The UK Brexiled from Europe
2021 February 27
'Britain has decided to scuttle itself'
When I arrived in Britain, I was struck by the charm and all the new buildings and the mixture of old England with the modern. London had become the new world city.
The Brexit vote came as a shock. No one saw it coming, including the Brexiteers. After it, Britain felt sour. Anger and hostility were suddenly legitimised.
The vote was the first eruption of an alarming global trend. Boris Johnson was a cultivated version of Donald Trump and President Bolsonaro of Brazil. The Brexiteers got away with a fantasy version of Britain and the EU.
The partisans of Brexit are reciting a history in which the UK is never defeated, never invaded. The popular press, led by the Daily Mail, helped Brits to imagine they were living in a world of Dad's Army and Downton Abbey.
With the world quickly resolving into three poles of economic and military power — America, Europe, and China — Britain has decided to scuttle itself. The EU27 can impose the Napoleonic blockade that England so feared.
President Joe Biden believes Brexit is a historic error. He is not keen on close ties with the Johnson government and calls Johnson a physical and emotional clone of Trump.
Democracies are in crisis. The Chinese have stopped listening to western criticism. They don't want us to have their system. They want us to leave them in peace.
AR Goodbye Britannia
2021 February 26
Brexit: A New Religion
A report by the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick says the Leave campaign made Brexit a new religion to win votes.
Dr Peter Kerr: "Framing the NHS as the Holy Grail to be rescued from the threat of the EU superstate and an influx of foreign migrants .. neatly cut into a variety of beliefs and emotions about Britain's place in the world and its membership of the EU."
Dr Steven Kettell: "Such quasi-religious narratives worked to heighten the intense emotional fervour around Brexit."
AR The Queen heads the Church of England. Brexit is Antichrist heresy.
Jojo Mehta, Julia Jackson
The global campaign to criminalize ecocide can address the root causes of the climate crisis.
The year 2020 was the second warmest on record, following the warmest, 2019. Carbon in the atmosphere reached 417 ppm, the highest in the last 3 million years. There is enough carbon in the atmosphere to continue warming the planet for decades.
The largest greenhouse gas emitters, including the United States, China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, are putting the world on course for a 4 K rise in temperatures. At that rate, the polar ice caps will melt.
The establishment of ecocide as a crime is under consideration in a growing number of jurisdictions. This can correct the shortcomings of the Paris agreement. The widespread destruction of nature also has devastating impacts on global health, food and water security, and sustainable development.
Criminalizing ecocide enables us to deter reckless leaders from damaging policies, creating accountability in a way that Paris does not.
The pristine areas that ecocide targets have value far beyond mere extractive industries. True leaders in the public and private sector would much prefer ethical and sustainable value creation that does not exploit nature or humanity.
We must understand that what we do to our ecosystems, we do to ourselves.
AR We need Earthlaw — one law for all Earthlings.
2021 February 25
The Military Balance
The unstable security environment is straining relations between states. The United States accused Russia of breaching the Open Skies Treaty and withdrew from the treaty.
Wars continued in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Turkey sent military support to Libya in 2020, while opposition forces received support from Egypt, Russia, and the UAE. In Syria, Turkey's army mounted joint patrols with Russia. In Yemen, the Iran-backed Houthis displayed growing military competence. Conflict continued in Ukraine and in Africa.
Global defense spending grew by 3.9% in real terms to reach US$1.83 trillion in 2020. Real growth in China's defense budget slowed to 5.2% in 2020. China's 2020 increase was greater than the combined defense budget increases in all other Asian states. Increases in the US and Chinese defense budgets accounted for almost two-thirds of the total increase in global defense spending in 2020.
European NATO members have increased their defense expenditure as a proportion of GDP. In 2020, their spending reaching 1.64% of GDP. The EU lowered funding for the European Defense Fund, for military mobility projects, and for the European Peace Facility.
China's military modernization continues to shape defense policies in the Asia-Pacific. Chinese forces are using facilities in the South China Sea, and naval shipbuilding continued at pace. China's air force continues to integrate more advanced systems.
Russia is integrating more modern systems into its inventory. With continuing problems in fielding new-generation equipment, Russia is modernizing existing platforms and integrating new weapons.
In 2020, Russia's navy continued tests of a hypersonic missile. Russia has already fielded a hypersonic glide vehicle. China also continues to develop its hypersonic systems. Similar developments continue in the United States.
Western armed forces are taking more interest in air and missile defense. They will also need to be able to tackle paramilitary forces, the exercise of state power through non-state actors, and information and influence operations in cyberspace.
The coronavirus pandemic requires a sharper focus on resilience. Many countries deployed troops to support civil authorities and to provide medical personnel and infrastructure.
AR Useful overview
First 2π rad HD panorama from Mars rover Perseverance MastCam-Z
2021 February 24
Sylvie Bermann was the French ambassador to the UK from 2014 to 2017 and is one of the most senior diplomats in the French diplomatic service.
She says the British handling of the Covid pandemic is among the worst in the world and calls Boris Johnson "an unrepentant and inveterate liar" who will seek to use Covid to mask the true economic cost of Brexit on the UK economy.
She describes Brexit as a triumph of emotion over reason and Brexiteers as reciting a history in which the UK is undefeated: "The corollary of an England saving Europe is a detestation of Germany and contempt for cowardice."
She says the British lost confidence in the EU as an instrument of peace and adds the UK will struggle to find influence outside the EU.
AR The UK brand is now tainted.
Army of the Future
The British army will upgrade 150 of its Challenger 2 tanks to Challenger 3 specification, with new turrets and a NATO Rheinmetall 120 mm smoothbore gun, at a cost of £1.2 billion. It will scrap its remaining 77 tanks.
The army will retire its 758 Warrior infantry fighting vehicles rather than upgrade them. It has 523 Boxer mechanised infantry vehicles on order at a cost of £1.5 billion. UK defence secretary Ben Wallace wants to bring forward the 2023 deployment.
The Boxer is modular vehicle that can be adapted as a command post, an ambulance, a troop carrier, or an infantry fighting vehicle. Boxers can be deployed to emergencies in days, compared with the weeks for Warriors and Challengers to arrive by tank transporter.
The integrated review of UK defence and foreign policy is the most radical since the Cold War. The army will lose nearly 10 000 personnel over a decade as the focus shifts to robots and automata.
AR The army will be good for internal policing but not much else.
2021 February 23
Half a Million
Covid-19 has killed 500 000 people in the United States. This tragedy happened because Republican politicians believed some people are worth more than others.
AR The number of British deaths per capita is even worse.
2021 February 22
Boris Johnson's fiancée Carrie Symonds has effectively become his Downing Street chief of staff, says her former work colleague Nic Conner:
"I am deeply concerned that she should have any role in governing the country .. her role in government is similar to that of the chief of staff .. Anyone holding so much unelected power, and who cannot be removed, is not only unconstitutional but is damaging to British democracy."
Conner is a research fellow in the conservative Bow Group. Its chairman Ben Harris-Quinney:
"No romantic partner of the PM has ever involved themselves to this degree. It's completely unjustifiable in a modern democracy .. The public take a very dim view of cronyism .. no one should be involved in running our country without accountability to the people."
AR A prima facie case to answer.
2021 February 21
How to Write
This is literature's dewy little secret: Its energy is the energy of love.
Always assume the reader is as busy as you are, with no time for complicated opening pages or literary puzzles. Hook the reader, no overly complex syntax, use line breaks liberally, no secondhand phrases, be original, see things with a poet's eye.
Writers must be like saints.
AR Thanks, Martin.
2021 February 20
Brexit is biting. The Johnson government has buried its head in the sand. The prime minister talks of teething problems.
British Chambers of Commerce director Adam Marshall: "Only some of the issues we are seeing at present could be legitimately described as teething problems."
Scotland Food and Drink chief executive James Withers: "For many businesses, trading with the EU now feels like a high-risk, long-odds gamble. The trading system is more costly, complex, slower, and unreliable."
For companies that import parts from Europe before exporting a finished product, correct paperwork is needed at every stage of the supply chain, leaving British exporters at the mercy of European firms.
UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab: "If you take a 10-year view .. the growth opportunities in the future are going to come from emerging and developing economies around the world."
AR The PM is gaslighting voters with dreams of global conquest. The reality is hard knocks on the way to rock bottom.
Two Vaccine Contracts
The contracts between AstraZeneca and the EU and AZ and the UK diverge in essential provisions. This can explain the gap in delivery of doses between the EU and the UK.
✗ Timing: The UK and AZ had an agreement in May but signed it a day after the contract with the EU. The UK contract says AZ shall not enter into any other agreement that would conflict with it, ignoring the EU contract.
✗ Guarantee: The UK contract describes a precise procedure to guarantee timely delivery, allowing minor variance for delays in manufacturing. The EU contract is based only on an estimated time schedule.
✗ Pricing: The EU contract price was paid upfront to support production before the products existed or were authorized. The UK contract price is calculated on an open book basis to let AZ include extra costs later, paid on invoice after delivery, giving the UK leverage to ensure fulfilment.
✗ Delivery: The UK contract says AZ owns or operates facilities for supply and delivery and can deliver as ordered. The EU contract includes no such clause.
✗ Transparency: The UK contract includes provisions to let it disclose confidential information under certain circumstances.
The European Commission and AZ have a lot of explaining to do.
AR This disparity should embarrass AZ.
2021 February 19
Munich Security Conference
President Joe Biden: "In so many places, including Europe and the United States, democratic progress is under assault. Historians are going to examine and write about this moment as an inflection point and I believe with every ounce of my being that democracy will and must prevail. That, in my view, is our galvanizing mission. Democracy doesn't happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it."
Biden confirmed that the US would "keep faith" with NATO Article 5 that an attack on one is an attack on all. He also confirmed he had reversed the 2020 order to cut US troop levels in Germany.
"Putin seeks to weaken the European project and our Nato alliance. He wants to undermine the transatlantic unity, and our resolve, because it's so much easier for the Kremlin to bully and threaten individual states than it is to negotiate with a strong and closely united transatlantic community."
AR I heard speeches by Bavarian minister president Markus Söder, United Nations secretary general António Guterres, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation co-founder Bill Gates, World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, United States president Joe Biden, German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, European Council president Charles Michel, United States special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry, North Atlantic Treaty Organization secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, and United Kingdom prime minister Boris Johnson.
Huge craters have been appearing in the Siberian tundra since 2013, such as this one in 2020.
They are caused by explosive blowouts of methane gas from melting permafrost.
Methane is an extremely effective greenhouse gas.
"I'm safe on Mars.
get you anywhere."
turned 50 on Tuesday
How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
We have to get to zero greenhouse gas emissions. While I'm optimistic that we can do that, it's going to take a lot of effort from governments, non-profits, and businesses.
Green Premiums are the differences in cost between a fossil-fuel-based way of doing something and the clean, non-emitting way of doing the same thing. They tell us which zero-carbon tools are practical now, and which ones we still need to improve or invent.
Clean tech has to be so cheap that everyone adopts it. Energy is a $5 trillion-a-year business, and it is not accustomed to rapid change. It will take time to achieve the scale of change we need, so we should get to work now.
There are four areas where companies can make a practical difference:
✓ Mobilizing capital to reduce the Green Premiums
✓ Having an impact through the products they buy
✓ Expanding research and development
✓ Helping shape public policies
In the long run, these risky steps will be good for business. Green Premiums will come down. Consumers will remember which companies were serious about helping avoid a climate disaster.
Governments can help too. They should adopt policies that help new technologies to emerge and level the playing field for clean technology.
AR The book is ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
2021 February 18
The Gates Rule
Bill Gates has been thinking about climate change.
The Gates Rule: If given a choice of cutting greenhouse gas emissions directly or reducing the cost of net-zero technology, the United States should choose the latter. American climate policy should optimize for cost-reducing innovation, not for direct cuts in emissions.
American climate policy matters because America is an engine of global technological adoption. America remains the place where technologies are invented, marketed, and mainstreamed. The prime goal of American climate policy should be to reduce the cost of climate-friendly technologies so that the rest of the world can adopt them.
A green premium is the cost difference between a newer, no-carbon technology and its older, dirtier equivalent. The goal of American climate policy should be to zero out green premiums as fast as possible, in as many industries as possible.
Gates says the biggest contribution a young person can make to fight climate change is to study physics, chemistry, the economy, and the history of the industrial sector.
AR Add molecular biology: Designer bugs that can turn carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide to useful stuff like gasoline would be good.
German Vaccine Resistance
The Guardian, 1601 UTC
Doctors and public health officials are pleading with Germans to take up the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. German healthcare facilities report several hundred thousand vials sitting unused and many no-shows at scheduled appointments.
German Society for Immunology general secretary Carsten Watzl: "If you are given the choice between AstraZeneca now or another vaccine in a few months, you should definitely take AstraZeneca now."
Mehr als ein Drittel würde Impftermin nur mit Lieblingspräparat wahrnehmen. Der BioNTech-Impfstoff ist unter den Impfwilligen das beliebteste Anti-Covid-19-Vakzin.
AR Is this down to relative efficacy?
Lord Frost will become Cabinet Office minister from March 1. He will take over from Michael Gove to chair the cabinet committee implementing the Brexit divorce agreement. Frost had been opposed to the decisions last week to appoint Baroness Finn as deputy to new Number 10 chief of staff Dan Rosenfield and to appoint former Gove aide Henry Newman as her assistant. Both Finn and Newman are close friends of Carrie Symonds.
AR Frost and Symonds will clash.
2021 February 17
Both UK and US democracies are failed by their archaic voting systems.
In a two-party first-past-the-post electoral system (FPTP), capturing a party is the only way to change politics. Its defenders say FPTP creates stability. Yet Washington is lurching between extremes.
Westminster, like Washington, suffers widespread voter cynicism. On British doorsteps you hear it all the time: "They're all the same, only in it for themselves."
The Tory party was long ago captured by Brextremists. For years, tiny local parties of mostly old white men selected only Europhobes. The choice in the 2019 election was a democratic outrage.
Each party has to straddle a UK divided by political fault lines. The Tories try to unite hothead libertarians and cooler swing voters. Never has our electoral system looked less representative.
We need electoral reform. A proportional system would let both the old parties break up. Instead of facing two stale options, voters could choose from a longer menu and get a balanced meal.
No electoral system solves all problems. But a future of coalitions would see the power of factions within a ruling government defined transparently by electoral votes.
Pluralism is a sign of democracy. We in the AA world still lack it.
AR PR now!
The Antonine Plague
The Roman emperor Commodus ruled from 180 to 192 CE. His reign was marred by perpetual scandal. He was finally strangled in his bath.
During his reign, a vicious pestilence reappeared with tremendous ferocity. At its peak, it was said to have killed as many as 2,000 Romans a day. It was part of a pandemic known as the Antonine Plague.
The smallpox virus is less than 2,000 years old. The Antonine Plague may well represent an early stage of its evolution as a human pathogen. Like many viruses, the agent of smallpox belongs to a family many of whose representatives infect small mammals.
The Romans thought the Antonine Plague had been unloosed in Mesopotamia. More likely, the germ spread along the trade routes that connected virtually the entire Old World. The first documented contact between Rome and China fell in the year the Antonine Plague first broke out.
The final death toll of the Antonine Plague was probably in the range of 7 million to 10 million, in an empire of 70 million. Rome was struck at its apex of power and prosperity.
The Antonine Plague wasn't the last lethal pandemic the Romans faced. And Covid-19 won't be ours.
AR A warning!
2021 February 16
China controls about 80% of the global supply of rare earth minerals and is exploring the effects of limiting their export. It wants to know if proposed controls on the production and export of 17 rare earth minerals may hinder the US production of F-35 fighter jets. A US congressional report says each
F-35 requires 417 kg of rare earth materials.
AR Payback for US war talk.
Dark Nordic Folk
In 2002, holed up in an attic studio on the Norwegian coast, Einar Selvik had a vision. He would create a trilogy of albums based on the 24 runes of the Elder Futhark. He created the band Wardruna and released the first instalment of the trilogy in 2009.
Called Runaljod: Gap Var Ginnunga, it told ancient Nordic stories via dark and ambient folk. The release of Runaljod: Yggdrasil woke up the music press in 2013. Selvik closed off his runic trilogy in 2016 with Runaljod: Ragnarok.
Selvik is an expert in Nordic tradition and ancient music. His work is often cited in Norse studies and he has led lectures at Oxford University. Wardruna's new album Kvitravn reached the UK Top 50 earlier this month.
AR I like it.
After nearly two months, the roll out of vaccines is dramatically low in Europe. On average, no more than 4% of European citizens have received a first dose. Yet Europe is the world leader in vaccine production.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is basically saying we did nothing wrong. But the contracts Europe negotiated with the pharmaceutical companies are unbalanced. They are precise on pricing but vague on supply.
The use of Article 16 of the NI protocol has been a diplomatic disaster. It destroyed in a few seconds the seriousness of the negotiations with the UK conducted by Michel Barnier for more than three years.
We need a radical change in our strategy.
AR Reform the EU.
Venus has a baking hot surface due to a runaway greenhouse effect
2021 February 15
The Climate Crisis
The world adds 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. Zero is what we need to aim for. We need new tools for fighting climate change.
I'm investing in zero-carbon technologies. Electricity and cars are only the beginning. Passenger cars represent less than 8% of all emissions worldwide. Making steel and cement accounts for around 10%.
Each year, America produces more than 96 million tons of cement, one of the main ingredients in concrete. To make cement, you need calcium. To get calcium, you start with limestone and burn it in a furnace. Making a ton of cement makes a ton of carbon dioxide.
Between now and 2050, global annual cement production is predicted to go up a bit before settling back down near where it is today.
I've put more than $1 billion into approaches that I hope will help the world get to zero. The goal is to avoid a climate disaster.
Gates on climate
Bill Gates believes in progress. His new book grew out of his interest in the sciences and the problem of how to further global development while reducing emissions.
Part of the political challenge involves climate activists limiting their exposure to accusations of hypocrisy. Gates calls private jets his "guilty pleasure" and loves hamburgers and eating grapes all year round. But he sees this focus on grapes and private jet travel as like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.
His book is compulsively readable. His ambition was to "cut through the noise" and give consumers better tools for understanding what works. He gets an audience with anyone, marshals almost limitless resources, and digs into detail. The result is thrilling.
The depressing part of the book is its account of the challenge ahead. The transport industry accounts for only 16% of global emissions. Cars are a minor part of the problem compared with the emissions generated by the global cement and steel industries.
Gates covers some cool innovations. A solar-powered dehumidifier can get drinking water out of air. A technology stores heat in molten salt. Geoengineering may one day reduce the amount of sunlight hitting the world's surface by distributing fine particles into the upper atmosphere or using a salt spray to brighten clouds. But these innovations are expensive and imprecise.
On gestures like vowing to eat less meat: "I mean, these are good things .. But unless you replace steel, it's a joke .. The thing that makes climate so hard is that it's not about a 20% reduction. It's about getting it to zero."
Gates cites clean hydrogen: "You could use that to make fertiliser in a clean way, to help make steel in a clean way. That alone would help with about 30% of emissions."
Gates dismisses the goal of carbon neutrality in a decade: "It's a fairy tale .. Why peddle fantasies to people?"
With a personal fortune around $120 billion, Gates is a philanthropist: "From those to whom much is given, much is expected. The idea that .. giving that back to society in some constructive way might be something I might end up doing .. dawned on me."
Gates has donated $100 million to Covid research. He points out the parallel to the climate emergency: "We rely on government to look out for the future, so that even if something unlikely shows up, people aren't dying and the economy isn't wrecked."
The global temperature was 6 K cooler during the ice age than it is today and 4 K hotter when the dinosaurs were around. Gates: "But .. it's the rate of change .. If this was happening over tens of millions of years, instead of 100 years, then the Earth could adjust."
There is enough water in the Antarctic ice to raise the sea level by over 30 m.
Gates: "There is no single breakthrough that can solve all those things."
Valentine fun with Kendall Jenner
Read it L to R, R to L, or upside down
Letter from European
Commission VP Maroš
Šefčovič to UK Cabinet
2021 February 14
EU Needs Reform
A chasm exists between EU ambition and capability.
Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Commission stepped in and secured deals with vaccine manufacturers at a better price than individual countries could negotiate.
Most member states were happy until the UK started vaccinating at a faster rate than the EU. The Commission announced a bad policy that threatened peace in Ireland.
Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was dragged before the European Parliament to explain herself and told to resign. She admitted errors and expressed regret.
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell also faced calls to quit after a visit to Moscow and a humiliating joint press conference with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.
The EU defends democracy. When a Budapest court let the government take a radio station off the air, the European Commissioner for Human Rights merely tweeted in horror.
Commissioners are put forward by the Council of 27 member states and approved by the EU Parliament. The Commission is answerable to the Parliament but has become political.
The Commission is close to the Council, but many think it should act independently in the EU interest. At present, on most issues, wealthy nations call the shots.
The Council gives individual member states the power to kill policies they dislike. Any member state can veto sanctions via Article 7, so Poland backs Hungary and vice versa.
The Commission proposed a mechanism to let it unilaterally impose sanctions, but now member states have to trigger the mechanism, which will probably never happen.
In the EU ecosystem, different institutions seek more power. The Commission has huge power working for member states in Brussels, undermining the Parliament.
EU reformers see that no one is really in charge.
AR Push harder
The New York Times
Former president Donald Trump beat the rap. This was an escape, not an exoneration. Most Republican senators to stuck with him in the trial, but few of them defended his actions, citing constitutional reasons for their votes.
Republican leader Mitch McConnell: "President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president. And having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth."
AR The end
2021 February 13
The New York Times
Donald Trump stands charged with incitement of insurrection. He spun lies and conspiracy theories. He told his followers their votes had been stolen. He whipped his loyalists into a rage, summoned them to Washington, pointed them at Congress, and then retreated to the safety of the White House to enjoy the show.
Trump has played his most devoted supporters for suckers and insulted the intelligence of the rest of the American people. Yet many GOP senators still aren't prepared to cross Trump and risk alienating his cultlike following. They see themselves less as public servants committed to the common good than as party functionaries serving tribal interests.
To reclaim the Republican Party, conservatives need to show Trump is no longer in charge.
AR The GOP is toast.
2021 February 12
Economy: UK Drops 10%
UK economic output was down by 10% in 2020 compared with 2019. The Q4 decline was twice that in Germany and three times that in the USA.
UK chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak: "The economy has experienced a serious shock as a result of the pandemic."
AR Well, there's a surprise.
Covid: Germans Lost Control
Since October 2020, Covid cases in Germany have soared and over 50,000 people have died. By the end of October, the number of daily cases had more than tripled. By early January, daily deaths were up to four time their highest point in the first wave. EU delays and bottlenecks with the vaccination rollout pour fuel on the fire.
German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We have lost control of this thing."
AR Blame politics: 2021 elections hinder hard action.
Hairy Black Holes
In general relativity, black holes have just mass, spin, and charge. But extremal black holes might have transient instabilities on their event horizons that would let us distinguish them. Black holes with hair may have implications for the black hole information paradox.
AR I think they have quantum hair too.
Heidegger in China
Martin Heidegger's Being and Time is difficult to penetrate in any language. The themes are abstract, the structure is elliptical, and Heidegger invents lots of new words. His focus on the linguistic root to the problem of Being is special problem in Chinese, which has no copula. In Chinese, the word that means "being" only implies existence.
Heidegger enjoys a rock star status in Chinese universities.
AR He is also big in Russia and Iran.
2021 February 11
Brexit Aftermath Continues
Brexit is not done. The UK membership of the EU formally expired in January 2020. The change in status was camouflaged by transitional arrangements that expired at the start of 2021. Even now, there is a 3-month "grace period" waiving aspects of the NI protocol of the final deal.
Now the UK wants more time. Boris Johnson failed to understand the trade-off between regulatory autonomy and market access. He swapped seamless trade for notional sovereignty and passed the cost on to unsuspecting businesses. He mis-sold Brexit.
AR Brexit is a morality tale.
Amsterdam Ousts London
Amsterdam has surpassed London as Europe's largest share trading centre as the Netherlands scooped up business lost by the UK since Brexit. The shift was prompted by a ban on EU trading in London. Financial services contributed almost £76 billion in tax receipts to the UK Treasury last year.
Rosenblatt Securities analyst Anish Puaar: "London has lost its status as the home of EU share trading."
AR Brexit is a bust.
2021 February 10
Fossil Fuel Fatalities
Air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil was responsible for 8.7 million deaths globally in 2018, or 1 in 5 of all people who died that year. Countries with the most prodigious consumption of fossil fuels are suffering the highest death tolls, with more than 1 in 10 deaths in Europe caused by the resulting pollution.
AR Another reason not to burn them.
Noise in the brain's electrical activity can help reveal its inner workings. We can use software to isolate regular oscillations hiding in the aperiodic parts of brain activity.
We can use EEG to study the balance between excitation and inhibition. Glutamate signals make excited neurons more likely to fire. GABA signals make inhibited neurons less likely to fire. Cycles in excitation and inhibition form waves linked to different mental states.
Part of the EEG output looks like random white noise, but some looks more interesting. To study the aperiodic activity, we do a Fourier analysis of the raw EEG signal. The resulting graph of frequency and amplitude shows a power spectrum.
We plot the amplitudes for power spectra with logarithmic coordinates. For white noise, the power spectrum curve has slope zero. But neural data curves have a negative slope where intensity drops off for higher frequencies with a 1/f relationship.
Such 1/f fluctuations are found in electrical noise, stock market activity, biological rhythms, and even music. But data from these other sources has different higher-order statistical structures.
Aperiodic signals may reflect the delicate balance between excitation and inhibition that keeps the brain healthy and active.
AR Much yet to learn here.
2021 February 9
Queen's consent is a procedural rule requiring the monarch's consent to be obtained for certain types of legislation before they can be presented for final approval by either house of parliament. It is not to be confused with royal assent.
The consent process gives the Queen a possible veto, to be exercised in secret, over proposed laws. Its workings have previously remained hidden from public view.
Queen's consent is needed for any legislation that would affect the prerogative, the hereditary revenues, the Duchy of Lancaster or the Duchy of Cornwall, and personal or property interests of the crown. The Queen pays tax, so finance laws require consent. The Queen is an employer, so child support and pensions laws require consent. And so on.
All correspondence containing requests for consent, replies, and the documentation of any related discussions have always been shrouded in absolute privacy.
This process accords the Queen's advisers a genuine opportunity to negotiate for their policy preferences. This degree of involvement in the legislative process is unjustifiable.
AR Get her out of politics.
Micrometeorites are everywhere. They are on the streets and in your home. You may even have some cosmic dust on your clothes. They resemble carbonaceous chondrites.
To get a meteorite to the Earth, you have to knock it off from an asteroid, and then it floats around in space and its orbit slowly changes until eventually it approaches Earth.
Dust particles are blasted off the surface of an asteroid or stream off the surface. Sunlight slows down dust particles, so they spiral in toward the Sun. Dust is delivered to Earth more reliably than larger chunks of rock.
Micrometeorites give us a better sampling of the solar system than meteorites. Billions of years ago, they delivered intact amino acids and organic molecules to Earth. Living organisms in deep and remote parts of the ocean get most of their iron from micrometeorites.
Micrometeorites mix with the atmosphere as they descend. They heat up and react with atmospheric oxygen. Their oxygen isotopes exactly match terrestrial oxygen. Ancient micrometeorites in limestones in Australia give us a direct way of measuring the atmosphere in the past.
⦿ Clint Jenkins
Shadow vessel with Covid testing and quarantine facilities protects superyacht owners
AR Got my first Covid
jab (AZ) today!
AR Must read it.
Captain Sir Tom Moore
"Those who don't study history
are doomed to repeat it. Yet
those who do study history are
doomed to stand by helplessly
while everyone else
2021 February 8
Brexit: The Cost
Businesses were promised frictionless movement of goods between the UK and the EU and between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Instead, new rules and regulations and bureaucratic processes are threatening their future.
The equilibrium in NI hinged on both the UK and Ireland being members of the EU single market and customs union. After Brexit, customs checks are needed.
Boris Johnson said businesses would not have to fill in forms to send goods across the Irish Sea. Four days after he signed the withdrawal agreement, a government report warned that administrative costs for goods moving from GB to NI would hit small businesses hard.
British exporters sending goods into the EU are also hit by border frictions. For a small exporter, the costs of the regulatory checks, filling in long and complex forms, and meeting new rules around VAT can be crippling.
The Road Haulage Association says export loads to the EU have been reduced by 68% and there are far too few customs agents to cope with the work.
Businesses say their calls for meaningful engagement from the government to find solutions go unheeded. Ministers say Brexit is going well.
AR Bodger — liar, liar, pants on fire.
The Hidden Spring
Consciousness may be the strangest thing in the universe. David Chalmers imagines a zombie that could behave just like you but have no inner experience. The brain in the scanner and the experience of awareness are two different perspectives.
Mark Solms finds the answer in feelings. The idea of a zombie being scared or happy or regretful without feeling scared or happy or regretful makes no sense. Solms says consciousness ultimately arises in the brainstem, where basic emotions begin.
Solms aims to show that emotions are essential to human existence. A zombie cannot be wired so as to mindlessly handle all the crucial tasks we perform. Feelings let humans monitor their countless changing biological needs. They are conscious.
AR Antonio Damasio is perceptive on these questions.
2021 February 7
The partnership between Britain and the EU is mired in mistrust. Brussels complained over the UK refusal to grant the EU ambassador in London full diplomatic status. A furious row erupted between the EU and AstraZeneca turned into an interstate dispute over vaccine production. And the Commission introduced an export ban on EU-produced vaccines and initially sought to prevent them entering Northern Ireland.
Brussels now views Britain as a country that threatened the integrity of the European project. London sees the EU as unreasonable with its demands and unwilling to treat Britain with the respect due to a sovereign equal. But it would be a mistake to let mutual suspicion and paranoia define the spirit of the new relationship.
Both sides are better off cooperating. The sustainability of their trade agreement rests on it, the two sides have shared interests and face shared threats in areas of international policy, and the Northern Ireland Protocol depends on effective cooperation. Britain and the EU must at least try to be good neighbours.
AR Quite right: Keep it civil.
2021 February 6
Back to the EUSSR
The EU has turned to Moscow to help make up for a shortfall in vaccine supplies. EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell yesterday held a joint press conference with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. Borrell congratulated Russia for its Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine and asked the European Medicines Agency to authorise it.
AR A turning point?
Deutschland und NATO
Die CDU/CSU-Bundestagsfraktion will die NATO zukunftsfest machen: "Deshalb werden wir unsere Investitionen in Verteidigung konsequent .. erhöhen und damit auch künftig der NATO 10% ihrer Fähigkeiten zur Verfügung stellen."
Generalinspekteur Eberhard Zorn: "Es wird deutlich, dass die erforderlichen Ressourcen nicht in Deckung mit den zur Verfügung stehenden und vor allem perspektivischen Finanzmitteln in Einklang zu bringen sind."
AR Bündnis mit Russland?
Michael Goldhaber foresaw the attention economy in 1997: "The Net .. generates ever greater demands on each of us to pay what scarce attention we can to others."
Advertising is part of the attention economy. So are journalism and politics and the streaming business and all the social media platforms. Every action we take is a transaction. We are diverting our attention toward something. When you pay attention to one thing, you ignore something else.
Goldhaber on Brexit: "Rational discussion of what people stand to gain or lose from policies will be drowned out by the loudest and most ridiculous."
2021 February 5
America Is Back
We must start with diplomacy. Defending freedom. Championing opportunity. Upholding universal rights. Respecting the rule of law. And treating every person with dignity.
We're going to rebuild our alliances. We're going to reengage the world and take on the enormous challenges we face dealing with the pandemic, dealing with global warming, and standing up for democracy and human rights around the world.
We will freeze any troop redeployments from Germany, so our military footprint is appropriately aligned with our foreign policy and national security priorities.
United States moral leadership on refugee issues is going to take time to rebuild. But that's what we're going to do.
We will compete from a position of strength, working with our allies and partners, renewing our international institutions, and reclaiming our credibility and moral authority.
AR Speaking at the State Department Thursday.
The Ship and the Speedboat
Ursula von der Leyen
Alone, a country can be a speedboat, while the EU is more like a ship. Before concluding a contract .. the 27 member states had five full days to say whether they agreed or not .. The UK has chosen the path of emergency marketing authorisations, we have chosen another.
AR Five days lost for politics.
2021 February 4
Most proteins fold into a single stable configuration. But some metamorphic proteins can change quickly and reversibly from one folded shape to another inside organisms.
A metamorphic human protein called XCL1 acts as a chemokine, binding to receptors on white blood cells and recruiting them to fight infections. But it can easily switch to a second shape that kills bacterial invaders as an antibiotic.
Of the 46 chemokine proteins in humans, XCL1 is the only one that exhibits metamorphic switching. The others are stabilized by strong disulfide bonds. XCL1 lacks one of the disulfide bonds.
Researchers computed the ancestral sequences for about 550 chemokines. The oldest ancestor had a single stable fold. A little later, proteins were mainly folded in the new conformation. In XCL1, the two conformations are about equal.
If a single protein can do double duty, it spares the cell from needing a second gene. This ability may give the body a better way to control its defenses against bacteria.
Because XCL1 can adopt its two folded forms with equal probability, it can switch between them faster than once per second. It is essentially a bistable switch.
AR Good to know.
2021 February 3
Vlad The Poisoner
Thomas L. Friedman
The recent discovery of a massive hack, almost certainly by Russia, of key US technology companies and government agencies puts the new Biden team in a quandary.
Vladimir Putin is a Moscow mafia don who had his agents try to kill an anti-corruption activist, Aleksei Navalny, by sprinkling Novichok in his underwear.
Putin presents himself as the great defender of the Russian Motherland. Yet he meddles in US elections and hacks US companies, denying it all with a smirk.
Russia's top five exports are: oil and gas (52%), iron, precious metals, machinery and computers (2%), and wood. For a country with so much human talent, that's pathetic.
Putin has built an engine of corruption that keeps him and his cronies in power. Navalny calls him a little kleptocrat in a bunker.
AR Free Navalny, lock up Putin.
VDL The Foolhardy
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, a medical doctor and mother of seven, has fallen off her superwoman pedestal. Throughout four excruciating years of Britain behaving badly, the EU were the grownups, firm and patient negotiators with our rabble of infantile lawbreakers. This role reversal leaves Remainers dumbfounded.
Pandemic pressure weakened the EU glue, as 27 countries argued over how much vaccine to buy at what cost while Britain streaked ahead, wallet wide open. VDL's threat to break the NI protocol and shut the Irish border was folly. The DUP and Brexiteer MPs now want to tear up the agreement.
UK ministers have assumed a newfound civility. Beyond the vaccine wars, Brexit is unravelling before their eyes, and they know it. The five big UK business groups led by the CBI: "Absolute carnage!"
AR The EU must reform and tame VDL.
The Webb Telescope
The James Webb Space Telescope is finally ready. NASA plans to launch it into orbit on October 31 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket supplied by the European Space Agency, from a site in French Guiana. Named for the NASA administrator who led the agency through the development of the Apollo program, the telescope is almost three times larger than the Hubble and seven times more powerful in its ability to discern remote stars and galaxies.
AR I look forward to seeing its images.
2021 February 2
Remaking the British State
A 234-page Labour party report proposes:
▸ A UK-wide constitutional convention bolstered by citizens' assemblies to investigate options
▸ A written constitution that would greatly reduce the monarch's powers
▸ Replacing the Lords with a federal senate of the nations and English regions, able to veto
some legislation and ratify international treaties
▸ Giving the Scottish parliament, Welsh Senedd, and Northern Irish executive permanent
▸ More borrowing and policymaking powers for the Scottish parliament
▸ Significant devolution of policymaking and financial powers to English regions and councils
Sir Keir Starmer is being urged to back it.
AR Do it!
2021 February 1
Matthew Rosenberg, Jim Rutenberg
For 77 days between the US presidential election and the inauguration, Donald Trump attempted to subvert US democracy with a lie about election fraud. He waged a campaign that convinced tens of millions of Americans the election had been stolen and led to the January 6 assault on the Capitol.
▴ Trump lawyers pressed dubious suits
Trump lawyers were not finding substantial evidence of malfeasance or enough irregularities to overturn the election. So, on November 12, Trump let his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani lead the legal strategy. Giuliani said Dominion voting machines had transformed Trump votes into Biden votes.
▴ Conservative media pushed conspiracy theories
The Dominion conspiracy theory had long been pushed by the American Report website in stories about a supercomputer called The Hammer running software to steal votes from Trump. Steve Bannon promoted the theory on his podcast the day before the election.
▴ Influential Republicans enabled Trump
Trump was given room to run by key Republicans. Mitch McConnell made an early decision to join his fellow party members in refusing to recognize the victor. McConnell feared alienating the president and imagined Trump would eventually accept reality.
▴ White House lawyers wrote Texas lawsuit
The Texas attorney general's Supreme Court lawsuit seeking to ignore 20 million votes in four battleground states won by Joe Biden was secretly drafted by lawyers close to the White House. The court ruled that Texas had no right to challenge other states' votes.
▴ Radical lawyers and financiers boosted the lie
On December 15, Trump met with associates to discuss ideas including the notion that Trump should declare martial law. The session descended into a shouting match. Trump finally agreed to focus on blocking congressional certification of the results on January 6.
▴ Women for America First built a coalition
Women for America First organized tours in MAGA-red buses, holding rallies to pressure key senators to contest the vote. The group helped build a coalition that included members of Congress, voters, and extremists and conspiracy theorists.
▴ The White House produced the rally
Women for America First organized the January 6 rally. But then Trump decided to join it too, and the event became a White House production. The march from the Ellipse to the Capitol that led to the riot was planned after the White House got involved.
AR Damning evidence for the Senate.
The standard process for making wood transparent typically involves soaking the wood in a vat of sodium chlorite to remove lignin. But this takes a lot of chemicals, produces liquid waste that is tough to recycle, and weakens the wood.
A new method simply modifies the lignin. It is quicker, uses fewer materials, and leaves the wood stronger. The wood is brushed with hydrogen peroxide, left under a UV lamp, washed in ethanol, and filled over with clear epoxy.
The new transparent wood lets over 90% of light pass and is over 50 times stronger than wood with the lignin removed. It is lighter and stronger than glass and can be used for load-bearing structures.
AR I like it!
⦿ Crown Copyright
Royal Air Force C130J Hercules
AR UK dependency on US military hardware for its high-profile systems (such as Trident and Lightning) is a clue to British
foreign policy in the immediate post-Brexit era. Expect symbolic Royal Navy deployments in the South China Sea and fading
interest in helping to defend continental Europe. Perhaps President Biden can persuade the Johnson government to focus
its limited military resources on supporting the US regional presence in Europe.
"I think endless talk about
a referendum without any
clear description of what
the constitutional situation
would be after [it] is
completely irrelevant now
to the concerns of most
The Russians cultivated
Donald Trump ever since
he visited Russia in 1987.
The KGB pretended to be
impressed by him and said
he should be president,
says former KGB spy
V723 Monoceros, a red giant
about 10 Em away, orbits a
"unicorn" of about 2.9 ⦿ that
may be a black hole, testing
our understanding of
2021 January 31
UK−EU Vaccine Dispute
The European Commission has backed down on a plan to blockade the Irish border amid an escalating firestorm sparked by Covid-19 vaccine supply shortages across Europe. EC president Ursula von der Leyen has made a series of mistakes and misjudgments in handling the pandemic.
VDL and her colleagues did not appear to appreciate the folly of their move to impose vaccine import controls on the UK via the Northern Ireland protocol. Boris Johnson and Irish taoiseach Micheál Martin both expressed their unhappiness.
A sense of panic has gripped EU leaders as public anger has grown over vaccine shortfalls. In France, Spain and elsewhere, vaccination schedules are in turmoil.
AstraZeneca is a scapegoat for European politicians and bureaucrats anxious to avoid taking responsibility. Its success, sparked by a team of scientists and researchers at Oxford University, in producing an effective and easily administered vaccine seems too much for them to accept.
VDL and others chose for political reasons to involve all 27 EU member states in decisions on vaccine acquisition. An EC contract with AZ, ready for signature in June, was delayed until August. Other vaccine pre-orders were also held up.
The EC claim that AZ failed to honour its contractual obligations must be seen in the context of panicky leadership in Brussels, national blame-games, bureaucratic and regulatory tardiness, post-Brexit anti-British animus, and no-fault production problems. The WHO warns that EU vaccine controls will prolong the global pandemic.
The vaccine crisis has shown the EU at its worst and Britain at its best. As of Friday, more than 11% of the UK population had been vaccinated compared with 2.3% in Germany and 1.8% in France. The EU needs to get its house in order.
MPs hail Falklands moment
Mail on Sunday
During two phone calls just 30 minutes apart, Boris Johnson persuaded VDL to ditch plans to stop 3.5 million doses of the Pfizer jab from reaching the UK from a factory in Belgium and abandon the "nuclear option" of imposing a hard border on Northern Ireland to prevent them reaching the UK. She capitulated in a tweet shortly before midnight on Friday.
On Saturday, Michael Gove said the EU recognised that it had "made a mistake" and both sides agreed to "reset" relations. Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster called the EU move an "incredible act of hostility" and jubilant Tory MPs called the EU surrender a "Falklands moment" for Johnson.
New trade deal?
Boris Johnson is to apply to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership: "Applying to be the first new country to join the CPTPP demonstrates our ambition to do business on the best terms with our friends and partners all over the world and be an enthusiastic champion of global free trade."
The CPTPP includes Mexico, Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and others. A UK official: "We're hopeful the US shares our ambition to join CPTPP, which would mean closer trading ties via plurilateral means."
Distance remains a key factor in trade. A study in 2018 suggested trade deals with China, India, Australia, and SE Asia would only raise British GDP by up to 0.4% over the long term. The UK Treasury estimates the Brexit trade deal is likely to cut UK GDP by almost 5% over the long term.
AR Brexit must still be reversed one day. Europe needs reform with British help.
2021 January 30
Britain Must Decide
Great Britain cannot be the best ally of the US, the best ally of the EU, and the new Singapore. It has to choose a model. If it decides on a completely transatlantic policy, then we in Europe will need clarification, because there will be divergence.
If it decides to be the new Singapore, I don't know. I would like good, peaceful relations. Our destinies are linked, our intellectual approach is linked, our researchers and industrials work together. I believe in a sovereign continent and nation states. I don't believe in neonationalism.
I am for common ambition and a common destiny. We remain allies. History and geography don't change, so I don't think the British people have a different destiny to ours.
I like Britain a lot, but I think Brexit is an error. I respect the sovereignty of the people and the people voted, so it had to be done, but I think that vote was based on a lot of lies. Now we see it has made things much more difficult in many ways.
I recommend cooperation
We are facing an extraordinarily serious crisis, which is creating a lot of suffering, and many deaths in the UK, in France, in Germany, and elsewhere. I believe that we must face this crisis with responsibility, certainly not with the spirit of one-upmanship or unhealthy competition.
I recommend preserving the spirit of cooperation between us. We will have plenty of chances in the coming years to show solidarity in the fight against terrorism, climate change, financial crises, and disasters.
AR I'm with the French on this.
Lord Frost will work in Number 10 as a special adviser leading work on UK relations with the EU. A senior Whitehall insider said the move was likely to be bad for the nascent post-Brexit EU−UK relationship. An official: "Frost wants the relationship in the deep freeze for a few years."
AR Frosty relations with Europe: What sort of sense does this make?
The Fermilab Muon g-2 experiment is working on a new measurement of the magnetic moment of the muon. In 2001, g-2 measured a moment that seemed too high.
The muon spin gives it magnetic moment. It is surrounded by virtual particles that increase the moment by about 10 ppm, an excess called g-2. We can predict g-2 precisely, but it contradicts the measured value.
The experimenters fire a beam of antimuons into a particle accelerator with spin axis pointing in the direction of travel. A vertical magnetic field bends their trajectories around the ring and makes their spin axis precess.
Without the virtual particles, the antimuons would precess at the same rate that they orbit. But the high moment makes them precess faster, roughly 30 times for every 29 orbits.
Each orbiting antimuon decays to produce a positron that has higher energy when the spin is in the direction of travel and lower when it is opposite. The detected positron flux reveals the extra magnetism.
If the 2001 excess is confirmed, the result points to new physics.
AR I await the result with interest.
2021 January 29
The European Commission will establish a new authorisation mechanism to give national regulators the power to refuse vaccine exports. Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca had said it would cut deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine to the EU by 60% in Q1, citing production problems. The new mechanism will affect the continued flow to the UK of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
A New Approach
We have paid a heavy price for the failures of global cooperation in 2020. Now there is a mad scramble for vaccines, with vaccine nationalism more rampant than that of PPE last year.
We will soon need new ways to counter the virus as it mutates. We need to get from analysis of any new strain to vaccine development to production to manufacture at enormous scale, in weeks, as with antiviral and other biologics. This requires a new approach.
We need a global health infrastructure to stay on top of future pandemics.
AR Blair would lead the UK more wisely than the present PM.
Pacific Military Flashpoints
In the last week, China has flown multiple combat aircraft near Taiwan and passed a law allowing its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels. The US Navy has sent an aircraft carrier strike group into the South China Sea.
Biden administration defense secretary Lloyd Austin: "I think China is our most .. significant challenge going forward."
• South China Sea
China claims almost all of the sea and has built up tiny reefs and sandbars into islands fortified with missiles, runways, and weapons systems.
Washington does not recognize those claims and conducts US Navy freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) around the islands. China regards the patrols as interference in its domestic affairs and continues to reinforce its own territorial claims.
China vows to unify Taiwan with the mainland and says its military aircraft can operate freely in "Chinese airspace" around the island. The US is an ally of the democracy of almost 24 million people and sells it military hardware. The US Navy regularly sends warships through the Taiwan Strait.
New US secretary of state Antony Blinken: "There's been a strong and long bipartisan commitment to Taiwan. Part of that commitment is making sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself against aggression. And that is a commitment that will absolutely endure in a Biden administration."
The US alliance with Japan is key. Yokosuka is the headquarters of the US Navy 7th Fleet, and Okinawa hosts Kadena Air Base, home to US assets including F-15 and P-8A aircraft.
President Joe Biden called with Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday, pledged his ongoing commitment to defend the Senkaku islands under the US-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty.
AR Old thinking — see below.
2021 January 28
I am neither shocked nor surprised by American decline. The question is how it unfolds. The British decline lasted several decades. The Soviet Union shattered like a dropped glass. I think the American downfall will be more like the British.
America First ignored even the interests of its allies. America seems to be moving toward a political system in which any new president could send his predecessor to jail.
I think Joe Biden will seek thematic alliances rather than a comprehensive united front. He may team up with Japan and the Philippines over the South China Sea and with the Europeans for WTO reform.
The Chinese government will do everything it can to encourage European countries, Japan, and South Korea to put their own national interests first. For example, if Biden were to ask the Europeans to cut their trade with China, China would analyze what interests it shares with US allies and work with them on that basis.
The governments of Germany and France will choose their partnerships very carefully. Angela Merkel is rational, she knows how to balance forces, and she has principles. As long as Merkel is at the helm, Europeans will pursue an independent foreign policy.
East Asia will remain the focus of US foreign policy. Competition between China and America is mostly for digital superiority and market share in cyberspace. The digital market in East Asia is already larger than in Europe, and digital technologies are concentrated in China, Japan, and South Korea.
Nuclear weapons make direct war between China and the United States impossible. Even proxy wars are becoming less likely in the digital age. The competition between China and America is for technological superiority.
If a rising power wants to benefit from geographic expansion, it has to occupy a huge area. Taiwan is not about geopolitics but about secessionism. For China, Taiwan is like Northern Ireland is for the UK.
After the Cold War, the United States was the only superpower and the richest country in the world. But your achievements determine your authority. The world will believe in a China that does well.
AR Good analysis.
2021 Holocaust Memorial Day
Be the Light in the Darkness. This is a task for all people, all generations, and all time. We can, each in our own way, be the light that ensures the darkness can never return.
The Darkest Hour
Visibly shaken, his thesaurus of misery exhausted, UK prime minister Boris Johnson hung his head in shame as he addressed the nation on passing the milestone of 100,000 officially confirmed deaths from Covid-19.
Thomas L. Friedman
Ruchir Sharma says "socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest" happens when government intervention does more to stimulate the financial markets than the real economy.
America's richest 10% own more than 80% of US stocks and have seen their wealth more than triple in 30 years. The bottom 50% rely on their day jobs in real markets to survive and had zero gains.
Sharma: "Millennials and Gen Z are growing disillusioned with this distorted form of capitalism and say that they prefer socialism."
Big companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple have cash piles bigger than the reserves of many nation-states. They can buy up budding competitors and suck up all the talent and resources.
Maybe we should give cash assistance to only the most vulnerable and invest in infrastructure to improve productivity and create good jobs.
2021 January 26
Our universe is a swelling bubble in a multiverse. Outside it, more bubble universes exist, all immersed in an eternally expanding bubble bath. Space soon stops inflating inside a bubble universe, but inflation continues in the bath.
Space in its lowest energy state is a true vacuum. But a space can get stuck in a false vacuum state. A speck of false vacuum will occasionally relax into true vacuum. A swelling bubble of true vacuum makes a big bang.
A classical model cannot simulate false vacuum decay and bubble collisions. When n parts entangle in a shared quantum state, the computation gets exponentially more complicated as n grows.
A quantum annealer lets qubits seek out the lowest-energy configuration available. A team used one to emulate a quantum field undergoing vacuum decay but learned nothing new.
Clouds of gas cooled to nearly 0 K can form a Bose−Einstein condensate in a coherent quantum state. A team will use this to model the formation of bubbles like cosmic bubbles.
AR This is very early work.
2021 January 25
Big Brexit Bill
Eat cake or lose it. Anyone trying to take a fresh cream cake across the Channel may now have it impounded at customs because it is a dairy product. Dutch border officials confiscated sandwiches from motorists arriving in the Netherlands from the UK. A border guard: "Welcome to the Brexit, sir."
The bill for Brexit is being paid by British fishing fleets. It is being paid by the City of London as lost billions in transactions. It is being paid in car manufacturers shutting down. It is being paid in British meat exports rotting at European harbours. It is being paid by UK businesses drowned in red tape.
Companies will collectively need to employ 50,000 additional customs agents. Brexit will force British companies to complete 215 million additional, often highly complex, documents a year. The cost on businesses will be around £7 billion a year.
British government trade specialists are advising struggling British enterprises to relocate some of their operations out of the UK and into the EU. Some companies will stop exporting to the EU. Others will go to the wall. Welcome to the Brexit.
AR This is national economic suicide.
So far away: France is over the horizon
UN Treaty on the Prohibition
of Nuclear Weapons enters
into force today
2021 January 24
Jon Conway was a thinker. After growing up in southern England, studying science and philosophy at Oxford, and working for decades in Germany, he returned to England in 2013. He joined the Conservative party, where he campaigned and did parliamentary work for his MP. But then, in 2016, he was caught up in a Brexit drama that ran counter to everything his life and work in Europe had taught him.
ALBION is a documentary history that reads like a novel. More captivating than most histories and more urgent than most novels, it weaves a fine fictional thread through a factual chronicle of the ongoing political and social crisis in British life. The years of upheaval focus on Jon's personal life to put the long love-hate relationship between Britain and Germany into a revealing new perspective.
As befits a tale grounded in the life and times of a philosopher, ALBION blends accurate detail and deep insight in a synthesis that rises above the particular facts of the current crisis. When the work of centuries and the fate of billions is in play, the daily scandals of Brexit or the daily agony of the coronavirus pandemic, like the facts of Jon's life, are just parts of a bigger narrative.
ALBION adds a powerful voice to the global debate about the human role in nature. The relentless advance of science and technology, the looming environmental catastrophe of global warming, and the world of confusion in political and economic ideas all form the backdrop to a unique and unforgettable story of folly and fate.
2021 January 23
The UK is facing a constitutional crisis:
◼ Scotland: Voters favour independence by a margin of 52% to 48%. The SNP is on course for a
huge landslide in the Scottish parliament elections due in May.
◼ Northern Ireland: Voters want a referendum about the border by 51% to 44%. Most expect a
united Ireland within 10 years and most aged under 45 support reunification.
◼ Wales: Support for independence has grown to 23%.
◼ England: Voters who are happy for Scotland to leave the UK or who don't care balance those
who don't want Scotland to leave.
AR Brexit blowback.
2021 January 22
A supernova is a turbulent soup of transmuting matter. The explosive interior is largely hidden from view by clouds of hot gas. But 1D computer models of these interactions failed to explode.
We can now model massive stars with the complexity needed to achieve explosions. Turbulence only reveals its full impact in 3D simulations. We are finally understanding the role of neutrinos.
In a young star, the inward pull of gravity is balanced by the outward push of radiation from nuclear reactions in the core. As the star runs out of fuel, the core collapses, temperatures surge to 100 GK, and the core fuses into a solid ball of neutrons.
The outer layers of the star fall inward and bounce off the neutron core, creating a shock wave. To power an explosion, the shock wave must push out past the infalling outer layers.
Turbulence creates extra pressure behind the shock wave, pushing it outward. Away from the center, the gravitational pull is weaker, the surrounding matter thinner, and the time to absorb neutrinos greater. Energy from the neutrinos drives the explosion.
Supernovas create heavy elements. We can now calculate exactly how much of them to expect.
AR Good work!
2021 January 21
Biden Signs Executive Orders
The New York Times
President Biden signed 17 executive orders, memorandums, and proclamations from the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon. His actions addressed the pandemic, economic struggles, immigration and diversity issues, and the environment and climate change. He
✓ Signed an order appointing a Covid-19 response coordinator and restoring the directorate for
global health security and biodefense at the NSC
✓ Signed an order imposing a national mandate requiring masks and physical distancing in all
federal buildings, on all federal lands, and by all federal employees
✓ Revoked the US notice to leave the WHO
✓ Signed an order revoking the plan to exclude noncitizens from the census count
✓ Signed an order to protect Dreamers from deportation
✓ Repealed bans on travel to the United States from several predominantly Muslim and
✓ Halted construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico
✓ Suspended a program that forced migrants to wait in Mexico while their immigration cases made
their way through the courts
✓ Signed an order aimed at requiring all federal agencies to make equity central to their work
✓ Signed orders requiring that the federal government does not discriminate on the basis of
sexual orientation or gender identity and restoring diversity and inclusion training
✓ Canceled a commission that distorted the history of slavery in the United States
✓ Signed a letter reversing the US departure from the Paris Climate Accords
✓ Signed an order beginning the process of changing environmental policies
✓ Extended moratoriums on evictions and mortgage foreclosures
✓ Signed an order helping Americans with heavy educational debt.
AR That was a good day's work!
President Joe Biden
2021 January 20
The Biden Presidency
As Joe Biden finally takes the oath of office in Washington DC, his first task is to reunite a divided America. His second is to end American isolationism.
His presidency will be forged or broken on the anvil of the intertwined triple threats of the pandemic, economic collapse, and climate catastrophe. These existential crises cannot be solved without multilateral cooperation.
Because eliminating the virus, rebuilding commerce and trade, and dealing with the climate crisis all depend on working more closely with other countries, Biden will abandon walls, tariffs, and xenophobia for a policy of Alliances First.
Biden knows that immunising Americans will not be enough to protect them as long as poor countries cannot afford vaccinations. A consortium of G20 countries should cover the estimated $30 billion needed to vaccinate the entire world.
We will not recover the reduced output and lost jobs of 2020 unless and until we have a synchronised global plan that lifts growth. If America, Europe, and Asia agree to coordinate their fiscal stimuli, this will be twice as effective in delivering growth as if each bloc acts on its own.
Biden will rejoin the Paris climate accords this week. The transition to a net-zero carbon economy is the greatest international endeavor of our times. The West must now lead on a global green new deal.
Biden will stand up to Chinese illiberalism and Russian opportunism. He will secure a revamped Iranian treaty. He could even declare and deliver a "no first use" policy on nuclear weapons and usher in a decade of disarmament.
AR All good in principle.
2021 January 19
Germany Is 150 Years Old
Otto von Bismarck unified Germany on 18 January 1871. Nowhere else has produced as much original, provocative and powerful art as Germany over the last 150 years. Germany is the greatest modern artistic nation in Europe.
All modern art begins with Richard Wagner. Adolf Hitler was a Wagner fan. The greatness of German modern art lies in the ways it has recorded, opposed, and remembered the nightmare of Germany between 1914 and 1945.
The boldest and most profound art of today's Germany embraces its dark and bloody roots. German art regained the courage to dive into a Wagnerian ocean of myth and memory in the most astonishing redemption in modern culture.
From a start in primeval Gothic religious sculptures, Josef Beuys translated Germanic folklore and ancient history in fat, felt, rusty metal, and mud. As time passes, these relics reveal themselves as a Holocaust memorial.
AR Herzliche Glückwünsche!
F-22 Raptor, top predator on planet Earth
"Thank you for riding Trump
Terror, Six Flag's newest four
year long roller coaster ride.
Please unfasten your seat
belts only when fully
stopped. Vomit buckets
are on your left."
Covid deaths in UK
in MAGA cap
Donald Trump began and ended his presidency with American carnage. America has suffered about 400,000 Covid deaths, the worst year for jobs since WW2, and the biggest stress test for US democracy since the civil war.
Trump was an agent of chaos. His reign at the White House crashed in a fireball of lies about his election defeat and deadly insurrection at the US Capitol. His unprecedented presidency was a shock to the establishment system.
Trump tried to govern by gut instinct. His Twitter feed gave a window on his thinking and showed a narcissistic craving for attention. He displayed the brashness and shamelessness that had served his business career.
The coronavirus changed everything. Trump played down the threat, failed to build a national testing strategy, and sidelined public health officials. Vaccine development was a success, but vaccine distribution was a failure.
Trump leaves a legacy of division, destruction, and death. He waged war on truth itself. He still has millions of acolytes whose divorce from American political reality threatens further instability and violence.
Trump exits the White House in defeat and disgrace, facing another impeachment trial in the Senate, banned from social media. History will remember him as the worst president ever.
AR That's a historic achievement.
James Comey was blamed by many liberals for putting Donald Trump in the White House. During the 2016 presidential election campaign, Comey said Hillary Clinton had been "extremely careless" in her handling of classified information.
Comey was horrified on 6 January 2021: "I was sickened to watch an attack on the literal and symbolic heart of our democracy, and, as a law enforcement person, I was angered. I am mystified and angry that Capitol Hill wasn't defended."
He compares the attack to the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the former Soviet Union. America has always had a "radioactive stew" of violence, he says, but in recent decades it has been largely kept inside a containment building (the law) and tamed by control rods (cultural taboos).
"What Donald Trump has done for the last five years is attack the building from the outside to weaken its foundation. He's withdrawn the control rods, and that's a recipe for a nuclear disaster, a radioactive release. That's what you saw on Capitol Hill, our own Chernobyl, when the ugly radioactive violence and racism of America explodes in public view."
Comey says the Republican party "needs to be burned down or changed" into a responsible conservative party. Trump should face criminal prosecution after leaving office.
"The best interests of the country would not be served by giving him that Donald Trump daily drama in our nation's capital for three years as part of the United States versus Trump .. the country is better served by impeaching him, convicting him in the Senate, and letting local prosecutors in New York pursue him for the fraudster he was before he took office."
AR Saving Justice
2021 January 18
Covid-related deaths are nearing 400,000 in the United States and multiple US states have now reported cases of a new Covid-19 variant first detected in the UK.
So far in January, America has added 3.9 million new Covid-19 cases and more than 51,000 virus-related deaths.
America's total Covid-19 death toll is now more than the number of Americans who died in WW1 and the Vietnam and Korean wars combined — and nearly as many as died in WW2.
Dr Rochelle Walensky: "By the middle of February, we expect half a million deaths in this country."
AR Per capita, this is still better than the UK.
The UK has left the EU. HM government has taken back control.
Brexiteers said decisions would be taken by the Westminster parliament. But the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill had just three days in the Commons and four in the Lords. The Future Relationship Bill was hurried through both Houses in a single day.
The Covid-19 crisis forced parliament to pass bills at high speed and with limited debate. Skeleton bills let ministers do what they wanted.
This era must end. Parliament must take back control.
AR Brits need a political revolution now.
A WHO team is on the ground in Wuhan to investigate the origins of the coronavirus.
The Communist Party of China has much to lose from transparency. The analogy between Chernobyl and Covid is not a neat one, but there are similarities.
Wildlife markets can spread new viruses. CPC authorities silenced whistle-blowers. Millions were allowed to fly out of Wuhan as the coronavirus spread.
We should apply global pressure on the CPC to help prevent future pandemics.
AR Work with the CPC, not against it.
2021 January 17
Germany: CDU Leader
Armin Laschet has won the contest to lead the CDU. He beat Friedrich Merz and Norbert Röttgen in two rounds of voting. He promises to follow Angela Merkel's consensual course and may be the CDU chancellor candidate in September elections.
If Laschet were the CDU chancellor candidate, he would campaign against SPD Olaf Scholz, currently the finance minister, and a Green candidate. Laschet could form a coalition with the Greens. He has ruled out a coalition with the far-right AfD.
Laschet has governed Nordrhein-Westfalen since 2017 in coalition with the FDP. He was previously an MEP and a minister for integration in NRW. He has been criticised for weak leadership and for nepotism over PPE procurement.
A ZDF poll shows only 28% of Germans think he has the calibre to become chancellor.
AR I'm not enthused.
2021 January 16
America and Europe
Harvard Kennedy School Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship executive director Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: "The European relationship has changed and will now be shrouded in skepticism .. Biden .. might have to accept that .. American influence in European defense, security, and other global priorities has diminished."
Europe analyst and former state department official Tyson Barker: "Many European institutions and diplomats are happily turning their back on the Trump administration .. They've been bemused by Trump's envoys, like Richard Grenell in Germany, who have turned up and started behaving like Fox News anchors and insulting the country they were supposed to be building relations with."
A senior German diplomat: "Trump's disengagement and hollowing out of the State Department meant that we were suddenly without our most important ally on projects in the Middle East and Africa. When they did take big stances on things like China or Iran, they chose not to involve anyone, leaving Europeans scrambling for a response .. the prospect of the US underpinning European security is not as attractive as it was when he and Obama left office."
A senior European diplomat: "From our perspective, Trump saw Europe as an enemy .. We cannot afford to be naive .. This anti-global, 'America First' undercurrent in American politics is still very much alive and we have to hedge our bets."
AR Sad but true.
UK and EU
Timothy Garton Ash
Gore Vidal: "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail."
Vidalism is baked into the Brexit project. Political logic is pushing both the UK and the EU to make the relative failure of the other the measure of their own success.
The Johnson government said the choice was Australia or Canada, but in fact the UK will be more like Switzerland, in a state of permanent negotiation with the EU.
The Johnson government has negotiated an excellent deal on trade in goods. German cars can continue to flow into Britain. For services, almost everything still remains to be agreed.
The Johnson deal is only a framework for future cooperation. In a long list of areas, it would be in the British interest to secure further agreements. Many of these are in the unilateral gift of the EU, and some can be withdrawn at will, as the Swiss have found out.
The asymmetry of power between the two sides is now more acute than ever. The UK has gained nominal sovereignty, but in terms of controlling its own destiny and advancing its national interests, the UK has lost sovereignty.
Permanent negotiations offer endless occasions for competition and conflict. The trick is to avoid falling into the Vidal trap. On many big issues, the strategic logic of cooperation cuts against the political logic of jealous rivalry.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove says we now have a "special relationship" with the EU. At the moment, that is just waffle.
AR Let the four UK cantons join the EU.
2021 January 15
American Rescue Plan
The New York Times
President-elect Joe Biden proposes a $1.9 trillion rescue package to combat the economic downturn and the Covid-19 crisis.
"No time to waste"
During this pandemic, millions of Americans, through no fault of their own, have lost the dignity and respect that comes with a job and a paycheck. There is real pain overwhelming the real economy. The very health of our nation is at stake.
Millions of people putting their lives at risk are the very people now at risk of losing their jobs: police officers, firefighters, all first responders, nurses, educators.
More than one in five Black and Latino households in America report that they do not have enough food to eat. [Yet] since this pandemic began, the wealth of the top 1% has grown by roughly $1.5 trillion.
AR No time to waste indeed.
Kamala Harris is accomplished and politically savvy. She was once the much younger partner of the Speaker of the California state assembly Willie Brown. Barbra Streisand was at Brown's 60th birthday celebration and Clint Eastwood "spilled champagne on the Speaker's new steady" — Harris.
Over the course of the relationship, Brown gave Harris a BMW, and she travelled with him to Paris, attended the Academy awards with him, and was part of the entourage that flew to Boston with him in 1994. Donald Trump sent his jet to Boston to fly Brown, Harris, and friends to New York City.
2021 January 14
Trump Impeached Again
The New York Times
President Trump became the first president to be impeached twice, after the House approved a single charge citing his role in whipping up a mob that stormed the Capitol. He faces a Senate trial that could disqualify him from future office.
Lord of misrule
It remains uncertain whether this is the moment the fever breaks or merely a harbinger of further US polarization, violence, and decline.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi: "The president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion, against our common country. He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love."
House majority leader Steny Hoyer: "Trump has constructed a glass palace of lies, fearmongering and sedition. Last Wednesday, on January 6, the nation and the world watched it shatter to pieces."
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy: "A vote to impeach will further divide the nation. A vote to impeach will further fan the flames of partisan division."
AR He was miscast as president.
2021 January 13
House Will Impeach President
The New York Times
Lawmakers move to impeach the president on Wednesday, after formally calling on VP Mike Pence to use the 25th Amendment. Pence has rejected the request.
Physics is my religious belief.
I grew up in New York City. My father was from Poland, my mother from Italy. After the University of Chicago, I did graduate work in mathematics at Princeton.
I got involved with the project of understanding whether quantum field theory could be applied to the strong interaction. I did hard calculations that nobody else could do.
David Gross and I did the calculations in 1972. In 1973, at my first conference, Richard Feynman said our work was important. I was 21. The Nobel Prize came in 2004.
In the summer of 1977, I thought about the Higgs particle and whether there might be more than one Higgs field. With more than one Higgs field you could have symmetry patterns.
The Higgs symmetry can address the problem of why the laws of physics look the same forward and backward in time. The predicted axion addresses the problem.
Axions are the only solution.
AR Wilczek predicts axions with mass in the μeV range and numerous enough ABB to behave as dark matter. In a strong EM field, they should sometimes decay into photons.
Axion Dark Matter Experiment (ADMX)
1 Use a strong magnet to make an EM field.
2 Wait for some axions to create photons.
3 Detect the photons with quantum sensors.
2021 January 12
Inciting an Insurrection
The New York Times
The attack on the Capitol on Wednesday was the culmination of a campaign waged by the president of the United States and his allies to overturn the results of a free and fair election.
That campaign involved a barrage of lies, farcical legal challenges, and attempts to have the vote count changed outright. When it all failed, the president held a rally on the National Mall and sent the angry crowd to march on the Capitol.
The president encouraged his supporters to converge on Washington on January 6.
Trump: "We will not take it anymore. We will stop the steal. States want to revote .. Because you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong .. We fight. We fight like hell. If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."
The charges are clear. The offenses occurred in public. There can be no republic if leaders foment a violent overthrow of the government if they lose an election.
2021 January 11
Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel has approval ratings of 70%.
This week, the CDU chooses a new party leader in a three-way contest:
◼ Friedrich Merz is a social and fiscal conservative who believes in low taxes and a smaller state. He says liberal policies have driven CDU supporters into the arms of the AfD.
◼ Armin Laschet is the prime minister of Nordrhein-Westfalen.
◼ Norbert Röttgen is the Bundestag foreign affairs committee chair. He says the CDU must deepen its appeal to young, progressive voters with environmental programs and digital investment.
The CDU verdict will be delivered by a secret ballot of 1001 party officials.
Kanzlerin Merkel has generally held the line for a politics of decency, compassion, and internationalism. Dr Röttgen could be expected to follow in that tradition.
AR My preference is clear.
Frank Wilczek has a vision that replaces our classical idea of physical creation with one consisting entirely of spacetime, self-propagating fields, and properties. The ingredients of the play out through time in accordance with just a handful of rules, to generate a world of unimaginable complexity, contingency, and abundance.
Wilczek describes the behaviour of electrons around an atom as like a vibrating cymbal, the music of the spheres, in is a poetic understanding of fields. His idea of the scientific method "combines the humble discipline of respecting the facts and learning from Nature with the systematic chutzpah of using what you think you've learned aggressively".
Wilczek turns out to be a true visionary. He has written a human testament to the moment when the discipline of physics, as we used to understand it, came to a stop: "Our machines .. will move the frontier of knowledge in directions, and arrive at places, that unaided human brains can't go."
AR Must read
2021 January 10
An elected institution that opposes elections is inviting its own overthrow. Many members of Congress betrayed their constitutional mission.
When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Donald Trump lied at pace. For the most part these were small lies, and their main effect was cumulative.
In November 2020, he told a big lie. The issue was the right to rule the most powerful country in the world and the efficacy and trustworthiness of its succession procedures. The claim was wrong, it was made in bad faith amid unreliable sources, and it challenged both evidence and logic.
The Republican party is a coalition of two types of people: those who would game the system (most of the politicians, some of the voters) and those who dream of breaking it (a few of the politicians, many of the voters). The breakers provide cover for the gamers by distracting voters from the reality that Republican government serves minority interests.
Trump was unlike other breakers in that he seemed to have no ideology. His objection to institutions was that they might constrain him personally. His vision never went further than a mirror.
For a coup to work in 2024, the breakers will require an angry minority, organized for nationwide violence, ready to add intimidation to an election. To claim that the other side stole an election is to promise to steal one yourself. It is also to claim that the other side deserves to be punished.
America cannot be a democratic republic if we tell refuse to accept the equality of others, heed their voices, and count their votes.
AR Beware: 2024 elections in both USA and UK
2021 January 9
The climate crisis continued unabated in 2020, with the joint highest global temperatures on record, alarming heat and record wildfires in the Arctic, and a record 29 tropical storms in the Atlantic.
Despite a 7% fall in fossil fuel burning, CO2 continued to build up in the atmosphere. The average surface temperature across the planet in 2020 was 1.25 C higher than in the pre-industrial period.
Only 2016 matched the heat in 2020. The past 6 years have been the hottest 6 on record. Europe saw its hottest year on record. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere reached a new record in 2020.
AR Time to act
2021 January 8
Milky Way Bubbles
The image of the Milky Way from X-ray space telescope eROSITA show a huge cloud billowing upward from the galactic disk, with a fainter twin reflected below.
The North Polar Spur is a huge arc to the "north" of the galactic plane that emits radio waves. An expanding shock wave from an event millions of years ago may power the arc.
The Fermi space telescope saw the faint gamma-ray glow of two huge lobes, each extending roughly 20 kly from the center of the galaxy. They look like huge clouds of hot gas.
The X-ray bubbles are maybe 45 000 kly tall. Their X-rays shine from hot gas at 3−4 MK expanding outward at 300−400 km/s. The northern bubble aligns with the spur.
If a large cloud of gas once fell into the black hole at the heart of the galaxy, the hole would have swallowed half of it and blown out the rest north and south as huge bubbles.
AR Big history
2021 January 7
Joe Biden Confirmed
The New York Times
The US Congress confirmed President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s victory early Thursday.
US Capitol Attack
The New York Times
President Donald Trump and his Republican enablers in Congress incited a violent attack Wednesday against the US government. This cannot be allowed to stand.
Trump's seditious rhetoric prompted a mob of thousands of people to storm the US Capitol building, some breaking onto the House and Senate floors, where the nation's elected representatives had gathered to perform their constitutional duty.
The mob attacked the seat of American government and forced the suspension of congressional debate. They shattered windows and broke doors, clashing with overwhelmed security forces as they shouted their support for Trump and their defiance of the lawful results of the 2020 election. US leaders were sent scurrying for shelter.
Trump sparked these assaults. He has railed for months against the verdict rendered by voters in November. He summoned his supporters to gather in Washington and encouraged them to march on the Capitol. He told them that the election was being stolen. He told them to fight.
Republican senator Mitt Romney: "What happened at the US Capitol today was an insurrection, incited by the president of the United States."
AR Let Mike Pence take over for 2 weeks.
2021 January 6
Our vision is to solve artificial intelligence. We want to understand intelligence and recreate it artificially, and then use that as a tool to help us understand the world and make a positive impact.
Proteins are like little biomachines. They are switches, motors, little factories. Biology at that level looks like digital code. There are 200 million or so proteins out there in nature.
If you can solve protein folding, then you can start unlocking some of the secrets about how life works much faster than you can with experiments. You can better understand disease.
The proteins in the coronavirus were sequenced early on by Chinese researchers. Some of the structures had been experimentally determined, but not all. Our AlphaFold system was pretty accurate, but we didn't want to make big claims.
In the future, AI might contribute to things like material design or protein design, so that we have proteins that can break down waste plastics or create renewable biofuel.
We hope to be a big part of breakthrough work in science, from renewable energy and nuclear fusion to quantum chemistry and finding cures for diseases.
2021 January 5
America was first discovered by Ice Age hunter-gatherers. Once the ice sheets thawed, civilization evolved independently on both sides of the Atlantic. Europe rose to world dominance with stolen American wealth.
Plagues were the main conquerors of the New World. Its peoples had never met such sicknesses. A great wave of smallpox washed through the Americas in the 1520s, cutting down the natives as severely as Europe's Black Death.
Mesoamerica's population was some 20 million in 1500, roughly twice that of Spain and Portugal together. In 1519, Spanish invaders advanced to the Aztec capital, bigger than any city in Europe.
The Spaniards were assigned a palace and an uneasy peace held for months. But then Spaniards massacred hundreds of unarmed Aztecs and open warfare broke out. As the invaders tried to flee, the Aztecs slaughtered them.
Spain rebuilt its army and conquered the Aztec empire in 1521. Pestilence was its ally. From 1520 to 1576, Mesoamerica's population fell from 20 million to 2 million, and to 1 million in the 1620s.
When Pizarro first landed in Peru in 1526, he found a thriving Inca empire. When he returned with an army five years later, he found an empty ruin. Smallpox had killed the emperor and maybe half the people.
2021 January 4
The psychodrama of Brexit has created Lesser Britain.
In 1971, an HM government white paper imagined the UK declining to join the European project: "In a single generation we should have renounced an imperial past and rejected a European future. Our friends everywhere would be dismayed."
Fifty years later, Boris Johnson and his allies imagine a new golden age of global mercantile power. They talk of "world-beating" initiatives and say Britain is a "much better country" than every other. Friends everywhere are dismayed.
The British imperial mindset is that you are either the top dog or you are being suppressed. Imperialists imagined the UK as the dominant power within the EU and called Britain the one indispensable ally of the United States. English historian Linda Colley sees "a persistent inclination to pursue empire vicariously by clambering like a mouse on the American eagle's head".
Britain could not dominate the EU but as a member it was a transatlantic bridge. Outside the EU, the UK loses much of its ability to perch on the American eagle's head.
In the 2015 election campaign, Conservatives told English voters to give them a majority, or Scottish nationalists might hold the balance of power at Westminster. They said the English "hate being ruled or bossed by foreigners. French, Germans, Scots, anyone."
Brexit has awakened English nationalism.
AR It will fail.
2021 January 3
Brexit is shock therapy. Britain must change or decline. We need to decide how we:
▸ Get annual economic growth well above 2%
▸ Become a global centre of technology innovation
▸ Make Britain a more attractive place to do business
▸ Reform our public services
▸ Cut crime and the numbers living on the breadline
▸ Rebuild our infrastructure
▸ Preserve the integrity of the UK
▸ See our new role in the world
Brexit is a spur to answer these questions.
Boris Johnson has appointed 52 new life peers to the House of Lords.
Johnson ignored the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission to ennoble Peter Cruddas, who resigned as Conservative party co-treasurer in 2012 after being found selling access to the prime minister.
Johnson has also elevated new crossbench peers who backed his position on Brexit. Appointing peers for favours damages the credibility of the Lords. He may be doing so to weaken Lords scrutiny of his government.
The total number of peers is now 833.
A new poll shows that a general election now would give a hung parliament. Conservatives would lose 81 seats, leaving them with 284 seats and Labour with 282, and the PM would lose his own seat.
Labour would win 38% of the vote, Tories 36%, Lib Dems 9%, and Greens 7%. The SNP would win 57 of the 59 Scottish seats. UK wide, Lib Dems would win 2 seats.
AR Blair for PM. Reform Westmonster. PR now.
My local beach at high noon, 2021-01-02
2021 January 2
RIP UK 2021
Relations between the nations of UK4 are a problem:
◼ In Scotland, a recent poll puts support for independence 16 points ahead of remaining in the UK. In 2016, 62% of Scottish voters backed remaining in the EU. The SNP dominates Scottish politics, and its platform is to leave the UK and rejoin the EU.
Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon: "There is no deal that will ever make up for what Brexit takes away from us. It's time to chart our own future as an independent European nation."
◼ In Northern Ireland, nationalist politicians are confident that, if a vote were called, NI could be reunited with the Republic of Ireland. Republicans see NI as a casualty of Brexit. NI shares a land border with the republic, which is in the EU. Brexit already ties NI to follow EU rules.
NI SDLP MP Matthew O'Toole: "Brexit has dragged up issues that had felt settled here and put them to the top of our agenda."
◼ In Wales, although there is no strong independence movement, support for business as usual has become untenable, as nationalists become increasingly hostile toward the Conservative government in Westminster.
◼ In England, resentment of a status quo that looks like London funding its poorer relatives in the other three nations is growing. Because the Conservative party base is in England, UK prime minister Boris Johnson could care less about the rest.
AR Break it up. Call it a casualty of Brexit.
Britain Has Lost Itself
My grandparents escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 and found a home in Britain. They felt not just gratitude but also a deep attachment to their adopted homeland. They became naturalized British citizens. But they would be heartbroken to see it today.
The vote to leave the EU in 2016 revealed deep prejudices about migrants. Xenophobia and racism made an ugly return to the mainstream. Political rot set in. The government now plays fast and loose with parliamentary procedure and international treaties.
I applied for German citizenship. Germany today embodies decency and respect. Britain is a sad shadow of its former self.
AR I may have left it too late.
2021 January 1
A New Roaring Twenties
There are reasons to look forward to the decade to come with enthusiasm and confidence. A mass vaccination program is under way and should pave the way for a return to a degree of normal life by Easter. A robust economic recovery may follow the post-Brexit trade deal which came into effect last night and unleash a tide of business investment and innovation.
The year 2020 proved remarkable for science. The development of new Covid vaccines, along with breakthroughs in the search for vaccines for malaria and research into proteins, holds out the prospect of a new golden age of medicine in which Britain can play a leading role. The pandemic has led businesses to embrace new technology and to adopt new ways of working and engaging with customers. The CEBR forecasts UK GDP to be 25% higher than that of France by 2035.
This year the UK government will host the G7 summit of leading western nations, to which it has also invited the leaders of India, South Korea, and Australia. It will also host the UN climate change conference COP26, in Glasgow. The new year offers a chance for a new beginning and the start of what we hope will prove to be the Roaring Twenties.
AR This vision of the decade to come is too parochial and nationalistic by far and illustrates the shortcomings that may limit British achievements in a transforming world.
A Tragic National Error
This is a day of sadness. The departure of the UK from the EU remains a tragic national error. We have expelled ourselves from a union that was good for this country and the world.
At least the EU can no longer be blamed for our continuing tensions, inequalities and failures of governance. Brexit was opposed by majorities in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London and other cities, as well as by most young people and most graduates. None of that is going to change, despite the overall majority verdict in 2016.
Two of the most striking consequences of the vote were the unity of the EU27 in the face of Brexit compared with the growing disunity of the UK4 over the issue. But the delusions that fed and fostered Brexit still have much of the Conservative party and press in their grip.
The Brexit movement fatally confuses sovereignty with power. We live in an interconnected world. We shall never cease to be Europeans.
AR All the arguments for Brexit apply, mutatis mutandis, to motivate the breakup of the UK and a push for Dorset to break free from the Westmonster.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel
sign the EU−UK trade agreement in Brussels on Wednesday morning
⦿ Jason Lee
China and EU sign agreement
to open up Chinese markets
for European investment and
address Chinese subsidies,
state control, tech transfer.
China and EU trade goods
worth €1 billion a day.
"Solitude is not chosen any
more than destiny is chosen.
Solitude comes to us if we
have within us the magic
stone that attracts destiny."
⦿ Paul Grover
Ursula von der Leyen,
Ursula von der Leyen:
"Parting is such sweet sorrow"
deal, details, documents
AR This deal is a disaster for
the UK. Never was so much
bargained away for so little.
The Westminster parliament
now enjoys a "sovereignty"
over Brits that it is almost
certain to misuse.
"Zwar gibt es jetzt ein Han-
delsabkommen — aber das
Ergebnis ist ein sehr harter
Brexit. Zu Neujahr gibt es ein
hartes Erwachen: Der Schaden
für Unternehmen ist enorm,
den höchsten Preis zahlen
die einfachen Bürger."
Trucks at Manston airfield
2020 December 31
HM the Queen gave royal approval to the future relationship bill at 12.25 am on Thursday morning.
Her signature puts the agreement into law as the European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020.
AR Was she a useless appendage or a willing accomplice?
We Are Free
The year 2021 may be remembered as one of those great turning points — like the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which laid the foundations of parliamentary government, or the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, which ushered in nearly a century of global dominance for Britain.
Eurosceptics in both main parties were for decades a despised minority. They were seen as fruitcakes and nutters. But millions of British people dared to love their country and to believe in it. For many of them, there were more important concerns in life than money. A majority voted to leave.
We are free. We're free to chart our own course as a sovereign and independent nation. A new chapter miraculously begins.
We have failed
We have ended up with a poor agreement. On every major economic point, the EU has got its way.
✗ We massively overestimated the strength of our negotiating position. We and the EU are equally sovereign, but not sovereign equals.
✗ We fired the starting gun before we had worked out our own position. We should have decided what we wanted and only then pulled the trigger.
✗ We prioritised sovereignty over economic interests. In any international agreement, a state limits its sovereignty in return for practical benefits.
✗ We wilfully destroyed EU trust in our commitment to implement what we had already agreed and were then forced to back down.
✗ We never developed a strategic plan for the negotiations. The agreement ended up being mostly what the EU wanted.
We are embarking on a long journey. We will have to do a lot better.
AR Both writers aim their 'we' too nationalistically.
2020 December 30
UK−EU Deal Done
The Guardian, 1609 UTC
Boris Johnson has signed the trade and cooperation agreement with the EU on behalf of the UK.
MPs pass deal
BBC News, 1441 UTC
MPs back the government's post-Brexit trade deal with the EU by 521 votes to 73.
AR The end
UK Approves Second Covid Vaccine
The UK medicines regulator has approved the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) approved the vaccine after weeks of examining the trial data. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine currently in use needs storage at −70 C and is hard to deploy. Because the Oxford vaccine needs only normal refrigeration and comes from UK factories, it can be rolled out swiftly to GPs and care homes.
AR I hope to be vaccinated in February/March.
The UK government's approach to Covid may catalyse the breakup of the UK. When the pandemic began, Boris Johnson acted for the whole of the UK. He soon found that on Covid he was the prime minister only of England.
Scotland took control early of its Covid policy. SNP first minister Nicola Sturgeon began regular Covid briefings in March and has held them ever since. Sturgeon now has a net approval rating of +61 among Scots for her handling of the pandemic, while Johnson has a net rating of −43. In Scotland, 17 successive opinion polls show majority support for breaking away from the UK.
The consequences are visible in Wales and Northern Ireland, and even at English local level too. If the SNP wins a fourth successive Holyrood victory in May and claims a mandate for a new independence referendum, it will be seismic.
Brexit was key in creating this volatile mix. The English and Welsh voted to leave the EU. Scotland voted decisively to remain. EU27 unity during 2020 trade talks contrasted with UK4 disunity.
To Johnson, the Brexit slogan "Take back control" invites a push to rebuild Westmonster sovereignty. An existential crisis for the UK is nigh.
Will 2021 be better?
Boris Johnson's problems are about to get worse. A Downing Street staffer: "It's hard to state how bad January and February are going to be."
The government is optimistic. A member: "There's going to be a shift now Brexit is done. The prime minister gets it. It's going to be about competence."
AR After so many centuries, England alone.
2020 December 29
In London they call it the Christmas Eve Agreement. When Big Ben tolls at 11 pm London time on New Year's Eve, Brexiteers will cheer in triumph.
Economists, politicians, and lawyers are still bent over the 1246-page agreement with its countless additional declarations and protocols. But its pitfalls are already clear.
London and Brussels agree that goods trade should continue to flow duty-free and without volume restrictions. But there will be new controls at the borders.
The UK service sector is not covered. London banks hope for an equivalence certificate. But Brussels will only issue one, subject to revocation at any time within 30 days, if UK remains in full compliance.
The UK government says the UK will in future be an "independent coastal state" with "full control" over its fishing grounds. EU fishermen will have to return a quarter of their catch for the next 66 months.
EU companies that want to invest in the UK have no planning security. A dispute settlement procedure is defined in case the UK lures investors with lax environmental laws or lower social and labour rules.
London agrees that Northern Ireland will remain part of the EU internal market, where the European Court of Justice has ultimate jurisdiction.
At least the CEA stops EU citizens from coming and going as they please.
AR Abolish the UK!
The last fifty years of Britain in Europe have not been mired in futility.
British ambition, energy, and effectiveness did two huge things in the history of the EU: the single market and enlargement.
Margaret Thatcher pressed hard for the single market. But she could not see the need for common social, environmental, and safety standards, with mechanisms to enforce them.
Thatcher also proclaimed the goal of enlargement in 1988. Without Britain, the EU may not have responded after 1989 by opening talks on membership with central European states.
The EU let Britain transcend its imperial past, imagine a European future for itself, and settle the conflict in Northern Ireland.
AR Banish the Westmonster!
A special relationship has been turned into a purely transactional one.
In 1989, I was one of the earliest British students to participate in the Erasmus scheme. I found philosophy contains more than we dream of in Britain.
The tragedy of the Brexit saga is that the case for the cultural value of EU membership was barely even made.
The trade deal is a turkey with no trimmings to make it palatable.
AR Cold turkey for Brits!
2020 December 28
EU Green Light
BBC News, 1206 UTC
EU ambassadors in Brussels have unanimously approved the trade deal with the UK to come into provisional force on January 1.
A Deal — The End
After four and a half years, we have reached the end of the beginning of Brexit. We have a deal.
Brexit brings some benefits for the EU. The UK and the EU are equally sovereign, but they are not equally powerful. The agreement on the level playing field is symmetrical, but the reality is asymmetrical. The EU has granted the UK access to its single market where it has a comparative advantage and blocked access where it has a comparative disadvantage. In the UK, Brexit will separate reality from delusion.
The UK will be substantially poorer in the long run under this deal than as an EU member.
AR A defeat for the UK, wreathed in fantasy.
Brexit Is No Good
Am Brexit ist absolut nichts Gutes. Die Europäische Union ist an diesem Austritt noch kein Stück gewachsen.
Es hätte den Brexit nie und nimmer gegeben, wenn verschnöselte konservative Politiker nicht ihr Volk in einer bis dato ungekannten Art und Weise getäuscht und belogen hätten. Großbritannien ist von zockenden Lügnern, leichtfertigen Clowns und ihren Claqueuren gekapert worden. Sie haben mein Europa kaputtgemacht.
Nigel Farage, Anführer der UKIP-Party, hat ungezählte Lügen über die Europäische Union in die Welt gesetzt, aber Boris Johnson schickte einen roten Bus durchs Land, auf dem in sehr großen Buchstaben dermaßen dreist über den britischen EU-Beitrag und das heimische Gesundheitssystem NHS gelogen wurde, dass es selbst Farage zu viel war.
Was »Take back control« wert ist, wenn es ernst wird, haben der Premier und seine Lurche kurz vor Weihnachten erfahren, als Frankreich den Kanaltunnel sperrte. Dass die französischen Austern und der Champagner knapp werden könnten, ist die einzige Sprache, welche die elitistischen Johnsons der Insel verstehen.
Sarkasmus und Schadenfreude passen nicht zum Brexit, nur Entsetzen.
AR Untergang UK — Endspiel kommt noch.
2020 December 27
Brexit Trade Deal
The agreement that Boris Johnson struck with the EU on Christmas Eve is no political triumph. It will set in train significant economic damage. A responsible prime minister would have sought to unify the country by pursuing the least divisive form of Brexit.
An honest case for Brexit was not strong enough to win a popular vote. Rather than confront the public with the truth, Tory Leavers promoted boosterism and lies. Our children and grandchildren will look back and feel embarrassed by Brexit.
Boris the human bulldozer has freed us from the EU
Mail on Sunday
Few prime ministers actually manage to change the countries they govern. Now, thanks to his achievement of a negotiated departure from the EU, Boris Johnson joins that number. Having won a majority that fashionable opinion said was unattainable, he has once again pulled off what almost everyone said was impossible. Four days from now, Britain will be a fully independent country again, for the first time in almost half a century.
Boris gets his Hollywood ending
On Monday night, Boris Johnson told Ursula von der Leyen: "I cannot sign this treaty, Ursula, I can't do something that is not in my country's interests."
Earlier that day, VDL had tabled what she called the hammer, granting Brussels the right to retaliate across the board if Britain sought future reductions in access to its waters for EU fishermen.
Johnson: "We can't have this Monty Python situation, where we are trapped in the car with a giant hammer outside the gates to clobber us every time we drive out."
VDL: "OK, thank you, Boris."
She put aside the hammer in a call on Wednesday.
On Wednesday evening, Johnson updated the cabinet. Michael Gove: "Rejoice!"
On Thursday, Johnson spoke again to VDL: "We really need to get this over the line now. We've got to get Frosty and his team home for Christmas."
Johnson called Frosty and said: "Go and close it out." Twenty minutes later in a call with VDL, Johnson asked: "So do we have a deal, Ursula?"
She replied: "Yes, we do."
By jingo, we're out
In 2015, Neil MacGregor left the UK to chair the board for the Humboldt Forum in Berlin: "German people see the whole purpose of a political leader as to make successful alliances. The proper use of sovereignty is all about pooling it to achieve your aims. The British idea that you should entirely do these things on your own and try to assume total control over your environment is unthinkable."
AR Albion will be alone in a sea of troubles.
2020 Boxing Day
We Have Taken Back Control
Whatever the original nobility of the European project, the reality for many Britons was an erosion of control of their lives. Laws were made by people they hadn't elected, rules were laid down by institutions they couldn't change, power was exercised without accountability. Their voices could be ignored and all too often were.
In the referendum they couldn't be ignored. The change for which we voted wasn't just a demand for a new relationship with the EU but also for a new settlement within the UK. Families and communities that had been overlooked and undervalued wanted to make our political system more responsive to their needs.
We can now embark on a new, more hopeful, chapter in our history. We are committed to a fairer, more inclusive country in which those whose horizons were narrowed through no fault of their own enjoy the dignity they deserve. The tools that Brexit places in our hands will be used to level up opportunity.
There is much to be done.
AR He wants to be PM.
We Germans Helped Get Brexit Done
Alexander von Schönburg
I predict that Britons will look back on Brexit and credit two unlikely factors with saving the day: the pandemic and the Germans.
While the French were all for giving you Brits a punishment beating, Berlin was always more inclined to part as friends. In Berlin, the view was that to isolate Britain when the Covid situation is so dire would be very unwise.
This was not down to a sudden outbreak of sentimentality. It is not in the German best interest to blow apart an export machine that was already stuttering dangerously.
Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen took it upon themselves to break the logjam. VDL also had one or two chats with her former mentor Angela Merkel. Tuesday's late-night phone call between Johnson and VDL was the game changer.
A Norway-style deal would have made the UK a satellite state of the EU with no say on the rules. A departure on WTO terms would have forced up prices and created shortages.
Johnson has got an agreement that gives the UK full access to its most important market while being able to write its own laws and standards, as long as it plays fair.
Your prime minister has achieved a deal which is nothing short of sensational.
AR Given the mess, it's still a deal. Well done, VDL.
Nothing to Celebrate
Boris Johnson said this was a good deal. It allowed us to take back control and provided certainty for business.
He was wrong. This was the thinnest deal available within the ruinous red lines he had laid out, and preferable only to no deal at all. We already had control of everything he claimed to have won back.
Ursula von der Leyen emphasised the EU success in ensuring a level playing field for competition. The UK would lose key rights such as financial passporting. It would no longer enjoy automatic access to EU security databases.
Boris Johnson took to bluster. He dismissed the media question about security. He batted away the ending of UK access to the Erasmus scheme. Only on services did he concede that access wasn't as deep as he'd have liked.
The deal is no surprise. Johnson surmised the painful personal consequences of a calamitous crash out and wanted to avoid a legacy of failure. Any comparison to what was promised in 2016 is a joke.
This deal is going to hurt. We have lost a continent to gain an empty husk of sovereignty.
AR My view too ..
2020 Christmas Day
Brexit: A Welcome Deal
A deal has finally been reached on a new relationship between the UK and the EU. Brexiteers will want to search it for any signs of concessions on British sovereignty. Business leaders will look for details on regulatory cooperation to minimise disruption.
The deal falls far short of what Vote Leavers promised during the referendum. The PM acknowledges that trade will be far from frictionless but calls the increase in fishing quotas for British fleets in British waters a victory. The deal does not cover financial services and puts a goods border between GB and NI.
Both sides now have a foundation for a new trade and security partnership. There will be further negotiations and tensions, but the two sides can work as allies.
Boris Johnson has delivered on his promise to get Brexit done.
PM: 'Glad tidings of great joy'
Johnson calls the deal "a great treaty" which allows the UK to "take back control of our destiny" and resolves a question that has "bedevilled" British politics for decades. He urges people to read the deal after Christmas lunch: "I believe it will be the basis of a happy and successful and stable partnership with our friends in the EU for years to come."
UK−EU Trade Deal Agreed
The UK and the EU have sealed a new economic and security accord that allows them to rebuild their relationship. UK prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen clinched the deal after nine months of negotiations.
BJ: "We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny."
VDL: "To our friends in the UK, I want to say, parting is such sweet sorrow."
VDL: "The negotiations were very difficult. A lot was at stake for so many people."
• Will come into force on January 1
• Was welcomed by business groups as an amicable divorce
• Is big (exports of £294 billion and imports of £374 billion in 2019)
• Does not do "as much as we would have liked" for financial services
• Avoids any oversight role for the ECJ
• Protects the EU against unfair competition
• Was sealed on Thursday afternoon
An EU success
London and Brussels have struck an agreement that will maintain free trade in goods. The EU task was to limit the damage from a UK withdrawal.
For the EU, the deal is a success. The EU has preserved the integrity of the single market. The UK has agreed to binding constraints and adjudication.
Political turmoil in the UK hinders EU support for Brexit. The EU has entered a more assertive phase: France and Germany have more influence.
UK and EU Agree a Deal
After nine months of talks, the deal was secured at 1344 UTC on Christmas Eve.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will brief EU ambassadors on Christmas Day.
In the UK, Tory MPs await the verdict of a Star Chamber convened by the ERG.
Boris Johnson: "This European question's been going on for decades. I think this gives us the platform, the foundation for a really prosperous new relationship .. We have taken back control of laws and our destiny .. We have taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered .. British laws will be made solely by the British parliament, interpreted by British judges, sitting in the UK courts."
BJ raised a copy of the 500-page document: "The oven-ready deal was just the starter. This is the feast — full of fish, by the way. I believe it will be the basis of a happy and successful and stable partnership with our friends in the EU for years to come."
The OBR expects Brexit to shave 4% off UK GDP in the medium term. UK nationals will lose the right of free movement and British businesses will face extra costs in doing business in Europe.
Ursula von der Leyen
This whole debate has always been about sovereignty. But we should cut through the sound bites and ask ourselves what sovereignty actually means in the 21st century.
For me, it is about being able to seamlessly do work, travel, study, and do business in 27 countries. It is about pooling our strength and speaking together in a world full of great powers. And in a time of crisis, it is about pulling each other up, instead of trying to get back to your feet alone.
The EU shows how this works in practice. In today's world, we are one of the giants.
We have got a good deal. It is fair. It is a balanced deal. And it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides. At the end of a successful negotiation, I normally feel joy. But today I only feel quiet satisfaction and, frankly speaking, relief.
Parting is such sweet sorrow. To use the line from T.S. Eliot, what we call the beginning is often the end, and to make an end is often a beginning. I think it is time to leave Brexit behind.
AR Für Briten leider nicht.
2020 Christmas Eve
Brexit: A Deal Is Done
BBC News, 1535 UTC
1502: European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen: "We have finally found an agreement. It was a long and winding road, but we have got a good deal to show for it."
1506: "This whole debate has always been about sovereignty. We should ask as ourselves what sovereignty means in the 21st century. It is about pooling our strength and speaking together in a world full of great powers. It is about pulling each other up in times of crisis instead of trying to get back to your feet alone. And the EU shows how this can work in practice."
1509: "We are long standing allies. We share the same interests."
1532: UK prime minister Boris Johnson: "We have taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered."
1534: "Of course, the arguments were sometimes fierce, but this I believe is a good deal for the whole of Europe."
1535: "But above all it means certainty for business."
AR The UK goes free? I shall have less freedom in 2021.
2020 December 23
'Brighter Skies Ahead'
BBC News, 1614 UTC
UK health secretary Matt Hancock: "We know that we can control this virus; we know that we can get through this together. I believe that everybody will do what is needed to keep themselves and others safe, especially this Christmas. And I know, from the bottom of my heart, that there are brighter skies ahead."
AR A voice of sanity
Hunderte deutsche Trucker stecken in Südengland fest.
NHS bittet Johnson um Brexit-Aufschub.
Raus aus der EU, rein ins Elend.
AR Der Clown lässt nicht los.
Lufthansa flies in 80 tons of fruit and vegetables to help restock UK supermarket shelves:
A Boeing 777 freighter landed at Doncaster Sheffield airport at lunchtime.
AR A nice gesture
2020 December 22
The New York Times: "Britain, christened not long ago by a pro-Brexit lawmaker as 'Treasure Island' for the riches it offers, earned another moniker on Monday as a new variant of the coronavirus ripped through the country and set off blockades at its borders: Plague Island."
Die Welt says "the yawning gulf between the prime minister's airy promises and the real world" has left a vacuum "fast being filled with the anger and fear of a nation hit ever since by horror story upon horror story" just days before the Brexit deadline: "Corona chaos will merge seamlessly into Brexit chaos. Few will then be able or willing to tell which bottleneck and which new emergency measure is due to what. But the frustration .. will be the same."
Libération says the continental blockade is even more effective than that decreed by Napoleon in 1806 at isolating the UK from the rest of Europe. A few days before the British exit from the single market, the island is getting a foretaste of its regained sovereignty.
Another British Fiasco
When the first wave of Covid-19 in Britain, I said the government should pursue a maximum suppression strategy. When a virus is allowed to spread, it evolves and mutates. We now face a mutant variant of the coronavirus with 17 alterations to its genetic sequences.
The UK government strategy has been only to slow the spread of the virus. The result is that the UK has recorded 970 deaths from Covid per million people. By contrast, China and South Korea have recorded 3 and 12 deaths per million people respectively.
The new mutant seems to be accelerating transmission. The greater the number of people who are infected, the more chance a virus has to evolve. A surge in cases in southern England, where transmission is high, will spread across the country and beyond.
Government mismanagement of the pandemic created the conditions for mutations to occur. An earlier lockdown by just one week in the spring could have halved the death rate. After the lockdown, the government again failed to do what was needed in time.
The UK has now been effectively placed in quarantine by the international community. The prime minister's repeated dithering and delays have led Britain to have one of the worst death rates in the world.
AR The UK government has shamed Britain and endangered the world in an attempt to protect an already shamefully mismanaged economy.
Waste, Negligence, Cronyism
The New York Times
When the pandemic exploded in March, British officials embarked on a desperate scramble to procure the PPE and other supplies critical to containing the surge. In the following months, the government handed out thousands of contracts, some of them in a secretive VIP lane to a select few companies with connections to the Conservative party.
Of the roughly 1200 central government contracts that have been made public, together worth nearly $22 billion, about $11 billion went either to companies either run by friends and associates of politicians in the Conservative party or to ones with no prior experience or a history of controversy.
The procurement system was cobbled together during a meeting of anxious bureaucrats in late March. Wealthy former investment banker and Conservative party grandee Lord Paul Deighton became the government czar for PPE. He helped the government award billions of dollars in contracts, including hundreds of millions to several companies where he has financial interests or personal connections.
The government cast aside the usual transparency rules and awarded contracts worth billions of dollars without competitive bidding. Over half of them remain concealed from the public.
AR A plague on them all!
⦿ Bob Malone
The Great Conjunction, 2021-12-21: Jupiter and Saturn in a celestial kiss
unseen since 1226 and not to be seen again for the next 400 years.
2020 Winter Solstice
The UK is going into international quarantine after a faster-spreading variant of coronavirus broke out in SE England. The border with France is closed and Channel Tunnel services are suspended.
Flights, ferries, and trains from Britain are banned after European countries including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden announced travel bans.
UK health secretary Matt Hancock: "The new variant is out of control."
AR All this and Brexit too.
Downing Street: "The transition period will end on December 31."
Bournemouth East MP Tobias Ellwood: "Let Brexit trade talks continue .. If there's no deal by new year let's .. pause the clock."
North Dorset MP Simon Hoare: "Daily clarity of the dangers to our already pressured economy of no deal is alarming."
Tory media bite back
Daily Mail: "Does the prime minister have any idea what he's doing or where he's going?"
The Sun: "Boris Johnson has made a pig's ear of things recently."
AR I despair.
What Is Death?
We die. A pandemic demands that we understand this. This year, the Covid-19 death toll is set to pass 400,000 in the United States.
We have a health care system with technological powers that verge on godly. But you have to have access to health care for health care to work. And death still comes.
From the time you are born, your body is turning over. At your healthiest, living is a process of dying. But your death is not the end of your body. Tissues oxidize and decay, like a banana ripening.
You are a person with consciousness and emotions and ties. You live on in hearts and minds. The pandemic is a disaster, but it is also a moment to look at the big picture of life.
Living in the face of death shows you what you love and urges you to revel in that love while you can. This is where immortality lives.
2020 December 20
Coronavirus Cancels Christmas
Christmas plans for millions of UK families were in chaos last night after tougher coronavirus restrictions were introduced to contain a more infectious strain of the virus.
Boris Johnson unveiled tier 4 restrictions for London and southeast England that will prevent 16.4 million people from mixing indoors over the festive period.
The decision to scrap the planned relaxation of Covid rules for Christmas was blamed on the spread of the mutant strain, which has raised infection rates.
Minsters alerted the WHO to the outbreak and expect other countries to stop UK residents from passing through their borders.
No longer cavalier
During yesterday's 10 Downing Street news conference, Boris Johnson began to shake his head, stumbling over his words, scarcely able to believe what he was saying: "It is with a very heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned."
Last week Johnson pronounced such a move "inhuman" and mocked Sir Keir Starmer for suggesting it. Yesterday he said: "When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defence."
AR Cancel Brexit too.
2020 December 19
Whitehall played the wargame Operation Capstone last week. Government officials modelled a series of events following the ending of the transition period in a no-deal Brexit:
⦻ Channel ferries on New Year's Day face a blockade of fishing boats from France and Spain
⦻ The motorway to Dover is jammed solid
⦻ Medicines cannot reach hospitals overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases
⦻ Criminal gangs try to hijack a consignment of vaccines
⦻ A large care home provider closes suddenly because it cannot hire staff from the EU
⦻ Two storms lead to flooding in northern England
⦻ Police face public disorder in protests by pro and anti-Brexit groups
⦻ There is an explosion in Gibraltar
A government source: "The system worked. It went well .. We're ready for no-deal."
Boris Johnson is upbeat. A source: "That has been his one consistent message — that if we leave on WTO terms we cannot be seen to be running back."
AR The Clown is leading us to ruin.
Stronger Than Brexit
No matter what is going to be in the deal that might or will hopefully shape the EU−UK relations in the future, one thing is absolutely clear.
The best deal the UK can get, and it will stay that way, is to be part of the European Union, to sit here around the table in Brussels and take decisions together. No matter what happens in the next days, weeks, months, years ahead, our interdependence will always be stronger than Brexit.
Our ties will always be stronger than Brexit and our friendship will always be stronger than Brexit.
2020 December 18
Last night, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen talked with UK prime minister Boris Johnson. He called on the EU to drop its demand for the right to subsidise industries while denying the UK the same right and said the €750 billion EU pandemic recovery fund will be used to support industries and put UK firms at a competitive disadvantage.
Downing Street sources say in the event of a no-deal Brexit the UK will not return to the negotiating table and will instead trade on WTO terms: "The prime minister has always been the loudest voice in the room on this. If we don't get a deal now, we won't be going in January to restart talks. That's not going to happen."
AR Exit Britannia, as Big Ben bongs.
Math of the Amplituhedron
Lauren Williams studies the positive Grassmannian and the amplituhedron.
As a toy example, the Grassmannian Gr(1,3) deals with 1D lines in a 3D space. Imagine all the lines through the origin of this space and a sphere centered on the origin. Each line intersects the sphere twice, so we can forget one hemisphere. The northern hemisphere is Gr(1,3), and the positive Grassmannian is a quarter of the northern hemisphere.
Each point on Gr(1,3) encodes the properties of a line passing through the origin. Each line in Gr(1,3) is defined by a 1 × 3 matrix. The numbers in the matrix are the coordinates of the point in the Grassmannian that encodes the line.
Many matrices have a determinant and subdeterminants, which we calculate from the matrix. A 1 × 3 matrix has three subdeterminants, which can be positive, negative, or zero. With the positive Grassmannian, they can only be positive or zero. The subdeterminants of a 1 × 3 matrix have eight different sign patterns: (000), (00+), (0++), and so on. We can neglect (000), leaving just seven categories.
The categories sort points into cells. The seven cells for Gr(1,3) are the seven parts of the positive Grassmannian. Williams devised a formula for counting the number of different cells in positive Grassmannians of any dimension.
The amplituhedron helps us predict outcomes of elementary particle collisions. Such collisions are described by an amplitude, and the amplituhedron is a way of calculating amplitudes. A set of colliding particles defines an amplituhedron, and its volume gives the amplitude for a collision.
One way to calculate its volume is to break the amplituhedron into pieces by triangulation. The amplituhedron is related to the positive Grassmannian. Williams has shown that the cells of the positive Grassmannian can triangulate the amplituhedron.
AR Promising work — if I could follow it!
A Cosmic Crisis
The ESA Gaia spacecraft has measured the parallaxes of 1.3 billion stars. Its new data has sharpened the problem known as the Hubble tension.
Most Milky Way stars show a tiny parallax in a telescope. Detecting the motion requires specialized instruments. Gaia was designed for the purpose.
The telescope works by looking in two directions at once. Accurate parallax estimates require the angle between the two fields of view to stay fixed. Early in the Gaia mission, scientists found errors. But as data accrued, they found ways to separate the fake parallax from the real. The final parallax data is corrected for a star's position, color, and brightness.
Cosmic measurements of distance rely on distance ladders. The first rung his standard candles close enough to show parallax. We compare their brightness with that of fainter ones in nearby galaxies to deduce their distances. These galaxies with Type 1a supernovas let us gauge the relative distances of more remote galaxies with Type 1a supernovas. The ratio of their speeds to their distances gives the cosmic expansion rate.
We predict the universe should currently be expanding at a rate of 67 km/s/Mpc. Yet the new data peg the expansion rate at 73 km/s/Mpc.
AR Exciting chance for new science!
European Space Agency
The Milky Way
Image made from early data release EDR3 by the data processing and analysis consortium DPAC
using detailed information on more than 1.8 billion sources detected by the Gaia spacecraft
US Covid death toll
US economy trackers
Ursula von der Leyen:
"There has been progress
but no breakthrough."
⦿ Jane Bown
John le Carré
2020 December 17
America Is Being Hacked
Thomas P. Bossert
At the worst possible time, the networks of the United States government and much of corporate America are compromised by a foreign nation.
The cybersecurity firm FireEye has been hacked. Its clients, which include the federal government, have been placed at risk. SolarWinds, a company that provides software to tens of thousands of government and corporate customers, was also hacked.
The attackers gained access to SolarWinds software before updates of that software were made available to its customers. Unsuspecting customers then downloaded a corrupted version of the software.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has issued an emergency directive ordering federal civilian agencies to remove SolarWinds software from their networks. The remediation effort will be enormous and take years.
All indicators point to the Russian government. The United States must publicly attribute responsibility for these hacks. Leadership is essential.
AR China virus, Russian hack — American doom?
China Brings Moon Rocks to Earth
The New York Times
China has returned 2 kg of lunar rocks and soil to Earth. The Chang'e-5 spacecraft gathered the samples from the volcanic plain Mons Rümker. The return capsule was recovered soon after it landed in Inner Mongolia.
NASA is currently limited from directly working with CNSA or Chinese-owned companies. US law prevents Chinese scientists from looking at the moon rocks NASA astronauts brought back during the Apollo missions.
The Chang'e-5 mission required new feats of engineering and execution for China. After arriving in lunar orbit, Chang'e-5 split into an orbiter and a lander. The lander collected samples, its top half took them up to lunar orbit, and the capsule returned to Earth.
China plans to build a space station in Earth orbit, to send Chinese astronauts to the Moon in the 2030s, and to build a lunar base to support exploration in the decades to come.
AR This is good news.
2020 December 16
People of the Year
Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahin are the co-founders of BioNTech. They developed the first safe and effective vaccine for use against Covid-19, and did so using new and challenging mRNA technology. They are the Financial Times People of the Year for 2020.
FT editor Roula Khalaf: "They epitomise scientific endeavour at its very best."
AR Excellent choice
History of the Milky Way
Epic collisions shaped the Milky Way, and the galaxy continues to churn. New digital simulations showing how a galaxy like ours forms and evolves feature a lot of old disk stars.
Many of the earliest stars are poor in metals (elements above H and He). The smaller ones are still shining. Most are in the halo, but some are in the disk, the youngest region of the Milky Way.
The ancient stars are immigrants. Some of them were born in ancient clouds that deposited them into orbits that later formed part of the galactic disk. Other stars came from dwarf galaxies that slammed into the Milky Way.
We see a huge number of halo stars ping-ponging back and forth in the center of the galaxy as if they had come from a single dwarf galaxy that collided with the Milky Way perhaps 10 billion years ago.
The Milky Way is now calmer, but the Magellanic Clouds are coming in fast. The disk, with us in it, is moving toward where the Large Magellanic Cloud was a billion years ago.
JAXA scientists are amazed by their samples of asteroid dust. Hayabusa-2 collected surface dust and pristine material from the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 Gm away. The probe dropped off a capsule containing the samples, which landed in the Australian desert and were transported to Japan.
Hirotaka Sawada: "When we actually opened it, I was speechless. It was more than we expected and there was so much that I was truly impressed. It wasn't fine particles like powder, but there were plenty of samples that measured several mm across."
Seiichiro Watanabe: "There are a lot [of samples] and it seems they contain plenty of organic matter. So I hope we can find out many things about how organic substances have developed on the parent body of Ryugu."
AR Good work
2020 December 15
"Know thyself" — the first of three maxims said to have been inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. What it actually means is a matter of debate, and modern science has made things much more complex.
How the physical substance of our bodies creates our sense of being a consistent entity, and what it means to have that sensation, is a puzzle. But our rapidly expanding knowledge of genetics and cell biology, plus our psychological insight that we are all a bundle of delusions and biases that prevent self-knowledge, give new perspectives on old debates and spark new ones:
• You are stardust: The long view of when your existence really began
• How nature, nurture, and randomness combine to make a unique you
• Think your sense of self is located in your brain? Think again
• You are not one person: Why your sense of self must be an illusion
• Why it's the aliens living inside you that create your sense of you
• Do we have free will or are all our decisions predetermined?
• If we can't change the world, does anything we do matter?
• Why we're in tune with our emotions, but suck at judging our smarts
• If the multiverse exists, are there infinite copies of me?
It is possible to take introspection too far: "Nothing to excess" and "Surety brings ruin" were the two other Delphic maxims. But delving into the mysteries of ourselves helps us to understand others better too.
AR New Scientist — my favorite magazine for over fifty years.
2020 December 14
England Versus Europe
John le Carré
I'm not just a Remainer. I'm a European through and through, and the rats have taken over the ship.
AR Quoted today in a tweet by Donald Tusk.
Brexit Deadline Extended
Speaking on behalf of the UK and the EU, Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen pledged to "go the extra mile" yesterday to try to secure a post-Brexit trade deal by extending talks after positive discussions on how to ensure an economic "level playing field" after Brexit.
Johnson: "I'm afraid we're still very far apart on some key things, but where there's life, there's hope. We're going to keep talking to see what we can do. The UK certainly won't be walking away from the talks .. But what we can't do is compromise on that fundamental nature of what Brexit is all about."
The EU wanted the power to impose tariffs on Britain if the government fails to keep up with future EU rules and regulations. The UK rejected this ratcheting clause as a threat to sovereignty. Lord Frost and Michel Barnier made "limited" progress in narrowing the gaps between the two positions.
VDL: "Our negotiating teams have been working day and night over recent days. And despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations, despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over, we think it is responsible at this point to go the extra mile."
AR Wait for 2021-01-01, I guess.
Medicine and Morals
Ashley K. Fernandes
Many professions were taken in by Nazi philosophy, but doctors and nurses had a peculiarly strong attraction to it. Physicians joined the Nazi party in droves, much higher than any other profession.
Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis murdered many millions of innocent persons. Doctors participated in the medicalization of death, from eugenics to euthanasia to Auschwitz. German eugenicists cooperated eagerly with the Nazi party.
For Hitler and the Nazi physicians, the German Reich was a body. Whatever contributed to its health and well-being was to be preserved, that which did not was a disease, to be cut out before it poisoned and killed the body.
The Nazi euthanasia campaign was said to be good science, humane, rational, and good for the racial state. It led to the technological and medical surge responsible for genocide at the death camps.
The Holocaust is an enduring lesson in philosophical ethics:
• We must affirm that a person is the fundamental unit of value of our society.
• We must have rigorous conscience protection for physicians and health care providers.
• Science must rely on philosophy to say whether a particular medical practice is morally good.
• Physicians and health professionals must remain sensitive to dehumanization.
• A physician must serve the individual patient before the good of the state.
Medical professionals should always uphold the life and dignity of the human person.
AR This issue needs more debate.
⦿ Toby Melville
Dover will be a bottleneck after a no-deal Brexit
President Obama, 2016
2020 December 13
Twenty years ago, I ended my presidential campaign after the Supreme Court abruptly decided the 2000 election. I presided over the tallying of Electoral College votes in Congress to elect my opponent. This process will unfold again on Monday, reaffirming the continuity of our democracy.
This weekend also marks the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Agreement. Nearly four years ago, the United States pulled out of the accord, signed by 194 other nations to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases threatening the planet. President-elect Joe Biden plans to rejoin the agreement on his Inauguration Day.
AR Sanity is restored.
The shambolic, self-destructive, and humiliating consequences of Brexit are coming into focus. The emerging picture is worse than its most pessimistic opponents feared. As the mist of lies, illusions, and jingoism lifts, we see not the sunlit uplands of a newly liberated nation but endless queues of diesel lorries blocking the Garden of England.
The strangulation of Britain's ports is already under way. Operators report unprecedented container backlogs, with some deliveries cancelled altogether. This is not a mere logistical, pandemic-related hiccup. It is an augury of panic-inducing food and medicine shortages, rising prices, and huge economic pain.
Any half-sensible prime minister would have asked the EU for an extension to the Brexit transition period. Brussels would have agreed, and British voters would have understood the delay. But Boris Johnson could not see it. Blinded by ego and his schoolboy brand of nostalgic English nationalism, he bumbled on toward the abyss.
No-deal Brexit irreparably damages Britain and hurts our closest neighbours, friends, and competitors. They will not quickly forgive a wantonly hostile act that undermines their principles and prosperity, nor should they.
Johnson was heard singing Waltzing Matilda in Downing Street last week. That song's jolly swagman drowns in a billabong. With a bit of luck, no-deal will be Bodger's end.
AR Sack the scoundrel.
2020 December 12
Trump: Supreme Court Rebuff
The New York Times
Texas attorney general Ken Paxton asked the Supreme Court to overturn the results of the presidential election in four other states. The Supreme Court tossed out the lawsuit. Paxton and his collaborators have disgraced themselves.
Brexit: Europeans Close Ranks
Boris Johnson has been snubbed by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron after he requested a phone call with them to try and unblock talks. A senior EU official said the request for a three-way call on Monday was rejected because all negotiations should go via the European Commission.
Boris Johnson's declaration that he would go to Paris, travel to Berlin, "do whatever it takes to reach a deal" was quietly rebuffed again by the EU on Friday. Europe's leaders won't personally intervene in the current impasse in trade talks.
AR Bo fail
ALL WE EVER WANTED WAS OUR FREEDOM
+ And to have access to the single market
+ And to prosper mightily
+ And to be able to use the weights room without paying gym membership
+ And to have some me-time
+ And to explore an open relationship for a bit
+ And to get a Regret Nothing tattoo
2020 December 11
Brexit: No Deal Probable
Ursula von der Leyen
There is higher probability for no-deal than a deal. Positions remain apart on fundamental issues. We will decide on Sunday whether we have the conditions for an agreement or not.
It is only fair that competitors to our own enterprises face the same conditions in our own market. But this is not to say that we would require the UK to follow us every time we decide to raise our level of ambition, for example in the environmental field. They would remain free sovereigns. We would simply adapt the conditions for access to our market according to the decision of the UK and this would apply vice-versa.
AR The UK needs a new PM by Sunday.
Europe, Hungary, Poland
Timothy Garton Ash
The EU faces two urgent crises:
△ Putting through its €1.8 trillion budget and recovery fund
△ Overcoming threatened vetoes from Hungary and Poland
It took a marathon summit this summer to agree the budget and recovery fund, over fierce resistance from the "frugal four" of Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
The Hungarian and Polish governments make Margaret Thatcher look like a Europhile. They stand to be enormous net beneficiaries from the budget and recovery fund, yet they refuse to accept basic rule-of-law conditions.
Hungarian and Polish leaders are telling German and Dutch taxpayers: "We will block funds to southern EZ countries like Italy and Spain unless you let us go on using large amounts of your money to undermine democracy."
AR Good commentary, as always from Ash.
When two heavy ions collide inside a particle accelerator, they produce a fluid containing an assortment of elementary particles. An accurate classical computer simulation of drop of this hot and dense fluid would take longer than the age of the universe.
Researchers are collaborating to explore how to run a simulation on a quantum computer.
A quantum computer swaps the deterministic property of charge or no charge for a quantum property such as electron spin. When measured, the spin settles into spin-up or spin-down. But until it is measured, the spin is a superposition of up and down.
Each qubit behaves like a tiny probability spinner that can be tuned and controlled by a computer program. The tuning is coded by a complex number that replaces the binary 1 or 0 of classical bits. Theoretically, a small collection of qubits can store a huge amount of information.
The collaborators recently simulated a heavy particle after it passed through a quark-gluon plasma. Quark-gluon plasmas are produced in extremely energetic heavy-ion collisions. The researchers ran their simulation on both a real quantum computer built by IBM and on a classical computer configured to emulate a quantum computer.
They demonstrated that these kinds of calculation are already feasible today.
AR Good news
2020 December 10
EU Plays Hardball
The Times, 1200 UTC
EU unilateral no-deal contingency plans are harder than a trade agreement on existing terms. The UK would have to continue to follow European competition and level playing field rules as the price of allowing planes to fly or British lorries to continue to operate in the EU. The EU could ban British airlines from serving European destinations unless the UK government allows European fishing vessels access to UK waters.
AR Good so — hit hard. It's the only language the mutt ("fitter than a butcher's dog") in 10 Downing Street understands.
The Guardian, 1159 UTC
The European Commission offers to keep planes, coaches, and freight operating across Europe for six months after a no-deal exit — if the UK government agrees to maintain a "level playing field" by continuing "to apply sufficiently high and comparable standards" during the period.
The EU will also offer British fishermen access to its seas and open negotiations over quotas, if the UK government reciprocates, to avoid the worst disruption, again assuming "equivalent" regulations.
UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the talks were unlikely to be extended beyond the Sunday deadline without substantial concessions from Brussels: "We're not going to be treated .. in a way that no other country would accept, and nor would the EU accept. It's about some basic respect for democratic principles."
AR Basic respect for democratic principles would require abandoning Brexit, given polls showing 51% against it and only 38% for.
Barack Obama, Writer
Barack Obama's new memoir A Promised Land is unlike any other presidential autobiography from the past — or likely future.
Obama talked about his favorite American writers: "Whether it's Whitman or Emerson or Ellison or Kerouac, there is this sense of self-invention and embrace of contradiction. I think it's in our DNA, from the start, because we come from everywhere, and we contain multitudes. And that has always been both the promise of America, and also what makes America sometimes so contentious."
As a teenager in Hawaii and a student at Columbia University, Obama read everything from classics by Hemingway, Dostoyevsky, Cervantes, to novels like Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, and works by Robert Stone. He read philosophy, poetry, history, biographies, memoirs, and books like Gandhi's Truth by Erik Erikson.
The reading he did then, combined with his love of Shakespeare and the Bible and his ardent study of Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Reinhold Niebuhr, would shape his long view of history.
Writing and hope
As much as anybody, when I think about how I learned to write, who I mimicked, the voice that always comes to mind the most is James Baldwin. I didn't have his talent, but the sort of searing honesty and generosity of spirit, and that ironic sense of being able to look at things, squarely, and yet still have compassion for even people whom he obviously disdained, or distrusted, or was angry with. His books all had a big impact on me.
I think whether you're talking about art or politics or just getting up in the morning and trying to live your life, it's useful to be able to seek out that joy where you can find it and operate on the basis of hope rather than despair.
Berlaymont, Wednesday, L to R: David Frost, Boris Johnson, Ursula von der Leyen, Michel Barnier
Boris and Ursula dine
in Brussels tonight
⦿ Jacob King
Margaret Keenan, 90, Coventry,
is the first in the UK to get the
Pfizer Covid vaccination
⦿ Cornelis Goilhardt
Terry Reintke MEP
⦿ Andrew Parsons
"Brexit was always
a bad idea .. we British
forsook one of modern
history's great and noble
experiments in bringing
nations together; and it
fills me with shame."
Ursula von der Leyen
UK approves Pfizer vaccine
for rollout next week
"Das Wunderbare an Trump ist,
dass er in seiner Unappetit-
lichkeit und Primitivität etwas
hat, was ihn zum Sprecher
der Stummen und Ab-
UK Covid death toll
passes 75 000
Austrian cartoon, 1919
2020 December 9
Brexit Deal Deadline Sunday
The Guardian, 2228 UTC
A Brexit deal must be sealed by Sunday or there will be no deal, Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen agreed after dinner.
President von der Leyen tweeted: "We had a lively and interesting discussion on the state of play on outstanding issues. We understand each other's positions. They remain far apart. The teams should immediately reconvene to try to resolve these issues. We will come to a decision by the end of the weekend."
Johnson said he could not accept terms in a treaty that would tie the UK to EU rules. The EU will publish its no-deal contingency plans "very soon indeed" to keep planes flying and protect borders.
Downing Street statement: "The prime minister and Von der Leyen had a frank discussion .. Very large gaps remain between the two sides and it is still unclear whether these can be bridged. The prime minister and Von der Leyen agreed .. that by Sunday a firm decision should be taken about the future of the talks."
If necessary, the House of Commons could sit on Christmas Eve.
AR Forget it — no deal.
A Brexit Deal?
I don't think we will know before the EU summit tomorrow if a Brexit deal will be agreed or not. We are still working on it.
But if the British side proposes conditions we cannot accept, we will go on our way without an agreement. We must maintain the integrity of the single market.
A number of complicated questions remain. Most of them are on how to deal with the dynamic. We currently have harmonised law, but in future it will diverge on environment law, labour law, health legislation, everywhere.
We need to talk about how we react when laws change either in the EU or the UK. We need a level playing field not only today but also in days to come.
This issue of fair competition between two diverging legal systems is now the big issue we need to solve.
AR Untergang UK
Brexit Nightmare Scenario
A 10 Downing Street unit will coordinate the government response to the "nightmare scenario" of a no-deal Brexit plus a Covid surge and extreme winter weather.
The winter control and coordination cell will provide daily briefings to the prime minister as part of a wider D20 contingency operation. The briefings will bring together information from the Brexit and Covid operations committees, the civil contingencies secretariat, and other Whitehall departments.
Loathsome ideologue Michael Gove oversees the D20 plan and chairs the Covid and the Brexit operations committees.
The long nightmare
Each step Britain has taken in the post referendum world has been in the direction of a hard Brexit. We now face a rupture with our closest neighbours that only a small minority of a small majority would have supported back in 2016.
The main victors are those who could never accept the EU laws and court rulings that were the price we paid for the benefits of membership.
Other victors include those who saw the EU as an agent of globalisation and want big government to shield them from it. Left-behind towns, pensioners, fishing communities, and rural areas wanted protection from change. That's where the Conservative Party now draws its support.
Nationalists are victors too. Nationalists in Scotland and Northern Ireland may be the biggest beneficiaries of Brexit.
Leaving the EU is so unattractive that no other nation will do it.
AR In the long term, Brits are killing the UK for the EU.
2020 December 8
UK Drops Illegal Threat
Lisa O'Carroll, 1528 UTC
The UK government is dropping plans to break international law in relation to Brexit.
The government will abandon all the Brexit clauses relating to Northern Ireland in the internal market and finance bills. In exchange, the EU will minimise checks on controls imposed on food and medicines going into NI from GB.
UK cabinet minister Michael Gove and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said in a joint statement: "In view of these mutually agreed solutions, the UK will withdraw clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the UK internal market bill, and not introduce any similar provisions in the taxation bill."
NI Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connolly: "We still need the conclusion of a free trade agreement to remove customs frictions, and with three weeks left to go we still will need an implementation period to allow us to comply with the new requirements."
AR No more Rule Britannia, Britannia waives the rules ..
EU27 Backs French Brexit Stance
Emmanuel Macron may be talking tougher than the rest of the EU27 as Brexit talks reach their endgame, but France's concerns are widely shared across the EU27.
An EU diplomat: "A bad deal poses fundamental risks to the EU in 10 years' time. We are all with the French on this."
Institute for Government Europe specialist Georgina Wright: "If France were the only member state to have concerns and reservations, we would be a lot closer to a deal than we are now."
French Europe minister Clément Beaune: "The main players have all realigned behind the same position. There is unity on the message and on the strategy .. The UK's gamble on a split in the EU has failed."
Former Foreign Office permanent secretary Lord Ricketts: "We always had a reputation as a country that was pragmatic, hard-headed and full of common sense. We were seen as good negotiators who knew what we wanted. That's been badly damaged if not destroyed by what looks from abroad like a long period of indecision and trying to pursue completely incompatible objectives."
Vote Leave mythology is about to hit reality. Other nations are watching and learning from British mistakes.
Lord Ricketts: "It's been pretty clear to observers abroad that this has been largely a psychodrama about the Conservative party and its internal obsession with the EU. There's a feeling that the government is in hock to a smallish group who are the hardest end of that spectrum and are prepared to ride roughshod over the usual parliamentary conventions."
Potential allies around the world see a UK that seems untrustworthy, petty, and confused, with a deluded belief in British exceptionalism.
A former cabinet minister: "We have gone from punching above our weight to bragging above our weight. Serious people around the world don't like braggarts. I get the feeling people are sad for Britain, not angry. They .. think Brexit is being done without a clue."
AR United EU, clueless Brits — go figure.
2020 December 7
Brexit: No Deal Visible
BBC News, 1917 UTC
Another long phone call between UK prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen resulted in a joint statement:
"As agreed on Saturday, we took stock today of the ongoing negotiations. We agreed that the conditions for finalising an agreement are not there due to the remaining significant differences on three critical issues: level playing field, governance and fisheries. We asked our chief negotiators and their teams to prepare an overview of the remaining differences to be discussed in a physical meeting in Brussels in the coming days."
AR Bodger has destroyed the UK.
Getting the UK back into Europe
We want to keep close ties with the UK after Brexit. We had British MEPs and MEPs from other member states working together. That's how I came up with the idea of starting a friendship group.
Looking back, I think maybe more Europeans should have come to the UK from another EU country explaining to UK citizens why to them it is important to be a member of the European Union.
There's a whole narrative about these unelected technocrats in Brussels. Very often the language we use here and the way we interact with people in Brussels and Strasbourg is very professional, very rational, very serious.
There is a reason for that, because you want to appear like a serious institution and we're doing serious work here. At the same time, I think it can put a big distance between the European institutions, the European parliament, the European Commission, and the citizens. We're working on legislation. It's really hard sometimes, it's really technocratic.
The worst thing that can happen right now is for us to lose hope.
AR We ♥ Terry
2020 December 6
Brexit: 'No agreement is feasible'
The Sunday Times
UK prime minister Boris Johnson says Britain must have freedom to make its own rules. Cabinet ministers say he should pursue a no-deal Brexit unless Brussels backs down.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen agreed with Johnson last night to a "final throw of the dice" this week to try to salvage a deal. They agreed that "no agreement is feasible" without movement on fishing quotas, regulations, and governance.
If there is no progress, Johnson's team is discussing plans for him to announce no-deal in a televised address to the nation, blaming EU and particularly French intransigence.
Even cabinet ministers who backed Remain say Britain should prepare for no-deal and Johnson should not bow to EU demands. A former Remainer: "Just get it done."
Whistling Waltzing Matilda
Boris Johnson is now preparing for the UK to do business with the EU on the same terms as Australia, a.k.a. WTO terms.
Last week, Ursula von der Leyen encouraged Michel Barnier to reach a speedy conclusion. He tried, but Emmanuel Macron accused him of "going soft" and urged EU member states to take a stand.
David Frost then faced new text on the level playing field and consulted with the PM. Johnson: "There's no way we are going to do that."
Then they saw new EU plans on fishing quotas. Johnson: "That's not acceptable."
Sir Ivan Rogers: "The UK evidently thought it could use late concessions on fish to buy much lighter level-playing-field rules; the EU that .. the PM had no real choice but to cave in fully on their level-playing-field demands at the end."
◂ On Saturday afternoon, Johnson spoke by phone from Chequers with Dr von der Leyen.
Brussels wants a deal by Tuesday so that the legal text can be translated ahead of an EU summit on Thursday. EU leaders want Johnson to ditch the Internal Market Bill, due in the Commons on Monday.
If it's no deal, Michael Gove will wheel out Operation Yellowhammer plans to keep the lights on.
AR "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."
— Sir Edward Grey, August 1914
2020 December 5
Quantum Local Friendliness
In 1964, John Stewart Bell proved a theorem. It assumed (1) signals are local, not superluminal, (2) a hidden deterministic reality explains quantum mechanics, and implicitly (3) we are free to choose which measurements we make. Experimenters used it to rule out assumption (2).
A new Local Friendliness (LF) theorem goes further. It suggests an experiment with results that may force us to reject one of three assumptions: (1), (3), and (4) measurement outcomes are objective facts for all observers. The LF inequalities go beyond the Bell inequalities.
Eugene Wigner imagined an experiment. His friend is inside a lab and measures the state of a particle in a superposition of 0 and 1. The measurement is either 0 or 1, and friend records the outcome. Outside the lab, Wigner sees the lab and friend evolving together, entangled in superposition, even though friend thinks he has already collapsed it.
The LF theorem duplicates the Wigner setup. We have two labs. Alice is outside one, and her friend Charlie is inside. Bob is outside the other, and his friend Debbie is inside. We take a pair of entangled particles and send one each to Charlie and Debbie, who each measure it and record the result.
Alice and Bob each now makes a measurement. They can (a) ask the friend what the outcome of the measurement is, (b) reverse the quantum evolution of the entire system, to undo the friend's measurement, erase the friend's memory, and restore the particle to its initial condition, or (c) choose between one of two different measurements, measure the particle, and record the result. They do this for many entangled pairs.
A proof-of-principle experiment starts with a photon in each lab. A simple setup makes a measurement on the photon, which takes one of two paths or enters into a superposition of taking both paths at once, depending on its initial state. The friend is a qubit.
The proof-of-principle experiment was run about 90 000 times. It showed the LF inequalities are violated. We may doubt that a qubit is an observer, so the team envisions doing the experiment with an AGI inside a quantum computer.
If the inequalities are still violated, we must give up one of the three assumptions. Rejecting (4) would cast doubt on the Copenhagen interpretation.
Copenhagen-like interpretations include quantum subjectivism and relationalism (quasar). The LF theorem lets us distinguish between Copenhagen and quasar.
AR Nice — "quasar" is my bad!
2020 December 4
Brexit Talks Paused
BBC News, 1944 UTC
The conditions for a post-Brexit trade deal have not been met and talks are paused. Michel Barnier and David Frost say "significant divergences" remain. Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson will talk tomorrow.
AR Roll back Brexit now.
Brexit Talks: 'Difficult Point'
BBC News, 1703 UTC
Downing Street says talks to reach a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU are at a "very difficult point".
The two sides still disagree on state aid subsidies, fishing, and enforcement. If a deal is not agreed this month, the UK and EU will trade on WTO rules.
A spokesman says the government is "committed to working hard to try and reach agreement" but the UK will not "agree a deal that doesn't allow us to take back control".
An EU source: "Both sides are giving it their all — we'll try and get this done this weekend if at all possible."
The European Parliament must ratify any deal, perhaps all 27 EU national parliaments too.
AR Endgame for Bodger
Johnson's First Year
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed Boris Johnson as weak, vacillating, and incompetent.
Despite spending more money fighting Covid-19 than any other G7 country save Canada, the UK has suffered the second highest death rate after Italy.
✗ Debased his office and weakened the institutions of government
✗ Condoned the breaking of international law
✗ Stuffed his cabinet with pliant mediocrities
✗ Sought to bypass parliament
✗ Ousted good public servants but retained bad ministers
✗ Obfuscated and dissembled with facts
✗ Lost all credibility
Global Britain is sinking into mean, ugly nationalism.
2020 December 3
European Commission Presidency
Ursula von der Leyen was born in Brussels and grew up there. As president of the European Commission, she says: "I always wanted, in politics, to come home."
German chancellor Angela Merkel was taken aback when French president Emmanuel Macron recommended her for the job and said she needed her back in Berlin.
UvdL says her first year on the job was turbulent. Brexit was no longer such a threat to the EU, but then the coronavirus struck. EU members states shut their borders and hoarded medical equipment.
UvdL rallied international support for vaccines and raised €7.5 billion for research and then coordinated a €750 billion borrowing plan for the recovery: "Merkel made an extraordinary move. She knew what was needed to keep the union together."
The July agreement gave the commission the fiscal muscle to allow a more even comeback between prosperous northern states and struggling southern ones. Now nationalists in Poland and Hungary want to water down legislation binding recipients of EU funds to adherence to the rule of law.
The European green new deal aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and establish the EU as the global leader on climate change. UvdL: "If you look at the time left before tipping point, not many parties have understood that this green ambition is right."
On the election of Joe Biden: "We're not going to pick up where we left off in 2016 .. The last four years have taught us .. that we have to define our position as Europeans."
AR Well done
2020 December 2
China: Moon Success
The China National Space Administration says its Chang'e-5 robot spacecraft has landed successfully on the Oceanus Procellarum on the Moon. It will gather 2 kg of lunar rocks and soil for return to Earth next month.
AR Well done
Coronavirus: Lockdown Risk
A Chinese study in Hunan province shows that Covid-19 transmission during lockdown was decreased for community interactions but increased for household interactions. The results, published in Science, traced 80% of secondary infections back to 15% of primary infections. Contacts between members of the same household posed the greatest risk of transmission, followed by contacts between extended family members. The transmission risk was lower still for social contacts and community encounters, such as those on public transport.
AR Seems plausible to me.
America: Presidential Pardons
President Trump may be considering sweeping pardons before he leaves office next month. A 20-page US justice department filing alleges that [a redacted individual] offered "a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence" and [two redacted individuals] acted improperly as lobbyists in the "bribery-for-pardon schemes" [details redacted].
AR Going down in a blaze of toxicity.
UK: Conservatives Rebel
In a Commons rebellion last night, 55 Tory MPs voted against HM government. But Labour abstained, so the motion was passed by 291 to 78. The motion returns England from lockdown to a toughened three-tier lockdown system of coronavirus restrictions, but it would have been easily defeated if all the opposition parties had voted against it.
AR The Johnson government's majority is vulnerable.
2020 December 1
Coronavirus: Wuhan Report
Nick Paton Walsh
Exactly a year after the first known case of Covid-19 in the Hubei city of Wuhan, a leaked 117-page report from the Hubei center for disease control (CDC) is revealing.
On January 10, officials said the SARS testing kits used to diagnose the new virus were ineffective, regularly giving false negatives. Health officials began to use clinical diagnoses, but first added the new cases to the confirmed numbers in February.
On February 10, China reported 2478 new confirmed cases nationwide. The documents show Hubei recorded a total of 5918 new cases. The discrepancy arose because Hubei health officials relied on flawed testing and reporting mechanisms.
National protocols told doctors when to label a case "suspected" and to call a case clinically diagnosed only if symptoms were confirmed by an X-ray or CT scan. Positive PCR or gene-sequencing tests were needed to confirm a case.
In February, officials improved the reporting system to class clinically diagnosed cases as confirmed, and speeded testing of suspected cases. But the diagnostic criteria did not count asymptomatic cases.
In the first months, the average time taken to process a case from onset to a confirmed diagnosed was 23 days. By March 7, the system had much improved.
The report reveals a system constrained by bureaucracy and rigid procedures. But it does not reveal a deliberate attempt to obfuscate findings.
AR Looks a plausible picture to me.
America: Heed Germany
President Trump's "Stop the Steal" campaign is an attempt to elevate "They stole it" to the level of legend.
A hundred years ago, the conservatives who led Imperial Germany into war refused to accept they had lost. Their denial gave birth to the Dolchstosslegende — stab-in-the-back myth.
The myth was that Germany never lost WW1. In late 1918, returning German soldiers were greeted with the slogan Im Felde unbesiegt and cartoons of soldiers being stabbed in the back.
The 1919 Treaty of Versailles fed a desire to restore German national honor and greatness. Resentment and anger let Adolf Hitler crack down hard on perceived traitors, leftists, and Jews.
This looks too much like what is happening in the United States today.
AR Let this be a warning.
Europe: Brexit Negotiations
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney: "The truth of Brexit is now being exposed in terms of the challenges of it. This is something that the UK and the EU have to find a way forward on as opposed to focus on a blame game as regards who is at fault."
German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We hope that these talks will come to a happy ending. We don't need an agreement at any price. We want one but otherwise we'll take measures that are necessary. In any case a deal is in the interest of all."
French European affairs minister Clément Beaune: "We are still very far from an agreement. There can be no agreement unless there is one that gives sustainable and wide-ranging access to British waters."
Downing Street says it will not compromise on taking back control of fishing waters. The fishing sector adds 0.2% to UK GDP.
AR Tear it all up and extend the transition.
Proteins: Deepmind Breakthrough
Deepmind researchers have solved one of the greatest challenges in modern biology by developing an AI method to visualize proteins.
EMBL deputy director-general Ewan Birney: "I nearly fell off my chair when I saw these results. It's hard to know what the impact will be because it's been such a holy grail."
Researchers will soon have a tool that can achieve in days what previously took years. Deepmind is owned by Google.
AI cracks protein folding
The DeepMind AI program AlphaFold can predict how proteins fold into 3D shapes.
DeepMind founder and chief executive Demis Hassabis: "These algorithms are now becoming mature enough and powerful enough to be applicable to really challenging scientific problems."
Protein folding has been a grand challenge in biology for 50 years. Proteins are chains of amino acids that fold into shapes that determine their function. We know of more than 200 million proteins, but structures are known for only a few of them.
DeepMind researchers trained their algorithm on a public database of about 170 000 protein sequences and their shapes. Running on GPUs, the training took a few weeks.
In the biennial competition CASP, where entrants are given the amino acid sequences for about 100 proteins and asked to solve them, AlphaFold not only outperformed other programs but reached an accuracy comparable to slow and expensive lab methods.
EMBL European Bioinformatics Institute director emeritus Janet Thornton: "Knowing these structures will really help us to understand how human beings operate and function, how we work."
AR AI will rule the world.