AR   2021-05-18
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2021 May 18

Reading Human Minds

R. Douglas Fields

Big corporations are spending millions to develop brain-computer interface (BCI) technology.
BCI devices work by analyzing data. A machine monitors data from a brain implant or an electrode cap and learns to recognize the neural activity as a person thinks or acts.
Mind hacking is a long way off. Even if we oversimplify neural states as either on or off, the number of brain states rises exponentially with the number of neurons. The human brain has about 85 billion neurons.
Functional MRI can read thoughts. The brain integrates meaning at the sentence level. We can use fMRI to identify the sentence a person is reading.

AR This is huge for new user tech.


Women Rule Publishing

Johanna Thomas-Corr

Women dominate the publishing world. Across the publishing industry, 64% of the workforce is female. Women make up 78% of editorial, 83% of marketing, and 92% of publicity.
In 2020, 629 of the Top Thousand fiction titles were written by women, 341 by men, and 30 by multiple or non-binary authors. Within general and literary fiction, 75% were by female authors.
Dialogue Books founder Sharmaine Lovegrove says publishing is a monoculture dominated by "white, middle-class, cis-gendered, heteronormative women" who feel they are victims of the patriarchy.

AR Seems OK to me.




2021 May 17

The King of Little England

Fintan O'Toole

Boris Johnson used Brexit to exploit the desire of the affluent conservatives of the shires and the former proletarians of the vanished industrial heartland for revenge on cosmopolitans and liberals.
The May 6 elections assured the Tory Brexit party hegemony in provincial England. Yet Johnson's reign looks unstable. Allegra Stratton, whom Johnson chose as its public face, departed in April 2021. Then it was revealed that Johnson had personally phoned British newspaper editors to accuse Dominic Cummings of leaking that Johnson had promised to arrange tax favors for a rich businessman.
Cummings retaliated by publishing details of a scandal with a burlesque quality. Johnson makes a great effort to make it look like he doesn't care for keeping up appearances. But his partner, Carrie Symonds, clearly does. A magazine cover story on her in April reported that her makeover of the Downing Street flat was said to improve on the "John Lewis furniture nightmare" left by the former tenant. John Lewis is a brand most voters regard as rather upmarket.
Johnson is faux posh. He cannot afford the lavish refit of the flat. Before he could pay the bills, he apparently constructed an elaborate scheme of beggary involving the Cabinet office, the Conservative Party, and a private donor.
Brexit rumbles on. A report published at the end of April highlighted the plight of British exporters of meat and seafood to the EU. The Garden of Eden promised by Johnson has already become a dense jungle of bureaucratic red tape.
Britain has managed to turn back the clock. The blizzard of paperwork, the inky smudge of stamps, the exhausted scrawl of signatures, the vast waste of time and money are all part of the English glory days Johnson has restored.

AR Sleaze, class war, decline — I hoped Brits had left all that behind decades ago.


The Guardian (2:41)
Attacking Gaza

Black Holes


2021 May 16

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Patrick Kingsley

April 13. Israeli police officers entered the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, brushed Palestinians aside, and cut the cables to loudspeakers that broadcast prayers to the faithful.
It was the first day of Ramadan. It was also Memorial Day in Israel. The Israeli president was delivering a speech at the Western Wall, and officials feared the prayers might drown it out.
Later that week, Palestinian youths began attacking Jews.
April 21. Members of extreme-right Jewish group Lehava marched through central Jerusalem, chanting "Death to Arabs" and attacking Palestinians.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the middle of coalition negotiations and was accused of fomenting a crisis to rally Israelis around his leadership.
April 25. The looming eviction of the six families from Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, led to protests. The Israeli police responded. The neighborhood turned into a rallying point for Palestinians everywhere.
April 29. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas canceled Palestinian elections, fearing a humiliating result. Hamas saw an opportunity and began to reposition itself as a militant defender of Jerusalem.
May 4. Hamas: "This is our final warning. If the aggression against our people in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood does not stop immediately, we will not stand idly by."
May 7. Armed police officers burst into the Aqsa Mosque. Clashes with protesters left hundreds injured. The clashes were seen as a grievous insult to all Muslims.
May 10. A final court hearing on Sheikh Jarrah was set to coincide with Jerusalem Day. Jewish nationalists typically mark the day by marching through the Muslim Quarter. The Israeli government quickly rerouted the march away from the quarter.
The Israeli Army ordered civilians away from the Gaza perimeter.
That night, the rocket fire from Gaza began.

AR Robust Israeli actions ..


Iron Dome
Israeli Iron Dome missiles (left) rise to intercept Hamas rockets fired from Gaza (right)



2021 May 15

Israel vs Hamas

The New York Times

Gazans already lived in a toxic slum with daily power outages and intermittent running water. Gaza usually gets roughly a quarter of its electricity from Israel. Now, the power lines to two Gaza sewage treatment plants are damaged or down, and the UN humanitarian aid coordination agency says a water desalination plant is out.
IDF officials say Hamas is using Gaza residents as a human shield. Colonel Elad Goren: "Instead of focusing on welfare and economy, it's focusing on violence and incitement."

AR Destroy Hamas.


ESA Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer
under test for launch in 2022
to arrive at Jupiter in 2029:
Juice will investigate moons
Europa, Ganymede, Callisto


2021 May 14

Israel vs Hamas

Bret Stephens

Terrorists in Gaza are firing rockets at Israel. Hamas houses its arsenals in schools and mosques, sets up headquarters in the basement of hospitals, and fires its missiles from sites next to crowded apartment buildings and hotels. For a Palestinian state to exist and succeed, Hamas must be humiliated and defeated.

AR I agree.


UK Government vs EU Citizens

The Guardian

EU citizens are being hit by a UK government "hostile environment" policy.
EU citizens with job interviews in the UK who plan to go home with an offer before applying for a work visa are being denied entry, locked up, and expelled.
MEPs wrote to the European Commission: "Sending young EU nationals to immigration detention centres is grossly disproportionate and breaches the spirit of good cooperation we would expect."
UK prime minister's spokesperson: "We are cooperating very much in the spirit and the terms of the agreements we have with the EU."

AR Blame Priti Patel.


UK Faces Hard Choices

Peter Ricketts

The UK faces four hard choices in its international relations:
1  Can we accept that Britain is no longer a great power? The UK is a middle-sized country that must work with allies to have influence. But Rule Britannia exceptionalism keeps breaking through.
2  Are we prepared to accept our need to make awkward compromises with bigger economies? In negotiating trade deals, Britain will constantly have to accept rules and standards set by others.
3  Can we work out a China policy within the force field of US/China confrontation? London will line up with Washington on national security but needs a working relationship with Beijing.
4  How long will we take to rediscover that British interests remain intimately bound up with what happens on the continent? European security is a precondition for global Britain.
The UK is still far away from a new national strategy.

AR Blame Brexiteers.


Matilda to Comet
The Tank Museum
British tanks evolved in WW2 from Matilda (left) to Comet (right):
The next "world" war will force a similar evolution in robot tanks.

Omri Boehm
Omri Boehm


2021 May 13


Isabel Kershner

As violence rocks Israel, opposition leader Yair Lapid blames prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for recent events: "They are exactly the reason why he should be replaced as soon as possible."
Lapid has until June 2 to form a coalition government. The coalition talks have been slowed down by the violence. Netanyahu: "We are working with all our might to protect Israel from enemies outside and rioters within."
Caretaker government defense minister Benny Gantz is supervising the military campaign in Gaza in coordination with Netanyahu.

Work for a federation
Omri Boehm

The idea of the two-state solution was based on separating Arab Israelis from Palestinians. Jewish extremists and the Israeli police now see Arabs in Israel as like those in the West Bank and Gaza.
The situation in the West Bank is apartheid. Jewish people there enjoy the democratic rules of Israel. The non-Jewish residents there endure an aggressive military regime. Within Israel, Palestinians are second-class citizens.
The only democratic way to revive liberal politics in Israel is to work toward a federation rather than a two-state solution. Palestinians and Israelis have good reasons for mistrust. Jews and Israeli Palestinians need to work together to set a new agenda.
Netanyahu wants to keep this crisis going so that he can remain prime minister. If the rockets close Tel Aviv airport, I fear he will react with more bombing, street fighting, and displacements.

Gaza ground ops
Oliver Holmes

Israel is drafting a plan for a ground operation in Gaza. Benjamin Netanyahu told cabinet colleagues that Israel has rejected a Hamas proposal for a ceasefire.
Racist mob attacks continue. Jewish mobs took to the streets across Israel searching for Arabs, while Arab Israelis clashed with police.
The Israeli air force has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza since Monday, killing at least 72 people. Hamas rockets have killed 7 people in Israel, and operations at Ben Gurion airport were briefly suspended after a rocket barrage on Tel Aviv.
US president Joe Biden: "Israel has a right to defend itself."

AR This looks grim.




2021 May 12

Israel vs Hamas

The Guardian

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "We eliminated senior Hamas commanders and this is just the beginning .. We will inflict blows on them that they couldn't even dream of."
Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz: "Israel is not preparing for a ceasefire. There is currently no end date for the operation. Only when we achieve complete quiet can we talk about calm .. We will not listen to moral preaching against our duty to protect the citizens of Israel."
Hamas: "The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades take pride in .. the martyrdom of the commander Bassem Issa."

Blaming Biden
Jerusalem Post

The Biden administration may have encouraged Hamas by restoring US aid to Palestinians cut off in 2018. Bar-Ilan University professor Eytan Gilboa: "Hamas and Islamic Jihad were looking and saying to themselves that if the US restored this aid unconditionally, then we can do whatever we want."

AR Israel seeks a final solution.




2021 May 11

Packaging DNA

Viviane Callier

In the biology of complex cells, histones spool DNA into neat bundles and unpack it when needed.
Billions of years ago, archaea were using histones much like our own. Eukaryotes arose about 2 billion years ago, when a bacterium that could metabolize oxygen for energy took up residence inside an archaeal cell. The new eukaryotes were free to expand the size and diversity of their genomes and to conduct myriad evolutionary experiments.
But the larger genome brought longer strings of DNA that had to allow transcription and replication without getting tangled up in a hopeless spaghetti ball.
Bacteria have a variety of proteins to supercoil their DNA. Eukaryotes use histone proteins, which spool the DNA to prevent it from clumping together and keep it functional. The four primary histones of eukaryotes assemble into octamers called nucleosomes that are the basic units of eukaryotic DNA packaging.
Archaeal nucleosomes are similar in structure to eukaryotic nucleosomes. They form loose assemblies of varying sizes and are not well organized. Stabilizing their DNA with histones may help preserve their DNA strands in extreme environments.
Eukaryotes first evolved when oxygen levels rose in the atmosphere and caused a global oxidation of metals like copper and iron. Since the reactions that produced energy required copper to function, cells that kept it in reduced form had an advantage. Copper can break DNA, and eukaryotic nucleosomes kept the DNA safely out of the way.
Histones have become linchpins for complex life.

AR Such complexity!




2021 May 10

Brexit Politics

Robert Ford

Brexit is done: In England, Leavers rewarded the Conservatives.
Class politics patterns are being replaced with divides by age, education, and Brexit choices. On all measures of socioeconomic conditions, the Conservatives prospered most in the most deprived places and Labour did best in the most prosperous areas.
The post-Brexit education divide has intensified, with big swings to Conservatives in wards with higher shares of voters with few or no formal qualifications, and modest swings to Labour in wards with larger concentrations of university graduates.
Greens did well in England. The strongest Green showings were in areas with the most graduates and professionals.
Covid did not break the hold of Leave and Remain identities.

BBC News

143 of 143 councils declared.
















Liberal Democrats















No overall control






AR I'm going Green.





2021 Europe Day

The Boris Balloon

Tim Shipman

Boris Johnson and his blustering optimism have captured the public mood. Commentators say he has realigned British politics. A Tory aide: "People like Boris."
Johnson has an almost magical connection to the man in the street. When he took his victory lap of Hartlepool, he was greeted by a giant inflatable version of himself. He strode straight toward it and asked: "Who's that fat bloke over there?"
His mischievous personality is authentic. His new voters admire his weaknesses. He needs to show them he can change their lives and justify their faith.

BBC News

Sadiq Khan was re-elected as London mayor with 55.2% of the vote. Labour also won mayoral elections in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, and West of England. The Conservatives made significant gains of councils across England, adding 12 councils and an extra 239 councillors to their overall tally by the end of Saturday.

BBC News

The SNP has won 64 seats in the Scottish Parliament election: 1 short of a majority but 1 more than it won in 2016. Nicola Sturgeon hailed her party's fourth consecutive victory as a "historic and extraordinary" result.

AR No Europe news at all in the mainstream British press today. Just echoes of a days-old story about Royal Navy gunboats ending a blockade of Jersey by French fishermen.


Boris Johnson and doll
in Hartlepool today


2021 May 8

UK Regional and Local Elections

Laura Kuenssberg

UK politicians are getting a blast of public opinion, but many counts are yet to conclude. Boris Johnson finds he is a magnet for millions of voters as Tories trample further into areas where they used to be alien. Sir Keir Starmer finds Labour repels swathes of voters and may be yet to hit rock bottom.

BBC News

The BBC projects the SNP will end up with 63 seats, 2 below overall control, a result like 2016 but with more Greens. Conservatives are forecast to get 31 MSPs, Labour 22, Greens 9, and Lib Dems 4.

BBC News

There were 60 seats up for grabs. Welsh Labour won 30 of them, about 40% of the constituency votes, and will retain power. Conservatives have 16 seats, Plaid Cymru 13, Lib Dems 1.

AR England Conservative, Scotland Nationalist, Wales Labour.


2021 May 7

'Jabs and Jobs'

The Times

Boris Johnson promised to deliver "jabs, jabs, jabs and jobs, jobs, jobs" today as he hailed the Conservative by-election win in Hartlepool.
Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer won the former Labour seat with a majority of nearly 7,000 and 52% of the votes cast, a swing of 16% from Labour, which had held the seat for 57 years.

Labour loses Hartlepool
Daniel Finkelstein

Labour's defeat in Hartlepool will make things much more difficult for Sir Keir Starmer. Labour has not recovered much, if at all, from the last general election.
For at least 15 years, Labour has been losing working-class support to the Conservatives, while attracting younger urban support. And the problem for Labour is that their new vote isn't large enough to replace the old one.
The Tories have chosen to appeal to older, less urban, less ethnically diverse voters. Labour may eventually have the demographic upper hand. In the weeks ahead, criticism of Starmer will often settle on his tactics and even his personality. But the right thing to question is his strategy.

A transitional figure
Andrew Adonis

Average wages in Hartlepool are lower in real terms than in 2010, yet the Tories have just won an election there!
A Labour councillor: "We had no leader or message apart from our candidate, a great local GP — which just drew attention to the vaccine, which is Boris's equivalent of Thatcher's Falklands triumph."
Keir Starmer turns out to be a transitional figure. Does Labour need to lose another general election before choosing a leader who can win?

AR Boris wins big.




2021 May 6

Napoleon Bonaparte

Emmanuel Macron

The life of Napoleon is an ode to political willpower. The destiny of the child from Ajaccio who became master of Europe shows that a man can change the course of history.
What brings us together is the fight against ignorance, the love of knowledge and history, and the will to yield nothing to those who want to wipe out the past because it does not correspond to the idea they have of the present.
Napoleon is part of us because the lessons of this warrior, strategist, and builder carry through to this century. He became the part of France that conquered the world.
Napoleon laid the foundation of modern France, creating lycées, refining the legal system, erecting monuments, and forging our national identity. He gave substance to our political organization and administration.
He united the country behind a common enemy — England — and replaced the transcendence of the king with the notion that sovereignty lay with the people.

AR I'm grateful that he established the metric system.


M Barnier


2021 May 5

The Great Illusion

Michel Barnier

The current team in Downing Street is not up to the challenges of Brexit.
The future of Britain was determined by the quarrels, betrayals, and thwarted ambitions of a few Tory MPs who underestimated the legal complexity of Brexit and its consequences. Their party infighting became political piracy.
Theresa May was a courageous, tenacious woman surrounded by a lot of men busy putting their personal interests before those of their country. In the end, she exhausted herself fighting against her own ministers and for her parliamentary majority.
I never saw the point of Brexit. I wonder what prevented the UK from becoming Global Britain other than its own lack of competitiveness. Germany has become Global Germany from inside the EU and the EZ.
Boris Johnson always treated the negotiations strictly as a domestic matter. But he too seemed hobbled by the same British problem. When one of my team explained to him the need for customs and quality checks on the Irish border, he seemed only then to become aware of a series of technical and legal issues.
Brexit is a failure for the EU. It is also a waste, for the UK and for us. I still do not see the need for it, even from the point of view of the UK national interest.
Learn from Brexit to listen and respond to popular feeling in Europe.

AR This is an impressionistic cull from a big book.




2021 May 4

UK Identity

William Hague

The revival of the nation state exposes a crisis of national identity.
The Brexit referendum exposed a vast cultural gulf between London and provincial towns, and between England and Scotland. Elections this week will determine the timing and tactics of the coming struggle to save or break the UK as a state.
Francis Fukuyama identifies six attributes of countries with strong national identity: strong physical security, high quality of governance, facilitation of economic development, a wide radius of trust, a strong safety net to combat inequality, and reasonable acceptance of the views of others.
For two centuries, British leaders have not actively promoted national identity. Britain was distinctive in the world and most Britons were proud of it. But leaving the EU reveals the need to promote a modern British identity.
Promotion of a common identity is a matter of urgency.

AR Identify as as a pillar of a European union.




2021 May 3

The Clash of Civilizations

Richard McGregor

As vice-president, Joe Biden was skeptical of the notion that China, with its Communist party rule, could ever become a peer competitor to the United States, with its superior system of government, overwhelming leadership in hard and soft power, and an unmatched system of global military and intelligence alliances.
As president, Biden has clearly changed his mind. China has become richer and more powerful and developed the military capability to do things that the ruling party has long wanted to do. Xi Jinping is an assertive leader and has the military and diplomatic firepower to take risks.

AR Stay tuned for the big fight to dominate the century.


The Green Wind of Change

Philip Oltermann

A new German poll of polls puts the Green party three points ahead of the ruling CDU for the first time since June 2019. Conservative domination of the Bundestag could end on 26 September.
Green chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock, an LSE graduate, has co-led the Greens for three years but lacks experience in higher office. Her campaign theme is that Germany is more innovative than its political class.

AR Stay tuned for a big drama following election day.


The French Presidency

Adam Sage

National Rally leader Marine Le Pen accuses French president Emmanuel Macron of driving France towards chaos, violence, and economic decline. More than 20,000 soldiers and officers, mostly retired, say the military may be forced to intervene unless a clampdown is imposed on Islamism and violence in ethnic minority suburbs to prevent civil war.
Le Pen: "If, by the greatest of misfortunes for France, Emmanuel Macron ended up serving a second term of office, the chaos would be universal."
French citizenship minister Marlène Schiappa: "Chaos is the stock in trade of the National Rally, make no mistake about it."

AR Stay tuned for the presidential election in 2022.


Annalena Baerbock


2021 May 2

'President Klain'

Sarah Baxter

White House chief of staff Ron Klain knows the business of government. He is determined to secure Joe Biden's place in the pantheon of presidents.
Klain, 59, is a Harvard law graduate who became chief counsel to the Senate judiciary committee chaired by Biden in 1989. He served four years as chief of staff to Al Gore when Bill Clinton was president, then played the same role for Biden when Barack Obama became president.
Klain is behind the spendathon that defines Biden's first 100 days: "Everything we are doing is what we said we were going to do."

AR Klain has done good.


German Greens

Deutsche Welle

Green chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock, 40, wants a tougher German stance toward Russia and China.
She says increasing pressure on Russia over Ukraine should be a priority for Germany and ensuring stability between Ukraine and Russia should take priority over helping Ukraine join the EU and NATO.
She calls China's Belt and Road projects hardcore power politics and says liberal democracies must uphold their values.

AR AB is a contender.


The UK Monarchy

Mail on Sunday

Booker Prize winner Dame Hilary Mantel, 68, says of the Queen: "I wonder if she's the only person who really believes in the monarchy now .. I understand she thinks of this as a sacred task .. It's a conflict because most of the world sees the royal family as a branch of showbusiness."
On the future of the monarchy: "I think it's the endgame .. their last big era."

AR Mantel is right.




2021 May 1

Constructor Theory

Chiara Marletto

The standard laws of physics are formulated in terms of trajectories of objects and what happens to them. But to capture some phenomena in nature, you need counterfactuals.
A counterfactual is a statement about which transformations are possible and which are impossible in a physical system. A transformation is possible when you have a constructor that can perform a task and then retain the capacity to perform it again.
Constructor theory puts counterfactuals at the foundation of physics. Compared to classical information, quantum information has two additional counterfactual properties: For some pairs of information variables, you cannot copy both simultaneously with arbitrarily high accuracy, but you can always reverse any transformations on those variables.
A universal constructor can perform all physically allowed tasks. Once we can define constructor theory in physical terms and understand the principles that allow it, then we will know what are the elementary gates or elementary possible tasks that the universal constructor can use.
Constructor theory would explain the physics of life. DNA contains the instructions for building a cell, and the cell reads those instructions, constructs a new instance of itself, copies the instructions, and inserts them into the new cell.

AR See also blog 2021-04-15.





2021 Arbor Day


Suzanne Simard

Trees are in a connected society. They trade and collaborate and interact in sophisticated ways as a cohesive, holistic society.
Plants are obligate mutualists with fungi. They need them to gather nutrients and water from the soil, especially in a stressful environment. That is what all seeds encounter when they try to germinate. The boost provided by the fungi can make the difference between survival or death.
The mycorrhizal networks in the forest forms a biological neural network. The chemicals moving in those networks include glutamate, one of the dominant neurotransmitters in brains.
If you look at the sophisticated interactions between plants — and some of that happens through the networks — their ability to respond and change their behaviors according to this information all speaks of wisdom to me.
Plants are attuned to any kind of disturbance or injury, and we can measure their biochemical responses to that. Certain biochemical pathways are triggered to respond to stresses and disturbances, like chewing by herbivores.
James Cameron is making a documentary on the science behind Avatar. He based his idea of the hometree and the people connecting to the network on my work.
Go to the forest. Go and be with it and love it and care for it and show your respect for it. Connect back with nature.

AR Good advice.


Joe Biden plans $1.8T in
new spending on top of his
$2.3T infrastructure plan


2021 April 29

Biden: 100 Days In

Peter Baker

President Joe Biden laid out an ambitious agenda on Wednesday night to rewrite the American social compact by vastly expanding family leave, childcare, health care, preschool and college education for millions of people to be financed with increased taxes on the wealthiest earners. He unveiled a $1.8 trillion social spending plan to accompany previous proposals to build roads and bridges, expand other social programs and combat climate change.
Biden: "We have to prove democracy still works, that our government still works, and we can deliver for our people."

AR Gets my vote.




2021 April 28

MEPs Back Historic Mistake

Daniel Boffey

The European Parliament has given its overwhelming backing to the Brexit trade and cooperation agreement, with 660 votes in favour, 5 against, and 32 abstentions.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen: "I warmly welcome the European Parliament vote in favour of the EU−UK trade and cooperation agreement. The TCA marks the foundation of a strong and close partnership with the UK. Faithful implementation is essential."
European Council president Charles Michel: "It marks a major step forward in EU and UK relations and opens a new era. The EU will continue to work constructively with the UK as an important friend and partner."
The European Parliament also passed a resolution describing Brexit as a "historic mistake" with 578 votes in favour, 51 against, and 68 abstentions.

AR Now the EU can progress unhindered by "global" Britain.


Wagnerism by Alex Ross

Peter Conrad

Alex Ross looks far beyond the musical legacy of Richard Wagner, whose operas unsettled Friedrich Nietzsche and later besotted Adolf Hitler.
Ross likens the overwrought emotional state of the typical Wagner devotees to the Greek αγων (agon). Reverence for the "holy German art" extolled in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg has required others to pay homage to Germans as the master race.
Like Wagner with his repeated orchestral motifs, Ross tends to go round in circles. In this encyclopædic book, the plethora of interpreters makes Wagner mean anything or nothing. Martin Heidegger and Claude Lévi-Strauss lure him astray.
Wagner is finally absorbed by pop culture. The helicopter gunships that blast the Ride of the Valkyries in Apocalypse Now recall the opera's shrieking female warriors. Ross calls Tolkien's Lord of the Rings a "kinder, gentler" version of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.
At the end, Ross performs a cleansing ritual. My long slog through his book was not so cathartic.

AR I'm reading it now.


2021 April 27

Boris Johnson Under Siege

Daily Mail

Boris Johnson is said to have made a crass comment on lockdown deaths. Citing their own sources, the BBC and ITV both confirmed our report that Johnson said he would rather see "bodies pile high in their thousands" than order a third lockdown. Johnson denies it.
News of the Covid clampdown was leaked last October just hours after the decision was taken. An infuriated Johnson told the Cabinet Office to hunt down the "chatty rat" who leaked it. Johnson has now ordered a briefing war against Cummings, who says both the PM and cabinet secretary Simon Case had exonerated him.
Case confirmed to MPs that Johnson had sought to set up a charitable trust overseen by party donor Lord Brownlow to pay for the refurbishment of the PM's flat in 11 Downing Street. Brownlow said he had given the Conservative party £58,000 to cover it. Johnson has now settled the bill himself.

AR Not looking good ..


Suzanne Simard


2021 April 26

China Expands Navy

The Times

The Chinese Navy has unveiled three new warships:
 Hainan is a Type 075 carrier platform for launching an amphibious or airborne assault with up to 1200 troops plus dozens of helicopters and jump jets.
 Dalian is a Type 055 destroyer armed with anti-ship missiles, mid-range anti-air missiles, and new anti-submarine missiles.
 Changzheng-18 is an upgraded Type 094A nuclear-powered submarine for carrying 12 JL-2 ICBMs.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi: "China has no intent to compete with the US. What China focuses on is overtaking itself and improving itself. If there is only one model, one civilization on the Earth, the world will lose its vitality."


Wood Wide Web

The Observer

Trees can communicate and cooperate through subterranean networks of fungi. Suzanne Simard published her doctoral research in Nature in 1997, but many dismissed her finding that trees are more altruistic than competitive. Today, at 60, she is professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia.
Simard learned from her first job with a logging company that removing rival trees and undergrowth did not promote tree growth. At grad school in Oregon, she studied how paper birch and Douglas fir interact: "I knew that without birch, fir was not very healthy. When birch was removed from the ecosystem, infections would often get on to the fir."
She planted her seedlings in groups of three. Paper birch and Douglas fir form symbiotic relationships with fungi on the outside of their roots, and cedar forms a symbiosis with fungi inside their roots. Cedar was the control, getting its information through the soil.

A few remarks
Suzanne Simard

Trees perceive many things. They know when they're infected and have an instantaneous biochemical response .. Trees don't have a brain, but the network in the soil is a neural network and the chemicals that move through it are the same as our neural transmitters.
When you're walking in the forest, there is a whole city underfoot that includes myriad organisms, including actinomycetes [bacteria] that excrete chemicals that can make us a bit high — there's an aphrodisiac thing going on.
Some trees have lived for thousands of years. They get along, develop sophisticated relationships and listen. In western science, from Plato onwards, we've separated ourselves from nature. We are all part of this.

AR Avatar



Lao Tzu


2021 April 25

Cummings: Johnson Raised Covid Death Toll

The Sunday Times

Dominic Cummings is preparing a dossier of evidence to blame Boris Johnson for tens of thousands of excess deaths during the second wave of the pandemic.
He also said Johnson was too slow to shut the borders when the pandemic began. He said ministers failed to introduce travel bans for more than nine months after the virus came to Britain. The combined UK death toll is now more than 127 000.
Cummings went to war with No 10 in response to accusations that he had leaked details of the second lockdown before it was announced and had also made public the PM's 2020 texts with the billionaire Brexiteer James Dyson.
According to friends, Cummings "went nuclear" because of fears No 10 was attempting to blame him for the leaks, leaving him exposed to a potential police investigation.
Cummings will give evidence on May 26 to the joint investigation of the health and science select committees into the government's handling of the Covid pandemic.

Downing Street sleaze
The Observer

A sleaze crisis is engulfing No 10 amid growing cross-party uproar over a collapse in standards at the heart of government.
Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon: "The stench of sleaze that is surrounding this Tory government is becoming quite overpowering. There are very serious allegations being levelled at Boris Johnson and his government."
Many voters think Johnson and the Tory party are corrupt. Some 37% describe Johnson as mostly or completely corrupt, compared with 31% who say he is clean and honest. Yet the Tories are polling 11 points ahead of Labour.

A man without integrity
The Observer

Boris Johnson is a man who lacks vision, integrity, and principle. He brings the office of prime minister office into utter disrepute.
Johnson has faced questions about his integrity for as long as he has held public office. He did not decide whether to back remaining or leaving the EU until it was clear which would be better to further his own political career. During a national emergency, he is consumed with sowing division and picking culture wars to distract the public.
No set of rules can inject integrity and leadership into the character of a man who has none.

AR The UK has a corrupt government.


2021 April 24

Dominic Cummings vs Boris Johnson

The Times

Dominic Cummings attacked Boris Johnson last night, condemning his conduct and alleging he tried to stop a leak inquiry because it implicated Henry Newman, a friend of Carrie Symonds.
He also said Johnson had attempted to get party donors to secretly fund expensive renovations to his Downing Street flat and told the PM what he thought of the plan.
Johnson said Cummings was behind a series of leaks against him. A No 10 source said Johnson was "saddened about what Dom is doing" and Cummings was undermining the government and the party.
Johnson: "I don't think people give a monkey's .. What they care about is what were we doing to protect the health of the British public and that's what I care about."

Totally unethical
Dominic Cummings

The PM .. said to me: "If Newman is confirmed as a leaker then I will have to fire him, and this will cause me very serious problems with Carrie as they're best friends .. [pause] perhaps we could get the cabinet secretary to stop the leak inquiry?"
I told him that this was 'mad' and totally unethical, that he had ordered the inquiry himself and authorised the cabinet secretary to use more invasive methods .. because of the seriousness of the leak. I told him that he could not possibly cancel an inquiry about a leak that affected millions of people, just because it might implicate his girlfriend's friends.
I told him I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended.
It is sad to see the PM and his office fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity this country deserves.

AR Another failed bromance


2021 St George's Day

Sleazy Business

The Times

The danger for Boris Johnson is a cavalier approach to standards in public life, or what is more commonly referred to as sleaze.
The fact that Johnson promised Sir James Dyson to fix problems with the tax system is hard to get worked up about. What makes the story damaging is that it fits into a broader narrative of a government that has too often appeared willing to bend rules to the benefit of supporters and donors in ways that fuel charges of cronyism.
This is a government whose word is not to be trusted and which has much to hide.

Voice of the Mirror
Boris Johnson is launching an inquiry into who is embarrassing him rather than admitting mistakes. He should instead be promising to cleanse his sleazy government, but fat chance of that.

AR Sauhaufen


Dorset coast near Swanage, Earth Day



2021 Earth Day


Friedrich Merz

"Es gibt zur Bewältigung des Klimawandels bessere Instrumente als immer mehr Regulierung und Bevormundung. Mit marktwirtschaftlichen Anreizen lässt sich beides erreichen, denn dann haben Unternehmen und private Haushalte eine intrinsische Motivation, ökonomisch und ökologisch das Richtige zu tun."


Physical Reality

Carlo Rovelli

Basically, physics shows that the world is a web of interactions and nothing exists independently of that web. It is at the atomic and subatomic, or quantum, level that we confront this truth most dramatically.
We live in a quantum universe. It's just that, when many atoms come together, the quantum effects are washed out and it is possible to think of objects with an independent existence such as chairs and tables and people.
Physics has reinforced the fact that we are all part of an interactive web and there are no solutions to our global problems without recognizing and embracing that.

AR From talks with Marcus Chown.


2021 April 21

Armin Laschet?

Kate Connolly

Armin Laschet is the Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW) Ministerpräsident, CDU leader, and CDU/CSU Kanzlerkandidat for the September general election.
Laschet, 60, grew up in a Catholic household in Aachen. His life revolved around the church, where he met his childhood sweetheart and future wife. He still lives in Aachen. His core social network has remained much the same for six decades.
Laschet studied law in Munich but failed to complete his law exams. He became editor of a church newspaper, then an Aachen councillor, then a Bundestag MP, then an MEP. As CDU leader, he is criticized for hesitant and indecisive management.
Angela Merkel has refused to get involved in his candidacy. Recent polls show only 15% of Germans see him as a suitable chancellor candidate.

AR I'm not impressed.


Perseverance rover's drone
helicopter makes its first
flight on Mars and snaps
its own shadow


2021 April 20

Fast Problem Solving

Anil Ananthaswamy

Partial differential equations (PDEs) are notoriously difficult to solve, if they can be solved at all. Approximate methods can take months on supercomputers. New deep artificial neural networks can do the work orders of magnitude faster.
Neural networks have layers of artificial neurons. Each neuron takes in a set of inputs, multiplies each one by a weight, sums up the results, and determines an output based on that total. Deep neural networks have one input layer, one output layer and multiple hidden layers in between.
The input to such a neural net is a vector and the output is another vector. If a function maps a set of input vectors to a set of output vectors, the network can be trained to learn the mapping. Any function between two finite-dimensional spaces can be approximated by a neural network.
We train a neural network to learn the correlation between inputs and outputs from training data sets. We feed the network an input, let it produce an output, and compare it to the expected output. An algorithm adjusts the weights of the neurons to minimize the difference between the generated and expected outputs. We repeat this process until the network approximates the target function.
The new deep nets can map any set of functions on the input side to any set of functions on the output side. They can learn how to approximate not just functions, but operators that map functions to functions, to solve a whole family of PDEs at once — fast.

AR This is important: PDEs were a bottleneck.


2021 April 19

The Muon Result

Carlo Rovelli

"Could the new muon result be the real thing? Maybe, maybe not. On the same day news of the measurement was greeted with enthusiasm, a paper appeared in Nature presenting the results of a theoretical calculation using supercomputers indicating that the previous theoretical estimates of the muon were slightly off. Taking this into account, the theoretical value may be closer to the value measured last week. There might be no contradiction after all."

AR As I thought from the Quanta report (blog 2021-04-08): Real discoveries in physics tend to take a stronger confluence of hints than the loose talk of 4σ significance suggested.


2021 April 18


Carlo Rovelli

"To ask what consciousness is, after having unravelled the neural processes, is like asking what a storm is after having understood its physics: it is a question that makes no sense. To add in a 'possessor' of sensations is like adding Jove to the phenomenon of the thunderstorm. It is like saying, after having understood the physics of the storm, that there still remains, as [David] Chalmers would put it, the 'hard question' of connecting it with the anger of Jove."

AR This is right: The "I" at the end of the neuroscience story is like the electron at the end of the quantum-mechanical story, just a metaphysical flourish that under what we regard as normal circumstances adds a small increment of intuitive closure. As Wittgenstein said, the "I" can shrink to a perspectival vanishing point. This is the view of the matter I adopt in my Mindworlds story.


USS Ronald Reagan
Windsor Castle quadrangle, military parade at funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

AR Reminds me of the coronation in 1952 — one of my very first memories

Sandbanks today


2021 April 17

Memories ⊥ Sensations

Jordana Cepelewicz

The brain absorbs new sensory information and stores memories of earlier observations or events. To keep them distinct, it rotates sensory information to encode it as a memory. The two orthogonal representations draw from overlapping neural activity.
Researchers let mice listen to chord sequences over and over again. The mice associated the chords and could predict them. Over time, the neural representations of associated chords began to resemble each other. New sensory inputs interfered with representations by overwriting representation of previous inputs. The neurons changed their encoding of a past stimulus to match later stimuli.
Intact neural patterns encoding memories of the chord sequences were organized in a dimension orthogonal to the sensory representations. Computational models show this mechanism requires fewer neurons and less energy than alternatives.

AR Evolution is efficient.


A selfie


2021 April 16


Lisa O'Carroll

Brexit minister David Frost says talks between the EU and UK to ease tensions in NI are productive and constructive, with momentum established to achieve a solution to the crisis.
European Commission VP Maroš Šefčovič says the outcome must be jointly agreed, without unilateral action. The EU praises the solution-driven atmosphere in the latest talks.

AR Endless story ..


2021 April 15

Climate Emergency

Scientific American

Hurricanes, dam bursts, and sudden cold snaps are emergencies that require immediate action. Multiply these situations worldwide, and you have the biggest environmental emergency to beset the Earth in millennia: climate change. The climate emergency is here.


Quantum Logic

Chiara Marletto

The quantum theory of computation suggests seeing physics as the science of what might or might not happen. This "modal" science may help us with big questions.
Think of an electron in a certain spin state as a qubit that can instantiate a bit in multiple ways that cannot all be in focus at the same time. This qubit tells us which transformations you can and cannot perform. Rather than focusing on the actual world, we build a physics of counterfactual worlds.
Modal science lets us express physical laws for both classical bits and qubits. A computer bit holds information because once it has been set to 0, you can set it to 1, and vice versa, and you can copy its value. These properties are counterfactuals. Information theory is unified by modal principles.
Consider quantum theory and general relativity. Let two qubits interact with something else. If that something entangles the qubits, it must have quantum features. If the qubits are two quantum masses and the something is gravity, any entanglement refutes classical theories of gravity.
My team is pursuing constructor theory at Oxford. We hope it will lead to a technological revolution after quantum computation.

AR I inserted the word "modal" here from logic I studied almost 50 years ago.


USS Ronald Reagan
US Navy
Saber rattling: USS Ronald Reagan carrier group under USAF air cover led by B-52

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell used
set theory to prove
2 + 2 = 4


2021 April 14

America vs China

James Stavridis

I once commanded a fleet of destroyers in the South China Sea. That sea is almost as big as Western Europe. China claims ownership of it, and this worries the international community. China is building a massive fleet, and America, Japan, India, and Australia are looking on with concern. We are happy when our allies decide to work with us in the South China Sea.

AR Admiral Stavridis is a former SACEUR and co-authored 2034.


2021 April 13

The Elizabethan Era

Polly Toynbee

The Elizabethan age is slowly drawing to a close. The monarchy set a stamp of respectability on whatever rottenness hid beneath. The sovereign helped make a Conservative vote seem the British patriotic norm. The word "sovereignty" worked magic in the Brexit referendum.
The monarch never stopped the country electing a progressive government. But the pomp of the crown acted as useful cover for the wild insurgents subverting the Tory party. Their bulldogs hunt down imaginary slights among any who reject their Brexit blinkers.
A Soviet-style 24-hour shutdown of the major TV channels was not enough to appease the Brexiteer-founded Defund the BBC: "Disgraceful! The anti-British BBC has set up a form to encourage complaints about the volume of coverage of Prince Philip's death."
Unchecked, these bullies will terrorise all unorthodoxy as unpatriotic. Thugs disguised as Conservatives feel the Brexit vote gave a strutting ascendancy to their ersatz patriotism. There is still time to end the Elizabethan era with more dignity.

AR Too late: The UK is collateral damage.


A Cultural Wrecking Ball

Melanie Phillips

Correct English, it appears, is a tool of cultural oppression.
A number of universities have decided not to dock marks for spelling mistakes because requiring good English could be seen as elitist. So that no pupil should feel they have fallen at any hurdle, the hurdle of the incorrect answer is removed.
The attack on accuracy, precision, and correct answers replaces objective truth by subjective opinion. No hierarchy of values is permitted. Any such differentiation can be claimed as proof of discrimination or bigotry by an oppressor class.
In George Orwell's 1984, Winston Smith is tortured for insisting that two plus two equals four. Yet on Twitter, Brooklyn College professor of maths Laurie Rubel wrote that the 2 + 2 = 4 equation "reeks of white supremacist patriarchy".
The attack on correct answers is a cultural wrecking ball.

AR Defend math: Repel the attackers.




2021 April 12

England Alone

Philip Rycroft

The UK is in deep peril. The pandemic has deepened the crisis. A breakdown of communications with central government lets devolved leaders chart their own course.
Boris Johnson's cabinet is plagued by infighting over strategy amid growing momentum for a second referendum on Scottish independence and the deterioration of relations in Northern Ireland following the Brexit deal.
As the coronavirus crisis continued, Johnson announced the reopening of schools in spring 2020 without the consent of devolved nations. He ceased COBRA meetings and set up new committees lacking devolved representation.
Devolved leaders began to chart their own course. The public may be adapting to the strange idea of a prime minister who speaks for England alone.

AR Former DExEU permanent secretary Sir Philip Rycroft is now a senior visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge Bennett Institute for Public Policy.


2021 April 11

Prince Philip

Max Hastings

Prince Philip provided the monarch with companionship, support, counsel, and solace. He had courage, intelligence, wit, dignity, and discipline. He remained in spirit the naval officer of his youth, trained to the fulfilment of duty without parading emotion.
Philip was born into a Greek royal family borrowed from German and Danish stock. His parents were exiled, and Philip, a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria, was born on a kitchen table in Corfu. His parents separated and left him virtually an orphan. His school fees were paid by Sir Harold Wernher.
The Duke of Edinburgh was much the most intelligent of the last century's British royals. His troubled childhood created a toughness that armoured him against adversity. Sir John Wheeler-Bennett wrote that he was "a German Junker" at bottom: too loud and too opinionated.
Princess Elizabeth adored him and showed no interest in any other man. Someone said of him: "He's 150% male, and that's his trouble, really." Gordonstoun and the navy had formed him. His close friends were men's men.
Philip became a gilded prisoner in palaces, an accessory to the monarch. He was obliged to spend countless hours with bores and stuffed shirts, which sometimes provoked his wrath. He disliked and despised politicians even more than journalists.

He had it all
Michael Cole

He had it all. Handsome, intelligent, good at sports, envied by men, admired by women, and married to a queen, he had yachts, aircraft, polo ponies, and the free use of royal estates and palaces. Yet the Royal Navy was his only real home.
The romance with Elizabeth began when Philip was so poor that he was living in one room and had only one shirt. George VI was unsure about him. But the princess was smitten by the "Greek god" she'd first met before the war.

The legacy
The Observer

Prince Philip had an unwavering commitment to service to the UK. He deserves respect and acclaim.
His most notable achievement was the foundation of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, which since 1956 has enabled millions of young people around the world to undertake service in the community and enjoy the outdoors. But he also did much to advance British engineering and science and to highlight issues around conservation.
Prince Philip did not enjoy pomp and circumstance. He was not afraid to cause controversy.

AR I'm impressed.


Elizabeth and Philip
⦿ Ron Bell
Elizabeth and Philip during their halcyon days

⦿ Olive Edis
Philip at 15

Prince Philip
Prince Philip
"Duty first"

Amanda Gorman
"I am the daughter of Black
writers who are descended
from Freedom Fighters who
broke their chains and
changed the world."
Amanda Gorman

Brexit is the catalyst
for rioting in NI



2021 April 10

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

Stephen Bates

Prince Philip was the longest-serving royal consort in British history. He was intelligent, but he concealed his intellectual interests behind a bluff exterior.
Philip was born in 1921 into Greece's royal family, but he was from the Danish royal family, the Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburgs. He began his life in exile in Paris.
After an English prep school, he went to a school in Germany. In 1934, he was moved to Gordonstoun, the Scottish boarding school established by the German educationist Kurt Hahn. Philip loved it.
He went on to the naval college in Dartmouth. He was first introduced to Princess Elizabeth, 13, during a royal visit. He entered the Royal Navy as a midshipman but soon became a first lieutenant.
In 1946, Philip became engaged to Elizabeth. He acquired British citizenship and adopted the surname Mountbatten. The couple married in 1947. Elizabeth became Queen in 1952.
Philip: "It is a complete misconception to imagine that the monarchy exists in the interests of the monarchy. It does not. It exists in the interests of the people .. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves."
Philip Mountbatten-Windsor, Duke of Edinburgh, Baron of Greenwich, Earl of Merioneth, died aged 99.

AR Fascinating life story.


The Life of Philip Roth

Elaine Showalter

Philip Roth was widely regarded as the greatest living American novelist. He won nearly every literary prize except the Nobel.
In 1959, Roth's first book, Goodbye, Columbus, launched his career overnight. Reviewing it, Saul Bellow wrote, "At twenty-six .. he performs like a virtuoso". It won a passionate readership among young women as well as men.
Roth started going three times a week to see Dr Hans Kleinschmidt, a Freudian psychoanalyst in New York who loved celebrated and creative patients. Roth got his investment in the analysis back with interest when he wrote Portnoy's Complaint (1969).
Portnoy made Roth rich. He escaped the annoyances of fame in an elegant Connecticut retreat, where he led the disciplined life of a literary monk by day and pursued sexual pleasure with a series of young women by night.
In 1976, Roth connected with the English actress Claire Bloom. They divided their time between Connecticut, New York, and London, and finally married in 1990. After their divorce in 1995, she wrote an angry memoir.
In 1979 came The Ghost Writer, a masterpiece of theme and execution, in which he created the novelist Nathan Zuckerman as his avatar.
As Roth got older, the women got younger. His last years, from 2006 to 2018, were melancholy.

AR Martin Amis wrote on Roth in The War Against Cliché (pp. 285−297).


2021 April 9

Hawking Hawking

Philip Ball

Charles Seife's biography of Stephen Hawking is long overdue.
A wunderkind at Oxford, Hawking had just begun his seminal work on gravitational theory when in 1963 he was diagnosed with ALS. He worked on from a wheelchair, helped by brilliant assistants.
Hawking produced remarkable work on singularities. With Roger Penrose, he showed how the mathematics of collapse could describe the Big Bang. In his greatest triumph, in 1974, he showed that black holes emit radiation and evaporate.
Once anything falls into a black hole, general relativity says its information is lost. But quantum mechanics says information is never lost. Hawking got stuck on this paradox.
When Jacob Bekenstein realized that a black hole could have a temperature and an entropy, Hawking criticized him mercilessly before coming up with the Bekenstein−Hawking relation.

AR Iconoclasm sells.


2021 April 8

Hint of New Physics

New Scientist

The strange behaviour of the muon may hint at exotic physics beyond the standard model.
Muons spin when put in a magnetic field. Their spin axis precesses, so we can measure the spin frequency. The frequency is determined by the g-factor. Using the standard model, we can predict this number precisely.
In 2006, Brookhaven National Laboratory measured a spin rate slightly faster than predicted. New results from Fermilab corroborate the concerns.
The anomaly probably arises from quantum fluctuations due to virtual particles. Virtual pairs appear randomly and can be any type of particle. Some might be new, but we can only predict the effect of ones we know.
Also, recent results from the Large Hadron Collider show something strange about muon decay.

Muon gyromagnetic ratio
Natalie Wolchover

Fermilab has found strong evidence that the standard model (SM) is incomplete. The measured value of the muon magnetic moment exceeds the best predicted value beyond the seventh decimal place at the 4.2 sigma level.
In 2020, a team of theorists known as BMW used a supercomputer to recalculate the most uncertain term in the SM prediction. The calculation differs from the value adopted in 2020 by the Theory Initiative consortium.
Both electrons and muons were long thought to have a g-factor (gyromagnetic ratio) of exactly 2. But in 1947, the g-factor of the electron was measured to be 2.00232. The corrections are due to quantum fluctuations due to virtual photons.
Muons are more massive than electrons and are more likely to be surrounded by heavy virtual particles. The Theory Initiative prediction of the muon g-factor is 2.0023318362. This is 3.7 sigma below the last Brookhaven measurement of 2.0023318416. But the BMW value is closer, at 2.00233183908.
Uncertainty about the SM prediction stems from hadronic virtual particles. This hadronic vacuum polarization contributes a tiny correction to the muon g-factor. Uncertainty about this term is the primary problem.

AR This could become exciting.


2021 April 7

Brexit 'Dishonesty' Fuels Anger

Lisa O'Carroll

Northern Ireland justice minister says UK government "dishonesty" over the consequences of hard Brexit angers loyalists.


2021 April 6

Russian Arctic Moves

Nick Paton Walsh


Russia is arming up in the Arctic. Moscow says its goals in the freshly ice-free region are economic and peaceful. It aims to export hydrocarbons along the route and to exploit regional resources.
The northern sea route (NSR) between Norway and Alaska along the Russian coast could halve the time it takes shipping containers to reach Europe from Asia via the Suez Canal.
Kremlin strategy aims to ensure Russian territorial integrity and regional peace. It also aims to raise living standards and economic growth in the region and to develop the NSR.
The ice melt has removed Russia's northern defensive wall. Satellite images show new Russian military bases and hardware on the Arctic coastline, including facilities for the latest weapons.
Fired from a Belgorod submarine, the Poseidon nuclear torpedo is designed to sneak past coastal defenses on the sea floor. It can deliver a multimegaton warhead to raise a radioactive tsunami.

AR As the ice melts, a new chill begins.


2021 April 5

Principles for Public Life

Zoe Williams

The Nolan principles for public life are selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership. Michael Nolan didn't have a lot to say about chastity or generosity or modesty or humility. He assumed that the public would provide that firewall themselves. Standards for officials assumed a baseline of normal human decency.
Asking whether the Number 10 incumbent(s) breached the Nolan principles is like asking whether two pigeons trying to shag mid-air have violated public decency legislation.

AR First principle of identity politics: I am what I am.


Grapefruit Black Hole Beyond Pluto?

Stuart Clark

Beyond the giant planets of the outer solar system lies a vast wilderness. We think it contains worlds like Pluto or smaller. But the aligned orbits of a group of smaller bodies suggest something big — P9 — is gravitating out there.
P9 has a few times the mass of the Earth. A planet could not have formed so far out and is unlikely to have been thrown out by Jupiter or Saturn. P9 may be a primordial black hole.
The Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) watches stars in the central Milky Way for sudden brightening caused by gravitational microlensing. The more sudden the brightening, the lower the mass of the lensing object.
Out of 2600 microlensing events that OGLE detected between 2010 and 2015, 6 were briefer than about 10 hours. Such events might be caused by primordial black holes with a few times Earth mass. P9 may be such an object.
Primordial black holes would be born fractions of a second ABB. A P9 black hole would date from the electroweak transition and now be about 9 cm in diameter.
NASA scientists could send a fleet of small probes using solar sails to the outer solar system. Deviations in their trajectories would tell us more about P9.

AR Grapefruit black holes — exciting!


Cairo, Saturday: Ancient mummies of 22 of Egypt's pharaohs were paraded through the streets from the Egyptian Museum,
their old location near Tahrir Square, to their new home, the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in al-Fustat.
The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities organized the event. President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi:
"This majestic scene is new evidence of the greatness of [the Egyptian] people."

The Guardian
A new canal along the
Egypt−Israel border?


2021 Easter Sunday

A walk beside the beach

A Narrative Masterwork

Cynthia Ozick

Blake Bailey's comprehensive life of Philip Roth is a narrative masterwork.
Recognition began with Roth's two earliest novels. Yet he had already published a collection of stories. He was notorious for the shaming and defaming of Jews.
In 1969, when Portnoy's Complaint was published and the uproar of Jewish bitterness grew louder, Roth was catapulted to instant renown. For the sermonizers, the malicious calumnies of Goebbels that had led to the chimneys were being trafficked anew, inconceivably by an American Jew.
Roth saw ignorant philistinism by minds impenetrable to the antic liberties of satire. Put aside the irony of a charge of antisemitism hurled against a writer for whom antisemitism was one of his most visceral antipathies. Roth insisted he was not a Jewish writer but an American writer.
A biographer molds mere chronology into a coherent theme. As in a novel, what is seen at first to be casual chance is revealed at last to be a steady and powerfully demanding drive.
Life itself could affront and ridicule and even torment the provocateur. Calamities were accompanied by illnesses, surgeries, agonies, suicidal breakdowns, panics, depressions and disorientations that dogged Roth for much of his life. In the intervals came the parade of book after book (31 in toto), award after award, and lover after lover.
The lure of attractive and loyal young women never cooled. Nor has the charge of misogyny waned, abetted by the roster of smitten young women, soon to be judged as discarded.
Roth: "I have chosen to make art of my vices rather than what I take to be my virtues."
Whether he is or is not a Jewish writer, Roth at times unwittingly advanced what he most railed against. In 2014, when he received an honorary degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary, he was moved to think how gratified his parents would have been.

AR Martin Amis led me to Portnoy's Complaint in 1970.


2021 April 3

Bouncing Back

Tim Shipman

Boris Johnson divined quickly that the UK obesity crisis was worth highlighting as an explanation for the high Covid death rate. Better that, from his point of view, than the alternative: that he locked down too late.
Johnson plans to put catching up at the heart of his plans for the rest of this parliament. Number 10: "Making sure children can read and write properly and have the skills they need to prosper is the prime minister's real central focus."

AR Appoint a new education secretary.


2021 April 2

Animal Robots

Philip Ball

A year ago, scientists made xenobots by taking cells from a frog embryo and shaping the cell clumps by hand. Since then, new xenobots have formed on their own, without human help.
The frog genome need not say exactly how to make a frog body. The genome programs cells to behave in ways that form an organism during embryogenesis. But in other environments, other shapes may emerge.
Cells communicate with each other. A cell might send a message by releasing a molecule that sticks to the surface of another cell, as in embryogenesis. Cells also talk by exchanging calcium ions, as between neurons.
The variety of body shapes and functions in natural organisms may be less the result of specific developmental programs coded in their genomes than of tweaks to cell behaviors.
Xenobots display the basic self-organization of multicellular aggregates. They result when the formal constraints and the environmental resources and opportunities are minimal.
A xenobot is an organism. It has a self. When xenobots meet each other and stick, they maintain and respect their selfhood. The implications for science may be huge.

AR This is big.


2021 April 1

Covid UK

Jonathan Bak

Toward the end of March, the UK Covid death rate per 100 000 people stood at 190, the highest in the G7. The UK has over 126 000 confirmed Covid deaths, by far the highest in Europe. The UK also had the largest GDP fall of any G7 economy in 2020.
A public inquiry into HM Government's handling of the pandemic is needed. Many HMG calls were wrong, but HMG has not admitted to any specific mistakes.
In Q1 2020, about 190 000 people flew into the UK from Wuhan and other high-risk Chinese cities. HMG held its first COBRA Covid meeting on January 24 but took no significant action to secure PPE supplies for a further 38 days. Its last pandemic rehearsal in 2016 identified PPE as a key gap.
In the six weeks after that first COBRA meeting, HMG failed to build an effective test and trace regime. The UK lacked the basic capacity and considered herd immunity.
On February 27, SAGE outlined a scenario in which over half a million people would die. The SAGE advice was not implemented in full for another four weeks.
The PM missed the first five COBRA Covid meetings and chaired his first on March 2. He then gave up COBRA meetings for daily strategy meetings in the Cabinet room.
By the time the UK locked down on March 23, over 15 000 elderly people had been discharged from hospital into care homes with no mandatory testing. The errors continued through 2020: premature reopening of the economy in June; the Eat Out to Help Out scheme; delayed second and third lockdowns; mismanaged school openings and closures.
The UK response to the pandemic was bad for three key reasons: (1) insufficient capacity in the system, (2) Brexit distracted HMG, (3) squabbling between institutions.
In the centralized UK government, the abilities and character of the PM dominate crisis response.

AR Sad story.


BLOG 2021 Q1


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