Andy Ross 2018-04-21
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Der Super-Boom der
deutschen Wirtschaft
scheint am Ende



2018 April 21

Germany and Immigration

Der Spiegel

Many Germans feel like foreigners in in their own country. Almost every fourth child born in Germany in 2016 had a foreign mother. Today one out of five people living in the country has immigrant roots.

Some Germans fear their government is leading them toward a bleak future. A conspiracy theory holds that sinister powers are planning to swap out the ethnic German population and replace it with foreigners. Large segments of the German population are suffering from a kind of stress relating to identity.

Heimat mixes the feeling of home with a sense of belonging and familiarity. Hermann Bausinger: "Heimat is the product of a feeling of conformity with a person's own small world. When people are no longer secure in their surroundings, when they are constantly exposed to irritations, then that Heimat is destroyed."

The government intends to deport more people. But Germany took in a huge number of immigrants, many of them poorly educated or illiterate. Around two thirds of children with immigrant backgrounds in large cities go to elementary schools where most of the students are immigrants or socially disadvantaged.

Jens Schneider studies the chances for social advancement among immigrant families living in cities: "Socialization via work did wonders for the guest workers and it still works today."

AR Arbeit macht frei.

Climate Change

Joachim Müller-Jung

Because of a break: in the sea, in the ice, in the countryside and at high altitudes, climate change is getting faster and faster and leaves its mark more radically than ever in the data series.

Switty times for good predictions: climate change overturns. That's the way it sounds more and more often. But is that true? Are the previous predictions still valid? For those who have been critical of climate research for decades and dismiss climate forecasts — often politically motivated — as a hoax, they have never been so. For the others who have remained on the carpet of scientific empiricism, an oppressive realization condenses: climate forecasts are actually not only caught up in reality, they are increasingly overtaken — and therefore remain a delicate business.

AR Google "translation"

2018 April 20

Quantum Time

Michael Brooks

Time traps us in an eternal present as it conveys us from the past to the future. Most modern efforts to understand it begin with the second law of thermodynamics. This says that the entropy of the universe always increases.

But the second law of thermodynamics only applies to closed systems whose total energy remains unchanged. Relativity says time stops for speeding photons. And almost all the basic laws of physics are reversible in time.

Carlo Rovelli and others aim to dig deeper. Thermodynamics uses statistically averaged properties of large numbers of atoms to finesse our ignorance of what individual atoms are doing. This averaging process recalls quantum uncertainty.

Quantum theory and relativity disagree on time. In the equations of quantum theory, time is not a dynamic component of the fabric of the universe, as it is in relativity. It is a steady beat of a clock against which the processes of reality play out.

In 1972, Alain Connes discovered a quantum version of time in algebra that John von Neumann had developed to explore quantum theory. In 1994, Connes met Rovelli and they began to collaborate.

Connes and Rovelli agree that time's arrow emerges from interactions between microscopic quantum objects and macroscopic classical objects. Before interaction, we have only probabilities concerning the properties of a quantum object. Afterwards, uncertainty collapses into classical certainty.

But the uncertainty principle says our knowledge of the quantum world is limited even after measurement. The more precisely we know one property, the less we know its complementary property. Since all measurement outcomes are probabilistic, varying from case to case, the order in which we make measurements determines their outcome.

There is no unique order of time in the quantum world. Temporal order appears only when processes such as measurement irreversibly turn quantum phenomena into observable classical phenomena. Applied to thermal systems, what emerges matches the second law of thermodynamics.

Perhaps entanglement creates time. In this view, time originates from the distribution of quantum matter relative to the background space. The background space takes on the role of a clock, but one in many superposed states simultaneously, with each element in the superposition beating out a different time.

Different distributions of matter with varying degrees of entanglement give something equivalent to a collection of different entropy states, despite the universe as a whole having every state coexisting and no passing time.

If physics tells us that the experience of now and the difference between past and future are not fundamental to the fabric of reality, perhaps we need to marry physics and psychology.

Rovelli: "I don't think we're anywhere near the end of the story."

AR I proposed a psychophysics of now in my 2006 paper About Time. Now I hope to extend the story with an epistemology of quantum phenomena.

TESS launch

TESS launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on April 18.
TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) will orbit between the Earth and the Moon.
It will seek planets orbiting 200 000 nearby stars and identify the best ones.

Hottest April day
here in my lifetime:
spent it hiking 30 km
and sea bathing

Janelle Monáe
Pynk (4:28)

5-color graph with 826 vertices

Tomahawk launch
US Navy
USS Monterey fires Tomahawk

Missile over Syria
US, UK, France hit Syria:
"Mission Accomplished"

"James Comey is a proven
LEAKER & LIAR .. a weak and
untruthful slime ball."
Donald Trump


"This president is unethical,
and untethered to truth and
institutional values. His
leadership is transactional,
ego driven and about
personal loyalty."
James Comey

Symphony of the Seas
Cutout view


2018 April 19

Brexit — EU Action

Financial Times

Brussels is issuing dozens of legal proposals to prepare the EU for a hard Brexit.

The European Commission has drafted the proposals to amend laws and give special powers to regulators in the case of a No Deal scenario. The proposals cover a wide range including trade quotas, the car industry, transport companies, the European Space Agency, financial services, and professional qualifications.

The push is intended to reduce uncertainty.

Brexit — Lords Defeat

The Guardian

The UK government has suffered two big defeats in the House of Lords on the Brexit bill.

Peers backed an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill that would force the government to explain what it has done to pursue remaining in a customs union. They also passed a separate amendment that would limit the power of ministers to slash red tape without the approval of parliament.

Peers and MPs will keep playing with the bill in a process known as "ping pong".

British Housing

The Times

The Victorians built homes so well that most are still standing today. Britain's new build homes will not be standing so proud in future.

The broken British housing market is far too reliant on a small number of large private companies. Poor workmanship, low build standards, tiny rooms, too few and too small windows, and a lack of architectural imagination are commonplace. These symptoms have been left to fester by weak regulation.

Builders find it all too easy to cut corners to boost profits, leaving the mess for future generations to clear up.

AR British housing and roads are poor, British health care and school systems are overstretched, and British prospects look bleaker than those of many other EU member states. So go for hard Brexit — logisch, nicht?

2018 April 18

A Better Place

Daniel Finkelstein

Economic growth makes countries get richer, healthier, better educated, more liberal, and more equal. Over time the effect is transformative.

Before his death last year, Hans Rosling wrote Factfulness to summarise the lessons he had learnt. He found that public understanding of the world is skewed. We are more pessimistic than is warranted, less aware of the way the world is improving than we should be, more aware of individual catastrophes than of global trends.

Rosling: "Poor developing countries no longer exist as a distinct group .. Today most people, 75%, live in middle-income countries. Not poor, not rich, but somewhere in the middle and starting to live a reasonable life."

Big drivers of this change are improvements in public health and women's education. As more women learn to read and write, they understand better how to take advantage of public health provision, fewer children die in infancy, and the birth rate falls as parents stop having large families as an insurance policy.

Most people when asked about the world's population place too many people in Europe and the Americas and too few in Africa and Asia. By 2100 more than 80% of the world's population will live in Africa and Asia. The largest proportion of that increase will be in Africa.

The world is making progress. The past five years has been the greatest in history for the reduction of child mortality. Global capitalism is not a gigantic flop and neither are aid programs.

Bill Gates: "The only reason things have improved is because people get upset about things and decide to do something about it."

Old Graph Problem Is Yielding

Evelyn Lamb

In 1950, Edward Nelson asked a question. Draw a graph of points connected by lines, all the same length and all in the plane, and color all the points so that no two connected points have the same color. What's the smallest number of colors you need to color any such graph, even one with an infinite number of vertices?

The problem is now known as the Hadwiger−Nelson problem or the problem of finding the chromatic number of the plane. Researchers soon found that the infinite graph can be colored by no fewer than 4 and no more than 7 colors.

Aubrey de Grey posted an paper stating that the chromatic number of the plane is at least 5. He showed how to draw a planar unit-distance graph that can't be colored with only 4 colors. He found such a graph with 20 425 vertices and later shrank it to 1581 vertices.

De Grey pitched the problem of finding the minimal 5-color graph as a Polymath problem. Work on Polymath problems is done publicly, and anyone can contribute. Someone soon found a graph with 1577 vertices. Marijn Heule has now lowered this number to 826 vertices.

AR Old problem? It's younger than me!

2018 April 17

Iran−Israel War?

Thomas L. Friedman

Israeli jets attacked Syria's T4 air base last Monday. Back in February, an Iranian drone launched by a Quds Force unit operating out of the T4 base was shot down after it penetrated Israeli airspace. It may have been part of a military strike on Israel.

If Iran were to strike back at Israeli targets, Israel may use the opportunity to make a major counterstrike on Iran's entire military infrastructure in Syria. Israel will not let Iran establish a massive missile threat in Syria.

Iran claims it is setting up bases in Syria to protect it from Israel. But its network of bases and missile factories in Syria appears to be a power play by Quds Force leader Qassem Suleimani to extend Iran's grip on key parts of the Sunni Arab world.

Lost Civilizations?

Adam Frank

Direct evidence of an industrial civilization in the geologic record wouldn't go back past 2.6 My BP. Perhaps an early mammal rose briefly to civilization building during the Paleocene epoch about 60 My BP. The fraction of life that gets fossilized is small and variable, so we could miss an event that only lasted 100 ky.

Our activity has already laid down traces that will be detectable 100 My in the future. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon back into the atmosphere that was once part of living tissues. This ancient C is depleted in one of its three naturally occurring isotopes. The more fossil fuels we burn, the more the balance of these C isotopes shifts. Increases in temperature also leave isotopic signals.

Some 56 My BP, Earth passed through the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). During the PETM, the planet's average temperature climbed 7 K above today and typical summer temperatures at the poles reached 20 C. Looking at the isotopic record from the PETM, scientists see both C and O isotope ratios spiking in exactly the way we expect to see in the Anthropocene record. Other events in the Cretaceous left the ocean anoxic for many millennia.

These events almost certainly do not indicate previous nonhuman industrial civilizations. The PETM isotope spikes rise and fall over hundreds of ky, but we're dumping fossil C into the atmosphere much faster than that. So if an earlier industrial era is short-lived, we might find it hard to see it.

Perhaps some planets have cycles of civilization building and collapse. If a civilization uses fossil fuels, the climate change they trigger can lead to ocean anoxia and other conditions for making new fossil fuels. The demise of a civilization might sow the seed for new civilizations later.

2018 April 16

The President Is Not Above The Law

The New York Times

President Trump may act to cripple or shut down an investigation by America's top law-enforcement agencies into his campaign and administration. Lawmakers need to be preparing now for that possibility.

If Trump takes such drastic action, he will be striking at the foundation of the American government, attempting to set a precedent that a president, alone among American citizens, is above the law. What can seem now like a political sideshow will instantly become a constitutional crisis.

For months, investigators have been examining whether Trump's campaign conspired with the Russian government to undermine American democracy, and whether the president misused his power by obstructing justice in an effort to end that investigation.

The president is not a king but a citizen, deserving of the presumption of innocence and other protections, yet also vulnerable to lawful scrutiny.

2018 April 15

Russia Resurgent

Michael Burleigh

Russia today is a resource kleptocracy in which a privileged elite hide their wealth in Western banks. Vladimir Putin and his supporters are driven by nationalism and realpolitik. They find it easy to interfere in Western democracy.

The Syrian civil war is playing out a major sectarian conflict between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. Israel fears that Iran is establishing bases in Syria. Turkey aims to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state.

Thanks to Russians, Iranians, and Hezbollah, Bashar al-Assad has routed the rebels. Putin can make life difficult for the West in other crises. Russia aims to become the dominant power in the Mideast.

AR The Anglo-American alliance and Russia are on a collision course. If they do collide, the United States will win. But the UK will lose unless France is in the alliance too. If the AA warlords push too hard, France will hang back with Germany.

The Order of Time

Carlo Rovelli

Time is familiar and intimate. We inhabit time as fish live in water. Our being is in time.

Time passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level. The difference is small but can be measured with precision timepieces. A clock placed on the floor runs a little more slowly than one on a table.

Einstein understood this slowing down of time a century before we had clocks precise enough to measure it. He imagined that the Sun and the Earth each modified the space and time that surrounded them. This modification of the structure of time influences the movement of bodies, causing them to fall toward each other.

The Earth is a large mass and slows down time in its vicinity. If things fall, it is due to this slowing down of time. Where time passes uniformly, as in deep space, things do not fall, they float.

A clock on a table and another on the ground run at different speeds. The question of which one tells the time is meaningless. There is a different time for every point in space. We describe how things evolve in local time, and how local times evolve relative to each other.

Time is elastic in our personal experience of it. Before Einstein showed how time really is elastic, how did we get it into our heads that time passes everywhere at the same speed? It was certainly not our direct experience of the passage of time.

When trains become commonplace and fast, the problem arises of synchronising clocks between one city and another. The young Einstein worked in the Swiss Patent Office, dealing with patents relating to the synchronisation of clocks at railway stations. It dawned on him that the problem of synchronising clocks was ultimately insoluble.

AR Time, entropy, quantum gravity — my garden of eternal delight.

2018 April 14

How to Become an Intellectual

Paul J. Griffiths

Intellectuals think a lot. To prepare yourself for a life of thought:

1 Find something to think about. This may be easy, like falling in love. But you can only love what you see, and what you see is given in part by location and chance. Your topics need not be things you love or like. Follow what provokes thought in you.

2 Find time. Spend at least three hours every day, excepting sabbaths and vacations, on your intellectual work. Those hours need to be free from distractions. Undistracted time is when intellectual work is done. Learn to be alone as you work.

3 Gain skills and knowledge. Once you know what you want to think about, learn whatever skills are necessary for good thinking about it, and whatever body of knowledge is requisite for such thinking. The most essential skill is attention.

4 Find interlocutors. Solitude must grow out of and continually be nourished by conversation with your interlocutors. You need them. Seek the interlocutors you need by attending closely to work of the sort you hope to do.

An intellectual life is hard and lonely. Live it only if you have to.

Semi-Classical Gravity

Anil Ananthaswamy

John Wheeler: "Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells spacetime how to curve."

General relativity works on scales where classical physics rules. But quantum particles don't have definite positions before you measure them, so you can't predict how they will curve spacetime. In situations where both gravitational and quantum effects are big — no answer.

In the semi-classical Einstein equation, the energy-momentum tensor is replaced by a quantum expectation value that represents the average matter distribution you would expect to obtain from many measurements. This lets matter be quantum while its gravitational effects are classical. It often seems to work.

The semi-classical Einstein equation can't cope with the moment when a quantum state vector collapses to a point in spacetime. Allowing superpositions in spacetime can let signals go faster than light or break the predictably probabilistic nature of quantum systems.

We say the collapse is due to an act of measurement that shifts the quantum world into classical certainty. But soon after the big bang, collapsing quantum states are thought to have played a key role in cosmic development. A cosmic collapse has no measurement.

A spontaneous collapse model lets unmeasured quantum states collapse randomly. The half-life to collapse for a single quantum particle in an entangled bunch is very long, but if one goes, they all go. As bunch size and the number of particles in it increases, the probability approaches 1 that the quantum state of the bunch will collapse. Microscopic bunches stay quantum; macroscopic bunches become classical.

A collapse model with semi-classical Newtonian gravity says individual collapse events happen randomly at specific points in spacetime, causing matter to take up definite positions and fix gravity. Spacetime remains classical, without superposition.

If gravity is a quantum force, it should create entanglement. An experiment to test this lets two masses, each of them in a separate superposition of states, fall freely. The interaction between them is gravitational. Test whether the quantum states of the two masses are entangled with each other: If they are, gravity is a quantum force and semi-classical gravity is dead.

Carlo Rovelli: "I bet 99 to one that the outcome will be consistent with gravity having quantum properties."

AR I do too — blog 2018-03-08.

2018 April 13

A German Revolution?

Anna Sauerbrey

Last Saturday the CDU Werteunion met in Schwetzingen to adopt a conservative manifesto. They oppose political Islam and will defend European culture. They demand a halt to immigration.

The anchor of German conservatism in the Bundestag is the CSU, whose caucus leader says a silent majority in Germany is underrepresented and awaits a conservative revolution.

The new conservatives see immigration not just as a problem for the welfare system, integration, housing, and security. Many frame it as an existential threat to Germany and the West.

AR Schwetzingen — ideal base for a cultural revival!

Republican Doom?

The New York Times

House Speaker Paul Ryan's retirement announcement blindsided House Republicans. Candidates and their campaigners were counting on him to lead them to victory in the November midterm elections.

Ryan's retirement makes it harder to prevent Democrat control of the House. Up to 50 Republican seats are at risk. In many districts, Trump's approval rating is well below 40%, which spells doom.

Former Republican representative Thomas M. Davis III: "This is the nightmare scenario."

AR Trump is already the nightmare scenario.

Life on Venus?

New Scientist

Venus looks bad for life. At the surface there's no water, temperatures reach 750 K, and the atmospheric pressure is 90 bar. But about 50 km above the surface, sulphuric acid clouds have relatively mild temperatures and pressures.

Discoveries of ever more microbes on Earth that live in acidic conditions is strengthening the case. Every major branch of life has acidophiles. Such organisms consume the sulfur compounds identified in the Venusian clouds.

Venus may have hosted liquid water on its surface for at least 2 billion years of its existence, say NASA simulations. The acid clouds may have been cool and dilute enough to sustain life.

At least three major international missions aim to revisit Venus over the next decade.

AR See blog 2017-11-14, 2015-08-31, 2014-12-23.

2018 April 12

The Law and the President

The New York Times

Early Monday morning, FBI agents raided the New York office, home and hotel room of the personal lawyer for the president of the United States. They seized evidence of possible federal crimes, including bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations related to payoffs made to women who say they had affairs with the president.

That evening the president surrounded himself with the top American military officials and launched unbidden into a tirade against the top American law enforcement officials. His former campaign chairman is under indictment and his former national security adviser has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators. His son-in-law and other associates are also under investigation.

Donald Trump has spent his career in the company of developers and celebrities, and also of grifters, cons, sharks, goons, and crooks. He cuts corners, he lies, he cheats, he brags about it, and for the most part, he's gotten away with it, protected by threats of litigation, hush money, and his own bravado. Those methods have their limits.


Terry Eagleton

John Gray is a misanthrope for whom human life has no unique importance. He believes that all humanists have done is substitute humanity for God. What remains is the kind of atheism that renounces God while having a low estimate of humanity.

When Jesus speaks of salvation in terms of feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, he speaks as a devout Jew, for whom the spiritual is in the first place a matter of how one behaves toward others. Judaism forbids making images of God, because the only image of God is human flesh and blood. The Jewish God is of the future, and the only image of the future is the failure of the present.

AR A world has a timestamp as its epistemic anchor. My world now is at the intersection of all accessible futures.

Symphony of the Seas

Royal Caribbean
Symphony of the Seas: 362 m long, 228 000 gross tons, 6680 passengers

Vladislav Surkov says Russia
has ended its epic journey
toward the West after four
centuries of vain attempts to
join Western civilization.

"As long as there are people
sitting in Russia whose job
it is to try and interfere
with elections around the
world, this is going to be
an ongoing conflict."
Mark Zuckerberg

Calabi-Yau manifold 2D slice of 6D Calabi−Yau
quintic manifold

Wearing your outdoor shoes
indoors can risk your health.
Microbes out on the street
will stick to your shoes.
Keeping shoes on at home
spreads everything you
stepped in that day.


Voters want a referendum
on the final Brexit terms.
A new poll finds 44% say
yes to a vote on the
terms, only 36% no.

Mouse brain Tony Zador explains
MAPseq (2:50)

Houses of Parliament by Monet Claude Monet
Houses of Parliament

Credit Suisse Exhibition:
Monet and Architecture
National Gallery, London
9 April — 29 July 2018

"Der deutsche Staat
kapituliert vor dem Islam.
Wer die Grundwerte nicht
akzeptiert, soll gehen."

Bassam Tibi

Prinz Eugen NHHC
Third Reich warship Prinz Eugen
survived both WW2 and two
nuclear bombs at Bikini

Bundeswehr FAZ
Bundeswehr: "Die bisher
beschrittenen Wege zur
Beschaffung von Ausrüstung
der Bundeswehr führen schon
heute nicht zu voll einsatz-
bereiten Streitkräften, für
moderne digitalisierte Land-
streitkräfte erscheinen sie
weitgehend ungeeignet."



2018 April 11


Martin Wolf

China is a rising power. Its GDP per head in 2017 was 14% of US levels at market prices and 28% at PPP. Its total GDP in 2017 was 62% of US levels at market prices and 119% at PPP.

China is spending a high share of GDP on R&D to drive innovation. China is also an increasingly formidable military power. Any idea that America can prevent China from innovating its way to prosperity is mad.

China has a planned market economy and an undemocratic political system. Recent failures of free markets and the rise of populism in the West have strengthened the appeal of both.

America has strong regional allies, but the US president is waging economic war on them. If a US decision to attack North Korea led to the devastation of Seoul and Tokyo, the US alliances would be over. China would win.

America can insist that China abide by its commitments. But the real threat to the West is its own decadence. The West must learn from China.

Commonwealth Cannot Save Brexit Britain

Philip Murphy

When Britain voted for Brexit, as the director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies I said:
"If the Commonwealth is the future, then we're in even more trouble than I thought."

In 2015, the Commonwealth Secretariat claimed to prove the existence of a Commonwealth effect with data that purported to show that trade in goods and services between Commonwealth nations had been growing at almost 10% a year for two decades and would exceed $1 trillion by 2020. In 2015, about 44% of UK goods and services went to the EU and about 9% to the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth is seen as a special asset to the UK. During the 2016 referendum campaign, some Leavers presented it as a direct alternative to the EU. Most Commonwealth members say membership of both organizations was not only wholly compatible but also mutually beneficial.

Brexit is unlikely to enhance British trade with Commonwealth countries. A UK government driven by the anti-immigration agenda of Leave voters is unlikely to make great strides in the Indian market, where many see the Commonwealth as little more than a quaint relic of British imperialism.

The Commonwealth cannot rescue the UK from the folly of Brexit.

Mirror Symmetry

Kevin Hartnett

In 1991, string theorists found that numbers emerging from one kind of geometric world exactly matched numbers from a different such world. Mathematicians now study this duality as mirror symmetry. They have found many more instances of such duality.

Decades ago, physicists went looking for extra dimensions. String theorists try to model fundamental particles as tiny vibrating strings. They found the strings would exist in 10 dimensions, our 4D spacetime plus 6 unseen dimensions, and found two very different ways to describe the extra dimensions: Complex manifolds arise in algebraic geometry, whereas symplectic manifolds arise from phase spaces in physics.

Mathematicians aim to explain mirror symmetry by breaking down symplectic and complex manifolds into basic elements called torus fibers. You can glue lots of lower dimensional tori together to build a higher dimensional shape. Just as you can use 1D circles to construct a torus fibration of a 2D sphere, you can construct a 3D torus fibration of the 6D symplectic and complex spaces that feature in mirror symmetry.

A torus fibration reduces one mirror space to elements you can use to build the other. To convert a symplectic space into its complex mirror, perform a torus fibration on the symplectic space to get a lot of tori, each with a radius. Take the reciprocal of the radius of each torus and use tori with reciprocal radii to build a new space.

The SYZ conjecture proposes torus fibration as a general approach for converting any symplectic space into its complex mirror. The conjecture says a torus fibration is the key link between symplectic and complex spaces. Proving it is a foundational question in mirror symmetry.

2018 April 10

Peace in Ireland

Hillary Clinton

Twenty years ago, the Good Friday agreement helped bring an end to decades of conflict and violence in Northern Ireland. Today, the agreement stands as a shining example of what's possible when citizens come together to demand peace.

Some say the agreement has outlived its usefulness, but they are wrong. Countless people in Northern Ireland are alive today, rather than in early graves, because of it. The last thing we can afford to do is become complacent.

I continue to believe in the value of the EU, and of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace. We cannot allow Brexit to undermine the peace that people voted and even died for. Reinstating the border would be an enormous setback.

The Evolution of Consciousness

Siri Hustvedt

Antonio Damasio interprets the evolution of mind and culture through his theory of homeostasis as dynamic self-regulation. The move from homeostasis to feeling requires a nervous system that allows an animal to map its own bodily structures and experiences.

Organisms with nervous systems feel, and the evolution of feeling lets subjectivity and consciousness develop. Feeling is the mental expression of homeostasis. In this story, a form of awareness appears in all animals equipped with nervous systems.

For early cognitive scientists, the mind was software running on the brain as hardware. Now they say consciousness is embodied, embedded, enacted, and extended. Damasio finds in homeostasis a broader perspective that binds bacteria to human beings.

Damasio is wary of an algorithmic account of humanity. Our ability not only to image our experiences but to reflect on them releases us from being strictly bound by our genetic inheritance. This constitutes our freedom as a species.

The Strange Order of Things by Antonio Damasio

AR See my 2003 article on Damasio on consciousness.

2018 April 9

US−China Trade

Peter Navarro

China promised in 2001 to trade by WTO rules. Instead it has broken the rules on the way to growing its annual GDP from $1.3 trillion to $11.2 trillion. Since 2001, America has lost millions of manufacturing jobs.

President Donald Trump is cutting taxes, deregulating industry, unleashing the US energy sector, and making progress on trade. But the Chinese have refused to end their unfair trade practices. The US trade deficit in goods with China has grown from $347 billion in 2016 to $375 billion in 2017.

China steals US intellectual property and forces US companies operating in China to surrender their technologies in exchange for access. Chinese sovereign wealth funds and other state actors aim to buy up US companies in artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum computing, self-driving vehicles, automated machine tooling, and advanced medical devices. If China captures these industries, America will not have an economic future.

The president imposed $50 billion of tariffs on Chinese products and implemented investment restrictions to prevent Chinese state capital from investing in America. The Trump agenda has put the US economy on a path to robust growth and corporate earnings. Trump seeks shared prosperity based on a fair and reciprocal global trading system.

Detailed Brain Maps

Monique Brouillette

A new map of 50 000 neurons in the cerebral cortex of a mouse shows where the cell bodies of every neuron sit and where they send their axons. A neural map of this size and detail has never been made before.

Tony Zador used genomic information to put a unique RNA bar code into each individual neuron. He then dissected the brain into cubes and fed the pieces into a DNA sequencer. The result was a 3D rendering of 50 000 neurons in the mouse cortex mapped with single cell resolution.

Multiplexed analysis of projections by sequencing (MAPseq) can be used to find new cell types and projection patterns. Researchers inject an animal with GM viruses loaded with known RNA sequences that give each neuron a distinctive bar code. When they cut the brain into sections, the bar codes help them track neurons from slide to slide.

MAPseq will enable us to map and compare the neural pathways of large numbers of brains. With lots of neurological data, we can look for patterns that reflect general principles of how the brain works.

2018 April 8


Madeleine Albright

Fascism and the tendencies that lead toward it pose a more serious threat now than at any time since 1945.

Its return is not hindered by the volatile presidency of Donald Trump. Instead of mobilizing international coalitions to take on world problems, Trump touts the doctrine of every nation for itself. Instead of engaging in creative diplomacy, he has insulted US neighbors and allies, walked away from key international agreements, mocked multilateral organizations, and stripped the State Department of its resources and role.

A great nation does not align itself with dictators and autocrats, ignore human rights, declare open season on the environment, or disdain the use of diplomacy. America should embody the values of a free society.

UK−EU Trade

Larry Elliott

The UK has run a trade deficit with the EU in goods and services combined in every year since 1999. The deficit doubled from £41 billion to £82 billion between 2012 and 2016. It is now 4% of GDP and rising.

UK trade with the rest of the world was broadly in balance from 1999 to 2011. Since 2012, a UK surplus has increased from £8 billion to £39 billion. The UK manufactured goods deficit with Germany has increased by 5% pa, with France by 7% pa, and with the rest of the EU by 11% pa.

The single market and the customs union create a free trade area only in goods. The UK surplus in services with the EU has been growing, but it has not offset a growing deficit in manufactured goods. The trend will continue unless EU barriers to trade in services are removed.

Trade deficits are bad. The need to finance them tends to raise interest rates, reduce productivity growth, and leave workers with lower wages and skills. Their causes include high interest rates, an over-valued currency, low investment, and poor management.

AR Freeing UK−EU services trade is the right answer. Brexit blocks it.

2018 April 7

Good Science

Adam Becker

A basic principle of scientific practice is that a new theory should be falsifiable. But for a theoretical physicist, spinning new ideas about how the world could be is essential. The inflexible standards of falsifiability and observability might be neat guidelines or heuristics, but they are not measures of the quality of a scientific theory.

There are no genuinely falsifiable scientific theories, as the history of science shows. Newtonian gravity was ultimately thrown out, but not merely in the face of data that threatened it. Only when Einstein came up with a viable alternative theory did the scientific community move on.

When new experiments threatened the conservation of energy in a certain kind of radioactive decay, Wolfgang Pauli came up with what came to be known as the neutrino. Invoking the invisible to save a theory from falsification is sometimes the right scientific move. What was once unobservable can become observable, as the neutrino shows.

Richard Feynman pointed out that two wildly different theories that have identical observational consequences can give you different perspectives on problems. They lead you to different answers and different experiments to conduct in order to discover the next theory. Some of the most interesting scientific work gets done when scientists develop bizarre theories in the face of something new or unexplained.

2018 April 6

Bank Heist

Ed Conway

The single most significant economic decision of the past decade in the UK was the response by the Bank of England to the financial crisis. Quantitative easing made the wealthiest 10% of households £350,000 richer than they would have been. It was the single biggest distribution of wealth in modern history.

The Bank of England pumped £435 billion into the economy as the thin end of a monetary wedge. In the wake of the financial crisis, the Bank and its counterparts around the world went to extreme lengths to prevent a repeat of the Great Depression. QE was arguably the most fateful economic decision of modern times.

AR Disaster capitalism struck and the workers of the world paid out.

Quantum Thermodynamics 2

Vlatko Vedral

Thermodynamics predates quantum theory. Entanglement and superposition break all the usual rules of dynamics. There are no obvious quantum equivalents of classical thermodynamic concepts like heat or entropy.

A quantum heat engine has been built using atoms trapped inside a diamond. Atoms trapped inside special cavities absorb and emit energy in a way that shows they are in a superposition of a high and low energy state. Light is produced more quickly than the classical rules of thermodynamics predict, proving that quantum heat engines can bend the rules.

The flow of time might be recast by quantum thermodynamics. No physical law forbids any natural processes from going backwards except the second law of thermodynamics. Its insistence that entropy must increase suggests that time somehow arises from entropy changes.

Quantum theory predicts that the overall amount of disorder in the universe must remain constant. This implies that if you look at the universe as a whole, entropy is unchanging and so there is no time. Time ticks only in small patches where entropy is changing.

AR At the cosmic level we reach the eternal Einstein block universe. At the quantum level we are in chaotic spacetime foam with no smooth time flow. Times flows for us, aiming for classical clarity as we play quantum sudoku.

My verdict: Entropy is an epistemic concept.

2018 April 5

Threat To World Peace

Simon Kuper

John Bolton takes office as US national security adviser on April 9. Bolton has consistently favored bombing and regime change in Tehran and Pyongyang. A warmonger is about to start work a few steps from Donald Trump in a White House almost devoid of bureaucratic procedures.

New US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is an Iran hawk too. History may repeat itself as reality TV. In 2001, the Bush administration thought it was pursuing American interests when it started the Iraq war. Today war in the Trump world is chiefly an expression of a desire to punish foreigners and recall a time when America ruled the roost.

You don't need to be a "very stable genius" to grasp all this, but few people are interested. The day after Bolton's appointment was the only day last month that Bolton prompted more Google searches in the US than Stormy Daniels. Four days later, the Daniels−Bolton ratio was more than 20 to one.

We struggle to focus on what matters in the Trump show. Ask how Trump will impact the world.

World War III

US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross belittled trade tensions between the United States and China. He predicted they would lead not to "World War III" but to peace talks.

2018 April 4

Quantum Thermodynamics

Katia Moskvitch

The second law of thermodynamics says entropy never decreases in an isolated system. Heat always moves from hot to cold. The law seems to explain the arrow of time.

Researchers have made heat flow from a cold quantum object to a hot one. They took molecules that each had one carbon, one hydrogen, and three chlorine atoms, and used a magnetic field to align the nuclear spins of the C and H nuclei. The nuclei became correlated in a 2-qubit state.

Entropy measures the number of different configurations a system can be in. Quantum correlations affect entropy. A 2-qubit system can be in states 00, 01, 10, and 11. Comparing the entropy of the single qubits to the entropy of the correlated system can measure the amount of correlation.

The experiment begins with the two particles strongly correlated. As the experiment progresses, the correlation weakens. The sum of the individual entropies decreases.

The weakening of the correlation is like a gradient driving the heat from the colder to the hotter body. The cold qubit gets colder, the hot qubit hotter. There is a trade-off between correlations and entropy, effectively reversing the arrow of time in the system.

A puzzle in cosmology is why the universe began in such a low-entropy configuration. Connecting entropy to entanglement might help us understand the cosmological arrow of time.

AR I like it. A supercorrelated (highly self-entangled) primordial universe loses entropy as it condenses into an ever more specific state with time. So symmetry breaking and phase changes no longer have to raise entropy, which I have found problematic ever since contemplating the time-reversal critique by Dieter Zeh.

2018 April 3

Politics of Devotion

Rafael Behr

UK prime minister Theresa May is a devout Christian. She finds comfort in submission to duty above economics and trade. For a religious person, purity of intent is much more important than outcome.

For hardcore Leavers, the paramount virtue in Brexit is the raw will that it be done. Quibbling about the consequences is an act of bad faith. Questioning the method is treason.

Religiosity is surging among Remainers too. Some of them see the EU as a totem of liberal virtue. In this tribe, Brexit is contaminated by mass credulity and racism.

Waiting for the Messiah

Rachel Sylvester

British politics needs a saviour. Theresa May is fulfilling her duty toward Brexit with saintly devotion but an air of sacrifice as she enacts a policy she fears will make the country poorer and less safe.

The centrist mainstream seems dead and buried. More than half of the British public do not feel any of the political parties represent their views. But they lack a credible alternative.

Many voters would love a better choice. The decaying political system adds to a sense that politics is in limbo. A new party would tap into a desire for change.

2018 April 2

Democratic Renewal

George Weigel

Populist assaults on democracy in America and Europe arise from:
Economic dislocations and inequalities resulting from globalization
Fears in Europe of loss of national sovereignty to transnational bureaucracies
Elitist skepticism, mockery, scorn, and disdain for traditional cultural institutions
Skepticism and contempt for the democratic inability to cope with modernity
The cult of license, leading to cultural disorientation and anger among many
Populist wrath directed against the conservative establishment

Democratic renewal will be based on truths:
Human folly excepted, nothing in history is permanent, including democracy.
Democracy requires a democratic polity, a market economy, and a vibrant public moral culture.
Democratic politics and free economies cannot be sustained by a liberal culture, which cannot
    enforce civility and tolerance.
Free markets are essential to the democratic project but need direction to help rebuild the
    foundations of civic life.
Renewal is not advanced by indulging in fantasies about implausible or impossible alternatives.

A democratic political system is the only serious option.

2018 Easter Sunday


Paul Keating

A monarchy is a tyranny. Australians are borrowing the monarch of another country. No great country borrows the monarch of another country.

I have no doubt Prince Charles believes Australia should be free of the British monarchy. He is a great friend of Australia. His commitment to naturalism, to heritage, to science, to innovation, and to beauty speaks volumes of his intellect and integrity.

Prince Charles will always be welcome in Australia. But we can do without a monarch. Australia is entitled to be a great country.

Britizen Jon

Rowan Williams

It's important to be reminded how easily democracies lose their grip, morally and politically, and how societies slide towards repression and self-destructive policies in pursuit of short-term goals. I read [the novel] as a plea for a more grown-up politics — desperately needed at the moment.

AR Thank you, Rowan.

A Cool Young Cosmos?

Liz Kruesi

In July 2017, Rennan Barkana heard from Judd Bowman, a radio astronomer in Australia. Bowman and his team had picked up a surprising signal.

The Experiment to Detect the Global Epoch of Reionization Signature (EDGES) team thought they had not only found the first stars in the universe but also that the young cosmos was surprisingly cool. Barkana guessed they might have seen ordinary matter interacting with dark matter.

The EDGES team had probed the neutral H gas that filled the universe during the 10 Ps or so ABB. These were the dark ages when the afterglow that became the CMB was absorbed at some wavelengths. EDGES searched for the absorption pattern.

The absorption pattern stretched as it flew toward us for 13 billion years. Its stretch shows how long the signal has been traveling, its width tells us for how long the gas was absorbing the CMB light, and its intensity tells us the temperature of the gas and the afterglow at the time.

It seems the neutral gas was colder than predicted. Barkana thought perhaps "millicharged" dark matter interacted weakly with ordinary matter. Intergalactic gas might have cooled by dumping heat into the dark matter sector.

Cosmologists compared such dark matter to CMB data, supernova data, particle accelerator data, and work on primordial nucleosynthesis. They found that millicharged dark matter must be too rare to explain the EDGES data.

The EDGES team took exceptional care. Any flaw in their work will be hard to find.

AR Stay skeptical.

"The concept of the soul
is an unshakeable basis
for compassion,
recognition, and love."
Marilynne Robinson



2018 March 31

Islam in Europe

Wolfgang Schäuble

Islam has become a part of Europe. Antisemitism is gaining strength through migration and a hatred of Israel fueled by radical forces in the Islamic world. Radical Muslims in Europe are spreading an irrational hatred of Jews.

The great task for liberal societies is to preserve tolerance and religious freedom under conditions of rapid change and mass migration. This is the great stress test for Western democracies.

2018 Good Friday

Good Friday Belongs To Germany

Reinhard Bingener

Debate in Germany over whether Islam belongs to Germany is fruitless. The Christian religion does not worship the lofty strength of an almighty God, but a dying man hanging on a cross. Christianity is about a changed understanding of power.

Anyone who claims to practice Christian politics is lying. Those who talk of Christianity and the West cannot separate themselves from suffering in the world. An enlightened Christian can hardly deny Muslims the right to live out their religion in Germany.

A policy oriented on the Christian character of Germany need not fully meet Christian ethical ideals. The Christian faith does not call for disregarding limits or ignoring natural worries. All this must be part of a policy that calls on Christianity.

Germany and Islam

Jochen Bittner

German interior minister Horst Seehofer says Islam does not belong to Germany. Yet it was Germans who made mistakes in dealing with Muslims. They thought guest workers would go home again, they embraced foreigners regardless of their values, and they failed to ask how to reconcile Islam with liberal democracy.

Many Germans think Islam is incompatible with Western values. Yet the fact that there are liberal Muslims in Germany suggests the opposite. A few Muslims speak out against false dogma or a literal reading of the Quran, but they encounter hostility from fellow Muslims in Germany.

In a 2016 survey, almost a half of Turkish immigrants and their descendants considered it more important to abide by religious commands than by the laws of the country they live in, a third said Muslims should try to build a fundamentalist social order, and a half said there was only one true religion.

Muslim intolerance for people with other beliefs and contempt for liberalism compounds a feeling widespread among Muslims of not belonging to Germany anyway.

Islam in Germany

Yassin Musharbash

My suggestions:

1 Say what you mean
Horst Seehofer said Islam does not belong to Germany. He explained that of course the Muslims living here belonged to Germany. Better to cite problems and propose or demand solutions.

2 There are no taboos
Some Muslims living in Germany have a poor understanding of Islam. But nothing prevents anyone from addressing these issues. All the main ones have been openly debated for years.

3 The Quran is not a manual
The Quran is hard to read, part prescriptive, part poetic, and sometimes contradictory. It does not justify breaking the law. Almost all Muslims see jihadism as a perversion of their faith.

4 Separate the issues
A Muslim does not always do as he does it because of Islam. Not all terrorists are Muslims. Antisemitism and neglect of women and girls are not just Muslim problems.

5 Germany is not Saudi Arabia
How to exercise religious freedom is unresolved. It is no good to allow minarets in Germany only if churches are allowed in Saudi Arabia. We can aim to do better.

Germany has bigger fish to fry than Islam.

End of a union

The end is nigh — one year to the apocalypse

Tony Blair
Tony Blair

Kim, Xi

Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan

Kapitän zur See Jörg-Michael
Horn: "Ich muss zugeben, dass
ich .. das Vertrauen in die
politische Führung
verloren habe."


2018 March 29


Tony Blair

Brexit is the most important decision the British people have taken since the end of WW2. It is no betrayal to allow them to revisit the decision. The case for letting the people make the final decision is common sense.

We face a dilemma. Either we keep to EU rules or we are free to diverge, in which case the disruption to trade and consequent economic damage will be large. The government approach up to now has rested on having our cake and eating it.

Europe is not going to agree this. The deal the government struck on transitional arrangements was a concession that, during the transition, we will remain bound fully by European rules, though we will have lost our say over them. Resolution of the dilemma was postponed.

The government will turn to fudge. They will understand that they have somehow to get past March 2019. Then they can negotiate, safe in the knowledge that the issue will be whatever deal they do versus no deal.

Parliament has a duty to foil this strategy. A vote is only meaningful if it is on a proposition that allows us to know with precision what our future path looks like before we take it. Exposing the strategy of fudge, and preventing it, should be the overriding aim of the opposition.

The sensible strategic course for the government is to share the responsibility. Put the proposition to parliament. Then let the people make the final judgement.

There is no serious disagreement among serious people about the economic consequence of Brexit. Growth estimates for the next 5 years are the worst in over half a century. Over time, jobs and business are going to bleed away.

The geopolitical damage is the missing dimension to the Brexit debate. Soon China will rival America, India have a bigger economy than Germany, and Britain will look small. Like France or Germany, we will be obliged to advance our interests through a European union.

The Brexit mandate was not a vote for Global Britain. Those who voted for Brexit because they feared the future shaped by free market globalisation will realise they will have to embrace it more fully. Only parliament can save us now.

AR Blair is Britain's greatest living political prophet. He was not consumed by the fires of Iraq but steeled by them. Heed his voice and repent, o BeLeavers, or be as Gadarene swine!


John Gray

Universities have become institutions devoted to the eradication of thought crime. An inquisitorial culture has taken over. Universities enforce a hyperliberal ideology that aims to purge any trace of other views of the world.

Traditional liberalism depended on the premise that truth should be valued as an end in itself. But this was hard to square with utilitarian values. Liberalism was a problematic offshoot from traditional monotheism, a new religion venerating the human species as the Supreme Being.

Liberals who rail at populist movements say voters who support them are deluded or deceived. They reject the possibility that these movements are exploiting needs that highly individualist societies cannot satisfy. Such needs stand in the way of schemes for transnational government or an expanding global market.

Liberals say totalitarian movements are corrupt religions but resist the claim in their own case. They have faith that humankind is evolving toward a worldwide society based on liberal values. Sweep away the tyrants and their regimes, and a new humanity will emerge from the ruins.

Hyperliberals promote an exorbitant version of liberalism. They believe a new society will appear once we have been stripped of our historic identities. In principle, all identities are equal in being cultural constructions. But in practice some identities are more equal than others.

Hyperliberal snowflakes who deny the facts may undo the liberal West.

AR Gray is one of the greatest British political philosophers.

2018 March 28

China Throws Trump Curveball


When US president Donald Trump finally meets NK leader Kim Jong Un, the specter of China will also be in the room.

SK presidential press secretary Yoon Young-chan: "What is happening now is beyond what the (government) has been predicting and (Seoul) will need to keep an eye on the situation with all possibilities in mind."

Federation of American Scientists Defense Posture Project director Adam Mount: "The very fact of this meeting alone, and certainly the tenor of the Chinese statement about it, really does increase Kim Jong Un's leverage in the upcoming talks. It shows that Kim has a friend in Beijing."

AR I hope President Trump stays smart here.

Kim Jong Un Meets Xi Jinping

The Times

NK leader Kim Jong Un traveled to China to meet President Xi Jinping in Beijing. Kim: "We are determined to turn the North-South relationship into one of reconciliation and of cooperation. Denuclearization can be achieved if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create a peaceful and stable environment, and take tandem measures in phases."

AR Kim is a shrewd operator, more so than Trump, I fear.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Antisemites

Daniel Finkelstein

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says he saw a street mural of stereotypical Jews playing Monopoly on the backs of the poor and failed to see it was antisemitic.

Over the weekend, members of the Jewish community in London gathered in Parliament Square to protest. The atmosphere was was depressing as we stood outside chanting. Had it really come to this? And might it rain?

Zionism has ceased to refer simply to the creation of Israel and become the symbol of colonialism. Anti-Zionism is now a statement of opposition to western capitalism and of confidence that there is a workable popular alternative to the free market economy.

The idea that there is a global conspiracy of bankers, Zionist colonialists, and freemasons to oppress the workers of the world is dangerously bonkers.

AR A bonkers idea, a temptingly false narrative.

2018 March 27

Can A Novel Be Atheist?

M. M. Owen

Ian McEwan says the novel is "a deeply moral form, in that it is the perfect medium for entering the mind of another." But three of his novels seem to tell a different story.

Enduring Love (1997) centers on the couple Joe and Clarissa. Joe represents science, and Clarissa the arts. Jed thinks Joe is in love with him and that the two men are destined to be together. Joe fears Jed is but Clarissa thinks he is misunderstood. Narrative gives Jed his deluded romantic vision and narrative obscures the truth from Clarissa. Our craving for narrative deludes us. Clarissa is wrong about Jed and Joe is right.

Atonement (2001). In 1935, Briony falsely identifies Robbie, the secret lover of her older sister Cecilia, as a rapist. Robbie goes to jail, and he and Cecilia are not reunited until after World War 2. In fact they are never reunited at all. In a metafictional twist, the postscript reveals that the novel was written by the elderly Briony to atone for ruining their love. Briony says the novelist is "also God .. there is nothing outside her."

Saturday (2005) juxtaposes science and literature in neurosurgeon Perowne and his poet daughter Daisy. In the climactic scene, Baxter breaks in to the Perowne family home and threatens to rape Daisy. Drunk and suffering from Huntington's disease, he demands that Daisy read one of her poems. Baxter is so moved by the poem that tragedy is averted. But his mood swing might have more to do with his disease.

AR McEwan is one of the best British novelists.

2018 March 26

Genes and Schooling

Matt Ridley

Genes influence intelligence. Measures of general intelligence derived from IQ tests have about 30% heritability in childhood, 40-50% in adolescence, and 60% in adulthood. This increasing heritability with age makes sense: adults are free to find their own intellectual level, whereas children can be forced by pushy parents and good schools, or by bad friends and bad schools.

A new study finds that selective schools add almost nothing to the exam results of students, because the advantages teenagers come out with are for the most part genetic. So all those talented Etonians were pretty talented to start with. Genes cannot be wished away.

David Reich: "Well-meaning people who deny the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations are digging themselves into an indefensible position, one that will not survive the onslaught of science."

Marooned by Brexit

Yasmeen Serhan

After the Brexit referendum, nearly 5 million people across Europe were suddenly unsure of their rights. Most of these are people legally resident in the UK but from elsewhere in Europe and unsure whether they can stay. The same is true of British citizens who live across the Channel.

The uncertainty is already having consequences. Statistics reveal a Brexodus as a decreased number of EU nationals come to work in the UK and an increased number are leaving. Thousands of Britons have applied for German citizenship since the Brexit vote.

The European Court of Justice is considering a case brought by five UK nationals seeking to retain their EU citizenship after Brexit. If the court deems EU citizenship irremovable, it could have big implications for all Brits. Until then, they will be in limbo.

AR My leaving little England to go and live in liberal Germany would be like choosing sides in a culture war. It would be a lifetime vote against the UK.

2018 March 25

Bigger Than Facebook

Ethan Zuckerman

Mark Zuckerberg acknowledges the massive data compromise that allowed Cambridge Analytica to obtain extensive psychographic information about 50 million Facebook users. Aleksandr Kogan used the Facebook Graph API, which until April 2015 allowed people to build apps that harvested data from Facebook users.

The problem is way bigger than Facebook. Most ad-supported websites track their users, as part of agreements to make their ad inventory more valuable. Facebook cannot protect us from manipulative advertising targeted to our psychographic profile when their business model is built on selling this form of persuasion.

Zuckerberg admits it might be time for regulation of Facebook. Never before have we had the technological infrastructure to support the weaponization of emotion on a global scale. The people who built this infrastructure have a moral obligation to address the known bugs that are corroding democracy.

AR The era of Big Data anarchy is over.

Enough march

Lexey Swall
March for our Lives, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC

Titan NASA

"We have a basic responsibility
to protect people's data and
if we can't do that then we
don't deserve to have
the opportunity."
Mark Zuckerberg

Unternehmen Michael

"Schlacht gewonnen,
Engländer sind total

Kaiser Wilhelm II
21. März 1918

Dirty Nix

Cambridge Analytica head
Alexander Nix was recorded
boasting about using
"beautiful Ukrainian girls"
to entrap political opponents
of clients and offering
bribes to smear opponents
as corrupt.

AR Bad


Italian villa AR

Poole bikers AR

Poole Bay AR

Sandbanks AR

Poole dippers AR

Poole residents braved
snow this morning

Inna Vladimirskaya IV
Inna Vladimirskaya
swims regularly in the icy
river Dnieper, Ukraine

Ion channel


The United Nations

Bret Stephens

In 1994, John Bolton said that if the UN Secretariat building in New York "lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

The UN is a never-ending scandal disguised as an everlasting hope. The hope is that dialog can overcome distrust and collective security can be made to work in the interests of humanity. Reality says otherwise.

Confronted with the record of failure, UN defenders typically point to the bad behavior of individual states as the cause of UN failures and insist that the core problem is a dearth of financial resources and legal authorities.

Total expenditure for the UN system in 2016 was around $49 billion. The UN adopted what were supposed to be landmark reforms more than a decade ago. Yet the mismanagement, corruption, abuses, and moral perversities remain.

All this attests to the truth of Bolton's quip about the UN losing 10 floors.

AR A template for Leaver attacks on the EU.

2018 March 24

Cambridge Analytica

Brittany Kaiser

I was the business development director at Cambridge Analytica. Our work with Leave.EU involved analysis of data provided by UKIP, who had undertaken a survey on why people wanted to leave the EU, and they also had membership data. That was work that would normally be paid for.

I briefed senior Leave.EU officials on the results of the research, but the campaign never received a final report because it unexpectedly backed out of a contract. I was continually told I could go along with the narrative that we did work on it.

AR Data mining is a legitimate activity — when openly and legally paid for.


Leah Crane

Saturn's largest moon, Titan, looks like the best place in the solar system to look for truly alien life. In January 2005, the NASA Cassini mission landed a probe on Titan's surface. It survived for a few hours and sent back 350 grainy images and a trickle of data.

Titan is about 1.4 Tm from Earth. It has a dense atmosphere, mountain ranges with peaks rising 3.3 km into the haze, and clouds that release seasonal downpours that flow into lakes and seas. Titan is the only place in the solar system besides Earth known to have liquids on its surface.

Titan's surface temperatures rarely rise above about 90 K. Its rocks are made of water ice, its streams flow with methane and ethane, and its nitrogen-heavy skies produce various organic compounds. Life based on liquids other than water might be possible.

In July 2017, researchers picked up the signature of vinyl cyanide in Titan's atmosphere. Also known as acrylonitrile, this compound could form structures equivalent to the membranes that hold living cells together on Earth. No one has yet made membranes from vinyl cyanide in the laboratory, but there is a lot of it on Titan.

On Earth, living cells also require nucleic acids such as DNA to transfer genetic information from one generation to the next, and proteins to do the self-replication. Researchers report first evidence that Titan's atmosphere contains ingredients that can create all manner of these macromolecules.

Dragonfly is a planned mission to launch a sophisticated drone in 2025 to arrive at Titan in 2030 and search for signs of prebiotic chemistry. The drone will use a radioisotope thermoelectric generator to charge its battery and to keep its electronics and scientific instruments warm.

The Dragonfly team hope to convince NASA that it should get the $850 million designated for the next mission under the New Frontiers Program.

AR Trust Trump to waste the money first on war.

2018 March 23

Warpath: US vs World

The New York Times

The good thing about John Bolton, President Trump's new national security adviser, is that he says what he thinks. The bad thing is what he thinks. There are few people more likely to lead the country into war. His selection is alarming.

Bolton believes the United States can do what it wants without regard to international law, treaties, or previous commitments. He has argued for attacking North Korea and disparaged diplomatic efforts. He wants to abrogate the deal with Iran and has called for bombing Iran.

AR Code Red alarm

EU Agrees Brexit Transition

Financial Times

European leaders on Friday agreed to extend UK de facto EU membership until the end of 2020. Meeting in Brussels, the other 27 EU countries took only minutes to sign off on a transition period and guidelines for EU strategy negotiating a future relationship.

AR Stay of execution

2018 March 22

Fascist Folklore

Pankaj Mishra

A Canadian academic who insists that gender and class hierarchies are ordained by nature and validated by science has suddenly come to be hailed as a public intellectual. His apotheosis speaks of a crisis at least as deep as the one signified by the rise of Donald Trump.

Jordan Peterson diagnoses this crisis as a loss of faith in old verities. He offers to alleviate the resulting desperation of meaninglessness with the help of the great myths and religious stories of the past. He says men represent order, and chaos is symbolically associated with the feminine. Men failing to toughen up are pathetic losers.

Reactionary white men will surely be thrilled by his loathing for social justice warriors. Those embattled against political correctness on university campuses will heartily endorse his claim that some disciplines in universities are hostile to men. Islamophobes will take heart from his speculation that feminists avoid criticizing Islam because they unconsciously long for masculine dominance. Libertarians will cheer his glorification of the individual striver.

Thomas Mann wrote in 1936 of an extensive moral devastation that knows no values, no good or evil, no morality. The foundations collapsed, triggering the cataclysms of the twentieth century. We are in the midst of a similar intellectual and moral breakdown.

2018 March 21

The Langlands Program

Kevin Hartnett

Robert Langlands is the winner of the 2018 Abel Prize. He started a program to explore a deep connection between number theory and analysis that has big consequences for questions about the properties of prime numbers.

Langlands first articulated his vision for the program in 1967. Generations of mathematicians have taken up and expanded upon it. The Langlands program is often called a search for a grand unified theory of mathematics.

Mathematicians seek to find patterns involving prime numbers. For example, all primes that can be expressed as a sum of two squares leave a remainder of 1 when divided by 4. Gauss generalized this result in a reciprocity law.

Langlands proposed a vast extension of the reciprocity law. He suggested that the prime numbers encoded in higher-degree equations should be in a reciprocity relationship with harmonic analysis, which grows out of calculus.

Mathematicians working in the Langlands program are solving other problems too. Andrew Wiles proved Fermat's Last Theorem in part using links between number theory and analysis that Langlands had predicted.

God's Book

Erica Klarreich

Paul Erdős liked the idea that God has a Book containing the perfect proof of every mathematical theorem: "You don't have to believe in God, but you should believe in The Book."

In 1994, Martin Aigner came up with the idea of trying to produce God's Book. He and Günter Ziegler started collecting beautiful proofs. Erdős contributed before he died in 1996. Proofs from THE BOOK was published in 1998.

The book is a glimpse of mathematical heaven. It presents proofs of dozens of theorems from number theory, geometry, analysis, combinatorics, and graph theory. It has gone through 5 editions, each with new proofs added, and has been translated into 13 languages.

In January 2018, Ziegler and Aigner were awarded the Steele Prize for Mathematical Exposition.

The Book
Günter Ziegler

A proof is something that convinces the reader that a theorem is true. A beautiful proof should not be too long, it must be clear, it must include a special idea, and it might connect things that seemed unconnected. Some theorems have different perfect proofs for different readers.

Andrew Wiles' proof of Fermat's Last Theorem is a hundred pages long, or many hundred pages, depending on how much number theory you assume when you start. My understanding is that there are lots of beautiful observations and ideas in there. Perhaps his proof belongs in the Book.

The first step is to establish a theorem. It may be ugly, and far too long, but it must be correct and complete. If others find it interesting, they can simplify it and and make it more elegant. In the end you have the Book proof.

So the ugly proofs have their role. To make short and surprising proofs, you need a lot of confidence. One way to get the confidence is to know the theorem is true.

We are preparing a sixth and final edition of Proofs from THE BOOK.

2018 Vernal Equinox

The Chinese Dream

People's Daily

President Xi Jinping described how to make the Chinese dream come true:

1 Xi urged the CPC leadership to overcome difficulties. Adhering to the socialist system with
    Chinese characteristics is the only way for China to achieve socialist modernization and to
    create better lives for all Chinese nationals.

2 Xi laid out the roadmap to national rejuvenation:
    Continue with comprehensive reform and opening up
    Uphold socialism with Chinese characteristics and the rule of law
    Uphold the core values of Chinese socialism
    Further improve people's standard of living and eliminate poverty
    Improve the environment and build a beautiful China
    Build a world-class military under CPC leadership
    Uphold "One Country, Two Systems"
    Defend the sovereignty of Chinese territory

3 Xi said China wants to contribute Chinese wisdom to global governance and to show its
    determination to work for an equal, open, and peaceful world:
    Build a community with a shared future for mankind
    Promote economic globalization and free trade
    Promote connectivity under the Belt and Road initiative
    Promote win-win cooperation

AR Good

Project HAMMER

Silicon Republic

NASA project HAMMER (hyper-velocity asteroid mitigation mission for emergency response) is intended to save the Earth from an ELE (extinction level event) collision with an asteroid.

Discovered on September 11, 1999, asteroid 101955 Bennu has a mean diameter of almost 500 m, a mass of almost 80 megatons, and an average orbital velocity of 28 km/s. Bennu will come perilously close as it flies past Earth in the next century. A collision would release as much energy as an estimated 1200 megatons of TNT.

Russian scientists say a large thermonuclear warhead could destroy Bennu.

AR Do it right — recall the movie Deep Impact (1998).

2018 March 19

Brexit Progress

Financial Times

The UK and the EU have agreed on a transition: From March 2019 to December 2020, the UK will have to abide by all existing EU rules but will lose its say in the decision making process.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier: "We were able to agree this morning .. on a large part of what will make up an international agreement for the ordered withdrawal of the UK."

On Ireland, the UK has agreed to include a legal backstop that would keep Northern Ireland in parts of the single market and the customs union.

Barnier: "The backstop will apply unless or until another solution is found."

Russia to UK: Prove It Or Apologise

BBC News

The EU offers the UK unqualified solidarity in tensions with Russia over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says the UK will have to provide evidence of its claims or apologise.

Putin! Thanks, UK

The Times

Vladimir Putin secured a decisive victory in the Russian presidential election. He took more than 76% of the vote in early results.

Campaign spokesman Andrei Kondrashov: "Ten days ago sociologists had believed [the turnout] would be about 50 to 60%. Now we can see that the number is higher than we expected. Much higher. This is largely thanks to the UK."

In response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson has accused Putin of having a secret chemical weapon program. International inspectors are heading to Britain today for samples of the nerve agent used in Salisbury.

Russian Threat

The Times

NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg urges the alliance to improve its defensive capabilities and to add hybrid warfare to the agenda of the next NATO−Russia Council.

Stoltenberg: "We must be alert and resolute .. Russia must not miscalculate. We are always ready to respond when an ally is attacked militarily .. Moscow have clearly stated in their doctrine that they are prepared to use nuclear weapons in regional conflicts .. We see the danger that Russia could gradually move from using conventional weapons to nuclear weapons."

2018 March 18



President Donald Trump fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe and tweeted: "It is part of this administration's ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the special counsel investigation, which continue to this day."

Fired FBI Director James Comey, in a tweeted reply to Trump: "Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not."

Former CIA director John Brennan, in a tweeted reply to Trump: "When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history."

Burn It Down, Rex
Michelle Goldberg

Rex Tillerson holds Donald Trump in contempt and disagrees with large parts of his agenda. Tillerson was a vastly more respected businessman than Trump, but now the first line of his obituary will be about a year of failure as America's lead diplomat, ended with a tweet. The only way he will ever change that is by joining those who would bring this despicable presidency down.

Russian Fascism

Timothy Snyder

Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin imagined a Russian Christian fascism. Born in 1883, he was expelled in 1922 by the Soviets, embraced the cause of Benito Mussolini, and wrote first for White Russian exiles and then for future Russians who would see the end of Soviet power.

In about twenty books in Russian and another twenty in German, Ilyin expressed his metaphysical and moral justification for political totalitarianism in practical outlines for a fascist state. He found ways to present the failure of the rule of law as Russian virtue.

Ilyin confronted Russian problems with German thinkers. As a student at Moscow, he studied the philosophies of Kant and Hegel. As he read Hegel on the penetration of Spirit into the world, he proclaimed a Hegelian renaissance but doubted that historical change was only a matter of Spirit.

Lenin wrote under the pseudonym "Ilyin" and the real Ilyin reviewed some of that pseudonymous work. When Ilyin was arrested by the Cheka as an opponent of the revolution, Lenin intervened on his behalf. They both began from an appreciation of Hegel's promise of totality.

Ilyin left Russia in 1922. He visited Italy and published admiring articles about Il Duce. For Ilyin, the teachings of Jesus were the words of a failed God with a doomed Son. Ilyin maintained that Christianity actually meant the call of the philosopher to apply violence in the name of love.

Ilyin saw the fascist seizure of power as an act of salvation. He took from Mussolini the concept of a "chivalrous sacrifice" that fascists make in the blood of others. Ilyin: "The fact of the matter is that fascism is a redemptive excess of patriotic arbitrariness."

From 1922 to 1938, Ilyin lived in Germany. He praised Hitler's seizure of power in 1933 and thought Hitler was right to blame Jews for the evils that had befallen Germany. But Hitler regarded Russians as subhumans, so Ilyin moved to Switzerland, convinced that in time Russians would demonstrate a superior fascism.

After 1945, Ilyin presented the war as one of a series of Western attacks on Russian virtue: "The Russian nation, since its full conversion to Christianity, can count nearly one thousand years of historical suffering."

The fascist language of organic unity remained central to Ilyin. His postwar writings are consistent with the advocacy of fascism in his major works. The national dictator, he said, must be hard: "Power comes all by itself to the strong man [who] hardens himself in just and manly service."

The Leader would be personally and totally responsible for every aspect of political life, as chief executive, chief legislator, chief justice, and commander of the military. Elections were a ritual of submission before the Leader: "We must reject blind faith in the number of votes and its political significance."

Russia today is the fruit of his vision. Vladimir Putin was elected president in 2000, and turned general corruption into official kleptocracy. Once the state became the center of crime, the rule of law became incoherent and reform unthinkable.

Putin rehabilitated Ilyin as a Kremlin court philosopher. Today, Putin proclaims not law in Russia but the defeat of the European Union. In 2011/12, Putin announced a rival Eurasian Union that would overcome the EU and extend from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

From 1991 to 2012, Russian-Ukrainian relations were defined according to international law. Since 2012, Russian policy toward Ukraine has been made on the basis of Ilyin's organic model.

In the spring of 2016, Russian military intelligence boasted of efforts to help Donald Trump win. No longer just Russian philosophy, this is now American life.

Spacetime Fluid?

Jon Cartwright

General relativity describes spacetime expanding from an infinitesimal singularity. The stuff within spacetime is governed by quantum theory. All the forces, except maybe gravity, come in finite quanta.

A quantum theory of gravity entails building smooth spacetime from atoms of space, as Bei Lok Hu calls them. Fluid dynamics describes smooth fluids whose molecules are ultimately governed by quantum theory. Hu says spacetime is a fluid.

Daniele Oriti used loop quantum gravity to describe the atoms of space. He used group field theory to show how they could undergo phase changes and found what looked like the expanding spacetime of our universe. The big bang was a moment of condensation.

2018 St Patrick's Day

Beware The Big Five

Tamsin Shaw

The Big Five — Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google — were founded by young visionaries and grew organically within the ecology of the open Internet. The US government has seen them as an essential national security asset.

The Big Five hold immense troves of personal data on their users. The domestic use of their resources for political influence seemed not to bother policymakers. This changed when the Russians hijacked social media to distribute disinformation.

Information warfare is the exploitation of IT for the purposes of propaganda, disinformation, and psychological operations. Liberal democracies are vulnerable to information warfare. The civic trust that shores up US political institutions is fragile.

The US government has exploited the private sector to expand its national security capabilities. It has supported the Big Five partly because they increase its soft power globally. Vladimir Putin has shown how easy it is to subvert that power.

Black Holes

Jennifer Ouellette

Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne said the Hawking radiation emitted by a black hole would be too hopelessly scrambled to retrieve any useful information about what fell into it, even in principle. Others say information somehow escapes black holes. Wild ideas as to how:

Black hole complementarity: Information that crosses the event horizon both reflects back out and passes inside, never to escape. No observer can be both inside and outside the event horizon, so no contradiction arises.

Firewalls: Observers falling into a black hole encounter an impenetrable wall of fire at the event horizon. This idea sacrifices one of three postulates: the equivalence of gravitation and acceleration; unitarity; or locality.

Black hole fuzzballs: These are packed full of strings, have a definite surface, and emit thermal radiation with a spectrum like Hawking radiation. Information is not lost because there is no event horizon.

ER = EPR: Faraway points in spacetime are entangled via microscopic wormholes. A wormhole links the interior of the black hole directly to its Hawking radiation, so information need not pass through the event horizon.

Apparent horizon: Hawking proposed thinking of the event horizon not as a definite line in the sky but a zone where information is only temporarily confined and eventually escapes, scrambled.

AR I see the event horizon as like the potential wall around an atomic nucleus, and Hawking radiation, carrying information, as like quantum tunneling through the nuclear wall. But I don't think this works out mathematically.

2018 March 16

Saudi Arabia vs Iran

The Times

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman threatens a new Mideast arms race: "Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb we will follow suit as soon as possible."

The crown prince says of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: "He wants to create his own project in the Middle East, very much like Hitler, who wanted to expand at the time. Many countries around the world and in Europe did not realise how dangerous Hitler was until what happened happened. I don't want to see the same events happening in the Middle East."

He then boasts: "Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia. Its army is not among the top five armies of the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy. Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia."

The Saudis propose to build 16 nuclear plants over the next 25 years with US support.

AR This is a potential nuclear catastrophe in the making. With uncritical US-UK support, the crown prince could develop into a dangerous despot. We must use our leverage to hold Saudi Arabia to higher standards.

2018 March 15

New Cold War

Lawrence Freedman

Vladimir Putin is not one to accept criticism from the West. Russia has been on the receiving end of sanctions and diplomatic slights ever since Crimea was annexed in March 2014. He may even wonder whether the tension will help him get re-elected as president.

There are no credible opposition figures because murders, imprisonments, and denunciations have left few to take on the role. Putin looks set to be in power until he is 71. Western governments responding to Russian disruption need to deal with him.

Comparisons are being made with the Cold War. NATO generals describing the Russian conventional forces facing the Baltic states cannot forget that nuclear power is the foundation of Russia's claims to great power status. But Russia is far weaker than the Soviet Union was.

The Soviet Union had the second-largest economy in the world. Russia's GDP is about 60% that of France and Britain, 40% of Germany's, and not even 8% of the US GDP. In addition its economy is extremely dependent upon energy exports.

China is a far more important player in international politics and economics. Russian dissidents say exaggerating Moscow's attacks gives Putin an aura he does not deserve. He wants Russia to look like a great power.

2018 March 14

Bioelectricity Guides Growth

Katia Moskvitch

Michael Levin investigates the role of the brain and nervous system in dictating the shapes and identities of emerging limbs and body structures. His team has amassed evidence that the embryo is molded by bioelectrical signals, particularly ones that emanate from the young brain long before it is even a functional organ.

All cell membranes have embedded ion channels, protein pores that act as pathways for ions. Differences between the number of ions inside and outside a cell result in its resting potential. Vary this potential by opening or blocking the ion channels, and you change the signals exchanged with the cells all around.

Levin and his team changed the resting potential of cells in flatworms and produced worms with two heads or with tails in unexpected places. In tadpoles, they reprogrammed the identity of large groups of cells at the level of entire organs, making frogs with extra legs and changing gut tissue into eyes, simply by hacking the local bioelectric activity that provides patterning information.

The brain and nervous system are also involved in patterns of bioelectric information affecting development. The right electrical potential lets neurotransmitters go in and out of gates in a membrane. Once in, they can trigger specific receptors and initiate further cellular activity.

Bioelectricity works over long distances, mediated by the neurotransmitter serotonin. Levin and his team showed that the brain helps to shape development well before the nervous system is even fully developed. The nervous system plays a much more important role in how organisms build themselves than previously thought.

The work has obvious implications for the treatment and prevention of developmental malformations and birth defects. Levin speculates that in future we may be able to manipulate how cells communicate with each other electrically and let them fix various problems.

Stephen Hawking

Pi Day
π = 3.14 ..

Albert Einstein
was born 139
years ago

The Theory of Everything
2014 movie about
Stephen Hawking

A Brief History of Time

Schmalspurbahn trifft Omnibus
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Bernhard Kretzschmar
Deutung des Daseins
Städtischen Galerie, Dresden
bis zum 13. Mai

World Wide Web
Tim Berners-Lee

I want the web to reflect our
hopes and fulfil our dreams.
To be offline is to be excluded
from opportunities to learn
and earn, to access valuable
services, and to participate
in democratic debate.
I'm still an optimist.

Prince Charles

SPARC reactor


Stephen Hawking

Stuart Clark

Stephen Hawking, the world-famous theoretical physicist, has died at the age of 76.

Hawking discovered what might be the clue to the theory of everything. Roger Penrose had proved that if Einstein's general theory of relativity is correct, at the heart of every black hole must be a singularity. Hawking reversed the arrow of time to show that the universe of general relativity began in a singularity.

But general relativity ignores quantum mechanics. A "theory of everything" was needed to unite the two. For Hawking, the Big Bang singularity showed the need for quantum gravity.

Hawking met his match in 1972. Jacob Bekenstein thought thermodynamics should apply to black holes. A black hole hides its singularity behind an event horizon. Hawking had shown that the area of a black hole's event horizon never decreases but increases when matter falls into it.

Bekenstein suggested that the area of the horizon measures its entropy. Hawking set out to prove him wrong. But instead he discovered the precise form of the mathematical relationship between entropy and the event horizon. It was his greatest breakthrough.

Anything that has entropy also has a temperature, and anything that has a temperature can radiate. But general relativity says nothing can escape from a black hole. Quantum mechanics says fleeting pairs of particles and antiparticles are constantly popping in and out of existence, and near an event horizon a pair can be separated: one falls into the hole while one escapes forever. The orphaned particles stream out as thermal radiation.

Hawking had discovered black hole radiation, and with it the black hole information loss paradox. The Bekenstein−Hawking entropy equation is the one Hawking wanted engraved on his tombstone.

Raphael Bousso: "Hawking's 1976 argument that black holes lose information is a towering achievement, perhaps one of the most consequential discoveries on the theoretical side of physics since the subject was invented."

Sean Carroll: "I think most physicists would agree that Hawking's greatest contribution is the prediction that black holes emit radiation .. Hawking radiation is the single biggest clue we have to the ultimate reconciliation of quantum mechanics and gravity, arguably the greatest challenge facing theoretical physics today."

A Brief History of Time
Peter Guzzardi

Professor Hawking was the rare academic who wanted to bring his esoteric scholarly work to the attention of the masses.

The job of editing his first popular book fell to me. The manuscript was a slender but extremely dense 100 pages, describing the quest for one theory that could unite particle physics and astrophysics. As Stephen would so poetically put it, with a grand unified theory that explained both these fields we would understand everything — "for then we would know the mind of God."

A Brief History of Time became a #1 bestseller, was translated into more than 35 languages, and sold more than 10 million copies.

2018 March 13



President Trump taps CIA director Mike Pompeo to be the new secretary of state, replacing Rex Tillerson. Pompeo:

"I am deeply grateful to President Trump for .. this opportunity to serve as Secretary of State. His leadership has made America safer and I look forward to representing him and the American people to the rest of the world to further America's prosperity."

Aaron David Miller

Having worked for half a dozen secretaries of state, I thought I'd seen most everything when it came to bureaucratic intrigue and soap opera politics, particularly regarding relations between the White House and State Department. Well, welcome to Trumpland.

If you needed further evidence that the Trump administration is the most idiosyncratic of any in the modern period, this decision should remove all doubt. The firing of a secretary of state on social media is both humiliating and without precedent.

Trump vs Germany

Der Spiegel

President Donald Trump will slap a punitive tariff on imported steel and threatens to do the same for imported automobiles. "Trade wars are good, and easy to win," he tweeted.

A cycle of tariffs and reciprocal tariffs can quickly grow into a global trade war. Protectionist policies pursued by populists and nationalists harm economic growth and endanger international prosperity. A trade war has no winner.

Trump says Germany is flooding the world with goods and importing fewer. There is a gap in the trade of goods. But services are in balance, and digital services are dominated by American giants.

Three scenarios:
1 Trump's threat proves to be no more than talk.
2 America isolates itself and Europe and Asia pull closer together.
3 A trade war marks the end of an era.

Trade After Brexit

David Böcking

German industry leaders are happy with the status quo in relations between the UK and the EU, says the Voice of German Industry (BDI).

A hard Brexit could cost German industry an extra €9 billion and lead to enormous costs
    and delays, especially for the auto industry.
A customs union would let the UK and EU countries set no extra tariffs on mutual trade
    and allow simplified customs controls.
A comprehensive FTA could let most duties be abolished, but controls and proofs of origin
    for goods would still be needed.

The BDI appeals for agreement soon at least on a transition phase.

Spring Statement

The Guardian

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (treasury secretary) Philip Hammond boasted of what good shape the economy is in as Brexit approaches. After a slightly better performance in 2017 than expected, the OBR now thinks growth will be 1.5% in 2018, up from the 1.4% previously predicted.

AR So all will be well in the best of all possible worlds.

2018 March 12

The Global Arms Trade


The volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2013−17 (period P2) was 10% higher than in 2008−12 (period P1).

The flow of arms increased to Asia and the Mideast between P1 and P2, while the flow to Africa and Europe decreased. The five biggest exporters (the United States, Russia, France, Germany, and China, in order of sales) together accounted for three-quarters of all arms exports in P2.

The United States accounted for a third of total arms exports in P2. Its arms exports increased by a quarter between P1 and P2. US arms exports in P2 were 58% higher than those of Russia. The United States supplied major arms to 98 states in P2. Exports to Mideast states accounted for half of all US arms exports in P2.

Arms exports by Russia decreased by 7% between P1 and P2. France increased its arms exports by over a quarter between the two periods, while arms exports by Germany fell by 14%, but German arms exports to the Mideast more than doubled.

Arms imports by Mideast states in the region doubled between P1 and P2, and accounted for a third of global arms imports in P2. In P2, Saudi Arabia was the world's second largest arms importer, with imports more than double those in P1. Arms imports by Egypt trebled between P1 and P2.

India was the world's largest importer of major arms in P2 and accounted for 12% of the global total. Russia supplied most of its arms imports in P2. India's total arms imports increased by a quarter between P1 and P2, but its imports from the United States rose more than fivefold. Pakistan's arms imports decreased by a third between P1 and P2.

China's arms exports rose by 38% between P1 and P2, with Pakistan the main recipient. China's arms imports fell by 19%.

2018 March 11

My New Mission

Prince Charles

I have been reflecting on how best to ensure my charities can keep doing the best for those people they have been set up to help. One change involves the work I have been doing with our homes and communities.

The thoughtful planning, design, and craftsmanship that for centuries have gone into creating some of the best-loved and most characterful aspects of our communities has, I believe, had a direct and positive impact on the people who live in them.

Sadly, the skills that have helped create these wonderful places are now at risk of dwindling. Stonemasons, carpenters, and other artisanal craftsmen and women who specialise in a whole range of unique heritage crafts have been disappearing.

I believe that new construction should respect the timeless principles of proportion, scale, and local identity and be sympathetic to their surrounding environment.

The elements that link communities to the natural environment around them are also under threat. Our understanding of where our food comes from and what makes a healthy diet has in some cases disappeared altogether.

Over the years, I have founded a range of different charities. We are combining the areas of culture, heritage, built environment, and community education into a new organisation to be called The Prince's Foundation.

2018 March 10

Utopia for Realists

Rutger Bregman

A basic income would liberate the people — perhaps €1,000 a month, given unconditionally as a cash grant or through the tax system as a negative income tax.

A basic income is all about the freedom to say no. That's a privilege for the rich right now. With a basic income, you can say no to a job you don't want to do, say no to a city in which you no longer want to live, say no to an employer who harasses you at work. That's what real freedom looks like.

The basic income is unconditional. With the transfer of money there is a transfer of dignity, of bargaining power, and of responsibility. People have to make their own choices.

Dereliction of Duty?

Jonathan Stevenson

U.S. national security adviser Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster performed brilliantly in the first Gulf War and later became the exemplar of U.S. counterinsurgency prowess. Along the way, he earned a Ph.D. in American history and published a widely acclaimed book, Dereliction of Duty (1997).

McMaster seemed to be an enlightened realist. He was known for speaking truth to power, and his criticism of national security officials reflected a conviction that officers were obliged to avoid repeating the mistakes of their predecessors, even if it meant challenging their superiors.

President Trump is not interested in making decisions systematically. McMaster approved a new national security strategy that reads in part as political cover for Trump's chumminess with Vladimir Putin. McMaster is following this president into policy hell.

2018 March 9

Trouble in Europe

Helen Thompson

Across Europe, the old centrist parties have lost support for their pro-EU/EZ stances.

EU policies on a range of issues from budgets to asylum are now beyond the control of national governments and are often set within the European Council. EZ participation requires governments to forsake policy tools they had used for economic management and gives the ECB power to override national economic legislation.

Voters across the continent have responded by giving more power to strident populists.

The center-left parties have been hit especially hard in Germany, France, and Italy. Part of this is driven by popular rejection of their immigration and refugee policies, part from their cuts in welfare spending and loosened labor laws, and part from their elevation of a technocratic ideal over the daily lives of millions of Europeans.

The fate of Italy under populism could endanger the future of the European project.

Nuclear Fusion

Hannah Devlin

A major new US initiative aims to put fusion power on the grid within 15 years.

The MIT project, in collaboration with Commonwealth Fusion Systems, will use new high-temperature superconductors (yttrium-barium-copper oxide, YBCO) to make extra-strong magnets. These will need less power to contain the ultra-hot plasma in the fusion chamber.

The "smallest private-funded affordable robust compact" (SPARC) reactor will generate about 100 MW of heat in 10 s pulses producing more than twice the power used to heat the plasma. The aim is to demonstrate practical production of positive net energy from fusion.

Fusion benefits:
No shortage of hydrogen fuel
No greenhouse gas emissions
No radioactive waste problem

MIT research VP Maria Zuber: "If we succeed, the world's energy systems will be transformed. We're extremely excited about this."

Einstein's Equations

Kevin Hartnett

General relativity is still mathematically mysterious. Einstein had to fall back on approximations rather than exact solutions for his equations.

The black hole stability conjecture is that if you jolt spacetime, it shakes like jelly, then settles back down again. More formally, it says solutions to Einstein's equations are stable under perturbation.

General relativity says spacetime is something like a rubber sheet. As objects move around, the shape of the sheet changes in response. The field equations take information about curvature and energy at each point and tell you the shape of spacetime in the future.

Stability proofs need to keep track of what is going on in spacetime as the solution evolves. A coordinate system, or gauge, must let you measure distances and identify points in spacetime, with no coordinate singularities and a way to measure the size of waves. For the black hole stability conjecture, the gauge has to evolve as the shape of spacetime evolves.

The new results make partial progress toward a proof of the conjecture.

Jupiter south pole

Jupiter's south pole

American Greed

Having Javanka work
in the White House is
nepotism gone nuts

The Question
Harold Macmillan

"Are we now to isolate
ourselves from Europe, at
a time when our own strength
is no longer self-sufficient and
when the leading European
countries are joining together
to build a future of peace and
progress, instead of wasting
themselves in war?"

"Trump .. has a picture of
world trade in his head that
bears as little resemblance
to reality as his vision of an
America overrun by violent
immigrants. And his notion of
what to do .. amounts to no
more than a bar stool rant."
Paul Krugman

Theresa May

Merkel gerettet:
SPD GroKo Ja

Durdle Door
Matt Hardy
Dorset coast yesterday

Sarmat warheads
Sarmat warheads

"What's the point of Brexit?
Many people were promised
all sorts of glittering utopian
things. Now Theresa May tells
us .. we will be poorer."
Nick Clegg

Solar panels
Conserve Energy Future


2018 March 8

Juno Observes Jupiter

Hannah Devlin

The NASA Juno spacecraft has found that Jupiter's striped bands, caused by powerful winds, extend to a depth of about 3 Mm below the surface. The inner 96% of the planet rotates as a solid body, yet is a dense mixture of H and He gas.

The bands are part of a deep convection system that causes variations in the gravitational field detected by Juno. The atmosphere comprises about 1% of the mass of the planet, compared to about a millionth on Earth.

The upper Jovian atmosphere is a cloud layer of H and He, with 1% traces of methane and ammonia, that becomes denser with depth. About 10% toward the center, the H is ionized as a metallic gas approaching the density of water. About 20% toward the center, the He condenses into rain. In the deep interior, where pressures are about 1 TPa, the gas may form a thick soup enriched with heavy metal rocks.

The $1.1 billion Juno mission may end in July with a dive into the depths.

Quantum Gravity

Natalie Wolchover

Sougato Bose and others propose a lab experiment to show whether two objects can become entangled with each other through their mutual gravitational attraction. They can do so only if gravitation is a quantum interaction.

Put a microdiamond containing some 10^11 carbon atoms into a quantum superposition of two locations. To do this, embed a nitrogen atom in the diamond, next to a vacancy in the diamond's structure, and zap it with a microwave pulse. An electron orbiting the nitrogen-vacancy system both absorbs the light and doesn't, and the system enters a quantum superposition of two spin directions (up and down). Subject the diamond to a magnetic field, which makes up-spins move left while down-spins go right. The diamond follows a superposition of two trajectories.

Do all this to two diamonds suspended next to each other in an ultracold vacuum. Switch off the trap holding them and watch the two diamonds fall vertically through the vacuum, feeling a mutual gravitational attraction.

If gravity is a quantum interaction, each component of one diamond's superposition will experience a stronger or weaker gravitational attraction to the other, depending on whether the other's superposition component is closer or further away.

In each case, the different gravitational attraction affect the evolving components of the diamonds' superpositions. The two diamonds will show correlations in the spin directions of their two nitrogen-vacancy systems.

After the diamonds have fallen side by side for about 3 s, pass them through another magnetic field that brings the branches of each superposition back together. Let the two diamonds enter separate devices that measure the spin directions of their nitrogen-vacancy systems.

Running the experiment over and over and comparing many pairs of spin measurements can show correlation to demonstrate entanglement.

AR Bet that gravity is a quantum interaction.

2018 March 7

Brexit: The Essence

Donald Tusk

The European Council confirms its readiness to initiate work towards a free trade agreement, to be finalised and concluded once the UK is no longer a member state. Such an agreement cannot offer the same benefits as membership and cannot amount to participation in the single market or parts thereof.

Being outside the customs union and the single market will inevitably lead to frictions. Divergence in external tariffs and internal rules, as well as absence of common institutions and a shared legal system, necessitates checks and controls to uphold the integrity of the EU single market as well as of the UK market. This unfortunately will have negative economic consequences.

AR Memo to May: End this tragic farce.

Brexit: EU Leadership Needed

Daniel Finkelstein

Brexiteers used to say the EU would easily come to terms if the UK left. But the EU was fixated on political integration and would not relax the four freedoms. I thought they would offer a standard trade deal on bad terms.

In Italy, a struggle for power between the populists and the far right has begun. In Germany, a grand coalition deal leaves the populist AfD party as the main opposition. Populism is in the driving seat in Poland, Hungary, and Austria.

Britain has opted to leave the EU. British aspirations may be unattainable but they aren't mad. Brits want a close trading relationship that benefits producers and consumers across Europe — but not closer integration.

The argument that if Britain were to get good terms then everyone will want to leave suggests the EU lacks confidence. Flexibility and leadership from Brussels would strengthen the EU and increase its solidarity.

AR Lord Finkelstein forgets the issues of regulatory divergence and repudiation of shared jurisdiction, not to mention discrimination over citizenship.

2018 March 6

No More Nork Nukes?

The New York Times

NK leader Kim Jong Un has told SK envoys he is willing to begin negotiations with the United States on abandoning its nuclear weapons and would suspend all nuclear and missile tests during talks.

SK president Moon Jae In: "The North Korean side clearly stated its willingness to denuclearize. It made it clear that it would have no reason to keep nuclear weapons if the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed."

The two Koreas will prepare for a summit meeting in Freedom House, Panmunjom. Before Kim and Moon meet, the countries will install a hotline to reach each other directly.

Moon hopes an NK freeze on nuclear and missile tests will prompt President Trump to agree to open a dialog.

Brexit: No Control

David Allen Green

Last week the EU published a draft withdrawal agreement. Other than the provisions on the Irish border, one can see what the final document may look like.

The status quo will continue until 2020, if not beyond. UK ministers will still claim loudly that Brexit means the UK is taking back control of the trio of its borders, its money, and its laws. But the detail defeats the rhetoric.

The UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019. If the transition period ends on 31 December 2020, the result is a Brexit in name only, at least for a few years.

Brexit: Duty vs Reality

Rachel Sylvester

Theresa May is leading the UK toward a Brexit she does not believe is in the national interest. Yet she sees it as her duty to implement it. This is an extraordinary position for a prime minister to be in.

Asked if she thought leaving the EU was worth it, May said: "The British people voted for Brexit and I think it's incumbent on their politicians to deliver on the decision that we asked them to take."

May has admitted that the country will be worse off after Brexit. Her negotiating position is based on limiting the damage. Taking back control is being exposed as a phoney display of assertiveness.

Extend the Article 50 process. Let the UK not leave the EU until the end of the transition period. Give parliament a meaningful vote on the terms of Brexit.

AR Remain until at least the end of 2020.

2018 March 5

Sen Capitalism

Tim Rogan

Moral and spiritual relationships are important. Material fixes such as a universal basic income are not always enough. A rational distribution of prosperity can redress only material inequality.

Amartya Sen treats material inequality through the moral frameworks and social relationships that mediate economic exchanges. To understand famine, look for malfunctions of the moral economy that moderates demands on a scarce commodity. To solve material inequality, improve the moral relationships.

Sen studied economics but always linked our material needs with our moral lives. The theory of welfare promoted the idea that states could legitimate redistribution by appeal to utilitarian principles. Sen said maximizing utility is not the only concern, and making policy as if it were is a form of tyranny.

Economic rationality harbors a hidden politics that can damage the moral economies people build up to govern their own lives. In commercial societies, individuals pursue economic ends within agreed social and moral frameworks. The social and moral frameworks are the coefficients of prosperity.

Moral economies are contested and evolving. People are more than cold calculators of rational utility and societies are more than engines of prosperity. Sen is the great critic of capitalism.

2018 March 4

Brexit: The Speech

The Observer

Theresa May's Brexit speech on Friday was a defeat for:

The Leaver vision of a sovereign country freed from the constraints imposed by
    European politicians, laws, and regulations
Remainers who hoped against hope that Britain would draw back from this gross
    act of national self-harm
All who rightly fear for the country's future prosperity, cohesion, and jobs
Young people who will perforce inhabit an ugly new world of harder borders,
    work permits, bureaucracy, and pervasive state intrusion
The UK

Her speech marked a moment of British retreat from the shared ideals and principles of collaborative internationalism that have guided the western democracies since 1945. It presaged a historic abdication of leadership. The future toward which she is leading us will make Britain a poorer, meaner, lonelier, and shabbier place.

Admit we made a mistake in 2016 and humbly ask for time to reconsider.

2018 March 3

Human History

David Graeber, David Wengrow

The standard story of social inequality is that civilization invariably puts in charge a small elite who grab more and more of the pie, and they can only be dislodged by catastrophe. But is it true?

Evidence for institutional inequality in prehistory is sporadic. Over tens of thousands of years, we see only monuments and magnificent burials to indicate the growth of ranked societies. In the seasonal environments of the last ice age, our ancestors shifted back and forth between alternative social arrangements, permitting the rise of authoritarian structures during certain times of year.

There is no support for the view that agriculture marked a major transition in human societies. The transition from living mainly on wild resources to a life based on food production typically took thousands of years. The spread of farming to secondary areas turns out to have been a process that sometimes failed, leading to demographic collapse for the farmers, not the foragers.

Civilization does not come as a package. There is no evidence that top-down structures of rule are the necessary consequence of large-scale organization. It is not true that ruling classes, once established, cannot be gotten rid of except by general catastrophe. Egalitarian cities, even regional confederacies, are historically quite commonplace.

The most painful loss of human freedoms began at the level of gender relations, age groups, and domestic servitude. Look there to understand how some people turned wealth into power.

AR I find this case overstated, hence unconvincing.

Natural Beauty

Daniel Cossins

Most physicists love beauty. The principle of naturalness is the belief that the laws of nature ought to be beautiful. It suggests there is a reason for things being as they are.

It seems the mass of the Higgs should be about 10^19 GeV, but in fact it is 125 GeV. In supersymmetry, SUSY, with a heavy twin for every known particle, the sparticles would drive the Higgs mass down just as much as the known particles drive it up, giving the Higgs a natural mass.

SUSY not only explains the Higgs mass but also elegantly unifies the electroweak and strong forces and explains dark matter. Unfortunately, searches for sparticles at energy scales just beyond the Higgs have come up empty.

The Higgs mass seems unnatural and improbable. But in only one universe there is nothing to define that probability. In a multiverse, the vast number of worlds could give it a natural probability.

A team led by Nima Arkani-Hamed has proposed a theory with N copies of the standard model, where N is a large number, that all exist in the same universe. The copies differ only in the Higgs mass, which sets the masses of all other particles in a copy. The Higgs mass we see is about as light as it can be, so perhaps lighter is more natural.

AR Are the N copies in a quantum state space? If so, good.

2018 March 2

New Russian Nukes

Fred Kaplan

President Vladimir Putin boasted that Russia is developing new types of nuclear weapons that will be invulnerable to US missile defense systems:

A nuclear-tipped cruise missile with a nuclear engine
Ballistic missiles with multiple independently maneuverable warheads
A hypersonic air-launched attack missile

This is not a revival of the Cold War. Russia would be no match for America in a direct confrontation, and Putin is no Stalin. Then again, Trump is a dim shadow of past US presidents, too.

AR A Russian investment in national pride — still a waste of money.

Brexit: May Work

Financial Times

Theresa May has sought to reassure business leaders that Britain will commit to regulatory standards similar to the EU's after Brexit to maintain the free flow of goods.

But she warned that the EU and UK will lose some access to each other's markets. She promised that Britain would not try to undercut the EU in areas such as regulation and state aid, and confirmed that the UK would abide by the rules of EU agencies on medicines, chemicals, and aviation.

Her conciliatory tone was intended to reassure Europeans.

AR Much more clarity — but Ireland is still unsolved.

Brexit: May Speech

The Times

Theresa May will make a major Brexit speech today.

May: "I want the broadest and deepest possible agreement, covering more sectors and cooperating more fully than any free trade agreement anywhere in the world today."

She will say any deal must meet five tests:
1 Respect the referendum result
2 Protect people's jobs and security
3 Be consistent with the values of a tolerant, open democracy
4 Not weaken the ties that bind the UK
5 Not unravel

AR My suggestion: fudge test 1 and stay in the EU.

Brexit: EU Draft Agreement

David Allen Green

The EU draft withdrawal agreement at last offers something substantial to focus on. By preparing the first draft, the EU has taken the lead and may keep it until the deal is done.

The agreement needs to be final by October. Parts will need to be revised and amended. But most of it merely translates into formal legal prose the December joint report. There is nothing new in it.

The draft is clear and well drafted, practically a legal document. It sets out the Irish border proposals in a schedule as a protocol. It will concentrate minds wonderfully.

AR The May team needs to get real on Ireland.

Brexit: Hostility

Rafael Behr

The Conservatives are struggling to agree on Brexit. A scorched-earth ethos has captured the party. On the forced march from reality, nothing of Europhile Conservatism can be left standing.

Some Brexiteers are even trashing the Good Friday agreement, which impedes a hard break between the UK and the EU. They seek to see its success in underpinning peace as failure.

Extreme Brexiteers will only be satisfied by a hard Brexit. A section of the Tory party is implacably hostile to the European project. The EU cannot ignore that hostility.

AR The May team could expel the extremists.

2018 March 1

Sustainable Energy

James Temple

A growing number of US cities and states have proposed or legislated producing all electricity from renewable energy sources like solar and wind within a few decades. But insisting on renewable sources is wastefully expensive and needlessly difficult.

A recent study determined that solar and wind energy alone could reliably meet about 80% of recent US annual electricity demand, but massive investments would be needed to avoid major blackouts. Pushing to 100% would be prohibitively expensive.

The basic problem is that the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow. The study found there are gaps in renewable-energy production even on a continental scale.

Relying on these sources alone would requiring building many more solar and wind farms to produce excess energy during sunny and windy periods, plus huge storage systems that can bank the energy. And build lines to transmit the electricity around the country.

Storage systems are incredibly expensive in the case of batteries, and geographically limited in the case of pumped hydroelectric. Nationwide, they would cost more than $2.5 trillion.

The First Stars

Andrew Griffin

Astronomers have detected radio signals from the very first stars ever, dating back to 180 My ABB. UV light from the stars lit up the hydrogen around them, causing the radio emissions.

Alan Rogers: "This is the first real signal that stars are starting to form .. some of the radiation from the very first stars is starting to allow hydrogen to be seen."

Ron Ekers: "This is one of the most technically challenging radio astronomy experiments ever attempted .. we will have to wait for independent confirmation."

Brian Schmidt: "While the detection appears robust, it is an incredibly challenging measurement, and needs to be confirmed. The fact that the detection is much stronger than expected .. might reflect new physics."


National Police Air Service London
The "Beast from the East" looms over London

Former Prime Minister
Sir John Major:

"MPs should have a free vote
on the final Brexit deal."

Sajid Javid
Sajid Javid

Bay City?

Poole, Bournemouth, and
Christchurch will form a
new unitary council for
the conurbation, says
communities secretary
Sajid Javid

Walk 1

Walk 2

Winter walk to Swanage

No Brexit

Bournemouth beach
My Beach
TripAdvisor ranks it
#1 in UK, #5 in Europe

Enlightenment Now

"Brexit must mean leaving
the EU single market ..
Brexit does not best serve
the national interest."
Malcolm Rifkind

Stop Brexit


2018 February 28

Brexit: Constitutional Threat?

Financial Times

The first draft of EU proposals for Brexit proposes to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and subject to ECJ jurisdiction. Theresa May says the proposal would undermine the UK common market and threaten the "constitutional integrity" of the UK: "No UK prime minister could ever agree to it."

The EU envisages joint EU−UK customs controls for goods entering Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland from the British mainland. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier: "Nothing in here will be a surprise."

Ireland welcomes the draft. Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar: "Our preferred option .. is that we have a very close new relationship between the UK and the EU that is so close that it doesn't require a border."

AR The UK has no written constitution.

Brexit: PM in Waiting?

Matthew Norman

Jeremy Corbyn is the toast of the CBI and the darling (within reason) of the FT. The terrifying red firebrand has been transformed into the business hero.

The Conservative party has made the reverse journey. It has abandoned pro-business pragmatism and embraced hysterically rigid ideological purism.

Famously, the British electorate disdains ideologues and almost invariably gives power to whichever of the main parties it perceives as the less extreme.

The government could abruptly fall for various reasons. Corbyn should tour European capitals and meet those with whom he may be parlaying.

AR Sir John Major for PM!

2018 February 27

The British Establishment

Aeron Davis

Many of the traditional elements that once held the British establishment together are degenerating. Wealth and power have gravitated to the City of London and the global financial system. The links between exclusive education, tradition, status, power, and money have been broken.

Many corporate and financial leaders do not have an elite education or a privileged past but have amassed a lot of money and influence. Those at the top of state institutions are more likely to be of good establishment stock but also have less income and questionable influence.

The shared values of the old establishment are disappearing. The new values are all about personal enrichment, individualism, self-interest, and reverence for wealth creators. But selfish individualism and survival of the fittest are not a good basis for holding an elite together.

Despite almost four decades of dominance over the political and economic system, neoliberalism no longer provides a stable basis for maintaining elite power and profit. The new British establishment has its heart in the City of London, where it almost wiped itself out.

The logic of neoliberalism is as bad for the establishment as it is for the rest of society. Elites require the rule of law, security, a transport infrastructure, an able workforce, and social stability to function. The new establishment has an extremely limited future.

2018 February 26

Aufbruch — Dynamik — Zusammenhalt


Die CDU hat sich mit großer Mehrheit für eine erneute große Koalition ausgesprochen. Jetzt muss auch noch die SPD-Basis zustimmen.

Parteichefin Angela Merkel: "Es liegt an uns, ob wir den Willen und die Bereitschaft ausstrahlen, dieses Land gestalten zu wollen. Ich möchte, dass uns das gemeinsam gelingt."

Saarlands Ministerpräsidentin Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer wird CDU-Generalsekretärin.

Customs Union Now

Wolfgang Münchau

Canada-plus-plus-plus proposes three baskets. This is pure illusion.

The possible scenarios are Canada without pluses and a customs union for goods. Canada would put a hard customs border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. This leaves a customs union.

UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has endorsed a customs union. This could be a game changer. The EU would demand a degree of political convergence as a price for a customs union.

The EU could insist on an open immigration regime in the UK resembling free movement. The EU27 would object to an immigration regime discriminating against any of its member states.

A Brexit revocation is still possible.

British Basket Case

Nick Clegg

UK prime minister Theresa May will reveal all in a speech this week. The Chequers meeting last week prepared a case for three baskets:

One for industries, such as aerospace and automotive, that ministers believe might wish to preserve full alignment with EU rules,

One for agreement with the bloc on shared goals, say on consumer rights, animal welfare, and environmental protection, but where those goals will be reached by different means,

One for those sectors that the government wants to distance sharply from EU regulation, such as fisheries or agriculture.

This is part of a strategy of managed divergence. The rest of the EU calls this cherry picking.

The EU is not susceptible to fudged deals struck between British politicians in Westminster. Because Britain lacks a written constitution, British negotiators consistently underestimate the importance of law and process for their EU counterparts. The whole point of the single market was to let industries operate in a big market free of haphazard interference from politicians.

AR No constitution, just muddle ..

2018 February 25

Introspection, Xenophobia

Justin Welby

Brexit risks becoming a catalyst of British introspection, xenophobia, and self-pity. We face the danger of becoming a society without generosity, arising from a lack of confidence. The financial crisis and great recession of 2008 had an effect on the UK from which it has yet to recover.

The psychological effects are even greater. With the added factor of huge external change, this will make the next few decades a period of complete reimagination. The task is far more complicated than after 1945 and the result will be a process lasting several generations.

The expansion of the EU has led to a loss of its own, also very often Christian-driven narrative. The stories of war have faded, as has the sense of escape from the totalitarian regimes of the Soviet bloc. Franco-German reconciliation has been displaced by an often crude materialism.

Mutti Merkel

Niall Ferguson

Angela Merkel has been a political disaster. In the summer of 2015, she opened the gates of Germany to mass immigrants.

Since the start of 2015, Germany has received about 1.4 million asylum seekers. The great majority of them are young male Muslims. The Muslim population of Germany could rise to between 10% and 20% by 2050, depending on future immigration.

There has been a marked increase in crime. Violent crime had fallen by 22% between 2007 and 2014 but rose by more than 10% from then until the end of 2016. More than 90% of that increase was attributable to the newcomers.

Merkel bears some responsibility for Brexit. I am pretty sure Brexit will turn out to be bad for Europe and bad for Germany.

2018 February 24

US Space Plans

Leroy Chiao

The Trump administration is floating a proposal to return to the Moon and to shut down the International Space Station to help pay for it.

The ISS is an essential piece of the NASA program for space exploration. We need the ISS to help us find out how to keep astronauts healthy on long missions and also as an engineering test bed.

The United States ended the space shuttle program in 2011, after the ISS was complete. We have not been able to send astronauts to space ourselves since then.

The shuttle was able to launch 7 astronauts and over 25 tons of payload into LEO. None of the spacecraft that might be built in the next few years comes close to that capability. If the administration ends the ISS program, our future in space will be set back even more.

The ISS cost about $100 billion to build and $4 billion a year to run. We need to maintain US leadership in human spaceflight.

German Policy

Sophia Besch, Christian Odendahl

Germany has long enjoyed the luxury of not having to think strategically about foreign and defense policy. In economics, Germany has been unwilling to give up its self-serving euro crisis narrative. Berlin needs to:

1 Think more strategically about trade: Lead a European push for greater emphasis on social rights, environmental protection, fair taxation, and political standards.

2 Take steps to strengthen the eurozone: Promote countercyclical fiscal policy and stop dragging its feet on banking and capital markets union.

3 Help develop a European strategy to manage migration: Work with Turkey and Libya to stop irregular migration and lead the coordination of development aid from EU countries.

4 Invest in defense: Modernize and expand its armed forces, clarify its policy on arms exports, and participate in NATO nuclear deterrence.

5 Rethink its working relationships with America, Poland, and France.

2018 February 23

Tame Apes

Colin Barras

Dogs, sheep, goats, pigs, cows, cats, horses, and so on were all domesticated by humans.

Starting in 1959, Dmitry Belyaev took wild foxes and bred from the most cooperative ones. Over the generations, the foxes began to look and behave more and more like pets. White patches started to appear on their fur and their ears became floppier. Eventually the male skulls shrank and began to look more like female ones.

Many domesticated mammals have patches of white hair and floppy ears. Their brains are generally smaller than those of their wild relatives, and they have smaller teeth and shorter muzzles. These traits are known as the domestication syndrome.

Modern humans have relatively short faces, small teeth, and no prominent brow ridges. Our brains are smaller than those of our Neanderthal cousins. And like many domesticated species, young humans are receptive to learning from their peers for an unusually long time.

The parts of the body influenced by domestication all derive from a tiny collection of stem cells in the embryo called the neural crest. The neural crest also gives rise to the adrenal glands, which play a key role in fear and stress. Other genes with links to the neural crest should all change as a result of domestication.

Genetic comparisons between modern humans and Neanderthals show that many of the differences are linked to the neural crest. The neural crest genes in several known domestic species are distinct from those in their wild counterparts. Perhaps humans underwent the same sort of domestication as these animals did.

Most domestic animals were tamed by humans. So what tamed humans?

AR Wir selbst — also sprach Nietzsche.

2018 February 22


Martin Kettle

Foreigners sometimes see the big political picture with greater clarity. Three examples:

Wolfgang Ischinger: "Things would be so much easier if you stayed."

A Canadian: "This just has to be the stupidest decision that any democracy has ever taken."

Fintan O'Toole: Britain is a cat up a tree. It needs to climb down but it hisses and claws at those who clamber up ladders to offer a hand. The EU has to cajole the hissy cat out of its tree with fifteen exasperatedly contemptuous concessions to England, such as being allowed to win penalty shootouts, compelling Spanish-language atlases to call the Malvinas the Falklands, and sending children up chimneys.

Brexit is a pity. Brexit is stupid. Brexit is an act of English self-love.


Shehab Khan

European Parliament Brexit steering group member Philippe Lamberts says the way the UK is conducting the Brexit negotiations is a shambles. He has never seen such unpreparedness, lack of professionalism, and incompetence from politicians.


Zoe Williams

The Brexit debate has trapped us in formless bilge about sovereignty and rabid fantasies of deregulation to see who can be top dog. The ERG, a group of 62 hard-Brexit MPs, wrote to Theresa May. They could oust her: she is their zombie.

The ERG want to make their own rules, yet maintain frictionless trade with a union run on rules. They want to forge new bonds based on free trade with faraway lands. If that means torching all the regulatory safeguards between us and a Mad Max world, so be it.

Soft Brexit is a myth: membership without influence, responsibilities without rights, vassal status. Soft Brexit is a lesser grade of national self-harm to appease wingnut Conservatives. Kamikaze Brexit is the ERG option. Fight back.

Stop It

Simon Kuper

Stoppers are trying to shift public opinion. Polls since last summer show a consistent if slight lead for Remain over Leave. In 2020, Stoppers can say: "You've been negotiating Brexit for four years and got nowhere. Meanwhile, demographic change means the electorate is now clearly Remain. How about a second referendum on whether to jump off the cliff?"

The day the UK achieves Brexit, the British political argument changes. For now, all problems are blamed on Brussels and immigrants. After Brexit, all problems will be blamed on Brexit.

Reversing Brexit in 2020 would be doable given that the UK would never have abandoned EU rules. Northern European states would press for readmitting the UK. The EU would demand guarantees that Britons would not try Brexit again for a generation.

2018 February 21

America vs Russia

Thomas L. Friedman

American democracy is in serious danger.

President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or is a towering fool, or both, but either way he has shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy.

Special prosecutor Robert Mueller has brought indictments against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups, all linked in some way to the Kremlin, for interfering with the 2016 US elections.

Russian president Vladimir Putin used cyberwarfare to poison American politics, to spread fake news, to help elect a chaos candidate, all in order to weaken our democracy.

My guess is what Trump is hiding has to do with money. Donald Trump Jr in 2008: "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets." They may own the president.

But whatever it is, Trump is either trying so hard to hide it or is so naïve about Russia that he is ready to resist mounting a proper defense of our democracy and to undermine the FBI and Justice Department to keep his compromised status hidden.

That must not be tolerated. This is code red.

Europe vs Britain

Gideon Rachman

Brexit has turned British political analysts into football fans. The two camps, Leave and Remain, are no longer capable of dispassionate analysis. Instead, they view any new development in the EU through the distorting mirror of confirmation bias.

The current problems of the EU support the case for remaining, not leaving. For all its flaws, the EU is the only mechanism for solving the problems peacefully. Britain should be part of the solution, but Brexit has made it another problem.

2018 February 20

Enlightenment Now

Janan Ganesh

Steven Pinker says life has been improving in most measurable respects for centuries. Despair is baseless, he says in his new book Enlightenment Now.

Reviewers bridle at his rationalist chauvinism. His critics find him too triumphalist by half. Politicians have to traffic in tone and mood.

Pinker exposes liberals to the charge of undervaluing what cannot be measured. Populism is not just doubt about the existence of material improvement. It is doubt about whether material improvement is enough for humans.

Liberalism is a framework of rules and institutions. A good liberal worries when the state expounds on what constitutes the good life. Technocrats spill little blood but leave some people hungry for more fulfilling ideologies.

As a guide to political action, Enlightenment Now is a howl into the wind. The quest to go beyond economic comfort is a demand to feed the soul.

Steven Pinker
Jan-Werner Müller

Steven Pinker argues against cultural pessimism. He sets out progress report cards on measures of human wellbeing.

He says even in increasingly unequal societies, the poor are still getting more stuff and benefits, and the world as a whole is becoming more equal. People are more upset by unfairness than inequality, he says, and sooner or later there will be a rational solution for every policy challenge. But democratic politics is not like a scientific experiment.

Pinker is a cheerleader for the Enlightenment. The spirit of the Enlightenment was and remains the spirit of criticism.

2018 February 19

The West Will Fall

Viktor Orbán

Immigration has cast dark clouds over Europe. The West has opened the way for the decline of Christian culture and Islamic expansion. Nations will cease to exist, the West will fall, and Europeans will not even notice that Europe has been overrun.

Christianity is our last hope. If hundreds of millions of young people are allowed to move north, there will be enormous pressure on Europe. In the big cities there will be Muslim majorities.

Hungary is the last bastion against the Islamization of Europe. My administration has prevented the Islamic world from flooding Hungary from the south. I pledged our solidarity with those European people and leaders who want to save their country and their Christian culture.

AR This level of paranoia reflects more badly on (Orbánic) Christianity than on Islam.

Defending Europe

Financial Times

MSC 2018: Germany and France called for Europe to stand on its own two feet militarily.

Permanent Structured Cooperation (Pesco) is an EU attempt to forge closer defense ties: 25 member states have signed up to 17 projects ranging from improving military mobility to developing a new infantry fighting vehicle.

German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen said 2016 was a wake-up call for Pesco and the European Defence Fund, which coordinates spending on defense research and military procurement: "We want to remain transatlantic, but at the same time become more European."

US secretary of defense Jim Mattis praised European moves to increase defense spending and applauded Germany for taking its military responsibilities more seriously: "You see a much more engaged Germany today than you and I could've guessed even five years ago."

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said EU efforts risk "weakening the transatlantic bond .. duplicating what NATO is already doing and .. discriminating against non-EU members of the NATO alliance" when "80% of NATO defense spending will come from non-EU allies" after Brexit.

AR I propose a new NATO mission: impose military control on immigration into Europe.

2018 February 18

The Kremlin Candidate

Paul Callan

The indictment announced Friday in the Mueller investigation told a compelling and detailed crime story. Russian attempts to sabotage the American presidential election were probably successful in their effort to influence the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

A Cognitive Elite

Niall Ferguson

America has systematically tried to put cosmopolitanism into practice. If cosmopolitanism works, America should not be showing the multiple social pathologies described by Charles Murray in his seminal book Coming Apart. Murray warns that a cognitive elite formed at America's most selective colleges has lost all touch with the mass of ordinary Americans.

Stop Brexit

Neil Kinnock

We should stop Brexit to save the National Health Service. Even contempt for experts cannot obscure the evidence that the Brexit vote has already damaged the NHS and will inflict future harm on it. We can either take the increasingly plain risks and costs of leaving the EU or have the stability, growth, and revenues vital for crucial public services like the NHS and social care.

Stop Brexit

Stephen Peel

We hear strident calls from those who want to close down debate and silence discussion over the disaster that Brexit appears to be. I will not be silenced and will do all I can to support groups such as Best for Britain who seek to engage people across the country and make the case for Britain to lead, not leave Europe. The Best for Britain campaign will inform and engage a broad electorate across Britain and seek to end the slow motion car crash that we are seeing right before our eyes.

On Liberty

Christopher Macleod

Victorian philosopher John Stuart Mill is remembered as the author of On Liberty. He said there should be no interference with the thought, speech, or action of anyone except on the grounds of the prevention of harm to others. He said individuals were the best judges of their own good.

The argument is utilitarian. His suggestion that liberal rights are suitable only for societies that have reached a certain level of development, as achieved after the Enlightenment in Europe, may strike us as blinkered. But it reflects the reality of the historical emergence of liberal societies.

Mill maintained that human beings had the ability to influence their own character. He viewed pleasures actively taken in the world as more valuable than those received passively. The higher intellectual and aesthetic pleasures were to be preferred over the lower animal pleasures.

Mill also worried about the growth of equality. Deference to the majority on political matters led to deference to the majority on questions of value, leading to mediocrity and the debasement of high ideals. With democracy came the danger of a descent into populism and cultural decline.

Nuclear weapons

Former commander of US nuclear forces General James Cartwright on nuclear weapons

German defense minister
Ursula von der Leyen

Janan Ganesh

If Brexit does its worst, and
Britain sags in relevance, those
who suspect George Soros of a
plot to overturn the referendum
will come to pine for the days
when global tycoons thought
this country worth

Works of Love
Søren Kierkegaard

"You shall love your
neighbor as yourself"
Jesus Christ

No one escapes this command.
If you come as close to a life of
self-love as is possible, your
neighbor is there too, as fatally
close to self-love as possible.
The only escape is to banish
your neighbor, out
of your life.

Rosie Rees
Rosie Rees
Yoga nude — how else?



The Heart of Conrad

Colm Tóibín

Joseph Conrad was much more than a novelist of adventure, a chronicler of the issues that haunted his time, or a writer who dramatized moral questions. For novelists who deal with isolation, solitude, hesitation, and the lone self, his strategies are instructive and his techniques fascinating. He is the great example to those who want to offer their characters a fully imagined solitude.

Joseph Conrad was born to Polish parents in the Ukraine in 1857. As a boy, he decided he wished to be a sailor. He joined the British merchant marine and got his master's certificate in 1886, the same year that he became a British subject.

Conrad had ended his career at sea by 1894. He published his first novel in 1895. For each book he wrote, Conrad found a new system of narration. Since he had set his novels in both East and West, in Malaya and London and South America and Africa, it is easy to see him as a global writer.

When he was asked why he didn't write in Polish, the great English novelist replied: "I value too much our beautiful Polish literature to introduce into it my worthless twaddle. But for Englishmen my capacities are just sufficient: they enable me to earn my living."

2018 February 17


Klaus-Dieter Frankenberg

France is again playing a leading role in Europe. This is a good thing: Neither Europe nor Germany can accept German dominance for long. What is happening is a correction.

For France, security policy and military engagement are a practical necessity. Under President Macron, defense spending will rise steadily in the coming years.

European Defense

Die Welt

Munich Security Conference: Ursula von der Leyen and Florence Parly, the defense ministers of Germany and France, kicked off the proceedings.

Von der Leyen said Europe should put more military weight on the scales. The European Defense Union shows the political will to work on a European army. Joint development programs are planned for drones, tanks, and fighter jets.

Parly said a robust European defense begins with efforts at home. France will devote 2% of GNP to defense by 2025. A comprehensive weapons modernization will include conventional and nuclear capabilities. A new aircraft carrier alone will cost at least €5 billion.

Von der Leyen presented an investment program of €130 billion for arms by 2030. But the the plan is not anchored in the new coalition agreement. At present defense remains at 1.24% of GDP.

Parly said Europe must develop a strategic culture with the aim of achieving a shared awareness of the situation, a shared analysis, and a shared action plan — a shared action doctrine.

2018 February 16


Tobias Buck

Germany is slowly but steadily taking on more responsibility in world affairs. Over the past decade, Berlin has abolished conscription, professionalized its armed forces, and raised defense spending. German soldiers are currently engaged in more than a dozen foreign missions.

The new German approach to defense and security is in part a response to a new political reality. At a time when the United States is showing more reluctance than ever to be the guarantor of European security, Berlin is under pressure to take on more of the burden.

The outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine caught all NATO countries unprepared. In the years since reunification, the Bundeswehr had absorbed massive budget cuts and prepared for entirely different military scenarios and tasks. The notion of confronting Russia seemed fanciful.

Political leaders support a stronger Bundeswehr in principle. But last week, the coalition agreement put defense policy far down its list of priorities. With the German economy set for continued expansion, the defense budget will still be less than 1.5% of GDP in 2022. The NATO target is 2%.


Sebastian Payne

The British idea of an Empire 2.0 after Brexit is wrong. Australia is seeking to become a republic.

Australians have flirted with the idea of becoming a republic before, and over half of voters support jettisoning the House of Windsor. Both Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull, the respective party leaders, are staunch republicans.

Prime minister Turnbull plans to reopen the question when the second Elizabethan age ends.


Leslie Young

A majority of Canadians believe that Canada should end its ties to the UK monarchy. But they divide on what comes after. The monarchy is written into the constitution and any change requires a constitutional amendment with unanimous support of the provinces.

Assuming all the provinces agreed to change the constitution, Canada could become a republic. But any elected president would decide that they had the democratic legitimacy to act on their own discretion in exercising their powers.

2018 February 15

Quantum Retrocausality

Adam Becker

Maybe the laws of quantum physics let the future influence the present. Retrocausality could save us from nonlocality and lets us make quantum mechanics consistent with general relativity.

The fundamental laws of physics work the same going backwards or forwards. This is time-reversal symmetry. If quantum physics has time-reversal symmetry, retrocausality seems to follow.

General relativity undoes the concept of now. Our perception that time passes is due to our limited perspective on the world. Past, present, and future form an eternal block. In a block universe, quantum retrocausality would be less strange.

We need a new version of quantum theory that incorporates the block universe to allow for retrocausality. A theory of quantum physics applies over all of spacetime, all at once. If quantum uncertainty keeps features of the quantum world persistently hidden from us, we may still be unable to send signals to the past.

Randomness in quantum physics becomes an illusion that appears because we only see part of the picture at once. If you are doing a sudoku puzzle and you start on one side, it looks as if you are seeing random events. But if you look at the whole thing at once, you can see a unique solution from the global constraints on the whole grid.

Retrocausality might lead to a theory of quantum gravity. What happens here and now could have effects far away in space and past time that only make sense in the block universe.

Quantum contextuality is a different new idea. Contextuality says the outcomes of quantum experiments depend on what other experiments are done at the same time.

AR These are hard, nutty ideas. Retrocausality dates back at least to Feynman and his speculations on advanced and retarded waves in EM theory. I mooted the sudoku analogy a few years ago but saw no way to translate it into quantum formalism.

2018 February 14


Jean-Claude Juncker

Some in the British political society are against the truth, pretending that I am stupid, stubborn federalist. I am strictly against a European superstate and always have been. I do not understand why some people insist on saying otherwise.

We are not the United States of America. We are the EU. The EU cannot build against its nations.


Boris Johnson

I fear that some people are becoming ever more determined to stop Brexit and to frustrate the will of the people. I believe that would be a disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal. We cannot and will not let it happen.

Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope. It is not good enough to say to remainers, you lost, get over it, because we must accept that many are actuated by noble sentiments, a sense of solidarity with our European neighbours and a desire for the UK to succeed.

The economic benefits of membership are nothing like as conspicuous or irrefutable as is sometimes claimed. It is only by taking back control of our regulatory framework and our tariff schedules that we can do deals and exploit changes in the world economy.

AR Frustrating the will of Boris to damage the British economy in his attempt to impose an imperialist fantasy of world exploitation strikes me as the patriotic duty of any UK citizen who has the real interests of this island people at heart.

Given the known defects of the Brexit referendum campaign and the fact that voters split about half and half on the question, most statisticians would say the result was null, a mere arithmetical win, and no real basis for policy.


Daniel Finkelstein

George Soros is accused of being involved in a "secret plot" to persuade British voters to abandon Brexit.

When the populist governments in Hungary and Poland select as their public enemy George Soros, a Jewish financial speculator, and accuse him of being the puppeteer behind a conspiracy to undermine their democracy, Jews are nervous.

A common theme in such theories is that Jews are citizens of nowhere, forever plotting world domination. To be made exiles, as was the Hungarian-born George Soros and as were my parents, and then to be accused of rootlessness is surely the ultimate irony.

The idea on the populist left and right that there is an international elite, resting on global capital, hanging out in Davos, working to frustrate the interests of the people, is false. Davos is a boring conference where people sit on panels and talk about corporate policy on climate change.

George Soros is just a rich guy paying for some leaflets about Brexit.

AR Soros studied in the philosophy department founded by Karl Popper at LSE. I did too, between stints at Oxford, so I feel a natural solidarity with him.

2018 February 13

The King of Debt

The New York Times

President Trump has sent Congress a $4.4 trillion budget proposal that would add almost $1 trillion to the federal deficit next year and $7 trillion over the next 10 years.

Trump the businessman once called himself the "king of debt" and his budget request is seen as a vision statement.


President Trump has proposed a 2019 budget. Combined with the tax cuts Republicans passed last year, it would amount to one of the greatest transfers of wealth from the poor to the rich in generations. It would also charge trillions of dollars in new debt to future Americans.

The proposal would raise military spending by 14% while cutting funding for the State Department by 27%. It would cut the Department of Health and Human Services by 20% and the Department of Education by 10%. It proposes cutting food stamps by around 30% over 10 years. Medicare and Medicaid are targeted for cuts of hundreds of billions of dollars.

His budget also recommends slashing funding for Amtrak and grant programs for highway and transit projects. He has announced a separate infrastructure proposal to bolster investment by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. But he says the federal government will put up only $200 billion and get state and local governments and the private sector to pay the rest. Really?

Evolutionary Arms Races

John Rennie

Evolution suggests that over time, only one species should occupy an ecological niche. Yet ecosystems routinely include many competing species that stably coexist.

The "kill the winner" (KTW) hypothesis is that predator-prey relationships are often species specific. As one species starts forcing out its competitors, its predators prosper too, until predation pushes the number of prey back down again. Several rival species can coexist in equilibrium.

Astrobiologists looked closely at the KTW idea in 2015. The models used to validate the KTW idea allowed populations to rebound even after plummeting to fractions of individuals. In more realistic models, fluctuating prey populations kept dropping to zero and species coexistence disappeared.

Including evolution allowed arms races between prey and predators. Prey species got better at evading predators and predators got better at catching prey. Competition added more species diversity, the KTW effects kept any one species from taking over, and biodiversity flourished.

Space scientists sending future probes to seek signs of life on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn should hope to see the biochemical signatures of an entire ecosystem.

2018 February 12

Great Power Politics

John Bew

Davos man is a global superclass of economic transnationals. They made their fortunes through the globalization of the international economy and saw national governments as residues from the past. The Davos worldview captured the minds of many in the political class.

The weakening of the Davos model of progress is in part the product of historical forces. President Trump illustrates a profound shift. An age of relative equipoise between world powers is morphing into an era in which interstate competition will be pursued more nakedly.

There is no evidence that Trump has matured into the role of president or developed a more refined understanding of a complex world. His claim that it was time for America to start winning again spoke to a growing status anxiety in the American psyche. His administration plans to weaponize aid and trade in pursuit of the national interest.

The Chinese One Belt and One Road initiative announced in 2013 aims to create a new Silk Road across the Eurasian landmass plus a maritime equivalent through to the Mediterranean. The initiative secures Chinese interests and influence across a vast geographical expanse. For China, ultimate power still resides with the nation state.

The British national interest is to see the preservation of a rules-based international order in which trade flows freely. The UK cannot just pull up the drawbridge.

2018 February 11


Bryan Appleyard

Elon Musk is said to be worth about $20 billion. He started SpaceX in 2002 and plans to establish a colony on Mars. Via Tesla he is the world leader in battery technology.

SpaceX has big contracts to deliver payloads to the International Space Station. Its Falcon Heavy rocket is built to save and make money. Its reusable boosters avoid the need to build new ones for every launch.

Musk says he is "nauseatingly pro-American" and the United States is "the greatest country that has ever existed on Earth" — "the greatest force for good of any country that's ever been."

2018 February 10

Freedom of Conscience

Marilynne Robinson

Conscience is a human trait. The idea of conscience is found in Plato as self-awareness, a capacity for self-appraisal. The Torah regards moral conscience as universal, at least among those who respect and cultivate it in themselves.

Beyond that, conscience is remarkably chimerical. People who believe that an unconstrained capitalism will yield the best of all possible worlds might earnestly regret the disruptions involved in it. We are all indebted to legions of strangers.

There are taboos in history. Perhaps the famous stand of Winston Churchill in 1940 amounted to little more than waiting for the colonies and the United States to step in. His Iron Curtain speech in 1946 reads like a declaration of war, offering the British Empire as de facto encirclement of the Soviet Union and urging Americans to sustain what Britain could not.

A little wisdom on our part might have spared the world much grief and disaster, present and to come. To consider the possibility would be a significant act of conscience. Freedom of conscience is more profoundly inhibited by prejudice and taboo than it is by laws and institutions.

AR "Churchill dragged US into hot and cold wars" — discuss.

Tesla in space
Elon Musk

Falcon Heavy
CNN (13:12)
SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches
Tesla Roadster into solar
orbit near Mars

Anna Ijjas
Anna Ijjas

Poole Bay
Poole Bay today

Nuclear Policy Review
United States DoD

Hylas and the Nymphs
Hylas and the Nymphs

VASIMR (5:33)

Apple says revenues for 2018
Q1 will be $61±1 billion. It had
$163 billion in cash, net of its
$122 billion in debt, at the end
of 2017, and expects to pay
$38 billion to the US government
on its offshore cash pile as a
result of the tax reform.

"Let's call the whole thing off."
Hans-Olaf Henkel

No Brexit


2018 February 9

Fascism and Humanism

Adam Kirsch

Liberals in Europe and America are in a panic. They are issuing urgent warnings about the return of populism and nationalism, the decay of international institutions, the pollution of the public sphere by lies and propaganda. Meanwhile, the public votes for Brexit in the UK, nationalists in Hungary and Poland, and Trump in the United States.

Rob Riemen has spent his life bringing liberal intellectuals together to talk about the great problems of the day. His new book includes an essay titled "The Eternal Return of Fascism" and a fable titled "The Return of Europa" on the future of Europe. He believes there is nothing wrong with Europe that the best traditions of Europe cannot cure.

Anyone who invokes the Judeo-Christian tradition in Europe today is likely to be seen as a conservative or an Islamophobe. Riemen attacks the idea that earning a lot of money is the most important thing in life. He advocates spiritual and moral training, living in truth, doing what is right, creating beauty, and other such radiantly vague ideas.

Riemen believes that Europe once had a rich and ennobling culture and that it can only survive by returning to that elite cultural regime. The real source of fascism, he believes, is a society in which nothing is absolute and everything is transitory. He thinks people are content with pleasure where they should be striving for nobility of spirit.

2018 February 8

Quantum Mirage

Gil Kalai

Quantum computing is noisy, with random fluctuations and errors. When a quantum computer executes an action, in every computer cycle there is some probability that a qubit will get corrupted. Quantum error correction will require hundreds of physical qubits to represent a single logical qubit of very high quality.

I tried to model what happens if the errors due to noise are correlated. Interacting systems will have a tendency for errors to be correlated, raising the probability that errors will affect many qubits all at once. I studied what kind of correlations emerge from complicated quantum computations and what kind of correlations will cause a quantum computer to fail.

Guy Kindler and I calculated that the noise in a quantum computer will kill all the high-frequency waves in the Fourier decomposition of a complex waveform. We found good reasons to think that noise levels cannot be reduced far enough to demonstrate quantum supremacy and quantum error correction. Noisy quantum computers in the small and intermediate scale are too primitive to reach quantum supremacy, and so creating quantum error-correcting codes, which is harder, is also impossible.

Our critics say we draw conclusions about engineering of physical devices from considerations about computation and that we use insights of the theory of computation that are usually applied to large systems. They say the engineering difficulties are not fundamental barriers, and that with sufficient hard work and resources, the noise can be driven down to as close to zero as needed. But I think the effort required to obtain a low enough error level for any implementation of universal quantum circuits increases exponentially with the number of qubits.

So I think useful quantum computers are impossible.

2018 February 7

Back to the Future

Der Spiegel

Elon Musk has successfully launched the most powerful rocket in the world. Its payload was a Tesla Roadster with a dummy astronaut called Starman at the wheel, the David Bowie song "Space Oddity" on the stereo, the Douglas Adams quote "Don't panic" on the sat-nav screen, and the Isaac Asimov "Foundation" text in the glove box.

Starman in orbit (1:59)

Rocket Man

The Times

A huge crowd cheered as a Falcon Heavy rocket powered by 27 engines, delivering up to 23 MN of thrust, thundered away from Kennedy Space Center in Florida yesterday on a test flight that opens the door to future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Elon Musk spent $90 million on the test. Its payload was his old red Tesla Roadster car, with a dummy astronaut at the wheel, on a journey to reach an Earth−Mars orbit around the Sun.

In the VIP viewing area the guests included Buzz Aldrin, who in 1969 walked on the Moon. Now aged 88, he tweeted: "It's a beautiful day for a rocket launch from my favourite launchpad."

Bob Giffen played a key role on the NASA launch team for all the Apollo moonshots and 88 space shuttle launches: "This guy Elon Musk, he has my total respect. Thanks to what he's been doing, soon we can go back to the Moon, we can seriously think about going to Mars .. This is a big step back to where we were."

Elon Musk is a billionaire who hopes to die on Mars. On Earth, he wants to solve traffic congestion by sending cars through tunnels at 250 km/h. He aims to connect the human brain to computers to combat the mortal threat of runaway AI. He has already reinvigorated interest in the space race, made electric cars aspirational, and transformed internet payments through his companies SpaceX, Tesla, and Paypal. At 46, he is a perfectionist with a big ego and has six kids.

AR Hero

Brain Zaps Boost Memory

Jordana Cepelewicz

For decades, neuroscientists have been treating movement and neurological disorders with deep brain stimulation. They have typically targeted the medial temporal lobe and hippocampus, which carry out critical functions that enable the formation and retrieval of memories. In most cases, the stimulation either disrupted or had no effect on memory performance.

Now researchers have enhanced memory by stimulating the left lateral temporal cortex. Although the region seems less central to memory, stimulating it yields better results. The hippocampus and medial temporal lobe are buried deep inside the brain, whereas the lateral temporal cortex is on the surface of the brain, so is an easier target for interventions.


Thomas L. Friedman

Israelis have the wind at their backs. They've built an awesome high-tech industry, and everyone's kid seems to work for a start-up. Even Israeli Arabs have caught the bug. Regionally, the Arabs and Palestinians have never been weaker, and under President Trump, Israel has never had a more unquestioningly friendly United States.

Everywhere I look today I see people going all the way.

2018 February 6

Brexit Concession

Stephen Bush

The UK government has already made a crucial concession to the EU. It has agreed that there will not be a hard border on the island of Ireland. The only way to avoid customs and other checks at the Irish border is to maintain a large degree of regulatory and customs alignment with the EU27.

A soft exit from the EU is more likely to come about by logistical reality than by the views of MPs. The UK wants to maintain both the Good Friday Agreement and the open border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. These objectives are inconsistent with a hard break from the EU.

Perhaps politicians seeking a hard Brexit can force negotiations to a halt or force an Irish government veto on any deal. If they can, then we are heading for the hardest of exits and likely a chaotic one. Otherwise, UK participation in some form of customs union with the EU is inevitable.

Earth 2

Norbert Lossau

Researchers have determined the density of the seven Trappist 1 planets. The system is 39 light years away and the central star is a red dwarf. All the planets consist mainly of rock, but Trappist 1e has about the size, density, and warmth as the Earth, allowing liquid water on it surface.

The Trappist 1 planets are so close that if you were to stand on one of them, neighboring planets would look about as big in the sky as our Moon. At least five of them have water in some form on the surface. The NASA James Webb space telescope should tell us more.

2018 February 5


Femi Oluwole

Our generation is set to receive the worst inheritance in peacetime history. The NHS limps from crisis to crisis. The housing market excludes us further each day. We go to university at the cost of a huge debt. We live in a capitalist economy without capital. Over 1 in 5 young people now think their life will amount to nothing.

Brexit is by far the worst aspect of our inheritance. It will make us poorer, cut us off from our friends, and leave us unable to address problems that require international cooperation to solve. It will deprive us of the right to live, work, and love anywhere in Europe. Over 3 in 4 of young people voted to remain.

Jeremy, we need your help to persuade the country to stop Brexit and deliver the radical change we need.

AR Conservatives ignore such desperation at their peril.


Natalie Wolchover

Some cosmologists say the Big Bang might instead have been a Big Bounce. Perhaps the universe expands and contracts cyclically, or perhaps it only bounced once. Either way, time is endless into the past and future.

In two new bouncing models, a period of slow contraction of the universe explains its smoothness and flatness, without the need for inflation. To match its present uniformity, the baby universe, when it was 1 cm across, must have had the same density everywhere to within 10 parts per million.

In the inflation scenario, the baby came from the exponential expansion of an initial speck measuring no more than 10^−22 m across. As long as that speck was infused with an inflaton field that was smooth and flat, the speck would have inflated into a smooth universe like ours.

In a bouncing model, a substance with negative energy could push everything apart against gravity. But adding negative energy makes the model unstable.

Anna Ijjas has found a bounce mechanism, a scalar field that would have braided itself into the gravitational field in a way that exerted negative pressure on the universe, reversing the contraction. The contracting universe bounces and starts expanding again before ever shrinking to a point. The bounce avoids a singularity and can be described by general relativity.

The second new model, proposed by Peter Graham, David Kaplan, and Surjeet Rajendran, puts a spin on the universe. Imagine 3 or more extra compact dimensions forming tiny loops. As the universe contracts, matter and energy can start spinning inside them, and the dimensions themselves will spin with the matter and energy. Apparently, vorticity in the extra dimensions can suddenly initiate a bounce.

In a third model, a bounce might occur when a universe contracts all the way to a singularity, when unknown quantum laws of gravity take over. No one knows whether this model can match the observed cosmos.

AR A nonsingular bounce spares us the inflationary multiverse, but a quantum multiverse remains. I think the latter is spurious, but I cannot prove it.


John Harris

The UK government underfunds the health service and cuts council funding for adult social care. By 2050, 1 in 4 of us will be over 65. Yet for many people, a combination of insecure work and a punitive and arbitrary benefits system makes the idea of planning for the future look like a sick joke.

Half a million people over the age of 60 spend most days in complete solitude. Half of all people aged 75 or over live alone. Loneliness and isolation increase the risk of developing conditions that might require residential care.

Cohousing was invented in Scandinavia and is now spreading elsewhere. The idea is to form intentional communities of households, each with a self-contained, private home, plus a shared community space. Let us build our visions of later life on imagination and hope.

AR I live in such a community.

2018 February 4

Brexit Dreamers

The Sunday Times

Conservative MPs warn prime minister Theresa May she will face a coup to install a dream team of three Brexiteers if she persists with plans to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU.

Europhobes urged their dream prime minister Boris Johnson to appoint Michael Gove as his deputy prime minister and Jacob Rees-Mogg as his chancellor if May is forced out.

Johnson says he is ready for a fight and the cavalry is coming to block the customs union plan when the Brexit war cabinet meets on Wednesday.

AR I prefer the Laurel and Hardy metaphor: the Mogg as Laurel and BoJo as Hardy — "another fine mess you've gotten me into!"

Germany über alles

Dominic Lawson

Some things never change. The German ambassador to London bewails the British obsession with the second world war.

Like every one of his predecessors I have known, Peter Ammon is effortlessly civilised. His modesty about German influence in the EU now seems like deception or delusion.

When he was chancellor, Helmut Kohl said adopting the euro was the only way Germany could become the dominant economic power in Europe without terrifying the French.

Germany expresses its power as being merely an expression of Europe. In German political discourse, the EU is portrayed as something greater, something almost more noble, than a mere power train for German economic success.

The modern German state only became respectable as a member of the EU. German national interest can be legitimately expressed only as a triumph of European interests.

Ammon criticizes British obsession with 1940. His own politics is profoundly affected by that same period. We should see German foreign policy for what it is.

AR Lawson has become a poisonous old toad. Seen correctly, Europe transcends both Germany and Britain. Demonising German power today is utterly counterproductive.

2018 February 3

Brexit — A Rant

Matthew Parris

Europhobia is moving from idiocy to dishonesty.

If you're going to set a nation on a daring but risky course, you examine the options. That's what civil servants are for. There is every reason why ministers should have wanted studies, no reason to be ashamed they exist, and every reason to be open about both the process and the results.

If you believe in Brexit, there's no shame in acknowledging that there are costs and uncertainties and you wanted to know and face up to them. You then add that civil servants are naturally precise about costs but cautious about benefits, but that you can see the bigger, brighter picture.

Guilt is all over the pages of this contemptible Tory story. Most MPs know that the referendum placed voters in an impossible position. They know that, narrowly, the voters made a mistake. They can see too that the party is now acting against the interests of the country.

And nobody has the spine to say so.

Imperial Hubris

Gary Younge

When Peter Ammon, the outgoing German ambassador to the UK, claimed this week that Brexiteers were fixated on the second world war, he was on to something. British nostalgia for a particular version of UK history long preceded Brexit. But he was only half right.

The Brexit vote was certainly underpinned by a melancholic longing for a glorious past, but the era it sought to relive was less the second world war than the empire. For if memories of the war made some feel more defiant, recollections of empire made them deluded.

It was through this distorted lens — "Let's put the Great back in Great Britain" — that a majority voted to leave. Echoes of empire reverberated through the campaign and have also framed the UK negotiating strategy. The past 18 months have been a journey from hubris to humiliation.

Theresa May is a faithful reflection not only of her government but of the country at this moment. Brexiteers have ostensibly got what they want: Brexit. They are now finding out how little sovereignty means for a country the size of Britain in a neoliberal globalized economy.

May is no more personally to blame for the mess than Anthony Eden was for the 1956 Suez crisis. Once again, Britain has overplayed its hand. Preferring to live in the past rather than learn from it, Brits are diminished in the present and clueless about the future.

Hylas and the Nymphs

Katrin Kohl

In suggesting that #MeToo legitimizes her removal of an iconic painting from public view, Clare Gannaway insults those who contributed to that initiative. The claim that this act is about challenging us and not about censorship is unconvincing. Such an aim would be better met by framing the work in an exhibition that promotes productive debate.

A curator's job is to enable the public to see works and understand the historical processes of which they form a part. Nazi curators, too, challenged us by removing art from public view because it conflicted with their political aims and puritanical taste. But few would now consider this to have been anything other than censorship.

AR Clare Gannaway is the curator of contemporary art at the Manchester Art Gallery.

NASA: 40 Days to Mars

The Space Academy

NASA has given $10 million to Ad Astra Rocket Company of Texas to develop its Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR).

VASIMR heats plasma to 10 MK using EM waves, then blows it out the back. It can accelerate a ship to 10 times the speed of a chemical rocket and use 10 times less fuel. With this engine, a ship could get to Mars in 40 days.

Ad Astra CEO Franklin Chang Diaz: "This is like no other rocket that you may have seen in the past. It is a plasma rocket. The VASIMR Rocket is not used for launching things; it is used for things already in orbit. This is called in-space propulsion."

AR For starships we'll also need a fusion reactor to make the EM waves.

Graphene Power Packs

The Space Academy

Carbon atoms in a thin sheet of graphene jiggle with thermal energy. Sheets of graphene under an STM are seen to buckle like the snapping back and forth of a twisted sheet of metal. These graphene waves can form an ambient temperature power source.

Electrodes on either side of a length of buckling graphene measure a tiny shifting voltage. A square micron patch can deliver 100 nW and a square mm patch 100 mW. This can be enough to power a wrist watch or a medical implant indefinitely.

2018 February 2

Quantum Algorithms

Ariel Bleicher

The chemical behavior of a molecule depends on the behavior of its electrons. These exist in a superposition of many classical states, and the quantum state of each electron depends on the states of all the others. Classically calculating these entangled states can become a nightmare of exponentially increasing complexity.

A quantum computer can deal with the intertwined fates of the electrons under study by superposing and entangling qubits. Each qubit you add doubles the states the system can simultaneously store. Just 50 entangled qubits could model quantum states that would require more than a quadrillion classical bits to encode.

Qubits can be controlled with gates defined in linear algebra. Quantum gates guide qubits into a succession of superpositions and entanglements and then measure the output. By assembling gates into logic circuits, theorists can define quantum algorithms.

In a sampling problem, the goal is to produce a series of samples that look as though they came from this circuit. Each outcome is a string of many values, each of which may be influenced by some or all of the other values.

In 2010, Scott Aaronson and Alex Arkhipov described a quantum machine that sends photons through an optical circuit that generates output patterns with specific probabilities. Reproducing these patterns became known as boson sampling. Aaronson and Arkhipov reasoned that boson sampling would start to strain classical resources at around 30 photons.

In 2017, an IBM team showed how a classical supercomputer can simulate sampling from random circuits on as many as 56 qubits. But the simulation took more than a billion times longer than a quantum computer might take. Soon the quantum contenders will achieve supremacy.

No to Hard Brexit

Chuka Umunna

The pro-European movement brings people who do not want to see Brexit happen at all together with those who accept it may happen but want a soft Brexit. What unites us is that we want the people to have a say on the form of Brexit.

You could argue there was a mandate from the 2016 referendum for the UK to leave the EU. But all of the groups are united in their determination that the people have got to have a place at the table in the process. How we leave the EU and the form of Brexit we end up with should not be dictated by a ministerial elite in Westminster.

Some people want to ensure their parliamentarian is not sidelined in this process. Others want the people to get a final say through a general election. Given the volatility of British politics, who knows where we will be later this year.

2018 February 1

EU Exit Analysis

Peter Walker

The government will not oppose the release of a leaked Brexit analysis. Brexit minister Steve Baker said economic forecasts by government officials were always wrong. Ministers say the study is interim and incomplete as it does not consider the bespoke deal desired by the government.

Junior justice minister Phillip Lee: "If these figures turn out to be anywhere near right, there would be a serious question over whether a government could legitimately lead a country along a path that the evidence and rational consideration indicate would be damaging."

Lee has been reprimanded by the chief whip. No action has been taken against Baker, whose comments prompted an angry response from the head of the FDA, the union for senior civil servants.

AR I was once a committee member of the FDA.

Quantum Intelligence

George Musser

Google, Microsoft, IBM, and other tech giants are pouring money into quantum machine learning. A quantum AI system should be powerful, but it suffers from a kind of locked-in syndrome that can negate its apparent advantages.

A neural network is an interconnected grid of basic on-off neurons. A neuron monitors the output of multiple other neurons and switches on if enough of them are on. Typically, the neurons are arranged in layers, from input to output, with perhaps a billion interconnections that adapt via trial and error during learning.

On a classical computer, the interconnections are in a big matrix of numbers, and running the network means doing matrix algebra. Manipulation of large matrices is exponentially faster on a quantum computer. But so far machine learning based on quantum matrix algebra has been demonstrated only on machines with 4 qubits.

Quantum learning systems embed a problem in a network of qubits and process the qubits without collapsing the ongoing calculation. To get the answer you measure the quantum state, which collapses it, wiping out the rest of the data before you can see it. The art in writing a quantum algorithm is to cancel out wrong answers, so the final measured state is the right answer.

Scott Aaronson: "People have often been very cavalier about whether these algorithms give a speedup."

AR I talked with Scott about such things at a Skövde conference in 2001.


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