BLOG 2017 Q4
SpaceX launch, California, December 22

Iran vs America
Dorsa Derakhshani

Chess is a game I love. From
2011 to 2015, I played for the
Iranian national team. But time
and time again, those in charge
of the team showed that they
cared more about the scarf
covering my hair than the
brain under it.

The Iranian chess federation
has barred me from playing in
Iran for not wearing a hijab in
2017. I have joined the United
States Chess Federation and
started school at St Louis
University. I am applying
for US citizenship.

Nick Clegg
New Year Honour:
Sir Nick Clegg

The Handmaiden
The Handmaiden
Kim Min-Hee and Kim Tae-Ri

AR Korean handmaiden and
Japanese lady find love and
foil bad men — fun plot,
sex well done.



2017 December 31

No God But God

Reza Aslan

AR Reza Aslan is a good writer and a good historian of religion. His 2013 book Zealot on Jesus was excellent, so I had high hopes for this 2011 book on Islam. Many hopes were indeed fulfilled: the historical timeline is clear, the known facts are in place, the conjectures are properly flagged, the context for contemporaries and believers is sketched credibly, and the final result is easy and pleasant to read.

Any historian of Islam will be confronted with controversy and compelled to take sides. Aslan takes the side of the Sufis, a relatively gentle and reflective tradition in Islam with mystic leanings, which grew up in the shade of the Shia branch of the Mohammedan faith in lands that had rich and deep traditions of belief and philosophy. In doing so, he distances himself from the Sunni branch and those of its variants such as Wahhabism that have attracted Western anger in recent years.

What Aslan does not do, and what diminishes his book for me, is stand back far enough from the entire tradition of veneration for the revelations of the Prophet, and their expression in the series of texts that form the Quran, to see the wood for the trees. Even today, no pious Muslim would dare regard the revelations or their canonical expression as anything but holy, but for a modern Westerner with some respect for science and rational thinking the leap of imagination required to take such affirmed holiness at face value is just too great. This reader at least is driven to taking a remote anthropological stance on the Arab and related societies of a thousand plus or minus a few hundred years ago and regarding their strange belief system as shot through with hardly less nonsense than any other ancient myth or curious narrative.

Despite his Muslim roots, Aslan is a modern Western writer, so he must must see the need to keep such rational readers on board, even if in the end he parts company with them in continuing to venerate his holy relics. There may be a learning curve here, for he does a fine job in standing back from Christian or other pieties in discussing Jesus in his later book Zealot; perhaps it is easier to stand back from a faith one feels no residual need to defend or believe in. Modern societies with Christian or Muslim roots are surely robust enough to rise above superstitious awe in face of alleged revelations and the purportedly holy texts that spring from them, or at any rate we can only hope so, if we are to avoid a new clash of civilizations.

Like Aslan, I have some sympathy for the Sufi thread in the story of Islam, and feel some distaste for the hardened institutional forms of the Muslim faith, which like their Christian equivalents have led to serial disasters in the societies swayed by them. Unlike him, however, I see little hope for a revival of Sufism in the Muslim world and indeed little hope of sufficient reform within Islam to accommodate it to the constraints of life in an age of global connectivity, robots, and nuclear weapons. Only a clean separation of secular life, including politics, from the inner life of religion can enable us to regulate the modern world, it seems to me, and even a revived Sufism would be of no obvious help in doing so.

In summary, then, a modern history of Islam, especially one that like this volume takes us up to contemporary political issues surrounding the ongoing wars in Muslim majority societies, can only work for Western readers if it rises above a partisan perspective. As it is, Aslan seems to feel sympathy for the victim narrative that Western imperialists have cruelly exploited the Muslim world, which must therefore rise up and restore its fortunes by defeating the infidels. This cuts no ice with me, even in the context of a volume of history that otherwise deserves some praise.

Religion vs Atheists

Alexandra Köhler

The Egyptian parliament is drafting a bill to criminalize atheists. MP Mustafa Bakri: "The spread of atheism is an expression of decadence and lack of faith and threatens the whole of society."

A 2014 study put the number of atheists in Egypt at 886. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi faces elections in 2018 and plans to take a stand against atheism and homosexuality.

2017 December 30

Brexit — Populist Spasm

Lord Adonis

The European Union Withdrawal Bill is the worst legislation of my lifetime. It arrives soon in the House of Lords and I feel duty bound to oppose it relentlessly.

Brexit is a dangerous populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump. After the narrow referendum vote for an undefined proposition to leave the EU, it could have been attempted without rupturing our essential European trade and political relations.

Britain needs to be deeply engaged, responsible and consistent in its European policy. When we have failed to be so in the past, the security and prosperity of our continent have been in jeopardy.

For Her Majesty's Government, there is no such thing as splendid isolation. When Lord Salisbury pronounced this as British policy in the imperial late-Victorian era, it was followed within barely a decade by the First World War and what was, in effect, a 30-year European war between the forces of democracy on the one hand, and Communism and extreme nationalism on the other.

The stakes may not appear so high as this at the moment, but no-one observing Putin's Russia, and the rise of authoritarian nationalism in Poland and Hungary, can doubt the resonances with the past or the dangers ahead.

AR Perhaps the ship of state is beginning to turn away from the iceberg.

2017 December 29

Many Worlds and Black Holes

Anil Ananthaswamy

A black hole either destroys information, violating quantum mechanics, or is surrounded by a blazing  firewall, violating general relativity. Sean Carroll says the paradox disappears when the evolution of black holes is understood via the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

The quantum state of the universe is described by the global wave function. Whenever there are many possible outcomes for a physical process, the wave function in the many worlds interpretation branches, with one branch for each outcome. Once the branches cease to interact, they evolve as separate worlds — and so do the observers in the worlds.

For such an observer, spacetime behaves as in general relativity and the black hole has no firewall. Conservation of information applies to the global wave function and not to its individual branches. The evolution of the wave function is unitary and there is no global loss of information.


John Wenz

Simulations of the formation of planetary systems show what happens to moons as their planets are still forming. Planets are born in turbulent clouds of rocks, where they are jostled around violently. They frequently collide with neighboring rocks and dislodge any early moons orbiting them.

Most planets shed their primordial moons. The moons that orbit close in stay, but those further out can come loose. They can remain bound to their home stars as new planets, but most are flung out into interstellar space. There could be many more stray moons than stars in the Milky Way.


Edward Lucas

On leadership of Europe, France is weaker than Germany but more ambitious. France will accept German leadership on federalising the eurozone but wants Germany to pay the bill. Germany, still lacking a government since the September election, has no answer.

German politicians are unwilling to tell their voters that European security means dealing with Russia, which instigates conflicts abroad to distract from stagnation and failure at home. German public opinion loathes the idea of confronting the Kremlin. Germans also flinch from confronting authoritarianism in Poland and Hungary.

Germany aims to make Russia its main energy supplier with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea. Germany feels guilty toward Russia because of WW2 but seems not to notice the way Russia treats Ukraine. Germany needs a new Ostpolitik.

AR I think Lucas fails to understand Germany in the rest of his source text.

2017 December 28

Brexit — Suicide

Anatole Kaletsky

UK 2017 was like a suicide who jumps off a tall building and says as he falls: "So far, so good!"

British prime minister Theresa May agreed to all the EU demands: €50 billion of budget payments, ECJ jurisdiction over the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and an open border with Ireland.

Both scenarios usually proposed for the UK relationship with the EU can now be dismissed. Given the agreement, a hard Brexit is no longer possible. Without cherry-picking, a soft Brexit is equally impossible.

A fake Brexit, similar to the Norway deal, would retain many current UK privileges, in exchange for complying with EU rules and regulations, including free movement of labor, contributing to the EU budget, and accepting the jurisdiction of EU law. Such a deal would carry a huge political cost. In Johnsonian language, Britain would be reduced to a vassal state of the EU.

This status is what the UK has already requested for a transition period up to the end of 2020. There is almost no chance of Britain ever negotiating the deep and special partnership May has promised. EU leaders will not let the UK have cake and eat it.

The only way out of the fake Brexit deadlock is a further transition — how the Norway deal began. This is the dreaded Hotel California scenario.

That leaves just one alternative: no Brexit. Meanwhile, the suicide jumper is still falling.

AR The UK must learn to love the EU and live, not loathe it and die.

Brexit — Tragedy

Imke Henkel

Brexit minister David Davis has proved to be a bumbler. He scorned the progress that Theresa May made weeks ago with a sketchy deal that lets the UK move on with the talks. Just a declaration of intent, Davis said, until days later he had to retract.

The UK is stuck. If it wants to leave the EU without major economic damage, it must remain in the single market. But if it stays in the single market, it will not be sovereign and will have to comply with all the EU rules that Brexiteers wanted to shake off.

Eager to please voters, May tells them they can both have cake and eat it. Her stubborn denial of reality shows how toxic Brexit has become. Angry rejection of the EU by a few Brexiteers has gradually infected the entire Conservative party.

Nostalgia for empire set British nationalists against the EU. They refused to settle in the European family of nations. In recent decades, the British economy relied increasingly on its financial sector and debt-fueled consumption — until the 2008 crash.

Politics is a victim of this mess. Before the referendum, over three-quarters of MPs pledged to vote for remaining in the EU. Nine months later, over three-quarters voted to trigger Brexit. They misrepresented a narrow popular vote as a landslide.

AR The tragedy stems from the winner-take-all voting system.

2017 December 27


Umair Haque

Civilization is a process in which you plus me is  better than you minus me. A society reduced to you versus me or you minus me  is broken. Soon or later, because it cannot invest in public goods, it will begin to fail.

America today is a place where regress has been normalized. Americans live lives of impossible vulnerability, struggling to survive by pulling down the next person. US society winnows out the weak and rewards the strong, adopting the principle you minus me, or you versus me.

You plus me is the harder choice. It requires humility, courage, wisdom, grace, and taming our lower selves. Although it is easier to believe someone different from you is lazy and subhuman, accepting you plus me pays off a greater sum in the end, not only materially but also morally.

Civilization makes progress when we choose the path of you plus me. The question is whether we keep expanding the boundaries of what it means to be civilized — or follow America to the edge of the abyss.

AR I had to work on this one:
Choose not US but EU plus me!


Idealized European Union with equipopulous member states
European Parliament representation needs such constituencies,
not only to ensure proportionality but also to loosen state ties.

No Poles
A fishery in Oxfordshire



Japan passes ¥5.19 trillion
2018 defense budget to
counter Nork threat


UK immigration minister
Brandon Lewis: "Leaving the EU
gives us a unique opportunity
to restore our national identity
.. I am delighted to announce
that the British passport will
be returning to the iconic blue
and gold design after we have
 left the EU in 2019."

AR Rule Britannia, by jingo!

Boeing Defense
Boeing MQ25 UAS US Navy
drone tanker will refuel
navy combat aircraft

UK deputy prime minister
Damian Green sacked
over computer porn

Matthieu Ricard

The most fundamental aspect
of mind is luminous awareness.

Meditators can distinguish
clearly between pleasant and
aversive stimuli, but they
react much less emotionally
than control subjects.

Trained meditators acquire the
faculty to maintain an overall
emotional balance that favors
inner strength and peace.

Costica Bradatan

Philosophy has never only
been about rational

No sooner do you start philosophizing than you
begin crafting a piece
of literature.

EZ Horizon

European expertise in STEM
creates an opportunity for
EZ growth — the Internet of
Things. The EU challenge is
to steer public policy and
regulation via its €80 billion
R&D program Horizon 2020.


Juan Maldacena
(YouTube, 15 min)


2017 Boxing Day

Six Minutes in May

Nicholas Shakespeare

AR Nicolas Shakespeare has written a history that reads like a novel. By turning his entire tale around the six minutes of a parliamentary division on the evening of May 8, 1940, he gives the story of how Winston Churchill took over as British prime minister from Neville Chamberlain a dramatic twist. He sees the division as the watershed moment after eight months of war between Britain and Germany, when the island nation determined at last to pull itself together and fight the foe in earnest by putting Winston the imperial warhorse at the head of the charge.

The catalyst for this act of parliamentary resolve was the Norway debate that led to the division. The debate in the House of Commons was a first attempt to address the governmental weaknesses revealed by a catastrophically bungled British campaign against the German invasion of Norway. The debate, although its exchanges sound to a modern ear as dry and constricted by parliamentary protocol as any war of words in the imperial sounding box, laid bare a campaign so incompetent and confused as to beggar belief.

Shakespeare does not shy from pointing out how Churchill himself, as First Lord of the Admiralty and the leading champion of both the strategy and the execution of the Norway campaign, bore as damning a share of responsibility for the debacle as he had for the comparably bungled Gallipoli campaign in 1915, when he had also been First Lord of the Admiralty. The 1915 disaster led to his disgrace and humiliation, but amazingly he survived in 1940. Somehow, the blame for the mess was shifted to Chamberlain, whose restrained and uncharismatic performance as prime minister seemed to threaten further dismay if not swiftly addressed.

In the usual telling of this tale, the more decisive watershed came on the day after the division, when the foreign secretary Lord Halifax, who had been seen on all sides until then as the heir apparent for the top job, revealed he had no stomach for the task of waging war and essentially handed the vacancy to Churchill. As a novelist, Shakespeare obviously takes delight in reconstructing in damning detail the open secret of the intense romance between Halifax and Lady Alexandra Metcalfe (Baba to her friends) that amply explains the impossibility of Halifax ever achieving glory as a warrior against so implacable a foe as Adolf Hitler. After that writerly indulgence, Shakespeare says simply that Halifax, whose former role as Viceroy of India had obviously spoiled him for a lesser life in 10 Downing Street, had the decency to defer gracefully to his old friend Winston.

A sceptical reader might hazard a guess as to why Shakespeare turns his tale on the Norway division, namely that his relative Geoffrey Shakespeare was a minister in the Chamberlain government and played a significant role in the course of the Norway debate, whereas he played no such role in the dealings with Halifax. This personal interest encourages Shakespeare the historian to wax eloquent on the appalling incompetence of the British conduct of the Norway campaign and thus to air a chapter in the history of the war that was too gratefully forgotten in Britain when Churchill began to fulminate against the Nazis and to get a grip on the British war effort. Today, when the historical mind glides easily from the defeats in Poland and France to the victories in the Mediterranean theatre and in Normandy, we do well to recall these finer details.

Altogether, Shakespeare has done a fine job of historical reconstruction here. The book is big and well furnished with the scholarly apparatus that will earn it a respected place on historical bookshelves, yet still spiced with the novelistic dash that makes the enterprise come alive. For my taste, the book is overloaded with trivial detail and lamed by excessive respect for the preposterous paraphernalia of British parliamentary procedure and tradition, so I refuse to praise the work unreservedly, but for all practical purposes, in a crowded marketplace, the book is a triumph.

2017 Christmas Day

Christmas Threatened by Islamization?

Thomas Straubhaar

Many Germans think Christmas is threatened by the Islamization of the West. But at the end of 2015, between 4.4 and 4.7 million Muslims lived in Germany, alongside about 23.8 million Catholics and 22.3 million Protestants. Three points:

1 It is not new that a majority overestimates the significance of minorities. World history offers too many examples of how small groups of people of other faiths were persecuted and murdered.

2 Foreigners are often instrumentalized by domestic interest groups. Religious minorities offer an easy way to personalize complex challenges and make them seem real. Again, this is not new.

3 For religious minorities, the perceived change seems more of a threat than the number. The media often devote more attention to the new and the unknown minorities than to familiar ones.

Christmas is endangered not by Muslims but by the dwindling role of Christianity.


Die Zeit

Since November 2015, the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party has governed Poland. The party has an absolute majority in both chambers of parliament. It has pushed through laws to influence the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the State Justice Council in Poland as part of a judicial reform. Critics fear for the independence of the Polish judiciary.

The European Commission has initiated proceedings under Article 7 of the EU Treaty to examine whether Poland adheres to all democratic and constitutional principles. Voting rights can be withdrawn as a sanction. The Commission has also brought lawsuits against Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in the European Court of Justice for refusing to accept refugees.

A Europe of Values

Heinrich August Winkler

The European Union requires that member states guarantee democratic and constitutional order, respect for human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities.

In 2010, Viktor Orbán became prime minister in Hungary for the second time. Since then, he has acted to limit the powers of the Constitutional Court and the independence of the judiciary.

Since 2015, when his PiS party won power in Poland, Jarosław Kaczyński has worked closely with Orbán. His attack on the foundations of the constitutional state has provoked the European Commission to start legal proceedings against Poland.

The European project is now in crisis. Its renewal must begin with the salvation of its normative foundations.

The European Parliament cannot easily represent all EU citizens. A parliament that gave all member states real representation would be too big, so Malta and Luxembourg are over-represented and Germany and France are underrepresented. The parliament cannot claim the same democratic legitimacy as the Bundestag or the French National Assembly.

Perhaps half of the Members of the European Parliament could be elected through transnational party lists. A European party system would generalize social interests and bring them to bear beyond national borders. But this would still lead to alienation from a perceived elite.

European national parliaments have a special responsibility for integration with regard to Europe. Without the participation of the national parliaments, European decision making is insufficiently democratic. Europe needs a normative core for the European project to succeed.

AR Christian norms?

2017 Christmas Eve

The Quran

Lesley Hazleton

The Quran is haunted by the desert. Nowhere else do you get a greater feel for the benignity of water. Heaven is the oasis of oases, rinsed with sweet waters. Allah speaks a special language, in which mountains and words and springs are the syllables. The overall tenor of the Quran is one of mercy and forgiveness, which are evoked everywhere, almost obsessively.

No God But God
Reza Aslan

Ibn al-Arabi (1165—1240 CE) reformulated the traditional Muslim profession of faith as: There is no being other than the being of God; There is no reality other than the reality of God.

For al-Arabi, the Quranic statement that God created humanity from a single soul means the universe itself is a single being. Men who have realized their essential oneness with the divine being become perfect or universal men. The perfect man is the mirror in which the divine attributes are perfectly reflected, or the medium through which God is made manifest.

For Sufis, the paradigm of the perfect man is the Prophet Muhammad. They see Muhammad as many Christian Gnostics saw Jesus, as the eternal logos, as the light shining in darkness.

So the relationship between God and Muhammad is like that between the Sun and the Moon: The Sun is powerful and creative; The Moon is beautiful and responsive.

AR Glorious poetry


Pawel Pawlikowski (dir.)

AR Beautiful movie

2017 December 23

Decadent America

James Traub

Donald Trump has legitimized the language of selfishness. During the campaign, he boasted about the gimmicks he had deployed to avoid paying taxes. There is no purer example of the politics of decadence than the tax legislation he has signed:

1 The cuts blatantly benefit the president himself through the abolition of the alternative minimum tax and the special treatment of real estate income. Americans hardly even notice the mockery this implies of the public servant's dedication to public good.

2 The cuts have been targeted to help Republican voters and hurt Democrats, above all through the abolition or sharp reduction of the deductibility of state and local taxes. The cuts are the economic equivalent of gerrymandering.

3 The cuts will not begin to pay for themselves. The White House and congressional leaders simply dismiss the forecasts as too gloomy. Neutral predictions of the effects of tax cuts on the budget must be wrong, because the effects they foresee are bad ones.

A democratic society becomes decadent when its politics becomes morally and intellectually corrupt. New here is the sheer blitheness of the contempt for the public good. Worship of the marketplace and elevation of selfishness to a public virtue — this is America First.


Ronnie de Sousa

Evolutionary biology supports existentialism. Practical moral claims presuppose the values of life, health and happiness, but the fact that something is desired does not prove it should be. One idea is that our desires stem from our authentic human nature.

The doctrine of natural law is slippery. Law seems to refer to descriptive generalizations about what happens, but the meaning is closer to that of legislation. Laws of the first sort cannot be broken, laws of the second sort are wishes.

We imagine nature sometimes makes mistakes. Organs that fail to perform normally or organisms so different they are unable to thrive used to be called freaks of nature. But in light of evolution, we are the descendants of millions of freaks.

Natural law theory cannot tell us what goals to pursue. Evolution has programmed us to be selfish and cruel, so naturalness is no reason to value what we care about. Beyond a few basic biological needs, there seems to be no limit to what humans can desire.

Variety and diversity are fundamental conditions for evolution. The human invention of language generated an explosion of possibilities. For humans, existence precedes essence — who we are is determined by our choices.

AR Facts shape our choices — contra existentialism.

2017 December 22

Theory of Everything

Natalie Wolchover

Any TOE must fit gravity into the quantum theory so that gravitons behave collectively like curved spacetime. String theory posits that gravitons and other particles are tiny vibrating strings. But the five known versions of string theory are all perturbative — they break down in some regimes.

In 1995, Edward Witten discovered the mother of all string theories. He found various indications that the perturbative string theories fit together into a theory he dubbed M-theory.

In 1997, Juan Maldacena discovered the AdS/CFT correspondence, which gives a complete definition of M-theory for the special case of AdS spacetime geometries. For such imaginary worlds, physicists can describe processes at all energies, including black hole formation and evaporation.

M-theory is the leading TOE candidate. But its strings and the compactified spatial dimensions that they wriggle in are 10^15 times smaller than our experiments can resolve. And some macroscopic signatures of the theory, such as cosmic strings and supersymmetry, have not shown up.

Brexit — Departmental Disarray

Jon Stone

UK secretary of state David Davis presides over the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) with about 600 employees. But there is funding for an additional 143, and 44% of the staff plan to leave within the next year. Around 9% of them are leaving every quarter, 4 times the civil service average and the highest in Whitehall, except for the Cabinet Office.

Brexit — Impact Reports

Oliver Wright

MPs were left wondering why they bothered after 39 DExEU sectoral reports were finally placed in the public domain. The Commons Brexit select committee published them following weeks of wrangling with the government.

The reports offer the insights that all sectors of the economy rely on electricity, that Boeing and Airbus manufacture aircraft, that postal services are visible and valued by members of the public and businesses, and that space is a global industry.

DExEU spokesman: "Our analysis is not, nor has it ever been, a series of impact assessments examining the quantitative impact of the UK's exit on the 58 sectors. We are undertaking a comprehensive programme of analytical work."

Brexit — Second Referendum

Gina Miller

I have long believed that referendums diminish democracies rather than empower them. In the UK, our representative system allows us to avoid them. We elect and pay our MPs to act on our behalf.

In most countries, if referendums are to be binding, they are held with a supermajority requirement. In the House of Commons, a two-thirds majority is required for a general election to be called outside the fixed term of a parliament. These supermajorities are an acknowledgment that a simple majority is not enough to license significant societal change, and to ensure legitimacy.

But as with nearly everything connected with Brexit, none of this was thought through. No super­majority requirement was built in, and three groups with a material interest in the outcome — 16‑17 year olds, a large percentage of expatriates, and EU citizens working and paying tax in the UK — were not allowed to vote. Also, the poll was far too binary and bereft of detail.

Even with these negatives, I have up until now been against the idea of a second referendum. But I am coming round to the idea. A second referendum could be avoided by a general election.

2017 December 21

Tax Cuts

Jordan Weissmann

The Republican tax bill rewards wealth. It is designed to ensure that corporate shareholders and private business owners can pocket more US national income each year, before passing it onto their children, with only the flimsiest economic rationale to justify this.

The danger posed by accumulated wealth is that when the rate of return on capital assets exceeds the rate of economic growth, inequality is likely to increase. Growing inequality paves the way for moneyed interests to prevail — plutocracy.

Dry Mars

Jon Wade et al.

Water disappeared from the Martian surface soon after its formation. Although Mars was lost some water to space, the nature of its crust suggests that hydration reactions led to sequestration of the crust.

Our calculations suggest that over 9% by volume of the Martian mantle may contain hydrous mineral species as a consequence of surface reactions, compared to about 4% by volume of the Earth mantle. Martian crust is unlike terrestrial crust, which becomes denser on dehydration, so early Martian crust was buried under a lithosphere comprising a single tectonic plate, with only the warmer, lower crust involved in mantle convection.

The buried crust provided a sink for hydrospheric water. On the early Earth, the upper mantle was less hydrated and water was retained close to its surface. The water allowed the evolution of life.

Sea Dogs

Ed O'Loughlin

Joseph Conrad was feted in his lifetime as the greatest writer of English-language fiction. His most widely read novel, Heart of Darkness, is reset in the Vietnam war in the movie Apocalypse Now.

Conrad's leading characters are almost all white males, his women often little more than plot points.
All that Boy's Own stuff about courage and cowardice and honour and the sea was far removed in sensibility and time from the raw material of modern fiction.

Born in 1857 into the Polish gentry of Russian Ukraine, Conrad was orphaned as a teenager and eventually settled in England, where he rose through the ranks of the merchant marine to become a captain. Long passages on clippers to Australia, a stint on a tramp steamer sailing out of Singapore, and a hellish cruise up and down the Congo river furnished the raw experiences for his novels.

"Conrad promoted the values (as he imagined them) of the szlachta [Polish landed gentry] and the sailing ship; the dreams of the depressive who at once depended on and doubted them; and the self-critical awareness of the white man who traveled overseas and saw the limits of his own society, even if he didn't enter into the possibilities of others."
Maya Jasanoff

2017 December 20

America vs China

People's Daily Online

The new US national security strategy labels China as a rival power seeking to undermine US national interests. The "America First" policy is all about increasing competition between countries, and is based on the old way of thinking that competition rather than cooperation defines the current global environment.

The United States has not given up its hegemonic ambitions and will do everything it can do to try to ensure that world powers rise under the United States, and not with it and never above it. It is determined to try to make the global system better serve its own interests, rather than the interests of the global community.

The strategy signals a return to the dark time when zero-sum games defined world affairs. It overemphasizes the competitive dimension of international politics, and fails to lay out a road map to expand the space for cooperation. The result is likely to be counterproductive to the goal of making America great again.

The economies of China and the United States are more complementary than competitive. In 2016, the volume of bilateral trade between the two countries exceeded $550 billion, with two-way investment surpassing $200 billion. China remains committed to world peace, global development, and international order.

Putting its own national interests above the interests of the international community is selfish and will isolate the United States. America should accept the rise of China. It is high time for the United States to abandon its zero-sum mentality and work with China on a common goal of prosperity and progress for all.

China and the United States offer starkly different visions for the future of global affairs. China has laid out a vision and approach that features openness, inclusiveness, and win-win cooperation. China is on the right side of history.

May vs Putin

Rafael Behr

Theresa May has accused the Kremlin of interference in British democracy. Vladimir Putin detests NATO and EU influence in countries that were formerly Soviet territory. Undermining that influence is his goal.

The Brexit delusion is that enslavement by Brussels inhibits a UK return to the global first division. In the EU, Britain has benefited from aggregating its middleweight power with Germany, France, and 25 other nations. That is not a Brussels empire but a model of peaceful, collaborative power without historical equal.

Brexit has already fractured an alliance that will be hard to repair. May will never be a friend of Putin, but she is committed to a policy he would choose for her anyway.

Quantum Gravity

Sabine Hossenfelder

General relativity works well when the quantum effects of spacetime are small, but when they become large we need a theory of quantum gravity. We have several candidate theories but none of them is generally accepted. Here are ten speculations:

1 In quantum gravity we expect that spacetime will fluctuate wildly even in the absence of matter. In the quantum world, the vacuum never rests, and neither do space and time.

2 Quantum spacetime could be full of microscopic black holes. It could have wormholes or give rise to baby universes, which are small bubbles that pinch off from the mother universe.

3 And since this is a quantum theory, spacetime could both create a baby universe and not create one at the same time. The fabric of spacetime may be made of discrete components that only look continuous at macroscopic scales.

4 In most approaches to quantum gravity, spacetime is made of strings, loops, qubits, or some kind of spacetime atoms. The individual constituents can only be resolved when probed with extremely high energies, far beyond what we can achieve on Earth.

5 In some of the condensed-matter based approaches, spacetime can be elastic or have viscosity. This might lead to observable consequences. We are looking for such effects by studying messenger particles that reach us from far away in the cosmos.

6 Spacetime might affect how light travels through it. It might not be entirely transparent, or light of different colors might travel at different speeds to cause dispersion. This too could be observable in future experiments.

7 Spacetime fluctuations might destroy the ability of light from distant sources to create interference patterns. This effect has been looked for and not found so far in the visible range.

8 In regions of strong curvature, time might turn into space. This could happen inside black holes or at the big bang. In such a case, what we now know as a spacetime with 3D space and 1D time might transform into 4D Euclidean space.

9 Spacetime could be nonlocally connected with tiny shortcuts spanning throughout the universe. Such nonlocal connections should exist if its underlying structure is non-geometric, like a graph or network. In such cases proximity is not fundamental but only derived, and it should be possible for very distant places to be connected by accident.

10 To combine quantum theory with gravity, we might have to update quantum theory. This might open entirely new possibilities.

2017 December 19

German Economics

Gideon Rachman

The Germans are right: Economics is — or should be — part of moral philosophy.

Successful politicians have to do more than just deliver economic growth. They also need to offer voters a vision of the economy in which virtue is rewarded and vice is punished. Since 2008, too many politicians have lost it.

Until the financial crisis, a free-market economy was held to reward effort and success and to spread opportunity. Globalization was defended as a moral project, since it involved reducing inequality and poverty across the world.

After the financial crisis, the globalists began to lose the moral arguments. The fact that banks were bailed out as living standards stagnated offended many voters. The door was opened for a populist to say the system is rigged.

The economy is not just about growth. It is also about justice.

UK Defence — F-35 Costs

The Guardian

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is one of the most expensive projects in military history. The UK defence committee said it was unacceptable for the Ministry of Defence to keep parliament and the public in the dark about the costs.

The UK has bought 14 F-35 jets to fly from its new aircraft carriers and plans to buy a further 124. A National Audit Office report put the total UK cost of the program up to 2026 at £9.1 billion. The MoD declined to offer even a rough figure beyond 2026.

The defence committee views the MoD failure to provide cost estimates as unsatisfactory. It called on the MoD to provide biannual updates on the F-35 program, including details of progress on various identified problems.

Quantum Spacetime

Anil Ananthaswamy

In new work, ChunJun Cao and Sean Carroll suggest that spacetime and gravity could emerge from quantum entanglement.

Twenty years ago, Juan Maldacena discovered his AdS/CFT duality between a theory of gravity for a volume of space and a quantum field theory for the surface of the volume. Since then, others have shown that the area of certain surfaces within such a volume is related to the amount of quantum entanglement between different regions in it. Changing the amount of entanglement in the surface creates or destroys spacetime in the volume.

Cao and Carroll have tried to extract the kind of spacetime around us — mostly flat but with small gravitational undulations — from standard quantum mechanics.

They used a Hilbert space split into tiny parts, each one corresponding to a point in 3D space, and assumed that the closer these points are to each other, the greater the entanglement between them. They also assumed that increasing the entanglement in one region decreases it elsewhere, and vice versa. They show that the equations governing the dynamics of entanglement are similar to the equations of general relativity.

In other words, spacetime and gravity emerge from entanglement.

US National Security Strategy

The White House

Putting America first is the duty of our government and the foundation for effective US leadership in the world. Four vital national interests form the backbone of this commitment:

Protect the homeland, the American people, and the American way of life
Promote American prosperity
Preserve peace through strength
Advance American influence

This NSS is guided by a return to principled realism. The strategy acknowledges the central role of power in world affairs, affirms that sovereign states are the best hope for a peaceful world, and clearly defines US national interests. It is grounded in the knowledge that promoting American values is key to spreading peace and prosperity around the globe.

Full report (68 pages)


Neuer Polizeipanzer in Leipzig: Das Monogrammsticken der Sitzrückenlehnen ist ein mit Eichenlaub umringtes
und mit stilisierten Adlerschwingen flankiertes Wappen, zusammen mit dem Frakturschriftzug
"Spezialeinsatzkommando Sachsen" — eine altbewährte Ästhetik.


Financial Times estimates
that the value of UK GDP is
now around 0.9% lower than
was possible if the UK had
voted to stay in the EU.
That equates to almost
exactly £350 million
a week lost to the
British economy.

New survey:
Remain 51%
Leave 41%

"I think the key national priority
right now is stopping Brexit.
I would put it above every-
thing else right now
for the country."
Tony Blair

"The biggest idea in human
history is probably the
European Union. The EU has
the highest standard of living
in human history. People live
longer, happier, healthier,
saner, safer, gentler lives than
anywhere else in the world ..
The biggest ideas in human
history all come from a fierce
belief in human possibility."
Umair Haque

Karl Polanyi
"To allow the market
mechanism to be the sole
director of the fate of
human beings and their
natural environment ..
would result in the
demolition of society."
Karl Polanyi


2017 December 18

Brexit — Commons Statement

Theresa May

The guidelines published by President Tusk on Friday point to the shared desire of the EU and the UK to make rapid progress on an implementation period, with formal talks beginning very soon.

During this strictly time-limited implementation period which we will now begin to negotiate, we would not be in the single market or the customs union, as we will have left the EU. But we would propose that our access to one another's markets would continue as now, while we prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin our future partnership.

During this period we intend to register new arrivals from the EU as preparation for our future immigration system. And we will prepare for our future independent trade policy by negotiating — and where possible signing — trade deals with third countries, which could come into force after the conclusion of the implementation period.

AR I fear this goes far beyond what the EU can accept.


Ferdinand Mount

Born in 1749, Johann Wolfgang Goethe became the national poet of a resurgent Germany. His collected works fill 42 volumes. A new biography by Rüdiger Safranski is billed as the first definitive biography in a generation.

Safranski portrays Goethe as a genius who was constantly reinventing himself. Goethe revolted against the austere Lutheranism of his boyhood and was a stranger to guilt. He believed nature was the only true divinity.

Goethe lived in Weimar and hero-worshiped Napoleon. After the great German defeat at nearby Jena in 1806, Goethe was impatient with people who "bewail an entity that has supposedly been lost, an entity that not a soul in Germany has ever seen in his life" — their freedom.

Friedrich Nietzsche: "Goethe is the last German before whom I feel reverence."

AR I greatly enjoyed Safranski's biographies of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.

2017 December 17


Jan-Werner Müller

Seven theses:

1 Populism is neither the authentic part of modern democratic politics nor a kind of pathology caused by irrational citizens. It is the permanent shadow of representative politics.

2 Not everyone who criticizes elites is a populist. In addition to being anti-elitist, populists are anti-pluralist. They claim that they and they alone represent the people.

3 Populists can represent the common good as willed by the people. But what matters for populists is a symbolic representation of the real people from which they then deduce the correct policy.

4 While populists often call for referenda, such exercises are not about initiating open democratic debates. Populists simply wish to be confirmed in what they have already determined the real will be the people to be.

5 Populists can govern in line with their commitment to the idea that only they represent the people. They will engage in occupying the state, mass clientelism and corruption, and the suppression of a critical civil society.

6 Populists are a real danger to democracy. But that does not mean one should not engage them in political debate. Talking with populists is not the same as talking like populists.

7 Populism is not a corrective to liberal democracy in the sense of bringing politics closer to the people or reasserting popular sovereignty. But it can be useful in showing that parts of the population are underrepresented.

2017 December 16


Joy Connolly

As a professor, I believe academics should think afresh about how we train our graduate students. Doctoral study should not be aimed purely at creating academics. Ours is a connected globe, and we need to reform doctoral education with this in mind.

Tests show that college students leave college unready for decent jobs. But humans are not things. The role of doctoral study is to equip academically very smart students to be many things, potentially, over the course of their lives.

Professors are decathletes of the mind. A marketing professional would describe them as expert speakers, media design technicians, project managers, and more. We design and run research projects, run budgets, hire staff, build networks, and stump for funding.

Faculty life requires many more practical skills than the title Doctor of Philosophy suggests. We must be more honest about this. We need our best and brightest to make their knowledge useful to the world and to society.

The Universe

Ethan Siegel

The universe is made of matter and not antimatter, even though the laws of nature appear symmetric between the two. It seems to have about five times as much dark matter as all the normal matter we see. And we need dark energy to add up to more than all the rest combined. Three puzzles — the neutrino might explain them all.

The standard model of particle physics has six flavors of quarks and leptons, their antiparticles, the gauge bosons, and the Higgs, but leaves the mystery of why the particle masses have the values they do. The standard model of cosmology has an inflationary big bang, matter and not antimatter, and a history of structure formation that leads to the modern universe, but leaves the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.

Neutrino oscillations — where neutrinos flip between flavors as they fly through space — imply that neutrinos have a small mass. We see neutrinos with left spin and anti-neutrinos with right spin. A symmetry would give an equal balance of left and right spins. The asymmetry suggests that neutrinos are not normal Dirac fermions but Majorana fermions, which are their own antiparticles.

Normal left and right neutrinos might both have a mass of around 100 GeV. A heavy particle could break the symmetry to give a right neutrino with a huge mass of around 10^15 GeV and a left neutrino with a tiny mass of around 0.01 eV. The huge-mass neutrinos could be the cold dark matter candidates known as Wimpzillas. The tiny-mass neutrinos could be the ones we detect. More:

— The vacuum energy of the universe suggests a cosmological constant of around (10^19 GeV)^4, which is too big by about 120 orders of magnitude. But if you replace 10^19 GeV with the neutrino mass of 0.01 eV, you get a number that matches nicely. This is suggestive.

— The broken symmetry gives more matter than antimatter in the universe. Mixed-state neutrinos can create more leptons than anti-leptons in the neutrino sector, giving rise to a cosmic asymmetry.

— Neutrinoless double beta decay would tell us that neutrinos have Majorana properties. Such decay, if it exists, has a very long lifetime, but future experiments should be able to measure it.


Katia Moskvitch

In the standard model, matter and antimatter particles carry opposite electrical charge. When matter and antimatter particles collide, they annihilate in a flash of radiation. The big bang should have produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter. But a small fraction of the original matter survived to form the known universe.

Matter and antimatter might decay differently. This would violate charge-parity (CP) symmetry, which conserves the laws of physics if matter particles swap with their antiparticles (charge) in mirror reflection (parity). Many physicists think CP is violated in the neutrino sector — explaining why we are made of matter.

2017 December 15

Net Neutrality

Nick Frisch

To taste a future without net neutrality, try browsing the web in Beijing. Filtered by the Great Firewall of China, some sites load with aching slowness, or not at all, and content vanishes without warning or explanation. Most Chinese netizens simply gravitate to the Chinese counterparts of Facebook, Google, and Twitter, which come with heavy government surveillance and censorship.

Markets vs Democracy

Robert Kuttner

Democracy and capitalism seem increasingly incompatible. Global capitalism has escaped the bounds of the postwar mixed economy that had reconciled dynamism with security. Wealth has crowded out citizenship, producing extreme inequality and instability.

The great prophet of this development was Karl Polanyi, who saw that market society could only exist because of deliberate government action defining property rights, terms of labor, trade, and finance. Today, we see a push for deregulated trade and the dismantling of labor market safeguards to increase profits for multinational corporations.

Polanyi was born in 1886 in Vienna to an illustrious Jewish family. In 1904, he began studies at the University of Budapest. After WW1, he became an economics journalist. He was a left-wing social democrat and a lifelong skeptic of the possibility that a capitalist society would ever tolerate a hybrid economic system.

Living in Red Vienna, Polanyi saw that an island of municipal socialism could not survive larger market turbulence and rising fascism. In 1933, he moved to London and found work sponsored by Oxford University. There he watched history demonstrate that an unrestrained free market leads to democratic breakdown.

After WW2, Polanyi worked in America. He showed that the free market is no natural condition and that democracy cannot survive an excessively free market. Today he would say Brexit and Trump show capitalism has won and democracy has lost.

Kepler-90 system
Kepler-90 system



Democrat defeats tainted
candidate backed by Trump
for Alabama Senator seat.


Rebels defy May government
to force meaningful vote on
Brexit deal before too late.

In my 1996 novel LIFEBALL
I mooted laser battlestations
on the N and S poles of the
Moon to fire off at
visiting aliens.

Hübsch schon, GroKo schwer



ANN Helps NASA Find Planet


The NASA Kepler Space Telescope has discovered an eighth planet circling Kepler-90, a Sun-like star 2545 light years from Earth. Kepler-90i, a hot, rocky planet that orbits its star once every 14.4 days, was found using machine learning from Google.

A Google artificial neural network (ANN) sifted through Kepler data and found weak transit signals from a previously missed eighth planet orbiting Kepler-90. About 30% larger than Earth, Kepler-90i is so close to its star that its average surface temperature exceeds 700 K, like the hot side of Mercury. The outermost planet, Kepler-90h, orbits as far from Kepler-90 as Earth does from the Sun.

The Kepler dataset consists of 35 000 possible planetary signals. After gazing at one patch of space for 4 years, Kepler now switches its field of view every 80 days.

2017 December 14

Sexual Misconduct

Wesley Yang

We all know men who try to seduce a lot of women and often enough succeed. In the past, we accepted them as part of the normal order of things. No one we knew disapproved of premarital sex, homosexuality, or any private activity between consenting adults.

Whatever lies ahead of us, new rules couched in the language of safety and respect will regulate us. You will have to seek verbal consent before you kiss a woman or touch her in a sensitive place, or anywhere. Anyone can adapt to this new rule.

There has never been a good defense of sleeping with interns or junior employees. Such eroticism sours everything it touches and creates a poisonous dynamic for all workers. The logical outcome is adoption of affirmative consent as the norm governing relations between the sexes.

Sex is an intractable conundrum rather than a solvable problem. There may be no good way to render safe and tractable the will to domination and subordination that feminists see as bound up in sexual desire. Nothing is so dangerous as power that is not acknowledged.

2017 December 13

Russia vs America

Julia Ioffe

United States intelligence officers agree that Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Russian hackers breached the servers of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They leaked the data they found, they probed the voting infrastructure of various US states, and they quietly posted divisive content on Facebook. Their aim was to embarrass and damage Hillary Clinton, to sow dissension, and to show that democracy in America is at least as corrupt as in Russia.

In October 2016, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said they were confident that the Russian government had directed the compromises of emails from US political organizations with the aim of interfering with the US election process.

At the 2007 Munich Conference on Security Policy, Russian president Vladimir Putin explained his motivation. Two decades earlier, the world was ideologically and economically split, and its security was assured by the strategic balance of two superpowers. But a unipolar world dominated only by America had nothing to do with democracy. The new order was both unacceptable and ineffective. The time had come to rethink the entire architecture of global security.

Putin has spent the decade since that speech making sure that the United States can never again maneuver unilaterally without encountering friction. He evidently believes that in their attempts to promote democracy, Americans are spreading chaos.

The victory of Donald Trump seemed to be a great coup for Putin. But it left us all in danger.

2017 December 12

First Contact?

The Times

In Arthur C. Clarke's 1973 science fiction classic Rendezvous with Rama, astronomers detect a cylindrical interstellar object entering the solar system. At first they think is an asteroid, but then they find it is an alien spacecraft.

Science fact, 2017: Astronomers thought it was a comet or an asteroid from within the solar system. But after studying its orbit and discovering its long, cylindrical shape, they find it is neither and has come from interstellar space.

Oumuamua was discovered by a team at the University of Hawaii in October. It seems to have a cylindrical form, hundreds of meters long and perhaps tens in diameter, that has never been seen in space before.

Its speed — up to 90 km/s — suggests that it will continue its voyage back into interstellar space. Six weeks of study shows it is not made of ice and is dark red in color. SETI researchers will seek to detect evidence of alien technology in its EM emissions.

Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb: "If this object is natural in origin, there should be many more like it in the solar system .. and even if most of them are natural, perhaps one of them will be found to be of artificial origin, some space device or junk from an alien civilization."

NASA Moon Base

New Scientist

President Trump has directed NASA to aim for the Moon: "This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint. We will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond."

US vice president Mike Pence said a strategic military presence on the Moon will "enhance our national security and our capacity to provide for the common defense of the people of the United States of America."

2017 December 11

Descrying the Divine

German Sadulajev

Where landscapes are untapped and unmanageable, where survival and well-being are irrational factors, state power becomes a sanctuary. This applied everywhere in the ancient world and still applies today in Russia, with its huge, poorly developed, sparsely and unevenly populated space. Above all, the king must be able to communicate with those powers that the human being cannot control or grasp rationally. He has to communicate with the divine. Putin is our president.

AR The One.

Germany — Coalition Options

Constanze Stelzenmüller

German chancellor Angela Merkel spent two months mulling a potential government coalition — then the Free Democrats walked out. The Social Democrats decided to enter talks — then SPD leader Martin Schulz said he wants a United States of Europe by 2025. Talks could continue well into 2018.

Foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said last week that Europeans will have to stand up to the Trump administration and accept that America sees Europe as a competitor. He floated a new detente with Russia but ignored a promised increase in German defense spending. The world is waiting.

AR Die Mühlen der Demokratie mahlen langsam aber gründlich.

Defending the Faith

Harriet Sherwood

Prince Charles is the heir apparent while the Queen remains the UK sovereign. His coronation is likely to raise questions about institutional links between church, monarchy, and parliament. The monarch is crowned and anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey.

One in four countries worldwide had a state religion in 2011. Of those, only the UK and Iran have religious leaders in their legislatures by right. In the UK, 26 Church of England bishops have reserved seats in the House of Lords. The UK monarch is supreme governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith.

From a new report by the National Secular Society: "The voices of religious privilege are loud and their vested interests are strong. But .. if Britain is to become a modern state rather than one in which parliament continues to cleave to its medieval past, then the separation of church and state needs to be part of the solution."

AR Rebrand Britain as the United Sovereign Secular Republic.

Brexit — Second Referendum

Camilla Cavendish

Conservatives bent on delivering what they think is the "will of the people" are deluded if they expect any thanks. Brexit is a Tory project and most voters now think the talks are going badly. The Conservative reputation will be hard to win back.

Few experts believe that a trade agreement can be completed in two years. Voters will likely feel as if they are still in the EU by the next election. To avoid annihilation, the Tories should try to get a good deal and then put it to a public vote.

Geraint Davies

A new poll finds that more than half of voters support a referendum on the EU exit package. The government is in disarray and disagrees on most issues related to Brexit. The only way to resolve this is to put the decision back to the people.

Today I publish a bill that aims to give voters the final say on Brexit. The government would let the people choose between its negotiated deal and the option of reversing article 50 and remaining in the EU. This honours the will of the people.

AR Do it.

2017 December 10

Scientific Understanding

Martin Rees

I think science will hit the buffers at some point. The question of how far science can go partly depends on how we define complexity. Atoms and astronomical phenomena can be quite basic, but everything in between gets tricky.

Most complex of all are living things. Everything is made of atoms, and obeys the laws of quantum physics. But even if those equations could be solved for immense aggregates of atoms, living systems manifest emergent properties that are best understood in terms of new concepts.

We can expect huge advances on the small, the large, and the complex. But efforts to understand complex systems, such as our own brains, might well hit limits. And physicists might never understand the bedrock nature of space and time because the mathematics is just too hard.

Human abstract thinking has led to culture and science. But this activity will probably be a brief precursor to the more powerful intellects of the post-human era. A full understanding of physical reality need not be within our grasp.


Typoform/Nobel Media
The four forces of nature, the particles, and the phenomena they explain. The atomic and nuclear interactions are unified
in the standard model using quantum field theory. Gravity is described by general relativity.
But QFT and GR are incompatible without a quantum theory of gravity.

Ode to Joy
Ode to Joy

"We must build a kind of
United States of Europe"
Winston Churchill

"Trump is a chump .. he is
ignorant and thinks the world
started the day he was elected,
and so he is easily gamed."
Thomas L. Friedman

Person of the Year


Quantum Gravity

Ethan Siegel

Perimeter Institute, 2017-10-04: Erik Verlinde suggests that gravity emerges from entropy. There are well known relationships between thermodynamics and GR. The laws of thermodynamics emerge from statistical mechanics, and perhaps gravity emerges similarly.

Verlinde uses ideas from string theory to relate quantum information theory and the emergence of gravity and spacetime. The basic idea is that fundamental qubits possess temperature and entropy, and that everything else about gravitation can be derived from that.

He says we may need to work with qubits to understand gravity. Entropy is the total number of bits of information in a system, or qubits in a quantum world. QFT describes how the surface area of a black hole event horizon measured in qubits is proportional to its entropy.

He says entangled qubits may explain dark matter. Entanglement increases as the universe expands. The entropy of the universe from photons is about 10^90 bits. From the size of the cosmological horizon, he says it should be 10^120 bits. This is all very suspect.

2017 December 9

Big Old Black Hole

Joshua Sokol

The discovery of a supermassive black hole in the early universe is helping us resolve big questions. The black hole dates back to 690 million years after the Big Bang (My ABB). Reionization, the process that defogged the universe, was about half complete at that time. The black hole already weighed 780 million solar masses.

Black holes grow when cosmic matter falls into them, generating light and heat. At some point, the radiation emitted by material falling in carries out so much momentum that it blocks new stuff from falling in, creating a speed limit for black hole growth called the Eddington rate. Extrapolating back at the Eddington rate, collapsing clouds in the early universe gave birth to big baby black holes with thousands of solar masses.

Even earlier, when protons and electrons first formed hydrogen atoms, the neutral atoms absorbed UV light from the first stars. In time, young stars or quasars emitted enough light to reionize these atoms and dissipate the cosmic fog. Reionization was largely complete by around 1 Gy ABB.

The gas around the newly discovered quasar is about half neutral, half ionized. So there, at least, reionization was only half done. We could use more data.

2017 December 8

United States of Europe

Martin Schulz

I want a new constitutional treaty to establish the United States of Europe — a Europe that is no threat to its member states, but a beneficial addition.

A convention will draft this treaty in close cooperation with the civil society and the people. Its results will then be submitted to all member states. Any state that does not ratify the treaty will automatically leave the EU.

We need not a European austerity diktat but investments in a eurozone budget. We need a European finance minister who curbs the race to the bottom in tax policy and ends tax avoidance. We need a European framework for a minimum wage that ends wage dumping.

We have not yet answered the question what social democracy stands for in the 21st century.

"The Federated Republic of Europe — the United States of Europe — that is what must be. National autonomy no longer suffices. Economic evolution demands the abolition of national frontiers. If Europe is to remain split into national groups, then Imperialism will recommence its work. Only a Federated Republic of Europe can give peace to the world."
Leon Trotsky

Brexit — Sufficient Progress

Financial Times

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker met in Brussels early today to sign a 15-page progress report that will let EU negotiators recommend opening a second phase of talks on post-Brexit relations.

The Deal

Citizen rights: EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU will be able to claim permanent residency status through transparent, smooth and streamlined procedures. Primacy of the ECJ interpretation of EU citizen rights laws will continue indefinitely.

Irish border: A fallback provision to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland ensures full alignment with the EU single market and customs union. The EU has accepted UK assurances and talks can move on.

Divorce settlement: The UK will pay into the EU budgets for 2019 and 2020 as if it had remained in the bloc. It will also contribute its share of the financing for any EU liabilities incurred before the end of 2020. The UK can expect a net bill of €40–45 billion.

2017 December 7

Trump — Courage

Alan Posener

For decades, the international community has tacitly acknowledged that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state. Now US President Donald Trump wants to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

The previous refusal of US administrations to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has brought peace no closer. Experts warn that the Muslim world will never accept this and Muslim leaders warn that it will end the peace process. What peace process?

Trump has made it clear that the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem is not a preliminary decision regarding the final status of the city and the future borders between Israel and a Palestinian state.

Israel will never renounce Jerusalem as its capital. The Arab campaign against Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state is only part of the Arab struggle against the reality of Israel. Anyone who does not even acknowledge its existence has no right to protest against Jerusalem as its capital.

Trump is right: Twenty years of denial have not brought peace closer. Time to move on.

Brexit — Lessons

Philip Stephens

For the UK, Brexit talks have been a humiliating rendezvous with reality. Rule Britannia platitudes fizzled on contact with the facts of life:

1 A fundamental asymmetry unbalances the negotiation. The cost of failure is proportionately much higher for the UK than for the EU27.

2 Westminster politicians have not grasped that the EU is a union built on laws. A bespoke deal translates into German as cherry picking.

3 The sovereign right to wave goodbye to a morass of regulatory agencies is the sovereignty of the person shipwrecked on a desert island.

4 Access to the single market for a transitional period after departure will oblige the UK to continue to respect all the rules.

5 The only framework on offer for a future trade deal will be one that complies with the principle that benefits are restricted to members.

Britain decided unilaterally to leave the EU. The EU27 will now decide what agreement it is prepared to make with a third country.

AR Eat dirt, Brexit blowhards.

Soyuz rocket

A Russian Soyuz/Fregat launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome failed last week.
Deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin is coming under criticism.

AlphaGo Zero plays superhuman
chess after teaching itself from
scratch, starting from random
play, given only the game
rules, in 24 hours.



Buy now for Xmas



2017 December 6


Donald Trump

AR Islamist crazies will see this as a declaration of war.

Brexit — Outline Betrayal

Nick Clegg

The capitulation of the Brexiteers is striking. They are displaying all the iron discipline of a sect that believes it is tantalisingly close to reaching its holy grail. For them, all that matters is to drag the country across the legal finishing line in March 2019. Then there is no turning back from Brexit.

To reach their promised land, the Brexiteers in Westminster intend to deliver to the UK parliament a mere "Heads of Agreement" governing the future relations between the UK and the EU. The details of that future relationship will be left to further negotiations. The Brexiteers calculate that an outline deal, bereft of the invidious content that a proper agreement would include, is the ideal document to put to parliament.

But this is not what the British people were promised. The government said parliament will be able to vote on both the terms of our departure and the terms of our future interaction with the EU. It would be a betrayal if MPs were fobbed off with the outline of an agreement shorn of all detail.

Brexit — Crisis Warning

Daily Mail

Brexit Secretary David Davis says Brexit will be a change comparable with the 2008 financial crisis.

Called before the Brexit select committee where he said Whitehall had carried out no Brexit impact assessments, Davis said of Brexit: "It will have an effect. The assessment of that effect is not as straightforward as people imagine. I'm not a fan of economic models because they have all proven wrong. When you have a paradigm change — as happened in 2008 with the financial crisis — all the models were wrong."

The 2008 financial crisis cost the UK economy up to £7.4 trillion and led to a decade of austerity.

AR Abandon this hideous farce before HMS Britannia sinks.

2017 December 5

The Irish Question

Fintan O'Toole

Ireland is proving to be in a much stronger political position than Britain. The UK is being forced to accept what it claimed to be unacceptable, not because Ireland has suddenly become a global superpower but because it has the unflinching support of EU member states, the European parliament, and the EU negotiating team. There might be a lesson in there somewhere for a country facing a future without the allies it has long taken for granted.

Homo Sapiens

Natalie Angier

The human brain is a pudding of some 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections between them, packed into a space of about 1.5 liters. Language and cooperation likely worked together to drive the evolutionary growth of our brains.

Edward O. Wilson argues that Homo sapiens is a species that ranks as eusocial, like bees, ants, and so on. We cooperate and display group loyalty, to the point where the group essentially operates as a unit of evolutionary selection.

Wilson has waged a public battle against the importance of inclusive fitness, which researchers have long cited to explain such behaviors as altruism, homosexuality, even suicide. Wilson says the math is wrong.

2017 December 4

Brexit — No Deal on Trade Talks

BBC News

UK prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker say progress has been made but differences remain.

Juncker: "It was not possible to reach complete agreement today."

Apparently the UK is prepared to accept that Northern Ireland may remain in the EU customs union and single market in all but name. But the DUP will not back any agreement that threatens the territorial integrity of the UK. And Scottish, Welsh, and London leaders want an offer of similar exceptional status after Brexit.


John Lukacs

Surrounded by books has been a main circumstance of my long life. Now 93, I have a library of perhaps 18,000 books in my house in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I was born in Budapest, Hungary, in a home that housed many books.

After about 1500 a new age began — the Age of Books. A golden age followed. Today, few people know that the modern age, the Age of Books, is now passing.

The modern age brought progress and a transition from aristocracies to democracies. Public opinion had a heyday in most of Europe and in America corresponding to the heyday of the Age of Books. The health of democracies depended on the existence of educated readers.

As a boy, I had an appetite for history and literature. I saw that history was more of an art than a science and, later, that science was but a part of history. I survived the National Socialist and then the Russian conquest of Hungary in 1944 and 1945, and fled my native country illegally in 1946.

I landed in New York penniless and forlorn, and became an assistant lecturer in history at Columbia University. There I was surprised at how many American students hardly read books at all.

Over roughly 50 years, I wrote and had many books published. Many were published in multiple editions, translated and published around the world. My own library grew, and we added a large hexagonal library to our house. Perhaps this was my most precious achievement.

Today, the custom of reading and the numbers of readers have declined. The Age of Books died with television and the Internet.

2017 December 3


Paul Mason

Neoliberalism is broken. The global economic system that drove growth and technological progress from 1989 to 2008 led to financial catastrophe. Now many people see the elites getting richer and know their kids will be poorer.

An alliance of the elite and the mob is emerging in which xenophobia, violent misogyny, and racism support political power. The far right and the conservative parties are converging around national neoliberalism. It will not work.

We must stop nudging and forcing market behavior into the lives of people  and start letting them express their human and collaborative impulse. We need a new economic model with a narrative of hope and a social movement to fight for it.

In the UK, Labour developed a narrative beyond politics. We need to go further to gain  cultural hegemony in the wider society. We must offer a clear economic alternative to neoliberalism:

End austerity. Regulate the labor market to promote the interests of workers. Build new homes for young people on a massive scale. Use state intervention to promote an innovative, high wage private sector. Modernize and extend the welfare state. Build a utopia based on work, with state provision of cheap or free basic goods and services. End the tyranny of trade deals over social justice.

We need a new concept of citizenship in Europe. It is hard to defend migration using the EU concept of citizenship as primarily economic. The constitution of Europe is framed around an economic system that no longer works.

Neoliberalism is the disenchantment of politics by economics. Right wing populism is the re-enchantment of politics by nationalism, racism, nostalgia, and misogyny. Radical social democracy must re-enchant politics by social justice and a more fully human concept of citizenship.

AR Minus the red balls, there is a lot of truth in this analysis.

2017 December 2

Math and Physics

Kevin Hartnett

Minhyong Kim has found a new way of looking for patterns in the world of rational numbers. His vision is based in physics — rational solutions are like light rays.

Rational solutions to equations are like puzzle pieces falling perfectly into place. They are the subject of many of the most famous conjectures in mathematics. We often wish to find rational numbers that solve Diophantine equations — polynomial equations with integer coefficients.

The more symmetric an object is, the easier it is to study. We would like to study Diophantine equations in a setting with more symmetry than the one where the problem naturally occurs. Then we can harness the newly relevant symmetries to track down the rational points we seek.

Numbers that have particular kinds of symmetry relationships form groups. We use the properties of a group to understand all the numbers it contains. But the set of rational solutions to an equation has no symmetry and forms no group.

A space is any set of points that has geometric or topological structure. In general relativity, we think of each spacetime configuration as a point in a space of all spacetime configurations. Gauge theory has to do with fields that we layer on top of physical space to describe how forces change as you move through space.

Consider a beam of light. We imagine the light moving through a higher-dimensional space of fields. In this space, light follows the path that minimizes the amount of time required to go from A to B.

These larger spaces of spaces that come up in physics feature additional symmetries that are not present in any of the spaces they represent. These symmetries draw attention to specific points, such as the time-minimizing path for light. Constructed in another way in another context, such symmetries might emphasize other kinds of points — like the points corresponding to rational solutions to equations.

Number theory has something like spacetime, and it also offers a way of drawing paths and constructing a space of all possible paths. From this basic correspondence, Kim is working out a scheme in which the problem of finding the trajectory of light and that of finding rational solutions to Diophantine equations are two facets of the same problem — as he explained last week in Heidelberg, Germany.

AR Some 27 years ago in Heidelberg, I published a pamphlet listing advanced math and physics texts and emphasizing the amazingly fruitful interaction of math and physics over recent centuries.

2017 December 1

Global Britain

Martin Wolf

Six impossible things before breakfast:

1 The British system of free trade made Britain and the world richer. The EU system that has
    replaced it has constrained economic growth.
The volume of world trade is twice as high, relative to global output, now as at its peak before WW1. Global output per head rose at 1.3% a year between 1870 and 1914, well below the 1.9% achieved between 1980 and 2008.

2 The UK can have its cake on access to EU markets and still eat it. The EU will accept new UK
    regulations after Brexit as equivalent to its own.
The cake would either nullify UK regulatory freedom or subvert EU regulations. The EU would surely reject UK changes.

3 WTO members are panting for UK leadership.
Donald Trump is a protectionist and the WTO has made no big trade deal since 2001.

4 The UK must soon leave the single market and customs union in order to liberalise world trade.
This ignores the costs of losing favourable access to the single market and it reflects an entirely unjustifiable belief in UK influence on global trade policy.

5 The government must instruct UK customs to talk to member state customs agencies and work
    on customs cooperation with the EU27.
The UK has no means to break EU27 solidarity.

6 The UK should not let itself be bound by the EU negotiating mandate.
The EU holds the cards and it knows it.

Do Brextremists really believe all six?

The Special Relationship

Mary Dejevsky

The British obsession about its special relationship with America blew up the storm over Donald Trump's latest tweets.

Furious Brits demanded once again that the US state visit should be expunged from the diary. If it were not for the special relationship, the UK prime minister might not have felt the need to condemn the US president in a public utterance. But with a state visit on the cards she had little choice.

France and Germany have more freedom in their US relations without a special relationship. Angela Merkel talked about defending European values on her visit to see the new president. Emmanuel Macron entertained Vladimir Putin at Versailles and hosted the Trumps at the Bastille Day parade.

A special relationship is a lopsided arrangement that allows the UK to fantasize about global power and influence.

Six Minutes in May

James Naughtie

Nicholas Shakespeare brings tension to an old story by understanding its human drama. His account of the Norway Debate in May 1940 is a bravura performance, painting a vivid backdrop that explains the meetings that made Churchill prime minister two days later.

The six minutes of the title refer to the length of the parliamentary division that split the Tories and pushed Chamberlain to the brink. Shakespeare brings the story to life. The story of Churchill's accession to power on the day that Hitler's armies entered the Low Countries and set course for France has never been infused with so much humanity.

Shakespeare's piercing account of the disastrous Norway campaign that opens the book lays bare Churchill's failings and makes all the more engrossing the political chaos from which he finally emerged smiling.

AR I am currently reading the book.

Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong Un with Hwasong-15 ICBM

Winston Churchill
would have been
143 today

Meghan Markle

Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle
to marry Harry

Best Bum
Cambridge University
Best Bum winner Vita
(Law, Gonville and Caius):
"Though this may not quite
be the Cambridge First my
parents envisaged, I am
sure they are still
proud of me."

EU and Russia
Die Welt


Brexit is the great national
crisis of our times. The UK
government's demented
40-year obsession with
the EU is driving us all
to destruction.

Mina Esfandiari


2017 November 30

US vs NK

Evan Osnos

North Korea has tested an ICBM that could reach anywhere in the continental United States.

The Hwasong-15 adds a powerful new tool to the NK arsenal. Japanese defensive missiles would have been ineffective against it. US defense secretary James Mattis says North Korea can now hit everywhere in the world.

SK president Moon Jae In: "We must stop a situation where North Korea miscalculates and threatens us with nuclear weapons, or where the United States considers a pre-emptive strike."

Trump: "This situation will be handled!"

UK vs Ireland

Séamas O'Reilly

The ramifications of Brexit for Northern Ireland have finally become nightly news. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar brought the issue back to the fore when he expressed concern and frustration over how the UK team is failing to deal with it. While insisting there will be no hard border, the UK has flatly refused to compromise on any of the measures, such as customs or immigration, that would make anything but a hard border possible.

Having to present documents to armed men just so we can commute to work, visit neighbours, or access everyday amenities, would be a wildly impractical thing to demand of law-abiding citizens. The severity of the situation may best be demonstrated by the Taoiseach having said anything at all. He knows Irish reunification would likely prove even more expensive than militarising the entire land border after a hard Brexit.

UK Monarchy

Irenosen Okojienov

Meghan Markle — half black, American, divorced, actress — was an unlikely candidate to join the House of Windsor.

Interracial marriages are on the rise in Britain. In this sense, Harry and Meghan are following, not leading. What is more intriguing is the question of whether more people of color will come to feel they have a stake in the UK monarchy.

There have been some racist responses to the announcement. The prince has made a clear statement against those prejudices by refusing to allow them to affect his personal choices. He has made the royals seem more in touch with the public.

AR The Harry and Meghan drama should not distract us from the fact that the monarchy is an integral part of an increasingly anachronistic British political establishment.

2017 November 29

Physical Reality

Edward Witten

Physicists are looking for a more fundamental quantum theory to replace general relativity. M-theory could offer this deeper description. Its mathematical structure incorporates all five versions of string theory, which connect to each other through dualities. The string theories are also mathematically dual to quantum field theories.

Dualities frequently answer questions that are otherwise out of reach. There are dualities between a gauge theory and another gauge theory, or between a string theory for weak coupling and a string theory for strong coupling. The AdS/CFT duality between a gauge theory and a gravitational description gave people new insights.

The AdS/CFT duality connects a theory of gravity in anti-de Sitter space to an equivalent QFT describing its gravity-free boundary. Everything there is to know about AdS space is encoded in quantum interactions between particles on the lower-dimensional boundary. AdS/CFT gives physicists a holographic understanding of the quantum nature of gravity.

Dualities in math can sometimes be interpreted physically as consequences of dualities between two QFTs. Imagine a web of different relationships, where the same physics has different descriptions, revealing different properties. In the simplest case, two descriptions might be enough, but in a more complicated example there might be many.

Traditionally, QFT was constructed by starting with a classical smooth field and then quantizing it. But that description misses a lot of things that happen. And the same quantum theory can come from different classical theories. Perhaps a better formulation of QFT would make everything clearer.

The physics in QFT and string theory has a lot of mathematical secrets in it. It was thought that interacting QFT existed in 4D. But the string dualities show that QFTs exist in 5D and 6D.

A (2,0) QFT describing particles in 6D is dual to M-theory describing strings and gravity in 7D AdS space. In terms of conventional QFT without gravity, there is nothing quite like the (2,0) theory above 6D. You can deduce a lot from it about what happens in lower dimensions. But the (2,0) theory has no reasonable classical starting point. Maybe the continuum is wrong for spacetime.

AR I say all good physics is discrete. The continuum emerges.

2017 November 28

Muslim Misogyny

Rachel Sylvester

●● Thus man is definitely master of the woman ●●

This rule number one on the checklist for children in a library book at an Islamic school in the UK.
Ofsted inspectors uncovered a dossier of such material on recent visits to faith-based institutions. Government ministers appear to be funding promotion of the idea that girls are inferior to boys.

The schoolbook "Women Who Deserve to Go to Hell" lists women who show ingratitude to their husband, have high ambitions, or are mischievous and a trial for men.

●● In the beginning of the 20th century, a movement for the freedom of women was launched
      with the basic objective of driving women towards aberrant ways ●●

Another text contrasted the "noble woman of the East" who protects her modesty by wearing a veil and the "internally torn woman of the West" who "leaves her home to knock about aimlessly in cinemas and cafés" and so on.

●● The wife is not allowed to refuse sex to her husband or leave the house where she lives
       without his permission ●●
●● The man by way of correction can also beat her ●●

The children write answers reflecting the teaching:
— Women have a responsibility only to bear children and bring them up as Muslims
— Men should be protectors of women
— Men are physically stronger and women are emotionally weaker

●● Men are stronger and can work full time since they don't need to look after the children ●●
●● Men should earn more as they have families to support ●●

There are 177 Muslim schools in England, 29 of them funded by the state. Ofsted has inspected 139 independent Islamic schools since 2015 and rated 79 less than good. A growing number of illegal unregistered schools are teaching children in a totally unregulated setting.

AR We must fight against this stuff:
      Why fund faith schools?

2017 November 27


Sir Roger Scruton

Religions offer membership. They fill the void in the heart with the mystical presence of the group, and if they do not provide this benefit they will wither and die. A religion protects itself from rival groups and the heresies that promote them.

University students say distinctions associated with their inherited culture should be rejected. Non-discrimination is the orthodoxy of our day. This orthodoxy is as determined to silence the heretic as any established religion.

Truth arises by an invisible hand from our many errors, and both error and truth must be permitted if the process is to work. The academic world today is losing all sense of its role as guardian of the intellectual life. Diversity of opinion has been steadily eroded.

An institution in which the truth can be sought without censorship, and without penalties imposed on those who disagree with the prevailing orthodoxy, is a social benefit. A religion at least closes the mind around a real moral community.

"A powerful university cartel is interwoven with parts of the establishment and cares little about its students, who many academics view as an inconvenience. The universities are just focused on the money."

"This is the reality young people are faced with today: They fork out upwards of £27,000 to go to university, only to be told they have little to no job prospects. They move to London for a career, only to pay an average rent upwards of £1000. They're charged by estate agents to leave a property, and they're charged renewal fees when they sign on for another year."

"While students are still at university, their debt pile grows at an interest rate above 6%, which officials at the Department for Education have accurately described as 'bonkers'. The government's unusual methodology for calculating interest increases lifetime repayments by £40,000 for higher earners, according to analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, compared with a system in which no interest accrues beyond consumer price inflation."
The Times

The Prophet

Rainn Wilson

In 1817, a man was born. He became a social justice visionary, a mystic revolutionary, and a religious leader. He was given the title Baha'u'llah — The Glory of God — and founded the Baha'i faith.

The revolutionary writings of Baha'u'llah addressed the largest social problems of the day. He taught that women are equal to men in every way, have the same rights, and should be empowered through education. He taught the elimination of racial prejudice and the importance of social justice at a time when the brown and black races were considered less than human.

Baha'u'llah wrote at length about how he was the most recent messenger from God in a great linked chain of luminous souls that included Krishna, Abraham, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. He spoke of the changeless faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future: "Glory not in this that you love your country. Glory rather in this that you love mankind."

2017 November 26

Darkest Hour

David Smith

Darkest Hour stars Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. Directed by Joe Wright, the movie is set in May 1940 as Churchill faces an existential crisis: accept a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany or fight on against seemingly impossible odds.

International Churchill Society executive director Michael Bishop: "Churchill remains a great hero in the US. Americans tend to focus exclusively on his leadership in world war two and know less about other aspects of his career. This has been an especially fraught period in American political history and I've noticed near constant references to Churchill in columns and op-eds over the past year."

In 2013, when a bronze bust of Churchill was unveiled at the US Capitol, John Boehner, leader of the House Republicans, declared: "This is one of history's true love stories: between a great statesman and a nation he called the Great Republic."

A Fearsome Churchill

Peter Travers

Darkest Hour is a lively, provocative historical drama that runs on its own nonstop creative fire. Winston Churchill, at 66, is a lion who's definitely not ready for winter.

Though the evacuation of British soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk will change the course of the war, no one knew that for sure. We see almost nothing of the Operation Dynamo action, which makes Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk the perfect companion piece to Wright's interior drama.

Gary Oldman delivers Churchill's famous radio speech ("We shall fight them on the beaches") with all the rhetorical thunder it requires. The victory of Darkest Hour as a film is not just to hear the words repeated, but to discover the flawed human being who carved those words out of the dark night of his own soul.

2017 November 25

UK Politics

The Guardian

The Democratic Unionist Party holds the balance of power at Westminster and will block any Brexit deal for Northern Ireland that could decouple the region from the rest of the UK. DUP leader Arlene Foster said the DUP will not accept special laws in Northern Ireland to mirror EU regulations.

Foster: “(The DUP will) not support any arrangements that create barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom or any suggestion that Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, will have to mirror European regulations .. The economic reality for our economy is that our most important trading relationship is with the rest of the United Kingdom and we will do nothing that puts that at risk in any way.”

AR EU says no Brexit or a hard border in Ireland. DUP says Brexit and no border. Who will win?

UK Economics

Robert Peston

The British economy has big structural problems that need to be fixed. Workers have become too powerless relative to company bosses.

We will end up with a universal basic income. The natural tendency of the economy at the moment is to widen income and wealth disparities. In those circumstances, and particularly when you consider the rise of robots and AI, it is hard to think of any alternative but guaranteeing some kind of universal basic income.

Parliament has become a depressing place to go. The conversations on what kind of Brexit we want are really nasty.

AR The UK needs a healthier economy. Brexit will damage its economy. Go figure.

UK Defence

The Times

UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson is said to have been shocked at proposed cuts to the armed forces unless he can find £2 billion a year in savings. The funding crisis gripping UK armed forces is an existential threat to their ability to remain in the top tier of military powers.

For years, the navy and the air force have raided army coffers to fund their aircraft carriers, fast jets, and submarines. The army has been cut to fewer than 78,000. Soldiers are fed up with cuts to training, travel and live ammunition for exercises, while they ride in worn-out old vehicles and live in barracks with broken heating and leaky roofs.

A proposal to delay or reduce a planned upgrade of 227 ageing Challenger 2 tanks and 480 Warrior fighting vehicles and to reduce a £3.5 billion order for a new generation of 589 Ajax mini tanks would devastate military capability. On the table too are cuts to the marines, the navy, and the air force.

An extra £600 million needed for the Trident program this year will impact the rest of the military. Any cost hikes for new military hardware lead to cuts in funds for soldier training, accommodation, wages, and other personnel costs. UK armed forces face £20 billion of cuts over the next decade.

AR If the UK abandons Trident, the cash adds up.

2017 November 24

Brexit — Injustice

Tim Shipman

Behind closed doors Theresa May and her chief of staff Nick Timothy committed the government to pulling out of all aspects of European Court of Justice jurisdiction after Brexit. No civil servants were consulted and the cabinet did not authorise the move, yet it was announced as government policy. Their decision has since resulted in a horrible legal quagmire that has yet to be resolved.

The Times reports ministers still do not grasp the complexities of leaving the EU, said the British judge on the ECJ Ian Forrester, who also questioned the quality of politicians in Westminster.

AR This is monstrous. May and Timothy acted like legal dilettantes. If they had any idea of the true cost (both economic and political) of this decision to go British and insult other Europeans, they should have resiled from their policy.

If Brits are so intent on going British in all possible ways, they should ban foreign cars, ban foreign books and movies, ban imported food and clothing, expel all foreigners from the British Isles, close the airports and the ports — and prepare massively reinforced penitential and psychiatric facilities for all the victims of the new Fortress UK policy.

British is not best for the best things in life. The greatest goods of civilization, such as truth and justice, have no national dependencies. Their pursuit in such disciplines as science and law differ nationally only in relatively superficial respects, not in the essential constraints facing all humans who engage with them.

The European Court of Justice is no more a kangaroo court than are the highest British courts. Any suggestion that the justice it dispenses is of lesser quality than that of British courts must be firmly rejected.

2017 November 23


Aron Kerpel

The economic case for ever closer union in Europe is clear, but it has proved difficult to sell to the general public. Hungary, Poland, and the UK are the most troublesome EU member states in this regard. Europhobia is growing in all three.

Common to Britain, Hungary, and Poland are domestic populist movements and parties that have created successful anti-EU narratives, harking back to nationalist symbols and myths, and discarding statistics and rational thinking from their debates.

Without strong grassroots support, there can be no deeper economic or political integration in Europe. Imposition of grand projects by a governing elite will lead to backlashes. The EU needs to develop a counter-narrative to nationalism.


Ross Douthat

Germany must choose between a new election and a minority government. This is an opportunity for leaders in Germany and the West. The last few years have shown that few are ready to push the liberal order to breaking point.

The plight of Western elites after Trump and Brexit arises from a refusal to take responsibility for foreign policy failures, to admit their utopianism was oversold, and to reckon with the social decay and spiritual crisis shadowing their dream.

All the agitation suggests a basic deficiency of elite imagination that could bring down the liberal order. What can save the liberal order is the successful integration of concerns that its leaders have dismissed or ignored back into normal political debate.

Europe should cease to pursue ever further political centralization by undemocratic means, break up the intellectual cartels that control the commanding heights of culture, and accept that the days of immigration open doors are over.


John Cassidy

The consequences of the Brexit vote are starting to be felt. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier confirms that British banks are set to lose their EU passport, and the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency will move out of London.

The UK economy has not collapsed. The GDP is rising and the unemployment rate is low. But the rate of GDP growth has fallen and inflation has risen, due to a fall in the value of the pound. Brexit has already cost each British household an estimated £600.

Theresa May and her government offer no credible path to prosperity after Brexit and have made barely any progress in negotiating the terms of Brexit in time for March 2019. So May wants to push Brexit back to 2021 and abide by all the EU rules during the transition period.

EU president Donald Tusk says Britain must still make concessions in a number of areas, including the settlement of its financial obligations to the EU, the legal protections afforded EU citizens in the UK, and the future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove want to turn Brexit Britain into a European version of Singapore or Hong Kong during the days of British colonial rule. But the EU will do all it can to stop the UK letting big companies that operate in Europe avoid EU taxes and rules.

2017 November 22

A Grand Unified Theory

Anil Ananthaswamy

Just after the big bang, there was one superforce. As the universe cooled, this force split into two, then three, and then the four forces we know today. A grand unified theory (GUT) combines all but gravity into one force.

Electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force become one electroweak force at energies of about 100 GeV, taking us back to about a picosecond after the big bang. At 10^-36 s ABB, the electroweak and strong nuclear force should be one force. A new GUT based on SU(5) shows how.

SU(5) is based on the idea that at grand unification energies all the particles are represented by mathematical structures that can be thought of as pentagons and decagons. For example, each side of the pentagon represents either a quark or a lepton, but the sides are symmetrical. This symmetry breaks only when the universe cools.

Originally, SU(5) predicted an extra interaction between quarks and leptons that made protons liable to decay. But experiments put the lifetime of a proton at more than 10^34 years. So that form of SU(5) was wrong.

Theories that predict longer proton lifetimes are far more complicated. For example, supersymmetry doubles the number of known particles. But experiments see no evidence of supersymmetry.

The new GUT adds two structures to SU(5), one with 40 sides and another with 50 sides, to represent heavy fields. These help unify the electroweak and strong nuclear forces and prevent the proton from decaying, all without resorting to supersymmetry. The next step is to explain the mass of the Higgs boson.

The Vela Supercluster

Liz Kruesi

The Local Group of galaxies — a collection that includes the Milky Way, Andromeda, and a few dozen smaller galactic companions — moves at about 600 km/s relative to the cosmic microwave background. So far astronomers can account for about 450 to 500 km/s of the motion.

The Vela Supercluster is a recently discovered supercluster of galaxies spanning 300 million light years that might account for the rest. Dust and stars in the densest part of the Milky Way disk block out its light in optical and infrared wavelengths, but radio waves can pierce the disk.

Atomic hydrogen is made of a single proton and an electron, whose spins can line up parallel or antiparallel. Occasionally a spin flips — switching a parallel atom to antiparallel — and the atom releases a radio photon. A sensitive radio survey of this neutral hydrogen gas can locate thousands of galaxies and reveal structures that lie behind the Milky Way disk.

The MeerKAT radio telescope will be more sensitive than any other radio telescope on Earth. Its 64 antenna dishes should be operating by early 2018. Renée Kraan-Korteweg and her team, who discovered the Vela Supercluster, are hoping for time on the array.

Hélène Courtois and her team taking a different approach to mapping Vela. In certain areas of the sky, galaxies migrate toward a common point. Her team is looking for the boundaries where matter flows toward one basin or another.

The two teams are now collaborating on a map of Vela.

Milky Way
Milky Way as seen by ESA spacecraft Gaia

No Brexit

Atlas does backflip

SpotMini — a dog?


Stop Brexit

Leonardo da Vinci
Salvator Mundi

First Space Nation

Russian Sukhoi fighter jets

The pound fell:
£1 = $1.31
€1 = £0.89

Airship on Venus


"Europe must be white"
Demo in Poland


"Anarchy in the UK has come
about because Brexit has
split the country. There is
no definite will of the people,
just different peoples who
refuse to acknowledge
each other's reality."
Suzanne Moore


2017 November 21

Brexit — Transition

Wolfgang Münchau

Brexit is a traumatic experience for many. But there is no excuse for clinging on to delusions, such as the prediction that Brexit will be revoked. After passing the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Act this year, the UK parliament has no tools left to engineer a reversal.

The British government can either revoke the decision to leave the single market and the customs unions or accept a standard trade agreement similar to the one that the EU recently concluded with Canada, with a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Leaving the EU renders the UK business model obsolete. The UK participated in the EU single market but opted out of other policy areas such as the euro. The City of London has operated as the financial center of a monetary union the UK had no intention of joining.

The UK has an old-fashioned rentier economy. Those with property assets, final salary pension schemes, and inherited wealth benefited at the expense of a growing underclass. After Brexit, that model will no longer be viable.

To make the best of Brexit, the UK will need to embrace a more entrepreneurial and innovative economy. The culture will need to be more inclusive and meritocratic. Brexit will be the end of feudal financial capitalism.

AR The UK model took a mortal hit in 2008. Brexit is a death cramp.

Brexit — Dreamers

Jörg Schindler

The lines are hardening in British politics. The choice is between a full Brexit or no Brexit at all. And caught in the middle is Theresa May.

The British business community is losing patience and has demanded a plan by the end of the year. Most Leavers accept that Brexit might cause significant damage to the economy.

Many say that if the British public had known in June 2016 what they know now, they would never have voted for Brexit. A fifth of Remainers would be happy to see Brexit end in chaos.

AR Après nous le délugeBritizen Jon!

2017 November 20

Germany — Jamaika Talks Fail

Die Welt

Three scenarios:
Groko (CDU—SPD form new coalition)
Minority government (CDU goes it alone)
New elections (Angela Merkel out?)

Germany — Taboo Theme

Timothy Garton Ash

Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) leaders denounce Angela Merkel for opening German frontiers in September 2015 to massed refugees. The AfD scores best in the territory of the former German Democratic Republic. There is a striking inverse correlation between the number of immigrants (or people of migrant origin) in an area and the populist vote.

The collective psychology of this East German vote includes the poisonous legacy of a society behind the Berlin Wall that was anything but open and multicultural. They see Muslim foreigners welcomed in Germany with open arms and getting everything for nothing. The knowledge that everything includes generous welfare provisions only sharpens the resentment.

Germany as a whole is doing well economically. The AfD gathers the discontented from every walk of life, but those who predominate in its ranks are men of the educated upper middle class. This distinguishes German populism from many other populisms.

Götz Kubitschek played a big part in the development of the AfD. He helped promote the party career of Björn Höcke, whose plangent rhetoric of cultural pessimism and völkisch nationalism would have been entirely at home in the Weimar Republic. Höcke once said that for the first time in a thousand years the question arises of the end of Germany.

Kubitschek published a book by Rolf Peter Sieferle called Finis Germania. On July 20, 2017, the Spiegel nonfiction best-seller list on Amazon left a gap in sixth place, until the following books were silently lifted up a place. The real number six was Finis Germania. The Spiegel editors had censored their list — but the effect of their decision was that even more people bought the book.

Sieferle said Germany had frozen its Nazi past, and Auschwitz, into a myth or a state religion in which the Germans are forever the negative chosen people and the Jews the positive chosen people. Subjecting Sieferle to the taboo treatment supports his contention that his theme is beyond the realm of rational debate.

2017 World Toilet Day


BBC News

Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe sacked from party, resigning from office.


Ethan Siegel

Our universe is a bubble in a cosmic ocean. Beyond what we can see is more of everything, for more light years than we can count. Innumerably many universes like ours   pop up in the ocean. These universes expand, but the ocean expands far more quickly, driving them apart from each other.

The farther away in space we look, the farther back in time we look too. At the limit, beyond the first stars, all we can see is the leftover glow from the big bang. This is our bubble universe.

Before the big bang that blew our bubble, cosmic inflation expanded the ocean exponentially. The oceanic quantum field decays from an unstable high-energy state to a stable low-energy state. The decay creates big bangs and bubble universes of all possible kinds.

Eternal inflation forms separate bubbles endlessly in an infinite ocean. The whole bubble bath is the multiverse.


Katia Moskvitch

The center of our Milky Way produces much more gamma radiation than we expected. Highly energetic gamma rays appear to be coming from all across the galactic plane — and more antimatter streams through the galaxy than we expected. Recent studies suggest pulsars can explain these anomalies.

Researchers divided the region of the sky covering the galactic center into numerous pixels and measured the gamma ray fluctuations in each pixel. The variations suggest the signals come from many point sources.

It seems the abundance of positrons in the galaxy may also be due to pulsars. Pulsars generate huge magnetic fields that spin along with them and generate electric fields that pull electrons into space and accelerate them. As the electrons spiral out, they emit gamma rays. Some of this radiation is energetic enough to create pairs of electrons and positrons.

Two nearby pulsars, Geminga and Monogem, emit not only gamma rays directly but also highly energetic gamma rays that appear to form halos around them. Throughout this halo, electrons coming from the pulsar collide with photons from ambient starlight and transfer huge amounts of energy to them. Geminga converts 8%—27% of its energy to electrons and positrons. Monogem converts twice as much.

Pulsars produce a tremendous amount of antimatter within our galaxy.

2017 November 18

Brexit — Transition To Tyranny

George Monbiot

Brexit means abandoning an association based on equal standing and exposing ourselves to coercion by other nations. Our relationship with the United States is likely to look like that of servant and master. We will remove ourselves from a regime in which we have full rights and full representation, and enter one in which we have little of either.

In the UK, almost every cultural reference point is poorly defined, weak and contested. British public services have all been gutted, disciplined and undermined by those who assert their patriotism.

When the enabling state is allowed to wither, what remains is the authoritarian state. As the enabling state shrinks, the flags must be unfurled, the national anthem played, schoolchildren taught their kings and queens, and elaborate pieties offered to dead soldiers. National pride becomes toxic.

AR This is the Britizen Jon scenario.

Stop Brexit

George Eaton

Lord Adonis: "What was clear from my meetings in Brussels is that they desperately want us to stay. I didn't meet a single person who thought that the EU would be better off without us."

Michael Heseltine: "I simply can't contemplate with equanimity the idea of the president of the United States, the prime minister of India, the president of China, flying into Berlin, Paris, to discuss major international events hosted by the European Union, with Britain waiting to be told what the communiqué says. It is about influence and power and top tables."

Peter Mandelson: "To compete with the EU, we will be led inexorably down the path of a less taxed, less regulated business environment. The economy may be more globalised, in reality more American, but the public will become less protected."

Emmanuel Macron: "The door, of course, is still open as long as Brexit negotiations have not been concluded."

Donald Tusk: "It is in fact up to London how this will end, with a good deal, no deal or no Brexit."

Stop Brexit
1 Revoke Article 50
2 Extend negotiations
3 Vote in parliament
4 Hold general election or second referendum

2017 November 17

Saudi Arabia Versus Iran

Emile Hokayem

Saudi Arabia has found a new purpose in recent years — to check Iranian influence. The ruthless ambition of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman radiates across the Mideast. Saudi foreign and security policy has gone into overdrive:

Saudi intervention in Yemen has been costly and inconclusive. It could lead to the transformation of the Houthi movement into something akin to Hezbollah — but much closer to Saudi borders.

The Saudi blockade of Qatar has been more successful. The effort to tame that country has worked and the crisis has now been put on the back burner of international diplomacy.

The latest Saudi venture in Lebanon is also likely to backfire. The forced resignation as prime minister and probable house arrest of Saad Hariri plays into the hands of Iran and Hezbollah.

The Mideast balance of power is determined in Syria and Iraq, where Iran is well ahead. Iran has shown that it will be there for its friends and allies in good and bad times. Saudi Arabia has not.

Brexit — Shipwreck

Martin Wolf

British politics is close to meltdown. The UK economy suffers from deep weaknesses. Brexit is likely to expose them.

The aftermath of the financial crisis has been devastating. A generational divide has opened up and the UK economy is the most regionally divided in Europe. GDP per head has only regained pre-crisis levels in London and the southeast.

UK employment looks good but part-time employment is relatively high and various categories of insecure work have greatly increased. Pay at the top has exploded: 30 years ago, company chief executives were paid on average about 20 times the salary of the average worker. The ratio is now about 150 times.

UK productivity per hours worked is among the lowest for high-income countries and has flatlined since the crisis. UK investment is weak by the standards of comparable countries and has tended to fall as a share of GDP for three decades.

This is not a vigorous and healthy economy. It is absurd to suggest otherwise. Beware a shipwreck.

AR Shipwreck is the metaphor in Britizen Jon.

SAP HANA and Hibernate

Daniel Schneiss

Since SAP was founded in 1972, developers have been at the heart of our success. SAP believes openness is a fundamental requirement to attract and engage with developers. Open source frameworks play a crucial role in accelerating innovation.

SAP supports open source foundations and initiatives including Apache, Eclipse, Node.js, OpenStack, Cloud Foundry — and now Hibernate, a suite of open source projects from Red Hat that provide simplified data persistence for relational databases and domain models. The flagship Hibernate project is its object/relational mapping framework for Java developers.

Gartner recently recognized SAP as a leader in the magic quadrant for operational data management systems.

AR Schneiss and I were colleagues in the SAP HANA team.

Work and Play

Zat Rana

Zen master Alan Watts taught us to experience things as they are here and now.

Watts: "You are involved by and large in a very strange business system which divides your day into work and play. Work is something that everybody does and you get paid to do it because .. it is so abominable and boring .. And the object of making money is to .. buy pleasure."

The concept of sacrificing time for money is a cultural construct. Choice is essential for humans to feel motivated and in control, and our calling certain commitments work strips choice away.

Humans are playful by nature. We consider play enjoyable. We choose to focus our attention on it, we strive to get the most out of it, and if we do it well, we get lost in a world of joy and awe.

Alan Watts said we forget that the boundary between work and play is illusory. Nothing in the world is inherently interesting. Things are interesting because we make them interesting.

There is no reason not to enjoy work. It need not be the opposite of play.

2017 November 16

Masters of the Universe

Martin Wolf

Eight of the world's most highly valued companies are technology businesses. Their combined market capitalisation is $4.7 trillion, 30% of the combined market cap of all the rest in the world's 100 most valuable firms. The top 5 (Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook) are US companies, together worth over $3.3 trillion.

The most highly valued European tech company is SAP, with a market cap of $135 billion, placed 60 in the top 100. Apple has a book value of $134 billion but a market valuation close to $900 billion. The difference reflects an expectation of enduring monopoly profits resulting from innovation and economies of scale.

Apple has total assets of $375 billion but fixed assets of $34 billion. The company sees no profitable way to invest its huge profits in its business. It is now an investment fund attached to an innovation machine. A lower corporate tax rate will not raise its investment. Territorial taxes are defective in taxing global technology companies.

Media are vital to a free and democratic society. Google and Facebook are expected to earn 63% of all US digital advertising revenue in 2017. We consumers have elected the tech titans masters of the universe.

Ross 128b — Earth 2.0?

Stuart Clark

Ross 128b, just 11 light years away, is roughly Earth-sized and orbits its parent star once every 9.9 days. Its surface temperature could lie somewhere between –60 and +20 C, making it temperate and a possible home for life. It has about 1.35 times Earth mass, hence stronger gravity.

The closest Earth-like world to us is Proxima Centauri b, discovered in 2016, which is 4.24 light years away. But Ross 128b may have an advantage for habitability, as Proxima Centauri is an active star that emits torrents of UV and X-rays, whereas Ross 128 is a quiescent red dwarf.

Ross 128b was found by with the ESO instrument HARPS. The ESO European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) opening in 2024 will provide images 16 times sharper than the HST. It will let us analyze light from Ross 128b for oxygen in its atmosphere — an indicator for life.

2017 November 15

Nuclear Weapons

Uri Friedman

Beatrice Fihn leads the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017. Her big idea is to treat nuclear weapons not as a power tool for world peace but as weapons of mass destruction along with biological weapons and chemical weapons.

Nuclear weapons are often mentioned in terms that obscure the ugly reality. When President Trump refers to the "full range" of US military capabilities, he means nukes. He does not say he is ready to use a weapon of mass destruction to indiscriminately kill civilians, irradiate survivors, and so on.

Fihn wants to reframe the debate and set a clear norm that nuclear weapons are unacceptable. She says the tensions between the United States and North Korea remind us that a nuclear war can happen as long as the weapons exist. Any nuclear war will cause appalling casualties.


Roger Boyes

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was born in 1949 to oppose the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union died in 1991, no one tackled the big questions about its ongoing purpose.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, the presidents of Turkey and Russia, are working together. NATO member Turkey plans to spend $2 billion on a Russian-made S-400 missile system.

NATO Article 5, the clause promising armed solidarity, was activated after 9/11. Since then only Turkey has sought to invoke it, in 2012, when Ankara tried to draw NATO into the Syrian conflict.

NATO must tell Erdogan to respect the contours of alliance policy. If he wants to subvert NATO in the Mideast, the alliance can live without him. Erdogan can either leave NATO or try to be a loyal ally.

Putin poses a threat. We should take seriously his fear of encirclement, end the process of NATO enlargement, and resist Russian attempts to drive America and Europe apart.

UK Defence Cuts

The Times

Former JFC commander General Sir Richard Barrons says UK armed forces are on the brink of failure unless the government allocates an additional £2 billion a year.

He says the British army is 20 years out of date. It needs a whole new fleet of armoured vehicles, new wheeled vehicles, more air defences and drones, and better cyber capabilities.

Former Royal Navy head Admiral Sir George Zambellas says the navy is institutionally underfunded and insufficient to tackle the threat from Russian submarine activity off the British coast.

AR Dump Trident and let the rest of the armed forces flourish. Strategic nukes add little to UK security and serve mainly to give the British brand a bit more bling.

2017 November 14

The Future of Europe

Lionel Barber

The Financial Times is launching a new project to brainstorm about the future of Europe. Professors at six universities across Europe asked their students to write essays on the following questions:

Should the next frontier for Europe be deeper integration or more power to nation states?
Would it be wise to reconsider the four founding freedoms in the EU treaties?
Is it time to concentrate on EZ priorities rather than the broader EU27?
To what extent is German leadership of Europe desirable or necessary?

The Four Freedoms
Wolfgang Münchau

The European Union is based on freedom of movement for goods, services, capital, and people. The four freedoms are to the EU what golf is to a golf club.

There is a logic behind the unity of the four freedoms. One can divide the four freedoms into two categories: economic outputs — goods and services, and economic inputs — labor and capital. The logic is based on political reasoning.

UK prime minister Theresa May's infamous "citizens of nowhere" remark reveals the Brexit mentality. In the EU you are always a citizen of your home state and of the union itself, no matter where you live. You are European.

A Europe of variable geometry will not be one in which member states opt in and out of the four freedoms. All member states will accept them. Any new EU-UK association agreement would need to accept freedom of movement.


UK prime minister Theresa May needs help to push Brussels for a breakthrough in Brexit talks. EU leaders fear she may not survive to deliver on promises made during Brexit negotiations.

Brexit secretary David Davis says the government will let MPs vote for the Brexit deal on offer or for no deal.

Drones Over Venus

Brandon Weigel

Drones would work well on Venus. Venus has a thick atmosphere and we could fly a 200 W drone up at about 50 km where the pressure is 1 bar and the temperatures around 75 C. At this altitude, our craft will get about twice the intensity of sunlight it would over Earth to work with for power.

Venus rotates once every 243 days. Our drone could fly slowly along the equator and stay in daylight. Our drone has an infinite power source in an adequate atmosphere at an acceptable temperature. With its solar panels on a 40 cm disk, it could fly at a steady 5 km/h around the equator forever.

Winds in the Venusian troposphere gust up to 360 km/h, but they are minimal at the equator. To explore more, we could configure our drone like an aircraft to use the wind to stay aloft. Clouds of sulfuric acid could rot the craft and heat could damage it, but otherwise it looks good.

AR Northrop Grumman has a concept for a Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP — blog 2015-08-31), a big inflatable aircraft resembling a B-2 bomber. VAMP would cruise around Venus at an altitude between 50 and 70 km — much like flying on Earth.

2017 November 13

Terraforming Mars

Brandon Weigel

Mars today is inhospitable to human life. Its surface is largely dry and arid, its atmosphere thin and toxic, and its climate frigid. We will need to terraform the planet before we can colonize it.

Mars has an atmospheric pressure of about 600 Pa, nearly all CO2, with no liquid water and an equilibrium temperature of 215 K. The Martian north pole is frosted with water ice and the south pole is capped with CO2 ice.

Sublimating the southern cap could increase the atmospheric pressure by up to 10 kPa. The current temperature of the south pole is about 142 K, almost warm enough to do so. We need only warm up the south pole by about 5.5 K to start the process. Then the temperature and pressure on Mars will rise to about 225 K and 10 kPa.

Another 30 kPa of CO2 is frozen in the Martian regolith. Once the south pole CO2 is sublimated, the regolith CO2 will join it. The atmospheric pressure will rise to 40 kPa and the equatorial temperature will exceed 273 K at perihelion.

An orbiting mirror could beam down enough sunlight to start the process if it were 70 km in diameter. Halocarbon generators could pump out enough greenhouse gas to accelerate the process.

Once a warm atmospheric blanket is in place, photosynthetic plants can pump out oxygen. Plants also need water to survive, but Mars has plenty of frozen water. The plants will deplete the CO2 and the halocarbons will deplete ozone and hence raise the surface UV levels, so our colonists will need to manage the atmosphere.

Terraforming Mars is the first step in our quest to become an interplanetary species.

Mars Terraformer Transfer (MATT)

The MATT concept uses a commercial satellite to terraform a region of Mars in 2036, creating a persistent lake for use by mission crews.

MATT terraforms a city-sized region for habitation. A satellite shepherd guides a selected celestial small-body impactor to a selected target site. A powerful laser provides the shepherding impulse. The laser and other instruments deflect, analyze, and restructure the small body, over some years, for optimized impact on Mars.

The impactor injects heat into bedrock, producing meltwater for a lake that persists for thousands of years within the warmed impact site. Here the challenges for crewed missions are ameliorated. MATT habs can scale to millions of cubic meters. Treated lake water can cover and protect underwater domes.

Scaled Mars habs can also house commercial offices for telerobotic open-pit mining of rare and rare earth metals.

2017 Remembrance Sunday

Supermacht EU?

Die Zeit

Die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika haben ihren Führungsanspruch verwirkt. Mit der Wahl von Donald Trump haben sich eine Krankheit derart verselbstständigt, dass die vernünftigen Kräfte in den USA sie nicht mehr ausgleichen können. Diese Analyse ist ebenso verwegen wie die Vorstellung, dass stattdessen Europa weltpolitisch führen sollen.

Elitenverachtung, Misstrauen in Institutionen und Gewaltenteilung, eine von Feindbildern getriebene Spaltung der Gesellschaft, die Sehnsucht nach Abschottung und Schutz vor dem kulturell, religiös oder ethnisch Anderen — damit ist eine innerwestliche Krise beschrieben, nicht bloß eine inneramerikanische.

Amerika ist eine fast 250 Jahre lang gewachsene und widerstandsfähige Demokratie. Amerikas Gewaltenteilung funktioniert. Die EU, eine Gruppe aus 28 Staaten, die ausdrücklich kein Superstaat werden will, kann schwerlich eine Supermacht sein.

Die EU ist ziemlich stark darin, ihre Stärken zu beschwören, und ziemlich schwach darin, ihre Schwächen einzugestehen. Das gilt auch für ihre Wirtschaft. Sie gründet auf Voraussetzungen, die Regierungen selbst nicht schaffen können.

Weil die amerikanische Neigung zum Exzess derzeit eher zu- als abnimmt, muss Europa ein stärkeres Gegengewicht bilden. Aber diese neue Stärke muss sich innerhalb einer Partnerschaft mit Amerika entfalten. Denn bevor Europa dort ist, ist Trump längst Geschichte.


2017 November 11

When Consciousness Began

Veronique Greenwood

Julian Jaynes published The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind in 1976. It still sells today.

Jaynes: "Consciousness is a much smaller part of our mental life than we are conscious of .. It is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it. The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. And so consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when actually it does not ..
.. it is perfectly possible that there could have existed a race of men who spoke, judged, reasoned, solved problems, indeed did most of the things that we do, but were not conscious at all."

Jaynes said that until about 3 ky BP, humans relied on a bicameral mind, with one half speaking to the other in the voice of the gods to guide on their way. The bicameral mind eventually broke down as human societies became more complex, and our forebears awoke with an internal narrative.

Jaynes says the characters in The Iliad do not look inward or act by choice but only do what the gods tell them. He suggests the right hemisphere used to be the source of prompts sent to the left side of the brain. These became hallucinations that helped guide humans through difficult situations.

The bicameral mind enabled humans to manage in rigidly hierarchical societies. But around 3 ky BP, stress from overpopulation, natural disasters, and wars overwhelmed the voices. The breakdown of the bicameral mind led to a more flexible way of life. The modern mind was born.

AR I loved the book. I see it as locating the evolutionary origin of the architecture of personal autonomy.

Quantum Solipsism

Philip Ball

Quantum theory says systems before observation are in a superposition of all possible observable states. A quantum state vector encodes all allowed outcomes of measurement and their relative probabilities. A measurement collapses the state vector to give a unique outcome.

Eugene Wigner imagined he was outside a windowless room where his friend measures a system. She knows what the observed property of the system is, but he cannot say that the state vector has collapsed until she tells him the result. Until then, he can only think of her and her system as forming one big superposition.

Wigner said solipsism may be logically consistent with quantum mechanics. But we get an infinite regress: Is he too in a superposition of states until he relays the result to his other friends?

Caslav Brukner imagines that the friend measures the system and collapses the state vector, producing either outcome A or B, but tells him only that she sees a definite result, not what it is. He can only conclude that his friend and her system are in a joint superposition, even though he knows a measurement has happened.

His friend is in state A or state B, but to him she is in a superposition of A and B. Both are right, depending on whose point of view you adopt. In quantum theory there is no privileged perspective for a third observer to reconcile the viewpoints.

Markus Müller imagines that you observe a system and see state X. Given that, your chance of seeing another state Y is defined in algorithmic information theory by representing your experience at any instant as a string of bits. Your history is a random walk through the various possible bit strings.

As these random experiences stack up, the conditional probability of the next bit string is higher for simpler bit sequences than for complex ones, so a simple model emerges. Recall that in the kinetic theory of gases the probability distribution of random configurations of gas molecules is peaked and simple laws emerge for observable properties. In quantum theory too, from minimal assumptions you can recover a world like the one we know.

AR I explored this view in depth in my book Mindworlds. More fun is the movie
What the bleep do we know?

2017 November 10

The End Is Nigh

Philip Collins

The next few years will change the status of Britain. The UK will depart from the EU in March 2019. The Elizabethan era, the symbol of postwar British stability, may end at much the same time.

For Brexiteers, the EU is a fog that shrouded British glory. Power once lost is now found. A new era of national glory and buccaneering global trade will dawn. Britain will be great again.

Leaving the EU will shrink the UK. A slow and gradual descent, rather than a singular cataclysm, will see the economy grow slowly rather than vigorously. Investment levels will remain stubbornly low as investors turn elsewhere. The City of London will contract.

The next US president will whisper sweet nothings about the special relationship with Britain. But with no route into the diplomatic chambers of Europe, London will mean less to Washington.

The end of the Elizabethan era will see the nation diminished in the name of national glory.
The UK will have lost the EU but failed to find another role.

AR This is the mood music of Britizen Jon.

2017 November 9

Brexit — Deadline

Financial Times

Brexit talks resume today in Brussels. Without sufficient progress this month on the divorce settlement, the EU may be unable to discuss transition talks at its summit in December.

The European Parliament issued a blunt warning over citizen rights. Its demands include a cost-free and near-unconditional settled-status application process for 3 million EU nationals in Britain, which would only begin once a transition period ends. Such demands go far beyond what the UK has offered, but MEPs can veto the final divorce deal.

France and Germany are urging the EU27 to stand firm. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier was unable to persuade them to let transition talks begin in parallel to divorce talks.

Brexit — Taxation

Josh Hamilton

Why did rich Brits campaign so hard for Brexit?

In 2015, Britain rejected EU plans to combat tax avoidance by global multinationals. Britain had built a corporate tax haven for multinationals that included slashing corporation tax from 28% to 20% and introducing favorable tax regimes for multinationals with offshore financing subsidiaries.

Earlier in 2015, British MEPs voted against EU plans to require companies to report where they make their profits and pay taxes. The plans included sanctions against countries or territories worldwide that fail to curb tax evasion. The EU pushed ahead — its rules take effect in 2019.

A hard Brexit frees the UK from these rules.

Brexit — Endgame

The Times

European Union leaders are preparing for the fall of Theresa May before the new year, as the prime minister lost her second cabinet minister in a week.

Fears are growing in Brussels that the instability of her government raises the risk of a change of leadership or elections leading to a Labour victory.

All options are under consideration in Brussels, including a disorderly Brexit or a reversal of the Brexit decision after new elections.

Trump — Survival

Max Boot

Donald Trump has not actually carried out most of his lunatic campaign rhetoric. His supporters can argue that he is more moderate in practice than his rhetoric would suggest. The more compelling explanation for his failure to make good on his promises:

1 Trump doesn't really believe in much beyond his own awesomeness. He didn't mean a lot of what
    he said — it was just something to rouse the rubes at rallies.

2 Trump has been utterly incompetent. Even if he wants to achieve more of his agenda, he has no
    idea how to do it. The only things he has accomplished are those he can do by executive order.

3 Trump has staffed his administration with people based largely on superficial criteria. As a result,
    he is surrounded by aides who view him as a screwball to be contained, not a sage to be followed.

The past year has dispelled naive hopes that Trump would grow in office or become more presidential. He is still an ignorant, petulant, unethical, avaricious, conspiratorial, nasty, shameless, bullying egomaniac.


Alice and Bob talk
via wormhole

Wormhole with octopus

Helen Ross
My sister in Oregon

Jacob Rees-Mogg
Jacob Rees-Mogg MP

Sir Robert Syms
Sir Robert Syms MP

Viv Allen
with PCA political deputy
chair Viv Allen

Peter and Brenda Adams
with PCA chair Peter Adams
and his wife Brenda

with me

Poole Bay
Poole Bay

Neutron star
Daily Galaxy
Vacuum birefringence
around a neutron star


2017 November 8

Priti Patel Exits

BBC News

Priti Patel has resigned as UK international development secretary amid controversy over her meetings with Israeli officials.


Natalie Wolchover

Juan Maldacena conjectures that wormholes between distant points in spacetime — ER bridges — are equivalent to entangled quantum particles — EPR pairs. This is ER = EPR.

Black holes evaporate via Hawking radiation. But the idea that a dying black hole erases all record of everything that went into it violates the principle of unitarity in quantum theory, which holds that information is never lost when particles interact. Given unitarity, the information must escape.

Thoughts on quantum gravity drew Maldacena to the ER = EPR idea. The implied relationship between tunnels in spacetime and quantum entanglement posed by ER = EPR resonates with the idea that space is essentially stitched into existence by quantum entanglement.

The ER = EPR idea can be extended by equating a traversable wormhole and quantum teleportation. If a traversable wormhole connects a parent black hole and a daughter black hole formed from half of the Hawking radiation given off by the parent as it evaporates, the two systems are entangled — information from the parent worms its way out of the daughter.

Let Alice and Bob have entangled quantum particles a and b, respectively. Alice wants to teleport a qubit q to Bob, so she prepares a combined state of q and a, measures that combined state (reducing it to 1 or 0), and sends the result of this measurement to Bob. He can then use this as a key for operating on b in a way that recreates the state q, in effect teleporting q.

Say Alice throws qubit q into black hole A. She then measures a bit of its Hawking radiation, a, and tells Bob the result through the external universe. Bob uses this knowledge to operate on b, a Hawking particle from black hole B. Bob reconstructs q, which appears to pop out of B, a perfect match for the particle that fell into A. Information is recovered from black holes.

Traversable wormholes cannot be used as time machines. Anything that goes through the wormhole has to wait for Alice to talk to Bob in the outside universe before it can exit B, so the wormhole offers no superluminal boost that could be exploited for time travel. Traversable wormholes seem to be permitted in nature as long as they offer no speed advantage.

The new work suggests there is no firewall at black hole horizons. The interior and exterior of the black hole are two complementary ways of looking at the same system. An observer passing across a black hole horizon would notice nothing strange.

Unitarity is preserved because whatever falls into one black hole exits the other as Hawking radiation. We can think of the radiation entangled with the black hole — EPR — as being connected to the black hole interior by wormholes — ER. A theory of quantum gravity might imply ER = EPR.

Preamble (Quanta, 2015)

ER = EPR is a shorthand that joins two ideas proposed by Einstein in 1935. If it is correct, the ideas form the foundation of spacetime. Leonard Susskind and Juan Maldacena say quantum entanglement could create the connectivity that sews space together — without it space would atomize.

The firewall paradox: If a black hole event horizon is a smooth interface, the particles coming out of the black hole are entangled with particles falling into the black hole. To conserve information, the particles coming out must also be entangled with particles that left long ago and are far out in a cloud of Hawking radiation. Maximum entanglements are monogamous, between just two particles, so spacetime inside the throats of black holes cannot be smooth. This implies a firewall.

Susskind and Maldacena suggest that ER = EPR implies an octopus wormhole that entangles the interior of the black hole directly to particles in the expanding cloud.

AR See blog 2017 June 25.

2017 November 7

UK Ruling Class

Janan Ganesh

Britain is almost unique in its vulnerability to amateurism, scandal, and electoral indecision.
Power is concentrated in national government, its executive branch, and its prime minister.

An effective government can build a welfare state, as Labour did after 1945, or free an economy, as the Conservatives did from 1979. A poor government can ruin everything.

Brexit and the presidency of Donald Trump are parallel experiments with national sovereignty.
But America is designed to prosper despite its politics. Most mature democracies have codified balances, this set against that, to limit the reach of mere politics into the life of the nation.

The British system trusts the life of the nation to a few offices and prays for worthy occupants. Without EU membership, which restrains government, that concentration of power intensifies. Constitutional reform is needed as a hedge against bad government.

The Paradise Papers

Aditya Chakrabortty

Democracy is rotten in Brexit Britain. Three myths:

1 The British public is fighting its elites.

— Wrong. The elites are fighting their publics by denying them revenues for hospitals and schools. Shuttling between tax havens is an elite sport, and the loser each time is the rest of society, which sees its tax base shrink.

2 Austerity was the only correct response to the crisis.

— Wrong. A recent study that found wealthy Britons have stashed about £300 billion in offshore tax havens. Tories punish the poor but reward the rich for fear they will flee offshore. London has more super-rich residents than any other city.

3 The British public is spoiled by a surfeit of democracy.

— Wrong. Rich non-dom Brits have the most say. Tory donor Michael Ashcroft was granted a peerage after promising to give up his non-dom status, yet he continues to shelter millions offshore. Telegraph owners Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay have their island hideaway of Brecqhou. Daily Mail inheritor Viscount Rothermere has non-dom status. News Corporation owner Rupert Murdoch presides over 152 subsidiaries, including 62 in the British Virgin Islands, 33 in the Caymans, and 15 in Mauritius.

Big Finance and runaway inequality rot democracy.

Watch Amber Rudd

Rachel Sylvester

Theresa May calls for a new culture of respect in public life. But the chaos of the sex scandal will surely hasten the departure of a prime minister presiding over a party split from top to bottom over Europe. Although most MPs thought she would struggle on until after March 2019, many doubt she can survive that long.

As for who might take over, David Davis once had his female supporters parading around in T-shirts with "It's DD for me" emblazoned across their chests. Boris Johnson is a diplomatic disaster zone. Liam Fox has already resigned once for letting his best man into meetings. Damian Green may no longer be seen as a safe pair of hands. Philip Hammond has alienated many with his budget blunders. Andrea Leadsom has opponents who would walk across hot coals to stop her becoming prime minister. Priti Patel had to apologise over unauthorised meetings in Israel. Ruth Davidson cannot make it to Westminster in time.

Amber Rudd is the one to watch.

RNA World


The RNA world hypothesis was that life emerged out of RNA. But RNA would not evolve spontaneously. Both RNA and proteins must take the form of long, folded chains to work, and the early Earth would have prevented strings of nucleic or amino acids from growing long enough.

A protein-folding model treats the 20 amino acids as colored beads: blue hydrophilic beads (polar monomers) and red hydrophobic ones (nonpolar monomers). A chain of beads folds along the vertices of a 2D lattice. Which square a bead occupies depends on how the red beads clump to avoid water.

Permutations of hydrophobic and polar monomers give all possible red-and-blue necklaces up to a given length. A few per thousand of these sequences collapse into compact foldable polymer structures that expose a hydrophobic patch of red beads on their surface.

This patch can serve as a sticky landing pad for hydrophobic sections of sequences floating by. If a single red bead and a red-tailed chain land on the hydrophobic patch at the same time, energy favors the two sequences linking together. The patch acts as a catalyst for elongating polymers.

A few of those elongated polymers fold and expose their own hydrophobic patch. These can form an autocatalytic set to catalyze the formation of copies of themselves. The number of protein molecules would grow exponentially. RNA would evolve later.

2017 November 6

Dawn of Life

New Scientist

Ribosomes are molecular machines found inside every living cell. They read the genetic code contained in DNA and use it to construct the proteins that build us.

Your ribosomes differ from those of a lowly bacterium only in the ornamentation on their outer surface. As evolution progressed, new species tacked extra bits of RNA to their ribosomes. The common core is the part of the ribosome that worked in the last universal common ancestor, LUCA.

Researchers explored the ribosome by recognising the insertion fingerprints in its decoration. They looked further and found ancient traces pointing before LUCA. Every time they found an addition, they snipped it away, pruning down to more primitive layers, all the way down.

The most ancient part of the ribosome is a stretch of RNA that includes the cradle-resembling region that today links amino acids to form protein-like chains. This rudimentary ribosome had none of the precision needed in LUCA. It must have linked amino acids, and probably whatever other molecules would fit into its cradle, into short random chains.

As random fragments churned out of the molecular sausage-maker, a few had a shape that helped them stick to the ribosomal RNA. The mess of co-evolving RNA and protein fragments included a range of molecules that self-assembled. Chemical evolution winnowed through the randomness and selected the components that clung best together.

Life needs a genetic code and precise replication of a genome. In modern cells, code from the central DNA library in the nucleus is copied out to the ribosomes via messenger RNA. The ribosome binds the mRNA transcripts and reads them three letters at a time, with each triplet coding for one amino acid. The specified amino acid is escorted to the ribosome by a transfer RNA.

In prehistory, the proto-ribosome made a range of new molecules. Chemical evolution selected mRNA and tRNA that were better and more precise at their jobs, eventually leading to the genetic code found in all living things. At last, life had emerged.

Modern proteins all contort into intricate 3D shapes that are essential to their function. For a protein to fold well, one part of it has to fit tightly against another. As the precursor molecules co-evolved, they would have selected protein fragments that were predisposed to fold well.

The proteins associated with the oldest part of the ribosome show little or no complex folding. Moving to more recent parts of the ribosome, researchers see proteins folding first into simple sheets and then into more and more precise and intricate shapes. The RNA portions of the ribosome also develop tighter and more stable folding.

When the oldest part of a ribosome links small molecules into longer chains, the link is sealed by releasing a water molecule. The first life may have appeared around the fringes of a pond in conditions alternating between wet and dry.

2017 November 5

Paradise Papers

The Guardian

The world's biggest businesses, heads of state. and global figures in politics, entertainment, and sport who have sheltered their wealth in secretive tax havens are being revealed in a leak of over 13 million files obtained by the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The revelations, for which more than 380 journalists have spent a year combing through decades of data, are explosive.

Gabriel Zucman: "Tax havens are one of the key engines of the rise in global inequality."

AR Outlaw the tax regimes in the "paradise" satellites of the UK economy — Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. Demand compliance with mainland law on pain of military action — such as one Trident warhead per island. If I must pay UK tax then so should the paradise investors.

2017 November 4


Jedediah Purdy

We think of our world as the fruit of a series of advances: domestication, public order, mass literacy, and prosperity. We still like to tell a story that starts with agriculture and the first Mesopotamian city-states, the classical Greeks and their slaves, and the imperial Romans.

Around 5 ky BP, droughts in the Fertile Crescent forced foragers to settle in cities and eat grain to survive. Once a system of labor was in place, fresh bodies were collected by soldiers in slave raids. The exploitation machine called civilization was up and running.

Life in cities was probably worse than foraging or herding. City dwellers ate poorly and they were vulnerable to epidemics. Unless they were in the ruling class, they had to work not only to feed themselves and their rulers but also to build palaces and city walls.

Civilization was always linked with barbarism. Tacitus suggested that German barbarians were more virtuous than settled Romans. Anglo-Americans often traced their democratic identity to the liberty of the forest rather than the cities of the Mediterranean.

The built world that sustains humanity is so vast that the infrastructure of civilization outweighs all human bodies together by a factor of tens of thousands. Without it, global population would fall to perhaps 200 million, as it was at the beginning of the Common Era.


Sigal Samuel

As white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, their banners bore heathen symbols. In Iceland, Ásatrú high priest Hilmar Hilmarsson looked on with horror.

Ásatrú is the largest heathen religion in Iceland. Based on the worship of Thor, Odin, Freya, and other ancient deities, its modern revival started in Reykjavik in 1972. It now has an estimated tens of thousands of followers worldwide.

In Germany, where Viking symbols were coopted by the Third Reich, heathens are wary. Karl Seigfried plans to redact Ásatrú theology to tackle modern issues. He recalls how Catholics in Latin America created liberation theology.

Ásatrú high priest Hilmarsson says the racist interpretation of heathenry is a perversion of his faith. He would like to offer heathens a more compelling vision.

Physics in China

Yangyang Cheng

China plans to build an heir to the Large Hadron Collider. The proposed supercollider would be 55 km in circumference, twice the size of the LHC, and would define the frontiers of particle physics for generations.

The Chinese supercollider is the perfect embodiment of Xi Jinping thought and the Chinese dream. It is a unique opportunity for China to lead an entire branch of science.

Authoritarian states breed a national pride antithetical to the ideals of big science. The Chinese supercollider project still needs greater international involvement.

The LHC fosters collaboration among scientists and institutions from countries in conflict, but collaborators at the Chinese supercollider will be subject to political criteria.

Science depends on open access to the internet. The World Wide Web was invented at CERN in 1989. Future particle physics will run within the Great Firewall of China.

The success of the Chinese supercollider will depend on foreign expertise, equipment, and technology. The particle physics community must set terms for its engagement.

The Quantum Many-Body Problem

John Pavlus

Computers show promise at resolving a problem facing quantum physicists. The behavior of individual electrons is easy. But once they start interacting with each other, negative signs appear and the calculations hit an impenetrable mathematical wall. A mathematical description needs to encode every possible state that the system could occupy, so its complexity rises exponentially. This computational wall for entangled particles is known as the quantum many-body problem.

We can skip the math and go straight to the science. Deep learning involves training a computer to recognize patterns by passing data through multiple layers in a digital network, each of which is coded to search for specific features. Trained neural networks detect patterns in new data. If a computer can classify configurations of electrons by looking at them, then it can maybe do it for any number of particles. We might get realistic quantum many-body models.

2017 November 3

Jacob Rees-Mogg

PCA dinner with Jacob Rees-Mogg MP
Haven Hotel, Sandbanks, Poole

UK Defense — Politics

The Independent

Former head of the British army Richard Dannatt says Theresa May's decision to make her chief whip the new defense secretary is not the best choice from a defense point of view. Lord Dannatt said May had made a political decision to promote Gavin Williamson because he is a trusted lieutenant.

A parliamentary backlash followed the promotion. After Sir Michael Fallon resigned amid allegations in the Westminster sexual harassment scandal, other names were in the frame. But Williamson had worked closely with May and helped stabilize her administration after the June election.

Brexit — Russia

Edward Lucas

If the UK Electoral Commission has help from the intelligence and criminal justice systems, it can ask whether Arron Banks, who gave the largest donation in British political history to the Brexit cause, got his millions from Russia.

Brexiteers will ask who cares if Russia did throw a few roubles into the pot. For them, the scandal is that the pro-Remain camp had the overwhelming support of the entire establishment, yet when the British people were finally given a chance they revolted.

Hot potato: If Russia skewed the Brexit referendum, do we void the result and vote again?

Western Philosophy

Bryan W Van Norden

Mainstream Western philosophy is narrow-minded, unimaginative, and even xenophobic. It used to be more cosmopolitan. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz said of Chinese philosophers: "They surpass us .. in practical philosophy, that is, in the precepts of ethics and politics adapted to the present life and the use of mortals."

Christian Wolff said Confucius showed that it was possible to have a system of morality without basing it on either divine revelation or natural religion. Conservative Christians had Wolff relieved of his duties and exiled from Prussia. But he became a hero of the German Enlightenment.

Immanuel Kant, who was notoriously racist, asserted that the Chinese, Indians, Africans, and Native Americans are congenitally incapable of philosophy. Contemporary Western philosophers who follow him take it for granted that there is no Chinese, Indian, African, or Native American philosophy.

British philosopher G E Moore (1873-1958) was one of the founders of analytic philosophy, now the dominant tradition in the English-speaking world. When Indian philosopher Surendra Nath Dasgupta read a paper to a session of the Aristotelian Society in London, Moore's only comment was: "I have nothing to offer myself. But I am sure that whatever Dasgupta says is absolutely false." The audience of British philosophers in attendance roared with laughter.

AR Anglo-American analytic (AAA) philosophers are in thrall to science. National or ethnic qualifiers for the term "science" make no sense for a true scientist.

2017 November 2

West v China

Martin Wolf

We in the west will be challenged to keep a margin of superiority over China without developing an adversarial relationship. We must see that management of our economy and politics has been unsatisfactory for many years. We let our financial system run aground in a crisis, we underinvested in our future and let a gulf emerge between economic winners and losers, and we let lies and hatred consume our politics.

Putin v US

Ivan Krastev

Russia-gate will be a critical factor in US domestic politics in the months to come. The Kremlin says Russia never messed with the US politics. For Russians the meddling was neither surprising nor scandalous.

Received wisdom in Moscow is that Russia can regain its great power status only by confronting the United States. President Vladimir Putin wants to make Russia an equal partner with countries like China. From his perspective, interfering in the US presidential election was a performance organized mostly for a global public.

Russia is vastly weaker in most ways than the United States. But the Kremlin believes that power and weakness are complex concepts and the stronger party can lose. Russians think he who dares wins.

Handy Guide

Deborah Ross

A document drawn up by staff who work with Conservative MPs accuses 40 of the MPs of sexual misconduct and harassment. The spreadsheet of shame deserves a haiku:

Please keep your handsies
Entirely to yourselfies
It is not that hard

2017 November 1

Neutron Star Mergers

Natalie Wolchover

Neutron star mergers tell us a lot. Combining the gravitational and electromagnetic signals from the recently detected collision we have a clean way to measure the Hubble constant.

In an expanding universe, the farther away an astronomical object is, the faster it recedes. The Hubble constant says how much faster. We estimate that galaxies move away from us at around 70 km/s faster for each additional megaparsec of distance away from us (a megaparsec is about 31 Zm). To date, the two best ways of measuring the Hubble constant give different answers.

A high estimate of 73 comes from estimating distance and velocity for lots of astronomical objects. We measure their redshift to find their recessional velocity due to cosmic expansion. We then build a cosmic distance ladder. We start by deducing the distances to stars in the Milky Way using parallax. Thus we deduce the brightness of Cepheid stars, which serve as standard candles. We spot them in nearby galaxies to calculate how far away the galaxies are. In the galaxies we spot Type Ia supernovas — brighter standard candles that let us see further out. In 2016, a team known as SH0ES used this approach to peg the Hubble constant at 73.2, apparently +/- 2.4%.

A low estimate of 68 comes from Planck telescope data. The Planck team used the cosmic microwave background (CMB) snapshot depicting pressure waves giving density variations at different scales known as the CMB power spectrum. The Hubble constant can be calculated from it. The team made assumptions about other cosmological parameters to get a value of 67.8, supposedly +/- 1%.

The 68/73 discrepancy is still a mystery — but colliding neutron stars can be standard sirens. They send out spacetime ripples that are not dimmed by gas or dust. The waves transmit a clean record of the strength of the collision that lets us infer the distance to the source. We can also detect EM radiation from the collisions and use its redshift to determine their recessional velocity. Divided by distance, this gives the Hubble constant.

From the first collision alone, we calculate the Hubble constant to be 70, give or take 10. We can improve the accuracy with more data.

Neutron Stars

Joshua Sokol

Neutron stars may contain new forms of matter. A neutron star is the compressed core of a massive star, with a solar mass squeezed into a ball of radius 10 km. It is the last stop on the line before a black hole.

A shiny 1—2 cm veneer of normal atoms — mostly Fe and Si — coats a neutron star. Below it, the atoms squeeze so close together that their electrons form a shared sea. Deeper, the protons inside nuclei start turning into neutrons, which cluster close enough together to overlap.

Nucleons are made up of three quarks. Under immense pressure, these quarks might form a new state of quark matter. All that extra energy might go into creating heavier particles that contain not just up and down quarks but also strange quarks.

Pulsars are neutron stars that rotate quickly, sweeping a radio beam across Earth with each spin. For pulsars in binary systems, what should be a constant tick-tock of pulses hitting Earth will vary, betraying their motion and location in orbit.

Pulsars have been observed with about twice the solar mass. In theory, they should collapse into a black hole. Neutron stars stuffed with interacting quarks could be dense enough, while neutron stars made up only of nucleons would be too big.

The Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) is designed to find the size of neutron stars by watching for hot spots on their surfaces. The experiment should produce better radius measurements for neutron stars.

In the final second or so of the latest Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) signal, the orbiting pair of neutron stars started to stretch and squeeze each other, generating tides that stole energy from their orbits. This made them collide faster than otherwise.

Astrophysicists are looking forward to new data from NICER and LIGO.

AR A neutron star mirrored ball — hero of LIFEBALL.

Marx et al.
Marx — Engels — Lenin — Stalin

Satan Redux

Russia plans to test its new
RS-28 Sarmat ICBM this year.
RS-28 will replace the missile
with NATO name SS-18 Satan.
Weighing 100 Mg and with a
range of 10 Mm, it will carry
up to 16 warheads, defeat
missile defense systems,
and pack enough heat to
destroy an area the size
of Texas or France.


Resistance to the idea that
our fellow creatures have the
capacity to feel joy and to suffer
comes above all from politicians
protecting the cheap methods
used by factory farms.
Peter Wohlleben

UK defense secretary
Sir Michael Fallon says
criticizing Saudi Arabia
may jeopardize a £4 billion
deal to sell 48 Eurofighter
Typhoon jets to the Saudis

Report warns hard Brexit could
wipe almost 10% off GDP in
Republic of Ireland

No Brexit

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift
Ready for it?

Stop Brexit

Helioseismology data


2017 October 31

The Red Revolution

David Mikics

Lenin was a man who wanted to turn moral values on their head. For him, as for Stalin, the dead were just numbers. Human life counted for nothing next to the goal of a Communist future.

Lenin was in effect the dictator of Soviet Russia from 1917 until 1922. The rule of terror took hold in the Marxist state. Mass killing became the main strategy to put down rebellion.

Soviet Russia needed control over Ukraine to feed the Soviet masses. In 1933, while millions died of hunger in Ukraine, the Soviet Union exported record amounts of Ukrainian butter and bacon. For Stalin the famine was a success.

Before the Soviet era, it was human beings who killed each other. Under Lenin and Stalin, history itself exterminated class enemies. The Soviet Union has been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Trump — Alt-Reality

Washington Post

President Trump and his media allies are creating a vast alternate media reality that casts large swaths of the US government as irredeemably corrupt. Their declared purpose is to lay the rationale for Trump to pardon his close associates or shut down the Russia probe.

Apparently, Trump has recently revisited the idea of trying to remove Robert Mueller, now Mueller appears to be digging into his finances. Meanwhile, Stephen Bannon is privately urging Trump to try to get Republicans to defund the Mueller probe.

Sean Hannity dismissed the news of allegations against Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos as big nothingburgers. He also revived the fiction that Hillary Clinton approved a deal for a Russian nuclear agency to gain access to US uranium extraction rights in exchange for kickbacks, and the absurd claim that the Clinton campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the election.

Hannity accused Mueller of trying to change the narrative to distract from all this. Trump has tweeted in support of many of these allegations. His media allies cite such stories in support of the notion that Mueller should resign or that Trump should close down the Russia probe.

We need to confront the insanity and depravity of all this.

2017 October 30

North Korean Nukes

Michael Auslin

Can Kim Jong-un control his nukes?

Even if NK laboratories and factories are safe, weapons systems break down, age, and suffer untold problems. The history of the cold war is littered with accidents involving nuclear weapons and incidents that could have sparked nuclear war.

We cannot assume that North Korea will invest in the safest designs for its warheads or missiles. A warhead could detonate by accident. Kim Jong-un would surely deflect blame by accusing the Americans or others of sabotage or an attack.

Kim Jong-un will likely keep all control over nuclear weapons in his hands, but he must delegate authority in some way. If he lacks reliable communications with his nuclear systems, then the uncertainty in nuclear operations increases.

We need to make NK nukes safer.

2017 October 29

Nukes in East Asia

The New York Times

North Korean nuclear capabilities have scrambled military calculations in the region. Both South Korea and Japan are considering the nuclear option, driven by worry that the United States might hesitate to defend them. Both countries have the material and expertise to build a weapon, and all that stops them is the political risk.

In South Korea, president Moon Jae-in opposes nuclear weapons but his his view is increasingly a minority one. South Korea has a huge stockpile of spent fuel from which it can extract plutonium, enough for thousands of bombs, and has a fleet of advanced missiles for conventional warheads. Many South Koreans say a homegrown nuclear deterrent could force North Korea back to the bargaining table, but others say Seoul should ask Washington to redeploy tactical nukes.

In Japan, prime minister Shinzo Abe has campaigned for a military buildup against the NK threat. Japan has a stockpile of nuclear material for up to 6,000 weapons and has long-range missile technology, but would need time to develop communications and control systems. Nuclear weapons would not be prohibited under the Japanese Constitution if maintained only for self-defense.

2017 October 28

Ausschlaggebende Zusammenfassung für Kenner

Deutschland und der Zweite Weltkrieg
Von Michael Salewski

AR Professor Salewski ist es gelungen, eine autoritative und detailreiche Geschichte des zweiten Weltkrieges — die allerdings eher für schon ziemlich versierte Leser geeignet wäre — innerhalb einer überschaubaren Band zu veröffentlichen. Voraussetzungen für den Leser sind ..

Rezension als PDF (1 S.)


2017 October 27

Luther's Legacy

Philip Ball

On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses decrying the practices of the Roman Catholic church to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. This kicked off what became the Protestant Reformation.

Luther opened the intellectual floodgates, pitting Protestantism against Catholic dogma. The Enlightenment took root in the northern European countries that embraced Lutheran ideas, while the south languished under the Catholic yoke.

The Reformation was born of Luther's conviction that the established church had left the path of true belief. It practised nepotism, bewitched believers by intoning in Latin, and raised funds by selling indulgences.

Luther became convinced that salvation could be granted by God alone, without priestly intervention. He spoke of a priesthood of all believers, and encouraged every man to read the Bible for himself. They began to read God's other book — the book of nature — for themselves too.

Nicolaus Copernicus unveiled Heliocentric cosmology in 1543. He was a Catholic canon who dedicated his book to Pope Paul III. Luther had a low opinion of Copernicus and said it was hubris and blasphemy to suppose that one could decode God’s handiwork.

Protestant and Catholic religious leaders were more interested in maintaining worldly power and authority than in fundamental conflicts between reason and belief. Any differences on natural philosophy were relatively trivial. Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton shared a belief in a universe created by a consistent God who decreed its laws.

Base Editing

Emily Mullin

Base editing is a new way to edit single letters in DNA or RNA.

The human genome contains six billion DNA letters, or chemical bases A, C, G, T. These letters pair off, A with T and C with G. The molecular scalpel CRISPR-Cas9 can edit or delete genes, but base editing lets a user change a single letter at a time without breaking the double helix.

Researchers modified CRISPR to work on a single base by rearranging the atoms in an A to resemble a G. The cell then fixed the other DNA strand to complete the switch, turning an A-T base pair into a G‑C one. The user can rewrite errors in the genetic code instead of cutting and replacing whole chunks of DNA.

The researchers used base editing to correct a point mutation that causes hereditary hemochromatosis. They also used the base editor in human cells to induce a mutation that suppresses sickle-cell anemia. In both cases, they detected virtually no off-target effects.

Base editing has a broad set of therapeutic applications.

2017 October 26

The House of Saud

Nesrine Malik

For decades in Saudi Arabia, the royal family has promised but not delivered. This may be changing.

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman says the Iranian revolution triggered copycat religious regimes across the region and now is the time to change: "We are simply reverting to what we followed — a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions. Seventy percent of Saudis are younger than 30. Honestly, we won't waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts, we will destroy them now and immediately."

It seems Prince Mohammed and the royal establishment are serious. With low oil prices and an undiversified economy, the regime can no longer sustain the current system. In the past, the rulers thought only of preserving their own power by giving subsidies to citizens and concessions to the religious establishment.

Prince Mohammed has always been big on social transformation. A senior Saudi royal figure: "This is about giving kids a social life. Entertainment needs to be an option for them. They are bored and resentful. A woman needs to be able to drive herself to work. Without that we are all doomed. Everyone knows that — except the people in small towns. But they will learn."

The Saudi royal family tried to expropriate religion for political purposes. The result is extremism.

2017 October 25

Mad Dog, Get Trump

Thomas L. Friedman

The four big men in Team Trump are National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

McMaster doesn't seem to have a relationship with Trump that could constrain the Prez.

Tillerson blew himself up by starring in a hostage video in which he sang the president's praises. After Trump tweeted that Tillerson was wasting his time negotiating with North Korea, Tillerson had to publicly assure us that he had not been castrated by Trump, which meant he had.

Kelly squandered his moral authority by starring in his own White House podium hostage video. He began well and explained how the president's phone call to the widow of a Green Beret killed in Niger got garbled. But then he began to talk like Trump, gratuitously spouting provably false charges.

Mattis is the last man standing, the only one who can still put some fear into Trump.

Mad Dog, you need to act. Lead the team in telling Trump that if he does not change his ways you will all quit. Your job is not to wipe up Trump's daily filth.

Brexit — Stupidest Thing

The Guardian

Billionaire media mogul and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg says Brexit is the "single stupidest thing any country has ever done" apart from the election of Donald Trump as US president.

Bloomberg said "it is really hard to understand why a country that was doing so well wanted to ruin it" with the Brexit vote.

AR Quote from page 129 of my novel Britizen Jon:
"President Newman recently said Brexit was the dumbest idea since the German invasion of Russia in 1941. It ruined a flourishing trading relationship, turned a powerful group of potential friends into bitter enemies, was based on a totally erroneous and divisive view of the world, was impossible to bring to a good conclusion without a level of support that was nowhere in sight, and led to the utter destruction of the state that started it."

2017 October 24

Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era

Xi Jinping

Today we, more than 1.3 billion Chinese people, live in jubilation and dignity. Our land radiates with enormous dynamism. Our Chinese civilization shines with lasting splendor and glamor.

Our party shows strong, firm, and vibrant leadership. Our socialist system demonstrates great strength and vitality. The Chinese people and the Chinese nation embrace brilliant prospects.

CPC amends Constitution to include Xi Jinping Thought

Brexit — Three Options

Sir Vince Cable

"This is in fact up to London how this will end: with a good deal, no deal, or no Brexit."
Donald Tusk

I welcome Donald Tusk's comments in the European Parliament. No matter what Theresa May says, there are still three options on the table:

No deal
A deal
No Brexit

The EU have confirmed what we have been saying all along: If Brexit looks like a disaster we can call the whole thing off.

Big Smash Refutes Cosmic Theories

Anil Ananthaswamy

On 17 August, the LIGO collaboration saw gravitational waves from two big objects spiraling toward each other. About 1.7 s later, the Fermi satellite detected a GRB. Other telescopes too observed the collision of two neutron stars about 130 million light years from Earth, now named GW170817.

The results show that gravitational waves travel at speed c to within about 1 in 10^15. This refutes some theories that modify general relativity (GR) to try to explain dark energy or dark matter. Our standard model says dark matter makes up about 27% of the universe and dark energy about 68%.

Modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND) and a theory called tensor-vector-scalar (TeVeS) gravity have tried explain the motion of stars and galaxies without dark matter. Another attempt to modify GR models gravity with a new Galileon field driving cosmic acceleration in the last few billion years. These theories are now refuted.

GR includes dark energy as a cosmological constant. Other simple models, such as quintessence, introduce a new field that lets vacuum energy density change over time. These theories survive.

Explaining dark matter and dark energy may require reconciling GR with quantum mechanics in a theory of quantum gravity.


Robert Sapolsky

The brain is complicated. People with damage to the frontal lobes suffer personality change. A high proportion of people in prison for violent offences had a history of head injury earlier in their lives.

Different areas of the frontal lobes interact with the limbic system. These interactions are structured by our genes and experiences. Reason and emotion are not separate processes in the brain but are deeply intertwined.

Children who suffer extreme emotional and physical deprivation have smaller brains with less frontal metabolism and connectivity than children brought up in normal families. They also have larger amygdala, the parts of the temporal lobes involved in fear and aggression.

Human behavior is determined by the mechanics of our brains. If people behave badly, it is because of the neurological, genetic, hormonal, and environmental determinants that shaped their brains, not because of any evil nature.

I do not choose my feelings. They were formed by my genes and experiences in early life. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex helps us do the harder thing which is right.

2017 October 23

How to Stop Brexit

AR Amazon review

Yes, we can, says Nick Clegg in his readable and persuasive little book. He recalls the reasons and motives behind the Leave victory in the 2016 Brexit referendum and marshals the case for reversing the decision before it is too late. For my part, I find the case cogent and convincing.

Essentially, Brexit is far more complicated and damaging than voters ever imagined when they made their decision last year. Misled by a shameless and mendacious propaganda campaign, many simply did what came naturally and voted out of a vague sense of national pride. Most of them had no clue about the economic and political complications that make Brexit, in any rational assessment, one of the worst policy decisions ever made in the British Isles.

Nick Clegg was punished already in 2015 for his unfortunate coalition with the Conservatives in government. As a consistent and prominent supporter of EU membership from the start, he found himself on the losing side in the 2016 battle for British votes. Admirably, he has stuck to his guns and refused to drink the Kool-Aid that is currently poisoning the Conservative government led by Theresa May.

As a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Clegg is so mortified by the electoral demise of his former party that he now advises his readers to vote Labour, in the vague and poorly founded hope that a government led by Jeremy Corbyn might find a way to reverse Brexit. Such a government would be far more likely to keep Britain in the single market and the customs union, which is a minimum condition for national prosperity in the foreseeable future, but it would probably also do great damage on other fronts, so this looks like bad advice.

The practical advice Clegg urges toward the end of his tract is sound. British voters who are unhappy at the prospect of Brexit should join a political party, attend political meetings, badger their MP, make their views known, and add their weight to a mass movement to demonstrate that the 2016 referendum decision is no longer valid. Democracy was never intended to mean one citizen, one vote, one time.

How to Stop Brexit .. by Nick Clegg

2017 October 22

Solar Physics Puzzle

New Scientist

The Sun seems to contain less metal than expected. Its mass is about 2 billion Yg, most of it H and He, with about 2% of heavier elements (such as C, N, O, Fe, all of which astronomers call metals). But about 10 out of the 40 million Yg of metals our models predict seem to be missing.

We study the Sun using light and sound. Spectroscopists pass solar photons through prisms, diffracting it into barcodes for the different elements. Helioseismologists look at sound vibrations on the solar surface.

Perhaps the metals are not behaving as expected. Opacity is a measure of how much energy can pass through a given material. Heavier elements are more opaque than H and He. For the helioseismology results to hold up, the opacity of the metals in the Sun needs to be higher.

Atom have a nucleus surrounded by electrons that orbit at precisely defined energy levels. In the high temperatures and pressures of the solar core, the energy levels shift and expand, increasing opacity. We need to observe atoms interacting with light under high temperatures and pressures.

A team used the Sandia National Labs Z machine to zap a small iron disk with a flash of energy intense enough to resemble the solar interior, with temperatures and pressures high enough to really excite the Fe atoms. The experiments show the hot metal has a higher opacity than expected.

We can get a deeper view of the Sun by observing the neutrinos created in its interior. Some 1% of them are born in core fusion processes involving atoms of C, N, and O. Observing CNO neutrinos would help us understand the Sun.

AI Go Supremacy


A mere 19 months after AlphaGo dethroned the world's top human Go player, AlphaGo Zero taught itself to beat AlphaGo. By freeing AI from human knowledge, the breakthrough removes a primary limit on how smart machines can become.

AlphaGo was taught to play the game using first supervised learning, where it was fed 100,000 top amateur Go games and taught to imitate them, and then reinforcement learning, where it played itself and learned to play more consistently.

AlphaGo Zero began knowing only the rules of Go and played games against itself. At first it played randomly but soon it improved. After 3 days and 4.9 million training games, AlphaGo Zero played AlphaGo and won 100 games to 0.

5 presidents

Photograph: Richard Carson/Reuters
Jimmy Carter, George HW Bush, George W Bush, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton
Deep From The Heart: The One America Appeal, Texas A&M University
Fundraiser for those affected by recent hurricanes

Theresa May
Geert Vanden Wijngaert
Theresa May
Brussels, October 20

"Ich glaube, dass in der Sache
klar ist, was jetzt noch
zu geschehen hat
Angela Merkel

AA gun, 1942
Imperial War Museums
British 3.7" AA gun and ATS
spotter, England, 1942

AR Too many Brexiteers
see such images and say:
"Ah, the good old days!"

"Xi Jinping sits on top
of the Communist Party,
the Communist Party sits
on top of China, and
China sits on top
of the world."
Elizabeth Economy

Somewhere in Hydra

NASA animation

Simulated gravitational
waves from collision

Deep Space Gateway

Last Brexit To Paradise

Theresa May and her cabinet
are contingency planning for
no deal with Brussels before the
UK leaves the EU in March 2019.
No deal would also mean no
transition period. Hard Brexit
fans cheer the prospect as
the only way to break free.

AR Free of life as we know it
— free of this mortal coil.


A survey found that
42% of respondents think
it is right to leave the EU,
compared with 47% who think
it is wrong. This is the biggest
gap in favour of remaining
in the EU since the

Sir Robert
Sir Robert Syms
MP for Poole


2017 October 21


Marilynne Robinson

Alexis de Tocqueville was a humanist. The brilliance of people as they are liberated by new ideas makes his case for democracy. Their gifts are highly individual.

This awakening of minds and spirits is a sunlight that falls across the whole landscape of civilization. Tocqueville stood at a place in the evolution of culture where there was both a continuous expansion of literacy and learning and a vast population they had not yet touched.

Impatience with the energy and originality of the mind is inimical to poetry, eloquence, wit, imagination, and depth of thought. The impulse is historically expressed as social engineering. Armies of ideal workers will compete successfully against whomever for whatever into an endless future, at profound cost to themselves.

The humanities do not prepare ideal helots. But they are ideal for preparing imaginative and innovative contributors to a full and generous national life. Politicians who attack public higher education as too expensive have made it so for electoral or ideological reasons.

2017 October 20


Brad East

David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian and philosopher. He says God is being, goodness and truth, and to be is to depend on God. Hart says this view is that of just about every significant theistic philosopher in human history.

Hart sees the progressive secularization of Western culture as a long march toward nihilism. Secularism, capitalism and individualism, consumerism and voluntarism, scientism and materialism all effect the triumph of the will in human affairs.

Hart has no problem with science, with quantum mechanics and evolution and ecological degradation and the value of nonhuman animals. His problem is with the transformation of scientific inquiry into a metaphysics that denies meaning to any further questions. He calls scientism a barbarous fundamentalism regarding knowledge or inquiry.

Hart remains a distinguished public theologian in a country that no longer recognizes them. We are living in the twilight of an ancient civilization. Christendom is gone, and the Christian culture of the West seems destined for slow dissolution.

2017 October 19

America v China

Rex Tillerson

China, while rising alongside India, has done so less responsibly, at times undermining the international rules-based order.

China's provocative actions in the South China Sea directly challenge international law and norms. We will not shrink when China subverts the sovereignty of neighboring countries and disadvantages the United States and our friends.

China's model of economic development in smaller countries saddles those nations with enormous levels of debt. The United States will collaborate with India to create a region of peace, stability, and growing prosperity.

America will pursue a free and open policy across the Indo-Pacific map. India, an important democracy, pins the western side of that map. Japan, another important and strong democracy with whom we have strong security relationships, pins the eastern side. Australia covers the South Pacific, and America defines the region at its eastern edge.

America will never have the same relationship with non-democratic China that we can have with a major democracy.

Brexit — Expect No Deal

The Guardian

In a letter organized by the Leave Means Leave campaign, former UK cabinet ministers Owen Paterson, Lord Lawson, John Redwood, and Peter Lilley call on Theresa May to walk away from Brexit talks with no deal if the EU refuses to discuss trade.

German parliament CDU/CSU group vice chair Michael Fuchs confirmed that money was the major sticking point in the negotiations: "A figure of .. between €100 billion and maybe €60 billion should be the right point .. €20 billion is definitely not enough."

UK immigration minister Brandon Lewis: "We do value and we want EU citizens to stay .. EU citizens have the right to continue to stay in the United Kingdom .. British citizens have that reciprocal right when they are living abroad in Europe as well."

The Trump Doctrine

Thomas L. Friedman

The Trump Doctrine is very simple: "Obama built it. I broke it. You fix it."

Trump wants to do too much at once without any real preparation or planning. He makes big decisions without consulting experts and without connecting the dots.

Pulls out of the nuclear deal with Iran but needs a nuclear deal with North Korea
Needs to stabilize Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan but gives up on help from Iran
Wants to end the trade imbalance with China but tears up the TPP trade deal
Pulls out of the Paris climate accord and loses out on the green energy market
Restricts funding for birth control yet seeks to reduce the influx of immigrants

None of these dots connect. Trump has not thought this through.

AR How long must we suffer the Trump—Brexit fallout from ignorant, stubborn voters in the US-UK world?

2017 October 18

Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era

Xi Jinping

China will see the basic realization of socialist modernization by 2035 after 15 years of hard work.

1 From 2020 to 2035, the CPC will build on the foundation created by the moderately prosperous society with a further 15 years of hard work to see that socialist modernization is basically realized.

2 From 2035 to 2050, the CPC will, building on having basically achieved modernization, work hard for a further 15 years and develop China into a great modern socialist country.

By mid-century, the following goals will have been met:
— New heights reached in every dimension of material, political, cultural and ethical, social, and ecological advancement
— Modernization of China's system and capacity for governance
— China a global leader in terms of overall national strength and international influence
— Common prosperity for everyone
— Chinese people happier, safer, and healthier

The Chinese nation will become a proud and active member of the community of nations.

Brexit — Saboteurs

Gideon Rachman

As the bleakness of the Brexit dilemma becomes more apparent, the search for scapegoats begins. Brexiteers target the EU but they are now also rounding on the enemy within: the British people and institutions they accuse of undermining Brexit.

The search for saboteurs gives off a whiff of desperation and defeat. Framing the issue as the people versus the elite backfires — many prominent Leavers are members of the British elite. Roughly half the country still thinks Brexit is a mistake.

Brexit — Hypocrisy

Ragnar Weilandt

For decades, politicians and commentators in Britain ignored, misrepresented, or sneered at the European project. Now the UK is on its way out, people are suddenly waving EU flags.

Many of those now fighting for continued membership of the single market and customs union seem unable to shed a fundamentally Eurosceptic perspective.

British politicians and media have misrepresented and mocked Europe for decades. Few remainers ever made an unconditionally positive case for the EU in public. Hardly anyone seriously challenged the myths and misconceptions that dominate the British debate.

Maybe the EU is flawed, imperfect, in need of reform. The UK is imperfect too.

Brexit — Verdict

The Guardian

The OECD verdict:
— The UK growth rate will fall to 1% next year
— A disorderly exit from the EU in 2019 would hurt trade and reduce growth
— A reversal of the Brexit decision would have a significant positive impact on UK growth
— Low productivity and poor export performance leave the UK too weak to prosper outside the EU.

2017 October 17

Two Neutron Stars Collide

The New York Times

"It's the greatest fireworks show in the universe."
LIGO executive director David Reitze

"I can't think of a similar situation in the field of science in my lifetime, where a single event provides so many staggering insights about our universe."
LIGO Scientific Collaboration member Daniel Holz

"Joy for all."
LIGO Scientific Collaboration spokesman David Shoemaker

Astronomers have seen and heard a pair of neutron stars collide, giving them their first view of how the gold and other heavy metals in the universe were created. Such collisions spew out gamma rays, X‑rays, and radio waves in what astrophysicist Brian David Metzger in 2010 called a kilonova.

On August 17, a LIGO detector recorded a signal and sent out an alert. Transformed into sound, the signal was a 100 s chirp ending in a sudden whoop to 1 kHz. Meanwhile, the Fermi Space Telescope recorded a brief burst of gamma rays 2 s after the LIGO chirp and sent out its own alert. The GRB lasted about 2 s. The signals told a tale of a pair of neutron stars spiraling around each other.

The kilonova fireball showed up as a new bluish pinprick of light in the outer regions of NGC 4993, a galaxy about 130 million light years away. The merging neutron stars were probably relics of massive stars that had died in supernova explosions some 11 billion years ago. These neutron stars were about 1.1 and 1.6 times as massive as the sun.

As they approached each other, orbiting a thousand times a second, tidal forces bulged their surfaces outward. Their guts were ejected and formed a fat doughnut around them.

At the moment they touched, a shock wave squeezed more stuff out of their polar regions, but the doughnut and extreme magnetic fields confined the material into a pair of fast jets emitting gamma rays. As the jets slowed down, they became visible in X-rays and then radio waves.

The big splat poured out neutrons into space, where they transmuted surrounding atoms into heavy elements. The radioactivity of these elements kept the fireball hot. Over a few days, an amount of gold up to 100 times the mass of the Earth may have been blown into space.

The discovery filled fills the gap in our story of how the elements were cooked up from primordial H and He. Stars and supernovas can cook the elements up to Fe, but heavier elements need a different thermonuclear chemistry.

A blizzard of papers is being published — one in The Physical Review Letters has some 3,500 authors.


New Scientist

LIGO found it first, on 17 August, in the constellation Hydra. Gravitational waves and a burst of gamma radiation came from a collision between two neutron stars.

It marks the first proof that neutron star mergers emit gamma ray bursts, the first sighting of heavy elements being formed, and the first measurement of universal expansion using gravitational waves.

The collision was observed in wavelengths across the EM spectrum from radio to gamma rays. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope show us the resulting cloud of hot plasma and gas.

The gravitational waves produced in this collision also revealed how fast the universe is expanding. The waves confirm previous calculations.

We now know we have been witnessing neutron star mergers for as long as we have observed short gamma ray bursts. LIGO will see many more.

2017 October 16


Mike Pence

We will return American astronauts to the Moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond. The Moon will be a stepping stone, a training ground, a venue to strengthen our commercial and international partnerships as we refocus America's space program toward human space exploration.


Neel V. Patel

NASA already has plans to go to the Moon. The first of a series of manned missions to lunar orbit will launch in 2022. But the cost of maintaining and operating a lunar base would be astronomical.

NASA aims to develop the Deep Space Gateway, a crewed space station deployed between the Earth and the Moon as a staging point for deep space missions. It will be up above the lunar gravity well. The lunar surface is an unnecessary detour if the aim is to go to Mars.

AR All crewed missions divert funding from scientifically more productive robot missions. Human space exploration is best accomplished when the robot support systems are mature. Otherwise the first space tragedy will set back progress for decades.

Bright Propaganda

Nick Cohen

The Brexit right has no plan beyond a desire to turn Britain into a Randian dystopia where regulations vanish and the state withers. It has no policy beyond a nostalgic hope that Britain will sail across the wide blue oceans and conquer new markets as our imperial ancestors conquered them before. This is religion, not politics.

The Bright wingnuts have no allies, only enemies. Many of them have been fighting their opponents in the Tory party for 30 years. The wounds are too deep, the scars are too thick, for them to admit now the other side may have a point.

Beyond the desire to create an isolated state in the Atlantic, where welfare and regulations are slashed and climate change denied, is a more primal impulse. They cannot concede an inch to enemies. Compromise, even a compromise with reality, feels like a betrayal.

But as propagandists the Brexiteers are anything but stupid. They have been the most brilliantly successful manipulators of public opinion in modern British history. Despite the collapse in the pound and living standards, despite the descent of the negotiations into the mire, not one prominent supporter of Brexit has admitted to the smallest doubt.

Battle of Brexit

Simon Head

The outcome of the UK general election in June has changed everything. When Theresa May first said she intended to withdraw the UK from the EU single market and customs union, she also said she wanted to keep strategic sectors of the UK economy inside the single market and customs union. Britain would have its cake and eat it.

May put together her approach without much input from her cabinet or British business. Her fall has blown open the politics of Brexit within her cabinet. The contradictions have been exposed as rival factions fight for supremacy.

The cabinet faction led by Philip Hammond wants to salvage as much as possible of UK trading ties with the EU. Boris Johnson leads the cabinet faction agitating for a hard Brexit. The divisions make it unlikely that the cabinet can reach agreement.

Brexiteers say the outcome of the June 2016 referendum is the will of the people. But public opinion is unstable. If the polling numbers move against Brexit, the political class will surely take note and abandon the whole disastrous project.

A Great American Novel

Boyd Tonkin

The idea that rational men are not in charge of running the universe recurs through the 29 parts of the 880 pages of 4321. Years in the making, Paul Auster's 17th novel appeared just as the author turned 70. It is both a panorama of American life between 1947 and 1971 and a vastly magnified quartet, in which the same smart kid, Archie Ferguson from New Jersey, grows up in four different ways, with four separate destinies.

Grandson of a penniless migrant whose stumbling Yiddish replies at Ellis Island ("Ikh hob fargessen") turn him, by chance, into Ichabod Ferguson, Archie enters the world in March 1947, a month after his creator. After this prologue, the four versions of Ferguson are woven into a Bildungsroman that stretches from infancy to early adulthood.

The parallel Fergusons grow up in the same, shared time. Their paths never stray far from plausibility for a bright Jewish boy in the Newark suburbs. Auster makes them writers in assorted genres, to scatter shards of autobiography among his parallel worlds. Each Ferguson learns that reason governs neither the state nor the heart.

4321 by Paul Auster

2017 October 15


The Sunday Times

Beijing is preparing for the 19th national congress of the Communist Party of China in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square, starting Wednesday.

Xi Jinping, 64, is sure to continue as party general secretary and national president. The congress is a further opportunity for him to consolidate his power.

Last year the party added Core Leader to his other titles. This year the congress may celebrate Xi Jinping Thought — an honour previously reserved for Mao Zedong.

Xi aims to preside over the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. This China dream is hugely popular: 92% of citizens say China is on the right track.

Trump Cuts Health Care

Amy Davidson Sorkin

President Donald Trump staged a signing ceremony for an executive order designed to push people into junk insurance plans. He said he will withhold the subsidies that the government currently pays insurance companies. Both moves recklessly target vulnerable Americans.

Trump said he defunded the subsidies because paying them went against the will of Congress. In effect, Congress had promised the money but now wants the right to withhold it on a regular basis. This is something any congressional majority interested in avoiding chaos in the insurance markets could have fixed.

The false stories congressional Republicans drew of Obamacare fed partisan demands for Trump to savage it. The Republican party made a destructive promise that Trump has been eager to keep. Party leaders were quick with their gratitude.

The Trump administration has rewritten rules to let plans omit birth control. It has cut programs that help people sign up for Obamacare and hidden information about affordable plans. At the signing ceremony, Trump said: "I'm only signing it because it costs nothing."

Going Rogue

David Smith

Donald Trump's decision to go it alone with rapid fire announcements on healthcare and Iran reflects his boiling frustration with the limits of presidential power.

Senator Chris Murphy: "Trump's decision to stop ACA payments is nuclear grade bananas, a temper tantrum that sets the entire health system on fire."

Trump's threat to terminate the Iran deal puts him at odds with secretary of state Rex Tillerson and defense secretary Jim Mattis.

White House chief of staff John Kelly: "The Congress has been frustrating to him .. in his view, the solutions are obvious."

Free Will

Oliver Moody

Replika is a chat bot that gradually moulds its traits and style of speech around each user so as to win trust. It is just one of a host of electronic angels and demons coders are building for us. This technology poses new risks for our freedom and dignity.

We need to decide what is acceptable, before it is decided for us. Imagine yourself as a cloud of data moving through the world. Every time you do anything, you shed more data that can be sucked up and used to understand what makes you tick.

These tools will undermine what it means to be an individual. Corporations will use their new powers to manipulate our psychology for their own gain. In a world where machines can predict and sculpt our deepest desires, free will is under threat.

Cambridge Analytica used AI to help elect Donald Trump. Members of the Quantified Self movement log every aspect of their lives with fitness trackers, smartphone sensors, and other widgets. Replika will wake up on millions of devices next week.

2017 October 14


Donald Trump

The Iranian dictatorship .. remains the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism .. It develops, deploys, and proliferates missiles .. It harasses American ships .. It imprisons Americans .. And it launches cyberattacks ..

Realizing the gravity of the situation, the United States and the United Nations Security Council sought, over many years, to stop Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons with a wide array of strong economic sanctions.

But the previous administration lifted these sanctions, just before what would have been the total collapse of the Iranian regime, through the deeply controversial 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. ..

Iran is not living up to the spirit of the deal. So today .. I am announcing a new strategy ..

1 We will work with our allies to counter the regime's destabilizing activity and support for terrorist proxies in the region.

2 We will place additional sanctions on the regime to block their financing of terror.

3 We will address the regime's proliferation of missiles and weapons that threaten its neighbors, global trade, and freedom of navigation.

4 We will deny the regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.


Federica Mogherini

We cannot afford .. to dismantle a nuclear agreement that is working and delivering .. Iran is implementing all its nuclear-related commitments .. There have been no violations of any of the commitments included in the agreement.

The international community .. has clearly indicated that the deal is and will continue to be in place. The European Union continues to fully support the Iran nuclear deal, and .. is committed to preserve it, to the benefit of all, including the Iranian people.

2017 October 13

Trump Can Nuke Alone

The New York Times

Does President Trump understand, and can he responsibly manage, the most destructive nuclear arsenal on Earth?

He has threatened to totally destroy North Korea. He has reportedly pressed for a massive buildup in the American nuclear arsenal. And soon he will decide for or against the Iran nuclear deal.

Senator Bob Corker trusts Rex Tillerson, Jim Mattis, and John Kelly to help "separate our country from chaos" — a searing indictment from a respected voice on national security issues.

Congress is considering legislation to bar the president from launching a first nuclear strike without a declaration of war by Congress. Today he could unleash a nuclear war within minutes, by his word alone.

How Many Nukes?

Fred Kaplan

When President Trump was shown a graph tracking the dramatic reduction in American and Russian nuclear weapons over recent decades, he pointed to the peak year 1969, when America had 32,000 nuclear weapons, and said he wanted that many nukes now.

Officials explained that the roughly 4,000 weapons in the current US strategic arsenal are better able to carry out their missions than the much larger force half a century ago. As other national security issues were brought up, Pentagon officials were rattled by his lack of understanding on all fronts.

Trump is not interested in learning. His idolatry of military officers is well known, but less noted is his idolatry of big guns for their own sake. He wants military parades as a show of strength. He told his aides he wanted 32,000 nuclear weapons because that was the largest number of nuclear weapons a president ever had.

Forget about the budget or why we need so many nuclear weapons. And forget IQ — America's top diplomat called Trump a fucking moron.

Brexit — Deadlock

John Crace

Michel Barnier: "Here we are again. The same two people." Then he switched to French. He reiterated the three things on which there was no real progress. Citizens rights. Northern Ireland. The financial settlement. He tried to offer a glimmer of hope: "Decisive progress is possible within two months." The last time someone had said "It will be all over by Christmas" was in 1914.

Ein harter Brexit ohne Austrittsabkommen wird immer wahrscheinlicher

AR Soon time to pack my bags.

2017 October 12

Philosophical Investigations

Ian Ground

Ludwig Wittgenstein is seen as the model of a great philosopher. He is obscure and intense, severe and mystical, charismatic and strange, driven and tragic, with his difficulty bound up with his character and his life. Wittgenstein saw philosophy not just as a vocation, but as a way of life.

Born in 1889, Wittgenstein came from a wealthy but dysfunctional Viennese family. He began as an engineer and ended as a fellow in philosophy at Cambridge. He published only one book in his lifetime, the Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus (1921). He left manuscripts and notes later published in various forms. The central work is the posthumous Philosophical Investigations (1953).

In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein asked what must be the case if we are able to have true and false thoughts of the world. His answer was that the world, language, and thought must share a common logical form. But later he came to abandon and replace much of this conception.

In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein aims to wean us from the idea of intrinsically representational and meaningful psychological states or processes. Because we think language is fundamentally about naming things, we think that psychological concepts must be names of things in an inner space, so language is really private.

Wittgenstein says meaning only gets going in and through the shared practices and interactions of living beings and is only visible in their lives and activity. In the beginning is not the word but the deed. Just as gold does not explain the value of money, thoughts do not explain the meaning of words. We do not mirror reality. We are enmeshed in it.


Das Volk ist derjenige Teil des Staates,
der nicht weiß, was er will.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel


Government by the worst
and most unscrupulous
people among us, or
the most inept kind
of government

"Far from having more for
public services, Brexit Britain
will have to spend tens of
billions it doesn't have on
new quangos — brilliant."
James Chapman

Guide To Presidential Etiquette

If you are the POTUS, you may:

Mock a foreign leader with
a demeaning nickname and
threaten his country with
nuclear annihilation
over Twitter

AfD is the German UKIP,
another tribal atavism:
UKIP brought us the
madness of Brexit;
AfD can do worse

If President Trump refuses to
certify that Iran is complying
with the nuclear deal he will
be making his most feckless
foreign policy decision yet

"Theresa May can restore
some of her credibility by
putting Boris Johnson in
charge of Brexit."
Mary Dejevsky

AR That would add
Damian Green's "gaiety"
to the proceedings!


Not quite for everyone

"Nobody has yet said they
disagree with government
policy. Boris is doing what
Boris has always done, adding
to the gaiety of nations."
Damian Green

Zapad 2017

Shwedagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda

UK foreign secretary
Boris Johnson recited part of a
colonialist poem in front of local
dignitaries while on an official
visit to Myanmar in January.

In the Shwedagon Pagoda, the
most sacred Buddhist site in
Yangon, he started reciting
The Road to Mandalay
by Rudyard Kipling.

The UK ambassador to Myanmar
stopped BoJo before he got to:

Bloomin' idol made o' mud
Wot they called the
Great Gawd Budd


2017 October 11

A German Prophet

James Angelos

Götz Kubitschek, a tall black-clad figure with a well-trimmed goatee and the upright posture of a military officer, is 47 and lives in a village in eastern Germany. He calls himself a conservative, battling to preserve German identity, which he says is threatened by immigration and the alienating effects of modernity. He has warned of the looming demise of the German Volk and has connections to some of the most radical AfD politicians.

European nationalists promote a kind of New Right rainbow coalition, in which sovereign states steadfastly maintain their ethnic and cultural identities within a larger western ideal. New Right thinkers dream of establishing a common front that would unite opponents of liberalism on both extremes of the political spectrum. They say German self-hatred must be overcome for Germany to be great again.

Kubitschek says that in a time of great peril a leader must act beyond the law. He says the consequences of a revolt are less troubling than the threat of what would happen if the Volk lacked the courage to defend itself from cultural erosion. Recently he published Finis Germania, a book by Rolf Peter Sieferle.

AR Finis Germania — blog 2017 July 12

Brexit — Update

Financial Times

UK prime minister Theresa May, who voted Remain in the 2016 referendum, was asked how she would vote in a new referendum: "What I did last time around was I looked at everything and came to a judgment and I'd do exactly the same this time around."

European Council president Donald Tusk: "If it turns out that the talks continue at a slow pace, and that sufficient progress hasn't been reached, then together with our UK friends we will have to think about where we are heading."

UK chancellor Philip Hammond: "The government and the Treasury are prepared. We are planning for every outcome."

AR We can still turn HMS Britannia around and escape the Brexit falls.

2017 October 10

American Kakistocracy

Norm Ornstein

We are experiencing kakistocracy in America. The Constitution prohibits anything of value other than a salary going to a president from the federal government or the states. Trump pushed for more favorable property taxes. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have sought to leverage their White House status for business gain. A string of Trump cabinet members and White House staffers have been caught spending staggering sums of taxpayer dollars to charter jets.

World stability is endangered by the embarrassing triangle involving secretary of state Rex Tillerson, secretary of defense James Mattis, and Trump. Within the last week, Trump undercut Tillerson via tweet, taking diplomatic talks with North Korea off the table while his secretary of state was in China. Then Tillerson reportedly called the president a moron. Mattis then told the Senate that America should continue to certify the Iran nuclear deal, after which the president undercut his credibility by decertifying the deal.

Donald Trump campaigned by promising to run government like a business. Ot the 602 key policy positions in the executive requiring Senate confirmation, only 142 have been filled and 289 have not even had a nominee chosen. The record here is starkly worse than under the previous four presidents.

John Kelly left his position at Homeland Security for the White House in July. The vacancy he left remains. There are still no nominees for undersecretary for national protection, undersecretary for science and technology, or assistant secretaries for policy or immigration. The same pattern holds true for almost every other cabinet department or key agency.

The record of the Trump administration in its first nine months is abysmal. Not one of the big goals set by the president or majority congressional leaders has been achieved. The administration is inept, venal, and reckless.

2017 Nobel Prize in Economics

Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Richard H. Thaler has incorporated psychologically realistic assumptions into analyses of economic decision making. He has shown how limited rationality, social preferences, and lack of self-control systematically affect individual decisions as well as market outcomes.

Limited rationality — Thaler developed the theory of mental accounting, explaining how people simplify financial decision making by creating separate accounts in their minds, and showed how aversion to losses can explain the endowment effect.

Social preferences — Thaler showed how consumers may stop firms from raising prices in periods of high demand, but not in times of rising costs, and devised a tool to measure attitudes to fairness in different groups of people around the world.

Lack of self-control — Thaler analyzed self-control problems using a planner-doer model to describe the internal tension between long-term planning and short-term doing, and demonstrated how nudging may help people exercise better self-control.

Thaler has built a bridge between the economic and psychological analyses of individual decision making. Behavioural economics has had a profound impact on many areas of economic research and policy.

Living With God

Peter Brown

Saint Augustine wrote his Confessions in about 397 CE, a few years after he had become a Christian bishop. In the first nine books, Augustine describes his life from his birth to his conversion in Milan and the death of his mother. In books 10 and 11, he includes philosophical thoughts on the nature of memory and time. In the last two books, Augustine plunges into the Hebrew scriptures.

In her new translation, Sarah Ruden renames God as a master. This change brings Augustine to life. In relation to God, Augustine experiences all the ups and downs of a household slave in relation to his master. Augustine changes in his relation to God, over the years, from slave to repentant son to lover. Ruden conveys a living sense of the being before whom we find him transfixed in prayer.

Augustine uses medical terminology in books 6 and 7 to describe the last stages of his conversion. Here the crack of the whip is silent. Nor does truth dawn suddenly for him in the garish manner of conventional conversion narratives. Instead, we enter the gentle light of a Roman sickroom, as God, the supremely tender doctor, tiptoes in to place his hand on Augustine.

Augustine has a gift for miniaturizing sin. Examining his motives for robbing a pear tree, he isolates the possibility that he had acted gratuitously, simply to show that he could do whatever he wished. By the time the bishop approached his sexual temptations, he looks at his sins as if through the diminishing end of a telescope. They are disturbing because they are so small but so tenacious.

2017 October 9


Kyle Griffin

Trump: "Maybe it's the calm before the storm."
Reporter: "What storm Mr President?"
Trump: "You'll find out."


The New York Times

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Republican Senator Bob Corker says President Trump is treating his office like a reality show, with reckless threats toward other countries that could lead to World War III: "He concerns me. He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation .. the White House has become an adult day care center .. every single day at the White House, it's a situation of trying to contain him."

Corker could play a key role if Trump follows through on his threat to decertify the Iran nuclear deal. On Trump: "I know .. in several instances, he's hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway by tweeting things out .. the vast majority of our caucus understands .. the volatility that we're dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road."

Corker, 65, is a former mayor of Chattanooga who became wealthy in construction. He says the commander in chief is not fully aware of the power of his office: "I don't think he appreciates that when the president of the United States speaks and says the things that he does, the impact that it has around the world."


New Scientist

New cochlear implants will let users stream audio directly from their iPhone into their cochlear nerve. Apple and Cochlear have made the connectivity available for any hearing implants that use the Nucleus 7 sound processor. The audio signal is highly compressed, but the technology is likely to be adopted by consumer audio devices. Technology giants are betting heavily on audio interfaces becoming the norm in the future. We will wear transparent ear buds that let us hear the world around us while also working online through our phone.

AR Ooh, lovely!

2017 October 8

A German Patriot

Roger Cohen

Klaus Riedelsdorf is a German patriot. He wants his country back. Islam is an ideology, he says, and an Islamic takeover of Germany is the greatest danger the country has faced since the Cold War.

He cites three fiascos: the euro fiasco, where Germany ended up paying to bail out other countries; the environment fiasco, where Germany renounced nuclear power; and the refugee fiasco, where Angela Merkel has let in a million-strong "army with stones" since 2015.

Riedelsdorf is a member of the AfD party. He is happy with equal rights for gays and women, but he asks whether what homosexuals do with each other really needs to be taught in German schools or whether gender-neutral neologisms really need to be adopted to satisfy feminists.

Riedelsdorf on political correctness: "It makes no sense to force people to think this or that when they don't believe it. They will do the opposite as soon as they can."

On WW2: "My grandfather and three of my father's brothers fought in the war. They did what they were told to do, as any soldier in the world would. They tried to be honorable. The war was a crime, we know that, but soldiers did not commit the crimes. That was the SS. We need a differentiated view of the Third Reich."

AR I can understand and even sympathize with his views — except that patriotism is nationalism and nationalism is a tribal atavism that must be damped if not squashed in the sort of globalized world that I see as our only hope in the longer term.

2017 October 7


Martin Wolf

Jeremy Corbyn: "The next Labour government will transform Britain by genuinely putting power in the hands of the people."

Socialism has come in three main varieties: autocratic, populist, and social democratic. Autocratic socialism was a catastrophe. Populist socialism has never worked economically. Social democracy has been a triumph.

European social democrats understand that any successful program for a party in government must:
— avoid the lure of magical thinking on budget constraints for government
— recognise the crucial role of incentives in shaping human behaviour
— thoroughly internalise the importance of a stable institutional framework
— understand that the private sector plays a leading role in the economy

Populist socialism is undisciplined on public finances, unconcerned about incentives, contemptuous of property rights, hostile to the private sector, and antagonistic to the constraining institutions.

AR People power means putting pleasure now over pain later.

Deep Tory Problems

Philip Collins

Manchester was a theatre of delusion for the Conservative party. Hollowed out intellectually, the party has retreated to the comfort zone of obsession with Europe. The Eurosceptics have released a toxin into their party which is poisoning their politics.

The Tory party has the leader it deserves. The conservatism of Theresa May consists of some strong ideas weakly held and is reluctantly liberal on social issues, prone to protectionism in economics, and patriotic in character.

The Tory party contains dissent. Few Tory leaders were ever ideologues. A party that pursued a policy of imperial protection before switching to the advocacy of free trade without ceasing to be the Conservatives was never defined by either.

Passion on Europe has turned the party into a pressure group. Europe is their only issue and it is shattering them. Some of them regard Boris Johnson as their saviour, forgetting that he and his kind are to blame for their move to the fringe.

AR My published comment under this article drew by far the most recommendations, so far as I can see, among many hundreds of comments: "Brexit is an expression of an unwanted disease. Most British voters who suffered from it didn't even realise its virulence. They thought detesting foreigners — who begin at Calais — was a patriotic eccentricity. In fact that detestation is toxic mind rot."

2017 October 6

Rhodes Scholars

Max Harris

I grew up surrounded by books and Oxford was always on my radar. The Rhodes scholarship financed my graduate work at Oxford from 2012 to 2014. It was really chance that led me to take the All Souls exam and win a fellowship.

The Rhodes Must Fall campaign began in South Africa and came to Oxford in 2015. It has sparked debate about Oxford and its institutions. The scholarship is a kind of brand and scholars are quite sensitive to its reputation.

I knew little about Cecil Rhodes when I won the scholarship. I backed the campaign partly because of its history and partly because I knew some of the black students who had launched the campaign and wanted to help.

The movement aims to decolonialize curricula, to help correct the underrepresentation of black students and academics, and to relocate the statue of Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes House is not happy with its methods and language but I hope things will change.

I see no contradiction between accepting the scholarship and criticizing the man who financed it. On the contrary, I think it my duty to be aware of the crimes and contribute to their reparation. The statue should be put in a museum.

Rhodes Scholarships go back to 1902 and colonial capitalist Cecil Rhodes. They are awarded only to members of certain nations. The Rhodes Trust aims "to identify and develop leaders" and has funded around 8,000 scholars so far.

All Souls College in Oxford was founded in 1438 and contains only fellows. Its entrance exam for Oxford students is billed as the hardest in the world: only 2 per year win a generously funded 7-year fellowship.

AR At Oxford, between my third and fourth degrees, I felt tempted by the All Souls exam — but somehow never sat it.

2017 October 5

Nobel Prizes

Ed Yong

Three men won the Nobel Prize for Physics for their discovery of gravitational waves. But what of the other scientists who contributed to the LIGO project?

Every year, when Nobel Prizes are awarded in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine, critics note that they are an absurd and anachronistic way of recognizing scientists for their work.

The scientific Nobels have drawn controversy since their inception. Beyond who should have received the prize and who should not, the problem is that the Nobels reward three individuals at most for each of the scientific prizes in any given year. And modern science is a team sport.

The price of reform is low, and the cost of avoiding it is high. The Nobels feed the pernicious myth of the lone genius. They reinforce a reward system in science in which the winner takes all, and the contributions of the many are neglected by disproportionate attention to the contributions of a few.

And in many cases, the prizes are about who has survived. Nobel Prizes cannot be awarded posthumously. Women have won just 12 of the 214 prizes in physiology or medicine, just 4 of the 175 prizes in chemistry, and just 2 of the 204 prizes in physics.

None of this would matter if Nobels were no big deal. But laureates are blessed with eternal fame — a problem when some turn to pseudoscience or worse.

2017 October 4

A Banjaxed Conference

Marina Hyde

By the end of the Conservative party conference, Theresa May had suffered so many painful betrayals and humiliations that she should have ditched her speech. Handed a P45 by a comedian as she coughed it out, she had already spent four days having to suck up all manner of indignities.

The party seemed to have called an election by mistake. This conference was an attempt to contain the fallout, which repeatedly threatened to spill over into open recrimination. Everywhere you went, you could hear party members muttering about wanting big ideas, a big vision.

The average age of Conservative members is around 70. Perhaps there was the odd clue that this sort of reckoning was in the post. The endless giveaways to baby boomers. The pollsters who used to say the only demographic one needed to pay less attention to than young people was dead people. The sense among the constituency associations that the definition of young is under 48.

Neither the Tories nor Labour — both of which proclaim how useless the other lot are — seem aware what their failure to pull comfortably ahead against that kind of adversary says about them. We might hesitate to characterise them as two equally formidable adversaries grappling at the Reichenbach Falls. Two drunks fighting in a puddle feels more like it.

AR The original article is long and witty — I recommend it.

Gravitational Wave Nobelists

New Scientist

Gravitational waves have earned a Nobel prize for Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish, and Kip Thorne, the three leaders of the LIGO/VIRGO collaboration that found the waves in 2015.

Half of the $1.1 million prize goes to Weiss. The remainder is shared between Barish and Thorne. Weiss founds ways back in the 1970s to cancel out sources of background noise that could be mistaken for gravitational waves. Thorne joined forces with Weiss to develop the interferometer. Barish was leader of LIGO and transformed a small research group of 40 into a major international collaboration of 1000 scientists.

Weiss: "We know about black holes and neutron stars, but we hope there are other phenomena we can see because of the gravitational waves they emit."

AR Thorne co-authored with Charles Misner and John Wheeler the bible of general relativity: Gravitation

2017 October 3

Guns In America

Nicholas Kristof

Since 1970, more Americans have died from guns (including suicides, murders and accidents) than the sum total of all the Americans who died in all the wars in American history, back to the American Revolution. Every day, some 92 Americans die from guns, and American kids are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries.

Godfather Of Brexit

Financial Times

A friend says UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson has reinvented himself as the godfather of Brexit.

A cabinet minister: "Boris was in danger of sliding out of view but he is now back in the game. You get some party activists chuntering about his disloyalty to Theresa May, but at the same meetings you get people saying — Good old Boris, I'm glad somebody is saying those things."

BoJo: "It would be foolish to leave the EU only to remain in orbit in a state of lunar capture."

BoJo Brexit Bombast

Janan Ganesh

Boris Johnson is wrong in his impatience for a fast Brexit. He is right to sense that delay suits the Remainers. Once Britain enters a holding pen between in and out, the chances of exit fall.

BoJo has no positive account of exit because there is none to be had. The EU does not hold member states back from external trade or from munificent healthcare spending. BoJo has a political hunch that exit has to happen at pace or not at all.

No prime minister will dare to rescind the referendum. But Britain could ease into a limbo in which two years of transition become more. Transition is the last public service of Theresa May.

2017 October 2

Zapad 2017

The New York Times

The military exercise Zapad 2017 showed progress in the Russian ability to conduct complex, large-scale operations, using drones and other new technology. It far exceeded in scope and scale what Moscow had said it would conduct.

Before the exercise, Russia said the drills would involve fewer than 13,000 troops engaged in a counterterrorism scenario in Belarus, the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, the Baltic Sea region, and around St. Petersburg. Instead, tens of thousands of Russian troops in the Arctic and Far East, the Black Sea, near Ukraine, and in the Abkhazia region of Georgia also joined in.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu: "In effect, these activities together constituted a single strategic exercise, involving the full spectrum of Russian and Belarusian military."

Newtonian Resurrection

A.N. Wilson

Isaac Newton went up to Cambridge in 1661. As a Fellow of Trinity College and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics from 1669 onward, Newton was obliged to subscribe to the 39 articles of the Church of England. Unusually for a fellow at this period, he refused to take holy orders.

In addition to his public work as a mathematician and physicist, Newton secretly studied Christian doctrines. He concluded that the central doctrines of Christianity were monstrous idolatries and perversions of true religion.

Newton believed he was one of the true believers mentioned in the book of the Apocalypse, who would be resurrected to rule over mortals in the Millennium. The Archbishop of Canterbury talked with him and thought he was mad.

2017 October 1


Conservative Party Conference

Theresa May says the cabinet is united and she will be leader for the long term.


Niall Ferguson

The Russian government meddled in the US presidential election. Shortly after the election, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg dismissed as "a pretty crazy idea" the notion that fake news might have won it for Trump. Last week he said he regretted those words.

Russian trolls with bogus identities bought more than 3,000 Facebook ads. The ads could have been seen by tens of millions of people. Russians used Facebook Events to organise phoney political protests in the United States. Twitter was used in a similar way.

It is still too early to conclude that Russian use of social media decided the election. But we probably can conclude that social media decided the election. The only indicators that reliably predicted the election result were Facebook and Twitter. Trump completely dominated Clinton on both.

Facebook has more than 2 billion users around the world. In America, about two-thirds of adults are on Facebook. Nearly half get their news from it. The most powerful media publisher in the history of the world — Citizen Zuck.


Anil Ananthaswamy

Henry Markram aims to understand the workings of our brains. As our brains think, learn and remember, they create elaborate but ephemeral structures in at least seven mathematical dimensions. These transient structures, which appear and disappear like sandcastles on a beach, could help us understand how the brain creates our thoughts and feelings.

The Blue Brain Project was launched in 2005, with the aim of simulating the human brain inside a computer. In late 2015, the team announced it had recreated a cylinder of rat brain 0.5 mm wide and 2 mm long, containing 31,000 neurons of more than 200 different types, with some 8 million connections between them. For Markram, the project director, such simulations let you see how neurons work together at a level of detail inaccessible in a real brain. Making sense of the data involves algebraic topology.

A network of neurons can be depicted as a graph. A clique is a dense type of graph in which every neuron is connected to every other neuron. They correspond to geometrical shapes: 3 neurons in a clique form a 2D triangle, 4 form a 3D tetrahedron, 5 neurons a 4D structure, and so on. Researchers see such cliques in real brains but cannot see the direction of information flow within them. This directionality is clear in a digital brain.

A team looked for directed cliques in the Blue Brain data, in which information enters via one neuron, passes through each of the others and exits via the last. The biologically inspired network had many times more directed cliques than a randomly constructed network would, including cliques with up to 8 neurons in 7D cliques — which may increase as the Blue Brain simulation grows in size.

Neurons that fire together wire together. In the simulated brain, pairs of neurons connected as part of a directed clique are more likely to fire together than other pairs. The bigger the clique a pair of neurons belong to, the more likely they are to fire together. Simple cliques form first, and then quickly grow bigger. The stronger the stimulus and the more synchronized the input received by the neurons, the bigger the cliques. Once the peak is reached, the structures collapse. Typically, the process lasts a few tens of milliseconds.

Markram: "When anything happens, the brain builds the most complex structure that it can. It climbs as high as it possibly can go, and then it collapses. All stimuli evoke the same stereotypical, multidimensional sandcastle building and collapsing."

Markram thinks this topological approach could help crack consciousness.

AR Wonderful — this math fits my picture of consciousness in Mindworlds.

Back to Top