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2018 New Year's Eve


Angela Merkel

Da ist die Schicksalsfrage des Klimawandels, die der Steuerung und Ordnung der Migration, da ist der Kampf gegen den internationalen Terrorismus. In unserem eigenen Interesse wollen wir alle diese Fragen lösen, und das können wir am besten, wenn wir die Interessen anderer mitbedenken.
Deutschland wird ab morgen für zwei Jahre Mitglied im UN-Sicherheitsrat sein und sich dort für globale Lösungen einsetzen. Wir steigern unsere Mittel für humanitäre Hilfe und Entwicklungshilfe, aber auch unsere Verteidigungsausgaben weiter.
Um Arbeitsplätze, Wohlstand und unsere Lebensgrundlagen zu sichern, geht die Bundesregierung konsequent die nächsten Schritte beim Strukturwandel von traditionellen zu neuen Technologien und setzt ihre Strategie für den digitalen Fortschritt um.
Wir müssen im eigenen Interesse mehr Verantwortung übernehmen. Und mit Großbritannien wollen wir trotz des Austritts aus der Europäischen Union weiter eine enge Partnerschaft bewahren.
Immer häufiger aber auch um den Stil unseres Miteinanders, um unsere Werte: Offenheit, Toleranz und Respekt. Diese Werte haben unser Land stark gemacht.

AR Perfekt formuliert, kann ich nur zustimmen.


2018 December 30

New Year Greetings

Vladimir Putin

Greetings to President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping. Relations of comprehensive
     trust-based partnership and strategic interaction between the Russian Federation and the
     People's Republic of China have reached an unprecedented level.
 Greetings to President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron. Russian-French relations have
     great potential, which was confirmed by our recent meetings and talks.
 To Federal President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Federal Chancellor of Germany
     Angela Merkel, I note the significant experience of cooperation between our two countries in
     various spheres and hope for continued joint work on the bilateral and international agendas
     next year.
 Greetings to President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella and Chairman of the Council of
     Ministers of the Italian Republic Giuseppe Conte.
 Heartfelt wishes of happiness, prosperity and success to King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of
     Spain, other members of the royal family and all Spanish people.
 Greetings to President of the Turkish Republic Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I am pleased with the
     auspicious development of Russia-Turkey relations.
 Greetings to Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
     and Prime Minister Theresa May. I wish them and their family members good health, happiness
     and every success, and the British people well-being and prosperity.
 Greetings to President of the United States of America Donald Trump. Russia-US relations are
     the most important factor behind ensuring strategic stability and international security. Russia
     is open to dialogue with the United States on the most extensive agenda.

AR No greetings for Germany?

Putin: My Take

Raffaello Pantucci

President Vladimir Putin is flexing Russian military might with a new hypersonic missile.
We remain far from the Cold War. The United States is nowhere near the roughly 10% of GDP it was devoting to defense at the height of that confrontation. Moscow is far from the expenditure that brought the Soviet Union crashing down and is also a long way short of US defense spending.
We now inhabit countries that are economically interdependent. Moscow oligarchs own property in London, while Chinese national wealth is tied up in American Treasury bonds. We live in a world that can at best be described as divided by forms of governance, rather than by ideology.
Moscow sees the current confusion as a prime environment in which to assert its influence abroad and build a narrative at home of international power and importance. Moscow regards the West as an adversary to worry about. The threat is to the leadership rather than national ideology.
On both sides there is a surprising lack of insight into what the other is thinking.

AR Ringlord

UK: My Task

Jeremy Hunt

Singapore is rich. About 200 years ago a British adventurer founded it. Our connection persists.
The UK may no longer be a superpower but we are still very much a global power. We have some of the best global connections. British personal links combine with centuries of trade routes, military campaigns, and missionary work to make us one of the best-connected countries on the planet.
Those of us who wish to for an orderly departure of the UK from the EU have a simple task.

AR Ringlord

2018 December 29

Trump: Impeachment

Elizabeth Drew

President Trump's political status is now hurtling downhill. Unless he resigns, public pressure on the Democratic leaders to begin an impeachment process in 2019 will only increase.
The founders put the decision about whether a president should be allowed to continue to serve in the hands of the representatives of the people who elected him. But they wrote into the Constitution provisions to make it extremely difficult for Congress to remove a president from office.
Trump will be looking for a way out, but he will want future legal protection. Politicians in both parties may want to make a deal to get him out.

Brexit: Second Referendum

Dominic Grieve

The prime minister has delivered a plan for Brexit that she feels is the best the UK can achieve, given her red lines. Any rational examination exposes the deal's flaws when compared with either the reality of the status quo or how far short it falls of the Leave campaign promises in 2016.
A course of action is available to us that lets us check whether or not the will of the people has changed over time. To call this a subversion of democracy is utterly wrong. No one will thank us for dragging the UK out of the EU on a deal for which the public have shown no enthusiasm.

2018: A Bad Year

Financial Times

2018 is on track to be the worst year for the global equity markets since 2008. The FTSE All-World
index is down 11.8% since the start of the year.

AR Blame Trump and Brexit.



Standard Model
The Standard Model
Higgs in the middle


2018 December 28


The story of how President Putin builds on Brexit to rule the world
Andy Ross

President Vladimir Putin of Russia was ambitious to restore the fortunes of the Russian people. As a former intelligence officer in the Soviet Union, he had watched the collapse of the USSR with dismay and vowed to devote all his energies to restoring the dignity and pride of his people. His chance came when as president he met weakness and discord in the West.
His primary target was America and his secondary target was Britain ..

2018 December 27

The Age of Brilliant Machines

Steven Strogatz

AlphaZero is a machine-learning algorithm that has mastered chess, shogi, and Go. The algorithm started with no knowledge of the games beyond their basic rules. It then played against itself millions of times and learned from its mistakes. In a matter of hours, the algorithm became the best player, human or computer, the world has ever seen.
AlphaZero clearly displays a breed of intellect that humans have not seen before, and that we will be mulling over for a long time to come. Not only could it have easily defeated all the strongest human masters, it crushed Stockfish, the reigning computer world champion of chess. In a 100-game match against a truly formidable engine, AlphaZero scored 28 wins and 72 draws.
AlphaZero played like no computer ever has, intuitively and beautifully, with a romantic, attacking style. It played gambits and took risks. Grandmasters had never seen anything like it. It was humankind's first glimpse of an awesome new kind of intelligence.
AlphaZero won by thinking smarter, not faster. It was wiser, knowing what to think about and what to ignore. It developed a style of play that Garry Kasparov said reflects the truth about the game. The question now is whether machine learning can help humans discover similar truths about the great unsolved problems of science and medicine, such as cancer and consciousness.
AlphaZero gives every appearance of having discovered some important principles about chess. But as human beings, we want more than answers, we want insight. This is going to be a source of tension in our interactions with computers from now on. As machines become ever faster, a day will come when we can no longer keep up.
This is the golden era of human insight, a glorious interlude between our uncomprehending past and our incomprehensible future.

AR This is the golden era of human insight — I glossed this truth in my book Coral.

2018 December 26

The Large Hadron Collider

The New York Times

The LHC shoots subatomic particles around a 27 km electromagnetic racetrack beneath the French-Swiss countryside, smashing them together, and sifting through the debris for new particles and forces of nature. One reward came in 2012 with the discovery of the Higgs boson.
On 2018-12-03, the LHC was powered down. Over the next two years, it will be upgraded to make its beams more intense and its instruments more sensitive and discerning.
Inside the main ring, some 10 000 superconducting electromagnets guide two beams of protons in opposite directions around the tunnel at 99.99999% of the speed of light, or an energy of 7 TeV. The magnets have a field strength of 8.3 T, generated by an electrical current of 12 kA, and are bathed in 150 tons of superfluid helium at a temperature of 1.9 K.
The proton beams cross 40 million times per second in each of 4 detectors, giving about 1 billion collisions per second. The detectors are like 100 Mpx cameras that take 40 million pictures a second. Triggers select and save the data from only about a thousand collision events per second.
The luminosity of the LHC will increase tenfold by the end of the decade. Luminosity is measured in terms of collisions. It took about 3 quadrillion collisions to confirm the Higgs boson. As of this month, the LHC had logged about 20 quadrillion collisions. The lifetime total should be around 4 quintillion.
We must soon decide which machines to build after the LHC. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has designed a collider 100 km around that could reach energies of 100 TeV.

Quantum Communication Is Faster


Quantum communication beats classical communication. Alice can send exponentially less information to Bob to let him answer a question in a quantum scenario than in a classical scenario.
Imagine Alice has a set of numbered balls. Each ball is randomly colored red or blue. Bob wants to know whether a particular pair of balls, chosen at random, has the same color or different colors. Alice wants to send Bob the least information she can to ensure that Bob can answer his question.
To do so classically, Alice has to send Bob a number of bits proportional to the square root of the number of balls. But use of qubits can be more efficient.
In a new lab experiment, Alice and Bob swap laser pulses. Each pulse represents a ball and goes through a beam splitter, which sends half of it toward Alice and half toward Bob. As a pulse passes by Alice, she can shift its phase to encode whether the ball is red or blue.
Meanwhile Bob encodes information about ball color into his half of the laser pulses. The pulses then converge in another beam splitter and interfere. The way they interfere shows how the phase of each pulse has been shifted. Bob reads the interference pattern using photon detectors.
Alice's message can answer any question about any pair until Bob reads it. But the act of reading it collapses it, yielding information about just one pair of balls.
We knew how many classical bits to send to solve the problem. The experiment shows it can be solved with far fewer qubits.

AR We knew this in theory. Now we know it works.

2018 Christmas Day

Peace and Goodwill

Queen Elizabeth II

The Christian message of peace on Earth and goodwill to all is never out of date. It can be heeded by everyone. Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding.
Through the many changes I have seen over the years, faith, family, and friendship have been a constant source of personal comfort and reassurance.

White House: Home Alone


President Trump, from his 10th Christmas Eve tweet: "I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security."
Democratic speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement: "It's Christmas Eve and President Trump is plunging the country into chaos. The stock market is tanking and the president is waging a personal war on the Federal Reserve — after he just fired the Secretary of Defense."

AR Some people find peace and renewal in time alone.


On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts orbiting the Moon saw Earth rising for the first time

US Tanks

Trump's $1 trillion
tax cuts bet fails
as US economy
implodes and
stock market

Vanity Fair

Mattis resignation letter

US Army
US Army
Donald Trump: "We have won
against ISIS .. now it's time
for our troops to come back
home." His call to withdraw
from Syria left Washington
in chaos and confusion.

Russian president Putin:
"Donald's right, and I
agree with him."


D-Day + 100

Theresa May drops manifesto
pledges on social care and
education to prepare for
no-deal doomsday.

AR How about dropping
Brexit to prepare for
social care and

Vanity Fair

"Boris Johnson is an epic shit.
I hope he ends badly."
Tina Brown

Theresa May, Gollum



2018 Christmas Eve

Cherish the Church

Clare Foges

Come with me to the schools, hospices, and care homes where thousands of Christians do good work every day. Seek out the grittiest, grimiest edges of British life and they are there. They are helping addicts limp to liberty from drugs with infinite patience. They are supporting families who are mired in debt. They are caring for those in prison cells whom no one else cares for. They are giving shelter and warm meals to the homeless.
Archbishop Justin Welby: "God is incredibly exciting."

2018 December 23

Americans Against Trump

The New York Times

Jim Mattis did his best to preserve and defend the system of global alliances that the United States spent the last 70 years building and leading. He helped persuade President Trump not to pull out of NATO and worked to reassure Europe.
Mattis offered the same assurances to America's allies in Asia, who are alarmed at China and North Korea. Trump seems unconvinced of the value of the relationship with South Korea and threatened to withdraw forces there.
Mattis was unable to prevent the US abrogation of the Iran nuclear deal, the move of the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, or the decision to withdraw troops from Syria.
Presidents have tremendous power to make national security policy. But Congress also has a role to play, and it now needs to assert that responsibility forcefully.

Germans Against Hitler

Rodric Braithwaite

In the old German defence ministry in Berlin, a floor has been restored to the way it was when a group of distinguished conspirators plotted there to kill Hitler in July 1944. In his new book, Paddy Ashdown gives these and other Germans who opposed Hitler the honour that is their due.
The first attempt to assassinate Hitler was in 1934 and more than 20 followed. The first military plot was hatched in 1938 but was aborted because Britain and France were unwilling to support it. Claus von Stauffenberg and his team were well aware of the risks they ran on 20 July 1944.
In 1954, postwar German president Theodor Heuss praised the Stauffenberg team for trying to preserve German honour. Most Germans now share his view.

2018 December 22

US Breakdown

The New York Times

President Trump boasted he would be "proud" to bring parts of the government to a halt if Congress did not hand over $5 billion for his border wall. By Friday, he was in full attack mode, urging Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to go "nuclear" if necessary. Talks collapsed and shutdown became a certainty.
For most people, uncertainty and disorder are scary. But for Trump, they are cherished friends and strategic assets. Revving up the wall fight allows him to divert attention from the other drama threatening to swallow him up. His administration sinks further and further into the swamp.

Labour Brexit Policy

Jeremy Corbyn

The government has suddenly found £4 billion to prepare for no deal. At the same time, police officers have lost their jobs, there are 100,000 vacancies in the NHS, there is a housing crisis, and a homeless man dies on the steps of Westminster.
I think we should vote down Theresa May's deal. We should then go back to the EU with a discussion about a customs union in which we can be proper trading partners.
As a party, about 60% of Labour voters voted remain and about 40% voted leave. We have to recognise why people voted in those directions. Labour has got to bring all sides together.

Brexit Solves Nothing
Chuka Umunna

Brexit is essentially a project of the hard right of British politics, who want to turn Britain into a lightly regulated, offshore tax haven for the super-rich, devoid of proper protections for workers, and one which seeks to dump the blame for the UK's problems on immigrants.
Labour should stop pretending there is a good Brexit deal and we should certainly not be sponsoring this project. Brexit solves nothing.

Labour Is Incapable
Ian Blackford

Jeremy Corbyn has finally come off the fence he's been sat on for the past two years. But he's come down on the same side as Theresa May. The Labour party is incapable of providing opposition to the worst UK government that most people can remember.

2018 Winter Solstice

Mad Dog Gone, Trump Unbound

Mark Landler

With the resignation of defense secretary Jim Mattis, Donald Trump is at last a president unbound. Mattis left little doubt that he viewed the president as a threat to the American world order.
Trump is convinced that his political survival depends on securing his conservative base. He rejected the stopgap budget deal because it failed to fund the border wall with Mexico. He criticized the Fed because its policy is dampening the stock market, a barometer of his success. And he pulled troops out of Syria because it fulfilled a campaign promise to extract the United States from foreign wars.
Republican senator Marco Rubio said the Mattis resignation "makes it abundantly clear that we are headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances and empower our adversaries."
On several occasions, Mattis and others stalled Trump on his desire to pull out of Syria. But with Christmas coming, Trump decided to pull the trigger now, hoping for a quick win.

AR Globally, Vlad Putin and Xi Jinping are now the adults in the room. The West is in danger.

European Parliament Can Block Brexit

Markus Becker

The European Parliament has to ratify the Brexit deal. But EP president Antonio Tajani says the rules for EP involvement in implementing the deal are unacceptable.
The problem is the power of the EU-UK joint committee, which will implement and apply the withdrawal agreement, including extending the transition period and applying the Irish backstop, without consulting the EP. The European Commission made the withdrawal agreement and said MEPs will only get an annual report on its implementation. Tajani wants to add a passage to the agreement giving the EP more say.
EP Brexit steering group member Elmar Brok: "Having a say is a condition for us to ratify the agreement."

AR Has the UK government seriously thought of this?

Exit From Brexit

Lara Spirit

It is less than 100 days until Brexit. As each day passes, my respect for the political class is in danger of turning to disgust. I see no leadership and no plan.
In schools I have heard the same messages time and again: We are scared about how Brexit will affect our futures and if we were given a chance to make our voices heard we would vote to stay in Europe. There is no deal that is better than the one we already have.


2018 December 20

Worse Than I Thought

Charles M. Blow

When I first wrote about Donald Trump, I had no idea how immoral he actually is.

This week, the Trump Foundation agreed to dissolve under pressure from the New York attorney general, who found that the foundation existed to serve Trump's interests and engaged in illegal coordination with his presidential campaign.

Nearly every aspect of Trump's life is now under investigation for wrongdoing.
 I could not have predicted the extraordinary lengths to which he would go to obstruct justice
    and undermine the rule of law, nor that he would do these things in full view, for all to see.
 I could not have predicted, when I first wrote that he was a pathological liar, that his rate of
    lying would increase with his time in office, rather than decrease.
 I could not have predicted the huge number of contacts between his people and Russians during
    the campaign, or how many were charged, indicted, or convicted of lying about them.

I couldn't have predicted any of it.

My Advice for Theresa May

Deepak Malhotra

Only weeks after the 2016 Brexit referendum, I wrote in the Harvard Business Review on the false promises upon which the Leavers had built their case. The UK government has to sell a lesser deal or end up with no deal at all.

Theresa May focused too much on her own political problems and ignored EU fears and constraints. She indulged expectations based on the false promises and adopted the Leaver narrative. To rescue the process, she must stop acting like an agent and start acting like a mediator:
1 Think through the endgame. If the deal is defeated, the hard Brexiteers prefer a no-deal Brexit
    to a second referendum. May almost certainly prefers a referendum to driving off a cliff.
2 Lead and negotiate honestly. Admit publicly that the deal has serious problems. Whatever anyone
    wants, no one has explained how the Irish backstop is to be avoided or how it will end.
3 Convert honesty into negotiation leverage. The less people like the deal, the more likely they will
    be to accept a second referendum. This offers leverage with MPs who refuse to back the deal.
4 Use that leverage. May should announce her intention to hold a second referendum if she cannot
    get enough support for her deal. If the deal is defeated, follow through. It helps avoid no deal.

May needs to do something to break the impasse.

AR A new vote would require further months to implement — more chaos to come!

2018 December 19


Thomas L. Friedman

The middle classes that powered US and EU growth were built on high-wage, middle-skilled jobs. But robotics and AI and outsourcing and Chinese imports have wiped out a lot of them. Now there are high-wage, high-skilled jobs and low-wage, low-skilled jobs, plus a considerable cohort of people with stagnant incomes and burning resentments.

When you challenge all the things that anchor people and then amp it all up with social networks, you can get a really ferocious blowback. It is going to take extraordinary US and EU leadership to come up with a strategy for these grievances. But that leadership is not present.

I get why a slim majority of UK citizens voted for Brexit, as it was sold to them. But to watch the Conservative party hacks who pushed that lie continue to demand that their prime minister deliver this fantasy Brexit in the face of the reality that it's impossible is to watch a once-sane country write a suicide note in a moment of irrationality and then argue endlessly over how to carry it out. They've got to know that disconnecting in a connected world is nuts.

I don't think there are national solutions to this problem.

2018 December 18

Battle of Brexit

The Times

The UK cabinet has decided to ramp up preparations for a no-deal Brexit. The government will spend an extra £2 billion on contingency planning. UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson promises to hold 3,500 service personnel at readiness for any contingencies arising from Brexit.

Britain Bolloxed

Rachel Sylvester

Just 101 days to Brexit. Theresa May has postponed the Commons vote on her withdrawal agreement until next year because she knows she will lose it. Jeremy Corbyn has not tabled a motion of no confidence in the government because he wants to avoid a second referendum.

Corbyn is a closet Brexiteer. A zombie prime minister is shadowed by a leader offering only an illusion of opposition. Both see the People's Vote campaign as a sinister plot and neither is truly committed to their public stand on Brexit.

Crucial domestic policy reforms are on hold because the government is preoccupied with Brexit.
At a time when the UK needs leadership, it has no government and no opposition.

Business Banjaxed


British business has had its worst year since the financial crisis: Estimated GDP growth for 2018 is 1.2%. Companies are hardly investing at all. The weakness of the pound is driving inflation. Just three months before Brexit, disagreements over which way to go are as wide as ever.

The UK government admits that Brexit will damage business. Uncertainty since the referendum has made British GDP an estimated 2% lower than it would have been with a vote to remain. The cost to the Treasury is estimated at £500 million per week.

The NIESR conservatively estimates that British GDP in 2030 will be 4% lower than if there were no Brexit. Remaining in the EU would be better for business.

2018 December 17

Brexit: Commons Vote

BBC News, UCT 1652

Theresa May has told Parliament that MPs will vote on the Brexit deal in the week beginning
14 January 2019.

Brexit Makes EU Stronger

Clare Foges

Britain's departure may turn out to be one of the best things that has ever happened to the EU.

Once the UK finally limps out, the EU will not fall to pieces. Eurosceptic fantasies have been brutally exposed by reality as the ongoing car crash is mercilessly mocked in Europe. Far from weakening the EU, as some Leavers hoped, Brexit may only have made it stronger.

AR This Full English Brexit is a sick dog's vomit breakfast.

2018 December 16

The Lord of the Rings

Niall Ferguson

Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Peter Jackson's film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, has released a spoof video combining the characters of Theresa May and Tolkien's Gollum.

Leaving aside the Bible and the Koran, The Lord of the Rings is the most popular book in the history of publishing, having sold more than 150 million copies since its publication in 1954. Its influence is ubiquitous from Oxford, where J.R.R. Tolkien spent most of his life, to Silicon Valley, which is full of Tolkien enthusiasts. But nearly all Tolkien's millions of readers seem somehow to have missed the fact that his fiction is founded on a profoundly conservative philosophy.

Tolkien hit on the title in 1938 during the Munich crisis. He was contemptuous of Hitler but much more suspicious of Stalin. As war drew near, Tolkien reflected that he had "a loathing of being on any side that includes Russia" and believed that Stalin was probably more responsible for the crisis.

Tolkien, 1941: "People in this land seem not even yet to realise that in the Germans we have enemies whose virtues (and they are virtues) of obedience and patriotism are greater than ours in the mass. I have in this War a burning private grudge against .. Hitler for ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light."

AR I see Tolkien as a British admirer of Nietzsche and Wagner, and The Lord of the Rings as an English homage to Also sprach Zarathustra and Der Ring des Nibelungen. Recasting those forbidding works as a children's novel with a happy ending (and Zarathustra as Sauron) was a stroke of genius. Tolkien read English at my college in Oxford.

2018 December 15

Climate Change

BBC News

COP24, Katowice, Poland, Saturday — Negotiators have finally secured agreement on a range of measures that will make the Paris climate pact operational in 2020. The agreement aims to limit global warming to less than 2 K.

China's climate chief Xie Zhenhua: "Climate change is the greatest challenge of mankind, in front of it no country is spared, and destinies are shared."

Black Hole Navigation

Stephen Battersby

Quasars are intense beacons of light surrounding supermassive black holes in distant galaxies. Astronomers can pinpoint quasars accurately from the radio waves they emit by using very long baseline interferometry (VLBI).

The International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF-3) is fixed in place by 303 of the most compact and stable quasars. On average, the angular location of the quasars is accurate to within 150 picorad. The frame is used for all position measurements in astronomy.

The center of the frame is set at the center of mass of our solar system, with an NS axis parallel to Earth's polar axis on 2000-01-01. ICRF-3 also includes about 4000 other quasars distributed around the sky as reference points for navigation.

We can detect any deviations from the planned course of a spacecraft by observing its angular position relative to a quasar. On Earth, tracking variations in Earth's rotation speed relative to the ICRF lets us know when to insert leap seconds into UCT.

Up to now, VLBI was our only way to measure extragalactic sources accurately. But in April, the Gaia mission published a catalog of the same sources in optical wavelengths. This can be used to further refine the ICRF.

AR If the ICRF is taken as fixed, we can measure whether the universe is rotating and hence whether Gödel's solution to the Einstein field equations may be true.


Juno image of Jupiter clouds

Church of England bishops
are praying for "courage,
integrity and clarity for
our politicians"
on Brexit

Völker der Welt,
schaut auf diese Frau!
Theresa May verdient


A white hole

"The problem is not May.
The problem is Brexit."
Jonathan Freedland

UK in crisis:
Queen silent

Theresa May, Gollum

Peter Brookes 2016
Boris Johnson dubbed "most
irresponsible politician the
country has seen for many
years" at Economist awards

May fails

"Mrs May should have gone
down with her deal."
Allison Pearson

Merz, AKK
imago/Emmanuele Contini
Friedrich Merz, AKK

Anne Will mit AKK
(ARD, 59:42)

People's Vote UK

Black hole
Jean-Pierre Luminet


Brexit Bluff

Camilla Cavendish

Something fundamental changed in British politics this week. Theresa May can now stop worrying about her own survival and start acting in the national interest. She should offer parliament a vote on a second referendum with two options: her deal or remain. The prime minister should stare down the silly boys in parliament and challenge them to grow up.

Brexit Nightmare

Martin Wolf

The UK and the EU are sleepwalking toward a no-deal Brexit. It would be insane, but, as WW1 showed, the insane can easily happen. The UK would become a rogue state, its reputation for reliability and reason would perish, and the lives of millions of citizens and the operations of countless businesses would be plunged into turmoil. Or let the people vote again.

Brexit Undead

Janice Turner

I hope those who want a second referendum are ready for what they will unleash. Brexit voters have had two years being called stupid, racist, old, deluded, "gammons" who should hurry up and die so Remainers can drape EU flags on their graves. Their campaign will be of furious betrayal, righteous anger: "We're not dead yet!"

AR 2019: Anarchy in the UK

2018 December 14

Climate Change

John Kerry

Americans are not getting the job done in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet. With continued growth in emissions, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.

Global emissions are forecast to go up by 2.7% this year. Instead of reining them in, the Trump administration would unleash more by replacing the Clean Power Plan with a rule that could allow power plants to unload 12 times more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Instead of controlling fuel emissions, the administration is rolling back fuel economy standards that the auto industry had embraced.

Future generations will measure us by whether we acted. Congress should send Trump legislation addressing this crisis, or we will all be judged failures.

US Foreign Policy

Edward Luce

Donald Trump has so far avoided starting new wars. But his potential to mess up remains epic, particularly with China. The irony is that George W. Bush made many of the mistakes of which Trump stands accused. Trump dismisses Europe, sidelines NATO, and revels in a unilateral America, but Bush did the same.

Trump is also accused of incompetence, but again Bush 43 was worse. The magic of Trump is that by uniting the elites in revulsion against his abrasive style, he has restored their moral sense. On China, Trump and the blob are ominously coming around to the view that it must be confronted.

EU: Brexit Deal Frozen

The Guardian

Jean-Claude Juncker: "We have to bring down the temperature. These attacks coming from Westminster against Europe and the European Commission will not be responded to in the same way by Europe and the European Commission, although I would like to do it."

Donald Tusk: "Yesterday's conclusions are quite clear I think and we have to treat it as a good sign, I mean, that we are ready to reconfirm our assurances and our goodwill and good faith when it comes to the so-called backstop."

Brexit: No Exit

Markus Becker

There is a good case for a new Brexit referendum. Now at least voters can know what they are voting on. In 2016, that was not remotely the case.

But a second referendum campaign could be even uglier than the first. And it would break British society if Remainers won by a narrow margin. The losers would say they had been robbed and would take to the streets in fury.

Europhobic populists have been harassing UK governments for decades. Their wrath would be fearful if their beloved Brexit were snatched from their grasp. The UK government would face riots each time it made any concessions within the EU.

The idea that British political clowns like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and Jacob Rees-Mogg might get hosed in a second referendum is tempting, as is the prospect of keeping a major country in the club. But it may be better for all concerned if the UK first spends a few years out in the cold.

These years would be unpleasant. Britain is a pipsqueak beside America, China, and Europe. It would need years to make better trade deals than the EU already has.

A humbled Britain could then apply to rejoin the EU, accepting the EU is not all bad and the UK is no world power. Brits are not there yet.

Brexit Bad

The New York Times

In the Westminster parliament, Brexit is often seen as a domestic issue with no thought of other interests. Rare is the politician who suggests the UK should welcome a strong role in Europe. The party challenge to Theresa May has not helped. The options are still:
 The deal, as is
 No deal, exit
 No Brexit

AR Britain is cruising for a bruising.

2018 December 13

White Holes

Carlo Rovelli

In a black hole, general relativity says matter falls onto a central singularity. There we need a new theory.

Space is composed of discrete quanta, which are small but finite. Falling matter can squeeze into a Planck star, but no more. Then quantum gravity lets the entire spacetime geometry of the black hole bounce out as a white hole.

A white hole is time-reversed black hole. Whereas a black hole is surrounded by a horizon through which it is possible to enter but not to exit, a white hole is surrounded by a horizon through which it is possible to exit but not to enter.

General relativity allows white holes. A minimal adjustment in the solution of its equations lets the geometry of a black hole interior continue into a white hole. Quantum mechanics allows it too.

The white hole is where the black hole was, in its future. The other side of the center of a black hole can be in the future of the hole. In the first part of its life, the hole is black and matter falls in. In the second, it is white and matter bounces out.

Quantum tunneling lets the horizon switch from black to white. In classical theory a black hole is eternal, but in quantum theory black holes evaporate and shrink. As they shrink, the probability that they tunnel into a white hole increases.

Time is flexible in general relativity. Seen from the outside, the internal evolution of the hole appears like a bounce in super slow motion. The holes we see in the sky may be objects that collapse and bounce back out, seen in slo-mo.

Seen from inside the hole there is no singularity, and seen from outside a black hole is not eternal. Rather, at some time the black hole turns white and whatever fell in pops out.

Our universe might have bounced out from a previous collapse. The cosmic bounce is a bounce from black to white. Tiny white holes in dark matter could have formed before the bounce. Spacetime might be very crumpled, with each white hole like a long spike out in its geometry.

The arrow of time might be a perspectival effect related to our location outside all the holes.

AR Brilliant!

2018 December 12

May Wins Confidence Vote

BBC News, UCT 2100

UK prime minister Theresa May won the vote of confidence in her leadership by 200 votes to 117.

Brexit: No Confidence

BBC News, UCT 0753

UK prime minister Theresa May will face a vote of no confidence in her leadership today between 1800 and 2000 UCT. Conservative MPs will vote following receipt by 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady of the required 48 letters calling for a contest.

Bet No Deal
Daniel Finkelstein

The chances of no deal are very high indeed. Looked at another way, the things we have to do now to secure a deal are starting to look forbiddingly difficult. What a disaster. What a disgrace.

AR I'd better starting ramping up plans for the Ross Brexodus.

Insect Armageddon

Brooke Jarvis

A whole insect world is dying. Measured by weight, the overall abundance of flying insects in German nature reserves has decreased by 75% over 27 years. If you look at midsummer population peaks, the drop is 82%.

The German study indicates a vast impoverishment of an entire insect universe. There are documented downward slides of various kinds of bees, moths, butterflies, and beetles. A 2014 review synthesized the findings of existing studies and found that a majority of monitored species were declining, on average by 45%.

A million known species of insects represent perhaps a fifth of the global diversity of insects. The current loss of biodiversity is driven partly by climate change and habitat degradation. Insects are also dealing with herbicides and pesticides, along with the loss of meadows, forests, and wild patches to human expansion.

Ecosystems can unravel. Functional extinction occurs when animals and plants are still present but too few to affect how the ecosystem works. Since 1970, terrestrial populations of wild land animals have declined on average by 60%. Wild mammals have declined by over 80%. Instead we have humans and livestock.

Some insects will learn to thrive in new environments. Agricultural monocultures allow some pests to reach unprecedented population levels. We need much more data to better understand the how and why of the ups and downs.

Europe is acting much faster than the United States to address the decline of insects. Hearings have been held on protecting insect biodiversity in the German Bundestag and the European Parliament.

AR We all need to get real on protecting the natural environment.

Vibrations: A Theory of Consciousness

Tam Hunt

The resonance theory of consciousness says synchronized vibrations are at the heart of not only human consciousness but of physical reality more generally.

All things in our universe are constantly in motion, vibrating. Even objects that appear to be stationary are in fact vibrating, oscillating, resonating, at various frequencies. Ultimately, all matter is just vibrations of various underlying fields.

Pascal Fries has explored how gamma, theta, and beta waves vibrate together in the brain to give rise to human consciousness. Gamma waves are typically defined as about 30−90 Hz, theta 4−7 Hz, and beta 12.5−30 Hz. The three work together for various types of human consciousness.

Fries calls his concept communication through coherence, CTC. Neural synchronization allows for smooth communication between neural groups. Without coherence, inputs arrive at random phases of the neuron excitability cycle and have much less effect.

The resonance theory of consciousness can help explain not only mammalian consciousness but also consciousness more broadly. All things may be viewed as at least dimly conscious. Panpsychism is an increasingly accepted position on the nature of consciousness.

Panpsychists say consciousness and matter are two sides of the same coin. The mind associated with most of the matter in our universe is generally very simple. Biological organisms leverage faster information exchange to become more conscious than rocks.

Communication between resonating structures is key for consciousness to expand beyond the dim glimmer we expect in rocks. Higher consciousness results from a shared resonance among many less conscious constituents. The speed of the resonant waves sets the size of a conscious entity.

A resonance theory of consciousness gets to the heart of the mind and the evolution of physical systems. Reality and consciousness are all about vibrations.

AR Essentially the theory I've held for some 20 years — see Mindworlds.

2018 December 11

Brexit Fail: A Cathartic Collapse

Polly Toynbee

Theresa May's vote was set to be the cathartic moment when the UK finally faced the Brexit truth. The cataclysmic collapse of her deal would have wiped the slate clean, freeing everyone to rethink. Hers was the only deal possible if the red line is stopping immigration and free movement.

Every day, a referendum looks more likely. The Brexiteer threat that any attempt to run another referendum would cause rebellion, mob rule and riots on the streets, is project fear. The country will not be intimidated by the absurd idea of people rioting against getting the chance to express themselves in a democratic vote.

AR Embrace EU immigrants as a solution, not a problem.

Brexit Folly: Taking Back Control

Paul Johnson

A hard Brexit would let the UK take back control of trade policy. The Treasury has been inundated already with special pleading to abolish VAT on a range of specific goods and services, which is illegal inside the EU but not outside. This is the freedom of the alcoholic presented with a drink.

National governments unconstrained by international agreements tend to go for more state intervention. EU membership restrains state involvement in the economy. After a decade of dreadful UK productivity growth, there is reawakened interest in a more interventionist industrial policy.

The UK economy grew more slowly than almost all its competitors in the three decades after WW2. Since then, the UK has failed to invest enough in infrastructure, to run an effective education system, to design an efficient tax system, to build enough houses in the right places, to support innovation, and to improve management capacity. The EU is innocent.

AR Parliament is too drunk on power to take back control.

Brexit Options: Almost All Red Alert

Magnus Linklater

Risk assessors use traffic lights to grade risk: red for disaster looming, amber for watch out, green for maybe OK. Almost every Brexit option is red: a vote of no confidence, a general election, a Labour victory, Jeremy Corbyn negotiating with the EU, a falling pound, panic on the markets, all red. Just one choice is amber: Theresa May's proposed deal.

A second referendum is also red. Most opinion polls suggest there has been little movement among leavers and remainers. The outrage of those who lose might bring violence onto the streets.

AR Defy the Brexiteer threat. Remaining in the EU is green.

2018 December 10

Brexit Chaos: May Calls Off Vote

BBC News, UCT 1635

UK prime minister Theresa May has called off tomorrow's Commons vote on her Brexit deal following advice that she would lose heavily. House speaker John Bercow called on the government to give MPs a vote on whether that vote should be cancelled, saying it was the "right and obvious" thing to do given how angry some MPs were about the cancellation.

AR She is still in denial on a new referendum.

Brexit Ruling: UK Can Cancel It

BBC News

The European Court of Justice has ruled the UK can cancel Brexit without the permission of the other 27 EU members. The ECJ ruled this could be done without altering UK terms of membership.

"So an extension of Article 50 to allow time for another vote, followed by revocation of Article 50 if the outcome is Remain seems to be an option that is now open to the House of Commons."
Nicola Sturgeon

AR Well said, Nicola, that is indeed the best plan.

European Union: Can AKK Save It?

Alan Posener

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is the new leader of the CDU. AKK was the candidate of the party's women's and youth organizations, and was chosen by Angela Merkel, whose chancellorship expires in 2021.

Merkel is a Protestant from Prussia. AKK is a Catholic from the Saarland, wedged between France and Germany. Merkel is devoid of convictions; AKK is a European conservative. Merkel came in at the top as a token East German woman after unification; AKK slogged her way up through the ranks and led governments at local and state levels.

All the European heavyweights except Germany are paralyzed by populism. Merkel will leave the mess to AKK to sort out. AKK will go the extra mile to preserve the EU.

AR Will German populists defeat AKK in 2021?

2018 December 9

Climate Latest

The Guardian

UN climate conference, Katowice, Saturday — The United States and Russia have allied with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to reject a motion to welcome the UN report on the need to keep global warming below 1.5 K. Instead, they said it should merely be noted.

Union of Concerned Scientists director of strategy and policy Alden Meyer: "It is troubling .. Donald Trump .. takes a personal interest in dissing scientists. But the science won't go away."

AR Big oil prefers profits to peace.

Trump Latest

The New York Times

In the narrative that special counsel Robert Mueller and New York prosecutors are building, Donald Trump continued to secretly seek to do business in Russia deep into his presidential campaign even as Russian agents made more efforts to influence him. At the same time, in this account he ordered hush payments to two women to suppress stories of impropriety.

Justice Department officials say that if Mueller found evidence that the president broke the law, he would not be indicted while in office. Trump's lawyers fear Mueller is trying to cast him as an unindicted co-conspirator.

AR President Trottel is doomed.

Brexit Latest

BBC News

The Commons vote on Tuesday will not be delayed, says Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay. He also says Theresa May could stay in post if, as expected, MPs reject her Brexit plan. May says rejection could lead to a general election, and there is a "very real risk of no Brexit".

AR Sounds good.

2018 December 8

Black Holes


Black holes appear to stay a constant size as viewed from the outside, but their interiors keep growing in volume essentially forever. Leonard Susskind suggests this is because they are steadily increasing in complexity.

According to general relativity, their inward gravitational collapse never stops. Their interior volume grows bigger and bigger with time as space stretches toward the center point. Imagine a black hole as a funnel that gets ever deeper, so that infalling stuff never reaches the singularity at the bottom. In reality, a black hole is a funnel that stretches inward in 3D.

Susskind suggests the evolving quantum property of a black hole that underlies its growing volume is its complexity, or the number of computations needed to recover its initial quantum state. After its formation, as stuff inside the black hole interacts, the information about the initial state becomes ever more scrambled, raising complexity.

Using toy models that represent black holes as holograms, Susskind and his collaborators have shown that the complexity and volume of black holes both grow at the same rate. So not only do black holes store all the information they can on their surface area, they also grow in complexity as fast as the laws of physics allow.

Researchers are still puzzling over the idea.


Mars InSight 2.2 m solar panel imaged by Instrument Deployment Camera

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer
(AKK) ist neue CDU-Chefin

AR Merkel mini-me,
no chancellor


Holger Zschaepitz

German DAX now
in bear market

On The Future
"The only realistic way to
stabilize carbon emissions is
enhanced R&D in the hope
that it will bring the cost
of clean energy down"
Martin Rees


Anil Ananthaswamy on a
new quantum paradox

White House
Melania Trump is FLOTUS
and was born and raised
in the Yugoslav republic
of Slovenia

Apocalypse No Deal

Go Gal Not

Theresa May says Britain will
walk away from the military
side of the EU Galileo sat-nav
system, fearing lost influence
after Brexit, and build a
new system compatible
with the US GPS.

AR Wasteful duplication


British Crisis

Ian Jack

Personal reactions recorded by Mass Observation in 1938:
"It's a fucking mess, ain't it?"
"No one knows what'll happen."
"I can't understand it properly, but it doesn't seem too good to me."

A Leave voter on BBC compared the Brexit negotiations to afternoon tea and biscuits. He said the
UK had behaved like "a soggy rich tea" in its negotiations with the "solid Hobnob" that was the EU:
"If we'd have sent a Hobnob with chocolate on we'd have won."

A man in 1938: "Keep out of foreign entanglements, that's best. Old England's the best country
in the world."

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

2018 December 7

DeepMind Progress

Financial Times

London-based artificial intelligence company DeepMind announces two research successes: the strongest game-playing AI so far and the world's most powerful predictor of the shape of protein molecules. Its AlphaFold system won an international competition to predict the 3D structure of proteins from their genetic sequence. Google owns DeepMind and will develop its Streams business, an AI-based assistant for nurses and doctors, to generate revenues from health systems.

An algorithm that masters chess, shogi, and Go
David Silver et al.

AlphaZero can achieve superhuman performance in many challenging games. Starting from random play and given no domain knowledge except the game rules, AlphaZero convincingly defeated a world champion program in the games of chess and shogi (Japanese chess), as well as Go.

AlphaZero replaces the handcrafted knowledge and domain-specific augmentations used in traditional game-playing programs with deep neural networks, a general-purpose reinforcement learning algorithm, and a general-purpose tree search algorithm.

AlphaGo Zero used a convolutional neural network architecture. Its hyperparameters were tuned by Bayesian optimization. In AlphaZero, we reuse the same hyperparameters, algorithm settings, and network architecture for all games without game-specific tuning. The only exceptions are the exploration noise and the learning rate schedule.

We trained separate instances of AlphaZero for chess, shogi, and Go. Training proceeded for 700,000 steps starting from randomly initialized parameters. During training only, 5000 first-generation tensor processing units (TPUs) were used to generate self-play games, and 16 second-generation TPUs were used to train the neural networks. Training lasted for approximately 9 hours in chess, 12 hours in shogi, and 13 days in Go.

We evaluated the fully trained instances of AlphaZero against Stockfish, Elmo, and the previous version of AlphaGo Zero in chess, shogi, and Go, respectively:
 In Go, AlphaZero defeated AlphaGo Zero, winning 61% of games.
 In chess, AlphaZero defeated Stockfish, winning 155 games and losing 6 games out of 1000.
 In shogi, AlphaZero defeated Elmo, winning 98.2% of games when playing black and 91.2% overall.

AlphaZero searches just 60,000 positions per second in chess and shogi, compared with 60 million for Stockfish and 25 million for Elmo. AlphaZero may compensate for the lower number of evaluations by using its deep neural network to focus much more selectively on the most promising variations.

AlphaZero is a generic reinforcement learning and search algorithm that achieved superior results within a few hours, searching as many positions, given no domain knowledge except the game rules. These results bring us a step closer to a system that can learn to master any game.

2018 December 6

Trumpian Nationalism

Edward Luce

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo spoke in Brussels: "We want our friends to help us and to exert their sovereignty as well."

He tried to convince America's allies that a new global liberal order would arise from the spread of America First imitations. The west should fear the rise of China and Russia. The best way to confront such adversaries is to abandon multilateralism, he said.

Pompeo said bodies such as the EU, UN, World Bank, and the IMF should be reformed or eliminated: "The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done. But was that ever really true?"

He said no and listed treaties and bodies the Trump administration has abandoned. These include the Paris deal on climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, the International Criminal Court, the UN Human Rights Council, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The next target, he hinted, would be the WTO. Trump sees the WTO as a globalist plot. To Brexiteers, the WTO is an ocean on which the UK should gloriously set sail.

Brussels received Pompeo's speech in silence.

2018 December 5

Seven Steps to Save the Planet

New Scientist

To give ourselves a good chance of avoiding 1.5 K of global warming, we must hit peak greenhouse gas emissions soon and taper them down to net zero by about 2050.

How many more tons (Mg) of CO2 can we afford to dump into the atmosphere?
We think 770 Pg gives us an evens chance of limiting warming to 1.5 K. For a two-thirds chance, we must go down to 570 Pg. Annual global emissions are currently around 40 Pg. So:

1 Kill fossil fuels
We are making rapid progress in wind and solar electricity generation. Over a tenth of global energy comes from modern renewable sources. We need to reach at least a half by 2050, by decarbonizing electricity generation, ending subsidies for fossil fuels, and pricing for environmental damage.

2 Travel light
More than 90% of transport is powered by oil and just 3% by renewables. Transport causes around a quarter of global emissions, growing by about 2.5% a year. Electric vehicles, better fuel efficiency, and use of biofuels can cut a lot. The rest can be done by traveling less.

3 Rebuild everything
Buildings give rise to about a quarter of global emissions, mostly for lighting, heating, cooling, elevators, office machines, and so on. A third of the emissions are for heating and cooking. New buildings must be constructed sustainably, with less concrete and steel, preferably by 2020.

4 A new industrial revolution
Industrial emissions must be cut by around 80% by phasing out coal, increasing efficiency, and electrification. We need massive investment in R&D to roll out new processes for making cement, steel, aluminum, and so on. For needed fossil fuels, carbon capture and storage (CCS) can help.

5 Reap what we sow
Land use accounts for about a quarter of carbon emissions. Land can be a carbon sink but we need it to grow food. We need to intensify agriculture and reduce our consumption of foods whose production results in lots of greenhouse gas emissions, such as those that come from cattle.

6 Suck, not blow
Some emissions are from sources we do not know how to eliminate and others are too hard to get rid of entirely. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies can help. Planting forests is the simplest way. Another approach is bioenergy with CCS.

7 Change ourselves
Power generation, transport, industry, buildings, and agriculture all involve our own actions. Change means sacrifices: driving less, flying less, consuming less meat, having fewer children.

One way or another, big change is coming.

2018 December 4

Climate Denial

Paul Krugman

Q What kind of party would support a leader who is not only evidently corrupt and seemingly in the pocket of foreign dictators, but also routinely denies facts and tries to criminalize anyone who points them out?

A The kind of the party that long ago committed itself to denying the facts on climate change and criminalizing the scientists reporting those facts. The Republican party is dominated by climate deniers, even as the damage from a warming planet becomes more and more obvious.

Donald Trump is the culmination of where his party has been going for years.

AR Big Oil, big money, bigoted politics.

Brexit Bombshells

BBC News

1 The UK government has been found in contempt of parliament for the first time ever. The government has been forced to publish its full legal advice on Theresa May's Brexit deal.

2 Parliament has voted against the government for an amendment that will ensure MPs can vote in favour of a plan B option in January if Theresa May's deal gets voted down.

3 The UK can withdraw its notification to leave the EU without first seeking EU permission, according to European Court of Justice legal advice.

AR A way is opening to stop the Brexit juggernaut.

Brexit Wounds

Max Hastings

The political crisis has created tensions between old friends, and within families, such as few of us have ever experienced. Sir Michael Howard recalls the Suez crisis of 1956: "Suez happened, and was appallingly divisive, but then was over. Brexit will go on and on."

Tories perceived in Irish home rule, which finally resulted in the partition of Ireland in 1922, a threat to the integrity of the UK, which might in turn adumbrate the unravelling of the British Empire. The matter in dispute today is less profound only because the UK is a much less important place. But to those of us who live here, what is taking place seems so serious that it is hard to sit across a table even with friends of long standing who welcome Brexit.

To those who view the leading Brexiteers as gods, prospective deliverers of our nation from the heathen across the Channel, I cannot imagine what arguments we might advance that would change their minds. They consider it worth accepting any financial burden short of selling the horses to escape the thraldom of Brussels.

Israeli historian Avi Shlaim considers Brexit a graver strategic disaster for the UK than was Suez.

AR Former Bank of England governor Mervyn King says Theresa May's Brexit deal is like Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Adolf Hitler.


Rachel Sylvester

When Theresa May was home secretary, she promised to create a hostile environment for illegal immigrants and sent Go Home vans to tour ethnically diverse areas.

The government's white paper on immigration has been delayed yet again, so MPs will have no idea what will replace the free movement of people when they give their verdict on the Brexit deal in next week's vote in parliament.

There is profound disagreement at the top of the Conservative party about the meaning of the referendum result and what kind of country the UK should be after leaving the EU. For the Home Office, the immigration system should be about economics rather than identity politics. For the prime minister, immigration is more about culture than GDP.

The only red line that has survived May's negotiations with the EU is the end of free movement.

AR I say drop May and keep free movement.

2018 December 3

Climate Change

UNO Climate Conference, Katowice, Poland

German politicians hope for progress: "Protecting the climate is a question of survival for humanity."

Saboteur in Chief

Fintan O'Toole

Donald Trump wears his most contemptible qualities as crown jewels. He uses them to distract us from the slow, boring, apparently mundane but deeply insidious sabotaging of government. His project is not to administer the government of the United States but to bring it into disrepute.

America has a permanent public service of two million employees, but the top layers of each department and institution are made up of four thousand presidential appointees.

In August 2016, Trump was enraged to discover that the head of his transition team, Chris Christie, had raised several million dollars to meet the campaign's legal obligations to start planning to take over the government after the presidential election. He yelled at Christie: "You're stealing my money! You're stealing my fucking money! What is this? .. Fuck the law. I don't give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money."

As of October 2018, Trump has failed even to put forward a nominee for 139 of the top 704 positions requiring confirmation by the Senate.

Another way to wreck American government is to appoint the worst possible person. The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should have a strong scientific background. Barry Myers has no scientific credentials and runs a company that profits from NOAA weather data by marketing it for paying clients. Trump nominated Myers as head of NOAA.

Brexit Bigotry

Matthew d'Ancona

I'm done with the pretence that the argument about Brexit is a subtle jurisprudential discussion about sovereignty, or an exciting debate about the business plan for UK plc.

The most significant factor in the leave vote was anxiety about the number of people coming to the UK. That's why Theresa May was so uncompromising last week when urged by cabinet colleagues that it was not too late to reconsider the impact of tighter immigration policy on British companies. An end to free movement, she said, was a red line.

For decades there was a political consensus that the most important metric was economic prosperity. The political parties were as one in their conviction that nothing much was possible without a strong economy. Brexit shows that immigration is now central to the whole debate, which is less about wealth or sovereignty than national identity.

Beneath all the talk of control and global Britain is an unpleasant nativism. There is no respectable evidence that immigration has had more than a marginal impact upon public service capacity, wage levels, or net welfare costs. But many Britons don't much like people of foreign extraction and don't want many more of them around the place.

We live in an interdependent world. Those who promise that leaving the EU will deliver control are really promising an absurd and horrible vision of Britain's future.

2018 December 2

America Versus China

The New York Times

The United States and China have called a truce in their trade war. US president Donald Trump agreed to hold off on new tariffs and Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged to increase Chinese purchases of American products. The compromise averted a breakdown, but the two sides remain far apart on basic issues of market access and trade policy.

George H.W. Bush


In a meeting with US president Trump at the G20 Summit in Argentina, Chinese president Xi Jinping praised the role of former US president George H.W. Bush in helping to improve China-US relations.

Following Nixon's 1972 visit to Mao Zedong in Beijing, Bush became US envoy there in 1974 and met with several key Chinese leaders, including Mao and Deng Xiaoping, as well as numerous military and diplomatic heads.

Bush was elected as POTUS 41 in 1988. Following the Tiananmen Square crackdown in June 1989, his administration imposed sanctions on China. Behind the scenes, Bush reached out to smooth relations: "My long history with Deng and the other leaders made it possible for us to work through the crises without derailing Sino-American relations."

When Bush was looking to build consensus for action against Iraq in 1991, China chose not to use its UN veto power. Later, during his dozens of post-presidency visits to China, Bush was greeted with reverence as a great old friend of China.

Bush: "I love the Chinese people. One of my dreams for our world is that these two powerful giants will continue working toward a full partnership and friendship that will bring peace and prosperity to people everywhere."

2018 December 1

Brexit Apocalypse

Philip Aldrick

The Bank of England Brexit apocalypse scenario — 8% economic contraction, interest rates at 5.5%, fall in sterling below parity with the dollar, net emigration of 100,000 a year, 30% dive in house prices — is a tail possibility, says BoE governor Mark Carney.

Buried in appendix A of the BoE document is a milder no-deal scenario in which the UK reverts to WTO rules after a smooth transition in January 2021. Sterling falls by 8.5%, the UK takes a net 85,000 immigrants a year, and the economy is 5.25% smaller than remaining in the EU at the end of 2023. But appendix A does not solve the Irish border issue.

Justine Greening has a roadmap for a second referendum on May 30. Labour is edging toward pushing for a vote and Nigel Farage endorses one. Greening proposes a poll with three options: remain, leave with the present deal, or leave with no deal.

Theresa May's deal is dreadful. An extension of the transition deadline for trade negotiations would probably trigger another political crisis and risk another apocalypse scenario.

Mathematics of Evolution

Jordana Cepelewicz

Genetic algorithms use the principles of evolution to engineer new designs. They test random solutions to a problem and then combine them with random mutations to produce a second generation of solutions, which they test, and so on. Many iterations later, they return a fit solution.

Genetic programming evolves software to write programs that solve problems efficiently. Its methods involve a mathematical theory of complexity and randomness. Algorithmic information theory (AIT) takes the idea that it can be computationally easier to describe how to generate something than to generate it.

AIT says the probability of producing some types of outputs is far greater when randomness operates at the level of the program describing it rather than at the level of the output itself. In this way, complex structures can be more easily produced by chance. But the algorithmic complexity (a.k.a. Kolmogorov complexity) of a given output is not computable.

Gregory Chaitin: "Mathematically, it's a simple, beautiful measure of complexity, but it looked unapproachable for real-world applications."

In 2012, Chaitin described how evolution can be seen as a random walk through software space. The mutations along that walk follow a distribution based on Kolmogorov complexity. But he had no way to test it.

Hector Zenil uses Kolmogorov complexity as a metric for analyzing the complexity of biological networks, such as those that model gene regulation or protein interactions in cells. The algorithmic information content of a network is approximated, then a mutation is introduced to the network and its effect on the Kolmogorov complexity tested. Moving the network toward greater Kolmogorov complexity tends to increase the number of functions the system can perform and makes it more sensitive to perturbation.

Evolving artificial genetic networks toward certain targets by biasing the mutations in favor of lower algorithmic complexity causes the networks to evolve toward solutions significantly faster. Some regions become less prone to mutation and may have evolved to be simpler, immediately suggesting genes. Perhaps biological evolution operates via such computational rules.

Chaitin: "The idea of thinking about life as evolving software is fertile."

AR I was first excited by all this when I worked at Springer.


Greens are now the second most popular party in Germany — and first among women

"Most British people
don't have the first
inkling of what a crisis
is. They think it's
a political thing ..
Disaster .. happens to
other people, in other
places .. And if you've
ever lived in one of
those other places,
chances are you will
have seen how quickly
what you thought was
an orderly society
can disintegrate
under pressure."
David Bennun


Bank of England says no-deal
Brexit could unleash worst
recession since WW2 and
best deal is no Brexit


"If you look at this purely from
the economic point of view,
there will be a cost to leaving
the EU because there will
be impediments to trade."
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Philip Hammond

AR Ca 4% over 15 years,
ave £1100 per person
(HMG figs)

InSight 2
NASA InSight picture of Mars.
Its solar panels are open,
collecting sunlight to
recharge batteries


Tommy Robinson says the
Tory elites have betrayed
the Leaver masses: When
May's deal is voted down,
he and UKIP will push a
narrative of national

InSight 1
NASA InSight lander
touches down on Mars:
first surface image

EU gap

The Wall
MicroLED tech for pixels


2018 St Andrew's Day

American Influence

Edward Luce

A US president is trying to unseat a British prime minister. Donald Trump has handed the equivalent of a loaded gun to Theresa May's enemies. Trump said May's deal meant Britain could not strike a trade bargain with America.

Trump has deeper motives. His British friends are May's enemies: Nigel Farage, Arron Banks, and Boris Johnson. His best hope of breaking EU resistance is to strike a separate deal with a Britain desperate enough to agree.

British Influence

David Miliband

The UK has benefited time and time again from being inside the EU. Britain has been able to influence and frequently to lead the foreign policy of Europe. Brexit will reduce British influence and relegate Britain to a lesser role on the world stage.

President Trump has increased global instability. A UK outside the EU is far more likely to be a victim of this change than a beneficiary. Parliament should reject the Brexit deal and send the decision back to the people for a new referendum.

Electoral Influence

Jo Johnson, David Willetts, Justine Greening

JJ Brexit is seen as a project driven by the Conservative party. This half-baked, worst-of-all-worlds Brexit could trigger an electoral defeat on the scale of 1997. It would taint the party name for years to come and lead to communist ideologues coming to power in the UK. Unionists across the four nations of the UK are right to be worried.

DW When we came into government in 1979 and again in 2010 we sorted out a mess. Now we're in danger of imposing declining living standards on the British people. The Conservative party will have to take responsibility for that. Brexit jeopardises the future of the party, which depends on the votes of younger people.

JG I'm backing a people's vote. The country is tired of backroom deals. It's incredible to see May touring the country and talking to people she didn't want to give a vote to.

Xenophobic Influence

Peter Müller, Jörg Schindler

Brits are angry. People on the continent are watching with astonishment. A once-respected country is humiliating itself and its political class has become a laughing stock.

Brexit is a tragicomedy of errors:

1 It will be so easy: Boris Johnson spoke of a country that had sold its soul to Europe and lost its global stature, of Brussels hucksters who tied down the former empire with red tape, of how the UK would thrive once it broke free. He did not seriously expect to win the Brexit referendum.

2 Set bold red lines: In January 2017, Theresa May was a popular prime minister. She spoke of how she imagined Brexit. She said the UK would leave the single market, the customs union, and the jurisdiction of the ECJ. The number of immigrants would be cut sharply.

3 Get a bigger majority: May called a snap election for the spring of 2017. Her plan was to win big. But after an abysmal campaign, she lost her authority and her party its majority. From that point on, each step toward Brexit was torture. And there was no other prime minister in sight.

4 Split Europe: Boris Johnson thought the Germans would help Britain out. When London negotiators were blocked by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, they tried to bypass him and reach out to the French, the Poles, and then Berlin. Brexiteers believed the German car industry would ride to the rescue. It didn't.

5 Ignore Ireland: Some thought the Irish would follow the UK lead and leave the EU. Michel Barnier visited Ireland and saw Brexit is a question of war and peace. He said there can be no withdrawal agreement without a backstop. It was his red line. In December 2017, May accepted EU proposals for the softest Brexit possible.

In the end, May put UK unity before Brexiteer fantasies. She will present her deal to parliament for a vote on December 11 but looks certain to lose. Following the vote, the markets and the pound will plunge and the UK will teeter on the cliff edge. The kamikaze plan is that panic will break out and May will prevail.

The battle of Brexit has poisoned the UK.

2018 November 29

Climate Change

Donald Trump

One of the problems that a lot of people like myself — we have very high levels of intelligence, but we're not necessarily such believers. You look at our air and our water, and it's right now at a record clean. But when you look at China and you look at parts of Asia and when you look at South America, and when you look at many other places in this world, including Russia, including — just many other places — the air is incredibly dirty. And when you're talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small. And it blows over and it sails over. I mean, we take thousands of tons of garbage off our beaches all the time that comes over from Asia. It just flows right down the Pacific, it flows, and we say where does this come from. And it takes many people to start off with.


Sam Kean

Jupiter is almost a star. If it had been ten times more massive, it would have become a brown dwarf. Our solar system would have been a binary system.

Jupiter cooled down below the threshold for nuclear fusion. But its heat and mass and pressure were enough to form huge diamonds and oily hydrogen metal. Its dynamic magnetic field may best be explained by an ocean of liquid hydrogen 40 Mm deep.

Jupiter should have the same basic elemental composition as a star: 90% hydrogen, 10% helium, and small traces of other elements such as neon. But a quarter of the He and 90% of the Ne are missing from the outer atmosphere. Because the planet lacks a nuclear furnace, the He and Ne churning in the stormy outer layers fall inward under gravity.

Some way down, the intense pressure crushes the gases into liquids. The falling droplets of He and Ne heat up and glow with fluorescent colors. A robot flying near the ocean surface might look up into the cream and orange Jovian sky and see a spectacular light show, with curtains of brilliant crimson falling as neon rain.

2018 November 28

UK−US Trade Deal

Woody Johnson

President Trump says Brexit is for the British people to decide. But he hopes there will be room for an ambitious trade deal with the United States.

The United States is ready to get straight to work. Britain is the perfect trading partner for the United States. We are both countries at the top of our game when it comes to business, science, and innovation.

Britain and America share the same attitude toward trade. We believe in playing fair and sticking to the rules. We don't need to prop up our businesses or tax out their competition. Our companies are the best of the best.

We are the perfect partners. Together, we have the chance to set an example of fair, free and reciprocal, win-win trade. And we need to set that example. EU protectionism against American farmers and business is a case in point.

President Trump has wanted that for as long as I've known him. If Britain takes back control of its trade policy, you will be at the head of the line.

AR Too vainglorious. Any US-UK axis would be led from the US end. And a weakened EU27 would turn to Russia and China. In a confrontation between USUKA and EUSSR, the English Channel would be a moat between two fortresses.

Dialectics of Darkness

Egil Asprem

The Myth of Disenchantment, by Jason Josephson-Storm, is an account of how scholars came to associate the creation of modernity with the withdrawal from magical beliefs.

To historians of science, natural magic was just the empirical and practical side of natural philosophy. The new human sciences said natural philosophy reduced the world of primitive humanity to mechanism. The departure of the gods soon became a powerful myth.

Folktales were awash with this theme. Folklorists even have a classification code for the departure of the fairies: Motif F388. That fairies were once plentiful, but have since gone into hiding, is one of the oldest and most widespread European folktales.

Max Weber connected modernity and disenchantment to shifting views on salvation. Salvific behavior was reoriented from external ritual and symbolism to individual ethical conduct and care of the self. Disenchantment has been a theme in Western history as far back as the Christian claim that Jesus silenced the pagan oracles.

Josephson-Storm says the modern West is still haunted by enchantments.

AR Free will, the sanctity of life, free markets, world domination, the victory of good.

2018 November 27

Mars InSight

New Scientist

The NASA Mars InSight mission will explore the Martian interior. For the landing, InSight recycled the method that worked for the Phoenix polar lander in 2008. But this time, we had a real-time stream of data relayed by a pair of cubesats together known as Mars Cube One (MarCO) that were packed with InSight since its launch in May 2018.

MarCO A and B were configured to observe and report at the same time. The cubesats delivered the first photograph taken by InSight from the surface of Mars. But without fuel and engines, the pair are hurtling past Mars and will soon be out of range. The NASA team will now assess the spacecraft's health, ensure all the instruments are functional, and see where exactly InSight landed.

InSight will unpack a seismometer to detect tiny vibrations, a heat flow probe that will burrow underground, a weather station, and a radio experiment to detect motion within the molten Martian core. They will help determine the thicknesses and materials of the interior layers and how much heat the planet has now. We will improve our understanding of how rocky planets form and of how Mars compares with Earth.

Cold Turkey


President Donald Trump on Monday dismissed a study produced by his own administration, involving 13 federal agencies and more than 300 leading climate scientists, warning of the potentially catastrophic impact of climate change.
"I don't believe it," he told reporters.
Why? It was cold on Thanksgiving. For Trump, anecdotes = data.

 "Throughout the world, CNN has a powerful voice portraying the United States in an unfair and false way. Something has to be done, including the possibility of the United States starting our own Worldwide Network to show the World the way we really are, GREAT!"

 "Sounds like a great deal for the EU. I think we have to take a look at seriously whether or not the UK is allowed to trade because right now if you look at the deal they may not be able to trade with us, and that wouldn't be a good thing. I don't think they meant that. I don't think that the prime minister meant that and hopefully she'll be able to do something about that. But right now as the deal stands they may not be able to trade with the US and I don't think they want that at all — that would be a very big negative for the deal."

AR The Tweeter-in-Chief/Shouter-in-Chief — a twit or a twatoder ein Trottel.

Kaiser Wilhelm

Miranda Carter

Kaiser Wilhelm II had a talent for causing outrage. He was convinced he was brilliant at personal diplomacy, but he viewed other people in instrumental terms, was a compulsive liar, and seemed to have a limited understanding of cause and effect.

Kaiser Wilhelm was Queen Victoria's first grandchild. He ruled Germany from 1888 to 1918 and led Germany into World War I. He was determined to be seen as tough and powerful, fetishized the army, surrounded himself with generals, owned 120 military uniforms, and cultivated a special severe facial expression for public occasions and photographs.

Wilhelm read very little apart from newspaper cuttings. He wrote hardly anything apart from marginalia on reports, and liked talks to be quickly over and done with. His entourage compiled press cuttings for him, mostly about himself, which he read obsessively. He was deeply suggestible and would defer to the last person he'd spoken to or cutting he'd read.

Kaiser Wilhelm asserted his authority unpredictably, as if to prove he was still in charge, staging rogue interventions into policy and sacking ministers without warning. His staff and ministers resorted to manipulation, distraction, and flattery to manage him. Philipp zu Eulenburg: "In order to get him to accept an idea you must act as if the idea were his."

The Kaiser was a narcissist in control of a global power. His posturing raised tensions in Europe. His clumsy personal diplomacy created suspicion. His alliance with the vitriolic right and his slavish admiration for the army inched the country closer and closer to war. Once the war was actually upon him, the government and military effectively swept him aside.

The lesson of Kaiser Wilhelm II is that President Trump may cause problems.

AR The Kaiser had a withered arm. Trump has a withered soul.

Norway Plus

Nick Boles

Norway Plus involves accepting Theresa May's withdrawal agreement in full but renegotiating the political declaration to specify that after the transition the UK will join EFTA. The UK then remains in a customs union until the arrangements are agreed.

Norway Plus lets the UK stay inside the single market but outside the jurisdiction of the ECJ, outside the common agricultural and fisheries policies, and no longer bound by the EU drive toward ever closer union.

EEA Article 112 states that "if serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties .. are arising" unilateral action can be taken on a temporary basis to restrict freedom of movement.

AR I could live with that.

2018 November 26

Einstein's God

Jim Baggott

Albert Einstein was a realist. He accepted the content of a scientific theory as a true representation of an objective physical reality.

Einstein: "I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind."

Einstein's God is determinist. His lawful harmony is established in the cosmos by cause and effect: "Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control .. we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible player."

Einstein did not accept the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. Niels Bohr: "There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature."

Bohr and Einstein clashed. What we can say in quantum mechanics is probabilistic. Einstein's God did not play dice.

AR There is a definite reality, good. But why should we be able to predict it?

2018 November 25

Breaking Brexit: A Deal

Donald Tusk

EU27 has endorsed the withdrawal agreement and political declaration on future EU-UK relations.

Battle of Brexit


Theresa May appeals directly to the nation to back her Brexit deal. She knows she faces defeat when the deal comes before the Commons next month.

From her open letter to the British people: "We will then begin a new chapter in our national life. I want that to be a moment of renewal and reconciliation for our whole country .. we need to get on with Brexit now by getting behind this deal."

EU Council president Donald Tusk: "No one has reasons to be happy. But we were all looking for a good and fair agreement. And I believe we have finally found the best possible compromise."

Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez raised Gibraltar but pressure from other EU leaders persuaded him not to boycott the summit. He said the UK had provided "sufficient guarantees to reach a solution" when the UK promised that a future EU-UK trade treaty would not automatically apply to Gibraltar.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson spoke at the DUP annual conference in Belfast. The DUP MPs say they will not back May unless she scraps proposals to align Northern Ireland with EU rules after Brexit.

May: "From my first day in the job, I knew I had a clear mission before me — a duty to honour the result of the referendum .. I have never lost sight of that duty."

Three Votes to Victory

1 D-Day for the PM is the Commons "meaningful vote" on her deal on December 11.
  If she wins, the UK leaves the EU on March 29 and she stays on as PM until 2022.
  If she loses, Labour tables a vote of no confidence.
  If she loses again, a general election is held in January.

2 If May survives all this, she may cling on for a second vote.
  If she wins, the UK leaves the EU on March 29 and she stays on as PM until 2022.
  If she loses, she may resign rather than face another round of confidence votes.
  The chancellor becomes interim PM while Conservatives hold a leadership contest.

3 Having rejected May's Brexit deal, MPs would decide what to do next.
  They could decide on no deal or no Brexit, but this is unlikely.
  They could vote to withdraw Article 50 while a new strategy is worked out.
  A second referendum is then the most likely outcome.

AR Rage against the dying of the light.

2018 November 24

Sterile Neutrinos

Abigail Beall

A sterile neutrino could solve some old puzzles and give us a glimpse of new physics.

When an atomic nucleus undergoes beta decay, it leaves a daughter nucleus and emits an electron. The two decay products violate conservation of momentum unless an invisible particle — a neutrino — carries off the momentum. We now think neutrinos come in three flavors, corresponding to the electron, the muon, and the tau. These three neutrinos slot neatly into the standard model.

The Sun is a nuclear fusion reactor powered by beta decays. But the flux of electron neutrinos reaching Earth shows a major shortfall, so it seems the standard model is incomplete. If each neutrino had a tiny mass, it would oscillate between flavors in flight, and electron neutrinos from the Sun could morph into muon or tau neutrinos, evading our detectors.

Other anomalies remain. The antimatter versions of muon neutrinos oscillate into electron anti-neutrinos faster than expected. And radioactive decays within nuclear reactors are a strong source of neutrinos, but we detect fewer electron antineutrinos than the standard model predicts.

Perhaps a fourth, sterile flavor of neutrino can morph into any of the other three. Then an excess of electron neutrinos arises from the decay of sterile neutrinos. And the reactor experiments found too few electron neutrinos because they had decayed into sterile neutrinos.

Neutrino masses are tiny, less than 1 eV. A heavier fourth neutrino and a process known as the seesaw mechanism can explain this. Experimentalists are exploring neutrino oscillation.

Sabine Hossenfelder: "You get the impression we are missing something here."

Blinking Quasars

Shannon Hall

An image made in 2000 resembled a classic quasar. A second image made in 2010 showed the quasar at one tenth its former brightness and with different peaks. The quasar seemed to have shut down in less than 10 years.

Astronomers discovered 50 to 100 more "changing-look" quasars. But a quasar's accretion disk can stretch out for light years. To turn the quasar off, all of that material would have to swirl inward and fall onto the central black hole.

In 2017, astronomers viewed multiple changing-look quasars in both visible and infrared light to see not only each quasar's accretion disk but also the torus of dust clouds that wraps around the accretion disk. They saw changes in the accretion disk echoing within the torus.

Studies found evidence that the accretion disk changes its shape. In an echo, the ultraviolet and blue colors fell away first, followed by green and finally red. A cooling front swept out from the super-massive black hole so fast that red colors dropped only a year after green. The speed hints at the structure of the disk.

Changing-look quasars offer an opportunity to better understand how galaxies evolve. The mass of a supermassive black hole is tightly correlated with the mass of the galaxy around it. Astronomers suspect that quasars can wreak havoc on their host galaxy.

In about five billion years from now, the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy will collide, likely sparking a new quasar.

Little Mix

Photo: Rankin
Little Mix pose naked in the name of feminism to promote their single Strip (2:27)

Stratospheric aerosol
injection could cut
the rate of global
warming in half

"The theory of mind we carry
around with us and use every
day has no basis in what
neuroscience tells us about
how the brain works."
Alex Rosenberg

"Britain is now in panic mode,
held hostage by a foolish plan
gone really really bad."
Mimi Mollica

A team has flown an aircraft
with no moving parts. Steered
via radio control, it flew 55 m
with ion streams for thrust.
It weighs 2.45 kg and is
more efficient than
a standard jet.

"I am dynamite!"

Arm, aber frei

Mit trotziger Unbeugsamkeit
haben die Briten der EU den
Stinkefinger gezeigt

Crooked IT
Washington Post

Ivanka Trump used a
personal email account
to send hundreds of
emails about govern-
ment business.

AR Lock her up!

Merkel, Macron
"France loves you"
President Macron proposes
marriage to Germany
in the Bundestag

China stats
World Bank
China has lifted 800 million
people out of poverty. The
Chinese are now among
the most optimistic
people in the world


US Climate Report

The New York Times

A major scientific report issued by US federal agencies presents a stark warning on the impact of climate change for the United States. The 1,656-page report is notable for the precision of its calculations and bluntness of its conclusions as it lays out the effects of a changing climate on the economy, health, and environment. Climate change could slash up to a tenth of GDP by 2100.

The report is the second volume of the National Climate Assessment, which the federal government is required by law to produce every four years. The first volume was issued by the White House last year. It puts the most precise price tags to date on the cost to the US economy of projected climate impacts: $141 billion from heat-related deaths, $118 billion from sea level rise, and $32 billion from infrastructure damage by the end of the century.

Climate change is taking us into uncharted territory. The authors offer three main solutions: putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions, establishing government regulations on how much greenhouse pollution can be emitted, and spending public money on clean energy research.

2018 November 23

Battle of Brexit

The Times

UK prime minister Theresa May: "The British people want Brexit settled. They want us to come together as a country and to move on to focus on the big issues at home."

The challenge of forcing the deal through the Commons next month was exposed in a long and bruising debate during which May was attacked from all sides.

A Second Referendum
Vernon Bogdanor

If the UK and the EU sign the withdrawal agreement and the declaration on the future relationship, it must then be ratified by both the European and Westminster parliaments.

MPs will get a meaningful vote. They must approve the deal on a motion and then legislate to ratify the withdrawal agreement. Substantive amendments would be equivalent to rejection.

If any amendments were to be carried against the government, the prime minister would have little option but to resign. There would then be an election for a new Conservative leader.

Many MPs favour a people's vote. The Electoral Commission says there should be a 6-month run-up to the referendum. Britain would have to seek an extension of the Brexit deadline.

UK Facing Long Fall

The Independent

The UK is on course for the longest period of falling living standards since records began, leaving the economy £42 billion smaller in 2022 than expected. Resolution Foundation director Torsten Bell: "Yesterday the OBR handed down the mother of all economic downgrades."

AR Better hang on in the EU.

2018 November 22

Brexit Deal

Theresa May, UCT 1240

The EU and UK have agreed a draft political declaration on their future relationship, paving the way for a Brexit deal to be agreed on Sunday.

AR Now May must face the Battle of the Commons.

Leaked draft of the political declaration
A few quotes:
 The Parties are agreed that the future relationship should be approached with high ambition
    with regard to its scope and depth, and recognise that this might evolve over time.
 The Parties envisage having a trading relationship on goods that is as close as possible ..
 The economic partnership should ensure no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions
    across all sectors ..
 The Parties will put in place ambitious customs arrangements .. making use of all available
    facilitative arrangements and technologies ..
 Such facilitative arrangements and technologies will also be considered in developing any
    alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland ..
 Both Parties will have equivalence frameworks in place that allow them to declare a third
    country's regulatory and supervisory regimes equivalent for relevant purposes ..
 The future relationship must ensure open and fair competition ..
 Both Parties should preserve their respective strategic autonomy and freedom of action ..

China and the West

Gerard Baker

American global hegemony is a fact of life. The rise of challengers such as China seems shockingly modern. But Western dominance may come to be seen as an aberration and the rise of China and other Asian nations as a reversion to the natural order of things.

From the birth of Christ until 1820, China and India accounted for the lion's share of global economic output. Only since the Napoleonic wars have Europe and America eclipsed the East. Three hundred years ago, China accounted for about one third of global economic output. If China restores its global economic share to one third, it will give China twice the economic heft of America.

The Asian economies have learnt from the West. The triumph of reason let the West leap ahead of an East still held back by religion. But the West has made big mistakes.

Britain and Europe

Simon Jenkins

Britannia was part of the Roman empire for four centuries before that empire disintegrated. Two centuries later, in 664 CE, England voted to rejoin the European union of the Roman Catholic church. In 1534, Henry VIII pulled out, and England stayed out of the European wars of religion.

Then in 1704, England plunged into war against France. After 1713, the British lost interest in Europe until they was drawn into war against Napoleon. In 1815, Britain helped found the Concert of Europe. The British empire then took priority, and Lord Salisbury declared a policy of splendid isolation.

In 1914, Britain was drawn into a great war over Belgium. By helping France and punishing Germany, Britain ensured the outcome was a second world war. After 1945, Britain engaged in NATO.

Britain declined to join the Common Market in 1957, but changed its mind and joined in 1973. The Maastricht treaty in 1992 upset a delicate equilibrium. The UK declined to join the eurozone and the EU social chapter. The slope was now downhill to 2016, when Britain turned away again.

History suggests the EU could evolve into a new Holy Roman Empire. The old Holy Roman Empire endured for a thousand years and gave Europe a splendid civilization. You can take the UK out of the EU but you can never take Britain out of Europe.

2018 November 21

Quantum Behavior in Strange Metals

Natalie Wolchover

A large class of superconducting materials follow an unknown organizing principle that governs the collective behavior of particles and determines how they spread energy and information.

Electrons inside ceramic crystals such as cuprates seem to dissipate energy as quickly as possible, subject to a quantum speed limit. Other exotic superconductors also burn energy at what appears to be a maximum allowed rate set by Planck's constant.

This behavior occurs when the exotic materials are in a strange metal phase, in which they resist the flow of electricity more than conventional metals. When cooled to a critical temperature, these strange metals become superconductors.

The electrons may occupy a scrambled quantum state in which the properties of each electron depend on those of every other. This state of maximal quantum entanglement may let the electrons scatter off each other and spread energy as quickly as possible.

In 1986, when Georg Bednorz and Alex Müller discovered high-temperature superconductivity, they found that near the critical temperature their cuprate crystal's electrical resistance decreased linearly with falling temperature. Such linear resistivity shows up in other materials too before the onset of superconductivity. The straight line relating the electron scattering rate to temperature has a slope set by Planck's constant.

This Planckian dissipation may arise because electrons in these materials hit a quantum speed limit on how fast they can dissipate energy. Perhaps electrons in strange metals are dissipating as fast as they can consistent with the uncertainty principle. The electrons have energy proportional to temperature, dissipation takes time, and time and energy do not commute.

Theorists are attacking the problem using a holographic duality that mathematically connects systems of scrambled quantum particles to imaginary black holes in one higher dimension. Maybe black holes and strange metals go to extremes in a common way.

AR I was working at Springer when Bednorz and Müller won the 1987 Nobel prize in physics — it was very exciting for us.

2018 November 20

A New Consensus

Justine Greening

Theresa May's deal is the worst of all worlds. I have a proposal.

There are three practical Brexit options:
 We can leave the EU with the deal May has negotiated
 We can keep our current deal by remaining in the EU
 We can leave on WTO no-deal terms

By giving the public a first and second preference vote, people can find a consensus.
It can work, it's fair, and it can deliver a clear voting majority on the way forward.

Let people have a say on the way forward.

UK Immigration

The Thunderer

Theresa May saw the Brexit referendum result as an endorsement for her tough stance on immigration. She will stop free movement between Britain and Europe and yesterday promised the CBI a new immigration system. But free movement has been good for business.

During her years as home secretary, May unleashed a hostile environment for immigrants. She set minimum-income rules for Britons bringing in spouses from abroad. She asked doctors, landlords, and businesses to inform on immigrants. She ran ads telling illegal migrants to "Go Home".

The visa system for traders and tourists has become so expensive and unfriendly that many will not bother trying to visit the UK again.

Bad Business

Michael Skapinker

The UK business class has finally taken a position. The CBI is backing prime minister Theresa May and her EU withdrawal agreement. Its leaders are pleased that the agreement keeps the UK position unchanged during the transition period until the end of 2020.

Business has helped in pointing to the disruption that a no-deal exit would bring and in highlighting the importance of immigration to the UK economy. But it was reluctant to spell this out during the referendum and it is backing a losing proposition now.

Business leaders
 do not generally have great or deep insight into current affairs
 are too timid and are reluctant to upset their customers
 are focused on the transition period and not yet much further
 sometimes misplace their moral compasses
 are not democratically accountable

The political class may have failed us, but business leaders cannot do better.

Annus Horribilis

The Times

The worst year to have been alive may have been 536 CE. Analysis of pollutants in ice from an alpine glacier suggests a volcanic eruption in Iceland spread ash across the northern hemisphere early in the year, causing crops to fail from Scandinavia to Mesopotamia.

Roman historian Procopius: "The sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year."

Two more big eruptions followed in 540 and 547. In 541, bubonic plague — the Plague of Justinian — broke out and went on to kill half of the population of the Byzantine Empire. The western Roman Empire was gone, and in Britannia civic order fell apart.

Things went from bad to worse until 622 CE, Year One of Islam.

2018 November 19

Brexit and Trump

Carole Cadwalladr

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage is known to his friend The Donald as Mr Brexit. Farage, Arron Banks, and Andy Wigmore call themselves the Bad Boys of Brexit.

I asked Wigmore about the work Cambridge Analytica (CA) did for both Trump and Brexit in 2016: "Cambridge Analytica did work for us, yes. We just didn't pay them. They were happy to help." He explained that Farage was close with the CA VP Steve Bannon.

Brexit and Trump are entangled. Special counsel Robert Mueller has identified the Russian ambassador to London as a conduit between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Arron Banks married a Russian woman named Katya. She had been close to Mike Hancock MP. British security warned Hancock that he was a target for Russian intelligence.

Banks joked about Katya being a spy. He told me about his lunch with the Russian ambassador in the months before the referendum and added: "Not a single penny of Russian money went into Brexit."

Banks has business interests in insurance and diamond mines in Africa. All his wealth, he says, was generated in Britain, and his company Rock Services donated £8 million to the Leave.EU campaign.

Banks had multiple meetings with the Russian ambassador and Russian officials in early 2016. On the day Leave.EU held its press launch, Banks and Wigmore visited the Russian embassy and were offered chances to buy a group of gold mines plus stakes in a diamond company.

Britain carries on regardless, transfixed by Brexit.

Trump vs China

Gideon Rachman

Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping will meet at the G20 summit in Argentina.

The hawks in Washington are actively pushing for a long confrontation with China. They want to persuade Japan and South Korea to let America deploy short-range nuclear missiles in the region. The doves want to see the current trade tensions swiftly resolved.

Trump has already gone further than any other US president in confronting China, slapping tariffs on almost half of Chinese exports to the US and stepping up naval patrols through disputed waters in the Pacific. But he is also volatile and claims to like Xi.

With Trump as president all bets are off.


The New York Times

The Chinese economy has grown up. China now leads the world in the number of homeowners, internet users, college graduates, and billionaires. It has become the most significant rival to the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union.

President Xi Jinping is pushing a more assertive agenda. The Trump administration has launched a trade war and is gearing up for what could be a new Cold War. Xi is considering how to pull ahead of the West against American hostility.

The People's Republic of China has surpassed the Soviet Union in longevity. Chinese Communists studied the fate of their old allies in Moscow to learn from their mistakes. They decided the party had to embrace reform but not democracy.

Bureaucrats who were once obstacles to growth became engines of growth. Officials devoted to class warfare and price controls began chasing investment and promoting private enterprise. It was an act of reinvention that eluded the Soviets.

China sent generations of young party officials to the United States and elsewhere to study how modern economies worked. They enrolled in universities, they found jobs, and they went on study tours. When they returned, the party promoted them.

The party invested in education, expanded access to schools and universities, and all but eliminated illiteracy. Mainland China now produces more science and engineering graduates every year than the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan combined.

China tapped into a wave of globalization and emerged as the world's factory. The question now is whether it can sustain this model with the United States as an adversary.

AR I hope and trust the Chinese will improve on AA civilization.

NATO, Poland

NATO exercise Anakonda 18, Poland


Latest UK voting intentions


NATO In Poland

William Cook

Anakonda 18 is Poland's biggest NATO exercise. It features 17,500 soldiers from 10 NATO members: 12,500 in Poland and 5,000 more in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. This is the site of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence.

America remains the backbone of NATO, but after years of cutbacks European countries and Canada are finally stepping up their financial commitments. During the last two years these countries have found an extra $41 billion for defense.

Poles and Germans are united as allies and trading partners. The European Union has done a lot to realize that reconciliation. But it was made possible by NATO and exercises like Anakonda 18.

2018 November 18


Immanuel Kant, 1784

Dare to understand! [sapere aude]

AR Cited by Steven Pinker in his book Enlightenment Now.

Battle of Brexit

Mail on Sunday

Theresa May today told her warring Conservative MPs a change in leadership will only help those who want to thwart Brexit.

AR Bring it on!

Trump and Brexit

Jane Mayer

Observers speculate that the Brexit campaign in the UK served as a test rig for Donald Trump's US presidential campaign. New evidence shows Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica (CA) incubated both campaigns in 2015.

In October 2015, Bannon was the VP of CA. The following month, Leave.EU launched its campaign for Brexit. Bannon is cited in mails between a CA director and Leave.EU campaigner Arron Banks.

Foreign contributions to US and UK political campaigns are forbidden by law. CA denies it was paid to work for the Leave.EU campaign. The mails show Banks and others met with CA executives in 2015.

British investigations parallel the Mueller investigation of possible Russian support for Trump's 2016 campaign. Banks spent some £9 million supporting the Brexit campaign. Both UK and US investigators have looked at links between Banks and the Russian ambassador to the UK. They are also looking at the role of Trump ally and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

AR Annul the referendum result.

The Dark Heart of Brexit

Volker Zastrow

Approval of the EU is higher than ever: 51% of its citizens want to stay in it, 34% to leave. The EU is a tool of political balance in which everyone gets something from it. The collateral benefit of this balance is peace.

Two peoples in the world attribute to their own nation a grotesquely disproportionate influence on world history: Brits and Russians. The reason is probably that Russia and Britain were the last great imperial powers.

The British conservative upper class forms the hard core of resistance to the EU. This class includes few convinced supporters of the European project. Most are reluctant, only forced to join in 1972 for economic reasons.

Brits brought with them an obsession with accounting that distinguished between net payers and net recipients, winners and losers. But the idea behind the EU is that no one profits at the expense of others, so everyone wins, as in every good marriage, family, neighborhood, or working community. Without this idea it fails.

The British have taken a critical view of the EU. They aim to destroy it and restore the disorder in which we all seek to outdo one another in good, bad, or cunning ways.

AR An accountant is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

We Will Not Be Bullied

Dominic Raab

The UK got close to an acceptable deal with the EU. But we cannot now exit the backstop without the EU exercising a veto and that could be years down the line. It's the worst of all worlds.

What's missing is political will and resolve. We must be willing to say that if we cannot close this deal on reasonable terms, we will not be bribed and blackmailed or bullied and we will walk away.

This isn't Dunkirk. The short-term risks of disruption can be managed — but they can't be eliminated. We need to be honest about that.

AR Raab is the son of a Czech Jewish refugee from the Nazis, who went to grammar school and read law at Oxford and Cambridge. He became as an MP in 2010 and a minister in 2015. Now 44, he also has a black belt in karate.

Give The People A Say

The Observer

The reality of Brexit is finally clear. Theresa May's withdrawal agreement brings into sharp focus the colossal cost of embracing the Brexiteer delusion of taking back control.

The agreement is probably the best Britain could get, but it offers the economics of the madhouse. If this is taking back control, it is a cruel joke. This Brexit will leave Britain vastly diminished.

Virtually all the major challenges faced by developed nations are global and will be solved only with global collaboration. The EU is far from perfect, but it is by far the most successful model for regional cooperation. For the UK to leave it is lunacy.

There is no such thing as a clean break from the EU that respects both the integrity of the UK and the Good Friday agreement. The Brexiteers have abdicated all responsibility for achieving their dream. They are unable to put forward a vision or a plan.

The chances of getting the deal through parliament look tiny. A new referendum is the only way out of political gridlock. The choice is between staying in the EU or May's lose-lose deal.

There is a good case for a vote: we now know the terms of exit and there are huge unforeseen costs. The Brexit tragedy is not inevitable. Give the people a say.

AR May has done us all a service in exposing the Brexiteer delusion.

Christ Church Oxford

Harriet Sherwood

Christ Church is a college in the University of Oxford and a pillar of the establishment. It educated 13 British prime ministers, 10 chancellors of the exchequer, and 17 archbishops. King Edward VII was a student there, Albert Einstein was a visitor there, and Lewis Carroll was a fellow there.

Last week, the dean of its college and cathedral, the Very Rev Martyn Percy, was suspended after being challenged under archaic and opaque rules concerning issues of governance. His supporters say he wanted to modernise the college management and his opponents want to preserve their traditional privileges in a medieval fiefdom.

Percy is said to be deeply distressed by the complaint and has had to hire lawyers for a tribunal. A university statement described him as a widely respected member of the university community. An online drive has raised more than £37,000 to help with his legal bills.

AR Oxford needs deep reform, just like the entire British establishment.

Beach, Saturday

Canford Cliffs beach, Saturday

Extinction Rebellion
Save the Humans

Paradise, CA

Theresa Mays Kabinett hat
dem Entwurf zugestimmt, nun
muss das britische Parlament
zustimmen, dann auch alle
EU-Mitgliedsstaaten und
das Europaparlament

English fantasy

Donald Tusk
Donald Tusk holds
"lose-lose" deal

Michel Barnier
Michel Barnier reads his deal

Charles, Camilla
Prince Charles and Camilla
set off to celebrate his
70th birthday bash at
Buckingham Palace
this evening

EU man, UK

Merkel, Macron
Merkel, Macron


2018 November 17

Climate Rebellion

The Guardian

London, Saturday — Thousands of demonstrators occupied five Thames bridges to protest at the looming climate crisis. It was one of the biggest acts of civil disobedience in the UK in decades. The demonstrators moved to Westminster for speeches about environmental destruction.

The action is part of a campaign of mass civil disobedience organised by Extinction Rebellion, which aims to force governments to treat the threats of climate breakdown and extinction as a crisis.

Green party peer Jenny Jones: "If we don't start acting and acting fast we are just going to wipe out our life support system .. Basically conventional politics has failed us."

Extinction Rebellion

We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. We demand that our government:
 Tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency,
 Enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions and consumption levels,
 Create a democracy fit for purpose, including a national citizen's assembly.

AR Greens need to calm down.

Future War

Katrina Manson

World War 3 will be fought by robots. A senior US national security official: "We've been occupied by fighting low-tech conflict against people who lob rockets out the back of trucks, and all along China has got savvy and crept up on us. That's now our focus."

US defense secretary Jim Mattis warns that America is losing its military edge in every domain of warfare. Rather than accommodate China's rise, Washington still largely believes in domination. The US military machine remains far and away the most powerfully equipped fighting force in the world, and public martial spirit is strong.

Chinese president Xi Jinping wants to build a world-class military by 2049, the centenary of Communist party rule. In October 2018, clad in camouflage, he told his commanders to prepare for war. A battle for regional hegemony over Taiwan or the South China Sea could trigger WW3.

China has developed stealth fighter jets and put missiles and bombers on a string of artificial islands in the South China Sea. US military bases in the Pacific, from Guam to Japan to Hawaii, would find it hard to mount a successful attack on the Chinese mainland. China would use its fortified island bases as aircraft carriers and quickly seize the upper hand in a war.

Like Clausewitz, Mattis sees uncertainty and fear as essential ingredients of war: "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet." He points to China's aggressive authoritarian streak: "There's going to be a discipline."

Pentagon chief technical officer and former NASA head Michael Griffin is tasked with bringing the US war machine into the next age. DARPA was founded after the Soviets orbited Sputnik in 1957 and went on to invent the precursor to the internet. Griffin: "They're focused on what is the best and most innovative thing that can be done with the physics and technology that we have."

Former US deputy defense secretary Bob Work: "The future battlefield is going to be extraordinarily lethal and the tempo will be 24 hours a day, all day, all weather, just no rest. It's going to be our AI against their AI. One side is going to get inside the command system and shut down everything."

Mattis: "They're fusing all the advances together, from intel input and observation and missiles and everything .. Each war is unique."

Poverty in the UK

Philip Alston

The UK contains many areas of immense wealth, yet many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who sees the growth in food banks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the despair that leads the government to appoint a minister for suicide prevention, and reports of loneliness and isolation.

Local authorities that perform vital roles in providing a social safety net have been gutted by government policies. Libraries have closed in record numbers, community and youth centers have been shrunk and underfunded, and public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centers have been sold off.

A fifth of the UK population, 14 million people, live in poverty: 4 million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The IFS predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%. This is a disgrace, a calamity, and disaster.


Philip Aldrick

Britain has blundered into Brexit with no preparation at all. There is no Brexit option that leaves the UK better off economically. With hindsight, we'd stop Brexit now, bank the knowledge we've gained and start again.

Dead Parrot


The Brexit deal is dead. Labour and the Remain-backing parties will vote against it. The DUP will vote against it. The hard Brexiteers will vote against it. Many Tory Remainers will vote against it. And its political declaration is fudge.

Brexit takes back control for the EU alone. It reduces the UK to a mere lobbyist for its own economy. It has no advantage over the status quo by any conceivable metric. Even Brexiteers say it would be better to remain in the EU.

AR Monty Python as reality TV.

2018 November 16

Doubling Down

The Times

Theresa May at Downing Street last night: "I believe with every fibre of my being that the course I have set out is the right one for our country and all our people. Leadership is about taking the right decisions, not the easy ones. As prime minister my job is to bring back a deal that delivers on the vote of the British people."

On radio this morning: "Government policy is government policy."

Critical Showdown

Financial Times

May's Brexit deal is inferior to remaining in the EU while failing to deliver any of the benefits promised by ardent Brexiteers. But a no-deal exit remains the worst option.

Britain faces its most critical decisions since the second world war.

Britain and the Politics of Pain

Fintan O'Toole

"Instrument of Surrender .. the British Command to carry out at once, without argument or comment, all further orders that will be issued by the German Command on any subject."

Len Deighton's 1978 thriller SS-GB set up two ideas for Brexit: The Englishman as a new European under German domination and the vertiginous fall from heart of empire to occupied colony.

The Falklands war played out the invasion fantasy of SS-GB at a safe distance. The tiny population of the Falklands served as a metaphor for the UK. The Falkland Islands were a fantasy England with no black and brown immigrants and a rural terrain, an ideal version of the post-industrial landscape that Thatcher was creating in England.

Margaret Thatcher, 1982: "The lesson of the Falklands is that Britain has not changed and that this nation still has those sterling qualities which shine through our history. This generation can match their fathers and grandfathers in ability, in courage, and in resolution."

England was still stuck in fantasies of WW2. Kenneth Minogue, 1989: "The European institutions are attempting to create a European Union, in the tradition of the mediaeval popes, Charlemagne, Napoleon, the Kaiser and Adolf Hitler."

Robert Harris on his 1992 thriller Fatherland: "If there was one factor that suddenly gave my fantasy of a united Germany a harder edge, it was the news that exactly such an entity was unexpectedly returning to the heart of Europe."

German reunification was a great missed opportunity for the English. Anthony Barnett: "The triumph and relief of the unification of Germany could and should have belonged to us in Britain, as well as to Germany itself. It was .. a time to welcome a great culture back into our arms."

The idea of Europe as a soft-Nazi superstate is a product of England's troubled relationship to WW2. Britain was the winner that had been surpassed by the losers, who hated us because we saved them.

Boris Johnson, 2017: "The [European project is] an attempt not just at economic but political integration of a kind that the British people had never bargained for."

How Brexit Breaks Britain

Fintan O'Toole

The Brexit process is driven by two great unacknowledged contradictions. Brexit is powered by the slogan: "Take back control." But what is control and who takes it?

Another word for control is regulation. The fundamental appeal of Brexit is that the British have had too much regulation imposed from Brussels and want to regulate themselves. But the Brexiteers dream of completing the deregulating neoliberal project to create a global Britain that can unleash a new golden age of buccaneering capitalism.

Power will be returned to English nationalists. In reaction to devolution in the UK, the English people see their national identity not as British but as English. When asked whether the unravelling of the peace process in Ireland is a price worth paying for Brexit, 83% of Leave voters and 73% of Conservative voters in England say it is.

Ironically, the DUP holds the balance of power at Westminster. Theresa May now says: "I will always fight to strengthen and sustain this precious, precious Union."

AR Brexit is a pitiful symbol for the folly of nationalism.

2018 November 15

Battle of Brexit

BBC News, UCT 1750

UK prime minister Theresa May: "Full control of our borders by bringing an end to the free movement of people once and for all; full control of our money so we decide ourselves how to spend it on priorities like our NHS; full control of our laws by ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK; getting us out of the common agriculture policy and common fisheries policy for good. That is exactly what this agreement will deliver."

The Guardian, UCT 1343 ERG chair Jacob Rees-Mogg submits letter of no confidence in the PM.

BBC News, UCT 1203 Theresa May, House of Commons: "We've taken the decision to leave."

BBC News, UCT 1108 Theresa May, House of Commons: "We are making no plans for no Brexit."

The Guardian, UCT 1004 Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey resigns.

The Guardian, UCT 0903 Brexit secretary Dominic Raab resigns, saying he cannot back May's deal.

Terrible Brexit deal unites UK in horror
Martin Wolf

UK prime minister Theresa May has united her deeply divided nation:
 Remainers say the deal would be far worse than continued EU membership.
 Leavers say the deal would be far worse than a clean break.
 The deal will not be ratified.
 Britain is in deep, deep crisis.

May deal under scrutiny
Financial Times

UK prime minister Theresa May said there was collective cabinet approval for her deal. Downing Street is now braced for resignations as the mood darkens over the Conservative party. Brexiteer MPs claim they had the 48 names needed to trigger a vote of no confidence in her premiership.

In a letter to EU Council president Donald Tusk, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker says decisive progress has been achieved in the Brexit talks. UK cabinet approval paves the way for formal approval of the Brexit treaty at a special European Council meeting on November 25.

The 585-page withdrawal treaty will now come under heavy political scrutiny.

Parliament should reject May's rotten Brexit deal
Philip Stephens

The deal negotiated by Theresa May's government is an expression of the balance of power between the UK and the EU. The withdrawal accord is a bad deal, a rotten deal that parliament should have no hesitation in rejecting. It would leave Britain markedly poorer, weaker in the pursuit of its national interests, and less secure.

The prime minister could never get an agreement as good as the one Britain enjoys as a full member of the bloc. The political statement accompanying the agreement is full of good intentions about forging a new partnership and allowing Britain to sit on the sidelines of discussions about foreign policy, defence, and antiterrorism. In truth, Britain will be granted influence only to the extent that it is ready to sign up again to the rules of the EU club.

The best option would see parliament back a referendum offering an informed choice between the status quo and what everyone can now see is available outside the EU. No one voted for the chaotic halfway house now proposed.

Final Say

Lizzy Buchan

The Independent's petition for fresh Brexit referendum is the most popular petition in the UK. More than a million people backed the call for a public vote on May's Brexit deal in just three months. says Brexit is dominating public opinion. Its new poll finds 85% of voters say they had been ignored over the Brexit strategy, and just 7.4% say they have been adequately consulted. surveyed more than 89,000 users in the UK between October 31 and November 5: 63% backed Remain, 25% voted Leave, and the remainder did not vote or chose not to say.

2018 November 14

Climate Forecast

Bill McKibben

The 2018 report by the IPCC set a target of 1.5 K for global warming. The pledges made by nations at the Paris conference in 2015 were not enough to meet the 2 K target. If every nation fulfilled those pledges, the global temperature would still rise by an intolerable 3.5 K.

Engineers have continued to make remarkable advances. The price per kW for solar or wind power has continued to plunge, so much so that these are now the cheapest sources of power across much of the globe. Renewable technology has been deployed widely in China and India.

The prospects for civilization have worsened since 2015. America has withdrawn from the Paris agreement and aims to revive the coal industry and deregulate the oil and gas business. A continued rise in global CO2 emissions suggests 2018 will set a new record for warming.

To keep warming under 1.5 K, those emissions will have to fall by almost half by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. The burden of climate change will be heaviest on the poorest nations. At 2 K, the report predicts a "disproportionately rapid evacuation" of people from the tropics.

The IPCC is a slave to consensus and almost certainly understates the problem. Scientists have agreed on a broad and workable summary of our peril. But even the politicians not controlled by the fossil fuel industry tend to propose changes too small and slow to make much difference.

AR The science is clear — action now.

American Dominance Eroded

Washington Post

The National Defense Strategy Commission, comprised of former top Republican and Democratic officials selected by Congress, evaluated the Trump administration's 2018 National Defense Strategy and found:
 The United States has lost its military edge and could lose a war against China or Russia
 China and Russia are seeking regional dominance and an ability to project global military power
 The military balance has shifted adversely for the United States in Europe, Asia, and the Mideast
 The Pentagon should explain more fully how it plans to defeat its rivals in competition and war
 Despite a $716 billion US defense budget this year, the US defense effort is under-resourced
 Congress should look at the entire federal budget to put the nation on a stabler financial footing
 The US Navy should expand its submarine fleet and sealift forces
 The US Air Force should deploy more reconnaissance platforms and stealth fighters and bombers
 The US Army should pursue more armor, long-range precision missiles, air defense, and logistics
 Create new pilot programs aimed at breakthroughs to help retain American military dominance

AR America cannot win WW3. Negotiate global peace.

2018 November 13

Electronic Publishing

Guest speech by Andy Ross
Poole Rotary Club

EU Army

Der Spiegel

Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel hat sich für die Idee einer europäischen Armee ausgesprochen. "Wir sollten an der Vision arbeiten, eines Tages auch eine echte europäische Armee zu schaffen", sagte sie in einer Rede im Europaparlament in Straßburg.

Die Zeiten, in denen Europa sich auf andere verlassen konnte, seien "schlicht vorbei", bekräftigte Merkel. "Alte Verbündete stellen bewährte Verbindungen in Frage. Eine gemeinsame europäische Armee würde der Welt zeigen, dass es zwischen den europäischen Ländern nie wieder Krieg gibt."

Merkel unterstützte damit einen Vorschlag von Frankreichs Staatschef Emmanuel Macron, der vergangene Woche erneut eine "echte europäische Armee" für mehr Unabhängigkeit von den USA ins Spiel gebracht hatte.

Rede-Ausschnitt (00:43)

AR Good idea.

Island Nation

The Times

Emmanuel Macron has demonstrated a remarkable ability to reach for the right words to match the solemnity of any diplomatic occasion. "Old demons are resurfacing," he warned.

The British government could have used this weekend's commemorations to send its own powerful signal of its continued commitment to the global rules-based system and its determination to play a leading role in defending it and Europe. Instead, Theresa May was conspicuous on Sunday only by her absence from the gathering of global leaders in Paris.

Britain cannot retreat into isolationism.

Brexit Draft Deal

BBC News

UK and EU officials have agreed the draft text of a Brexit agreement. A special cabinet meeting will be held 14:00 UCT Wednesday to seek ministerial backing. Leading Brexiteers urge rejection.

The way out of this shambles is a People's Vote
Jo Johnson

I voted Remain in the 2016 referendum. I did my best as a government minister to make a success of our departure from the EU. I now appeal to every Conservative to ask themselves if the choice being offered to us between vassalage and chaos can truly represent the national interest.

No one voted for a Brexit that would leave the UK with less control over its laws than it has within the EU. No one voted for a Brexit that will reduce market access for our services sector. No one voted for a Brexit where the big questions remain unresolved and negotiations go on for years.

An alternative to the shambles is unfolding in Westminster. Handing the final decision back to the people is the most democratic thing to do and the most practical way to solve this crisis. Support a People's Vote.

AR Jo Jo for PM.

2018 November 12


Emmanuel Macron

Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying "Our interests first — who cares about the others?", we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great, and what makes it essential — its moral values.

Brexit Shambles

The Guardian

ThyssenKrupp UK chairman and CEO Terry Sargeant is a member of German Industry UK, representing 100 German companies in the UK:

"The impact of Brexit for multinationals is disruptive, and could lead to loss of business in Britain. In Germany, people look at this and are aghast at what is happening .. It is a complete shambles .. Once the UK leaves the customs union there will be barriers and possibly duties and tariffs to be paid. At the very least there will be paperwork .. I am passionate that we do what we can to stop the damage."

AR I am too — we have to live with this mess for a long time.


The New York Times

Yuval Noah Harari worries that Silicon Valley is undermining democracy, that the big tech companies are destroying free will, that the technological revolution is creating a tiny ruling class and a huge useless class.

Harari recently visited Silicon Valley. The more of a mess Washington becomes, the more interested the tech world is in creating something else. Mark Zuckerberg admires Caesar Augustus: "Basically, through a really harsh approach, he established 200 years of world peace."

Harari: "I've met a number of these high-tech giants, and generally they're good people. They're not Attila the Hun. In the lottery of human leaders, you could get far worse."

Dr Harari, 42, is a history professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He grew up near Haifa. His father worked in the arms industry. His mother worked in office administration. His husband Itzik Yahav is also his manager.

Harari says free will is an illusion and human rights are just a story we tell ourselves. Political parties and the liberal world order rely on fictions like "the customer is always right" and "follow your heart" that no longer work in the age of artificial intelligence: "If humans are hackable animals, and if our choices and opinions don't reflect our free will, what should the point of politics be?"

At first, English-language publishers were cool on the commercial viability of his big book Sapiens. Yahav persisted, eventually landing the agent Deborah Harris. One day when Harari was away meditating, Yahav and Harris sold it to Random House in London.

Today, Ridley Scott and documentarian Asif Kapadia are adapting Sapiens into a TV show.

In December, Harari will enter an ashram outside Mumbai for 60 days of silence.

AR See my essay The Prophet of Posthumanism.

WW1 graves

Boštjan Burger

Die blutige Bilanz des
Ersten Weltkriegs

They Shall Not Grow Old

Real WW1 shock-doc:
a groundbreaking

AR Gripping, obscene,
like being there
in the mud

White poppy
White Poppies
Peace Pledge Union

People wish to remember
victims of war by working
for peace. They resist
nationalistic agendas that
confine remembrance to
the British armed forces.

White poppies represent
remembrance for all victims
of war of all nationalities,
a commitment to peace
and a rejection of

Prince Charles, 70 next week:
"There's only room for one
sovereign at a time."



Oumuamua was discovered
by a star survey in 2017.
Its exact trajectory has an
excess radial acceleration,
as if from solar radiation
pressure on a thin sheet.
It might be an artificial
light sail designed for
interstellar travel.

AR A piece of interstellar
plastic waste, perhaps?


2018 Remembrance Sunday

A Hundred Years

Financial Times

The battles of 1914−18 were only the first phase of a European civil war that peaked in 1939−45. The long war was a struggle for mastery between Germany and Russia. German aggression sucked France and Britain into two wars. In 1914, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg said his aim was to lay the foundations for German predominance in Europe.

Germany after 1945 evolved into a model democracy embedded in the EU. But now Russian aggression, African migration, British separatism, and east European assaults on the rule of law are testing the EU. The Armistice anniversary is a time to reflect that we need German leadership, US engagement, and efforts to ease tensions.

AR British imperialists sought to tame German hegemonism but only succeeded in making way for Soviet expansionism. American militarists faced down Soviet communism and left Europe open to Russian opportunism. Now British separatists threaten to weaken the EU just when Europeans need to reinforce their idealism.

Brexit Doom

The Sunday Times

Theresa May's mission to deliver Brexit looks as doomed as the Apollo 13 mission. Negotiations are continuing in Brussels through the weekend in hopes of salvation by the end of the month.

The outlines of a deal reveal a new Irish border backstop with three options:
 An EU-UK economic partnership with no hard border in Ireland
 An extension of the transition phase beyond December 2020
 A temporary customs arrangement between the UK and the EU

Several member states insist on conditions:
 The UK accepts EU rules on state aid, environmental and labour standards
 Their states have access to UK fishing waters after the transition

EU negotiators have rejected an independent arbitration mechanism to limit the backstop. Brexit secretary Dominic Raab is said to be on the brink of resigning. Other ministers are ready to resign.

A leading Brexiteer: "I think May's denouement might be beginning. If she thinks she is going to land this deal successfully and get it through the EU, her cabinet and parliament, then she is living on a different planet."

AR An EU siege of the UK recalls the old U-boat blockades.

2018 November 10

Brexit Anger

Jeremy Corbyn

Give people hope. People need the perspective that they will be able to achieve something in their lives. There has to be a realignment of wealth within our society.

We offer an inclusive radical alternative to what this government is doing. We can recognize the reasons why people voted Leave. A lot of people have been angered by how their communities have been left behind.

We want to make a new and comprehensive customs union with the EU, one that protects the Irish border and ensures that our supply chains work in both directions.

Brexit Chaos

Keir Starmer

This government is incapable of negotiating the right Brexit deal for this country. At every stage of the Brexit process, the prime minister has shunned constructive engagement over her Brexit strategy. She has been negotiating the deal she thinks she can get past her divided cabinet and party.

Supporting a bad deal is not in the national interest and there is no mandate for a no deal Brexit. No government has the right to plunge the country into chaos because of its own failure. The national interest must come first.

AR Enter Jo ..

Jo Jo

Financial Times

Jo Johnson laments that Brexit has divided families. His brother Boris was the leading figure in the Leave campaign. Jo was a passionate Remainer. Their sister Rachel is for holding a people's vote.

A former Downing Street aide: "Jo and Boris have polar opposite views and yet they have reached the same conclusion about where we are heading. It shows the spectrum of disquiet."

Both brothers are old boys of Eton and Oxford, were in the Bullingdon Club, and worked as journalists. Jo also studied in Paris and in Brussels before working at Deutsche Bank and then at the Financial Times before moving into politics. He is married to Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman.

Jo became a minister in the Cabinet Office in 2014. From 2015 he was universities minister, then from January 2018 a transport minister. He despairs at Theresa May's handling of Brexit.

Boris: "Boundless admiration as ever for my brother Jo."

Rachel: "Jo is brave and on the right side of history."

What Would Winston Do?

2018 November 9

I Quit

Jo Johnson

Brexit has divided the country. The choice being presented to the British people is between an agreement that will leave our country economically weakened, with no say in the EU rules it must follow and years of uncertainty for business, and a "no deal" Brexit that I know as a transport minister will inflict untold damage on our nation.

My brother Boris is as unhappy with the government's proposals as I am. Indeed he recently observed that the proposed arrangements were substantially worse than staying in the EU. On that he is unquestionably right.

The democratic thing to do is to give the public the final say. This would ask people whether they want to go ahead with Brexit now that we know the deal that is actually available to us, whether we should leave without any deal at all, or whether people on balance would rather stick with the deal we already have inside the EU.

Britain stands on the brink of the greatest crisis since the Second World War. My duty to my constituents and our great nation has forced me to act. I have today written to the prime minister asking her to accept my resignation from the government.

On this most crucial of questions, I believe it is entirely right to go back to the people and ask them to confirm their decision to leave the EU and, if they choose to do that, to give them the final say on whether we leave with the prime minister's deal or without it.

To do anything less will do grave damage to our democracy.

AR Bravo, Jo!

No Deal Plan

The Times

UK prime minister Theresa May is accused of breaking her promise to the DUP that she would never allow Northern Ireland to be divided from the rest of the UK.

May wrote to DUP leader Arlene Foster to say the EU is still pushing for its "backstop to the backstop" plan that would leave Northern Ireland tied to the single market and customs union if Brexit talks collapse. May says she would never allow a divide between Ulster and Great Britain to come into force. The DUP interprets this wording to mean the "backstop to the backstop" clause will be inserted into the legally binding agreement.

Foster: "The prime minister's letter raises alarm bells for those who value the integrity of our precious Union and for those who want a proper Brexit for the whole of the UK."

AR Foster now says she cannot support the present deal.

Anglo-Saxistentalist Crisis

Damon Albarn

Brexit is wrong. We live on this stroppy little island, and we need to talk to each other.
But have we not just spent the last couple of years going round in circles?
The referendum question wasn't right in the first place. It should have been:
"Who are we, and who do we want to become?"
There are no easy answers.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen: Merrie Land (4:48)

2018 November 8

Sessions Out, Mueller Next?

Fred Wertheimer, Norman Eisen

Special counsel (SC) Robert Mueller faces his most serious threat yet in the forced resignation of attorney general (AG) Jeff Sessions. The AG had recused himself from the Russia investigation and let his deputy oversee it.

President Trump has named Matthew Whitaker as acting AG and shifted the oversight role to him. But Whitaker has evidently prejudged aspects of the investigation and mused about how it can be hampered. No prosecutor should work on a matter under these circumstances.

To protect the investigation before President Trump makes any further efforts to control the SC office, we propose a solution based upon that devised by Robert Bork when he was the acting AG during Watergate:
 The AG will not remove the SC except for extraordinary improprieties, will not countermand or interfere with SC decisions or actions, and will not limit the jurisdiction of the SC without first consulting with the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate.
 The SC investigation shall continue until the SC determines that it has been completed. The SC may make public such statements or reports as he deems appropriate and shall submit a final report and may make it public.

Members of both chambers should demand a commitment from any new person overseeing the Mueller investigation to protect it.

France−UK Military Alliance

The Guardian

A report from a task force led by Bernard Cazeneuve, French prime minister from 2016 to 2017, and George Robertson, UK defence secretary from 1997 to 1999 and NATO secretary general from 1999 to 2004, makes an urgent call for France and the UK to work more closely together on defence.

Lord Robertson: "[Trump] has been lukewarm on NATO and has taken a pretty hostile view about the role of some European countries and their seriousness about defence. [NATO] is under pressure due to Brexit and it is has never been more valuable given what America is doing at the moment. It needs to be strengthened, improved and reinforced."

The report calls on the EU to keep the security relationship with the UK alive and urges the UK to soften its red lines on ECJ jurisdiction to allow its security forces access to key databases.

Robertson: "Britain and France are close neighbours [and] account for more than half of European defence spending and probably over 60% of defence capability. We are both in the UN security council, we are both nuclear powers and we have both got the expeditionary capabilities. Any EU operation will need UK forces. [This] is the dilemma we are highlighting."

2018 November 7

Democrats Win House

The New York Times

With the House of Representatives in Democrat control, Congress can do more for Americans than cutting taxes for the wealthy and menacing health care. Democrats adopted a trio of policy goals: lowering health care costs, creating jobs by investing in infrastructure, and cleaning up politics. These are popular causes.

Democrats have the chance to press President Trump about whether he is interested in making progress on his stated goals or is a hypocrite intent on waging partisan trench warfare. Huge majorities of Americans support letting the Dreamers stay. Finding a compromise path with Trump would be good policy and good politics.

Democrats will be contending with a Republican Senate leader who takes pride in obstructionism. If they can find issues that will put Republican lawmakers on the opposite side from the president, all the better. Wait and see what Robert Mueller turns up.

Die Flucht der Briten

Jochen Buchsteiner

Die Briten, heißt es auf dem Kontinent, befinden sich auf einem Irrweg.

Brexit fußt auf nachvollziehbaren und redlichen Motiven: Die Briten blicken leidenschaftlicher auf die Freiheit und kühler auf Europa. Der Brexit folgt berechtigter Kritik am Zustand der EU und wehrt sich gegen Fehlentwicklungen des liberalen Modells. Indem die Briten ihre Souveränität und Identität über den Wohlstand stellen, kehren sie die Prioritäten einer europäischen Einigungslogik um, die in der Krise steckt.

Niemand kann wissen, wohin der Aufbruch der Briten führt.

AR Die Betonung auf britischer Nationalität ist problematisch. Regionaler Solidarität und Gleichschaltung sind wichtiger

2018 November 6

Brexit Plot

Chuka Umunna

The European Research Group (ERG) is a Brexiteer group chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg. Members on Theresa May: "We'll keep her in place for now. She's our puppet. We're pulling the strings."

The UK government will waste time on Brexit for decades to come. It will have no time for big challenges like the unfair economy, the dysfunctional housing market, and climate change.

AR Brexit is a bust for the notion that Brits are better off ruled by a bunch of unrestrained MPs in Westminster than by those same MPs restrained by the best and brightest of all Europe.

Brexit Poll

Daily Mail

A new Brexit poll finds 54% for Remain, 46% for Leave.

The survey of 20,000 UK voters, the largest since the 2016 referendum, finds the number of local authority areas backing Brexit has fallen from 262 in the referendum to 157 today. The number backing Remain has risen from 116 to 221. Big falls in support for Brexit were recorded in a string of seats in Labour heartlands.

Asked whether they would back yet another vote,
 43% said they'd support a referendum on a final Brexit deal versus remaining in the EU
 37% said they'd oppose it

Asked how they would vote on the prospect of a no-deal Brexit,
 35% said they'd vote to remain in the EU
 19% said they'd vote to delay leaving to allow more time for talks
 36% said they'd vote to leave the EU

Asked how they would vote if the government secured its proposed deal,
 33% said they'd reject it
 26% said they'd accept it
 34% didn't know
 7% didn't reply

AR Brexit can now be branded as a con trick to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Brexit Pain

Rafael Behr

Theresa May looks increasingly likely to complete a deal that pleases no one and is approved by parliament anyway.

Calling off Brexit requires another referendum. Some say the social impact of a referendum is costlier than the economic hit of an orderly Brexit. Another referendum can look as if stupid racists got the question wrong and must resit the exam until they get it right.

A backlash is not averted by going through with Brexit. Hardline Brexiteers will not lay down arms once the UK is out of the EU. If reasonable men surrender the trench of EU membership, where do they retreat to fight again?

AR No surrender — kill Brexit.


Rosenmontag 2018: Theresa May gebiert einen Brexit

"Barbed wire .. can be
a beautiful sight"
Donald Trump

AR Lock
him up.

At work, Friday

Photopress Belfast
Scene a few days ago
outside a UK mosque

J Lo
Jennifer Lopez


2018 November 5

Germany After Merkel

Wolfgang Münchau

The debate about who should succeed Angela Merkel as CDU chairman is shaping up. The CDU is due to select her successor in December. There are three serious candidates:
 Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, CDU general secretary, is close to Merkel. She supported Merkel's
     immigration policies and ran her election campaign last year.
 Jens Spahn, health minister and critic of Merkel, is the antidote to Merkel's liberalism. As finance
     secretary he was a hardline opponent of EZ reforms.
 Friedrich Merz is a blast from the past. A former parliamentary leader of the CDU-CSU from 2000
     to 2002, he was ejected after a power struggle with Merkel.
Merz is socially conservative and economically libertarian. He supports EZ reform and an EU army. He also advocates a constructive relationship with the UK after Brexit.

AR Merz seems OK to me.

Brexit Tunnel

The Guardian

EU officials say the chances of a deal on the Irish border are 50-50 as talks enter a dark phase known as the "tunnel" this week. The UK government aims to make "decisive progress" by Friday in hopes of an extraordinary Brexit summit in late November.

2018 November 4

Revealed: Secret Brexit Deal

Tim Shipman

Theresa May's secret plan to secure a Brexit deal and win the backing of parliament:
 The EU will write the customs deal into the withdrawal agreement to avoid a backstop
 An exit clause will reassure Brexiteers the UK will not be in the EU for ever
 A future economic partnership (FEP) will aim to balance market access and border checks

May will:
 Tell Brexiteer ministers to support it or be personally responsible for a No Deal Brexit
 Tell Remainers she fought for the closest possible alignment until the last minute
 Quietly ditch her Chequers blueprint and "pivot" toward a different "landing zone"

No 10 spokesman: "This is all speculation."

AR Shipman is a canny source on UK politics.


Tony Blair

We are approaching Brexit crunch time. The government offers a choice between taking the deal but losing control or breaking free and taking the pain. MPs should vote down the deal and give the people the final say.

AR The best FEP is to remain in the EU.

2018 November 3

Angela Merkel: Savior or Destroyer?

Jon Henley

Angela Merkel's approach to a problem is to sit it out. Rather than follow a historic mission or strategic vision, she aims to solve problems in a way that ensures she stays in power.

The German chancellor did so for 13 years. She has been measured, cautious, methodical, pragmatic, noncommittal, and in control. But this week she conceded defeat.

A battle is under way over her legacy. For her defenders, the chancellor is a fundamentally decent politician who fought for democratic values. Her critics say that on major policy questions she is indecisive and panders to public opinion.

Constanze Stelzenmüller: "Politicians have to be effective and credible, and Merkel has been both. She built relationships of trust .. She gains people's trust because she has clear values .. It's exactly what you want running a major power in the centre of Europe."

Germans have sound historical reasons for disliking excessive political passion. Policies were never the point of Merkel. Many Germans see her as a reliable and analytical civil servant, not as a politician who has staked out a vision for the country.

Merkel is Machiavellian. Her hard line on enforcing austerity was popular among conservatives but boosted populist movements in southern Europe, while her 2015 open borders policy was popular among liberals but boosted the AfD. She did little for European integration or the euro.

Alice Weidel: Destroyer or Savior?

The Times

The leader of Germany's far-right AfD party has pulled out of a talk at the Oxford Union next week. The decision to invite Alice Weidel, 39, prompted almost 30 societies from the University of Oxford to sign a letter calling for the invitation to be revoked.

AfD is the largest opposition party in the German parliament and holds regular rallies where immigrants and Muslims are targeted for criticism. The Oxford Union described Dr Weidel as "outspoken" on issues such as the refugee crisis and traditional social values.

The Oxford Labour Muslim Network said offering a platform for "hate speech" must "not be conflated with freedom of speech" and suggested the Oxford Union was on the wrong side of history.

Oxford Union president Stephen Horvath: "Alice Weidel has cancelled her trip to the UK due to concerns with the security arrangements for aspects of her travels and engagements."

AR Let the Oxford snowflakes hear what she has to say.

2018 November 2

Did Russia Bankroll Brexit?

The Guardian

The UK National Crime Agency is to investigate allegations of multiple criminal offences by Arron Banks and his unofficial leave campaign in the Brexit referendum. Banks is an insurance millionaire who chaired the Leave.EU campaign and was formerly a major bankroller of UKIP.

The NCA will look into suspicions that Banks was not the true source of £8 million in funding to the Leave.EU campaign and that criminal offences may have been committed. Some MPs are calling for the Brexit process to be put on hold while the allegations are investigated.

Banks: "I am confident that a full and frank investigation will finally put an end to the ludicrous allegations levelled against me and my colleagues. There is no evidence of any wrongdoing from the companies I own. I am a UK taxpayer and I have never received any foreign donations."

AR Guardian sources report Banks profited from absurdly lucrative dealings with Russia.

Trust the Guardian

The Guardian

The most trusted UK newspaper brand is the Guardian, finds a Pew study. It is particularly trusted among readers aged 18 to 29. The study included four British newspapers and covered more than 16,000 adults across eight western European countries.

Artificial Neural Network Architecture

University of Manchester

Our Spiking Neural Network Architecture (SpiNNaker) machine is inspired by the working of the human brain. A SpiNNaker machine is a massively parallel computing platform containing a million processors and running at 200 Tflops, targeted towards three main areas of research:

Neuroscience: SpiNNaker is a platform that will help neuroscientists to understand how the brain works. It will be capable of simulating a billion simple neurons, or millions of neurons with complex structure and internal dynamics.

Robotics: SpiNNaker is a good target for researchers in robotics. A small SpiNNaker board can simulate a network of tens of thousands of spiking neurons, process sensory input and generate motor output, all in real time and in a low power system.

Computer Science: SpiNNaker breaks the rules followed by traditional supercomputers. SpiNNaker nodes communicate using spikes that are inherently unreliable. This offers the potential to discover new principles of massively parallel computation.

Steve Furber: "Neuroscientists can now use SpiNNaker to help unlock some of the secrets of how the human brain works by running unprecedentedly large-scale simulations. It also works as real-time neural simulator that allows roboticists to design large-scale neural networks into mobile robots."

2018 All Saints Day

Math: Evidence vs Proof

Kevin Hartnett

A new computational model suggests the rank of one type of algebraic equation is bounded. Equations with higher ranks have larger and more complicated sets of rational solutions.

Given an equation, you can graph its solutions as a curve. The number of rational solutions you need to find all the rest is the rank of the curve. A curve for which you need to know two points to find the rest has rank 2.

A circle has a quadratic equation of degree 2. Elliptic curves have degree 3 and come in various ranks, with no proven upper limit. The current record is held by an elliptic curve with rank 28, discovered in 2006 by Noam Elkies.

The new model builds on previous models and makes various predictions that almost exactly match proven results. It says there are only finitely many elliptic curves with rank greater than 21, so rank is bounded.

Our Local Black Hole

Joshua Sokol

Glowing gas swirls into the Milky Way's central black hole, marking it with a point of IR light we call Sagittarius A*. Occasionally, that point flares up briefly and subsides. A team has measured its brightness and position and found it traces out a tiny circle.

Hot spots made of plasma seem to be orbiting the black hole at about 100 Mm/s. Their orbit is just outside the innermost stable circular orbit (ISCO) near the event horizon. The mass and spin of the back hole define the ISCO and the hot spot orbit.

Four ESO telescopes work together in a project called GRAVITY. On July 22, when Sagittarius A* flared, GRAVITY combined the IR light to produce sharp position and polarization measurements. The data lets us measure the black hole's spin.

In parallel to this, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is imaging the warped spacetime inside the ISCO. Soon we could build up a movie of the orbiting hot spot.


Halloween sunrise, Canford Cliffs (beach figure on right for scale)


2018 October 31


Robert Zaretsky

"Do you suppose you can go in for philosophy and eat and drink just as you do now or get angry and irritated in the same way? You are going to have to go without sleep, work really hard, stay away from friends and family, be disrespected .. get mocked .. and come off worse .. everywhere."
— Epictetus

For Epictetus, Stoicism was a set of rigorous practices that focused on the role of reason in our lives. The compass of our rational faculties allows us to navigate a world in which we are carried aloft by vast forces. We cannot master these circumstances, but we can master our attitude toward them.

As a former slave, Epictetus said physical enslavement is a thing indifferent, neither good nor bad. Nearly everything that is external to us is not up to us, but instead to nature. By dint of our reason, we can grasp and assent to the way of the world.

It requires a lifetime of effort to scale these philosophical heights. But once I scramble to the summit, I will see that mere material and physical things cannot breach what Marcus Aurelius calls the inner fortress of my self. Within that fortress, I can cultivate serenity.

Stoicism holds much attraction. But its renunciation reaches much further than most of us would ever wish to go. Without our attachments to those we love, we become less human.

Tod Seelie
Tod Seelie
Tod Seelie
Tod Seelie

Wasteland Weekend

Landtagswahl Hessen
Provisional results

Party Vote % Seats
CDU 27.0 40
SPD 19.8 29
Grüne 19.8 29
AfD 13.1 19
FDP 7.5 11
Linke 6.3 9
Other 6.5 0

Sinead O'Connor
Shuhada Davitt
"I'm proud to have
become a Muslim"
Sinead O'Connor

Germany works

Bollox to Brexit

Andy Ross
Me yesterday


2018 October 30

Merkel: In Memoriam

Rafael Behr

Angela Merkel was the anti-Trump figurehead for European civilization. In Britain, her news was submerged in coverage of a meaningless budget. While the Brexit pantomime plays out, Britain is disabled on the global stage.

Merkel was and is an ambassador from a more stable era. When she goes, a big vacancy opens up. Britain is in no condition to supply a candidate to fill it.

2018 October 29


Financial Times

Angela Merkel has decided to stand down as leader of the CDU. She will not seek re-election as chancellor in 2021 and is preparing her succession. She has served Germany and Europe well at a time of French weakness, British divergence, and Italian decline. The stability of Europe depends on Germany.

AR End of an era.

2018 October 28

Big Change in Hesse

Der Spiegel

Big losses for the CDU and SPD in the state election in Hesse: The ZDF results at 1838 UCT show the CDU and minister-president Volker Bouffier in control, but with the worst result for the party in over 50 years. The SPD faces its worst result ever in the state. The big winners are the Greens and the AfD. The result will be a challenge for the ruling CDU-SPD GroKo in Berlin.

Britain vs London

Paul Collier

Brexit is a mutiny — it is not about the arcane details of relationships with the EU. Across Europe, leaders are facing equivalent mutinies. The underlying issues will be fixed not in some all-night meeting room in Brussels but by mapping out a new future.

AR Collier advocates policies to steer investments away from London toward the provinces. He also wants to see investors focus on creating sustainable communities for wealth creation, to give workers a sense of purpose beyond that of maximizing shareholder dividends. Generally, in my gloss, we need a moral climate where value is rooted in human life, leaving money as a (flawed) measure of value and not as a (definitive) criterion of value.

2018 October 27

Hypercompex Numbers

Patrick Honner

Complex numbers are made up of a real part and an imaginary part. They have the form a + bi, where a and b are both real numbers, and the "imaginary" unit i is the square root of −1. We can add, subtract, multiply, and divide complex numbers much as we do real numbers.
Multiplication of complex numbers is commutative. We can also divide complex numbers, by using the fact that division is multiplication by the reciprocal. To divide a number by i, we can just multiply it by −i. To compute the reciprocal of any complex number, we use the fact that the product of the complex number and its conjugate is a real number.

Quaternions are structured like complex numbers, but with additional square roots of −1 we call j and k. Every quaternion has the form a + bi + cj + dk, where a, b, c, d are real numbers, and
i2 = j2 = k2 = i × j × k = −1
This relationship between i, j, k allows us to multiply and divide quaternions. We see that
i × j = k      j × k = i      k × i = j
j × i = −k    k × j = −i    i × k = −j
We lose the commutativity of multiplication, but we can still add, subtract, multiply and divide.
To divide quaternions, we still use conjugation to find the reciprocal, because
(a + bi + cj + dk) × (a − bi − cj − dk) = a2 + b2 + c2 + d2
The quaternions can be used to model the rotation of 3D space.

Octonions form a number system with 7 imaginary units e1 .. e7 such that
e1 × e2 = e4 .. e6 × e7 = e2
Octonion multiplication is not only non-commutative but also non-associative. For example,
(e3 × e4) × e1 = e6 × e1 = e5
e3 × (e4 × e1) = e3 × e2 = −e5
Some physicists believe that the octonions may hold the key to describing the symmetries of the Standard Model.

AR See blogs 2018-09-08, 2018-07-23.

2018 October 26

Nuclear Arms

Mikhail Gorbachev

President Trump announced last week the US plan to withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty and his country's intention to build up nuclear arms. The United States has in effect taken the initiative in destroying the entire system of international treaties and accords that served as the underlying foundation for peace and security following World War II.

There will be no winner in a nuclear war.

2018 October 25

English Tommy

Daniel Trilling

Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the founder and former leader of the English Defence League (EDL), usually goes by the pseudonym Tommy Robinson.

In May 2018, Robinson was imprisoned for several months for contempt of court. More than 630,000 people signed a petition calling for his release, and solidarity protests were held in Austria, Hungary, Australia, and Canada. US activist Steve Bannon called him "the fucking backbone" of the UK.

Following the end of the EDL in 2013, Tommy went online and now has almost a million followers on Facebook. In a video he posted in May 2017, shortly after the Manchester Arena bombing, he stood in a Manchester street and said: "When you see these communities and you see these houses, you think this is a British community or you might have British Muslims. They are enemy combatants in these houses. In these houses are enemy combatants who want to kill you, maim you, and destroy you."

Robinson was born in Luton in 1982 and was drawn into gang warfare when Asian Muslim residents became more assertive. He founded the EDL in 2009 after Muslim fundamentalists disrupted a homecoming parade in Luton by British troops returning from Iraq. He organised a demonstration that turned violent, then used video footage of it to recruit for a nationwide movement.

Robinson objects to Islamist ideology and says Muslims are an alien presence in British society. He was imprisoned for campaigning on the issue of grooming gangs who sexually exploit teenage girls. Men of Asian Muslim heritage preyed on white victims in the former industrial towns of England.

Robinson: "There is a nation within a nation forming just beneath the surface of the UK. It is a nation built on hatred, on violence, and on Islam."

AR Fortress Europe

UK vs Russia

The Times

Members of the House of Lords lobby the UK government in favor of Russia and get paid by Russian companies. In 2013, Lord Truscott even nominated Vladimir Putin for the Nobel peace prize.

The UK government and others are trying to persuade Russia to enter the community of civilized nations. The presence in parliament of paid advocates for Russian foreign policy is not helpful.

AR Victory

2018 October 24

Germans Go Green

Financial Times

Polls ahead of Sunday's election in Hesse show the CDU heading for one of its worst ever results in the state. Hesse has been ruled for 19 years by the CDU, the last 5 in coalition with the Greens. But polls show the CDU at 26%, down by a third since 2013. The Greens are polling at 22%, double their result from 2013 and ahead of the SPD.

Germans Are Good

Der Spiegel

Most Germans are financially better off than ever. Years of good economic news has cheered not only companies but also the people. The latest DSGV survey shows 63% of respondents rate their financial status as good and only 8% as bad. Their mood is the best since the first survey in 2001.

Brexit Dunkirk Spirit

Financial Times

Britain is drawing up plans to charter ships to bring in food and medicines in the event of a No Deal Brexit next March, in a move greeted with disbelief at a stormy meeting of Theresa May's cabinet. Government officials say it is almost too late to charter ships on the open market. Brexiteers hope Paris will not allow the Dover-Calais route to be disrupted.

Queen On Brexit

Daily Mirror

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II held a state banquet in honour of King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and his wife Queen Maxima.

King Willem-Alexander: "At present, a lot of attention is focused on the technical side of Brexit. That's understandable and necessary. But in the midst of all that complexity we should not lose sight of the greater narrative that continues to bind us, the greater narrative of freedom, openness and cooperation, of growth and a prosperity whose fruits are enjoyed by all."

Queen Elizabeth: "As we look toward a new partnership with Europe, it is our shared values and commitment to each other that are out greatest asset, and demonstrate that even through change, our enduring alliance remains strong, and as innovators, traders and internationalists we look with confidence to the future."

Nuclear Buildup Threat

Simon Tisdall

President Trump's decision to rubbish the INF treaty and develop a new generation of US nuclear weapons fires a starting gun in a new global arms race. He says new Russian cruise missiles breach the INF treaty. Russia says Americans have undermined the INF pact by upgrading their nuclear weapons and deploying AM defences in Europe.

The UK and France cannot escape a share of blame for the global deterioration in nuclear security. London and Paris can barely afford their nukes — sad symbols of former great power status.

AR The UK and France have wasted years of opportunity to plan a shared and credible European deterrent, which could even have been financed through the EU.

2018 October 23

Scientists Against Brexit


Nobel-prizewinning scientists from across Europe call on UK and EU leaders to maintain the closest possible cooperation on science after Brexit. They warn that any barriers to research collaboration in the EU will be to the detriment of all.

In a letter sent to UK prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, 29 Nobel laureates and 6 winners of the Fields Medal for mathematics say the UK must step up its commitment to EU programs: "It is widely recognised that investing in research and innovation is increasingly crucial for shaping a better European future."

Royal Society president and 2009 Nobel prizewinner in chemistry Venki Ramakrishnan says both the UK and the EU understand the importance of a good deal for science: "But it has been put on hold while other things are debated. Science needs to be brought back .. and addressed."

A survey at the largest UK biomedical research lab, the Francis Crick Institute in London, found that 97% of more than a thousand researchers think a hard Brexit would be bad for UK science. Half of the staff say they are less likely to stay in the UK if they leave the institute. They worry about losing access to EU funds and about hostility to immigration.

AR There are too few scientists in the UK government. The country is being misruled by illiterates. A supervenient role for EU technocrats is exactly what British citizens need to limit the damage their parliamentary representatives can do.

2018 October 22

Nuclear Forces Breakout

John Lee

US President Donald Trump blamed Russian violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty to justify his announcement over the weekend that the United States will withdraw from the treaty. But US defense chiefs say the violations offer Moscow no military advantage in Europe.

China is not a signatory to the treaty. There is almost no chance that Beijing would agree to INF terms. Its missiles are the central pillar of its approach to defend the Chinese mainland and deter America and other Asian countries from intervening in possible local conflicts.

Chinese missiles are designed to bypass or overwhelm defenses. This approach aims to dissuade the US Navy from intervening in any maritime warzone against China by inflicting prohibitive costs. Developing an effective counter would most likely violate the INF Treaty.

May On Brexit

Laura Kuenssberg, 1550 UCT

May says these four things have to happen:
1 Legally binding UK wide backstop
2 Option to extend the implementation period
3 Neither 1 or 2 can be indefinite
4 Govt to guarantee NI biz full access to rest of the UK

Brexit Dunkirk

The Times

Today the prime minister will offer the House of Commons an update on Brexit negotiations.

AR In a Times comment to this article I posted the following sentence. Democracy is not a court ritual whereby as a favour from on high the unwashed masses are graciously allowed a single binary vote (1 bit per voter) on an issue of existential importance, but a process by which those masses use any civil means at their disposal to make their views known and accorded due respect by a governing elite which has no right to rule except that conferred by those same masses.

In an earlier Facebook exchange I let slip a dog of war: Brexit is to Putin what Dunkirk was to Hitler. It removes a big player from the continental chessboard — assuming, to paraphrase Clausewitz, that economics is the continuation of war by other means.

Finster in Europa

Arno Frank

Brexit ist mehr Ausdruck der Krise als die Krise selber. Das erste Referendum war ein Beispiel dafür, wie ignorant die politische Klasse Englands mit ihrer Bevölkerung umgangen ist. Das Weggehen von England ist eine europäische Katastrophe.

Personenfreizügigkeit werde hierzulande nur aus einer Wohlstandsperspektive betrachtet. In Rumänien dagegen, auf dem Land, da sind die Ärzte alle weg, die sind in England.

Neben dem Frieden ist ein Wohlstand für alle das wichtigste Versprechen der Europäischen Union gewesen − und gebrochen worden. Was sich in Polen abspielt ist bei weitem gefährlicher für den Zusammenhalt der EU als der Brexit.

AR Fragments from last night's ARD talk show hosted by Anne Will.

2018 October 21

Mission to Mercury


The ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission to Mercury blasted off on an Ariane 5 from Europe's spaceport in Kourou at 01:45:28 UCT on 20 October on a mission to study the mysteries of the solar system's innermost planet.

Mercury is close to the Sun, on average just under 60 Gm compared to 150 Gm for Earth. At its equator during the day, its surface temperature can reach 700 K, while at the poles and at night it dips to 100 K. Any technology we send there must be tough.

A lot of energy is needed to put a spacecraft into orbit near Mercury. The ΔV needed for Mercury is about 18.5 km/s, compared to the 17 km/s needed to reach Pluto.

Christian Liberty

Harriet Sherwood

Liberty University backs Donald Trump. Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr was instrumental in delivering 81% of white Christian evangelical voters for Trump in 2016.

On September 29, 2018, Falwell tweeted: "Conservatives and Christians need to stop electing nice guys. They might make great Christian leaders but the US needs street fighters like Donald Trump .. many Repub leaders are a bunch of wimps!"

Founded in 1971, Liberty is one of the biggest Christian educational institutions in America. Faculty members have conservative theological views, classes start with prayers, the campus is dry, dorms are segregated, and there is a curfew. The university's mission is to train champions for Christ.

A Christian Myth

The Trump Prophecy is a movie based on actual events. Mark Taylor, a fireman from Orlando, was forced to retire after suffering from PTSD. After nightmares featuring demons and hellfire, in April 2011, while watching a TV interview with Trump, Taylor heard God say:
"You are hearing the voice of the next president."

A Fresh Vote

The Observer

Hard Tory Brexiteers, and many in the English Conservative party, do not understand Europe or the EU or what it means to be European. They cling to a grossly distorted, sentimental view of history that portrays the UK as a unique exemplar of enlightened governance, swashbuckling enterprise, and imperial endeavour that rose to be first among nations. They believe Britain can lead the world.

The legions of People's Vote supporters who marched through London, and the millions who back their call for a second referendum, understand the idea and importance of Europe — the chance to travel, study, work, and live abroad, inclusiveness, shared values and laws, mutual tolerance, and a joyful openness to the majestic richness of myriad lifestyles, languages, traditions, and beliefs.

For many British young people, Brexit is a wanton act of family separation, brutally wrecking their European home. Unrealistic claims have been made about civil unrest if Brexit is thwarted. Yet if it goes ahead, the prospective backlash among our younger generations at seeing their future opportunities and prosperity so cruelly curtailed is alarming. Many will simply up and leave.

Shame on these hard Tory Brexiteers. Whenever Theresa May tries to turn their Brexit demands into binding words on paper, they scream betrayal. Every time her impractical ideas are rebuffed by a unified EU, they plunge back into denial. Every time the prime minister hints at a concession, they turn rebellious.

Brexit will be a disaster. The people must take charge.

People's March

Daily Mirror/The Guardian
An estimated 700,000 people turned out in central London to demand a People's Vote on Brexit

Order of the Bath
The Most Honourable Order
of the Bath derives from
a medieval ceremony for
appointing a knight that
involves taking a bath

They Shall Not Grow Old
coming soon




2018 October 20

A People's March

The Independent

Today, people will march in London for a Final Say on Brexit through a People's Vote.
The best way to break the impasse in Brussels and Westminster is to go back to the people.
The 2016 referendum was a vote with no idea of the consequences — now we know more.
The EU will delay the Article 50 process while the UK holds a People's Vote.

Whitehall Strikes Back

The Times

Three former cabinet secretaries who have served every prime minister since Margaret Thatcher accuse Conservative Brexiteers of undermining the integrity of the civil service.

Robert Armstrong, Baron Armstrong of Ilminster, who served as cabinet secretary from 1979 to 1987, was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1974 and a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1975, and was promoted to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1978 and to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1983.

Robin Butler, Baron Butler of Brockwell, who served as cabinet secretary from 1988 to 1998, was appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1986 and a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1988, was promoted to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1992 and to Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter in 2003, and became a Privy Counsellor in 2004.

Gus O'Donnell, Baron O'Donnell, who served as cabinet secretary from 2005 to 2011, was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1994, was promoted to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 2005 and Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 2011, and was elected an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy in 2014 and In 2016 and a Fellow of the ASS in 2016.

They defend acting cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, who says Brexiteers should be ashamed of themselves for attacking Theresa May's chief Brexit adviser Oliver Robbins.

A People's Vote

Matthew Parris

Conservatives warned Theresa May at the outset that the Brexiteers would never be her friends.
Soon the Commons must decide the fate of any deal with the EU she gets:
 If MPs reject it, put it to the people
 If a no-deal Brexit looms, put it to the people
 Now we know better what Brexit means, put it to the people
A new vote must be a response to public demand.

2018 October 19

Quantum Brexit

The Guardian

Theresa May is conducting parallel negotiations at home and abroad. Her rhetoric in the domestic debate is far removed from her arguments across the Channel.

Northern Ireland is the main problem. Brussels sees legal commitments. Brexiteers dismiss them as bargaining chips and see the backstop as a wicked way to separate Northern Ireland from Britain.

May has both capitulated to Brexiteer demands and pledged to honour the Good Friday agreement. She cannot stay true to both. She is struggling both to get cake and to persuade Brits to eat it.

AR Brits are living in a superposition of Brexit and no Brexit, deal and no deal. Like Schrödinger's cat, the UK is both dead and alive. But its state will soon collapse.

Collapsing Superposition

William Cook

German chancellor Angela Merkel could tell EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier to stop being so beastly and give the UK a "have cake and eat it" deal. But she says in means in and out means out.

Full membership of the EU is by far the best way forward for any European nation. But the EU is better off without the UK. The EU will tackle its problems a lot better without Brits sniping from the sidelines.

The British notion that, when push comes to shove, Germany will protect its economic interests betrays a basic misunderstanding of the EU. After WW2, Brits were reluctant to pool their national sovereignty. For repentant Germany, sharing sovereignty was the only way ahead.

Germany packs a big punch, softened by its EU membership. Germany sells a lot to Britain, but more to France and even more to Benelux. Germany has land borders with eight EU countries, all their capitals a short drive away. Germany will not bend the rules for Britain.

AR No super quantum cake position for the UK.

Quantum Physics: Many Worlds

Philip Ball

A central problem for quantum mechanics is the rupture created by observation or measurement. The wave function defines all possible observable states of a quantum system, all of which have equal reality until a measurement is made. But the wave function collapses when we make a measurement and see a single outcome.

In the many-worlds interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics, all of the possible states remain real and there is no collapse. Measurements split worlds off from the universal wave function. Alternative outcomes of a quantum experiment occupy separate and parallel worlds.

A quantum system decoheres as its superposed states are separated and scrambled by their interactions with their environment. Worlds split away via decoherence and are separate when they can no longer interfere with other worlds.

The MWI requires no changes to standard quantum theory but it changes the notion of self. After I make a measurement, two or more versions of me appear where before there was one. Our versions go separate ways in their own worlds.

Consciousness relies on experience evolving in time. In the MWI, its experience of continuity survives countless quantum splittings. We have probabilistic beliefs about the outcome of a split because we don't know which branch we'll end up in when our consciousness goes down one branch.

Imagine Alice places a binary bet. If the MWI is correct, Alice Before bets half-and-half, but Alice After won in one world and lost in the other, in both cases with probability 1. Quantum probabilities disconnect Alice Before from Alice After.

The MWI seems unable to account for the ongoing experience of a persistent observer.

AR Quantum ontology repackages what was already an issue in classical epistemology for Alice and her bet. Things change — this is the central fact of consciousness and our experience of time. I cover all this in depth in my 2009 book Mindworlds.

2018 October 18

The Long Goodbye

The Guardian

Last night, EU leaders dined on pan-fried mushrooms, fillet of turbot cooked in wheat beer, and a trio of fruit sorbets. They discussed their next steps on Brexit following a 15-minute meeting with Theresa May, who was not invited to dinner.

May spoke about the courage, trust, and leadership needed to reach agreement. She expressed a willingness to extend the transition period beyond 2020. EU officials said the diners did not think it enough to warrant a further summit in November.

Visiting Venus

Gareth Dorrian, Ian Whittaker

NASA is working on an astronaut mission to Venus: the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept — HAVOC.

NASA plans to use the dense Venusian atmosphere as a base for exploration. No date for a HAVOC mission has yet been announced: NASA first needs to notch up a few successful test missions. The mission is based on existing technology, using airships that can float in the upper atmosphere for long periods of time.

The upper atmosphere of Venus is the most Earth-like location in the solar system. Between altitudes of 50 km and 60 km, the pressure and temperature are comparable to regions of the Earth's lower atmosphere. The atmospheric pressure in the Venusian atmosphere at 55 km is about 0.5 bar, with a temperature between 20 C and 30 C, dense enough to protect you from hard solar radiation, but with enough sunlight for solar power (about 1.4 times more than on Earth).

The airship will float around the planet, blown by the wind. It could be filled with a breathable gas mixture such as oxygen and nitrogen for buoyancy. Breathable air is less dense than the Venusian atmosphere, which consists of 97% carbon dioxide and about 3% nitrogen.

Trace amounts of sulfuric acid form dense clouds that make Venus look bright viewed from Earth. The cloud layer is between 45 km and 65 km, with the acid haze extending down to about 30 km.

The airship will need to be resistant to acid corrosion. Several commercially available materials, including teflon and a number of plastics, have a high acid resistance and can be used for the outer envelope of the airship.

Some extremophile organisms on Earth could withstand the conditions in the upper atmosphere. HAVOC could search for possible Venusian life.

The Venusian climate is the result of a runaway greenhouse effect. It will hold lessons for us.

AR See blog 2017-11-14, 2015-08-31, 2014-12-23.

2018 October 17

Adapting to a Warming Planet

New Scientist

The Global Commission on Adaptation says we must not only try to limit further global warming but also do far more to ensure we survive it. The impact of global warming is already being felt much sooner and more powerfully than expected. To keep reducing global poverty and to maintain economic growth, societies must do much more, much faster, to adapt.

Commissioner and former UN head Ban Ki-moon: "Adaptation action is not only the right action to do, it is the smart thing. We need to make this case more aggressively. The costs of adapting are less than the cost of doing business as usual. And the benefits many times larger."

Commissioner and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva: "A very significant opportunity for adaptation comes from mainstreaming resilience in the normal investments we make."


European Parliament

EU citizens were asked about their country's membership in the EU: on average, 62% of respondents believe it is a good thing and 68% consider that their country has benefited from its EU membership. Today, 66% of Europeans would vote for their country to remain in the EU, 17% would vote to leave, and 17% are undecided.

As for the direction things are taking in the EU, 50% say things in the EU are going in the wrong direction, 52% say their own country is taking the wrong direction, 33% say things are going in the right direction in their country, and 28% say the same for the EU.

As for the EP, 32% hold a positive view of the EP, 43% remain neutral, and 21% have a negative view. As for whether they would like to see a stronger role for the EP in the future, 48% would like a stronger role, 27% would prefer a weaker role, and 15% see no need for a change.

Europeans confirm their broad support for the euro: on average across the EU, 61% of respondents are in favor of the euro, with 77% inside the EZ and lower levels in countries outside the EZ.

Asked about the most important issues for the EP to tackle, 50% cite immigration, 47% the economy and growth, and 44% terrorism. Behind the EU averages, opinions in member states vary.

The Neoliberal Con Trick

Aditya Chakrabortty

The IMF published a report last week that totted up the public debt and assets of 31 countries and found the UK has among the weakest public finances of the lot.

The UK is in this sorry state because Margaret Thatcher deregulated finance and used North Sea oil revenues to pay for big tax cuts. The result is a finance-heavy economy and a government £1 trillion worse off since the banking crash. British governments have privatised nearly all public assets, often at giveaway prices, to friends in the City.

British governments have been asset-stripping the public sector for decades. This has enriched a select few. Instead of competitive utilities and sounder public finances, we have natural monopolies handed over to the wealthy, banks that dump their liabilities on the public, and an outsourcing industry that feasts upon the public purse.

The IMF defines the ideology of the small state as neoliberalism. That ideology has failed to deliver. It has ripped you off and robbed you blind.





Sir Robert Syms, MP for Poole, briefs local Conservative party members on Brexit at the Parkstone Yacht Club last Friday

Mahatma Gandhi
by Pankaj Mishra

Kein Islam
Michael Sohn
Fortress Europe
will impact Britain,
Brexit or no Brexit

Final say

Landtagswahl Bayern
Provisional results

Party Vote % Seats
CSU 37.2 85
Grüne 17.5 38
Freie W. 11.6 27
AfD 10.2 22
SPD 9.7 22
FDP 5.1 11
Other 8.7 0

Mit uns
Go Green in Germany

Brexit Hell
The Times

Soyuz launch
Soyuz MS10, Baikonur

hairy black hole hairy black hole


2018 October 16

Brexit Latest

1504 UCT
European council president Donald Tusk: "We need something very creative .. maybe we need a new method of thinking."

1352 UCT
Theresa May: "If we as a government stand together and stand firm, we can achieve this."

Last Supper
Theresa May will address EU leaders Wednesday night before an EU27 dinner in an attempt to patch up differences over the Irish border.
Bundesregierung Europa-Minister Michael Roth: "Take responsibility and be constructive."

EU leaders have scrapped plans to discuss and publish a draft declaration this week on a future EU trade deal with the UK.


Rachel Sylvester

Theresa May is hemmed in. A government minister: "She's in a situation where every move she makes worsens the national predicament. We still basically have no agreed government position. It's absurd. If you were playing computer chess the only way out of this would be to press the reset button."

Another minister: "The Conservative party has taken leave of its senses .. The country is being held hostage by petty politicians pushing their own fortunes."

By refusing to change course, Theresa May has only shown weakness. Her strategy seems to be to leave everything until the last minute, whip up hostility to the EU as an external adversary, and hope that she can cobble together a deal that parliament supports for fear of something worse.

Another minister: "This is such a global shambles. We are a laughing stock on the world stage ..
I feel we have just got to start with a totally clean slate."

AR Only "darkest before dawn" magical thinking is keeping this show on the road. The obvious — and completely reasonable — solution is to withdraw Article 50 and stay in the EU. The only loss would be to British pride, which is a relic of times gone by that Brits need to downsize before the world of hard knocks does it for them.


The Guardian

Across Europe, the populist parties seem to be having their moment. Their most obvious feature is hostility to outsiders. They produce a sense of belonging by combining religion and nationalism to create communities.

In a world where loneliness is a problem and where the global economy works heedless of the suffering of individuals, community and belonging seem to be enduring stores of worth. Communities are for life, and the belonging they offer is awarded on grounds that have nothing to do with merit. Populist parties deny community rights to others.

AR The Guardian is too gently liberal to press the painful point. Identity politics is the last stand of the downtrodden who have nothing more to give in an age of huge and terrifying threats such as climate change, the rise of the robots, Chinese economic competition, Islamic demographic competition, and the meritocracy of richer and smarter people.


Melanie Phillips

Western democracy is under threat from identity politics and populism. The new parties are rooted in identity issues based on race, ethnicity, or religion. They close minds against evidence in a culture war that brooks no deviation.

Belief in democracy entails understanding that sometimes you will be outvoted by those with contrary views. Yet a Remainer faction is campaigning for a second referendum. It used to be that those who lose a vote would abide by the outcome. For some Remainers, we must vote again and again until the people deliver the result they want.

AR In general elections, we vote again and again, every five years at least, in the vain hope that we might one day get good governance. As for Brexit, the facts upon which the people can vote have so changed in the last two-plus years that it would be churlish to deny the need for a refresher vote. Democracy is not one man, one vote, one time.

2018 October 15

Brexit: May Out Of Moves

Laura Kuenssberg

Theresa May's Conservative party won't accept a proposal to keep the UK essentially in the customs union. Parliament is likely to block no deal. The EU won't accept her Chequers plan.

A loyal minister: "She is like a chess player who only has the king left — all she can do is move one square at a time until she is checkmated."

"The EU are treating us with naked contempt — we must abandon this surrender of our country."
Boris Johnson

AR Abandon Brexit.

Bavaria: Maximal Uncertainty

Der Spiegel

The ruling CSU were the big losers in the Bavarian state elections. They lost over 10% of their votes and thus their absolute majority in the state parliament. The SPD lost big too, with over 10% of their votes gone. The AfD won over 10% of the vote and the Greens increased their vote by almost 9%. The Greens are now the second biggest party, ahead of the SPD.

New Headaches in Berlin

Leopold Traugott

Recent national polls see the parties of the "GroKo" grand coalition down at just 41% together, compared to 53% still in September 2017, and 67% in 2013. All three parties — CDU, CSU, SPD — urgently need to reconsider their strategy.

The CSU may dump party leader and German interior minister Horst Seehofer. The party needs to reconsider its current approach of copying AfD hardline positions. The SPD must consider whether the coalition makes sense for them as it bleeds voters in all directions.

The Greens doubled their votes in Bavaria. They are riding high in national polls. But the AfD is the largest opposition party in the Bundesrat.

German political fragmentation is continuing at pace.

AR Good for the Greens at least.

2018 October 14

High Voter Turnout in Bavaria

Der Spiegel

Voter turnout in local elections in Bavaria was over 40% by midday. The CSU is expected to lose its overall majority. The AfD and the Greens are expected to gain seats.

Possible coalitions
 CSU-Freie Wähler

AR Vote Green and save the Earth!

DUP Warns No Deal Brexit Likely

Mail on Sunday

DUP leader Arlene Foster is braced for negotiations to collapse after a furious row with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels.

Barnier says a deal must include a backstop to keep Northern Ireland within EU jurisdiction. The DUP will not let Northern Ireland be treated any differently from the rest of the UK. Theresa May relies on the DUP MPs in Westminster to support her government, so she may propose a new backstop that keeps the whole of the UK in the EU customs union indefinitely.

Foster described Barnier as "difficult and hostile" and said the DUP is ready to block a Brexit deal.

Brexit Bollocks

David Davis

Brexit panic has started on the Continent.

The government is proposing that the entire UK should stay within the EU customs union until the Northern Ireland border issue is resolved. Extending the Brexit implementation period has all the drawbacks of staying within the customs union, plus several more. It is completely unacceptable.

Keeping Northern Ireland inside the single market would mean having a border in the Irish Sea for goods and people. This is completely unacceptable to the DUP and to many people in the UK.

The negotiation currently focuses on the withdrawal agreement, pushing to one side our future economic relationship as something to be resolved after March 2019. By then we will have pledged to give £39 billion to the EU. This is by far our biggest bargaining chip.

The Chequers plan should be dead. The commission has rejected it. The public does not like it. Parliament will not vote for it. It is time that the prime minister reset the negotiations.

Now is the time when we can start to exact concessions from the EU. German companies will lose about a third of their car sales and two-thirds of their dairy sales to the UK if we went to standard WTO import tariffs. Ireland's agricultural sector would face enormous risks. Belgium and the Netherlands will each face a hit worth 3%−4% of their GDP.

Now we must drive a hard bargain.

AR Davis has gone completely nuts.

Malala @ Oxford

Mirror on Sunday

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who is reading PPE at Oxford, has joined the Port and Policy group run by Oxford University Conservative Association. Jacob Rees-Mogg is its honorary president and former members include Theresa May and Margaret Thatcher.

The weekly forum has been rocked by controversy after sozzled members reportedly knocked back 43 shots of port each at a party and bellowed "my castle is bigger than yours" and "I'll buy their families" when refused more booze.

AR I'm glad I didn't join the Oafs @ Oxford!

2018 October 13

Brexit KOs Global Order

Ian Bremmer

It does the "special relationship" between the US and Europe no favors. Differences over Russia, NATO funding, and Mideast policy strain US-EU relations. Brexit undermines the transatlantic alliance because it diverts Brussels from working with Washington.

It will weaken the UK too. It will need its partnership with the US more than ever, especially as London's standing as a global banking center diminishes. President Trump, who will have a lot more negotiating leverage with the UK for a one-on-one trade deal.

It makes the UK look isolated. Britain accounts for 13.6% of Chinese trade with the EU. Given tensions with Trump, China wants less political drama, not more, in its global trade negotiations. China will be cautious about commercial commitments with the UK.

It comes at a bad time in regard to Russia, with Trump well disposed toward Russia and Europe pragmatic due to military weakness and energy concerns. The UK can become a world power in its own right, but it will begin doing so in a volatile geopolitical environment.

It will not immediately threaten the EU. The hot mess in British politics has dampened enthusiasm in other EU countries for an exit. But a weaker EU will lose luster on the global stage. France and Germany will go for deeper EZ integration but meet resistance.

It will slow the trade integration that has lifted hundreds of millions from poverty around the world. It will be the biggest win to date for country-first populism. It will further fragment the global political system and generate greater friction in global markets.

Soyuz KOs Space Station

New Scientist

US astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin survived the crash landing of the Soyuz MS10 capsule. But the International Space Station might not survive. The docked Soyuz at the ISS is the now only way for the three astronauts there to return to Earth.

The Soyuz launch system might be grounded for a long time. NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011 and a new US spacecraft may not be ready until 2020. China is now the only country with a working craft capable of taking humans to space.

The Chinese Shenzhou craft could theoretically dock with the ISS, but such a mission would be extraordinary. So the ISS may be empty for the first time since 2000. That could doom it.

AR A Chinese rescue recalls the movies Gravity and The Martian.

2018 October 12

Against Nationalism

Seyla Benhabib

Immanuel Kant critiqued pure reason to make room for freedom and morality. He said only
     a critical exercise of reason can save us from false beliefs.
 G.W.F. Hegel unfolded an immanent critique in a dialectic of thought that ended when
     thought and actuality were reconciled.
 Georg Lukács introduced a concept of praxis. We are historical subjects who express our
     freedom by transforming the world through activity.
 Max Horkheimer developed a critical theory of society. Human mastery over nature came at
     the expense of internal repression. Critical theory is a theory of crises.
 Michel Foucault said society is constituted by a discontinuous and fragmentary series of
     power-knowledge configurations, full of displacements and erasures.
 Jacques Derrida said the silences and gaps of a text are indices of the repressed subjectivity
     of others. Deconstruction thus has an ethical core.
 Jürgen Habermas said economic and political crises disrupt our sense of shared meaning.
     His theory of communicative action bid farewell to the myth of a unified working class.

My work aims to overcome sociological nationalism. The boundaries of the demos have not been
formed democratically. The nation is a privileged collective identity. Democracy has a bounded collective subject, but liberalism is cosmopolitan. Liberal democracy is an oxymoron.

2018 October 11

Black Hole Entropy and Soft Hair

Sasha Haco, Stephen W. Hawking, Malcolm J. Perry, Andrew Strominger (2018)

Given the conjecture that the entropy of black holes can be understood in a manner similar to their stringy counterparts, we argue that the black hole Hilbert space must be contained within the Hilbert space of states outside the black hole. So there are no independent interior black hole microstates at all! This solves the information paradox.

Soft Hair on Black Holes

Stephen W. Hawking, Malcolm J. Perry, Andrew Strominger (2016)

Conservation laws require black holes to carry a large amount of soft hair. This paper gives an explicit description of soft hair in terms of soft gravitons or photons on the black hole horizon, and shows that complete information about their quantum state is stored on a holographic plate at the future boundary of the horizon. Soft hair gives an effective number of soft degrees of freedom proportional to the horizon area in Planck units.

AR I think Frank Wilczek would call soft hair a quantum atmosphere.


Dad's Army


2018 October 10


Andy Ross

President Vladimir Putin of Russia has won a stunning victory over the American superpower that defeated the former Soviet Union ..

President Donald Trump of the United States owes his extraordinary propulsion into the White House, in all probability, to his longtime "friend" and hero Vladimir Putin ..

The rise of Trump in America may look less like a classic transition to tyranny than a very modern transition to chaos .. no one expected the new U.S. president to be so entangled by his past dealings in Russia and with Russians ..

PDF, 10 pages, 130 KB



UK public finances are among the weakest in the world. Since the 2008 financial crash, almost £1 trillion has been wiped off the wealth of the UK public sector.

The IMF performed a health check on the wealth of 31 nations to judge how well governments are prepared for economic shocks. Norway came top, thanks to its war chest built on its publicly held oil wealth. The UK was in 30th position and Portugal came bottom.

AR Sad

2018 October 9

Climate Change Denial: 5 Stages

The Guardian

1 Deny the problem exists
2 Deny we're the cause
3 Deny it's a problem
4 Deny we can solve it
5 It's too late

The Trump administration is at stage 5.

Trump Coal

The New York Times

Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will bring dire and irreversible changes by 2040.

President Trump continues to praise coal. He has directed his EPA to reverse the Obama administration steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. The Trump plan would cause as many as 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030, as well as 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory disease and billions of dollars in new health care costs.

The EPA plans to dissolve its Office of the Science Advisor.

Dad's Army Brexit: Don't Panic!

Anne Perkins

UK attorney general Geoffrey Cox cheered a Conservative party conference audience by quoting John Milton:

"Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant Nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks: Methinks I see her as an Eagle mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazl'd eyes at the full midday beam."

UKTV plans to remake the three lost episodes of Dad's Army. Repeats of the TV series, which ran from 1968 to 1977, still top the BBC Two ratings. How nice to know that it was Dunkirk spirit and British genius that won the war, to know that Britain is best when she stands alone.

Millennials don't think like that at all.

Quantum Verification Problem Solved

Erica Klarreich

Urmila Mahadev has just solved a major problem in quantum computation: If you ask a quantum computer to perform a computation for you, how can you know whether it has really followed your instructions, or even done anything quantum at all?

If you distrust an ordinary computer, you can in theory check its computations for yourself. But quantum systems resist this kind of checking. Their inner state is generally a superposition, which as soon as you measure it collapses into a classical state.

Mahadev, 28, has come up with an interactive protocol by which users can be certain that a quantum computer is doing what they want. She presented it at the 2018 Symposium on Foundations of Computer Science and was awarded the best paper and best student paper prizes.

A quantum computer can prove its computations to a verifier that measures single qubits. Mahadev used post-quantum cryptography to get a quantum computer to build a secret state whose description is known to the classical verifier, but not to the quantum computer itself. This relies on a trapdoor function that is easy to carry out but hard to reverse without the secret key.

Then you can get a quantum computer to create a secret state as follows:
1 Ask the computer to build a superposition of all the possible inputs to the function.
2 Tell the computer to apply the function to the superposition to create a superposition of all the
    possible outputs. The input and output superpositions are entangled.
3 Ask the computer to measure the output state and tell you the result. The input state collapses
    to match it, since they are entangled.

The trapdoor function's secret key reveals the two states that make up the input superposition. Mahadev built it using a type of cryptography called Learning With Errors (LWE) to create a quantum version of blind computation, by which cloud-computing users can mask their data so the cloud computer can't read it while working on it.

Mahadev's protocol requires the quantum computer to create a secret state and entangle it with the state it aims to measure. The quantum computer doesn't know the secret state but the verifier does, so the quantum computer can't cheat. If the result looks correct, the verifier can be sure it is.

The protocol presumes that quantum computers cannot crack LWE. At present, LWE is a leading candidate for post-quantum cryptography. It may soon be adopted as the new NIST standard.

The protocol is unlikely to be implemented soon in a real quantum computer as it requires too much computing power. Scott Aaronson: "It is something you could start thinking about, if all goes well, at the next stage of the evolution of quantum computers."

AR Nice!


Shrinkage of sea ice in the Arctic

"A tremendous victory
for our nation"

Judge Kavanaugh

QE2 coronation
Queen Elizabeth II coronation
Westminster Abbey, 1953
Since the Harold II coronation
in 1066, every monarch bar
two has been crowned in
Westminster Abbey.

Bin Brexit

Bollocks to Brexit

Joan Williams
Queen Elizabeth II,
Prince Charles

in person

Theresa May
The Times
May: "Our future is in our hands"

"There are one or two
things that Boris said
that I'm cross about"
Theresa May

"Artificial Intelligence ..
has the potential to have a
bigger impact than almost
any technology yet invented
.. I'm optimistic that .. we
can make a success of it."
Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP 
The Future of Work

National Geographic

People's Vote


2018 October 8

Urgent: Cut Global Warming to 1.5 K

UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Governments around the world must take rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society to avoid disastrous levels of global warming.

Temperatures will reach 1.5 K above pre-industrial levels by 2030, based on current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, precipitating higher risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods, and food shortages around the planet.

Global net emissions of CO2 must fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach "net zero" by 2050.

UK Versus Russia

The Times

UK defence chiefs have war-gamed a massive cyber-strike to black out Moscow if Russia launches a military attack on the West. Their only other way to meet Kremlin aggression was to fire a Trident nuclear missile. They were left "ashen-faced" at how fast a confrontation could escalate.

US Army Builds Robot Attack Tanks
Fox News

The US Army is engineering autonomy kits to give robot tanks and other armored combat vehicles an ability to operate with little or no human intervention, bringing new tactical and operational dimensions to the future of ground combat.

AR Russia could build self-driving and remote control technology into its Armata main battle tanks. An army of robotanks could roll over Europe in days. The European response could include Tiger antitank helicopter drones coordinated by Galileo and NATO C4I systems.

Civilian casualties could be reduced by coding humanitarian ethics into the robots. This scenario could easily burn a few trillion dollars and maintain full employment well into the age of robot automation. But it would not be carbon neutral, so no go.

2018 October 7


Doris Kearns Goodwin

Abraham Lincoln spent a lot of time at the theater to reduce his anxiety during the civil war. Theodore Roosevelt exercised two hours every day in the afternoon. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a cocktail party every night during World War 2.

Lyndon Baines Johnson could never unwind. He wanted to be remembered for civil rights. When he talked about Vietnam his mood would plunge. He talked about his regret that the war had turned out badly and taken away the energy of the things he really cared about.

What made all four of these guys great leaders is they were seeking not celebrity but fame, and fame means creating something lasting that stands the test of time.

Donald Trump doesn't have the temperament to be a leader. Compared to Teddy Roosevelt, who had a square deal for the rich and the poor, the capitalist and the wage worker, Trump says that a deal that says both sides win is just a bunch of crap and all that matters is that you win.

Teddy became as much of a folk hero as Trump has become. He was known for his blistering language and short punchy statements: speak softly and carry a big stick, don't hit until you have to and then hit hard. He established a rapport with the people.

Leadership in Turbulent Times

Church and State

Harriet Sherwood

One day, in an Anglican service, King Charles III will be anointed with holy oil by the Archbishop of Canterbury, conferring God's grace on the new head of state.
    Archbishop: "Will you, to the utmost of your power, maintain in the United Kingdom ..
      the settlement of the Church of England?"
    Charles: "All this I promise to do."

The UK is the only country in Europe to retain a religious ceremony to crown a new monarch. Yet the proportion of the UK population identifying as Anglican has fallen to a record low of 14%. Among adults under the age of 24, it is 2%. A majority of the population say they have no religion.

The UK establishment confers a dual role on the monarch as head of state and head of the Church of England. In the House of Lords, 26 seats are reserved for Anglican bishops. Church laws are approved by parliament and every inch of England is divided into parishes. The law requires every state school to hold a Christian act of daily worship.

Anglican priest Giles Fraser: "We've been turned into flunkies of the establishment, seduced by pomp and circumstance. Disestablishment would require the C of E to reinvent itself."

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams: "I'm not interested in a halfway house. If we want a republic, let's have a republic. If we want a monarchy, then we have to accept that a monarchy is in some ways a profoundly symbolic thing."

2018 October 6

Imaging Our Black Hole

Seth Fletcher

At the heart of our galaxy, about 26,000 light-years inbound from Earth, Sagittarius B2 is a cloud of organic molecules. Another 390 light-years or so takes you to the inner parsec, where tubes of frozen lightning called cosmic filaments streak the sky and gravity becomes a foaming sea of riptides, space becomes a bath of radiation, and atoms dissolve into a fog of particles. Here is the supermassive black hole at the core of the Milky Way: Sagittarius A*.

Last year, astronomers made the inaugural run of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), designed to take the first picture of a black hole. The EHT uses very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) and combines the collected data on a supercomputer. EHT director Shep Doeleman calls it the biggest telescope in the history of humanity.

A black hole is made of gravity. Its boundary, the event horizon, is a one-way exit from the universe. If a black hole passes in front of a bright background, we should see its silhouette. An Earth-size collection of radio telescopes observing Sagittarius A* in the microwave spectrum would see a dark disk ten times larger than the event horizon, with bright rays tracing a glowing ring around it.

A close look at a black hole can help us study the origins and fates of stars and galaxies. Galaxies and their central black holes seem to evolve together. When the black hole settles down, the next generation of stars can form. How and why these things happen is still a mystery.

General relativity describes the universe on the largest scales. Quantum theory governs the subatomic world. But general relativity and quantum theory describe worlds that look nothing like each other. Black holes can test them. If the EHT results failed to match predictions, they would provide clues for a theory of quantum gravity.

In June 2018, astronomers released the final Sagittarius A* and M87 data from the EHT. In the next few months, they will finish their analysis and publish their results.

AR This is truly exciting!

EU Drafts No Deal Plan

Financial Times

Brussels will next week unveil contingency measures for Brexit that could force flight cancellations and leave exporters facing massive disruption in case no deal is reached by next March.

The EU plans no special arrangements for customs or road transport and only limited provisions for financial services. The EU will not relax customs and agricultural controls and urges member states to enforce EU import rules from the first day of Brexit.

The UK and the EU must reach a deal by 17 October.

Juncker Speaks

Daniel Boffey

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker says there must be limits to the freedom of the press and accuses British media of trampling over the human rights of politicians.

On the 2016 Brexit referendum: "If the commission intervened, perhaps the right questions would have entered the debate. Now you discover new problems almost daily, on both sides. At that time, it was already clear to us what trials and tribulations this pitiful vote of the British would lead to .. The British press .. do not respect the human rights of political actors at all. Press freedom also has its limits .. One should not bring people in privacy in distress."

On the EU summit on 17 October: "I assume that we find an agreement as to the terms of the withdrawal. We also need to agree on a political statement that accompanies this withdrawal agreement. We are not that far yet."

AR Queen Elizabeth II is consubstantial with the United Kingdom in the same sense that Jesus Christ is consubstantial with God. Her Majesty holds audience with the prime minister of her government in weekly meetings, where Theresa May receives instruction on the issues of the day. Is it not high time Her Majesty paid due respect to her subjects by making known her views on Brexit?

2018 October 5

Brexiteers Misunderstand the EU

Martin Wolf

UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt had a reputation for sobriety. His parallel between the EU and the Soviet Union was stupid and offensive. The EU had merely said the Chequers plan will not work.

Understanding the EU is is a necessary condition for dealing with it sensibly. For the EU leaders, the survival of the EU is an existential issue. Relations with a departing UK are relatively insignificant.

The EU is a peace project, built on hope for a prosperous, integrated Europe able to speak up in the world. For Brexiteers to despise these goals or hope the EU will collapse into chaos is malevolent.

The EU works by embedding mutual relations in a framework of rules. The trust necessary to make it work depends on this. The rules need to be clear and subject to an authoritative legal process.

One EU red line is that preserving peace on the island of Ireland is more important than the UK wish list. The myth that EU obduracy snatched a glorious Brexit from the British people is poisonous.


Simon Kuper

Brino — The most likely outcome is Brexit in name only or a very soft Brexit.

Hard — Many Brexiteers would love it hard: a return to an imagined 1940, minus Luftwaffe bombs. Recent polls show about a third of Britons back no deal.

Remain — If parliament votes for a second referendum, even though neither party leadership wants it, a narrow Remain victory would merely show that hard Brexit is not the "will of the people" and needs massive toning down.

Blame — If the EU lets the UK stay, Brexiteers will forever afterwards blame every British problem on what they see the illegal decision to remain. Few EU officials want Britain back now, anyway. Trust has evaporated, with successive UK foreign secretaries comparing the EU to Hitler or the USSR, and ministers hinting they could weasel on agreements with Brussels.

Unionism Is Dead

Gareth Brown

A majority of Leave voters would be happy for the UK to crumble if it delivered Brexit. The lack of a compelling message as to the point of the UK has weakened the concept of unionism at a time when the prime minister is trying to unite the UK. Perhaps unionism was never alive in middle England.

The value of devolution for the national identities of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland has not been made clear to most people in England. A more symmetrical design, with a strong message, would have had more chance of fostering UK team spirit.

AR Wind up the whole rotten show.

2018 October 4

US Senate Should Not Confirm Kavanaugh

Signed by 1,000+ Law Professors

At the Senate hearings on September 27, Judge Brett Kavanaugh displayed a lack of judicial temperament that would be disqualifying for any court, and certainly for elevation to the highest court of this land.

Judge Kavanaugh exhibited a lack of commitment to judicious inquiry. Instead of trying to sort out with reason and care the allegations that were raised, he responded in an intemperate, inflammatory and partial manner, as he interrupted and, at times, was discourteous to senators.

We believe he did not display the impartiality and judicial temperament requisite to sit on the highest court of our land.

UK-EU Customs Union

Financial Times

Ireland backs Theresa May's emerging plan for an all-UK customs union with the EU. A senior Irish official: "Whether Europe accept it or not is another conversation."

Brussels sees attempts to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU after Brexit as cherry picking.

Eastern Germany

Anna Sauerbrey

October 3, 1990, was the day the former East and West Germany reunified as one nation. Today, east and west are drifting apart again: Violent crimes committed by right-wing extremists are far more frequent in the five eastern German states than in the west.

Former president of the German parliament Wolfgang Thierse, who once worked briefly at the ministry of culture in the German Democratic Republic, says there is no big divide: eastern Germany has areas of prosperity and innovation beside areas of squalor and despair.

The German government's annual report on the state of the union shows that pensions and wages are rising and unemployment is down, but average income in the former East lags the former West by around 15%. The eastern economy sports some business champions, but has fewer large companies, less international investment, and an older demographic.

The legacy of the German Democratic Republic runs deep: 28 years after German reunification, most prominent journalists, policymakers, and business leaders are westerners. Condescension sneaks in when they discuss why the east is so far to the right.

AR Legacy of Soviet domination — be patient.

2018 October 3


Theresa May

Our future is in our hands .. Solving the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation .. We cannot outsource our conscience to the Kremlin.

Leadership is doing what you believe to be right, and having the courage and determination to see it through, and that's what I've been doing on Brexit.

AR An excellent speech.

Trump Sham

The New York Times

The young Donald Trump accepted a modest $1 million loan from his father Fred and through smarts, hard work, and sheer force of will parlayed that loan into a multibillion-dollar global empire.

This origin myth is a fiction. Donald received massive financial rewards from his father, including direct cash gifts and tens of millions in loans that never charged interest or had to be repaid. Fred even put properties and business ventures in the names of his children, who reaped the profits.

Altogether, Donald received upward of what in today's dollars would be $413 million. It seems liberties were taken with tax laws, including greatly understating the value of the family business, with Donald taking an active role in the effort. Tax experts see a pattern of deception.

For Trump, polishing his image has been vital to his success. But the American public has a right to some answers. Time for Trump to hand over his tax returns.

Putin inspires more confidence than Trump
The Atlantic

President Donald Trump is unpopular around the world. A new Pew survey of 26,000 people in 25 countries shows 7 in 10 people have no confidence in Trump. In Germany and France, 9 in 10 have no confidence in him. Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Xi Jinping, and Vladimir Putin all inspire more confidence globally than Trump.

A Second Referendum

Daniel Finkelstein

A second Brexit referendum will have to have Remain as an option. The other one will have to be whatever agreement (deal or no deal) the government comes back with.

If Theresa May has a deal, she can win votes of confidence in the Commons. She can threaten Labour that the UK might fall out of the EU chaotically and they will be to blame. Labour MPs will vote for a deal to avoid chaos. Jeremy Corbyn can only stop them by endorsing a second referendum.

A second referendum requires government time to legislate. At present, May is set against it. But if she secures a deal and parliament will not pass it, she has three choices: leaving the EU in chaos, having a general election, or having another referendum.

AR Go on, Theresa, do it.

2018 October 2

Operation Arse

The Guardian

Scottish Conservatives have begun "Operation Arse" to persuade their MPs to vote against Boris Johnson in any forthcoming leadership contest. They also want to convince party members that he would be an electoral disaster.

At conference, Johnson called on his fellow Brexiteers to pile pressure on the prime minister to "chuck Chequers" and revert to her original Lancaster House proposals: "If we bottle Brexit now, believe me, the people of this country will find it hard to forgive. If we get it wrong, if we proceed with this undemocratic solution, if we remain half-in half-out, we will protract this toxic tedious business .. This is not what we voted for. This is an outrage."

The Europe Virus

Rachel Sylvester

As Conservatives seem to embrace their identity as the party of Brexit, their main conference announcements include a Festival of Brexit Britain and a crackdown on immigration. The audience booed the Financial Times for its pro-European views. A former cabinet minister: "The Europe virus has infected the entire political body of the Conservative party and we are in grave danger of being seen by the public as completely bonkers."

Crass and Inflammatory

Oliver Kamm

UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt is fully the equal of his predecessor in diplomatic ineptitude: "The lesson from history is clear: if you turn the EU club into a prison the desire to get out won't diminish, it will grow and we won't be the only prisoner that will want to escape."

The EU is a voluntary union of democratic nations, whose pioneers regarded European integration as a means of creating peace. European policymakers underwent danger to life and liberty in order to undermine communism. European Commission president Donald Tusk was an organiser for the Solidarity free trade union movement in Poland.

No EU government wants to punish Britain for wishing to leave. But EU policymakers are unanimous that a Brexit agreement cannot confer on Britain more favourable terms than it enjoys as a member of the EU. The EU has made this clear from the outset.

Nobel Prize for Physics

Natalie Wolchover

The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for advances in laser physics to: Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou, and Donna Strickland.

Ashkin developed optical tweezers, which use lasers to trap and control objects as small as individual atoms. His key innovation was discovering that a single laser beam can trap an object in 3D by nudging it in the beam direction to hold it near the focal point.

Mourou developed a way to create extremely short laser pulses by chirped pulse amplification. The method is used in corrective eye surgeries and and have a vast panoply of other uses.

Strickland worked with Mourou on the trick for amplifying a laser pulse by chirping it before amplification and then recompressing it again. She is the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics since 1963.

Nobel Prize for Cancer Immunotherapy


The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine today goes to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo. The pair worked independently on molecular pathways that normally inhibit the immune system. Both are credited with launching cancer immunotherapy into a new era.

Allison studied protein CTLA-4, which suppresses immune responses by T cells. He showed turning off CTLA-4 is effective in humans against melanoma.

Honjo studied protein PD-1, which suppresses T cells in a different way. He showed blocking PD-1 with antibodies can cure several types of cancer.

Today, immune checkpoint therapies based on PD-1 and CTLA-4 stand alongside surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy as cancer treatments.

Screw Spacetime

New Scientist

Powerful laser beams exert a gravitational effect that warps spacetime around them. Photons have energy, hence gravity, and a laser beam has a cylindrical gravitational field around it. Fabienne Schneiter says a spinning laser beam drags the spacetime around it into a corkscrew swirl in which time is slowed down, but the change is too tiny to detect.

AR A big laser drill could bore holes in time!

2018 October 1

Brexit Disaster Warning

Michael Stürmer

Britain after Brexit could become a horror scenario, a downward spiral of impoverishment and political upheavals with effects far beyond the British Isles.

The problem of how to manage the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is still unsolved. Today, thanks to the EU, there is no problem. But a breakup would rip open old wounds and awaken ghosts.

The UK is drifting helplessly toward a major crisis. The 2016 referendum seemed like an opinion poll to most Britons, hardly a matter of life and death.

The House of Commons is supposed to be in control. Once voters decide an issue, MPs take that as an instruction to the governing party in parliament. Whatever separates MPs, parliamentary elitism prevents them from voting on key issues. A constitution emerges by trial and error.

One can admire the serenity with which the British regard separation from continental Europe. In fact, no one is at the controls. The prime minister presented a sketch for a soft landing at Chequers, which could be a basis for a deal with the EU but is hated by the diehards for that very reason.

A way out in dissolution of parliament and new elections is barred because the issue splits the main parties. So all that remains is to send the result so far back to the people in a new referendum. But there is no time for that — just six months — unless London and Brussels agree to stop the clock.

The drama cannot leave the Federal Republic cold. Germany has a vital interest in the European project. A no deal Brexit could be the beginning of the end.

Cell Jams Shape Embryos

Jordana Cepelewicz

New work shows how a fish embryo develops a long axis for its body. The process is governed by a jamming transition: At the tip of what becomes the tail, cells can flow freely as in a fluid, but closer to the head, they jam together and behave more like a solid.

Materials such as glasses, colloids, and foams get trapped in a state away from equilibrium, neither fully solid nor fluid, so they can flow like fluids or jam up as in a solid.

Researchers injected a droplet of ferromagnetic fluid between the embryo cells and measured its shape as the fish developed to determine the strength of the forces the cells applied against one another. They changed a magnetic field on the droplet to measure the yield stress of the tissue.

Toward the tail end of the embryo, the yield stress was lower than the active cellular forces, and there was more space between the cells, allowing them to move and locally soften the tissue. Closer to the head, the gaps between cells closed off and the yield stresses increased, and the tissue behaved like soap suds or beer froth.

Cells use such phase transitions a lot. Biologists expect to see them in the formation of organs and in cancers.

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