RAF Eurofighter Typhoon: Are Brexiteers too eager to replace them with new British Tempests?
Jennifer ♥ Boris
Arcuri reveals all
2021 March 31
No Laughing Matter
So far, 11% of people in Germany have received a Covid vaccine dose, compared with 45% in the UK.
FDP parliamentarian Alexander Graf Lambsdorff: "Germans long believed they lived in a well-governed country, one that was better run than most other states in Europe. Both assumptions have turned out to be wrong."
DBB civil service union head Ulrich Silberbach: "We are seeing in dramatic fashion that the German state can't do pandemics."
Rostock social affairs department head Steffen Bockhahn: "We are the laughing stock of the world. Germany was supposed to be world champion at organising things, and look at us."
AR Matter of life and death — no excuses.
A Brexit Disaster
Brexit has been the disaster its critics predicted. Brexiteers were seduced by an imaginary future where the UK and the US would somehow meet on equal terms.
Big tech has co-opted the US federal government to advance its interests and to defend its monopoly positions. Their power to reshape the economy is only set to accelerate.
EU membership offered Britain much more than preferential trading arrangements. It was also a means to confront the power of multinational corporations.
AR Big tech divides and conquers nationalist pols.
The prime minister's fiancée Carrie Symonds was born in 1988. Her parents were Matthew Symonds, who co-founded the Independent, and Josephine McAfee, a lawyer at the paper. She was educated at a private school and then Warwick University, where she read art history and theatre studies.
She campaigned for Leave and became a Conservative press officer. She moved into Downing Street after the December 2019 election. Detractors claim she stomps around issuing orders.
AR Maybe she's a force for good at Number 10.
2021 March 30
Global Pandemic Treaty
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel et al.
The pandemic is the biggest challenge to the global community since the 1940s.
At that time, following the devastation of two world wars, political leaders came together to forge the multilateral system. The aims were clear: to bring countries together, to dispel the temptations of isolationism and nationalism, and to address the challenges that could only be achieved together in the spirit of solidarity and cooperation, namely peace, prosperity, health and security.
A treaty on pandemics should lead to more mutual accountability and shared responsibility, transparency and cooperation within the international system.
AR Same goes for a climate treaty.
The United States is moving rapidly toward an oligarchy, where a handful of billionaires have enormous wealth and power while working families struggle.
Half of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, half a million of the very poorest are homeless, millions are worried about evictions, 92 million are uninsured or underinsured, families all across the country are worried about how they are going to feed their kids, and low-income Americans now have a life expectancy about 15 years lower than the wealthy.
Meanwhile, the people on top have never had it so good. The top 1% now own more wealth than the bottom 92%, and the 50 wealthiest Americans own more wealth than the bottom 165 million people. While millions of Americans have lost their jobs and incomes during the pandemic, over the past year 650 billionaires have seen their wealth increase by $1.3 trillion.
We must tackle this issue. Otherwise, American democracy will wither and support for authoritarianism will increase.
AR Angelsächsischer Kapitalismus ist menschenfeindlich.
2021 March 29
Midsize Black Holes
At the heart of almost every large galaxy lies a supermassive black hole. With up to billions of solar masses, these titans drive the evolution of their galaxies.
Intermediate-mass black holes, in a mass gap between stellar-mass black holes formed from dead stars and supermassive black holes, are thought to form a crucial step in the growth of the titans.
Last year, astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to catch what may be a 50 k⦿ black hole eating a star. Another 20 k⦿ candidate, HLX-1, may be doing the same.
Now we have a new method to find a black hole of up to 55 k⦿. We may see a double flash made by rays from a gamma-ray burst that were lensed as they flew to Earth.
We don't know how many intermediate-mass black holes there are in the universe. Also, we don't know enough about gamma-ray bursts.
A search for intermediate-mass black holes that act as lenses could discover many more intermediate-mass black holes. Upcoming telescopes may help in the hunt.
AR Fun stuff!
2021 March 28
A New Humanity
Kazuo Ishiguro, Venki Ramakrishnan
KI We rely on science. We appreciate that scientific discussions are based on evidence and rigorous method.
VR At the forefront, science is very fuzzy. We try to keep refining the probabilities. People check each other's work. There's a rigorous method. You have to look at the evidence. But the public wants certainties. This makes the public vulnerable to charlatans.
KI People who trade in fiction and storytelling say there is another kind of truth to the kind in the sciences.
VR Humans are highly emotional beings. The veneer of rationality on top is very thin.
KI We have to be concerned about how we reorganize our society around AI.
VR AI will make decisions based on large data sets. These decisions will come with all sorts of biases, because the data sets are biased. AI makes surveillance and totalitarianism so much more powerful. And AI can generate very convincing fakes.
KI With AI, jobs will just disappear. We might have to transform our value systems, not just in terms of money but prestige, our sense of worth.
VR AI has the potential to free us from really horrible work.
KI Maybe AI black boxes will become things we don't dare to contradict.
VR We know nothing about how big corporations or governments use our data.
KI We're like arable land, like the ground that is being excavated. The data is the product. We're just things being harvested.
VR Gene editing has a number of advantages. But it takes us down the path of creating a genetically modified superclass.
KI Cosmetic surgery is an indication of where we might go.
VR You can buy your way into meritocracy by simply altering your cell for your offspring.
KI People say there will always be humans in the loop. But this is just naive. It will be like having a retired nightwatchman trying to supervise a stadium full of rioting football fans.
VR One rule: Humans should flourish.
Poole Quay, Saturday, hours before the end of universal time
UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
Euclid of Alexandria:
"The laws of nature are
but the mathematical
thoughts of God."
M87 black hole polarization:
such magfields can fire jets
2021 March 27
UK−EU Vaccine Deal
The UK is close to striking a vaccine deal with the EU: The EU will remove its threat to ban the export of Pfizer/BioNTech jabs to the UK, and the UK will agree to forgo some Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine supplies from Holland.
Former EU ambassador Sir Tim Barrow was dispatched to Brussels after the UK was forced to delay vaccination of under-50s due to a shortfall.
An EU diplomat: "For us it was very significant that [Boris] Johnson did not use [Lord] Frost but instead went through the Foreign Office. It showed that he was really serious about finding a compromise and trying to build trust."
AstraZeneca makes no profit
AZ committed to work with Oxford University on its Covid vaccine last spring. The not-for-profit deal meant AZ might forgo billions but get a nice PR boost.
Now the EU accuses AZ of delaying supplies and making an inferior product. France said the vaccine did not work on the elderly, then said it could be used only on the elderly.
AZ trials were poorly reported. Pfizer/BioNTech offered a single efficacy figure from one vaccination schedule. Regulators like that. AZ had different time intervals and different dosing regimens, and it first described its half-dose, full-dose regimen as an error, then as luck, then ignored it. Regulators dislike that.
Pfizer forecasts revenues of $15 billion, Moderna of $18.4 billion. AZ could have had revenues of £21 billion. Instead, its value is down by £27 billion since last summer.
AstraZeneca faces criticism
Oxford scientists made a low-cost, easy-to-use vaccine. Last September, its AZ trials were halted because of a single adverse reaction in the UK.
On 25 January, Germans claimed the vaccine had only 8% efficacy in elderly people. Germany and France stopped using it for over-65s. France has since done a volte-face.
AZ has not communicated well. Drug regulators like to see data from one big trial. When AZ reported two efficacy figures in US trials, US scientists said it presented "outdated and potentially misleading" data. AZ added new data to show 76% efficacy. Now they say AZ massaged the data.
AR UK flag-waving over the AZ jab was damaging.
2021 March 26
America vs China
The Biden administration has reaffirmed treating China as the main adversary of the United States.
A confrontational stance toward China enjoys broad public support. But fear of a rising power with a domestic ideology at odds with Western liberal democracy makes no sense. China is a capitalist autocracy that shows no interest in globalizing its form of communism. Its domestic market has vastly enriched US and multinational companies.
The Biden administration has lost a chance to map out a realistic strategy for dealing with China.
AR I tend to agree.
EU and UK Vaccine Rollouts
The New York Times
Britain's rapid rollout of Covid vaccines has revived Boris Johnson's political fortunes. His allies say the stark disparity between UK and EU performances vindicate Brexit: UK vaccine deployment showcases risk-taking and entrepreneurial pluck unshackled from EU collective decision making.
EU summit outcome
After a virtual summit, EU leaders issued a joint statement: "We underline the importance of transparency as well as of the use of export authorisations. We recognise the importance of global value chains and reaffirm that companies must ensure predictability of their vaccine production and respect contractual delivery deadlines."
German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We said we had absolutely no desire to disturb the global supply chain, but also that we of course have an interest in ensuring that the companies that have made contracts with us remain truly loyal to those contracts. We are .. exporting [doses] to the wider world — unlike the United States, unlike Britain."
French president Emmanuel Macron: "It's the end of naivety. I support export control mechanisms put in place by the European Commission. I support the fact that we must block all exports for as long as some drug companies don't respect their commitments with Europeans."
EC president Ursula von der Leyen said firms in the EU had shipped 77 million doses to 33 countries since 1 December. Of those, 21 million went to the UK. The UK has administered 30 million jabs, 45 per 100 residents, compared with 13 per 100 on average across EU member states.
VDL: "While remaining open, the EU needs to ensure Europeans get a fair share of vaccines."
Former EC president Jean-Claude Juncker: "Britain took the decision to have an emergency decision-based approach whereas the European Union, the commission and the member states, were more budget conscious .. We were too cautious."
The European Commission and the member states opted to seek approval for vaccines through the European Medicines Agency.
JCJ: "It is too easy to put all the responsibility on the shoulders of the commission and [VDL]. All the member states are responsible, given the bureaucratic approach some member states had."
AR Blame commercially naive member states, not the EU.
No More Pregnancy?
Israeli scientists have successfully gestated hundreds of mice inside an artificial womb.
Artificial wombs would mean reproductive parity between the sexes. They would let gestation continue outside the body for babies born too soon. Women who engage in risky behavior during pregnancy could have their gestating babies moved to an artificial womb. Unwanted babies could be gestated in an artificial womb and then given up for adoption instead of being aborted.
Gestating a baby in an artificial womb may become a choice open to rich women.
AR The possibilities for social control of reproduction are truly inspiring.
2021 March 25
EU No Longer Trusts UK
Tory MPs say the EU is floundering and lashing out in jealousy. What comes across to them as a vendetta is actually standard third-country treatment. Their government chose rivalry over alignment, competition before cooperation. Relations are on a downward spiral. Britain is a problem to be contained, not a partner to be consulted.
EU export restrictions
The UK contract with AZ obliges AZ to deliver doses produced in England to the UK first. The UK has given jabs to 45% of residents compared with 13% across the EU.
EC VP Valdis Dombrovskis: "[Since January] some 10 million doses have been exported from the EU to the UK and zero doses have been exported from the UK to the EU."
The EU is short of the AZ jab due to an AZ problem in Belgium and an AZ refusal to divert doses made in the UK. AZ exports doses to the UK from the Netherlands.
Joker, not Gekko
Joker: "The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed."
The success of the British vaccine program is not down to greed. The prime minister appointed Kate Bingham, a specialist from the field of life sciences and venture capital, to drive the process. She worked for free. Her aim was to ensure the maximum number of vaccinations for the NHS, first in the UK and then in other countries.
Joker to Bingham: "Stop people dying."
AR Joker resembles Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) in the 1997 movie Titanic.
Poole Bay, 2021-03-22: cliff cladding and pipe laying
In Search of the Soul
by John Cottingham
In June 1925, Werner
Heisenberg, 23, suffering
from hay fever, retreated
to a treeless, windswept
island in the North Sea
called Helgoland. There
he came up with the key
insight behind quantum
2021 March 24
Boris Johnson told Conservative backbenchers in a 1922 Committee video call: "The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends."
He then asked those at the meeting to forget he used the term.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was developed by publicly funded universities and delivered by the publicly owned National Health Service. AZ produced the vaccine at cost, as a public service.
AR Greedy pig likes greed.
John Cottingham treats a soul as what gives us a self. He chronicles facets of an experience of selfhood or ensoulment that scientists reduce to processes more basic than consciousness. He says reduction confuses illusion and truth.
Cottingham draws on aesthetic experience and metaphor to explain ensoulment. This recalls Roger Scruton describing the emergence of a face from paint strokes on canvas. Such language redescribes ensoulment without explaining it.
Cottingham believes we can see the body as depicting the soul only because we inhabit a world with metaphysical depth: "God is the primordial subject who enfolds all that exists, without whom there would be no enduring conscious subjects, and no genuine authoritative value to guide their lives."
AR A self is the re-entrant loop in a mindworld.
2021 March 23
Anand Menon, Jonathan Portes
Is no deal better than a bad deal? The trade and cooperation agreement (TCA) has already begun to cause disruption.
Frictions will only increase as the UK government finally institutes NI border checks the TCA and as temporary easements on NI trade are lifted.
The UK government signed up to an NI protocol has no desire to implement. The EU will not make concessions to facilitate implementation.
The UK says that it will unilaterally disapply elements of the protocol. The EU has responded with legal action. This process could end with Brussels suspending its obligations under both the TCA and the withdrawal agreement.
The standoff disrupts trade. The UK decision to withhold full diplomatic recognition from the EU ambassador in London makes things worse. UK officials in Brussels are being effectively shunned by their EU counterparts.
The risk of no deal still hangs over the Brexit process. The European Parliament has not yet ratified the TCA. Given the current tension, there may be more delay in holding the vote. The deal could fall.
The TCA is better than no deal. But it provokes and exacerbates conflicts between the EU and the UK.
AR It's all a bodge.
2021 March 22
Third Wave Warning
BBC News, 1622 UTC
UK prime minister Boris Johnson says the effects of a third wave of coronavirus will "wash up on our shores" from Europe.
The Times, 1120 UTC
The UK government is prepared to share its Dutch-made AstraZeneca vaccine supplies to prevent an EU export ban of vaccines to the UK. It is prepared to negotiate EU on how to divide up stocks of an ingredient made in Leiden and will work with the EU to improve production there.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says the EU is "considering all options" to deal with the "crisis of the century" and will debate an export ban on Thursday. France and Germany want to activate Article 122 of the EU treaty to take emergency measures to control the exports.
EU commissioner for financial services Mairead McGuinness: "European citizens are growing angry and upset at the fact that the vaccine rollout has not happened as rapidly as we had anticipated."
EU member states had vaccinated about 10% of its citizens by Saturday but are on target to cover 75% by the end of August. The UK had vaccinated over 40% in the UK and hoped to reach 100% in June. An EU export ban would delay giving every UK adult a first jab until August but shorten its own program by over a week.
AR Let's share and share alike.
2021 March 21
A pandemic still rages across the planet. EU leaders and health agencies have reacted badly. UK efforts almost failed last year and rallied only with the NHS vaccination program this year. Vaccine nationalism is wrong. Until we are all safe, no one is safe.
The Irish Times
British ministers treat questions about the safety or effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine as insults to the nation and treat "the Oxford vaccine" as a national champion.
The AZ vaccine is not British. AZ is an Anglo-Swedish firm run by a Frenchman. Americans led in funding its development and India leads in its production. A scientist from Dublin co-leads the multinational Oxford vaccine team.
EU trust in AZ was shaken early on. The Oxford/AZ team developed the vaccine in months, but in January AZ cut its delivery estimates for Q1 2021 from 100 million to 30 million without adequate explanation or notice.
AZ originally promised delivery by October 2020. In November, it released confusing trial results: Depending on dosage, the vaccine was either 62% or 90% effective. It turned out the higher rate came from a few patients aged under 55.
AZ was slow to say the improved dosage combination was an unplanned result. US investors first learned from the media that AZ had paused its global trials after someone in Britain fell ill. The lack of transparency shook confidence.
A recent analysis shows the AZ vaccine offers 82% protection after the second dose. The EMA has cleared the vaccine. AZ expects to ramp up production in Q2.
How the pandemic began
Researchers calculate that the SARS-CoV-2 virus probably infected its first human in Q4 2019. Then it spread further in the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan. Bats carry a closely related virus, and it seems another species transmitted the virus to a human. It infected only a few people before it spread in December.
AR Get nationalism out of healthcare.
Richard Dawkins: "It is science that gives me hope for the future."
P1 ∧ P2 ∧ P3
P1 ∧ P2 → ¬P3
P2 ∧ P3 → ¬P1
P3 ∧ P1 → ¬P2
2021 Spring Equinox
Merriam-Webster: "Aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)."
Woke today is not only about people of color but also about women, victims of sexual abuse, gay people, trans people, exploited animals, exploited workers, disabled people, mentally ill people, and the planet.
BBC gender and identity correspondent Megha Mohan: "Why don't we just talk to real people, living real lives outside our bubbles, and see what lived experience is like? That's what I'm trying to do."
Woke led to cancel culture. No platform for fascists is one thing, withdrawing invitations to Richard Dawkins because he criticizes Islam (among all other religions) another.
John Cleese spoke last year of his fears for creativity. He was against "nasty, mean, unkind" comedy, but "affectionate teasing" was a bonding mechanism. Go on, he said, someone tell a woke joke.
Woke is not an aberrant meme run rampant. Subtract its excesses, and it still adds up to a better world.
AR Gott 9.0 is woke.
Boris Johnson plans to increase the cap on British nuclear warheads from 180 to 260. This worsens the global nuclear predicament.
In August 2019, the United States and Russia declared their withdrawal from the INF treaty signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. We are now at the start of an uncontrolled nuclear arms race.
The world is more dangerous and unpredictable today than during the cold war. India and Pakistan both have nuclear weapons, Iran is acquiring nuclear technology, and North Korea can threaten nuclear war. Cyberwarfare enables a hostile power to seize control of a nuclear arsenal without firing a shot.
The idea that nuclear war is unwinnable is changing with new technology. The illusion that wars conducted with limited use of nuclear weapons can be fought and won is feeding a renewed nuclear arms race.
Johnson is raising his cap for more nukes. If he has his way, the UK will be no safer but will have set a bad example.
AR Mini-nukes, bang on target, can start wars.
2021 March 19
The United States and China met for talks in Anchorage. US secretary of state Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan met Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi and state councillor Wang Yi.
Blinken cited rising global concern over Beijing's human rights record.
Yang: "We hope that United States will do better on human rights. The fact is that there are many problems within the United States regarding human rights, which is admitted by the US itself."
Blinken said the Biden administration and its allies were united in pushing back against China's increasing authoritarianism and assertiveness at home and abroad.
Yang: "We believe that it is important for the United States to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world. Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States."
The meetings were held amid increasing tensions over trade and over Chinese actions in Tibet, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan, and the South China Sea.
Blinken: "Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability."
Yang: "The United States uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long-arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries. It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges and incite some countries to attack China. Let me say here that in front of the Chinese side, the United States does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength."
Republicans saying US president Joe Biden was too soft on China now accept renewing relations with US allies in order to confront China.
AR Looks ominous.
2021 March 18
The Clown King
Boris Johnson's hair is his clown's disguise. His candy-floss mop announces his licence. His clothes are often baggy, his walk feigns uncertainty. His weight invites our indulgence of appetite and greed.
He sees dishonesty in pretending you don't want to eat great trolleys of cake and squire an endless carousel of medieval barmaids. Oh, come on, what you really want is more cake and more sex. Here lies his perverse appeal to reason.
See how, in the company of a journalist, Johnson's whole demeanour transmits the sense of him saying: "Aha! An interview! How absurd! This is no way to find anything out! But, yes, if you want, I will play prime minister."
See how he rocks on his feet as if to lampoon a politician emphasising his words. Hear how his speech is a caricature of eloquence. The dominant mode is not fluency, but hesitancy followed by sudden spasms of effusion. The hesitancy is designed to involve us in the drama. The sudden effusion is proof of his oratorical elan.
The clown archetype is there in his impulsiveness, his crises, his attitude to truth, to authority, to power and pleasure. Everything is preposterous, all of it richly articulate of the antic spirit that animates his being. He can do sophisticated existential mockery while maintaining the slapstick comedy of the buffoon.
Johnson had no serious idea of what was involved in leaving the EU. But those who wanted to leave would have failed miserably without him. What they required to win was someone who instinctively understood how to distract, charm, rouse, and delight with mischief and inversion and a thousand airy nothings.
We have made our clown a king. The kingly archetype embodies the ambition of sincerity, meaning, and good purpose at the heart of the state. Whereas Johnson is the clown. Truth and lies are both in the service of tricks, drama, distraction, invention, manipulation.
Johnson is a lackadaisical student of history who has entirely misunderstood his own destiny. A leader who personifies tomfoolery and nostalgia, instead of uniting his country, now finds himself facetiously hastening its breakup.
And death: With 126,000 dead at the time of writing, the UK has by far the highest Covid death toll in Europe and the fourth highest death rate per capita in the world. Many of the losses are the direct result of Johnson's calls and his character.
In dramatic terms, just as death reveals the life of the kingly archetype as noble and purposeful, so the clown is revealed as foolish and meaningless.
AR Ha ha.
Integrated Defence Review
2021 March 17
UK Security Review
UK PM Boris Johnson set out a review of UK defence and foreign policy strategy for the next decade.
The review says:
◼ Islamist extremism poses "the primary threat" to the UK, followed by far-right terrorism.
◼ Russia poses the "most acute threat" to UK security. The UK will "actively deter and defend against the full spectrum of threats emanating from Russia" and hold it to account for breaches of international rules and norms.
◼ China poses the "biggest state-based threat" to UK economic security but is also an "increasingly important partner" in tackling global challenges.
The UK will:
▸ shift toward the Indo-Pacific region — "increasingly the geopolitical centre of the world" and the world's "growth engine" — and deploy an aircraft carrier to the region
▸ increase ties with countries such as India, Japan, and Australia, to meet a "developing range of technological and doctrinal threats"
▸ increase foreign aid from 0.5% of GNP to 0.7% when "the fiscal situation allows"
▸ focus on aid to countries in the Indo-Pacific region and move away from providing aid in the form of grants and toward providing expertise
▸ pursue a positive economic relationship with China
▸ develop a balanced approach that treats China as a "systemic competitor" and leaves "space for cooperation where our interests align"
▸ bring forward a bill to deal with spying from countries including China and Russia
▸ make critical national infrastructure more secure to allow trade with China
▸ build a situation room in the Cabinet Office, a counterterrorism operations centre in London, and a counter-disinformation unit
▸ launch a global sanctions regime to prevent those involved in corruption from entering the UK or channelling money through it
▸ crack down on illegal migration
▸ make greater use of army reserves in supporting domestic national security priorities
▸ make tackling climate change and biodiversity loss its "number one international priority" with investment to create a green industrial revolution
▸ prevent trade of products in the UK that contribute to illegal deforestation and continue working to end the market for illegal wildlife products
▸ increase its nuclear weapon stockpile from 180 to 260 and deploy them if faced with a threat from emerging technologies that have a comparable impact to WMD
▸ prioritise a diplomatic effort "to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon"
▸ invest more in research to deliver an "enduring military edge" in areas such as space, lasers, and advanced missiles
▸ step up efforts to stop foreign governments from exploiting their connections with universities to develop restricted weapons and advanced military capabilities
▸ prioritise stopping states from obtaining knowledge from UK academia that could help them develop NBC weapons or advanced military technologies
▸ become a "science and tech superpower" by the end of the decade.
AR More nukes? Bad move.
2021 March 16
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is being used around the world. Successful as the UK vaccination program may be, there is little point in achieving some isolated national immunity. We need the whole world to be protected.
The objective of Global Britain is to use the full spectrum of our abilities to engage with and help the rest of the world. The principle of enlightened self-interest underlies the integrated review of UK security, defence, development, and foreign policy published today.
The UK is using its G7 presidency to foster ideas for a new world treaty on pandemic preparedness. As we prepare to build back better, we are working with the WTO. At the COP26 summit in Glasgow, the UK is leading the world to arrest the overheating of the planet.
The UK is already in many ways more global than our comparators. We have a vast diaspora of people living abroad, far more as a proportion than most others in the OECD. We may have only 1% of the world's population, but we are the fifth biggest exporter of goods and services.
A third diaspora is the vast dispersal of British ideas and values, from habeas corpus and parliamentary democracy to freedom of speech and gender equality. These values are far from universal. The world needs Global Britain.
AR Still too much boastful British boosterism, but otherwise better.
With the autofiction boom of the last decade, publishers often seem to want readers to see books as thinly veiled autobiography. The expectation that fiction is autobiographical is understandable for the simple reason that so much of it is.
Whether or how much a book draws from real life is a mystery. Nobody is asking novelists to do what they do. There are more than enough novels in the world, and nobody is more painfully aware of that than the person writing one.
AR I am now refining ALBION to clarify its autofictional boundaries.
2021 March 15
The incumbent Greens in Baden-Württemberg and the Social Democrats in Rheinland-Pfalz both look certain to stay in control in the two SW states, with losses for the CDU.
In Baden-Württemberg, Green premier Winfried Kretschmann can either stay in the current power-sharing deal with the CDU or enter a traffic-light coalition with the SPD and the FDP.
In Rheinland-Pfalz, SPD premier Malu Dreyer gained well over a third of the vote.
A federal election looms on September 26. The Green party increased its vote share in both states and is in second place behind the CDU in national polls.
New CDU leader Armin Laschet hopes to run for the chancellorship in September. He will have to convince party colleagues he can win.
AR Die Grüne Welle kommt.
The Northern Ireland protocol requires checks to be carried out on goods entering NI from GB until at least 2023. A grace period exempts certain products from checks until April. The UK government will unilaterally extend it until October.
The protocol looks incompatible with the Belfast agreement. A hard border in the Irish Sea is unacceptable to unionists. A hard border in the island of Ireland is unacceptable to nationalists. Without unionist and loyalist support, the agreement would end.
The only alternative to a border either in the sea or on land is no border at all. Brexit has made that impossible.
AR Let GB give NI back to Dublin.
2021 March 14
When the British people narrowly voted to leave the EU in 2016, they did not give the government a mandate to wreck the British relationship with Europe. When Boris Johnson won the general election in 2019, he was expected to forge workable new arrangements for exporters.
UK exports of goods to the EU plunged by over 40% in January, due in large part to Brexit bureaucracy, incompetence, and delays. The government failed to install necessary border infrastructure and systems. As a result, EU exports enter the UK unchecked.
The Brexit deal was never fit for purpose. The UK cannot blame the EU for opting to leave on the most damaging terms possible. NI trading arrangements are falling apart. In response, Johnson breaches the withdrawal agreement.
The EU is furious. Relations are now in a destructive downward spiral. This is a question of trust. The British people cannot trust their government to do the right thing. Nor can the rest of the world. Brexit is not working.
AR It's a slo-mo nightmare.
Hereditary monarchy is always an accident waiting to happen. A wise monarch reduces the risk of accident. The Queen chose to present the monarchy to the world as a royal family.
After WW2, Europe's kings and queens were widely regarded as historical detritus. Some retired to the south. Others stuck to their palaces but merely personified nationhood. Most were titular monarchs.
The British royal family went for A-list celebrity. This path was risky. The idea was to harness the potency of celebrity to enhance the constitutional status of monarchy. It was a mistake.
Hereditary succession makes sense in a democracy only by retaining public support. The British crown wobbles when a monarch steps out of line with public opinion. This leaves the monarchy at the mercy of the media.
If and when he becomes king, Charles should dismantle the royal family as an official entity of state. He should guard his son William and tell the rest they are on their own.
What are they for?
Her Majesty has now reigned for 69 years, longer than any other monarch in British history. She brings a sense of permanence to the job, adapting just enough to appear unchanging.
Her eldest son Charles, 72, has never captured the public imagination. Monarchists secretly wish for a brief interregnum, followed by the rejuvenating promise of King William V.
The British royals play an enormous role in charitable work, but a future as charity workers is unlikely as long as their family is presented as the pinnacle of British society.
AR Go for the Scandinavian model.
2021 March 13
Quantum theory is puzzling. The quantum wave function is only a tool to tell us what might happen next. The mysterious collapse of the wave function has never been observed.
When Erwin Schrödinger introduced the wave function in 1926, quantum theory already existed in its full glory, without it. After a breakthrough by Werner Heisenberg, the formulation of the theory was completed by Max Born with Heisenberg and Pascual Jordan, and also by Paul Dirac, in 1925.
This formulation says a quantum system is governed by exactly the same variables and equations as in classical physics, with the addition of a single extra equation:
xp − px = iℏ
Here x is the position and p the momentum of the system, i is the square root of −1, and ℏ is the Planck constant. Almost all the phenomena predicted in quantum theory follow from the fact that multiplying some physical quantities in a different order gives a different result.
This language cannot describe a physical system separately from the other systems that interact with it. Abandon the wave function and we have a way to make sense of quantum theory.
The relational interpretation of quantum mechanics says the properties of a system are determined when the system interacts. A particle is a sequence of distinct, instantaneous interactions. Its properties exist only in the context of an interaction and are relative to the interacting system.
Entanglement appears when two particles seem to communicate instantaneously across great distances. But relative to each particle, there is no fact about what has happened to the other. Correlations become real only when physical communication between the two sides is actually established.
Decoherence suppresses quantum interference effects whenever very large numbers of particles are involved. It renders relative facts stable and dilutes quantum interference effects to a level where they are so subtle as to be practically unobservable.
Reality is nearly identical for all of us. We are physical systems who interact with a margin of imprecision. Quantum theory has altered our understanding of reality.
AR I like this view.
2021 March 12
In quantum physics, events can form an indefinite causal order, where "A causes B" and "B causes A" are both true at once.
Superposition lets particles stay in all possible states until the moment they are measured. We can study indefinite causal order by putting a photon in a superposition of two states. In one state, we do A followed by B. In the other, we do B followed by A. A quantum switch allows both.
A quantum switch is a function superposing functions A and B. In one branch, its input goes through A, then B. In the other, its input goes through B, then A. To make one, take a photon from a beam splitter that puts it in a superposition of being transmitted or reflected. The transmitted photon goes through polarizer A set at some angle and then through polarizer B set at some other angle. The reflected the photon goes through B first, then A. The two end states have different polarizations.
The two possibilities — A before B, or B before A — have indefinite causal order. In the first branch, A causally influences B. In the second branch, B causally influences A. After them, another beam splitter reunites the two states of the photon. Measuring its polarization yields a unique outcome.
To test for indefinite causal order, we repeat the process for many photons. A fixed causal order sets a ceiling on how statistically correlated the polarization results can be. If the results exceed it, then causation is two-way, and the causal order was indefinite.
Quantum gravity will surely resemble general relativity in lacking fixed time and fixed causality. Massive objects stretch the spacetime metric that determines the light cone of a nearby event. Superposed quantum states will stretch spacetime in different ways. The light cones of events become indefinite, as does causality.
Imagine A and B stationed in separate space labs near a massive object E in a superposition of two different places. In one state, E is nearer to A, so her clock ticks slower. In the other state, E is nearer to B, so his clock ticks slower. Send a photon in superposition both to A and to B, and so on. This gravitational quantum switch superposes the "A before B" and "B before A" states.
AR In short, recollections may vary.
2021 March 11
American Rescue Plan
The New York Times
President Joe Biden will tomorrow sign the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion aid package aimed at rescuing the nation from its pandemic slump.
This is a political win for Biden and a big win for the American public. The plan can cut poverty by a third and reduce child poverty by more than half. Black and Hispanic Americans will see the largest benefit. It is among the most expansive and progressive legislative achievements in decades.
The package provides billions for coronavirus tracing, testing, and vaccination efforts. There is money for childcare facilities, schools, transit systems, and restaurants. There is rental and mortgage assistance, debt relief for minority farmers, and funding for loans to small businesses.
The plan expands the child tax credit. It also expands subsidies for purchasing health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The list goes on and on.
The bill is not perfect. There will be bloat and inefficiencies. But better to go too big than too small. Biden did not want to repeat the mistakes of the 2009 economic stimulus.
Now the Biden team needs to trumpet this win from the rooftops.
AR At last some solid good news from America.
The Cow and the Camel
In 2018, we saw a "transient" in a galaxy 2 Ym away. It was briefer and brighter than any normal supernova seen before. The event was designated AT2018cow. We call it the Cow.
In 2020, we saw a similar transient in a galaxy 30 Ym away. Like its predecessor, it grew about 100 times brighter than a normal supernova in 2−3 days and then dimmed in days. It had two designations, AT2020xnd and ZTF20acigmel. We call it the Camel.
We guess the Cow and the Camel were "failed" supernovas. A star with mass around 20 ⦿ runs out of fuel. Its core collapses, but instead of going supernova, where stuff bounces back out to leave a neutron star behind, the stuff collapses straight into a black hole that swallows most of it.
The infalling mass makes the newborn black hole spin rapidly, producing powerful jets that fire out from the poles. We see the light from the jets bursting through the stellar veils.
AR This is how smallish black holes are born.
A team at the University of Vienna measured the gravitational field of a gold ball with a mass of about 90 μg and a radius of about 1 mm. They wiggled the ball back and forth by 1.6 mm next to a similar ball attached to a pendulum. The second ball moved by a few nm and swung the pendulum. The balls were in a Faraday cage in a vacuum and the team worked in the dead of a quiet night.
AR If gravity holds me down, they measured zeptogravity.
2021 March 10
The UK monarchy was created to be the physical embodiment of classism. A just and proper response would be to burn it to the ground. Then the members of the royal family can sweep up the ashes and go to work for a living.
The monarchy offers spectacle. The common people fund the lifestyle of a tiny elite, rather than the other way around. Any nation that still has a monarchy in 2021 has a mortifying lack of revolutionary gumption.
A monarchy is a veneration of inequality. The royals are lavished with riches and worshiped as sentimental nationalist gods, in exchange only for being pleasant in public. The citizens are expected to celebrate this tableau of excess.
Abolishing the monarchy should be easy. First you take away their homes. Then you take away their wealth. Then you take away their titles. With the economy on the rebound, they could get jobs at Tesco.
AR Trust in democracy and vote for a president?
What Is Life?
Life's edge is hard to define. NASA scientists say life is a self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution.
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden say we can call something alive if it has a number of properties associated with being alive. It need not have them all, nor does it need the same set found in other living things. Family resemblance is enough.
Carol Cleland is a philosopher. At the NASA Astrobiology Institute, she spent time with researchers in astrobiology and developed ideas for a science of astrobiology. In 2001, she told the AAAS it was pointless to try to define life.
Life cannot be defined with concepts. To know what life is, we need to quit searching for a definition.
AR I'm panpsychist: Everything is alive.
Klara and the Sun
Kazuo Ishiguro's moving and beautiful new novel Klara and the Sun is a meditation on whether our species will be able to live with everything it creates.
Klara, its narrator, is an artificial friend. She waits in a store, hoping to be noticed by the right child. She is chosen by Josie, a girl on the verge of adolescence. As we try to make out more from the clues Klara can assemble, we learn that Josie is "lifted" and sick.
Klara keeps Josie company, but she wants to restore her to health too. Klara gradually learns with sadness how "humans, in their wish to escape loneliness, made maneuvers that were complex and hard to fathom."
Klara can think of nothing worse for a person than to be lonely. She is powered by the Sun and imagines the Sun is important for humans too. When Josie persuades her mother to buy Klara, Klara wonders if she can persuade the Sun to restore the girl's health. Like other children, Josie has been "lifted" by gene editing to enhance her school performance.
Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017 for "novels of great emotional force [that uncover] the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world."
AR The book awaits me.
"The fact that an opinion
has been widely held is no
evidence whatever that it
is not utterly absurd."
2021 March 9
Black Hole Paradox Revisited
We are closer to resolving the black hole information paradox. Black hole evaporation seems to defy the conservation of information and the symmetry of time. But quantum entanglement may link the radiation with its originating information.
Entanglement entropy, EE, links the black hole and the radiation. At both the start and the end of the process, the EE is zero. Over time, the EE will follow a Page curve and peak at the Page time.
Consider a universe with a boundary. The boundary lacks gravity and depth. But everything in the bulk has a counterpart on the boundary. By this AdS/CFT duality, a black hole in the bulk has an image on the boundary that preserves information. Black hole radiation in the bulk is reabsorbed.
A quantum extremal surface relates the two sides of the duality. Imagine blowing a soap bubble in the bulk. The bubble takes a shape that minimizes its surface area.
The surface carves the bulk into two pieces and maps each to a portion of the boundary. Its area is proportional to part of the EE between those two portions of the boundary. Early in the evaporation process, the EE of the boundary rises.
A quantum extremal surface materializes inside the horizon of the black hole. As the hole shrinks, so does the extremal surface and the EE. The hole emits radiation encrypted by quantum entanglement. As time passes, particles inside it emerge and no longer contribute to the EE, which decreases.
Now consider black holes more generally. A Feynman path integral combines all possible paths of a particle going from A to B in a weighted sum. The gravitational path integral works as a quantum theory of gravity. A saddle point contains black holes linked by wormholes.
The wormholes and a black hole are inversely weighted by their EE. Wormholes get a low weighting at first. But their EE decreases as that of the radiation keeps climbing, until the wormholes take over the dynamics in a quantum process.
Collect all the radiation, feed it into a big quantum computer, and run a full simulation of the black hole. The radiation is entangled with its black hole, so the computer is too. The simulated black hole and the original are linked by a wormhole that lets out information.
AR Still baffling — see blog 2020-11-01.
2021 International Women's Day
Robin Dunbar is the man who first suggested that there may be a cognitive limit to the number of people with whom you can comfortably maintain stable social relationships. Human beings, he found, typically have 150 friends in general, of whom just five can usually be described as intimate.
In Friends, Dunbar brings together several decades of further research on friendship: The number and quality of our friendships may have a bigger influence on our happiness, health, and mortality risk than anything else in life save for giving up smoking.
Dunbar could not have known that his book would be published in a time of such loneliness. I was comforted to know that missing my friends and family as I do is not a sign of incipient madness. Friendship requires investment.
Dunbar touches on gender and confirms old stereotypes, for better or worse. Women have more friends than men. We expect more of friendships in respect of reciprocity and communion. Life is long, no one person can give you everything, and to have a genius for friendship is a great thing.
AR This is where women are stronger.
EU Needs Reform
The Daily Telegraph
The European Commission
1 Accused the UK of cutting corners on safety, thus encouraging anti-vax nonsense
2 Found themselves at the back of the queue after incompetently negotiating a bad deal
3 Took an age to approve a vaccine in a display of astounding bureaucratic lethargy
4 Castigated AstraZeneca for failing to give in to pressure to allow them to jump the queue
5 Tried to impose a hard border in Ireland to stop the Northern Irish getting vaccines
These are not wise actions.
AR The EU must do better.
2021 March 7
UK Command Bunker
The Sunday Times
The UK government is building a command bunker for emergencies such as terrorist strikes and pandemics. The Situation Centre, SitCen, is next door to the Cobra meeting rooms in the basement of the Cabinet Office and will cost more than £9 million.
The centre will be staffed 24/7 by staff from the National Security Secretariat. Information will be supplied by the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Joint Terrorism Assessment Centre, and others.
Plans to modernise the British armed forces and intelligence will be published on March 16. The review proposes a new RAF Space Command, a National Cyber Force, and AI research.
An increase in defence spending will buy more military R&D, development of the Tempest fighter jet, and Future Solid Support ships and a new Type 32 frigate. The money comes from overseas aid cuts.
The army will be cut to a target size of 70,000. A smaller, better-trained army, with better kit, will operate as a high-skill, high-readiness unit similar to the US Marines.
An order for 90 more F-35 Lightning combat jets will be cancelled in favour of the Tempest, 24 older Typhoon jets will be retired early, and drones will replace many aircraft.
The RAF will lose 11 manned spy planes. Retirement of the E-3D Sentry AEW aircraft will leave a gap until 3 Wedgetails replace them, BAE-146 Queen's flight jets will be replaced by leased aircraft, and 14 C-130J Hercules airlifters and 45 transport helicopters will go.
The Royal Navy gets new frigates, supply ships, and underwater surveillance vessels. A third of its frigates and half of its nuclear attack submarines will be retired before replacements are ready.
AR Bunker mentality: More collaborations would buy more for less.
2021 March 6
A billion years from now, Earth's atmosphere will contain very little oxygen, making it uninhabitable for complex aerobic life.
As part of a NASA project on planet habitability, Kazumi Ozaki and Chris Reinhard modeled Earth systems to predict how atmospheric conditions on Earth will change.
Atmospheric oxygen levels on Earth will be high for the next gigayear before sinking to the levels before the Great Oxidation Event of about 2.4 gigayears ago.
A gigayear from now, the Sun will be hotter and radiate more energy. This will destroy atmospheric carbon dioxide and make photosynthesis impossible. A mass extinction will then cause a huge reduction in oxygen and a huge increase in methane. The change may take a mere 10 kiloyears.
With the ozone layer gone, intense solar UV radiation will sterilize Earth and its oceans. Life as we know it will be toast.
AR By then we'll be Martians.
The UK prime minister and his Brexit minister have picked a gratuitous fight with the EU and the Republic of Ireland.
The UK was in talks with the EU over the NI protocol and agreed a "grace period" that suspended parts until March 31. Lord Frost has unilaterally extended the grace period until October. The EU will take legal action against the UK.
Boris Johnson signed the protocol. Until 2019, his carelessness hit only his readers, his editors, his wives, his girlfriends, or the Conservative party. But now the Irish and the EU are getting hit.
Johnson and his sidekick cannot be unaware of the European and Irish fury this will provoke.
AR UK, rogue regime.
2021 March 5
Lord Frost became the cabinet member in charge of UK relations with the EU on Monday. On Tuesday, he told the EU that the UK would unilaterally extend the "grace period" for checks on goods that ship between GB and NI.
With one blow, Frost has angered the EU, harmed British relations with Ireland, ramped up tensions in NI, endangered US−UK relations, and wrecked trust in the UK government.
In late 2020, Frost agreed a trade deal with the EU to complete Brexit. Boris Johnson signed the deal and its NI protocol at the end of the year. Instead of calming tensions among NI unionists, Frost has acted as a wrecking ball.
The European parliament has paused its ratification of the EU−UK trade deal. NI loyalist paramilitary groups are withdrawing their support for the Good Friday Agreement.
During the Brexit process, UK ministers promised to work for good relations with the EU. Time after time, those words proved empty. Sack Frost now.
AR Bin Bodger next.
2021 World Book Day
An Artificial Friend
Klara and the Sun is Kazuo Ishiguro's first novel since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. Klara is an Artificial Friend. For at least half of its length, the novel is structured around Klara's growing awareness of her world and how it works.
We make sense of what is going on through Klara. Slowly we figure out that we are in America. Later we grasp that Klara's human friend Josie has been genetically edited to give her the best shot at finding a job. There are bigger, darker revelations to come.
Ishiguro has made a striking effort to inhabit a nonhuman consciousness. Klara often either fails to recognize the most important details of a given subject or wildly misinterprets them. Yet the humans around her always seem to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Ishiguro is a virtuoso of mood music, and the tone is one of tenderness and gentle optimism. Klara views the Sun as a benevolent and omnipotent deity. When she asks the Sun to intervene in Josie's fate, it seems like a token of her innocence and generosity.
AR This philosopher of AI and brain science will read it.
Perseverance rover: tech specs
The Northern Ireland Loyalist Communities Council warns UK PM Boris Johnson and Irish taoiseach Micheál Martin of "permanent destruction" of the 1998 peace agreement. It says unionist opposition to the NI protocol in the Brexit deal should remain "peaceful and democratic" but will alarm officials in Dublin, London, and Brussels.
The European Commission accuses the British government of unilaterally breaking international law for a second time after ministers said the UK would unilaterally act to give NI businesses more time to adapt to post-Brexit rules.
AR Reunite NI with Ireland.
A group of theorists have designed an experiment that decides whether we need complex numbers
a + ib, for i = sqrt(−1) and a, b real, in quantum mechanics.
The Bell test shows that pairs of particles can share information in a single entangled state. Take a pair of entangled particles and send one to Alice, one to Bob. They measure them and find the results are correlated as predicted in quantum mechanics.
The group proposes an upgraded experiment with a second source of particle pairs. One pair goes to Alice and Bob, the second pair to Bob and Charlie. In quantum mechanics with complex numbers, particles A and C need not be entangled with each other.
Treating the system as real requires introducing extra information shared by the A, B, C particles to reproduce the correlations of quantum mechanics. The only way to share it is for all the particles to be entangled with one another.
In the simple Bell test, A and B particles came from one source. But in the two-source Bell test where A and C come from independent sources, the fictitious 3-way entanglement makes no physical sense.
Such a Bell test would disprove real quantum physics in the same way as standard Bell tests disproved local physics.
AR I'm sure we need i, but let's do the test anyway.
2021 March 3
UK Capital Flight
EY data shows City firms planned to shift nearly £100 billion in assets to the EU in the final months of 2020. Many moved staff and assets to the continent after the UK-EU trade deal made no concessions for UK financial services. The total value of assets lost to the EU since the Brexit vote is now £1.3 trillion. More business is expected to shift as UK−EU financial services negotiations continue.
AR It certainly will with Frosty negotiating.
A new movie by German director Christian Schwochow nods back to the 1968 idea of a long march through the institutions that would culminate in revolution.
Je Suis Karl looks toward a future group of far-right activists who upend Europe's political order. It finds inspiration in the Identitarian movement.
Schwochow thinks the far right remains a threat: "Historically, far-right movements have often drawn advantage from being underestimated."
Je Suis Karl will come to German cinemas in September.
AR Must see it.
2021 March 2
Global Vaccine Rollout
The New York Times
The pandemic will not be vanquished anywhere until it is vanquished everywhere. Several known coronavirus variants are making their way around the world, potentially challenging the efficacy of existing vaccines. Most high-income countries have begun vaccination programs, but most low-income countries have not.
German finance minister Olaf Scholz says the EU vaccination strategy has been a total shitshow. Policymakers blame EC president Ursula von der Leyen for the slow vaccine rollout.
The commission initially underestimated how difficult it would be to ramp up mass production and has now launched a project to strip out supply bottlenecks and boost production. Brussels is expecting deliveries to triple in Q2 to at least 300 million doses.
The EU has little short-term prospect of catching up with the US or the UK. EU countries are cynical about relying on Big Pharma, and public doubts about the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine are slowing jabs. Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia have either bought or are eyeing Russian or Chinese vaccines.
The EU vaccine drive is dragged back in part by delivery shortfalls from European AZ sites. AZ provoked fury when it told VDL in January it would deliver less than a third of expected doses in Q1. AZ offered to deliver 40 million doses in Q1 but is still struggling with its EU production. Brussels has a target of over 400 million doses from all manufacturers in H1.
VDL denies any fundamental errors of strategy or that the EU underinvested early in the process. She says time was too short following the discovery of the new vaccines to "really exponentially increase the production capacity" and an extra billion euros upfront would not have changed that.
The US and UK spent much more upfront per capita than the EU for vaccine development and production. By allocating at least four times as much as the EU, the UK gained an edge in early jab supply. VDL denies the EU was too slow in signing contracts: The AZ contract with the UK was signed the day after the contract with the EU in August. But London agreed a production deal with AZ in May. Citing safety risks, the EU stuck with a longer drug authorization process than in the UK.
With German elections in September, politics in Berlin has become more volatile. The fact that the EU has fallen behind the UK on vaccine delivery is explosive. By joining the EU vaccine procurement scheme, Germany sacrificed its ability to make its own deals.
Bavarian minister president Markus Söder says the EU ordered "too late and too little" and was "stingy" in negotiations. A senior CDU MP: "The vaccine program was a real opportunity for the commission to show Europeans it could act decisively and intelligently in a crisis and it squandered it."
AR The UK emergency acceleration was the right call.
2021 March 1
Mars Is Not Earth
Elon Musk's SpaceX Starship may someday send humans to Mars.
Carl Sagan: "Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate."
Musk: "This is not true. This is false — Mars."
Mars is not Earth, not even close. Mars has a thin and unbreathable atmosphere. It has no magnetic field to help protect its surface from solar radiation or cosmic rays. Its average surface temperature is about 210 K. Mars will kill you.
Sagan inspired generations of writers, scientists, and engineers. Such people connect to the wonder of being human and marvel at their luck in having grown up on such a beautiful, rare planet.
Sagan: "What shall we do with Mars? There are so many examples of human misuse of the Earth that even phrasing the question chills me."
Musk cares so much for human survival he shoots rockets to Mars.
AR Mars does nothing for human survival in the near future. We must solve our problems on Earth. Until we do, Mars is just a playground for robots.
Sunday noon: Young lady in bikini goes swimming — must be spring!
2021 February 28
The future of the United Kingdom is in doubt. The Union between Scotland and England could end. The reunification of Ireland could follow.
The next political crisis will begin in earnest with the Scottish parliamentary elections this spring. Among the very youngest voters, pro-independence opinion is nearly 75%. Across all ages, all the polls consistently show convincing majorities for it.
Brexit has changed things. England voted to leave. Scotland voted to stay. England was bigger. England got its way. The Scottish government says this reopens the referendum business of 2014. Many Scots want to be European more than they want to be British.
The Brexit vote was an English rejection of the social democratic European consensus that many Scots liked. Tory politicians who emphasised identity over economic self-interest then are not well placed to lecture Scots for doing the same now.
Many Scots look forward to an independent Scotland that is both securely inside the EU, and with a strong, generous welfare state, while trading freely across an open border with England, its biggest market. This is optimistic.
English voters would want a hard line taken with an independent Scotland on almost every issue. Division would end with borders and much mutual suspicion. Scottish businesses would find it all too easy to relocate. This is realistic.
Like English Brexit voters, many Scottish independence voters might find the consequences of their electoral success a shock.
AR Breaking up the UK frees the parts to join the EU.
2021 February 27
'Britain has decided to scuttle itself'
When I arrived in Britain, I was struck by the charm and all the new buildings and the mixture of old England with the modern. London had become the new world city.
The Brexit vote came as a shock. No one saw it coming, including the Brexiteers. After it, Britain felt sour. Anger and hostility were suddenly legitimised.
The vote was the first eruption of an alarming global trend. Boris Johnson was a cultivated version of Donald Trump and President Bolsonaro of Brazil. The Brexiteers got away with a fantasy version of Britain and the EU.
The partisans of Brexit are reciting a history in which the UK is never defeated, never invaded. The popular press, led by the Daily Mail, helped Brits to imagine they were living in a world of Dad's Army and Downton Abbey.
With the world quickly resolving into three poles of economic and military power — America, Europe, and China — Britain has decided to scuttle itself. The EU27 can impose the Napoleonic blockade that England so feared.
President Joe Biden believes Brexit is a historic error. He is not keen on close ties with the Johnson government and calls Johnson a physical and emotional clone of Trump.
Democracies are in crisis. The Chinese have stopped listening to western criticism. They don't want us to have their system. They want us to leave them in peace.
AR Goodbye Britannia
2021 February 26
Brexit: A New Religion
A report by the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick says the Leave campaign made Brexit a new religion to win votes.
Dr Peter Kerr: "Framing the NHS as the Holy Grail to be rescued from the threat of the EU superstate and an influx of foreign migrants .. neatly cut into a variety of beliefs and emotions about Britain's place in the world and its membership of the EU."
Dr Steven Kettell: "Such quasi-religious narratives worked to heighten the intense emotional fervour around Brexit."
AR The Queen heads the Church of England. Brexit is Antichrist heresy.
Jojo Mehta, Julia Jackson
The global campaign to criminalize ecocide can address the root causes of the climate crisis.
The year 2020 was the second warmest on record, following the warmest, 2019. Carbon in the atmosphere reached 417 ppm, the highest in the last 3 million years. There is enough carbon in the atmosphere to continue warming the planet for decades.
The largest greenhouse gas emitters, including the United States, China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, are putting the world on course for a 4 K rise in temperatures. At that rate, the polar ice caps will melt.
The establishment of ecocide as a crime is under consideration in a growing number of jurisdictions. This can correct the shortcomings of the Paris agreement. The widespread destruction of nature also has devastating impacts on global health, food and water security, and sustainable development.
Criminalizing ecocide enables us to deter reckless leaders from damaging policies, creating accountability in a way that Paris does not.
The pristine areas that ecocide targets have value far beyond mere extractive industries. True leaders in the public and private sector would much prefer ethical and sustainable value creation that does not exploit nature or humanity.
We must understand that what we do to our ecosystems, we do to ourselves.
AR We need Earthlaw — one law for all Earthlings.
2021 February 25
The Military Balance
The unstable security environment is straining relations between states. The United States accused Russia of breaching the Open Skies Treaty and withdrew from the treaty.
Wars continued in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Turkey sent military support to Libya in 2020, while opposition forces received support from Egypt, Russia, and the UAE. In Syria, Turkey's army mounted joint patrols with Russia. In Yemen, the Iran-backed Houthis displayed growing military competence. Conflict continued in Ukraine and in Africa.
Global defense spending grew by 3.9% in real terms to reach US$1.83 trillion in 2020. Real growth in China's defense budget slowed to 5.2% in 2020. China's 2020 increase was greater than the combined defense budget increases in all other Asian states. Increases in the US and Chinese defense budgets accounted for almost two-thirds of the total increase in global defense spending in 2020.
European NATO members have increased their defense expenditure as a proportion of GDP. In 2020, their spending reaching 1.64% of GDP. The EU lowered funding for the European Defense Fund, for military mobility projects, and for the European Peace Facility.
China's military modernization continues to shape defense policies in the Asia-Pacific. Chinese forces are using facilities in the South China Sea, and naval shipbuilding continued at pace. China's air force continues to integrate more advanced systems.
Russia is integrating more modern systems into its inventory. With continuing problems in fielding new-generation equipment, Russia is modernizing existing platforms and integrating new weapons.
In 2020, Russia's navy continued tests of a hypersonic missile. Russia has already fielded a hypersonic glide vehicle. China also continues to develop its hypersonic systems. Similar developments continue in the United States.
Western armed forces are taking more interest in air and missile defense. They will also need to be able to tackle paramilitary forces, the exercise of state power through non-state actors, and information and influence operations in cyberspace.
The coronavirus pandemic requires a sharper focus on resilience. Many countries deployed troops to support civil authorities and to provide medical personnel and infrastructure.
AR Useful overview
First 2π rad HD panorama from Mars rover Perseverance MastCam-Z
Two Vaccine Contracts
The contracts between AstraZeneca and the EU and AZ and the UK diverge in essential provisions. This can explain the gap in delivery of doses between the EU and the UK.
✗ Timing: The UK and AZ had an agreement in May but signed it a day after the contract with the EU. The UK contract says AZ shall not enter into any other agreement that would conflict with it, ignoring the EU contract.
✗ Guarantee: The UK contract describes a precise procedure to guarantee timely delivery, allowing minor variance for delays in manufacturing. The EU contract is based only on an estimated time schedule.
✗ Pricing: The EU contract price was paid upfront to support production before the products existed or were authorized. The UK contract price is calculated on an open book basis to let AZ include extra costs later, paid on invoice after delivery, giving the UK leverage to ensure fulfilment.
✗ Delivery: The UK contract says AZ owns or operates facilities for supply and delivery and can deliver as ordered. The EU contract includes no such clause.
✗ Transparency: The UK contract includes provisions to let it disclose confidential information under certain circumstances.
The European Commission and AZ have a lot of explaining to do.
AR This disparity should embarrass AZ.
Huge craters have been appearing in the Siberian tundra since 2013, such as this one in 2020.
They are caused by explosive blowouts of methane gas from melting permafrost.
Methane is an extremely effective greenhouse gas.
"I'm safe on Mars.
get you anywhere."
2021 February 19
How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
We have to get to zero greenhouse gas emissions. While I'm optimistic that we can do that, it's going to take a lot of effort from governments, non-profits, and businesses.
Green Premiums are the differences in cost between a fossil-fuel-based way of doing something and the clean, non-emitting way of doing the same thing. They tell us which zero-carbon tools are practical now, and which ones we still need to improve or invent.
Clean tech has to be so cheap that everyone adopts it. Energy is a $5 trillion-a-year business, and it is not accustomed to rapid change. It will take time to achieve the scale of change we need, so we should get to work now.
There are four areas where companies can make a practical difference:
✓ Mobilizing capital to reduce the Green Premiums
✓ Having an impact through the products they buy
✓ Expanding research and development
✓ Helping shape public policies
In the long run, these risky steps will be good for business. Green Premiums will come down. Consumers will remember which companies were serious about helping avoid a climate disaster.
Governments can help too. They should adopt policies that help new technologies to emerge and level the playing field for clean technology.
AR The book is ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
2021 February 18
The Gates Rule
Bill Gates has been thinking about climate change.
The Gates Rule: If given a choice of cutting greenhouse gas emissions directly or reducing the cost of net-zero technology, the United States should choose the latter. American climate policy should optimize for cost-reducing innovation, not for direct cuts in emissions.
American climate policy matters because America is an engine of global technological adoption. America remains the place where technologies are invented, marketed, and mainstreamed. The prime goal of American climate policy should be to reduce the cost of climate-friendly technologies so that the rest of the world can adopt them.
A green premium is the cost difference between a newer, no-carbon technology and its older, dirtier equivalent. The goal of American climate policy should be to zero out green premiums as fast as possible, in as many industries as possible.
Gates says the biggest contribution a young person can make to fight climate change is to study physics, chemistry, the economy, and the history of the industrial sector.
AR Add molecular biology: Designer bugs that can turn carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide to useful stuff like gasoline would be good.
German Vaccine Resistance
The Guardian, 1601 UTC
Doctors and public health officials are pleading with Germans to take up the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. German healthcare facilities report several hundred thousand vials sitting unused and many no-shows at scheduled appointments.
German Society for Immunology general secretary Carsten Watzl: "If you are given the choice between AstraZeneca now or another vaccine in a few months, you should definitely take AstraZeneca now."
Mehr als ein Drittel würde Impftermin nur mit Lieblingspräparat wahrnehmen. Der BioNTech-Impfstoff ist unter den Impfwilligen das beliebteste Anti-Covid-19-Vakzin.
AR Is this down to relative efficacy?
Lord Frost will become Cabinet Office minister from March 1. He will take over from Michael Gove to chair the cabinet committee implementing the Brexit divorce agreement. Frost had been opposed to the decisions last week to appoint Baroness Finn as deputy to new Number 10 chief of staff Dan Rosenfield and to appoint former Gove aide Henry Newman as her assistant. Both Finn and Newman are close friends of Carrie Symonds.
AR Frost and Symonds will clash.
2021 February 17
Both UK and US democracies are failed by their archaic voting systems.
In a two-party first-past-the-post electoral system (FPTP), capturing a party is the only way to change politics. Its defenders say FPTP creates stability. Yet Washington is lurching between extremes.
Westminster, like Washington, suffers widespread voter cynicism. On British doorsteps you hear it all the time: "They're all the same, only in it for themselves."
The Tory party was long ago captured by Brextremists. For years, tiny local parties of mostly old white men selected only Europhobes. The choice in the 2019 election was a democratic outrage.
Each party has to straddle a UK divided by political fault lines. The Tories try to unite hothead libertarians and cooler swing voters. Never has our electoral system looked less representative.
We need electoral reform. A proportional system would let both the old parties break up. Instead of facing two stale options, voters could choose from a longer menu and get a balanced meal.
No electoral system solves all problems. But a future of coalitions would see the power of factions within a ruling government defined transparently by electoral votes.
Pluralism is a sign of democracy. We in the AA world still lack it.
AR PR now!
The Antonine Plague
The Roman emperor Commodus ruled from 180 to 192 CE. His reign was marred by perpetual scandal. He was finally strangled in his bath.
During his reign, a vicious pestilence reappeared with tremendous ferocity. At its peak, it was said to have killed as many as 2,000 Romans a day. It was part of a pandemic known as the Antonine Plague.
The smallpox virus is less than 2,000 years old. The Antonine Plague may well represent an early stage of its evolution as a human pathogen. Like many viruses, the agent of smallpox belongs to a family many of whose representatives infect small mammals.
The Romans thought the Antonine Plague had been unloosed in Mesopotamia. More likely, the germ spread along the trade routes that connected virtually the entire Old World. The first documented contact between Rome and China fell in the year the Antonine Plague first broke out.
The final death toll of the Antonine Plague was probably in the range of 7 million to 10 million, in an empire of 70 million. Rome was struck at its apex of power and prosperity.
The Antonine Plague wasn't the last lethal pandemic the Romans faced. And Covid-19 won't be ours.
AR A warning!
2021 February 16
China controls about 80% of the global supply of rare earth minerals and is exploring the effects of limiting their export. It wants to know if proposed controls on the production and export of 17 rare earth minerals may hinder the US production of F-35 fighter jets. A US congressional report says each
F-35 requires 417 kg of rare earth materials.
AR Payback for US war talk.
Dark Nordic Folk
In 2002, holed up in an attic studio on the Norwegian coast, Einar Selvik had a vision. He would create a trilogy of albums based on the 24 runes of the Elder Futhark. He created the band Wardruna and released the first instalment of the trilogy in 2009.
Called Runaljod: Gap Var Ginnunga, it told ancient Nordic stories via dark and ambient folk. The release of Runaljod: Yggdrasil woke up the music press in 2013. Selvik closed off his runic trilogy in 2016 with Runaljod: Ragnarok.
Selvik is an expert in Nordic tradition and ancient music. His work is often cited in Norse studies and he has led lectures at Oxford University. Wardruna's new album Kvitravn reached the UK Top 50 earlier this month.
AR I like it.
After nearly two months, the roll out of vaccines is dramatically low in Europe. On average, no more than 4% of European citizens have received a first dose. Yet Europe is the world leader in vaccine production.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is basically saying we did nothing wrong. But the contracts Europe negotiated with the pharmaceutical companies are unbalanced. They are precise on pricing but vague on supply.
The use of Article 16 of the NI protocol has been a diplomatic disaster. It destroyed in a few seconds the seriousness of the negotiations with the UK conducted by Michel Barnier for more than three years.
We need a radical change in our strategy.
AR Reform the EU.
Venus has a baking hot surface due to a runaway greenhouse effect
2021 February 15
The Climate Crisis
The world adds 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. Zero is what we need to aim for. We need new tools for fighting climate change.
I'm investing in zero-carbon technologies. Electricity and cars are only the beginning. Passenger cars represent less than 8% of all emissions worldwide. Making steel and cement accounts for around 10%.
Each year, America produces more than 96 million tons of cement, one of the main ingredients in concrete. To make cement, you need calcium. To get calcium, you start with limestone and burn it in a furnace. Making a ton of cement makes a ton of carbon dioxide.
Between now and 2050, global annual cement production is predicted to go up a bit before settling back down near where it is today.
I've put more than $1 billion into approaches that I hope will help the world get to zero. The goal is to avoid a climate disaster.
Gates on climate
Bill Gates believes in progress. His new book grew out of his interest in the sciences and the problem of how to further global development while reducing emissions.
Part of the political challenge involves climate activists limiting their exposure to accusations of hypocrisy. Gates calls private jets his "guilty pleasure" and loves hamburgers and eating grapes all year round. But he sees this focus on grapes and private jet travel as like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.
His book is compulsively readable. His ambition was to "cut through the noise" and give consumers better tools for understanding what works. He gets an audience with anyone, marshals almost limitless resources, and digs into detail. The result is thrilling.
The depressing part of the book is its account of the challenge ahead. The transport industry accounts for only 16% of global emissions. Cars are a minor part of the problem compared with the emissions generated by the global cement and steel industries.
Gates covers some cool innovations. A solar-powered dehumidifier can get drinking water out of air. A technology stores heat in molten salt. Geoengineering may one day reduce the amount of sunlight hitting the world's surface by distributing fine particles into the upper atmosphere or using a salt spray to brighten clouds. But these innovations are expensive and imprecise.
On gestures like vowing to eat less meat: "I mean, these are good things .. But unless you replace steel, it's a joke .. The thing that makes climate so hard is that it's not about a 20% reduction. It's about getting it to zero."
Gates cites clean hydrogen: "You could use that to make fertiliser in a clean way, to help make steel in a clean way. That alone would help with about 30% of emissions."
Gates dismisses the goal of carbon neutrality in a decade: "It's a fairy tale .. Why peddle fantasies to people?"
With a personal fortune around $120 billion, Gates is a philanthropist: "From those to whom much is given, much is expected. The idea that .. giving that back to society in some constructive way might be something I might end up doing .. dawned on me."
Gates has donated $100 million to Covid research. He points out the parallel to the climate emergency: "We rely on government to look out for the future, so that even if something unlikely shows up, people aren't dying and the economy isn't wrecked."
The global temperature was 6 K cooler during the ice age than it is today and 4 K hotter when the dinosaurs were around. Gates: "But .. it's the rate of change .. If this was happening over tens of millions of years, instead of 100 years, then the Earth could adjust."
There is enough water in the Antarctic ice to raise the sea level by over 30 m.
Gates: "There is no single breakthrough that can solve all those things."
2021 February 14
EU Needs Reform
A chasm exists between EU ambition and capability.
Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Commission stepped in and secured deals with vaccine manufacturers at a better price than individual countries could negotiate.
Most member states were happy until the UK started vaccinating at a faster rate than the EU. The Commission announced a bad policy that threatened peace in Ireland.
Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was dragged before the European Parliament to explain herself and told to resign. She admitted errors and expressed regret.
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell also faced calls to quit after a visit to Moscow and a humiliating joint press conference with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.
The EU defends democracy. When a Budapest court let the government take a radio station off the air, the European Commissioner for Human Rights merely tweeted in horror.
Commissioners are put forward by the Council of 27 member states and approved by the EU Parliament. The Commission is answerable to the Parliament but has become political.
The Commission is close to the Council, but many think it should act independently in the EU interest. At present, on most issues, wealthy nations call the shots.
The Council gives individual member states the power to kill policies they dislike. Any member state can veto sanctions via Article 7, so Poland backs Hungary and vice versa.
The Commission proposed a mechanism to let it unilaterally impose sanctions, but now member states have to trigger the mechanism, which will probably never happen.
In the EU ecosystem, different institutions seek more power. The Commission has huge power working for member states in Brussels, undermining the Parliament.
EU reformers see that no one is really in charge.
AR Push harder
Read it L to R, R to L, or upside down
2021 February 13
The New York Times
Donald Trump stands charged with incitement of insurrection. He spun lies and conspiracy theories. He told his followers their votes had been stolen. He whipped his loyalists into a rage, summoned them to Washington, pointed them at Congress, and then retreated to the safety of the White House to enjoy the show.
AR The GOP is toast.
2021 February 12
Economy: UK Drops 10%
UK economic output was down by 10% in 2020 compared with 2019. The Q4 decline was twice that in Germany and three times that in the USA.
UK chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak: "The economy has experienced a serious shock as a result of the pandemic."
AR Well, there's a surprise.
Covid: Germans Lost Control
Since October 2020, Covid cases in Germany have soared and over 50,000 people have died. By the end of October, the number of daily cases had more than tripled. By early January, daily deaths were up to four time their highest point in the first wave. EU delays and bottlenecks with the vaccination rollout pour fuel on the fire.
German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We have lost control of this thing."
AR Blame politics: 2021 elections hinder hard action.
Hairy Black Holes
In general relativity, black holes have just mass, spin, and charge. But extremal black holes might have transient instabilities on their event horizons that would let us distinguish them. Black holes with hair may have implications for the black hole information paradox.
AR I think they have quantum hair too.
Heidegger in China
Martin Heidegger's Being and Time is difficult to penetrate in any language. The themes are abstract, the structure is elliptical, and Heidegger invents lots of new words. His focus on the linguistic root to the problem of Being is special problem in Chinese, which has no copula. In Chinese, the word that means "being" only implies existence.
Heidegger enjoys a rock star status in Chinese universities.
AR He is also big in Russia and Iran.
2021 February 11
Brexit Aftermath Continues
Brexit is not done. The UK membership of the EU formally expired in January 2020. The change in status was camouflaged by transitional arrangements that expired at the start of 2021. Even now, there is a 3-month "grace period" waiving aspects of the NI protocol of the final deal.
Now the UK wants more time. Boris Johnson failed to understand the trade-off between regulatory autonomy and market access. He swapped seamless trade for notional sovereignty and passed the cost on to unsuspecting businesses. He mis-sold Brexit.
AR Brexit is a morality tale.
Amsterdam Ousts London
Amsterdam has surpassed London as Europe's largest share trading centre as the Netherlands scooped up business lost by the UK since Brexit. The shift was prompted by a ban on EU trading in London. Financial services contributed almost £76 billion in tax receipts to the UK Treasury last year.
Rosenblatt Securities analyst Anish Puaar: "London has lost its status as the home of EU share trading."
AR Brexit is a bust.
2021 February 10
Fossil Fuel Fatalities
Air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil was responsible for 8.7 million deaths globally in 2018, or 1 in 5 of all people who died that year. Countries with the most prodigious consumption of fossil fuels are suffering the highest death tolls, with more than 1 in 10 deaths in Europe caused by the resulting pollution.
AR Another reason not to burn them.
Noise in the brain's electrical activity can help reveal its inner workings. We can use software to isolate regular oscillations hiding in the aperiodic parts of brain activity.
We can use EEG to study the balance between excitation and inhibition. Glutamate signals make excited neurons more likely to fire. GABA signals make inhibited neurons less likely to fire. Cycles in excitation and inhibition form waves linked to different mental states.
Part of the EEG output looks like random white noise, but some looks more interesting. To study the aperiodic activity, we do a Fourier analysis of the raw EEG signal. The resulting graph of frequency and amplitude shows a power spectrum.
We plot the amplitudes for power spectra with logarithmic coordinates. For white noise, the power spectrum curve has slope zero. But neural data curves have a negative slope where intensity drops off for higher frequencies with a 1/f relationship.
Such 1/f fluctuations are found in electrical noise, stock market activity, biological rhythms, and even music. But data from these other sources has different higher-order statistical structures.
Aperiodic signals may reflect the delicate balance between excitation and inhibition that keeps the brain healthy and active.
AR Much yet to learn here.
2021 February 9
Queen's consent is a procedural rule requiring the monarch's consent to be obtained for certain types of legislation before they can be presented for final approval by either house of parliament. It is not to be confused with royal assent.
The consent process gives the Queen a possible veto, to be exercised in secret, over proposed laws. Its workings have previously remained hidden from public view.
Queen's consent is needed for any legislation that would affect the prerogative, the hereditary revenues, the Duchy of Lancaster or the Duchy of Cornwall, and personal or property interests of the crown. The Queen pays tax, so finance laws require consent. The Queen is an employer, so child support and pensions laws require consent. And so on.
All correspondence containing requests for consent, replies, and the documentation of any related discussions have always been shrouded in absolute privacy.
This process accords the Queen's advisers a genuine opportunity to negotiate for their policy preferences. This degree of involvement in the legislative process is unjustifiable.
AR Get her out of politics.
Micrometeorites are everywhere. They are on the streets and in your home. You may even have some cosmic dust on your clothes. They resemble carbonaceous chondrites.
To get a meteorite to the Earth, you have to knock it off from an asteroid, and then it floats around in space and its orbit slowly changes until eventually it approaches Earth.
Dust particles are blasted off the surface of an asteroid or stream off the surface. Sunlight slows down dust particles, so they spiral in toward the Sun. Dust is delivered to Earth more reliably than larger chunks of rock.
Micrometeorites give us a better sampling of the solar system than meteorites. Billions of years ago, they delivered intact amino acids and organic molecules to Earth. Living organisms in deep and remote parts of the ocean get most of their iron from micrometeorites.
Micrometeorites mix with the atmosphere as they descend. They heat up and react with atmospheric oxygen. Their oxygen isotopes exactly match terrestrial oxygen. Ancient micrometeorites in limestones in Australia give us a direct way of measuring the atmosphere in the past.
⦿ Clint Jenkins
Shadow vessel with Covid testing and quarantine facilities protects superyacht owners
2021 February 8
Brexit: The Cost
Businesses were promised frictionless movement of goods between the UK and the EU and between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Instead, new rules and regulations and bureaucratic processes are threatening their future.
The equilibrium in NI hinged on both the UK and Ireland being members of the EU single market and customs union. After Brexit, customs checks are needed.
Boris Johnson said businesses would not have to fill in forms to send goods across the Irish Sea. Four days after he signed the withdrawal agreement, a government report warned that administrative costs for goods moving from GB to NI would hit small businesses hard.
British exporters sending goods into the EU are also hit by border frictions. For a small exporter, the costs of the regulatory checks, filling in long and complex forms, and meeting new rules around VAT can be crippling.
The Road Haulage Association says export loads to the EU have been reduced by 68% and there are far too few customs agents to cope with the work.
Businesses say their calls for meaningful engagement from the government to find solutions go unheeded. Ministers say Brexit is going well.
AR Bodger — liar, liar, pants on fire.
The Hidden Spring
Consciousness may be the strangest thing in the universe. David Chalmers imagines a zombie that could behave just like you but have no inner experience. The brain in the scanner and the experience of awareness are two different perspectives.
Mark Solms finds the answer in feelings. The idea of a zombie being scared or happy or regretful without feeling scared or happy or regretful makes no sense. Solms says consciousness ultimately arises in the brainstem, where basic emotions begin.
Solms aims to show that emotions are essential to human existence. A zombie cannot be wired so as to mindlessly handle all the crucial tasks we perform. Feelings let humans monitor their countless changing biological needs. They are conscious.
AR Antonio Damasio is perceptive on these questions.
2021 February 7
The partnership between Britain and the EU is mired in mistrust. Brussels complained over the UK refusal to grant the EU ambassador in London full diplomatic status. A furious row erupted between the EU and AstraZeneca turned into an interstate dispute over vaccine production. And the Commission introduced an export ban on EU-produced vaccines and initially sought to prevent them entering Northern Ireland.
Brussels now views Britain as a country that threatened the integrity of the European project. London sees the EU as unreasonable with its demands and unwilling to treat Britain with the respect due to a sovereign equal. But it would be a mistake to let mutual suspicion and paranoia define the spirit of the new relationship.
Both sides are better off cooperating. The sustainability of their trade agreement rests on it, the two sides have shared interests and face shared threats in areas of international policy, and the Northern Ireland Protocol depends on effective cooperation. Britain and the EU must at least try to be good neighbours.
AR Quite right: Keep it civil.
2021 February 6
Back to the EUSSR
The EU has turned to Moscow to help make up for a shortfall in vaccine supplies. EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell yesterday held a joint press conference with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. Borrell congratulated Russia for its Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine and asked the European Medicines Agency to authorise it.
AR A turning point?
2021 February 5
America Is Back
We must start with diplomacy. Defending freedom. Championing opportunity. Upholding universal rights. Respecting the rule of law. And treating every person with dignity.
We're going to rebuild our alliances. We're going to reengage the world and take on the enormous challenges we face dealing with the pandemic, dealing with global warming, and standing up for democracy and human rights around the world.
We will freeze any troop redeployments from Germany, so our military footprint is appropriately aligned with our foreign policy and national security priorities.
United States moral leadership on refugee issues is going to take time to rebuild. But that's what we're going to do.
We will compete from a position of strength, working with our allies and partners, renewing our international institutions, and reclaiming our credibility and moral authority.
AR Speaking at the State Department Thursday.
The Ship and the Speedboat
Ursula von der Leyen
Alone, a country can be a speedboat, while the EU is more like a ship. Before concluding a contract .. the 27 member states had five full days to say whether they agreed or not .. The UK has chosen the path of emergency marketing authorisations, we have chosen another.
AR Five days lost for politics.
2021 February 4
Most proteins fold into a single stable configuration. But some metamorphic proteins can change quickly and reversibly from one folded shape to another inside organisms.
A metamorphic human protein called XCL1 acts as a chemokine, binding to receptors on white blood cells and recruiting them to fight infections. But it can easily switch to a second shape that kills bacterial invaders as an antibiotic.
Of the 46 chemokine proteins in humans, XCL1 is the only one that exhibits metamorphic switching. The others are stabilized by strong disulfide bonds. XCL1 lacks one of the disulfide bonds.
Researchers computed the ancestral sequences for about 550 chemokines. The oldest ancestor had a single stable fold. A little later, proteins were mainly folded in the new conformation. In XCL1, the two conformations are about equal.
If a single protein can do double duty, it spares the cell from needing a second gene. This ability may give the body a better way to control its defenses against bacteria.
Because XCL1 can adopt its two folded forms with equal probability, it can switch between them faster than once per second. It is essentially a bistable switch.
AR Good to know.
2021 February 3
Vlad The Poisoner
Thomas L. Friedman
The recent discovery of a massive hack, almost certainly by Russia, of key US technology companies and government agencies puts the new Biden team in a quandary.
Vladimir Putin is a Moscow mafia don who had his agents try to kill an anti-corruption activist, Aleksei Navalny, by sprinkling Novichok in his underwear.
Putin presents himself as the great defender of the Russian Motherland. Yet he meddles in US elections and hacks US companies, denying it all with a smirk.
Russia's top five exports are: oil and gas (52%), iron, precious metals, machinery and computers (2%), and wood. For a country with so much human talent, that's pathetic.
Putin has built an engine of corruption that keeps him and his cronies in power. Navalny calls him a little kleptocrat in a bunker.
AR Free Navalny, lock up Putin.
VDL The Foolhardy
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, a medical doctor and mother of seven, has fallen off her superwoman pedestal. Throughout four excruciating years of Britain behaving badly, the EU were the grownups, firm and patient negotiators with our rabble of infantile lawbreakers. This role reversal leaves Remainers dumbfounded.
Pandemic pressure weakened the EU glue, as 27 countries argued over how much vaccine to buy at what cost while Britain streaked ahead, wallet wide open. VDL's threat to break the NI protocol and shut the Irish border was folly. The DUP and Brexiteer MPs now want to tear up the agreement.
UK ministers have assumed a newfound civility. Beyond the vaccine wars, Brexit is unravelling before their eyes, and they know it. The five big UK business groups led by the CBI: "Absolute carnage!"
AR The EU must reform and tame VDL.
The Webb Telescope
The James Webb Space Telescope is finally ready. NASA plans to launch it into orbit on October 31 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket supplied by the European Space Agency, from a site in French Guiana. Named for the NASA administrator who led the agency through the development of the Apollo program, the telescope is almost three times larger than the Hubble and seven times more powerful in its ability to discern remote stars and galaxies.
AR I look forward to seeing its images.
2021 February 2
Remaking the British State
A 234-page Labour party report proposes:
▸ A UK-wide constitutional convention bolstered by citizens' assemblies to investigate options
▸ A written constitution that would greatly reduce the monarch's powers
▸ Replacing the Lords with a federal senate of the nations and English regions, able to veto
some legislation and ratify international treaties
▸ Giving the Scottish parliament, Welsh Senedd, and Northern Irish executive permanent
▸ More borrowing and policymaking powers for the Scottish parliament
▸ Significant devolution of policymaking and financial powers to English regions and councils
Sir Keir Starmer is being urged to back it.
AR Do it!
2021 February 1
Matthew Rosenberg, Jim Rutenberg
For 77 days between the US presidential election and the inauguration, Donald Trump attempted to subvert US democracy with a lie about election fraud. He waged a campaign that convinced tens of millions of Americans the election had been stolen and led to the January 6 assault on the Capitol.
AR Damning evidence for the Senate.
⦿ Crown Copyright
Royal Air Force C130J Hercules
AR UK dependency on US military hardware for its high-profile systems (such as Trident and Lightning) is a clue to British
foreign policy in the immediate post-Brexit era. Expect symbolic Royal Navy deployments in the South China Sea and fading
interest in helping to defend continental Europe. Perhaps President Biden can persuade the Johnson government to focus
its limited military resources on supporting the US regional presence in Europe.
The Russians cultivated
Donald Trump ever since
he visited Russia in 1987.
The KGB pretended to be
impressed by him and said
he should be president,
says former KGB spy
2021 January 31
UK−EU Vaccine Dispute
The European Commission has backed down on a plan to blockade the Irish border amid an escalating firestorm sparked by Covid-19 vaccine supply shortages across Europe. EC president Ursula von der Leyen has made a series of mistakes and misjudgments in handling the pandemic.
VDL and her colleagues did not appear to appreciate the folly of their move to impose vaccine import controls on the UK via the Northern Ireland protocol. Boris Johnson and Irish taoiseach Micheál Martin both expressed their unhappiness.
A sense of panic has gripped EU leaders as public anger has grown over vaccine shortfalls. In France, Spain and elsewhere, vaccination schedules are in turmoil.
AstraZeneca is a scapegoat for European politicians and bureaucrats anxious to avoid taking responsibility. Its success, sparked by a team of scientists and researchers at Oxford University, in producing an effective and easily administered vaccine seems too much for them to accept.
VDL and others chose for political reasons to involve all 27 EU member states in decisions on vaccine acquisition. An EC contract with AZ, ready for signature in June, was delayed until August. Other vaccine pre-orders were also held up.
The EC claim that AZ failed to honour its contractual obligations must be seen in the context of panicky leadership in Brussels, national blame-games, bureaucratic and regulatory tardiness, post-Brexit anti-British animus, and no-fault production problems. The WHO warns that EU vaccine controls will prolong the global pandemic.
The vaccine crisis has shown the EU at its worst and Britain at its best. As of Friday, more than 11% of the UK population had been vaccinated compared with 2.3% in Germany and 1.8% in France. The EU needs to get its house in order.
MPs hail Falklands moment
Mail on Sunday
During two phone calls just 30 minutes apart, Boris Johnson persuaded VDL to ditch plans to stop 3.5 million doses of the Pfizer jab from reaching the UK from a factory in Belgium and abandon the "nuclear option" of imposing a hard border on Northern Ireland to prevent them reaching the UK. She capitulated in a tweet shortly before midnight on Friday.
On Saturday, Michael Gove said the EU recognised that it had "made a mistake" and both sides agreed to "reset" relations. Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster called the EU move an "incredible act of hostility" and jubilant Tory MPs called the EU surrender a "Falklands moment" for Johnson.
New trade deal?
Boris Johnson is to apply to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership: "Applying to be the first new country to join the CPTPP demonstrates our ambition to do business on the best terms with our friends and partners all over the world and be an enthusiastic champion of global free trade."
The CPTPP includes Mexico, Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and others. A UK official: "We're hopeful the US shares our ambition to join CPTPP, which would mean closer trading ties via plurilateral means."
Distance remains a key factor in trade. A study in 2018 suggested trade deals with China, India, Australia, and SE Asia would only raise British GDP by up to 0.4% over the long term. The UK Treasury estimates the Brexit trade deal is likely to cut UK GDP by almost 5% over the long term.
AR Brexit must still be reversed one day. Europe needs reform with British help.
2021 January 30
Britain Must Decide
Great Britain cannot be the best ally of the US, the best ally of the EU, and the new Singapore. It has to choose a model. If it decides on a completely transatlantic policy, then we in Europe will need clarification, because there will be divergence.
If it decides to be the new Singapore, I don't know. I would like good, peaceful relations. Our destinies are linked, our intellectual approach is linked, our researchers and industrials work together. I believe in a sovereign continent and nation states. I don't believe in neonationalism.
I am for common ambition and a common destiny. We remain allies. History and geography don't change, so I don't think the British people have a different destiny to ours.
I like Britain a lot, but I think Brexit is an error. I respect the sovereignty of the people and the people voted, so it had to be done, but I think that vote was based on a lot of lies. Now we see it has made things much more difficult in many ways.
I recommend cooperation
We are facing an extraordinarily serious crisis, which is creating a lot of suffering, and many deaths in the UK, in France, in Germany, and elsewhere. I believe that we must face this crisis with responsibility, certainly not with the spirit of one-upmanship or unhealthy competition.
I recommend preserving the spirit of cooperation between us. We will have plenty of chances in the coming years to show solidarity in the fight against terrorism, climate change, financial crises, and disasters.
AR I'm with the French on this.
Lord Frost will work in Number 10 as a special adviser leading work on UK relations with the EU. A senior Whitehall insider said the move was likely to be bad for the nascent post-Brexit EU−UK relationship. An official: "Frost wants the relationship in the deep freeze for a few years."
AR Frosty relations with Europe: What sort of sense does this make?
The Fermilab Muon g-2 experiment is working on a new measurement of the magnetic moment of the muon. In 2001, g-2 measured a moment that seemed too high.
The muon spin gives it magnetic moment. It is surrounded by virtual particles that increase the moment by about 10 ppm, an excess called g-2. We can predict g-2 precisely, but it contradicts the measured value.
The experimenters fire a beam of antimuons into a particle accelerator with spin axis pointing in the direction of travel. A vertical magnetic field bends their trajectories around the ring and makes their spin axis precess.
Without the virtual particles, the antimuons would precess at the same rate that they orbit. But the high moment makes them precess faster, roughly 30 times for every 29 orbits.
Each orbiting antimuon decays to produce a positron that has higher energy when the spin is in the direction of travel and lower when it is opposite. The detected positron flux reveals the extra magnetism.
If the 2001 excess is confirmed, the result points to new physics.
AR I await the result with interest.
2021 January 29
The European Commission will establish a new authorisation mechanism to give national regulators the power to refuse vaccine exports. Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca had said it would cut deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine to the EU by 60% in Q1, citing production problems. The new mechanism will affect the continued flow to the UK of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
A New Approach
We have paid a heavy price for the failures of global cooperation in 2020. Now there is a mad scramble for vaccines, with vaccine nationalism more rampant than that of PPE last year.
We will soon need new ways to counter the virus as it mutates. We need to get from analysis of any new strain to vaccine development to production to manufacture at enormous scale, in weeks, as with antiviral and other biologics. This requires a new approach.
We need a global health infrastructure to stay on top of future pandemics.
AR Blair would lead the UK more wisely than the present PM.
2021 January 28
I am neither shocked nor surprised by American decline. The question is how it unfolds. The British decline lasted several decades. The Soviet Union shattered like a dropped glass. I think the American downfall will be more like the British.
America First ignored even the interests of its allies. America seems to be moving toward a political system in which any new president could send his predecessor to jail.
I think Joe Biden will seek thematic alliances rather than a comprehensive united front. He may team up with Japan and the Philippines over the South China Sea and with the Europeans for WTO reform.
The Chinese government will do everything it can to encourage European countries, Japan, and South Korea to put their own national interests first. For example, if Biden were to ask the Europeans to cut their trade with China, China would analyze what interests it shares with US allies and work with them on that basis.
The governments of Germany and France will choose their partnerships very carefully. Angela Merkel is rational, she knows how to balance forces, and she has principles. As long as Merkel is at the helm, Europeans will pursue an independent foreign policy.
East Asia will remain the focus of US foreign policy. Competition between China and America is mostly for digital superiority and market share in cyberspace. The digital market in East Asia is already larger than in Europe, and digital technologies are concentrated in China, Japan, and South Korea.
Nuclear weapons make direct war between China and the United States impossible. Even proxy wars are becoming less likely in the digital age. The competition between China and America is for technological superiority.
If a rising power wants to benefit from geographic expansion, it has to occupy a huge area. Taiwan is not about geopolitics but about secessionism. For China, Taiwan is like Northern Ireland is for the UK.
After the Cold War, the United States was the only superpower and the richest country in the world. But your achievements determine your authority. The world will believe in a China that does well.
AR Good analysis.
2021 Holocaust Memorial Day
Be the Light in the Darkness. This is a task for all people, all generations, and all time. We can, each in our own way, be the light that ensures the darkness can never return.
The Darkest Hour
Visibly shaken, his thesaurus of misery exhausted, UK prime minister Boris Johnson hung his head in shame as he addressed the nation on passing the milestone of 100,000 officially confirmed deaths from Covid-19.
Thomas L. Friedman
America's richest 10% own more than 80% of US stocks and have seen their wealth more than triple in 30 years. The bottom 50% rely on their day jobs in real markets to survive and had zero gains.
Big companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple have cash piles bigger than the reserves of many nation-states. They can buy up budding competitors and suck up all the talent and resources.
Maybe we should give cash assistance to only the most vulnerable and invest in infrastructure to improve productivity and create good jobs.
2021 January 26
Our universe is a swelling bubble in a multiverse. Outside it, more bubble universes exist, all immersed in an eternally expanding bubble bath. Space soon stops inflating inside a bubble universe, but inflation continues in the bath.
Space in its lowest energy state is a true vacuum. But a space can get stuck in a false vacuum state. A speck of false vacuum will occasionally relax into true vacuum. A swelling bubble of true vacuum makes a big bang.
A classical model cannot simulate false vacuum decay and bubble collisions. When n parts entangle in a shared quantum state, the computation gets exponentially more complicated as n grows.
A quantum annealer lets qubits seek out the lowest-energy configuration available. A team used one to emulate a quantum field undergoing vacuum decay but learned nothing new.
Clouds of gas cooled to nearly 0 K can form a Bose−Einstein condensate in a coherent quantum state. A team will use this to model the formation of bubbles like cosmic bubbles.
AR This is very early work.
2021 January 25
Big Brexit Bill
Eat cake or lose it. Anyone trying to take a fresh cream cake across the Channel may now have it impounded at customs because it is a dairy product. Dutch border officials confiscated sandwiches from motorists arriving in the Netherlands from the UK. A border guard: "Welcome to the Brexit, sir."
The bill for Brexit is being paid by British fishing fleets. It is being paid by the City of London as lost billions in transactions. It is being paid in car manufacturers shutting down. It is being paid in British meat exports rotting at European harbours. It is being paid by UK businesses drowned in red tape.
Companies will collectively need to employ 50,000 additional customs agents. Brexit will force British companies to complete 215 million additional, often highly complex, documents a year. The cost on businesses will be around £7 billion a year.
British government trade specialists are advising struggling British enterprises to relocate some of their operations out of the UK and into the EU. Some companies will stop exporting to the EU. Others will go to the wall. Welcome to the Brexit.
AR This is national economic suicide.
So far away: France is over the horizon
2021 January 24
ALBION is a documentary history that reads like a novel. More captivating than most histories and more urgent than most novels, it weaves a fine fictional thread through a factual chronicle of the ongoing political and social crisis in British life. The years of upheaval put the long love-hate relationship between Britain and Germany into a revealing new perspective.
2021 January 23
The UK is facing a constitutional crisis:
◼ Scotland: Voters favour independence by a margin of 52% to 48%. The SNP is on course for a
huge landslide in the Scottish parliament elections due in May.
◼ Northern Ireland: Voters want a referendum about the border by 51% to 44%. Most expect a
united Ireland within 10 years and most aged under 45 support reunification.
◼ Wales: Support for independence has grown to 23%.
◼ England: Voters who are happy for Scotland to leave the UK or who don't care balance those
who don't want Scotland to leave.
AR Brexit blowback.
2021 January 22
A supernova is a turbulent soup of transmuting matter. The explosive interior is largely hidden from view by clouds of hot gas. But 1D computer models of these interactions failed to explode.
We can now model massive stars with the complexity needed to achieve explosions. Turbulence only reveals its full impact in 3D simulations. We are finally understanding the role of neutrinos.
In a young star, the inward pull of gravity is balanced by the outward push of radiation from nuclear reactions in the core. As the star runs out of fuel, the core collapses, temperatures surge to 100 GK, and the core fuses into a solid ball of neutrons.
The outer layers of the star fall inward and bounce off the neutron core, creating a shock wave. To power an explosion, the shock wave must push out past the infalling outer layers.
Turbulence creates extra pressure behind the shock wave, pushing it outward. Away from the center, the gravitational pull is weaker, the surrounding matter thinner, and the time to absorb neutrinos greater. Energy from the neutrinos drives the explosion.
Supernovas create heavy elements. We can now calculate exactly how much of them to expect.
AR Good work!
2021 January 21
Biden Signs Executive Orders
The New York Times
President Biden signed 17 executive orders, memorandums, and proclamations from the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon. His actions addressed the pandemic, economic struggles, immigration and diversity issues, and the environment and climate change.
AR A good day's work.
2021 January 20
The Biden Presidency
As Joe Biden finally takes the oath of office in Washington DC, his first task is to reunite a divided America. His second is to end American isolationism.
His presidency will be forged or broken on the anvil of the intertwined triple threats of the pandemic, economic collapse, and climate catastrophe. These existential crises cannot be solved without multilateral cooperation.
Because eliminating the virus, rebuilding commerce and trade, and dealing with the climate crisis all depend on working more closely with other countries, Biden will abandon walls, tariffs, and xenophobia for a policy of Alliances First.
Biden knows that immunising Americans will not be enough to protect them as long as poor countries cannot afford vaccinations. A consortium of G20 countries should cover the estimated $30 billion needed to vaccinate the entire world.
We will not recover the reduced output and lost jobs of 2020 unless and until we have a synchronised global plan that lifts growth. If America, Europe, and Asia agree to coordinate their fiscal stimuli, this will be twice as effective in delivering growth as if each bloc acts on its own.
Biden will rejoin the Paris climate accords this week. The transition to a net-zero carbon economy is the greatest international endeavor of our times. The West must now lead on a global green new deal.
Biden will stand up to Chinese illiberalism and Russian opportunism. He will secure a revamped Iranian treaty. He could even declare and deliver a "no first use" policy on nuclear weapons and usher in a decade of disarmament.
AR All good in principle.
2021 January 19
Germany Is 150 Years Old
Otto von Bismarck unified Germany on 18 January 1871. Nowhere else has produced as much original, provocative and powerful art as Germany over the last 150 years. Germany is the greatest modern artistic nation in Europe.
All modern art begins with Richard Wagner. Adolf Hitler was a Wagner fan. The greatness of German modern art lies in the ways it has recorded, opposed, and remembered the nightmare of Germany between 1914 and 1945.
The boldest and most profound art of today's Germany embraces its dark and bloody roots. German art regained the courage to dive into a Wagnerian ocean of myth and memory in the most astonishing redemption in modern culture.
From a start in primeval Gothic religious sculptures, Josef Beuys translated Germanic folklore and ancient history in fat, felt, rusty metal, and mud. As time passes, these relics reveal themselves as a Holocaust memorial.
AR Herzliche Glückwünsche!
F-22 Raptor, top predator on planet Earth
"Thank you for riding Trump
Terror, Six Flag's newest four
year long roller coaster ride.
Please unfasten your seat
belts only when fully
stopped. Vomit buckets
are on your left."
Donald Trump began and ended his presidency with American carnage. America has suffered about 400,000 Covid deaths, the worst year for jobs since WW2, and the biggest stress test for US democracy since the civil war.
Trump was an agent of chaos. His reign at the White House crashed in a fireball of lies about his election defeat and deadly insurrection at the US Capitol. His unprecedented presidency was a shock to the establishment system.
Trump tried to govern by gut instinct. His Twitter feed gave a window on his thinking and showed a narcissistic craving for attention. He displayed the brashness and shamelessness that had served his business career.
The coronavirus changed everything. Trump played down the threat, failed to build a national testing strategy, and sidelined public health officials. Vaccine development was a success, but vaccine distribution was a failure.
Trump leaves a legacy of division, destruction, and death. He waged war on truth itself. He still has millions of acolytes whose divorce from American political reality threatens further instability and violence.
Trump exits the White House in defeat and disgrace, facing another impeachment trial in the Senate, banned from social media. History will remember him as the worst president ever.
AR That's a historic achievement.
James Comey was blamed by many liberals for putting Donald Trump in the White House. During the 2016 presidential election campaign, Comey said Hillary Clinton had been "extremely careless" in her handling of classified information.
Comey was horrified on 6 January 2021: "I was sickened to watch an attack on the literal and symbolic heart of our democracy, and, as a law enforcement person, I was angered. I am mystified and angry that Capitol Hill wasn't defended."
He compares the attack to the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the former Soviet Union. America has always had a "radioactive stew" of violence, he says, but in recent decades it has been largely kept inside a containment building (the law) and tamed by control rods (cultural taboos).
"What Donald Trump has done for the last five years is attack the building from the outside to weaken its foundation. He's withdrawn the control rods, and that's a recipe for a nuclear disaster, a radioactive release. That's what you saw on Capitol Hill, our own Chernobyl, when the ugly radioactive violence and racism of America explodes in public view."
Comey says the Republican party "needs to be burned down or changed" into a responsible conservative party. Trump should face criminal prosecution after leaving office.
"The best interests of the country would not be served by giving him that Donald Trump daily drama in our nation's capital for three years as part of the United States versus Trump .. the country is better served by impeaching him, convicting him in the Senate, and letting local prosecutors in New York pursue him for the fraudster he was before he took office."
AR Saving Justice
Covid deaths in UK
2021 January 18
Covid-related deaths are nearing 400,000 in the United States and multiple US states have now reported cases of a new Covid-19 variant first detected in the UK.
So far in January, America has added 3.9 million new Covid-19 cases and more than 51,000 virus-related deaths.
America's total Covid-19 death toll is now more than the number of Americans who died in WW1 and the Vietnam and Korean wars combined — and nearly as many as died in WW2.
Dr Rochelle Walensky: "By the middle of February, we expect half a million deaths in this country."
AR Per capita, this is still better than the UK.
The UK has left the EU. HM government has taken back control.
Brexiteers said decisions would be taken by the Westminster parliament. But the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill had just three days in the Commons and four in the Lords. The Future Relationship Bill was hurried through both Houses in a single day.
The Covid-19 crisis forced parliament to pass bills at high speed and with limited debate. Skeleton bills let ministers do what they wanted.
This era must end. Parliament must take back control.
AR Brits need a political revolution now.
A WHO team is on the ground in Wuhan to investigate the origins of the coronavirus.
The Communist Party of China has much to lose from transparency. The analogy between Chernobyl and Covid is not a neat one, but there are similarities.
Wildlife markets can spread new viruses. CPC authorities silenced whistle-blowers. Millions were allowed to fly out of Wuhan as the coronavirus spread.
We should apply global pressure on the CPC to help prevent future pandemics.
AR Work with the CPC, not against it.
2021 January 17
Germany: CDU Leader
Armin Laschet has won the contest to lead the CDU. He beat Friedrich Merz and Norbert Röttgen in two rounds of voting. He promises to follow Angela Merkel's consensual course and may be the CDU chancellor candidate in September elections.
If Laschet were the CDU chancellor candidate, he would campaign against SPD Olaf Scholz, currently the finance minister, and a Green candidate. Laschet could form a coalition with the Greens. He has ruled out a coalition with the far-right AfD.
Laschet has governed Nordrhein-Westfalen since 2017 in coalition with the FDP. He was previously an MEP and a minister for integration in NRW. He has been criticised for weak leadership and for nepotism over PPE procurement.
A ZDF poll shows only 28% of Germans think he has the calibre to become chancellor.
AR I'm not enthused.
2021 January 16
America and Europe
Harvard Kennedy School Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship executive director Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: "The European relationship has changed and will now be shrouded in skepticism .. Biden .. might have to accept that .. American influence in European defense, security, and other global priorities has diminished."
Europe analyst and former state department official Tyson Barker: "Many European institutions and diplomats are happily turning their back on the Trump administration .. They've been bemused by Trump's envoys, like Richard Grenell in Germany, who have turned up and started behaving like Fox News anchors and insulting the country they were supposed to be building relations with."
A senior German diplomat: "Trump's disengagement and hollowing out of the State Department meant that we were suddenly without our most important ally on projects in the Middle East and Africa. When they did take big stances on things like China or Iran, they chose not to involve anyone, leaving Europeans scrambling for a response .. the prospect of the US underpinning European security is not as attractive as it was when he and Obama left office."
A senior European diplomat: "From our perspective, Trump saw Europe as an enemy .. We cannot afford to be naive .. This anti-global, 'America First' undercurrent in American politics is still very much alive and we have to hedge our bets."
AR Sad but true.
UK and EU
Timothy Garton Ash
Gore Vidal: "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail."
Vidalism is baked into the Brexit project. Political logic is pushing both the UK and the EU to make the relative failure of the other the measure of their own success.
The Johnson government said the choice was Australia or Canada, but in fact the UK will be more like Switzerland, in a state of permanent negotiation with the EU.
The Johnson government has negotiated an excellent deal on trade in goods. German cars can continue to flow into Britain. For services, almost everything still remains to be agreed.
The Johnson deal is only a framework for future cooperation. In a long list of areas, it would be in the British interest to secure further agreements. Many of these are in the unilateral gift of the EU, and some can be withdrawn at will, as the Swiss have found out.
The asymmetry of power between the two sides is now more acute than ever. The UK has gained nominal sovereignty, but in terms of controlling its own destiny and advancing its national interests, the UK has lost sovereignty.
Permanent negotiations offer endless occasions for competition and conflict. The trick is to avoid falling into the Vidal trap. On many big issues, the strategic logic of cooperation cuts against the political logic of jealous rivalry.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove says we now have a "special relationship" with the EU. At the moment, that is just waffle.
AR Let the four UK cantons join the EU.
2021 January 15
American Rescue Plan
The New York Times
President-elect Joe Biden proposes a $1.9 trillion rescue package to combat the economic downturn and the Covid-19 crisis.
"No time to waste"
During this pandemic, millions of Americans, through no fault of their own, have lost the dignity and respect that comes with a job and a paycheck. There is real pain overwhelming the real economy. The very health of our nation is at stake.
Millions of people putting their lives at risk are the very people now at risk of losing their jobs: police officers, firefighters, all first responders, nurses, educators.
More than one in five Black and Latino households in America report that they do not have enough food to eat. [Yet] since this pandemic began, the wealth of the top 1% has grown by roughly $1.5 trillion.
AR No time to waste indeed.
Kamala Harris is accomplished and politically savvy. She was once the much younger partner of the Speaker of the California state assembly Willie Brown. Barbra Streisand was at Brown's 60th birthday celebration and Clint Eastwood "spilled champagne on the Speaker's new steady" — Harris.
Over the course of the relationship, Brown gave Harris a BMW, and she travelled with him to Paris, attended the Academy awards with him, and was part of the entourage that flew to Boston with him in 1994. Donald Trump sent his jet to Boston to fly Brown, Harris, and friends to New York City.
2021 January 14
Trump Impeached Again
The New York Times
President Trump became the first president to be impeached twice, after the House approved a single charge citing his role in whipping up a mob that stormed the Capitol. He faces a Senate trial that could disqualify him from future office.
Lord of misrule
It remains uncertain whether this is the moment the fever breaks or merely a harbinger of further US polarization, violence, and decline.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi: "The president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion, against our common country. He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love."
House majority leader Steny Hoyer: "Trump has constructed a glass palace of lies, fearmongering and sedition. Last Wednesday, on January 6, the nation and the world watched it shatter to pieces."
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy: "A vote to impeach will further divide the nation. A vote to impeach will further fan the flames of partisan division."
AR He was miscast as president.
2021 January 13
House Will Impeach President
The New York Times
Lawmakers move to impeach the president on Wednesday, after formally calling on VP Mike Pence to use the 25th Amendment. Pence has rejected the request.
Physics is my religious belief.
I grew up in New York City. My father was from Poland, my mother from Italy. After the University of Chicago, I did graduate work in mathematics at Princeton.
I got involved with the project of understanding whether quantum field theory could be applied to the strong interaction. I did hard calculations that nobody else could do.
David Gross and I did the calculations in 1972. In 1973, at my first conference, Richard Feynman said our work was important. I was 21. The Nobel Prize came in 2004.
In the summer of 1977, I thought about the Higgs particle and whether there might be more than one Higgs field. With more than one Higgs field you could have symmetry patterns.
The Higgs symmetry can address the problem of why the laws of physics look the same forward and backward in time. The predicted axion addresses the problem.
Axions are the only solution.
AR Wilczek predicts axions with mass in the μeV range and numerous enough ABB to behave as dark matter. In a strong EM field, they should sometimes decay into photons.
2021 January 12
Inciting an Insurrection
The New York Times
The attack on the Capitol on Wednesday was the culmination of a campaign waged by the president of the United States and his allies to overturn the results of a free and fair election.
That campaign involved a barrage of lies, farcical legal challenges, and attempts to have the vote count changed outright. When it all failed, the president held a rally on the National Mall and sent the angry crowd to march on the Capitol.
The president encouraged his supporters to converge on Washington on January 6.
Trump: "We will not take it anymore. We will stop the steal. States want to revote .. Because you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong .. We fight. We fight like hell. If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."
The charges are clear. The offenses occurred in public. There can be no republic if leaders foment a violent overthrow of the government if they lose an election.
2021 January 11
Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel has approval ratings of 70%.
This week, the CDU chooses a new party leader in a three-way contest:
◼ Friedrich Merz is a social and fiscal conservative who believes in low taxes and a smaller state. He says liberal policies have driven CDU supporters into the arms of the AfD.
◼ Armin Laschet is the prime minister of Nordrhein-Westfalen.
◼ Norbert Röttgen is the Bundestag foreign affairs committee chair. He says the CDU must deepen its appeal to young, progressive voters with environmental programs and digital investment.
The CDU verdict will be delivered by a secret ballot of 1001 party officials.
Kanzlerin Merkel has generally held the line for a politics of decency, compassion, and internationalism. Dr Röttgen could be expected to follow in that tradition.
AR My preference is clear.
Frank Wilczek has a vision that replaces our classical idea of physical creation with one consisting entirely of spacetime, self-propagating fields, and properties. The ingredients of the play out through time in accordance with just a handful of rules, to generate a world of unimaginable complexity, contingency, and abundance.
Wilczek describes the behaviour of electrons around an atom as like a vibrating cymbal, the music of the spheres, in is a poetic understanding of fields. His idea of the scientific method "combines the humble discipline of respecting the facts and learning from Nature with the systematic chutzpah of using what you think you've learned aggressively".
Wilczek turns out to be a true visionary. He has written a human testament to the moment when the discipline of physics, as we used to understand it, came to a stop: "Our machines .. will move the frontier of knowledge in directions, and arrive at places, that unaided human brains can't go."
AR Must read
2021 January 10
An elected institution that opposes elections is inviting its own overthrow. Many members of Congress betrayed their constitutional mission.
When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Donald Trump lied at pace. For the most part these were small lies, and their main effect was cumulative.
In November 2020, he told a big lie. The issue was the right to rule the most powerful country in the world and the efficacy and trustworthiness of its succession procedures. The claim was wrong, it was made in bad faith amid unreliable sources, and it challenged both evidence and logic.
The Republican party is a coalition of two types of people: those who would game the system (most of the politicians, some of the voters) and those who dream of breaking it (a few of the politicians, many of the voters). The breakers provide cover for the gamers by distracting voters from the reality that Republican government serves minority interests.
Trump was unlike other breakers in that he seemed to have no ideology. His objection to institutions was that they might constrain him personally. His vision never went further than a mirror.
For a coup to work in 2024, the breakers will require an angry minority, organized for nationwide violence, ready to add intimidation to an election. To claim that the other side stole an election is to promise to steal one yourself. It is also to claim that the other side deserves to be punished.
America cannot be a democratic republic if we tell refuse to accept the equality of others, heed their voices, and count their votes.
AR Beware: 2024 elections in both USA and UK
2021 January 9
The climate crisis continued unabated in 2020, with the joint highest global temperatures on record, alarming heat and record wildfires in the Arctic, and a record 29 tropical storms in the Atlantic.
Despite a 7% fall in fossil fuel burning, CO2 continued to build up in the atmosphere. The average surface temperature across the planet in 2020 was 1.25 C higher than in the pre-industrial period.
Only 2016 matched the heat in 2020. The past 6 years have been the hottest 6 on record. Europe saw its hottest year on record. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere reached a new record in 2020.
AR Time to act
2021 January 8
Milky Way Bubbles
The image of the Milky Way from X-ray space telescope eROSITA show a huge cloud billowing upward from the galactic disk, with a fainter twin reflected below.
The North Polar Spur is a huge arc to the "north" of the galactic plane that emits radio waves. An expanding shock wave from an event millions of years ago may power the arc.
The Fermi space telescope saw the faint gamma-ray glow of two huge lobes, each extending roughly 20 kly from the center of the galaxy. They look like huge clouds of hot gas.
The X-ray bubbles are maybe 45 000 kly tall. Their X-rays shine from hot gas at 3−4 MK expanding outward at 300−400 km/s. The northern bubble aligns with the spur.
If a large cloud of gas once fell into the black hole at the heart of the galaxy, the hole would have swallowed half of it and blown out the rest north and south as huge bubbles.
AR Big history
2021 January 7
Joe Biden Confirmed
The New York Times
The US Congress confirmed President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s victory early Thursday.
US Capitol Attack
The New York Times
President Donald Trump and his Republican enablers in Congress incited a violent attack Wednesday against the US government. This cannot be allowed to stand.
Trump's seditious rhetoric prompted a mob of thousands of people to storm the US Capitol building, some breaking onto the House and Senate floors, where the nation's elected representatives had gathered to perform their constitutional duty.
The mob attacked the seat of American government and forced the suspension of congressional debate. They shattered windows and broke doors, clashing with overwhelmed security forces as they shouted their support for Trump and their defiance of the lawful results of the 2020 election. US leaders were sent scurrying for shelter.
Trump sparked these assaults. He has railed for months against the verdict rendered by voters in November. He summoned his supporters to gather in Washington and encouraged them to march on the Capitol. He told them that the election was being stolen. He told them to fight.
Republican senator Mitt Romney: "What happened at the US Capitol today was an insurrection, incited by the president of the United States."
AR Let Mike Pence take over for 2 weeks.
2021 January 6
Our vision is to solve artificial intelligence. We want to understand intelligence and recreate it artificially, and then use that as a tool to help us understand the world and make a positive impact.
Proteins are like little biomachines. They are switches, motors, little factories. Biology at that level looks like digital code. There are 200 million or so proteins out there in nature.
If you can solve protein folding, then you can start unlocking some of the secrets about how life works much faster than you can with experiments. You can better understand disease.
The proteins in the coronavirus were sequenced early on by Chinese researchers. Some of the structures had been experimentally determined, but not all. Our AlphaFold system was pretty accurate, but we didn't want to make big claims.
In the future, AI might contribute to things like material design or protein design, so that we have proteins that can break down waste plastics or create renewable biofuel.
We hope to be a big part of breakthrough work in science, from renewable energy and nuclear fusion to quantum chemistry and finding cures for diseases.
2021 January 5
America was first discovered by Ice Age hunter-gatherers. Once the ice sheets thawed, civilization evolved independently on both sides of the Atlantic. Europe rose to world dominance with stolen American wealth.
Plagues were the main conquerors of the New World. Its peoples had never met such sicknesses. A great wave of smallpox washed through the Americas in the 1520s, cutting down the natives as severely as Europe's Black Death.
Mesoamerica's population was some 20 million in 1500, roughly twice that of Spain and Portugal together. In 1519, Spanish invaders advanced to the Aztec capital, bigger than any city in Europe.
The Spaniards were assigned a palace and an uneasy peace held for months. But then Spaniards massacred hundreds of unarmed Aztecs and open warfare broke out. As the invaders tried to flee, the Aztecs slaughtered them.
Spain rebuilt its army and conquered the Aztec empire in 1521. Pestilence was its ally. From 1520 to 1576, Mesoamerica's population fell from 20 million to 2 million, and to 1 million in the 1620s.
When Pizarro first landed in Peru in 1526, he found a thriving Inca empire. When he returned with an army five years later, he found an empty ruin. Smallpox had killed the emperor and maybe half the people.
2021 January 4
The psychodrama of Brexit has created Lesser Britain.
In 1971, an HM government white paper imagined the UK declining to join the European project: "In a single generation we should have renounced an imperial past and rejected a European future. Our friends everywhere would be dismayed."
Fifty years later, Boris Johnson and his allies imagine a new golden age of global mercantile power. They talk of "world-beating" initiatives and say Britain is a "much better country" than every other. Friends everywhere are dismayed.
The British imperial mindset is that you are either the top dog or you are being suppressed. Imperialists imagined the UK as the dominant power within the EU and called Britain the one indispensable ally of the United States. English historian Linda Colley sees "a persistent inclination to pursue empire vicariously by clambering like a mouse on the American eagle's head".
Britain could not dominate the EU but as a member it was a transatlantic bridge. Outside the EU, the UK loses much of its ability to perch on the American eagle's head.
In the 2015 election campaign, Conservatives told English voters to give them a majority, or Scottish nationalists might hold the balance of power at Westminster. They said the English "hate being ruled or bossed by foreigners. French, Germans, Scots, anyone."
Brexit has awakened English nationalism.
AR It will fail.
2021 January 3
Brexit is shock therapy. Britain must change or decline. We need to decide how we:
▸ Get annual economic growth well above 2%
▸ Become a global centre of technology innovation
▸ Make Britain a more attractive place to do business
▸ Reform our public services
▸ Cut crime and the numbers living on the breadline
▸ Rebuild our infrastructure
▸ Preserve the integrity of the UK
▸ See our new role in the world
Brexit is a spur to answer these questions.
Boris Johnson has appointed 52 new life peers to the House of Lords.
Johnson ignored the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission to ennoble Peter Cruddas, who resigned as Conservative party co-treasurer in 2012 after being found selling access to the prime minister.
Johnson has also elevated new crossbench peers who backed his position on Brexit. Appointing peers for favours damages the credibility of the Lords. He may be doing so to weaken Lords scrutiny of his government.
The total number of peers is now 833.
A new poll shows that a general election now would give a hung parliament. Conservatives would lose 81 seats, leaving them with 284 seats and Labour with 282, and the PM would lose his own seat.
Labour would win 38% of the vote, Tories 36%, Lib Dems 9%, and Greens 7%. The SNP would win 57 of the 59 Scottish seats. UK wide, Lib Dems would win 2 seats.
AR Blair for PM. Reform Westmonster. PR now.
My local beach at high noon, 2021-01-02
2021 January 2
RIP UK 2021
Relations between the nations of UK4 are a problem:
◼ In Scotland, a recent poll puts support for independence 16 points ahead of remaining in the UK. In 2016, 62% of Scottish voters backed remaining in the EU. The SNP dominates Scottish politics, and its platform is to leave the UK and rejoin the EU.
Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon: "There is no deal that will ever make up for what Brexit takes away from us. It's time to chart our own future as an independent European nation."
◼ In Northern Ireland, nationalist politicians are confident that, if a vote were called, NI could be reunited with the Republic of Ireland. Republicans see NI as a casualty of Brexit. NI shares a land border with the republic, which is in the EU. Brexit already ties NI to follow EU rules.
NI SDLP MP Matthew O'Toole: "Brexit has dragged up issues that had felt settled here and put them to the top of our agenda."
◼ In Wales, although there is no strong independence movement, support for business as usual has become untenable, as nationalists become increasingly hostile toward the Conservative government in Westminster.
◼ In England, resentment of a status quo that looks like London funding its poorer relatives in the other three nations is growing. Because the Conservative party base is in England, UK prime minister Boris Johnson could care less about the rest.
AR Break it up. Call it a casualty of Brexit.
Britain Has Lost Itself
My grandparents escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 and found a home in Britain. They felt not just gratitude but also a deep attachment to their adopted homeland. They became naturalized British citizens. But they would be heartbroken to see it today.
The vote to leave the EU in 2016 revealed deep prejudices about migrants. Xenophobia and racism made an ugly return to the mainstream. Political rot set in. The government now plays fast and loose with parliamentary procedure and international treaties.
I applied for German citizenship. Germany today embodies decency and respect. Britain is a sad shadow of its former self.
AR I may have left it too late.
2021 January 1
A New Roaring Twenties
There are reasons to look forward to the decade to come with enthusiasm and confidence. A mass vaccination program is under way and should pave the way for a return to a degree of normal life by Easter. A robust economic recovery may follow the post-Brexit trade deal which came into effect last night and unleash a tide of business investment and innovation.
The year 2020 proved remarkable for science. The development of new Covid vaccines, along with breakthroughs in the search for vaccines for malaria and research into proteins, holds out the prospect of a new golden age of medicine in which Britain can play a leading role. The pandemic has led businesses to embrace new technology and to adopt new ways of working and engaging with customers. The CEBR forecasts UK GDP to be 25% higher than that of France by 2035.
This year the UK government will host the G7 summit of leading western nations, to which it has also invited the leaders of India, South Korea, and Australia. It will also host the UN climate change conference COP26, in Glasgow. The new year offers a chance for a new beginning and the start of what we hope will prove to be the Roaring Twenties.
AR This vision of the decade to come is too parochial and nationalistic by far and illustrates the shortcomings that may limit British achievements in a transforming world.
A Tragic National Error
This is a day of sadness. The departure of the UK from the EU remains a tragic national error. We have expelled ourselves from a union that was good for this country and the world.
At least the EU can no longer be blamed for our continuing tensions, inequalities and failures of governance. Brexit was opposed by majorities in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London and other cities, as well as by most young people and most graduates. None of that is going to change, despite the overall majority verdict in 2016.
Two of the most striking consequences of the vote were the unity of the EU27 in the face of Brexit compared with the growing disunity of the UK4 over the issue. But the delusions that fed and fostered Brexit still have much of the Conservative party and press in their grip.
The Brexit movement fatally confuses sovereignty with power. We live in an interconnected world. We shall never cease to be Europeans.
AR All the arguments for Brexit apply, mutatis mutandis, to motivate the breakup of the UK and a push for Dorset to break free from the Westmonster.
BLOG 2020 Q4