Yale University Press
Alexander Yakovenko was
Russia's ambassador to the UK
from 2011 to 2019. When he returned home, Vladimir
Putin made him a member of
the Order of Alexander Nevsky
and president of his Diplomatic
Academy. Yakovenko said
the state was rewarding him
for smashing the Brits:
"It will be a long time
before they rise again."
Polish presidential candidate
Andrzej Duda has the backing
of Donald Trump
2020 June 30
A significant part of humanity finds itself in the curious state of social isolation. Many of us live alone but tune into the pounding static
of social media, news websites, television, and podcasts for a sense of connection to the world.
Silence feels as distant as it ever was. Zoom and Skype and Instagram live beam faces and voices into our rooms, but we miss
the easy energy of a conversation in place. We are neither with one another nor alone with ourselves.
Stephen Batchelor sees solitude not as a state of mind but as a practice or a way of life. It is not isolation or alienation,
though these are its shadow side. Rather, it is a way of caring for one's soul, of sheltering it from noise and agitation.
As befits a former monk, Batchelor describes a visit to a complex of monastic caves in Maharashtra, India, dating to the first
century BCE: "Once the novelty wears off, you discover how seclusion magnifies the pressures and demands you feel."
He recalls a universal connection in the desire for ascetic experience: "Shaven-headed, ochre-robed mendicants sat cross-legged
in these cells while Jesus spent forty days in the Judaean desert, fasting and being tempted by Satan."
Part of the practice of solitude lies not simply in being alone, but in forging connections with others. Look long and hard
enough at yourself in isolation and suddenly you will see the rest of humanity staring back.
AR Nietzsche — the abyss.
2020 June 29
German EU Presidency
Europe faces epic challenges. In Italy and Spain, unsustainable debt jeopardizes recovery. Addressing the climate emergency and implementing tough
green targets risk delay. Europe must redefine its place in a world dominated by tension between the United States and China. The future EU trading
relationship with the UK needs to be agreed quickly.
Germany will take over the rotating presidency of the EU this week. Extraordinary times demand clear leadership. German chancellor
Angela Merkel appears determined to provide it. Her first priority will be to reach swift agreement on a €750 billion coronavirus recovery
fund, to be financed by EU debt and distributed to member states as grants.
The prospect of pooling debt with poorer southern neighbors has always been anathema to the more prosperous member states. Austria,
Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands will fight to water the plan down. Merkel warns that failure to take collective action to stabilize reeling
EU economies would only encourage authoritarian forces.
During her 15-year stint as chancellor, Merkel has demonstrated a peerless ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Her assured
handling of the epidemic has enhanced her authority and provided the political capital to take risks in a crisis presidency. For the next six
months, Germany will be leading from the front.
AR The EU will be well governed, the UK not.
2020 June 28
Donald Trump imaginers the past exists only as prelude to his own greatness. His demented solipsism shrink-fits US history to hug his own figure.
The backdrop for this self-inflation is the failure of his administration to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Trump evoked Lincoln and Churchill as his ideal wartime leaders. After the protests began over the killing of George Floyd, Trump's
lust for "overwhelming force" and "domination" over US citizens using "vicious dogs" and "ominous weapons" surfaced rapidly.
The unfinished business of the Civil War shapes both Floyd's death and the reaction to it. The killing is just one more episode in
the aftermath of that war. Floyd is yet another victim in a long line of unarmed men, women, and children shot, lynched, and incarcerated.
On June 2, Trump tweeted: "SILENT MAJORITY!" Richard Nixon used the phrase in 1969 in relation to the Vietnam War, appealing to
"the great silent majority of my fellow Americans" to oppose the antiwar movement. That war broke his presidency and led to Watergate.
The arrival on the streets of American cities of troops and trucks camouflaged for desert warfare is bringing home the war on terror.
Trump aims to "designate ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization." This lets him target opponents of his regime for state violence.
AR Trump is floundering.
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin share much. They both have a contempt for excellence, a hatred of government, and a way of campaigning against
Putin is less cynical. He has an idea that if he stepped away Russia would fall apart and so he has to carry this burden. For
his labors he deserves to have the wealth, but he is doing it for his country.
Trump doesn't have that delusion. It's all power and money in their purest form. You could dig as deep as you want, you would
never find a shred of responsibility.
Americans think about US institutions as a kind of religion. They have faith in the wisdom of the founding fathers who wrote
the sacred words for the perfect system. But US institutions depend on the good faith of the people running them to fulfil their purpose.
When someone like Trump becomes president, they become vulnerable.
America right now is several steps on from outrage. If it is sustained, then I think we are in a revolutionary moment.
The protesters are calling for an American reinvention, protesting for a more perfect union.
AR Putin is smarter.
Angelo Bassi thinks standard quantum mechanics has something wrong with it. His research is focused on an objective collapse model.
The Schrödinger equation describes a wave function with no obvious meaning. The theory predicts what scientists may
see at the instant of observation, when the wave function's latent possibilities seem to collapse to one outcome. The act of observation
is posited to trigger the collapse.
Objective collapse models delete the references to observation and replace them with a new term added to the Schrödinger
equation. By inducing objective collapse, the new term takes the theory from describing what observers see to describing the
world as it is (in theory).
For Bassi, particles are replaced by gelatinous blobs that can spread out in space, split and recombine. When one blob encounters
a crowd of others, it reacts by quickly shrinking to a point: "It's like an octopus that when you touch them: Whoop!"
If objective collapse were to be confirmed, the orthodox belief that the laws of physics must reference us in them will lose its
main motivation. But the deviations that collapse models predict from orthodoxy are so tiny that no feasible experiment can detect them.
For objective collapse models to work, the noise of collapse must be louder than some level. The gap between the minimum and the
maximum set by vibration-detection experiments is a measure of how far we have to go. It remains about 10 orders of magnitude wide.
Bassi led the effort to win a €4.4 million EU grant for testing the large-scale limit of quantum mechanics (TEQ),
starting in 2021.
AR I'm skeptical.
2020 June 27
Europe is not yet sufficiently resistant to crises. In the euro crisis, we lacked the tools for an appropriate response. The movements of refugees
in 2015 showed up the deficiencies of the EU asylum system.
Now the coronavirus pandemic is confronting us with a challenge of unprecedented dimensions. In this extraordinary situation,
I rely on EU member states having a strong interest in the things that unite us. Europe needs to set a good example.
Germany must engage in an extraordinary act of solidarity. The recovery fund cannot solve all of Europe's problems. But for Europe
to survive, its economy needs to survive.
To change fundamental aspects of the way the EU budget is managed, we would have to amend the treaties. I am sure this will be
discussed in the years ahead, but that should be done cautiously. In the current situation, we have to respond quickly to the pandemic.
We have not yet proved that the liberal system will win the day. The hallmark of democracy is that any opposition must have a fair
chance of returning to government. An opposition must be guaranteed a clear set of rights.
European law has precedence over national law. The essence of the European Union lies in the member states transferring powers.
But friction can occur in the borderland between the spheres of jurisdiction of national and European law.
We plan to hold a summit with China to advance EU-Chinese relations. We should develop a joint European policy that reflects our
interests and values. Respect for human rights and the rule of law need to be addressed openly.
China has become a global player. That makes us partners in economic cooperation and combating climate change, but also competitors
with very different political systems. Not to talk to each other would certainly be a bad idea.
Boris Johnson and the British government want to define what relationship to have with the EU after the UK leaves. They will then
have to live with the consequences. If Britain does not want to have rules on the environment and the labour market or social standards that
compare with those of the EU, our relations will be less close.
We believe that NATO is of great value to each of its members. We in Germany know we have to spend more on defence and will continue
to enhance our military capabilities. American troops in Germany help to protect not only the European part of NATO but also American interests.
There are compelling reasons to remain committed to a transatlantic defence community and our shared nuclear umbrella. On the other
hand, there are good reasons to keep engaging in constructive dialog with Russia. I will continue to strive for cooperation.
AR Britain needs a Merkel (not a Churchill or a Thatcher or a Bodger).
2020 June 26
Mathematics can be beautiful. Roughly speaking, mathematical beauty can come in one of two forms, generic or exceptional. Mathematicians tend
to come in these two flavors.
The first variant is reflected in a sense of wonder at the formal structures and patterns. Consider the infinite row of natural
numbers on the real line, or the sequence of Euclidean spaces of increasing dimensions, or the rigor and precision of formal logic. These
structures are powerful, useful, and beautiful.
But some mathematicians find it tough to get truly excited by the concept of a vector space in n dimensions, or a continuous
function on the real line. To appreciate these ideas is to appreciate a form of abstraction, and this can feel cold and formal.
The second form of mathematical beauty concerns the exceptions to the rules. These are the curiosities, the one-offs. This beauty
is exotic, quaint, intimate, and quite subjective.
The dodecahedron is one of the five perfectly symmetric solids but is considered exceptional because it has no higher-dimensional
The monster is the largest exceptional building block out of which all symmetry groups can be constructed and can only be visualized
in a space of 196 883 dimensions.
Both types of beauty have charmed mathematicians over the years and led to many advances. Abstraction is an obviously powerful tool.
The fascination with exceptions has been a productive strategy too.
Isaac Newton explained the planetary orbits based on his universal theory of gravity. He showed how all motions in the heavens were
versions of circles, ellipses, hyperbolas and parabolas. The beauty lay in the abstract laws, not the specific solutions.
This is a lesson that physicists, and scientists generally, have learned many times over. Every time, they discovered beauty in the
abstract structures underlying physical phenomena.
AR I'm more a lover of the abstract kind of mathematical beauty.
The Mass Gap
About 780 million years ago, a stellar corpse too heavy to be a neutron star but not heavy enough to be a black hole was eaten by a black hole with
a mass of 23 ⦿, to leave a black hole of 25 ⦿.
The event was detected via gravitational waves by the international LIGO-Virgo collaboration. The victim had a mass of 2.6 ⦿,
above the limit of 2.5 ⦿ for a neutron star but below the observed limit of about 5 ⦿ for a black hole.
Astrophysicist Vicky Kalogera: "We've been waiting decades to solve this mystery. We don't know if this object is the heaviest known
neutron star or the lightest known black hole, but either way it breaks a record."
Astrophysicist Daniel Holz: "It's a win-win! Lots of theorists are now sharpening their pencils to try to explain what we've seen."
AR I'm eager to see the answer.
The new paint job on the RAF Voyager aircraft used by the royal family and the prime minister cost almost £1 million.
Downing Street said the formerly military grey Airbus A330 was repainted to "better represent" the UK abroad.
"Footwear connects you to the
Earth .. Freeing your feet can
open up parts of your mind."
Trump after Tulsa
I just bought a Polo
2020 June 25
Albion, Brexit, Corona
Peter Müller, Michael Sauga, Jörg Schindler
Boris Johnson has ruled out another extension of the Brexit transition period. Unresolved issues include the jurisdiction of the European Court
of Justice, future collaboration on foreign and security policies, and how much cod Danish and French fishermen may harvest from British waters.
London and Brussels are further apart than ever.
A no-deal Brexit could cut UK growth in 2021 by around 7%. Th resulting slump would add to the pandemic recession as another hard
blow for the economy.
When Johnson signed the exit treaty with the EU last fall, he made big concessions on the most controversial issue. The political
declaration said the UK would uphold the common high standards applicable at the end of the transition period in the areas of state aid,
competition, social and employment standards, the environment, climate change, and relevant tax matters.
Johnson is now taking a hard line with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. He told her his election manifesto
promised a "true" Brexit.
UK chief negotiator David Frost has repeatedly strained the goodwill of the EU with his scattered provocations. Conservative
hardliners could attempt to hide the dislocations caused by Brexit behind the more dramatic devastation caused by the pandemic.
The British economy is suffering under the effects of the pandemic. Even though global supply chains have remained intact and
traffic through Dover has been processed as quickly as ever, the UK lost 20% of its output in April.
Johnson's supporters say the UK will be able to pick up the slack left behind by a sluggish EU. But Johnson does not have enough
support for his proposed US trade agreement. So far, London has signed deals with over 20 countries and trading blocs, all based on current
Time is running out. The idea of producing a paper of several hundred pages at a dramatically staged EU summit in October is
completely unrealistic. It would then need to be translated into all official EU languages and ratified by the European Parliament.
Kiel Institute for the World Economy president Gabriel Felbermayr: "Great Britain is the largest European economy after Germany ..
No deal would be the worst outcome for everyone."
AR I see the Brexiteers as criminals.
Germany 1, Britain 0
Britain and Germany are both big and prosperous northern European countries, with Germany a bit bigger and a bit more prosperous. But that does
not come close to explaining the gulf between their respective performances in the face of Covid-19.
By 23 June, Britain had sustained more than 300 000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, compared with fewer than 200 000 in Germany.
In Britain, more than 42 000 people had died from the virus. In Germany, there were fewer than 9 000 deaths. In Britain, the current
death rate per 100 000 people stands at above 60. In Germany, the rate is below 11.
German health spending has risen in real terms for most of the last 20 years. Contact tracing was well developed across the Germany
and swung into action right away. Germany had 28 000 intensive care beds, compared with 4 000 in the UK. Britain abandoned mass testing
in March, when Germany did 160 000 tests a week, rising to 360 000 in May.
The UK Treasury response, in the form of furloughing, business loans, and tax holidays, was good. But Germany has had a more generous
furloughing scheme in place for years. It boosted the support in March and unveiled a further recovery package in June.
Germany is not perfect, and German prosperity has taken a big hit. Johnson's government scorns suggestions it has anything to learn
from the German model. But it has.
AR Learn from Germany.
2020 June 24
Brexit Vote: 4 Years On
The UK government is unleashing an information blitz to prepare business and consumers for the end of the Brexit transition period.
A government promising to deliver freedom is treating it as a declaration of war.
Until February 2020, the June 2016 referendum consumed the national landscape. It all but reset the UK to year zero.
A narrative of purification would attempt to expunge all trace of Europe from the British body politic.
Brexiteers used to promise that nobody would threaten the UK place in the single market. Before the referendum,
Boris Johnson declared he would want to stay in it. Tories considered participation axiomatic.
Remaining in the single market is now taboo. The people who used to promote it now advocate no deal at all, and not
once admit the inconsistency. What was once unthinkable is now inevitable and even desirable.
The EU is puzzled that Britain does not seek participation in its foreign policy structures. The UK government parades
its global credentials, yet it is retreating not just from Europe but from the rest of the world too.
The transition deadline is nigh. Six months to conclude, ratify, and apply a trade deal is close to impossible.
The transition was intended for businesses to adjust to the changes after a deal. But there is no deal.
Brexit is a campaign waged by the British government on its own people.
AR Brexit is a high crime.
2020 June 23
Trump After Tulsa
President Donald Trump spent the weekend seething about the disappointing crowd for his comeback event in Oklahoma on Saturday night.
Eight staffers and two secret service agents at the event are now positive for the coronavirus.
His decision to go ahead with an indoor rally that may have turned into a super-spreader event was risky.
The virus is having a disastrous impact on his Great American Comeback narrative.
Trump then dug his hole deeper in a TV interview by calling "semi-tongue in cheek" his claim that the problem is not
that the virus is so widespread but that testing keeps showing how deeply it has penetrated in the community.
His team wants to rebound after Saturday's embarrassment by considering smaller venues or outdoor locations for Trump
events. Limits on campaigning would be intolerable for Trump.
Trump still has a tight hold on Republican voters. Fox News said his return to the trail secured its biggest Saturday
night TV audience in its history.
Trump hoped the Tulsa rally would send a signal that the worst of the pandemic was over, and that America is on the
comeback trail. Instead, it suggested even his core supporters are wary.
Trump's response after 48 hours was to attack Joe Biden and the Democrats and to tweet about his fear that mail-in
voting will lead to massive fraud and foreign interference in November's election.
Joe Biden: "Two nights ago, in his diatribe, he told them to stop testing because the numbers were going up ..
I mean, my God."
AR Time to go, Trump.
2020 June 22
The Nuclear Button
William J. Perry, Tom Z. Collina
In 1945, President Harry Truman was shown the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and determined not to use the atomic bomb again.
To keep it out of military hands, he declared that no more atomic bombs could be dropped unless the president authorized it.
Today, President Donald Trump has the absolute authority to start a nuclear war. Obama administration US deputy national security
adviser Ben Rhodes: "There is nothing stopping a nuclear war except for Donald Trump's brain."
We need to:
▸ Deny the president sole authority for first use and require he share it with a group in Congress
▸ Declare the United States will never start a nuclear war but only use the bomb in retaliation
▸ Retire missiles that could force a quick decision and ensure deterrence by survivable weapons
We can retire the nuclear button. No one should have the unchecked power to destroy the world.
AR Action item for 2021.
UK Failing on Climate Crisis
In its annual progress report, the UK Committee on Climate Change will cite government failures to tackle the threats posed by climate change.
Committee chairman Lord Deben: "The whole thing is run by the government like a Dad's Army."
The committee will recommend:
▸ Enforcing strict environmental conditions for corporate bailouts made during the pandemic crisis
▸ Improving broadband provision and cycling routes to reduce car use as people return to work
▸ Considering a new tax on fossil fuels [No! — AR]
▸ Introducing policies on energy efficiency in buildings, planting more trees, and protecting peatland
GRICCE policy director Bob Ward: "The UK is due to host the
critical UN climate change summit next year, but its credibility as a climate leader is now under threat."
AR Make cleaner cars.
UK Failing on Good Governance
Conservative MPs fear the prime minister has lost his grip and the government has lost its way. Some are asking whether Boris Johnson may have to be
A minister: "I've been in meetings with him and I've been surprised at the way he didn't seem to have a feel for what was driving the
agenda. Not so much a lack of a grasp of the detail, more the way an issue is playing out."
Another minister: "If you look at where a lot of the anger is coming from, it's from the right of the party. Being seen to surrender
to the teaching unions. Faffing around over going to 1 m distancing. This is infuriating the sort of people Boris thought he could rely on."
Boris needs to get Britain out of lockdown. Instead, last week he wrote an article about statues and announced he was merging the
Foreign Office and Department for International Development. His office said they were spending £900,000 on painting a union jack on his
A senior Tory: "Experienced MPs from all wings of the party are worried about the No 10 bunker being out of touch. And blue collar
and One Nation Tories are all worried by the lack of feel for bread-and-butter doorstep issues."
AR Oust him and move on.
2020 June 21
Pandemics Broke the Roman Empire
At the start of the second century CE, the Roman Empire spread to the Rhine, the Danube, the Euphrates, the Sahara, and Britannia. Four centuries later,
the imperial domain was reduced to a Byzantine outpost ruling a few scattered territories from Constantinople. Western Europe broke up into warring
Germanic kingdoms, and Islamic armies conquered much of what remained.
The fall of Rome may have been the biggest setback in all of human history. One casualty was the Stoic view that a virtuous and
civilized way of life reflected a rational and harmonious cosmos.
A succession of pandemics broke this classical worldview. A plague that began in 165 CE and peaked around 180 led to thousands dying in
Rome every day and to deaths across the empire running into millions. Marcus Aurelius fell back on the Stoic practice of living each day as his last.
Rome was again shaken by plague in the mid-third century. By the time of the catastrophic Justinian plague, the natural world had come to be
seen as chaotic and antagonistic to humankind. This boosted the rise of Christianity.
The Earth didn't help. Small changes in the orbit of the planet, plus perturbations in its tilt and spin, changed the climate and disrupted
the rhythms of human life. A cold snap lasting 150 years led to crop failures and famine.
Plagues entered Rome via far-flung trade networks and flea-ridden rats. Large populations crowded together in cities suffered tuberculosis,
leprosy, and fevers. They caught infections from the ends of the Earth, thanks to the Roman experiment in globalization.
Rome was defeated by natural causes. Dense urban habitats and imperial networks of contacts made a new microbial environment. The Romans
paved the ways for the plagues to overwhelm the empire.
Roman civilization did not collapse for lack of wisdom. But the Romans didn't know how pandemics worked or how the climate was changing.
They didn't understand the double whammy that hit them.
Today, climate change and a pandemic have undermined our ruling worldview and shaken the modern faith that humankind can reshape the
natural world as it pleases. They are lethal reminders of the inhumanity of the physical world.
AR Befriend physics and relearn humanity.
2020 Summer Solstice
Computation All The Way Down
Our universe is a simple structure. Elements and relations build into hypergraphs that evolve into multiway graphs and multiway causal graphs.
From how the graphs work, we see what relativity is, what quantum mechanics is, and so on.
In our model, atoms of space knit together to form physical space. Rules describe how connected elements are transformed to elements
connected in some other way. This connectivity of the elements behaves like space.
The idea that space and time should always be packaged together into a spacetime continuum is wrong. Time is the operation of
computation in figuring out what the next state will be from previous states in the hypergraph. When you are an observer embedded within this
hypergraph, you get a causal graph that represents space and time.
In our way of thinking, there are three levels of description that correspond to general relativity, quantum mechanics, and a third
level, where all we know is which things are related to which other things. We can draw the third level as a hypergraph.
The underlying rules just say that some collection of elements that are related in a certain way are transformed to some other
collection of elements related in some other way. The whole operation of the universe consists of just rerunning the basic rule a gazillion times.
In the limit, what happens satisfies Einstein's equations for general relativity. The next level is to apply these transformations to the
hypergraph. You get a multiway graph that represents all possible updates. The graph reproduces the physics of quantum computing.
Einstein's equations say the curvature of space depends on the amount of energy momentum in space. In our multiway graph, the equations
turn out to be exactly Feynman's path integral in quantum mechanics. The various paths that represent the possibilities in quantum mechanics are
turned in this multiway space by the presence of energy momentum. In other words, the core of quantum mechanics is the same phenomenon as the core
of classical general relativity.
Causal invariance is what makes it possible to say definite things. At every event, you can have an update event that corresponds to
every possible rule you might apply. As an observer of the universe, you choose a frame in which you're only considering the path that corresponds
to the application of one particular rule.
In quantum mechanics, we have entanglement. Branchial space is a map of entanglement space. Quantum measurement is looking at particular
regions of branchial space in various ways.
Rulial space is the space of outcomes from all these different possible rules. It corresponds to the application of all possible
underlying rules. Every conceivable universe is in it. But because of causal invariance and so on, in some sense they all do the same thing.
Within the space of all possible rules, one reference frame is our way of understanding the universe. We have a certain way of describing
the universe based on how our physics has developed. Finding a fundamental theory for physics is finding a description of the physical world in the
reference frame that we're used to dealing with. The description we come up with for the universe is as much a reflection of us and our way of
thinking as of something fundamental about the universe.
Universal computation is the idea that you can get a single universal machine to compute anything you want to compute. The universe
can be represented by a universal computer. We can find an underlying rule for the physical universe in which the operation of the universe is as
inexorable as generating the digits of π.
In computation, there are limits to what a Turing machine can do. Ask a Turing machine to predict the infinite time result of running
a Turing machine. Unless you have a way to speed it up, you could wait an infinite time for an answer. That question is going to look undecidable.
You can imagine having this hypercomputer that says the answer is 42. You can imagine it, but to have a fundamental theory of physics is
to say our universe doesn't do hypercomputation.
Computational irreducibility is the idea that the only way to get the answer to a computation is just to run the computation.
Within a computationally irreducible system, there are always pockets of computational reducibility. Most of physics as we know it is in a layer
of computational reducibility.
The big transition to modern science was from using equations to describe how everything works to using programs and computation to do
so. If we can do this for a fundamental theory of physics, we have computation all the way down.
AR I like this approach.
Color code: reds for 0.3−0.6 keV X-rays, greens for 0.6−1.0 keV, blues for 1.0−2.3 keV
Boris touts cheaper Australian
cookies as Brexit bonus
The X-ray Universe
We now have an all-sky X-ray map of energetic events in the cosmos. The data comes from the German eRosita instrument mounted on the
Russian Spektr-RG space telescope.
This mission was launched in July 2019, parked at a location 1.5 Gm from Earth, and declared operational in December.
Its first all-sky data set was completed last week and records over a million X‑ray sources.
MPE Garching high-energy astrophysics head Kirpal Nandra: "That's actually pretty much the same number as had been
detected in the whole history of X-ray astronomy going back 60 years. We've basically doubled the known sources in just six months."
The eRosita instrument will make further all-sky surveys over the coming years to refine and clean up its data, to look
deeper into the cosmos, and perhaps to find clues about the nature of dark energy.
AR Good work, thanks to German cooperation with Russia.
2020 June 19
Britain After Brexit
The Johnson government says Global Britain will be a "world-beating" champion of free trade and decide its own policies for global challenges
such as climate change.
Boris Johnson saw the pandemic as a chance for the UK to show what it can do. Britain was home to some of the best epidemiological
scientists and research institutes, Britain had rehearsed for a pandemic in 2016 and stockpiled supplies, and the NHS would show the world how
it was done.
Unhappily, Covid-19 did not pay attention to theoretical notions of sovereignty or to national borders. Britain's performance
fighting the virus has been dismal, leaving it at the bottom of the league of comparable European states. Nor has the UK fared well economically.
The OECD says it will suffer among the largest falls in GDP this year.
Johnson resisted an early move to lockdown, the scientists initially misread the speed with which the virus was spreading, and
far too little was done to expand testing. The NHS carried the scars and shortages after a decade of austerity, the stockpiles had not been
maintained, and top civil servants are better at making policy than at management and logistics. Insiders say Johnson's leadership through the
crisis was shambolic.
Johnson and his colleagues promote an image of British capabilities steeped in nostalgia for past greatness rather than shaped by
contemporary appraisal. As one British diplomat puts it: "There is just an assumption that we do these things so much better than our European
Sovereignty may provide the notional freedom to act, but that is not the same as the capacity to achieve national goals. The
sovereignty that lets Britain negotiate a bilateral trade deal with America will not prevent Washington from setting the terms. It means
Britain will be on its own when trying to cut deals with more powerful partners.
AR Boris boosting Britain is a bust.
No Alternative for Germany
Four months ago, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer resigned as head of the CDU because a branch of her party had accepted AfD support. After entering
the federal legislature in 2017, the AfD was the largest opposition party. It saw her resignation as a kind of victory.
Today, Angela Merkel is as popular as ever. The CDU is back to 40% in the polls and most Germans approve of her grand coalition.
The AfD rating is down to 8% and its leaders are squabbling as the pandemic brings out the strengths of the scientist chancellor.
German authorities have begun to crack down on the AfD support networks on the extreme right. But the fight for German democracy
is by no means won. The crisis unleashed by the coronavirus is an opportunity for both sides.
AR Sachlichkeit und Pragmatismus haben gewonnen.
Future Circular Collider
CERN scientists are asking what next after the LHC. They propose a Future Circular Collider with a 100 km tunnel to explore higher energies.
But the FCC has a €20 billion price tag.
Capital from EU member states and other CERN participants such as the UK will be required. If the financial backing is secured to
go ahead, it would not be operational until the 2040s.
At first, the FCC would collide electrons and positrons, then it would collide electrons with nuclei of lead atoms, and later it
could smash protons together with an energy of 100 TeV. It would produce large numbers of Higgs bosons and study how they decay. Some theories
suggest the Higgs may decay into dark matter particles.
Jon Butterworth: "With the LHC, we knew we'd either find the Higgs or break the Standard Model .. There is no equivalent scenario
now. It's much more exploratory. It's definitely higher risk."
Sabine Hossenfelder: "On some level I find it irresponsible. Why don't we put the money into an international center for climate
models or pandemic models?"
AR Sabine hat recht.
The Search for Dark Matter
A sensitive experimental search for dark matter has found something unexpected. Its results could fit the profile of a hypothetical particle
called an axion.
The experiment is XENON1T and its result is an excess of electronic recoils in its detector, a sensor-lined tank of 3.2 Mg of
pure xenon located deep beneath a mountain in Italy.
The XENON experiments were originally designed to seek weakly interacting massive particles. Any WIMPs traversing the detector
should occasionally collide with a xenon nucleus, generating a flash of light. But after years of searching, no such nuclear recoils have
XENON researchers then used their experiment to search for other unknown particles that might pass through the detector and hit
an electron. Many of these electronic recoils come from contaminants, but after years of refining the experiment, the researchers began to
look for signals in the noise.
The team examined electronic recoils in early XENON1T data. They expected to see about 232 of these recoils but saw 285. They
came up with three explanations:
1 Axions, particles similar to a photon but with a tiny mass, created in the Sun could explain the
excess, although these axions would not be primordial dark matter.
2 Neutrinos might have large magnetic moments, which would make them scatter with electrons at an
enhanced rate, explaining the surplus of electronic recoils.
3 Trace amounts of tritium in the xenon tank would decay to generate electronic recoils. Such
contamination is possible.
Against 1, if the Sun creates axions, then all stars do. Axions would carry energy out of a star. In hot stars with high
axion production, they would cool the stars more than is observed.
Against 2, neutrinos with large magnetic moments seem unlikely. Stars would produce them in large numbers, also cooling
the stars more than is observed.
The XENONnT experiment is on track to collect new data later this year.
AR No case for axions here.
The Red Arrows and the Patrouille de France fly over Paris on Thursday before flying over London
French president Emmanuel Macron held a meeting with UK prime minister Boris Johnson while visiting London on Thursday
to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle's BBC address to the French people from London in 1940.
Président Macron remet la Légion d'honneur à Londres
Solar Orbiter was only 75 Gm
from the Sun this week. After
this first perihelion, mission
scientists will test its science
instruments and telescopes.
The SO cruise phase will last
until November 2021. In the
science phase, perihelion
will be 42 Gm from the
Bojo greets EU
Guide to the Galaxy
The likely number of com-
intelligent civilizations in our
galaxy is 36 (min 4, max 211)
and the nearest one is from
7 000 to 50 600 light years
away from us, too far
to phone home.
AR Hmm, I say 42.
CLIVE OF INDIA
NATO head Jens Stoltenberg:
"The rise of China is funda-
mentally shifting the
global balance of power ..
NATO does not see China
as the new enemy."
2020 June 18
Climate Crisis: Six Months
The world has only six months to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a rebound in greenhouse gas emissions. International Energy
Agency executive director Fatih Birol: "This year is the last time we have, if we are not to see a carbon rebound."
Governments plan to spend $9 trillion globally this year on rescuing their economies from the corona crisis and shape the
global economy for the next three years, when emissions must start to fall sharply and permanently to meet climate targets.
John Bolton: The Room Where It Happened
The New York Times
At the G20 summit last summer in Osaka, Chinese president Xi Jinping told President Trump that political figures in the United States were trying
to start a new cold war with China.
Trump immediately assumed Xi meant the Democrats. He then turned the conversation to the coming US presidential election, pleading
with Xi to help him win. Xi said he wanted to work with Trump for six more years. Trump replied that people were saying the two-term
constitutional limit on presidents should be repealed for him. Xi said the US had too many elections, and Trump nodded approvingly.
When Xi told Trump why he was building concentration camps to intern Uighur Muslims, Trump said he should go ahead. Trump thought
it was exactly the right thing to do.
Trump was willing to halt criminal investigations as personal favors to dictators. When Turkish president Recep Erdoğan
told him a Turkish firm under US investigation was innocent, Trump told him he would take care of it. He said the prosecutors were Obama
people and he would replace them.
Trump intended to make headlines with a statement defending Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman over the killing of Jamal
Khashoggi. A story about his daughter Ivanka using her personal email for government business was in the news at the time. Trump: "This will
divert from Ivanka."
Intelligence briefings with the president were a waste of time, since much of the time was spent listening to Trump, rather than
Trump listening to the briefers. He once asked if Finland was part of Russia. He said it would be "cool" to invade Venezuela.
Trump never tired of assailing allied leaders. At a NATO summit in 2018, he had decided to tell allies that the US would withdraw
if they did not increase their defense spending.
In a meeting in 2018 with former UK prime minister Theresa May, a British official referred to the UK as a nuclear power, and
Trump asked: "Oh, are you a nuclear power?" This was not said as a joke.
After a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2018, Trump said he was prepared to sign a substance-free communique,
declare victory and then get out of town. He became consumed by the idea that US secretary of state Mike Pompeo deliver a signed copy of
Elton John's Rocket Man CD to Kim Jong-un.
Trump used US aid to put pressure on Ukraine. He said he was against sending aid until all their materials related to
Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden had been turned over. US attorney general William Barr said he was very worried about the appearances
Trump was creating.
AR Trump has damaged America.
2020 June 17
Worst-case global heating scenarios are more alarming when we factor in the role of clouds. New models show the climate is more sensitive
to CO2 emissions than we thought.
The IPCC is compiling modeling results from multiple institutions for its 6th report.
Since its last report, new models show not 3 K but 5 K in the amount of warming projected from a doubling of atmospheric
CO2 over preindustrial levels.
Climate sensitivity above 5 K reduces the scope for human action to ameliorate global heating. Several leading research groups report
worst-case projections above 5 K.
The role of clouds is uncertain. Previous IPCC reports assumed clouds have a neutral impact because warming and cooling effects cancel out.
But models with finer resolution and advanced cloud microphysics show the net effect is warming.
The new sensitivity model was tested by assessing its accuracy in weather forecasting. It passed the test. The IPCC is expected to cite
5 K in its 6th report.
AR All the more reason to green the global economy faster.
Europe and China
The EU aims to manage its recovery from coronavirus, become a serious geopolitical player, strengthen the European economy, and act as a
world leader on the climate crisis.
Brussels officials say expanding relations with China plays into each of these: Chinese engagement is needed to understand the coronavirus
and learn the right lessons from the pandemic, Chinese wealth and willingness to invest can help to boost EU economies, and greening the
Chinese economy is a key part of tackling the climate crisis.
By treading a careful path between China and America, Europe creates a unique role for itself on the international stage, giving it
diplomatic autonomy from Washington.
AR This heralds a parting of the ways: WW3 (or WWV, depending on how you count) will be Eurasia versus the
breakaway Anglo-American (Brexit−Trump) "Yukuza" libertarian capitalists — as I envision in
The Sick Man of Europe
Boris Johnson, 55, is playing tennis and jogging. He thinks Covid-19 put him in intensive care because he was overweight. Now he wants to
But while his physical health is improving, his political health is sinking fast. Even party loyalists are wondering whether
the Johnson of old has gone for good.
Last December, Johnson won an election victory that not even his fans expected: a big majority in parliament, the opposition
smashed, and breakthrough in the battle for Brexit.
Then came the coronavirus. The British public sees a prime minister whose feckless style of government let the crisis run wild.
Brexit is now back on the front burner. Johnson wants to "put a tiger in the tank" of the deadlocked negotiations on a future trade
agreement. But it's not even clear he still knows what he wants.
The corona crisis caught all governments around the world off guard. But hardly any leader has made such a mess of the
past few months as Johnson. With more than 50 000 dead, the kingdom is the sad leader in Europe.
Johnson says he's proud of what he achieved, but almost no one else is. In a recent YouGov poll, citizens from seven European
countries, including British ones, agreed that no nation was worse led in the crisis than the UK. Britain is the sick man of Europe.
Johnson presents a pitiful picture in parliament. He has curbed his old language but not yet found a new one. As a man who feeds
on applause, he looks like a sad clown in the socially distanced Commons circus.
BoJo, it seems, has lost his mojo.
AR I wasn't impressed by BoJo a year ago and I'm not now.
UK vs EU
EU leaders warn Boris Johnson that there will be no trade deal between the UK and the EU unless he accepts a level playing field.
European Council president Charles Michel: "Ready to put a tiger in the tank but not to buy a pig in a poke. Level playing field
The EU is making demands on state aid, labor rights, and environmental law for a trade deal with the UK. Johnson says the EU did
not do so for trade with Canada and Japan.
Talks this year have made little progress. UK sources say they want a deal by the end of the summer. EU diplomats expect crunch
talks to begin in September.
The UK rejects demands for a level playing field, rejects EU demands that EU fishermen retain rights to fish in UK territorial
waters, and rebuffs EU attempts to give the ECJ a role in disputes on a deal.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament president David Sassoli joined Michel in saying both
sides must agree the principles behind a deal.
Joint statement: "The parties underlined their intention to work hard to deliver a relationship, which would work in the
interests of the citizens of the Union and of the United Kingdom."
AR Tiger — tank — hard times.
2020 June 15
Trump vs US Military
President Trump pays lip service to military service, but his actions reveal a crude take on those who perform it. People in the armed services
see this and are venting distaste.
Trump has been denounced by Marine Corps General James Mattis and reprimanded by Marine Corps General John Kelly, both of whom
held top jobs in his administration.
Trump has been upbraided by Navy Admiral Mike Mullen and Air Force General Richard Myers, each of whom chaired the Joint Chiefs
of Staff under President Bush 43.
The president sent troops to the southern US border in the fall of 2018 to repel an "invasion" of migrants. His complaints about
NATO boil down to balance sheets. His supposed reluctance to send troops into foreign lands have given way to a readiness to have them engage
in combat with their fellow Americans.
US troops bring heart, soul, and intellect to what they do. This is more than we can say for their commander in chief.
US Military in Asia
Ever since President Trump was elected, US allies in Asia have worried about whether his transactional approach to foreign policy would sideline
Asian allies worry that American commitment and capability seem less than in the past. China is using its clout in increasingly
aggressive ways against its neighbors, raising alarm.
The allies credit the Trump administration for focusing on the challenge from China but question US reliability and see an erosion
of US military supremacy. They see America failing to address the pandemic like a superpower.
Washington identifies Beijing as a strategic competitor. The US military now calls the Indo-Pacific its priority theater and is
adjusting its posture to focus on China. But the US strategic approach to China aims only to protect the US people and way of life, to promote
US prosperity, and to advance US influence.
Australia and Japan were disappointed by US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Allied Indo-Pacific strategy is
regularly undercut by the economic nationalism of America First.
Traditional US allies could drift toward China if they conclude that Washington neither respects their economic interests
nor protects their security.
AR Europeans take note: US domination of East Asia is waning.
2020 June 14
Rich Americans lobby for tax cuts and fight off a wealth tax. As a result, poor Americans are denied world-class schools, first-class healthcare,
and affordable housing.
Top CEOs resist a living wage and universal basic income. They don't want antitrust laws. They oppose solutions to problems that
burden minorities. They get the laws they want and organize the system for their own benefit.
As long as racial animosity exists, Americans are less likely to look upward and see where the wealth and power has gone, less
likely to notice that the market is rigged against them, less likely to unite against injustice.
The only way to remedy systemic injustice is to redistribute power. To do so, the vast majority need to join together. This is
what the oligarchy fears most.
AR Brexiteers deserve contempt for sucking up to Trump America.
Across the UK, monuments and war memorials are under threat. Statues of Winston Churchill and Queen Victoria have been defaced and other
Following the toppling and dumping in Bristol harbour of the statue of slave trader and philanthropist Edward Colston, activists
have drawn up a list of about 60 memorials to remove.
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and his deputy Angela Rayner released a picture of themselves supporting Black Lives Matter
by taking a knee.
Oriel College Oxford has over entrance a statue of the colonialist Cecil Rhodes. Demonstrators chanted "Kneel, kneel, kneel" and
a police officer went down on one knee.
People are kneeling in submission to a revolutionary movement that aims to overthrow white western society. Expect fights between
thugs from right and left.
Winston Churchill was born in 1874 and served as a young cavalry subaltern in India.
In WW2, most of those who worked closely with him admired his greatness. But they also saw an old man out of his time in his
attitude to native peoples.
The 1943−44 Bengal famine killed some 3 million. Yet Churchill's cabinet denied requests for food deliveries. Indians
were dying on the streets of Calcutta, while in its British clubs, members had access to unlimited bacon and eggs.
Churchill was a racist.
AR Racism is wrong.
Boris Johnson is losing. By any pertinent measure, Britain is being outdone by countries across Europe, most notably Germany.
The UK is likely to suffer the worst damage of any developed country, with a projected 2020 GDP fall of 11.5% amid crisis
costs of £133 billion. German GDP is expected to fall 6.6%.
Britain is swapping a health emergency for an economic and social emergency. Lockdown led to a 20% slump in UK GDP in April.
The damage to public finances may be irreparable.
Johnson should look to Europe. But his government still aims to end the Brexit transition period on 31 December.
Extend Brexit Transition
UK cabinet minister Michael Gove has told the EU that the UK will not ask for an extension to the Brexit transition period.
A survey shows public support for an extension to the transition period among two sample groups:
Group 1 was told the transition period for leaving the EU ends on 31 December: 54% were for an extension, 40% against.
Group 2 was told about no-deal Brexit delays in the supply of medicinal products: 65% were for an extension, 31% against.
Overall, 85% of people aged 18−24 support an extension.
AR Bozo must end this Brexit nonsense and get his act together.
2020 June 13
President Trump: "I think the concept of chokeholds sounds so innocent and so perfect."
New York Bans Chokeholds
The New York Times
New York has become one of the first states to ban the use of chokeholds by law enforcement and repealed a law that kept police disciplinary
records secret in the state. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bills three weeks after the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police
in Minneapolis. New York City also identified $1 billion in cuts to the $6 billion police department budget.
AR New York right, Trump wrong.
2020 June 12
Bournemouth-Christchurch-Poole (BCP) council is removing a statue of Lord Baden-Powell from the Poole quayside following threats by opponents of
his homophobia, racism, and support for Hitler.
The quayside statue of Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell, hero of the siege of Mafeking in 1900 and founder of the Boy Scouts
in 1910, was installed in 2008. It faces Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, where Baden-Powell held his first scout camp and later lived in the
BCP council leader Vikki Slade says the statue will be removed temporarily because it is in danger of being vandalised or dumped
into the sea.
During the Third Reich, German ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop invited Baden-Powell to meet Hitler to talk about forming closer
ties with the Hitler Youth. Baden-Powell: "I told him that I was fully in favour of anything that would bring better understanding between our
Baden-Powell, 1939: "Lay up all day. Read Mein Kampf. A wonderful book, with good ideas on education, health, propaganda,
Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP for Bournemouth East: "Simply expunging past connections from sight won't correct wrongs or help
us better learn from our past."
AR As a boy in Poole, I too was a scout, with a proficiency badge for air spotting.
Fast Radio Bursts
On April 28, astronomers detected a fast radio burst (FRB) from an X-ray source in the Milky Way. For a brief moment the FRB was
as bright as the radio emission from the Sun, confirming that the new FRB was like extragalactic FRBs.
We think magnetars emit FRBs. A magnetar is a rapidly spinning and highly magnetized neutron star. FRBs are strongly polarized and
brief, so they come from a small object with a lot of energy.
A magnetar blasts out a flare of energy, much of it as electron-positron pairs. The flare can make an FRB in one of two ways:
1 The flare remains anchored to the crust of the star via magnetic field lines. As the crust moves, these
magnetic fields twist and turn until they snap, releasing a coherent flash of radio waves.
2 The flare escapes the magnetosphere and plows into older debris surrounding the magnetar to cause a
shock wave that compresses the plasma ahead of it and builds a magnetic field behind it. Electrons in the shock front gyrate along the field
lines and emit another coherent radio flash as well as 100 000 times more energy in X-rays.
We can expect different types of magnetar to emit the many types of FRB we see.
AR Problem solved.
2020 June 11
Robert Clive established British rule in India. He came to be known as Lord Vulture.
Clive was hauled before parliament with calls to strip him of his peerage and his wealth. A select committee recommended that the vast
sums of money he and his henchmen had appropriated be reimbursed. He symbolised the evil of the East India Company and died by his own hand in 1774.
Yet in the early 20th century, Lord Vulture was miraculously transformed into the heroic Clive of India. Today his statue stands outside
the Foreign Office, just behind Downing Street, where it encourages Brexiteer fantasies of a Second Empire.
Most Brits never learn about the atrocities and exploitation behind the building of the colonial system. The British imperialists were
an aggressively racist and expansionist force responsible for violence, injustice, and war crimes on every continent.
Indians have bitter memories of British rule. In 1600, Britain represented less than 2% of global GDP and India more than 20%, but at
the peak of the Raj those figures were reversed. India was reduced to a symbol of famine and deprivation.
Removing the statue of Clive from the back of Downing Street would be wise.
AR Europeans need to unite to survive in a post-imperial world. The EU was their salvation until Brexit ruined it.
A Second Empire is as mad as a Fourth Reich.
2020 June 10
Shame on Britain
The morning after Donald Trump's election in November 2016, a Conservative minister bounded up to me in Westminster to share his
political prediction: "It'll be fine."
Michael Gove even compared Trump to George Washington. He cast Trump as a "force of nature" who did not merit the
"scorn and condescension" of his UK critics.
Trump is a malignancy eating away at the authority of his office. Like any despot, he demands submission, then despises
as weaklings those who submit. He despises the people who elected him and befouls American public administration.
If Trump is defeated in November, the last four years are nothing but a stain on transatlantic relations. If Trump stays,
the only global role for Boris Johnson is dishevelled sidekick to a rogue superpower. Either way, there is a price to pay.
Britain is trapped in lockdown purgatory. Yet throughout the pandemic, the UK government has treated a public health crisis as an exercise
in political management.
We live in a lockdown twilight zone, where public life and private spirits wither while the idea of being able to go shopping
in a car is presented as a return to normality.
We refuse to live like this, and we refuse to die like this. A better government would not be stumbling into an endless limbo
that puts lives at risk and makes us miserable.
Conservatives pledged not to compromise on high UK environmental protection, animal welfare, and food standards. The government is now proposing
to let in US foods produced using dangerous, cruel, and disgusting means. EU rules set higher standards.
Conservatives pledged that in US trade talks the NHS was not on the table. Yet leaked trade documents reveal that the US negotiators
want full market access to the NHS.
Tory extremists have long sought to rip down anything that stands in the way of the most vicious form of capitalism. The new trade
bill allows the government to change the law on trade agreements without parliamentary approval. This is not democracy but dictatorship.
Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings are tearing down the UK to leave a wasteland for the disaster capitalists funding the party.
We must stop them.
The UK government has introduced a quarantine on international travelers, says it will not request an extension of the Brexit transition period,
and presses on with US trade talks.
Boris Johnson is failing on three fronts. Lack of confidence in his handling of the pandemic outweighs confidence. Disapproval
of his leadership is higher than approval. And the Conservative lead over Labour has fallen to only 3%. His hard line on Brexit is a blood
pact with party activists.
The UK government is determined to seal a US trade deal. The price will be a tougher approach to China and a decisive break
with the EU. Boris will pay the price.
AR Let the price be high.
Representation theory represents complicated objects with simpler objects. Groups of things in a structured relationship with each other can be
represented by matrices.
The six symmetries of an equilateral triangle form a group. They do so because you can apply any number of them to the triangle,
in any order, and get the same result as you can by applying just one symmetry. Combining two symmetries is composition, which acts like
The real numbers also form a group. The real numbers have an identity element, 1, and you can multiply any combination of real
numbers, in any order, and still get a real number. The group of real numbers is closed under multiplication.
In linear algebra, vectors are defined by coordinates, which we can write in a matrix. Matrices define such linear transformations
as stretches, reflections, rotations, shears, and identity. The algebra specifies how we can multiply, add, and subtract matrices.
Representation theory assigns a matrix to each element in a group according to certain rules. A collection of matrices that respect
the rules is a representation of a group.
A representation is a simplified picture of a group. We can explore a group by seeing how it behaves under linear transformations.
Almost all groups can be represented in multiple ways.
A character table summarizes information about the group. The rows refer to each of the different representations, and the columns
refer to the matrices within them for the identity element and the generating elements in the group. The cells contain the trace of the
matrices obtained by summing diagonal entries from upper left to lower right. The table provides a simplified picture of the group.
Representation theory is a central tool in algebra, topology, geometry, mathematical physics, and number theory.
AR My struggle with math goes on.
Minneapolis city police protecting the community
Merkel, Trump, 2019
Nutshell trilogy by A. Zee:
I still haven't read it.
⦿ Denise Applewhite
Jim Peebles shared the 2019
Nobel Prize in Physics for
his work in cosmology
2020 June 9
Defund Minneapolis Police
The City of Minneapolis has pledged to defund the Minneapolis Police Department: "Today's court order will create immediate change for communities
of color and Indigenous communities who have suffered generational pain and trauma as a result of systemic and institutional racism and
long-standing problems in policing."
US police kill civilians at much higher rates than other countries
Bodger Is Bottom
UK prime minister Boris Johnson is the least popular leader in the world, based on his response to the coronavirus pandemic, says a YouGov pool.
Britons rate his leadership even lower than Americans rate Donald Trump. More than 50,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the UK.
AR If even the Daily Excrement says he's bottom, he's bottom!
2020 June 8
America vs Germany
Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Trump last week that she would not attend the G7 meeting he wanted to host in Washington this month.
She cited the ongoing pandemic. He responded with a monologue about the G7, NATO, the WHO, and the pandemic.
An official: "It was not a nice call."
One week later, Germans learned that the United States planned to cut its troop presence in their country by more than a quarter.
Some 9,500 soldiers are to leave within the next three months. There had been no warning, and there is still no official notification.
The episodes signal a breakdown in relations between the United States and Germany that officials have neither sought nor desired.
German Marshall Fund vice president Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff: "Merkel represents everything Trump loathes — globalism,
multilateralism, international law. Trump aligns more with the well-known authoritarian leaders in the world."
American troops in Germany serve as a deterrent to Russia. By unilaterally withdrawing troops, Trump is hurting NATO and directly
playing into Russian hands.
German foreign affairs committee chairman Norbert Röttgen: "It's all about him, it's not about a vision of the world,
not about politics, it's about him, about his need for validation — and sometimes his need for revenge."
AR Trump and the Brexiteers have played into Putin's hands.
Tell Trump "You're Fired"
Last Monday, Donald Trump emerged from a White House surrounded by angry protesters. He found no words to acknowledge the murder of George Floyd.
Instead he stood in front of a church and raised a Bible in his hand.
On Tuesday night, military helicopters circled low above Washington to intimidate protesters and looters. National guardsmen in
combat gear stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial. And then suddenly on Thursday a fence stood around the White House to protect the president
from the people.
The United States is in a perfect storm. Since the beginning of March, the pandemic has killed more than 100,000 people, more than
40 million Americans have lost their jobs, millions of them have lost their health insurance too, and many parents can no longer feed their
children. US inner cities are burning, with looting and rage on the streets, and large numbers of white Americans are joining the protests
Trump only made it into office because the US electoral system favors the predominantly white Midwest states. Democrat Joe Biden
has a chance to win. But the chaotic electoral system in the United States gives Trump various ways to contest a Biden victory:
▴ What if Republicans impose an election day curfew in cities with many Democrat supporters?
▴ What if the election is down to the wire and Trump refuses to recognize a result in a swing state?
▴ What if it takes days to count postal votes, but Trump has already declared himself the winner?
▴ What if Trump even defies a verdict from the US Supreme Court?
The Secret Service would have to escort him from the Oval Office.
AR Try handcuffs and a gun to the head.
End of Yukuza
The UK-USA special relationship may end if Donald Trump wins a second term. If Joe Biden wins, Washington may view the EU rather than the UK as
its primary partner. Following the US presidential election in November, UK diplomats are looking to form a broader alliance of democracies.
Former Conservative international development secretary Rory Stewart: "If Trump comes in for another four years that will be very
challenging for the global system .. If we have to move away from the US, it will involve a much bigger shift in national security infrastructure
than we have ever experienced."
Former head of M16 and former UK ambassador to the UN Sir John Sawers: "President Trump is the most difficult president for us to deal
with. He does not really feel that sense of being part of that transatlantic community .. He does not really believe in American leadership in the
world .. We will need to be binding closely together with our European partners."
AR Yes: Abandon Brexit.
2020 June 7
Symmetry and Spacetime
Einstein's special theory of relativity led to the conclusion that the relationship between energy and mass is invariant. The energy-matter content
of the universe is conserved.
The same is true, Einstein showed, for space and time. The relationship between space and time is invariant, even as space contracts
and time dilates.
Maxwell's equations show that although the connection between electric and magnetic fields looks different in different frames of
reference, the speed at which electromagnetic fields propagate through space is fixed.
Einstein said the speed of light sets the relationship between space and time. No matter how fast the observer is moving, the
spacetime interval between two events is invariant.
Resistance to change becomes infinite at the speed of light. Since that resistance is inertia, and inertia is a measure of mass,
the energy of motion is transformed into mass.
The special theory of relativity does not apply to accelerated motion. In his general theory, Einstein showed that gravitational
acceleration reflects how massive objects curve spacetime.
Invariances soon took on a life of their own, leaping out from the symmetries of spacetime. Gauge invariances turned out to require
the existence of lots of particles from W and Z bosons to gluons.
Gauge symmetries describe the internal structure of the system of particles in the Standard Model. They indicate all the ways we
can shift, rotate, distort, and generally mess with the equations without varying anything important.
An idea closely related to symmetry is duality. Newfound dualities have revealed that a 3D world without gravity can be dual to a
4D world with gravity. These dualities show the number of dimensions is not invariant.
Certain dualities suggest that spacetime emerges from the connections between entangled quantum particles. The spacetime continuum
may emerge as a secondary effect of more fundamental entanglement relationships.
AR I like the idea that spacetime is discrete, but if spacetime emerges from entanglement we can relax and contemplate
2020 June 6
Our standard model of cosmology is that some 13.8 billion years ago the universe was in a hot, dense state and has been expanding and cooling
The clearest evidence for the big bang model is the cosmic microwave background (CMB). This sea of radiation that fills all of
space is almost uniform, in thermal equilibrium. Its tiny variations of intensity across the sky are consistent with a model of an expanding
big bang universe with dark matter and dark energy.
The CMB radiation is quite smooth, yet matter comes in great clumps. To explain how could matter have been pulled together
without pulling the radiation with it, I proposed that most matter is dark matter that doesn't interact with normal baryonic matter except
through gravity, or with radiation.
Astronomical evidence suggests that most of the mass on the outskirts of galaxies is not very luminous. If the visible matter
were all that existed, the galaxies would fly apart, based on the speed at which they are rotating.
Particle physics has confirmed three families of leptons. If a fourth neutrino had a high enough mass, a sea of them left from
the hot early universe would provide about the matter density required for the universe to be expanding at escape speed, when gravity is
just enough to slow expansion down but never quite stop it.
The evidence suggests that the universe is expanding faster than escape speed. An average matter density small enough to allow
this seems to call for reintroducing Einstein's cosmological constant with a tiny value. Also, the rate of expansion is growing over time,
which has led us to rebrand the cosmological constant as dark energy.
Measurements of the variation in the temperature and polarisation of the CMB radiation across the sky yield tight constraints
on the effects of dark energy and dark matter.
Most cosmologists think the model with dark matter and dark energy is on the right track. Yet the central mysteries of dark
matter and dark energy remain.
There are other great challenges for modern cosmology, such as explaining precisely what happened at the big bang. Physics
is incomplete, and cosmology is still a kludge of hypothetical components.
AR Kludges yes, but still good work.
⦿ Andrea Fasani/EPA
⦿ Manuel Nieberle
A test center in Rosenheim
"I am your president
of law and order."
NASA and SpaceX launched
astronauts Robert Behnken
and Douglas Hurley in a Crew
Dragon capsule on a Falcon 9
rocket to the International
2020 June 5
This country was founded on protest — it's called the American Revolution. Every step of progress in this country, every expansion
of freedom, every expression of our deepest ideals has been won through efforts that made the status quo uncomfortable. And we should
all be thankful for folks who are willing, in a peaceful, disciplined way, to be out there making a difference.
Trump Coup 2020
Donald Trump is preparing a coup:
2016: "I will absolutely accept the result of this great and historic election — if I win!"
2017/18: Trump says the Mueller investigation is part of a Democrat plan for a coup.
2019: Democrats begin impeachment proceedings. It fails, but Trump says they were planning a coup against him.
April 2020: The Supreme Court refuses an extension to the postal voting deadline in Wisconsin.
May 2020: Trump repeatedly tweets that the election could be falsified in November.
June 2020: Trump threatens to deploy the US military against protesters. The national guard and the police are subordinate
to state governors. But as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Trump can exercise power directly on the street. His fundamentalist
"good versus bad" narrative is an end-time narrative of holy war.
November 2020: If he loses the election, Trump will accuse the media of spreading fake news, he will claim a deep state
conspiracy, he will deploy the US military, and he will call the Supreme Court for support.
The Boogaloos confound officials who puzzle out the political sympathies of the agitators showing up to George Floyd rallies and walking
around with assault rifles.
Some Boogaloo members identify as anarchists and others reject formal titles. Some espouse white supremacy while others
reject it. But they like toting around guns in public and rally to the "boogaloo" cry — code for a new US civil war.
Known for sporting Hawaiian shirts and arriving at public protests heavily armed, the Boogaloo Bois are often associated
with the far right. Most of the 125 or so Boogaloo groups on Facebook have sprung up since January.
Benjamin Ryan Teeter and a handful of other Boogaloo Bois went to Minneapolis to protect protesters. They stood sentry
with firearms outside mom-and-pop shops, but in solidarity with the black community in opposition to police brutality.
Teeter: "Once people realize that we are on their side and we are here to protect them, everybody .. has been very happy
to have us here."
AR Wild West gun law.
A deal is possible. But the UK needs to be more realistic. It cannot have both full sovereignty and full access to the internal market.
Brexit will get full EU attention in September and October.
So far, no real progress has been made in the negotiations. Both sides have been stating their positions. The main issues
are future internal market access and the level playing field. Other issues are fish quotas and governance.
We hope to have a deal for the European summit in mid-October. We cannot leave it later because any deal has to be
ratified by the European Parliament.
AR Clauss is Germany's ambassador in Brussels.
2020 June 4
Angry and Appalled
Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing
the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.
We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience
who are insisting that we live up to our values — our values as people and our values as a nation.
When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops
taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to
provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.
Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, DC, sets up a conflict — a false conflict — between the
military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they
are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part.
The Nazi slogan for destroying us was: Divide and conquer. Our American answer is: In union there is strength. We must summon that
unity to surmount this crisis — confident that we are better than our politics.
AR Long before he served as Trump's defense secretary, former marine general "Mad Dog" Mattis said:
"If you fuck with me, I'll kill you."
Germany Got Coronavirus Right
This April in Rosenheim, Walther Leonhard was given a new job as containment scout. He was soon at home and hitting the phones. He was the latest
recruit into a German army for containing the coronavirus.
Germany has a government led by physicist Angela Merkel that avoided the policy zigzags seen elsewhere. On April 17, authorities
announced that the pandemic was under control. By June 1, Germany had roughly 103 Covid-19 deaths per million inhabitants, compared with 579
for the UK.
In Rosenheim, the hospital increased the number of intensive care beds for coronavirus patients from 7 to 63, commandeered
ventilators, merged wards, rebuilt clinics, and constructed isolation areas. Within a week, it had the first additional intensive care wing,
and within the second week another. In the end, it was enough.
German health minister Jens Spahn: "There have been no austerity policies in our health service. Apart from a small dip in
2008−09, spending has been rising steadily every year for 15 years."
Germany now spends 12% of GDP on health. The system is uniform in terms of financial resources and the quality of care. It is
also much more decentralized than the NHS.
In Rosenheim, a civil protection management team was formed to decide which patients were sent where, how to share out PPE,
and where to create additional capacity. The team is still holding onto Walther Leonhard, but he has less to do these days. The streets are
again filled with families.
AR I'd rather be living in Germany.
2020 June 3
US Fascist Dictatorship
When fascism came to America, it was wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.
On Monday evening, Donald Trump, with four US flags behind him, threatened to send in the military against the American people,
then crossed the road to pose for a photo outside a historic church while clutching a Bible. He was only able to get there after heavily armed
police and horse-mounted national guardsmen fired teargas and rubber bullets to chase away peaceful protesters.
Democratic senator Ron Wyden: "The fascist speech Donald Trump just delivered verged on a declaration of war against American
Democratic senator Kamala Harris: "These are not the words of a president. They are the words of a dictator."
Trump tweeted: "When the looting starts, the shooting starts."
"My whole family was flabbergasted," said Benjamin Horbowy, 37, who heads a local motorcycle club in Tallahassee, Florida. "My mother just shouted out,
'God give him strength! He's doing a Jericho walk!' .. and she started speaking in tongues. I haven't heard her speak in tongues in years."
Horbowy changed his Facebook profile photo to one of Trump outside St John's, with light shining from the Bible. "There's a Bible verse
that says we shouldn't talk about evil things. We can just say, 'There's evil' and move on .. I believe this is a president who wears the full
armor of God."
The Trump crackdown so far:
✗ More than a hundred thousand Americans are dead from a pandemic.
✗ Armored cars and troops are stationed outside Washington metro stations.
✗ Men in combat gear with sniper rifles take aim from a helicopter flying low over Washington.
✗ A military chopper flies low and blows back a crowd of demonstrators with its downwash.
✗ Peaceful protesters and black residents targeted for arbitrary arrest or police beatings or both.
The US defense secretary describes US cities as the "battlespace" and Trump rejoices in using "overwhelming force" to achieve
"domination" over the citizenry.
America is on the brink. Wealthy elites weaponized white racism to gain political power. They used it to pursue policies that enriched the already
wealthy at workers' expense.
Trump's economic policies have been not populist but plutocratic. He has rammed through huge tax cuts for corporations and the rich,
and tried to take health insurance away from poor and working-class families.
Trump has provided his base with cover for racial hostility. He is encouraging violence and talking about military solutions to
protests. What will he do if he looks likely to lose in November?
AR As Justin Trudeau said, horror and consternation.
Boris Johnson has been meeting with ministers via video during the lockdown and has no immediate plans to resume physical cabinet meetings in
A minister: "There are clearly advantages to holding physical meetings, not least because you can talk to colleagues before and
In an era of social distancing, only 13 people can sit in the cabinet room at once. But the cabinet has 26 members as well
as a secretary and other officials. During the crisis, Johnson has taken key decisions with his inner circle of four ministers.
A Tory official: "It's a Potemkin cabinet. The cabinet no longer takes decisions."
MPs voted to scrap the UK virtual parliament on Tuesday. Other MPs wanted to extend the temporary online voting measures set up in the coronavirus
lockdown. To stay 2 m apart, MPs stood in a 1 km queue for almost an hour for each vote. Some called the procedure an absurd waste of time.
Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg: "It is important for votes to be physical because we are coming here together as a single
parliament and we are voting on things that have a major effect on people's lives."
Labour MP Ian Byrne: "The utter madness of this charade is that as well as putting lives at risk, it may result in a democratic
process which excludes hundreds of MPs shielding having the ability to participate."
A senior MP: "We don't have a cohesive group of MPs. There's a lot of new members and a lot who didn't spend their whole lives
dreaming about politics and didn't expect to be here. There's also no cohesion that goes beyond getting Brexit done."
The Equality and Human Rights Commission condemns Rees-Mogg's plan.
EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath: "This will place at significant disadvantage MPs who are shielding or self-isolating ..
It cannot be right for parliament to proceed without provision for remote participation, when many elected representatives cannot attend in
AR Does anyone seriously imagine this confusion in Westminster expresses any kind of democratic mandate to commit
economic suicide on December 31?
Modeling the Pandemic
Conventional models used by epidemiologists essentially fit curves to historical data and then extrapolate those curves into the future.
They use observable data.
Our approach borrows from physics and the work of Richard Feynman. It attempts to capture the mathematical structure of the
phenomenon and to understand the causes. We call them generative models, because they contain enough to generate the data.
Epidemiologists today often use an SEIR model, which allocates people into four states: susceptible (S), exposed (E), infected (I),
or recovered (R). But SEIR models fall apart when you think about the underlying causes of the data.
With conventional SEIR models, interventions and surveillance are perturbations. But these things are built into a generative model.
We can predict not only numbers of cases and deaths but also societal and institutional responses.
AR Physics to the rescue.
2020 June 2
Stop Killing Us!
The New York Times
George Floyd died while restrained by a police officer in the middle of a Minneapolis street in daylight. His alleged offense was passing a counterfeit
bill to buy a pack of cigarettes. Before him, Breonna Taylor was shot dead in her own apartment by officers who used a battering ram to burst through
her front door.
The list of black Americans brutalized or killed by law enforcement officers, who rarely if ever face consequences for their actions,
goes on and on, and on and on.
Thousands of Americans have taken to the streets to express a rage born of despair that their government has failed to provide the right
to life, and to not be deprived of that life without due process of law. Not all of these protests have been peaceful.
"In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. As long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences
of violence and riots over and over again."
Martin Luther King Jr, 1967
AR The latest riots are President Trump's most shameful legacy.
June is a make or break month for Brexit. The UK formally left the EU on January 31. It is now in a transition period where it still obeys EU rules
in exchange for business as usual in key areas. The transition period creates a space to negotiate a future relationship. But it ends on December
31 and both sides say the negotiations are not going well. The next round of virtual talks begins today.
We have a joint responsibility to do everything we can to reach an agreement. What I am hearing publicly and privately is that the UK does not want
to ask for and to talk about an extension. We need to clarify that by the end of June.
Covid-19 and Brexit add up to a double whammy. The UK looks doomed to leave the EU without a deal or with a minimal FTA. With an FTA, the UK will
lose £40 billion a year; without, £60 billion.
If Boris Johnson were to ask the EU for an extension to the trade talks because of the pandemic, the majority of the public would
understand. But the extremists would not. For them, prolonging the talks means prolonging the vassalage. Any decent deal to protect the economy
would mean carrying on paying and accepting EU regulations.
Johnson has not prepared his supporters for the costs of compromise. Hardcore Brexiteers would accuse him of betrayal if he follows
the national interest. Johnson is too weak to face up to them.
Expect No Deal
Business is preparing for a no-deal Brexit. The coronavirus crisis has led the EU to suspend its state aid and competition rules, so EU insistence
on a level playing field rules out a deal. And the UK fears having to fund the €750 billion bail-out and debt mutualization package.
AR Brexit is Boris Johnson's shameful legacy.
2020 June 1
Energy and Entropy
Black holes offer clues about quantum gravity. Quantum fluctuations at the surfaces of black holes cause them to evaporate and shrink as they
Black holes become electrically charged when charged particles fall into them. They have an extremal limit where they store as much
electric charge as possible for their size. When a charged black hole evaporates and shrinks, it will eventually reach this extremal limit.
Combining Einstein's gravity equations and Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism, we find that a black hole's charge Q
can never exceed its mass M when both are expressed in the same fundamental units.
Together, M and Q determine the radius of the event horizon: Q creates an inner horizon behind the event
horizon, and as Q increases, the inner horizon expands and the event horizon contracts until, at Q = M,
the two horizons coincide.
If Q increased further, the radius of the event horizon would no longer be real. For a black hole with
Q = M to split into two smaller black holes, conservation of energy and charge require that one of the holes have
Q > M, which is impossible.
At smaller scales, the quantum mechanical properties of gravity contribute corrections to the Einstein−Maxwell equations.
The smaller the black hole, the more important the corrections become, causing the extremal limit to move farther and farther away from
Q = M.
If the corrections are positive rather than negative, then small black holes can let Q > M,
allowing big extremal black holes to decay. Since an object's charge Q is its sensitivity to any force other than gravity, and its
mass M is its sensitivity to gravity, Q > M implies that gravity is the weakest force.
If gravity is the weakest force in the universe, objects with Q > M can exist. But this is no proof.
The quantum gravity corrections might be negative.
The Bekenstein−Hawking law says a black hole's entropy is directly proportional to its surface area. But quantum gravitational
corrections shift the entropy out of exact proportion. The corrections grow more significant the smaller the black hole.
If you modify the Einstein−Maxwell equations with a series of extra terms coming from short-distance effects and solve the
new equations to calculate a corrected extremal limit, the corrections exactly match those to its entropy.
The corrections could in principle be either positive or negative. The entropy shift is positive in a large class of scenarios and
models of quantum gravity. We guess quantum corrections lead to more entropy rather than less, and smaller black holes can let
Q > M.
The weak gravity conjecture appears to hold in string theory. The thermodynamic relation between energy and entropy applies
generally in nature.
AR This is really important.
Poole Bay, Saturday morning
Christian Drosten, Direktor
des Instituts für Virologie
an der Charité in Berlin
Schnelles Einschreiten hat in
Deutschland bis zu 100.000
Christian Drosten sieht das
Land gut gerüstet für eine
mögliche zweite Welle
"To live is to encounter the
tragic — a reality shot through
with utter strife, and covered
in complete darkness. Despite
our best attempts, we are
not going to get out of it.
For philosophers to overlook, sugarcoat, or rationalize
this fact is to deny
⦿ Peter Summers
General Sir Richard Barrons
⦿ Filip Singer
Angela Merkel, Berlin, May 8
2020 May 31
Hospitals in New York City were overwhelmed. The US economy froze, unemployment soared, lines of cars stretched for miles at food banks,
and armed lockdown protesters demonstrated across America. At least 100,000 people nationwide died of a new disease.
The economic ruin from the pandemic is just beginning. In some states, moratoriums on evictions have ended or will soon.
The expanded unemployment benefits run out at the end of July. Ravaged state budgets mean painful cutbacks in public jobs and services.
This week, a Minneapolis police officer was filmed killing a black man named George Floyd. In Minneapolis, protesters poured into
the streets and met a harsh police response, demonstrations turned into riots, and the governor called in the National Guard.
Trump: "THUGS .. When the looting starts, the shooting starts."
The Boogaloo movement is an online update of the militia movement. The "Boogaloo Bois" expect a summer of armed confrontations
leading up to a new civil war.
AR Brexit Brits want to boogie with Trump America?
2020 May 30
Martin Hägglund says the question of what I should do with my time underlies all norms. I grasp my life as finite
and give my life for a cause. Anything else is delusional or bad faith.
Bad faith is a notion associated with Jean-Paul Sartre. The existentialism of Martin Heidegger is a pillar for Hägglund.
By contrast, secular faith is the precondition of doing anything at all.
Secular faith is a comportment toward the world drawn from a sense that our time is valuable. Spiritual freedom is a matter
of using that time wisely. Democratic socialism is the political system that gives us the means to do so.
To have secular faith is to acknowledge that the object of our faith depends on the practice of faith. Hägglund follows
Hegel in seeing the truth of Christianity in the community practices it sustains.
Secular faith is not opposed to religious faith but is its truth. As a believer, you cared for your fate, but now you are
responsible for it. Secular faith is existentially basic.
Spiritual freedom is a matter of endless negotiation among creatures able to offer reasons for the norms that guide their
AR I like it.
2020 May 29
Coronavirus UK: Second Wave
R is the average number of people someone infected with COVID-19 passes the virus on to. If it is greater than 1.0, the epidemic
will grow exponentially. R0 applies to a naive population with no immunity or interventions.
Re or Rt measures how we are doing in controlling the virus.
We cannot be confident about the precise value of R or about regional variations. SAGE estimates that on 22 May the
average R value across the UK was 0.7−1.0. Re may be twice as high in NE England as in
London. R also varies from person to person. Early estimates of R0 for COVID-19 were in the range
2.0−3.0, but more recent estimates are around 4.0.
The epidemic grew much faster prior to the lockdown than it has diminished since. With Re
so close to 1.0, we could try to bring it down further so that efficient test, trace, and isolate measures combined with the quarantine of
new arrivals can work.
Instead, the UK government has chosen to open up the economy when there are still large numbers of infected people who do not
know they carry the virus. A contact-tracking system is being introduced, but it will not be enough. Stabilising the epidemic only buys
time to find an effective treatment or vaccine. Until then, as soon as the weather pushes us indoors there will be a second wave.
AR Hunter is professor of epidemiology at Oxford.
Boris Johnson is not up to the job. His attempt to dismiss concerns about Dominic Cummings has turned a story into a scandal.
Danny Kruger MP: "BJ and DC together are why we won the 2019 election and them together is the only way to GBD [Get Brexit Done],
level up the regions and fix Whitehall .. which will win us the next election too. An arguable minor infraction of lockdown rules is totally
secondary to that."
No mere advisor should ever be thought indispensable. If Johnson cannot function without Cummings, he is not qualified to be PM.
The pursuit of Dominic Cummings provides critics of Boris Johnson with their best chance yet to destabilise his government.
Cummings helped Johnson win the Brexit referendum and then an election, but he runs a tight team and takes quick decisions.
In a system of cabinet government, this causes tensions. Johnson has a majority of 80, but he cannot do what he likes.
That Johnson is so reliant on a spad triggers alarm. His decision to keep him raises questions about his judgment.
Danny Kruger foresees the second Cummings presiding over the 2024 election campaign. The Tory faithful have averted their eyes
from a takeover by an insecure PM and his flawed svengali.
AR Kick out Bodger and his evil daemon.
2020 May 28
The New York Times
More than 100,000 people who caught Covid-19 have died in the United States. The death toll is far higher than in any other nation
in the world.
The toll exceeds the number of US military combat fatalities in every conflict since 1945. It matches the
US toll in the 1968 flu pandemic, and it is approaching the 116,000 killed in another flu outbreak a decade before that.
The pandemic is on track to be the deadliest US public health disaster since the 1918 flu pandemic, in which about
675,000 Americans died.
AR Blame Donald Trump for a bungled response.
The UK has suffered the highest rate of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic among countries that produce comparable data, according
to excess mortality figures.
The UK has registered almost 60,000 more deaths than usual since the week ending March 20, so the virus has killed
891 people per million. At this stage of the pandemic, that is a higher rate of death than in any country for which good data exist.
The absolute number of excess deaths in the UK is also the highest in Europe, and the UK percentage increase in deaths
compared with normal levels is the hit in Europe.
AR Blame Boris Johnson for a bungled response.
2020 May 27
Boris Johnson says Dominic Cummings was justified. His loyalty suggests Cummings is the strategic center of the Johnson government. Cummings
is a brilliant political campaigner, but Johnson has burnt through political capital defending the indefensible. The saga will undermine
the government. Johnson must man up.
Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson have opted to take on the world. For as long as Cummings stays, Johnson is damaged. The delay exposes the
weakness and dependency of a prime minister who is only an empty front man, unfit and unwilling to shoulder the burden of his office.
Johnson looks like the servant, not the master.
Dominic Cummings is the embodiment of the change that has led the UK into its biggest failure of statecraft since the war. Benedict Cumberbatch
portrayed him in a TV drama about his work to win the Brexit campaign.
Cummings read history at Oxford. Asked who was smarter, Boris Johnson or Cummings, history don Robin Lane Fox replied: "Dominic,
by a long way. Different class altogether."
After leaving Oxford with a first, Cummings spent three years in post-Soviet Russia before drifting into Conservative party
politics. His Vote Leave team hacked the 2016 Brexit referendum and won.
At the end of March, Cummings and his wife, both suffering symptoms of Covid-19, drove to Durham to arrange childcare for
their son. Boris Johnson stands by his man.
AR Johnson will have to dump him. Then he will be exposed as a duffer.
2020 May 26
The New York Times
On a holiday that usually mixes somber remembrance and blissful renewal, America marked an unusually grim Memorial Day in which losses from
the past merged with ones from the present. Crowds flocked to open spaces on the first long weekend since the coronavirus tore into the
country, so far taking almost 100,000 lives.
AR Yesterday was a hot and sunny bank holiday in the UK.
Boris Has Blundered
Dominic Cummings dashed to Durham. We may sympathise with his predicament, but many millions of other people have wrestled with comparable
circumstances and stayed at home.
This is a question of fairness. But the government chose to aggravate matters, insisting that Cummings had done nothing wrong.
Pipe down, everyone, and know your place.
In point of fact, people have known their place. They have stayed at home. They have understood the message, absorbed it, and
acted within the regulations.
Boris Johnson is a tragically miscast prime minister. He is an entertainer asked to play the lead in a serious drama. Governments
can withstand criticism, but mockery is fatal.
Cummings may not be guilty of any crime. But a blunder can be worse. The greater blunder is owned by his boss, a prime minister
whose moral authority has collapsed.
AR BoJo is terrified that without his Dom he won't have a clue what to do.
2020 May 25
Cummings: A German View
Dominic Cummings gilt als Symbolfigur, dessen Abtritt den Premierminister Boris Johnson und seine Agenda empfindlich treffen
würde. Nun viele Konservative werfen Cummings Arroganz und unorthodoxe Methoden vor. Seit dem Beginn der Pandemie vermischen sich
Versäumnisse und unerklärliche Verzögerungen mit fragwürdigen Prioritätensetzungen und Überreaktionen.
AR Schmeiß ihn weg!
On 23 March, Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown: "I must give the British people a very simple instruction — you must stay
On 26 March, regulations in England made it an offence to leave home without a "reasonable excuse" and gave police powers to
forcibly return leavers.
On 27 March, Downing Street chief spad Dominic Cummings drove to Durham and stayed for days.
On 12 April, Cummings was at Barnard Castle, 25 km from Durham.
Boris Johnson faced a furious Tory backlash after he tried to defend Dominic Cummings.
At a press conference in Downing Street, the PM claimed his spad had acted 'responsibly, legally and with integrity' while
driving from London to Durham during lockdown.
Johnson said Cummings had "followed the instincts of every father" by driving to his parents' farm after his wife developed
symptoms of coronavirus. He did not deny that while in the Northeast, Cummings had also driven 50 km to enjoy a walk. And he failed to
say whether he had given Cummings permission for the Durham trip.
Cabinet ministers — some of whom were ordered to publicly support Cummings — were uneasy over the public anger.
A minister said the affair risked torpedoing public trust in the government at a time of national crisis: "You can lose popularity,
you cannot lose trust."
A senior minister: "The fact that he is still there just shows how dysfunctional No 10 is. I am being bombarded with emails from
constituents who are angry that .. he's just done whatever he wants."
AR Cull the spad, kill the spat.
2020 May 24
The Future of War
The pandemic has a massive impact on European security and prosperity.
China is a rising global power while the United States is declining. Tensions between Washington and Beijing are escalating. Europe will
not be able to stand aside.
We live on a finite planet. Conflicts over water, raw materials, and energy will increase. Water scarcity, rising sea levels, rainforest
loss, and population growth will have serious consequences. Humanitarian disasters will lead to armed conflicts and force out refugees.
Artificial intelligence will lead to massive social upheavals and destroy entire industries. Educated people will suddenly be displaced
by machines. During the first industrial revolution, displaced people had no voice and no social media to help them mobilize.
Military operations will be forced on Europe by instability and chaos elsewhere. Politicians will need to protect their homeland and
intervene militarily with allies worldwide.
NATO still imagines wars will be waged with conventional forces that occupy enemy territory. But to break the will of a modern country,
all you need is a lot of cheap missiles. You can sabotage everyday life with attacks on electricity, water, communications, state administration,
and food distribution.
If you break into the enemy networks, you can do great harm by crippling banks and ATMs or disrupting traffic systems. You used to need
tanks, bombers, and warships to do so much damage. Not a single soldier has to march anywhere or occupy terrain.
Today, we can use social media to spread fear and panic. If you combine missiles, cyber, and social media skillfully, you can bring any
European country to its knees in just 14 days.
NATO is aware that warfare has changed. Big data, AI, robotics, driverless cars, nanotech, genetic engineering, and so on are changing
everything. The future of warfare is a mixture of manned, unmanned, and autonomous systems.
Europeans spend their defense budgets mainly on personnel and expensive weapon systems. The digitization of defense lets us change
The armed forces of the future will get along with fewer people. Robots need no pensions, vacations, or hospitals, and never get
Many innovations can be adapted for the defense sector. Civilian companies are at the forefront. We can work with them to make
NATO leaner and more resilient.
Without political leadership, the pandemic will push the military aside.
AR Medical systems and services can be war vectors too.
2020 May 23
German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier: "Germany's past is a fractured past, with responsibility for the murdering of millions and the suffering
of millions. That breaks our hearts to this day. And that is why I say that this country can only be loved with a broken heart."
Nationalism is the most facile and effective of political tools, as well as the most dangerous. In the midst of a pandemic that has
revealed a world incapable of a coordinated response and devoid of American leadership, Europe's most powerful nation stepped forward with honor.
The European Union, that entity with a stubborn heartbeat, has emerged better from the pandemic than China or the United States. The
fear-driven Chinese cover-up of the coronavirus and the chaotic denialism of the Trump administration led to disaster. America is a dysfunctional
power and China is a coercive power.
The world cannot return to where it was before the virus. The nationalism of Donald Trump's America, Xi Jinping's China, and Vladimir
Putin's Russia is not the answer. Better to love your country with a broken heart than to love it blind.
AR Well said.
2020 May 22
Boris Johnson seems to think the pandemic will disguise the disruption imposed by an overnight break in UK economic relations with EU neighbours
at the end of 2020. This is a disgraceful idea:
1 It is not what the Leave campaign promised.
2 The proposed tariff schedule is far from free trade.
3 The UK is breaking its word on Northern Ireland.
4 The UK agreed with the EU that the future relationship must ensure open and fair competition
on a level playing field.
5 The world trading system is under mortal threat, given the breakdown in US-China relations and
attacks on the WTO.
6 The UK is in a depression, in no shape for another shock.
7 The pandemic will probably lead to permanently lower output.
This latest twist in the Brexit saga suggests the UK government is irresponsible and perfidious. It is folly to cast the UK loose
during the steepest downturn of its economy in three centuries.
AR Bodger is bungling Brexit [smiley]
Neuronets Do Hard Math
Facebook researchers Guillaume Lample and François Charton have developed an approach to solving symbolic math problems with neural networks.
They reframed the problems in terms of language translation.
Neural nets train on large data sets and use statistics to make approximations. Language translation programs translate phrases in
the context of the whole text.
The researchers used the approach for problems like finding complicated integrals. To find the derivative of a function, you only
have to follow defined steps. But to find an integral often requires something like intuition.
They began by translating mathematical expressions into trees, with operators as junctions on the tree and arguments as leaves.
The tree structure nests operations inside longer expressions.
The team fed the neural network with training data sets of equations with solutions. They then gave it a test set of equations
without answers. It solved most of them correctly and excelled at integration.
AR This approach resembles human math skill.
The New York Times
How to Be Alone
I was struggling with quarantine — until I found the polar explorers.
AR I recall the polar explorers Sir John Ross and Sir James Clark Ross.
A SPIRIT OF TRUST
by Robert Brandom
"When our self-conscious
recognitive attitudes take the
radical form of magnanimity
and trust that Hegel describes,
we can overcome a troubled
modernity and enter a
new age of spirit."
"Bicycles are the new
"I'm rather pro-European,
actually. I certainly want a
European community where
one can go and scoff croissants,
drink delicious coffee, learn
foreign languages, and
generally make love
to foreign women."
Boris Johnson, 1997
"Stay out of my moist
Shirley Şerban, NZ
2020 World Bee Day
Conway Knot Problem Solved
Math grad student Lisa Piccirillo took less than a week to answer a question about a strange knot discovered by John Conway.
A knot is tied in a piece of string with the ends joined in a loop. Over the past century, such knotted loops have helped us in
quantum physics and molecular biology as well as in math.
To make a knotted object in 4D space, you need a 2D sphere, not a 1D loop. If you slice a sphere in 3D space, you get an unknotted
loop. But in 4D space, you might get a knotted loop. Any knot you can make by slicing a knotted sphere is said to be slice.
All knots with 12 or fewer crossings are topologically slice. The Conway knot, which has 11 crossings, was the only one not also
known to be smoothly slice. Piccirillo constructed a knot with the same trace as the Conway knot, but is not smoothly slice, so neither is the
Piccirillo's proof appeared in Annals of Mathematics in February 2020. It has secured her a tenure-track job offer from
2020 May 20
Thomas L. Friedman
I try to deal with this pandemic in the logic of natural systems. If instead you start your analysis with politics or ideology, you're actually
challenging Mother Nature to a duel.
And no one seems to be doing that more these days than President Trump. But if you define wearing a mask or whatever as a sign
of disrespect for your personal freedom, you're making a huge mistake.
Mother Nature is chemistry, biology and physics, and the engine that drives her is natural selection. The coronavirus is just
another one of her fastballs that she throws at us to see who's the fittest.
President Trump doesn't respect Mother Nature, because he measures everything in terms of money and markets. He has no feel for
Mother Nature rewards only adaptation strategies grounded in chemistry, biology, and physics. If your strategy is grounded
instead in ideology or election-year politics, she will mercilessly expose that.
China, Germany, South Korea, Sweden, and many others have all been pursuing different strategies for sustainably and maximally
saving lives and livelihoods. America, by contrast, is a mess.
Mother Nature hasn't lost a duel in 4.5 billion years.
AR Good analysis.
2020 May 19
America vs China
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo: "The American people, and I hope people all across the world, understand the risk to the globe,
to freedom-loving countries and democracies all around the world, that are presented with the actions of the Chinese Communist Party."
Chinese president Xi Jinping is creating a new Silk Road with road, rail, and pipeline projects across Africa and Eurasia.
Xi announced the Belt and Road initiative in 2013 and may spend $1.3 trillion on it by 2027.
US president Donald Trump made a trade deal with China in 2020 Q1 and praised Xi for his handling of the coronavirus crisis,
then said: "The ink was barely dry [on the trade deal] and then the plague came over. I have a very great relationship with [Xi] but right
now I don't want to speak to him."
Pompeo on the virus: "We know it began in Wuhan .. We have to know where patient zero began and where patient zero became
AR Westerners have to do better than this vis à vis China.
Britain vs China
In the Commons, a new China Research Group has secured the backing of more than 50 Conservative MPs. Those who voted Remain are concerned about
human rights abuses in China, and those who voted Leave are worried about Britain's chances of a trade deal with the United States if it
kowtows to the Chinese Communist Party.
Chinese wolf warrior diplomacy offends Lord Patten of Barnes: "These wolf warriors give wolves a bad name. People from left to
right have got fed up with China taking advantage of the pandemic to bully elsewhere."
A cabinet minister: "It's not as though we didn't know beforehand that China was an authoritarian regime."
AR Britain is at risk of again acting as America's poodle.
2020 May 18
YES A Harvard report on the prospects for a US-UK trade deal projects a mere £3.4 billion gain from a deal,
compared with a £112 billion loss from leaving the EU. The UK aims to increase overseas trade to overcome the coronavirus hit to the
economy. The damage done by a hard Brexit will not be lost in a viral smokescreen. Support is growing for extending the Brexit transition.
NO The case for extending the UK adherence to all EU rules and financial contributions, but without any say
or vote, is weakened by the Covid-19 crisis. In 2021 Brussels launches its next multi-year budgetary settlement, including funds to assist in
rebuilding the post-pandemic EU 27 economy. To contribute to that, but with no role in the discussions, would be absurd.
AR Revoke Brexit. Help Europe recover.
2020 May 17
A Spirit of Trust
Robert Brandom's philosophy emerges from the pragmatism of C. S. Peirce and John Dewey; from the strands of analytic philosophy due to Gottlob Frege,
Ludwig Wittgenstein, and W. V. O. Quine; from Wilfrid Sellars and John McDowell; and from G. W. F. Hegel.
A Spirit of Trust presents a philosophical system extending across philosophy of language, metaphysics, epistemology,
philosophy of history, ethics, and political philosophy. Its fundamental idea is that linguistic meaning is normative.
For Brandom, the question of whether a certain sentence is true is inseparable from rational standards about what it is permissible or
obligatory to say or believe. This deontic account stands in contrast to much of the Western philosophical tradition prior to Hegel.
In this view, our descriptions form a system of socially constituted rational commitments, and only linguistic rules, socially
articulated and enforced, are capable of giving our words meaning at all.
Brandom generally attributes these views to Hegel. He recovers myriad details of Hegel's masterwork The Phenomenology of
Spirit and stacks them into a coherent system. With Hegel's help, he expands a technical theory of meaning into a structure for understanding
ourselves and the universe.
From Hegel comes the idea that we cannot know exactly what we mean. As concepts are clarified over time, we come to see more about
what we already mean. Meanings can only be fully established retrospectively.
Brandom clarifies Hegel's dialectical philosophy of history. Hegel notoriously extends a spirit of forgiveness to "world-historical"
figures and claims what they did was a necessary moment in a progressive history. This is an entire moral and political philosophy.
In this totalistic metaphysics, it is impossible to know anything without knowing everything. This too is Hegel's position: the
intelligence of each of us, with all its apparent mistakes, is a little bit of the intelligence of God.
This theory of meaning ends up in a crypto-Christian spirit of universal forgiveness for alleged error. The deontic status of
rational norms is an assumption.
AR I was deeply influenced by Hegel, Frege, Wittgenstein, Quine, McDowell, and their peers and protagonists for a
full decade, so I guess I should have a go at Brandom's book.
2020 May 16
Brexit: No Deal
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is disappointed by the third round of negotiations on future EU-UK relations and says there was no progress
on the key issues.
UK negotiator David Frost accuses the EU of an "ideological approach" and says it must drop demands for a "level playing field" or
there will be no deal.
Barnier says the UK must "become more realistic" if the talks are to progress.
The EU demands that the UK abides by certain standards in social, labor, and environmental law even after the separation to prevent
unfair competition. London sees this demand is seen as an attack on UK sovereignty.
The EU wants its fishermen to have continuing access to British waters. The UK wants to regain full control of its sea areas yet still
have free access to the EU single market to sell its fish.
The risk of a disorderly Brexit is back. If there is no agreement on future relations by December 31, people and goods will need to be
checked again at EU borders, with devastating economic consequences.
Many EU diplomats say the real negotiations will only begin in September, after the chance of an extension of the transition phase is
gone. An extension must be requested by the end of June because it must be agreed by all 27 EU countries and the European Parliament.
The corona crisis offers a way for Boris Johnson to save face when asking for an extension. But he is sticking to the schedule, perhaps
because an extension may require the UK to participate in the rescue and reconstruction of the EU economy.
In Brussels, some say the British prime minister may be deliberately setting up a hard Brexit and covering the economic damage by the
much larger devastation of the corona crisis.
Barnier says he is "not optimistic" about a deal.
AR Johnson is wrecking UK-EU relations in order to establish a Second Empire. His dream is a wild and impossible fantasy.
See my forthcoming book Albion.
2020 May 15
Battle of the Bulge
Boris Johnson: "I've changed my mind on this. We need to be much more interventionist."
Last year the prime minister was attacking the sugar tax. His change of heart is driven by the link between coronavirus and obesity.
He is sure the reason he ended up in intensive care was because of his weight.
The government is rapidly coming to the conclusion that one of the main reasons why the UK has been so hard hit by this virus is how
obese the population is. Obesity is the second biggest coronavirus risk factor, after age, and more than a quarter of Brits are obese.
Johnson wants to "get Britain on its bike" and encourage people to cycle to work. The government is already spending £2 billion
on this. It would help with obesity and ease overcrowding on public transport.
AR Lose weight, protect the NHS, live longer.
2020 May 14
UK Pandemic Response Disaster
The future public inquiry into this pandemic will hardly know where to start. From testing to overall strategy, from protecting care homes
to supplies of PPE, the UK government's handling of this crisis has been a disaster.
The seeds of the UK's calamitous response were sewn over years of austerity, which left the NHS and care services struggling
to cope with normal levels of demand, let alone a pandemic.
The government failed to take action in response to Exercise Cygnus four years ago, which exposed the huge gaps in the NHS
preparedness for a pandemic but whose findings were then kept secret.
This government evidently believes that Britain has nothing to learn from anyone else. Our testing regime will be "world beating"
— but something half as good as South Korea's would already be a huge improvement.
That sense of superiority has led to the UK having the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in Europe. The Conservative party
should learn that exceptionalism combined with arrogance costs lives.
AR A damning critique from a Green MP.
AdS Spacetime Is Unstable
Einstein's vacuum equations have three canonical solutions. In flat Minkowski spacetime, the cosmological constant Λ is zero. In spherical
de Sitter spacetime, Λ has a positive value. When Λ is negative, you get anti-de Sitter (AdS) spacetime, which is hyperbolic.
Minkowski spacetime and de Sitter spacetime are stable. Georgios Moschidis has now shown that AdS space is unstable.
Imagine standing in the middle of AdS spacetime, with a boundary at infinity. If you send out a light signal, it travels out and
reaches the boundary in a finite time because of time dilation. If you drop in Einstein−Vlasov particles, they make concentric waves.
Imagine the first two: Wave 1 expands outward until it hits the boundary, bounces back, and contracts as it retreats toward the center.
Wave 2 follows, then wave 1 hits wave 2.
Wave 2 transfers energy to wave 1. After wave 1 reaches the center, it starts out again and meets wave 2, which is now
contracting, and wave 1 transfers energy to wave 2. This cycle repeats.
Near the center, the wave energy is more concentrated. Wave 1 gives more energy to wave 2 at the center than wave 2 gives to wave 1
at the boundary. Over numerous iterations, wave 2 takes enough energy from wave 1 to form a black hole.
The proof: If you add matter to an AdS spacetime, a black hole will form. But AdS spacetime has uniform curvature, so it cannot
contain black holes, and the spacetime is no longer AdS.
The result has implications for our universe. AdS/CFT correspondence says a gravitational system in AdS spacetime can be equivalent
to a nongravitational quantum system in one fewer dimension. Creation of black holes in AdS spacetime corresponds to thermalization in
AR This is big. I think we live in flat or elliptical spacetime, but quantum thermalization is an issue in quantum computing.
Anyons form a third realm of particles. The first two realms are fermions and bosons.
Imagine two indistinguishable particles. Take one, then loop it around the other so that it ends up back where it started.
The two quantum wave functions describing the initial and final states are either symmetric or antisymmetric. If they are symmetric,
you have bosons. If they are antisymmetric, you have fermions.
When you loop one quantum particle around another, you need not get back to the same quantum state. In 3D, you can shrink
the loop all the way down to a point. In 2D, the loop gets stuck on the other particle, so looping one particle around another is not
equivalent to leaving it in place.
When electrons are restricted to motion in 2D, cooled nearly to 0 K, and subjected to a strong magnetic field, the electrons
come together to form anyons.
AR Such 2D electron motion gives rise to the quantum Hall effect, discovered by Klaus von Klitzing, who won the
Nobel prize in 1985 and whom I met in Germany in 1989.
Sandbanks, Poole, UK, Thursday morning: The tiny smudge at the top is the Moon.
My lockdown free zone
2020 May 13
A European Republic
Lorenzo Marsili, Ulrike Guérot
Churchill spoke of a United States of Europe in 1946.
Europeans have been enmeshed in a decade of financial, political, and humanitarian crises. The result is a disintegration marked
by diminishing bonds, gradual loss of faith, and renationalization of politics.
We must rescue the ideal of a united Europe. On Europe Day, the EU planned to launch a conference on the future of Europe to open
a new phase of integration. The conference would have been a top-down photo-op without vision or ambition.
We call for the establishment of a European citizens' congress on the future of Europe. We demand a European republic where all
citizens are equal, with a common European welfare and security independent of nationality.
We need a program of ecological and economic transformation that addresses the slump caused by Covid-19, alters our toxic
production model, and creates the institutions for a genuine economic union.
Emperors cannot produce Europe — only citizens can.
AR A communist manifesto?
NATO: US May Exit OST
A group of 16 retired NATO military commanders and defense ministers says the Open Skies Treaty (OST) is a vital pillar of stability between
The G16 includes former UK chief of defence staff General Sir David Richards, former chief of staff of the German armed forces
General Klaus Naumann, and former French Air Defence Air Combat commander General Bernard Norlain.
US defense secretary Mark Esper and secretary of state Mike Pompeo apparently want to leave the OST, citing Russian infringements.
US aircraft would then have no right to fly over Russia, but Russia could still overfly US bases in Europe.
The G16 says that if the USA leaves the OST, its NATO allies should stay. European states rely on Open Skies flights.
AR Fortress America?
US to UK: US or China
The Trump administration is pressing the UK in trade talks to choose between America and China. It wants a clause to let it back out if UK
makes a deal with another country without US approval.
British diplomats see the proposed clause as intended to deter closer UK-China relations. US-UK trade controversy has so far been
on the prices of medicines, food standards, and a digital tax.
Trump wants to use the coronavirus crisis against China to secure his re-election. He will press the UK government to side with
him against China. Conservatives may support his posture.
AR AA Weltuntergang?
UK Crisis Response
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
The UK is particularly vulnerable to Covid-19. As a former colonial power and Europe's air hub, it is in close contact with the world. And
with the NHS, Brits have a health system that is cumbersome, bureaucratic, and underfunded. Once the UK has returned to normal, they may
question British exceptionalism. They may press the Johnson government to prolong trade talks with the EU and not to fail with a gesture
AR Fair comment?
2020 May 12
Weltuntergang, American Style
President Donald Trump abruptly ended his Monday press conference after a contentious exchange with a Chinese-American journalist.
CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang asked Trump why he sees coronavirus testing as a global competition when more than
80,000 Americans have died.
Trump: "Maybe that's a question you should ask China. Don't ask me. Ask China that question, OK?"
Jiang: "Sir, why are you saying that to me specifically?"
Trump: "I'm telling you. I'm not saying it specifically to anybody. I'm saying it to anybody that asks a nasty question."
After a brief exchange of nothing with another reporter, he stormed out.
German-American CNN lead political anchor Wolf Blitzer: "A very ugly, ugly ending to that one-hour appearance by the president."
New York magazine Washington correspondent Olivia Nuzzi: "The president's unprofessionalism is always revealed most clearly when he is
interacting with female reporters."
AR He's lost it. America is defeated. Hail China.
Breaking Global Britain
London has chosen a bad time to start negotiating a free trade agreement with Washington.
US president Donald Trump wants to promote his America First agenda.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson wants to focus minds in Brussels. An AA trade deal is the launch pad for his Global Britain agenda.
But belligerent US mercantilism can make or break that agenda.
There is no chance Trump will agree an AA trade deal before the US election in November. He wants greater access to UK agricultural
markets based on US standards, deregulation of NHS drug pricing, and 5G procurement open to US companies with US privacy standards.
Trump gets no gain from an AA deal unless the UK moves away from EU regulatory and tariff alignment. He has doubled down on hostility
to China and wants the UK as an ally.
Conservative MPs say Johnson is under pressure to harden his line on China.
AR Back off, Boris. If you go with Trump, you lose everything.
Boris Johnson: "You should go to work if you can't work from home."
He made no mention of preparations for tracing and testing contacts of people who test positive for Covid-19. All the countries
that have tamed their coronavirus epidemics made "test, trace, isolate" central to their strategy. We want to hear him commit to more testing
to reduce virus transmission.
Johnson encourages a return to work before it is safe to do so.
AR Be like Boris, catch Covid-19, and do or die.
2020 May 11
Thomas L. Friedman
Having a pandemic is bad. Having a pandemic and a civil war together is really bad.
Last week Donald Trump was all over the place. His pronouncements are contradictory and dishonest.
Mother Nature is unbeatable. All you can do is adapt to whatever she throws at you. Too closed, she kills your jobs. Too open,
she kills your vulnerable.
Americans need herd immunity to both the virus and the president.
AR Brexitrumpandemic is lethal.
On TV last night, Boris Johnson promised a "world-beating system" for testing and tracking, plus quarantining new arrivals at airports. Then the
screen was filled with green and yellow and the baffling words STAY ALERT.
Tory backbencher Sir Graham Brady: "In some instances it may be that the public have been a little bit too willing to stay at home."
From the manifesto Britannia Unchained, written by five Tory MPs, four of them now ministers:
"Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world."
Britain was led into Brexit by people who said the British way of doing things is best.
AR Best, worst — sign of a sick psyche.
Brexit Britain is second in its lethal maladministration only to Trump America.
Foreign perceptions of the UK as a badly governed, disorderly, embittered and chronically divided country took root in the years
following the 2016 referendum. The incompetence, jingoism, and arrogance displayed by the British side during the Brexit talks dismayed many
Britain long counted the United States as its foremost friend and vital ally. But Trump America is an unreliable and dangerous entity
that belittles Britain.
Donald Trump is the greatest of all coronavirus failures. And yet still Boris Johnson and his gang hug him close, risking infection,
begging for a deal at almost any cost, mimicking his populist posturing, rejecting pandemic cooperation with the EU, and insisting that Brexit
will be done by December.
Britain needs better leaders.
AR Break Boris, break Brexit, be good.
2020 May 10
How Britain Failed
The UK is being hit hard by Covid-19. Its first coronavirus case was confirmed 100 days ago. The official death toll so far has topped 33 000
and is still rising fast.
The government failed to prepare for the virus, failed to provide adequate PPE, and failed to organise mass testing. Even its
communications seem evasive and shambolic.
In PMQ, Sir Keir Starmer asked Boris Johnson why the government was slow on testing, slow on supplying PPE to NHS and care home
workers, and slow on going into lockdown.
In January and February, Johnson and his team were enjoying their general election win and getting Brexit done.
AA economics had left the UK vulnerable. The UK ended track-and-trace testing in March because there was not enough capacity.
Germany fared better.
UK virologist Nicola Stonehouse: "We just didn't have a proper plan for dealing with this. Other countries did."
AR Revile AA economics and rejoin the EU.
How Science Works
Karl Popper (1902−94) said a theory is scientific only if it makes predictions that can in principle be proved wrong. Scientists make creative
conjectures and try to refute them. They make progress by refining their hypotheses, testing anew, and so on.
Thomas Kuhn (1922−96) had a theory of scientific revolutions. In normal times, scientists puzzle and make discoveries within a
paradigm. In revolutionary times, all bets are off and paradigms shift. Revolutions also involve standards for judging theories.
Imre Lakatos (1922−1974) was a Hungarian Stalinist until he read Popper's criticism of Marxism. By 1956, he was a revisionist.
He moved to England and worked under Popper at the London School of Economics. In 1969, he took over Popper's chair.
Lakatos developed a methodology of scientific research programs. He said Popper's criterion is too restrictive and Kuhn's description
of paradigm shifts led to mob rule.
Theories are routinely applied with simplifications or additional assumptions or hypotheses. Predictions are never derived directly
but rather from the theory as adapted by its auxiliary hypotheses. If the predictions are falsified, either the theory or the auxiliary hypotheses
are false. Adjusting the hypotheses can in principle save any scientific theory from refutation.
For Lakatos, a research program consists of a hardcore theory surrounded by a protective belt of auxiliary hypotheses. The auxiliary
hypotheses help to connect the hard core to the empirical world and insulate the core. It is the combination that is tested.
Lakatos said positive and negative heuristics made a program progressive or degenerating. A program is progressive only for as long
as it predicts new facts and allows new tests. A scientific revolution is driven by logic and method, not mob rule.
AR In the years 1972−74, I studied in the department headed by Lakatos.
2020 Europe Day
Message of Solidarity and Friendship
EU ambassador to UK et al.
For the first time in almost 50 years, we observe Europe Day without the UK as a member state of the EU. As ambassadors and high commissioners
representing the EU and its 27 countries in the UK, we are nonetheless very keen to mark the date with all the citizens of this great country
and with the millions of EU nationals who live and work in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
We celebrate Europe on 9 May because on this same day in 1950, exactly 70 years ago, in the aftermath of WW2, Robert Schuman laid
the foundations of our collective endeavour. Schuman's dream has come gradually to fruition, enabling many countries and millions of Europeans
to enjoy freedom, democracy, fundamental rights, and high standards of living, in the longest period of peace in our part of the world for
The UK made a significant contribution to European achievements before and during its 47 years of membership of the EU. It is thus
only natural for us to celebrate Europe Day also with the British people. The current unprecedented health emergency has brought us closer
together, within each of our countries and among the 27, as well as between all of us in the EU and our British friends.
We believe that cooperation and solidarity among countries, with full respect for sovereignty and diversity, are key factors in
overcoming today's challenges, starting with the present health emergency. We trust that these principles will also inspire the future
relationship between the UK and the EU.
AR Oh, Boris, what have you done?
We're fighting against long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided, and seeing others as an enemy have become a
stronger impulse in American life. We're seeing that internationally as well. It's part of the reason why the response to this global
crisis has been so anemic and spotty. It would have been bad even with the best of governments.
It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset of "what's in it for me" and "to heck with everybody else" is
operationalized in our government. That's why I'm going to be spending as much time as necessary and campaigning as hard as I can for
The news about the Justice Department dropping charges against Michael Flynn has been somewhat downplayed. There's no
precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free. You begin to get worried
that our basic understanding of the rule of law is at risk.
AR Obama handled the Ebola crisis superbly.
A proton consists of three quarks bound together by a field of gluons — so says quantum chromodynamics (QCD). The theory seems good, but it
is mathematically complicated.
A million-dollar math prize awaits anyone who can solve the type of equation used in QCD to show how particles like protons form.
Workarounds give approximate answers, but they are in conflict.
Quantum electrodynamics (QED) explains electron behavior. An electron can briefly emit and then absorb a photon, the photon can
split into a pair of matter-antimatter particles, each of which can do more, ad infinitum. A perfect analysis of the electron requires an
infinite series of steps, but truncating the series gives good answers.
Quarks and the strong force that binds them are different. The Feynman diagram for three quarks coming together and binding to
form a proton is a cartoon, because quarks are bound too strongly to live separately. The infinite series of terms is unruly, with no easy
The strong force involves three color charges (red, green, blue). The problem is that gluons carry color charge too, so they
form balls and strings.
For most calculations, the canonical QCD equation has proved intractable. One workaround is to watch how quarks behave in
experiments. Another is to find approximate solutions using supercomputers.
This computational approach, lattice QCD, simulates the behavior of quarks and gluons. We slice spacetime into a grid of points,
put quarks on the lattice points, and run the QCD equation on them. The denser the grid, the more accurate the simulation.
Many details in lattice QCD are poorly understood. But in February a European collaboration claimed to nail a property of the
muon to within 1% of its true value.
AR As so often in physics, hard, incremental progress.
⦿ Peter Byrne/PA
A socially distanced VE Day street party in Chester, UK
Sir Keir Starmer
The next British prime minister?
Me at work today
WHO calls Swedish
a model for world
2020 May 8
Die totale Kapitulation der Wehrmacht, die am 8. Mai 1945 in Kraft trat, kam spät. Wäre Hitler dem Attentat am 20. Juli
1944 zum Opfer gefallen, hätte sich womöglich ein Rest der alten Ordnung hinübergerettet. Der alte Adel, die preußischen
Beamten und Grundeigentümer, die völkischen Eliten und Ruhrbarone hätten einen für sie günstigeren Frieden aushandeln
AR "The old aristocracy, the establishment officeholders and landowners, the national elites and dynastic capitalists"
— all this sounds like the powers behind Brexit Britain that would need to be uprooted in an effective revolution to replace perfidious
Albion with a modern constitutional state. Or must the feudal order in the UK go down in a sea of flames against the republican order at
the heart of the EU before sense prevails on the British Isles?
VE Day prompted Brits to celebrate, but there was also apprehension.
Today, during a new global convulsion, many people look back and ask whether VE Day has a resonance. In two respects, it may:
The young will suffer most in the ordeal ahead of us, and this experience may become an engine for change.
The present crisis seems destined again to change the face of Britain and unleash demands for social, political, and economic
reform. People will not quickly forget the tragedy of the care homes, cruelly excluded from the shield of the NHS.
For more than three decades the rich have had a fabulous run. A nation with soaring unemployment and deep in debt, which has
made a political choice for self-isolation, will surely not continue to tolerate the old excesses.
Capitalism will survive in Britain, but its inequalities will not.
AR Can Britain reboot as deeply as Germany did in 1945?
Angela Merkel, Global Leader
German chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to German citizens about the coronavirus outbreak in March. It was her first unscheduled televised
address in almost 15 years of leadership. The speech was a hit.
The chancellor presented the grim facts of the pandemic while also offering a dose of compassion. She described the difficulty
she had over restricting freedom of movement. But she got Germans on her side.
Merkel had already said she would not seek re-election in 2021. But when the Covid-19 pandemic began, she stepped up once again.
Her personal approval ratings are soaring and her legacy seems saved.
Germany won praise for the way it handled the epidemic. Its Covid-19 death toll is relatively low and its well-resourced health
system helped out other EU countries. Germany was the poster child for mass testing.
On Wednesday, the cautious chancellor unveiled plans for a partial lifting of the German lockdown:
"Wir können uns ein Stück Mut leisten."
AR Frau Dr Merkel hat etwas bewundernswertes geschafft.
Trump Death Star
Donald Trump's 2020 campaign manager tweeted: "For nearly three years we have been building a juggernaut campaign (Death Star). It is firing
on all cylinders. Data, Digital, TV, Political, Surrogates, Coalitions, etc. In a few days we start pressing FIRE for the first time."
AR Can the Death Star force a reboot in the USA too?
2020 May 7
Task Force Trump
The New York Times
President Trump and VP Mike Pence say the coronavirus task force has been so successful in getting the pandemic under control that the group
will most likely be replaced by a new panel focused on getting America back to work.
In theory, bringing together a collection of experts to oversee a coordinated federal response to a national emergency makes
perfect sense. In practice, the first phase of the coronavirus task force was its own form of disaster.
The task force has provided consistently uneven guidance and insufficient assistance. Trump often undermined its recommendations
and repeatedly scrambled its message. Factions within it emerged with their own plans and priorities.
Its rambling briefings were political props, with the president spending hours each week airing his grievances, praising himself,
parading business executives and public officials to laud his leadership, and spreading misinformation.
AR The second panel can hardly be less successful than the first.
A Better World?
Timothy Garton Ash
More than two thirds of Europeans are now in favour of introducing a universal basic income. During the coronavirus lockdowns, many developed
countries have introduced something close to UBI. It is an idea whose time has come.
A majority of young Europeans place more confidence in authoritarian states than in democracies to tackle the climate crisis.
EU member states are failing to provide good jobs, social security, or a sustainable future.
AR Goodbye capitalist democracy, hello meritocratic authoritarianism.
2020 May 6
UK Death Toll
BBC News, 1852 UTC
The UK has become the first country in Europe to pass 30,000 coronavirus deaths, according to new government figures.
Boris Johnson said he "bitterly regrets" the coronavirus crisis in care homes.
Trump's Worst Mistake
The Trump administration has made any number of mistakes as it has grappled with the worst crisis since WW2. If it goes through with plans
to wind down its coronavirus task force around Memorial Day that decision will rank among the worst.
The task force has provided scientific and public health expertise to President Trump, who wants to change the narrative from
fighting the virus to opening up the economy.
An internal Trump administration model suggests there could be 3,000 deaths a day in the United States by June, as many as the
9/11 toll every day. A low-end estimate is 800,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States over the next 18 months.
There are swarms of unanswered questions about how to deal with the coronavirus. They won't be wished away by wrapping up the
AR Americans need to respect scientific expertise.
Atlee's Worst Mistake
Clement Attlee was a great man. Creation of the NHS and welfare state were durable achievements.
But enthusiasm for him was gone by 1950. The postwar period was a hard slog of rationing, austerity, shortages, and economic crises.
Britain faced acute financial difficulties that could only be offset by a large loan from the United States.
Brits should have been more realistic about their economic base. British infrastructure was decrepit, machinery out of date,
management practices poor, labour relations worse, technical education deficient, and industrial leadership complacent.
Marshall Plan aid should have let Brits modernise and invest in the future. Instead the state spent huge amounts on its social plans
and on seeking to project Britain as a world power equal to the United States and the Soviet Union.
Atlee assumed the wartime spirit could be maintained. Brits lived with the error for years.
AR Brits need to correct the error of Brexit.
2020 May 5
Trump Versus Accountability
The New York Times
President Trump will replace the top watchdog for the Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS principal deputy inspector general Christi Grimm
had described equipment shortages and concerns about testing in the US pandemic response.
Trump said he intended to install new inspectors general throughout the administration and to name a White House aide to the new post
of special inspector general for a pandemic business rescue fund.
On April 3, Trump informed Congress he would be firing Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community who
alerted lawmakers to the complaint about Ukraine that led to the president's impeachment.
On April 7, Trump ousted the Defense Department acting inspector general Glenn Fine, who was to head a new panel tasked with
overseeing how the government spends $2 trillion in coronavirus relief.
On April 8, senators reminded Trump that inspectors general report "to both the president and Congress, to secure efficient,
robust and independent agency oversight" and said he had failed to follow the rules for their removal. No reply.
AR Time to pull the plug on the criminal-in-chief.
UK #1 in Europe, #2 in World
More than 55,000 people have now died in the UK because of the coronavirus pandemic. Deaths in England and Wales in the week ending April 24 were 11,539
above the five-year average, according to ONS data. Official figures for England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland show a total of 42,266 excess
deaths up to April 20. The model extrapolates from a comparison of excess deaths since the start of the outbreak with announced Covid-19 hospital
death figures from the four UK nations.
AR A record to be proud of — not.
An Electr(on)ic Bike
The VanMoof electric bike comes with 4-speed automatic shifting and hydraulic brakes.
Its range per charge is between 60 and 150 km, depending on the assist you select in its smartphone app. Level 0 turns off assist
and level 4 gives you a big boost. An LED array in the top tube shows charge level and speed.
The bike requires the app to work. Everything except the handlebars and seat post are held together by security bolts. The headlight
and taillight are in the frame, the tires are puncture-resistant Schwalbe Big Bens, and the battery is not removable.
You kick a button to lock the bike and activate an antitheft system. If anyone touches the bike, it emits a loud sound. If a thief
drags the bike for a minute, an alarm blares, the lights flash, a notification pops up on your phone, and the bike is disabled. VanMoof
reenables it for you later.
Your bike senses your phone as you approach. You push a button to unlock the bike. The app shows its location if you forgot or
if the bike was stolen.
AR Cool — the app bond is like tsaheylu on Pandora in Avatar.
Five Eyes Say No
There is no current evidence to suggest the Covid-19 virus leaked from a Chinese research laboratory. The Australian Daily Telegraph
had cited a 15-page dossier compiled by Western governments amid an investigation by Five Eyes agencies.
There is no evidence that the virus was genetically engineered in Wuhan and there is nothing to show a leak from the lab caused
the pandemic. US scientists who have worked with the Wuhan Institute say its safety standards are high and the virus was passed onto humans
through a live animal market.
The Australian Daily Telegraph is a Sydney tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch. An intelligence source: "My instinct is that
[its report] was a tool for building a counter-narrative and applying pressure to China .. possibly open source leads with a classification
slapped on it."
AR The Murdoch press is trash.
2020 May 4
Five Eyes on China
A 15-page paper from the Five Eyes network documents a cover-up by Chinese authorities and points to risky research in a laboratory in Wuhan.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus appeared in December and seems likely to have been transmitted to humans from bats through the wildlife trade.
The Five Eyes paper refers to dangerous research work in the Institute of Virology in Wuhan. The virus was shown to be of natural origin,
but some analysts say the virus may have come from laboratory work performed in collaboration with American and Australian scientists.
The paper accuses China of suppressing early medical warnings, downplaying the extent of the outbreak, censoring information, destroying
virus samples, controlling scientific publications about the virus, and refusing to provide live samples to international researchers.
AR Sounds like the Soviet authorities after the Chernobyl accident.
Coronavirus in Germany
More than 10 times as many people in Germany have probably been infected with the coronavirus than the number of confirmed cases. A team from the
University of Bonn analysed swabs from a random sample of 919 people living in Heinsberg. The ratio of known deaths from Covid-19 to the estimate
of local people with a prior infection was 0.37%. Extrapolating, about 1.8 million people living in Germany must have been infected, with 1 in 5
showing no symptoms.
AR The chance of dying once infected seems to be about 1 in 300.
UK Trade Minister Resigns
Conor Burns, MP for Bournemouth West, has resigned as a trade minister after a report found he used his position as an MP to intimidate a member of
the public. The Committee on Standards said he had broken Commons rules by making "veiled threats" to use parliamentary privilege to "further his
family's interests" during a debt dispute. Burns apologised and said he should not have written to the member of the public "in the terms I did"
using Commons notepaper.
AR Brexiteer Burns earned my detestation in 2016.
UK Needs Good Government
Boris Johnson's cabinet is so weak that his absence for weeks left an alarming void. His reappearance felt like the welcome return of a big beast.
This is no accident. Johnson chose last year to expel party rivals and to surround himself with smaller characters. He calculated that the
quality of his cabinet was pretty much immaterial.
The coronavirus crisis has revealed how dangerous it is to weaken the cabinet in this way. Johnson should form a government of all
the talents. He should emulate Winston Churchill, who included rivals in his wartime government, knowing it was worth the price. Johnson likes
the limelight but wants the weaklings to do the work.
AR The leader is a showboating slacker.
2020 World Press Freedom Day
Reopening the US Economy
Donald Trump has a re-election strategy:
Step 1. Remove income support to force people back to work. The US labor department has decided that
furloughed employees "must accept" an employer's offer to return to work and therefore forfeit unemployment benefits, regardless of Covid-19.
This is inhumane.
Step 2. Hide the facts. No one knows how many Americans are infected because the Trump administration continues
to drag its heels on testing. The administration's leading infectious disease expert warns that reopening poses "a really significant risk"
without more testing.
Step 3. Pretend it's about freedom. The US justice department has been directed to take legal action against
any state or local authorities imposing lockdown measures that "could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of
individual citizens" — an absurd ruling for people forced to accept a job that risks their health.
Step 4. Shield businesses against infection lawsuits. Trump is pushing to give businesses that reopen a
"liability shield" against legal action by workers or customers who get infected by the virus. But the economy cannot safely reopen if
companies have no legal incentive to keep people safe.
The obstacle to reopening is the pandemic.
AR Trump should know this is no way to apply the Swedish model.
Fox News presenters faithfully trumpet the alarmingly erratic views of President Trump. Yet not long ago, Boris Johnson's key advisers were
pushing to replace the BBC with "Fox News equivalents" and "talk‑radio shows and bloggers" [not me — AR].
Most surveys now show the BBC to be the most trusted news organisation in the UK. An
RISJ study shows The Guardian is the UK newspaper
with the highest approval rating. In a world of fake news, journalists are key workers.
AR This blog shows I rate The Guardian as the best of British.
EU Covid-19 Lead
Giuseppe Conte, prime minister of the Italian Republic
Emmanuel Macron, president of the French Republic
Angela Merkel, chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
Charles Michel, president of the European Council
Erna Solberg, prime minister of the Kingdom of Norway
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission
We are building on the commitment by G20 leaders to develop a massive and coordinated response to the virus. We have recently launched
the global cooperation platform Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.
We are determined to work together, with all those who share our commitment to international cooperation. We are ready
to lead and support the global response.
We support the WHO and we are delighted to join forces with experienced organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.
The money we raise together will be channelled primarily through recognised global health organisations to help the world
overcome the pandemic.
AR The ACT Accelerator reminds me of the BI Accelerator my SAP team built to turbocharge global capitalism
in the Naughties.
This epidemic is going to go in waves. It won't be a tsunami that comes across America all at once and then retreats all at once.
It's going to affect how people think about all kinds of things.
If we come out of our rabbit holes and realize that of a sudden those jerks that were flying around in private helicopters
are now flying on private personal jets and they own an island that they go to and they don't care whether or not our streets are safe,
then I think we could have massive political disruption.
Just as we come out of our holes and see what 25% unemployment looks like, we may also see what collective rage looks like.
I couldn't have predicted that the paragon of sloppiness and sluggishness would be the United States. I never imagined that.
President Trump is the most incompetent, foolhardy buffoon imaginable. I'm shocked that America isn't in a position to lead
the global response to this crisis, in part because science and scientists have been so degraded under Trump.
America has never been sufficiently invested in public health. The big political conversation is about individual access to
health care, with no word about the work to keep our air and water safe for everyone or to design policies and systems for protecting
The Harvard medical school is all marble, with these grand columns. The school of public health is this funky building,
the ugliest possible architecture, with the ceilings falling in. That's America.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
In a 2005 article in Foreign Affairs, Laurie Garrett, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Coming Plague, wrote about
"the catastrophe that the United States would face in a severe flu pandemic," with millions dead and unimaginable economic costs.
AR The signs were there for anyone with sense to see them.
Computers with Common Sense
We use common sense to make sense of the world. GOFAI (good old-fashioned artificial intelligence) researchers tried to translate common sense
into the language of logic. They had early successes, but their handcrafted approach didn't scale.
Deep learning with neural networks mimics the interconnected layers of neurons in biological brains and learns patterns without
requiring programmers to specify them in advance. Neural networks trained with copious amounts of data have revolutionized computer vision
and natural language processing. But they are notorious for their lapses in common sense.
Yejin Choi and her collaborators have united these approaches. Their research system COMET (common-sense transformers) extends
GOFAI reasoning with the latest advances in neural language modeling. COMET works by reimagining common-sense reasoning as a process of
generating plausible responses to novel input, rather than making valid deductions from a vast database.
Common sense is difficult and tedious to represent explicitly. Attempts to build a knowledge base either by hand or using
machine learning failed to crack the coverage problem.
The brittleness problem is that sharply defined relations within a knowledge base may allow valid reasoning as long as the
sharp edges are respected, but such systems fail to capture the natural ambiguities and associative overlaps in human common sense.
Choi and her colleagues used their Atomic (atlas of machine common sense) knowledge base with a neural network that processes
natural language by statistically smearing its representations across numerous parameters so as to accept noisy or ambiguous input. Their
COMET system aims to solve the coverage and brittleness problems.
Choi dreams of a neural network that learns from knowledge bases without human supervision.
AR We're making progress there.
2020 May 2
UK Seeks Access to EWRS
The UK government is seeking access to the EU pandemic warning system. An EU source says the UK is seeking "something akin to membership"
of the EU early warning and response system (EWRS), which is critical in coordinating a European response to the coronavirus: "There
was not much appetite from the UK at the beginning. That's been corrected .. Both sides want close cooperation."
AR Rejoin the EU, you Downing Street numpties!
Is the Universe Conscious?
Mathematicians have begun to formalize the integrated
information theory (IIT) of consciousness. IIT says the consciousness of a system arises from how information moves between its
subsystems and appears when information flow between subsystems is complex enough to integrate them.
In IIT, how well a system integrates information is called Φ. A system displays more consciousness when Φ is higher.
A group is conscious only when its Φ is bigger than that of any of its parts and bigger than that of any system of which it is a part.
In IIT, only the system with max Φ is conscious.
Consciousness is compromised by damage to the cerebral cortex. This region has a relatively small number of highly
interconnected neurons, and hence a high Φ. The cerebellum has more neurons, but they are less connected, so damage to the
cerebellum has less effect on consciousness.
IIT is unclear about the underlying math. To calculate a value of Φ for a system as complex as a brain,
IIT gives a recipe that is almost impossible to follow.
Scott Aaronson tried to compute Φ for a
This is a grid of numbers with interrelated values that can be used to build a
Reed−Solomon decoding circuit.
He found that a big enough Reed−Solomon circuit would have a high Φ and be more conscious than a human. He concluded that
IIT predicts vast amounts of consciousness in physical systems that no sane person would regard as conscious at all.
Johannes Kleiner and Sean Tull have developed a mathematical version of the IIT algorithm for Φ. They hope we can now
build improved models of consciousness.
Panpsychists say physical sparks of consciousness combine to generate higher levels of consciousness. They say we should
ask how the sparks combine to give rise to complex experiences.
IIT analyzes our experience in terms of what we perceive when certain brain regions become active and uses that to develop
constraints on its physical correlate. But the core ideas underlying IIT are compatible with panpsychism.
Our consciousness might be universal. Quantum theory says a quantum system can be in multiple states before we measure it.
Perhaps our consciousness collapses the universal wave function.
AR I say the spark of each qubit lights up for us when it entangles with our classical bit world.
2020 May 1
President Trump is angry. He is determined to pin the blame on China for falling US stock markets and lengthening dole queues.
Without China to blame, he would have to confront his own failings.
The pandemic may swing global leadership toward China. Trump America has retreated from the world, while Beijing
has undertaken a diplomatic and public relations war against Washington.
China used highly authoritarian measures to combat the pandemic. The United States played down the threat then found
its libertarian system ill equipped to face the public health challenge.
German foreign minister: "These are two extremes, neither of which can be a model for Europe."
AR Europe can do well in all this, with or without the UK.
Making a COVID-19 Vaccine
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is the biggest challenge to global health and prosperity since WW2. Companies and institutes worldwide are working on vaccines.
A vaccine could be available for use by early 2021.
A conventional vaccine injected into the body inserts select pieces of a virus in cells near the injection site. The immune system
recognizes parts of these antigens as threats and reacts by making antibodies that can stop a future infection.
The established approach is to grow weakened viruses and extract the desired pieces. That is too slow for today, so labs are turning
to genetically engineered vaccines. Information from the virus genome is used to create a DNA or RNA blueprint of select antigens, which is then
injected into human cells for use in making virus antigens.
The labs want to train human cells to make the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that binds to a human cell. There are three approaches to
deliver the spike blueprint:
1 A DNA plasmid is typically a hoop-shaped molecule containing the spike blueprint. DNA plasmid vaccines
work by transferring the blueprint to RNA in the cell machinery, which makes the spike antigens.
2 A blueprint is embedded directly in a strand of RNA to make RNA vaccines. Injected RNA vaccines may be
better than DNA plasmids at mobilizing the immune system, but they are less stable and need cold storage.
3 The blueprint is inserted into a common cold virus. When injected, this adenoviral vector infects human
cells and delivers the blueprint. Oxford University has begun a human trial with a nonreplicating adenovirus.
Extended trials of genetically engineered vaccines for the COVID-19 disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 might take years. Companies will
require enormous manufacturing capacity to protect everyone.
AR Mastering the challenge will define our decade.
NASA, ESA, N. Smith, STScI/AURA
"The eye of God" — one of the best Hubble pictures
⦿ Nobel Media
The Sound of the Universe
The New York Times
In 1916, Albert Einstein made a prediction he thought could never be proved. He proposed that the acceleration or collision of stellar masses,
such as black holes, would cause ripples that warp space and time. He called them gravitational waves. But he also supposed they would be
far too small to detect. How do you measure something invisible? Nearly five decades later, Einstein's unsolved mystery drove MIT physicist
Rai Weiss to hunt for answers.
Weiss co-founded an observatory to prove the unprovable. Years passed. Then in 2015, the LIGO team found that gravitational
waves exist and can be measured. The collaboration brought about one of the most important scientific breakthroughs in recent history.
The Chirp Heard Across the Universe
The New York Times, 2016-02-16
By coincidence, at about the same time that the LIGO discovery was announced, the House passed a bill requiring that National Science Foundation
grants be justified in the national interest. It is doubtful that LIGO would have survived such political meddling.
The chirp heard around the universe (0:12)
AR Support LIGO.
WW2 veteran Captain Tom Moore turns 100 today. During the war he served in a tank regiment in Burma. Today he is a national hero
after raising £30 million for NHS workers by walking 100 laps of his garden with his Zimmer frame in the weeks up to his birthday.
His day began with an RAF flypast of a Spitfire and a Hurricane, and 140,000 birthday cards for him are displayed in a school hall.
The Queen has approved his promotion to honorary Colonel of the Army Foundation college. And his recording of the song
You'll never walk alone with Michael Ball is number 1 in the charts.
AR Happy birthday, Tom.
⦿ Susanne Lencinas
The coronavirus crisis
is hitting Germany hard.
Ifo expects the German
economy to shrink 6.6%
this year. GDP shrank 1.9%
in Q1 and is expected to
shrink 12.2% in Q2. The
ifo Business Climate Index
crashed to 74.3 in April,
its lowest ever.
Scenes from my seaside
walk this morning
UK Cabinet Office
prepared a 600-page
warning HMG in 2019
to plan for a
World: ca. 200 000
US count: > 50 000
UK count: > 20 000
Germany: < 6 000
2020 April 30
US National Academy of Medicine president Victor Dzau has turned to an old friend in Europe, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen,
to help raise billions of dollars to boost global development and equitable distribution of fast and affordable testing, treatment, and vaccines
for Covid-19. A fundraiser is set to be hosted in Brussels on Monday.
Professor Dzau: "The initiative is to help all countries — including low-income countries — because the big focus is not
only how you accelerate the development of vaccines, treatment and diagnostics but how [you] have equitable distribution and access."
AR This is good news.
2020 April 29
The President's Daily Briefs
US intelligence agencies issued warnings about the new coronavirus in more than a dozen classified briefings prepared for President Trump in
January and February, when he played down the threat.
The repeated warnings were conveyed in the President's Daily Brief (PDB), a sensitive report issued before dawn each day to call
Trump's attention to global developments and security threats.
For weeks, the PDB traced the spread of Covid-19 around the globe, made clear that China was suppressing information about its
transmissibility and lethal toll, and flagged up the possibilities.
But the alarms failed to register with the president, who routinely skips reading the PDB and has at times shown little patience
for even the oral summary he takes two or three times per week.
AR Why am I not surprised?
Negotiations between the EU and the UK over future trade arrangements are at an impasse. Halted when the coronavirus epidemic started, the Brexit
talks were renewed a week ago but soon hit snags.
EU diplomat: "We are at an impasse. There are plenty of minor technical details where we could find solutions. But on the fundamental
goals each side is trying to achieve — the differences are enormous. Things cannot move without a political push. And it's missing."
Downing Street: "They are not taking into account the UK's status as an independent state. Clearly there will need to be political
movement on the EU's side to move negotiations forward, particularly on fisheries and level playing field issues in order to help find a balanced
EU diplomat: "Talks are not advancing and there seems little idea for the time being on how to get a breakthrough."
AR Why am I not surprised?
2020 April 28
2020: A Very Hot Year
This year is on course to be the hottest since measurements began. Meteorologists say there is a high chance that 2020 will break the
record set in 2016.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calculates a 75% chance that 2020 will be the hottest year since
measurements began, and is sure to be one of the top five.
The NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies calculates a 60% chance 2020 will set a record.
This January was the hottest on record. In February, a base in Antarctica recorded a temperature of more than 20 C for
the first time. A base in Greenland set an April record of 6 C on Sunday.
Oxford climate scientist Karsten Haustein: "The climate crisis continues unabated. The emissions will go down this year,
but the concentrations keep on rising. We are very unlikely to be able to notice any slowdown in the built-up of atmospheric GHG
levels. But we have the unique chance now to reconsider our choices and use the corona crisis as a catalyst for more sustainable
means of transport and energy production."
AR Use the crisis to reset the economy for sustainability.
The expected rate of cosmic expansion is based on measurements of the CMB from 12 Ts ABB. When we plug the data into the standard model of cosmic
evolution and run the model forward, we find the universe is expanding faster than predicted, with a discrepancy known as the Hubble tension.
The standard model incorporates all the familiar forms of matter and radiation and their interactions. It also includes dark
energy and dark matter, which together make up some 96% of the cosmos.
Perhaps dark matter decays into a lighter particle and a dark photon. As dark matter decays over time, its gravitation pull decreases
and cosmic expansion accelerates, relieving the Hubble tension. By varying the decay rate and the loss per decay, one can tune the model
to agree with observations.
Repulsive dark energy remains a mystery. The simplest idea is that it is the cosmological constant in the Einstein field equations.
Other ideas are that the density of dark energy oscillates, or rocks, while in others it rolls down from a high value to zero, in all cases going
to zero by 12 Ts ABB.
Any dark energy that changes with time is a tweak to the standard model with no clear justification. But similarly, cosmic
inflation was driven by a different kind of dark energy than what we see today.
In the standard model, all known forms of matter and radiation, plus dark matter and dark energy, are fed into the Einstein field
equations to predict how space expands as a result. Perhaps the Einstein equations need changing.
The coming years will bring new observational data on cosmic evolution.
AR A lot still up for grabs here — exciting.
2020 April 27
China did a lot of things right at the beginning. Some countries did respond very quickly and get their testing in place, and they avoided the
You would have expected the United States to do this well, but we did it particularly poorly.
This is the time to take the great science we have, the fact we're in this together, fix testing and treatments, get that vaccine,
and minimize the trillions of dollars and many other things that are awful about the situation we're in.
I think there's a lot of incorrect and unfair things said, but it's not yet time for that discussion.
AR China has competent people in power. America lets the Donald rule over betters like Bill.
2020 Misericordias Domini Sunday
China: Global Takeover
China may have overtaken America. China has a bigger share of global purchasing power, a better system of government, greater global popularity,
and a stronger economy. America is a plutocracy, enfeebled by greed, inequality, and political dysfunction. China is gaining the edge in
artificial intelligence, robotics, life sciences, and space technology.
The contrast between Donald Trump's bombastic "Make America Great Again" and the efficient stewardship of the Chinese Communist
Party's plan for "national rejuvenation" is glaring. In the last 30 years, the bottom half of the US population has experienced stagnant
wages, but China has enjoyed its most prosperous and stable years since 221 BCE.
Chinese diplomats used to project an image of China as a reliable and unthreatening partner. They now practice "wolf warrior
diplomacy" to reflect a changing balance of power.
Chinese−American relations are icy. US politicians are furious with China over the coronavirus. Corporate America is
bruised by decades of Chinese state-sponsored intellectual property theft, protectionist restrictions, and competition.
The Obama administration shied away from confrontation with China. The South China Sea has now been turned into a fortified
Chinese lake. Transgression could have been met with US countermeasures, but now it is too late.
China is not invincible, but the West is divided. We must try to rebuild an international order to channel China toward
cooperation rather than conflict.
AR Lucas should try appreciating the Chinese position more warmly. Beijing faces Trump America.
Brexit: Extend Transition
Before the current coronavirus crisis, I think it would have been possible to have a minimum agreement with the UK on the broad outlines to avoid
the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal, with more detailed negotiations then taking place afterwards.
I can't imagine now that this is possible, given the fact that all the EU countries, Brussels and London are so absorbed by the
pandemic — and this will go on. Given this situation, I don't believe that there is a realistic possibility any longer to even achieve
the necessary minimum. We have to extend.
The pandemic will cause more economic damage than we can now imagine. That you would wish to then add to this extraordinary
situation a disorderly exit — this is unimaginable to me. I think everyone will say this is not in the British interest or in the
interest of any of us.
AR Boris, see reason or step down. Your protest against the EU and all its appurtenances has been generously tolerated,
but most of us have no problem with the EU and just want to live our lives in peace.
Brexit: Extend Transition
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier says of the post-Brexit trade talks: "The objective that we had for tangible progress .. has only been
partially achieved. The United Kingdom did not want to engage seriously on a certain number of fundamental issues."
Downing Street: "The UK remains committed to a deal with a Free Trade Agreement at its core [but there are] significant differences
of principle in other areas."
The trade talks entered high gear in March but were suspended to focus on the pandemic. If no deal is reached by December 31,
WTO rules with high tariffs and customs barriers will come into force between the UK and the EU.
Boris Johnson insists on the current deadline. An extension would require the UK to obey EU rules and regulations.
AR BoJo is thick as a brick when he wants to be. He believes in the power of human will to defeat facts of all kinds.
Brexit: Extend Transition
The Brexit transition is set to expire on December 31, but the UK government only has until July to request an extension from the EU.
Former Brexit department chief civil servant Philip Rycroft: "It is simple common sense to ask for an extension of the
Downing Street: "We will not ask to extend and, if the EU asks, we will say no."
The UK and the EU start from a position of close alignment, but they will diverge. The UK needs time to prepare for the new
frictions, install customs procedures and staff, and replicate the regulatory agencies the UK is leaving.
The pandemic has given the case for delay even more force. The consequences of the coronavirus crisis will last into 2021
Former UK permanent representative in Brussels Ivan Rogers: "HMG is in reality forcing firms which are facing an existential
crisis over Covid-19 right now and for the next several months to prepare simultaneously for a no-deal exit at year end."
AR A BoJo with mojo would scrap Brexit altogether and take the Leaver flak.
2020 April 25
Trump Is Self-Destructing
Donald Trump is panicked that he'll lose to Joe Biden in November. His optimistic pronouncements about imminent deliverance from the current misery
are a bigger gamble than the many others he has taken. If he's wrong, there's no hiding it. If he's reckless, the toll is American lives.
Trump carries the secret weapon of his spectacular shamelessness. He's all the escape artists of history and fiction rolled into
one and swirled with golden-orange topping. He's lucky — but his luck will run out.
Trump is making a repellent fool of himself. He is a tone-deaf showman who regards everything, even a mountain of corpses,
as a stage.
AR If Trump were to win in November after all this, I'd smile at a US military coup.
Covid-19: US Miracle Cure
The leader of a US group peddling industrial bleach as a "miracle cure" for coronavirus wrote to Donald Trump earlier this week
to say chlorine dioxide was "a wonderful detox that can kill 99% of the pathogens in the body [and] rid the body of Covid-19."
Days later, Trump promoted the idea of using disinfectant as a treatment for the virus: "Knocks it out in a minute.
AR The Trump believers too! Perhaps this is the best cure for the Republican base.
Covid-19: UK Scientific Advice
Downing Street chief special adviser Dominic Cummings and the data scientist Ben Warner who worked with him on the Vote Leave campaign for
Brexit are on the secret scientific group advising HM government on the coronavirus pandemic.
Cummings and Warner were among the attendees at the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) meeting on March 23,
the day Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown.
SAGE met to discuss Covid-19 on January 22 and 28, then met 9 times in February and 10 times in March. Its membership and
its advice are official secrets. Several members say the secrecy risks straining public trust in the UK response to Covid-19.
SAGE members say the Downing Street advisers participate in discussions about the group's advice. Cummings is not a
scientist but reports to the prime minister.
Former chief scientific adviser Sir David King: "If you are giving science advice, your advice should be free of any
political bias. That is just so critically important."
AR Demonic Cunning will steer the ship of state into the fogbank of fear, where secret spin will calm the
critics as he shoots the Albatross.
"We are embarked now on a great voyage"
Boris Johnson, 2020-02-03
This country is leaving its chrysalis .. We are re-emerging after decades of hibernation as a campaigner for global free trade.
And .. when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go
beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government
somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles
and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to
buy and sell freely among each other.
We are embarked now on a great voyage .. championing global free trade.
AR Bozza will skipper the brig into the Corona Sea, where free trade will go viral and plague the crew with his
Albatross of shame.
Trump Ends Guam CBP
The United States Air Force (USAF) has ended its Continuous Bomber Presence (CBP) in the Western Pacific (WP).
US Strategic Command Major Kate Atanasoff: "The United States has transitioned to an approach that enables strategic bombers to
operate forward in the Indo-Pacific region from a broader array of overseas locations, when required, and with greater operational resilience,
while these bombers are permanently based in the United States."
USAF bombers in Guam were within short flying time of Pacific flashpoints. China developed the DF-26 IRBM in part to hit bases on
Guam, and North Korea tested the Hwasong-12 IRBM to contain Guam.
US President Trump on exercises in South Korea: "The war games are very expensive; we paid for a big majority of them, we fly in
bombers from Guam. That's a long time for these big massive planes to be flying to South Korea to practice and then drop bombs all over the
place and then go back to Guam. I know a lot about airplanes, it's very expensive."
AR Bombers on Guam and carriers in WP were sitting ducks. Better project US power with subs and SLIRM (cruise).
"We did it to ourselves"
UNF senior fellow Thomas Lovejoy: "This pandemic is the consequence of our persistent and excessive intrusion in nature and the vast illegal
wildlife trade .. it was just a matter of time before something like this was going to happen .. This is not nature's revenge; we did it
to ourselves. The solution is to have a much more respectful approach to nature, which includes dealing with climate change and all the
AR The pandemic will cost us $1 trillion in 2020, says WEF.
Hubble Space Telescope celebrates 30 years of viewing: big red nebula NGC 2014 and small blue nebula NGC 2020
in the Large Magellanic Cloud, 163 000 light years (1.54 Zm) away
In Trump We Trusted
"Thank God he's released
me from any responsibility
for what he's been doing ..
The only national emergency
is that our president
is an idiot."
If — how to be a
UK Body Count
Pandemic has already caused
41 000 deaths in UK, says FT
analysis of ONS data.
AR More than Luftwaffe
managed in 1940/41.
Earth: a fish-eye view
Namaste: learn it, do it
2020 April 24
The coronavirus pandemic pits all of humanity against the virus. The damage to health, wealth, and well-being has already been enormous.
This is like a world war, except in this case, we're all on the same side. Everyone can work together to learn about the disease and
develop tools to fight it. I see global innovation as the key to limiting the damage. This includes innovations in testing, treatments,
vaccines, and policies to limit the spread while minimizing the damage to economies and well-being.
AR Bill Gates for president.
At the turn of the century, corporations were assigned no responsibility other than to make as much money as possible. Then the economy collapsed.
Michael Jensen says markets are the only fair and rational way to apportion value in a society. He and other financial economists said
stockholders should drum into corporate managers that their jobs depended only on maximizing profits for stockholders. To encourage them, companies
should take on much more debt.
Jensen and his colleagues not only provided the intellectual justification for things like paying corporate officials in stock but
also invented the mathematics behind index funds that increased the number of people with a stake in bigger corporate profits. As Jensen wished,
corporations learned to abjure stability and love exotic forms of debt.
Dismantling the New Deal regulatory regime returned America to the days when corporate finance was characterized by prestidigitation
and skullduggery. The dismantling was underwritten by doctors of economic philosophy who said the flow of dollars was the most democratic way to
judge what was worthwhile in society.
The market for corporate control that Jensen had promoted led to fewer jobs. Those laid off were victims of the age of transaction.
After the economy collapsed in 2008, Jensen decided his theories had failed only because economic actors had not yet learned to act rationally.
Jensen said companies adhering to the ideas of Werner Erhard would perform better economically than companies that did not.
AR Werner Erhard offered EST training through the Forum, which I enjoyed in 1985.
2020 St George's Day
A Failed State
The coronavirus crisis demanded a swift and rational response. The United States reacted instead like a country with shoddy infrastructure
and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.
Donald Trump saw the crisis almost entirely in personal and political terms. He declared the coronavirus pandemic a war and
himself a wartime president. But like France in 1940, America in 2020 has stunned itself with a national collapse.
Trump came to power as the repudiation of the Republican establishment. He began to immolate what was left of national civic
life. He never even pretended to be president of the whole country. His main tool of governance was to lie.
Trump acquired a federal government crippled by years of ideological assault, politicization, and defunding. He set about
destroying the professional civil service. His main legislative achievement was one of the largest tax cuts in history.
The pandemic should have united Americans against a common threat. To be a target, you just have to be human. But years of
attacking government, squeezing it dry and draining its morale, inflicted a heavy cost that the public had to pay in lives.
All the programs defunded, stockpiles depleted, and plans scrapped meant that America has become a failed state. We can
learn from this that the alternative to solidarity is death. We should not forget what it was like to be alone.
AR Coronavirus is to the USA what Chernobyl was to the USSR.
UK and EU PPE Procurement
The UK government knew of the EU joint procurement of ventilators and PPE for medical staff and chose not to take part. British officials
attended four meetings of the EU health security committee when procurement was discussed but expressed no interest.
FOPUS Sir Simon McDonald told MPs this was a deliberate political decision but was forced to retract the claim as an
"inadvertent misunderstanding" five hours later. The question was discussed at COBRA meetings at the start of the pandemic without a
clear decision amid an "added dilemma" because of the politics of Brexit.
AR FOPUS = Foreign Office permanent undersecretary (a high mandarin)
UK: "It's all got to change"
It's all got to change. If we come out of this crisis with all the rickety, fly-blown, worm-eaten old structures still intact, the same vain
and indolent public schoolboys in charge, the same hedge fund managers stuffing their overloaded pockets with greasy fingers, our descendants
will not forgive us. Nor should they. We must burn out the old corruption and establish a better way of living together ..
Then we must educate our children properly .. The present dreary culture of mechanistic tests and meaningless league tables ..
should be swept away like filthy cobwebs; children need light and drama and music and poetry and science and art and curiosity and libraries
and plenty of grass to play on, and plenty of time to run about and fool around ..
If it turns out to be true that the government for Brexit-related reasons refused to take part in the procurement advantage
offered by EU governments, thus making it harder for the NHS to deal with the Covid-19 and placing thousands of people at risk, the entire
front bench .. should be arraigned on charges of conspiracy to murder ..
There are so many clear advantages to being in the EU, and the benefits of leaving are so tenuous and fanciful, that we must
revisit the referendum ..
There's so much more that needs to be done, but this is how I think we should start.
AR Philip, you should read my new book ALBION.
2020 Earth Day
Air, water, soil, and landscapes are vital to human health and wellbeing. Biodiversity, the incredible interconnectedness of life, which
we are rapidly destroying, holds insights and solutions that we have yet to discover. Its protection and sustainable management is vital
to our survival as a human species. It is increasingly clear that when we care for our planet we fundamentally care for ourselves.
US Coronavirus News
The New York Times
There are signs that the spread of the coronavirus is slowing across much of the United States. Testing is critical to allow a sustainable resumption
of economic activity. It permits the substitution of targeted quarantines for general shutdowns, it lets public health authorities identify people
who fall sick and those who have been exposed to the virus, and it lets people start returning safely to work, to school, to stores. The United
States still lacks the means to perform enough tests.
UK Coronavirus News
A new medical trial finds that coronavirus patients treated with the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine touted by President Trump are more likely to die
than those treated by conventional means.
The new but empty 4,000-bed NHS Nightingale hospital in London turns away 30 critical coronavirus patients from other packed London
wards because it lacks nurses. It has treated a total of 40 people since it opened on April 7.
A delayed RAF plane finally lands in Britain with half the PPE promised because it cannot carry the full load of 84 tons. Government
ministers ignored offers of 16 million masks in March.
UK health secretary Matt Hancock holds out no hope of an end to the lock-down as the death and infection charts stay obstinately high.
Boris Johnson agrees restrictions should stay.
Universal Basic Income Now
Ian Blackford MP et al.
We are urgently calling on the UK government to prepare for a recovery universal basic income in response to the coronavirus crisis. As the scale
and duration of the crisis becomes clear, it is essential that we take steps now to ensure that when we emerge from lockdown, we do so with a
fairer and more resilient society and economy.
We are likely to face a damaging recession, as well as ongoing economic insecurity, that will affect all of us. There will be more
economic shocks from financial, climate and pandemic crises over the coming years. Income protection is too inflexible a tool on an ongoing
basis and our current social security system is too cumbersome.
This is why we need to put in place plans for a recovery universal basic income — a regular cash payment to every individual.
The payments should be sufficient to provide economic security for people. This will provide an income floor nobody falls below and a
springboard to recovery.
AR This is the least the government can do for its citizens in a society where everything costs money. It has the
added benefit of allowing a great simplification of the benefits system.
2020 April 21
"You're on your own"
The New York Times
Weeks into the pandemic, not nearly enough is being done to protect US front-line workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has
taken a largely hands-off approach. Only last week did OSHA prioritize investigating health care facilities for complaints about coronavirus
safety procedures. OSHA: "OSHA does not have any jurisdiction on enforcing anything related to Covid-19 at this time."
AR Trump, do your job: Give OSHA teeth!
US Oil Price Dips Below $0
Benchmark US oil prices crashed into negative territory for the first time in history as the evaporation of demand caused by the coronavirus
pandemic leaves the world awash with oil and not enough storage capacity.
AR Do the climate a favor and leave it in the ground.
UK Health Stocks Run Low
As the number of NHS staff who have died of Covid-19 increases, a story emerges of initial underestimates of the volume of PPE needed, and the
difficulties of distributing it, plus reliance on a pandemic stockpile tailored to a flu outbreak. The result is a mismatch between public
assurances from government ministers and NHS leaders that PPE problems have been resolved, and the reality of insufficient kit on hospital
wards and in GP surgeries across the UK.
AR Blame Austerity, Brexit, Conservative cost-cutting.
We Need Lockdown
Rafaela von Bredow
If we want to prevent an inferno, we need to maintain the social lockdown.
A shutdown that has to be reinstated again and again whenever governments seek to relax it is a catastrophic scenario.
We would have to spend most of our time in isolation so as not to overwhelm the health system.
We are only at the beginning of the pandemic. The virus confronts the world with the unbearable dilemma of a life in lockdown
against the risk of letting the disease run free to kill millions of people.
Politicians expect answers from scientists. The sun is shining, and people are fed up with the shutdown. Science will provide
these answers, but it takes time. Politicians cannot order them to recommend easing.
The safe way to contain Covid 19 is a complete and total lockdown.
AR People: learn to live more humbly, patiently.
2020 April 20
We are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the meltdown of our economy. We must examine the foundations of American society and fight
for a fairer and more just nation.
The absurdity and cruelty of our health insurance system should now be apparent to all. As we move forward beyond the pandemic,
we need to guarantee health care to everyone.
Many in our country are now beginning to rethink the basic assumptions underlying the American value system. In a truly free
society, economic rights are human rights.
I will do everything in my power to help defeat the most dangerous president in modern American history. We need to articulate
a new direction for America.
AR He backs Joe Biden.
Americans have encouraged the growth of a financial sector that has repeatedly brewed up asset bubbles to support the spending that real economic
growth could not. The years 2009−2020 saw the creation of a vast asset price bubble in just about everything. That bubble is now bursting.
Like the decade leading up to 2008, the Roaring Twenties were marked by technological wonders, easy money, and massive income inequality.
All that ended in tears in 1929. The US personal savings rate rose to 28% during WW2, and federal spending rose to over 40% by the end of the 1940s.
Today, reshoring supply chains may benefit US industry and boost wages. But companies that survive the lockdown will replace as many workers
as they can with software, so unemployment will remain high. Public sector spending will also skyrocket, which will further hurt economic performance.
What the US government is doing now is not a Keynesian spending program but a bailout of everything. Perhaps some wise fiscal stimulus in
areas such as infrastructure will make some of that new debt load more productive. But the US economy will struggle to grow out of the hole.
Americans are going to have to save a lot more. Policymakers need to think about how to incentivize savings, the Fed will have explain
how it will shrink all that debt off its balance sheet, and everyone will have to think about thrift. Enter the new age of American austerity.
AR The 2020s won't be roaring.
2020 April 19
President Trump wants to reopen the US economy. Scientists and public health officials say three pillars need to be in place first:
1 Mass testing to identify those who are infected
2 Contact tracing to isolate other people who may have caught Covid-19 from them
2 Personal protective equipment (PPE) to shield frontline healthcare workers
Experts warn that with testing, tracing, and PPE in critically short supply, Americans are heading for a second massive failure of governance
under Trump. The consequences could be devastating.
AR Stop him.
L2R: Boris Johnson (Oxford, Classics), Dominic Cummings (Oxford, History), Michael Gove (Oxford, English), Dominic Raab (Oxford, Law)
AR (Oxford, PPE — Philosophy, Politics, and Economics): There is clearly a disastrous lack of PPE among the
Bonzes of Brexit.
"When we come out of this ..
we'll come out in full energy
and more appreciative,
more excited to be
out in the world."
⦿ Philippe Wojazer
German chancellor Merkel,
French president Macron
"We are at a moment of truth,
which is to decide whether
the European Union is a
political project or just
a market project."
Barack Obama endorses
Joe Biden as POTUS 46
"The President of the
United States calls
A British Coronavirus Disaster
The Sunday Times
December 31: China alerted the WHO that several cases of viral pneumonia had been recorded in Wuhan. The UK government sent tons of personal protective
equipment (PPE) to China in response to a cry for help. Boris Johnson was on vacation with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds in the Caribbean.
January 16: Edinburgh professor of global public health Devi Sridhar called for swift action to prepare for the virus. She had predicted
two years earlier that a virus might jump species from an animal in China and spread quickly to become a human pandemic.
January 17: An Imperial College London team led by Neil Ferguson produced a modelling assessment of the impact of the virus.
It said 3 cases of the virus had been discovered outside China and said there could already be as many as 4,000 cases: "The magnitude of these
numbers suggests substantial human-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out. Heightened surveillance, prompt information-sharing
and enhanced preparedness are recommended."
January 22: Chinese scientists warned that the virus had an infectivity rate of up to 3.0. This was high enough to force a lockdown.
The UK government convened the first meeting of its scientific advisory group for emergencies (SAGE) to discuss the virus. It is usually chaired by
the chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical adviser Professor Chris Whitty.
January 24: The UK government held a meeting of COBRA, its national crisis committee, normally chaired by the prime minister
and including cabinet ministers, intelligence chiefs, and military generals. Boris Johnson was not there. Health secretary Matt Hancock said the
risk was low. Johnson was in Downing Street, but he missed four further COBRA meetings on the virus.
Downing Street source: "There's no way you're at war if your PM isn't there. And what you learn about Boris was he didn't chair any
meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn't work weekends .. he didn't do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would
The UK was in a poor state of readiness for a pandemic. Emergency stockpiles of PPE had severely dwindled and gone out of date after
becoming a low priority in the years of austerity cuts. The training to prepare key workers for a pandemic was on hold for years while contingency
planning was diverted to deal with Brexit.
January 25: Whitty: "COBRA met today to discuss the situation in Wuhan, China. We have global experts monitoring the situation around
the clock and have a strong track record of managing new forms of infectious disease."
January 29: The first Covid-19 cases were found in the UK. The government raised the threat level from low to moderate.
January 30: The WHO declared the coronavirus a global emergency. UK scientific advisers said plans for a pandemic were robust. The
plans had once been a priority and were well funded up to 2010. But then austerity cuts struck. A 2016 pandemic exercise predicted the NHS would
collapse and highlighted a lack of PPE and ventilators. Its list of recommendations was never implemented.
Downing Street source: "If you were with senior NHS managers at all during the last two years, you were aware that their biggest fear,
their sweatiest nightmare, was a pandemic, because they weren't prepared for it."
The government failed to stockpile testing equipment. The source: "We should have communicated with every commercial testing laboratory
that might volunteer to become part of the government's testing regime, but that didn't happen."
The government failed to stockpile PPE for health and care workers. The pandemic plan was for the NHS to draw on "just in case"
stockpiles of PPE. But these had dwindled and become out of date. The idea was to fill the shortfall by activating "just in time" contracts.
But these were mostly with Chinese manufacturers.
February 13: Johnson left Downing Street for a 12-day vacation in the country with Symonds. He was secretly engaged to her. Relations
with his children were difficult. His divorce had to be finalised. He and his wife reached a settlement.
February 25: Johnson returned to London for a Conservative fundraising ball, where a donor pledged £60,000 for the privilege of
playing a game of tennis with him. By then, Johnson had missed five COBRA meetings on the preparations to combat the looming pandemic.
February 26: Ministers were warned that the UK faced catastrophe unless drastic action was taken: 27 million people infected,
220,000 intensive care beds needed, death toll 380,000, urgent need for a lockdown.
February 28: UK reported cases 19, stock markets plunging. Johnson summoned a TV reporter into Downing Street: "The issue of
coronavirus is something that is now the government's top priority." He spent the weekend at Chequers with Symonds, where the couple released
news of the engagement and their baby.
March 2: At a COBRA meeting with Johnson in the chair, a "battle plan" was signed off to contain, delay, and mitigate the spread of
the virus. But there was more delay as Johnson and his advisers debated what to do. Then Johnson fell sick with the virus.
April 17: Downing Street spokesman: "Our response has ensured that the NHS has been given all the support it needs to ensure everyone
requiring treatment has received it, as well as providing protection to businesses and reassurance to workers. The prime minister has been at the
helm of the response to this, providing leadership during this hugely challenging period for the whole nation."
2020 April 18
US: Premature Reopening?
White House coronavirus taskforce lead Mike Pence: "Our best scientists and health experts assess that today we have a sufficient amount of testing
to meet the requirements of a phase one reopening if state governors should choose to do that."
Donald Trump tweet: "The States have to step up their TESTING!" He also tweeted "LIBERATE" protests against lockdown measures in
three states led by Democratic governors.
AR Pence would be a better president than Trump.
UK: Science in Charge?
While UK PM Boris Johnson remains in convalescence, several cabinet members are increasingly concerned that the scientists are effectively in charge.
A minister: "Nobody is willing to take any political risk. We are in a holding pattern until Boris gets back."
AR UK deaths so far over 15,000, with thousands more in care homes.
Germany: Outbreak Under Control?
German health minister Jens Spahn says the month-long lockdown has brought the coronavirus outbreak under control in Germany. The infection rate has
dropped to 0.7, and since April 12, the number of recovered patients had been consistently higher than the number of new infections.
So far, fewer than 4,000 have died of Covid-19 in Germany. But the number is still rising, as is the number of infected health care
workers. Almost 134,000 people have been infected.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced tentative steps to start easing the lockdown. Some smaller shops will reopen next week, and
schools will start reopening in early May. Sports and leisure facilities, as well as cafes and restaurants, will remain closed indefinitely.
German diagnostic labs responded rapidly to the pandemic. By early April, it was doing more than 100,000 swab tests daily, enabling
more coronavirus carriers to be traced than in other EU countries.
German companies aim to produce 50 million face masks a week for healthcare workers by August. In Sachsen and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern,
wearing masks is compulsory on public transport and in shops.
AR Oh, to be in Deutschland, now that Covid's here.
2020 April 17
The Overton Window
The impact of the new coronavirus on our global civilization is only just beginning.
If Covid-19 were spreading across a stable and resilient world, its impact could be contained. But it is revealing structural faults
in our world that have been growing for decades. Economic inequalities, ecological destruction, and political corruption all lean on each other
and may collapse together.
The Overton window is the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time. During normal times,
only a limited range of ideas are considered. But in a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, ideas are discussed that were previously dismissed as
fanciful or unacceptable.
The triumph of neoliberalism has led to the greatest inequality in history. It has allowed the largest transnational corporations to
establish a stranglehold over other forms of organization. The relentless pursuit of profit and economic growth has propelled human civilization
toward a climate crisis that imperils our civilization.
Even if the climate crisis is somehow brought under control, continued economic growth will bring further existential threats. We
risk letting the same forces currently driving our world to crisis accelerate us toward global catastrophe.
Leaders around the world are taking advantage of the crisis to clamp down on individual liberties and move toward authoritarianism.
Increasing surveillance is undermining previously sacrosanct privacy rights. In a Fortress Earth scenario, big power blocs could eliminate many
freedoms and rights.
The Overton window is revealing new possibilities. Covid-19 has been more effective in slowing down climate breakdown and ecological
collapse than all other impulses combined. The emergency response initiated so rapidly by governments across the world has shown what is possible
in a crisis.
The neoliberal era has pursued globalization based on free market norms. The effects of Covid-19 could lead to an inversion of these
norms. Many people are rediscovering that they are far stronger as a community than as isolated individuals.
The neoliberal era was constructed on a myth of the selfish individual as the foundation for values. In fact, humans have prosocial
impulses that cause us to identify with something larger than our own individual needs. We must define the new era by extending fairness and
compassion to the global community and to all life.
The Covid-19 disaster is a great opportunity, a terrible thing to waste.
AR Exactly — see my next book.
2020 April 16
New data on the US economy revealed that the collapse in consumer demand, industrial activity, and confidence from coronavirus lockdowns
is deeper than feared. US industrial production showed the biggest monthly decline since WW2. Retail sales dropped by the most since
records began in 1992.
Evidence of a difference between neutrinos and antineutrinos could help explain why so much more matter than antimatter arose during the Big Bang.
The T2K team started seeing signs of a discrepancy in the behavior of neutrinos and antineutrinos in 2016. Their new data rises to the
3σ level (p < 0.003) of evidence. A result needs 5σ (p < 0.0000006) to count as a discovery.
Neutrinos spew from nuclear reactions in the sun and stars and stream through space in vast numbers. As neutrinos and antineutrinos
fly along, they oscillate between three flavors: electron (e), muon (μ), and tau (τ).
T2K scientists generate muon neutrinos νμ and antineutrinos
ν̄μ in Tokai and beam them 295 km to Kamioka. They look for neutrinos and antineutrinos that
have oscillated from νμ/ν̄μ into
νe/ν̄e during their journey. Their data shows neutrinos have a
higher probability of decaying than antineutrinos.
CP violation among neutrinos supports a theory about how matter came to dominate the universe early on. The theory involves the fact
that neutrinos are all left-handed (a neutrino shooting toward you spins clockwise), whereas antineutrinos are right-handed.
A seesaw theory says neutrinos and antineutrinos once had heavy counterparts with opposite chirality. These formed in the very early
universe and quickly decayed into lighter particles. But if they decayed asymmetrically, they could have produced the matter that makes us.
If this theory is true, any CP violation among light neutrinos and antineutrinos would likely be mirrored by their heavy counterparts.
The NOvA experiment is also measuring neutrino oscillations and finding hints of CP violation. But even the results of NOvA and T2K
combined do not reach 5σ. The future experiments DUNE and T2HK should nail it.
AR Physics — an endless source of good news.
In a parody of self-destructive nationalism, Donald Trump yesterday decided that an unprecedented global health emergency was the perfect time
to withdraw American funding from the organization whose job it is to fight global health emergencies. His decision to suspend contributions
to the WHO is an extraordinary act of moral abdication and international vandalism at a time when the world desperately needs to find means
of working together to combat an unprecedented global threat.
2020 April 15
Cut Funds for WHO?
President Trump has put US funding of the WHO on hold "to assess the World Health Organization's role in severely mismanaging and covering up
the spread of the coronavirus."
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres: "Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back
fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread .. But now is not that time .. It is also not the time to reduce the resources for
the operations of the [WHO] in the fight against the virus."
Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton: "Every scientist, every health worker, every citizen must resist and rebel against this
appalling betrayal of global solidarity."
AR Trump is angry that his beloved economy is ruined.
World Economy Collapsing
The global shutdown is much the biggest crisis the world has confronted since WW2 and the biggest economic disaster since the Depression.
As a baseline, the IMF suggests global output per head will contract by 4.2% this year, with a dip of 12% between Q4 2019 and
Q2 2020 in advanced economies and of 5% in other countries. If Q2 is the nadir, the IMF forecasts a 3% global contraction in 2020 and a
5.8% expansion in 2021.
The IMF offers three alternative scenarios:
1 Lockdowns 50% longer: 2020 global output 3% below baseline
2 Covid-19 back in 2021: 2021 global output 5% below baseline
3 Both: 2021 global output almost 8% below baseline
Things might get worse. Help with the health response and economic help are essential for poorer countries.
Trade must flow freely.
We must bring the disease under control. We must spend whatever it takes. We must help billions of people.
In a pandemic, no country is an island.
AR We need effective global coordination: GO
Coronavirus in the UK
The Office for Budget Responsibility warns the UK economy faces a 35% dip in output in Q2 2020 if a coronavirus lockdown remains in place for
3 months, and government borrowing rising by £218 billion to £273 billion in 2020-21, taking the deficit to 14% of GDP.
The Office for National Statistics reports 16 387 deaths for the w/e April 3. The number linked to Covid‑19 is 50%
is more than stated by the health department and includes deaths at home and in care homes. The ONS number excludes another 2112 Covid-19
earlier deaths registered later.
AR The UK must relent and rejoin the EU.
2020 April 14
Stephen M. Walt
President Donald Trump's response to the Covid-19 pandemic will end up costing Americans trillions of dollars and thousands of otherwise
preventable deaths. This epic policy failure will tarnish the US reputation as a country that knows how to do things effectively.
For over a century, US influence around the world rested on three pillars. The first was its awesome combination of economic
and military strength. The second was support from an array of allies. A third pillar is broad confidence in US competence.
The glowing reputation that Americans used to enjoy was built up over many decades. The United States was a place where
people knew how to set ambitious goals and bring them successfully to fruition. People around the world looked upon the United States
as a meritocratic, accomplished, and above all, competent country.
Trump's handling of the Covid-19 crisis has been an embarrassing debacle from the start. His long business career has shown
that he was more of a showman than a leader, better at conning people out of money and evading responsibility than at managing complex
business operations. His tawdry personal life offered equally clear warnings. Since taking office, Trump has perfected the art of the
lie, while gradually purging his administration of people with genuine expertise.
How could a serious country possibly choose as its leader a narcissistic, manifestly unqualified self-promoter with a long
track record of failure and deceit?
AR Democracy needs reinvention.
The EU and UK will return to the Brexit fray tomorrow. Michel Barnier and David Frost will fix dates for rounds of virtual negotiations
on the future partnership.
AR Let's call the whole thing off.
Freeman Dyson made a theoretical breakthrough in quantum electrodynamics. Julian Schwinger had developed a complicated theory that few understood.
Richard Feynman had posited a deceptively simple set of diagrams that described particle interactions. In 1948, Dyson united the two.
Nobel Prizes soon followed for Schwinger, Feynman, and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, who had independently found a third approach. Dyson
missed the boat.
Dyson then designed rockets driven by nuclear explosions. He imagined a Dyson sphere: An advanced civilization will try to capture
all the energy of its star by surrounding it with a spherical arrangement of orbiting structures.
Dyson was a contrarian on climate science.
AR He thought new biotech such as black trees would one day cool the Earth. He also imagined nanotech spacecraft blown
by solar wind.
Maks Viktor Antiquarian Books
"The English patient had caught it on the beach. 'I should have stayed home,' she said. Now she was in quarantine in the dark house
of splendid isolation. Still, hope springs eternal. With a little bit of luck, common sense, and personal hygiene, the corona book
of horror stories must end soon. Always remember, clean hands save lives, and when in doubt, don't go out!"
Personal protective equipment
is in short supply in the UK
US count: over 14 000
UK count: over 7 000
Germany: over 2 000
2020 April 13
The plan to reopen America has to start with responding effectively to the immediate medical crisis.
1 We have to get the number of new cases of the disease down.
2 We need widespread testing and a contact tracing strategy.
3 We have to make sure our health care system is ready for more.
Once we have taken these steps, we can begin to reopen more businesses and put more people back to work.
We need to be working right now on the conditions under which our economy will operate as America gets back to work.
If I were president, I would convene top experts from the private sector, industry by industry, to come up with new ideas.
The only complete solution is finding a vaccine.
We know what we have to do.
AR Joe for prez.
2020 Easter Sunday
The UK government faces calls for the urgent recall of parliament in virtual form as MPs and peers demand the right to hold ministers to account
over the escalating coronavirus crisis. The demands came from all sides as the death toll from Covid-19 in the UK approached 10 000. All
parliamentary business was suspended on 25 March due to fears that MPs would contract and spread Covid-19.
Sir Keir Starmer: "[There is] no substitute for parliamentary scrutiny [particularly] at this time of national crisis. The best
decisions are those that are challenged and subject to scrutiny. And by that process issues can be resolved, mistakes quickly rectified and
individual concerns addressed. That will help save lives and protect our country. But if parliament is not sitting or functioning effectively
that cannot happen."
AR Methinks Johnson has no enthusiasm for recall.
Boris Johnson, Saturday night: "I can't thank them enough. I owe them my life."
He was paying tribute to NHS staff, followed a few days when he was rushed to hospital, admitted to intensive care, given oxygen,
and released back on to the ward to recover from Covid-19.
Former Tory MP and journalist Paul Goodman, who worked with him at the Daily Telegraph:
"I remember he always seemed to regard being ill as a form of moral weakness."
AR Perhaps we can hope for a Damascene conversion.
The world economy looks dead, brought to an abrupt standstill by the Covid-19 pandemic. Countless businesses have been told to cease trading and
millions of workers have been told to stay at home. Central banks and finance ministries are injecting money by the trillion.
The economic consequences of this disaster cannot be offset by a monetary and fiscal splurge. US GDP is now less than 80% of its
level in Q4 2019. I expect a drop in GDP for Q1 2020 and a collapse in Q2. The coming year will see a depression. The resurrection will take
AR Ferguson sees downside but a reset will do us good.
Mail on Sunday
The Chinese laboratory at the center of scrutiny over the coronavirus pandemic used US government money to carry out research on bats from caves
in Yunnan. The Wuhan Institute of Virology undertook coronavirus experiments funded by a $3.7 million US government grant.
Covid-19 was first thought to have transferred to humans at an animal market in Wuhan but genome sequencing traced it back to bats
found in Yunnan. The revelation sparks fears that the lab may be the original outbreak source.
US pressure group White Coat Waste president Anthony Bellotti: "Animals infected with viruses or otherwise sickened and abused in
Chinese labs reportedly may be sold to wet markets for consumption once experiments are done."
The $37 million Wuhan Institute of Virology is based 30 km from the wildlife market thought to be the location of the original
transfer of the virus. Scientists there experimented on bats as part of a project funded by the US NIH.
Biosecurity expert Richard Ebright says Covid-19 may have from the Wuhan lab while it was being analyzed.
He suspects scientists there studied the viruses with only level 2 security, rather than the recommended level 4.
AR Did US funding lead to a lab outbreak?
Julio Vincent Gambuto
Gaslighting is defined as manipulation into doubting your own sanity. Pretty soon, as America begins to recover, powerful forces will try to
convince us all to get back to normal.
What the pandemic has shown us cannot be unseen. A carless Los Angeles has clear blue skies as pollution has simply stopped.
In a quiet New York, you can hear the birds chirp in the middle of Madison Avenue. Coyotes have been spotted on the Golden Gate Bridge.
These are images of what the world might be like if we let it.
We have also witnessed a health care system that cannot provide basic protective equipment for its frontline, businesses that
do not have enough cash to pay their rent or workers, a government that has left us without basic facts that can save their lives.
Americans are busy. We have goals to meet and meetings to attend and mortgages to pay. And when we get home, we relax just
enough to get up the next day and do it all over again.
Well, the treadmill just stopped. The Great Pause is the greatest gift ever unwrapped. The crisis has given us is a chance
to see ourselves and our country in the plainest of views.
We Americans will get hit by the greatest campaign ever created to get us to forget we ever saw an utter failure of
leadership and systems. We are about to be gaslit in a big way.
AR The Great Reboot can start now.
2020 April 11
The New York Times
In the past 3 weeks, roughly 10% of American workers filed for unemployment benefits.
Congress overwhelmed the Small Business Administration and erred in relying on banks to make loans.
European nations are fighting mass unemployment by paying companies to hold on to their employees.
American businesses and workers urgently need federal help.
On 20 March, Boris Johnson closed pubs, clubs, and restaurants: "We're taking away the ancient, inalienable right of free-born people of the United
Kingdom to go the pub. And ... I know how difficult this is, how it seems to go against the freedom-loving instincts of the British people."
English exceptionalism helped to shape his policy toward the Covid-19 crisis. It lies behind both the idea that there should be a
distinctive British response to this global challenge, and the assumption that there was something peculiarly unnatural in expecting Brits to
obey drastic restrictions.
Johnson on Churchill: "There is a sense in which his eccentricity and humour helped to express what Britain was fighting for —
what it was all about. With his ludicrous hats and rompers and cigars and excess alcohol, he contrived physically to represent the central idea
of his own political philosophy: the inalienable right of British people to live their lives in freedom, to do their own thing."
This innate resistance to conformity is a myth. This is obvious from the persistence of an equal and opposite cliché of
Englishness: the queue. Orderliness is just as prominent as waywardness in the English self-image. Neither of these truisms is worth a damn
in a time of plague.
Covid-19 is a global threat.
2020 Good Friday
The environmental changes wrought by the coronavirus are visible from space. As motorways cleared and factories closed, dirty brown pollution belts
shrank over cities and industrial centers within days. Huge falls in emissions are greatly improving air quality and reducing health risks.
The planet is expected to see its first fall in global emissions since the 2008 financial crisis. Oil is the biggest source of the
carbon emissions that are heating the planet and disrupting weather systems. The crisis could mark the beginning of the end for oil.
In America, oil company executives have lobbied President Trump for a bailout. His administration has rolled back fuel economy
standards for the car industry, the EPA has stopped enforcing environmental laws, three states have criminalized fossil fuel protesters, and
the government is giving a huge bailout to aviation companies.
If governments prime the economic pumps with the intention of a return to business as usual, environmental gains are likely to be
temporary or reversed.
Leaders and activists are pushing for an urgent public debate. Scientists ask governments to use recovery packages to shift in a
greener direction rather than going back to business as usual. If we neglect the planet, we put our own wellbeing at risk.
Whether this pandemic is good or bad for the environment depends on us. If there is no political pressure on governments, the
world will go back to business as usual rather than emerge with a new sense of what is normal.
AR Let us press.
2020 April 9
The United States is on trajectory to suffer badly from Covid-19. This is the fault of President Trump. His administration had dissolved the
NSC directorate responsible for coping with pandemics.
Trump at Davos, January 22: "We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China. We have it under control.
It's going to be just fine."
Senator Chris Murphy left a White House briefing on the coronavirus on February 5: "Bottom line: they aren't taking this
seriously enough. Notably, no request for ANY emergency funding, which is a big mistake."
On February 28, Trump accused the Democrats of politicizing the coronavirus as "their new hoax."
When financial markets crashed and schools, cities, and states closed, the overwhelmed president responded by shifting the blame
to others: "I don't take responsibility at all," he said on March 13.
The United States has utterly failed to lead. Responsibility falls upon Trump. This American catastrophe is on his hands and on
The New York Times
The European Union is ill suited for crisis. It is an alliance of sovereign countries, not a central government. Its executive branch,
the European Commission, can only seek cooperation, not order it. Public health is left entirely to national governments.
True leadership requires more. A virtual meeting of EU leaders intended to show unity and resolve turned into a debate
on whether to issue a coronabond to share the economic damage from Covid-19. The European Union must live up to its name.
2020 April 8
President Donald Trump set out Tuesday to look like a leader: "What we have is a plague, and we're seeing light at the end of the tunnel."
He instead put on a display of the habits that have defined his presidency:
✗ He sparked concern that he will prevent oversight of the $2 trillion rescue package by removing
an official responsible for overseeing it.
✗ He insisted he hadn't seen January memos by a top White House official warning about the pandemic
when he was dismissing the threat.
✗ He announced he was placing a "very powerful hold" on funding for the World Health Organization.
✗ He celebrated the "roaring success" of the business rescue package and credited his daughter Ivanka
with personally creating 15 million jobs.
✗ He lashed out at mail-in voting, making claims at odds with the facts, even though he recently cast
such a ballot himself to avoid infection.
Just another day of the Trump presidency.
Daily Mail, 0333 UTC
NHS England Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty admits that the UK should have acted earlier on mass testing. Germany started mass testing
of the population much sooner than Britain, and now its death toll is less than a third of UK's yet almost double the confirmed cases: The UK
has 6159 deaths from a total of 55 242 positive tests so far, Germany has 1800 deaths from 100 000 positive tests. Germans have tested
more than 50 000 people per day, Brits only 11 000.
European Research Council president Mauro Ferrari has resigned after failing to persuade Brussels to set up a scientific program to fight Covid-19:
"I have been extremely disappointed by the European response to Covid-19. I arrived at the ERC a fervent supporter of the EU [but] the Covid-19
crisis completely changed my views."
Professor Ferrari, an Italian-American pioneer of nanomedicine, said his rift with the European Commission started in early March:
"It became evident that the pandemic would be a tragedy ... I thought that at a time like this, the very best scientists in the world should
be provided with resources and opportunities to fight the pandemic."
The ERC Scientific Council rejected the idea, saying its remit is to fund bottom-up research proposed by scientists, not top-down
programs. Ferrari said this was no time to worry about distinctions between bottom-up versus top-down research. He plans now to set up an
international research initiative to fight Covid-19 from the USA.
Does Time Flow?
Nicolas Gisin sees the problem of time as mathematical. He says time and the present are easily expressed in intuitionist mathematics, which rejects
the existence of numbers with infinitely many digits. Intuitionist math describes the evolution of physical systems in terms of new information
created in time. Strict determinism gives way to unpredictability.
He says we must formulate laws of physics that cast the future as open and the present as real. This may bridge the conceptual divide
between the determinism of general relativity and the inherent randomness of quantum systems.
The deterministic picture of time in classical physics implicitly assumes the existence of infinite information. But information is
physical. It requires energy. Any volume of space has a finite information capacity. The block universe is impossible.
Intuitionist mathematics is constructed. Numbers must be constructible, their digits calculated or chosen or randomly determined one
at a time. Numbers are processes that become ever more exact as more digits reveal themselves in a choice sequence.
Intuitionism implies that the law of excluded middle is invalid. Statements about a number might be neither true nor false at a given
time, until a more exact value has revealed itself.
Consider a real number x near 0.5. Say the value of x is 0.4999, where further digits unfurl in a choice sequence.
If the sequence of 9s continue forever, x converges to exactly 0.5. But if at some future point a digit other than 9 crops up, then no
matter what happens after that, x < 0.5. Before then, we don't know. The law of the excluded middle fails for the statement
x = 0.5.
Moreover, the continuum cannot be cleanly divided into two parts, one for all x < 0.5 and one for all
x ≥ 0.5. If you try to cut the continuum in half, x will stick to the knife. The continuum is sticky.
Gisin sees a connection between the unspooling decimal digits of numbers in this mathematical framework and the physical notion of
time in the universe. Materializing digits correspond to the sequence of moments defining the present, when the uncertain future becomes concrete
reality. The lack of the law of excluded middle is like indeterminism about the future.
He used intuitionist math to formulate an alternative version of classical mechanics that casts events as indeterministic. Time is
a creative unfolding. He hopes to provide a common, indeterministic language for both classical and quantum physics.
In quantum mechanics, information can never be created or destroyed. Yet if the digits of numbers defining the state of the universe
grow over time, then new information is coming into being, created during a measurement process.
Infinity appears in quantum mechanics in the tail problem. An electron on the Moon has a super small probability of being also
detected on Earth. The tail of the function representing position becomes exponentially small but not zero. In intuitionist math, the electron
is on the Moon, and its chance of turning up on Earth is zero.
The intuitionist idea that we cannot cut the continuum in two is like our sense that the present is a substantive moment rather than
a point that cleanly cleaves past from future. The intuitionist continuum suggests that time is thick, in the same sense as honey is thick.
AR Wonderful. I spent my best student years on exactly these questions. But I failed to build a formalism that worked for
physics. Well done, Gisin.
Einstein in England
The Times Literary Supplement
In September 1933, Albert Einstein stayed in a holiday hut near Cromer in Norfolk. He had renounced his German citizenship
several months previously and fled mainland Europe. In 1927, Einstein said in Britain "my work has received greater recognition
than anywhere else in the world" and once declared: "I love this country." When he finally found a safe haven in America, he said
"the most civilised country of the day" was Britain. He said Britain had "always produced the best physicists" and kept portraits
of Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, and James Clerk Maxwell in his study in both Berlin and Princeton.
Over 1 300 000 diagnosed
Over 75 000 deaths
US count: over 10 000
UK count: over 5 000
Wer rechnen kann und ein
Zahlenverständnis hat, ist dem
Schwindel der Statistik nicht
wehrlos ausgesetzt. Das ist in
der Corona-Krise nützlich.
Sir Keir Starmer elected
as new Labour leader
2020 April 7
China reported 0 new Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday: The National Health Commission reported 32 new cases across China and 30 new
asymptomatic cases. Some restrictions in Wuhan will be lifted.
UK PM Boris Johnson was moved into intensive care Tuesday night after his condition worsened amid concerns that he may need a ventilator.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab will deputise for him.
2020 April 6
When the direness of this global health crisis began to be apparent, I was braced for the falsehoods and misinformation that are
Donald Trump's trademarks. I was girded for the incompetence that defines an administration with such contempt for proper procedure
and for true expertise. But what has taken me by surprise are the aloofness, arrogance, pettiness, meanness, narcissism, and solipsism
that flourish in him, even during an emergency that demands something nobler.
Boris Johnson spent the night in hospital due to continuing Covid-19 symptoms as a "precautionary step"
but is "in good spirits" and said to still be leading the government.
2020 April 5
UK: A Better Future
Under my leadership, the Labour Party will be a responsible opposition. I will fundamentally disagree with the prime minister.
But Labour can and must engage constructively with the government.
The coronavirus is a national emergency. The public is placing an enormous trust in the government at the moment.
It is vital that that trust is met with openness and transparency about its mistakes and the decisions that have been made:
1 We are far behind on testing. We must make sure the promise of 100,000 tests a day is delivered
and that these tests reach those who need them most, including frontline NHS staff.
2 Success requires the UK to have a comprehensive national vaccine program in place so that the minute
a vaccine becomes available we can begin to protect the entire population.
3 The government must listen to frontline NHS and care workers. We have heard too many stories of staff
unable to get the equipment they need to keep them safe or to care for patients.
4 We need an exit strategy. We should know what it is, when the restrictions might be lifted, and what
the plan is for economic recovery to protect those who have been hardest hit.
There will be many more difficult days ahead. We must build a fairer, more equal society. There can be no return to business
This crisis has highlighted the desperate fragility of the UK safety net and the unfairness of a broken system: from our
chronically underfunded NHS and care service to a woefully inadequate social security system and the lack of protection for self-employed
and small businesses.
Labour will make the argument for a better future. I promise to do my utmost.
Germany and Coronavirus
In the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, key policy areas, including health, fall under the jurisdiction of the 16 Länder.
German public health services are provided by about 400 public health offices, run by municipality and rural district administrations.
At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, Angela Merkel could only make recommendations that the federal states were free to
implement or ignore. Yet Germany is now being held up as the model to be emulated for its high rates of testing.
Around 250 laboratories are carrying out 300 000−500 000 tests for Covid-19 every week, largely autonomously.
Some started offering tests long before health insurers offered to pay for them, giving Germany a head start.
AR The NHS is far too centralized.
2020 April 4
A Crisis Like No Other
The coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns imposed by governments on both sides of the Atlantic have pushed the global economy into the sharpest
downturn since the Great Depression. IMF head Kristalina Georgieva: "This is a crisis like no other. Never in the history of the IMF we
have witnessed the world economy coming to a standstill. It is way worse than the global financial crisis."
Coronavirus in America
On March 6, Imperial College London epidemiologists gave a White House briefing. They said if nothing was done to halt the spread of Covid-19,
within weeks it would infect 81% of the US population and kill 2.2 million Americans.
On the same day, President Trump toured the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
offices in Atlanta. On the epidemic: "All I say is: Be calm."
On March 31, he said America was in for a "very, very painful two weeks" and should be prepared "for the hard days that lie ahead".
This is the worst public health disaster in America in a century.
AR Obama would have handled it better.
A Turning Point in History
The crisis through which we are living is a turning point in history. Globalization has peaked. The task ahead is to build economies and societies that
improve on the anarchy of the global market.
The virus has exposed fatal weaknesses in the economic system of liberal capitalism. When the economy restarts, it will be in a world
where governments act to curb the global market. Economic expansion can only worsen climate change and turn the planet into a garbage dump.
The most successful responses to the epidemic thus far have been in Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore. China has responded to the
pandemic by expanding the surveillance state and introducing stronger political control.
The EU has responded to the crisis by revealing its essential weakness. If it survives, it may be as something like the Holy Roman
Empire in its later years. Russia supplies natural gas to EU states and can use energy as a political weapon.
In Trump America, with an all-time high jobless rate, a decentralized system of government, a ruinously expensive healthcare system
that leaves millions uncovered, a colossal prison population, and cities filled with homeless people, curtailing the shutdown could mean the virus
spreading uncontrollably, with devastating effects.
The US position in the world has changed irreversibly. The global order set in place at the end of WW2 is fast unraveling. The virus
has hastened a process of disintegration that has been under way for many years.
What we call an apocalypse is the normal course of history. Covid-19 shows that humans are still part of the biosphere. Technology
will help us adapt, but the virus shows progress is reversible.
AR True so far, imho.
Chinese national flag, Tiananmen Square, Beijing
European economic activity
crashes: The EZ composite
PMI index of services and
manufacturing fell from
51.6 in February to 29.7
in March, its lowest ever.
The UK index fell from
53.2 to 34.5.
THE STANDARD MODEL
WHO Health System
Inside Luftwaffe medevac
2020 April 3
Coronavirus and Democracy
Karolina Wigura, Jarosław Kuisz
Closing national borders during the pandemic may have been a rational health response, but the longer-term political consequences are troubling.
Italy closed its borders on 10 March, when the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases had already exceeded 10 000. Over the next five days,
Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary closed their borders one after the other, even though by that time in any of them the number of
confirmed cases had not reached 100.
Suspending free movement is understandable. Leaders naturally wanted to act quickly to avoid an Italian scenario in their lands. But
the way the Schengen provisions were suspended in central and eastern Europe is telling.
For decades, the states in central and eastern Europe suffered cyclical collapse, loss of sovereignty, and existential threat from
totalitarian systems. They chose to join NATO and the EU to guarantee their safety and stability.
The brain drain of doctors has damaged many healthcare systems in the region. Closing the borders has led to relief in the pandemic.
Authoritarian populists already see the emergency as a win for the nation-state over a helpless EU.
In Hungary, Viktor Orbán has been allowed to rule by decree during this state of emergency without any clear time limit and with
special measures include jail terms for spreading misinformation.
In Poland, the government changed the electoral law overnight to let presidential elections go ahead in May, hoping the only candidate
able to run a campaign is current president Andrzej Duda.
A quarantine that lasts for weeks or months will only consolidate the illiberal order.
Particle Mass Puzzle
Three progressively heavier copies of each type of matter particle exist, and no one knows why. A new paper by Steven Weinberg takes a stab at
explaining the pattern.
Electrons and two types of quarks, dubbed up and down, mix in various ways to produce every atom in existence.
But this family of matter particles is only the first of three generations of particles, each heavier than the last. The second-
and third-generation particles transform quickly into their lighter counterparts, but they otherwise behave identically.
The Standard Model does not predict why each particle has the mass that it does. The electron mass is 0.5 MeV, the muon mass is 105 MeV,
and the tau particle mass is 1776 MeV. Similarly, the up and down quarks in the first generation are lightweights, the charm and strange quarks in
the second quark generation are middleweights, and the top and bottom quarks in the third generation are heavy, with the top at 173 GeV.
The third-generation particles all weigh thousands of MeV, second-generation particles weigh roughly hundreds of MeV, and
first-generation particles come in at around an MeV each. As you go each level down, they get much lighter.
In the Standard Model, the mass of each particle corresponds to how much it feels the Higgs field. Top quarks are heavy because they
feel drag as they move through the Higgs field, but electrons fly through it. How each particle feels the field is an intrinsic attribute of the
The top quark mass happens to be roughly the same as the average energy of the Higgs field, so we can guess that only the top quark
moves through the field in the standard way.
The other particles feel the Higgs field indirectly. Quantum uncertainty lets particles materialize for brief moments. These form
clouds of virtual particles around real ones. Virtual top quarks crowding around a muon could make it feel the Higgs field by means of a mutual
interaction with some new particle. But because the exposure is indirect, the muon stays much lighter than the top.
A second round of this game of quantum relay makes the electron lighter again, explaining the rough generational spacing of thousands,
hundreds, and a few MeV of mass.
Weinberg considers a variety of ways this relay game could work. He says the entire third generation of matter particles can feel the
Higgs field. Mass trickles down to the second and first generations via interactions with virtual particles.
The proposal is only a rough sketch, but it may spark new ideas.
AR A plausible hint.
2020 April 2
1M Cases Worldwide, 5K Deaths in US
More than 5,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
About a million people are infected worldwide.
Nature and Markets
Thomas L. Friedman
The coronavirus spread in America because President Trump looked at the problem through the lens of the markets first and the science of
natural systems second.
Nature was not impressed by Trump or his markets. Nature is just chemistry, biology, and physics. Do not mess with Nature.
But that is exactly what Trump did initially with the coronavirus and is trying to do still with climate change.
As we do battle with the coronavirus, it is vital that we keep in mind just how much more destructive climate change could
be for all of us. Climate change doesn't peak and then flatten out so normal life resumes. When the ice melts, it's gone forever.
The first rule of scientists for climate change mitigation is also the first rule for public health officials of Covid-19
mitigation: Manage the unavoidable so that you can avoid the unmanageable.
Germany 100K: Britain 8K
Disgracefully, that's how many tests each country does a day. The reason for the difference? Efficient Teutonic planning and a ruthless
determination to work together.
AR Breaking news: Matt Hancock sets 100K goal for UK.
Coronavirus and Brexit
Covid-19 has halted Brexit negotiations and infected the lead negotiators. All Whitehall capacity is being spent on the immediate crisis.
Covid-19 has already ravaged conservative orthodoxy. Fiscal discipline is gone. A few more weeks of lockdown and Brexit hardliners
might be persuaded to rubber-stamp a second year of transition.
Boris Johnson was elected to get Brexit done. If there is one person in Britain capable of serving hard Brexiteers something
softer while claiming the taste is the same, Johnson is that man.
Coronavirus makes Brexit look small.
2020 April 1
UN: Worst Crisis Since WW2
The New York Times, 1511 UTC
The S&P 500 fell nearly 4% in early trading, extending its losses from March (12.5% drop, the worst month for stocks since 2008). Harvard economist
Kenneth S. Rogoff: "This is already shaping up as the deepest dive on record for the global economy for over 100 years. I feel like the 2008
financial crisis was just a dry run for this."
White House charts show death projections of 100,000−240,000 Americans even if the US abides by stringent social restrictions
that choke the economy and impoverish millions. President Trump: "I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead."
Quantum mechanics is silent about how system states collapse from probabilities to certainties. But recent experiments have let us see collapse as it
happens. The results could lead to a new theory of quantum measurement.
The Schrödinger equation describes a wave function that lets you calculate the odds on which of the various possible properties
you get if you measure a quantum object.
John von Neumann said the wave function collapses when that the selection of a single outcome on measurement from all the possibilities
happens randomly and instantaneously, with odds predicted from the Schrödinger equation. He said so as a way of getting unique results.
A recent experiment to probe quantum measurement relies on quantum trajectory theory (QTT). Nothing in QTT deviates from regular quantum
mechanics, but it can describe the way quantum objects interact with their environment, via decoherence, and get jostled by the environment in return
A team used superconducting qubits to build an artificial atom and watch it jumping from one energy state to another. They used microwaves
to excite their atom, then watched it emit microwave photons as it returned to its ground state.
The atom kept jumping to the excited state and then, under the influence of the back-action caused by probing it, falling back down again.
It only stuck in the excited state when a true quantum jump occurred. The team tracked this jiggling back and forth.
The team saw a quantum jump unfolding over time. The jumps occurred at random moments, but there was a precursor signal when one was
imminent: the jiggling caused by quantum back-action became unusually quiescent. Given this advance warning, the team fired microwaves at the qubits
to catch and reversed the jump as it was taking place.
The quantum jumps experiment was monitoring the collapse. As the artificial atom was continually driven toward an excited state,
measurement kept collapsing it to the ground state. The result shows collapse is a physical process that can be seen as it unfolds.
The work even raises the prospect of avoiding collapse altogether while making a measurement. This would mean controlling the interactions
of a quantum entity with the environment so carefully that there is negligible back-action and minimal disturbance. The measurement would probe the
system at the Heisenberg limit.
The notion of wave function collapse is a crude way of talking about the change that occurs when a quantum system gets entangled with its
A team performed an ideal kind of quantum measurement that doesn't destroy the quantum state but shifts it to another state that can be
measured again. Superpositions are normally destroyed by measurement, but they can survive such an ideal measurement. The team saw a gradual change
in state rather than an abrupt collapse.
The challenge now is to build a theory of quantum measurement.
AR A big challenge.