BLOG 2019 Q4
Total eclipse

⦿ Jon Carmichael
Sun, Moon, Earth

33 days

The Benedict Option

As secular values take over
American life, many Christian
families are opting out of
mainstream society.
Rod Dreher calls it a retreat
from a new dark age:
"We're at the end of some-
thing important and profound,
and the beginning of some-
thing new and chaotic."

Solar eclipse
Annular solar eclipse
over Asia and ME

Love EU

Keep America

Black hole


2019 December 31

Tempest in 2020

Financial Times

UK plans to develop a new stealth fighter jet will accelerate in 2020. Team Tempest — BAE Systems, the UK arm of Leonardo of Italy, European missile maker MBDA, and Rolls-Royce — have one year from today to complete their plan.
BAE Systems strategic campaigns director Andrew Kennedy: "We have to give the government confidence we are working towards a viable international partnership."
Tempest is the centrepiece of RAF combat air strategy after the UK was left out of a rival Franco-German future fighter project. It will replace the Eurofighter Typhoon, which will start to be retired from RAF service in about 2040.
Since Tempest was unveiled in summer 2018, Italy and Sweden have joined the team, while Spain has committed to the Franco-German fighter. Executives in both projects admit there will be pressure to merge the two projects.
The UK combat air sector made up over four-fifths of UK defence exports over the past decade.

2019 December 30

Trump Law

Noah Feldman

Donald Trump's impeachment marks just the third time in history that a POTUS has had to face trial in the Senate.
The first article of impeachment against Trump alleges that he "abused the powers of the Presidency" in that he "solicited the interference of a foreign government" in the 2020 presidential election and concludes that he "thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification" from future government service.
The charge of abuse of office for personal gain fits neatly into the sense of high crimes and misdemeanors familiar to the framers ligence effectively proves that there was a quid pro quo.
Trump abused his office merely by requesting the "favor" he mentioned in the telephone call. His defenders can say he did not seek personal advantage when he solicited the investigations and was concerned about corruption in Ukraine. This defense is unconvincing. If Trump sought personal advantage in the form of the announcement of the investigations, then his act of soliciting them was ipso facto an abuse of office. It does not matter that he could conceivably also have had a broader public interest in fighting corruption.
The second article of impeachment charges Trump with obstruction of Congress. If Trump's abuse of office for personal gain is the epitome of the conduct feared by the framers, his outright refusal to cooperate in any way with the House impeachment inquiry would almost certainly have taken them by surprise.
As a matter of basic constitutional logic, the only thing the House of Representatives can do when faced with presidential refusal to cooperate in impeachment is to impeach the president for that same act of obstruction.
If Trump is reelected after having been impeached, he may see himself as above the law.

2019 December 29

Science Under Attack

Brad Plumer, Coral Davenport

The Trump administration has diminished the role of science in federal policymaking and halted or disrupted research projects nationwide.
Political appointees have shut down government studies, reduced the influence of scientists over regulatory decisions, and pressured researchers not to speak publicly. The administration has challenged scientific findings related to the environment and public health opposed by industries such as oil drilling and coal mining.
Each year, the Trump administration proposes sweeping budget cuts at major federal agencies as the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation. Many top government appointees are former industry lobbyists. As regulations on industry are rolled back, officials begin questioning research findings.
At the EPA, political appointees often overrule EPA career experts. Staffing has fallen to its lowest levels in a decade, and the agency has cut academics from its science advisory board in favor of industry appointees. A proposal to limit regulators from using research unless all the data can be made public could prevent the EPA from using work based on confidential health data.
University of Texas at Austin law professor Wendy Wagner: "When we decapitate the government's ability to use science in a professional way, that increases the risk that we start making bad decisions, that we start missing new public health risks."
National Park Service scientist Patrick Gonzalez aims to protect national parks. He testified before Congress about the risks of global warming and co-authored a UN report on climate change. Shortly after testifying, his supervisor sent him a cease-and-desist letter.
Gonzalez: "I saw it as attempted intimidation."

2019 December 28

Nuclear Fusion

Clive Cookson

UKAEA is working on nuclear fusion reactors based on the tokamak design that holds a deuterium− tritium plasma in a toroidal reaction vessel with electromagnets while raising its temperature above 100 MK so that the nuclei fuse and release energy.
The UKAEA Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP), for which the government announced £220 million public investment last month, is a commercially driven project to construct a power plant by 2040.
A small British company, Tokamak Energy, aim to develop working commercial nuclear fusion reactors by 2030. Its SP40 reactor has heated plasma to 15 MK and its target is to generate fusion power by 2025 to go commercial by 2030. Investors have put £50 million into the company.
Another small British company, First Light Fusion, is pioneering a novel approach. It aims to initiate fusion by firing a hypersonic barrage of small copper projectiles into a tiny capsule containing deuterium and tritium. First Light expects to demonstrate early in 2020 that the system can work. Investors have put £25 million into the company.
UKAEA is assisting in the design and construction of ITER, a big fusion machine built by a global consortium of governments in southern France. Beset with delays and cost overruns — the current estimate is $22 billion — ITER is now set to start operating in 2025.
UKAEA chief executive Ian Chapman: "We will have fusion."

2019 December 27

Biology in 2019

John Rennie

Life and death
Researchers working on the isolated brains of pigs dead for hours reanimated the tissues well enough for the neurons to conduct electrical signals. Other cells in tissues on the path to dying return to life in a process called anastasis.

Brain maps
Our brains compile mental maps of our surroundings and our place in them. They use the same hexadirectional grid system for encoding relative positional information to keep track of abstract ideas and to order events in a memory timeline.

Attention and perception
Attention seems to point more mental resources at one sliver of our perceptions to concentrate on it, but in fact the brain focuses attention on part of its sensory field by filtering out the signals for the other parts. The brain screens out stimuli deemed less relevant and speeds up perceptions by anticipating likely stimuli.

The human genome
Human DNA from living people and from ancient populations show that modern humans did not migrate out of Africa just once 60,000 years ago but moved in and out of Africa many times. People today carry some Neanderthal DNA, and Neanderthals picked up more DNA from their ancestors.

Complex eukaryotic cells appeared when prokaryotic host cells and symbiotic partners inside them formed a union. As the endosymbionts became organelles like mitochondria, their genes were absorbed into the host genome. Symbiosis made the cellular partners interdependent and led to compartmentalized functional structures.

In an embryo, cells learn what kind of tissue to become by reading the concentrations of morphogenetic chemical signals around them. They decode the information from the signals with optimum efficiency to maintain control over their physiology.

2019 December 26

Science Made Progress

Laura Spinney

This was the decade that that reminded us science is just a method. It can be more or less rigorously applied, sabotaged, overrated, underrated, and ignored.
Physicists detected phenomena predicted long ago — gravitational waves, the Higgs boson — indicating that they are on the right track. NASA probes found towering ice mountains on Pluto and organic chemistry on Mars and a moon of Saturn. And thousands of exoplanets were discovered in the past 10 years.
Biologists honed an immunological defence mechanism found in bacteria, Crispr-Cas9, into a powerful gene-editing tool. They added several new ancestors to the human family tree and discovered traces of others. Very old DNA revealed that every person alive today is the product of multiple waves of migration.
Science was commandeered by all kinds of people with axes to grind. White supremacists held milk-chugging parties in America, supposedly designed to smoke out people of non-European heritage who can't digest lactose. Hindu nationalists claimed that the speakers of the original Indo-European language hailed from the Indian subcontinent.
Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui used Crispr to edit the genomes of twin girls — the first humans born with edited DNA they can pass on. Genetic testing is becoming mainstream. The first vaccine against Ebola was approved. Fear of vaccines has led to a global resurgence of measles.
Science funding has been slowly increasing in the world's richest countries. We should be glad to have the scientific method.


Die Zauberflöte

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

This new production of Die Zauberflöte was staged at Glyndebourne by the director/designer duo Renaud Doucet and André Barbe in the summer of 2019. They freely updated it to a Viennese hotel in the early 1900s. Caroline Wettergreen stars as the Queen of the Night, while Ryan Wigglesworth conjures the sound of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

AR A charming production and a joy to experience last night on BBC4.

2019 Christmas Day


Pope Francis

God continues to love us all, even the worst of us. You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you.

AR Loving our leaders is hard work.



HM the Queen

The path, of course, is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a difference. [..] By being willing to put past differences behind us and move forward together we honour the freedom and democracy once won for us at so great a cost.

AR HM obviously prefers UK-in-US over UK-in-EU. Hm.



Nouriel Roubini

The United States and China have made a deal to prevent further escalation of their bilateral trade war. The deal is a temporary truce in a strategic rivalry. America regards the rise of China as a threat to its economic and national security.
The Sino-American relationship is shifting. Unfettered strategic competition will lead eventually from an escalating cold war to a hot war. Alternatives to a cold war involve cooperation in some areas and constructive competition in others.
Managed strategic competition with China requires engagement and cooperation with other countries. Western countries need to enact economic and political reforms. But the current US administration lacks strategic vision.



Stefan Bielik

The new British government looks familiar to many Europeans. The Conservatives have pledged to look at the broader aspects of the constitution, including relations between the three branches of government. This parallels events in Poland and Hungary.
The EU limits constitutional meddling in Hungary or Poland. Their governments are too scared that Brussels may cut their funding and too aware of the huge popularity of EU membership to risk censure. The UK is now free from this sort of concern.
Britain is no longer special. Its government is starting to look like just another European autocracy. Institutions that run on gentlemen's agreements and convention are even more prone to abuse than those in central and eastern Europe.

2019 Christmas Eve


Paul Krugman

Many conservative American politicians only pretend to be Scrooges, when they're actually much worse — not mere misers, but actively cruel. This was true long before Donald Trump moved into the White House. What Trump has brought to his party is a new willingness to be openly vicious. We'd be in much better shape if Trump and company were merely heartless misers.



Donald Trump

I never understood wind. I've studied it better than anybody I know.
I know windmills very much. They're noisy. They kill the birds. You want to see a bird graveyard? Go under a windmill someday. You'll see more birds than you've ever seen in your life.
They're made in China and Germany mostly. But [when] they're manufactured [the factories emit] tremendous fumes. Gases are spewing into the atmosphere.
You know we have a world, right? So the world is tiny compared to the universe. So [a] tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything.
You talk about the carbon footprint, fumes are spewing into the air, right? Spewing. Whether it's in China, Germany, it's going into the air. It's our air, their air, everything, right?
You see all those [windmills]. They're all different shades of color. They're like sort of white, but one is like an orange-white. It's my favorite color, orange.
You know what they don't tell you about windmills? After 10 years they look like hell. They start to get tired, old.

AR Hail the Commander in Chief.

2019 December 23

A Culture War in the UK

Clare Foges

A culture war is convulsing the UK. Some say only the Conservative party will stand against the direction many wish to lead us in. If Labour wants to govern again in the next decade, those vying to lead the party must pay attention.
Consider how far we have come in the last decade. People who are still biologically male will soon be able to enter female hospital wards or prisons. The University and College Union says a person may self-identify as whatever race they choose.
Such stories have divided the UK into two camps. On one side we have the woke warriors, on the other the silent majority. The silent majority blame snowflakes for every liberal excess, the woke see racist gammons behind every injustice.
Life for many in the UK is made harder on account of their sex or race or sexuality. Where there is genuine bigotry and bullying, it must be confronted. But objective truth and biological fact should not be shoved aside.


A Golden Decade for Physics


 Seeing a black hole
      In April 2019, astronomers released the first-ever picture of a black hole. The image reveals
     the supermassive black hole and its shadow at the center of galaxy M87.

      In 2018, neutrinos were caught in the Antarctic IceCube detector. The neutrinos were traced
     to a galaxy with a supermassive, rapidly spinning black hole at its center, known as a blazar.

Water worlds
      In 2017, NASA announced new evidence that the most likely places to find life beyond Earth
     are Jupiter's moon Europa or Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Big collision
      In 2017, two neutron stars in a nearby galaxy were seen spiraling around each other until they
     collided, emitting gravitational waves. The kilonova forged and scattered heavy elements.

Gravitational waves
      In 2016, astronomers observed the gravitational waves from when two black holes merged.

The Higgs boson
      In 2012, LHC scientists announced the discovery of the Higgs boson. This was the last missing
     piece in the Standard Model of particle physics.

Thousands of planets
      Since 2009, the NASA Kepler mission has discovered 2,681 exoplanets in our galaxy. Up to half
     the stars we can see may have small, rocky, Earth-size planets within their habitable zones.

AR This is part of a longer golden age for science.


Midsommar teaser trailer

Boris Johnson
His Brexit bill was
"oven ready"

Euler equations

Du/Dt = −∇w + g
∇·u = 0


2019 Winter Solstice

The Church


Catholicism in Europe broke down extended kin-based institutions and encouraged a nuclear family structure.
The Church transformed European kinship structures during the Middle Ages. People from western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) populations tend to be more individualistic, independent, and impersonally prosocial, while revealing less conformity and in-group loyalty.
Diverse kin-based institutions have been the primary structure for organizing social life in most societies. With the origins of agriculture, cultural evolution increasingly favored intensive kinship norms related to cousin marriage, clans, and co-residence that fostered social tightness, interdependence, and in-group cooperation.
People's motivations, emotions, and perceptions are shaped by the social norms they encounter while growing up. Within intensive kin-based institutions, their psychological processes adapt to the collectivistic demands of their dense social networks. Intensive kinship norms reward greater conformity, obedience, and in-group loyalty.
Countries with longer historical exposure to the Church are more individualistic and independent, less conforming and obedient, and more inclined toward trust and cooperation with strangers. By 1500 CE, Europe was dominated by relatively independent and isolated nuclear or stem families.
Weird psychological patterns have been influenced by Church policies and institutions.

AR For a vivid depiction of a pagan European society in action, see the movie Midsommar.

2019 December 21

Europe Faces 2020

Luke McGee

Brexit has been a big headache ever since the UK voted to leave in 2016. In that time, the EU had to turn away from its other problems. Its member states are ignoring the rule of EU law, deviating from its standards on human rights, and denying press freedom.
In Poland, the national supreme court has warned the governing Law and Justice party that its proposed judicial reforms could get Poland booted out of the EU. The proposed reforms ignore the EU requirement that courts act independently of government.
In Hungary, the prime minister has presided over a decade of assaults on the national courts, academic institutions, central bank, and press. Croatia, Greece, and Bulgaria face criticisms of their tight press controls. Europe faces a crisis over trust on values and law.
EU members are overseen by the European Court of Justice. National courts are expected to respect European law. But the EU is a small bureaucracy that depends on national judges and national civil servants and cannot interfere directly in national domestic politics.
Eurasia Group director Mujtaba Rahman: "Brexit was a team-building exercise where the EU could demonstrate how united they were. But it was really something of a cover to disguise how little they agree on the bigger challenges facing the continent."

2019 December 20

Brexit: MPs Back Bill

BBC News, 1435 UTC

MPs vote by 358 to 234 to back Boris Johnson's Brexit bill to leave the EU on 31 January 2020.


Britain: A Lost Soul

BBC News, 1149 UTC

Wera Hobhouse, the German-born Lib Dem MP for Bath, is a passionate defender of the EU. She concedes the "battle for Brexit is over" but says her opposition to leaving the EU has not melted away. On a personal level, she says she "feels different about the country" she calls a "lost soul" after the events of the past few years, and adds that the "relentless rhetoric and hostile environment" over freedom of movement has caused "deep wounds" that will not heal easily.


Greed Is Dead

Paul Collier

Economic Man was greedy, lazy, and selfish. He only worked if incentivized by material benefit. His baleful influence destroyed job satisfaction.
Economic Man is a travesty. Economic theorems describe how a society of psychopaths could function. Real human beings have evolved for morality and ethical behavior.
The human capacity for social learning has expanded the stock of knowledge transmitted through culture and education. People of high status spread behavior via their opinions.
Emulation amplifies our hardwired prosocial instincts. The most prestigious figures in a group are commonly modest and generous, so others emulate modesty and generosity.
Economic and technological shocks have created big winners whose behavior is influential. These winners turn into Economic Men whose repellent norms prevail.
CEOs became Economic Men. They claimed moral superiority with values that alienated fellow citizens. Socially purposive business conflated purpose with profit.
Economics linked rationality with selfish greed and told CEOs to take pride in these values. Economics must become a human science.


Fluid Singularities

Kevin Hartnett

The Euler equations describe an idealized fluid. Information about points in a fluid, including velocity and vorticity, forms a velocity field. Feed the equations with an initial velocity field, and they predict how it evolves over time.
The equations do not describe a real-world fluid. They include several nonphysical assumptions, such as incompressibility and zero viscosity. Under some circumstances, the equations blow up and predict singularities.
Tarek Elgindi considered a simplified model. Consider a tank of water with two thick rings of water at opposite ends, like eddies or whirlpools. When the rings approach each other, they attract, and the inner parts of the rings pull with greater force than the outer parts.
The rings elongate like funnels. As their centers get closer, their speeds increase until they crash. Elgindi proved that the Euler equations predict infinite vorticity at the point of collision.

AR No big surprise.

HM the Queen delivers a speech to parliament about what her government will do for the second time in 10 weeks.

AR This is a workplace for political leaders. Protestants disdain such historical bling even in a place of worship.
I recommend a wholesale update of British politics.

King Trump


3 nations
Brexit Britain

The Observer
US dysfunction in Afghanistan

Feynman diagram


2019 December 19

UK Funding Crisis

Financial Times

The British armed forces face a funding crisis that threatens to ground aircraft and restrict support deployments. A critical shortfall in the 2020 defense budget of about £1 billion is exacerbated by financial commitments such as the F-35 fighter jets and the new fleet of Astute-class submarines.

AR Post-imperial overreach. Face facts, cut the crazy cost commitments, and admit the UK no longer punches above its weight. Dump the boxing metaphor and commit instead to becoming a peace-loving union of nations that seeks only friendship and harmony with its neighbors.

2019 December 18

Trump Impeached

The New York Times

On Wednesday evening, the House of Representatives impeached the president of the United States. A magnificent and terrible machine engineered by the founders, still and silent through almost all of American history, has for only the third time in 231 years shifted into motion.
The nihilism of this moment — the trashing of constitutional safeguards, the scorn for facts, the embrace of corruption, the indifference to historical precedent and to foreign interference in US politics — is due principally to cowardice and opportunism on the part of Republican leaders.
Republican lawmakers competed with one another to invoke the most outlandish metaphor of evil — from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ — and suggest that Trump is enduring even worse.

Trump Sick Note

The New York Times

President Donald Trump wrote a six-page letter to House speaker Nancy Pelosi protesting the impeachment proceedings. Here is an annotated copy.

We Are Republicans, and We Want Trump Defeated
George T. Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, Rick Wilson

Patriotism and the survival of our nation in the face of the crimes, corruption and corrosive nature of Donald Trump are a higher calling than mere politics. As Americans, we must stem the damage he and his followers are doing to the rule of law, the Constitution and the American character.


Tory Problem

Daniel Finkelstein

The problem with the Tory alliance in this election is that it depends on groups that will shrink with time — older, whiter and less qualified than tomorrow's population. Maybe the right decision is to appeal as the party of open markets and liberalism and an outward looking, educated middle class, helping the vulnerable by making Britain prosperous. Maybe that is the future.

AR Daniel was offering advice to Labour, but the "right decision" applies more aptly to his fellow Conservatives, who should reconsider their misconceived opposition to the EU.



European Space Agency

Cheops lifted off from the ESA spaceport at 09:54 CET on 18 December. Signals from the spacecraft at 12:43 CET confirmed the launch had succeeded.

2019 December 17


European Space Agency

The ESA Characterising Exoplanet Satellite Cheops is the first mission dedicated to studying bright nearby stars that are already known to host exoplanets. It will focus on planets in the super-Earth to Neptune size range, and will make high-precision observations of their size in order to derive the bulk density of these alien worlds.
The mission is scheduled to launch today from the ESA Kourou site in French Guiana. A Soyuz-Fregat launcher will put the satellite into a Sun-synchronous, dusk-dawn orbit 700 km above Earth. The satellite is 1.5 m in size, with a mass of 280 kg and a 1.2 Gbit/day data downlink.


Nuclear Power

Steven Pinker

When we think of nuclear power, we immediately think of Chernobyl. In the Chernobyl accident, 31 people died and several thousand or maybe even ten thousand people died of cancer. But coal kills well over half a million people every year by causing respiratory ailments or cancer.
We underestimate how many people die when a dam breaks, or who fall from roofs while installing solar cells. Nuclear power is the safest source of energy we have that can also supply large cities with energy day and night.
Humans have difficulties dealing with risks. We prefer to eliminate a single small risk entirely rather than reduce overall risk. We see that with the fear of flying, where we issue increasingly stringent safety regulations for aircraft. But the chance of dying in a car is much higher per km traveled.
Obstacles to the final disposal of nuclear waste are more political than technological. Part of the waste can probably be reused in next-generation reactors. Global warming will pose a much greater threat to our children and grandchildren than our nuclear waste.

2019 December 16

UK Democracy

Electoral Reform Society

AR UK prime minister Boris Johnson won the election with a "thumping" parliamentary victory.
Yet relative to 2017, the Lib Dem vote rose by 1.3 million, the Labour vote fell by 2.6 million,
and the Conservative vote rose by only 304,000.
Votes per MP in 2019:


Lib Dem




I live in a sham democracy.

2019 December 15

Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

President Donald Trump abused the power of his office by strong-arming Ukraine to help him influence the 2020 election. When caught in the act, he rejected the very idea that a president could be required by Congress to explain and justify his actions.
From the articles of impeachment: "President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law."
Trump has been committing arguably impeachable offenses since the moment he entered the Oval Office, including his acceptance of foreign money at his many businesses and his obstructions of justice in the Russia investigation.


The Battle for Europe

Timothy Garton Ash

Leaving the EU will cause the UK to be weaker and poorer, as well as wrecking it as a unified state.
Under Boris Johnson's deal, Northern Ireland will be in a different economic and legal space from England, Scotland, and Wales. NI will probably remain constitutionally part of the UK for some time, but it will become ever more integrated with the republic of Ireland.
Scotland voted as emphatically for the SNP as England did for the Conservatives. Nicola Sturgeon will press for Scotland to leave the British union and rejoin the European one. Obstructing a second Scottish referendum will make Scots more likely to vote for independence when they can.
A final dissolution of the union is not inevitable. But now is the time to start fighting the battle of England. An independent England can be a strong European country.
The battle to keep the UK in the EU is lost. The battle for a European England has only just begun.

AR The UK is toast. Long live England.


The Virtue of Nationalism

Yoram Hazony

Nationalism is not some unfathomable political illness that periodically takes over countries for no good reason and to no good end. It is a principled standpoint that regards the world as governed best when nations are able to chart their own independent course, cultivating their own traditions and pursuing their own interests without interference. This is opposed to imperialism, which seeks to bring peace and prosperity to the world by uniting mankind under a single political regime.

AR Nationalism is a kind of imperialism. Any nation includes minorities, regions, dissidents, and so on, all of whom find only token expression in a typical national polity. Ethnic and linguistic divisions are the most reliable national identifiers, but few modern nations carve anywhere near those joints.
My own idiolect and genome are unique. I see no reason to accept rule by otherwise endowed potentates in a distant capital city that does not bind me also to accept rule from other cities in other ways. The nation that accommodates me is just one among many nations on Earth. All of them contribute in their own ways to defining my unique identity.
Rationality rules, not nationality.

2019 December 14

A New Trade Era

Peter S. Goodman

Getting Brexit done marks a profound change in the world trading system. A new trade deal between the United States and China is another mark of a new era.
President Trump imagines the scale of the US economy gives him the advantage in any bilateral trade negotiations. He thinks multilateralism is for suckers. For him, America First means weaponizing international trade.
Chinese leaders see trade hostilities as part of an American campaign to suppress their national aspirations and deny the country its rightful place as a superpower.
Brexit Britain aims to at secure bilateral trading arrangements with major economies worldwide. But Britain sends nearly half of its exports to the EU. No new trade deals are likely to compensate for walking away from the European single market.
The rise of nationalist imperatives is driven by public anger over widening economic inequality. In Britain, the 2016 referendum that triggered Brexit became a protest vote against the bankers whose financial crisis led to a decade of austerity.
Economists see perils in this unfolding era. It is the biggest upsurge of economic nationalism in generations.

AR This may be a necessary — but painful — phase before the globalization of politics we need to regulate big corporations, the internet, the global legal and fiscal order, the human response to the climate crisis, and the development and release of cultivars.


Crime Warning

Edward Luce

A Warning, a book by Anonymous, relates how Donald Trump reacts to anyone trying to keep a record of meetings. "What the fuck are you doing?" the US president asks. "Are you fucking taking notes?" Staffers take this as a sign that he is about to ask his lawyers to do something unethical. It is a regular event in the White House.
Crime In Progress, by Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, is the most convincing case you are likely to read that the US president is an asset of the Russian government. Robert Mueller chose not to look into Trump's taxes, his ties with Russian money, or allegations of money laundering, yet recorded more than 140 contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Commissioned in 2015, Fusion GPS found Trump had done business with 25 individuals or companies with documented mob ties over the years. The length of his litigation record dwarfed anything they had ever seen. Trump owed the revival of his commercial fortunes to a "conduit of cash from the former Soviet Union into his various stumbling enterprises" — much of it thought to have come from Russian banks close to the Kremlin.


Black Holes Warm Active Galaxies

Charlie Wood

Active galaxies make surprisingly few stars. As their hot clouds radiate X-rays, their gas should cool and clump together, forming stars. It seems the supermassive black holes in the galaxies warm the gas via long jets expelled from the poles of the holes.
Yuan Li and her team found evidence that turbulence spreads the jet energy. Turbulence occurs when bigger swirls break up into smaller swirls in a cascade that passes energy down to particle level. It can explain how active galaxies keep warm.


Spin and the Laws of Nature

Natalie Wolchover

The laws of physics largely dictate one another through their mutual consistency. Consider how elementary particles with different amounts of spin, or intrinsic angular momentum, can consistently behave. We rediscover the four fundamental forces of nature.
A particle's spin reflects its underlying symmetries. A spin 1 particle returns to the same state after being rotated by one full turn. A spin 1/2 particle must complete two full rotations to come back to the same state, while a spin 2 particle looks identical after half a turn. Elementary particles can only carry 0, 1/2, 1, 3/2 or 2 units of spin.
Spins constrain simple particle interactions. Momentum must be conserved. Locality dictates that particles scatter by meeting in spacetime. Unitarity says the probabilities of all possible outcomes add up to 1. These conditions on the equations lead to solutions.
The photon is the massless spin 1 particle of electromagnetism. For such a particle, the equation describing four-particle interactions has no viable solutions. Photons do not scatter off each other, but they can participate in interactions involving other types of particles. These constraints lead to Maxwell's equations.
Gluons convey the strong force. They are also massless spin 1 particles, but they come in multiple colors. Gluons can satisfy the four-particle interaction equation and self-interact in glueballs. Constraints on the self-interactions lead to quantum chromodynamics.
Mass arose when a symmetry broke and the value of the Higgs field went from zero to a positive number. Massive spin 1 particles called W and Z bosons convey the weak force.
For spin 2, the solution to the four-particle interaction equation looks beset with infinities. But the interaction can go three different ways, and the infinities cancel, permitting a solution.
The graviton is a spin 2 particle that couples to itself and all other particles with equal strength, leading to the equivalence principle of general relativity.
Symmetry constraints on particle interactions explain the existence of the strong and weak forces and the forces of electromagnetism and gravity.
Many different spin 0 particles are possible. The only known example is the Higgs boson. Hypothetical spin 0 particles called the inflaton may have inflated the universe.
Spin 1/2 particles make up what we call matter. Our universe contains both spin 1/2 quarks that interact with gluons and photons and spin 1/2 neutrinos that interact with neither.
The spin spectrum stops at 2. Spin 3/2 particles exist only if supersymmetry is true.

AR Spin is important.



Boris Johnson


2019 December 13

Conservative Duty

Financial Times

The Conservative landslide vindicates Boris Johnson's strategy of going all-out for a new Brexit deal, then building his campaign around delivering it. He now has a decisive mandate to take the UK out of the EU on January 31. His majority frees him from being held hostage by the ERG and the DUP. He has an opportunity to pivot and pursue a closer future relationship with the EU. He should take it.

AR I await his Damascene conversion eagerly.


Labour Collapse

Polly Toynbee

Labour was disastrously, catastrophically bad. Jeremy Corbyn should have gone before dawn. He is a man without any qualities required of a leader. He did the UK profound, irreparable harm. Had he led his party and the unions against Brexit, Remainers could have won the 2016 referendum.

AR Labour has lost its heart and soul.


Lib Dem Error

Philip Collins

Leavers should thank Jo Swinson. It was only when the Liberal Democrats decided to abandon the Remain alliance, which had Boris Johnson trapped in parliament, that his election became possible. Her policy to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit without a second vote was a mistake.

AR Her reward was to lose her seat.


Local Results

Daily Echo

The count for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole was held at Bournemouth International Centre.
The result was a clean sweep for the sitting Conservatives:
 Sir Christopher Chope MP for Christchurch
 Tobias Ellwood MP for Bournemouth East
 Conor Burns MP for Bournemouth West
 Michael Tomlinson MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole
 Sir Robert Syms MP for Poole

AR Politics in Dorset are almost feudal.


German View

Jörg Schindler

From his first days in office, he lied to his country and his queen. He reacted to opponents in his party by throwing them out. He ridiculed parliament and threatened the media.
Now he promises the people pie in the sky. And the people voted for him. Boris Johnson has triumphed in a way no Brit has triumphed since Margaret Thatcher in 1987.

AR After the 1987 election I moved to Germany.

People's government

⦿ Dylan Martinez / Reuters
Boris Johnson on the last day of his election campaign



2019 December 12

European Green Deal

Ursula von der Leyen

Humanity faces an existential threat. Forests burn from America to Australia. Deserts are advancing across Africa and Asia. Rising sea levels threaten our European cities as well as Pacific islands. Science tells us we are running out of time.
The European Green Deal will cut emissions while also creating jobs and improving our quality of life. It will drive new economic opportunities. We will deliver a sustainable European investment plan, supporting €1 trillion of investment over the next decade.
The European Green Deal is a contribution to a better world.


About Time

Carlo Rovelli

Loop quantum gravity (LQG) aims to combine general relativity (GR) and quantum mechanics (QM). GR says space is a flexible shell around us. QM says every field of this kind has a granular structure.
The central result of LQG is that space is made up of grains. These are linked in a network of relations that weaves space like chain mail. Space is created by linking these quanta of gravity.
Just as the idea of a continuous space disappears, so the idea of primal time flowing regardless of things also vanishes. Elementary processes cannot be ordered in a single time line.
There is no longer space that contains the world or time in which events occur. The illusion of spacetime continuing around us is a blurred vision of swarming elementary processes.

AR We and the world emerge from eternity.

Person of the Year

"President Trump not only
should be impeached, he
must be impeached if
America's democracy
is to remain intact."
Thomas L. Friedman

Get stuffed

Henryk Gorecki
Symphony No.3, Op.36
(Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)
Zofia Kilanowicz, soprano
Polish National Radio
Symphony Orchestra
Antoni Wit

"I believe that leaving the
European Union is the worst
foreign policy decision in my
lifetime. It will affect nearly
every aspect of our lives for
many decades to come and
it will make our country
poorer and weaker."
Sir John Major

Lucy in the Sky

Silver Spit flies
around the world


2019 December 11

Brexit Trade Deal

Michel Barnier

With regard to a post-Brexit trade agreement, we will not get everything done in 11 months. We will do all we can to get the vital minimum to establish a relationship with the UK, if that is the time scale. We will have a few months to achieve the minimum necessary for the economy and security or to prepare for a cliff edge for trade.


The Afghanistan War

Ben Armbruster

The war in Afghanistan is a lost cause. The Afghanistan Papers detail how US officials deliberately misled the public on progress. American leaders knew they could not win.
The United States has so far doled out nearly $1 trillion for the war in Afghanistan. Everyone is on the take, from defense industry executives and lobbyists to Afghan government officials and poppy farmers to anyone and anything in between.
The Pentagon budget allocates huge amounts in unnecessary appropriations resulting in hundreds of billions of dollars in waste, fraud, and abuse. Yet Congress continues to throw more and more money at the defense department every year.
The Afghanistan Papers clearly show that a lot of people were killed, injured, and subject to years of psychological trauma and financial hardship for nothing.


Person or Pig?

Jim Holt

Pigs, so far as we know, are conscious. They have inner experiences, just like us. Perhaps they are even conscious of their own existence.
The memory young children share with other animals is episodic. It enables them to learn from experience. Autobiographical memory develops much later in human children.
When you summon up an autobiographical memory, you engage in a kind of mental time travel. You identify your current remembering self with your past experiencing self. Autobiographical memory lets us understand ourselves as beings whose existence extends over time.
The capacity emerges in us at about the end of our preschool years. But only in our adolescence do we come to string together our autobiographical memories into a coherent life chronicle.
A pig has a synchronic self in the here and now. But a human can develop a diachronic self that extends over time. That may be why it is better to be a human than a pig.
Putting together a diachronic self is hard work. Autobiographical memory supplies the raw materials for building a self. It is up to us to do the work.
People say they want to be happy. They want their needs filled. They want their life to be enjoyable from moment to moment, like pigs.
But people also want their lives to be meaningful. Activities that increase meaning can reduce happiness, and vice versa. Raising children reliably diminishes happiness, both from moment to moment and on the whole, but people say children give meaning to their lives.
Happiness and meaning are our two masters. We sometimes sacrifice happiness for meaning, and we sometimes sacrifice meaning for happiness.
Autobiographical memory gives us the stuff to weave a narrative in which we star in our own story. Friedrich Nietzsche: "We want to be the poets of our lives."
To will one's own individuality, say Nietzscheans, is to become something new. Adolf Hitler might well have looked back affirmatively on his decision to fight for the Thousand Year Reich. Harry Frankfurt: "Immoral lives may be good to live."
Platonists say a meaningful self-narrative must be an ascent of desire toward a transcendent and timeless Good.

2019 December 10

Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

New York Democrat Representative Jerrold Nadler: "Today, in service to our duty to the Constitution, and to our country, the House Committee on Judiciary is introducing two articles of impeachment charging the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, with committing high crimes and misdemeanors."


America: The Facts


With its meddling operation in 2016, Russia set Americans against one another, fanning divisions and undermining confidence in US democracy. Without agreement in Washington on common facts or goodwill between political adversaries, an honest assessment of President Trump's actions is impossible. America may never heal from the recriminations and infectious doubts that stained the last presidential election.


Extinction 2071

Jeff VanderMeer

In the past two decades, biotechnological advances saved our planet from a climate crisis that would have destroyed us. Our triumph is overshadowed by a new threat. We risk being destroyed by the organisms that saved us.
The application of biotechnology to the climate crisis began in 2048. This effort to direct the power of biotechnology was enabled not only by organisms that devoured carbon and plastic but also by cultivars that reduced extinction rates among wild animals and trees.
But we ignored the dangers of what we created. Whether we were affixing an ear to a mouse or growing miniature chimp brains in ostrich bodies and then putting those brains into dinosaurs, we did not want to think too much about these animals. We abandoned the moral high ground.
Today, a bluebird is a bioengineered surveillance camera drone. Our biotech is ubiquitous, and it is manipulating us and experimenting on us. Our haphazard engineering of such creatures has given them a form of autonomy we do not understand.
Hacking haunts all of our biological transactions these days. We have already lost sex, but we cannot avoid contamination even when we breathe. We no longer know what we are, because we are so different.

2019 December 9

Der Steinmeier-Formel

Spiegel Plus

Heute trifft Wolodymyr Selenskyj, der jetzige Präsident der Ukraine, mit dem russischen Präsidenten Wladimir Putin in Paris. Frankreich und Deutschland wollen, dass endlich wieder Bewegung in den festgefahrenen Friedensprozess kommt.
Dafür war der neue ukrainische Präsident bereit zu einem Kompromiss. Die von prorussischen Separatisten kontrollierten Regionen im Osten des Landes, die sogenannten Volksrepubliken Luhansk und Donezk, sollen einen Sonderstatus bekommen. Im Gegenzug werden in den Gebieten lokale Wahlen abgehalten. Kiew würde durch die Wahlen ein Stück Souveränität über die Gebiete im Osten des Landes zurückgewinnen, die prorussischen Separatisten bekämen über den Sonderstatus eine föderale Selbstverwaltung zugesichert.
Der Urheber dieser Lösung ist Frank-Walter Steinmeier, einst Außenminister, heute Bundespräsident. In Berlin und Paris wird der Durchbruch der "Steinmeier-Formel" als Erfolg der deutschen Diplomatiekunst gefeiert

2019 December 8

A Dangerous Charlatan

The Observer

Boris Johnson's record in office is dire. His Brexit withdrawal agreement paves the way for, at best, a bare-bones free trade relationship with the EU. He would take us into the abyss.
On Thursday, voters have the chance to strip power from a dangerous charlatan. We urge voters to deny Johnson the opportunity to wreak existential damage on the UK.


England's Last Roar

Pankaj Mishra

The England of entrenched privilege and extreme inequality, of archaic political and social structures and an economy geared to enriching the rich, has sunk to nihilistic self-destruction with Brexit.
Englishness was always a form of theatre, first staged in overseas colonies. Today, in a post-imperial Britain run by half-witted public schoolboys, the English character is exposed as an imperial pose of masculine authority and racial superiority.
Enoch Powell was a lower middle-class native of the West Midlands who became a professor of classics at Cambridge, taught himself fox-hunting, and exulted in the hierarchies of empire in India. He came to develop a certain rather fierce idea of England and its destiny.
To be English in multiracial England after 1945 was to know a devastating loss of manliness. For Powell, the appearance on English streets of the savages against whom Englishness had been defined on the imperial frontier was just too much. In his 1968 "rivers of blood" speech, he said: "In this country in 15 or 20 years' time, the black man will have the whip hand over the white man."
The temptation to hold foreigners and immigrants responsible for decline and stagnation was strong in England as postwar economic growth tapered off. English identity was always little more than a theatrical performance of brute power abroad by men of the imperial ruling class. Powell defined it against emasculating foreigners.
Powell also invested his zeal in Europhobia: "Belonging to the common market spells living death, the abandonment of all prospect of national rebirth, the end of any possibility of resurgence."
Powellism steadily built up to its present apotheosis in Brexit through the Thatcher−Blair years of deregulation and privatisation, immigration issues, tabloid journalism, and Tory EU-baiting.
As Boris Johnson never tires of repeating: Get Brexit Done. A dose of hard Brexit, he suggests, will toughen the national mind and body for the bracing climb to the sunny uplands of Empire 2.0. Like Powell, he presents himself as the saviour of England's peerless destiny.

2019 December 7

Will Brexit Destabilize Europe?

David Keys

University of Glasgow professor Beatrice Heuser: "[The] general election is almost completely ignoring the absolutely crucial European stability and security element of the ongoing Brexit debate .. reduced levels of European solidarity, increased levels of economic and political rivalry, and increased levels of nationalism .. pose a threat to everyone [in] Europe."
Areas in and around the EU where stability could unravel if Brexit weakens the union include central Romania, Bosnia, Kosovo, the eastern Aegean, southern Bulgaria, Ukraine, the Moldova area, the area around Cyprus, the Baltic states, Belarus, Kaliningrad, Catalonia, and Flanders.
Brexit will change the political balance within the EU. It will increase the economic centrality of Germany, accentuate differences between France and Germany, and increase divisions between southern and northern Europe. Divisions within the EU and tensions between the EU and America could also weaken NATO.
Ethnicity and history are increasingly being used by EU member states and others to increase their influence in neighbouring EU nations and other countries. A weaker or politically more divided EU may well accelerate that process.
Over the past 500 years, war has dominated the European continent for a total of 300 years. Thanks to the EU and NATO, Europe has lived in relative peace for the past 75 years. If we exclude those decades from the calculations, about two-thirds of the period 1500 to 1945 was scarred by major wars in which millions of Europeans died.
Armed conflict has been the single largest cause of death for young Britons over the past 106 years. Almost half of all deaths of UK men aged 18 to 34 in that period have been as a result of war.
Oxford Brookes University professor Roger Griffin: "We have entered a new era of ideological and political conflict .. I fear that .. Brexit could well further embolden the forces of right-wing populism in Europe and weaken visions of a stable continent, based on a common European identity."
The British empire lured Britain into not seeing itself as a European power. The Commonwealth and the Anglosphere still lead those who dream of the past to turn their backs on the mainland.
Before WW1, Britain focused on its empire and neglected any major role in Europe. Britain was strong militarily outside Europe and on the high seas, but Germany saw it as a minor player in continental Europe.
Before WW2, Britain sabotaged moves toward greater European cooperation and let Germany dominate Europe. It stayed out of the Spanish civil war and acquiesced in the German occupation of Austria and Czechoslovakia.
Oxford University professor Timothy Garton Ash: "The fact that .. Britain, Germany and France are all members of the EU has helped Europe to function in a stable way for many decades. Removing the UK from that triangular relationship is likely to change the delicate balances between member states and to ultimately weaken the union .. the UK may be tempted to try to divide and rule in Europe, thus further weakening the continent."

2019 December 6

Brexit Trade Caution

The Guardian

EU member states will not be bounced into Boris Johnson's fast-track timetable to strike a trade deal after Brexit. Johnson promisess to take the UK out of the EU on January 31 and agree a trade deal with the bloc within 11 months, with no extension. EU leaders will move "swiftly" at a summit on December 13 but are disinclined to send Johnson a positive signal.


Brexit Diplomat Resigns


British diplomat Alexandra Hall Hall has resigned from her US embassy post as Brexit counsellor:
"I have been increasingly dismayed by the way in which our political leaders have tried to deliver Brexit, with reluctance to address honestly, even with our own citizens, the challenges and
trade-offs which Brexit involves."


Lucy in the Sky

The Times

Natalie Portman has cornered the market for roles that require the deeply affecting depiction of mental disintegration.
Her latest role is as Lucy Cola, a NASA astronaut newly returned from space, who is debriefed by staff psychologist Will Plimpton. Lucy has been changed utterly by her ten days aboard the ISS.
Plimpton can sense the change in her and pushes with questions. Lucy changes the subject and smiles, hiding a conflicted world of angst below. Lucy has been spiritually and physically unleashed, but everything goes wrong for her.
We see a widescreen world around her in glimpses and in aerial shots. Yet mostly we are stuck with Lucy and the limits of her character as she vainly kicks against the absurdities of daily life on Earth.
Portman is an old hand at this. We sympathise with Lucy. We live in her head. This is acting from a modern great.

AR Seen it — The movie is an excellent portrait of an astronaut careening from existential epiphany in low Earth orbit to crisis in a failed extramarital affair. Natalie Portman conveys the mood swings with superb conviction.

2019 December 5

Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

House speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House of Representatives will begin drafting impeachment articles against US president Trump, pushing ahead with a rapid timetable that could set the stage for a vote before Christmas to charge him with high crimes and misdemeanors.

AR The sooner the better.


Brexit MEPs Quit

Financial Times

Four Brexit Party MEPs have resigned the party whip and urged party supporters to vote for the Conservatives in the UK general election next week. Party leader Nigel Farage said he was "disappointed" with the MEPs.

AR Conservatives have defeated his party at the cost of losing much of their own.


Quantum Entropy

Michael Brooks

The second law of thermodynamics says the entropy (roughly, disorder) of a closed system will always increase over time. This may explain time's arrow.
Ludwig Boltzmann defined entropy S in terms of the number W of equivalent ways you can rearrange the molecules in a closed system: S = kB ln W, where kB is Boltzmann's constant (about 14 yoctojoule per kelvin).
James Clerk Maxwell imagined a demon inside a box of gas. The gas molecules start off evenly mixed, unable to do useful work. He said the demon can reduce entropy in the box by separating hot molecules from cold ones. The demon uses information about the molecules and their movements, but with limited memory it discards information.
Charles Bennett showed that discarding information increases entropy. We can ask how information relates to the second law of thermodynamics.
Wojciech Zurek says that for finite systems it makes no sense to talk in terms of all possible arrangements of molecules. He aims to define entropy in terms of quantum entanglement. A quantum system is entangled with its environment. This sets the amount and the nature of the available information about its state and hence measures its entropy.
Anthony Aguirre is working on observational entropy, which reflects the amount of information that can be gained in a series of measurements on a quantum system. By Heisenberg uncertainty, measuring one property changes other properties, so the order of the measurements can change the observational entropy in a system.
Vlatko Vedral says quantum thermodynamics might shed new light on the arrow of time, the origin of life, and the expansion of the universe.

AR Zurek is right: Entanglement constrains W in the Boltzmann formula — but how?


⦿ Al Drago / The New York Times
NATO summit, London, 2019-12-04

Santa train, 2019-12-03

With Vikki Slade
⦿ MB
With Vikki Slade, 2019-11-09



2019 December 4

NATO @ 70

The New York Times

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg: "NATO is agile. NATO is active. NATO is adapting. NATO is the most effective alliance in history."


Germany in NATO

Spiegel Plus

Germany wants Europe to pay more of the NATO administrative budget as a gesture of goodwill. The United States now pays about 22% of the €2.1 billion budget. The German plan was to cut this to about 16%, but France vetoed it, not wishing to appease US president Trump.
NATO nations often use creative accounting in their annual defense spending reports. Berlin is reporting €800 million of its development aid budget for 2020. Adding a bill for government aircraft increases German defense spending from 1.39% to 1.42% of GDP.
German NATO representative Hans-Dieter Lucas: "There is no alternative to NATO for the foreseeable future when it comes to defending Europe."


Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

House Democrats say US president Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to help him in the 2020 presidential election. The House Intelligence Committee report concluded that he sought to undermine US democracy and endangered national security, then worked to conceal his actions from Congress. Another committee will decide whether to recommend impeachment.

Report on the Impeachment Inquiry


Is Liberal Democracy Gone?

William Davies

Liberal democracy depends on public confidence that some things are beyond politics. The media traditionally occupy a separate sphere to political parties and leaders. Now this distinction is gone.
A reckless strand now dominates the UK ruling party, thanks to the Brexit crisis and an opportunist prime minister. It claims that Westminster and Whitehall are betraying "the people" and pursuing their own political agenda.
A cornerstone of liberal politics is separation of powers. The US constitution was built on a tripartite system of government, separating executive, legislature, and judiciary. The dominance of one center of power is fatal for liberalism.
The domains of politics and media have collapsed into each other. The internet has dissolved the barriers between them. This new ecosystem has given rise to a new type of public figure.

2019 December 3

Science Denial

Naomi Oreskes

Climate change is here. People are being killed by floods and hurricanes. The blatant and shameless rejection of science by the president of the United States makes things worse.
Around the world, most people accept science. But we see resistance to scientific conclusions that people think threaten or conflict with their self-interest. Denial is specific.
A smart and well-funded campaign is persuading ordinary people that their self-interest is the same as that of corporate bosses. We are seeing the political strategy of manufacturing doubt. Once you can undermine the belief in facts and credible authority, you can say almost anything.
At first, scientists misdiagnosed this as a problem of scientific literacy and tried to explain the issue more clearly. But this is a problem of ideologically motivated misinformation. We need to expose the motivation of powerful corporations.


Black Hole Singularities

Steve Nadis

A Harvard University Black Hole Initiative (BHI) team probed the interiors of theoretical black holes to determine what kind of singularity lies inside.
A singularity is a place where general relativity (GR) breaks down. GR can break in different ways, leading to spacelike, timelike, or null singularities.
The BHI team analyzed a rotating black hole formed from the gravitational collapse of matter in an elementary scalar field.
Inside the black hole event horizon, charged stationary and rotating black holes have a second spherical surface of no return, called the inner horizon. The black holes the team studied form a null singularity at the inner horizon. Matter and radiation can pass through a null singularity for most of the black hole lifetime, until its spacetime curvature grows exponentially to infinity.
Once a particle approaches a spacelike singularity, the GR equations evolve only along the space direction, whereas a particle approaching a timelike singularity has a fixed position in space but still has a future. Outside observers cannot see spacelike singularities but can see timelike ones. The black holes the team examined always contain a spacelike central singularity.
The singularities in black hole calculations should disappear in a quantum theory of gravity.

2019 December 2

Another Brexit Crisis

Financial Times

If the Conservatives win the general election on December 12, the UK faces a tough and potentially humiliating trade negotiation with the EU.
By insisting that a deal must be done by December 2020, UK prime minister Boris Johnson has set an ambitious — some say impossible — timetable for talks. His critics say Britain is heading for another Brexit crisis if he is returned to Downing Street.
Johnson says the UK will leave the EU by the end of January and then negotiate a trade deal within 11 months. He claims a deal will be easy because London and Brussels are aligned on regulations, yet he wants to diverge from those regulations.
EU officials say they have only a few months to strike a deal, to give time to check it, translate it, and ratify it. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier says the timetable is "exceptionally short" and "a first moment of truth" will come in summer 2020.
The UK would face an economic crisis if it left the EU in December 2020 without a trade deal and defaulted to WTO rules.


Climate Summit

New Scientist

The 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) is an annual meeting to discuss international action on climate change. Attendees are expected to submit their carbon plans in 2020 for the first time since 2015. The EU and China are expected to announce their plans at a joint summit next September.

2019 December 1

Atlas Shrugged

The Guardian

The Atlas Network is based in Arlington, Virginia. Members of the network cooperate in fighting for a vision of free markets and limited government. They call themselves the freedom movement.
Two UK Atlas partners, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and the Legatum Institute, advocated for a hard break from the EU and briefed Brexiteer MPs in the European Research Group (ERG).
IEA director Mark Littlewood: "Brexit provides us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to radically trim the size of the state and cut the regulatory burden."
Partners in the Atlas Network share an ideology of self-reliance, market freedom, and minimal tax and regulation. Atlas offers coaching in fundraising, messaging, and marketing.
The UK think-tank Initiative for Free Trade (IFT) worked with other Atlas partners to draft a 239-page legal text for a US-UK free trade deal that would radically liberalize the UK economy.
When MPs returned from the summer recess in 2018, they found the agenda seized by the ERG, with a vision for Brexit that involved walking away from an EU trade deal and reverting to WTO rules.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has surrounded himself with such thinkers.


Eternal Beginning

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

In the beginning, spacetime exploded out of nothing and expanded, in an era known as inflation. This expansion accelerated exponentially, faster than the speed of light, for a very brief moment.
Inflation theory fits our cosmological data almost perfectly, but we still lack an exact equation to describe the energy that governs inflation. Many candidates for this energy equation imply spacetime may be eternal.
Not everyone loves this idea. But so far, no one has offered an alternative idea for why the contents of spacetime look the way they do that matches the data as gracefully as inflation does.



Charlie Wood

Most of the mass in the universe could come in the form of axions. The Axion Dark Matter Experiment (ADMX) is sensitive enough to detect the most likely kind of axion and has already ruled out a swath of possible axion masses.
The axion could solve two enigmas at once. Its invisible presence would explain why the universe is more massive than it looks. It would also help us explain why the strong and weak nuclear forces are so different.
The strong nuclear force says the neutron obeys charge-parity (CP) symmetry: Inverting the charge of each of its three quarks and reflecting them all in a mirror leaves the neutron unchanged. But the weak nuclear force does not share this symmetry. This is the strong CP problem.
The strong CP problem boils down to the value of parameter θ in the equations for the strong force: θ = 0. Theorists recast θ as a field with a value that could settle to zero everywhere. The field has a particle — an axion.
Pierre Sikivie calculated that the axion might be something like a photon, but with just a wisp of mass, and could decay into two photons. Saturating a volume with a strong magnetic field would stimulate axion decay. A device tuned to resonate at the same wavelength as the axions could coax them to decay.
ADMX slowly adjusts its resonance and scans for axions. The experiment has scanned from 0.65 GHz to 0.8 GHz, ruling out axions masses between 2.7 μeV and 3.3 μeV, with wider ranges to come.

AR A mass in the μeV range is tiny.

Climate emergency

Hothouse Earth


Lib Dem

"I am worried that .. Boris
Johnson [can] lie again and
again and again, and it should
not be an issue in a general
election .. I do not believe he
is fit to be prime minister."
Chuka Umunna


Latest UK poll




2019 St Andrew's Day

The Age of Fire

Julian Cribb

Swathes of Siberia, Amazonia, Indonesia, Australia, and California are aflame. The advent of the age of fire is the bleakest warning yet. Human survival is at stake:
 Droughts, floods, vanishing lakes and glaciers, rising sea levels
 Extinctions and loss of fish, birds, corals, forests, mammals, and insects
 Advancing deserts and spreading oceanic dead zones
 Toxic emissions poisoning air, water, food, cities, and unborn babies
 Seepage of methane from oceans, tundra, swamps, and fossil fuels
 Gigatons of soil swept from arable lands into ocean depths
Fossil fuel finance (FFF) is paralyzing action on climate change, environmental loss, mass extinction, and toxic emissions. FFF controls governments and media not only in western democracies but also Russia, China, Brazil, India, and Saudi Arabia.
FFF investment is rebounding. Unless we take urgent action to terminate fossil fuel use and restore the planet to ecological health, the end is nigh.

2019 November 29

Climate Emergency

Jacob Aron

UK politics has been dominated by Brexit since June 2016. A far bigger issue is climate change. The next UK government will have an opportunity to show global leadership on the issue.
In 2018, the IPCC said emissions will need to fall 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero in 2050, to limit global warming to 1.5 K. The 2030 goal is still vitally important. The 2050 target is a legal requirement in the UK.
The UK was one of the first nations to industrialize and is responsible for a lot of the emissions that have got us into this mess. The UK can help lower the cost of green tech, as it has already done with solar and wind farms.
Before voting, voters should check what each of the parties says about climate change. New Scientist has put together a detailed analysis of their climate policies.

2019 November 28

Climate Emergency

Financial Times

The EU has declared a global climate emergency ahead of the COP25 climate summit next week.
In the European Parliament, MEPs voted in favor of declaring the emergency by 429 votes to 226.


Climate Emergency


We face a climate emergency. We call for urgent climate action.
Tipping points are big discontinuities in the climate system. The IPCC considers them likely if global warming exceeds 5 K above pre-industrial levels. Current national pledges are likely to result in at least 3 K of global warming.
Several cryosphere tipping points are dangerously close:
 The Amundsen Sea embayment of West Antarctica might have passed a tipping point. When this sector collapses, it could destabilize the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet and lead to about 3 m of sea-level rise on a timescale of centuries to millennia.
 The Wilkes Basin part of the East Antarctic ice sheet might be similarly unstable. It could add 3−4 m to sea level on timescales beyond a century.
 The Greenland ice sheet is melting at an accelerating rate. It could add a further 7 m to sea level over thousands of years. As the elevation of the ice sheet lowers, it melts further. The Greenland ice sheet could be doomed by 2030.
We face sea-level rises of around 10 m over thousands of years. At 1.5 K of warming, this could take 10 ky to unfold. Above 2 K, it could take less than 1 ky.
A cluster of abrupt shifts between 1.5 K and 2 K involve sea ice. At 2 K of warming, the Arctic region has a 10−35% chance of becoming largely ice-free in summer.
Biosphere tipping points can trigger abrupt carbon release:
 Deforestation and climate change are destabilizing the Amazon rainforest. An Amazon tipping point could lie between 40% and 20% deforestation. About 17% has been lost since 1970.
 Subarctic boreal forest is increasingly vulnerable. Warming has triggered mass death of insects and fires that have led to dieback of North American boreal forests.
 Arctic permafrost thawing could release 100 gigatons (Gt) of CO2. Amazon dieback could release another 90 Gt CO2 and boreal forests a further 110 Gt CO2.
The global emissions budget for a 50:50 chance of staying within 1.5 K of warming is only about 500 Gt CO2. Global CO2 emissions are still at more than 40 Gt per year.
A global cascade of tipping points could lead to a hothouse climate. The Earth system has been unstable before under relatively weak forcing. Now we are strongly forcing the system.
Atmospheric CO2 is at levels last seen around 4 My ago. It is heading toward levels last seen some 50 My ago, when temperatures were up to 14 K higher than today.
A global tipping point is an existential threat to civilization.

2019 November 27

Neue EU-Kommissionspräsidentin

Markus Becker

Ursula von der Leyen hat es geschafft: Das Europaparlament hat die CDU-Politikerin und ihre neue
EU-Kommission mit überraschend großer Mehrheit bestätigt. Ihre letzte Rede vor der Abstimmung:
"Wir sind bereit. Europa ist bereit. Gehen wir an die Arbeit!"


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Elke Schmitter

Das war eine WG: Hegel, Hölderlin und Schelling im Tübinger Stift im Wintersemester 1790/91 als Studenten in einem Schlafsaal vereint. Gemeinsam vertilgten die schwäbischen Jünglinge die billige Studentenkost, liefen durch "stinkende Gassen", saßen in "engen und dunklen Zimmern" und "niedrig drückenden Sälen", so beschrieb es der 20-jährige Hegel.
Aus diesem Milieu entstammt der deutsche Philosoph Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Der Aufklärer und Weltbürger Immanuel Kant, 1804 gestorben, ist der Spezialist für die ersten und letzten Fragen der menschlichen Erkenntnis. Hegel dachte mit derselben energischen Liebe für das Grundsätzliche über eine moderne politische Verfassung nach.
Hegels Geburtstag jährt sich im August 2020 zum 250. Mal. Seine labyrinthischen Satzgefüge und seine Meisterschaft in der windungsreichen Reflexion erfordern höchste Aufmerksamkeit und demütige Geduld, sie sind das eine Erbteil seiner pietistischen Erziehung im Stift. Das andere ist sein Widerwillen gegen religiösen Fundamentalismus jeder Art und gegen politische Despotie.
Anders als Kant, dessen Lebenswerk ganz ohne Ambivalenzen genutzt und gefeiert wird, gehört Hegel bis heute zu den Philosophen, die Verehrung wie Misstrauen auf sich ziehen.
Hegels letztes Werk, Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, erschien 1820: Das Eigentumsrecht, die bürgerliche Sphäre als Vermittlung zwischen dem Einzelnen und dem Staat, die Verpflichtung des Staates zum Gemeinwohl, ja sogar die Schonung der natürlichen Ressourcen für die Zukunft — all dies wird von ihm zusammengedacht als ein humanes Zusammenspiel.
So ist der Weg frei für ein Hegel-Jahr, das den radikalen Demokraten und Kosmopoliten feiert.

AR Hegels Philosophie hat mir in den 1970er Jahren viel bedeutet.


2019 November 26

Trump vs US Justice


US federal judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ordered former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify before the House of Representatives. Jackson dismissed the US president Donald Trump's claim that McGahn was subject to blanket immunity: "Presidents are not kings."


Trump vs US Navy

Richard J. Danzig, Sean O'Keefe

President Trump directed his Navy secretary Richard Spencer to stop naval officers from disciplining a SEAL. Defense secretary Mark Esper confirmed the order and Spencer was fired.
The US military has established procedures for assuring good order and discipline. It is not an extension of the president's White House. Contamination from the president's approach is amplified when his judgment is largely shaped by TV commentators and his decision announced by tweet.
Spencer: "As secretary of the Navy, one of the most important responsibilities I have to our people is to maintain good order and discipline throughout the ranks. I regard this as deadly serious business. The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries."


UK Election Advice

BBC News

Former Conservative deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine urges Conservative voters to back Liberal Democrat or independent candidates in the election: "I'm telling them to vote for what they believe in and what the Conservative party has stood for all my life and probably all theirs — and to put country first."


UK Public Spending

The Guardian

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn defends his manifesto spending pledges: "At the end of all of our proposals — every single one carried out — we will still be spending less on public services than France or Germany. We won't even be at their levels. It will move us into the middle ranking of the spending of industrial countries."
According to OECD data, France, Italy, Sweden, Greece, and Germany all dedicate more of their GDP to public spending on social goods than the UK at rates of between 25 and 31%. This includes investment in health, old age, incapacity-related benefits, family, work programs, unemployment, and housing.
The UK spends 21% of its GDP on public services. The US spend is 19%.

2019 November 25

King Trump

The New York Times

From the start, US president Trump has asserted broad, even monarchical, powers. He can use the extraordinary force of his office to strong-arm other countries into serving as his political pawns, he can run a protection racket with military alliances and pull out of international organizations and treaties, he can profit off the presidency. He says the US constitution gives him "the right to do whatever I want" — the words of a despot.


Brexit Mess

The Times

Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair suggests British voters should vote tactically for a hung parliament.
He said Jeremy Corbyn's plan for a socialist revolution would "end badly" and refused to endorse him.
He said Boris Johnson has no chance — none — of agreeing a trade deal with the EU within a year.
He said a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020 is now probable. Neither main party deserved a majority.
He described UK politics as a dysfunctional "mess" and called for another referendum.
Blair: "Both parties want to win on the basis that whatever your dislike of what they're offering, the alternative is worse."


Germany Asleep

Dirk Kurbjuweit

Germans were once the most committed and passionate Europeans. But Germany is now focused on its own interests. Germans are ignoring what is at stake.
A battle is underway in Europe and America for the future of liberal democracy. Germany should be on the front lines of that fight. Instead, it is hunkering down, with no idea what to do next.
Berlin needs an accord with Rome. Italy is on the brink of falling into authoritarian populism. If Italy became an illiberal democracy like Hungary and Poland, the three of them could subvert the EU.
The NATO crisis shows Europe needs a new defense concept. Germany has depended on NATO for its security. At least it needs the UK on side.
The best response to authoritarian populists is a strong Europe rather than a weak Europe. The EU can be a bastion of liberal democracy.


Saturn's Rings


The Cassini spacecraft finally plunged into Saturn's swirling atmosphere in 2017. The end came after a Grand Finale of 22 dives between the planet and its rings. Data from the dives have let Cassini scientists calculate that the rings emerged only 100 million years ago.

AR No big surprise: As Brian Cox recently showed on BBC TV, the rings are delicate.

2019 November 24

Crazy Trump

Maureen Dowd

Donald Trump is a bareknuckle vulgarian, a grobian rodomont. He believes that paranoia can be useful. He sees the world as vicious and life as a battle for survival.
Trying to justify why he had ousted and smeared the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, he claimed she was "an Obama person" who had refused to hang his picture in the US embassy in Kyiv: "This was not an angel, this woman, OK?"
Vladimir Putin hit the jackpot with Trump. The former KGB spy has found a perfect sucker. As he said Wednesday in Moscow: "Thank God nobody is accusing us anymore of interfering in the US elections. Now they're accusing Ukraine."
Trump is blustering and calling Nancy Pelosi "totally incompetent" and "crazy as a bedbug" and tweeting: "I never in my wildest dreams thought my name would in any way be associated with the ugly word, Impeachment!"


UK Defense Cuts

The Sunday Times

UK defense chiefs are planning to cut the size and capability of UK armed forces. They disagree over plans to refocus military capability and cut the size of the army to below 65,000.
Army chiefs are pressing to mothball one of the new aircraft carriers or lease it to the Americans. Or deploy the carriers with US aircraft or let ships of NATO allies escort them. The chiefs say the job of the RAF will soon be done by drones. Navy chiefs will also press for RAF manpower cuts.
UK defense secretary Ben Wallace says the forces must adapt. Rather than hollow them out further, he will cut capabilities and do fewer things better. He tells the army to sort out recruitment or get no more kit, the navy to get its ships working, and the air force to fix a shortfall of pilots.
A 2015 defense review pledged to retain the ability to deploy a combat division in battle. The 2019 Conservative manifesto vows to maintain defense spending above 2% of GDP.

AR This is not the battle order of a standalone country. Scrap Trident and rent a pair of US boomers, scrap the army and sponsor a couple of German divisions, and keep the UK in the EU.


The Mass of the Neutrino

New Scientist

We have a new upper limit for the neutrino mass:  me) ≤ 1.1 eV
Neutrinos are a billion times more abundant than atoms, so even a tiny neutrino mass can make a big contribution to the mass in the universe.
An international team of researchers analyzed the decay of the hydrogen isotope tritium. The process emits an electron and an electron neutrino. The team estimated the mass of the neutrino with greater precision than ever before.
Karlsruhe Tritium Neutrino experiment team member Christian Weinheimer: "We are extremely happy and proud."

AR The source article contained an absurd error.

Little England

Climate Central
Little England in 2050: Red areas likely to be flooded as sea level rises

Don't believe

Labour manifesto

Community work

The Times

Boris Johnson fights Jeremy
Corbyn tonight in a TV debate.
Conservatives are polling 42%,
with Labour 30%, but Johnson
leads Corbyn 41% to 22% on
who would be the better
prime minister.

Lewis Carroll [ed]

AR [smile]

New IR views of Titan


2019 November 23

Ukrainian States of America

Bret Stephens

Donald Trump is attempting to turn the United States into Ukraine by —
 Criminalizing political differences
 Using political office as a shield against criminal prosecution and as a vehicle for personal and
    familial enrichment
 Facilitating covert Russian interference
 Treating fictions as facts, propaganda as journalism, political opponents as criminals, political
    offices as business ventures, personal relatives as diplomatic representatives, legal fixers as
    shadow cabinet members, extortion as foreign policy, toadyism as patriotism, fellow citizens
    as human scum, mortal enemies as long-lost friends
 and then acting as if all this is perfectly normal.
The one way to stop this is to remove Trump from office.


Political Media

David Bromwich

Donald Trump became famous as a creature of the tabloids and celebrity magazines. Television facilitated his passage from tabloids to politics. Yet reporters are still covering him with an assiduous care they deny to more consequential subjects.
The duty of an honest reporter is to shun the fictive convenience of a narrative frame. A journalistic outlet may have a predictable slant, but prejudice is not a badge of honor. Trump is a corrupt businessman, but he is not a Russian agent.
The media today occupy the same world as politicians. It can be hard to decide who calls the tune.

AR The media made Trump and the media (print journalism) made Boris Johnson.


BBC Question Time

Owen Jones, Polly Toynbee, Martin Kettle, Katy Balls

As a highlight of the BBC general election coverage, the four main party leaders faced questions from a live audience in Sheffield.
 Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would be neutral as Labour implemented a referendum on Brexit. He aims to be an honest broker, to unite the country. He was calm and serious in getting across his best manifesto points. It was his best performance of the campaign.
 Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson got a mauling from the audience. She treats Labour as a greater menace than the Tories and Corbyn as a bigger threat than Brexit. Her attacks on Labour are dangerous when she needs their tactical votes. She floundered as she was criticized by Brexiteers and Remainers over her plan to revoke article 50 rather than push for a second referendum.
 SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon pulled off a solid performance. For clarity, agility, and intelligence, she swept the floor. She suggested Corbyn's attempts to play down the chance of a Labour government granting a second Scottish independence referendum in the near future should not be taken too seriously, which is what Conservatives in Scotland want to hear.
 Conservative leader Boris Johnson was finally held to account for his offensive comments about Muslim women, black people, and gay people. He looked surprised to be barracked on so many issues by an abrasive and impatient audience but remained calm.

AR Any idea for whom to vote?

2019 November 22

Trump Impeachment: Hill Testimony


Former NSC official Dr Fiona Hill testified against her former boss US president Donald Trump.
Hill: "[Gordon Sondland] was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged."
She said the idea that Ukraine meddled in the US election was dreamed up by Moscow to further Vladimir Putin's goal of stoking political division and damaging US prestige.
Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani put the idea into Trump's head, leading the president to direct foreign policy not in US interests but for his own political ends.
Hill: "I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a US adversary, and that Ukraine, not Russia, attacked us in 2016."

AR Putin is truly an evil genius — alle Achtung!


Brexit Election: Appalling Choice

George Parker

Conservative leader Boris Johnson dragged the UK into the disastrous national humiliation of Brexit. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn offers a Marxist agenda of nationalization and wealth taxes.
City of London Corporation director of public relations Tony Halmos: "It's a ghastly dilemma. A lot of people are agonizing over the whole situation and wishing there wasn't an election."
Johnson thinks Brexit fatigue will nudge Remain voters to accept the need to move on. He often neglects to talk up Brexit on the campaign trail but says he needs to "get this thing done" as if it's a dismal chore. He says he will quickly agree a trade deal with the EU, Britain's potential will be unleashed, and it will all would be over by the end of 2020.
Corbyn vows to renegotiate Brexit and put a new deal to voters in a referendum.
Liberal Democrats offer a centrist platform and a firm promise to revoke Article 50.
Lib Dem candidate and former Labour MP Chuka Umunna: "We are the party of liberal, open, internationalist voters who embrace the future."

AR An LD−SNP−Labour coalition could stop Brexit — iff Labour dump Corbyn.


German Stability: Merkel Twilight

Timothy Garton Ash

Germany is the beating heart of Europe. As the good times pass and problems gather, Berlin is full of people who seek change. What is missing is a sense of urgency.
Most Germans probably still view the 14 years of Angela Merkel's chancellorship as good years. For 10 of the last 14 years, Merkel has presided over grand coalition governments, bringing together the CDU and the SPD. This has given continuous stable government, but it has not encouraged the robust political debate essential to a liberal democracy.
The entry of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia into the EU single market enabled German companies to grow at low cost. The euro has kept the German exchange rate competitive, the German export machine has powered ahead, and the German government has healthy public finances. Yet there is a growing drumbeat of anxiety.
The twilight of the Merkel era — Merkeldämmerung — is set to drag on until autumn 2021. I suggest this is not in the best interest of either Germany or Europe.

AR Germans need to navigate the wave of populism without losing liberal ideals.


Big Physics: New Colliders

Fabiola Gianotti

There have been times in the history of particle physics when theory has guided experiments. And there have been times when the experiments were discovering new particles and theory was trying to catch up. Now we need to make progress on the experimental side.
I consider supersymmetry a very nice theory. The fact that we haven't found any sign of it as yet may indicate two things. One, supersymmetry is wrong. Or, supersymmetry sits at an energy scale above where we are exploring now, or alternatively manifests itself through particles that are extremely light and extremely weakly interacting.
CERN is doing design studies and research and development for two projects. One is a linear collider up to 50 km long called CLIC, which will smash electrons against positrons to allow detailed studies of the Higgs boson and of physics up to very high energy scales. The other is the Future Circular Collider, which is a ring like the LHC but three times bigger.
The goal of scientific exploration is to advance our understanding of nature. Science is a driver of innovation, because our goals often require the development of new technologies. Science shows what humanity can do when we work together.

AR Can the EU afford CLIC/FCC? Perhaps a collaboration with China ...

2019 November 21

Trump Impeachment: Sondland Testimony

The New York Times

US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland has testified under oath that US president Trump and several top members of his administration were directly implicated in the Ukraine shakedown scheme at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
Sondland: "Was there a quid pro quo? [..] the answer is yes."
Trump defenders in Congress claim Rudy Giuliani, who has been bragging publicly since last spring that he was trying to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, was off on his own escapade that had nothing to do with the president.
Sondland: "We worked with Mr Giuliani because the president directed us to do so."
All the witnesses whose testimony has been damaging to Trump have given that testimony under oath. All of those who we are told would exonerate the president have so far refused to testify.
Sondland: "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret."

AR In short, Trump has committed impeachable offenses.

2019 November 20

Brutal Brexit Reckoning

Financial Times

Boris Johnson thinks the hard part is already over. He says an election victory will let him "get Brexit done" and sees "absolutely no reason" why an agreement cannot be reached next year, whereas victory for Labour would mean more "dither and drift" on Brexit.
Jeremy Corbyn says the Tory approach would "subject us to years of drawn out, bogged down negotiations" with Brussels on a future relationship, whereas a second referendum can deliver clarity sooner.
Marietje Schaake, a former member of the European Parliament international trade committee: "The UK is under pressure because of the ticking clock, but more because of the incredible promises that have been made about the benefits that will materialize. The reality is years of negotiation and difficult choices."

AR No deal by the end of 2020 means a hard exit — déjà vu all over again.


Information Ecosystem Collapse

Lydia Polgreen

We are currently facing the collapse of the information ecosystem.
This collapse is much like the environmental collapse on Earth. The digital revolution expanded human knowledge and wealth much as the industrial revolution did 150 years earlier. The price of the industrial revolution was biological ecosystem destruction on a planetary scale.
In 2018, Facebook, Google, and Amazon sucked up two-thirds of all digital advertising dollars.
Some news organizations ask their audience to pay for the journalism once subsidized by advertisers. Others have membership programs or rely on wealthy patrons. But this is not enough to sustain the provision of quality news.
The collapse of the information ecosystem has wreaked havoc on our political systems. It has undermined democratic elections, shaken basic trust in institutions, and left voters is free to choose their own facts. It threatens to destabilize our world order.
A world without facts is as dangerous for companies as it is for citizens.
I propose an experiment. Let the chief marketing officer of every major corporation set aside a substantial chunk of their marketing budget and devote it to quality news. Of the $130 billion for digital advertising, set $50 billion aside for news.
This is the best way to combat the information ecosystem crisis.

AR When voters lose access to facts, democracy is toast.


Clean Industrial Ovens

CNN Business

Heliogen, a clean energy startup backed by Bill Gates, has achieved a solar breakthrough aimed at saving the planet.
The company has found a way to use artificial intelligence and a field of mirrors to reflect so much sunlight that it concentrates energy to temperatures above 1500 K. The solar oven can supply the extreme heat required to make cement, steel, glass, and so on, to replace fossil fuels in a corner of the economy so far untouched by the clean energy revolution.
Heliogen founder and CEO Bill Gross: "We are rolling out technology that can beat the price of fossil fuels and also not make the CO2 emissions. And that's really the holy grail."

AR Move over, Ted Turner — Bill Gates is the new Captain Planet.

2019 November 19

Israeli Settlements

The New York Times

The Trump administration says the United States does not consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law. This is a political gift from Trump to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who vows to push for the annexation of the West Bank.

AR Another outrage for antisemitic agitators who object to the settlements.



David Graeber

We live in a different economic universe than we did before the crash of 2008. Yet the language of public debate remains largely unchanged.
In the UK, Conservative governments discovered that a rhetoric of austerity played well with the British public, allowing them to win broad popular acceptance for policies designed to pare down what little remained of the British welfare state and redistribute resources toward the rich.
Modern money is credit, and banks can and do create money by making loans. Almost all of the money circulating in Britain was created by banks in this way. The main function of the Bank of England is to determine how much private banks can charge for the money they create.
An endless war about the nature of money makes it impossible to say for certain whether the money supply drives prices, or prices drive the money supply. This comes down to a choice between exogenous and endogenous theories of money.
The quantity theory of money is obviously wrong. Doubling the amount of gold in a country will have no effect on the price of cheese if you give all the gold to rich people and they just bury it in their yards. What actually matters is spending.
In England, in 1696, Sir Isaac Newton accepted that silver coins had to be devalued to prevent a deflationary collapse. John Locke argued that the government should be limited to guaranteeing the value of property and that tinkering would confuse investors and defraud creditors. Locke won, and the result was deflationary collapse.
The pattern was repeated itself again and again. The government adopts hard-money policies as a matter of principle, disaster ensues, the government quietly abandons hard-money policies, the economy recovers, and yet hard-money philosophy remains simple common sense.
David Hume introduced the notion that short-term shocks would create long-term benefits if they unleashed the self-regulating powers of the market. But the premise that markets will always right themselves in the end can only be tested if we can say when the end is.
There are plenty of ways for a modern state to fund itself. Many are considerably more efficient than income tax. But income tax is a deliberately intrusive and exasperating intrusion of the bureaucratic state that also allows its leaders to posture for small government.
Microeconomics was transformed from a tool for calculating how market actors make decisions to a general philosophy of human life. It was based on false assumptions, for example that humans are rational actors motivated exclusively by self-interest, who know exactly what they want, never change their minds, and have complete access to all relevant pricing information.
In short, we are expected to pretend that markets cannot be wrong. This answers the question of why no one saw the crash coming.

AR It seems economics is an ideology of oppression, propaganda for the haves.



The Times

Every year, 100 megatons of clean water is flushed down toilets, water we cannot afford to lose. Scientists have now developed a new toilet surfacing material that lubricates fecal deposits so that water usage can be reduced.
The Gates Foundation has invested $200 million into clean waste and sanitation projects. Bill Gates compares the transition to new toilets to the PC revolution. Responsible water management is a benchmark of civilization.

AR We should recycle all that fecal waste as fertilizer.

2019 November 18


The Guardian

The SPD long since abandoned its ambition to replace capitalism with socialism and became a Volkspartei. For over 50 years, the SPD and the CDU have dominated the political center.
ECB head Christine Lagarde suggests Germany should spend more and save less to boost the EZ. SPD leadership candidate Olaf Scholz is federal minister for finance and is committed to balanced budgets. Two opposing candidates call for massive investment and more borrowing.
The challenges of low growth, deindustrialization, migration, and the fallout from the crash have led to a crisis of the center. Germany's response carries a special weight within Europe.


European Monetary Union

Thomas Mayer

EMU has failed to reach completion. Banking union was supposed to complete it, but it still lacks a common deposit insurance.
I suggest creating a digital euro:
1 Introduce a bank deposit fully backed with central bank money. Let the ECB raise funds to cover the deposit by purchasing outstanding EZ government bonds.
2 Set up the secure deposit as digital central bank money that can be transferred from person to person or company to company using blockchain technology.
3 Issue the electronic euro via the ECB and back it by government bonds. To protect it from abuse, give it a digital watermark.



New Scientist

NASA researchers have made a map of the geology of Saturn's moon Titan.
Titan's atmosphere blocks visible light from reaching the surface, so the NASA Cassini spacecraft took radar and infrared data of the surface.
A JPL team sorted the data into six categories — lakes, craters, dunes, plains, hummocky terrain, and labyrinth — and made a map of Titan's surface.
The landscape type depends on latitude. The equator is mostly covered in dunes, with plains in the mid-latitudes, and lakes and labyrinths near the poles.
We can now work on the geological processes shaping the landscape.


How Galaxies Evolve

New Scientist

A massive simulation of the universe modeling tens of thousands of galaxies will run for 50 days across 30 000 computer processors in Durham and Paris.
The simulation includes the physics of both baryonic matter and dark matter. It also includes the physics of star and black hole formation, as well as conditions at the big bang.
By simulating what the universe looked like at different times, the researchers can test theories about how galaxies are related to the growth of black holes, and what happens when they die.

AR I saw in 1989 that simulation is the third way in science, between theory and experiment.

Boris in Red Square

The Conservative party has received donations from nine Russian donors, with suspected links to the Kremlin, says a
UK ISC report. Boris Johnson has blocked publication of the report until after the upcoming general election.
Leaked details tie the party to Russian oligarchs based in London, some with known ties to Russian security services.
There has been a surge in donations from prominent Russians to the Conservative party over the past year.


⦿ Adam Stevenson
Australian apocalypse


Railway Modeller

Mercury (dot at center)
on its latest solar transit


Vikki Slade
MDNP LD PPC Vikki Slade
says Revoke is right


2019 November 17

The Elephant in the Election

Hugo Dixon

Conservative and Labour candidates don't want to talk about Brexit. Even the Lib Dems and the Brexit Party are avoiding the elephant in the room.
Boris Johnson is embarrassed by the terrible deal he's done to get us out of the EU. He pretends he'll "get Brexit done" — but he's nowhere near agreeing a future trade agreement. He'd rather talk about anything else.
Labour has a convoluted policy that involves renegotiating the exit deal, deciding whether they like it, and then asking the people what they want in a referendum — hard to explain on a doorstep.
Lib Dems do want to talk about Brexit. But they are making a bad fist of it. They need to push harder to ram home their Remainer stance.
Nigel Farage is grabbing attention. But his dirty deal with Johnson has muddied his message. He should be saying the prime minister will turn the UK into a vassal state.
All the politicians are avoiding the election elephant. If Johnson wins, the media will have a lot to answer for.


From Brexit to Little England

Isaac Chotiner

Fintan O'Toole is concerned about a UK severed from the EU. Britain emerged from WW2 at once victorious and shrunken, the image of plucky heroism and imperial twilight.
O'Toole: "The power of Brexit is that it promised .. a liberation, not from Europe, but from the torment of an eternally unresolved conflict between superiority and inferiority."
The British empire had once helped stitch together English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish national identities. A united Europe offered a potential home for the smaller nations.
O'Toole: "There is an imperial nationalism and an anti-imperial nationalism; one sets out to dominate the world, the other to throw off such dominance. The incoherence of the new English nationalism that lies behind Brexit is that it wants to be both simultaneously."
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has struck a Brexit deal with the EU that could lead to a united Ireland and an independent Scotland. The Brexiteers may end up in little England.
O'Toole: "Without the EU as whipping boy and scapegoat, there will be no end of blame and no shortage of candidates .. everyone except the Brexiteers themselves."



Guy de Jonquières

Brexiteers laud Singapore as a model for the UK economy after it leaves the EU.
Singapore boasts a growth rate averaging over 7% annually since 1970, though it has slowed to a crawl of late, and its income per head at market rates is 50% higher than in the UK.
Singapore also has efficient modern infrastructure, good basic education, and a stable government. It is a major regional trading hub linked into cross-border supply chains. In contrast, Brexit threatens to impede UK business in the EU and to disrupt supply chains.
Singapore has more than twice as many civil servants per capita as the UK, with rules for almost everything. The tax take is 15% of GDP and its income tax top rate is 22%, but employees must also pay 20% and their employers 17% of their salaries into a state retirement and social security fund. Corporate tax is barely lower than in Britain.
Singapore is lightly regulated in only two ways. It has an open-door immigration policy and a labor market with minimal social protection.
Singapore is not the kind of model that Brexiteers dream of for Britain.

2019 November 16

Donald Trump, Corruption Fighter?

The New York Times

Republican defenders of Donald Trump say he withheld military aid to Ukraine because he wanted assurances that new Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky was serious about fighting corruption.
Sworn testimony in the House impeachment inquiry on Friday obliterated that defense.
US Embassy in Kiev official David Holmes said he overheard a telephone conversation in which US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland assured Trump that Zelensky would open investigations into the family of Joe Biden.
Marie Yovanovitch, the top US envoy to Ukraine until Trump yanked her back this spring, described how, as she sought to promote democracy and rule of law in Ukraine, Trump lawyer Rudi Giuliani worked with a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor to trash her reputation and force her out.
For Trump, her pursuit of anticorruption efforts was evidently a problem. His treatment of her and his conversation with Sondland do not square with any claim that Trump was intent on advancing the rule of law, as opposed to his own political interest.
After Trump first spoke with Zelensky to congratulate him on his electoral victory, Trump spoke not a word about corruption.

2019 November 15

Trump Britain

Evening Standard

US President Donald Trump will travel to the UK for a visit from Monday to Wednesday December 2−4 for a NATO meeting.

AR He will doubtless stick his thumb in the UK election pie.


OK Boomer

India Ross

The "OK Boomer" meme has come to symbolize a generational cultural fracture. Millennial and Gen Z cohorts feel increasingly let down by boomers who have left them with unaffordable housing and an impending climate apocalypse.
The meme crystalizes an agitation that has been brewing for a decade. The circumstances that gave rise to it may lead to its prophecy of intergenerational divorce being fulfilled. Outrage only puts boomers further out of touch.


Matrix Math and Neutrinos

Natalie Wolchover

Terence Tao is a math professor at UCLA and a Fields medalist. In August 2019, he read an email from a trio of physicists.
Stephen Parke, Xining Zhang, and Peter Denton said they had found a simple formula giving an unexpected relationship in linear algebra while studying neutrinos. They had seen that eigenvectors describing how neutrinos propagate through matter were equal to eigenvalues and realized that the relationship seemed to hold more generally.
Days later, the trio and Tao posted a paper online reporting the new formula. In another paper, the trio used the formula to streamline equations for neutrinos.
Eigenvectors and eigenvalues characterize linear transformations represented by matrices. The eigenvectors of a matrix are the vectors that keep the same direction when the matrix is applied. How much a matrix resizes its eigenvectors is given by the corresponding eigenvalue.
Eigenvectors and eigenvalues are independent, and normally they must be calculated separately. The new formula differs from existing methods by expressing each eigenvector of a Hermitian matrix in terms of its eigenvalues and those of a minor matrix formed by deleting a row and column.
Tao: "It's so pretty that I'm sure it will have some use in the near future. Right now, we just have one application."
That application is neutrinos. These come in three flavors — electron (νe), muon (νμ), tau (ντ) — and undergo quantum oscillations between the flavors on the fly. A matrix describes the oscillations. Its eigenvectors and eigenvalues give the probability that a muon neutrino will oscillate into an electron neutrino in flight and vice versa.
Differences in the behavior of neutrinos and antineutrinos may explain why matter dominates over antimatter in the universe. If these opposites had arisen in equal amounts in the Big Bang, they would have annihilated and left a cosmos empty of all but light.

AR I how math and physics fructify each other.

2019 November 14

End of Empire

Donald Tusk

The UK election takes place in four weeks. Things become irreversible only when people start to think so. Don't give up.
Brexiteers say they want to leave the EU to make the UK global again. You can hear in their voices a longing for the empire. But the reality is exactly the opposite. Only as part of a united Europe can the UK play a global role, and the world knows it.
I have heard the same in India, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and South Africa, that after its departure the UK will become an outsider, a second-rate player, while the main battlefield will be occupied by China, the United States, and the European Union.
"Why are they doing this?" — I was asked this regretful question everywhere I went. Brexit is the real end of the British empire.

On Poland Emmanuel Macron hopes Poles will change their position on Russia. I don't. Russia is not our strategic partner but our strategic problem.


Russian Money

Oliver Bullough

Someone in Downing Street calculated that it was less embarrassing to suppress the Intelligence and Security Committee report into Russian interference in the UK than it was to publish it.
Boris Johnson's refusal to allow voters to read the report made waves in parliament a week ago. The election campaign has offered a convenient distraction since then. Fifty pages of revelations about rich Russians funding political parties and associating with politicians, as well as Russian bots meddling in the referendum, were too much for him.
The report will only emerge once Britain has a new parliament. But the toxic relationship between the Russian and British elites needs exposure. They have been collaborating to the detriment of democracy and accountability for decades.
Back in 1956, English and Soviet banks saw an opportunity to undermine Cold War barriers. The USSR started banking its dollars in London. This generated a new revenue stream for a moribund City of London and gave the Soviets easy access to the global financial system.
London and its associated tax havens became a shady market for all comers. After the Soviet collapse, central bankers in Moscow used a Jersey shell company to earn profits while hiding government money from the IMF. London was the sewer for criminals to drain money out of Russia and spend it on luxury goods abroad.
Where the money went, the crime and murders followed. UK politicians have underestimated the risks that come with Russian money.

2019 November 13

Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

Public hearings begin: NYT correspondents provide live analysis and insights.


Rod the Mod's Railway

David Wilkes

Sir Rod Stewart, 74, has a model railway that took him 26 years to build. His 38 m × 7 m layout depicting a US city and its industrial hinterland in the 1940s contains hundreds of buildings.
Called Grand Street and Three Rivers City, it also features a railway station crossed by numerous bridges at rush hour. The trains, as well as hundreds of cars and trucks, are surrounded by lush landscape and lit in the colors of late afternoon sunshine.
Sir Rod told Railway Modeller magazine: "It's the landscape I like. Attention to detail, extreme detail, is paramount. There shouldn't be any unsightly gaps or pavements that are too clean."
During his life on the road as a rock musician, Sir Rod used railway modeling as an escape from the pressures of touring. He would take kits, tools, and paints with him and book an extra hotel room as a workshop. He began to build the layout in 1993 in the attic of his new house in Los Angeles.
Sir Rod: "I find beauty in what everyone else sees as ugly — rugged skyscrapers, beaten-up warehouses, things that are very run down."
His passion was first kindled as a kid on a family holiday in Bognor Regis where he saw a railway layout in a model shop. He soon had his own model railway. But when he wanted a station for it, his dad bought him a guitar instead.
After nine #1 albums and 62 hit singles in the UK, Sir Rod's fortune now stands at £190 million.
Sir Rod: "When I take on something creative like this, I have to give it 110%."

AR For me, this is his greatest artistic work.

2019 November 12

Political Kitsch

Alexander Grau

Kitsch awakens strong, simple emotions. Political kitsch is similar. Its language or symbols are exaggerated, caricatured, pathetic, cute, sometimes hysterical, and aimed at mass media. Its rhetorical function is to emotionalize and to shut down argument.
Political kitsch arose in the bourgeois era. Totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union and the Third Reich used it. Today democracies use it too, to portray people with different views as emotionally deficient troublemakers. Such tactics harm democracy.


Philosophical Realism

Markus Gabriel

There are limits to what we can know about the universe. Knowing anything about the universe requires changing the universe. Running an experiment interferes with the target system.
Similar things apply to the human mind. I change my mental state by thinking about it. This is the paradox of self-consciousness.
A human being is the kind of animal that sometimes leads a life in light of the question of how it fits into the mindless universe. If you do that, you are engaged in the activity of being human.
Some say we might be unable to understand reality due to inherent limitations of the brain. The idea that reality is an illusion makes it hard to see how there can be objective knowledge of facts.
I would define objectivity as the feature of human minds to get things right or wrong. Nothing that we know from neuroscience or psychology should ever stand in the way of recognizing our capacity to know how reality is.
Continental philosophy typically just means postmodernism, which says our knowledge claims are just expressions of a will to power. Analytic philosophy usually just means philosophy, letting your arguments be falsified by better ones and better scientific evidence. I try to combine both.
NYU professor Crispin Wright came to Heidelberg for a series of seminars about skepticism. I started worrying about skepticism and came to work at NYU.
I believe we need to reconcile continental philosophy and analytic philosophy. The space in between is what I call New Realism. I claim we can know reality as it is, but the world does not exist. No one can bring all facts into view in one big world picture.
We should strive to implement universal value grounded in facts about the human being and not in social activism. My target is the Nietzschean tradition in moral philosophy that undermines the value of rationality. Nietzsche was a social activist.

AR Crispin Wright was my Oxford research supervisor from 1975 to 1977. I met neither Wright nor Gabriel in Heidelberg, but I did review Gabriel's 2015 book Warum es die Welt nicht gibt.

2019 Armistice Day

European Security

Heiko Maas

Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall we have still not experienced the end of history. We can no longer take for granted that we in Germany live in peace and security. Germany must assume greater responsibility for peace and security in Europe.
President Macron was right to seek a strong and sovereign Europe. In future, we Europeans will have to assume far greater responsibility for our security. We are therefore working at full speed with France on a Europe that cooperates far more closely on security policy.
Without the United States, neither Germany nor Europe are in a position to protect themselves effectively. It would be irresponsible to pursue a foreign and security policy without Washington, and dangerous to decouple European security from American security. We want a strong and sovereign Europe as part of a strong NATO.
We must not divide Europeans on security matters. Germany will not tolerate special arrangements. Our neighbors in Poland and the Baltic can trust us to take their security needs as seriously as we take our own. A strong and sovereign Europe is a project on which nobody may be left behind.
We have to steer a firm course toward a strong Europe as a community project involving all Europeans. Germany must play a central role. If we do not assume this leadership role, nobody will.
We need a European Security Council to serve as the venue for pooling European foreign and security policy actions. The UK must be involved, even if it leaves the EU. And Washington must be a key partner.


European Security

Mateusz Morawiecki

NATO is the most important alliance in the world when it comes to preserving freedom and peace.
The United States has always supported Europe, and if it were not for US help, Europe would not have liberated itself from the German Nazi occupation. France is spending below the NATO target on defense. Certain aspects of NATO do not look as we wish: Reciprocity is lacking on the part of some European allies.
NATO is the primary source of security for Poland. Europe cannot pretend nothing has happened in Ukraine, Belarus, or Georgia. We favor cooperating with a peaceful and democratic Russia. President Macron does not feel the hot breath of the Russian bear on his neck.


European Security

Financial Times

The lack of debate about defense and security in the UK election campaign contrasts with discussions in Berlin, Paris, and other EU capitals about the US-European relationship and European search for strategic autonomy.
A Franco-German proposal to create a European Security Council alongside NATO would include the UK. The UK would continue to be closely aligned with continental Europe even after Brexit.

AR I have standardized on American English here because after Brexit Europeans will no longer wish to adapt to British ways but will still wish to be understood by Americans.


Climate Change

Eugene Linden

Science is a process of discovery. But in the case of climate, this deliberation has been accompanied by inertia born of bureaucratic caution and politics. This has diluted what should have been a sense of urgency and understated the looming costs of adaptation and dislocation.
In 1990, the IPCC said in its first report that climate change would arrive at a stately pace, that the methane-laden Arctic permafrost was not in danger of thawing, and that the Antarctic ice sheets were stable.
Last year, the IPCC detailed the difficulty of limiting warming to 1.5 K over the next 80 years and the grim consequences that will result even if that goal is met.
The discovery of sudden climate change came as a shock to scientists. A NAS report in 1975 concluded it would take centuries for the climate to change in a meaningful way. In 2002, the NAS acknowledged the reality of rapid climate change.
Studies of ice cores extracted from the Greenland ice sheet show there have been 25 rapid climate change events in the last glacial period.
Were the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica to melt, sea levels would rise by an estimated 70 m worldwide. They have been shedding ice far more rapidly than anticipated.
By 2014, an irreversible collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet had begun. Computer modeling in 2016 indicated that its disintegration in concert with other melting could raise sea levels up to 2 m by 2100. The East Antarctic ice sheet may also be shedding its ice.
As the seas rise, they are also warming. A warmer ocean means more powerful storms and die-offs of marine life.
The melting of permafrost has also defied expectations. In 2005, the NCAR estimated that most of the upper layer of permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere could thaw by 2100, releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The Trump administration has its own view of climate change: Bring it on!

2019 Remembrance Sunday

Poole Park Commemoration

Bournemouth Echo photos

AR I laid a wreath on behalf of Poole Rotarians.



Alun Anderson

Christof Koch presents a theory of consciousness that makes clear and testable predictions. It says computers can never be conscious, while many species of animal have sparks of consciousness. It suggests that meditators can experience the great void and that lovers can meld minds. And it suggests that consciousness has a function.
Giulio Tononi devised the integrated information theory of consciousness (IIT). IIT can be captured in five principles:
⦿ Consciousness is intrinsic, a private experience that exists for itself.
⦿ Experience is structured, containing many different things.
⦿ Each conscious experience is informative and differs from every other one.
⦿ Consciousness is integrated into one whole picture.
⦿ Consciousness is definite: you have one conscious experience at a time.
Tononi proposes these principles to test whether a mechanism can generate experience. He goes from experience to a defining physical theory of consciousness.
Koch says consciousness must have an internal structure that gives it causal power over itself. This implies that re-entrant processing is essential for consciousness. He says this is consistent with his search for consciousness in the brain.
IIT explains how meditation might lead to a profound sense of the void. Calming nervous activity does not lead to unconsciousness because the absence of presence is distinct from the presence of absence. One leads to unconsciousness, the other to pure consciousness.
Tonini builds on research in which software "animats" learned over generations to navigate mazes and led to the evolution of skilled animats that integrated information well. This suggests a survival advantage for consciousness.

The Feeling of Life Itself by Christof Koch

AR Elapsed time is key to consciousness.

Berlin Wall

⦿ A. Kaiser
Fall of the Berlin Wall, November 1989



2019 November 9

Europa muss auch die Sprache der Macht lernen

Ursula von der Leyen

Es sind Bilder der Freude und der Hoffnung, die wir in Erinnerung haben, wenn wir an den 9. November 1989 denken. Deutschland wird dies insbesondere den USA, dem VK und Frankreich immer danken. In diesen Dank möchte ich die NATO einschließen.
Europa ist für meine Kinder Heimat, aber Deutschland ebenso. Die Kraft der Idee Europa ist ungebrochen. Es gibt keine Herausforderung für Europa, die nicht mit den Stärken Europas bewältigt werden kann.
Auch der Brexit ist ein gutes Beispiel dafür, wie Europa aus der Krise neue Kraft schöpft. Ja, ausgerechnet der Brexit. Wir alle bedauern, dass unsere britischen Freunde die EU verlassen wollen. Der Brexit wurde nicht zum Start eines Zerfallsprozesses für die EU.
Europa ist heute attraktiver als wir selbst oft glauben: Rechtsstaat, Freiheit, Demokratie, Offenheit für viele Lebensentwürfe — das finden junge Menschen nicht in China oder Russland. Ich bin zutiefst davon überzeugt, dass Europa im digitalen Zeitalter eine attraktive Adresse bleiben wird. Auch gegenüber den USA und China.
30 Jahre nach der friedlichen Revolution können wir stolz sein auf den Mut, der den Osten und den Westen Europas wieder zusammengebracht hat.

AR Brexit ist noch keine geschlossene Sache. Das "demokratische Ereignis" muss erst geschehen.


2020 vision


A parliamentary inquiry by the
UK Intelligence and Security
Committee (ISC) says Moscow
has built a network of friends
in the British establishment.
ISC chair Dominic Grieve says
the PM is "sitting on" the final
report for no good reason.

AR I await the leak



Make love not Brexit

My Tory Years
New photos added


2019 November 8

Big Tech

Rana Foroohar

Apple became the world's first trillion-dollar market-cap company in 2018. The digital economy has a tendency to create superstars. Its concentration of power is a key reason for record levels of mergers and acquisitions.
The next big crisis will probably emanate from the corporate sector. For the past several years, the corporate bond market has been on a tear, with companies in advanced economies issuing a record amount of debt, to reach over $10 trillion in 2018.
The Silicon Valley giants are the most profitable and least regulated industry on the planet. They are also systemically crucial within the marketplace, holding assets that could topple the markets. Big tech is the new too-big-to-fail industry.
Much of the big tech response to the 2016 election crisis mirrored banking sector behavior in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. Big tech and big banks are also similar in the opacity and complexity of their operations.
The tendency to see share price as the one and only indicator of value is by no means limited to Wall Street. Maximization of shareholder value is part of the larger process of financialization. Markets have become the tail that wags the dog.
The large tech companies are run by business leaders who came of age when government was the enemy and profit maximization the way forward. Regulation of corporate behavior was seen as authoritarian.
American big tech has been at the forefront of globalization for decades. Tech firms are more able than any other type of company to move business abroad, because most of their wealth is in data, human capital, patents, and software, which are mobile.
As with the banks, systemic regulation may be the only way to rein in big tech.

Don't Be Evil: The case against big tech

AR As a former big tech employee, I absorbed the notion that such companies know better how to spend their money than governments. The companies are also good for their employees, suppliers and customers, and even eager to set a good example of responsible corporate citizenship. So cut them some slack.



Matthew Hutson

Kenneth Stanley is a pioneer in a field of artificial intelligence called neuroevolution.
His steppingstone principle goes beyond traditional evolutionary approaches. Instead of optimizing for a specific goal, it embraces creative exploration of all possible solutions. In this, it resembles biological evolution, where the tree of life has no overarching goal and allows exaptation.
Stanley used an approach called novelty search. In a neural network, the output of one layer of neurons gets passed to the next layer via connections that have weights. In neuroevolution, you start by assigning random values to the weights between layers.
At first, the network is not much good at anything. But you then create a set of random mutations and evaluate their abilities. You keep the best ones, produce more offspring, and repeat. Eventually, the algorithms get pretty good at something.
The DeepMind team has a growing interest in neuroevolution.

2019 November 7

European Danger

Emmanuel Macron

We are experiencing the brain death of NATO. You have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision making between the United States and its NATO allies. You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake.
NATO only works if the guarantor of last resort functions as such. We should reassess the commitment of the United States. The EU must develop a military force and enhance its ability to act as one.
We see things that were unthinkable five years ago. We are wearing ourselves out over Brexit, Europe is finding it difficult to move forward, an American ally is turning its back on us. If we don't wake up, we in Europe risk losing control of our destiny.

German chancellor Angela Merkel: "I don't think that such sweeping judgements are necessary, even if we have problems and need to pull together."
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo: "I think NATO remains an important, critical, perhaps historically one of the most critical, strategic partnerships in all of recorded history."


European Identity

Jens Spahn

As German health minister, I am deeply concerned about the destabilization of our society. Throughout western societies, political debates have turned hostile. Internal cohesion is eroding, and international cooperation is diminishing.
In the UK and Germany, the most salient political issues are wealth redistribution and migration. Our strong welfare states cushion economic polarization. But uncontrolled immigration into a welfare state can reduce support for redistribution.
Our debates are about identity. Centrist parties can bridge our divisions. We Germans remain firmly committed to European integration. As a foundation, I propose weltoffener Patriotismus.


UK Spending Spree

Evening Standard

Conservative chancellor Sajid Javid and Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell have launched an election spending war. Javid promised £100 billion for roads, rail, broadband, and buildings over the next five years. McDonnell promised to find funding for £400 billion of new investment.

2019 November 6

UK Parliament Dissolved

BBC News

Parliament was dissolved in the early hours of this morning. The prime minister has informed the Queen at Buckingham Palace. She had opened parliament to great fanfare on 14 October.




UK-USA — Yukuza — collaboration on intelligence, for example within the Five Eyes community with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, is the ongoing basis for Anglophone hegemony on planet Earth. Pax Yukuza is global, except in Asia where Russia and China resist it, in the Mideast region where violent chaos reigns, and in most of Africa where politics is more local.
Historically, Pax Yukuza builds on the remains of the British empire and continues the civilizing mission of the ancient Roman empire. So long as the UK remains in the European Union, Yukuza retains a line of civilizational continuity with the classical world. Outside the EU, the UK will begin to lose this link and become the marker of a fissure in the old empire, much as Constantinople broke free of Rome and formed the eastern Byzantine empire. The difference is that not London but Washington will be the capital of the breakaway empire. The new Rome will be Brussels or Berlin, depending on how the EU develops.
Yukuza, the new Byzantium, will face new forms of empire in Persia, Russia, and China. The fissure between Yukuza and the EU will grow, perhaps until it resembles the contested zone between Eastern and Western Christendom a thousand years ago. The British Isles will be on the front line, perhaps heavily militarized like eastern Prussia long ago. No good will come of this.

2019 November 5

Boo Trump

Ross Barkan

Donald Trump has come to dominate America's psyche as its most famous and polarizing president ever. There is no middle ground anymore.
For the millions who feel enraged and despondent over Trump's ennobling of white supremacists or his insidious environmental and immigration policies, trying to remain an informed citizen can amount to an exercise in psychic torture.
All that is left is protest. Trump deserves to be jeered and mocked wherever he goes.


Boo Johnson

Rachel Sylvester

Political parties have a smell that wafts around them during a campaign. It emanates from the attitude and tone of the leader, as well as the image and reputation of the candidates.
Boris Johnson hopes voters will be put off Jeremy Corbyn by the stink of antisemitism and the musty bouquet of Marxism. Johnson wants to pump out a fragrant hint of optimism. But Conservatives are giving out a noxious smell as they try to fight off Nigel Farage.
A senior Conservative: "There's definitely a whiff of toxic masculinity around at the top of the Tory party at the moment."
Johnson will lose half his voters if he keeps spraying himself with Eau de Farage.


Tactical Voting Advice

Naomi Smith

Best for Britain suggests voting Liberal Democrat, not Labour, in a number of marginal seats. Our mission is not to help any party. It is to stop Boris Johnson, stop the Brexit party, and stop Brexit.
We use multilevel regression and poststratification (MRP): Our MRP was done in the last couple of weeks, with a huge sample size of 46,000 voters. We will update it closer to polling day.


Cosmological Crisis

New Scientist

Measurements from the Planck space observatory have shown that the universe might be shaped like a sphere rather than a flat sheet. The Planck observatory (2009−2013) mapped the cosmic microwave background.
One set of observations showed more gravitational lensing than expected. A team calculated that this could be because the shape of the universe is different from what we thought.
All other cosmological data suggests the universe is flat. These Planck measurements say it could be closed. The extra lensing implies the presence of extra dark matter, which would pull the universe into a finite sphere instead of a flat sheet.
According to these observations, the universe is 41 times more likely to be closed than flat.

Planck evidence for a closed universe and a possible crisis for cosmology
Eleonora Di Valentino, Alessandro Melchiorri, Joseph Silk

The Planck Legacy 2018 release has confirmed the presence of an enhanced lensing amplitude in CMB power spectra compared with that predicted in the standard ΛCDM model.
A closed universe can provide a physical explanation for this effect. Positive curvature also removes a tension in the Planck dataset concerning the values of cosmological parameters derived at different angular scales.
The assumption of a flat universe may mask a cosmological crisis.

AR I always thought a closed model was neater.


Berlin Wall
A. Kaiser
Berlin Wall
November 1989



My Tory Years
Extended Edition


2019 November 4

UK Parliament: New Speaker

BBC News, 2025 UTC

MPs have elected Sir Lindsay Hoyle as the new Commons Speaker.

AR Farewell John Bercow.


Their Saddest Hour

Nicholas Kristof

Britain has gone nuts. People may look back and say: This was their saddest hour.
Brexit may cause the UK to fragment. Prime minister Boris Johnson is leading in the polls as he recklessly pursues a path that is damaging his country economically and risks dismembering it.
The new Brexit deal would leave Northern Ireland more integrated with Ireland than with the rest of Britain, and pressure for Irish unification will grow. In Scotland, a plurality now favor independence, and there are calls for a new referendum on independence. Even in Wales, some 40% of people favor separation if they can remain in the EU.
If the UK fragments and the economy continues to decline, it will be because of the foolhardy and mendacious campaign led by Johnson and his enablers.

AR What would Winston do? Revoke article 50.


East Germany

The Times

Polls suggest the AfD is now the most popular party across east Germany. In a string of recent state elections it has more than doubled its support with a campaign portraying east Germans as victims.
Linke senior Gregor Gysi: "The east Germans start with the assumption that they are the losers of history, because they were occupied by the Soviet Union .. The GDR was a closed society .. The east Germans felt themselves to be second-class Germans during reunification."



Kurt Starke

Frauen waren meist berufstätig in der DDR. Damit waren sie finanziell nicht auf den Partner angewiesen. Es gab eine totale Akzeptanz des vorehelichen Geschlechtsverkehrs.
Obwohl in der DDR viel früher geheiratet wurde, hatten fast alle schon zuvor Geschlechtsverkehr gehabt. Die Jungfernschaft war kein Kriterium für den Wert einer Frau.
Scheidungen waren einfacher als im Westen und gingen meistens von der Frau aus. Sie musste keine Beziehung des Geldes wegen aufrechterhalten.
Nacktheit wurde nicht kommerzialisiert. Daher blieb auch die Entfremdung vom eigenen Körper aus. Die Pornografie war verboten, mit der Begründung, sie widerspräche der Würde der Frau.
Zu hoffen ist, dass unsere Gesellschaft sich stärker in die Lage versetzt fühlt, das Sexuelle zu schützen und der Liebe eine Chance zu geben.


2019 November 3



AR I binge-watched all five episodes again last night. This is a powerful drama with real historical bite. In its impact and aftermath, the catastrophe was as near to a nuclear war as our civilized world should ever dare to go. Anyone who can watch this drama and say we still need to threaten to annihilate our enemies with the weapons of mass destruction fitted on top of our strategic ballistic missiles should be banished from civilized society.
We need a global push to eliminate these hideous weapons once and for all. Humans are surely civilized enough today to resolve their differences through political discussion — or at worst the calibrated use of finely targeted force — rather than open hostilities on the MAD scale that loomed during the Cold War. No human conflict in our present world is worth an aftermath on the scale resembling the one depicted in Chernobyl.

2019 November 2

Running SAP

Jennifer Morgan

Former SAP CEO Bill McDermott had promoted me to be North American boss. That was when we took over the first cloud companies.
At the end of September 2019, Bill asked me to come to California to talk to SAP founder and board chairman Hasso Plattner and him about the business. Hasso was very serious, almost solemn. And then he told me to run SAP with Christian Klein, who's only 39 years old.
I'm proud of how smoothly and professionally we delivered the handover. We do a tough job. This is only possible if you have fun and trust each other. And it sends the right signal to the company — that teamwork is required.
At SAP, we have to learn to become easier ourselves, otherwise we can't offer simple solutions. Investors will only get a better margin if we work on the client's success. We want to show we're listening. I want to talk to the one who has the most experience on a topic, not the most titles.
I will not tolerate a poisoned climate in the company. You need a healthy environment to be fast, to bring ideas, to solve problems. It's about trust and respect.
We have nearly 100,000 employees. You have to be motivated, enthusiastic. Leadership is about selflessness.

AR I wish her well. I could tell her about my happy years at SAP, but I probably won't.


Leaving Bluekip

Matthew Parris

Fifty years ago, I joined the Conservatives. Ten years later, I was the MP for my home constituency. Today I am leaving the Conservative Party.
Democracy is a force to be negotiated with. Responsible Tories are not there to lick the boots of the mob but to tell people sometimes unwelcome truths. I am a conservative, not a Liberal Democrat, but will unhesitatingly vote Lib Dem this time to defeat Tory zealotry over Europe.

AR I sympathize — see left.

2019 All Saints Day

War of Leave on Leave

BBC News, 1416 UTC

Brexit party leader Nigel Farage calls on Boris Johnson to ditch his Brexit deal and build a Leave alliance by November 14. Otherwise, "the Brexit party will be the only party standing in these elections that actually represents Brexit."

AR Bring it on, Nigel.


Making Britain Great Again

Donald Trump, talking with Nigel Farage

Donald Trump, talking with Nigel Farage On Jeremy Corbyn: "Corbyn would be so bad for your country, he'd be so bad. He'd take you in such a bad way. He'd take you to such bad places."
On the NHS: "I don't even know where [it] started with respect to us taking over your healthcare system. I mean it's so ridiculous. I think Corbyn put that out there, but to even think, it was never even mentioned, I never even heard it until I went over to visit with the Queen."
On Boris Johnson's deal with the EU: "We want to do trade with the UK but to be honest with you, this deal, under certain aspects of the deal, you can't do it. You can't trade. We can't make a trade deal with the UK. I think we can do many times the numbers we're doing right now, and certainly much bigger numbers than you're doing under the EU. Boris wants to be very careful with it. Under certain ways we would be precluded, which would be ridiculous."

AR The Donald can't help Boris win this way.


Cosmic History

Natalie Wolchover

The Big Bang began with a burst of cosmic inflation. As space expanded exponentially, pairs of particles popped up in the inflaton field. The ripples stretched out and became frozen into the field as twin peaks in its density. As the process continued, the peaks formed a fractal pattern.
Space is filled with correlated sets of objects arising from quantum particles that pop into existence during inflation. All these configurations of objects in the sky today encode the passage of time.
The inflaton field must have interacted with the gravitational field. When a pair of particles in the inflaton field is dragged apart by cosmic expansion, one of the pair can morph into two gravitons, yielding a triangular pattern. If a pair of primordial particles each decayed into two other particles, we get a four-point correlation.
A bootstrap approach from the laws of physics leads to an equation for the patterns of correlations. The equation gives us a deeper view of particle physics, in which the outcomes of particle collisions follow from the volume of a geometric shape called the amplituhedron.
Nima Arkani-Hamed and Juan Maldacena rethought cosmic inflation in de Sitter space. Its symmetries constrain the cosmic correlations from inflation. There is no time variable in the bootstrap equation, yet it generates a universe evolving in time.

AR Omniscience offers a more abstract view of time.

Aurora Borealis

⦿ Maciej Winiarczyk
Aurora Borealis over Loch Watten, Caithness, Scotland, 2019-10-26



Steve Bray
"The only way we can unite
is for parliament to
revoke article 50."
Steve Bray

Landtagswahl Thüringen
Vorläufiges Endergebnis





US raiders
kill Daesh caliph
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

RN F-35
HMS Queen Elizabeth carries
a dozen £100 million F-35B
fighters that in "beast mode"
can carry a 10 ton warload

My years as a Conservative
party activist: a photo-
graphic chronicle



2019 Halloween

Popular Preferences

Daniel Ward

A capacity to make mistakes is central to a capacity for rationality.
Liberals say each of us is sovereign in our political, consumer, and religious preferences. General infallibility says we are not only sovereign but free from error in our preferences.
The idea that elections should decide what the government does is central to democracy. Elections do not end discussion of the policies voted upon. Liberalism does not justify blocking debate.
Cultural relativism says what is right for a society is whatever society regards as right. Then nobody is wrong about anything. A rebuttal starts by saying our own beliefs and attitudes change.
Revealed preference is basic to modern economics. Relativism says you cannot question the choices of others, but preference theory implies you cannot question even your own choices.
Economists equate preferences with what people spend their money on. Each individual has a set of preferences, a utility function to be maximized, and economists aggregate those functions to calculate the effect on prices and so on.
Utility maximization is a theory about rational agents. Economists say what is rational for a given person is whatever that person wants. They assume general infallibility.
Goals presuppose the possibility of error. Goals tend to form nested hierarchies. Each objective is contingent on it advancing the objective it answers to in the hierarchy above it.
A goal can render other preferences mistaken. This fact allows us to persuade one another. If you and I share some goal, you can tell me my preference is mistaken because it will not achieve that goal.
General infallibility creates the illusion that people are inaccessible to reason. Then no one can engage with other views or take them seriously. We must see through that illusion.
To err is human.

AR For example, many British voters in 2016 were wrong to imagine their lives would be improved by Brexit. Pushing on with Brexit disrespects the right of voters to change their minds for good reasons. Some voter may not understand those reasons, but too bad.

2019 October 30

UK General Election

The Times

Boris Johnson is a gambler. He is betting that voters will blame parliament for his failure to deliver Brexit and that public impatience will give him a majority to "get Brexit done" in the new year. The gamble might resolve nothing and return another hung parliament. The country has never been more divided. All Brexit options are still on the table.


UK Economic Prospects


The economic outlook is uncertain and depends on UK trading relationships after Brexit. Domestic economic weakness is amplified by slowing global demand.
We estimate that the economy would be 3.5% smaller in the long run with HM Government's proposed Brexit deal compared to continued EU membership. Assuming uncertainty persists but the terms of EU trade remain unchanged, we forecast economic growth of under 1.5% in 2019 and 2020. Favourable financing conditions and looser fiscal policy will support economic growth while uncertainty holds back investment and productivity growth.
We estimate the UK economy is 2.5% smaller now than it would otherwise have been as a result of the 2016 Brexit vote.


Germany and Japan

Martin Wolf

German hostility to the EZ is as irrational as UK hostility to the EU.
Germany and Japan have the world's third and fourth largest economies. Both have high median ages, low fertility rates, high incomes per head, and strong manufacturing. Both countries also have huge surpluses of private savings over investments.
Arithmetic requires that either fiscal deficits or capital flows abroad absorb these excess savings. In Japan, net capital outflows absorbed just a third of the private surplus, with the rest ending up in fiscal deficits. In Germany, capital outflows absorb all the private surplus, the exchange rate is competitive, and exports go largely to other EZ countries.
The EZ protected Germany from becoming another Japan.


Asteroid Hygiea

New Scientist

The asteroid Hygiea was discovered in 1849, but now we have good images of it. The Very Large Telescope in Chile reveals its shape as much more spherical than expected.
A dwarf planet must satisfy four criteria: it has to orbit the sun, it cannot be a moon, it must not have swept up all the smaller objects in its orbit, and it must have enough mass for gravity to pull it into a spherical shape. At about 430 km across, Hygiea would be the smallest dwarf planet we know of, less than half the diameter of the next one. According to simulations, it seems it formed in a collision that broke apart a larger body, allowing the fragments to coalesce into a ball, rather than by slowly changing shape over time.
The IAU has not certified Hygiea as a dwarf planet.

2019 October 29

General Election 12/12

BBC News

2024 UTC — MPs approve plan to hold general election on 12 December by 438 votes to 20. If all goes to plan, the next prime minister will be announced on Friday 13 December.

1829 UTC — The Conservative party will restore the whip to 10 of the 21 MPs from whom the whip was withdrawn last month.


Nach Thüringen

Die Welt

Nach der Landtagswahl in Thüringen kritisiert CDU-Politiker Friedrich Merz Kanzlerin Angela Merkel scharf. Bundestags-Vize Wolfgang Kubicki spricht Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer das Format als Parteichefin und Kanzlerkandidatin ab.


Alternative for Germany

Katrin Bennhold, Melissa Eddy

Since the AfD was founded in 2013 as a national-conservative, free-market protest party against the Greek bailout and the euro, it has shifted sharply to the right. Now it stands for nationalism and opposition to immigration.
The AfD includes not only disillusioned conservatives alienated by a perceived shift to the left of the CDU on issues like migration, same-sex marriage, and climate change, but also hardline nationalists, who use language laced with ethnic hatred.
The far right is more moderate in western Germany and less successful, trailing far behind the CDU and the resurgent Greens. In the former East, it has become a broad political force.
IDZ director Matthias Quent: "East Germany has become a refuge for the far right, a place where you can gather your strength, logistically and mentally .. The east is where Germany is still Germany and where men are still men."

2019 October 28

MPs Reject 12/12 Election

BBC News, 1945 UTC

HM Government moved a motion to hold a general election on December 12: 299 MPs voted for the motion, 70 against, but it failed because a 2/3 majority is required under the FTPA.



Donald Tusk, 0923 UTC

The EU27 has agreed that it will accept the UK's request for a #Brexit flextension until 31 January 2020. The decision is expected to be formalised through a written procedure.


End of the Union

Neal Ascherson

The Brexit ordeal has changed Britain:
 Conservative leaders blamed previous Labour governments for the financial deficit caused by
   the bank crash. No one had the energy to rebut that lie.
 People began to resent the huge gap in wealth, opportunity, infrastructure, and innovation
   between the London region and England outside London.
 The law is beginning to circumscribe parliamentary sovereignty. The time is fast approaching
   when parliament will be subject to constitutional law.
 In the UK of four nations, England no longer puts its own interests behind those of the others.
   Conservatives are ready to lose Scotland for Brexit.

AR Keep these changes and Remain.


Wahl in Thüringen

Der Spiegel

Die Suche nach einer Mehrheit im Thüringer Landtag ist nach dem Wahlsieg der Linken und dem Erfolg der AfD schwierig.
FDP-Landeschef und Spitzenkandidat Thomas Kemmerich freut der knappen Erfolg der FDP: "Wir haben erreicht, wieder dem Thüringer Landtag anzugehören."
Kemmerich sagte, er sei angetreten, damit die Regierung von Ministerpräsident Bodo Ramelow (Die Linke) keine Mehrheit mehr bekomme. Er fügte hinzu, dass es eine Koalition aus Linken, SPD, Grünen und FDP mit ihm sicher nicht geben werde. Man werde mit Ramelow nicht sprechen.
FDP-Bundesparteichef Christian Lindner nahm den Wahlabend mit Humor: "Jede Stimme zählt, niemals war dieser Satz weiser als heute."

AR Der Erfolg der AfD ist besorgniserregend.


Science and Human Identity

Nathaniel Comfort

In 1869, Thomas Henry Huxley advanced a scheme for eugenics. Convinced that the British Empire depended on the "energetic enterprising" English character, he mused about selecting for a can-do attitude among Britons.
Huxley had a sunny view of infinite human progress and triumph brought about by the inexorable march of science. As Francis Galton come to be known as the father of eugenics, psychologists made IQ tests a weapon of social control.
Eugenicists became obsessed with low intelligence, believing it to be the root of crime, poverty, promiscuity and disease. By the time Adolf Hitler redefined eugenics, countless people worldwide had already been sterilized or locked up.
More recently, molecular biology has relaxed the borders of the self. Genetic engineering and synthetic biology have redefined human nature. Biotechnology and information technology suggest the self is a construct.

AR My work has focused on redefining the self.

2019 October 27

Undermining UK Democracy

The Observer

Democracy cannot simply be enforced by the courts. It relies on the tacit agreement by those who take part that they will cherish and abide by its principles and act in good faith.
What is happening in Britain today shows how quickly the rot can set in. Our political honour code is breaking down, unleashing a race to the bottom. We do not yet know whether things will get worse before they get better.
The Leave campaigns were infected with populism from the start. Leavers denied there would be any trade-offs in leaving the EU and voters were told they could have it all: a more sovereign UK, a burgeoning economy, revitalised public services funded by the money saved on EU membership, and lower levels of immigration.
That campaign is responsible for the political mess we now find ourselves in. Leave politicians have shown for three years that what they promised voters was a unicorn. They have no deal that can win the support of parliament.
Boris Johnson is making a petulant joke of our democratic institutions. Every committed democrat should be appalled at his tactics. They risk undermining trust in democracy.


East German View

Egon Krenz

Today people say the East Germans tore down the Berlin wall on November 9, 1989. But that's not historically correct.
All those images you see of people hacking away at the wall with hammers and pickaxes were taken from the western side. No one in the east was trying to destroy the wall. They were just full of joy at being able to cross to the west.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told me German reunification was not on the agenda. And I was naive enough to believe it. But his emissaries were already in West Germany trying to get a quid pro quo for approving reunification.
Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze told me they wanted to save the Soviet Union and had to throw out all the ballast. East Germany was a loyal Soviet ally, but we were now ballast. That was a knockout blow.
There was no reunification of two states. It was the Anschluss of one state to another state. The other state set the rules.

AR Such ingratitude for a €2 trillion bailout.


Nuclear Fusion

Philip Ball

The Joint European Torus (JET) at Culham, UK, run by the EU28 Eurofusion consortium, aims to make the nuclear fusion of hydrogen viable for energy generation by collecting the heat released to drive turbines for electricity.
Since 1983, JET has been aiming to extract more from the fusion process than is put in to keep it alive. Its reactor induces fusion in a super-hot plasma of hydrogen isotopes suspended by magnetic fields inside a tokamak.
JET is an experimental facility. It will be succeeded by the $20 billion ITER project, a collaboration between the EU and six other nations. ITER construction is now nearing completion in France. It aims to start in 2025 and then ramp up to produce 500 MW.
ITER is the big hope for the future of fusion. UK membership comes through its affiliation with Euratom, which is coupled to EU membership. Outside the EU, the UK would need to renegotiate a new position in ITER from scratch.
The UK Atomic Energy Authority has explored spherical tokamaks since the 1990s. The UK government has given £220 million to the UK-based Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) project to build a fusion reactor feeding 100 MW into the national grid by 2040.
Start-ups now trying to develop commercial fusion, such as Tokamak Energy, near Culham, hope to build a reactor small enough to fit on to the back of a truck to provide power locally to a factory or a town. But they are nowhere near ready for market.
Fusion will not solve the immediate climate crisis. But it will be a major component of global energy generation in the second half of this century.

AR The UK must continue to participate in ITER.

2019 October 26

JEDI War Cloud

The Guardian

The Pentagon has awarded the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) war cloud contract to Microsoft, not front-runner Amazon. Donald Trump dislikes Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, which criticizes Trump.


Taxing War Years

Jörg Schindler

Former UK ambassador to the EU Sir Ivan Rogers: "I suspect that we will have to live with Boris Johnson for the next ten years."
In London, many think the defeats Johnson has suffered since July have only made him stronger. Every path leads to new elections. Johnson could triumph as the man who led his country to freedom, the man who took back control.
In an election on December 12, Johnson could win a majority. Polls put the Conservatives up to 15% ahead of Labour. The main hurdle is the Brexit party: Nigel Farage says Johnson's deal is "no Brexit" and will try to defeat Johnson.
Rogers: "We are in deep shit."

AR Victory on December 12 could let Johnson ram through a no-deal Brexit before the UK had to comply with new EU laws against tax dodging that take effect in 2020.

2019 October 25

Impeaching Trump

David A. Graham

The impeachment of President Donald Trump is now effectively inevitable. The remaining questions are how much broader the scandal gets, how much worse the details become, and how many Republicans get on board. Trump was seeking to aid his own personal reelection prospects using American statecraft as leverage.


Brexit Democracy

David Miliband

Brexiteers say Britain must press ahead with Brexit whatever the cost, because the danger to democracy will be so great if it does not. It cannot be more democratic to plough on with a version of Brexit that was never presented to the public in 2016 than to consult them on whether they want to go ahead with this plan. The risks to democratic health of no further consultation are greater than allowing the public to decide.

2019 October 24

Throw the Bum Out!

Roger Cohen

Britain is now close to a primal scream: Save us from Brexit! Deliver us from this nightmare!
The Conservatives are hellbent on likely breaking up the UK and certainly damaging its economy. The party equates this outcome with freedom and sees its leader Boris Johnson as a statesman. He has failed: The fantasy he sold in 2016 is not the reality of 2019.
No one can deliver Brexit because it makes no sense. Britain needs a general election, soon.


Celestial Strontium


When two neutron stars collide, they emit gravitational waves and light and forge heavy elements such as gold, platinum, and lead. These elements are scattered across the universe in a "kilonova" — like a supernova — after the initial fireball.
Researchers have now detected the heavy element strontium in the aftermath of a collision detected by LIGO in 2017. The discovery is more evidence that neutron star mergers create the heavy elements we find in our universe.

Identification of strontium in the merger of two neutron stars
Darach Watson et al.

Half of all of the elements in the universe that are heavier than iron were created by rapid neutron capture. The theory underlying this process requires an enormous neutron flux to make the bulk of the elements. Existing models and evidence point to neutron-star mergers as a probable site. The kilonova that emerges in the days after a merger is a likely place to detect the spectral signatures of newly created neutron-capture elements.
Kilonova AT2017gfo was found following the discovery of a neutron-star merger by gravitational-wave detectors. Its spectra were broadly consistent with an outflow of radioactive heavy elements. We have identified the neutron-capture element strontium in a reanalysis of these spectra. The detection establishes the origin of heavy elements in neutron-star mergers and shows that neutron stars are made of neutron-rich matter.


Hello Quantum World!


Scientists at Google say that they have achieved quantum supremacy. A team led by John Martinis says its quantum computer carried out a calculation beyond reach of classical machines.
Martinis likens the experiment to a "Hello World" program. The feat was first reported in September after an early version of the paper was leaked on the NASA website.
The Google team programmed its Sycamore computer to describe the likelihood of different outcomes from a quantum version of a random number generator. Sycamore calculated the probability distribution by sampling the circuit. It took 200 seconds to perform a task that would take a billion years on a desktop computer.
Other researchers are already trying to improve on the classical algorithms used to tackle the problem. IBM reports in a preprint that the problem can be solved in 60 hours using a different classical technique, but the paper has not been peer reviewed. If IBM is correct, Google has only demonstrated quantum advantage.
Scott Aaronson: "The scientific achievement is huge, assuming it stands, and I'm guessing it will."

AR I'm impressed.


⦿ David Lister
USAF F-22 Raptor

"The EU is not tired of the
British people. We are simply
tired of prime ministers who
don't understand that if they
don't get their deal through
parliament they should put
it back to the people."
Terry Reintke MEP
Bündnis 90/Die Grünen

Dorset for Europe

"We Brits owe all our European
friends a sincere apology .. For
Britain is now Hamlet, forever
agonizing over whether Brexit
is to be or not to be."
Timothy Garton Ash



2019 October 23

Climate Crisis

The Guardian

We face a climate emergency or a climate crisis, not merely climate change. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not merely a sceptic but a climate science denier.
Greenhouse gases cause global heating rather than global warming. The atmosphere is being heated by greenhouse gas emissions rather than carbon emissions.
We share the planet with wildlife rather than biodiversity. We need to protect fish populations rather than fish stocks.

AR Language matters.


Press On

The Times

Parliament may have scuppered Boris Johnson's hopes of leaving by October 31, but a deal now looks possible. The public will accept a delay of a few weeks, particularly if the alternative is to drag the process out for months for an election. The time for an election is once Brexit has been delivered, a moment now within reach.

AR The UK establishment is still too fatally intent on wrecking Europe.


A Bad Deal

The Guardian

Boris Johnson's version of Brexit cannot be allowed to stand. The government's desire to bludgeon the withdrawal bill through the House of Commons in three days was a brazen attempt to exploit a mood of national exhaustion with Brexit. The notion that matters of this gravity and magnitude should have been considered without proper scrutiny was an affront to parliamentary democracy.

AR Remainers should ask why the EU endorsed this bad deal so easily.


No Done Deal

Jonathan Freedland

Boris Johnson won his meaningful vote by 52% to 48%. But parliament did not approve his deal. Many MPs voted for a second reading not to endorse it but to amend it — with UK membership of a customs union or by conditioning it on a confirmatory referendum. Johnson will frame an early election as a battle to get Brexit done, but scrutiny of his deal will kill it.

AR We need a "democratic event" to ditch the "do or die" bravado.

2019 October 22, "Titanic Tuesday"

MPs Reject Halloween Brexit

BBC News, 1832 UTC

MPs first voted on the "second reading" (the first main hurdle a bill must pass on the way to becoming law) of the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill intended to give legal effect to the deal negotiated by Boris Johnson in Brussels last week. MPs passed it by 329 votes to 299. The next steps are to read the bill and table amendments.
MPs next voted on the (absurdly accelerated) timetable to rush through the passage of the bill into law in time for Halloween. MPs rejected the timetable by 322 votes to 308.
Johnson says the government will accelerate its preparations for a no-deal Brexit and "pause" the bill while he waits for a response on a delay from the EU.


Little England

The Times

Three quarters of Conservative Leavers in England would sacrifice the UK to leave the EU. A poll by Conservative donor Lord Ashcroft finds that 76% of English Conservatives who voted Leave in 2016 would continue with Brexit even if it led to Scotland gaining independence, and 74% would do so even if it led to Northern Ireland leaving the UK.


Populist Poland

Cas Mudde

Victory in the Polish parliamentary elections on October 13 went to the ruling populist Law and Justice party (PiS). PiS increased its vote share by 6% and regained its majority in the lower house of parliament (but lost its majority in the upper house).
The outcome discredits four myths about right-wing populist politics:
 Right-wing populism will fail in government. But populists say elitism is about morality. A prime minister from the people is not part of the elite.
 High turnout hurts right-wing populists. But not only the PiS but also the confederation of right-wing forces led by Janusz Korwin-Mikke did well.
 Rightwing populist parties moderate in government. But PiS campaigned on a centrist platform in 2015 and only then attacked liberal democracy and the independent judiciary and media.
 Voters are put off by radical politics. But as the success of PiS shows, they are not.

2019 October 21

No Vote Today

BBC News, 1437 UTC

House speaker John Bercow rules that the Brexit deal considered on Saturday will not be reconsidered today.


Achieving Brexit Closure

The New York Times

Super Saturday was to have been the decisive moment for Brexit. MPs were to vote for the surprise deal Boris Johnson brought back from Brussels. But they baulked.
MPs carried an amendment to postpone voting on the deal until the enabling legislation was passed. Johnson yanked his bill, evidently intent on reintroducing it soon.
Maybe Johnson will get his deal through parliament this week, but too much is at stake to rush it.


Debating Exit Fears

Financial Times

Those who expected an extraordinary sitting of the UK House of Commons to cut the Gordian knot of Brexit were not paying attention. MPs were in no mood to be bounced by prime minister Boris Johnson into a do-or-die choice on a Saturday afternoon.
Instead, they insisted on taking out an insurance policy against a disorderly Brexit. Johnson has become a victim of his attempts to bully his way to Brexit. MPs need to debate the contents of the political statement accompanying the withdrawal agreement.
Former chancellor Philip Hammond fears Johnson could run down the clock until the end of the transition in December 2020. Without a trade deal, Britain would face a very hard Brexit.


Get Healing

Clare Foges

Get Brexit Done suggests resolution. But even if this deal passes and gets us out of the EU, our Brexit travails are nowhere near done. Before us stretch months of tortuous negotiations on our future trade relationship with the EU.
On Saturday, the prime minister spoke of friendships strained and families divided by Brexit and suggested his deal could "heal our country" at last. We will never "heal our country" unless we hold a second referendum.


Machine Intelligence


Conference on Cognitive Computational Neuroscience (CCN)
Berlin, September 13−16, 2019

CCN sits at the intersection of cognitive science, computational neuroscience, and AI.
The CCN organizers have created an unorthodox conference. CCN co-founder Thomas Naselaris: "Everything that we tried, every change that we made, and everything that we're doing that's different from other conferences is focused on increasing the opportunities for people to interact."
Ample and diverse opportunities were provided for people to interact. At the individual level, an algorithmically optimized networking event was called mind matching. At the group level, there were cross-collaboration breakouts. At the community level, there was an event on the free-energy principle for unifying global brain theories.
Neuroscientists were anxious that machine learning and AI are moving far more rapidly than they can internalize. A good deal of useful material is being developed in machine learning that can reveal something important about how the brain and cognition work.

The free-energy principle: a unified brain theory?
Karl Friston, Nature Reviews Neuroscience 11, 127-138 (2010)

A proposed free-energy principle accounts for action, perception, and learning. This review looks at some key brain theories in the biological and physical sciences from the free-energy perspective. A key theme in each of these theories is optimization. Looking at what is optimized, the same quantity keeps emerging, namely value (expected reward, expected utility) or its complement, surprise (prediction error, expected cost).
Perhaps several global brain theories can be unified in a free-energy framework.


Fuel Cells 4 Electric Cars

Mail on Sunday

Trevor Jackson has signed a deal to start making his new fuel cell on a large scale in the UK. Austin Electric will build thousands of them into electric vehicles next year.
Jackson came up with a prototype a decade ago. He has now secured £108,000 for further research from the Advanced Propulsion Centre, a partner of the UK government department for business, innovation and skills.
Jackson began his career working for Rolls-Royce and the Royal Navy on nuclear reactors. Then, at BAE Systems, he worked on new ways to power vehicles.
He investigated fuel-cell technology using aluminum anodes in a KOH electrolyte. But KOH is toxic and caustic and works only with totally pure aluminum. After years of experimentation, Jackson developed a harmless electrolyte that works with lower-grade metal.
Jackson's Al-air cell produces nine times as many kWh of electricity per kg as Li-ion cells. A car with a reasonable battery of Al-air cells would have a range of several thousand km. Because Al-air fuel cells have a high energy density, they can also be used in buses and trucks. A battery of Al-air fuel cells for a high-end car would cost around £5,000.
Drivers with cars running on Li-ion cells have to recharge them, which takes a long time. But when an Al-air cell is spent, you simply swap it for a new one in a minute or two. The old one can be recycled cheaply. The running cost of an Al-air car would be a fraction of that for a fossil-fuel car.
Austin Electric will start by making Asian tuk-tuk taxis, electric bikes, and kits to convert fossil-fuel cars into hybrids. The conversion cost will be about £3,500, as of early 2020.
Jackson: "The technological and environmental advantages of aluminum-air are overwhelming, and Britain has a chance to become the world leader in it."

AR I say go for it. This is worth big investment.



11 days

Put deal to people

Rise up


2019 October 20

Kurdish Betrayal

Bernard-Henri Lévy

The Kurds have values and principles and an idea of Islam that is exemplary. In the West, everyone is searching for a democratic, secular Islam that believes in human rights, recognizes and practices the strict equality of men and women, protects minorities, and is a friend to Jews and Christians. Well, there it is.
Donald Trump's desertion of the Kurds is an act of infamy. This stain will long remain with Trump and those who helped him make his decision. It is a terrible thing to have the blood of your enemies on your hands, but it is so much worse to have them stained with the blood of your friends.
The only explanation is that he has an overall agreement with the Russians that cedes to them the management and policing of that entire part of the world. Allowing Vladimir Putin or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to appear as peacemakers or the saviors of this or that people is strategically disastrous.


Johnson Sends 3 Letters 2 Brussels

Mail on Sunday

UK prime minister Boris Johnson sent three letters to Brussels last night in a bid to make sure the EU does not offer an extension. One letter asked for a delay in accordance with the Benn Act, but Johnson refused to sign it, and a second explained that he had not written it. In the third, signed letter to European Council president Donald Tusk, Johnson made it clear that he does not want the EU to grant the UK an extension.
Remainers responded with fury and said they could launch legal action to see if the prime minister had breached the Benn Act. Tusk responded by saying he would consult with other EU leaders about what to do next. Another Commons vote on Johnson's Brexit deal is expected tomorrow, but multiple amendments are expected too.
Minister in charge of no-deal Brexit preparations Michael Gove: "If we vote to leave, we get the legislation through, then there is no extension — October 31 is within sight."


Labour Could Back Deal

Keir Starmer

We need to ensure we have a referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU with the final deal or remain. Whatever the deal, it has got to go to a referendum up against remain. We will put down amendments to make sure the future destination is a close economic relationship with the EU.
Other amendments are important, too. There is a trapdoor to no deal at the end of 2020 that we need to deal with and close, and we can do that in the legislation. We also need an amendment saying whatever deal gets through should be subject to a referendum.


Inherited Learning

Viviane Callier

Some learned behaviors and acquired responses can be transmitted through several generations.
Possible mechanisms for epigenetic inheritance involve either chemical modifications of the proteins and DNA in the chromatin that makes up chromosomes, or small molecules of RNA that pass into germ cells, where they interact with the DNA and affect gene regulation.
C. elegans worms infected with viruses defend themselves by generating small RNAs that target and neutralize the viruses. Offspring of the roundworms also make these small protective RNAs. The inheritance of the small RNAs depends on enzymes that replicate them from a template.
C. elegans worms engineered to lack a gene required both for the synthesis of small RNAs and for chemotaxis cannot sniff out food if subjected to mild stresses. Restoring the missing gene only in the worms' nerve cells restored their ability to locate food.
C. elegans worms exposed to a pathogenic bacterium learn to avoid it, and they transmit this learned avoidance for about four generations. Worms exposed to the pathogen show changes in the expression of a gene in a neuron required for the avoidance behavior. There are also changes in the small RNAs in the germline.
Fruit flies can also inherit behaviors epigenetically. Adult Drosophila females raised with parasitic wasps learn to lay their eggs on food that contains ethanol, which protects the eggs and larvae from the wasps. This egg-laying preference persists for five generations. Small noncoding RNAs from the mother are not sufficient for transmitting the behavior between generations; an epigenetic modification on chromosome 3 is also essential.
Mice suffering early-life trauma release stress hormones that affect them throughout their lives. They also affect the developing germ cells, causing the same behaviors and metabolic alterations to be inherited in the offspring for up to five generations. Injecting the blood of traumatized mice into control mice can induce similar metabolic symptoms. Their offspring inherit the metabolic abnormalities too.
We don't know why epigenetic inheritance lasts for a few generations and then stops.

AR I find this fascinating.


⦿ Victoria Jones / PA

⦿ Tom Corban
Angelic Strumming

⦿ Isabel Infantes
Demonic Cunning


2019 October 19, "Super Saturday"

Together for the Final Say

People's Vote march, London, today

AR I was there, among I guess about a million people. As we gathered in Hyde Park before noon, with the dew fresh on the grass, many thousands of demonstrators, decked out in their festive marching outfits, formed into fluid and overlapping groups under flags and banners for the EU, the UK, political parties (Labour, Lib Dem, Greens, ..), towns and cities (Glasgow, Oxford, Exeter, Southampton, ..), counties (Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Yorkshire, ..), nations (Scotland, Wales), and lots more, and then the drums pounded and the whistles blew and off we went, chanting slogans ("Bollocks to Brexit" — "People's Vote" — "Stop Brexit now") and singing snatches of popular songs (with various riffs on loving EU), shuffling along in a compressed and turbulent but friendly crowd, down Park Lane and along Piccadilly, down St James Street and along Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square, and down Whitehall to Parliament Square (I'd left by then). It was a strangely uplifting experience, like being in a medieval army, off to depose an evil monarch and launch a revolution.


MPs Defeat PM Again

The Guardian, 1350 UTC

MPs have inflicted a humiliating defeat on UK prime minister Boris Johnson by passing a backbench amendment withholding their support from his Brexit deal until it becomes law. They passed an amendment tabled by a cross-party group of MPs led by Sir Oliver Letwin by 322 votes to 306.
Johnson says he will press ahead with tabling Brexit legislation next week. MPs are likely to take the opportunity to table a string of amendments, including on trying to force a second referendum. Johnson must comply with the terms of the Benn act, which now obliges him to write to the EU to request a Brexit delay by 2200 UTC today.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer: "The deal before this house is a thoroughly bad deal for jobs, rights and living standards, a bad deal for the future direction of this country. It will put us on the path to an entirely different economy and society: one of deregulation and divergence."

AR The mega-crowd cheered the vote result as a mega-victory, but the war is not yet won. I was also there in the mega-crowd for the historic (and very similar) London march on Saturday, March 23, 2019. The experience was very similar. There I was with a family group, so I was distracted from the wider impact and neglected to record my response so fully.
The Brexit division in British public life is surely the deepest since the English Civil War (1642−1651). Only the veneer of modern civilization prevents it from breaking out into violence.
Coincidentally, on Friday night I (re)watched A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick's classic movie interpretation of the Anthony Burgess novel, and was reminded again of how thin that veneer is. Also, I am reading The Bombing War: Europe 1939−1945 by Richard Overy, a serious and methodical history of the most recent European descent into mass savagery.
All this is a sobering reminder of the real reason for our holding the EU in exceptionally high esteem — and for the UK to Remain a member.

Stop Brexit

Jacob Rees-Mogg

"Let us stagnate no more,
let us spring forth and
seize the victory
people voted for."
Jacob Rees-Mogg


The pound has just surged
through $1.29

Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster after
talks with Boris Johnson


Liberal Democrats table an
amendment to the Queen's
speech asking that any deal
brought back from Brussels
be put to a public vote.

LibDem leader Jo Swinson:
"The best deal we have
is as members of the
European Union."

Ted Turner
Ted Turner, 2011

Queen Elizabeth II



"We the people elect leaders
not to rule but to serve."
Dwight Eisenhower

Nie wieder


2019 October 18

Turkey's Victory

The New York Times

President Trump's withdrawal of US troops from Syria shows the danger he poses.
The troops were stationed in Syria between the Kurds who fought with them on the ground and the Turks, whose country is a NATO ally and repository of American tactical nuclear weapons. The betrayal left the Kurds divided among five Mideast countries that mistrust them. Trump abruptly sold them out to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu: "We got what we wanted."


New Deal Between EU27 and HMG

Michael Dougan

Boris Johnson's "new deal" between the EU27 and the UK government is mostly identical to that finalized by Theresa May. The only substantive change is to the Irish protocol.
NI will be a UK customs territory but subject to large swathes of EU legislation and ECJ caselaw. Customs and regulatory checks will take place between GB and NI.
For NI, any trade benefits of Brexit must be set against the cost of added customs complexity and bureaucracy. EU customs duties will apply unless and until proved otherwise, with a procedure for refunds by UK authorities.
The revised backstop will apply unless and until it is replaced by a new EU-UK trade deal. In reality, the backstop regime is permanent unless NI institutions later decide it should be terminated.
HMG says the customs and regulatory barriers will run only from GB into NI, whereas NI will enjoy free access to the GB market. This raises problems of equity for Scotland and Wales.
The revised Political Declaration remains much the same, but with a few tweaks intended to increase the future distance between the EU and the UK.
The deal might help with the immediate challenge of an orderly departure from the EU, but it remains a damaging and dangerous Brexit.


Hold Public Vote on Brexit Deal

Martin Wolf

Boris Johnson's new deal is better than the lunacy of no deal. He should now give the public the informed choice they lacked in 2016.
Leaving the EU will give the UK the illusion, not the reality, of greater control. The UK alone does not have the clout needed for transformative trade deals.
GDP is now 2−3% less than it could have been without the 2016 vote. With this deal, GDP per head could be 6−7% lower compared to staying in the EU. This is even worse than the 5.5% loss estimated under the May deal.
The economic loss far more than offsets any gain. The political costs are also dire. A breakup of the UK becomes much more likely.
This is a terrible deal, an act of mutilation. Ask the people whether it is what they want.

2019 October 17

Brexit Deal Done

Evening Standard, 0947 UTC

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker tweet: "Where there is a will, there is a deal — we have one! It's a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the UK and it is testament to our commitment to find solutions."
UK prime minister Boris Johnson tweet: "We've got a great new deal that takes back control — now Parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities."


DUP Rejects Brexit Plan

Financial Times

Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party says it cannot support the revised Brexit deal as it stands. The EU and the UK have been seeking ways to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. The UK has conceded that NI will apply EU customs and tariffs rules overseen by the ECJ.


Johnson Deal Bad for UK

James Blitz

Boris Johnson's proposed Brexit deal is bad for the UK economy and will leave most British citizens poorer.
Johnson is seeking a goods-only deal with only minimal coverage of services. This is worse for the economy than Theresa May's deal, under which per capita income (PCI) would have been 1.7% lower than under continued EU membership. The PCI loss for the Johnson deal is 2.5% lower while that for a no-deal Brexit is 3.3%.
Under the Johnson proposal, NI will enjoy a special status as part of the UK but closely aligned to the EU single market and customs union. The SNP will say this undermines the idea of the UK and will demand to be treated like NI.
The deal Johnson proposes will make Britons poorer. Put it to the public in a referendum.

2019 October 16

"No Deal Tonight"

BBC News, 1848 UTC

A UK government source says there will be "no deal tonight" as officials work on details in Brussels. The UK and EU were hoping to sign off a revised Brexit deal before the EU council meeting tomorrow. Boris Johnson needs ERG and DUP MPs to back his ideas for Northern Ireland.


The Romance of Brexit Britain

Robert Harris

England has not been conquered for almost a thousand years. The English had no guillotine and no Hitler. For England, the past is full of nostalgia.
Europe was devastated during WW2. The European project arose from the ruins. Europeans decided that such a disaster would never be repeated. But that is obviously beyond the imagination of many Britons.
I have a lot of friends in the Conservatives. But the Brexit question is more fundamental. The preparations for Brexit reveal how little the government actually has under its control.
Boris Johnson is a bad writer and a poor speaker. He's not as smart as many people in the UK think. He is a charming bluffer.


The Fantasy of Wartime Britain

John Harris

Brexiteers affect to be consumed by the distant stuff of Dunkirk, the Blitz, and VE day.
Boris Johnson rants about parliament's "surrender bill" and No 10 sources warn of MPs colluding with foreign powers. Nigel Farage rallies begin with the sound of air-raid sirens. Friends of the prime minister regularly bring up his fixation with Winston Churchill.
Johnson and Farage were born in 1964. The end of WW2 was decades away, and the remaining rump of empire was the butt of jokes. But their audience loves the idea that Britannia could once again rule the waves and stick it to the continentals.
The comical fantasy of a belligerent UK blazing its own trail is absurd.


The Fallacy of Government Security

Edward Snowden

The US government is seeking to undermine the security of the world's information.
Facebook is being asked to create a backdoor, or fatal flaw, into its encrypted messaging apps, which would allow anyone with the key to that backdoor unlimited access to private communications. So far, Facebook has resisted this.
If internet traffic is unencrypted, any government, company, or criminal that happens to notice it can steal a copy of it, secretly recording your information for ever. Encrypted traffic is safe: only those who have a special decryption key can unlock it.
E2EE ensures the keys that unlock any given message are only ever stored on the specific devices at the end points of a communication. E2EE keys can no longer be stolen in the event of corporate data breaches. E2EE protects users.
The US government claims that without total access to the complete history of every person's activity on Facebook, it would be unable to investigate terrorists, drug dealers, money launderers, and child abusers.
E2EE helps us remain not only safe, but free.

2019 October 15

Scottish Independence

BBC News, 1630 UTC

Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon enjoyed multiple standing ovations when she told the SNP conference that a second referendum on Scottish independence must happen next year. She confirmed that she will ask the UK government for formal consent by the end of this year and said Westminster had no right to block the request. She stressed the referendum had to be recognised internationally, because her aim was to deliver independence.


Ted Turner, Captain Planet


Ted Turner founded CNN, the world's first 24-hour news network, in 1980. He had a master plan: to make the world a better place.
A philanthropist of extraordinary generosity, he once donated $1 billion to the UN. He founded the Nuclear Threat Initiative, set up the UN Foundation to support humanitarian work around the world, and signed The Giving Pledge to commit more than half his wealth to good deeds.
The cause closest to his heart is protecting the Earth: "It's a pretty wonderful world that we live in down here, and it's worth saving .. You have to save the species that live on the planet to save the planet."
Turner now owns 16 ranches in six western US states and three more in Argentina. They cover a total of more than 3000 square miles. Each ranch is a refuge for native species.
Captain Planet is a person with a mission to save the world. Ted Turner is Captain Planet.


Jesus in Asia

Ian Johnson

Asian intellectuals grappled with Jesus as a person with a place in Asian religions and compared him with other religious figures, such as Zoroaster, Buddha, and Krishna.
Ponnambalam Ramanathan (1851−1930) was less interested in the man Jesus than in his spirit. He lauded his childlike ability to reveal God. On a tour of the United States, he told audiences Christian ideas are not originally Christian but old Hindu doctrine.
C.T. Alahasundram (1873−1941) wrote a book about Jesus that omitted events he thought were useless or unconvincing to a person from India. He thought Jesus was mainly significant for his ethical views, which he equated with those of Buddha.
Manilal Parekh (1885−1967) saw Jesus as a savior and spiritual teacher in the Jain sense. Parekh tried to cleanse Christianity of European culture and imperialism. He saw his task as making Jesus suitable and intelligible to Indian spirituality.
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1885−1975) was perturbed by how Hinduism was denigrated by missionaries. He wrote of Jesus as being heavily influenced by Buddhist ideas: "Buddha and Jesus are men of the same brotherhood."
Christianity in China has roots in the work of preachers before 1949. It has spread among ethnic Chinese in the heartland and among professionals. It is the first foreign religion to gain a central place in China since Buddhism.

Jesus in Asia by R.S. Sugirtharajah

2019 October 14

The Queen's Speech

Queen Elizabeth II

My government's priority has always been to secure the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union on 31 October. My government intends to work towards a new partnership with the European Union, based on free trade and friendly cooperation [and] seizing the opportunities that arise from leaving the European Union .. [etc. etc.]

AR Given the Brexit crisis and the fact that this is an embattled minority government, the speech was no more than party political propaganda on behalf of Boris Johnson — who wrote it for her — in preparation for the next general election.


Brexit Update

The Times

EU negotiators want more concessions from Boris Johnson before agreeing a Brexit deal this week. After a weekend of intensive negotiations in Brussels, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told EU ambassadors that UK proposals were not yet acceptable. He is said to have told UK chief negotiator David Frost that Johnson must give ground on a customs agreement for Northern Ireland.
The EU is prepared to back Johnson's plan in principle even if a legal text cannot be finalized in time for the summit so long as the UK gives ground. Johnson would present a political deal for a vote in the Commons on Saturday. A final legal agreement would be ratified by an implementation bill passed by both houses of parliament.

Labour Split
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is being isolated as senior party figures call for Labour to back a second referendum on Brexit. Allies of shadow chancellor John McDonnell want the party to back Remain.
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey: "I think the only option that we've got now is to let the people decide."


Law and Justice in Poland

The Guardian

Poland's ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party has won Sunday's parliamentary election. According to official results from 99.5% of constituencies, PiS took 43.8% of the vote, ahead of the Civic Coalition on 27.2% and the Left alliance on 12.5%.
Jarosław Kaczyński: "We have reason to be happy."

Law and Justice
The right-wing PiS party is expected to win Sunday's election in Poland. Jarosław Kaczyński founded the party with his twin brother Lech. He remains the most powerful man in Poland.
Following the PiS election victory in 2015, Kaczyński weakened Poland's constitutional tribunal and made the judiciary answerable to his parliamentary majority. Brussels responded by launching legal proceedings against Warsaw.
Kaczyński has deepened support among the party's traditional, nationalist electorate. He polarized the confrontation between Catholic Poles with "normal families" against "Poles of a worse category," as he called them.
About two years ago, Kaczyński replaced prime minister Beata Szydlo with Mateusz Morawiecki. The party's tone became more moderate and PiS became more electable.
Adam Laszyn owns the company Alert Media Communications: "PiS has the most modern and sophisticated political communication strategy of any party in Europe."

AR Look on the bright side: Stability is its own reward.

2019 October 13

Making America Worse

The New York Times

The Trump administration is considering a rollback of rules written by the Obama administration to prevent big corporations from escaping taxation by shifting profits out of the United States.
The Trump administration has worked hard to reduce federal protections for consumers, workers and the environment, making the United States a dirtier and more dangerous place to live.
The Trump administration also continues to flout existing law. Its regulatory policy can be summarized as marching to the orders of the businesses it regulates. It has pushed so hard to reduce regulation that even companies have sometimes expressed reservations.
If Trump stands in 2020, Americans can improve their lives by voting for someone else.


Impeach Trump

Robert Reich

Donald Trump is the most xenophobic and isolationist US president in modern history.
Trump sides with Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Trump Towers Istanbul is the Trump Organization's first and only office and residential building in Europe.
Trump has separated families at the US-Mexico border, locked migrant children in cages, and tried to ban Muslims from entering America.
Trump has repeatedly compromised American democracy for personal gain. He asked the president of Ukraine to do him a personal favor by digging up dirt on Joe Biden.
Trump justifies his trade war with China as protecting America from Chinese predation. But he asked China to start an investigation of Biden.
Trump is pushing the prime minister of Australia, among others, to gather information to discredit Robert Mueller, who found that Russia acted to help Trump get elected.
Trump's international thug is Rudy Giuliani. Two Giuliani associates have been arrested in connection with a criminal scheme to funnel foreign money into American politics.
Trump's own children are profiting from foreign deals. Eric and Don Jr have projects in the works in Ireland, India, Indonesia, Uruguay, Turkey, and the Philippines.
Trump is pocketing money from foreign governments staying at his hotels. They spent more than a million dollars at Trump businesses in 2018.
All this is impeachable.


Big Money Brexit

Barry McGuinness

Brexit is being driven by rich investors who like to operate above the law.
Corporate tax avoidance is a global problem, but by far its biggest enabler is the UK. In 2016, the EU published a directive to tackle corporate tax avoidance. From January 2020, the new law will require anyone with offshore accounts to disclose them for scrutiny.
Continuing membership of the EU requires the UK to enforce the directive. This bothers companies that dodge taxes, as well as any rich people who hoard and launder money with British offshore banks. A no-deal Brexit lets them do business as usual.
The Conservative party is traditionally the party of business. But in the summer of 2019, it was hijacked by a small group of Brexiteers. The vacuum of regulations created by Brexit offers them an opportunity to reshape the UK economy.
London will then be deregulated. Fund managers will place bets on any assets that can rise or fall in value. The world is a big casino to them, and any disaster or crisis is a chance for a bet.
After Brexit, the UK is set to become a tax haven for Big Money.


Global English

The Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2018 [sic] is awarded to the Polish author Olga Tokarczuk for a narrative imagination that represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.
Tokarczuk: "Sometimes I wonder how my life would have worked out if my books had been translated into English sooner, because English is the language that's spoken worldwide, and when a book appears in English it is made universal, it becomes a global publication."

AR The English language, not English politics, is the true global asset.

2019 October 12

Trade War Threatens Global Economy

Kevin Rudd, Helen Clark, Carl Bildt

President Trump has announced a preliminary trade détente with China.
As representatives of a group of former prime ministers and presidents from governments that have enjoyed close relations with both the United States and China, we urge both sides to reach a substantive trade agreement by year's end.
America has profited immensely from access to global markets since its birth. China, since opening up 40 years ago, has lifted millions of its people out of poverty largely through global trade. Much of the prosperity enjoyed by people across the world is anchored in our ability to sell goods and services freely across national boundaries.
We understand the challenges that arise from Chinese policies on intellectual property, its restrictions on market access, and its subsidies for exporting companies. We believe these practices need to change. But we do not see the tariff war started by the United States as an effective way to resolve the dispute.
We urge both countries to try to reach agreement this year.


Category Theory

Kevin Hartnett

Jacob Lurie has constructed a new way to understand some deep math by moving beyond the equal sign. Mathematicians are repackaging his work to build a foundation for mathematics founded not on equality, but on equivalence.
For over a hundred years, sets have been the foundation of mathematics. Set theory specifies how to construct and manipulate sets in terms of equality. But to say that two sets are equal is to overlook all the ways they can be equal. Equality is all or nothing. Equivalence comes in different forms.
In 1945, Samuel Eilenberg and Saunders Mac Lane introduced categories. A category is a set with extra metadata describing all the ways two objects are related to one another, including a description of all the ways two objects are equivalent.
Categories can keep track of strong forms of equivalence. When you do math in terms of weaker notions of equivalence, the amount of information about how two objects are related increased dramatically. Ultimately, you build an infinite tower of equivalences between equivalences. The tower gives you a full perspective on your objects, but it was hard to build a theory of it.
Jacob Lurie created the machinery needed to replace set theory with a new mathematical foundation based on infinity categories. Read his book Higher Topos Theory.

AR I worked hard on set theory in the 1970s. But I neglected categories. Now I feel too old to tackle higher topos theory.

Get ready for IT

This is not a drill



2019 October 11

EU27 Green Light

The Guardian, 1132 UTC

EU27 gives green light for EU-UK Brexit negotiations to enter the Tunnel.


Brexit Chance

Donald Tusk, 0917 UTC

I have received promising signals from the Taoiseach that a deal is still possible. Technical talks are taking place in Brussels as we speak. Of course, there is no guarantee of success and the time is practically up. But even the slightest chance must be used.

AR Sterling jumps above $1.25 on the news.


Buccaneering Britain

Robert Saunders

The Brexit wildfire has been fed by a narrative of loss, betrayal, and dispossession.
Leavers use the past to imagine the future. They market their fables with the word "we" — "We won the war" — "We survived the Blitz" — "We abolished slavery" — and say that after Brexit we can once again take to the high seas and engage with the wide world beyond Europe.
Brexiteers say Global Britain can enjoy the same power today as at its colonial zenith. They tell of a buccaneering people in a history that recasts a coercive military empire as a champion of free trade, with entrepreneurialism as the thread from then to now.
Such rhetoric erases empire from the record to tell a story of British greatness anchored in timeless national characteristics that require only liberation from Brussels to bloom anew.
A vision of Britain both as a global titan and as a small island punching above its weight defies the real history. It detaches memories of British greatness from the material conditions that made it possible. It promotes the power of positive thinking and blames failure on the fainthearts.
Boris Johnson is an enthusiast for empire. He thinks the power of the British empire rested less on material underpinnings than on a cocktail of pluck, courage, and determination.
Johnson dotes on WW2. In his book The Churchill Factor, he roots Allied victory in the mobilization of national belief by a heroic leader. He sees in Winston Churchill a "resounding human rebuttal" to an emphasis on impersonal factors.
The rhetoric of Global Britain has set Britain on a dangerous course.


Primordial Black Holes

New Scientist

The first black holes grew amid the radiation that flooded out of the big bang.
Hawking radiation could reveal primordial black holes. Astrophysical black holes form from the collapse of dense stars of 1.4 solar masses (⦿) or more. Primordial black holes form directly from radiation and can be smaller. We could detect their evaporation by Hawking radiation.
We think invisible dark matter enables galaxies to spin fast without flying apart. Primordial black holes could emit dark matter particles as Hawking radiation. Bigger black holes are cooler and emit fewer and lighter particles. As they shrink, they heat up, emitting more massive particles.
Primordial black holes could help us explain the rate of cosmic expansion, H. We measure one value of H by recording the red shift of nearby objects and another by extrapolating from CMB data. Primordial black holes could emit dark radiation that explains the discrepancy.
Most large galaxies have supermassive black holes at their hearts with up to tens of billions of solar masses. These enormous objects must be primordial. Black holes of about 30 ⦿ are also expected have formed in the early universe.
Since 2015, LIGO has found about 30 black holes that could be primordial.

2019 World Mental Health Day

Turks Kill Kurds


Turkey is invading Syria and attacking Kurds, who were key US allies in fighting ISIS. President Trump says the Kurds were not US allies in WW2.

AR With that logic, Trump would let Russians invade Germany.


Brexit Folly

David Edgerton

The Conservative party is set on a course most capitalist states and enterprises regard as foolish.
The party now represent the interests of the small group of capitalists who fund it. The capitalists who support Brexit tend to be very loosely tied to the UK economy.
Today there is no such thing as British national capitalism. London is a hub for world capitalism. The interests of foreign capital are not expressed through a national political party.
Brexit is the political project of the hard right within the Conservative party. It reveals the weakness of the UK. The modern British state has distanced itself from the productive economy and has few experts on the complexities of modern capitalism.
The UK can no longer undertake the radical planning and intervention that might make Brexit work. That would require state experts closely aligned with business. Brexiteers hope the EU will cave and carry on trading with the UK as if nothing had changed.
Brexit shows how capitalism now relates to politics. It shows the UK place in the world.


UK Science

Anjana Ahuja

In September, Boris Johnson announced a £220 million investment in nuclear fusion. But Brexit is already damaging British science.
Sheffield physicist Richard Jones was summoned to Downing Street: "This meeting wasn't about the whole funding system but just one aspect: how to support world-changing innovations driven by brilliant individuals .. But my view is that the European Research Council provides a very good mechanism for that."
The ERC has a €13 billion budget for 2014−2020 to provide for "investigator-driven frontier research" into new and unpredictable fields. UK involvement with the ERC and with organizations such as Euratom is due to end when the UK leaves the EU.
Jones: "You need continent-scale competition to drive things forward. A small, inward-looking country can lose its competitive edge."


Technological Innovation

João Medeiros

Mariana Mazzucato researched the provenance of technologies in the Apple iPhone.
The HTTP was developed and implemented at CERN, in Geneva. The internet began as Arpanet, funded by the US DoD. The DoD also funded the development of GPS, the hard disk drive, microprocessors, memory chips, and LCD display. Siri started as a project commissioned by DARPA. The touchscreen arose from research funded by the NSF and the CIA.
Mazzucato: "Steve Jobs has rightly been called a genius for the visionary products he conceived and marketed, [but] this story creates a myth about the origin of Apple's success. Without the massive amount of public investment behind the computer and internet revolutions, such attributes might have led only to the invention of a new toy."
Between 1960 and 1972, the US government spent $26 billion on the Apollo program. Many projects contributed, not only in aeronautics but in nutrition, textiles, electronics, and medicine, resulting in spinoff products from freeze-dried food to digital fly-by-wire flight control systems. Apollo also boosted work on integrated circuits.
The state assumed the risks of technological enterprises behind the development of aviation, nuclear energy, computers, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and the internet. DARPA pumped billions of dollars into developments that led to Microsoft Windows, videoconferencing, Google Maps, Linux, and the cloud.
In 2017, the European Commission for Research, Science, and Innovation hired Mazzucato as special adviser. She suggested reframing the European research and innovation program as Horizon Europe, a €100 billion mission-oriented initiative due to start in 2020.
In May 2019, the European Parliament approved her proposal. Five mission areas were chosen: adaptation to climate change; cancer; healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters; climate-neutral and smart cities; and soil health and food. The European Commission will now appoint a mission board for each area.


Chemistry Nobel for Lithium-Ion Cells


John Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham, and Akira Yoshino share the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing lithium-ion battery cells.
Lithium is the lightest metal in the periodic table and readily forms ions by giving up electrons. But to use lithium in a power cell, you need to tame its reactivity.
Whittingham developed a new cathode material, titanium disulphide, that allowed lithium ions to move freely within it. Goodenough replaced the titanium disulphide cathode with one made of cobalt oxide to increase the voltage and energy capacity. Yoshino showed how to replace the pure lithium metal anode with a safer one made of a carbon matrix.
Lithium cells now power portable electronics worldwide.

AR Goodenough and Whittingham formerly worked at Oxford.

World wars

Montage by AR
Correcting a calumny

"The modern structure of the [British] state is a higher form of democracy in which, by virtue of the people's mandate,
the government is exercised authoritatively while there is no possibility for parliamentary interference to obliterate
and render ineffective the execution of the nation's will."
Joseph Goebbels [ed AR]

22 days




2019 Yom Kippur

White House Will Not Cooperate

The New York Times

The White House says it will not cooperate with what it calls an illegitimate effort "to overturn the results of the 2016 election" that violates precedent and denies due process rights.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "The White House should be warned that continued efforts to hide the truth of the president's abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction. Mr President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable."


Brexiteer Faith in America Misplaced

Daniel Finkelstein

Brexiteers assume that Britain can take its place as a leading partner in the Anglosphere and partner the United States in a truly special relationship.
Ever since WW2, European integration was as much the project of the United States as it was of France or Germany. Dean Acheson saw the reconstruction of Europe as central to US interests. The Marshall Plan, NATO, and European integration formed a single package.
Donald Trump heads a movement that has always been sympathetic to Britain. It approves of Brexit and reveres Margaret Thatcher as Ronald Reagan's comrade in arms.
Trump has an election to fight next year. A Democratic president will revert to Acheson's policy. Any UK-US trade deal would require a two-thirds majority in the Senate for ratification. Democratic support would be hindered by a breach with Ireland.
The present US administration is not internationalist. Trump wants to Make America Great Again, not preserve the great in Great Britain.


Brexit Deal Doomed, Deadline Looms

The Guardian

A blame game erupted in Westminster when an anonymous source briefed selected journalists about a telephone call between Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel.
European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker: "I do not accept this blame game of pinning the eventual failure of the negotiations on the EU. If that's the case, the explanation is actually in the British camp."
Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar: "There are some fundamental objectives that haven't changed for the past three years and we need them guaranteed."
European Parliament president David Sassoli: "Up to the very last minute, it will be possible for the European Union and parliament to try and find a deal."


Brexit Killing Science

The Guardian

The UK government still aims to join the new €100 billion EU research program Horizon Europe.
Sir Paul Nurse: "Colleagues abroad think the UK has lost its senses. The prime minister behaves like a clown and the world has noted that. Our reputation has plummeted."
Sir Andre Geim: "In science, a no-deal Brexit would be like a severe drought for an orchard. You can't expect to have a harvest after watering it again next year. All the trees are already dead."
Professor Gero Miesenböck: "Basic research is the foundation of everything. And the UK is extremely good at it, which is why I am here. But I worry that no one is paying attention to the damage about to be done."
Sir Alan Fersht: "The EU has been the best thing for British science for decades. The European Research Council has provided support that didn't exist, like starter grants for young scientists and advanced grants for senior scientists to do novel work. It has been transformative."


Nobel Prize in Physics

New Scientist

The 2019 Nobel prize in physics goes to James Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz for their contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth's place in it.
Peebles made theoretical predictions about the shape of the universe and the matter and energy in it. He looked at the role of the CMB in how matter clumped to form galaxies and galaxy clusters.
Mayor and Queloz discovered the exoplanet 51 Pegasi b. It was the first time a planet was found to orbit a star similar to our Sun.


Supercomputer Brain Simulation

New Scientist

The SpiNNaker supercomputer at the University of Manchester, UK, has a total of 1 million processing cores and can simulate the behavior of 77 000 neurons, equivalent to a 1 mm cylinder in sensory cortex, as fast as the brain for up to 12 hours.
Markus Diesmann designed the model it uses. His group plans to port their model of visual cortex to SpiNNaker.

Real-Time Cortical Simulation on Neuromorphic Hardware
Oliver Rhodes et al.

2019 October 8

Trump Obstructs "Kangaroo Court"

The New York Times, 1627 UTC

The Trump administration directed US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland not to appear for a scheduled interview in the impeachment inquiry.
Trump tweet: "I would love to send [Sondland] to testify, but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court."

AR Republicans should revolt against their administration.


Brexit Deal "Essentially Impossible"

BBC News, 1557 UTC

A Downing Street source has said a Brexit deal is "essentially impossible" after a call between Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel. The source said she implied a deal was "overwhelmingly unlikely" — but EU officials doubt Merkel would have used such language.
European Council president Donald Tusk: "What's at stake is not winning some stupid blame game. At stake is the future of Europe and the UK as well as the security and interests of our people."

AR Conservatives should revolt against their government.


Trump Betrays Kurds

The New York Times

President Trump says he will not stand in the way of a Turkish invasion to expel Kurdish forces from the border region of northern Syria.

AR Oust him now.


EU Rejects Brexit Plan

Daniel Boffey

Leaked documents detail EU rejection of Boris Johnson's Brexit proposals for the Irish border:
 A Stormont veto would let the DUP block plans for the regulatory zone.
 A customs border would risk major disruption of the all-Ireland economy.
 A fallback of no controls or checks leaves the EU internal market wide open.
 A proposal to prevent border checks and infrastructure has no plan B.
 A proposal for an open border invites other countries to seek open borders.
 A customs exemption for smaller businesses would invite smuggling.
 There is no provision for checking payment of VAT.
 NI businesses would have competitive advantage trading in the single market.
 Access to EU databases to police the border would remain after a DUP veto.
EU leaders say the legal text does not form the basis for serious negotiation.

UK Cost Warning
HM Revenue & Customs says businesses would be hit with an annual £15 billion bill to fill in customs forms for trade between the UK and the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Companies in the UK and EU would face "a significant new and ongoing administrative burden" in a disorderly departure.

UK Debt Warning
The Institute for Fiscal Studies says the scale of the government response required to firefight a flatlining economy in the event of a disorderly departure from the EU would raise the UK national debt to almost 90% of GDP, its highest level for fifty years.

AR Time for Boris to see sense in a Damascene conversion.


Another Trillion Trees

Christine Swanson

The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) is a NASA mission designed to provide the first 3D look at the world's forests. The information GEDI gathers will help us understand climate change.
CO2 emissions from human activity put about 10 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere each year. Oceans absorb about a quarter of it, and forests account for much for the rest. Altogether, biomass sequesters an estimated 550 gigatons of carbon, most of it in trees.
A 2015 estimate put the total number of trees on Earth at about 3 trillion. Our estimates of how much carbon is contained in the Amazon rainforest range from 60 to 90 gigatons.
GEDI uses lidar, where laser pulses are timed bouncing back from solid objects to calculate distance. Laser beams penetrating a forest at different depths from the canopy down to the ground help build a 3D map of the forest.
GEDI lidar uses near-infrared light, which is reflected off leaves but cannot penetrate clouds. It will sample only a fraction of Earth's surface and will miss most of the boreal forest.
Radar systems emit microwaves, which penetrate cloud and scatter from solid objects. The optimal wavelength is 70 cm. The European Space Agency has selected it for use in the Biomass satellite, set to launch in 2022.
Worldwide, some 15 billion trees are felled each year. We could plant enough additional trees to cut CO2 levels by a quarter, making this by far the best climate change solution available.

AR I vote for more trees.

Extinction Rebellion

⦿ Christophe Gateau / DPA
Extinction Rebellion, Berlin

Eckhardt Tolle


German flag

Tag der Deutschen Einheit
29 Jahre später

Wolfgang Thierse spricht
über die Langsamkeit des

Rotary selfie


2019 October 7

Trump Showdown


A federal US judge dismissed Donald Trump's effort to prevent his tax returns from being turned over to a New York grand jury. The ruling raises the likelihood that the president's tax returns will be provided in response to the subpoena. Any material obtained through a grand jury subpoena is covered by grand jury secrecy rules.


Brexit Shootout

Robert Shrimsley

Brexit is down to a final shootout. EU rejection of Boris Johnson's plan will leave the prime minister forced to delay Brexit and face an election. Defeat for Johnson means a second referendum on a new deal, but victory means a hardline government that can exit without a deal. The result will be winner take all.


The EU Is Changing

The Observer

Brexiteers imagine the EU is as obsessed with obstructing Brexit. In fact, the priority in Brussels is to facilitate an orderly departure.
EU eyes are mostly elsewhere. Confirmation hearings have begun for the new European Commission president. The European Parliament must give its consent by the end of October. Then come budget negotiations. The new European Council president takes over in December. Then come EU reforms.
The EU is still grappling with problems, but it continues to defy those who wish it harm. The EU has formidable resilience.


The EU Cannot Afford Brexit Delay

Christiane Hoffmann

British prime minister Boris Johnson has plunged the UK into crisis. No one wants to let him declare victory in leading the UK out of the EU.
Johnson has submitted a proposal to resolve the Irish border issue. It is a poor solution, but a further delay would not help resolve the issue. Some hope a postponement can give time for a second Brexit referendum. Others hope new elections will give Johnson a mandate for a no-deal Brexit.
Brexit has become inevitable. Separating on good terms is wise. Europe can no longer afford the Brexit insanity.

2019 October 6

Conscious Manifestation

Eckhart Tolle

Your life purpose unfolds through the activities that you engage in on the dimension of doing. The dimension of being is equally important. In the dance between being and doing, the ultimate source of satisfaction in life is to recognize yourself as consciousness.
A key to conscious manifestation is to be anchored in presence — the feeling of "I am" — and our only true source of fulfillment. When we are connected with presence, we create from a place of joy, appreciation, and sufficiency. We become vehicles of creative intelligence.
There is a relationship between your predominant way of thinking and what you experience as your reality. Manifestation is about influencing your external circumstances by changing your thinking and your state of consciousness.
A field of intelligence sources all creation on the level of form. Aligning consciously with this universal intelligence starts with the direct realization that there is no you apart from the universe. In your most essential nature, you are consciousness.
We cannot manifest a more conscious world without a shift in consciousness that begins on the individual level. The New Earth begins with your awakened consciousness.

2019 October 5

Charity Chinese Celebration

Rotary Club of Poole, Dorset Chinese Association

AR A superbly choreographed celebration of traditional Chinese culture combined with excellent Chinese cuisine combined to make for an enjoyable evening in the company of fellow Rotarians and friends. The dancing girls were amazing.


Quantum Supremacy

John Preskill

In 2012, I proposed the term "quantum supremacy" to describe the point where quantum computers can do things classical computers can't.
Google used a device with 53 qubits and report that it took just minutes to perform quantum computations that would take today's most powerful supercomputers thousands of years. This is a remarkable achievement.
The problem their machine solved was carefully chosen. By checking that the output agrees with the output of a classical supercomputer (in cases where it doesn't take thousands of years), the team verified that they understand their device and that it performs as it should.
In the era now dawning, we can do noisy intermediate-scale quantum (NISQ) computations. The Google team has apparently demonstrated that we can now build a quantum machine large enough and accurate enough to do nisq-y work.
The Google achievement bolsters our confidence that quantum computing is not ridiculously hard but merely really, really hard.

2019 October 4


The New York Times

President Trump outside the White House declared to the assembled press: "China should start an investigation into the Bidens."
A US president urging a foreign government to investigate his political rival would seem to be flagrantly violating the law. But this president is a master at defining deviancy down. His defenders increasingly say what he did in pressuring the Ukrainian president was no big deal.
Trump seems to be assuming that the more shameless his assault on US norms and laws, the more he can get away with.



Todd Phillips, Joaquin Phoenix, et al.

AR This is the bleakest, darkest movie I've seen for a long, long time. If the mood it conveys is an accurate reflection of the lived experience of the white underclass in Trump America, that society is doomed to descend into a Mad Max abyss in our lifetime.
The Joaquin Phoenix incarnation of the Joker is an anti-hero of Dostoyevskyan madness and nihilistic malice, projected into an American dystopia of such violence and squalor that no political movement short of Extinction Rebellion could begin to redeem it. The logical linkage of gun culture and bloodbath slaughter is hideously apparent, the broken societal links that doom the poor to deepening poverty dismally obvious.
There is no hope for an America remotely resembling this ominously plausible portrait. Only a coherently imagined revolution can save it, and no revolutionary model so far proposed is up to the magnitude of the challenge. My first response (I first saw the movie this afternoon) is to invest my hopes in the cleansing idealism of the China Dream.

NYT interview with Joaquin Phoenix



The Guardian

The UK government has promised a court that Boris Johnson will send a letter to the EU seeking an extension to article 50 as required by the Benn act. The pledge was given in legal papers submitted to the court of session in Edinburgh after anti-Brexit campaigners began a legal action to force Johnson to uphold the act's requirements.

AR Pray let this doom the nightmare.

2019 October 3



President Donald Trump: "This is the greatest hoax. This is just a continuation of what's been playing out since my election. This is a fraudulent crime on the American people."
Trump made no effort to veil his unbridled disgust at the crisis engulfing his presidency during public appearances at the White House. Administration aides fear he has failed to grasp the enormity of what he is facing him. He is lashing out, tweeting Democrats are focused on "bullshit" in all-caps.
Democrats warned him to expect a subpoena demanding documents related to his handling of Ukraine. House intelligence chairman Adam Schiff warned against witness intimidation or incitement to violence and said obstruction of justice could be added to any articles of impeachment.
Trump responded by declaring Schiff should be investigated: "It should be criminal. It should be treasonous. He made it up, every word of it, made up."


EU Defends Ireland

The Guardian

European Council president Donald Tusk tweeted two messages:
 To Leo Varadkar: We stand fully behind Ireland.
 To Boris Johnson: We remain open but still unconvinced.
European Parliament Brexit steering group: "Safeguarding peace and stability on the island of Ireland, protection of citizens and EU's legal order has to be the main focus of any deal. The UK proposals do not match even remotely what was agreed as a sufficient compromise in the backstop."
European Commission spokeswoman: "There are problematic points in the UK's proposal and further work is needed. This work is for the UK to do, not the other way around."



Jenni Russell

At the Conservative party conference, the mood is ugly. The Brexiteer narrative of betrayal makes sense if you think the referendum overrode parliament and trumped representative democracy. Voters were asked to make a decision and gave their order.
They do not accept or understand that they were being asked a very simple question about a very complicated situation. A no-deal Brexit is not an end but a tortured beginning. The UK cannot just slice through all its most valuable trading relationships.
In the simplistic world in which we will be prosperous, proud, and independent the minute the UK gets out of the EU and the only obstacles to leaving are the conniving Remainer elites, it is no wonder that Brexit voters are becoming increasingly furious.
Downing Street says after Brexit the anger will subside. But those in power who are now flaunting ideas of conspiracy and betrayal are cutting the ties of trust that hold society together, merely to win the next election. They will regret it.


Lazy Bo Kills It

John Crace

Government ministers filed into the Conservative party conference hall and took their seats to a standing ovation. Stanley Johnson and Carrie Symonds got an even more enthusiastic reception. Cries of "BO-RIS, BO-RIS" filled the hall as Boris Johnson made his entrance.
This was a golden moment delivered on a silver spoon. Bo had really meant to write a proper speech. But what with one thing and another, it was only after breakfast that he had finally made a start, and then his mind had gone blank.
He centered on how parliament was essentially a total waste of time. Brexit was basically a breeze. Whatever the EU might say to the contrary, the customs union and the Good Friday agreement were basically just technicalities. If it didn't work out, he could always blame the EU or parliament.
Ten minutes in, the Incredible Hulk realized that he'd basically said all he wanted to say and began to ad-lib. Punctuated by gags that hadn't been particularly funny when he'd first told them years ago, it was desperate stuff from a man for whom the truth has always been another country.
He said we were on the brink of a new era of nuclear fusion with Britain at the fore. He said London was the most productive region of the EU. He said a Brexit delay would cost £1 billion a month. He was lost in his own world, where he was totally killing it.
He was actually dying on his feet. Tory party members had come in search of a vision. Instead they got a vacuous after-dinner speech. The final applause and cries of "Bo-ris, Bo-ris" were fainter now.

2019 October 2

Deal or No Deal

BBC News, 1116 UTC

Boris Johnson says there should be "no doubt" the only alternative to the Brexit proposals he will put to Brussels is a no-deal Brexit. Addressing his party conference in Manchester, the prime minister said his plan was a "compromise by the UK" and hoped the EU would compromise too. The European Commission says it will examine the proposals objectively.



Andrea Ucini

Quarks are elementary particles. They have the quantum properties of flavor and spin. They cluster together in pairs (in mesons) or triplets (in baryons). And they have a charge we label with three colors (red, green, blue) mediated by gluons.
Quarks of different colors can sit together because their color charges cancel out to white. A quark and an antiquark can sit together if they have color and anti-color charges. Single quarks never appear because without their color partners they are too unstable.
The theory of quarks and the color force is quantum chromodynamics (QCD). Full QCD calculations are forbiddingly complex, so most of the properties of sets of quarks are calculated using simpler effective models.
Gerard 't Hooft once made a bold compromise on accuracy by discarding the parts of the QCD equations that describe color. He let quarks have any number of colors, even an infinite number. Because a set of quarks can be stable only if all colors balance, an infinite number of colors implies baryons with infinite numbers of quarks.
Every quark has a quantum spin. Multiply the number of quarks and you raise the maximum spin. In extreme cases, when all the quarks have their spins aligned, the baryon has so much spin the model struggles.
The resolution comes from string theory. Under certain circumstances, quarks can take on a fraction of their usual spin. It turns out QCD can describe quarks with fractional spin too.
Zohar Komargodski brings all the quark ideas together using the infinite color model but giving the quarks freedom to take on fractional spins. Instead of a 3D cluster of quarks jostling for position, the high spin forms a 2D pancake of quantum foam, and quarks with fractional spin emerge from it.
The implication is that the quarks here are not fundamental at all, but emerge from the behavior of quantum foam. The quarks are emergent rather than fundamental particles.

2019 October 1

The People's Republic of China Celebrates Turning 70

The Guardian

The 70th anniversary of the PRC is less a historical commemoration than a political event. The Communist party of China (CPC) has understood the power of history ever since it took over in 1949. Xi Jinping understands its power better than any leader since Mao Zedong.
The west will watch closely as the People's Liberation Army unveils new missile, stealth, and unmanned vehicle capabilities. The PRC has outlived its big brother, the Soviet Union, and outgrown western economies.
Many in China are grateful for party rule. It enjoys a level of support that many western governments would envy. The last 70 years have seen extraordinary progress in lifespan, literacy, and incomes as hundreds of millions of people worked their way out of poverty.
The CPC has constructed a history in which its central role is ending national humiliation. China is seeking to reshape the international order once more. Xi is already looking ahead to the PRC's centenary.

New PLA weapons on parade

Chairman Xi

⦿ Xinhua
President Xi Jinping gave a speech at a grand rally at Tian'anmen Square in Beijing to celebrate the 70th anniversary
of the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC).
"Seventy years ago on this day, Comrade Mao Zedong solemnly declared here to the world that the PRC was founded and
the Chinese people had stood up."
Xi pledged China will stay on the path of peaceful development and pursue a mutually beneficial strategy of opening up.
"We will continue to work with people from all countries to push for jointly building a community with a shared future for humanity."
Xi stressed that the People's Liberation Army and the People's Armed Police Force should always preserve their nature, purpose,
and character as the forces of the people, resolutely safeguard China's sovereignty, security, and development interests,
and firmly uphold world peace.
"China will surely have an even brighter future."

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