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AR   2020-07-08
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BLOG 2020

Lauren Cohan
⦿ Lauren Cohan

Science

Rishi Sunak
TIMES
UK chancellor Rishi Sunak and
his wife Akshata will dine in a
London restaurant today

Prince Andrew
⦿ Tim Graham
HRH Prince Andrew with
Ghislaine Maxwell: Did she
pimp for Jeffrey Epstein?
And will she rat on
Randy Andy?

 

2020 July 8

Germany Merkel

Anna Sauerbrey

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is on her way out. The pandemic is likely to be her last great challenge. It could also seal her legacy.
After defeats in regional elections in late 2018, Merkel said she would not run again in 2021 and stepped down as head of the CDU. Now Germany has contained the pandemic, 4 in 5 Germans say she is doing her job well, and the CDU is back on top.
When the virus hit, neither Merkel nor the federal government were technically in charge. Most of the relevant powers lay with the 16 federal states. But the chancellor took the lead, coordinating the state heads, pushing for nationwide regulations, and convening top scientists.
Merkel quickly grasped the severity of the situation. In late February, she pushed for a nationwide lockdown. On March 18, she spoke directly and frankly to the German people on TV and reached the hearts and minds of German citizens.
She acted decisively at the European level, too. On May 18, Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron of France proposed that the European Commission should borrow €500 billion from the financial markets to help member states in need.
Merkel: "When you're in politics, you just have to adjust to new realities and situations. That's our job."

AR The best national leader in the world.

 

2020 July 7

Europe and China

Financial Times

Angela Merkel is facing criticism in Germany for her strategic partnership with China.
Bundestag foreign affairs committee head Norbert Röttgen: "What the German government said about Hong Kong was the absolute minimum, and it just wasn't enough."
EU parliamentarians say China's imposition of the national security law risks undermining the autonomy of Hong Kong.
Merkel seeks dialog with China on the basis of mutual respect and a relationship of trust. She says it is in the European interest to work together with Beijing on fighting climate change and developing relations with Africa.
SDU foreign policy spokesman Nils Schmid: "Merkel's China policy is behind the times."
Germany has good economic relations with China, with trade of €200 billion in 2018.

AR I'm on Merkel's side here.

 □

Patriotism

George Kateb

Patriotism is a moral mistake and an intellectual mistake.
Love of country is thought to be natural, like love of family. But you don't have to say you love a country. You can love certain principles that anyone can adopt, and you can say the country is good because it is built on them.
A patriot thinks this country is mine, so it has to be good. That sets the country above its principles. A philosopher can love principles directly.
Plato defends treating your country as if it were your parents. But when the Greeks gave their lives to the city, they were not doing it for their parent city but because that was part of their masculinity.
Kant said language and religion are sources of human differentiation. He believed in an international federation of republics. Each republic would have its own constitution, built on the same principles.

AR Philosophers and scientists rise above languages and religions.

 

2020 July 6

Coronavirus and Citizenship

Martin Wolf

A constitutional democracy without a thriving middle class can turn into a plutocracy, a demagogy, or a tyranny. Western democracies are in danger.
Capitalism is rigged in favor of finance. Companies aim to maximize shareholder value, competition is low, tax avoidance is high, and technological change increases inequality.
The decline of manufacturing jobs has left industrial regions behind. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson came to power by wooing the left behind.
The coronavirus shutdown
 favors old over young, men over women, and rich over poor
 leads to vast fiscal spending and big debts to pay
 highlights the power of the state
The first concern of democratic states is the welfare of all their citizens. A state needs a vigorous middle class and a safety net for everyone.

AR The state is the shepherd, the peeps are sheep.

 □

Lingerie Liberation

Emine Saner

Back home after a shopping trip, university lecturer Louise Kilburn realised she wasn't wearing a bra: "I'd completely forgotten to put it on."
Long before the lockdown began, she says: "The first thing I did when returning home was to rid myself of the constraints of my underwired bra, as soon as I got into the hallway. There is no greater liberation."
Working from home has been a chance to do away with uncomfortable and unnecessary underwear. Local authority councillor Emma Roddick stopped wearing a bra early on: "Now I put one on, I think: I want this off, this is horrible."
There may be legitimate health reasons for wearing a bra. But for many women, the bra deforms the shape of breasts and restricts their natural movement merely to mask the nipples.
Actor Alison Harris on not wearing a bra: "It feels more freeing. It's definitely a comfort thing."

AR Comfort wins.

 

2020 July 5

Socializing Success

Mariana Mazzucato

When the economy is in crisis, we turn to governments for help. But when the economy is flourishing, we ignore them and let corporations take the rewards. We socialize risks but privatize rewards.
The coronavirus crisis offers a chance to change this dynamic. Confusion of price with value has propelled inequality and warped the role of the public sector. A public wealth fund with a citizens' dividend would transform government intervention and create a more equitable economy.
Government grants and loans should come with conditions to align corporate behavior with societal goals. Work should be properly remunerated, and the rewards distributed more equitably.

AR At present, governments pay rich people with profits and punish poor people with taxes.

 □

Fiction and Responsibility

Esther Allen

Fiction that claims to be based on history has responsibilities to real people and their lives, places they inhabit, and truth. At a time when systematic disinformation campaigns are abetting the rise of authoritarian governments the world over, it might be unwise to discard all concepts of boundaries or dividing lines between the imaginative freedom of literary fiction and distortion or falsehood.
Successful works of fiction tend to handle history with great care, particularly where real individuals are concerned. They call their protagonists by their real names and adhere, for the most part, to the known record of their lives. Portraying the living is a more delicate question.

AR ALBION

 

2020 Independence Day

Mount Rushmore Address

Donald Trump

Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children. Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.
In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished.
Make no mistake, this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American revolution. They want to silence us, but we will not be silenced. We stand tall, we stand proud, and we only kneel before almighty God.

AR Some US voters will buy this.

 □

Bundeswehr Naziproblem

Konstantin von Hammerstein

Ein Unteroffizier sagt: "Alle Juden müssten vergast werden." Er wird aus der Bundeswehr entlassen. Das Verteidigungsministerium braucht 33 Seiten, um alle rechtsextremen Bundeswehrvorfälle des vergangenen Jahres aufzulisten.
Rechtsextremismus und -terrorismus sind die "größte Bedrohung für die Sicherheit in Deutschland", warnt Verfassungsschutzpräsident Thomas Haldenwang.
Man muss sich die Verbreitung des Rechtsextremismus in der Bundeswehr so vorstellen wie die Corona-Pandemie. Die meisten Soldaten halten Abstand, aber es gibt braune Hotspots. Sie müssen mit allen Mitteln unter Kontrolle gehalten werden.
Anders als bei der Corona-Pandemie wird weder Herdenimmunität noch Impfstoff die Bundeswehr auf Dauer schützen. Nur eines hilft: permanente demokratische Wachsamkeit.

AR So eine Pandemie ist eher in Amerika zu befürchten.

 □

Britain and Covid-19

Martin Fletcher

On 31 January, Boris Johnson celebrated Brexit. The first confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were found in York.
On 3 February, Johnson delivered a speech in London: "We are starting to hear .. there is a risk that new diseases .. will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational."
..
On 3 June, Johnson told MPs: "Very proud of our record. If you look at what we have achieved so far, it is very considerable."
By July, Britain had the highest recorded coronavirus death toll in Europe, and the third highest in the world, with roughly 43 000 confirmed deaths and some 65 000 excess deaths, of which around 300 were health workers.
Former chief scientific adviser to the government David King: "There has been a series of really dreadful mistakes by this government that has led to a vast number of people dying and they need not have died."

AR A shameful record.

 □

The Magnetic Universe

Natalie Wolchover

Astronomers are finding magnetic fields in ever more remote regions of the cosmos. Magnetic fields surround Earth, the Sun, galaxies, galaxy clusters, and 10 Zm filaments of the cosmic web.
Primordial magnetism may be everywhere, even in the voids of the cosmic web, and have seeded the stronger fields in galaxies and clusters. It might even explain the Hubble tension — the problem that the universe seems to be expanding faster than expected.
As charged particles pass through a magnetic field, their paths twist and they emit synchrotron radiation. LOFAR, an array of 20 000 low-frequency radio antennas spread across Europe, has seen a synchrotron glow from cosmic filaments.
Magnetic fields may have arisen during the electroweak phase transition moments ABB, or later, when protons formed. Or perhaps a turbulent plasma of protons and electrons spun up the first magnetic fields. Space may have become magnetized during cosmic inflation.
We can test such theories by studying the pattern of magnetic fields in the emptiest voids of intergalactic space. A magnetic field rotates the polarization of light passing through it. This rotation depends on the strength of the magnetic field and the frequency of the light. The Square Kilometer Array due to start up in 2027 should detect it.
We have evidence of magnetic fields between us and blazars, which emit gamma rays and are powered by supermassive black holes. The gamma rays can collide with CMB and create electron-positron pairs, which decay into lower-energy gamma rays. If a blazar shines through a magnetized void, charged particles are deflected and we no longer see the low-energy gamma rays. A faint halo around blazars behind voids suggests enough primordial magnetism to resolve the Hubble tension.
Weak magnetic fields in a plasma-filled young universe makes protons and electrons in the plasma fly along the magnetic field lines and clump where the field is weak. Clumping made the protons and electrons recombine into hydrogen earlier than otherwise.
We find the rate of cosmic expansion by observing the CMB from recombination. Blobs in the young universe formed from sound waves in the primordial plasma. If recombination happened earlier, the blobs would be smaller. This implies a higher cosmic expansion rate.
The amount of primordial magnetism needed to address the Hubble tension also agrees with the blazar observations and the estimated size of initial fields needed to grow the cosmic magnetic fields we see. It fits.

AR So much for dark energy!

 


NEON
Portrait of a Lady on Fire — director Céline Sciamma won awards for the movie at Cannes 2019.

Rejoin

Covid-19
EPA
Atlanta, Georgia

A. Merkel
Kanzlerin Merkel
Deutschland übernimmt die
EU-Ratspräsidentschaft

 

2020 July 3

White Power

Michelle Goldberg

President Trump tweeted "Thank you to the great people of The Villages" with a video showing a man in The Villages, an affluent Florida retirement community, shouting "White power!" at protesters from a golf cart bedecked with Trump signs.
People voted for Trump for reasons besides racism. But Trump seems to grasp that racism put him over the top. Apoplectic over plans to paint the words "Black Lives Matter" on Fifth Avenue in front of Trump Tower, he called the slogan "a symbol of hate."
Republicans who complain that the president is undisciplined, that he can't adhere to a strategy, miss the point: Bigotry has always been the strategy.

 □

Boris Johnson's First Year

Ferdinand Mount

Boris Johnson is not a normal prime minister. It is painful to watch his slapdash boosterism. It is jarring to hear his ministers say they are proud of their achievements in the middle of a pandemic that has cost so many lives.
At three key moments during the pandemic, Johnson made the wrong decision. He failed to lock down quickly, he abandoned any effort to track and trace, and he failed to quarantine travellers from abroad until long after the virus had passed its peak. His reaction to these embarrassments has been to double down.
The NHS as Labour left it in 2010 was working well, meeting basic needs at low cost. Then the Lansley reforms of 2012 cut its funding. Directors of public health were no longer required to be doctors. The Regional Health Authorities were disbanded, replaced by a new central body called Public Health England. And responsibility for care homes was dumped on local authorities, which then had their central funding cut by 60%.
Since Brexit Day in January, the Brexit negotiations have been managed by a new Task Force Europe, led by David Frost, a Foreign Office diplomat who has always loathed the EU. His conversations with Michel Barnier have become openly bitter and recriminatory. Frost is backed up by contemptuous briefings from the Number Ten press office, again of an unprecedented rudeness.
Johnson has always wanted to leave the single market and the customs union and say goodbye to the European Court of Justice. Any deals are to be transient transactions, to be terminated when either side fancies. For Johnson, national sovereignty trumps commerce every time.
The first outing for Global Britain is to pick a fight with China. Whether expelling Huawei from the UK 5G system or saving Hong Kong, Johnson seems increasingly inclined to copy the prickly isolationism of Donald Trump.
Johnson is also shoring up his power at home. He has a secure hold on the Conservative party after purging his own MPs and compelling all 650 of his parliamentary candidates to sign up to his Brexit policy. Yet he shows no visible interest in broadening his party in the country.
These months have shown us a government and a prime minister of unique incompetence, deceitful and panicky, and often inattentive to essential business. Yet after the epidemic, the UK will still have the same government and the same prime minister.

 

2020 July 2

American Nightmare

Edward Luce

A November nightmare: Donald Trump wins the electoral college by a clear margin. Joe Biden wins the popular vote by 6 million. Trump is reelected according to the rules.
In four presidential election games run by the Transition Integrity Project, 1−3 began with a narrow Biden victory and an inconclusive electoral college result. Trump threatened to use the national guard to end recounts in contested states and leveraged his office to gain the upper hand. In game 4, Biden clearly won the popular vote and the electoral college, but Trump contested the result.
America gives the loser another 10 weeks of power — nuclear button included — before the winner takes over. American democracy is heading for a stress test.

 □

Is Trump Toast?

Frank Bruni

In their final years in office, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush experienced a noticeable slide in popularity before losing their bids for reelection. Their polling numbers sank below 40% in May and June and pretty much stayed there through Election Day.
Donald Trump has just experienced the same dip. If Carter and Bush are harbingers, Trump is toast in November. Recent polls show him trailing Joe Biden by double digits.
Trump has responded by setting himself on fire. He has flamed with self-defeating provocations, kamikaze tantrums, and wild tweets. He has created his own icons: a white supremacist astride a golf cart in Florida and a pistol-toting Karen shouting at peaceful Black protesters in Missouri.
Trump now has little chance to change the dynamics of the presidential race. His approval rating since his inauguration has been consistently down between 35% and 45%. He has alienated everyone but the MAGA true believers.
The surprises are all cutting against Trump. We now learned he was informed about Russian bounties on American soldiers but didn't seem to care. Surprises will keep coming.

Mad, Bad, Dangerous
Richard North Patterson

By June 2016, Donald Trump had supplied us with overwhelming evidence of a pathology that disqualified him for the presidency. I said then that his wildly oscillating utterances and behavior met the clinical definition of narcissistic personality disorder.
Our president is sick. By the end of May 2020, Trump had made more than 19,000 false or misleading claims in a little over 1,200 days in office. He had manipulated the Justice Department, attacked the rule of law, refused to honor congressional subpoenas, consorted with authoritarian leaders, asserted unlimited power, and tried to get electoral assistance from foreign governments.
Hungry for attention, he subjects us to a constant stream of scurrilous tweets, false accusations, rank divisiveness, unhinged conspiracy theories, blatant racial innuendos, shameless denials of reality, reflexive self-pity, unbounded grandiosity, puerile insults to his enemies, and claims of superior expertise in areas where his abysmal ignorance is manifest. His sole concern is for himself.
Trump has even discovered the real victim of Covid-19: himself. In May, Gabriel Sherman reported Trump telling a confidant: "This is so unfair to me! Everything was going great. We were cruising to reelection!"
Trump's confidant to Sherman: "He lives in his own fucking world."

AR Roll on November.

 □

European Nightmare

Daniel Boffey, Lisa O'Carroll

The latest negotiations on an EU−UK trade and security deal have broken up early.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier: "Our goal was to get negotiations successfully and quickly on a trajectory to reach an agreement. However, after four days of discussions, serious divergences remain .. The EU expects .. its positions to be better understood and respected in order to reach an agreement."
UK negotiator David Frost: "We have completed our discussion of the full range of issues .. The negotiations have .. underlined the significant differences that still remain between us on a number of important issues."

AR Frost = Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, a.k.a. Mr. No.

 □

Is Sterling Toast?

Philip Stephens

Margaret Thatcher once said she would never allow "the Belgians" (the EU) to decide the value of the British pound. She was obliged to relent, and two years later sterling crashed out of the European exchange rate mechanism amid a tsunami of speculative selling.
The pound became an emblem of national sovereignty in the long Tory war with Brussels that led to the Brexit vote in 2016. Since then, its effective exchange rate has fallen by about 14%, and twin budget and current account deficits promise further trouble.
In 1945, about half of global trade was still transacted in sterling. From then on, a failed effort to defend British global prestige produced a series of politically costly devaluations. The devaluation in 1967 led to a final retreat of British forces from east of Suez.
Today, the sovereignty held dear by Brexiteers is an illusion. The appearance of national control does not change the facts of foreign exchange markets. The sterling exchange rate depends on the confidence of foreign investors in the UK.
Brexit will throw up new barriers to trade with Britain's most important market. This will press downward on economic growth and upward on the current account deficit. The government will soon be tempted to respond with a devaluation.
Boris Johnson pledges to turn Brexit into a platform to relaunch Global Britain. He talks big about carving out a new world role for the UK. But no one knows where the money will come from.

AR Long live the euro.

 

2020 July 1

BoJo's New Deal

Rafael Behr

Boris Johnson was propelled to power by the public anger he stoked over bureaucrats in Brussels. Now he pledges to tackle the great unresolved challenges of the last three decades with a "new deal" to reconstruct the UK.
The UK civil service machine is the new target. Civil service head Mark Sedwill is being pushed out and replaced as national security adviser by Brexiteer David Frost, whose only qualification for the job is obedience.
The Johnson junta reached its declared utopia too soon. For most voters, Brexit is done. There is nothing else in the Johnson agenda that can't be delivered by the British state as traditionally configured.
Johnson said he wanted Brexit so badly, he stamped his feet and got it for Christmas. But he cast the thing itself aside and sits in the empty box, brrm-brrming, beep-beeping excitedly, going nowhere.

Upbeat, Vague, Incoherent
John Crace

Boris Johnson rehashed one of his old campaign speeches. Only without the bits about Brexit, which was well and truly done now, given that this was the last day he could have asked the EU for an extension to the transition.
Franklin D Roosevelt had spent 40% of US GDP on huge job creation schemes, while Boris was stumping up 0.2% of UK GDP. Boris acted as if the money was new, but it had already been accounted for.
Boris listed the various infrastructure improvements he had in mind for schools, hospitals, roads, and housing. Admittedly, the French and Germans were well ahead of us in housebuilding, but we were leaving the EU.
Before he headed for the exit, Boris proposed a "clap for capitalists" night to thank those who had done so much to Make Britain Great Again. At least he got people talking about something upbeat.

AR Boris at his best, unfortunately.

 

Solitude
Yale University Press

99 days

Shadow State
Guardian Faber
Alexander Yakovenko was
Russia's ambassador to the UK
from 2011 to 2019. When he returned home, Vladimir
Putin made him a member of
the Order of Alexander Nevsky
and president of his Diplomatic
Academy. Yakovenko said
the state was rewarding him
for smashing the Brits:
"It will be a long time
before they rise again."

A. Duda
EPA
Polish presidential candidate
Andrzej Duda has the backing
of Donald Trump

 

2020 June 30

Solitude

Irina Dumitrescu

A significant part of humanity finds itself in the curious state of social isolation. Many of us live alone but tune into the pounding static of social media, news websites, television, and podcasts for a sense of connection to the world.
Silence feels as distant as it ever was. Zoom and Skype and Instagram live beam faces and voices into our rooms, but we miss the easy energy of a conversation in place. We are neither with one another nor alone with ourselves.
Stephen Batchelor sees solitude not as a state of mind but as a practice or a way of life. It is not isolation or alienation, though these are its shadow side. Rather, it is a way of caring for one's soul, of sheltering it from noise and agitation.
As befits a former monk, Batchelor describes a visit to a complex of monastic caves in Maharashtra, India, dating to the first century BCE: "Once the novelty wears off, you discover how seclusion magnifies the pressures and demands you feel."
He recalls a universal connection in the desire for ascetic experience: "Shaven-headed, ochre-robed mendicants sat cross-legged in these cells while Jesus spent forty days in the Judaean desert, fasting and being tempted by Satan."
Part of the practice of solitude lies not simply in being alone, but in forging connections with others. Look long and hard enough at yourself in isolation and suddenly you will see the rest of humanity staring back.

AR Nietzsche — the abyss.

 

2020 June 29

German EU Presidency

The Observer

Europe faces epic challenges. In Italy and Spain, unsustainable debt jeopardizes recovery. Addressing the climate emergency and implementing tough green targets risk delay. Europe must redefine its place in a world dominated by tension between the United States and China. The future EU trading relationship with the UK needs to be agreed quickly.
Germany will take over the rotating presidency of the EU this week. Extraordinary times demand clear leadership. German chancellor Angela Merkel appears determined to provide it. Her first priority will be to reach swift agreement on a €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund, to be financed by EU debt and distributed to member states as grants.
The prospect of pooling debt with poorer southern neighbors has always been anathema to the more prosperous member states. Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands will fight to water the plan down. Merkel warns that failure to take collective action to stabilize reeling EU economies would only encourage authoritarian forces.
During her 15-year stint as chancellor, Merkel has demonstrated a peerless ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Her assured handling of the epidemic has enhanced her authority and provided the political capital to take risks in a crisis presidency. For the next six months, Germany will be leading from the front.

AR The EU will be well governed, the UK not.

 

2020 June 28

Trump's War

Fintan O'Toole

Donald Trump imaginers the past exists only as prelude to his own greatness. His demented solipsism shrink-fits US history to hug his own figure. The backdrop for this self-inflation is the failure of his administration to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Trump evoked Lincoln and Churchill as his ideal wartime leaders. After the protests began over the killing of George Floyd, Trump's lust for "overwhelming force" and "domination" over US citizens using "vicious dogs" and "ominous weapons" surfaced rapidly.
The unfinished business of the Civil War shapes both Floyd's death and the reaction to it. The killing is just one more episode in the aftermath of that war. Floyd is yet another victim in a long line of unarmed men, women, and children shot, lynched, and incarcerated.
On June 2, Trump tweeted: "SILENT MAJORITY!" Richard Nixon used the phrase in 1969 in relation to the Vietnam War, appealing to "the great silent majority of my fellow Americans" to oppose the antiwar movement. That war broke his presidency and led to Watergate.
The arrival on the streets of American cities of troops and trucks camouflaged for desert warfare is bringing home the war on terror. Trump aims to "designate ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization." This lets him target opponents of his regime for state violence.

AR Trump is floundering.

 □

Surviving Autocracy

Masha Gessen

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin share much. They both have a contempt for excellence, a hatred of government, and a way of campaigning against government.
Putin is less cynical. He has an idea that if he stepped away Russia would fall apart and so he has to carry this burden. For his labors he deserves to have the wealth, but he is doing it for his country.
Trump doesn't have that delusion. It's all power and money in their purest form. You could dig as deep as you want, you would never find a shred of responsibility.
Americans think about US institutions as a kind of religion. They have faith in the wisdom of the founding fathers who wrote the sacred words for the perfect system. But US institutions depend on the good faith of the people running them to fulfil their purpose. When someone like Trump becomes president, they become vulnerable.
America right now is several steps on from outrage. If it is sustained, then I think we are in a revolutionary moment. The protesters are calling for an American reinvention, protesting for a more perfect union.

AR Putin is smarter.

 □

Quantum Mechanics

Bob Henderson

Angelo Bassi thinks standard quantum mechanics has something wrong with it. His research is focused on an objective collapse model.
The Schrödinger equation describes a wave function with no obvious meaning. The theory predicts what scientists may see at the instant of observation, when the wave function's latent possibilities seem to collapse to one outcome. The act of observation is posited to trigger the collapse.
Objective collapse models delete the references to observation and replace them with a new term added to the Schrödinger equation. By inducing objective collapse, the new term takes the theory from describing what observers see to describing the world as it is (in theory).
For Bassi, particles are replaced by gelatinous blobs that can spread out in space, split and recombine. When one blob encounters a crowd of others, it reacts by quickly shrinking to a point: "It's like an octopus that when you touch them: Whoop!"
If objective collapse were to be confirmed, the orthodox belief that the laws of physics must reference us in them will lose its main motivation. But the deviations that collapse models predict from orthodoxy are so tiny that no feasible experiment can detect them.
For objective collapse models to work, the noise of collapse must be louder than some level. The gap between the minimum and the maximum set by vibration-detection experiments is a measure of how far we have to go. It remains about 10 orders of magnitude wide.
Bassi led the effort to win a €4.4 million EU grant for testing the large-scale limit of quantum mechanics (TEQ), starting in 2021.

AR I'm skeptical.

 

2020 June 27

Europe

Angela Merkel

Europe is not yet sufficiently resistant to crises. In the euro crisis, we lacked the tools for an appropriate response. The movements of refugees in 2015 showed up the deficiencies of the EU asylum system.
Now the coronavirus pandemic is confronting us with a challenge of unprecedented dimensions. In this extraordinary situation, I rely on EU member states having a strong interest in the things that unite us. Europe needs to set a good example.
Germany must engage in an extraordinary act of solidarity. The recovery fund cannot solve all of Europe's problems. But for Europe to survive, its economy needs to survive.
To change fundamental aspects of the way the EU budget is managed, we would have to amend the treaties. I am sure this will be discussed in the years ahead, but that should be done cautiously. In the current situation, we have to respond quickly to the pandemic.
We have not yet proved that the liberal system will win the day. The hallmark of democracy is that any opposition must have a fair chance of returning to government. An opposition must be guaranteed a clear set of rights.
European law has precedence over national law. The essence of the European Union lies in the member states transferring powers. But friction can occur in the borderland between the spheres of jurisdiction of national and European law.
We plan to hold a summit with China to advance EU-Chinese relations. We should develop a joint European policy that reflects our interests and values. Respect for human rights and the rule of law need to be addressed openly.
China has become a global player. That makes us partners in economic cooperation and combating climate change, but also competitors with very different political systems. Not to talk to each other would certainly be a bad idea.
Boris Johnson and the British government want to define what relationship to have with the EU after the UK leaves. They will then have to live with the consequences. If Britain does not want to have rules on the environment and the labour market or social standards that compare with those of the EU, our relations will be less close.
We believe that NATO is of great value to each of its members. We in Germany know we have to spend more on defence and will continue to enhance our military capabilities. American troops in Germany help to protect not only the European part of NATO but also American interests.
There are compelling reasons to remain committed to a transatlantic defence community and our shared nuclear umbrella. On the other hand, there are good reasons to keep engaging in constructive dialog with Russia. I will continue to strive for cooperation.

AR Britain needs a Merkel (not a Churchill or a Thatcher or a Bodger).

 

2020 June 26

Mathematical Beauty

Robbert Dijkgraaf

Mathematics can be beautiful. Roughly speaking, mathematical beauty can come in one of two forms, generic or exceptional. Mathematicians tend to come in these two flavors.
The first variant is reflected in a sense of wonder at the formal structures and patterns. Consider the infinite row of natural numbers on the real line, or the sequence of Euclidean spaces of increasing dimensions, or the rigor and precision of formal logic. These structures are powerful, useful, and beautiful.
But some mathematicians find it tough to get truly excited by the concept of a vector space in n dimensions, or a continuous function on the real line. To appreciate these ideas is to appreciate a form of abstraction, and this can feel cold and formal.
The second form of mathematical beauty concerns the exceptions to the rules. These are the curiosities, the one-offs. This beauty is exotic, quaint, intimate, and quite subjective.
The dodecahedron is one of the five perfectly symmetric solids but is considered exceptional because it has no higher-dimensional analogs.
The monster is the largest exceptional building block out of which all symmetry groups can be constructed and can only be visualized in a space of 196 883 dimensions.
Both types of beauty have charmed mathematicians over the years and led to many advances. Abstraction is an obviously powerful tool. The fascination with exceptions has been a productive strategy too.
Isaac Newton explained the planetary orbits based on his universal theory of gravity. He showed how all motions in the heavens were versions of circles, ellipses, hyperbolas and parabolas. The beauty lay in the abstract laws, not the specific solutions.
This is a lesson that physicists, and scientists generally, have learned many times over. Every time, they discovered beauty in the abstract structures underlying physical phenomena.

AR I'm more a lover of the abstract kind of mathematical beauty.

 □

The Mass Gap

Dennis Overbye

About 780 million years ago, a stellar corpse too heavy to be a neutron star but not heavy enough to be a black hole was eaten by a black hole with a mass of 23 ⦿, to leave a black hole of 25 ⦿.
The event was detected via gravitational waves by the international LIGO-Virgo collaboration. The victim had a mass of 2.6 ⦿, above the limit of 2.5 ⦿ for a neutron star but below the observed limit of about 5 ⦿ for a black hole.
Astrophysicist Vicky Kalogera: "We've been waiting decades to solve this mystery. We don't know if this object is the heaviest known neutron star or the lightest known black hole, but either way it breaks a record."
Astrophysicist Daniel Holz: "It's a win-win! Lots of theorists are now sharpening their pencils to try to explain what we've seen."

AR I'm eager to see the answer.

 

RAF Voyager
PA
The new paint job on the RAF Voyager aircraft used by the royal family and the prime minister cost almost £1 million.
Downing Street said the formerly military grey Airbus A330 was repainted to "better represent" the UK abroad.

33C

Water shoes
MERRELL
Water Shoes
"Footwear connects you to the
Earth .. Freeing your feet can
open up parts of your mind."
Mark Thatcher

Trump
Trump after Tulsa

VW Polo
VW
I just bought a Polo

Stephen Wolfram
Stephen Wolfram

 

2020 June 25

Albion, Brexit, Corona

Peter Müller, Michael Sauga, Jörg Schindler

Boris Johnson has ruled out another extension of the Brexit transition period. Unresolved issues include the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, future collaboration on foreign and security policies, and how much cod Danish and French fishermen may harvest from British waters. London and Brussels are further apart than ever.
A no-deal Brexit could cut UK growth in 2021 by around 7%. Th resulting slump would add to the pandemic recession as another hard blow for the economy.
When Johnson signed the exit treaty with the EU last fall, he made big concessions on the most controversial issue. The political declaration said the UK would uphold the common high standards applicable at the end of the transition period in the areas of state aid, competition, social and employment standards, the environment, climate change, and relevant tax matters.
Johnson is now taking a hard line with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. He told her his election manifesto promised a "true" Brexit.
UK chief negotiator David Frost has repeatedly strained the goodwill of the EU with his scattered provocations. Conservative hardliners could attempt to hide the dislocations caused by Brexit behind the more dramatic devastation caused by the pandemic.
The British economy is suffering under the effects of the pandemic. Even though global supply chains have remained intact and traffic through Dover has been processed as quickly as ever, the UK lost 20% of its output in April.
Johnson's supporters say the UK will be able to pick up the slack left behind by a sluggish EU. But Johnson does not have enough support for his proposed US trade agreement. So far, London has signed deals with over 20 countries and trading blocs, all based on current EU regulations.
Time is running out. The idea of producing a paper of several hundred pages at a dramatically staged EU summit in October is completely unrealistic. It would then need to be translated into all official EU languages and ratified by the European Parliament.
Kiel Institute for the World Economy president Gabriel Felbermayr: "Great Britain is the largest European economy after Germany .. No deal would be the worst outcome for everyone."

AR I see the Brexiteers as criminals.

 □

Germany 1, Britain 0

Martin Kettle

Britain and Germany are both big and prosperous northern European countries, with Germany a bit bigger and a bit more prosperous. But that does not come close to explaining the gulf between their respective performances in the face of Covid-19.
By 23 June, Britain had sustained more than 300 000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, compared with fewer than 200 000 in Germany. In Britain, more than 42 000 people had died from the virus. In Germany, there were fewer than 9 000 deaths. In Britain, the current death rate per 100 000 people stands at above 60. In Germany, the rate is below 11.
German health spending has risen in real terms for most of the last 20 years. Contact tracing was well developed across the Germany and swung into action right away. Germany had 28 000 intensive care beds, compared with 4 000 in the UK. Britain abandoned mass testing in March, when Germany did 160 000 tests a week, rising to 360 000 in May.
The UK Treasury response, in the form of furloughing, business loans, and tax holidays, was good. But Germany has had a more generous furloughing scheme in place for years. It boosted the support in March and unveiled a further recovery package in June.
Germany is not perfect, and German prosperity has taken a big hit. Johnson's government scorns suggestions it has anything to learn from the German model. But it has.

AR Learn from Germany.

 

2020 June 24

Brexit Vote: 4 Years On

Jonathan Lis

The UK government is unleashing an information blitz to prepare business and consumers for the end of the Brexit transition period. A government promising to deliver freedom is treating it as a declaration of war.
Until February 2020, the June 2016 referendum consumed the national landscape. It all but reset the UK to year zero. A narrative of purification would attempt to expunge all trace of Europe from the British body politic.
Brexiteers used to promise that nobody would threaten the UK place in the single market. Before the referendum, Boris Johnson declared he would want to stay in it. Tories considered participation axiomatic.
Remaining in the single market is now taboo. The people who used to promote it now advocate no deal at all, and not once admit the inconsistency. What was once unthinkable is now inevitable and even desirable.
The EU is puzzled that Britain does not seek participation in its foreign policy structures. The UK government parades its global credentials, yet it is retreating not just from Europe but from the rest of the world too.
The transition deadline is nigh. Six months to conclude, ratify, and apply a trade deal is close to impossible. The transition was intended for businesses to adjust to the changes after a deal. But there is no deal.
Brexit is a campaign waged by the British government on its own people.

AR Brexit is a high crime.

 

2020 June 23

Trump After Tulsa

Stephen Collinson

President Donald Trump spent the weekend seething about the disappointing crowd for his comeback event in Oklahoma on Saturday night. Eight staffers and two secret service agents at the event are now positive for the coronavirus.
His decision to go ahead with an indoor rally that may have turned into a super-spreader event was risky. The virus is having a disastrous impact on his Great American Comeback narrative.
Trump then dug his hole deeper in a TV interview by calling "semi-tongue in cheek" his claim that the problem is not that the virus is so widespread but that testing keeps showing how deeply it has penetrated in the community.
His team wants to rebound after Saturday's embarrassment by considering smaller venues or outdoor locations for Trump events. Limits on campaigning would be intolerable for Trump.
Trump still has a tight hold on Republican voters. Fox News said his return to the trail secured its biggest Saturday night TV audience in its history.
Trump hoped the Tulsa rally would send a signal that the worst of the pandemic was over, and that America is on the comeback trail. Instead, it suggested even his core supporters are wary.
Trump's response after 48 hours was to attack Joe Biden and the Democrats and to tweet about his fear that mail-in voting will lead to massive fraud and foreign interference in November's election.
Joe Biden: "Two nights ago, in his diatribe, he told them to stop testing because the numbers were going up .. I mean, my God."

AR Time to go, Trump.

 

2020 June 22

The Nuclear Button

William J. Perry, Tom Z. Collina

In 1945, President Harry Truman was shown the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and determined not to use the atomic bomb again. To keep it out of military hands, he declared that no more atomic bombs could be dropped unless the president authorized it.
Today, President Donald Trump has the absolute authority to start a nuclear war. Obama administration US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes: "There is nothing stopping a nuclear war except for Donald Trump's brain."
We need to:
 Deny the president sole authority for first use and require he share it with a group in Congress
 Declare the United States will never start a nuclear war but only use the bomb in retaliation
 Retire missiles that could force a quick decision and ensure deterrence by survivable weapons
We can retire the nuclear button. No one should have the unchecked power to destroy the world.

AR Action item for 2021.

 □

UK Failing on Climate Crisis

Robin McKie

In its annual progress report, the UK Committee on Climate Change will cite government failures to tackle the threats posed by climate change. Committee chairman Lord Deben: "The whole thing is run by the government like a Dad's Army."
The committee will recommend:
 Enforcing strict environmental conditions for corporate bailouts made during the pandemic crisis
 Improving broadband provision and cycling routes to reduce car use as people return to work
 Considering a new tax on fossil fuels [No! — AR]
 Introducing policies on energy efficiency in buildings, planting more trees, and protecting peatland
GRICCE policy director Bob Ward: "The UK is due to host the critical UN climate change summit next year, but its credibility as a climate leader is now under threat."

AR Make cleaner cars.

 □

UK Failing on Good Governance

Dan Hodges

Conservative MPs fear the prime minister has lost his grip and the government has lost its way. Some are asking whether Boris Johnson may have to be replaced.
A minister: "I've been in meetings with him and I've been surprised at the way he didn't seem to have a feel for what was driving the agenda. Not so much a lack of a grasp of the detail, more the way an issue is playing out."
Another minister: "If you look at where a lot of the anger is coming from, it's from the right of the party. Being seen to surrender to the teaching unions. Faffing around over going to 1 m distancing. This is infuriating the sort of people Boris thought he could rely on."
Boris needs to get Britain out of lockdown. Instead, last week he wrote an article about statues and announced he was merging the Foreign Office and Department for International Development. His office said they were spending £900,000 on painting a union jack on his official aircraft.
A senior Tory: "Experienced MPs from all wings of the party are worried about the No 10 bunker being out of touch. And blue collar and One Nation Tories are all worried by the lack of feel for bread-and-butter doorstep issues."

AR Oust him and move on.

 

2020 June 21

Pandemics Broke the Roman Empire

John Gray

At the start of the second century CE, the Roman Empire spread to the Rhine, the Danube, the Euphrates, the Sahara, and Britannia. Four centuries later, the imperial domain was reduced to a Byzantine outpost ruling a few scattered territories from Constantinople. Western Europe broke up into warring Germanic kingdoms, and Islamic armies conquered much of what remained.
The fall of Rome may have been the biggest setback in all of human history. One casualty was the Stoic view that a virtuous and civilized way of life reflected a rational and harmonious cosmos.
A succession of pandemics broke this classical worldview. A plague that began in 165 CE and peaked around 180 led to thousands dying in Rome every day and to deaths across the empire running into millions. Marcus Aurelius fell back on the Stoic practice of living each day as his last.
Rome was again shaken by plague in the mid-third century. By the time of the catastrophic Justinian plague, the natural world had come to be seen as chaotic and antagonistic to humankind. This boosted the rise of Christianity.
The Earth didn't help. Small changes in the orbit of the planet, plus perturbations in its tilt and spin, changed the climate and disrupted the rhythms of human life. A cold snap lasting 150 years led to crop failures and famine.
Plagues entered Rome via far-flung trade networks and flea-ridden rats. Large populations crowded together in cities suffered tuberculosis, leprosy, and fevers. They caught infections from the ends of the Earth, thanks to the Roman experiment in globalization.
Rome was defeated by natural causes. Dense urban habitats and imperial networks of contacts made a new microbial environment. The Romans paved the ways for the plagues to overwhelm the empire.
Roman civilization did not collapse for lack of wisdom. But the Romans didn't know how pandemics worked or how the climate was changing. They didn't understand the double whammy that hit them.
Today, climate change and a pandemic have undermined our ruling worldview and shaken the modern faith that humankind can reshape the natural world as it pleases. They are lethal reminders of the inhumanity of the physical world.

AR Befriend physics and relearn humanity.

 

2020 Summer Solstice

Computation All The Way Down

Stephen Wolfram

Our universe is a simple structure. Elements and relations build into hypergraphs that evolve into multiway graphs and multiway causal graphs. From how the graphs work, we see what relativity is, what quantum mechanics is, and so on.
In our model, atoms of space knit together to form physical space. Rules describe how connected elements are transformed to elements connected in some other way. This connectivity of the elements behaves like space.
The idea that space and time should always be packaged together into a spacetime continuum is wrong. Time is the operation of computation in figuring out what the next state will be from previous states in the hypergraph. When you are an observer embedded within this hypergraph, you get a causal graph that represents space and time.
In our way of thinking, there are three levels of description that correspond to general relativity, quantum mechanics, and a third level, where all we know is which things are related to which other things. We can draw the third level as a hypergraph.
The underlying rules just say that some collection of elements that are related in a certain way are transformed to some other collection of elements related in some other way. The whole operation of the universe consists of just rerunning the basic rule a gazillion times.
In the limit, what happens satisfies Einstein's equations for general relativity. The next level is to apply these transformations to the hypergraph. You get a multiway graph that represents all possible updates. The graph reproduces the physics of quantum computing.
Einstein's equations say the curvature of space depends on the amount of energy momentum in space. In our multiway graph, the equations turn out to be exactly Feynman's path integral in quantum mechanics. The various paths that represent the possibilities in quantum mechanics are turned in this multiway space by the presence of energy momentum. In other words, the core of quantum mechanics is the same phenomenon as the core of classical general relativity.
Causal invariance is what makes it possible to say definite things. At every event, you can have an update event that corresponds to every possible rule you might apply. As an observer of the universe, you choose a frame in which you're only considering the path that corresponds to the application of one particular rule.
In quantum mechanics, we have entanglement. Branchial space is a map of entanglement space. Quantum measurement is looking at particular regions of branchial space in various ways.
Rulial space is the space of outcomes from all these different possible rules. It corresponds to the application of all possible underlying rules. Every conceivable universe is in it. But because of causal invariance and so on, in some sense they all do the same thing.
Within the space of all possible rules, one reference frame is our way of understanding the universe. We have a certain way of describing the universe based on how our physics has developed. Finding a fundamental theory for physics is finding a description of the physical world in the reference frame that we're used to dealing with. The description we come up with for the universe is as much a reflection of us and our way of thinking as of something fundamental about the universe.
Universal computation is the idea that you can get a single universal machine to compute anything you want to compute. The universe can be represented by a universal computer. We can find an underlying rule for the physical universe in which the operation of the universe is as inexorable as generating the digits of π.
In computation, there are limits to what a Turing machine can do. Ask a Turing machine to predict the infinite time result of running a Turing machine. Unless you have a way to speed it up, you could wait an infinite time for an answer. That question is going to look undecidable.
You can imagine having this hypercomputer that says the answer is 42. You can imagine it, but to have a fundamental theory of physics is to say our universe doesn't do hypercomputation.
Computational irreducibility is the idea that the only way to get the answer to a computation is just to run the computation. Within a computationally irreducible system, there are always pockets of computational reducibility. Most of physics as we know it is in a layer of computational reducibility.
The big transition to modern science was from using equations to describe how everything works to using programs and computation to do so. If we can do this for a fundamental theory of physics, we have computation all the way down.

AR I like this approach.

 

X-ray sky
J.Sanders/H.Brunner/eSASS/MPE/E.Churazov/M.Gilfanov/IKI/SRG/eROSITA
Color code: reds for 0.3−0.6 keV X-rays, greens for 0.6−1.0 keV, blues for 1.0−2.3 keV

Tim Tam
The Guardian
Boris touts cheaper Australian
cookies as Brexit bonus
(0:48)

Keine AfD

 

The X-ray Universe

BBC News

We now have an all-sky X-ray map of energetic events in the cosmos. The data comes from the German eRosita instrument mounted on the Russian Spektr-RG space telescope.
This mission was launched in July 2019, parked at a location 1.5 Gm from Earth, and declared operational in December. Its first all-sky data set was completed last week and records over a million X‑ray sources.
MPE Garching high-energy astrophysics head Kirpal Nandra: "That's actually pretty much the same number as had been detected in the whole history of X-ray astronomy going back 60 years. We've basically doubled the known sources in just six months."
The eRosita instrument will make further all-sky surveys over the coming years to refine and clean up its data, to look deeper into the cosmos, and perhaps to find clues about the nature of dark energy.

AR Good work, thanks to German cooperation with Russia.

 

2020 June 19

Britain After Brexit

Philip Stephens

The Johnson government says Global Britain will be a "world-beating" champion of free trade and decide its own policies for global challenges such as climate change.
Boris Johnson saw the pandemic as a chance for the UK to show what it can do. Britain was home to some of the best epidemiological scientists and research institutes, Britain had rehearsed for a pandemic in 2016 and stockpiled supplies, and the NHS would show the world how it was done.
Unhappily, Covid-19 did not pay attention to theoretical notions of sovereignty or to national borders. Britain's performance fighting the virus has been dismal, leaving it at the bottom of the league of comparable European states. Nor has the UK fared well economically. The OECD says it will suffer among the largest falls in GDP this year.
Johnson resisted an early move to lockdown, the scientists initially misread the speed with which the virus was spreading, and far too little was done to expand testing. The NHS carried the scars and shortages after a decade of austerity, the stockpiles had not been maintained, and top civil servants are better at making policy than at management and logistics. Insiders say Johnson's leadership through the crisis was shambolic.
Johnson and his colleagues promote an image of British capabilities steeped in nostalgia for past greatness rather than shaped by contemporary appraisal. As one British diplomat puts it: "There is just an assumption that we do these things so much better than our European neighbours."
Sovereignty may provide the notional freedom to act, but that is not the same as the capacity to achieve national goals. The sovereignty that lets Britain negotiate a bilateral trade deal with America will not prevent Washington from setting the terms. It means Britain will be on its own when trying to cut deals with more powerful partners.

AR Boris boosting Britain is a bust.

 □

No Alternative for Germany

Constanze Stelzenmüller

Four months ago, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer resigned as head of the CDU because a branch of her party had accepted AfD support. After entering the federal legislature in 2017, the AfD was the largest opposition party. It saw her resignation as a kind of victory.
Today, Angela Merkel is as popular as ever. The CDU is back to 40% in the polls and most Germans approve of her grand coalition. The AfD rating is down to 8% and its leaders are squabbling as the pandemic brings out the strengths of the scientist chancellor.
German authorities have begun to crack down on the AfD support networks on the extreme right. But the fight for German democracy is by no means won. The crisis unleashed by the coronavirus is an opportunity for both sides.

AR Sachlichkeit und Pragmatismus haben gewonnen.

 □

Future Circular Collider

Hannah Devlin

CERN scientists are asking what next after the LHC. They propose a Future Circular Collider with a 100 km tunnel to explore higher energies. But the FCC has a €20 billion price tag.
Capital from EU member states and other CERN participants such as the UK will be required. If the financial backing is secured to go ahead, it would not be operational until the 2040s.
At first, the FCC would collide electrons and positrons, then it would collide electrons with nuclei of lead atoms, and later it could smash protons together with an energy of 100 TeV. It would produce large numbers of Higgs bosons and study how they decay. Some theories suggest the Higgs may decay into dark matter particles.
Jon Butterworth: "With the LHC, we knew we'd either find the Higgs or break the Standard Model .. There is no equivalent scenario now. It's much more exploratory. It's definitely higher risk."
Sabine Hossenfelder: "On some level I find it irresponsible. Why don't we put the money into an international center for climate models or pandemic models?"

AR Sabine hat recht.

 □

The Search for Dark Matter

Quanta

A sensitive experimental search for dark matter has found something unexpected. Its results could fit the profile of a hypothetical particle called an axion.
The experiment is XENON1T and its result is an excess of electronic recoils in its detector, a sensor-lined tank of 3.2 Mg of pure xenon located deep beneath a mountain in Italy.
The XENON experiments were originally designed to seek weakly interacting massive particles. Any WIMPs traversing the detector should occasionally collide with a xenon nucleus, generating a flash of light. But after years of searching, no such nuclear recoils have been detected.
XENON researchers then used their experiment to search for other unknown particles that might pass through the detector and hit an electron. Many of these electronic recoils come from contaminants, but after years of refining the experiment, the researchers began to look for signals in the noise.
The team examined electronic recoils in early XENON1T data. They expected to see about 232 of these recoils but saw 285. They came up with three explanations:
1 Axions, particles similar to a photon but with a tiny mass, created in the Sun could explain the excess, although these axions would not be primordial dark matter.
2 Neutrinos might have large magnetic moments, which would make them scatter with electrons at an enhanced rate, explaining the surplus of electronic recoils.
3 Trace amounts of tritium in the xenon tank would decay to generate electronic recoils. Such contamination is possible.
Against 1, if the Sun creates axions, then all stars do. Axions would carry energy out of a star. In hot stars with high axion production, they would cool the stars more than is observed.
Against 2, neutrinos with large magnetic moments seem unlikely. Stars would produce them in large numbers, also cooling the stars more than is observed.
The XENONnT experiment is on track to collect new data later this year.

AR No case for axions here.

 

Red Arrows/Patrouile de France
REUTERS
The Red Arrows and the Patrouille de France fly over Paris on Thursday before flying over London
French president Emmanuel Macron held a meeting with UK prime minister Boris Johnson while visiting London on Thursday
to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle's BBC address to the French people from London in 1940.

Président Macron remet la Légion d'honneur à Londres
 

The Room

ESA
ESA
Solar Orbiter was only 75 Gm
from the Sun this week. After
this first perihelion, mission
scientists will test its science
instruments and telescopes.
The SO cruise phase will last
until November 2021. In the
science phase, perihelion
will be 42 Gm from the
solar surface.

Bozo
AFP
Bojo greets EU

Guide to the Galaxy

The likely number of com-
municating extraterrestrial
intelligent civilizations in our
galaxy is 36 (min 4, max 211)
and the nearest one is from
7 000 to 50 600 light years
away from us, too far
to phone home.

AR Hmm, I say 42.

BLM

Baden-Powell
LORD BADEN-POWELL

Clive of India
CLIVE OF INDIA

Jens Stoltenberg
EPA
NATO head Jens Stoltenberg:
"The rise of China is funda-
mentally shifting the
global balance of power ..
NATO does not see China
as the new enemy."

 

2020 June 18

Climate Crisis: Six Months

Fiona Harvey

The world has only six months to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a rebound in greenhouse gas emissions. International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol: "This year is the last time we have, if we are not to see a carbon rebound."
Governments plan to spend $9 trillion globally this year on rescuing their economies from the corona crisis and shape the global economy for the next three years, when emissions must start to fall sharply and permanently to meet climate targets.

 □

John Bolton: The Room Where It Happened

The Guardian, The Times, The New York Times

At the G20 summit last summer in Osaka, Chinese president Xi Jinping told President Trump that political figures in the United States were trying to start a new cold war with China.
Trump immediately assumed Xi meant the Democrats. He then turned the conversation to the coming US presidential election, pleading with Xi to help him win. Xi said he wanted to work with Trump for six more years. Trump replied that people were saying the two-term constitutional limit on presidents should be repealed for him. Xi said the US had too many elections, and Trump nodded approvingly.
When Xi told Trump why he was building concentration camps to intern Uighur Muslims, Trump said he should go ahead. Trump thought it was exactly the right thing to do.
Trump was willing to halt criminal investigations as personal favors to dictators. When Turkish president Recep Erdoğan told him a Turkish firm under US investigation was innocent, Trump told him he would take care of it. He said the prosecutors were Obama people and he would replace them.
Trump intended to make headlines with a statement defending Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. A story about his daughter Ivanka using her personal email for government business was in the news at the time. Trump: "This will divert from Ivanka."
Intelligence briefings with the president were a waste of time, since much of the time was spent listening to Trump, rather than Trump listening to the briefers. He once asked if Finland was part of Russia. He said it would be "cool" to invade Venezuela.
Trump never tired of assailing allied leaders. At a NATO summit in 2018, he had decided to tell allies that the US would withdraw if they did not increase their defense spending.
In a meeting in 2018 with former UK prime minister Theresa May, a British official referred to the UK as a nuclear power, and Trump asked: "Oh, are you a nuclear power?" This was not said as a joke.
After a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2018, Trump said he was prepared to sign a substance-free communique, declare victory and then get out of town. He became consumed by the idea that US secretary of state Mike Pompeo deliver a signed copy of Elton John's Rocket Man CD to Kim Jong-un.
Trump used US aid to put pressure on Ukraine. He said he was against sending aid until all their materials related to Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden had been turned over. US attorney general William Barr said he was very worried about the appearances Trump was creating.

AR Trump has damaged America.

 

2020 June 17

Climate Crisis

Jonathan Watts

Worst-case global heating scenarios are more alarming when we factor in the role of clouds. New models show the climate is more sensitive to CO2 emissions than we thought.
The IPCC is compiling modeling results from multiple institutions for its 6th report. Since its last report, new models show not 3 K but 5 K in the amount of warming projected from a doubling of atmospheric CO2 over preindustrial levels.
Climate sensitivity above 5 K reduces the scope for human action to ameliorate global heating. Several leading research groups report worst-case projections above 5 K.
The role of clouds is uncertain. Previous IPCC reports assumed clouds have a neutral impact because warming and cooling effects cancel out. But models with finer resolution and advanced cloud microphysics show the net effect is warming.
The new sensitivity model was tested by assessing its accuracy in weather forecasting. It passed the test. The IPCC is expected to cite 5 K in its 6th report.

AR All the more reason to green the global economy faster.

 □

Europe and China

Luke McGee

The EU aims to manage its recovery from coronavirus, become a serious geopolitical player, strengthen the European economy, and act as a world leader on the climate crisis.
Brussels officials say expanding relations with China plays into each of these: Chinese engagement is needed to understand the coronavirus and learn the right lessons from the pandemic, Chinese wealth and willingness to invest can help to boost EU economies, and greening the Chinese economy is a key part of tackling the climate crisis.
By treading a careful path between China and America, Europe creates a unique role for itself on the international stage, giving it diplomatic autonomy from Washington.

AR This heralds a parting of the ways: WW3 (or WWV, depending on how you count) will be Eurasia versus the breakaway Anglo-American (Brexit−Trump) "Yukuza" libertarian capitalists — as I envision in ALBION.

 □

The Sick Man of Europe

Jörg Schindler

Boris Johnson, 55, is playing tennis and jogging. He thinks Covid-19 put him in intensive care because he was overweight. Now he wants to slim down.
But while his physical health is improving, his political health is sinking fast. Even party loyalists are wondering whether the Johnson of old has gone for good.
Last December, Johnson won an election victory that not even his fans expected: a big majority in parliament, the opposition smashed, and breakthrough in the battle for Brexit.
Then came the coronavirus. The British public sees a prime minister whose feckless style of government let the crisis run wild.
Brexit is now back on the front burner. Johnson wants to "put a tiger in the tank" of the deadlocked negotiations on a future trade agreement. But it's not even clear he still knows what he wants.
The corona crisis caught all governments around the world off guard. But hardly any leader has made such a mess of the past few months as Johnson. With more than 50 000 dead, the kingdom is the sad leader in Europe.
Johnson says he's proud of what he achieved, but almost no one else is. In a recent YouGov poll, citizens from seven European countries, including British ones, agreed that no nation was worse led in the crisis than the UK. Britain is the sick man of Europe.
Johnson presents a pitiful picture in parliament. He has curbed his old language but not yet found a new one. As a man who feeds on applause, he looks like a sad clown in the socially distanced Commons circus.
BoJo, it seems, has lost his mojo.

AR I wasn't impressed by BoJo a year ago and I'm not now.

 

2020 Bloomsday

UK vs EU

Financial Times

EU leaders warn Boris Johnson that there will be no trade deal between the UK and the EU unless he accepts a level playing field.
European Council president Charles Michel: "Ready to put a tiger in the tank but not to buy a pig in a poke. Level playing field is essential."
The EU is making demands on state aid, labor rights, and environmental law for a trade deal with the UK. Johnson says the EU did not do so for trade with Canada and Japan.
Talks this year have made little progress. UK sources say they want a deal by the end of the summer. EU diplomats expect crunch talks to begin in September.
The UK rejects demands for a level playing field, rejects EU demands that EU fishermen retain rights to fish in UK territorial waters, and rebuffs EU attempts to give the ECJ a role in disputes on a deal.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament president David Sassoli joined Michel in saying both sides must agree the principles behind a deal.
Joint statement: "The parties underlined their intention to work hard to deliver a relationship, which would work in the interests of the citizens of the Union and of the United Kingdom."

AR Tiger — tank — hard times.

 

2020 June 15

Trump vs US Military

Frank Bruni

President Trump pays lip service to military service, but his actions reveal a crude take on those who perform it. People in the armed services see this and are venting distaste.
Trump has been denounced by Marine Corps General James Mattis and reprimanded by Marine Corps General John Kelly, both of whom held top jobs in his administration.
Trump has been upbraided by Navy Admiral Mike Mullen and Air Force General Richard Myers, each of whom chaired the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Bush 43.
The president sent troops to the southern US border in the fall of 2018 to repel an "invasion" of migrants. His complaints about NATO boil down to balance sheets. His supposed reluctance to send troops into foreign lands have given way to a readiness to have them engage in combat with their fellow Americans.
US troops bring heart, soul, and intellect to what they do. This is more than we can say for their commander in chief.

US Military in Asia
Financial Times

Ever since President Trump was elected, US allies in Asia have worried about whether his transactional approach to foreign policy would sideline their interests.
Asian allies worry that American commitment and capability seem less than in the past. China is using its clout in increasingly aggressive ways against its neighbors, raising alarm.
The allies credit the Trump administration for focusing on the challenge from China but question US reliability and see an erosion of US military supremacy. They see America failing to address the pandemic like a superpower.
Washington identifies Beijing as a strategic competitor. The US military now calls the Indo-Pacific its priority theater and is adjusting its posture to focus on China. But the US strategic approach to China aims only to protect the US people and way of life, to promote US prosperity, and to advance US influence.
Australia and Japan were disappointed by US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Allied Indo-Pacific strategy is regularly undercut by the economic nationalism of America First.
Traditional US allies could drift toward China if they conclude that Washington neither respects their economic interests nor protects their security.

AR Europeans take note: US domination of East Asia is waning.

 

2020 June 14

American Oligarchy

Robert Reich

Rich Americans lobby for tax cuts and fight off a wealth tax. As a result, poor Americans are denied world-class schools, first-class healthcare, and affordable housing.
Top CEOs resist a living wage and universal basic income. They don't want antitrust laws. They oppose solutions to problems that burden minorities. They get the laws they want and organize the system for their own benefit.
As long as racial animosity exists, Americans are less likely to look upward and see where the wealth and power has gone, less likely to notice that the market is rigged against them, less likely to unite against injustice.
The only way to remedy systemic injustice is to redistribute power. To do so, the vast majority need to join together. This is what the oligarchy fears most.

AR Brexiteers deserve contempt for sucking up to Trump America.

 □

White Racism

Melanie Phillips

Across the UK, monuments and war memorials are under threat. Statues of Winston Churchill and Queen Victoria have been defaced and other statues vandalized.
Following the toppling and dumping in Bristol harbour of the statue of slave trader and philanthropist Edward Colston, activists have drawn up a list of about 60 memorials to remove.
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and his deputy Angela Rayner released a picture of themselves supporting Black Lives Matter by taking a knee.
Oriel College Oxford has over entrance a statue of the colonialist Cecil Rhodes. Demonstrators chanted "Kneel, kneel, kneel" and a police officer went down on one knee.
People are kneeling in submission to a revolutionary movement that aims to overthrow white western society. Expect fights between thugs from right and left.

Winston Churchill
Max Hastings

Winston Churchill was born in 1874 and served as a young cavalry subaltern in India.
In WW2, most of those who worked closely with him admired his greatness. But they also saw an old man out of his time in his attitude to native peoples.
The 1943−44 Bengal famine killed some 3 million. Yet Churchill's cabinet denied requests for food deliveries. Indians were dying on the streets of Calcutta, while in its British clubs, members had access to unlimited bacon and eggs.
Churchill was a racist.

AR Racism is wrong.

 □

Britain Flounders

The Observer

Boris Johnson is losing. By any pertinent measure, Britain is being outdone by countries across Europe, most notably Germany.
The UK is likely to suffer the worst damage of any developed country, with a projected 2020 GDP fall of 11.5% amid crisis costs of £133 billion. German GDP is expected to fall 6.6%.
Britain is swapping a health emergency for an economic and social emergency. Lockdown led to a 20% slump in UK GDP in April. The damage to public finances may be irreparable.
Johnson should look to Europe. But his government still aims to end the Brexit transition period on 31 December.

Extend  Brexit Transition
PA Media

UK cabinet minister Michael Gove has told the EU that the UK will not ask for an extension to the Brexit transition period.
A survey shows public support for an extension to the transition period among two sample groups:
Group 1 was told the transition period for leaving the EU ends on 31 December: 54% were for an extension, 40% against.
Group 2 was told about no-deal Brexit delays in the supply of medicinal products: 65% were for an extension, 31% against.
Overall, 85% of people aged 18−24 support an extension.

AR Bozo must end this Brexit nonsense and get his act together.

 

2020 June 13

Chokeholds

Fox News

President Trump: "I think the concept of chokeholds sounds so innocent and so perfect."

New York Bans Chokeholds
The New York Times

New York has become one of the first states to ban the use of chokeholds by law enforcement and repealed a law that kept police disciplinary records secret in the state. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bills three weeks after the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis. New York City also identified $1 billion in cuts to the $6 billion police department budget.

AR New York right, Trump wrong.

 

2020 June 12

Lord Baden-Powell

The Times

Bournemouth-Christchurch-Poole (BCP) council is removing a statue of Lord Baden-Powell from the Poole quayside following threats by opponents of his homophobia, racism, and support for Hitler.
The quayside statue of Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell, hero of the siege of Mafeking in 1900 and founder of the Boy Scouts in 1910, was installed in 2008. It faces Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, where Baden-Powell held his first scout camp and later lived in the castle.
BCP council leader Vikki Slade says the statue will be removed temporarily because it is in danger of being vandalised or dumped into the sea.
During the Third Reich, German ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop invited Baden-Powell to meet Hitler to talk about forming closer ties with the Hitler Youth. Baden-Powell: "I told him that I was fully in favour of anything that would bring better understanding between our nations."
Baden-Powell, 1939: "Lay up all day. Read Mein Kampf. A wonderful book, with good ideas on education, health, propaganda, organisation etc."
Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP for Bournemouth East: "Simply expunging past connections from sight won't correct wrongs or help us better learn from our past."

AR As a boy in Poole, I too was a scout, with a proficiency badge for air spotting.

 □

Fast Radio Bursts

Quanta

On April 28, astronomers detected a fast radio burst (FRB) from an X-ray source in the Milky Way. For a brief moment the FRB was as bright as the radio emission from the Sun, confirming that the new FRB was like extragalactic FRBs.
We think magnetars emit FRBs. A magnetar is a rapidly spinning and highly magnetized neutron star. FRBs are strongly polarized and brief, so they come from a small object with a lot of energy.
A magnetar blasts out a flare of energy, much of it as electron-positron pairs. The flare can make an FRB in one of two ways:
1 The flare remains anchored to the crust of the star via magnetic field lines. As the crust moves, these magnetic fields twist and turn until they snap, releasing a coherent flash of radio waves.
2 The flare escapes the magnetosphere and plows into older debris surrounding the magnetar to cause a shock wave that compresses the plasma ahead of it and builds a magnetic field behind it. Electrons in the shock front gyrate along the field lines and emit another coherent radio flash as well as 100 000 times more energy in X-rays.
We can expect different types of magnetar to emit the many types of FRB we see.

AR Problem solved.

 

2020 June 11

Lord Vulture

William Dalrymple

Robert Clive established British rule in India. He came to be known as Lord Vulture.
Clive was hauled before parliament with calls to strip him of his peerage and his wealth. A select committee recommended that the vast sums of money he and his henchmen had appropriated be reimbursed. He symbolised the evil of the East India Company and died by his own hand in 1774.
Yet in the early 20th century, Lord Vulture was miraculously transformed into the heroic Clive of India. Today his statue stands outside the Foreign Office, just behind Downing Street, where it encourages Brexiteer fantasies of a Second Empire.
Most Brits never learn about the atrocities and exploitation behind the building of the colonial system. The British imperialists were an aggressively racist and expansionist force responsible for violence, injustice, and war crimes on every continent.
Indians have bitter memories of British rule. In 1600, Britain represented less than 2% of global GDP and India more than 20%, but at the peak of the Raj those figures were reversed. India was reduced to a symbol of famine and deprivation.
Removing the statue of Clive from the back of Downing Street would be wise.

AR Europeans need to unite to survive in a post-imperial world. The EU was their salvation until Brexit ruined it. A Second Empire is as mad as a Fourth Reich.

 

2020 June 10

Shame on Britain

Rafael Behr

The morning after Donald Trump's election in November 2016, a Conservative minister bounded up to me in Westminster to share his political prediction: "It'll be fine."
Michael Gove even compared Trump to George Washington. He cast Trump as a "force of nature" who did not merit the "scorn and condescension" of his UK critics.
Trump is a malignancy eating away at the authority of his office. Like any despot, he demands submission, then despises as weaklings those who submit. He despises the people who elected him and befouls American public administration.
If Trump is defeated in November, the last four years are nothing but a stain on transatlantic relations. If Trump stays, the only global role for Boris Johnson is dishevelled sidekick to a rogue superpower. Either way, there is a price to pay.

Government Ineptitude
Lynsey Hanley

Britain is trapped in lockdown purgatory. Yet throughout the pandemic, the UK government has treated a public health crisis as an exercise in political management.
We live in a lockdown twilight zone, where public life and private spirits wither while the idea of being able to go shopping in a car is presented as a return to normality.
We refuse to live like this, and we refuse to die like this. A better government would not be stumbling into an endless limbo that puts lives at risk and makes us miserable.

Disaster Capitalism
George Monbiot

Conservatives pledged not to compromise on high UK environmental protection, animal welfare, and food standards. The government is now proposing to let in US foods produced using dangerous, cruel, and disgusting means. EU rules set higher standards.
Conservatives pledged that in US trade talks the NHS was not on the table. Yet leaked trade documents reveal that the US negotiators want full market access to the NHS.
Tory extremists have long sought to rip down anything that stands in the way of the most vicious form of capitalism. The new trade bill allows the government to change the law on trade agreements without parliamentary approval. This is not democracy but dictatorship.
Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings are tearing down the UK to leave a wasteland for the disaster capitalists funding the party. We must stop them.

Brexit Hangover
Tony Barber

The UK government has introduced a quarantine on international travelers, says it will not request an extension of the Brexit transition period, and presses on with US trade talks.
Boris Johnson is failing on three fronts. Lack of confidence in his handling of the pandemic outweighs confidence. Disapproval of his leadership is higher than approval. And the Conservative lead over Labour has fallen to only 3%. His hard line on Brexit is a blood pact with party activists.
The UK government is determined to seal a US trade deal. The price will be a tougher approach to China and a decisive break with the EU. Boris will pay the price.

AR Let the price be high.

 □

Representation Theory

Quanta

Representation theory represents complicated objects with simpler objects. Groups of things in a structured relationship with each other can be represented by matrices.
The six symmetries of an equilateral triangle form a group. They do so because you can apply any number of them to the triangle, in any order, and get the same result as you can by applying just one symmetry. Combining two symmetries is composition, which acts like multiplication.
The real numbers also form a group. The real numbers have an identity element, 1, and you can multiply any combination of real numbers, in any order, and still get a real number. The group of real numbers is closed under multiplication.
In linear algebra, vectors are defined by coordinates, which we can write in a matrix. Matrices define such linear transformations as stretches, reflections, rotations, shears, and identity. The algebra specifies how we can multiply, add, and subtract matrices.
Representation theory assigns a matrix to each element in a group according to certain rules. A collection of matrices that respect the rules is a representation of a group.
A representation is a simplified picture of a group. We can explore a group by seeing how it behaves under linear transformations. Almost all groups can be represented in multiple ways.
A character table summarizes information about the group. The rows refer to each of the different representations, and the columns refer to the matrices within them for the identity element and the generating elements in the group. The cells contain the trace of the matrices obtained by summing diagonal entries from upper left to lower right. The table provides a simplified picture of the group.
Representation theory is a central tool in algebra, topology, geometry, mathematical physics, and number theory.

AR My struggle with math goes on.

 

Minneapolis
Fox News
Minneapolis city police protecting the community

Merkel, Trump
NYT
Merkel, Trump, 2019

Spiegel
SPIEGEL

Nutshells
AR
Nutshell trilogy by A. Zee:
I still haven't read it.

Jim Peebles
⦿ Denise Applewhite
Jim Peebles shared the 2019
Nobel Prize in Physics for
his work in cosmology

 

2020 June 9

Defund Minneapolis Police

Fox News

The City of Minneapolis has pledged to defund the Minneapolis Police Department: "Today's court order will create immediate change for communities of color and Indigenous communities who have suffered generational pain and trauma as a result of systemic and institutional racism and long-standing problems in policing."

US police kill civilians at much higher rates than other countries

 □

Bodger Is Bottom

Daily Express

UK prime minister Boris Johnson is the least popular leader in the world, based on his response to the coronavirus pandemic, says a YouGov pool. Britons rate his leadership even lower than Americans rate Donald Trump. More than 50,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the UK.

AR If even the Daily Excrement says he's bottom, he's bottom!

 

2020 June 8

America vs Germany

Katrin Bennhold

Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Trump last week that she would not attend the G7 meeting he wanted to host in Washington this month. She cited the ongoing pandemic. He responded with a monologue about the G7, NATO, the WHO, and the pandemic.
An official: "It was not a nice call."
One week later, Germans learned that the United States planned to cut its troop presence in their country by more than a quarter. Some 9,500 soldiers are to leave within the next three months. There had been no warning, and there is still no official notification.
The episodes signal a breakdown in relations between the United States and Germany that officials have neither sought nor desired.
German Marshall Fund vice president Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff: "Merkel represents everything Trump loathes — globalism, multilateralism, international law. Trump aligns more with the well-known authoritarian leaders in the world."
American troops in Germany serve as a deterrent to Russia. By unilaterally withdrawing troops, Trump is hurting NATO and directly playing into Russian hands.
German foreign affairs committee chairman Norbert Röttgen: "It's all about him, it's not about a vision of the world, not about politics, it's about him, about his need for validation — and sometimes his need for revenge."

AR Trump and the Brexiteers have played into Putin's hands.

 □

Tell Trump "You're Fired"

Der Spiegel

Last Monday, Donald Trump emerged from a White House surrounded by angry protesters. He found no words to acknowledge the murder of George Floyd. Instead he stood in front of a church and raised a Bible in his hand.
On Tuesday night, military helicopters circled low above Washington to intimidate protesters and looters. National guardsmen in combat gear stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial. And then suddenly on Thursday a fence stood around the White House to protect the president from the people.
The United States is in a perfect storm. Since the beginning of March, the pandemic has killed more than 100,000 people, more than 40 million Americans have lost their jobs, millions of them have lost their health insurance too, and many parents can no longer feed their children. US inner cities are burning, with looting and rage on the streets, and large numbers of white Americans are joining the protests against racism.
Trump only made it into office because the US electoral system favors the predominantly white Midwest states. Democrat Joe Biden has a chance to win. But the chaotic electoral system in the United States gives Trump various ways to contest a Biden victory:
 What if Republicans impose an election day curfew in cities with many Democrat supporters?
 What if the election is down to the wire and Trump refuses to recognize a result in a swing state?
 What if it takes days to count postal votes, but Trump has already declared himself the winner?
 What if Trump even defies a verdict from the US Supreme Court?
The Secret Service would have to escort him from the Oval Office.

AR Try handcuffs and a gun to the head.

 □

End of Yukuza

Patrick Wintour

The UK-USA special relationship may end if Donald Trump wins a second term. If Joe Biden wins, Washington may view the EU rather than the UK as its primary partner. Following the US presidential election in November, UK diplomats are looking to form a broader alliance of democracies.
Former Conservative international development secretary Rory Stewart: "If Trump comes in for another four years that will be very challenging for the global system .. If we have to move away from the US, it will involve a much bigger shift in national security infrastructure than we have ever experienced."
Former head of M16 and former UK ambassador to the UN Sir John Sawers: "President Trump is the most difficult president for us to deal with. He does not really feel that sense of being part of that transatlantic community .. He does not really believe in American leadership in the world .. We will need to be binding closely together with our European partners."

AR Yes: Abandon Brexit.

 

2020 June 7

Symmetry and Spacetime

Quanta

Einstein's special theory of relativity led to the conclusion that the relationship between energy and mass is invariant. The energy-matter content of the universe is conserved.
The same is true, Einstein showed, for space and time. The relationship between space and time is invariant, even as space contracts and time dilates.
Maxwell's equations show that although the connection between electric and magnetic fields looks different in different frames of reference, the speed at which electromagnetic fields propagate through space is fixed.
Einstein said the speed of light sets the relationship between space and time. No matter how fast the observer is moving, the spacetime interval between two events is invariant.
Resistance to change becomes infinite at the speed of light. Since that resistance is inertia, and inertia is a measure of mass, the energy of motion is transformed into mass.
The special theory of relativity does not apply to accelerated motion. In his general theory, Einstein showed that gravitational acceleration reflects how massive objects curve spacetime.
Invariances soon took on a life of their own, leaping out from the symmetries of spacetime. Gauge invariances turned out to require the existence of lots of particles from W and Z bosons to gluons.
Gauge symmetries describe the internal structure of the system of particles in the Standard Model. They indicate all the ways we can shift, rotate, distort, and generally mess with the equations without varying anything important.
An idea closely related to symmetry is duality. Newfound dualities have revealed that a 3D world without gravity can be dual to a 4D world with gravity. These dualities show the number of dimensions is not invariant.
Certain dualities suggest that spacetime emerges from the connections between entangled quantum particles. The spacetime continuum may emerge as a secondary effect of more fundamental entanglement relationships.

AR I like the idea that spacetime is discrete, but if spacetime emerges from entanglement we can relax and contemplate a continuum.

 

2020 June 6

Our Universe

Jim Peebles

Our standard model of cosmology is that some 13.8 billion years ago the universe was in a hot, dense state and has been expanding and cooling ever since.
The clearest evidence for the big bang model is the cosmic microwave background (CMB). This sea of radiation that fills all of space is almost uniform, in thermal equilibrium. Its tiny variations of intensity across the sky are consistent with a model of an expanding big bang universe with dark matter and dark energy.
The CMB radiation is quite smooth, yet matter comes in great clumps. To explain how could matter have been pulled together without pulling the radiation with it, I proposed that most matter is dark matter that doesn't interact with normal baryonic matter except through gravity, or with radiation.
Astronomical evidence suggests that most of the mass on the outskirts of galaxies is not very luminous. If the visible matter were all that existed, the galaxies would fly apart, based on the speed at which they are rotating.
Particle physics has confirmed three families of leptons. If a fourth neutrino had a high enough mass, a sea of them left from the hot early universe would provide about the matter density required for the universe to be expanding at escape speed, when gravity is just enough to slow expansion down but never quite stop it.
The evidence suggests that the universe is expanding faster than escape speed. An average matter density small enough to allow this seems to call for reintroducing Einstein's cosmological constant with a tiny value. Also, the rate of expansion is growing over time, which has led us to rebrand the cosmological constant as dark energy.
Measurements of the variation in the temperature and polarisation of the CMB radiation across the sky yield tight constraints on the effects of dark energy and dark matter.
Most cosmologists think the model with dark matter and dark energy is on the right track. Yet the central mysteries of dark matter and dark energy remain.
There are other great challenges for modern cosmology, such as explaining precisely what happened at the big bang. Physics is incomplete, and cosmology is still a kludge of hypothetical components.

AR Kludges yes, but still good work.

 

I can't breathe
⦿ Andrea Fasani/EPA
Milan, Italy

Boogaloo Bois
INSIDER

Rosenheim
⦿ Manuel Nieberle
A test center in Rosenheim

Donald Trump
AP
"I am your president
of law and order."
Donald Trump

UK Parliament
UK Parliament

I can't breathe
AP

NASA/SpaceX
REUTERS
NASA and SpaceX launched
astronauts Robert Behnken
and Douglas Hurley in a Crew
Dragon capsule on a Falcon 9
rocket to the International
Space Station.

 

2020 June 5

American Freedom

Barack Obama

This country was founded on protest — it's called the American Revolution. Every step of progress in this country, every expansion of freedom, every expression of our deepest ideals has been won through efforts that made the status quo uncomfortable. And we should all be thankful for folks who are willing, in a peaceful, disciplined way, to be out there making a difference.

Trump Coup 2020
Sascha Lobo

Donald Trump is preparing a coup:
2016: "I will absolutely accept the result of this great and historic election — if I win!"
2017/18: Trump says the Mueller investigation is part of a Democrat plan for a coup.
2019: Democrats begin impeachment proceedings. It fails, but Trump says they were planning a coup against him.
April 2020: The Supreme Court refuses an extension to the postal voting deadline in Wisconsin.
May 2020: Trump repeatedly tweets that the election could be falsified in November.
June 2020: Trump threatens to deploy the US military against protesters. The national guard and the police are subordinate to state governors. But as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Trump can exercise power directly on the street. His fundamentalist "good versus bad" narrative is an end-time narrative of holy war.
November 2020: If he loses the election, Trump will accuse the media of spreading fake news, he will claim a deep state conspiracy, he will deploy the US military, and he will call the Supreme Court for support.

Boogaloo Bois
CNN

The Boogaloos confound officials who puzzle out the political sympathies of the agitators showing up to George Floyd rallies and walking around with assault rifles.
Some Boogaloo members identify as anarchists and others reject formal titles. Some espouse white supremacy while others reject it. But they like toting around guns in public and rally to the "boogaloo" cry — code for a new US civil war.
Known for sporting Hawaiian shirts and arriving at public protests heavily armed, the Boogaloo Bois are often associated with the far right. Most of the 125 or so Boogaloo groups on Facebook have sprung up since January.
Benjamin Ryan Teeter and a handful of other Boogaloo Bois went to Minneapolis to protect protesters. They stood sentry with firearms outside mom-and-pop shops, but in solidarity with the black community in opposition to police brutality.
Teeter: "Once people realize that we are on their side and we are here to protect them, everybody .. has been very happy to have us here."

AR Wild West gun law.

 □

Brexit Talks

Michael Clauss

A deal is possible. But the UK needs to be more realistic. It cannot have both full sovereignty and full access to the internal market. Brexit will get full EU attention in September and October.
So far, no real progress has been made in the negotiations. Both sides have been stating their positions. The main issues are future internal market access and the level playing field. Other issues are fish quotas and governance.
We hope to have a deal for the European summit in mid-October. We cannot leave it later because any deal has to be ratified by the European Parliament.

AR Clauss is Germany's ambassador in Brussels.

 

2020 June 4

Angry and Appalled

James Mattis

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.
We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values — our values as people and our values as a nation.
When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.
Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, DC, sets up a conflict — a false conflict — between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part.
The Nazi slogan for destroying us was: Divide and conquer. Our American answer is: In union there is strength. We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis — confident that we are better than our politics.

AR Long before he served as Trump's defense secretary, former marine general "Mad Dog" Mattis said: "If you fuck with me, I'll kill you."

 □

Germany Got Coronavirus Right

Guy Chazan

This April in Rosenheim, Walther Leonhard was given a new job as containment scout. He was soon at home and hitting the phones. He was the latest recruit into a German army for containing the coronavirus.
Germany has a government led by physicist Angela Merkel that avoided the policy zigzags seen elsewhere. On April 17, authorities announced that the pandemic was under control. By June 1, Germany had roughly 103 Covid-19 deaths per million inhabitants, compared with 579 for the UK.
In Rosenheim, the hospital increased the number of intensive care beds for coronavirus patients from 7 to 63, commandeered ventilators, merged wards, rebuilt clinics, and constructed isolation areas. Within a week, it had the first additional intensive care wing, and within the second week another. In the end, it was enough.
German health minister Jens Spahn: "There have been no austerity policies in our health service. Apart from a small dip in 2008−09, spending has been rising steadily every year for 15 years."
Germany now spends 12% of GDP on health. The system is uniform in terms of financial resources and the quality of care. It is also much more decentralized than the NHS.
In Rosenheim, a civil protection management team was formed to decide which patients were sent where, how to share out PPE, and where to create additional capacity. The team is still holding onto Walther Leonhard, but he has less to do these days. The streets are again filled with families.

AR I'd rather be living in Germany.

 

2020 June 3

US Fascist Dictatorship

David Smith

When fascism came to America, it was wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.
On Monday evening, Donald Trump, with four US flags behind him, threatened to send in the military against the American people, then crossed the road to pose for a photo outside a historic church while clutching a Bible. He was only able to get there after heavily armed police and horse-mounted national guardsmen fired teargas and rubber bullets to chase away peaceful protesters.
Democratic senator Ron Wyden: "The fascist speech Donald Trump just delivered verged on a declaration of war against American citizens."
Democratic senator Kamala Harris: "These are not the words of a president. They are the words of a dictator."
Trump tweeted: "When the looting starts, the shooting starts."

US Evangelicals
Matthew Teague

"My whole family was flabbergasted," said Benjamin Horbowy, 37, who heads a local motorcycle club in Tallahassee, Florida. "My mother just shouted out, 'God give him strength! He's doing a Jericho walk!' .. and she started speaking in tongues. I haven't heard her speak in tongues in years."
Horbowy changed his Facebook profile photo to one of Trump outside St John's, with light shining from the Bible. "There's a Bible verse that says we shouldn't talk about evil things. We can just say, 'There's evil' and move on .. I believe this is a president who wears the full armor of God."

US Mayhem
Julian Borger

The Trump crackdown so far:
 More than a hundred thousand Americans are dead from a pandemic.
 Armored cars and troops are stationed outside Washington metro stations.
 Men in combat gear with sniper rifles take aim from a helicopter flying low over Washington.
 A military chopper flies low and blows back a crowd of demonstrators with its downwash.
 Peaceful protesters and black residents targeted for arbitrary arrest or police beatings or both.
The US defense secretary describes US cities as the "battlespace" and Trump rejoices in using "overwhelming force" to achieve "domination" over the citizenry.

US Racism
Paul Krugman

America is on the brink. Wealthy elites weaponized white racism to gain political power. They used it to pursue policies that enriched the already wealthy at workers' expense.
Trump's economic policies have been not populist but plutocratic. He has rammed through huge tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and tried to take health insurance away from poor and working-class families.
Trump has provided his base with cover for racial hostility. He is encouraging violence and talking about military solutions to protests. What will he do if he looks likely to lose in November?

AR As Justin Trudeau said, horror and consternation.

 □

UK Government

Financial Times

Potemkin Cabinet
Boris Johnson has been meeting with ministers via video during the lockdown and has no immediate plans to resume physical cabinet meetings in Number 10.
A minister: "There are clearly advantages to holding physical meetings, not least because you can talk to colleagues before and after cabinet."
In an era of social distancing, only 13 people can sit in the cabinet room at once. But the cabinet has 26 members as well as a secretary and other officials. During the crisis, Johnson has taken key decisions with his inner circle of four ministers.
A Tory official: "It's a Potemkin cabinet. The cabinet no longer takes decisions."

Virtual  Commons
MPs voted to scrap the UK virtual parliament on Tuesday. Other MPs wanted to extend the temporary online voting measures set up in the coronavirus lockdown. To stay 2 m apart, MPs stood in a 1 km queue for almost an hour for each vote. Some called the procedure an absurd waste of time.
Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg: "It is important for votes to be physical because we are coming here together as a single parliament and we are voting on things that have a major effect on people's lives."
Labour MP Ian Byrne: "The utter madness of this charade is that as well as putting lives at risk, it may result in a democratic process which excludes hundreds of MPs shielding having the ability to participate."
A senior MP: "We don't have a cohesive group of MPs. There's a lot of new members and a lot who didn't spend their whole lives dreaming about politics and didn't expect to be here. There's also no cohesion that goes beyond getting Brexit done."

The Equality and Human Rights Commission condemns Rees-Mogg's plan.
EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath: "This will place at significant disadvantage MPs who are shielding or self-isolating .. It cannot be right for parliament to proceed without provision for remote participation, when many elected representatives cannot attend in person."

AR Does anyone seriously imagine this confusion in Westminster expresses any kind of democratic mandate to commit economic suicide on December 31?

 □

Modeling the Pandemic

Karl Friston

Conventional models used by epidemiologists essentially fit curves to historical data and then extrapolate those curves into the future. They use observable data.
Our approach borrows from physics and the work of Richard Feynman. It attempts to capture the mathematical structure of the phenomenon and to understand the causes. We call them generative models, because they contain enough to generate the data.
Epidemiologists today often use an SEIR model, which allocates people into four states: susceptible (S), exposed (E), infected (I), or recovered (R). But SEIR models fall apart when you think about the underlying causes of the data.
With conventional SEIR models, interventions and surveillance are perturbations. But these things are built into a generative model. We can predict not only numbers of cases and deaths but also societal and institutional responses.

AR Physics to the rescue.

 

2020 June 2

Stop Killing Us!

The New York Times

George Floyd died while restrained by a police officer in the middle of a Minneapolis street in daylight. His alleged offense was passing a counterfeit bill to buy a pack of cigarettes. Before him, Breonna Taylor was shot dead in her own apartment by officers who used a battering ram to burst through her front door.
The list of black Americans brutalized or killed by law enforcement officers, who rarely if ever face consequences for their actions, goes on and on, and on and on.
Thousands of Americans have taken to the streets to express a rage born of despair that their government has failed to provide the right to life, and to not be deprived of that life without due process of law. Not all of these protests have been peaceful.

"In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. As long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again."
Martin Luther King Jr, 1967

AR The latest riots are President Trump's most shameful legacy.

 □

Brexit Nightmare

Luke McGee

June is a make or break month for Brexit. The UK formally left the EU on January 31. It is now in a transition period where it still obeys EU rules in exchange for business as usual in key areas. The transition period creates a space to negotiate a future relationship. But it ends on December 31 and both sides say the negotiations are not going well. The next round of virtual talks begins today.

UK−EU Negotiations
Michel Barnier

We have a joint responsibility to do everything we can to reach an agreement. What I am hearing publicly and privately is that the UK does not want to ask for and to talk about an extension. We need to clarify that by the end of June.

Johnson Weak
Nick Cohen

Covid-19 and Brexit add up to a double whammy. The UK looks doomed to leave the EU without a deal or with a minimal FTA. With an FTA, the UK will lose £40 billion a year; without, £60 billion.
If Boris Johnson were to ask the EU for an extension to the trade talks because of the pandemic, the majority of the public would understand. But the extremists would not. For them, prolonging the talks means prolonging the vassalage. Any decent deal to protect the economy would mean carrying on paying and accepting EU regulations.
Johnson has not prepared his supporters for the costs of compromise. Hardcore Brexiteers would accuse him of betrayal if he follows the national interest. Johnson is too weak to face up to them.

Expect No Deal
John Keiger

Business is preparing for a no-deal Brexit. The coronavirus crisis has led the EU to suspend its state aid and competition rules, so EU insistence on a level playing field rules out a deal. And the UK fears having to fund the €750 billion bail-out and debt mutualization package.

AR Brexit is Boris Johnson's shameful legacy.

 

2020 June 1

Energy and Entropy

Quanta

Black holes offer clues about quantum gravity. Quantum fluctuations at the surfaces of black holes cause them to evaporate and shrink as they radiate heat.
Black holes become electrically charged when charged particles fall into them. They have an extremal limit where they store as much electric charge as possible for their size. When a charged black hole evaporates and shrinks, it will eventually reach this extremal limit.
Combining Einstein's gravity equations and Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism, we find that a black hole's charge Q can never exceed its mass M when both are expressed in the same fundamental units.
Together, M and Q determine the radius of the event horizon: Q creates an inner horizon behind the event horizon, and as Q increases, the inner horizon expands and the event horizon contracts until, at Q = M, the two horizons coincide.
If Q increased further, the radius of the event horizon would no longer be real. For a black hole with Q = M to split into two smaller black holes, conservation of energy and charge require that one of the holes have Q > M, which is impossible.
At smaller scales, the quantum mechanical properties of gravity contribute corrections to the Einstein−Maxwell equations. The smaller the black hole, the more important the corrections become, causing the extremal limit to move farther and farther away from Q = M.
If the corrections are positive rather than negative, then small black holes can let Q > M, allowing big extremal black holes to decay. Since an object's charge Q is its sensitivity to any force other than gravity, and its mass M is its sensitivity to gravity, Q > M implies that gravity is the weakest force.
If gravity is the weakest force in the universe, objects with Q > M can exist. But this is no proof. The quantum gravity corrections might be negative.
The Bekenstein−Hawking law says a black hole's entropy is directly proportional to its surface area. But quantum gravitational corrections shift the entropy out of exact proportion. The corrections grow more significant the smaller the black hole.
If you modify the Einstein−Maxwell equations with a series of extra terms coming from short-distance effects and solve the new equations to calculate a corrected extremal limit, the corrections exactly match those to its entropy.
The corrections could in principle be either positive or negative. The entropy shift is positive in a large class of scenarios and models of quantum gravity. We guess quantum corrections lead to more entropy rather than less, and smaller black holes can let Q > M.
The weak gravity conjecture appears to hold in string theory. The thermodynamic relation between energy and entropy applies generally in nature.

AR This is really important.

 

Sandbanks
AR
Poole Bay, Saturday morning

This Life

Christian Drosten
DPA
Christian Drosten, Direktor
des Instituts für Virologie
an der Charité in Berlin

Schnelles Einschreiten hat in
Deutschland bis zu 100.000
Corona-Tote verhindert.
Christian Drosten sieht das
Land gut gerüstet für eine
mögliche zweite Welle
der Pandemie.

"To live is to encounter the
tragic — a reality shot through
with utter strife, and covered
in complete darkness. Despite
our best attempts, we are
not going to get out of it.
For philosophers to overlook, sugarcoat, or rationalize
this fact is to deny
something essential."
John Kaag

Dominic Cummings
⦿ Peter Summers
Dominic Cummings

Richard Barrons
RB
General Sir Richard Barrons

Angela Merkel
⦿ Filip Singer
Angela Merkel, Berlin, May 8

 

2020 May 31

America Aflame

Michelle Goldberg

Hospitals in New York City were overwhelmed. The US economy froze, unemployment soared, lines of cars stretched for miles at food banks, and armed lockdown protesters demonstrated across America. At least 100,000 people nationwide died of a new disease.
The economic ruin from the pandemic is just beginning. In some states, moratoriums on evictions have ended or will soon. The expanded unemployment benefits run out at the end of July. Ravaged state budgets mean painful cutbacks in public jobs and services.
This week, a Minneapolis police officer was filmed killing a black man named George Floyd. In Minneapolis, protesters poured into the streets and met a harsh police response, demonstrations turned into riots, and the governor called in the National Guard.
Trump: "THUGS .. When the looting starts, the shooting starts."
The Boogaloo movement is an online update of the militia movement. The "Boogaloo Bois" expect a summer of armed confrontations leading up to a new civil war.

AR Brexit Brits want to boogie with Trump America?

 

2020 May 30

This Life

Knox Peden

Martin Hägglund says the question of what I should do with my time underlies all norms. I grasp my life as finite and give my life for a cause. Anything else is delusional or bad faith.
Bad faith is a notion associated with Jean-Paul Sartre. The existentialism of Martin Heidegger is a pillar for Hägglund. By contrast, secular faith is the precondition of doing anything at all.
Secular faith is a comportment toward the world drawn from a sense that our time is valuable. Spiritual freedom is a matter of using that time wisely. Democratic socialism is the political system that gives us the means to do so.
To have secular faith is to acknowledge that the object of our faith depends on the practice of faith. Hägglund follows Hegel in seeing the truth of Christianity in the community practices it sustains.
Secular faith is not opposed to religious faith but is its truth. As a believer, you cared for your fate, but now you are responsible for it. Secular faith is existentially basic.
Spiritual freedom is a matter of endless negotiation among creatures able to offer reasons for the norms that guide their actions.

AR I like it.

 

2020 May 29

Coronavirus UK: Second Wave

David Hunter

R is the average number of people someone infected with COVID-19 passes the virus on to. If it is greater than 1.0, the epidemic will grow exponentially. R0 applies to a naive population with no immunity or interventions. Re or Rt measures how we are doing in controlling the virus.
We cannot be confident about the precise value of R or about regional variations. SAGE estimates that on 22 May the average R value across the UK was 0.7−1.0. Re may be twice as high in NE England as in London. R also varies from person to person. Early estimates of R0 for COVID-19 were in the range 2.0−3.0, but more recent estimates are around 4.0.
The epidemic grew much faster prior to the lockdown than it has diminished since. With Re so close to 1.0, we could try to bring it down further so that efficient test, trace, and isolate measures combined with the quarantine of new arrivals can work.
Instead, the UK government has chosen to open up the economy when there are still large numbers of infected people who do not know they carry the virus. A contact-tracking system is being introduced, but it will not be enough. Stabilising the epidemic only buys time to find an effective treatment or vaccine. Until then, as soon as the weather pushes us indoors there will be a second wave.

AR Hunter is professor of epidemiology at Oxford.

 □

Boris Johnson

Alex Massie

Boris Johnson is not up to the job. His attempt to dismiss concerns about Dominic Cummings has turned a story into a scandal.
Danny Kruger MP: "BJ and DC together are why we won the 2019 election and them together is the only way to GBD [Get Brexit Done], level up the regions and fix Whitehall .. which will win us the next election too. An arguable minor infraction of lockdown rules is totally secondary to that."
No mere advisor should ever be thought indispensable. If Johnson cannot function without Cummings, he is not qualified to be PM.

At Risk
Katy Balls

The pursuit of Dominic Cummings provides critics of Boris Johnson with their best chance yet to destabilise his government.
Cummings helped Johnson win the Brexit referendum and then an election, but he runs a tight team and takes quick decisions. In a system of cabinet government, this causes tensions. Johnson has a majority of 80, but he cannot do what he likes.
That Johnson is so reliant on a spad triggers alarm. His decision to keep him raises questions about his judgment.

On Fire
Philip Collins

Danny Kruger foresees the second Cummings presiding over the 2024 election campaign. The Tory faithful have averted their eyes from a takeover by an insecure PM and his flawed svengali.

AR Kick out Bodger and his evil daemon.

 

2020 May 28

Coronavirus US

The New York Times

More than 100,000 people who caught Covid-19 have died in the United States. The death toll is far higher than in any other nation in the world.
The toll exceeds the number of US military combat fatalities in every conflict since 1945. It matches the US toll in the 1968 flu pandemic, and it is approaching the 116,000 killed in another flu outbreak a decade before that.
The pandemic is on track to be the deadliest US public health disaster since the 1918 flu pandemic, in which about 675,000 Americans died.

AR Blame Donald Trump for a bungled response.

 □

Coronavirus UK

Financial Times

The UK has suffered the highest rate of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic among countries that produce comparable data, according to excess mortality figures.
The UK has registered almost 60,000 more deaths than usual since the week ending March 20, so the virus has killed 891 people per million. At this stage of the pandemic, that is a higher rate of death than in any country for which good data exist.
The absolute number of excess deaths in the UK is also the highest in Europe, and the UK percentage increase in deaths compared with normal levels is the hit in Europe.

AR Blame Boris Johnson for a bungled response.

 

2020 May 27

Dominic Cummings

Financial Times

Boris Johnson says Dominic Cummings was justified. His loyalty suggests Cummings is the strategic center of the Johnson government. Cummings is a brilliant political campaigner, but Johnson has burnt through political capital defending the indefensible. The saga will undermine the government. Johnson must man up.

The Debacle
Polly Toynbee

Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson have opted to take on the world. For as long as Cummings stays, Johnson is damaged. The delay exposes the weakness and dependency of a prime minister who is only an empty front man, unfit and unwilling to shoulder the burden of his office. Johnson looks like the servant, not the master.

The Man
Martin Farrer

Dominic Cummings is the embodiment of the change that has led the UK into its biggest failure of statecraft since the war. Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed him in a TV drama about his work to win the Brexit campaign.
Cummings read history at Oxford. Asked who was smarter, Boris Johnson or Cummings, history don Robin Lane Fox replied: "Dominic, by a long way. Different class altogether."
After leaving Oxford with a first, Cummings spent three years in post-Soviet Russia before drifting into Conservative party politics. His Vote Leave team hacked the 2016 Brexit referendum and won.
At the end of March, Cummings and his wife, both suffering symptoms of Covid-19, drove to Durham to arrange childcare for their son. Boris Johnson stands by his man.

AR Johnson will have to dump him. Then he will be exposed as a duffer.

 

2020 May 26

Memorial Day

The New York Times

On a holiday that usually mixes somber remembrance and blissful renewal, America marked an unusually grim Memorial Day in which losses from the past merged with ones from the present. Crowds flocked to open spaces on the first long weekend since the coronavirus tore into the country, so far taking almost 100,000 lives.

AR Yesterday was a hot and sunny bank holiday in the UK.

 □

Boris Has Blundered

The Times

Dominic Cummings dashed to Durham. We may sympathise with his predicament, but many millions of other people have wrestled with comparable circumstances and stayed at home.
This is a question of fairness. But the government chose to aggravate matters, insisting that Cummings had done nothing wrong. Pipe down, everyone, and know your place.
In point of fact, people have known their place. They have stayed at home. They have understood the message, absorbed it, and acted within the regulations.
Boris Johnson is a tragically miscast prime minister. He is an entertainer asked to play the lead in a serious drama. Governments can withstand criticism, but mockery is fatal.
Cummings may not be guilty of any crime. But a blunder can be worse. The greater blunder is owned by his boss, a prime minister whose moral authority has collapsed.

AR BoJo is terrified that without his Dom he won't have a clue what to do.

 

2020 May 25

Cummings: A German View

Jochen Buchsteiner

Dominic Cummings gilt als Symbolfigur, dessen Abtritt den Premierminister Boris Johnson und seine Agenda empfindlich treffen würde. Nun viele Konservative werfen Cummings Arroganz und unorthodoxe Methoden vor. Seit dem Beginn der Pandemie vermischen sich Versäumnisse und unerklärliche Verzögerungen mit fragwürdigen Prioritätensetzungen und Überreaktionen.

AR Schmeiß ihn weg!

 □

Domnishambles

Helen Pidd

On 23 March, Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown: "I must give the British people a very simple instruction — you must stay at home."
On 26 March, regulations in England made it an offence to leave home without a "reasonable excuse" and gave police powers to forcibly return leavers.
On 27 March, Downing Street chief spad Dominic Cummings drove to Durham and stayed for days.
On 12 April, Cummings was at Barnard Castle, 25 km from Durham.

Boris Cummings
Daily Mail

Boris Johnson faced a furious Tory backlash after he tried to defend Dominic Cummings.
At a press conference in Downing Street, the PM claimed his spad had acted 'responsibly, legally and with integrity' while driving from London to Durham during lockdown.
Johnson said Cummings had "followed the instincts of every father" by driving to his parents' farm after his wife developed symptoms of coronavirus. He did not deny that while in the Northeast, Cummings had also driven 50 km to enjoy a walk. And he failed to say whether he had given Cummings permission for the Durham trip.
Cabinet ministers — some of whom were ordered to publicly support Cummings — were uneasy over the public anger.
A minister said the affair risked torpedoing public trust in the government at a time of national crisis: "You can lose popularity, you cannot lose trust."
A senior minister: "The fact that he is still there just shows how dysfunctional No 10 is. I am being bombarded with emails from constituents who are angry that .. he's just done whatever he wants."

AR Cull the spad, kill the spat.

 

2020 May 24

The Future of War

Richard Barrons

The pandemic has a massive impact on European security and prosperity.
China is a rising global power while the United States is declining. Tensions between Washington and Beijing are escalating. Europe will not be able to stand aside.
We live on a finite planet. Conflicts over water, raw materials, and energy will increase. Water scarcity, rising sea levels, rainforest loss, and population growth will have serious consequences. Humanitarian disasters will lead to armed conflicts and force out refugees.
Artificial intelligence will lead to massive social upheavals and destroy entire industries. Educated people will suddenly be displaced by machines. During the first industrial revolution, displaced people had no voice and no social media to help them mobilize.
Military operations will be forced on Europe by instability and chaos elsewhere. Politicians will need to protect their homeland and intervene militarily with allies worldwide.
NATO still imagines wars will be waged with conventional forces that occupy enemy territory. But to break the will of a modern country, all you need is a lot of cheap missiles. You can sabotage everyday life with attacks on electricity, water, communications, state administration, and food distribution.
If you break into the enemy networks, you can do great harm by crippling banks and ATMs or disrupting traffic systems. You used to need tanks, bombers, and warships to do so much damage. Not a single soldier has to march anywhere or occupy terrain.
Today, we can use social media to spread fear and panic. If you combine missiles, cyber, and social media skillfully, you can bring any European country to its knees in just 14 days.
NATO is aware that warfare has changed. Big data, AI, robotics, driverless cars, nanotech, genetic engineering, and so on are changing everything. The future of warfare is a mixture of manned, unmanned, and autonomous systems.
Europeans spend their defense budgets mainly on personnel and expensive weapon systems. The digitization of defense lets us change both paradigms.
The armed forces of the future will get along with fewer people. Robots need no pensions, vacations, or hospitals, and never get bored.
Many innovations can be adapted for the defense sector. Civilian companies are at the forefront. We can work with them to make NATO leaner and more resilient.
Without political leadership, the pandemic will push the military aside.

AR Medical systems and services can be war vectors too.

 

2020 May 23

German Lessons

Roger Cohen

German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier: "Germany's past is a fractured past, with responsibility for the murdering of millions and the suffering of millions. That breaks our hearts to this day. And that is why I say that this country can only be loved with a broken heart."
Nationalism is the most facile and effective of political tools, as well as the most dangerous. In the midst of a pandemic that has revealed a world incapable of a coordinated response and devoid of American leadership, Europe's most powerful nation stepped forward with honor.
The European Union, that entity with a stubborn heartbeat, has emerged better from the pandemic than China or the United States. The fear-driven Chinese cover-up of the coronavirus and the chaotic denialism of the Trump administration led to disaster. America is a dysfunctional power and China is a coercive power.
The world cannot return to where it was before the virus. The nationalism of Donald Trump's America, Xi Jinping's China, and Vladimir Putin's Russia is not the answer. Better to love your country with a broken heart than to love it blind.

AR Well said.

 

2020 May 22

Brexit Disgrace

Martin Wolf

Boris Johnson seems to think the pandemic will disguise the disruption imposed by an overnight break in UK economic relations with EU neighbours at the end of 2020. This is a disgraceful idea:
1 It is not what the Leave campaign promised.
2 The proposed tariff schedule is far from free trade.
3 The UK is breaking its word on Northern Ireland.
4 The UK agreed with the EU that the future relationship must ensure open and fair competition
    on a level playing field.
5 The world trading system is under mortal threat, given the breakdown in US-China relations and
    attacks on the WTO.
6 The UK is in a depression, in no shape for another shock.
7 The pandemic will probably lead to permanently lower output.
This latest twist in the Brexit saga suggests the UK government is irresponsible and perfidious. It is folly to cast the UK loose during the steepest downturn of its economy in three centuries.

AR Bodger is bungling Brexit [smiley]

 □

Neuronets Do Hard Math

Quanta

Facebook researchers Guillaume Lample and François Charton have developed an approach to solving symbolic math problems with neural networks. They reframed the problems in terms of language translation.
Neural nets train on large data sets and use statistics to make approximations. Language translation programs translate phrases in the context of the whole text.
The researchers used the approach for problems like finding complicated integrals. To find the derivative of a function, you only have to follow defined steps. But to find an integral often requires something like intuition.
They began by translating mathematical expressions into trees, with operators as junctions on the tree and arguments as leaves. The tree structure nests operations inside longer expressions.
The team fed the neural network with training data sets of equations with solutions. They then gave it a test set of equations without answers. It solved most of them correctly and excelled at integration.

AR This approach resembles human math skill.

 

Sindha Agha
The New York Times
How to Be Alone
Sindha Agha

I was struggling with quarantine — until I found the polar explorers.

AR I recall the polar explorers Sir John Ross and Sir James Clark Ross.
 

Lisa Piccirillo
QUANTA
Lisa Piccirillo

A Spirit of Trust
AR
A SPIRIT OF TRUST
by Robert Brandom

"When our self-conscious
recognitive attitudes take the
radical form of magnanimity
and trust that Hegel describes,
we can overcome a troubled
modernity and enter a
new age of spirit."

"Bicycles are the new
toilet paper."
Grant Kaplan,
Australia


AR Ouch!

EU

"I'm rather pro-European,
actually. I certainly want a
European community where
one can go and scoff croissants,
drink delicious coffee, learn
foreign languages, and
generally make love
to foreign women."
Boris Johnson, 1997


"Stay out of my moist
breath zone!"
Shirley Şerban, NZ
(3:36)

 

2020 World Bee Day

Conway Knot Problem Solved

Quanta

Math grad student Lisa Piccirillo took less than a week to answer a question about a strange knot discovered by John Conway.
A knot is tied in a piece of string with the ends joined in a loop. Over the past century, such knotted loops have helped us in quantum physics and molecular biology as well as in math.
To make a knotted object in 4D space, you need a 2D sphere, not a 1D loop. If you slice a sphere in 3D space, you get an unknotted loop. But in 4D space, you might get a knotted loop. Any knot you can make by slicing a knotted sphere is said to be slice.
All knots with 12 or fewer crossings are topologically slice. The Conway knot, which has 11 crossings, was the only one not also known to be smoothly slice. Piccirillo constructed a knot with the same trace as the Conway knot, but is not smoothly slice, so neither is the Conway knot.
Piccirillo's proof appeared in Annals of Mathematics in February 2020. It has secured her a tenure-track job offer from MIT.

AR Respect.

 

2020 May 20

Mother Nature

Thomas L. Friedman

I try to deal with this pandemic in the logic of natural systems. If instead you start your analysis with politics or ideology, you're actually challenging Mother Nature to a duel.
And no one seems to be doing that more these days than President Trump. But if you define wearing a mask or whatever as a sign of disrespect for your personal freedom, you're making a huge mistake.
Mother Nature is chemistry, biology and physics, and the engine that drives her is natural selection. The coronavirus is just another one of her fastballs that she throws at us to see who's the fittest.
President Trump doesn't respect Mother Nature, because he measures everything in terms of money and markets. He has no feel for natural systems.
Mother Nature rewards only adaptation strategies grounded in chemistry, biology, and physics. If your strategy is grounded instead in ideology or election-year politics, she will mercilessly expose that.
China, Germany, South Korea, Sweden, and many others have all been pursuing different strategies for sustainably and maximally saving lives and livelihoods. America, by contrast, is a mess.
Mother Nature hasn't lost a duel in 4.5 billion years.

AR Good analysis.

 

2020 May 19

America vs China

The Times

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo: "The American people, and I hope people all across the world, understand the risk to the globe, to freedom-loving countries and democracies all around the world, that are presented with the actions of the Chinese Communist Party."
Chinese president Xi Jinping is creating a new Silk Road with road, rail, and pipeline projects across Africa and Eurasia. Xi announced the Belt and Road initiative in 2013 and may spend $1.3 trillion on it by 2027.
US president Donald Trump made a trade deal with China in 2020 Q1 and praised Xi for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, then said: "The ink was barely dry [on the trade deal] and then the plague came over. I have a very great relationship with [Xi] but right now I don't want to speak to him."
Pompeo on the virus: "We know it began in Wuhan .. We have to know where patient zero began and where patient zero became infected."

AR Westerners have to do better than this vis à vis China.

 □

Britain vs China

Rachel Sylvester

In the Commons, a new China Research Group has secured the backing of more than 50 Conservative MPs. Those who voted Remain are concerned about human rights abuses in China, and those who voted Leave are worried about Britain's chances of a trade deal with the United States if it kowtows to the Chinese Communist Party.
Chinese wolf warrior diplomacy offends Lord Patten of Barnes: "These wolf warriors give wolves a bad name. People from left to right have got fed up with China taking advantage of the pandemic to bully elsewhere."
A cabinet minister: "It's not as though we didn't know beforehand that China was an authoritarian regime."

AR Britain is at risk of again acting as America's poodle.

 

2020 May 18

Delay Brexit?

William Keegan, Dominic Lawson

YES A Harvard report on the prospects for a US-UK trade deal projects a mere £3.4 billion gain from a deal, compared with a £112 billion loss from leaving the EU. The UK aims to increase overseas trade to overcome the coronavirus hit to the economy. The damage done by a hard Brexit will not be lost in a viral smokescreen. Support is growing for extending the Brexit transition.
NO The case for extending the UK adherence to all EU rules and financial contributions, but without any say or vote, is weakened by the Covid-19 crisis. In 2021 Brussels launches its next multi-year budgetary settlement, including funds to assist in rebuilding the post-pandemic EU 27 economy. To contribute to that, but with no role in the discussions, would be absurd.

AR Revoke Brexit. Help Europe recover.

 

2020 May 17

A Spirit of Trust

Crispin Sartwell

Robert Brandom's philosophy emerges from the pragmatism of C. S. Peirce and John Dewey; from the strands of analytic philosophy due to Gottlob Frege, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and W. V. O. Quine; from Wilfrid Sellars and John McDowell; and from G. W. F. Hegel.
A Spirit of Trust presents a philosophical system extending across philosophy of language, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of history, ethics, and political philosophy. Its fundamental idea is that linguistic meaning is normative.
For Brandom, the question of whether a certain sentence is true is inseparable from rational standards about what it is permissible or obligatory to say or believe. This deontic account stands in contrast to much of the Western philosophical tradition prior to Hegel.
In this view, our descriptions form a system of socially constituted rational commitments, and only linguistic rules, socially articulated and enforced, are capable of giving our words meaning at all.
Brandom generally attributes these views to Hegel. He recovers myriad details of Hegel's masterwork The Phenomenology of Spirit and stacks them into a coherent system. With Hegel's help, he expands a technical theory of meaning into a structure for understanding ourselves and the universe.
From Hegel comes the idea that we cannot know exactly what we mean. As concepts are clarified over time, we come to see more about what we already mean. Meanings can only be fully established retrospectively.
Brandom clarifies Hegel's dialectical philosophy of history. Hegel notoriously extends a spirit of forgiveness to "world-historical" figures and claims what they did was a necessary moment in a progressive history. This is an entire moral and political philosophy.
In this totalistic metaphysics, it is impossible to know anything without knowing everything. This too is Hegel's position: the intelligence of each of us, with all its apparent mistakes, is a little bit of the intelligence of God.
This theory of meaning ends up in a crypto-Christian spirit of universal forgiveness for alleged error. The deontic status of rational norms is an assumption.

AR I was deeply influenced by Hegel, Frege, Wittgenstein, Quine, McDowell, and their peers and protagonists for a full decade, so I guess I should have a go at Brandom's book.

 

2020 May 16

Brexit: No Deal

Markus Becker

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is disappointed by the third round of negotiations on future EU-UK relations and says there was no progress on the key issues.
UK negotiator David Frost accuses the EU of an "ideological approach" and says it must drop demands for a "level playing field" or there will be no deal.
Barnier says the UK must "become more realistic" if the talks are to progress.
The EU demands that the UK abides by certain standards in social, labor, and environmental law even after the separation to prevent unfair competition. London sees this demand is seen as an attack on UK sovereignty.
The EU wants its fishermen to have continuing access to British waters. The UK wants to regain full control of its sea areas yet still have free access to the EU single market to sell its fish.
The risk of a disorderly Brexit is back. If there is no agreement on future relations by December 31, people and goods will need to be checked again at EU borders, with devastating economic consequences.
Many EU diplomats say the real negotiations will only begin in September, after the chance of an extension of the transition phase is gone. An extension must be requested by the end of June because it must be agreed by all 27 EU countries and the European Parliament.
The corona crisis offers a way for Boris Johnson to save face when asking for an extension. But he is sticking to the schedule, perhaps because an extension may require the UK to participate in the rescue and reconstruction of the EU economy.
In Brussels, some say the British prime minister may be deliberately setting up a hard Brexit and covering the economic damage by the much larger devastation of the corona crisis.
Barnier says he is "not optimistic" about a deal.

AR Johnson is wrecking UK-EU relations in order to establish a Second Empire. His dream is a wild and impossible fantasy. See my forthcoming book Albion.

 

2020 May 15

Battle of the Bulge

James Forsyth

Boris Johnson: "I've changed my mind on this. We need to be much more interventionist."
Last year the prime minister was attacking the sugar tax. His change of heart is driven by the link between coronavirus and obesity. He is sure the reason he ended up in intensive care was because of his weight.
The government is rapidly coming to the conclusion that one of the main reasons why the UK has been so hard hit by this virus is how obese the population is. Obesity is the second biggest coronavirus risk factor, after age, and more than a quarter of Brits are obese.
Johnson wants to "get Britain on its bike" and encourage people to cycle to work. The government is already spending £2 billion on this. It would help with obesity and ease overcrowding on public transport.

AR Lose weight, protect the NHS, live longer.

 

2020 May 14

UK Pandemic Response Disaster

Caroline Lucas

The future public inquiry into this pandemic will hardly know where to start. From testing to overall strategy, from protecting care homes to supplies of PPE, the UK government's handling of this crisis has been a disaster.
The seeds of the UK's calamitous response were sewn over years of austerity, which left the NHS and care services struggling to cope with normal levels of demand, let alone a pandemic.
The government failed to take action in response to Exercise Cygnus four years ago, which exposed the huge gaps in the NHS preparedness for a pandemic but whose findings were then kept secret.
This government evidently believes that Britain has nothing to learn from anyone else. Our testing regime will be "world beating" — but something half as good as South Korea's would already be a huge improvement.
That sense of superiority has led to the UK having the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in Europe. The Conservative party should learn that exceptionalism combined with arrogance costs lives.

AR A damning critique from a Green MP.

 □

AdS Spacetime Is Unstable

Quanta

Einstein's vacuum equations have three canonical solutions. In flat Minkowski spacetime, the cosmological constant Λ is zero. In spherical de Sitter spacetime, Λ has a positive value. When Λ is negative, you get anti-de Sitter (AdS) spacetime, which is hyperbolic.
Minkowski spacetime and de Sitter spacetime are stable. Georgios Moschidis has now shown that AdS space is unstable.
Imagine standing in the middle of AdS spacetime, with a boundary at infinity. If you send out a light signal, it travels out and reaches the boundary in a finite time because of time dilation. If you drop in Einstein−Vlasov particles, they make concentric waves. Imagine the first two: Wave 1 expands outward until it hits the boundary, bounces back, and contracts as it retreats toward the center. Wave 2 follows, then wave 1 hits wave 2.
Wave 2 transfers energy to wave 1. After wave 1 reaches the center, it starts out again and meets wave 2, which is now contracting, and wave 1 transfers energy to wave 2. This cycle repeats.
Near the center, the wave energy is more concentrated. Wave 1 gives more energy to wave 2 at the center than wave 2 gives to wave 1 at the boundary. Over numerous iterations, wave 2 takes enough energy from wave 1 to form a black hole.
The proof: If you add matter to an AdS spacetime, a black hole will form. But AdS spacetime has uniform curvature, so it cannot contain black holes, and the spacetime is no longer AdS.
The result has implications for our universe. AdS/CFT correspondence says a gravitational system in AdS spacetime can be equivalent to a nongravitational quantum system in one fewer dimension. Creation of black holes in AdS spacetime corresponds to thermalization in quantum systems.

AR This is big. I think we live in flat or elliptical spacetime, but quantum thermalization is an issue in quantum computing.

 □

Anyons

Quanta

Anyons form a third realm of particles. The first two realms are fermions and bosons.
Imagine two indistinguishable particles. Take one, then loop it around the other so that it ends up back where it started. The two quantum wave functions describing the initial and final states are either symmetric or antisymmetric. If they are symmetric, you have bosons. If they are antisymmetric, you have fermions.
When you loop one quantum particle around another, you need not get back to the same quantum state. In 3D, you can shrink the loop all the way down to a point. In 2D, the loop gets stuck on the other particle, so looping one particle around another is not equivalent to leaving it in place.
When electrons are restricted to motion in 2D, cooled nearly to 0 K, and subjected to a strong magnetic field, the electrons come together to form anyons.

AR Such 2D electron motion gives rise to the quantum Hall effect, discovered by Klaus von Klitzing, who won the Nobel prize in 1985 and whom I met in Germany in 1989.

 

Sandbanks
AR
Sandbanks, Poole, UK, Thursday morning: The tiny smudge at the top is the Moon.

Bransome
FB
My lockdown free zone

box

EU view
FB
Serendipitous reflection

Europe Day

 

2020 May 13

A European Republic

Lorenzo Marsili, Ulrike Guérot

Churchill spoke of a United States of Europe in 1946. Europeans have been enmeshed in a decade of financial, political, and humanitarian crises. The result is a disintegration marked by diminishing bonds, gradual loss of faith, and renationalization of politics.
We must rescue the ideal of a united Europe. On Europe Day, the EU planned to launch a conference on the future of Europe to open a new phase of integration. The conference would have been a top-down photo-op without vision or ambition.
We call for the establishment of a European citizens' congress on the future of Europe. We demand a European republic where all citizens are equal, with a common European welfare and security independent of nationality.
We need a program of ecological and economic transformation that addresses the slump caused by Covid-19, alters our toxic production model, and creates the institutions for a genuine economic union.
Emperors cannot produce Europe — only citizens can.

AR A communist manifesto?

 □

NATO: US May Exit OST

Julian Borger

A group of 16 retired NATO military commanders and defense ministers says the Open Skies Treaty (OST) is a vital pillar of stability between nuclear powers.
The G16 includes former UK chief of defence staff General Sir David Richards, former chief of staff of the German armed forces General Klaus Naumann, and former French Air Defence Air Combat commander General Bernard Norlain.
US defense secretary Mark Esper and secretary of state Mike Pompeo apparently want to leave the OST, citing Russian infringements. US aircraft would then have no right to fly over Russia, but Russia could still overfly US bases in Europe.
The G16 says that if the USA leaves the OST, its NATO allies should stay. European states rely on Open Skies flights.

AR Fortress America?

 □

US to UK: US or China

Patrick Wintour

The Trump administration is pressing the UK in trade talks to choose between America and China. It wants a clause to let it back out if UK makes a deal with another country without US approval.
British diplomats see the proposed clause as intended to deter closer UK-China relations. US-UK trade controversy has so far been on the prices of medicines, food standards, and a digital tax.
Trump wants to use the coronavirus crisis against China to secure his re-election. He will press the UK government to side with him against China. Conservatives may support his posture.

AR AA Weltuntergang?

 □

UK Crisis Response

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

The UK is particularly vulnerable to Covid-19. As a former colonial power and Europe's air hub, it is in close contact with the world. And with the NHS, Brits have a health system that is cumbersome, bureaucratic, and underfunded. Once the UK has returned to normal, they may question British exceptionalism. They may press the Johnson government to prolong trade talks with the EU and not to fail with a gesture of arrogance.

AR Fair comment?

 □

2020 May 12

Weltuntergang, American Style

CNN

President Donald Trump abruptly ended his Monday press conference after a contentious exchange with a Chinese-American journalist.
CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang asked Trump why he sees coronavirus testing as a global competition when more than 80,000 Americans have died.
Trump: "Maybe that's a question you should ask China. Don't ask me. Ask China that question, OK?"
Jiang: "Sir, why are you saying that to me specifically?"
Trump: "I'm telling you. I'm not saying it specifically to anybody. I'm saying it to anybody that asks a nasty question."
After a brief exchange of nothing with another reporter, he stormed out.
German-American CNN lead political anchor Wolf Blitzer: "A very ugly, ugly ending to that one-hour appearance by the president."
New York magazine Washington correspondent Olivia Nuzzi: "The president's unprofessionalism is always revealed most clearly when he is interacting with female reporters."

AR He's lost it. America is defeated. Hail China.

 □

Breaking Global Britain

Ed Balls

London has chosen a bad time to start negotiating a free trade agreement with Washington.
US president Donald Trump wants to promote his America First agenda.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson wants to focus minds in Brussels. An AA trade deal is the launch pad for his Global Britain agenda. But belligerent US mercantilism can make or break that agenda.
There is no chance Trump will agree an AA trade deal before the US election in November. He wants greater access to UK agricultural markets based on US standards, deregulation of NHS drug pricing, and 5G procurement open to US companies with US privacy standards.
Trump gets no gain from an AA deal unless the UK moves away from EU regulatory and tariff alignment. He has doubled down on hostility to China and wants the UK as an ally.
Conservative MPs say Johnson is under pressure to harden his line on China.

AR Back off, Boris. If you go with Trump, you lose everything.

 □

Stay Alert

David Hunter

Boris Johnson: "You should go to work if you can't work from home."
He made no mention of preparations for tracing and testing contacts of people who test positive for Covid-19. All the countries that have tamed their coronavirus epidemics made "test, trace, isolate" central to their strategy. We want to hear him commit to more testing to reduce virus transmission.
Johnson encourages a return to work before it is safe to do so.

AR Be like Boris, catch Covid-19, and do or die.

 

2020 May 11

Gone Viral

Thomas L. Friedman

Having a pandemic is bad. Having a pandemic and a civil war together is really bad.
Last week Donald Trump was all over the place. His pronouncements are contradictory and dishonest.
Mother Nature is unbeatable. All you can do is adapt to whatever she throws at you. Too closed, she kills your jobs. Too open, she kills your vulnerable.
Americans need herd immunity to both the virus and the president.

AR Brexitrumpandemic is lethal.

 □

Stay Alert

John Harris

On TV last night, Boris Johnson promised a "world-beating system" for testing and tracking, plus quarantining new arrivals at airports. Then the screen was filled with green and yellow and the baffling words STAY ALERT.
Tory backbencher Sir Graham Brady: "In some instances it may be that the public have been a little bit too willing to stay at home."
From the manifesto Britannia Unchained, written by five Tory MPs, four of them now ministers:
"Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world."
Britain was led into Brexit by people who said the British way of doing things is best.

AR Best, worst — sign of a sick psyche.

 □

Brexit Bad

Simon Tisdall

Brexit Britain is second in its lethal maladministration only to Trump America.
Foreign perceptions of the UK as a badly governed, disorderly, embittered and chronically divided country took root in the years following the 2016 referendum. The incompetence, jingoism, and arrogance displayed by the British side during the Brexit talks dismayed many Europeans.
Britain long counted the United States as its foremost friend and vital ally. But Trump America is an unreliable and dangerous entity that belittles Britain.
Donald Trump is the greatest of all coronavirus failures. And yet still Boris Johnson and his gang hug him close, risking infection, begging for a deal at almost any cost, mimicking his populist posturing, rejecting pandemic cooperation with the EU, and insisting that Brexit will be done by December.
Britain needs better leaders.

AR Break Boris, break Brexit, be good.

 

2020 May 10

How Britain Failed

The Guardian

The UK is being hit hard by Covid-19. Its first coronavirus case was confirmed 100 days ago. The official death toll so far has topped 33 000 and is still rising fast.
The government failed to prepare for the virus, failed to provide adequate PPE, and failed to organise mass testing. Even its communications seem evasive and shambolic.
In PMQ, Sir Keir Starmer asked Boris Johnson why the government was slow on testing, slow on supplying PPE to NHS and care home workers, and slow on going into lockdown.
In January and February, Johnson and his team were enjoying their general election win and getting Brexit done.
AA economics had left the UK vulnerable. The UK ended track-and-trace testing in March because there was not enough capacity. Germany fared better.
UK virologist Nicola Stonehouse: "We just didn't have a proper plan for dealing with this. Other countries did."

AR Revile AA economics and rejoin the EU.

 □

How Science Works

Jim Baggott

Karl Popper (1902−94) said a theory is scientific only if it makes predictions that can in principle be proved wrong. Scientists make creative conjectures and try to refute them. They make progress by refining their hypotheses, testing anew, and so on.
Thomas Kuhn (1922−96) had a theory of scientific revolutions. In normal times, scientists puzzle and make discoveries within a paradigm. In revolutionary times, all bets are off and paradigms shift. Revolutions also involve standards for judging theories.
Imre Lakatos (1922−1974) was a Hungarian Stalinist until he read Popper's criticism of Marxism. By 1956, he was a revisionist. He moved to England and worked under Popper at the London School of Economics. In 1969, he took over Popper's chair.
Lakatos developed a methodology of scientific research programs. He said Popper's criterion is too restrictive and Kuhn's description of paradigm shifts led to mob rule.
Theories are routinely applied with simplifications or additional assumptions or hypotheses. Predictions are never derived directly but rather from the theory as adapted by its auxiliary hypotheses. If the predictions are falsified, either the theory or the auxiliary hypotheses are false. Adjusting the hypotheses can in principle save any scientific theory from refutation.
For Lakatos, a research program consists of a hardcore theory surrounded by a protective belt of auxiliary hypotheses. The auxiliary hypotheses help to connect the hard core to the empirical world and insulate the core. It is the combination that is tested.
Lakatos said positive and negative heuristics made a program progressive or degenerating. A program is progressive only for as long as it predicts new facts and allows new tests. A scientific revolution is driven by logic and method, not mob rule.

AR In the years 1972−74, I studied in the department headed by Lakatos.

 

2020 Europe Day

Message of Solidarity and Friendship

EU ambassador to UK et al.

For the first time in almost 50 years, we observe Europe Day without the UK as a member state of the EU. As ambassadors and high commissioners representing the EU and its 27 countries in the UK, we are nonetheless very keen to mark the date with all the citizens of this great country and with the millions of EU nationals who live and work in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
We celebrate Europe on 9 May because on this same day in 1950, exactly 70 years ago, in the aftermath of WW2, Robert Schuman laid the foundations of our collective endeavour. Schuman's dream has come gradually to fruition, enabling many countries and millions of Europeans to enjoy freedom, democracy, fundamental rights, and high standards of living, in the longest period of peace in our part of the world for many centuries.
The UK made a significant contribution to European achievements before and during its 47 years of membership of the EU. It is thus only natural for us to celebrate Europe Day also with the British people. The current unprecedented health emergency has brought us closer together, within each of our countries and among the 27, as well as between all of us in the EU and our British friends.
We believe that cooperation and solidarity among countries, with full respect for sovereignty and diversity, are key factors in overcoming today's challenges, starting with the present health emergency. We trust that these principles will also inspire the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

AR Oh, Boris, what have you done?

 □

American Disaster

Barack Obama

We're fighting against long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided, and seeing others as an enemy have become a stronger impulse in American life. We're seeing that internationally as well. It's part of the reason why the response to this global crisis has been so anemic and spotty. It would have been bad even with the best of governments.
It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset of "what's in it for me" and "to heck with everybody else" is operationalized in our government. That's why I'm going to be spending as much time as necessary and campaigning as hard as I can for Joe Biden.
The news about the Justice Department dropping charges against Michael Flynn has been somewhat downplayed. There's no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free. You begin to get worried that our basic understanding of the rule of law is at risk.

AR Obama handled the Ebola crisis superbly.

 □

Quark Math

Quanta

A proton consists of three quarks bound together by a field of gluons — so says quantum chromodynamics (QCD). The theory seems good, but it is mathematically complicated.
A million-dollar math prize awaits anyone who can solve the type of equation used in QCD to show how particles like protons form. Workarounds give approximate answers, but they are in conflict.
Quantum electrodynamics (QED) explains electron behavior. An electron can briefly emit and then absorb a photon, the photon can split into a pair of matter-antimatter particles, each of which can do more, ad infinitum. A perfect analysis of the electron requires an infinite series of steps, but truncating the series gives good answers.
Quarks and the strong force that binds them are different. The Feynman diagram for three quarks coming together and binding to form a proton is a cartoon, because quarks are bound too strongly to live separately. The infinite series of terms is unruly, with no easy approximation.
The strong force involves three color charges (red, green, blue). The problem is that gluons carry color charge too, so they form balls and strings.
For most calculations, the canonical QCD equation has proved intractable. One workaround is to watch how quarks behave in experiments. Another is to find approximate solutions using supercomputers.
This computational approach, lattice QCD, simulates the behavior of quarks and gluons. We slice spacetime into a grid of points, put quarks on the lattice points, and run the QCD equation on them. The denser the grid, the more accurate the simulation.
Many details in lattice QCD are poorly understood. But in February a European collaboration claimed to nail a property of the muon to within 1% of its true value.

AR As so often in physics, hard, incremental progress.

 

VE Day
⦿ Peter Byrne/PA
A socially distanced VE Day street party in Chester, UK

VE 75

Death Star

Keir Starmer
FT
Sir Keir Starmer
The next British prime minister?

BBBBBB

VANMOOF
VANMOOF

AR
AR
Me at work today

Sweden
Charlemagne
WHO calls Swedish
pandemic response
a model for world

Laurie Garrett
NYT
Laurie Garrett

Still European

SARS-CoV-2 virus

 

2020 May 8

VE-Day

Der Spiegel

Die totale Kapitulation der Wehrmacht, die am 8. Mai 1945 in Kraft trat, kam spät. Wäre Hitler dem Attentat am 20. Juli 1944 zum Opfer gefallen, hätte sich womöglich ein Rest der alten Ordnung hinübergerettet. Der alte Adel, die preußischen Beamten und Grundeigentümer, die völkischen Eliten und Ruhrbarone hätten einen für sie günstigeren Frieden aushandeln können.

AR "The old aristocracy, the establishment officeholders and landowners, the national elites and dynastic capitalists" — all this sounds like the powers behind Brexit Britain that would need to be uprooted in an effective revolution to replace perfidious Albion with a modern constitutional state. Or must the feudal order in the UK go down in a sea of flames against the republican order at the heart of the EU before sense prevails on the British Isles?

 □

VE Day

Max Hastings

VE Day prompted Brits to celebrate, but there was also apprehension.
Today, during a new global convulsion, many people look back and ask whether VE Day has a resonance. In two respects, it may: The young will suffer most in the ordeal ahead of us, and this experience may become an engine for change.
The present crisis seems destined again to change the face of Britain and unleash demands for social, political, and economic reform. People will not quickly forget the tragedy of the care homes, cruelly excluded from the shield of the NHS.
For more than three decades the rich have had a fabulous run. A nation with soaring unemployment and deep in debt, which has made a political choice for self-isolation, will surely not continue to tolerate the old excesses.
Capitalism will survive in Britain, but its inequalities will not.

AR Can Britain reboot as deeply as Germany did in 1945?

 □

Angela Merkel, Global Leader

Ivana Kottasová

German chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to German citizens about the coronavirus outbreak in March. It was her first unscheduled televised address in almost 15 years of leadership. The speech was a hit.
The chancellor presented the grim facts of the pandemic while also offering a dose of compassion. She described the difficulty she had over restricting freedom of movement. But she got Germans on her side.
Merkel had already said she would not seek re-election in 2021. But when the Covid-19 pandemic began, she stepped up once again. Her personal approval ratings are soaring and her legacy seems saved.
Germany won praise for the way it handled the epidemic. Its Covid-19 death toll is relatively low and its well-resourced health system helped out other EU countries. Germany was the poster child for mass testing.
On Wednesday, the cautious chancellor unveiled plans for a partial lifting of the German lockdown:
"Wir können uns ein Stück Mut leisten."

AR Frau Dr Merkel hat etwas bewundernswertes geschafft.

 □

Trump Death Star

The Guardian

Donald Trump's 2020 campaign manager tweeted: "For nearly three years we have been building a juggernaut campaign (Death Star). It is firing on all cylinders. Data, Digital, TV, Political, Surrogates, Coalitions, etc. In a few days we start pressing FIRE for the first time."

AR Can the Death Star force a reboot in the USA too?

 

2020 May 7

Task Force Trump

The New York Times

President Trump and VP Mike Pence say the coronavirus task force has been so successful in getting the pandemic under control that the group will most likely be replaced by a new panel focused on getting America back to work.
In theory, bringing together a collection of experts to oversee a coordinated federal response to a national emergency makes perfect sense. In practice, the first phase of the coronavirus task force was its own form of disaster.
The task force has provided consistently uneven guidance and insufficient assistance. Trump often undermined its recommendations and repeatedly scrambled its message. Factions within it emerged with their own plans and priorities.
Its rambling briefings were political props, with the president spending hours each week airing his grievances, praising himself, parading business executives and public officials to laud his leadership, and spreading misinformation.

AR The second panel can hardly be less successful than the first.

 □

A Better World?

Timothy Garton Ash

More than two thirds of Europeans are now in favour of introducing a universal basic income. During the coronavirus lockdowns, many developed countries have introduced something close to UBI. It is an idea whose time has come.
A majority of young Europeans place more confidence in authoritarian states than in democracies to tackle the climate crisis. EU member states are failing to provide good jobs, social security, or a sustainable future.

AR Goodbye capitalist democracy, hello meritocratic authoritarianism.

 

2020 May 6

UK Death Toll

BBC News, 1852 UTC

The UK has become the first country in Europe to pass 30,000 coronavirus deaths, according to new government figures. Boris Johnson said he "bitterly regrets" the coronavirus crisis in care homes.

 □

Trump's Worst Mistake

Peter Bergen

The Trump administration has made any number of mistakes as it has grappled with the worst crisis since WW2. If it goes through with plans to wind down its coronavirus task force around Memorial Day that decision will rank among the worst.
The task force has provided scientific and public health expertise to President Trump, who wants to change the narrative from fighting the virus to opening up the economy.
An internal Trump administration model suggests there could be 3,000 deaths a day in the United States by June, as many as the 9/11 toll every day. A low-end estimate is 800,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States over the next 18 months.
There are swarms of unanswered questions about how to deal with the coronavirus. They won't be wished away by wrapping up the task force.

AR Americans need to respect scientific expertise.

 □

Atlee's Worst Mistake

Daniel Finkelstein

Clement Attlee was a great man. Creation of the NHS and welfare state were durable achievements.
But enthusiasm for him was gone by 1950. The postwar period was a hard slog of rationing, austerity, shortages, and economic crises. Britain faced acute financial difficulties that could only be offset by a large loan from the United States.
Brits should have been more realistic about their economic base. British infrastructure was decrepit, machinery out of date, management practices poor, labour relations worse, technical education deficient, and industrial leadership complacent.
Marshall Plan aid should have let Brits modernise and invest in the future. Instead the state spent huge amounts on its social plans and on seeking to project Britain as a world power equal to the United States and the Soviet Union.
Atlee assumed the wartime spirit could be maintained. Brits lived with the error for years.

AR Brits need to correct the error of Brexit.

 

2020 May 5

Trump Versus Accountability

The New York Times

President Trump will replace the top watchdog for the Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS principal deputy inspector general Christi Grimm had described equipment shortages and concerns about testing in the US pandemic response.
Trump said he intended to install new inspectors general throughout the administration and to name a White House aide to the new post of special inspector general for a pandemic business rescue fund.
On April 3, Trump informed Congress he would be firing Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community who alerted lawmakers to the complaint about Ukraine that led to the president's impeachment.
On April 7, Trump ousted the Defense Department acting inspector general Glenn Fine, who was to head a new panel tasked with overseeing how the government spends $2 trillion in coronavirus relief.
On April 8, senators reminded Trump that inspectors general report "to both the president and Congress, to secure efficient, robust and independent agency oversight" and said he had failed to follow the rules for their removal. No reply.

AR Time to pull the plug on the criminal-in-chief.

 □

UK #1 in Europe, #2 in World

The Times

More than 55,000 people have now died in the UK because of the coronavirus pandemic. Deaths in England and Wales in the week ending April 24 were 11,539 above the five-year average, according to ONS data. Official figures for England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland show a total of 42,266 excess deaths up to April 20. The model extrapolates from a comparison of excess deaths since the start of the outbreak with announced Covid-19 hospital death figures from the four UK nations.

AR A record to be proud of — not.

 □

An Electr(on)ic Bike

WIRED

The VanMoof electric bike comes with 4-speed automatic shifting and hydraulic brakes.
Its range per charge is between 60 and 150 km, depending on the assist you select in its smartphone app. Level 0 turns off assist and level 4 gives you a big boost. An LED array in the top tube shows charge level and speed.
The bike requires the app to work. Everything except the handlebars and seat post are held together by security bolts. The headlight and taillight are in the frame, the tires are puncture-resistant Schwalbe Big Bens, and the battery is not removable.
You kick a button to lock the bike and activate an antitheft system. If anyone touches the bike, it emits a loud sound. If a thief drags the bike for a minute, an alarm blares, the lights flash, a notification pops up on your phone, and the bike is disabled. VanMoof reenables it for you later.
Your bike senses your phone as you approach. You push a button to unlock the bike. The app shows its location if you forgot or if the bike was stolen.

AR Cool — the app bond is like tsaheylu on Pandora in Avatar.

 □

Five Eyes Say No

Dan Sabbagh

There is no current evidence to suggest the Covid-19 virus leaked from a Chinese research laboratory. The Australian Daily Telegraph had cited a 15-page dossier compiled by Western governments amid an investigation by Five Eyes agencies.
There is no evidence that the virus was genetically engineered in Wuhan and there is nothing to show a leak from the lab caused the pandemic. US scientists who have worked with the Wuhan Institute say its safety standards are high and the virus was passed onto humans through a live animal market.
The Australian Daily Telegraph is a Sydney tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch. An intelligence source: "My instinct is that [its report] was a tool for building a counter-narrative and applying pressure to China .. possibly open source leads with a classification slapped on it."

AR The Murdoch press is trash.

 

2020 May 4

Five Eyes on China

Der Spiegel

A 15-page paper from the Five Eyes network documents a cover-up by Chinese authorities and points to risky research in a laboratory in Wuhan. The SARS-CoV-2 virus appeared in December and seems likely to have been transmitted to humans from bats through the wildlife trade.
The Five Eyes paper refers to dangerous research work in the Institute of Virology in Wuhan. The virus was shown to be of natural origin, but some analysts say the virus may have come from laboratory work performed in collaboration with American and Australian scientists.
The paper accuses China of suppressing early medical warnings, downplaying the extent of the outbreak, censoring information, destroying virus samples, controlling scientific publications about the virus, and refusing to provide live samples to international researchers.

AR Sounds like the Soviet authorities after the Chernobyl accident.

 □

Coronavirus in Germany

The Guardian

More than 10 times as many people in Germany have probably been infected with the coronavirus than the number of confirmed cases. A team from the University of Bonn analysed swabs from a random sample of 919 people living in Heinsberg. The ratio of known deaths from Covid-19 to the estimate of local people with a prior infection was 0.37%. Extrapolating, about 1.8 million people living in Germany must have been infected, with 1 in 5 showing no symptoms.

AR The chance of dying once infected seems to be about 1 in 300.

 □

UK Trade Minister Resigns

BBC News

Conor Burns, MP for Bournemouth West, has resigned as a trade minister after a report found he used his position as an MP to intimidate a member of the public. The Committee on Standards said he had broken Commons rules by making "veiled threats" to use parliamentary privilege to "further his family's interests" during a debt dispute. Burns apologised and said he should not have written to the member of the public "in the terms I did" using Commons notepaper.

AR Brexiteer Burns earned my detestation in 2016.

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UK Needs Good Government

Jenni Russell

Boris Johnson's cabinet is so weak that his absence for weeks left an alarming void. His reappearance felt like the welcome return of a big beast. This is no accident. Johnson chose last year to expel party rivals and to surround himself with smaller characters. He calculated that the quality of his cabinet was pretty much immaterial.
The coronavirus crisis has revealed how dangerous it is to weaken the cabinet in this way. Johnson should form a government of all the talents. He should emulate Winston Churchill, who included rivals in his wartime government, knowing it was worth the price. Johnson likes the limelight but wants the weaklings to do the work.

AR The leader is a showboating slacker.

 

2020 World Press Freedom Day

Reopening the US Economy

Robert Reich

Donald Trump has a re-election strategy:
Step 1. Remove income support to force people back to work. The US labor department has decided that furloughed employees "must accept" an employer's offer to return to work and therefore forfeit unemployment benefits, regardless of Covid-19. This is inhumane.
Step 2. Hide the facts. No one knows how many Americans are infected because the Trump administration continues to drag its heels on testing. The administration's leading infectious disease expert warns that reopening poses "a really significant risk" without more testing.
Step 3. Pretend it's about freedom. The US justice department has been directed to take legal action against any state or local authorities imposing lockdown measures that "could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens" — an absurd ruling for people forced to accept a job that risks their health.
Step 4. Shield businesses against infection lawsuits. Trump is pushing to give businesses that reopen a "liability shield" against legal action by workers or customers who get infected by the virus. But the economy cannot safely reopen if companies have no legal incentive to keep people safe.
The obstacle to reopening is the pandemic.

AR Trump should know this is no way to apply the Swedish model.

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Mainstream News

Alan Rusbridger

Fox News presenters faithfully trumpet the alarmingly erratic views of President Trump. Yet not long ago, Boris Johnson's key advisers were pushing to replace the BBC with "Fox News equivalents" and "talk‑radio shows and bloggers" [not me — AR].
Most surveys now show the BBC to be the most trusted news organisation in the UK. An RISJ study shows The Guardian is the UK newspaper with the highest approval rating. In a world of fake news, journalists are key workers.

AR This blog shows I rate The Guardian as the best of British.

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EU Covid-19 Lead

The Independent

Giuseppe Conte, prime minister of the Italian Republic
Emmanuel Macron, president of the French Republic
Angela Merkel, chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
Charles Michel, president of the European Council
Erna Solberg, prime minister of the Kingdom of Norway
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission


We are building on the commitment by G20 leaders to develop a massive and coordinated response to the virus. We have recently launched the global cooperation platform Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.
We are determined to work together, with all those who share our commitment to international cooperation. We are ready to lead and support the global response.
We support the WHO and we are delighted to join forces with experienced organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.
The money we raise together will be channelled primarily through recognised global health organisations to help the world overcome the pandemic.

AR The ACT Accelerator reminds me of the BI Accelerator my SAP team built to turbocharge global capitalism in the Naughties.

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Coronavirus Cassandra

Laurie Garrett

This epidemic is going to go in waves. It won't be a tsunami that comes across America all at once and then retreats all at once. It's going to affect how people think about all kinds of things.
If we come out of our rabbit holes and realize that of a sudden those jerks that were flying around in private helicopters are now flying on private personal jets and they own an island that they go to and they don't care whether or not our streets are safe, then I think we could have massive political disruption.
Just as we come out of our holes and see what 25% unemployment looks like, we may also see what collective rage looks like. I couldn't have predicted that the paragon of sloppiness and sluggishness would be the United States. I never imagined that.
President Trump is the most incompetent, foolhardy buffoon imaginable. I'm shocked that America isn't in a position to lead the global response to this crisis, in part because science and scientists have been so degraded under Trump.
America has never been sufficiently invested in public health. The big political conversation is about individual access to health care, with no word about the work to keep our air and water safe for everyone or to design policies and systems for protecting entire populations.
The Harvard medical school is all marble, with these grand columns. The school of public health is this funky building, the ugliest possible architecture, with the ceilings falling in. That's America.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Vanity Fair

In a 2005 article in Foreign Affairs, Laurie Garrett, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Coming Plague, wrote about "the catastrophe that the United States would face in a severe flu pandemic," with millions dead and unimaginable economic costs.

AR The signs were there for anyone with sense to see them.

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Computers with Common Sense

John Pavlus

We use common sense to make sense of the world. GOFAI (good old-fashioned artificial intelligence) researchers tried to translate common sense into the language of logic. They had early successes, but their handcrafted approach didn't scale.
Deep learning with neural networks mimics the interconnected layers of neurons in biological brains and learns patterns without requiring programmers to specify them in advance. Neural networks trained with copious amounts of data have revolutionized computer vision and natural language processing. But they are notorious for their lapses in common sense.
Yejin Choi and her collaborators have united these approaches. Their research system COMET (common-sense transformers) extends GOFAI reasoning with the latest advances in neural language modeling. COMET works by reimagining common-sense reasoning as a process of generating plausible responses to novel input, rather than making valid deductions from a vast database.
Common sense is difficult and tedious to represent explicitly. Attempts to build a knowledge base either by hand or using machine learning failed to crack the coverage problem.
The brittleness problem is that sharply defined relations within a knowledge base may allow valid reasoning as long as the sharp edges are respected, but such systems fail to capture the natural ambiguities and associative overlaps in human common sense.
Choi and her colleagues used their Atomic (atlas of machine common sense) knowledge base with a neural network that processes natural language by statistically smearing its representations across numerous parameters so as to accept noisy or ambiguous input. Their COMET system aims to solve the coverage and brittleness problems.
Choi dreams of a neural network that learns from knowledge bases without human supervision.

AR We're making progress there.

 

2020 May 2

UK Seeks Access to EWRS

Jennifer Rankin

The UK government is seeking access to the EU pandemic warning system. An EU source says the UK is seeking "something akin to membership" of the EU early warning and response system (EWRS), which is critical in coordinating a European response to the coronavirus: "There was not much appetite from the UK at the beginning. That's been corrected .. Both sides want close cooperation."

AR Rejoin the EU, you Downing Street numpties!

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Is the Universe Conscious?

Michael Brooks

Mathematicians have begun to formalize the integrated information theory (IIT) of consciousness. IIT says the consciousness of a system arises from how information moves between its subsystems and appears when information flow between subsystems is complex enough to integrate them.
In IIT, how well a system integrates information is called Φ. A system displays more consciousness when Φ is higher. A group is conscious only when its Φ is bigger than that of any of its parts and bigger than that of any system of which it is a part. In IIT, only the system with max Φ is conscious.
Consciousness is compromised by damage to the cerebral cortex. This region has a relatively small number of highly interconnected neurons, and hence a high Φ. The cerebellum has more neurons, but they are less connected, so damage to the cerebellum has less effect on consciousness.
IIT is unclear about the underlying math. To calculate a value of Φ for a system as complex as a brain, IIT gives a recipe that is almost impossible to follow.
Scott Aaronson tried to compute Φ for a Vandermonde matrix. This is a grid of numbers with interrelated values that can be used to build a Reed−Solomon decoding circuit. He found that a big enough Reed−Solomon circuit would have a high Φ and be more conscious than a human. He concluded that IIT predicts vast amounts of consciousness in physical systems that no sane person would regard as conscious at all.
Johannes Kleiner and Sean Tull have developed a mathematical version of the IIT algorithm for Φ. They hope we can now build improved models of consciousness.
Panpsychists say physical sparks of consciousness combine to generate higher levels of consciousness. They say we should ask how the sparks combine to give rise to complex experiences.
IIT analyzes our experience in terms of what we perceive when certain brain regions become active and uses that to develop constraints on its physical correlate. But the core ideas underlying IIT are compatible with panpsychism.
Our consciousness might be universal. Quantum theory says a quantum system can be in multiple states before we measure it. Perhaps our consciousness collapses the universal wave function.

AR I say the spark of each qubit lights up for us when it entangles with our classical bit world.

 

2020 May 1

World Leadership

The Times

President Trump is angry. He is determined to pin the blame on China for falling US stock markets and lengthening dole queues. Without China to blame, he would have to confront his own failings.
The pandemic may swing global leadership toward China. Trump America has retreated from the world, while Beijing has undertaken a diplomatic and public relations war against Washington.
China used highly authoritarian measures to combat the pandemic. The United States played down the threat then found its libertarian system ill equipped to face the public health challenge.
German foreign minister: "These are two extremes, neither of which can be a model for Europe."

AR Europe can do well in all this, with or without the UK.

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Making a COVID-19 Vaccine

Charles Schmidt

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is the biggest challenge to global health and prosperity since WW2. Companies and institutes worldwide are working on vaccines. A vaccine could be available for use by early 2021.
A conventional vaccine injected into the body inserts select pieces of a virus in cells near the injection site. The immune system recognizes parts of these antigens as threats and reacts by making antibodies that can stop a future infection.
The established approach is to grow weakened viruses and extract the desired pieces. That is too slow for today, so labs are turning to genetically engineered vaccines. Information from the virus genome is used to create a DNA or RNA blueprint of select antigens, which is then injected into human cells for use in making virus antigens.
The labs want to train human cells to make the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that binds to a human cell. There are three approaches to deliver the spike blueprint:
1 A DNA plasmid is typically a hoop-shaped molecule containing the spike blueprint. DNA plasmid vaccines work by transferring the blueprint to RNA in the cell machinery, which makes the spike antigens.
2 A blueprint is embedded directly in a strand of RNA to make RNA vaccines. Injected RNA vaccines may be better than DNA plasmids at mobilizing the immune system, but they are less stable and need cold storage.
3 The blueprint is inserted into a common cold virus. When injected, this adenoviral vector infects human cells and delivers the blueprint. Oxford University has begun a human trial with a nonreplicating adenovirus.
Extended trials of genetically engineered vaccines for the COVID-19 disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 might take years. Companies will require enormous manufacturing capacity to protect everyone.

AR Mastering the challenge will define our decade.

 

The Eye of God
NASA, ESA, N. Smith, STScI/AURA
"The eye of God" — one of the best Hubble pictures

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