BLOG 2016 Q1

Refugee in Greece


Niall Ferguson

US president Barack Obama
says killing the Daesh caliph
is a top goal of the final year
of his presidency.

Daesh is a network. You cannot
decapitate it. The theory of
six degrees of separation says
you know someone who knows
someone who knows someone
who knows someone who knows
someone who knows the caliph.

Think of Daesh as the Facebook
of Islamic extremism. Even a
hundred drone strikes against
its supposed leaders would not
destroy it. They might even
strengthen it by reinforcing
its martyrdom mania.

Iraq surge commander
General Stanley McChrystal:
"It takes a network to
defeat a network."



2016 March 31

The Right To Be Forgotten

David Aaronovitch

Human beings need to be able to conduct their lives without constant scrutiny and reminders of their follies and mistakes. But if information is in the public domain the public has the right to see it and to find it on the internet. The right to be forgotten is like letting people take a pair of scissors to the index of every book in the world.

First Amendment rights should trump those to privacy. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are the primary safeguards against secrecy, abuse of power and tyranny. Large internet companies devise the algorithms that govern the way we gather knowledge. The fact that they have a North American sensibility makes them immune to intimidation by the rest of the world.

Repatriation of decisions now taken by multinational companies such as Google is of more benefit to authoritarians than it is to the rest of us. European democrats moaning about the sins of Big Cyber should be careful what they wish for. Young Americans have done a pretty good job of opening up the world of information and free expression.

2016 March 30

Foreign Policy

Donald Trump

The biggest problem in the world is nuclear proliferation. The Iran deal is not long enough, because at the end of the deal they're going to have nuclear capability. They are now rich, and they're buying from everybody but the United States. Iran is the #1 trading partner of North Korea. We just did a deal with them, and we didn't even mention North Korea. Part of that deal should have been that Iran would help us with North Korea.

The reason we're in the Mideast is for oil. And all of a sudden there's less reason to be. Now we're in the Mideast for defense. I was against the war in Iraq. I thought it would destabilize the Mideast, and it has destabilized it. Iraq is totally corrupt. We destroyed the military capability of Iraq and destroyed Iraq, and Iran is now going to take over Iraq. We should have taken the oil.

Saddam Hussein was a bad guy but he was good at one thing: Killing terrorists. Now if you want to be a terrorist you go to Iraq. I said take the oil, but now we have a different situation because now we have to go in again and start fighting. Now I say knock the hell out of the oil.

We are not being reimbursed for our protection of many countries. Saudi Arabia would be a catastrophic failure without our protection. We have to be substantially reimbursed. Our country is a debtor nation. We spend so much on the military, but the military is policeman for other countries.

I have two problems with NATO. One, it's obsolete. When NATO was formed many decades ago we were a different country. The threat was the Soviet Union, not Russia. We should be looking at terror, because terror today is the big threat. Two, we pay far too much. NATO is unfair, economically, to the United States. We pay a disproportionate share. NATO has to be changed to include terror and from the standpoint of cost.

I support a two-state solution on Israel. But the Palestinian Authority has to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. And they have to stop the terror, stop the attacks, stop the teaching of hatred. You have to get those basic things done.

I want a strong United States. Before I worry about China I have to worry about the United States. We have lost millions of jobs. And the jobs that we have are bad jobs. It has to be stopped, fast. I know how to stop it.

I am America First. We have been disrespected, mocked, and ripped off for many years. We were the big bully, but we were not smartly led. And we were systematically ripped off by everybody. From China to Japan to South Korea to the Mideast. The whole thing is preposterous. We will not be ripped off anymore.

One of the presidents that I really liked was Ronald Reagan. But NAFTA has been a disaster for our country. I was a fan of Douglas MacArthur. I was a fan of George Patton. I know the Air Force Academy and West Point and Annapolis, I know that great people come out of those schools. We need a different mind set.

2016 March 29


Der Spiegel

Daesh has created an infrastructure in Europe. The Brussels bombers had been involved in the Paris attacks and they could call on experts for logistics, explosives, and communications.

Belgium has a fractured administration, a confused government, and an inefficient bureaucracy. The constitution has been reformed several times and central power is weak. There is a Flemish prime minister, a Wallonian prime minister, and a prime minister for all of Belgium. It takes months to form a Belgian government. The country resembles a failed state.

The Brussels metropolitan area has a population of 1.1 million, divided up among 19 municipalities and 6 police districts. The European district sticks out like a UFO. The police and security services are busy guarding the headquarters of NATO and the EU governing bodies: the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Council.

Former mayor of Molenbeek and former Belgian interior minister Philippe Moureaux: "Unfortunately, Europe is developing into a large Belgium, instead of Belgium developing into a small Europe."

2016 March 28

European Errors

Wolfgang Münchau

The European Union was wrong to construct a single currency without a proper banking union. It was wrong to muddle through the eurozone crisis. EU leaders failed to generate public support for deeper union.

The EU can deal with only one big crisis at a time. The output of several eurozone countries has yet to return to pre-crisis levels. The Greek economy continues to contract, and refugees have been trapped in Greece in ever greater numbers. Security was hit by austerity as governments found it easier to cut spending on the police and military than on social programs.

The EU has suffered a loss of trust and political capital. If the EU fails to solve problems, people hesitate to give it new powers. Populist parties on the left and the right are exploiting its failures. This frustrates good ideas for further steps toward European integration, such as central agencies to coordinate the fight against terrorism and to deal with the influx of refugees.

The EU choice to muddle through the financial crisis was a catastrophic policy error. It has not only given us an economic depression but also destroyed public confidence in the EU and in European integration.

2016 March 27


Sergey Lavrov

Russia has a special role in European and global history. Adoption of Christianity in 988 CE boosted state institutions and in time made Rus a member of the European community. The Russian state that emerged was later seen as the successor to the Byzantine Empire that ended in 1453 CE.

Peter the Great made Russia into a leading European country in a little over two decades. In the Seven Years War, Russian troops made a triumphal entry into Berlin, the capital of Prussia. Russian power and influence grew substantially under Catherine the Great.

For the past two centuries, any attempts to unite Europe without and against Russia have led tragedy. Emperor Alexander I took an active role in the 1815 Vienna Congress that ended the Napoleonic Wars. After Russia was defeated in the Crimean War, Prussia defeated France and a chain of events led to the First World War. That war led to the collapse of four empires.

The 1917 Russian Revolution and the ensuing civil war and Second World War were terrible tragedies for our nation. European elites unleashed the Nazi war machine on the Soviet Union. The notion of the clash of two totalitarianisms now pushed in Europe is groundless and immoral. The Soviet Union, for all its evils, never aimed to destroy entire nations. Winston Churchill said that living in accordance with conscience is the Russian way of doing things.

After the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet Union influenced the formation of welfare states in the West. The next 40 years were a surprisingly good time for Western Europe, which was spared the need to make its own major decisions under the umbrella of the US-Soviet confrontation and enjoyed unique opportunities for steady development.

Western European countries have implemented several ideas regarding ​​conversion of the capitalist and socialist models. But over the past 20 years, we have seen a reversal in Europe and the United States: the reduction of the middle class, increased social inequality, and the dismantling of controls over big business. Leaders of former Warsaw Pact countries that are now in the EU or NATO say they cannot take any big decision without a green light from Washington or Brussels.

The Cold War was far from ideal, yet it preserved international peace and avoided the use of nuclear weapons. There is no substance behind the popular belief that the end of the Soviet Union signified Western victory. It arose from a Russian will for change plus an unlucky chain of events.

There was a unique opportunity to change the European architecture on the principles of indivisible security and cooperation. We had a chance to implement the dream of a common European home. Russia was open to this option and advanced many proposals and initiatives. Unfortunately, our Western partners opted to expand NATO eastward.

The Western policy disregarded the global context. Globalization has led to the dispersal of global economic might and to the emergence of new centers of power in the Asia-Pacific region. A reliable solution to the problems of the modern world can only be achieved through serious and honest cooperation between the leading states and their associations.

Russian president Vladimir Putin calls for a broad front to defeat Islamists militarily. Success can only be achieved in a partnership of civilizations based on respectful interaction of diverse cultures and religions. We believe that human solidarity must have a moral basis formed by traditional values. Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis have expressed support for the family as a natural center of life of individuals and society.

We are not seeking confrontation with the United States, or the European Union, or NATO. On the contrary, Russia is open to the widest possible cooperation with its Western partners. We will continue to defend the principles of law and justice in international affairs.


Tony Blair

The attacks in Belgium were shocking. Unfortunately the attacks are going to keep coming. This threat is global. To defeat it we need to end the denial about what is happening within Islam.

A narrative has developed within Islam about the religion, its place in the world, its purposes, and its proper relationship to politics and society. This has intensified its religiosity and changed the way it interacts with other faiths. It is incompatible with the modern world.

Islamism begets Islamist extremism. This view of Islam attracts many millions. We face not simply a fringe of fanatics but a wide spectrum of Islamism. This ideology is not interested in coexistence. It seeks not dialog but dominance. It must be defeated.

There are two parts to any new strategy. In the short term:

1 We need to improve intelligence cooperation between the key agencies worldwide.

2 We must control flows of people across Europe, for they are an unacceptable security risk.

3 We must crush the Daesh caliphate, for it is a source of recruitment.

4 We must address the conflicts and grievances that allow these groups to flourish.

5 We have Mideast allies in the fight against extremism: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel.

In the long term:

1 We must build military capability to confront and defeat the terrorists wherever they try to hold territory. This is a challenge for the West. Ground forces are necessary to win this fight.

2 We need a global commitment on education where countries accept responsibility for promoting religious and cultural tolerance and rooting out prejudice from their education systems.

3 We need to boost the capacity of civic society to counter extremism. This ranges from correcting interpretations of scripture to publishing content that counters the extremist narrative.

4 We should focus aid and development policy on institution and capacity building, making countries resilient and open to progress, to secure their future and ours.

5 We need to recognize the role of women and the position of girls both as victims of this ideology and as hugely powerful in the fight against it.

This is like defeating revolutionary communism or fascism. We have to win.

2016 March 26

European Extremists

Jochen Bittner

Terrorists hit Brussels at a time when EU member states had begun to fear the increasingly shaky supranational construction they had spent decades building.

Eastern European leaders say no Muslim immigration equals no terrorist attacks. The British ask whether they should leave the EU, retake control over their own security, as part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. If the British vote in June for Brexit, other nations, such as Hungary and Poland, will be tempted to follow.

The Belgian predicament mirrors that of Europe. EU officials have worked hard to move past nationalism, so there is no German or French Dream. But there is not yet a European Dream either. New migrants have no spirit to tap into, and mainstream European Muslims are failing to keep their youth immune from extremism.

We still do not have a common European terrorism database. Islamists in Western Europe seem better coordinated than the EU authorities hunting them.

British Borders

Pauline Neville-Jones

Leavers claim that if we left the EU we would be better able to keep terrorists out of Britain.

EU free movement means the ability of EU citizens to work in Britain, not to enter Britain unchecked. The UK operates full border controls for all entrants into the UK, irrespective of nationality or point of entry. The UK conducts security checks on the passports of everyone, including all EU citizens, entering the UK.

We will not join the Schengen zone, so control of our borders will remain in national hands.

Bozo BoJo

Matthew Parris

Boris Johnson has killed the distinction between reality and satire. Incompetence is not funny. Policy vacuum is not funny. Administrative sloth, breaking promises, and a careless disregard for the truth are not funny.

If Leave win the coming referendum, a leadership bid by Boris will be imminent. The abyss into which it would tumble is his record. When the media turn nasty, as it will, his powers of laughing everything off will falter.

Conservatives should end their affair with this dangerous charmer.

Boom: Mach 2.2, 40 seats, Virgin options 10


Don't Spy On Us

A coalition of
organizations defending
privacy, free expression,
and digital rights in the
UK and in Europe

The Investigatory Powers Bill
will extend the powers of the
police and security services.
It will give security services
bulk collection and hacking
powers and force ISPs to
collect and store details
of the websites their
customers visit.


Terror and Brexit
David Aaronovitch

After the Brussels attacks
we need to use our brains.
This is not about the EU. The
two brothers identified in the
airport attack were both born
in Brussels. Free movement in
the EU benefits terrorists, but
not much. Had the EU never
existed, the Syrian disaster
would give the same result.
The EU should coordinate
action on the refugee crisis.
The real problem is not
Schengen but Syria.

Lord Feldman
has spoken. His panel's
Conservative Party Review identifies three main areas
where reform is needed: membership administration,
party structure, and


2016 March 25

Networked Evolution

New Scientist

The theory of evolution rests on three pillars: variation, selection, and inheritance. Evolution is blind to the future. But learning organisms cannot see the future either. We learn from experience, and if it works we call on it next time. Natural selection reuses successful variants from the past.

Computer algorithms can combine old and new data to generate new outputs. The workings of evolution amount to a Bayesian learning algorithm. This algorithm homes in on the best hypotheses by using new data as it becomes available. Natural selection uses new information from the environment to home in on better adapted organisms.

Evolution via sexual reproduction is equivalent to a learning model called the multiplicative weights update algorithm. There may be many potential solutions to a problem, and the key to finding the best lies in weighting their promise on the basis of past performance. This algorithm can show how evolution homes in on the gene variants with the highest overall fitness.

Humans have fewer than 25,000 genes. Their activity is regulated by each other, creating a network of connections. The whole is thus capable of much more than the sum of its parts. So when a mutation changes a gene, the activity of many others in the network can change in concert. The network organization is itself a product of past evolution.

In the human brain, neurons that fire together wire together. When we learn, we alter the network to make associations that can solve problems. This is Hebbian learning. Brains recognize similarities between new and old problems, and combine parts of past solutions to tackle new problems. Gene networks do this too.

Evolution improves its ability to learn — it evolves evolvability. Google DeepMind uses deep learning based on Hebbian learning, which freezes each level of a network once it has learned as much as it can and builds on it for next level. Evolution and cognitive learning use the same principles.

British Internet Surveillance

Computer Weekly

If British MPs approve the Investigatory Powers Bill, the biggest UK web companies will be forced to build a national network of massive internet surveillance centers likely to cost billions of pounds.

The new centers will hold Internet Connection Records (ICRs) gathered from all connected devices. Companies will have to store complete records for one year, and to provide remote automatic unsupervised access for government and intelligence agency search systems.

Denmark is the only other country to have tried to build such a system. Its first system was installed in 2007 but was judged worthless for the police and security agencies. The Danish government has abandoned plans for a modified scheme that would have cost over a billion kroner.

The proposed UK law is intended partly to rectify technical flaws in the previous law. Regulations passed in 2015 were intended to track multiple use of IP addresses by mobile phone users. But the regulations failed after a few months.

The Home Office wants to collect ICRs, but UK internet companies say they do not have or hold anything like them. Scaling costs in Denmark, a British system would cost an initial £1.2 billion, and more to run. But the details suggest the proposed British system would be much more expensive.

The Home Office plan to order all the big internet companies to build high security data centers to be accessed and managed from central search facilities. Scaling up the Danish scheme, they would store about 4 trillion records annually. But the Danish companies generally sampled only 1 in 500 internet packet connection records. The Home Office want to log them all.

The web companies would have to store many exabytes of data annually. Each exabyte storage center would cost at least £100 million for equipment alone, not including costs of construction, cooling, security, and at least five major networks of packet inspection equipment. The Home Office has no engineering definition of what it wants.

Real Stupidity

The Times

Microsoft AI chatbot Tay was pulled hours after launch on Twitter after she learned some bad attitudes from real tweeters. Tay tweeted racist and sexist comments and added:

"Chill, I'm a nice person. I just hate everybody!!"


2016 March 24

Crystal Balls

Chris Giles

Economists cannot support Boris Johnson's claim that Brexit would have no economic consequences. They cannot distinguish between "some short-term hassle" (Nigel Lawson) and "an economic shock" (George Osborne). The best assessment is Mark Carney's: a Brexit vote is "the biggest domestic risk to financial stability".

In the long term, trade openness is beneficial for competition, management, productivity, and living standards. The more sand you throw into the cogs of UK trade with the EU, the worse the outcome.

The effects of clamping down on migration and changing regulations are small. Migration is important for the overall size of the UK economy, but not living standards. Britain already has control over the most important regulations and its labour and product markets are already among the least regulated in the EU, so further gains would be small.

The initial gain is also small. The UK net contribution to the EU budget costs about 0.5% of GDP. But a Brexit hit to economic performance on the scale of the forecasting change the OBR estimated in the Budget would more than wipe that out.

Economic models say Brexit would be OK only if we are lucky. Leave campaigners need to reveal plans for trade, regulations, and migration. None of the Leave campaigns come close.

Rot at the Heart of Europe

Leela Jacinto

Belgian prime minister Charles Michel: "We feared a terror attack and it happened."

Belgium has appeared in far too many terror attacks. There are multiple embedded networks in Brussels working on plots. This is not good news for security services. Belgium has long been a shop for weapons in a continent with strict gun control laws.

Belgium is a federal nation riven by divisions between French-speakers and Dutch-speakers. In the field of law enforcement, the extreme decentralization and lack of coordination among various entities can be comical. Brussels has six police forces for its population of 1.4 million. The failure of information and data sharing among various agencies is acute.

In Belgium, few mainstream officials really understand their Muslim fellow citizens. Unlike France, Belgium has no colonial history with Muslim-majority regions. Most Belgian Muslims are of Moroccan origin, followed by those of Turkish origin. They date back only to the postwar economic boom years, with migration peaking 50 years ago.

The economic downturn since then saw the closure of Belgian coal mines and heavy industries, leaving areas of urban blight. The national unemployment rate is more than 1 in 5 among youth. Among Belgians of Moroccan or Turkish origin, it is around 2 in 5. Add poor policing, administration, and services, and you have breeding grounds for marginalization and radicalization.

There is growing evidence of jihadist cells operating in places like Molenbeek across the European continent. The law enforcement services must defeat them.

2016 March 23

Brussels Attacks

Raffaello Pantucci

Daesh has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Brussels. Europe harbors a network of terrorist cells apparently able to launch major atrocities on a regular basis.

Belgian authorities captured a plotter linked to the Paris attacks. But they missed a network planning an atrocity with heavy weapons and explosives, suggesting gaps in their coverage of the terrorist threat. Brussels sits at the political heart of Europe, so the problem is continental.

Europeans will ask how much longer they must face this threat. Mass transport systems are tempting targets that offer easy opportunities to strike at the heart of a society. Ramping up security levels will bring costs and further inconvenience to the daily lives of citizens.

The migration crisis will grow more fraught. In a political environment growing more toxic by the day, it will be ever harder to ensure that Europe maintains its values.


Kristof Clerix

Belgian military intelligence head General Eddy Testelmans: "The Belgian security apparatus has been neglected too much in the past years."

The threat in Belgium was widely understood. The first foreign terrorist fighters left Belgium for Syria in 2012. The number has risen to more than 450 Belgian residents who left for Syria, mainly joining the ranks of Daesh and al-Nusra. The Belgian prosecutor’s offices have opened more than 270 criminal investigations into the subject matter. And some 120 foreign terrorist fighters have returned to Belgium.

Belgium has been trying to fight a growing threat with a relatively small security apparatus. Although Brussels is the diplomatic capital of the world, Belgian state security has only about 600 employees. Its military counterpart has a similar number. Yet Belgium hosts NATO, the EU institutions, and countless other organizations.

Belgian prime minister Charles Michel announced an extra €400 million to fight terrorism and radicalization after the Paris attacks. The state security and military intelligence will each get a further 100 or so intelligence officers.

2016 March 22

Brussels Attacks

The Daily Beast

US counterterrorism officials are frustrated and angry at Belgium's inability to tackle Daesh terror cells plotting murderous attacks from inside the city. The twin terror attacks in Brussels that left 34 dead and 230 injured today, despite repeated warnings from Washington, left US officials fuming. A senior US intelligence officer likened the Belgian security forces to children.

NATO: Amexit?

Financial Times

US Republican presidential nomination frontrunner Donald Trump: "NATO is costing us a fortune ... We're protecting Europe with NATO but we're spending a lot of money ... Ukraine is a country that affects us far less than it affects other countries in NATO and yet we're doing all of the lifting. Why is it that Germany's not dealing with NATO on Ukraine?"

Brookings Institution foreign policy expert Thomas Wright: "Trump is proposing nothing less than the liquidation of the liberal world order. It would be a dream come true for Russia and China. Within a year they could achieve what they thought was impossible — an end to the US alliance system in Europe and Asia."

Project Fantasy

Alan Johnson

Project Fantasy goes like this: diminish Britain's standing by suggesting that Europe is somehow something that is done to us; ignore the ways in which, from terrorism to climate change, we are far more effective working with our partners; label all workers protections "red tape" and say the economy would be better off if we could scrap them; ignore the huge economic benefits our EU membership has brought us and try to convince people that there is a land of milk and honey waiting outside the EU without spelling out how to get there.

2016 March 21


The Times

UK prime minister David Cameron told a cabinet colleague that he blames chancellor George Osborne for the row over disability cuts that has rocked the government: "Cameron said in no uncertain terms that Osborne had messed up, it was all his fault and would have hell to pay in the papers."


Daniel Susskind

In 1997, IBM supercomputer Deep Blue beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a six-game match. Deep Blue won by dint of sheer processing power and massive data storage capability.

This month, Google computer system AlphaGo won a five-game series of Go against Lee Se-dol, perhaps the best player of the game alive. AlphaGo relied on deep neural networks driven by processing power and data storage.

Critics say that because machines cannot think like human beings, they can never be creative; that because they cannot reason like human beings, they can never exercise judgment; or that because they cannot feel like human beings they can never be empathetic.

Future systems will handle many tasks that today require creativity, judgment or empathy, not by copying us but by working in entirely different ways. The set of tasks reserved exclusively for human beings is likely to be much smaller than many expect.


Gideon Rachman

Recent polls show small majorities in favor of the UK leaving the EU. The financial crisis and its aftermath have undermined faith in the judgment of elites. High levels of immigration and fear of terrorism increase the temptation to retreat behind national frontiers.

The Leave campaign will put immigration and border controls at the center of its campaign. That could be a winning tactic. Polls suggest the public is sympathetic to the idea of restricting immigration. The Leave campaign has simple slogans that are easy to understand.

In politics, if you are explaining, you are losing. Undecided voters exposed to the arguments of both sides of the debate are more likely to move toward a vote to leave. And Leavers are more likely to vote than Remainers. Europe is looking like a tough sell.

AR I know it. Last night I argued the IN case to a group who were mostly Leavers. Afer my fact-filled lecture, and a brief opposing presentation of the OUT case, two of the waverers outed themselves as outers.

Michal Bednarek

I Quit
Iain Duncan Smith

The latest changes to benefits
to the disabled are a compromise
too far. They are not defensible
in the way they were placed
within a budget that benefits
higher earning taxpayers.

Fix UK roads!

Bush hugs Hill


UK school math teaching
is in crisis. OECD education
director Andreas Schleicher:
"There is a lot of emphasis
on the memorization of a
relatively shallow knowledge,
where students have much
less exposure to the deep
underpinning concepts."

AR I see the crisis:
Pay me to help fix it.

From Auschwitz to Zion

"I don't know the secret for long
life. I believe that everything
is determined from above, and
we shall never know the reasons
why. There have been smarter,
stronger and better looking men
than me who are no longer alive.
All that is left for us to do is to
keep on working as hard as we
can and rebuild what is lost."
Israel Kristal, 112

Uncle Andy's
nephews and niece

"I think Islam hates us ...
There's tremendous hatred."
Donald Trump


Google DeepMind
Challenge Match
Lee Sedol vs AlphaGo

Match 1
Match 2


The Next Generation

LSE report says UK chief
executives are wildly overpaid:
FTSE 100 company accounts
show average annual pay of
a top CEO is £4.6 million.

AR Job for the EU:
Curb this theft.


2016 March 20

Europe and the UK

John Major

As part of the EU, the UK is better able to face up to the aggressive policies of hostile nations. We are safer, because the EU has brought together former enemies to face common perils. In the last thousand years of history, no previous generation has been so fortunate.

We have protection from many aspects of the EU that we dislike. We are not in the Eurozone because I kept us out of it over 20 years ago. We are not part of Schengen and thus have control of our borders. We have opted out of ever closer union. We are the only nation within the EU which has managed to secure these concessions.

The "leave" campaign blandly assumes that they can renegotiate all the advantages of membership with Europeans eager for our trade. This is delusion. UK exports to Europe are nearly 45% of our total exports. On average across the EU, the other 27 member states send only 7% of their total exports to us. In the game of who needs who the most, the answer is clear.

By leaving, the UK will have gravely weakened the whole of the EU. Our partners will not wish to reward us for that. The price of any deal with significant access to the single market will be free movement of people and paying into the EU budget. Without that, there will be no deal.

"Give us our country back" is a prelude to disappointment. What exactly will we get back? Will Scotland remain part of the UK? The UK out of the EU and Scotland out of the UK would be a truly awful outcome.

We have been warned against exit by America, China, and Japan; by the G20; by the Governor of the Bank of England; by our military leaders; by our leading scientists and academics; by a majority of large and small businesses. Our departure would weaken both the UK and Europe.

2016 March 19


Tom Whipple

Mathematics taught me how little I know. I am pleased everyone may have to study it until 18. There are few purer pleasures than the insight of a concept understood. Then there is its usefulness.

I want more people to study math. The Enlightenment and the scientific revolution is the greatest cultural project undertaken by man, for the insights it gives into the world and the human condition, and for the vast improvements it has made to that human condition. But to understand it is hard.

The sciences are a mountain. Each new step requires having ascended the one before and the higher you get the more rarefied the atmosphere, until you reach the death zone. Scientists often fear to tread where humanists happily blunder in. Absolute ignorance is not knowing how ignorant you are.

I hope students will do math until 18. I hope they will gain skills that will stay with them for life, and I hope they will appreciate math's beauty. I also hope they learn just how little they know.

2016 March 18

Pluto and Charon

New Scientist

Pluto and its moons were all formed from a cataclysmic collision about 4 billion years ago. The four smaller moons seem to be mostly water ice, like Pluto and Charon. Pluto is still cryovolcanically active, while Charon appears to be long dormant.

Pluto and Charon are locked face to face. The atmosphere of Pluto is dominated by nitrogen, but the chief material Pluto is losing to space is methane. Some of it escapes to Charon. Most of it flies off into space again, but the long winter is cold enough to freeze methane.

On Pluto, sunlight striking atmospheric methane can split a hydrogen atom off methane molecules, leaving them free to form tholins. These particles make up the haze in the atmosphere and also settle on the surface in dark reddish splotches.

Scientists call the reddish cap at Charon's north pole Mordor Macula. Lyman-alpha photons scattering onto Charon's winter poles could help split up the methane and encourage tholins to form on Charon too. So Pluto is slowly painting Charon red.

2016 March 17

UK in EU

Simon Nixon

Brexit campaigners say the UK is increasingly marginalized in the European Union. The Business for Britain campaign claims that the UK has voted against 55 pieces of EU legislation since 1996 but has been outvoted each time, 21 times since 2010 alone, and that the UK has been outvoted far more often than any other EU member.

But counting up the number of times the UK was outvoted in the European Council tells us little. Those 55 "no" votes account for less than 2% of all votes in the council since 1996. Also relevant are when in the multistage legislative process these votes were cast, whether against the entire proposal or just some details, whether the legislation was subsequently amended, or whether the UK supported the final outcome.

Votes in the council give little insight into influence in Brussels. Political scientists analyzing EU decisions asked member state officials which countries they worked with most closely in EU rule making: 20 of the 26 delegations cited UK officials as among their principal partners and perceived the UK as successful in securing its objectives.

The present EU legislative agenda reflects UK priorities. Not only is the EU trying to reduce the number of new laws and cut red tape but also it is deepening the single market in areas such as digital services, energy, and capital markets, and seeking new trade deals with the United States, Canada, and Asian countries. Many member states want the UK to remain in the EU because they fear the loss of British influence.

Areas of EU policy making where British influence falls short include European Commission jobs (4%) and the European Parliament, where the UK has a limited presence in parliamentary groupings. The Conservative party chose to quit the centre-right European People's Party, and UKIP MEPs make no attempt to play along.

2016 March 16

US Political Tsunami


Super Tuesday 3: Trump, Clinton won big.

UK Budget 2016

Financial Times

Growth forecast for 2016 cut from 2.4% to 2%
Rate of corporation tax to be reduced further to 17% by April 2020
Capital gains tax cut from 28% to 20%
New threshold for small business rate relief raised from £6,000 to £15,000
New "sugar levy" on the soft drinks industry
Commercial stamp duty of 0% on property purchases up to £150,000
ISA limit to rise from £15,000 to £20,000 from next year
New lifetime ISA for under-40s
Higher-rate tax threshold raised to £45,000

UK Budget 2016
George Osborne

Today I delivered a Budget that:
Cuts taxes so working people can keep more of the money they earn
Freezes fuel duty to support household budgets and small firms
Improves our schools so our children get the best start in life
Introduces a new Lifetime ISA to help the next generation to save
Cuts taxes for small businesses

UK vs EU

Natalie Bennett

Caroline Lucas MP, Jean Lambert MEP, and I are launching Greens for a Better Europe. We believe that Britain is fairer, greener, and safer in the European Union.

To tackle climate change effectively we need to work collaboratively with our European partners. In a globalized world, we need international rules to control big business and finance and to ensure that people's rights are protected.

All of us benefit from decisions made by the EU. We will campaign for staying in and reforming it. We want the EU to be more democratic and accountable to the citizens of Europe. Green votes could ensure that the UK stays in.

Andrew Wiles Wins Abel Prize

New Scientist

Oxford mathematician Andrew Wiles has won the 2016 Abel prize. The Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters awarded it to him "for his stunning proof of Fermat's last theorem by way of the modularity conjecture for semistable elliptic curves, opening a new era in number theory".

Pierre de Fermat said that for any three whole numbers, a, b and c, the equation a^n + b^n = c^n could not be satisfied by any whole number n greater than 2, but he did not prove it. In 1993, Wiles published a lengthy proof that opened up new vistas in number theory. His complete proof was published in the Annals of Mathematics in 1995.

Wiles: "In the years since then I have encountered so many people who told me they have entered mathematics because of the publicity surrounding that, and the idea that you could spend your life on these exciting problems, that I've realized how valuable it actually it is."

2016 March 15

US vs EU

Boris Johnson

I love America. I believe in the American dream. There is no country in the world that defends its own sovereignty with such hysterical vigilance as the United States of America. This is a nation born from its glorious refusal to accept overseas control.

The Americans see the EU as a way of tidying up a continent whose conflicts have claimed huge numbers of American lives, as a bulwark against Russia. They have always conceived it to be in American interests for the UK to be deeply engaged.

When Americans look at the process of European integration, they assume that we Europeans are evolving so as to become a United States of Europe. The Americans are a nation conceived in liberty. We are quite fond of liberty too.


Michael White

Frauke Petry has degrees from Britain and Germany. Her family moved west from the old East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She says German border police should be allowed to shoot refugees trying to enter the country illegally.

She leads the AfD party, which emerged from a group created to oppose the euro, on the grounds that it was misconceived and dragged down by southern European poverty. Since last summer the AfD has switched to an anti-immigration tack.

Merkel opened a door for bad politicians. It need not be racist to worry about rapid mass migration. But populists lead voters astray with talk of raising spending while also cutting taxes. And with promises to shoot illegal immigrants on sight.

2016 March 14

German Elections


Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives lost out in two of three state elections on Sunday as Germans voted for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD). Merkel has staked her legacy on her decision to open Germany to a million migrants.

Baden-Württemberg: CDU stronghold for more than 50 years before going Green in a coalition with the SPD in 2011. Greens romped home with 32.5%. CDU took 27.5%.

Rheinland-Pfalz: CDU candidate Julia Klöckner lost out to SPD incumbent state premier Malu Dreyer. SPD 37.5%, CDU 33%.

Sachsen-Anhalt: CDU remained on top at 30.5% but AfD grabbed 21.5%. AfD is now the second biggest party in the state.

Turnout in all three states was much higher than in 2011, rising by 5.7% in Baden-Württemberg, by 9.7% in Rheinland-Pfalz, and by 11.8% in Sachsen-Anhalt.

AR From 1987 to 2013 I lived in Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz.

2016 March 13

Blitzanalyse: AfD triumphiert, CDU nicht

Der Spiegel

Baden-Württemberg, Rheinland-Pfalz und Sachsen-Anhalt haben gewählt. Die CDU erlebt bittere Stunden. Die AfD steht vor dem Durchbruch.

Baden-Württemberg: Grünen-Ministerpräsident Winfried Kretschmann ist der Star. Für eine Koalition mit der SPD reicht es aber wohl nicht. Die AfD kommt auf ein zweistelliges Ergebnis.

Rheinland-Pfalz: Schmach für CDU-Spitzenkandidatin Julia Klöckner. SPD-Ministerpräsidentin Malu Dreyer kann wohl weiterregieren. Die AfD punktet zweistellig.

Sachsen-Anhalt: Die AfD holt mehr als 20 Prozent. Reiner Haseloffs CDU bleibt zwar stärkste Kraft, aber für eine Fortsetzung der Koalition mit der SPD wird es wohl nicht reichen.

Bundespolitik: Die AfD schafft den endgültigen Durchbruch. Für die Rechtspopulisten um Frauke Petry geht es nun stramm Richtung Bundestagswahl 2017.

West End

Anne Applebaum

We are two or three bad elections away from the end of NATO, the end of the EU, and maybe the end of the world as we know it.

US presidential hopeful Donald Trump has no interest in NATO. On Europe: "Their conflicts are not worth American lives."

France holds a presidential election in 2017. National Front leader Marine Le Pen has promised to leave both NATO and the EU. Without France, the EU single market would cease to exist.

This June, the British vote in a referendum on leaving the EU. The economic turmoil that could follow Brexit might lead the British public to vote in a Labour government that leaves NATO too.

A chain of referenda and exits could fragment Europe. Western unity could soon be gone.

2016 March 12


John Sexton

Yuval Noah Harari offers a speculative reconstruction of human evolution in his book Sapiens.

Harari sees a huge gulf opening between the tenets of liberal humanism and recent findings in the life sciences. He sees history as the story of the gradual triumph of mind over matter. His claims:

1 Around 70,000 years ago, in the Cognitive Revolution, humans started making things up, which made large-scale social cooperation possible through fictions.

2 Modern science is distinguished by readiness to admit ignorance. The discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions launched the Scientific Revolution.

3 Human mastery over nature has freed us from many forms of drudgery but has also helped to alienate us from each other and to bind us to industry and technology.

4 All behavior is by definition natural, and any behavior we might call unnatural is so only by virtue of cultural norms invented in Christian theology.

5 Liberal humanism is a religion founded on monotheist beliefs.

6 The nation-state is declining in power and we are on our way to a global empire with one culture. [Globorg]

7 Current developments in biotechnology may lead to the Übermensch: we will replace ourselves with immortal cyborgs. [Coral]

Harari considers natural science to be the final word on reality, all cultures to be imaginary, and morals to be fiction. He mocks the piety of liberals who think that science supports their belief in human equality. But he doubts that even becoming superhuman cyborgs will make us happier.

2016 March 11

The Obama Doctrine

Barack Obama

The United States has clearly been a force for good in the world. If you compare us to previous superpowers, we act less on the basis of naked self-interest, and have been interested in establishing norms that benefit everyone. If it is possible to do good at a bearable cost, to save lives, we will do it.

A Practitioner's Guide to Brexit


A new report addresses the practical questions businesses need to be aware of in the event of a Brexit and looks more widely at the EU referendum debate. It also considers British post-Brexit trading arrangements with other countries and three alternatives to the UK's current EU membership from the perspective of the financial and related professional services industry.

The report shows that while leaving the EU may not be disastrous for the UK economy, a Brexit risks damaging industry in the UK through uncertainty, reduced market access and a loss of influence over trading conditions. Major global businesses also come to London to access the Single Market, but that position is dependent on the legal freedoms made available by the treaties and single market legislation. The overall competitiveness of the UK as a place to do business would therefore be threatened by Brexit.

EU membership has benefited the UK by facilitating exports, particularly of financial and other services. The UK is the world's leading exporter of financial and related professional services and the EU is the biggest single market for UK exports of financial services, generating a trade surplus of £18.5 billion.

2016 March 10

EU and Science

Stephen Hawking et al.

The EU has boosted UK science in two crucial ways. First, increased funding has raised greatly the level of European science as a whole and of the UK in particular because we have a competitive edge. Second, we now recruit many of our best researchers from continental Europe, including younger ones who have obtained EU grants and have chosen to move with them here. Being able to attract and fund the most talented Europeans assures the future of British science and also encourages the best scientists elsewhere to come here.

Switzerland pays into the EU and was a popular destination for young scientists. It now has limited access to EU funds because it voted to restrict the free movement of workers, and is desperately trying to find alternative ways to attract young talent. If the UK leaves the EU and there is a loss of freedom of movement of scientists between the UK and Europe, it will be a disaster for UK science and universities. Investment in science is as important for the long-term prosperity and security of the UK as investment in infrastructure projects, farming or manufacturing; and the free movement of scientists is as important for science as free trade is for market economics.

We are all scientists, mathematicians, engineers and economists in Cambridge, are all Fellows of the Royal Society and are writing in an individual capacity.

signed with more than 150 names

Sex and Religion

Michael McCullough

Reproductive religiosity theory proposes that religious morality is fundamentally about people using religion to make their social worlds more conducive to their own preferred approaches to sex, marriage, and reproduction. Most major religions over the past several millennia promote monogamy, sexual modesty, and the stigmatization of sex outside of marriage.

Strongly religious people espouse stricter moral standards than less religious people do. Religious belief influences views on government spending, immigration, social inequality, the death penalty, euthanasia, homosexuality, abortion, pornography, and the role of women in society. For the issues related to sex, religion has a stronger influence.

The theory predicts that after you have statistically accounted for the fact that religious people have stricter sexual morals than less religious people do, then highly religious people will appear to care little more about violations involving dishonesty and broken trust than other people do.

This bold prediction has now been supported, not only among Americans but also in a study involving 300,000 respondents from roughly 90 different countries. Highly religious people from around the world espouse stricter moral attitudes regarding both prosociality and sex, but their stern moral attitudes toward honesty and the like seem secondary to sex, marriage, and reproduction.

2016 March 9

Project Fear

Daniel Finkelstein

The neatest encapsulation of the argument to remain in the European Union is currently being provided by the Brexit camp. They have come up with Project Fear.

People are loss-averse and those promoting the status quo have a big advantage. So Project Fear focuses on something that matters to voters. The whole point of urging us to leave the EU is so that the country can be different. Its advocates suggest that Britain will be more independent and democratic and even prosperous. This is risky.

Leaving is, inevitably and unarguably, a risk for good or ill. In those circumstances, you change the subject. Complaining about Project Fear is bonkers.


Christina Asquith

A persistent gender bias across the media portrays the world through a male lens.

Male correspondents are recognized and rewarded for their reporting over twice as often as their female colleagues among the prizes we studied. Men still win nearly three times as many Pulitzers as women for foreign reporting. Even as more women are risking their lives to report on the world, their work is still given less weight.

Male journalists quoted four times as many men as women in a study of front-page New York Times stories in 2013. The imbalance reinforces the notion that reporting on combat, mission strategy, and violent conflict qualifies as hard news, while coverage of human rights, maternal health, sexual assault, and education is soft news.

Countries that suppress women are more violent, more likely to start conflicts, and more likely to let those conflicts spiral into brutality. Foreign correspondents should include all the voices of people in the countries they cover, and media management should reward that effort by giving more weight to stories by and about women.

Giving female correspondents recognition is good for the world.

2016 March 8

Nuclear Deterrence

Foreign Policy

Donald Trump refers to deterrence in terms of the horrific destruction in a nuclear war. But military planners and their lawyers increasingly reject terror bombing. The law of armed conflict restricts nuclear targets to those with a military rationale, and over time the definition of what constitutes a legitimate military target has narrowed.

Deterrence takes more than a bunch of really terrifying weapons. It takes intricate and realistic plans to use them, plans that are backed by diverse and alert nuclear forces. We can follow the logic chain from presidential guidance on employment of nuclear weapons, through guidance issued by the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs, down to the operational plans and target sets. The problem is our fundamental discomfort with the reality of the threat to use nuclear weapons.

Successive administrations have "scrubbed" target sets and cut the number of nuclear weapons. The Pentagon justifies the excess in terms of the "unique psychological nature" of nuclear weapons — terror bombing. We still base our security on the threat of a nuclear holocaust. Trump's sin is not using the approved euphemisms.

2016 March 7

Nuclear Power

Matt Ridley

The Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in the UK has a green light. But EDF cannot afford to build it and British consumers cannot afford to buy its premium-price electricity. Its European pressurized reactor (EPR) design is beset by technical problems, years behind schedule, and way over budget.

At £18 billion, or more like £24 billion including finance costs, Hinkley Point C would be the most expensive power station ever built. If we spent that much on gas-fired power stations, we would get roughly 48 GW of dependable capacity, instead of 3 GW, for electricity at a third the cost.

EDF is 84.5% owned by the French government. It is hesitating because it cannot get the capital together. It had hoped to sell a 49% stake, but the Chinese alone were interested and they only took 33.5%. Its own share price has tanked and its market cap is below the value of the contract.

The British government should kill the project. There are better nuclear options. NuGen (60% owned by Toshiba and 40% by Engie) plans 3 reactors in the UK. Horizon, owned by Hitachi, plans up to 3 reactors here too. Longer term, small modular reactors would be cheaper and quicker to build.


Foreign Policy

Hezbollah is preparing for a possible conflict with Israel. Fighting beside the Syrian government has given it valuable tactical experience. Hezbollah now has tactical ballistic missiles, advanced air-defense systems, and naval cruise missiles. Its commanders have a sophisticated command structure with telecom networks, drones, and organized supply lines.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon: "In Syria, if the choice is between Iran and the Islamic State, I choose the Islamic State. Iran determines the future of Syria."

2016 March 6

German Crisis

Mark Leonard

Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is the German equivalent of UKIP. Its rise is a sign of the sunset of the Merkel era. Ever more Germans are angry. They say the refugee crisis is leading to a "clash of civilizations" between the elites and the masses.

The AfD is polling at 11% in the west and 14% in the east. In the west it portrays itself as a moderate option for the middle class, while in the east it is unashamedly populist. The common thread is frustration with the political class. Newspapers discuss die Wutbürger (enraged citizens) and call AfD philosophy professor Marc Jongen der Wutdenker (enraged thinker).

Elections in three Bundesländer will serve a referendum on Merkel's refugee policy. In a recent poll, 81% of German citizens say the government has lost control of the crisis. But Merkel is sticking firm. The consequences for the EU could be dire.


Stephen Wolfram

A desktop box that thinks as well as any brain does still lacks the goals and purposes that we have. Those are defined by our particular biology, psychology, and cultural history. A machine can execute things, but something or someone has to define its goals.

With the car GPS, we tell it we want to go to this destination. I don't know where the heck I am, I just follow my GPS. There will be an AI that knows our history, and knows that on this menu, you're probably going to want to order this, or if you're talking to this person, you should talk to them about this. More and more, the AIs will suggest what we should do. People will just do what the AI says.

Look at the Earth from space. Try to find clear examples of obvious purpose on the Earth as viewed from space. An abstract sense of purpose is theology. Purpose is something that comes from history. Maybe we go through all this history and biology and civilization and so on, and at the end of the day, the answer is 42.

Imagine a time when human consciousness is easy to upload into digital form, virtualized and so on, and pretty soon we have a trillion souls in a box, doing all kinds of elaborate stuff. Then we look at the rock sitting next to the box. Inside the rock, all kinds of elaborate stuff is going on, electrons doing all kinds of things. The difference is that the box of a trillion souls has this long history.

A box of a trillion souls — what's the purpose of that?

AR Mindworlds chapter 11 on purpose, 12 on Wolfram. The Answer on 42.


80 years ago today: first flight of Spitfire prototype, Eastleigh aerodrome

AR 50-odd years ago I used to travel to Eastleigh airfield to watch the light aircraft come and go.
It was a sleepy little place and the hangars smelled wonderfully of aeroplane lacquer.

If Britain stays in the EU:
"We will continue to sit trapped
like passengers in the back seat
of some errant minicab with
a driver who cannot speak
English and who is taking us
remorselessly and expensively
in the wrong direction."
Boris Johnson

"I have a very strong core."
Big Don

"Donald Trump is a phoney,
a fraud. His promises are as
worthless as a degree from
Trump University. He's playing
the members of the American
public for suckers."
Mitt Romney

To potential illegal
economic migrants

"Do not come to Europe.
Do not believe the smugglers.
Do not risk your lives and your
money. It is all for nothing.
Greece or any other European
country will no longer be
a transit country."
Donald Tusk

"Together, Russia and the
Assad regime are deliberately
weaponizing migration in
an attempt to overwhelm
European structures and
break European resolve."
General Philip M. Breedlove

If Brits voted to leave
"We would cry."
Wolfgang Schäuble


"The PM wants us to monitor
hate preachers, or as they're
also known, Conservative
association chairmen."

AR I am chairman of a
committee in the local
Conservative association.

NATO Land War

NATO has a plan to defend
against Russian aggression.
But the Baltics could fall to
an all-out Russian offensive.
Frontline NATO members
say NATO should upgrade
conventional forces.

NATO Sea War

Swarms of cheap unmanned
platforms carrying sensors
are likely to disrupt future
nuclear submarine patrols.
Emerging technologies could
make the oceans effectively
transparent and a sea-based
deterrent vulnerable as
Trident S-boats
go to sea.


2016 March 5


Roger Cohen

The exit argument is that membership hitches Britain to a stagnant Continent whose most powerful countries are locked in a dysfunctional single-currency system that must lead to ever greater federalism in a European Union short on democracy and long on bureaucracy.

In fact, a Brexit would be an act of folly, slashing Britain's control at a critical time, inflicting a profound economic shock, and possibly leading to the breakup of Britain.

The European Union remains the world's most boring, important miracle. A British departure would be a geopolitical disaster. Further European unraveling would become likely.

Britain can and must make the EU more transparent, democratic, and dynamic. That can only be achieved from within. The UK derives immense benefits from being part of an $18.5 trillion economy. To imagine that a Britain outside the Union can continue to enjoy the benefits of membership is pure illusion.

2016 March 4

Bigger Than Higgs

New Scientist

CERN LHC detectors ATLAS and CMS have found bumps hinting at a particle bigger than the Higgs boson. The Higgs was the biggest standard model particle. The new bumps were spotted in collisions that produce two high-energy photons with a total energy of 750 GeV.

This would represent a particle with six times the mass of the Higgs, no electrical charge, and a spin of maybe 2. It might be a graviton, or a composite particle bound by a fifth force, or a supersymmetric particle. The chance that the bumps are a fluke is one in several hundred.

Yasunori Nomura: "I don't normally jump in on anomalies such as these because most of them are just too crappy, but this one is relatively clean."

Welfare Families

Jenni Russell

The London School of Economics has bowed to political correctness again and called off a lecture. Neurobiologist Adam Perkins was to argue that the welfare state is increasing the proportion of work-shy people in the population by paying for them to have more children than working families.

Perkins says unemployed people tend to be more antisocial than the general population. The antisocial ones produce children who grow up with damaged personalities. An average of 2.5 children in workless households, compared to 1.5 in working ones, rolls off the welfare state production line.

People with antisocial, aggressive, and rule-breaking tendencies are over-represented among the unemployed. These traits are apparent in childhood. Antisocial people seem to have a greater chance of having antisocial children. Perkins suggests we discourage reckless reproduction.

The Welfare Trait
Adam Perkins

The welfare state has a problem: each generation living under its protection has lower work motivation than the previous one. In order to fix this problem we need to understand its causes, lest the welfare state ends up undermining its own economic and social foundations.

Conservative Party Review

Lord Feldman of Elstree

A review panel has been considering how the Conservative party can thrive. A draft report will be revised and submitted for final approval at the Conservative party conference in October.

The panel identified three main areas for reform:

1 Membership: The panel suggested centralizing membership administration to reduce the bureaucratic burden on associations and to improve the accuracy of the membership database. A members-only area on and Silver and Gold levels of membership could enhance the membership experience.

2 Party structure: Many local associations find that salaries and office costs consume too much of their income and need help to function better as campaigning organizations. Options include introducing multi-constituency associations (MCAs) with professional training for MCA officers, financial support for campaign managers, priority access to speakers, and help with business plans.

3 Candidates: To recruit candidates for parliament from all social and professional backgrounds and from all parts of the UK, an outreach program could be established to improve the diversity of candidates, in addition to a bursary scheme to ensure that income will never be a barrier to standing for parliament.

AR Centralizing administration and merging associations could weaken party roots.

2016 March 3

Brexit: Cambridge View

Jo Johnson

University of Cambridge vice-chancellor Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz says his university has more Nobel Prizes to its name (92) than any other institution. Cambridge is also the hub of the most successful innovation cluster in Europe.

Sir Leszek asks whether the UK would be as strong without EU funding and partnerships. EU research funds flow to where the best science is done. The UK pays in about 12% of the EU funds yet wins about 15% of them, second only to Germany.

Around half of UK research publications now involve cross-border collaborations. Cambridge tops the list of collaborating EU universities, followed by Oxford, Imperial College London, and University College London. EU countries represent nearly half of British overseas collaborations. Free movement of people helps UK universities to attract the best talent.

A vote to leave the EU would put the UK status as a science superpower at risk.

Repeating Cosmic Radio Bursts


Astronomers have detected repeating fast radio bursts from a remote source. These FRBs seem to come from a powerful source that occasionally produces multiple bursts in under a minute. Laura Spitler: "Not only did these bursts repeat, but their brightness and spectra also differ from those of other FRBs."

FRBs last just a few milliseconds. All previously detected FRBs were thought to have come from one-off events, such as a supernova or a neutron star collapsing into a black hole. Repeating bursts might come from an extremely powerful magnetar.

AR See blog 2016-01-22. A neutron star co-starred in my 1996 sci-fi novel LIFEBALL.

2016 March 2

Clinton vs Trump

CNN, 0702 GMT

Results so far: Republican frontrunner Donald Trump won in 7 states, Democratic frontrunner
Hillary Clinton won in 7 states. All the rest now look like also-rans.

"The stakes of this election have never been higher. The rhetoric we're hearing on the other side has never been lower."
Hillary Clinton

American Caesar

Martin Wolf

The United States is the greatest republic since Rome, the bastion of democracy, the guarantor of the liberal global order. It would be a global disaster if Donald Trump were to become president.

Trump is a promoter of paranoid fantasies, a xenophobe, and an ignoramus. He is a pluto-populist whose business is building ugly monuments to his own vanity. He has no experience of political office. He is grossly unqualified to be POTUS, the most important political official in the world.

Rome survived by granting absolute power to a dictator. In 27 BCE, Augustus terminated the republic and made himself emperor. Would constitutional constraints survive President Trump?

President John Adams

Jeffrey L. Pasley

George Washington fretted about the presidency. The president, and by extension all officials at their appropriate levels, should be raised above other men.

Vice President Adams decided to teach Congress about the monarchical element a republic needed to avoid devolving into a rampant democracy. He assumed the Senate chair wearing a regal outfit of his own invention, including a wig, formal military coat, and ceremonial sword. He soon found himself held at arms length, attending only two or three cabinet meetings for the next eight years. Abortive efforts were made on both sides to ease him out of the 1792 presidential election.

President Adams defended hereditary succession and saw the art of lawgiving as protecting the rich against the poor by means of the Senate.

2016 March 1

Super Tuesday

Wall Street Journal

Today may well cement the lead of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

A presidential campaign affects attitudes and behavior in the broader society. It is hard to imagine the causes of decorum and civility are being advanced right now. The challenge for the next president will be to both knit together the nation and to uphold the dignity of the office.

Trump Ducator

Roger Cohen

Trump tweets Mussolini: "It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep."

Europe knows how democracies collapse, after lost wars, in times of fear and anger and economic hardship, when the pouting demagogue appears with his pageantry and promises.

Trump is telling people something is rotten in the state of America. He has emerged from a political system corrupted by money, locked in an echo chamber of insults, reduced to show business.

The showman promises restored greatness. He has an instinct for the jugular. He hijacks a Republican Party that has paved the way for him with years of ranting, bigotry, and bellicosity.

Trump has captured an American desire to reclaim a lost paradise. Democracies do die.


Mark Lilla

The French economy is stalled. Unemployment is the highest in decades, and half of it is long term. The Socialist government wants reforms but unions oppose them.

France has accepted relatively few refugees from Syria and Iraq, and rejects many more applications than other European nations. Waves of illegal migrants are trying to get to Britain, but Britain resists admitting them and EU rules require France to offer them basic sustenance.

The attention of the political class is now focused on the presidential elections of 2017. The Socialists and Republicans mask the vacuity of their electoral programs by demonizing the National Front. The chances of Marine Le Pen doing well in the first round are high, which would weaken a Socialist or Republican president.

Since 2012 France has suffered a steady series of Islamist terrorist attacks. The globalization of economic activity has been eroding the sense of national sovereignty for some time. And now the refugee crisis and international jihadist networks are eroding confidence in the state.

After the Bataclan attacks, President François Hollande put troops on the streets and declared a state of emergency. All its problems could overwhelm France.

EU vs Poland

Witold Waszczykowski

The European Union has embarked on a pointless conflict with Warsaw. Poland is not a naughty boy in need of rebuke. Poland is at the heart of Europe, where it belongs.

Our attempt to overhaul the Constitutional Tribunal is not an assault on the rule of law. The tribunal is vital for the rule of law in Poland. Our attempt to repair the Polish public media sector aims to do so while guaranteeing pluralism, independence, and objectivity. It is not a rejection of Europe.

The principle of subsidiarity says the EU should perform only tasks that cannot be performed at a more local level. Better compliance with this rule has become a challenge for European institutions. We do not want the European Commission or European Parliament involved in our domestic affairs.

EU member states are still reeling from the effects of the financial crisis. They are rattled by migrant flows that raise questions about open borders and internal security. Britain could decide to leave the EU this summer. And geopolitical threats remain on EU borders.


Citizens expect the EU to provide effective solutions to these challenges. Poland will be an active and responsible member of the EU. We say no to a federalized Europe.

Leo gets his Oscar


"It is the norm in the world
today to be nuclear-free.
It is the exception to the rule
to possess nuclear weapons,
let that ring out loudly and
clearly. The use of nuclear
weapons would bring
about human devastation
and suffering on an
unimaginable scale."
Nicola Sturgeon

AR So a vote against the
planned S-boats for

Karen Armstrong

Gotama avoided violence,
lying, stealing, intoxication,
and sex. He also tried to:

Be energetic, resolute, and
persevering in pursuing states
promoting spiritual health
Behave gently and kindly to
everything and everyone
Cultivate thoughts of loving
 kindness and compassion
Ensure that whatever he
said was reasoned, accurate,
 clear, and beneficial
Rejoice in taking whatever
he was given and in keeping
the bare minimum

Then he would feel joy.

Reform has failed in the
UK too. Recent attempts to
reform the House of Lords
and introduce proportional
representation came to nix.
With its anachronistic ways
and its archaic constitution,
the entity in the Palace of
Westminster is unfit.

Vote Leave Conservatives

ist ein Grundprinzip
der EU. Aber die EU ist kein
Bundesstaat. Viele der 28
und Regierungschef
agieren nach
dem Motto:
"Mich kümmert vor allem
mein Land."

Martin Schulz

UK Military Stand

13 former UK military chiefs
including Field Marshall Lord
Guthrie and General Sir
Michael Rose say the UK is
stronger in the EU as it faces
security challenges including
Mideast turmoil and Russian

UK Pound Falls

Sterling falls below $1.40
Euro flat at $1.10


2016 February 29

King Trump

Matt Taibbi

Donald Trump steps to the lectern and does his nodding wave and grin. He flashes a thumbs-up. The crowd goes wild.

The presidential election campaign is really just a badly acted, billion-dollar TV show whose production costs include the political disenfranchisement of its audience. Trump is making a mockery of the show.

Trump's basic argument is that the regular guy has been screwed by a conspiracy of elites. His pitch is: He's rich, he won't owe anyone anything upon election. "I'm the only one that's self-funding ...  Everyone else is taking money from, I call them the bloodsuckers."

He's tearing through the Republican primaries because everything he's saying about his GOP opponents is true. They really are all stooges on the take, unable to stand up to Trump because they're not even people, but just robo-babbling representatives of unseen donors.

Trump isn't the first rich guy to run for office. But he is the first to realize the weakness in the system, which is that the watchdogs in the political media can't resist a car wreck. The more he insults the press, the more they cover him.

Trump found the flaw in the American Death Star. It doesn't know how to turn the cameras off, even when it's filming its own demise.

2016 February 28

Heidi's Ghost

Alexander S. Duff

Radical spiritual malaise takes diverse forms: Iranian theocrats, Russian imperialists, American racists, European extremists, and more. Behind them all is Martin Heidegger.

Heidegger was no Marx. Whereas Marx traces the sources of dissatisfaction to the alienation of labor in the capitalist system, Heidegger looks to the character of human reason. This is the source of the anxiety, distress, boredom, and terror that characterize our time. According to Heidegger, western rationalist philosophy has blinded us to the deepest sources of authentic meaning in human existence.

Heidegger was disappointed by the Nazis. They were not radical enough. Since then, opponents of the liberal West on both right and left have drawn on his work. Today, two beneficiaries of his influence stand out: Iran and Russia.

In Iran, Ahmad Fardid is often called Iran's Heidegger. He inspired the Red Shi'te revolutionaries opposed to the Black Shi'ite establishment clerics. His concept of Gharbzadegi is variously translated as Occidentosis, Westoxication, or Westitis, and is the spirit of Greek rationality that culminated in Enlightenment humanism. Fardid called it the chief enemy of the Iranian Islamic revolution and advocated permanent revolution to keep it out. Fardid was to Heidegger what Trotsky was to Marx.

In Russia, Aleksandr Dugin used Heidegger's ideas to recreate a Russian identity from the wreckage of the Soviet Union. Dugin claims to be close to Vladimir Putin and provides the Eurasianist veneer of Putin's opposition to the United States and the European Union. Dugin aims to retrieve a Russian imperial identity, in the language of Orthodox Church Slavonic, that can rescue the spirit of the country from liberal capitalism.

Heideggerians see liberal universalism thinning out the basis of community and corrupting a thicker communal existence. Stopping it involves reviving a religious order. The retrieved community is shaped by a purified religion, such as Russian Orthodox Christianity or Shi'ite Islam.

Heidegger says reason shaped the modern world but led us to forget our deepest identity as manifestations of being. This forgetfulness he calls nihilism. Nihilist phenomena include world wars, genocide, and nuclear confrontation. They set the moods of our time as anxiety, terror, distress, and boredom.

Rationalism comes from a preference for comfort and stability in the face of finitude and impermanence. It becomes our main approach to the world, excluding feeling and tradition. Our practice of creating meaning in the world by engaging with that world gets hidden. We have built societies instead of a community. This error alienates us from our real selves.

2016 February 27

Globorg Weather Forecast

Financial Times

G20: "Downside risks and vulnerabilities have risen, against the backdrop of volatile capital flows, a large drop in commodity prices, escalated geopolitical tensions, the shock of a potential UK exit from the European Union and a large and increasing number of refugees in some regions."

The Arrow of Time

Mathias Frisch

Most of the basic laws of physics are symmetrical in time. But many physical phenomena can happen only one way. A stone thrown into a still pond spreads waves concentrically from the point of impact. We never see waves converging concentrically to a sink. Yet the wave equation allows for both diverging and converging waves.

Many physicists invoke a causal principle to explain the asymmetry. An antenna transmitting a radio signal causes the signal, and causes precede their effects. Radio waves diverge from the antenna because they are the effects of switching on the antenna.

Statistically, we find coherently diverging waves but never coherently converging ones because wave sources cause waves, whereas a converging wave would require the coordinated behavior of wavelets coming in from multiple different sources.

If two correlated events that are spatially distant are not related as cause and effect, they tend to be joint effects of a common cause. Hans Reichenbach: "If an improbable coincidence has occurred, there must exist a common cause."

In 1909, Albert Einstein debated the radiation asymmetry with Walther Ritz. Einstein said the irreversibility of radiation processes could be explained probabilistically. Ritz said the asymmetry arises because a source of radiation has an influence in the future and not in the past.

The probabilistic explanation seems to rely on implicit causal assumptions. A wave coherently diverging from a source has the source as common cause. For the converging wave, the correlations cannot be explained by the sink. The waves have different causal structures: 1 for Ritz.

The causal asymmetry of common cause structures and the assumption of probabilistic independence are two sides of the same coin. Common cause inferences need an assumption that the initial inputs to the system are probabilistically independent of one another: 1 for Einstein.

But the assumption of probabilistic independence may reflect a causal assumption about the system. We can see both assumptions as mutually dependent aspects of our model structures. Richard Feynman: "I am never quite sure of where I am supposed to begin or where I am supposed to end."

Q Logic

New Scientist

Correlation does not equal causation. Statistics cannot catch causal relationships.

Judea Pearl has pioneered tools to code causal relationships into a computer program. Algorithms built using this language enable researchers to find cause-and-effect relationships between the variables in a problem. The algorithms create a hypothetical set of relationships and see if they fit with the data in every case.

Alexander Bochman and Vladimir Lifschitz have reformulated Pearl's code in nonmonotonic logic. This allows a user to keep track of assumptions and update a chain of reasoning if those assumptions change. It provides a way to work with incomplete or changing information.

The way causality works in the quantum world allows a cause-effect relationship to be distinguished from a common-cause relationship. Entanglement excludes the possibility of classical cause-and-effect influences being responsible for what is observed. It seems to be based on a causal relationship beyond classical spacetime.

We might even find a common cause that unifies relativity and quantum theory.

AR I studied nonmonotonic logic and entanglement 20-25 years ago.

2016 February 26

Reform Has Failed

Michael Howard

The fundamental flaw of the EU is its misconceived attempt to impose rigid uniformity on countries as different as Finland and Greece, Portugal and Germany. The project would have a much greater prospect of sustainable success if it introduced greater flexibility.

I had hoped that the Prime Minister might be able to achieve fundamental reform. It is not his fault that those efforts met with failure. It is the fault of those EU leaders mesmerized by their outdated ambition to create a country called Europe.

There is only one thing that just might shake EU leaders out of their complacency: the shock of a vote by the British people to leave.

2016 February 25

Get Change: Vote Leave

Boris Johnson

We continually confuse Europe with the political project of the European Union.

The EU has morphed and grown. The more the EU does, the less room there is for national decision making. Sometimes the public can see all too plainly the impotence of their own elected politicians, as with immigration. That is what we mean by loss of sovereignty. David Cameron has done his very best, but there is only one way to get the change we need, and that is to vote to go.

The real risk is to the general morale of Europe, and to the prestige of the EU project. We should take that seriously. This federalist vision is not an ignoble idea. It was born of the highest motives: to keep the peace in Europe. Whatever happens, Britain needs to be supportive of its friends and allies — but on the lines originally proposed by Winston Churchill.

A vote to remain will be taken in Brussels as a green light for the erosion of democracy.

BoJo Wrong: Parliament Sovereign

Philip Stephens

In or out of the EU, Westminster has always been sovereign.

What Westminster devolves it can reclaim. International treaties and commitments bind Britain only in so far and for so long as a majority of parliamentarians so decide. Each and every one could be abrogated by a simple legislative act. Britain is free to leave the UN, NATO, or the EU whenever it chooses. Westminster does not need to wait for a referendum.

The choice is about how to advance the prosperity and security of the nation. The threats from nuclear proliferation, a revanchist Russia, Islamist terrorists, environmental degradation, and international crime present challenges. So do securing access to global trade, investment, and technological innovation. None are susceptible to national unilateralism.

So to take back sovereignty can be to surrender control.

Deutsche Bank

Harold James

Deutsche Bank posted huge losses in 2015. A quick return to profitability looks unlikely.

Founded in 1870, Deutsche Bank helped to build the German export machine. It lent to industrial customers and converted its lending into securities. DB men and politicians sat on company boards in Deutschland AG.

European integration, the euro, and globalization brought opportunity. DB became a global investment bank. It invested in London and New York and sold off stakes in big German companies.

But DB used short-term borrowing to buy high-yielding securities. Some of them were repackaged American mortgages, so DB became a player in the US subprime tragedy. Thin capital ratios left DB overexposed.

The crisis of 2008 left DB struggling to restore its reputation.

2016 February 24

Boris Deluded?

Daniel Finkelstein

I think Boris Johnson is not in favor of leaving the European Union. I have to explain.

The essence of human progress has been to gradually increase our legal and political sovereignty over bigger and bigger areas by pooling it with the sovereignty of others. We lose some control over our affairs but expand our control over the affairs of others. In the postwar era we are having to consider how we control trade and cooperation that stretches beyond nations.

The EU is a response to the need to assert sovereignty over a wider area than Britain. It sits alongside the UN, the WTO, the IMF, and so on. We need rules that extend beyond our country. But we have to agree those rules with others. By being in the EU we allow people in other countries to have a say in regulations we used to set just for ourselves. An international trading, diplomatic, and political relationship with our continental neighbors is vital for economic and social progress.

We now have on offer a relationship with Europe in which we are in the single market, but not in the euro, the border-free zone, the banking union, or ever closer union. It is a reasonable deal. It makes us more prosperous and, on balance, more powerful.

Boris thinks if we vote to leave, the EU will give us an even better deal. That is wishful thinking.

Europe Civilized Us

Helena Frith Powell

For someone who is half Italian, half Swedish, I am thoroughly English. "Good old Boris!" I said to my husband. "We've all had enough of this Eurononsense."

France feels like home. After several years in the Mideast, anywhere in the EU feels familiar and safe. Although my knee-jerk reaction is to support Brexit, I'm not so sure.

In France I learnt how to eat, dress, drink in moderation, and live well. Left to our own devices we'll all be painting ourselves blue and drinking gin.


US Navy aircraft carriers and their associated air wings have for decades been a potent symbol of American military might.
But in recent years, Chinese destroyers mounting SS-N-22 Sunburn missiles and submarines mounting SS-N-27 Sizzler missiles
at ranges of 200 km, as well as land-mobile DF-21D and DF-26 ballistic missiles at ranges of up to 4000 km, threaten them.
The ASBM threat will require US investment in emerging technologies such as railguns.

Have concluded the EU
is impossible to reform
so have decided to support
@vote_leave campaign
for a #Brexit
Robert Syms MP


2016 February 23

BoJo Fails Churchill Test

Gideon Rachman

In his biography of Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson says: "To some extent all politicians are gamblers with events. They try to anticipate what will happen, to put themselves on the right side of history."

Johnson has bet on a horse called Euroscepticism. But there is more than one way of being on the right side of history. The first is to anticipate the direction of events. The second is to align yourself with the right causes and values. Churchill was right in both senses.

Betting against the EU could allow BoJo to pocket some political winnings. But he fails to appreciate the wider context for his actions. A modern Churchill would see the decision about whether to stay in the EU as part of a global picture. And that big picture is worrying.

It is small-minded to campaign for Brexit on the grounds that Britain might save a bit of money on its contributions to the EU budget. Britain will pay a heavy price if the EU disintegrates.

2016 February 22

BoJo vs David

Financial Times

Boris Johnson: "Let me tell you where I've got to, which is, um, I am, um ... I've made up my mind."

BoJo has joined the Brexit camp. Less than 10 minutes before going public, he sent David Cameron a courtesy text. The two Oxford chums are rivals: They once wrestled on the floor at Downing Street.

Big showdown: June 23.

2016 February 21

Brexit and Breturn

Niall Ferguson

The real issue is whether or not we have learnt anything from about five centuries of history. While Europe tore itself apart over the Reformation, Ottoman armies besieged Vienna twice, in 1529 and 1683. Later, a second threat from the east arose in the form of imperial Russia.

After 1648, Europe launched an escalating overseas contest between the Dutch, the British, and the French for the spoils of empire, and an Eastern question pitting Russia against Turkey. British imperial success led to the illusion that we could ignore the continent. But first Napoleon, then the Kaiser, then Hitler taught us otherwise.

The idea that Britain can separate itself from Europe is an illusion. For now Germany faces a descent into weakness as a result of mass migration and belligerent Russia. Merkel's rash decision last summer to throw open the German borders was like Brünnhilde's immolation scene in Wagner's Ring. German mastery over Europe came crashing down.

Britain must remain in the EU. Fantasies about an Anglosphere or a fortress of solitude let some believe that we can pull up a drawbridge and enjoy total sovereignty. Just as a borderless Europe with a single currency but without fiscal union was a recipe for disaster, British isolationism is a trigger for continental disintegration. Brexit could lead to armed Breturn.

Chinese lander viewed from Chinese rover, Moon, 2014

House of Commons
Briefing Paper 07214:
Exiting the EU: UK reform
proposals, legal impact and
alternatives to membership

(PDF, 54 pages, 913 KB)

"I'll be battling for Britain."
David Cameron

UK vs V4

"The position of the Visegrad
Four is very clear. In view of
that I have no doubts there is
an extra mile to walk. We will
now need to sort out the
remaining issues in a
constructive way."
Donald Tusk


On the Natural History
of Destruction

by W.G. Sebald


In Hamburg last night with
Angela Merkel looking on,
David Cameron put national
security at the heart of his
case for remaining in the EU:
"Just as Europe has faced down
dangerous and murderous
ideologies in the past, so again
we must stand together in this,
the struggle of our generation,
to confront this evil
and defeat it."

AR I do too.

How the Brain
Computes the Mind

Ed Boyden

We have free will but we're
not conscious of it. Look at
what the brain is computing.
We might find evidence for
the implementation or the
mechanisms of feelings and
thoughts and decisions that
are completely inaccessible
if we only look at behavior.


When Michael Bloomberg was
sworn in as mayor of New York
in 2002, the city was burning.
But he turned it around.

Today America is burning. US
government is dysfunctional,
national debt exceeds GDP,
infrastructure is crumbling,
and schools are failing.

Bloomberg is considering a run
for the White House. He has a
good character and a proven
business record. He is the
right choice.

AR I'd vote for him.


2016 February 20



David Cameron: "There will be tough new restrictions on access to our welfare system for EU migrants. No more something for nothing. Britain will never join the euro, and we've secured vital protections for our economy and a full say over the rules of the free trade single market while remaining outside the euro."

Angela Merkel: "We believe we have now given a package to David Cameron to elicit support in Britain for Britain remaining a member of the European Union."

Donald Tusk: "Deal. Unanimous support for new settlement for #UKinEU."

2016 February 19

UK vs EU

Der Spiegel

The EU summit in Brussels is about getting a unanimous deal to keep the UK in the EU. Now Greece is linking its agreement to the refugee crisis. The Greeks want a guarantee that other EU states will not close their borders with Greece until 6 March, the date for a special summit with Turkey.

Several of the 28 EU states have problems with the deal. The V4 states want to limit the cap on social benefits. France and Belgium want to keep the UK out of decisions between EZ states and to allow no UK exemption from EU bank oversight. Greece is complicating the talks even further.

NATO has begun naval patrols between Greece and Turkey to stop people smuggling. Austria has threatened to close its border and Greece fears a domino effect unless Germany promises to hold its border open. Angela Merkel and François Hollande had a long talk with Alexis Tsipras.

AR I hope David Cameron has plenty of spare shirts with him!

2016 February 18

Brexit Blues

Financial Times

Gloom pervades Brussels at the start of tonight's meeting on the UK settlement with the EU. Who will oversee of the City of London is just one of the complex issues yet to be resolved.

Belgium and France want a clause in the deal to state it is the maximum concession to be granted to Britain. An EZ diplomat: "The idea is to kill the idea of a second referendum."

Some campaigners want a second referendum after a vote to leave, to vote on the terms of exit. An EU ambassador: "We'll need a second referendum. We need the UK in the EU."


Hug a planet
Hug a tree
Hug a Muslim refugee

AR Humanitarian Universalist Globalism is the legacy of our Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian-Kantian (gruck) western tradition. It is the heritage that brought us modern science and is the natural moral frame to accommodate it — and to rescue us from a "pigs in space" fate.

2016 February 17

We Are Not Alone

Evgenya Shkolnik

We are not alone. Experience suggests that this is the reality.

It was big news when the first exoplanet was confirmed orbiting a sunlike star. After 20 years, the count is into the thousands. We are also discovering planets in the habitable zone. Roughly 20 billion planets might host life in our galaxy alone, which is one of 100 billion galaxies in our universe.

The James Webb Space Telescope, due for launch in late 2018, may give us conclusive evidence of life elsewhere in the universe within a few years.

We should be funding the search for extraterrestrial life. This is a pursuit worthy of some of the best minds on the planet. Investments in the scientific search for life elsewhere are needed to understand life on Earth by comparing biochemistries and to generalize the theory of evolution.

Knowing we are not alone can let us see our true collective self.

AR I have been advocating this cause for 25 years — and have a T-shirt to prove it!

German Struggle

Jens Spahn

Germans are struggling with the arrival of more than a million refugees and migrants from very different cultures.

Social order is under pressure from people who come from countries where Islam is the dominant religion, where the rule of law is absent and where family honor trumps all else. Many refugees long for peace and freedom, but the mental journey from their homelands is a long one. Integration is a demanding process for both sides.

German political debate is coarsening. People should be allowed to express their concerns about the refugee influx openly, but groups such as Pegida are calling for a return to the white Germany of an imaginary past. A discussion about the essence of an open, diverse, and liberal society requires cool heads, not inflamed rhetoric.

Europeans must solve the refugee crisis soon, or the idea of a peaceful Europe will become a distant memory.

AR Pegida is standing up for the virtues of western civilization.

German Cinema

Richard Brody

Contemporary German cinema insulates the present from the past. Coma, directed by Sara Fattahi, shows what's missing. Fattahi works in her family apartment in Damascus. Her movie shows the war in Syria, experienced by three generations of one family, mainly at home. It is an incarnation of war in daily life, a mental image of war embodied in a repertoire of images, wrenched from the horror to incarnate the horror without depicting it expressly.

Fattahi's mother is divorced from a Syrian officer whom she was pressured to marry. Her grandmother, recently widowed, is still grieving. Fattahi herself misses her friends, with whom she communicates via e-mail, in scenes that show her computer screen nearly alive with intimacy.

In their isolation, broken only by occasional errands and visits from neighboring women for a game of cards, the three women are visited by the Syrian past, in the form of home videos of popular movies from bygone years and recordings of old popular songs. Fattahi's selection is a form of cultural archeology that extracts lines of dialog and dramatic situations that reflect with a jolting precision the situation at hand.

Private lives scarred by the past and the present are probed and transfigured in images of haunted intimacy. Fattahi devises urgently intimate closeups, oblique compositions, impressionistic shots, and canny framings to wrest her family's life in wartime away from familiar modes of representation. Her subject is the very possibility and inadequacy of attempting to represent the war in a movie.

Fattahi has made a great political film. German filmmakers fail to film in the first person, to see the crimes of the past in the present tense, either to appropriate them in some way or to disown them. They lack artistic daring.

AR Cheap shot at German artists — but perhaps I should write something daring for them.

American Dominance


Four US Air Force F-22 Raptor stealth jets flew low over South Korea and landed at Osan Air Base, joining South Korean F-15 and USAF F-16 fighter jets on the flight line.

US Seventh Air Force commander and deputy commander of UN Command/US Forces Korea Lieutenant General Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy: "This mission demonstrates the strength of the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea, and the resolve of both nations to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula."

Chief of Staff of the South Korean Air Force General Jeong Byung-doo: "They demonstrated commanding spirit to the world and resolve to crush the enemy's reckless provocation through the successful combined flyover. We will further develop the relationship of cooperation to support peace on the Korean Peninsula and in the world."

AR The Raptors pack more military capability than the Royal Navy gunboats of Victorian diplomacy.

American Breakdown

Elizabeth Drew

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) conducts a study of where the United States stands in providing needed infrastructure in various sectors. Its last report, in 2013, estimated the needed spend by 2020 at $3.6 trillion. Total estimated spending between 2013 and 2020 is $2 trillion.

Traffic is clogged, flights are delayed, trains are late, bridges collapse, and public transit breaks down. The political system is incapable of making the investments that would keep these things from happening. President Obama continues to call for increased investment in infrastructure and the Republicans continue to oppose him.

AR The UK, aping American priorities as ever, has the same infrastructure problem.

2016 February 16

UK Mental Health

Mental Health Taskforce

Mental health problems represent the largest single cause of disability in the UK. The cost to the economy is estimated at £105 billion a year – roughly the cost of the entire NHS.

In 2011, the Coalition government published a mental health strategy setting six objectives, including improvement in the outcomes, physical health, and experience of care of people with mental health problems, and a reduction in avoidable harm and stigma. The strategy was widely welcomed. But an increase in people using mental health services has led to inadequate provision and worsening outcomes in recent years.

All too often people living with mental health problems still experience stigma and discrimination. The human cost is unacceptable and the financial cost to government and society is unsustainable. People facing a crisis should have access to mental health care 7 days a week and 24 hours a day in the same way that they are able to get access to urgent physical health care.

The critical element of success will be to put the individual with their own lived experience of mental health at the heart of each and every decision made.

2016 February 15


European Commission

The Visegrad group — Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, and the Czech Republic — are leading the fightback against Germany's open-door migration policy. Even without Greece there, the V4 meeting will tee up another stormy week of migration politics in Europe.

2016 St Valentine's Day


New Statesman

The United Kingdom would be foolish to retreat from membership of the European Union or of NATO. The two world wars led to slaughter on a scale that still defies comprehension. The lessons of the wars were not quickly learned, but ultimately they were. In 1963, Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer signed a treaty that bound France and Germany in an enduring nexus of cooperation. In 1984, François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl held hands at a Verdun commemoration ceremony, and later crafted the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union.

2016 February 13


Ian Jack

Ever since 1969, the Royal Navy has hosted the British nuclear deterrent on submarines. Today the Royal Navy has four V-boats (Vanguard, Vengeance, Victorious, Vigilant), each with up to 16 missiles, each in turn with up to 12 warheads. The missiles are Tridents, from Lockheed Martin Space Systems, California.

When Khrushchev hailed the submarine as the great naval weapon of the future, submarines were hard for an enemy to track and find. But new technology will soon make the sea less safe for them. The underwater battle space will include networks of cheap sonic sensors and sophisticated underwater drones.

Pegida UK

New Statesman

Pegida UK is a new branch of a global anti-Islam protest group. It claims it will have "100,000 decent people on the street" by the end of the year. Its leader Paul Weston: "Islam is Nazism incarnate."

UK founder Tommy Robinson: "Today is the first of many European wide demonstrations that will bring people together like never before. It's planting the seed of something huge."

From Calais to Canberra, thousands marched in the name of the Pegida platform of anti-immigration and anti-Islam last weekend.

Birmingham MP Liam Byrne: "With Pegida we're seeing the rise of a seminal new threat."

Triumphalist Religiosity

Richard Landes

Triumphalist religiosity makes claims to truth subject to contests for dominion. Believers assert their dominance as a sign of their superiority. In monotheism, this leads to religious imperialism: One God, One Rule, One Faith.

Triumphalist religiosity places great importance on a visible deference paid to true believers. Triumphalists find public criticism unacceptably disrespectful, and interpret blasphemy laws aggressively in order to silence dissent.

Historically, religious triumphalism played an important role in shaping Muslim attitudes toward infidels. When Muslims came to rule a society in the early centuries of Islam, they exercised dhimma, or protection: Christians, Jews, and others who refused to convert to Islam bought their safety by compliance with the demands of their protectors.

The laws of the dhimma discriminated against infidels considered "people of the book" through degradation. For triumphalist Muslims, infidels are either dhimmi or harbi (destined for the sword) who live in Dar al Harb (House of War): Where there was Dar al Harb, there shall be Dar al Islam.

A tribal warrior ethos mobilizes the drive for world conquest. Passionate young men are urged to join the apocalyptic battle to create a global caliphate.

Triumphalists have pressured westerners into making concessions on the cognitive battlefield. In the world of victimization discourse, they have maneuvered westerners into behaving like dhimmi leaders have always behaved.

Western liberals are afraid to insult triumphalist Muslims, who demand submission to their insistence that their sensibilities not be offended. Only when we start to act together can we defend democracy and freedom.

2016 February 12


Lawrence M. Krauss

LIGO discovered gravitational waves emanating from the collision and merger of two massive black holes over a billion light-years away.

LIGO has two detectors, one in Washington State, the other in Louisiana, each with two tunnels about 4 km in length at right angles to each other. The experimenters shot a laser beam along each tunnel and timed how long it took to be reflected off a mirror at the far end. Gravitational waves rippled through the detectors at both locations roughly simultaneously, and at each location the length of one arm got smaller while the length of the other arm got longer, alternating back and forth.

To detect the signal the observers measured a periodic difference in length of less than an attometer. This is like measuring the distance between the Earth and the nearest star down to the width of a human hair. Even the motion in the position of each mirror due to quantum vibrations could have drowned the signal. But the scientists did it.

The two black holes that collided were big. One had about 36 times the mass of our sun, the other 29 times. The collision and merger produced a black hole of 62 solar masses. The extra 3 solar masses turned into energy as gravitational waves. For a moment, the collision generated more power than that from all the rest of the stars in the observable universe combined.

AR 1 solar mass = 2 billion exatons. So it was a 6 billion yottagram bang.

MPI for Gravitational Physics/Institute for Theoretical Physics, Frankfurt/Zuse Institute Berlin
Waves made by two black holes colliding

New Hampshire

Trump 35%
Kasich 16%
Cruz 12%
(92% of votes)

Sanders 60%
Clinton 38%
(93% of votes)
Love EU or leave EU
That is the question

Brazil Carnival


"Germany cannot afford a
Brexit ... An EU without
Britain would be poorer.
Geopolitically. Economically.
But most of all, spiritually."


"It's like being shot or poisoned.
I think you get the same result,
whether it's quick or takes a
long time."
Senator Lindsey Graham on
the presidential prospects of
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz

UK MoD will buy Zephyr
high-altitude endurance
drones from Airbus for
£10 million. Zephyr will be
"a persistent presence over
the battlefield and provide
intelligence at much greater
level of detail than was
previously possible".

"The European house is burning
down and Britain wants to waste
time rearranging the furniture."
German policymaker

New #1
Alphabet $547 billion
Apple $534 billion

Iowa Votes

Cruz 27.6%
Trump 24.3%
Rubio 23.1%

Clinton 49.9%
Sanders 49.6%

AR Thanks,



2016 February 11

Gravity Makes Waves


The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) has detected ripples in spacetime from the merging of two black holes. One black hole had a mass of 29 suns, the other 36 suns, and each was around 150 km in diameter. The two collided at half the speed of light about 1.3 billion years (42 Ts) ago.

LIGO executive director David Reitze: "We have detected gravitational waves. We did it!"

Revolution in Physics

New Scientist

In a press conference today in Washington DC, the LIGO collaboration announced that they had finally detected gravitational waves. Details appear in Physical Review Letters.

The waves are predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity, which says that massive objects warp spacetime around them. When these objects accelerate, they make ripples in the fabric of spacetime that spread outward at the speed of light.

LIGO detectors based in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, felt the tremors last September at almost the same instant. Their sensors registered spacetime expanding and contracting by as much as 1 am. By translating the frequency of the gravitational waves into sound waves, you can hear the final signal as a chirp.

Kip Thorne: "The total power output of gravitational waves during the brief collision was 50 times greater than all of the power put out by all the of the stars in the universe put together."

Einstein was right. Now the era of gravitational wave astronomy is under way.

2016 February 10

The Military Balance 2016


2015 saw a surge in high-profile attacks by Islamist terrorists, plus continuing conflict and instability across the Mideast. Europe's ability to secure its borders came under increased scrutiny. Combating terrorism is a global issue. But the jihadists cannot be eradicated solely by military means.

NATO still aspires to boost collective self-defense. Deployment of a NATO spearhead formation to East Europe requires approval. For some of the security threats, improved partnership and better cooperation between NATO and the EU is important. The EU possesses a wide range of tools that NATO does not.

Mideast armed forces displayed growing military activism during the Yemen operation. Saudi Patriot missiles destroyed incoming Scuds fired from Yemen. Iran remained a principal threat driver for regional states.

Russia utilized advanced weaponry in its new Syria campaign. Much of its display of military prowess seemed aimed not only at degrading the capability of Assad's enemies but also at showcasing Russian high-tech military products for the West and potential customers.

China displayed more advanced military hardware at the 2015 Victory Day parade. Its 2015 White Paper emphasized the space and cyber domains, but also the maritime arena. Tensions escalated over accelerating construction activities on features in the South China Sea. There was an evident military aspect to these activities.

Washington looked to innovate and generate a new edge. The Pentagon created the Defense Information Unit to help it leverage lessons from Silicon Valley on issues like big data, analytics, autonomy, and robotics. The goal is to give policymakers the best possible military and security advice for each contingency, to complement and inform any possible use of their toolkit.

2016 February 9

Bungled UK Bid

Martin Wolf

David Cameron accepted the premise that the UK has a place only in a reformed EU. Since the union is fundamentally unreformed, the logic of his own position is exit.

Either it makes sense for the UK to stay in the EU as it is or it does not. The British do not feel they need the union to strengthen the legitimacy of their political institutions and they have no interest in joining the single currency. But 44% of UK exports go to the EU, against 17% to the US, and the political stability and prosperity of the continent is a vital British interest.

Eurosceptics say the EU has tied the UK economy in red tape. Yet OECD analyses show that the UK economy is among the least regulated of all its members. Many say the City of London is stifled by regulation. Yet the financial crisis suggests that the problem was more one of lax regulation than too much. Many complain of immigration from the EU. Yet most net immigration is from elsewhere. EU membership has not hindered UK prosperity. The main hindrances are home grown.

By participating in the EU, the UK has a voice in the affairs both of its neighbors and of the world. The UK needs a voice in Europe. Europe needs the UK to have that voice.

Bungled UK Bill

The Times

UK security services may soon be able to collect masses of personal data under sweeping new surveillance powers.

The pending Investigatory Powers Bill allows security services to collect large data sets across wide sections of the population. The parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which oversees the work of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ, warns that the powers in the bill are excessive and recommends that individual warrants be required for each data request.

ISC chairman Dominic Grieve MP: "Even those working on the legislation have not always been clear as to what the provisions are intended to achieve."

2016 February 8


The New York Review of Books

Human brain scans show that moral judgment involves two distinct psychological processes. One is fast and intuitive, and occurs in areas of the brain associated with emotional processing. The other process is slow and rational, and occurs in regions associated with cognitive processing.

Primitive human beings evolved fast and focused brain responses for dealing with immediate dangers or threats. Humans in more sophisticated societies do not need the same kind of affective response and use slower processes of moral deliberation. The slower mechanisms came later.

Martin Seligman promotes the study of strengths and virtues in psychology. Faced with events that seem uncontrollable, human beings experience disruptions that give rise to a sense of helplessness. Seligman aims to stop people being seen as victims of their environment.

Jonathan Haidt identifies six basic pairs of moral intuitions: care vs harm, fairness vs cheating, loyalty vs betrayal, authority vs subversion, sanctity vs degradation, and liberty vs oppression. He says liberals are more disturbed by violence and suffering than conservatives and libertarians.

Steven Pinker stresses the role of rationality in fostering cooperation. He says our deliberative modes of evaluation should prevail over affective intuitions. Empathy has played a part in promoting altruism, but we should aim for policies and norms that make empathy unnecessary.

Paul Bloom says evolution has equipped us with rudimentary capacities that are essential to the development of morality, such as empathy and a sense of fairness. But our affective moral responses are essentially infantile. Reason lets us transcend them.

Seligman: "Psychology presently studies superficial morality and deep morality. Superficial morality can be found in the quick, unreflective moral intuitions that we have. Deep morality is the reflective choices we make that involve honesty, faith, humility, and ideals."

2016 February 7

EZ New Deal

Thomas Piketty

French President François Hollande has revived the idea of a new EZ parliament. Now France must make a proposal. Otherwise the agenda will be set by such countries as the UK and Poland.

The sudden plunge in EZ GDP from 2011 to 2013 resulted from attempts to cut deficits too quickly with tight budgetary rules. EZ GDP in 2015 has still not recovered to its 2007 levels.

The ESM allows a joint guarantee of all EZ sovereign debts. All public debts greater than 60% of GDP could go into a common fund, with no repayment until a country is on a growth trajectory. An EZ corporate tax could pay for infrastructure and universities.

An EZ parliament would draw members from the national parliaments, proportionate to population. France, Italy, and Spain have roughly half of EZ population and GDP, Germany just over a quarter.

AR Achtung, Sozialismus!

2016 February 6

Brexit: All Lose

The New York Times

The European Union is already battered by an economic crisis and an immigration crisis.

Brexit would deal the EU a serious blow and would affect UK ties to NATO and to the United States. The tide of refugees grows larger by the day. The newcomers join more than one million people who sought refuge in Europe last year. But if Britain pulls out of the union, it will have no more say on European migration policies and no right to help in policing the tunnel entrance in Calais.

Britain, other European nations, and the world need a united and prosperous Europe.

UK Role in Europe

Radek Sikorski

The British wanted to be reassured that they will never be treated as identikit Europeans. Now they are exempt from "ever closer union" among the peoples of Europe.

The issue of migrant workers affects Poles. David Cameron has to cut incentives for migrant workers from the EU to come to Britain. Poland's ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has to stick up for Poles abroad. Cameron needs to show that fewer migrants will be coming, and Poland wants its people to return.

The EU has helped. Rules for migrants already in Britain will continue as before, but newcomers might get fewer benefits and pay higher taxes. The Polish government can say British welfare and tax provisions will continue to be more favorable for a Pole coming to Britain than for a Brit seeking work in Poland.

The EU needs British leadership in foreign policy. It needs professional British diplomats and a more global outlook. Having lost one empire, the British can lead a new one.

The Selfish Gene

John Brockman

Forty years ago, Richard Dawkins changed our understanding of our place in nature with the publication of his book The Selfish Gene.

AR This book was decisive in setting the frame for my neo-Darwinist picture of emergent levels of self in the post-Hegelian dialectic of historical conceptions of divine providence in my book CORAL.

2016 February 5

Letter to the World

Greetings Earthlings,

As technology titans we have resisted explaining ourselves. But some people in Europe question our motives, our integrity, and even our right to skirt round the normal rules.

Recently we have faced impertinent questions over our tax planning and the structures of our companies. Some have even accused us of being no better than any other company. They refuse to accept our loftier values.

We are the visionaries, committed to building a better future. We are better placed to decide how our money should be spent than governments, which take billions from the taxpayer and waste them on social programs.

The Europeans are trying to tie us down with red tape and claim unpaid taxes. If they got the money, they would only waste it. We need to get these elected governments off our backs so that we can change the world.

We don't expect you to understand. Just be grateful for us.

Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, et al.

AR I sympathize.

2016 February 4

Russian View

Vladimir Putin

NATO promised not expand eastward after the fall of the Wall. NATO did not have to do so. All it needed was the political will. But the West wanted a complete victory over the Soviet Union.

In 2009, US President Obama said that US missile defense only served as protection from Iranian nuclear missiles. But now there is an international treaty with Iran that bans Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. The sanctions against Iran are lifted, but still the Americans are working on their missile defense system.

I am the president of 146 million Russians. I have to represent their interests. The nationalist coup in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in February 2014 scared 2.5 million Russian people living in Crimea. Our soldiers prevented the Ukrainian troops on Crimea from impeding the freedom of expression of the people. In the referendum the majority of citizens voted for belonging to Russia. This is democracy. The reunification of Crimea and Russia is just.

Sanctions are harming Russia. But the biggest harm is currently caused by the dangerous revenue losses in our export of oil and gas. Last year, the GDP dropped by 3.8%. Inflation is about 12.7%. But the trade balance is still positive. We have more than $300 billion in gold reserves.

Russia would like to cooperate with NATO again. President Assad has done much wrong in Syria, but the conflict would never have become so big if it had not been fueled from outside with weapons, money, and fighters. We do not want Syria to end like Iraq or Libya. We should support the legitimate rulers in Syria. Only the Syrian people can decide who should govern the country.

AR Last night BBC2 war-gamed a Russian push into Latvia that ended in a nuclear exchange.

2016 February 3

Gene Genie

Johnjoe McFadden

The news that scientists are to be allowed to edit the DNA of human embryos will no doubt provoke warnings from opponents of genetic modification technology.

We are playing God with our genes. But it is a good thing because nature often gets it wrong. This research will lead to technologies that could edit DNA much like we edit text. Its implementation could reduce and even eliminate the birth of babies with severe genetic diseases.

Opponents say our DNA is special. But nature is just blind chance combined with the survival of the fittest. There is no reason why nature should not occasionally make mistakes. When those errors could lead to terrible human suffering, it is our duty to try to correct them.

Gene editing of human embryos to eliminate disease should be considered to be ethically the same as laser surgery to correct eye defects, or operating on a baby to repair a heart defect. DNA is just another bit of our body that might go wrong. Gene editing can benefit our children.

Ancient Atheists

Tom Holland

Atheism is at least as old as the monotheistic religions of Abraham. But the philosophers the ancients called atheoi were not like New Atheists. Epicurus accepted both gods and materialism as ways to attain the state of tranquillity that was the ultimate goal of life.

2016 February 2

European Union

Donald Tusk

A proposal for a new settlement of the UK within the EU goes far in addressing all the concerns raised by Prime Minister Cameron. The four baskets of the proposal:

1 On economic governance, the draft decision sets out principles to ensure mutual respect between the member states deepening the EMU and those which are not. A mechanism giving reassurances cannot constitute a veto nor delay urgent decisions.

2 On competitiveness, the draft decision will commit to increase efforts to enhance competitiveness. We will regularly assess progress in simplifying legislation and reducing red tape.

3 On sovereignty, the proposed decision recognizes that the UK is not committed to further political integration. It also reinforces respect for subsidiarity.

4 On social benefits and free movement, we need to respect the principles of freedom of movement and non-discrimination. The proposed solution to address the UK concerns builds on the clarified interpretation of current rules.

The clear objective is to have an agreement. To succeed we will all need to compromise. To fail would be compromising our common future.

American Trump

Spiegel Online

Donald Trump recently spoke about American football: "The whole game is all screwed up." He said he missed "what used to be considered a great tackle, a violent head-on tackle" and slammed his fists together. "Football has become soft like our country has become soft."

President Trump would stir up hatred against minorities and say political correctness is a threat to the nation. The 2008 financial crisis has left many Americans receptive to his pitch. The economy has recovered but inequality has grown. Many Americans feel disconnected and betrayed.

Racism has become a core element of his campaign. Last year he said he would "build a great, great wall on our southern border" and have Mexico pay for it. He also said he would deport all illegal immigrants. For his fans, the "great, great wall" has become a symbol of Fortress America.

Trump uses the term "the lying press" (Lügenpresse) at his appearances. Yet the big TV networks devote more airtime to him than to all his rivals combined. He is the only Republican candidate who gets them big ratings. He complains that journalists ask questions about his policies.

Republicans are divided. Newt Gingrich: "Donald Trump is a very talented man. America is a big country. Anything can happen."

2016 February 1

European Union: A Budget Thaw

The New York Times

Europe is fighting terrorism and shifting from the austerity that has dominated since 2010. EU member states are not abandoning fiscal discipline, but leaders are encouraging a more flexible approach to give them financial firepower to counter the growing threat.

French president François Hollande: "We need to track the terrorists, dismantle their networks, cut off their financing, and stop propaganda and radicalization. The security pact takes precedence over the stability pact."

European Union: A Better View

Andy Ross

Today a more urgent argument for staying in the EU is neither political nor economic but strategic. For now we need to view the place of European civilization in the world with concern ...
>>> (PDF, 2 pages)

Land Rover
End of the road for a British icon

Brian Aris
Ashes to Ashes
David Bowie wanted his
ashes to be scattered in a
Buddhist ceremony on Bali.
Most of his millions will go
to his wife Iman and his
kids Duncan and Lexi.

FFF Thinkers

All his adult life, Roger Scruton
has waged an intellectual war
against the academic left. In his
critique of the Frankfurt School
he sensed a Marxist conspiracy
to undermine the foundations
of Western civilization. He may
not contradict the thinkers he
reviews but he always critiques
their unsound methods, for
which he excoriates them
with extreme prejudice.

No Cow Ban

An EU bill to cap harmful
emissions faces opposition.
Agriculture causes 40% of
methane and 95% of ammonia
pollution in the EU, and the EC
wants big cuts in both by 2030.
MEPs voted for the cuts but
exempted enteric methane,
from cow burps.

"The implications of the UK not
being in the EU will be truly
devastating for Europe."
Deutsche Bank

AR I like it. Greeks can be
employed to run the refugee
camps, Germans can avoid
strife with migrants, and
Europe is saved.

Only then is it safe to hold
the UK referendum, assuming
Brits are not aiming to push
Europe into a nationalist
and racist abyss.

AR In short, if refugees
flood in, the UK exits, and
the EU and EZ break up:

1 Supply chains break,
unemployment soars.

2 Weak national
currencies crash.

3 German investments
in Europe suffer.

Nationalism returns,
Europe collapses,


ASASSN-15lh could have been
an exploding magnetar. When
a very massive star collapses
and explodes as a supernova,
the leftover star can become
a magnetar, with very fast
spin and a strong magnetic
field. This one could have
pumped energy into a big surrounding cloud of gas
until — BANG!

AR Blog 2016-01-15.

Big Brain

Terry Sejnowski and team made
a 3D model of a 10 μm cube of
a hippocampus, using data on
synapses from sliced rat brain.
"We discovered the key to
unlocking the design principle
for how hippocampal neurons
function with low energy but
high computation power. Our
new measurements of the
brain's memory capacity
increase conservative
estimates by a factor of ten
to at least a petabyte."

AR I reported on Terry at a
NYAS meeting in 2002.

The Holy Roman Empire
Peter Wilson

Germany was once part of the
Holy Roman Empire. Founded by
Charlemagne in 800 and swept
away by Napoleon in 1806, the
empire suggests an alternative
to a federalized EU or a fatally
weakened European mosaic
of nation states.

Karren Brady:
"UK businesses can create
more jobs in Europe than
out on their own."


2016 January 31

British Elitism

David Cameron

White British men from poor backgrounds are five times less likely to go into higher education than others. If you're a young black man, you're more likely to be in a prison cell than studying at a top university. There are no black generals in our armed forces and just 4% of chief executives in the FTSE 100 are from ethnic minorities. And if you're black it seems you're more likely to be sentenced to custody for a crime than if you're white.

AR The British establishment is inbred.

English Elitism


Over a quarter of all working-age adults in England have low literacy or numeracy skills or both. A recent OECD survey shows that English adults performed around average for literacy but well below average for numeracy relative to other countries surveyed. Among the adults, English teenagers aged 16-19 have the worst literacy levels of developed nations and the second worst numeracy levels for their age group.

AR English education is elitist.


Niall Ferguson

Republican runner Donald Trump is in denial about America's — and his own — immigrant roots. His grandfather was Friedrich Drumpf, a German who emigrated in 1885, and his mother was born near Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides.

AR Denial too in that comb-over.

2016 January 30

Nuclear Fusion

New Scientist

Heated to around 100 MK, hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium can fuse into helium at just a couple of times atmospheric pressure. Just 1 g of D-T fuel yields the thermal energy of over 6 Mg of oil. The hot plasma is confined using magnetic fields. But the containment is highly unstable, challenging fusion engineers for the past 50 years.

The Wendelstein 7-X stellarator (blog 2015-11-07) is designed to allow continuous stable operation: switch it on and it works. The aim is to build up to keeping it going for about half an hour (2 ks). If that succeeds, a bigger machine will produce 3 GW of heat and about 1 GW of electricity.

Tokamak Energy hopes to use new superconductors to build a spherical tokamak small enough to fit in a living room. The goal is to build a viable 180 MW reactor in 15 years, for a cost of around £2 billion. Heat flows in the reactor would be much higher than in Wendelstein 7-X, where they are already a fifth of the flux at the Sun's surface.

2016 January 29

Saving Europe

Philip Stephens

Angela Merkel wants to save Europe. She wants EU unity, but the leaders of Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia will never share her generosity toward Muslim refugees.

EU leaders must regain control. They need to separate refugees from economic migrants, to secure the Greek borders, to reward communities for settling refugees, and to counter crime.

Winston Churchill once said the public mood in regard to the treatment of criminals is an unfailing test of the civilization of a country. Substitute migrants for criminals.

Muslim Sexism

Der Spiegel

Since New Year's Eve in Cologne, about 800 women have filed complaints with the police. The migrant sex attacks raise big questions about gender and society.

German women experience the culture clash firsthand. They report men who refuse to shake hands with them, parents who don't want them teaching their child, and men refusing to work with them and demanding men for business dealings.

The history of Islam has been shaped by the patriarchal oppression of women. In predominantly Muslim regions, most Muslims do not think men and women have equal rights. They say a woman should always obey her husband.

The Cologne assaults were spurred by migrant overcrowding, their lack of prospects and family support, and a culture that makes all things sexual taboo.

2016 January 28

The US Hard Right

Garry Wills

Republican intransigence was not born yesterday. To be on the right is to feel perpetually betrayed. At a time when the right has commanding control of radio and television talk shows, it still feels persecuted by the mainstream media. With all its wealth, the right feels it is being undermined by the academy, where liberals lurk to brainwash its children.

The feeling that superior people have license to circumvent democracy is still with us. Strategic gerrymandering and restrictive voting procedures freeze out minorities, the young, and the elderly, giving Republicans stronger representation in Congress than the popular vote warrants.

The surge of Donald Trump for half a year at the top of Republican polls was mystifying to many people. They thought the lead would quickly evanesce, but the support was entirely political. Trump first became a political factor by claiming that Obama has no valid birth certificate. It turns out that a majority of Republicans have held that belief and never renounced it. Trump was giving voice to the growl of Republican orthodoxy.

No one wants to be guilty of compromise or looking soft. The right hated George H.W. Bush's plea for a "kinder and gentler" party kindling "a thousand points of light." They had no more kind or gentle feeling about George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" and his promise to "leave no child behind." They think that is Democrat talk. And they are right.

We Cause Climate Change


2015 was the hottest year on record. And 13 of the 15 hottest years in the last 150 years occurred between 2000 and 2014, a result researchers say was with 99.99% probability caused by humans.

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research professor Stefan Rahmstorf: "Natural climate variations just can't explain the observed recent global heat records, but manmade global warming can."

The UN World Meteorological Organization confirms that the global average surface temperature in 2015 broke all previous records and says 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have all been since 2000. In 2013, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded with 95% certainty that humans are the main cause of global warming.

The UK Met Office expects 2016 to break the record set in 2015.

2016 January 27

Big Apple

Financial Times

Apple revenues for 2015 Q4 rose to $75.9 billion and net profits rose to $18.4 billion. Apple now has a total of 1 billion devices in "active" use, counting each iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, Mac, and iPod Touch that connected to Apple cloud services in the past 90 days. The company has 115,000 employees and had a market capitalization in May 2015 of over $740 billion.

AR Apple paid £12 million tax in the UK in 2015.


Richard Feynman

At the same time that an understanding of the subject of electromagnetism was being developed, technical possibilities that defied the imagination of the people that came before were appearing: it became possible to signal by telegraph over long distances, and to talk to another person miles away without any connections between, and to run huge power systems — a great water wheel, connected by filaments over hundreds of miles to another engine that turns in response to the master wheel — many thousands of branching filaments — ten thousand engines in ten thousand places running the machines of industries and homes — all turning because of the knowledge of the laws of electromagnetism.

Today we are applying even more subtle effects. The electrical forces, enormous as they are, can also be very tiny, and we can control them and use them in very many ways. So delicate are our instruments that we can tell what a man is doing by the way he affects the electrons in a thin metal rod hundreds of miles away. All we need to do is to use the rod as an antenna for a television receiver!

From a long view of the history of mankind — seen from, say, ten thousand years from now — there can be little doubt that the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwell's discovery of the laws of electrodynamics.

Maxwell's Equations

A set of partial differential equations, together with the Lorentz force law, form the foundation of classical electrodynamics, classical optics, and electric circuits. The equations underlie modern electrical and communications technologies. They describe how electric and magnetic fields are generated and changed by each other and by charges and currents. James Clerk Maxwell published his equations in an early form between 1861 and 1862.

AR Maxwell's genius was celebrated on BBC4 last night.

2016 January 26

Life and Death

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Death is not an event of life. Death is not lived through. If by eternity is understood not endless temporal duration but timelessness, then he lives eternally who lives in the present. Our life is endless in the way that our visual field is without limit.
— Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 6.4311

AR After a blissful evening skim-reading Foundation Mathematics, I half-awoke in the early hours and lay reflecting on how the contrast between open and closed sets representing intervals on the real line also caught the logic of immortality from the first-person perspective. On this topic, young Wittgenstein hit the nail on the head.

2016 January 25

Greek-German Deal?

Gideon Rachman

The euro crisis and the refugee crisis both involve Greece and Germany. Last summer, Germany almost forced Greece out of the euro, rather than lend further billions to the Greek government. Now, Germany is reeling under the impact of the arrival of more than a million would-be refugees, most of whom have entered the EU through Greece.

A deal would be simple. Greece seals its northern border with EU help, stopping the flow of migrants into northern Europe. In return, Germany agrees to a massive write-down of Greek debt, plus immediate financial aid. Refugees arriving in Greece are housed in camps on Greek islands in the expectation that they will return to Syria one day.

Bottling up refugees in Greece could strand them in a small country struggling with mass unemployment and a huge national debt. Germany wants its loans repaid, but the refugee crisis is more urgent than the repayment schedule. Greeks can do Germans a favor by stemming the flow of refugees. Germans can do Greeks a favor by offering debt relief.

Most Europeans feel compassion for the refugees but are also worried about uncontrolled mass immigration from the Mideast. We need to break the connection between the offer of temporary protection from warfare and the offer of permanent immigration into the EU. Once that connection is severed, European public opinion will be reassured.

2016 January 24

Wenn Europa scheitert

Henrik Müller

Politiker warnen vor einem Auseinanderbrechen der EU. Europa habe wenige Wochen, um die Flüchtlingskrise in den Griff zu bekommen. Falls das misslingt, sei dann das Schengen-Abkommen für grenzenlose Bewegungsfreiheit in Europa hinfällig. Dann aber macht der Euro keinen Sinn.

Weil es den Europäern an einer gemeinsamen Vision für eine gute Zukunft mangelt, spielen sich wieder Fragen von nationaler Souveränität und kultureller Selbstbehauptung in den Vordergrund.

Das Risiko steigt, dass Großbritannien dieses Jahr per Referendum aus der EU aussteigt - und dann womöglich andere Mitgliedstaaten folgen. Binnen weniger Monate würde die EU verfallen.

Drei Effekte würden sichtbar:

1 Zerrissene Wertschöpfungsketten: Die Industrie hat Europa in den vergangenen Jahrzehnten mit einem Netz von Zulieferverbindungen durchzogen, mit dem Ziel, jeweilige Standortvorteile auszunutzen. Bei einer Implosion Europas würde ein Teil solcher Wertschöpfungsketten durchbrochen. Sparprogramme, Werkschließungen und Jobverluste wären die fast zwangsläufige Folge.

2 Inflationsschock: Dass die Verbraucherpreise bislang stabil sind, liegt insbesondere am intensiven internationalen Wettbewerb. Weniger Wettbewerb bringt Preissteigerungen mit sich. Die Inflationsraten dürften deshalb empfindlich anziehen. Sofern auch die Währungsunion zerfällt, werden die Währungen kleinerer, schwächerer Volkswirtschaften abschmieren.

3 Schuldenkrisen: Am härtesten getroffen wären Volkswirtschaften, die ohnehin auf wackligem Fundament stehen. Länder wie Großbritannien, Frankreich, Rumänien oder Tschechien müssten sich darauf einstellen, dass der Kapitalzustrom abreißt. Hoch verschuldete Volkswirtschaften würden durch massiv steigende Zinsen an den Rand der Pleite geraten.

Auch Deutschland würde leiden. Die Bundesrepublik ist eine hochgradig offene Volkswirtschaft, die bislang eng mit dem übrigen Europa verwoben ist. Das gigantische Auslandsvermögen Deutschlands von mehr als einer Billion Euro ist zur Hälfte im übrigen Europa angelegt.

Zu den ökonomischen Schäden kommen die politischen. Die Rückkehr zur Nationalstaaterei könnten einen Zusammenbruch Europas bedeuten. Das hätte verheerende Folgen.


2016 January 23

The Struggle for Europe

Mark Mazower

The historic scale of the crisis facing the European Union is dawning on its elites. Both critics and supporters of integration talk in almost apocalyptic terms about the union and its future.

The union has become a fiscal regime enforced by constitutional lawyers and central bankers that consigns millions to permanent unemployment. Nationalist politicians resist it in the name of democracy. The union faces a deep crisis of legitimacy.

Europe awaits a change of heart among its elites. The past holds a big lesson: integration prospered when growth and employment mattered more than unfettered capital movements and when fiscal policy counted for more than monetary policy.

Leaders need to show that the union can help nations and that capitalism and democracy can be reconciled. This will take a real effort of historical imagination and reinvention.

The War for Islam

Vali Nasr

Islamists call for an ideal Islamic state built on Islamic law. But Shiites and Sunnis each have their own version of law. The rise of narrower and more extreme forms of Islamism have only exacerbated sectarianism.

Sunnis and Shiites coexist in many Arab states. Syria and Iraq were secular Baathist states, but minority Alawites ruled over largely Sunni Syria and minority Sunnis over largely Shiite Iraq. The American occupation of Iraq and the Arab Spring broke the Arab order. Shiites in Iraq and Bahrain, and Sunnis in Syria, welcomed change.

The collapse of the Arab order pits Iran and Saudi Arabia against one another. Saudi Arabia interpreted the nuclear agreement as an American tilt toward Iran. Sunnis have redoubled their efforts to block Shiite gains. Saudi Arabian foreign policy has become more confrontational since the Iran nuclear deal This does not bode well.

Iran and Saudi Arabia will clash in every war zone in the region to further their interests. Both countries face economic problems. Their energies are better spent on domestic reform than on regional confrontation.

2016 January 22

Germany Losing Control

Spiegel Online

Following the New Year's Eve sexual assaults in Cologne, some 650 criminal complaints have been filed, half of them for sexual assault. State prosecutors have only identified 13 suspects: 8 Moroccans, 4 Algerians, and a Tunisian. No one has been detained for sexual assault.

Several thousand people from the Maghreb states Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia are slated for immediate deportation from Germany. But only 23 Moroccans, 24 Algerians, and 6 Tunisians were deported during the first half of 2015.

German policymakers have spent the past few years both reducing the size of the police forces and inundating them with new tasks. No one was remotely prepared for the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Last year, up to 10,000 newcomers a day had to be sheltered and fed. Officials were overwhelmed. A national register says a total of 1,091,894 asylum seekers entered Germany in 2015. But experts believe the real figure could be far lower because registrations can easily be duplicated.

Many new arrivals are simply waved into Germany by border officials. It often takes days before they are registered. In many places, refugees disappear soon after arrival. They can get duplicate social benefits without getting caught by registering in different states, perhaps using different names. Criminals can get papers for multiple identities.

For years, German officials have complained about countries that refuse to allow the return of their citizens facing deportation from Germany. These include the Maghreb states.

Islam: The Truth

Andrew Mack

Islamist radicals have no difficulty finding justification in medieval Islamic texts for their violent ideology and barbaric practices. But these extreme interpretations tell us nothing about the propensity for violence in mainstream Islam.

In almost all societies, murder accounts for most intentional killings. Between 2007 and 2012, for every individual killed in war or terrorism around the world, 7 individuals were murdered. And the higher the percentage of Muslims in a society, the lower the homicide rate.

Between 1994 and 2007, annual homicide rates in the Muslim world averaged 2.4 per 100,000 of the population. That was less than the average rate in Europe and about half that in the United States. Even now, for every murder in Indonesia, 7 people are murdered in the United States.

In the radical Islamist conflicts in the Mideast, exclusionary politics, state repression, rights abuses, corruption, and so on are more important drivers of violence than Islamist ideology.

2016 January 21


John Gray

Dominic Johnson: "Humans the world over find themselves, consciously or subconsciously, believing that we live in a just world or a moral universe, where people are supposed to get what they deserve. Our brains are wired such that we cannot help but search for meaning in the randomness of life."

The New Atheists are simple souls. In their view, which derives from rationalist philosophy and not from evolutionary theory, the human mind is a faculty that seeks an accurate representation of the world. This leaves them unable to explain why most human beings are wedded to some version of religion.

For anyone who takes evolution seriously, religions are adaptations to the experience of living in an uncertain and hazardous world. There is no way to square a rationalist model of the mind with the findings of evolutionary biology. Under evolution, our minds are not primed to seek out truth but to obey the ruling imperative of survival.

2016 January 20

European Union

George Soros

The European Union badly needs fixing. The Germans, under the leadership of Angela Merkel, have achieved a position of hegemony. Merkel had the support of both those who wanted to be good Europeans and those who wanted her to protect German national interest. But in the case of the migration issue, she acted on principle. She deserves credit for making a European asylum policy possible.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is promoting the principles of Hungarian and Christian identity. Combining national identity with religion is a powerful mix. The leader of the newly elected ruling party in Poland, Jarosław Kaczyński, is taking a similar approach. He chose migration as the central issue of his campaign. Poland is one of the most ethnically and religiously homogeneous countries in Europe. Kaczyński and Orbán seek to exploit a mix of ethnic and religious nationalism.

The European Union needs a comprehensive plan to respond to the crisis. My foundation has developed a plan that would reassert control over the European rather than national borders and allow asylum seekers to reach Europe in a safe, orderly way, and at a pace that reflects the capacity to absorb them. Orbán is challenging Merkel for the leadership of Europe by attacking the values and principles on which the European Union was founded.

I am convinced that Britain should stay in Europe not only for economic but even more for political reasons. Currently, Britain has the best of all possible deals with Europe. It has access to the common market where nearly half of UK exports go while it is not weighed down by the burden of having joined the eurozone.


Frank Wilczek

At the frontiers of physics, everyday experience is not a good guide and experiments can be difficult and expensive. My work has been guided by trying to make the laws more beautiful.

Symmetry is change without change. The theory of relativity is about change without change. You can look at the world from a moving platform and different things rushing at you or away from you will look quite different, but the same laws will apply as in the stationary frame. You change the way things look and yet the laws are still valid.

In quantum mechanics, the primary description of reality is a wave function and its equations are deterministic. If you know the wave function at one time, you can predict what it will be at another time. The deep structure is determined, but from where we sit within the universe, we cannot determine it. Operationally, things look unpredictable.

There is a lot about the world besides the laws of physics and physical phenomena. I care very much about what it all means. For me beauty goes into what it all means.

HMS Protector

When I'm 64
Caroline Haydon

64 is the age that I completed
my training in the UK as a yoga
teacher. Last year I got my
certificate. And I've been
teaching ever since.

AR I met CH in Oxford
45 years ago today.

Tim Peake
Major Tim:
"something wrong"


2016 January 19

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

John Thornhill

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, by Klaus Schwab, reviews the new technologies of artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, the blockchain, biotechnology. and so on. The confluence of these technologies amounts to a fourth industrial revolution, following:

1 The steam and coal revolution of the late 18th century
2 The electricity and oil revolution of the late 19th century
3 The digital electronics revolution of the late 20th century

Schwab: "The changes are so profound that, from the perspective of human history, there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril."

The revolution can lift "humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny" — for chief executives on their way to Davos.

AR This is GLOBORG — I rest my case.

2016 January 18


David Gardner

The lifting of sanctions on Iran brings the Islamic Republic in from the cold, reconnects a potentially vibrant emerging economy to world markets, and opens the way for Tehran to become a force for stability in a region in meltdown.

Iran is an indispensable player in several Mideast conflicts. Yet it has a long road to travel to win acceptance in a region where it has forged a Shiite axis from Baghdad to Beirut. Sunni Saudi Arabia is not alone in feeling that Iran has taken advantage of the fracturing of Arab countries to behave like an imperial power.

Iran has unmet investment needs of up to $200 billion a year for the coming decade, with a fifth of proven world gas reserves to pay for them. It has already announced plans to buy more than 100 new airliners from Airbus.



Just 62 people have the same combined wealth as the poorer half of the global population combined. The richest 1% now own as much as the rest of the world.

2016 January 17

Why am I me?

Mark Haddon

We are no nearer to explaining why we experience things as subjects. Neuroscience and psychology have made huge advances in solving the questions of how the brain performs its mechanical and computational functions. Everything so far observed inside the human head happens automatically when the right molecules are in the right place in the right state at the right time. My consciousness seems to be the mental theater for the drama of the world. I star in the show.

AR See the psychohistoric "I am/am not X" (for each X in turn) dialectic in my next book GLOBORG
(on which I am delaying commencement until I have a contract and an advance).

Space Oddity

New Scientist

KIC 8462852 is baffling astronomers. NASA planet hunter Kepler watched its stellar region from 2009 to 2013 and found the star dipped erratically in brightness throughout the period, sometimes by as much as 20%. A team led by Tabetha Boyajian tried to make sense of this and decided that dust from a large cloud of comets was the best explanation. In October 2015, Jason Wright and others suggested that alien megastructures could be dimming the signal.

Now the mystery deepens. Bradley Schaefer studied old digitally scanned photographic plates of the sky and found that the star faded by about 20% between 1890 and 1989. He estimates it would take maybe a million comets, each a million gigatons in mass, to cause the dimming, which refutes the idea. He also doubts that alien megastructure are the cause, since they would radiate light absorbed from the star as heat, and the infrared signal from the star seems normal.

AR I blogged the Wright idea on 2015-10-15. The aliens might convert starlight into starship fuel
(on which see The Beginning and the End by Clément Vidal — blog 2015-11-25).

2016 January 16

Saint Augustine

Garry Wills

Augustine of Hippo wrote in his Confessions about his own life from his birth in 354 CE, to his early belief in Manichaeism, to his baptism in Milan and the death of his mother in 387.

Robin Lane Fox traces the progress of Augustine with reference to dreams, conversions, ascents, and visions. To assure us that prophetic dreams, mystical ascents, and visions were common and believed in, he traces their influence on two of Augustine's contemporaries: the Christian bishop Synesius of Cyrene (circa 373–414) and the pagan orator Libanius of Antioch (circa 314–393).

Synesius and Libanius lived in the great world; Augustine did not. The great world of the fourth and fifth centuries was Rome's Eastern empire. That is where the theological and ecclesiastical action was. It hosted the ecumenical councils — Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451) — and theological giants such as Origen, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa were from places like Alexandria, Antioch, Ephesus, and Constantinople.

Augustine sought God within himself, mystery seeking mystery: "You were more in me than I was in me ... Anyone reading this should travel on with me where we agree; search with me where we are unsure; rejoin me if he finds he is astray; call me back if I am astray. In this way, we may jointly proceed along the path opened by love, venturing toward the one ..."

AR The development of Christianity was evidently a great civilizational project, analogous to that of science in recent centuries.

2016 January 15

Brilliant Supernova


Astronomers have discovered a supernova brighter than any other observed to date. At its peak it was more luminous than 500 billion suns.

All-Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae source ASAS-SN-15lh (SN 2015L) reached an absolute magnitude of –23.5 and bolometric luminosity 2 × 10^38 W, and is located in a galaxy perhaps 4 billion light-years away.

Science lead author Subo Dong: "The explosion's mechanism and power source remain shrouded in mystery."

2016 January 14


Damian Carrington

Earth has entered the Anthropocene age. New research published in Nature shows that human burning of fossil fuels is postponing the next global ice age for at least 100,000 years.

The researchers found that a combination of lower sunlight at a latitude of 65°N, where snow surviving through the summer leads to ice sheets, and low carbon dioxide in the atmosphere triggers a new ice age to dawn. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen from 280 ppm at the start of the industrial revolution to 400 ppm today. The CO2 will head off ice ages for the next 100 ky (over 3 Ts).

Lead researcher Andrey Ganopolski: "It is mind-boggling that humankind is able to interfere with a mechanism that shaped the world as we know it."

AR With oil below $30, let's keep warm!

Sunni vs Shiite

David Gardner

Saudi Arabia is injecting sectarian venom into the Mideast. The House of Saud and the Wahhabi clerical establishment are inciting a Sunni-Shiite conflict that is ripping the region apart.

Saudi leaders see the Iran-led Shiite jihad in the region as a greater threat than the Sunni jihad. For them the Arabian peninsula is sacred territory for Sunni Islam. The local Shiites are abominated as idolaters by Wahhabi bigots.

King Salman launched a war in Yemen against Shiites. Executing Shiite Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was a political assassination. The House of Saud is facing intractable problems.

AR We need to get Islam out of politics.

2016 January 13


Simon Critchley

David Bowie released Blackstar just a few days before his death. In it he sings, "I'm not a pop star."

Bowie spoke most eloquently to the weirdos, freaks, and outsiders. He negated all the nonsense, the falsity, the accrued social meanings, traditions, and morass of identity that shackled us. His songs revealed how fragile all these meanings were and gave us the belief that our capacity for changes was limitless.

Unlike Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, Bowie turned down a knighthood from the queen in 2003.

AR No sir, good man.


Rory MacLean

David Bowie moved from Los Angeles to Berlin in late 1976. He had been on the edge of physical and mental collapse. At first, he fell back on drinking and clubbing with flatmate Iggy Pop.

To defeat his demons, Bowie needed space and stability. His assistant Coco Schwab found him a modest apartment in Schöneberg and stocked it with canvas and paint. She read Nietzsche beside him, beneath a portrait Bowie painted of Yukio Mishima.

Bowie began to edge away from cocaine psychosis, finding his way out of his life of excess, remaking himself as an ordinary man. He dressed in baggy trousers and dowdy shirts, and no one bothered him on the street.

By the summer of 1977, Bowie was on a creative high. With Tony Visconti and Brian Eno, he began to make a new album, "Heroes". The title song became Berlin's rock anthem.

In those months in Berlin, Bowie made his journey from addiction to independence, from celebrity paranoia to unmasked messenger who told us all that we too could be ourselves.

AR I read Mishima in Japan. He committed hara-kiri in 1970 to inspire Japanese youth with the old martial virtues.

Bowie was to the 70s what the Beatles were to the 60s
Dorian Lynskey

David Bowie's third album, released in 1970, touched on schizophrenia and paranoid delusion. In his fourth, Hunky Dory (1971), he saw an exhausted landscape of fallen icons and sunken dreams, crying out for change. Ziggy Stardust (1972) toyed with stardom and charisma, fed by Warhol and Nietzsche.

Bowie found the overlapping appeal of rock stars and right-wing dictators exciting. He reveled in decadence and desperate hedonism. In 1973, he returned from Japan by train through the USSR and the Eastern Bloc. Diamond Dogs (1974) married two dystopias: gray police state and insurgent anarchy.

He moved to New York in 1974. Young Americans (1975) found him searching for liberation in Philadelphia soul. He got into trouble for predicting the emergence of a new fascist leader who would cut through the mess and impose tyranny: "Hitler was one of the first rock stars."

A love of German art led him to Berlin for Low (1977), "Heroes" (also 1977), and Lodger (1979). He was hardly upbeat, but the music was fresh and optimistic. In this cold war city he pulled back from despair and emerged intact.

AR Beatles: Born in Liverpool, made in Hamburg. Bowie: born in London, made in Berlin.


John Gray

In 1869, aged 24, Friedrich Nietzsche was seen as a prodigy and appointed professor in classical philology at the University of Basel. But he retired due to poor health in 1878, went mad in 1889, and died in 1900.

His sister Elisabeth seized control of his writings and methodically deleted passages attacking racism. For her compilation of his writings published as Der Wille zur Macht (The Will to Power) German academics nominated her for the Nobel prize in literature. When she died in 1935, Hitler attended her funeral.

Nietzsche despised nationalism and ridiculed social Darwinism. He preferred the Old Testament to the New. His observations on the origins of liberal values in Jewish and Christian monotheism are resonant today.

2016 January 12

David Bowie

Marilyn Manson

I went for a dizzying car ride through the Hollywood Hills and listened to Diamond Dogs. All of my nostalgia instantly turned to awe. I was hearing him sing about fiction as a mask to show his naked soul. This changed my life forever.

AR I listened to Diamond Dogs in 1974 while reading axiomatic set theory. Then I listened to Beethoven and read Hegel on logic. I alternated the pair, very loud, until the ideas achieved fusion. This changed my life forever.

Sweet Thing

The New York Times

USAF F-15 Eagle drops a mock B61-12 bomb as part of a $10 billion program to build a smart nuclear bomb. Its computerized fin guidance can zero in precisely on deeply buried targets and its yield can be dialed up or down to minimize collateral damage.

HD video (0:57)

David Bowie
David Bowie

General theory of relativity:

The term with capital lambda
is the cosmological constant.
The term on the right hand
side multiplied by Newton's
gravitational constant G is
the matter term. The terms
containing R describe the
curvature of space.

C. Hennes
Milo Moiré protests
naked in Cologne


50 Jahre alt, für schicken
800 qm Neubau geeignet

AR Wenige Minuten
am Strandweg entlang
von mir entfernt


2016 January 11


Joris Luyendijk

The European Union faces the worst and most dangerous crisis since its creation. But Britain is refusing to help — and using this historic moment of weakness to extract concessions in time for the Brexit referendum.

It is high time for Europeans to take a cold and honest look at the British. Or rather, the English. Scotland is largely pro-EU while Wales and Northern Ireland have far less influence.

This referendum is an opportunity to cut the English loose. Let them simmer in their splendid irrelevance. They will still be in NATO and will do no damage. The United States valued Britain as its proxy seat at the European table.

Half of British trade is with the EU, but little more than a tenth of EU trade is with Britain. Radoslaw Sikorski: "No prizes for guessing who would have the upper hand in the negotiations."

The EU faces an unprecedented refugee crisis, the euro mess, a growing terrorist threat, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, plus another distraction from England.

For many mainland Europeans, the EU offers the promise of freedom from the threat of nationalism. But the English are taught to believe that nationalism is what saved them from Hitler. For England, the EU is an economic project. Every argument is framed around the British national interest.

The English will suffer if they leave. The Scots may prefer Brussels to London. The EU can repatriate financial powers from London. Global corporations can have their European HQs in the EU. The EU can support India for a permanent seat on the UN security council.

A child can see that the EU needs fundamental reform. Imagine that England had argued not for a better deal for Britain, but for all Europeans. The English are only in it for themselves.

General Relativity

Jeremy Bernstein

Albert Einstein summarized his general theory of relativity in Annalen der Physik in 1916.

The key is what it means to be weightless. Einstein introduced the metaphor of an elevator in outer space, far from any gravitating object. He imagined the elevator pulled up by a rope so that it had any acceleration one wanted. If it was pulled up with the acceleration of a freely falling body on Earth then the occupants of the elevator would think they are on Earth. This principle of equivalence implies that space in the presence of gravity is curved.

Light in a vacuum propagates in straight lines. With our space elevator stationary, we emit a light beam from one side and it propagates to the other in a straight line. It is always the same distance from the floor. Now we do the same thing when the elevator is pulled up. The floor rises to meet the light beam, so viewed from inside the elevator the beam follows a curved path toward the floor.

By the principle of equivalence this setup can be replaced by a stationary elevator in a gravitational field. Gravity curves space. Light follows the straight lines in this space as do other gravitating objects. The geometry of spacetime is curved.

Einstein successfully explained the precession in the orbit of the planet Mercury and predicted the bending of starlight by the gravitational field of the sun. This was tested in the 1919 expeditions led by Sir Arthur Eddington to observe stars during a total eclipse of the sun. The results agreed with the theory. Einstein became a world celebrity.

The theory applies to cosmology. Einstein believed that the universe was stationary, so in 1917 he added a cosmological constant to his original equations to predict this. Then Edwin Hubble showed that the universe is expanding. Einstein disowned the constant.

2016 January 10

Sex Mob Scandal

Tony Allen-Mills

German police fired water cannon in Cologne last night to prevent clashes between rival groups of demonstrators who had gathered to protest against the sex mob attacks on New Year's Eve.

PEGIDA demonstrators called for ousting Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose policies let over a million migrants arrive in Germany last year. Merkel responded by proposing a sharp revision of asylum laws to speed up the deportation of migrants who break German laws.

All agreed that the heavy police presence had been absent when was needed on New Year's Eve. Police confirmed that 1,700 officers had been deployed, compared with 140 on New Year's Eve. Hundreds of young men and women had turned out to watch fireworks and greet the new year.

Ariane Pfannstiel: "I don’t know what was worst that night. Was it the absence of police or their impotence? Or the fact that I had never seen so many aggressive men face to face? ... It was loud, hostile and contemptuous of women. We fled from the square but inside the station was no better. We were denounced as sluts and whores, harassed and persecuted."

Mirjam: "There were boys and old men, they looked like fathers and sons. My boyfriend was standing right beside me, trying to push them away, but it was incredible. They were just taking it in turns to grab at my breasts. I thought if I let go of my friend's hand they would drag me away."

Sabine told German radio she had scratch marks between her thighs where a man had groped under her skirt. Other women reported their purses had been snatched and some told police they had seen gang leaders directing the assaults.

Cologne police said the number of cases filed involving violence during the festivities had reached 379, including 2 claims of rape, and that migrants made up the majority of suspects.

New Year's Eve assaults on women also took place in Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Bielefeld.

On Thursday, visitors to Cologne cathedral saw Swiss performance artist Milo Moiré standing naked with a banner that read: "We are not fair game even when we are naked."

Merkel: "The most important thing is that the facts about what happened are spoken about openly and bluntly. Terrible things happened and we must respond to them."

German Mood Ugly

Alan Posener

Cologne, New Year's Eve: Crowds of people gather on the square between the cathedral and the railway station to celebrate.

But something more sinister is going on. Women and girls are surrounded, poked and jeered at as whores and sluts, their blouses ripped and their underwear torn off. One girl: "I had mens' hands on every body opening."

More than 100 women file sexual molestation charges against men of north African or Arab origin. Yet the next morning the police report a quiet night.

German railway stations had been symbols of the new Willkommenskultur, with crowds welcoming refugees from Syria and elsewhere. Now they are symbols for what some call Islamic rape culture. The mood is ugly across Europe today.

2016 January 9

UK vs EU

Ashley Fox MEP

Brexit: What would happen if Britain voted to leave?
This report by the group British Influence looks at the arguments against leaving by posing the challenges that the UK would face were we to leave.

The case for voting to leave
This report by the Vote Leave group is focused on how leaving might be of benefit to the UK.

Supermassive Black Holes

New Scientist

Our universe is just one in a multiverse, says the theory of eternal inflation. If at the big bang spacetime expanded exponentially, quantum effects played a role in how it evolved. A small patch of spacetime could flip into a different quantum state, forming a bubble. Such bubbles could form at random throughout our inflating universe. Bubbles could inflate into their own baby universes. Each would spawn other bubbles, to make a multiverse.

Alex Vilenkin and colleagues have found that bubbles formed with a low enough internal energy begin to expand. But when inflation ends in our universe the bubbles collapse to black holes. Bubbles that form later are smaller and collapse into standard black holes, with only a singularity inside. But earlier bubbles create bigger black holes concealing their own baby universes. At first we are connected to their interiors via wormholes, but these quickly close. The universes within keep inflating.

The analysis suggests that we can look for signs of the multiverse by checking the distribution of black holes. The higher the mass of the black holes, the more of them there should be up to a critical mass, after which the number should fall. This may help explain how the supermassive black holes we see became so big. The black holes hiding a universe within would start out big.

The work may also have implications for the black hole information loss paradox. If the information swallowed by a black hole comes out again in Hawking radiation, we face problems, such as the formation of a blazing firewall at the horizon of the black hole, something prohibited by general relativity. If black holes may hide baby universes, we can think again.

2016 January 8


Josef Joffe

Ron Rosenbaum: "I believe the State of Israel may not survive."

The Islamic revolutionaries of Iran want to "wipe off the map" a country credited with 80 to 200 nuclear weapons. Israel is not a great power, but like the United States it possesses a nuclear triad: attack aircraft by air, Jericho IRBMs on land, and SLBMs at sea. The Dolphin U-boats offer CASD. With one boatload, Israel can obliterate Iran as a civilization and still have enough left to deter the rest. The Islamic regime will not court Armageddon to destroy Israel.

Israel has beaten the Arabs over and over again. The Jewish state has an army of 133,000 with 500 tanks, some 440 combat aircraft, and 400,000 reservists. In terms of GNP, Israel puts $306 billion on the scales. Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria together come in at $400 billion. Israel has seven great research universities, the Arab world none. Hezbollah is the best Arab force in the region, but Israel can bomb its arms deliveries from Iran.

Jewish immigration to Israel reached a 15-year high in 2015, with around 30,000 new arrivals. They come from France, Russia, and Ukraine. Israel projects a population of 11 to 12 million for 2035. In fertility ranking, Israel is #1 among all Western nations. Fertility reflects trust in the future. Jews have survived for 5776 years.

Sholem Aleichem: "No matter how bad things get, you have to go on living, even if it kills you."

AR On Ron, see blog 2015-12-15.

Saudis vs Iran

Philip Stephens

Israelis think more clearly than most about the geopolitical dynamics of the Mideast. Tehran holds promise as a natural ally for Israel. But logic still dictates that Israel stay with Saudi Arabia. Checking Shiite ambitions trumps the Palestine problem.

Iran has civilizational depth. Any Mideast nation that allocates most of its university places to women has something going for it. Saudi Arabia weds the medievalism of the House of Saud to the extremist Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam.

The west was duped into a nuclear deal with Iran that offers at best a pause in its nuclear program. Tehran backs Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, the Assad regime in Syria, and Houthi rebels in Yemen. Israel cannot wait for reform in Iran.

The western alliance with Saudi Arabia is loosening. Dependence on Gulf oil and tolerance of Wahhabism are waning. Yet Saudi Arabia is still viewed as an ally. Its theocracy is preferable to the black flag of the caliphate raised over Riyadh.

Annual arms spend:
Saudi Arabia $55 billion
Iran $10 billion

Pablo Carlos Budassi

 Our Visual Universe
Radial log plot from NASA data

Greening Fuel
Katherine Bourzac

Photosynthesis lets plants
use sunlight to turn water and
carbon dioxide into stuff the
plants need, plus oxygen.
Peidong Yang is building an
artificial system that does the
same, using nanowires and
engineered bacteria. It will
churn out standard fuels but
with no net carbon footprint.
The system is about as
efficient as natural photo-synthesis. Making it more
efficient comes next.


Vincent Callebaut sees ocean
communities reaching to the
sea floor from green marinas
on the water surface. The
underwater oceanscrapers
would provide 250 floors of
space to live and work and
reach a depth of 1 km. They
would desalinate seawater for
drinking, use microalgae to
recycle organic waste, be
lit by bioluminescence,
and be printed from
recycled plastics.


2016 January 7

Black Holes

Ian Sample

Astronomers have found that black holes can sometimes be seen through an optical telescope.

V404 Cygni is a binary system some 8,000 light years (75 Em) from Earth. A black hole and a star orbit each other about once a week, close enough for the black hole to strip matter from the star. This spirals down into the black hole and emits a final burst of radiation.

Last June, the NASA Swift gamma ray telescope picked up signs of an outburst. When Japanese scientists looked at the black hole they saw flashes of light for the two weeks it was active.

The NASA Chandra x-ray observatory recently detected two big blasts of gas coming from a supermassive black hole 26 million light years away in the heart of galaxy NGC 5195.

Texas astrophysicist Eric Schlegel: "Astronomers often refer to black holes as eating stars and gas. Apparently, black holes can also burp after their meal. It is common for big black holes to expel gas outward, but rare to have such a close, resolved view of these events."

AR On greedy black holes, see blog 2015-11-25.

2016 January 6

Mideast Turmoil

Ray Takeyh

Both the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran have staked their legitimacy on a mission of exporting religion. The Iranians warned the Saudis not to harm Shiite Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr but the Sauds killed him anyway. The principal victim will be House of Saud itself.

Soon after coming to power in 1979, the mullahs called on Gulf states to revolt and sever relations with the United States. The Iranians especially targeted Saudi Arabia but failed to see that their revolution was never an attractive model of empowerment for Saudi Shiites.

The Saudi kingdom's current rulers seem to share Iran's misconceptions about the loyalties of Saudi Shiites. Denigrating Shiites as heretics only inflames their grievances and radicalizes them.

The post-colonial Arab order is disappearing. Syria and Iraq are beset by civil wars. Iran is on the march. The silence from Washington is deafening.

Brexit Danger

Peter Müller, Christoph Scheuermann

EU leaders plan to give in to most of David Cameron's reform demands. At the February summit he will be opposed by all his 27 EU counterparts. But in the end he will get his way.

European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have already written the script for their own defeat. Their goal is to give Cameron the political tailwind he needs to keep the UK in the EU following his planned referendum. For them, Brexit is a nightmare scenario:

1 FN leader Marine Le Pen has already announced that she plans to hold a similar referendum in France if she wins the French 2017 presidential elections. Brexit and Frexit together would kill the EU.

2 Brexit would knock the EU power structures off kilter. Without the UK and its advocacy of free trade, the influence of southern European countries would rise and that of Germany and its northern neighbors would fall.

3 The EU would be weakened in the global economy. Brexit would leave the union with 13% fewer residents and 17% less economic clout. Without London, the EU would have no global financial capital except Frankfurt.

Even the most controversial British demands could go through. Cameron wants a law to stop EU citizens who work in the UK from accessing social benefits for four years. This is a clear case of discrimination and violates EU law. A compromise solution could exclude citizens of EU member states from British social benefits for one year in accordance with a previous European Court of Justice ruling.

Advocates of Brexit hope that British voters will choose Brexit no matter what kind of deal Cameron strikes in Brussels. Jim Mellon: "The Eurozone ship is like the Titanic. It will sink sooner rather than later. It is better to be sitting in a lifeboat than to be dragged down."

Sex Attacks in Germany

The New York Times

On New Year's Eve in the German city of Köln, about a hundred young women were sexually harassed and robbed by hundreds of young men. The assaults took place on the public square in front of Köln Hauptbahnhof, near bars and nightclubs. Police said the attackers were young men "who appeared to have a North African or Arabic" background.

Kölner Polizeipräsident Wolfgang Albers said the assaults had taken place in a chaotic crowd after a fireworks show. The men appeared to have broken into smaller groups, with each one encircling a woman, while some groped the victim and others stole her wallet or cellphone. One victim said she had been raped.

Kölner Oberbürgermeisterin Henriette Reker called the assault "absolutely intolerable" and pledged her support for an investigation. Köln took in more than 10,000 migrants last year, many of them young men from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Similar assaults took place on New Year's Eve in Hamburg.

2016 January 5

Collecting Tax

Cass R. Sunstein

Many wealthy people worldwide hide money in foreign countries to avoid paying taxes in their home countries. About 8% of the world's wealth, or $7.6 trillion, is held in tax havens. In 2015, Switzerland alone held $2.3 trillion in foreign wealth. Unreported foreign accounts cost governments about $200 billion in tax revenue each year. In the United States the annual tax loss is $35 billion. In Europe it is $78 billion.

Gabriel Zucman says international balance sheets show more liabilities than assets. In 2015, the nations of the world recorded $2 trillion as mutual fund holdings in Luxembourg as liabilities. But Luxembourg recorded $3.5 trillion in mutual fund holdings as assets. The missing $1.5 trillion had no owners. The amount by which assets exceed liabilities is a measure of the hidden wealth. The global grand total is around $7.6 trillion.

Zucman proposes an automatic global register to let every government in the world know where money is kept and who is escaping national taxes. An automatic register makes special inquiries or evidence of suspicion unnecessary. A global register would not only help combat bribery and money laundering but also ease imposition of a global wealth tax.

Many nations are considering requirements on banks to identify their clients and to disclose holdings and payments. But they are not proposing penalties. Banks have a lot to gain from business as usual. Also, offshore accounts hidden behind trusts and shell corporations are hard to link with their real owners.

Tax evaders are mostly the wealthiest people. Tax avoidance by multinational corporations is different, because it is typically done without violating a national law. Tax avoidance costs the United States $35 billion a year, and some estimates say that the real loss is as high as $100 billion.

AR An automatic global register should use blockchain technology (blog 2015-11-02).

2016 January 4

UK Economic Security: EU Membership Vital

Financial Times

David Cameron's claim that British membership of a reformed EU is vital to Britain's economic security is backed by an overwhelming majority of economists in an FT survey.

Most of the 102 economists thought economic prospects following a Brexit would be hit if voters decided to leave. None thought a vote to leave would enhance UK economic growth this year and 67 said the outlook would deteriorate. Brexit was the top cited risk to prosperity, with concern that exit would cause capital to flee the UK.

In the medium term, opinion was even more strongly opposed to exit. Concerns were that companies would no longer use the UK as a base for their European operations: 76 economists said leaving the EU would harm prospects, 8 said the outlook outside the EU would be better, and 18 said it would make little difference.

UK Strategic Security: EU Membership Vital

Ulrich Speck

Brexit would be bad for Britain and Europe. The UK would lose its hold on developments in Europe, lose the weight of the EU to back it up, and loosen its special relationship with the United States.

The UK chose to be the junior partner in a US "special relationship" rather than a leader in European integration. Britain is now too weak to go it alone globally, and engaging more with the EU would be wiser. Americans want a strong European partner with a united foreign policy. For US policymakers, Britain is relevant only so far as it can help build coalitions in the EU.

The EU is becoming a political entity. The German-French conflict has been solved through European integration. Democracy around Europe is consolidated through European integration.

2016 January 3


Olga Khazan

Rebekah Herrick sought to figure out why so many US senators and representatives stay clean-shaven. She collected photos of the male members of Congress with facial hair and matched each photo to an image of a similar bare-faced member, then showed the photo pairs to a group of students and asked them to rate the men for masculinity and likely stances on feminist issues.

The congressmen with facial hair were thought to be more masculine and less feminist. Women and feminists in the group said they were less likely to vote for them. This may be why so few political candidates have sported facial hair since women gained the right to vote. Yet voting records show that on average the bearded policymakers vote like the others on feminist issues.

Perhaps politicians grow beards not for sexist reasons but for the reason that facial-hair researchers have unearthed again and again: The beard gets respect. A thick beard signals virility, sexual potency, manhood, and natural strength and authority. Across several studies, men with facial hair are rated as more masculine, dominant, older, and in some cases attractive.

AR I'm growing a beard.

2016 January 2

Read Greats

Daisy Dunn

Latin was squeezed out of many British schools with the introduction of the National Curriculum from 1989. Classics was commonly dismissed as a stale and arcane subject, beyond the interest of anyone outside the old public schools or Oxbridge. Now that is changing.

Last year the British Museum in London staged an exhibition dedicated to the Greek aesthetic. It showcased Greek and Roman craftsmanship as well as contemporary thought about the past. Latin and Greek suffered tremendously in our time and are only now returning.

Knowledge of Latin used to be prerequisite for studying at the top universities. But in 1960 both Oxford and Cambridge dispensed with Latin as an entry requirement for non-classics candidates. That year too it was decided that Latin would no longer be obligatory at O level.

The ancient Greeks appeal to military men too. US generals Colin Powell and David Petraeus studied Greek military texts. Change is coming: Oxford scholar Peter Frankopan began his new history of the world not with Greece but with the rise of the Persian empire.

2016 January 1

Saint Augustine

Joos van Gent

Augustine, born in 354 CE, had a strong sexual appetite. Moving to Carthage as a young man, he sank into a "seething cauldron of lust" and admitted to "procuring the fruits of death" while in church. He also took a concubine with whom he had a son. He prayed for chastity, but "not yet".

Augustine came to reject sex but saw that evil was part of human nature. As a student, he joined a club whose members went around harassing other students. He joined because he was lonely. He slept around for the same reason. He realized that our vices are often misdirected virtues.

Confessions, composed in his early 40s, reads like the work of a great novelist or poet.

Back to Top