BLOG 2019 Q1
House of Commons, 2019-03-29


What the f**k is going on?

Jonathan Pie

AR A comic rant that gets
to the rot at the core
of Austerity UK

The Times

Oliver Letwin
Sir Oliver Letwin
MP for West Dorset

Mein Urlaub
in Deutschland:

Michael Heseltine
Michael Heseltine

Michael Heseltine's
Saturday speech on Brexit


Bollocks to Brexit

Vladimir Putin


2019 March 31


Niall Ferguson

Britain and Japan have much in common. Both are densely populated island nations off the vast Eurasian landmass. Both were once mighty empires. Both are still quite rich. Both are constitutional monarchies. Yet while Britain today is in a state of acute political crisis, Japan seems a model of political stability.
You might think Japan has much bigger problems than Britain. The ratio of people over 65 to those of working age is 46%, the highest in the world. The gross public debt is now 238% of GDP, again highest in the world. Britain leads Japan in terms of innovation, economic and political freedom, ease of doing business, and even happiness.
Britain has embraced immigration. Japan has resisted it. There are now almost 1.3 million foreign workers in Japan, just 2% of the population. The figure for the UK is 13%. Perhaps conservatism is incompatible with immigration on this scale and the Brexit breakdown is a symptom.

2019 March 30

Article 13 Explained

New Scientist

The EU has issued a major new directive on copyright laws. Its Article 13 makes websites responsible for ensuring that content uploaded to their platforms does not breach copyright. Owners of websites where people can post content will be responsible for ensuring no unlicensed material appears.
To comply with Article 13, big platforms will need to ensure that any copyrighted material on their sites is licensed. The rules are intended to end music and video piracy online, ensure artists receive a fair payment for their work, and force tech giants to pay for content they aggregate.
Certain services are exempted, including non-profit sites, software development platforms, cloud storage services, and websites with less than €10 million annual turnover. Website owners are not required to install content monitoring software to detect copyright material.
EU member states must now pass legislation to implement the directive.

AR I trust this blog is not in new jeopardy.

2019 March 29

Meaningful Vote 2.5

BBC News, 1442 UTC

The House of Commons has rejected Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement for a third time, this time by 286 votes for the deal and 344 against.

Past Caring

Nicholas Watt

An unnamed UK cabinet minister, when asked why Theresa May is holding another Brexit vote, said: "Fuck knows, I'm past caring."

2019 March 28

Brexit Deal Vote Tomorrow

BBC News, 1748 UTC

MPs will be asked to vote again on Brexit on Friday but only on part of the deal negotiated with the EU. They will vote on the withdrawal agreement but not the political declaration. This complies with House speaker John Bercow's ruling that the same deal cannot be introduced a third time.
Labour will not back the deal. Labour MPs called the new vote "extraordinary and unprecedented" and "trickery of the highest order" while shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said: "We would be leaving the EU, but with absolutely no idea where we are heading. That cannot be acceptable."
The DUP say they will not back the deal and several ERG members refuse to back it. Boris Johnson said it was "dead" but he would reluctantly support it. The withdrawal agreement must be passed by close of play tomorrow to meet the EU requirement for a delay of B-day to 22 May.

A Way Forward

Oliver Letwin

The issue is whether parliament can come to a majority in favour of a way forward on Monday. MPs will be voting on the basis of seeing what happened last night. And either the prime minister will have got her deal through on Friday, in which case all this is unnecessary, or people will see that isn't going to happen by 12 April. Quite a lot of Tories who didn't vote for any of the options may then come round and say: OK, we'll choose among these options.
It's very difficult to translate how people vote the first time, when they don't know how other people are voting, to how they will vote when they can see how other people are voting, under new circumstances. Many of us think leaving without a deal on 12 April is not a good solution. But is parliament on Monday willing to come to a majority view about a way forward?

DUP Thwarts May Gambit

Financial Times

Theresa May has gambled her premiership to win support for her Brexit deal. She hoped to make a third attempt to pass her Brexit deal on Friday. But the Northern Irish DUP says it will continue to vote against it. Steve Baker and other ERG Brexiteers say they will also vote against it. On May's offer to resign, Baker said: "I'm consumed with a ferocious rage after that pantomime."

No No No No No No No No

The Guardian

In a series of indicative votes in the Commons, all eight proposed alternatives to the government's Brexit deal were defeated. The two closest:
 A plan to negotiate a "permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU" in any Brexit deal, proposed by Conservative veteran Ken Clarke and others, was lost by 264 votes to 272.
 A plan to require a second referendum to confirm any Brexit deal, proposed by Labour former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, was lost by 268 votes to 295.
Oliver Letwin, who pushed to let MPs take control of the order paper for the votes, said the results were "disappointing" but hopes for more clarity after new votes on Monday.

AR Only the option that dare not speak its name remains: Revoke Article 50.

2019 March 27

May Vows To Quit

BBC News, 1943 UTC

Theresa May has promised Tory MPs she will resign as prime minister if they back her Brexit deal.
A smiling Boris Johnson says he will now back the deal.

AR Excited commentators are saying this is the biggest thing in British politics since the fall of Neville Chamberlain and the rise of Winston Churchill in May 1940.

European Citizens

Donald Tusk

We should be open to a long extension if the UK wishes to rethink its Brexit strategy. We cannot betray the 6 million people who signed the petition to revoke article 50, the 1 million people who marched for a people's vote, or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the EU. They may feel they are not sufficiently represented by the UK parliament, but they must feel that they are represented by the European Parliament. Because they are Europeans.

AR I am by UK law a subject of the Crown and by EU law a citizen of the European Union. Losing my preferred citizenship but retaining my embarrassing subjection is utterly dismaying to me.

The Brexit Delusion

Martin Wolf

Brexiteers say the UK is going to take back control. This was the biggest delusion of all.
Control is different from sovereignty. The UK was already sovereign. Control is about power.
The EU is more powerful than the UK. For the EU, the UK market is important. For the UK, the EU market is vital.
The world contains three economic superpowers: the United States, the EU (without the UK), and China. These generated about 60% of global output in 2018. The UK contribution was 3%.
The UK is a trading nation and has no future as anything else. Markets all over the world cannot compensate for reduced access to the market of 450 million people on its doorstep.
The United States will impose hard terms in any bilateral bargaining with the UK. Both China and India will insist on UK acceptance of their terms. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand together contain fewer people than the UK.
Outside the EU, the UK will not have greater control over its global environment. Trade agreements are increasingly about regulatory standards. The UK will often have to align itself with the standards of others.
The UK will not take back control by leaving the EU.

2019 March 26

Brexit: Taking Back Control

Financial Times

Theresa May on Monday night risked losing control of Brexit, after MPs voted to seize control of the House of Commons timetable and test support for alternatives to her withdrawal deal. She had ordered her ministers to oppose the Letwin amendment.
Former Conservative minister Sir Oliver Letwin hoped his amendment would give parliament a chance to find a cross-party way forward on Brexit. Several senior ministers say there is a growing possibility that a general election might be needed to end the stalemate.
May warned of a protracted "slow Brexit" if an extension to the Article 50 process were agreed by the EU and the UK took part in European elections. She remains at loggerheads with the hardline ERG Brexiteers.
Letwin: "This is just the beginning of a very difficult process as we struggle to find consensus across the House."

AR Oliver Letwin is a former Cambridge philosopher. His prizewinning PhD thesis was on emotions and led to his 1987 book Ethics, Emotion and the Unity of the Self.

Grand Wizards of Brexit

The Jouker

A while back, we all had a good laugh at Jacob Rees-Mogg's European Research Group naming their elite team of lawyers the Star Chamber.
The Star Chamber was a court of inquisitorial and criminal jurisdiction in England that sat without a jury, used arbitrary methods, and imposed severe punishments. It was abolished in 1641.
May met leading ERG members at Chequers on Sunday for crisis talks on Brexit. The hard Brexit day-trippers failed to reach an agreement with her.
BBC reporter Laura Kuenssberg: "The 'Grand Wizards' (the new name for the Chequers day-trippers apparently) also had another meeting this morning .."
Grand Wizard was a title used for the leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

AR Kuenssberg later said it was just a nickname, but the Grand Wizards of ERG in their Star Chamber are no joke.

An Island Alone — No!

Michael Heseltine

Brexit is the biggest peacetime crisis we have faced. A no-deal Brexit could provoke a national emergency. The most sensible step would be to put the issue on hold, complete the negotiations, and then hold a referendum.
I dismiss with contempt the image of us as an island wrapped in a union jack, glorying in the famous phrase that captured, for so many, Winston Churchill's spirit of defiance in 1940: "Very well, alone." I was there. I saw our army evacuated, our cities bombed, our convoys sunk. Churchill did everything in his power to end this isolation. Alone was never Churchill's hope or wish: it was his fear.
Now, I look back over the years: 70 years of peace in Europe, 50 years of partnership between the UK and the rest of the EU. The fascists have gone from Spain and Portugal, the colonels from Greece. Now we have 28 democracies working together on a basis of shared sovereignty, achieving far in excess of what any one of us could individually. Never forget that it was the memories of Europe's war that laid the foundations of the European Union today.
Margaret Thatcher would have been appalled to see Britain excluded from the top table. Theresa May dashed across the Channel last week, only to be excluded from a meeting of our former partners, and presented with a take-it-or-leave-it offer. That is what the Brexiteers have done to our country: a national humiliation, made in Britain, made by Brexit.
Britain cannot run from today's global realities of a shrinking world menaced by terrorism, international tax avoidance, giant corporations, superpowers, mass migration, the rise of the far right, climate change, and a host of other threats. Against them, our duty is to build on our achievements in the areas of peace and security that the EU has given us, to maintain our trade access where it matters and to keep our place at the centre of the world stage.
We have a responsibility to hand over and pass on to a younger generation a country richer, more powerful, and safer than that which we ourselves inherited. And doing so in partnership with Europe is our destiny.

AR A great speech — Heseltine's finest hour.

2019 March 25

Brexit: Parliament Seizes Control

BBC News, 2248 UTC

By 327 votes to 300, MPs pass a motion as amended by Sir Oliver Letwin allowing the Commons to take control of the parliamentary agenda to hold indicative votes on Brexit options. The amendment was passed by 329 votes to 302. Three government ministers resigned to cast their votes.


Sylvie Kauffmann

Europe is under attack. For the United States, China, and Russia, Europe is a political and economic target.
Russia has been at work for some time. Moscow's efforts to undermine democratic processes and the cohesion of the EU are now part of the political landscape. In parallel, Russia is increasing its economic footprint in EU countries that are more welcoming than others.
Chinese president Xi Jinping wants to connect Europe to China economically. China has bought the port of Athens and some other gates to southern Europe. The Belt and Road Initiative has involved setting up an organization called 16+1 (16 European former Communist states, 11 of them EU members, plus China) to help them build infrastructure.
The United States has its own fight with China. In a normal world, Washington would have enrolled its European allies in its fight. But Trump America treats Europe either as a competitor or as a vassal.
Europe is a soft target, hampered by its complex politics. The Brexit chaos will leave a mark. Europeans must decide whether they wish to let their continent be cut up by competing big powers, or whether they want to regain their strength and control their own destiny.
French president Emmanuel Macron: "Europe is not just an economic market. It is a project."

European Struggles

Gideon Rachman

Last Saturday, Remainers protested in London and gilets jaunes again came out in Paris and other French cities. The previous weekend saw mass demonstrations by Catalan separatists in Madrid.
Britain's crisis is part of a wider pattern. Its vote to leave the EU in 2016 was swayed by the German refugee crisis of 2015. Radical Leavers have taken to wearing yellow vests, as in France. The independence referendum in Catalonia was inspired by the referendum in Scotland in 2014.
Europe is changing. Nationalist-populist governments are in power in Italy, Hungary, and Poland, and form part of the coalition government in Austria. The far right has also performed strongly in elections in France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and is making gains in Spain.
European leaders have to ask whether to cut Britain loose to discredit radical forces across the continent. But they risk deepening the crisis. Their decisions will affect the whole of Europe.

British Contagion

Nic Robertson, CNN

The British state is not faring well. The UK political establishment appears to be crumbling, as a pioneer of modern democracy flounders in archaic and arcane process. Attitudes are stiffening in Europe, as the EU resolves to protect European democracy from British contagion.

AR Economic inequality, democratic dysfunction, mass immigration — go figure.

2019 March 24

Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy

The New York Times

The investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III found that neither President Trump nor any of his aides conspired or coordinated with the Russian government's 2016 election interference, according to a summary made public by the attorney general.
The special counsel's team lacked sufficient evidence to establish that President Trump illegally obstructed justice but stopped short of exonerating Trump.

Putin's Russia

Andrew Higgins

Russian president Vladimir Putin sits atop a ramshackle system driven more by the calculations of competing bureaucracies and interest groups than by Kremlin diktats.
Ekaterina Schulmann: "This is not a personally run empire but a huge and difficult-to-manage bureaucratic machine with its own internal rules and principles. It happens time and again that the president says something, and then nothing or the opposite happens."
Russia today resembles not so much the Soviet state ruled by Stalin as the dilapidated autocracy of Russia in the early 19th century. Czar Nicholas I presided over corrupt bureaucracies that led Russia into a disastrous war in Crimea and let the economy stagnate.
Schulmann: "It is a great illusion that you just need to reach the leader and make him listen and everything will change. This is not how it happens."
In his annual state of the nation address last month, Putin stressed the need to let business people work freely. He admitted he had made the same demand in a previous address: "Unfortunately, the situation has not improved much."

Brexit: May Meets Rebels

The Guardian

UK prime minister Theresa May met with a group of senior Conservative rebels including Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Steve Baker, and Iain Duncan Smith at her Chequers country retreat today.
Chancellor Philip Hammond: "I'm realistic that we may not be able to get a majority for the prime minister's deal, and if that is the case then parliament will have to decide not just what it's against but what it is for."

Article 50 Petition: 5M+

The Guardian

Brexit petition to revoke Article 50 exceeds 5 million signatures.

March, London, 2019-03-23

Photo: EPA
The crowd on Piccadilly
The Guardian: People's Vote Brexit rally draws 1 million marchers (2:32)
BBC News: People's Vote march to Westminster — sped up (1:30)

AR I was there too, alongside a million people aiming to send a message to
HM government. Whether it succeeds, only the next few weeks will tell.

Put it to the people
London, Saturday

K.K. Uhlenbeck
K.K. Uhlenbeck


2019 March 23

Trump Investigation

The New York Times

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has delivered his report to the US Justice Department.

2019 March 22

EU Lifeline

The Times

EU leaders give Theresa May 3 weeks to come up with an alternative Brexit plan if MPs reject her deal again. May now has an unconditional extension until April 12. If her deal is passed, she has until May 22 to pass legislation implementing Brexit.

Strategic Failure
Confirmation that a longer extension may still be on the table makes May's defeat more likely. Brexiteers will say no deal remains the default outcome. But defeat of her deal will not end this drama: Those holding out for a softer Brexit or no Brexit at all will hold out.
Ministers opposed to no-deal thought they had a commitment from May to seek a long extension if a deal had not been agreed, and then to hold indicative votes to find an alternative way forward. They now see she is ready to take the UK out of the EU with no deal.
MPs can seize control of events to vote on alternative strategies. That probably means resigning the whip. To prevent no-deal, parliament may need to find a new prime minister.

AR My former ministry had plans: Operation Yellowhammer was to start Monday, with thousands of troops on standby and reservists called up. Hard Brexit would trigger Operation Redfold, run from a crisis room in the nuclear bunker deep beneath Whitehall.

UK Political Breakdown

Gary Younge

The idea that Brexit has broken the UK gives too much credit to the Brexiteers. The two main trends in postwar electoral politics have been the decline in turnout and waning support for the two major parties. Brexit merely shows the UK system is bust.
Since the 2008 crash, most Western countries have seen electoral fracture, the demise of mainstream parties, a rise in nativism and bigotry, increased public protest, and general political dysfunction. The virus that drove the UK mad is on the loose.

AR Time to re-engineer Western democracy.

2019 March 21

"No deal for sure"

CNN, 1430 UTC

French President Emmanuel Macron: "In case of no vote — or no — I mean directly — it will guide everybody to a no deal for sure. This is it."

Brits Are EU Citizens Too

Timothy Garton Ash

More than 16 million British citizens voted for Britain to remain in the EU in 2016. European citizenship is at stake.
The UK contains three nations: England, Wales and Scotland, together with a part of a fourth, Ireland. The EU27 member states have been impressive in their solidarity with Ireland. But Scotland voted by a majority of 62% to 38% to remain in the EU.
Europe will lack the power to defend our shared interests and values in the world if Brexit goes ahead. Not harmonious cooperation but dissonance will almost certainly be the consequence.

Brexit On Hold

Oliver Wright, Henry Zeffman

UK prime minister Theresa May wrote to European Council president Donald Tusk asking for B-day to be delayed until June 30.
Tusk responded by making a short extension conditional on MPs approving her deal next week. A short extension can only last until May 23, the date of European Parliament elections, as the UK seats will then be redistributed among other member states.
May is likely to ask the Commons to vote on her deal again (MV3) on Monday. MPs may refuse. The last date the UK can opt to take part in the European Parliament elections is April 12.

"Nuke it from space"

BBC News

"Time to take [Article 50], bin it, set the bin on fire, kick it over, and nuke it from space
— we're done."
Dr Mike Galsworthy about the trending petition Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU

AR Update 1504 UTC: Petition has 1,012,938 signatures and counting (site keeps crashing)

2019 Vernal Equinox


Theresa May, 2041 UTC

You want us to get on with it, and that is what I am determined to do.

AR She still hasn't given up.

Europe and China

Financial Times

The EU summit this week will focus on China. EU official: "While we were absorbed in our own crises for 10 years, the GDP of China soared and Trump was elected. We entered a different game."
The EU is China's largest trading partner, and China is the EU's second-largest, behind the US. In 2018, China accounted for about a fifth of EU goods imports and more than a tenth of its exports. Levels of Chinese direct investment in the EU have soared.
German economy minister Peter Altmaier says China's growing technological prowess shows Europe needs a new industrial strategy. Chinese investments in Germany raise fears in Berlin about sensitive areas of the economy. German Council on Foreign Relations director Daniela Schwarzer: "For a long time the business sector was highlighting the relationship with China as a bonus but they are now highlighting the cost of this kind of engagement. The debate now is risk minimization."
In the EU, 13 member states have signed endorsements of China's Belt and Road program. Northern member states call it opaque and strategically aggressive and say China can impose crippling debts on recipient states.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi: "Europe will surely keep its fundamental long-term interests in mind and pursue a China policy that is consistent, independent and forward-leaning. Overall China and Europe relations are in good shape. There are far more areas where we agree than disagree."

Abel Prize 2019

Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

The Abel Prize for 2019 goes to Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck of the University of Texas at Austin for her pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory, and integrable systems, and for the impact of her work on analysis, geometry, and mathematical physics.
Her theories have revolutionized our understanding of minimal surfaces, such as those formed by soap bubbles, and more general minimization problems in higher dimensions.
Uhlenbeck developed tools and methods in global analysis, which are now in the toolbox of every geometer and analyst. Her work also lays the foundation for contemporary geometric models in mathematics and physics.
Her fundamental work in gauge theory is essential for the modern mathematical understanding of models in particle physics, string theory, and general relativity.

AR I'm awed. This is stuff I struggle with.

2019 March 19

Brexit Crisis

BBC News, 1612 UTC

Theresa May is writing to the EU to ask for Brexit to be postponed until 30 June with the option of a longer delay. A cabinet minister says there was "no agreement" in the cabinet this morning. Under current law the UK will leave the EU with or without a deal in 10 days.

Physics Beyond Higgs

Natalie Wolchover

In 2012, the Higgs boson materialized at the LHC, leaving open many mysteries about the universe.
We understand little about the Higgs field, or the moment in the early universe when it shifted from being zero everywhere into its current state. That symmetry-breaking event instantly rendered quarks and many other particles massive, which led them to form atoms and so on.
Perhaps Higgs symmetry breaking led to matter-antimatter asymmetry. Another question is whether the Higgs field is stable or could suddenly trigger vacuum decay. A growing bubble of true vacuum would swallow up the false vacuum we live in, obliterating everything.
A proposed supercollider would collide electrons and positrons with energies tuned to maximize their chance of yielding Higgs bosons, whose decays could be measured in detail. In phase two, it would collide protons, resulting in messier but much more energetic collisions.
We want to observe the triple Higgs coupling in which a Higgs boson decays into two of itself. The Standard Model predicts its value, so any measured deviations would signify new particles. Measuring the coupling would also pin down the shape of the Higgs field.
Should we invest billions of dollars in a machine that might simply sharpen up our knowledge?

AR Better to invest in this than in nuclear overkill.

Milky Way

Andrew Whyte / Sony
Milky Way viewed from the cliffs of the Dorset coast

Revoke remain rebuild

British Empire

IV. Reich

Brexit and Democracy
PDF: 2 pages


2019 March 18

Brexit: No Return

BBC News, 1557 UTC

Commons Speaker John Bercow has ruled out the government holding another vote on its previously rejected Brexit agreement if the motion remains substantially the same.

Brexit: No Delay

Stefan Kuzmany

Theresa May will probably ask the EU to give her more time. The EU-27 should refuse. We have enough problems without this farce called Brexit. The EU urgently needs reform. Letting the divided Brits remain, only to have them hinder progress, would be fatal. They must go.

European Nationalists Love Israel

Ivan Krastev

National populists in central Europe are fascinated with Israel and its right-wing prime minister.
Zionism mirrored the nationalistic politics in central and eastern Europe between the two world wars. European populists see Israel today as an ethnic democracy. It has preserved the heroic ethos of sacrifice for the nation that nationalists covet for their own societies.
Central and eastern Europeans see Israel as winning the population war by reversing demographic decline. At a time when the population of eastern Europe is shrinking fast, Israel is persuading diaspora Jews to return and convincing Israelis to have more children.
European populists agree with Yoram Hazony that the big political clash in world history is not between classes or nations but between nationalists who believe that the nation state is the best form of political organization and imperialists who push for universal empire.
Israel faces existential threats. The threats are real. Whereas the European states are in the EU.

AR Brexiteers see Israel as a model for Fortress UK: defiant, militarized, and tight on immigration.

Enola May

Peter Müller, Jörg Schindler

UK prime minister Theresa May is the main impediment to solving the Brexit mess.
Last week, May was humiliated by her own party once again. Parliament rejected her divorce deal for the second time, again by a huge majority. Whatever happens now is no longer up to her.
May has led her country, her party, and herself into a labyrinth. She has neither the power nor the ideas to find a way out. Now, for many, Brexit has become a vote of confidence in May herself.
May vacillated for months before defining her Brexit. And then she got it wrong. She set bold red lines, she uttered hollow phrases, and she miscalculated the kind of deal parliament would accept.
May said what matters is the "will of the people," but she was mostly thinking about her own party. To push Brexit over the finish line in a third vote this week, she is again looking to hard-liners.
May could still choose a different path.

AR To quote Prince Charles: "Really? You don't say."

British Science

Alice Gast

Science is one area where Britain is world-class. As Brexit and immigration checks loom, we must keep Britain attractive for scientists.
Breakthroughs in frontier science rely on EU collaborations. EU peers want continued frictionless partnership in the Horizon program.
We cannot afford to lose talent mobility in Brexit. UK universities attract the world's best scientists. Brexit Britain could lose them.

AR Science is universal: British science is an oxymoron.

2019 March 17

United Ireland

Timothy Egan

For going on three years now, Britain has taken a holiday from sanity. But from the depths of British bungling, hubris, and incompetence is emerging a St Patrick's Day miracle: the real chance of a united Ireland.
After more than 800 years, London's ruling reach in Northern Ireland may end with the whimpering last gasps of Brexit. Don't wait for Her Majesty's government to resolve the sovereignty issues holding up the divorce between Britain and the European Union. There is no solution.
What UK prime minister Theresa May calls "our precious union" is held together by 10 MPs representing the old hatreds of North Ireland: the DUP. Given a choice, a majority in Northern Ireland could well be persuaded to ditch what is left of Britain and form a single Irish nation.
This was all Britain's doing — a single Irish nation finally free of foreign rule.

2019 March 16

Mathematical Models

Patrick Honner

Mathematics has a long history of defying expectations and forcing us to expand our imaginations. So mathematicians strive for proof. Still, evidence is important and useful in mathematics.
The twin primes conjecture is an example. The twin primes conjecture is not the twin primes theorem, because no one has been able to prove it. Yet almost everyone believes it is true, because there is lots of evidence that supports it.
As we search for large primes, we continue to find extremely large twin prime pairs. The largest currently known pair of twin primes have nearly 400,000 digits each. We know that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by no more than 246, but we still haven't proved the twin primes conjecture that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by 2.
Mathematical models are used everywhere in science and can used to study mathematics itself. They are powerful tools that let us trade a problem we don't fully understand for one we have a better handle on. But we can never be certain that our model behaves enough like the thing we are trying to understand to draw conclusions about it.
Mathematicians know to be cautious when working with their models.

AR This recalls for me the book Proofs and Refutations by Imre Lakatos, which I read with pleasure in 1972, in which he espoused an evolutionary conception of mathematics (inspired by the philosophy of Karl Popper), and which I soon used to develop my own dialectical picture of logic, mathematics, and reality (inspired by the works of Hegel, Frege, Gödel et al.).

Dreams of Empire

James Meek

What may seem, rationally, to be dead, gone, and buried is actually still there, immanent, or hidden, or stolen. An empire. The past week has laid bare the crisis in British politics.
Leavers dream about the Britons who endured the Nazi siege of the early 1940s as "we" who feel bound to re-enact the slaying of a European dragon every few generations.
A subliminal empire persists in their dreaming. From Margaret Thatcher they take the credo that nationalism and borderless capitalism can easily coexist. This idea makes sense only if your country happens to control a global empire.

AR Empire 2.0, Commonwealth 2.0, Common Market 2.0 — all seek refuge in the past.

Common Market 2.0

Nick Boles

Next week the prime minister will hold a third "meaningful vote" on her deal. A third defeat is likely.
A Brexit compromise many MPs could support is Common Market 2.0: the UK would join Norway outside the EU but inside the single market.
The UK is already a member of the EEA, which covers the EU and EFTA. All it would need to do is secure consent to renew its EEA membership after it left the EU and join EFTA by the end of 2020.
Common Market 2.0 would leave the UK out of EU policies on agriculture, fishing, justice, defence, and foreign affairs, out of ECJ jurisdiction, and paying only for chosen programs and agencies.
The UK would have to accept the free movement of people, but with an emergency brake.

AR I could accept this as an alternative to EU membership.

2019 March 15

A Fourth Reich

Thomas Meaney

First Reich — God the Father and the Hebrews, Second Reich — Jesus and the Christians, Third Reich — the Nazis. More prosaically, the First Reich of the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne and the Second Kaiserreich secured by Bismarck led to the Third Reich under Hitler.
The Nazis deprecated the term "Third Reich" because it suggested a coming Fourth Reich. SPD intellectuals drafted a constitution for the Fourth Reich that would come about after the fall of Hitler. It would be dedicated, they said, to global democracy and the equality of peoples.
Since 1945, talk of a Fourth Reich offers perspective for calibrating the rise of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). There were several right-wing German parties in the postwar years. The Socialist Reich Party was founded in 1949 but soon banned by the fledgling Federal Republic.
Today, European critics view the European Union as a kind of Reich in thin disguise. The history of the European Union can be written as an origin story that begins with Hitler but was only realised in opposition to his aims. Europe is now too anglo to have patience with a German Reich.

AR A provocative train of thought, but worth a moment.

2019 March 14

Brexit: UK To Request Delay

BBC News, 1823 UTC

House of Commons passes the following motion by 412 votes to 202:
The government (1) will seek to agree with the EU an extension of the period specified in article 50;
(2) agrees that, if the house has passed a resolution approving May's deal by 20 March, then the government will seek to agree with the EU an extension of the period specified in article 50 for a period ending on 30 June for the purpose of passing the necessary EU exit legislation; and
(3) notes that, if the house has not passed a resolution approving the negotiated deal by 20 March, then it is highly likely that the EU would require a clear purpose for any extension, and that any extension beyond 30 June would require the UK to hold European Parliament elections in May 2019.
Amendment (h), calling for an extension to article 50 to allow time for a referendum on Brexit, was rejected by 334 votes to 85.
Amendment (i), calling for time next week for a debate that would start the process of allowing MPs to hold indicative votes on Brexit alternatives, was rejected by 312 votes to 314.
Amendment (e), calling for an extension to article 50 to provide parliamentary time for MPs to find a majority for a different approach to Brexit, was rejected by votes 318 to 302.

AR Some of these questions will be revisited as events unfold in the coming weeks.

Brexit and Democracy

Andy Ross

A democratic political system is a formalised way of enacting the will of the people. Since no individual politician can credibly claim to know the will of the people directly, the system forms a snapshot of that will by collecting the votes of the people and subjecting them to some simple procedure, such as counting, to assemble a pixelated image.
We can safely leave the technicalities of the pixelation process and the production of a snapshot to the political experts. Experience of many systems over many years has reduced the business, if not to an exact science, at least to a fine art. What remains is to evaluate the meaning and the importance of the portrait of the people that results.
Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer: This piece of folk wisdom constrains the value of the individual pixels that depict the will of the people. A simple yes-no question generates black or white pixels from which only a grainy outline image can be extracted. On the other hand, a nuanced question will mean different things to different people.
Whatever the outcome, the paramount risk in a democratic system is that the image is taken as the reality. However flawed, the portrait becomes an icon, a sacred symbol toward which politicians must perform holy rites to appease their voters. The risk is that the people, thus venerated, develop an inflated sense of their own importance.
Traditional religion, for all its flaws, drummed humility into its followers, and a traditional monarchy drummed humility into its subjects. But a modern democracy invites its voters, or at least those of them who are on the winning side in a division, to imagine their sovereign will is supreme. This used to be condemned as the Christian sin of pride.
Self-will, in all its forms, is a dangerous spur to action. The momentary self of an individual person may prompt overindulgence of a vice such as gluttony or lechery, but the larger shared sense of self of an organised group of people, as in a political movement, can lead to catastrophic outcomes. History is awash with cautionary examples.
For this reason, in modern times, the nation states of Europe have organised themselves into a superordinate body, the European Union, that contains and shapes the sovereignty of its members and preserves a modicum of order between its peoples. Similarly, in earlier times, the different peoples on the British Isles organised themselves into the United Kingdom. In both cases, the aim was to limit and channel the expression of political self-will toward higher values or virtues that might better serve the common interest.
In recent years, the UK has found itself on a collision course with the EU. The titanic parliamentary juggernaut of the UK establishment, trailing a historic wake of martial and imperial glory, is now grinding disastrously against the massive continental iceberg into which the formerly fractious nations of Europe have frozen their animosities. The predicted outcome toward which all sober expectation converges is that the EU, for all its obvious flaws and weaknesses, will be less damaged by the collision than will the UK.
The bigger picture is worth pondering. The victory of democracy in 1945 led experts to conclude that politicians heeding the popular will, as expressed in democratic elections and parliaments, were stronger than dictators in more authoritarian systems who failed to carry the people with them on their political adventures. That conclusion has been allowed to decay in recent years into a lazy acceptance that populism, in which demagogues uphold relatively wild expressions of popular will for opportunistic reasons, is a valid way to continue the democratic tradition.
In Ancient Greek philosophy, the decay of democracy into populism was a precursor to tyranny: A populist leader channels the popular will by means that short-circuit the checks and balances of the usual democratic processes until that leader finally usurps the popular will and rules as a tyrant. For some observers, President Trump in America illustrates the early stages of this process. For others, the emergence across Europe, including Russia, of popular and increasingly authoritarian leaders reveals the same trend.
In the wider sweep of politics, it is worth remembering that democracy is a means, not an end. Individual people will this or that end in ways that can only be deconflicted in a system that balances the conflicting ends against each other, and democracy has proved to be a simple and robust mechanism to establish and deliver that balance. By contrast, an authoritarian system will prioritise one set of ends above all others and force the losers to swallow their pride and accept defeat, if not total ruin.
Populists on the path to tyranny tend to take a crudely pixelated image of the popular will and weaponise it against all opposition. Soon enough, the image becomes an abstract icon, like a cross on the shield of a crusader, and the people are praised in name only under the tyrant's rule. This is the road the Bolsheviks took in Soviet Russia when they established the dictatorship of the proletariat, first under Lenin and then under Stalin, before proceeding to ruin old Europe.
Applied to the collision between the UK and the EU, the drift from democracy to populism is evident in the aggressive sacralisation of the 17.4 million votes for the Leave cause in the 2016 referendum. That cartoon snapshot of the will of the people may be upheld as iconic, but like the 2005 Danish cartoon of Muhammad it serves more to divide than unite us. Times change, and reasonable people are not too proud to change their opinions to reflect new facts.
More specifically, UK parliamentarians have acted in genuflection to the 2016 icon without due appreciation of the need for a better portrait of the people. The 2017 general election offered no royal road for voters disaffected by the icon and thus deepened their disaffection. The obvious solution is to commission a new portrait.

Print version (2 pages)


The Guardian
UK papers, Thursday morning

EU gap

WWW @ 30

Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented
the World Wide Web
30 years ago.

AR And changed my life
— thanks, Tim!

From a video on how to
visualize quaternions

JooHee Yoon


2019 March 13

Brexit: No No Deal

BBC News, 1950 UTC

House of Commons passes motion to reject no-deal Brexit on 29 March by 321 votes to 278,
amended to reject a no-deal Brexit at any time (approved by 312 votes to 308), but
lacking the "Malthouse compromise" amendment (rejected by 374 votes to 164).
The motion and its amendments are expressions of feeling with no legal force.

AR Sterling rises on the news.

Brexit: On The Brink

The Times

Only 16 days before the UK is due to leave the EU, Theresa May's strategy for delivering an orderly departure lies in tatters.
May pursued an unsound strategy, misread her opponents in Brussels, and refused to be honest about the compromises and trade-offs that the rupture of relations with the EU was bound to entail. Instead she tried to conduct the negotiations by stealth, running down the clock on her cabinet, her party, parliament, and the public.
The result of all this dissembling has been a calamitous loss of trust. The prime minister long ago forfeited the trust of Brexiteers. She is not trusted by Remainers. Above all, she has forfeited the trust of the EU.
Last night May was forced to concede a free vote today on whether parliament should back leaving the EU without a deal. That is an admission that the government is no longer able to provide leadership at this time of crisis. On Thursday she will almost certainly have to offer another free vote on whether to extend Article 50.
The Conservative party may now decide that only a new leader can find a way forward.

AR Parliament has legislated for Brexit on March 29. Only a surprise plot twist can stop it.
ERG chair Jacob Rees-Mogg: "I think our expectations are that we will leave without a deal."
Remainers must force a surprise twist. The End of Days scenario is too grim to contemplate.

2019 March 12

Brexit: Titanic Defeat

BBC News, 1922 UTC

House of Commons rejects Theresa May's deal by 391 votes to 242.

Brexit: Avoidable Damage

The Times

Today MPs will be asked to cast what will almost certainly be the most important vote of their lives on a Brexit motion that they will have had just hours to assess.
Brexit is not just about economics. MPs will vote at a time of intense geopolitical volatility, when the unity of the western alliance has never looked less certain. How their decisions affect this instability should be uppermost in their minds.
The degree of fragmentation of the western alliance was scarcely imaginable when Britain voted in 2016 to quit the EU. New sources of tension between the allies are emerging almost daily.
President Trump will decide within weeks whether to launch a trade war with the EU. There are also multiple tensions within the EU itself, not least a new war of words between France and Italy.
There have been tensions between NATO members before. But they never undermined the strategic cohesion of the West. The last time the world faced such a geopolitical shift came with the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire.
A no-deal Brexit would be a profound geopolitical shock. We cannot assume strategic and security partnerships are unaffected by economic relationships.

AR See my recent essay Ringlord.

AI Is Changing Science

Dan Falk

Machine learning and AI offer a new way of doing science. Generative modeling can help identify the most plausible theory among competing explanations for observational data, based solely on the data. This is a third way between observation and simulation.
A generative adversarial network (GAN) can repair images that have damaged or missing pixels and can make blurry images sharp. The GAN runs a competition: A generator generates fake data, while a discriminator tries to distinguish fake data from real data. As the program runs, both halves improve.
More broadly, generative modeling takes sets of data and breaks each of them down into a set of basic blocks in a latent space. The algorithm manipulates elements of the latent space to see how this affects the original data, and this helps uncover physical processes at work in the system. Generative modeling automates part of the process of science.
Perhaps future machines will discover physics or mathematics that the brightest humans alive cannot find on their own. Perhaps future science will be driven by machines that operate on a level we can never reach.

AR In 1988, in a Springer physics newsletter, I said simulation was a third way of doing science, between observation and theory.

2019 March 11

Brexit Showdown

The Observer

What happens this week is likely to prove decisive. If May loses the vote on her deal on Tuesday as expected, will parliamentarians rally round a referendum on the deal as the only realistic route out of this mess? If they don't, they will edge closer to the cliff edge and a binary choice between May's deal and no deal. And they will be entirely complicit in whatever follows.

AR Vote for a people's vote.

Animated Math

Grant Sanderson

3blue1brown centers around presenting math with a visuals-first approach. That is, rather than first deciding on a lesson then putting illustrations to it for the sake of having a video, almost all projects start with a particular visualization, with the narrative and storyline then revolving around it.
Topics tend to fall into one of two categories:
 Lessons on topics people might be seeking out.
 Problems in math which many people may not have heard of, and which seem really hard at first,
    but where some shift in perspective makes it both doable and beautiful.
I think of the first category as motivating math by its usefulness, and the second as motivating math as an art form.
 The YouTube channel

AR I've liked Grant's work for years.

2019 March 10

America vs China

The New York Times

By imposing tariffs on Chinese imports, President Trump created an opportunity to improve the US economic relationship with China. His decision to go it alone, rather than making common cause with longstanding allies, was ill advised, and his trade war has caused pain for many Americans.
The proper measure of any deal is whether it persuades China to curb its use of state subsidies, regulations, and various kinds of informal interference that limit the ability of American companies to sell goods and services in China, and help Chinese companies sell goods in the United States.
The United States has focused its demands on making it easier for American companies to operate in China. But the United States has failed in past efforts to hold China to its commitments. The risk is that Trump will accept a deal that allows him to claim a superficial triumph.

A Rogue President

James Kitfield

President Trump reportedly plans to transform America's alliances into a protection racket with a "cost plus 50" plan that would require allies to pay 150% of the cost of hosting US troops, with a good behavior discount for those countries willing to take their marching orders from Washington.
Former NSC staffer Kori Schake: "The question that dominated the Munich Conference was whether the United States would once again lead the Western democracies after Trump is gone, or whether the Europeans need to protect themselves further against a disruptive America."
Former US defense secretary Bill Cohen: "Why has Trump adopted an agenda that exactly replicates Vladimir Putin's bucket list? .. The President of the United States may well be compromised by the Russians, which I truly believe is the case. And he is unfit to serve."

2019 March 9

Neuroscience and Consciousness

Philip Ball

Consciousness is a hard problem in science. A new project funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation aims to narrow the options for tackling it. Researchers will collaborate on how to conduct discriminating experiments.
Bernard Baars and Stanislas Dehaene suggest conscious behavior arises when we hold information in a global workspace within the brain, where it can be broadcast to brain modules associated with specific tasks. This view is called global workspace theory (GWT).
Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi say consciousness is an intrinsic property of the right kind of cognitive network. This is integrated information theory (IIT). IIT portrays consciousness as the causal power of a system to make a difference to itself.
Koch and Tononi define a measure of information integration, Φ, to represent how much a network as a whole can influence itself. This depends on interconnectivity of feedback.
Researchers have now designed experiments to test the different predictions of GWT and IIT. According to GWT, the neural correlates of consciousness should show up in parts of the brain including the parietal and frontal lobes. According to IIT, the seat of consciousness is instead likely to be in the sensory representation in the back of the brain.
Anil Seth thinks the Templeton project may be premature.

Animals Are Emotional

Frans de Waal

I believe we share all emotions with other species in the same way we share virtually every organ in our bodies with them. Like organs, the emotions evolved over millions of years to serve essential functions. Their usefulness has been tested again and again, giving them the wisdom of ages, and none is fundamentally new.
Open your front door and tell your dog that you are going out for a walk, then close the door and return to your seat. Your dog, who had been barking and wriggling with excitement, now slinks back to his basket and puts his head down on his paws. You have just witnessed both hope and disappointment in another species.
Whatever the difference between humans and other animals may be, it is unlikely to be found in the emotional domain.

AR Who doubts it?

Are We Alone?

Rebecca Boyle

Enrico Fermi said there are lots of stars and extraterrestrial life might be common, so we should get visitors. But where are they?
In a new paper, Jonathan Carroll-Nellenback, Jason Wright, Adam Frank, and Caleb Scharf model the spread of a settlement front across the galaxy, and find its speed is strongly affected by the motions of stars. A settlement front could cross an entire galaxy based just on the motions of stars, regardless of the power of propulsion systems.
The Fermi paradox does not mean ET life does not exist. The Milky Way may be partially settled, or intermittently so. The solar system may well be amid other settled systems and has just been unvisited for millions of years.

AR We are not alone.

Crew Dragon returns

NASA (1:07)
SpaceX Crew Dragon returns to Earth in Atlantic splashdown


"Trump is not forever.
Brexit is. Britain's youth
oppose it. A decision of
this import should be
grounded in reality."
Roger Cohen

Stop Brexit


2019 March 8

Quantum Computing

Katia Moskvitch

The Large Hadron Collider generated about 300 GB of data per second. To make sense of all that information, the LHC data was pumped out to 170 computing centers in 42 countries. This global collaboration helped discover the Higgs boson.
A proposed Future Circular Collider would create at least twice as much data as the LHC. CERN researchers are looking at the emerging field of quantum computing. The EU has pledged to give $1 billion to researchers over the next decade, while venture capitalists invested some $250 million in quantum computing research in 2018 alone.
Qubits can be made in different ways. Two qubits can be both in state A, both in state B, one in state A and one in state B, or vice versa, to give four probabilities. To know the state of a qubit, you measure it, collapsing the state. With every qubit added to its memory size, a quantum computer should get exponentially increased computational power.
Last year, Caltech physicists replicated the discovery of the Higgs boson by sifting through LHC data using a quantum computer based on quantum annealing. Dips in a landscape of peaks and valleys represent possible solutions and the system finds the lowest dips via quantum tunneling.
There are three other main approaches to quantum computing: integrated circuits, topological qubits, and ions trapped with lasers.
Quantum chips are integrated circuits with superconducting quantum gates. Each quantum gate holds a pair of qubits. The chip is supercooled to 10 mK to keep the qubits in superposition. A useful machine needs about 1,000 qubits with low noise and error correction to make up just one logical qubit. So far, we only have error correction for up to 10 qubits.
Topological qubits would be much more stable. The idea is to split a particle in two, creating Majorana fermion quasi-particles, so that one topological qubit is a logical one. Scaling such a device to thousands of logical qubits would be much easier.
Trapped ions show superposition effects at room temperature and each ion is a qubit. Researchers trap them and run algorithms using laser beams that write data to the ions and read it out by change the ion states. So far, the ion qubits are noisy.
Meanwhile, at CERN, the clock is ticking.


Theresa May

Next week MPs in Westminster face a crucial choice: whether to back the Brexit deal or to reject it. Back it, and the UK will leave the European Union. Reject it, and no one knows what will happen. We may not leave the EU for many months, we may leave without the protections that the deal provides. We may never leave at all.

AR Revoke, remain, repent, reform (UK and EU)

2019 March 7

To Poole

Drove from Amiens to Cherbourg, then enjoyed a stormy sea voyage from Cherbourg to Poole

2019 March 6

To Amiens

Drove from Gaiberg to Amiens, then enjoyed a fine dinner in that beautiful city

2019 March 5, Faschingsdienstag

Europe Renew!

Emmanuel Macron

Citizens of Europe, I am taking the liberty of addressing you directly ..
Never has Europe been in such danger. Brexit stands as the symbol of .. the trap that threatens the whole of Europe: the anger mongers, backed by fake news, promise anything and everything.
Europe is not just an economic market. It is a project .. European civilisation unites, frees, and protects us .. We need to .. reinvent the shape of our civilisation in a changing world.
Now is the time for a European renaissance .. I propose we build this renewal together around three ambitions: freedom, protection, and progress .. We need to build European renewal on these pillars .. In this Europe, the people will really take back control of their future.
The Brexit impasse is a lesson for us all. We need to escape this trap and make the forthcoming elections and our project meaningful .. Together we chart the road to European renewal.

AR Good — Britain needs a hero like Macron.

Russian Doll

Chelsea Whyte

Russian Doll is a dark comedy starring a woman stuck in a time loop. She dies, only to be resurrected in a new branch of the multiverse.
Nadia has to convince someone that she is reliving the same night. She meets Alan, who also keeps dying and reliving the same day, and sees their experience as a video game. Their inner lives continue as one linear experience while their bodies keep dying.
Nadia: "Time is relative to your experience. We've been experiencing time differently in these loops, but this tells us that somewhere, linear time as we used to understand it still exists."

AR Experienced time is the innermost bastion of consciousness. Its linearity through outer confusion (in this case sorted into a multiverse experience) is a criterion of rationality. To lose the thread is to lose your mind.

2019 March 4, Rosenmontag

Upside to Brexit?

Jochen Bittner

Brexit may have an upside. When its most globally minded member leaves, the EU must rethink its mission and vision.
The new global rivalry is between free and unfree market economies. China has decoupled personal freedom from freedom of innovation. With a GDP of close to $25 trillion, China is potentially the most powerful economy in world history.
For the first time in modern history, technological leadership is being assumed by a power unchecked by the democratic vote. China's legal tradition puts collective interests above individual rights.
China maintains a clear strategic outlook. Chinese Communists appear to have learned lessons from both the rise of the British Empire and the fall of the Soviet Union. Unlike Europe, China speaks with one voice, and expresses one vision.
The West needs a stronger alliance to compete. Brexit could force Britain and Europe to push back against China.

China vs Germany

Wolfgang Münchau

Germany is ambivalent about China. It needs Chinese technology. But Germany also worries about Chinese companies acquiring its technology.
Germany once saw China as an export market for machinery with which China would develop its industrial base. Today, China is becoming the senior partner in the relationship.
The two countries have a lot in common. Both are export-driven economies with large external savings surpluses. But German economic strategy is not nearly as consistent.
In Europe, macroeconomic policy, industrial policy, and foreign and security policy are run independently of each other. China has an integrated approach to policy.
The Europeans did not see this coming. Complacency is about to turn into panic.

Europe vs Brexit

Manfred Weber

The European way of life includes fundamental values and rules: the rule of law, democracy, independent media, the social market economy, and the equality of men and women.
Developments across Europe are shocking. Antisemitism is returning with a bang. The development of a European Islam rooted in our fundamental values has not been successful.
I am concerned that populists could become stronger in the European Parliament. Brexit shows what happens if you follow the simplistic answers presented by populists.
We have been negotiating with Britain for almost three years and we have hardly made any progress. I have little sympathy for a postponement that would simply prolong the chaos in London.
The participation of British voters in the EU election is inconceivable to me. I can't explain to people in Germany or Spain that people who want to leave the EU should be given a vote on its future.
The EU must reform its institutions, limit migration, and face up to the challenges presented by Donald Trump, such as a trade conflict. I can't let the British tragedy infect the rest of the EU.

Utterly, Utterly Stupid

Simon Wren-Lewis

What the UK is doing is utterly, utterly stupid, an act of self harm with no point, no upside.
The days when Leavers talked about the sunlit uplands are over. Instead there has emerged one justification for Brexit: the 2016 referendum. People voted for it, so it must be done.
Warnings from big business become an excuse to talk about WW2 again. The case for Leaving has become little more than xenophobia and nationalism.
The worst excuse not to hold a people's vote is that a second referendum would be undemocratic. Orwell must be turning in his grave.

2019 March 3

The Trump Narrative

Larry Jacobs

President Trump has been a magician in masterminding a narrative that he's going to stand up for America and he's not beholden to the swamp. This week put the lie to his narrative.
The collapse of the talks in North Korea has put the lie to his story that he had a historic accomplishment. There has not been a breakthrough, and Trump conceded the point and left.
Back home, the idea Trump is a beacon of truth was seriously damaged by what Michael Cohen said and the people he identified who will be brought forward to testify.

Cosmic Expansion

Dennis Overbye

A changing Hubble constant suggests dark energy might be increasing. To calibrate the Hubble constant, we use supernovas and variable stars whose distances we can estimate.
NASA HST results give 72 km/s per Mpc for the Hubble constant, and other results agree. But the ESA Planck map of the CMB predicts a Hubble constant of 67. We have a problem.
We can use quasar emissions to trace back the history of the cosmos nearly 12 billion years. The rate of cosmic expansion seems to deviate from expectations over that time.
The cosmos is now doubling in size every 10 billion years. String theory allows space to be laced with energy fields called quintessence that oppose gravity and could change over time.
In the coming decade, ESA mission Euclid and NASA mission WFIRST are designed to help solve the problem with the Hubble constant.

2019 March 2

Europawahl: Briten Raus


Europäischen Volkspartei (EVP) Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber (CSU): "Eine Teilnahme der britischen Bürger an der Europawahl ist für mich undenkbar. Ich kann doch in Deutschland oder Spanien niemandem erklären, dass Bürger, die die EU verlassen wollen, noch mal wesentlichen Anteil daran nehmen sollen, deren Zukunft zu gestalten."

AR Weber hat sicherlich recht: Schmeißen die Briten raus!

The Brexit Mess

Sir Ivan Rogers

Four weeks before the Brexit deadline, the British political class is unable to come to any serious conclusion about what kind of Brexit they want.
The UK political elite has fractured in both parties. In British politics, unless you occupy the center you are finished. But the center has largely collapsed and populists have gained more influence.
Theresa May wants to reduce the numbers of people coming into the UK. Having started with her hardline position, every time she moves a little bit back, the right wing of her party cries betrayal.
I have worked with several prime ministers very closely, and none of them had a deep understanding how the EU works. The UK has always had a rather mercantile relationship with its neighbors.
European leaders spend too little time thinking about how the continent should look in future after Brexit. Assuming Brexit happens, German politicians must ask how we are going to work together.
Europeans need to tell the UK what they want. They will need to be told what degree of divergency the UK wants and why. This will take years.

AR Perhaps 40 years in the wilderness will teach Brits some manners.

2019 March 1

Fast Radio Bursts

Joshua Sokol

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are millisecond-long blips of intense radio signals that pop up all over the sky. To explain them, we need an object that can emit lots of energy and a way to transform the energy into a bright radio signal.
FRBs may arise from a magnetar, a young neutron star that can emit charged particles into the surrounding clutter and create a shock wave, which beams a brief flash of radio waves into the universe. Some FRBs repeat at unpredictable intervals from dense regions of plasma with extreme magnetic fields. Each burst contains sub-bursts that shift from higher to lower frequencies.
In models of nuclear detonations, the shock fronts sweep up more gas as they expand outward. That extra weight slows down the shock, and because it slows, radiation released from the shock front shifts downward in frequency.
Flares from a magnetar run into particles emitted during previous flares. Where new ejecta meets older debris, it piles up into a shock, inside which magnetic fields soar. As the shock presses outward, the electrons inside gyrate around along magnetic field lines, and that motion produces a burst of radio waves. That signal then shifts from higher to lower frequencies as the shock slows.
If the model is correct, future FRBs should follow the same downward shift in frequency. They might show gamma-ray or X-ray emission and should live in galaxies that are producing fresh magnetars. When they repeat, they should take breaks from bursting after a major flare.
Coming soon: new data to help us explain them.

Andy, Rolf

Flying with Rolf Kickuth in his gyrocopter over Mannheim, Germany, 25 February

Moebius band

Independent Team
BBC News

Conservative party loses
3 MPs to the new group
formed by 7 Labour MPs.
An 8th Labour MP joins.
Team total so far: 11

Fortress Europe


2019 February 28

To Woods

Walk in the woods, alone with my thoughts, near Dudenhofen, west of Speyer

2019 February 27

To Schwetzingen

Coffee date in the sun with old friend Matthias Störmer in Schwetzingen Schlossplatz

2019 February 26


With Rolf to BASF press conference in Ludwigshafen — photo

2019 February 25

To Blue Sky

In gyrocopter from Mannheim City Airport to blue sky over the Rhine-Neckar region

2019 February 24

To Germany

In car from Amiens to my friends Angela and Rolf in Gaiberg, Germany

2019 February 23

To France

With car to Cherbourg, in car to Amiens, driving in warm sunlight

2019 February 22

The Dawn Of Time

New Scientist

Near the South Pole, the BICEP3 telescope captures light from the dawn of time. A few years ago, BICEP2 researchers thought they had found proof of cosmic inflation, but they made an error.
Up to 12 Ts ABB, the universe was a hot, dense soup of elementary particles. Then it cooled, atoms formed, and the cosmos became transparent. The CMB is made up of the first free photons.
Inflation explains the smooth distribution of galaxies in the universe. Tiny quantum fluctuations in the first moments ABB produced an uneven distribution of matter that was amplified as the cosmos expanded. Inflation smoothed out the bumps.
Tiny temperature variations in the CMB are largely consistent with the main inflationary models. We seek a more detailed appreciation of how CMB photons are polarized. The Planck telescope mapped this polarization with only limited sensitivity.
Inflation implies that turbulence in the fabric of the early universe made gravitational waves. These waves left a "B-mode" pattern in the CMB polarization. But any such polarization signals are far smaller than the fluctuations mapped by Planck.
The BICEP2 detector had 256 pixels but BICEP3 has 1280. Teamed with the Keck Array, the researchers began gathering data in 2016 and could soon detect the primordial B-mode signal.

A Theory Of Everything

New Yorker

Richard Feynman said there are multiple valid ways of describing many physical phenomena. In quantum theory, Feynman diagrams indicate the probabilities, or scattering amplitudes, of different particle-collision outcomes.
In 2013, Nima Arkani-Hamed and Jaroslav Trnka discovered a reformulation of scattering amplitudes that makes no reference to spacetime: The amplitudes of certain particle collisions are encoded in the volume of a geometric object: the amplituhedron.
Einstein's general theory of relativity weaves space and time into the 4D fabric of spacetime. The theory is incomplete, but it has a clean and compelling mathematical structure. To discover a deeper way of explaining the universe, you must jump to a totally different mathematical structure.
To Arkani-Hamed, theoretical physics is a matter of discovering questions. Calculating the volume of the amplituhedron is a question in geometry. The answer describes the behavior of particles without mentioning spacetime.

2019 February 21

Möbius Bands In Space


Moscow mathematician Olga Frolkina has proved that the Möbius band (a 2D loop with a half-twist) cannot be packed an uncountably infinite number of times into an infinite amount of 3D space.
The Möbius band is an example of a non-orientable manifold, a mathematical object on which you cannot fix a notion of inside and outside that will stay consistent as you travel around the space.
Objects such as disks and spheres can be tamely embedded into 3D space. Wild embeddings are trickier. An uncountable infinity of spheres and tori can be embedded into 3D space without overlap if the embeddings are tame but not if they are wild.
Uncountably many tamely embedded Möbius bands cannot fit in 3D space without intersecting each other. Frolkina proved this too for wildly embedded Möbius bands.

AR The higher-dimensional results are interesting too.

2019 February 20

Record German Export Surplus

The Times

Germany ran the world's largest trade surplus in 2018. German sales of goods and services overseas last year outstripped its imports by €249 billion. This was by far the widest in the world.

AR Make things people want to buy — sounds good to me.

Honda Abandons Brexit Britain

Financial Times

Japanese company Honda is closing its car plant in Swindon.
Access to the EU market caused global car companies to locate in the UK. Friction between the UK and the EU hinders their operations. The car industry involves massive economies of scale, and the supply chains cannot be confined to the UK.
Other car companies will cut production in the UK. Uncertain access to the EU market after Brexit is a reason. Whatever the final relationship between the UK and the EU, the tactic of running down the clock to March 29 carries costs.
Global car companies will tend to avoid Brexit Britain.

AR Japan will see Brexit Britain as a failing state.

British Labour Antisemitism Split

The Times

Labour MP Ruth George says the seven MPs who quit the party might be secretly funded by Israel. They are resigning over Jeremy Corbyn's handling of antisemitism in the party as well as Brexit.

AR Labour and antisemitism — fatal.

2019 February 19


Gideon Rachman

Islamophobia is now a central part of politics in most major capitals worldwide. And countries that were once seen as strongholds of moderate Islam are witnessing a rise in radical Islamism.
 China has imprisoned more than a million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang in mass internment camps. International slowness to protest may reflect an increasingly hostile attitude to Muslim minorities in other parts of the world.
 India is governed by Hindu nationalists. BJP militants regard Islam as alien to India. About 1 in 7 of the Indian population is Muslim, but there was no Muslim among the 282 BJP MPs in 2014.
 In America since 9/11, many more American civilians have fallen victim to school shootings than to Islamist terrorists, but anti-Muslim rhetoric by US politicians has become more pronounced.
 In Europe, mass migration has produced a surge in support for nationalist and Islamophobic parties. Such parties are now in government in Hungary, Austria, Italy, and Poland.
 In Turkey, secularists fear the president will Islamize their country.
 In Pakistan, Islamists use blasphemy laws as a weapon.
A clash of civilizations is emerging.

AR I think monotheism needs an upgrade.

2019 February 18

Climate: Time to Panic

David Wallace-Wells

Last October, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report detailing climate effects at 1.5 K and 2 K of global warming. The report gave good reason for scientists worldwide to freak out. This is progress.
Alarmism and catastrophic thinking are valuable, for several reasons:
1 Climate change is a crisis because it is a looming catastrophe that demands an aggressive global response. The emissions path we are on today is likely to take us to 1.5 K of warming by 2040 and 2 K within decades after that. Many big cities in the Mideast and South Asia would become lethally hot in summer. Coastal cities worldwide would be threatened with inundation. Many millions of people would flee droughts, floods, and extreme heat. It is right to be alarmed.
2 Catastrophic thinking makes it easier to see the threat of climate change clearly. For years, we have pictured a landscape of possibilities that began with the climate as it exists today and ended with the pain of 2 K, the ceiling of suffering. In fact, it is almost certainly a floor. By far the likeliest outcomes for the end of this century fall between 2 K and 4 K of warming.
3 Complacency remains a much bigger political problem than fatalism. A national survey showed a majority of Americans were unwilling to spend even $10 a month to address global warming, and most drew the line at $1 a month. If we delay the decarbonization effort by another decade, we will have to cut emissions by some 9% each year. We have to get started now.
4 Our mental reflexes run toward disbelief in the possibility of very bad outcomes. Complacency is hard to shake. Cognitive biases distort and distend our perception of a changing climate. All the biases that push us toward complacency are abetted by our storytelling about warming.
Individual lifestyle choices are trivial compared with what politics can achieve. Buying an electric car is a drop in the bucket compared with raising car-emission standards sharply. Flying less is a lot easier if high-speed rail is an option. Politics is a moral multiplier.

Ben, Andy

Brexit: The Movie
Ben Aston and I discuss Brexit at Bournemouth University on February 14 (YouTube: 1 hr, 45 min, 39 sec)


UK in EU


2019 February 17

Brexit: May Could Lose

The Times

Theresa May might well lose the Commons vote on her Brexit deal on February 27. Cabinet sources fear this would let parliament seize control of the Brexit negotiations. On the same day, MPs are due to vote on an amendment by Yvette Cooper and Sir Oliver Letwin that would force May to ask Brussels for a delay to Brexit.
A cabinet minister: "We may lose Brexit altogether."

AR That loss would give me occasion to celebrate for the first time in three years.

2019 February 16

Global Security

The Guardian

At the Munich Security Conference, German chancellor Angela Merkel warned of a collapse of the international order into tiny parts: "Do we fall apart into pieces of a puzzle and think everyone can solve the question best for himself alone?"
On the Russian and American decision to cancel the 1987 INF treaty: "Disarmament is something that concerns us all, and where we would, of course, be delighted if such talks were held not just between the United States, Europe and Russia, but also with China."
Merkel said German defense spending is due to reach 1.5% by 2024 and that development spending in Africa also brought greater security: "We have to think in networked structures. The military component is one of them. We need NATO as a stability anchor in stormy times. We need it as a community of values."

Munich Security Conference
Martin Knobbe

Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel: "Wir leben in einem Zeitalter, in dem die Spuren des Menschen so tief in die Erde eindringen, dass auch die nachfolgenden Generationen sie sehen können .. Who will pick up the pieces? .. Nur wir alle zusammen."
Merkel erinnerte daran, dass sich auch Deutschland bewegen müsse, wenn Europa eine gemeinsame militärische Kultur entwickeln wolle. Wenn man mit Frankreich über gemeinsame Rüstungsprojekte rede, müsse man sich auch auf eine gemeinsame Politik bei den Rüstungsexporten einigen.

Brexit Strategy Failed

The Guardian

Theresa May will face a wall of resistance when she returns to Brussels next week. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told diplomats from EU member states her Brexit strategy had "failed" after her latest parliamentary defeat and that her strategy could not work.
An ambassador: "We have a major problem."

2019 February 15

Trump Emergency

The New York Times

President Trump is planning to take executive overreach to new heights. Cornered into accepting a budget deal that lacks the $5.7 billion in border wall funding he demanded, the president has a solution: Sign the bill while simultaneously declaring a national emergency that lets him shift funds and order the military to start building his wall.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: "President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action, including a national emergency, to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border."
The influx of migrant families at the southern border does not constitute a national security crisis. There is a worsening humanitarian crisis, actively fueled by the policies of the administration. The suffering requires thoughtful policy adjustments, not a wall.
Confronted with this power grab, every lawmaker should be bellowing in alarm. Until recently, the threat of an imperial presidency was of grave constitutional concern to Republicans, who accused President Obama of misusing executive authority.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi: "Just think of what a president with different values can present to the American people."
Trump: "I have the absolute right to do national emergency if I want."

AR And the House has the right to do impeachment.

Quantum Foundations

Philip Ball

In 1925, Erwin Schrödinger wrote an equation to describe the wavy nature of quantum particles. The Schrödinger equation ascribes to a particle a wave function, φ, whose amplitude determines the particle's behavior.
In 1926, Max Born suggested interpreting the wave function in terms of probability. He said the amplitude of the wave function at position x is related to the probability of finding the particle at x in a measurement: The probability is given by the product φ*φ of the wave function φ with its complex conjugate φ*.
Lluís Masanes, Thomas Galley, and Markus Müller (MGM) show that the Born rule follows from basic postulates of quantum mechanics, given a few basic assumptions:
1 Quantum states are formulated as vectors.
2 So long as a particle is not measured, it evolves so as to preserve information.
3 How you group the parts of a system is irrelevant to a measurement outcome.
4 A measurement on a quantum system produces a unique outcome.
MGM do not assume the technical requirements of quantum mechanics directly. Instead, they derive them, like the Born rule, from the basic assumptions.
Adán Cabello assumes there is no underlying physical law that dictates measurement outcomes. Every outcome can happen if it is consistent with the outcome probabilities of different experiments. He shows that quantum measurement outcomes follow the Born rule as a matter of logic.
In both approaches, quantum theory is founded on simple postulates.

2019 February 14

Brexit: May Defeat

House of Commons, 1745 UTC

MPs have delivered a blow to Theresa May's authority by rejecting her motion by 303 votes to 258: Motion: "That this House welcomes the prime minister's statement of 12 February 2019; reiterates its support for the approach to leaving the EU expressed by this House on 29 January 2019 and notes that discussions between the UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland backstop are ongoing."

"When the chips are down, [Theresa May] will actually prefer to do what some of my esteemed colleagues prefer, and to head for the exit door without a deal, which the secretary of state informed us is the policy of Her Majesty's government in the event that her deal has not succeeded. That is terrifying fact."
Sir Oliver Letwin

AR Depose her.

Brexit: Insurmountable Impact

Financial Times

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte says Britain is a diminished country after its vote for Brexit.
Rutte says companies are shifting offices and staff to The Netherlands from the UK: "Every businessman I speak to from the UK is saying they will cut investments, cut their business in the UK. It will have an insurmountable impact on the UK."
Rutte: "We have to realise we are not toothless, we have our means of power as the EU."

Brexit: National Crisis

Sir Nigel Sheinwald et al.

As former diplomats, our advice to Theresa May is that we should not leave the EU when we have no clarity about our final destination. We must seek to extend the Article 50 negotiating period.
Brexit has turned into a national crisis. There is no possible deal that will be a sensible alternative to the privileged one we have today as members of the EU with a seat at the table.
There is now a powerful argument to go back to the people and ask them whether they want the negotiated Brexit deal or would prefer to stay in the EU.
Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Lord Kerr, Lord Hannay, .. [total > 40]

Brexit: Dark Money

George Monbiot

The Brexit referendum was won with the help of widespread cheating. Both of the main leave campaigns were fined for illegal activities. But the government has so far failed to introduce a single new law in response to these events.
Since mid-January, Britain's Future has spent £125,000 on Facebook ads demanding a hard or no-deal Brexit. Britain's Future has no published address and releases no information about who founded it, who controls it, and who has been paying for these ads.
British rules governing funding for political parties, elections, and referendums are next to useless. They were last redrafted 19 years ago, when online campaigning had scarcely begun. The Electoral Commission has none of the powers required to regulate online campaigning.
The UK government wants to keep the system as it is.

How Brains Code Time

Jordana Cepelewicz

Marc Howard and Karthik Shankar have built a mathematical model of how the brain might encode time: As sensory neurons fire in response to an unfolding event, the brain maps the temporal component of that activity to a representation of the experience in a Laplace transform. The brain preserves information about the event as a function of a variable it can encode and then maps it back into an inverse Laplace transform to reconstruct a compressed record.
There are "time cell" neurons in the brain, each tuned to fire at certain points in a span of time, with different frequencies, to bridge time gaps between experiences. One can look at the firings and determine when a stimulus was presented from which cells fired. This is the inverse Laplace transform part of the model.
The medial and lateral entorhinal cortex provide input to the hippocampus, which generates episodic memories of experiences that occur at a particular time in a particular place. Albert Tsao knew the medial entorhinal cortex was responsible for mapping place and guessed the lateral entorhinal cortex harbored a signal of time.
Tsao examined the neural activity in the lateral entorhinal cortex of rats as they foraged for food. In the trials, the firing rates of the neurons spiked when the rat entered the box and decreased at varying rates as time passed. That activity ramped up again at the start of the next trial. In some cells, activity declined not only during each trial but throughout the entire experiment. Hundreds of neurons worked together to record the order of the trials and the length of each one.
Howard saw that the different rates of decay in the neural activity looked like a Laplace transform of time. His model can explain how we create and maintain a timeline of the past. That timeline could be of use not just to episodic memory in the hippocampus, but to working memory in the prefrontal cortex and conditioning responses in the striatum.
Howard is working on extending the theory to other domains of cognition.

Dresden 1945

On February 13-14, 1945, the city of Dresden was incinerated by British and American bombers

George Soros
George Soros

"That was another hard
round of negotiations"


Ultima Thule
has an odd shape

The Paradise Papers
revealed tax avoidance
on a global scale

In 1945, B-29 "Enola Gay"
delivered an atom bomb
to Hiroshima

"I've been wondering what
the special place in hell
looks like for people who
promoted Brexit without
even a sketch of a plan how
to carry it out safely."
Donald Tusk

Avraham Sutzkever
Avraham Sutzkever


2019 February 13

Germany on Brexit

Helene von Bismarck

Angela Merkel remains chancellor, and her priorities for the Withdrawal Agreement are shared widely across the German political spectrum: EU27 cohesion and single market integrity come first, the Anglo-German relationship second.
The EU is currently facing great challenges, such as EZ fragility, populism, and migration. Faced with a choice between punishing the UK for Brexit or punishing the EU for it, the German government will not hesitate. British attempts to persuade the German government to act as a broker for Britain within the EU27 are a waste of time.

2019 February 12

European Nightmare

George Soros

The European Union could go the way of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Europe needs to recognize the magnitude of the threat. In the elections for the European Parliament in May 2019, the present party system hampers those who want to preserve the founding values of the EU but helps those who want something radically different.

Germany and the Right
The dominant CDU/CSU alliance in Germany has become unsustainable. The AfD entry into the Bavarian parliament broke the purpose of the alliance. The current ruling coalition cannot be as robustly pro-European as it would be without the AfD threatening its right flank. The good news is that the Greens are rising and the AfD seems to have reached a peak. But the CDU/CSU commitment to European values is ambivalent.

UK and Brexit
The antiquated UK party structure prevents the popular will from finding proper expression. Both Labour and the Conservatives are internally divided, but both parties seem determined to deliver Brexit. The public is becoming aware of the dire consequences of Brexit, which could raise a groundswell of support for a referendum or for revocation of the Article 50 notification.

Italy and Immigration
The EU made a fatal mistake in 2017 by strictly enforcing the Dublin Agreement, which unfairly burdens countries like Italy where migrants first enter the EU. This drove Italy to the populists in 2018, leaving the pro-Europeans with no party to vote for. A similar reordering of party systems is happening in France, Poland, Sweden, and probably elsewhere.

Hungary and Nationalism
National parties at least have some roots in the past, but the trans-European alliances are entirely dictated by their party leaders. The European People's Party (EPP) is almost entirely devoid of principles, as demonstrated by its willingness to permit the continued membership of the Hungarian Fidesz party.

One can still make a case for preserving the EU in order radically to reinvent it. But the current EU leadership is reminiscent of the politburo when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Mobilize the masses to defend EU founding values!

AR The founding values of the EU are still a high point in human moral achievement. The challenge is to re-engineer their implementation to accommodate new technology (fake news in social media, high cost of medical advances, rise of global manufacturing chains, and so on) by radically transforming the party landscape. As Soros says, the Greens offer a beacon of hope.

2019 February 11

The Brexit Effect

Financial Times

Brexit has visibly depressed UK economic data for the year 2018. Most economists agree that Brexit has cost Britain 2 ± 0.5% of GDP, and higher inflation and lower growth since 2016 has reduced household incomes by 4.1%, an average of £1500 per household.

Brexit: High Noon?

Matthew d'Ancona

Theresa May proposes to return to the Commons by 27 February. That vote may be Brexit high noon. A delay until 25 March is unthinkable. No MP can take such a big decision so soon before D-Day.

Brexit: Extend Article 50

Gus O'Donnell

The British people does not have any real clarity about the future UK relationship with its closest neighbours. The political declaration was meant to set out a framework for a future relationship and clarify the general direction on such issues as membership of the single market or a customs union.
What has happened in recent days has erased these basic navigation points. A lack of clarity about Brexit that was once seen as unfortunate political necessity has been trumpeted as its chief political virtue. The Conservative party is united only around a set of ambiguous ideas that settle nothing.
What is being brushed over here is a fundamental choice about how the UK economy, society, and government will operate in years to come. It is irresponsible for any government to contemplate embarking on such a perilous journey as Brexit without giving voters any idea of the destination.
A better understanding of future customs arrangements, trade policy, immigration, and rules for businesses is essential for jobs, investment, and the work of government. Questions about all this are not details to be filled in at a later date. These are massively important to all British citizens.
Leaving now, with so much unclear and uncertain, is a recipe for further division and dysfunction in politics. If government and parliament cannot agree, they can hand the final decision back to the people in a new referendum. The UK must now seek an extension of the Article 50 timetable.

Brexit: "Halt Ze German Advance"

Tanja Bueltmann

English identity is in crisis. Germany has long since been the most prominent other. This has fueled the ongoing Brexit chaos and the deterioration of political discourse in the UK.
Brexit supporters have framed Brexit as a means to return to a more triumphal era: the idea of Empire 2.0, a Spitfire aircraft restored with government funds to fly around the world, a new Global Britain unshackled from Europe — all a retreat into fantasy.
Brexiteers are becoming increasingly shrill in their rhetoric, pushing the blame on to others. Germany is a frequent target, and now someone is putting up "Halt Ze German Advance" anti-EU billboards.
From Theodora Dickinson's incorrectly quoted Thatcher reference to Germans and the Holocaust, to Conservative MP Mark Francois' shameful words about "Teutonic arrogance" and "bullying" on live TV, to his fellow Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski's lying tweet about the Marshall Plan, all these cases have two things in common: they ignore facts and abuse history.
With their cheap populist jingoism, these politicians and commentators are blowing up bridges built over decades. Underpinned by an entirely misplaced sense of exceptionalism and entitlement, they reveal that Brexit has nothing positive to offer.
If the only way you can define yourself and your role in the world is by talking contemptuously about another country and its people, abusing history, and distorting facts while expecting preferential treatment for yourself, well, to hell with you.

AR The last five words are my final flourish.

2019 February 10

Trump and Brexit

Simon Kuper

The Trump and Brexit projects have ended up remarkably similar. Both have broken down over the issue of a hard border with a neighbouring country. Both are flirting with a trade war. Neither looks able to pass any more legislation.
Anglo-American populism is a unique mixture of wronged superpower vengeance plus buccaneering capitalism. Here is the Trump-Brexit governing philosophy, as revealed in power:
 Destroying the status quo might be better than the status quo.
▸ ▸ ▸ [+16 further points of similarity]
 The revolution never compromises, not even with reality.

A Crazy Situation

Kenneth Clarke

Everyone is waiting for a miraculous solution. I have never seen such a crazy situation in all my life.
The prime minister is obsessed with keeping the Conservative party in one piece. The hardline Brexiteers have formed a party within the party. I would love to see them leave the party, but Theresa May is trying to keep them on side.
The Brexit debate has crippled our political system and distorted the usual process of politics.

A Secret State

Nick Cohen

Brexit is a war the British have declared on themselves. The only major European country to escape both communism and fascism, or occupation by the armies of Hitler or Stalin, has hard time taking the possibility of disaster seriously.
Britain has a hidden government, thinking the unthinkable in secret, to prevent voters realising the scale of the trouble they are in. Civil servants are eager to be part of the great Brexit game.
But the collapsing UK political system can no more provide the civil service with a clear direction than it can say where it will be this summer. This is not competent public administration.
Brexiteers' lack of concern for their fellow citizens borders on sociopathic. When Brexit fails, they will say it was betrayed by the Whitehall establishment.

Another Alcatraz

Mail on Sunday

The Danish island of Lindholm, home to a research station for animal diseases and a cemetery for infected carcasses, will become a fortress to dump rejected and criminal refugees.
Denmark is bitterly divided over migration. Danish prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen warns that migrant ghettos could fuel gang violence, and the Danish People's Party (DPP) calls for harsh policies to defend Danish values.
A €110 million plan to turn Lindholm into a holding pen for up to 125 unwanted arrivals, including convicted killers, will leave the migrants free to leave the island on its two ferries, one called Virus, so long as they check in daily with police. Protesting locals fear their peace will be ruined.

AR Brexit Britain is an island solution too.

2019 February 9

US Presidential Oversight

The New York Times

A president whose administration does not have the confidence of the people cannot govern effectively, or legitimately. Accountability is crucial to that confidence.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi: "It's not investigation; it's oversight. It's our congressional responsibility, and if we didn't do it, we would be delinquent in our duties."
The president should focus on the big picture. The public will feel much more confident in his leadership once some of the more disturbing questions have been answered.

Brexit Backstop Plan

Roland Alter

We have a disaster waiting to happen on 29 March.
The UK, Northern Ireland (NI), the Republic of Ireland (RI), and the EU all want to preserve peace in NI based on the Good Friday agreement. I propose a plan that tries to take the interests of four parties into account:
 The UK says the backstop has to go. It undermines UK sovereignty, which has priority over peace
    in NI. The UK wants freedom to negotiate FTAs, which is not possible under a customs union.
 NI wants to avoid a negative economic impact.
 The RI wants to preserve peace in NI.
 The EU will stay loyal to the RI and protect the integrity of the single market.
My proposal drops the current backstop clause and gives NI citizens the right to vote to join the RI. By 2020, the UK and EU will have reached an agreement that either does or does not require a hard border. If it does, an NI referendum is held.
The vote takes the backstop decision away from the EU and gives it to NI citizens, thus respecting UK sovereignty. NI citizens could vote for Irish unity, but that genie is already out of the bottle. If they vote for a hard border, the problem arises first at the end of 2020.
This proposal could avoid disaster.

AR I dislike the idea that NI citizens get a benefit I don't, namely to vote again on whether they want to rejoin/stay in the EU. I want that too.

2019 February 8

Enola May

Tom Peck

No press conference for Theresa May in Brussels. All we got were some short strangulated barks of nothing, lasting about a minute, delivered into a microphone held by Laura Kuenssberg, to make clear, as only she can, that nothing has changed.
"I'm, erm, clear that I'm going to deliver Brexit. I'm going to deliver it on time. That's what I'm going to do for the British public."
Half the country doesn't want it delivered on time. They don't want it delivered at all. At some point, it's possible she'll work out she should never have pretended to be Winston Churchill, charged with some sacred mission to deliver Britain to its promised land. The promised land will be terrible. She knows it, but she can't extend her emotional range to acknowledge it.

2019 February 7

The State of the UK

Gina Miller

Just 50 days from now, the UK might be under martial law, experiencing shortages of foods and essential drugs, with a sharp economic downturn, and national security and public services drastically compromised.
Young people are deeply concerned about a no-deal Brexit. All of the Brexit options will be a disaster for the UK. None of them make a success of Brexit.
Theresa May, your deal is not the only one available to the UK. Accept the ambitions of the Tusk package. Leverage the fact the UK is an integral part of the EU.
Push for reforms on issues such as sovereignty, immigration, and economic governance. Accept publicly that to allow a no-deal departure from the EU by default would be the ultimate dereliction of duty and an unforgivable betrayal of future generations.
No viable alternative so far offers anything as advantageous as the deal the UK has right now with the EU. Restart the Tusk negotiations.

2019 February 6

The State of the Union

The New York Times

President Trump showed up with a standard list of broad policy aims. He brought up abortion and Syria and a "tremendous onslaught" of migrants on the southern border.
The spectacle evinced the true state of the union — fractured, fractious, painfully dysfunctional — as the president called for an end to "ridiculous partisan investigations": "If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn't work that way!"
Trump assailed Democratic leaders and repeatedly threatened to declare a national emergency if lawmakers didn't provide billions for his border wall.

AR Trump said he will meet Kim Jong Un again in Vietnam.

Black Honey

Jewish Review of Books

Avraham Sutzkever was born in Lithuania in 1913. He and his wife and son were in Vilna in 1941 when the Nazis conquered the city and murdered the baby boy. With horror compounding horror, Sutzkever obsessively wrote poems. From one:
    The warm breath of a pile of dung
    May become a poem, a thing of beauty
(translated by Benjamin Harshav)


Carlos Fraenkel

Massimo Pigliucci aims to bring Stoicism to modern life. He says we can develop a moral character and attain peace of mind by taking charge of our desires, by acting virtuously in the world, and by responding calmly to events we can't control.
Stoics said virtue is all we need. A virtuous person is happy under all circumstances. Everything that happens is part of a providential order, designed by a divine mind, and virtue consists in living in agreement with that order.
Einstein's God will no doubt appeal more to us than the divine mind. But Einstein's God doesn't care about anyone or anything. For us, improving our circumstances is better than searching for philosophical consolation.

AR Improving them — but how?

What Is Life?

Paul Davies

Life seems to fly in the face of the second law of thermodynamics. Erwin Schrödinger addressed this question.
Optimized information processing is key to the survival of living things. The genetic code is inscribed in DNA as sequences of the chemical bases A, C, G, and T. The information constructed from this alphabet is mathematically encrypted. To be expressed in an organism, it must be decoded and translated into the amino acid alphabet used to form proteins.
Living things have elaborate networks of information flow within and between cells. Gene networks control basic housekeeping functions and such processes as the development of an embryo. Neural networks provide higher-level management. Living organisms use these informational pathways for regulation and control.
Life = matter + information. The hard question is how chemicals can self-organize into complex systems that store information and process it using a mathematical code. We may need a new law or organizing principle that couples information to matter and links biology to physics.
Living cells are replete with nanomachines running the business of life. There are molecular motors and rotors and ratchets, honed by evolution to operate at close to perfect thermodynamic efficiency, playing the margins of the second law to gain a vital advantage.
Our brains contain voltage-gated ion channels that use information about incoming electrical pulses to open and close molecular shutters in the surfaces of axons, and so let signals flow through the neural circuitry. Working together, these channels give rise to cascades of signalling and information processing, as in computers.
Perhaps the transition from non-living to living is marked by a transformation in the organization of information. Treating information as a physical quantity with its own dynamics enables us to formulate laws of life. The whole of life is greater than the sum of its parts.
In quantum mechanics, a system such as an atom evolves according to the Schrödinger equation until a measurement collapses the wave function. This measurement cannot be defined locally but depends on the overall context.
Quantum biology may take us further.

RAF Tornado GR4

Ministry of Defence 2019
The Royal Air Force is retiring its Tornado strike aircraft after 40 years of front-line service. Image: RAF Tornado GR4

Rotary Club of Poole

Poole Bay
Poole Bay in winter

US Army
Pershing missiles


2019 Chinese New Year

I Become a Rotarian

Rotary Club of Poole

I was inducted today as a member in the Rotary Club of Poole. My introductory biography:

Andy Ross is a native European, born in Luton in 1949 and raised in Poole. He went to Poole Grammar School, where he won an award to read Physics at Exeter College in the University of Oxford. He graduated in PPE in 1972 and went on to earn three more degrees, one from the LSE and two more from Oxford in mathematical logic and scientific philosophy.
In 1977, he joined the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall as an administration trainee, only to find one year there was enough. After a year teaching English in Japan and a few years teaching maths and physics in London, he moved to Germany in 1987.
From 1987 to 1998, Andy worked as a physics and computer science editor at the academic publisher Springer in Heidelberg. Then from 1999 to 2009, he worked as a developer in the global software company SAP, where he contributed to courses at SAP University and wrote a book on a major new database development.
Also in 2009, Andy published his contributions to the emerging science of consciousness, where new ideas in artificial intelligence seem to promise a new age of machines with minds, on which he had spoken at international conferences in Europe and America over ten years. Then aged 60, he retired from SAP and wrote and self-published several more philosophical books.
In 2013, Andy returned from Germany to Poole and in 2014 joined the Conservatives, where he worked as a parliamentary assistant to the Poole MP, Sir Robert Syms. He also helped the current Poole Council to get elected in 2015 and has supported them ever since.
His Poole work continues with a new scheme to assist in the training and employment of talented young local people.

Brexit and Ireland

The Guardian

Brexit is at odds with the 1998 Good Friday agreement which sought to erase hard border between the north and south of Ireland. Theresa May's problem is that she has committed the UK to leaving the EU while respecting the peace deal.
London and Dublin have committed not to reintroduce border checkpoints. May's withdrawal agreement enshrines this in law as an insurance policy: If the UK left the EU without securing a deal, a backstop arrangement would allow for frictionless trade.
Fanatical Brexiteers were not bothered about the peace process. They saw in the insurance policy a devious mechanism to force Britain to march in lockstep with EU regulations. To reverse her government's historic Commons defeat, May agreed to replace the backstop.
In Belfast on Tuesday, the prime minister seemed to favour a revised backstop. MPs considering alternative arrangements were meeting in London as she spoke. All agree that the backstop must be a temporary measure, but no one wants to say so in law.
Northern Ireland voted to remain. Unionism risks defeating itself if it becomes too closely identified with Brexit. Fragmentation is by no means inevitable, but without a sense of common purpose and community it becomes possible.

Brexiteers Say No

The Times

EU top civil servant Martin Selmayr spent 90 minutes with members of the Brexit select committee last night and offered Britain a legal guarantee that it would not be trapped by the Irish backstop. But the Brexiteer MPs immediately rebuffed his offer.

Fool Britannia

Hari Kunzru

Britons "never, never, never shall be slaves," as Rule Britannia triumphantly puts it. The underside of nostalgia for an imperial past is a horror of finding the tables turned. For extreme Brexiteers, leaving the EU takes on the character of a victorious army coming home with its spoils.
Though imperial decline looms large in the imagination of Brexit, "the war" is crucial in structuring English feeling about the EU. The equation of a European superstate with a project of German domination is part of the map of English conservatism. To such people, the EU is just a stealthy way for the Germans to complete Hitler's unfinished business.
The English cult of heroic failure, exemplified by the charge of the Light Brigade and the evacuation from Dunkirk, suggests that the secret libidinal need of Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Michael Gove, and their colleagues is actually for their noble project to fail in the most painful way possible, as an immolation on the altar of past glories.
The English seem unable to conceive of a relationship with Europe other than subjection or domination. They will try to regain the whip hand even if they have to immiserate the country to do it. For them, the principle of equal partnership on which the EU is predicated is not an option.

A Brutal End To Cool Britannia
Vincent Boland

Brexit is a retreat. It has profound strategic consequences for the UK and threatens to make it culturally more exclusionary.
British artists who wrote the soundtrack for European popular culture emerged when Britain was opening up to the world after its enforced postwar austerity and unleashing boundless creativity.
Brexiteers say Britain is leaving the EU, but not leaving Europe. In 2019, Europe is the EU. The UK political establishment has failed to accommodate itself to that fact.
Brexit will unleash demons. It will wound not only Britain but also Europe.

AR Brexit is foolish and uncool — obviously.

2019 February 4

End The War In Afghanistan

The New York Times

In September 2001, President George W. Bush went to war in Afghanistan: "Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."
More than 17 years later, the US military is engaged in counterterrorism missions in 80 nations. The price tag will reach about $6 trillion by the end of FY 2019. The war on terror has claimed an estimated half a million lives around the globe.
When Donald Trump ran for the White House, he promised to rein in overseas military adventurism and focus US resources on core strategic priorities. That retrenchment can start with Afghanistan: Withdraw NATO forces by the end of 2019.

Conservatives Will Not Be Forgiven

Andrew Rawnsley

Former cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin will support whatever Brexit deal Theresa May comes up with next, because if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal and things turn bad, "my party will not be forgiven for many years".
Ministers, civil servants, and heads of government agencies who have responsibility for essential services and commerce are sweating fear. The people who would have to handle the consequences of Britain crashing out of the EU are very scared indeed.
Conservative prime ministers called the 2016 referendum and presided over the combination of tragedy and farce that has unfolded since. If Brexit goes horribly wrong, voters are going to blame the Conservatives.

Albion Through The Looking Glass

Matt Ross

UK politics has taken a running jump down the rabbit hole.
Having repeatedly insisted that her deal was the only one available, Theresa May caved to Brexiteers. The Brady amendment requires her to find "alternative arrangements" to replace the backstop.
May's deal would be worse for the UK than remaining in the EU. Ministers attempt to defend her deal as respecting "the will of the people" whereas holding another vote would be "undemocratic" and drive up support for the far right.
ERG Brexiteers seem to believe that, following a brief period of discomfort, No Deal would carry the UK to the sunlit uplands as a free sovereign state, with the pain dumped on EU27 shoulders. So Brexiteers run down the clock.
Diehard Remainers believe that May understands the chaos that would result from a disorderly exit and that MPs will agree on a new poll or a revocation of Article 50. So Remainers run down the clock.
May's strategy has been to scare people into backing her deal. And while the Brady amendment weakens perceptions of her as a credible negotiating partner, it kicks the can further down the road. So May runs down the clock.
A narrative is growing among Brexiteers that the EU is being unreasonable. Continental partners are sounding ever more impatient. Anger on both sides of the Channel is hindering agreement.
The UK political system is suffering a dissociative fugue.

AR The last two words are my diagnosis of what Matt called a nervous breakdown.

2019 February 3

Brexit: Queen Has Evacuation Plan

The Sunday Times

The Queen and other senior royals will be evacuated from London in the event of riots triggered by a no-deal Brexit, under secret emergency plan to rescue the royal family first drafted during the cold war, as the risk rises that things might turn ugly if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal.

AR As numerous rich people emigrate, big overseas investors pull out, and the Queen plans to flee from London, Brexit Britain will become a prison or quarantine state. Millions of citizens will feel the pain if basics like food and medicines run out, and their agonies will lead to massive disruption.
Brexit Britain will become ripe for a radical socialist revolution or outlaw declarations of shariah neighbourhoods. The army is not big enough to maintain law and order in such such circumstances, opening up a serious risk of a meltdown of civil society, anarchy, and a descent into savagery.

2019 February 2

Russia Suspends INF Treaty


Following the US suspension of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Russia has announced it is suspending it too.
Russian president Vladimir Putin: "The American partners have declared that they suspend their participation in the deal, we suspend it as well .. We have repeatedly, during a number of years, and constantly raised a question about substantiative talks on the disarmament issue, notably, on all the aspects. We see, that in the past few years the partners have not supported our initiatives."

AR Putin's dog in the White House has been seduced by Pentagon hawks into making a move that plays into the hands of Kremlin hawks who want to threaten Europe. NATO must work harder.

The Rise and Fall of British Politics

Jonathan Powell

A hundred years ago, Max Weber gave a lecture on the profession and vocation of politics. He admired the British system and the way its politicians and officials managed prosperity and stability in a working democracy. Britain was known as the cradle of democracy and decency.
Britain has now gone from being the most stable country in Europe to one of the least, from a country governed by a broad consensus to a society divided into two camps, and from a government that managed crises well to leaders who cannot even control their own parties.
The government's botched handling of Brexit was both a failure of political leadership and a failure of planning. Theresa May set red lines without real thought as to what might be achievable and walked into a deal where she sacrificed too much and failed to think through the consequences. She tried to play hardball.
The obsession with Brexit has prevented the government from addressing the deep problems that confront the UK. It has no time or energy to develop serious policies on how new technology impacts traditional jobs, or on the housing crisis for young people or the social care crisis for older people. For everything but Brexit, the country is on autopilot.
The concept of facts has disappeared. Not only the politicians but also the civil servants have failed. The result is a collapse of public confidence in the political system.
Max Weber warned about the dangers of professionalizing politics. In Britain that professionalization has reached a new level in this century. As a result, people now think they are governed by an elite that serves its own interests.
The tragedy of Brexit shows the need for a new kind of politics in Britain.

The Future of the Mind

Susan Schneider

I think about the fundamental nature of the mind and the nature of the self. If we have artificial general intelligence, I want to know whether it would be conscious or just computing in the dark.
We need to keep an open mind. If machines turn out to be conscious, we will be learning not just about machine minds but about our own minds. That could be a humbling experience for humans.
In a relatively short amount of time, we have managed to create interesting and sophisticated artificial intelligences. We already see tech gurus like Ray Kurzweil and Elon Musk talking about enhancing human intelligence with brain chips.
I see many misunderstandings in current discussions about the nature of the mind, such as the assumption that if we create sophisticated AI, it will inevitably be conscious. Many of the issues at stake here involve classic philosophical problems that have no easy solutions. Now that we have an opportunity to possibly sculpt our own minds, I believe that we need to dialogue with these classic philosophical positions about the nature of the self.
As we use neuroprosthetics or brain chips in parts of the brain that underlie conscious experience in humans, if those chips succeed and if we don't notice deficits of consciousness, then we have reason to believe that the microchips could underwrite consciousness. In principle, we could develop a synthetic consciousness.
I like living in that space of humility where we hit an epistemological wall.

AR David Chalmers speculated on replacing brain parts step by step with chips and exploring whether consciousness faded as a result.

2019 February 1

US Suspends INF Treaty


Secretary of state Mike Pompeo says the United States is suspending the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This pact with Russia has been a centerpiece of European security since the Cold War.

AR I vividly recall the nightmare of "theater" nuclear weapons in Europe that was ended by the INF treaty. The month the treaty came into force I moved to Germany to live and work there.

Neural Network Theory

Kevin Hartnett

Neural networks implement our most advanced artificial intelligence systems. Yet we have no general theory of how they work.
A neural network is made of neurons connected in various ways. We set its depth by deciding how many layers of neurons it should have. We set the width of each layer to reflect the number of different features it considers at each level of abstraction.
We also decide how to connect neurons within layers and between layers, and how much weight to give each connection. For image processing, convolutional neural networks have the same pattern of connections between layers repeated over and over. For natural language processing, recurrent neural networks connect neurons in non-adjacent layers.
A neural network with only one computational layer, but an unlimited number of neurons with unlimited connections between them, can perform any task, but is hard to train and computationally intensive. By increasing depth and decreasing width, you can perform the same functions with exponentially fewer neurons, but the functions set a minimum width for the layers.
For example, imagine a neural network tasked to draw a border around dots of the same color in an array of colored dots. It will fail if the width of the layers is less than or equal to the number of inputs. Each dot has two coordinates for its position. The neural network then labels each dot with a color and draws a border around dots of the same color. In this case, you need three or more neurons per layer to perform the task.
All this is not yet a general theory of neural networks.

Poole Harbour

Wintry outlook: Poole Harbour, January 31

"The EU including Ireland stands
by the withdrawal agreement,
including the protocol and
backstop relating to Ireland."
Leo Varadkar

"The backstop is part of the
withdrawal agreement, and
the withdrawal agreement is
not open for renegotiation."
Donald Tusk

Sterling falls as Cooper
amendment fails


2019 January 31

Trump Targets US Intelligence


President Donald Trump's assaults on US spy chiefs are shocking coming from a commander in chief.
The president's Twitter barrage over a global threat matrix produced by US intelligence agencies that contradicts his idiosyncratic worldview is no surprise. His habit of fashioning a truth that fits his personal prejudices and goals over an objective version of reality is well known. But consider:
 His rejection of US intelligence assessments that Russia interfered in the 2016 election
 His one-man flattery offensive toward Russian president Vladimir Putin
 His claim to have ended the North Korean nuclear threat
 His assertion that ISIS is "badly" beaten
 His withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran
 His plans to withdraw troops from Syria and cut the US garrison in Afghanistan
 His constant undermining of NATO
In the realm of national security, Trump's approach can be deeply destructive.

May Must Be Stopped

Philip Stephens

Theresa May's mandate to rewrite the Irish backstop is worthless. The hardliners do not want an agreement. They want to run down the clock to a no-deal Brexit.
May faced a choice on Brexit. She could prioritise party unity by bowing to nationalists or she could try to build a wider coalition. Her red lines set her course.
The latest Faustian pact was a logical destination. EU leaders know a slender majority of 16 is not a sustainable negotiating mandate. They will not abandon the Irish government.
The British government can longer be trusted as a partner. There is nothing its EU partners can do to save the UK from its crash-out course. May must be stopped.

The Price Of Party Unity

The Guardian

Theresa May won a slim majority for revising her Brexit deal. Her trump was party unity. The EU has no appetite to change the backstop, but May set this aside.
The 27 EU member states whose interests are stitched into the withdrawal agreement will find her change of mind obnoxious. Governments around the world see an unreliable Britain.
The prime minister has appeased her party fanatics. The rightwing fringe of her party is hostile to the EU. Some Tory MPs welcome a disorderly Brexit as prelude to a blame game.
May has lost credibility and goodwill with EU27 partners. They know any concessions would simply provoke more demands. Appeasing the hardliners is worse than weakness.

2019 January 30

Brexit Brinkmanship

The Times

The EU sees an extension to the Article 50 exit process as certain but will set conditions on any extension. These must be agreed unanimously by all 27 European leaders.
One option is to offer the UK a 3-month extension to continue negotiations with the option of further such extensions until the end of the year. The next summit of European leaders that could agree an extension is on March 21, D-Day minus 8.

Brexit Disaster

Jonathan Freedland

History will damn the architects of Brexit. Imagine the day, years from now, when an inquiry probes the epic policy disaster that was Brexit and delivers its damning final report, concluding that this was a failure of the entire British political class.
Theresa May had repeated endlessly that her deal was the only deal on offer. Yet last night she urged MPs to vote for an amendment that trashes that deal. The Brady amendment demands replacement of the Irish backstop with alternative arrangements.
Cheering her on was a Conservative party declaring that they like the good bits of the deal but not the bad bits. This was the same logic the Brexiteers used for the referendum: Do you want to stay in the EU, with all its flaws, or would you like alternative arrangements?
MPs had the chance to prevent the national cataclysm of a no-deal crash-out last night and they refused to take it. They voted for a toothless amendment that does nothing to prevent it.
A handful of MPs are using every parliamentary wile they can to stop the country from slamming into the iceberg. But almost everyone else will be damned for their role in a saga that disgraces this country and its supposed leaders.

Closer To No Deal Than Ever

Anand Menon

What a pantomime! The prime minister joined her party in demanding changes to her deal. She backed an amendment instructing her to go back to Brussels and try harder.
Parliament proudly displayed its inability to decide. They don't want no deal but they do want changes to the Ireland backstop.
Tory tribalism is a consensus built on alternative arrangements to replace the backstop. The assumption is that the EU will cave in. So far there is little reason to believe the member states will do so.
The natural party of government votes for unicorns. The party in opposition is not quite sure what it wants. Hardcore Brexiteers pushed a narrative of EU intransigence.
Now we wait for May to go back to Brussels and seek to achieve in under a fortnight what she failed to achieve in a year of negotiations.

Start Panicking

James Ball

A major country stands on the brink of potential meltdown. If the UK does not find a way to support a deal either to exit the EU or to negotiate an extension on the Article 50 process, it is set to crash out of the EU on March 29.
Most coverage has focused on the initial chaos. A country that relies heavily on cross-channel shipping for food, medicines, manufacturing supplies, and more could see crossing fall by 75%−87% for six months, with almost no viable alternative routes to match anything like the lost capacity.
But the longer-term economic harm would be devastating. The midpoint estimates of such a crisis suggest a drop of close to 9% in GDP — a far, far deeper recession than the financial crisis of 2009 — and huge increases in unemployment, the cost of borrowing, plummeting value of the pound, and more. This damage could easily take a decade or more to repair.
The UK is perhaps the largest financial center in the world. More than a third of global foreign exchange trading operates out of London, as does a similar proportion of derivatives trading. Its banking sector is sized at more than €10 trillion, and it manages more than a third of European financial assets.
Britain is on the brink of economic crisis. Be very afraid. A no-deal exit could launch a global economic crisis.

2019 January 29

Brexit: Parliamentary Amendments

BBC News

Amendment A (Labour frontbench amendment, which rejects the idea of a no-deal Brexit and calls for a permanent customs union with the EU)
296 Ayes, 327 Noes
 Amendment O (SNP/Plaid Cymru, notes that Scotland and Wales voted against Brexit and calls on government to extend Article 50 and reject no-deal Brexit)
39 Ayes, 327 Noes
 Amendment G (Dominic Grieve, call for six extra sitting days to debate other business, such as another referendum or rejections of a no-deal Brexit)
301 Ayes, 321 Noes
 Amendment B (Yvette Cooper, seeks binding legislation for an extension of Article 50 if withdrawal agreement not approved by 26 February)
298 Ayes, 321 Noes
 Amendment J (Rachel Reeves, call to seek two-year extension to Article 50 process if no agreement between UK and EU approved by 26 February)
290 Ayes, 322 Noes
 Amendment I (Dame Caroline Spelman, stating that the UK will not leave the EU without a deal — but only advisory, with no legislative force)
318 Ayes, 310 Noes
 Amendment N (Sir Graham Brady, calling for the backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border)
317 Ayes, 301 Noes

AR A victory for party tribalism over basic common sense.

Brexit: Malthouse Compromise

David Henig

The Conservatives' new "Malthouse compromise" stands no chance of being acceptable to the EU.
There seem to be three fundamentals to the plan: the extension of the implementation period to 2021, technological solutions to ensure no border infrastructure requirements on the island of Ireland, and an interim free trade agreement to be tabled immediately.
Technological solutions for the Irish border have been endlessly debated, but there is no border in the world outside of the EU where there are no physical checks. Only where both countries are in a customs union and have more or less the same product regulations backed by a common court have checks been eliminated.
The backstop is a firm red line for the commission. The EU does not trust the UK not to backslide from a vaguer commitment.
An interim free trade agreement would not help avoid border checks. The chances of the EU accepting one are close to zero.

2019 January 28

Trump Horror Movie

Michael Bloomberg

President Trump cannot be helped. The presidency is not an entry-level job. There is just too much at stake.
The longer we have a pretend CEO who is recklessly running this country, the worse it's going to be for our economy and for our security. This is really dangerous. It's like a bad horror movie: Instead of Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare on Elm Street, we've got Donald Trump and the Nightmare at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The government shutdown is one of the worst cases of incompetent management I have ever seen.

Take No-Deal Brexit Off Table

Financial Times

Westminster has the opportunity this week to end the damaging prospect of a no-deal Brexit. MPs will vote on Tuesday on a range of amendments to UK prime minister Theresa May's Brexit proposals. They must act now to avoid calamity.
The chief executive of Airbus was right to brand the negotiations a disgrace. Several other manufacturers caution that no deal would threaten jobs and investment. This is not Project Fear but an acknowledgment of reality.
The only way to gain the support of Brexiteers for May's deal is to rethink the Irish border backstop. But there is no sign that Brussels is willing to do so. Extending Article 50 is the only reasonable course of action.
The priority must be to avoid the risk of chaos. Parliament remains sovereign in the UK. MPs should use that sovereignty to act in the national interest.

The Conservative Party Is Becoming Repellent

Matthew d'Ancona

As a believer in fiscal discipline, strong defence, robust anti-terrorism measures, the Atlantic alliance, and the social liberalism of those who live in the here and now, I ought to be at ease with modern Conservatism. And I really am not.
The attack on "Teutonic arrogance" by Mark Francois MP is the tip of a nativist iceberg. Brexit has summoned the very worst demons that lurk in the Conservative psyche, liberating Tories to bellow nonsense about WW2. It has fatally compounded the party's demented fixation with immigration and distracted it from the true challenges of the 21st century.
In a crisis of this nature, the proper role of Conservatives should be to cut through the infantile rhetoric and show true statesmanship. Instead, we see a party cravenly fetishising the 2016 referendum as if no further expression of popular opinion on Brexit were possible, behaving as if the only thing that matters is to get out of the EU by 29 March.
Where are the Tories prepared to risk their careers and to say that the instruction given by the electorate in 2016 cannot be delivered in a way that does not do terrible harm to those same voters and their children?

DeepMind AI Beats Humans at StarCraft II

New Scientist

StarCraft II is sometimes called the Grand Challenge for artificial intelligence. Now DeepMind AI has defeated two top-ranked professional players at it, both by 5-0.
In StarCraft II, players control armies across a terrain. They build infrastructure, juggling short-term gain with long-term benefits, when they can't always see the full map.
DeepMind created five versions of their AI, called AlphaStar, and trained them on recordings of human games. The versions then played against each other in a league. AlphaStar played on a single GPU, but it was trained on 16 tensor processing units hosted in the Google cloud.
AlphaStar skills apply in other areas. StarCraft is like running a company or a logistic operation. It involves planning R&D and getting goods to the right place at the right time.

AR Memo to SAP: Try it.



The Open Society
Tim Hayward

"Why should we care about
what's going on over there?
The answer is that what
is going on 'over there'
affects us. If Africa loses,
Europe can't win."
Bono, Davos

"Those who've lived under
dictatorships say, 'please don't
give me a ministry of trust'.
But is it acceptable that
Mark Zuckerberg is the
minister of trust?"
Marietje Schaake MEP

Morning sun, Poole



2019 Holocaust Memorial Day

A Quiet Life

Jeremy Cliffe

The European project knows no higher ideal than calm good living. The EU and most of its states were born or reborn from the rubble of war and the traumas of totalitarianism. The opposite of horror and cataclysm is the quiet life.
This European dream is glimpsed not in luxurious ceremonies in Paris, Brussels, or Berlin but in well heated social housing blocks in Utrecht or Vienna, in comfortable houses with gardens on the outskirts of Barcelona or Prague, in safe streets and decent hospitals. The EU mission is to protect this comfortable European garden from outside threats.
The EU obsession with the quiet life also explains its weaknesses. It concentrates too little on global security or competitors outside its borders. It prioritizes averting losses above grasping opportunities. It generally values dull uniformity above dazzling difference.
Its Brexit talks with Britain illustrate these traits. Shortly after the referendum, EU leaders agreed that the risk of a fragmenting EU was the greatest danger to European life. Brexit will succeed insofar as it serves the pursuit and preservation of the comfortable European garden.

2019 January 26

The Danger Posed by China

George Soros

An unprecedented danger is threatening the survival of open societies. The danger is from the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes.
In China, a centralized database to create a social credit system will evaluate people with algorithms that determine whether they pose a threat to the one-party state. The social credit system will treat people according to the interests of the state. The instruments of control developed by artificial intelligence give an inherent advantage to authoritarian regimes over open societies.
In an open society, the rule of law prevails as opposed to rule by a single individual, and the role of the state is to protect human rights and individual freedom. By contrast, authoritarian regimes use whatever instruments of control they possess to maintain themselves in power at the expense of those whom they exploit and suppress.
China has a Confucian tradition, according to which advisors of the emperor are expected to speak out when they strongly disagree with one of his actions or decrees, even that may result in exile or execution. The committed defenders of open society in China have mostly been replaced by younger people who depend on Xi Jinping for promotion. But a new political elite has emerged that is willing to uphold the Confucian tradition.
Xi presents China as a role model for other countries to emulate. His Belt and Road Initiative is designed to promote the interests of China, not the interests of the recipient countries. An effective American policy toward China must include a US response to the Belt and Road Initiative.
China wants to dictate rules and procedures that govern the digital economy by dominating the developing world with its new platforms and technologies. The combination of repressive regimes with IT monopolies endows those regimes with an advantage over open societies. The instruments of control pose a mortal threat to open societies.
China is wealthy, strong, and technologically advanced. Xi Jinping is the most dangerous opponent of open societies. We must pin our hopes on the Chinese people.

AR As a student Soros was influenced by Karl Popper, as I was, but his conception of open societies needs radical revision.
China shows the need for a new view to accommodate the priorities of development and the opportunities of new technology. Machine learning and so on force all of us to reconsider how human rights and the constraints of our planetary ecosystem can be reconciled. The Western liberal model of the state is verging on obsolescence.
As I see it, China offers a more positive model of how to proceed than Soros seems to think.

2019 January 25

Doomsday Threats

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Humanity now faces two simultaneous existential threats, either of which would be cause for extreme concern and immediate attention.
These major threats — nuclear weapons and climate change — were exacerbated this past year by the increased use of information warfare to undermine democracy around the world, amplifying risk from these and other threats and putting the future of civilization in extraordinary danger.
Dire as the present may seem, there is nothing hopeless or predestined about the future. But threats must be acknowledged before they can be effectively confronted.

Speech to the Sandringham Women's Institute

Queen Elizabeth II

"The continued emphasis on patience, friendship, a strong community focus, and considering the needs of others are as important today as they were when the group was founded all those years ago .. As we look for new answers in the modern age, I for one prefer the tried and tested recipes, like speaking well of each other and respecting different points of view, coming together to seek out the common ground, and never losing sight of the bigger picture."

AR Cited in the UK as front-page and TV news for its presumed relevance to Brexit. Who can doubt that the UK is in thrall to a quasi-religious cult of royalty?

2019 January 24

Brexit: No No Deal

Financial Times

UK prime minister Theresa May faces intense pressure to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
Chancellor Philip Hammond: "Not leaving would be seen as a betrayal of the referendum decision, but equally leaving without a deal would undermine our prosperity and would equally represent a betrayal of the promises that were made."
Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd: "There is no doubt that No Deal would be bad for prosperity and bad for our security."
Business minister Richard Harrington: "I'm very happy if the prime minister decides I'm not the right person to do the business and industry job."
Airbus CEO Tom Enders: "Please don't listen to the Brexiteers' madness, which asserts that, because we have huge plants here, we will not move and we will always be here. They are wrong."
Siemens UK CEO Jürgen Maier: "The thing all of us won't be able to manage is a no-deal .. the writing is on the wall on what will happen to those factories in a decade."

Second Vote Now
Martin Wolf

Brexit is a disastrous course. The golden future awaiting "global Britain" is fantasy.
The UK faces a significant probability of crashing out in a disorderly exit, which would be hugely disruptive in the short run and costly in the long run. It would damage relations with the EU forever.
A slight victory in the referendum gives Brexiteers no right to drive the country over a cliff. Remainers have the right to ask parliament to consult the people again. Fanatics cannot dictate what Leave means.
Let us have a second vote.

Theresa May Will Accept Delaying Brexit

Daily Mail

Theresa May is privately resigned to having to delay Brexit if MPs vote for it next week, say allies. In public, she hit out at MPs seeking to extend article 50, saying this does not solve the issue.
Downing Street will not say whether the government will accept a bid to delay Brexit for up to nine months. The proposal would allow MPs to table legislation on February 5 to extend article 50. If it passed, May would have three weeks to win a vote on her Brexit deal in parliament before being required to seek an extension of article 50.
Labour and a number of Tories hint they will back the bid, which will be debated and voted on next Tuesday. Extending article 50 would require unanimous consent from the EU27.

Germans Owe Britain

Alexander von Schönburg

German politicians and pundits are urging chancellor Angela Merkel to harden her line toward the UK and not throw Theresa May a lifeline. French president Emmanuel Macron said Brexit was a British problem it would have to solve on its own.
Such blinkered and sour responses ignore the great debt that Germany and Europe owe the UK. It was Great Britain that first stood up to Hitler in 1939. Britain opened its doors to the thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust.
There would be no free Europe without Britain and its bloody sacrifice. But thanks to opposition by French president Charles De Gaulle, it took more than a decade for the UK to be accepted into the forerunner of the EU.
The driving force for welcoming UK membership was German chancellor Konrad Adenauer. In 1965, Queen Elizabeth II toured Germany. Adenauer quickly saw that Europe needed Britain precisely because Europe is a patchwork made up of vibrantly different nations.
We needed Britain 80 years ago and we need Britain now. For Europe, Britain is the real backstop. Without the UK, power in Europe will tend to gravitate ever more to the center.
We need to let the UK leave without punishing it. German statesman Otto von Bismarck said one should always win but never humiliate one's opponents. The best victory is the magnanimous one.

AR Victory. Brexit certainly feels like the bum's rush.

2019 January 23

Davos 2019

Aditya Chakrabortty

The plutocrats are terrified. The Davos organisers ask: "Is the world sleepwalking into a crisis?"
The last three decades have seen the political and economic elites hack away at our social scaffolding. It proved profitable, for a while, but now it threatens their own world. And still they block more taxes on wealth, more power for workers, companies not run solely to enrich their owners. The solutions to this crisis will not be handed down from a mountain top.
Three decades after Ronald Reagan, we laugh at: "I'm from the elite and I'm here to help."

Let The People Vote

Financial Times

The UK ship of state is steaming toward the iceberg of a no-deal Brexit. A catastrophe looms.
Parliament should legislate against a no-deal outcome and seek to extend the Article 50 process. MPs should then hold indicative votes to test support for other exit options.
The withdrawal process has been taken hostage by ideological extremists determined to reject the sole sensible version of an EU exit that is on the table. If parliament remains unable to back a new deal, a general election changes nothing.
Ask the public whether they still want Brexit. They deserve a chance to weigh the realities of departing against remaining in the EU under the existing terms: outside the EZ and Schengen zone and inside the single market.
A second plebiscite might deliver no clear outcome and might repeat the previous result. It would also be divisive. But leaving the EU will be divisive in any case.
Parliamentary gridlock is worse than a new plebiscite. The people must have their say.

Whitehall Hysteria

Rachel Sylvester

A sense of hysteria is spreading around Whitehall. Five government ministers:
M1 If the government doesn't agree to a second referendum I'll lose my seat.
M2 If a people's vote goes ahead we'll be thrown out by the voters.
M3 The only way out might be a general election.
M4 If we do that I'll definitely lose my seat.
M5 We're so fucked.

Battle for Britain

Melanie Phillips

Theresa May made a fundamental error. Britain is bitterly split down the middle between Brexiteers and Remainers. May wanted to deliver a Brexit deal that would bring both sides together.
On the issue of sovereign British independence, there can be no compromise. The UK is either out of the EU or it is in. May's deal is Brexit in name only and leads to surrender.
Westminster is currently heaving with plots. But there's no deadlock. The legally binding default position is that if no deal with the EU is struck, Britain will leave on March 29 without a deal.
Britain is a very special country. The countries of mainland Europe have a shallow understanding of national identity. Britain is an island nation with a distinct and separate identity.
Three nations see themselves as uniquely blessed: Britain, America, and Israel. All played a big role in bringing civilization to the world. But all three are beset from within by a subversive intelligentsia.
The idea of the modern nation state grew out of the Enlightenment. Britain was first into the Enlightenment and is first out. Brexit offers Britain its last chance to become itself again.

AR If this is not self-serving tosh I don't know what is. Britain is a cake baked with European ingredients, from its Celtic roots to its Viking and Norman conquerors, from its European monarchy to its Franco-Germanic language. Its separate identity is no more real than that of Germany or France, which have now seen the light and agreed to cooperate.
Coastal borders do not a nation make, not in a world of transcendent religion and universal science, and especially not in a world of air travel and nuclear missiles. A sovereign nation needs a rich culture, a strong heritage, and native genius. Europe was the cradle for the nation state and is well stocked with them.
America is a special case because it blends the cultures of Europe and other lands to form a uniquely powerful state. Israel is a special case because Jews have nursed a uniquely deep heritage over millennia. Britain is unique mainly because its maritime empire was the first whose outer perimeter shrank to an antipodal point on a finite planet.
Trump America is floundering as it confronts the global limits of its power in a world hosting rising competitors. The Israel of the Zionists is endangered because its history looks ever less special as our planetary civilization emerges. And Brexit Britain is doomed to suffer its proud sovereignty as an albatross in an emerging global self that rewards harmony between its national parts.
Melanie Phillips betrays her case by bewailing the intelligentsia. This outs her as a romantic populist. Britain, America, and Israel are transient forms in the fluid swarming of people in big history.

2019 January 22

Aachener Vertrag

Thomas Schmid

Frankreichs Präsident Emmanuel Macron und Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel unterzeichnen einen neuen Freundschaftsvertrag zwischen Frankreich und Deutschland.
Sowohl Merkel als auch Macron agieren aus einer Position der Schwäche. Das Brexit-Chaos vervollständigt den Eindruck: Kerneuropas Zustand ist desolat.

Brexiteers Feel Heat

Financial Times

UK prime minister Theresa May announced her new Brexit strategy on Monday: Plan B is Plan A.
But Brexiteers and the DUP are starting to feel the heat.
Some might back her plan if she can win more concessions in Brussels. May promised to go back to the EU to address the backstop, which Brexiteers hate and the DUP opposes. They are now under pressure to back her deal or lose Brexit.
A group of MPs aim to force May to extend the Article 50 exit process if no deal is in place by the end of February. Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd says many ministers would quit if they were not allowed to support the move.
Brexiteers fear a delay could let parliament push for a second EU referendum. War gaming for a snap election is also under way. Either could lose Brexit.

Greenland Ice Melting

Oliver Milman

Greenland's ice is melting faster than we previously thought, new research finds. Its glaciers are dumping ever larger icebergs into the Atlantic, but the largest ice loss in the decade from 2003 occurred in SW Greenland, where surface ice is melting as temperatures rise, causing meltwater to flow into the ocean and push up sea levels.
PNAS paper lead author Michael Bevis: "Increasingly large amounts of ice mass are going to leave as meltwater, as rivers that flow into the sea. The only thing we can do is adapt and mitigate further global warming — it's too late for there to be no effect. This is going to cause additional sea level rise. We are watching the ice sheet hit a tipping point."
Greenland lost around 280 billion tons of ice per year between 2002 and 2016, and the ice melted four times faster in 2013 than in 2003. If the entire Greenland ice sheet, 3 km thick in places, were to melt, global sea levels would rise by 7 m and flood coastal cities.

Asteroids Hit Moon and Earth

Joshua Sokol

Some 290 million years ago, large asteroids began to rain down on Earth several times more frequently than before.
Collisions in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter made rocky fragments in similar orbits. Solar heat nudged them into new positions and sometimes made them fall and hit Earth.
On Earth, most large impact craters are relatively young. Craters from over 650 million years ago vanished as Earth scoured off much of its crust. In the snowball Earth scenario, multiple waves of glaciation once encased the planet in ice. The glaciers pulverised several km of continental rock and dumped it into the ocean.
On the Moon, when an impactor digs a crater it scatters boulders around it. Over perhaps a billion years, a drizzle of micrometeorites hitting the Moon dissolve the boulders into finer soils called regolith. So the ratio of rocks to regolith in a crater tracks the time since the initial impact.
During the day, both boulders and regolith soak up heat. At night, the boulders hold on to this heat, glowing faintly with thermal radiation for hours, whereas the regolith cools quickly. The nighttime IR glow indicates the relative rockiness of a crater and thus its age.
Researchers used IR data to estimate the age of 111 big lunar craters. Since about 290 million years ago, big impacts have been 2.6 times more frequent than in the preceding 710 million years. The jump occurred around the same time as Earth's largest mass extinction, the Great Dying.

Super blood wolf moon

Daniel Monk / Bav Media
Super blood wolf moon over Northumberland

Nicola Jennings

the dodo
the dodo

MiG-31K with hypersonic
Kinzhal missile

Me at work today

Fog in Westminster:
Continent cut off

Green party


Space elevator
Chase Design Studios


2019 January 21

Brexit Options Narrowing


Tony Blair says a no-deal Brexit will not happen. The future UK relationship with the EU is so vague that Europeans must prepare for continuing struggle. Parliament is tied up, there is no consensus, and the UK should not even consider no deal: "A second vote remains the only solution."

Business Confidence Sinking

Financial Times

ICSA finds that 73% of FTSE 350 company secretaries predict their company will be damaged as a result of Brexit. Some 11% think global economic conditions are likely to improve in 2019, but only 2% think the UK economy will improve in 2019. The research was conducted at the end of 2018.
ICSA policy and research director Peter Swabey says a public lack of trust in business is reflected in political rhetoric: "This seems to have produced an own goal for the main UK political parties."

Rebel Spirit Rising

John Harris

Wetherspoons pub chain founder and chairman Tim Martin has been on the road since November, speaking at his pubs. His case for Brexit is unconvincing to the point of tedium. But the spectacle of the Brexit hardcore, many of them on the pints and riled to fury by interruptions from local Remoaners, is fascinating.
Terrible logic, combined with a certain stubborn ignorance, makes them insist that the only Brexit that matches what millions of people thought they were voting for in 2016 is a clean break. Their defiant rejection of all the warnings about falling off a cliff edge comes from the same performative "fuck you" as moved much of the original vote for leave.
The pub crowd wants drama and crisis. The romantic idea of a besieged Brexit Britain nobly trying to make its way without interference from Brussels, an island nation standing alone, could push UK politics over the edge.

2019 January 20

Brexit: Wer kann das Chaos noch verhindern?

ARD, 61:54 min

Über den Brexit diskutiert Anne Will mit Jean Asselborn, Sahra Wagenknecht, Norbert Röttgen,
Greg Hands und Kate Connolly

Big Data

Hugo Rifkind

Behavioral surplus is the data we give to tech companies over and above what they need. For example, if you have googled fridges, Google will try to sell you a fridge. It is the raw data for modeling human behavior.
At Google, the monetization of your surplus raised revenues from $86 million in 2001 to $347 million in 2002 to $3.5 billion in 2004. By 2016, Google and Facebook took more than a fifth of all advertising spending in the world.
Shoshana Zuboff goes beyond the idea that if you aren't the customer, you're the product. For her, we are more like elephants slaughtered for ivory: "You are not the product, you are the abandoned carcass."
Google and Facebook want to know everything about you. For them, the development of AI and VR is all about knowing anything you might ever do, and everywhere you might go, so as to sell you a Coke when you get there.
Regulating tech is like running around a burning house closing doors to rooms that won't exist in the morning. Breaking up Facebook and Google only means 50 rival companies will leech on your soul.

Brain Maps


Brains use a spatial coding scheme that may help us navigate many kinds of information, including sights, sounds, and abstract concepts.
The entorhinal cortex next to the hippocampus contains grid cells that make cognitive maps. Grid cells form a coordinate system by firing at regularly spaced positions in a hexagonal pattern. Different sets of grid cells form grids with larger or smaller hexagons, grids oriented in other directions, and grids offset from one another.
Together, such hexagons can map spaces with many dimensions. Grid code logic can apply to any structured data.

2019 January 19

The Dodo Is Dead

Fintan O'Toole

Brexit is a choice between two evils: the heroic but catastrophic failure of crashing out or the unheroic but less damaging failure of swapping first-class for second-class EU membership.
Brexit is not about the UK relationship with the EU. The drama has really served to displace a crisis of belonging. The visible collapse of the Westminster polity this week may be a result of Brexit, but it is also the result of the invisible subsidence of the political order over recent decades.
Brexit is the outward projection of an inner turmoil. An archaic political system had carried on while its foundations in collective belonging were crumbling. Brexit has forced the old system to play out its death throes in public. The spectacle is ugly, but it shows the need for radical change.
Britain can no longer pretend to be a settled and functioning democracy. The Westminster dodo is dead. The problem with British democracy is not the EU but the UK.

I Want My Continent Back

Polly Toynbee

Today the UK turns remain. Even if not a single person has changed their mind since the referendum, the demographic shift alone has done the heavy lifting. Enough old leavers have died and enough young remainers have come on to the electoral register to turn the tide.
This does not guarantee remain would win a referendum this year. People change their minds, though polls show the main movement is toward remain. But once a ferocious campaign gets under way no one knows what might swing opinion.
Theresa May's red lines have led to deadlock. Jeremy Corbyn's red line is no no-deal Brexit. Logic suggests the only answer that will rescue both party leaders is a people's vote.

AR Parliament has passed all the legislation to ensure that if no further action is taken, the UK leaves the EU on 29 March. No deal is yet agreed. If the government calls a general election now, parliament is dissolved and no new legislation can prevent a no-deal Brexit.
Mass civil disobedience can head off that catastrophe. People can boycott an election to protest against the cynical motive behind it. They need only pledge in advance not to participate in any general election called to run down the clock.
Only a reset of the article 50 deadline followed by a people's vote can break the deadlock. Proclaim these facts and urge parliament to prevent a default Brexit.

2019 January 18

Star Wars II

The Times

President Trump has announced the biggest push for US missile defense since Ronald Reagan's "star wars" plan with a pledge to test space-based weapons to defend America and attack its enemies. He announced 20 new ground-based interceptors in Alaska to detect and destroy incoming missiles.
Trump: "We are ordering the finest weapons in the world, that you can be sure of. Our goal is simple: to detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, anytime, any place. The best way to keep America safe is to keep America strong."
President Putin has also unveiled new strategic weapons, including a hypersonic glide vehicle that can fly at Mach 20 and make sharp turns to avoid interception.

Europe Needs Britain

Norbert Röttgen

For decades the European Union has brought our peoples closer together. It has forged a European identity and lays the foundation for peace in Europe. Within this fruitful environment our nations have equally prospered.
A Brexit with no deal puts all these achievements at risk. Germans are deeply committed to a close relationship with the UK. We want you to stay. This sentiment is broadly shared in Germany.
After this week's parliamentary vote against the Brexit deal, there seems to be no majority in the House of Commons for any way forward. With only two options on the table, a hard Brexit or Remain, the British people may want to hold a second vote. If they need more time, I cannot imagine the EU will disagree.
Europe needs Britain, especially in these troubled times.

Sir, Without your great nation, this continent would not be what it is today: a community defined by freedom and prosperity. After the horrors of the second world war, Britain did not give up on us. We are grateful.
Should Britain wish to leave the European Union for good, it will always have friends in Germany and Europe. But Britons should equally know that we believe that no choice is irreversible. Our door will always remain open: Europe is home.
We would miss Britain. We would miss the British people, our friends across the Channel. We would miss Britain as part of the EU, especially in these troubled times. We want them to stay.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Norbert Röttgen, and 29 other leading figures in Germany

2019 January 17

The Malign Incompetence of the British Ruling Class

Pankaj Mishra

Britain made a calamitous exit from its Indian empire in 1947 when it left India partitioned. The British exit from the EU is proving to be another act of moral dereliction by British rulers.
In a grotesque irony, imperial borders imposed in 1921 on Ireland have proved to be the biggest stumbling block for the Brexiteers chasing imperial virility.
People in Ireland are aghast over the aggressive ignorance of English Brexiteers. Business people everywhere are outraged by their cavalier disregard for the economic consequences of Brexit.
The malign incompetence of the Brexiteers was precisely prefigured during the rushed British exit from India in 1947. Up to one million people died in the botched partition.
The mention of Winston Churchill stiffens the spines of many Brexiteers today. Churchill, a fanatical imperialist, worked harder than any British politician to thwart Indian independence.
The rolling calamity of Brexit threatens bloodshed in Ireland, secession in Scotland, and chaos in Dover. Ordinary British people stand to suffer from the exit wounds.

2019 January 16

Putin Smiles at US and UK

Stephen Collinson

The news just keeps on getting better for Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
The United States and Britain, the two great English-speaking democracies that led Moscow's defeat in the Cold War, are undergoing political breakdowns.
In London, Theresa May suffered the worst defeat by a prime minister in UK parliamentary history.
The United States remains locked in its longest-ever government shutdown, thanks to the chaotic presidency of Donald Trump.
London and Washington are suffering the effects of populist revolts that erupted in 2016 and are now slamming into legislatures and breeding chaos.
The result is that Britain and the United States are all but ungovernable on important questions that confront both nations.
Putin has made disrupting liberal democracies a core aim of his rule, as he seeks to avenge the fall of the Soviet empire.

AR Victory Ringlord

EU Responds to UK Vote

The Times

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker: "I take note with regret of the outcome of the vote in the House of Commons this evening. The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening's vote. I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up."
European Council president Donald Tusk: "If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?"

"Die britische Politik ist nach wie vor nicht bereit, die Konsequenzen der Brexit-Entscheidung anzunehmen, und deshalb kann sie auch nicht wissen, was sie eigentlich von der EU will. Aus diesem Grund ist es auch wenig sinnvoll, von der restlichen EU zu verlangen, auf die Regierung in London zuzugehen."
Markus Becker 

Brexit Betrayal

Daniel Finkelstein

Brexiteers like the feeling that they have been betrayed by the political establishment. Well, a deal has been negotiated that would allow us to leave and you, the Brexiteers, defeated it.
It is we who have been betrayed. Those who faithfully and diligently tried to make Brexit happen smoothly and on time, even though we had our doubts, have been left high and dry.
The Brexiteer rebels are now saying Brexit could mean leaving without any trade deal, breaking the Good Friday agreement, failing to settle financially with our continental allies, and departing without a transition arrangement.
If they really believe the majority of voters support this burn-it-all-down Brexit, let's have another referendum and ask the electorate.

AR Withdraw Article 50 or delay its effect to give time for a vote.

2019 January 15

Brexit Deal Defeated

BBC News, 1939 UTC

The government is defeated on its proposed Brexit deal by a majority of 230.
The result of the vote is 202 in favour and 432 against.

Brexit: Think and Act Anew

Caroline Lucas

The crisis at the heart of UK democracy can no longer be ignored.
Russell Brand: "People saw a bright red button that said Fuck Off Establishment, and they pressed it."
The 2016 referendum result should tell us that people want hope. The Remain campaign was seen primarily as defending the status quo, with the political elite pulling the strings. The campaign utterly failed to inspire any kind of love for the EU as something worth defending.
The EU is the greatest international venture for peace, prosperity, and freedom in history. That astonishing achievement ought to be front and centre of the Brexit conversation. So too the social and environmental protections, and the remarkable gift of free movement, and the friendships across borders, the cultural opportunities, the life without fear, and the solidarity. To have reduced all that to an argument about the cost of a trolley load of shopping was a tragedy.
Decisions made in the EU affect us every day, so let's talk about EU politics. The EU must dismantle the habitual domination of corporate power over the will of citizens. Such reforms are long overdue, and we should advocate changing the EU at the same time as fighting to stay part of it.
Brexit laid bare the extent to which UK governance structures are derelict. The Palace of Westminster, Gothic, rat-infested, and crumbling into the Thames, has become a symbol of political decay. Parliamentary sovereignty needs to be better rooted in the people.
We the people must lead the way.

Brexit: Anfang vom Ende Europas?

Klaus Raab

Gibt es ein zweites Brexit-Referendum? Ein Misstrauensvotum gegen May? Tatsächlich einen ungeregelten Brexit? Wie lange werden die Staus zwischen London und Dover? Fordert die AfD irgendwann ein Referendum über den Verbleib Deutschlands in der EU?
Londoner Politologe Anthony Glees: "Mein Land ist in tiefstem Chaos." Einen "Irrsinn" nannte er den Brexit und forderte zwar, die Entscheidung zu respektieren, befand aber: "Weil eine Mehrheit etwas wählt, bedeutet das nicht, dass es richtig war."
Europäischen Volkspartei Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber beklagte, dass man sich ein wenig hängen gelassen fühle von Großbritannien, was die Vermittlung von Ideen zur künftigen Zusammenarbeit angehe.
Beatrix von Storch (AfD): Man selbst wolle ein Bündnis souveräner Nationalstaaten, in dem Entscheidungen nach einer Kosten-Nutzen-Kalkulation getroffen würden. Ein riesiges Chaos gebe es in Großbritannien nicht.

AR Beware of cost-benefit analysis: The costs of a political union cannot be quantified or its benefits predicted.

2019 January 14


The Times

UK prime minister Theresa May today spoke to workers at a factory in Stoke-on-Trent. She warned Brexiteers that staying in the EU is now more likely than their goal of leaving with no deal.
She said parliament has a duty to implement the result of the 2016 referendum:
"If a majority had backed remain, the UK would have continued as an EU member state. No doubt the disagreements would have continued too, but the vast majority of people would have had no truck with an argument that we should leave the EU in spite of a vote to remain or that we should return to the question in another referendum."

AR I begin to sense a retreat once St Theresa has endured her Commons crucifixion tomorrow.

A Space Elevator

Kelly Oakes

The future of space travel may be an elevator shaft that can transport people and equipment directly into low Earth orbit. A Japanese corporation aims to develop a space elevator by 2050, and China has its sights set on building one by 2045.
The sky lobby of a space elevator needs to orbit at the same speed as Earth rotates, with its center of mass some 36 Mm over our heads in geostationary orbit (GSO). A successful space elevator will need to stretch much further, with a tether nearly 100 Mm long, extending well beyond GSO, and strong enough to lift satellites and astronauts into space.
Keeping the base of such an enormous structure safe, engineers suggest placing the Earth end of the tether near the equator, where hurricanes almost never form. To avoid collisions with space junk, it should ideally be anchored on a mobile ocean platform.
Researchers in Japan have sent a miniature space elevator to the International Space Station for release into orbit. Two 10 cm satellites tied together by an 11 m steel cable are passing a tiny climber back and forth while researchers monitor the system.
To install a full-size cable, put a satellite in orbit, carrying many Mm of wire, and have it dangle the wire down to Earth. Send a small mechanical climber up that wire carrying a second ribbon. Repeat this process with ever bigger climbers, adding more and more ribbons, to weave a sturdy cable leading from the ground to the orbiting cluster of climbers acting as a counterweight to keep the elevator's center of mass up in GSO.
Because all the mass below GSO pulls down on the elevator shaft, and all that above pulls it up, the tether will be in great tension. To hold it all together, we need a strong material. The top candidates are carbon nanotubes and graphene sheets.
International Space Elevator Consortium president Peter Swan: "When you can provide scalable, inexpensive and reliable access to space, capabilities emerge that will benefit those on Earth."

AR I guess this will take longer than its enthusiasts expect.


Elon Musk / SpaceX
Elon Musk reveals assembled Starship hopper prototype for suborbital VTOL tests


Universe Today
Starshot light sail

"I'm not saying I'm a Trump fan,
I'm just saying, it's bad in
America, but it's a thousand
times worse in Britain."
Jeremy Clarkson

Me Me Me
British army fights
to attract recruits

Jade Rabbit 2

Quantum error correction
for beginners

M.C. Escher
M.C. Escher
Fish in a tiling illustrate
hyperbolic geometry


EU vs Russia
Norbert Röttgen

Putin has made destabilization
of other countries the guiding
principle of his foreign policy


2019 January 13

Brexit: Case For People's Vote

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard

As the Brexit clock ticks on, the case for a people's vote grows stronger:
 A clear majority of MPs opposes the government's proposed withdrawal deal. The government
     is now braced for a heavy defeat on Tuesday evening.
 Crashing out in March with nothing agreed is not the only option if the Commons votes down
     the deal. MPs can block a no-deal Brexit.
 Parliament can take back control. The government will have to bring forward a new plan
     within three days. A people's vote amendment can be tabled.
 The ECJ confirms that the UK has the absolute right to stop the Article 50 process, withdraw
     its notice, and remain in the EU.
UK polls now show a consistent 8% lead in favour of staying in the EU. The lead is 16 to 26 points
for a choice between staying and either the government's deal or no deal.

Stop and Think
Sir John Major

Crashing out of the EU without a deal would be deeply harmful for the UK. Every single household would be worse off for many years to come. The only sensible course now is for the government to revoke article 50 and suspend any decision on departure.

2019 January 12

Trump Endgame

Alan J. Steinberg

Trump will not be removed from office by the constitutional impeachment process. Instead, he will use his presidency as a bargaining chip with federal and state authorities in 2019, agreeing to leave office in exchange for their not pursuing criminal charges against him.
Aside from all the legal nightmares facing Trump and his presidency, it appears virtually impossible for Trump to be reelected in 2020. The economy appears headed for a severe recession, as evidenced by the recent plunge in the stock market.
With his approval ratings in an abysmal state, and the forthcoming recession making it near impossible for Trump to stage a political recovery, it appears most likely that he will use the continuation of his presidency as a bargaining chip.

Brexit Endgame


Two of the biggest donors to the Brexit campaign say they now expect the UK to stay in the EU despite their campaign victory in the 2016 referendum.
Hedge fund manager Crispin Odey does not believe there will be a second referendum or that Brexit will happen either. He is now positioning for the pound to strengthen from $1.27 to about $1.34.
Billionaire Peter Hargreaves says the political establishment is determined to scuttle Brexit, first by asking the EU for an extension to the exit process and then by calling for a second referendum.

Beauty Shapes Evolution

Ferris Jabr

Numerous species have conspicuous, costly, and burdensome sexual ornaments. To reconcile such splendid beauty with a utilitarian view of evolution, biologists have favored the idea that beauty in the animal kingdom is an indicator of health, intelligence, and survival skills.
Charles Darwin proposed that ornaments evolved through sexual selection. Females choose the most appealing males according to their standard of beauty. In this way, beauty can be the glorious flowering of arbitrary preference, nothing to do with survival.
Two environments govern the evolution of sentient creatures: an external one, which they inhabit, and an internal one, which they construct. To understand evolution, we must uncover the hidden links between those two worlds.
Richard Prum says animals are agents in their own evolution. Dinosaurs originally evolved feathers, he says, because they found them beautiful. Birds transformed them into enviable adaptations, but they never abandoned their sense of style.
Environment constrains anatomy, which determines how a creature experiences the world, which generates adaptive and arbitrary preferences, which loop back to alter its biology, sometimes in maladaptive ways. In humans, many types of physical beauty and sexual desire have arbitrarily co-evolved without reference to health or fertility.
Flowers expose the futility of trying to contain beauty in a single theoretical framework. Early pollen-producing plants depended on the wind to spread their pollen and reproduce. But certain insects began to eat those pollen grains, inadvertently transporting them from one plant to another. Through a long process of co-evolution, plants and pollinators formed increasingly specific relationships, driving each other toward aesthetic and adaptive extremes.
Beauty evolves in a dialogue between perceiver and perceived.

AR Beauty is epiphenomenal to evolution by natural selection rather as consciousness is epiphenomenal to cognitive processing in a cerebral neuronet.

2019 January 11

Brexit: World Is Watching

Shinzo Abe

The world is watching the UK as it exits the EU.
Japan and the UK have been building a very strong partnership. For Japan, the UK is the gateway to the European market. It is the strong will of Japan to further develop this strong partnership.
We hope a no-deal Brexit will be avoided.

Brexit: Delay Withdrawal

James Blitz

When Theresa May puts her Brexit deal to the Commons next Tuesday she will face a major defeat. She must then return to the Commons within three days with a proposed Plan B. MPs can amend her new motion and debate alternative Brexit plans.
Eurasia Group managing director Mujtaba Rahman: "A three-month extension to Article 50 would now make sense."

Black Hole Stability Conjecture Solved

Daily Mail

Imperial College London physicist Gustav Holzegel has won the prestigious Blavatnik Award and a cash prize for calculating what happens when a black hole is perturbed. Solutions to the black hole stability conjecture had eluded physicists for decades.
From his award citation: "Professor Holzegel has pushed the frontiers of our understanding of the universe as outlined by the general relativity theory."
Holzegel proves that a perturbed black hole will settle down into a stable form. He proved a version of the conjecture for spherical black holes in 2016. His new work applies to any kind of black hole.

How Machines Think

Been Kim

Interpretability can mean studying a neural network with scientific experiments to understand the details about the model, how it reacts, and that sort of thing.
Interpretability for responsible AI means understanding just enough to safely use the tool. We can create that understanding by confirming that useful human knowledge is reflected in the tool.
Doctors using a machine-learning model for diagnosis will want to know that their own diagnostic knowledge is reflected in the model. A machine-learning model that pays attention to these factors is more understandable, because it reflects the knowledge of the doctors.
Prior to this, interpretability methods only explained what neural networks were doing in terms of input features. If you have an image, every single pixel is an input feature. But humans communicate with concepts.
Testing with Concept Activation Vectors (TCAV) does sensitivity testing. When you add a new diagnostic concept, you can output the probability of a certain prediction as a number between 0 and 1, its TCAV score. If the probability increases, it is an important concept to the model.
To validate the concept, a statistical testing procedure rejects the concept vector if it has the same effect on the model as a random vector. If your concept fails this test, the TCAV will tell you the concept looks unimportant to the model.
Humans are gullible. It is easy to fool a person into trusting something. The goal of interpretability for machine learning is to resist this, to tell you if a system is not safe to use.
Inherently interpretable models reflect how humans reason. Having humans in the loop, and enabling the conversation between machines and humans, is the crux of interpretability.

2019 January 10

Extraterrestrial Visitors

Avi Loeb

In October 2017, the PanSTARRS telescope in Hawaii detected an object moving so fast it must have come from beyond our solar system, making it the first visitor from outer space that we know of. We called it Oumuamua.
It was quite a mystery. Its brightness changes dramatically, suggesting a very strange shape. A sphere would always reflect the same amount of sunlight. Only a disk or a cigar-shaped body would flicker while rotating.
The more we found out about Oumuamua, the weirder it got. Its orbit differs significantly from an orbit shaped by solar gravitation. Some additional force was acting on it. If it was a comet, it might have emitted gases while flying past the Sun, but no comet tail was observed. And its rotation should have changed during outgassing, but this effect was not observed either.
The other force acting on Oumuamua is the pressure of the sunlight. Solar radiation could only have a visible effect if it is a very thin object, less than 1 mm thick. If Oumuamua is a randomly wandering object, every solar system would have to produce millions of billions of such objects. If it's not random, it could be a targeted mission, an artificial product, a light sail made by intelligent beings.
The Breakthrough Starshot project started when Yuri Milner asked me in 2015 if I would be willing to lead a project to send a probe to Proxima Centauri, 4 light years away from Earth. To get there within our lifetime, it would have to travel at 0.2c.
A light sail, accelerated by a powerful laser from Earth, seemed to be the only feasible way. The idea is to accelerate the probe with a 100 GW laser beam for a few minutes. With many small infrared lasers across an area of 100 ha, we could focus the beam up to about five times the distance to the Moon and accelerate the probe to 0.2c.
We plan a payload of about 1 g. The probe needs a camera and a navigation and communication device. And we need a sail material that almost completely reflects the incoming laser light. To receive the radio signal the probe sends back, we will need a big radio telescope on Earth. We can send a lot of probes into space once the launch system is constructed, because the expensive part is the infrastructure of the laser beam. The probes themselves will be relatively cheap.
Oumuamua is moving too fast for a rocket, but with a laser-driven light sail we could catch up with it. We only became aware of it after it had already left, but we will study the next visitor earlier and more thoroughly.

Crystal Balls


White dwarfs are stellar embers depleted of nuclear energy sources that cool over billions of years. These stars are supported by electron degeneracy pressure and reach core densities of 10 Gg/l.
A phase transition occurs during white dwarf cooling, leading to the crystalization of the non-degenerate C and O ions in the core. This releases latent heat and delays the cooling process by about a billion years. The cooling is further slowed by the liberation of gravitational energy from element sedimentation in the core.

"All white dwarfs will crystalize at some point in their evolution, although more massive white dwarfs go through the process sooner. This means that billions of white dwarfs in our galaxy have already completed the process and are essentially crystal spheres in the sky."
Pier-Emmanuel Tremblay

2019 January 9

Trump: US Governance Crisis

The New York Times

President Trump is painfully out of his element. Two years in, he remains ill suited to the work of leading the nation. Governance clearly bores him, as do policy details both foreign and domestic. He has proved a poor judge of talent. He prefers grandstanding to negotiating, and he continues to have trouble with the whole concept of checks and balances.
Most of the electorate has grown weary of his outrages and antics.

Brexit: UK Government Failure

The Guardian

Brexit is not a policy prescription for UK problems. For many Tories, it is an attitude of mind, an amorphous resentment against the modern world.
There has been a collective floundering across the political spectrum. Britain is living through a period of national democratic failure. Badly framed referendums are a crude way of making democratic decisions and empower those who shout loudest.
Brexit has exposed the decrepit nature of UK constitutional arrangements and UK politics. Parliamentary sovereignty needs to be better rooted in the people. Other forms of debate are essential buttresses of the parliamentary process.
Britain should pause the article 50 process and put Brexit on hold. The government has failed, so we must go back to the people.

Brexit: Plan B in 3 Days

BBC News, 1436 UTC

MPs have voted to force the government to return to parliament with a plan B within three days if the withdrawal deal is rejected next week, by 308 votes to 297.

Brexit: End of Days Scenario

Daily Mail

Government calls a general election for April 4, parliament goes into recess, cutting off further debate or votes, and no-deal Brexit happens on March 29 while politicians are out campaigning.

AR The fixed-term parliaments act ensures that this can only happen after the house passes a vote of no confidence in the government, which is already an extreme scenario.

2019 January 8

Brexit: No No Deal

BBC News, 1921 UTC

MPs have backed an amendment to the Finance Bill that limits spending on no-deal Brexit preparations unless authorised by parliament, by 303 to 296 votes.

AR Relief — I trust this means no-deal Brexit is off the menu.

Brexit: The Uncivil War

The Times

James Graham's TV drama was rollickingly good entertainment, but it wasn't really the story of the Leave and Remain campaigns. It was the story of Dominic Cummings, brilliantly done by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Cummings was shown running rings intellectually around MPs and old-guard Brexiteers, basically delivering the Leave victory through vision and data mining, putting that £350 million for the NHS claim on the side of the bus, and devising the "Take Back Control" slogan.
Credit must go to Graham for making something about Brexit enjoyable. A final verdict from Cummings resonated: "It's all gone crap."

AR The drama did well to catch the way Cummings raised demons with the immigration issue to demolish a weak and complacent Remain campaign.

2019 January 7

Europe of Nations


Right-wing populists seek a Europe of Nations. In May 2019, they could gain enough seats in the European Parliament to turn back the clock on European integration.
Italian Lega party member and interior minister Matteo Salvini: "There are people who have betrayed the European dream. But we will give our blood and veins for a new Europe."
In Austria, FPÖ member and vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache cultivates relations with fellow populists across Europe: "We can save Europe."
Russian president Vladimir Putin's United Russia party has a cooperation agreement with the FPÖ and with right-wing parties in neighboring countries, such as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party.
There are two right-wing populist groups in the European Parliament, the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) and the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), plus the more moderate groups European People's Party (EPP) and European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).
Salvini wants to see refugees distributed more fairly across Europe. But the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) party is adamantly opposed, as is Orbán in Hungary. The European right wing is also divided on relations with Russia.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) includes members who question the legitimacy of the German-Polish border. German parliament AfD co-leader Alice Weidel is critical of Italy: "Germany cannot become Italy's paymaster!"
Orbán stigmatizes refugees in alarmist terms. His government built a razor-wire border fence and demanded that the EU pay for it. He is fond of posing as the savior of the Christian West. His Fidesz party belongs to the EPP group in the European Parliament.
Hungary depends on EU subsidies adding up to €40 billion by the end of 2017. The same is true of Poland, led by the PiS party. Yet Poland and Hungary cause trouble in Brussels.
European nationalists say they are the people and will drive out the elites. From May, the ECR will lose British MEPs with Brexit, giving PiS a leading role in the group.
Lega, FPÖ, AfD, and Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National could join the ENF group. Together they could make up over 20% of the European Parliament.

AR Without the calming presence of the UK, the EU could turn ugly.


The Times

The Brexit psychodrama goes on. It is difficult for outsiders to believe that the UK has put itself in this absurd and reckless position. Ireland must respond, because Brexit will affect it more severely than any other EU member.
Brexiteers have consistently failed to acknowledge that the UK departure from the EU will have negative consequences for other countries. Their ignorance of Irish history and of the special sensitivities of the border ought to shame them.
Jacob Rees-Mogg even had the effrontery last week to blame the Irish government for the bind in which the UK finds itself. The proper response is to reiterate why the backstop is an essential part of any withdrawal agreement.
Almost everybody on the island of Ireland, except the DUP and a cohort of other unionists, wishes the UK to remain in the EU.

AR Most other interested parties do too.

2019 January 6

China, Space Superpower

The Times

China is making a tremendous effort to become a space power.
Heritage Foundation China expert Dean Cheng: "In some ways the US has fallen behind China. You cannot be more glaring in your deficiency than having lost the ability to put a person into space. China is able to do this. Currently the US is not."
Space expert Namrata Goswami: "There has been a tendency to underplay Chinese achievements in space .. But they have shown that they are capable of doing very difficult feats away from Earth. That should be a wake-up call."
Goswami believes the Chinese have three long-term civilian goals in space:
 To establish a permanent presence on the Moon
 To use that presence as a base for deeper space exploration
 To focus on asteroids as a possible source of raw materials
Cheng: "Where China is ahead is thinking about the military roles of space .. This week's achievement is the product of at least a decade of sustained funding and sustained programmatic stability."

British Imperial Nostalgia

Ishaan Tharoor

Imperial nostalgia shadows the push for Brexit. Brexiteers conjure visions of Britain restored to its former glory once free of the EU. Empire 2.0 will arise from new trade deals with Commonwealth countries.
The Sunday Times: "A people who within living memory governed a quarter of the world's land area and a fifth of its population is surely capable of governing itself without Brussels."
UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt: "Britain's post-Brexit role should be to act as an invisible chain linking together the democracies of the world, those countries which share our values and support our belief in free trade, the rule of law and open societies."
UK defense secretary Gavin Williamson: "This is our biggest moment as a nation since the end of the second world war, when we can recast ourselves in a different way. We can actually play the role on the world stage that the world expects us to play."
An anonymous Tory grandee: "We simply cannot allow the Irish to treat us like this. The Irish really should know their place."

A Good British Spanking
Nick Cohen

Margaret Thatcher cut government spending and whacked up interest rates during a recession. She defied the experts, who warned that her policies would deepen the recession, erode the UK industrial base, and threaten social and political stability.
Brexiteers tell voters a good spanking is worth it to restore national independence from Europe. Britain was never invaded by Hitler or Stalin, so they are careless about the risk of leaving the EU.

Solar Thermal Fuel


Researchers have developed a fluid that absorbs solar energy, holds it for months or years, and then releases it when needed. Such a solar thermal fuel can help replace fossil fuels.
As a pump cycles the fluid through transparent tubes, solar UV light excites its molecules into an energized state. The photons rearrange bonds among the C, H, and N atoms to convert norbornadiene into quadricyclane. Because the energy is trapped in strong chemical bonds, it is retained even when the fluid cools down.
To extract the stored energy, the activated fluid is passed over a cobalt-based catalyst. The quadricyclane molecules then transform back into norbornadiene. This heats the fluid from room temperature up to about 80 C.
The fluid and the catalyst are not consumed by the reactions, so the system can run in a closed loop. The researchers have run it though 125 cycles without significant degradation.
Calculations show the fluid can store up to 900 kJ/kg, about 2% as much as gasoline. The next step is to optimize its shelf life, energy density, and recyclability.

AR Thanks to Christian de Quincey for this.

2019 January 5

Quantum Spacetime

Natalie Wolchover

Qubits are superpositions of two states, |0⟩ and |1⟩. When qubits interact, their possible states become interdependent. The contingent possibilities proliferate exponentially as many qubits become more and more entangled in a quantum computation.
Physical qubits are error-prone. The tiniest disturbance causes them to undergo bit-flips that switch their chances of being |0⟩ and |1⟩ relative to the other qubits, or phase-flips that invert the relationship between their two states. For quantum computers to work, we need to protect the logic even when physical qubits get corrupted.
Quantum error-correcting codes exist, and they can theoretically push error rates close to zero. The best error-correcting codes can typically recover all of the encoded information from slightly more than half of the physical qubits.
There is evidence of a deep connection between quantum error correction and the nature of spacetime and gravity. We think spacetime and gravity somehow emerge from a quantum origin. This emergence works like a quantum error-correcting code, at least in anti-de Sitter (AdS) universes.
We live in a de Sitter universe with positive vacuum energy, but AdS space has negative vacuum energy, giving it a hyperbolic geometry. Spatial dimensions radiating away from a center gradually shrink down to the universe's outer boundary.
The interior of a 4D AdS spacetime is holographically dual to a quantum field theory on the 3D gravity-free boundary. Any point in the interior of AdS space could be constructed from slightly more than half of the boundary, just as in an optimal quantum error-correcting code. Such a code can be understood as a 2D hologram.
In 2015, Daniel Harlow, John Preskill, Fernando Pastawski, and Beni Yoshida (HaPPY) found another holographic code that captures more properties of AdS space. The code tiles space in 5-sided blocks, each one representing a single spacetime point. Think of the tiles as the fish in an Escher tiling.
In the HaPPY code and other holographic error-correcting schemes, everything in a region of the interior spacetime called the entanglement wedge can be reconstructed from qubits on an adjacent region of the boundary. Overlapping regions on the boundary have overlapping entanglement wedges, just as a logical qubit can be reconstructed from many different subsets of physical qubits.
Preskill: "It's really entanglement which is holding the space together. If you want to weave spacetime together out of little pieces, you have to entangle them in the right way. And the right way is to build a quantum error-correcting code."

Entanglement Weaves Spacetime
Jennifer Ouellette

Spacetime emerges from entangled nodes in a network. Entanglement is the thread that weaves the fabric of spacetime. Curved spacetime emerges naturally from entanglement in tensor networks via holography. Think of 2D program code for a virtual 3D game world. We live in the game space.

2019 January 4

Russia Chose Trump For Prez


Russia chose Donald Trump as the US presidential candidate who would be most advantageous to Moscow, and used online tactics to win him the presidency.
Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo: "Officials in Moscow looked at the 2016 US presidential race and asked, 'Which candidate would we like to have sitting in the White House? Who will help us achieve our goals?' And they chose him. From that moment, they deployed a system [of bots] for the length of the elections, and ran him for president .. What we've seen so far with respect to bots and the distortion of information is just the tip of the iceberg. It is the greatest threat of recent years, and it threatens the basic values that we share."

The US Senate commissioned a report finding that Russia had used every social media tool available to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of Trump. One described the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian troll farm:
"Run like a sophisticated marketing agency in a centralized office environment, the IRA employed and trained over a thousand people to engage in round-the-clock influence operations, first targeting Ukrainian and Russian citizens, and then, well before the 2016 US election, Americans .. They reached 126 million people on Facebook, at least 20 million users on Instagram, 1.4 million users on Twitter, and uploaded over a thousand videos to YouTube."

AR I discuss the Russian role in my essay Victory.

Brexiteers Lied

Chris Patten

As 29 March 2019 gets closer, no deal is in sight that is acceptable to both Westminster and Brussels. The problem began before the 2016 referendum. The Leave campaign was rife with delusions and dishonesty.
UK prime minister Theresa May laid down red lines:
The UK will leave the EU and the single market and the customs union.
The UK will not accept any jurisdiction by the European Court of Justice.
The UK will end the freedom of European citizens to come to the UK.
The UK will not accept a hard border between Northern Ireland and Eire.
It is well-nigh impossible to negotiate an exit deal that meets them.
The Brexiteers lied. The costs of leaving the EU outweigh the benefits.

AR Putin nudged the UK toward Brexit with his support for Leave.

Britain Needs A Plan

Jochen Bittner

UK prime minister Theresa May is likely to fail with her proposed withdrawal agreement. As things stand, at 11:00:00 pm on 29 March 2019 the UK will be a part of the EU and at 11:00:01 it won't.
With no deal, trade relations between the UK and the EU revert to basic WTO rules. Neither side can treat the other more favorably than they treat other trade partners around the globe. A new customs regime would have to be installed. In the interim, confusion.
If May's agreement is voted down, parliament has to deal with the Brexit mess. Only Brextremists want a hard Brexit. MPs can vote to give the decision back to the people with a new referendum.

AR I explore the strategic cost of hard Brexit in my story Ringlord.

Turing Model Builds Patterns


In 1952, Alan Turing devised an elegant mathematical model of pattern formation. His theory outlined how endless varieties of stripes, spots, and scales could emerge from the interaction of two chemical agents, or morphogens. The mechanism lies behind the development of mammalian hair, the feathers of birds, and even the denticles that cover the skin of sharks.
Turing's reaction-diffusion mechanism requires two interacting agents, an activator and an inhibitor, that diffuse through tissue. The activator initiates a process and promotes its own production. The inhibitor halts both actions. The inhibitor spreads through tissue more quickly and prevents pockets of activation from spilling over. The pockets of activation can appear as patterns of dots or stripes.
A mathematical model of activator and inhibitor interactions can produce patterns that match those of developing shark skin, feathers, or hair. Reducing or blocking the expression of a gene and showing that the pattern disappears reveals which genes play roles in pattern production. Once such a pattern is set, other mechanisms form denticles, feathers, or other epithelial appendages.

AR Mathematics lets us explain the evolution of biological diversity.

Far side of Moon

Chang'e 4 lunar surface image, far side of Moon

Ultima Thule
New Horizons image of
Ultima Thule, a world
33 km long over
6 Tm away



2019 January 3

The Far Side of the Moon


China has successfully landed a rover on the far side of the Moon — a big first for its space program.
China National Space Administration (CNSA) landed the Chang'e 4 lunar probe at 0226 UTC today, in the South Pole−Aitken Basin. The rover made our first close-up image of the far side of the Moon.
This success is a landmark in human space exploration. Since the Chang'e 4 rover cannot communicate directly with ground control, China earlier launched a dedicated satellite orbiting the Moon to relay data from the rover to Earth.
The Chang'e 4 rover is 1.5 m long and about 1 m wide and tall, with two foldable solar panels and six wheels. It will conduct a number of tasks, including conducting a low-frequency radio astronomy experiment, observe whether plants will grow in the low-gravity environment, look for water or other resources, and study the interaction between solar winds and the lunar surface.
CNSA Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center deputy director Tongjie Liu:
"Since the far side of the Moon is shielded from electromagnetic interference from the Earth, it is an ideal place to research the space environment and solar bursts, and the probe can listen to the deeper reaches of the cosmos."
US Naval War College professor Joan Johnson-Freese:
"It is highly likely that with the success of Chang'e and the concurrent success of the human spaceflight Shenzhou program, the two programs will eventually be combined toward a Chinese human spaceflight program to the Moon."
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine:
"This is a first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment!"

2019 January 2

Jovian Moon Io

Daily Mail

On 2018-12-21, NASA probe Juno cameras captured images of Jupiter's moon Io. When Juno was about 300 Mm from Io, JunoCam acquired three images of Io, all showing a volcanic plume near the terminator. JunoCam, the Stellar Reference Unit (SRU), the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM), and the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVS) observed Io for over an hour.
Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton: "We knew we were breaking new ground with a multi-spectral campaign to view Io's polar region, but no one expected we would get so lucky as to see an active volcanic plume shooting material off the moon's surface."


Financial Times

The decision in 2016 to renew the UK nuclear deterrent and build four new submarines at a cost of £31 billion could sink the UK defence budget. The total 2017/18 defence budget was £37 billion.
A funding gap of up to £15 billion in the MoD equipment program looms over the next decade. The gap stems mainly from Dreadnought, the nuclear deterrent submarine renewal program, described as "the ultimate guarantee" of UK security.
The cost of the nuclear deterrent includes maintaining the present fleet of V-boats, the Trident missile system, the British nuclear warheads, and building four new Dreadnought submarines. All this makes up a big fraction of the MoD budget.
BAE Systems is building the new submarines, which will be 153 m long and displace 17 200 tons. They will be powered by a new Rolls-Royce nuclear reactor, posing a big risk to the project, and will each have 12 Trident missile tubes.
Jane's Fighting Ships consultant editor Richard Scott: "You hear comments about the disproportionate impact the deterrent has on the overall defence budget."

AR Form a commission to review the strategic purpose of UK nuclear weapons.

2019 New Year's Day

Childhood's End

George Dyson

The digital revolution began when stored-program computers broke the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things. As computers proliferated, the humans providing instructions could no longer keep up.
The digital revolution has come full circle and the analog revolution has begun. To those seeking autonomy and control among machines, the domain of analog computing is the place to look. The next revolution is the assembly of digital components into analog computers.
Nature uses digital coding for processing sequences of nucleotides, but relies on analog coding and analog computing for intelligence and control. In analog computing, complexity resides in topology, not code. Analog computers embrace noise.
Analog computation can be implemented in solid state. Algorithms and digital simulations loom large in our culture but other forms of computation effectively control much of the world.
The search engine is no longer a model of human knowledge, it is human knowledge. What began as a mapping of human meaning now defines human meaning, and has begun to control, rather than simply catalog or index, human thought.
The successful social network is no longer a model of the social graph, it is the social graph. These new hybrid organizations are operating as analog computers on a global scale.

AR This is the global brain: Globorg

2018 Was Putin's Year


President Vladimir Putin of Russia had a good 2018.
In March, Putin sailed to a re-election victory, winning a fourth term by a handsome margin. The Kremlin even secured high turnout numbers to claim a broad mandate.
In June and July, Russia hosted the 2018 FIFA World Cup, a resounding triumph for Putin. More than 3 million fans attended matches in 12 stadiums across Russia. FIFA praised the Russia tournament as the best World Cup to date.
The games allowed Russia to show its side after years of political isolation and confrontation with the West following the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the imposition of economic sanctions.
Russia is still locked in a confrontation with the United States and the West. Its economy lost years of growth in the wake of the 2014 annexation of Crimea. New sanctions could further cripple the economy.
In September, Putin said the two suspects named by UK authorities over the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury were not criminals and suggested the pair come forward. They did, and an investigative website revealed their real identities.
The World Cup provided a welcome respite to bad headlines. Visitors saw a country that could roll out the red carpet.
Putin: "Millions of people have changed their views on Russia. It is a big achievement."

AR Victory 

Imaging a Black Hole

New Scientist

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) has made its first observations of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. Nine radio observatories around the world, including four in America and one in Antarctica, make up the EHT. Together they make a virtual telescope spanning the planet.
In April 2017, the EHT looked at two supermassive black holes: Sagittarius A* at the center of the Milky Way and the much more massive black hole at the center of galaxy M87. The images will be the first proof that black hole event horizons exist.
The observations could also help us formulate a theory of quantum gravity.

AR This could be good.

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