Andy Ross 2016-05-27
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BLOG 2016

Why They Hate Us
Fareed Zakaria and
Reza Aslan on
Saudi Arabia


India has developed a
space shuttle: 6.5 m long
with no crew, it was launched
from Sriharikota and landed
in the Bay of Bengal
1.3 ks later.


2016 May 27

G7: Brexit Risk to Global Growth

Financial Times

G7 leaders issued a declaration from their summit in Ise-Shima, Japan: "A UK exit from the EU would reverse the trend toward greater global trade and investment, and the jobs they create, and is a further serious risk to growth."


Alex Barker

The UK administration is now in pre-referendum purdah. In Brussels this means British diplomats must doggedly stick to their pre-agreed positions, show no flexibility or original thinking, and avoid socializing with foreigners. Some EU types joke: has anything changed?


Philip Stephens

European federalists have demoted the Westminster parliament to the status of a parish council. Eurocrats make British law. The UK must take back control. OUT seeks to convert public concern about immigration into xenophobia: Britain will be swamped by hordes of Turkish migrants.

This is not a nation that has surrendered democracy or self-government. On the things that really count — taxes and welfare, war and peace, national security — the shape and direction of policy has been set by Westminster politicians. Good, bad, or ugly, the choices are made IN the UK.

2016 May 26

Vote Leave v UK

Financial Times

The Vote Leave campaign is a new low in British politics. It launches personalized attacks on any institution or public figure that points out the risks the UK would face if it left the EU. Its attempts to demolish any authority that questions the Leave vision are increasingly disturbing.

Leavers attack the messenger when they are unwilling or unable to address the message. In the debate on the economy they have offered no serious prospectus to counter the Remain arguments. They even deny facts. The Treasury is not pro-EU: it helped keep Britain out of the euro.

Leavers demand that the UK leave the EU so that sovereignty is returned to the British people. Yet they lose no opportunity to attack the credibility of the public institutions that would exercise sovereignty should the UK depart. Their tactics risk damaging UK democratic culture.

Global Warming

New Scientist

Global temperatures shot past 1 K above pre-industrial levels last year, as predicted by New Scientist in July 2015. Expected average global surface temperature in 2016 will be 1.3 K above the pre-industrial level.

A 2014 estimate of the immediate warming in response to a doubling of CO2 was around 1.7 K. But low values for the immediate warming in response to a doubling of CO2 can now be ruled out. A 2016 estimate is 2 K.

Low values for the warming in the decades following a doubling of CO2 can also be ruled out. The next IPCC report will be revised upward.

We are also emitting other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide. If their levels are translated into CO2 equivalents, the effective level of CO2 is already around 490 ppm, and on course to pass 560 ppm long before 2050.

Aerosols have a cooling effect. If countries such as China succeed in cutting aerosol emissions, warming will accelerate and the world will pass 2 K above pre-industrial levels not long after the CO2 equivalent level passes 560 ppm.

AR Invest in sunshades — geoengineered sunshades such as clouds (blog 2009-06-20).

2016 May 25

UK in EU

Gordon Brown

The focus of the EU referendum will shift to the voters who do not think the status quo is to their benefit and want to know how their lives can improve. A positive reform agenda for the 2017 UK presidency of the EU can make a reformed Europe work better for Britain and show how Britain can lead in Europe.


Carlo Rovelli

Isaac Newton tried to explain why things fall and the planets turn. He imagined the existence of a force that draws all material bodies toward one another and called it the force of gravity. He also imagined that bodies move through space and that space is a great empty box that en­closed the universe. Michael Faraday and James Maxwell added the electromagnetic field to his world.

Albert Einstein was fascinated by the electromagnetic field. He saw that gravity must be conveyed by a field too and that the gravitational field is space itself. His general theory of relativity says space and the gravitational field are one and the same thing. Space undulates, flexes, curves, and twists. The sun bends space around itself. Planets circle the sun, and things fall, because space curves.

Carl Friedrich Gauss wrote formulas to describe 2D curvilinear surfaces. He asked a student to generalize the theory, and Bern­hard Riemann did so in his doctoral thesis. Riemann said the properties of a curved space are captured by a curvature we can call R. Einstein wrote an equation that says R is equivalent to the energy of matter: R = GE. The constant G is from Newton.

2016 May 24

Europe v Austria

The Times

Europe is saved for now: Far right Austrian presidential candidate Norbert Hofer lost to a Green.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had said Hofer, if elected, would have been frozen out of EU decision making. If a member state departs from democratic norms, Juncker can trigger a mechanism that puts its government under constitutional supervision.

In Austria, Hofer had repeatedly threatened to use presidential powers to dissolve the current coalition government. He carries a Glock pistol because of "insecurity" caused by Muslim immigration. In beer hall speeches he has ranted about the "invasion of the Muslims".

EZ Growth

Anatole Kaletsky

The European Union is enjoying a growth spurt and now outpacing Britain and the United States.

In 2016 Q1, the annualized eurozone growth rate was 2.2%, compared with the UK rate of 1.6% and the US rate of 0.5%. Since the beginning of 2015, the EZ growth rate has averaged 2.0%, the same as the UK rate and slightly ahead of the US rate, and EU unemployment has been falling more than twice as fast as UK and US unemployment.

Since the beginning of 2015, the EU has been dismantling EZ rules that turned financial problems in Greece, Spain, and Ireland into a continental economic depression. These rules had prevented the ECB from underwriting government debts in the same way as the Bank of England or the US Federal Reserve, and banned mutual support between stronger and weaker EZ states.

In January 2015, ECB president Mario Draghi announced a program of QE far larger than anything attempted by the Fed or the Bank of England. Draghi committed the ECB to monetizing all EZ government borrowing and printing more money on top to mutualize much of the outstanding government debts. Fear of a euro breakup vanished, interest rates in Italy and Spain converged to German levels, and an economic recovery began.

Italy is defying calls to tighten budget plans and is cutting taxes and increasing public investment. Consumer and business confidence have rebounded, credit conditions have improved, and GDP is growing faster. The rebellion against German austerity rules is sure to spread to France and Spain.

If Brits vote for Brexit, they will soon envy EU economic performance.

Bournemouth University aims to be in the top 50 of UK universities

"The arguments that I've
heard for leaving have been
emotional, the arguments
that I've heard for staying
have been rational."
Richard Dawkins

"Europe veers to the right
at its peril. We should heed
the lessons of 1913."
Srecko Horvat


European Union
I Love EU

Vote Leave

"Since the birthrate in Turkey
is so high, we can expect to see
an additional million people
added to the UK population
from Turkey ... the government
will not be able to exclude
Turkish criminals from
entering the UK."

AR Vote fear?

Scott Germain
Yakovlev Yak-3
WW2 Soviet fighter, served
1944 on. Some 37,000 of the
Yak fighter family were built.
WW2 French ace Marcel Albert
flew a Yak-3 and considered it
superior to the P-51D Mustang
and the Supermarine Spitfire.

AR My respect for Russia
(re)grows as I (re)read
Tolstoy's War and Peace
(45 years on).

Oxford University
Marcus du Sautoy

Brexit would be an
act of national folly

As the last three UK trade
ministers, we know what it
takes for Britain to succeed
internationally. Britain needs
all the export opportunities
it can get. For big foreign
investors into the UK, access
to the EU single market is a
big part of what makes
us so attractive.

Lord Livingston of Parkhead
Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint
Lord Davies of Abersoch

Brexit: The Movie

AR Anarcho-nationalist propaganda

"Man prefers to act in the way
he feels like acting and not in
the way his reason and interest
tell him ... A man can wish
upon himself, in full awareness,
something harmful, stupid and
even completely idiotic ...
in order to establish his
right to wish for the
most idiotic things."
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Gerald Scarfe

Ukraine Wins Eurovision
Song Contest

Jamala: 1944 (3:03)

ist Letzter

Der Spiegel


The Juno spacecraft will soon
enter orbit around Jupiter.
NASA launched the $1 billion
Juno mission in 2011, and
the craft has traveled 2.7 Tm
at speeds of up to a four-
thousandth of light speed on
its 5-year way to the planet.
Now it will decelerate into an
orbit that lets it skim the
cloud tops. Then it will last
just 2 years because the
Jovian radiation
will fry it.


2016 May 23


Financial Times

The UK Treasury says Britain will be plunged into a year-long recession if it votes to leave the EU.

Its analysis suggests that growth could be 3.6% lower after two years if voters choose OUT, instead of continued growth after an IN vote. This would produce a recession like that of the early 1990s.

Its model shows the economy could be 6% lower than the current forecast in a worst-case scenario.

George Osborne: "Does Britain really want this DIY recession?"


Financial Times

The City of London is ambivalent about the European Union. But confronted by the possibility of Brexit, the financiers are clear. In a poll last year, about 73% were for IN and 12% for OUT.

The financial sector employs 2.2 million across the UK and last year paid £66 billion in taxes. It remains one of the few areas in which the UK is an undisputed global leader. Roughly a quarter of financial sector business involves the single market, equivalent to 2% of GDP.


Boris Vezjak

The European Union realizes the dream of Immanuel Kant in his essay on perpetual peace, surely one of the fundamentals of contemporary liberal thought. Even Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has come to see the advantages of European culture.

Slovenia joined the EU in 2004 and at first there was high economic growth. The crash has left Slovenia with a public debt of about 83% of GDP by the end of 2015. Our economy would have surely fared worse if we had been outside the EU. It is tempting but wrong to complain of Brussels bureaucracy and the rigidity of the political leaders of Europe.

Last October Slovenian prime minister Miro Cerar warned that the EU will face collapse if it cannot agree on a plan to confront the sudden influx of refugees through the Balkans. A failure to cope with the refugee crisis should not mean abandoning the project of building a democratic society where solidarity, diversity, freedom, and equality are cherished and safeguarded.

European democratic culture must prevail over its elites. An integrated Europe is a legacy worth improving.

2016 May 22

Free Will

Stephen Cave

We are free to choose between right and wrong. Civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will. Neuroscience undermines the belief.

The brain is a physical system like any other. The conscious experience of deciding to act, which we usually associate with free will, appears to be a post hoc reconstruction of events that occurs after the brain has already set the act in motion.

We no more will our brain to think than we will our heart to beat. Neurons fire, causing our thoughts and deeds, in an unbroken chain of cause and effect. In principle, we are predictable.

Researchers asked group A of subjects to read a passage arguing that free will was an illusion, and group B to read a passage that was neutral on the topic. When asked to take a math test, with cheating made easy, group A proved more likely to sneak a peek at the answers. When given an opportunity to steal, group A pilfered more.

Groups A and B of day workers were similarly primed. Those in group B showed up on time for work and were rated as more capable. Belief in free will was a good predictor of job performance. Students in a primed group A were less likely to volunteer their time to help a friend than were those in group B, and less likely to give money or lend out a cellphone.

Group A beliefs are linked to stress, unhappiness, and a lesser commitment to relationships. Group A subjects have a lower sense of purpose and poorer academic performance. They are less creative, more conformist, less willing to learn from their mistakes, and show less gratitude.

The number of court cases that use evidence from neuroscience is rising fast. Defendants say their brain made them do it. When people stop believing they are free agents, they no longer feel to blame for their actions.

Sam Harris thinks we are better off without free will. Blaming people makes us angry and vengeful and clouds our judgment. The response to 9/11 was clouded by outrage and a desire for vengeance, and led to the loss of many more lives.

Our freedom to plan options for ourselves and to choose among them without external constraint should be enough to preserve ideals and ethical standards.

Free Vote

The New York Times

IFS director Paul Johnson: "It is absolutely clear we would incur significant economic costs if we left the European Union."

Leave voter Richard Plumb: "It's about being our own sovereign nation again. It would make the country feel better. It's a feeling."

2016 May 21

War with Russia

The Times

General Sir Alexander Richard David Shirreff was the NATO deputy supreme allied commander for Europe until 2014. His new book 2017 War with Russia is a novel based on his own experience, analysis by think tanks, and the 2015 prediction of the NATO military committee chairman that Russia could sweep in and conquer the Baltic states in two days.

This would trigger a response from NATO under Article 5 of the NATO founding treaty relating to collective defense. Sir Richard: "It means nuclear war because the Russians hard-wire nuclear thinking into every aspect of their defense planning: Russia threatening to nuke NATO if it retaliates. That is why conventional deterrence is so important."

Sir Richard says the UK has become semi-pacifist: "There is an assumption in the minds of our electorates and our political leadership that peace is somehow the default setting in international affairs. Well, it's not. If you look at the sweep of history, war is the default setting and the way to protect peace is to be ready to fight."

The NATO summit in Warsaw in July will address the Baltic theater. Sir Richard: "There are a lot of people in this country who think, rather as Chamberlain did, that these are faraway countries of which we know little. But the defense of Britain starts on the frontiers of the Baltic states."

Physics and Time

Nicolas Gisin

I think certainty requires free will. But the search for scientific truth seems to kill it.

Newton speaks of a cosmos that operates like clockwork and can be described by deterministic theories. Everything was determined in the initial conditions. Nothing truly new ever happens.

Einstein showed there was no unique definition of simultaneous events. A block universe dispenses not just with free will but also with a flowing time. Past, present, and future are all frozen in one big block.

Neuroscientists say we feel our choices are free but this feeling is a phantom.

The mathematical real numbers can be thought of as containing an infinite amount of information. Yet a finite volume of spacetime can only hold a finite amount of information.

A deterministic model does not imply that nature itself is deterministic. Seemingly deterministic systems such as solar systems, clocks, and harmonic oscillators are the boring exceptions. Chaos, quantum measurements, and life are the interesting rule.

Not everything is necessary or predetermined. Science does not have to contradict free will. Science does not explain free will either. Free will allows us to trust science in the first place.

This free will does not mean we can invent the future. It merely lets us influence which possibilities become actual. Quantum theory is a non-deterministic theory, but creates a determined world.

This line of thought restores time as more than just a parameter to label a sequence of events. The happening of a non-necessary event, like the result of a quantum measurement, is a true creation.

Time passes, and free will exists. Otherwise, science makes no sense.

AR I discuss this theme (as key to psychophysics) in my 2009 book Mindworlds.

Time and Eternity

Marcus du Sautoy

Equations exist outside time. It's like the equation 0 = 1 − 1. You can have nothing and suddenly change it into one positive thing and one negative thing. Mathematics is not just a tool to navigate our universe, but at the heart of why we have this universe — how we get something out of nothing.

AR This recalls Plotinus' theory of divine emanations. More pertinently, it recalls my set-theoretic
(0 ⇒ {0} ⇒ {0, {0}}) formalization (1975) of the Hegelian dialectic, or rather of Hegel's logical gloss on what Jean-Paul Sartre later (1943) called l'être et le néant.

2016 May 20

America: Beware Islam!

Paul Weston (14 min)

2016 May 19

EU: In Or Out?

Dorset OUT
East Dorset Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, Poole

AR I spoke for the IN side, against Conor Burns MP for the OUT side.
Conor won on rhetoric.

My speech (PDF, 2 pages, 75 KB)

2016 May 18

Queen's Speech

David Cameron

When we came to office in 2010, our urgent task was to get the British economy going again. With the strengthening economy moving in the right direction, we can be ambitious in our plans to deliver for the hardworking people of Britain.

Security for working people is the next step. We will make our country a world leader in the digital economy. We will make sure Britain has first-class infrastructure. We will build a million new homes across the country. And we will devolve more power to local areas.

To spread life chances to everyone, we have to go further in tackling the barriers to opportunity. We will carry out bold reforms to tackle some of the deepest social problems in our country.

Strengthening our national security to keep our country safe is the first duty of government. We will honor our NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defense.

We aim to give working people security in their lives, to increase the life chances for the most disadvantaged in our society, and to strengthen our national security.

Grandee Savages BoJo

The Times

Tory grandee Lord Heseltine accused Boris Johnson of making "preposterous, obscene" statements. Johnson had compared the aims of the EU with those of Hitler, suggested that President Obama's part-Kenyan heritage made him anti-British, and made false claims about Brussels and bananas.

Heseltine supports continuing British membership of the EU: "This is the most serious decision Britain has faced in a generation and it's descending into an extraordinarily nasty situation."

Many Ways to Spin a Photon

Kyle E. Ballantine, John F. Donegan, and Paul R. Eastham

The angular momentum of light plays an important role in many areas, from optical trapping to quantum information. In the usual 3D setting, the angular momentum quantum numbers of the photon are integers. We show that, in reduced dimensions, photons can have a half-integer total angular momentum. We identify a new form of total angular momentum, carried by beams of light, comprising an unequal mixture of spin and orbital contributions. We demonstrate the half-integer quantization of this total angular momentum using noise measurements. We conclude that reduced dimensionality allows new forms of quantization.

The quantization of the angular momenta of the photon forms a discrete state space. The relevant quantum numbers are the eigenvalues of the spin and orbital angular momentum operators, Sz and Lz, in units of the reduced Planck constant ħ. The spin quantum number describes the circular polarization of light and takes values of ±1. The orbital quantum number appears in twisted beams, with phase-winding factors exp(ilθ), where θ is the azimuthal angle, and takes integer values l. Thus, the quantum numbers for the total angular momentum, Jz = Lz + Sz, are the integers.

In 2D systems, angular momentum need not be quantized in the usual way. The orbital angular momentum of an electron orbiting in 2D around a magnetic flux can include an arbitrary fractional offset. The same mechanism introduces a phase factor in the exchange of particle-flux composites, implying that such particles have generalized or fractional statistics as well as fractional spin.

We show that an unexpected half-integer total angular momentum can arise for light. The form Jz = Lz + Sz for the total angular momentum of light follows from the rotational symmetry of Maxwell's equations. But experiments involve beams of light propagating in a particular direction, so this full rotational symmetry is not present. The symmetries that determine the form of the angular momentum operators are rotations of the 2D cross section of the beam around the propagation direction. This leads to a new form of total angular momentum with a half-integer — fermionic — spectrum. We experimentally demonstrate this quantization.

AR This is interesting. The bosonic nature of photons is fundamental.


Galen Strawson

Consciousness is not mysterious. The nature of physical stuff is mysterious. People can make all sorts of mistakes about what is going on when they have experience, but none of them threaten the sense in which we know what experience is just in having it.

Consciousness raises a hard problem. We accept that consciousness is physical, but when we examine the brain we cannot even begin to understand how it can give rise to conscious experiences.

The fundamental stuff of physical reality takes the form of conscious experience. Physics tells us a great many facts about the mathematically describable structure of physical reality, but it tells us nothing at all about the intrinsic nature of the stuff that fleshes out this structure. We know nothing about the physical that gives us good reason to deny that consciousness is physical.

The hard problem is the problem of physical stuff in general. People who doubt or deny the existence of consciousness also insist on the primacy of science, because science makes the key point: The ultimate intrinsic nature of the stuff of the universe is unknown to us — except insofar as it is consciousness.

AR See my 2009 response to Thomas Nagel's LRB review of Galen's book Selves.

2016 May 17


Sarah Ditum

Gender is like sex. Simon Baron-Cohen says there is an essential difference and that the male and female brains are different. By contrast, Simone de Beauvoir said one becomes a woman and gender is learned. A third story is that gender is an innate property of the brain rather than the genitals. Julia Serano claims that certain aspects of gender are natural and can both precede socialization and supersede biological sex.

US Justice Department: "Although there is not yet one definitive explanation for what determines gender identity, biological factors, most notably sexual differentiation in the brain, have a role in gender identity development."

The search for the biological origins of gender difference is a fraught field. In a gendered world there is no control group, and scientists have preconceptions shaped by social forces such as sexism. For neurobiologist Sophie Scott, gender is something imposed on you. Scott: "My experience of science is that your threshold for accepting data can be really low if you say you're looking at sex differences."

Gender identity disorder is treated as though it arises from a mismatch between brain and body. But if gender identity is separate from socialized gender roles, of which the individual is the ultimate arbiter, there is no way to check anyone's claim about their own gender. Yet our position within the gender hierarchy is dictated not by a subjective feeling, but by the way other people respond to us over a lifetime.

We are building a political and legal edifice on scientifically shaky foundations.

2016 May 16

Empathy Burnout

New Scientist

Empathy is good. But with training we can tune it. We can care without letting it consume us.

Tania Singer and her colleagues put romantic couples into an MRI scanner. When the subjects received a painful electric shock, this elicited activity in brain regions responsive to physical pain and in regions tuned to emotional pain. When the subjects saw their loved one get a shock, their physical pain centers were quiet but the emotion regions lit up. It seems our empathy for pain network does not distinguish physical and psychological pain. Singer: "The basic principle is the same."

We feel pain for strangers too. Emotional contagion can occur even when people observe a stranger suffering distress. People who feel more empathic distress in their daily lives are more likely to become aggressive when provoked, and an overload can lead to empathy burnout.

Psychopaths shown images of people in pain react differently. Their brains showed less activity in areas associated with empathy than the brains of healthy people. But when the psychopaths were asked to empathize, their brain responses were identical to those of a control group. A spectrum of empathy exists in all of us.

Tania Singer put Matthieu Ricard, a molecular biologist turned Buddhist monk, into an fMRI machine. When she asked him to empathize with suffering instead of engaging in compassion as he had been trained to do, his empathy for pain network lit up. He begged her to stop the experiment, calling the feeling unbearable. Ricard: "Compassion is feeling for and not with the other."

AR Tania is the daughter of Wolf Singer, whom I first heard speak at ASSC2, Bremen, 1998.

2016 May 15

European Union

Boris Johnson

The past 2,000 years of European history have witnessed repeated attempts to unify Europe under a single government that could rival the classical golden age under the Romans.

Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods.

But fundamentally what is lacking is the eternal problem, which is that there is no underlying loyalty to the idea of Europe. There is no single authority that anybody respects or understands. That is causing this massive democratic void.

The euro has become a means by which superior German productivity is able to gain an absolutely unbeatable advantage over the whole eurozone. This is a chance for the British people to be the heroes of Europe.

AR Our best chance to be heroes is to stay in and reform the EU.

No More Sex

Philip Ball

As a way of making babies, sex leaves an awful lot to chance. You can avoid a lot of grave genetic conditions by genetic screening (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, PGD) of embryos during IVF, so that only screened embryos are implanted. Perhaps PGD with IVF will become the standard method of conception in a few decades.

Stem cells can be used to generate eggs and sperm. These can meet via IVF to produce offspring. We can create embryonic stem cells containing the genes of an adult by transferring genetic material from an adult body (somatic) cell into an egg that has had its own chromosomes removed. The egg can then be used to grow an embryo (a clone) from which stem cells can be cultured. A cocktail of biochemical ingredients will even convert somatic cells directly back into a pluripotent state like that of embryonic stem cells.

So there are already several ways of making gametes starting from ordinary adult cells. This will allow easy DNA harvesting for IVF. As gene sequencing gets better, we might soon be able to do PGD in a day or so. The only limit on easy PGD and IVF is cost, but this will fall.

There is no contest with the user experience of sex, but the new options are legion. A person could have both eggs and sperm made from skin or spit and used to create a child. Two people might make an embryo that is used then to conceive a child through IVF with another embryo, by mixing their gametes, to make a grandchild with parents that were never even born. The mind boggles.

AR Who pays for the kids? Surely not the DNA donors.

David Cameron, MP for Whitney, in Witney


"We have looked very carefully
at the whole range of existing
opinions, calculations, models,
forecasts, scenario planning
and we've done our homework
and frankly ... we haven't seen
anything that is positive."
Christine Lagarde

Germany v EZ
Martin Wolf

Germany is a creditor and has
a dominant voice in EZ affairs.
German economists advocate
a balanced budget and stable
and flexible prices. But what
works for Germany does not
work for the EZ. The ECB has
set negative interest rates to
avoid the threat of deflation.
The EZ will fail if it is run for
the benefit of creditors alone.
Germany must accept that.

"Leaving the EU would be
disastrous for the Falklands,
Gibraltar and Ulster."
William Hague

Flexit Rate

Banks are pushing some
companies seeking to borrow
money in the UK to agree that
the cost of their debt can rise
if the country votes to leave
the EU next month.

AR Money talks.


2016 May 14

Chinese Military Power

US Department of Defense

US deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia Abraham M. Denmark presented the 2016 DoD report on military and security developments involving China.

Denmark: "China continues to focus on preparing for potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait, but additional missions such as contingencies in the East and South China seas and on the Korea Peninsula are increasingly important ... From 2006 to 2015, China's officially disclosed military budget grew at an average of 9.8% per year in inflation-adjusted terms. The true expenditure, DoD estimates, in terms of total military-related spending for 2015, exceeded $180 billion in 2015."

China's military modernization program entered a new phase in 2015:
1 Reclaiming outposts and began building military facilities in the South China Sea
2 Building a growing global military presence
3 Reforming its military to make it more capable and politically loyal


Alan Jay Levinovitz

Economists see their discipline as scientific. But mathematical models can masquerade as science and the public can mistake elegant equations for truth.

Macroeconomics is plagued by a mathematics fetish and failing to progress as a science. Economists use mathematics to imbue economic theory with unearned authority. Measurement and mathematics guarantee only the semblance of science. When the presumptions or conclusions are absurd or false, the theory is defective or wrong.

Recall ancient Chinese attitudes toward the astral sciences. Chinese governments invested large amounts of money in mathematical models of the stars. To evaluate those models, government officials had to rely on a small cadre of experts who understood the mathematics.

The Chinese science of calendrics, li, was considered essential to good governance. The idea was that good fortune and good harvests depended upon the accuracy of li. The li experts were mathematicians whose models predicted celestial motions. But there was no science to the belief that this would benefit agriculture or government policy.

Economic theorists are social scientists who excel at producing mathematical models of economies. But like astrologers, they fail at prophecy.

2016 May 13

Gala Dinner

The Italian Villa, Canford Cliffs, Poole

AR Fine venue, excellent company, and a great date


John Major

As the Leave arguments implode one by one, some of the Brexit leaders morph into UKIP and turn to their default position: immigration. This is their trump card. I urge them to take care. This is dangerous territory that, if handled carelessly, can open up long-term divisions in our society.

2016 May 12

Brexit Bad

Bank of England

Households could defer consumption and firms delay investment, lowering labour demand and causing unemployment to rise. Sterling is also likely to depreciate further, perhaps sharply. It is likely that their combined effect would be to lower growth materially and raise the rate of inflation.


The Guardian

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) estimates that the total cost to the UK taxpayer of replacing the Trident nuclear missile system will come to more than £200 billion.

The CND calculation is based on official figures, answers to parliamentary questions, and previous costs of items including nuclear warheads and decommissioning nuclear reactors, but does not take into account that past Ministry of Defence projects have frequently gone well over budget.

HM Government response: "The government needs a safe space away from the public gaze to allow it to consider policy options for delivering the deterrent in the most cost-effective way, unfettered from public comment about the affordability of particular policy options."

2016 May 11

The Multiverse

Max Tegmark

Reality is something out there independent of me as a human. We physicists try to figure out how it works.

Our theories make predictions we can test. The idea of testability works fine even for concepts like parallel universes and black holes, as long as we remember that what we test are specific mathematical theories. Parallel universes are not a theory but a prediction from certain theories. A black hole is a prediction from general relativity theory. Once you have a theory in physics, it's testable as long as it predicts at least one thing that you can check.

In physics, once you buy the theory, you have to buy the whole product. And if you don't like any of the predictions, then you have to try to come up with a different mathematical theory.

A lot of string theorists think there is some math that describes our physical world exactly and is the perfect description. Maybe this mathematical reality and the physical reality are one and the same. Maybe everything is mathematical and we're actually a part of this enormous mathematical object.

The universe is the spherical region of space from which light has had time to reach us so far since our Big Bang. If space goes on far beyond this, then all the other regions like ours are universes as well.

Inflation is the best theory we have for what created our Big Bang and what made our space so vast and so expanding. It predicts that space is not just big but vast. Our universe is just a small part of a much bigger space.

You want to keep your theory as simple as you can. In physics, we really value the simplicity not of the solutions to the equations but of the equations themselves. The theory of inflation, like the theory of general relativity, is extremely simple and parsimonious. The math is simple. Never mind that the solutions are complicated.

In the level-two multiverse, a lot of things we thought were fundamental laws of physics are not. You can transform a lot of fundamental parameters. Think of each of these parameters as written on a knob that you could twist. If you tweaked most of them, life as we know it would be completely destroyed. We are living in a very special part of space.

2016 May 10

US-UK Special Relationship

The Times

The UK and the US have a special relationship and longstanding friendship.

The world needs a strong and united Europe to work with the US to address the many geopolitical and economic challenges we face. The strong bonds between the US and Europe are rooted in shared values, shared interests, and common history. The UK has played a key role in strengthening the transatlantic alliance. But we are concerned that should the UK choose to leave the European Union, the UK's place and influence in the world would be diminished and Europe would be dangerously weakened.

The special relationship between our countries would not compensate for the loss of influence and clout that the UK would suffer if it was no longer part of the EU, a union of 28 nations with 500 million inhabitants, which is the largest economic bloc in the world. This would be true in foreign policy, defense policy and international trade matters, and other areas where the EU is a significant voice.

The decision that UK citizens will make on June 23 is of critical importance.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, George Shultz, Richard V Allen, Frank Carlucci, Robert M Gates, William S Cohen, Madeleine Albright, William Perry, Stephen J Hadley, James Jones Jr, Thomas E Donilon, Leon Panetta

US, NATO Say Brexit Bad

The Times

Thirteen former US secretaries of state and defense and national security advisers from every White House administration over the past 40 years say (above) the UK cannot bank on its "special relationship" with the US to compensate for losing global influence by leaving the EU.

Five former secretaries-general of NATO also support continued UK membership of the EU. Lord Carrington, Javier Solana, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Jaap De Hoop Scheffer, and Anders Fogh Rasmussen: "Given the scale and range of challenges to peace and stability we collectively face, the Euro-Atlantic community needs an active and engaged United Kingdom ... Brexit would undoubtedly lead to a loss of British influence, undermine NATO and give succour to the West's enemies."

David Cameron said (below) that Brexit could shatter world peace. He said it would be an "act of supreme irresponsibility" for Britain to trigger the collapse of the EU at a time when it needed unity of purpose in face of threats from Russia and Daesh.

2016 May 9

Brexit Risks War

The Times

David Cameron says that a British vote to exit the European Union would increase the risk of war:

"Isolationism has never served this country well. Whenever we turn our back on Europe, sooner or later we come to regret it. We have always had to go back in, and always at much higher cost. The serried rows of white headstones in lovingly tended Commonwealth war cemeteries stand as silent testament to the price this country has paid to help restore peace and order in Europe. Can we be so sure that peace and stability on our continent are assured beyond any shadow of doubt? Is that a risk worth taking? I would never be so rash as to make that assumption."

Time: Bergson v Einstein

Jimena Canales

On April 6, 1922, Albert Einstein met Henri Bergson in Paris. The philosopher was more famous and revered than the physicist. He was compared to Socrates and Kant. William James called Bergson's Creative Evolution (1907) "a sort of Copernican revolution" in thought.

Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize not for his theory of relativity but for his work on the photoelectric effect. The Nobel Committee said Bergson had shown that relativity pertains to epistemology rather than to physics.

Bergson said time has to be understood philosophically. For him, relativistic time prevents us from realizing that the future is open, unpredictable, and indeterminate.

The theory of relativity redefined classical concepts of time and space, showed that time and space are interrelated, and did away with the concept of the ether. Time dilation was new. In colloquial terms, time slows down at high speeds and stops at the speed of light. All frames of references are counted as equally valid. Simultaneity is relative and the speed of light (in empty space) is constant.

Bergson was upset by Einstein's definition of time in terms of clocks. He said clocks could not explain time and he did not think our understanding of time could be based on them. The distinction between the past, the present, and the future was determined physically, physiologically, and psychologically.

Einstein mentioned two ways of thinking about time, psychological and physical. Psychological time is the time perceived by a person, while physical time is time as measured by a clock. In most cases, the two conceptions of time need not differ much. But for events in frames moving close to the speed of light, the difference is extreme.

Einstein: "The time of the philosopher, I believe, is a psychological and physical time at once."

AR On psychophysical time, see my essay About Time (chapter 13 of Mindworlds).

2016 May 8

MI5 and MI6 View: Brexit Bad

The Sunday Times

Former director-general of MI5 Baron Evans of Weardale and former head of MI6 Sir John Sawers say Brexit could undermine the UK ability to protect Brits from terrorists and also lead to instability in Europe, compounding current economic difficulties, the migration crisis, and a resurgent Russia.

AR I expressed this concern in February.

UK polar research ship RRS Sir David Attenborough, a.k.a. "Boaty McBoatface"

London Khan

The new Mayor of London
is Sadiq Khan, a Muslim.

Rest Rooms

US religious right fights losing
war over bathroom access:
North Carolina ostracized for
law that seeks to limit trans
people to public bathrooms
and changing rooms that
match the sex on their
birth certificates.

People v AI

"People are still much better
at understanding sentences,
paragraphs, books, and discourse
where there's connected prose.
It's one thing to do a keyword
search. You can find any
sentence you want that's out
there on the web by just having
the right keywords, but if you
want a system that could
summarize an article for you
in a way that you trust, we're
nowhere near that."
Gary Marcus

AR You need my blog.
Pay me!

"I'm going to tell you what I
really think of Donald Trump
... a narcissist ... a serial
philanderer ...This man is a
pathological liar ... the man
is utterly immoral."
Ted Cruz

Click me
Beatrix von Storch MEP


"I am a little hurt that he's
not here tonight. We had so
much fun the last time. And it
is surprising: you've got a room
full of reporters, celebrities,
cameras, and he says no.
Is this dinner too tacky
for The Donald?"
Barack Obama


2016 May 7

Networked Knowledge

David Weinberger

In The Internet of Us, Michael Patrick Lynch says the internet is a wrong turn in the history of knowledge. He disparages using Google to look things up. But to focus a discussion of internet knowledge on people using Google or Wikipedia is like describing libraries as places where people use the encyclopedia.

Lynch is a philosophy professor. Invoking Wittgenstein, he writes that, in order to be reasonable, we have "to be willing to play the game of giving and asking for reasons". This edges him dangerously close to the postmodern world. If you call this a paradigm instead of a game, you are led to Thomas Kuhn. Or to a Heideggerian critique of rational scientific knowing as one way of disclosing the world, which needs to be grounded in a more basic analysis of disclosure itself. Or to others.

Thinking of the net as a set of echo chambers is bad phenomenology. Before the internet, the basic mechanisms of knowledge did the work of echo chambers: identify and publish the work of experts, vet knowledge to exclude what does not fit, and create a coherent body of knowledge that becomes harder and harder to challenge because of its curated cohesion. The problem with echo chambers arises for any knowledge.

The book shaped knowledge to fit its peculiarities. Now that we have a new medium, knowledge is taking on its properties. Looking for traditional knowledge on the net leads us to miss the fact that knowledge is becoming what happens when links connect differences and people.

Lynch has a traditional ontology that takes the world as real stuff outside our heads. He warns us not to let the digital world blind us to the world of things that are found and not made. Yet in taking the clock as a timepiece and the bullet as a way to create holes at a distance, we are relying on a world that has been constructed even before we got here.

Lynch thinks knowing is something we do in our heads. He dismisses the extended mind idea of Andy Clark and David Chalmers, which says we think out in the world. Our new tools for thought include search engines, web pages, and complex networks of people. That is where thinking and knowing is now happening.

2016 May 6

Dorset PCC Election

Daily Echo

Martyn Underhill is to serve a second term as Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner after winning a majority of more than 20,000 votes over Conservative candidate Andrew Graham (blog 2016-05-04).

Underhill 66,660
Graham 44,548

Verified votes 129,461
Rejected votes 9,477
Turnout 22.54%

Former Sussex Police Detective Chief Inspector Underhill: "I'm really pleased."


Lionel Shriver

I experienced being female as an imposition. I had to wear stupid dresses. Periods were hideous. My parents had reduced expectations for my career prospects.

Now we have entered an oppressively gendered world. You can be agender, bi-gender, cisgender, demigender, graygender, intergender, genderless, genderqueer, third gender, or transgender. Where you lie on this spectrum is an index of your individuality. Gender is no longer about fucking.

We are told that a trans woman may have been born a man, but feels like a woman. I have no idea what it feels like to be a woman. I am one. My having been born female has always seemed a biological accident.

The spectrum depends on stereotypes. A boy is rough and boisterous and aggressive and plays with trucks. A girl is soft and quiet and sensitive and plays with dolls. A little boy knows he wants to be a girl because he wants to wear a dress. We are whoever we think we are.

I have resigned myself to being female in relation to other people. But for me, my self has no gender. If selfhood is not an illusion, it transcends gender.

2016 May 5

Holy Wars

James G. Chappel

Ethical relativism is a problem for democracies. The Catholic Church holds that democracies can only exist on a strong bedrock of religious values. Secular theorists of democracy accept that democracies must have some means of adjudicating truth claims. Instead of theology, they use philosophy to derive a democratic ethic from pure reason.

Democracy only really makes sense in a society of relativists. But when confronted by religious passions, relativism tends to crumble. Secularists should learn to engage critically with religious traditions. Religion can be reformed more easily than the structures of political economy.

The persistence of religion demands a fundamental rethinking of our political and social theories. The category of religion breaks down when used to describe the entire being of an individual or a community or a war. Theorists can deconstruct the category of religion.

The secular state seeks to create a plural society respecting religious rights. In practice, if we declare something to be free, we presume its existence. The notion of religious freedom presupposes that our lives and our societies can be partitioned into religious and secular pieces. Such strategies can lead quickly to violence.

Political secularism and the logic of religious freedom are central to the governing methods of the United States and the United Nations. But the contrast of religious versus secular obscures more than it illuminates. Prioritizing religion as an object of social control reinforces differences it aims to govern. Fluid religions are carved into discrete faith communities with identifiable leaders and neatly bounded orthodoxies that do not reflect reality.

The logic of secularism presumes a split between public and private realms. At home I can believe whatever foolish thing I please. Secularism may perversely support religion on gender issues such as the repression of women.

2016 May 4

Trump Wins, Cruz Out


"It is a beautiful thing to watch, and a beautiful thing to behold," Trump said during a victory speech. "We are going to make America great again."

Our Principles PAC chair Katie Packer: "We continue to give voice to the belief of so many Republicans that Trump is not a conservative, does not represent the values of the Republican Party, cannot beat Hillary Clinton, and is simply unfit to be President of the United States."

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders looks set to win the Indiana Democratic primary. He is unlikely to cut deeply into Clinton's big delegate lead.


Martin Wolf

The fact that the UK is holding a referendum on leaving the EU proves that it remains sovereign. The referendum is not about sovereignty but about how best to exercise British power.

States exist to serve the interests of their citizens. They can do so only by cooperating with other states. The UK has signed 14,000 treaties. Legally, the UK could withdraw from them all. Treaties do not undermine sovereignty. They make it more effective.

The question for the UK is whether EU membership strikes a sensible balance between accountability and effectiveness in the exercise of delegated powers. The defects of the EU on accountability are real. The single currency is an example. Yet the UK is not part of this. As for effectiveness, the UK powers delegated to the EU are appropriate to the goals the UK wants to achieve.

Membership of the EU is an appropriate exercise of UK sovereignty. It gives the UK a say in the future of the European continent. It gives it a potent voice in EU positions on global affairs. It gives it favorable terms of access to its biggest market.

UK sovereignty is not at stake in this referendum. It is proved by it. The best balance between accountability and effectiveness lies with the status quo.

Dorset Police

Poole Conservatives

Andrew Graham was a career soldier who rose to the rank of Lieutenant General. Now he is the Dorset Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner. He has looked at the facts and says: "I see an interesting comparison with Northamptonshire Police — similar budget, same size county — for instance, they have 700 Special Constables and we have 180. I believe we can do better."

Andrew has been talking with Poole residents and says: "We live in a community-run country, so putting policing at the heart of supporting our community chimes with everyone I talk to. People here are full of praise for their Police Community Support Officers and Neighbourhood Policing teams. I find this inspiring, but I can see there is more to do."

Naked Lunch


More than 32,000 people have signed up for a chance to dine at Bunyadi, a pop-up restaurant billed as London's first naked food experience. Opening in June, the venue will take only 42 diners a time. Lollipop founder Seb Lyall says he is surprised and excited by the response.

"People want to be naked. Whether it's on a beach or in a sauna, if the opportunity is there to be in a natural state, they will take it."
Seb Lyall

2016 May 3

EZ Money

European Commission

Eurostat announces that the EZ GDP has returned to pre-crisis levels and is growing at a 0.6% quarterly so far this year. But growth remains uneven across the eurozone. Some EZ countries are finding it hard to get their debt and deficit levels within EU budget limits.

AfD und der Islam

Jan Fleischhauer

AfD-Politikerin Beatrix von Storch: "Wir meinen nicht, alle Muslime auszuweisen."

Typische AfD-Anhänger sehne sich nach den Achtzigerjahren. Für den Spiegel sei ein Blick in das Programm wie eine Zeitreise in die Sechziger. Die FAZ bestimmt die Fünfzigerjahre als ideellen Fluchtpunkt.

Das Problem mit der AfD ist nicht die Rückwärtsgewandtheit. Nostalgie ist kein Vergehen. Es ist der reformerische Ansatz, der uns zu denken geben sollte. Auch die AfD denkt nach vorne.

Noch ist nur schemenhaft zu erkennen, wie diese Zukunft aussehen soll. Der Muslim hat in ihr schon mal keinen Platz. Die führenden Leute bei der AfD verweisen darauf, sie meinten die Religion, nicht die Gläubigen. Da der Islam aber insgesamt als politische Ideologie verstanden wird, steht jeder unter Verdacht, der sich zu dieser Religion bekennt. In Deutschland sind das etwa fünf Millionen Menschen.

Am Ende der gedanklichen Fluchtlinie jeder Reinheitsutopie liegt das Lager.


2016 May 2

The Trump Bomb

Jeremy Bernstein

Donald Trump thinks nuclear capability is the biggest problem in the world: "When people talk global warming, I say the global warming that we have to be careful of is the nuclear global warming."

The bright spot is what happened in Iran. We have been unable to finalize a new disarmament agreement with the Russians. The North Koreans are surely going to test again. The Indians and Pakistanis are modernizing their arsenals.

And in the middle of this there is Trump, a colossus of ignorance.

Politics on the Brink

Janet Daley

American politics is in crisis. For generations, both the major parties could have fit within the British Conservative party. Capitalism under reasonable controls and a strong defense of individual liberty were the basic tenets of a consensus which underpinned every plausible candidacy.

Populist fragmentation has arrived. Bernie Sanders is openly socialist. Hillary Clinton is damned by her association with established Washington power. Donald Trump is popular because he is outside the limits of the accepted order.

Such anger and resistance is unprecedented in living memory. There is a rejection of everything Big: government, banks, bureaucracy, business — all in a union where the member states share a common language and a revered constitution. What about a United States of Europe?

Transhumanist Rights

Zoltan Istvan

Transhumanists want to conquer death with science and merge with machines. The concept of personhood used to be simple, but with AI and robots we will soon see a time when courts must decide on future civil rights. The LGBT movement will enjoy easier gender reassignment surgery. Eventually we may have a genderless world. Artificial wombs will challenge maternity. Robots will take jobs. Some people are screaming to slow down technology before it gets out of control. As a transhumanist US presidential candidate, I hope more people will discuss the future.

UK Pensions

Dominic Lawson

The Bank of England has created hundreds of billions of pounds to buy government bonds from commercial banks. This quantitative easing (QE) is supposed to save the big banks. Its effect has been to force interest rates down.

Guaranteed index-linked private pension schemes are now all but unaffordable. As the yield on the government gilts the funds are forced to buy has collapsed, it has become much more expensive to buy enough of them to guarantee pensions. The aggregate deficit is now over £300 billion.

Those responsible for authorizing QE were Bank of England and Treasury officials. They will suffer none of its adverse effects. This is true of the entire public sector. The government makes no provision for funding the pensions of its millions of employees. Taxpayers will pay.

The NHS pension scheme is an example. Nurses joining that scheme today will contribute just over 7% of their income to fund their retirement, and after 40 years can expect an index-linked pension worth over £30,000 a year in today's money.

In the private sector, nurses on the same salary wanting the same pension income, retiring at 65, would need a fund worth £1 million in today's money. They would have to pay more than 40% of their gross salary to the scheme.

The taxpayer-funded NHS scheme is about five times more generous than the equivalent scheme in the private sector. Junior doctors complain about their new contract. But they have a good deal.

AR Better than I do, that's for sure. Buy my books and let me live!

2016 May 1

Republican Crisis

George F. Will

Donald Trump would be the most unpopular presidential nominee ever. In losing disastrously, he probably would create carnage sufficient to end even Republican control of the House. At least half a dozen Republican senators seeking reelection and Senate aspirants can hope to win if the person at the top of the Republican ticket loses their state narrowly, but not if he loses by a landslide.

Prudence demands the prevention of a Trump presidency. Were he to be nominated, conservatives would need to help him lose 50 states yet save as many senators, representatives, governors, and state legislators as possible. Republicans working to purge him and his manner from public life could only preserve the identity of their party by forgoing one term of executive power.

British Judeophobia

Mehdi Hasan

Antisemitism infects some sections of the British Muslim community. I can't keep count of the number of Muslims I have come across for whom weird and wacky antisemitic conspiracy theories are the default explanation for a range of national and international events.

It is sheer hypocrisy for Muslims to complain of Islamophobia in British public life, and yet ignore the rampant Judeophobia in our own backyard. We have a Jewish problem. Muslims are not only the victims of racial and religious prejudice but purveyors of it, too.

Islamists and Trots

Niall Ferguson

The disproportionate Jewish contribution to western civilization — not least to science and the arts — is one of the most astonishing achievements of modern history. The murder and mayhem perpetrated by antisemites throughout history, and above all in the 20th century, deserves a special place in the annals of infamy.

Trotskyists and Islamists make strange bedfellows. Since Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn joined the Labour party, a significant element of the British left has aligned itself with the Palestine Liberation Organization and other groups hostile to Israel. Labour is now flirting with a very different generation of antisemites.



Trump wins 5 state sweep,
Clinton wins 4 of 5

"The United States, and the
entire world, needs a strong
and prosperous and democratic
and united Europe."
Barack Obama

Edi Rama

Michael Gove suggests Britain
could abandon its partnership
with Germany, France and
other EU countries and instead
enter into a non-EU partnership
with Albania, Kosovo, Serbia
and Bosnia.

I am a proud Albanian, but
we do not see ourselves as
a rival to the EU, which
we admire so much.

Merkel, Obama, Hannover

The Everlasting Flame
Zoroastrianism in
History and Imagination

National Museum, Delhi
2016-03-19 — 2016-05-31

AR In case you fancy a
few days away in India.


Prince @ 57

"Few artists have influenced
the sound and trajectory of
popular music more distinctly,
or touched quite so many
people with their talent."
Barack Obama

On Augustine
Rowan Williams

Augustine is obliged by his
 commitment to the incarnate
Christ to deny that the
incorruptible and immaterial
can ever as such be an object
for the cognition of material,
historical and desirous beings.
To be an intelligence in time
is to be inescapably unfinished.
God is res, and, in respect of
him, all else is signum. If we
try to love human beings
independently of loving God,
we ignore what they are.


2016 April 30

SpaceX: Mars 2018

Robert Wright

NASA has agreed to support a SpaceX Red Dragon mission to Mars as soon as 2018. SpaceX: "Red Dragon missions to Mars will help inform the overall Mars colonization architecture that SpaceX will reveal later this year."

Red Dragon is a version of the Dragon spacecraft that currently flies to the International Space Station under SpaceX resupply contracts with NASA. As part of work to develop a version of the capsule that can carry astronauts, SpaceX has developed and tested motors that allow the craft to make a safe landing on Earth in the event of an emergency. SpaceX will adapt that system to allow the craft to touch down on Mars.

NASA deputy administrator Dava Newman: "In exchange for Martian entry, descent, and landing data from SpaceX, NASA will offer technical support for the firm's plan to attempt to land an uncrewed Dragon 2 spacecraft on Mars."

Germany v Israel

Der Spiegel

German chancellor Angela Merkel and foreign minister foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier believe the current Israeli settlement policy makes a viable Palestinian state unlikely and could ultimately transform Israel into an apartheid regime.

CDU Bundestag foreign affairs committee chair Norbert Röttgen: "Israel's current policies are not contributing to the country remaining Jewish and democratic. We must express this concern more clearly to Israel."

Prior to important votes in the EU or at the UN, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu generally calls Steinmeier to request his support for the Israeli position. Recently Netanyahu called Steinmeier to express concern about an impending EU resolution. But this time Steinmeier supported the resolution: "Settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible."

German Institute for International and Security Affairs: "A two-state settlement is becoming increasingly unlikely. The financial and political costs of implementing it rise with every settlement unit needing to be demolished and with every settler needing to be evacuated and compensated."

2016 April 29

Tea with Theresa May

The Heritage Suite, Shaftesbury, Dorset

Theresa May (video, 55 s)

Big Don


House and Senate Republicans are reluctantly coming to terms with the reality that Donald Trump will likely be the GOP standard bearer. Rather than fight it, a number of Republicans say, it may be time to embrace it.

Against Reality

Donald Hoffman

According to evolution by natural selection, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness. If the fitness function does not match the truth in the real world, that will send truth to extinction.

Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that hide all the stuff we have no need to know. We have conscious experiences. Objective reality is just conscious agents. Separate conscious agents can be put together to create new conscious agents, ad infinitum. Conscious experiences are the most basic ingredients of the world. There is no brain!

AR This is philosophically naive about truth and reality, but there is a thread of sense in it.

2016 April 28

OECD Damns Brexit

Financial Times

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development likened the effects of Brexit to a permanent annual tax on British incomes. The OECD is an international organization that aims to promote the best economic policies among its 34 members, all of which are advanced economies.

The OECD calculates that Brexit would bring more restricted trade with the EU, reduced competition, lower foreign direct investment, and fewer skilled immigrants, to hit GDP by around 5%. Public finances would suffer because tax revenues lost would easily outweigh any savings from lower net contributions to the EU budget.

OECD report: "There appears little scope to use the EU budget savings to relax fiscal policy substantially for an extended period, unless there is a decision to adjust other taxes and spending, or to raise the size of the overall budget deficit."

OECD secretary-general José Ángel Gurría: "Why are we spending so much time, so much effort and so much talent in trying to find ways to compensate for a bad decision when you don't necessarily have to take the bad decision?"

2016 April 27

Ten Brexit Arguments

Martin Wolf

1 Membership has brought few benefits
Membership has raised trade with EU members by an estimated 55%, increasing productivity and output. Trade creation within the EU has far exceeded diversion of trade from elsewhere.

2 Membership has imposed huge costs
The net fiscal cost is 0.5% of GDP. A study finds that 6.8% of UK primary legislation and 14.1% of UK secondary legislation is passed to implement EU law.

3 An increasingly integrated eurozone will dictate to the UK
A full political union of the eurozone looks unlikely. Its members differ on many points, opening up opportunities for UK influence.

4 The UK should leave because a eurozone breakup would damage the UK economy
A disorderly EZ breakup would damage close partners. But leaving the EU would no more shield the UK against disaster than Canada leaving NAFTA would shield it from a US crisis.

5 The UK should leave because the EU is slow-growing
Deliberately reducing access to EU markets would help only if the EU held back the UK from trading with the rest of the world. The EU does not hold back Germany.

6 Membership of the EU prevents the UK from opening up world markets
The EU was a moving force in three successful global trade negotiations. It makes preferential trade arrangements. EU clout can open up Chinese, Indian, or the US markets.

7 It would be easy to agree on alternatives to EU membership
Three Brexit variants: WTO trade rules lose preferential EU market access, Swiss rules require free movement of people, Norwegian rules lose say on regulations. More sovereignty, less access.

8 It will be easy for the UK to obtain whatever it wants from the EU
The share of UK trade done with the rest of the EU is far greater than the share of EU trade done with the UK. The idea that a departing UK could dictate terms is a fantasy.

9 It will be easy to reach an agreement on controlling immigration
Preferential access to EU markets require UK labour mobility. Imposing work permits on EU citizens would clog the UK job market. The EU would reciprocate.

10 The uncertainty associated with leaving the EU would be modest
We do not know what the UK government would want, what the rest of the EU would offer, how long negotiations would last, or what the outcome would be.

2016 April 26

Obama in Hannover

Der Spiegel

Barack Obama lobte und pries ziemlich alles: deutsche Technik, deutsche Führungskraft, deutsches Bier, deutsche Wurst.

Obama: "Die USA brauchen ein starkes, wohlhabendes und geeintes Europa. Ihr habt so viel erreicht. Die EU ist eine der größten politischen und wirtschaftlichen Errungenschaften der modernen Zeit. Glaubt an euch, stärkt die EU!"

Es ist ein klares Bekenntnis zur Politik seiner lieben Freundin Angela: "Unsere Nationen sind stärker, wenn wir Menschen aus anderen Ländern willkommen heißen."

Bei aller Kritik an der amerikanischen Politik: Dies war der Besuch eines großen Präsidenten.

The New Anglosphere

Gideon Rachman

Brexiters recall the Anglosphere bequeathed by the British Empire. Barack Obama may have devastated their campaign.

The signature foreign policy initiative of the Obama administration has been the US pivot to Asia. Today the biggest US trade priority is not Europe but Asia. While negotiations on TTIP are still years from conclusion, the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal has already been agreed and now awaits ratification.

Britain has been conducting its own pivot to Asia in its deals with China. Australia does 10 times the trade with China and Japan as it does with Britain. In Canada, about a third of the population of Toronto is ethnic Asian, with a much higher proportion in Vancouver.

Ironically, a new Anglosphere has emerged in Brussels. English is now the common language of the EU institutions.


Liam Fox

UK leaders are willing to sacrifice democratic self-government to the interests of bankers and continental politicians.

The European Union has all the hallmarks of a modern empire. Its laws are dictated by an unelected central bureaucracy and it has a democratically unaccountable leadership with a powerless parliament. Since in 1973, Britain has sent almost half a trillion pounds to Brussels.

Voters are crying out for reform in the way that the EU is run. The EU is failing. The UK has a chance to escape.

AR Or to reform and renew it.

2016 April 25

US and Germany


President Barack Obama has found his closest global partner in German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In Hannover, he said of her stance on accepting refugees: "She's on the right side of history on this. She is giving voice, I think, to the kinds of principles that bring people together rather than divide them, and I'm very proud of her for that and I'm proud of the German people for that."

Obama hopes Merkel can help sway fellow leaders to do more to counter Daesh and track suspected extremists. He also is looking for her support in hammering out a US-EU trade pact.

France: Stay


A large majority of French people want Britain to remain in the European Union. An opinion poll Saturday found 60% of them expected negative consequences for the British if they leave. Some 58% said Britain should stay in the EU and 40% want Britain to leave. Brexit would have negative consequences for the EU, said 54%. Seven French out of 10 have "a good image" of Britain and 58% think the UK is an asset for the EU.

Hawking Radiation

The Times

Stephen Hawking proposes that black holes slowly radiate all their energy away in photons. This Hawking radiation is usually so faint as to be all but invisible.

Jeff Steinhauer made a laboratory analog of a black hole using sound, and watched phonons emerge from its edge. He cooled helium to a shade above 0 K and churned it around fast enough to make a sound barrier like an event horizon. He found signs that phonons were leaking out of his sonic black hole just as Hawking predicted.

The results are controversial. Silke Weinfurtner: "Jeff has done an amazing job, but some of the claims he makes are open to debate."

2016 April 24

Cherishing the Environment

New Scientist

UK membership of the EU has been good for the environment, says House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh: "We bathe on cleaner beaches, drive more fuel-efficient cars, and can hold government to account on air pollution. Inside the EU we can influence and improve EU environmental law."

EU environmental laws led to Britain recycling much more of its waste and stopping raw sewage being pumped on to beaches, the committee heard. Witnesses implied that if the UK were free to set its own environmental standards, it would do so less stringently than the EU.

Protecting Animals

Peter Singer

As long as we continue to eat animals, it is difficult to respect their interests. Yuval Harari has described the treatment of animals in industrial farms as perhaps the worst crime in history.

Veal was the first factory-farming issue to arouse public concern. After decades of lobbying, the veal industry trade group pledged in 2007 to get rid of veal crates and shift to group housing by 2017. Veal consumption has not recovered.

Breeding sows are often kept in crates about the same width as those used for veal calves, and just a little longer. Sows get to be very large animals, so in these crates they cannot walk or turn around. In 2012, McDonald's agreed to phase out the purchase of pig meat from producers using sow crates. Since then, more than 60 major brands have followed.

Veal and sow crates are bad, but battery cages for laying hens are worse. Hens are cheap, but the sheds and so on are not. If your competitors crowd their hens more than you do, they can sell their eggs at a lower price. Small battery cages are still legal in the United States.

In the European Union, crates for veal calves, crates for pregnant sows, and battery cages for laying hens are all illegal. In the United States, efforts to pass nationwide legislation to protect farmed animals have failed.

The UNFAO says livestock digestive processes are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector. A recent UK report recommends switching existing livestock industry subsidies to alternatives and imposing a carbon tax on meat.

Touching Feyman's Bottom

New Scientist

In 1959, Richard Feynman said there's plenty of room at the bottom.

A team at Delft University of Technology have built a memory that holds 8128 bits, 1 KB, and measures 96 nm by 126 nm. A scanning tunneling microscope (STM) picks up chlorine atoms on a copper surface dented with pits and moves the atoms into and out of the pits. Each filled or vacant pit stores 1 bit. At this density, 1 TB could be stored in a 100 μm cube.

AR Such atomic manipulations take us from nanotech to picotech.

2016 St George's Day


Barack Obama

Part of being friends is being honest. My understanding is that some of the folks on the other side have been ascribing to the United States certain actions we will take if the UK does leave the EU. They say, for example, that 'we will just cut our own trade deals with the United States'.

So they are voicing an opinion about what the United States is going to do. I figured you might want to hear from the president of the United States what I think the United States is going to do.

I think it's fair to say that maybe some point down the line there might be a UK-US trade agreement, but it's not going to happen any time soon because our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done. The UK is going to be in the back of the queue.


Ed Conway

Leavers say outside the EU the UK could control its borders. But net migration since 1990 from outside the EU has been three times greater than flows from the EU.

As for red tape, Britain is mired in it not because of Eurocrats but because the sovereign UK parliament made it so. Leaving the EU will not change this.

The UK could thrive outside the EU if it opened its borders and cut more red tape. But this is not what the Leave camp is saying and not what Brits want.

Brexiters in Search of an Empire

Linda Colley

The UK debate on EU membership is not mainly about economics. Nor is it really about sovereignty. And the UK has as bad a democratic deficit as the EU. Even on immigration, no one knows how Brexit would cut the flow to the UK.

The Brexit campaign is about anger stoked by globalization. Brexiters blame their economic woes on Brussels. Their yearning to restore British national pride is born of desperation. Since the war, Britain has let go of its empire.

Brexiters hark after an Anglosphere embracing the UK, the US, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Yet the English language has a growing hold in Europe. Reforming and reconfiguring the EU can offer a new global role for the UK.

2016 Earth Day

European Union

Barack Obama

The outcome of your decision is a matter of deep interest to the United States. The tens of thousands of Americans who rest in Europe's cemeteries are a silent testament to just how intertwined our prosperity and security truly are.

Our special relationship was forged as we spilled blood together on the battlefield. It was fortified as we built and sustained the architecture for advancing stability and prosperity in Europe, and our democratic values around the globe.

From the ashes of war, those who came before us had the foresight to create the international institutions and initiatives to sustain a prosperous peace. Their efforts provided a foundation for democracy, open markets, and the rule of law, while underwriting more than seven decades of relative peace and prosperity in Europe.

Today, we face tests to this order, challenges that can only be met if the United States and the United Kingdom can rely on one another, on our special relationship, and on the partnerships that lead to progress.

As citizens of the United Kingdom take stock of their relationship with the EU, you should be proud that the EU has helped spread British values and practices across the continent and to its periphery. The European Union doesn't moderate British influence, it magnifies it.

Rewriting Physics

MIT Technology Review

About 10 years ago, Roger Shawyer said if you take a truncated cone and bounce microwaves back and forth inside it, the result is a thrust toward the narrow end of the cone. He called it the EmDrive.

A conceptual problem arises with momentum. The can's momentum increases as it begins to move. Critics said this was an obvious violation of the law of conservation of momentum.

Various teams around the world have built versions of the EmDrive and tested them. And it seems the EmDrive really does produce thrust. Last year, NASA conducted tests in a vacuum and confirmed that the EmDrive produces a thrust. So far, six independent experiments have agreed.

Mike McCulloch proposes a new theory of inertia to explain the seeming violation of conservation of momentum. He says inertia arises from a general relativistic effect called Unruh radiation. Inertia is the pressure Unruh radiation exerts on an accelerating body. At very small accelerations, the wavelengths become bigger than the observable universe. Then inertia takes quantized values.

Evidence for quantization may be the jumps in momentum observed in some spacecraft as they fly past Earth toward other planets. Testing this effect on Earth is hard because the accelerations involved are so small. One way forward is to shrink the allowed wavelengths of Unruh radiation.

If photons have inertial mass, they exchange momentum when they reflect. But the Unruh radiation is so small that it interacts with its immediate environment. In the case of the EmDrive, this is the truncated cone. The cone allows Unruh radiation of a longer wavelength at the large end and a shorter one at the small end. So the inertia of photons inside the cavity changes as they bounce back and forth. To conserve momentum, this must generate a thrust.

McCulloch's theory predicts the order of magnitude of thrust in the experiments done so far and makes two more predictions:
1 Placing a dielectric inside the cavity should enhance the effectiveness of the thruster.
2 Changing the dimensions of the cavity can reverse the direction of the thrust.

McCulloch: "This thrust reversal may have been seen in recent NASA experiments."

The theory makes two challenging assumptions:
1 Photons have inertial mass.
2 The speed of light changes within the cavity.

Testing quantized inertia on the EmDrive

AR Quantum effects on the margin of general relativity — here be dragons.

2016 April 21

QE2 @ 90

UK monarch Queen Elizabeth II turns 90 today. The other Elizabeth, my mother, was 19 months older but died aged 89.

The UK symbol of enduring sovereignty, at least for some. For the rest, nominal rule by unelected aristocrats is a strange thing
in a post-imperial world. Real sovereignty lies with Parliament, that nominally democratic body based on two bits of input
per voter per decade — a pitiable bandwidth in an online world. The UK would benefit from a political transformation.
Perhaps Brexit will trigger dissolution of the UK and its ancient (unwritten) constitution. Or perhaps the EU will
gradually take enough load off UK sovereignty to allow a smooth transition to a more modern polity.

Trump, Clinton win
big in New York


"Islam is a political ideology
that is not compatible with
the constitution."
AfD deputy leader
Beatrix von Storch

Waking Up
with Sam Harris
The Light of the Mind:
A Conversation with
David Chalmers

(podcast, 1 h 45 m)

AR Sam and Dave are
like the inner me. I could
have said it all — just less
fluently. Awesome, guys,
tremendous, wonderful
— thanks!

PDF, 202 pages, 8.1 MB

See the happy moron,
He doesn't give a damn,
I wish I were a moron,
My God! Perhaps I am!
Dorothy Parker

"I believe the loss of Britain
would destroy the European
Union. Without the counter-
weight of Britain, and with
France failing, German
economic hegemony will
prove political dynamite.
Our exit would throw the
whole project out of balance,
in the end fatally. These are
very, very dangerous times."
Matthew Parris





2016 April 20

European Timeline

The New York Times

January 1973: Britain joined the European Economic Community, a forerunner of the EU.

June 1975: 67% of British voters endorsed UK membership of the EEC in a referendum.

February 1992: Members of the European Community signed the Maastricht Treaty.

June 1992: Danish voters narrowly rejected the treaty, which needed unanimous approval.

May 1993: 57% of Danish voters accepted it in a second referendum.

September 1992: 51% of French voters said yes to the Maastricht Treaty.

June 2001: Irish voters rejected the Nice Treaty clearing the way for 12 new members.

October 2002: Irish voters overwhelmingly approved the treaty in a second vote.

September 2003: Swedes overwhelmingly rejected membership in the eurozone.

May 2005: French voters decisively rejected a draft EU constitution.

June 2005: Dutch voters did the same.

June 2008: Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty enacting parts of the draft constitution.

October 2009: Irish voters reversed themselves and voted in favor of the treaty.

April 2016: Dutch voters overwhelmingly rejected an EU agreement with Ukraine.

June 2016: British voters will either accept or reject continued UK membership of the EU.

AfD vs Islam

Stefan Kuzmany

Mit ihrer absurden Attacke auf den Islam will sich die AfD wieder in den Vordergrund spielen. Klar, hört man aus der AfD, Muslime dürfen Muslime bleiben. Aber bitte nur ganz privat. Denn ihre Religion sei eigentlich gar keine Religion, sondern eine politische Ideologie, ausgerichtet auf weltweite Machtübernahme.

Die AfD malt das Schreckensbild einer islamischen Invasion in Deutschland, einem Land, in dem Frauen bald nur noch vollverschleiert, wenn überhaupt, auf die Straße gehen dürfen, wo sie und ihre dann bärtigen Männer mehrmals täglich vom allgegenwärtigen Ruf des Muezzins zum Gebet genötigt werden. Und wenn einer mal etwas klaut, dann Hand ab, weil Scharia. Darum muss dieser gefährliche Islam schnell regimentiert und womöglich verboten werden, bevor es zu spät ist.

Man muss schon bedauerlich wenig Vertrauen in die Behauptungskraft der westlichen Kultur haben, um in solchen Alarmismus zu verfallen.


2016 April 19

Affront National

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Alternative für Deutschland Vorstandsmitglied Alexander Gauland verspüre keine besondere Neigung gegenüber Marine Le Pen, der Führerin des französischen Front National. Es gehe ihm um die Zusammenarbeit mit dem FN im Europaparlament. Da stehe die AfD wie der FN gegen die Idee einer immer enger werdenden Europäischen Union.

Europaabgeordnete aus Berlin und AfD-Vizeparteichefin Beatrix von Storch: "Der Front National ist sozialistisch, wir sind liberal. Der Front National ist nationalistisch, wir sind patriotisch."

Tatsächlich gibt es eine Reihe von Unterschieden zwischen der AfD und dem FN. Der FN will den Euro abschaffen, die AfD wünscht sich einen Nord-Euro der leistungsfähigen EU-Staaten. Der FN will die EU zerstören, die AfD sie grundsätzlich reformieren. Der FN kämpft gegen den Ultraliberalismus der Globalisierung und setzt auf eine Staatswirtschaft, die AfD streitet darum, wie sie es mit dem Freihandel hält. Der FN will aus der NATO austreten, die AfD fordert das bisher nicht.

In anderen Fragen allerdings gibt es viele Gemeinsamkeiten. Etwa, wenn es um die Nähe zu Russland geht, um Migranten oder die Gefahr der Islamisierung. Das Verbot von Minaretten, Muezzins und Vollverschleierung, das die AfD fordert, und die Charakterisierung des Islams als Fremdkörper in Europa kommen den Positionen des FN sehr nahe.

Gauland will die AfD sozialprotektionistisch ausrichten und mit einer klaren Absage an den Islam und die Einwanderung von Migranten weiter Wahlen gewinnen. Das ist letztlich das Erfolgsrezept des FN.

Jörg Meuthen, der Ko-Parteichef aus Baden-Württemberg und Frontmann des wirtschaftsliberalen Flügels, hat Gaulands freundliche Einlassung gegenüber dem FN als Affront empfunden.

Geht es nach de
m nordrhein-westfälische Landeschef und Europaabgeordneten Marcus Pretzell, soll der Bundesparteitag bald entscheiden, welcher Fraktion die AfD zukünftig angehören soll.

AfD-Parteichefin Frauke Petry hat sich zum Thema FN öffentlich nicht geäußert.


2016 April 18

Vote In

George Osborne

A Treasury analysis shows that under all plausible alternatives to British membership of the EU we would have a less open and interconnected economy, not just with Europe but, crucially, with the rest of the world. A Canadian-style post-Brexit deal with Europe would cause the UK economy to shrink by 6% by 2030. There would be less trade, less investment and less business. Britain would be permanently poorer.

Those advocating exit have miscalculated their negotiating hand: While 44% of British exports go to the EU, less than 8% of their exports come to us. They must engage in the issues rather than complaining endlessly about process. This is too important a question for Britain for them to pass on the answers. Every time they cry wolf about Project Fear, they only expose how weak and friendless their case is.

There would be enormous costs for our public finances, far outweighing the little over one pence in every one pound in taxes raised that we contribute net to the EU. There would not be more money to spend on the NHS, defense, and the like. There would be far less. The conclusion is clear: For Britain's economy and for families, leaving the EU would be the most extraordinary self-inflicted wound.

AR When the Roman Empire retreated from Britannia, centuries of poverty and cutural darkness followed. We should be glad the renewed Holy Roman Empire now graces our island polity.

2016 April 17

Brexit: Happy Morons

Niall Ferguson

The IMF warns that Brexit could do severe regional and global damage by disrupting established trading relation­ships. The Bank of England warns that concerns about Brexit might lead to some softening in growth during the first half of 2016. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Deutsche Bank all say Brexit will hurt the UK economy.

Daniel Hannan tells us nothing will change, the short-term effects will be slight, and no jobs will be lost. But then he says a great deal will change, because the EU is an undemocratic superstate that is strangling British economic life with regulations. He says Brexit would liberate Britain from a federalist EU yet leave it free to enjoy its free trade zone.

Access to the single market is limited for non-EU members unless they accept EU regulations. Either British bankers, car makers and so on will be freed from EU regulations, in which case British exports to the EU will be reduced, or they will not, in which case all a Brexit vote achieves is to remove the UK from the process of making those regulations.

In 2015 Q4, the UK current account deficit hit a record 7% of GDP. That needs to be financed. But the risk of Brexit is already acting like a flashing red light to foreign investors. LSE economists say leaving the EU could reduce foreign direct investment in the UK by 22% and real income by 3.4%. Sterling is down 12% against the euro since November. Nomura estimates that sterling could depreciate by a further 10%-15% after a vote to leave.

Only a happy moron would ignore these dangers.

Mathematical Dreams

Michael Atiyah

The crazy part of mathematics is when an idea appears in your head. The idea floats in from heaven knows where. When you try to freeze it, put it into a solid frame, or make it face reality, then it vanishes. It gets replaced by a structure, capturing certain aspects, but a clumsy interpretation.

Dreams happen during the daytime, they happen at night. You can call them a vision or intuition. Basically they are a state of mind, a very primordial feeling. And again, if you try to grasp it, it always dies. So when you wake up in the morning, some vague residue lingers, the ghost of an idea.

A lot of mathematics is predictable. Somebody shows you how to solve one problem, and you do the same thing again. Every now and again, somebody comes along with a totally new idea and shakes everybody up. Mathematics has continuous development, and then it has discontinuous jumps, when suddenly somebody has a new idea. Those are the ideas that really matter. When you get them, they have major consequences.

People think mathematics begins when you write down a theorem followed by a proof. For me the creative place in mathematics comes before you start to put things down on paper, before you try to write a formula. You picture various things, you turn them over in your mind. There are no rules laid down. You have to do it your own way.

2016 April 16

Remain Calm

Tom Railton

To accuse the Britain Stronger In Europe (BSE) campaign of being dull and lacking passion is to misunderstand how the referendum will be won.

The prize in this referendum is the legion of the disinterested and half-engaged. Normal people respond to the EU with a shrug of the shoulders and a weary sigh of resignation that, yes, they will probably have to formulate an opinion on this at some point. An emotional case is likely to convince them that the wild-eyed proposer is a bit unhinged.

People who argue for a more emotional case want stirring rhetoric, the power of the big idea, the universal truth. But normal people do not feel their strongest emotions about abstract political ideas, they feel them about their families, friends and communities. Emotion is specific, not general.

Many failed political campaigns were run by people who cared far too much about politics. The electorate mistrusts ardent passion.


New Scientist

Hostility to migration is an animating force for many who want the UK to leave the European Union.

Migration has made us what we are today: an increasingly globalized society. Much of our economy and governance is shared across increasingly large chunks of the world.

Efforts to free the movement of goods and services and capital have left labor under a patchwork of national controls. Voters fear immigrants will steal their jobs and reduce their prosperity. In fact immigrants expand economies and raise prosperity.

The UK government vows to slash immigration and balance the books. It cannot do both at once. Avoiding a budget deficit requires an influx of young, hard-working and tax-paying immigrants.

The other factor is tribalism. People accustomed to cultural uniformity fear the arrival of incomers who are different. But the history of cultural mixing shows this need not prevent peaceful coexistence.

An intergovernmental agency to collect data and formulate global rules is long overdue.

AR Leave the UN to regulate an issue that makes voters angry?

Red Army Tanks

Achtung Panzer

In March 1944, the first IS-2 Stalin tanks were proved in action. More than 3,000 were built before Victory Day. Panzer General Hasso von Manteuffel called the IS-2 the best tank of WW2.

The ISU-152 assault gun was based on the IS-2 and armed with a 152 mm howitzer. It was nicknamed "Animal Hunter" and its AP round could penetrate Tiger frontal armor.

During the war, the Soviet Union built more than 125,000 AFVs. Germany built some 89,000 AFVs and only 2,000 of them were Tigers and King Tigers. There was no chance for Germany to win the war on the Eastern Front against the power of the Red Army.

Ian McEwan

Janan Ganesh

During a lecture on identity in London two weeks ago, Ian McEwan said: "It makes a difference whether you have an X or Y chromosome." This upset many transgender people and campaigners. He later clarified his remarks with the weariness of someone who has endured such squalls before.

McEwan does not seem built for controversy. The comments that provoke usually flow from his interest in science. His novels are known more for set pieces and narrative control than didactic politics. That scientific bent grounds him in doubt, evidence and other scourges of ideology.

We Are Zombies

New Scientist

Our sense of free will appears only after the fact. Our brains add loops to our mental timeline that let us feel we can predict things that in reality have already happened.

Adam Bear and Paul Bloom let volunteers look at five white blobs and silently guess which one would turn red. Once a blob had changed color, they reported whether or not they had predicted correctly.

Over many trials, their reported accuracy was significantly better than 1 in 5. With delays before a blob turned red ranging from 50 ms to 1 s, accuracy was up to 1 in 3 when the delays were shortest, as if seeing the red blob influenced predictions still in progress.

The research highlights the fictions we tell ourselves about free will. Bear: "We are essentially zombie agents most of the time."

AR My opinion: The brain gives us a quick glimpse of sense impressions before processing is complete just in case we need to respond to an urgent threat, then the cortex does its thing and we sense a fully processed scene. My evidence: Look quickly at the moving second hand on a clock. For one beat the hand seems to move backwards, then goes forward as usual. We glimpse a raw scene, then get the full cortical view, which overlays the memory on the mental timeline.

2016 April 15

EU: In or Out?

Bournemouth University
11 am — 3 pm

In: Julie Girling, MEP for South West England and Gibraltar
Out: Martin Houlden, former UKIP PPC for Bournemouth West
Chair: AR

EU Referendum

Alastair Campbell

The IMF, the OECD, the CBI, and the governor of the Bank of England have all made strong and clear arguments against a British exit from the EU. Yet many people choose not to believe them.

The danger for the Remainers is that the Leavers manage to attract the undecided who do not know what to believe. The Remainers have to flip the issue of disbelief. We believe our friends. Over the next two months the real battle is going to be fought in homes and workplaces as people turn to friends and family, bosses and colleagues, people they trust and respect.

Remain and Reform EU

George Eaton

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn: "The case I'm making is for remain and reform in Europe."

He compared his case with that to remain in Labour throughout the Blair years, an institution he has since changed from within. His message to the left was that they can achieve similar feats in Brussels. His verdict: "Britain needs to stay in the EU as the best framework for trade, manufacturing, and cooperation in 21st century Europe."

Corbyn is no EU evangelist. But referendums are won or lost on the votes of the waverers.

UK Threat

Benjamin Jones

Among British Muslims, about a quarter support the imposition of sharia law in the UK, a half would criminalize same-sex relationships, three quarters say there should be no right to publish images of Mohammed, and as many (4%) support the right to publish pictures of Mohammed as sympathize with suicide bombers.

Muslims have a young age profile, the Muslim population is growing rapidly, and Islam is almost always passed on from parents to children. Apostates face abuse, death threats and murders. They need our support.

2016 April 14

Daesh Barbarism

John Gray

The rise of Daesh confounds the predominant Western view of the world. For the current generation of liberal thinkers, Daesh can only be a mysterious and disastrous anomaly.

Daesh acts of barbarism have modern precedents. The Nazis exploited a medieval Christian demonology in their persecution and genocide of Jews, but Nazism also invoked a modern pseudoscience of race to legitimate these atrocities. The increase of knowledge has repeatedly interacted with human conflicts and passions to produce new kinds of barbarism.

A transnational crime cartel, rapidly expanding apocalyptic cult movement, and worldwide terror network like Daesh could have emerged only in modern conditions of globalization. Though its eschatological beliefs are explicitly religious, Daesh is the latest example of a recurring modern phenomenon.

Civilization is not the endpoint of modern history, but a succession of interludes in recurring spasms of barbarism. The liberal civilization that has prevailed in some Western countries over the past few centuries emerged slowly and with difficulty against the background of a particular mix of traditions and institutions. Precarious wherever it has existed, it is a way of life that has no strong hold on humankind.

Liberal civilization is a historical singularity that is inherently fragile. Defending it against Daesh requires a clear perception that Daesh will have to be defeated and destroyed.

Finnish Meteorological Institute
Electric sail concept

Imperial/Beckley Foundation

"My big book is next to do."

Mission Accomplished

SpaceX has landed a Falcon
rocket on a pad on a drone
ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
SpaceX launched the rocket
from Cape Canaveral to send
a Dragon cargo capsule to the
International Space Station.

Steve Dipaola
Sea Hunter
US robot sub hunter diesel
trimaran prototype can stay
at sea for months on end.

$2 Billion AI Chip

The Nvidia Tesla P100 chip
is designed for deep learning.
Google AlphaGo used deep
learning to master the game
Go. Artificial neural networks
for deep learning today use
chips originally designed for
video game graphics.
Nvidia sees a market
for custom chips.

 Taxpayers of the World,

Foreign Policy

The Panama papers confirm
that the global elite cheats,
lies, and steals. Will the
masses rise up in


World leaders, criminals,
and billionaire sheikhs have
poured hundreds of millions of
pounds into London properties.
The Panama papers show the
UK capital is the go-to place
for wealthy foreigners and criminals to protect their
anonymity and assets.

 US Naval Museum
of Armament and Technology
China Lake, California

Naval Air Warfare Center
Weapons Division is recognized
for a number of firsts. NASA
occasionally calls on NAWCWD
to lend expertise to projects
of national importance.

AR Must visit.

"My video will be awesome!"

Clickthru version
without talkover

(2010, 2.6 MB)


"We can't be the policeman to
the world and have $19 trillion in
debt, going up to $21 trillion."
Donald Trump

My Politics
Donald Trump talks with
the Washington Post

"Call me old-fashioned, but
I tend to think of people
with penises as men."
Ian McEwan

Tata Steel

Tata accuses David Cameron
of sleepwalking into the steel
crisis by helping China to block
EU efforts to increase tariffs
on its cheap imports.


2016 April 13

Breakthrough Starshot


Stephen Hawking, Mark Zuckerberg, and Yuri Milner make up the board of directors for Breakthrough Starshot, a $100 million program to send "nanocraft" to explore star system Alpha Centauri.

Hawking: "Today, we commit to this next great leap into the cosmos. Because we are human, and our nature is to fly."

The project is led by NASA Ames Research Center former director Pete Worden and advised by a committee of top scientists and engineers. They hope to build hundreds of little space probes, each weighing just a few grams and carrying cameras, photon thrusters, power supply, navigation and communication equipment. A rocket would ferry these nanocraft into space, where they would unfold tiny sails.

Powerful laser beams from Earth would then push the sails, propelling the little nanocraft up to 0.2c (20% of light speed) to Alpha Centauri, where they would collect images and other data and beam them back to Earth. The Alpha Centauri star system is about 41 Pm (4.4 light years) away, so the nanocraft could reach Alpha Centauri in about 630 Ms (20 years).

Milner: "The human story is one of great leaps. Fifty-five years ago today [April 12], Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Today, we are preparing for the next great leap — to the stars."

Mars In 30 Minutes

Tech Times

A laser propulsion system could complete a trip to Mars in 30 days (2.6 Ms). In principle the travel time could be reduced to 30 minutes (2 ks). A small spacecraft would be launched into space and deploy a large photon sail. An immensely powerful laser orbiting Earth would fire a beam at the sail, propelling the craft. In theory it could accelerate to 0.5c (25% light speed) in a few minutes.

University of California physics professor Philip Lubin: "We propose a roadmap to a program that will lead to sending relativistic probes to the nearest stars and will open up a vast array of possibilities of flight both within our solar system and far beyond. These systems can be propelled to speeds currently unimaginable with existing propulsion technologies."

Electric Sails


The NASA Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transport System (HERTS) concept builds upon the electric sail invention of Finnish meteorologist Pekka Janhunen of the Finnish Meteorological Institute. A large circular e-sail made of long thin bare wires electrostatically repels fast solar protons, which generates thrust. Extending outward from the center of the spacecraft, 10 to 20 electrically charged bare aluminum wires form the e-sail. Each wire is 1 mm in diameter and 30 km long. The spacecraft rotates at one revolution per hour so that centrifugal forces stretch the wires out straight. The e-sail has a large effective area at long ranges: about 60 kha at 1 AU and twice this at 5 AU. Engineers can steer the spacecraft by modulating voltage in the individual wires in the sail.

NASA principal investigator for the HERTS e-sail Bruce Wiegmann: "The sun releases protons and electrons into the solar wind at very high speeds — 400 to 750 km per second. The e-sail would use these protons to propel the spacecraft. With the continuous flow of protons, and the increased area, the e-sail will continue to accelerate to 16-20 AU, at least three times farther than the solar sail. This will create much higher speeds. Our investigation has shown that an interstellar probe mission propelled by an e-sail could travel to the heliopause in just under 10 years."

2016 April 12

Brexit: IMF Warning

Chris Giles

The International Monetary Fund warns of "severe" damage on the UK and world economy if a majority of Brits vote to leave the EU on June 23. The IMF cites the referendum as one of the main risks to global economic stability. All the IMF board members ratified the view.

IMF chief economist Maurice Obstfeld: "The planned June referendum on EU membership has already created uncertainty for investors."

The IMF says the referendum is already hitting the UK by lowering investment. If the UK votes to remain in the EU, the forecasts show the UK again as one of the world's stronger advanced economies. If the UK votes to leave the EU, the IMF sees no positive consequences.

UK chancellor George Osborne: "The IMF has given us the clearest independent warning of the taste of bad things to come if Britain leaves the EU."


The Guardian

New scans reveal the profound impact of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on the brain. Volunteers injected with a dose of the psychedelic drug showed changes that altered activity and connectivity across the brain, suggesting new theories of visual hallucinations and trip experiences.

Trippers experience images drawn from many parts of the brain, not just visual cortex. Under the drug, regions once segregated communicate with one another. Some brain regions that usually form a network become more separated in a feeling of oneness with the universe and ego dissolution.

David Nutt: "This is to neuroscience what the Higgs boson was to particle physics. We didn't know how these profound effects were produced. It was too difficult to do. Scientists were either scared or couldn't be bothered to overcome the enormous hurdles to get this done."

Nutt and Robin Carhart-Harris invited 20 healthy volunteers to attend a clinic on two separate days. One day they received an injection of 75 μg of LSD and on the other a placebo. Using three brain imaging techniques, arterial spin labeling, resting state MRI, and MEG, the scientists measured blood flow, functional connections within and between brain networks, and brainwaves in the subjects.

Carhart-Harris: "This experience is sometimes framed in a religious or spiritual way, and seems to be associated with improvements in wellbeing after the drug's effects have subsided."

AR My 1973 trip led to my 2009 book Mindworlds.

2016 April 11

The Man Who Knew Infinity

New Scientist

Srinivasa Ramanujan was an untrained genius who a hundred years ago travelled from his home in Madras, India, to the UK to study mathematics at the University of Cambridge.

Like The Theory of Everything about Stephen Hawking and The Imitation Game about Alan Turing, The Man Who Knew Infinity attempts to give us a glimpse of an unknowable mind traversing the realm of abstract thought.

Cambridge mathematician G. H. Hardy recognized Ramanujan's potential and invited him to the UK. Once there, Ramanujan had to overcome British weather, racism, and a lack of good vegetarian food. Trinity College serves as a backdrop for most of the film.

Ramanujan rages at atheist Hardy during one argument over the need for proof: "An equation has no meaning to me unless it expresses a thought of god."

Mathematician Ken Ono, who has made a career of studying Ramanujan's notebooks, served as a consultant on the movie. It plays safe.

AR I saw both this movie and the Hawking one (for the first time) over the weekend.

2016 April 10

Global Finances

The Observer

The revelations in the leaked Panama papers have big implications for governments and businesses worldwide. The papers show how Mossack Fonseca helped the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad hide away vast amounts of cash and how Vladimir Putin sits in a billion-dollar money laundering network.

It is not enough to say the rich get richer and the meek inherit the mess. Dictators, criminals, and human rights abusers aside, the names of a host of political leaders and administrators, banks and businesses, and celebrities and sportspeople appear in the papers. We expect better of them.

In the 2008 financial crash, some of the biggest British, American and European banks and financial institutions plunged much of the world into austerity and recession. Since then, western governments continue to tolerate and facilitate the opportunistic and often illegal exploitation of a global financial system that lacks agreed rules and effective regulation.

A new body overseen by the UN should set rules, enforce standards, scrutinize questionable transactions, and expose and punish the unscrupulous miscreants and their cheating clients.

AR Form GO and do it right.

2016 April 9

Brexit Kabuki

Andrew Moravcsik

The Brexit debate is kabuki, a common Washington metaphor for stylized but meaningless posturing. Politicians call referendums to get out of domestic political jams.

The UK prime minister needed to stage a negotiation in which he appeared to wring concessions out of other European governments. This proved a challenge. There are few principled issues where London suffers outside the European consensus.

His faux negotiation ushered in the referendum. The Remain camp seems likely to prevail. The opposition, business, foreign investors, and most educated commentators all back the government, and in referendums undecided voters tend to favor the status quo.

Britain looks unlikely to exit Europe even if its citizens voted to do so. The government would probably negotiate a new agreement, like the old one, disguise it in opaque language and ratify it. Renegotiation inside the EU would be almost inevitable.

The lesson is simple. Europe is real because globalization is real. Even politicians who have mastered kabuki must sooner or later face reality.

2016 April 8

Global History

Sam Harris and Dan Carlin

SH The phenomenon that most worries me is the fact that you can be someone without any political grievances and an Internet meme gets into your head. A person may have been born Muslim or not, but at a certain point he read the books and goes down the rabbit hole. The moment you accept that millions of people believe in Paradise, you must admit the game has changed.

DC The vast majority of Islamic folks are embarrassed and horrified by the whole thing and are getting blowback in their own personal lives. The people who are going to win this war for us are Muslim. So anything we do that alienates them is counterproductive in the end.

SH Islamists are people who are trying to impose Islam on society politically. They want a state religion wherever they live, to be obliged to live under Sharia law. Jihadists are the subset of Islamists who are willing to do this through violence immediately. The broader set of Islamists just want to do it through some political process, but the goal is Sharia law for everyone.

DC The question is, how far are you willing to go in a crusade.

SH We need some global institution that marshals the appropriate use of force. We are talking about the problem of building and maintaining a global civilization.

AR We need Globorg. See Coral.

2016 April 7

European Union

Peter Wilson

For a full millennium the areas that are now Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands were encompassed by the Holy Roman Empire, which also extended across most of Italy, and parts of France, Denmark, and Poland.

The Empire emerged from an alliance between the papacy and Charlemagne, who was crowned in Rome on Christmas Day 800. Both parties presented it as a direct continuation of the Roman Empire. It was the political guardian of a universal Christian civilization.

The Empire collapsed in 1806, brought down by relentless French aggression. Its history belies the assumption that Europe has been and always will be a continent of distinct peoples, each inhabiting their own country defined by language, culture, and political organization.

The rise of the state is a story of kings and queens, statesmen and others, credited with creating institutions, passing laws, adding ideas and so on. External wars became struggles to delineate each state. Civil wars and revolutions were about the social distribution of power within the state. But attempts to articulate identity fragmented populations into ever smaller groups.

The European Union is intended to overcome the most destructive aspects of nationalism by providing a framework in which sovereign states can cooperate. Its fundamental weakness is that it is constructed from states still considered as sovereign and inhabited by distinct peoples. Its "democratic deficit" and the lack of a meaningful European identity arise because democratic rights and citizenship are determined by national constitutions.

The contradictions inherent in the EU between national sovereignty and political union have been obvious since the financial crash of 2008 and the eurozone crisis. But sovereignty has already been irrevocably undermined by other global forces. The old conception of the state is rapidly losing its practical relevance.

Historically, European national states offered uniform citizenship and uniform obligations, notably in taxation and in blood through the duty to defend their state. The scale of war grew in the century after 1850 because states learned to marshal their populations into mass armies to fight bigger wars. Today there is no appetite for the level of sacrifice witnessed in those wars, and the economic forms needed for them are no longer present.

The nation state is a transient form of political organization. The recent spasm of nationalism in Europe, from Poland to France, is a reaction to the migrant crisis and terrorism. But nations cannot solve these problems on their own. They need to integrate.

2016 April 6

Climate Change: Deadline 2017

Martin Wolf

Power generation infrastructure is responsible for a quarter of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In the EU, 29% of thermal power plants are more than 30 years old and 61% are more than 20 years old. Because CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries, we need to think not of annual flows but of cumulative emissions and a global carbon budget.

In a new ScienceDirect paper, four Oxford academics use Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) data to ask how we can keep global temperature increase below 2 K. If new generating plants are operated to the end of their normal economic lives, they say capital stock created after 2017 would break the global carbon budget.

Reduced emissions from other activities cannot help much. Decarbonization of power generation is the best way to decarbonize transport, via new electric vehicles.

Power generation options:
1 An immediate shift to zero-emissions (ZE) tech
2 Retrofit the stock with carbon capture and storage (CCS) tech
3 Replace new capital stock with ZE capacity early in its life
4 Deploy new tech to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere

AR I say go nuclear now, go solar later.

Obama on Brexit

Daniel Finkelstein

President Harry Truman, 1947: "It must be the policy of the United States to support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."

The Truman Doctrine began with funds for Greece and Turkey. It continued with the Marshall Plan, the Berlin airlift, and NATO. It worked: the Soviet Union collapsed.

From the earliest days of the doctrine, America has urged European unity. Marshall Plan architect Dean Acheson worked with European community pioneer Jean Monnet and agreed on European union.

The Truman Doctrine made the organization of Europe part of US national interest. So of course President Obama will have a view about whether Britain should remain in the EU.

London Mayor

George Galloway

London needs a leader. I don't think that either of the mainstream party candidates are leaders. Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson were slightly out of the ordinary figures.

A germ of extremism and sectarianism infects a minority of the Muslim ummah. In Britain, thousands of extremists carry within them a sectarian and fanatic interpretation of Islam, which is deeply damaging to Islam, to themselves, and of course to the innocent people who they harm.

It was always a big ask for a Pakistani called Sadiq Khan to be elected, because of the terrible levels of Islamophobia that exist. He's a very poor speaker, he has very little presence. He has alienated people who might otherwise have voted for him.

Jeremy Corbyn will be challenged. Khan would be handpicked to deliver the bullet. He'd be the man in the proverbial grey suit, and I think Corbyn knows that.

2016 April 5

European Union

Yanis Varoufakis

The notion that no small country can be sovereign threatens democracy. This notion is not reserved for countries like Greece but is today being peddled in the UK for the Remain campaign.

The problem begins once the distinction between sovereignty and power is blurred. Sovereignty is about who decides legitimately on behalf of a people.

An alliance of states like the EU can arrange a defensive military alliance, coordinate police forces, open borders, agree common industry standards, or create a single market. But it can never legitimately overrule the sovereignty of one of its member states on the basis of the power granted by the sovereign states that agreed to participate in it.

Within the EU, a national parliament is sovereign in theory even if the nation is not particularly powerful. In practice, the European Council and the Eurogroup of finance ministers are not answerable to any parliament, nor indeed to any voting citizens.

North Europeans often say all the frugal and cautious Europeans live in the north, while the spendthrifts congregate in the south. The reality is much more muddled. A mighty network of corrupt practices extends over all our countries. A lack of democracy helps hide it from public view.

I support Britain remaining in the EU. The union will disintegrate even if a small country like Greece leaves, let alone a big one like Britain. Its disintegration will create a vortex that consumes us all.

2016 April 4

How did we end up here?

Charlie Hebdo

Tariq Ramadan lectures about Islam. He debates the need to adapt secularism to religion in Western democracy, to accept traditions imported by minority communities. His task is to dissuade people from criticizing his religion in any way. The students who hear him will never dare to confront Islam, lest they appear Islamophobic.

Take this veiled woman. She is courageous and dignified, devoted to her family and her children. She harms no one. Even those women who wear the full body veil do not generally use their clothing to hide bombs. They too will do nothing wrong.

The local baker has just bought the nearby bakery. He makes good croissants. He always has a ready smile for all his customers. Neither his long beard nor the little prayer-bruise on his forehead (a sign of his great piety) bother his clientele. They are too busy eating his lunchtime sandwiches. No more ham nor bacon, but there are plenty of other options on offer. So it would be silly to make a fuss.

Take this young delinquent. He has never looked at the Quran in his life, he knows little of the history of religion, of colonialism, nor a great deal about his Maghreb forefathers. This lad and a couple of his buddies order a taxi to Brussels airport.

Everyone contributes to what is about to happen in the airport or metro of Brussels. All of us submit to the fear of controversy and the dread of being treated as a racist or an Islamophobe. From the bakery that forbids you to eat what you like, to the woman who forbids you to say you are troubled by her veil, we are being forced into retreat.

Panama Papers

CNN Money

Elected leaders and top officials from around the world are responding with denials and outrage to allegations that they used secret offshore companies and accounts to hide billions of dollars. More than 11 million leaked documents allegedly show that Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca helped set up secret shell companies and offshore accounts for prominent people across Europe, Asia, the Mideast, Africa, and the Americas.

AR I wear my poverty with pride. No laundry service for me!

2016 April 3

Trump: NATO Obsolete, UN Political Game

The New York Times

Donald J. Trump says other NATO members are "not paying their fair share" in comparison with the United States: "That means we are protecting them, giving them military protection and other things, and they're ripping off the United States. And you know what we do? Nothing. Either they have to pay up for past deficiencies or they have to get out. And if it breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO."

On letting Japan and South Korea build their own nuclear arsenals rather than relying on US protection: "We have to let them take care of themselves and if that means they have to some day get nuclear weapons ... And frankly, the case could be made, that let them protect themselves against North Korea. They'd probably wipe them out pretty quick."

Trump: "By the way, United Nations ... Do they ever settle anything? It's just like a political game. The United Nations — I mean the money we spend on the United Nations."

AR World War 2 left the United States (plus a dying British Empire) and the Soviet Union (plus a nascent China) victorious and Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan defeated. The UN was founded in 1945 and NATO in 1949. Now it may be time for a new world order in which Germany and Japan emerge from US tutelage and become regular states.

The UN Security Council permanent members (P5) are presently China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Kicking France and the United Kingdom off the P5 and putting in Japan and Germany would be one way to persuade Japan and Germany to "pay their way" in a new world order based on nation states.

AR proposes a Global Order (GO) with a Regional Council R7 to replace P5:
  1 America, led by the United States
  2 Europe, led by the European Union (with a veto for the UK?)
  3 Central Asia, led by Russia (with a veto for Iran?)
  4 Mideast and Africa, left vacant while they sort themselves out
  5 South Asia, led by India (with a veto for Pakistan?)
  6 East Asia, led by China (with a veto for Vietnam?)
  7 Pacific, led by Japan (with a veto for Australia?)

2016 April 2


Norbert Röttgen

The Daesh goal in Brussels was to scare and divide Europeans. In Germany and elsewhere, nationalist parties are calling for a turn inward. The appeal to emotion plays into terrorist hands.

In the Mideast, we must distinguish the people fleeing war and terror in Syria or Iraq from the radical militants there. The Brussels attacks were carried out by EU citizens. Winning requires reaching out to European Muslims.

Europe is becoming less vital for the United States. President Obama sees the ME region as less important to US interests than the challenge of China and the rise of Asia and Latin America.

The European Union must take on more responsibility for shaping the Mideast by:

1 Committing money to the region. We must improve conditions in refugee camps in countries like Jordan and Lebanon. We must invest more in the ME economic future.

2 Shaping a unified ME policy. We should work with the United States to persuade Russia to allow the creation of UN humanitarian zones in Syria. We would then contribute troops to an international peacekeeping mission.

3 Preserving the transatlantic partnership. More US help on refugees would be welcome. As the United States pivots away from the Mideast, Europe will have to take over.

We cannot let terrorism tear Europe apart.

2016 April 1

Islamabad Nukes

The Times

Small battlefield nuclear weapons developed by Pakistan could fall into the hands of terrorists if the country does not do more to secure its arsenal.

US USoS for arms control and international security Rose Gottemoeller: "We have made our concerns known and we will continue to press them about what we consider to be the destabilizing aspects of their battlefield nuclear weapons program."

Pakistani senior military advisor Khalid Ahmed Kidwai: "We are not apologetic about the development of the tactical nuclear weapons. They are here to stay."

AR Next year: "Trump Nukes Pak Nukes" perhaps?


Emily Ratajkowski

However sexual our bodies may be, we need to have the freedom as women to choose when and how we express our sexuality. We are more than just our bodies, but that doesn't mean we have to be shamed for them or our sexuality. Even if being sexualized by society's gaze is demeaning, there must be a space where women can still be sexual when they choose to be.

AR Men too?

Refugee in Greece


Niall Ferguson

US president Barack Obama
says killing the Daesh caliph
is a top goal of the final year
of his presidency.

Daesh is a network. You cannot
decapitate it. The theory of
six degrees of separation says
you know someone who knows
someone who knows someone
who knows someone who knows
someone who knows the caliph.

Think of Daesh as the Facebook
of Islamic extremism. Even a
hundred drone strikes against
its supposed leaders would not
destroy it. They might even
strengthen it by reinforcing
its martyrdom mania.

Iraq surge commander
General Stanley McChrystal:
"It takes a network to
defeat a network."



2016 March 31

The Right To Be Forgotten

David Aaronovitch

Human beings need to be able to conduct their lives without constant scrutiny and reminders of their follies and mistakes. But if information is in the public domain the public has the right to see it and to find it on the internet. The right to be forgotten is like letting people take a pair of scissors to the index of every book in the world.

First Amendment rights should trump those to privacy. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are the primary safeguards against secrecy, abuse of power and tyranny. Large internet companies devise the algorithms that govern the way we gather knowledge. The fact that they have a North American sensibility makes them immune to intimidation by the rest of the world.

Repatriation of decisions now taken by multinational companies such as Google is of more benefit to authoritarians than it is to the rest of us. European democrats moaning about the sins of Big Cyber should be careful what they wish for. Young Americans have done a pretty good job of opening up the world of information and free expression.

2016 March 30

Foreign Policy

Donald Trump

The biggest problem in the world is nuclear proliferation. The Iran deal is not long enough, because at the end of the deal they're going to have nuclear capability. They are now rich, and they're buying from everybody but the United States. Iran is the #1 trading partner of North Korea. We just did a deal with them, and we didn't even mention North Korea. Part of that deal should have been that Iran would help us with North Korea.

The reason we're in the Mideast is for oil. And all of a sudden there's less reason to be. Now we're in the Mideast for defense. I was against the war in Iraq. I thought it would destabilize the Mideast, and it has destabilized it. Iraq is totally corrupt. We destroyed the military capability of Iraq and destroyed Iraq, and Iran is now going to take over Iraq. We should have taken the oil.

Saddam Hussein was a bad guy but he was good at one thing: Killing terrorists. Now if you want to be a terrorist you go to Iraq. I said take the oil, but now we have a different situation because now we have to go in again and start fighting. Now I say knock the hell out of the oil.

We are not being reimbursed for our protection of many countries. Saudi Arabia would be a catastrophic failure without our protection. We have to be substantially reimbursed. Our country is a debtor nation. We spend so much on the military, but the military is policeman for other countries.

I have two problems with NATO. One, it's obsolete. When NATO was formed many decades ago we were a different country. The threat was the Soviet Union, not Russia. We should be looking at terror, because terror today is the big threat. Two, we pay far too much. NATO is unfair, economically, to the United States. We pay a disproportionate share. NATO has to be changed to include terror and from the standpoint of cost.

I support a two-state solution on Israel. But the Palestinian Authority has to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. And they have to stop the terror, stop the attacks, stop the teaching of hatred. You have to get those basic things done.

I want a strong United States. Before I worry about China I have to worry about the United States. We have lost millions of jobs. And the jobs that we have are bad jobs. It has to be stopped, fast. I know how to stop it.

I am America First. We have been disrespected, mocked, and ripped off for many years. We were the big bully, but we were not smartly led. And we were systematically ripped off by everybody. From China to Japan to South Korea to the Mideast. The whole thing is preposterous. We will not be ripped off anymore.

One of the presidents that I really liked was Ronald Reagan. But NAFTA has been a disaster for our country. I was a fan of Douglas MacArthur. I was a fan of George Patton. I know the Air Force Academy and West Point and Annapolis, I know that great people come out of those schools. We need a different mind set.

2016 March 29


Der Spiegel

Daesh has created an infrastructure in Europe. The Brussels bombers had been involved in the Paris attacks and they could call on experts for logistics, explosives, and communications.

Belgium has a fractured administration, a confused government, and an inefficient bureaucracy. The constitution has been reformed several times and central power is weak. There is a Flemish prime minister, a Wallonian prime minister, and a prime minister for all of Belgium. It takes months to form a Belgian government. The country resembles a failed state.

The Brussels metropolitan area has a population of 1.1 million, divided up among 19 municipalities and 6 police districts. The European district sticks out like a UFO. The police and security services are busy guarding the headquarters of NATO and the EU governing bodies: the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Council.

Former mayor of Molenbeek and former Belgian interior minister Philippe Moureaux: "Unfortunately, Europe is developing into a large Belgium, instead of Belgium developing into a small Europe."

2016 March 28

European Errors

Wolfgang Münchau

The European Union was wrong to construct a single currency without a proper banking union. It was wrong to muddle through the eurozone crisis. EU leaders failed to generate public support for deeper union.

The EU can deal with only one big crisis at a time. The output of several eurozone countries has yet to return to pre-crisis levels. The Greek economy continues to contract, and refugees have been trapped in Greece in ever greater numbers. Security was hit by austerity as governments found it easier to cut spending on the police and military than on social programs.

The EU has suffered a loss of trust and political capital. If the EU fails to solve problems, people hesitate to give it new powers. Populist parties on the left and the right are exploiting its failures. This frustrates good ideas for further steps toward European integration, such as central agencies to coordinate the fight against terrorism and to deal with the influx of refugees.

The EU choice to muddle through the financial crisis was a catastrophic policy error. It has not only given us an economic depression but also destroyed public confidence in the EU and in European integration.

2016 March 27


Sergey Lavrov

Russia has a special role in European and global history. Adoption of Christianity in 988 CE boosted state institutions and in time made Rus a member of the European community. The Russian state that emerged was later seen as the successor to the Byzantine Empire that ended in 1453 CE.

Peter the Great made Russia into a leading European country in a little over two decades. In the Seven Years War, Russian troops made a triumphal entry into Berlin, the capital of Prussia. Russian power and influence grew substantially under Catherine the Great.

For the past two centuries, any attempts to unite Europe without and against Russia have led tragedy. Emperor Alexander I took an active role in the 1815 Vienna Congress that ended the Napoleonic Wars. After Russia was defeated in the Crimean War, Prussia defeated France and a chain of events led to the First World War. That war led to the collapse of four empires.

The 1917 Russian Revolution and the ensuing civil war and Second World War were terrible tragedies for our nation. European elites unleashed the Nazi war machine on the Soviet Union. The notion of the clash of two totalitarianisms now pushed in Europe is groundless and immoral. The Soviet Union, for all its evils, never aimed to destroy entire nations. Winston Churchill said that living in accordance with conscience is the Russian way of doing things.

After the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet Union influenced the formation of welfare states in the West. The next 40 years were a surprisingly good time for Western Europe, which was spared the need to make its own major decisions under the umbrella of the US-Soviet confrontation and enjoyed unique opportunities for steady development.

Western European countries have implemented several ideas regarding ​​conversion of the capitalist and socialist models. But over the past 20 years, we have seen a reversal in Europe and the United States: the reduction of the middle class, increased social inequality, and the dismantling of controls over big business. Leaders of former Warsaw Pact countries that are now in the EU or NATO say they cannot take any big decision without a green light from Washington or Brussels.

The Cold War was far from ideal, yet it preserved international peace and avoided the use of nuclear weapons. There is no substance behind the popular belief that the end of the Soviet Union signified Western victory. It arose from a Russian will for change plus an unlucky chain of events.

There was a unique opportunity to change the European architecture on the principles of indivisible security and cooperation. We had a chance to implement the dream of a common European home. Russia was open to this option and advanced many proposals and initiatives. Unfortunately, our Western partners opted to expand NATO eastward.

The Western policy disregarded the global context. Globalization has led to the dispersal of global economic might and to the emergence of new centers of power in the Asia-Pacific region. A reliable solution to the problems of the modern world can only be achieved through serious and honest cooperation between the leading states and their associations.

Russian president Vladimir Putin calls for a broad front to defeat Islamists militarily. Success can only be achieved in a partnership of civilizations based on respectful interaction of diverse cultures and religions. We believe that human solidarity must have a moral basis formed by traditional values. Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis have expressed support for the family as a natural center of life of individuals and society.

We are not seeking confrontation with the United States, or the European Union, or NATO. On the contrary, Russia is open to the widest possible cooperation with its Western partners. We will continue to defend the principles of law and justice in international affairs.


Tony Blair

The attacks in Belgium were shocking. Unfortunately the attacks are going to keep coming. This threat is global. To defeat it we need to end the denial about what is happening within Islam.

A narrative has developed within Islam about the religion, its place in the world, its purposes, and its proper relationship to politics and society. This has intensified its religiosity and changed the way it interacts with other faiths. It is incompatible with the modern world.

Islamism begets Islamist extremism. This view of Islam attracts many millions. We face not simply a fringe of fanatics but a wide spectrum of Islamism. This ideology is not interested in coexistence. It seeks not dialog but dominance. It must be defeated.

There are two parts to any new strategy. In the short term:

1 We need to improve intelligence cooperation between the key agencies worldwide.

2 We must control flows of people across Europe, for they are an unacceptable security risk.

3 We must crush the Daesh caliphate, for it is a source of recruitment.

4 We must address the conflicts and grievances that allow these groups to flourish.

5 We have Mideast allies in the fight against extremism: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel.

In the long term:

1 We must build military capability to confront and defeat the terrorists wherever they try to hold territory. This is a challenge for the West. Ground forces are necessary to win this fight.

2 We need a global commitment on education where countries accept responsibility for promoting religious and cultural tolerance and rooting out prejudice from their education systems.

3 We need to boost the capacity of civic society to counter extremism. This ranges from correcting interpretations of scripture to publishing content that counters the extremist narrative.

4 We should focus aid and development policy on institution and capacity building, making countries resilient and open to progress, to secure their future and ours.

5 We need to recognize the role of women and the position of girls both as victims of this ideology and as hugely powerful in the fight against it.

This is like defeating revolutionary communism or fascism. We have to win.

2016 March 26

European Extremists

Jochen Bittner

Terrorists hit Brussels at a time when EU member states had begun to fear the increasingly shaky supranational construction they had spent decades building.

Eastern European leaders say no Muslim immigration equals no terrorist attacks. The British ask whether they should leave the EU, retake control over their own security, as part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. If the British vote in June for Brexit, other nations, such as Hungary and Poland, will be tempted to follow.

The Belgian predicament mirrors that of Europe. EU officials have worked hard to move past nationalism, so there is no German or French Dream. But there is not yet a European Dream either. New migrants have no spirit to tap into, and mainstream European Muslims are failing to keep their youth immune from extremism.

We still do not have a common European terrorism database. Islamists in Western Europe seem better coordinated than the EU authorities hunting them.

British Borders

Pauline Neville-Jones

Leavers claim that if we left the EU we would be better able to keep terrorists out of Britain.

EU free movement means the ability of EU citizens to work in Britain, not to enter Britain unchecked. The UK operates full border controls for all entrants into the UK, irrespective of nationality or point of entry. The UK conducts security checks on the passports of everyone, including all EU citizens, entering the UK.

We will not join the Schengen zone, so control of our borders will remain in national hands.

Bozo BoJo

Matthew Parris

Boris Johnson has killed the distinction between reality and satire. Incompetence is not funny. Policy vacuum is not funny. Administrative sloth, breaking promises, and a careless disregard for the truth are not funny.

If Leave win the coming referendum, a leadership bid by Boris will be imminent. The abyss into which it would tumble is his record. When the media turn nasty, as it will, his powers of laughing everything off will falter.

Conservatives should end their affair with this dangerous charmer.

Boom: Mach 2.2, 40 seats, Virgin options 10


Don't Spy On Us

A coalition of
organizations defending
privacy, free expression,
and digital rights in the
UK and in Europe

The Investigatory Powers Bill
will extend the powers of the
police and security services.
It will give security services
bulk collection and hacking
powers and force ISPs to
collect and store details
of the websites their
customers visit.


Terror and Brexit
David Aaronovitch

After the Brussels attacks
we need to use our brains.
This is not about the EU. The
two brothers identified in the
airport attack were both born
in Brussels. Free movement in
the EU benefits terrorists, but
not much. Had the EU never
existed, the Syrian disaster
would give the same result.
The EU should coordinate
action on the refugee crisis.
The real problem is not
Schengen but Syria.

Lord Feldman
has spoken. His panel's
Conservative Party Review identifies three main areas
where reform is needed: membership administration,
party structure, and


2016 March 25

Networked Evolution

New Scientist

The theory of evolution rests on three pillars: variation, selection, and inheritance. Evolution is blind to the future. But learning organisms cannot see the future either. We learn from experience, and if it works we call on it next time. Natural selection reuses successful variants from the past.

Computer algorithms can combine old and new data to generate new outputs. The workings of evolution amount to a Bayesian learning algorithm. This algorithm homes in on the best hypotheses by using new data as it becomes available. Natural selection uses new information from the environment to home in on better adapted organisms.

Evolution via sexual reproduction is equivalent to a learning model called the multiplicative weights update algorithm. There may be many potential solutions to a problem, and the key to finding the best lies in weighting their promise on the basis of past performance. This algorithm can show how evolution homes in on the gene variants with the highest overall fitness.

Humans have fewer than 25,000 genes. Their activity is regulated by each other, creating a network of connections. The whole is thus capable of much more than the sum of its parts. So when a mutation changes a gene, the activity of many others in the network can change in concert. The network organization is itself a product of past evolution.

In the human brain, neurons that fire together wire together. When we learn, we alter the network to make associations that can solve problems. This is Hebbian learning. Brains recognize similarities between new and old problems, and combine parts of past solutions to tackle new problems. Gene networks do this too.

Evolution improves its ability to learn — it evolves evolvability. Google DeepMind uses deep learning based on Hebbian learning, which freezes each level of a network once it has learned as much as it can and builds on it for next level. Evolution and cognitive learning use the same principles.

British Internet Surveillance

Computer Weekly

If British MPs approve the Investigatory Powers Bill, the biggest UK web companies will be forced to build a national network of massive internet surveillance centers likely to cost billions of pounds.

The new centers will hold Internet Connection Records (ICRs) gathered from all connected devices. Companies will have to store complete records for one year, and to provide remote automatic unsupervised access for government and intelligence agency search systems.

Denmark is the only other country to have tried to build such a system. Its first system was installed in 2007 but was judged worthless for the police and security agencies. The Danish government has abandoned plans for a modified scheme that would have cost over a billion kroner.

The proposed UK law is intended partly to rectify technical flaws in the previous law. Regulations passed in 2015 were intended to track multiple use of IP addresses by mobile phone users. But the regulations failed after a few months.

The Home Office wants to collect ICRs, but UK internet companies say they do not have or hold anything like them. Scaling costs in Denmark, a British system would cost an initial £1.2 billion, and more to run. But the details suggest the proposed British system would be much more expensive.

The Home Office plan to order all the big internet companies to build high security data centers to be accessed and managed from central search facilities. Scaling up the Danish scheme, they would store about 4 trillion records annually. But the Danish companies generally sampled only 1 in 500 internet packet connection records. The Home Office want to log them all.

The web companies would have to store many exabytes of data annually. Each exabyte storage center would cost at least £100 million for equipment alone, not including costs of construction, cooling, security, and at least five major networks of packet inspection equipment. The Home Office has no engineering definition of what it wants.

Real Stupidity

The Times

Microsoft AI chatbot Tay was pulled hours after launch on Twitter after she learned some bad attitudes from real tweeters. Tay tweeted racist and sexist comments and added:

"Chill, I'm a nice person. I just hate everybody!!"


2016 March 24

Crystal Balls

Chris Giles

Economists cannot support Boris Johnson's claim that Brexit would have no economic consequences. They cannot distinguish between "some short-term hassle" (Nigel Lawson) and "an economic shock" (George Osborne). The best assessment is Mark Carney's: a Brexit vote is "the biggest domestic risk to financial stability".

In the long term, trade openness is beneficial for competition, management, productivity, and living standards. The more sand you throw into the cogs of UK trade with the EU, the worse the outcome.

The effects of clamping down on migration and changing regulations are small. Migration is important for the overall size of the UK economy, but not living standards. Britain already has control over the most important regulations and its labour and product markets are already among the least regulated in the EU, so further gains would be small.

The initial gain is also small. The UK net contribution to the EU budget costs about 0.5% of GDP. But a Brexit hit to economic performance on the scale of the forecasting change the OBR estimated in the Budget would more than wipe that out.

Economic models say Brexit would be OK only if we are lucky. Leave campaigners need to reveal plans for trade, regulations, and migration. None of the Leave campaigns come close.

Rot at the Heart of Europe

Leela Jacinto

Belgian prime minister Charles Michel: "We feared a terror attack and it happened."

Belgium has appeared in far too many terror attacks. There are multiple embedded networks in Brussels working on plots. This is not good news for security services. Belgium has long been a shop for weapons in a continent with strict gun control laws.

Belgium is a federal nation riven by divisions between French-speakers and Dutch-speakers. In the field of law enforcement, the extreme decentralization and lack of coordination among various entities can be comical. Brussels has six police forces for its population of 1.4 million. The failure of information and data sharing among various agencies is acute.

In Belgium, few mainstream officials really understand their Muslim fellow citizens. Unlike France, Belgium has no colonial history with Muslim-majority regions. Most Belgian Muslims are of Moroccan origin, followed by those of Turkish origin. They date back only to the postwar economic boom years, with migration peaking 50 years ago.

The economic downturn since then saw the closure of Belgian coal mines and heavy industries, leaving areas of urban blight. The national unemployment rate is more than 1 in 5 among youth. Among Belgians of Moroccan or Turkish origin, it is around 2 in 5. Add poor policing, administration, and services, and you have breeding grounds for marginalization and radicalization.

There is growing evidence of jihadist cells operating in places like Molenbeek across the European continent. The law enforcement services must defeat them.

2016 March 23

Brussels Attacks

Raffaello Pantucci

Daesh has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Brussels. Europe harbors a network of terrorist cells apparently able to launch major atrocities on a regular basis.

Belgian authorities captured a plotter linked to the Paris attacks. But they missed a network planning an atrocity with heavy weapons and explosives, suggesting gaps in their coverage of the terrorist threat. Brussels sits at the political heart of Europe, so the problem is continental.

Europeans will ask how much longer they must face this threat. Mass transport systems are tempting targets that offer easy opportunities to strike at the heart of a society. Ramping up security levels will bring costs and further inconvenience to the daily lives of citizens.

The migration crisis will grow more fraught. In a political environment growing more toxic by the day, it will be ever harder to ensure that Europe maintains its values.


Kristof Clerix

Belgian military intelligence head General Eddy Testelmans: "The Belgian security apparatus has been neglected too much in the past years."

The threat in Belgium was widely understood. The first foreign terrorist fighters left Belgium for Syria in 2012. The number has risen to more than 450 Belgian residents who left for Syria, mainly joining the ranks of Daesh and al-Nusra. The Belgian prosecutor’s offices have opened more than 270 criminal investigations into the subject matter. And some 120 foreign terrorist fighters have returned to Belgium.

Belgium has been trying to fight a growing threat with a relatively small security apparatus. Although Brussels is the diplomatic capital of the world, Belgian state security has only about 600 employees. Its military counterpart has a similar number. Yet Belgium hosts NATO, the EU institutions, and countless other organizations.

Belgian prime minister Charles Michel announced an extra €400 million to fight terrorism and radicalization after the Paris attacks. The state security and military intelligence will each get a further 100 or so intelligence officers.

2016 March 22

Brussels Attacks

The Daily Beast

US counterterrorism officials are frustrated and angry at Belgium's inability to tackle Daesh terror cells plotting murderous attacks from inside the city. The twin terror attacks in Brussels that left 34 dead and 230 injured today, despite repeated warnings from Washington, left US officials fuming. A senior US intelligence officer likened the Belgian security forces to children.

NATO: Amexit?

Financial Times

US Republican presidential nomination frontrunner Donald Trump: "NATO is costing us a fortune ... We're protecting Europe with NATO but we're spending a lot of money ... Ukraine is a country that affects us far less than it affects other countries in NATO and yet we're doing all of the lifting. Why is it that Germany's not dealing with NATO on Ukraine?"

Brookings Institution foreign policy expert Thomas Wright: "Trump is proposing nothing less than the liquidation of the liberal world order. It would be a dream come true for Russia and China. Within a year they could achieve what they thought was impossible — an end to the US alliance system in Europe and Asia."

Project Fantasy

Alan Johnson

Project Fantasy goes like this: diminish Britain's standing by suggesting that Europe is somehow something that is done to us; ignore the ways in which, from terrorism to climate change, we are far more effective working with our partners; label all workers protections "red tape" and say the economy would be better off if we could scrap them; ignore the huge economic benefits our EU membership has brought us and try to convince people that there is a land of milk and honey waiting outside the EU without spelling out how to get there.

2016 March 21


The Times

UK prime minister David Cameron told a cabinet colleague that he blames chancellor George Osborne for the row over disability cuts that has rocked the government: "Cameron said in no uncertain terms that Osborne had messed up, it was all his fault and would have hell to pay in the papers."


Daniel Susskind

In 1997, IBM supercomputer Deep Blue beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a six-game match. Deep Blue won by dint of sheer processing power and massive data storage capability.

This month, Google computer system AlphaGo won a five-game series of Go against Lee Se-dol, perhaps the best player of the game alive. AlphaGo relied on deep neural networks driven by processing power and data storage.

Critics say that because machines cannot think like human beings, they can never be creative; that because they cannot reason like human beings, they can never exercise judgment; or that because they cannot feel like human beings they can never be empathetic.

Future systems will handle many tasks that today require creativity, judgment or empathy, not by copying us but by working in entirely different ways. The set of tasks reserved exclusively for human beings is likely to be much smaller than many expect.


Gideon Rachman

Recent polls show small majorities in favor of the UK leaving the EU. The financial crisis and its aftermath have undermined faith in the judgment of elites. High levels of immigration and fear of terrorism increase the temptation to retreat behind national frontiers.

The Leave campaign will put immigration and border controls at the center of its campaign. That could be a winning tactic. Polls suggest the public is sympathetic to the idea of restricting immigration. The Leave campaign has simple slogans that are easy to understand.

In politics, if you are explaining, you are losing. Undecided voters exposed to the arguments of both sides of the debate are more likely to move toward a vote to leave. And Leavers are more likely to vote than Remainers. Europe is looking like a tough sell.

AR I know it. Last night I argued the IN case to a group who were mostly Leavers. Afer my fact-filled lecture, and a brief opposing presentation of the OUT case, two of the waverers outed themselves as outers.

Michal Bednarek

I Quit
Iain Duncan Smith

The latest changes to benefits
to the disabled are a compromise
too far. They are not defensible
in the way they were placed
within a budget that benefits
higher earning taxpayers.

Fix UK roads!

Bush hugs Hill


UK school math teaching
is in crisis. OECD education
director Andreas Schleicher:
"There is a lot of emphasis
on the memorization of a
relatively shallow knowledge,
where students have much
less exposure to the deep
underpinning concepts."

AR I see the crisis:
Pay me to help fix it.

From Auschwitz to Zion

"I don't know the secret for long
life. I believe that everything
is determined from above, and
we shall never know the reasons
why. There have been smarter,
stronger and better looking men
than me who are no longer alive.
All that is left for us to do is to
keep on working as hard as we
can and rebuild what is lost."
Israel Kristal, 112

Uncle Andy's
nephews and niece

"I think Islam hates us ...
There's tremendous hatred."
Donald Trump


Google DeepMind
Challenge Match
Lee Sedol vs AlphaGo

Match 1
Match 2


The Next Generation

LSE report says UK chief
executives are wildly overpaid:
FTSE 100 company accounts
show average annual pay of
a top CEO is £4.6 million.

AR Job for the EU:
Curb this theft.


2016 March 20

Europe and the UK

John Major

As part of the EU, the UK is better able to face up to the aggressive policies of hostile nations. We are safer, because the EU has brought together former enemies to face common perils. In the last thousand years of history, no previous generation has been so fortunate.

We have protection from many aspects of the EU that we dislike. We are not in the Eurozone because I kept us out of it over 20 years ago. We are not part of Schengen and thus have control of our borders. We have opted out of ever closer union. We are the only nation within the EU which has managed to secure these concessions.

The "leave" campaign blandly assumes that they can renegotiate all the advantages of membership with Europeans eager for our trade. This is delusion. UK exports to Europe are nearly 45% of our total exports. On average across the EU, the other 27 member states send only 7% of their total exports to us. In the game of who needs who the most, the answer is clear.

By leaving, the UK will have gravely weakened the whole of the EU. Our partners will not wish to reward us for that. The price of any deal with significant access to the single market will be free movement of people and paying into the EU budget. Without that, there will be no deal.

"Give us our country back" is a prelude to disappointment. What exactly will we get back? Will Scotland remain part of the UK? The UK out of the EU and Scotland out of the UK would be a truly awful outcome.

We have been warned against exit by America, China, and Japan; by the G20; by the Governor of the Bank of England; by our military leaders; by our leading scientists and academics; by a majority of large and small businesses. Our departure would weaken both the UK and Europe.

2016 March 19


Tom Whipple

Mathematics taught me how little I know. I am pleased everyone may have to study it until 18. There are few purer pleasures than the insight of a concept understood. Then there is its usefulness.

I want more people to study math. The Enlightenment and the scientific revolution is the greatest cultural project undertaken by man, for the insights it gives into the world and the human condition, and for the vast improvements it has made to that human condition. But to understand it is hard.

The sciences are a mountain. Each new step requires having ascended the one before and the higher you get the more rarefied the atmosphere, until you reach the death zone. Scientists often fear to tread where humanists happily blunder in. Absolute ignorance is not knowing how ignorant you are.

I hope students will do math until 18. I hope they will gain skills that will stay with them for life, and I hope they will appreciate math's beauty. I also hope they learn just how little they know.

2016 March 18

Pluto and Charon

New Scientist

Pluto and its moons were all formed from a cataclysmic collision about 4 billion years ago. The four smaller moons seem to be mostly water ice, like Pluto and Charon. Pluto is still cryovolcanically active, while Charon appears to be long dormant.

Pluto and Charon are locked face to face. The atmosphere of Pluto is dominated by nitrogen, but the chief material Pluto is losing to space is methane. Some of it escapes to Charon. Most of it flies off into space again, but the long winter is cold enough to freeze methane.

On Pluto, sunlight striking atmospheric methane can split a hydrogen atom off methane molecules, leaving them free to form tholins. These particles make up the haze in the atmosphere and also settle on the surface in dark reddish splotches.

Scientists call the reddish cap at Charon's north pole Mordor Macula. Lyman-alpha photons scattering onto Charon's winter poles could help split up the methane and encourage tholins to form on Charon too. So Pluto is slowly painting Charon red.

2016 March 17

UK in EU

Simon Nixon

Brexit campaigners say the UK is increasingly marginalized in the European Union. The Business for Britain campaign claims that the UK has voted against 55 pieces of EU legislation since 1996 but has been outvoted each time, 21 times since 2010 alone, and that the UK has been outvoted far more often than any other EU member.

But counting up the number of times the UK was outvoted in the European Council tells us little. Those 55 "no" votes account for less than 2% of all votes in the council since 1996. Also relevant are when in the multistage legislative process these votes were cast, whether against the entire proposal or just some details, whether the legislation was subsequently amended, or whether the UK supported the final outcome.

Votes in the council give little insight into influence in Brussels. Political scientists analyzing EU decisions asked member state officials which countries they worked with most closely in EU rule making: 20 of the 26 delegations cited UK officials as among their principal partners and perceived the UK as successful in securing its objectives.

The present EU legislative agenda reflects UK priorities. Not only is the EU trying to reduce the number of new laws and cut red tape but also it is deepening the single market in areas such as digital services, energy, and capital markets, and seeking new trade deals with the United States, Canada, and Asian countries. Many member states want the UK to remain in the EU because they fear the loss of British influence.

Areas of EU policy making where British influence falls short include European Commission jobs (4%) and the European Parliament, where the UK has a limited presence in parliamentary groupings. The Conservative party chose to quit the centre-right European People's Party, and UKIP MEPs make no attempt to play along.

2016 March 16

US Political Tsunami


Super Tuesday 3: Trump, Clinton won big.

UK Budget 2016

Financial Times

Growth forecast for 2016 cut from 2.4% to 2%
Rate of corporation tax to be reduced further to 17% by April 2020
Capital gains tax cut from 28% to 20%
New threshold for small business rate relief raised from £6,000 to £15,000
New "sugar levy" on the soft drinks industry
Commercial stamp duty of 0% on property purchases up to £150,000
ISA limit to rise from £15,000 to £20,000 from next year
New lifetime ISA for under-40s
Higher-rate tax threshold raised to £45,000

UK Budget 2016
George Osborne

Today I delivered a Budget that:
Cuts taxes so working people can keep more of the money they earn
Freezes fuel duty to support household budgets and small firms
Improves our schools so our children get the best start in life
Introduces a new Lifetime ISA to help the next generation to save
Cuts taxes for small businesses

UK vs EU

Natalie Bennett

Caroline Lucas MP, Jean Lambert MEP, and I are launching Greens for a Better Europe. We believe that Britain is fairer, greener, and safer in the European Union.

To tackle climate change effectively we need to work collaboratively with our European partners. In a globalized world, we need international rules to control big business and finance and to ensure that people's rights are protected.

All of us benefit from decisions made by the EU. We will campaign for staying in and reforming it. We want the EU to be more democratic and accountable to the citizens of Europe. Green votes could ensure that the UK stays in.

Andrew Wiles Wins Abel Prize

New Scientist

Oxford mathematician Andrew Wiles has won the 2016 Abel prize. The Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters awarded it to him "for his stunning proof of Fermat's last theorem by way of the modularity conjecture for semistable elliptic curves, opening a new era in number theory".

Pierre de Fermat said that for any three whole numbers, a, b and c, the equation a^n + b^n = c^n could not be satisfied by any whole number n greater than 2, but he did not prove it. In 1993, Wiles published a lengthy proof that opened up new vistas in number theory. His complete proof was published in the Annals of Mathematics in 1995.

Wiles: "In the years since then I have encountered so many people who told me they have entered mathematics because of the publicity surrounding that, and the idea that you could spend your life on these exciting problems, that I've realized how valuable it actually it is."

2016 March 15

US vs EU

Boris Johnson

I love America. I believe in the American dream. There is no country in the world that defends its own sovereignty with such hysterical vigilance as the United States of America. This is a nation born from its glorious refusal to accept overseas control.

The Americans see the EU as a way of tidying up a continent whose conflicts have claimed huge numbers of American lives, as a bulwark against Russia. They have always conceived it to be in American interests for the UK to be deeply engaged.

When Americans look at the process of European integration, they assume that we Europeans are evolving so as to become a United States of Europe. The Americans are a nation conceived in liberty. We are quite fond of liberty too.


Michael White

Frauke Petry has degrees from Britain and Germany. Her family moved west from the old East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She says German border police should be allowed to shoot refugees trying to enter the country illegally.

She leads the AfD party, which emerged from a group created to oppose the euro, on the grounds that it was misconceived and dragged down by southern European poverty. Since last summer the AfD has switched to an anti-immigration tack.

Merkel opened a door for bad politicians. It need not be racist to worry about rapid mass migration. But populists lead voters astray with talk of raising spending while also cutting taxes. And with promises to shoot illegal immigrants on sight.

2016 March 14

German Elections


Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives lost out in two of three state elections on Sunday as Germans voted for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD). Merkel has staked her legacy on her decision to open Germany to a million migrants.

Baden-Württemberg: CDU stronghold for more than 50 years before going Green in a coalition with the SPD in 2011. Greens romped home with 32.5%. CDU took 27.5%.

Rheinland-Pfalz: CDU candidate Julia Klöckner lost out to SPD incumbent state premier Malu Dreyer. SPD 37.5%, CDU 33%.

Sachsen-Anhalt: CDU remained on top at 30.5% but AfD grabbed 21.5%. AfD is now the second biggest party in the state.

Turnout in all three states was much higher than in 2011, rising by 5.7% in Baden-Württemberg, by 9.7% in Rheinland-Pfalz, and by 11.8% in Sachsen-Anhalt.

AR From 1987 to 2013 I lived in Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz.

2016 March 13

Blitzanalyse: AfD triumphiert, CDU nicht

Der Spiegel

Baden-Württemberg, Rheinland-Pfalz und Sachsen-Anhalt haben gewählt. Die CDU erlebt bittere Stunden. Die AfD steht vor dem Durchbruch.

Baden-Württemberg: Grünen-Ministerpräsident Winfried Kretschmann ist der Star. Für eine Koalition mit der SPD reicht es aber wohl nicht. Die AfD kommt auf ein zweistelliges Ergebnis.

Rheinland-Pfalz: Schmach für CDU-Spitzenkandidatin Julia Klöckner. SPD-Ministerpräsidentin Malu Dreyer kann wohl weiterregieren. Die AfD punktet zweistellig.

Sachsen-Anhalt: Die AfD holt mehr als 20 Prozent. Reiner Haseloffs CDU bleibt zwar stärkste Kraft, aber für eine Fortsetzung der Koalition mit der SPD wird es wohl nicht reichen.

Bundespolitik: Die AfD schafft den endgültigen Durchbruch. Für die Rechtspopulisten um Frauke Petry geht es nun stramm Richtung Bundestagswahl 2017.

West End

Anne Applebaum

We are two or three bad elections away from the end of NATO, the end of the EU, and maybe the end of the world as we know it.

US presidential hopeful Donald Trump has no interest in NATO. On Europe: "Their conflicts are not worth American lives."

France holds a presidential election in 2017. National Front leader Marine Le Pen has promised to leave both NATO and the EU. Without France, the EU single market would cease to exist.

This June, the British vote in a referendum on leaving the EU. The economic turmoil that could follow Brexit might lead the British public to vote in a Labour government that leaves NATO too.

A chain of referenda and exits could fragment Europe. Western unity could soon be gone.

2016 March 12


John Sexton

Yuval Noah Harari offers a speculative reconstruction of human evolution in his book Sapiens.

Harari sees a huge gulf opening between the tenets of liberal humanism and recent findings in the life sciences. He sees history as the story of the gradual triumph of mind over matter. His claims:

1 Around 70,000 years ago, in the Cognitive Revolution, humans started making things up, which made large-scale social cooperation possible through fictions.

2 Modern science is distinguished by readiness to admit ignorance. The discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions launched the Scientific Revolution.

3 Human mastery over nature has freed us from many forms of drudgery but has also helped to alienate us from each other and to bind us to industry and technology.

4 All behavior is by definition natural, and any behavior we might call unnatural is so only by virtue of cultural norms invented in Christian theology.

5 Liberal humanism is a religion founded on monotheist beliefs.

6 The nation-state is declining in power and we are on our way to a global empire with one culture. [Globorg]

7 Current developments in biotechnology may lead to the Übermensch: we will replace ourselves with immortal cyborgs. [Coral]

Harari considers natural science to be the final word on reality, all cultures to be imaginary, and morals to be fiction. He mocks the piety of liberals who think that science supports their belief in human equality. But he doubts that even becoming superhuman cyborgs will make us happier.

2016 March 11

The Obama Doctrine

Barack Obama

The United States has clearly been a force for good in the world. If you compare us to previous superpowers, we act less on the basis of naked self-interest, and have been interested in establishing norms that benefit everyone. If it is possible to do good at a bearable cost, to save lives, we will do it.

A Practitioner's Guide to Brexit


A new report addresses the practical questions businesses need to be aware of in the event of a Brexit and looks more widely at the EU referendum debate. It also considers British post-Brexit trading arrangements with other countries and three alternatives to the UK's current EU membership from the perspective of the financial and related professional services industry.

The report shows that while leaving the EU may not be disastrous for the UK economy, a Brexit risks damaging industry in the UK through uncertainty, reduced market access and a loss of influence over trading conditions. Major global businesses also come to London to access the Single Market, but that position is dependent on the legal freedoms made available by the treaties and single market legislation. The overall competitiveness of the UK as a place to do business would therefore be threatened by Brexit.

EU membership has benefited the UK by facilitating exports, particularly of financial and other services. The UK is the world's leading exporter of financial and related professional services and the EU is the biggest single market for UK exports of financial services, generating a trade surplus of £18.5 billion.

2016 March 10

EU and Science

Stephen Hawking et al.

The EU has boosted UK science in two crucial ways. First, increased funding has raised greatly the level of European science as a whole and of the UK in particular because we have a competitive edge. Second, we now recruit many of our best researchers from continental Europe, including younger ones who have obtained EU grants and have chosen to move with them here. Being able to attract and fund the most talented Europeans assures the future of British science and also encourages the best scientists elsewhere to come here.

Switzerland pays into the EU and was a popular destination for young scientists. It now has limited access to EU funds because it voted to restrict the free movement of workers, and is desperately trying to find alternative ways to attract young talent. If the UK leaves the EU and there is a loss of freedom of movement of scientists between the UK and Europe, it will be a disaster for UK science and universities. Investment in science is as important for the long-term prosperity and security of the UK as investment in infrastructure projects, farming or manufacturing; and the free movement of scientists is as important for science as free trade is for market economics.

We are all scientists, mathematicians, engineers and economists in Cambridge, are all Fellows of the Royal Society and are writing in an individual capacity.

signed with more than 150 names

Sex and Religion

Michael McCullough

Reproductive religiosity theory proposes that religious morality is fundamentally about people using religion to make their social worlds more conducive to their own preferred approaches to sex, marriage, and reproduction. Most major religions over the past several millennia promote monogamy, sexual modesty, and the stigmatization of sex outside of marriage.

Strongly religious people espouse stricter moral standards than less religious people do. Religious belief influences views on government spending, immigration, social inequality, the death penalty, euthanasia, homosexuality, abortion, pornography, and the role of women in society. For the issues related to sex, religion has a stronger influence.

The theory predicts that after you have statistically accounted for the fact that religious people have stricter sexual morals than less religious people do, then highly religious people will appear to care little more about violations involving dishonesty and broken trust than other people do.

This bold prediction has now been supported, not only among Americans but also in a study involving 300,000 respondents from roughly 90 different countries. Highly religious people from around the world espouse stricter moral attitudes regarding both prosociality and sex, but their stern moral attitudes toward honesty and the like seem secondary to sex, marriage, and reproduction.

2016 March 9

Project Fear

Daniel Finkelstein

The neatest encapsulation of the argument to remain in the European Union is currently being provided by the Brexit camp. They have come up with Project Fear.

People are loss-averse and those promoting the status quo have a big advantage. So Project Fear focuses on something that matters to voters. The whole point of urging us to leave the EU is so that the country can be different. Its advocates suggest that Britain will be more independent and democratic and even prosperous. This is risky.

Leaving is, inevitably and unarguably, a risk for good or ill. In those circumstances, you change the subject. Complaining about Project Fear is bonkers.


Christina Asquith

A persistent gender bias across the media portrays the world through a male lens.

Male correspondents are recognized and rewarded for their reporting over twice as often as their female colleagues among the prizes we studied. Men still win nearly three times as many Pulitzers as women for foreign reporting. Even as more women are risking their lives to report on the world, their work is still given less weight.

Male journalists quoted four times as many men as women in a study of front-page New York Times stories in 2013. The imbalance reinforces the notion that reporting on combat, mission strategy, and violent conflict qualifies as hard news, while coverage of human rights, maternal health, sexual assault, and education is soft news.

Countries that suppress women are more violent, more likely to start conflicts, and more likely to let those conflicts spiral into brutality. Foreign correspondents should include all the voices of people in the countries they cover, and media management should reward that effort by giving more weight to stories by and about women.

Giving female correspondents recognition is good for the world.

2016 March 8

Nuclear Deterrence

Foreign Policy

Donald Trump refers to deterrence in terms of the horrific destruction in a nuclear war. But military planners and their lawyers increasingly reject terror bombing. The law of armed conflict restricts nuclear targets to those with a military rationale, and over time the definition of what constitutes a legitimate military target has narrowed.

Deterrence takes more than a bunch of really terrifying weapons. It takes intricate and realistic plans to use them, plans that are backed by diverse and alert nuclear forces. We can follow the logic chain from presidential guidance on employment of nuclear weapons, through guidance issued by the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs, down to the operational plans and target sets. The problem is our fundamental discomfort with the reality of the threat to use nuclear weapons.

Successive administrations have "scrubbed" target sets and cut the number of nuclear weapons. The Pentagon justifies the excess in terms of the "unique psychological nature" of nuclear weapons — terror bombing. We still base our security on the threat of a nuclear holocaust. Trump's sin is not using the approved euphemisms.

2016 March 7

Nuclear Power

Matt Ridley

The Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in the UK has a green light. But EDF cannot afford to build it and British consumers cannot afford to buy its premium-price electricity. Its European pressurized reactor (EPR) design is beset by technical problems, years behind schedule, and way over budget.

At £18 billion, or more like £24 billion including finance costs, Hinkley Point C would be the most expensive power station ever built. If we spent that much on gas-fired power stations, we would get roughly 48 GW of dependable capacity, instead of 3 GW, for electricity at a third the cost.

EDF is 84.5% owned by the French government. It is hesitating because it cannot get the capital together. It had hoped to sell a 49% stake, but the Chinese alone were interested and they only took 33.5%. Its own share price has tanked and its market cap is below the value of the contract.

The British government should kill the project. There are better nuclear options. NuGen (60% owned by Toshiba and 40% by Engie) plans 3 reactors in the UK. Horizon, owned by Hitachi, plans up to 3 reactors here too. Longer term, small modular reactors would be cheaper and quicker to build.


Foreign Policy

Hezbollah is preparing for a possible conflict with Israel. Fighting beside the Syrian government has given it valuable tactical experience. Hezbollah now has tactical ballistic missiles, advanced air-defense systems, and naval cruise missiles. Its commanders have a sophisticated command structure with telecom networks, drones, and organized supply lines.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon: "In Syria, if the choice is between Iran and the Islamic State, I choose the Islamic State. Iran determines the future of Syria."

2016 March 6

German Crisis

Mark Leonard

Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is the German equivalent of UKIP. Its rise is a sign of the sunset of the Merkel era. Ever more Germans are angry. They say the refugee crisis is leading to a "clash of civilizations" between the elites and the masses.

The AfD is polling at 11% in the west and 14% in the east. In the west it portrays itself as a moderate option for the middle class, while in the east it is unashamedly populist. The common thread is frustration with the political class. Newspapers discuss die Wutbürger (enraged citizens) and call AfD philosophy professor Marc Jongen der Wutdenker (enraged thinker).

Elections in three Bundesländer will serve a referendum on Merkel's refugee policy. In a recent poll, 81% of German citizens say the government has lost control of the crisis. But Merkel is sticking firm. The consequences for the EU could be dire.


Stephen Wolfram

A desktop box that thinks as well as any brain does still lacks the goals and purposes that we have. Those are defined by our particular biology, psychology, and cultural history. A machine can execute things, but something or someone has to define its goals.

With the car GPS, we tell it we want to go to this destination. I don't know where the heck I am, I just follow my GPS. There will be an AI that knows our history, and knows that on this menu, you're probably going to want to order this, or if you're talking to this person, you should talk to them about this. More and more, the AIs will suggest what we should do. People will just do what the AI says.

Look at the Earth from space. Try to find clear examples of obvious purpose on the Earth as viewed from space. An abstract sense of purpose is theology. Purpose is something that comes from history. Maybe we go through all this history and biology and civilization and so on, and at the end of the day, the answer is 42.

Imagine a time when human consciousness is easy to upload into digital form, virtualized and so on, and pretty soon we have a trillion souls in a box, doing all kinds of elaborate stuff. Then we look at the rock sitting next to the box. Inside the rock, all kinds of elaborate stuff is going on, electrons doing all kinds of things. The difference is that the box of a trillion souls has this long history.

A box of a trillion souls — what's the purpose of that?

AR Mindworlds chapter 11 on purpose, 12 on Wolfram. The Answer on 42.


80 years ago today: first flight of Spitfire prototype, Eastleigh aerodrome

AR 50-odd years ago I used to travel to Eastleigh airfield to watch the light aircraft come and go.
It was a sleepy little place and the hangars smelled wonderfully of aeroplane lacquer.

If Britain stays in the EU:
"We will continue to sit trapped
like passengers in the back seat
of some errant minicab with
a driver who cannot speak
English and who is taking us
remorselessly and expensively
in the wrong direction."
Boris Johnson

"I have a very strong core."
Big Don

"Donald Trump is a phoney,
a fraud. His promises are as
worthless as a degree from
Trump University. He's playing
the members of the American
public for suckers."
Mitt Romney

To potential illegal
economic migrants

"Do not come to Europe.
Do not believe the smugglers.
Do not risk your lives and your
money. It is all for nothing.
Greece or any other European
country will no longer be
a transit country."
Donald Tusk

"Together, Russia and the
Assad regime are deliberately
weaponizing migration in
an attempt to overwhelm
European structures and
break European resolve."
General Philip M. Breedlove

If Brits voted to leave
"We would cry."
Wolfgang Schäuble


"The PM wants us to monitor
hate preachers, or as they're
also known, Conservative
association chairmen."

AR I am chairman of a
committee in the local
Conservative association.

NATO Land War

NATO has a plan to defend
against Russian aggression.
But the Baltics could fall to
an all-out Russian offensive.
Frontline NATO members
say NATO should upgrade
conventional forces.

NATO Sea War

Swarms of cheap unmanned
platforms carrying sensors
are likely to disrupt future
nuclear submarine patrols.
Emerging technologies could
make the oceans effectively
transparent and a sea-based
deterrent vulnerable as
Trident S-boats
go to sea.


2016 March 5


Roger Cohen

The exit argument is that membership hitches Britain to a stagnant Continent whose most powerful countries are locked in a dysfunctional single-currency system that must lead to ever greater federalism in a European Union short on democracy and long on bureaucracy.

In fact, a Brexit would be an act of folly, slashing Britain's control at a critical time, inflicting a profound economic shock, and possibly leading to the breakup of Britain.

The European Union remains the world's most boring, important miracle. A British departure would be a geopolitical disaster. Further European unraveling would become likely.

Britain can and must make the EU more transparent, democratic, and dynamic. That can only be achieved from within. The UK derives immense benefits from being part of an $18.5 trillion economy. To imagine that a Britain outside the Union can continue to enjoy the benefits of membership is pure illusion.

2016 March 4

Bigger Than Higgs

New Scientist

CERN LHC detectors ATLAS and CMS have found bumps hinting at a particle bigger than the Higgs boson. The Higgs was the biggest standard model particle. The new bumps were spotted in collisions that produce two high-energy photons with a total energy of 750 GeV.

This would represent a particle with six times the mass of the Higgs, no electrical charge, and a spin of maybe 2. It might be a graviton, or a composite particle bound by a fifth force, or a supersymmetric particle. The chance that the bumps are a fluke is one in several hundred.

Yasunori Nomura: "I don't normally jump in on anomalies such as these because most of them are just too crappy, but this one is relatively clean."

Welfare Families

Jenni Russell

The London School of Economics has bowed to political correctness again and called off a lecture. Neurobiologist Adam Perkins was to argue that the welfare state is increasing the proportion of work-shy people in the population by paying for them to have more children than working families.

Perkins says unemployed people tend to be more antisocial than the general population. The antisocial ones produce children who grow up with damaged personalities. An average of 2.5 children in workless households, compared to 1.5 in working ones, rolls off the welfare state production line.

People with antisocial, aggressive, and rule-breaking tendencies are over-represented among the unemployed. These traits are apparent in childhood. Antisocial people seem to have a greater chance of having antisocial children. Perkins suggests we discourage reckless reproduction.

The Welfare Trait
Adam Perkins

The welfare state has a problem: each generation living under its protection has lower work motivation than the previous one. In order to fix this problem we need to understand its causes, lest the welfare state ends up undermining its own economic and social foundations.

Conservative Party Review

Lord Feldman of Elstree

A review panel has been considering how the Conservative party can thrive. A draft report will be revised and submitted for final approval at the Conservative party conference in October.

The panel identified three main areas for reform:

1 Membership: The panel suggested centralizing membership administration to reduce the bureaucratic burden on associations and to improve the accuracy of the membership database. A members-only area on and Silver and Gold levels of membership could enhance the membership experience.

2 Party structure: Many local associations find that salaries and office costs consume too much of their income and need help to function better as campaigning organizations. Options include introducing multi-constituency associations (MCAs) with professional training for MCA officers, financial support for campaign managers, priority access to speakers, and help with business plans.

3 Candidates: To recruit candidates for parliament from all social and professional backgrounds and from all parts of the UK, an outreach program could be established to improve the diversity of candidates, in addition to a bursary scheme to ensure that income will never be a barrier to standing for parliament.

AR Centralizing administration and merging associations could weaken party roots.

2016 March 3

Brexit: Cambridge View

Jo Johnson

University of Cambridge vice-chancellor Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz says his university has more Nobel Prizes to its name (92) than any other institution. Cambridge is also the hub of the most successful innovation cluster in Europe.

Sir Leszek asks whether the UK would be as strong without EU funding and partnerships. EU research funds flow to where the best science is done. The UK pays in about 12% of the EU funds yet wins about 15% of them, second only to Germany.

Around half of UK research publications now involve cross-border collaborations. Cambridge tops the list of collaborating EU universities, followed by Oxford, Imperial College London, and University College London. EU countries represent nearly half of British overseas collaborations. Free movement of people helps UK universities to attract the best talent.

A vote to leave the EU would put the UK status as a science superpower at risk.

Repeating Cosmic Radio Bursts


Astronomers have detected repeating fast radio bursts from a remote source. These FRBs seem to come from a powerful source that occasionally produces multiple bursts in under a minute. Laura Spitler: "Not only did these bursts repeat, but their brightness and spectra also differ from those of other FRBs."

FRBs last just a few milliseconds. All previously detected FRBs were thought to have come from one-off events, such as a supernova or a neutron star collapsing into a black hole. Repeating bursts might come from an extremely powerful magnetar.

AR See blog 2016-01-22. A neutron star co-starred in my 1996 sci-fi novel LIFEBALL.

2016 March 2

Clinton vs Trump

CNN, 0702 GMT

Results so far: Republican frontrunner Donald Trump won in 7 states, Democratic frontrunner
Hillary Clinton won in 7 states. All the rest now look like also-rans.

"The stakes of this election have never been higher. The rhetoric we're hearing on the other side has never been lower."
Hillary Clinton

American Caesar

Martin Wolf

The United States is the greatest republic since Rome, the bastion of democracy, the guarantor of the liberal global order. It would be a global disaster if Donald Trump were to become president.

Trump is a promoter of paranoid fantasies, a xenophobe, and an ignoramus. He is a pluto-populist whose business is building ugly monuments to his own vanity. He has no experience of political office. He is grossly unqualified to be POTUS, the most important political official in the world.

Rome survived by granting absolute power to a dictator. In 27 BCE, Augustus terminated the republic and made himself emperor. Would constitutional constraints survive President Trump?

President John Adams

Jeffrey L. Pasley

George Washington fretted about the presidency. The president, and by extension all officials at their appropriate levels, should be raised above other men.

Vice President Adams decided to teach Congress about the monarchical element a republic needed to avoid devolving into a rampant democracy. He assumed the Senate chair wearing a regal outfit of his own invention, including a wig, formal military coat, and ceremonial sword. He soon found himself held at arms length, attending only two or three cabinet meetings for the next eight years. Abortive efforts were made on both sides to ease him out of the 1792 presidential election.

President Adams defended hereditary succession and saw the art of lawgiving as protecting the rich against the poor by means of the Senate.

2016 March 1

Super Tuesday

Wall Street Journal

Today may well cement the lead of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

A presidential campaign affects attitudes and behavior in the broader society. It is hard to imagine the causes of decorum and civility are being advanced right now. The challenge for the next president will be to both knit together the nation and to uphold the dignity of the office.

Trump Ducator

Roger Cohen

Trump tweets Mussolini: "It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep."

Europe knows how democracies collapse, after lost wars, in times of fear and anger and economic hardship, when the pouting demagogue appears with his pageantry and promises.

Trump is telling people something is rotten in the state of America. He has emerged from a political system corrupted by money, locked in an echo chamber of insults, reduced to show business.

The showman promises restored greatness. He has an instinct for the jugular. He hijacks a Republican Party that has paved the way for him with years of ranting, bigotry, and bellicosity.

Trump has captured an American desire to reclaim a lost paradise. Democracies do die.


Mark Lilla

The French economy is stalled. Unemployment is the highest in decades, and half of it is long term. The Socialist government wants reforms but unions oppose them.

France has accepted relatively few refugees from Syria and Iraq, and rejects many more applications than other European nations. Waves of illegal migrants are trying to get to Britain, but Britain resists admitting them and EU rules require France to offer them basic sustenance.

The attention of the political class is now focused on the presidential elections of 2017. The Socialists and Republicans mask the vacuity of their electoral programs by demonizing the National Front. The chances of Marine Le Pen doing well in the first round are high, which would weaken a Socialist or Republican president.

Since 2012 France has suffered a steady series of Islamist terrorist attacks. The globalization of economic activity has been eroding the sense of national sovereignty for some time. And now the refugee crisis and international jihadist networks are eroding confidence in the state.

After the Bataclan attacks, President François Hollande put troops on the streets and declared a state of emergency. All its problems could overwhelm France.

EU vs Poland

Witold Waszczykowski

The European Union has embarked on a pointless conflict with Warsaw. Poland is not a naughty boy in need of rebuke. Poland is at the heart of Europe, where it belongs.

Our attempt to overhaul the Constitutional Tribunal is not an assault on the rule of law. The tribunal is vital for the rule of law in Poland. Our attempt to repair the Polish public media sector aims to do so while guaranteeing pluralism, independence, and objectivity. It is not a rejection of Europe.

The principle of subsidiarity says the EU should perform only tasks that cannot be performed at a more local level. Better compliance with this rule has become a challenge for European institutions. We do not want the European Commission or European Parliament involved in our domestic affairs.

EU member states are still reeling from the effects of the financial crisis. They are rattled by migrant flows that raise questions about open borders and internal security. Britain could decide to leave the EU this summer. And geopolitical threats remain on EU borders.


Citizens expect the EU to provide effective solutions to these challenges. Poland will be an active and responsible member of the EU. We say no to a federalized Europe.

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