BLOG 2019 Q3

⦿ PA
British Antarctic Survey research ship Sir David Attenborough is launched. In 2016, the Natural Environment Research Council
held a referendum inviting the public to choose a name for the ship. After a radio campaign, a runaway majority of the votes
were cast for the name Boaty McBoatface. In May 2016, UK science minister Jo Johnson announced the official name,
leaving unsaid the reason that the popular choice was just too bloody stupid to be adopted.

AR Ergo exit Brexit.


Get it done

Order of the Garter


33 days

⦿ Yui Mok
PM advisor Dom Cummings

He lied

Stephanie Wehner
Stephanie Wehner, Delft UT,
coordinates the Quantum
Internet Alliance, an
EU initiative


2019 September 30

Trump Impeachment

Sheryl Gay Stolberg

Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a private appeal on Sunday to Democrats not to squander their chance to build public support for an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. "The polls have changed drastically about this. Our tone must be prayerful, respectful, solemn, worthy of the Constitution."
Representative Adam B. Schiff: "We have to flesh out all of the facts for the American people. The seriousness of the matter and the danger to our country demands nothing less."
Representative Josh Gottheimer: "We need to make sure this is fact-driven and evidence-based. You can't prejudge something that is so solemn and obviously could have a big historical impact on our country, and you need to keep the country together."
Representative Angie Craig: "I'm going to tell my constituents that this is a decision I never wanted to have to make, that the president left us no choice but to open an impeachment inquiry."


"Fraud and Treason"

Donald Trump

Like every American, I deserve to meet my accuser, especially when this accuser, the so-called 'Whistleblower,' represented a perfect conversation with a foreign leader in a totally inaccurate and fraudulent way.
His lies were made in perhaps the most blatant and sinister manner ever seen in the great Chamber. He wrote down and read terrible things, then said it was from the mouth of the President of the United States. I want Schiff questioned at the highest level for Fraud & Treason.


Brexit Backstop

Financial Times

At the Conservative party conference in Manchester, DUP leader Arlene Foster warned that she was not prepared to see new border checks in the Irish Sea as part of any Brexit deal. She said a time-limited version of the backstop was "something we would look at" but that Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar had already ruled out a time-limited backstop.
An aide for Boris Johnson: "We want the backstop removed entirely."
Johnson will spend the next three days in Manchester promising to "get Brexit done" and offering tough rhetoric to party activists before heading back to London to negotiate an exit deal with Brussels. He hopes the creation of an "all-Ireland" regulatory zone can pave the way to a Brexit deal. He needs DUP support to persuade hardline ERG Brexiteers to back his deal.
ERG leader Jacob Rees-Mogg: "Like Gulliver tied down at Lilliput, we are tied down by a ragtag, motley collection of feeble, fickle, footling politicians, all in desperate pursuit of a single ignoble aim: to renege on the solemn promise they made to the British people."
Minister for no-deal preparations Michael Gove: "The level of our preparations has accelerated massively [but] we cannot anticipate every risk and cannot guarantee against some turbulence."


"Surrender Act"

Jörg Schindler

Boris Johnson is in a desperate plight. He can only win a general election by getting the votes of the angry Brits seduced by the hellfire and damnation ranting of Nigel Farage. Johnson is defending his right flank by aping Farage, but no one knows if this will work.
If he had a comfortable majority, Johnson could either conclude a last-minute deal with Brussels and whip it through parliament or leave the EU without a deal. The way to trigger new elections is for his Commons opponents to call a vote of no confidence.
In early September, Johnson prorogued parliament. He wanted to force angry MPs to call a vote to trigger an election for which he would set the date. No one could stop him from letting October 31 go by and then campaigning in triumph.
Instead of falling into this trap, MPs passed an act that hit Johnson hard. He must now conclude a deal with Brussels by the EU summit in mid-October or ask for an extension of article 50 beyond Halloween. Johnson says he would "rather be dead in a ditch" than ask for an extension.
After the prorogation was ruled null and void, Johnson shouted "surrender act" at his opponents in parliament. MPs now fear for their personal safety.


Europe Is Not the Enemy

Joris Luyendijk

The present UK prime minister has taken nastiness to an entirely new level. The UK government lies about nonexistent negotiations with the EU and threatens to renege on its outstanding financial obligations. The leader of the Commons threatened to sabotage the EU from within if Brexit was postponed, and the prime minister compared the EU to the Nazis.
The Britain that most democratic Europeans love still exists. Yet the terrible truth is that this progressive side of Britain is in deep disarray. The dominant four newspapers in Britain by circulation have been brainwashing their readers with fake news about the EU for years.
The Conservative party has elected the most callous, ruthless, mendacious, and superficial politician in living memory as its leader. According to the polls, this deeply nasty man is easily the most popular politician in the country.
If the UK opts for the no-deal disaster so many of its leaders and publications crave, the UK must take the blame. Brexit is an act of the UK against the EU. The EU cannot save a country that does not want to save itself.


"The Will of the People"

Gideon Rachman

Legal crises have now broken out on both sides of the Atlantic. They are signs that the laws and conventions that underpin liberal democracy are under attack in both the UK and the US, two countries that have long regarded themselves as democratic role models for the world.
The Trump and Johnson camps are whipping up their supporters to believe that their legal problems are acts of revenge by political enemies who are intent on thwarting the will of the people. In their approach to politics, once you accept that the end justifies the means, any tactic is permissible.
The implied threat of violence is already part of the Trump−Johnson playbook. The political arguments made by both the Johnson and Trump administrations use the language of democracy, but the underlying logic has more in common with populist authoritarianism.
When leaders such as Johnson and Trump claim a direct mandate from the people, they treat the other institutions of a democratic society with contempt, and even threaten them with violent retribution at the hands of the people. The degeneration of liberal democracy in its Anglo-American heartlands will have a global impact.

AR Democracy works best when the electorate is intelligent and well educated enough to appreciate the issues at stake. The bigger issues we face are now complex enough to ensure that democracy as we know it works less well.

2019 September 29

Address to the United Nations

Donald Trump

These animals in the press. They're animals actually — some of the worst human beings you'll ever meet. They're scum — many of them are scum.
I didn't do anything. I don't know if I'm the most innocent person in the world. I just said I'm the most presidential except for possibly Abe Lincoln when he wore the hat — that was tough to beat. Honest Abe, when he wore that hat, that was tough to beat. But I can't do that, that hat wouldn't work for me. Yeah, I have better hair than him.

AR Verbatim


One Nation Conservatism

Damian Green

I believe that the tradition of One Nation Conservatism must remain strong. A growing number of Conservative MPs are joining the One Nation Caucus, which I chair.
Brexit has divided the country, so the job of any thoughtful Conservative is to devise ways we can reunite it. Any Conservative worth the name recognises that a country shouting at itself is unlikely to continue caring about its institutions and history.
The Conservative party can reconnect with the decent instincts of the majority of British people only if it puts One Nation politics at the heart of its mission.


The Garter

Tim Shipman

The supreme court rebuke has led to a breakdown of trust between Buckingham Palace and Downing Street.
A Whitehall source: "They are not impressed by what is going on — at the very highest levels of the family."
A palace courtier: "Boris joins Cameron and Blair. Not in the Queen's lifetime will any of them ever receive the garter."
Sir John Major, the last prime minister to be bestowed with the Order of the Garter, remains close to the palace.


Brexit Piffle

Ian McEwan

I've become a junkie of the Brexit process. There's a spirit of collective adventure, a touch of Enid Blyton about it.
Brexit has reached absurdity. No reasoned case is now made for it. No economic case, such as for the Norway model, is now mentioned. It's become like a religion. It has entered the realm of the mystical, the English version of Blut und Boden.
A charming, humorous man has turned into a boneheaded populist using the puerile language of shackles. I don't want to suggest Brexit politicians are cockroaches. It's a metaphor for something ugly that has entered the Brexit argument.
It's a great triumph of our society, a triumph of meritocracy, that we have 16 million in the elite! All we need to do is try to bring up the other 17.4 million.
The £350 million-a-week lie on the side of the bus is nothing to compared to the lie of Take Back Control. People will have not more control. Every trade deal is a compromise with sovereignty. People were sold a whopper. It deserves satire.
Brexit is piffle compared to climate change or the nuclear arms race, but it's our piffle.

AR Enid Blyton: "The secret island .. seemed more enchanting than ever .. Oh, what a secret island, all for their very own, to live on and play on."

2019 September 28

Trump Versus China

Financial Times

The White House is weighing a plan to stop Chinese companies listing on US exchanges. President Trump's advisers are exploring steps to limit financial investments between America and China. Other options include curbing the ability of US government pension funds to buy Chinese equities.
Next week, Beijing is preparing a national celebration to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.


Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

President Trump is the legitimate president. He campaigned as an iconoclast, but it became clear early in his administration that his disruptiveness was aimed less at bringing fresh thinking to bear on stale policymaking than at assaulting the vital institutions of governance.
The facts are not in dispute. A president's use of his power for his own political gain, at the expense of the public interest, is the quintessence of an impeachable offense. There is no known precedent for a president pressuring a foreign nation to tear down a political rival.
Trump was working to subvert the 2020 election. The House now has a duty to protect the integrity of the election by using its powers to conduct a methodical and fair investigation. Trump has left Congress no other recourse than considering impeachment.


This UK Government

Sir John Major

UK government ministers assure us they are moving toward a deal. It seems more likely that we will end up leaving the EU without any deal at all.
The government tells us everyone is fed up with Brexit. But no one should believe that Brexit will end on the day we leave. Its negative impact will be felt for a long time.
There is much talk of a general election. If the government were confident in the aftermath of their Brexit policy, they would wait for next spring and take credit for its success. Instead the government seems intent on whipping up dissent by using highly emotional and evocative language that can only provoke fear and anger.
I fear the government will seek to bypass statute law by passing an order of council to suspend the Benn act until after 31 October. Ministers can pass an order of council without involving the Queen. This would be a piece of political chicanery that no one should ever forgive or forget.
I hope the Conservative parliamentary party will rein in the faction of a faction that now prevails in cabinet.

2019 September 27

Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

The whistle-blower whose claims led Democrats to begin an impeachment inquiry against President Trump is a CIA officer who was previously detailed to work at the White House and had expertise on Ukraine. When Trump called the claims a "political hack job," we decided to publish information about the whistle-blower to help readers make their own judgments.


Surrender Humbug

Stephen Bush

Before 16 June 2016, MPs tended to file death threats in the waste-paper bin. The assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox has changed all that. Even Conservative MPs fear the rising anger in British politics will make them targets.
Boris Johnson knows the power of words. He knows that when he uses language like "surrender act" it has consequences. His political calculation is that it will help him realign British politics on Leave−Remain lines and then win an election.
When he tells Paula Sherriff, a Labour MP who has faced death threats, that her request that he moderate his language is "humbug" he knows this will antagonize MPs into refusing a deal and forcing a divisive election.


Mobilizing Rage

Sean O'Grady

Boris Johnson is polarizing British politics. He is mobilizing his base of angry and frustrated Leavers. He wants to be seen doing battle with parliament in the name of the people.
Johnson thinks he is fighting a vast Remain Establishment conspiracy, the mainstream media, and now the judiciary too. His dog-whistle style follows the ruthless advice of Dominic Cummings.
On Brexit, there is no middle ground. The bell curve has been replaced by twin peaks. The only way to win a war like this is to fire up the other side and beat them in battle.
Scenes of Johnson winding up the Remainers will recruit former Labour or UKIP voters into the Conservative camp. The army of populist revolt is fighting for Brexit in a war to save Britain.
Johnson would love to be arrested for defying the "surrender act" by refusing to request an article 50 extension from the EU. He would declare himself Britain's first Brexit martyr.
You cannot trust this man.


UK Constitutional Reform

Jolyon Maugham

A prime minister willing to shrug off the political cost of legal defeats can continue to suspend parliament at will. MPs must replace the prime minister.
The House of Commons can identify an individual in whom it has confidence and communicate that view to the Queen, who would invite that individual to form a new government. With no vote of no confidence, there is no risk of a general election if MPs find no one.
Successive governments and prime ministers have made no attempt to find in the referendum vote a democratically sustainable mandate for anything. We have had instead a series of undeliverable promises that have outraged Remainers and Leavers alike.
An emergency government should commission a statutory inquiry to hear evidence from the public and produce a recommendation to be put back to the electorate in a referendum.
The emergency government could also implement a program of constitutional reform. The UK constitution has been tested and found wanting.



Philip Goff

If we want a theory of consciousness (TOC), we need to accommodate both the quantitative data of physical science and the qualitative reality of consciousness.
Physical science says a lot about the behavior of matter, but nothing about its intrinsic nature. Here is a hole in our scientific worldview. We can put consciousness in the hole.
Neuroscience is necessary but not sufficient for a TOC. Neuroscience gives you correlations. Trying to explain those correlations takes you beyond what can be settled empirically.
Panpsychism has deep problems. The integrated information theory (IIT) is an emergentist panpsychist model of consciousness. IIT may be our best TOC.

2019 September 26

White House Coverup

CNN, 1549 UTC

Former Obama VP Joe Biden: "[Trump] believes he can do anything and get away with it."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "The complaint states that the White House tried to lock down all records of the call, especially the word for word transcript. That gave the whistle-blower reason to believe that they, the White House, understood the gravity of what transpired in that call. The complaint reports a repeated abuse of an electronics record system designed to store classified, sensitive national security information which the White House used to hide information of a political nature."
Republicans say the whistle-blower acknowledges he or she did not have first-hand knowledge of most of the events described.

Whistle-blower complaint regarding President Trump and Ukraine


HM Government 0, Opposition 7

BBC News, 1338 UTC

HM Government has lost its 7th vote of 7 since Boris Johnson became prime minister. MPs voted by 306 to 289 against a motion calling for a 3-day parliamentary recess next week to coincide with the Conservative party conference in Manchester.


Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

The announcement by speaker Nancy Pelosi that the House is opening a formal impeachment investigation of US president Trump is historic.
After months of watching the president ravage democratic norms and taunt lawmakers, Congress is saying there are lines that cannot be crossed.
Trump says impeachment will benefit him politically. Many Democrats admit that possibility. But they believe the costs of inaction are too high.
Trump's dealings with Ukraine triggered the formal inquiry. America will not tolerate the meddling of other nations in its elections.


Surrender, Betrayal, Traitor

The Times

In the House of Commons yesterday, Boris Johnson told MPs they must deliver Brexit.
Labour MP Paula Sherriff: "Many of us [are] subjected to death threats and abuse every single day. They often quote [Johnson's] words — surrender act, betrayal, traitor — and I for one am sick of it. We must moderate our language."
Johnson: "I have never heard such humbug in all my life."


Britain's Hour of Crisis

Philip Stephens

Boris Johnson enjoyed a display of mutual backslapping with Donald Trump during his visit to New York — two demagogues united in contempt for democratic values.
Johnson and his fellow English nationalists claim to guard national sovereignty against the EU. The real threat is not from Brussels but from the prime minister.
Johnson frames the supreme court decision as the latest instalment in an imagined conspiracy against Brexit. His aim is to mark out the ground to fight an election.
Real life points to a request for another extension of the Article 50 process. The EU27 could be forgiven for expelling Britain in its hour of crisis.


Quantum Internet

Stephanie Wehner

We will discover all kinds of applications for quantum networks. One is to use quantum communication for quantum key distribution.
Quantum keys use qubits. I can have a qubit here and you can have a qubit in New York, and we can use the quantum internet to entangle them. If I make a measurement on my qubit here and you make the same measurement in New York, we will always get the same outcome. No one else can share that entanglement: Quantum communication is secure.
New kinds of remote computing become possible. Say you have a proprietary material design and you want to test its properties. You use a simple quantum device and the network to send your design to me, and I run a simulation for you on my quantum computer and tell you the outcome, yet I cannot spy on your design.
A quantum internet can also be used to combine distant telescopes. The state of the photons coming into telescope 1 are teleported, using entanglement, to telescope 2, and then combined with those of telescope 2.
With our simulation platform, which is now running on a supercomputer, we can explore different quantum network configurations and study properties that are hard to predict analytically. We hope to find a scalable design that can enable quantum communication across Europe.
We will learn more physics by making these networks. In computer science, we will learn new ways to program and control them.

AR Quantum technology like this is the way to new science.


Quantum Supremacy

New Scientist

Google appears to have achieved quantum supremacy, where a quantum computer is able to perform a calculation that is practically impossible for a classical one.
Google's quantum computer consisted of only 54 qubits. For quantum computers to really come into their own, they may need thousands of qubits.
Qubits must be isolated from vibrations that can decohere them. Google, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, and others are all looking at how to advance the technology. The next challenge is to build a quantum computer that has quantum supremacy plus error correcting codes.
The biggest step is to do something useful. Google's quantum computer tackled a random circuit sampling problem. It's impressive, but there's no practical use for it.
University of Texas at Austin professor Scott Aaronson: "There are certain quantities that you'd like to know that you can't easily learn from experiment and can't calculate with supercomputers today. This is where quantum computers can help."

AR Scott seems to be the go-to guy for such handy quotes.

Soyuz 61

⦿ Christina Koch
Soyuz 61 makes its way from the Baikonur Cosmodrome to the International Space Station, photographed from the ISS

Special Report on the
Ocean and Cryosphere
in a Changing Climate

Global warming has led to
widespread shrinking of the
cryosphere. The global ocean
has taken up more than 90% of
the excess heat in the climate
system. Global mean sea level
is rising, with acceleration
in recent decades.

Reopen parliament

Pound sterling leaps to
$1.25 and €1.13

BoJo, NY
Boris Johnson dismayed
in New York

Jeremy Corbyn
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

Oil war

19 of the world's best WW2
museums and historical sites


An Update

Climate strike


2019 September 25

Climate Change

Spiegel Plus

July 2019 was the hottest month worldwide since weather records began. Around 200 million people in 350 cities worldwide struggle with temperatures exceeding 35 C. Over the next 30 years, the number of affected cities is forecast to triple.
Since industrialization began, humans have emitted so much CO2 that the global average temperature has increased by about 1 K. Every decade raises it a further 0.2 K. Worldwide, the years since 2014 are the warmest since records began.
In its October 2018 report, the IPCC asked whether the world can limit warming to 1.5 K by 2100 and concluded that every country must do more. Global CO2 emissions must halve by 2030. By 2055, they must fall to net zero. Global warming of 2 K would lead to massive damage and mortal danger for millions of people.
Every year, human activity produces tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that cover the Earth like a blanket and prevent solar energy from escaping. An atmospheric CO2 level of 400 ppm was reached in 2013 for the first time in at least 3 My.
Cities suffer from the heat island effect and become hotter than their surroundings by up to 10 K. Beijing and Tokyo have heated up five times faster in the past 100 years than their neighborhoods.
The summer of 2003 broke temperature records. Some 15,000 people died within weeks in France, 7,000 in Germany, 70,000 across Europe. And the frequency of such heat waves is increasing.
In Delhi, temperatures reached 48 C this June. Delhi has also become more humid in recent years. More humid air leads to heavier rainfall, which in turn leads to floods. This year, floods hit Nepal, Bangladesh, and India's northeast. Millions were expelled from their homes and crops destroyed.
In the interior of South Africa, the temperature is almost 2 K higher than 100 years ago. The length of the dry season is increasing, and when it rains, it is more torrential. Lack of water as a result of climate change is the new normal in South Africa.
This is the state of the world in 2019, with 1 K of global warming. Things could quickly get a lot worse, due to climate feedbacks. Snow reflects sunlight into space. Forests and Arctic permafrost soils store carbon. As global temperatures rise, snow melts, forests burn, permafrost thaws. More CO2 gets into the atmosphere, warming accelerates and more CO2 escapes.
The permafrost soils store twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere, partly as methane, which is up to 86 times as harmful to the climate as CO2 over a period of 20 years. Glaciers around the world are melting faster than predicted. In Russia, huge methane bubbles are bulging up in thawing permafrost and exploding, and in the Arctic the forests are burning.
There is hope. The UK is a pioneer in climate change. In 2008, the Climate Change Act stipulated a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. By 2050, Brits will have to fly less and eat less meat and dairy products. Electricity will come entirely from renewable sources and only electric cars will be sold.
In the WEF energy transition ranking, the UK is now ranked 7th, behind Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Austria. Germany is ranked 17th.
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact founding director Hans Joachim Schellnhuber: "There will always be those who put their heads in the sand and ignore the dangers of climate change, but a much larger number of us are determined to overcome this sluggishness."

2019 September 24

Armed Aggressor Abroad

Laura Kuenssberg

Prime minister Boris Johnson is in New York at the United Nations. MPs will be sitting again in Parliament on Wednesday. Do not underestimate how aggressive Johnson might be in response to the judgement. He may fly straight back from New York armed with a strategy.


Boris, Bercow, Brexit

Daily Mail

Boris Johnson: "We in the UK will not be deterred from delivering the will of the British people. I strongly disagree with this decision of the Supreme Court. I have the upmost respect for our judiciary but I don't think this was the right decision .. there are a lot of people who want to frustrate Brexit. There are a lot of people who want to stop this country coming out of the EU."
John Bercow: "In the light of that explicit judgment, I have instructed the House authorities to prepare for the resumption of the business of the House of Commons."
European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt: "At least one big relief in the Brexit saga: the rule of law in the UK is alive and kicking."


Calamity, Car Crash

Daniel Finkelstein

The government has made a grave error. For a Conservative government to find its actions revoked and reversed by the highest court and for it to have given advice to the Queen which has been found unlawful is a calamity. The government may be tempted to see this judgment as a bump in the road. This is a car crash.


UK Supreme Court Ruling

BBC News, 1045 BST

Lady Hale says the decision of the court is unanimous that the prime minister's advice to the Queen on prorogation is justiciable. This case is about the limits of the power to prorogue parliament. Parliamentary sovereignty would be undermined if the executive abused its power to prorogue parliament.
Prorogation would be unlawful if its effect were to limit the power of parliament to exercise its constitutional function. This is true independently of what the prime minister's motive or intention may have been at the time of the decision. The court concludes that the prime minister's advice to the Queen to prorogue parliament was unlawful.
The court further concludes that the prorogation was void and of no effect. Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous verdict of the court. Gina Miller's appeal is allowed.

AR Great relief — Boris Johnson is rebuffed.


Universal Basic Services

The Labour Party

Some things in life are too important to be left to the market. The labour movement has long upheld that many of the key things in life should be provided collectively, funded out of general taxation and free at the point of use for everyone.
Collectively provided universal public services create shared experiences that bring us together as a society. They strengthen social bonds and contribute to our quality of life in ways economists struggle to measure but are vital to leading a rich and fulfilling life.
Universal public services, free at the point of use, will be a central pillar of the economic program of the next Labour government. Alongside structural reform and social security, universal public services are how we will create an economy that serves us instead of making us its servants.
Our vision of what services ought to be universal and basic will continue to expand. We have clawed back services that have been at risk of becoming commodified in the past. We must maintain that sense of direction and overcome the barriers thrown in our path.
The campaign for universal basic services has always been part of a bigger struggle between labour and capital. We must fight for a society based upon social justice. We can demand ever higher standards for a rich and meaningful life.

AR Tories will say these are empty aspirations. Well, aspirations matter.


Infernal Trio

Spiegel Plus

For Saudi Arabia, it was a total humiliation. The world's largest oil refinery went up in flames. The United States and the Saudis think Iran was behind the attack.
An infernal trio is ready to go to war. US president Donald Trump has already plunged the world into chaos with his aggressive and haphazard policies. Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) maintains a rivalry with Iran and wages a cruel war in Yemen. Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is a fundamentalist steeled by decades of struggle against the Great Satan.
Trump cannot start another war if he wants to be re-elected in 2020. He has not even fulfilled his election pledge to bring home US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. An attack on Iran would lead to total war. It would be a nightmare for Trump.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been expanding its power throughout the Mideast region for decades and is associated with the Shia faith. Khamenei is now 80 years old, and the hardliners are stronger than ever. Revolutionary Guard Elite Force leader Qasem Soleimani is a battle-hardened war hero and the real architect of Iran's foreign and security policy in the region.
Saudi Arabia claims to lead the Sunni variant of Islam. But despite spending hundreds of billions on Western arms, Saudi Arabia is militarily far weaker than Iran. Riyadh has been waging a brutal war in Yemen for four years without success.
Trump quit the nuclear agreement with Iran and sealed an alliance with Saudi Arabia. He will find it difficult to form a coalition against Tehran. Britain, France, and Germany had reached the agreement with Tehran over years of hard negotiations. Trump nixed it with a stroke of a pen.
Trump will do any deal if the money is right. Saudi Arabia agreed to invest $450 billion in America, so it has his backing. Trump cannot tighten economic sanctions any further against Iran but hopes he can force the regime to back down.
Americans no longer depend on Saudi oil. In the short term, they even benefit from the refinery attack. If Trump asks for help, Europeans are not listening.

AR I fear Boris will back Trump.

2019 Autumn Equinox

Trump Scandal


The Ukraine scandal raging around Donald Trump is forcing Democrats to confront a fateful choice on impeachment. The facts of whether the President pressured Ukraine to investigate his potential Democratic general election opponent Joe Biden while a US military aid package was on the table are still unclear. It looks like the Trump team is using the power of the presidency to incite collusion ahead of the 2020 election.


Trump Fest

Swati Narayan, Manpreet K. Singh

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi joined US president Donald Trump onstage in Houston for a rally to celebrate the growing ties between India and America. Both leaders stoke divisions with policies that chip away at democracy and both claim they are acting within their national laws. History shows something can be legal without being moral.


Peak Populist

Michael Sauga

President Donald Trump has maneuvered himself into a dead end in his trade war with China. UK prime minister Boris Johnson faces defeat after defeat in parliament. Has the populist wave that flooded the globe after the financial crisis peaked?
To succeed as an autocrat, you must meet three conditions:
 You have to convince people you have the best ideas.
 The existing democratic institutions must have lost much of their legitimacy.
 Your tirades against the powerful in the old system must be credible.
Then you can surf to power on a wave of discontent.
Trump promised to lead America to new heights. But the high growth rates of his first years in office have now given way to a slowdown, for which he is responsible. If he fights on, the economy could crash. If he relents, he looks like a loser.
Johnson promised to save UK democracy from the EU. But it was Johnson who betrayed democracy by proroguing parliament. He must now either renege on his Brexit promise or flout the new law against a no-deal Brexit.
It is still too early to proclaim victory. But the liberal model is winning. People still trust the principles of the rule of law, freedom of expression, and separation of powers.

2019 September 22

Trump Dilemma

Sir Lawrence Freedman

President Donald Trump is holding back on punishing Iran for the attacks on a Saudi oil facility.
The crisis began last year, when Trump decided to opt out of the nuclear agreement with Iran and reimpose harsh economic sanctions. The obvious next step is to negotiate with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. But some reports say he authorised the attack on the Saudi facility.
Trump is proposing more economic sanctions, which have declining returns. He does not want war.

AR Trump fears a war would drag on into the 2020 election campaign.


Queen Dilemma

Nick Cohen

The Queen cannot insist the UK prime minister obeys the rules, because her realm has too few rules and too many old conventions.
Elizabeth II claims to be above politics. Now the pose has been exposed. Boris Johnson knows the old conventions can be subverted. He has prorogued parliament to escape democratic control.
The Queen could have denied his request for prorogation. She has broken the convention that she is above politics.

AR The UK needs a written constitution and a president with legal teeth.


Climate Change on Venus

Ashley Strickland, CNN

Venus likely maintained stable temperatures and hosted liquid water for billions of years before an event triggered drastic changes in the planet.
Today, Venus is a mostly dead planet with a toxic atmosphere at 90 bar and surface temperatures that reach 735 K. Its size is similar to Earth.
A new study of climate simulations of Venus shows the planet could have supported liquid water and a temperate climate on its surface for at least 3 Gy. But between 700 and 750 My BP, something triggered the release of CO2 from rocks, transforming the climate.
Study author Michael Way: "Our hypothesis is that Venus may have had a stable climate for billions of years. It is possible that the near-global resurfacing event is responsible for its transformation from an Earth-like climate to the hellish hothouse we see today."
To recreate likely conditions on Venus from 4.2 Gy BP, simulations gradually increased solar radiation. Sunlight on Venus evaporated H2O, let H2 escape into space, and trapped CO2. That caused a greenhouse effect and formed a toxic atmosphere. The topography was transformed by volcanic eruptions that most likely filled in lowland regions and any ocean basins.
Way: "Venus currently has almost twice the solar radiation that we have at Earth. However, in all the scenarios we have modeled, we have found that Venus could still support surface temperatures amenable for liquid water."
It seems Venus went through a rapid cooling phase a few billion years after it formed. The atmosphere was then full of CO2. If Venus evolved like Earth, that CO2 would have been trapped in rocks, leaving an atmosphere of N2 with trace amounts of CO2 and CH4. But around 700 My BP, vulcanism released CO2 back into the atmosphere, which caused a runaway greenhouse effect.
Way: "Something happened on Venus where a huge amount of gas was released into the atmosphere and couldn't be re-absorbed by the rocks .. It completely transformed Venus."
Way presented his study at the EPSC-DPS 2019 meeting in Geneva.

2019 September 21

Climate Change

Friends of the Earth

Anyone can tell that the weather is getting wilder and affecting us all. Climate change is happening now. Yet there are clear signs of hope as more and more people join together to take action.


Climate Change Science

The Royal Society

⦿ Earth's climate is warming. Average surface air temperature has increased by about 0.8 K since 1900, largely in recent decades. The evidence is incontrovertible.
⦿ Recent climate change is largely caused by human activities. The dominant influence of human activities on recent climate change is clear from the greenhouse effect and from patterns of recent climate change.
⦿ Human activities have disturbed the natural carbon cycle by extracting fossil fuels and burning them for energy, thus releasing CO2 to the atmosphere. The CO2 level has risen 40% since the Industrial Revolution.
⦿ The Sun has not played a major role in recent climate change. Variations in solar energy affect Earth's climate, but we see no overall increase in solar energy while the climate has warmed.
⦿ The observed warming in the lower atmosphere and cooling higher up in the stratosphere is the result expected from increases in CO2 and decreases in stratospheric ozone. Natural factors alone cannot explain the observed changes.
⦿ Climate change is disruptive. Past climate changes led to extinction of many species, population migrations, and pronounced changes in the land surface and in ocean circulation. The speed of the current change makes it more difficult to adapt.
⦿ The present level of atmospheric CO2 is the highest for a million years. Atmospheric CO2 levels were higher many millions of years ago, when temperatures and sea levels were also higher.
⦿ Adding more CO2 to the atmosphere will cause surface temperatures to continue to increase. The extra CO2 becomes less effective at trapping energy, but surface temperature will still rise.
⦿ The observed warming rate has varied from year to year, decade to decade, and place to place. The variations are mostly due to natural causes. The warming trend in recent decades is mainly due to greenhouse gases.
⦿ Since 1998, the increase in average surface temperature has slowed relative to the previous decade, with more of the excess heat being stored in the oceans. Surface temperatures in the 2000s were on average warmer than the 1990s.
⦿ Global warming is a long-term trend. Day to day and year to year changes in weather patterns still produce cold days and nights, and winters and summers.
⦿ Arctic sea ice is reducing while Antarctic sea ice is not because sea ice extent is affected by winds and ocean currents as well as temperature.
⦿ The lower atmosphere is becoming warmer and moister as a result of greenhouse gases. More water is drawn into major rain storms. Extra energy makes the strongest hurricanes stronger. More dry areas in the subtropics are expected.
⦿ Sea level is rising at 3.2 mm per year. The overall observed rise since 1901 is about 20 cm. If greenhouse gases continue to rise, sea level may rise by a further 0.5 to 1 m by 2100.
⦿ Oceans soak up about a quarter of the CO2 emissions from human activities each year. The oceans shift to a more acidic state. Acidification impacts marine ecosystems and the food web.
⦿ If emissions continue on their present path, further warming of 2.6 to 4.8 K is expected by the end of this century. Questions remain as to how some natural processes amplify or reduce warming.
⦿ Global warming of just a few degrees will be associated with widespread changes in regional and local temperature and rainfall and more extreme weather events. This will have serious impacts on human societies and the natural world.
⦿ Science is a continual process of observation, understanding, modeling, and testing. The predicted trend in global warming from greenhouse gases is robust and is confirmed by a growing body of evidence.
⦿ Our best climate models do not indicate any abrupt changes in the climate in the near future. As warming increases, major abrupt change is possible.
⦿ Even if human emissions of greenhouse gases were to suddenly stop, Earth's surface temperature would not cool to the level before the Industrial Revolution for thousands of years.

AR The science is clear as day.

Global temps

⦿ Ed Hawkins
Annual global temperatures 1850−2018

Climate demo

⦿ AP
Greta Goes Global — Mass demos in big cities worldwide protest government inaction on climate change — here London

Me at Tiger Day

Jo Swinson
Jo Swinson

44 days

LD Stop Brexit

Tiger Day 2019
My photos

Time Magazine
"I'm sorry."

There Will Be Blood


2019 September 20

Trump: No Hope

The Guardian

Donald Trump is set to speak at the UN headquarters during the UN climate crisis summit on Monday, but will not attend the summit. The White House has booked a room in the same building on the same day so that the president can address a gathering on religious freedom instead. Trump will insult the climate summiteers.


Brexit: No Hope

The Guardian

Downing Street's secrecy over its "underwhelming" Brexit proposals has caused a fresh rupture in the negotiations in Brussels.
The UK government demands that the EU treat a cache of documents outlining its latest ideas as "Her Majesty's government property" and not distribute them to EU27 delegates. EU officials say all proposals need to be available for analysis in EU27 capitals if talks are to progress.
There is despair in Brussels at the state of the talks, with the latest ideas seen as "more of the same" from Downing Street.

2019 September 19

Modern War

P.W. Singer

In the dead of night, a swarm of robotic planes sneaks past a billion-dollar defense system and then takes out one of the world's most valuable targets in a fiery blast.
Much remains uncertain about the raid on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia on Saturday that shut down half the country's oil output. But the attack points to big changes in the technology of war and its consequences.
Dozens of nations have cruise missiles and armed drones. Those numbers will continue to grow as more sellers like China introduce the technology into the world arms market.
Hezbollah in Lebanon flew drones into Israel in 2004. The Islamic State operated hundreds of drones in Iraq and Syria. And the Houthi have used drones to attack Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates many times since 2015.
The biggest threat to an oil field, airport, or aircraft carrier may be from small, disposable drones. Small nations and nonstate actors can strike back, so the promise of easy wars fought from afar without consequences is even more false than it was in the past.


Capitalism is Rigged

Martin Wolf

As well as slowing productivity growth, soaring inequality, and huge financial shocks, we are seeing the rise of rentier capitalism.
Rent is reward over and above ideal market levels. Rentier capitalism is an economy in which market and political power allows privileged individuals and businesses to extract a great deal of such rent from everybody else.
Globalization in the form of foreign trade and offshoring has not been a large contributor to rising inequality. Trade policies do not explain bilateral or overall balances. The economic impact of immigration has also been small and frequently positive.
We need to look at rentier capitalism. A fast-growing financial sector is detrimental to aggregate productivity growth. When the financial sector grows, it hires talented people, who then lend against property, because it generates collateral. This is a diversion of talented human resources in unproductive, useless directions.
Increased financial activity has not raised the growth of productivity. The same is true of the raised pay of corporate management. Management pay linked to the share price makes a huge incentive to raise that price by manipulating earnings or borrowing money to buy the shares. Neither adds value to the company.
Competition has declined. Widening gaps in productivity and profits between the leading businesses and the rest suggest weakening competition and rising monopoly rent. A great deal of the increase in inequality arises from different rewards for workers with similar skills in different firms.
In winner-take-all markets, superstar individuals and their companies earn monopoly rents, because they can now serve global markets. The network externalities and zero marginal costs of platform monopolies are the dominant examples.
Successful metropolitan areas attract and reward talented people. This disadvantages businesses and people trapped elsewhere. Big cities also create rents in property prices and in earnings.
Monopoly rent can be the result of policy. The idea that consumer welfare should be the sole objective of antitrust policy led to complacency. The monopoly rent we see in leading economies is not a sign of creative destruction, because there is not much creative destruction.
Corporations and shareholders benefit from the public goods provided by liberal democracies. They also exploit tax loopholes. The main challenges within the corporate tax system are tax competition and base erosion and profit shifting. We see the former in falling tax rates. We see the latter in the location of intellectual property in tax havens and in rigging transfer prices within firms.
US corporations report seven times as much profit in small tax havens as in six big economies. They make rents by lobbying against regulations on tax avoidance, mergers, anti-competitive practices, financial misbehavior, the environment, and labor markets. Corporate lobbying overwhelms the interests of ordinary citizens.
Corporate leaders need to reflect on all this. They must consider the public arena.

AR We need rentier populism — basic unconditional income for everyone.

2019 September 18

Lib Dem Vision

The Times

In her first speech to the Liberal Democrat conference as party leader, Jo Swinson said: "I am standing here as your candidate for prime minister. Because people across Britain deserve a better choice than an entitled Etonian or a 1970s socialist."
She has not ruled out doing a deal with either party but suggested that her price could be the head of their party leaders. She said a Lib Dem government would introduce a wellbeing budget, with a happiness minister and an office to measure and monitor wellbeing.
Swinson: "We have been conditioned to believe that as long as GDP keeps growing, everything is fine. But this ignores the reality behind the numbers, that the social contract is broken, that working hard and playing by the rules is no longer enough to guarantee a better life."


Law and Politics

Daniel Finkelstein

Boris Johnson's decision to prorogue parliament was wrong and unwise.
The hearings taking place in front of the UK supreme court this week may be historic. They may mark the moment Britain stopped being a political democracy restrained by law and became instead a legal democracy tempered by politics.
The UK has always been a parliamentary democracy with nothing above its political decision makers. The representatives of the people decide.
The United States starts with the law, established by the constitution. The courts can strike down laws made by the representatives of the people.
The UK is moving toward the US settlement. The supreme court hearing could be the decisive step from one system to the other.


Black Hole Tones

New Scientist

A black hole can be described in full by three properties: its mass, its spin, and its electrical charge. All other information, like the properties of the objects that have fallen into it, is hidden beyond the event horizon.
When a pair of black holes merge, the new black hole should ring like a bell, emitting gravitational waves at several frequencies. The frequencies of its waves are determined by its mass and rotation. The frequencies include a fundamental and overtones.
An MIT team found an overtone in a gravitational wave signal detected by LIGO in 2015. The mass and spin of the black hole had already been calculated by the LIGO team. The MIT team used just the overtone to confirm that the black hole mass is about 68 ⦿ and it spins at about 100 Hz.

AR Einstein wins again.

2019 September 17

A Big Bounce

Rachel Sylvester

The Liberal Democrats base their resurgence on the party returning to a position of equidistance between Labour and Conservative. They now have a clear positive identity as the party of Remain.
Nobody really believes that Jo Swinson could soon be prime minister, but the Lib Dems are on a roll. They won more than 700 council seats in May and came second in the European elections. Despite being smashed at the 2017 general election, they are now polling at 18% and have 18 MPs. Lib Dems could end up holding the balance of power in a hung parliament.
Lib Dem MP Chuka Umunna: "To be a Remainer is not only to be an advocate of our continued membership of the European Union, it is to hold a set of liberal, internationalist values."


A Big Supernova

Robin Andrews

A billion years ago, something erupted with a fury that outshone entire galaxies. In 2016, the light from that cataclysm was captured by the ESA satellite Gaia. The glowing ember is still visible.
Supernova 2016iet was once a star of 120 to 260 solar masses (⦿) and was found in an area lacking in metals. As a primordial star, it was among the first beacons that lit up the universe and ended the dark ages. They made the metals that helped create future generations of stars.
In any star, gravity presses inward and thermonuclear burning in its core presses outward. In a supermassive star, the very hot core makes many matter-antimatter pairs. Energy is used to make them, so gravity shrinks the star. It contracts violently and the core flares up. In one pulse, nuclear burning blows the star apart. The entire star is obliterated, and nothing is left to form a black hole.
If a star has a slightly lower total mass, it contracts but burns less hot. The star bounces back, shedding a giant shell of matter moving at millions of meters per second. The process repeats over time. Newly ejected shells collide with older shells, producing enormous bursts of light. Eventually, so much mass is lost that the star dies to form a black hole.
This is known as a pulsational pair-instability supernova. To make one, the original star must have at least 90 ⦿. A full-blast pair-instability supernova requires a star whose original mass was 140 ⦿. SN 2016iet could fit either story.


A Big Pulsar


Astronomers have detected the most massive neutron star ever, dubbed J0740+6620, just 4,600 light years away. It is a millisecond pulsar.
Neutron stars are the leftover remnants of supernovas. The newly detected neutron star has a diameter of 25 km and a mass of 2.2 ⦿. This is close to the limit when it falls into a black hole.
J0740+6620 has a white dwarf companion star that warps the space around both stars and allows mass measurements via the relativistic Shapiro delay in the pulsar signal.

A very massive neutron star

2019 September 16

US "Locked and Loaded"

The New York Times

The Trump administration points to Iran as the likely agent of attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities. Officials cite intelligence assessments to support the accusation. A combination of drones and cruise missiles may have been used, beyond the ability of Houthi rebels.
Donald Trump tweeted: "Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting .."


Johnson−Juncker Grudge Match

BBC News, 1605 BST

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had lunch with UK prime minister Boris Johnson in Luxembourg. The EU says the UK has yet to come forward with a solution to replace the backstop. Johnson says he will not request an extension and will take the UK out of the EU on 31 October.
Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel: "We need written proposals and the time is ticking, so stop speaking and act. But we won't accept any agreement that goes against a single market."


EU Sinks UK Hulk

The Guardian

European officials were not amused when Boris Johnson compared himself to the Incredible Hulk prior to going to Luxembourg for Brexit talks. Johnson said he was poised to break free of the EU "manacles" and cited: "The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets."
Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: "Even to Trumpian standards the Hulk comparison is infantile. Is the EU supposed to be scared by this?"


Resolving Brexit

Vince Cable

Liberal Democrats will campaign to cancel Brexit by revoking Article 50. Following a general election, should our party win a majority, that would be a sufficient mandate to revoke.
Lib Dems would need to go from 17 to 325 seats. But LDs have been victims of the FPTP electoral system in every election since WW2. On a proportional basis, LDs should have had around 45 MPs rather than 12 in 2017. Once the vote share rises, dramatic things happen under FPTP, and LDs make disproportionate gains.
With hundreds of LD seats in the Commons, we could close down the Brexit issue and overhaul UK constitutional arrangements in a democratic revolution.

AR Liberals were a force for progress in the 19th and 20th century UK. They can be again.

2019 September 15

Lib Dems Will Cancel Brexit

BBC News, 1700 BST

At their annual party conference in Bournemouth today, the Liberal Democrats pledged to cancel Brexit if they come to power at the next general election. Members voted for the policy by an overwhelming majority. Party leader Jo Swinson: "We will do all we can to fight for our place in Europe and to stop Brexit altogether."

AR Lib Dems get my vote, no question.


Global Finance

Niall Ferguson

In China, people pay with their phones, using systems made by Alibaba and Tencent. This way to pay is spreading around the world. It could be bigger than Chinese dominance of 5G telecom networks.
Since 1971, the US dollar has been the #1 currency. American policymakers have grown used to exploiting it as a lever of foreign policy. This power has grown irksome to other large economies.
China is building a global payments infrastructure. America could let this process continue until the day comes when the Chinese connect their digital platforms into one global system.
Or America could wake up and start competing for dominance in digital payments. A short cut to a system to rival Alibaba and Tencent is Libra. This would be a digital currency in the Chinese style.
The US Treasury is opposed to Libra and the Fed is skeptical. From a national security perspective, Americans need to compete with the Chinese before they dominate digital payments globally.
Libra would be a kind of dollar substitute, reducing international demand for dollars. But it would not offer an alternative to Treasury bonds, so it would not reduce the global demand for those.
Power is inseparable from financial power. The country that leads in financial innovation leads. Lose that financial leadership and you lose your place as global hegemon.

2019 September 14

The Universe Is Not Boxed

Julian Barbour

The laws of physics suggest there is no distinguished direction of time. If a system has either zero energy or positive energy, as time goes on, the size of the system will grow to infinity in both directions, with one point where the size is at its minimum. This may relate to the arrow of time.
When thinking about a system of objects in the real universe, the background universe defines your direction of time. You say the system went through minimal size and then it grew again, into the future. But if this is a toy model of the whole universe, there is no background arrow. We have a uniform distribution of particles in the middle and a more structured distribution in both directions away from it.
In a toy model universe, there are two directions of time from that central Janus point. Observers inside this universe would think time begins back at the Janus point, and they are going forward to the future away from it. Then there would be another universe on the other side where time is going in the other direction.
This can resolve the mystery of how the laws can be symmetric, but you see a direction. The overall solution is completely symmetric, but because observers can only be on one side or the other, they see things asymmetrically.
Consider thermodynamics. In a steam engine, the steam is in a cylinder in a box. Then statistical mechanics led to the discovery of entropy, and with it the mystery of the arrow of time.
People who work on this problem of the arrow of time still assume conditions that work for a steam engine. The entropy of the universe tends to a maximum, and the universe is evolving toward a heat death. We have to think out of the box.
The evolution of the universe starts from a quantum Big Bang, inflates for a while, then forms stars and galaxies, and finally leads to life on the Earth and so on. This goes counter to the idea that entropy increases inexorably.
Instead of saying the universe started in an ordered state and has been getting disordered ever since, we say the universe starts in the most disordered way possible and has been getting ever more interesting. Maybe the universe in some senses will die, but in a very beautiful form.
Certain mathematical theorems said that when in the past you had steam in a box, the steam originally in a small corner of the box spread out through the box. But with no box, the steam can take a more interesting shape. In space there is no box.

AR This resonates with my own dissident thoughts on universal entropy and universal closure, as aired respectively in About Time (2006) and Omniscience (2019).

2019 September 13

Brexit Labour Showdown

Jim Pickard

Labour is set for a fresh Brexit showdown at its annual conference. Some senior figures are pushing for a clear Remain position. But aides close to party leader Jeremy Corbyn say adopting a Remain stance could alienate millions of voters.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell says Labour must pledge to hold a referendum almost immediately. His view is likely to be backed by much of the membership, many MPs, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, and deputy leader Tom Watson.


Brexit Disaster Capitalism

Byline Times

If Boris Johnson takes the UK out of the EU on 31 October, his backers stand to make billions out of the disaster.
When he became prime minister, many of the donations he received were from hedge funds and people he worked with on the Vote Leave campaign in 2016.
Between January to May 2019, hedge funds were taking out fewer than 10 short positions per week. But when Johnson announced he was running for the leadership, the number of short positions rose. By the time his victory was announced, it was around 100 per week.
Currently, £8.3 billion of short positions has been taken out by hedge funds on a no-deal Brexit. The firms involved are mostly those that donated to the Vote Leave campaign and took short positions on the referendum result.
The prime minister has a conflict of interest when those bankrolling him stand to gain from a Brexit disaster.


A Watery Exoplanet

New Scientist

About 110 light years away is a planet twice as big as Earth with water vapour in its atmosphere. It may be the best place we have yet seen to look for alien life.
Astronomers observed planet K2-18b as it passed in front of its star so that light shone through the atmosphere. They found signs of water vapor.
K2-18b is also in the habitable zone around its star, defined as the area where it could maintain liquid water on its surface without the water freezing or boiling away.
K2-18b probably has a rocky core but is mostly gaseous, says Laura Kreidberg: “The jury is still out on whether a planet like this could be habitable. If there were life there, it definitely wouldn’t be like life as we know it on Earth.”

Water Vapor on the Habitable-Zone Exoplanet K2-18b
Björn Benneke et al.

We report the detection of water vapor and the likely presence of liquid water clouds in the atmosphere of the 8.6 Earth-mass habitable-zone planet K2-18b. With a 33-day orbit around a cool M3 dwarf, K2-18b receives virtually the same amount of total radiation from its host star as the Earth receives from the Sun, making it a good candidate to host liquid water clouds.

Arrowhead frigate

Royal Navy Type 31 Frigates

The British Royal Navy's five planned low-cost Arrowhead 140 Type 31E frigates will have a length of 140 m,
a displacement of about 3−4 Gg, a range of 17 Mm, and a top speed of 15 m/s.
Each ship will be armed with a Wildcat helicopter, a 127 mm main gun, 40 mm guns, and a 32-cell VLS rapid-fire launch system
for AA and AS missiles. Four large boat bays will be capable of deploying RHIBs, USVs, and UUVs, and the ship will be able to
accommodate 60 troops beside its crew.
Babcock will build the ships at its Rosyth Dockyard in Scotland, to the baseline design of the
Iver Huitfeldt frigate in service with the Royal Danish Navy, at a unit cost of £250 million.

Red bus
Operation Yellowhammer
original document

Something Deeply Hidden
"I was overwhelmed
by tears of joy."
Scott Aaronson

Palace of Westminster
Dark days

Amber Rudd
⦿ Francesco Guidicini
"I am resigning as Secretary of
State for Work and Pensions ..
I am also surrendering the
Conservative whip."
Amber Rudd

Dorset for Europe

55 days


2019 September 12

European Commission: VdL Speaks

The Times

European Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen is convinced the UK will not crash out of the EU without a deal: "It's not in the common interests either of the UK or EU and will be way more difficult than an orderly Brexit."


European Parliament: MEP Veto

Daniel Boffey

A European Parliament resolution due for next week complains that the UK government "insists that the backstop must be removed from the withdrawal agreement but has not until now put forward legally operable proposals that could replace it" and states EU "readiness to revert to a Northern Ireland-only backstop" but says the EP "will not give consent to a withdrawal agreement without a backstop" in order to protect Ireland.
The resolution questions "how close the future EU/UK economic relationship can be" unless the UK signs up to "high levels of environmental, employment and consumer protections" and warns "any free-trade agreement that fails to respect such levels of protection would not be ratified" by the EP.
The resolution criticizes HM Government's hostile environment for EU citizens living in the UK.


Quantum Gravity

Sean Carroll

The standard approach to developing a quantum description of a phenomenon is to start with a classical description and then quantize it. That unnatural approach has failed again and again for gravity and spacetime. The real world is quantum from the start, and the classical world emerges as an approximation.
Our current best physical theory is quantum field theory, in which the basic ingredients are fields. Elementary particles are vibrations in fields stretching through space.
In a classical approximation, we can specify the value of a field by dividing space into tiny voxels and listing the field value in each voxel. In a quantum field theory, the values of the field in the voxels can be entangled with each other. There is quantum uncertainty about the value we measure at a voxel, but entanglement means the value we get at one voxel affects what we get at other voxels.
In the vacuum state of a quantum field theory, the entanglement between fields in different regions is directly tied to the distance between them, and so to the geometry of spacetime.
We can start with a quantum state and work backwards to extract spacetime from entanglement. We can define distance as (inversely) related to entanglement. A quantum state gives us the distance between any two parts of it, so it defines a geometry on an emergent space.
A quantum state exists at each moment of time, so at best it can define the geometry of space at that moment. We want to extend this to 4D spacetime.
We start with abstract quantum degrees of freedom. These are quantities that can take on different values. In field theory, they are the values and rates of change of the fields. The degrees of freedom are basic, and they are entangled with each other. Defining the area surrounding a region as the entanglement of its degrees of freedom with the outside world gives a geometry that obeys general relativity.
Now consider a quantum system consisting of two subsystems: a clock and everything else. Let the system evolve through time, take a series of moments, and add together all the specific quantum states at all the moments.
This gives you a new super-state, a superposition of individual states with specific clock readings and specific configurations of everything else. The clock is entangled with the rest of the world. If we measure the clock to read it, the rest of the system snaps instantly into the quantum state the original system had at that time.
Time can emerge inside an eternal quantum state. If you are a clock subsystem entangled with the rest of the universe in the right way, the clock ticks your life.

AR This seems promising. I'm eager to read Sean's book. By the way, his degrees of freedom are my qubits. Reality pops out from qubits.

2019 September 11

Scottish Judges Rule Prorogation Unlawful

BBC News, 1202 BST

Boris Johnson's suspension of the UK parliament is unlawful, Scotland's highest civil court has ruled. The judges said the prime minister was attempting to prevent parliament holding the government to account ahead of Brexit: "The Court will accordingly make an Order declaring that the prime minister's advice to HM the Queen and the prorogation which followed thereon was unlawful and is thus null and of no effect."
HM Government said it will appeal against the ruling to the Supreme Court in London.


Quantum Probability

Sean Carroll

Quantum mechanics has rules governing what happens when systems are measured. Measurement outcomes are predicted with the Born rule saying the wave function assigns an amplitude to each measurement outcome, and the probability of getting that result is equal to the amplitude squared. Quantum theory leans on the idea of probability.
There are two views of probability. The objective or physical view treats it as a fundamental feature of a system. The subjective or evidential view treats it as a reflection of personal credence, or degree of belief. Bayesian probability specifies how to update our credences as we get new information.
Quantum theory describes the state of a system in terms of a wave function, which evolves smoothly and deterministically according to the Schrödinger equation. But when the system is being observed, the wave function suddenly collapses into some particular observational outcome. The collapse itself is unpredictable. This is the measurement problem.
The many-worlds theory says the wave function obeys Schrödinger's equation, but there are no collapses and no additional variables. The equation predicts what happens when an observer measures a quantum object in a superposition of states. The combined system of observer and object evolves into an entangled superposition. In each part of the superposition, the object has a definite measured outcome. Each part of the system then evolves separately as a new world.
We suffer self-locating or indexical uncertainty. As you are about to measure a quantum system, the wave function branches into different worlds, with two people, one on each branch, both descended from you. Even if they know the wave function of the universe, they don't know which branch of the wave function they are on.
There is a period of time after branching before the observers find out what outcome was obtained on their branch. This ignorance is self-locating uncertainty. The wave function branches on timescales of a zeptosecond or less, so at first you're on a branch but don't know which one.
The credence you should attach to being on a branch of the wave function is the amplitude squared for that branch. By epistemic separability, whatever predictions you make, they should be unaltered if we only change the wave function for separate parts of the system.
Self-locating uncertainty is a new kind of epistemic uncertainty. You can know everything there is to know about the universe and yet still be uncertain about where you are within it. Your uncertainty obeys the usual rules of probability.

AR Indexical probability pertains to who you are, or to how you realize yourself as you keep popping those qubits.

2019 September 10

JoBo Fired

CNN, 1639 UTC

Trump tweet: "I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning .. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week."


Parliament Bo-Rogued

The Guardian

The UK parliament was prorogued in the early hours after midnight to extraordinary scenes of chaos and anger in the House of Commons as opposition MPs staged a protest.
Earlier in the day, House speaker John Bercow announced his intention to resign before October 31 in order to allow his successor to be chosen by parliament before the next election.
An evening of high drama saw Boris Johnson lose his sixth parliamentary vote in six days. MPs rejected for a second time his call for an October 15 election, with 293 votes for and 46 against. Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, at least 434 votes are needed.
As Bercow began formal proceedings to prorogue parliament, a group of opposition MPs carrying signs reading "silenced" drowned out Black Rod when she tried to enact the traditional ritual.
Bercow: "[This prorogation] is not typical. It is not standard. It's one of the longest for decades and it represents, not just in the minds of many colleagues, but huge numbers of people outside, an act of executive fiat."
Several MPs were also involved in altercation near the speaker's chair, as they attempted to prevent him leaving his seat and attending the House of Lords, the next step in the formalities required for the suspension of parliament.
Alex Sobel MP: "[The action] echoes the action of members to try and prevent the speaker proroguing at the request of Charles I."
While Bercow completed the formalities in the House of Lords, opposition MPs sung songs, including the Red Flag, Jerusalem, Scots Wha Hae, and Bread of Heaven (in Welsh, with harmonies).


Voice of Reason

The Times

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson: "We would cancel [Brexit] by revoking Article 50 and remaining in the European Union."

AR Hear, hear.

2019 September 9

Brexit News

The Guardian

MPs have passed by 311 votes to 302 a motion requiring the release of Operation Yellowhammer planning documents, as well as private messages from No 10 officials about prorogation. The government seems unlikely to comply. This was Boris Johnson's fourth main defeat in a Commons vote since he became prime minister.

Edited extracts from Jeremy Corbyn's parliamentary speeches today:
I hope the prime minister will live up to the office that he holds, accept the decisions made in parliament, and carry out the wishes of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 6) Act to ensure that an application is made to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU on the 31 October.
No 10 has briefed that the PM will defy the law, so until the government has abided by that law, I don't believe there will be a majority in this house for what the PM is proposing later today under the Fixed-term Parliament Act.
The fact that parliament is compelled to pass a law to ensure the will of parliament is upheld shows what extraordinary times we now live in. The house has rejected no-deal, businesses and trade unions are united in rejecting no-deal, and there is no majority for it across the country.
We are not at war. The prime minister is obsessed with hyperbole and aggressive language. We're supposed to be having negotiations with our European partners.

2019 September 8

Quantum Mechanics

Sean Carroll

QM is a successful theory. But we don't understand it.
QM seems to require separate rules for how quantum objects behave when we're not looking at them, and how they behave when they are being observed. When we're not looking, they exist in superpositions of different possibilities, such as being at any one of various locations in space. But when we look, they suddenly snap into just a single location, and that's where we see them. We can't predict exactly what that location will be; the best we can do is calculate the probability of different outcomes.
We describe a quantum object in terms of a wave function, which collects the superposition of all the possible measurement outcomes into a single mathematical object. When they're not being observed, wave functions evolve according to the Schrödinger equation.
QM is the most fundamental theory we have, sitting squarely at the center of every serious attempt to formulate deep laws of nature. If nobody understands quantum mechanics, nobody understands the universe.
Gravity doesn't fit with QM. We need to understand why.

AR Quantum objects are emergent phenomena. They emerge from constellations of qubits. We pop qubits to make bits, which pixelate an emergent spacetime landscape of objects.
Qubits are generally entangled with each other. When we pop qubits, we pop all the others entangled with them together. In this discrete procedure, a bounded classical landscape grows out around our latest popping.
Spacetime inflates around us as a quantized causal network. We step forward through a dialectic of epistemology and ontology that defines our reality as a landscape populated by the particles and forces of the Standard Model.
Our causal bubbles — our mindworlds — get bigger as we pop ever more qubits. We evolve in lockstep with our bubbles and are embodied in them as bit structures.
This works for me — so long as I ignore the math!

2019 September 7

The Purge

Max Hastings

Boris Johnson may prove able to form another government. But the Conservative party as we have known it will be gone. Absent the purged moderates, it will become a thing apart, repugnant to millions of British voters who see that government must be conducted on the centre ground.
For half a century, division over Europe has been a poison seeping into the party. Conservatives took Britain into Europe in 1973 and have kept it there ever since. Leavers blame the EU for every national difficulty, yet none of the big problems Britain faces has anything to do with Europe.
Boris Johnson is laying waste to the Conservative party as we have known it. He offers the British people a budget of falsehoods and unfulfillable promises. We should not delude ourselves that what is taking place represents any sort of normality or acceptable political process.


The Twilight Zone

Marina Hyde

The Tory episiotomy on Europe went septic this week as Boris Johnson expelled 21 MPs, lost his own brother, and gave a speech so bad it whiteyed a policewoman.
Despite practising since boyhood, Boris Johnson's entire demeanour is that of a man who has won a competition to lead the country for a day. For a prime minister, his shtick is bizarre and juddering. Oratorically, his PMQs debut merits a mere five-word review: "Welcome to the Commons, bitch."
Thursday afternoon found Johnson at a Yorkshire police academy, where he appeared deeply confused. Having very belatedly taken the stage, he proceeded to die on his arse in front of rows of police officers. Perhaps terror prevented him from assisting the faint policewoman. He chose instead to gibber out the last of his prepared lines, and the bulletins duly led with his claim that he'd "rather be dead in a ditch" than delay Brexit.
Was it worth it? Did we want three years of political paralysis, a toxic public realm, bitter family rows, and no prospect of national healing just to watch this monster reap his own whirlwind, live on telly, in a horrifyingly hilarious cautionary tale about getting everything you always wanted? No.


The End

Fareed Zakaria

The Conservative and Unionist Party has a long and honorable tradition. Like most enduring parties, the Tories have embraced many different factions and ideas over the years. But in the postwar era, they advocated free markets and traditional values.
We are living now in a new era, one defined by a divide between a world of greater openness in trade, technology, and migration and one of barriers, protections, and restraints. Parties of the future will likely be positioned along this new spectrum.
All of Britain's previous five prime ministers were in favor of the UK staying in the EU. By contrast, Boris Johnson is remaking the Tories into the party of Brexit. Many Brexiteers are staunch free marketeers, yet they want the UK to crash out of the EU.
The people who voted for Brexit largely embrace a closed ideology. They are suspicious of foreigners and resentful of the new, cosmopolitan Britain they see in London and other big cities. They want less immigration and are more rural, more traditional, older and whiter, and they want a return to their childhood.
The CUP is cracking.

AR Thanks to Boris the crackpot.

2019 September 6

Lords Approve No No Deal

The Guardian, 1724 BST

The bill to stop Boris Johnson taking the UK out of the EU on 31 October without a Brexit agreement has cleared the House of Lords. It is set to become law on Monday when it gets royal assent. The bill cleared all its stages in the Lords in two days, with no amendments. The bill gives MPs recourse to the courts if Johnson refuses to request an extension.


No Election Before Delay

BBC News, 1311 BST

UK opposition parties have agreed not to back Boris Johnson's demand for a general election before the EU summit on October 17. Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, and Plaid Cymru say they will vote against the government or abstain in Monday's vote on whether to hold a snap poll. They want to make sure the UK does not "crash out" in a no-deal Brexit.


"Dead in a Ditch"

The Times

At a speech to police cadets yesterday, Boris Johnson said he would rather "be dead in a ditch" than ask the EU to delay Brexit. Downing Street had briefed in the morning that it would be the first day of an election campaign.
The prime minister made a chaotic campaigning debut and was harangued in the street. One member of the public accused him of playing games when he should be in Brussels negotiating, and another said: "Please leave my town."
Police spokesmen called his decision to give a political speech in front of student police officers in Yorkshire wrong and inappropriate. Johnson's rambling speech heightened Conservative fears over an election campaign.

Q Can you comment on your promise to never seek a Brexit delay from the EU?
Boris Johnson: Yes, I can. I'd rather be dead in a ditch. What on Earth is the point of further delay? I think it's totally, totally pointless.
I hate banging on about Brexit. I don't want to go about this anymore. I don't want an election at all, but frankly I cannot see any other way. The only way to get this thing done, to get this thing moving, is to make that decision.
Do you want this government to take us out on 31 October or do you want Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party to go to that crucial summit in Brussels on 17 October, effectively hand over control to the EU and keep us in beyond 31 October?
That's the reality of what we face.

AR The reality is a government determined to do the wrong thing.


Amazon Fires Shame Us

Rowan Williams

The scale of the devastation caused by the wildfires still raging in the Amazon is hard to comprehend. This is a rainforest that provides one-fifth of the world's oxygen.
But it is also a human tragedy. The survival and wellbeing of those who call the rainforest home should take precedence over the drive for development that serves only a lust for consumption and convenience.
For generations, the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin have been the stewards of the forests. Their rights have been overridden in the face of the greed of various powerful economic interests.
The wildfires raging in the Amazon are a visible metaphor for the effect of our unrestrained passion for limitless economic growth.

AR We should live in solidarity with all life on Earth.

Amazon fires

⦿ Ueslei Marcelino / REUTER
Amazon wildfires: As I watch Prime Minister's Questions on BBC News TV, I see that the Westminster parliament
is utterly and hopelessly incapable of debating the serious issues that would confront a sovereign rogue state,
as the UK would become if its separation from the EU became final on Halloween.

"In recent weeks I've been
torn between family loyalty
and the national interest —
it's an unresolvable tension
and time for others to
take on my roles as
MP and Minister."
Jo Johnson
(brother of Boris)

Behind bars
⦿ Daniel Leal-Olivas
Behind bars: Dom Cummings,
Boris Johnson

No No
⦿ Tolga Akmen

⦿ Axel Schmidt
Protesters in Berlin

Bugatti Chiron
A Bugatti Chiron driven by
Andy Wallace sets 304 mph
record on German test
track, powered by
1578 bhp motor

Deutsche Landtagswahl









BAF 2019

My photos


2019 September 5

Fever Dream

Philip Stephens

This week the vulgar swagger of Boris Johnson's short premiership collided with reality. A politician accustomed to lying and cheating was defeated in the Commons.
Johnson has thrown the Conservative party overboard. In his anxiety to outflank the Brexit party, he will fight an election as leader of the party of English nationalism.
The prime minister wants to frame a general election as a contest between parliament and the people. Anyone who thinks Britain should not be wrenched out of Europe by October 31 is a collaborator. The Europeans are the enemy.
Johnson championed the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament. He now claims a higher authority as the tribune of the will of the people. This way lies authoritarianism.
Reason has fled from the European argument. The minimum requirements for a sustainable settlement are the removal of Johnson and another referendum.


Poisoned Apple

The Guardian

Boris Johnson's bid to trigger a general election next month is blocked by MPs following a string of heavy defeats for the government in both houses of parliament.
Jeremy Corbyn said he would back the call for a snap poll only once Hilary Benn's backbench bill to block a no-deal Brexit has received royal assent, which could happen early next week if it is not scuppered by Tory peers.
Corbyn said Johnson's proposal for a 15 October poll was "a bit like the offer of an apple to Snow White by the wicked queen" and added: "Let this bill pass and gain royal assent: then we will back a general election."
Johnson calls Benn's bill "Corbyn's surrender bill" and says "the country must decide" whether he or Corbyn go to Brussels for the EU summit on 17 October.


Lords Guillotine

The Guardian

The House of Lords has agreed overnight to get the Benn bill through all stages of parliament before it is suspended next week. Around 1.30 am Thursday, following late-night debate, peers said a Conservative filibuster had been averted by a guillotine and the bill can be returned to the Commons by 5 pm Friday.


Clown Prince

John Crace

There was an air of expectancy on the Tory benches as Boris Johnson prepared to face his first prime minister's questions.
Within minutes, it was clear we were heading toward yet another shitshow. We got an excruciating unravelling of the narcissistic ego in which Johnson exposed his tired routine. Corbyn was Caracas! It hadn't been funny when he'd first made the gag three years previously. The opposition was shit! Corbyn was a big girl's blouse!
Johnson waffled when Corbyn pressed him about the Brexit negotiations. This was all on a need to know basis. And not even he needed to know. You never negotiate in public. And apparently not in private, either. In any case, Corbyn was trying to undermine him by taking no deal off the table.
Corbyn replied it was hard to undermine something that wasn't taking place. Johnson was making Corbyn look like a statesman in command of his brief.
It was downhill for Johnson from there. Come the end, he was desperate to leave.


Cunning Plan

Jenni Russell

Boris Johnson was lying when he said he was being pushed into calling an election. He wants an early election he can deny seeking.
Johnson had to look like the champion of no deal. The tactic was to frame him as squeezed between MPs and Europe. He had to push parliament into blocking no deal and push Europe into opposing a new deal.
But the plan went wrong. The Conservative rebellion was bigger than expected, undeterred by the threats of deselection. And Jeremy Corbyn did not fall into the trap of an instant election but instead insisted the Benn bill first become law.
Johnson is now marooned, majority gone, election blocked, and looking incompetent. But his team is bullish about securing an election within weeks. They will hammer the message that they need the mandate to deliver Brexit.
Johnson is polling a third of the vote, yet on current forecasts that will win him a decent majority because the opposition is split.

AR Time for tactical voting.

2019 September 4

No Quick Election

BBC News, 2136 BST

MPs voted by 298 to 56 (well over the required 2/3 majority) to deny Boris Johnson an election until the Brexit delay bill voted earlier becomes law.


No No Deal Again

BBC News, 1720 BST

MPs voted to approve the Brexit delay bill at the second reading by 329 votes to 300.
Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay: "The public want Brexit delivered, the business community wants certainty. This bill will leave our negotiations in purgatory with a third extension after more than three years. This is a Bill that is intended to stop Brexit. I urge my colleagues to oppose it."
The bill now goes into the committee stage, then to the Lords.

AR Get the bill into law this week. Stop Brexit.


Night of the Long Knives

The Times

Boris Johnson lost control of Brexit last night. He cannot even carry out his threat of calling a snap election after suffering a humiliating defeat in his first Commons vote.
His government has followed through on his threat to strip the whip from the 21 Conservative rebels, including 9 former cabinet ministers, 2 former chancellors, and Sir Winston Churchill's grandson Sir Nicholas Soames.
Opposition parties and Tory rebels will today move to pass a bill forcing the government to ask the EU for a further extension to prevent a no-deal exit on October 31.
Johnson says he will move to call an election in mid-October under the 2011 Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which requires a two-thirds majority to call an election. But Labour will block the move until today's bill becomes law.
After the defeat last night, Tory whips phoned the rebels to bar them from standing as Tory candidates. The government is now 43 votes short of a majority.

AR Boris will die hard. Don't miss the final bunker scene.


Government Defeated

The Telegraph

Today's front-page headlines from the newspaper that supports and promotes Boris Johnson by paying him extravagantly to publish his regular columns of ill-considered piffle:
 Boris Johnson demands election after rebels seize control of Commons agenda
 Day of the Remainer purge How Dominic Cummings ranted at Tory rebels in Downing Street
 The mood was as sour as old milk. In a raging Commons, the Tories tore themselves apart
 We face indefinite paralysis unless the PM calls an election by any means possible
 Brexit has driven us all a bit mad, but this lot are seriously barking!
 This is one of the most seismic political realignments in history. The Tories had better be careful
 Britain needs a general election

AR Let's hope this outpouring of malodorous hysteria heralds the end of the revolt of the Europhobic Tory pensioners against reason and good governance.


Democratic Crisis

Aditya Chakrabortty

Britain is mired in a democratic crisis. Its post-democratic order is a spectacle managed by teams of experts in marketing, where the interests of multinationals and big businesses trump those of ordinary people.
The political classes need to show what use they are to the public. That means providing advice to voters on practical matters in classes on how politics and economics work. Britain needs a democratic renewal.

AR In a functioning democracy, the electorate needs to be well informed.


Utter Chaos

Dominic Sandbrook

A general election now seems a certainty. Voters will face a choice between Boris Johnson and a probable no-deal Brexit, and Jeremy Corbyn and an extreme left-wing government.
To outsiders, all this must look like utter chaos. The choice facing Britain is the strong possibility of chaos on the one hand and the absolute certainty of it on the other.

AR Divisive politics, without proportional voting or coalitions, confronts voters with impossibly hard choices. This is UK democratic dysfunction in action.

2019 September 3

No No Deal

BBC News, 2210 BST

MPs passed the motion that "the House has considered the matter of the need to take all necessary steps to ensure that the United Kingdom does not leave the European Union on 31 October 2019 without a withdrawal agreement" by 328 votes to 301.
The motion enables MPs to bring forward a bill to make it illegal for the UK to leave the EU on October 31 without a deal.


The Pantomime Will End

Rafael Behr

Boris Johnson says demands to rule out no deal make it harder to negotiate in Brussels because EU leaders will compromise only when they see the UK is beyond reason. Talks are not progressing in Brussels because the UK is not negotiating.
Johnson is lying to the public in a cycle of mutually reinforcing delusion. Like all theatrical performances, it works by suspension of disbelief. But EU critics can see the artifice and are waiting for the moment when the pantomime ends.


The Awkward Fact

Daniel Finkelstein

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson spoke for many: "Jeremy Corbyn? Absolutely not."
Her position rules out a temporary government. As the leader of the opposition, Corbyn will not accept a government led by someone else.
This is the awkward fact.


No Majority

BBC News, 1557 BST

Conservative MP Philip Lee has defected to the Liberal Democrats. His defection, hours before a showdown between Boris Johnson and Conservative party rebels over Brexit, cuts the government's working majority in the Commons to zero.
Lee: "This Conservative government is aggressively pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways .. I am dismayed at what the Conservative party has become .. I will not implicitly condone these things by being party to them."

AR Lee defected while Johnson addressed the Commons with such shamefully ill-chosen words as "collaborator" and "surrender" in relation to our friends and partners in Europe.



The Times

UK prime minister Boris Johnson threatens to deselect Conservative rebels who vote against the government tonight.
Former justice secretary David Gauke will rebel: "In the end, the national interest must come first."
Former chancellor Philip Hammond will too: "This is my party .. I am going to defend my party against incomers, entryists trying to turn it from a broad church into a narrow faction."
Former education secretary Justine Greening will too: "My concerns about the Conservative party becoming the Brexit party have come to pass."
Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd: "We should not be .. trying to remove from our party two former chancellors [and] a number of ex-cabinet ministers."
Downing Street sources say the government pencils Monday October 14 for an election.

Today, BBC R4
Philip Hammond says the government is being disingenuous about the Brexit negotiations. There is no progress on finding a replacement for the Irish backstop. The government has tabled no proposals. There is not even a UK negotiating team.


Germany Moves Right

Titus Molkenbur, Luke Cooper

In 2015, Angela Merkel responded to the refugee crisis with a welcome. One result was that the far-right AfD party gained support. In the Saxony and Brandenburg state elections last Sunday, the AfD achieved its best-ever results.
The AfD uses the slogan "We are the people" to oppose multiculturalism. AfD party leader Alexander Gauland: "We will take back our country and our people."
AfD voters are concentrated in regions with high outward migration. Young people moved out and left dying communities behind. There the extremists in the AfD say foreign intruders are overwhelming ethnic Germans.

AR The authors blame EU policies here, but the rise of the AfD is a German problem. Massive investment in the eastern states has failed to stem the emigration. The wider refugee crisis needs a solution at European or even global level.

2019 September 2

Vote Tuesday: Very Simple

The Times

UK prime minister Boris Johnson threatens to remove the whip from Conservative MPs who vote to block a no-deal Brexit and ban them from standing as Conservatives at the next election.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer says the rebel alliance has a "very simple plan" for legislation to make a no-deal Brexit unlawful.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove suggests the government may refuse to abide by new legislation.
A senior source in the whips' office: "The whips are telling Conservative MPs today a very simple message: if they fail to vote with the government on Tuesday, they will be destroying the government's negotiating position and handing control of parliament to Jeremy Corbyn."


UK Constitution: Divine Right

Will Hutton

The UK constitution was established in 1689 as this: What the crown assents in parliament is law.
The "glorious" notion that the crown can continue if it delegates its monarchical sovereignty to anyone commanding a majority in parliament is a wheeze that today too easily collapses into a centralized executive acting dictatorially.
The UK prime minister controls the business of the House of Commons and can prorogue it. Boris Johnson exercises the sovereignty that Charles I claimed as the divine right of kings.
Remainers needed to trump the narrative of an undemocratic Europe by recognizing more profound democratic failings at home. Remain should have stood for a re-democratized Britain that put power in the hands of the people.


Irish Backstop: No Alternative

Kate Proctor

A report summarizing the findings of HM government working groups finds issues with all the "alternative arrangements" put forward to try to replace the Irish backstop.
The leaked document is classified "official−sensitive" and dated 28 August. It concludes: "It is evident that every facilitation has concerns and issues related to them. The complexity of combining them into something more systemic and as part of one package is a key missing factor at present."
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake: "No 10 do not want to release these findings as they know Boris Johnson's bluff will be revealed."

2019 September 1

A Way Forward

Boris Johnson

We need to get a deal done. Parliament has had three whole years for delectable disputations on this matter without successfully resolving it.
I think people have felt things have been a bit becalmed for the last few years. We're trying to put a bit of a tiger in the tank, put our pedal to the metal, foot to the floor.
I think the people of this country have had a bellyful of elections. I want us to get on and do a deal. I want everybody to come together as a party and deliver.
The fundamental choice is this. Are you going to side with those who want to scrub the democratic verdict of the people and plunge this country into chaos? Or are you going to side with those of us who want to get on, deliver on the mandate of the people and focus with absolute, laser-like precision on the domestic agenda. That's the choice.
The UK government has a great deal of clarity about what it wants and a very clear vision of UK−EU relations in the future.


A Moment of Truth

Michel Barnier

Nine months ago, the EU27 reached an agreement with the UK on the terms of an orderly withdrawal. So far, the House of Commons has failed to approve the agreed package.
The backstop is all about managing the unique risks that Brexit creates in Northern Ireland. It is the maximum amount of flexibility that the EU can offer to a non-member state.
The EU is ready to explore all avenues that the UK government may present and that are compatible with the withdrawal agreement.
The UK has now come to a moment of truth. If it chooses to leave the EU without an agreement, there will be no transition period and no mini-deals. All the financial and other obligations from its past EU membership will continue to exist.
The EU cannot prevent the UK from choosing a no-deal scenario. We would still need to solve the same problems after 31 October.


A Dirty Game

Jonathan Lis

The UK political system has for decades operated according to gentlemen's conventions. Everyone assumed that the boys who passed through England's elite schools would play fairly in public life without the need for anything so vulgar as a written constitution.
Everything in UK politics is now in danger. This prorogation is about seizing power from the people's representatives and handing it to Boris Johnson. His government has learnt much from the Trump administration. Forget principle — it is all about wrong-footing opponents, briefing false lines, and focusing on how you can win.
This is what happens when you treat all politics as a game. If we ever inhabited an era of selfless public service, we certainly don't now. This is a dirty game.


A Big Black Hole

Natalie Wolchover

Among the gravitational waves detected by LIGO and Virgo since April, one signal is rumored to have come from a collision involving a black hole of 100 solar masses (⦿).
Black holes form from the remains of burnt-out stars. But when the core is too massive, it triggers a pair-instability supernova. The core grows so hot that photons pop into electron-positron pairs, losing radiation pressure and causing the core to shrink and get even hotter, in a runaway effect leading to oxygen nuclear ignition and explosion.
For cores with a mass in the 65−130 ⦿ range, the star is totally annihilated in seconds. Cores of about 50−65 ⦿ pulsate, shedding mass in a series of explosions until they drop below the instability range. There should be no black holes with masses in the 50−130 ⦿ range.
Many black holes have masses of more than 130 ⦿. But because stars shed mass throughout their lives, a star must be born weighing at least 300 ⦿ in order to end up as a 130 ⦿ core, and such giants are rare. Black holes detected by LIGO/Virgo were expected to top out at around 50 ⦿.
Whereas most of the colliding black holes that LIGO/Virgo detects probably originated as pairs of isolated stars, some of them occur in dense stellar environments such as globular clusters, where two black holes can orbit each other and spiral inward.
In a globular cluster, two big black holes could merge, and the resulting giant could merge again in the event LIGO/Virgo detected. Other stories are possible.

AR No big surprise for me here.

Milky Way

⦿ Charles Wade
How To Photograph The Milky Way
A step-by-step guide to the techniques and settings you need to shoot epic Milky Way images

Get angry


2019 August 31

War in Europe

Dirk Kurbjuweit

On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany launched a Blitzkrieg against Poland. A hard-won peace first returned to Europe on May 8, 1945.
A major reason for wars in Europe was the formation of nation states. Today, strident nationalism is on the rise. The British want to be alone again: Brexit is a nationalist project.
Another reason for wars was revolution. After the French Revolution of 1789, France waged wars against neighbors until peace was restored in 1815. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was followed by civil war and unrest across Europe.
A third reason is systemic competition, which now pits liberal democracy against authoritarianism and in the past pitted monarchies against democracies, fascism against democracy, fascism against socialism, and socialism against democratic capitalism.
In a bleak future scenario, an authoritarian state allied with China might seek to protect Europe against decadent liberalism.
Nationalism, revolutionary populism, and systemic competition in Europe tend to favor wars. Europe must curb all three.

AR Germany should help build a Eurowaffenpolizei to integrate army, navy, air and space operations in and around Europe.


No Boots, No Blitzkrieg

The Times

Germany's 183,000 Bundeswehr soldiers face a wait of up to 18 months to be issued with new boots. The Bundesverteidigungsministerium admits the 2016 plan to equip all soldiers with new boots by the end of 2020 will not be completed until 2022. So far, "several" soldiers have their new boots.

AR Ironic: 80 years ago, Germany had a good military and bad politics whereas Britain had good politics and a bad military, but today the positions are reversed.

2019 August 30

Ad Astra

Xan Brooks

Ad Astra is an outer-space Apocalypse Now. In place of steaming jungles, it gives us existential chills. It is an extraordinary picture, steely, unbending, and assembled with wild-eyed zealotry.
Set in the near future, it casts Brad Pitt as a lonesome samurai traveling out to Neptune in search of his lost father and seeking to halt a series of cosmic rays that threaten life on Earth.
Ad Astra is so deadly serious that it verges on the silly, so immaculately staged and sustained that it sweeps us up in its orbit.


Brexit Boris

Simon Jenkins

Boris Johnson displays cowardice and mendacity in insulting parliament with enforced suspension, and then in claiming that it has nothing to do with Brexit. It has everything to do with Brexit.
He is behaving unconstitutionally but not unlawfully. His decision to prorogue is a blatant admission of democratic opposition. If that opposition weakens his negotiating hand, tough.
Parliament has been so casual and tribalistic on Brexit as to render it an inadequate custodian of the national interest. MPs serve as an electoral college of government but do not exist as a coherent political force.
There is no time for new legislation to block no deal. A vote of no confidence followed by a general election would be too slow to avert Brexit on 31 October. It would probably lead to a hung parliament, the break-up of the UK, and heaven knows what.
The UK is an elective dictatorship. It has traditionally relied on dictators honoring precedent, dignity, and proportionality. Most have, but Johnson has not.
Nations that put their faith in unwritten constitutions are vulnerable to rogues.


Constitutional Cheating

David Allen Green

Prorogation closes down parliament. That this is happening in the short period before the UK is set to leave the EU on October 31 is extraordinary.
Boris Johnson appears to be using prorogation to close down practical opposition to his determination to take the UK out of the EU with or without a deal on October 31.
Parliament can seek to head him off by votes of no confidence, which take time, or it can legislate to oblige the government to request from the EU an extension to the Article 50 period, which takes far more time.
Prorogation is an attack by the executive on parliamentary democracy. It is not fair play. It is constitutional cheating.


Divided Deutschland

Anna Sauerbrey

Germany is once again divided along East-West lines.
After the mass unemployment and deprivation following the breakdown of the socialist state economy after 1989, the economy in eastern Germany has been on a slow, steady recovery. Regional identities were softening.
The 2015 migration crisis has passed, and the rage has cooled, but the scar remains in support for the far-right AfD party. East German unrest has surfaced in a toxic, xenophobic nationalism, with calls for a populist uprising.
A truly unified Germany is still a long way off.


Emergency Exit

Financial Times

A key aide of UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid has been sacked and marched out of Downing Street under police escort at the command of Boris Johnson's chief advisor Dominic Cummings for allegedly helping opponents of the government's Brexit strategy.
Cummings fired Sonia Khan on the spot for alleged lying about talking with people close to her former boss, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond. Javid was not told that his chief media adviser had been fired until after Khan was out the door.

AR Shakespearean bloodletting on the London stage.



BAF 2019

2019 August 29

Boris Johnson Shortens the Fuse on Brexit

The New York Times

Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings have tried a surprise parliamentary end-run to curtail the time the UK parliament will have to debate before October 31.
Brexit deadlines have been moved before, but not by a prime minister who has maneuvered his way to 10 Downing Street by claiming that all the doomsday scenarios around a no-deal Brexit are wrong.
The prorogue ploy prompted an immediate chorus of outrage from MPs who were planning to block a no-deal exit when parliament reconvenes.
If parliament fails to avoid a no-deal Brexit, Johnson will probably call a quick election before the economic consequences strike. If parliament blocks him, he will get his quick election by claiming his opponents are defying the public will.
Johnson campaigned against UK membership in the EU on the grounds that it diminished parliamentary sovereignty. He has now curtailed that sovereignty.


Do Not Prorogue Parliament

The Guardian

A petition calling on the government not to prorogue parliament has already been signed by more than 1.2 million people. It was launched on Tuesday and states:
"Parliament must not be prorogued or dissolved unless and until the article 50 period has been sufficiently extended or the UK's intention to withdraw from the EU has been cancelled."
By Wednesday afternoon, it had attracted more than 100,000 signatories, passing the threshold to be debated in parliament. Later in the day it passed the 1 million mark.

AR Like the 2016 referendum, the petition indicates public opinion.


Beachfront Air Show

Bournemouth Air Festival 2019

AR Alongside aerobatic displays by modern sports aircraft and fly-bys of modern military jets, the annual Bournemouth seafront festival of aerial showmanship again features a patriotic memorial to the British RAF air war in WW2.
The photo at left (by Neil English) illustrates Thursday's display. Clockwise from top:
Hispano HA-1112-M4L Buchon "White 9" (with Rolls-Royce Merlin instead of DB605 engine) painted to resemble a wartime Messerschmitt Bf 109
TF-51D Mustang "Contrary Mary" (which was too late for WW2 but flew during the Korean War)
Supermarine Spitfire T.IX ML407 (as flown over the D-Day beachhead by Flying Officer Johnnie Houlton DFC)
Republic P-47D Thunderbolt "Nellie" (this one was built in 1945 in Indiana, USA)

Stop the coup


66 days


2019 August 28

Queen Approves Government Coup

BBC News, 1356 BST

The Queen has approved her government's request to suspend parliament not earlier than 9 September and no later than 14 September, until Monday 14 October.


Sinister Suppression

The Times

European Parliament Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt: "Taking back control has never looked so sinister .. Suppressing debate on profound choices is unlikely to help deliver a stable future EU-UK relationship."


No Deal

Financial Times

Deutsche Bank strategist Oliver Harvey: "We retain our view that the most likely political strategy being pursued by the UK government is in fact to engineer a no-deal Brexit at the end of October, followed by a snap election."


UK Government to Suspend Parliament

BBC News, 0936 BST

HM Government will ask the Queen to suspend parliament just days after MPs return to work in September. This will enable Boris Johnson's new administration to hold a Queen's Speech laying out his government's plans on 14 October.

AR This is outrageous.

2019 August 27

The Church House Declaration

Ben Quinn

In a gathering at Church House in Westminster, John McDonnell (Lab), Anna Soubry (ex-Con), Jo Swinson (Lib Dem), Caroline Lucas (Green), and others signed the Church House declaration. They issued a joint statement:
"The attendees agreed that Boris Johnson has shown himself open to using anti-democratic means to force through no-deal. The attendees agreed on the urgency to act together to find practical ways to prevent no-deal, including the possibility of passing legislation and a vote of no confidence."
More than 160 MPs from a range of parties signed the declaration. Conservative MPs were absent from the event.

2019 August 26

Trump Britain

Miriam González Durántez

Donald Trump has chosen the UK as the latest battlefield for his twin goals of undermining the EU and challenging China. The UK has become a toy in his hands.
Trump has made clear to the British government what he expects of it. America will make a series of priority sectoral trade agreements with the UK as a prize for leaving the EU, but the UK will have to side with his foreign policies.
The possibility of an orderly Brexit is now almost zero. Brexit is likely to be disfigured by threats and trade retaliations. Trump UK will start a race to the bottom on tax and regulation to attract business away from Europe.
Trump sees the EU as an obstacle. The Europeans will have to make a huge effort to resist this aggression if they are not to see the European project crumble.

AR Trump must not be allowed to rule the UK, let alone the (western) world.


What Price Brexit?

The Times

Boris Johnson suggests that if the UK left the EU without a deal, it would no longer owe £39 billion and would pay much less. This would stall progress on the Irish backstop.
Johnson believes that unless he shows absolute determination to carry out his "do or die" pledge, whatever the cost, the EU will not take the threat of a no-deal Brexit seriously.
He may be right. Hardball usually works in politics. As with nuclear war, the UK has to be ready to inflict the worst if it is credibly to deter the other side from aggression.

AR This is MAD. The EU is a union of friends and partners. When hardball fails, doom follows.


Quantum Spacetime

Lee Smolin

Quantum mechanics has two different laws to describe reality. A wave function says how quantum objects evolve smoothly in time, exploring alternative realities in superpositions. But a measurement of a quantum state realizes a unique outcome, and the alternative realities disappear. The apparent contradiction here is the measurement problem.
Quantum theory also seems to violate the principle of locality, which says that objects or events must be near one another to interact. Entanglement seems to let objects influence each other instantaneously over any distance.
General relativity and quantum theory seem to be fundamentally incompatible. GR describes a continuous spacetime with no objective flow of time or universally defined now. QT suggests that spacetime is based on discrete quanta, with time as a universal metronomic beat.
We need to go back to first principles:
 Reality consists of events and the relationships between them.
 Time, in the sense of causation, is fundamental.
 Time is irreversible. Once an event has happened, it cannot be undone.
 The geometry of spacetime emerges from the causal network of events.
 Energy and momentum are conserved in causal processes.
These principles define energetic causal set models.
An event is distinguished by the information available to it about its causal past, its sky. The sky is a 2D surface informing it of its relationships with other events and a view of its causal past. By the holographic principle, the area of 2D surfaces in the emerging spacetime gives the maximum rate at which information can flow through them.
We can derive the equations of GR and emergent spacetime from an evolving causal network in which time flows as the history of the universe grows longer. Each event has a different sky, and a principle of maximum variety reproduces the dynamics of QT.
This is how we might construct a unified physics.

AR Disentangling a qubit sky — this is the way.

G7 France 2019

G7 France, Biarritz 2019


Macron and Johnson
Boris Johnson plays footsie with
Emmanuel Macron in Paris

Johnson and Merkel
Boris Johnson meets
Angela Merkel in Berlin

Trump tweet

US Army
M777 munitions
delivery system


2019 August 25

G7 Discord

Julian Borger

Donald Trump has rowed with his fellow G7 leaders over his demand that Russia be readmitted to the group. He argued vehemently that Vladimir Putin should be invited back. Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau, Donald Tusk, and Emmanuel Macron argued against the suggestion.
Trump was apparently reluctant to attend the summit. His officials said Macron had filled the agenda with niche subjects such as climate change and equality, rather than sticking to global economics and trade. Trump pushed for Russian readmission in a discussion about Iran policy.
Next year, Trump hosts the G7. Bet Putin is there.

2019 August 24

Trump Trade War

The New York Times

President Trump responded angrily to news that China will impose new tariffs on American goods and that the Federal Reserve defied his demands.
Trump started tweeting like a potentate: "Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China."
He then announced higher tariffs on Chinese imports amounting to a big tax increase for Americans. Stocks dropped sharply and kept sliding.
A tweet is not a legal document, and presidents have limited authority to direct the affairs of private companies.


The G7 Summit

The Times

UK prime minister Boris Johnson should not seek to split the difference between G7 allies or imagine he has a special relationship with the Trump administration.
A recession is impending and is likely to be severe. Interest rates are already near historic lows and fiscal policy is loose. The G7 should discuss how to prevent a downturn.


Disaster Capitalist Brexit

George Kerevan

Brexit is not a cry for help from the English underclass. It is a carefully stage-managed campaign by global finance capital in the form of the hedge funds. It is being orchestrated out of hedge fund self-interest and the greed of billionaires. Boris Johnson is their front man.


Taylor Swift

Laura Snapes

Taylor Swift has spent much of the past three years living in London with her boyfriend Joe Alwyn. Her new album Lover is out now. Much of it is about him.
I interview Swift, now 29, in her Nashville apartment. We discuss 2016, when she failed to endorse a candidate in the presidential election, allowing the alt-right to adopt her as their Aryan princess.
The reality, she says, is that she was totally broken. She left girlhood as a multimillionaire, and as a teenager she was obsessed with the rise and fall of great musicians: "Pop music can feel like it's The Hunger Games, and like we're gladiators."
Lover comes with printed excerpts from her diaries. On August 29, 2016, she wrote: "This summer is the apocalypse."
2019: "The thing I can't get over right now is gaslighting the American public into being like, If you hate the president, you hate America .. I really think that he thinks this is an autocracy."

2019 August 23

The French Veto

Sean O'Grady

France can expel Britain from the EU. Emmanuel Macron can do this by refusing to re-open the withdrawal agreement and by vetoing any further extension of Article 50. Even if the UK parliament were to take back control, he could still say "Non!"
He has a huge incentive to do so. He sees the French national interest: poaching jobs from the City of London, displacing manufacturing from the UK to France, and tempting other business to follow, seeking refuge in a core EU member.
Macron also knows that if they stay in, the British will always be a drag on his ambition for more Europe. The French cannot build the Europe they want with Britain in the club. Macron can be a Napoleon who makes Europe great again.
One way to stop a Macron veto is for German patience and generosity to prevail again. Angela Merkel gave Boris Johnson 30 days to solve the Irish backstop — but it was a kindly throwaway remark, not a plan. She too is a European.
The second way out is to revoke Article 50 and park the issue until Brits recover their sanity.

AR Revoke, rethink, remain — vive l'Union européenne!

2019 August 22

Trump Versus Denmark

The New York Times

"That the president of the United States would demonstrate such willful ignorance of how the world works, that he would treat a territory and its independent people like goods and chattel, that he would so readily damage relations with an old and important ally out of petty pique, is frightening."

AR Frightening for Brexit Britain, too.


Macron Versus Brexit

Financial Times

French president Emmanuel Macron: "In the coming month we are not going to find a new withdrawal agreement that is far from the original. If there are things in the framework of what was negotiated by Michel Barnier that can be adapted and conform with the two objectives I mentioned — stability in Ireland and integrity of the single market — we should find it in the coming month."

AR Merkel and Macron 2, Johnson 0


UK, Failing State

Chris Patten

Britain's system of government, praised in the past, is based on parliamentary democracy. Voters elect individual members of parliament, who owe their constituents their best judgment about how to negotiate the predicaments of politics. MPs are not required to respect an alleged popular will.
In Britain, historically, government has been accountable to parliament, whose opinions it must respect and whose conventions it should follow. An independent judiciary guarantees the rule of law, to which all are subject. That is how Britain has run its affairs and won praise around the world.
The Conservative party is now led by a chancer. Boris Johnson has lied his way to the top, first in journalism and then in politics. Owing everything to xenophobia and English nationalism, Johnson knows he is prime minister because he promised to deliver Brexit by the end of October, do or die.
Johnson's principal adviser Dominic Cummings is now masterminding Brexit. Johnson and Cummings plan to win an election on the basis of a "people versus the politicians" campaign. They will use all the methods from the 2016 referendum campaign and call their opponents enemies of the people.

AR Join the Bresistance.

2019 August 21

Trump Cancels Denmark Visit

Shaun Walker

Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen is "surprised and disappointed" that Donald Trump has called off his planned visit to Copenhagen over Danish refusal to sell Greenland.
Trump: "I thought the prime minister's statement that it was an absurd idea was nasty."
Frederiksen: "The cancelation of the visit doesn't change the good relationship between Denmark and the United States."
Danish Red-Green Alliance Politicians foreign policy chair Eva Flyvholm: "There are already many good reasons to think that the man is a fool, and now he has given another good reason."
Former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt: "Is this some sort of joke? Deeply insulting to the people of Greenland and Denmark."
Former Danish foreign minister Villy Søvndal: "Donald Trump is a narcissistic fool .. If he had been a clown in a circus, you could probably say that there is considerable entertainment value. The problem is that he is the president of the most powerful nation in the world."
Former US ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford: "I think it's sad, honestly, because this is just not the way you treat an ally. And to cancel the trip in this way is just a shame."


Trump Wants Brexit Chaos

Michael H. Fuchs

Boris Johnson aims to drive Britain off a cliff, do or die. There is little evidence it will end well.
Donald Trump has long supported Brexit. But US congressional leaders would nix any trade deal if Brexit endangers Northern Ireland.
The reality of a post-Brexit US-UK alliance could be bad. The UK is no longer a global power, but if it leaves the EU without a deal its power will sink further.
Brexit Britain will no longer be able to influence EU decisions. US-EU trade was worth $1.3 trillion in 2018. If the UK and EU remain at odds after Brexit, the US will have to choose between the UK and close allies in Europe.
Brexit won't resolve policy disagreements between the Trump administration and the UK. Trump seems unlikely to give the UK a break on the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal or whether to allow Chinese telecom company Huawei to do business in Britain.
Trump is an agent of chaos. Brexit helps him to spread it. His disdain for allies is a warning.


Trump Could Buy Britain

Richard Littlejohn

Donald Trump loves a deal. He should go for Britain.
The net worth of the UK is maybe £10 trillion, so call it $12 trillion for cash. It would be the biggest deal of all time. Trump would be buying a huge economy and a strong military. He would rule over a single market of 426 million people.
The UK could become a US state and still be more independent from Washington than EU members are from Brussels. Britain and America share a common language, and the US legal system is based on English common law.
Come on, Donald. Make us an offer.


Will Macron Back Brexit?

John Keiger

Boris Johnson may get help from French president Emmanuel Macron to secure his Halloween Brexit. Whatever the UK parliament does, any further extension of Article 50 requires unanimous approval by the EU Council of Ministers. Macron can just say no.
Macron may want something in return. The Trump administration is schmoozing Britain with promises of big deals. But Trump may try to link a trade deal to changes in British foreign policy that work against France.
Macron could use his veto in exchange for an agreement from Johnson to protect France's €10 billion trade surplus with the UK. Without it, French food and drink exports would be badly hit by a no-deal Brexit.
Macron can help Russia join the EEA and nix a Brexit extension.


Brexit and Vietnam

Rafael Behr

Like US president Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, UK prime minister Boris Johnson is trapped in the middle act of a tragedy.
The next ten weeks may be the final act. The strategic folly of surrendering a lead role in Europe was flagged in act one. The Damascene moment is yet to come.
Brexit could trigger a wider unraveling. If the European project goes under, historians will ask whether Britain was wise to get out when it did or weak to rat out at the key moment. Some will call Brexit a heroic escape, others the spark that lit the inferno.
But if the EU prevails and flourishes, it might still be years for British folly to be accepted as fact. The error will have to be composted down and mulched by pitchforks until the stink blows over. A new generation will say Brexit stank from the start.
We imagine the end is still open. But fatalism is creeping in. Dreadful events are being driven by a plot set long ago.

2019 August 20

Australia: China Can Beat America


US defense strategy in the Indo-Pacific region is in crisis and US allies need to build up their forces, says a new Australian report: "China has deployed a formidable array of precision missiles and other counter-intervention systems to undercut America's military primacy."
The report says almost all US military installations in the Western Pacific could be rendered useless by precision strikes in the opening hours of a conflict.
The US National Defense Strategy Commission said in 2018: "The US military could suffer unacceptably high casualties [and] might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia."
The report: "Washington will require significant and ongoing support from its regional allies and partners to successfully deter Chinese adventurism."


Trump and Greenland

Phillip Inman

Donald Trump sees the purchase of Greenland as the real estate deal of a lifetime. Greenland is an autonomous region under Danish sovereignty. Trump is due to discuss Danish NATO contributions this weekend.
Greenland harbors huge deposits of rare-earth metals, including neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium. Greenland Minerals, an Australian company, is mining them.
Until recently, US corporations let China supply these metals. Chinese companies acquired mines in Africa to secure dominance of the global market.
Trump: "We protect Denmark like we do large portions of the world. So the concept came up and I said, certainly. Strategically it's interesting. It's essentially a large real estate deal."
The FT estimates Greenland is worth over $1 trillion.


Punishing Ireland

David McWilliams

Brexit has turned into a hostage situation. Boris Johnson is the kidnapper, Ireland is the captive, and the backstop is the ransom. The UK message to the EU: "Drop the backstop or we'll kill the hostage in a no-deal shootout."
British sensitivity toward Irish concerns has never figured highly in Anglo-Irish affairs. Part of the new British approach is a campaign to paint itself as the victim of Irish inflexibility, emboldened by a Rule Britannia assurance that Ireland can and will be brought to heel.
Ireland is more economically successful than the UK. The Irish are now richer per capita than their UK counterparts, Ireland is growing nearly five times faster than the UK every year, and Ireland is a far more globalized economy.


Letter to Donald Tusk

Boris Johnson

The date of the UK exit from the EU .. is fast approaching ..
We remain .. committed to working with Ireland on the peace process .. We recognise the unique challenges the outcome of the referendum poses for Ireland ..
The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement .. is a historic agreement .. and we are unconditionally committed to the spirit and letter of our obligations under it in all circumstances ..
The [Irish] backstop .. is anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK .. [It] is inconsistent with the UK's desired final destination for a sustainable long-term relationship with the EU .. [It] risks weakening the .. historic compromise in Northern Ireland ..
[T]he backstop cannot form part of [a] Withdrawal Agreement .. We must, first, ensure there is no return to a hard border .. We must also respect the aim to find "flexible and creative" solutions ..
I propose that the backstop should be replaced with a commitment to put in place [alternative] arrangements ..

AR Tusk will rightly say Johnson offers no specific and viable alternative to the backstop. A "flexible and creative" solution would soon lead to a new hard border, new troubles, and a hard push to reunify Ireland. Johnson cannot have his Irish cake and eat it.

2019 August 19

Supply Side Is Over

Rana Foroohar

Roughly four decades ago, America kicked off the supply side revolution. Capital gains taxes were slashed. Some people got very rich. But inequality rose.
Now US Democrats seek higher taxes for the wealthy and tougher rules for corporations. Economists debate how the public sector can slice the economic pie more fairly.
The signs are all around us. B corporations balance purpose and profit, and people are investing based on environmental, social, and governance factors. In government, there is growing bipartisan support for tougher antitrust scrutiny and trade protection. Democrats see monetary policy as a way to pay for their priorities without tax rises.
After a decade of loose monetary policy, baby boomers have seen their assets appreciate while millennials cannot afford to get on the housing ladder. One battle will be over who gets what share of the pie in a slower growth economy. Another will be between capital and labor. There is now broad support for higher taxes on the wealthiest.
The age of wealth distribution will have big consequences. The rules of the road for investors are changing. That will come with an upside.


US Army AI Munitions

David Hambling

The US Army is building a cannon-delivered area effects munition (C-DAEM) that can hit "moving and imprecisely located armored targets" by actively finding the targets. A parallel project will develop algorithms for them that scan IR images for targets and run on chips like those in smartphones.
The munitions will have a range of up to 60 km and will slow down to allow more than 60 s to scan and classify potential targets. They will autonomously hunt for targets over thousands of hectares, decide when they have found one, and attack without human intervention. Several contractors are competing to build them, with prototype demonstrations scheduled for 2021.
US Army: "This is not an autonomous weapon .. We seek an advanced capability for a round, once fired, to continue pursuing a target despite the types of interference that might cause it to pursue something else. This would improve our capabilities to avoid collateral damage."


Colliding Black Holes

Erika K. Carlson

Black holes are the remains of big old stars. As the stars age, they puff out to several times their original size. If two stars are orbiting close together, one is engulfed, and the pair collide before they become black holes.
Yet black hole collisions are fairly common. So colliding black holes must start out far apart. Perhaps the big stars start far apart and grow closer as they collapse into black holes. Or perhaps some stars collapse without ever ballooning into supergiants, or solitary black holes meet one another and bind to form pairs.
Or perhaps a third object brings a pair closer together. Imagine the Earth and the Moon orbiting each other, and imagine the third object rotating around the Earth−Moon system at an angle, so that the orbits are not coplanar. If the angle between the orbits is large enough, gravitational effects from the third object pull on the orbits of the Earth and Moon to stretch them out into long ellipses, which can destabilize them enough to trigger a collision.
For black holes, the third object could be a stellar-mass black hole, or a massive star, or one of the supermassive black holes found at the centers of most galaxies. If two massive stars near the galactic center collapse to become black holes, they and the supermassive black hole can make a three-body system.
Black holes that merge via triples should have more eccentric orbits than those in undisturbed binary systems. Also, if a binary system formed without the influence of a third body, their rotational and orbital axes should be aligned, whereas third bodies will often tilt the axes.
To find the truth, we need more gravitational wave detections.


The Guardian





Deus vult

77 days

Greta Thunberg

Stop Brexit


2019 August 18

Operation Yellowhammer

The Sunday Times

Base Scenario
 Brexit ends all rights and reciprocal arrangements between the UK and the EU.
 The UK reverts fully to "third country" status. The relationship between the UK and the EU as a whole is unsympathetic. Many EU member states will not engage bilaterally or implement protections unilaterally.
 No bilateral deals have been concluded with individual member states, except for a social security agreement with the Republic of Ireland. EU citizens living in the UK can retain broadly all their rights and status before Brexit.
 Public and business readiness will remain at a low level. Large businesses that work across sectors will have better developed plans than small and medium-size businesses. Business readiness will be compounded by seasonal effects and factors such as warehouse availability.
 HM government will act in accordance with the rule of law.

Key Planning Assumptions
 Exit day: Day 1 is a Friday.
 Member states: A few EU member states may act in a way that could benefit the UK.
 Channel ports: France will impose EU mandatory controls on UK goods on Day 1, and most HGVs travelling via the short straits may not be ready for French customs. This could reduce the flow rate to about half of current levels. The worst disruption might last 3 months before flow rates rise much. HGVs could face a delay of about 2 days on routes to France.
 Border checks: UK citizens travelling to and from the EU may be subject to increased immigration checks at border posts, leading to passenger delays. Delays for UK arrivals and departures at EU airports and ports are likely to cause disruption.
 Drugs and disease: Significant disruption could last up to 6 months and will impact the supply of medicines and medical supplies. The supply chains are highly regulated, and some products cannot be stockpiled because of short shelf lives. Any disruption of the supply for UK veterinary use would risk disease outbreaks, endanger the environment and food safety and availability, and pose a risk to human health.
 Food and water: Certain types of fresh food supply will decrease, and critical elements of the food supply chain may be scarce, reducing availability and choice and increasing prices. Panic buying may disrupt food supplies. Public water services are at low risk, but urgent action may be needed to ensure access to clean water.
 Law and order: Law enforcement data and information-sharing between the UK and the EU will be disrupted.
 Financial services and insurance: Some cross-border UK financial services will be disrupted. A small minority of insurance payments from UK insurers into the EU may be delayed.
 Data: The EU will not have made a data decision with regard to the UK before exit. This will disrupt the flow of personal data from the EU. An adequacy assessment could take years.
 Fuel: Border delays could affect fuel distribution, leading to shortages. Tariff policies undermine industry plans to mitigate their impact on refinery margins, leading to big financial losses and the closure of two refineries. Strike action at refineries would disrupt fuel availability.
 Northern Ireland: On Day 1, HM government will activate a plan to avoid a return to a hard border on the UK side. The model is likely to prove unsustainable because of economic, legal, and biosecurity risks. Automatic application of EU tariffs and regulatory requirements for goods entering Ireland will severely disrupt trade. Some businesses will stop trading or relocate. Others will face higher costs. Disruption is likely to lead to a growing illegitimate economy. There will be immediate pressure to agree new arrangements.
 Energy supplies: Demand for energy will be met. A rapid split of the single energy market will probably lead to marked electricity price rises for customers.
 Gibraltar: The imposition of checks at the border with Spain will cause disruption to the supply of goods and to shipments of waste, plus long delays in the movement of people across the border. Cross-border services and data flow will be disrupted. Gibraltar has not invested in contingency infrastructure and faces legal risks.
 Brits in Europe: UK nationals will lose their EU citizenship and can expect to lose rights and access to services. EU member states have not all passed legislation to secure all rights for UK nationals. Demands for HM government to help will increase. An EU member state would continue to pay a pension it currently pays to a UK national living in the EU, but EU member states will not extend current healthcare arrangements beyond Brexit. There is a risk of disruption for patients, and a minority could face substantial costs.
 Protests and police: Protests and counter-protests will take place across the UK, using up police resources. There may also be a rise in public disorder and community tensions.
 Fishing: EU and EEA fishing vessels could fish illegally in UK waters. This is likely to cause anger and frustration in the UK. Competing demands on UK agencies and assets could put enforcement and response capabilities at risk.
 The poor: Low-income groups will be disproportionately affected by rises in the price of food and fuel.
 Social care: The adult social care market is fragile. An increase in inflation after Brexit would raise costs for providers of adult social care. This might lead to failures.

AR This is all bad news — a total no-no.

2019 August 17

World Spiraling Into Chaos

Michelle Goldberg

All over the world, things are getting worse. China is weighing a crackdown in Hong Kong. Hostilities between India and Pakistan have ratcheted up, with fighting across the border in Kashmir. Turkey threatens to invade Northeast Syria to go after Kurds.
North Korea continues its nuclear program and ballistic missile testing. A two-state solution in Israel and Palestine looks more remote than ever. Tensions between America and Iran keep escalating. Relations between Japan and South Korea have broken down. The UK could see food shortages if it crashes out of the EU without a deal. And the global economy may be lurching toward recession.
In a world spiraling toward chaos, we begin to see the fruits of Donald Trump's erratic and incompetent foreign policy, his systematic undermining of alliances, and his hollowing out of America's diplomatic and national security architecture. In one flashpoint after another, his administration has either failed to act appropriately or acted in ways that have made things worse.
Obviously, India and Pakistan still want to avoid a nuclear holocaust. China may show restraint on Hong Kong. Trump might make a deal with Iran. The global economy could keep going in 2020.
Even then, America will never again play the same leadership role internationally that it did before Trump. The consequences of not having a functioning US administration are coming into focus.


US−German Relations

Matthias Gebauer, Christiane Hoffmann, René Pfister, Gerald Traufetter

A gulf is growing between Germany and America. This is partly due to the personal chemistry between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel. In May, Merkel spoke at Harvard but did not see Trump. She will not see him when she visits New York for the UN General Assembly in September.
When Trump visits Europe, Germany is "flyover country" to be ignored. He has landed in Rome, Paris and London, but not Berlin. When he flies to Europe at the end of August for the G7 summit in Biarritz, he will visit Copenhagen and Warsaw.
US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell threatens the withdrawal of US troops from Germany. The US Army command in Germany runs worldwide missions, and the huge US bases in Ramstein and Stuttgart support operations in the Mideast. No US commander would give up these bases lightly.
The main symbol of broken US-German relations will soon be at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Gas from Russia will flow through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to heat millions of German homes.
Trump wants to prevent the project at any cost. In September in Copenhagen, he will put pressure on the Danish government. He says the pipeline should not be built because it helps Russia.
Trump is also threatening German auto industry bosses. His agreement not to charge an import tax expires in November. EU negotiations with the US administration have so far had little success.
Perhaps transatlantic cooperation will rebound after the Trump era.

2019 August 16


Andrew Brown

In 2011, Anders Behring Breivik detonated a bomb in Oslo, killing 8 people, and then shot dead 69 others. According to the manifesto he published online, he had been inspired by a blog called the Gates of Vienna, which took its name from the siege of Vienna in 1683, when an Ottoman Turkish army was defeated by Christian Europeans.
A founding myth of contemporary Islamophobia is a plot called Eurabia to destroy European civilization. When US president Donald Trump tweets about crime in London or Germany, he is invoking the Eurabian myth that European liberals have surrendered their cities to Muslim criminals.
Eurabia was promoted by Gisèle Littman, who wrote under the Hebrew name Bat Ye'or and developed a conspiracy theory in which the EU was selling out Europe to the Muslims in exchange for oil. Littman said Islam aims to rule the world, and Europe is evolving from a Judeo-Christian and secular civilization into a civilization subservient to jihad.
Israeli historian Robert Wistrich dismissed her writings as the protocols of the elders of Brussels. But Norwegian blogger Peder Are Nøstvold Jensen transmitted her ideas to Anders Breivik.
Jensen was in Cairo at the time of the 9/11 attacks and saw Muslims celebrating the slaughter. He became convinced that Islam was an existential threat to European civilization that the liberal establishment was willfully ignoring.
The myth fed another set of ideas about global migration known as the great replacement. The demographic shrinkage facing Europe was obvious, as were the high birth rates in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. Islam and Muslims became both a conspiracy and a demographic threat.
One fruit of the 9/11 attacks, the new atheist movement, was hostile to Islam. Sam Harris: "We are at war with Islam. It may not serve our immediate foreign policy objectives for our political leaders to openly acknowledge this fact, but [Islam] has the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death."
The election of Trump revealed a huge constituency for racialized hatred and despair. Trump tweet: "The losers all want what you have, don't give it to them .. Be strong & prosper, be weak & die!"
In the campaign for the European elections this May, a German AfD party poster showed a naked white woman being pawed by men in Arab headgear: "Europeans, vote for AfD, so that Europe will never become Eurabia."

2019 August 15

No Big Bang?

Anna Ijjas

The observable universe is expanding. Extrapolate back in time, and we reach the big bang.
Quantum theory prompts us to rethink this story. Particles can pop into and out of existence all the time, as long as they come and go quickly. This constant fizz would be important at the big bang, when the universe was tiny. As space expanded, fluctuating energy from the fizz should have spread out to give huge imbalances in energy across the universe.
But the distribution of matter is remarkably smooth over the universe on the largest scales. The quantum fluctuations at the big bang should have caused space to warp wildly. As the universe expanded, these warps would have expanded too, and distorted the path of light traveling across the cosmos. We see no trace of this.
The inflationary scenario is that just moments after the big bang, the universe underwent a brief epoch of extremely rapid expansion. This stretched the universe so quickly that any warps in the fabric of spacetime were ironed out and the distribution of matter smoothed.
But inflation requires a hypothetical field to have switched on at just the right time and with just the right strength to account for a smooth universe. Yet the field strength would differ in different regions of space due to quantum fluctuations.
Also, quantum fluctuations can prevent inflation from ending, except in odd patches of space. Instead of a uniform universe, inflation leaves space divided into a lot of patches with a huge range of different properties, giving an inflationary multiverse.
Inflation would leave small distortions in the fabric of spacetime that became primordial gravitational waves, with wavelengths long enough to leave an imprint on the CMB. But researchers have found no evidence of primordial gravitational waves in the CMB.
Maybe our universe began not with a bang, but from a previous universe that slowly contracted to a small patch of space, bounced, and then began a new expansion.
This scenario features a long phase of slow contraction before the bounce. The energy that slowed the contraction reversed it to expansion long before the universe shrank far enough to produce detectable primordial gravitational waves. The universe would look like the one we observe.
A cyclic universe would have no beginning or end.

2019 August 14

Out Means Out

David Allen

The UK will leave the EU by automatic operation of law on October 31, 2019. The departure will change the legal position absolutely.
Britain will be a third country. Article 50 will no longer be relevant, and the fast route for an agreement that rests on it will be gone. Any deal between the UK and EU will have to follow the slow process for external relationship and trade agreements.
Once out, the only way the UK can rejoin the EU is by applying under Article 49. In theory, such an application can be expedited, if there is unanimous political will. But it would normally take years and would not necessarily succeed.
Any extension or revocation has to be in place before the deadline. There are practical political impediments to a government of national unity coming in and requesting an extension. There is no time for a general election or a second referendum.
A departure is final. This finality is written into the Treaty on the European Union.


Climate Change

GQ Magazine

Greta Thunberg: "I have Asperger's syndrome and, to me, almost everything is black or white. I think in many ways that we autistic are the normal ones and the rest of the people are pretty strange. They keep saying that climate change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all. And yet they just carry on like before."
Thunberg addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos on 25 January: "I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is."
Her school strike for climate began on August 20, 2018. She would not attend school until the Swedish general election on September 9, 2018. Since then, along with millions around the world, she has been on strike every Friday, demanding, among other things, that Sweden aligns with the Paris Climate Agreement.
Thunberg is taking a gap year to focus on her activism: "Right now is the time when the transformational change needs to begin. So if we don't start that right now, this coming year, then we have a smaller chance of succeeding and preventing the worst consequences of the climate change crisis. I just think there's no more time to wait."
She spoke to the UK parliament in April: "The UK is .. very special. Not only for its mind-blowing historical carbon debt, but also for its current, very creative, carbon accounting .. I hope my microphone was on. I hope you could all hear me."
Thunberg has a firm grasp of the science of climate change: "[The world] has a carbon budget, a very limited and extremely rapidly disappearing carbon budget, which no one seems to know exists .. If we do the changes required it is still possible within the laws of physics to avoid the worst. But if we don't then maybe not. But I just think that we will have to do everything in our power to make the changes required possible. To do your best is no longer good enough. We now have to do the seemingly impossible."

2019 August 13

Brexit Pivot

The Times

US national security adviser John Bolton hopes to pivot UK prime minister Boris Johnson away from the EU and toward the US.
The UK government must accept that a no-deal Brexit opens a diplomatic rift between the UK and the EU. An isolated UK in need of allies gives US president Donald Trump leverage. Bolton may seek to drag the UK deeper into the escalating US−Iran conflict. He may ask the UK to ban Chinese technology from UK telecom networks.
Trump is eager to conclude a US-UK trade deal soon. Johnson will meet him at the G7 summit in Biarritz on August 24−26.

AR An Anglo-American Alliance (AAA) could be met by a "Zoll- und Zuwanderung-Zielvereinbarung" (ZZZ) between Germany and Russia. Then where would we be? Between AAA hammer and ZZZ anvil! See Ringlord.


The Irish Question

Daily Mail

UK prime minister Boris Johnson thinks his no-deal stand on Brexit will force the EU to cave in at the 11th hour.
One UK cabinet minister: "The EU will give us a better deal, because if they don't Ireland is fucked. No‑deal will destroy it. No-deal hurts us, the EU and Ireland, but it hurts Ireland the most. A lot of Irish trade goes to Britain, and much of the rest comes through us to Europe."

AR So Boris will fuck Ireland just to please the Brextremists. The EU should stage an airlift to Ireland rather than cave in to such bully-boy tactics. Irish-Americans will back it.


Quantum Spacetime

George Musser

General relativity predicts that matter falling into a black hole becomes compressed without limit as it approaches the central singularity. The fall is irreversible beyond the event horizon. But the laws of quantum mechanics are reversible.
In quantum theory, black holes have a nonzero temperature. A hole emits radiation as random heat energy. As it does so, it shrinks and finally pops. This is a paradox because the hole destroys the information that would let you rewind time.
A black hole is just empty space. If you zoom spacetime to the Planck scale, you cannot see a grid. The grid lines would privilege some directions over others, contradicting Lorentz symmetry.
Measuring the entropy of a system measures its microscopic complexity. If you do this for a 3D block, the number of parts increases as the cube of its size. But if you increase the radius of a black hole, the number of parts increases as the square. The black hole behaves like a 2D object.
This is the holographic principle. The basic parts of space need not be spatial. The geometric properties of space are emergent properties. Space arises from correlations between events that form a network with a pattern of connectivity.
Entanglement may be more primitive than space. Quantum fields are internally entangled. Distinct regions are correlated, with the degree of correlation depending on the area of their interface. Entanglement links energy with spacetime geometry.
String theory applies the holographic principle to the universe when making new dimensions to bulk out space. Entanglement knits the bulk space together. Correlations in quantum fields reveal the entanglement.
The ubiquity of entanglement may explain the universality of gravity. Entanglement between a black hole and the radiation it emits may form a wormhole that preserves information.
Under a minimal description, a quantum system can be partitioned into different regions of spacetime, where the degree of entanglement defines spatial distance.
So far in physics, we have assumed that any account of what we see is a mechanism operating in spacetime. We need a new foundation.

AR My second cut of this piece; see blog 2019-06-29. I say the new foundation is our (epistemo-ontic) play with bits and qubits; see Omniscience.

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Angus Roxburgh

Boris Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin prime minister in August 1999. Speaking in the Bundestag,
Putin proclaimed in fluent German that Russia's destiny was in Europe.
In 2007, Putin spoke in Munich against US pretensions to rule the world as sole master. Later,
he was angered when Barack Obama said Russia was a mere regional power. Later still, he declared
the supremacy of Russian society and morality over the decadent and genderless west.
Putin thinks if the west can invade Iraq, Russia can help out the regime in Syria. If the west can
intervene in Ukraine, he can too. If the west can influence Russian affairs with propaganda for the
opposition, he can influence western elections too.

AR Putin wants a Eurasian Union.


Europe isn't scared
of Boris Johnson
A hermit nation ruled
by an egomaniac
could be about
to collapse


Sterling sank to $1.20
and €1.06 today

Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg says she will
not waste time in New York
meeting Donald Trump


2019 August 12

Brexit War Powers

The Times

HM government ministers will have draconian powers to bring in curfews, redirect food supplies, and even change the law without consulting parliament in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Ministers could give police, local authorities, and other public bodies immediate powers to tackle potential problems such as fuel or food shortages and to ban lorries from travelling to Channel ports to avoid disruption. The powers, contained in the Civil Contingencies Act, would be used under Operation Yellowhammer and run from the Brexit war room.

2019 August 11

State of Play

Gordon Brown

Boris Johnson is hell-bent on conjuring up the absurd and mendacious image of the patriotic British valiantly defying an intransigent Europe determined to turn the UK into a vassal state. He is alienating Scottish and Irish nationalists and pushing England toward xenophobia.


Ship of Fools

Andrew Rawnsley

The idea that Boris Johnson might face a no-confidence vote this autumn, lose, refuse to quit as prime minister, and barricade himself in No 10 for long enough to force through a no-deal Brexit before an election can take place is grotesque. This would plunge the UK into the darkest crisis of its modern history.


Queen of Clowns

The Sunday Times

An impeccable royal source: "I think [the Queen]'s really dismayed. I've heard her talking about her disappointment in the current political class and its inability to govern correctly."
A senior royal source: "She expressed her exasperation and frustration about the quality of our political leadership."

2019 August 10

The Hubble Parameter

Natalie Wolchover

Cosmologists say the expansion of the universe is accelerating. For this discovery, Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt, and Adam Riess won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.
The universe is currently expanding faster than the standard theory of the cosmos predicts. That theory, ΛCDM, describes all the visible matter and energy in the universe, along with dark energy (Λ) and cold dark matter (CDM).
The rate of cosmic expansion is called the Hubble parameter H, where H = v/d, the ratio of the recessional velocity v of a star or galaxy to its distance d from us. You can measure v for an object from the Doppler shift of its frequencies, but measuring d is harder.
To build a distance ladder, you start by calibrating the distance to stars of known luminosity, cepheids. You use these standard candles to gauge the distances to cepheids in more remote galaxies. This gives the distances of Type 1a supernovas in those galaxies. These supernovas are much brighter standard candles you can spot in yet more remote galaxies in the Hubble flow.
The Planck team uses its CMB map to predict H = 67.4 km/s per megaparsec, ±1%.
Riess and his SH0ES team measure cosmic expansion using a cosmic distance ladder to put H at 74.0, ±1.9%. A team called H0LiCOW says H is 73.3. The combined SH0ES and H0LiCOW measurements have crossed the 5 σ threshold.
Planck and SH0ES are more than 4 σ apart.
The Carnegie−Chicago Hubble Program (CCHP) used a distance ladder method with "tip of the red giant branch" (TRGB) stars to peg H at 69.8.
The two early-universe predictions give about 66 or 67. Five late-universe measurements give about 73 or 74. CCHP is in the middle.
New data from the Gaia space telescope will enable us to calibrate cepheids and TRGBs from their parallax. The James Webb Space Telescope will also help when it launches in 2021.

AR Obviously H changes with time and ΛCDM is all wrong.

2019 August 9

Brexit: Scientists Speak

The Times

Science is done by huge international collaborations: 1 in 6 academics in the UK comes from an EU27 country, and 1 in 3 of papers published by UK academics are co-authored with EU27 researchers. EU science funding has disproportionately gone to UK institutions.
Astronomer Royal Lord Rees of Ludlow: "The EU citizens with long-term posts in my institute say they wouldn't have come on the present or likely terms."
Francis Crick Institute director Sir Paul Nurse: "The benefits of participating in European schemes go far beyond the money .. The UK should associate to Horizon Europe as soon as possible."
Academy of Medical Sciences president Robert Lechler: "Research and innovation thrives when people from different backgrounds and cultures are able to exchange and challenge ideas freely."
Royal Society president Sir Venki Ramakrishnan: "The Royal Society has .. been clear that a no-deal exit from the EU is the worst option for science."
Nobel laureate Sir Andre Geim: "The government .. cannot reduce turmoil that would be caused to science in the UK by a no-deal Brexit. Scientists .. know that turmoil is inevitable for many years."

Jeremy Corbyn: "Forcing through no deal against a decision of parliament, and denying the choice to the voters in a general election already under way, would be an unprecedented, unconstitutional and anti-democratic abuse of power."

AR How loud and clear does the message have to be, Bozo?

2019 August 8

European Physics

Carlo Rubbia

We constructed a colliding beam machine at CERN and entered the energy domains of the weak nuclear force. Then we built the 27 km LEP collider and produced enough W and Z bosons to complete their story.
The next question was how to produce Higgs bosons. Understanding the Higgs field is at least as important as observing the W and the Z, and it concludes the story of the elementary particles in the Standard Model.
Probing higher energies offers the hope of new physics. But before exploring higher energies, it makes sense to build a muon collider to study the Higgs precisely. A muon ring is a hundredth the size of the LHC.
The integration of Europe through science is phenomenal. This is a very important success. Particle science over the last few decades has been European.

A walk to Swanage


Reign of Terror

The Guardian

Rebel MPs may be able to stop Boris Johnson pursuing a hard Halloween Brexit. Outrage is growing about Dominic Cummings, said to be running a "reign of terror" in No 10.
Rebel MPs can amend the motion needed for parliament to break for party conferences in September. This gives MPs time to pass a bill to request an extension to article 50.
Cummings is working flat out to deliver Brexit on Halloween, deal or no deal. He has installed a team of "true believers" from the former Vote Leave campaign in No 10.


Thwart No Deal

Vernon Bogdanor

Parliament can prevent a hard Brexit only by legislation. After a vote of no confidence, MPs have 14 days to form a government that can command the confidence of the Commons.
Normally, the Queen would send for the leader of the opposition. Otherwise, she would need a guarantee that a majority of MPs would support a government of national unity.
After 14 days, the PM names a date for a general election at least 25 working days after dissolution. A vote of no confidence on September 5 allows an election on October 17.

AR Boris can name a date in November and do hard Brexit first — but this is rape.

2019 August 7

Trump and Brexit

Larry Summers

Regarding a post-Brexit trade deal, I'm not sure what Britain wants from the United States that it can plausibly imagine the United States will give. Britain has much less to give than Europe as a whole did, therefore less reason for the United States to make concessions.
Second, Britain has no leverage. Britain is desperate. Britain has nothing else. It needs an agreement very soon. When you have a desperate partner, that's when you strike the hardest bargain.
If Britain thinks the American financial regulators are going to come together to give greater permissions and less regulation of UK firms, I would call that belief close to delusional.


A Never-Ending Story

James Kirkup

Boris Johnson says he will get Brexit "done" by Halloween.
Leaving is just the easy part. It kicks off a whole new era of the UK wrangling with the EU27 about how UK and EU laws, rules, systems, and so on interact.
A no-deal Brexit will leave the UK with the vast task of agreeing a future relationship with the EU. It waves goodbye to Article 50 and says hello to Article 218.
Getting Brexit done just opens the door to the real killer.

2019 August 6

No Big Deal

The Guardian

European diplomats have been told Boris Johnson has no intention of renegotiating the withdrawal agreement and the UK government is expecting to crash out of the EU.
A senior EU diplomat: "It was clear UK does not have another plan .. A no-deal now appears to be the UK government's central scenario."
UK government chief Europe adviser David Frost said the UK prefers a technological solution to the Irish border but admits it will not be ready by Halloween.
European Commission spokeswoman: "For a negotiation to be successful it takes two to tango .. The outcome on the table is the best deal possible and I don't think there is any fault or blame to be looked for in this."
UK government spokesman: "We are ready to negotiate in good faith an alternative to the anti-democratic backstop .. Until then, we will continue to prepare to leave the EU on 31 October."

AR Halloween suicide bid, yawn.

2019 August 5

Brexit: Take Back Control

The Guardian

A no-deal Brexit would outrage millions of UK citizens and threaten their economic security. It would risk the unity of the UK and 20 years of peace in Northern Ireland. It would deepen the divisions of Brexit, appal our European neighbours, and damage the UK brand.
Government ministers say they would rather leave with a deal but make no serious effort to achieve one. The prime minister is confident parliament cannot stop the UK from crashing out of the EU. Dominic Cummings says it is now too late to stop Brexit by Halloween.
This arrogant gamble must be stopped. Boris Johnson heads a minority government. He lacks both the democratic and moral authority to do what he is attempting.
There is no justification for parliament not sitting now. Recall MPs from their summer recess. Let them occupy the Commons chamber to make their case.


Germany Debates Euro

Wolfgang Münchau

Margaret Thatcher warned of a European superstate. This is how Brexit started. I see something similar going on in Germany, except that the target is the ECB and the EZ.
German media refer to negative interest rates as penalty rates levied to punish German savers. Germans do not see Germany as the main beneficiary of the euro and dislike being locked into the EZ with countries whose leaders they do not trust.
Germany has large savings surpluses, but its returns on foreign investments are the lowest among all G7 countries. Germans do not yet see a case for EZ integration.



New Scientist

James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis has inspired a generation of Earth scientists.
Humans are now heating up the planet by releasing more greenhouse gases than green plants can absorb. The heat is melting the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. These contain enough water to raise the global sea level by 65 m.
We urgently need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions.

AR I predict techno-Gaia: Globorg

Eton team

Boris Johnson (front, center) leads team, Eton Wall Game, 1982

Eton College

Jörg Schindler

Near Windsor Castle, Eton College is a red-brick campus almost 200 hectares in size.
A total of 20 UK prime ministers have been "produced" at Eton.
Boris Johnson is an Old Etonian. He was a King's Scholar and quickly made a name for himself in rugby and the Eton Wall Game.
Those who went to Eton can rely on an old boy network for the rest of their lives.
King Henry VI founded Eton College in 1440. At first, the public schools were open to any child in the realm. They attracted rich people,
who bid up the fees. In the 2017/18 school year, Eton received £51 million in fees, plus millions more for extras. Eton College also
owns a vast portfolio of historic assets, yet it enjoys tax privileges as a charity.
British people vented their anger at such injustice in the EU referendum.
The privileged elite will always win.



No Brexit

Thermal Europe



2019 August 4

How the World Sees Brexit

The Observer

China Liu Ye
Not many Chinese people care about the details of Brexit, but the reputation of British democracy has suffered. For decades, public intellectuals talked about the British style of constitutionalism. Now this image has collapsed.

France Sylvie Kauffmann
We French Europeans are grateful to our British friends for making sure one word has exited our vocabulary: Frexit. The Brits seemed to be losing their minds. This is a British crisis, not a European one. Please go and fix your problem, and then come back.

Germany Khuê Pham
Boris Johnson has been disdainful toward Europeans. The German public used to think of Britain as being very cool. Now it's seen as a big mess. I am not very hopeful about good relations between Britain and Germany in the near future.

Japan Nobuyuki Suzuki
Japanese companies invested in Britain because it was a member of the EU. Leaving the EU is a bad idea. I feel very sorry for British voters. The Japanese had always seen Britain as a gentle, stable country, but that has changed.

India Mihir Sharma
The incredible arrogance on display in England reveals itself in this belief that they will somehow be a desirable location or partner for other countries once they leave Europe. Britain confuses its standing with that of London. London is a great global city. Britain is a small European country with ideas above its station.

South Africa Khadija Patel
Britain is trying to figure itself out in 2019 and is suddenly realising that it's not that important any more.

Russia Alexey Venediktov
The view of Boris Johnson in the Russian leadership is quite negative. They don't think he's serious. They think he's a clown with little support.

United States Jen Kirby
No one thought Britain would vote to leave the EU, until it did. No one thought Trump would win the presidency, until he did. All the forces that made Trump and Brexit possible have only hardened in the three years since.

Brazil Fernanda Mena
Britain was the homeland of ideas of liberalism, free markets, and multiculturalism. London was one of the capitals of the world. It was quite shocking to see people being driven by lies to vote for Brexit. The UK is losing relevance quite quickly.


Synthetic Intelligence

Zdenka Kuncic

We may be able to replicate human intelligence by creating a physical object whose structure resembles that of the brain. The human brain is a hardware device rather than an algorithm and it doesn't need to be programmed. It operates in a continuous, analog mode rather than processing information using digital bits.
The brain's neural circuitry is interconnected with a vastly higher density and complexity than can ever be achieved in conventional electrical circuitry. Each of its 86 billion neurons is linked to thousands of others, so there are hundreds of trillions of synaptic junctions. This complexity gives rise to cognitive abilities.
Synthetic intelligence involves developing a device with unconventional electrical circuitry in order to achieve a structural complexity and functionality similar to a real neural network. It is built using insulated silver nanowires a few nanometers thick with a length comparable to that of neural axons and dendrites, and letting them self-organize as electrical signals travel across synthetic synapses. The device is rather like a bowl of spaghetti.
Neuroscientists believe collective oscillations facilitate connections between different areas of the brain: Neurons that fire together wire together. They also study other types of emergent collective properties, such as resilience and adaptation, to gain deeper insight into how the brain works. We can use their methods to analyze emergent collective dynamics in our nanowire networks.
Synthetic intelligence could deliver machines whose responses to unpredictable environmental cues are both reason-based and flexible yet are free of human imperatives. The might even develop consciousness.

AR I find this a promising line to pursue.

2019 August 3

End of the United Kingdom

Luke McGee

Boris Johnson want us to know he loves the union between the four nations that make up the UK. But during his visits to the four nations this week, he was confronted by protesters who took issue with his "do or die" approach to Brexit.
In Northern Ireland, Unionists see any separation from the UK mainland as unthinkable, while Irish republicans want to see Northern Ireland reunited with the rest of Ireland. Northern Irish citizens are starting to see a united Ireland as an inevitable consequence of a no-deal Brexit.
In Scotland, Brexit supporters tend to oppose independence. Scotland had a vote on independence in 2014 and voted to stick with the UK by 55% to 45%. But 62% of Scotland voted to remain in the EU, so Scottish nationalists want a second independence vote.
Wales voted to leave the EU and doesn't have a strong independence movement. But it has Welsh nationalists, and Johnson is alienating them.
The strongest support for Brexit comes from English nationalists, for whom Brexit really means England First. If they win, goodbye UK.


Young Brits

Lara Spirit

Conservatives think Boris Johnson can win a general election and force a hard Brexit. They're wrong: 8 in 10 young people feel disgust at the Brexit crisis and want to resolve it through a people's vote. Yet Johnson wants to force the single most destructive form of Brexit upon us without our consent. This is a prime minister whose cause is neither Brexit nor Britain, but Boris.


Europeans: Resist Trump and Johnson

Maximilian Popp

Donald Trump is US president and Boris Johnson is UK prime minister. Trump wants to divide Europe and supports Brexit, and Johnson looks to Trump for a trade deal after Brexit. It could get worse.
Mideast policy will be the test. America, Britain, France, and Germany had made a deal with Iran on its nuclear plans, but Trump has walked out. Johnson could walk out too.
Europe could face a dilemma like that in 2003 over Iraq. Germany and France held back as America and Britain went to war against Saddam Hussein. This time the break could be deeper.
Brexit has so far been seen as damaging to business. The Iran crisis shows security policy could also be damaged. If the UK continues to side with US policies, this will weaken the EU role in the world.
Some in the EU hope the problem will solve itself when Johnson loses the next general election and Trump is voted out of office in 2020. But those events are far from certain.
The EU should act with integrity and clarity against populism. Instead of rehashing Brexit with Johnson or following Trump on Iran, France and Germany should work together.

AR If Brexit breaks the UK so that Northern Ireland unites with Ireland, Scotland and Wales rejoin the EU, and England becomes a vassal state in the USA, then the map of Europe features a curious new symmetry: At its eastern end EU states would surround the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, while at its western end EU states would surround the US enclave of England. If America and Russia went to war, the two enclaves would have to be pacified by EU forces.


Quantum Supremacy

Sabine Hossenfelder

Google and others are racing to build a quantum computer that outperforms the best conventional computers to achieve quantum supremacy. Google could win this year.
A quantum computer processes entangled qubits. Today's largest quantum computers have about 20 superconducting qubits. Chips that can achieve quantum supremacy will hold at least 50.
Quantum computers could raise global productivity enormously. But they are fragile and need a lot of support infrastructure. Quantum supremacy is just a start.


Quantum Thermalization

Natalie Wolchover

Jürgen Berges and others have discovered universal laws governing thermalization in a variety of systems consisting of many particles that are far from thermal equilibrium. All kinds of quantum systems in various extreme starting conditions seem to fall into a fractal-like pattern, exhibiting universal scaling before transitioning to standard thermalization.
When energy cascades through turbulent fluids, a vortex generates smaller eddies, which make still smaller eddies, with the rate of the transfer of energy described by a universal exponential decay factor of 53. Similar cascading occurs in far-from-equilibrium quantum dynamics, with scaling across both time and space.
Just after the big bang and cosmic inflation, it seems the universe showed fractal-like universal scaling. After inflation, the condensate became a dense field of particles all moving at high speed, with fractal scaling governed by universal scaling exponents as they began to thermalize.
Universal scaling occurs at the nanokelvin scale of ultracold atoms, the terakelvin scale of nuclear collisions, and the zettakelvin scale of the early universe.

2019 August 2

America Blocks China

The New York Times

US president Donald Trump will impose a 10% tariff on an additional $300 billion of imports from China next month. The new tariff is in addition to the 25% levy he has already imposed on $250 billion of Chinese imports and will widen US taxes to cover nearly everything China sends to America.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi: "Adding tariffs is definitely not the correct way to resolve economic and trade frictions."


Another Brexit Caution

The Guardian

UK prime minister Boris Johnson had his working majority in the House of Commons cut to 1 after the Conservatives lost to the Liberal Democrats in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election.

Liberal Democrats
Monster Raving Loony

13 826
12 401
3 331
1 680


% change


No sign of a Boris honeymoon.

2019 August 1

No Deal, No Way

Guy Verhofstadt

There is no time to limit the damage of a Halloween Brexit. Unless a new extension is requested or article 50 is revoked by 31 October, a big shock awaits the global economy, and we all stand to lose.
European governments need to prepare for the worst. In the face of British posturing, I expect EU governments to remain calm and keep their unity. Attempts to pressure Ireland will be met by EU solidarity.
Brexit is a British decision and article 50 can be revoked at any time. But the negotiated withdrawal agreement, including the backstop to safeguard the Good Friday agreement, cannot be discarded.
A united Europe can be a bastion of the free world. Brexit is a waste of everyone's time. A no-deal Brexit is no way out.


Weak Pound, Weak Economy

Azad Zangana

The sharp fall in the pound in the wake of the 2016 Brexit referendum has not improved the UK trade position or boosted GDP growth.
Between the end of 2015 and the end of 2019 Q1, trade-weighted sterling fell 12%. The share of manufacturing in total value added and total employment stayed the same.
Since 2000, the UK share of global exports has fallen, yet trade-weighted sterling fell 29%. If sterling falls much further, the cost will be devastating.


Quantum Darwinism

Philip Ball

Quantum Darwinism (QD) can help reconcile quantum and classical physics. The classical properties of objects are selected from a menu of quantum possibilities in a process like natural selection.
Quantum superpositions pop in a noisy environment. But when two quantum objects interact, they entangle into a shared quantum state. As they go on to collide with other objects, the entanglement spreads, and the superposition becomes ever more diffuse. The superposed states no longer interfere coherently and appear to be replaced by a menu of distinct possible outcomes.
Decoherence explains why quantum behavior becomes hard to see in large systems with many interacting particles. It happens extremely fast. Quantum states that are robust in the face of environmental decoherence can be registered as the position of a pointer on a measuring device.
Pointer states are not scrambled by the interactions with the environment. This implies that the environment selects some states while trashing others. A pointer state is imprinted widely.
You see an object when photons deliver information to your retina. They carry information to you as partial replicas of certain aspects of the object. Lots of replicas are needed if many observers are to agree. We can observe a pointer state if it makes a big footprint in the environment. We measure fitter states that make more replicas in the environment.
This is QD.


Quantum Bayesianism

Donald Hoffman

We may all be wrong about the nature of the world. As scientists, we assume the world of objects in spacetime is objectively real. As evolved creatures, we can expect to perceive not the truth but only what pays off for our survival.
Natural selection has given us a simple user interface for a complex world. Physical objects, and the space and time they exist in, are nature's way of presenting fitness pay-offs in a handy form.
Our scientific theories tell us how the world works, presumably as an objective reality that exists outside our heads. But they hint at a mismatch between perception and reality.
Quantum theory defies our classical ideas that objects have definite properties, that those properties are independent of us, and that influences propagate no faster than light. This is no surprise if objects and their properties are data structures in our interface.
The Bayesian interpretation of quantum theory, or QBism, says the uncertainty inherent in quantum observations is all in our minds. Quantum states, and all the theory around them, are epistemic.
My collaborators and I are currently trying to explain how objective reality emerges from a vast network of interacting conscious agents and their experiences. We may be wrong.

AR Consciousness is emergent and continuous. The deeper truth is that we are all part of a single unfolding process of numinous universality. We are dimly conscious, each in our own way, of a brilliant truth.

  ★ ★ ★


Andy Ross

Omniscience is knowledge of everything, and today we see the Cosmos as embracing everything,
or at least everything that is not delusory. Cosmology, the science of the Cosmos, is our modern
analog of the old striving, as Stephen Hawking put it, to know the mind of God.
In 2006, I summarized my views on what we know about everything in the form of a slide show.
Today, the slides recall the struggles of a thinker still entangled in the mathematical obsessions of his youth.
The time was not yet ripe to fill out those insights except in a cryptic way.
This moves me to offer the present review. My plan is to quote the text from each of the 16 slides in turn,
under its structural heading, and then to answer the questions each text raises in paragraphs of new notes,
commenting, explaining, and adopting my present perspective.
The outcome should be to turn what began as a work of mathematical mysticism into a fruitful perspective
on the enterprise of science. A thinker who had not yet cooked his ideas down to a digestible form
is revealed as a pioneer, perhaps, of a new science of the Cosmos.

  ★ ★ ★

The Times

Sterling sank to $1.22
and €1.09 today

Das Leben der Anderen

European Parliament
European Parliament, Strasbourg

Westminster Parliament
Westminster Parliament, London

Nicola Sturgeon
"The right of the people
of Scotland to determine
their own future is a basic
democratic principle that
must be respected."
Nicola Sturgeon

99 days

His finest hour

New Rotary


Wie Boris Johnson die Briten
gegen Europa aufstachelt

Maths Chase
Free site where kids can
test their times tables
in a simple game
A fun way to
do math!


2019 July 31


Sahanika Ratnayake

Regular mindfulness meditation reduces stress levels and builds resilience. The arts of mindfulness cultivate a nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. The goal is to note whatever arises and let it pass.
Yet mindfulness has its critics. It oversimplifies the difficult business of understanding oneself. To understand why, we need to probe its grounding in a metaphysical denial of the self.
Our thoughts and emotions change rapidly, and physical sensations come and go in response to stimuli. Whatever the self is, it cannot be as ephemeral as these phenomena. Buddhists say there is also nothing else that could be the self, so there is no self. The phenomena are impersonal, and it makes no sense to say you own them.
With the no-self doctrine, we make it harder to understand why we think and feel the way we do, and to tell a broader story about ourselves and our lives. To explain why you think and feel the way you do, you need to see yourself as a distinct individual, operating within a certain context.
Mindfulness can be a useful tool in helping us gain some distance from the tumult of our inner experience. The problem is the tendency to present it as a panacea for all manner of modern ills.

AR The self is a logical construct: see Omniscience.


A Hard Fall

Katie Martin

Sterling has declined markedly since Boris Johnson took over as UK prime minister. He wrote in 2008 that a drop in sterling was "the definition of a national humiliation" and blamed the government of the day. If you are concerned about the falling pound, you can now blame Boris.
The harder the Brexit, the further the pound has to fall. It could sink to $1.

2019 July 30

Aggressive Brexit Courts Disaster

Maya Goodfellow

Johnson's new cabinet is a mix of Brexit true believers, xenophobia peddlers, and people who think workers' rights get in the way of economic growth. Trying to fend off the threat posed by Nigel Farage, Johnson and his cabinet seem determined to head even further to the right. They now pose as nationalists with little concern for what that might mean for UK unity.
Johnson's bullish approach to Brexit harks back to the days of empire. But imperial Britain was not as great as he would have us believe. Today, with its industry and its importance reduced, searching for a role in the global economy, Britain couldn't "go it alone" if it wanted to. In a diminished country still coming to terms with its imperial past, Johnson's government is dangerous.


Evil Frightful Ghastly Horror

Polly Toynbee

Standing in Faslane Trident submarine base, finger on the button, our prime minister's Brexit strategy is MAD, mutually assured destruction. His preposterously nicknamed "Brexit war cabinet" met for the first time on Monday. Every minister has been "turbocharged" to prepare for the great no-deal blitz in three months' time. The idea is to terrify the enemy.

2019 July 29

Ecology of Intelligence

Frank Wilczek

Physical platforms are a fundamental consideration in the future of mind and intelligence. They are at least as central to developments in artificial intelligence and the evolution of machines and machine learning as any cleverness in algorithms. A singularity is not imminent because there is still no sign of a technical platform for it.
I think there will be a long period of coexistence in an ecology of intelligence. Humans will become enhanced in different ways, and the integration will become more intimate as time goes on. Different kinds of intelligence will interact with each other for decades, on the timescale of human economic and political institutions.

AR This is persuasive. Humans are smarter than monkeys, but there are still monkeys in the world. The machines might think we're cute.


Bracing for Brexit

Matthew d'Ancona

Boris Johnson's new government is a reunion gig for the Vote Leave band that triumphed in the 2016 EU referendum. This is not a coup, but it is certainly a hostile takeover. This is politics by purge.
Dominic Cummings told the new cohort of special advisers their first loyalty is to Johnson and their primary objective is to achieve Brexit. The band aims to win, not to govern. Winning means getting the UK out of the EU by 31 October.
Sajid Javid has announced extra funding to prepare for Halloween, including one of the country's "biggest ever public information campaigns" to rebrand Brexit from a supposedly easy act of emancipation to a matter of civil defence.
This is a government bracing for a very bumpy exit. There is no statesmanship in any of this, only campaigning zeal and emotional commitment.

AR This is madness. The VL band has turned a negotiation with friends and partners into a hostile confrontation. Ban the bomb, ban Brexit.

2019 July 28

Two Tribes Go To War

Simon Kuper

Radical new tribes have become dominant in Britain and America. The tribal leaders are taking their followers on a wild ride.
The tribes are radicalizing their members. In America, every time Trump breaks another taboo, his tribe swears a communal blood oath.
In Britain, the Leave tribe has displaced the Conservatives. More Brits now identify as Leavers or Remainers than with any party or religion.
Leavers now say the only real deal for Brexit is no deal. Remainer rage only strengthens them. Doubters are traitors.


Churchill's Ghost

Ian Buruma

Winston Churchill's ghost still hovers over Washington and London. Like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson believes in his own nation first, sovereign and free. He and his band of Brexiteers still praise the Dunkirk spirit and bulldog defiance against the foe.
 In 1940, Churchill promoted Britain's special relationship with the United States.
In 1941, Churchill and Roosevelt drew up an Atlantic Charter that led to the United Nations.
In 1946, Churchill called for the creation of a United States of Europe.
The United States is a huge country, with a big economy, big military, and big resources. It can afford to indulge in bashing international norms. But the idea that Brexit Britain can exact favorable terms from much larger powers is a delusion.


First Tragedy, Then Farce

Niall Ferguson

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
Karl Marx

Marx might make the same point about Sir Winston Churchill and Boris Johnson. I have the sinking feeling we are about to witness the Monty Python spoof of Darkest Hour.


Das Leben der Anderen

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

AR I watched this award-winning 2006 movie last night and was greatly moved by the human drama, informed about Stasi perfidy, and impressed by the whole production.
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck wrote and directed it. He grew up in New York, Brussels, Frankfurt, and Berlin; is fluent in English, German, French, Russian, and Italian; studied for 2 years in St Petersburg, where he passed the state exam for teaching Russian as a foreign language; and studied in Oxford, where he graduated in PPE. He is 2.1 m tall, now 46 years old, and he lives with his wife and 3 children in Los Angeles.
That's what I call truly princely achievement.

2019 July 27

UK-EU Showdown

Jörg Schindler

Boris Johnson will no longer appease the EU. His people rejoiced when he first addressed them as leader with a threat to Brussels: Negotiate with us on our terms or take the blame for the consequences. "Do not underestimate this country," he shouted.
In a ruthless cabinet reshuffle, he kicked out all those who ever offended him or doubt his messianic agenda: "Believe!"
The new cabinet consists almost entirely of Brextremists. It does not even represent the 52% who voted Leave in 2016, but only the fraction who want it hard.
Johnson aims to cow the new Brussels leadership into reopening negotiations. He says the Irish backstop is dead. He knows he might fail.
He may be forced to call a general election. Voter anger at Brussels could secure victory. Johnson hopes thus to win for the Conservatives.

2019 July 26

Brexit Britain

Financial Times

Boris Johnson aims to turn the Tories into the Brexit party. His cabinet purge was the formation of a hardline pro-Leave government. Its goal is to deliver Brexit by October 31 with or without a deal.
Rattled by Nigel Farage, the prime minister is taking a punt on the future of his country. He is using from the start the language of the gambler: "People who bet against Britain will lose their shirts."
The verbal bravado is backed with hard actions. His new cabinet projects unity of purpose and ideological purity. Appointing Dominic Cummings brings in a freethinker ready for an election.
Johnson can go to the country on a no-deal ticket. But he would unite strong opposition against him. As the party of hard Brexit, Conservatives risk being reduced to an English nationalist rump.


High Performance Government

Dominic Cummings

Before the 2016 referendum, I and a few others knew that the systemic dysfunction of UK institutions and the influence of grotesque incompetents provided an opportunity for extreme leverage. Since then, after three years of government implosion, insiders refuse to ask basic questions about the reasons for this.
Political parties spend millions on spreading ideas but almost nothing on thinking about whether their messages and methods work. They do not even consider the timetable and process for turning an announcement into reality. Vote Leave was a bet on this proposition being right.
Scientists use dynamic tools to see what they are doing in real time, with immediate visual feedback and interactive exploration. Technologists work in environments designed around visualization, exploration, and investigation.
A NASA mission control room is set up so that controllers can see the data and models at different scales and preserve a common picture of what is important. The unified control center for the Large Hadron Collider is big and open and well equipped with powerful tools. But the UK cabinet room contains effectively no tools and remains practically as it was in 1914.
The Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBRA) is where British leaders meet to discuss crises. In COBRA meetings, aims and assumptions are unclear, no one uses advanced tools or models, discussions are often dominated by lawyers, and there is constant confusion between policy and politics.
Ministerial offices are also hopeless. The structure of submissions and red boxes is bureaucratic and slow. The whole approach reinforces the abject failure of the senior civil service to think about high performance project management.
A computer interface can be a cognitive technology. To master an interface requires internalizing the objects and operations in the interface as elements of cognition. An interface designer can invent new elements of cognition that enable new modes of thought.
We could create systems for British government leaders that integrate rooms equipped with cognitive interfaces and toolkits, data science support for rational decision making, and tournaments and teams to overcome groupthink and correct errors.
Vote Leave hacked the referendum. Such opportunities are rare. A crisis is a wave that can be ridden to change things.

AR UK mission control needs a new base. I recommend building it on the present site of Buckingham Palace and turning the Palace of Westminster into a museum. Let SAP supply interactive dashboards for COBRA and the ministerial offices and ask MPs and their staff to attend courses on data modeling and collaborative cognition.

2019 July 25

Do or Die

Matthew Parris

Boris Johnson means it about October 31, and he has boxed himself in by creating a cabinet that will destroy his premiership if he doesn't deliver. He has set his own time bomb ticking. And in Dominic Cummings, he has appointed his own literary executioner.


The New Churchill

Philip Stephens

Boris Johnson is summoning up the spirit of the Blitz.
Britain's new prime minister is a reactionary. With a worldview drawn from Rudyard Kipling's paeans to English exceptionalism, he mourns the loss of empire, rails against the nanny state, and thinks the French should be eternally grateful for being rescued in two world wars.
Johnson will whip up blizzards of bluster and bluff, but the idea that crashing out of the EU will put an end to uncertainty is a nonsense. Far from allowing a clean break, it will lead to years of complex and difficult negotiations to restore a sustainable relationship.
The Brexit struggle will shape politics for a decade.


Bluffer Johnson

Fintan O'Toole

Boris Johnson speaks fluent falsehood as his native language. But he deceives no one. Everybody knows. His party and media backers just wilfully suspend their disbelief.
The usual arc of a premiership runs from illusion to disillusion. Johnson cannot disillusion anyone, for no one is under any illusion that he is truthful or trustworthy, honourable or earnest.
His genius is to create complicity with the fiction known as Boris. He doesn't have to have any character because he is a character. His rise to power is the product of decades of performing the show called Boris Being Boris.
His brandishing of a kipper to air another Euro-infamy was camp self-parody. The performance is everything and the falsehood irrelevant. There is no more deception than there is at a pantomime.
Johnson believes he can get a great deal out of the EU by pretending he is happy to crash out without one. But bluffing only works if no one knows you are bluffing.

2019 July 24

Big Day in London

BBC News, 1900 BST

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made the following key appointments:

Sajid Javid
Priti Patel
Dominic Raab

Chancellor of the Exchequer
Home Secretary
Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State

AR Brexiteers all — this is a coup d'état.


Morning in Britain

Laura Kuenssberg

Boris Johnson's political inheritance has all the makings of a disaster. He has no Commons majority. There is no mandate from the general public. There are policy problems everywhere in sight. There are concerns on both sides in his own party: anxiety on one wing that he will pursue a rapid Brexit and hang the consequences; suspicions on the ERG wing that behind the Brexit bluff there's a metropolitan wet, who could betray them.

Tweet, 1000 BST:
One big appointment coming today — Dominic Cummings expected to be senior advisor to the new PM — Vote Leave chief moving into govt.

Cummings, 2019-03-27:
"Those of you in the narcissist-delusional subset of the ERG who have spent the last three years .. spouting gibberish about trade and the law .. were useful idiots for .. Remain for three years .. You should be treated like a metastasising tumour and excised from the UK body politic."


Boris Johnson

Financial Times

Rarely has an incoming premier appeared so unequal to the task. A man who did so much to lure the country into the minefield of Brexit must be trusted to plot a path out of it. If he botches his mission, he could become the last prime minister of the UK.
Boris Johnson has needlessly boxed himself in. He has set a hard deadline of October 31 to leave the EU — "do or die" — while ruling out any of the compromises. Tory backwoodsmen are egging him on to a hard Brexit.
Even if Britain crashes out of the EU with no deal, it will still need an agreement on its relationship with its biggest trading partner. No deal would require the government to return to the table, having undermined its economy and its negotiating position.
Johnson has chutzpah in abundance. He can only hope that he and his new team grasp the gravity of the moment. He has no right to pursue a no-deal Brexit without seeking a new mandate from the British people.


The British Trump

The Times

President Donald Trump: "We have a really good man who's going to be the prime minister of the UK now, Boris Johnson. Good man, he's tough and he's smart. They're saying Britain Trump [sic]. They call him Britain Trump. People are saying that's a good thing. They like me over there, that's what they wanted. That's what they need. He'll get it done. Boris is good. He's going to do a good job."


The Akratic

Fintan O'Toole

Akrasia means literally "not being in command of oneself" and is translated variously as weakness of will, incontinence, and loss of self-control. To Aristotle, an akratic is a person who knows the right thing to do but can't help doing the opposite. This is Boris Johnson to a tee.
Johnson has made a career of mendacity. The Daily Telegraph employed him as its Brussels correspondent between 1989 and 1994. Most of the time, the EU is immensely dull, so he had a plum job with little public profile. His genius was to seize on relatively inconsequential EU market regulations and inflate them into attacks by demented foreigners on the British way of life.
He invented a version of the EU as a gigantic Ministry of Silly Walks, in which crazed bureaucrats with huge budgets develop ever more pointlessly complicated gaits. In this theater of the absurd, it never matters whether the stories are true; what matters is that they are ludicrous enough to hit the sweet spot where prejudices are confirmed.
Johnson learned a great deal from Winston Churchill, his boyhood hero. Churchill was an unprincipled opportunist, a serial bungler, and a congenitally untrustworthy egotist. Therefore, only someone who has all of these qualities in abundance can become the new Churchill old England craves.
Most of those who support Johnson know very well that Brexit is the Titanic and that his actions will be to no avail. But if the ship is going down anyway, why not have some fun with Boris on the upper deck? When things are too serious to be contemplated in sobriety, send in the clown.

2019 July 23

Boris Johnson 2B Next UK PM

BBC News

Conservative party member ballot:
Boris Johnson 92,153 votes
Jeremy Hunt 46,656

Speaking at the Queen Elizabeth II centre in London, Boris repeated his mantra: "Deliver Brexit, Unite the country, and Defeat Jeremy Corbyn .. unfortunately it spells DUD ..
"We are going to energise the country. We are going to get Brexit done on 31 October and take advantage of all the opportunities it will bring with a new spirit of can do. We are once again going to believe in ourselves, and like some slumbering giant we are going to rise and ping off the guy ropes of self-doubt and negativity."

AR His rhetoric is his undoing.


German Pacifism

Jochen Bittner

The German federal republic turns 70 this year. Its national character includes a deep and abiding anti-militarism. From the start, responsibility for national security was outsourced to NATO.
Germans began to come to grips with the moral horror of the Nazi era. One conclusion was a deep aversion to military strength. Germans could never be trusted with the power to make war.
Germans like me spent our entire formative years in a permanent nuclear crisis. In school we learned how an arsenal of Soviet nuclear weapons could destroy us all within minutes, several times over. To us, war meant sudden and complete eradication.
The German Constitutional Court has approved foreign operations by German armed forces only as part of NATO, UN, or EU missions. Germany has only deployed troops a handful of times in a peacekeeping role and only recently increased its military budgets.
For Americans, this is hard to understand. Many in the United States see war as a force for good, at least in the right hands. A war to end crimes against humanity is a point of pride.
In Germany, war is always a shame, a sign of failure. The memory of war is linked to the collapse of civilization. All war is murder, and making the case for war is the argument of a murderer.
Germany has used its economic power to stand up to Russia, organize a response to the refugee crisis, and shepherd the continent through the Great Recession. Moralism has become the new nationalism. German pacifism is here to stay.

AR I too turn 70 this year.

2019 July 22


John Harris

Carl Benedikt Frey says we live in a time of deep economic disruption as new tech gives smart people the top jobs and pushes the rest into insecure and poorly paid work.
Technology is causing a global storm. In America, the socioeconomic middle has been shrinking away for decades. In the UK, manufacturing automation has lagged behind, so politicians say Brits are riding the storm, but resentment and rage is rising.
With no professional middle, affluence depends on social mobility. For most, the challenge is impossible. Empty shops are a constant reminder that automation is eating away at retail jobs supposed to replace those lost in manufacturing and heavy industry.
Technology is not a favored theme of the new populists. They talk about prosperity in terms of trade and institutions like the EU. They may resist change to protect jobs, but a better answer lies in social programs to protect people and teach new skills.
Frey: "The short run can be extremely disruptive. And it can last for a very long time."



Andrew Billen

In pastoral Darvell, a community of 300 people live in peace. Children breathe fresh air as they return from a swim in the lake. Craftsmen in a small factory work quietly on wooden nursery furniture. Old people enjoy home-reared pork sausages and Darvell-brewed beer.
The Bruderhof was founded in Germany in 1920. It has 3,000 members in 23 communities in five countries. Everything they do, they do for God. No one owns anything. Even clothes are issued from a central store. The Bruderhof forbid divorce and regard homosexual relationships as sinful, but married members are fruitful and multiply.
Once you are committed to the Hof, your life is no longer yours. The important decisions are made for you. Almost everyone will be told several times in their lives to pack up and move to another community, say in America or Germany. Your job is chosen for you. There are no televisions or computers in Hof homes, and few smartphones.
Leavers need years to integrate fully into mainstream society. A page on the Bruderhof website contains testimony from those who say their upbringing helped them in very different later lives.
My day at Darvell ends with the brothers and sisters around a campfire, thanking the good Lord for this beautiful day.

2019 July 21

Mad as Hell

Jonathan Lis

What is happening now in Britain goes beyond any previously conceivable limits of responsible or accountable governance. The harm to the national political fabric has been more catastrophic than even the most pessimistic Remainer could have contemplated. Viewed against the UK of just a few years ago, it is unbelievable.
Britain is now heading into crisis. Even conservative estimates suggest damage to the economy in all circumstances if the UK leaves the EU, contrary to everything campaigners promised. The damage to UK politics and society is even worse. A campaign billed as taking back control of democracy has become a systematic attack on it.
First the Brexiteers came for political opponents. Any prominent Remainer who dared question the legitimacy of the referendum was branded a traitor, an enemy of democracy, an elitist, a Remoaner, or a subverter of the will of the people. Brexiteers recast democratic opposition as opposition to democracy.
Then the Brexiteers moved on to the media, law, and administration. Journalists who spoke for the doubters were denounced, and anyone who pointed out the downside of Brexit was accused of talking Britain down. High Court judges were called enemies of the people and civil servants were lined up as scapegoats.
Now the process promoted as taking back control threatens to take it away from parliament. The government is pushing to force through a policy in defiance of MPs. To call this a democratic outrage is to understate the case. It would be a travesty unseen since the English Civil War.
British politics has gone mad. Brexit is a nationalist identitarian culture war.


Quantum Supremacy Is Coming

Kevin Hartnett

Quantum computers will solve problems that are practically impossible for a classical computer. They must first achieve quantum supremacy. A Google machine may do so later this year.
Quantum supremacy will be an earthquake in the field of theoretical computer science. It will violate the Church-Turing principle that a classical computer can efficiently perform any calculation that any other kind of computer can perform efficiently.
Supremacy can be demonstrated by random circuit sampling. The computer must correctly sample from the possible outputs of a random quantum circuit — a series of actions on a set of qubits.
A circuit that acts on 50 qubits entangles their states in a superposition of 250 possible states.
If you measure the qubits, the sea of 250 possibilities collapses into a single string of 50 bits.
Quantum computers can output a set of samples from the circuit with the correct distribution.
Engineers need to build big quantum circuits. Circuit size is determined by width, the number of qubits you start with, and depth, the number of times you change those qubits using logic gates. To achieve quantum supremacy, you need a circuit of 70−100 qubits with a depth of around 10.
Google is using superconducting circuits. These are solid state, they can be built with existing fabrication techniques, and they do very fast gate logic. But they have to be cooled to extremely low temperatures, each qubit has to be individually calibrated, and the error rate is high.
If Google achieves supremacy for a contrived task, the next step is to do something useful, to achieve quantum advantage.


The Lunar Legacy

The Observer

The decision to end the Apollo program that took a dozen US astronauts to the lunar surface disappointed many at the time. But once Americans had demonstrated their technological supremacy over the Soviets, the program had little purpose.
Many space engineers now believe the time is ripe for a return to the Moon. The timetables that once tracked the opening up of Antarctica now look like to those of the lunar missions being planned by space agencies. Armed with a new generation of advanced technologies, we are ready to start colonizing the Moon.
America is vigorously promoting its Lunar Gateway project. This will involve building a manned space station to orbit the Moon within the next few years. From there, astronauts will direct robots and automated craft that will set up radio telescopes, harvest minerals, search for ice and water, and study lunar rocks for use as building materials for a lunar colony.
In time, a craft will carry pioneers down to work on the lunar surface and live in the bases built by the robots. Activities will focus on the scientific study of the solar system and the operation of radio telescopes to probe deep space without the radio smog that limits astronomers on Earth. Future manned missions to Mars could also be prepared here.
NASA is keen to involve Europe, Japan, Canada and others in this undertaking. Humans will be able to restart the exploration and exploitation of space assets begun half a century ago by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. They have left us with a great legacy.


A Lunar Village

Jan Wörner

The Moon Village is a multipartner open concept. Apollo was done in a different environment, with competition as the driver. As the director general of the European Space Agency, I am in favor of also thinking about Mars, but I believe the Moon is the right way to go forward.
The Moon is a good playground for technology development. I had discussions with the Chinese, the Americans, the Japanese, the Russians, and all of them are looking to work together in the exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Apollo 11 — 50 years on
★ ★ ★ ★

Eagle, Moon

Apollo 11 lunar excursion module Eagle returns to command module in lunar orbit

2019 July 20


Matthew Walther

The first lunar landing was a feat of planning and logistics, a testament to the power of man's will, a Space Race victory,
and one of the most misunderstood events in the history of the world.
In practical terms, Apollo 11 was meaningless. To say that it represents the beginning of what will one day be the expansion
of humanity's horizons into outer space seems not only unlikely but inhuman. The lunar adventure yielded practically nothing
of scientific value that could not have been just as easily acquired by a robot.
The Moon landing was above all a triumph of our aesthetic sense. What Goethe began at Weimar in 1789 ended in August 1969.
Apollo 11 was the culmination of the Romantic cult of the sublime prefigured in the speculations of Burke and Kant, an artistic
juxtaposition of man against a brutal environment upon which to project his fears, his sympathies, his urge to transcendence.
The lunar landing was a performance, a space opera, a Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk that brought together the efforts of more
than 400,000 people, performed before an audience of some 650 million. It was a victory, as Armstrong said, not of Western
democratic capitalism over Soviet tyranny, or of America over the rest of the world, but for humanity.
Vladimir Nabokov: "I am puzzled and pained by the fact that the English weeklies ignored the absolutely overwhelming excitement
of the adventure, the strange sensual exhilaration of palpating those precious pebbles, of seeing our marbled globe in the black sky,
of feeling along one's spine the shiver and wonder of it. After all, Englishmen should understand that thrill, they who have been
the greatest, the purest explorers. Why then drag in such irrelevant matters as wasted dollars and power politics?"
Apollo is a work of art created for the ennoblement of our species.

AR Amen

Buzz Aldrin

50 years ago today: Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, photographed by Neil Armstrong

★ ★ ★ ★
1969 July 20 — Apollo 11


AKK Schlappe

Etwa 3/4 der Deutschen
bewerten die Ernennung von
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer
zur Verteidigungsministerin

Cosmic Confusion

A new way to measure
the Hubble constant
gets a new answer


FDP findet Annegret
Kramp-Karrenbauer als

AR Ich auch.



2019 July 19

"Send Her Back!"

The New York Times

Donald Trump has chosen to ground his politics and his presidency in fomenting racial hatred. At a rally on Wednesday, he smeared Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota as trafficking in "vicious anti-Semitic screeds" and went on to attack the three other freshman representatives, all women of color. He thinks this approach will win him another four years in the White House.

AR Find a hot button and jab at it until the crowds roar — tactic of demagogues everywhere.


No Way Out

Financial Times

UK public finances would deteriorate by £30 billion a year in a "relatively benign" no-deal Brexit scenario, says the Office for Budget Responsibility. The OBR was created in 2010 to provide independent and authoritative analysis of UK public finances.

AR Strike no-deal off the menu. Strike the fools who threaten it off the ballot paper. Such threats are no way to conduct negotiations with friends and partners.


Brexit and Europe

Ursula von der Leyen

A hard Brexit is a bad outcome for both sides. We have a good withdrawal agreement, which was negotiated properly in accordance with the red lines drawn by the UK government. We need to strive for an orderly Brexit.
If our British friends offer good reasons for an extension, I am open to listening to them. The way we carry out Brexit will determine our future relationship with our neighbor, the UK. Both sides have an interest in an orderly and good beginning to our future relationships.
On climate change, the worst-case scenario will come about if we don't act with determination, namely rapidly intensifying change with all its consequences. The clock is ticking, and we have to act. Polluting the environment has to come at a price. Compared to the rest of the world, our industry is already doing well at climate-friendly technology, but we have to get better.
On member states taking in refugees, I think we have to listen to the arguments. For example, the Poles make the justified point that they have taken in 1.5 million people from Ukraine.
My dream of a United States of Europe has become more mature and more realistic. In the European Union we have unity in diversity. That is something different to federalism. I think that is the right path.

AR My advice to the next UK prime minister: Revoke, Remain, Reconcile.

2019 July 18

Alliance Against Prorogation

The Guardian

MPs passed a backbench amendment aiming to block any attempt by a future government to prorogue parliament to ensure a no-deal Brexit by 315 votes for and 274 against.

Laura Kuenssberg: "The new rebel alliance in parliament has shown its strength."


Enriching the Queen

The Guardian

The Crown Estate, which manages the Queen's property portfolio, holds exclusive rights to lease the seabed around the British Isles for wind and wave power. Its profits go to the Treasury, which then sends 25% back to the royal household in the form of the sovereign grant.

AR Nice little earner there. No wonder she's so rich. This needs changing.


Advising the Queen

The Times

Retired Supreme Court Judge Lord Sumption says legal challenges to prevent Boris Johnson from suspending parliament to push through a no-deal Brexit would fail if the Queen agreed to a suspension requested by her prime minister. A committee of privy counsellors might advise her on the constitutional propriety of such requests.

AR Perhaps the Queen could earn her pay by saying no to Boris.


The Fate of the Universe

Anil Ananthaswamy

The expansion of our universe is accelerating: We live in a de Sitter spacetime. In 2003, Shamit Kachru, Renata Kallosh, Andrei Linde, and Sandip Trivedi (KKLT) came up with a complicated way to construct de Sitter spacetime from string theory.
String theory works at high energies. To describe a spacetime at lower energies, we must use string theory to find an effective field theory. The exact spacetime you get using the KKLT construction depends on how the extra dimensions of string theory are compactified and how electromagnetic fluxes thread through these geometries.
String theorists shows this can be done in at least 10500 ways, each giving a different de Sitter spacetime. The result is a multiverse in which every conceivable spacetime can exist.
Cumrun Vafa was unhappy with the KKLT construction. He asked whether all possible effective field theories can emerge from string theory. A string theory should outlaw effective field theories that fail to include gravity. Such variants should be relegated to a patch of the multiverse he calls the Swampland.
Vafa proposes that all effective field theories for a universe where dark energy is a cosmological constant belong to the Swampland. He suggests a dark energy density that decreases with time. But a gap between the results of two ways to measure the Hubble constant is explained only if dark energy density increases with time.
Vafa says weakening dark energy affects dark matter in string theory: "What that typically means is that a new dimension opens up. So it's a completely new universe, which is not describable in terms of the language of our current universe. A completely new phase takes over."

2019 July 17

Chinese Nationalism

Anders Fogh Rasmussen

China promised to preserve and respect the freedoms of Hong Kong citizens but exerts intense pressure on Taiwan and is strengthening its military presence in the South China Sea. Europe has been erratic in its dealings with China. EU foreign policy is based on values, and we cannot continue ignoring the fact that China bases its policies on a different set of values while its people seek rights we insist on for ourselves.


American Nationalism

Frank H. Wu

Billionaire investor Peter Thiel asks whether the Chinese government has infiltrated Google AI research teams or senior management and if the Chinese steal information. Google and other US technology firms rely on Chinese immigrants and Chinese American engineers. Instead of fearing Chinese Americans will help China in achieving global dominance, Americans should inspire them to support the United States.

2019 July 16

EU-Parlament stimmt für von der Leyen

Der Spiegel, 1945 MESZ

Ursula von der Leyen hat die Wahl zur EU-Kommissionschefin für sich entschieden.

AR Ich gratuliere die Dame!


Alternative for Germany

Melanie Amann, Ann-Katrin Müller

The far-right "Flügel" of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is gaining ground. Members who once opposed the wing and its leader, Björn Höcke, are beginning to embrace them.
AfD parliamentary group head Alice Weidel has long since come to terms with the Flügel and with Höcke. Flügel representatives and friends of Höcke, like Götz Kubitschek, are asking how they can turn her into an ally.
Weidel is walking on the path toward extremism that AfD party leaders Jörg Meuthen and Alexander Gauland have already taken. The Flügel is now established in the AfD mainstream. Former opponents in the AfD, such as Beatrix von Storch, have grown quiet.
Weidel does not respond to criticism of the Flügel. Kubitschek: "She has long known that the party can't shake off Björn Höcke and his network without incurring damage, and that Höcke plays a necessary instrument in the AfD concert."
Weidel will even give a lecture at the next Flügel summer academy in Schnellroda. Kubitschek: "Her lecture ought to be perceived as a gesture within the party. They have more in common than what separates them."
Weidel: "As parliamentary group leader, I am rightly being asked to respect a certain principle of neutrality."
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution has been monitoring the Flügel since the beginning of the year. The office says its Identitarian movement violates the constitution. Identitarians claim to offer a more modern version of right-wing extremism, although the AfD has formally distanced itself from them.
The Flügel has become more professional and organized. Its members no longer aim to lead the AfD and prefer to stay in the background. Kubitschek: "In the long run, it must be possible to bring the AfD into a form in which it can conduct negotiations and make policy."


British Nervous Breakdown

Tim Lott

I believe Britain embarked on its journey toward national nervous breakdown in the decade from 2000 to 2009.
The magnitude of the change was not understood at the time. The sudden growth of the internet, the unleashing of social media, and the accompanying change in our consciousness all had negative effects as well as positive ones.
The first camera phones seemed to be gimmicks. No one predicted the rise of image-sharing sites. And handheld personal computing seemed benign. Now we live in our own personal techno-bunkers. Social media exposed deep rifts in society as a new ideal world, more seductive and unrealistic than anything in previous advertising and marketing, made our real lives seem meaner and poorer.
In that decade, our understanding of mental health was growing. A seismic shift was taking place in the way we understood the mind and its workings. Mental health became part of the mainstream conversation. Old issues that had been suppressed or denied were acknowledged. British mental health professionals reported a big growth in psychic problems.
All this changed the psychic substrate in Britain. We cannot judge it yet, but a mass change in consciousness is taking place. People are living online lives unlike any others in human history.
All this began in the first decade of the 21st century.


Fast Radio Bursts

New Scientist

FRBs are milliseconds-long bursts of powerful radio waves that come from the depths of space. Many source mechanisms have been proposed but none fits perfectly. Most FRBs appear only once, but three appear to repeat, so these cannot come from one-off events like neutron star collisions or supernovas. Vikram Ravi calculates that the rest probably don't either and most are repeaters.

AR Some ask: Intelligent radio transmissions?

Apollo 11

50 years ago today: Apollo 11 lifts off, bound for the Moon

AR Thanks to Wernher von Braun for the Saturn V booster

Miriam Adelson

Exit from Brexit


2019 July 16

Farming on Mars

The Guardian

The harsh environment on Mars makes growing food there a daunting prospect, but we can crack the problem by laying sheets of material over the surface to prepare it for farming. Aerogel sheets can create a greenhouse effect by trapping solar energy to warm the ground and melt enough buried ice to keep plants alive. Future spacefarers can create fertile oases beneath the sheets.

Enabling Martian habitability with silica aerogel via the solid-state greenhouse effect
Robin Wordsworth et al.

Large areas of the surface of Mars could be made habitable to photosynthetic life by creating a greenhouse effect. Under Martian environmental conditions, a 2−3 cm thick layer of silica aerogel will transmit sufficient visible light for photosynthesis, block hazardous UV radiation, and raise temperatures underneath it permanently to above the melting point of water.

2019 July 15

US Firedog

The New York Times

President Donald Trump woke up on Sunday morning, gazed out at the nation he leads, saw the dry kindling of race relations and decided to throw a match on it. He fired off a Twitter rant goading Democratic congresswomen of color to "go back" to the country they came from, even though most of them were actually born in the United States. He plays with fire.


UK Poodle

The Times

Boris Johnson wants to make resetting relations with President Trump one of his first acts in Downing Street by travelling to the United States to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal. International trade secretary Liam Fox says undertaking any agreement before the UK leaves the EU would be in breach of international law.

2019 July 14

Book of Trump

USA Today

President Donald Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Miriam Adelson, the Israeli‑American wife of GOP mega donor Sheldon Adelson, in November 2018. She now says: "Would it be too much to pray for a day when the Bible gets a Book of Trump, much like it has a Book of Esther celebrating the deliverance of the Jews from ancient Persia?"


UK Leak Scandal

The Sunday Times

The chairman of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party was last night embroiled in the Darroch leak scandal as it emerged that he is in a relationship with the writer whose story brought down the UK ambassador to Washington.


Vassal State UK

Simon Tisdall

The idea that a Boris Johnson premiership will restore US-UK relations to good health is facile.
Theresa May went out of her way to appease Trump. He repaid her by mocking her over Brexit.
Trump is probably not a fascist. But his America First chauvinism makes him an unsuitable partner.
Britain risks becoming a vassal state of Trump America. The Darroch affair is a timely warning.


Ship of Fools

George Walden

Brexit backers voted not so much on the EU or on austerity as in protest at migration.
As a result of Brexit, non-EU immigrants are outnumbering Europeans still further than before the vote. As this reality dawns on a poorer country faced with a growing burden on public services, extremists will find ways to exploit the backlash.
The conservative mind has ceased to function. That the Times has endorsed Boris Johnson as national leader is a measure of its desperation. When a pop-up political party led by a friend and admirer of Donald Trump and apologist for Putin triumphs in elections, we should be worried.
As they drone on about the sacred will of the people, the drivers of our Brexit suicide lorries represent a privileged elite who stand to suffer least if national decline follows. They know that practical issues drove people to vote Leave, yet they invest Brexit voters with higher motives.
The average English voter yearns to stop the music and go back to where we were, when we enjoyed minimal global competition and splendid isolation, and could smile down on the world from our island fastness. Johnson's appeal relies on patriotic nostalgia and the illusion of effortless ascendancy. His supporters want to leave our chaotic globalised world and be somewhere else.
The ship of English fools, captained by an egomaniacal amateur, is about to sail.


Hubble Trouble

Leah Crane

We had two ways to measure the expansion of the universe, described by the Hubble constant.
The two methods always returned clashing results. Now, a third independent method has confirmed the problem. If both old ways are correct, we may need to revise our cosmology.
One way we measure the Hubble constant is by using the CMB. This tells us how fast the universe was expanding at 12 Ts ABB. We can then calculate how fast it ought to be expanding now.
The other main way is using a distance ladder. We measure the distance to Cepheid variables, link those distances to nearby supernovas, and use supernovas to link distances with redshifts for galaxies. This method measures an expansion rate more than 9% higher than the CMB method.
The third measurement uses gravitational lensing. As a distant quasar changes in brightness, there is a time delay between when that change shows up in each image. We can use the time delay to measure the distance to the quasar. With the redshift, this measures the Hubble constant.
The new measurement boosts the distance ladder method, which is based on more complex and less established physics than the CMB measurement, with a confidence level of 5 sigma.
Maybe both measurements of cosmic expansion are correct. Does the Hubble constant vary?

AR I see no particular reason why the Hubble constant should be constant.

No Boris

boris-noris adv. going on
blindly, without thought
to risk or decency
A Glossary of the
Dorset Dialect

"Idiots! Running, boris-noris
into the ditch, without a
thought of the morrow."
Ann Beale, 1878

AR Thanks to Green MEP
Molly Scott Cato
for this.

F-35A: $90 million a pop

Jedi War Cloud

The Pentagon is set to award a
$10 billion "war cloud" contract
to a US technology company.
Amazon and Microsoft are
competing for the chance to
build the Joint Enterprise
Defense Infrastructure
(JEDI) AI system.

Zeit der Zauberer
Meine Rezension


2019 July 13

Lost the Plot and Adrift

Gideon Rachman

"The greatest alliance the world has ever known" was how Donald Trump described the US-UK relationship during his state visit to Britain. Now Trump has denounced the British ambassador to Washington as a "pompous fool" and forced him out.
Boris Johnson recently endorsed Trump's paean to the historic significance of the US-UK alliance. He feels he must appease the US administration. For hard Brexiteers, the great benefit of leaving the EU is that it will free Britain to make new trade deals, with a US deal as the biggest prize of all.
Trump has dangled the prospect of a "phenomenal" new trade deal with America, but politics will hinder it. US demands will include opening up the UK food and healthcare markets. The UK can reduce tariffs, but a hard border in Ireland will antagonise the Irish-American lobby in Congress.
Britain seems to have lost the plot. For almost 50 years, British foreign policy has been based on the twin pillars of a special relationship with the US and membership of the EU. Without those pillars securely in place, Britain is adrift.


Looking Out for a Hero

Rory Stewart

No deal is a phrase vague enough to seem democratic, even though most people are against it, and to seem patriotic even though it is against the best traditions and interests of the UK. The centre ground is not simply a midpoint between extremes but a reality. It can be held in a way populism cannot. Britain cannot be saved by a superhero.


Boris-Noris Brexit

Richard Drax

As a country, we stand at the cusp of a new beginning, one where we take back control of our destiny after more than 40 years. Boris Johnson has made it crystal clear that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal. At this critical moment in our nation's history, we need his infectious optimism.
This confidence in our own country will turn the tide in any future negotiations. We want a fair deal that respects free trade but does not embrace a political project we did not sign up to. Johnson and a new team, who believe in Brexit, will have a far better chance of securing such a deal.
The paralysis must end if we are to restore our reputation and standing in the world, and self-belief back home. We found the right leaders in 1940 and 1979 in Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher; now it's time for the next one.

AR Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax (Harrow, Sandhurst, Coldstream Guards) is the Conservative MP for South Dorset, the constituency directly southwest of Poole.

2019 July 12

American Defense

Jessica T. Mathews

American defense spending crowds out funds for everything else.
Expressed as a percentage of GDP, defense spending is roughly 3−4%. But the valid measure of affordability is its share of the federal discretionary budget. Defense spending now accounts for almost 60% of this budget.
Understanding the recent ups and downs of the defense budget is complicated by the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, meant to cover the costs of fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only way to see the actual cost of maintaining and using the military is to consider the OCO and the Pentagon base budget together.
Under the Trump administration, the budget soared to $700 billion in fiscal year 2018 and $716 billion this year, with a proposed leap to $750 billion for FY 2020, for a total increase of more than $100 billion since Trump took office.
The United States spends more on defense than the next eight largest spenders combined — China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, Britain, Germany, and Japan.
Americans are allocating too much to defense.

AR Trump America is on course to take on the rest of the world in a military showdown. This looks likely to fail. Britain can either go down with America or win with the rest of the world.


America First

Edward Luce

Donald Trump's firing of Sir Kim has already warped Boris Johnson's plans.
Johnson has ceded control over UK decision-making to Trump. He will have to embrace the no-deal Brexit he aims to avoid so that Trump can dictate a US-UK trade deal.
Trump's goal is to bring about a transactional world in which each country fends for itself. That suits his idea of the natural order of things when America First is on top.
Trump has launched a commission on "unalienable rights" and Mike Pompeo says rights should be based on "natural law" — code for biblical morality and dog eat dog.

AR Does Johnson want to play poodle to Trump?

2019 July 11

American Ambassador Affair

Patrick Wintour

The resignation of Sir Kim Darroch followed the failure of Boris Johnson to say he supported him staying in post. Darroch naturally concluded he had no future as ambassador. It is pretty clear that the political purpose of the leak was to get Darroch replaced by a true Brexiteer.


Boris Brexit Bluster

Financial Times

Boris Johnson claims the EU will swerve at the last minute to avoid a no-deal Brexit and offer him better withdrawal terms.
Former UK ambassador to the EU Sir Mark Ivan Rogers says a no-deal Brexit is likely to lead to "disruption on a scale and of a length that no one has experienced in the developed world in the last couple of generations .. We are dealing with a political generation which has no serious experience of bad times and is frankly cavalier about precipitating events they cannot then control but feel they might exploit."
A recent poll showed 54% of Conservative members would be willing to see the Conservative party destroyed as the price for delivering Brexit and 63% would accept Scotland leaving the UK as the price, whatever the impact on the British economy. Most members think the warnings of chaos are overdone and expect Brexit to be delivered on time.
Johnson: "I think people are yearning for this great incubus to be pitchforked off the back of British politics."


Colony Claim Confused

Priyamvada Gopal

Boris Johnson has spoken of Britain's supposed "colony status" in the EU and yet also believes that it would be good if Britain were still "in charge" of Africa. Some Brexiteers stress the need to teach the British empire, but their preference is for mythology over history. History shows there is nothing especially British about values such as tolerance, freedom, human rights, or democracy.


Dame Defends Deal

Ursula von der Leyen

I hope the UK will remain in the EU, but I do not intend to renegotiate the withdrawal deal. I think the Irish backstop is of utmost importance. We know how crucial a nonexistent border is for the Irish. Having the backstop in the Brexit deal is precious, important, and has to be defended.


Exit Execution Ends

Rafael Behr

Since June 2016, Britain has been trying to process a one-word instruction, leave, that cannot be executed by the political operating system. Brexit is an inexecutable file. Boris Johnson will soon be staring at the blue screen of death. British politics is heading for a hard reboot.

2019 July 10

The Mathematical Universe

Manjit Kumar

Einstein's search for unified theory of electromagnetism and gravitation using only his imagination and mathematics left him increasingly out of step with younger colleagues. They were busy exploring the new vistas of particle and nuclear physics opened up by experiments that eventually led to the Standard Model.
There were precedents for Einstein's attempt. Isaac Newton had demonstrated that the force that pulls an apple to the ground also keeps the planets in their orbits. And James Clerk Maxwell unified electricity and magnetism — and light — in electromagnetism.
Einstein's mathematical approach has been embraced by theoretical physicists in the pursuit of a theory of everything. Superstring theory interprets particles as little oscillating bits of string. The different levels of vibration of these strings in 10 dimensions correspond to the different particles. Theorists found five different string theories, but Ed Witten unified all five in M-theory.
In the past, experiments played a vital role in developing theory and vice versa. Wherever data can be coaxed out of nature, it suffices to corroborate or refute a theory and serves as the sole arbiter of validity. But where experimental evidence is spare or absent, the interplay with mathematics has led to advances in physics.


Quantum Trajectory Theory

Philip Ball

Early quantum mechanics was a probabilistic theory, telling us only what we will observe on average if we collect records for many events or particles. The theory seemed to work only for ensembles of many particles. For a large ensemble, we can use statistics to check the predictions.
Quantum trajectory theory (QTT) is compatible with the standard formalism of quantum mechanics but gives a more detailed view of quantum behavior. The standard description is recovered over long timescales after the average of many events is computed.
QTT deals precisely with single quantum events as they are happening. By applying QTT to an experiment on a quantum circuit, researchers recently captured a switch between two quantum energy states as it unfolded over time. They caught a jump in midflight and reversed it.
A quantum measurement influences the system being observed. The act of observation injects a kind of random noise into the system. The uncertainty in a measurement reflects the randomizing effect of observation.
Quantum back-action can be thought of as an imperfect alignment between the system and the measuring apparatus. Normally, an observation of a quantum system overlooks a lot of potentially available information. But if almost everything is measured and known about the system, you can build feedback into the measurement apparatus to make continual adjustments to compensate for the back-action.
For this to work, the measurement apparatus has to collect data faster than the rate at which the system undergoes significant change, and it has to do so with nearly perfect efficiency. Essentially all the information leaving the system and being absorbed by the environment must be measured and recorded.
A quantum trajectory is a path taken through the abstract space of possible states of the system. QTT describes how observations of the way the system has behaved so far affect that path, then predicts what it will do in the future.


⦿ Ute Zscharnt for David Chipperfield Architects
Museum Island, Berlin
Ode to Joy

Boo Brexit

Anne Widdecombe
⦿ AW
Brexit MEP Anne Widdecombe
trials hard Brexit fashion

Ursula von der Leyen
⦿ UvdL
Ursula Albrecht, 1976

Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der Leyen
likes to ride horses


2019 July 9

Brexit and Trump

James Blitz

HM civil service has long been a respected part of the UK system of government. Civil servants are politically impartial and speak truth to power. But the excitement of Brexit has led to attacks on Whitehall's top mandarins.
The latest attack is the leak of confidential dispatches written by UK ambassador to the US Sir Kim Darroch. Brexiteers are calling him "pro-European" and "anti-Trump" in an attempt to discredit him.

AR Another shameful sign that Brexit Britain is sinking fast.


Britain and Brussels

Boris Johnson, 2013

If we left the EU, we would have to recognise that most of our problems are not caused by Brussels, but by chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills, a culture of easy gratification, and underinvestment in both human and physical capital and infrastructure.
Why are we still, person for person, so much less productive than the Germans? That is now a question more than a century old, and the answer is nothing to do with the EU. In or out of the EU, we must have a clear vision of how we are going to be competitive in a global economy.

AR The best thing I can recall Boris ever having said.

2019 July 8

UK Crisis Forecast

Jonathan Lis

The UK is heading for a political crisis. Boris Johnson intends to take the UK out of the EU by Halloween, do or die. A majority of MPs are opposed to a no-deal Brexit.
The EU will not renegotiate the deal. Johnson prefers to leave without a deal than revoke Article 50. He will not request a new extension.
Conservatives will announce their new leader on July 23. May will resign on July 24. MPs will begin their summer recess on July 25.
Case 1. Labour seeks to stop a no-deal Brexit before the recess begins. Other parties and Tory rebels support the vote. The Queen is dragged in if the Commons does this before she invites Johnson to form a government. An immediate election ensues.
Case 2. Parliament returns in September and Johnson goes for no deal. Parliament will not support him. Johnson will not survive.
Case 3. Johnson secures an extension. But he cannot tell moderates he will secure a deal and tell the ERG he will go for no deal. The hardliners will bring him down if he betrays them. Johnson will lose a confidence vote and his government will fall.
Case 4. Johnson fails to get an extension. If parliament votes to revoke Article 50, Johnson will not last the rest of the week.
Case 5. Johnson prorogues parliament. The Queen is dragged in. An immediate election ensues.
A crisis will trigger either an election or a referendum or both.


An Alternative Parliament

Rory Stewart

If Boris Johnson presses ahead with a no-deal Brexit by seeking to prorogue the Commons, an alternative parliament could defy him by continuing to sit elsewhere. I would work with colleagues to organize another parliament across the road. That is what happened in 2002 when Tony Blair tried not to have a vote on the Iraq war. MPs were invited to Church House, and Blair backed down.
When Johnson was foreign secretary and I was a junior foreign minister, I remember I had been pushing our ambassadors to be much more brutally honest about failure and the weakness of British positions in their countries and he said: "Rory, I used to captain rugby teams and that is not how you do it. You say to them: It is great, we can do this .. You have got to build their morale and make them feel pumped up and feeling it's going to be great. The more they say it is going to be great, the greater it is going to be."
International trade negotiations are not like a rugby match.


Britannia Unchained

John Harris

Seven years ago, in a manifesto titled Britannia Unchained, five Conservative MPs said Brits need to "stop indulging in irrelevant debates about sharing the pie" and instead to double down on austerity and keep the faith in free markets.
Lots of trailblazing, libertarian tech people see big tech companies as malignant concentrations of power. The internet's big players have been through their unregulated, disruptive phase. We are now in a period of damaging effects on society.
The EU has been in the forefront of conversations about what to do about the internet giants. Yet some Tories scoff at any claim that all this activity is about protecting consumers and innovators, insisting instead on defending the free market.
Come the autumn, Britain may well face penury. We will be told to unchain the tech, finance, and food industries' offshore playground. Such are the uplands of freedom offered by a party that seems to have lost its moral bearings.

2019 July 7

Iran Breaks Out

The Guardian

Iran breaks the terms of its nuclear deal again by announcing plans to enrich uranium beyond the levels allowed under the 2015 agreement.
Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi says Iran will produce uranium at 5% enrichment. He says Iran has called time on diplomacy.
Iran revealed its first breach of the deal last week, announcing that it was stockpiling low-enriched uranium beyond the 300 kg limit allowed.
Sanctions are damaging the Iranian economy. Oil exports are about 300,000 barrels per day, compared with 2.5 million barrels in April 2018.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's adviser on international affairs Ali Akbar Velayati says officials are unanimous on breaking out.
The US military is building up its forces in the region.


Trump Presidency "Dysfunctional"

Mail on Sunday

UK ambassador to the US Sir Kim Darroch used secret cables and briefing notes to say the White House is "uniquely dysfunctional" and that the Trump presidency could "crash and burn": "We don't really believe this Administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept."
A letter to UK national security adviser Sir Mark Sedwill sent on June 22, 2017, copied to senior figures in government, ran to six pages of unflattering observations about the President's character and political record:
"I don't think this Administration will ever look competent .. President Trump radiates insecurity. [We could] be at the beginning of a downward spiral, rather than just a rollercoaster: something could emerge that leads to disgrace and downfall."


Trump Trials Fascism

Fintan O'Toole

We are in a phase of trial runs for fascism.
Donald Trump understands of test marketing. He created himself in the gossip pages of the New York tabloids, where celebrity is manufactured by planting outrageous stories you can confirm or deny later. He recreated himself in reality TV where storylines are adjusted to max the ratings.
Fascism arises slowly in a democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs to get people used to something they may initially recoil from, and then refine and calibrate.
Fascism starts with building up tribal identities and rigging elections. Fascists typically come to power with minority support and then use control and intimidation to consolidate that power. Most people can hate you as long as your minority is fanatically committed. A propaganda machine creates an alternate universe for the fans.
The next step is to undermine moral boundaries, inure people to acts of cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery. Fascists do this by building up the sense of threat from despised outsiders, who can then be dehumanized.
This next step is being test-marketed now. Trump is seeing how his fans feel about crying babies in cages. His claim that immigrants "infest" the US is a test of whether his fans are ready to hear "vermin" as they see images of toddlers dragged from their parents.
Fox News mouthpieces outdid themselves in barbaric crassness, even describing crying children as actors. Fox sees the manipulative behavior of strangers coming to infest us. Most Republicans are in favor of this brutality.
The blooding process has begun.

2019 July 6


Costica Bradatan

The core idea of democracy is simple: As members of a community, we should have an equal say in how we conduct our life together. All adults are free to join in, and no one is free to enjoy the unchecked power that leads to arrogance and abuse.
History demonstrates that genuine democracy is difficult to achieve, and once achieved, fragile. In totalitarian regimes, whenever power is used and displayed, the effect is profoundly erotic. The Triumph of the Will shows people experiencing a sort of collective ecstasy.
Genuine democracy is not erotic. It aspires only to a certain measure of human dignity. Ancient Athenian democracy devised two institutions to contain its flaws:
 Sortition: They appointed public officials by lot. Elections allow some people to assert themselves, arrogantly and unjustly, against others.
 Ostracization: When a citizen was becoming too popular, they voted him out of the city for ten years, to prevent his unchecked power.
Democracy is hard to find in the human world. Most of the time we see it as a remote ideal rather than a fact. We may never get it, but we cannot afford to stop dreaming of it.


The Road to Brussels

Der Spiegel

Ursula von der Leyen took a seat on the podium in the parliamentary group chamber of the European People's Party (EPP) in Strasbourg. She turned to console Manfred Weber, the man on her left, in German. She then switched to French and spoke about her childhood in Brussels and her father. Switching to English, she discussed her years in California.
Many parliamentarians are not amused by her sudden nomination. The CDU government minister was handpicked by European leaders in a confidential meeting. The EU lead candidate system was left by the wayside.
French president Emmanuel Macron had mentioned Ursula von der Leyen for a top EU job on several occasions. Shortly before Macron's election, she had said: "Macron is a convinced, engaged champion of the European idea who will strengthen the European family and lead it into the modern age."
Macron had seen her work as defense minister. Since 2017, she has been driving the largest German-French defense project yet, a new European fighter jet. Despite plenty of resistance, she pushed on. She last ran into Macron at the International Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, where a signing ceremony for the project was held.
At midday on the Monday of the EU summit, her name was little more than a test balloon from Macron. By Tuesday morning, Germany and France had settled on nominating her for Commission president and Christine Lagarde for ECB president. Merkel and Macron met with Donald Tusk and Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez. They agreed on the new personnel package.
Dr von der Leyen's political future looks rosy once again. Her defense ministry has been in the headlines for months due to massive cost overruns, a series of mechanical difficulties with government aircraft, and a parliamentary committee investigation into potential nepotism and malfeasance among her close advisers. She has improved the German military, expanding its cyber capabilities, making it more attractive to women, modernizing its processes, and increasing its budget, but those successes have not improved her image as defense minister.
Dr von der Leyen is well qualified for the position of European Commission president. She will enter the confirmation process with the support of European leaders. Yet she lacks the full support of her own government. German Social Democrats says they will reject her candidacy, German conservatives are concerned that the parliamentary vote will be secret, and the Greens say she must offer them a Commission post.

2019 July 5

European Commission Presidency

Andy Ross

European Council President Donald Tusk has asked the European Parliament to approve the appointment of Ursula von der Leyen as the next president of the European Commission.
Mrs von der Leyen is the daughter of Ernst Albrecht, a senior German politician who worked in the European Commission from 1958.
When she was an undergraduate at Göttingen, the police advised her father, then prime minister of Lower Saxony, to move her away, as some students at the university were linked with the Baader-Meinhof gang and the RAF. She spent the year 1978/79 at the LSE, where she called herself Rose Ladson — the name of her American great-grandmother — to avoid detection.
On London: "For me, coming from the rather monotonous, white Germany .. London was the epitome of modernity: freedom, the joy of life, trying everything. This gave me an inner freedom that I have kept until today."
Later, she switched to medicine, was awarded a doctorate in Hanover, and practiced as a gynecologist. She then studied and worked for four years in medical administration in Stanford University, California, before returning to enter German politics.
As a minister in Angela Merkel's government, Ursula is an enthusiast for European integration. In 2011, she called for a United States of Europe.
Since 2013, she has served as the federal German defense minister. Last December, she was called before a parliamentary committee to answer charges over the handling of defense contracts. The Bundestag is holding hearings into whether her office circumvented public procurement rules in granting contracts to private firms.
She is opposed to Brexit, describing the prospect as a "burst bubble of hollow promises .. inflated by populists" and a loss for everyone.
On Brexit: "I know .. the British are always self-reliant. The Germans tend toward over-enthusiasm in European affairs, the French to emotion .. The British ground all this with their skepticism, their understatement and their great pragmatism. When the British leave the EU, the high-blown will dominate, and the union could lose its grip, so we need the British."
Ursula is descended from a wealthy merchant family in Bremen. Her husband Heiko von der Leyen is a medical professor and CEO of a medical engineering firm. They are Lutheran Christians and have seven children.

A few milestones
1958   Born and raised Ursula Albrecht in Brussels
1976   Undergraduate in Göttingen
1978   Studied economics in London for a year
1980   Studied medicine in Hanover
1986   Married Heiko von der Leyen (now 7 children)
1991   Awarded doctorate in medicine/gynecology
1992   Worked in Stanford, California
2001   CDU member of regional assembly in Hanover
2003   Minister in Lower Saxony government
2005   Minister in German federal government
2013   Federal minister of defense (still in office)
2019   President of the European Commission (?)

Independence Day 2019

⦿ Erin Schaff / The New York Times
US Navy Blue Angels roar over Lincoln Memorial and the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" blares to end President Trump's speech.

AR God rained on Trump's Independence Day parade.

Apollo 11

AR Excellent
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

final scene

⦿ Chris Saville


2019 July 4

UK 2019: Down

Olesya Dmitracova

Conservative party leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt admits that a no-deal Brexit could cause almost as much economic damage as the 2008 financial crisis, which led to a severe recession and put 2.7 million people out of work.
Credit rating agency Moody's: "We believe that, without an agreement, the UK economy would likely enter a recession. The British pound, which has already weakened since the Brexit vote, would come under renewed pressure."
UK government estimate: A no-deal Brexit reduces GDP by between 6.3% and 10.7% over 15 years.


UK 2020: Out

Martin Kettle

Later this month, will the new prime minister stand on the Downing Street doorstep and announce an embarrassing compromise? Unless he does, and negotiates an extension beyond 31 October, no deal is not an option. It is automatic.
The UK will be in trouble. The Conservative party will sink modern Britain in order to save its own skin from the Brexit party. No one voted for this in 2016. It would surely be better to remain in the EU than to have to rejoin.

AR The End of Days scenario is nigh.

2019 July 3

Obesity tops smoking as cause of cancer

The Times

Being overweight now causes more cases of four common cancers than cigarettes. A Cancer Research UK study reveals that excess weight is a bigger cause of bowel, kidney, ovarian, and liver cancer than tobacco. About 15 million adults in Britain (29%) are obese and 6 million (14%) are smokers.


Boris Johnson pledges to bin sin taxes

The Times

Boris Johnson undermined one of his cabinet supporters last night by pledging to drop an obesity policy being championed by health secretary Matt Hancock. The Conservative leadership contender announced he would order a review into the sugar tax and veto proposals to extend it to milkshakes.

AR Looks like a rather dire collision of headlines.

2019 July 2

Europe: Next Leaders

The Guardian

European leaders choose German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission, Belgian prime minister Charles Michel to replace Donald Tusk as president of the European Council, and IMF head Christine Lagarde to take over from Mario Draghi as head of the European Central Bank.


Laconia Motorcycle Week

Josh Wood

American bikers hail their commander-in-chief. Images of Trump on a motorcycle, in a leather jacket, rifle in hand, under a halo of words: Finally someone with balls — Talk shit, spit blood — Trump 2020 the wall is coming
For a week every June, Weirs beach, Hew Hampshire, is transformed into biker boulevard, hog heaven. The language is foul. The wardrobe is leather. Engines, music loud. Booze flowing. Tents sell chaps and vests with gun pockets. Daily wet T-shirt contests.
Trump: "I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don't play it tough until they get to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad."

2019 July 1

The Bimby Manifesto

The Sunday Times

When the Prince of Wales unveiled Poundbury in Dorset, the critics called it fake and heartless, a feudal Disneyland, and a Thomas Hardy theme park for slow learners. But it succeeded: Its 1,700 homes command a 29% premium over similar ones nearby.
Now the Prince's Foundation has launched Housing Britain: A Call to Action. This manifesto says that if planners, builders, landowners, and government follow its template, "nimby" will be replaced by "bimby" (beauty in my backyard).
Charles: "I have long believed that for communities to prosper, they require a built environment that provides good-quality homes that are planned as walkable, mixed-use and mixed-income neighbour­hoods, with integrated affordable housing that is as well designed as the rest. They also need a range of local services accessible by public transport, green routes and natural places that are enjoyable and safe for cycling, and, above all, a local identity that fosters pride and a sense of belonging, and has character and beauty."
The foundation's newest planned town, Nansledan in Cornwall, is taking shape, with 4,000 homes planned and 230 built so far.

Housing Britain
 Consign the monocultural housing estate to the past.
 Insist on beauty at the beginning of planning and impose quality controls on large builders.
 Offer low rates and rents to start-ups.
 End car-centric design. Make pavements at least 2 m wide, with lower kerbs for pedestrians.
 Slow traffic by placing a public space or change in building line every 60−80 m.
 No more towers: bring back mansion blocks and mid-rise developments.
 Incentivise landowners to design and build a better longer-term legacy.
 Build more flats and maisonettes above small employers to encourage social vibrancy.
 Empower smaller developers and different housing investors to create diverse communities.
 Place affordable housing seamlessly among other types and keep it affordable in perpetuity.
 Find ways to save and repurpose historic buildings.
 Make use of fast-track factory fabrication.
 Create green spaces and access to nature to boost physical and mental health.
 Include bee bricks, bird boxes, and edible planting.

AR Seems good to me.

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