Andy Ross 2017-01-16
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BLOG 2017
Donald Trump
Photo: Daniel Biskup
Donald Trump

Rex Tillerson calls the Russian
annexation of Crimea illegal,
says the United States should
have provided more aid to
Ukraine, supports NATO, and
assumes Putin knew of any
cyberattacks against the
United States.

Pounds falls
below $1.20

Jared and Ivanka
Jared and Ivanka

Chinese work on Mischief Reef,
Spratly Islands

Sino Defense
Chinese DF-21D carrier killer

Scientific American
The happy couple: The key
to keeping the magic alive is finding ways to promote
the positive

John Kerry

If policy is going to be made
in 140 characters on Twitter,
and every reasonable measure
of accountability is being bypassed, and people
don't care about it,
we have a problem.

Tabby's Star Ate Planet

Tabby's star KIC 8462852
showed a series of big dips
in brightness after dimming
by 14% in 100 years. Now a
Columbia team explain all.
They say the star devoured
a planet in the past, so it
brightened and dimmed again.
Every time the debris passes
between us and the star,
the image blinks.

AR Blog 2016-01-17

Derek Parfit

Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit
was a fellow at All Souls. Until
his death on 1 January, he was widely regarded as the most
important living moral
philosopher, partly for his work
on personal identity: We are psychological bundles of
memories, inclinations, and
intentions. In the future, bundles
will go by my name, share many
of my memories, and act on
some of my intentions. The
boundaries dissolve.

AR I met him at seminars.

Leopard A7V


2017 January 16

Trump Talk

Michael Gove

When we talked last Friday, Donald Trump had nothing but kind words and generous sentiments for a nation he believes will be his strongest ally.

On the UK: "I think Brexit is going to end up being a great thing ... I'm a big fan of the UK, we're gonna work very hard to get [a new trade deal] done quickly and done properly."

On the EU: "People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity ... if they hadn't been forced to take in all of the refugees ... I think that you wouldn't have a Brexit."

On Germany: "You look at the European Union and it's Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That's why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out."

On NATO: "I said a long time ago that NATO had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago. Number two the countries aren't paying what they're supposed to pay ... With that being said, NATO is very important to me."

On Russia: "Let's see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that's part of it. But Russia's hurting very badly right now because of sanctions."

Trump has no intention of abandoning Twitter because he believes it gives him a direct connection to the American people.

Trump: "Ich mag Stärke. Ich mag Ordnung."

Erstmals erklärt ein angehender US-Präsident offen und ohne Rücksicht, was er über Deutschland und Europa denkt.


2017 January 15

Adam and Eve

Anushay Hossain

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are getting ready for the new US administration. They have stepped down from their respective businesses in preparation for their roles in Washington. The two are set to become the most powerful couple in Washington.

In August, Ivanka got her father to unveil policy proposals to lower child care costs. In December she called members of Congress about child care legislation and tax deductions. Her expected work on climate change was also widely noted in the press.

Jared Kushner may have won the presidency for Donald Trump. He is expected to be the presidential policy person on the Mideast. Trump even says he believes Kushner could broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Ivanka and Jared are perfectly positioned to become the powers behind the throne. Melania and Donald Trump are adamant on spending as little time in Washington as possible, so Ivanka and Jared will effectively be the de facto first couple. They almost make you forget that the Donald is about to become president.

AR First couple — would you "Adam and Eve" [believe] it.


Catarina Dutilh Novaes + AR

In Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1781), Immanuel Kant stated that no progress in logic had been made since Aristotle. Today we see three golden periods for logic: the ancient Greek period, the medieval scholastic period, and the mathematical period of the last two hundred years. Kant had disregarded the scholastic tradition.

In the classical Greek period, Plato wrote dialogues and Aristotle discussed techniques useful in debating. The prominence of dialectics continued through late antiquity. By the Latin medieval period, this led to the emergence of scholastic disputation, which continued to Summa Theologica (1265-1274) by Thomas Aquinas.

After Kant, logic turned toward mathematics. In 1847, George Boole inaugurated a new approach. He launched algebraic logic and pushed the idea of using mathematical symbolism in logic.

Gottlob Frege was inspired by Kant and by Gottfried Leibniz. He aimed to provide mathematics with logical foundations. He used the mathematical notion of a function to represent predicate logic and devised a new logical notation in his book Begriffsschrift (1879).

Frege saw that not only the axioms but also the rules of inference required a rigorous reformulation. His work established the idea that ordinary language is expressively inadequate to account for mathematical or logical reasoning. Parallel projects for axiomatizing parts of mathematics were led by other distinguished mathematicians.

Unfortunately, Bertrand Russell discovered a paradox lurking in the foundations of Frege's system. The goal of recovering and further developing his program led Russell and his collaborator Alfred North Whitehead to develop the system presented in their Principia Mathematica (1910–13). Much of the work in logic in the last century grew from their work.

Logic has become a foundational branch of mathematics. The change reflects the fall from grace of scholastic disputation. Only traces of the dialectical origins of logic persist in recent developments in mathematics.

AR My trilogy Dialectical Logic (1975, 1977, 1979) modeled mathematics in a dialectic defined in set theory — each layer of the cumulative hierarchy was a metatheory for the previous layers conceived as steps in an epistemo-ontic dynamic inspired by the Hegelian dialectic. Essentially, Hegel wrapped up all of scholastic logic in a discursive form that defied further progress, forcing Frege to make a new start in mathematics. I found the thread of continuity and rescued the dynamic that prevents logic from freezing in an illusory absolutism (in fact Gödel had already done so — I built on his work). See my 2014 essay The Answer.

2017 January 14


Arif Ahmed
Dorset Humanists, Moordown Community Centre, Bournemouth

AR Cambridge philosopher Ahmed presented an individualist political philosophy (based on the views of John Locke, John Stuart Mill, and Friedrich Hayek) that would abandon much of the power of the state as we now understand it. I raised objections from the floor, citing the 2008 financial crisis, the rise of Donald Trump, and the critique of rationality due to Daniel Kahneman.


Simon Kuper

English-speaking countries are easier to hack because their enemies understand what they are saying. Being an English-speaking society makes you transparent, whereas foreign countries are opaque to mostly monolingual Britons and Americans.

Chinese and Russian elites sent their children to study in the US and UK. From 1990 to about 2010, Anglo-American media and films gained huge global influence. And most AAs stopped bothering to learn foreign languages.

The new weapon is cyber warfare. But hacking foreign files is worthwhile only if you can use the information. Russia and China can read English documents and foreigners can make up fake news in English.

Britain has its own problems with English. Westminster and the tabloid newspapers are almost entirely monolingual. Brits therefore voted for Brexit blithely unaware of how other European countries would respond.

The UK Foreign Office has been sidelined ahead of the Brexit negotiations. The boss of the new department for exiting the EU, David Davis, says the Germans will give the UK a good deal because they sell cars in Britain. His European counterparts understand Britain rather better.

AR Stellen Sie sich vor, Sie überhören ein Gespräch:
      Angela Merkel: Halten Sie durch — Ordnung muß sein!
      Auto-Hersteller: Jawohl, Frau Bundeskanzlerin!


2017 January 13

China to US: Keep Out

Global Times

Nominee for US secretary of state Rex Tillerson uttered astonishing statements during his confirmation hearing with the Senate. He had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories.

South China Sea countries will accelerate their negotiations on a Code of Conduct. They have the ability to solve divergences by themselves without US interference.

US to China: Threat

The Times

PEOTUS pick for US SOS Rex Tillerson compares Chinese fortification of its manmade islands in the South China Sea to Russian annexation of Crimea and threatens a major confrontation.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has backed up its position by expanding small islets and building airstrips and harbors.

China foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang: "We hope non-regional countries can respect this consensus that is in the fundamental interest of the whole world."

Tillerson: "This is a threat to the entire global economy if China is allowed to somehow dictate the terms of passage through these waters."

China warns that "no effort to internationalize and judicialize the South China Sea issue will be of any avail" and will only make it harder to resolve the issue.

US Air Power


The US Marine Corps is sending 16 F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters to Japan. At over $100 million each, the jets showcase US "commitment to the defense of Japan with the most capable and modern equipment in the US inventory," says the USMC. "It will be the cornerstone of a multi-mission joint force possessing improved mission flexibility and unprecedented effectiveness to engage and destroy both air and ground threats."

China: Sea Power

Financial Times

President Xi Jinping will turn China into a maritime superpower. One Belt One Road is his plan to boost investment and commerce in over 60 countries in Asia, the Mideast, Africa, and Europe.

Since 2010, Chinese and Hong Kong companies have completed or announced deals involving at least 40 port projects worth a total of over $45 billion. The Pakistani port of Gwadar is owned, financed, and built by China as the core element in a $54 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

In 2015, the five big Chinese cargo carriers together controlled almost a fifth of all container shipping handled by the global top 20 companies. By then, nearly two-thirds of the top 50 container ports worldwide had some Chinese investment, handling over two-thirds of global container volumes.

Chinese port operators are world leaders and Chinese shipping companies carry more cargo than those of any other nation. In Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Greece, and Djibouti, Chinese investment in civilian ports has been followed by navy deployments or visits or construction of a naval base.

China aims to deny US aircraft carrier battle groups access to the seas within a string of archipelagos from Japan to Vietnam — the first island chain.

AR China aims to keep US carrier groups outside the first island chain with its DF-21D missiles (blog 2010-12-29).

2017 January 12

US Intelligence

Financial Times

By blaming them for leaking a dossier on efforts by the Kremlin to cultivate and compromise him, Donald Trump has declared war on US intelligence officials.

The Trump tweet and press conference took aim at the BuzzFeed release of a 35-page dossier that carries unverified allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and the Kremlin. Trump calls the entire dossier false.

Former NSA lawyer Susan Hennessey says the tweet "reads as if Trump is trying to deflect focus from these devastating, though unverified allegations, by attempting additional smears vilifying intelligence professionals."

Trump Nailed It

Timothy Stanley

Trump has two big priorities: building the wall and repealing and replacing Obamacare. He compared the behavior of some within the intelligence community to Nazis. He signaled that speculation on his relationship with Vladimir Putin will not shift his position toward Russia. And he concluded that Russia was probably guilty of hacking, but that will cease once Trump is in charge.

Trainwreck Press Conference

Richard Wolffe

The Trump presidency is already in shambles. Team Trump seems happy to shine a bright light on its own monumental mistakes. The president-elect celebrated the Russian hacking of the DNC and all those leaked emails. Now he even brags about his Russian connection: "If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks, that is called an asset, not a liability. Do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Give me a break."

2017 January 11

Farewell Address

Barack Obama

After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. ... For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all.

We weaken those ties when we allow our political dialog to become so corrosive that people of good character aren't even willing to enter into public service, so coarse with rancor that we see Americans with whom we disagree as not just misguided but as malevolent.

We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others, when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.

AR He always set a good tone.

White House Advice

The New York Times

Jared Kushner will become a senior White House adviser to his father-in-law, Donald Trump. Kushner, 35, married Ivanka Trump in 2009. Some ethics experts question whether his appointment is legal under federal anti-nepotism laws.

Transition staff members describe Kushner as the first among equals in the Trump high command. He is said to have a calming effect on his father-in-law. He became the de facto campaign manager in the spring and his influence expanded rapidly.

Kushner is an orthodox Jew, a Harvard graduate, and a lifelong Democrat. Liberals greeted his appointment with relief. He will resign as chief executive of Kushner Companies and divest himself of assets including 666 Fifth Avenue and his holdings in The New York Observer.

AR So far so good ...

Family First

Caroline Crampton

Jared Kushner is the son of real estate developer and Democratic party donor Charles Kushner. Charles made a $2.5 million donation to Harvard University in 1998. Jared was accepted there in 1999 and earned a degree in sociology in 2003.

While at Harvard, Jared made money buying and selling buildings, supported by the family fortune. His net worth is estimated at $200 million. At age 25, he bought the New York Observer for $10 million.

In 2005, Charles Kushner was convicted on 18 counts of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering. He served time in a federal prison.

Jared practises Orthodox Judaism, and Ivanka Trump* converted before they wed in 2009. His grandparents escaped the Nazis, and his grandmother Rae was a founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

  *Ivanka Trump was born in 1981 as the daughter of Donald and Ivana Trump**. She graduated
    in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 2004, then joined the family business.

  **Ivana Trump was born in Czechoslovakia and moved to Canada, where she worked as a model.
    She then moved to New York, married Donald Trump in 1977, and divorced him in 1992.

In October 2016, The New York Observer asked its proprietor a question: Hillary or Donald? Jared: "Family first."

AR A new twist on the first family.

2017 January 10

America First

Philip Stephens

Once Donald Trump is inaugurated as POTUS, the United States will make its own rules. Trump aims to repudiate TPP, renegotiate NAFTA, and impose hefty duties on Chinese imports. Yet he is happy to side with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Trump wants to make America great again. His ideas are a jumble of economic nationalism, antipathy to globalism, hostility to immigrants, hatred of Islamist extremism, and a dim view of great power relations. He disdains NATO and equivocates with East Asian allies.

Trump has promised to renounce US climate obligations. He could strike a deal with Putin over the heads of Europe, disavow the nuclear agreement with Iran, build a wall against Mexican immigrants, and shut the US border to Muslims. All this is isolationist swagger.

US allies have already concluded that Trump is neither predictable nor reliable. China is determined to translate its economic power into geopolitical clout despite provocative tweets. And Putin doubtless thinks he will get the better of Trump.

Detaching US national interests from its international commitments is impossible. Economic interdependence cannot be wished away and military might has its limits. The new president will find most of his goals out of reach to America Alone.

2017 January 9


Sky News

UK prime minister Theresa May: "Often people talk in terms as if somehow we are leaving the EU but we still want to kind of keep bits of membership of the EU. We are leaving. We are coming out. We are not going to be a member of the EU any longer. We will be able to have control of our borders, control of our laws."

Four Fails


On January 20, Donald Trump takes the oath of office and becomes the POTUS. For the first time in his life, he will be employed outside his family business. At age 70, he will become accountable to the American people.

Trump has never had to reboot himself in anything like the manner now required. But when his companies ran out of money to pay their lenders and filed for bankruptcy in 1991, 1992, 2004 and 2009, he had to accept the strict terms and oversight required by bankruptcy agreements.

Six Strikes


Hillary Clinton said Donald Trump wrote a lot of books about business: "They all seem to end at Chapter 11. He bankrupted his companies, not once, not twice, but four times."

Wrong: Trump actually has six bankruptcies.


New Scientist

Researchers hacked ion channels to alter bioelectric signaling in tadpoles engineered to develop cancer. They reduced the incidence of tumor formation and made tumor cells return to a healthy state.

Researchers increased the bioelectric traffic between cells in froglets past the age at which they can regenerate full limbs and made them do so anyway.

Humans have regenerative capabilities too.

2017 January 8

Die Deutschen

Die Welt

Deutschland bedeutet für die Deutschen nicht mehr eine Frage ihrer politischen Identität. Heute geht es um die Frage nach dem kulturellen Kern.

Was es heute heißt, deutsch zu sein — darüber können sich die Deutschen, die mit einer furchtbaren Geschichte, einer rauen Zuwanderungsgegenwart und einem schwer angekratzten Ego konfrontiert sind, am ehesten noch im Ausland informieren.

In den Augen vieler Beobachter ist das deutsche Problem die Gründlichkeit, mit der viele Deutsche die Migranten zur endgültigen Säuberung der befleckten Nationalhistorie und zur Umerziehung der eigenen Bevölkerung nutzen wollen.

Da schlägt die Verleugnung allen Deutschseins in einen Chauvinismus der Vaterlandslosigkeit um. Schwer ist es, anderen Europäern die Abgründe solch moralischen Großreinemachens zu erklären.

Vielleicht wenn die Deutschen sich selbst sympathischer wären und sie sich zugleich weniger ernst nähmen, dann wäre nicht nur den Deutschen, sondern auch unseren Nachbarn gleich viel wohler mit diesem sonderbaren Gebilde.

AR Als Europäer sind die Deutschen bestens aufgenommen, die Briten eher mürrisch.

Tank Trouble

The Times

Britain turned down the chance to buy a fleet of second-hand German tanks. Leopard manufacturer KMW offered to sell 100 to 400 old Leopard 2 tanks to the Ministry of Defence in 2015. They would have been upgraded to new A7V standard.

The UK government has instead selected two other companies — BAE Systems and Rheinmetall — as the final bidders for the Challenger 2 upgrade contract.

Defense industry source: "They made that offer to us and we should have taken it but there was an arrogance: we invented the tank, we have to have a British tank."

But the idea is not yet dead: "If it turns out that buying second-hand would work out cheaper overall then finance is king. If it is cheaper they will go that way."

AR Buy Leopards. Our NATO boys on the Eastern Front will need standard kit.

US Army Abrams tanks

US Army Abrams tanks on NATO maneuvers in Latvia, summer 2016.
A shipload of Abrams tanks was unloaded Friday in Bremerhaven for
forward deployment in Poland as part of operation Atlantic Resolve.

President Trump could
launch 140 warheads
in the time it takes to
write 140 characters

Fw 190
Wings Over Illawarra
Australian Focke-Wulf Fw 190
(Werk-Nr. 173056) to fly at
Wings Over Illawarra Air Show
2017-05-06 — 2017-05-07

Orion on SLS
Orion on SLS

Ryan Beauchemin

Arnie for Prez!

Celebrity Apprentice made
Donald Trump a reality TV star.
The new 2017 season stars
Arnold Schwarzenegger.

AR But he was born
in Austria.

Polizei-Tweet: Ist
"Nafri" entmenschlichend?
— fragt Grüfri (Grün-

T.J. Drysdale


Heidegger again


2017 January 7

Baltic Blues


The Baltic states are in the EU and NATO but Russia is boosting its military presence in Kaliningrad. Estonian foreign minister Sven Mikser: "We have always seen the US as our strongest ally. US participation has given NATO its credibility."

AR Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Quantum Questions

Steven Weinberg

Physicists are at odds about measurement in quantum mechanics.

Suppose you measure the spin of an electron in an arbitrarily chosen direction. There are only two possible results, namely plus or minus a certain number, up or down, corresponding to an electron that is spinning either clockwise or counter-clockwise in the chosen direction. Before you measure it, the spin is a superposition of up and down, each with its own amplitude. The act of measuring the spin somehow collapses the superposition to up or down.

If we disregard everything about an electron but its spin, its wave function is a pair of amplitudes, one number for each sign of the spin in any chosen direction. The wave function of an electron whose spin has not been measured generally has nonzero values for spins of both signs. The probabilities of finding either up or down for the spin in a chosen direction are proportional to the squares of the amplitudes in that direction.

A measurement puts the spin in an interaction with a macroscopic environment that causes the superposition of states in the wave function to collapse to one state, unpredictably. But the Schrödinger equation is deterministic. Given the wave function at any moment, the equation will tell you precisely what the wave function will be at any future time.

The realist approach to quantum mechanics implies a multiverse. When you measure the spin of an electron in some direction, the wave function of the electron and your measuring apparatus becomes a superposition of two terms, in one of which the electron spin is up and you see it is up, and in the other of which the spin is down and you see it is down. The history of the world splits every time a big body becomes entangled with a superposition of states. The set of all histories is the multiverse, and its wave function evolves deterministically.

An entangled state involves correlations between parts of the system. Suppose we have a pair of electrons whose total spin in any direction is zero and whose wave function (ignoring everything but spin) is a sum of two terms: in one term, electron A is up and electron B is down in some direction, while in the other term up and down are reversed. The spins are entangled, and this entangled state can persist even if the electrons fly apart to a great distance.

All data so far agree with ordinary quantum mechanics.

AR My suggested approach (2006): Each of us lives in a phenomenal world with its own bubble of spacetime, which is growing in qubit increments. At any moment of phenomenal now, our reality is bounded by our past light cone. Whenever we collapse an entanglement, we pop out spacetime by another qubit (or more, depending on the granularity of quantized spacetime). Entangled states are local until we collapse or pop them. Decoherence is the phenomenal manifestation of popping qubits, and corresponds to spontaneous symmetry breaking at the Planck scale. The Everett multiverse replaces the Einstein block universe as background for all our phenomenal worlds.

My proximal inspiration for this epiphany was the book Quo Vadis Quantum Mechanics? (ed. Elitzur et al., Springer 2005). This is the sort of vision I was hoping for in Richard Muller's 2016 book Now — but I was disappointed. Sadly, I lack the mathematical skill to work out the technical details in a LaTeX preprint for arXiv.

2017 January 6


Martin Wolf

We are living at the end of the era of US hegemony.

It has been a huge overall success. Global average real incomes per head rose by 460% between 1950 and 2015. The proportion of the global population in extreme poverty has fallen from 72% in 1950 to 10% in 2015, and life expectancy at birth has risen from 48 years in 1950 to 71 in 2015.

Despite a generation of relative economic decline, the US, the EU, and Japan still produce over half of global output measured at market prices and over a third measured at PPP. They host the biggest global companies, dominant financial markets, leading universities, and strongest cultures. The US military will remain global top dog for decades.

But across the West, slow growth and aging populations have taken their toll. Politicians can longer promise more for everybody and have to take from some to give to others. The winners have been the rich, making those in the middle and lower incomes more fearful and more prone to racism and xenophobia.

If the West fails, China might find greatness thrust upon it.

AR Hegel conceived global history as the steady march of the Weltgeist through the millennia from China to India to the Mideast and Mediterranean to Europe and then to America. Now we see the Weltgeist complete its world tour and start a new orbit from China.


The Guardian

A man born in London to German parents has been told he cannot get a British passport unless he takes a UK citizenship test. Dom Wolf, 32, said his parents came to Britain in 1974 when his mother started work as an LSE lecturer. He has now been told he needs to prove they were in the UK legally — yet they moved under EU law.

AR Makes me feel like doing a personal Brexit.

2017 January 5

Moon or Mars?

David Brown

European Space Agency director general Jan Woerner says a lunar village is the natural successor to the ISS. The United States is the obvious partner to fund and spearhead such an effort. But to land humans on the Moon, let alone build a village, will take a program as big as Apollo.

A Moon base lets you dig mines and make money. The Moon is only a few days away from Earth and it has lots of helium 3. The isotope is rare on Earth but the Moon has collected it for billions of years. There is an estimated 1.1 Tg of He 3 on the moon, and just 40 Mg of He 3 in fusion reactors could power the United States for a year.

NASA is focused on its Journey to Mars program. But it will use the space between the Earth and the Moon to test life support and propulsion systems for any Mars expedition. The Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft, holdovers from the Mars space exploration initiative canceled in 2009, are ready for moonshots.

Americans cannot afford both a Moon base and a Mars colony. Building either is the cheap part — the operational costs are what add up. A Moon base delays Mars until after the lunar base design, construction, operations, maintenance, and divestment. That could take decades.

AR I say go for the Moon base for now. It will ripen the tech we need for Mars. A Moon base was part of the plot in my 1996 novel LIFEBALL.

Magnetar Located?


The sporadically repeating fast radio burst FRB121102 with duration 3 ms has been traced to the dwarf galaxy PGC1000714 some 30 Ym away. Cornell University researcher Shami Chatterjee: "We think it may be a magnetar — a newborn neutron star with a huge magnetic field, inside a supernova remnant or a pulsar wind nebula — somehow producing these prodigious pulses."

AR See blog 2016-03-03. A neutron star signaling us starred in my 1996 novel LIFEBALL.

UK vs EU

Philip Stephens

Britain never really joined the EU. For France, Germany, Italy, and the rest, the union was a political project with emotional roots. For Brits, it was a commercial transaction.

Politicians at Westminster have never quite shaken off the conviction that the enterprise is destined at some point to fail. Each further step toward integration has been greeted with scorn. Even now, many Brexiteers claim to be leaving a sinking ship.

For German leaders especially, the union is a vessel for European values. It is an enterprise that underpins the peace, stability, and democracy of the continent. The EU has a meaning and purpose beyond the export of bottles of fizz and expensive cars.

2017 January 4

EU Defense

Sophia Besch

EU politicians want strategic autonomy in defense, without relying on the United States. But they have long failed to raise collective defense spending. Now Brexit and Trump create new urgency:

Good — Without the UK the EU can at last get moving on its defense plans. To prevent plans for an EU operational headquarters duplicating NATO, the HQ covers only training and civilian operations.

Bad — Brexit will cost the EU one of its two credible military powers. New plans mean little if the EU lacks capabilities and forces, so the EU should try to keep the UK involved in EU military affairs.

Ugly — The Trump presidency will likely spur more defense spending by EU states. But the US security guarantee is already weakened. Some EU leaders are concerned about Trump ties to the Kremlin.

AR With weakened US and UK commitments to European security, the EU27 states are vulnerable. They could not resist a serious Russian military push and must temporize with appeasement until new defense plans are in place. If Trump befriends Putin, this is a viable strategy.

The obvious next move is for the UK to boost its commitment to defending EU states in return for EU accepting UK membership of the single market despite a Fortress UK border clampdown. The boost, above the NATO commitment, would include an immediate nuclear guarantee and initial work on a future shared Anglo-French deterrent.


The Times

UK representative to the EU Sir Ivan Rogers quits, citing "ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking" over Brexit from government ministers.


Financial Times

UK prime minister Theresa May is facing fresh claims that her government is turning a deaf ear to news and advice on Brexit it does not want to hear.

Open Britain supporter Peter Mandelson: "Everyone knows that civil servants are being increasingly inhibited in offering objective opinion and advice to ministers."

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg: "I think it is crucial that whoever represents us in Brussels is wholly committed to Brexit."

AR Klartext: Drink the Kool-Aid!

2017 January 3

Scientists: Keep Iran Deal

The New York Times

Dozens of top US scientists wrote to PEOTUS Trump on Monday to urge him not to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal: "We urge you to preserve this critical US strategic asset."

The letter was organized by Richard L. Garwin, who helped design the first hydrogen bomb and has long advised Washington on nuclear weapons and arms control.

Nostalgic Nationalism

Gideon Rachman

Long before Donald Trump vowed to make America great again, China, Russia, and Turkey had already established the fashion for nostalgic nationalism. Democracies are not immune to nostalgia — look at Japan, India, Hungary, and Britain.

Globalization and the relative decline of the West increase nostalgia for a more nationalist past. But neither Putin nor Xi is keen to discuss the crimes of Stalin and Mao, and Germans would nix a vow to make Germany great again.

2017 January 2

Robocars — Upside

Morgan Stanley

Autonomous cars will offer better safety features and more efficiency. Semiautonomous cars are in showrooms today. Completely autonomous cars are set to be available by the end of the decade.

The social and economic implications are enormous. They will transform the auto industry business model. Related businesses, such as telecoms, software, media, freight transportation, semiconductors, and insurance, will also face disruption and opportunity.

Autonomous cars could contribute $1.3 trillion in annual savings to the US economy. Annual US productivity gains alone would be over $500 billion. Global savings could be over $5.6 trillion.

The auto industry will have to shift gears. The growth of software as a part of the car is likely to divide the industry into dedicated hardware and software makers, with a crucial role for vertical integration. This structure would resemble that of the smartphone or computer industries.

Most of the concerns or obstacles to mass adoption of autonomous vehicles are largely practical or procedural. Technology is not an issue. The capability to make a robocar is largely available today and only needs incremental research and development.

Public opinion on robocars remains split. Acceptance and adoption will take time. Potential obstacles include building sufficient infrastructure, government regulation, and ethical issues.

Robocars — Downside


An autonomous car that relies on a human to save the day in an emergency is not going to work. Humans make horrible backups — they are inattentive, easily distracted, and slow to respond. So automakers will be taking you out of the equation entirely.

Full autonomy — no steering wheel, no pedals, no human backup — is the best way forward. Google figured this out around 2012. The shift came as automakers recognized the difficulty of the handoff — getting the person behind the wheel to take control in seconds.

Level 2 autonomous cars can keep their lane and handle rush-hour gridlock. Level 3 autonomy defines cars that can make basic decisions like when to change lanes or pass other vehicles. Level 3 requires making sure the car can handle any situation for several seconds while the human wakes up and takes over.

Level 3 autonomy is difficult to justify. If every car on the road featured Level 2 capabilities, fatal automobile collisions would drop by 80% already. Full autonomy brings more safety improvements while also bringing mobility to people who cannot drive, automating deliveries, and creating other opportunities.

Google started with a system that could handle highway driving with human oversight. But engineers soon realized those humans were lulled into paying zero attention and would be all but useless in emergencies. So they are going straight to levels 4 and 5 and pursuing full autonomy.

Most automakers started planning to progress steadily through the levels. Ford was among the first to break ranks, announcing in late 2015 that it would skip Level 3. Audi has invested heavily in the handoff and plans to bring Level 3 to the showroom in 2018.

Audi is also pursuing full autonomy. General Motors is buying robocar startups and Ford is rebranding itself as a mobility company. Car sharing and other alternatives to ownership are growing in popularity, and upstarts like Uber see an opportunity to push established players aside.

Uber wants to drop the human chauffeurs in taxi cabs. Google could configure robocabs for riders to use its other services. Cities hosting fleets of robocabs get a new way to cut congestion and solve parking problems.

2017 January 1


Andy Ross

Frank Wilczek won his Nobel Prize in 2004 for breakthroughs on the mathematical foundations of quantum chromodynamics — our theory of how quarks make atomic nuclei — and is a passionate advocate of the supersymmetric extension of current theory that would deepen it yet further ...

Unlike most authors of books on physics for poets, Wilczek is not patronizing and does not seek to erase the technical truth behind his readable gloss on the quest for deep beauty. On the contrary, he puts his passions on show with rapturous outpourings of praise for the creative impulse behind the visions he beholds — and then cites details in appended explanations of his terms of art that spell out the cash value of even his most apparently overblown rhetoric that show he chose every word carefully, and meant it.

This is clearly a book that transcends most of the glosses on physics that litter bookshops today. As an addict of such books, ever hopeful of striking gold but too often disappointed, I am confident it will stand as a classic of its kind a century from now.


Andy Ross

Jonathan Franzen is a good writer and Purity is a good novel. With a story about a star German hacker, whose proclaimed mission is to let sunlight disinfect the dirty secrets of this world, and a mixed cast of hapless Americans, who unwittingly reveal deeper downsides of modern life, this book could have been written for me ...

The best novelists manage to achieve a forensic detachment from their subjects that gives the reader space to air dissenting views. Franzen did well at standing back, but ... the characters all seemed like nightmare products of Franzen's imagination, with exactly the lack of frontal lobe function that dream figures often display.

By any normal standards it was a fine novel.

BLOG 2016
Lockheed Martin
Three F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters represent our trillion-dollar bet on the future of the West

AR O for a winter break
with warm wind and sun

Laura Williams Photography
Dirty laundry — where?

Georgy Kurasov

AR My festive binge this
season is reading Purity
by Jonathan Franzen
Conservative identity:
cool and conformist
(sample size 1)

Jennifer Lawrence

Minuteman III
LGM-30 Minuteman Launch
Logic Earth

"That's what the world
needs now: a POTUS
who tweets about
nuclear policy."
Sam Harris

Paris Hilton in paradise

AR We might join her
there all too soon.

David Bowie's widow Iman, 61

The God Meme

Evolution and the Big Bang
are real and God is not a
magician with a magic wand,
declared Pope Francis to the
Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Experts say his comments put
the kybosh on the pseudo-
theories of creationism
and intelligent design.

Admirable history
of an Asian millennium
of triumph and tragedy
— my Amazon review of
Lost Enlightenment
by S. Frederick Starr

POTUS 45 elected

Rogue One

US Electors vote today for
POTUS 45. Trump trails in the popular vote by over 2.5 million
— the third-worst vote margin among winning candidates
since 1824.

Privatize the military
and see how we like the
social consequences of
their funding drives.

Deepest Mandelbrot Set Zoom
Animation: 10^275

Hardest Mandelbrot Zoom
Ever In 2014: 10^198

Mandelbrot Set Back Story


2016 New Year's Eve

Happy New Tweet

Donald J. Trump

Great move on delay (by V. Putin) — I always knew he was very smart!

AR We all look forward to a new era of harmonious progress.

American Democracy

Fareed Zakaria

In the West, liberty and law on the one hand and popular participation on the other created liberal democracy. This culture of liberal democracy is waning in the United States today.

The Founding Fathers conceived of America as a republic to mitigate some of the dangers of illiberal democracy. The United States developed a democratic culture, formed in large part by a series of informal buffers that weakened the sway of the majority. A professional elite ensured that US society and government would focus on the national interest.

The two prevailing dynamics in US society over the past few decades have been toward greater democratic openness and market efficiency. We are about to see what American democracy looks like without buffers in the way of populism and demagoguery.

AR Liberal humanism as we know it is past its best-before date.

2016 December 30

Israeli Intransigence

The New York Times

Differences between Israel and the United States have boiled over into a diplomatic confrontation. Israeli policy, under the government of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has evolved away from an acceptance of a negotiated two-state resolution with the Palestinians.

A UN Security Council resolution condemned Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Obama administration chose to abstain from the vote rather than to block it.

Under any negotiated solution, Israelis expect their capital to be Jerusalem. But Palestinians also want Jerusalem as their capital, as well as access to the Muslim holy sites.

This is the cynical logic of the settlement movement: When the world is silent, Israel can build settlements; when the world objects, Israel must build settlements. Under any scenario, the possibility of a two-state solution will recede.

The Palestinians are divided and their leaders malicious or hapless. Hamas rules in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority governs in the West Bank. The settlements are an obstacle.

US secretary of state John Kerry warned that without a two-state solution, Israel faces a choice between being a Jewish state and a democracy. If Israel annexes the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Palestinians become the majority in greater Israel. Israelis can either let them vote and lose its identity or deny them and lose its democracy.

The Israeli far right imagines a different one-state solution. Egypt takes over the Gaza Strip, Israel holds most of the West Bank, Jordan takes most former West Bank residents, and Jerusalem comes entirely under Israeli control.

AR A Palestinian state is not a viable solution in the present political climate. Hard though it seems, Israel must prevail against Islamist opposition.

Syrian Civil War

David Greenberg

Americans see the carnage in Syria as a humanitarian disaster. But the humanitarian crisis is just one of the consequences of the US approach to the Syrian civil war:

1 Barack Obama says Syria is of no great strategic importance to the United States. This breaks with decades of geostrategic thinking. If Russia displaces US power in the Mideast, it will affect US influence across the region.

2 Europe has struggled for decades to assimilate Muslim arrivals from the Mideast and Africa. But the new waves of Syrian refugees have created a crisis. Several EU states are in turmoil.

3 The Obama administration was slow to counter the gathering strength of Daesh. The terrorist outfit is on the defensive now, but it continues to plot and spur terrorism in the West.

4 The delay on Daesh also forced the United States to change its strategy in Syria. Obama directed US military power to the fight against Daesh, turning his attention from Assad.

5 Obama said in 2012 that if Assad were to use chemical weapons, he would cross a red line and trigger US military intervention. A year later, when evidence showed that Assad had used them, Obama backed down from reprisals.

Obama avoided another quagmire but went too far. His approach neither strengthened American influence nor helped to make a safer world.

AR Blame the Nobel Peace Prize committee for giving him an ideal to live up to.

British Dirty Laundry

Ben Judah

Billions of dollars are laundered through the London real estate market every year, contributing to an estimated annual total of $125 billion laundered in Britain.

British law is on the side of the kleptocrats. An autocrat on the run can create a shell company to hide his identity and the source of his illicit wealth, and then use this instrument to purchase property incognito. London bankers, brokers, and lawyers will ask no awkward questions as they take their commissions.

Such anonymous companies now own nearly 40,000 London properties. Some of these purchases may be legitimate and innocent, but Transparency International founds this technique has been used for three-quarters of properties whose owners have been investigated for corruption in Britain.

The London Laundromat is destroying the country's reputation. Across the former Soviet Union, Britain is now seen as a partner in corruption, not democracy.

AR An amendment now in parliament can fix this, but only with zealous application of the law. I fear that Brexiteers may seek to indulge the kleptocrats in order to boost British finances.

Austrian Word of the Year

Der Standard


AR Wunderbar!

2016 December 29

Western Civilization

Nigel Biggar

The Chinese are keen to understand the West and its success. They think Christianity has something to do with it. They perceive that Western civilization has enduring characteristics to which Christianity has made a signal contribution and which are quite distinct from traditional Chinese civilization and modern communist culture.

Within the West, some draw exaggerated contrasts between Christendom and the Islamic world in the medieval period, between imperial Europe and Asia in the 19th century, between liberal democracies and the Soviet empire in the 20th, and between the West and the rest now.

Westerners have found much to admire in other cultures and have borrowed liberally from them. Algebra from the Islamic world, cuisine from India, paper and gunpowder from China, and fine arts from Japan are just the highlights. Members of other cultures can grasp and appropriate Western ideas too — Africans and Asians are sometimes better humanists than contemporary Westerners.

Truth, goodness, and beauty transcend time and place. No one culture has a monopoly of wisdom, but some values are more at home in one culture than another. The primacy of the individual over the state is arguably more entrenched in those Western cultures shaped by Christianity than in those eastern ones shaped by Confucianism.

Christian Europe was well acquainted with individualism, democracy, political liberty, and rationality. The prominence of the individual in the West stems from the Christian notion of the prophet called to stand up for individual justice. Christian social roots anchored an institutional separation of church and state in the West, which created space for a flourishing civil society generally lacking in the Islamic world.

Pre-modern Christendom was no stranger to reason. Scholastic theologians pushed natural science in an empirical direction by affirming the biblical contingency of the created world against Aristotelian necessity. What could have been other than it is in fact can only be known by observation, not speculation.

AR The Christian individual is a person guided by an inner light. This light is reason for a Hellenic soul and revelation for a Judaic one, but the Christian concept merged the two in a synthesis that survived until communists subverted it and forced the evolution of modern humanism. We are now seeing the emergence of a cyborg environmentalism that merges humans with technology and individualist thinking with planetary consciousness — Globorg.

2016 December 28

Bounded Rationality

Daniel Engber

Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky argued in 1971 that belief in generalizations based on overly small sample sizes was a bias of cognition. They went on to show that mistakes in human judgment are not exceptions but the rule. Kahneman went on to win a Nobel Prize in 2002, and his 2011 book
Thinking, Fast and Slow became a huge success.

Now many of the findings Kahneman cited in the book appear to be fragile, even spurious. Studies mentioned there started to dissolve as scientists tried and failed to reproduce the original results. The problem was the one he had identified in 1971: The researchers were fooled by faulty intuitions about randomness.


Jonas T. Kaplan, Sarah I. Gimbel, Sam Harris

We used neuroimaging to investigate the neural systems involved in maintaining belief in the face of counterevidence. We presented 40 liberals with arguments that contradicted their strongly held political and non-political views. Our results highlight the role of emotion in belief-change resistance and offer insight into the neural systems involved in belief maintenance, motivated reasoning, and related phenomena.

Participants were especially resistant to arguments against their political beliefs. Given the personal importance of political beliefs for the subjects enrolled in this study, we expected our stimuli to evoke cognition related to social identity. We found that individual differences in resistance to belief change correlated with activity in brain regions important for the generation of emotions, feelings, and social judgments.

All of our participants were strong liberals. It is not clear how well these results would generalize to conservatives. Several studies have found structural or functional differences between the brains of conservatives and liberals.

AR Sample size 40.

2016 December 27

Passengers Arrival


First contact with advanced alien visitors was the theme of Arrival. Huge ellipsoidal spacecraft came to hover silently over various spots of Earth and human experts sought to communicate with them. Amy Adams played the language expert who made first meaningful contact with the squid-like inhabitants of one of the ellipsoids. Their messages looked like splashed rings from wet coffee cups and she had a hard time making any sense of them. After humans worldwide struggled to guess a few words that seemed to form a vague message and military authorities began to get edgy, the spacecraft silently headed off, leaving a host of unanswered questions.

Communication is a deep philosophical enigma, and Arrival dramatized the issue superbly. The movie also forced us to confront our immaturity as a species by spacefaring standards. Civilized squids exploring the galaxy in giant ellipsoids would naturally find it hard to strike up a conversation with us, not only on the technical level but also in terms of what there was to say. The Adams character was moved in ways she found unable to express, and that seemed a bigger payoff than any new equation to warp spacetime or whatever. This was a movie for philosophers.

By contrast, Passengers could almost have been written to a formula. Avalon, a giant space cruiser bearing five thousand aspiring colonists in hibernation to a remote Earth-like planet, hits a cloud of space rubble and suffers damage. The story is set in a far enough future that the ship is on a fairly routine voyage using proven technology and the the passengers are as safe as on an ocean-going cruise liner on Earth today. But they are on a one-way voyage to a planet many light-years away. For a technophile, the visualization of this great vessel is surely the main treat in this movie.

The plot of Passengers relies in part on surprise, so it may be unwise to say too much, but the main plot line is the developing relationship between two passengers, Jim and Aurora (played by Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence), after first Jim and then Aurora wake up from hibernation following malfunctions caused by the rubble collision, some ninety years before arrival at the destination planet. As their lonely wakefulness in the huge public spaces of the ship works on them and as the ship suffers escalating malfunctions, the movie artfully evokes moods from such earlier classics as The Shining, set in an empty hotel, and Titanic, set on a sinking ship. Jim gradually masters his initial despair and seeks to repair the ship, while Aurora goes through a gamut of heartfelt emotions that Lawrence plays impressively well.

Arrival and Passengers are two very different movies, but they complement each other in ways that reward comparative reflection. Arrival shows how little one can say about the problems of saying anything at all. A single note of mystic bafflement is allowed to ring out loud and clear, with no more or less to convey than a Zen gong in a religious retreat. Passengers shows how even a formulaic plot can be redeemed by loving attention to the technically plausible visualization of the interior and exterior details of an interstellar passenger cruiser.

For me, this makes Passengers the more interesting movie despite my wholehearted admiration for the evocation of the mystic side of communication in Arrival. Scientists may do genuine homage to deep philosophy, but in the end they spend most of their time and effort on the technology, and hence get most of their kicks from it. And few scientists will fail to enjoy seeing J-Law in action.

2016 December 26

World War 3

Eric Schlosser

The United States and Russia are drifting toward a new cold war. Many of the nuclear weapon systems on both sides are aging and obsolete. The USAF Global Strike Command has 440 Minuteman III ICBMs, relics of the Cold War, sitting in underground silos, ready to take off within 2 minutes, to deter a surprise attack.

The US nuclear war plan is the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). It depended on getting Minuteman missiles off the ground immediately. The plan called for the destruction of 12,000 targets within the Soviet Union, with 400 nuclear weapons targeted on Moscow alone.

Missiles launched from Russia would give POTUS about 20 minutes to respond. Missiles launched from Russian submarines in the western Atlantic would give him only 5 minutes. A decision to launch Minuteman missiles on warning would kill millions of people.

The United States has taken precautions to thwart a cyberattack on its nuclear command and control system. If landline communications between Minuteman control centers and their missiles are interrupted, the missiles can still be launched by UHF radio signals from Air Force One. The radio link creates an entry point for a possible cyberattack.

Hundreds of missiles based on US Navy submarines also deter a Russian attack. But they too may be compromised by malware. The Royal Navy saves money by using Windows for Submarines, a version of Windows XP, on its ballistic missile subs. Microsoft support for Windows XP ended in 2014.

Russia is modernizing its nuclear arsenal. The Russian leadership is terrified of a decapitation strike. A first strike is probably the only imaginable route to decisive victory in nuclear war. Vladimir Putin: "When a fight is inevitable, you have to hit first."

POTUS has sole power to order the use of US nuclear weapons, with no legal obligation to consult anyone else.

AR Schlosser is an expert on all this. His 2013 book Command and Control is terrifying.

2016 Christmas Day



If I am a sovereign being, my free will is hard to find, and must defy the findings of neuroscience. If a public polity is to be sovereign, it must set its face against a well developed international order, with global rules on peace and war, trade and markets, and human rights and duties. If freedom is power, it must escape the chains of rules that bind our choices.

In personal or political life, the scientific constraints on free will fall behind in the admission that no well founded prediction can be derived in time to make effective decisions. If I wait for the scientific story to unfold, the moment has passed and my act is choked. Life as we know it involves acting fast, in real time, and the power to do so is our freedom.

Politicians are paid to make choices on behalf of those who put them in power. Voters may be pushed by powers beyond their control to vote as they do, but the laws of large numbers average out the wilder impulses and the rulers who emerge can count on a steady base. Still, the focused power that remains is hostage to a cloud of neural and social fortune.

In both personal and political life, seeking to escape the wheel of fortune is a fatal error. The road to absolute sovereignty is a hard one, and going with the flow is usually the better way. If I choose autonomy, to be my own boss and do my own thing, I must defy the gods, but if I work with others in similar predicaments I can make peace with my fate.

Neuroscience tells me that my brain has evolved to maintain the illusion of control, to steer me away from entanglements and toward a felt sense of freedom. But history shows that people must moderate their natural impulses if they want to live together in harmony. Politicians naturally want sovereignty, but they should beware of what they wish for.

2016 December 24


Andy Ross

I started this book with high hopes and found the first half really interesting, then it went downhill fast. Muller is obviously an excellent experimental physicist and has understood Einstein's theories of relativity, at least, really well. He also gives workmanlike accounts of large parts of particle physics and the basics of quantum theory ...

That said, the denouement in Part V is an utter disappointment.

2016 December 23

Trump Tweet Translated

Max Fisher

PEOTUS Trump appears to have declared US nuclear weapons policy in a tweet:
"The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes."

Nuclear policy has a meticulous language all its own, but his words fall outside that language:

The word "strengthen" is not in its lexicon but may mean
— Modernize existing nuclear forces by upgrading President Obama's plan
— Expand qualitative nuclear capability by developing improved delivery systems
— Deploy existing weapons systems closer to adversaries

The word "expand" may mean
— Move some warheads from reserve stockpiles to active deployment
— Build and deploy new warheads
— Build new warheads and stockpile them

Strengthening and expansion may mean increasing
— The number and yield of nuclear warheads
— The speed, stealth, range, or other attributes of weapons that deliver them
— Both

"until such time"
— As I want
— As is necessary to maintain the status quo
— As certain foreign states fulfill certain conditions

"the world"
— All nuclear weapons states
— Russia and China
— Russia

The aim may be to
— Avoid any escalation that might disturb the global status quo
— Continue until the world accepts American nuclear primacy
— Continue until we get global nuclear disarmament

Any increase in capability would force Russia and China to respond, increase the number of nuclear conflict scenarios, and reduce the response time in a crisis. The Obama plan to update the nuclear arsenal is already projected to cost $1 trillion.

The Fall of Language in the Age of English

Minae Mizumura

This book was written for those who, in moments of solitude, quietly worry about the future of Japanese literature and the Japanese language. It is for those who think that what is being written in Japanese today is ultimately of little relevance but who wish, with mingled despair and resignation, that at the very least more people would read Japanese literature written in those years when it was deserving of the name.

AR My stab at learning Japanese in Japan, plus my reading of classic Japanese novels in English translation, suggests this despairing reflection is right. There was a fragile delicacy in the culture that appears like a vanishing world through the prism of English global hegemony.

2016 December 22

David Bowie

Ian Penman

In 1975 David Bowie was in Los Angeles pretending to star in a movie. In an interview for Rolling Stone he talked about the drugs he preferred. Station to Station, which he released in January 1976, was about as far from Kiss and Led Zeppelin and the Eagles as you could possibly get.

A key to his success in the 1970s was that his rock superstar personae, including Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, were both up on a pedestal and down in the everyday dirt. As an artist, writer, actor, singer, Bowie was good, but could never join the ranks of the greats in any of those areas. The huge surge of affection when he died came about partly because people felt he remained a kid who never forgot where he was from.

Bowie met the Somalian supermodel Iman in 1990 and he sobered up. Watching Bowie selling himself to the world was a depressing sight. To fall to Earth, you have to have been way up in the stars.

AR I liked the late Bowie. Sobering up is a seal of quality.

The Soviet Union

Leon Aron

The Soviet Union in 1985 possessed much the same resources as it had a decade earlier. The standard of living was lower than in most of Eastern Europe, but the Soviet Union had known far greater calamities without losing its grip. No key parameter of economic performance prior to 1985 pointed to disaster.

The Soviet Union was at the height of its global power and influence, both in its own view and in the view of the rest of the world. The structural reasons for its collapse fail to explain how it happened. Between 1985 and 1989, the state and its economic system began to be seen as shameful, illegitimate, and intolerable.

A quest for self-respect and pride hollowed out the mighty Soviet state. Deprived of its legitimacy, the USSR turned into a shell that crumbled in August 1991. The tale of this intellectual and moral journey is a central story of the last century.

AR The present USUK order could end equally quickly.

2016 December 21

The Trump Fact

Martin Wolf

Democracy lets people with different views live together in harmony. An outburst of fear and anger is disturbing because such primal emotions are hard to contain. In the UK and the US in 2016, they came together in nationalism and xenophobia.

The more powerful the passions, the more likely the democratic system will collapse into despotism. Demagogues claim the tyranny of the majority as a mask on the tyranny of one. Trump in charge of the USA is a devastating fact.

The Brexit Game

Daniel Finkelstein

Thomas Schelling worked out how to prevent nuclear war. He helped American policymakers see that they had to make first use taboo and ensure they could always retaliate. With a telephone hotline between the Kremlin and Washington, they could then avoid nuclear war.

The ideas of Schelling and the game theorists relate to the problems Britain now faces when negotiating departure from the European Union. Brexit is a game involving many players and a reasonable outcome is not assured. It could end in conflict and failure.

Schelling rules:

1 We should know what an acceptable deal looks like.
2 We should flag any absolute commitments clearly.
3 We should go for a good outcome for both of us.

AR Rule 0 — rise above us versus them.

2016 December 20

Germany 2017

Josef Joffe

On Bastille Day in Nice, a man drove a truck into a crowd, killing 86. Last night in Berlin, a man drove a truck into a crowd, killing 12. Germany has foiled many more terror attacks.

The German cocoon has burst. Germans will soon accept intensified surveillance. The federal government has decided to beef up data gathering and cyber warfare capabilities.

Angela Merkel's open-door policy on refugees will change. Last year she flung open the doors on German borders. Some 800,000 people from the Mideast and Africa swarmed in.

For Merkel, the open door was a grand moral gesture and an act of historical atonement. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Controls are now back with a vengeance.

Alternative für Deutschland will campaign against Merkel in the 2017 general elections. She will want to pose as a protector of domestic security. Germany is a terror target too.

AR The terrorists have split up Europe already.

America 2017

Edward Luce

One of the reasons the US won the cold war was its skill at breaking China away from the Soviet Union. When Nixon went to China in 1972 he cemented the Sino-Soviet split and weakened Moscow. Nixon was a devout student of global affairs who grasped the geopolitical chessboard.

Trump wants to be known as the president who returns manufacturing jobs to the US. He is using the threat to the One China policy as leverage to wrest concessions from China. It will backfire.

AR If Trump ups arms to Taiwan, China will be angry.

UK 2017

Gideon Rachman

Brexit could be chaotic for trade and diplomatic relations. A smooth divorce may prove unattainable and instead become a train crash. The reasons are procedural and political.

Procedurally, the negotiations are complicated. Britain and the EU will try to unpick a 40-year relationship in 2 years. UK ambassador to the EU Sir Ivan Rogers says it could take 10 years.

Politically, there is simmering ill will on both sides. The negotiating process will reveal the immense gap between the assumptions of the two sides. Talks could break down irretrievably.

The EU estimate of British financial liabilities following Brexit is that the UK will be facing a bill of up to €60 billion. That figure will cause outrage in the UK. But the EU will be able to justify it.

Britain could simply walk out and let the case go to the International Court of Justice. Then it will be impossible to make any further progress on Brexit. Opinion will harden on both sides.

Brexit would happen after 2 years even with no deal. The consequences could be dire. A senior British civil servant: "It's going to be bloody, but we're just going to have to bash on through."

AR Expect a Trumped-up nuclear holocaust first.

2016 December 19

Unpresidented Trump

Global Times

Beijing and Washington understand that China will return the captured underwater drone to the United States. The two governments have shown responsibility in maintaining peace and stability.

Trump tweets
1 "China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters — rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act."
2 "We should tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back — let them keep it!"

Trump has no sense of how to lead a superpower. Since he has not taken office, China has kept a calm attitude toward his provocative remarks. But if he treats China after assuming office in the same way as in his tweets, China will not exercise restraint.

Reform Central Banks

Wolfgang Münchau

World Bank chief economist Paul Romer calls modern macroeconomics a racket.

The US and German central banks were independent before 1990 but most other central banks were not. Most people would probably not agree that since army generals know best what is good for us, national armed forces must be independent.

Defenders of the liberal order should push to reclaim the central levers of economic policy. They should distinguish the interests of the financial sector from those of the economy. Failure to do so was one of the reasons for the Brexit vote.

The case for reform is overwhelming.

Against Dark Matter

Natalie Wolchover

Erik Verlinde says gravity emerges from qubit entanglement and dark matter reduces to dark energy. He sees spacetime and matter as a hologram arising from an underlying network of qubits and traces dark energy to a property of the qubits.

Years ago, modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND) inventor Mordehai Milgrom conjectured that when the gravitational field strength drops below precisely 0.12 pN/g, gravity somehow switches from an inverse-square law to something close to an inverse-distance law.

Verlinde gives a back story for the MOND equations. He says spacetime is a geometric representation of data stored in qubits. To do the work of dark matter, he postulates a thermal energy associated with long-range entanglement between the qubits.

This entanglement is disrupted by matter, which interacts with dark energy to modify gravity. The interaction increasingly dominates in larger volumes of spacetime. Verlinde says it causes galaxy rotation curves to deviate from the inverse-square law exactly as in MOND.

Analysis of galaxies strengthens his case. Researchers looked at 153 galaxies and compared the rotation speed of visible matter at a given distance from each galactic center with the visible mass within that galactic radius. The two variables were linked as in MOND without dark matter.

Testing the new MOND on data from more than 30,000 galaxies shows that Verlinde correctly predicts the gravitational lensing of light from the galaxies — another claimed effect of dark matter.

The crowning achievement for Verlinde would be to account for the claimed imprints of dark matter in the cosmic microwave background (CMB). Dark matter explains the observed CMB spectrum but the old MOND does not.


USAF B-52H leads a formation of aircraft including two Polish Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, four USAF F-16s,
two Luftwaffe Eurofighter EF2000s and four Swedish Air Force Gripens over the Baltic Sea for exercise
BALTOPS, 2016-06-09

Donald and Ivanka
Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images
Donald and Ivanka

Rail Strike Chaos

RMT union boss Sean Hoyle:
"Replace the capitalist system
with a socialist order ...
if we all spit together
we can drown the

AR Kill.

Jail Riot Chaos

No hot water for showers in
a UK jail is thought to have
set off the worst prison
riot for a generation.

AR Pussies.

Panzerjäger Tiger (P)
(a.k.a. Sd.Kfz.184 Elefant)
at Southampton Docks on
its way to Bovington
Tank Museum


2016 December 18

The New Sheriff

The Sunday Times

Donald Trump will reverse American policy toward Russia and in the Mideast. He will ally with Vladimir Putin and repair US ties with autocratic Sunni Arab regimes. His team promises a "night and day" contrast with the outgoing administration.

Trump will usher in a "new era of American leadership" and launch a new offensive against Daesh to show them there is a "new sheriff in town" after eight years of weakness. Trump will order his generals to deliver a plan within a month of his inauguration.

Trump will woo Putin. He will ditch the nuclear deal with Iran and drive a wedge between Russia and Iran. He will use US special forces to the max. An officer: "All we need is the presidential authority and the GPS coordinates and we can kill anyone in the world within 72 hours."

Trump: "Military, cyber and financial warfare will all be essential in dismantling Islamic terrorism. But we must use ideological warfare as well. Just as we won the cold war, in part, by exposing the evils of communism and the virtues of free markets, so too must we take on the ideology of radical Islam."

AR It might work. Worth a try anyway. Worst that can happen is nuclear holocaust.

The New Britain

Tom Crewe

Britain is the most centralized country in the Western world. Its local councils account for about a quarter of government spending. Since 2010 their spending has been cut by over a third, and is scheduled to fall much further by 2020.

Soon after 2010, councils in England were encouraged to freeze council tax. The tax is calculated on the basis of property values set in 1993 and not updated since. Councils are prohibited from running a deficit and are obliged to balance the budget every year.

Councils have made big savings in roads and transport. Spending on parks and culture has also fallen. Leisure centres, swimming pools, playing grounds, public toilets, and libraries have been closed.

Since 2010, billions have been cut from social care budgets. The services that remain are overstretched, and councils must make more cuts this year, with yet more to come. By 2020, English councils will be spending most of their income on social care.

Austerity destroys local government and marketizes nearly every aspect of public policy. Local government will soon be forced to outsource most of its responsibilities to the private sector. A municipal nation has been destroyed.

AR Be Stoic: The rich will get richer, the jams (just about managing) will go into forced servitude, and the rest will face death with a smile.

The New Stoics

Philip Delves Broughton

Last week Donald Trump met the new titans in Trump Tower. Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, and Larry Page of Alphabet came along in suits and ties. They have embraced Stoicism — accepting what they cannot change and managing what they can.

Stoicism is the new Zen. Ryan Holiday has sold nearly a quarter of a million copies of his book The Obstacle Is the Way. Athletes, Hollywood celebrities, and the venture capitalists and entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley bought the recycled philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.

The Stoics were indifferent to pleasure and pain, wealth and poverty, fortified by their distance from the emotions that trouble ordinary minds. When they kissed their children goodnight, they imagined them dying, so that if the worst were to happen they would be ready.

Marcus Aurelius faced war and death on the fringes of the Roman Empire. He wrote that facing a fine meal, you should recall "this is the dead body of a fish and this is the dead body of a bird or a pig".

James Stockdale was a US navy pilot who spent years in North Vietnam as a prisoner of war. He had read Epictetus. He survived by confronting the brutal facts of his situation. The men who went under were the optimists: "They died of a broken heart."

Epictetus: "Men, the lecture room of the philosopher is a hospital; students ought not to walk out of it in pleasure, but in pain."

AR Cue for my next book.

2016 December 17

British Tax Haven Gambit

Der Spiegel

Despite Brexit, Brits want a say in deciding EU tax policy. They propose an HM Treasury candidate to chair the EU working group that oversees tax competition between member states. EU27 members resist his nomination because since the Brexit vote Britain has blocked moves to outlaw tax havens such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and the British Virgin Islands.

AR Perfidious Albion — don't let it drag EU down.

German Armed Forces Update

Ursula von der Leyen

Since the election of the new US president, it has become clear to Europeans that we have to take matters that affect us into our own hands.

There is no military solution in Syria, only a political one. If there were a way to stop Assad by force without risking wider war, we would do so. Assad is getting massive air and ground support from Russia and Iran. Syria could set the world ablaze.

We have cut spending on the German armed forces for too long and now we must modernize them. We are approaching the NATO 2% goal in reasonable steps, but modernization takes time. We shall include this goal in our election manifesto.

The EU and Germany must do more in Mali. By agreement with the UN, the German army will take over helicopter rescue duties in northern Mali from Holland in spring 2017. The Bundestag will vote in January on increasing our manpower there.

The military can only do so much. Civilian aid costs money, but it is better than hosting African migrants here or deporting them.

AR Brits who would cut aid should see this too.

Quantum Futures

Anthony Sudbery, ed. AR

Determinism is the idea that if you know the present you can predict the future. It worked for centuries. Then came quantum physics.

Quantum theory defines a state vector from which you can derive predictions. If you choose which physical quantities you want to measure, subject to complementarity, the state vector gives you probabilities for the possible answers.

Quantum mechanics gives us two answers about the future. In the view from nowhere, the universe is described by a universal state vector and its evolution is deterministic. In the view from here and now, we occupy a particular world and its evolution is probabilistic.

From here and now there are many worlds, but one of them is singled out as actual. In my future, no one world is singled out for me. I face a superposition of future worlds.

Predictions do not have to be either true or false. Let a true statement have truth value 1 and a false one have truth value 0. The truth value of a prediction X is a number between 0 and 1 giving the probability of X.

In the view from nowhere, there are many worlds with different probabilities. My actual world is one of them, and it has probability 1 for me. Possible worlds that are counterfactual relative to my world have probability 0 for me.

The whole universal state vector goes into the calculation of future probabilities. Counterfactual events can still affect the future until they fall away by decoherence. Even in a deterministic universe, our predictions are always uncertain.

AR This is just the Kripke semantics of an Everett multiverse with Bayesian probability.


Kremlin, Moscow, 2016-12-08 (Maxim Shipenkov/EPA)
FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment
that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win.

UK government officials say Moscow is undermining the UK through espionage, misinformation, cyberattacks,
and fake news.

Petras Malukas
Seen in Vilnius, Lithuania

Cambridge University Library
Principia Mathematica
by Isaac Newton: 1687 first
edition sold for $3.7 million

German defense minister
Ursula von der Leyen with Saudi
defense minister Mohammed
Bin Salman al-Saud, Riyad

2015 Defense Budgets

United States $597.5 billion
Saudi Arabia $87.2 billion
United Kingdom $56.2 billion
France $46.8 billion
Germany $36.7 billion

Asteroid Armageddon

NASA scientist Joseph Nuth
says big asteroids and comets
on collision course with Earth
are extremely rare but for us
any collision is an extinction
level event. NASA has a new
planetary defense office and
Nuth recommends building
an interceptor rocket
in readiness.

Clint and Tom did good.

Czego szukasz w Święta?
English for beginners


In hindsight, do you think
Britain was right or wrong
to vote to leave the EU?


2016 December 16

Christmas Dinner

Poole Conservative Association
Royal Motor Yacht Club, Sandbanks

AR Robert Syms MP gave an interesting speech on the United States and the federal ideal in Europe, the British and German economies, and the opportunities and challenges of Brexit.

Team Trump


Some choice picks:

Vice-President: Mike Pence, the Governor of Indiana, an evangelical Christian who opposes abortion and denies the theory of evolution.
Department of State: Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, whose interests and wealth are tangled in a web of global relationships, including a close partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Treasury: Steven Mnuchin, an investment banker who made billions off of the housing crisis.
Department of Labor: Andrew Puzder, a fast-food CEO who disdains the minimum wage and backs increased automation in low-wage fields.
Department of Education: Betsy DeVos, a billionaire who evangelizes charter schools and private instruction.
Department of Energy: Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who infamously wants to dismantle the agency, when he can remember its name.
Health and Human Services: Tom Price, a Georgia representative who opposes the Affordable Care Act and wants deep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.
Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt, who describes himself as a "leading advocate" against the agency.
Department of Justice: Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator who opposes the Voting Rights Act and supports a rollback of federal protection for LGBT victims of hate crimes.
Homeland Security: John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general who opposes closing the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.
Department of Defense: James Mattis, another retired Marine Corps general, on record as saying: "If you fuck with me, I'll kill you all."

AR Amazing, Donald.

2016 December 15

Google Translate

Gideon Lewis-Kraus

In November 2016, at a Google office in London, London mayor Sadiq Khan introduced Google chief executive Sundar Pichai. The Google of the future, said Pichai, is in artificial intelligence.

Google Brain was founded in 2011 to give artificial neural networks something like human flexibility. This approach to AI can solve hard problems like speech recognition and image recognition.

When Pichai spoke, Translate had just been converted to an AI system. The new incarnation had been completed in only nine months, yet showed huge overnight improvements.

Networks of simple artificial neurons can learn the way we do. An artificial neural network can rewire itself to reflect patterns in the data it absorbs. This approach to AI is evolutionary rather than creationist.

Google Brain built an artificial neural network comparable in complexity to a mouse brain. They taught it to recognize cats. They showed it labeled pictures of cats as inputs and rated its outputs, and let it wire itself to map the inputs to the outputs.

The cat work made Brain famous. Lead author Quoc Le then saw that if a network could handle a photo it could also handle a sentence. His team developed an architecture to accommodate complex structures that unfolded over time, like language or music.

A new chip made the network faster. Tensor processing units are deliberately imprecise: rather than compute 12.24 x 54.39, they compute 12 x 54. A neural network is formally a structured series of matrix multiplications carried out in succession, and the process needs to be fast rather than exact.

In February 2016, Google convened its research leads at an offsite retreat. The Translate update rolled out in November.

Good machine translation is likely to prove transformational. It is a big step toward artificial general intelligence, AGI.

AR This reminds me so much of what we used to do on a smaller scale at SAP.

2016 December 14

UK Bargaining Chips

Financial Times

A Lords committee says:

UK government ministers should provide an immediate unilateral undertaking to protect the citizenship rights of EU nationals living in the UK after Brexit.
Failure to do so would have severe consequences for EU citizens in Britain, who would become subject to national immigration laws of Byzantine complexity.
Giving Europeans a firm message on their future before the end of Brexit negotiations is the only morally right action.

AR I am appalled and ashamed that the government under which I live has not already and unconditionally done so.

German Defense

Foreign Policy

The Bundeswehr has 176,752 active military personnel and 200 Leopard 2 tanks. The Luftwaffe has 109 Eurofighter Typhoons and 89 Tornados. The German navy has just 10 frigates.

German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen will spend an extra $140 billion on equipment over the next 15 years. Germany spends 1.2% of GDP on defense, against a NATO target of 2%, and she is raising this to 1.22% in 2017.

Low German defense spending and limited capabilities are a hangover from WW2. Over the last 25 years, Germany has converged with France and the UK on the politics of using military force. But even the Ukraine crisis has not changed German hesitancy about the use of military force.

A half of Germans think the defense budget should be increased. But Germans do not want to arm against Russia, even if people in the Baltic states and Poland do. Fear of being overwhelmed by refugees rather than fear of Russia is prompting Germans to rethink their security policy.

AR Germany, France, and the UK need to coordinate their defense policies much more closely — and as a matter of the highest priority.

The Big Picture — my review of a book by Sean Carroll

2016 December 13


Financial Times

Donald Trump has named Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive of ExxonMobil, as his secretary of state. Vladimir Putin awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship in 2013. Tillerson will work with secretary of defense "Mad Dog" Mattis (blog December 3) and national security adviser Michael Flynn, former director of the DIA.

Russia expert and former secretary of defense Robert Gates: "I strongly endorse the president-elect's selection of Rex Tillerson to be the next secretary of state ... He is a person of great integrity whose only goal in office would be to protect and advance the interests of the United States."

Trump has tapped billionaire investor Wilbur Ross for his commerce secretary and top trade official, Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn to head the White House national economic council, and Goldman alumnus Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary.

AR Big Business takes over US governance. This tends to confirm the view of politics and business I aired in my book G.O.D. Is Great (2010). Global corporations will win against national polities. Trump knows this. Snobbish governing elites will fail against brash hard chargers from the corporate jungle, just as smug religious elites failed against scientists.


The New York Times

A billion-dollar investment fund led by Bill Gates and other technology titans will invest in transformative energy R&D to reduce the emissions that cause climate change.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures will capitalize on government-backed research through partnerships with the University of California system and other institutions.

The fund has 20 investors and will last 15 to 20 years. It will cover investments in electricity generation and storage, transportation, agriculture, and energy system efficiency.


Der Spiegel

Aleppo steht kurz vor dem Fall, Bewohner in den Rebellengebieten sind in höchster Not. Laut Rotem Kreuz ist die humanitäre Situation katastrophal, die UNO ist alarmiert wegen Berichten über Gräueltaten gegen Zivilisten.


Science Museum

The new Winton mathematics gallery at the Science Museum in London reveals the richness of mathematics.

Maths is popular with A-level students in British schools. As a STEM subject it provides a ticket into the world of science and jobs. But the maths they learn will not equip them with the right skills.

The machinery that powers mathematics is crucial. Before modern computers, we did calculations by hand, so we worked hard to avoid them at the expense of more upfront deliberation in defining and abstracting the question. It was a meticulous process.

The process of defining questions, translating them into math, computing the answers, and interpreting results, is computational thinking. Mathematics is all this, not just pure calculation.

We need to focus on computational thinking, the process that drives practical applications of mathematics.

AR Years ago I helped set up the Mathematisches Kabinett, Deutsches Museum, München.

2016 December 12

Trump v China

Global Times

US President-elect Donald Trump: "I fully understand the One China policy, but I don't know why we have to be bound by a One China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade."

People marveled at Trump's commercial thinking and naivety for diplomacy. The One China policy has become a fundamental principle of international order. Leaders all around the world, including US leaders, understand it.

If Trump gave up the One China policy, supported Taiwan independence, and sold weapons to Taiwan, China would have no grounds to partner with Washington on international affairs and contain forces hostile to the US.

Trump is no geopolitical maniac, but he is easily subject to the hawkish advisers around him. We will learn more about how he interprets the One China policy after he is sworn in. China needs to be fully armed and prepared.

Trump v Government

Gideon Rachman

Donald Trump has placed a climate change denier in charge of environmental protection, an opponent of the minimum wage as labor secretary, a conspiracy theorist in charge of the National Security Council, and a protectionist at the commerce department. Now he is considering a recipient of the Kremlin's Order of Friendship as secretary of state.

Russia: Trump seems to want a rapprochement with Russia, which is suffering under economic sanctions imposed after its annexation of Crimea and intervened for him during the election, exciting speculation about his relationship with Russia.

Europe: The French and German governments fear Trump may support Marine Le Pen or the Alternative for Germany in elections next year, but weakening NATO could undermine his presidency.

Iran: He could easily rip up the nuclear deal, but this could put the US on the road to war.

Mideast: He advocates a much more ferocious approach to the war on radical Islamic terrorism.

China: He signals a sharp rise in tensions with Beijing.

PEOTUS endorses expansion in the US Navy. He could split the informal alliance between Russia and China and instead form a Washington-Moscow axis. But his moves smacks more of chaotic improvisation than strategic thinking.

Trump v World

Brendan Simms

PEOTUS Trump may damage EU chances of dealing with its many challenges. EZ and Schengen states are no longer sovereign in regard to currency or borders, and Germany lacks military capability, but the EU has only a shadow capability at supranational level.

The UK may have to hold the line in Europe for years. Rearmament must begin now in preparation for war against a major power in Europe. A grand bargain with the EU might preserve free trade, restrict immigration, and increase British commitment to European security through NATO.

London needs to read its neighbors the riot act on Russia. Europeans have seen they cannot have a common currency or a common travel area without a common state, and a European army without a European state can only end in more tears. They need full political union now.

PEOTUS must see that America has the biggest stake in the success of NATO.

2016 December 11


Natalie Wolchover

In quantum mechanics, time is universal and absolute. But in general relativity, time is relative and dynamical. We need to reconcile their notions of time.

Many physicists now consider spacetime and gravity to be emergent phenomena. Spacetime and matter emerge in a hologram from a network of entangled qubits. Spacetime is a geometric representation of the entanglement structure of the underlying quantum systems.

The hologram arises in toy universes with anti-de Sitter (AdS) spacetime. In their elliptical geometries, spacetime increments shrink to nothing at a boundary. The boundary provides a surface for the entangled qubits to project the hologram. The qubit states are like steps in timeless code, giving rise to relativistic time in the bulk of the AdS space.

In our universe, the fabric of spacetime has a hyperbolic de Sitter geometry. The fabric stretches out toward the end of time. At the end, in the heat death, everything becomes causally disconnected, time breaks down, and nothing more happens.

Researchers do not yet understand the emergence of time from the entangled qubits on the timeless boundary.

2016 December 10

Climate Science

Philip Ball

Science is under attack. Donald Trump claimed that climate change was a Chinese conspiracy to undermine US industrial competitiveness. Now he repeats an evasive little mantra about having an open mind.

But this is like saying you have an open mind about the shape of the Earth or about evolution. Anyone with an open mind will agree there is a huge body of evidence showing that human activities are affecting global climate. Yet Trump will stop funding for the NASA Earth Science division.

NASA climate research and monitoring is essential and respected worldwide. NASA GISS is one of the leading centers for studies of global climate change. An Atlantic Council report in March identified climate change as a threat to US national security.

The Trump plans for more astronaut space missions are not a shifting of NASA priorities but a concerted attack on science. There is no compelling scientific or economic argument to put all NASA resources into space missions. Space research is a luxury, Earth observations are essential.

Trump advisor Bob Walker says environmental monitoring is politically correct and climate science is heavily politicized. This is science denial. NASA should not accept such blatant political manipulation.

2016 December 9

EU Nuclear Defense

Der Spiegel

Donald Trump said NATO is obsolete. He mooted pulling back the US nuclear shield from Japan and South Korea and suggested they develop their own nuclear weapons. If Trump seriously questions US nuclear guarantees, Europe will be vulnerable to possible threats from Russia.

In that case, Berlin would consider establishing a European nuclear deterrent. NATO military officers and diplomats are addressing the issue of a French-British nuclear shield for Europe. Britain and France have only around 450 nuclear warheads, but their second-strike capability is strong enough to defend Europe.

Politically, the issue is trickier. France views its nuclear capability as a national asset and Britain is facing Brexit. Europeans would be forced to depend on Paris and London for their security. After Brexit, Germans might rather fund an EU nuclear arsenal under French leadership.

AR I discussed a Franco-British EU deterrent in G.O.D. Is Great (2010). National prejudices and technical interoperability are big obstacles. But I say do it.

Russia v NATO

Robert Cottrell

General Sir Richard Shirreff offers a scenario: 2017 begins with a new Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Russian army sweeps westward into eastern Ukraine up to Crimea. This conquest of half of Ukraine takes Russia three days. NATO fails to respond.

With that done, Russia moves against the Baltic states. Russian special forces engineer chaos during a demonstration in the Latvian capital Riga, which creates a pretext for a Russian invasion that is over in hours. Similar moves take Estonia and Lithuania.

NATO ambassadors meeting in Belgium fail to agree on action. Russian planes sink two navy ships, one German and one British. A reluctant Germany accepts that Russia and NATO are at war. The Shirreff scenario is a wake-up call to NATO.

AR See blog October 22.

Dictatorship of the People

Martin Wolf

Brexiteers will implement the result of the EU referendum. But the view that the executive must do so is a form of authoritarianism. The government becomes a dictatorship that rules in the name of the people.

AR Wolf wäre Volksverräter!

2016 December 8


Theresa May

Queen Elizabeth I stood up for Britain. She had a very clear vision about what she wanted to do.

I think everybody has their own style as to how they do business. I just get on and do the job. What was important in forming the team was unity.

I've got a team around me, some of them people I've worked with before, some of them I've not worked with before. I've reinstated cabinet subcommittees. There's a much more open and free discussion among cabinet colleagues on different policy issues.

I don't take all the decisions. Everybody thinks that suddenly everything is coming to me as prime minister. But there are some crucial decisions that obviously I take. It's not a question of whether people have earned trust, but of where it's appropriate for different decisions to be taken.

Whatever side anybody was on in the referendum vote, we've all now got to come together and deliver for the public. It's important that we don't leave it for too long, otherwise people will lose faith in their politicians. They'll think that we're trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

I want to see as smooth and orderly a process as possible. Of course, it's going to be complex because there's a lot to deal with. You're not a member of something for 40-odd years and then it's easy.

I think it's important for us to build up the relationship with the people we're negotiating with. There are 27 member states which will be negotiating. They don't want to see others looking to break away and to vote to leave in the way the UK has done.

Brexit Plan

David Davis

We are seeking a bespoke outcome on terms of trading with and operating within the European market. We are seeking tariff-free, barrier-free access. We have to judge what is best for Britain, in terms of its access ​both to the European market and to the rest of the world.

Our strategy is to bring back the control of migration to the UK government and parliament. That will be exercised in the national interest. We would expect to see pretty free movement of highly talented labour, and not to cause labour shortages.

AR Selfish UK Strategy (SUKS)

U.S. Pacific Command
Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), right, with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF)
ships JS Izumo (DDH 183), center, and JS Kurama (DDH 144), Philippine Sea, November 11, 2016

75 years ago today:
Japanese attack
on Pearl Harbor

Merkels Atomausstieg

Das Verfassungsgericht
spricht Energiekonzernen
ein Recht auf Schadenersatz
wegen des überhasteten
Atomausstiegs zu

Christoph Niemann
AR My writing career

I2 Am Globorg

I1 think this slogan makes
my Globorg idea ring better.
I1 is human, I2 is planetary.
So read I1 as "I for one"
and I2 as "I too".

Too Dumb To Know It

The Dunning—Kruger effect
is a cognitive bias in which
low-ability individuals suffer
from illusory superiority,
mistakenly assessing their
ability as much higher than
it really is. Dunning: "If you're
incompetent, you can't know
you're incompetent ... the
skills you need to produce a
right answer are exactly the
skills you need to recognize
what a right answer is."

James Mattis
Donald J. Trump announced
his selection of retired USMC
General James N. Mattis to be
next US secretary of defense:
"The closest thing we have to
General George Patton."


2016 December 7

Resurgent Japan


The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force is one of the top five navies in the world.

Japan Security Watch blog editor and US Naval Institute News contributor Kyle Mizokami: "The United States and Japan are the two closest military powers in the world today. They're even closer than the US and UK. They train together on a daily basis, and there are major military exercises in air, land, and sea on almost a weekly basis."

Nylon Rage

Roger Cohen

The United States and Britain are hubs of globalized turbo-capitalism and finance. For at least a decade, fears and resentments had been building over the elites and the downsides of modern life. So the British voted to quit the European Union and Americans voted for Donald Trump.

Western democracies are in the midst of an upheaval. Virtual direct democracy through social media has outflanked representative democracy. The major political parties in Britain and the United States will have to prove their relevance again.

Democracies have not been delivering. A way is needed to restore faith in our societies. Germany, with its balance of capitalism and solidarity, its respect for the labor force, and its commitment to education and training, offers a model.

AR I discussed virtual direct democracy in chapter 1111 of G.O.D. Is Great (2010).

Eurosceptic Union

Brendan O'Neill

The overthrow of Matteo Renzi is the latest revolt against the new managerial elites. The Italian people knew very well that Brussels was backing Renzi. And they know the Five Star Movement, which wants a referendum on the euro, is likely to be a beneficiary of the turmoil.

So the people of Italy join the people of Britain in rejecting the bureaucrats. Brexiteers were inspired by the early revolts of the Dutch and French and by the fighting Irish. In turn, we Brits, French, Dutch, Italian, and Irish have emboldened Eurosceptics elsewhere.

Some revolts will go in a good direction, others in a dodgy one. But what binds them together is hope that politics can be reclaimed from the committee rooms of the technocrats and brought crashing back down to the rowdy, wonderful court of public opinion.

AR Be careful what you wish for.

2016 December 6


Angela Merkel

Eine Situation wie die des Sommers 2015 kann, soll und darf sich nicht wiederholen. Das war und ist unser und mein erklärtes politisches Ziel. Nicht alle der 890.000 Menschen, die gekommen sind, können und werden bleiben.

Hier bei uns in Deutschland gelten die Gesetze unseres Landes. Und zwar für jeden und jede in gleicher Art und Weise. Unser Recht hat Vorrang vor Stammesregeln, vor Ehrenkodexe und der Scharia. Bei uns heißt es: Gesicht zeigen, deswegen ist die Vollverschleierung nicht angebracht, sie sollte verboten sein.

Deutschland geht es nur dann gut, wenn es auch Europa gut geht. Wir müssen in dieser Lage, in der die Welt aus den Fugen geraten ist, zunächst alles daran setzen, dass Europa nicht noch schwächer aus den Krisen hervorgeht, als es hineingegangen ist. Unsere Zukunft hängt einzig und allein von unserer Stärke ab und die haben wir selbst in der Hand.

AR Letzter Absatz gilt auch für VK.

UK Lost Decade

Mark Carney

It doesn't feel like the good old days in the UK. Anxiety about the future has increased, productivity hasn't recovered, and real wages are below where they were a decade ago. No one alive today has experienced this before.

Monetary policy has been highly effective. The data do not support the idea that the period of low rates has benefited the wealthiest at the expense of the least wealthy. All monetary policy has distributional effects, but it is rightly the role of elected governments to take measures to offset them if they so choose.

Politicians need to foster a globalization that works for all. Redistribution and fairness also means turning back the tide of stateless corporations. Companies must be rooted and pay tax somewhere.

AR Nation states like the UK must learn to live with their neighbors before they can hope to put up an effective common front against global corporations.

Breakthrough Science

The New York Times

The Breakthrough Foundation handed out more than $25 million in annual prizes.

A special $3 million prize went to the LIGO experiment that detected gravitational waves from colliding black holes. The money will be split among Ronald Drever, Kip Thorne, Rainer Weiss, and the other 1,012 scientists on the team.

The regular Breakthrough physics prize went to string theorists Andrew Strominger, Cumrun Vafa, and Joseph Polchinski. Strominger and Vafa used string theory to compute the entropy of a black hole and Polchinski generalized string theory to brane theory.

The Breakthrough mathematics prize went to Jean Bourgain for work including a decoupling theorem generalizing the Pythagorean theorem to the superposition of waves.

Life science prizes went to:
Stephen Elledge for exploring how cells sense and respond to damage in their DNA and for insights into the development and treatment of cancer;
Harry Noller for helping to unravel the structure of ribosomes and the role of RNA for them;
Roeland Nusse for work on a gene that plays a crucial role in the development of embryos, stem cells, bone growth, and the progression of cancer;
Huda Zoghbi for work on the genes behind the neurodegenerative disorders Spinocerebellar ataxia and Rett syndrome;
Yoshinori Ohsumi for work on how cells recycle themselves that could help us better understand the process of aging.

AR Glad the gravity wave work was rewarded.

2016 December 5

Guts and Democracy

The Times

In Italy, prime minister Matteo Renzi resigned after losing his referendum on constitutional reform. Opposition leader Beppe Grillo had urged Italians to vote with their guts, not their brains.

Analysts fear a run on Italian banks and a plunge in the euro. The stability of the European Union is endangered. Italy will probably join France, the Netherlands, and Germany in holding elections next year, with the populists on the march.

AR Populism is a force the EU must learn to live with. The public image of the EU in the UK is far below what it needs to be to gain any popular traction. No wonder so many Brits want to leave it.

Violence and Death

Martin Amis

Violence is always a failure of articulacy. When I create a monster character, the covers of the book are like the bars of a cage. You can look at this monster and admire its severity and horror, but it doesn't mean you secretly want violence.

History is accelerating and the novel has responded to that. The narrative has to be much stronger than it used to be. Novelists are modern people too, and they felt this acceleration of history. You write the novels you want to read, and as I get older I write about the past.

I'm writing an autobiographical novel about three other writers — a poet, a novelist and an essayist — Philip Larkin, Saul Bellow, and Christopher Hitchens. Larkin died in 1985, Bellow died in 2005, and Hitch died in 2011, and that gives me a theme, death.

AR Words, words, words — they all died — the end.

2016 December 4

Planet Earth

Stephen Hawking

I warned before the Brexit vote that it would damage scientific research in Britain, that a vote to leave would be a step backward. What matters now is how the elites react. To reject the vote as an outpouring of crude populism would be a terrible mistake.

The concerns about globalization and technological change are understandable. The automation of factories and the rise of artificial intelligence will accelerate the widening economic inequality around the world. Many people are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.

With the global spread of the internet and social media, economic inequalities are far more apparent than in the past. The lives of the richest people in the world are visible to anyone, so the rural poor join the economic migrants in search of a better life. These migrants undermine tolerance and fuel political populism.

Now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it, so we need to work together to protect it.

We need to break down barriers within and between nations. Our leaders need to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many. With resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we are going to have to learn to share far more than at present.

We must help people to retrain for a new world and support them financially while they do so. If communities cannot cope with current levels of migration, we must encourage global development. This will require the elites to learn humility.

2016 December 3

Ivanka Trump, Climate Czar?


Ivanka, 35, Trump's avatar among the moneyed left-wing elite, is poised to play a larger public role than the first lady. She is positioning herself as a bridge to moderates and liberals disgusted and depressed with the tone and tenor of the new leader of the free world.

The ambitious daughter who once plotted her career around international brand domination is apparently planning to make climate change one of her signature issues.

AR If so, good news.

Mad Dog Mattis

Mail Online

US Marine Corps General James N. Mattis commanded a division in the invasion of Iraq and fought in Afghanistan. Also known as the Warrior Monk, he took the book Meditations by Marcus Aurelius into battle. His philosophy of warfare:

The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event.

That said, there are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot.

It's fun to shoot some people.

There is nothing better than getting shot at and missed. It's really great.

I'm pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I'll kill you all.

Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.

The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.

Marines don't know how to spell the word defeat.

Wherever the enemy wants to fight, we will follow him to the ends of the Earth.

AR Any friend of Marcus Aurelius is a friend of mine.

2016 December 2

Richmond Park Surprise

The Guardian

Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney won the by-election in Richmond Park. She gained a majority of 1,872, just under 50% of the vote, to unseat former Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who had won a 23,000 majority in 2015. The vote was a de facto plebiscite on Brexit — Lib Dems said the strongly pro-remain constituency should have an MP who opposed hard Brexit.

Olney: "Richmond Park was full of people like me, who felt the country was going wrong, that the politics of anger and division were on the rise, that the liberal, tolerant values we took for granted were under threat."

The Selfish Gene

Matt Ridley

Richard Dawkins published his bestseller The Selfish Gene in 1976.

The book explored a new way of looking at evolution. Bill Hamilton had argued that the reason people devote themselves to raising their children was because this furthered the survival of their genes. Dawkins saw that natural selection is not mainly choosing among species, or groups, or even individuals, all of which are transient aggregations, but among genes.

Dawkins: "Genes are in a sense immortal. They pass through the generations, reshuffling themselves each time they pass from parent to offspring ... Our basic expectation on the basis of the orthodox neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is that genes will be 'selfish'."

Daniel Dennett: "Many laypeople and even some biologists may fail to appreciate how bountiful this shift of attention has been."

AR Good book. The idea played a central role in the argument of my book Coral.

2016 December 1

The German Challenge

Nina Schick

The European Union is teetering:

Italy Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is likely to lose a referendum on constitutional reform.
Austria Freedom Party (FPÖ) presidential candidate Norbert Höfer looks set to be elected.
Holland Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders calls for a European patriotic spring.
France Front National presidential candidate Marine Le Pen looks set to do well next spring.
Germany Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is making waves ahead of elections next fall.

Germany may have to lead alone on Brexit, Russia, Turkey, migrants, the EZ crisis, and dealing with US president Trump.

UK Needs Written Constitution

Anthony Barnett

The sovereignty of parliament is key to UK political arrangements. By making the will of the people sovereign, the Brexit referendum is constitutional dynamite for those arrangements. A written constitution is now essential to:

1 Establish a separation of powers between the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary
2 Define the political powers and rights of citizens
3 Express the aspirations of UK society

AR Hear hear

Alt-Right's Jewish Godfather

Jacob Siegel

The night America elected Donald Trump president, Richard Spencer crowed: "We're the establishment now." His former mentor Paul Gottfried is a retired Jewish academic who studied at Yale under Herbert Marcuse.

Gottfried is a Nietzschean American nationalist. In his view, there are inherent differences between races, genders, religions, and nations, so equality is unnatural and is imposed by a class of managers who enforce multiculturalism and political correctness. Gottfried distinguishes social Darwinism from the corrupted version exploited by the Nazis and says Hitler was not a fascist but a far-right counter-revolutionary response to Stalin.

Richard Spencer created the website Alternative Right in 2010. Spencer: "American society today is so — pardon my French — fucking middle class in its values. There is no value higher than having a pension and dying in bed. I find that profoundly pathetic. So, yeah, I think we might need a little more chaos in our politics, we might need a bit of that fascist spirit in our politics."

AR More chaos


Allied (starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard) is a good WW2 romantic thriller about the ambiguities of national identity.
It features excellently reconstructed settings and scenes that really catch the feel of wartime London.
But the action scenes are formulaic and Brad seems rather wooden as a loving husband.

Katie Hopkins

I love what they have built here.
I admire the invisible scaffolding
in their society that preserves
calm amid the chaos.

We may believe we live in a
sophisticated society enjoying
more freedom than at any
other time in history.

But I have come to understand
how Castro giving his people
freedom from all that might
be a greater legacy.

Pap snap of aide's scribbled
notes reveals Brexit plan:
"Have cake and eat it"
(and beware French)

"The tree which moves some
to tears of joy is in the eyes
of others only a green thing
which stands in the way."
William Blake

Francois Fillon
French former prime minister
François Fillon, 62, Republican
presidential election candidate
for 2017

"The right can be reassured:
with Fillon they are certainly
getting clarity."
France 24

Yuval Noah Harari

Donald Trump built a wall on
the border of his golf course in
Scotland, blocking the sea view
of local residents who refused
to sell their homes, then he
sent them the bill.

And what rough beast,
its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem
to be born?

W. B. Yeats



2016 November 30

The End of the AA Order

Ian Buruma

Donald Trump and Nigel Farage have more in common than distaste for international or supranational institutions. Farage fulminated against the banks, the liberal media, and the political establishment. Trump deliberately tapped into the same animus against those elitist traitors within America who supposedly coddle minorities and despise the real people.

In the war years, the Anglo-American allies were the last hope of freedom, democracy, and internationalism. NATO and the ideal of European unification were born from the ashes of 1945. Decades later, conservatives regarded the Reagan-Thatcher revolution as a triumph for freedom.

The notion that the United States is the greatest nation in the history of man and that Great Britain is superior to any European country soon faded. Not only have the fortunes of most people in Britain dwindled compared with those of the rich, but it gradually became clear that they were doing worse than the Germans and many other EU citizens. The blight of the old industrial cities and mining towns was not a result of EU policies.

The last hope of the West might be Germany. Angela Merkel told Trump she would welcome a close cooperation with the United States, but only on the basis of democracy, freedom, and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. She spoke as the true heiress of the Atlantic Charter.

AR Downfall: first USSR, then USUK, perhaps?

2016 November 29

EU Defense

Financial Times

A planned European Defense Fund will offset US pressure for NATO allies to increase military spending. The plan would increase cross-border defense procurement and standardization of equipment, and add EU space programs for security and defense. At present about 80% of European defense procurement is run on a national basis.

The NATO target for defense expenditure is 2% of GDP. Of the 22 EU member states in NATO, only the UK, Estonia, Poland, and Greece meet the threshold. The new plan from the EU executive aims to increase European land, air, sea, and space capabilities, plus those in cyber security and intelligence gathering.

France and Germany have led the charge for deeper defense coordination, backed by Italy and Spain. The new plan aims to to deliver a better return from rising defense expenditures. Member states would still own all military assets and technology, but would pool national resources to raise the benefit and efficiency of strategic equipment.

EU member states have the second-largest military expenditure in the world — the US spends more than twice as much. But EU spending inefficiencies add costs of €25 billion to €100 billion per year. With a total annual spend of €100 billion, the EU defense industry could fall behind without sustained additional investment.


Thomas Pakenham

A great oak canopy provides a home for an astonishing number of small insects, birds, animals, lichens, ferns, and fungi. The tree is the head, heart, and habitat of an entire civilization. A great oak can survive for between six hundred and a thousand years.

Many of the common trees in Europe and North America are facing an apocalyptic threat from Asia. Fifty years ago we lost most of our elm trees to a fungus from China. Today these new enemies are decimating our parks and forests.

A fungus plague is leading to the death of leaves and branches in ash trees. A green Chinese beetle has devastated many ash forests in North America. Half of the horse chestnut trees in Europe are believed to be infected by bleeding canker, a bacterial infection that slowly kills the tree.

There is a way to recreate the lost trees. Make sure to choose a Chinese or Japanese or Indian species of the same genus. These Asian species evolved side by side with the Asian diseases and are immune to them.

A wood wide web lets trees communicate. In a forest, an underground network of fungi connects trees of different species by passing chemical and electrical signals among the roots. Tree leaves are solar panels that use photosynthesis to fix carbon, the food of trees, and trees can exchange carbon through their roots.

Trees can exchange food and vital information. In their own way, trees have feelings, they communicate with one another, and the strong can assist the weak. Trees live in harmony with their neighbors and with their ecosystems.

AR Recall the Pandora trees in Avatar.

2016 November 28

UK Incoherence

Lord Kerr

Hard Brexit would be a disaster, a bonanza time for lawyers and emergency sessions of parliament. A huge part of the British statute book would collapse, leaving massive uncertainty for economic operators.

It is difficult when the people have just spoken for us to say: "OK people you voted, you got it wrong, we are not going to pay any attention." It is impossible in the House of Lords.

How do we look from across the channel at moment? We look incoherent. They cannot believe there was not a plan and five months on there is still no plan. They note the xenophobia, the attacks on foreigners, the sense that the climate in Britain is changing.

Theresa May's absolute rejection of any role for the European Court of Justice in Britain was the most damaging step. Most people in Brussels think that rules out anything but a hard Brexit.

We are not top of the agenda for many people in Europe. We need to take account of things that concern them and not to advance our arguments in terms of British exceptionalism.

AR The British front in the European civil war is an utter shambles.

UK Leverage

Financial Times

Top Whitehall mandarin Sir Jeremy Heywood: "What is our leverage?"

1 London is facing an EU that is economically fragile, worried about security, under populist assault, and divided over a crisis of legitimacy.

2 Brussels sees the UK as smaller than the EU, with more to lose, negotiating against a deadline controlled by the EU-27.

3 Brexit blows a hole in the EU budget and will be costly for some members.

4 The EU is worried about Brexit leaving outstanding liabilities of some €50 billion.

5 Defence and security is a UK strong suit.

6 The UK confronts the EU with a choice — continue a zero-tariff preferential trade arrangement or accept WTO terms — confident in the EU trade surplus with the UK and the economic pain from unwinding deep cross-border supply chains in industry.

7 A UK unbound can threaten tax and regulatory dumping — European capitals can be undercut.

8 The City of London is the main EU financial hub — a hard exit raises costs for corporate Europe.

9 The rights of more than 2.5 million EU nationals in the UK are a priority for EU states — but they can threaten retribution on 1.2 million UK nationals resident in the EU.

10 The EU must speak as one on EU issues, but it can speak as 27 on areas of national competence, so crafty British diplomacy can chip away at EU unity.

AR Looks like hard Brexit or unconditional surrender.

2016 November 27

Fight Brexit or Face Ruin

Will Hutton

Brexit is pure poison, polluting everything it touches. The fundamental questions the country should be addressing — the crisis in productivity growth, the lack of affordable housing, the overwhelming strain on public services, our desperately weak export sector — are all sidelined. There is not the bandwith or capacity to address them against the gigantic question of how to weather the greatest shock to our economy and society since 1945.

AR The UK parliament is grossly overburdened — so abandon Brexit, keep on delegating the boring stuff to Brussels, and go back to business as usual. Purge the Brexiteers, muzzle the gutter press, and use force to put down riots. Rulers dare not appease the mob — that way lies mob rule.

Historic Change

Yuval Noah Harari

Humans have two kinds of abilities, physical and cognitive. What you saw over the last century or two is a migration of people from jobs that require mainly physical abilities, like agriculture and heavy industry, to jobs that require mainly cognitive abilities. Now we are seeing that the machines are starting to compete with us, and outperform us, in cognitive abilities.

One of my main fears is that Homo sapiens are simply not up to the task. Censorship no longer works by hiding information from you. It works by flooding you with immense amounts of misinformation, of irrelevant information, of funny cat videos, until you are unable to focus.

I am very much aware that change becomes more and more scary. Previously everyone who knew who you were and what you did and what you thought were your intimate community. Today, Apple and Amazon and WikiLeaks are not your intimate community.

AR These are fragments of a conversation between Harari and former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

My recent review of books by Harari

2016 November 26

American World Leadership

Hugh White

At the turn of the century it seemed America had achieved pole position in the global order. Americans appeared poised to exercise an unchallenged, benevolent global leadership. But in three key parts of the world America has faced serious regional challenges:

1 Mideast — Terrorists contest regional incorporation into a global order whose ideology and culture they reject. In Iraq and Afghanistan, American attempts to create new states that would bring their peoples to order have failed. The state system in parts of the region has collapsed.

2 Eastern Europe — Russian president Vladimir Putin seeks to reassert a Russian sphere of influence. His use of armed force and political subversion revives memories of the Cold War. America has no effective response when the clashes are not big enough for nuclear conflict.

3 Asia — China aims to create a new regional order. It has the strategic weight and national resolve to mount and sustain this challenge. As a nuclear power China can devastate American cities, which means it can deter America from using its nuclear forces in a Pacific war.

For some years now, America has failed to achieve most of its objectives in pursuit of its vision of global leadership. The foreign policy establishment has underestimated the strength and resolve of key regional rivals. It needs to rethink the vision.

Retain EU Citizenship

The Times

British citizens who want to live and work in Europe after Brexit could pay an annual fee for individual EU citizenship.

European Parliament lead Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt: "I like the idea that people who are European citizens and saying they want to keep it have the possibility of doing so."

Luxembourg MEP Charles Goerens proposed the idea: "Between 15 and 30 million British citizens deeply regret Brexit. My amendment was tabled in order to get European citizenship for those British citizens who want to keep their citizenship. If it is adopted, it must be a voluntary request made by each UK citizen. It was thought at the very beginning that they should have to pay a fee but that is a detail. Paying a fee or not is not the essence."

AR I like it — count me in.

2016 November 25

"The people have spoken"

Katie Hopkins

We are the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit. In the United States, 60 million people voted for Trump. But as Americans will discover and Brits are already learning, the system is a lie.

Project Fear has returned via the back door. Philip Hammond is predicting Armageddon over Brexit. The Office of Budget Responsibility is as pessimistic as a cancer victim at a funeral. Tony Blair is saying: "If you offer the people soft Brexit, they may realise there is no point leaving at all."

We are all sick of not being heard. Something darker is now lurking in our hearts. This is a pressure cooker whose lid is being screwed tighter while the temperature rises. This is an angry animal, forced into a cage and tormented, determined to find itself free.

AR Not just hysterical garbage but the canary in the mine.

2016 November 24

Raa-Raa at the Ritz

The Guardian

Farage allies, including the Barclay brothers, who own the Ritz and the Telegraph newspaper, and Arron Banks, who spent £7.5 million on the Leave.EU campaign, threw a reception at the Ritz to celebrate UKIP interim leader Nigel Farage.

Over English sparkling wine supplied from Lord Ashcroft's Gusbourne winery in Kent and canapes of coronation chicken and roast beef, shambassador Farage was toasted by a crowd including pro-Brexit Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.

UK Ambassador to US

When asked, Jacob Rees-Mogg said he was not sure that Nigel Farage should be Her Britannic Majesty's Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United States (the title adopted since 1893): "Mr Farage is certainly extraordinary in his own way but I think that being plenipotentiary as well may be a bit too much."

US Ambassador to UK

The United States Government Ambassador, or Chief of Mission, is the highest ranking American official in the United Kingdom. The position's title is "Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary" — extraordinary in that the ambassador is the personal representative of the President of the United States to Her Majesty the Queen and plenipotentiary indicating full power to negotiate.

AR Either way, Ambassador Frump — no way!

Outlook Dreadful


The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) says that the vote to leave the EU means the UK economy will grow less and the government will have to borrow more.

OBR forecasts are slightly less gloomy than those of the Bank of England, more optimistic than independent forecasters, and considerably less gloomy than those of the Treasury during the referendum campaign.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says workers will earn less in real wages in 2021 than they did in 2008.

A Grim Picture

Resolution Foundation

The rest of this parliament looks set to see the return of the income squeeze we thought we had left behind in the last parliament. Households look set to see income growth averaging less than half the already very weak increases recorded between 2010 and 2015. The biggest losers are lower income families, with the entire bottom third set to see incomes fall.

"Everybody, whatever their political persuasion or indeed view on Brexit, will agree that the return of an income squeeze on this scale is hugely unwelcome."
Torsten Bell

Brexit Can Be Stopped

Tony Blair

Brexit can be stopped if the British people decide against it:

— Either you get maximum access to the single market and accept the rules on immigration, on payment into the budget, on EU legal jurisdiction, and people ask why we are leaving.

— Or you are out of the single market and the economic pain may be very great because you have years of economic restructuring.

AR Start living within our means — abandon Brexit.


The Don


The Prophet of
My review of Sapiens
and Homo Deus by
Yuval Noah Harari
PDF (10 pages)
(typo corrected

UK PM Theresa May will slash
corporation tax to win back
business vote

Royal Navy is too small,
say MPs

AR Run up debt,
spend on arms,
alarm neighbors:
Looks bad.

Buckingham Palace is the
London residence of the Queen:
The UK government will pay for
 a refit with £369 million of
taxpayers' money.

AR Demolish it and build the
New Houses of Parliament
on the site. Let the Queen
live in Windsor Castle.


Donald Trump put his fingers
on the grievance of our time,
the disintegration of the
middle class. This is the
real story of 2016.

Japanese prime minister
Shinzo Abe and Donald Trump
at Trump Tower: Abe said
they had got off to an
"extremely good start"

The special relationship:
German chancellor Angela Merkel
and US president Barack Obama
dining at Hotel Adlon, Berlin

NASA GISS: October 2016 was
the 2nd warmest in 136 years,
0.18 K cooler than October
last year.

New Scientist
60 years old this week.

AR And I have read it
for 50 of them.

The ultimate flying bike:
up to an hour at 30 m
high at 100 km/h
ca €100,000

AR Boy toy for
Gulf princes


2016 November 23

Brexit Black Hole

CNN Money

The UK will be forced to borrow an extra £58.7 billion over the next 5 years because of an economic slowdown triggered by its vote to leave the EU, according to the OBR. Growth will be 1.4% next year, down from 2.2% predicted in March, and the weakest growth since 2009.

UK treasury chief Philip Hammond said growth would suffer because of greater uncertainty and higher inflation resulting from the drop in the value of the pound. Investment and consumer demand are also expected to weaken. Potential growth over the next 5 years will be 2.4% lower than if voters had chosen to remain in the EU.

Brexit Budget

The Times

The UK is to borrow another £122 billion over the next 5 years. UK chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond admitted today as the Brexit bill fell due. About half the extra debt is needed to plug a hole blown in the public finances by the uncertainty caused by the vote to leave the EU.

AR With UK GDP at about £1.9 trillion, the lower growth represents a loss of some £45 billion. Factor in the inflation and loss of real income caused by the nominal drop of over £200 billion in the value of the pound, and Brexit is costing more like £100 billion. This is too high a price to pay for any of the stated benefits, independently of the manifest political and goodwill losses.

The UK prime minister can claw back this loss overnight with a single executive act.

UK Trump Card

Der Spiegel

The game of Brexit poker has become more complicated. Many in the EU are concerned that the UK could increasingly turn to the US instead of keeping their economy as open as possible. If Trump moves ahead with protectionism, German companies and others in the EU will have to worry about their exports to the US as well as to the UK.

The US election has further deepened the rift between the EU and the UK. Previous differences are becoming more distinct. The UK and the EU are heading toward a hard Brexit.

AR Brexit Britain might manage as a US colony under Farage and Trump — a Frump state!

My Views

Donald Trump

We have a great country and we're a great, great people. I want to move forward.

On climate change, I have a very open mind. And I'm going to look at it very carefully. Clean air is vitally important. Clean water, crystal clean water is vitally important. Safety is vitally important. It depends on how much. It also depends on how much it's going to cost our companies. We have to make ourselves competitive.

The wind is a very deceiving thing. We don't make the windmills in the United States. They're made in Germany and Japan. They're made out of massive amounts of steel, which goes into the atmosphere, whether it's in our country or not, it goes into the atmosphere. We're subsidizing wind mills all over this country. For the most part they don't work. But it's hard to explain.

I've known Steve Bannon a long time. If I thought he was a racist, or alt-right, I wouldn't even think about hiring him. Steve went to Harvard, he was a Naval officer, I think he was with Goldman Sachs. Breitbart is just a publication. If I thought that he was doing anything, I would ask him very politely to leave.

They call it the Rust Belt for a reason. To me more important is taking care of the people that really have proven to love Donald Trump, as opposed to the political people. These people are really angry. I call them the forgotten men and women.

Right now we don't make the robots. We don't make anything. But robotics is becoming very big and we're going to do that. We're going to have more factories. We're going to start making things.

We're going for a very large tax cut for corporations. We have to get rid of regulations, regulations are making it impossible. Taxes, regulations, health care — we're going to talk repeal and replace. Infrastructure is going to be a part of it — a very large-scale infrastructure bill.

I don't think we should be a nation builder. I think going into Iraq was one of the great mistakes in the history of our country. I have some very strong ideas on Syria. I spoke to Putin. I would love to be able to get along with Russia and I think they'd like to be able to get along with us.

Israeli businesspeople tell me it's impossible but, I think you can make peace. I think people are tired now of being shot, killed.

General Mattis is is being considered for secretary of defense. He said, "I've always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture."

I hope we can all get along.

AR So do we all.

2016 November 22

Baltic Defense

Financial Times

Swedish opposition Moderate party defence spokesman Hans Wallmark suggests Sweden should join NATO instead of depending on its defense agreement with the US: "Now we have to rely on a person that is very tricky to read. The arguments for Swedish membership are therefore even higher today. It's better that we seek the strength in cooperating with 28 countries rather just one nation."

Finnish former prime minister Alex Stubb says Donald Trump could do a deal with Russian president Vladimir Putin to stop NATO enlargement: "This would leave a security political vacuum in northern Europe, especially Finland and Sweden."

AR Sweden and Finland should join NATO ASAP.

French Right

The Times

French Republican front runner François Fillon thinks the West treats Russia badly. He wants to forge an alliance with Moscow to fight terrorism and create a new balance in Europe.

AR Fillon could trump Le Pen and rebalance EU-Russian relations.

Canadian Trade

Financial Times

Canadian finance minister Bill Morneau: "We're not talking as much about Brexit as you are in the UK ... From our perspective, clearly the NAFTA relationship is of huge importance. That's our biggest relationship by a very big margin, so that's important to us. And then the CETA relationship opens up a very significant market. Our opening of exploratory talks with China ... we do see as important and as the UK figures its next steps, that will be important too."

AR Bang goes Commonwealth resurrection, with its smell of imperial preference.

Mass Democracy Has Failed

Rowan Williams

The election of Donald Trump confirms that the politics of mass democracy has failed. Theatrical politics delivers people into the hands of populist adventurers. Instead of the chilling talk about the people and its supposed will, we need to ask how politics can be set free from the deadly polarity between empty theatrics and a corrupt plutocracy.

AR A correct sentiment, in my humble opinion.

2016 November 21

Denmark v UK

Financial Times

Anglophile former head of the Danish foreign service and PM office Ulrik Federspiel: "Britain is a country close to our hearts. There is still a lot of goodwill. But our main concern is that we should not give away advantages of competitiveness to Britain or British companies ... We cannot afford to give British companies the upper hand."

Danish foreign minister Kristian Jensen: "We decided what we must go for is not what is good and bad for UK, but what is best for Denmark ... It's not to our advantage to be helpful and friendly. We would lose out. The more you look at the issues the more it toughens your line."

The UK percentage of Danish exports have declined from more than half after the war to about 7% today. The Danish fishing industry is vulnerable, as almost a third of its catch comes from UK waters. But about half of Danish GDP is from exports, and two thirds of exports are to the single market and Germany.

AR Brexit is like defection in the prisoners dilemma in game theory. If all cooperate, all benefit. If one defects, it benefits and the others lose — unless they gang up to punish the defector. Nazi Germany defected from a fragile European peace in 1939 and the world ganged up against it. Brexit is defection from a fragile European order.

2016 November 20

Big Brains

Steven Mithen

The human brain contains 86 billion neurons. It burns 25% of the energy our entire body needs, compared with 10% for almost all other vertebrates. Ancestral humans learned to feed bigger brains some 1.5 million years ago by cooking their food.

When primates and nonprimates diverged around 65 million years ago, primates began to pack their brains with many more neurons for the same brain mass. This occurred for both the cerebellum and the cerebral cortex, with the former containing about 80% of the neurons for most mammals.

The average size of neurons increases exponentially as the number of neurons increases in nonprimates but not in primates. As the cortex of a nonprimate acquires 10 times more neurons, its neurons become on average 4 times larger and hence the cortex 40 times larger in mass. Among primates, the average size of neurons remains constant as the neurons increase in number.

The average human brain has 16 billion neurons in the cerebral cortex, 69 billion in the cerebellum, and fewer than 1 billion in the rest of the brain. This fits the neuronal scaling rules for primates: we have a normal primate brain, with the right number of neurons for the mass of our brain and body size. Other great apes have relatively far smaller brains for their body size.

Different scaling rules apply to the cerebral cortex and the cerebellum. For all primates, when additional neurons are added to the brain the cerebral cortex increases in mass at a much faster rate than does the cerebellum. The cortical neurons make connections over several cm, but neurons in the cerebellum span only a few mm.

The human frontal and prefrontal cortex have a standard mass and a standard number of neurons for a primate of our size. But we have a higher total number of neurons compared both to great apes of our size and to primates smaller than we are. Our prefrontal cortex contains 1.3 billion neurons — this is the human advantage.

AR The further civilizational advantage is the algorithmic coding in the connectome.

Math Phys

Kevin Hartnett

Physicists and mathematicians are exploring a surprising correspondence. The values calculated from Feynman diagrams seem to match some numbers in algebraic geometry called periods.

Mathematicians study periods as numbers generated by integrating polynomial functions. The class of periods contains many features that point to an underlying order. Cohomology theories cover the geometric objects defined by the solutions to classes of polynomial functions.

Feynman diagrams have lines representing particle paths. In quantum mechanics, the path a particle takes is computed by taking a Feynman path integral over the set of all paths.

Each Feynman diagram has an associated integral. To calculate the probability of an outcome from a set of starting conditions, consider all possible diagrams for that outcome, take each integral, and add the integrals together to give an amplitude. Square the amplitude to get the probability.

Feynman diagrams with loops represent situations in which particles emit and then reabsorb additional particles. The new particles are created and annihilated before they can be observed. By considering more loops, physicists increase the precision of their calculations.

The number of loops in a Feynman diagram may correspond to a weight for the dimension of the space of the integration. The classification of periods by weights carries over to Feynman diagrams. This is work in progress.

AR The intercourse between mathematics and physics has been fruitful for centuries.

2016 November 19

US and Germany

Barack Obama

America has been closely divided politically for some time. But in this age of social media, voters can swing back and forth. Some of this is less ideological and more just an impulse toward change.

Some of the same concerns about globalization, technology, and rapid social change that were reflected in Brexit exist in the United States as well. If we address the concerns of those who feel left behind by globalization, then many of these tensions will be reduced. But if inequality continues to grow, then we could see more of these divisions arise around the world.

When I came in we had had a crisis, but we were able to stabilize the financial system, stabilize the US economy and return to growth. When I turn over the keys to the president-elect, the country will be much stronger than it was when I came into office.

I was elected because I believed in politics from the bottom up. Even when the economy was bad or we had problems, people sensed that I listened to them and I was on their side. All politicians today have to be more attentive to people wanting to have more control over their lives.

Angela Merkel has been an extraordinary partner for me and for the United States throughout my presidency. One of her great qualities is that she is steady. Chancellor Merkel and Germany are a lynchpin in protecting the basic tenets of a liberal, market-based democratic order that has created unprecedented prosperity and security for Europe and the world.

The values that we share — freedom of speech, freedom of religious practice, freedom for civil society, free and fair elections, the innovation created through a market-based economy — those things are ultimately going to be the path for us to continue into a better future.

AR And freedom of movement — don't let the terrorists win!

2016 November 18

Humans On Earth

Stephen Hawking

Our best chance for survival as a species is to leave Earth and establish colonies on other planets. The chance of a disaster to planet Earth adds up over time, and becomes a near certainty in the next 1,000 or 10,000 years. By that time we should have spread out into space, and to other stars, so a disaster on Earth would not mean the end of the human race.

Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don't just give up.

Germans On Brexit

Wolfgang Schäuble

Until Brexit is complete, Britain will have to fulfil its commitments. There may be some commitments that last beyond the exit. Also we cannot grant any generous rebates.

The UK is still a member of the EU and it has always upheld valid regulations, laws, and treaties. Euro clearing must be done within the eurozone because the euro is the EU common currency.

The UK will not get special treatment on migration if it wants to remain in the single market. Freedom of movement is a core element of the internal market. There is no à la carte menu.

Without membership of the internal market, without acceptance of the four basic freedoms of the internal market, there can be no passporting, no free access for financial products or for financial actors.

AR Just as I expect: Germans will stick to their guns. Nein means no.

Lost Enlightenment

S. Frederick Starr

Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane

AR So far I have only read a third of this book but already it has revealed a view of Central Asia from about 700 CE to 1200 that shows it to have been about as special as Classical Greece or Enlightenment Europe. For example, the Persian mathematician Khwarazmi (latinised as Algoritmi, ca 780 — ca 850) wrote a book of algebraic algorithms called The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing that was in regular use for centuries, the physician Razi (865 — 925) wrote an eight-volume encyclopedia of medicine, and the philosopher Farabi (latinised as Alfarabius, ca 870 — ca 950) wrote a book On the Perfect State reconciling Plato's Republic with Islam by calling the philosopher-king an imam or Supreme Leader.

2016 November 17

Remake European Union

Nicolas Sarkozy

I believe the UK belongs in Europe. But I respect their choice. The question is whether the UK and its 27 partner nations will have enough time to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.

Nobody can enjoy privileges without fulfilling responsibilities. This is simple logic. No European government could agree to grant the UK free access to the single market if Britain does not accept rules, duties and concessions, including the free movement of Europeans, in return.

British doubts about the European project cannot be explained away as insular or idiosyncratic. And yet the only way forward for Europeans in our globalized world is to stand together. Europe needs an overhaul as well as reforms.

The EZ and the EU-27 have different paths to follow. The EZ needs to deepen its integration, with more permanent leadership for EZ summits, a central secretariat to serve as EZ treasury, and an EZ monetary fund. The EU-27 should revert to ensuring the domestic market operates smoothly and focusing on strategic issues, and needs to review Commission prerogatives.

Europe needs a new immigration policy. It needs a new Schengen, shared immigration and asylum policies, and consistent employment laws regarding foreigners to end social dumping. We need to protect EU borders and prioritize cooperation aimed at stemming illegal immigration.

Europe must not reform because it hopes to bring the UK back to the fold. It must reform because its future and its survival depend on it. Reform is urgent and vital.


Civil Service World

UK civil service chief executive John Manzoni says the government already had too many objectives before the UK voted to leave the EU: "When I look across from outside, I say we're doing 30% too much to do it all well — that is the nature of government."

Manzoni says the civil service is "still in thinking mode" about Brexit. There is "an enormous amount of work going on across the civil service redefining what the future of the various policies might be, or what we might like them to be ... we need to go back, we need to re-plan, we need to be realistic, we can't do it all — it won't all happen within the existing envelope."

AR The ramifications of Brexit and Trump suggest the AA ship is entering uncharted waters where the crew will be challenged to stay in control. The downside risk is not just anger and confusion but the sort of global disorder we last saw 70-80 years ago.

2016 November 16

Merkel: Free Movement

The Guardian

German chancellor Angela Merkel: "Were we to make an exception for the free movement of people with Britain, this would mean we would endanger principles of the whole internal market in the European Union, because everyone else will then want these exceptions ... I personally hold the view that we will have to discuss further with the European Commission when this freedom of movement applies ... Free movement applies in the sense that the employee himself earns the money he needs for himself and his family in the other member state."

Boris: "Stupid"

Hospodářské noviny

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson: "It is stupid to say that freedom of movement is a fundamental right. It has been acquired by a series of decisions by the courts. And everyone now has in his head that every human being has a fundamental, God-given right to go and move wherever he wants. But it is not. It was never a founding principle of the European Union."

AR Treaty Establishing the European Community, Rome, 25 March 1957: Part Three. Community Policies. Title III. Free Movement of Persons, Services and Capital. Chapter 1. Workers. Article 48. Freedom of movement for workers shall be secured within the Community by the end of the transitional period at the latest.

"I'm a rabbi, and I'm applying for a German passport"

Julia Neuberger

Most of my mother's family, from Heilbronn, perished. So why would I want a German passport?

1 My synagogue took a group of members to Berlin. The city marked where Jewish families had lived with Stolpersteine commemorative plaques. It recorded the history and celebrated the contribution Jews had made to German culture.

2 This year, Heilbronn published a biography of my mother, from 1933 to 1947. The city gave us a huge welcome to launch the book. I felt comfortable in Germany, and quite at home.

3 I have also felt enormous admiration for Chancellor Angela Merkel.

When Britain voted for Brexit, I decided to reclaim my German origins. I am a European as well as a proud Briton. I think it perfectly possible to be a Briton and to hold a German passport too.

Germany has a rapidly growing Jewish community.

Alex Kühni
The stinking legacy of Daesh

A New Special

President Putin spoke to
Donald Trump and hailed
the idea of a new relationship
with the United States based
on equality, mutual respect,
and non-interference in each
other's internal affairs. They
agreed to get the Russo-US
relationship back on track.

AR Sounds OK to me.

AR A pitch for Globorg!

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
died 300 years ago today.
He developed binary arithmetic
and worked on a machine to do
computations. His imagination
paved the way for the
information age.


Das Zeitungslesen des Morgens
ist eine Art von realistischem

G.W.F. Hegel

AR Reading the morning
newspaper is the realist's
morning prayer — and
updating this blog is
my morning devotion.

There is a crack,
a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
Leonard Cohen

Russian Armata tank

"We have to hope the rhetoric
we heard during the campaign
is rapidly replaced by a very
sober and serious statement
that if there is any question of
a NATO member being attacked
then Trump will without any
hesitation or equivocation come
to the defense of the country.
Anything less would be really
bad news for NATO."
Former NATO Deputy SACEUR
General Sir Richard Shirreff

Trump in 1987

Make America
great again!

The Don


2016 November 15

Brexit Update

The Times

A leaked memo prepared for the Cabinet Office and circulated within Whitehall is critical of Brexit plans and suggests civil servants are struggling. Gist:

1 Politics: The prime minister aims to keep her party from splitting. A public debate would expose splits. If necessary, a short enabling bill will be submitted to parliament, permitting the government to invoke Article 50 in March. The debate in parliament will shift expectations.

2 Government: Departments have developed well over 500 projects to implement Brexit. These are beyond the capacity and capability of government to execute quickly. Departments are struggling and need increased headcount in the 10-30,000 range.

3 Industry: Government expects lobbying on company decisions, industry insights and issues, and overall business concerns. The government priority remains its political survival, not the economy. There will be no clear strategy soon.

AR I never expected otherwise. May is on a loser with this one.


Masha Gessen

Donald Trump is not a regular politician. He has won the presidency despite repeated media exposure as a chronic liar, sexual predator, serial tax avoider, and race baiter. He is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat — and won.

I have lived in autocracies and written about Vladimir Putin's Russia. My rules for surviving in an autocracy:

1 Believe the autocrat. He means what he says.
2 Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
3 Institutions will not save you.
4 Be outraged. Trump has secured power.
5 Do not make compromises. They will be fruitless.
6 Remember the future.

AR Perhaps Trump will turn out to be a Teddy bear.

A New Dark Age?

Ross Andersen

Donald Trump and his advisers are said to be looking for a way to terminate the Paris climate agreement within his first 100 days in office. They will likely also gut the Clean Power Plan.

Adviser Myron Ebell may head up the Environmental Protection Agency. Ebell: "There has been a little bit of warming. But it's been very modest and well within the range for natural variability, and whether it's caused by human beings or not, it's nothing to worry about."

Trump promised to end US support for UN climate science. Two of his leading advisers on space policy argued that NASA should cut spending on "politically correct" environmental monitoring.

Scientists have a natural interest in the ebbs and flows of atmospheric chemistry, and the carbon cycle that determines Earth's climate on long time scales. The science of cloud formation, precipitation patterns, sea winds, and hurricanes is essential to a deep understanding of the physical world. We depend on the good health of the vegetation that greens our continents.

Scientists have made a long march from antiquity, when the Earth was proven round, to the Scientific Revolution, when it was found to be moving, to the Enlightenment, when geologists began to grasp its extreme age, on through to today. The close, patient study of this planet has nothing to do with the passing fashions of political speech in the here and now.

AR Absolutely.

2016 November 14

Nietzsche Was Right

Theo Hobson

Friedrich Nietzsche said liberal democracy cannot work. Belief in equality and social justice leads to fragmentation. Politics is dominated by noisy disadvantaged groups who treat any unifying ethos as the oppressive ideology of the ruling class.

He was right. Progressive politics is collapsing as its rhetoric is dominated by concern for various victim groups. In the UK and US, about half the electorate dislikes such rhetoric enough to overturn the ideals of the other half.

Liberals lack a big bold unifying vision. To renew the liberal vision, restate it in bigger bolder terms. Stop fetishizing a few victim groups.

Hau ab, Briten!

Tom Nuttall

The UK is an example of how not to handle populist outrage. European politicians will take a tough line on Brexit to defend the project they have spent years on. If that means politics must trump economics, so be it.

Britain may try to stall the efforts of the EU-27 to show life after Brexit. This plays to those in Europe who just want to say "Fuck it" to the Brits, says a senior German MEP. When Brexit talks sink into acrimony, expect those Europeans to say the EU is well shot of Brits.

2016 November 13


Jens Stoltenberg

This is no time to question the value of the partnership between Europe and the United States.

European leaders have always understood that when it comes to security, going it alone is not an option. American leaders have always recognised that they had profound strategic interest in a stable and secure Europe. And throughout the last 67 years America has had no more steadfast and reliable partner.

We seek to prevent a conflict. An attack against one will be met by a response from all.

Right On Trump

The New York Times

Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders: "Congratulations! A historic victory! A revolution! We will return our country to the Dutch. We are witnessing the same uprising on both sides of the Atlantic."

French Front National party leader Marine Le Pen: "It shows that when the people really want something, they can get it. When the people want to retake their destiny in hand, they can do it ... It's the emergence of a new world."

Italian Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo: "They called us sexists, homophobes, demagogues and populists. They don't realize that millions of people already no longer read their newspapers and no longer watch their television."

Austrian Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache: "The left and the corrupt establishment, which considers itself so superior, are being punished blow by blow by the voters and voted out of various positions of responsibility."

British former UKIP leader Nigel Farage tweeted: "It was a great honour to spend time with Donald Trump. He was relaxed and full of good ideas. I'm confident he will be a good President."


National Geographic

Filmed in 19 locations across the world and set both in the present and the year 2033, Mars depicts how we will colonize Mars.

The series features interviews with Elon Musk, Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Martian author Andy Weir, NASA engineers, and former Apollo 13 astronaut James Lovell. A fictional narrative is set in 2033, when the first human mission lands on Mars.

Producer Justin Wilkes: "If the world can come together for something as significant as putting people on Mars, then what else are we capable of doing? I think we need that hope."

2016 November 12

The Last Trump

The Guardian

Trump calls global warming bullshit, a hoax. He plans to pull America out of the Paris climate agreement. He says he will axe clean energy funding, end aid to developing nations for climate change problems, and wave through contested fossil fuel projects.

US National Center for Atmospheric Research senior scientist Kevin Trenberth: "This is an unmitigated disaster for the planet."

The Trump presidency will likely see a resurgence in US greenhouse gas emissions. If China, India, and the European Union fail to make compensatory emissions cuts, the planet could spiral into runaway climate change.

NASA scientists are expecting cuts to climate research programs. But the physics is inexorable:
2016 will be the warmest year on record.

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) chief executive Rush Holt:

"During the campaign, Trump was all over the place ... AAAS, for more than half a century, has been outspoken to policymakers and the public about the risks of human-induced climate change and the need to take action to mitigate it ... I think we will be urging him to look at the evidence even before his first day because climate change is a major, historic, global problem."

AR I was an AAAS member from 1989 to 1991.


Joshua Rothman

Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, 85, understands human behavior in terms of the search for meaning. His words:

"Democracy is teleological. It's a collective effort with a noble goal: inclusion. In some ways, democracy is a fiction that we're trying to realize ... The belief that democracy is supposed to be a system in which non-élites have a say — that principle is built right into the nature of democracy. But there are constructive ways of asserting it and destructive ways."

On Islam: "As long as human beings aspire, they will be capable of corrupting the object of their aspiration. I'm a person of faith ... If I were Muslim, I would look at the present situation in Saudi Arabia and with the Islamic State and I would be appalled, as my Muslim friends are."

World War II was the defining fact of Taylor's childhood: "The climax — a day I'll never forget — was when France sued for the armistice. In my family, that was the end of civilization."

Taylor is in favor of localism and subsidiarity. A rooted, meaningful democracy might be centered on local schools, town governments, voluntary associations, and churches. Family members talk, over dinner, about politics, history, and faith — a pastoral vision.

AR Compare Heidegger and the Volksgemeinschaft. I admire Taylor's work — at Oxford I regularly attended his All Souls seminars on Hegel.

2016 November 11

Brexit Britain, Trumped America, and Militant Islam


The House of War has become a house of division. Europe is teetering on the brink of disintegrating into quarrelsome nation states and America is sinking into riots and discord that could split the union. Militant Islamists are gleeful.

The psychic fog of old religious dogmas still hangs around our body politic. Christian values still constrain European and American attitudes to sex, birth, death, atheists, and animals. Harsher doctrines still shroud the faithful in the House of Islam.

Some recent immigrants into Europe are infected with an ideological plague. Muslims who regard it as their holy duty to wage jihad against the infidel will not rest easy in Western lands. Jihadists need to be liquidated before it is too late.

The Christian doctrine that we should love the sinner but hate the sin may guide us. Immigrants with a Muslim heritage can be fine people, but their hard religious views must be melted down. If the newcomers fight assimilation, we must fight back.

Our first duty is solidarity with each other as members of a strong and vibrant civilization. Europeans and Americans have a common cause here. Brexit or Trumpet diehards should turn their anger to revulsion for the plague within Islam.

Make no mistake, this will be hard. But it must be done. Any lesser response will leave our neighbors bowing to Mecca, cowed by evil men.

2016 November 10

Future Greenhouse Warming

Science Advances

Global mean surface temperatures are rising in response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The magnitude of this warming at equilibrium for a given radiative forcing is uncertain, but we find that the range of estimates of future warming by 2100 CE overlaps with the upper range of climate simulations conducted in CMIP5. Within this century, global mean temperatures will very likely exceed maximum levels of the last 784 000 years.

AR Astronomers say Earth will warm up like Venus.

US Election: Analysis


Electoral College so far: Clinton 232, Trump 290 (1 state to call)
— Michigan so far: 47.3%, 47.6% (96% in at 3:53 pm ET)

National vote: Clinton 59,926,386 (47.7%), Trump 59,698,506 (47.5%)

Exit polls
Male voters: Clinton 41%, Trump 53%
Female voters: Clinton 54%, Trump 42%
Voters aged 18-44: Clinton 52%, Trump 40%
Voters aged 45+: Clinton 44%, Trump 53%

Senate: Dem 48, Rep 51 (1 to go)
House: Dem 193, Rep 238 (4 to go)

UK Comment

The Times

UK prime minister Theresa May policy board chairman George Freeman: "The roar of anger at globalization, machine politics, out-of-touch elites has now swept the UK and the USA. All in mainstream politics need to look harder, listen better, and think smarter about the underlying causes of popular anger and address them. We need new policies to respond to and address the grassroots failure of our political economy."

Election 2020

Peter Diamandis

Key trends by 2020:

1 Social media will have continued to explode
2 Machine learning and AI will move forward 10x
3 50 billion devices and 1 trillion sensors will come online
4 Digital avatars will become photorealistic and fully programmable
5 Micropayments, smart objects, and blockchain apps will go mainstream

Bottom line: The 2020 election will be very personal.

2016 November 9

UK date 9/11


The New York Times, 1009 ET

President: Clinton 218 Trump 279 (270 to win)
Congress: Dem 191 Rep 236
Senate: Dem 47 Rep 51

A New Anglo-American World


President Trump in America and Brexit Britain in Europe — the transatlantic Nylon axis has taken a turn for better or worse, but certainly a turn. The currently liberal world order will become more illiberal. The borders of the AA nations will become less porous and self-interest will take the lead as tie breaker and deal breaker.

Globalization will continue but politicians will learn to champion it less naively than before. Big corporations will continue to go their own way, but they will more often have to fight for their transnational privileges. Markets will be sliced and diced with new political restrictions, and consumers will face more limited choices.

Geopolitically, expect harder regional profiles, with the European Union holding back from the new mood in the AA world and European nationalists confronting EU liberal pieties more aggressively. China will find America a more awkward bilateral trading partner and a more assertive regional military opponent. NATO will struggle to keep the attention of Americans focused on Europe, and Russia will be tempted to ramp up border tensions.

The wider lesson to draw here is that communities sharing a native language develop a deeper cohesion than communities based on the more superficial ties of shared interest or prudential calculation. Londoners feel closer to New York than to Brussels. Philosophers will see this as a confirmation of the felt importance of the folkish community as described by Martin Heidegger.

In the short term we can expect a bumpy ride. Americans will retreat faster from their Globocop role and Europeans will build up their union independently of the breakaway province across the Channel. We are witnessing the breakup of the world order established after World War II.

American Id

Diane Roberts

The United States has elected its own Silvio Berlusconi — or Benito Mussolini. Donald Trump is the narcissist who basks in the adulation of his mostly white male followers. Members of the elite did not reckon on their anger and fear.

Trump says out loud all those things white people have been thinking but were told by teachers and the media they should never express. A lot of them like his tantrums and vows of revenge. Trump is the American id, untroubled by reason or reality.

Congress will have to keep Trump from declaring war in a fit of pique or trying to dismantle parts of government. And staff around him will have to keep him from insulting foreign leaders or behaving like a toddler. His voters want someone who will come in and drain the swamp or burn the place down. They may get their wish.

Trump is currently involved in 75 legal cases. Some he instigated, some have been brought by former employees, some involve civil charges of fraud. A Trump presidency is terrible for America and terrible for the world, but it will be great for satire.

American Tyrant

Andrew Sullivan, May 1, 2016

Plato said the longer a democracy lasted, the more democratic it would become. Deference to authority would wither, tolerance of inequality would wane, and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would run riot. This freedom is unstable.

The rich come under attack, patriarchy is dismantled, and family hierarchies are inverted. Students mock their teachers, animals are regarded as equal to humans, and the foreigner is equal to the citizen. Then a future tyrant will seize his moment.

He makes his move by taking over a mob and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. Soon his enemies are forced either to appease him or to flee as he promises to cut through the paralysis and take them on. The people thrill to him.

Donald Trump fits the platonic template. He is the true messiah of conservative populism, but he is not just a wacky politician. In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an Extinction Level Event.

AR Whoa — steady on, Sullivan!

German Reactions

Der Spiegel

"Democracy, freedom, respect for the law and for human dignity, regardless of ancestry, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political leanings. On the basis of these values, I offer the future president of the United States of America, Donald Trump, close cooperation."
German chancellor Angela Merkel

"Trump is a warning to us as well. He is the harbinger of a new authoritarian and chauvinistic international movement."
German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel

"During his campaign, Trump was critical not just of Europe, but also of Germany. I believe we must prepare for American foreign policy becoming less predictable. We must prepare for a situation in which America will be tempted to make decisions on its own more often."
German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

"Europe has to prepare for the fact that it must provide for itself."
German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen

Historic Day

27 years ago today: Berlin wall breached

78 years ago today: Reichskristallnacht


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