BLOG 2020 Q1

My beach on the last morning of March 2020

Emily Ratajkowski
⦿ Instagram
Emily Ratajkowski
takes a shower


2020 March 31

The Verdict of History

Michael D'Antonio

After a lifetime of avoiding responsibility and accountability, President Donald Trump has met his match in the pandemic of 2020. His bluff and bluster are powerless as thousands of Americans die and the blame falls, in part, on his failure to heed the warnings and execute a robust national response.
This occurred even though a pandemic playbook had been left behind by the Obama administration. Catastrophic consequences now face the nation as Covid-19 overwhelms health care systems and brings the economy to a standstill.
Trump's profound personal shortcomings helped bring us to this moment. The first of his weaknesses is a lack of emotional intelligence and empathy that causes him to struggle to relate to human suffering. The second is a habit of mind that discounts expertise and elevates convenient opinions supported by cherry-picked misinformation.
Trump knows this moment will establish his reputation in perpetuity. Last week he said "the history books will never forget" America's response to the coronavirus. The coronavirus is the defining challenge of his presidency and of his life.
The verdict of history will be devastating.


A Wake-up Call

Danny Dorling

Human progress was slowing before this pandemic began and will continue to slow down after it has ended. The alternative to slowdown is unimaginably bad. If we do not slow down, we will wreck the planet we live on.
Prior to this pandemic, the four great exceptions to slower growth were: university graduates enrolled worldwide, consumption of goods, carbon pollution, and air flights. The pandemic has slowed them all down.


2020 March 30

Coronavirus: The Trump Gamble

Niall Ferguson

Donald Trump is betting that the number of Americans who die of Covid-19 will be low. His chances of re-election hinge on how severely the pandemic hits America.
Trump is gambling on the basis not of calculated risk but of total uncertainty. Pandemics are governed by a power law. Covid-19 could kill 40,000 Americans, or it could kill 400,000. Small changes to the variables in an epidemiological model can produce mortality projections that differ by an order of magnitude.
Trump is gambling with American lives. The one thing to be said in his defense is that he too will be at risk if this gamble goes wrong.


Coronavirus and Science Denial

Katherine Stewart

Donald Trump rose to power with the assistance of religious Republicans. Their denial of science and critical thinking now haunts the US response to the coronavirus crisis.
Trump tends to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change. He hopes America will be "opened up and just raring to go by Easter." Many of his evangelical allies are pleased by his vision of "packed churches all over our country."
Religious nationalism has brought to American politics the conviction that US political differences are a battle between absolute evil and absolute good. Only a heroic leader, free from the scruples of political correctness, can save the righteous from the damned.
Christian nationalism played a major role in creating and promoting the economic foundations of the incompetent US response to the pandemic.


Coronavirus and Europe

Adam Tooze, Moritz Schularick

Covid-19 might yet break up the Eurozone. The coronavirus crisis is a fiscal rather than monetary challenge. It strikes at the central weakness of the EZ: No mechanism exists for members to respond jointly to the shock. The policy reactions are national, accentuating differences and causing responses to diverge.
Germany reacted forcefully to Covid-19. Italy does not have the same fiscal leeway. The Italian public debt ratio will soon approach 150% of GDP. Without EZ solidarity, Italy is at risk of an economic depression on top of a humanitarian catastrophe.
The ECB announced a new program of asset purchases to stabilize European markets. Yet once the markets were calmed, EZ members turned back to national rescue packages. They need a joint bond to raise funds.


2020 March 29

Coronavirus in the US

The Guardian

On January 20, 2020, a man who had recently returned from a visit to Wuhan, China, became the first American to be diagnosed with Covid-19.
On the same day, the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported in South Korea.
In the two months since then, the responses to coronavirus in the United States and South Korea have been polar opposites. One country acted swiftly and aggressively to detect and isolate the virus, and by doing so has largely contained the crisis. The other country dithered and procrastinated, became mired in chaos and confusion, was distracted by the individual whims of its leader, and is now confronted by a health emergency of daunting proportions.
Within a week of its first confirmed case, the SK disease control agency had summoned 20 private companies to a summit and told them to develop a test for the virus, fast. A week later, the first diagnostic test was approved and went into battle, identifying infected individuals who could then be quarantined to halt the advance of the disease.
Almost 360,000 tests later, the SK coronavirus war was won. On Friday only 91 new cases were reported in a country of more than 50 million.
The US response tells a different story. In the absence of sufficient test kits, the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initially kept a tight rein on testing, creating a bottleneck. President Trump proposed a 16% cut in CDC funding on February 10, just 11 days after the WHO had declared a public health emergency over Covid-19.
In the wake of the testing disaster came the personal protective equipment (PPE) disaster, the hospital bed disaster, and now the ventilator disaster.
Ventilators are in short supply across the country. When governors asked for help, Trump replied on March 16: "Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves."
Former USAid disaster response leader Jeremy Konyndyk: "We are witnessing in the United States one of the greatest failures of basic governance and basic leadership in modern times."


Excess Deaths in Trump America

Robert Reich

President Trump: "Look, you're going to lose a number of people to the flu. But you're going to lose more people by putting the country into a massive recession or depression."
White House advisor Stephen Moore: "You can't have a policy that says we're going to save every human life at any cost, no matter how many trillions of dollars you're talking about."
An economy is nothing but human beings. Recessions and depressions aren't the problem: People sicken or die only if they can't eat, keep a roof over their heads, or get needed medical care.

AR America needs to take care of its citizens.


German coronavirus testing station

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift paints
her toenails

Sunetra Gupta
Sunetra Gupta


Coronavirus in Germany

Anna Sauerbrey

German schools, shops, restaurants, and theaters are closed. Gatherings of more than two people are banned. The economy will shrink, jobs will be lost.
As of Saturday, of the 56,202 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 403 patients have died. Over twice as many people have died in Britain, where there are around three times fewer confirmed cases.
The first case in Germany was recorded on January 28. Within two days, the authorities identified the person who had infected him, tracked his contacts, and quarantined them. The company stopped travel to China and shut down its plant in Bavaria. The outbreak was effectively contained.
Across the country, the pattern was repeated. Local health departments and federal authorities worked together to test, track, and quarantine exposed citizens.
Germany has also protected its older residents. States banned visits to the elderly, and policymakers issued urgent warnings to limit contact with older people. Patients over the age of 80 make up 7% of the population but only 3% of the infected.
Many more young people in Germany have tested positive for the virus than in other countries. In part, this is due to more extensive testing. Countries that test less and reserve it for those already very ill, like Italy, have higher fatality rates.
Frankfurt virologist Martin Stürmer: "It's how much and whom we test."


UK Intensive Care

The Guardian

The UK mortality rate for patients in intensive care after infection with Covid-19 is close to 50%.
ICNARC audited 775 people who have been or are in critical care with the disease, across 285 intensive care units. Of the 165 patients who completed critical care treatment in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland since the end of February, 79 died and 86 survived. The remaining 610 patients are still in intensive care.
The NHS is opening field hospitals in London, Birmingham, and Manchester, with some of the biggest critical care units ever seen in Britain.
Most of those who have died from coronavirus across the UK were over 70. For patients between 16 and 49 in intensive care, 9 died and 28 survived.
Among Covid-19 ICU patients, 70% were male. Of ICU patients under 60, 30% are men and 15% are women. Over 70% of ICU patients were overweight or obese.
A Conservative MP who works in the NHS says frontline health service staff who have no symptoms of Covid-19 but who might still be infected should be tested to prevent the crisis getting worse.
Former health minister Dan Poulter: "NHS staff sickness levels are already high, and they are only going to increase as the Covid-19 outbreak intensifies. Many of us are also worried that we may be infected, yet asymptomatic .. That is the last thing that we would want, but we simply do not know. Widespread NHS staff testing would be a game-changer."


Coronavirus in the UK

Walter Ellis

Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton: "It's a national scandal. We shouldn't be in this position. We knew in the last week of January that this was coming. The message from China was absolutely clear, that a new virus, with pandemic potential, was hitting cities. People were being admitted to hospital, admitted to intensive care units, and dying. And the mortality was growing. We knew that eleven weeks ago."


2020 March 28

Carnage in America

The New York Times

More than 100,000 people in the United States have now been infected with the coronavirus. The national death toll so far is over 1,500. The number of known cases has risen rapidly in recent days, as testing ramped up after weeks of widespread shortages and delays.
On Friday, President Trump signed into law a $2 trillion measure designed to respond to the pandemic.


Social Breakdown?

Financial Times

Swedish industrialist Jacob Wallenberg warns governments to weigh the economic threat from coronavirus more heavily and not lose sight of the impact of containment measures on businesses:
"There will be no recovery. There will be social unrest. There will be violence. There will be socio-economic consequences: dramatic unemployment. Citizens will suffer dramatically: some will die, others will feel awful .. One of these days there is a tomorrow."
Wallenberg says elderly people should be protected more, perhaps by being placed in mandatory quarantine, but there should be discussion on how to return to a vibrant society with a rich cultural offering and lively restaurants:
"Authorities are all working very hard to help society. They are not looking around the corner as much. They are not taking the longer-term perspective. This is something that is very important for society and for the EU."

AR Some truth here: The hangover from all this will be dire.


2020 March 27

UK Government Contagion

The Guardian, 1938 UTC

UK prime minister Boris Johnson and UK health secretary Matt Hancock are in isolation after tests showed they are infected with Covid-19, and UK chief medical officer Chris Whitty is in isolation with symptoms of infection.


German Economics

Ed Conway

We are entering a recession on the advice of public health experts. To limit the contagion, we need to pause the economy without causing an economic meltdown.
When people lose their jobs in recessions they often never work again. When the financial system clogs up, some promising productive companies go belly up.
The Treasury has adapted a German system called Kurzarbeit to create the Covid-19 job retention scheme. Businesses are to get cheap loans while the state pays employees to stay at home on a reduced salary.
The Treasury is encouraging banks to lend to businesses despite uncertainty. This will mean changes, such as not firing staff to protect the balance sheet and not withholding credit from struggling companies.
If these continental measures fail, Britain faces a deeper recession than many other nations.

AR Wake up, Boris, the EU is not the enemy.


2020 March 26

European Coronavirus Response

Der Spiegel

During the coronavirus crisis, Europe is struggling to find the right balance between national responsibility and solidarity.
The EU budget is set years in advance. Taxes, public debt, and social transfers are the responsibility of the national governments, so corona aid packages are now being put together in Rome, Paris, and Berlin, but not in Brussels.
Brussels bureaucrats cannot say how long the quarantine can continue without irreparably damaging the economy. National governments have the democratic mandate to do so. European politicians should only intervene when they are needed.
On border controls, if national governments impose isolation so harshly that European freight traffic collapses, Brussels must intervene. Traffic jams at the borders hinder the transport of doctors, breathing masks, and food. The single market is a powerful weapon in the fight against the virus.
If the EZ refuses to provide community aid, it invites financial markets to speculate on the collapse of the EZ. Brussels is pushing for joint loan assistance from the bailout fund or joint corona bonds.
Many EU countries face shortages of masks, protective clothing, and respirators. Many are too small to prevail in global procurement markets, but the EU has the purchasing power of 450 million consumers to organize joint purchase of medical goods.
The virus is forcing the EU to lean toward subsidiarity. Containing the pandemic is primarily a task for the member states. Europe is not the answer to this crisis.

AR Unlike Brexit, the EU is not hindering good responses.


UK Coronavirus Response

The Times

Two groups of researchers are in dispute on coronavirus epidemic modeling. If Oxford is right, quarantine is over. If Imperial is right, we are in it for a year.
The Imperial College London team say lifting restrictions risks mass death on a scale not seen since WW2. The University of Oxford team say everything will be fine.
Imperial professor Neil Ferguson calculated that the UK policy of herd immunity would not only fail to keep the coronavirus outbreak manageable, it would also fill intensive care beds eight times over and lead to 260,000 deaths.
Oxford professor Sunetra Gupta has a model that says more than half of the UK population has already been infected with coronavirus. Her approach implies that the death rate is minuscule that we are already almost at the level of herd immunity.
Ferguson: "We have ruled out scenarios considered in that paper."
The Imperial team modeled the probable future spread of the virus from scratch on the basis of what we know. The Oxford team took a standard outbreak model and set its parameters to match the data, which suggested that most of us had already been infected.
No model is perfect. Many virologists view modeling as a black art, where your predictions change wildly depending on your understanding of the present.
UK policy appears to hinge on the Imperial model. Ferguson recommended acting fast and hard. The government liked that.

AR The Oxford model is tempting, but think carefully.


2020 March 25

The State Fights Back

Jonathan Guthrie

The United States has signed off on a $2 trillion aid package. The global bailout, including central bank liquidity support, will have a sticker price of more than $4.5 trillion. This is a state takeover, but it beats going bust.
The UK government has promised loans and grants to business worth £330 billion, plus basic pay for company employees left workless. As in a wartime command economy, ministers are coordinating supermarkets to distribute food and manufacturers to make ventilators.
Ayn Rand glorified entrepreneurs and praised financial transactions. Her philosophy fed into the neoliberal view of globalising corporations as the real powers in nation states. The view was damaged in 9/11 and 2008, but the tech giants kept it alive in America.
The coronavirus shows that ultimately the state, not business, is in charge. The state can create money, businesses cannot. Businesses need to survive the crisis to stay in business.
Conservative peer and City grandee Lucy Neville-Rolfe: "When plague broke out in ancient Athens, it enabled Sparta, which was more disciplined, to become dominant."

AR For Sparta, read China.


Coronavirus in the UK

Clive Cookson

The new coronavirus may already have infected half the UK population. An Oxford model implies that fewer than 0.1% of those infected get ill enough to need hospital treatment.
The model indicates that Covid-19 reached the UK by mid-January at the latest. Like many emerging infections, it spread invisibly for weeks before the first transmissions within the UK were officially recorded at the end of February.
An Imperial College London model has set government policy. The accuracy of the Oxford model has not yet been confirmed. Even if it is correct, social distancing will relieve pressure on the NHS during the peak of the epidemic. The government abandoned its unofficial herd immunity strategy after scientific advisers said this would swamp the NHS.
The model suggests the UK has already acquired substantial herd immunity via the spread of Covid-19 over more than two months. If tests confirm this, the current restrictions could soon be lifted.
Oxford epidemiology professor Sunetra Gupta: "We need immediately to begin large-scale serological surveys — antibody testing — to assess what stage of the epidemic we are in now."

AR Do it.


⦿ The New York Times
Americans: The worst is yet to come




2020 March 24

A Life on Our Planet

New Scientist

David Attenborough: "We've not just ruined the planet, we've destroyed it."
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the documentary should hit cinemas and Netflix later this year.
Attenborough is an activist. He focused on plastics in 2017 and on global warming in 2019. The film is a powerful plea to humanity to turn things around, for the sake of every living thing on the planet.
Attenborough: "I've got no idea if humanity is going to get through this or not. There have been extraordinary changes in the last 5 to 10 years in general public attitude, and that's because I think people actually recognise that the environment is really in trouble."
When Attenborough was a child in the 1930s, 66% of the world was wilderness and the CO2 levels in the atmosphere were around 310 ppm. By the end of the century, wilderness was down to 47% and CO2 was at 363 ppm. Now, wilderness covers just 23% of the planet, and atmospheric CO2 is at more than 410 ppm.
Attenborough: "Our blind assault on the planet has now come to alter the fundamentals of the living world."

AR As he says, it's high time to stabilise the human population, phase out fossil fuels, fish less in the oceans, and radically reduce the land area we use for farming.


2020 March 23

Leading Global Crisis Response

Kurt M. Campbell, Rush Doshi

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed just how unprepared Washington is to lead a global response.
As Washington falters, Beijing is moving quickly and adeptly to position itself as the global leader in pandemic response. It is working to tout its own system, provide material assistance to other countries, and even organize other governments.
The virus was first detected in November 2019 in Wuhan. In March 2020, China was claiming victory. Mass quarantines, a halt to travel, and a complete shutdown of most daily life nationwide were credited with having stemmed the tide.
Beijing is working to turn these early signs of success into a larger narrative to broadcast to the rest of the world. Central authorities have instituted tight informational control and discipline at state organs to snuff out contradictory narratives.
President Xi Jinping understands that providing global goods burnishes China's leadership credentials.
Much of what the world depends on to fight the coronavirus is made in China. It was already the major producer of surgical masks and now it has boosted production of masks more than tenfold. China also produces roughly half of the N95 respirators critical for protecting health workers. China also produces the vast majority of active pharmaceutical ingredients necessary to make antibiotics.
China has undertaken a robust diplomatic campaign to convene dozens of countries and hundreds of officials to share information about the pandemic and lessons from its own experience battling the disease.
The United States lacks the supply and capacity to meet many of its own demands, let alone to provide aid in crisis zones elsewhere. The Trump administration has so far shunned a leadership effort to respond to the coronavirus.
The crisis might even spur progress on other global challenges such as climate change.

AR My Trump verdict: He lost US global leadership.



Tom Holland

Boris Johnson has two great heroes. One is Winston Churchill. The other is Pericles. Under Pericles, Athens built the Parthenon, fought a war with Sparta, and built up a buccaneering empire.
But in 430 BCE, Athens was hit by a plague that wiped out a third of its population, including Pericles. The doctors suffered a high mortality rate. Sparta was not hit and won the war.
The plague disrupted the bonds of citizenship and custom that had held Athenian society together. Democracy was placed under strain. What was lost was never wholly recovered.
The Roman world was repeatedly hit by epidemics. In the mid-3rd century CE, an ebola-like plague hit the empire. Amid the carnage, the Roman world collapsed into anarchy.
In the 6th century, when a new epidemic hit the Roman world, Rome was left a shell, and the new capital Constantinople ruled an empire halved in size.
We are equipped to fight epidemics in ways beyond the dreams of any Athenian or Roman. Our civilization will not melt like a sandcastle before Covid-19.

AR Is this any consolation?


2020 March 22

Coronavirus in the UK

Kenan Malik

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the insecurity of work, the cruelty of UK welfare policy, and the hypocrisy of ignoring the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable.
Policymakers have suddenly discovered that "unskilled workers" at the margins of the labour force are crucially important to the functioning of society. The UK government's list of key workers is a list largely of jobs in which workers get paid derisory sums for doing vital work.
The problem of inadequate sick pay has existed for years without policymakers taking much notice. Unemployment benefits are worth less in real terms now than they were in the early 1990s. Politicians and policymakers have long sanctioned poverty within the benefits system.
Successive UK governments from the 1980s on have stigmatised claimants and made the welfare system harsh and mean-minded. The claim about "disincentives to work" has too often been used as a means to cut benefits to the bare bones, turning the benefit system into a punitive one.
The government has announced a delay in landlords being able to enforce evictions. For those who have lost wages or their jobs, that is merely to defer rather than to eliminate the problem. As with low pay and benefits, the issue is a longstanding one.
Coronavirus has revealed that fragility has been built into the UK system through deliberate policy.

AR Hard facts but true.


My beach on Saturday, illustrating social distancing




China has positioned itself
as a leader and benefactor
in public health.
President Xi Jinping
offers comforting words:
"Sunshine comes after
the storm."

M.C. Escher
Poincaré disk


2020 March 21


Der Spiegel

Das Gesundheitssystem der Bundesrepublik ist eines der modernsten, reichsten und potentesten der Welt. Für die Corona-Epidemie ist es weit besser gerüstet als die Systeme vieler anderer Länder. Aber schon jetzt sind große Teile dieses Systems überfordert.
Je nachdem, wie schnell die Zahl der Infizierten in den nächsten Tagen und Wochen steigt, droht der Kollaps, wenn Menschen sterben müssen, weil es an Personal, an Betten, an Geräten fehlt. Und nicht, weil ihre Krankheit unheilbar ist.

AR Ominös für uns alle


Biology of Covid-19

New Scientist

The covid-19 virus infects living cells. It burrows into a cell and takes over the internal machinery to replicate. These new viruses are then ejected from the cell to infect more cells.
The covid-19 virus has at its core a strand of RNA that carries its genes. Around this is a protein shell, which is surrounded by two layers of lipids. The outer membrane is dotted with proteins, some of which stick out like spikes. These anchor a protein to a cell.
The covid-19 spike protein binds to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which is expressed in the lung and in the gastrointestinal tract. To attach to ACE2, it first splits itself, and to do this it harnesses human cell proteins such as transmembrane protease serine 2 (TMPRSS2).
Our immune response uses the lymphocyte antigen 6E (LY6E) protein to stop coronaviruses from entering cells. If we find out what LY6E does, we might be able to mimic it with a drug.
To replicate, the virus has to build proteins and copy its RNA genome. The proteins are made first. When the virus RNA enters an infected cell, the host machinery reads the genes and strings together two large polyproteins containing several viral proteins. Some of these are enzymes called proteases, which first cut themselves out of the polyprotein, and then cut out other proteins, freeing them to carry out their functions.
We know the atomic structure of the main protease and substances that bind to it. We are developing an inhibitor for the main proteases of coronaviruses that works on the covid-19 virus. The resulting drug works on single cells.
The virus uses RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRP) to copy its genomes. Most RNA viruses don't check for errors when copying their genomes, so we can stop them copying their genome by introducing modified RNA building blocks, but the covid-19 virus has a proofreading enzyme called exonuclease, which removes the modified RNA components and allows copying to continue.
The virus spreads because it can reproduce inside our bodies for days without triggering our immune response. Fever and coughing are due to our immune system fighting back, but the virus delays this with extra genes that code for proteins that interfere with our immune system. Understanding these proteins could help us.

AR Useful background info.


2020 March 20

The World After Coronavirus

Yuval Noah Harari

Humankind is now facing a global crisis. The decisions people and governments take in the next few weeks will probably shape the world for years to come. The storm will pass and most of us will still be alive, but we will inhabit a different world.
In this time of crisis, we face choices between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment, between nationalist isolation and global solidarity. To stop the epidemic, entire populations need to comply with certain guidelines.
In their battle against the coronavirus epidemic, several governments have already deployed new surveillance tools. They are using ever more sophisticated technologies to track, monitor, and manipulate people. This pandemic marks a watershed transition from interpersonal to biometric surveillance.
Imagine every citizen wearing a biometric bracelet that monitors body temperature and pulse 24/7. Government algorithms will know you are sick even before you do, and they will also know where you have been, and who you have met. They could stop the epidemic within days.
Anger, joy, boredom, and love are biological phenomena just like fever and a cough. The technology could track them all. Corporations and governments could get to know us far better than we know ourselves, and then manipulate our feelings and sell us anything they want.
Alternatively, we can choose to protect our health and stop the coronavirus epidemic not by accepting totalitarian surveillance but rather by empowering citizens.
When people are told the scientific facts, and when people trust public authorities to tell them these facts, citizens can do the right thing even without a Big Brother watching over their shoulders. A self-motivated and well-informed population is usually far more powerful and effective than a policed, ignorant population.
Whenever people talk about surveillance, remember that surveillance technology can usually be used not only by governments to monitor individuals but also by individuals to monitor governments. In the days ahead, each one of us should choose to trust scientific data and healthcare experts over conspiracy theories and irresponsible politicians.
The pandemic and its economic crisis can be solved only by global cooperation. China can teach Americans many valuable lessons about coronavirus and how to deal with it. But for this to happen, we need a spirit of global cooperation and trust.

AR See my review of Harari's books.


2020 March 19


James Crabtree

Toby Ord says the chance of human life ending entirely during this century is one in six.
He works at the University of Oxford Future of Humanity Institute, where he considers apocalyptic scenarios from asteroid strikes to climate change, broader environmental collapse, nuclear war, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence.
He thinks future intelligent machines might wipe out their human underlings.
Pandemics are his second-biggest fear. The coronavirus outbreak provides a foretaste of the massive disruption a more lethal strain might bring.
Oliver Letwin was once the UK government minister in charge of UK disaster preparedness. He sees the vulnerability of industrial societies rising as interlocking tech networks underpin social systems.
Five mass extinctions have scarred our planetary history, the most recent wiping out the dinosaurs. Habitat and species destruction are now causing a sixth Holocene extinction.
Extinction Rebellion calls for radical travel limits and sharply reduced consumption resembling the results of the current coronavirus lockdown.
One result of the pandemic may be that scenarios imagined by survivalists will be easier for the rest of us to imagine too. Our world is littered with the ruins of civilizations that came to an end.

AR Ord and his colleagues are too gloomy.




The local fabric of space looks much the same at every point and in every direction. Three geometries fit this description: flat, spherical, and hyperbolic.
In flat geometry, the angles of a triangle add up to 2π and the area of a circle is πr2. The simplest example of a flat 3D shape is ordinary Euclidean space.
Spherical and hyperbolic shapes are harder to visualize. Take a rectangular piece of paper and tape its top and bottom edges to make a cylinder. Next, tape the right and left edges to get a torus. This crumples the paper along the inner circle of the torus and stretches along the outer circle.
For you as a 2D creature living on a flat torus, angles in a triangle sum to 2π, and so on. But there are straight paths on the torus that loop around and return to where they started, so if you look straight ahead in any of these directions, you see copies of your own back.
Similarly, we can build a flat 3D torus by gluing the opposite faces of a box. Living in it is like living in an infinite 3D array of identical cubic rooms. You see infinitely many copies of yourself.
The 3D torus is just one of 10 different flat finite worlds. Each of these worlds has a different hall-of-mirrors array, but they all have the same local geometry as Euclidean space.
The farthest we can see is the CMB radiation left over from shortly ABB. A search for matching circles in the CMB, suggesting they are the same circle seen from different directions, failed to find any.
A 3-sphere is the set of all points a fixed distance from a center in 4-space. For life in a 3-sphere, light travels along the great circles. Every point on the 3-sphere has an opposite point, and we see anything there as our sky.
The 3-sphere is the model for spherical geometry. We can build spherical spaces by gluing up a chunk of a 3-sphere. Each of these glued shapes has a hall-of-mirrors effect, but in them there are only finitely many rooms to travel through.
A spherical universe can be detected through purely local measurements. Because straight lines in spherical geometry are great circles, triangles are fatter, and their angles add up to more than 2π.
Hyperbolic geometry opens outward to infinity. But because it does so much more quickly than flat geometry, we cannot fit even a 2D hyperbolic plane inside Euclidean space without distortion. One distorted view of the hyperbolic plane is the Poincaré disk.
From outside the disk, the triangles near the boundary circle look much smaller than the ones near the center, but from inside all the triangles are the same size, and the boundary circle is infinitely far out. Locally, the circumference of a circle grows exponentially compared to the radius and the angles of a triangle sum to less than 2π.
Measuring cosmic triangles can test whether the universe is curved. For each hot or cold spot in the CMB, its diameter and its distance form a triangle. We can measure the angle the spot subtends and check whether it fits flat, spherical, or hyperbolic geometry.
Most measurements seem to favor a flat universe.

AR Flat is vanishingly improbable, but too big for the curvature to show is likely.



Natalie Wolchover

An axion field can explain why the strong nuclear force respects CP symmetry. The axion boson is a candidate for dark matter and may show why matter predominates over antimatter.
In the first few nanoseconds ABB, an angle θ in the field equations may have cycled between 0 and 2π as the field settled down to 0. Let a Mexican hat with a tall brim represent the axion field, where θ is the angular position around the hat, and the height of its crown or sides represents energy.
Imagine the genesis of the axion field as like a marble landing on the brim of the hat. The marble rolled down the brim toward the center, and the hat was tilted to make the marble settle at θ = 0.
If the axion field is not exactly symmetrical, other quantum fields may put kinks in the brim of the hat. If the kinks forced the marble to roll around the hat, the rotation slowed down as the field interacted with other fields. The rotational asymmetry led to matter instead of antimatter.
The axion would have 10 times the mass of the Higgs. This is too much for the LHC, but not for the planned High-Luminosity LHC, slated for first light in 2027.

AR I hope I live to see it.


Angela Merkel
Deutschland steht nach den Worten von Kanzlerin Angela Merkel in der Coronakrise vor der größten Herausforderung seit dem
Zweiten Weltkrieg. Es habe seither nichts gegeben, "bei dem es so sehr auf unser gemeinsames solidarisches Handeln ankommt.
Es ist ernst. Nehmen Sie es auch ernst."


No try


Don't panic


2020 March 18

UK Healthcare: Into the Abyss

Jessica Potter

I'm a respiratory specialist in an intensive-care unit at a hospital in London. A patient who needed a ventilator turned out to have the coronavirus. I hadn't worn a mask. Soon I developed a cough.
I was told to self-isolate for 14 days. After just one patient with Covid-19, a quarter of our junior staff are off. A single case of the coronavirus has wreaked havoc in our hospital.
Britain has fewer intensive-care beds than most other European countries. Even when a bed is available, we do not have the nurses to staff it. A decade of cuts and underfunding has left us dangerously exposed.
British hospitals have plans to cancel nonemergency care and move staff members to the front line. As people with the coronavirus flood their corridors, they will be pushed to the breaking point.
The government plans to flatten the peak of the epidemic. The UK is not yet in full shutdown. I can understand not wanting to enforce isolation sooner than necessary, but I worry about how we know where we are on the epidemic curve.
The NHS will only survive this crisis by protecting and respecting its staff. We are being asked to do more with little compensation while colleagues are hung out to dry because the system failed them.
For years, health care workers have been raising the alarm that the NHS is in crisis. As this crisis intensifies, we must be given the means to protect ourselves and our patients.
Right now, it feels like we're heading into the abyss.

AR Brits needs to rethink their most basic priorities.


2020 March 17

After Brexit, Coronavirus

Rachel Sylvester

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has risen to a genuine national emergency with an approach that is serious, measured, rational, and open. He is holding daily press conferences flanked by the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser. He is trying to level with the public.
UK health secretary Matt Hancock: "Every time I hear somebody talking about [the crisis], I listen and I try to find out if there's something that we haven't thought of and something that we need to consider because all that matters is getting this response right."
UK chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance: "We should be prepared to change our minds as the evidence changes. We cannot go in with a fixed plan that is immutable."
The contrast with the prime minister's approach to Brexit is stark. The EU talks scheduled to take place in London this week have been cancelled as governments struggle to cope with the crisis. Yet Johnson still says the transition period must end on December 31, as if Brexit is unaffected.
The peak of the crisis in the UK is expected just as the June deadline for requesting a Brexit delay approaches, so it will be impossible for either side to say how the trade talks are going. The logical move is to announce an extension to the transition period.
Johnson's evasiveness about the consequences of Brexit is the opposite of his openness over coronavirus. The government refuses to publish its own economic impact assessment of trade deal it hopes to strike with the EU, presumably because the Treasury agrees with most economists that there will be a hit to the economy. The last thing the UK will need at the end of the year, after the Coronavirus crash, is another shock.
On Brexit, Johnson ignored the experts. He insisted the UK must quit the EU pandemic early warning system and leave the European Medicines Agency. This may mean the UK has to wait longer and pay more to acquire a coronavirus vaccine.
The UK cannot isolate itself from the world. Cooperation is crucial, trust matters, and transparency can help build it. The political divisions over the EU that tore the UK apart last year seem petty in a life and death emergency.

AR Boris, detest, curse, and revile your Europhobia.


Depressing Economic Forecast

Martin Wolf

The pandemic may be a bigger economic threat than the financial crisis of 2008/09. Many households and businesses are likely to run out of money soon. Consumer demand will weaken, businesses will go bankrupt, and there is a risk of a collapse in economic activity.
As borrowers and spenders of last resort, governments can and must do more. Government debt is so cheap that they need feel no fear of doing so: Germany, Japan, France, and the UK can now borrow for 30 years at a nominal rate of less than 1%, Canada at 1.3%, and the USA at 1.4%.
Providing relief is far better than loans and loan guarantees. Businesses will take up loans only to ensure their survival through the crisis, not necessarily to pay their workers. Payments can be made conditional on keeping workers.
Globally, the pandemic risks creating a depression.

AR Governments need to manage economies.


2020 March 16

Don't Say Don't Panic

Simon Wessely

Three basic principles of coronavirus crisis communication:
 Don't give premature reassurance,
 Don't tell people not to panic,
 Get doctors and scientists on TV asap.
When people panic, usually someone is to blame. They panic when they fear they are in a dangerous situation but see no way out or when they perceive they are being denied treatment due to disorganisation.
History shows that global epidemics can cause serious civil disturbance. Preparing for spending two weeks in isolation by stocking up on necessities is not panicking. It is a rational and appropriate response.
Epidemics can bring us closer together. First responders run toward danger. Altruism motivates self-isolation. Appeals to protect others are more effective in persuading people to cooperate than coercion.

AR So 42 is not the answer.


The Painted Bird

Steve Rose

The Painted Bird juxtaposes unrelenting atrocity and childhood innocence. Adapted from a novel by Jerzy Kosinski, the movie follows an abandoned boy through an almost medieval eastern European landscape of death, cruelty, superstition, deprivation, and madness. Civilization is barely clinging on as the Nazis tighten their grip. Any fleeting trace of humanity — a small act of kindness, a snatch of song — is a welcome relief. The film is often ravishing to behold, with pristine cinematography, epic vistas, and unforgettable imagery.

AR Must see.


Monday morning: All clear on my beach

Soap and water

Toilet paper

Kourtney Kardashian
Kourtney Kardashian


2020 March 15

Trump Versus Disease X

Vox, 2018

The World Health Organization recently released a list of diseases likely to spark a public health emergency. On the list was disease X: a pathogen currently in animals but with the potential to make the leap into humans and spread around the globe.
America is retreating from supporting the global and public health efforts that can prevent epidemics of diseases like disease X. Current proposals from the Trump White House would slash funding for foreign aid and US public health agencies.
Countries cannot isolate themselves from the flow of disease across borders. Fighting and preventing pandemics requires cross-border collaboration and cooperation. Countries need to share information transparently about outbreaks within their borders, and they need to agree on plans to prevent and fight those outbreaks.
Historically, the US government has had the single largest footprint of any country in global health when it comes to money contributed. This work is carried out directly by USAID, the CDC, the Department of Defense, and the WHO.
The Trump administration proposed in its 2019 budget to cut funding for the CDC by 20%. It also proposed slashing funding for the State Department and USAID by a quarter. That has prompted USAID and the CDC to plan a retreat from 39 of the 49 foreign countries they work in. This work abroad has involved critical pandemic prevention efforts.
The bigger issue is the ability of governments and organizations to put money into preparedness. Many global health thinkers have called for a permanent global health fund in the vein of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

AR Trump in his "state of emergency" press conference last week called citing these facts "nasty" and announced today as a National Day of Prayer.


2020 March 14

We See EU

The Guardian

UK political reporting culture aims to keep its distance, holding power to account. But for much of the period of UK membership in the EU, British coverage of the EU seemed so confrontational as to lose all sense of perspective.
Deliberations in Brussels were written up as national victories or defeats. This art form was pioneered in the early 1990s by a young reporter called Boris Johnson. The idea of compromise and collaboration was never mentioned in the adversarial narrative.
The expectation is that this detachment will only grow, with less and less about the EU and European affairs in the pages of British newspapers.

AR Ignorance and insults — not news.


2020 March 13

Children and Coronavirus

New Scientist

Children are less likely to get severely ill and die from the new coronavirus. Yet children are just as likely as adults to get infected.
A common complication of covid-19, SARS, and MERS in adults is acute respiratory distress syndrome, where the immune response becomes overzealous and blocks oxygen uptake in the lungs.
Because children's immune systems are still developing, one suggestion is that they are shielded from this type of dangerous immune response — called a cytokine storm — when they get covid-19 or similar diseases.
Children's immune systems might react differently to coronaviruses compared with flu because of differences in the type of cytokine response produced against each virus.
Children may also be benefiting from their lack of past exposure to coronaviruses generally. Because they have lived longer, adults are more likely than children to have encountered other coronaviruses in their lives and to already have antibodies against these milder viruses. These existing antibodies could leave them worse off, because they aren't exactly matched to the new coronavirus.
Just because children aren't getting severely ill doesn't mean they aren't contributing to the spread of the new coronavirus. It seems infected adults without symptoms can spread the virus and the same may be true of children.

AR So schools will spread the virus independently of any other measures.


2020 March 12

Trump Coronavirus Address

Edward Luce

President Trump: "My fellow Americans: Tonight, I want to speak with you about our nation's unprecedented response to the coronavirus outbreak .."
As he was speaking, the Dow futures market nosedived. A few hours earlier, the US stock market entered bear territory for the first time since the global financial crisis.
Trump suspended all travel from Europe for 30 days. He excluded the UK and Ireland from the ban for no good reason. The WHO says international travel bans stifle the flow of medicines and aid.
Trump has been badly shaken by the stock market fall that has wiped out most of the gains of his administration. Yet his actions will deepen market pessimism.

AR This crisis may end his presidency — I hope.


2020 March 11


The New York Times

World Health Organization officials say the spread of the coronavirus is now a global pandemic.


US Primaries

Matt Flegenheimer, Katie Glueck

The state of the union is impossible to pin down. The state of the Democratic primary is not. With a string of commanding victories, Joe Biden appears poised to complete a striking turnaround.


UK Budget

Financial Times

UK chancellor Rishi Sunak ended a decade of Conservative austerity in his first UK budget with a big increase in public spending and a £12 billion emergency fiscal stimulus to counter the shock of the coronavirus outbreak. He pledged to pour money into the NHS.

AR Sunak delivered it well — money for potholes too.


2020 March 10

The US Economy

The New York Times

President Trump seems likely to push the US economy over the edge. The panic may be on Wall Street, but the pain is also going to be felt on Main Street. Our society is constructed to reward the rich in good times and punish the poor in bad times.
A coronavirus recession would be doubly painful. Lower-income families are less likely to have health insurance, or jobs that provide paid leave, or jobs that can be done from a home office. Wealthier Americans can dream of riding out the coronavirus.
Huge spending on public health is sensible under the circumstances. Limiting the spread of the virus is the best way to minimize economic damage. We're in this mess because our policymakers failed to plan for the future.

AR China responded better.


Wellness and Beauty

Kourtney Kardashian

Wellness is a combination of physical and mental well-being. Feeling at my best, without striving for perfection. To me it is all about balance and moderation. Happiness and health are wealth.
With age comes wisdom, which is beautiful and something we should be proud of. I feel blessed to have experienced and lived all that I have. I believe in beauty from the inside out.
I really try to not give energy to things that are unworthy of my energy. No matter what I am doing, someone has something to say, good or bad.

AR An admirable philosophy.


Quantum Verification

Kevin Hartnett

Quantum entanglement can be used to verify answers to computational problems. In new work, five researchers showed that by interrogating provers that share entangled particles, you can verify a much larger class of problems than you can without entanglement.
Let a prover be a powerful computer that proposes a solution to a problem. Let a verifier be a less powerful computer that asks the prover questions to determine whether the answer is correct. When two provers propose solutions to the same problem, by interrogating the provers separately about their answers, you can verify solutions to a larger class of problems than with only one prover.
The tensor product model of entanglement sees entangled particles as too far away from each other to allow causal interaction. This model uses matrices with a finite number of rows and columns. The commuting operator model says particles are entangled when their properties are correlated but the order in which you measure the properties is irrelevant. This model uses a matrix with an infinite number of rows and columns.
Alain Connes conjectured that one can approximate many infinite-dimensional matrices with finite-dimensional ones. This is implied by the Connes embedding conjecture. Boris Tsirelson conjectured that the tensor product and commuting operator models of entanglement were roughly equivalent. The Connes embedding conjecture and Tsirelson's conjecture imply each other.
John Bell came up with a test for determining the reality of entanglement:
1 Alice and Bob share a 3×3 grid. Alice is given a row and enters a 0 or a 1 in each cell so that they sum to an odd number. Bob gets a column and fills it out so that it sums to an even number. They win if they put the same number in the shared cell. The best they can do is win 89% of the time.
2 Alice and Bob split a pair of entangled particles. They measure their respective particles and use the results to say whether to write 1 or 0 in each cell. They can now win 100% of the time.
If two players keep winning, they are using entanglement. Bell tests are now called nonlocal games.
There is no general algorithm for calculating the exact maximum winning probability for all nonlocal games. But you can home in on an answer using the two models of entanglement. An algorithm that uses the tensor product model sets a floor on the max-win probability for nonlocal games. An algorithm that uses the commuting operator model sets a ceiling.
These algorithms produce more precise answers the longer they run. If Tsirelson's conjecture is true, the floor and the ceiling should zoom in on a single value.
A graph is a collection of vertices connected by edges. Imagine you want to know whether you can color the vertices using three colors, so that no vertices connected by an edge have the same color.
For very big graphs, you can ask each prover to tell you the color of one of two connected vertices. If they each report a different color, and they keep doing so every time you ask, you gain confidence that three colors suffice. But as graphs get really big, even the question is too much for the verifier.
Entanglement enables the provers to come up with the questions themselves. The verifier wants the provers to report the colors of connected vertices. If two provers asked questions independently, they would not select enough correlated vertices for validation, but with entanglement they can. The provers each report a color, and the verifier checks that they never report the same color.
This procedure is a nonlocal game. You can play nonlocal games with entangled provers to verify answers to at least as many problems as you can by interrogating two classical computers.
The new proof established that interrogating entangled provers makes it possible to verify answers to more problems, including the halting problem. But the halting problem is insoluble, so calculating the approximate max-win probability for nonlocal games is undecidable, and the two models of entanglement are not equivalent. The Tsirelson and Connes conjectures are both false.

AR A bit much for a wise old man.


On the left horizon is Brittany car ferry Barfleur
on its way from Poole to Cherbourg this morning

The Better Half:
On the genetic superiority
of women

by Sharon Moalem

Mars hole
NASA, JPL, U. Arizona
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
image of hole on slopes of
Pavonis Mons

Kendall Jenner
Kendall Jenner

Freeman Dyson
NYT 1972
Freeman Dyson


2020 March 9


Financial Times, 0930 UTC

Oil prices crashed by a fifth after Saudi Arabia launched an aggressive price war. Stock markets plunged and investors rushed into government bonds. London's FTSE 100 was down 7% and on track for its worst day since the 2008-09 financial crisis. Germany's DAX and France's CAC 40 fell more than 6%. The Stoxx Europe 600 index slid into bear market territory. The Saudi move threatens to swamp the oil market with supplies just as the coronavirus outbreak hits demand.


75 Years Ago: Tokyo


On the night of March 9/10, 1945, hundreds of USAAF B-29 Superfortress bombers dropped 1,500 tons of firebombs onto Tokyo.
The city was comprised of mostly wooden houses, and the bombing created tornadoes of fire so intense that they sucked mattresses from homes and sent them hurtling down the street along with furniture and people.
"The flames consumed them, turning them into balls of fire," says Nihei, now 83. She had been asleep at home with her parents and her siblings when the bombs began raining down. As she raced down her street, the superheated winds set her fireproof wrap ablaze. She briefly let go of her father's hand to toss it off. He was swept away into the crush of people trying to escape.
As the flames closed in, Nihei found herself at a Tokyo crossroad, screaming for her father. A stranger wrapped himself around her to protect her from the flames. As more people piled into the intersection, she was pushed down. When she was finally pulled out from the pile of people, she saw their bodies charred black. The stranger who had protected her was her father.
Nihei had narrowly survived the deadliest bombing raid in human history. It left 100,000 Japanese people killed and another million injured. The inferno reduced an area of 40 square km to ash, leaving up to a million people homeless.
The human toll that night exceeded that of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

AR That was in Showa 20. I was in Tokyo in Showa 57.


2020 International Women's Day

On the Genetic Superiority of Women

Bryan Appleyard

Sharon Moalem says women are genetically tougher than men.
Women on average live longer than men. More men are born than women (105 to every 100) but by the age of 40 the numbers are equal and by 100, 80% of the survivors are female. Women suffer fewer congenital birth abnormalities than men. Male children are twice as likely to suffer developmental disabilities.
Men are certainly more muscular and better than women at most sports requiring power. But men are not so good when it comes to extreme endurance contests such as ultramarathons.
Moalem: "Women have a lower resting metabolic rate, so they don't exhaust themselves as easily. The other piece of this puzzle that I looked at was famine survival, for which women have an immense advantage. I think that's where the ultra-endurance performance comes from."
Humans normally have 23 pairs of chromosomes. But the sex chromosomes differ in men and women. Women have two X chromosomes. Men have an X and a Y. The Y chromosome is relatively poor in genetic information compared with the X chromosome.
Moalem: "Many of the genes that are used to make the brain are on the X chromosome. And so many of the genes that are involved in the immune function are on the X."
Women live longer than men, but the second X chromosome makes them more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases. As with cancer, men are more likely to die from such diseases, but, unlike cancer, women are more likely to be afflicted in the first place.

AR Fascinating.


2020 March 7

Coronavirus and US Health Care

The New York Times

The Trump administration public charge rule enables federal officials to deny green cards to immigrants who use social safety net programs.
Noncitizens who lack access to health insurance, nutritious food, or decent housing fall are vulnerable. The public charge rule could deter millions of noncitizens from seeking medical care, lest they imperil their immigration status. This would make those groups less healthy and thus more susceptible to an infectious disease outbreak.
When it first proposed the new rule, officials noted that it could lead to worse health outcomes for immigrants, especially infants, children, and pregnant or nursing women. Vaccination rates might fall, and communicable diseases might become more prevalent. The rule was intended to make immigrants self-sufficient.
Proponents of closed borders and small social safety nets highlight the tension between citizen and noncitizen. But infectious diseases like Covid-19 expose such false dichotomies. Already, citizens who are underinsured or uninsured are being slammed with medical bills they can't afford when they seek testing and treatment for the virus. If quarantines become routine, tens of millions of workers without health insurance or paid sick leave will be unable to stock up and stay home.
Among noncitizens, the effects of the public charge rule and other such policies are that new mothers are turning away free baby formula, hungry families are turning away food assistance, and the chronically and even fatally ill are avoiding hospitals and rejecting medical care.
All this fear might feed on itself in the months ahead. If citizens struggling to cover their own health care resent any group perceived to be getting help, they might endorse even more draconian policies. From there, the epidemic would only get worse.
The best way to break this cycle is to stitch together a safety net for everyone. This is a moral position and a practical one.

AR Similar arguments apply to other public spending, such as on housing and education. A social fabric is only as strong as its weakest stitch.


2020 March 6


Marina Hyde

Imagine if five years ago someone had pitched you this scenario: "It's March 2020. A global contagion is under way, and we open as prime minister Boris Johnson is outlining his strategy to stave it off: singing Happy Birthday twice while washing your hands."

AR Imagine there's no heaven.


2020 March 5

US−UK Trade Deal

Bloomberg, TruePublica

This week HM Government published its objectives in a US-UK trade deal. Leave campaigners dangled such a deal as the big prize from Brexit. In the best-case scenario set out in the paper, a free-trade agreement would add 0.16% to UK GDP and 0.05% to US GDP over 15 years.
US billionaire Wilbur Ross is the US secretary of commerce and would oversee such a deal. He is known as the king of bankruptcy and once saved Donald Trump from bankruptcy. The Trump trade doctrine stipulates that any new trade deal must reduce the US trade deficit, strengthen US manufacturing, and boost US growth.

AR Such a deal should compensate for loss of EU trade?


2020 March 4

Super Tuesday: Joe Biden

Matt Flegenheimer, Alex Burns

Democrats are very likely to nominate one of two septuagenarian white men with conspicuous political baggage: Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders. Michael Bloomberg dropped out.

AR Biden will have to do more to beat Trump.


Bad History: Adolf Hitler

Brendan Simms

Hitler was violently opposed to international capitalism. He was an enemy of Britain and the United States of America before becoming an enemy of the Jews. The British Empire and the United States took in millions of people of German origin and made them citizens.
He envisioned Germany dominating continental Europe and asserting itself as an equal against the AA powers, who were the real winners of the First World War. He wanted Germans to rule Europe as a master race. He despised the idea of a federal Europe as an alliance of small and peripheral states.
He waged two wars of annihilation, one against the Soviet Union, the other against the AA powers and what he called World Jewry. He was fighting the AA capitalist world order and felt surrounded by enemies. He admired the racial quality of the Anglo-Saxons on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Holocaust was a preventive strike against America arising from hostility to global high finance.

AR I think this AA spin is exaggerated.


2020 March 3

Cosmic Dark Ages


In the first moments ABB, there were no atoms. Light bounced off free electrons at every turn. Then the first H atoms formed, and most photons were liberated to fly off into the universe. The CMB dates from this time, around 400 ky ABB.
A few hundred My later, hydrogen gas fills the universe and clumps together under gravity to make the first stars. But much of the light emitted by the stars is at just the right energy to be reabsorbed by the gas, so the stars are still lost in a fog.
During these cosmic dark ages, some photons had enough energy to ionize H atoms, to let later photons fly past them. In time, the photons ionized most of the gas surrounding a galaxy, clearing the fog and allowing starlight to shine out to us.
This took place during the epoch of reionization. We think it ended around 1 Gy ABB. We now have direct evidence of starlight from a cluster of galaxies clearing the fog at around 680 My ABB.

AR Good — our model is corroborated.


2020 March 2

UK−EU trade talks

Wolfgang Münchau

UK PM Boris Johnson rules out an extension of trade deal negotiations beyond the end of 2020. He is backtracking on the political declaration and on the customs border in the Irish Sea. His plans conflict with EU rules on state aid.
The UK-EU trade negotiations that start today are a zero-sum game. The UK seeks maximum regulatory independence. The EU wants to prevent it on grounds of competition. There is no deal that lets both sides declare victory.
The UK can secure its negotiating goal of regulatory independence unilaterally by walking out. The EU cannot do the same. Europe should prepare for two economic shocks this year: a spread in the coronavirus and a WTO Brexit.

AR This is ominous.


2020 March 1

A Big Bang

New Scientist

Astronomers have found the remains of the biggest bang ever seen (ABB). It has left a void about 8 Zm wide at the center of a huge galaxy almost 4 Ym away. The void was blown when matter fell into a supermassive black hole, which spun up and squirted out big jets that blew away nearby gas. We detected radio waves emitted by electrons accelerated in the jets.
The energy needed to blow the void was about 1054 J.

AR Excuse my jargon, but I like it.


Qubits and Wormholes

Philip Ball

Take a black hole and quantum entangle a second black hole with it. Any qubits fed into the first black hole fall beyond the event horizon and are rapidly scrambled. But if the two black holes are linked in the right way, the qubits will pop out of the second one, refocused into readable form, as if through a wormhole.
There may be a way to perform this experiment. If it works, it may offer clues about quantum gravity and suggest that spacetime is woven by quantum entanglement.
Quantum mechanics implies that information is conserved. AdS/CFT correspondence says a spacetime with anti-de Sitter curvature corresponds to a conformal field theory in one fewer dimension. This shows how Hawking radiation can encode qubits from inside a black hole.
Until a black hole is halfway evaporated, the qubits inside it are hidden. From then on, any further qubit thrown in bounces back. The black hole is so entangled with its earlier Hawking radiation that any more qubits appear at once in new radiation. The black hole acts like an information mirror.
The connection between black hole thermodynamics and quantum information theory is quantum scrambling, a strong form of thermalization with delocalization of qubits. Black holes scramble qubits at the fastest rate possible.
A faster way to pull out qubits is to entangle the black hole fully with another black hole. A qubit falling into the first black hole appears in the other. The entanglement between the black holes is like a wormhole between them. Qubits entering one black hole go down the wormhole to the other.
Black holes act like fast quantum-scrambling circuits. In principle, we could make systems equivalent to wormhole-connected black holes by entangling quantum circuits in the right way and teleporting qubits between them.
Juan Maldacena: "If these experiments can be done, it might become possible to create more and more complex entangled systems that could test more aspects of the emergence of spacetime from quantum systems."

AR Spacetime from entanglement could be testable in my lifetime [smiley]


Eddie Izzard

Hard work
Liz and Mollie


UK sunk
Deviant Art
British Isles after 100 m
rise in sea level

Kendall Jenner

New Zealand Herald


2020 February 29


Gideon Rachman

A global public health emergency with a recession can change the course of history.
In America, President Trump is vulnerable. The Obama administration created an NSC unit to focus on future epidemics, but Trump disbanded the unit and made drastic cuts to epidemic prevention activities. A pandemic would bolster Democratic arguments for nationalized US healthcare.
The Chinese government portrays the virus as a natural disaster. Beijing wants praise from the international community for its efforts to contain the virus. Chinese officials criticize the US decision to deny entry to foreign nationals from China. The US secretary of state criticizes China for withholding information.
The EU is concerned about the threat to the Schengen travel zone. The refugee crisis has already put Schengen under strain. EU law lets countries close their borders in the case of a public health emergency. They should follow Brussels guidelines, but some might go their own ways.
The biggest confirmed outbreaks of the virus have been in rich countries. The virus will be harder to contain in poor nations with weak health systems. In Europe and the Mideast, refugees often live in crowded and insanitary camps. The Turkish decision to let refugees go to Europe alarms the EU.
The UK government worst-case estimate is half a million deaths in the UK.

AR All bets are suddenly off in predicting the course of 2020.


2020 February 28

Global Markets: Dire Scenario

Financial Times

Equities have shed a tenth of their value this week in a selloff that continued on Friday, with investors rushing into havens on mounting concerns the coronavirus outbreak will stunt the world economy and deal a heavy blow to corporate profits. Bank of America has predicted global growth will slow in 2020 to below 3%, the weakest pace of the post-crisis era. Traders have piled in to asset classes that are seen as shelters during economic storms.

AR Dump Trump, 'bandon Brexit, see sense.


2020 February 27


The New York Times

Single-winner elections do a poor job of winnowing a large field of candidates down to one with majority agreement. They encourage nastiness, because it's all or nothing for each candidate.
Ranked-choice voting works on a simple premise: Instead of being forced to choose a single candidate, voters rank some or all of the candidates in order of preference. They rank their favorite candidate first, their next-favorite candidate second, and so on. If one candidate wins a majority of the vote outright, he or she is the winner. If not, the ballots are tallied in a series of rounds. In each round, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated. Each ballot ranking that candidate first is then transferred to the candidate whom it ranked second. The process repeats, eliminating the lowest-scoring candidate and redistributing his or her ballots, until one candidate has more than half of the vote.
No democracy can long maintain its legitimacy with open-ended minority rule. Neither can political parties. Reform the primary system.

AR Do it in the UK too.



Melody Moezzi

Jalaluddin Muhammad Rumi was an Islamic scholar, theologian, poet, and mystic. Born in what is now Afghanistan in 1207, Rumi grew up in an era of deep political turmoil. He spent much of his life traveling in the Mideast before settling in Konya, now in Turkey.
In love with insanity, I'm fed up with wisdom and rationality.
Rumi considers insanity a mark of divine favor. The madness he promotes is rooted in ecstatic love; the one he condemns, in petty fear. The former creates a mystic, the latter a lunatic:
Become the sky and the clouds that create the rain, not the gutter that carries it to the drain.
For Rumi, ego is not only the worst of our human afflictions but also the root of them all:
Quit keeping score if you want to be free. Love has ejected the referee.
When it comes to the prison of our own ego, love is our only way out:
Every storm the Beloved unfurls permits the sea to scatter pearls.

AR Thank you, Melody.


2020 February 26

Markets and Coronavirus

Nouriel Roubini

Investors have yet to confront the severity of the coronavirus outbreak. The worst is yet to come:
 The epidemic is becoming a global pandemic. We do not know yet how many other countries worldwide will experience a severe outbreak.
 The impact will not peak before the end of Q1. Global supply chains are being seriously disrupted at a time when China accounts for about 20% of global GDP. When the disease spreads to other markets, this damage will increase. Last year, corporate capex dropped in view of the risks of a US−China trade war and a hard Brexit. Now, capex will be pushed back further to wait and see how bad the outbreak will be. Consumers will stay at home.
 Markets might not rebound in Q2 and beyond. Assuming a V-shaped recovery is highly optimistic. Growth is more likely to return to an annualised level of 6% from Q2 onward, with China at 2.5%.
 Policymakers have not taken strong early action. Central banks run out of bullets. The US Fed will probably react in Q2 by cutting rates. But monetary policy cannot resolve the negative supply shock.
The coronavirus outbreak is likely to be only one of many negative shocks that will hit the global economy this year. The risk of a global recession is rising.

AR What a time to set off into a Brexit sunset.


2020 February 25

Zoonotic Diseases


Coronavirus has the formal WHO name COVID-19 and also the name SARS-CoV-2.
It is the third pathogenic novel coronavirus to emerge over the past two decades. The first caused SARS, a serious and atypical pneumonia. The second, MERS-CoV, emerged a decade later and caused MERS. Since its identification, nearly 2,500 cases of MERS-CoV infection and nearly 900 deaths have been documented. The SARS-CoV epidemic proved larger but less deadly, with approximately 8,000 cases and nearly 800 deaths.
MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV appear to originate in animals, and the same is likely true of SARS-CoV-2. This makes them zoonoses, diseases that can jump between humans and other animals. The closest genetic relatives of SARS-CoV-2 sequences appear to be bat coronaviruses, with the role of intermediate species possibly played by the pangolin. Four coronaviruses that cause colds in humans also seem to have zoonotic origins.
Coronaviruses use a surface glycoprotein to bind to host cells. Most coronaviruses that infect humans appear to latch onto one of three specific host receptors on mammalian cells. These proteins are all present on epithelial cells of the human airway, presenting easy targets to any airborne virus.
Another virus that commonly emerges from animal reservoirs is influenza. Almost all known influenza viruses originate in waterfowl. Many viruses move from birds into other species, including humans. An avian H1N1 virus was responsible for the global pandemic of 1918 that caused an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide.
Coronaviruses and influenza both have pandemic potential.


2020 February 24


New Scientist

The global spread of covid-19 seems to have exploded in recent days, with outbreaks revealed in Iran and Italy and a massive increase in cases in South Korea. World Health Organization director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus says the window of opportunity for containing the virus is narrowing.
Some countries, such as Singapore, have detected most of the infected people that epidemiologists say they should be getting from China, but many have not. On average, countries are detecting only a third of expected cases.
Until now, efforts to fight the virus have focused on containment, in which all detected cases and their contacts are quarantined. But when there is enough infection about, people catch it without it being obvious who they got it from.
As containment fails, the world enters the mitigation phase of epidemic response, with quarantine replaced by actions such as closing schools, canceling mass gatherings, and similar social distancing measures. This is aimed at slowing the epidemic, so as not to overwhelm medical facilities.


2020 February 23

Brexit Facts

Jonathan Portes

The vote for Brexit was driven less by economics than by other views. A far higher proportion of people with conservative views voted for Brexit than of people with liberal views. Their views explain their vote much better than their economic circumstances. Older and less educated people mostly voted for Leave.
It is difficult to separate cultural and economic aspects. Many regions outside the capital that voted for Brexit are on the margins of the British economy, have been affected by industrial decline, and feel left behind. Regions that voted Leave were the most affected by austerity policies.
People who felt that they had fallen behind voted against what they thought was the status quo.
Britain has become more socially liberal. People who have not gone along with this change, including older people and people who have not gone to university, were more likely to support Brexit.
The EU free movement of people fueled opposition to social liberalism. But Britain has record high employment and low unemployment, and studies show that migrants have no overall negative impact on employees and wages and salaries.
Rejection of migration is not higher where the proportion of immigrants is high. But immigration is perceived generally as a loss of control. The UK has changed faster than many wanted.
The Remain campaign emphasized the economic benefits of staying in the EU. It was a fundamental misjudgment that they could win the referendum solely with economic arguments.
The Remain campaign neglected to raise awareness of the positive side of the EU. Free movement brings benefits for British citizens, but voters who see immigration positively were not mobilized. Remainers preferred not to talk about immigration at all.
EU membership has not brought about a loss of identity and sovereignty for the UK. The government should have said that what bothers people is caused not by the EU but by government decisions such as austerity.
The economic consensus is that Brexit is bad for the economy. So far, our predictions look pretty accurate. We need to counter the myth that economists have misjudged Brexit.

AR No surprises here.


2020 February 22

Latest Neutron Star Collision


Last summer, the gravitational wave observatory known as LIGO detected two neutron stars merging. The event challenges everything we thought we knew about neutron star pairs.
The pair has a total mass of around 3.4 M⦿. All previously known examples of binary neutron stars weighed somewhere around 2.6 M⦿. Such heavy pairings could be almost as common as the lighter binary star systems we have been studying for decades.
Perhaps massive mergers were hard to detect before LIGO because they happen so rapidly. With a photon telescope, you have to be looking in the right place at just the right time. But LIGO is omnidirectional and monitors the entire sky.
We cannot explain why there should be so many big neutron stars. To do so, we would need to find as many heavy progenitor stars as we do lighter stars. But we think fewer than 1 in 10 of all stars are big enough to make such massive neutron stars.
The authors used computer simulations to model the life cycle of compact stellar objects over billions of years. The code accounts for the effects of relativity, magnetism, gravitational radiation and much more. It also lets researchers plug in assumptions about details that are not fully understood. Yet the team could not produce anywhere near the number of heavy neutron star pairs that LIGO suggests.
Supernova simulations are complex and difficult. The models that drive them are conjectural. We need to reconsider what we thought we knew about neutron stars.

Arxiv reference


2020 February 21

Substance Abuse Resources for Veterans

Keith Prance

We've all heard the horror stories from Iraq, the Afghanistan war, the Kosovo war, and other wars which have taken place around the world. Young, vibrant men and women volunteer to go overseas and fight for their country. They sacrifice their peace of mind, time, and comfort.
But when they come back, some of these individuals are not the same >>>


2020 February 20


A Zen student asked how long it would take to gain enlightenment if he joined the temple.
"Ten years," said the Zen master.
"Well, how about if I work really hard and double my effort?"
"Twenty years."


2020 February 19


New Scientist

Our ability to make decisions is a superpower to alter the physical world, apparently at will.
Carlo Rovelli: "How can we insert this agency into the general picture of nature?"
Sean Carroll: "Quantum fields don't have any agency. Atoms don't, do bacteria? I don't know, but human beings do. Somewhere along that continuum it sneaked in."
The aim of physics is to characterise the interaction and evolution of reality's elements through fixed mathematical laws with predictive power. That mission is ongoing.
Jenann Ismael: "We think of ourselves as coming from outside the causal order and somehow intervening in it, making things happen."
Matt Leifer: "If I'm saying that something doesn't boil down to the laws of physics, then I'm basically positing something supernatural, that's outside natural laws."
Carroll: "We see agents that make choices and exert a causal influence on what happens in the world, and then science comes along and says you're actually a bunch of particles or atoms and you're just obeying differential equations. What we want to figure out is how those things can both be true at the same time."
Emergence is the idea that behavior and properties that are inscrutable when you look at single components of a complex system pop into existence when you view things as a whole. Agency changes the future, but not the past.
Rovelli: "We do something and then something happens. How do entropy and the second law of thermodynamics come in?"

AR We are not just in the causal order. We are the causal order. We emerge at a macroscopic level to bring the sensorium to a synthetic unity of apperception. Our separate selves are sparks emitted by the godhead in primal acts of creation. Our personal selfhood is a corrupt reflection of the divine order. The natural order is the manifestation of divinity. God is all.


Sand blown by storms:
my beach this morning

Patricia MacCormack
Patricia MacCormack
The Ahuman Manifesto

Insect population decline:
Why you should care
Andrew Cunningham

(x2 + ((b + 1)y)2 + z2 − 1)3
− x2z3 − ay2z3 = 0

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak

Parliamentary report on
Russian interference in
UK democracy is yet
to be published



2020 February 18

Trump Diplomacy

Gideon Rachman

Boris Johnson has got Brexit done. A US trade deal is meant to be much of the dividend. But the prime minister has just had a row with Donald Trump, following his decision to let Huawei help build the UK 5G telecom network. America's closest allies don't trust Trump, but Australia and Germany also see Huawei in their 5G network as a risk. Trump may pursue a UK trade deal — or not. Johnson may now be hoping for a Democrat to win the US presidential election.

AR Smell the coffee, Boris: the Europeans were good friends.


Cummings Disruption

Rachel Sylvester

Dominic Cummings sees the Treasury as a Remainer roadblock to reform. Cummings wants his revolution to reshape the state and tackle the liberal bias of the establishment. The BBC, the CBI, the civil service, the courts, the military, the universities, and parliament are all on his hit list. Cummings is no Conservative. His spad Andrew Sabisky is out already.

AR Kick out Cummings too, before he does more damage.


2020 February 17

Ahuman Manifesto

Daily Mail

Cambridge philosophy professor Patricia MacCormack says in her new book that giving birth is "the worst thing you can do" for the global climate due to human overpopulation. Her take on the responses: "I simply propose people not reproduce .. somehow, I want to kill children, which is ridiculous. Somehow, I'm proposing eugenics or some kind of ethnic population control .. and I think that what that shows is there is an anthropocentric — or a human — impulse to read acts of grace as, automatically, acts of violence."

AR Logic says she is right on birth.


Spad Spat

Daily Mail

Downing Street chief spad Dominic Cummings called for "weirdos and misfits" in a job ad for new spads and then hired Andrew Sabisky, who in 2014 commented on the Cummings blog: "One way to get around the problems of unplanned pregnancies creating a permanent underclass would be to legally enforce universal uptake of long-term contraception at the onset of puberty. Vaccination laws give it a precedent, I would argue."

AR I too say it will come to this.


2020 February 16

German Conservatives

Der Spiegel

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has problems. Traditional voter milieus are eroding, their core supporters are dying off, coalitions are becoming more difficult to assemble, and old convictions no longer apply.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) is stepping down as party leader and designated successor to Angela Merkel as chancellor in the wake of CDU flirtation with the AfD in Thuringia last October.
 Friedrich Merz, 64, hopes to take over the CDU and succeed Merkel. He stands for economic liberalism and social conservatism and appeals to those who want a more authoritarian and masculine style of leadership.
 Armin Laschet, 58, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, is widely considered to be angling for the position as well. He represents a continuation of the Merkel course, which saw the CDU move to the center in recent years.
 Jens Spahn, 39, is a candidate from the younger generation who represents a more modern conservatism: "After so many years of being shaped by Angela Merkel, the CDU must relearn how to walk on its own."
CDU leaders are annoyed by the Values Union, which has opposed CDU policies it sees as too leftist. The Thuringia debacle led to criticism of the Values Union for weakening resistance to the AfD.
Konrad Adenauer shaped the CDU as a party for mainstream conservatism. His goal was to prevent the rise of a competing nationalist party. The Values Union says Merkel forgot that goal.

AR I back Merz.


2020 February 15

End of a Union

Emma Duncan

The UK might come apart.
The reunification of Northern Ireland with the republic seems increasingly likely. Sinn Fein wants reunification and is now a power in the land.
The Good Friday agreement requires the UK government to call a referendum on the matter when there is reason to believe there is a majority for reunification.
Ireland is no longer under the thumb of Catholic priests and has become more attractive to normal people in the north. Also, Westminster has been careless with NI.
Westminster stumbled over the Irish border. It opted to create a hard border in the Irish Sea, which divides NI from Britain and pushes it toward the republic.
The people of NI and Scotland voted against Brexit. Getting Brexit done was more important to England than preserving the Union.
Blame Westminster.

AR Blame Boris.


Decline of the Novel

Joseph Bottum

Novels were central to Western culture a hundred years ago. They described what seemed the crisis of the modern self. At their highest and most serious level, they offered solutions.
Today the novel is moribund. Its failure signals an end of confidence in the values and goals of Western culture. The signs of the end are the dust on the unread books of our library shelves.
With the fading of a temporal horizon, history appears to have no discernible aim. Without goals and reasons, all that remains are past crimes. Uncompensated by achievement, unexplained by purpose, these sins seem overwhelming.
The novel at its most serious aimed at re-enchantment. It hungered to impart a kind of glow to the objects of the world, standing against the modern turns to science, government, and economics.
The great purpose of the modern novel was to re-enchant our sense of the world, to knit back together the interior and exterior realities which our age had split apart.

AR I'm writing a novel now!


2020 February 14

Can Journalism Be Saved?

Nicholas Lemann

This century has seen a dramatic economic devastation of journalism.
A number of forces converged to change newspaper journalism. Newspapers became almost entirely economically dependent on advertising. Newspaper journalists were likely to be college educated and to think of themselves as professionals, but television and radio had eroded their ability to be the prime deliverers of basic facts about daily events.
When the Internet arrived, many journalists saw it as a potential godsend. A newspaper could reach a much larger audience while shedding the cost and inconvenience of newsprint. Newspapers could become a free product supported by assembling a mass audience for advertisers.
Google and Facebook found a way to match advertisers with potential customers much more effectively and cheaply than newspapers ever did or could. They built far larger audiences than traditional media companies would have thought possible, without creating any content on their own. They were in the distribution business, not the content business.
Journalism has benefited from various forms of subsidy, support, and benevolence. In any other area where something is deemed essential to the healthy functioning of society, the argument that the best system for providing it is informal voluntary patronage would have no merit.
Journalism needs a more reliable support system to solve the crisis.

AR The crisis affects me personally too.


10 + 11 = 1

Daniel Finkelstein

Government works better when the chancellor and the prime minister work together. Boris Johnson had no parliamentary best friend to appoint, so No 10 will bring chancellor and PM together by taking over No 11. But the Treasury has shown repeatedly that it is not easily brought to heel.

Absolute Power
Polly Toynbee

Rishi Sunak will be an obedient new chancellor. His advisers will merge with those of the PM and come under the control of chief spad Dominic Cummings. Absolute power now resides in No 10.

AR Will Sunak, like Javid, be "Chino" (chancellor in name only)?


Rishi Sunak

Financial Times

At 39, Rishi Sunak is the first millennial to occupy one of the great offices of state. He has only weeks to pull together his first budget, scheduled for March 11.
A former financier, Sunak was elected in 2015 as MP for the Yorkshire constituency of Richmond. He became a PPS in 2017 and a junior minister in 2018.
In 2016, Sunak said the UK should leave the EU and set its own immigration rules without favoring EU citizens: "We are discriminating against countries with whom we have ties of history, language and culture."
The eldest of three children, Sunak was born in Southampton to parents of Punjabi descent. His father was a family doctor and his mother ran a pharmacy. He was head boy at Winchester College and read PPE at Oxford.
Sunak also took an MBA at Stanford, where he met his wife Akshata Murthy, whose billionaire father founded Infosys. He then worked at Goldman Sachs, TCI, Theleme Partners, and Catamaran Ventures.
Sunak: "I am thoroughly British, this is my home and my country, but my religious and cultural heritage is Indian, my wife is Indian. I am open about being a Hindu."

AR Sounds good enough for the job.


2020 February 13

UK Cabinet Reshuffle

BBC News, 1313 UTC

Change in the Treasury: Sajid Javid is out as Chancellor of the Exchequer, after rejecting an order to fire his team of aides, saying "no self-respecting minister" could accept such a condition. He is replaced by Rishi Sunak, MP for Richmond in Yorkshire, just in time for the budget in March.

AR Sunak comes over as smart.

American Justice

The New York Times

When senior government officials abuse their power by wielding law enforcement for private ends, whether to attack their enemies or protect their allies, they strike at the heart of constitutional democracy. The Constitution does not give President Trump the authority to run the Justice Department like a goon squad at one of his failed casinos.

AR Law is above politics.



Max Hastings

The German city of Dresden was destroyed on February 13/14, 1945, when more than a thousand British and American bomber aircraft dropped nearly four thousand tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city. The firestorm engulfed its historic centre and killed some 25,000 people. Every society that engages in a war becomes morally compromised.

AR War is political murder.


2020 February 12

US Presidential Primaries

The New York Times

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has emerged in front in the Democratic Hew Hampshire primary. Two other candidates, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, performed well in New Hampshire but have shown little capacity to resonate with nonwhite voters so far. Sanders is a maverick. His early hold on a fractured primary field is distressing Democrats.

AR Sanders is about as credible as US president as Jeremy Corbyn was as UK prime minister.


Nominate Bloomberg

Thomas L. Friedman

All it takes to stop Donald Trump is for Democrats to nominate the right person to defeat him.
Russia and China will be voting Trump 2020 for three reasons:
1 Trump keeps America in turmoil and unable to do the hard work to stay on top
2 Trump is so disliked that he can never galvanize a global coalition against them
3 Trump will never challenge them on human rights abuses
Trump is their chump, and they will not let him go easily.
The only candidate on the Democratic side who has the track record, the resources, and the toughness to take on Trump is Michael Bloomberg.

AR Bloomberg is my pick too.


2020 February 11

Australia, Britain, Canada

The Guardian

In a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the "Canada-style deal" that Boris Johnson described as his goal in the negotiations contained tariffs, quota limits, and stringent level playing field conditions to ensure high standards.
She was surprised he cited the Australia model: "[The] European Union does not have a trade agreement with Australia. We are currently trading on WTO terms. And if this is the British choice ... we are fine with that [but] we are agreeing with Australia that we ... work in a trade deal with them. [The UK] can decide to settle for less, but I personally believe we should be way more ambitious."

Financial Access
In a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said: "Wherever possible we will grant equivalence on particular sectors of the financial industry. That is what we did with Canada, that's what we do with the United States and Japan, and it works."

AR Boris, end this farce and rejoin the EU asap.


2020 February 10

Oscar Winner

The New York Times

Parasite won the best picture award. Its director Bong Joon Ho won the best director award. The movie also won the awards for best original screenplay and best international feature.



Mark Kermode

Parasite is a remarkable experience, a melancholy ghost story, a tragicomic masterclass, a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains, a tale of two families from opposite ends of the spectrum.
We first meet the Kim family in their lowly semi-basement home, hunting for stray wifi coverage and leaving their windows open to benefit from bug-killing street fumigation. They have nothing but one another and a shared sense of hard-scrabble entrepreneurism. So when son Ki-woo is faced with an unexpected opportunity to home-tutor a rich schoolgirl, he gets his gifted artist sister to forge a college certificate, bluffing his way into the job and into the home of the Park family.
The Park home is an architectural wonder perched high above the slums of Seoul, with views of luxurious lawns and starlit skies. While aloof Mr Park is at work, his anxious wife tends to their coquettish daughter and hyperactive young son. Their lifestyle relies upon tutors, a chauffeur, and a devoted housekeeper. Ki-woo realises that his own family could easily fill such roles, and hatches a plan to inveigle the Kims into the privileged lives and home of the Parks.
The Kim family are clearly every bit as smart as the Parks. And the Parks are as practised at deception as the Kims. In a stratified world, Parasite finds hidden depths beneath the surfaces.


Blips in Time

Brian Greene

Science is a way of investigating the world that can yield demonstrable truths.
The second law of thermodynamics allows little pockets of order to form so long as they create enough disorder in their environment to compensate. We release enough heat and waste to tip the overall disorder balance sheet toward disorder.
Life and mind are blips on the cosmic timeline. There is no ultimate answer.

AR Physics nurses the stoic.


Lateral Naval Architects
Bill Gates is believed to have paid $645 million to buy Aqua. The luxury superyacht is 113 m long and has five decks with space
for 14 guests, 31 crew members, plus gym, yoga studio, beauty room, massage parlor, and cascading pool. Down below are
two tanks cooled to 20 K for liquid hydrogen to power the ship when it takes to the seas in 2024.

The New Class War
Michael Lind


Heisenberg principle

Lily-Rose Depp
Lily-Rose Depp

Image of the Sun taken by the
Inouye Solar Telescope shows
a surface divided into cells
as big as Texas


2020 February 9

The New Class War

Matthew Goodwin

Our societies are increasingly divided between globalists and nationalists.
Michael Lind says the postwar compromise reflected in civil rights, trade unions, welfare states, and so on has been torn up. He blames a new technocratic overclass elite: a university-educated managerial and professional class that leans right on economics and left on culture.
As this overclass took power, the old compromise was replaced by a technocratic and elitist model. This left most of the population in Western countries with no voice in public affairs at all, except for shrieks of rage, so populism thrived.
In future, the key divide will be between the ignorant masses and a highly educated liberal elite. This sharp disconnect will pour gasoline on populist revolts. Either the technocratic elite will push us into a caste society, where winners and losers move further apart, or the populists will take over.
Lind proposes a return to democratic pluralism.

AR I expect a caste system.


2020 February 8

Trump Surveillance

The New York Times

The Trump administration has bought access to a commercial database that maps the movements of millions of cellphones in America and is using it for immigration and border enforcement. Since that data is available for sale, it seems the government believes that no court oversight is necessary.
The use of location data to aid in deportations demonstrates how out of date the notion of informed consent has become. When users accept the terms and conditions for various digital products, not only are they uninformed about how their data is gathered, they are also consenting to future uses they could never predict.
The courts are a ponderous and imperfect venue for protecting Fourth Amendment rights in an age of rapid technological advancement.

AR Corporations must not become tools of government.


2020 February 7

Brexit Smokescreen

Jonathan Lis

A UK Foreign Office memo this week says officials may no longer use the terms "deep and special partnership" (with the EU) or refer to the "implementation period" (this year) and must describe the outcomes on offer as "Canada" (hard Brexit) or "Australia" (no-deal Brexit). It says the UK will "restore our economic and political independence on 1 January 2021" (wave flag). The FO has mobilized language in a campaign against the British people.

AR FO = Frankly Orwellian


2020 February 6

Trump Acquitted

The New York Times

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump delivered the most harshly partisan State of the Union speech in memory. He hijacked the House chamber, turning what should be a unifying moment into a campaign rally.
On Wednesday, all Republican senators except Mitt Romney voted to acquit Trump of extorting a foreign government in an effort to rig the 2020 election and then of obstructing the Congress effort to investigate him.
Unlike the Democratic Party, Trump has a simple, powerful message: In three years, he has brought America back from the disaster he claimed it was in and set it on a path to a glorious new future.
The November election is a critical opportunity to defend the Republic through the straightforward expedient of voting Trump from office.

AR Vote him out before he wrecks everything.


2020 February 5

The Great American Comeback

Donald Trump

In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American Decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America's destiny. We have totally rejected the downsizing. We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never, ever going back!
To those watching at home tonight, I want you to know: We will never let socialism destroy American health care!

AR Nancy Pelosi ostentatiously tore up her copy of the speech.


Whatever He Wants

Fintan O'Toole

The Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump is like a bad TV show. Republicans are determined to make this a show trial. The point of the trial is to vindicate Trumpism.
For Trump, the only force that matters is his own will. The doctrine of his will as the source of all authority must not be undermined by the trial. The leader is special. He makes the right call.
Democrats have tried to make thinking the wrong thoughts an impeachable offense. Impeachment thus turns on inquiries into the intent behind lawful conduct. Trump denies the existence of any constitutional limits on his pursuit of his private goals.
The Senate is a court, and Republican senators are the courtiers. It is impertinent for courtiers even to go through the motions of putting the monarch on trial. If Trump wins a second term, he can do whatever he wants.

AR King Trump has never before looked so ominous.


Heisenberg Limit Updated

Anna Demming

Researchers have updated the Heisenberg limit, which sets a limit on measurement accuracy. The limit often cited differs from the correct limit by a factor of π.
When a physical quantity is measured, its value is initially assigned a probability distribution. In the old "frequentist" approach, only repeatable random events had probabilities.
A Bayesian approach accepts probabilities representing the uncertainty in any event or hypothesis and attributes a given probability distribution known as the prior. Assuming the parameter value is fixed lets the Bayesian approach lead to the usual Heisenberg limit. In fact, no generality is lost by adopting the Bayesian approach.
Previous work also proved the need for an additional factor of π in the Heisenberg limit, but it did not allow for adaptive approaches.

AR Good: Bayesian probability has a better rationale than frequentist probability.


2020 February 4

Usual Crap About Brexit

The Guardian

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and prominent Brexiteer Michael Gove: "It is better to have a good trading relationship with the United States, better to have the best trading relationship with the EU, but most of all it's right to stand up for Britain, and not to accept terms from other countries, if those terms aren't right for us."

AR For "us" read Gove and his gang of hardline Brexiteers, who don't represent me or most of the businesspeople, academics, scientists, or young people in the UK. When and how can we (the real "we" for me) pitchfork this Brexiteer incubus off our backs?


2020 February 3

Brexit Trade Deal Warning

Financial Times

The EU warns the UK there will be no extensive trade deal if the UK government insists on diverging from EU standards.
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier: "The UK answer will be fundamental to the level of ambition of our future relationship and the UK must know this. It will be up to the UK to decide."
UK prime minister Boris Johnson: "There is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection, the environment, or anything similar."


British Trade With Chimerica

Simon Jenkins

No notional boost in trade with China or America can compensate for what hard Brexit would cost the economy. No such trade will reflect any increase in sovereignty. The UK is about to lose the muscle of EU collective negotiation. Any marginal rise in trade with China or America will be strictly on their terms, a.k.a. vassalage.


British Academy Film Awards

Daily Mail

At the BAFTA ceremony last night in the Royal Albert Hall, 1917, directed by Sam Mendes, won seven awards: best film, director, outstanding British film, special visual effects, cinematography, production design, and sound.
Joaquin Phoenix won the leading actor award for his role in Joker, which also won awards for casting and original score.
Brad Pitt won the supporting actor award for his role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.



Against Realism

Donald D. Hoffman

Consciousness is fundamental. A conscious agent has experiences and interacts in social networks for which we can build a dynamical theory. From here we build up theories of learning, memory, problem solving, and so on.
Spacetime has been a foundational assumption in physics. But quantum theory and general relativity indicate that spacetime cannot be fundamental. Scattering amplitudes for elementary particles can be given simple expressions if you forget about spacetime.
The amplituhedron is a geometric object outside of space and time. The volumes of its various parts correspond to the probabilities of these scattering events. My aim is to work out how the dynamics of conscious agents can give rise to this amplituhedron.
The behavior of conscious agents depends on their current state. Your current state governs all the probabilities of what you do at the next decision point. You have only a finite memory to influence your future behavior.
Conscious agents pass experiences back and forth. As the number of interactions goes to infinity, we might get the connection to physics and the amplituhedron. We need to prove that the asymptotic dynamics of these social networks precisely fits into the structure of the amplituhedron.
Realism is the claim that physical objects have definite properties independently of observation. Locality is the additional assumption that those definite properties have influences that propagate no faster than the speed of light through space. Local realism is false.
Non-contextual realism is the claim that physical objects have definite properties when they are not observed, and these definite values do not depend on how you choose to measure them. Quantum theory says this is false too.
I propose that realism is false. What we see is more like a user interface or a virtual reality.
Think about a virtual reality game of tennis. You and a friend both have your headset and body suits on, you see her avatar on a tennis court, and you start playing. She hits the tennis ball to you, and you hit the same tennis ball back to her, but she is not seeing the same tennis ball that you see. There is no public tennis ball. A supercomputer is assembling our balls from bits.
Objective reality exists independently of me, but space and time are human forms of perception. Spacetime is emergent, not fundamental. There is a deeper reality beneath it.

AR The best we can say is that qubits lie deeper. In the beginning was a qubit, and it popped/pops into the reality of me and my world. Subject and object emerge, and spacetime emerges too from entanglements between qubits.


Timeless beauty outlives human folly: Beach this morning



2020 February 1

Brexit Is Done

Ian McEwan

Set aside for a moment Vote Leave lies, dodgy funding, and Russian interference. A matter of huge consequence came to be settled by a first-past-the-post vote and not by a super-majority because the referendum was merely advisory. But then advisory morphed into binding when populists threw magic dust in our eyes.
There is much that is unjust about the British state, but very little of that injustice derives from the EU. The Brexiteers persuaded voters to transform our collective fate for a generation. To cause sufficient numbers to believe that the source of all their grievances is some hostile outside element is the oldest trick in the populist handbook.
English nationalism is championed by a Vote Leave cabinet whose monument will forever be a special kind of smirk, perfected back in the days of the old Soviet Union. I'm lying, you know I'm lying, I know you know, and I don't give a damn: "The five-week prorogation of parliament has nothing to do with Brexit."
Most of the electorate did not vote to leave. Most of business, the trade unions, agriculture, science, finance, the arts, and even MPs were against Brexit. But the government ignored the public interest and shrank behind party cabals and slogans. The magic dust has blinded reason and diminished our children's prospects.

AR A tragedy of centennial magnitude has come to pass.




Ursula von der Leyen:
"We will always love you."



2020 January 31

Brexit Bongs

BBC News, 2300 UTC

A Big Ben recording has bonged. The UK has left the UK. Brexit party leader Nigel Farage: "This marks the moment of no return .. we are never going back."


Trump Impeachment Trial

The New York Times, 2251 UTC

Senators have voted against including additional witnesses and documents in the impeachment trial. This clears the way for a swift acquittal of President Trump in the coming days.


Brexit Day

Martin Fletcher

Brexit Day is here, but half the country still opposes Brexit.
Boris Johnson won the general election because he faced Jeremy Corbyn. The FPTP system let him win with 43.6% of the vote, barely 1% more than Theresa May in 2017. Exhausted voters were seduced by his latest lie: "Get Brexit Done."
A small band of wingnuts hijacked the UK. Tonight, thanks to them, the UK will leave the most successful experiment in multi-national collaboration the world has ever seen. We will withdraw from the biggest free-trade area ever created.
Instead of seeking to lead Europe and to shape it in our image, we will be cutting and running. After 47 years of EU membership, we will be turning our backs on loyal friends and allies. It will be a moment of profound national shame.
The truly hard negotiations to secure a trade deal with the EU have yet to start. The spectre of a disastrous no-deal Brexit will return with a vengeance in December. The Brexiteers have taken a huge and reckless gamble with our future.
I fear this will prove to be Britain's greatest mistake.

AR Spare a thought for the monarch who did zip to stop it.


Brexit Day Precedent

Ben Macintyre

The event that best compares to Brexit is the English Reformation. Henry VIII withdrew from Europe and rejected foreign regulation between 1532 and 1534.
England broke with Rome and the Catholic Church because Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife, remarry, and beget a son. The breakaway was also powered by the wider Reformation movement and a flood of radical new ideas transmitted by the printing press. Like Brexit, the English Reformation had multiple causes.
The 1534 Act of Supremacy declared Henry VIII the "Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England" and proclaimed the English monarch to be the ultimate authority on legal and doctrinal matters. The Act of Appeals of 1533 asserted a broader English sovereignty: "This realm of England is an empire."
Henry began building a greater Britain. The Acts of Union imposed English law on Wales and granted the Welsh seats in parliament. By 1547, Henry was also king of Ireland. Elizabeth I later repelled an invasion by Catholic Spain and severed the Scottish relationship with Catholic France.
Then, as now, some merchants feared economic disaster, predicting the ruin of English trade with Catholic Europe under the Holy Roman Emperor. Like Brussels, Rome was accused of corruption and inefficiency.
The English Reformation changed everything and involved massive and sustained upheaval. British relations with Europe in this century will be stormy.

AR I predict some kind of war between continent and islanders by 2066.


Wish Britain Well, EU Better

Timothy Garton Ash

According to Bloomberg Economics, by the end of 2020 Brexit will have cost Britain some £200 billion in lost economic growth. This is nearly as much (adjusted for inflation) as the UK has paid to the EU since it joined 1973.
We do not want Brexit to damage the larger European project. A Europe of unrestrained competition between states, all pursuing their narrowly defined national interests, is unlikely to remain democratic, prosperous, and peaceful for long. A "successful" Brexit depends on the continued existence of the EU. We should want Britain to do well after Brexit — and the EU to do even better.
At Oxford University, we will be working to ensure we remain fully engaged in European intellectual life, as we have been for the last 800 years.

AR When you come to the end of a lollipop, plop goes your heart.


2020 January 30

America, c'est moi!


President Donald Trump's impeachment lawyer Alan Dershowitz has rolled out a novel legal argument in his client's defense: The President's personal interest is the national interest when he's up for reelection. Because Trump believes his reelection is what's best for the country, whatever he does to secure a second term is in the national interest.

AR Why do lawyers get a bad press?



Nathan Thrall

The Trump plan for Mideast peace calls for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza; for Jerusalem, including its Old City, to be the undivided capital of Israel; and for Israel to annex all settlements, as well as the Jordan Valley, creating a discontiguous Palestinian archipelago state, surrounded by a sea of Israeli territory.
Trump says the United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty over all the territory the plan assigns to Israel. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel pledges to annex all settlements and the Jordan Valley beginning on Sunday.
Members of the Israeli right celebrated the deal as the end of the possibility of an independent Palestinian state. The Palestine Liberation Organization condemned the plan for the same reason and called it the final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.
There are now more Palestinians than Jews living in the territory under Israeli control. Yet the plan prioritizes Jewish interests over Palestinian ones. It rewards and even incentivizes settlements and further dispossession of the Palestinians.
Israel is the only state perpetuating a permanent military occupation, with discriminatory laws for separate groups living in the same territory, that liberals around the world go out of their way to justify, defend, and fund.

AR Pourquoi?


2020 January 29

Europe Ratifies Brexit

BBC News, 1806 UTC

Members of the European Parliament overwhelmingly ratified the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement following an emotional debate in Brussels. After the vote, MEPs sang Auld Lang Syne. The UK is due to leave the EU on Friday at 23:00 UTC.


Trump Peace Plan

Financial Times

Donald Trump says his Arab-Israeli peace plan lays the foundations for a realistic two-state solution. His plan makes Jerusalem the undivided capital of the Israeli state and gives a "meaningful portion" of the occupied West Bank to Israel. Trump unveiled the plan beside a smiling Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

AR Palestinians reject it outright. Jared, go back to school.


Brexit Hard Landing

Rafael Behr

I had a heart attack. Brexit broke my heart. I was attached to the European project. It will hurt on Friday night.
Remainers lost the argument with negativity. Leavers were offered nothing in exchange for surrendering a prize for which they had voted, to which they were democratically entitled, and which they had not yet received.
Boris Johnson won by downgrading the promise of Brexit from reward to relief. From June 2016 to December 2019, UK politics flew in zero gravity. Arguments that should have weight had none and crazy notions flew unchecked.
The price of victory on a promise to "get Brexit done" is getting it done. From Friday, Brexit is heavy.

AR Doing it will overload 2020. Boris, watch your back.


2020 January 28

Bolton Book Bombshell?

The Times

In his new book The Room Where It Happened, former White House national security advisor John Bolton says President Trump told him the suspension of aid to Ukraine was directly linked to an investigation he wanted Ukraine to pursue into the son of Joe Biden.
The White House had had the Bolton manuscript since December 30 but still gone ahead with its defense that there was "no quid pro quo" for military aid.
The Senate trial had seemed to be moving to a quick end without witnesses this week. Now some Republican senators hint they are ready to vote with Democrats and demand witnesses.
Republican senator Lindsey Graham: "Let's see what's in the manuscript, let's see if it's relevant, and if it is, I'll make a decision about Bolton."
Trump: "The problem with John is it's a national security problem. He knows some of my thoughts. He knows what I think about leaders."

AR Knows some of "my thoughts" — don't we all?


Finance For Fish?

The Times

A leaked Brussels diplomatic document shows the EU will insist that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) have a role in ruling whether the UK has breached any rules it signs up to in a post-Brexit deal.
Brexiteers called on the UK to walk away from talks rather than accede to the demands. But the withdrawal treaty agreed last week gives the ECJ a significant enforcement role.
EU negotiators say failing to reach an agreement by the end of the year equals cliff-edge in many areas. December 31 is the final deadline after which there can be no return to the status quo.
The EU will link any deal with access not only to EU financial markets but also to UK fishing waters.

AR This EU-UK story will run and run.


More Mathematics Money?

The Times

The UK government has announced a funding boost for mathematics research.
Mathematician G.H. Hardy hated being asked about the point of his work and said only dull mathematics is useful. Unfortunately for Hardy, his work ended up laying the foundations of much of the internet. Most secure traffic on the internet now relies on apparently esoteric theories about prime numbers.
Mathematicians don't need much, just a notepad, a pencil, and a waste bin. Philosophers don't even need the waste bin.

AR The last sentence is my little joke.


Colorized scene at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the death camp liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945.

Amia Srinivasan
⦿ Cian Oba-Smith
Amia Srinivasan

With CAN director Karen Loftus

Sofia Richie
Sofia Richie



Me today

14 days

Gwyneth Paltrow
Gwyneth Paltrow


Sir Roger Scruton
Sir Roger Scruton


2020 Holocaust Memorial Day

The Road to Auschwitz

Rivka Weinberg

I am alive because my paternal grandfather's Spidey sense had him frantically looking for ways out of Germany in 1933. "When madmen are elected, it's time to leave the country," he said. Now I, and many others I'm sure, worry that a catastrophe is looming, and wonder how we can guard against it.
The road to Auschwitz was built by hate but it wasn't paved with indifference. It was paved with collaboration. To kill people living within a population, you have to be told who and where they are. You don't just march into Poland or France and magically know who to round up and where they live.
The truth about how massive moral crimes occur is both unsettling and comforting. It's unsettling to accept how many people participated in appalling moral crimes but comforting to realize that we don't have to be heroes to avoid genocides. We just have to make sure not to help them along.
What history teaches us is: Don't perpetrate; don't collaborate. If you can be heroic, that is laudable. Those lessons are hard to learn, but effective and easy enough to follow.


2020 Day 1, Year of the Rat

Vulgar Celebration

The Guardian

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has announced a program of celebrations to commemorate the UK departure from the EU on January 31.
Downing Street said union jack flags will line Parliament Square and the Mall on Friday and government buildings in Whitehall will be lit up in red, white, and blue. Millions of 50p coins bearing the words "Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations" will go into circulation.
A "commemorative light display" including a countdown clock will be staged in Downing Street in the hour up to 11 pm, the moment when UK membership of the EU ends. Officials say the light display will "symbolise the strength and unity" of the four nations that make up the UK.
Remain campaigner Lord Heseltine: "I think it is unwise of the government to rub our noses in it by celebrating our defeat at this hour."

AR May Boris rot in infamy for this vulgar circus.


2020 January 25

Amia Srinivasan

Jonathan Derbyshire

Amia Srinivasan is the new Chichele professor in social and political theory at All Souls College in Oxford. At 35, she is the youngest occupant of this chair, the first woman to hold it, and the first person of colour to do so.
In her forthcoming book The Right to Sex, Srinivasan says there is no defensible analogy to be drawn between literal and sexual starvation: "Sex is not a sandwich."
She tells students feminism is not a philosophy: "It's not a theory, it's not a set of ideas. It's a political struggle."
Srinivasan graduated summa cum laude from Yale and arrived in Oxford as a Rhodes scholar in 2007. Born in Bahrain to Indian parents, she lived as a child in Singapore, London, and New York.
AS: "There were years in graduate school when I did really feel like my mind was being pruned into a very specific tool that was good for one and one thing alone, which was analytic philosophy."
She claims an affinity with her Chichele predecessor Jerry Cohen: "I have a huge amount of respect for [him] because of his very serious engagement with Marxism."
AS: "Most philosophers hold fast to this faith in deliberation as leading us to social and political progress. That seems to me to come from a very naive conception of what politics actually is."

AR One more chair I will never occupy.


2020 January 24

Davos 2020

Prince Charles

We can't go on like this, with every month another record in temperatures being broken. If we leave it too long, and we have done, just growing things is going to become difficult.
Do we want to go down in history as the people who did nothing to bring the world back from the brink in time to restore the balance when we could have done? I don't want to.
Think for a moment: What good is all the extra wealth in the world, gained from business as usual, if you can do nothing with it except watch it burn in catastrophic conditions?
Greta Thunberg is remarkable. She represents one of the main reasons why I've been trying to make all this effort all these years. I've always worried about the fact that so often, in terms of humanity, we leave things too late, so you have to hit a brick wall and experience a catastrophe before anything happens.
Nature's contribution to the global economy is estimated to be worth $125 trillion annually. Nature is, in fact, the lifeblood of our financial markets. We must rapidly realign our own economy to mimic nature's economy and work in harmony with it.
I intend to do my utmost to ensure that the message of urgency, systemic change, collaboration and integration is heard. We simply cannot waste any more time. The only limit is our willingness to act, and the time to act is now.


EU Signs WA

The Guardian

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel have formally signed the withdrawal agreement for the UK departure from the EU.
Michel: "Things will inevitably change but our friendship will remain. We start a new chapter as partners and allies."


2020 January 23

Brexit Law

The Guardian, 1706 UTC

HM the Queen has given her royal assent to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act.


Climate Crisis

Al Gore

The burden to act on the shoulders of the generation of the people alive today is a challenge to our moral imagination. This is Thermopylae. This is Agincourt. This is the Battle of the Bulge. This is Dunkirk. This is 9/11. We have to rise to this occasion. But remember, political will is itself a renewable resource.


Brexit Again

Martin Kettle

The departure next week of the UK from the EU will not get Brexit done. Brexit remains central to almost every important policy choice facing the government.
The bill that enacts withdrawal reneges on numerous earlier commitments. It says nothing about what happens next on Brexit. All the regulatory and trade issues are all still in play.
Boris Johnson must decide in June whether to extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020. He wants to move on and frame Brexit as finished business. But getting a deal with the EU is a major priority, more so than one with America.
The act of leaving the EU also confronts the government with big decisions on immigration policy, regulatory policy over sectors such as financial services, the future of agriculture and fishing, the place of human rights in Brexit Britain, and so on.
The Davos conference yesterday showcased the impact of Brexit. The UK is under pressure from the EU and the OECD to defer its planned digital services tax on US tech giants so that policymakers can hammer out an international system of controls.
Johnson aims to live up to his rhetoric by working independently of the EU to achieve an effective regime against the lawless tech companies. The UK cannot be seen to be bending the knee to Donald Trump, so Johnson is vulnerable US retaliation.
The debate about the UK place in the world and the kind of country it should be must go on.


2020 January 22

A Tale of Two Houses

BBC News 1754 UTC

The House of Commons has overturned all five amendments to the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill passed by the House of Lords, including one on unaccompanied refugee children being allowed to join relatives in the UK. The bill ensures the UK leaves the EU on January 31 with a deal.


Senate Impeachment Trial


The Senate has approved rules for the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on a party-line vote that delays the question of whether the Senate should subpoena witnesses and documents until later in the trial. The rules resolution was approved 53-47 after Republicans defeated a series of amendments on the opening day of the impeachment trial. Democrats proposed 11 amendments seeking to subpoena a trove of documents from the Trump administration and from witnesses, but the amendments were thwarted almost entirely by the same party-line vote, 53-47.


The Rule of Law

Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska

The EU is a community of law. Yet the populist governing parties in Hungary and Poland are flagrantly undermining liberal democracy. Respect for the rule of law is also declining in other member states, including Bulgaria, France, Italy, Greece, Malta, and Slovakia. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen proposes an annual report on the state of the rule of law across the EU.

2020 January 21


The New York Times

In 2020, American voters must choose between three visions of the future. The incumbent president, Donald Trump, is clear about where he is guiding the Republican party. On the Democratic side, both the radical and the realist models warrant serious consideration. We are endorsing the most effective advocates for each approach.
Elizabeth Warren stands for the Democratic left. She speaks elegantly of how the economic system is rigged against all but the wealthiest Americans. She is also committed to reforming the fundamental structures of government and the economy. She speaks fluently about foreign policy, including how to improve NATO relations.
Amy Klobuchar stands for the Democratic center. She promises to put America on the path to achieve net-zero emissions no later than 2050. She pledges to cut childhood poverty in half in a decade. She wants to expand food stamps and overhaul housing policy. She promises a foreign policy based on leading by example.


Europe and Brexit

Eric Jozsef

The exit of the UK from the EU is now imminent. Boris Johnson won his bet on the false promise that Brexit allows the British people to take back control. We continental Europeans made the mistake of imagining the issue was a solely British one.
When we approved Schengen and the single currency, we did so without the UK. Our missed appointments with history cannot be blamed on British resistance. Perhaps we might even have avoided Brexit if we had built a United States of Europe.
We stood by and watched Brexit happen. We ignored the threat that the Brexit poses to all European democracies. Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Donald Trump want nothing more than divided Europeans and the disintegration of the EU.
Difficult times lie ahead for our fragile democracies. The UK may return to the European family in due course. The British people who mobilised against Brexit showed how: Never in the history of the EU have we seen such popular demonstrations in favour of Europe.
Only a deeply integrated Europe will enable us to meet such global challenges as climate change, migration, regulation of financial capitalism, coordinated taxation of multinational companies, and channelling new technology.



Melanie Phillips

The First World War was a catastrophe. Sam Mendes focuses on a specific incident based on the experience of his own grandfather on the western front.
Two soldiers are sent on a mission to warn a unit poised to attack that it will be walking into a trap. The movie shows us war from behind their eyes. We see what they see, a landscape from hell.
The unemotional tone is stirring and powerful. These are two ordinary boys who just keep going. We see in them terror, courage, comradeship, loyalty, honour, compassion, self-sacrifice, and hope.
In our era of identity politics and victim culture, this movie is a reminder of emotional restraint and the obligations of duty and service to others.

AR Let us not sentimentalize the military virtues too far.

2020 January 20

Lord Defy Government

BBC News, 2014 UTC

HM Government has lost three votes in the House of Lords over its Brexit legislation:
1 Peers passed an amendment to give EU citizens in the UK the automatic right to stay and ensure
    they can get physical proof of their rights by 270 votes to 229.
2 Peers rejected a proposal to set aside European Court of Justice judgements by 241 votes to 205.
3 Peers rejected a proposal to protect UK courts from EU case law after Brexit by 206 votes to 186.
Ministers will aim to reverse the changes when the bill returns to the Commons.


British Drama

The Times

 Hard MegxitClare Foges
No royal titles, no HRH, no public funding, no have cake and eat it, no half in and half out. The Queen insisted that the issue be thrashed out in days, not weeks. The royal family is not about its individual members. For a nation to feel like a coherent entity it needs its pomp and ceremony.

 Low TrustEd Williams
Britain is a country suffering a crisis of confidence. Politicians lie. Business is self-interested. CEOs get rich as staff lose jobs. Leaders create fear for political gain. National institutions fail the people. Trust in institutions to do the right thing is lower in Britain today than in anywhere but Russia.

 Race BigotryLibby Purves
The flight of the Sussexes from royal duty may prompt Britons to examine the terrible national dialog about racism. The Meghan coverage was mainly either fawning or snarky. The sickness lay in a determination to be offended. A squeamish discussion of racism soured into nonsense.

2020 January 19

A Very Stable Genius

Philip Rucker, Carol Leonnig

Two Pulitzer Prize winners provide the definitive insider narrative of Donald Trump's unique presidency. Their narrative reveals President Trump at his most unvarnished and exposes how decision making in his administration is driven by self-preservation and self-aggrandizement.


Europe Looks Weak

The Observer

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen: "The EU needs to be more strategic, more assertive, and more united .. We must use our diplomatic and economic strength to support global stability and prosperity [and] export our values and standards."
Donald Trump ignored his EU allies when he assassinated Qassim Soleimani. When he blew up the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, he insisted that the EU3 trigger the deal's dispute mechanism and threatened to impose 25% tariffs on European car imports.
Europe is punching well below its weight.


No Deal XO

Mail on Sunday

The Whitehall EU Exit Operations committee (XO) chaired by cabinet minister Michael Gove is preparing for a "disorderly December" 2020.
Sajid Javid: "There will not be alignment, we will not be a rule-taker, we will not be in the single market and we will not be in the customs union and we will do this by the end of the year."
Dominic Cummings: "[The EU] has failed to grasp their judges will have no power and we are not interested in level playing fields .. We are not bluffing on the no extension."

AR HMS Brexitannia is sailing from EUSSR to Trumpland with XO Gove at the helm.

2020 January 18


Matthew Parris

The time is ripe to think about the unification of Ireland. A recent poll in NI gave a 51% to 49% win for unification. Only the over-65s showed a clear majority against. The younger the respondents, the more they opted for unification.
After Brexit, the GB economic habitat will begin to diverge from NI, which will remain aligned with the EU. Four years ago a poll in the Republic found a third of voters favoured unification. Last summer two thirds did. Moderates see the case for unity.
NI has been a test case for UK regional policy and failed. At around £12 billion net per year, NI costs UK taxpayers more than membership of the EU. Merging NI with the Republic will be painful, but it can be done.

AR Devolve NI to the Republic and dissolve GB in the EU/US.

2020 January 17

Trump Impeachment Trial

The New York Times

The Senate formally opened the impeachment trial of President Trump on Thursday. Senators swore to deliver "impartial justice" and installed Chief Justice John Roberts to preside over the proceeding. Roberts vowed to act "according to the Constitution and the laws" and administered the same oath of impartiality to the senators.


Big Ben Bong Battle

The Telegraph

Thee battle for Big Ben to bong on Brexit night has descended into farce. After Boris Johnson called on the public to "bung a bob" for Big Ben to sound the moment Britain leaves the EU, more than £150,000 was raised on a crowdfunding site. But the House of Commons Commission says the money cannot be used due to parliamentary rules on financial donations.

AR Damn good thing too. A BBB for Brexit is a vulgar and insulting idea. They might as well go the whole hog and schedule a fly-by from the RAF Red Arrows and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight — plus a military parade along the Mall and a mass hoist of union jacks around the nation.

2020 January 16

Putin and Xi


Russian president Vladimir Putin has rearranged his government, apparently in order to stay in power for the foreseeable future. He may have been looking across to China, where his close ally Xi Jinping made the same power grab in 2018. Since Xi cleared the way to serve for life, the Chinese Communist Party has closed ranks around him and given him more titles, including one previously only held by Mao Zedong, that of people's leader.

2020 January 15


Philip Goff

Panpsychists say consciousness pervades the universe. As we move to simpler forms of life, we find simpler forms of consciousness. The basic constituents of reality have the simplest.
Perhaps, at some point, the light switches off, and consciousness disappears. But perhaps the continuum of consciousness fades while never quite turning off. This is what panpsychists believe.
There is a deep mystery in how what we know from the inside fits with what science tells us from the outside. The panpsychist says there is a huge hole in our scientific story and puts consciousness in that hole. Consciousness is the intrinsic nature of matter.
Physical science describes matter from the outside. A neuroscientist asks about your consciousness while scanning your brain and correlate kinds of brain activity with various experiences.
We need both science and philosophy to get a theory of consciousness. Science gives us correlations. Philosophy explains them. In my view, the best explanation is panpsychism.


Computing Neurons


Networks of brain neurons can theoretically perform any computation. New research shifts the focus to individual neurons.
The thousands of inputs flowing into a given neuron land in different locations along its various dendrites. Individual dendrites can function differently from one another. Compartments in the dendritic arms of cortical neurons can each perform logic operations.
The dendrites generate local spikes, have their own nonlinear input-output curves, and have their own activation thresholds. They can act as AND gates.
Researchers obtained slices of brain tissue from layers 2 and 3 of the human cortex, which contain large neurons with many dendrites, and stimulated those dendrites with an electrical current. They saw repeated rapid and brief spiking. The spikes were like action potentials and arose from fluxes of calcium ions, not sodium or potassium ions.
A dendrite can spike in response to two separate inputs but not when those inputs are combined. This is equivalent to an XOR gate. Two dendrites together can compute XOR, and we see a plausible biophysical mechanism to do so in a single dendrite.
We need to rethink how we model the brain. It seems a single neuron can be a complex computational device.

Science reference

2020 January 14

Living Robots

The Guardian and The Evening Standard

Researchers have created the first living machines by assembling stem cells from frogs into tiny robots that can swim around freely.
Tufts University Allen Discovery Center director Michael Levin: "These are entirely new lifeforms. They have never before existed on Earth. They are living, programmable organisms."
The xenobots are designed by an evolutionary algorithm running on a supercomputer. They have frog genomes, are about 1 mm in size, and live for a week or so. In future they could swim around inside human bodies on medical missions or swim free to gather microplastic in the oceans.
Levin: "The aim is to understand the software of life."
The work was funded by DARPA and published in PNAS.


Roger Scruton

Melanie Phillips

Sir Roger Scruton was Britain's greatest contemporary philosopher. The author of more than 50 books, he wrote about Kant and Wittgenstein, beauty and music, architecture and sexual desire, fox-hunting and piety, art and the rural idyll.
Sir Roger articulated and championed the deep connections between conservatism, the English countryside and national identity. He recognised that without a shared home and culture based on the inherited values, customs and laws of a nation state there can be no sense of "we" — conservatism was about the defence of collective memory and freedom.
In his 2014 book How to Be a Conservative, he recalled his astonishment when, witnessing the 1968 student riots in Paris, he realised that these radicals wanted to destroy freedom in pursuit of Marxism. He concluded that the political alternative was conservatism. But when he started teaching at London university, he discovered that all his colleagues opposed conservatism.
As the years went on, the totalitarian characteristics he had helped battle in eastern Europe surfaced in Britain under a different guise. The universities started openly suppressing ideas.

AR I was personally acquainted with Scruton when I was a student and he was a young lecturer, when he seemed too archly Tory to me. Since then, after reading the works of the philosopher Hegel, I have warmed to Scruton's brand of Conservatism.

2020 January 13

Academic Apocalypse

Ross Douthat

The humanities are collapsing. This is a new form of secularization. Once consecrated in place of Christianity, high culture is now experiencing its own crisis of belief as outside forces kill student interest in the humanities and cultural interest in high culture.
Recovery depends on more than a belief in truth and beauty. Either the humanities offer judgment on what is worth reading or humanists only teach procedures and habits of mind. Escaping that dichotomy alone will not restore the academic world.


Brexit Bill

Graham Vanbergen

The 2019 version of the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill included a clause to protect MP involvement in Brexit. The 2020 WAB shuts MPs out of the negotiations: They will have no oversight over the negotiating goals or objectives, no right to be kept updated on progress, and no vote on any final deal with Brussels. The new WAB is a Trojan horse for hard Brexit at the end of 2020.


Convoluted Computation


Convolutional neural networks (CNNs) are good at learning patterns in 2D images. Gauge CNNs can detect patterns in 3D global climate data and on bumpy objects for robot vision and medical scans.
Physical theories often feature gauge covariance. Physical quantities are independent of frames of reference (gauges) or moving observers. Measurements convert to preserve the physics. Gauge CNNs do the same for data.
Convolution lets a layer of the CNN do an operation on small patches of the input data and pass the results to the next layer in the network. A CNN slides windows over the data like filters, with each one detecting a certain pattern.
In the case of a cat photo, a CNN trained to recognize cats uses filters that detect edges, which are passed up to other layers in the network, which do further convolutions to extract features like eyes or tails. The CNN can then label the image.
Doing a convolution on a curved surface (a manifold) is tricky because it distorts a flat window. A sliding window like a circular spiderweb avoids distortion, which lets a CNN work better and learn faster.
By 2018, CNNs could detect rotated or reflected features in flat images without training on them. Spherical CNNs could create feature maps from data on a 3D sphere without distortion.
Global climate data maps onto a 3D sphere. In 2017, a CNN trained to detect extreme weather patterns detected cyclones with 74% accuracy. In 2019, a gauge CNN did so with 98% accuracy.

AR Convoluted stuff.


My local seafront around noon, Sunday

Daily Mail

22 days

⦿ Jens Jeske
German defence minister
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer
faces attacks on her dress


2020 January 12

The Don

Niall Ferguson

According to CBS, Donald Trump's top three favourite movies are Bloodsport, Goodfellas, and
The Godfather. The Corleone doctrine is no joke, yet there may be worse figures to imitate than Vito Corleone. For who could be Michael, read Donald Trump Jr's bestseller Triggered.



The Independent

A poll held 8-10 January finds that UK voters are split by margin of 52% to 48% in favor of Remain. Most responders expect Brexit to be bad for the economy, the NHS, and the UK's unity and standing. Only 11% backed a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020.

2020 January 11

Royal Soap Opera

Jonathan Freedland

If you think remain is a lost cause, you should try republicanism. Anyone who ever believed the Windsors might be easily prised from the public imagination, that Britons would be relaxed about dumping the royal family in favour of an elected head of state, has surely been divested of that delusion this week.
All this represents a double warning to advocates of a republic. First, after Brexit, the last thing anyone will want is a debate on more constitutional upheaval. Second, once the UK has left the EU, Britons will hold even tighter to those things that are uniquely or peculiarly British.

AR The Daily Mail yesterday devoted its first 16 pages to royal trivia.

2020 January 10

Iran Tragedy

The Guardian

The Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 that crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday was apparently shot down by an Iranian missile strike: Intelligence assessments suggest two SAMs hit the aircraft, killing all 176 people onboard.

AR Blame Trump for raising tensions with his drone strike.


UK Breakup

David Edgerton

On Thursday, the EU withdrawal agreement bill passed its third reading in the Commons by 330 votes to 231. Soon it will be signed into law. The UK will leave the EU on January 31.
Brexit will impose a border between Northern Ireland and Britain for the first time in modern history. The policy is a betrayal of the Ulster unionists. Putting Northern Ireland into the same regulatory system as the Republic of Ireland puts a reunited Ireland firmly back in view.
In Scotland, the Scottish National Party holds 48 of Scotland's 59 seats in Westminster. In 2016, a large majority of Scots voted to remain in the EU. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has requested that the Scottish parliament be given powers to hold an independence referendum.
After Scotland and Northern Ireland, England and Wales could break up under pressure from Welsh nationalists. The breakup of the union may be one of the few good things to come out of Brexit.
Even England would benefit. Freed from the grip of the decayed British state, England could finally be done with its delusions of grandeur. It may have to give up its seat on the UN Security Council and its nuclear weapons. It may decide to rejoin the EU.
The UK is neither ancient nor stable. Before 1945, its four national identities were part of an imperial identity. A commonwealth of nations including India and the dominions and colonies made up the British Empire. It was the empire that fought WW2, not the UK. The postwar UK was broken up economically by globalization and deepening economic integration with Europe.
Decaying British nationalism led to Brexit. Leavers imagined independence would make the UK great again, but that was old thinking. Young people in England overwhelmingly want to be in the EU. They seek liberation not from Brussels but from the grip of Westminster and Whitehall.

AR Good: England can make a fresh start in Europe.

2020 January 9

Trump and Iran

Thomas L. Friedman

President Trump and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are two bald men fighting over a comb. Trump may think he can out-crazy the Iranians, but he will be constrained by US institutions. Iran can still "Carterize" Trump in a Mideast mess.


Europe and Brexit

Financial Times

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen came to London to a pledge to "work day and night" on forging a close relationship with Fortress UK:
1 The negotiations will be dominated by disagreements over what policy commitments the UK is
    willing to make in exchange for market access.
    UvdL: "Without a level playing field on environment, labour, taxation and state aid, you cannot
    have the highest quality access to the world's largest single market."
2 It will be impossible to negotiate a complete deal and have it ratified by the end of this year.
3 A future relationship based on a trade deal will mean a hard border between the EU and the UK.
    UvdL: "Nothing will be as it was before."

2020 January 8


The New York Times

Trump tweet: "All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good!"


Battle of the Brats

Arwa Mahdawi

The bearded halfwit known as Donald Trump Jr and his little sister Ivanka, patron saint of hypocrites, are rivals to succeed their father and turn the Trump presidency into a dynasty. A recent survey shows Ivanka and Trump Jr are favorites for the 2024 presidential nomination among Republican voters: 29% of GOP supporters want Lil' Don, 16% are rooting for the first daughter.



The Times

UK PM Boris Johnson warns his cabinet it is "time for the slaughtering of sacred cows" as he vows to cull the pet projects of his predecessors.


Battle of the Budget

Financial Times

PM adviser Dominic Cummings threatens to shake up the Ministry of Defence. A strategic defence review must set out where UK national interests lie and how they fit in to UK membership of NATO.
UK military ambitions are still laced with nostalgia for past glory. The UK is no pocket superpower, capable of dominance in every field from nuclear submarines to infantry power. It does not have the resources.
The two new Royal Navy aircraft carriers cost £6.2 billion and were delivered years late. HM Government cannot afford to buy 138 F-35 fighter jets for them. The navy urgently needs more frigates and destroyers to defend shipping, not symbolic aircraft carriers. The carriers could deploy US or French planes.
Cummings wants to shift investment to cyber security, drones, and space. But the UK will still need aircraft, tanks, and ships. The nuclear deterrent renewal program Dreadnought is vital to national security. Procurement must become more efficient.
Alliances are part of the future for a post-Brexit Britain — with Europe and with a maverick US president.


Did Venus Strip Mercury?

New Scientist

Mercury may have been stripped by Venus in the early days of the solar system. A series of close passes between the two planets when they were young could have removed Mercury's outer layers, leaving behind a planet that is mostly dense core. Mercury's iron core makes up 70% of its mass, so something must have stripped away its mantle.
Perhaps young Mercury underwent a collision that melted its outer layers, but simulations show it may have been a series of near misses instead. If young Mercury was spinning in the right way, its mantle could have been removed by just four close encounters with young Venus. Mercury is roughly 10% the mass of Venus, and its mantle just a fraction of the whole mass, so the material would be hard to find on Venus.


Will We See a Nova in 2083?

New Scientist

The binary V Sagittae in the constellation Sagitta has brightened exponentially over the last century and is due to become visible with the naked eye this century. V Sagittae is made up of a white dwarf and another star about 4 times more massive. As they orbit each other, plasma is pulled from the star onto the white dwarf and they get closer together. They will smash together in about the year 2083 — and will probably outshine every star in the night sky.
The work was presented at AAS 235.


Neutron Star or Black Hole?

New Scientist

LIGO has detected gravitational waves from either the smallest black hole ever found or the largest neutron star. A neutron star with a mass of 1.1−1.7 M⦿ is colliding with a partner with a mass of 2.5 M⦿ — which could be a black hole.
The work was presented at AAS 235.


Elephant walk of 52 F-35A aircraft (price tag $4.2 billion) before mass take-off from Hill AFB, Utah, Monday



2020 January 7

Iran Crisis

Financial Times

Germany and the UK aim to keep fighting ISIS following the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg: "A new conflict would be in no one's interests, so Iran must refrain from further violence and provocations."
E3 leaders Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, and Boris Johnson say they are "gravely concerned" about Iran's activities and criticize its decision to ditch core curbs on its nuclear energy program agreed under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
E3 leaders: "We call on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and responsibility. We specifically call on Iran to refrain from further violent action or proliferation and urge Iran to reverse all measures inconsistent with the JCPOA."
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo criticized European powers as "not helpful" enough.


Insect Apocalypse

Patrick Greenfield

A call to action by more than 70 scientists from across the planet advocates immediate action on human stress factors to insects, including habitat loss and fragmentation, the climate crisis, pollution, over-harvesting, and invasive species. Human-driven insect extinction is causing a catastrophic collapse of natural ecosystems, with more than 40% of insect species declining and a third endangered.


Twin Earth?


NASA mission TESS has found a potentially habitable exoplanet the size of Earth about 100 light years away. The planet is part of a planetary system around TOI 700, a cool M-dwarf star in the Dorado constellation. The star is about 0.4 M⦿ and 0.4 R⦿, with a surface temperature of 3 kK.
The planet, TOI 700 d, is one of three orbiting the star. It's at just the right distance to support liquid water on the surface in the star's habitable zone. Its discovery was confirmed using the IR capabilities of the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope.
TOI 700 d is the outermost of the three planets, completing one orbit around the star every 37 Earth days. From its smaller star, the planet gets about 86% of the energy Earth gets from the Sun. The planet is thought to be tidally locked to the star.
The other two planets in the system, TOI 700 b and c, are different. The innermost planet, b, is the size of Earth and rocky and orbits the star every 10 Earth days. The second planet, c, is a gaseous mini-Neptune and orbits every 16 Earth days.
The findings were announced at AAS 235 in Honolulu.


Russian Sukhoi Su-57 fifth-generation fighters

Demi Rose
Demi Rose


2020 January 6

Iran Breaks Out

David E. Sanger, William J. Broad

President Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement in May 2018. He justified his unilateral action by saying the accord was flawed, in part because its restrictions on Iran ended after only 15 years.
On Sunday, Iran declared those restrictions are over. This sounds the death knell of the agreement. The main US aim in the agreement was to keep Iran at least a year away from getting enough fuel to make a nuclear warhead.
The risk now is that uncertainties about how close the Iranians are to their first weapon will prompt calls in the United States and Israel to take military action.


Putin Defends Stalin

Edward Lucas

Hitler and Stalin worked together to wipe Poland from the map. The deal between the two worst regimes in European history should live in infamy. The secret protocol of their non-aggression pact paved the way for the second world war and the Holocaust.
The pact created what Ronald Reagan later called the evil empire, but also doomed it. Protests on its 50th anniversary started the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now August 23 is a European day of remembrance for the victims of fascism and communism.
Vladimir Putin praises Soviet sacrifice in the struggle against Hitler and says Western deals with Hitler were the real disgrace. He wants world leaders to come to Moscow in May 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany. Don't go.

2020 January 5


Donald Trump

Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!

AR Only Putin can stop him now. Come on Vlad, send in fraternal forces to defend Iran.

2020 January 4

America v Iran

The New York Times

General Suleimani was a senior official of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Openly targeting him was a sharp escalation in the conflict between the United States and Iran. President Trump had previously demonstrated strong aversion to American involvement in the Mideast and contempt for intelligence from the region.
US defense secretary Mark Esper: "The game has changed."


Christians 4 Trump

The Guardian

At the Evangelicals for Trump Coalition Launch at the King Jesus International Ministry, Miami, on Friday, Christians wearing red MAGA hats heard the word of the president and found it good.
President Trump: "My administration will never stop fighting for Americans of faith. We will restore the faith as the true foundation of American life."

AR Match of the century: Christianity versus Islam




Kenneth Libbrecht studies the physics of snow: "It's a little embarrassing when stuff falls out of the sky, and it's like — why does it look like that? Beats me."
In a cloud, temperature and humidity vary, but they are as good as constant across a single snowflake, so snowflake growth is often symmetrical. But each snowflake is buffeted by changing winds, sunlight, and so on, so they tend to take on different forms.
Molecules of H2O tend to lock together to form hexagonal arrays that grow into 2D stars and plates when the edges grow outward quickly while the faces grow upward slowly. Libbrecht says molecular diffusion driven by surface energy determines how the crystal growth depends on the initial conditions and movements of the molecules.
Water vapor first settles on the corners of the crystal, then diffuses over the surface either to the edge or to its faces. The freezing water molecules form a rigid lattice, with each O atom surrounded by four H atoms. A flat crystal forms when the edges grow more quickly than the two faces. When its faces grow faster than its edges the crystal forms a needle or rod.
A complete model of ice growth dynamics will need more work.


⦿ Peter Parks
"The science of climate change has been ignored in Australia for decades. We are now seeing
the very worst of our scientific predictions come to pass."
Joëlle Gergis


UK PM Boris Johnson's chief
advisor Dominic Cummings
wants "super-talented weirdos"
to work with him to transform
government. He invites people
from maths, physics, or
computer science but not
"Oxbridge humanities
graduates" to apply.

AR Cummings is an Oxford
history graduate from
my old college.




2020 January 3

Trump Kills Suleimani

The New York Times

A USAF MQ-9 Reaper drone strike authorized by US president Donald Trump killed Iran's top security and intelligence commander at Baghdad International Airport early Friday.
Major General Quassim Suleimani was the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force and the architect of nearly every significant operation by Iranian intelligence and military forces over the past two decades.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a statement: "His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands."
Trump said he does not want war: "I don't think that would be a good idea for Iran. It wouldn't last very long. Do I want to? No. I want to have peace. I like peace."


A New Europe

Romain Leick

As a political project, the European Union has failed. The new European Commission president is faced with an existential crisis. Brexit is only the most dramatic symbol of decline and decay.
Under the pressure of the debt and refugee crisis, the EU states are moving at different speeds. Yet the ideas of French centralism continue to dominate the EU. Cherry picking is not allowed.
Unlike a truly democratic parliament, the European Parliament has no government and opposition factions. To democratize Europe, we need to add a common parliament to the common market and currency. Only then can the EU advance from a union of states to a sovereign union. We risk failure by exaggerating progress toward a community of values and a destiny of ever closer union.
The strength of Europe lies not in the pursuit of unattainable harmony but in the fair negotiation of conflicting interests. The ideal to preserve and cherish is that human dignity is inalienable. Europe can be a haven of humanity in a barbaric world.


Germany 2020

Deutsche Welle

Berlin will take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in July 2020. German foreign minister Heiko Maas will push for a strong and sovereign Europe and call for a European security council to tackle foreign affairs and security issues.
The UK and the EU will have to agree on their future relationship during the German presidency. The EU will also have to agree on a financial framework for 2021−2027. With the departure of the UK, the EU loses a major net contributor.

2020 January 2

Europe First

Michael Sauga

All fairy tales must end. This also applies to Germany. A new story begins with the end of globalization, an economic cold war, and a new role for Europe.
World trade is slowing down. The fight against climate change makes trade more expensive. The United States and China are in a customs and technology war. Governments are putting up new barriers, isolating data networks, and regionalizing trade.
The WTO order is over. Ever since Donald Trump smashed the old laws and started one economic war after another, globalization now means winner take all. Everyone loses.
The two economic superpowers both want Europe on their side. But Europeans dare not fall for a US president who thinks their cars are a national security risk and their union a historic mistake. Nor should they accept a Chinese business model based on espionage and state control.
The right EU strategy is Europe First. EU governments should navigate between America and China and try to exploit their rivalry. This is the law of the jungle.
With its population of half a billion, the EU can be strong. But in the financial and banking sectors, in the digital economy and in many services, it is weak.
The UK wants to leave the EU. With only in or out, Brussels has nothing to offer countries like the UK, Turkey, Morocco, or Albania.



Christopher Stevens

On the first day of January, my TV gave to me — twelve nuns a-bleeding, eleven bats a-feeding, ten ghouls a-shrieking, nine corpses twitching, eight demons drooling, seven wolves a-howling, six crosses burning, five finger nails — four goblets of blood, three dead rats, two stakes through the heart, and a vampire baby in a bad mood.
Dracula (BBC1) was dripping with more gore than a raw hamburger marinated in pig's blood and garnished with an eyeball.

AR The mad nonsense of all that vampire lore left me reaching for a tome by Steven Pinker.

2020 January 1


David Marr

Another house reduced to a pile of ash. Rain is not expected until late January. The weeks ahead are looking tinder dry.
This summer in Australia puts residents in dread. The fires are not going out. Blazes are tearing through ancient forests that have never burnt before.
In Australia these days you can stare at the Sun. Take a good long look at that pink disc sinking in the murk. It has been dimmed by suffocating smoke.
Deep in cities, miles from the fire front, the smoke is so thick you can't see to the end of the street. On the beach, families sit in the smoke under a sky of flame, trapped between fires and the sea.
One of the duties of a leader is to find the words in times like these. But his words failed prime minister Scott Morrison: "We have faced these disasters before."
Morrison should speak truth to the world. It is time to demand effective action on climate change.



The Times

Betelgeuse is a red supergiant and one of the brightest stars visible to the naked eye. It is about 8 million years old and is expected to go supernova in the next 100 000 years. With a mass of around 12 M⦿ and a radius of up to a thousand R⦿, Betelgeuse is 450−600 light years away from us and its death will light up our sky like the Sun. Astronomers report a significant dimming of the star in recent weeks. It may be about to blow.


Quantum Worlds

Sean Carroll

Atoms have miraculous properties. Every time I put a cup on my table there is small chance it will fall through. It is extremely unlikely, but physically possible. In multi-world theory, everything that can happen does happen in one of myriads of universes.
These universes arise naturally when I solve the equations. When universes multiply, space splits itself up. It is like asking where our universe is located — it makes no sense.
Quantum physics describes atoms, but not gravitation. The general theory of relativity explains gravitation, but it fails at the atomic level. Only when we bring both theories together can we understand the extremes of the universe.
We must finally take multi-world theory seriously. Everything can be described solely by means of a wave: even our entire universe.
We can describe atoms as waves, but not yet macroscopic structures. Waves vibrate differently, depending on the nature of the space around them. My idea is to reverse this connection, so that if a wave vibrates in a certain way, it deforms space.
Space is just a way to understand how we talk about the universal wave. But it is an illusion. Down at the lowest level of the laws of nature, space disappears from the equations.
At the boundaries of space and time, our intuition fails. This is not surprising. In another universe, wiser scientists have surely written down the true laws of physics.

AR Something Deeply Hidden

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