AR   2019-08-20
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Trump tweet

US Army
M777 munitions
delivery system


2019 August 20

Australia: China Can Beat America


US defense strategy in the Indo-Pacific region is in crisis and US allies need to build up their forces, says a new Australian report: "China has deployed a formidable array of precision missiles and other counter-intervention systems to undercut America's military primacy."
The report says almost all US military installations in the Western Pacific could be rendered useless by precision strikes in the opening hours of a conflict.
The US National Defense Strategy Commission said in 2018: "The US military could suffer unacceptably high casualties [and] might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia."
The report: "Washington will require significant and ongoing support from its regional allies and partners to successfully deter Chinese adventurism."


Trump and Greenland

Phillip Inman

Donald Trump sees the purchase of Greenland as the real estate deal of a lifetime. Greenland is an autonomous region under Danish sovereignty. Trump is due to discuss Danish NATO contributions this weekend.
Greenland harbors huge deposits of rare-earth metals, including neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium. Greenland Minerals, an Australian company, is mining them.
Until recently, US corporations let China supply these metals. Chinese companies acquired mines in Africa to secure dominance of the global market.
Trump: "We protect Denmark like we do large portions of the world. So the concept came up and I said, certainly. Strategically it's interesting. It's essentially a large real estate deal."
The FT estimates Greenland is worth over $1 trillion.


Punishing Ireland

David McWilliams

Brexit has turned into a hostage situation. Boris Johnson is the kidnapper, Ireland is the captive, and the backstop is the ransom. The UK message to the EU: "Drop the backstop or we'll kill the hostage in a no-deal shootout."
British sensitivity toward Irish concerns has never figured highly in Anglo-Irish affairs. Part of the new British approach is a campaign to paint itself as the victim of Irish inflexibility, emboldened by a Rule Britannia assurance that Ireland can and will be brought to heel.
Ireland is more economically successful than the UK. The Irish are now richer per capita than their UK counterparts, Ireland is growing nearly five times faster than the UK every year, and Ireland is a far more globalized economy.


Letter to Donald Tusk

Boris Johnson

The date of the UK exit from the EU .. is fast approaching ..
We remain .. committed to working with Ireland on the peace process .. We recognise the unique challenges the outcome of the referendum poses for Ireland ..
The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement .. is a historic agreement .. and we are unconditionally committed to the spirit and letter of our obligations under it in all circumstances ..
The [Irish] backstop .. is anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK .. [It] is inconsistent with the UK's desired final destination for a sustainable long-term relationship with the EU .. [It] risks weakening the .. historic compromise in Northern Ireland ..
[T]he backstop cannot form part of [a] Withdrawal Agreement .. We must, first, ensure there is no return to a hard border .. We must also respect the aim to find "flexible and creative" solutions ..
I propose that the backstop should be replaced with a commitment to put in place [alternative] arrangements ..

AR Tusk will rightly say Johnson offers no specific and viable alternative to the backstop. A "flexible and creative" solution would soon lead to a new hard border, new troubles, and a hard push to reunify Ireland. Johnson cannot have his Irish cake and eat it.

2019 August 19

Supply Side Is Over

Rana Foroohar

Roughly four decades ago, America kicked off the supply side revolution. Capital gains taxes were slashed. Some people got very rich. But inequality rose.
Now US Democrats seek higher taxes for the wealthy and tougher rules for corporations. Economists debate how the public sector can slice the economic pie more fairly.
The signs are all around us. B corporations balance purpose and profit, and people are investing based on environmental, social, and governance factors. In government, there is growing bipartisan support for tougher antitrust scrutiny and trade protection. Democrats see monetary policy as a way to pay for their priorities without tax rises.
After a decade of loose monetary policy, baby boomers have seen their assets appreciate while millennials cannot afford to get on the housing ladder. One battle will be over who gets what share of the pie in a slower growth economy. Another will be between capital and labor. There is now broad support for higher taxes on the wealthiest.
The age of wealth distribution will have big consequences. The rules of the road for investors are changing. That will come with an upside.


US Army AI Munitions

David Hambling

The US Army is building a cannon-delivered area effects munition (C-DAEM) that can hit "moving and imprecisely located armored targets" by actively finding the targets. A parallel project will develop algorithms for them that scan IR images for targets and run on chips like those in smartphones.
The munitions will have a range of up to 60 km and will slow down to allow more than 60 s to scan and classify potential targets. They will autonomously hunt for targets over thousands of hectares, decide when they have found one, and attack without human intervention. Several contractors are competing to build them, with prototype demonstrations scheduled for 2021.
US Army: "This is not an autonomous weapon .. We seek an advanced capability for a round, once fired, to continue pursuing a target despite the types of interference that might cause it to pursue something else. This would improve our capabilities to avoid collateral damage."


Colliding Black Holes

Erika K. Carlson

Black holes are the remains of big old stars. As the stars age, they puff out to several times their original size. If two stars are orbiting close together, one is engulfed, and the pair collide before they become black holes.
Yet black hole collisions are fairly common. So colliding black holes must start out far apart. Perhaps the big stars start far apart and grow closer as they collapse into black holes. Or perhaps some stars collapse without ever ballooning into supergiants, or solitary black holes meet one another and bind to form pairs.
Or perhaps a third object brings a pair closer together. Imagine the Earth and the Moon orbiting each other, and imagine the third object rotating around the Earth−Moon system at an angle, so that the orbits are not coplanar. If the angle between the orbits is large enough, gravitational effects from the third object pull on the orbits of the Earth and Moon to stretch them out into long ellipses, which can destabilize them enough to trigger a collision.
For black holes, the third object could be a stellar-mass black hole, or a massive star, or one of the supermassive black holes found at the centers of most galaxies. If two massive stars near the galactic center collapse to become black holes, they and the supermassive black hole can make a three-body system.
Black holes that merge via triples should have more eccentric orbits than those in undisturbed binary systems. Also, if a binary system formed without the influence of a third body, their rotational and orbital axes should be aligned, whereas third bodies will often tilt the axes.
To find the truth, we need more gravitational wave detections.


The Guardian





Deus vult

77 days

Greta Thunberg

Stop Brexit


2019 August 18

Operation Yellowhammer

The Sunday Times

Base Scenario
 Brexit ends all rights and reciprocal arrangements between the UK and the EU.
 The UK reverts fully to "third country" status. The relationship between the UK and the EU as a whole is unsympathetic. Many EU member states will not engage bilaterally or implement protections unilaterally.
 No bilateral deals have been concluded with individual member states, except for a social security agreement with the Republic of Ireland. EU citizens living in the UK can retain broadly all their rights and status before Brexit.
 Public and business readiness will remain at a low level. Large businesses that work across sectors will have better developed plans than small and medium-size businesses. Business readiness will be compounded by seasonal effects and factors such as warehouse availability.
 HM government will act in accordance with the rule of law.

Key Planning Assumptions
 Exit day: Day 1 is a Friday.
 Member states: A few EU member states may act in a way that could benefit the UK.
 Channel ports: France will impose EU mandatory controls on UK goods on Day 1, and most HGVs travelling via the short straits may not be ready for French customs. This could reduce the flow rate to about half of current levels. The worst disruption might last 3 months before flow rates rise much. HGVs could face a delay of about 2 days on routes to France.
 Border checks: UK citizens travelling to and from the EU may be subject to increased immigration checks at border posts, leading to passenger delays. Delays for UK arrivals and departures at EU airports and ports are likely to cause disruption.
 Drugs and disease: Significant disruption could last up to 6 months and will impact the supply of medicines and medical supplies. The supply chains are highly regulated, and some products cannot be stockpiled because of short shelf lives. Any disruption of the supply for UK veterinary use would risk disease outbreaks, endanger the environment and food safety and availability, and pose a risk to human health.
 Food and water: Certain types of fresh food supply will decrease, and critical elements of the food supply chain may be scarce, reducing availability and choice and increasing prices. Panic buying may disrupt food supplies. Public water services are at low risk, but urgent action may be needed to ensure access to clean water.
 Law and order: Law enforcement data and information-sharing between the UK and the EU will be disrupted.
 Financial services and insurance: Some cross-border UK financial services will be disrupted. A small minority of insurance payments from UK insurers into the EU may be delayed.
 Data: The EU will not have made a data decision with regard to the UK before exit. This will disrupt the flow of personal data from the EU. An adequacy assessment could take years.
 Fuel: Border delays could affect fuel distribution, leading to shortages. Tariff policies undermine industry plans to mitigate their impact on refinery margins, leading to big financial losses and the closure of two refineries. Strike action at refineries would disrupt fuel availability.
 Northern Ireland: On Day 1, HM government will activate a plan to avoid a return to a hard border on the UK side. The model is likely to prove unsustainable because of economic, legal, and biosecurity risks. Automatic application of EU tariffs and regulatory requirements for goods entering Ireland will severely disrupt trade. Some businesses will stop trading or relocate. Others will face higher costs. Disruption is likely to lead to a growing illegitimate economy. There will be immediate pressure to agree new arrangements.
 Energy supplies: Demand for energy will be met. A rapid split of the single energy market will probably lead to marked electricity price rises for customers.
 Gibraltar: The imposition of checks at the border with Spain will cause disruption to the supply of goods and to shipments of waste, plus long delays in the movement of people across the border. Cross-border services and data flow will be disrupted. Gibraltar has not invested in contingency infrastructure and faces legal risks.
 Brits in Europe: UK nationals will lose their EU citizenship and can expect to lose rights and access to services. EU member states have not all passed legislation to secure all rights for UK nationals. Demands for HM government to help will increase. An EU member state would continue to pay a pension it currently pays to a UK national living in the EU, but EU member states will not extend current healthcare arrangements beyond Brexit. There is a risk of disruption for patients, and a minority could face substantial costs.
 Protests and police: Protests and counter-protests will take place across the UK, using up police resources. There may also be a rise in public disorder and community tensions.
 Fishing: EU and EEA fishing vessels could fish illegally in UK waters. This is likely to cause anger and frustration in the UK. Competing demands on UK agencies and assets could put enforcement and response capabilities at risk.
 The poor: Low-income groups will be disproportionately affected by rises in the price of food and fuel.
 Social care: The adult social care market is fragile. An increase in inflation after Brexit would raise costs for providers of adult social care. This might lead to failures.

AR This is all bad news — a total no-no.

2019 August 17

World Spiraling Into Chaos

Michelle Goldberg

All over the world, things are getting worse. China is weighing a crackdown in Hong Kong. Hostilities between India and Pakistan have ratcheted up, with fighting across the border in Kashmir. Turkey threatens to invade Northeast Syria to go after Kurds.
North Korea continues its nuclear program and ballistic missile testing. A two-state solution in Israel and Palestine looks more remote than ever. Tensions between America and Iran keep escalating. Relations between Japan and South Korea have broken down. The UK could see food shortages if it crashes out of the EU without a deal. And the global economy may be lurching toward recession.
In a world spiraling toward chaos, we begin to see the fruits of Donald Trump's erratic and incompetent foreign policy, his systematic undermining of alliances, and his hollowing out of America's diplomatic and national security architecture. In one flashpoint after another, his administration has either failed to act appropriately or acted in ways that have made things worse.
Obviously, India and Pakistan still want to avoid a nuclear holocaust. China may show restraint on Hong Kong. Trump might make a deal with Iran. The global economy could keep going in 2020.
Even then, America will never again play the same leadership role internationally that it did before Trump. The consequences of not having a functioning US administration are coming into focus.


US−German Relations

Matthias Gebauer, Christiane Hoffmann, René Pfister, Gerald Traufetter

A gulf is growing between Germany and America. This is partly due to the personal chemistry between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel. In May, Merkel spoke at Harvard but did not see Trump. She will not see him when she visits New York for the UN General Assembly in September.
When Trump visits Europe, Germany is "flyover country" to be ignored. He has landed in Rome, Paris and London, but not Berlin. When he flies to Europe at the end of August for the G7 summit in Biarritz, he will visit Copenhagen and Warsaw.
US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell threatens the withdrawal of US troops from Germany. The US Army command in Germany runs worldwide missions, and the huge US bases in Ramstein and Stuttgart support operations in the Mideast. No US commander would give up these bases lightly.
The main symbol of broken US-German relations will soon be at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Gas from Russia will flow through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to heat millions of German homes.
Trump wants to prevent the project at any cost. In September in Copenhagen, he will put pressure on the Danish government. He says the pipeline should not be built because it helps Russia.
Trump is also threatening German auto industry bosses. His agreement not to charge an import tax expires in November. EU negotiations with the US administration have so far had little success.
Perhaps transatlantic cooperation will rebound after the Trump era.

2019 August 16


Andrew Brown

In 2011, Anders Behring Breivik detonated a bomb in Oslo, killing 8 people, and then shot dead 69 others. According to the manifesto he published online, he had been inspired by a blog called the Gates of Vienna, which took its name from the siege of Vienna in 1683, when an Ottoman Turkish army was defeated by Christian Europeans.
A founding myth of contemporary Islamophobia is a plot called Eurabia to destroy European civilization. When US president Donald Trump tweets about crime in London or Germany, he is invoking the Eurabian myth that European liberals have surrendered their cities to Muslim criminals.
Eurabia was promoted by Gisèle Littman, who wrote under the Hebrew name Bat Ye'or and developed a conspiracy theory in which the EU was selling out Europe to the Muslims in exchange for oil. Littman said Islam aims to rule the world, and Europe is evolving from a Judeo-Christian and secular civilization into a civilization subservient to jihad.
Israeli historian Robert Wistrich dismissed her writings as the protocols of the elders of Brussels. But Norwegian blogger Peder Are Nøstvold Jensen transmitted her ideas to Anders Breivik.
Jensen was in Cairo at the time of the 9/11 attacks and saw Muslims celebrating the slaughter. He became convinced that Islam was an existential threat to European civilization that the liberal establishment was willfully ignoring.
The myth fed another set of ideas about global migration known as the great replacement. The demographic shrinkage facing Europe was obvious, as were the high birth rates in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. Islam and Muslims became both a conspiracy and a demographic threat.
One fruit of the 9/11 attacks, the new atheist movement, was hostile to Islam. Sam Harris: "We are at war with Islam. It may not serve our immediate foreign policy objectives for our political leaders to openly acknowledge this fact, but [Islam] has the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death."
The election of Trump revealed a huge constituency for racialized hatred and despair. Trump tweet: "The losers all want what you have, don't give it to them .. Be strong & prosper, be weak & die!"
In the campaign for the European elections this May, a German AfD party poster showed a naked white woman being pawed by men in Arab headgear: "Europeans, vote for AfD, so that Europe will never become Eurabia."

2019 August 15

No Big Bang?

Anna Ijjas

The observable universe is expanding. Extrapolate back in time, and we reach the big bang.
Quantum theory prompts us to rethink this story. Particles can pop into and out of existence all the time, as long as they come and go quickly. This constant fizz would be important at the big bang, when the universe was tiny. As space expanded, fluctuating energy from the fizz should have spread out to give huge imbalances in energy across the universe.
But the distribution of matter is remarkably smooth over the universe on the largest scales. The quantum fluctuations at the big bang should have caused space to warp wildly. As the universe expanded, these warps would have expanded too, and distorted the path of light traveling across the cosmos. We see no trace of this.
The inflationary scenario is that just moments after the big bang, the universe underwent a brief epoch of extremely rapid expansion. This stretched the universe so quickly that any warps in the fabric of spacetime were ironed out and the distribution of matter smoothed.
But inflation requires a hypothetical field to have switched on at just the right time and with just the right strength to account for a smooth universe. Yet the field strength would differ in different regions of space due to quantum fluctuations.
Also, quantum fluctuations can prevent inflation from ending, except in odd patches of space. Instead of a uniform universe, inflation leaves space divided into a lot of patches with a huge range of different properties, giving an inflationary multiverse.
Inflation would leave small distortions in the fabric of spacetime that became primordial gravitational waves, with wavelengths long enough to leave an imprint on the CMB. But researchers have found no evidence of primordial gravitational waves in the CMB.
Maybe our universe began not with a bang, but from a previous universe that slowly contracted to a small patch of space, bounced, and then began a new expansion.
This scenario features a long phase of slow contraction before the bounce. The energy that slowed the contraction reversed it to expansion long before the universe shrank far enough to produce detectable primordial gravitational waves. The universe would look like the one we observe.
A cyclic universe would have no beginning or end.

2019 August 14

Out Means Out

David Allen

The UK will leave the EU by automatic operation of law on October 31, 2019. The departure will change the legal position absolutely.
Britain will be a third country. Article 50 will no longer be relevant, and the fast route for an agreement that rests on it will be gone. Any deal between the UK and EU will have to follow the slow process for external relationship and trade agreements.
Once out, the only way the UK can rejoin the EU is by applying under Article 49. In theory, such an application can be expedited, if there is unanimous political will. But it would normally take years and would not necessarily succeed.
Any extension or revocation has to be in place before the deadline. There are practical political impediments to a government of national unity coming in and requesting an extension. There is no time for a general election or a second referendum.
A departure is final. This finality is written into the Treaty on the European Union.


Climate Change

GQ Magazine

Greta Thunberg: "I have Asperger's syndrome and, to me, almost everything is black or white. I think in many ways that we autistic are the normal ones and the rest of the people are pretty strange. They keep saying that climate change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all. And yet they just carry on like before."
Thunberg addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos on 25 January: "I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is."
Her school strike for climate began on August 20, 2018. She would not attend school until the Swedish general election on September 9, 2018. Since then, along with millions around the world, she has been on strike every Friday, demanding, among other things, that Sweden aligns with the Paris Climate Agreement.
Thunberg is taking a gap year to focus on her activism: "Right now is the time when the transformational change needs to begin. So if we don't start that right now, this coming year, then we have a smaller chance of succeeding and preventing the worst consequences of the climate change crisis. I just think there's no more time to wait."
She spoke to the UK parliament in April: "The UK is .. very special. Not only for its mind-blowing historical carbon debt, but also for its current, very creative, carbon accounting .. I hope my microphone was on. I hope you could all hear me."
Thunberg has a firm grasp of the science of climate change: "[The world] has a carbon budget, a very limited and extremely rapidly disappearing carbon budget, which no one seems to know exists .. If we do the changes required it is still possible within the laws of physics to avoid the worst. But if we don't then maybe not. But I just think that we will have to do everything in our power to make the changes required possible. To do your best is no longer good enough. We now have to do the seemingly impossible."

2019 August 13

Brexit Pivot

The Times

US national security adviser John Bolton hopes to pivot UK prime minister Boris Johnson away from the EU and toward the US.
The UK government must accept that a no-deal Brexit opens a diplomatic rift between the UK and the EU. An isolated UK in need of allies gives US president Donald Trump leverage. Bolton may seek to drag the UK deeper into the escalating US−Iran conflict. He may ask the UK to ban Chinese technology from UK telecom networks.
Trump is eager to conclude a US-UK trade deal soon. Johnson will meet him at the G7 summit in Biarritz on August 24−26.

AR An Anglo-American Alliance (AAA) could be met by a "Zoll- und Zuwanderung-Zielvereinbarung" (ZZZ) between Germany and Russia. Then where would we be? Between AAA hammer and ZZZ anvil! See Ringlord.


The Irish Question

Daily Mail

UK prime minister Boris Johnson thinks his no-deal stand on Brexit will force the EU to cave in at the 11th hour.
One UK cabinet minister: "The EU will give us a better deal, because if they don't Ireland is fucked. No‑deal will destroy it. No-deal hurts us, the EU and Ireland, but it hurts Ireland the most. A lot of Irish trade goes to Britain, and much of the rest comes through us to Europe."

AR So Boris will fuck Ireland just to please the Brextremists. The EU should stage an airlift to Ireland rather than cave in to such bully-boy tactics. Irish-Americans will back it.


Quantum Spacetime

George Musser

General relativity predicts that matter falling into a black hole becomes compressed without limit as it approaches the central singularity. The fall is irreversible beyond the event horizon. But the laws of quantum mechanics are reversible.
In quantum theory, black holes have a nonzero temperature. A hole emits radiation as random heat energy. As it does so, it shrinks and finally pops. This is a paradox because the hole destroys the information that would let you rewind time.
A black hole is just empty space. If you zoom spacetime to the Planck scale, you cannot see a grid. The grid lines would privilege some directions over others, contradicting Lorentz symmetry.
Measuring the entropy of a system measures its microscopic complexity. If you do this for a 3D block, the number of parts increases as the cube of its size. But if you increase the radius of a black hole, the number of parts increases as the square. The black hole behaves like a 2D object.
This is the holographic principle. The basic parts of space need not be spatial. The geometric properties of space are emergent properties. Space arises from correlations between events that form a network with a pattern of connectivity.
Entanglement may be more primitive than space. Quantum fields are internally entangled. Distinct regions are correlated, with the degree of correlation depending on the area of their interface. Entanglement links energy with spacetime geometry.
String theory applies the holographic principle to the universe when making new dimensions to bulk out space. Entanglement knits the bulk space together. Correlations in quantum fields reveal the entanglement.
The ubiquity of entanglement may explain the universality of gravity. Entanglement between a black hole and the radiation it emits may form a wormhole that preserves information.
Under a minimal description, a quantum system can be partitioned into different regions of spacetime, where the degree of entanglement defines spatial distance.
So far in physics, we have assumed that any account of what we see is a mechanism operating in spacetime. We need a new foundation.

AR My second cut of this piece; see blog 2019-06-29. I say the new foundation is our (epistemo-ontic) play with bits and qubits; see Omniscience.

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Angus Roxburgh

Boris Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin prime minister in August 1999. Speaking in the Bundestag,
Putin proclaimed in fluent German that Russia's destiny was in Europe.
In 2007, Putin spoke in Munich against US pretensions to rule the world as sole master. Later,
he was angered when Barack Obama said Russia was a mere regional power. Later still, he declared
the supremacy of Russian society and morality over the decadent and genderless west.
Putin thinks if the west can invade Iraq, Russia can help out the regime in Syria. If the west can
intervene in Ukraine, he can too. If the west can influence Russian affairs with propaganda for the
opposition, he can influence western elections too.

AR Putin wants a Eurasian Union.


Europe isn't scared
of Boris Johnson
A hermit nation ruled
by an egomaniac
could be about
to collapse


Sterling sank to $1.20
and €1.06 today

Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg says she will
not waste time in New York
meeting Donald Trump


2019 August 12

Brexit War Powers

The Times

HM government ministers will have draconian powers to bring in curfews, redirect food supplies, and even change the law without consulting parliament in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Ministers could give police, local authorities, and other public bodies immediate powers to tackle potential problems such as fuel or food shortages and to ban lorries from travelling to Channel ports to avoid disruption. The powers, contained in the Civil Contingencies Act, would be used under Operation Yellowhammer and run from the Brexit war room.

2019 August 11

State of Play

Gordon Brown

Boris Johnson is hell-bent on conjuring up the absurd and mendacious image of the patriotic British valiantly defying an intransigent Europe determined to turn the UK into a vassal state. He is alienating Scottish and Irish nationalists and pushing England toward xenophobia.


Ship of Fools

Andrew Rawnsley

The idea that Boris Johnson might face a no-confidence vote this autumn, lose, refuse to quit as prime minister, and barricade himself in No 10 for long enough to force through a no-deal Brexit before an election can take place is grotesque. This would plunge the UK into the darkest crisis of its modern history.


Queen of Clowns

The Sunday Times

An impeccable royal source: "I think [the Queen]'s really dismayed. I've heard her talking about her disappointment in the current political class and its inability to govern correctly."
A senior royal source: "She expressed her exasperation and frustration about the quality of our political leadership."

2019 August 10

The Hubble Parameter

Natalie Wolchover

Cosmologists say the expansion of the universe is accelerating. For this discovery, Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt, and Adam Riess won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.
The universe is currently expanding faster than the standard theory of the cosmos predicts. That theory, ΛCDM, describes all the visible matter and energy in the universe, along with dark energy (Λ) and cold dark matter (CDM).
The rate of cosmic expansion is called the Hubble parameter H, where H = v/d, the ratio of the recessional velocity v of a star or galaxy to its distance d from us. You can measure v for an object from the Doppler shift of its frequencies, but measuring d is harder.
To build a distance ladder, you start by calibrating the distance to stars of known luminosity, cepheids. You use these standard candles to gauge the distances to cepheids in more remote galaxies. This gives the distances of Type 1a supernovas in those galaxies. These supernovas are much brighter standard candles you can spot in yet more remote galaxies in the Hubble flow.
The Planck team uses its CMB map to predict H = 67.4 km/s per megaparsec, ±1%.
Riess and his SH0ES team measure cosmic expansion using a cosmic distance ladder to put H at 74.0, ±1.9%. A team called H0LiCOW says H is 73.3. The combined SH0ES and H0LiCOW measurements have crossed the 5 σ threshold.
Planck and SH0ES are more than 4 σ apart.
The Carnegie−Chicago Hubble Program (CCHP) used a distance ladder method with "tip of the red giant branch" (TRGB) stars to peg H at 69.8.
The two early-universe predictions give about 66 or 67. Five late-universe measurements give about 73 or 74. CCHP is in the middle.
New data from the Gaia space telescope will enable us to calibrate cepheids and TRGBs from their parallax. The James Webb Space Telescope will also help when it launches in 2021.

AR Obviously H changes with time and ΛCDM is all wrong.

2019 August 9

Brexit: Scientists Speak

The Times

Science is done by huge international collaborations: 1 in 6 academics in the UK comes from an EU27 country, and 1 in 3 of papers published by UK academics are co-authored with EU27 researchers. EU science funding has disproportionately gone to UK institutions.
Astronomer Royal Lord Rees of Ludlow: "The EU citizens with long-term posts in my institute say they wouldn't have come on the present or likely terms."
Francis Crick Institute director Sir Paul Nurse: "The benefits of participating in European schemes go far beyond the money .. The UK should associate to Horizon Europe as soon as possible."
Academy of Medical Sciences president Robert Lechler: "Research and innovation thrives when people from different backgrounds and cultures are able to exchange and challenge ideas freely."
Royal Society president Sir Venki Ramakrishnan: "The Royal Society has .. been clear that a no-deal exit from the EU is the worst option for science."
Nobel laureate Sir Andre Geim: "The government .. cannot reduce turmoil that would be caused to science in the UK by a no-deal Brexit. Scientists .. know that turmoil is inevitable for many years."

Jeremy Corbyn: "Forcing through no deal against a decision of parliament, and denying the choice to the voters in a general election already under way, would be an unprecedented, unconstitutional and anti-democratic abuse of power."

AR How loud and clear does the message have to be, Bozo?

2019 August 8

European Physics

Carlo Rubbia

We constructed a colliding beam machine at CERN and entered the energy domains of the weak nuclear force. Then we built the 27 km LEP collider and produced enough W and Z bosons to complete their story.
The next question was how to produce Higgs bosons. Understanding the Higgs field is at least as important as observing the W and the Z, and it concludes the story of the elementary particles in the Standard Model.
Probing higher energies offers the hope of new physics. But before exploring higher energies, it makes sense to build a muon collider to study the Higgs precisely. A muon ring is a hundredth the size of the LHC.
The integration of Europe through science is phenomenal. This is a very important success. Particle science over the last few decades has been European.

A walk to Swanage


Reign of Terror

The Guardian

Rebel MPs may be able to stop Boris Johnson pursuing a hard Halloween Brexit. Outrage is growing about Dominic Cummings, said to be running a "reign of terror" in No 10.
Rebel MPs can amend the motion needed for parliament to break for party conferences in September. This gives MPs time to pass a bill to request an extension to article 50.
Cummings is working flat out to deliver Brexit on Halloween, deal or no deal. He has installed a team of "true believers" from the former Vote Leave campaign in No 10.


Thwart No Deal

Vernon Bogdanor

Parliament can prevent a hard Brexit only by legislation. After a vote of no confidence, MPs have 14 days to form a government that can command the confidence of the Commons.
Normally, the Queen would send for the leader of the opposition. Otherwise, she would need a guarantee that a majority of MPs would support a government of national unity.
After 14 days, the PM names a date for a general election at least 25 working days after dissolution. A vote of no confidence on September 5 allows an election on October 17.

AR Boris can name a date in November and do hard Brexit first — but this is rape.

2019 August 7

Trump and Brexit

Larry Summers

Regarding a post-Brexit trade deal, I'm not sure what Britain wants from the United States that it can plausibly imagine the United States will give. Britain has much less to give than Europe as a whole did, therefore less reason for the United States to make concessions.
Second, Britain has no leverage. Britain is desperate. Britain has nothing else. It needs an agreement very soon. When you have a desperate partner, that's when you strike the hardest bargain.
If Britain thinks the American financial regulators are going to come together to give greater permissions and less regulation of UK firms, I would call that belief close to delusional.


A Never-Ending Story

James Kirkup

Boris Johnson says he will get Brexit "done" by Halloween.
Leaving is just the easy part. It kicks off a whole new era of the UK wrangling with the EU27 about how UK and EU laws, rules, systems, and so on interact.
A no-deal Brexit will leave the UK with the vast task of agreeing a future relationship with the EU. It waves goodbye to Article 50 and says hello to Article 218.
Getting Brexit done just opens the door to the real killer.

2019 August 6

No Big Deal

The Guardian

European diplomats have been told Boris Johnson has no intention of renegotiating the withdrawal agreement and the UK government is expecting to crash out of the EU.
A senior EU diplomat: "It was clear UK does not have another plan .. A no-deal now appears to be the UK government's central scenario."
UK government chief Europe adviser David Frost said the UK prefers a technological solution to the Irish border but admits it will not be ready by Halloween.
European Commission spokeswoman: "For a negotiation to be successful it takes two to tango .. The outcome on the table is the best deal possible and I don't think there is any fault or blame to be looked for in this."
UK government spokesman: "We are ready to negotiate in good faith an alternative to the anti-democratic backstop .. Until then, we will continue to prepare to leave the EU on 31 October."

AR Halloween suicide bid, yawn.

2019 August 5

Brexit: Take Back Control

The Guardian

A no-deal Brexit would outrage millions of UK citizens and threaten their economic security. It would risk the unity of the UK and 20 years of peace in Northern Ireland. It would deepen the divisions of Brexit, appal our European neighbours, and damage the UK brand.
Government ministers say they would rather leave with a deal but make no serious effort to achieve one. The prime minister is confident parliament cannot stop the UK from crashing out of the EU. Dominic Cummings says it is now too late to stop Brexit by Halloween.
This arrogant gamble must be stopped. Boris Johnson heads a minority government. He lacks both the democratic and moral authority to do what he is attempting.
There is no justification for parliament not sitting now. Recall MPs from their summer recess. Let them occupy the Commons chamber to make their case.


Germany Debates Euro

Wolfgang Münchau

Margaret Thatcher warned of a European superstate. This is how Brexit started. I see something similar going on in Germany, except that the target is the ECB and the EZ.
German media refer to negative interest rates as penalty rates levied to punish German savers. Germans do not see Germany as the main beneficiary of the euro and dislike being locked into the EZ with countries whose leaders they do not trust.
Germany has large savings surpluses, but its returns on foreign investments are the lowest among all G7 countries. Germans do not yet see a case for EZ integration.



New Scientist

James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis has inspired a generation of Earth scientists.
Humans are now heating up the planet by releasing more greenhouse gases than green plants can absorb. The heat is melting the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. These contain enough water to raise the global sea level by 65 m.
We urgently need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions.

AR I predict techno-Gaia: Globorg

Eton team

Boris Johnson (front, center) leads team, Eton Wall Game, 1982

Eton College

Jörg Schindler

Near Windsor Castle, Eton College is a red-brick campus almost 200 hectares in size.
A total of 20 UK prime ministers have been "produced" at Eton.
Boris Johnson is an Old Etonian. He was a King's Scholar and quickly made a name for himself in rugby and the Eton Wall Game.
Those who went to Eton can rely on an old boy network for the rest of their lives.
King Henry VI founded Eton College in 1440. At first, the public schools were open to any child in the realm. They attracted rich people,
who bid up the fees. In the 2017/18 school year, Eton received £51 million in fees, plus millions more for extras. Eton College also
owns a vast portfolio of historic assets, yet it enjoys tax privileges as a charity.
British people vented their anger at such injustice in the EU referendum.
The privileged elite will always win.



No Brexit

Thermal Europe



2019 August 4

How the World Sees Brexit

The Observer

China Liu Ye
Not many Chinese people care about the details of Brexit, but the reputation of British democracy has suffered. For decades, public intellectuals talked about the British style of constitutionalism. Now this image has collapsed.

France Sylvie Kauffmann
We French Europeans are grateful to our British friends for making sure one word has exited our vocabulary: Frexit. The Brits seemed to be losing their minds. This is a British crisis, not a European one. Please go and fix your problem, and then come back.

Germany Khuê Pham
Boris Johnson has been disdainful toward Europeans. The German public used to think of Britain as being very cool. Now it's seen as a big mess. I am not very hopeful about good relations between Britain and Germany in the near future.

Japan Nobuyuki Suzuki
Japanese companies invested in Britain because it was a member of the EU. Leaving the EU is a bad idea. I feel very sorry for British voters. The Japanese had always seen Britain as a gentle, stable country, but that has changed.

India Mihir Sharma
The incredible arrogance on display in England reveals itself in this belief that they will somehow be a desirable location or partner for other countries once they leave Europe. Britain confuses its standing with that of London. London is a great global city. Britain is a small European country with ideas above its station.

South Africa Khadija Patel
Britain is trying to figure itself out in 2019 and is suddenly realising that it's not that important any more.

Russia Alexey Venediktov
The view of Boris Johnson in the Russian leadership is quite negative. They don't think he's serious. They think he's a clown with little support.

United States Jen Kirby
No one thought Britain would vote to leave the EU, until it did. No one thought Trump would win the presidency, until he did. All the forces that made Trump and Brexit possible have only hardened in the three years since.

Brazil Fernanda Mena
Britain was the homeland of ideas of liberalism, free markets, and multiculturalism. London was one of the capitals of the world. It was quite shocking to see people being driven by lies to vote for Brexit. The UK is losing relevance quite quickly.


Synthetic Intelligence

Zdenka Kuncic

We may be able to replicate human intelligence by creating a physical object whose structure resembles that of the brain. The human brain is a hardware device rather than an algorithm and it doesn't need to be programmed. It operates in a continuous, analog mode rather than processing information using digital bits.
The brain's neural circuitry is interconnected with a vastly higher density and complexity than can ever be achieved in conventional electrical circuitry. Each of its 86 billion neurons is linked to thousands of others, so there are hundreds of trillions of synaptic junctions. This complexity gives rise to cognitive abilities.
Synthetic intelligence involves developing a device with unconventional electrical circuitry in order to achieve a structural complexity and functionality similar to a real neural network. It is built using insulated silver nanowires a few nanometers thick with a length comparable to that of neural axons and dendrites, and letting them self-organize as electrical signals travel across synthetic synapses. The device is rather like a bowl of spaghetti.
Neuroscientists believe collective oscillations facilitate connections between different areas of the brain: Neurons that fire together wire together. They also study other types of emergent collective properties, such as resilience and adaptation, to gain deeper insight into how the brain works. We can use their methods to analyze emergent collective dynamics in our nanowire networks.
Synthetic intelligence could deliver machines whose responses to unpredictable environmental cues are both reason-based and flexible yet are free of human imperatives. The might even develop consciousness.

AR I find this a promising line to pursue.

2019 August 3

End of the United Kingdom

Luke McGee

Boris Johnson want us to know he loves the union between the four nations that make up the UK. But during his visits to the four nations this week, he was confronted by protesters who took issue with his "do or die" approach to Brexit.
In Northern Ireland, Unionists see any separation from the UK mainland as unthinkable, while Irish republicans want to see Northern Ireland reunited with the rest of Ireland. Northern Irish citizens are starting to see a united Ireland as an inevitable consequence of a no-deal Brexit.
In Scotland, Brexit supporters tend to oppose independence. Scotland had a vote on independence in 2014 and voted to stick with the UK by 55% to 45%. But 62% of Scotland voted to remain in the EU, so Scottish nationalists want a second independence vote.
Wales voted to leave the EU and doesn't have a strong independence movement. But it has Welsh nationalists, and Johnson is alienating them.
The strongest support for Brexit comes from English nationalists, for whom Brexit really means England First. If they win, goodbye UK.


Young Brits

Lara Spirit

Conservatives think Boris Johnson can win a general election and force a hard Brexit. They're wrong: 8 in 10 young people feel disgust at the Brexit crisis and want to resolve it through a people's vote. Yet Johnson wants to force the single most destructive form of Brexit upon us without our consent. This is a prime minister whose cause is neither Brexit nor Britain, but Boris.


Europeans: Resist Trump and Johnson

Maximilian Popp

Donald Trump is US president and Boris Johnson is UK prime minister. Trump wants to divide Europe and supports Brexit, and Johnson looks to Trump for a trade deal after Brexit. It could get worse.
Mideast policy will be the test. America, Britain, France, and Germany had made a deal with Iran on its nuclear plans, but Trump has walked out. Johnson could walk out too.
Europe could face a dilemma like that in 2003 over Iraq. Germany and France held back as America and Britain went to war against Saddam Hussein. This time the break could be deeper.
Brexit has so far been seen as damaging to business. The Iran crisis shows security policy could also be damaged. If the UK continues to side with US policies, this will weaken the EU role in the world.
Some in the EU hope the problem will solve itself when Johnson loses the next general election and Trump is voted out of office in 2020. But those events are far from certain.
The EU should act with integrity and clarity against populism. Instead of rehashing Brexit with Johnson or following Trump on Iran, France and Germany should work together.

AR If Brexit breaks the UK so that Northern Ireland unites with Ireland, Scotland and Wales rejoin the EU, and England becomes a vassal state in the USA, then the map of Europe features a curious new symmetry: At its eastern end EU states would surround the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, while at its western end EU states would surround the US enclave of England. If America and Russia went to war, the two enclaves would have to be pacified by EU forces.


Quantum Supremacy

Sabine Hossenfelder

Google and others are racing to build a quantum computer that outperforms the best conventional computers to achieve quantum supremacy. Google could win this year.
A quantum computer processes entangled qubits. Today's largest quantum computers have about 20 superconducting qubits. Chips that can achieve quantum supremacy will hold at least 50.
Quantum computers could raise global productivity enormously. But they are fragile and need a lot of support infrastructure. Quantum supremacy is just a start.


Quantum Thermalization

Natalie Wolchover

Jürgen Berges and others have discovered universal laws governing thermalization in a variety of systems consisting of many particles that are far from thermal equilibrium. All kinds of quantum systems in various extreme starting conditions seem to fall into a fractal-like pattern, exhibiting universal scaling before transitioning to standard thermalization.
When energy cascades through turbulent fluids, a vortex generates smaller eddies, which make still smaller eddies, with the rate of the transfer of energy described by a universal exponential decay factor of 53. Similar cascading occurs in far-from-equilibrium quantum dynamics, with scaling across both time and space.
Just after the big bang and cosmic inflation, it seems the universe showed fractal-like universal scaling. After inflation, the condensate became a dense field of particles all moving at high speed, with fractal scaling governed by universal scaling exponents as they began to thermalize.
Universal scaling occurs at the nanokelvin scale of ultracold atoms, the terakelvin scale of nuclear collisions, and the zettakelvin scale of the early universe.

2019 August 2

America Blocks China

The New York Times

US president Donald Trump will impose a 10% tariff on an additional $300 billion of imports from China next month. The new tariff is in addition to the 25% levy he has already imposed on $250 billion of Chinese imports and will widen US taxes to cover nearly everything China sends to America.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi: "Adding tariffs is definitely not the correct way to resolve economic and trade frictions."


Another Brexit Caution

The Guardian

UK prime minister Boris Johnson had his working majority in the House of Commons cut to 1 after the Conservatives lost to the Liberal Democrats in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election.

Liberal Democrats
Monster Raving Loony

13 826
12 401
3 331
1 680


% change


No sign of a Boris honeymoon.

2019 August 1

No Deal, No Way

Guy Verhofstadt

There is no time to limit the damage of a Halloween Brexit. Unless a new extension is requested or article 50 is revoked by 31 October, a big shock awaits the global economy, and we all stand to lose.
European governments need to prepare for the worst. In the face of British posturing, I expect EU governments to remain calm and keep their unity. Attempts to pressure Ireland will be met by EU solidarity.
Brexit is a British decision and article 50 can be revoked at any time. But the negotiated withdrawal agreement, including the backstop to safeguard the Good Friday agreement, cannot be discarded.
A united Europe can be a bastion of the free world. Brexit is a waste of everyone's time. A no-deal Brexit is no way out.


Weak Pound, Weak Economy

Azad Zangana

The sharp fall in the pound in the wake of the 2016 Brexit referendum has not improved the UK trade position or boosted GDP growth.
Between the end of 2015 and the end of 2019 Q1, trade-weighted sterling fell 12%. The share of manufacturing in total value added and total employment stayed the same.
Since 2000, the UK share of global exports has fallen, yet trade-weighted sterling fell 29%. If sterling falls much further, the cost will be devastating.


Quantum Darwinism

Philip Ball

Quantum Darwinism (QD) can help reconcile quantum and classical physics. The classical properties of objects are selected from a menu of quantum possibilities in a process like natural selection.
Quantum superpositions pop in a noisy environment. But when two quantum objects interact, they entangle into a shared quantum state. As they go on to collide with other objects, the entanglement spreads, and the superposition becomes ever more diffuse. The superposed states no longer interfere coherently and appear to be replaced by a menu of distinct possible outcomes.
Decoherence explains why quantum behavior becomes hard to see in large systems with many interacting particles. It happens extremely fast. Quantum states that are robust in the face of environmental decoherence can be registered as the position of a pointer on a measuring device.
Pointer states are not scrambled by the interactions with the environment. This implies that the environment selects some states while trashing others. A pointer state is imprinted widely.
You see an object when photons deliver information to your retina. They carry information to you as partial replicas of certain aspects of the object. Lots of replicas are needed if many observers are to agree. We can observe a pointer state if it makes a big footprint in the environment. We measure fitter states that make more replicas in the environment.
This is QD.


Quantum Bayesianism

Donald Hoffman

We may all be wrong about the nature of the world. As scientists, we assume the world of objects in spacetime is objectively real. As evolved creatures, we can expect to perceive not the truth but only what pays off for our survival.
Natural selection has given us a simple user interface for a complex world. Physical objects, and the space and time they exist in, are nature's way of presenting fitness pay-offs in a handy form.
Our scientific theories tell us how the world works, presumably as an objective reality that exists outside our heads. But they hint at a mismatch between perception and reality.
Quantum theory defies our classical ideas that objects have definite properties, that those properties are independent of us, and that influences propagate no faster than light. This is no surprise if objects and their properties are data structures in our interface.
The Bayesian interpretation of quantum theory, or QBism, says the uncertainty inherent in quantum observations is all in our minds. Quantum states, and all the theory around them, are epistemic.
My collaborators and I are currently trying to explain how objective reality emerges from a vast network of interacting conscious agents and their experiences. We may be wrong.

AR Consciousness is emergent and continuous. The deeper truth is that we are all part of a single unfolding process of numinous universality. We are dimly conscious, each in our own way, of a brilliant truth.

  ★ ★ ★


Andy Ross

Omniscience is knowledge of everything, and today we see the Cosmos as embracing everything,
or at least everything that is not delusory. Cosmology, the science of the Cosmos, is our modern
analog of the old striving, as Stephen Hawking put it, to know the mind of God.
In 2006, I summarized my views on what we know about everything in the form of a slide show.
Today, the slides recall the struggles of a thinker still entangled in the mathematical obsessions of his youth.
The time was not yet ripe to fill out those insights except in a cryptic way.
This moves me to offer the present review. My plan is to quote the text from each of the 16 slides in turn,
under its structural heading, and then to answer the questions each text raises in paragraphs of new notes,
commenting, explaining, and adopting my present perspective.
The outcome should be to turn what began as a work of mathematical mysticism into a fruitful perspective
on the enterprise of science. A thinker who had not yet cooked his ideas down to a digestible form
is revealed as a pioneer, perhaps, of a new science of the Cosmos.

  ★ ★ ★

The Times

Sterling sank to $1.22
and €1.09 today

Das Leben der Anderen

European Parliament
European Parliament, Strasbourg

Westminster Parliament
Westminster Parliament, London

Nicola Sturgeon
"The right of the people
of Scotland to determine
their own future is a basic
democratic principle that
must be respected."
Nicola Sturgeon

99 days

His finest hour

New Rotary


Wie Boris Johnson die Briten
gegen Europa aufstachelt

Maths Chase
Free site where kids can
test their times tables
in a simple game
A fun way to
do math!


2019 July 31


Sahanika Ratnayake

Regular mindfulness meditation reduces stress levels and builds resilience. The arts of mindfulness cultivate a nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. The goal is to note whatever arises and let it pass.
Yet mindfulness has its critics. It oversimplifies the difficult business of understanding oneself. To understand why, we need to probe its grounding in a metaphysical denial of the self.
Our thoughts and emotions change rapidly, and physical sensations come and go in response to stimuli. Whatever the self is, it cannot be as ephemeral as these phenomena. Buddhists say there is also nothing else that could be the self, so there is no self. The phenomena are impersonal, and it makes no sense to say you own them.
With the no-self doctrine, we make it harder to understand why we think and feel the way we do, and to tell a broader story about ourselves and our lives. To explain why you think and feel the way you do, you need to see yourself as a distinct individual, operating within a certain context.
Mindfulness can be a useful tool in helping us gain some distance from the tumult of our inner experience. The problem is the tendency to present it as a panacea for all manner of modern ills.

AR The self is a logical construct: see Omniscience.


A Hard Fall

Katie Martin

Sterling has declined markedly since Boris Johnson took over as UK prime minister. He wrote in 2008 that a drop in sterling was "the definition of a national humiliation" and blamed the government of the day. If you are concerned about the falling pound, you can now blame Boris.
The harder the Brexit, the further the pound has to fall. It could sink to $1.

2019 July 30

Aggressive Brexit Courts Disaster

Maya Goodfellow

Johnson's new cabinet is a mix of Brexit true believers, xenophobia peddlers, and people who think workers' rights get in the way of economic growth. Trying to fend off the threat posed by Nigel Farage, Johnson and his cabinet seem determined to head even further to the right. They now pose as nationalists with little concern for what that might mean for UK unity.
Johnson's bullish approach to Brexit harks back to the days of empire. But imperial Britain was not as great as he would have us believe. Today, with its industry and its importance reduced, searching for a role in the global economy, Britain couldn't "go it alone" if it wanted to. In a diminished country still coming to terms with its imperial past, Johnson's government is dangerous.


Evil Frightful Ghastly Horror

Polly Toynbee

Standing in Faslane Trident submarine base, finger on the button, our prime minister's Brexit strategy is MAD, mutually assured destruction. His preposterously nicknamed "Brexit war cabinet" met for the first time on Monday. Every minister has been "turbocharged" to prepare for the great no-deal blitz in three months' time. The idea is to terrify the enemy.

2019 July 29

Ecology of Intelligence

Frank Wilczek

Physical platforms are a fundamental consideration in the future of mind and intelligence. They are at least as central to developments in artificial intelligence and the evolution of machines and machine learning as any cleverness in algorithms. A singularity is not imminent because there is still no sign of a technical platform for it.
I think there will be a long period of coexistence in an ecology of intelligence. Humans will become enhanced in different ways, and the integration will become more intimate as time goes on. Different kinds of intelligence will interact with each other for decades, on the timescale of human economic and political institutions.

AR This is persuasive. Humans are smarter than monkeys, but there are still monkeys in the world. The machines might think we're cute.


Bracing for Brexit

Matthew d'Ancona

Boris Johnson's new government is a reunion gig for the Vote Leave band that triumphed in the 2016 EU referendum. This is not a coup, but it is certainly a hostile takeover. This is politics by purge.
Dominic Cummings told the new cohort of special advisers their first loyalty is to Johnson and their primary objective is to achieve Brexit. The band aims to win, not to govern. Winning means getting the UK out of the EU by 31 October.
Sajid Javid has announced extra funding to prepare for Halloween, including one of the country's "biggest ever public information campaigns" to rebrand Brexit from a supposedly easy act of emancipation to a matter of civil defence.
This is a government bracing for a very bumpy exit. There is no statesmanship in any of this, only campaigning zeal and emotional commitment.

AR This is madness. The VL band has turned a negotiation with friends and partners into a hostile confrontation. Ban the bomb, ban Brexit.

2019 July 28

Two Tribes Go To War

Simon Kuper

Radical new tribes have become dominant in Britain and America. The tribal leaders are taking their followers on a wild ride.
The tribes are radicalizing their members. In America, every time Trump breaks another taboo, his tribe swears a communal blood oath.
In Britain, the Leave tribe has displaced the Conservatives. More Brits now identify as Leavers or Remainers than with any party or religion.
Leavers now say the only real deal for Brexit is no deal. Remainer rage only strengthens them. Doubters are traitors.


Churchill's Ghost

Ian Buruma

Winston Churchill's ghost still hovers over Washington and London. Like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson believes in his own nation first, sovereign and free. He and his band of Brexiteers still praise the Dunkirk spirit and bulldog defiance against the foe.
 In 1940, Churchill promoted Britain's special relationship with the United States.
In 1941, Churchill and Roosevelt drew up an Atlantic Charter that led to the United Nations.
In 1946, Churchill called for the creation of a United States of Europe.
The United States is a huge country, with a big economy, big military, and big resources. It can afford to indulge in bashing international norms. But the idea that Brexit Britain can exact favorable terms from much larger powers is a delusion.


First Tragedy, Then Farce

Niall Ferguson

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
Karl Marx

Marx might make the same point about Sir Winston Churchill and Boris Johnson. I have the sinking feeling we are about to witness the Monty Python spoof of Darkest Hour.


Das Leben der Anderen

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

AR I watched this award-winning 2006 movie last night and was greatly moved by the human drama, informed about Stasi perfidy, and impressed by the whole production.
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck wrote and directed it. He grew up in New York, Brussels, Frankfurt, and Berlin; is fluent in English, German, French, Russian, and Italian; studied for 2 years in St Petersburg, where he passed the state exam for teaching Russian as a foreign language; and studied in Oxford, where he graduated in PPE. He is 2.1 m tall, now 46 years old, and he lives with his wife and 3 children in Los Angeles.
That's what I call truly princely achievement.

2019 July 27

UK-EU Showdown

Jörg Schindler

Boris Johnson will no longer appease the EU. His people rejoiced when he first addressed them as leader with a threat to Brussels: Negotiate with us on our terms or take the blame for the consequences. "Do not underestimate this country," he shouted.
In a ruthless cabinet reshuffle, he kicked out all those who ever offended him or doubt his messianic agenda: "Believe!"
The new cabinet consists almost entirely of Brextremists. It does not even represent the 52% who voted Leave in 2016, but only the fraction who want it hard.
Johnson aims to cow the new Brussels leadership into reopening negotiations. He says the Irish backstop is dead. He knows he might fail.
He may be forced to call a general election. Voter anger at Brussels could secure victory. Johnson hopes thus to win for the Conservatives.

2019 July 26

Brexit Britain

Financial Times

Boris Johnson aims to turn the Tories into the Brexit party. His cabinet purge was the formation of a hardline pro-Leave government. Its goal is to deliver Brexit by October 31 with or without a deal.
Rattled by Nigel Farage, the prime minister is taking a punt on the future of his country. He is using from the start the language of the gambler: "People who bet against Britain will lose their shirts."
The verbal bravado is backed with hard actions. His new cabinet projects unity of purpose and ideological purity. Appointing Dominic Cummings brings in a freethinker ready for an election.
Johnson can go to the country on a no-deal ticket. But he would unite strong opposition against him. As the party of hard Brexit, Conservatives risk being reduced to an English nationalist rump.


High Performance Government

Dominic Cummings

Before the 2016 referendum, I and a few others knew that the systemic dysfunction of UK institutions and the influence of grotesque incompetents provided an opportunity for extreme leverage. Since then, after three years of government implosion, insiders refuse to ask basic questions about the reasons for this.
Political parties spend millions on spreading ideas but almost nothing on thinking about whether their messages and methods work. They do not even consider the timetable and process for turning an announcement into reality. Vote Leave was a bet on this proposition being right.
Scientists use dynamic tools to see what they are doing in real time, with immediate visual feedback and interactive exploration. Technologists work in environments designed around visualization, exploration, and investigation.
A NASA mission control room is set up so that controllers can see the data and models at different scales and preserve a common picture of what is important. The unified control center for the Large Hadron Collider is big and open and well equipped with powerful tools. But the UK cabinet room contains effectively no tools and remains practically as it was in 1914.
The Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBRA) is where British leaders meet to discuss crises. In COBRA meetings, aims and assumptions are unclear, no one uses advanced tools or models, discussions are often dominated by lawyers, and there is constant confusion between policy and politics.
Ministerial offices are also hopeless. The structure of submissions and red boxes is bureaucratic and slow. The whole approach reinforces the abject failure of the senior civil service to think about high performance project management.
A computer interface can be a cognitive technology. To master an interface requires internalizing the objects and operations in the interface as elements of cognition. An interface designer can invent new elements of cognition that enable new modes of thought.
We could create systems for British government leaders that integrate rooms equipped with cognitive interfaces and toolkits, data science support for rational decision making, and tournaments and teams to overcome groupthink and correct errors.
Vote Leave hacked the referendum. Such opportunities are rare. A crisis is a wave that can be ridden to change things.

AR UK mission control needs a new base. I recommend building it on the present site of Buckingham Palace and turning the Palace of Westminster into a museum. Let SAP supply interactive dashboards for COBRA and the ministerial offices and ask MPs and their staff to attend courses on data modeling and collaborative cognition.

2019 July 25

Do or Die

Matthew Parris

Boris Johnson means it about October 31, and he has boxed himself in by creating a cabinet that will destroy his premiership if he doesn't deliver. He has set his own time bomb ticking. And in Dominic Cummings, he has appointed his own literary executioner.


The New Churchill

Philip Stephens

Boris Johnson is summoning up the spirit of the Blitz.
Britain's new prime minister is a reactionary. With a worldview drawn from Rudyard Kipling's paeans to English exceptionalism, he mourns the loss of empire, rails against the nanny state, and thinks the French should be eternally grateful for being rescued in two world wars.
Johnson will whip up blizzards of bluster and bluff, but the idea that crashing out of the EU will put an end to uncertainty is a nonsense. Far from allowing a clean break, it will lead to years of complex and difficult negotiations to restore a sustainable relationship.
The Brexit struggle will shape politics for a decade.


Bluffer Johnson

Fintan O'Toole

Boris Johnson speaks fluent falsehood as his native language. But he deceives no one. Everybody knows. His party and media backers just wilfully suspend their disbelief.
The usual arc of a premiership runs from illusion to disillusion. Johnson cannot disillusion anyone, for no one is under any illusion that he is truthful or trustworthy, honourable or earnest.
His genius is to create complicity with the fiction known as Boris. He doesn't have to have any character because he is a character. His rise to power is the product of decades of performing the show called Boris Being Boris.
His brandishing of a kipper to air another Euro-infamy was camp self-parody. The performance is everything and the falsehood irrelevant. There is no more deception than there is at a pantomime.
Johnson believes he can get a great deal out of the EU by pretending he is happy to crash out without one. But bluffing only works if no one knows you are bluffing.

2019 July 24

Big Day in London

BBC News, 1900 BST

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made the following key appointments:

Sajid Javid
Priti Patel
Dominic Raab

Chancellor of the Exchequer
Home Secretary
Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State

AR Brexiteers all — this is a coup d'état.


Morning in Britain

Laura Kuenssberg

Boris Johnson's political inheritance has all the makings of a disaster. He has no Commons majority. There is no mandate from the general public. There are policy problems everywhere in sight. There are concerns on both sides in his own party: anxiety on one wing that he will pursue a rapid Brexit and hang the consequences; suspicions on the ERG wing that behind the Brexit bluff there's a metropolitan wet, who could betray them.

Tweet, 1000 BST:
One big appointment coming today — Dominic Cummings expected to be senior advisor to the new PM — Vote Leave chief moving into govt.

Cummings, 2019-03-27:
"Those of you in the narcissist-delusional subset of the ERG who have spent the last three years .. spouting gibberish about trade and the law .. were useful idiots for .. Remain for three years .. You should be treated like a metastasising tumour and excised from the UK body politic."


Boris Johnson

Financial Times

Rarely has an incoming premier appeared so unequal to the task. A man who did so much to lure the country into the minefield of Brexit must be trusted to plot a path out of it. If he botches his mission, he could become the last prime minister of the UK.
Boris Johnson has needlessly boxed himself in. He has set a hard deadline of October 31 to leave the EU — "do or die" — while ruling out any of the compromises. Tory backwoodsmen are egging him on to a hard Brexit.
Even if Britain crashes out of the EU with no deal, it will still need an agreement on its relationship with its biggest trading partner. No deal would require the government to return to the table, having undermined its economy and its negotiating position.
Johnson has chutzpah in abundance. He can only hope that he and his new team grasp the gravity of the moment. He has no right to pursue a no-deal Brexit without seeking a new mandate from the British people.


The British Trump

The Times

President Donald Trump: "We have a really good man who's going to be the prime minister of the UK now, Boris Johnson. Good man, he's tough and he's smart. They're saying Britain Trump [sic]. They call him Britain Trump. People are saying that's a good thing. They like me over there, that's what they wanted. That's what they need. He'll get it done. Boris is good. He's going to do a good job."


The Akratic

Fintan O'Toole

Akrasia means literally "not being in command of oneself" and is translated variously as weakness of will, incontinence, and loss of self-control. To Aristotle, an akratic is a person who knows the right thing to do but can't help doing the opposite. This is Boris Johnson to a tee.
Johnson has made a career of mendacity. The Daily Telegraph employed him as its Brussels correspondent between 1989 and 1994. Most of the time, the EU is immensely dull, so he had a plum job with little public profile. His genius was to seize on relatively inconsequential EU market regulations and inflate them into attacks by demented foreigners on the British way of life.
He invented a version of the EU as a gigantic Ministry of Silly Walks, in which crazed bureaucrats with huge budgets develop ever more pointlessly complicated gaits. In this theater of the absurd, it never matters whether the stories are true; what matters is that they are ludicrous enough to hit the sweet spot where prejudices are confirmed.
Johnson learned a great deal from Winston Churchill, his boyhood hero. Churchill was an unprincipled opportunist, a serial bungler, and a congenitally untrustworthy egotist. Therefore, only someone who has all of these qualities in abundance can become the new Churchill old England craves.
Most of those who support Johnson know very well that Brexit is the Titanic and that his actions will be to no avail. But if the ship is going down anyway, why not have some fun with Boris on the upper deck? When things are too serious to be contemplated in sobriety, send in the clown.

2019 July 23

Boris Johnson 2B Next UK PM

BBC News

Conservative party member ballot:
Boris Johnson 92,153 votes
Jeremy Hunt 46,656

Speaking at the Queen Elizabeth II centre in London, Boris repeated his mantra: "Deliver Brexit, Unite the country, and Defeat Jeremy Corbyn .. unfortunately it spells DUD ..
"We are going to energise the country. We are going to get Brexit done on 31 October and take advantage of all the opportunities it will bring with a new spirit of can do. We are once again going to believe in ourselves, and like some slumbering giant we are going to rise and ping off the guy ropes of self-doubt and negativity."

AR His rhetoric is his undoing.


German Pacifism

Jochen Bittner

The German federal republic turns 70 this year. Its national character includes a deep and abiding anti-militarism. From the start, responsibility for national security was outsourced to NATO.
Germans began to come to grips with the moral horror of the Nazi era. One conclusion was a deep aversion to military strength. Germans could never be trusted with the power to make war.
Germans like me spent our entire formative years in a permanent nuclear crisis. In school we learned how an arsenal of Soviet nuclear weapons could destroy us all within minutes, several times over. To us, war meant sudden and complete eradication.
The German Constitutional Court has approved foreign operations by German armed forces only as part of NATO, UN, or EU missions. Germany has only deployed troops a handful of times in a peacekeeping role and only recently increased its military budgets.
For Americans, this is hard to understand. Many in the United States see war as a force for good, at least in the right hands. A war to end crimes against humanity is a point of pride.
In Germany, war is always a shame, a sign of failure. The memory of war is linked to the collapse of civilization. All war is murder, and making the case for war is the argument of a murderer.
Germany has used its economic power to stand up to Russia, organize a response to the refugee crisis, and shepherd the continent through the Great Recession. Moralism has become the new nationalism. German pacifism is here to stay.

AR I too turn 70 this year.

2019 July 22


John Harris

Carl Benedikt Frey says we live in a time of deep economic disruption as new tech gives smart people the top jobs and pushes the rest into insecure and poorly paid work.
Technology is causing a global storm. In America, the socioeconomic middle has been shrinking away for decades. In the UK, manufacturing automation has lagged behind, so politicians say Brits are riding the storm, but resentment and rage is rising.
With no professional middle, affluence depends on social mobility. For most, the challenge is impossible. Empty shops are a constant reminder that automation is eating away at retail jobs supposed to replace those lost in manufacturing and heavy industry.
Technology is not a favored theme of the new populists. They talk about prosperity in terms of trade and institutions like the EU. They may resist change to protect jobs, but a better answer lies in social programs to protect people and teach new skills.
Frey: "The short run can be extremely disruptive. And it can last for a very long time."



Andrew Billen

In pastoral Darvell, a community of 300 people live in peace. Children breathe fresh air as they return from a swim in the lake. Craftsmen in a small factory work quietly on wooden nursery furniture. Old people enjoy home-reared pork sausages and Darvell-brewed beer.
The Bruderhof was founded in Germany in 1920. It has 3,000 members in 23 communities in five countries. Everything they do, they do for God. No one owns anything. Even clothes are issued from a central store. The Bruderhof forbid divorce and regard homosexual relationships as sinful, but married members are fruitful and multiply.
Once you are committed to the Hof, your life is no longer yours. The important decisions are made for you. Almost everyone will be told several times in their lives to pack up and move to another community, say in America or Germany. Your job is chosen for you. There are no televisions or computers in Hof homes, and few smartphones.
Leavers need years to integrate fully into mainstream society. A page on the Bruderhof website contains testimony from those who say their upbringing helped them in very different later lives.
My day at Darvell ends with the brothers and sisters around a campfire, thanking the good Lord for this beautiful day.

2019 July 21

Mad as Hell

Jonathan Lis

What is happening now in Britain goes beyond any previously conceivable limits of responsible or accountable governance. The harm to the national political fabric has been more catastrophic than even the most pessimistic Remainer could have contemplated. Viewed against the UK of just a few years ago, it is unbelievable.
Britain is now heading into crisis. Even conservative estimates suggest damage to the economy in all circumstances if the UK leaves the EU, contrary to everything campaigners promised. The damage to UK politics and society is even worse. A campaign billed as taking back control of democracy has become a systematic attack on it.
First the Brexiteers came for political opponents. Any prominent Remainer who dared question the legitimacy of the referendum was branded a traitor, an enemy of democracy, an elitist, a Remoaner, or a subverter of the will of the people. Brexiteers recast democratic opposition as opposition to democracy.
Then the Brexiteers moved on to the media, law, and administration. Journalists who spoke for the doubters were denounced, and anyone who pointed out the downside of Brexit was accused of talking Britain down. High Court judges were called enemies of the people and civil servants were lined up as scapegoats.
Now the process promoted as taking back control threatens to take it away from parliament. The government is pushing to force through a policy in defiance of MPs. To call this a democratic outrage is to understate the case. It would be a travesty unseen since the English Civil War.
British politics has gone mad. Brexit is a nationalist identitarian culture war.


Quantum Supremacy Is Coming

Kevin Hartnett

Quantum computers will solve problems that are practically impossible for a classical computer. They must first achieve quantum supremacy. A Google machine may do so later this year.
Quantum supremacy will be an earthquake in the field of theoretical computer science. It will violate the Church-Turing principle that a classical computer can efficiently perform any calculation that any other kind of computer can perform efficiently.
Supremacy can be demonstrated by random circuit sampling. The computer must correctly sample from the possible outputs of a random quantum circuit — a series of actions on a set of qubits.
A circuit that acts on 50 qubits entangles their states in a superposition of 250 possible states.
If you measure the qubits, the sea of 250 possibilities collapses into a single string of 50 bits.
Quantum computers can output a set of samples from the circuit with the correct distribution.
Engineers need to build big quantum circuits. Circuit size is determined by width, the number of qubits you start with, and depth, the number of times you change those qubits using logic gates. To achieve quantum supremacy, you need a circuit of 70−100 qubits with a depth of around 10.
Google is using superconducting circuits. These are solid state, they can be built with existing fabrication techniques, and they do very fast gate logic. But they have to be cooled to extremely low temperatures, each qubit has to be individually calibrated, and the error rate is high.
If Google achieves supremacy for a contrived task, the next step is to do something useful, to achieve quantum advantage.


The Lunar Legacy

The Observer

The decision to end the Apollo program that took a dozen US astronauts to the lunar surface disappointed many at the time. But once Americans had demonstrated their technological supremacy over the Soviets, the program had little purpose.
Many space engineers now believe the time is ripe for a return to the Moon. The timetables that once tracked the opening up of Antarctica now look like to those of the lunar missions being planned by space agencies. Armed with a new generation of advanced technologies, we are ready to start colonizing the Moon.
America is vigorously promoting its Lunar Gateway project. This will involve building a manned space station to orbit the Moon within the next few years. From there, astronauts will direct robots and automated craft that will set up radio telescopes, harvest minerals, search for ice and water, and study lunar rocks for use as building materials for a lunar colony.
In time, a craft will carry pioneers down to work on the lunar surface and live in the bases built by the robots. Activities will focus on the scientific study of the solar system and the operation of radio telescopes to probe deep space without the radio smog that limits astronomers on Earth. Future manned missions to Mars could also be prepared here.
NASA is keen to involve Europe, Japan, Canada and others in this undertaking. Humans will be able to restart the exploration and exploitation of space assets begun half a century ago by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. They have left us with a great legacy.


A Lunar Village

Jan Wörner

The Moon Village is a multipartner open concept. Apollo was done in a different environment, with competition as the driver. As the director general of the European Space Agency, I am in favor of also thinking about Mars, but I believe the Moon is the right way to go forward.
The Moon is a good playground for technology development. I had discussions with the Chinese, the Americans, the Japanese, the Russians, and all of them are looking to work together in the exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Apollo 11 — 50 years on
★ ★ ★ ★

Eagle, Moon

Apollo 11 lunar excursion module Eagle returns to command module in lunar orbit

2019 July 20


Matthew Walther

The first lunar landing was a feat of planning and logistics, a testament to the power of man's will, a Space Race victory,
and one of the most misunderstood events in the history of the world.
In practical terms, Apollo 11 was meaningless. To say that it represents the beginning of what will one day be the expansion
of humanity's horizons into outer space seems not only unlikely but inhuman. The lunar adventure yielded practically nothing
of scientific value that could not have been just as easily acquired by a robot.
The Moon landing was above all a triumph of our aesthetic sense. What Goethe began at Weimar in 1789 ended in August 1969.
Apollo 11 was the culmination of the Romantic cult of the sublime prefigured in the speculations of Burke and Kant, an artistic
juxtaposition of man against a brutal environment upon which to project his fears, his sympathies, his urge to transcendence.
The lunar landing was a performance, a space opera, a Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk that brought together the efforts of more
than 400,000 people, performed before an audience of some 650 million. It was a victory, as Armstrong said, not of Western
democratic capitalism over Soviet tyranny, or of America over the rest of the world, but for humanity.
Vladimir Nabokov: "I am puzzled and pained by the fact that the English weeklies ignored the absolutely overwhelming excitement
of the adventure, the strange sensual exhilaration of palpating those precious pebbles, of seeing our marbled globe in the black sky,
of feeling along one's spine the shiver and wonder of it. After all, Englishmen should understand that thrill, they who have been
the greatest, the purest explorers. Why then drag in such irrelevant matters as wasted dollars and power politics?"
Apollo is a work of art created for the ennoblement of our species.

AR Amen

Buzz Aldrin

50 years ago today: Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, photographed by Neil Armstrong

★ ★ ★ ★
1969 July 20 — Apollo 11


AKK Schlappe

Etwa 3/4 der Deutschen
bewerten die Ernennung von
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer
zur Verteidigungsministerin

Cosmic Confusion

A new way to measure
the Hubble constant
gets a new answer


FDP findet Annegret
Kramp-Karrenbauer als

AR Ich auch.



2019 July 19

"Send Her Back!"

The New York Times

Donald Trump has chosen to ground his politics and his presidency in fomenting racial hatred. At a rally on Wednesday, he smeared Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota as trafficking in "vicious anti-Semitic screeds" and went on to attack the three other freshman representatives, all women of color. He thinks this approach will win him another four years in the White House.

AR Find a hot button and jab at it until the crowds roar — tactic of demagogues everywhere.


No Way Out

Financial Times

UK public finances would deteriorate by £30 billion a year in a "relatively benign" no-deal Brexit scenario, says the Office for Budget Responsibility. The OBR was created in 2010 to provide independent and authoritative analysis of UK public finances.

AR Strike no-deal off the menu. Strike the fools who threaten it off the ballot paper. Such threats are no way to conduct negotiations with friends and partners.


Brexit and Europe

Ursula von der Leyen

A hard Brexit is a bad outcome for both sides. We have a good withdrawal agreement, which was negotiated properly in accordance with the red lines drawn by the UK government. We need to strive for an orderly Brexit.
If our British friends offer good reasons for an extension, I am open to listening to them. The way we carry out Brexit will determine our future relationship with our neighbor, the UK. Both sides have an interest in an orderly and good beginning to our future relationships.
On climate change, the worst-case scenario will come about if we don't act with determination, namely rapidly intensifying change with all its consequences. The clock is ticking, and we have to act. Polluting the environment has to come at a price. Compared to the rest of the world, our industry is already doing well at climate-friendly technology, but we have to get better.
On member states taking in refugees, I think we have to listen to the arguments. For example, the Poles make the justified point that they have taken in 1.5 million people from Ukraine.
My dream of a United States of Europe has become more mature and more realistic. In the European Union we have unity in diversity. That is something different to federalism. I think that is the right path.

AR My advice to the next UK prime minister: Revoke, Remain, Reconcile.

2019 July 18

Alliance Against Prorogation

The Guardian

MPs passed a backbench amendment aiming to block any attempt by a future government to prorogue parliament to ensure a no-deal Brexit by 315 votes for and 274 against.

Laura Kuenssberg: "The new rebel alliance in parliament has shown its strength."


Enriching the Queen

The Guardian

The Crown Estate, which manages the Queen's property portfolio, holds exclusive rights to lease the seabed around the British Isles for wind and wave power. Its profits go to the Treasury, which then sends 25% back to the royal household in the form of the sovereign grant.

AR Nice little earner there. No wonder she's so rich. This needs changing.


Advising the Queen

The Times

Retired Supreme Court Judge Lord Sumption says legal challenges to prevent Boris Johnson from suspending parliament to push through a no-deal Brexit would fail if the Queen agreed to a suspension requested by her prime minister. A committee of privy counsellors might advise her on the constitutional propriety of such requests.

AR Perhaps the Queen could earn her pay by saying no to Boris.


The Fate of the Universe

Anil Ananthaswamy

The expansion of our universe is accelerating: We live in a de Sitter spacetime. In 2003, Shamit Kachru, Renata Kallosh, Andrei Linde, and Sandip Trivedi (KKLT) came up with a complicated way to construct de Sitter spacetime from string theory.
String theory works at high energies. To describe a spacetime at lower energies, we must use string theory to find an effective field theory. The exact spacetime you get using the KKLT construction depends on how the extra dimensions of string theory are compactified and how electromagnetic fluxes thread through these geometries.
String theorists shows this can be done in at least 10500 ways, each giving a different de Sitter spacetime. The result is a multiverse in which every conceivable spacetime can exist.
Cumrun Vafa was unhappy with the KKLT construction. He asked whether all possible effective field theories can emerge from string theory. A string theory should outlaw effective field theories that fail to include gravity. Such variants should be relegated to a patch of the multiverse he calls the Swampland.
Vafa proposes that all effective field theories for a universe where dark energy is a cosmological constant belong to the Swampland. He suggests a dark energy density that decreases with time. But a gap between the results of two ways to measure the Hubble constant is explained only if dark energy density increases with time.
Vafa says weakening dark energy affects dark matter in string theory: "What that typically means is that a new dimension opens up. So it's a completely new universe, which is not describable in terms of the language of our current universe. A completely new phase takes over."

2019 July 17

Chinese Nationalism

Anders Fogh Rasmussen

China promised to preserve and respect the freedoms of Hong Kong citizens but exerts intense pressure on Taiwan and is strengthening its military presence in the South China Sea. Europe has been erratic in its dealings with China. EU foreign policy is based on values, and we cannot continue ignoring the fact that China bases its policies on a different set of values while its people seek rights we insist on for ourselves.


American Nationalism

Frank H. Wu

Billionaire investor Peter Thiel asks whether the Chinese government has infiltrated Google AI research teams or senior management and if the Chinese steal information. Google and other US technology firms rely on Chinese immigrants and Chinese American engineers. Instead of fearing Chinese Americans will help China in achieving global dominance, Americans should inspire them to support the United States.

2019 July 16

EU-Parlament stimmt für von der Leyen

Der Spiegel, 1945 MESZ

Ursula von der Leyen hat die Wahl zur EU-Kommissionschefin für sich entschieden.

AR Ich gratuliere die Dame!


Alternative for Germany

Melanie Amann, Ann-Katrin Müller

The far-right "Flügel" of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is gaining ground. Members who once opposed the wing and its leader, Björn Höcke, are beginning to embrace them.
AfD parliamentary group head Alice Weidel has long since come to terms with the Flügel and with Höcke. Flügel representatives and friends of Höcke, like Götz Kubitschek, are asking how they can turn her into an ally.
Weidel is walking on the path toward extremism that AfD party leaders Jörg Meuthen and Alexander Gauland have already taken. The Flügel is now established in the AfD mainstream. Former opponents in the AfD, such as Beatrix von Storch, have grown quiet.
Weidel does not respond to criticism of the Flügel. Kubitschek: "She has long known that the party can't shake off Björn Höcke and his network without incurring damage, and that Höcke plays a necessary instrument in the AfD concert."
Weidel will even give a lecture at the next Flügel summer academy in Schnellroda. Kubitschek: "Her lecture ought to be perceived as a gesture within the party. They have more in common than what separates them."
Weidel: "As parliamentary group leader, I am rightly being asked to respect a certain principle of neutrality."
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution has been monitoring the Flügel since the beginning of the year. The office says its Identitarian movement violates the constitution. Identitarians claim to offer a more modern version of right-wing extremism, although the AfD has formally distanced itself from them.
The Flügel has become more professional and organized. Its members no longer aim to lead the AfD and prefer to stay in the background. Kubitschek: "In the long run, it must be possible to bring the AfD into a form in which it can conduct negotiations and make policy."


British Nervous Breakdown

Tim Lott

I believe Britain embarked on its journey toward national nervous breakdown in the decade from 2000 to 2009.
The magnitude of the change was not understood at the time. The sudden growth of the internet, the unleashing of social media, and the accompanying change in our consciousness all had negative effects as well as positive ones.
The first camera phones seemed to be gimmicks. No one predicted the rise of image-sharing sites. And handheld personal computing seemed benign. Now we live in our own personal techno-bunkers. Social media exposed deep rifts in society as a new ideal world, more seductive and unrealistic than anything in previous advertising and marketing, made our real lives seem meaner and poorer.
In that decade, our understanding of mental health was growing. A seismic shift was taking place in the way we understood the mind and its workings. Mental health became part of the mainstream conversation. Old issues that had been suppressed or denied were acknowledged. British mental health professionals reported a big growth in psychic problems.
All this changed the psychic substrate in Britain. We cannot judge it yet, but a mass change in consciousness is taking place. People are living online lives unlike any others in human history.
All this began in the first decade of the 21st century.


Fast Radio Bursts

New Scientist

FRBs are milliseconds-long bursts of powerful radio waves that come from the depths of space. Many source mechanisms have been proposed but none fits perfectly. Most FRBs appear only once, but three appear to repeat, so these cannot come from one-off events like neutron star collisions or supernovas. Vikram Ravi calculates that the rest probably don't either and most are repeaters.

AR Some ask: Intelligent radio transmissions?

Apollo 11

50 years ago today: Apollo 11 lifts off, bound for the Moon

AR Thanks to Wernher von Braun for the Saturn V booster

Miriam Adelson

Exit from Brexit


2019 July 16

Farming on Mars

The Guardian

The harsh environment on Mars makes growing food there a daunting prospect, but we can crack the problem by laying sheets of material over the surface to prepare it for farming. Aerogel sheets can create a greenhouse effect by trapping solar energy to warm the ground and melt enough buried ice to keep plants alive. Future spacefarers can create fertile oases beneath the sheets.

Enabling Martian habitability with silica aerogel via the solid-state greenhouse effect
Robin Wordsworth et al.

Large areas of the surface of Mars could be made habitable to photosynthetic life by creating a greenhouse effect. Under Martian environmental conditions, a 2−3 cm thick layer of silica aerogel will transmit sufficient visible light for photosynthesis, block hazardous UV radiation, and raise temperatures underneath it permanently to above the melting point of water.

2019 July 15

US Firedog

The New York Times

President Donald Trump woke up on Sunday morning, gazed out at the nation he leads, saw the dry kindling of race relations and decided to throw a match on it. He fired off a Twitter rant goading Democratic congresswomen of color to "go back" to the country they came from, even though most of them were actually born in the United States. He plays with fire.


UK Poodle

The Times

Boris Johnson wants to make resetting relations with President Trump one of his first acts in Downing Street by travelling to the United States to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal. International trade secretary Liam Fox says undertaking any agreement before the UK leaves the EU would be in breach of international law.

2019 July 14

Book of Trump

USA Today

President Donald Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Miriam Adelson, the Israeli‑American wife of GOP mega donor Sheldon Adelson, in November 2018. She now says: "Would it be too much to pray for a day when the Bible gets a Book of Trump, much like it has a Book of Esther celebrating the deliverance of the Jews from ancient Persia?"


UK Leak Scandal

The Sunday Times

The chairman of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party was last night embroiled in the Darroch leak scandal as it emerged that he is in a relationship with the writer whose story brought down the UK ambassador to Washington.


Vassal State UK

Simon Tisdall

The idea that a Boris Johnson premiership will restore US-UK relations to good health is facile.
Theresa May went out of her way to appease Trump. He repaid her by mocking her over Brexit.
Trump is probably not a fascist. But his America First chauvinism makes him an unsuitable partner.
Britain risks becoming a vassal state of Trump America. The Darroch affair is a timely warning.


Ship of Fools

George Walden

Brexit backers voted not so much on the EU or on austerity as in protest at migration.
As a result of Brexit, non-EU immigrants are outnumbering Europeans still further than before the vote. As this reality dawns on a poorer country faced with a growing burden on public services, extremists will find ways to exploit the backlash.
The conservative mind has ceased to function. That the Times has endorsed Boris Johnson as national leader is a measure of its desperation. When a pop-up political party led by a friend and admirer of Donald Trump and apologist for Putin triumphs in elections, we should be worried.
As they drone on about the sacred will of the people, the drivers of our Brexit suicide lorries represent a privileged elite who stand to suffer least if national decline follows. They know that practical issues drove people to vote Leave, yet they invest Brexit voters with higher motives.
The average English voter yearns to stop the music and go back to where we were, when we enjoyed minimal global competition and splendid isolation, and could smile down on the world from our island fastness. Johnson's appeal relies on patriotic nostalgia and the illusion of effortless ascendancy. His supporters want to leave our chaotic globalised world and be somewhere else.
The ship of English fools, captained by an egomaniacal amateur, is about to sail.


Hubble Trouble

Leah Crane

We had two ways to measure the expansion of the universe, described by the Hubble constant.
The two methods always returned clashing results. Now, a third independent method has confirmed the problem. If both old ways are correct, we may need to revise our cosmology.
One way we measure the Hubble constant is by using the CMB. This tells us how fast the universe was expanding at 12 Ts ABB. We can then calculate how fast it ought to be expanding now.
The other main way is using a distance ladder. We measure the distance to Cepheid variables, link those distances to nearby supernovas, and use supernovas to link distances with redshifts for galaxies. This method measures an expansion rate more than 9% higher than the CMB method.
The third measurement uses gravitational lensing. As a distant quasar changes in brightness, there is a time delay between when that change shows up in each image. We can use the time delay to measure the distance to the quasar. With the redshift, this measures the Hubble constant.
The new measurement boosts the distance ladder method, which is based on more complex and less established physics than the CMB measurement, with a confidence level of 5 sigma.
Maybe both measurements of cosmic expansion are correct. Does the Hubble constant vary?

AR I see no particular reason why the Hubble constant should be constant.

No Boris

boris-noris adv. going on
blindly, without thought
to risk or decency
A Glossary of the
Dorset Dialect

"Idiots! Running, boris-noris
into the ditch, without a
thought of the morrow."
Ann Beale, 1878

AR Thanks to Green MEP
Molly Scott Cato
for this.

F-35A: $90 million a pop

Jedi War Cloud

The Pentagon is set to award a
$10 billion "war cloud" contract
to a US technology company.
Amazon and Microsoft are
competing for the chance to
build the Joint Enterprise
Defense Infrastructure
(JEDI) AI system.

Zeit der Zauberer
Meine Rezension


2019 July 13

Lost the Plot and Adrift

Gideon Rachman

"The greatest alliance the world has ever known" was how Donald Trump described the US-UK relationship during his state visit to Britain. Now Trump has denounced the British ambassador to Washington as a "pompous fool" and forced him out.
Boris Johnson recently endorsed Trump's paean to the historic significance of the US-UK alliance. He feels he must appease the US administration. For hard Brexiteers, the great benefit of leaving the EU is that it will free Britain to make new trade deals, with a US deal as the biggest prize of all.
Trump has dangled the prospect of a "phenomenal" new trade deal with America, but politics will hinder it. US demands will include opening up the UK food and healthcare markets. The UK can reduce tariffs, but a hard border in Ireland will antagonise the Irish-American lobby in Congress.
Britain seems to have lost the plot. For almost 50 years, British foreign policy has been based on the twin pillars of a special relationship with the US and membership of the EU. Without those pillars securely in place, Britain is adrift.


Looking Out for a Hero

Rory Stewart

No deal is a phrase vague enough to seem democratic, even though most people are against it, and to seem patriotic even though it is against the best traditions and interests of the UK. The centre ground is not simply a midpoint between extremes but a reality. It can be held in a way populism cannot. Britain cannot be saved by a superhero.


Boris-Noris Brexit

Richard Drax

As a country, we stand at the cusp of a new beginning, one where we take back control of our destiny after more than 40 years. Boris Johnson has made it crystal clear that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal. At this critical moment in our nation's history, we need his infectious optimism.
This confidence in our own country will turn the tide in any future negotiations. We want a fair deal that respects free trade but does not embrace a political project we did not sign up to. Johnson and a new team, who believe in Brexit, will have a far better chance of securing such a deal.
The paralysis must end if we are to restore our reputation and standing in the world, and self-belief back home. We found the right leaders in 1940 and 1979 in Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher; now it's time for the next one.

AR Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax (Harrow, Sandhurst, Coldstream Guards) is the Conservative MP for South Dorset, the constituency directly southwest of Poole.

2019 July 12

American Defense

Jessica T. Mathews

American defense spending crowds out funds for everything else.
Expressed as a percentage of GDP, defense spending is roughly 3−4%. But the valid measure of affordability is its share of the federal discretionary budget. Defense spending now accounts for almost 60% of this budget.
Understanding the recent ups and downs of the defense budget is complicated by the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, meant to cover the costs of fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only way to see the actual cost of maintaining and using the military is to consider the OCO and the Pentagon base budget together.
Under the Trump administration, the budget soared to $700 billion in fiscal year 2018 and $716 billion this year, with a proposed leap to $750 billion for FY 2020, for a total increase of more than $100 billion since Trump took office.
The United States spends more on defense than the next eight largest spenders combined — China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, Britain, Germany, and Japan.
Americans are allocating too much to defense.

AR Trump America is on course to take on the rest of the world in a military showdown. This looks likely to fail. Britain can either go down with America or win with the rest of the world.


America First

Edward Luce

Donald Trump's firing of Sir Kim has already warped Boris Johnson's plans.
Johnson has ceded control over UK decision-making to Trump. He will have to embrace the no-deal Brexit he aims to avoid so that Trump can dictate a US-UK trade deal.
Trump's goal is to bring about a transactional world in which each country fends for itself. That suits his idea of the natural order of things when America First is on top.
Trump has launched a commission on "unalienable rights" and Mike Pompeo says rights should be based on "natural law" — code for biblical morality and dog eat dog.

AR Does Johnson want to play poodle to Trump?

2019 July 11

American Ambassador Affair

Patrick Wintour

The resignation of Sir Kim Darroch followed the failure of Boris Johnson to say he supported him staying in post. Darroch naturally concluded he had no future as ambassador. It is pretty clear that the political purpose of the leak was to get Darroch replaced by a true Brexiteer.


Boris Brexit Bluster

Financial Times

Boris Johnson claims the EU will swerve at the last minute to avoid a no-deal Brexit and offer him better withdrawal terms.
Former UK ambassador to the EU Sir Mark Ivan Rogers says a no-deal Brexit is likely to lead to "disruption on a scale and of a length that no one has experienced in the developed world in the last couple of generations .. We are dealing with a political generation which has no serious experience of bad times and is frankly cavalier about precipitating events they cannot then control but feel they might exploit."
A recent poll showed 54% of Conservative members would be willing to see the Conservative party destroyed as the price for delivering Brexit and 63% would accept Scotland leaving the UK as the price, whatever the impact on the British economy. Most members think the warnings of chaos are overdone and expect Brexit to be delivered on time.
Johnson: "I think people are yearning for this great incubus to be pitchforked off the back of British politics."


Colony Claim Confused

Priyamvada Gopal

Boris Johnson has spoken of Britain's supposed "colony status" in the EU and yet also believes that it would be good if Britain were still "in charge" of Africa. Some Brexiteers stress the need to teach the British empire, but their preference is for mythology over history. History shows there is nothing especially British about values such as tolerance, freedom, human rights, or democracy.


Dame Defends Deal

Ursula von der Leyen

I hope the UK will remain in the EU, but I do not intend to renegotiate the withdrawal deal. I think the Irish backstop is of utmost importance. We know how crucial a nonexistent border is for the Irish. Having the backstop in the Brexit deal is precious, important, and has to be defended.


Exit Execution Ends

Rafael Behr

Since June 2016, Britain has been trying to process a one-word instruction, leave, that cannot be executed by the political operating system. Brexit is an inexecutable file. Boris Johnson will soon be staring at the blue screen of death. British politics is heading for a hard reboot.

2019 July 10

The Mathematical Universe

Manjit Kumar

Einstein's search for unified theory of electromagnetism and gravitation using only his imagination and mathematics left him increasingly out of step with younger colleagues. They were busy exploring the new vistas of particle and nuclear physics opened up by experiments that eventually led to the Standard Model.
There were precedents for Einstein's attempt. Isaac Newton had demonstrated that the force that pulls an apple to the ground also keeps the planets in their orbits. And James Clerk Maxwell unified electricity and magnetism — and light — in electromagnetism.
Einstein's mathematical approach has been embraced by theoretical physicists in the pursuit of a theory of everything. Superstring theory interprets particles as little oscillating bits of string. The different levels of vibration of these strings in 10 dimensions correspond to the different particles. Theorists found five different string theories, but Ed Witten unified all five in M-theory.
In the past, experiments played a vital role in developing theory and vice versa. Wherever data can be coaxed out of nature, it suffices to corroborate or refute a theory and serves as the sole arbiter of validity. But where experimental evidence is spare or absent, the interplay with mathematics has led to advances in physics.


Quantum Trajectory Theory

Philip Ball

Early quantum mechanics was a probabilistic theory, telling us only what we will observe on average if we collect records for many events or particles. The theory seemed to work only for ensembles of many particles. For a large ensemble, we can use statistics to check the predictions.
Quantum trajectory theory (QTT) is compatible with the standard formalism of quantum mechanics but gives a more detailed view of quantum behavior. The standard description is recovered over long timescales after the average of many events is computed.
QTT deals precisely with single quantum events as they are happening. By applying QTT to an experiment on a quantum circuit, researchers recently captured a switch between two quantum energy states as it unfolded over time. They caught a jump in midflight and reversed it.
A quantum measurement influences the system being observed. The act of observation injects a kind of random noise into the system. The uncertainty in a measurement reflects the randomizing effect of observation.
Quantum back-action can be thought of as an imperfect alignment between the system and the measuring apparatus. Normally, an observation of a quantum system overlooks a lot of potentially available information. But if almost everything is measured and known about the system, you can build feedback into the measurement apparatus to make continual adjustments to compensate for the back-action.
For this to work, the measurement apparatus has to collect data faster than the rate at which the system undergoes significant change, and it has to do so with nearly perfect efficiency. Essentially all the information leaving the system and being absorbed by the environment must be measured and recorded.
A quantum trajectory is a path taken through the abstract space of possible states of the system. QTT describes how observations of the way the system has behaved so far affect that path, then predicts what it will do in the future.


⦿ Ute Zscharnt for David Chipperfield Architects
Museum Island, Berlin
Ode to Joy

Boo Brexit

Anne Widdecombe
⦿ AW
Brexit MEP Anne Widdecombe
trials hard Brexit fashion

Ursula von der Leyen
⦿ UvdL
Ursula Albrecht, 1976

Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der Leyen
likes to ride horses


2019 July 9

Brexit and Trump

James Blitz

HM civil service has long been a respected part of the UK system of government. Civil servants are politically impartial and speak truth to power. But the excitement of Brexit has led to attacks on Whitehall's top mandarins.
The latest attack is the leak of confidential dispatches written by UK ambassador to the US Sir Kim Darroch. Brexiteers are calling him "pro-European" and "anti-Trump" in an attempt to discredit him.

AR Another shameful sign that Brexit Britain is sinking fast.


Britain and Brussels

Boris Johnson, 2013

If we left the EU, we would have to recognise that most of our problems are not caused by Brussels, but by chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills, a culture of easy gratification, and underinvestment in both human and physical capital and infrastructure.
Why are we still, person for person, so much less productive than the Germans? That is now a question more than a century old, and the answer is nothing to do with the EU. In or out of the EU, we must have a clear vision of how we are going to be competitive in a global economy.

AR The best thing I can recall Boris ever having said.

2019 July 8

UK Crisis Forecast

Jonathan Lis

The UK is heading for a political crisis. Boris Johnson intends to take the UK out of the EU by Halloween, do or die. A majority of MPs are opposed to a no-deal Brexit.
The EU will not renegotiate the deal. Johnson prefers to leave without a deal than revoke Article 50. He will not request a new extension.
Conservatives will announce their new leader on July 23. May will resign on July 24. MPs will begin their summer recess on July 25.
Case 1. Labour seeks to stop a no-deal Brexit before the recess begins. Other parties and Tory rebels support the vote. The Queen is dragged in if the Commons does this before she invites Johnson to form a government. An immediate election ensues.
Case 2. Parliament returns in September and Johnson goes for no deal. Parliament will not support him. Johnson will not survive.
Case 3. Johnson secures an extension. But he cannot tell moderates he will secure a deal and tell the ERG he will go for no deal. The hardliners will bring him down if he betrays them. Johnson will lose a confidence vote and his government will fall.
Case 4. Johnson fails to get an extension. If parliament votes to revoke Article 50, Johnson will not last the rest of the week.
Case 5. Johnson prorogues parliament. The Queen is dragged in. An immediate election ensues.
A crisis will trigger either an election or a referendum or both.


An Alternative Parliament

Rory Stewart

If Boris Johnson presses ahead with a no-deal Brexit by seeking to prorogue the Commons, an alternative parliament could defy him by continuing to sit elsewhere. I would work with colleagues to organize another parliament across the road. That is what happened in 2002 when Tony Blair tried not to have a vote on the Iraq war. MPs were invited to Church House, and Blair backed down.
When Johnson was foreign secretary and I was a junior foreign minister, I remember I had been pushing our ambassadors to be much more brutally honest about failure and the weakness of British positions in their countries and he said: "Rory, I used to captain rugby teams and that is not how you do it. You say to them: It is great, we can do this .. You have got to build their morale and make them feel pumped up and feeling it's going to be great. The more they say it is going to be great, the greater it is going to be."
International trade negotiations are not like a rugby match.


Britannia Unchained

John Harris

Seven years ago, in a manifesto titled Britannia Unchained, five Conservative MPs said Brits need to "stop indulging in irrelevant debates about sharing the pie" and instead to double down on austerity and keep the faith in free markets.
Lots of trailblazing, libertarian tech people see big tech companies as malignant concentrations of power. The internet's big players have been through their unregulated, disruptive phase. We are now in a period of damaging effects on society.
The EU has been in the forefront of conversations about what to do about the internet giants. Yet some Tories scoff at any claim that all this activity is about protecting consumers and innovators, insisting instead on defending the free market.
Come the autumn, Britain may well face penury. We will be told to unchain the tech, finance, and food industries' offshore playground. Such are the uplands of freedom offered by a party that seems to have lost its moral bearings.

2019 July 7

Iran Breaks Out

The Guardian

Iran breaks the terms of its nuclear deal again by announcing plans to enrich uranium beyond the levels allowed under the 2015 agreement.
Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi says Iran will produce uranium at 5% enrichment. He says Iran has called time on diplomacy.
Iran revealed its first breach of the deal last week, announcing that it was stockpiling low-enriched uranium beyond the 300 kg limit allowed.
Sanctions are damaging the Iranian economy. Oil exports are about 300,000 barrels per day, compared with 2.5 million barrels in April 2018.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's adviser on international affairs Ali Akbar Velayati says officials are unanimous on breaking out.
The US military is building up its forces in the region.


Trump Presidency "Dysfunctional"

Mail on Sunday

UK ambassador to the US Sir Kim Darroch used secret cables and briefing notes to say the White House is "uniquely dysfunctional" and that the Trump presidency could "crash and burn": "We don't really believe this Administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept."
A letter to UK national security adviser Sir Mark Sedwill sent on June 22, 2017, copied to senior figures in government, ran to six pages of unflattering observations about the President's character and political record:
"I don't think this Administration will ever look competent .. President Trump radiates insecurity. [We could] be at the beginning of a downward spiral, rather than just a rollercoaster: something could emerge that leads to disgrace and downfall."


Trump Trials Fascism

Fintan O'Toole

We are in a phase of trial runs for fascism.
Donald Trump understands of test marketing. He created himself in the gossip pages of the New York tabloids, where celebrity is manufactured by planting outrageous stories you can confirm or deny later. He recreated himself in reality TV where storylines are adjusted to max the ratings.
Fascism arises slowly in a democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs to get people used to something they may initially recoil from, and then refine and calibrate.
Fascism starts with building up tribal identities and rigging elections. Fascists typically come to power with minority support and then use control and intimidation to consolidate that power. Most people can hate you as long as your minority is fanatically committed. A propaganda machine creates an alternate universe for the fans.
The next step is to undermine moral boundaries, inure people to acts of cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery. Fascists do this by building up the sense of threat from despised outsiders, who can then be dehumanized.
This next step is being test-marketed now. Trump is seeing how his fans feel about crying babies in cages. His claim that immigrants "infest" the US is a test of whether his fans are ready to hear "vermin" as they see images of toddlers dragged from their parents.
Fox News mouthpieces outdid themselves in barbaric crassness, even describing crying children as actors. Fox sees the manipulative behavior of strangers coming to infest us. Most Republicans are in favor of this brutality.
The blooding process has begun.

2019 July 6


Costica Bradatan

The core idea of democracy is simple: As members of a community, we should have an equal say in how we conduct our life together. All adults are free to join in, and no one is free to enjoy the unchecked power that leads to arrogance and abuse.
History demonstrates that genuine democracy is difficult to achieve, and once achieved, fragile. In totalitarian regimes, whenever power is used and displayed, the effect is profoundly erotic. The Triumph of the Will shows people experiencing a sort of collective ecstasy.
Genuine democracy is not erotic. It aspires only to a certain measure of human dignity. Ancient Athenian democracy devised two institutions to contain its flaws:
 Sortition: They appointed public officials by lot. Elections allow some people to assert themselves, arrogantly and unjustly, against others.
 Ostracization: When a citizen was becoming too popular, they voted him out of the city for ten years, to prevent his unchecked power.
Democracy is hard to find in the human world. Most of the time we see it as a remote ideal rather than a fact. We may never get it, but we cannot afford to stop dreaming of it.


The Road to Brussels

Der Spiegel

Ursula von der Leyen took a seat on the podium in the parliamentary group chamber of the European People's Party (EPP) in Strasbourg. She turned to console Manfred Weber, the man on her left, in German. She then switched to French and spoke about her childhood in Brussels and her father. Switching to English, she discussed her years in California.
Many parliamentarians are not amused by her sudden nomination. The CDU government minister was handpicked by European leaders in a confidential meeting. The EU lead candidate system was left by the wayside.
French president Emmanuel Macron had mentioned Ursula von der Leyen for a top EU job on several occasions. Shortly before Macron's election, she had said: "Macron is a convinced, engaged champion of the European idea who will strengthen the European family and lead it into the modern age."
Macron had seen her work as defense minister. Since 2017, she has been driving the largest German-French defense project yet, a new European fighter jet. Despite plenty of resistance, she pushed on. She last ran into Macron at the International Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, where a signing ceremony for the project was held.
At midday on the Monday of the EU summit, her name was little more than a test balloon from Macron. By Tuesday morning, Germany and France had settled on nominating her for Commission president and Christine Lagarde for ECB president. Merkel and Macron met with Donald Tusk and Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez. They agreed on the new personnel package.
Dr von der Leyen's political future looks rosy once again. Her defense ministry has been in the headlines for months due to massive cost overruns, a series of mechanical difficulties with government aircraft, and a parliamentary committee investigation into potential nepotism and malfeasance among her close advisers. She has improved the German military, expanding its cyber capabilities, making it more attractive to women, modernizing its processes, and increasing its budget, but those successes have not improved her image as defense minister.
Dr von der Leyen is well qualified for the position of European Commission president. She will enter the confirmation process with the support of European leaders. Yet she lacks the full support of her own government. German Social Democrats says they will reject her candidacy, German conservatives are concerned that the parliamentary vote will be secret, and the Greens say she must offer them a Commission post.

2019 July 5

European Commission Presidency

Andy Ross

European Council President Donald Tusk has asked the European Parliament to approve the appointment of Ursula von der Leyen as the next president of the European Commission.
Mrs von der Leyen is the daughter of Ernst Albrecht, a senior German politician who worked in the European Commission from 1958.
When she was an undergraduate at Göttingen, the police advised her father, then prime minister of Lower Saxony, to move her away, as some students at the university were linked with the Baader-Meinhof gang and the RAF. She spent the year 1978/79 at the LSE, where she called herself Rose Ladson — the name of her American great-grandmother — to avoid detection.
On London: "For me, coming from the rather monotonous, white Germany .. London was the epitome of modernity: freedom, the joy of life, trying everything. This gave me an inner freedom that I have kept until today."
Later, she switched to medicine, was awarded a doctorate in Hanover, and practiced as a gynecologist. She then studied and worked for four years in medical administration in Stanford University, California, before returning to enter German politics.
As a minister in Angela Merkel's government, Ursula is an enthusiast for European integration. In 2011, she called for a United States of Europe.
Since 2013, she has served as the federal German defense minister. Last December, she was called before a parliamentary committee to answer charges over the handling of defense contracts. The Bundestag is holding hearings into whether her office circumvented public procurement rules in granting contracts to private firms.
She is opposed to Brexit, describing the prospect as a "burst bubble of hollow promises .. inflated by populists" and a loss for everyone.
On Brexit: "I know .. the British are always self-reliant. The Germans tend toward over-enthusiasm in European affairs, the French to emotion .. The British ground all this with their skepticism, their understatement and their great pragmatism. When the British leave the EU, the high-blown will dominate, and the union could lose its grip, so we need the British."
Ursula is descended from a wealthy merchant family in Bremen. Her husband Heiko von der Leyen is a medical professor and CEO of a medical engineering firm. They are Lutheran Christians and have seven children.

A few milestones
1958   Born and raised Ursula Albrecht in Brussels
1976   Undergraduate in Göttingen
1978   Studied economics in London for a year
1980   Studied medicine in Hanover
1986   Married Heiko von der Leyen (now 7 children)
1991   Awarded doctorate in medicine/gynecology
1992   Worked in Stanford, California
2001   CDU member of regional assembly in Hanover
2003   Minister in Lower Saxony government
2005   Minister in German federal government
2013   Federal minister of defense (still in office)
2019   President of the European Commission (?)

Independence Day 2019

⦿ Erin Schaff / The New York Times
US Navy Blue Angels roar over Lincoln Memorial and the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" blares to end President Trump's speech.

AR God rained on Trump's Independence Day parade.

Apollo 11

AR Excellent
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

final scene

⦿ Chris Saville


2019 July 4

UK 2019: Down

Olesya Dmitracova

Conservative party leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt admits that a no-deal Brexit could cause almost as much economic damage as the 2008 financial crisis, which led to a severe recession and put 2.7 million people out of work.
Credit rating agency Moody's: "We believe that, without an agreement, the UK economy would likely enter a recession. The British pound, which has already weakened since the Brexit vote, would come under renewed pressure."
UK government estimate: A no-deal Brexit reduces GDP by between 6.3% and 10.7% over 15 years.


UK 2020: Out

Martin Kettle

Later this month, will the new prime minister stand on the Downing Street doorstep and announce an embarrassing compromise? Unless he does, and negotiates an extension beyond 31 October, no deal is not an option. It is automatic.
The UK will be in trouble. The Conservative party will sink modern Britain in order to save its own skin from the Brexit party. No one voted for this in 2016. It would surely be better to remain in the EU than to have to rejoin.

AR The End of Days scenario is nigh.

2019 July 3

Obesity tops smoking as cause of cancer

The Times

Being overweight now causes more cases of four common cancers than cigarettes. A Cancer Research UK study reveals that excess weight is a bigger cause of bowel, kidney, ovarian, and liver cancer than tobacco. About 15 million adults in Britain (29%) are obese and 6 million (14%) are smokers.


Boris Johnson pledges to bin sin taxes

The Times

Boris Johnson undermined one of his cabinet supporters last night by pledging to drop an obesity policy being championed by health secretary Matt Hancock. The Conservative leadership contender announced he would order a review into the sugar tax and veto proposals to extend it to milkshakes.

AR Looks like a rather dire collision of headlines.

2019 July 2

Europe: Next Leaders

The Guardian

European leaders choose German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission, Belgian prime minister Charles Michel to replace Donald Tusk as president of the European Council, and IMF head Christine Lagarde to take over from Mario Draghi as head of the European Central Bank.


Laconia Motorcycle Week

Josh Wood

American bikers hail their commander-in-chief. Images of Trump on a motorcycle, in a leather jacket, rifle in hand, under a halo of words: Finally someone with balls — Talk shit, spit blood — Trump 2020 the wall is coming
For a week every June, Weirs beach, Hew Hampshire, is transformed into biker boulevard, hog heaven. The language is foul. The wardrobe is leather. Engines, music loud. Booze flowing. Tents sell chaps and vests with gun pockets. Daily wet T-shirt contests.
Trump: "I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don't play it tough until they get to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad."

2019 July 1

The Bimby Manifesto

The Sunday Times

When the Prince of Wales unveiled Poundbury in Dorset, the critics called it fake and heartless, a feudal Disneyland, and a Thomas Hardy theme park for slow learners. But it succeeded: Its 1,700 homes command a 29% premium over similar ones nearby.
Now the Prince's Foundation has launched Housing Britain: A Call to Action. This manifesto says that if planners, builders, landowners, and government follow its template, "nimby" will be replaced by "bimby" (beauty in my backyard).
Charles: "I have long believed that for communities to prosper, they require a built environment that provides good-quality homes that are planned as walkable, mixed-use and mixed-income neighbour­hoods, with integrated affordable housing that is as well designed as the rest. They also need a range of local services accessible by public transport, green routes and natural places that are enjoyable and safe for cycling, and, above all, a local identity that fosters pride and a sense of belonging, and has character and beauty."
The foundation's newest planned town, Nansledan in Cornwall, is taking shape, with 4,000 homes planned and 230 built so far.

Housing Britain
 Consign the monocultural housing estate to the past.
 Insist on beauty at the beginning of planning and impose quality controls on large builders.
 Offer low rates and rents to start-ups.
 End car-centric design. Make pavements at least 2 m wide, with lower kerbs for pedestrians.
 Slow traffic by placing a public space or change in building line every 60−80 m.
 No more towers: bring back mansion blocks and mid-rise developments.
 Incentivise landowners to design and build a better longer-term legacy.
 Build more flats and maisonettes above small employers to encourage social vibrancy.
 Empower smaller developers and different housing investors to create diverse communities.
 Place affordable housing seamlessly among other types and keep it affordable in perpetuity.
 Find ways to save and repurpose historic buildings.
 Make use of fast-track factory fabrication.
 Create green spaces and access to nature to boost physical and mental health.
 Include bee bricks, bird boxes, and edible planting.

AR Seems good to me.

Bournemouth beach

⦿ Bournemouth Daily Echo
Bournemouth beach, June 29

Deadly heat in France

Symmetry breaking
Symmetry breaking
(step upward)


2019 June 30

Trump Invites Kim to White House


President Donald Trump and NK leader Kim Jong Un met at the Korean DMZ. They shook hands and walked over the line that has split Korea since 1953. Their relationship appeared to be back on track after the failed summit in Hanoi. They greeted each other warmly and looked happy. Trump suggested they could follow the DMZ meeting with a visit by Kim to the White House.


Trump Disses Japan

Gary J. Bass

President Trump: "If Japan is attacked, we will fight World War III. But if we're attacked, Japan doesn't have to help us at all. They can watch it on a Sony television."
In 1945, Japan was placed under a US occupation overseen by General Douglas MacArthur. When the occupation ended in 1952, Japan had turned away from militarism to embrace ideals of pacifism and democracy.
A 1951 security treaty let the United States post US forces in and around Japan. In 1960, the United States pledged to defend Japan if it was attacked. For much of the Cold War, democratic Japan was the core of American alliances against Communism in Asia.
Japan responded when the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001. Prime minister Koizumi Junichiro passed a law to support the US campaign in Afghanistan. He also supported the US Invasion of Iraq in 2003 and provided humanitarian support in postwar Iraq.
Prime minister Abe Shinzo has sought to cultivate a special relationship with Trump. In response, Trump shrugged off Japanese fears about NK.


The Delusion of Sovereign Control

David Howell

The delusion running riot in Britain today is that the UK can improve everything by gaining sovereign control of its laws and government.
In fact, in our deeply interdependent world, the whole idea embodied in such ringing metaphors as taking control, making our own laws, and getting our country back is fundamentally flawed.
Laws and institutions that have no connection with EU membership are expanding across the planet daily. They are part of the rules-based order that now stands between all of us and international anarchy. Almost every law passed in an open nation has to take constant account of both other countries' laws and of higher agreed legal frameworks. A binding web of behavior shapes almost every aspect of ordered daily life and its governing laws. Brexit will make little difference.
The world of pure sovereign control has gone forever. To every major issue of this century, national governments acting alone have no answer. All progress has to be by agreement and cooperation with other parties and other nations.
The new British prime minister will have to explain that his powers are far more limited than the media or the public clamor begin to comprehend. He will have to reveal that unless the UK aims to become a hermit kingdom, life will continue to be governed by a network of international rules and procedures not very different from what went before.
The paradox is that the demand for control only makes sense in the web of rules and controls that hold the modern world together.


The Brexit Elixir

Niall Ferguson

The UK is run by an old-boy network. The contest for the Conservative party leadership pits a former president of the Oxford Union against a former president of the Oxford University Conservative Association. Of the 54 prime ministers since 1721, 27 were educated at Oxford.
Boris Johnson is believed by some to be the British Donald Trump. But they have little in common. Trump joined Twitter in 2009 and has 61.5 million followers. Johnson joined in 2015 and has 614,000 or so followers. Trump notoriously communicates at the level of a 10-year-old. Johnson speaks the archaic jolly-good-egg English of P.G. Wodehouse. Boris is no Trump.
The next UK leader will be chosen by the 160,000 members of the Conservative party. The Tory party is 97% white, 86% middle class (ABC1), 71% male, 54% from southern England, and 44% over 65. Two thirds of them favour a no-deal Brexit.
The young Boris Johnson used to cover every step in the direction of Bundesrepublik Europa with febrile excitement. Now he seeks to become prime minister by promising his aging party members the magical Brexit elixir.
Meanwhile, a new generation of right-wing populists in Europe has worked out that it's better to remain in the EU and constantly to bitch about it than to exit.


Seaside Pantomine

Toby Helm

Boris Johnson appeals to the Tory faithful with his hardline message on Brexit. In Bournemouth and Exeter, he went for the pantomime approach, telling his audience that there are "three things" the next leader needs to get done: "And the first is what? What?" The members chanted in loud response: "Brexit!" Johnson roared back: "Yes! Get Brexit done!"
Jeremy Hunt has to try to be funny. His natural default setting is managerial, sober, and reassuring. The Hunt campaign message: "These are serious times and we need a serious person in No 10."

2019 June 29


George Musser

Our ideas for a quantum theory of gravity all say space is derived from something deeper.
Black holes are the best test case for quantum gravity. General relativity says matter falling into a black hole approaches a central singularity. We hope quantum theory can say more.
A black hole is bounded by an event horizon, beyond which descent to the singularity is irreversible. But all known laws of fundamental physics and quantum mechanics are reversible.
Black holes have a nonzero temperature, but this deepens the problem of irreversibility. The black hole destroys information about infalling particles. If black hole physics is reversible, something must carry information back out.
Any parts of the black hole must be parts of space itself. Perhaps microscopic space is a mosaic of little pieces of space, so that if you zoomed in to the Planck scale, you would see something like a chessboard. But the grid lines of a chessboard space would privilege some directions over others, creating asymmetries that contradict special relativity.
By measuring the thermal behavior of black holes, you can count its parts, at least in principle. Dump in energy and see how fast the temperature rises. In effect, you are measuring the entropy of the system, which represents its microscopic complexity.
If you increase the radius of a ball by a factor of 10, you will have 1000 times as many bits inside it. But if you increase the radius of a black hole by a factor of 10, the inferred number of bits goes up by only a factor of 100. The black hole may look 3D, but it behaves as if it were 2D.
A hologram looks like a 3D object, but it turns out to be an image produced by a 2D film. If the holographic principle counts the microscopic constituents of space and its contents, it must take more to build space than assembling little pieces.
In loop quantum gravity, the building blocks of space are quanta of volume. In string theory, they are fields that live on the surface traced out by a moving string. In causal set theory, they are events related by a web of cause and effect.
Several approaches to quantum gravity see entanglement as crucial.

AR Heavy stuff, I know, but keep going.


Symmetry in Physics

K.C. Cole

Symmetries are variations that leave deep relationships invariant. Maxwell's equations reveal a symmetrical relationship between electric and magnetic fields. The speed at which electromagnetic fields propagate through space matches the measured speed of light.
Einstein found an invariant in the relationship between space and time that made them mutable manifestations of spacetime. He showed there is no universal here or now: Events can appear simultaneous to one observer but not another, and both perspectives are correct.
Also, the inertia of a body depends on its energy. Resistance to change becomes infinite at the speed of light. Since that resistance is inertia, a measure of mass, kinetic energy is transformed into mass. Einstein found an invariant relationship between mass and energy.
Unified spacetime is a difficult concept. The speed of light is special because it cannot change. Measurements of distance and time change instead, leading to effects known as space contraction and time dilation. But no matter how fast two people are traveling with respect to each other, they always measure the same spacetime interval.
Einstein's special theory of relativity applies only for constant velocities, not accelerating motion. Einstein realized that a person falling freely feels weightless. In his general theory of relativity, he used symmetry to show that gravity is the curvature of spacetime created by massive objects.
Certain quantities in nature are always conserved, such as energy, electric charge, and momentum. Emmy Noether proved that each of these conserved quantities is associated with a symmetry. The symmetries of general relativity ensure that energy is always conserved.
Symmetry has been central in physics ever since. Paul Dirac, trying to make quantum mechanics compatible with the symmetries of special relativity, wrote a new equation and predicted antimatter. Wolfgang Pauli, trying to balance the energy in radioactive decay, conjectured a new particle, now known as the neutrino.
Gauge symmetries describe the internal structure of the Standard Model. They imply everything from W and Z bosons to gluons and showed us where to look for the Higgs boson. But reasoning from symmetry predicts other things, too, such as supersymmetric particles.
Duality is closely related to symmetry. Some dualities reveal that a 3D world without gravity can be dual to a 4D world with gravity. Others suggest spacetime emerges from quantum entanglements.

AR I find group theory (which defines symmetries) difficult.


Entanglement and Spacetime

Lee Smolin

There is nothing outside the universe. The history of the universe is constituted of different views of itself. The fundamental ingredient is an event, something that happens at a single place and time. The event has relations with the rest of the universe, and that set of relations constitutes its view of the universe.
There are many views, and each one has only partial information about the rest of the universe. Each view is unique. You can measure how distinct one is from another by defining its variety. The laws of physics work to maximize variety. The principle that nature wants to maximize variety leads, in an appropriate limit, to quantum mechanics.
In the ensemble interpretation, a wave function describing a single water molecule describes the ensemble of every water molecule in the universe. The uncertainty of states is the ensemble of all the water molecules in the universe. They form an ensemble because they have similar views. They all interact with one another, because the probability of interaction is determined by the similarity of views.
In this theory, similarity of views is more fundamental than space. At the smallest scale, there are highly nonlocal interactions, which appear as entanglement in quantum mechanics. Entanglement is fundamental. The geometry of spacetime emerges from structures of entanglement.

AR My take: If each view has its own spacetime bubble, popping entanglements at the horizon expand the bubble; each quantum pop breaks a symmetry of possible futures for the view.


Entangled Spacetime

Paola Zizzi

Interpret quantum spacetime using quantum computation and the holographic principle, for a discrete de Sitter universe with a Planck time foliation such that each Planck pixel encodes one qubit, to define a duality between entanglement and spacetime geometry.

AR Hey, we're cracking quantum gravity!

G20 Osaka

⦿ Kim Kyung-Hoon

Manfred Weber
Manfred Weber

I become the new SVP
of Poole Rotary Club

Bozza: Halloween Brexit
"come what may,
do or die."

Temperatures may exceed 40 C
across Europe this week


2019 June 28

Putin: Liberalism Obsolete

Financial Times

Russian president Vladimir Putin says liberalism is spent as an ideological force: "The liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population."
Putin's views chime with those of US president Donald Trump, Viktor Orban of Hungary, Matteo Salvini in Italy, and leaders of the Brexit insurgency in the UK. Hecalled Angela Merkel's decision to admit a million refugees to Germany a "cardinal mistake" and praised Trump for trying to stop the flow of migrants and drugs from Mexico.
Putin is regularly accused of covertly supporting populist movements through financial aid and social media, notably in the 2016 US presidential election, the Brexit referendum, and the recent European Parliament elections. He emphatically denies doing so.
On the US-China trade war and tensions in the Gulf between the US and Iran, Putin says the situation is explosive: "The cold war was a bad thing .. but there were at least some rules that all participants in international communication more or less adhered to or tried to follow. Now, it seems that there are no rules at all."
"I think Russia and UK are both interested in fully restoring our relations .. Treason is the gravest crime possible and traitors must be punished."
"We have no problem with LGBT people. Let everyone be happy. But this must not be allowed to overshadow the culture and traditional family values of millions of people making up the core population."

2019 June 27

The Big Brexit Lie

Guy Verhofstadt

Three years after the Brexit referendum, the UK is no closer to figuring out how to leave the EU. A Conservative party leadership election to replace the prime minister is in full swing. The lead candidate, Boris Johnson, is more prophet than politician to his followers.
As is often the case with populists, reality does not square with his false promises and pseudo-patriotism. Brexiteers speak of a "Global Britain" that will trade freely with the rest of the world, even as they drag the UK down a path strewn with new barriers to trade.
The real global trading power is the EU. As an EU member state, the UK benefits from the 40 trade agreements the EU has in place with more than 70 countries. Moreover, the EU is finalizing negotiations for a new free-trade agreement with the Mercosur bloc.
A successful conclusion to the EU-Mercosur talks would send a message about the value and importance of open trade. Europe will have offered still more proof that Brexit is not only unnecessary but also detrimental to UK economic interests.

2019 June 26

America Versus China and Persia

Thomas L. Friedman

President Trump has engaged America in a grand struggle to reshape the modern behavior of two of the world's oldest civilizations — Persia and China — at the same time.
He has decided to do so without goals, without allies, without a home team, and without a plan:
 Breaking the 2015 denuclearization deal with Iran while trying to entice North Korea into a deal.
 Sanctioning China on trade while trying to enlist its help to denuclearize North Korea.
 Imposing steel and aluminum tariffs on European allies while needing their help to confront China.
China and Iran are two very different problems. America can settle for a transactional deal with Iran, but we need a transformational deal with China.


European Commission President

Manfred Weber

Die Europawahl hat als Ausgang, die Europäische Volkspartei (EVP) ist mit 182 Abgeordneten deutlich stärkste Fraktion. Jeder Wähler hatte die Möglichkeit zu wissen, wer in Verantwortung stehen soll, falls die EVP die Wahl gewinnt: nämlich Manfred Weber als Kommissionspräsident.
Teile des Europäischen Rates wollen die Idee des Spitzenkandidatenprinzips, dass nur ein Kandidat, der vor der Wahl Gesicht gezeigt hat, Kommissionspräsident werden kann, einfach vom Tisch wischen. Aber die Folgen für die europäische Demokratie wären verheerend.
Das Europäische Parlament ist die Volksvertretung von 500 Millionen Europäern. Die Menschen bestimmen über die Wahl, in welche Richtung Europa gehen soll. Die Aufstellung von Spitzen­kandidaten durch die europäischen Parteien gibt den politischen Richtungen ein Gesicht.
Das Spitzenkandidatenprinzip ist bestimmt nicht perfekt, aber die bisher mit Abstand beste Idee zur Demokratisierung der EU. Eine europäische Demokratie muss sich entwickeln können. Ich bin nicht bereit, diese demokratischen Errungenschaften jetzt wieder zurückzudrehen.
Am Europäischen Parlament führt kein Weg vorbei. Nur wenn es gelingt, Europa demokratischer zu machen, zu den Menschen zu bringen, dann wird Europa eine gute Zukunft haben. Scheitert Europas Demokratisierung, dann kann auch die EU ernsthaft bedroht sein.


UK: September 3

Henry Zeffman

The House of Commons can stop the next prime minister pursuing a no-deal Brexit. A small number of Conservatives can vote to bring down that government in a no-confidence motion.
A majority of MPs must vote that they have no confidence in the government. Then there is a 14-day period during which others might try to form a government that can command a majority.
After that period, the Queen can proclaim the date for a general election. The last Thursday before October 31 is October 24. The Commons would be dissolved 25 working days before that date.
So, the latest the vote of no confidence could take place is September 3, which is the first day that MPs return from their summer recess.

2019 June 25

Battle 4 Brexit

Polly Toynbee

Britain is a Remainer nation held hostage by extreme no-dealers. The ruling party is seized by no-deal Brexit mania as its leadership candidates woo the membership's worst delusions.
Conservative party members have hardened their Brexit position: Two-thirds are for leaving the EU with no deal, ready to sacrifice the union, the economy, and their own party. Out in the real world, only a quarter of voters want a no-deal Brexit. There has long been an 8-point lead for remain.
A Mail on Sunday poll found 54% for remain, 46% for leave. For Westminster: Labour 26%, Tories 24%, Brexit 20%, Lib Dems 18%, and 11% for Greens, SNP, and Plaid Cymru combined. In total, Remainers are well ahead of Leavers.
Yet the UK is in mortal danger of being dragged into a no-deal Brexit. This democratic outrage is sustained by dishonesty about obeying a long-defunct "will of the people" plus a confession that an election would put Jeremy Corbyn into No 10. A referendum is resisted because Brexit would lose.
Nigel Farage has proposed a pact with the Tories to deliver a devastating hard Brexit crash-out. The Remain majority would be crushed. The only salvation is an anti-Brexit alliance.

AR Bonking "Bodger" Bojo broke it, so the party wants him to fix it.


A Tax Cut 2 Far

Institute for Fiscal Studies

Boris Johnson proposes to increase the income tax higher rate threshold from £50,000 to £80,000. The increase would cost about £9 billion and benefit the 4 million taxpayers with the highest incomes. Most of the gain would go to the top 10%, with the biggest gain to rich pensioners.

AR The proposal is a bung to party members.


Boris Johnson Unfit 2B Prime Minister

Max Hastings

I have known Johnson since the 1980s, when I edited The Daily Telegraph and he was our Brussels correspondent. I have argued for a decade that he is unfit for national office.
Tory MPs have launched the UK upon an experiment in celebrity government. We can't predict what a Johnson government will do, because its leader has not yet thought about that.
Admirers say Johnson in office will reveal the wisdom and responsibility that have so far eluded him. This seems unlikely. Dignity still matters in public office, and Johnson will never have it.
Winston Churchill, for all his wit, was a profoundly serious human being. Far from perceiving anything glorious about standing alone in 1940, he knew he needed allies and partners.
Johnson will come to regret securing the prize. The experience of the premiership will lay bare his unfitness for it. The Tories, in their terror, have chosen a charlatan.

AR Max is a distinguished Tory who should be heeded.


50 Shades of Green

Jan Moir

The secluded garden was fecund with 50 shades of green, in a sanctuary as wild as their crazy, stupid love. Their heads close together in flaxen conspiracy, the star-crossed couple sat at a weathered teak table.
Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds shared a timeless moment yesterday. He is the soon-to-be twice-divorced priapic rogue who would be king, she is the girl he has promised to marry come hell or high office.
Boris and Carrie have had to move out of her south London flat and seek refuge in the Sussex countryside. Now they must reassure supporters and Conservative voters that all is well on the home front.
Doubters say the snaps from the bucolic lovefest were taken months ago.

AR I shall not republish them.


Bollocks 2 Brexit

Jo Swinson

Three years since the European referendum, we have a Conservative leadership contest in which both candidates are seeking a mandate for a disastrous Brexit. The less honest of the pair is the runaway frontrunner to be the next prime minister.
Boris will be a disaster for Britain. His version of Brexit, in which the UK will crash out of Europe no matter what at the end of October, will be the worst of all worlds. Bollocks to Brexit, and Bollocks to Boris.

AR Jo is 2 bold with her bollocks.

2019 June 24

Conscious: A Brief Guide

Andy Ross

Annaka Harris has written a book that sets a new standard for consciousness studies. Its great merit, apart from its being so smoothly readable that I read it in a single unwearied sitting, is that it is both passionate and authoritative. Harris knows her topic intimately, in scientific detail, and demonstrates a close and critical understanding of all the main ideas and theories. Her opinions make eminently good sense and raise all the niggling doubts that have bothered me, too.
Her sympathy with Thomas Nagel's idea that an organism X is conscious if and only if there is something it is like to be X is conventional but problematic. What this "definition" does is to shift the burden onto the question of being, with a baldly declarative claim that merely begs the question.
Harris takes her time with David Chalmers' work on the hard problem of consciousness. His argument is almost mathematical in its clarity, and in its logic recalls the diagonal argument Cantor used to prove the uncountability of the real numbers. It stands as a logical critique of any scientific theory of consciousness, or indeed as a gloss on the epistemic predicament of any centered subject in any objective world. As such, it can almost be bracketed out from the scientific enterprise.
Harris is rightly both critical of the work on the neuroscience of consciousness and sympathetic to that work. Her criticism focuses on the extent to which it engages with consciousness itself, as opposed to cognitive performance and the construction of a functional self from neural activity. Her sympathy is only human, and neuroscience is where public funding should be devoted to advance consciousness studies.
I share the curiosity and interest Harris has for the idea of panpsychism. The puzzles of quantum physics and those surrounding the concept of time are really beyond the scope of neuroscience. Yet these questions are where consciousness leads us, which suggests the need for a major paradigm shift. As I see it, qualia, the quanta of experience, can only survive scrutiny as, say, the "phenomenal vibrancy" of physically fundamental quanta such as photons, which hints at vast domains of utterly nonhuman phenomenology.
Harris has hit all the right notes and hit no dud ones that I can see. As an introduction to the current state of consciousness studies, it has no equal.

Jeremy Hunt


Tweedledon and Tweedledud

Steve Bannon advised
Boris Johnson on key
Leave speech (2:57)

Daniel Dennett
talks about neuroscience,
consciousness, free will,
and responsibility

UK PM Poll Round 5
Result of afternoon
vote by Tory MPs:

Boris Johnson
Jeremy Hunt
Michael Gove 


UK PM Poll Round 4
Result of morning vote
by Conservative MPs:

Boris Johnson
Michael Gove
Jeremy Hunt
Sajid Javid 


Dawn mission images show
dwarf planet Ceres hosts
young ice cryovolcano


Man Up and Face Me

Jeremy Hunt

The next prime minister will be overseeing the UK economy, upon which the jobs of millions of families depend. He will be taking charge of the Brexit negotiations, perhaps the biggest political challenge we have faced in peacetime.
Scrutiny of the candidates matters. One of the strengths of our system is that we scrutinise our politicians with more intelligent ferocity than anywhere in the world. Yet Boris is refusing to do TV debates.
The next prime minister will be chosen by just 160,000 Conservative party members. I know they want a fair and open contest, not one that one side is trying to rig to avoid scrutiny.
I am not interested in debating Boris's private life. But I do want to quiz him on how he can "guarantee" we will leave the EU on October 31 if parliament votes to stop a no-deal Brexit.
A new prime minister needs the legitimacy of having made his arguments publicly and having them subjected to scrutiny.
Don't be a coward Boris, man up and show the nation you can cope.

2019 June 23


The Guardian

Boris Johnson was struggling to keep his campaign to become prime minister on course on Saturday night as he refused to explain why police had been called to his home after a loud, late-night row with his partner Carrie Symonds. At the first hustings of the leadership contest in front of party members, he said people did not "want to hear about that kind of thing".
The police confirmed they were called to the couple's south London flat. Neighbors said they heard slamming and banging. Symonds was heard telling Johnson to "get off me" and "get out of my flat".
Neighbor Tom Penn: "In the early hours of Friday morning .. I heard what sounded like shouting .. from a neighbor's flat. It was loud enough and angry enough that I felt frightened and concerned for the welfare of those involved, so I went inside my own home, closed the door, and pressed record on the voice memos app on my phone. After a loud scream and banging, followed by silence, I ran upstairs, and with my wife agreed we should check on our neighbors. I knocked three times at their front door, but there was no response .. we agreed that we should call the police."
Another neighbor, Fatimah: "It was really loud, loud enough to make me turn down the TV and see what was going on. I could hear shouting and screaming from a lady, she sounded really angry."


Just Boris

Sonia Purnell

The sight of Boris Johnson in full flow convinced me years ago, when I worked alongside him in Brussels reporting on the EU for The Daily Telegraph, that he was temperamentally unsuitable to be entrusted with any position of power.
When I worked as his deputy in Brussels in an office of two, it took a long time to get used to what became known as his "four o'clock rants" in which he hurled four-letter words at an innocent yucca plant for several minutes at deadline time every day to work himself into a frenzy to write his creative tracts against the EU.
His attitude to women — endless affairs leaving a string of women behind him — has long been one of entitlement and lack of respect. He has boasted to other men that he needs plenty of women on the go as he is "bursting with spunk" — descriptions of women as "fillies" in earlier years sullied his reputation with many women as an unreconstructed sexist.
Johnson's former Commons secretary Melissa Crawshay-Williams: "80% of the time working with him was wonderful. The other 20% was terrible. Boris would swear a lot when he was frustrated."
Telegraph sub-editor Mark Stanway endured years of late copy that prevented him from getting home on time. Editor Charles Moore eventually tired of such discourtesy and one week discarded his copy. Stanway: "Boris went completely ape. He phoned me f-ing and c-ing. I said it wasn't my decision. Boris has a ferocious temper. He is not a cuddly teddy bear."


A Bit of a Dud

Boris Johnson, 2016

Think of Britain. Think of the rest of the EU. Think of the future ..
I can see why people might just think, to hell with it. I want out. I want to take back control ..
I like the sound of restoring democracy. But ..
There are some big questions that the "out" side need to answer:
 Almost everyone expects there to be some sort of economic shock as a result of a Brexit ..
 And then there is the worry about Scotland ..
 And then there is the whole geostrategic anxiety ..
Shouldn't our policy be like our policy on cake — pro having it and pro eating it?
Yes, folks, the deal's a bit of a dud.



Peter Jukes

Churchill College, Cambridge, December 2013: A hundred or so libertarians gather to hear Steve Bannon talk with members of the Young Britons Foundation (YBF), an insurgency movement within the Conservative Party.
The YBF emphasized promoting liberty, relaxing gun control, and privatizing the NHS (a 60-year mistake, according to YBF president Daniel Hannan) and originated as an offshoot of the Young Americas Foundation (YAF).
Bannon had allied with YAF funder Robert Mercer in 2012 to become executive director of the alt-right Breitbart website. Bannon planned to use military-grade target audience acquisition technology on the US population.
Vladimir Putin set up the Internet Research Agency to deliver social media propaganda against Ukraine. In 2014, the agency hired dozens of English-speaking graduates to promote Donald Trump and attack the EU.
Bannon's friend Nigel Farage declared that Vladimir Putin was the political leader he most admired. Farage was soon appearing regularly on the Russian propaganda TV network Russia Today.
Johnson and Farage won the 2016 Leave vote with help from Bannon and Putin.

2019 June 22

March of the Machines

Ben Macintyre

"Artificial intelligence is the future, not only in Russia but for all mankind .. whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become ruler of the world."
— Vladimir Putin, 2017

Artificial intelligence is evolving at a prodigious rate, with profound implications for society. Thinking machines can make us safer, healthier and more efficient. They will enable us to work and worry less, love and live more fully, and save money, natural resources, and time. There is very little that AI will not help with.
To date, the great advances in AI use domain-specific machine learning. Such systems take data from their environment and use it to make predictions and take action. With ever more computing power, and ever richer rivers of data, the machines are growing cleverer and acquiring more knowledge, learning from experience, just as humans do.
Artificial general intelligence (AGI) is not far off. Beyond that is the prospect of artificial superintelligence (ASI). With the advent of the Singularity, humans will no longer be the most intelligent beings on Earth.
AI is only as intelligent as the information fed into it, and data is frequently flawed, incomplete, or biased. Machine logic cannot always cope with an unpredictable, irrational, idiosyncratic world. It will be difficult to impose a single moral framework on thinking machines.
In military technology, a new arms race is underway. Autonomous killing machines are being developed by military scientists around the globe. How can killer robots best conduct warfare?

2019 Summer Solstice

Oxford University, Brexit Nursery

Simon Kuper

Six of the seven men who survived the first round of the Tory leadership contest studied at Oxford. The final two candidates, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, were contemporaries there. The UK is thus about to install its 11th Oxonian prime minister since the war.
In the 1980s, Oxford was still a very British university, shot through with dilettantism, sexual harassment, and sherry. Johnson graduated in 1987, Michael Gove and Hunt in 1988.
Being president of the Oxford Union was the first step to being prime minister, said Michael Heseltine. The debating society was a kind of teenage House of Commons. Almost all aspiring Tory politicians passed through the Union. Europe rarely came up then.
Johnson went up to Oxford from Eton in 1983 with three aims: to get a First, find a wife, and become Union president. He had run Eton's debating society, and his father had come to Oxford in 1959 intending to become Union president. Boris just missed his First. His sister Rachel said it later fell to her to "break the terrible news" to him that their brother Jo had got a First.
As Union president in 1988, Gove wrote: "We are all here, part of an elite. It is our duty to bear that in mind." Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt, OUCA president in 1987, was calmer: "OUCA remains a moderate association controlled by neither libertarians nor any other faction within the Conservative party, and exists to represent the views of all Conservative students at Oxford."
In 1988, Margaret Thatcher suddenly turned Eurosceptic. In her Bruges speech, she warned against a European superstate exercising a new dominance from Brussels. That idea spooked the Oxford Tories. They revered Britain's medieval parliament filled with witty English banter, whereas Brussels offered ugly modernism and jargon-ridden Globish. In 1990, future OUCA president Dan Hannan founded the Oxford Campaign for an Independent Britain.
Oxford's "prime minister's degree" is PPE: politics, philosophy, economics. In 2016, the PPE graduates were almost all Remainers: David Cameron, Hunt, Rory Stewart, Philip Hammond, Matt Hancock, and so on. By contrast, Johnson read Classics, Gove English Literature, and Hannan History.
Timothy Garton Ash: "Public schools and the culture around them provide a training in superficial articulacy: essay writing, public speaking, carrying it off. The Oxford Union reinforces that, even among those who didn't go to public school. Compare and contrast the German elite."

AR When I matriculated in Oxford in 1969, the arts were still held in higher esteem than the sciences. To my shame, I switched from physics to PPE before moving on to graduate work in mathematical logic. I still hold the politics crowd in some disdain.

2019 June 20

A Diminished Country

Mark Rutte

Hard Brexit is hard Brexit. I don't see how you can sweeten it. A no-deal Brexit will be chaos.
I hope that when the new prime minister reads all the briefs and gets aware of all details of where we are at in terms of the Brexit negotiations, he will realise that something has to change in terms of the British position. If not, the only solution on the table is the present solution.
Even with a "normal" Brexit, the UK will be a diminished country. It is unavoidable.

AR Mark Rutte is the prime minister of the Netherlands and wants good relations with the UK.


We Back Boris

Evening Standard

The Evening Standard backs Boris Johnson to be the next prime minister:
 He has a chance of uniting this divided government. The fact that he already has the support
     of half of all Tory MPs is a promising start. That's the realpolitik.
 He has the most room for manoeuvre to get the country out of the Brexit mess. Ask yourself
     who first came up with the idea of two referendums back in early 2016. He promises to get a
     renegotiated withdrawal agreement out of the EU. Perhaps he will. Most likely he will not.
 He might just get Britain feeling good about itself again. He knows there's a "serious job of
     work to be done" — and his more sober approach to this campaign is a start.
If anyone can give Britain back its mojo, it's BoJo.


Think Ahead

Ivan Rogers

The UK is poorly led by a political elite that has great difficulties with the truth. As former UK ambassador to the EU, I am discouraged by just how badly Brexit has been handled to date, and pessimistic that this is going to get any better any time soon.
I was in Brussels running the preparation process for Theresa May's first European council in October 2016. I was able to feel the severe frost — and the total internal solidarity — her speech 10 days previously to the party conference had engendered.
Think ahead to the October European council this year. Do we think Boris Johnson will, in his first leader's speech to conference, have set out a subtle, nuanced, principled, and collaborative approach to sober up the party faithful?


Tory Folly

Martin Kettle

Brexit is the price the Conservative party is paying for the flowering of many of the poisonous political seeds planted under Margaret Thatcher. She bequeathed a party to John Major that was increasingly anti-European, indifferent to regional policy, and in favour of tax cuts at the expense of public spending as a matter of dogma.
This process has been brutally accelerated by the party's doctrinal obsession with Brexit. By two to one, a poll this week found that Tory members would rather Brexit took place even if it meant significant damage to the economy, and even if it meant Scotland and Northern Ireland leaving the UK. A large majority of Tories even think Brexit is more important than the survival of their party. Half of them would be happy for Nigel Farage to be their new leader.
The Tory party used to rest on a platform of realism. But there is zero realism in a debate about Brexit between leadership candidates who have no idea how they are going to get a no-deal Brexit, which most voters do not want, through a parliament that does not want it either.
The Tory party is now based on faith, not open to ideas. This has happened when civil society in Britain has made the opposite journey toward openness to ideas and away from dogma. For that reason, the Conservative party may now be beyond conserving.


Quantum Randomness

Anil Ananthaswamy

Google has a quantum processor that may be able to generate pure randomness. In the quantum world, systems in a superposition of states, when measured, pop into one state. We can calculate probabilities for the outcome, but the result is random.
One way to pull randomness out of a quantum computer (QC) uses a sampling task. Imagine a box filled with tiles, each labeled with a few bits. Multiple tiles can have the same label. A sampling task is an algorithm that in effect reaches into a box of tiles and randomly extracts one of them.
More formally, given a probability distribution for the possible n-bit strings, the algorithm randomly outputs an n-bit output string. For a classical computer (CC), the task becomes exponentially harder for larger n. But a QC can do better.
Starting with a set of qubits in a given state, qugates then put them into superposed states. A qugate can entangle multiple qubits into a single quantum state. A set of qugates together make a quantum circuit. To randomly output an n-bit string, a quantum circuit puts n qubits into a superposition that reflects the desired distribution.
When the qubits are measured, the superposition pops randomly to one n-bit string. The probability of collapse to any given string is dictated by the distribution specified by the quantum circuit. Measuring the qubits is like sampling a string from the box. The string will be highly random.
Scott Aaronson explains how to generate randomness. A CC uses some "seed randomness" to specify a quantum circuit, then sends the description to the QC, which implements the circuit, measures the qubits, and returns the n-bit output string. In doing so, it has randomly sampled from the distribution specified by the circuit. Now repeat the process over and over.
Aaronson: "It produces a long string that is nearly perfectly random."

AR The QC field is taking off nicely.


UK PM Poll Round 3
Result of today's vote
by Conservative MPs:

Boris Johnson
Jeremy Hunt
Michael Gove
Sajid Javid
Rory Stewart


Rory drops out

World University
QS Rankings



UK PM Poll Round 2
Result of today's vote
by Conservative MPs:

Boris Johnson
Jeremy Hunt
Michael Gove
Rory Stewart
Sajid Javid
Dominic Raab


Raab drops out


Bloomsday 2019
Bloomsday 2019

Julia sets
Julia sets

Almost a Coronation
Result of today's vote
by Conservative MPs:

Boris Johnson
Jeremy Hunt
Michael Gove
Dominic Raab


Back Boris ⦿ The Times

PDS 70 ⦿ ESO / A. Müller et al.
PDS 70 blacked out, center;
planet PDS 70b, right


2019 June 19

Artificial Intelligence

David Chalmers

I think artificial general intelligence (AGI) is possible. There are a lot of mountains to climb before we get to human-level AGI. I think it's going to be possible in 40−100 years.
AGI will change the world. AGIs are going to be beings with powers initially equivalent to our own and before long much greater than our own. We need to think hard about how we design superintelligence in order to maximize good consequences.
Consciousness is a matter of subjective experience. You and I have intelligence, but we also have subjectivity. That subjectivity — consciousness — is what makes our lives meaningful. It's also what gives us moral standing as human beings.
Gradually replace your neurons, one at a time, with computer parts or upload them to a computer. You start as a fully biological system, and finally you're a fully silicon system. If you make it a functionally perfect simulation throughout, then you're going to be there till the end still saying, "Yup, I'm still home!" Someone else can still say, "I think you turned into a zombie."
I value human history and selfishly would like it to continue into the future. At some point there are going to be many faster substrates for running intelligence than our own. If we want to stick to our biological brains, then we are in danger of being left behind.


Oxford Wins AI Donation

The Guardian

The University of Oxford says it is to receive a £150 million donation from US billionaire Stephen Schwarzman to fund humanities research and tackle looming social issues linked to artificial intelligence. The money will be used to create the Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities.
Schwarzman: "AI is an explosive force that is going to change the world we live in in the next
10−15 years in a very profound way, some for good and some not so good. [W]hat I realised is that Oxford had certain unique characteristics through its work on the humanities and philosophy that would complement what the hard scientists were doing around the world."

2019 June 18

Trump and Iran

Michael H. Fuchs

The Trump administration is pushing the discourse on Iran to fever pitch in the wake of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
The fever dream convinces policymakers to cozy up to awful regimes from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates. It rationalizes support for the war in Yemen. US allies are frustrated with its sway over US policy.
America does not need to support countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE to counter Iran. A strategy of pressure alongside dialog produced the nuclear deal. The US should talk to Iran about regional security.
Iran could push a crisis to the brink and raise the chance of war. We need a strategy.



Financial Times

Facebook has revealed plans for a new global digital currency, saying 1.7 billion people around the world will be able to use Libra to make instant and nearly free international money transfers from their mobile phones. With traditional banks sitting on the sidelines, Facebook is persuading merchants to use Libra as a means of payment and consumers to see it as a safe store of value.
So far, 28 groups have said they will become backers and integrate the technology into their services. Facebook hopes that 100 groups will have joined before the currency launches. Libra will be backed by a pool of currencies and assets stored around the world. It will not have a fixed exchange rate but will not swing as wildly as cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.
Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have not yet signed up. Banks have chosen not to do so yet.

2019 June 17

UK Democracy

John Harris

The story of UK politics is following an ominous plotline. A decade on from 2008, huge social and economic disruption is changing our sense of who we are and what we want. Unease and outrage are rising about broken systems of power.
Given a choice between an array of political parties, millions of us now jump at the chance. But our collapsing voting system still privileges two parties. The disaffection pushing Britain toward a multi-party system is only held in check by the miserable method by which we choose MPs.
The fact that the online world offers people a sense of voice and influence is cohering into rising hostility toward the basics of representative democracy. Some Conservative MPs now believe that if parliament proves troublesome, it should simply be suspended.
Representative democracy hinders immediate gratification and slows down decision making. It is unclear whether this noble ideal can hold in the face of new technology and our new urgency about things. Impatience is rising in our politics.
Governments will have to embrace innovation. The case for pushing control down to the most local level possible now feels both urgent and unanswerable. Politicians must get over the idea that in an election, voters should choose between two parties or effectively throw their vote away.
A nasty fate awaits Boris Johnson as surely it once awaited absolutist monarchs and the representatives of rotten boroughs. He will strut around triumphantly for a week or two before being tossed into a political firestorm.

2019 June 16

The Closing of the Conservative Mind

Robert Saunders

Margaret Thatcher understood the power of ideas. As prime minister, she hosted seminars at Chequers to which historians and policy analysts were invited. Her goal was not merely to reform the economy but to change the whole mindset of British society.
Since the Thatcher era, the Conservative party has shown few signs of intellectual life. In the absence of any larger economic vision, the party has retreated behind the cleansing fire of the market. Even the nation, once understood as a living organism, stretching across time through a web of customs and obligations, has shrivelled into the grotesque banality of UK plc.
Conservatism is no longer rooted in a historic institution that confronted it with a higher set of values than the market. Today, Conservatives are trapped by the Second World War. The result is a cartoonish morality that privileges resolve over reflection, in which every leader is either a Chamberlain or a Churchill and foreign policy is a question of appeasement or defiance.
Brexit is a manifestation of these changes. It has burned out the final part of the Conservative tradition, the disposition to preserve. The tradition now resembles an apocalyptic cult, ready to torch the UK itself in order to build the New Jerusalem.
One need not be on the left to lament a politics that values no relationships that cannot be measured in profit and loss. One need not be a conservative to fear a politics stripped of caution or respect for tradition, and that favours disruption over preservation, chaos over order, and competition over community.
A party that once prized skepticism now judges its leaders on the fervour with which they believe in Brexit.

2019 June 15

Dynamical Change

Amie Wilkinson

Dynamics is the study of motion, and in particular the motion of points in a space dictated by a fixed set of rules. For example, the evolution of the solar system, in its idealized form, unfolds exactly according to the rules of gravity.
A photograph of the current solar system is a static thing. But when you add dynamics, that static picture comes to life. Certain complicated fractal objects are produced by dynamical systems. The geometric features of the objects carry the marks of the dynamics that produced them.
In the space of all possible solar systems, some really weird evolutions can happen. The future of our solar system is the trajectory of a single point through this massive dynamical system.
Ergodicity is the property that if you take a point and watch it evolve over time according to a set of rules, it visits all parts of the space. Mixing is the property that if you take a blob in the space and see how that part of the space evolves, it gets evenly distributed throughout the space.
A foliation, in its simplest form is just a family of curves in a square. Foliations are produced all the time by dynamical systems. The features of these foliations are key for things like mixing.
Equilibrium is fragile. Things can look stable for a long time and then suddenly fly off into some other territory. Most equilibriums are not stable. Things can be almost imperceptibly changing, and eventually those changes start to add up, then things change really quickly. Things can seem stable for a very long time, and then they go exponentially wrong.
For a lot of things involving human nature, historical trends, and climate, there's essentially no such thing as being in equilibrium.

2019 June 14

Brexit Britain: National Humiliation

Fintan O'Toole

Brexit Britain has been wallowing in a psychodrama of national humiliation. It's something Remainers and Leavers still share, even if they feel mortified for different reasons.
Humiliation is calibrated against a sense of a status. If you're used to travelling business class, you may feel humiliated by having to sit in economy; but if you've always sat in economy, it's normal.
When Britain was an aggressive imperial power, it was always on the lookout for intolerable slights to the national honour. But this becomes ridiculous when you are no longer a great power.
Brexit depends on the idea that Britain cannot be an ordinary European country and that equality within the EU is inherently humiliating. The EU traps a business-class country in economy class.
The word "humiliation" needs to be banished from the Brexit discourse. Acknowledging reality is not humiliating. Accepting that you have made a mistake is not humiliating.

2019 June 13

European Union Presidents

Financial Times

Europe is picking a new batch of EU presidents. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron renewed the vows of the Franco-German relationship in January by signing the Aachen treaty in a hall where Holy Roman Emperors once held coronation banquets.
At a summit next week, the EU will start nominating new presidents for the European Commission, European Council, European Central Bank, and European Parliament.
Merkel backs Manfred Weber for the Commission presidency. He led the recent European election campaign for the EPP, which lost seats but still emerged as the biggest party. EU leaders may nominate Mark Rutte of the Netherlands or Leo Varadkar of Ireland.
Macron knows agreement between Berlin and Paris is essential for the European project to advance. Appointing a Commission president requires a weighted majority of EU national leaders to nominate a candidate and a majority in the European Parliament to approve them.
The European Council president chairs EU summits and brokers deals. Contenders include Charles Michel of Belgium, Xavier Bettel of Luxembourg, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark.
A breakthrough ahead of the June 20 summit seems unlikely.


Boris Johnson: A Character Reference

Max Hastings, 2012

Boris Johnson is the most popular politician in Britain. The public love him.
I have known Boris more than 20 years. He worked for me as EU correspondent of the Daily Telegraph and then as a columnist when I was the paper's editor, and I have seen plenty of him since. He is a magnificent journalist and showman.
Boris is a gold medal egomaniac. His chaotic public persona is not an act. He is also a far more ruthless, and frankly nastier, figure than the public appreciates. He is not a man to believe in, to trust or respect, save as a superlative exhibitionist.
Boris yearns with a mad hunger to become prime minister.


Can Boris Be Trusted?

Peter Oborne

Highly accomplished. His brilliance on public display. A massive figure dominating the political stage. Boris Johnson has remodeled himself as a serious political figure.
He wants us to think he has metamorphosed, as the wayward Prince Hal of Shakespeare's plays did, into Henry V, poised to save his country from the EU and rescue Brexit.
As to his period as foreign secretary, many mandarins speak of him with contempt. But despite the gaffes, the setbacks and the criticism, he can claim achievements when in office. His supporters say he is not only the most talented but also the most accomplished candidate in the contest.
On top of all this, there is his charisma. It lends credibility to his claim he is the only candidate for the premiership capable of navigating between the Scylla of Nigel Farage and the Charybdis of Jeremy Corbyn.
Behind the easy charm and effortless humour there lurks a giant brain. He is without a doubt one of the most intelligent politicians I have met.
Boris Johnson undoubtedly has the ability to be prime minister. But can he be trusted?

2019 June 12

Brexit Bo***x

Boris Johnson

After three years and two missed deadlines, we must leave the EU on October 31. Delay means defeat. Delay means Corbyn. Kick the can and we kick the bucket.
We cannot ignore the morass at Westminster where parties have entered a yellow box junction, unable to move forward or back, while around the country there is a mood of disillusion, even despair, at our ability to get things done.
The longer it goes on the worse the risk that there will be serious contamination and loss of confidence, because the people of this country deserve the best from their leader.
In everything we do we will seek to strengthen the union of our four nations. that invincible quartet, the awesome foursome that makes up the UK, the world's soft power superpower.
I have seen across the world in our armed forces, in our diplomacy, our sheer cultural impact, how we are so much more than the sum of our parts.


Fully Automated Luxury Communism

Aaron Bastani

We live in a world of crisis, of low growth, low productivity and low wages, poverty and inequality, climate breakdown and the failure of democracy. But with imagination, we can look forward to a wonderful future.
The plummeting cost of information and advances in technology are enabling a future of freedom and luxury for all. Automation, robotics, and machine learning can set us free from drudgery. Unemployment is only a problem if you think all work should be cherished.
Gene editing and sequencing can revolutionize medical practice. Hereditary diseases can be eliminated, and cancer cured. New technologies can allow us to keep pace with the health challenges of societal aging.
Renewable energy can meet global energy needs and enable a shift away from fossil fuels. Asteroid mining can provide us with not only more energy than we need but also more iron, gold, platinum, and nickel. Resource scarcity will be a thing of the past.
The consequences are potentially transformative. For technological unemployment, global poverty, societal aging, climate change, and resource scarcity, we can see solutions.
Capitalism has created the new abundance. But it cannot distribute the fruits. A system where things are produced only for profit seeks to ration resources to ensure returns. The result will be imposed scarcity, with not enough food, health care, or energy to go around.
For a better world, we have to go beyond capitalism. We will need a new politics, where technology serves people, not profit, where we accept facts, not fantasies. We need fully automated luxury communism.


Two Planets and a Moon

Joshua Sokol

Astronomers have discovered baby planets in the disks of gas and dust around young stars.
A star some 370 light years away called PDS 70, slightly smaller than the Sun and roughly 5 million years old, shows evidence of two newborn planets. The planets are so young they are still growing. One of them is surrounded by its own swirling disk of gas and dust.
A planet called PDS 70b is orbiting inside the disk around the star and is emitting red and IR light as hot hydrogen falls in. A second baby giant planet, PDS 70c, is still sucking up ambient hydrogen.
An empty band in the disk of PDS 70 starts from as far out as where Uranus orbits in our solar system and extends to about three times that distance. PDS 70b orbits near the inner edge of this band gap. PDS 70c orbits near the outer edge in a 1:2 orbital resonance.
Separate measurements of the system show the light from PDS 70b includes more red light than expected. A disk of dusty stuff around the planet absorbs heat, then reradiates it in IR wavelengths. In theoretical models, disks like these form moons.

Boxit Boris

"That is a country that
doesn't even believe in
economic or political
gravity anymore."
Rafael Behr (1:37)

"Hard Brexit is the drug
the Conservatives need to
wean themselves off."
Matthew d'Ancona


"The price of greatness
is responsibility."
Winston Churchill

Stephen Hawking and
James Hartle proposed

the universe has no
boundary and derived
a wave function of
the universe

D-Day ⦿ NARA
D-Day: 75 years ago today

Zlatko Minev et al.
show quantum leaps
happen gradually


2019 June 11

Toxic Brexit High

Rachel Sylvester

A UK government minister predicts Boris Johnson will win the leadership contest, but his premiership will be brief: "The Tory party is on life support. Boris is like a shot of morphine — they will feel great for a bit then realize it's killed them."
Whitehall civil servants are in a state of permanent revolution. A permanent secretary: "We have dealt with so much change already. It's constant turbulence, which is unsettling for the civil service and destabilizing for the country."

AR My prescription: Go cold turkey. Ask the leadership candidates to discuss how they would end austerity. Don't even mention the B-word. Let Theresa May, as her final duty, revoke Article 50. Then dump the whole disgusting B-mess into a deep pit.

2019 June 10

Banging On About Brexit

Financial Times

The Brexit approach of hardliners such as Boris Johnson recalls the fabled Briton abroad who believes if he shouts loudly enough, the foreigners will eventually understand. Through sheer force of personality, we are told, they will be able to renegotiate the withdrawal deal. Should that prove impossible, they will walk Britain off the plank on October 31.
Neither outcome is achievable. The EU27 have repeatedly declined to reopen the withdrawal agreement and its Irish backstop. The House of Commons will vote against a no-deal Brexit.
Trying to force the issue would trigger a constitutional crisis. Talk of proroguing parliament is irresponsible. A prime minister faced with such a crisis would have to call an election.

German politicians were outraged by images of Boris Johnson relaxing with the aristocrat Charles Spencer in cricket whites just after the Brexit vote.
Bundespräsident und damals Außenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier: ".. unverantwortliche Politiker, die sich jetzt aus dem Staub machen und Cricket spielen gehen."
Electing Boris into 10 Downing Street could further strain relations between the UK and the EU.
SPD foreign affairs spokesman Nils Schmid: "It would be perceived as a sign that the UK is further distancing itself from Europe. It would also be seen as a reward for the politician who did the most to create the illusions about Brexit."
Bundestag foreign affairs committee chair Norbert Röttgen: "Brexit has never been a matter of principle for [Boris]. It was only ever a vehicle to become PM."

2019 June 9

The Great Reboot

Andy Ross

Any sustainable future for Western civilization must involve a radical rethink of classical economics and democratic politics. Continuing the path that we as a species on Earth have been following for decades will spell our certain doom before the century is out. We humans must learn to go beyond the thinking that led to our planetary dominion and reconsider our deeper identity. We shall only master the crises we have precipitated if we learn to identify with all life on Earth.
The salient problems of governance today, considered globally, for human life as a whole, can be packaged under three main themes:
 Our great economic challenge is to optimize resource allocation, which in human terms implies
    reducing or managing inequalities of income or wealth.
 Our great ecological challenge is to optimize our environment, which implies finding ways to
    reduce or manage climate change and species loss.
 Our great technological challenge is to find ways to deploy artificial intelligence and all its fruits,
    if not optimally then at least so as not to orchestrate the emergence of artificial life in toxic or
    hostile forms but instead to lead us toward a future where the remainder of the human journey
    on Earth is lived out productively and pleasantly.
The interactions of these three challenges give rise to governance problems that will almost certainly overwhelm any foreseeable human capacity to orchestrate effective solutions within the paradigms that presently constrain thinking in economics and politics.
We are used to seeing the reality around us as represented by a vast array of classical bits, embodied in physical things and so on. The more general quantum view is that we are on a raft of bits floating in an ocean of qubits. The paradigm shift from classical to quantum computation will lead to a great reboot of our governance models.

PDF, 10+ pages, in prep.

2019 June 8

The Greatest Generation

Bret Stephens

To honor the sacrifices of D-Day, we would do well to recall what the Allies fought for — not to save the United States or even Britain (which by 1944 could not be beaten) but to liberate Europe; not to defeat an aggressive nation-state but to eradicate a despicable ideology; not to enjoy the spoils as the victors but to lay the foundations of a just and enduring peace; not to subsume our values under our interests but to define our interests according to our values.


A Mirror Universe?

Michael Brooks

Parity says everything should stay the same if the universe were flipped as in a mirror. In 1956, Tsung Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang proposed an experimental test for parity violations. Chien-Shiung Wu ran the experiment and found parity was violated. Lee and Yang suggested that parity is in fact conserved, and only appears to be violated because we are seeing only half the picture.
Over time, neutrons outside an atomic nucleus decay into electrons and protons via beta decay. For decades, we have been trying to measure how long these free neutrons live before they decay.
We have two ways to measure the lifetime of a free neutron. The bottle experiment herds neutrons into a magnetic bottle trap, waits, and counts how many neutrons are left. This method sets the average lifetime at 879 seconds. The beam experiment counts the number of protons from decaying neutrons in a beam of neutrons. This method sets the neutron lifetime at 888 s.
The discrepancy is unexplained, but a mirror world could explain it. Perhaps neutrons oscillate back and forth between the two worlds. If 1 in 100 neutrons swap into the mirror world before emitting a proton, this can explain the longer measured neutron lifetime in the beam experiments.
Many other puzzles can be explained using the same model. The mirror world could even provide a haven for dark matter and explain why it is so difficult to find. A mirror sector will not interact with us via the electromagnetic, strong, and weak forces, but only via gravity.
To be consistent with our models of cosmic evolution, the mirror sector must have been much cooler than our own. This would have let more particles move into it. The mirror models suggest five mirror particles for every regular particle, the same as our estimates of the ratio of dark to normal matter.
Even if we do find mirror neutrons, a lot of work remains to make them a fit for dark matter.

2019 June 7

Opportunity Knocks

The Times

Conservative leadership candidate and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab says he would consider proroguing parliament — ending the session — to prevent MPs forcing the government into another delay. Such a move would require the prime minister to go to Buckingham Palace to seek the Queen's permission.
Conservative leadership candidate and current health secretary Matt Hancock: "To suspend parliament explicitly to pursue a course of action against its wishes is not a serious policy of a prime minister in the 21st century. What kind of message would this send around the world about our values when so many have given so much for the rights of democratic freedom?"

2019 June 6

Gravitational Beacons?

New Scientist

Asimina Arvanitaki is interested in hypothetical particles called axions. Some versions of string theory operate in 10 dimensions. The 6 beyond those we know must be scrunched up, which may give rise to axions in what she calls a string axiverse.
Black hole superradiance could enable us to detect axions. If you fire a photon at a spinning black hole, it will pull energy and angular momentum from the hole. If you do the same thing with an axion, gravity confines it to the vicinity of the black hole, almost as if the axion is stuck between the black hole and a spherical mirror.
Eventually the amplification becomes exponential, says Arvanitaki. Such superradiance would create a huge cloud of axions arranged in shells, like atomic orbitals on a huge scale. Their wavelength must match the black hole circumference, but wavelength is inversely proportional to mass, and axions have extremely low mass.
These axion clouds could reveal themselves in gravitational waves. Axions colliding in the cloud should annihilate into gravitons. Arvanitaki says axions and black holes might form gravitational beacons. She is working with LIGO.

AR On LIGO, see also blog 2018-06-23.


Quantum Leaps

New Scientist

Researchers built a superconducting electrical circuit with quantum behavior like an atom with three energy levels: the ground state, a bright state, and a dark state.
When they fired a beam of microwaves at the system, the atom usually bounced rapidly between the ground state and the bright state, emitting a photon every time it jumped from bright to ground. But if it absorbed a photon from the beam, it would leap into the dark state.
The researchers could tell when a quantum jump had started by looking for a flash of light from the bright state followed by a lull as the atom leapt into the dark state. On timescales of a few microseconds, they could predict when the next jump would occur.
If, just after the jump had started, they hit the atom with an electrical pulse, they could send the atom back to the ground state. The leaps took the same path between the two energy levels every time, so it was easy to predict how to bounce them back.
The quantum leaps took about 4 μs.

AR This could be important.


Trump, Queen
⦿ Dominic Lipinski

"Nigel Farage is a friend of
mine, Boris is a friend of mine.
They are two very good guys,
very interesting people."
Donald Trump

"A new prime minister should
sit down with the new EU
commissioner on 1 November
and negotiate a new deal."
Amber Rudd

⦿ SOPA Images/LightRocket
Sophia is an AI


2019 June 5

Existential Security Risk

National Centre for Climate Restoration

Climate change now represents an existential threat to human civilization. A new approach to climate-related security risk management is thus required. A 2050 scenario is outlined.
To sustain human civilization, it is essential to build a zero-emissions industrial system very quickly. This requires a global mobilization of resources, akin to a wartime level of response.

Breakthrough policy paper (PDF, 11 pages, 426 KB)


Tories in Deep Peril

Rishi Sunak, Robert Jenrick, Oliver Dowden

We are in deep peril. The Conservative party is facing an existential threat.
We face Nigel Farage and his Brexit party, on one hand, and Jeremy Corbyn on the other. We must fight for the future of the country.
The three of us believe the dangers that face our nation and our party are too grave and too imminent to take a chance. We believe there really is only one logical answer: Boris Johnson.
The first task of our next prime minister will be to deliver on the Referendum result. Boris commands the instant credibility needed to achieve support for a renegotiated deal. He is a proven winner and leader with a record of achievement.
These are not normal times.

AR They must be desperate.

2019 June 4

State Banquet Speech

Queen Elizabeth II

I am delighted to welcome [Donald and Melania] Trump to Buckingham Palace this evening .. Visits by American presidents always remind us of the close and longstanding friendship between the United Kingdom and the United States.
After the shared sacrifices of the Second World War, Britain and the United States worked with other allies to build an assembly of international institutions, to ensure that the horrors of conflict would never be repeated. While the world has changed, we are forever mindful of the original purpose of these structures: nations working together to safeguard a hard-won peace.
Tonight, we celebrate an alliance that has helped to ensure the safety and prosperity of both our peoples for decades, and which I believe will endure for many years to come.


Postwar Europe

Anne Applebaum

In 1952, Stalin made a peace offer to America, France, and Britain. He proposed to unify Germany and suggested that a neutral Germany might also have free elections. But West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer refused.
Adenauer decided West Germany's survival required it to be bound tightly to the other nations of the West, so he rejected the Soviet offer of unification. Europeans created a series of Western institutions and learned to share sovereignty. Growth and industrialization were accompanied by a parallel growth in social benefits, and economic success inspired a cultural explosion.
By contrast, the history of Eastern Europe was one of failure. Economically, the East also recovered and rebuilt, but much more slowly and much less completely. By the 1970s, the myth of Europe was strong enough to lure Spain, Portugal, and Greece away from dictatorship, toward democracy, and into European institutions, and even to persuade the UK to join the European Economic Community. And it was powerful enough to send the iron curtain crashing down for good in 1989.
Over a mere couple of decades, 90 million people accepted civilian control over the army, the establishment of an independent judiciary, laws on human rights, and a host of economic regulations. The new member states all agreed that to reestablish their national sovereignty, they would have to surrender some of that sovereignty to European institutions.
Belief in Western economic superiority was shattered by the financial crisis of 2008−2009. Europe survived it, but the economic crisis was followed by further blows. Russia modernized its military and made flagrant attempts to manipulate European politics. A wave of terror attacks caused a backlash against Muslim immigration. After the influx of refugees in 2015, the backlash intensified.
The result has been a rise in both antidemocratic and anti-European political parties all across the continent. They all share an anti-establishment rhetoric that is often profoundly cynical. But it is effective, thanks both to growing fears of instability as well as new tools of social media that favor emotional and angry language over calm and reasoned debate.
Doubts about European values threaten to undo Adenauer's decision to choose integration. Nobody now in political office has any real memory of World War II. The European story could go awry.

2019 June 3

Trump Is Divisive

The Times

US president Donald Trump called former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson "very talented" and said: "I think Boris would do a very good job. I think he would be excellent. I have always liked him."
Former UK ambassador to the US Sir Christopher Meyer: "Trump has smashed one of the most sacred conventions of diplomacy, that a head of state does not interfere in the internal affairs of the country which he or she is visiting. Trump needs to be very careful."


Britain Is Divided

John Harris

The debate about Brexit is hardening. Compromise options seem to have been killed off by the 23 May vote, leaving no deal or revoking Article 50 as the only options.
Among the prime movers of the rising no-deal movement, there is a misanthropy encompassing not just age-old biases and bigotries but the idea that each and every advocate of a rethink on Brexit is a citizen of nowhere, and a traitor to boot.
What has driven our fragmentation is winner-takes-all economics, the stalling of social mobility, and online discourse that has no room for restraint or compromise. Too many people understand little about the country they call home.
Brexiteers boast of splendid isolation, the glories of the second world war, and the wonders of empire, yet avert their eyes from the island of Ireland. Remainers continue to deny the great mess of stuff that sat behind the Brexit vote.
Two big dangers face the UK now. One is a reckless Brexit pursued at any cost. The other is a tribal war that pushes us so far away from history, humanity, and economics that politics is pointless.

2019 June 2

Go 4 No Deal Brexit

Donald Trump

Get it done. Get the deal closed. I would walk away. If you don't get the deal you want, if you don't get a fair deal, then you walk away. I wouldn't pay $50 billion. That is me. I would not pay. That is a tremendous number.
What I would do is, for those mistakes made by the EU that cost the UK a lot of money and a lot of harm, I would have put that on the table, whether it is in the form of litigation or in the form of a request. But they chose not to do that. It's very hard for the UK to get a good deal when they go into the negotiation that way.
We have the potential to be an incredible trade partner with the UK. We have tremendous potential to make up more than the difference. We will be talking to them about that. One of the advantages of Brexit is the fact that now you can deal with the #1 economy in the world by far.



Go 4 Bo
Mail on Sunday
Our poll shows:
— Voters are now less concerned about the effects of a hard Brexit
— Voters see Boris Johnson as likeable, competent, and trustworthy
— His stance on Brexit boosts his chance of becoming prime minister


No 2 No
Amber Rudd
The Brexit puzzle:
— We are not leaving on 31 October with a deal
— Parliament will block a no-deal Brexit
— There is no time to do a revised deal


2019 June 1

Writing an AI Constitution

An Edge Conversation

Stephen Wolfram:
As soon as you have a system whose behavior is not obviously simple, you end up getting something that is as sophisticated computationally as it can be, which means it's a universal computer. I call this the principle of computational equivalence.
But we can't automate the deciding of what we want to do. In human language, we come up with particular kinds of abstractions that are based on things that are common in our world. Human language has this feature that takes thoughts in our brains and tries to make some simplified symbolic representation of those thoughts that can then be communicated to another brain that will unpack them and do something with them.
When people make contracts with each other, they write those contracts in human language. If one can make a computational language that can represent things in the world richly enough to be able to talk about the kinds of things that are in contracts, then you have a different story about how you can create things like contracts. You can write a constitution for your AIs.

David Chalmers:
You come up against theorems in social choice theory. If we break it down into ten separate issues, say, we see there's a majority that prefers A and there's a majority that prefers if A then B, but there's not a majority that prefers B. You can't just go with democracy on every component, and then suddenly use a system for extrapolating from all these individual preferences. You need to find ways to make the tradeoffs.
This whole thing of turning morality into code is not a new problem. The legal code and the political code have been trying to formalize this for centuries. The only way to do it is via a huge mess. So, I predict that once you try and turn it into AI code, it's going to be a mess as well.

AR To see an example of the inapplicability of modus ponens in contemporary political praxis, set
A = Leave and B = Hard. A mess indeed.

Babylon Berlin

⦿ Universum Film GmbH
Babylon Berlin

The New Yorker

Made with a budget of $47 million, the TV series Babylon Berlin is adapted from the best-selling novels by Volker Kutscher,
and is set in the Berlin of 1929, in the twilight of the Weimar Republic.
The story follows police inspector Gereon Rath, who arrives in Berlin seeking to forget his traumatic wartime experiences.
His unlikely partner is aspiring homicide detective Charlotte Ritter, eager to escape the hardships of her proletarian family
home. Gereon and Lotte soon discover conspiracies and intrigue on a shocking scale. Among the rich ensemble of characters
and story lines are a hijacked freight train, police factions, Soviet agents, organized crime, Communist revolutionaries,
and aristocratic reactionaries.
Part period drama, part police procedural, and part mystery thriller, the show always has an undercurrent of foreboding.

AR I watched all 16 episodes of series 1 and 2 (Blu-ray, in German) and found it utterly captivating.
This is a complex, often disturbing, sometimes shocking, and apparently quite realistic dramatic reconstruction of an
extraordinary milieu that was quite unprecedented in modern history. If any media production from our time deserves
to become a classic of insightful recreation of a pivotal period of history, this series does.
I guess it will eventually be dubbed in English.

Theme song/trailer:
Zu Asche, Zu Staub

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