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Centaurus A
Centaurus A supermassive black hole. L: Two plasma jets fired in opposite directions. R: New EHT zoom on jet moving toward Earth.



2021 July 26

Limits to Growth

Edward Helmore

Gaya Herrington predicts the collapse of civilization around 2040 if current trends hold. This affirms the bleaker scenarios in The Limits to Growth, a landmark 1972 MIT study.
She finds current data aligns well with the 1972 analysis: "The MIT scientists said we needed to act now to achieve a smooth transition and avoid costs. That didn't happen, so we're seeing the impact of climate change."
She says global slowdown, climate change, social unrest, and geopolitical instability need not end in collapse: "Continuing to update the model provides another perspective on the challenges and opportunities we have to create a more sustainable world."
She adds: "Resource scarcity has not been the challenge people thought it would be in the 1970s and population growth has not been the scare it was in the 1990s. Now the concern is pollution and how it perfectly aligned with what climate scientists are saying."
Herrington offers two scenarios. Under business as usual, growth will stall and combine with population collapse. The comprehensive technology scenario models stalled economic growth without social collapse. Both scenarios show a halt in growth by about 2030.

AR I sensed this 50 years ago. Now I know it.


Carrie Johnson
Carrie Johnson


2021 July 25

Climate Change

The Observer

Every year, factories, power plants, and vehicles pump tens of gigatons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, trapping solar radiation that will further increase temperatures around the globe. Even if all greenhouse gas emissions were halted tomorrow, the carbon dioxide already in our atmosphere will hang around for decades and continue to heat the planet.
There is no prospect of humanity quitting its fossil fuel addiction overnight. At best, we might reach such a goal by 2050. We are going to experience increasingly severe floods, wildfires, and storms, along with shrinking icecaps, rising sea levels, bleached coral reefs. and spreading deserts. This is the best we can hope for over the next three decades.


Cummings vs Johnson

The Guardian

Dominic Cummings is fighting a jihad against Boris Johnson. He claims that weeks after the general election, he and a group of allies were discussing how they could remove the prime minister.
A former colleague: "We wanted [to] get things going. And him being him, was like, 'I'm going to go on holiday to Mustique, I'm going to put my feet up for a month.'"
A former government insider: "Boris needs strong structure around him, to guide him. He needs people to channel and direct his energy."
The prime minister's approach to government has become erratic. Carrie Johnson and policy director Munira Mirza are now the only remaining members of his inner circle from 2019.
A Conservative MP: "[Carrie] has got strong views on people, and we all suspect it matters whether you're in her favour or you're out of it."
A former Johnson adviser: "You can see with the people that you've got around him that she does have huge influence."
A senior Tory: "There's just so little sense that there is a clear plan, as we've changed it so often now that we don't know where it begins and where it ends."

AR Time for a change.


12 Bytes


2021 July 24

Our Transhuman Future

Laura Spinney

Jeanette Winterson worries that we will put artificial general intelligence (AGI) to the wrong uses.
Her starting point is the first industrial revolution, the one that gave us steam and mass production but also black cities and a miserable, sickly underclass. Fast forward 200 years, and we're the means of production, as tech companies spin our data into gold.
Winterson draws a direct line from the first forgotten female computer programmers to today's female undergraduates who are occasionally lectured by male computer scientists that they don't have the brains to enter the field. The algorithms that instruct AI show a strong male bias.
Transhumanism is about transcending categories. As soon as a human can have a relationship with an AGI, preconceptions about gender and sexuality will explode in ways they haven't yet, despite a thriving sex robot industry.
Robots may only be a transitional stage for AI, on the way to a pure AGI that would be all around us as well as inside us. Our ancestors were forever being jostled by angels and ghosts. We are more wedded to our own physicality now than we ever were in the past.
As the boundary between human and nonhuman becomes blurred, we'll have to reassess what we mean by human. You might balk at the idea of an AI personal assistant with whom you communicate via an implant rather than an earpiece, but the real problem is the fact that the AI is reporting back to Mark Zuckerberg.
Winterson suggests that love will be more meaningful than intelligence in future. What is love?

AR We need our philosophers.




2021 July 23

Northern Ireland Protocol

Fintan O'Toole

The UK is demanding that the EU tear up a crucial part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
For the UK, Lord Frost published his wildly unrealistic NIP demands on Wednesday. For the EU, Ursula von der Leyen flatly rejected them on Thursday.
The NIP arose from a problem created by the UK refusal to acknowledge that choices have costs. Boris Johnson and the ERG faced a choice: They could cut GB but not NI off from the EU single market and customs union, or they could prioritise the integrity of the UK.
Johnson traded the integrity of the UK for GB freedom from the EU. He made this choice in October 2019. The NIP demand is driven by his desire to wish away this fact.
The Johnson government fails to accept the connection between choices and outcomes.

AR Logic bites back.


Jens Stoltenberg
⦿ Paula Bronstein
Ten years ago today, a gunman
killed 77 people in Norway.
Jens Stoltenberg was PM:
"It was the worst day
of my life."


2021 July 22

Linking Numbers and Geometry

Kevin Hartnett

A new paper by Laurent Fargues and Peter Scholze (FS) advances the Langlands program to link disparate branches of mathematics by bridging numbers and geometry.
Évariste Galois proved that there are no general methods for calculating the roots of polynomials with powers above 4 and proposed studying the symmetries between roots in group theory.
Robert Langlands proposed matching every Galois group with an automorphic form from analysis, the theory of calculus. The geometric Langlands program aimed to link geometric objects with the Galois groups and automorphic forms.
Polynomials have many of the same properties as numbers, but you can graph polynomials. For each prime, there is a unique p‑adic number system, each based on a single prime. Scholze's perfectoid spaces give geometric form to the p‑adic numbers.
Langlands conjectures for the p‑adics involve matching representations of the Galois group of the p‑adic numbers with representations of p‑adic groups. The conjecture for rational numbers is global because the rationals contain all the primes. The version for p‑adics is local, since p‑adic number systems deal with one prime at a time.
Fargues linked the local Langlands conjecture to the geometry of the Fargues−Fontaine (FF) curve. The points of the FF curve each represent a version of a p‑adic ring.
FS shows how to construct sheaves linked to points on the FF curve in the way tangent lines are to points on a circle. Coherent sheaves represent p‑adic groups, and étale sheaves represent Galois groups. We can always match a coherent sheaf with an étale sheaf.
FS proves one direction of the local Langlands correspondence. Next: Make it two-way.

AR My math research supervisor at Oxford was into sheaves. They help in an intuitionist account of set theory and forcing as well as in category theory.


Dominic Cummings, Laura Kuenssberg



2021 July 21

Dominic Cummings vs Boris Johnson

Aubrey Allegretti

In his first TV interview since quitting No 10, Dominic Cummings says that soon after the December 2019 election aides feared Boris Johnson had no plan to run the country.
He says Johnson's wife Carrie tried to "appoint complete clowns to certain key jobs" and wanted to be "pulling the strings" at the heart of government.
He says that until the election, Boris and Carrie were happy to have Vote Leave veterans working in Downing Street, but then Carrie became frustrated that VL were running the show.
By January 2020, he says, people inside government began speculating that "either we'll all have gone from here or we'll be in the process of trying to get rid of [Johnson] and get someone else in as prime minister" and discussed ways to oust him.
Cummings: "[Johnson] doesn't have a plan, he doesn't know how to be prime minister, and we only got him in there because we had to solve a certain problem, not because he was the right person to be running the country."
He says anyone sure about Brexit "has got a screw loose" and "no one on Earth knows" if leaving the EU was a good idea.

AR All true to form.


Jeff Bezos
Blue Origin
On the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo project Moon landing, Jeff Bezos has flown into space on his own rocket, Blue Origin,
together with three other people: his brother, the oldest person to go into space, and the youngest person to go into space.
The spacecraft flew about 100 km into space, far enough for the astronauts to enjoy a few minutes of weightlessness.
Bezos is now worth $200 billion. The total cost of the Apollo project, in 1973 dollars, was just under $200 billion.



2021 July 20

Brexit Unfolded

Christopher Grey

AR Brexit Unfolded, subtitled "How no one got what they wanted (and why they were never going to)" and by London professor emeritus Christopher Grey, is an academic but readable account of the Brexit process from June 2016 to February 2021. Having just written a book — ALBION — with closely related subject matter and a similar perspective, I can say with some authority that Grey's book is about as good as it gets as a first analysis of the Brexit phenomenon. In fact, I think it's really good and recommend it to anyone who seeks a careful and logical account of the process that has diminished the UK in the eyes of the world more than anything else in modern times.




2021 July 19

A Video Tour of the Standard Model

David Tong

AR Excellent little video — wunderbar!


Bournemouth beach, Sunday afternoon



2021 July 18

Pegasus Spyware

The Guardian

Authoritarian governments have used used the Pegasus software tool sold by Israeli NSO Group to target human rights activists, journalists, and lawyers across the world. Pegasus is spyware that infects iPhones and Android devices to enable its operators to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls, and secretly activate microphones.

AR Surprised?


2021 July 17

The Continuum Hypothesis


Can we add axioms to set theory to prove or disprove the continuum hypothesis (CH)?
Georg Cantor proved that the set of sequences of natural numbers has a higher cardinality than the cardinality Alef-0 of the natural numbers. His CH says the cardinality of the continuum is Alef-1.
In 1940, Kurt Gödel proved that the CH is consistent with the axioms of ZFC set theory. He did so by defining a constructible universe L in which the CH is true. But he later suspected that the power of the continuum is Alef-2.
In 1963, Paul Cohen proved that the CH is independent of the ZFC axioms. Starting with L, he developed a technique called forcing to enlarge the continuum to include new reals.
Forcing lets you to add as many reals as you like. You can add other objects that are incompatible with each other. This creates a multiverse of possible universes V.
Set theorists prefer to decide CH by adding a new axiom to ZFC. Two rival axioms emerged.
Martin's maximum (MM) says anything conceived using any forcing procedure exists, so long as the procedure satisfies a consistency condition. It implies that the power of the continuum is Alef-2.
Hugh Woodin proposed an axiom (*) that also pins the continuum at Alef-2. Its model V satisfies the nine ZF axioms plus the axiom of determinacy, rather than choice. Determinacy and choice contradict each other. He devised a forcing procedure to extend his model V into a larger one consistent with ZFC. This model V satisfies (*).
Axiom (*) lets us make statements of the form: "For all x, there exists y such that φ." One such statement is: "For all sets of Alef-1 reals, there exist reals not in those sets." This negates the CH.
David Asperó and Ralf Schindler have proved that MM++ (a technical variant of MM) implies (*). They use a recursive sequence of forcing steps to generate a "witness" that verifies all statements of the form of (*). So long as the forcing obeys the consistency condition, MM++ says the witness exists, and (*) follows. The proof defines a universe V in which the cardinality of the continuum is Alef-2.
Woodin now thinks the CH is true. He poses a stronger variant of (*) that contradicts MM in his "ultimate L" model of V. He says the right axiom to add to ZFC is that V = ultimate L. Then the continuum has cardinality Alef-1.
Who's right?

AR I spent years studying V and the CH and liked the idea that V = L until I understood that forcing messes it up. In the end, the math was too much for me.


Aviation Titans
Sukhoi Su-34 strike aircraft

Viljandi, Estonia

"Putins Russland bewegt sich
.. langsam dorthin zurück,
wo die Sowjetunion .. aufgehört hat."

Christian Esch


2021 July 16

America, Germany, Russia, Ukraine

The Guardian

Joe Biden hosted Angela Merkel at the White House on Thursday for bilateral meetings. They spoke to the importance of the US-German alliance and vowed to work together to defend against Russian aggression and stand up to China.
They said Russia should not use energy as a weapon. Biden reiterated concerns about the NS2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. President Zelensky of Ukraine told Merkel in Berlin on Monday that NS2 threatens Ukraine's security.


Russia and Ukraine

Vladimir Putin

Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are the heirs of ancient Rus. When it fragmented, the people perceived Russia as their motherland. Moscow became the center of reunification.
In 1686, Kiev and the lands of the east bank of the Dnieper were included in the Russian state. Their region was called Little Russia. A century later, Crimea and the lands by the Black Sea became part of Russia.
After the 1917 revolution, a civil war unfolded in the former Russian Empire. In 1921, the western lands of the former Russian Empire were ceded to Poland. The lands were returned to the USSR in 1939. In 1945, Transcarpathian Ukraine united with Ukraine.
In December 1991, the USSR ceased to exist. All these territories were suddenly cut off from their historical homeland. The Russian Federation provided Ukraine with significant support. But the Ukrainian authorities squandered the achievements of many generations. Electricity generation in Ukraine has almost halved in 30 years. Ukraine is now the poorest country in Europe.
After the events in Kiev in 2014, the Ukrainian elites chose to justify the independence of Ukraine by denying its past. They rewrote history to say it was occupied by the Russian Empire and the USSR. They accused the USSR of genocide.
Western countries supported a radical nationalist coup. The radicals were indulged by the authorities. Local oligarchs robbed the people of Ukraine and hid the stolen wealth in Western banks. Ukraine was drawn into a dangerous geopolitical game.
The coup provoked confrontation and civil war. Russia tried to stop the fratricide. But the representatives of Ukraine say they are victims of external aggression and stage bloody provocations to attract attention.
Hatred and anger are a poor basis for sovereignty. Russia is open for dialog with Ukraine. After all, we are one people.

AR Biden, Merkel, Putin — three smart adults.




2021 July 15

Tokamak Energy

David Rose

Every workday, a scientist in an industrial plant near Oxford fires a particle beam into a swirling cloud of hot plasma inside a spherical steel reactor vessel about 2 m in diameter. Electromagnets contain the plasma as nuclear fusion heats it to more than 15 MK.
Tokamak Energy is trying to harness nuclear fusion. TE is leading in the race to develop a viable fusion device that harnesses the fusion of hydrogen isotopes to deliver energy on a commercial scale.
Fusion power will have incalculable environmental benefits. A fusion reactor can heat steam to drive a turbine and generate electricity. Small portable versions could power container ships and airliners.
TE co-founder and vice chair Dr David Kingham says TE is on track to deliver commercial 150 MW fusion power plants by the late 2030s. They could be made on a production line.
The TE reactor contains the plasma using superconducting electromagnets made of rare earth barium copper oxide that consume only a tenth of the power used by cryogenic superconductors. The spherical shape, like a cored apple, makes the reaction more efficient than in a doughnut shape.
Kingham: "Combining high temperature superconductors and a spherical reactor has huge advantages and .. will make this form of energy significantly cheaper."
UK Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng visits the TE plant today. Its workforce of 165 is set to double by the end of 2022.

AR I wish TE well.


Poole Bay, 10 am BST, Bastille Day



2021 July 14

America and Germany

Constanze Stelzenmüller

German chancellor Angela Merkel visits US president Joe Biden in Washington this week.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken: "The US has no better friend than Germany."
Russian president Putin published a manifesto in a German weekly saying Germany should decouple from the western alliance.
China's Global Times praises Germany for its "attempt to get rid of US interference".
Merkel was rebuffed in her attempt to restart EU−Russia summits. The European Parliament refuses to ratify an EU−China investment agreement she negotiated.
Biden treats Germany as a peer nation.

AR No surprises for me here.


Second Nature

Mark O'Connell

Nathaniel Rich: "Even in the most optimistic future available, we will profoundly reconfigure our fauna, flora, and genome. The results will be uncanny."
He writes about people living with the environmental consequences of corporate greed and stupidity, people struggling to come to terms with a changing natural world, and efforts to reengineer nature.
Bringing back an extinct creature would be a difficult and complex project, involving a restructuring of the genome from surviving DNA. The more interesting problems are philosophical and ethical.
If we brought back an extinct species, it would never be the same as the one that went extinct, but rather a creative approximation. Humans have been making such monsters for thousands of years.
Rich: "Enlightenment lies not in renouncing reality but in seeing it more clearly. Art, even flawed art, helps us to understand our own place in an unfamiliar landscape."

AR New life as art — I like it.




2021 July 13

Freedom Fetishists, Covid Conspiracies

Melanie Phillips

Boris Johnson has given the impression he has already cooled on the Freedom Day set for July 19. Brexiteers are sneering at the majority who want restrictions to continue. Many of these freedom fetishists believe the measures were taken with malign intent.
Unfortunately, this has become dogma among some Conservatives. When reality confronts it, they deny reality and wrench the evidence to fit the dogma. Can we ever return to the rational treatment of objective evidence?

AR I do hope so.


Bella Hadid


2021 July 12

Phase Transition Symmetries

Allison Whitten

Do phase transitions in physical systems feature conformal invariance?
Conformal invariance is three symmetries rolled into one: translational symmetry, rotational symmetry, and scale symmetry.
We know conformal invariance holds for a few models, but we cannot prove it holds for all of them. A team of authors has now proved that a wide range of physical systems show rotational invariance at the boundary between states.
The Ising model represents physical systems near critical points. These include metals losing magnetism, the gas-liquid transition in air, and the switch between order and disorder in alloys. In 2006, Stanislav Smirnov proved conformal invariance for the Ising model.
We now know that rotational invariance is a universal property of a large subset of known 2D models. A proof of scale invariance, given that translational symmetry needs no further proof, would give us conformal invariance.

AR Good to know.


Italien ist Europameister!

Der Spiegel

La Repubblica: "Europa ist unser .. Nach 53 Jahren zermürbenden Wartens kehrt Italien endlich auf den Thron Europas zurück."
Gazzetta dello Sport: "Wir sind Europameister. Football is coming home. Das können wir singen .. Wir sind auf dem Dach Europas."
Corriere dello Sport: "Italien ist Europameister! .. Der Pokal kommt nach Italien .. Ein Märchen, der zweite EM-Triumph nach 1968."
Tuttosport: "Italien ist Europameister! England im Elfmeterschießen besiegt .. Die Nationalmannschaft blüht in Wembley wieder auf."

AR Well deserved.


Egotrip ins All

Der Spiegel

Richard Branson hat das VIP-Wettrennen gewonnen: Als erster Milliardär flog er ins All. Er lobte das als Errungenschaft für die ganze Menschheit — doch die Show vor Ort war vor allem ein PR-Event.

AR My verdict too.


Richard Branson
Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spaceplane detached from its mothership and flew under rocket power to to an altitude of 85 km,
where Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and his fellow passengers briefly experienced weightlessness, before gliding
down to land at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Branson: "We're here to make space more accessible to all. We want to turn the next generation of dreamers into the
astronauts of today and tomorrow. We've all us on this stage have had the most extraordinary experience ..
Welcome to the dawn of a new space age."

AR He's pipped Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.



2021 July 11

Data War 1

Robert Reich

The emerging cold war between Beijing and Washington is less about traditional arms than about data — gathering, aggregating, analyzing and making maximum use of it to outmaneuver the other side. Cybersecurity comes down to which side has access to more information about the other and can use it best.

AR Is China winning DW1?


Death Valley, Saturday


2021 July 10

The Prime Etonian

Andrew Adonis

Boris Johnson pulled off a coup. He carried a national referendum against a prime minister. He now rivals post-Falklands Thatcher and pre-Iraq Blair.
Boris loves supremacy and celebrity. Even Brexit turned on naked self-advancement. In February 2016, pacing around his office, hand ruffling hair, he told me that he was "buggered" if he knew which side to take on the referendum set for 23 June.
Boris exudes Etonian elitism. Over the Thatcher and Major years, 61 Etonians served as ministers. A tenth of the Conservative MPs in the 1992 parliament were Old Etonians. Eton has provided 20 prime ministers since 1721, among a total of 55.
Boris is a classic Eton type. As a bright boy from a thrusting Tory family, he entered Eton from a top prep school by way of a King's scholarship. He then went up to Balliol College, where he was one of about 150 Etonians then at Oxford.
Boris gravitated naturally to political leadership. He tried to enter the Commons in 1997, at 32, and won Henley-on-Thames in 2001. He is assiduous at both his vocation and his pleasures. On the rebound from failure, his work ethic is ferocious and focused.
Boris has little he wants to accomplish. Beyond keeping the celebrity show on the road and striking Churchillian poses, we have a handful of populist catchphrases in place of strategy.
Boris likes grand projects with his name on them. So long as they get people talking, he doesn't give a fig if they end up going nowhere.

AR The Eton lock is bad for Britain.


2021 July 9

The Politics of Lies

Annette Dittert

Boris Johnson is more popular than ever. The public forgives him for his catastrophic mismanagement at the start of the pandemic, his odd relationship to the truth, the corruption within his cabinet, the shambles of Brexit, and even his authoritarian style of government. He has shifted the Tories to the far right.
Johnson is indifferent to the truth. He says the British vaccination program is a success of Brexit, but the program was possible as an EU member. He sold post-Brexit trade deals that copy existing EU deals as new. His Northern Ireland minister says the EU must either solve the Irish border problem or risk UK anger.
Johnson set up a commission to redefine the limits of judicial review of the executive following the legal objection to his dissolution of parliament in 2019. When the commission proposed only minimal changes, his justice minister proposed future laws with clauses to put them beyond jurisdiction.
British democracy is poorly defended against such attacks. The unwritten British constitution works on the "good chaps" principle and fails for Johnson.
British media are not holding the government accountable. During the Brexit campaign, the BBC gave Leavers and Remainers equal airtime. Johnson and his colleagues spread their untruths uncorrected. But his government Is now attacking the BBC. It appointed a Tory party donor as new BBC director.
The Johnson government proposed Paul Dacre to head the Ofcom media regulator. He was editor of the Daily Mail for its ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE headline in 2016. When the selection committee for the Ofcom post said he was unsuitable, the government dissolved the committee.
The Coronavirus Act circumvents parliamentary approval of decisions. The government has used it to put parts of the health system under direct ministry control. It spent £37 billion on a test-and-trace system that is failing. It spent billions on PPE via contracts to companies that had a VIP line to Downing Street. An initiative to investigate such corruption was met with expensive government lawsuits that broke it.
In his select committee testimony, Dominic Cummings described in detail all the lies, the shamelessness, and the cynicism of the Johnson government during the pandemic. But Cummings himself left truth behind with his Leave campaign in 2016.
Johnson saw Brexit as a vehicle to take him into Downing Street. It is an ideological project with no vision of where sovereignty should lead the UK. Leading Brexiteers admit they have no coherent trade policy yet still paint the Single Market as enemy territory.
UK sovereignty is a mask over the political vacuum brought by Brexit. Johnson makes bold gestures to distract voters from his push to become the uncrowned king of Little England.

AR The German text is long and damning.


Complex neural networks will use photonics



2021 July 8

Neural Firing Timing Code

Elena Renken

The brain is like a musical instrument. Neurons that fire together wire together, but the tune they play depends on the precise timing of the firing.
Phase precession in brain waves times neural firings precisely to wire interneural links. A team has observed neurons in the human brain using it to encode spatial information.
Phase precession was seen decades ago in rat brains. Both human and rat brains contain place cells, each tuned to a specific region or place field. Our brains scale these place fields to cover our current surroundings. The closer we get to the center of a place field, the faster the place cell fires.
As a rat passes through a place field, the cell fires earlier in the theta wave cycle. As the rat goes from one place field into another, the early firing of the first cell approaches the late firing of the next. Firing within tens of milliseconds of each other strengthens the synapse between them.
We also see phase precession in processing sounds and smell in rats and other species. In human brain wave patterns, phase precession is also involved in serial image processing and in making progress toward abstract goals.
A standard phase precession mechanism in mammals seems likely. By tuning neural firing times, phase precession may assist fast learning.

AR This confirms the general view we had many years ago when I studied this stuff. Hint to AI researchers: The mechanism could readily be implemented in photonics.


2021 July 7

A Pyrrhic Victory

Martin Wolf

Brexiteers misunderstood the EU. The EU trade barriers will stay. Its members regard the preservation of the EU legal order as an overriding interest.
Brexit has strengthened the EU, not weakened it. EU members fought to defend their interests. Boris Johnson lied over the implications of his deal on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and even dared to attempt to repudiate it. The EU regards him as unserious and untrustworthy.
The UK and EU may be equally sovereign, formally, but they are far from equals. The UK economy is a fifth of the EU economy. UK dependence on trade with the EU is much greater than the other way round. The UK will lose more from this than the EU.
Between the second quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2021, the UK economy shrank by 4.3% but the EZ economy grew by 1.3%. Brexit inflicted a large initial shock to trade volumes. UK trade will end up smaller than it would otherwise have been.
Brexit has lifted constraints on the government. The UK government no longer needs to worry about EU rules. But in areas where international cooperation is needed, Brexit has not increased control. The UK now lacks a platform inside the EU from which to act.
Public hostility toward the EU was mostly over migration. UK statistics are very poor on this. The number of EU citizens seeking settled status turned out to be 5.3 million by March 2021, many more than expected. But inflows of migrants from the rest of the world have now jumped, as those from the EU declined.
In the longer run, Brexit is likely to damage the UK, perhaps split it, while strengthening EU solidarity. It was a Pyrrhic victory.

AR A sound assessment.




2021 July 6


Aubrey Allegretti

Dominic Cummings says that just after the 2016 Brexit referendum Boris Johnson told him: "Obviously it's ludicrous me being PM — but no more ludicrous than Dave or George, don't you think?"
Cummings agreed to help: "The problems of Boris as PM can be partly mitigated by us, given we understand Whitehall much better than him and understand effective political action much better than him and the Conservative party."
Cummings says Johnson is "happy to hide behind the mask of a clown" and "rewrites reality in his mind afresh according to the moment's desire" so "there is no real distinction possible with him" between truth and lies.
Johnson, July 2019: "I'm good at motivating people, I can tell the public a story and get them behind me, but I'm not good at organising, I'm not good at all the details and dealing with the machine."

AR It shows.


Nicolas Gisin


2021 July 5

Constructing Time


General relativity says time and space form a deterministic spacetime continuum. Quantum mechanics says particle behavior is probabilistic and suggests time is quantized. The apparent inconsistency over time is a problem.
Nicolas Gisin looks to intuitionist mathematics. He says time really passes and new information is created. This could solve the problem.
The weather is chaotic. We could in principle predict the weather a week on, but we can't gauge conditions with enough decimal digits of detail to extrapolate forward and make perfectly accurate forecasts.
In a classical world in which time only seems to unfold, exactly what will happen is set from the start, with the initial state encoded with infinitely many digits of precision.
But information is physical. It requires energy and occupies space. Any volume of space has a finite information capacity. A pointlike singularity cannot store infinite information.
Intuitionist L.E.J. Brouwer saw mathematics as a construct. He said real numbers are constructible, with digits calculated or chosen or randomly determined one at a time. Numbers can become ever more exact as more digits reveal themselves in a choice sequence, a function for producing values with greater and greater precision.
Intuitionism denies the law of excluded middle (LEM). LEM says that either a proposition is true, or its negation is true. For Brouwer, statements about numbers might be neither true nor false at a given time, since the number's exact value hasn't yet revealed itself.
Standard math is fine for numbers like 4, or ½, or π. An algorithm for generating the decimal expansion of π makes it as determinate as a number like ½.
But consider another number x near ½. Say its value so far is 0.4999, where further digits unfurl in a choice sequence. If in future a digit other than 9 crops up, then x < ½. We don't know whether it will, so we can't say x < ½, nor can we say x = ½.
The continuum can't be cleanly divided into two parts. If you try to cut it in half, this number x will stick to the knife and won't be on the left or on the right.
Gisin saw a connection between the intuitionist unspooling decimal digits of real numbers and the physical notion of time in the universe. Time can't be cut in two sharply, and the present is not a point but "thick".
Denial of LEM suggests propositions about the future are yet to be determined. The digits that specify the weather ever more precisely and dictate its evolution are chosen in real time as the future unfolds in a choice sequence. New digits are created as time passes.
If the digits of numbers defining the state of the universe grow over time, then new information is created by a measurement. An intuitionist physics might also let information be destroyed: Perhaps information is lost in black holes.

AR I studied all this in depth as a grad student. I accept constructivist math and propose a creative unfolding in physics behind a leading-edge "now" zone. This text supplements/replaces the cut in my blog entry on 2020-04-08.




2021 Independence Day

Afghanistan Withdrawal

The Observer

President Joe Biden is expected to declare the conflict in Afghanistan is at an end. The NATO military involvement there began in 2001.
Biden set a US withdrawal date of September 11 shortly after taking office. Most forces have now left. The withdrawal has set Afghanistan back on the path to terror, mayhem, and disintegration.
The Taliban has mounted multiple territorial offensives in recent weeks. At least half of rural Afghanistan is controlled or contested by insurgents. Afghans face the prospect of anarchy.

AR Sad for locals who seem unable to organize themselves, but the Afghan wilderness is no place for NATO to waste our money.


Frost Damage

Lisa O'Carroll

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney says the EU fears that Boris Johnson wants to dismantle the Northern Ireland protocol following a provocative article by Lord Frost and Brandon Lewis.
Coveney says London has barely acknowledged EU flexibility on the protocol including a pledge to remove barriers to the supply of medicines to NI. He says the article is "a very strange way to make friends and build partnerships" coming two days after the EU and the UK agreed to extend the deadline over the sale of sausages and chilled meats.
Coveney: "The challenge here is that both sides have to take responsibility and ownership .. The EU and the UK have got to work in partnership."

The NI protocol
David Frost, Brandon Lewis

In October 2019 the British government reached an agreement with the EU, enshrined in the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. The rules are set by EU law. We expected to be able to administer them sensitively in practice.
We are trying in good faith to make things work. But problems are arising because of the inflexible requirement to treat the movement of goods into NI as if they were crossing an EU external frontier. The movement of goods between GB and NI is vastly more important to NI than its trade with Ireland and the rest of the EU.
The current process risks creating a series of crises. The way forward is to find a new balance in the way the protocol is operated. We need constructive and ambitious discussions with the EU.

AR The way forward is to sack Frost.


Sunbathing Topless

Hattie Crisell

Welcome to the summer of revenge boobs, in which a new movement of young women are asserting their right to be semi-nude here on British soil. Life has been somewhat limited lately, so here is a different way to exercise our liberty, casting off bras.

AR When women feel free to bare both bums and boobs on my local seafront, I'll know that civilization is dawning in England.




2021 July 3

Europe After Brexit

Patrick Wintour

Soon after the Brexit referendum, Angela Merkel let her diplomats start negotiating a bilateral agreement with the UK on continued cooperation in defence and foreign policy. A joint declaration was shelved.
German ambassador to London Andreas Michaelis has now helped revive the agreement. It includes consensual words on NATO, Iran, the Indo-Pacific, future relations with Putin, and the balance between the pursuit of trade and human rights.
German and British cabinets will now meet once a year to allow ministers to think about the relationship. With Merkel yesterday, Boris Johnson also agreed to an affirm European unity.
Germans do not want bilateral cooperation with the UK to weaken EU foreign policy. The European issues gripping German politicians are relations with Joe Biden and Viktor Orban, not with Britain. The German−French motor will drive Europe from now on.

AR All eminently logical.


Anvil Point
Anvil Point, Dorset, Friday



2021 July 2

Angela Merkel Visits UK

Nadeem Badshah

Boris Johnson welcomes German chancellor Angela Merkel to Chequers today. She calls for quarantine for all UK travellers entering the EU. Travellers to Germany from the UK must present a negative Covid-19 test prior to departure and quarantine for two weeks on arrival.
The UK government is pushing for greater freedom and says fully vaccinated Britons will be able to travel to amber list countries including Germany, without having to quarantine upon their return, from later this summer.
Johnson: "The UK and Germany have a steadfast friendship and a shared outlook on many issues. Our scientists, innovators, and industrialists work together every day to make the world a better place .. And the new joint ventures we will agree today will leave a legacy that will last for generations."

Philip Stephens

After severing its EU ties, the UK government is no longer afforded privileged treatment. Emotions in the UK still veer between bombastic exceptionalism and needy victimhood.
Thatcherite Germanophobia is a powerful strand in Brexiteer thinking. Brexit minister David Frost wears socks emblazoned with the UK national flag when he meets his EU counterparts.
Britain needs Germany as a friend. Germans have more pressing things on their minds than their relationship with a third country. The German threat is indifference.

AR I'm imprisoned on a badly governed island.




2021 July 1

Gamma Ray Bursts


Gamma ray bursts (GRBs) can emit the energy of a supernova in seconds or minutes rather than weeks, with peak luminosities a billion times more than the brightest supernovas.
Long GRBs result from big stars collapsing into black holes and exploding as supernovas. Short GRBs come from merging neutron stars. In 2017, LIGO/Virgo detected a neutron star merger, and the Fermi Space Telescope caught its GRB.
In each case, the GRB comes from a fast jet fired out from the event in opposite directions. On average, one observable GRB appears in the visible universe every day.
Earth's ozone layer blocks gamma rays from reaching the surface. But as gamma rays enter the atmosphere, they bump into other particles and emit Cherenkov radiation. We can scan for these blue bursts of light.
An ultrahigh-energy GRB was observed in 2018 by the HESS array. The radiation came from the afterglow as a GRB jet collided with stellar material thrown off in the supernova. Accelerated particles produced the glow.
We used HESS to study GRB 190829A for 56 hours. Its higher energies persisted > 5 times longer than the result in 2018, raising questions about how GRBs are produced.
GRBs give a window into the wreckage following supernovas and neutron star mergers. Future instruments will study GRBs in more detail.

AR Good progress!


Planet Labs
Satellite images show China is building 120 silos in a grid pattern, at 3 km intervals, ready for DF-41 ICBMs,
each with up to 10 MIRVs, just a half-hour flight from the continental United States.



Chinese Communism @ 100

The Times

The Communist Party of China (CPC) is celebrating its centenary, culminating today with a speech from President Xi Jinping.
CPC oath: "I will be loyal to the party, work hard and fight for communism throughout my life. I am ready at all times to sacrifice my all for the party and the people and I will never betray the party."
Xi asks the 92 million CPC members unite around him. He is campaigning for his third presidential term and to achieve the status of Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping.
Xi has published 66 books on his ideology. A list of the 100 top CPC quotes from the last 100 years includes 30 from Xi and 30 from Mao.
Xi: "The original aspiration and the mission of Chinese communists is to seek happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation."
Xi came into power in 2012. He has fought against corruption, cracked down on dissent in the party, and updated the CPC charter and the Chinese constitution. He says he will lead China to greatness.

AR All in one man: risky.


BLOG 2021 Q2


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