BLOG 2018 Q2
AR 2018-06-30

My garden today

Type 26 frigate
Australia orders nine
Type 26 frigates from BAE

Battle for Europe

Kripke on naming
and necessity

Nietzsche on God
and morality

Dark Mofo
Sunny days here in Poole

British Challenger tanks
training in Germany

AR Wrong kit,
wrong war

Koch, Chalmers, Snaprud
Lena Forssen
Per Snaprud talks about
Chalmers and Koch


2018 June 30

American Tragedy

The Times

European Council president Donald Tusk and US president Donald Trump talked in private at the G7 summit in Quebec, and Trump told Tusk that the WTO, NATO, and the EU are the worst of deals and bad for America.

Tusk: "He has a method and is serious in his mission against an international rules-based order. He is on a mission against what we stand for."

The Washington Post reported that Pentagon officials have been ordered to calculate the costs of a large-scale withdrawal of US troops from Germany.

At a NATO summit in July 11 in Brussels, Trump is expected to question the future of the alliance by linking his anger at European trade surpluses to concerns about defense spending.

Trump: "Germany has to spend more money. Spain, France, it's unfair what they've done to the United States."

German Tragedy

Wolf Biermann

The reunification of Germany was accepted quickly by the Americans, chaotically by the Russians, skeptically by the French, and reluctantly by the British. In the former East Germany, the growth of Western prosperity also brought a new fear of social decline.

In 2015, when Angela Merkel decided to open German borders to war refugees, the situation was tragic. The chancellor had to choose between whether to make this mistake or that one. In a catastrophe of this kind, every choice is wrong.

I support our chancellor completely, because she proved herself to be an energetic humanist, because she has acted as a true Christian and has remained a stoic European. That wonderful mistake she made three years ago brought her a wave of sympathy from around the world.

Global conflicts have always brought great dangers. But the greatest danger is our lack of courage.

British Tragedy

The Guardian

UK prime minister Theresa May promises to publish a white paper on her vision for the future UK trading relationship with the EU.

European council president Donald Tusk: "This is the last call to lay the cards on the table."

French president Emmanuel Macron: "I cannot speculate as to the possibility of an agreement. I would like an agreement now but it is not in our hands .. Brexit can only happen in compliance with our values."

German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We are waiting for the white paper because time is of the essence now."

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar: "There really isn't any point in putting forward something that wouldn't possibly form the basis of negotiations, and that would be anything that would engage in cherrypicking, would have one of the four freedoms but not all four. Trying to have some of the benefits but not the responsibility and costs. If it is still in that space it isn't going to be the basis of a negotiation .. We are not going to let them destroy the European Union."

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier: "I hope it will contain workable and realistic proposals, but let me mention once again that the time is very short."

2018 June 29

Europe: Common Front

The Guardian

European Council president Donald Tusk says EU leaders have reached an agreement on migration. French president Emmanuel Macron said European cooperation had won the day. German chancellor Angela Merkel said there was still a lot of work to do. Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte was satisfied.

The Battle for Europe

Guy Verhofstadt

The postwar liberal world order risks being torn up before our eyes. Confronted with Donald Trump and his stupidities, plus Russia and China waiting their turn at the top table, the people of Europe have some fundamental decisions to make.

Do we want to inhabit a continent founded on democracy, the rule of law and a humane approach to migration, or do we let the populists promote fear over hope and division over unity?

Migration is the primary issue EU leaders are tackling at their summit this week. European asylum policies have failed. Populists have increased fears and misconceptions and seemingly put a humane and coherent European solution out of reach. Nationalists offer no credible solutions and will fail. We must find a common approach.

Another challenge facing Europe is the growing split between liberal democratic leaders and the "mini Trumps" of central and eastern Europe. EU leaders have spoken of the need to confront this crisis, but the UK has kept silent. Seeking to split Europe for the purposes of Brexit, the British government is assisting the decline of the democratic institutions it helped to build.

The geopolitical consequences of Brexit can no longer be ignored. Trump will continue to tear up the liberal world order and his next target will be NATO.

We all have a duty to fight for Europe in the existential battle to come.

The Battle of Brexit

Conservative Home

War Cabinet, May 1940: Lord Halifax was pressing for mediation by Mussolini between Britain and Germany with a view to a negotiated peace. Churchill: "I am convinced that every one of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground."

A cynic says Theresa May wants to surrender. This may illustrate the perils of applying metaphors from the struggle against Hitler to a negotiation with the EU. But in one respect the comparison is bang on. If Brexit is to done, it must be done properly.

The route to achieving free trade deals with non-EU countries is via the backstop agreement on the Irish border. This would commit the UK to full alignment with the rules of the internal market and the customs union that support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy, and the 1998 agreement. Unpicking the backstop means agreeing an alternative with the EU. The White Paper is now on its ninth iteration and still undecided between customs partnership and "Max Fac".

Liam Fox is opposed to the customs partnership and loyal to May.
Michael Gove is sensitive to any question of future ECJ jurisdiction.
Boris Johnson is unhappy with any suggestion of alignment on goods.
David Davis will not to be bounced by anything not seen in advance.

AR May might try choking each of them in his own blood.

2018 June 28

America vs China


Chinese president Xi Jinping: "Our stance is steadfast and clear-cut when it comes to China's sovereignty and territorial integrity .. Any inch of territory passed down from ancestors cannot be lost while we want nothing from others."

US defense secretary James Mattis said he hoped to establish a transparent strategic dialog with his Chinese interlocutors: "I want to go in and do a lot of listening. I will be very clear about what we see developing, but that's the whole reason I am making the trip instead of just sitting in Washington reading news reports, intelligence reports or analyst reports."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang: "The key part is solving the issues between the US and China with mutual respect. We have always believed that the bilateral relationship can benefit both countries and both peoples."

Evolutionary Graphs

John Rennie

In an evolutionary graph, an organism occupies each vertex. Each individual has some probability of spawning an offspring, which can occupy a neighboring vertex and possibly be replaced. The probabilities are represented as weights on directed lines between the vertices.

Certain population structures can suppress or enhance the effects of natural selection. In some structures, mutations have no chance to take over the population. In others, fitter mutations spread and the effects of natural selection are amplified.

Some population structures are evolutionary dead ends. Others may not enhance natural selection until the weights are adjusted to amplify fitter mutations. The population models in the present studies apply only to asexual organisms.

2018 June 27

Dark Days

Tony Blair

The transatlantic alliance is the bedrock of our values and our way of life. Yet this alliance in danger of fracture. We need leaders who can explain its importance and seek ways of strengthening it.

Globalization and its advocates are on the back foot. Populists of left and right meet at a certain point in denunciation of free trade arrangements, migration, and international alliances. All are portrayed as contrary to putting individual national interest first.

Populism offers only expressions of anger and not effective answers. The populists may say failure is due to weakness and that only more push will work. We know where that can take us.

America needs Europe united and standing with it, not isolated as individual nations, to be picked off one by one by new powers. In the UK, we have a government whose every move is a calculation not about the interests of the nation but the balance of advantage between party factions.

We cannot go on like this.

Brexit Quotes


UK prime minister Theresa May sought to patch up relations with business: "A Conservative government will always listen to your voice and back you every step of the way as you help grow our economy and create more good jobs."

UK business secretary Greg Clark: "My approach is to be very engaged with businesses .. In my experience the business voice puts evidence first before ideology, brings actual experience of trading whether with Europe or the rest of the world .. So the business voice seems to me to be the foundation to a successful effective negotiation."

The TUC and the CBI released a joint statement with their continental counterparts: "We are calling on the UK government and the EU to inject pace and urgency in the negotiations, bringing about measurable progress .. The cost of disagreement between the UK and the EU would be dire for firms, workers and the communities where they live."

Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell says the EU will block the UK government plan to protect British industry by keeping the UK in a single market for goods without respecting the free movement of people after Brexit: "I don't think France or Germany will accept that. They are quite angry with the United Kingdom because of all this mess .. When we should be discussing eurozone and immigration, we are discussing what to do with someone who wants to leave."

Borrell: "Brexit is not a political problem but it is a pain in the ass."

2018 June 26

Brexiteers vs Business

Rachel Sylvester

Airbus is preparing to abandon production in the UK because of Brexit. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders warns of the dangers of a hard Brexit. The five top business lobby groups warn that large companies are queuing up to shift operations out of Britain.

Former Downing Street director of communications Sir Craig Oliver tweeted that Conservatives saying "fuck business' is like Labour saying "fuck the NHS' or Greens saying "fuck the environment".

A critic says of government business secretary Greg Clark: "I'm sick and tired of his cowardice. He's supposed to be the one standing up for British business but he hasn't got the balls to do his job."

A senior figure in the City: "There's a sense that it's a bunch of amateurs in charge, that the government is run by teenagers obsessed with their own narcissistic ambitions who have no capacity to understand the world as it is rather than how they imagine it to be."

The Tories have already lost the confidence of young voters, ethnic minorities, and quite a lot of women. Can they really afford to sacrifice the backing of business too?

AR British parliamentarians are not always the best and the brightest. The prospect of Parliament becoming absolutely sovereign after Brexit is frankly terrifying.

UK Defence

David Shariatmadari

The House of Commons defence committee calls for the government to increase defence spending, currently at around £40 billion per year. Defence secretary Gavin Williamson is demanding an extra £20 billion, equivalent to twice the government's entire budget for STEM.

The clamour for cash is not really about keeping us safe in our beds. More cash could give the UK more authority at the next NATO summit. Former chief of the defence staff Nick Houghton says spending on the armed forces "projects this powerful nation".

AR Cut defence and spend on STEM.

Quantum Coherence

Philip Ball

The question of how the rules of quantum mechanics turn into the apparently quite different rules of classical mechanics is puzzling. Modern techniques let us create quantum superpositions of relatively big objects and probe their properties.

Simon Gröblacher and his colleagues made two microbeams of silicon, each 10 μm long, with holes to absorb and trap infrared laser light sent in a superposition of paths, one to each beam, entangling two beams into a single vibrational state.

Mika Sillanpää and colleagues coupled two microscopic metal sheets with a superconducting wire carrying an electrical current oscillating at about 5 GHz, creating an EM field that forced the two sheets into an entangled state.

Decoherence generally transforms large objects from ones governed by quantum rules into ones that obey classical physics. Any interaction between two quantum objects entangles them, so to observe a superposition, you need to deduce the quantum behavior of all the entangled particles. This rapidly becomes impossible, much as it becomes impossible to trace all the atoms in a blob of ink as it disperses in a swimming pool.

Experiments can control the rate of decoherence: quantum effects gradually vanish as decoherence proceeds. Size plays a role because the bigger an object is, the more easily it can entangle with its environment and decohere.

We can ask how far quantum effects are sustained as we add atoms. Three teams explored this question, achieving quantum states for clouds of up to tens of thousands of ultracold atoms by entangling them in a Bose−Einstein condensate (BEC).

In a BEC, all the particles are in the same quantum state and act like one big quantum object. Such condensation happens at very low temperatures, such as a few nK, and shows quantum behavior at a relatively huge scale. But the concept of entanglement between indistinguishable bosons is theoretically disputed.

Entanglement between spatially separated particles has been demonstrated in three experiments using clouds of hundreds to thousands of rubidium atoms held in EM trapping fields. The researchers used infrared lasers to excite quantum transitions in the atomic spins and looked for the correlations between spin values that reveal entanglement.

If quantum clouds are big enough to show the influence of gravity, they might offer hints for a theory of quantum gravity.

2018 June 25

Britain's Conservative Crisis

Nick Timothy

Conservatives disagree with liberals about what comes first: order or liberty. Libertarianism is alien to the conservative tradition and has done enormous damage to conservatism. Order is a necessary condition for liberty.

Theresa May will no doubt regard this as academic. Brexit remains her biggest challenge. Many conservatives worry about Brexit and see it as like the French Revolution. Others see it as like the American Revolution.

The Conservative crisis is caused not only by Brexit but also by a lack of agreement about the party's purpose. Labour governments fall when they run out of money. Tory governments fall when they run out of purpose.

Britain is heading toward a "bar bell" economy, with lots of wealth concentrated at one end, lots of low-paid workers at the other end, and not much in between. Across Britain, local institutions are decaying and dying.

Theresa May was quick to identify the need for change but has been unable to deliver it. Conservatives must deliver change. Conservatism is about our obligations to one another as members of the same community.

AR Timothy is seeking redemption after the 2017 election surprise.

UK Defence

Max Hastings

UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson is said to be threatening the prime minister with a mutiny unless his department is given £20 billion.

Countering terrorism is the only peril the public really cares about. Electronic surveillance through GCHQ, supported by intelligence, police and special forces, deserves generous funding. It is much harder to identify the right tools for all the rest.

Royal Navy admirals fought for their two preposterous carriers. Their F-35 aircraft are unaffordable and perform poorly in ground attack. Almost the entire navy will be required to escort the carriers on active service.

A strong government would mothball the carriers and scrap the Trident deterrent replacement. I see no respectable case for trying to sustain a nuclear capability on the Trident scale.

AR I too see no good case for Trident.

Neural Correlates of Consciousness

Per Snaprud

Twenty years ago this week, two young men sat in a bar in Bremen, Germany. Christof Koch and David Chalmers had spent the day lecturing at a conference about consciousness. Koch bet a case of fine wine that within the next 25 years someone would discover a specific signature of consciousness in the brain. Chalmers bet against.

The Bremen conference was on the neural correlates of consciousness. Koch argued that gamma waves might be involved, based on research linking awareness to rhythmic firing of neurons at frequencies around 40 Hz.

Last year, I met up with Chalmers at a consciousness conference in Budapest, Hungary. I asked him how his bet with Koch was shaping up. He told me neither of them could remember the exact terms. I emailed a recording to Chalmers, who forwarded it to Koch.

Modern ideas of consciousness work with networks of neurons. The integrated information theory (IIT) of Giulio Tononi says the amount of consciousness, Φ, in a system can be measured. Roughly, Φ is high in a system of specialized modules that interact rapidly and effectively. Koch likes IIT.

Chalmers: I'm thinking that with your current advocacy of IIT, this bet is looking pretty good for me.
Koch: The latest best estimate for the NCC is a hot zone in the posterior cortex.
Chalmers: I'm thinking that Φ is a network property of a group of neurons.
Koch: Well, that we simply don't know, Dave. This is what our institute does, and we just got
    $120 million to do more of it.
Chalmers: You need to actually discover this by 2023 for the purposes of this bet. And that's looking
Koch: A lot can happen in five years!

AR I too was at the Bremen conference, ASSC 2. I got to know Chalmers and Koch in the following years. After talking with Tononi at ASSC XIII in Berlin in 2009, I reluctantly decided that IIT was probably in the right ballpark.

Bournemouth beach

Bournemouth beach, Midsummer Day 2018

Bournemouth, 2018-06-24
England fans celebrate
6-1 win over Panama
in Bournemouth

London, 2018-06-23

Trust The People

"Nothing would hurt our
democracy more than to
give the people the choice,
and then not to trust their
judgement when
they give it."
Theresa May

AR Except not to trust
them to choose again.

London, 2018-06-23
Two years on: London


2018 Midsummer Day

Prophecy of Doom

Justin Gillis

June 23, 1988, was a hot day in day in Washington, DC. James E. Hansen took his seat in a Capitol Hill hearing room and laid out the scientific facts as best he understood them: "It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here."

Hansen offered low, medium and high scenarios. The warming over the past 30 years has fallen well within his upper and lower bounds. His warning was on target. The planet has warmed relentlessly, and 1988 is not even in the top 20 warmest years now. Every year of this century has been hotter.

The ocean is rising, as he predicted, and the pace seems to be accelerating. The great ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are dumping ever-rising volumes of water into the sea. Coastal flooding is increasing rapidly in the United States. The Arctic Ocean ice cap has shrunk drastically.

Dr Hansen retired from NASA in 2013. He recently shared half of a $1.3 million prize for warning the public about the risks of climate change. Hansen: "It's very hard to see us fixing the climate until we fix our democracy."

Germany's Conservative Meltdown

Der Spiegel

Angela Merkel became secretary-general of the CDU in 1999. Now many conservatives no longer recognize their old party. Discomfort has grown within its Bavarian sister party, the CSU.

Since 2015, when almost a million people arrived in Germany as a result of Merkel's liberal refugee policies, this discomfort has grown into open rejection. The CSU has had enough.

CSU leader Horst Seehofer aims to defy Merkel. He calls for people to be turned back from the German border if they have already applied for asylum or been registered as a refugee in another EU member state. Merkel says there must be a European solution.

Last Monday, Merkel and Seehofer held press conferences to threaten each other. They then called meetings of their party leadership committees to secure their own support. Bundestag president Wolfgang Schäuble met with Seehofer and said the CDU and CSU must stay together.

Seehofer's Interior Ministry and Merkel's Chancellery are preparing for battle. Seehofer is preparing a press conference with the heads of the federal criminal police office, the domestic intelligence agency, and the federal police force. The Chancellery is preparing for zero hour.

Seehofer says he alone is authorized to issued orders to the federal police. He must ensure law and order. Legal opinions are being prepared on who is authorized to issue orders to the federal police. If Seehofer defies the will of the chancellor, she will have to fire him.

Merkel is still convinced she did the right thing in 2015 but is silent on why she is only now hastily trying to shape a European response to the migrant crisis. The other EU leaders see her panic and appear to be gauging the price she will be willing to pay for any concessions.

Merkel's backers are considering how to keep her in office and making public statements of support. CDU deputy chair Ursula von der Leyen: "We can't allow ourselves to overreach and replace the common European idea with a national club of egoists."

Merkel might resign after dismissing Seehofer. Snap elections would likely follow. Officials identified early September as the earliest possible date for a new election.

2018 June 23

Franco−German Europe

The Times

The Meseberg Declaration by German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron after their meeting at Schloss Meseberg included aspirations to a federal Europe:

End national vetoes over common foreign policy
Create an EU security council
Harmonize asylum practices in the member states
Turn EU agency Frontex into a European border police
Create a single budget for EZ members by 2021

FAZ editor Holger Steltzner: "Angela Merkel .. decided to open the borders for more than one million migrants without consulting her EU partners .. An immediate consequence was the Brexit vote because the images of uncontrolled influx were the famous straws that broke the British back."

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia opposed the law mandating the distribution of migrants to every member country in the common asylum area. Hungary and Poland simply ignored the legislation and took no refugees. The Czech Republic took in 12 and Slovakia 16.

Meseberg Declaration: "France and Germany are strongly committed to not only preserve the achievements of the European Union but also to further strengthen their cooperation within the European Union."

AR Fortress Europe = OK

My Take: "Fuck EU"

Austin Mitchell

I believe the nation state is only way of advancing the cause of the people while maintaining their democratic control of the process. Europe is a plutocracy with a rootless bureaucracy. As a concept it is a nonsense, a mirage.

The EU never broke away from its original purpose of protecting French agriculture and boosting German industry. With these two states dominating, Europe embarked on a journey to ever closer union.

In my successful campaign in the 1979 general election, I stood on a soapbox to denounce Brussels. My views remained unchanged as the Common Market marched on to the European Union.

The battle of Brexit was a thrill for me. I had been an MP for nigh on 40 years and had stood down from parliament by then. Victory was a strange new phenomenon.

AR Fuck U2, old man.

BoJo: "Fuck Business"

The Telegraph

EU diplomats have claimed that during a Foreign Office reception to celebrate the Queen's birthday last week, UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson was asked about the fears of some business leaders over Brexit and replied: "Fuck business."

AR Fuck BoJo.


Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Two years on: EU supporters march in London

Sir Robert Syms MP launches
WasteShark, an Anglo-Dutch
drone to eat plastic flotsam

Masterplan Migration
"Ich habe die Europäische
Union wachgeküsst."

Horst Seehofer

Carina Curto
Carina Curto

Merkel, Seehofer
Angela Merkel (CDU) and
Horst Seehofer (CSU) launch
"a new dynamic for Germany"


Gravitational Waves

Daniel Cossins

The detection by the LIGO collaboration of gravitational waves was a stunning endorsement of general relativity. LIGO consists of two L-shaped detectors. Each uses mirrors to bounce synchronised laser beams up and down arms 4 km long. When a gravitational wave passes through, the arm lengths vary and the beams shift measurably out of sync.

The LIGO collaboration can spot a gravitational wave from across the universe and decode the information these distortions carry. The LIGO detectors are receiving upgrades to improve their sensitivity and a third detector will join them. When the next run starts later this year, we should be picking up gravitational waves at least once a week.

General relativity is incompatible with quantum theory. In general relativity, the event horizon of a black hole represents the surface beyond which nothing can escape its pull. But quantum mechanics suggests there should be a firewall, a sphere of high energy particles incinerating anything that passes.

Soon after LIGO's first detection in 2015, two independent teams proposed that a firewall would reflect gravitational waves from colliding black holes. Niayesh Afshordi: "As long as there is something there, you should get echoes. The question is, how long after the merger to expect them."

In 2016, Afshordi's team came up with a simple model for what could be at the horizon and figured out how far apart the resulting echoes would be. They looked at public LIGO data and found the black hole mergers they checked were followed by echoes at precisely the intervals predicted.

The LIGO collaboration has made the hunt for black hole echoes one of its official goals.

AR Looks like a clue for quantum gravity. Sabine Hossfelder will be thrilled.

2018 June 22


Jean-Claude Juncker

As the clock to Brexit ticks down, we must prepare for every eventuality, including no deal. This is neither a desired nor a likely outcome. But it is not an impossible one.

We will use all the tools at our disposal, which could have a cushioning impact. We will also earmark €120 million for a new peace program, which has done so much in breaking down barriers between communities in Northern Ireland and the border counties.

Our backstop solution for Northern Ireland upholds its constitutional status. But this tailored solution for Northern Ireland cannot fit the whole United Kingdom.

Ireland's border is Europe's border, and it is our union's priority.


Financial Times

UK treasury secretary Philip Hammond promises to fight for the City of London in Brussels. He says the EU has made no credible proposals for post-Brexit regulation of financial services and demands a deal that allows for divergence of rules while maintaining market access. Proposals to build a system of enhanced equivalence reflect an ambition to relocate business into the EU.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney says he believes it is both feasible and desirable to base the future financial services relationship with the EU on commitments to achieving equivalent outcomes. He says global cooperation in regulation is essential. If the UK maintains its current share of cross-border capital flows, the balance sheet of its financial sector could be 15 times GDP by 2030.

A modern financial services sector with thriving fintech companies could save £600 million on cross-border payments with new payments technology.


The Times

Airbus employs 14,000 workers in the UK. Senior British Airbus executive Tom Williams:

"Our concern is the lack of certainty .. if by the end of next March, we are potentially going out with no deal, we have to continue running this business and manage the consequences .. We have a highly integrated international supply chain, components going back and forth across the English Channel, two or three times, before going to our production lines .. We are at maximum production levels and have the opportunity to go to even higher levels. But we have to assess that against the significant risk of disruption of components getting stuck in the docks of Dover or Calais and the general breakdown of logistical flow. The clock is ticking."

Airbus has alternatives to UK production in China and in Mobile, Alabama.

2018 Longest Day

Full Spectrum Dominance

The Times

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are preparing to meet during the US presidential visit to Europe next month. The prospect is adding to fears over the US commitment to NATO.

UK prime minister Theresa May denies claims that she questions Britain's place as a leading military power alongside the United States, a key element of the special relationship.

UK defense secretary Gavin Williamson must explain to May what it means for Britain to deploy "full spectrum" fighting capability. Full spectrum defense is achieved only by the UK and the other four permanent members of the UN security council.

AR Britain punches too far above its economic weight.

Nationalist Germany

Philip Stephens

German chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) is under pressure from her coalition partner. Her interior minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) wants tougher frontier controls. His pose is cheered by populists in Warsaw, Rome, Vienna, and Budapest.

No single government can take control of its frontiers. A humane and sustainable migration system requires a collective effort to harden EU external borders and accommodate those granted asylum.

A rising Germany First mood is not confined to migration. Germany is not under military threat and most Germans would probably spend less on defense. Berlin could make a deal with Moscow.

AR Trump would approve a Berlin-Moscow pact.

Modeling Brains

Carina Curto

I loved the math I learned in grad school. Physicists are proud of being able to derive things from first principles. I decided to apply my math and physics background to neuroscience.

After a few years, I started asking questions that were meaningful to neuroscientists. I'm trying to understand the relationship between a network's connectivity structure and its dynamics. I've been playing around with a combinatorial threshold linear networks model.

Proving something about your abstract model is not proof that you are right about the actual science. A mathematical model is a simplified model in the same way that a worm is a model organism. We can prove theorems in simple mathematical models and gain insight that gives us things to look for in the real brain.

We see certain periodic patterns of activity in real neural circuits and we ask what causes these rhythms of neural activity to emerge. A simple model can let one prove which features cause them. The mathematics gives a way of generating hypotheses.

AR The brain generates symphonies — the music of the hemispheres.

2018 June 20

US Quits UN Human Rights Council


US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley says the UN Human Rights Council is "a cesspool of political bias" and the United States will withdraw from it.

Fall of the American Empire

Paul Krugman

The US government is ripping children from the arms of their parents and putting them in cages.

We are witnessing a rejection of the values that made America great. Committing atrocities at the border, attacking the domestic rule of law, insulting democratic leaders while praising thugs, and breaking up trade agreements are all about ending American exceptionalism.

We are turning our back on the ideals that made America different.

Caging Kids?

The New York Times

President Trump has chosen to torment undocumented families. He may relent and let children be caged with their parents.

For the president, this vile border mess has become a test to see how hard he can squeeze lawmakers. They should not negotiate with him until he puts a stop to his "zero tolerance" insanity. If they let him roll them by using innocent children as hostages, he will learn the lesson that brutality is the key to getting what he wants.

The commander in chief believes that effective leadership is all about crushing anyone who stands in your way.

EU Preps For Hard Brexit

Financial Times

EU leaders will call on member states, businesses, and organisations to make contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit. UK prime minister Theresa May seeks to quash a rebellion by pro-European Conservative MPs who want a "meaningful" vote on the final deal.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier: "They want to maintain all the benefits of the current relationship, while leaving the EU regulatory, supervision and application framework. And they try to blame us for the consequences of their choice."

Brexit Delay?

The Independent

European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt told the Commons Brexit committee:

The UK proposals on customs and the Irish border are unacceptable.
The thrust of a future trade deal cannot be agreed by next March.
The UK cannot leave the EU yet stay within the EU arrest warrant.
The UK is welcome to stay in the customs union and single market.
The UK is free in the EU to tighten rules on immigration and benefits.
The EP needs to begin scrutinising any agreement this year.

AR Stop it.

2018 June 19

Space Force

Washington Post

President Trump will direct the Defense Department and the Pentagon to create a new Space Force as an independent sixth branch of the armed forces.

AR Reagan's Star Wars reborn?

American Enforcement


President Trump: "The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility."

Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen: "We will not apologize for the job we do or for the job law enforcement does for doing the job that the American people expect us to do. Illegal actions have and must have consequences. No more free passes, no more get out of jail free cards."

Trump: "We don't want what is happening with immigration in Europe to happen with us!"

German Nightmare

Tony Barber

Brexit is bad news for Germany. But the disruption to transatlantic trade threatened by the G7 debacle is an immeasurably larger problem. The German nightmare is that the United States that rescued Germany after 1945 might be turning into its chief destroyer. No country has gained more than Germany from seven decades of the American world order.

Germans have been stunned by events in Washington since President Donald Trump took office. By comparison, Brexit is a sideshow. A German opinion poll shows 82% of Germans are concerned about the Trump presidency, 75% about crises in the Mideast, 71% about North Korea, 66% about European tensions with Russia, and only 39% about Brexit.

Germans will not yield in the Brexit negotiations: 65% want the EU to take a hard line against the UK. Business association DIHK: "Individual companies [say] Brexit must not jeopardise the stability of the internal market in the remaining 27 EU countries. They warn against affording the UK too many privileges in the course of the negotiations."

Brexit Farce

The Guardian

HM government's EU withdrawal bill has been defeated in the House of Lords by a bigger majority than last time. Lords voted 354 to 235 for an amendment drafted by Dominic Grieve to give MPs a "meaningful" vote on the final Brexit deal. The vote will lead to another Commons drama.

AR PM, please relent.

House of Lords

Lords vote again for Grieve amendment

Theresa May
Theresa May this morning

Quantum theory is still
baffling and difficult

Fortress Europe


Ariane 5
A majority of EU members
voted to push on with Galileo
and ignore British pleas for
inclusion despite Brexit.

AR Sad

Trump, Kim
China Daily



2018 June 18

Trade War

Paul Krugman

A serious trade war now looks very possible. It could mean tariffs in the 30−60% range. This would lead to a very large reduction in trade, maybe 70%.

The overall cost to the world economy may be a 2−3% reduction in world GDP. The disruption would mean some people gain and others take big hits.

2018 June 17

Global Criticality

Gregor Schöllgen

National identity is back. Populists like the Brexiteers in Britain, Front National in France, the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, Syriza in Greece, and Five-Star/Lega in Italy all reject the EU. Globalization led to mass immigration, and it has defeated the West.

AR If the EU supports Fortress Europe, all is forgiven. If not, the EU is toast.

Brexit Criticality

Andrew Adonis

Theresa May seeks to override parliament on Brexit. Her promise to Dominic Grieve to admit a "meaningful" parliamentary vote in the event of a "no deal" Brexit persuaded him to withdraw his amendment to the EU withdrawal bill. But then the legal text was replaced by a provision that in case of no deal the Commons would be allowed only a debate the government could ignore.

Her assertion of government sovereignty must be rejected by both the Lords and Commons. Her initial refusal to submit the EU withdrawal notice for parliamentary approval claimed the royal prerogative. It took the supreme court to force her into parliament. She then called an election and got a hung parliament, with no credible mandate to defy the Commons.

If there were no advance legal provision for what to do in the event of no deal, the Commons would be free to vote on whatever resolutions it thinks fit. May is seeking agreement to deprive the Commons of any meaningful vote in advance. David Davis asserts that it is wrong for the Commons to seek to "instruct" the government.

Grieve is proposing only that parliament should give instructions in the event that the government fails to negotiate any deal at all. This would be a national emergency, and parliament has a duty to say what should then happen. It is legal and appropriate in such circumstances for the Commons to give instructions and for the government to execute the will of parliament.

The fiction that Brexit is about parliament "taking back control" is in truth a power grab by the right wing of the Conservative party. Both houses of parliament need to support the Grieve amendment this week.

AR I say Parliament can only be trusted if EU institutions remain to act as legal backstop. Otherwise we have dictatorship of the Commons, with Lords and Crown neutered and UK law subject to parliamentary revision.

Cerebral Criticality

Jennifer Ouellette

The brain may be in a state of self-organized criticality, where its ordered complexity and thinking ability arise from the random electrical activity of neurons.

A critical neural network is balanced at a critical point. When a neuron fires, this can trigger an avalanche of firing by connected neurons. Smaller avalanches occur more frequently than larger ones, following a power law.

Criticality describes nuclear chain reactions. A nuclear fission event gives off two particles, and they each give off two more, and so on, yielding a branching ratio. A supercritical system explodes, a subcritical system fizzles out. In a critical system the branching ratio is exactly 1.

If the brain is critical, one neuron should, on average, activate one other neuron. Cortical spike recordings from animals show they have branching ratios of 0.98 or 0.99.

A quasicritical system operates in a region near its critical point. It can be defined by its sensitivity to an incoming stimulus. This depends in part on its spontaneous activity, which adds noise and dampens susceptibility. In a quasicritical network, an incoming signal can spread without being dampened or distorted by noise.

The brain needs a mechanism to stay close to criticality. Perhaps it responds to an excess of activity by activating mechanisms to inhibit the activity. Perhaps every neuron has a target firing rate, and it adjusts itself depending on the input strength.

Researchers are testing the quasicriticality hypothesis.

AR I recall discussing this phenomenon with researchers in Denmark in 1997.

2018 June 16

Fortress Europe

The Times

French president Emmanuel Macron and Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte have agreed on moves to stop economic migrants crossing the Mediterranean and to deport those who do.

Macron: "We want to create European centers outside Europe to handle asylum claims before migrants reach Europe."

Italy teamed up with Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz and German interior minister Horst Seehofer to form an "axis of the willing" to combat illegal migration.

German chancellor Angela Merkel rejects a plan put forward by Seehofer to turn back at German borders any asylum seeker already registered in another EU country. She says Germans should wait for a common EU policy.

AR Looks like a common Fortress Europe policy is coming soon.

Foundation Physics

Sabine Hossenfelder

I work in the foundations of physics. This covers cosmology, the foundations of quantum mechanics, high energy particle physics, and quantum gravity. There has been no great paradigm change since we established the Standard Model.

The theories we have now are not all there is. Perhaps the main reason we haven't made progress is that we're looking in the wrong places, guided by the wrong principles.

The history of the foundations of physics shows progress is made by looking at questions where there is a mathematical contradiction. There is an inconsistency and we resolve it.

If we are working with the wrong theories, we make the wrong extrapolations, we have the wrong expectations, we do the wrong experiments, and we get no new data. We have no guidance to develop these theories. We have to break the cycle.

There is a group of people who do frontier work that brings us forward. A lot of stuff is produced that seems to be produced just for the purpose of producing it. That's not good.

Much of what goes on in quantum gravity is detached from reality. I do research on the question of how to find out which approach describes nature. I ask how to find experimental evidence for the quantization of gravity.

We need science to solve problems on this planet that we have caused ourselves. For this we need a better understanding of how science works.

AR Quantum gravity is still a conceptual problem. A search for direct evidence is premature.

2018 June 15

Trump Foundation

The New York Times

Donald Trump's family foundation, the Trump Foundation, is just another of his grifts. The largest reported donation it has made was used to refurbish the fountain in front of Trump's Plaza Hotel in New York. He has not given any of his own supposed fortune to the foundation since 2008.

New York State attorney general Barbara Underwood: "The Trump Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality."

Her lawsuit catalogs Trump's repeated violation of both state and federal laws by tapping the foundation's funds for his own personal purposes, including paying out legal settlements, making political contributions, and purchasing a portrait of himself to hang in one of his golf clubs.

Most of Trump's scams never really pretended to be in the public interest. But his foundation, like his presidency, does. And like everything else with the Trump name slapped on it, neither is remotely what it purports to be.

Brexit Amendment

Financial Times

Theresa May is facing a major confrontation with Conservative Remain rebels. They accuse her of reneging on an agreed form of words giving parliament new powers to oversee the final stages of Brexit and block a No Deal exit.

Conservative former attorney-general Dominic Grieve says an amendment May tabled is unacceptable. He accuses her of going back on a deal the rebels thought was agreed.

"If MPs in the prime minister's own party can't rely on her to keep her word, then how can our friends and allies in the EU trust any commitments she makes in the negotiations?"
Chuka Umunna

Cosmic Simulation

Natalie Wolchover

Scientists have begun to master the science and art of simulating a Big Bang universe. They are applying the laws of physics to a hot fluid and seeing the fluid evolve into spiral galaxies and galaxy clusters like those in the cosmos today. They are using their simulations as laboratories.

The BlueTides simulation focuses on galaxy formation during the first 600 My ABB. Supermassive black holes wound up at the centers of dark matter halos during that period and helped pull rotating skirts of visible gas and dust around themselves. Superbubbles form from the combined shockwaves of hundreds of supernovas exploding in quick succession.

Dark matter simulations find that halos of dark matter spontaneously form with the right sizes and shapes to cradle visible galaxies within them. In standard cold dark matter models, hundreds of satellite galaxies should orbit every spiral galaxy. The Milky Way has just dozens, but models with realistic superbubbles have fewer excess satellite galaxies.

A lingering doubt about dark matter concerns correlations in the visible parts of galaxies. The speeds at which stars circumnavigate the galaxy closely match the amount of visible matter enclosed by their orbits. With so much dark matter supposedly accelerating the stars this is unexpected, and modelers need to fine-tune the amounts of dark matter and visible matter in galaxies.

AR I think dark matter is fudge.

2018 June 14

Why Brexit Must Be Stopped

A.C. Grayling
Guest lecture at Bournemouth University

AR Professor Grayling is right: Brexit must be stopped. He sees the government plan falling apart, leading to the fall of the government and possibly another general election. Interesting times.

Trump America

Thomas L. Friedman

Donald Trump may deserve a Nobel Peace Prize for the denuclearization deal he just forged with North Korea. But it is way too soon to say. I would only nominate him for the Ignoble Prize.

Trump just picked a fight with our closest NATO allies. He has had no word of censure for Russian president Vladimir Putin. Our president is compromised on Russia and is rapidly alienating every ally with whom we confronted Nazism, Communism, and radical Islamism in the last 70 years.

Trump thinks climate change is a hoax. On North Korea, even if there was a tiny chance Kim Jong Un would launch a nuclear missile at us, Trump said we must buy insurance, even if it meant war. On climate change, Trump chose to scrap Paris, throw away any insurance, and revive coal.

If interest rates rise as expected, spending on interest on national debt, government health care programs, and Social Security will leave virtually nothing left to invest in improved bridges and roads, scientific research, new weapons systems, education programs, and housing.

If climate change is a hoax, it won't matter that the president doesn't believe in science. If we get years of high growth, and no recession, maybe America will pay off the debt Trump took on with his tax cuts. If health care costs fall, it won't matter that Trump destroyed Obamacare.

Nobel or Ignoble?

Hitler Germany

Cass R. Sunstein

We can learn from the Third Reich. It shows how people can stand by quietly and live fairly ordinary days in the midst of dreadful events. Most Germans did not know before or during the war that Nazism was evil.

Nazism made things better for most citizens because it improved their daily life. Germans had jobs and better housing, fewer people were hungry or cold, and the sick received treatment. The New Order seemed better.

Many citizens liked and admired Hitler. Many insisted that the only Jews taken to concentration camps were traitors to Germany. People had no time to think about the dreadful things growing, little by little, around them.

The true nature of Nazism was evident to some Germans from the start. Books and newspapers started to disappear. People who refused to become Nazis were subjected to insults and humiliations.

The Nazi movement grew rapidly among young people. The Nazis enforced an appearance of unanimous support. Many people recalled their happy times in the Hitler Youth, with hiking trips and summer camps.

Things got much worse for Germans when war broke out. After the war, defeat meant a new beginning and hope for a better future.

AR America is different.

2018 June 13

Korea Concession


President Donald Trump's announced stop to US military exercises with South Korea startled Tokyo and Seoul, unsettled US lawmakers, and took parts of the Pentagon by surprise.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said US secretary of defense James Mattis "was not surprised" and was consulted, added "conversations have been robust," and said that Mattis "is in full alignment with the President to meet his goal" of denuclearizing Korea.

Center for Strategic and International Studies SVP for Asia and Japan chair Michael J. Green: "When the President of the United States announces unilaterally to the leader of North Korea that we are going to stop our military exercises with our allies, Japan and Korea, and does not first tell those allies .. and then goes on to say that someday he'd like to get our troops out of Asia, that's an astonishing development."

Brexit Concession

Financial Times

Conservative rebel MPs have forced Theresa May into a concession to prevent a "no deal" Brexit.

May averted defeat by promising the 15 or so rebels that she would table a new amendment to give MPs new powers over the final stages of Brexit. The rebels had threatened to back a Lords amendment to give MPs the power to reject her deal and to instruct her on how to improve it.

May's justice minister Phillip Lee resigned to campaign against Brexit.

2018 June 12

Historic Agreement


President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new US-DPRK relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula:

The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance
    with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.

The United States and DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace
    regime on the Korean Peninsula.

Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward
    complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the
    immediate repatriation of those already identified.

Trump Gushes Over North Korea

The New York Times

President Trump made major concessions. Kim Jong Un merely reaffirmed a goal of denuclearization that North Korea first announced in 1992. Trump announced he would provide North Korea with security guarantees and suspend joint military exercises with South Korea.

In past arms agreements, US governments have routinely insisted that international inspectors be able to rigorously verify compliance. The joint statement with North Korea lacked a demand that denuclearization not just be complete but also be verifiable and irreversible. It also contained no definition of denuclearization.

Trump expressed confidence that Kim would meet his commitments and insisted he had secured concessions from Kim. On denuclearization: "We're starting that process very quickly, very very quickly, absolutely."

Trump Got Nearly Nothing From Kim Jong Un

Uri Friedman

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un signed a joint statement in which North Korea did not commit to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantling of its nuclear weapons program. Kim committed not to denuclearization but to the goal of denuclearization.

Trump made one concession after another. He said US sanctions on North Korea would "come off when we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor," but then chipped away at that firm stance. In announcing that he would suspend US-SK joint military exercises as long as negotiations progress, he adopted the NK position that they are provocative war games.

Trump: "If I can save millions of lives by coming here, sitting down, and establishing a relationship with someone who's a very powerful man, who's got firm control of a country, and that country has very powerful nuclear weapons, it's my honor to do it. I'll do whatever it takes to make the world a safer place."

2018 June 11

The President is Missing

Bill Clinton, James Patterson

AR This thriller is both well conceived and well written, which I think is well worth celebrating. [more] Anyone ready for a satisfying reveal on how a real president sees a real problem, if only in his dreams, is warmly recommended to give the book a go.

Lost in Math

Djuna Lize Croon

Sabine Hossenfelder opposes common arguments that physicists make when formulating new theories. She favors more collaboration with philosophers.

"I think theoretical physicists in the foundations should focus on mathematical consistency and making contact to experiment rather than blathering about beauty."
Sabine Hossenfelder

LHC: Standard Model OK

New Scientist

The Large Hadron Collider confirms that the Higgs boson works as expected in the Standard Model. New results for particle processes in which the Higgs boson is produced along with both a top quark and a top antiquark and in which the Higgs boson decays directly into tau leptons are fully consistent with the Standard Model. The results meet the 5-sigma test.

We know the Standard Model is not a complete theory of matter. Discovering new supersymmetric particles would point to us a fuller theory. A top squark would be expected to influence interactions between top quarks and Higgs bosons. No sign yet.

LHC and Higgs

Red Arrows

Red Arrows over London

Merkel, Trump
Trump Rejects G7 Communiqué

Leave campaign bankroller
Arron Banks had multiple
meetings with Russian
embassy officials in
Brexit referendum


Market Valuations

Apple $940 billion
Amazon $820 billion
Alphabet (Google), Amazon,
Apple, Facebook, Netflix
together: almost $4 trillion

AR US stocks seem OK:
Where's the beef?

Trump, BoJo


2018 June 10

Emperor Donald

Niall Ferguson

To most highly educated people I know, Donald Trump is a terrible president. People with At Least Two University Degrees (Paltuds) gnash their teeth about him. They want a liberal world order.

The Trump presidency is probably the last chance America has to hold back China. Its assertion of US power in unpredictable and disruptive ways may be the only way left.

Think of the world as a three-empire system. The United States, China, and Europe are each evolving in a different direction. We see a transition from US republic to American empire: the plebs despise the elites, an old and noble senatorial order is dying, a cultural civil war rages, and the imperial president dominates public discourse.

The Chinese empire becomes ever more centralized, internally invasive, and externally expansive. The western world sees Xi Jinping as a mighty potentate. Few see the risks of his imperial ventures.

The weakest of the three empires is the EU. Europe lacks its own tech giants and its armed forces have melted away. Its political consensus is crumbling under a nationalist-populist assault.

The logic of Trumpism is to bully the other empires. The Chinese fear a trade war. The Europeans dare not defy Trump for fear of Russia.

AR As a Pasmafud, I say the triumvirate of Globall must learn to work together.

Europe and Russia

Edward Lucas

Europe was whole, free, and at peace. Then Germany opened its doors to mass migration. Other countries depicted EU enforcement of standards on issues such as migrant quotas, Roma integration, or LGBT rights as outside interference with the popular will.

Russia under Vladimir Putin began creating and seizing opportunities:

Hungary opposes migrant quotas: Prime minister Viktor Orban does murky deals with Russia.
Italy cannot manage its migrants. The new governing coalition wants sanctions lifted on Russia.
Czech Republic: President Milos Zeman supports the Kremlin agenda.
Slovakia: The government opposed sanctions on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
Poland is playing into Russian hands: It has let its relations with Ukraine deteriorate.
Austria is embroiled in a scandal surrounding Russian links to the Austrian far right.

Populist parties win not because their leaders can solve national problems but because voters are fed up and the other parties are feeble. Suspicion, anger, and alienation have spread in Europe.

AR Can a new warlord impose order from the Atlantic to Siberia?

2018 June 9

The Cult of Trump

The New York Times

President Trump has transformed the Republican party from a political organization into a cult of personality. Through his demagogic command of the party base, he has emerged as the fulcrum around which the entire enterprise revolves. His favorability rating among Republicans is at 87%.

AR Amerikanisches Führerprinzip: Hail to the Chief (0:57)

US Trade Concerns

Peter Navarro

President Trump hears concern and disappointment from G7 finance ministers over US trade policies. America has a $500 billion annual global trade deficit in goods and services.

Germany ran a trade surplus with the United States in goods of about $64 billion in 2017. The US tariff on cars made in the EU is 2.5%, the EU tariff on US cars is 10%. Germany does not meet its financial commitment to NATO.

Japan ran a trade surplus with us of $70 billion in 2017. We import 100 times as many cars from Japan as vice versa. Japan slaps high tariffs on a wide range of our agricultural products.

Canada has for decades dumped its lumber into the United States. It disadvantages our beer and spirits exporters and it manipulates dairy prices to protect its dairy farmers.

President Trump wants trade to be not only free but also fair and reciprocal, and he reserves the right to defend industries critical to our national security.

AR Balance in each and every sector means national insecurity for all.

A Fifth What?

Walter Laqueur

A new Socialist International may in the offing. But earlier socialists would never have dreamed of supporting jihadist movements calling for the destruction of the Jewish state and its citizens. Populist movements now fall outside historical definitions of left and right.

The First International was where Karl Marx said only by the working class could emancipate the working class. The Second International was a union of social democratic parties. The Third International was a Soviet creation dissolved by Stalin. The Fourth International was a weak Trotskyite organization.

Radical movements in a number of European countries have certain features and aims in common. They are against the elite in their native countries and they propose major political reforms. Perhaps the Fifth International will oppose further immigration from Asia, Africa, and the Mideast.

If a new International emerges, its prospects are not brilliant. Nationalism has become much stronger than in the past decades and the prospects for united action seem minimal. A Fifth International will be stillborn.

AR Left and right are old hat. New is pops versus globs.

2018 June 8

G7 Gap

The New York Times

President Trump will skip most of the second day of the G7 summit meeting with allies this weekend. French president Emmanuel Macron and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau had criticized Trump for imposing tariffs on their steel and aluminum industries. Trump responded with his trademark Twitter bluntness, adding: "Look forward to seeing them tomorrow."

BoJo Attacks Treasury

The Times

UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson calls HM Treasury "the heart of Remain" and vows to "take the fight to the enemy" as the UK gets "much more combative with Brussels" — perhaps sending relations with the EU into meltdown.

Johnson says the Treasury want to avoid friction at the borders: "They don't want any disruption .. Project Fear is really working on them .. It's all mumbo jumbo .. In the short term it is probably true that there will be some dislocation .. some bumps on the road. But unless you go through that, you won't have any of the advantages."

Johnson: "Imagine Trump doing Brexit. He'd go in bloody hard .. There'd be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he'd gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It's a very, very good thought."

AR Sack BoJo.

Gale crater, Mars

NASA Curiosity rover finds complex organic molecules in Gale crater, Mars


"In the world of business
we're frustrated, we're angry.
Anyone who isn't preparing
contingency plans is off
their rocker."
Paul Drechsler, CBI

On Chesil Beach
AR Well crafted and
finely tuned story that
hits pure tones with
satisfying clarity

Deus Vult

Andy Ross
Selfie, today

Bella Italia


NASA Rover Finds Organics on Mars


Since 2012, the NASA Mars rover Curiosity has been sifting soil and rock for signs of organic molecules. A new study reports that samples taken from two different drill sites on an ancient lakebed have yielded complex organic macromolecules at levels of a few dozen parts per million.

Curiosity worked on a mudstone formed by sediments that settled to the bottom of a lake some 3 billion years ago. The rover drilled a few cm into the mudstone and delivered the grit to an oven, which baked it and fed the fumes to a mass spectrometer. A welter of closely related organic signals indicating aromatics and aliphatics looked like those generated on Earth by kerogen formed from compressed remains of early life forms.

In a separate study, Curiosity scientists say methane in the Mars atmosphere rises and falls with the seasons.

2018 June 7

Far Right in Berlin

The New York Times

When Richard Grenell arrived in Berlin as US ambassador to Germany, he tweeted that German companies doing business in Iran should "wind down operations immediately" because President Trump had withdrawn from the nuclear deal with Iran.

Breitbart: "Grenell has expressed great excitement over the wave of conservatism in Europe, saying he wants to 'empower' leaders of the movement."

Germans are not amused. Former European Parliament president Martin Schulz says Grenell is behaving not like a diplomat, but like a far-right colonial officer.

Grenell does not, and should not, represent the United States.

Fair Fight in Berlin

The Times

Angela Merkel was put on the defensive at the launch of Germany's version of prime minister's questions yesterday. The first open question to a chancellor in the Bundestag, posed by an AfD member, berated her for "importing Islamists .. rapists, murderers, knife-wielders, and terrorists" by welcoming a million migrants in 2015.

AR Who can doubt that the British Remain or Leave vote in 2016 referred to immigrants?

The Laws of Physics

Robbert Dijkgraaf

Quantum physicists have found many examples of two completely different descriptions of the same physical system. String theory is our best candidate theory to describe reality while obeying the rules of quantum mechanics and relativity. The good news is that string theory has no free parameters.

The bad news is that its solution space — the landscape — is vast and complex. In string theory, the laws of nature are determined by the shape and size of hidden extra dimensions. Visualize the landscape as a huge wilderness, mostly hidden under thick layers of complexity.

Quantum electrodynamics (QED) is on the cultivated edge of the landscape. QED has a single parameter, α, setting the strength of the force between two electrons, and sums up all possible ways they might exchange a photon. Each additional photon exchange adds a term that includes α raised to an additional power, but α is a small number, so terms with many exchanges can be neglected in an approximation.

QED is a weakly coupled theory. In such theories, we can talk about a shopping list of elementary particles and a recipe that computes their interactions. But if we travel more deeply into the wilderness, the couplings become large and each additional term in the expansion grows more important.

Sometimes the path through the wilderness ends at another model, with a completely different set of particles and forces. In such cases, there are two recipes for the same physics. These complementary descriptions are called dual models, and the relation between them a duality.

It seems that many, if not all, models are part of one huge interconnected space. Instead of exploring an archipelago of models, we have discovered one massive continent. This phenomenon is an intrinsic property of quantum physics.

All the familiar concepts of fundamental physics have to be thrown out. We need a radical new framework. This is where string theory leads us.

AR This philosopher had already hacked his way to this conclusion.

2018 June 6

Apocalyptic Times

René Pfister

German chancellor Angela Merkel is watching the global order collapse. She recalls the 1555 Peace of Augsburg, which initiated decades of peace. Then a war began in 1618 that lasted 30 years, leaving a depopulated Germany in ruins.

To Merkel, that period shows just how thin the varnish of civilization really is. After a lunch with Donald Trump in Washington she said: "The coming decades will show us whether we have learned from history."

After the financial crisis of 2008, Merkel hoped an international agreement would tame the capital markets. But it never happened. Now she sees the pillars of the world order teetering everywhere.

Donald Trump has turned back the clock to zero hour on everything that united the West for decades: NATO, trade agreements, and the UN. Merkel sees Trump implementing his campaign promises, no matter how asinine they were.

Russia under Vladimir Putin is on the path of brute force and repression. China under Xi Jinping shows how to reconcile a dictatorship with a market economy. Europe is quarreling, weakened by Brexit and paralyzed by indecision.

Merkel is surrounded by men who know what they want. She says Europe must now take its fate into its own hands. She feels everything needs to move much faster in Europe and in Germany.

2018 June 5

EU Rescue Plan

The Times

German chancellor Angela Merkel backs calls from French president Emmanuel Macron for deeper European economic and military ties. Struggles to save the euro through punishing austerity and to cope with a huge influx of asylum seekers have drained support for the EU and fueled nationalism. Macron and Merkel will present joint plans for EZ reform to EU leaders on June 28.

EU Exit Plan

Daily Mirror

UK prime minister Theresa May is accused of showing contempt for parliament by trying to railroad hard Brexit into law by asking MPs to vote on all 15 Lords defeats to her flagship EU Withdrawal Bill in a single marathon session on June 12.


Stephen T. Asma

We still need religion. We need not rescue religion as reasonable. Its irrationality may be the source of its power.

Neuroscientists say our minds are moved by ancient emotional systems. These forces are adaptive and help us survive if they are managed properly. Religion can provide direct access to this emotional life in ways that science does not.

Religion is a traditional form of emotional management. Feeling well is more important than thinking well for survival. Religious practice is a form of social interaction that can improve mental health.

Religion fails miserably at the bar of rational validity. But the older reptilian brain, built by natural selection for solving survival challenges, was not built for rationality. In many cases, emotions offer quicker ways to solve problems than deliberative cognition.

Those of us in the secular world who critique emotional responses and strategies are missing the point. Most religious beliefs are not true. But the criteria for measuring a healthy theory are not the criteria for measuring a healthy emotion.

Perhaps religion is an opiate administered indirectly by state power in order to secure a docile populace. But religion is energizing as often as anesthetizing. This animating quality of religion can make it more hazardous than tranquilizing to the state, as well as inspiring altruistic philanthropy.

If religion is therapeutic, some of that therapy is palliative pain management. Religion is a powerful cultural response to the universal emotional life that connects us all.

AR A good stub for a case, imho.

2018 June 4

Israel vs Iran

The Times

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu aims to persuade Europeans to follow the US lead and withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Europeans hope to constrain Iran by sticking to the agreement and trading to help Iranians develop and take the sting out of conflict. Britain seeks to placate the Trump administration and Israel.

Israel says Iran has been weaponizing its atomic research since 2001. A stolen Iranian document shows the regime moved the research from the atomic energy authority to the defense ministry.

The 2015 accord was drawn up on incomplete information. When the deal expires in 2025, Iran will be ready to push for the bomb. The accord merely delays their acquisition of that capability.

AR Netanyahu is risking a Mideast war.

Brexit vs Britain

Will Hutton

Brits must address the poverty, inequalities, and hopelessness that propelled the Brexit vote.

Brexiteers want a Thatcherite world of free markets and minimal social provision. But their "have cake and eat it" fantasies have evaporated. There is no Brexit dividend.

The "quick and simple" trade deals outside the EU are illusions. The EU has the global trade deals, either done or in the making. The EU is a citadel of global free trade.

Europe stands for the nobler cause of representing European values, rooted in democracy. Brexit is a mistake. Never before has Europe been so peaceful and prosperous.

Britain is hurting, inflamed by fears of immigration. In too much of the UK beyond London and the SE, economic performance is mediocre or bad, the social contract gone.

Saving Britain means transforming its economy and society and recommitting to the EU.

AR Hutton speaks truth to power.

2018 June 3

G7 Condemns US

Financial Times

G7 host nation Canada chair's summary: "Concerns were expressed that the tariffs imposed by the United States on its friends and allies, on the grounds of national security, undermine open trade and confidence in the global economy."

AR To put it mildly.

Doomsday Brexit

The Sunday Times

UK officials in the Department for Exiting the EU and the departments of health and transport have drawn up three scenarios for a No Deal Brexit: mild, severe, and "Armageddon".

In the severe scenario, the port of Dover collapses on day one, supermarkets in Cornwall and Scotland run out of food within a few days, hospitals run out of medicines within two weeks, and officials charter aircraft or use the RAF to ferry supplies to remote parts of the UK.

AR All because a few voters once said "Fuck you!" to our EU neighbors.

Defenders of the Faith

Tobias Cremer

The populist right claims to be the last fortress of the Christian Occident against the onslaught of Islam and godless liberalism. But in Europe, the followers of far-right movements are actually disproportionately irreligious, and church attendance is a strong statistical predictor for voting against the populist radical right.

Historically, the two defining divides in Western democracies have been the economic one, between workers and capitalists, and the religious or cultural one between social conservatism and social liberalism. But over the last few years, concerns about immigration and cultural identity increasingly outrank economic or social issues.

A new divide across Western democracies pits a vision of clear national identities against globalist ideals and diversity. Like the identity politics of the left, the new white identity politics is primarily concerned with traits such as race, culture, sexuality, or gender. But it claims to defend the rights of the ethnic majority rather than of minorities.

Throughout Europe, immigrants from Muslim countries are seen as Muslims and as representing Islam. Given this religious definition of them, the other, Christianity must be the cultural identifier of us. Yet the new populists often marry religious language and symbols with predominantly secular policies.

The strategy of secular populist leaders to hijack religion is most successful among irreligious voters. Practising Christians remain comparatively immune to its appeal. In Germany, both Pegida and the AfD initially sought to appeal to conservative Christians, but the German churches came out strongly against them.

In Britain, neither UKIP nor the Leave campaign made significant efforts to turn Anglicanism into a part of their appeal. Anglicanism is often left-leaning in its leadership and educated and middle-class in its membership. UKIP and the Leave campaign appealed primarily to the increasingly irreligious working class.

The Christian churches could once again play a big role in Western politics. They could either ride the populist wave in the hope of increasing their political influence or reassert their authority by challenging populist rhetoric laden with religious references. They still enjoy substantial moral authority in Europe.

AR Did "Leave" work as a threat to Muslims and "Remain" as a surrender?

2018 June 2

US vs China

James Mattis

America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay. This is our priority theater.
We are prepared to support China's choices if they promote long-term peace and prosperity for all.
China's policy in the South China Sea calls into question China's broader goals.

Trump's Trade War

Jeffrey Sachs

Donald Trump is rapidly destroying American global leadership, alliances, and interests.

His trade actions are blatantly illegal. They are flimsily justified as an act of national security, but this is sheer nonsense. They are also fatuous in terms of US economic and geopolitical interests.

Trump creates chaos for no reason other than his own flagrant inability to follow rules or respect the interests of others. His is a psychopath's trade war. The result will be to undermine the dollar, ratchet up public debt, and undermine the current expansion.

Trump is a growing threat to the nation and the world.


Sigal Samuel

A new study about Christian identity revealed three things:

1 Americans are much more religious than Western Europeans. Religious commitment was gauged using such questions, as "Do you believe in God with absolute certainty?" and "Do you pray daily?"

2 American "nones" (those who identify as atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular) are more religious than European nones.

3 American nones are at least as religious as Christians in France, Germany, and the UK. Fewer than a quarter of European Christians say they believe in God with absolute certainty, but more than a quarter of American nones say this.

Most Western Europeans still identify as Christians. But for many of them, Christianity is a cultural or ethnic identity rather than a religious one.

A quarter of Americans are religiously unaffiliated. A quarter call themselves spiritual but not religious. Traditional measures of religiosity can no longer be trusted to identify religious people.

Ask what we talk about when we talk about religion.

2018 June 1

America Declares War On Allies

The New York Times

Apparently, the Trump administration must hit the European Union, Canada, and Mexico with steel and aluminum tariffs to stop Chinese manufacturers from flooding markets and to protect American workers. President Trump had initially exempted these allies from the tariffs. But commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said the talks were taking too long.

The administration says the new tariffs will keep China from avoiding existing tariffs by shipping its products through other countries. Yet they will more than likely prompt the allies to retaliate by imposing new tariffs on American products. The allies have no incentive to work with an administration that seems to care so little about them.

The president is making a hash of it.


Jean-Claude Juncker

I am in deep love with bella Italia, but I cannot accept that all its problems should be blamed on the EU or the European Commission.

Italians have to take care of the poor regions of Italy. That means more work, less corruption, seriousness. We will help them as we always did, but a country is a country, a nation is a nation.

Countries first, Europe second.


Alexander G. Hayes

NASA has discovered features interpreted as dunes the surface of Pluto.

Images from New Horizons have revealed a geologically diverse and dynamic world driven by internal heat, extreme seasons, and sublimating ices. Pluto is a realm where volatile ices (of nitrogen, methane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide) dominate the landscape.

The latest discovery from New Horizons is a collection of regularly spaced ridges on Pluto that seem to be transverse dunes of granular methane ice. The features are oriented orthogonal to dark wind streaks on Sputnik Planitia. What makes this discovery surprising is that the sediment can be mobilized despite Pluto's low atmospheric pressure, around 1 Pa.

Much work is left to do to understand dunes on Pluto.


Chinese H-6K maritime patrol aircraft (based on the Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 bomber):
H-6K patrols are reinforcing China's military presence in the South China Sea.

European Capital
of Culture 2018

— famous for —
Margaretha G. Zelle
(a.k.a. Mata Hari)
Jan Hendrik Oort
(of the Oort Cloud)
Maurits Cornelis Escher

M.C. Escher
Escher's Journey
Fries Museum
Leeuwarden NL
2018-04-28 — 2018-10-28

Oort Cloud NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mata Hari
Mata Hari
Mata Hari
Dutch exotic dancer and
courtesan, convicted of
spying for Germany in
WW1 and executed
by firing squad.

The Standard Model

SUSY particles


Philip Roth
"Roth's work speaks, at heart,
of his crazy, complete love
for America. But it also says
how fragile this America is,
vulnerable to its own ghosts,
in constant free fall. That
ambivalence .. distinguished
him from the other writers of
the American pastoral."
Bernard-Henri Lévy

Merkel, Xi
China Daily
Angela Merkel and Xi Jinping

The Higgs boson

The Higgs boson: what it is
and how we found it

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Duke and Duchess of Sussex
"There is power in love."


2018 May 31

Trump Starts Global Trade War

CNN Money

President Trump is imposing steep tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union. The tariffs take effect at midnight. Mexico and the EU immediately announced plans to retaliate with their own tariffs against US products.

Trump announced worldwide steel and aluminum tariffs in March but Canada, Mexico, and the EU were granted relief while the United States pursued negotiations. The administration is moving ahead separately with tariffs on Chinese goods.

US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross: "We take the view that without a strong economy, you cannot have strong national security."

EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström: "Today is a bad day for world trade."

2018 May 30

The Failed Elite

David Brooks

Once upon a time, a hereditary elite ruled the roost. Then we replaced the system with a fairer one based on talent. We opened up the universities and the workplace and we created the most educated generation in history.

But inequality rose, faith in institutions plummeted, and social trust declined. Government became dysfunctional and society became divided.

The problem is the ideology of meritocracy:
Exaggerated faith in intelligence
Misplaced faith in autonomy
Misplaced notion of the self
Inability to think institutionally
Misplaced idolization of diversity

The old elite had a civic consciousness and knew that the good life puts community before self.
The meritocracy is here to stay, but we need a new ethos to reconfigure it.

2018 May 29

Ailing Europe

George Soros

The European Union is in an existential crisis. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the EU adopted a program of fiscal retrenchment that transformed the EZ into a union of creditors and debtors.

As a result, many young people today regard the European Union as an enemy that has deprived them of jobs and a secure and promising future. Populist politicians exploited the resentments. Then came the refugee crisis of 2015.

President Trump has damaged the transatlantic alliance. This puts more pressure on Europe. Austerity seemed to be working and the EU economy was slowly improving, but we may be heading for another major financial crisis.

Brexit is an immensely damaging process, harmful to both sides. The EU is in an existential crisis, but its attention is diverted to negotiating a separation agreement with the UK. Divorce will be a long process, but during that time the EU needs to distinguish itself from the EZ and recognize that the euro has many unresolved problems.

The EU is governed by outdated treaties that say all member states are expected to join the euro. This has converted the EU into an EZ inner core and other members relegated to an inferior position. The hidden assumption is that member states are all heading to an ever closer union.

Member states need a wider variety of choices. Right now, they want to reassert their sovereignty rather than surrender more of it. But harsh reality may force them to set aside their national interests to preserve the union.

AR Like me, Soros studied at the LSE under Karl Popper. Unlike him, I also earned degrees at Oxford both before and after. I like his global vision but lack his strength in high finance.

Alarming Italy

Financial Times

Italy is causing alarm. Investors are selling Italian bonds and equities. They fear the presidential move to frustrate a bid by Five Star and League to form a coalition government might trigger new elections and strengthen the populist parties.

Italian president Sergio Mattarella blocked the nomination of Paolo Savona as finance minister. He considered Savona a threat to EZ stability. He asked former IMF official Carlo Cottarelli to form a caretaker government.

AR Authoritarianism is preferable to mob rule.

Austerity Britain

Peter S. Goodman

Austerity has refashioned British society, making it less like the rest of Western Europe, with its generous social safety nets and egalitarian ethos, and more like the United States, where millions lack health care and job loss can set off a precipitous plunge in fortunes.

After the global financial panic of 2008, Conservative party leaders initially sold budget cuts as a virtue. Diminish the role of a bloated government bureaucracy, they said, and charities and private companies would step up. But to many in Britain, this is like setting your house on fire and praising the community spirit as neighbors come running to help.

Austerity carried a whiff of moral righteousness. But wealthy Britons remain among the world's most comfortable people, enjoying lavish homes, private medical care, elite schools, and all that money can buy. Meanwhile, the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and the jobless endure grotesque tangles with the bureaucracy just to survive.

Since 2010, UK local government revenue has fallen by about 20%, spending on police forces by 17%, number of police officers by 14%, spending on road maintenance by 25%, and support for libraries by about 30%.

AR Cut the bureaucracy and pay everyone an unconditional basic income.

Authoritarian Future

John Gray

Alternative for Germany (AfD) is now the principal opposition party in Germany. Liberals deplore the AfD, just as they do the rise of similar parties in Poland, Hungary, Austria, and Italy. They believe in global convergence toward liberal democracy.

In their view, the rise of Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, and others are blips in an irresistible advance. The ongoing march of authoritarianism signifies only that the global liberal order will take longer than expected. This view of the world is shared by the liberal tribes of London, New York, Paris, and Berlin.

Populist movements on the far right and left challenge the liberal model. Liberal denial of these threats is the cardinal fact of contemporary politics. The new authoritarian era will pursue power and profit on battlegrounds of ethnic and religious conflict.

The postwar liberal order rested on the hegemonic power of the United States. Russia and China have very different economies. Russia under Putin is reasserting itself as a civilisation founded on Orthodox Christianity. China under Xi is reasserting itself as an exemplar of rationalism.

The threat from Islamism is different. Continuing terrorism, worsening Sunni-Shia conflict, and nuclear proliferation are real dangers. Western hopes are based on the vain hope that Islamic societies will follow the Western path of development.

The rise of the far right in Hungary, Poland, Austria, Italy, and Germany is linked to the European project of creating a transnational polity. Mass immigration is a force for rapid change in societies already struggling with globalisation and automation. As integration is pushed forward, European politics is becoming daily more putrid.

Putin, Xi, and Trump perceive the morbid condition of Western societies, but liberals turn their faces from it. The liberal order is decomposing. Liberals fail to see the new authoritarianism they helped create.

AR Uphold EU authoritarianism and banish the putrid stink.

2018 May 28


Theresa May (not)

As we in Britain enter the last summer before I must decide on our proposed terms to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union, I feel a duty both to my colleagues and to all those who in future will reflect on the history of these times to make a wider statement about that decision.

In the campaign that led up to the 2016 referendum I said that on balance I believed that Britain should remain in the EU. Once the result of the vote was known, like all believers in democracy, I accepted the verdict of the people that the UK should leave the union. Since then, I have worked consistently and with a clear conscience to make the necessary preparations for us to leave.

In early 2017, I gave notice to Brussels of our intention to leave the EU in March 2019. At the end of the year, I secured agreement from the EU for the outlines of the terms under which we would leave. And so far this year, I have tried to ensure that we in government agree on the further specification of those terms so that we can achieve an orderly transition to life outside the EU.

Throughout this process, I have remained aware of a diversity of views from many people in my government and our parliament, from the wider circle of British people, and indeed from across Europe and the world. It is clear to me that many people who are well placed to judge the issue fairly regard Brexit as folly. And I must say I understand and sympathise with that view.

As prime minister, my first and overriding duty is to the British people. As a Conservative, I have a duty to uphold the principles that we in the party share and to do all I can to work with my party colleagues in line with those principles. And as a human being I have a wider responsibility to respect our human community and to uphold institutions we all rely on to live together in peace.

My duty in all three areas bears heavily on my decision with regard to Brexit.

A prime minister is required to provide leadership and to exercise his or her best judgement on the issues of the day. If the British people want me to pursue a particular policy, but after sincere efforts to implement that policy I judge it to be completely impractical, I must be ready to stand up and say so. You can't always get what you want, and it is my job to explain what instead we all need.

As a Conservative, I believe in the value of tradition and heritage, in the virtues of hard work and self-reliance, and in the strength and wisdom of the British people. I believe our interests are best served by capitalist institutions, free markets, and the maximum of personal freedom for our citizens. We share these values with other citizens across Europe and the world.

As for being human, I need hardly stress that we all have a duty to those less fortunate than ourselves, as well as a duty to resist when those in authority abuse their power. We in Britain, faced with a world in which many people are poorer and some people are richer, must steer a middle course. We aim to be good neighbours to all, including our closest neighbours in Europe.

Despite all my hard work, Brexit has proved to be impractical. The benefits of leaving the European Union, in terms of manifest sovereignty and freedom to trade independently, do not outweigh the drawbacks, in terms of wilful disruption to existing trade links and increased friction with many of our neighbours. We in Britain are better off in the union than we would be outside it.

For these reasons, it is my clear duty to inform you all that I have decided against Brexit, to ask my government and the civil service to endorse and implement my decision without delay, and to implore the British people to understand that I believe this decision is truly in their best interests.

AR My draft for a speech I wish she would make.

2018 May 27

Ireland: Progress and Hope

The Sunday Times

UK prime minister Theresa May is facing open revolt from senior Conservative women over abortion after Ireland's historic vote to lift a ban on terminations.

UK women and equalities minister Penny Mordaunt and her four predecessors urged the prime minister to allow a free vote in parliament to reform Northern Ireland's draconian abortion laws.

Downing Street fears a free vote could destabilise the government by antagonising the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which May depends on for a Commons majority.

Mordaunt: "A historic and great day for Ireland and a hopeful one for Northern Ireland. That hope must be met."

AR No one should let the DUP block reform in Ireland.

Science: Truth And Reality

Michela Massimi

Physicists who dismiss philosophy as either a useless intellectual exercise or beneath physics because of its lack of progress seem to make the false assumption that philosophy is either of use to scientists or of no use at all.

We philosophers build narratives about science. We scrutinize methods and models and we engage with foundations and concepts. We owe this intellectual investigation to humankind as part of our cultural heritage and scientific history.

Science is part of our broader cultural history. The founding fathers of relativity theory and quantum mechanics were trained to read philosophy. And some of the most profound debates in physics at that time had a philosophical nature.

Physicists these days do not necessarily read other subjects at university. Large scientific collaborations enforce a more granular level of scientific expertise. We need fundamental research in science because it is part of our cultural heritage.

Progress in philosophy is not the same as progress in science. There are different views about how to assess progress in science. These give rise to unsolved philosophical questions.

Philosophers debate the nature of scientific success and progress. Science offers new questions to philosophers. Philosophers ask about the role and nature of scientific models and how they relate to theories and experimental evidence.

Perspectival realists say truth matters in science. We cannot be content with just saving the observable phenomena and producing theories that account for the available evidence. Yet our conceptual resources, theoretical approaches, methodologies and technological infrastructures are historically and culturally situated.

We need to consider how we collect, analyze, and interpret evidence for hypothetical new entities in areas like cosmology or particle physics. The tools we have for interpreting the evidence are very often a matter of perspective. How we use those tools to find the truth about, say, supersymmetry becomes crucial.

On supersymmetry, the idea that scientists start with a theoretical hypothesis, deduce empirical consequences, and then run an experiment to test whether the consequences are verified or not fails to capture what goes on in real scientific practice.

Particle physicists rule out energy regions where no evidence has yet been found for new physics beyond the Standard Model. Surveying the space of what is physically conceivable as a guide to what is objectively possible and fixing more stringent constraints on this realm of possibilities counts as progress.

Progress here is about being able to carve out the space of what might be possible in nature with high confidence. This is what perspectival realism is driving at.

I believe it is the job of philosophers to contribute to public discourse on the value of science, to make sure we discuss scientific theories properly, and to make the public more aware of the importance of science. Philosophers speak up for science and banish ignorance.

AR Philosophers of Higgs explain the Standard Model and why it matters.

Brexit: Hide And Seek

Michel Barnier

The United Kingdom must look at the reality of the European Union in the face. It must also face the reality of Brexit. If the UK would like to change its own red lines, it will have to tell us — the sooner the better.

The European Council has made it clear that the UK can change its mind. We simply ask for clarity, because to negotiate effectively you must know what the other party wants. A negotiation cannot be a game of hide and seek.

We need realistic proposals from the UK that respect the institutional architecture and the integrity of the EU. I can see the temptation to blame the negative consequences of Brexit on the EU. But the UK wants to leave — this is not our decision.

Brexit is not and will never be in the interest of EU companies. It would be contrary to their interests to give up our EU autonomy of decision, which allows us to set standards for the whole EU and often to see them adopted worldwide. We cannot and will not share this decisional autonomy with a third country that no longer wants to be in the same legal ecosystem as us.

AR Barnier makes a good and reasonable case.

2018 May 26

Italian Horrorshow

Der Spiegel

The new Italian government is a shocker. It pairs the Five Star Movement under the leadership of Luigi Di Maio with the right-wing nationalist party Lega, led by Matteo Salvini. The prime minister is law professor Giuseppe Conte.

Italy holds €2.3 trillion in sovereign debt, equivalent to 132% of its GDP. The country is still suffering from the consequences of the financial crisis and it is struggling to deal with the strain of thousands of migrants streaming across the Mediterranean to Italy. The election victory by the populists has the potential to make those problems much worse.

The coalition agreement is a blueprint for destroying state finances. To appease their bases, Salvini and Di Maio included tax cuts, a minimum basic income, and repeal of pension reform in their coalition agreement. These measures will cost at least €109 billion per year.

EU laws, says Salvini, will only be respected in the future if they are beneficial to Italy. Di Maio adds that Italians come first and only then the negotiations about the deficit and EU rules. Steve Bannon: "It's very important for these guys to be very aggressive about confronting Brussels."

Only 39% of Italians view the EU positively. Part of their frustrations with Brussels stems from the feeling of having been left alone to deal with the Mediterranean migrant crisis. Also, many voters have suffered from years of recession.

An early draft of the coalition agreement demands that the ECB forgive €250 billion of debt. At present, Italy requires €200 billion of fresh borrowing each year to service old debts. Foreign investors hold almost €800 billion of Italian debt and they will demand a high risk premium to lend more money to Italy.

The Conte government of post-ideologists and right-wing populists might assume that Italy is too big to fail and that EU institutions will bail them out. We can only hope they see the light. Europe is facing its next big crisis.

AR Democracy by rabble can only end in tears.

Last Exit Before Brexit

Simon Kuper

Bernard-Henri Lévy (BHL) was an Anglophile long before he became a celebrity intellectual. Like his British literary heroes Lord Byron and TE Lawrence, he is a man of action who aims to change the world. Hence Last Exit Before Brexit.

The play is a plea to Britain to realise that it's the intellectual heart of Europe and should therefore stay in and help reform the "soulless" European Union. BHL: "There are no causes today that mobilise me as much as this one: to convince the English that Brexit would be an unimaginable regression of civilisation."

BHL says it takes the form of a nearly two-hour stream of consciousness monologue by an imaginary French writer who has to give the keynote speech at a conference on Brexit: "The suspense of the play is that he cannot manage to write the speech."

The French ruling class want to make Paris as great as London. If anyone can turn Paris into the new capital of liberal Europe, it's France's most liberal president, Emmanuel Macron. BHL sees a kindred spirit: "Macron, like me — though he's younger — couldn't exist without English ideology. He's an Englishman of France."

Franco-British economic rivalry is almost a sideshow. What concerns them more is the scary outside world that has taken shape just in the two years since the Brexit referendum. Europe now feels squeezed by Vladimir Putin and abandoned by Donald Trump.

BHL thinks Brexit could end very badly: "Who knows where this butterfly effect can lead? There is certainly a puppeteer called Putin. He has one strategic objective: the dislocation of Europe."

AR Windbag? Humbug! My soul thrills to BHL's new cause.

2018 May 25

Global Warming

New Scientist

The asteroid impact around 66 My ago that wiped out the dinosaurs caused temperatures to rise by 5 K and stay high for 100 ky. The impact released immense quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere and triggered vast wildfires that released even more CO2.

After a few cold years when dust blocked sunlight, CO2 levels rose to around 1000 ppm and temperatures rose by 5 K more quickly than global warming today. This may imply we are underestimating how much our climate will warm in the next few centuries.

AR Oops

US Cancels NK Meet

The New York Times

President Trump has canceled his planned meeting with NK leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 to discuss steps toward denuclearization and peace because of recent "tremendous anger and open hostility" by Pyongyang.

Trump: "You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used."

AR Amen

Germany and China

Der Spiegel

Until recently, the relationship between Germany and China seemed symbiotic. Germany sold high-end goods in China, while China exported cheap goods to Germany. But China has grown up.

China has copied the German model and is now becoming a threat. Germany is increasingly reliant on China as a driver of global innovation. The Chinese have begun to buy companies in Germany.

The German economy is sensitive to trends in global trade. A trade war between America and China would leave Germany dangerously exposed. Any concessions to one will displease the other.

China intends to become an economic superpower. Its plan calls for transforming China into a major manufacturing power by 2025, reaching an intermediate level by 2035, and becoming the global leader among the manufacturing powers by 2049. China aims to take the lead in information technology, automation and robotics, aerospace and aeronautics, oceanographic engineering and high-tech shipping, high-speed rail, electric vehicles, electric power equipment, agricultural machinery, new materials, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment.

China is expanding its economic influence into Europe by way of the New Silk Road. President Xi Jinping presented the idea for a new world order in 2013. His Silk Roads Initiative is a network of trade and energy corridors, pipelines, railway lines, and shipping lanes that will reach from China to the entire Eurasian region by 2049.

Europe has spent months wrangling over a joint position on China. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker proposes a new EU framework for investment screening. This must survive votes by the European Parliament international trade committee and by the European Council.

AR Relax

Leaver Rant

Richard Littlejohn

We knew what voting Leave would mean. No single market, no customs union, no more submitting to the jurisdiction of European courts. We would be retaking control of our borders, our laws, our territorial waters, and our national destiny.

By now, we should be as good as gone. Yet we are no nearer the exit. Every day brings yet another blatant attempt to derail the process, to keep us subjugated in perpetuity as prisoners of a sclerotic, anti-democratic European superstate.

What right does the Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros have to interfere in the internal affairs of a foreign country? Yet the Remainers are cheering him on. This fifth column will stop at nothing to overturn the referendum result.

HMRC head John Thompson warns that technology designed to keep trade flowing after Brexit will cost £20 billion and take until 2023 to introduce. Seven years after we voted Leave — longer than it took us to defeat Nazi Germany.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney, a Canadian, owes his job to the political establishment. He says Brexit will be an economic disaster, but is said to dream of becoming the next prime minister of proudly independent Canada.

I'm no fan of Mother Theresa. I thought Boris deserved the job. He was the figurehead for the Leave campaign and the spoils should have gone to the victor. At least he believes in Brexit and is making a case for our bright global future.

May should never have agreed to give the EU a penny and should have ignored their cynical posturing over the Irish border. Over the Galileo satellite project we should tell the EU they can forget about cooperation from British security services.

Europe has more to lose than Britain, both economically and militarily. Surrendering to every demand from Brussels is not an option. If Mother Theresa can stand up to Russia, then she can summon up the backbone to face down the EU.

AR Trash

2018 May 24

Italian Imbroglio

Rachel Donadio

Two populist parties triumphed in Italian national elections in March. The Five-Star Movement and the League party formed a coalition last week and proposed Giuseppe Conte as prime minister. President Sergio Mattarella has now given Conte a mandate to form a government.

This is the most resounding rebuke of the establishment in Italy's postwar history. Conte says he will lead a government of change. His platform calls for the expulsion of 500,000 illegal immigrants, a flat tax, a basic income for Italians below a certain financial threshold, a lowered retirement age, and an end to EU sanctions on Russia.

A government of populists in a founding member state of the European Union may mark a point of no return. The populists call for changes to stop Italians being pushed around by unelected officials in Brussels. League federal secretary Matteo Salvini admires Marine Le Pen and Victor Orbán and calls Italy a country of instability and fear.

Both the Five Star Movement and the League have railed for years against technocrats foisting economic reforms on Italy. The League even called for the secession of much of northern Italy. Now it sees not Rome but Brussels as the enemy.

AR Will Italy and Brexit together tip Europe into chaos?

Proton Pressure

Leah Crane

Researchers have measured the pressure holding the quarks inside a proton.

Protons contain three quarks, held together by gluons. The team fired an electron beam at a proton. Each electron carried a quantum of energy that behaved like a photon. When the electron bounced off a quark, the proton recoiled in response, and the quark emitted another photon.

Measuring how the electron, the proton, and the photon were moving after the collision let the team make a 3D map of the quarks inside the proton. To measure the forces within the proton, a graviton would be helpful, but information from the two photons, before and after the collision, can be combined to tell us what a graviton would say.

The researchers found pressures of about 1035 Pa in protons.

AR A proton sounds like a hard nut to crack!

Customs Costs

Financial Times

The head of HM Revenue & Customs Business warns the UK will face extra bureaucracy costing up to £20 billion a year to implement the "max fac" customs deal proposed by Brexiteers.

The extra form-filling facing companies sending goods across a proposed "streamlined" customs border would cost twice as much as the UK net annual contribution to the EU budget.

AR End the Brexit farce and start promoting EU membership to UK voters.

2018 May 23

EU Survey: Record High


Public support for the European Union has reached a record high. More than two-thirds of EU citizens and three-quarters of Germans think their country benefits from EU membership.

The Eurobarometer survey result published today shows its highest value in Europe since 1983. The rise began in late 2016, after the British vote to leave the EU. This seems to have been a wake-up call for Europe.

About a third of respondents know EU elections are due next spring. The UK will likely not participate and the number of MEPs will fall from the current 751 to 705.

2018 May 22

Brexit Cost

Financial Times

Bank of England governor Mark Carney said real household incomes are "about £900" lower than forecast in May 2016, before the Brexit referendum, and that the UK economy is 2% smaller. With GDP at £2 trillion, 2% is £40 billion a year.

2018 May 21

Last Exit Before Brexit

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Europe will collapse if Brexit goes ahead. Britain is not just an additional piece of the European Union, it is the brain. Brexit will be a much bigger catastrophe than most people expect or think, a catastrophe for Britain and a catastrophe for Europe. Europe is unthinkable without Great Britain.

Anti-intellectualism is a bad idea because it makes us closer to populism. Intellectuals make some huge mistakes but anti-intellectualism is a mistake in itself. The lack of grandeur in French and English politics is part of the problem.

My play Last Exit before Brexit is a warning, a last signal, my modest contribution. The only character is called Bernard-Henri Lévy, who is stuck in a hotel in Sarajevo, a place at the borders of Europe.

In the Brexit referendum, Brits were asked a very simple question about a very complex problem. This was really the sin of the whole affair. Those who decided to ask for a yes or no answer to such a huge, complex issue were really irresponsible. The question of the UK in Europe is a question of spirit, of heart, of memories, of war and peace and of the very constituency of the UK. To reduce that to two lines like the language of a computer is a crime of the spirit.

We underestimate the forces against our brotherhood and our greatness. We have greatness and we have two players against this, Putin and Trump. We underestimate their role in this game.

AR Britain the brain? Then Europe is truly doomed!

2018 May 20

Amazing Apotheosis

The Royal Household

The Duchess of Sussex .. devotes her time to supporting a number of charities and organisations .. Her Royal Highness became involved with the organisation One Young World in 2014 .. Her Royal Highness became a Global Ambassador for World Vision in 2016.

AR Cherry-picked résumé.

Banks Boost Brexit Budgets

Financial Times

Big banks are budgeting for Brexit. Some will spend over £100 million to reorganise their businesses and transfer parts from London by March 2019. Costs have risen because of uncertainty.

Most financial services businesses said agreement on a Brexit transition had not changed their planning timelines. Banks will create new entities to do business with their EU clients.

Banks will move minimal numbers of people from London. Uncertainty has forced banks to devise multiple plans, adding to Brexit costs. The rising costs are generating frustration.

AR What a waste of money, all made ultimately by tithing the people's transactions.

Cosmic Censorship Conjecture Confuted

Kevin Hartnett

A deep question in general relativity has been answered. The strong cosmic censorship conjecture, proposed in 1979 by Roger Penrose, concerns the inner workings of black holes. Mihalis Dafermos and Jonathan Luk have proved the conjecture false.

In classical physics, if you know the laws governing a physical system plus its initial state, you can predict its evolution indefinitely far into the future. But Einstein's field equations fail to predict the evolution of spacetime inside a rotating black hole. Penrose proposed his strong cosmic censorship conjecture to obscure that failure.

Beyond a black hole event horizon, beyond another horizon known as the Cauchy horizon, Einstein's equations allow many configurations of spacetime to unfold. The Penrose conjecture says the Cauchy horizon cannot exist because it is unstable. Any passing gravitational waves should collapse that horizon into a singularity.

Dafermos and Luk show the spacetime at the Cauchy horizon is less warped than Penrose imagined. Observers crossing the Cauchy horizon are not torn apart by tidal forces, so spacetime extends beyond the horizon. Spacetime can extend in any number of ways, but this does not invalidate Einstein's equations.

Einstein's equations quantify how spacetime changes over time. For the equations to be soluble, spacetime has to be sufficiently smooth. Predictability fails because the spacetime beyond the Cauchy horizon is not sufficiently smooth.

Einstein's field equations can be written in this compact form:

Rμν − ½Rgμν = 8πG Tμν

where Rμν is the Ricci curvature tensor, R is the scalar curvature, gμν is the metric tensor, G is Newton's gravitational constant, Tμν is the stress-energy tensor, and the speed of light c = 1.

AR Quantum gravity will have something to say about this. I propose a Feynman integral of all spacetimes beyond the Cauchy horizon.

Harry marries Meghan

Owen Humphreys/Pool/AFP/Getty Images
Harry and Meghan, St. George's Chapel, Windsor

Trump, May
Trump and May meet July



2018 May 19

Harry Marries Meghan

BBC News

The couple will now be known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

2018 May 18


Rex Tillerson

A responsibility of every American citizen to each other is to preserve and protect our freedom by recognizing what truth is and is not, what a fact is and is not, and begin by holding ourselves accountable to truthfulness and demand our pursuit of America's future be based on facts.

If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.


Bill Gates

When I walked in, his first sentence kind of threw me off. He said: "Trump hears that you don't like what Trump is doing." And I thought: "Wow, but you're Trump." I didn't know the third-party form was always expected: "Gates says that Gates knows that you're not doing things right."


Edward Lucas

The Trump administration has boosted the US contribution to European security.

NATO is grappling with new technology in warfare. UK capabilities are in demand here. This may result in a British secretary-general for NATO in 2020.

NATO logistics have decayed since the cold war. A new Joint Support and Enabling Command in Ulm, Germany, will help. Spending money on dual-use infrastructure offers Germany an easy way to raise its defense spending from 1.2% of GDP.

Despite Trump and Brexit, NATO ties Europe to the US and the UK to Europe.

AR NATO secretary-general Tony Blair, anyone?

Brexit: Customs Union

Financial Times

Theresa May says the UK will remain in a customs union with the EU after 2021 until an alternative to a hard border in Ireland is found, removing the need for a customs border.

May says the UK will still have an independent trade policy, though it will be unable to negotiate different tariffs with countries that already have a deal with the EU.

EU officials say the UK cannot use maintaining the status quo in Northern Ireland as a backdoor to a trade deal that circumvents single market membership.

Brexit: No Joke

The Guardian

Government ineptitude over Brexit used to be funny. Not now. In June the European Council is due to review progress.

Theresa May will now try to keep the UK within the EU external tariff system after Brexit until it can sort out the border in Ireland. The agreement is not final and the EU27 has not been consulted.

Parliament and the people have not yet been consulted. MPs may decide on a second referendum. Northern Ireland voters may reject a hard Brexit.

Brexit: Utter Farce

Gina Miller

Theresa May says the two customs union options her cabinet discussed have been ditched. The new wheeze is to extend some customs rules into 2021. The EU had already rejected the two options and is likely to reject the new proposal at its June summit.

Any extension will have to be on current terms, abiding by all EU rules and free movement. The EU has released a slide titled EU/UK Possible Framework for the Future Partnership Discussions. The UK cannot achieve a deal as a third country that is equal or superior to EU membership.

No one in full possession of their senses could say that what Britain is now doing is in the best interests of the country. Surely it is time we went back to the people who raised the curtain on this utter farce in the first place.

2018 May 17

Europe Closes Ranks Against Trump

The Times

EU leaders have gathered in Sofia for a summit meeting to save the Iran nuclear deal.

European Council president Donald Tusk: "Looking at latest decisions of Donald Trump someone could even think: with friends like that who needs enemies. But frankly, EU should be grateful. Thanks to him we got rid of all illusions. We realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm."

French president Emmanuel Macron: "When challenges threaten to destabilise the world, the only solution is to join our forces to respond in one voice. European sovereignty is the guarantor of international stability."

German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We have made our position clear on issues of trade, such as trade issues with the United States. Our common position is that we want an unlimited exemption but are in turn prepared to talk about the reciprocal reduction of trade barriers."

UK prime minister Theresa May: "We are not leaving Europe."

The Third German Empire

Ross Douthat

The first modern German empire was announced in 1871 and died in 1918. The second German empire died in 1945. The third German empire, built slowly over three generations, wields power in Berlin and Brussels over a polyglot sprawl of member states.

The European Union might fall. The possibility of such a fall has been haunting the continent for a decade. With the rise in Italy of a populist coalition, it has reached the core of the union.

The crisis pits liberalism against illiberalism, freedom against authoritarianism. It is also a struggle of nations against empire. The liberal aspect of the system is under strain because the imperial aspect was exploited unwisely by leaders in Germany.

This disastrous imperial dynamic was behind the fiscal policy imposed on PIGS in the wake of the Great Recession. Angela Merkel then took it upon herself to make migration policy for the continent. Resistance to her open door for refugees and migrants goes far to explain the rise of populism.

Member states are asked to surrender to a new form of empire in the name of universal liberalism. But nationalists in Britain, Italy, Poland, and Hungary want to have their cake and eat it. This German empire is unlikely to evolve into a United States of Europe.

AR The Third Empire (das Dritte Reich) is a tainted name, unveiling this essay as an attempt to besmirch the EU dream of rising above the tribal loyalties of vulgar nationalism.

My response: Don't knock the EU — aim to improve it!

Planet Earth

Shannon Hall

A Mars-sized object named Theia collided with the early Earth roughly 100 million years after the formation of the solar system. The crash threw molten rock into orbit that then formed the Moon.

Jeffrey Andrews-Hanna: "Not only was the Earth struck by multiple impactors, but it was then re-impacted by the debris and moonlets that were created by those impacts in the first place."

Debris in orbit would have coalesced to form the Moon and many smaller moonlets. The gravitational dance between the moonlets would cause some to crash down onto the young Earth. They could have added enough rock on a spot to build the first continent.

Planet Nine

Shannon Hall

Astronomers have spotted an object whose orbit was likely shepherded by a planet hiding way out beyond Pluto. This Planet Nine could have about 10 times the mass of Earth.

The new object has an orbit tilted at almost 1 rad with respect to the plane of the solar system. A handful of Kuiper belt objects have orbits that loop outward toward the same quadrant of the solar system, a phenomenon that would be extremely unlikely to happen by chance. Over time, Planet Nine would push these objects into ever higher orbital inclinations.

The new object fits perfectly with predictions. Juliette Becker: "The second you put Planet Nine in the simulations, not only can you form objects like this object, but you absolutely do."

AR Seems like good science to me.

Xi Jinping, Marx

Wang Zhao / AFP
Xi Jinping gives a speech on the 200th birthday of Karl Marx

Souvenirs of my Tuesday
hike around Studland

Netta won the Eurovision
Song Contest for Israel

On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach

Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan

Irina Shayk
Irina Shayk
Festival de Cannes

AR Très élégant!

Israel, Iran


2018 May 16



North Korea threatens to abandon planned talks between leader Kim Jong Un and US president Donald Trump if Washington insists on pushing it into a corner on nuclear disarmament.

NK first vice minister of foreign affairs Kim Kye Gwan: "We have never had any expectation of US support in carrying out our economic construction .. our country is neither Libya nor Iraq which have met miserable fate."

The NK statement says the Max Thunder 2018 air combat drill is against the declaration signed last month between the Koreas.


Martin Wolf

Americans and Europeans have a preponderant share of the global economy. The 14% of humanity that lives in advanced countries generates 60% of world output at market prices and 41% at PPP. This imbalance will not last.

Chinese political stability is fragile and renewal of the Communist party is essential. But after the financial crisis and the rise of populism, the ability of the West to run its economic and political systems well is dubious. The failures of democracy and the market economy are producing not reform but impotent rage.

China will become a great power within a global civilization. A US economic embargo on China will not halt Chinese progress. America will fail, as it has in managing the global commons or achieving stability in the Mideast.


Der Spiegel

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron agree on Donald Trump. His withdrawal from the Iran deal is the most dangerous and cavalier foreign policy decision that a US president has made since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Europeans are united in seeking to preserve the deal with Iran. An attack on the Iran deal is an attack on the pride of European foreign policy. Europe has shown unity on the Iran deal and the EU was a decisive participant in the talks.

Trump has humiliated Europe. Macron fawned over him in the White House, Merkel swung by for lunch, and Boris Johnson also flew over to save the deal, but all in vain. Trump backed out of the deal in the most brutal way possible.

Trump has accused his NATO partners of being freeloaders, he withdrew from the Paris climate agreement despite massive protest, and he is posturing to start a trade war with the EU. But his violation of the Iran deal hits Europe hard.

As soon as Trump exited from the Iran deal, John Bolton crowed "We're out of the deal" three times. Bolton is thought to have authored the speech and architected the withdrawal. His Iran plan: "To stop Iran's bomb, bomb Iran."

Wolfgang Ischinger: "Another dramatic wake-up call for the European Union to finally get a grip on itself .. I cannot imagine a better motivation than this shock from Trump."


The Times

Brexit secretary David Davis has told prime minister Theresa May that her favored plan for a customs partnership with the EU could be illegal under international trade law. The attorney-general's office will give a legal opinion before the cabinet makes its final decision. The office will also consider the legality of the competing "maximum facilitation" model, also open to WTO challenge.

Labour may support Britain remaining in the single market after leaving the EU. Shadow Brexit minister Paul Blomfield: "We are going to make our decision on the amendments that come back from the Lords when the government brings the legislation back from the Lords."

About half of the Labour peers supported an amendment to make membership of the EEA a negotiating objective for the government. Member states of the EEA have free movement of goods, services, people, and capital with the EU and are part of the single market but not the customs union. Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein are members.

About a dozen Conservative MPs favor EEA membership, plus the SNP and the Liberal Democrats.

AR Remain in EU is best, join EEA is next best.

Tom Wolfe

William Cash

The Man in the White Suit became my literary hero. At Cambridge, I wrote a thesis on his satire and sent him a copy.

Over the next few years, I kept gently asking how he was getting on with his new novel. Wolfe: "Mr Cash, I find it hard to write if I have any money in my bank account."

Wolfe published Bonfire of the Vanities when he was 57. This gave him great literary status anxiety. The trepidation caused him to retire to bed in the weeks before it hit the stands in 1987.

The pains subsided once the reviews and sales figures came in. Bonfire was No 1 on the New York Times bestseller list for two months and sold more than 800,000 copies in hardback.

Wolfe was a moralist in the tradition of Mark Twain. He went out of his way to distance himself from being labeled a satirist: "I want to see myself as whatever the big league writer is."

He said he had no desire to write an autobiography. His clothes were a form of disguise or literary costume.

AR His novels put him in the big league.

2018 May 15

American Renaissance

David Brooks

In this era of local renaissance and national apocalypse, I hear people wondering if maybe America can be like Italy — dysfunctional on the national level but with strong localities and a lovely lifestyle.

Local improvement can go only so far when national politics is a meat grinder. The good news is the solutions to our civic problems already exist. We just need to transform these local stories into a coherent national story.

Brexit — Right

The Times

Theresa May confronted Jacob Rees-Mogg at a meeting with Tory MPs designed to break the deadlock over Britain's future customs arrangements with the EU.

"A certain kind of Leaver has always loathed the idea of exit talks, as though European permission were needed, and hates even more the prospect of entanglement in budget payments, regulatory agencies and the like."
Janan Ganesh

Brexit — Left

The Guardian

Brexit is still a steaming mess going nowhere fast. With her cabinet still split over customs arrangements, Theresa May set up two rival teams to fight it out. Negotiations in Brussels are at a standstill.

"Jeremy Corbyn does not have a better plan for Brexit than Theresa May."
Rafael Behr

2018 May 14

A Historic Day

David Harris

May 14, 1948, was the date when the modern state of Israel was born.

May 14, 2018, is the date of the transfer of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Every country ought to have the right to choose its own capital. Israel alone has found itself in the unique position of having its self-declared capital in Jerusalem, while other nations insist it's in Tel Aviv, where they locate their embassies and residences.

The original UN resolution recommending a two-state solution, adopted in November 1947, designated Jerusalem as a city with no sovereign affiliation to the proposed Arab and Jewish states. The Arab world rejected the resolution in and declared war on Israel. But Israel prevailed.

For nearly seven decades, we have witnessed the anomaly of world leaders, whose countries reject Jerusalem as the capital, traveling precisely to that city to meet with Israeli presidents and prime ministers, to see Knesset members, and to hold dialogues in the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Donald Trump recognized reality. Jerusalem is Israel's capital.

2018 May 13

Trump Shootout

Niall Ferguson

Washington foreign policy experts find Donald Trump's decision to exit one nuclear deal (with Iran) only to enter another (with North Korea) baffling.

They clearly never saw The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Like Clint Eastwood's Blondie, Trump understands that only one of his antagonists has a loaded gun. North Korea needs to be treated differently from Iran.

Blondie: "You see, in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: those with loaded guns and those who dig." North Korea became a nuclear state. But Iran now has to dig.

Trust Me

Theresa May

Brexit provides the opportunity to build a new relationship with the EU where we are close trading partners and strong allies but with the British government in control:

I will ensure that we take back control of our borders.
I will ensure that we take back control of our money.
I will ensure that we take back control of our laws.

We will leave the single market.
We will leave the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy.
We will leave the customs union.

Any deal with the EU must protect our precious United Kingdom.
Any agreements must create as little friction as possible for trade.
We must not constrain our ability to negotiate trade agreements.

The path I am setting out is the path to deliver Brexit.

Soft Brexit

Chuka Umunna

A hard Brexit was not on the ballot paper in the 2016 referendum. Labour peers supported amendments to keep Britain part of the European Economic Area.

Leaving the EEA would be a bad decision. The EEA is massively important for Britain's economic health and a significant contributing factor to our growing positive services trade balance. Claims that the EEA would stop rail or water nationalization, prevent the creation of regional investment banks, or block more public housing are rubbish.

I hope the Labour front bench will back the idea of negotiating to stay in the EEA.

2018 May 12

Europe Can Act

Steven Simon, Jonathan Stevenson

President Trump has treated Europe like a doormat, questioning the value of NATO, ridiculing the mission of the European Union, and dismissing European exhortations on policy matters.

The European Union has yet to act like an organization with a GDP roughly equal to that of the United States. Continuing to do business with Iran would mitigate the effect of the US sanctions.

The Trump administration is threatening to wreak havoc on EU economies. European capitals might expel US ambassadors. They could show the Trump administration lacks allied support.

A Brexit Vote

Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska

Theresa May says parliament will have a meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement with the EU.

An amendment to the withdrawal bill would ensure that the government cannot implement Brexit before parliament has approved the final deal. A Lords amendment would stop the government from offering Westminster a false choice between accepting the deal or having no deal at all.

Reversing Brexit is easier said than done. So far neither the Conservative party nor Labour has been keen to hold a referendum on the final deal. To call for a referendum, the parties would have to be confident that they had the public with them, but the country remains divided.

The bigger problem is that the British debate ignores the fact that the EU27 also has a voice. All EU member states would have to agree to a last-minute UK request. But they and the EU institutions want to get Brexit out of the way ahead of the European Parliament elections in 2019.

Westminster parliamentarians should force the prime minister to soften her red lines before too late.

Olde England

Marina Hyde

The House of Lords joins the BBC, the judiciary, the civil service, and the free press in the range of British institutions being blamed by Brexiteers for sabotage.

What is the England these Brexiteers want to return to, if it isn't the House of Lords, Test Match Special on the Beeb, the quiet Rolls-Roycery of the civil service, out-of-touch high court judges, and a press who've mostly printed any old lie about the EU for decades? That is their romanticised past, their Albion.

Quantum Reality

James Gleick

Quantum theory is a successful theory but it defies common sense.

From one point of view, quantum physics is just a useful tool kit. If you want to make better lasers or transistors, the Schrödinger equation is your friend. But when you ask what it all means, you find problems.

The Copenhagen interpretation says nothing is definite in the quantum world until someone observes it. Physics can help us order experience but cannot provide a complete picture of reality. This seems incoherent.

The many-worlds interpretation says every quantum event is a fork in the road. Each fork creates a new universe, and everything that can happen does happen, in one universe or another. This is ridiculous.

We who search for meaning in quantum physics are only human.

2018 May 11

Brexit Vote Delay

Financial Times

Theresa May has postponed key Brexit legislation with no agreement in sight on future customs policy. She had wanted the customs arrangements and the Irish border issues settled before the EU summit in June, but a breakthrough is unlikely at the Brexit committee meeting next week. The government dare not bring back two key Brexit bills to the House of Commons until the autumn for fear the prime minister could be defeated.

EU budget commissioner Günther Oettinger: "Madame May is weak and Boris Johnson has the same
hair-do as Trump .. We can only hope that sensible citizens will put Madame May on the path to a
clever Brexit."

Britain Woos Turkey

Financial Times

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan will make a three-day visit to Britain that will include a meeting with the Queen. His trip comes during a Turkish parliamentary and presidential election campaign conducted under a state of emergency and with a key presidential candidate in jail.

British−Turkish relations have grown closer since the Brexit referendum. During the Brexit campaign, Michael Gove had accused Brussels of appeasement toward Ankara, and Boris Johnson won a prize for a limerick:

   There was a young fellow from Ankara
   Who was a terrific wankerer
   Till he sowed his wild oats
   With the help of a goat
   But he didn't even stop to thankerer

Sack BoJo

Philip Collins

Theresa May should sack her foreign secretary. His insubordination has now become so overt that he is asking for the bullet. There is no case for not sacking him, given that he does his job so badly and behaves even worse. Boris Johnson will not be a serious threat to the prime minister after she has dispatched him.


The Guardian

A cabinet minister: "The prime minister wants to find a way through this that keeps the party together. Her instinct is to stick as closely to the status quo as she can get away with .. We'll end up with a fudge on the customs union just so we can say we've delivered Brexit."

2018 May 10

Israel Targets Iran

Jerusalem Post

IAF jets struck dozens of Iranian targets in Syria after 20 rockets were fired towards Israel's front defensive line in the Golan Heights by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force.

The targets all belonged to the Quds Force in Syria and included intelligence sites, logistics headquarters, a military compound, and logistics complex, weapons storage sites, intelligence systems and installations, observation, military posts, and military hardware in the buffer zone.

IDF: "It will take Iran a long time to rehabilitate the infrastructure that was destroyed overnight."

AR More war coming soon.

Trump Declares Trade War On China

Martin Wolf

The Trump administration has presented China with an ultimatum on trade:

China will reduce the US-China trade imbalance by $100 billion in the 12 months beginning
    June 1, 2018, and by another $100 billion in the 12 months beginning June 1, 2019.
China will eliminate subsidies conducive to excess capacity, strengthen intellectual property,
    and eliminate technology-related requirements for joint ventures.
China will withdraw requests for WTO consultations relating to tariff actions on intellectual
China will not oppose US imposition of restrictions on investments from China in sensitive
    US technology sectors and will afford US investors in China fair market access and treatment.
China will reduce tariffs in other sectors to equivalent US levels and open access to services
    and farm products as the US specifies.
China will not oppose any punitive US tariffs or import restrictions and will withdraw its
    WTO complaint that it is not being treated as a market economy.

Trump aims to force the Chinese to sue for terms.

AR China will not comply. Sad, sad, sad.

2018 Europe Day

I Am a European

Winston Churchill
May 9, 1948

We hope to reach again a Europe united but purged of the slavery of ancient, classical times, a Europe in which men will be proud to say: "I am a European."

We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think as much of being a European as of belonging to their native land, and that without losing any of their love and loyalty of their birthplace.

We hope wherever they go in this wide domain, to which we set no limits in the European Continent, they will truly feel: "Here I am at home. I am a citizen of this country too."

AR Amen

A Better Deal?

The New York Times

By reneging on the Iran nuclear deal, President Trump says he will be able to get a better deal. His decision will allow Iran to resume a robust nuclear program and lay conditions for a possible wider war in the Mideast. The Europeans and Iranians say they will stick to the deal.

AR Scrap a working deal with flaws and fall into purgatory — the sad tale of Trump and Brexit.

Lords: Negotiate EEA Deal

Financial Times

The House of Lords has voted in favour of keeping Britain in the European single market. A majority of 29 lords voted for the UK to negotiate continued membership of the EEA — the Norwegian model.

AR EEA — a better deal?

2018 May 8

Trump Dumps Iran Deal

Jerusalem Post
2133 Israel Time

President Donald Trump said he was reimposing economic sanctions on Iran and pulling the United States out of an international agreement aimed at stopping Tehran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "If the agreement had been maintained, it would have allowed Iran enough material to develop a full arsenal of bombs."

Israeli defense minister Avigdor Liberman: "President Trump, leader of the free world, said this evening to the Ayatollahs in a clear and decisive voice: enough!"

Iran Nuclear Deal

Boris Johnson

Faced with an array of unappetising options, there is a deep wisdom in choosing the one with the smallest downside and then fixing its limitations. So it is with the Iran nuclear agreement that President Trump is now reviewing. Of all the options we have for ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon, this pact offers the fewest disadvantages.

It has weaknesses, certainly, but I am convinced they can be remedied. US and UK diplomats have been working alongside their French and German counterparts to reach a joint approach toward Iran. It would be a mistake to walk away from the nuclear agreement and remove the restraints that it places on Iran.


Bourne river in Bournemouth, on the hottest early May bank holiday on record

James Webb ST
James Webb Space Telescope
expected to launch in 2020,
cost $8.8 billion


Star Wars

Spiegel: 4 out of 128

Haven Hotel
Haven Hotel, Mayday

Milky Way
Gaia image shows
dimming and reddening
of 87 million stars


2018 May 7

Mystery Numbers Explained

Kevin Hartnett

Mathematicians are fascinated by how mirror symmetry involves zeta values.

The zeta values are numbers generated by taking an infinite sum:
ζ(1) = 1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + ...
ζ(x) = 1 + 1/2x + 1/3x + 1/4x + ...

For even positive integers we find:
ζ(2) = 1 + 1/22 + 1/32 + 1/42 + ... = π2/6
ζ(4) = 1 + 1/24 + 1/34 + 1/44 + ... = π4/90

The zeta values for complex x appear in the Riemann hypothesis.

Physicists working on string theory aim to explain the world as made of strings woven through an additional 6 spatial dimensions. Attempts to understand those 6 dimensions led both to algebraic geometry and to symplectic geometry. Mirror symmetry links the two geometries.

By mirror symmetry, a calculation on one space generates numbers that match the numbers generated by a different calculation on the other space. Points whose coordinate values are integers become points whose coordinate values are multiples of different zeta values. The mapping effectively rotates the space.

The SYZ conjecture (blog April 11) says you can take one mirror space, break it down into pieces, process the pieces, and use the processed pieces to make the other mirror space. Most of the pieces from the first space are the same but some are special. We now know that each special piece maps to a zeta value.

Mirror symmetry is moving from revelation toward understanding.

2018 May 6

America, China, Britain, Germany

Niall Ferguson

The First World War was born when the German economy was overtaking the British economy and "Made in Germany" was the sign of the times. Germany had imperial ambitions and built a big navy. Britain and Germany fell into the trap of war.

America and China seem about to fall into the same trap. China's economy is overtaking that of America, and the Chinese slogan "Made in China 2025" catches the mood of the times. President Xi Jinping plans global deals and the People's Liberation Army is beefing up.

Like the Germans a century ago, the Chinese no longer worry that Anglophone democracy might be superior to their political system. The Communist Party's monopoly on power is now touted as a source of strength. President Xi is on top, as Kaiser Wilhelm II once was in Berlin.

A hundred years ago, Britain had a treaty obligation to uphold the neutrality of Belgium. When Germany invaded Belgium, the UK government said this was grounds for war. Henry Kissinger said a rigid alliance system condemned Britain and Germany to war in 1914.

Today, America is obliged by treaty to regard any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means as a threat to regional peace and security. US forces will defend Taiwan. Statesmen in Washington and Beijing must relax.

2018 May 5

Karl Marx

Jason Barker

On May 5, 1818, in the German town of Trier in the Moselle Valley, Karl Marx was born. In 1837, he abandoned a legal career and studied the speculative philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel at the University of Berlin. He said Hegel's "grotesque craggy melody" repelled him at first but soon had him dancing in the streets.

Marx argued that capitalism is driven by a divisive class struggle in which the ruling class appropriates the surplus labor of the working class as profit. He was convinced that capitalism has an inbuilt tendency to destroy itself. But he found no magic formula for resolving the contradictions that global capitalism entails.

Hegel had built his system of dialectical idealism with layers of negations and contradictions. Marx refused to accept that ideas drive history. He upended Hegelian idealism to invent dialectical materialism. Whereas Hegel had advocated a rational liberal state, Marx said there was no need for a state at all.

AR My deep study of Hegel revealed a vision that got lost in Marxism. Lenin was good on the radical thrust of Hegelian thought and Mao Zedong was good on the dialectic of contradiction, but Heidegger countered them by stressing the decisive role of folk tradition in breeding a solidarity hard enough to change history.


Sophia Besch

The debate over British participation in the ESA program Galileo is part of the Brexit negotiations. The EU does not want to rely on the UK for technology used in Galileo. The UK is threatening to stop tech transfers to the EU and build a competing satellite program.

Galileo is the European global navigation satellite system, conceived as a competitor to the American GPS, and is planned to be up and running by 2020. It will include an encrypted Public Regulated Service (PRS) reserved for EU militaries and governments.

Around three-quarters of UK space spending is via ESA, which acts as the procurement agent for Galileo. ESA is not part of the EU but Brexit may affect how the UK can participate. The EU is the largest funder of ESA and sets the procurement rules for Galileo.

The UK wants to maintain access to Galileo data after Brexit. It wants to use the PRS and it wants UK companies to bid for Galileo contracts. But the EU can cancel Galileo contracts without penalty once a supplier is no longer based in an EU member state.

The UK government wants guaranteed access to PRS. The Commission says this would require security guarantees to protect sensitive EU information after Brexit. The UK doubts that the EU would ever sign off on a PRS deal.

The UK now threatens to opt out of Galileo altogether. Loss of British expertise would be a loss to ESA. Strategic autonomy was part of the rationale for building Galileo, as GPS is controlled by the US military, but some say Brexit Britain can no longer be trusted.

AR Brexit is the Black Death for the EU and the UK.

Vesicles and Viruses

Carrie Arnold

Cells package messages in extracellular vesicles. Perhaps cells started using vesicles for communication first and viruses copied them, or cells stole the idea from viruses, or both evolved in tandem. In any case, it began billions of years ago.

Extracellular vesicles and exosomes range in size from 30 nm up 1 μm. They can carry several types of RNA, including mRNAs and microRNAs that affect gene expression. The fact that vesicles can carry RNAs invites comparisons to viruses.

Some vesicles resemble viruses. Retroviruses drape a second layer over their protein shell by wrapping themselves in pieces of their host cell membrane. Viruses get their coats by hijacking the cell pathway for making exosomes and extracellular vesicles.

Not all the viruses encased in cell-derived envelopes are fully intact and functional. Many are viral trash heaps that do nothing. But in some cases, on the surface, these vesicles carrying viral junk look nearly identical to those carrying cellular RNA.

Around 8% of the human genome came from viruses. Although some of this DNA is junk, these viral genes provide a genetic tool kit for evolution to play with. Parts of the genome we used to think of as junk actually have important functions.

AR Cell news is vesicular, fake news is viral, and the Black Death was bacterial.

2018 Star Wars Day

English Local Elections

BBC News

Local elections in England covered 150 councils and 4,371 seats.
Number of councillors:

Labour 2,323 (+62)
Conservative 1,330 (−32)
Liberal Democrat 536 (+75)
Green 39 (+8)
UKIP 3 (−123)
Other 143 (+10)

The Guardian
Councils gained (+)/lost (−):

+4/−6  Conservative
+3/−3  Labour
+4/−0  Liberal Democrat
+4/−6  No overall control

UKIP were all but wiped out. UKIP general secretary Paul Oakley: "Think of the Black Death in the Middle Ages. It comes along and it causes disruption, and then it goes dormant. And that's exactly what we're going to do. Our time isn't finished, because Brexit is being betrayed."

AR Brexit betrayed? Bring it on!

Hubble Trouble

Ramin Skibba

Measurements of the Hubble constant have returned contradictory results.

John Peacock says there may be no problem. Unknown errors can creep into the calculations. He separates measurements into separate classes that are independent from one another and considers possibly underestimated errors and biases that could systematically shift a measurement up or down. Take these unknown unknowns into account, and the Hubble discrepancy melts away.

Researchers continue to improve their estimates of the Hubble constant.

AR Don't panic.

2018 May 3

Luftwaffe Typhoons Ready 4 Combat

The Times

Germany is unable to meet its NATO obligations in an emergency.

The Luftwaffe has 4 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets ready for combat out of a fleet of 128. The German navy has 0 combat-ready submarines out of 6, and 9 out of 15 active frigates in full service. The German army has 95 operational tanks out of 244.

The German government budget allocates an extra €1.5 billion for defense this year, taking its total funding to €38.5 billion, or about 1.2% of GDP.

Funding is projected to rise to €41.5 billion next year, to 1.3% of GDP, but the budget foresees a fall as a proportion of GDP by 2022.

AR Trump was right to flag this issue.

2018 May 2

The Shortest History of Germany

James Hawes

In his acclaimed new bestseller, now in paperback, James Hawes tells the story of Europe's most admired and feared country, from Julius Caesar to Angela Merkel.

AR Excellent, wonderful, right on the ball — I just spent the better part of three days scanning the familiar outlines and unexpected details in this racy little page-turner with a clear plot and an urgent message. With a postscript dated January 2018, it brings us bang up to date, too.

2018 May 1

Trump America and Brexit Britain

Jacob Rees-Mogg

The election of Donald Trump depended upon similar factors to those that led to Brexit. US foreign policy had consistently supported UK engagement with the EU. Trump supports the UK decision to leave the EU out of conviction and principle.

The standard US view was that the UK could temper EU hostility. A key member state was a true friend who could advance US interests. The US accepted that the UK could not always be as supportive as it might otherwise have been.

Free from its ties to the EU, the UK will be able to cooperate more fully with the US in its global efforts. The UK can have a real special relationship. The US and UK can push shared values, rather than being held back by the EU.

Perhaps Britain will at last play the Greeks to America's Romans.

AR For two millennia, the Germanic people in the Rhine-Elbe region have played the central role in continental affairs. The British Isles were marginal until modern times. Americans see Germans too as the Greeks to their stardom as Roman imperialists.

But all that is moot in a world where China and India will change the game and machines will change it further. As a Germanic language, English will not take root in lands where machines can handle local languages and bury imperialism.

Perhaps Brits, like Germans, will rise above nationalism.

Das Schweigen der Linken

Jana Hensel

Seit die AfD in den Bundestag eingezogen ist und der Rechtspopulismus die Debatten beherrscht, wirken die hiesigen Schriftsteller, Künstler und Intellektuellen wie paralysiert.

Die intellektuelle Rechte hat sich in den vergangenen Monaten einhelliger und sichtbarer und lauter formiert als je zuvor in der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik.

Man kann das Schweigen der Intellektuellen im Kampf gegen den Rechtspopulismus als einen nachvollziehbaren Ausdruck einer tieferen Verunsicherung ihres Selbstverständnisses werten.

Es ist eine Art solidarischerer Einspruch gefordert. Der Zuzug der Flüchtlinge versetzt unser Land nicht in einen Ausnahmezustand. Unsere Kultur ist nicht bedroht.

AR Vielleicht nicht gleich — aber langsam und allmählich doch.

Cosmic Expansion

Leah Crane

The European Space Agency has released the biggest ever 3D map of the Milky Way based on data from its Gaia satellite. The map shows the location and brightness of some 1.7 billion stars.

Analysis of the data helps us measure the Hubble constant, the rate of cosmic expansion. We have two ways to determine the rate and they have always returned different values. The new data makes the gap worse.

One determination comes from the cosmic microwave background (CMB). We use CMB data to find the rate of expansion at 12 Ts ABB and plug the rate into models of cosmic evolution to predict the present rate.

The other method involves measuring the distances to stars called Cepheid variables to calculate the present rate directly. This method gives a value more than 9% higher than the CMB method.

Gaia measured 50 Cepheids. Something seems to be wrong with our models of cosmic evolution. Maybe our guesses about dark matter and dark energy are wrong.

AR Our guesses about dark stuff were always stabs in the dark.


Rodrigo Koxa sets world record for largest wave ever ridden

Bend It or Brexit

Low cognitive flexibility
correlates strongly with
feeling positive toward
Brexit and negative
toward immigration
and the EU

Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP
replaces Amber Rudd
as home secretary

No Brexit


2018 April 30

Social Responsibility

Ben Chu

UK fund manager Euan Stirling: "Being a .. chief executive .. requires a personal motivation that goes beyond simply amassing a fortune. It requires an understanding of where the company sits within the society within which it operates."

He was addressing the AGM of a building company that created a £100 million bonus scheme for its chief executive. Asset managers like Stirling are hard to portray as heroes, but the idea that they are part of a neoliberal conspiracy is a caricature.

BlackRock manages assets worth $6 trillion. Its boss Larry Fink: "To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate."

The proper role of asset managers is to be stewards of companies on behalf of you and me.

AR Role of boards too — so we ran at SAP.

US Intelligence

Michael V. Hayden

The veneer of civilization is quite thin. An an intelligence officer, I have learned that the traditions and institutions that protect us from living "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" lives are fragile and demand tending. In America today, they are under serious stress.

What do you do with someone who does not distinguish between truth and untruth? We in the intelligence world have dealt with obstinate and argumentative presidents through the years. But we have never served a president for whom ground truth really doesn't matter.

On a recent visit to the CIA, I wondered whether the officers I saw realized how much we are now counting on them. They know we traditionally rely on their truth-telling to protect us from our enemies. Now we need it to save us from ourselves.

AR We always have — a pearl of wisdom.

UK Immigration

The Times

UK home secretary Amber Rudd has resigned after she admitted misleading parliament over the existence of official targets for deporting illegal immigrants. The policy led to the Windrush scandal. Rudd: "I should have been aware of this and take full responsibility for the fact that I was not."

UK prime minister and former home secretary Theresa May set the approach to illegal immigration and remained involved in the policy. Labour described Rudd as May's human shield. David Lammy: "The real issue is the 'hostile environment' policy that caused this crisis in the first place."

AR The real issue is insular nationalism.

UK Roads

The Times

UK roads are ranked 27th in the world for quality, behind many EU member states. Local authorities repeatedly warn that UK roads are crumbling for lack of money. Industry estimates repairs costing £9.3 billion are needed.

UK transport secretary Chris Grayling: "The solution cannot simply be to come up with more and more money and to fill potholes that simply collapse a year or two later .. You get far fewer holes appearing in intact roads than roads that have been regularly dug up .. So we are going to create a default that you have to look first at laying the utilities under the pavements rather than under the roads."

Utility companies should pay more for inspection of their roadworks. At present, councils can let shoddy work go unchallenged.

AR Bad roads drive me daily to despair.

2018 April 29



NK leader Kim Jong Un told SK president Moon Jae-in that he will shut down his main nuclear test site in May. He said he was not the kind of person who would fire nuclear weapons at the South or toward the United States.

Kim said Pyongyang will change its time zone by half an hour to align with Seoul time.


Dorian Lynskey

On 1 February 2018, Labour MP Chuka Umunna announced the existence of the grassroots coordinating group (GCG): "This is nothing to do with the Labour leadership. Brexit is bigger than that .. I am a quarter Irish, I have a Danish niece, nephew and brother-in-law, a French aunt and Spanish nationals in my family. I feel intensely not just British and Nigerian, but European."

The ideal anti-Brexit scenario goes like this. In October or November 2018, the government conclude negotiations and present the final Brexit deal to parliament. MPs vote to reject it and pass legislation for another referendum with a "No Brexit" option on the ballot. Remain succeed in winning the referendum. The government asks the EU to revoke article 50 before 29 March 2019.

Between them, Open Britain (the largest following and the strongest connections with the media and MPs), Britain for Europe and the European Movement (branches around the country ready to spring into action when a referendum is announced), Scientists For EU and Healthier IN the EU (maestros of social media), InFacts (an unrivalled data resource), Our Future, Our Choice, and For our Future's Sake (speak to younger voters), and Best for Britain (uses its war chest to fund polling, advertising, and regional barnstorms) cover the bases.

There are already half a million new voters since June 2016. The British electorate are predicted to be firmly pro-remain by 2021. Brexit is not inevitable.

Adapted from D. E. Wagner et al., Science 10.1126/science.aar4362 (2018)
Graphic depiction of developmental trajectories in zebra fish embryos

Jeff Bezos
Amazon boss Jeff Bezos
(worth $90 billion) with his
Boston Dynamics dog

Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in,
DMZ, Korea

In deutschen Städten sind
Menschen mit Kippa auf
die Straße gegangen, um
gegen Antisemitismus
zu protestieren

Kim Kardashian
Kim Kardashian: beauty
with Armenian roots

"I truly believe that these
cytoplasmic protrusions
are key in the health and
disease states of humans."
Stephanie Cherqui

Macrons Trumps

"The EU is not perfect
but it was the best idea
we had .. for me, Brexit
still makes no sense."
Jürgen Klopp

Bill Bragg
The UK fishing industry is
a tiny part of GDP. Fishing
treaties and quotas were
fixed long ago. Britain let
fishers sell their quotas
abroad and cannot just
take back control.

Der Super-Boom der
deutschen Wirtschaft
scheint am Ende



Eggs Become Animals

Jordana Cepelewicz

Researchers have traced the patterns of gene expression in every cell in embryos of zebra fish during their first 24 hours. They measured the expression of messenger RNA in each of the cells and used bar codes to show where each cell came from.

Development is often visualized as a tree. But cells with different developmental histories can end up reaching similar destinations. Cells may be more plastic than we thought, and may commit to becoming specific tissues relatively late.

Cellular plasticity disrupts the tree metaphor. Certain cells express marker molecules for more than one developmental fate. These cells may live at the borders between tissues. Rather than opting to become one tissue type, they maintain ambiguity.

With more data sets from a wider variety of organisms, we could ask broader questions about development. The technologies show us how to make specific cell types. Bioengineers would know when to turn certain genes on or off.

2018 April 28

Science and the Future

Freeman Dyson

Your gravitational energy is negative when you are close to a massive object and approaches zero as you move away toward infinity. Any object whose motions are dominated by gravity will have energy decreasing as temperature increases and energy increasing as temperature decreases.

Where gravity is dominant, the second law of thermodynamics causes local contrasts to increase together with entropy. That is why the diversity of astronomical and terrestrial objects and ecosystems tends to increase with time.

Scaling laws say that two measurable quantities vary together in a particular way. A scaling law says the rate of increase or decrease for quantity A is a fixed number k times the rate for quantity B. The scaling law then says A varies with the kth power of B.

In biology, the fourth power of an animal's energy consumption scales with the cube of its mass. This scaling law holds accurately for mammals and birds. The heart rates of mammals scale inversely with the one-quarter power of mass.

Genetic drift scales with the inverse square root of population. The square root scaling results from the statistical averaging of random events. If a small population is inbreeding, the rate of drift of the average genotype increases and big fluctuations in phenotype appear.

We can foresee developments that would result in permanent genetic isolation of human communities. Some people may choose to give birth to genetically modified children. Others may emigrate from planet Earth and build societies far away in space.

Public highways will carry passengers and freight around the solar system and pioneers will breed organisms designed to live in artificial ecologies. People colonizing a cold and airless world might use genetic engineering to adapt their children to the environment.

Cheap space travel requires highways for escape from high-g planets such as Earth and for long-distance travel between low-g destinations. The high-g highway could be a powerful laser beam pointing upward, with spacecraft taking energy from the beam to fly up and down. The low-g highway could be a system of solar-powered refueling stations for spacecraft driven by ion-jet engines.

Cheap deep-space survival requires genetic engineering of warm-blooded plants. These could grow on the surface of any cold object in the solar system. A greenhouse cavity filled with warm air would sustain a diverse ecology. Small objects in the solar system have enough surface area to provide homes for a much larger population than Earth.

AR Freeman Dyson is a living global (not merely national) treasure.

Did Galileo Kill God?

Josephine Livingstone

Galileo said the Earth moves around the Sun. His story became part of a grand narrative: Europe moved forward from religion and ignorance toward science and modernity.

Michael Hobart says Renaissance mathematics reconceived numeracy as a tool for describing the quantities of things into an abstract system for describing relations between them. We moved from alphabetic literacy as the underlying information technology, framing a presumptive harmony of science and religion, to the new information technology of relational math, framing a world of law.

Galileo said the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics.

AR Slogan on one of my old teeshirts: Go Galileo!

2018 April 27

Singular Power

Steven Pinker

General AI does not exist at present. It is probably an incoherent concept, a sloppy extrapolation of individual differences among human beings. Intelligence has to be defined relative to goals and the knowledge needed to attain them.

The argument against doomsday fear of existing AI extends to more powerful systems. Any system that monomaniacally pursued one goal while being oblivious to every other goal is not artificially intelligent but artificially stupid. It is unlike anything a technologically sophisticated society would ever invent and empower.

Scenarios in which AI takes over the world commit the fallacy that intelligence implies a will to power. This comes from confusing two traits that are bundled in Homo sapiens because we are products of Darwinian natural selection.

AR Contra Nick Bostrom.

One Last Referendum

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood

Margaret Thatcher called referendums a device of dictators and demagogues. The "will of the people" is all too often inconsistent, ill-informed, or dangerously repressive. Postwar Germany excluded referendums from its constitution.

I suggest the UK should not in future let representative parliamentary democracy be compromised by referendums. Parliament should take an early opportunity to legislate their abolition.

Britain needs to hold one final referendum. It should decide, once the terms for leaving the EU are known, whether the UK should pursue Brexit or withdraw its Article 50 notification and remain.

British representative democracy has been compromised by the 2016 referendum. MPs feel unable to vote to remain: the cost in terms of loss of public trust in the political process seems too high.

The 2016 referendum offered a deceptively binary choice which, although strictly advisory only, was given in circumstances that made the result politically compelling, requiring parliament to initiate a Brexit process.

Let the public now finally decide the question. Then legislate to ensure that never again will parliamentary representatives feel bound by a referendum to sacrifice their own mature judgment on the altar of public opinion.

AR Hear, hear.

2018 April 26

Macron Rips Trumpism


French president Emmanuel Macron addressed a joint session of of Congress. He wants to bind the Trump administration into the existing Western international system and to position France as the gateway between America and the European Union.

"We can choose isolationism, withdrawal, and nationalism. This is an option. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears. But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world. It will not douse but inflame the fears of our citizens."

"Other powers with the strongest strategy and ambition .. will not hesitate once again to advocate their own model .. I do not share the fascination for new strong powers, the abandonment of freedom and the illusion of nationalism."

"This requires more than ever the United States involvement as .. the one who invented this multilateralism. You are the one who has to help now to preserve and reinvent it."

He agreed to seek a new deal with Iran but said they should honor the existing pact: "We signed it, both the United States and France. That is why we cannot say we should get rid of it like that."

He jabbed US trade policies: "We need a free and fair trade .. a commercial war opposing allies is not consistent with our mission, with our history, with our current commitments for global security."

On climate change: "Let us work together in order to make our planet great again and create new jobs and new opportunities while safeguarding our Earth. We are killing our planet. Let us face it: There is no planet B."

Macron says the United States and France are locked in a special relationship. He is emerging as Europe's most dynamic leader.

Perfectoid Geometry

Gilead Amit

Arithmetic deals with the properties of whole numbers. Geometry is built on ideas of continuity and spatial relationships. Mathematicians have long sought to build bridges between them.

There are infinitely many prime numbers but no discernible pattern to their appearance along the number line. The Riemann hypothesis says their frequency follows a rule expressed in the Riemann zeta function (blog 2007-03-18). It is known to hold for the first 10 trillion primes, but a general proof has yet to emerge.

Alexander Grothendieck introduced a spectrum Spec(Z) for the set Z of signed integers that might offer insights into the distribution of primes. But he did not work out its geometry or solve the Riemann hypothesis.

Peter Scholze, 30, a professor at the University of Bonn, has extended that work to construct perfectoid geometry, built on a system of numbers known as the p-adics: For prime p, you can write a positive integer n as a p-adic number by writing n in base p and reversing the digit order. In perfectoid geometry, a prime number, represented by its associated p-adics, can be made to behave like a variable in an equation. Scholze and others have used the approach to solve or clarify many problems in arithmetic geometry.

Scholze has made progress in working out the geometry you would see if you zoomed in on the curve Spec(Z) around the point for a prime p. He hopes his work will advance the Langlands program to build a grand unified theory of arithmetic, geometry, and analysis (blog 2018-03-21).

AR Scholze deserves a Fields Medal.

2018 ANZAC Day

Americans and Nazis

Alex Ross

The Nazis idolized many aspects of American society. Hitler praised America as the one state that had made progress toward a primarily racial conception of citizenship. What set Hitler apart was his conception of himself as an artistic genius.

The Holocaust has moments of international congruence. The British Empire was Hitler's ideal image of a master race in dominant repose. The Armenian genocide led him to think no one would care much about the fate of the Jews.

The Nazis were not wrong to cite American precedents. Enslavement of African-Americans was written into the US Constitution. Thomas Jefferson spoke of the need to "eliminate" or "extirpate" Native Americans.

American insouciance in the wake of mass death impressed Hitler. He made frequent mention of the American West in the early months of the Soviet invasion: "Europe — and not America — will be the land of unlimited possibilities."

AR Still a shocking story.

Tunneling Nanotubes

Viviane Callier

Tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) about 50 nm wide and 150 to 200 μm long extend between cells. Tumor cells use TNTs to share molecular messages in the form of microRNA. Cancer cells resistant to chemotherapy drugs use the messages to confer their resistance on their neighbors.

TNTs appear in a wide variety of cell types and are morphologically diverse. They appear not only in the context of cancer but also in normal embryonic development. They transfer all kinds of cargo beyond microRNA, including messenger RNA, proteins, viruses, and even whole organelles.

Cells actively regulate the transfer of mRNA between cells. Oxidative stress induces an increase in the rate of transfer, while heat shock induces a decrease. Cancer cells are often form many more TNTs than normal healthy adult cells do.

Brain activity drives tumor progression in gliomas, which are full of tumor microtubes. Chemotherapy or radiation kills isolated cancer cells, but those connected to each other through tumor microtubes and TNTs survive. In response to stress, the cancer cells form more tumor microtubes and connect with neighboring healthy cells.

TNTs play a role in the immune system. Their function involves dendritic cells, which connect with each other via TNTs. HIV and other viruses can exploit TNTs to spread among dendritic cells.

Prions and other misfolded proteins hijack TNT networks. Disease caused by prions could spread between cells through TNTs. Once in the nervous system, the prions pass from one neuron to another through TNTs and thus reach the brain.

TNTs help the heart recover from heart attacks. After an attack, damaged mitochondria release reactive oxygen species that alarm nearby stem cells, which start producing more mitochondria and directing TNTs toward the injured cells. The stem cells give them new mitochondria.

AR A new world of fun at the cellular level!

2018 April 24

Making France Great Again


Donald Trump is not the only president who wants to make his country great again. Emmanuel Macron wants to restore France's prestige and global influence: "I'm here to deal with the President of the United States, and the people of the United States elected Donald Trump."

To give Macron what he wants, Trump has to go back on his vow to tear up the Iran deal, give the EU a permanent waiver from US tariffs on aluminum and steel imports, and keep US troops in Syria. Macron: "If you make war against everybody .. it doesn't work. You need allies. We are the ally."

France is currently the most functional member of the EU, a key NATO power, a member of the UN Security Council, and in the lead due to the partial eclipse of two of America's other traditional allies in Europe. Britain is all but overwhelmed by its plans to leave the EU, a factor that diminishes its usefulness to the United States as a key continental power. Germany under Angela Merkel has even less leeway to uphold the second pillar of the Western alliance.

France 1, Germany 0

Der Spiegel

Emmanuel Macron has established France as the leading nation in Europe. Angela Merkel senses the shift in power. She was seen as the key figure in Europe, but now everyone wants to talk to Macron.

Macron has a self-confidence possessed by few French leaders since Charles de Gaulle. He has convinced the French that their future is in Europe. The conflict between Germany and France is over the future of the eurozone.

Today, Macron is in Washington with Trump. For three days, Donald and Emmanuel will be celebrating the Franco-American friendship. Berlin needs to show support for EZ reform.

Brexit Customs

Gideon Rachman

The Brexit deal still has to be negotiated and approved by the UK parliament. If parliament says no, Britain could crash out of the EU without a deal. Or the government could fall, leading to a general election and a fresh approach.

The Lords voted to amend Brexit by asking the government to negotiate a customs union. The Lords can be overruled by the Commons. But the Commons could also vote for a customs union and so defeat the government.

Customs union marks the frontier between hard and soft Brexit. Hard Brexit will disrupt trade and force a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Hardliners say soft Brexit would be a national humiliation.

Brexit Jeopardy

Rafael Behr

Theresa May wants Brexit to mean no customs union. But the Lords want the Brexit bill to advocate a customs union. Now EU negotiators dismiss ideas of maintaining an invisible border in Northern Ireland without a customs union.

May is fighting parliament for control over Brexit. Another Brexit bill amendment would force ministers to take instruction from MPs on what to do next if May's deal is defeated. It would remove some of the jeopardy from the end game.

May needs maximum jeopardy to impose discipline on her party. She needs her MPs to dread triggering a general election. Her team hints that votes on the customs union might escalate to votes of confidence in the government.

2018 St George's Day



This week, NK leader Kim Jong Un will meet SK president Moon Jae-in at the Korean DMZ. In May or June, Kim will meet US president Donald Trump.

Kim is vulnerable economically. NK exports to China are down 95% year on year, at only $9 million in February. Imports were down by about a third to $103 million, according to official Chinese data.

Wide domestic use of the dollar and the renminbi limits NK control of credit and inflation. His weak economy forced Kim to reach out to Seoul, Washington, and Beijing. China can cut off delivery of free crude oil at any time.

Kim is content with his nuclear program and his status as a military leader. His nuclear weapons pose a real threat to global security. He feels confident that foreign leaders will treat him as an equal.

If it came to war, North Korea would inflict massive damage on SK, Japanese, and US citizens. But the regime would sustain enormous losses.

EZ Reform

Wolfgang Münchau

Germany has closed the doors on serious EZ reform. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron have different visions of the future. Germany will not agree to a central EZ budget to weather macroeconomic shocks.

A slowing global economy or a trade war are existential risks for an unreformed EZ. Macron's reforms would make a start on infrastructure to weather a crisis. An EZ breakup would be a disaster for Germany.

2018 Earth Day

Climate Change


Dear leaders,

My generation is so done with your talk. I'm a 16-year-old sophomore in high school. I want to travel the world and see all its natural wonders.

But I'm growing up at a time when the world and all its life systems are falling apart. Climate change has loomed over my every life decision, every time I try to plan for the future. When I think of adulthood, I see my home being flooded, I see deathly heat waves, droughts, famine and intense, deadly storms.

I see insects, allergens, and diseases spreading to places where they shouldn't naturally be. I see countless people dying from toxic drinking water, food full of chemicals, and air thick with pollutants. I see millions upon millions of refugees fleeing homes in regions that have become uninhabitable. I see wars and conflict over dwindling resources.

You are leaving my generation with a world that is unlivable. You have the power to save your kids. You have the power to tackle the defining issue of our time head on. But you've chosen not to.

Late last summer, I founded a youth climate action movement, Zero Hour. We're called Zero Hour to remind people that now is the time to act on climate change. We are organizing the Youth Climate Weekend in Washington DC this July.

Jamie Margolin

2018 April 21

Germany and Immigration

Der Spiegel

Many Germans feel like foreigners in in their own country. Almost every fourth child born in Germany in 2016 had a foreign mother. Today one out of five people living in the country has immigrant roots.

Some Germans fear their government is leading them toward a bleak future. A conspiracy theory holds that sinister powers are planning to swap out the ethnic German population and replace it with foreigners. Large segments of the German population are suffering from a kind of stress relating to identity.

Heimat mixes the feeling of home with a sense of belonging and familiarity. Hermann Bausinger: "Heimat is the product of a feeling of conformity with a person's own small world. When people are no longer secure in their surroundings, when they are constantly exposed to irritations, then that Heimat is destroyed."

The government intends to deport more people. But Germany took in a huge number of immigrants, many of them poorly educated or illiterate. Around two thirds of children with immigrant backgrounds in large cities go to elementary schools where most of the students are immigrants or socially disadvantaged.

Jens Schneider studies the chances for social advancement among immigrant families living in cities: "Socialization via work did wonders for the guest workers and it still works today."

AR Arbeit macht frei.

Climate Change

Joachim Müller-Jung

Because of a break: in the sea, in the ice, in the countryside and at high altitudes, climate change is getting faster and faster and leaves its mark more radically than ever in the data series.

Switty times for good predictions: climate change overturns. That's the way it sounds more and more often. But is that true? Are the previous predictions still valid? For those who have been critical of climate research for decades and dismiss climate forecasts — often politically motivated — as a hoax, they have never been so. For the others who have remained on the carpet of scientific empiricism, an oppressive realization condenses: climate forecasts are actually not only caught up in reality, they are increasingly overtaken — and therefore remain a delicate business.

AR Google "translation"

2018 April 20

Quantum Time

Michael Brooks

Time traps us in an eternal present as it conveys us from the past to the future. Most modern efforts to understand it begin with the second law of thermodynamics. This says that the entropy of the universe always increases.

But the second law of thermodynamics only applies to closed systems whose total energy remains unchanged. Relativity says time stops for speeding photons. And almost all the basic laws of physics are reversible in time.

Carlo Rovelli and others aim to dig deeper. Thermodynamics uses statistically averaged properties of large numbers of atoms to finesse our ignorance of what individual atoms are doing. This averaging process recalls quantum uncertainty.

Quantum theory and relativity disagree on time. In the equations of quantum theory, time is not a dynamic component of the fabric of the universe, as it is in relativity. It is a steady beat of a clock against which the processes of reality play out.

In 1972, Alain Connes discovered a quantum version of time in algebra that John von Neumann had developed to explore quantum theory. In 1994, Connes met Rovelli and they began to collaborate.

Connes and Rovelli agree that time's arrow emerges from interactions between microscopic quantum objects and macroscopic classical objects. Before interaction, we have only probabilities concerning the properties of a quantum object. Afterwards, uncertainty collapses into classical certainty.

But the uncertainty principle says our knowledge of the quantum world is limited even after measurement. The more precisely we know one property, the less we know its complementary property. Since all measurement outcomes are probabilistic, varying from case to case, the order in which we make measurements determines their outcome.

There is no unique order of time in the quantum world. Temporal order appears only when processes such as measurement irreversibly turn quantum phenomena into observable classical phenomena. Applied to thermal systems, what emerges matches the second law of thermodynamics.

Perhaps entanglement creates time. In this view, time originates from the distribution of quantum matter relative to the background space. The background space takes on the role of a clock, but one in many superposed states simultaneously, with each element in the superposition beating out a different time.

Different distributions of matter with varying degrees of entanglement give something equivalent to a collection of different entropy states, despite the universe as a whole having every state coexisting and no passing time.

If physics tells us that the experience of now and the difference between past and future are not fundamental to the fabric of reality, perhaps we need to marry physics and psychology.

Rovelli: "I don't think we're anywhere near the end of the story."

AR I proposed a psychophysics of now in my 2006 paper About Time. Now I hope to extend the story with an epistemology of quantum phenomena.

TESS launch

TESS launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on April 18.
TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) will orbit between the Earth and the Moon.
It will seek planets orbiting 200 000 nearby stars and identify the best ones.

Hottest April day
here in my lifetime:
spent it hiking 30 km
and sea bathing

Janelle Monáe
Pynk (4:28)

5-color graph with 826 vertices

Tomahawk launch
US Navy
USS Monterey fires Tomahawk

Missile over Syria
US, UK, France hit Syria:
"Mission Accomplished"

"James Comey is a proven
LEAKER & LIAR .. a weak and
untruthful slime ball."
Donald Trump


"This president is unethical,
and untethered to truth and
institutional values. His
leadership is transactional,
ego driven and about
personal loyalty."
James Comey

Symphony of the Seas
Cutout view


2018 April 19

Brexit — EU Action

Financial Times

Brussels is issuing dozens of legal proposals to prepare the EU for a hard Brexit.

The European Commission has drafted the proposals to amend laws and give special powers to regulators in the case of a No Deal scenario. The proposals cover a wide range including trade quotas, the car industry, transport companies, the European Space Agency, financial services, and professional qualifications.

The push is intended to reduce uncertainty.

Brexit — Lords Defeat

The Guardian

The UK government has suffered two big defeats in the House of Lords on the Brexit bill.

Peers backed an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill that would force the government to explain what it has done to pursue remaining in a customs union. They also passed a separate amendment that would limit the power of ministers to slash red tape without the approval of parliament.

Peers and MPs will keep playing with the bill in a process known as "ping pong".

British Housing

The Times

The Victorians built homes so well that most are still standing today. Britain's new build homes will not be standing so proud in future.

The broken British housing market is far too reliant on a small number of large private companies. Poor workmanship, low build standards, tiny rooms, too few and too small windows, and a lack of architectural imagination are commonplace. These symptoms have been left to fester by weak regulation.

Builders find it all too easy to cut corners to boost profits, leaving the mess for future generations to clear up.

AR British housing and roads are poor, British health care and school systems are overstretched, and British prospects look bleaker than those of many other EU member states. So go for hard Brexit — logisch, nicht?

2018 April 18

A Better Place

Daniel Finkelstein

Economic growth makes countries get richer, healthier, better educated, more liberal, and more equal. Over time the effect is transformative.

Before his death last year, Hans Rosling wrote Factfulness to summarise the lessons he had learnt. He found that public understanding of the world is skewed. We are more pessimistic than is warranted, less aware of the way the world is improving than we should be, more aware of individual catastrophes than of global trends.

Rosling: "Poor developing countries no longer exist as a distinct group .. Today most people, 75%, live in middle-income countries. Not poor, not rich, but somewhere in the middle and starting to live a reasonable life."

Big drivers of this change are improvements in public health and women's education. As more women learn to read and write, they understand better how to take advantage of public health provision, fewer children die in infancy, and the birth rate falls as parents stop having large families as an insurance policy.

Most people when asked about the world's population place too many people in Europe and the Americas and too few in Africa and Asia. By 2100 more than 80% of the world's population will live in Africa and Asia. The largest proportion of that increase will be in Africa.

The world is making progress. The past five years has been the greatest in history for the reduction of child mortality. Global capitalism is not a gigantic flop and neither are aid programs.

Bill Gates: "The only reason things have improved is because people get upset about things and decide to do something about it."

Old Graph Problem Is Yielding

Evelyn Lamb

In 1950, Edward Nelson asked a question. Draw a graph of points connected by lines, all the same length and all in the plane, and color all the points so that no two connected points have the same color. What's the smallest number of colors you need to color any such graph, even one with an infinite number of vertices?

The problem is now known as the Hadwiger−Nelson problem or the problem of finding the chromatic number of the plane. Researchers soon found that the infinite graph can be colored by no fewer than 4 and no more than 7 colors.

Aubrey de Grey posted an paper stating that the chromatic number of the plane is at least 5. He showed how to draw a planar unit-distance graph that can't be colored with only 4 colors. He found such a graph with 20 425 vertices and later shrank it to 1581 vertices.

De Grey pitched the problem of finding the minimal 5-color graph as a Polymath problem. Work on Polymath problems is done publicly, and anyone can contribute. Someone soon found a graph with 1577 vertices. Marijn Heule has now lowered this number to 826 vertices.

AR Old problem? It's younger than me!

2018 April 17

Iran−Israel War?

Thomas L. Friedman

Israeli jets attacked Syria's T4 air base last Monday. Back in February, an Iranian drone launched by a Quds Force unit operating out of the T4 base was shot down after it penetrated Israeli airspace. It may have been part of a military strike on Israel.

If Iran were to strike back at Israeli targets, Israel may use the opportunity to make a major counterstrike on Iran's entire military infrastructure in Syria. Israel will not let Iran establish a massive missile threat in Syria.

Iran claims it is setting up bases in Syria to protect it from Israel. But its network of bases and missile factories in Syria appears to be a power play by Quds Force leader Qassem Suleimani to extend Iran's grip on key parts of the Sunni Arab world.

Lost Civilizations?

Adam Frank

Direct evidence of an industrial civilization in the geologic record wouldn't go back past 2.6 My BP. Perhaps an early mammal rose briefly to civilization building during the Paleocene epoch about 60 My BP. The fraction of life that gets fossilized is small and variable, so we could miss an event that only lasted 100 ky.

Our activity has already laid down traces that will be detectable 100 My in the future. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon back into the atmosphere that was once part of living tissues. This ancient C is depleted in one of its three naturally occurring isotopes. The more fossil fuels we burn, the more the balance of these C isotopes shifts. Increases in temperature also leave isotopic signals.

Some 56 My BP, Earth passed through the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). During the PETM, the planet's average temperature climbed 7 K above today and typical summer temperatures at the poles reached 20 C. Looking at the isotopic record from the PETM, scientists see both C and O isotope ratios spiking in exactly the way we expect to see in the Anthropocene record. Other events in the Cretaceous left the ocean anoxic for many millennia.

These events almost certainly do not indicate previous nonhuman industrial civilizations. The PETM isotope spikes rise and fall over hundreds of ky, but we're dumping fossil C into the atmosphere much faster than that. So if an earlier industrial era is short-lived, we might find it hard to see it.

Perhaps some planets have cycles of civilization building and collapse. If a civilization uses fossil fuels, the climate change they trigger can lead to ocean anoxia and other conditions for making new fossil fuels. The demise of a civilization might sow the seed for new civilizations later.

2018 April 16

The President Is Not Above The Law

The New York Times

President Trump may act to cripple or shut down an investigation by America's top law-enforcement agencies into his campaign and administration. Lawmakers need to be preparing now for that possibility.

If Trump takes such drastic action, he will be striking at the foundation of the American government, attempting to set a precedent that a president, alone among American citizens, is above the law. What can seem now like a political sideshow will instantly become a constitutional crisis.

For months, investigators have been examining whether Trump's campaign conspired with the Russian government to undermine American democracy, and whether the president misused his power by obstructing justice in an effort to end that investigation.

The president is not a king but a citizen, deserving of the presumption of innocence and other protections, yet also vulnerable to lawful scrutiny.

2018 April 15

Russia Resurgent

Michael Burleigh

Russia today is a resource kleptocracy in which a privileged elite hide their wealth in Western banks. Vladimir Putin and his supporters are driven by nationalism and realpolitik. They find it easy to interfere in Western democracy.

The Syrian civil war is playing out a major sectarian conflict between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. Israel fears that Iran is establishing bases in Syria. Turkey aims to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state.

Thanks to Russians, Iranians, and Hezbollah, Bashar al-Assad has routed the rebels. Putin can make life difficult for the West in other crises. Russia aims to become the dominant power in the Mideast.

AR The Anglo-American alliance and Russia are on a collision course. If they do collide, the United States will win. But the UK will lose unless France is in the alliance too. If the AA warlords push too hard, France will hang back with Germany.

The Order of Time

Carlo Rovelli

Time is familiar and intimate. We inhabit time as fish live in water. Our being is in time.

Time passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level. The difference is small but can be measured with precision timepieces. A clock placed on the floor runs a little more slowly than one on a table.

Einstein understood this slowing down of time a century before we had clocks precise enough to measure it. He imagined that the Sun and the Earth each modified the space and time that surrounded them. This modification of the structure of time influences the movement of bodies, causing them to fall toward each other.

The Earth is a large mass and slows down time in its vicinity. If things fall, it is due to this slowing down of time. Where time passes uniformly, as in deep space, things do not fall, they float.

A clock on a table and another on the ground run at different speeds. The question of which one tells the time is meaningless. There is a different time for every point in space. We describe how things evolve in local time, and how local times evolve relative to each other.

Time is elastic in our personal experience of it. Before Einstein showed how time really is elastic, how did we get it into our heads that time passes everywhere at the same speed? It was certainly not our direct experience of the passage of time.

When trains become commonplace and fast, the problem arises of synchronising clocks between one city and another. The young Einstein worked in the Swiss Patent Office, dealing with patents relating to the synchronisation of clocks at railway stations. It dawned on him that the problem of synchronising clocks was ultimately insoluble.

AR Time, entropy, quantum gravity — my garden of eternal delight.

2018 April 14

How to Become an Intellectual

Paul J. Griffiths

Intellectuals think a lot. To prepare yourself for a life of thought:

1 Find something to think about. This may be easy, like falling in love. But you can only love what you see, and what you see is given in part by location and chance. Your topics need not be things you love or like. Follow what provokes thought in you.

2 Find time. Spend at least three hours every day, excepting sabbaths and vacations, on your intellectual work. Those hours need to be free from distractions. Undistracted time is when intellectual work is done. Learn to be alone as you work.

3 Gain skills and knowledge. Once you know what you want to think about, learn whatever skills are necessary for good thinking about it, and whatever body of knowledge is requisite for such thinking. The most essential skill is attention.

4 Find interlocutors. Solitude must grow out of and continually be nourished by conversation with your interlocutors. You need them. Seek the interlocutors you need by attending closely to work of the sort you hope to do.

An intellectual life is hard and lonely. Live it only if you have to.

Semi-Classical Gravity

Anil Ananthaswamy

John Wheeler: "Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells spacetime how to curve."

General relativity works on scales where classical physics rules. But quantum particles don't have definite positions before you measure them, so you can't predict how they will curve spacetime. In situations where both gravitational and quantum effects are big — no answer.

In the semi-classical Einstein equation, the energy-momentum tensor is replaced by a quantum expectation value that represents the average matter distribution you would expect to obtain from many measurements. This lets matter be quantum while its gravitational effects are classical. It often seems to work.

The semi-classical Einstein equation can't cope with the moment when a quantum state vector collapses to a point in spacetime. Allowing superpositions in spacetime can let signals go faster than light or break the predictably probabilistic nature of quantum systems.

We say the collapse is due to an act of measurement that shifts the quantum world into classical certainty. But soon after the big bang, collapsing quantum states are thought to have played a key role in cosmic development. A cosmic collapse has no measurement.

A spontaneous collapse model lets unmeasured quantum states collapse randomly. The half-life to collapse for a single quantum particle in an entangled bunch is very long, but if one goes, they all go. As bunch size and the number of particles in it increases, the probability approaches 1 that the quantum state of the bunch will collapse. Microscopic bunches stay quantum; macroscopic bunches become classical.

A collapse model with semi-classical Newtonian gravity says individual collapse events happen randomly at specific points in spacetime, causing matter to take up definite positions and fix gravity. Spacetime remains classical, without superposition.

If gravity is a quantum force, it should create entanglement. An experiment to test this lets two masses, each of them in a separate superposition of states, fall freely. The interaction between them is gravitational. Test whether the quantum states of the two masses are entangled with each other: If they are, gravity is a quantum force and semi-classical gravity is dead.

Carlo Rovelli: "I bet 99 to one that the outcome will be consistent with gravity having quantum properties."

AR I do too — blog 2018-03-08.

2018 April 13

A German Revolution?

Anna Sauerbrey

Last Saturday the CDU Werteunion met in Schwetzingen to adopt a conservative manifesto. They oppose political Islam and will defend European culture. They demand a halt to immigration.

The anchor of German conservatism in the Bundestag is the CSU, whose caucus leader says a silent majority in Germany is underrepresented and awaits a conservative revolution.

The new conservatives see immigration not just as a problem for the welfare system, integration, housing, and security. Many frame it as an existential threat to Germany and the West.

AR Schwetzingen — ideal base for a cultural revival!

Republican Doom?

The New York Times

House Speaker Paul Ryan's retirement announcement blindsided House Republicans. Candidates and their campaigners were counting on him to lead them to victory in the November midterm elections.

Ryan's retirement makes it harder to prevent Democrat control of the House. Up to 50 Republican seats are at risk. In many districts, Trump's approval rating is well below 40%, which spells doom.

Former Republican representative Thomas M. Davis III: "This is the nightmare scenario."

AR Trump is already the nightmare scenario.

Life on Venus?

New Scientist

Venus looks bad for life. At the surface there's no water, temperatures reach 750 K, and the atmospheric pressure is 90 bar. But about 50 km above the surface, sulphuric acid clouds have relatively mild temperatures and pressures.

Discoveries of ever more microbes on Earth that live in acidic conditions is strengthening the case. Every major branch of life has acidophiles. Such organisms consume the sulfur compounds identified in the Venusian clouds.

Venus may have hosted liquid water on its surface for at least 2 billion years of its existence, say NASA simulations. The acid clouds may have been cool and dilute enough to sustain life.

At least three major international missions aim to revisit Venus over the next decade.

AR See blog 2017-11-14, 2015-08-31, 2014-12-23.

2018 April 12

The Law and the President

The New York Times

Early Monday morning, FBI agents raided the New York office, home and hotel room of the personal lawyer for the president of the United States. They seized evidence of possible federal crimes, including bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations related to payoffs made to women who say they had affairs with the president.

That evening the president surrounded himself with the top American military officials and launched unbidden into a tirade against the top American law enforcement officials. His former campaign chairman is under indictment and his former national security adviser has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators. His son-in-law and other associates are also under investigation.

Donald Trump has spent his career in the company of developers and celebrities, and also of grifters, cons, sharks, goons, and crooks. He cuts corners, he lies, he cheats, he brags about it, and for the most part, he's gotten away with it, protected by threats of litigation, hush money, and his own bravado. Those methods have their limits.


Terry Eagleton

John Gray is a misanthrope for whom human life has no unique importance. He believes that all humanists have done is substitute humanity for God. What remains is the kind of atheism that renounces God while having a low estimate of humanity.

When Jesus speaks of salvation in terms of feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, he speaks as a devout Jew, for whom the spiritual is in the first place a matter of how one behaves toward others. Judaism forbids making images of God, because the only image of God is human flesh and blood. The Jewish God is of the future, and the only image of the future is the failure of the present.

AR A world has a timestamp as its epistemic anchor. My world now is at the intersection of all accessible futures.

Symphony of the Seas

Royal Caribbean
Symphony of the Seas: 362 m long, 228 000 gross tons, 6680 passengers

Vladislav Surkov says Russia
has ended its epic journey
toward the West after four
centuries of vain attempts to
join Western civilization.

"As long as there are people
sitting in Russia whose job
it is to try and interfere
with elections around the
world, this is going to be
an ongoing conflict."
Mark Zuckerberg

Calabi-Yau manifold 2D slice of 6D Calabi−Yau
quintic manifold

Wearing your outdoor shoes
indoors can risk your health.
Microbes out on the street
will stick to your shoes.
Keeping shoes on at home
spreads everything you
stepped in that day.


Voters want a referendum
on the final Brexit terms.
A new poll finds 44% say
yes to a vote on the
terms, only 36% no.

Mouse brain Tony Zador explains
MAPseq (2:50)

Houses of Parliament by Monet Claude Monet
Houses of Parliament

Credit Suisse Exhibition:
Monet and Architecture
National Gallery, London
9 April — 29 July 2018

"Der deutsche Staat
kapituliert vor dem Islam.
Wer die Grundwerte nicht
akzeptiert, soll gehen."

Bassam Tibi

Prinz Eugen NHHC
Third Reich warship Prinz Eugen
survived both WW2 and two
nuclear bombs at Bikini

Bundeswehr FAZ
Bundeswehr: "Die bisher
beschrittenen Wege zur
Beschaffung von Ausrüstung
der Bundeswehr führen schon
heute nicht zu voll einsatz-
bereiten Streitkräften, für
moderne digitalisierte Land-
streitkräfte erscheinen sie
weitgehend ungeeignet."



2018 April 11


Martin Wolf

China is a rising power. Its GDP per head in 2017 was 14% of US levels at market prices and 28% at PPP. Its total GDP in 2017 was 62% of US levels at market prices and 119% at PPP.

China is spending a high share of GDP on R&D to drive innovation. China is also an increasingly formidable military power. Any idea that America can prevent China from innovating its way to prosperity is mad.

China has a planned market economy and an undemocratic political system. Recent failures of free markets and the rise of populism in the West have strengthened the appeal of both.

America has strong regional allies, but the US president is waging economic war on them. If a US decision to attack North Korea led to the devastation of Seoul and Tokyo, the US alliances would be over. China would win.

America can insist that China abide by its commitments. But the real threat to the West is its own decadence. The West must learn from China.

Commonwealth Cannot Save Brexit Britain

Philip Murphy

When Britain voted for Brexit, as the director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies I said:
"If the Commonwealth is the future, then we're in even more trouble than I thought."

In 2015, the Commonwealth Secretariat claimed to prove the existence of a Commonwealth effect with data that purported to show that trade in goods and services between Commonwealth nations had been growing at almost 10% a year for two decades and would exceed $1 trillion by 2020. In 2015, about 44% of UK goods and services went to the EU and about 9% to the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth is seen as a special asset to the UK. During the 2016 referendum campaign, some Leavers presented it as a direct alternative to the EU. Most Commonwealth members say membership of both organizations was not only wholly compatible but also mutually beneficial.

Brexit is unlikely to enhance British trade with Commonwealth countries. A UK government driven by the anti-immigration agenda of Leave voters is unlikely to make great strides in the Indian market, where many see the Commonwealth as little more than a quaint relic of British imperialism.

The Commonwealth cannot rescue the UK from the folly of Brexit.

Mirror Symmetry

Kevin Hartnett

In 1991, string theorists found that numbers emerging from one kind of geometric world exactly matched numbers from a different such world. Mathematicians now study this duality as mirror symmetry. They have found many more instances of such duality.

Decades ago, physicists went looking for extra dimensions. String theorists try to model fundamental particles as tiny vibrating strings. They found the strings would exist in 10 dimensions, our 4D spacetime plus 6 unseen dimensions, and found two very different ways to describe the extra dimensions: Complex manifolds arise in algebraic geometry, whereas symplectic manifolds arise from phase spaces in physics.

Mathematicians aim to explain mirror symmetry by breaking down symplectic and complex manifolds into basic elements called torus fibers. You can glue lots of lower dimensional tori together to build a higher dimensional shape. Just as you can use 1D circles to construct a torus fibration of a 2D sphere, you can construct a 3D torus fibration of the 6D symplectic and complex spaces that feature in mirror symmetry.

A torus fibration reduces one mirror space to elements you can use to build the other. To convert a symplectic space into its complex mirror, perform a torus fibration on the symplectic space to get a lot of tori, each with a radius. Take the reciprocal of the radius of each torus and use tori with reciprocal radii to build a new space.

The SYZ conjecture proposes torus fibration as a general approach for converting any symplectic space into its complex mirror. The conjecture says a torus fibration is the key link between symplectic and complex spaces. Proving it is a foundational question in mirror symmetry.

2018 April 10

Peace in Ireland

Hillary Clinton

Twenty years ago, the Good Friday agreement helped bring an end to decades of conflict and violence in Northern Ireland. Today, the agreement stands as a shining example of what's possible when citizens come together to demand peace.

Some say the agreement has outlived its usefulness, but they are wrong. Countless people in Northern Ireland are alive today, rather than in early graves, because of it. The last thing we can afford to do is become complacent.

I continue to believe in the value of the EU, and of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace. We cannot allow Brexit to undermine the peace that people voted and even died for. Reinstating the border would be an enormous setback.

The Evolution of Consciousness

Siri Hustvedt

Antonio Damasio interprets the evolution of mind and culture through his theory of homeostasis as dynamic self-regulation. The move from homeostasis to feeling requires a nervous system that allows an animal to map its own bodily structures and experiences.

Organisms with nervous systems feel, and the evolution of feeling lets subjectivity and consciousness develop. Feeling is the mental expression of homeostasis. In this story, a form of awareness appears in all animals equipped with nervous systems.

For early cognitive scientists, the mind was software running on the brain as hardware. Now they say consciousness is embodied, embedded, enacted, and extended. Damasio finds in homeostasis a broader perspective that binds bacteria to human beings.

Damasio is wary of an algorithmic account of humanity. Our ability not only to image our experiences but to reflect on them releases us from being strictly bound by our genetic inheritance. This constitutes our freedom as a species.

The Strange Order of Things by Antonio Damasio

AR See my 2003 article on Damasio on consciousness.

2018 April 9

US−China Trade

Peter Navarro

China promised in 2001 to trade by WTO rules. Instead it has broken the rules on the way to growing its annual GDP from $1.3 trillion to $11.2 trillion. Since 2001, America has lost millions of manufacturing jobs.

President Donald Trump is cutting taxes, deregulating industry, unleashing the US energy sector, and making progress on trade. But the Chinese have refused to end their unfair trade practices. The US trade deficit in goods with China has grown from $347 billion in 2016 to $375 billion in 2017.

China steals US intellectual property and forces US companies operating in China to surrender their technologies in exchange for access. Chinese sovereign wealth funds and other state actors aim to buy up US companies in artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum computing, self-driving vehicles, automated machine tooling, and advanced medical devices. If China captures these industries, America will not have an economic future.

The president imposed $50 billion of tariffs on Chinese products and implemented investment restrictions to prevent Chinese state capital from investing in America. The Trump agenda has put the US economy on a path to robust growth and corporate earnings. Trump seeks shared prosperity based on a fair and reciprocal global trading system.

Detailed Brain Maps

Monique Brouillette

A new map of 50 000 neurons in the cerebral cortex of a mouse shows where the cell bodies of every neuron sit and where they send their axons. A neural map of this size and detail has never been made before.

Tony Zador used genomic information to put a unique RNA bar code into each individual neuron. He then dissected the brain into cubes and fed the pieces into a DNA sequencer. The result was a 3D rendering of 50 000 neurons in the mouse cortex mapped with single cell resolution.

Multiplexed analysis of projections by sequencing (MAPseq) can be used to find new cell types and projection patterns. Researchers inject an animal with GM viruses loaded with known RNA sequences that give each neuron a distinctive bar code. When they cut the brain into sections, the bar codes help them track neurons from slide to slide.

MAPseq will enable us to map and compare the neural pathways of large numbers of brains. With lots of neurological data, we can look for patterns that reflect general principles of how the brain works.

2018 April 8


Madeleine Albright

Fascism and the tendencies that lead toward it pose a more serious threat now than at any time since 1945.

Its return is not hindered by the volatile presidency of Donald Trump. Instead of mobilizing international coalitions to take on world problems, Trump touts the doctrine of every nation for itself. Instead of engaging in creative diplomacy, he has insulted US neighbors and allies, walked away from key international agreements, mocked multilateral organizations, and stripped the State Department of its resources and role.

A great nation does not align itself with dictators and autocrats, ignore human rights, declare open season on the environment, or disdain the use of diplomacy. America should embody the values of a free society.

UK−EU Trade

Larry Elliott

The UK has run a trade deficit with the EU in goods and services combined in every year since 1999. The deficit doubled from £41 billion to £82 billion between 2012 and 2016. It is now 4% of GDP and rising.

UK trade with the rest of the world was broadly in balance from 1999 to 2011. Since 2012, a UK surplus has increased from £8 billion to £39 billion. The UK manufactured goods deficit with Germany has increased by 5% pa, with France by 7% pa, and with the rest of the EU by 11% pa.

The single market and the customs union create a free trade area only in goods. The UK surplus in services with the EU has been growing, but it has not offset a growing deficit in manufactured goods. The trend will continue unless EU barriers to trade in services are removed.

Trade deficits are bad. The need to finance them tends to raise interest rates, reduce productivity growth, and leave workers with lower wages and skills. Their causes include high interest rates, an over-valued currency, low investment, and poor management.

AR Freeing UK−EU services trade is the right answer. Brexit blocks it.

2018 April 7

Good Science

Adam Becker

A basic principle of scientific practice is that a new theory should be falsifiable. But for a theoretical physicist, spinning new ideas about how the world could be is essential. The inflexible standards of falsifiability and observability might be neat guidelines or heuristics, but they are not measures of the quality of a scientific theory.

There are no genuinely falsifiable scientific theories, as the history of science shows. Newtonian gravity was ultimately thrown out, but not merely in the face of data that threatened it. Only when Einstein came up with a viable alternative theory did the scientific community move on.

When new experiments threatened the conservation of energy in a certain kind of radioactive decay, Wolfgang Pauli came up with what came to be known as the neutrino. Invoking the invisible to save a theory from falsification is sometimes the right scientific move. What was once unobservable can become observable, as the neutrino shows.

Richard Feynman pointed out that two wildly different theories that have identical observational consequences can give you different perspectives on problems. They lead you to different answers and different experiments to conduct in order to discover the next theory. Some of the most interesting scientific work gets done when scientists develop bizarre theories in the face of something new or unexplained.

2018 April 6

Bank Heist

Ed Conway

The single most significant economic decision of the past decade in the UK was the response by the Bank of England to the financial crisis. Quantitative easing made the wealthiest 10% of households £350,000 richer than they would have been. It was the single biggest distribution of wealth in modern history.

The Bank of England pumped £435 billion into the economy as the thin end of a monetary wedge. In the wake of the financial crisis, the Bank and its counterparts around the world went to extreme lengths to prevent a repeat of the Great Depression. QE was arguably the most fateful economic decision of modern times.

AR Disaster capitalism struck and the workers of the world paid out.

Quantum Thermodynamics 2

Vlatko Vedral

Thermodynamics predates quantum theory. Entanglement and superposition break all the usual rules of dynamics. There are no obvious quantum equivalents of classical thermodynamic concepts like heat or entropy.

A quantum heat engine has been built using atoms trapped inside a diamond. Atoms trapped inside special cavities absorb and emit energy in a way that shows they are in a superposition of a high and low energy state. Light is produced more quickly than the classical rules of thermodynamics predict, proving that quantum heat engines can bend the rules.

The flow of time might be recast by quantum thermodynamics. No physical law forbids any natural processes from going backwards except the second law of thermodynamics. Its insistence that entropy must increase suggests that time somehow arises from entropy changes.

Quantum theory predicts that the overall amount of disorder in the universe must remain constant. This implies that if you look at the universe as a whole, entropy is unchanging and so there is no time. Time ticks only in small patches where entropy is changing.

AR At the cosmic level we reach the eternal Einstein block universe. At the quantum level we are in chaotic spacetime foam with no smooth time flow. Times flows for us, aiming for classical clarity as we play quantum sudoku.

My verdict: Entropy is an epistemic concept.

2018 April 5

Threat To World Peace

Simon Kuper

John Bolton takes office as US national security adviser on April 9. Bolton has consistently favored bombing and regime change in Tehran and Pyongyang. A warmonger is about to start work a few steps from Donald Trump in a White House almost devoid of bureaucratic procedures.

New US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is an Iran hawk too. History may repeat itself as reality TV. In 2001, the Bush administration thought it was pursuing American interests when it started the Iraq war. Today war in the Trump world is chiefly an expression of a desire to punish foreigners and recall a time when America ruled the roost.

You don't need to be a "very stable genius" to grasp all this, but few people are interested. The day after Bolton's appointment was the only day last month that Bolton prompted more Google searches in the US than Stormy Daniels. Four days later, the Daniels−Bolton ratio was more than 20 to one.

We struggle to focus on what matters in the Trump show. Ask how Trump will impact the world.

World War III

US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross belittled trade tensions between the United States and China. He predicted they would lead not to "World War III" but to peace talks.

2018 April 4

Quantum Thermodynamics

Katia Moskvitch

The second law of thermodynamics says entropy never decreases in an isolated system. Heat always moves from hot to cold. The law seems to explain the arrow of time.

Researchers have made heat flow from a cold quantum object to a hot one. They took molecules that each had one carbon, one hydrogen, and three chlorine atoms, and used a magnetic field to align the nuclear spins of the C and H nuclei. The nuclei became correlated in a 2-qubit state.

Entropy measures the number of different configurations a system can be in. Quantum correlations affect entropy. A 2-qubit system can be in states 00, 01, 10, and 11. Comparing the entropy of the single qubits to the entropy of the correlated system can measure the amount of correlation.

The experiment begins with the two particles strongly correlated. As the experiment progresses, the correlation weakens. The sum of the individual entropies decreases.

The weakening of the correlation is like a gradient driving the heat from the colder to the hotter body. The cold qubit gets colder, the hot qubit hotter. There is a trade-off between correlations and entropy, effectively reversing the arrow of time in the system.

A puzzle in cosmology is why the universe began in such a low-entropy configuration. Connecting entropy to entanglement might help us understand the cosmological arrow of time.

AR I like it. A supercorrelated (highly self-entangled) primordial universe loses entropy as it condenses into an ever more specific state with time. So symmetry breaking and phase changes no longer have to raise entropy, which I have found problematic ever since contemplating the time-reversal critique by Dieter Zeh.

2018 April 3

Politics of Devotion

Rafael Behr

UK prime minister Theresa May is a devout Christian. She finds comfort in submission to duty above economics and trade. For a religious person, purity of intent is much more important than outcome.

For hardcore Leavers, the paramount virtue in Brexit is the raw will that it be done. Quibbling about the consequences is an act of bad faith. Questioning the method is treason.

Religiosity is surging among Remainers too. Some of them see the EU as a totem of liberal virtue. In this tribe, Brexit is contaminated by mass credulity and racism.

Waiting for the Messiah

Rachel Sylvester

British politics needs a saviour. Theresa May is fulfilling her duty toward Brexit with saintly devotion but an air of sacrifice as she enacts a policy she fears will make the country poorer and less safe.

The centrist mainstream seems dead and buried. More than half of the British public do not feel any of the political parties represent their views. But they lack a credible alternative.

Many voters would love a better choice. The decaying political system adds to a sense that politics is in limbo. A new party would tap into a desire for change.

2018 April 2

Democratic Renewal

George Weigel

Populist assaults on democracy in America and Europe arise from:
Economic dislocations and inequalities resulting from globalization
Fears in Europe of loss of national sovereignty to transnational bureaucracies
Elitist skepticism, mockery, scorn, and disdain for traditional cultural institutions
Skepticism and contempt for the democratic inability to cope with modernity
The cult of license, leading to cultural disorientation and anger among many
Populist wrath directed against the conservative establishment

Democratic renewal will be based on truths:
Human folly excepted, nothing in history is permanent, including democracy.
Democracy requires a democratic polity, a market economy, and a vibrant public moral culture.
Democratic politics and free economies cannot be sustained by a liberal culture, which cannot
    enforce civility and tolerance.
Free markets are essential to the democratic project but need direction to help rebuild the
    foundations of civic life.
Renewal is not advanced by indulging in fantasies about implausible or impossible alternatives.

A democratic political system is the only serious option.

2018 Easter Sunday


Paul Keating

A monarchy is a tyranny. Australians are borrowing the monarch of another country. No great country borrows the monarch of another country.

I have no doubt Prince Charles believes Australia should be free of the British monarchy. He is a great friend of Australia. His commitment to naturalism, to heritage, to science, to innovation, and to beauty speaks volumes of his intellect and integrity.

Prince Charles will always be welcome in Australia. But we can do without a monarch. Australia is entitled to be a great country.

Britizen Jon

Rowan Williams

It's important to be reminded how easily democracies lose their grip, morally and politically, and how societies slide towards repression and self-destructive policies in pursuit of short-term goals. I read [the novel] as a plea for a more grown-up politics — desperately needed at the moment.

AR Thank you, Rowan.

A Cool Young Cosmos?

Liz Kruesi

In July 2017, Rennan Barkana heard from Judd Bowman, a radio astronomer in Australia. Bowman and his team had picked up a surprising signal.

The Experiment to Detect the Global Epoch of Reionization Signature (EDGES) team thought they had not only found the first stars in the universe but also that the young cosmos was surprisingly cool. Barkana guessed they might have seen ordinary matter interacting with dark matter.

The EDGES team had probed the neutral H gas that filled the universe during the 10 Ps or so ABB. These were the dark ages when the afterglow that became the CMB was absorbed at some wavelengths. EDGES searched for the absorption pattern.

The absorption pattern stretched as it flew toward us for 13 billion years. Its stretch shows how long the signal has been traveling, its width tells us for how long the gas was absorbing the CMB light, and its intensity tells us the temperature of the gas and the afterglow at the time.

It seems the neutral gas was colder than predicted. Barkana thought perhaps "millicharged" dark matter interacted weakly with ordinary matter. Intergalactic gas might have cooled by dumping heat into the dark matter sector.

Cosmologists compared such dark matter to CMB data, supernova data, particle accelerator data, and work on primordial nucleosynthesis. They found that millicharged dark matter must be too rare to explain the EDGES data.

The EDGES team took exceptional care. Any flaw in their work will be hard to find.

AR Stay skeptical.

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