists, we have some rough times ahead.

We need to defend secularism, science, and free speech against their enemies. We must choose between civilization or chaos.

AR Trump — the anti-Islamist golem.

2017 January 30

Germany First

Jacques Schuster

The Germans are ready to take on more responsibility worldwide. With the Federal Republic, they have created a thoroughly civilized state. This fact gives self-confidence.

The German interest in Europe is to shape it in a way that corresponds to its own goals, and to equip what remains of it politically, economically, and militarily so that it is not controlled by foreign powers. This in turn requires resolute rearmament.

Europe needs to be led by a state that is first among equals, strong, secure, firmly western, and aware of its own limits. Germany can be first only in partnership with allies.

AR The German original text was long and rambling.

Trump Economic Plan

Peter Navarro, Wilbur Ross

Donald Trump's economic plan proposes tax cuts, reduced regulation, lower energy costs, and eliminating the chronic US trade deficit. His goal is to increase US real GDP growth rate and create millions of additional new jobs and trillions of dollars of additional income and tax revenues.

We provide a transparent scoring of the Trump economic plan in the areas of trade, regulatory, and energy policy reforms based on conservative assumptions. Along with tax reform, these areas represent the four main points of the Trump policy compass. Each works with the others and in conjunction with proposed spending cuts.

Our analysis indicates that the Trump trade, regulatory, and energy policy reforms would collectively increase Federal tax revenues by $2.4 trillion. In a separate analysis, the Tax Foundation has reported a dynamically scored $2.6 trillion revenue reduction from the Trump tax cuts assuming guardrails to prevent abuse.

The Trump economic plan is fiscally conservative. When properly scored, it approaches revenue neutrality and, with proposed budget savings are taken into account, it achieves revenue neutrality. The challenge is to fix the underlying structural problems facing the US economy.

AR The plan might rely on a few alternative facts.

2017 January 29

POTUS-POR Teletalk

The New York Times

Donald Trump talked for an hour with Vladimir Putin and vowed to repair US-Russian relations.

White House: "Both President Trump and President Putin are hopeful that after today's call, the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern."

Kremlin: "Donald Trump asked to convey a desire for happiness and prosperity for the Russian people, noting that the people in America relate with sympathy to Russia and its citizens."

Trump-Merkel Telefonat

Die Welt

Der neue US-Präsident wird Deutschland spüren lassen, dass die NATO mehr Geld und Einsatz im Kampf gegen Daesh erwartet. Im Bundeshaushalt werden Milliarden-Verschiebungen stattfinden.

Die beiden Politiker verständigten sich in dem Telefonat auch auf eine enge Zusammenarbeit gegen den Terrorismus — trotz Merkels Kritik an dem neuen US-Einreiseverbot.

Dutch Boy Wonder

The Sunday Times

Dutch Forum for Democracy party leader and former university professor Thierry Baudet, 34, shares with Geert "Dutch Trump" Wilders a desire to lead Holland out of the EU as the only way to win back control over its borders.

Baudet: "The forces that produced Brexit in Britain and the election of Donald Trump in America are being unleashed in Holland as well."

AR Baudet is a friend of Sir Roger Scruton.

I Am American

Reza Aslan

When I was 7, my family fled a violent revolution in Iran. We arrived in the United States with nothing but a suitcase each. We chose America.

Donald Trump has signed an executive order that effectively bars citizens of a number of Muslim countries including Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Somalia and Syria from entering the United States. This follows his promise to ban all Muslim immigrants.

No president has ever attempted to implement a religious test on migration for the simple reason that a ban based on religion violates the establishment clause of Constitution. But that is what Trump is planning on doing. His executive order is a Muslim ban by another name.

Trump says the restrictions focus on countries whose migrants could pose a threat to Americans. But then it should restrict citizens from Saudi Arabia. This executive order is an assault on the civil rights of Muslim citizens in the United States.

I am an American. If the President of the United States can threaten my rights as a citizen, then he can do the same for any one of us.

AR Aslan is the author of Zealot.

The Trump Inauguration

Caitlin Moran

You know you're going to see the Trump inauguration a thousand times, in documentaries, for the rest of your life. But you don't know how it will be remembered.

A voice-over will tell the story of what happened next, after this angry man walked on to the stage — fist aloft, under a low grey sky, to the half-empty Mall — and made his vows.

It looked like the end. America is suddenly the kind of country that tells crazy lies. In his dark, angry speech — carnage, tombstones, bleeding — Trump did not herald a new era.

The future voice-overs will tell us he is the impossible president. Impossible things tend not to last very long. They are mutated ends — not beginnings.

2017 January 28

Eclipse of the West

John Bew

Before Donald Trump, Washington insiders believed that America was the indispensable nation. The cost of US hegemony was an issue during the primaries. Republican foreign policy experts were alarmed by the prospect of a Trump presidency.

The crisis of the West has been tied to repeated failures in foreign policy. In this century, the limits of Western power have been illustrated time and again, nowhere more so than in the Mideast. There has been a loss of appetite for lengthy and complicated foreign entanglements.

The Western way of war has become discredited. The fashion for counterinsurgency partly grew out of a desire to evolve towards a more sophisticated and more politically palatable use of force. Even when it works, the political and financial costs of such lengthy campaigns are unsustainable.

Blessed with decades of relative security, we have lost the custom of thinking strategically. Having enjoyed a preponderance of force and wealth, we have failed to grasp the changes in international affairs. Behind all of this is a loss of confidence in the merits of Western civilization.

Britain has carved out a privileged place for itselfin the slipstream of US foreign policy. Its greatest strategic nightmare has been the prospect of an American retreat from its global responsibilities. A rebalancing of the international system is about to begin.

American Identity

Holger Stark

The America of today has lost faith in its own superiority. It has become a regressive country that is turning its back on the world. From Alabama to Alaska, you will find that the American Dream has been lost.

American streets are full of holes, US airports look old, and falling trees regularly cause power outages. Over the last 30 years, mainstream politicians have worked tirelessly to destroy the state, which they see as a form of imposed socialist administration. They have made America weak.

A new understanding of the state is long overdue in America. In a globalized world the protective identity of a state is necessary. Donald Trump is one of the few conservatives to have recognized that fact.

Create Defense Union

Die Welt

EU military spending is the second highest in the world, at roughly half that of the United States, but the spending is inefficient. A more secure European Union can only be created if we act together by:

1 Building partnerships, promoting reconciliation, and strengthening resilience, in order to react more quickly, coordinate our civilian and military missions better, and use our financial resources more wisely;

2 Cooperating more closely with our most important security partners and with NATO;

3 Investing in the expansion of research and other capacities to exploit the internal market for defense procurement, where lack of cooperation between member states costs an estimated €100 billion annually.

We should develop the EU into a real defensive organization.

AR Without duplicating or bypassing NATO, we trust.

2017 January 27

American Carnage

Washington Post

The entire senior level of US State Department management officials resigned Wednesday, part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior foreign service officers. Outgoing State Department chief of staff David Wade: "It's the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember, and that’s incredibly difficult to replicate. Department expertise in security, management, administrative and consular positions in particular are very difficult to replicate and particularly difficult to find in the private sector."

"Donald Trump has sounded the retreat. Whether under his America First view, his willingness to let other powers take the lead, his distrust of international institutions, or pure ignorance, he has ushered in a blight befalling the world as a consequence of mean-spirited, ill-considered, short-sighted US foreign policy."
David Rothkopf

UK to US: Resist Eclipse of the West

Financial Times

The days when the UK and US invaded countries to engage in nation building are over. In a foreign policy speech to congressional Republicans in Philadelphia, Theresa May said the decline of the West was not inevitable: "We — our two countries together — have a joint responsibility to lead. Because when others step up as we step back, it is bad for America, for Britain and the world."

Beware of the Donald

Voice of the Mirror

Theresa May needs to be on her guard today as the first world leader to meet Donald Trump in Washington. She needs to tread a fine line between maintaining our relationship with an ally and establishing lines of communication with a volatile Trump, while staying true to British values of fairness and decency.

2017 January 26

Australia Day


Australia Day marks the arrival of the First Fleet into Sydney Cove in 1788, a date mourned by many indigenous people.

Indigenous Advisory Council chairman Warren Mundine: "We see it as Invasion Day. The 26th of January is the day that the British came to invade, which led to massacres, the loss of land and the destruction of Aboriginal societies."

AR Royal Navy Captain James Cook claimed Australia for Britain in 1770. I am descended from him on my mother's side.

America First

Daniel Finkelstein

The America First Committee was founded in 1940. The five young men behind it built a movement more than 850,000 strong, with branches all over the country. The movement made life hard for President Franklin Roosevelt until the Pearl Harbor attack put an end to it.

The man who revived it was Pat Buchanan, former adviser to Presidents Nixon and Reagan. In 1992, he launched his own protectionist, isolationist, moralist version of America First and sought the Republican nomination as presidential candidate but was rejected.

In 2000, Buchanan ran for the Reform Party. Donald Trump had also sought the nomination, but he quit the party over Buchanan: "He's a Hitler-lover; I guess he is an antisemite. He doesn't like the blacks, he doesn't like the gays ... That's not company I want to keep."

The original America First campaigners said America cannot be the world's policeman. Trump on Inauguration Day 2017: "From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it's going to be only America first, America first."

AR Women and children first (when the ship goes down)

2017 January 25

Mind and World

An Edge Conversation

David Chalmers —

Artificial intelligence is an artificial mind. Virtual reality is an artificial world. Thinking about AI and VR can shed light on deep philosophical issues.

Virtual reality is a technology for creating and interacting with artificial worlds. When one inhabits a virtual reality one is interacting with a genuine digital reality. We perceive virtual objects, and those objects really exist.

If it turns out we are living in a digital virtual reality, we should not say that none of the stuff around us exists. We should say we are living in a world where everything is grounded in information. The hypothesis that physics might be grounded in the interplay of information does not make reality some kind of illusion.

Virtual objects have certain possibilities for motion and interaction, and this grounds a sort of space that they inhabit. This is not the same as nonvirtual space, but it is a genuine sort of space. What matters for a physical world is the pattern of interactions.

You can see the hypothesis that we live in a simulation as a version of the multiverse idea. Our universe would be a local universe that is a simulation, and perhaps its creator made other simulations with different parameters to watch them run and see what happens. Some people have even proposed that we should be forming religions around the idea that our simulator is our god.

Augmented reality technology lets you see not only the physical world, but also virtual objects and entities that you perceive in the middle of them. Everything is going to be in our AR glasses, and AI will start to become an extension of my mind. This mixing of the natural, the physical, and the artificial both on the side of the mind and on the side of the world is in our future.

Sean Carroll —

A virtual world is just as real as a physical world. Virtual worlds are simply different ways of organizing and talking about the world. Modern physics helps underwrite this view.

In quantum mechanics, the world is described by a quantum state. Anything above and beyond that is just a convenient way of talking, an emergent approximation applicable in a certain regime. A single quantum state may be interpreted as representing very different things.

Informatic concepts bring the world to life. Perhaps spacetime emerges out of the mutual information and entanglement between different quantum degrees of freedom. Information is physical.

Thomas Metzinger —

Conceptually, the four central conditions for any artificial system to become capable of suffering are consciousness, a self-model, negative subjective preferences, and transparency. Synthetic phenomenology may sound like a long shot today, but so did synthetic biology two decades ago.

Avatars will become more and more intelligent. We will soon use them as flexible anthropomorphic interfaces to communicate with AI systems. When AI becomes integrated with VR, avatars will become like models of selves.

AR On avatars, see chapter 0000 of my 2010 book G.O.D. Is Great. On AR glasses, see chapter 0001. On VR, see chapters 0010 and 1011. The book has 16 chapters, from 0000 to 1111, and I gave David and Thomas copies in 2010.

2017 January 24

The Battle for Europe

Der Spiegel

Donald Trump wants to divide and conquer the European Union for America. His only goal is US profitability, and he sees global trade as a brutal fight for survival. Emissaries from Berlin are trying to build contacts with his team.

In a March 1990 Playboy magazine interview Trump cited Japan and West Germany: "Their products are better because they have so much subsidy ... Our 'allies' are making billions screwing us ... I'd throw a tax on every Mercedes-Benz rolling into this country and on all Japanese products."

The Trump team looked at statistics showing which countries export more to the US than they import. In first place is China, followed by Japan and then Germany. Trump sees the EU as an alliance aimed at weakening the US economy.

The United States is the biggest export market for Germany. In 2015, Germany delivered goods worth €114 billion to the US, whereas the US only exported goods worth around €60 billion to Germany. Worldwide, German goods exports came to €1.2 trillion but imports to €1 trillion.

German carmakers built factories in America. BMW, Daimler Benz, and Volkswagen did so in US states, then Mexico lured them south with low wages and free access to the US market by way of NAFTA. Now Audi, BMW, Daimler Benz, and Volkswagen makes vehicles in Mexico.

Angela Merkel desperately needs a plan for how to react to the Trump presidency. German export strength is key to the EZ economy, but it is also a target for US protectionist rhetoric. Germans need to stand up to Trump.

2017 January 23

The Origin of Life

Natalie Wolchover

Scientists in Germany have discovered how liquid droplets may have evolved into living cells. David Zwicker and collaborators in Dresden studied chemically active droplets and discovered that they tend to grow to some size and divide, just like living cells.

The researchers are now studying the growth and division of active droplets made of synthetic polymers modeled after the droplets found in living cells. After that, they hope to observe biological droplets dividing in the same way.

Zwicker modeled centrosomes as chemically active droplets, continuously cycling constituent proteins into and out of the surrounding liquid cytoplasm. This chemical flux balances when an active droplet reaches some volume, and the droplet stops growing. Typical droplets grow to that size, elongate and pinch in at the middle, and split into a pair of droplets, which then grow to the same size.

Protocell droplets could have acquired membranes. Droplets naturally collect crusts of lipids at their interface with the surrounding liquid, and the crusts could evolve into membranes. A stroke of luck formed the first droplet.

AR This is another welcome but small step in filling out the story.

Hard Brexit Could Damage EU

Wolfgang Münchau

Brexit could end up permanently damaging the EU. Three effects of a sudden Brexit:

1 The eurozone remains dependent on the City of London for financial services. There would be a bigger risk of a financial crisis in the EU than in the UK. There is a potential for blackmail here.

2 Britain has a smaller weight in EZ trade than the eurozone has in UK trade. But manufacturing supply chains work in both directions. A sudden break could disrupt production everywhere.

3 The UK is a member of the UN Security Council, the G20, and the G7. If EU countries want to fight tax avoidance by multinational companies, manage globalization in a fairer way, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or come up with policies to combat terrorism, they will need the UK. 

A hard Brexit would push Britain toward becoming another tax haven — a threat to the EU.

AR Hard Brexit would be a declaration of economic war. Mutual assured destruction could follow.

2017 January 22

UK Nuke Malfunction

The Times

The UK government covered up a nuclear deterrent malfunction in June last year during a Trident II D5 missile test launch from the Royal Navy submarine HMS Vengeance at sea off Florida.

The cause of the failure remains top secret but the missile apparently shot off in the wrong direction toward America after launch.

A source: "Downing Street decided to cover up the failed test. If the information was made public, they knew how damaging it would be to the credibility of our nuclear deterrent."

A Trident expert said that if the launch had not been a test and the missile had been armed, the result could have been "collateral damage on steroids".

AR Imagine the headline — "Awfully sorry! We seem to have nuked Washington"

Deutschland erwache!

Die Welt

Donald Trump ist vereidigt, Amerika zieht sich auf sich selbst zurück:

America First = Everybody else last

Umso wichtiger ist, dass die Deutschen diesen "wake-up call" ernst nehmen und sich die große Koalition in Berlin schnell erholen.

AR Deutschland, Frankreich und Großbritannien sollten
alle militärisch aufwachen.

2017 January 21

US Foreign Policy

Jessica T. Mathews

Donald Trump has taken all previous US foreign policy and thrown it out the window.

His national security adviser Michael Flynn says the United States is facing an "international alliance of evil countries and movements that is working to destroy us" and it must "energize every element of national power in a cohesive synchronized manner — similar to the effort during World War II" to fight this new global war.

Flynn says the goal of US policy should be regime change in Iran. He says the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were fought in a "half-assed" manner with "token" forces and without the resolution "to crush our enemies" in the war against radical Islam.

Johns Hopkins University professor of strategic studies Eliot Cohen cites the Ledeen Doctrine: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."

Cohen says recovery of American credibility "will probably occur only when the United States actually does something to someone — wiping out a flotilla of Iranian gunboats," for example. He was among the first to advocate invading Iraq and Iran as part of World War IV: "The heart of Iran's emerging military potential lies in its nuclear program."

Cohen believes China is America's greatest threat. He sees a Chinese desire to establish hegemony in east Asia and calls Chinese actions in the South and East China Seas a potential trigger of global war. He argues for a substantially larger US military.

Trump thinks America does too much in the world and cares too much about others. He thinks money spent to strengthen other nations is wasted. Some of this is surely posturing.

AR Even as posturing it looks bad.

Donald Trump

"God bless America"
President Trump

Philip Hammond
Credit: Toby Melville
Philip Hammond

Bikers for Trump
Credit: Marvin Joseph
Bikers for Trump will
"form a wall of meat"
against protesters
at the Trump

USAF B-2 Spirit

Theresa May

No Joy

Germany and France will
not reward the UK for leaving
the EU and abandoning the
dream of European
 harmony and

Sterling rises
above $1.23

Trump Doomed

By the end of the week,
Donald Trump will be POTUS.
He will have his moment,
for sure. But when things go
wrong he will be chased
from office.


2017 January 20

Brexit — Blame Blair

The Times

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the decision by Tony Blair to keep UK borders open in 2004 fuelled the anti-immigration feeling that led to the Brexit vote:

"There was a strong strand of feeling against uncontrolled migration and I lay the responsibility for that squarely at the door of prime minister Blair, who failed to impose a transitional regime in the UK in 2004. That created a public perception which we still haven't shaken off to this day."

Unlike other EU leaders, Blair waived the UK right to impose transitional controls on the free movement of citizens when eight eastern European countries joined the EU in 2004.

AR Hmm — a new idea but an interesting one.

Populism — Fool's Paradise

The Times

Philip Hammond called populism a fool's paradise in a speech at Davos:

"Politicians who take the populist route will find it a very short road. There is no sustainable future for a developed economy in protectionism, subsidy, and high debt ... Populism is a fool's paradise. I hope I have already demonstrated that I welcome suggestions from business and will act on them where I can."

AR I say Hammond for PM if May falters.

Energy — New Look


Former Texas governor Rick Perry once famously forgot that the Energy Department was on the list of US government agencies he'd like to shut down. Now he asks senators to approve his leading it:

"My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking. In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination."

AR I bet he hadn't realized its main job is making nuclear bombs!

Being — Alone Or Not Alone

Adam Mars-Jones

Science fiction is doomed to profundity, unable to avoid philosophical dilemmas. Existentialism is always likely to appear when the theme is either our aloneness in the universe or the encounter with the other. Being alone or not alone — that is a question.

Passengers shows engineer Jim Preston woken from suspended animation nearly a century ahead of schedule on interstellar cruise liner Avalon heading for a colony planet. As the only wakeful person in a world of sleepers, he finds he is living a nightmare.

Jim comes across a working bar aboard the Avalon, whose android bartender is programmed to engage in convincing banter and philosophizing. Jim then gazes at the hibernating journalist Aurora Lane, a Sleeping Beauty played by Jennifer Lawrence. And so on.

Arrival is different: the alien visitors may be bringing a message but at first what they offer is a written language. The language is delicate, sharing with Chinese the ability to hold elements in poetic tension as well as an affinity with Japanese brush painting.

AR See my review of the same movies (blog 2016-12-27).

2017 January 19

French Presidential Election


The election is in two rounds, the first on April 23, the second on May 7. The campaign has not yet started and the final slate of candidates is still unknown.

1 François Fillon

France 24 — Frontrunner François Fillon vowed to take back control of immigration, in part by imposing quotas on non-EU nationals: "France is generous, but it is not a mosaic and a territory without limits. It is one nation that has a right to choose who can join it and a right that foreigners accept its rules and customs."

2 Marine Le Pen

Paris Match — FN candidate Marine Le Pen has launched her campaign: "I had ants in my paws! ... François Fillon shows great firmness, but he is entangled in a brutal program that he does not assume ... Since his victory in November, the deputy of Paris has been as tetanized, lying on the ball." (Google translation)

Le Pen was seen last week in Trump Tower. She was in New York on a private trip.

3 Emmanuel Macron

Robert Zaretsky — Emmanuel Macron, 39, has been a philosophy student, an investment banker, and a French government economic minister. As an independent candidate for the presidency, he may be the best bet for a European future based on a common market and a common morality, a single currency and a singular commitment to the EU core values.

Macron is convinced that the French and the Germans can still be rallied to the European project. He praises Merkel on her refugee policy and warns that the euro will be saved only if the European Union acts like a truly sovereign body.

Anne-Sylvaine Chassany — Emmanuel Macron is the third man in the race, behind Marine Le Pen and François Fillon in polls. Macron, an École nationale d'administration (ENA) graduate and a former Rothschild banker, became popular after taking on the left and deregulating the economy. Now he has created his own party, En Marche!

2017 January 18


Xi Jinping

The problems troubling the world are not caused by globalization.

Countries should view their own interest in the broader context and refrain from pursuing their own interests at the expense of others. We should not retreat into the harbor whenever we encounter a storm or we will never reach the opposite shore.

China will keep its doors wide open. We hope that other countries will also keep their doors open to Chinese investors and maintain a level playing field for us.

Defend Globorg

Joe Biden

Our careful attention to building and sustaining the international world order, with the US and Europe at its core, was the bedrock of the success that the world enjoyed in the second half of the 20th century.

Globalization has not been an unalloyed good. I am a free trader and a supporter of globalization, but it has deepened the rift between those racing ahead at the top and those struggling to hang on in the middle, or falling to the bottom.

Popular movements on both the left and the right have demonstrated a dangerous willingness to revert to political small-mindedness — to the same nationalist, protectionist, and isolationist agendas that led the world to consume itself in war during the last century.

The impulse to hunker down, shut the gates, build walls, and exit at this moment is precisely the wrong answer.


Ivan Krastev

Meritocracy is a system in which the most talented and capable, the best educated, those who score highest on the tests, are put in leading positions. From the start it was clear that a meritocratic society would be a disaster. It would create a society of selfish and arrogant winners versus angry and desperate losers.

What makes meritocrats so unbearable to their critics is not so much their success but their insistence that they have succeeded because they worked harder than others, because they happened to be more qualified than others, and because they passed the tests that others failed.

In Europe today, the Brussels elites are blamed for their cosmopolitanism, their resistance to public pressure, and their mobility. The European meritocratic elite is like a team of star footballers. When their teams start to lose, their fans abandon them.

People trust leaders who show not only competence but also courage and commitment. They want their leaders to hang on in times of crisis rather than being helicoptered out. People fear that in times of trouble the meritocrats will opt to leave instead of sharing the cost of staying.

The new European populists promise solidarity over justice. They promise to nationalize the elites, not to save the people but to stay with them, to rebuild the walls removed by globalization. Many Europeans find this promise appealing.

John Rawls argued that being a loser in a meritocratic society was not as painful as being a loser in an openly unjust society. He said the fairness of the game would reconcile people with failure. He may have been wrong.

AR Recall Heidegger's appeal to the Volk community in his defense of National Socialism against a cosmopolitan Jewish elite.

2017 January 17

May Day

The Times

UK prime minister Theresa May: "We seek a new and equal partnership between an independent, self-governing, global Britain and our friends and allies in the EU. Not partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out. We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries. We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave. The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union."

A Global Britain

Theresa May

I want to outline our objectives for the negotiation ahead:

1 We will provide certainty wherever we can. We will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament, before it comes into force.

2 We will take back control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain.

3 We will ensure that as we leave the European Union no new barriers to living and doing business within our own Union are created.

4 The United Kingdom will share a land border with the EU, and maintaining that common travel area with the Republic of Ireland will be an important priority for the UK.

5 We will ensure we can control immigration to Britain from Europe. You cannot control immigration overall when there is free movement to Britain from Europe.

6 We want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states, as early as we can.

7 We will ensure that workers rights are fully protected and maintained. We will make sure legal protection for workers keeps pace with the changing labour market.

8 We will pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union. We do not seek membership of the single market. We seek the greatest possible access to it through a new free trade agreement.

9 We will negotiate our own trade agreements. I want us to have a customs agreement with the EU and I want Britain to be free to establish our own tariff schedules at the WTO.

10 We will welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research, and technology initiatives.

11 We will continue to cooperate with our European partners in important areas such as crime, terrorism, and foreign affairs.

12 We believe a phased process of implementation will give businesses enough time to plan and prepare for those new arrangements.

This is the framework of a deal.

Fake Cheer

Christoph Scheuermann

Theresa May says from the deck of a Royal Navy ship in the Persian Gulf: "I want a red, white and blue Brexit."

She plans to trigger Article 50 by the end of March. Sterling has depreciated significantly since last June and the government is expecting a budget deficit of £122 billion over the next five years. Yet in Westminster a state of strange calm prevails behind a united front of unshakeable optimism.

May is steeling herself for a hard Brexit. This steely resolve is damaging her in the rest of Europe. A clean break is unlikely, and the UK will need the goodwill of other EU states to exit in 2019.

Brexit minister David Davis has no plan and an easygoing approach. A Brexit committee meets behind closed doors and has an equal number of Brexit supporters and opponents. A committee member: "Everyone chips in, the PM sums up and everyone staggers out saying how difficult it is."

Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan is a pioneer of the Brexit movement. He seems to think Brexit is as good for Britain as victory in World War II. He says the EU can either give Britain limited access to the internal market or get a cold, hard Brexit.

Fake Gloom

Wolfgang Münchau

If you have two strong arguments, the surest way to lose a debate is to add a third one. The third argument of our time is a warning of economic doom.

Brexit is terrible because it deprives young Britons of the right to choose where to live, study and work, and it deprives them of a European identity.

Remainers let their campaign be hijacked by a third argument about the loss of the single European passport for banks. It cost them the referendum.

The curse of our time is fake maths, used to peddle a political prejudice. Economic models have better uses. Nobody can see the future.

Fake Fact

Norbert Röttgen

There seems to be a prevailing impression among some people that the European Union will soon fall apart, that after the UK others will go too. That is a false picture of the EU and of what it offers.

Trump On Europe

Krishnadev Calamur

Donald Trump supports Brexit: "People, countries want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity but, I do believe this, if they hadn't been forced to take in all of the refugees ..."

German chancellor Angela Merkel came in for special mention for her refugee policy: "I think it was a big mistake for Germany."

US secretary of state John Kerry: "I thought frankly it was inappropriate for a president elect of the United States to be stepping into the politics of other countries in a quite direct manner."

BMW plans to open a facility in Mexico in 2019. Trump: "I would tell BMW if they think they're gonna build a plant in Mexico and sell cars into the US without a 35% tax, it's not gonna happen ..."

German deputy chancellor Sigmar Gabriel: "The US car industry would have a bad awakening if all the supply parts that aren't being built in the US were to suddenly come with a 35% tariff."

Trump said the car trade was unfair because on Fifth Avenue everyone has a Mercedes-Benz. Gabriel: "Build better cars."

AR Progress iff global supply chains iff free trade iff no tariff wars.

Donald Trump
Photo: Daniel Biskup
Donald Trump

Rex Tillerson calls the Russian
annexation of Crimea illegal,
says the United States should
have provided more aid to
Ukraine, supports NATO, and
assumes Putin knew of any
cyberattacks against the
United States.

Pounds falls
below $1.20

Jared and Ivanka
Jared and Ivanka

Chinese work on Mischief Reef,
Spratly Islands

Sino Defense
Chinese DF-21D carrier killer

Scientific American
The happy couple: The key
to keeping the magic alive is finding ways to promote
the positive

John Kerry

If policy is going to be made
in 140 characters on Twitter,
and every reasonable measure
of accountability is being bypassed, and people
don't care about it,
we have a problem.

Tabby's Star Ate Planet

Tabby's star KIC 8462852
showed a series of big dips
in brightness after dimming
by 14% in 100 years. Now a
Columbia team explain all.
They say the star devoured
a planet in the past, so it
brightened and dimmed again.
Every time the debris passes
between us and the star,
the image blinks.

AR Blog 2016-01-17

Derek Parfit

Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit
was a fellow at All Souls. Until
his death on 1 January, he was widely regarded as the most
important living moral
philosopher, partly for his work
on personal identity: We are psychological bundles of
memories, inclinations, and
intentions. In the future, bundles
will go by my name, share many
of my memories, and act on
some of my intentions. The
boundaries dissolve.

AR I met him at seminars.

Leopard A7V


2017 January 16

Trump Talk

Michael Gove

When we talked last Friday, Donald Trump had nothing but kind words and generous sentiments for a nation he believes will be his strongest ally.

On the UK: "I think Brexit is going to end up being a great thing ... I'm a big fan of the UK, we're gonna work very hard to get [a new trade deal] done quickly and done properly."

On the EU: "People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity ... if they hadn't been forced to take in all of the refugees ... I think that you wouldn't have a Brexit."

On Germany: "You look at the European Union and it's Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That's why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out."

On NATO: "I said a long time ago that NATO had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago. Number two the countries aren't paying what they're supposed to pay ... With that being said, NATO is very important to me."

On Russia: "Let's see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that's part of it. But Russia's hurting very badly right now because of sanctions."

Trump has no intention of abandoning Twitter because he believes it gives him a direct connection to the American people.

Trump: "Ich mag Stärke. Ich mag Ordnung."

Erstmals erklärt ein angehender US-Präsident offen und ohne Rücksicht, was er über Deutschland und Europa denkt.


2017 January 15

Adam and Eve

Anushay Hossain

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are getting ready for the new US administration. They have stepped down from their respective businesses in preparation for their roles in Washington. The two are set to become the most powerful couple in Washington.

In August, Ivanka got her father to unveil policy proposals to lower child care costs. In December she called members of Congress about child care legislation and tax deductions. Her expected work on climate change was also widely noted in the press.

Jared Kushner may have won the presidency for Donald Trump. He is expected to be the presidential policy person on the Mideast. Trump even says he believes Kushner could broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Ivanka and Jared are perfectly positioned to become the powers behind the throne. Melania and Donald Trump are adamant on spending as little time in Washington as possible, so Ivanka and Jared will effectively be the de facto first couple. They almost make you forget that the Donald is about to become president.

AR First couple — would you "Adam and Eve" [believe] it.


Catarina Dutilh Novaes + AR

In Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1781), Immanuel Kant stated that no progress in logic had been made since Aristotle. Today we see three golden periods for logic: the ancient Greek period, the medieval scholastic period, and the mathematical period of the last two hundred years. Kant had disregarded the scholastic tradition.

In the classical Greek period, Plato wrote dialogues and Aristotle discussed techniques useful in debating. The prominence of dialectics continued through late antiquity. By the Latin medieval period, this led to the emergence of scholastic disputation, which continued to Summa Theologica (1265-1274) by Thomas Aquinas.

After Kant, logic turned toward mathematics. In 1847, George Boole inaugurated a new approach. He launched algebraic logic and pushed the idea of using mathematical symbolism in logic.

Gottlob Frege was inspired by Kant and by Gottfried Leibniz. He aimed to provide mathematics with logical foundations. He used the mathematical notion of a function to represent predicate logic and devised a new logical notation in his book Begriffsschrift (1879).

Frege saw that not only the axioms but also the rules of inference required a rigorous reformulation. His work established the idea that ordinary language is expressively inadequate to account for mathematical or logical reasoning. Parallel projects for axiomatizing parts of mathematics were led by other distinguished mathematicians.

Unfortunately, Bertrand Russell discovered a paradox lurking in the foundations of Frege's system. The goal of recovering and further developing his program led Russell and his collaborator Alfred North Whitehead to develop the system presented in their Principia Mathematica (1910–13). Much of the work in logic in the last century grew from their work.

Logic has become a foundational branch of mathematics. The change reflects the fall from grace of scholastic disputation. Only traces of the dialectical origins of logic persist in recent developments in mathematics.

AR My trilogy Dialectical Logic (1975, 1977, 1979) modeled mathematics in a dialectic defined in set theory — each layer of the cumulative hierarchy was a metatheory for the previous layers conceived as steps in an epistemo-ontic dynamic inspired by the Hegelian dialectic. Essentially, Hegel wrapped up all of scholastic logic in a discursive form that defied further progress, forcing Frege to make a new start in mathematics. I found the thread of continuity and rescued the dynamic that prevents logic from freezing in an illusory absolutism (in fact Gödel had already done so — I built on his work). See my 2014 essay The Answer.

2017 January 14


Arif Ahmed
Dorset Humanists, Moordown Community Centre, Bournemouth

AR Cambridge philosopher Ahmed presented an individualist political philosophy (based on the views of John Locke, John Stuart Mill, and Friedrich Hayek) that would abandon much of the power of the state as we now understand it. I raised objections from the floor, citing the 2008 financial crisis, the rise of Donald Trump, and the critique of rationality due to Daniel Kahneman.


Simon Kuper

English-speaking countries are easier to hack because their enemies understand what they are saying. Being an English-speaking society makes you transparent, whereas foreign countries are opaque to mostly monolingual Britons and Americans.

Chinese and Russian elites sent their children to study in the US and UK. From 1990 to about 2010, Anglo-American media and films gained huge global influence. And most AAs stopped bothering to learn foreign languages.

The new weapon is cyber warfare. But hacking foreign files is worthwhile only if you can use the information. Russia and China can read English documents and foreigners can make up fake news in English.

Britain has its own problems with English. Westminster and the tabloid newspapers are almost entirely monolingual. Brits therefore voted for Brexit blithely unaware of how other European countries would respond.

The UK Foreign Office has been sidelined ahead of the Brexit negotiations. The boss of the new department for exiting the EU, David Davis, says the Germans will give the UK a good deal because they sell cars in Britain. His European counterparts understand Britain rather better.

AR Stellen Sie sich vor, Sie überhören ein Gespräch:
      Angela Merkel: Halten Sie durch — Ordnung muß sein!
      Auto-Hersteller: Jawohl, Frau Bundeskanzlerin!


2017 January 13

China to US: Keep Out

Global Times

Nominee for US secretary of state Rex Tillerson uttered astonishing statements during his confirmation hearing with the Senate. He had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories.

South China Sea countries will accelerate their negotiations on a Code of Conduct. They have the ability to solve divergences by themselves without US interference.

US to China: Threat

The Times

PEOTUS pick for US SOS Rex Tillerson compares Chinese fortification of its manmade islands in the South China Sea to Russian annexation of Crimea and threatens a major confrontation.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has backed up its position by expanding small islets and building airstrips and harbors.

China foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang: "We hope non-regional countries can respect this consensus that is in the fundamental interest of the whole world."

Tillerson: "This is a threat to the entire global economy if China is allowed to somehow dictate the terms of passage through these waters."

China warns that "no effort to internationalize and judicialize the South China Sea issue will be of any avail" and will only make it harder to resolve the issue.

US Air Power


The US Marine Corps is sending 16 F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters to Japan. At over $100 million each, the jets showcase US "commitment to the defense of Japan with the most capable and modern equipment in the US inventory," says the USMC. "It will be the cornerstone of a multi-mission joint force possessing improved mission flexibility and unprecedented effectiveness to engage and destroy both air and ground threats."

China: Sea Power

Financial Times

President Xi Jinping will turn China into a maritime superpower. One Belt One Road is his plan to boost investment and commerce in over 60 countries in Asia, the Mideast, Africa, and Europe.

Since 2010, Chinese and Hong Kong companies have completed or announced deals involving at least 40 port projects worth a total of over $45 billion. The Pakistani port of Gwadar is owned, financed, and built by China as the core element in a $54 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

In 2015, the five big Chinese cargo carriers together controlled almost a fifth of all container shipping handled by the global top 20 companies. By then, nearly two-thirds of the top 50 container ports worldwide had some Chinese investment, handling over two-thirds of global container volumes.

Chinese port operators are world leaders and Chinese shipping companies carry more cargo than those of any other nation. In Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Greece, and Djibouti, Chinese investment in civilian ports has been followed by navy deployments or visits or construction of a naval base.

China aims to deny US aircraft carrier battle groups access to the seas within a string of archipelagos from Japan to Vietnam — the first island chain.

AR China aims to keep US carrier groups outside the first island chain with its DF-21D missiles (blog 2010-12-29).

2017 January 12

US Intelligence

Financial Times

By blaming them for leaking a dossier on efforts by the Kremlin to cultivate and compromise him, Donald Trump has declared war on US intelligence officials.

The Trump tweet and press conference took aim at the BuzzFeed release of a 35-page dossier that carries unverified allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and the Kremlin. Trump calls the entire dossier false.

Former NSA lawyer Susan Hennessey says the tweet "reads as if Trump is trying to deflect focus from these devastating, though unverified allegations, by attempting additional smears vilifying intelligence professionals."

Trump Nailed It

Timothy Stanley

Trump has two big priorities: building the wall and repealing and replacing Obamacare. He compared the behavior of some within the intelligence community to Nazis. He signaled that speculation on his relationship with Vladimir Putin will not shift his position toward Russia. And he concluded that Russia was probably guilty of hacking, but that will cease once Trump is in charge.

Trainwreck Press Conference

Richard Wolffe

The Trump presidency is already in shambles. Team Trump seems happy to shine a bright light on its own monumental mistakes. The president-elect celebrated the Russian hacking of the DNC and all those leaked emails. Now he even brags about his Russian connection: "If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks, that is called an asset, not a liability. Do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Give me a break."

2017 January 11

Farewell Address

Barack Obama

After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. ... For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all.

We weaken those ties when we allow our political dialog to become so corrosive that people of good character aren't even willing to enter into public service, so coarse with rancor that we see Americans with whom we disagree as not just misguided but as malevolent.

We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others, when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.

AR He always set a good tone.

White House Advice

The New York Times

Jared Kushner will become a senior White House adviser to his father-in-law, Donald Trump. Kushner, 35, married Ivanka Trump in 2009. Some ethics experts question whether his appointment is legal under federal anti-nepotism laws.

Transition staff members describe Kushner as the first among equals in the Trump high command. He is said to have a calming effect on his father-in-law. He became the de facto campaign manager in the spring and his influence expanded rapidly.

Kushner is an orthodox Jew, a Harvard graduate, and a lifelong Democrat. Liberals greeted his appointment with relief. He will resign as chief executive of Kushner Companies and divest himself of assets including 666 Fifth Avenue and his holdings in The New York Observer.

AR So far so good ...

Family First

Caroline Crampton

Jared Kushner is the son of real estate developer and Democratic party donor Charles Kushner. Charles made a $2.5 million donation to Harvard University in 1998. Jared was accepted there in 1999 and earned a degree in sociology in 2003.

While at Harvard, Jared made money buying and selling buildings, supported by the family fortune. His net worth is estimated at $200 million. At age 25, he bought the New York Observer for $10 million.

In 2005, Charles Kushner was convicted on 18 counts of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering. He served time in a federal prison.

Jared practises Orthodox Judaism, and Ivanka Trump* converted before they wed in 2009. His grandparents escaped the Nazis, and his grandmother Rae was a founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

  *Ivanka Trump was born in 1981 as the daughter of Donald and Ivana Trump**. She graduated
    in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 2004, then joined the family business.

  **Ivana Trump was born in Czechoslovakia and moved to Canada, where she worked as a model.
    She then moved to New York, married Donald Trump in 1977, and divorced him in 1992.

In October 2016, The New York Observer asked its proprietor a question: Hillary or Donald? Jared: "Family first."

AR A new twist on the first family.

2017 January 10

America First

Philip Stephens

Once Donald Trump is inaugurated as POTUS, the United States will make its own rules. Trump aims to repudiate TPP, renegotiate NAFTA, and impose hefty duties on Chinese imports. Yet he is happy to side with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Trump wants to make America great again. His ideas are a jumble of economic nationalism, antipathy to globalism, hostility to immigrants, hatred of Islamist extremism, and a dim view of great power relations. He disdains NATO and equivocates with East Asian allies.

Trump has promised to renounce US climate obligations. He could strike a deal with Putin over the heads of Europe, disavow the nuclear agreement with Iran, build a wall against Mexican immigrants, and shut the US border to Muslims. All this is isolationist swagger.

US allies have already concluded that Trump is neither predictable nor reliable. China is determined to translate its economic power into geopolitical clout despite provocative tweets. And Putin doubtless thinks he will get the better of Trump.

Detaching US national interests from its international commitments is impossible. Economic interdependence cannot be wished away and military might has its limits. The new president will find most of his goals out of reach to America Alone.

2017 January 9


Sky News

UK prime minister Theresa May: "Often people talk in terms as if somehow we are leaving the EU but we still want to kind of keep bits of membership of the EU. We are leaving. We are coming out. We are not going to be a member of the EU any longer. We will be able to have control of our borders, control of our laws."

Four Fails


On January 20, Donald Trump takes the oath of office and becomes the POTUS. For the first time in his life, he will be employed outside his family business. At age 70, he will become accountable to the American people.

Trump has never had to reboot himself in anything like the manner now required. But when his companies ran out of money to pay their lenders and filed for bankruptcy in 1991, 1992, 2004 and 2009, he had to accept the strict terms and oversight required by bankruptcy agreements.

Six Strikes


Hillary Clinton said Donald Trump wrote a lot of books about business: "They all seem to end at Chapter 11. He bankrupted his companies, not once, not twice, but four times."

Wrong: Trump actually has six bankruptcies.


New Scientist

Researchers hacked ion channels to alter bioelectric signaling in tadpoles engineered to develop cancer. They reduced the incidence of tumor formation and made tumor cells return to a healthy state.

Researchers increased the bioelectric traffic between cells in froglets past the age at which they can regenerate full limbs and made them do so anyway.

Humans have regenerative capabilities too.

2017 January 8

Die Deutschen

Die Welt

Deutschland bedeutet für die Deutschen nicht mehr eine Frage ihrer politischen Identität. Heute geht es um die Frage nach dem kulturellen Kern.

Was es heute heißt, deutsch zu sein — darüber können sich die Deutschen, die mit einer furchtbaren Geschichte, einer rauen Zuwanderungsgegenwart und einem schwer angekratzten Ego konfrontiert sind, am ehesten noch im Ausland informieren.

In den Augen vieler Beobachter ist das deutsche Problem die Gründlichkeit, mit der viele Deutsche die Migranten zur endgültigen Säuberung der befleckten Nationalhistorie und zur Umerziehung der eigenen Bevölkerung nutzen wollen.

Da schlägt die Verleugnung allen Deutschseins in einen Chauvinismus der Vaterlandslosigkeit um. Schwer ist es, anderen Europäern die Abgründe solch moralischen Großreinemachens zu erklären.

Vielleicht wenn die Deutschen sich selbst sympathischer wären und sie sich zugleich weniger ernst nähmen, dann wäre nicht nur den Deutschen, sondern auch unseren Nachbarn gleich viel wohler mit diesem sonderbaren Gebilde.

AR Als Europäer sind die Deutschen bestens aufgenommen, die Briten eher mürrisch.

Tank Trouble

The Times

Britain turned down the chance to buy a fleet of second-hand German tanks. Leopard manufacturer KMW offered to sell 100 to 400 old Leopard 2 tanks to the Ministry of Defence in 2015. They would have been upgraded to new A7V standard.

The UK government has instead selected two other companies — BAE Systems and Rheinmetall — as the final bidders for the Challenger 2 upgrade contract.

Defense industry source: "They made that offer to us and we should have taken it but there was an arrogance: we invented the tank, we have to have a British tank."

But the idea is not yet dead: "If it turns out that buying second-hand would work out cheaper overall then finance is king. If it is cheaper they will go that way."

AR Buy Leopards. Our NATO boys on the Eastern Front will need standard kit.

US Army Abrams tanks

US Army Abrams tanks on NATO maneuvers in Latvia, summer 2016.
A shipload of Abrams tanks was unloaded Friday in Bremerhaven for
forward deployment in Poland as part of operation Atlantic Resolve.

President Trump could
launch 140 warheads
in the time it takes to
write 140 characters

Fw 190
Wings Over Illawarra
Australian Focke-Wulf Fw 190
(Werk-Nr. 173056) to fly at
Wings Over Illawarra Air Show
2017-05-06 — 2017-05-07

Orion on SLS
Orion on SLS

Ryan Beauchemin

Arnie for Prez!

Celebrity Apprentice made
Donald Trump a reality TV star.
The new 2017 season stars
Arnold Schwarzenegger.

AR But he was born
in Austria.

Polizei-Tweet: Ist
"Nafri" entmenschlichend?
— fragt Grüfri (Grün-

T.J. Drysdale


Heidegger again


2017 January 7

Baltic Blues


The Baltic states are in the EU and NATO but Russia is boosting its military presence in Kaliningrad. Estonian foreign minister Sven Mikser: "We have always seen the US as our strongest ally. US participation has given NATO its credibility."

AR Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Quantum Questions

Steven Weinberg

Physicists are at odds about measurement in quantum mechanics.

Suppose you measure the spin of an electron in an arbitrarily chosen direction. There are only two possible results, namely plus or minus a certain number, up or down, corresponding to an electron that is spinning either clockwise or counter-clockwise in the chosen direction. Before you measure it, the spin is a superposition of up and down, each with its own amplitude. The act of measuring the spin somehow collapses the superposition to up or down.

If we disregard everything about an electron but its spin, its wave function is a pair of amplitudes, one number for each sign of the spin in any chosen direction. The wave function of an electron whose spin has not been measured generally has nonzero values for spins of both signs. The probabilities of finding either up or down for the spin in a chosen direction are proportional to the squares of the amplitudes in that direction.

A measurement puts the spin in an interaction with a macroscopic environment that causes the superposition of states in the wave function to collapse to one state, unpredictably. But the Schrödinger equation is deterministic. Given the wave function at any moment, the equation will tell you precisely what the wave function will be at any future time.

The realist approach to quantum mechanics implies a multiverse. When you measure the spin of an electron in some direction, the wave function of the electron and your measuring apparatus becomes a superposition of two terms, in one of which the electron spin is up and you see it is up, and in the other of which the spin is down and you see it is down. The history of the world splits every time a big body becomes entangled with a superposition of states. The set of all histories is the multiverse, and its wave function evolves deterministically.

An entangled state involves correlations between parts of the system. Suppose we have a pair of electrons whose total spin in any direction is zero and whose wave function (ignoring everything but spin) is a sum of two terms: in one term, electron A is up and electron B is down in some direction, while in the other term up and down are reversed. The spins are entangled, and this entangled state can persist even if the electrons fly apart to a great distance.

All data so far agree with ordinary quantum mechanics.

AR My suggested approach (2006): Each of us lives in a phenomenal world with its own bubble of spacetime, which is growing in qubit increments. At any moment of phenomenal now, our reality is bounded by our past light cone. Whenever we collapse an entanglement, we pop out spacetime by another qubit (or more, depending on the granularity of quantized spacetime). Entangled states are local until we collapse or pop them. Decoherence is the phenomenal manifestation of popping qubits, and corresponds to spontaneous symmetry breaking at the Planck scale. The Everett multiverse replaces the Einstein block universe as background for all our phenomenal worlds.

My proximal inspiration for this epiphany was the book Quo Vadis Quantum Mechanics? (ed. Elitzur et al., Springer 2005). This is the sort of vision I was hoping for in Richard Muller's 2016 book Now — but I was disappointed. Sadly, I lack the mathematical skill to work out the technical details in a LaTeX preprint for arXiv.

2017 January 6


Martin Wolf

We are living at the end of the era of US hegemony.

It has been a huge overall success. Global average real incomes per head rose by 460% between 1950 and 2015. The proportion of the global population in extreme poverty has fallen from 72% in 1950 to 10% in 2015, and life expectancy at birth has risen from 48 years in 1950 to 71 in 2015.

Despite a generation of relative economic decline, the US, the EU, and Japan still produce over half of global output measured at market prices and over a third measured at PPP. They host the biggest global companies, dominant financial markets, leading universities, and strongest cultures. The US military will remain global top dog for decades.

But across the West, slow growth and aging populations have taken their toll. Politicians can longer promise more for everybody and have to take from some to give to others. The winners have been the rich, making those in the middle and lower incomes more fearful and more prone to racism and xenophobia.

If the West fails, China might find greatness thrust upon it.

AR Hegel conceived global history as the steady march of the Weltgeist through the millennia from China to India to the Mideast and Mediterranean to Europe and then to America. Now we see the Weltgeist complete its world tour and start a new orbit from China.


The Guardian

A man born in London to German parents has been told he cannot get a British passport unless he takes a UK citizenship test. Dom Wolf, 32, said his parents came to Britain in 1974 when his mother started work as an LSE lecturer. He has now been told he needs to prove they were in the UK legally — yet they moved under EU law.

AR Makes me feel like doing a personal Brexit.

2017 January 5

Moon or Mars?

David Brown

European Space Agency director general Jan Woerner says a lunar village is the natural successor to the ISS. The United States is the obvious partner to fund and spearhead such an effort. But to land humans on the Moon, let alone build a village, will take a program as big as Apollo.

A Moon base lets you dig mines and make money. The Moon is only a few days away from Earth and it has lots of helium 3. The isotope is rare on Earth but the Moon has collected it for billions of years. There is an estimated 1.1 Tg of He 3 on the moon, and just 40 Mg of He 3 in fusion reactors could power the United States for a year.

NASA is focused on its Journey to Mars program. But it will use the space between the Earth and the Moon to test life support and propulsion systems for any Mars expedition. The Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft, holdovers from the Mars space exploration initiative canceled in 2009, are ready for moonshots.

Americans cannot afford both a Moon base and a Mars colony. Building either is the cheap part — the operational costs are what add up. A Moon base delays Mars until after the lunar base design, construction, operations, maintenance, and divestment. That could take decades.

AR I say go for the Moon base for now. It will ripen the tech we need for Mars. A Moon base was part of the plot in my 1996 novel LIFEBALL.

Magnetar Located?


The sporadically repeating fast radio burst FRB121102 with duration 3 ms has been traced to the dwarf galaxy PGC1000714 some 30 Ym away. Cornell University researcher Shami Chatterjee: "We think it may be a magnetar — a newborn neutron star with a huge magnetic field, inside a supernova remnant or a pulsar wind nebula — somehow producing these prodigious pulses."

AR See blog 2016-03-03. A neutron star signaling us starred in my 1996 novel LIFEBALL.

UK vs EU

Philip Stephens

Britain never really joined the EU. For France, Germany, Italy, and the rest, the union was a political project with emotional roots. For Brits, it was a commercial transaction.

Politicians at Westminster have never quite shaken off the conviction that the enterprise is destined at some point to fail. Each further step toward integration has been greeted with scorn. Even now, many Brexiteers claim to be leaving a sinking ship.

For German leaders especially, the union is a vessel for European values. It is an enterprise that underpins the peace, stability, and democracy of the continent. The EU has a meaning and purpose beyond the export of bottles of fizz and expensive cars.

2017 January 4

EU Defense

Sophia Besch

EU politicians want strategic autonomy in defense, without relying on the United States. But they have long failed to raise collective defense spending. Now Brexit and Trump create new urgency:

Good — Without the UK the EU can at last get moving on its defense plans. To prevent plans for an EU operational headquarters duplicating NATO, the HQ covers only training and civilian operations.

Bad — Brexit will cost the EU one of its two credible military powers. New plans mean little if the EU lacks capabilities and forces, so the EU should try to keep the UK involved in EU military affairs.

Ugly — The Trump presidency will likely spur more defense spending by EU states. But the US security guarantee is already weakened. Some EU leaders are concerned about Trump ties to the Kremlin.

AR With weakened US and UK commitments to European security, the EU27 states are vulnerable. They could not resist a serious Russian military push and must temporize with appeasement until new defense plans are in place. If Trump befriends Putin, this is a viable strategy.

The obvious next move is for the UK to boost its commitment to defending EU states in return for EU accepting UK membership of the single market despite a Fortress UK border clampdown. The boost, above the NATO commitment, would include an immediate nuclear guarantee and initial work on a future shared Anglo-French deterrent.


The Times

UK representative to the EU Sir Ivan Rogers quits, citing "ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking" over Brexit from government ministers.


Financial Times

UK prime minister Theresa May is facing fresh claims that her government is turning a deaf ear to news and advice on Brexit it does not want to hear.

Open Britain supporter Peter Mandelson: "Everyone knows that civil servants are being increasingly inhibited in offering objective opinion and advice to ministers."

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg: "I think it is crucial that whoever represents us in Brussels is wholly committed to Brexit."

AR Klartext: Drink the Kool-Aid!

2017 January 3

Scientists: Keep Iran Deal

The New York Times

Dozens of top US scientists wrote to PEOTUS Trump on Monday to urge him not to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal: "We urge you to preserve this critical US strategic asset."

The letter was organized by Richard L. Garwin, who helped design the first hydrogen bomb and has long advised Washington on nuclear weapons and arms control.

Nostalgic Nationalism

Gideon Rachman

Long before Donald Trump vowed to make America great again, China, Russia, and Turkey had already established the fashion for nostalgic nationalism. Democracies are not immune to nostalgia — look at Japan, India, Hungary, and Britain.

Globalization and the relative decline of the West increase nostalgia for a more nationalist past. But neither Putin nor Xi is keen to discuss the crimes of Stalin and Mao, and Germans would nix a vow to make Germany great again.

2017 January 2

Robocars — Upside

Morgan Stanley

Autonomous cars will offer better safety features and more efficiency. Semiautonomous cars are in showrooms today. Completely autonomous cars are set to be available by the end of the decade.

The social and economic implications are enormous. They will transform the auto industry business model. Related businesses, such as telecoms, software, media, freight transportation, semiconductors, and insurance, will also face disruption and opportunity.

Autonomous cars could contribute $1.3 trillion in annual savings to the US economy. Annual US productivity gains alone would be over $500 billion. Global savings could be over $5.6 trillion.

The auto industry will have to shift gears. The growth of software as a part of the car is likely to divide the industry into dedicated hardware and software makers, with a crucial role for vertical integration. This structure would resemble that of the smartphone or computer industries.

Most of the concerns or obstacles to mass adoption of autonomous vehicles are largely practical or procedural. Technology is not an issue. The capability to make a robocar is largely available today and only needs incremental research and development.

Public opinion on robocars remains split. Acceptance and adoption will take time. Potential obstacles include building sufficient infrastructure, government regulation, and ethical issues.

Robocars — Downside


An autonomous car that relies on a human to save the day in an emergency is not going to work. Humans make horrible backups — they are inattentive, easily distracted, and slow to respond. So automakers will be taking you out of the equation entirely.

Full autonomy — no steering wheel, no pedals, no human backup — is the best way forward. Google figured this out around 2012. The shift came as automakers recognized the difficulty of the handoff — getting the person behind the wheel to take control in seconds.

Level 2 autonomous cars can keep their lane and handle rush-hour gridlock. Level 3 autonomy defines cars that can make basic decisions like when to change lanes or pass other vehicles. Level 3 requires making sure the car can handle any situation for several seconds while the human wakes up and takes over.

Level 3 autonomy is difficult to justify. If every car on the road featured Level 2 capabilities, fatal automobile collisions would drop by 80% already. Full autonomy brings more safety improvements while also bringing mobility to people who cannot drive, automating deliveries, and creating other opportunities.

Google started with a system that could handle highway driving with human oversight. But engineers soon realized those humans were lulled into paying zero attention and would be all but useless in emergencies. So they are going straight to levels 4 and 5 and pursuing full autonomy.

Most automakers started planning to progress steadily through the levels. Ford was among the first to break ranks, announcing in late 2015 that it would skip Level 3. Audi has invested heavily in the handoff and plans to bring Level 3 to the showroom in 2018.

Audi is also pursuing full autonomy. General Motors is buying robocar startups and Ford is rebranding itself as a mobility company. Car sharing and other alternatives to ownership are growing in popularity, and upstarts like Uber see an opportunity to push established players aside.

Uber wants to drop the human chauffeurs in taxi cabs. Google could configure robocabs for riders to use its other services. Cities hosting fleets of robocabs get a new way to cut congestion and solve parking problems.

2017 January 1


Andy Ross

Frank Wilczek won his Nobel Prize in 2004 for breakthroughs on the mathematical foundations of quantum chromodynamics — our theory of how quarks make atomic nuclei — and is a passionate advocate of the supersymmetric extension of current theory that would deepen it yet further ...

Unlike most authors of books on physics for poets, Wilczek is not patronizing and does not seek to erase the technical truth behind his readable gloss on the quest for deep beauty. On the contrary, he puts his passions on show with rapturous outpourings of praise for the creative impulse behind the visions he beholds — and then cites details in appended explanations of his terms of art that spell out the cash value of even his most apparently overblown rhetoric that show he chose every word carefully, and meant it.

This is clearly a book that transcends most of the glosses on physics that litter bookshops today. As an addict of such books, ever hopeful of striking gold but too often disappointed, I am confident it will stand as a classic of its kind a century from now.


Andy Ross

Jonathan Franzen is a good writer and Purity is a good novel. With a story about a star German hacker, whose proclaimed mission is to let sunlight disinfect the dirty secrets of this world, and a mixed cast of hapless Americans, who unwittingly reveal deeper downsides of modern life, this book could have been written for me ...

The best novelists manage to achieve a forensic detachment from their subjects that gives the reader space to air dissenting views. Franzen did well at standing back, but ... the characters all seemed like nightmare products of Franzen's imagination, with exactly the lack of frontal lobe function that dream figures often display.

By any normal standards it was a fine novel.


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