Andy Ross 2017-11-20
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BLOG 2017

Atlas does backflip

SpotMini — a dog?


Stop Brexit

Leonardo da Vinci
Salvator Mundi

First Space Nation

Russian Sukhoi fighter jets

The pound fell:
£1 = $1.31
€1 = £0.89

Airship on Venus


"Europe must be white"
Demo in Poland


"Anarchy in the UK has come
about because Brexit has
split the country. There is
no definite will of the people,
just different peoples who
refuse to acknowledge
each other's reality."
Suzanne Moore


2017 November 20

Germany — Jamaika Talks Fail

Die Welt

Three scenarios:
Groko (CDU—SPD form new coalition)
Minority government (CDU goes it alone)
New elections (Angela Merkel out?)

Germany — Taboo Theme

Timothy Garton Ash

Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) leaders denounce Angela Merkel for opening German frontiers in September 2015 to massed refugees. The AfD scores best in the territory of the former German Democratic Republic. There is a striking inverse correlation between the number of immigrants (or people of migrant origin) in an area and the populist vote.

The collective psychology of this East German vote includes the poisonous legacy of a society behind the Berlin Wall that was anything but open and multicultural. They see Muslim foreigners welcomed in Germany with open arms and getting everything for nothing. The knowledge that everything includes generous welfare provisions only sharpens the resentment.

Germany as a whole is doing well economically. The AfD gathers the discontented from every walk of life, but those who predominate in its ranks are men of the educated upper middle class. This distinguishes German populism from many other populisms.

Götz Kubitschek played a big part in the development of the AfD. He helped promote the party career of Björn Höcke, whose plangent rhetoric of cultural pessimism and völkisch nationalism would have been entirely at home in the Weimar Republic. Höcke once said that for the first time in a thousand years the question arises of the end of Germany.

Kubitschek published a book by Rolf Peter Sieferle called Finis Germania. On July 20, 2017, the Spiegel nonfiction best-seller list on Amazon left a gap in sixth place, until the following books were silently lifted up a place. The real number six was Finis Germania. The Spiegel editors had censored their list — but the effect of their decision was that even more people bought the book.

Sieferle said Germany had frozen its Nazi past, and Auschwitz, into a myth or a state religion in which the Germans are forever the negative chosen people and the Jews the positive chosen people. Subjecting Sieferle to the taboo treatment supports his contention that his theme is beyond the realm of rational debate.

2017 World Toilet Day


BBC News

Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe sacked from party, resigning from office.


Ethan Siegel

Our universe is a bubble in a cosmic ocean. Beyond what we can see is more of everything, for more light years than we can count. Innumerably many universes like ours   pop up in the ocean. These universes expand, but the ocean expands far more quickly, driving them apart from each other.

The farther away in space we look, the farther back in time we look too. At the limit, beyond the first stars, all we can see is the leftover glow from the big bang. This is our bubble universe.

Before the big bang that blew our bubble, cosmic inflation expanded the ocean exponentially. The oceanic quantum field decays from an unstable high-energy state to a stable low-energy state. The decay creates big bangs and bubble universes of all possible kinds.

Eternal inflation forms separate bubbles endlessly in an infinite ocean. The whole bubble bath is the multiverse.


Katia Moskvitch

The center of our Milky Way produces much more gamma radiation than we expected. Highly energetic gamma rays appear to be coming from all across the galactic plane — and more antimatter streams through the galaxy than we expected. Recent studies suggest pulsars can explain these anomalies.

Researchers divided the region of the sky covering the galactic center into numerous pixels and measured the gamma ray fluctuations in each pixel. The variations suggest the signals come from many point sources.

It seems the abundance of positrons in the galaxy may also be due to pulsars. Pulsars generate huge magnetic fields that spin along with them and generate electric fields that pull electrons into space and accelerate them. As the electrons spiral out, they emit gamma rays. Some of this radiation is energetic enough to create pairs of electrons and positrons.

Two nearby pulsars, Geminga and Monogem, emit not only gamma rays directly but also highly energetic gamma rays that appear to form halos around them. Throughout this halo, electrons coming from the pulsar collide with photons from ambient starlight and transfer huge amounts of energy to them. Geminga converts 8%—27% of its energy to electrons and positrons. Monogem converts twice as much.

Pulsars produce a tremendous amount of antimatter within our galaxy.

2017 November 18

Brexit — Transition To Tyranny

George Monbiot

Brexit means abandoning an association based on equal standing and exposing ourselves to coercion by other nations. Our relationship with the United States is likely to look like that of servant and master. We will remove ourselves from a regime in which we have full rights and full representation, and enter one in which we have little of either.

In the UK, almost every cultural reference point is poorly defined, weak and contested. British public services have all been gutted, disciplined and undermined by those who assert their patriotism.

When the enabling state is allowed to wither, what remains is the authoritarian state. As the enabling state shrinks, the flags must be unfurled, the national anthem played, schoolchildren taught their kings and queens, and elaborate pieties offered to dead soldiers. National pride becomes toxic.

AR This is the Britizen Jon scenario.

Stop Brexit

George Eaton

Lord Adonis: "What was clear from my meetings in Brussels is that they desperately want us to stay. I didn't meet a single person who thought that the EU would be better off without us."

Michael Heseltine: "I simply can't contemplate with equanimity the idea of the president of the United States, the prime minister of India, the president of China, flying into Berlin, Paris, to discuss major international events hosted by the European Union, with Britain waiting to be told what the communiqué says. It is about influence and power and top tables."

Peter Mandelson: "To compete with the EU, we will be led inexorably down the path of a less taxed, less regulated business environment. The economy may be more globalised, in reality more American, but the public will become less protected."

Emmanuel Macron: "The door, of course, is still open as long as Brexit negotiations have not been concluded."

Donald Tusk: "It is in fact up to London how this will end, with a good deal, no deal or no Brexit."

Stop Brexit
1 Revoke Article 50
2 Extend negotiations
3 Vote in parliament
4 Hold general election or second referendum

2017 November 17

Saudi Arabia Versus Iran

Emile Hokayem

Saudi Arabia has found a new purpose in recent years — to check Iranian influence. The ruthless ambition of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman radiates across the Mideast. Saudi foreign and security policy has gone into overdrive:

Saudi intervention in Yemen has been costly and inconclusive. It could lead to the transformation of the Houthi movement into something akin to Hezbollah — but much closer to Saudi borders.

The Saudi blockade of Qatar has been more successful. The effort to tame that country has worked and the crisis has now been put on the back burner of international diplomacy.

The latest Saudi venture in Lebanon is also likely to backfire. The forced resignation as prime minister and probable house arrest of Saad Hariri plays into the hands of Iran and Hezbollah.

The Mideast balance of power is determined in Syria and Iraq, where Iran is well ahead. Iran has shown that it will be there for its friends and allies in good and bad times. Saudi Arabia has not.

Brexit — Shipwreck

Martin Wolf

British politics is close to meltdown. The UK economy suffers from deep weaknesses. Brexit is likely to expose them.

The aftermath of the financial crisis has been devastating. A generational divide has opened up and the UK economy is the most regionally divided in Europe. GDP per head has only regained pre-crisis levels in London and the southeast.

UK employment looks good but part-time employment is relatively high and various categories of insecure work have greatly increased. Pay at the top has exploded: 30 years ago, company chief executives were paid on average about 20 times the salary of the average worker. The ratio is now about 150 times.

UK productivity per hours worked is among the lowest for high-income countries and has flatlined since the crisis. UK investment is weak by the standards of comparable countries and has tended to fall as a share of GDP for three decades.

This is not a vigorous and healthy economy. It is absurd to suggest otherwise. Beware a shipwreck.

AR Shipwreck is the metaphor in Britizen Jon.

SAP HANA and Hibernate

Daniel Schneiss

Since SAP was founded in 1972, developers have been at the heart of our success. SAP believes openness is a fundamental requirement to attract and engage with developers. Open source frameworks play a crucial role in accelerating innovation.

SAP supports open source foundations and initiatives including Apache, Eclipse, Node.js, OpenStack, Cloud Foundry — and now Hibernate, a suite of open source projects from Red Hat that provide simplified data persistence for relational databases and domain models. The flagship Hibernate project is its object/relational mapping framework for Java developers.

Gartner recently recognized SAP as a leader in the magic quadrant for operational data management systems.

AR Schneiss and I were colleagues in the SAP HANA team.

Work and Play

Zat Rana

Zen master Alan Watts taught us to experience things as they are here and now.

Watts: "You are involved by and large in a very strange business system which divides your day into work and play. Work is something that everybody does and you get paid to do it because .. it is so abominable and boring .. And the object of making money is to .. buy pleasure."

The concept of sacrificing time for money is a cultural construct. Choice is essential for humans to feel motivated and in control, and our calling certain commitments work strips choice away.

Humans are playful by nature. We consider play enjoyable. We choose to focus our attention on it, we strive to get the most out of it, and if we do it well, we get lost in a world of joy and awe.

Alan Watts said we forget that the boundary between work and play is illusory. Nothing in the world is inherently interesting. Things are interesting because we make them interesting.

There is no reason not to enjoy work. It need not be the opposite of play.

2017 November 16

Masters of the Universe

Martin Wolf

Eight of the world's most highly valued companies are technology businesses. Their combined market capitalisation is $4.7 trillion, 30% of the combined market cap of all the rest in the world's 100 most valuable firms. The top 5 (Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook) are US companies, together worth over $3.3 trillion.

The most highly valued European tech company is SAP, with a market cap of $135 billion, placed 60 in the top 100. Apple has a book value of $134 billion but a market valuation close to $900 billion. The difference reflects an expectation of enduring monopoly profits resulting from innovation and economies of scale.

Apple has total assets of $375 billion but fixed assets of $34 billion. The company sees no profitable way to invest its huge profits in its business. It is now an investment fund attached to an innovation machine. A lower corporate tax rate will not raise its investment. Territorial taxes are defective in taxing global technology companies.

Media are vital to a free and democratic society. Google and Facebook are expected to earn 63% of all US digital advertising revenue in 2017. We consumers have elected the tech titans masters of the universe.

Ross 128 b — Earth 2.0?

Stuart Clark

Ross 128 b, just 11 light years away, is roughly Earth-sized and orbits its parent star once every 9.9 days. Its surface temperature could lie somewhere between –60 and 20 C, making it temperate and a possible home for life. It has about 1.35 times Earth mass, hence stronger gravity.

The closest Earth-like world to us is Proxima Centauri b, discovered in 2016, which is 4.24 light years away. But Ross 128 b may have an advantage for habitability, as Proxima Centauri is an active star that emits torrents of UV and X-rays, whereas Ross 128 is a quiescent red dwarf.

Ross 128 b was found by with the ESO instrument HARPS. The ESO European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) opening in 2024 will provide images 16 times sharper than the HST. It will let us analyze light from Ross 128 b for oxygen in its atmosphere — an indicator for life.

2017 November 15

Nuclear Weapons

Uri Friedman

Beatrice Fihn leads the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017. Her big idea is to treat nuclear weapons not as a power tool for world peace but as weapons of mass destruction along with biological weapons and chemical weapons.

Nuclear weapons are often mentioned in terms that obscure the ugly reality. When President Trump refers to the "full range" of US military capabilities, he means nukes. He does not say he is ready to use a weapon of mass destruction to indiscriminately kill civilians, irradiate survivors, and so on.

Fihn wants to reframe the debate and set a clear norm that nuclear weapons are unacceptable. She says the tensions between the United States and North Korea remind us that a nuclear war can happen as long as the weapons exist. Any nuclear war will cause appalling casualties.


Roger Boyes

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was born in 1949 to oppose the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union died in 1991, no one tackled the big questions about its ongoing purpose.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, the presidents of Turkey and Russia, are working together. NATO member Turkey plans to spend $2 billion on a Russian-made S-400 missile system.

NATO Article 5, the clause promising armed solidarity, was activated after 9/11. Since then only Turkey has sought to invoke it, in 2012, when Ankara tried to draw NATO into the Syrian conflict.

NATO must tell Erdogan to respect the contours of alliance policy. If he wants to subvert NATO in the Mideast, the alliance can live without him. Erdogan can either leave NATO or try to be a loyal ally.

Putin poses a threat. We should take seriously his fear of encirclement, end the process of NATO enlargement, and resist Russian attempts to drive America and Europe apart.

UK Defence Cuts

The Times

Former JFC commander General Sir Richard Barrons says UK armed forces are on the brink of failure unless the government allocates an additional £2 billion a year.

He says the British army is 20 years out of date. It needs a whole new fleet of armoured vehicles, new wheeled vehicles, more air defences and drones, and better cyber capabilities.

Former Royal Navy head Admiral Sir George Zambellas says the navy is institutionally underfunded and insufficient to tackle the threat from Russian submarine activity off the British coast.

AR Dump Trident and let the rest of the armed forces flourish. Strategic nukes add little to UK security and serve mainly to give the British brand a bit more bling.

2017 November 14

The Future of Europe

Lionel Barber

The Financial Times is launching a new project to brainstorm about the future of Europe. Professors at six universities across Europe asked their students to write essays on the following questions:

Should the next frontier for Europe be deeper integration or more power to nation states?
Would it be wise to reconsider the four founding freedoms in the EU treaties?
Is it time to concentrate on EZ priorities rather than the broader EU27?
To what extent is German leadership of Europe desirable or necessary?

The Four Freedoms
Wolfgang Münchau

The European Union is based on freedom of movement for goods, services, capital, and people. The four freedoms are to the EU what golf is to a golf club.

There is a logic behind the unity of the four freedoms. One can divide the four freedoms into two categories: economic outputs — goods and services, and economic inputs — labor and capital. The logic is based on political reasoning.

UK prime minister Theresa May's infamous "citizens of nowhere" remark reveals the Brexit mentality. In the EU you are always a citizen of your home state and of the union itself, no matter where you live. You are European.

A Europe of variable geometry will not be one in which member states opt in and out of the four freedoms. All member states will accept them. Any new EU-UK association agreement would need to accept freedom of movement.


UK prime minister Theresa May needs help to push Brussels for a breakthrough in Brexit talks. EU leaders fear she may not survive to deliver on promises made during Brexit negotiations.

Brexit secretary David Davis says the government will let MPs vote for the Brexit deal on offer or for no deal.

Drones Over Venus

Brandon Weigel

Drones would work well on Venus. Venus has a thick atmosphere and we could fly a 200 W drone up at about 50 km where the pressure is 1 bar and the temperatures around 75 C. At this altitude, our craft will get about twice the intensity of sunlight it would over Earth to work with for power.

Venus rotates once every 243 days. Our drone could fly slowly along the equator and stay in daylight. Our drone has an infinite power source in an adequate atmosphere at an acceptable temperature. With its solar panels on a 40 cm disk, it could fly at a steady 5 km/h around the equator forever.

Winds in the Venusian troposphere gust up to 360 km/h, but they are minimal at the equator. To explore more, we could configure our drone like an aircraft to use the wind to stay aloft. Clouds of sulfuric acid could rot the craft and heat could damage it, but otherwise it looks good.

AR Northrop Grumman has a concept for a Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP — blog 2015-08-31), a big inflatable aircraft resembling a B-2 bomber. VAMP would cruise around Venus at an altitude between 50 and 70 km — much like flying on Earth.

2017 November 13

Terraforming Mars

Brandon Weigel

Mars today is inhospitable to human life. Its surface is largely dry and arid, its atmosphere thin and toxic, and its climate frigid. We will need to terraform the planet before we can colonize it.

Mars has an atmospheric pressure of about 600 Pa, nearly all CO2, with no liquid water and an equilibrium temperature of 215 K. The Martian north pole is frosted with water ice and the south pole is capped with CO2 ice.

Sublimating the southern cap could increase the atmospheric pressure by up to 10 kPa. The current temperature of the south pole is about 142 K, almost warm enough to do so. We need only warm up the south pole by about 5.5 K to start the process. Then the temperature and pressure on Mars will rise to about 225 K and 10 kPa.

Another 30 kPa of CO2 is frozen in the Martian regolith. Once the south pole CO2 is sublimated, the regolith CO2 will join it. The atmospheric pressure will rise to 40 kPa and the equatorial temperature will exceed 273 K at perihelion.

An orbiting mirror could beam down enough sunlight to start the process if it were 70 km in diameter. Halocarbon generators could pump out enough greenhouse gas to accelerate the process.

Once a warm atmospheric blanket is in place, photosynthetic plants can pump out oxygen. Plants also need water to survive, but Mars has plenty of frozen water. The plants will deplete the CO2 and the halocarbons will deplete ozone and hence raise the surface UV levels, so our colonists will need to manage the atmosphere.

Terraforming Mars is the first step in our quest to become an interplanetary species.

Mars Terraformer Transfer (MATT)

The MATT concept uses a commercial satellite to terraform a region of Mars in 2036, creating a persistent lake for use by mission crews.

MATT terraforms a city-sized region for habitation. A satellite shepherd guides a selected celestial small-body impactor to a selected target site. A powerful laser provides the shepherding impulse. The laser and other instruments deflect, analyze, and restructure the small body, over some years, for optimized impact on Mars.

The impactor injects heat into bedrock, producing meltwater for a lake that persists for thousands of years within the warmed impact site. Here the challenges for crewed missions are ameliorated. MATT habs can scale to millions of cubic meters. Treated lake water can cover and protect underwater domes.

Scaled Mars habs can also house commercial offices for telerobotic open-pit mining of rare and rare earth metals.

2017 Remembrance Sunday

Supermacht EU?

Die Zeit

Die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika haben ihren Führungsanspruch verwirkt. Mit der Wahl von Donald Trump haben sich eine Krankheit derart verselbstständigt, dass die vernünftigen Kräfte in den USA sie nicht mehr ausgleichen können. Diese Analyse ist ebenso verwegen wie die Vorstellung, dass stattdessen Europa weltpolitisch führen sollen.

Elitenverachtung, Misstrauen in Institutionen und Gewaltenteilung, eine von Feindbildern getriebene Spaltung der Gesellschaft, die Sehnsucht nach Abschottung und Schutz vor dem kulturell, religiös oder ethnisch Anderen — damit ist eine innerwestliche Krise beschrieben, nicht bloß eine inneramerikanische.

Amerika ist eine fast 250 Jahre lang gewachsene und widerstandsfähige Demokratie. Amerikas Gewaltenteilung funktioniert. Die EU, eine Gruppe aus 28 Staaten, die ausdrücklich kein Superstaat werden will, kann schwerlich eine Supermacht sein.

Die EU ist ziemlich stark darin, ihre Stärken zu beschwören, und ziemlich schwach darin, ihre Schwächen einzugestehen. Das gilt auch für ihre Wirtschaft. Sie gründet auf Voraussetzungen, die Regierungen selbst nicht schaffen können.

Weil die amerikanische Neigung zum Exzess derzeit eher zu- als abnimmt, muss Europa ein stärkeres Gegengewicht bilden. Aber diese neue Stärke muss sich innerhalb einer Partnerschaft mit Amerika entfalten. Denn bevor Europa dort ist, ist Trump längst Geschichte.


2017 November 11

When Consciousness Began

Veronique Greenwood

Julian Jaynes published The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind in 1976. It still sells today.

Jaynes: "Consciousness is a much smaller part of our mental life than we are conscious of .. It is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it. The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. And so consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when actually it does not ..
.. it is perfectly possible that there could have existed a race of men who spoke, judged, reasoned, solved problems, indeed did most of the things that we do, but were not conscious at all."

Jaynes said that until about 3 ky BP, humans relied on a bicameral mind, with one half speaking to the other in the voice of the gods to guide on their way. The bicameral mind eventually broke down as human societies became more complex, and our forebears awoke with an internal narrative.

Jaynes says the characters in The Iliad do not look inward or act by choice but only do what the gods tell them. He suggests the right hemisphere used to be the source of prompts sent to the left side of the brain. These became hallucinations that helped guide humans through difficult situations.

The bicameral mind enabled humans to manage in rigidly hierarchical societies. But around 3 ky BP, stress from overpopulation, natural disasters, and wars overwhelmed the voices. The breakdown of the bicameral mind led to a more flexible way of life. The modern mind was born.

AR I loved the book. I see it as locating the evolutionary origin of the architecture of personal autonomy.

Quantum Solipsism

Philip Ball

Quantum theory says systems before observation are in a superposition of all possible observable states. A quantum state vector encodes all allowed outcomes of measurement and their relative probabilities. A measurement collapses the state vector to give a unique outcome.

Eugene Wigner imagined he was outside a windowless room where his friend measures a system. She knows what the observed property of the system is, but he cannot say that the state vector has collapsed until she tells him the result. Until then, he can only think of her and her system as forming one big superposition.

Wigner said solipsism may be logically consistent with quantum mechanics. But we get an infinite regress: Is he too in a superposition of states until he relays the result to his other friends?

Caslav Brukner imagines that the friend measures the system and collapses the state vector, producing either outcome A or B, but tells him only that she sees a definite result, not what it is. He can only conclude that his friend and her system are in a joint superposition, even though he knows a measurement has happened.

His friend is in state A or state B, but to him she is in a superposition of A and B. Both are right, depending on whose point of view you adopt. In quantum theory there is no privileged perspective for a third observer to reconcile the viewpoints.

Markus Müller imagines that you observe a system and see state X. Given that, your chance of seeing another state Y is defined in algorithmic information theory by representing your experience at any instant as a string of bits. Your history is a random walk through the various possible bit strings.

As these random experiences stack up, the conditional probability of the next bit string is higher for simpler bit sequences than for complex ones, so a simple model emerges. Recall that in the kinetic theory of gases the probability distribution of random configurations of gas molecules is peaked and simple laws emerge for observable properties. In quantum theory too, from minimal assumptions you can recover a world like the one we know.

AR I explored this view in depth in my book Mindworlds. More fun is the movie
What the bleep do we know?

2017 November 10

The End Is Nigh

Philip Collins

The next few years will change the status of Britain. The UK will depart from the EU in March 2019. The Elizabethan era, the symbol of postwar British stability, may end at much the same time.

For Brexiteers, the EU is a fog that shrouded British glory. Power once lost is now found. A new era of national glory and buccaneering global trade will dawn. Britain will be great again.

Leaving the EU will shrink the UK. A slow and gradual descent, rather than a singular cataclysm, will see the economy grow slowly rather than vigorously. Investment levels will remain stubbornly low as investors turn elsewhere. The City of London will contract.

The next US president will whisper sweet nothings about the special relationship with Britain. But with no route into the diplomatic chambers of Europe, London will mean less to Washington.

The end of the Elizabethan era will see the nation diminished in the name of national glory.
The UK will have lost the EU but failed to find another role.

AR This is the mood music of Britizen Jon.

2017 November 9

Brexit — Deadline

Financial Times

Brexit talks resume today in Brussels. Without sufficient progress this month on the divorce settlement, the EU may be unable to discuss transition talks at its summit in December.

The European Parliament issued a blunt warning over citizen rights. Its demands include a cost-free and near-unconditional settled-status application process for 3 million EU nationals in Britain, which would only begin once a transition period ends. Such demands go far beyond what the UK has offered, but MEPs can veto the final divorce deal.

France and Germany are urging the EU27 to stand firm. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier was unable to persuade them to let transition talks begin in parallel to divorce talks.

Brexit — Taxation

Josh Hamilton

Why did rich Brits campaign so hard for Brexit?

In 2015, Britain rejected EU plans to combat tax avoidance by global multinationals. Britain had built a corporate tax haven for multinationals that included slashing corporation tax from 28% to 20% and introducing favorable tax regimes for multinationals with offshore financing subsidiaries.

Earlier in 2015, British MEPs voted against EU plans to require companies to report where they make their profits and pay taxes. The plans included sanctions against countries or territories worldwide that fail to curb tax evasion. The EU pushed ahead — its rules take effect in 2019.

A hard Brexit frees the UK from these rules.

Brexit — Endgame

The Times

European Union leaders are preparing for the fall of Theresa May before the new year, as the prime minister lost her second cabinet minister in a week.

Fears are growing in Brussels that the instability of her government raises the risk of a change of leadership or elections leading to a Labour victory.

All options are under consideration in Brussels, including a disorderly Brexit or a reversal of the Brexit decision after new elections.

Trump — Survival

Max Boot

Donald Trump has not actually carried out most of his lunatic campaign rhetoric. His supporters can argue that he is more moderate in practice than his rhetoric would suggest. The more compelling explanation for his failure to make good on his promises:

1 Trump doesn't really believe in much beyond his own awesomeness. He didn't mean a lot of what
    he said — it was just something to rouse the rubes at rallies.

2 Trump has been utterly incompetent. Even if he wants to achieve more of his agenda, he has no
    idea how to do it. The only things he has accomplished are those he can do by executive order.

3 Trump has staffed his administration with people based largely on superficial criteria. As a result,
    he is surrounded by aides who view him as a screwball to be contained, not a sage to be followed.

The past year has dispelled naive hopes that Trump would grow in office or become more presidential. He is still an ignorant, petulant, unethical, avaricious, conspiratorial, nasty, shameless, bullying egomaniac.


Alice and Bob talk
via wormhole

Wormhole with octopus

Helen Ross
My sister in Oregon

Jacob Rees-Mogg
Jacob Rees-Mogg MP

Sir Robert Syms
Sir Robert Syms MP

Viv Allen
with PCA political deputy
chair Viv Allen

Peter and Brenda Adams
with PCA chair Peter Adams
and his wife Brenda

with me

Poole Bay
Poole Bay

Neutron star
Daily Galaxy
Vacuum birefringence
around a neutron star


2017 November 8

Priti Patel Exits

BBC News

Priti Patel has resigned as UK international development secretary amid controversy over her meetings with Israeli officials.


Natalie Wolchover

Juan Maldacena conjectures that wormholes between distant points in spacetime — ER bridges — are equivalent to entangled quantum particles — EPR pairs. This is ER = EPR.

Black holes evaporate via Hawking radiation. But the idea that a dying black hole erases all record of everything that went into it violates the principle of unitarity in quantum theory, which holds that information is never lost when particles interact. Given unitarity, the information must escape.

Thoughts on quantum gravity drew Maldacena to the ER = EPR idea. The implied relationship between tunnels in spacetime and quantum entanglement posed by ER = EPR resonates with the idea that space is essentially stitched into existence by quantum entanglement.

The ER = EPR idea can be extended by equating a traversable wormhole and quantum teleportation. If a traversable wormhole connects a parent black hole and a daughter black hole formed from half of the Hawking radiation given off by the parent as it evaporates, the two systems are entangled — information from the parent worms its way out of the daughter.

Let Alice and Bob have entangled quantum particles a and b, respectively. Alice wants to teleport a qubit q to Bob, so she prepares a combined state of q and a, measures that combined state (reducing it to 1 or 0), and sends the result of this measurement to Bob. He can then use this as a key for operating on b in a way that recreates the state q, in effect teleporting q.

Say Alice throws qubit q into black hole A. She then measures a bit of its Hawking radiation, a, and tells Bob the result through the external universe. Bob uses this knowledge to operate on b, a Hawking particle from black hole B. Bob reconstructs q, which appears to pop out of B, a perfect match for the particle that fell into A. Information is recovered from black holes.

Traversable wormholes cannot be used as time machines. Anything that goes through the wormhole has to wait for Alice to talk to Bob in the outside universe before it can exit B, so the wormhole offers no superluminal boost that could be exploited for time travel. Traversable wormholes seem to be permitted in nature as long as they offer no speed advantage.

The new work suggests there is no firewall at black hole horizons. The interior and exterior of the black hole are two complementary ways of looking at the same system. An observer passing across a black hole horizon would notice nothing strange.

Unitarity is preserved because whatever falls into one black hole exits the other as Hawking radiation. We can think of the radiation entangled with the black hole — EPR — as being connected to the black hole interior by wormholes — ER. A theory of quantum gravity might imply ER = EPR.

Preamble (Quanta, 2015)

ER = EPR is a shorthand that joins two ideas proposed by Einstein in 1935. If it is correct, the ideas form the foundation of spacetime. Leonard Susskind and Juan Maldacena say quantum entanglement could create the connectivity that sews space together — without it space would atomize.

The firewall paradox: If a black hole event horizon is a smooth interface, the particles coming out of the black hole are entangled with particles falling into the black hole. To conserve information, the particles coming out must also be entangled with particles that left long ago and are far out in a cloud of Hawking radiation. Maximum entanglements are monogamous, between just two particles, so spacetime inside the throats of black holes cannot be smooth. This implies a firewall.

Susskind and Maldacena suggest that ER = EPR implies an octopus wormhole that entangles the interior of the black hole directly to particles in the expanding cloud.

AR See blog 2017 June 25.

2017 November 7

UK Ruling Class

Janan Ganesh

Britain is almost unique in its vulnerability to amateurism, scandal, and electoral indecision. Power is concentrated in national government, its executive branch, and its prime minister.

An effective government can build a welfare state, as Labour did after 1945, or free an economy, as the Conservatives did from 1979. A poor government can ruin everything.

Brexit and the presidency of Donald Trump are parallel experiments with national sovereignty. But America is designed to prosper despite its politics. Most mature democracies have codified balances, this set against that, to limit the reach of mere politics into the life of the nation.

The British system trusts the life of the nation to a few offices and prays for worthy occupants. Without EU membership, which restrains government, that concentration of power intensifies. Constitutional reform is needed as a hedge against bad government.

The Paradise Papers

Aditya Chakrabortty

Democracy is rotten in Brexit Britain. Three myths:

1 The British public is fighting its elites.

— Wrong. The elites are fighting their publics by denying them revenues for hospitals and schools. Shuttling between tax havens is an elite sport, and the loser each time is the rest of society, which sees its tax base shrink.

2 Austerity was the only correct response to the crisis.

— Wrong. A recent study that found wealthy Britons have stashed about £300 billion in offshore tax havens. Tories punish the poor but reward the rich for fear they will flee offshore. London has more super-rich residents than any other city.

3 The British public is spoiled by a surfeit of democracy.

— Wrong. Rich non-dom Brits have the most say. Tory donor Michael Ashcroft was granted a peerage after promising to give up his non-dom status, yet he continues to shelter millions offshore. Telegraph owners Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay have their island hideaway of Brecqhou. Daily Mail inheritor Viscount Rothermere has non-dom status. News Corporation owner Rupert Murdoch presides over 152 subsidiaries, including 62 in the British Virgin Islands, 33 in the Caymans, and 15 in Mauritius.

Big Finance and runaway inequality rot democracy.

Watch Amber Rudd

Rachel Sylvester

Theresa May calls for a new culture of respect in public life. But the chaos of the sex scandal will surely hasten the departure of a prime minister presiding over a party split from top to bottom over Europe. Although most MPs thought she would struggle on until after March 2019, many doubt she can survive that long.

As for who might take over, David Davis once had his female supporters parading around in T-shirts with "It's DD for me" emblazoned across their chests. Boris Johnson is a diplomatic disaster zone. Liam Fox has already resigned once for letting his best man into meetings. Damian Green may no longer be seen as a safe pair of hands. Philip Hammond has alienated many with his budget blunders. Andrea Leadsom has opponents who would walk across hot coals to stop her becoming prime minister. Priti Patel had to apologise over unauthorised meetings in Israel. Ruth Davidson cannot make it to Westminster in time.

Amber Rudd is the one to watch.

RNA World


The RNA world hypothesis was that life emerged out of RNA. But RNA would not evolve spontaneously. Both RNA and proteins must take the form of long, folded chains to work, and the early Earth would have prevented strings of nucleic or amino acids from growing long enough.

A protein-folding model treats the 20 amino acids as colored beads: blue hydrophilic beads (polar monomers) and red hydrophobic ones (nonpolar monomers). A chain of beads folds along the vertices of a 2D lattice. Which square a bead occupies depends on how the red beads clump to avoid water.

Permutations of hydrophobic and polar monomers give all possible red-and-blue necklaces up to a given length. A few per thousand of these sequences collapse into compact foldable polymer structures that expose a hydrophobic patch of red beads on their surface.

This patch can serve as a sticky landing pad for hydrophobic sections of sequences floating by. If a single red bead and a red-tailed chain land on the hydrophobic patch at the same time, energy favors the two sequences linking together. The patch acts as a catalyst for elongating polymers.

A few of those elongated polymers fold and expose their own hydrophobic patch. These can form an autocatalytic set to catalyze the formation of copies of themselves. The number of protein molecules would grow exponentially. RNA would evolve later.

2017 November 6

Dawn of Life

New Scientist

Ribosomes are molecular machines found inside every living cell. They read the genetic code contained in DNA and use it to construct the proteins that build us.

Your ribosomes differ from those of a lowly bacterium only in the ornamentation on their outer surface. As evolution progressed, new species tacked extra bits of RNA to their ribosomes. The common core is the part of the ribosome that worked in the last universal common ancestor, LUCA.

Researchers explored the ribosome by recognising the insertion fingerprints in its decoration. They looked further and found ancient traces pointing before LUCA. Every time they found an addition, they snipped it away, pruning down to more primitive layers, all the way down.

The most ancient part of the ribosome is a stretch of RNA that includes the cradle-resembling region that today links amino acids to form protein-like chains. This rudimentary ribosome had none of the precision needed in LUCA. It must have linked amino acids, and probably whatever other molecules would fit into its cradle, into short random chains.

As random fragments churned out of the molecular sausage-maker, a few had a shape that helped them stick to the ribosomal RNA. The mess of co-evolving RNA and protein fragments included a range of molecules that self-assembled. Chemical evolution winnowed through the randomness and selected the components that clung best together.

Life needs a genetic code and precise replication of a genome. In modern cells, code from the central DNA library in the nucleus is copied out to the ribosomes via messenger RNA. The ribosome binds the mRNA transcripts and reads them three letters at a time, with each triplet coding for one amino acid. The specified amino acid is escorted to the ribosome by a transfer RNA.

In prehistory, the proto-ribosome made a range of new molecules. Chemical evolution selected mRNA and tRNA that were better and more precise at their jobs, eventually leading to the genetic code found in all living things. At last, life had emerged.

Modern proteins all contort into intricate 3D shapes that are essential to their function. For a protein to fold well, one part of it has to fit tightly against another. As the precursor molecules co-evolved, they would have selected protein fragments that were predisposed to fold well.

The proteins associated with the oldest part of the ribosome show little or no complex folding. Moving to more recent parts of the ribosome, researchers see proteins folding first into simple sheets and then into more and more precise and intricate shapes. The RNA portions of the ribosome also develop tighter and more stable folding.

When the oldest part of a ribosome links small molecules into longer chains, the link is sealed by releasing a water molecule. The first life may have appeared around the fringes of a pond in conditions alternating between wet and dry.

2017 November 5

Paradise Papers

The Guardian

The world's biggest businesses, heads of state. and global figures in politics, entertainment, and sport who have sheltered their wealth in secretive tax havens are being revealed in a leak of over 13 million files obtained by the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The revelations, for which more than 380 journalists have spent a year combing through decades of data, are explosive.

Gabriel Zucman: "Tax havens are one of the key engines of the rise in global inequality."

AR Outlaw the tax regimes in the "paradise" satellites of the UK economy — Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. Demand compliance with mainland law on pain of military action — such as one Trident warhead per island. If I must pay UK tax then so should the paradise investors.

2017 November 4


Jedediah Purdy

We think of our world as the fruit of a series of advances: domestication, public order, mass literacy, and prosperity. We still like to tell a story that starts with agriculture and the first Mesopotamian city-states, the classical Greeks and their slaves, and the imperial Romans.

Around 5 ky BP, droughts in the Fertile Crescent forced foragers to settle in cities and eat grain to survive. Once a system of labor was in place, fresh bodies were collected by soldiers in slave raids. The exploitation machine called civilization was up and running.

Life in cities was probably worse than foraging or herding. City dwellers ate poorly and they were vulnerable to epidemics. Unless they were in the ruling class, they had to work not only to feed themselves and their rulers but also to build palaces and city walls.

Civilization was always linked with barbarism. Tacitus suggested that German barbarians were more virtuous than settled Romans. Anglo-Americans often traced their democratic identity to the liberty of the forest rather than the cities of the Mediterranean.

The built world that sustains humanity is so vast that the infrastructure of civilization outweighs all human bodies together by a factor of tens of thousands. Without it, global population would fall to perhaps 200 million, as it was at the beginning of the Common Era.


Sigal Samuel

As white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, their banners bore heathen symbols. In Iceland, Ásatrú high priest Hilmar Hilmarsson looked on with horror.

Ásatrú is the largest heathen religion in Iceland. Based on the worship of Thor, Odin, Freya, and other ancient deities, its modern revival started in Reykjavik in 1972. It now has an estimated tens of thousands of followers worldwide.

In Germany, where Viking symbols were coopted by the Third Reich, heathens are wary. Karl Seigfried plans to redact Ásatrú theology to tackle modern issues. He recalls how Catholics in Latin America created liberation theology.

Ásatrú high priest Hilmarsson says the racist interpretation of heathenry is a perversion of his faith. He would like to offer heathens a more compelling vision.

Physics in China

Yangyang Cheng

China plans to build an heir to the Large Hadron Collider. The proposed supercollider would be 55 km in circumference, twice the size of the LHC, and would define the frontiers of particle physics for generations.

The Chinese supercollider is the perfect embodiment of Xi Jinping thought and the Chinese dream. It is a unique opportunity for China to lead an entire branch of science.

Authoritarian states breed a national pride antithetical to the ideals of big science. The Chinese supercollider project still needs greater international involvement.

The LHC fosters collaboration among scientists and institutions from countries in conflict, but collaborators at the Chinese supercollider will be subject to political criteria.

Science depends on open access to the internet. The World Wide Web was invented at CERN in 1989. Future particle physics will run within the Great Firewall of China.

The success of the Chinese supercollider will depend on foreign expertise, equipment, and technology. The particle physics community must set terms for its engagement.

The Quantum Many-Body Problem

John Pavlus

Computers show promise at resolving a problem facing quantum physicists. The behavior of individual electrons is easy. But once they start interacting with each other, negative signs appear and the calculations hit an impenetrable mathematical wall. A mathematical description needs to encode every possible state that the system could occupy, so its complexity rises exponentially. This computational wall for entangled particles is known as the quantum many-body problem.

We can skip the math and go straight to the science. Deep learning involves training a computer to recognize patterns by passing data through multiple layers in a digital network, each of which is coded to search for specific features. Trained neural networks detect patterns in new data. If a computer can classify configurations of electrons by looking at them, then it can maybe do it for any number of particles. We might get realistic quantum many-body models.

2017 November 3

Jacob Rees-Mogg

PCA dinner with Jacob Rees-Mogg MP
Haven Hotel, Sandbanks, Poole

UK Defense — Politics

The Independent

Former head of the British army Richard Dannatt says Theresa May's decision to make her chief whip the new defense secretary is not the best choice from a defense point of view. Lord Dannatt said May had made a political decision to promote Gavin Williamson because he is a trusted lieutenant.

A parliamentary backlash followed the promotion. After Sir Michael Fallon resigned amid allegations in the Westminster sexual harassment scandal, other names were in the frame. But Williamson had worked closely with May and helped stabilize her administration after the June election.

Brexit — Russia

Edward Lucas

If the UK Electoral Commission has help from the intelligence and criminal justice systems, it can ask whether Arron Banks, who gave the largest donation in British political history to the Brexit cause, got his millions from Russia.

Brexiteers will ask who cares if Russia did throw a few roubles into the pot. For them, the scandal is that the pro-Remain camp had the overwhelming support of the entire establishment, yet when the British people were finally given a chance they revolted.

Hot potato: If Russia skewed the Brexit referendum, do we void the result and vote again?

Western Philosophy

Bryan W Van Norden

Mainstream Western philosophy is narrow-minded, unimaginative, and even xenophobic. It used to be more cosmopolitan. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz said of Chinese philosophers: "They surpass us .. in practical philosophy, that is, in the precepts of ethics and politics adapted to the present life and the use of mortals."

Christian Wolff said Confucius showed that it was possible to have a system of morality without basing it on either divine revelation or natural religion. Conservative Christians had Wolff relieved of his duties and exiled from Prussia. But he became a hero of the German Enlightenment.

Immanuel Kant, who was notoriously racist, asserted that the Chinese, Indians, Africans, and Native Americans are congenitally incapable of philosophy. Contemporary Western philosophers who follow him take it for granted that there is no Chinese, Indian, African, or Native American philosophy.

British philosopher G E Moore (1873-1958) was one of the founders of analytic philosophy, now the dominant tradition in the English-speaking world. When Indian philosopher Surendra Nath Dasgupta read a paper to a session of the Aristotelian Society in London, Moore's only comment was: "I have nothing to offer myself. But I am sure that whatever Dasgupta says is absolutely false." The audience of British philosophers in attendance roared with laughter.

AR Anglo-American analytic (AAA) philosophers are in thrall to science. National or ethnic qualifiers for the term "science" make no sense for a true scientist.

2017 November 2

West v China

Martin Wolf

We in the west will be challenged to keep a margin of superiority over China without developing an adversarial relationship. We must see that management of our economy and politics has been unsatisfactory for many years. We let our financial system run aground in a crisis, we underinvested in our future and let a gulf emerge between economic winners and losers, and we let lies and hatred consume our politics.

Putin v US

Ivan Krastev

Russia-gate will be a critical factor in US domestic politics in the months to come. The Kremlin says Russia never messed with the US politics. For Russians the meddling was neither surprising nor scandalous.

Received wisdom in Moscow is that Russia can regain its great power status only by confronting the United States. President Vladimir Putin wants to make Russia an equal partner with countries like China. From his perspective, interfering in the US presidential election was a performance organized mostly for a global public.

Russia is vastly weaker in most ways than the United States. But the Kremlin believes that power and weakness are complex concepts and the stronger party can lose. Russians think he who dares wins.

Handy Guide

Deborah Ross

A document drawn up by staff who work with Conservative MPs accuses 40 of the MPs of sexual misconduct and harassment. The spreadsheet of shame deserves a haiku:

Please keep your handsies
Entirely to yourselfies
It is not that hard

2017 November 1

Neutron Star Mergers

Natalie Wolchover

Neutron star mergers tell us a lot. Combining the gravitational and electromagnetic signals from the recently detected collision we have a clean way to measure the Hubble constant.

In an expanding universe, the farther away an astronomical object is, the faster it recedes. The Hubble constant says how much faster. We estimate that galaxies move away from us at around 70 km/s faster for each additional megaparsec of distance away from us (a megaparsec is about 31 Zm). To date, the two best ways of measuring the Hubble constant give different answers.

A high estimate of 73 comes from estimating distance and velocity for lots of astronomical objects. We measure their redshift to find their recessional velocity due to cosmic expansion. We then build a cosmic distance ladder. We start by deducing the distances to stars in the Milky Way using parallax. Thus we deduce the brightness of Cepheid stars, which serve as standard candles. We spot them in nearby galaxies to calculate how far away the galaxies are. In the galaxies we spot Type Ia supernovas — brighter standard candles that let us see further out. In 2016, a team known as SH0ES used this approach to peg the Hubble constant at 73.2, apparently +/- 2.4%.

A low estimate of 68 comes from Planck telescope data. The Planck team used the cosmic microwave background (CMB) snapshot depicting pressure waves giving density variations at different scales known as the CMB power spectrum. The Hubble constant can be calculated from it. The team made assumptions about other cosmological parameters to get a value of 67.8, supposedly +/- 1%.

The 68/73 discrepancy is still a mystery — but colliding neutron stars can be standard sirens. They send out spacetime ripples that are not dimmed by gas or dust. The waves transmit a clean record of the strength of the collision that lets us infer the distance to the source. We can also detect EM radiation from the collisions and use its redshift to determine their recessional velocity. Divided by distance, this gives the Hubble constant.

From the first collision alone, we calculate the Hubble constant to be 70, give or take 10. We can improve the accuracy with more data.

Neutron Stars

Joshua Sokol

Neutron stars may contain new forms of matter. A neutron star is the compressed core of a massive star, with a solar mass squeezed into a ball of radius 10 km. It is the last stop on the line before a black hole.

A shiny 1—2 cm veneer of normal atoms — mostly Fe and Si — coats a neutron star. Below it, the atoms squeeze so close together that their electrons form a shared sea. Deeper, the protons inside nuclei start turning into neutrons, which cluster close enough together to overlap.

Nucleons are made up of three quarks. Under immense pressure, these quarks might form a new state of quark matter. All that extra energy might go into creating heavier particles that contain not just up and down quarks but also strange quarks.

Pulsars are neutron stars that rotate quickly, sweeping a radio beam across Earth with each spin. For pulsars in binary systems, what should be a constant tick-tock of pulses hitting Earth will vary, betraying their motion and location in orbit.

Pulsars have been observed with about twice the solar mass. In theory, they should collapse into a black hole. Neutron stars stuffed with interacting quarks could be dense enough, while neutron stars made up only of nucleons would be too big.

The Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) is designed to find the size of neutron stars by watching for hot spots on their surfaces. The experiment should produce better radius measurements for neutron stars.

In the final second or so of the latest Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) signal, the orbiting pair of neutron stars started to stretch and squeeze each other, generating tides that stole energy from their orbits. This made them collide faster than otherwise.

Astrophysicists are looking forward to new data from NICER and LIGO.

AR A neutron star mirrored ball — hero of LIFEBALL.

Marx et al.
Marx — Engels — Lenin — Stalin

Satan Redux

Russia plans to test its new
RS-28 Sarmat ICBM this year.
RS-28 will replace the missile
with NATO name SS-18 Satan.
Weighing 100 Mg and with a
range of 10 Mm, it will carry
up to 16 warheads, defeat
missile defense systems,
and pack enough heat to
destroy an area the size
of Texas or France.


Resistance to the idea that
our fellow creatures have the
capacity to feel joy and to suffer
comes above all from politicians
protecting the cheap methods
used by factory farms.
Peter Wohlleben

UK defense secretary
Sir Michael Fallon says
criticizing Saudi Arabia
may jeopardize a £4 billion
deal to sell 48 Eurofighter
Typhoon jets to the Saudis

Report warns hard Brexit could
wipe almost 10% off GDP in
Republic of Ireland

No Brexit

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift
Ready for it?

Stop Brexit

Helioseismology data


2017 October 31

The Red Revolution

David Mikics

Lenin was a man who wanted to turn moral values on their head. For him, as for Stalin, the dead were just numbers. Human life counted for nothing next to the goal of a Communist future.

Lenin was in effect the dictator of Soviet Russia from 1917 until 1922. The rule of terror took hold in the Marxist state. Mass killing became the main strategy to put down rebellion.

Soviet Russia needed control over Ukraine to feed the Soviet masses. In 1933, while millions died of hunger in Ukraine, the Soviet Union exported record amounts of Ukrainian butter and bacon. For Stalin the famine was a success.

Before the Soviet era, it was human beings who killed each other. Under Lenin and Stalin, history itself exterminated class enemies. The Soviet Union has been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Trump — Alt-Reality

Washington Post

President Trump and his media allies are creating a vast alternate media reality that casts large swaths of the US government as irredeemably corrupt. Their declared purpose is to lay the rationale for Trump to pardon his close associates or shut down the Russia probe.

Apparently, Trump has recently revisited the idea of trying to remove Robert Mueller, now Mueller appears to be digging into his finances. Meanwhile, Stephen Bannon is privately urging Trump to try to get Republicans to defund the Mueller probe.

Sean Hannity dismissed the news of allegations against Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos as big nothingburgers. He also revived the fiction that Hillary Clinton approved a deal for a Russian nuclear agency to gain access to US uranium extraction rights in exchange for kickbacks, and the absurd claim that the Clinton campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the election.

Hannity accused Mueller of trying to change the narrative to distract from all this. Trump has tweeted in support of many of these allegations. His media allies cite such stories in support of the notion that Mueller should resign or that Trump should close down the Russia probe.

We need to confront the insanity and depravity of all this.

2017 October 30

North Korean Nukes

Michael Auslin

Can Kim Jong-un control his nukes?

Even if NK laboratories and factories are safe, weapons systems break down, age, and suffer untold problems. The history of the cold war is littered with accidents involving nuclear weapons and incidents that could have sparked nuclear war.

We cannot assume that North Korea will invest in the safest designs for its warheads or missiles. A warhead could detonate by accident. Kim Jong-un would surely deflect blame by accusing the Americans or others of sabotage or an attack.

Kim Jong-un will likely keep all control over nuclear weapons in his hands, but he must delegate authority in some way. If he lacks reliable communications with his nuclear systems, then the uncertainty in nuclear operations increases.

We need to make NK nukes safer.

2017 October 29

Nukes in East Asia

The New York Times

North Korean nuclear capabilities have scrambled military calculations in the region. Both South Korea and Japan are considering the nuclear option, driven by worry that the United States might hesitate to defend them. Both countries have the material and expertise to build a weapon, and all that stops them is the political risk.

In South Korea, president Moon Jae-in opposes nuclear weapons but his his view is increasingly a minority one. South Korea has a huge stockpile of spent fuel from which it can extract plutonium, enough for thousands of bombs, and has a fleet of advanced missiles for conventional warheads. Many South Koreans say a homegrown nuclear deterrent could force North Korea back to the bargaining table, but others say Seoul should ask Washington to redeploy tactical nukes.

In Japan, prime minister Shinzo Abe has campaigned for a military buildup against the NK threat. Japan has a stockpile of nuclear material for up to 6,000 weapons and has long-range missile technology, but would need time to develop communications and control systems. Nuclear weapons would not be prohibited under the Japanese Constitution if maintained only for self-defense.

2017 October 28

Ausschlaggebende Zusammenfassung für Kenner

Deutschland und der Zweite Weltkrieg
Von Michael Salewski

AR Professor Salewski ist es gelungen, eine autoritative und detailreiche Geschichte des zweiten Weltkrieges — die allerdings eher für schon ziemlich versierte Leser geeignet wäre — innerhalb einer überschaubaren Band zu veröffentlichen. Voraussetzungen für den Leser sind ..

Rezension als PDF (1 S.)


2017 October 27

Luther's Legacy

Philip Ball

On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses decrying the practices of the Roman Catholic church to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. This kicked off what became the Protestant Reformation.

Luther opened the intellectual floodgates, pitting Protestantism against Catholic dogma. The Enlightenment took root in the northern European countries that embraced Lutheran ideas, while the south languished under the Catholic yoke.

The Reformation was born of Luther's conviction that the established church had left the path of true belief. It practised nepotism, bewitched believers by intoning in Latin, and raised funds by selling indulgences.

Luther became convinced that salvation could be granted by God alone, without priestly intervention. He spoke of a priesthood of all believers, and encouraged every man to read the Bible for himself. They began to read God's other book — the book of nature — for themselves too.

Nicolaus Copernicus unveiled Heliocentric cosmology in 1543. He was a Catholic canon who dedicated his book to Pope Paul III. Luther had a low opinion of Copernicus and said it was hubris and blasphemy to suppose that one could decode God’s handiwork.

Protestant and Catholic religious leaders were more interested in maintaining worldly power and authority than in fundamental conflicts between reason and belief. Any differences on natural philosophy were relatively trivial. Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton shared a belief in a universe created by a consistent God who decreed its laws.

Base Editing

Emily Mullin

Base editing is a new way to edit single letters in DNA or RNA.

The human genome contains six billion DNA letters, or chemical bases A, C, G, T. These letters pair off, A with T and C with G. The molecular scalpel CRISPR-Cas9 can edit or delete genes, but base editing lets a user change a single letter at a time without breaking the double helix.

Researchers modified CRISPR to work on a single base by rearranging the atoms in an A to resemble a G. The cell then fixed the other DNA strand to complete the switch, turning an A-T base pair into a G‑C one. The user can rewrite errors in the genetic code instead of cutting and replacing whole chunks of DNA.

The researchers used base editing to correct a point mutation that causes hereditary hemochromatosis. They also used the base editor in human cells to induce a mutation that suppresses sickle-cell anemia. In both cases, they detected virtually no off-target effects.

Base editing has a broad set of therapeutic applications.

2017 October 26

The House of Saud

Nesrine Malik

For decades in Saudi Arabia, the royal family has promised but not delivered. This may be changing.

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman says the Iranian revolution triggered copycat religious regimes across the region and now is the time to change: "We are simply reverting to what we followed — a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions. Seventy percent of Saudis are younger than 30. Honestly, we won't waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts, we will destroy them now and immediately."

It seems Prince Mohammed and the royal establishment are serious. With low oil prices and an undiversified economy, the regime can no longer sustain the current system. In the past, the rulers thought only of preserving their own power by giving subsidies to citizens and concessions to the religious establishment.

Prince Mohammed has always been big on social transformation. A senior Saudi royal figure: "This is about giving kids a social life. Entertainment needs to be an option for them. They are bored and resentful. A woman needs to be able to drive herself to work. Without that we are all doomed. Everyone knows that — except the people in small towns. But they will learn."

The Saudi royal family tried to expropriate religion for political purposes. The result is extremism.

2017 October 25

Mad Dog, Get Trump

Thomas L. Friedman

The four big men in Team Trump are National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

McMaster doesn't seem to have a relationship with Trump that could constrain the Prez.

Tillerson blew himself up by starring in a hostage video in which he sang the president's praises. After Trump tweeted that Tillerson was wasting his time negotiating with North Korea, Tillerson had to publicly assure us that he had not been castrated by Trump, which meant he had.

Kelly squandered his moral authority by starring in his own White House podium hostage video. He began well and explained how the president's phone call to the widow of a Green Beret killed in Niger got garbled. But then he began to talk like Trump, gratuitously spouting provably false charges.

Mattis is the last man standing, the only one who can still put some fear into Trump.

Mad Dog, you need to act. Lead the team in telling Trump that if he does not change his ways you will all quit. Your job is not to wipe up Trump's daily filth.

Brexit — Stupidest Thing

The Guardian

Billionaire media mogul and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg says Brexit is the "single stupidest thing any country has ever done" apart from the election of Donald Trump as US president.

Bloomberg said "it is really hard to understand why a country that was doing so well wanted to ruin it" with the Brexit vote.

AR Quote from page 129 of my novel Britizen Jon:
"President Newman recently said Brexit was the dumbest idea since the German invasion of Russia in 1941. It ruined a flourishing trading relationship, turned a powerful group of potential friends into bitter enemies, was based on a totally erroneous and divisive view of the world, was impossible to bring to a good conclusion without a level of support that was nowhere in sight, and led to the utter destruction of the state that started it."

2017 October 24

Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era

Xi Jinping

Today we, more than 1.3 billion Chinese people, live in jubilation and dignity. Our land radiates with enormous dynamism. Our Chinese civilization shines with lasting splendor and glamor.

Our party shows strong, firm, and vibrant leadership. Our socialist system demonstrates great strength and vitality. The Chinese people and the Chinese nation embrace brilliant prospects.

CPC amends Constitution to include Xi Jinping Thought

Brexit — Three Options

Sir Vince Cable

"This is in fact up to London how this will end: with a good deal, no deal, or no Brexit."
Donald Tusk

I welcome Donald Tusk's comments in the European Parliament. No matter what Theresa May says, there are still three options on the table:

No deal
A deal
No Brexit

The EU have confirmed what we have been saying all along: If Brexit looks like a disaster we can call the whole thing off.

Big Smash Refutes Cosmic Theories

Anil Ananthaswamy

On 17 August, the LIGO collaboration saw gravitational waves from two big objects spiraling toward each other. About 1.7 s later, the Fermi satellite detected a GRB. Other telescopes too observed the collision of two neutron stars about 130 million light years from Earth, now named GW170817.

The results show that gravitational waves travel at speed c to within about 1 in 10^15. This refutes some theories that modify general relativity (GR) to try to explain dark energy or dark matter. Our standard model says dark matter makes up about 27% of the universe and dark energy about 68%.

Modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND) and a theory called tensor-vector-scalar (TeVeS) gravity have tried explain the motion of stars and galaxies without dark matter. Another attempt to modify GR models gravity with a new Galileon field driving cosmic acceleration in the last few billion years. These theories are now refuted.

GR includes dark energy as a cosmological constant. Other simple models, such as quintessence, introduce a new field that lets vacuum energy density change over time. These theories survive.

Explaining dark matter and dark energy may require reconciling GR with quantum mechanics in a theory of quantum gravity.


Robert Sapolsky

The brain is complicated. People with damage to the frontal lobes suffer personality change. A high proportion of people in prison for violent offences had a history of head injury earlier in their lives.

Different areas of the frontal lobes interact with the limbic system. These interactions are structured by our genes and experiences. Reason and emotion are not separate processes in the brain but are deeply intertwined.

Children who suffer extreme emotional and physical deprivation have smaller brains with less frontal metabolism and connectivity than children brought up in normal families. They also have larger amygdala, the parts of the temporal lobes involved in fear and aggression.

Human behavior is determined by the mechanics of our brains. If people behave badly, it is because of the neurological, genetic, hormonal, and environmental determinants that shaped their brains, not because of any evil nature.

I do not choose my feelings. They were formed by my genes and experiences in early life. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex helps us do the harder thing which is right.

2017 October 23

How to Stop Brexit

AR Amazon review

Yes, we can, says Nick Clegg in his readable and persuasive little book. He recalls the reasons and motives behind the Leave victory in the 2016 Brexit referendum and marshals the case for reversing the decision before it is too late. For my part, I find the case cogent and convincing.

Essentially, Brexit is far more complicated and damaging than voters ever imagined when they made their decision last year. Misled by a shameless and mendacious propaganda campaign, many simply did what came naturally and voted out of a vague sense of national pride. Most of them had no clue about the economic and political complications that make Brexit, in any rational assessment, one of the worst policy decisions ever made in the British Isles.

Nick Clegg was punished already in 2015 for his unfortunate coalition with the Conservatives in government. As a consistent and prominent supporter of EU membership from the start, he found himself on the losing side in the 2016 battle for British votes. Admirably, he has stuck to his guns and refused to drink the Kool-Aid that is currently poisoning the Conservative government led by Theresa May.

As a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Clegg is so mortified by the electoral demise of his former party that he now advises his readers to vote Labour, in the vague and poorly founded hope that a government led by Jeremy Corbyn might find a way to reverse Brexit. Such a government would be far more likely to keep Britain in the single market and the customs union, which is a minimum condition for national prosperity in the foreseeable future, but it would probably also do great damage on other fronts, so this looks like bad advice.

The practical advice Clegg urges toward the end of his tract is sound. British voters who are unhappy at the prospect of Brexit should join a political party, attend political meetings, badger their MP, make their views known, and add their weight to a mass movement to demonstrate that the 2016 referendum decision is no longer valid. Democracy was never intended to mean one citizen, one vote, one time.

How to Stop Brexit .. by Nick Clegg

2017 October 22

Solar Physics Puzzle

New Scientist

The Sun seems to contain less metal than expected. Its mass is about 2 billion Yg, most of it H and He, with about 2% of heavier elements (such as C, N, O, Fe, all of which astronomers call metals). But about 10 out of the 40 million Yg of metals our models predict seem to be missing.

We study the Sun using light and sound. Spectroscopists pass solar photons through prisms, diffracting it into barcodes for the different elements. Helioseismologists look at sound vibrations on the solar surface.

Perhaps the metals are not behaving as expected. Opacity is a measure of how much energy can pass through a given material. Heavier elements are more opaque than H and He. For the helioseismology results to hold up, the opacity of the metals in the Sun needs to be higher.

Atom have a nucleus surrounded by electrons that orbit at precisely defined energy levels. In the high temperatures and pressures of the solar core, the energy levels shift and expand, increasing opacity. We need to observe atoms interacting with light under high temperatures and pressures.

A team used the Sandia National Labs Z machine to zap a small iron disk with a flash of energy intense enough to resemble the solar interior, with temperatures and pressures high enough to really excite the Fe atoms. The experiments show the hot metal has a higher opacity than expected.

We can get a deeper view of the Sun by observing the neutrinos created in its interior. Some 1% of them are born in core fusion processes involving atoms of C, N, and O. Observing CNO neutrinos would help us understand the Sun.

AI Go Supremacy


A mere 19 months after AlphaGo dethroned the world's top human Go player, AlphaGo Zero taught itself to beat AlphaGo. By freeing AI from human knowledge, the breakthrough removes a primary limit on how smart machines can become.

AlphaGo was taught to play the game using first supervised learning, where it was fed 100,000 top amateur Go games and taught to imitate them, and then reinforcement learning, where it played itself and learned to play more consistently.

AlphaGo Zero began knowing only the rules of Go and played games against itself. At first it played randomly but soon it improved. After 3 days and 4.9 million training games, AlphaGo Zero played AlphaGo and won 100 games to 0.

5 presidents

Photograph: Richard Carson/Reuters
Jimmy Carter, George HW Bush, George W Bush, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton
Deep From The Heart: The One America Appeal, Texas A&M University
Fundraiser for those affected by recent hurricanes

Theresa May
Geert Vanden Wijngaert
Theresa May
Brussels, October 20

"Ich glaube, dass in der Sache
klar ist, was jetzt noch
zu geschehen hat
Angela Merkel

AA gun, 1942
Imperial War Museums
British 3.7" AA gun and ATS
spotter, England, 1942

AR Too many Brexiteers
see such images and say:
"Ah, the good old days!"

"Xi Jinping sits on top
of the Communist Party,
the Communist Party sits
on top of China, and
China sits on top
of the world."
Elizabeth Economy

Somewhere in Hydra

NASA animation

Simulated gravitational
waves from collision

Deep Space Gateway

Last Brexit To Paradise

Theresa May and her cabinet
are contingency planning for
no deal with Brussels before the
UK leaves the EU in March 2019.
No deal would also mean no
transition period. Hard Brexit
fans cheer the prospect as
the only way to break free.

AR Free of life as we know it
— free of this mortal coil.


A survey found that
42% of respondents think
it is right to leave the EU,
compared with 47% who think
it is wrong. This is the biggest
gap in favour of remaining
in the EU since the

Sir Robert
Sir Robert Syms
MP for Poole


2017 October 21


Marilynne Robinson

Alexis de Tocqueville was a humanist. The brilliance of people as they are liberated by new ideas makes his case for democracy. Their gifts are highly individual.

This awakening of minds and spirits is a sunlight that falls across the whole landscape of civilization. Tocqueville stood at a place in the evolution of culture where there was both a continuous expansion of literacy and learning and a vast population they had not yet touched.

Impatience with the energy and originality of the mind is inimical to poetry, eloquence, wit, imagination, and depth of thought. The impulse is historically expressed as social engineering. Armies of ideal workers will compete successfully against whomever for whatever into an endless future, at profound cost to themselves.

The humanities do not prepare ideal helots. But they are ideal for preparing imaginative and innovative contributors to a full and generous national life. Politicians who attack public higher education as too expensive have made it so for electoral or ideological reasons.

2017 October 20


Brad East

David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian and philosopher. He says God is being, goodness and truth, and to be is to depend on God. Hart says this view is that of just about every significant theistic philosopher in human history.

Hart sees the progressive secularization of Western culture as a long march toward nihilism. Secularism, capitalism and individualism, consumerism and voluntarism, scientism and materialism all effect the triumph of the will in human affairs.

Hart has no problem with science, with quantum mechanics and evolution and ecological degradation and the value of nonhuman animals. His problem is with the transformation of scientific inquiry into a metaphysics that denies meaning to any further questions. He calls scientism a barbarous fundamentalism regarding knowledge or inquiry.

Hart remains a distinguished public theologian in a country that no longer recognizes them. We are living in the twilight of an ancient civilization. Christendom is gone, and the Christian culture of the West seems destined for slow dissolution.

2017 October 19

America v China

Rex Tillerson

China, while rising alongside India, has done so less responsibly, at times undermining the international rules-based order.

China's provocative actions in the South China Sea directly challenge international law and norms. We will not shrink when China subverts the sovereignty of neighboring countries and disadvantages the United States and our friends.

China's model of economic development in smaller countries saddles those nations with enormous levels of debt. The United States will collaborate with India to create a region of peace, stability, and growing prosperity.

America will pursue a free and open policy across the Indo-Pacific map. India, an important democracy, pins the western side of that map. Japan, another important and strong democracy with whom we have strong security relationships, pins the eastern side. Australia covers the South Pacific, and America defines the region at its eastern edge.

America will never have the same relationship with non-democratic China that we can have with a major democracy.

Brexit — Expect No Deal

The Guardian

In a letter organized by the Leave Means Leave campaign, former UK cabinet ministers Owen Paterson, Lord Lawson, John Redwood, and Peter Lilley call on Theresa May to walk away from Brexit talks with no deal if the EU refuses to discuss trade.

German parliament CDU/CSU group vice chair Michael Fuchs confirmed that money was the major sticking point in the negotiations: "A figure of .. between €100 billion and maybe €60 billion should be the right point .. €20 billion is definitely not enough."

UK immigration minister Brandon Lewis: "We do value and we want EU citizens to stay .. EU citizens have the right to continue to stay in the United Kingdom .. British citizens have that reciprocal right when they are living abroad in Europe as well."

The Trump Doctrine

Thomas L. Friedman

The Trump Doctrine is very simple: "Obama built it. I broke it. You fix it."

Trump wants to do too much at once without any real preparation or planning. He makes big decisions without consulting experts and without connecting the dots.

Pulls out of the nuclear deal with Iran but needs a nuclear deal with North Korea
Needs to stabilize Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan but gives up on help from Iran
Wants to end the trade imbalance with China but tears up the TPP trade deal
Pulls out of the Paris climate accord and loses out on the green energy market
Restricts funding for birth control yet seeks to reduce the influx of immigrants

None of these dots connect. Trump has not thought this through.

AR How long must we suffer the Trump—Brexit fallout from ignorant, stubborn voters in the US-UK world?

2017 October 18

Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era

Xi Jinping

China will see the basic realization of socialist modernization by 2035 after 15 years of hard work.

1 From 2020 to 2035, the CPC will build on the foundation created by the moderately prosperous society with a further 15 years of hard work to see that socialist modernization is basically realized.

2 From 2035 to 2050, the CPC will, building on having basically achieved modernization, work hard for a further 15 years and develop China into a great modern socialist country.

By mid-century, the following goals will have been met:
— New heights reached in every dimension of material, political, cultural and ethical, social, and ecological advancement
— Modernization of China's system and capacity for governance
— China a global leader in terms of overall national strength and international influence
— Common prosperity for everyone
— Chinese people happier, safer, and healthier

The Chinese nation will become a proud and active member of the community of nations.

Brexit — Saboteurs

Gideon Rachman

As the bleakness of the Brexit dilemma becomes more apparent, the search for scapegoats begins. Brexiteers target the EU but they are now also rounding on the enemy within: the British people and institutions they accuse of undermining Brexit.

The search for saboteurs gives off a whiff of desperation and defeat. Framing the issue as the people versus the elite backfires — many prominent Leavers are members of the British elite. Roughly half the country still thinks Brexit is a mistake.

Brexit — Hypocrisy

Ragnar Weilandt

For decades, politicians and commentators in Britain ignored, misrepresented, or sneered at the European project. Now the UK is on its way out, people are suddenly waving EU flags.

Many of those now fighting for continued membership of the single market and customs union seem unable to shed a fundamentally Eurosceptic perspective.

British politicians and media have misrepresented and mocked Europe for decades. Few remainers ever made an unconditionally positive case for the EU in public. Hardly anyone seriously challenged the myths and misconceptions that dominate the British debate.

Maybe the EU is flawed, imperfect, in need of reform. The UK is imperfect too.

Brexit — Verdict

The Guardian

The OECD verdict:
— The UK growth rate will fall to 1% next year
— A disorderly exit from the EU in 2019 would hurt trade and reduce growth
— A reversal of the Brexit decision would have a significant positive impact on UK growth
— Low productivity and poor export performance leave the UK too weak to prosper outside the EU.

2017 October 17

Two Neutron Stars Collide

The New York Times

"It's the greatest fireworks show in the universe."
LIGO executive director David Reitze

"I can't think of a similar situation in the field of science in my lifetime, where a single event provides so many staggering insights about our universe."
LIGO Scientific Collaboration member Daniel Holz

"Joy for all."
LIGO Scientific Collaboration spokesman David Shoemaker

Astronomers have seen and heard a pair of neutron stars collide, giving them their first view of how the gold and other heavy metals in the universe were created. Such collisions spew out gamma rays, X‑rays, and radio waves in what astrophysicist Brian David Metzger in 2010 called a kilonova.

On August 17, a LIGO detector recorded a signal and sent out an alert. Transformed into sound, the signal was a 100 s chirp ending in a sudden whoop to 1 kHz. Meanwhile, the Fermi Space Telescope recorded a brief burst of gamma rays 2 s after the LIGO chirp and sent out its own alert. The GRB lasted about 2 s. The signals told a tale of a pair of neutron stars spiraling around each other.

The kilonova fireball showed up as a new bluish pinprick of light in the outer regions of NGC 4993, a galaxy about 130 million light years away. The merging neutron stars were probably relics of massive stars that had died in supernova explosions some 11 billion years ago. These neutron stars were about 1.1 and 1.6 times as massive as the sun.

As they approached each other, orbiting a thousand times a second, tidal forces bulged their surfaces outward. Their guts were ejected and formed a fat doughnut around them.

At the moment they touched, a shock wave squeezed more stuff out of their polar regions, but the doughnut and extreme magnetic fields confined the material into a pair of fast jets emitting gamma rays. As the jets slowed down, they became visible in X-rays and then radio waves.

The big splat poured out neutrons into space, where they transmuted surrounding atoms into heavy elements. The radioactivity of these elements kept the fireball hot. Over a few days, an amount of gold up to 100 times the mass of the Earth may have been blown into space.

The discovery filled fills the gap in our story of how the elements were cooked up from primordial H and He. Stars and supernovas can cook the elements up to Fe, but heavier elements need a different thermonuclear chemistry.

A blizzard of papers is being published — one in The Physical Review Letters has some 3,500 authors.


New Scientist

LIGO found it first, on 17 August, in the constellation Hydra. Gravitational waves and a burst of gamma radiation came from a collision between two neutron stars.

It marks the first proof that neutron star mergers emit gamma ray bursts, the first sighting of heavy elements being formed, and the first measurement of universal expansion using gravitational waves.

The collision was observed in wavelengths across the EM spectrum from radio to gamma rays. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope show us the resulting cloud of hot plasma and gas.

The gravitational waves produced in this collision also revealed how fast the universe is expanding. The waves confirm previous calculations.

We now know we have been witnessing neutron star mergers for as long as we have observed short gamma ray bursts. LIGO will see many more.

2017 October 16


Mike Pence

We will return American astronauts to the Moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond. The Moon will be a stepping stone, a training ground, a venue to strengthen our commercial and international partnerships as we refocus America's space program toward human space exploration.


Neel V. Patel

NASA already has plans to go to the Moon. The first of a series of manned missions to lunar orbit will launch in 2022. But the cost of maintaining and operating a lunar base would be astronomical.

NASA aims to develop the Deep Space Gateway, a crewed space station deployed between the Earth and the Moon as a staging point for deep space missions. It will be up above the lunar gravity well. The lunar surface is an unnecessary detour if the aim is to go to Mars.

AR All crewed missions divert funding from scientifically more productive robot missions. Human space exploration is best accomplished when the robot support systems are mature. Otherwise the first space tragedy will set back progress for decades.

Bright Propaganda

Nick Cohen

The Brexit right has no plan beyond a desire to turn Britain into a Randian dystopia where regulations vanish and the state withers. It has no policy beyond a nostalgic hope that Britain will sail across the wide blue oceans and conquer new markets as our imperial ancestors conquered them before. This is religion, not politics.

The Bright wingnuts have no allies, only enemies. Many of them have been fighting their opponents in the Tory party for 30 years. The wounds are too deep, the scars are too thick, for them to admit now the other side may have a point.

Beyond the desire to create an isolated state in the Atlantic, where welfare and regulations are slashed and climate change denied, is a more primal impulse. They cannot concede an inch to enemies. Compromise, even a compromise with reality, feels like a betrayal.

But as propagandists the Brexiteers are anything but stupid. They have been the most brilliantly successful manipulators of public opinion in modern British history. Despite the collapse in the pound and living standards, despite the descent of the negotiations into the mire, not one prominent supporter of Brexit has admitted to the smallest doubt.

Battle of Brexit

Simon Head

The outcome of the UK general election in June has changed everything. When Theresa May first said she intended to withdraw the UK from the EU single market and customs union, she also said she wanted to keep strategic sectors of the UK economy inside the single market and customs union. Britain would have its cake and eat it.

May put together her approach without much input from her cabinet or British business. Her fall has blown open the politics of Brexit within her cabinet. The contradictions have been exposed as rival factions fight for supremacy.

The cabinet faction led by Philip Hammond wants to salvage as much as possible of UK trading ties with the EU. Boris Johnson leads the cabinet faction agitating for a hard Brexit. The divisions make it unlikely that the cabinet can reach agreement.

Brexiteers say the outcome of the June 2016 referendum is the will of the people. But public opinion is unstable. If the polling numbers move against Brexit, the political class will surely take note and abandon the whole disastrous project.

A Great American Novel

Boyd Tonkin

The idea that rational men are not in charge of running the universe recurs through the 29 parts of the 880 pages of 4321. Years in the making, Paul Auster's 17th novel appeared just as the author turned 70. It is both a panorama of American life between 1947 and 1971 and a vastly magnified quartet, in which the same smart kid, Archie Ferguson from New Jersey, grows up in four different ways, with four separate destinies.

Grandson of a penniless migrant whose stumbling Yiddish replies at Ellis Island ("Ikh hob fargessen") turn him, by chance, into Ichabod Ferguson, Archie enters the world in March 1947, a month after his creator. After this prologue, the four versions of Ferguson are woven into a Bildungsroman that stretches from infancy to early adulthood.

The parallel Fergusons grow up in the same, shared time. Their paths never stray far from plausibility for a bright Jewish boy in the Newark suburbs. Auster makes them writers in assorted genres, to scatter shards of autobiography among his parallel worlds. Each Ferguson learns that reason governs neither the state nor the heart.

4321 by Paul Auster

2017 October 15


The Sunday Times

Beijing is preparing for the 19th national congress of the Communist Party of China in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square, starting Wednesday.

Xi Jinping, 64, is sure to continue as party general secretary and national president. The congress is a further opportunity for him to consolidate his power.

Last year the party added Core Leader to his other titles. This year the congress may celebrate Xi Jinping Thought — an honour previously reserved for Mao Zedong.

Xi aims to preside over the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. This China dream is hugely popular: 92% of citizens say China is on the right track.

Trump Cuts Health Care

Amy Davidson Sorkin

President Donald Trump staged a signing ceremony for an executive order designed to push people into junk insurance plans. He said he will withhold the subsidies that the government currently pays insurance companies. Both moves recklessly target vulnerable Americans.

Trump said he defunded the subsidies because paying them went against the will of Congress. In effect, Congress had promised the money but now wants the right to withhold it on a regular basis. This is something any congressional majority interested in avoiding chaos in the insurance markets could have fixed.

The false stories congressional Republicans drew of Obamacare fed partisan demands for Trump to savage it. The Republican party made a destructive promise that Trump has been eager to keep. Party leaders were quick with their gratitude.

The Trump administration has rewritten rules to let plans omit birth control. It has cut programs that help people sign up for Obamacare and hidden information about affordable plans. At the signing ceremony, Trump said: "I'm only signing it because it costs nothing."

Going Rogue

David Smith

Donald Trump's decision to go it alone with rapid fire announcements on healthcare and Iran reflects his boiling frustration with the limits of presidential power.

Senator Chris Murphy: "Trump's decision to stop ACA payments is nuclear grade bananas, a temper tantrum that sets the entire health system on fire."

Trump's threat to terminate the Iran deal puts him at odds with secretary of state Rex Tillerson and defense secretary Jim Mattis.

White House chief of staff John Kelly: "The Congress has been frustrating to him .. in his view, the solutions are obvious."

Free Will

Oliver Moody

Replika is a chat bot that gradually moulds its traits and style of speech around each user so as to win trust. It is just one of a host of electronic angels and demons coders are building for us. This technology poses new risks for our freedom and dignity.

We need to decide what is acceptable, before it is decided for us. Imagine yourself as a cloud of data moving through the world. Every time you do anything, you shed more data that can be sucked up and used to understand what makes you tick.

These tools will undermine what it means to be an individual. Corporations will use their new powers to manipulate our psychology for their own gain. In a world where machines can predict and sculpt our deepest desires, free will is under threat.

Cambridge Analytica used AI to help elect Donald Trump. Members of the Quantified Self movement log every aspect of their lives with fitness trackers, smartphone sensors, and other widgets. Replika will wake up on millions of devices next week.

2017 October 14


Donald Trump

The Iranian dictatorship .. remains the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism .. It develops, deploys, and proliferates missiles .. It harasses American ships .. It imprisons Americans .. And it launches cyberattacks ..

Realizing the gravity of the situation, the United States and the United Nations Security Council sought, over many years, to stop Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons with a wide array of strong economic sanctions.

But the previous administration lifted these sanctions, just before what would have been the total collapse of the Iranian regime, through the deeply controversial 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. ..

Iran is not living up to the spirit of the deal. So today .. I am announcing a new strategy ..

1 We will work with our allies to counter the regime's destabilizing activity and support for terrorist proxies in the region.

2 We will place additional sanctions on the regime to block their financing of terror.

3 We will address the regime's proliferation of missiles and weapons that threaten its neighbors, global trade, and freedom of navigation.

4 We will deny the regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.


Federica Mogherini

We cannot afford .. to dismantle a nuclear agreement that is working and delivering .. Iran is implementing all its nuclear-related commitments .. There have been no violations of any of the commitments included in the agreement.

The international community .. has clearly indicated that the deal is and will continue to be in place. The European Union continues to fully support the Iran nuclear deal, and .. is committed to preserve it, to the benefit of all, including the Iranian people.

2017 October 13

Trump Can Nuke Alone

The New York Times

Does President Trump understand, and can he responsibly manage, the most destructive nuclear arsenal on Earth?

He has threatened to totally destroy North Korea. He has reportedly pressed for a massive buildup in the American nuclear arsenal. And soon he will decide for or against the Iran nuclear deal.

Senator Bob Corker trusts Rex Tillerson, Jim Mattis, and John Kelly to help "separate our country from chaos" — a searing indictment from a respected voice on national security issues.

Congress is considering legislation to bar the president from launching a first nuclear strike without a declaration of war by Congress. Today he could unleash a nuclear war within minutes, by his word alone.

How Many Nukes?

Fred Kaplan

When President Trump was shown a graph tracking the dramatic reduction in American and Russian nuclear weapons over recent decades, he pointed to the peak year 1969, when America had 32,000 nuclear weapons, and said he wanted that many nukes now.

Officials explained that the roughly 4,000 weapons in the current US strategic arsenal are better able to carry out their missions than the much larger force half a century ago. As other national security issues were brought up, Pentagon officials were rattled by his lack of understanding on all fronts.

Trump is not interested in learning. His idolatry of military officers is well known, but less noted is his idolatry of big guns for their own sake. He wants military parades as a show of strength. He told his aides he wanted 32,000 nuclear weapons because that was the largest number of nuclear weapons a president ever had.

Forget about the budget or why we need so many nuclear weapons. And forget IQ — America's top diplomat called Trump a fucking moron.

Brexit — Deadlock

John Crace

Michel Barnier: "Here we are again. The same two people." Then he switched to French. He reiterated the three things on which there was no real progress. Citizens rights. Northern Ireland. The financial settlement. He tried to offer a glimmer of hope: "Decisive progress is possible within two months." The last time someone had said "It will be all over by Christmas" was in 1914.

Ein harter Brexit ohne Austrittsabkommen wird immer wahrscheinlicher

AR Soon time to pack my bags.

2017 October 12

Philosophical Investigations

Ian Ground

Ludwig Wittgenstein is seen as the model of a great philosopher. He is obscure and intense, severe and mystical, charismatic and strange, driven and tragic, with his difficulty bound up with his character and his life. Wittgenstein saw philosophy not just as a vocation, but as a way of life.

Born in 1889, Wittgenstein came from a wealthy but dysfunctional Viennese family. He began as an engineer and ended as a fellow in philosophy at Cambridge. He published only one book in his lifetime, the Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus (1921). He left manuscripts and notes later published in various forms. The central work is the posthumous Philosophical Investigations (1953).

In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein asked what must be the case if we are able to have true and false thoughts of the world. His answer was that the world, language, and thought must share a common logical form. But later he came to abandon and replace much of this conception.

In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein aims to wean us from the idea of intrinsically representational and meaningful psychological states or processes. Because we think language is fundamentally about naming things, we think that psychological concepts must be names of things in an inner space, so language is really private.

Wittgenstein says meaning only gets going in and through the shared practices and interactions of living beings and is only visible in their lives and activity. In the beginning is not the word but the deed. Just as gold does not explain the value of money, thoughts do not explain the meaning of words. We do not mirror reality. We are enmeshed in it.


Das Volk ist derjenige Teil des Staates,
der nicht weiß, was er will.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel


Government by the worst
and most unscrupulous
people among us, or
the most inept kind
of government

"Far from having more for
public services, Brexit Britain
will have to spend tens of
billions it doesn't have on
new quangos — brilliant."
James Chapman

Guide To Presidential Etiquette

If you are the POTUS, you may:

Mock a foreign leader with
a demeaning nickname and
threaten his country with
nuclear annihilation
over Twitter

AfD is the German UKIP,
another tribal atavism:
UKIP brought us the
madness of Brexit;
AfD can do worse

If President Trump refuses to
certify that Iran is complying
with the nuclear deal he will
be making his most feckless
foreign policy decision yet

"Theresa May can restore
some of her credibility by
putting Boris Johnson in
charge of Brexit."
Mary Dejevsky

AR That would add
Damian Green's "gaiety"
to the proceedings!


Not quite for everyone

"Nobody has yet said they
disagree with government
policy. Boris is doing what
Boris has always done, adding
to the gaiety of nations."
Damian Green

Zapad 2017

Shwedagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda

UK foreign secretary
Boris Johnson recited part of a
colonialist poem in front of local
dignitaries while on an official
visit to Myanmar in January.

In the Shwedagon Pagoda, the
most sacred Buddhist site in
Yangon, he started reciting
The Road to Mandalay
by Rudyard Kipling.

The UK ambassador to Myanmar
stopped BoJo before he got to:

Bloomin' idol made o' mud
Wot they called the
Great Gawd Budd


2017 October 11

A German Prophet

James Angelos

Götz Kubitschek, a tall black-clad figure with a well-trimmed goatee and the upright posture of a military officer, is 47 and lives in a village in eastern Germany. He calls himself a conservative, battling to preserve German identity, which he says is threatened by immigration and the alienating effects of modernity. He has warned of the looming demise of the German Volk and has connections to some of the most radical AfD politicians.

European nationalists promote a kind of New Right rainbow coalition, in which sovereign states steadfastly maintain their ethnic and cultural identities within a larger western ideal. New Right thinkers dream of establishing a common front that would unite opponents of liberalism on both extremes of the political spectrum. They say German self-hatred must be overcome for Germany to be great again.

Kubitschek says that in a time of great peril a leader must act beyond the law. He says the consequences of a revolt are less troubling than the threat of what would happen if the Volk lacked the courage to defend itself from cultural erosion. Recently he published Finis Germania, a book by Rolf Peter Sieferle.

AR Finis Germania — blog 2017 July 12

Brexit — Update

Financial Times

UK prime minister Theresa May, who voted Remain in the 2016 referendum, was asked how she would vote in a new referendum: "What I did last time around was I looked at everything and came to a judgment and I'd do exactly the same this time around."

European Council president Donald Tusk: "If it turns out that the talks continue at a slow pace, and that sufficient progress hasn't been reached, then together with our UK friends we will have to think about where we are heading."

UK chancellor Philip Hammond: "The government and the Treasury are prepared. We are planning for every outcome."

AR We can still turn HMS Britannia around and escape the Brexit falls.

2017 October 10

American Kakistocracy

Norm Ornstein

We are experiencing kakistocracy in America. The Constitution prohibits anything of value other than a salary going to a president from the federal government or the states. Trump pushed for more favorable property taxes. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have sought to leverage their White House status for business gain. A string of Trump cabinet members and White House staffers have been caught spending staggering sums of taxpayer dollars to charter jets.

World stability is endangered by the embarrassing triangle involving secretary of state Rex Tillerson, secretary of defense James Mattis, and Trump. Within the last week, Trump undercut Tillerson via tweet, taking diplomatic talks with North Korea off the table while his secretary of state was in China. Then Tillerson reportedly called the president a moron. Mattis then told the Senate that America should continue to certify the Iran nuclear deal, after which the president undercut his credibility by decertifying the deal.

Donald Trump campaigned by promising to run government like a business. Ot the 602 key policy positions in the executive requiring Senate confirmation, only 142 have been filled and 289 have not even had a nominee chosen. The record here is starkly worse than under the previous four presidents.

John Kelly left his position at Homeland Security for the White House in July. The vacancy he left remains. There are still no nominees for undersecretary for national protection, undersecretary for science and technology, or assistant secretaries for policy or immigration. The same pattern holds true for almost every other cabinet department or key agency.

The record of the Trump administration in its first nine months is abysmal. Not one of the big goals set by the president or majority congressional leaders has been achieved. The administration is inept, venal, and reckless.

2017 Nobel Prize in Economics

Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Richard H. Thaler has incorporated psychologically realistic assumptions into analyses of economic decision making. He has shown how limited rationality, social preferences, and lack of self-control systematically affect individual decisions as well as market outcomes.

Limited rationality — Thaler developed the theory of mental accounting, explaining how people simplify financial decision making by creating separate accounts in their minds, and showed how aversion to losses can explain the endowment effect.

Social preferences — Thaler showed how consumers may stop firms from raising prices in periods of high demand, but not in times of rising costs, and devised a tool to measure attitudes to fairness in different groups of people around the world.

Lack of self-control — Thaler analyzed self-control problems using a planner-doer model to describe the internal tension between long-term planning and short-term doing, and demonstrated how nudging may help people exercise better self-control.

Thaler has built a bridge between the economic and psychological analyses of individual decision making. Behavioural economics has had a profound impact on many areas of economic research and policy.

Living With God

Peter Brown

Saint Augustine wrote his Confessions in about 397 CE, a few years after he had become a Christian bishop. In the first nine books, Augustine describes his life from his birth to his conversion in Milan and the death of his mother. In books 10 and 11, he includes philosophical thoughts on the nature of memory and time. In the last two books, Augustine plunges into the Hebrew scriptures.

In her new translation, Sarah Ruden renames God as a master. This change brings Augustine to life. In relation to God, Augustine experiences all the ups and downs of a household slave in relation to his master. Augustine changes in his relation to God, over the years, from slave to repentant son to lover. Ruden conveys a living sense of the being before whom we find him transfixed in prayer.

Augustine uses medical terminology in books 6 and 7 to describe the last stages of his conversion. Here the crack of the whip is silent. Nor does truth dawn suddenly for him in the garish manner of conventional conversion narratives. Instead, we enter the gentle light of a Roman sickroom, as God, the supremely tender doctor, tiptoes in to place his hand on Augustine.

Augustine has a gift for miniaturizing sin. Examining his motives for robbing a pear tree, he isolates the possibility that he had acted gratuitously, simply to show that he could do whatever he wished. By the time the bishop approached his sexual temptations, he looks at his sins as if through the diminishing end of a telescope. They are disturbing because they are so small but so tenacious.

2017 October 9


Kyle Griffin

Trump: "Maybe it's the calm before the storm."
Reporter: "What storm Mr President?"
Trump: "You'll find out."


The New York Times

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Republican Senator Bob Corker says President Trump is treating his office like a reality show, with reckless threats toward other countries that could lead to World War III: "He concerns me. He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation .. the White House has become an adult day care center .. every single day at the White House, it's a situation of trying to contain him."

Corker could play a key role if Trump follows through on his threat to decertify the Iran nuclear deal. On Trump: "I know .. in several instances, he's hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway by tweeting things out .. the vast majority of our caucus understands .. the volatility that we're dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road."

Corker, 65, is a former mayor of Chattanooga who became wealthy in construction. He says the commander in chief is not fully aware of the power of his office: "I don't think he appreciates that when the president of the United States speaks and says the things that he does, the impact that it has around the world."


New Scientist

New cochlear implants will let users stream audio directly from their iPhone into their cochlear nerve. Apple and Cochlear have made the connectivity available for any hearing implants that use the Nucleus 7 sound processor. The audio signal is highly compressed, but the technology is likely to be adopted by consumer audio devices. Technology giants are betting heavily on audio interfaces becoming the norm in the future. We will wear transparent ear buds that let us hear the world around us while also working online through our phone.

AR Ooh, lovely!

2017 October 8

A German Patriot

Roger Cohen

Klaus Riedelsdorf is a German patriot. He wants his country back. Islam is an ideology, he says, and an Islamic takeover of Germany is the greatest danger the country has faced since the Cold War.

He cites three fiascos: the euro fiasco, where Germany ended up paying to bail out other countries; the environment fiasco, where Germany renounced nuclear power; and the refugee fiasco, where Angela Merkel has let in a million-strong "army with stones" since 2015.

Riedelsdorf is a member of the AfD party. He is happy with equal rights for gays and women, but he asks whether what homosexuals do with each other really needs to be taught in German schools or whether gender-neutral neologisms really need to be adopted to satisfy feminists.

Riedelsdorf on political correctness: "It makes no sense to force people to think this or that when they don't believe it. They will do the opposite as soon as they can."

On WW2: "My grandfather and three of my father's brothers fought in the war. They did what they were told to do, as any soldier in the world would. They tried to be honorable. The war was a crime, we know that, but soldiers did not commit the crimes. That was the SS. We need a differentiated view of the Third Reich."

AR I can understand and even sympathize with his views — except that patriotism is nationalism and nationalism is a tribal atavism that must be damped if not squashed in the sort of globalized world that I see as our only hope in the longer term.

2017 October 7


Martin Wolf

Jeremy Corbyn: "The next Labour government will transform Britain by genuinely putting power in the hands of the people."

Socialism has come in three main varieties: autocratic, populist, and social democratic. Autocratic socialism was a catastrophe. Populist socialism has never worked economically. Social democracy has been a triumph.

European social democrats understand that any successful program for a party in government must:
— avoid the lure of magical thinking on budget constraints for government
— recognise the crucial role of incentives in shaping human behaviour
— thoroughly internalise the importance of a stable institutional framework
— understand that the private sector plays a leading role in the economy

Populist socialism is undisciplined on public finances, unconcerned about incentives, contemptuous of property rights, hostile to the private sector, and antagonistic to the constraining institutions.

AR People power means putting pleasure now over pain later.

Deep Tory Problems

Philip Collins

Manchester was a theatre of delusion for the Conservative party. Hollowed out intellectually, the party has retreated to the comfort zone of obsession with Europe. The Eurosceptics have released a toxin into their party which is poisoning their politics.

The Tory party has the leader it deserves. The conservatism of Theresa May consists of some strong ideas weakly held and is reluctantly liberal on social issues, prone to protectionism in economics, and patriotic in character.

The Tory party contains dissent. Few Tory leaders were ever ideologues. A party that pursued a policy of imperial protection before switching to the advocacy of free trade without ceasing to be the Conservatives was never defined by either.

Passion on Europe has turned the party into a pressure group. Europe is their only issue and it is shattering them. Some of them regard Boris Johnson as their saviour, forgetting that he and his kind are to blame for their move to the fringe.

AR My published comment under this article drew by far the most recommendations, so far as I can see, among many hundreds of comments: "Brexit is an expression of an unwanted disease. Most British voters who suffered from it didn't even realise its virulence. They thought detesting foreigners — who begin at Calais — was a patriotic eccentricity. In fact that detestation is toxic mind rot."

2017 October 6

Rhodes Scholars

Max Harris

I grew up surrounded by books and Oxford was always on my radar. The Rhodes scholarship financed my graduate work at Oxford from 2012 to 2014. It was really chance that led me to take the All Souls exam and win a fellowship.

The Rhodes Must Fall campaign began in South Africa and came to Oxford in 2015. It has sparked debate about Oxford and its institutions. The scholarship is a kind of brand and scholars are quite sensitive to its reputation.

I knew little about Cecil Rhodes when I won the scholarship. I backed the campaign partly because of its history and partly because I knew some of the black students who had launched the campaign and wanted to help.

The movement aims to decolonialize curricula, to help correct the underrepresentation of black students and academics, and to relocate the statue of Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes House is not happy with its methods and language but I hope things will change.

I see no contradiction between accepting the scholarship and criticizing the man who financed it. On the contrary, I think it my duty to be aware of the crimes and contribute to their reparation. The statue should be put in a museum.

Rhodes Scholarships go back to 1902 and colonial capitalist Cecil Rhodes. They are awarded only to members of certain nations. The Rhodes Trust aims "to identify and develop leaders" and has funded around 8,000 scholars so far.

All Souls College in Oxford was founded in 1438 and contains only fellows. Its entrance exam for Oxford students is billed as the hardest in the world: only 2 per year win a generously funded 7-year fellowship.

AR At Oxford, between my third and fourth degrees, I felt tempted by the All Souls exam — but somehow never sat it.

2017 October 5

Nobel Prizes

Ed Yong

Three men won the Nobel Prize for Physics for their discovery of gravitational waves. But what of the other scientists who contributed to the LIGO project?

Every year, when Nobel Prizes are awarded in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine, critics note that they are an absurd and anachronistic way of recognizing scientists for their work.

The scientific Nobels have drawn controversy since their inception. Beyond who should have received the prize and who should not, the problem is that the Nobels reward three individuals at most for each of the scientific prizes in any given year. And modern science is a team sport.

The price of reform is low, and the cost of avoiding it is high. The Nobels feed the pernicious myth of the lone genius. They reinforce a reward system in science in which the winner takes all, and the contributions of the many are neglected by disproportionate attention to the contributions of a few.

And in many cases, the prizes are about who has survived. Nobel Prizes cannot be awarded posthumously. Women have won just 12 of the 214 prizes in physiology or medicine, just 4 of the 175 prizes in chemistry, and just 2 of the 204 prizes in physics.

None of this would matter if Nobels were no big deal. But laureates are blessed with eternal fame — a problem when some turn to pseudoscience or worse.

2017 October 4

A Banjaxed Conference

Marina Hyde

By the end of the Conservative party conference, Theresa May had suffered so many painful betrayals and humiliations that she should have ditched her speech. Handed a P45 by a comedian as she coughed it out, she had already spent four days having to suck up all manner of indignities.

The party seemed to have called an election by mistake. This conference was an attempt to contain the fallout, which repeatedly threatened to spill over into open recrimination. Everywhere you went, you could hear party members muttering about wanting big ideas, a big vision.

The average age of Conservative members is around 70. Perhaps there was the odd clue that this sort of reckoning was in the post. The endless giveaways to baby boomers. The pollsters who used to say the only demographic one needed to pay less attention to than young people was dead people. The sense among the constituency associations that the definition of young is under 48.

Neither the Tories nor Labour — both of which proclaim how useless the other lot are — seem aware what their failure to pull comfortably ahead against that kind of adversary says about them. We might hesitate to characterise them as two equally formidable adversaries grappling at the Reichenbach Falls. Two drunks fighting in a puddle feels more like it.

AR The original article is long and witty — I recommend it.

Gravitational Wave Nobelists

New Scientist

Gravitational waves have earned a Nobel prize for Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish, and Kip Thorne, the three leaders of the LIGO/VIRGO collaboration that found the waves in 2015.

Half of the $1.1 million prize goes to Weiss. The remainder is shared between Barish and Thorne. Weiss founds ways back in the 1970s to cancel out sources of background noise that could be mistaken for gravitational waves. Thorne joined forces with Weiss to develop the interferometer. Barish was leader of LIGO and transformed a small research group of 40 into a major international collaboration of 1000 scientists.

Weiss: "We know about black holes and neutron stars, but we hope there are other phenomena we can see because of the gravitational waves they emit."

AR Thorne co-authored with Charles Misner and John Wheeler the bible of general relativity: Gravitation

2017 October 3

Guns In America

Nicholas Kristof

Since 1970, more Americans have died from guns (including suicides, murders and accidents) than the sum total of all the Americans who died in all the wars in American history, back to the American Revolution. Every day, some 92 Americans die from guns, and American kids are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries.

Godfather Of Brexit

Financial Times

A friend says UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson has reinvented himself as the godfather of Brexit.

A cabinet minister: "Boris was in danger of sliding out of view but he is now back in the game. You get some party activists chuntering about his disloyalty to Theresa May, but at the same meetings you get people saying — Good old Boris, I'm glad somebody is saying those things."

BoJo: "It would be foolish to leave the EU only to remain in orbit in a state of lunar capture."

BoJo Brexit Bombast

Janan Ganesh

Boris Johnson is wrong in his impatience for a fast Brexit. He is right to sense that delay suits the Remainers. Once Britain enters a holding pen between in and out, the chances of exit fall.

BoJo has no positive account of exit because there is none to be had. The EU does not hold member states back from external trade or from munificent healthcare spending. BoJo has a political hunch that exit has to happen at pace or not at all.

No prime minister will dare to rescind the referendum. But Britain could ease into a limbo in which two years of transition become more. Transition is the last public service of Theresa May.

2017 October 2

Zapad 2017

The New York Times

The military exercise Zapad 2017 showed progress in the Russian ability to conduct complex, large-scale operations, using drones and other new technology. It far exceeded in scope and scale what Moscow had said it would conduct.

Before the exercise, Russia said the drills would involve fewer than 13,000 troops engaged in a counterterrorism scenario in Belarus, the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, the Baltic Sea region, and around St. Petersburg. Instead, tens of thousands of Russian troops in the Arctic and Far East, the Black Sea, near Ukraine, and in the Abkhazia region of Georgia also joined in.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu: "In effect, these activities together constituted a single strategic exercise, involving the full spectrum of Russian and Belarusian military."

Newtonian Resurrection

A.N. Wilson

Isaac Newton went up to Cambridge in 1661. As a Fellow of Trinity College and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics from 1669 onward, Newton was obliged to subscribe to the 39 articles of the Church of England. Unusually for a fellow at this period, he refused to take holy orders.

In addition to his public work as a mathematician and physicist, Newton secretly studied Christian doctrines. He concluded that the central doctrines of Christianity were monstrous idolatries and perversions of true religion.

Newton believed he was one of the true believers mentioned in the book of the Apocalypse, who would be resurrected to rule over mortals in the Millennium. The Archbishop of Canterbury talked with him and thought he was mad.

2017 October 1


Conservative Party Conference

Theresa May says the cabinet is united and she will be leader for the long term.


Niall Ferguson

The Russian government meddled in the US presidential election. Shortly after the election, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg dismissed as "a pretty crazy idea" the notion that fake news might have won it for Trump. Last week he said he regretted those words.

Russian trolls with bogus identities bought more than 3,000 Facebook ads. The ads could have been seen by tens of millions of people. Russians used Facebook Events to organise phoney political protests in the United States. Twitter was used in a similar way.

It is still too early to conclude that Russian use of social media decided the election. But we probably can conclude that social media decided the election. The only indicators that reliably predicted the election result were Facebook and Twitter. Trump completely dominated Clinton on both.

Facebook has more than 2 billion users around the world. In America, about two-thirds of adults are on Facebook. Nearly half get their news from it. The most powerful media publisher in the history of the world — Citizen Zuck.


Anil Ananthaswamy

Henry Markram aims to understand the workings of our brains. As our brains think, learn and remember, they create elaborate but ephemeral structures in at least seven mathematical dimensions. These transient structures, which appear and disappear like sandcastles on a beach, could help us understand how the brain creates our thoughts and feelings.

The Blue Brain Project was launched in 2005, with the aim of simulating the human brain inside a computer. In late 2015, the team announced it had recreated a cylinder of rat brain 0.5 mm wide and 2 mm long, containing 31,000 neurons of more than 200 different types, with some 8 million connections between them. For Markram, the project director, such simulations let you see how neurons work together at a level of detail inaccessible in a real brain. Making sense of the data involves algebraic topology.

A network of neurons can be depicted as a graph. A clique is a dense type of graph in which every neuron is connected to every other neuron. They correspond to geometrical shapes: 3 neurons in a clique form a 2D triangle, 4 form a 3D tetrahedron, 5 neurons a 4D structure, and so on. Researchers see such cliques in real brains but cannot see the direction of information flow within them. This directionality is clear in a digital brain.

A team looked for directed cliques in the Blue Brain data, in which information enters via one neuron, passes through each of the others and exits via the last. The biologically inspired network had many times more directed cliques than a randomly constructed network would, including cliques with up to 8 neurons in 7D cliques — which may increase as the Blue Brain simulation grows in size.

Neurons that fire together wire together. In the simulated brain, pairs of neurons connected as part of a directed clique are more likely to fire together than other pairs. The bigger the clique a pair of neurons belong to, the more likely they are to fire together. Simple cliques form first, and then quickly grow bigger. The stronger the stimulus and the more synchronized the input received by the neurons, the bigger the cliques. Once the peak is reached, the structures collapse. Typically, the process lasts a few tens of milliseconds.

Markram: "When anything happens, the brain builds the most complex structure that it can. It climbs as high as it possibly can go, and then it collapses. All stimuli evoke the same stereotypical, multidimensional sandcastle building and collapsing."

Markram thinks this topological approach could help crack consciousness.

AR Wonderful — this math fits my picture of consciousness in Mindworlds.

Blade Runner 2049
Allstar/Warner Bros
Blade Runner 2049


Britain has fallen from the top
to the bottom of the league of
G7 leading economies in the
year since the Brexit vote


"De l'audace, encore de l'audace,
toujours de l'audace et la Patrie
sera sauvée!
Georges Danton

Boeing v Bombardier

US Department of Commerce
sides with Boeing in its war
against Canada planemaker Bombardier and slaps 220%
tariffs on sales into the US,
alleging Bombardier sold
airliners below cost into US
thanks to subsidies from
Canada and UK.

AR Bad for US-UK trade
prospects after Brexit.

The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale
A US fundamentalist theocracy
treats women as property of
the state, forcing them
into sexual servitude
to repopulate a


2017 September 30

BFR Mars Vision

The New York Times

At the IAC in Australia, Elon Musk said he has a workable plan for a new rocket and spaceship. The “BFR” would be 9 m in diameter and able to lift 150 Mg to LEO — more powerful than the Saturn 5 rocket that took Apollo astronauts to the Moon.

For Mars colonists, the BFR would lift a spaceship with 40 cabins for about 100 people per flight. After launch, the booster would return to the launchpad. The spaceship would continue to orbit and refill its tanks with methane and oxygen before pushing on to Mars. With everything reusable, the cost of operation would be low. The system could even fly passengers between any two points on Earth in less than an hour. Musk said BFR could launch in 2022 and go to Mars in 2024.

Lockheed Martin has a Mars mission vision too. It would head to Mars in 2028 with 6 astronauts and the first trip would only circle Mars for a year before returning to Earth. It would use the Orion crew capsule and the NASA Deep Space Gateway.

Musk — Moon — Mars

New Scientist

Elon Musk dreams of an enormous new rocket that he calls the BFR, to lift 150 tons up to LEO. Once up and running, it will launch satellites and ferry cargo and crew to the ISS.

Then it will fly to the Moon: "This will enable the creation of a lunar base. It's 2017 — we should have a lunar base by now. And then of course Mars, becoming a multi-planet species. Beats the hell out of being a single-planet species."

5778 Tishri 9


Jerusalem Post

UN schoolbooks used in Gaza and the West Bank display extreme anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments and no hope for peace in the region, according to a new study.

The textbooks depict Jews as having no rights in the region but only greedy ambitions. The Jewish holy sites are all presented as Muslim holy places threatened by Jews. Israel is not recognized at all.

Schoolbooks dated 2016 say the 6 million Jews living in the country after its supposed liberation will endure expulsion from the land and extermination of their defeated and scattered remnants.

The UN is helping to prepare Palestinian children and youths for a future war with Israel.


Mustafa Akyol

In Kuala Lumpur, I recently gave a talk on apostasy from Islam. I said Muslims must uphold freedom of conscience, in line with the Quranic dictum that there shall be no compulsion in religion.

A group of religion enforcement officers came into the lecture hall, looking serious. I and my hosts decided to cancel my next lecture. I went to the airport to go home but was arrested and locked up. In the morning, I was taken to a Shariah court, interrogated for two hours, and finally let go.

A parenthetical note is frequently inserted into Saudi translations of the Quranic verse: “There shall be no compulsion in religion (in becoming a Muslim).” They agree that no one should be forced to become a Muslim but think Muslims should be compelled to practice Islam in the way they define.

By policing religion, the authorities are enfeebling their societies, raising hypocrites, and causing people to lose their respect for Islam.

2017 September 28


Joan Acocella

Hugh Hefner, the founder and editor-in-chief of Playboy, always said his ideal for the centerfold photo was "the girl next door with her clothes off."

Playboy was launched in 1953. The magazine proposed that wanton sex was good for you. In his first issue, Hefner ran a nude photograph of Marilyn Monroe. It made the issue a hit.

Hefner set out to sell an upscale hedonism. He brought in fiction by well-known authors and featured interviews with Miles Davis, Peter Sellers, Bertrand Russell, Malcolm X, Billy Wilder, Richard Burton, Jawaharlal Nehru, Jimmy Hoffa, Albert Schweitzer, Vladimir Nabokov, Jean Genet, Ingmar Bergman, Dick Gregory, Henry Miller, Cassius Clay, George Wallace, and many more.

The fee for a centerfold shoot today is $25,000. These women hope the centerfold will get them a career in modeling or acting. One wonders whether sex is still the point.

Playboy is still the best-selling men's magazine in the United States.

More Gravitational Waves

New Scientist

On 14 August, the new Virgo detector in Italy and the two US detectors that make up LIGO all observed the ripples in spacetime caused by two black holes merging. This is the fourth gravitational wave detection ever. All four have come from pairs of black holes spiraling toward one another and then colliding.

The black holes that caused this latest burst of gravitational waves were 31 and 25 times the mass of the sun before they merged. They are located about 1.8 billion light years away from Earth in the direction of the constellation Eridanus.

LIGO collaboration member Kenneth Strain: "Three detectors is not just a little bit better than two — it gives us radically better information about the location of the source and what's going on with the source. The numbers we can get now are much more precise than before."

LIGO spokesperson David Shomaker: "This is just the beginning of observations with the network enabled by Virgo and LIGO working together. With the next observing run planned for fall 2018 we can expect such detections weekly or even more often."

2017 September 27

Relaunching the European Project

Emmanuel Macron

The Europe we know is too weak, too slow, too inefficient, but Europe alone can give us a capacity for action in the world in the face of major contemporary challenges. The only path that assures our future is the rebuilding of a Europe that is sovereign, united, and democratic.

Security and Defense
— Create an EU intervention force
— Create an EU defense budget and a common doctrine to act
— Create an EU intelligence academy and a public prosecutor for terrorism
— Create an EU asylum office and border police
— Create an EU natural disaster response force

Economy and Trade
— Impose an EU tax on financial transactions and use it to fund development aid
— Impose an EU company tax with rate bands as a condition for structural funds
— Strengthen the EZ with a stronger budget and a minister of finance

Environment and Climate
— Set a carbon tax of at least €25 per ton to penalize pollution
— Impose a carbon tax at EU external borders on imports from polluting industries

Digital and Innovation
— Create an EU innovation agency to finance research in fields such as AI
— Create EU champions in the digital transition
— Tax digital enterprises by taxing the value where it is created
— Regulate major platforms

EU Institutions
— Start a broad debate on Europe to offer ideas before the 2019 EU elections
— Elect half of the European Parliament on transnational lists
— Reduce the European Commission to 15 members.
— Rebuild the European project by and with the people


Mehreen Khan

French president Emmanuel Macron spoke on the future of Europe for 100 minutes at the Sorbonne. It was more than double the projected time and was greeted with rapturous applause.

Macron repeated the French desire for a common EZ budget, focused on renewed Franco-German cooperation, and proposed the creation of a common European intervention force and joint defense doctrine. He did not dwell on the details.

"I have no red lines, I have only horizons. Audacity is the only answer."


Brendan Howlin

We were told that there will be no going back to a hard border in Ireland. But if part of the island is in a different customs union than the remainder, the need for border checks seems inescapable.

Ireland does more than €1 billion a week trade with the UK. Last year alone saw 110 million border crossings. Some 375,000 Irish people now live in the UK. And 277,000 British people now live in the Republic of Ireland. For this volume of trade and travel to be interrupted by border checks is unacceptable.

The peace in Ireland is anchored in EU membership. EU citizenship has allowed a blurring of British versus Irish identity. We cannot allow Brexit to undermine the progress made since 1998.


Jan-Werner Müller

Jason Brennan says most US voters are ignorant about politics. They treat politics like a sport. The completely ignorant are hobbits, those who root for one team and hate the other are hooligans, and a tiny minority of vulcans examine the evidence to form their political judgments.

Brennan proposes restricting the franchise on the grounds of a knowledge test to create an epistocracy. He rejects the pious notion that political participation tends to educate, enlighten, and ennoble. He says more political involvement is likely to turn hobbits into hooligans.

Brennan says modern democracies fail to achieve rational ends. But the democratic process is not really about individual voters making rational or irrational choices. Rather, it allows leaders to gain power on the basis of their claims to represent different ideas, interests, and identities.

The quality of democracy depends on the space between voters and the policy decisions that bind them. Ignorance and misinformation are often spread by political elites to further their interests. Democratic politics can be ugly, but it can throw the bastards out.

Neuromorphic Computing


Intel has developed a self-learning neuromorphic chip that mimics how the brain functions. This extremely energy-efficient chip gets smarter over time and does not need to be trained in the traditional way. It takes a novel approach to computing via asynchronous spiking.

Neuromorphic computing draws inspiration from our current understanding of brain architecture and computations. The brain relays information with pulses or spikes, modulating the synaptic strengths or weight of the interconnections based on timing of these spikes, and storing these changes locally at the interconnections. Intelligent behaviors emerge from the cooperative and competitive interactions between multiple regions within the neural network and its environment.

The Loihi research test chip includes digital circuits that mimic the brain, making machine learning faster and more efficient. Neuromorphic chip models are inspired by how neurons communicate and learn, using spikes and plastic synapses that can be modulated based on timing.

2017 September 26

Germany Turns Right

Klaus Brinkbäumer

Germany is heading for a Jamaica coalition. Germany has never seen such a coalition at the national level. But the coalition has no substantive foundation. It only has a common enemy, the AfD.

That is hardly a promising starting point for good governance. Liberal democracy is insecure. We are seeing in the United Kingdom and in France how tiny cracks can grow with time into big divides. We have seen in the United States, Poland, Hungary, and Turkey how ruthless politics can become and how rapidly freedom can be eroded.

Whether the AfD, with its intolerance and xenophobia and with the return of Nazi notions it represents, will remain a fringe phenomenon or whether it will prosper and gain power will depend on how the new government and the new parliament approach the challenges of the coming years.

Angela Merkel enjoys admiration from abroad. In crises, she seems neutral and ambiguous — she waits to see how things play out. Germany lost control of its borders for around two months in 2015. Merkel will have to find her way to determination and learn to explain the steps she takes if she wants to prevent the populists from growing.

The Bundestag has not been good enough in recent years. There have been few debates deserving of the name and the government has not felt beholden to parliament. Democracy deserves better.

Germany Is Normal

Gideon Rachman

Germany has lost its immunity to angry populism. The Alternative for Germany scored over 13% of the vote, still well below the proportion of voters who elected Trump, delivered Brexit, and opted for extremists in France. But its strong showing dashes the hope that Germany is different.

The AfD has begun to play with the most incendiary material in German history. Alexander Gauland said Germans have a right to be proud of their soldiers in both world wars. Alice Weidel called the German government the puppets of the victorious powers of the second world war.

The presence of a rightwing nationalist party in the Bundestag will change the tone of German politics. Germany already has difficult relations with both Turkey and Poland. Hopes for deeper European integration may be put on hold. Germany looks like a normal western country.

The Darkening Age

Catherine Nixey

A militant religion deliberately attacked and suppressed the teachings of the classical world, ushering in centuries of unquestioning adherence to its faith.

The early Christians, far from being meek and mild, were violent, ruthless, and fundamentally intolerant. Unlike the old polytheistic faiths, this new ideology stated not only that it was the way, the truth and the light, but also that every other way was wrong and had to be destroyed. For the first five centuries, those who failed to fall into step with its beliefs were pursued in every possible way: social, legal, financial, and physical. Their altars were upturned and their temples demolished, their statues hacked to pieces and their priests killed. It was an annihilation.

The Christian church demolished, vandalised and melted down a simply staggering quantity of art. Classical statues were knocked from their plinths, defaced, defiled and torn limb from limb. Temples were razed to their foundations and burned to the ground. Monasteries began to erase the works of Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, and Archimedes. Every single work of Democritus and his heretical atomism vanished. Nine tenths of all classical literature was lost.

AR Christianity has been tamed since the Enlightenment. Now we face the aggressive intolerance of fundamentalist Islam.

The new Bundestag


CDU 246
SPD 153
AfD 94
FDP 80
Die Linke 69
Grüne 67

Mein Fleck

Prof. h. c. Dr. K. Lamers
N. Löbel
Dr. S. Harbarth

(alle CDU)


EU flag
Britanniens Weg
führt aus der EU

Brexit — Remain Majority

A new poll shows a majority
for the UK to remain in the EU.
Of 1,447 British adults polled
in mid-September, with results
weighted for the UK profile,
52% say remain, 48% leave.

CNN Money
Voll muttiviert

"Throughout its history the UN
has suffered from a seemingly
unbridgeable gap between the
nobility of its purposes and the effectiveness of its delivery."
Theresa May

Swanage today

Wile E Coyote
Wile E Coyote

"Boris is Boris"
Theresa May

Lady Macbeth
AR Another good movie

Jennifer Lawrence
and Javier Bardem star in a
macabre spectacle of revulsion,
a veritable agape of chaos,
says Peter Bradshaw.

AR I found it quite


2017 September 25

The Price of Success

Philipp Wittrock

Angela Merkel will serve as German chancellor for a fourth term. Her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) saw their joint result fall by more than 8% — their worst showing since 1949.

The strategic goal has been achieved, but at a high price. Voters have punished the parties of the current governing coalition. The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) will now enter parliament. And it will be difficult for Merkel to build a stable government coalition.

The AfD have announced their intention to hunt down the chancellor. More than a million voters are believed to have flocked from the CDU and the CSU to the AfD. Most of them say that it was the chancellor's refugee policies that led them to shift their vote.

Merkel has identified the regulation of refugee flows and domestic security as the key topics for the coming years. Who will succeed her? The question is likely to arise soon.


Max Hastings

Dunkirk, the rescue of the British army from the beaches of northeastern France in May 1940, is a British tale that feeds the myth that has brought the UK to the cliff edge of departure from the EU — that there is splendor in being alone.

Winston Churchill never saw anything in the least glorious about standing alone. He saw that while Britain might somehow avert defeat, without fighting alongside friends it could not conceivably aspire to victory. Only necessity and a supremely courageous willingness to defy reason caused him in June 1940 to proclaim British determination to fight to the last.

For the rest of 1940 — the mood turned sourer in 1941 — the British people displayed a stoicism and even euphoria as irrational as Brexit exultation. Churchill and his nation set the world a magnificent example of defiance, but it was an impotent defiance, from which both Britain and democracy were redeemed only by the belated arrival of allies.

Michael Korda is surely right to compare the emotions of the modern Brexiteers with those of the British in June 1940: "There was a national sense of relief .. at leaving the Continent and withdrawing behind the White Cliffs of Dover."

2017 September 24

German Elections

Jon Henley, 17:23 BST

Angela Merkel will form a coalition government after sliding to about 32% of the vote from 41.5% in 2013. She could form a "Jamaica" coalition of CDU (black), FDP (gold), and Greens (green).

The SPD scores 20% — a new new post-war low. The party will go into opposition. At 13%, the AfD will not be the official opposition party in the Bundestag.

Dramatische Verluste für Union, SPD auf Rekordtief, AfD dritte Kraft

Die Welt, 18:18 CEST

Die Union wird mit 32,7% stärkste Partei. Die SPD steht nur noch bei 20,2%. Drittstärkste Partei wird der Hochrechnung von 18.12 Uhr zufolge die AfD mit 13,4%. Die FDP kehrt mit 10,5% der Stimmen in den Bundestag zurück. Auch Grüne und Linke werden vertreten sein.

God And Spock

Simon Yisrael Feuerman

A new series of Star Trek premieres this weekend.

In the original Star Trek series, Spock was played by Leonard Nimoy. Spock had a Vulcan salute appropriated from the hand signs the Cohanim make when they recite the priestly blessings in synagogue.

In one episode, Spock and Kirk met up with a monster capable of great destruction but also love and tenderness. Spock felt he must communicate with the monster even if doing so could kill him. He used a Vulcan mind-meld to connect with this creature. Spock came into painful touch with the monster, screaming pain followed by an uncontrollable pseudo-religious rant.

Later, Nimoy revealed that he when he was eight years old, his family took him to shul on the high holidays, and he witnessed the priestly blessing. His father admonished him not to look at the priests as they blessed the congregation. He was told that the shekhina, the presence and the light of God, shone through their hands and fingers, and the holy light could fatally blind.

Nimoy invented Spock as a kind of ideal Jew.

2017 September 23

Quantum Gravity

Anil Ananthaswamy

Antoine Tilloy approaches gravity by tweaking standard quantum mechanics. He modifies the GRW model to show how it can lead to a theory of gravity. The model incorporates flashes — spontaneous random collapses of the quantum state vector — that have the effect of measurements without observers.

A flash collapses a state vector to a unique state, creating a gravitational field at that point in spacetime. A massive quantum system with many particles is subject to numerous flashes, to give a fluctuating gravitational field that averages out to a Newtonian gravitational field.

This approach to unifying gravity with quantum mechanics is called semiclassical: gravity arises from quantum processes but remains a classical force. The model predicts that gravity behaves differently at the atomic and cosmological scales.

AR It will be hard to coax us all away from the geometric approach to gravity in general relativity. Also, those random flashes are quite unmotivated. I studied the GRW model 30 years ago and was unconvinced. Roger Penrose controversially proposed a similar mechanism, with consciousness to trigger the flashes.

2017 September 22

A New Era of Cooperation and Partnership

Theresa May

The British people have decided to leave the European Union. Our determination to defend the stability, security, and prosperity of our European neighbours and friends remains steadfast. We will do all this as a sovereign nation in which the British people are in control.

Since the triggering of Article 50 in March, we have made concrete progress on many important issues. The UK government, the Irish government, and the EU as a whole have been clear that through the process of our withdrawal we will protect progress made in Northern Ireland over recent years. We have also made significant progress on how we look after European nationals living in the UK and British nationals living in the 27 Member States of the EU.

We will no longer be members of the single market or its customs union. Let us be creative in designing an ambitious economic partnership which respects the freedoms and principles of the EU, and the wishes of the British people. To make this partnership work, we will need a strong and appropriate dispute resolution mechanism.

We are proposing a bold new strategic agreement that provides a comprehensive framework for future security, law enforcement, and criminal justice cooperation. We are also proposing a far reaching partnership on how we protect Europe together from the threats we face in the world today. What we are offering will be unprecedented.

There should be a period of implementation after the UK leaves the EU. As of today, these considerations point to an implementation period of around two years.

Our departure causes another type of uncertainty for the remaining member states and their taxpayers over the EU budget. We can only resolve this as part of the settlement of all the issues. The UK will honour commitments we have made during the period of our membership.

The negotiations will be difficult. But we can find a way forward that makes a success of this for all of our peoples. The tone I want to set is one of partnership and friendship.


Josef Joffe

Germans vote in their general election on Sunday. The only question is who Angela Merkel will pick as a junior coalition partner for her fourth term. For spice, you have to look to the Alternative for Germany and its coded racism.

Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, is the perfect embodiment of a nation that has had its fill of political thrills. This is why the country will grant her yet another term, at the end of which she will have been in office for 16 years.

The queen of consensus also knows how to reverse course. In the refugee crisis of 2015, she welcomed a million migrants into the country. By early 2016, the Balkan route into Germany was closed and border controls were back.

Historically, moderation has never been a German speciality. Now blandness is a blessing. The Merkel republic offers full employment, decent growth, and a more egalitarian income distribution than elsewhere west of Scandinavia.

No European NATO member has disarmed further or faster than Germany since 1990. But Russians seem ready to redraw European borders by force.

2017 September 21

German Nationalism

Alan Posener

The general election in Germany will see the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party enter the Bundestag. Rightwing populism has been a fixture in the Netherlands and Austria for years and authoritarian nationalists are ruling Poland and Hungary, but Germany is different.

Four years ago, the AfD was led by an economics professor who wanted Germany to leave the euro. He and the other liberals are gone now, sidelined by Frauke Petry, who transformed the party into a populist anti-immigrant outfit. But she wanted the AfD to enter government coalitions and she demanded the expulsion of far-right radicals. Though still the party chairwoman, she is obviously on the way out.

The new stars are Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland. Weidel used to work for Goldman Sachs and Allianz Global Investors, is openly lesbian, and lives in Switzerland for tax reasons. She praises communist China for its law and order and because it protects its borders. Gauland is portrayed in a 1996 novel as a reactionary bureaucrat and careerist. He is against American capitalism and for German neutrality.

The AfD is on the brink of success. Perhaps the realities of parliamentary work will expose its weakness. If a true leader arises, the party could really go places.

Atomic Brain

Andreas von Bubnoff

Brains are paragons of energy efficiency. The human brain consumes something like 20 W of power. Modern supercomputers would use over a billion times the power to simulate the same activity.

UCLA researchers hope to match this efficiency with systems that mirror brain structure. A team led by Adam Stieg and Jim Gimzewski is building a device inspired by the brain to do what it does.

The current pilot device is a 2x2 mm mesh of silver nanowires connected by artificial synapses. The device is messy, like a highly interconnected plate of noodles. Its fine structure essentially organizes itself out of random chemical and electrical processes.

The mesh boasts 1 billion artificial synapses per cm^2, which is within a couple of orders of magnitude of the brain. Its electrical activity also displays a property of complex systems like the brain: criticality, a state between order and chaos indicative of maximum efficiency.

Preliminary experiments suggest this neuromorphic silver wire mesh can perform simple learning and logic operations, it can clean the unwanted noise from received signals, and it proves the principle that devices can compute with an energy efficiency close to that of the brain.

The researchers trained the wire network to execute simple logic operations. If such neuromorphic atomic switch networks can eventually solve tasks as effectively as algorithms running on traditional computers, they could do so using only a billionth as much power — and fast.

2017 September 20

Total Destruction

Kori Schake

President Donald Trump says unless North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, "the United States will have no choice but to totally destroy" the country: "Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime."

Secretary of Defense James Mattis says a war on the Korean peninsula would be tragic on an unbelievable scale. Even if the United States could pull off a military campaign of exceptional virtuosity, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans would likely die.

National Security Advisor Lieutenant General McMaster has made the case for military attacks. He says President Trump will not allow North Korea to develop the capacity for a nuclear attack on the United States. Military action must be on the table.

The White House is conflating possession with use. Shrewder would be to say nuclear weapons make no difference, because any attack on America or its allies would result in the end of the Kim regime. A nuclear-armed North Korea is no big deal.

2017 September 19

Rocket Man

Donald Trump

As President of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first. All responsible leaders have an obligation to serve their own citizens, and the nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition.

AR Hegel used to say nation-states were in a state of nature relative to each other. Wars followed.

We Were Wrong

The Times

Earth has warmed more slowly than had been forecast by computer models. It seems we have a better chance than previously claimed of meeting the goal set by the Paris agreement on climate change to limit warming to 1.5 K above pre-industrial levels.

A new study published in Nature Geoscience shows that rapid reductions in emissions will still be required but suggests that the world has more time to make the changes.

University College London professor of international energy and climate change Michael Grubb:
"It's still likely to be very difficult to achieve these kind of changes quickly enough but we are in a better place than I thought."

The new study finds that computer models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted a more rapid temperature increase than has taken place. Global average temperature has risen by about 0.9 K since pre-industrial times but there was a slowdown in the rate of warming from 2000 to 2014.

Oxford University professor of geosystem science Myles Allen: "We haven't seen that rapid acceleration in warming after 2000 that we see in the models. We haven't seen that in the observations."

According to the earlier models, keeping to the 1.5 K target would mean humans could emit only about 70 gigatons of carbon after 2015. In the new view, we can emit another 240 gigatons and still have a reasonable chance of keeping within 1.5 K.

Allen: "That's about 20 years of emissions before temperatures are likely to cross 1.5 C. It's the difference between being not doable and being just doable."

Grubb: "We're in the midst of an energy revolution and it's happening faster than we thought, which makes it much more credible for governments to tighten the offer they put on the table at Paris."

AR Good news — for now!

2017 September 18

Brexit — Benefits

Nigel Lawson

Theresa May will speak in Florence before the next round of Brexit talks. She will reportedly say that after Brexit the UK will wish to maintain a special relationship with the EU. Arguably her most important audience will be in the UK.

There are economic benefits to be gained from Brexit:

1 UK public finances will benefit. The outlook published by the OBR shows EU payments falling from £12.6 billion in 2018/19 to zero in 2019/20.

2 UK legislators can comb through the vast corpus of EU regulation, amending it to suit the best interests of British business and our economy in general.

A trade deal is in the gift of the EU, and at best they will offer a bad deal. No deal simply means trading on WTO terms, like most UK trade with the rest of the world.

There is no cliff edge and no cliff.

AR Go tell Wile E Coyote.

A Ludicrous Fantasy

The Guardian

Her Majesty's secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, Boris Johnson, is an accomplished confidence man. His 4,200-word job application (he wants to be prime minister) in last Saturday's Telegraph is a masterclass in doublespeak and smarm. Almost everything it says about the prospects of a Brexit deal is false.

The members of the Conservative party who might still make him prime minister want to believe Britain is the second-greatest power on Earth after America. They want to believe that wicked foreigners are taking from us £350 million a week. They are instinctively convinced they you cannot be a patriot and a lover of the European Union.

True patriotism demands a sense of proportion. Fear of young people who declare their allegiance to a European ideal is not true patriotism but the last resort of scoundrels. The task for we who think Brexit will be a disaster is first to mitigate it and second to pin the blame on the Bullingdon boys.

Sexual Selection

David Dobbs

Richard Prum believes in the Darwinian theory of sexual selection. He is an expert on the evolution of feathers and says they may have first evolved as a decorative surface for sexual display.

Prum believes courtship displays and rituals arise from a multigenerational conversation between mating partners. Male aesthetic and social qualities are repeatedly tested, judged, and modified by whether they please potential mates. Thus individual female preferences help drive evolution.

Evolution unfolds according to the demands of either fitness or beauty. A trait selected for its beauty might create problems by selecting for ornaments that work against fitness. But aesthetic courtship creates a culture that gives the female sexual choice, autonomy, and safety. Such choices gradually reshape mating behavior.

Prum shows how, for one human trait after another, adaptationist explanations fail while aesthetic ones work. Distinctive human sexual traits evolved to help women evaluate male prosocial-pleasure potential. Humans evolved to negotiate and have sex as a sort of display ritual.

Sexual selection is shaped by conflicts between male and female priorities. Sexual species tend to evolve toward either big forceful males or beautiful males. Prum says humans chose beauty.

2017 September 17

Emergent Spacetime

Robbert Dijkgraaf

Thermodynamics describes the collective behavior of large numbers of particles, irrespective of many microscopic details. It covers a wide class of phenomena in its mathematical scope.

In a renormalization group formalism, we go from small to large by taking averages. Instead of looking at the behavior of individual atoms, we can take little cubes, say 10 atoms wide on a side, as building blocks. We can then repeat this averaging procedure. Renormalization theory describes how the properties of a system change as we increase the length scale of the observations.

At the limits of the renormalization process in the infinitely large or small, things will typically simplify because either all details are washed away or the environment disappears.

This approach to quantum gravity started with the thermodynamics of black holes and came into being with the work of Juan Maldacena. In this approach, quantum spacetime, including all the particles and forces in it, emerges from a holographic system with fewer spatial dimensions.

Spacetime emerges out of the complexity of quantum information. Thermodynamics and general relativity both describe emergent phenomena.

AR A series of effective models at different scales needs folding at the limits into a theory of consciousness to give us an epistemologically grounded ontology.

The Rub Of Time

Emma Brockes

Martin Amis lives with his wife Isabel Fonseca in Brooklyn. At 68, he is still very much Amis:
"I miss the English. I miss Londoners. I miss the wit."

The terms of success in America are narrower, with a greater emphasis on individual responsibility. Amis says it is undoubtedly an easier place in which to be a successful novelist.

Christopher Hitchens died in 2011, much sooner than Amis expected. Amis is adamant about the absurdity of losing old friends over politics: "As Hitch said, you can't make old friends."

Since 1993, his own family life has been low in drama. He says he and Isabel have been lucky in all sorts of ways. Amis has mellowed.

The Golden House

Aminatta Forna

Salman Rushdie has written a tale involving great wealth and a great downfall, through a narrator who lives in the same New York garden square as Nero Golden and his three sons.

The book begins with the election of Barack Obama and ends eight years later on the eve of an election in which the lead contender refers to himself as the Joker. Nero is a man of fabulous wealth, with a beautiful Russian wife, and a fortune thought to be in part built on real estate.

The novel sees New York from the inside and the outside. Rushdie seems to be saying character creates destiny. Nero is the architect of his own downfall.

2017 September 16

German Elections

Natalie Nougayrède

German elections take place on 24 September. There is zero suspense as to who will be the next chancellor. Angela Merkel is set for a fourth term in office. She has managed to anchor her image as a safe pair of hands to shield the country from how crazy the world has become. Germans just want to hunker down and keep on living the good life.

Like the British, but for entirely different reasons, Germans have taken a holiday from the world. German voters have not shown the slightest interest in Brexit. German politicians too: Brexit was not mentioned once in the TV election debate between Merkel and Martin Schulz.

France comes across as a bit of an exception. Europe featured prominently in the French campaign, as an object of celebration for Emmanuel Macron and as a source of all evil for Marine Le Pen. One reason Macron won is that he equated Europe with a new form of French patriotism.

Contrary to many predictions, the 2015 refugee crisis has not upended German politics. In Britain, it contributed to producing Brexit. In France, it helped Le Pen collect 10 million votes. Merkel has changed her policies by closing the open door, but not her rhetoric on the moral duty of asylum.

The German public mood will make it harder to agree a collective European strategy for dealing with Brexit, Trump, Russia, Turkey, the Balkans, China, Africa, climate change, migration ..

Armageddon and Paranoia

Roger Boyes

Nuclear deterrence depended on mutually assured destruction. Stalin understood after WW2 that the US nuclear arsenal was too slender to pose an immediate threat. He challenged American power in Berlin in 1948 and supported the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950.

When Curtis LeMay was called in to sort out US Strategic Air Command in 1948, he found that bombers had first to fly to Texas to pick up their bombs, then refuel in Britain before they could drop their load on the Soviet Union. By 1953 he had fixed that with 500 bombers, 500 aerial tankers, and a web of bases across the world.

Stalin responded by throwing massive resources at the nuclear project. In 1955, the Soviets conducted the first ever test of a thermonuclear bomb, dropped from a plane over Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan. They launched the satellite Sputnik into space in 1957.

At the time of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, President Kennedy chose not to make use of US nuclear superiority. The fear that even a few Soviet missiles could hit US cities was compelling. Kim Jong Un is creating another Sputnik moment for America.

Armageddon and Paranoia by Rodric Braithwaite

2017 September 15

War Law

Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro

International rules regarding the use of force are at the heart of some of the most beneficial transformations of the past 70 years.

A century ago, war was regarded as a legal and legitimate instrument of state action. States had the right to wage war to right legal wrongs. The first world war was the terrible culmination of the old world order.

The Paris Peace Pact of 1928 had the goal of outlawing war. Fifteen nations signed the pact immediately and within a year nearly every state in the world followed suit. The signatories had rejected a world in which war was the tool for resolving disputes and righting wrongs.

In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria. US secretary of state Henry Stimson wrote to the governments of China and Japan to say the US government would not recognize any outcome brought about by means outlawed by the Peace Pact.

In 1941, US attorney general Robert Jackson said the Peace Pact authorized the Lend-Lease Act, through which the United States supplied war material on favorable terms to the Allies.

The second world war was a war of military might and of ideas. The Axis powers fought for the retention of the old world order. The Allies aimed to build a new legal structure grounded in the renunciation of war. When the Allies won, they defeated the old world order.

The United Nations was built around the commitment to outlawing war. The world order that resulted has brought 70 years of peace.

AR Apart from Korea, Vietnam, Iraq ..


The NASA Cassini mission to the Saturn system ends September 15. The satellite will dive into the clouds and burn up.
The moon Titan nudged its trajectory down to Saturn. NASA calls the nudge a goodbye kiss.

US-Russia Reset

In April, Vladimir Putin sent
a document to Washington
proposing normalization of relations between the US and
Russia across all major
branches of government.

He underestimated the
political blowback the Trump
administration would face if
it normalized relations amid
investigations by the FBI and
Congress into allegations
of collusion with Russia.

The Russian ambassador to
  Washington suggests the
offer is still open.

Maryanthe Malliaris
and Saharon Shelah have
made a breakthrough in
the mathematical study
of the continuum

Sam Harris podcast

Nigel Farage
UK-MEP Nigel Farage bei
AfD-Treff in Zitadelle
Spandau, Berlin

Gangstarapper Bushido
spricht mit AfD-MEP
Beatrix von Storch


2017 September 14

Populist Europe

Michel Gurfinkiel

Populism endangers peace and stability in Europe.

Hungary — the government is led by Viktor Orbán, a populist and nationalist who undertook to turn Hungary in an authoritarian direction. Roughly two-thirds of Hungarians support xenophobia.

Poland — the conservative Catholic Law and Justice Party is passing populist-nationalist legislation.

Czech Republic — the conservative government is increasingly authoritarian and nationalistic.

Greece — the left-wing Syriza regime exudes the same authoritarian populism as the extreme right. Syriza gained power by promising that Greece could keep its welfare system, never pay its creditors, and maybe even renounce the euro.

France — an existential threat to Jews has emerged from immigrants. Most of the violence is perpetrated by radicalized Muslims. French Jews are now leaving the country in large numbers.

Russia — Vladimir Putin garners populist praise for Russia as the vanguard of white, Christian civilization, against both the rising tide of Islam and American decadence. When the Soviet Union dissolved, its army and secret police remained intact and communism became nationalism.

2017 September 13

State of the Union

Jean-Claude Juncker

The EU economy is bouncing back. We should stay the course and chart the direction for the future. Now is the time to build a more united, stronger and more democratic Europe for 2025.

Today I wrote to European Parliament president Antonio Tajani and prime minister Jüri Ratas outlining the priorities for the year ahead. Five proposals are particularly important:

1 I want us to strengthen our European trade agenda. Partners across the globe are lining up at our door to conclude trade agreements with us.

2 I want to make our industry stronger and more competitive. I am shocked when consumers are knowingly and deliberately misled and I call on the car industry to come clean and put this right.

3 I want Europe to be the leader in the fight against climate change. Set against the collapse of ambition in the United States, Europe will ensure we make our planet great again.

4 We need to better protect Europeans in the digital age. A European cybersecurity agency will to help defend us against attacks.

5 Migration will stay on our radar. Europe is not a fortress. Europe is and must remain the continent of solidarity where those fleeing persecution can find refuge.

Europe was always about values:

Freedom from oppression and dictatorship, freedom to voice your opinion as a citizen and as a journalist: on these freedoms our union was built.

Equality between its members, with no second class citizens or second class workers or second class consumers.

The rule of law, with law and justice upheld by an independent judiciary, where member states gave final jurisdiction to the ECJ.

Europe needs to become more inclusive, with the euro as the single currency, with all member states in the banking union, and with agreed social rights. It needs a stronger single market, stronger economic and monetary union, and a European minister of economy and finance accountable to the European Parliament.

Europe must be stronger in fighting terrorism and stronger as a global actor. By 2025 we need a European defense union. We need it and NATO wants it.

I want our union to have a stronger focus on things that matter. We should not meddle in the everyday lives of European citizens by regulating every aspect. We should give back competences to member states where it makes sense.

The EU needs to take a democratic leap forward. I would like to see European political parties start campaigning for the next elections much earlier than in the past, with new rules on the financing of political parties and foundations. Europe would function better if we were to merge the presidencies of the European Commission and the European Council.

On 29 March 2019, the UK will leave the EU. This will be a very sad and tragic moment. We will always regret it. But we have to respect the will of the British people.

My hope is that on 30 March 2019, Europeans will wake up to a Union where we all stand by our values, where all member states firmly respect the rule of law, where being a full member of the EZ and the Schengen area is the norm for all member states, where we can defend our single currency, where our single market is fairer, where we agree on social standards, where profits are taxed where they were made, where terrorists have no loopholes to exploit, where we have agreed on a defense union, and where a single democratically elected president leads the way.

If our citizens wake up to this union on 30 March 2019, they can vote in the European Parliament elections in May with the firm conviction that our union is a place that works for them.

2017 September 12

Brexit — The Irish Question

Fintan O'Toole

The Irish Question: How do you impose an EU frontier across a small island without utterly unsettling the complex compromises that have ended three decades of conflict?

EU guidelines for its negotiations with the UK: "In view of the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, flexible and imaginative solutions will be required."

The Irish radically revised their nationalism. The power of the Catholic Church collapsed, the Irish economy became a poster child for globalization, and the search for peace in Northern Ireland forced a rethinking of ideas. Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar is 38, part Indian, and gay.

The Irish border is a physical token of a mental frontier. The reciprocal withdrawal of territorial claims has recreated Northern Ireland as a new kind of political space. The Belfast Agreement recognizes the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they choose.

When these ideas were framed and endorsed in referendums on both sides of the Irish border, a third identity as EU members was shared: Ireland and the UK joined the EU together in 1973.

Brexit is England revolting against the ideas that animated the Belfast Agreement. In the 2016 referendum, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London rejected Brexit and Wales voted narrowly in favor. In England without London, Brexit won by almost 11%. Brexit was a nationalist uprising — but the nation was England.

Northern Ireland is both Irish and British. Its people have an irrevocable right to be EU citizens.

2017 September 11

Brexit — Sweet Delusion

Joris Luyendijk

British hopes for a sweet soft Brexit deal reveal ignorance of the internal logic of the EU.

The EU is rapidly evolving into an economic zone governed by a single set of rules and standards and overseen by a single European court of justice, striking trade deals with the rest of the world and deriving its logic and coherence from the four freedoms — goods, capital, services, labor. It will be a single economy, not just a single market.

Brits misread the EU position on Brexit. No other EU member state wants to leave, because each believes the benefits of membership exceed its costs. They all want to prevent other member states using a sweet deal for Britain to claim their own version. EU refusal to cut Britain a sweet deal is not about punishment but about self-preservation.

Brexiteers are deluded to think EU self-interest is served by a special deal for Britain.

AR Like the dilemma of a bunch of prisoners: one defects and wins at the expense of the others, several defect and all lose, none defects and all win. Except that in an integrated world a lone defector can't win either. Go figure.

The Nature of Consciousness

A Conversation wth Thomas Metzinger
Sam Harris podcast #96 (1 h 54 m)

AR Delightful — I know Thomas and I feel I know Sam, and I agree with just about everything they say here. They are two of the inner avatars — two mini-me figures — in my mindspace that jostle to bring my manifold of sensation to the synthetic unity of apperception, to recall a trope due to Immanuel Kant. They are inseparable in that sense from the ceaseless substrate of cerebro-cognitive processing that builds and rebuilds my sense of self. To recall a trope due to Daniel Dennett, they are demons in my pandemonium.

2017 September 10

Brexit — Address Grievances

Tony Blair

British politics is in thrall to Brexit. There is no diversion possible from Brexit without addressing the grievances that gave rise to it. The people forced the political class to wake up to the depth of their anger. But if those of us warning about the consequence of Brexit turn out to be right, and it makes us poorer and weaker, the anger will be worse and the choices more ugly.

Immigration bedevils the politics of virtually every European country. We need an immigration policy that reasserts control. But by focusing on European immigration, we are targeting the one group of migrants who clearly contribute more than they take.

We can:
— Keep freedom of movement but reform it.
— Support the single market as a matter of principle together with its social protections.
— Control overall immigration in ways that meet public anxiety but are true to our values.
— Explain why Brexit is a distraction from government failures, not a solution to them.

Many in government feel they are bound by the referendum and hemmed in by their party. Brexit forces a political choice that millions will feel they cannot support and a policy debate completely irrelevant to the real challenges the country faces. MPs should put country above party.

2017 September 9

The Church of England

Jeremy Paxman

A National Census survey suggests that 8.5 million British people now identify as Anglican, down from 13 million a decade ago. In a population of 65 million, fewer than a million go to church regularly, a decline of 11% over the past decade.

The Church of England has 26 bishops in the House of Lords and the Archbishop of Canterbury outranks the elected prime minister. The Queen, who follows Henry VIII as Defender of the Faith, says her role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions but instead to protect the free practice of all faiths.

The Church of England has three sources of authority: scripture, tradition, and the exercise of reason. C of E secretary-general ­William Nye may understand the Thirty-Nine Articles but the supposed defining principles of the C of E are unknown and virtually incomprehensible to most worshippers. They have been argued over since their promulgation in 1571.

Only an ignoramus would deny the importance of the Church in the creation of the welfare state. But disagreements over new liturgies, polite squabbles over gay and gender rights, its wish to share its authority with Islam, Sikhism and Judaism — these all indicate its struggle to adjust to the world the rest of us have been living in for years.

A Better Place

Israel Story

In 2007, long before Tesla and Elon Musk became household names, Israeli tech entrepreneur Shai Agassi announced that he was going to revolutionize transportation and put millions of drivers behind the wheel of an inexpensive electric car. It was going to make the world a Better Place. Brian Blum chronicles the demise of that dream.

AR I knew Shai at SAP — he was my boss for a while. Really nice guy.

2017 September 8

Threat to Iran Nuclear Deal

The New York Times

President Trump promised during his campaign to kill the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Killing the deal would give Iran an excuse to revive what had been a rapidly advancing nuclear capability. It would confront the world with another intractable nuclear challenge in addition to North Korea.

Iran is engaging in some worrisome pursuits, but the deal is confined to the nuclear program. As long as Tehran is staying within those limits, Trump has no reason not to certify compliance. The United States has often held to deals with aggressive or unsavory governments.

Brexit — Hard Border

Michel Barnier

The UK wants the EU to suspend the application of its laws, its customs union and its single market at what will be a new external border of the EU. And the UK wants to use Ireland as a kind of test case for the future EU-UK customs relations — this will not happen.

Brexit — Hard Line

Liam Fox et al.

Continued membership of the single market, even as part of a transitional arrangement, would quite simply mean EU membership by another name. We cannot allow our country to be kept in the EU by stealth. The government must respect the will of the British people, and that means leaving the single market at the same time as we leave the EU.

The single market is a political project, and requires its members to constantly introduce new EU laws. Therefore, the longer one remains a member the harder it is to leave.

The UK must be free to negotiate and sign trade deals during the transition period and must have the power to take back control of key parts of its immigration system. When we leave in 2019, we need to make sure we are well and truly out.

AR Hart auf hart — kann nicht gut gehen.



Oxford #1

Oxford University is #1
in the world and Cambridge
is #2 in the World University
Rankings collated by Times
Higher Education.

AR British paper hails
British universities:
Eigenlob stinkt.

Hawker Hurricane (top)
Bristol Blenheim (bottom)


2017 September 7

Flavor Physics

New Scientist

The electron has two heavier siblings. The electron was discovered in 1897; the muon, like the electron but with 207 times the mass, in 1936; and the tau, with 3400 times the mass, starting in 1974. The electron, the muon, and the tau — the charged leptons — are different flavors of the same particle.

All the fundamental fermions seem to come in three flavors, with low, medium, and high masses. Probing flavor physics might help us see further. One way to do so is to test lepton universality, the principle that all leptons behave alike, so that when larger particles decay, any leptons in the fallout should be produced in equal proportions when their mass is accounted for.

In 2014, LHC scientists studying the decays of B mesons found 25% fewer muons than electrons produced, violating the principle of lepton universality. If lepton universality is broken, one explanation is that an unknown particle appears fleetingly during the meson decay and interacts with the various decay products.

Ben Gripaios was exploring the idea that the Higgs might be composite and worked out that if it is, then a hypothetical particle called a leptoquark probably is too. Leptoquarks provide a fresh way to think about flavor physics. With the mass of a composite leptoquark predicted to be under 1 TeV, it should be possible to make them at the LHC.

AR Call this work in progress.

Reason in Islam

Christopher de Bellaigue

Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh has mulled over what many critics of Islam consider to be its besetting flaw: its antipathy to reason. He says reason entered Islam through discussion and analysis of the Quran in everyday Arabic, relying on many of the same philosophical and critical techniques as Christian theology.

The Quran is a famously allusive, repetitive, contradictory text. Nusseibeh says the Quran first enabled reason to flourish in the Mideast. The slow decline of Muslim reason came after later historical reversals that engendered a defensive impulse to contract the intellectual world of Islam.

The high-water mark of reason in the modern Mideast came shortly before WW1, when Egyptian Mufti Muhammad Abduh revived the Mutazilite idea that the Quran was created, not eternal, and hence a historical document, open to interpretation according to time and circumstance.

Nusseibeh: "Given socioeconomic and political conditions in present-day Arab society, a turn of historical proportions is needed to give free rein to the imagination and permit reason to conceive a new course — as happened, so long ago, right at the beginning."

AR Can we call Mideast reason a work in progress?

2017 September 6

AI Rules

Vladimir Putin

Artificial intelligence is the future not only of Russia but of all of mankind. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.


Barack Obama

Immigration can be a controversial topic. But the action that the White House took today is about young people who grew up in America. These Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every way but on paper.

My administration acted to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people, so that they could continue to contribute to our communities and our country. We did so based on the legal principle of prosecutorial discretion. And America grew stronger as a result.

But today, that shadow has been cast over some of our best and brightest young people once again. To target these young people is wrong. And it is cruel.

The action taken today is a political decision. It is contrary to our spirit and to common sense. Ultimately, this is about basic decency.

British Economy Broken

Justin Welby

I am convinced that most people in Britain want an economic system in the service of human flourishing and the common good, where all are valued and all have a stake, regardless of their perceived economic worth and ability.

Our economic model is broken and we are failing those who will grow up into a world where the gap between the richest and poorest parts of the country is significant and destabilising. Half of all households have seen no meaningful improvement in their incomes for more than a decade.

Between 2010 and 2015, the median pay for directors in FTSE 100 companies rose by almost a half. In communities where I have worked in northern England, living standards have fallen.

2017 September 5

Quantum Reconstruction

Philip Ball

Some researchers want to reconstruct quantum theory from a few simple principles.

Lucien Hardy focused on the probabilities that relate the possible states of a system with the chance of observing each state in a measurement. He assumed that any system can be described by a list of properties and their possible values. Then he considered the possibilities for measuring the values definitively in a single observation.

A qubit can be in a superposition of the states 0 or 1. If you measure a qubit, you only ever get 1 or 0. A quantum object commonly has more states encoded in the state vector than can be seen in practice.

This property of qubits can be reflected in in probabilistic rules about how systems can carry information and how they can be combined and interconverted. The simplest theory to describe such systems is quantum mechanics, with phenomena such as interference and entanglement, in which the properties of different objects become interdependent.

A quantum reconstruction starts by listing the probabilities that a user of the theory assigns to each of the possible outcomes of all the measurements the user can perform on a system. That list is the state of the system. The other ingredients are the ways states can be transformed into one another, and the probability of the outputs given certain inputs.

Quantum theory can be derived from axioms about information. The axioms state that information should be localized in spacetime, that systems should be able to encode information about each other, and that every process should in principle be reversible, so that information is conserved. A system governed by these rules shows all the familiar quantum behaviors, such as superposition and entanglement.

Hardy suspects there is still a deeper level to go to in understanding quantum theory.

2017 September 4

NK — Massive Military Response

James Mattis

Any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam, or our allies will be met with a massive military response, a response both effective and overwhelming.

We are not looking to the total annihilation of North Korea, but we have many options to do so.

German Election Debate

The New York Times

Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz clashed in a 97 minute exchange on refugee policy, Turkey, and domestic security. She agreed with his statement that Turkey should not become a member of the European Union, while he expressed doubt about whether President Trump could deal effectively with North Korea.

Polls declared Merkel the winner. But many voters remain uncertain about who could better lead them over the next four years — nearly half of all German voters remained undecided.

Angela Merkel v Martin Schulz

AR Watching and hearing the live debate was such a delight — clear, factual, cooperative, wide ranging, analytic, harmonious, constructive, intelligent, and illuminating. So refreshingly different from the polemical dissonance one hears in British TV debates.

2017 September 3

Bournemouth Air Festival

Bournemouth East Cliff
2017-08-31 — 2017-09-03

How Brits seem to love nostalgic reminders of World War 2, even just to see overflights by aircraft of 1940 vintage that failed to prevent the Dunkirk defeat (left).

AR Sunday: Rain stopped play.

NoKo Nuke Test

The New York Times

North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test on Sunday, according to the South Korean military. A seismic tremor emanating from the Punggye-ri underground nuclear test had an estimated magnitude of 6.3, said the US Geological Survey.

Hours earlier, the NK state news agency said NK had developed a hydrogen bomb that could be mounted on an ICBM — without real evidence. The fourth NK nuclear test in January 2016 was claimed to be a hydrogen bomb.

SK president Moon Jae-in and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe called emergency meetings of their national security councils.

Abe: "If North Korea has conducted a nuclear test, we can never accept that."

2017 September 2

Brexit — Wipeout

The Independent

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier: "No decisive progress."

Without such progress on the Irish border, the divorce bill, and the rights of EU/UK citizens, there can be no progress on a trade deal. Nothing — failure.

Full UK access to European markets implies EU membership, migration of labour, and a common external tariff. The Irish border cannot be open and free when it is an EU external border. Either the British pay their financial obligations or they do not. These are facts, not bargaining chips.

The chance is high that the UK will simply crash out of the EU in March 2019 with no deal. Who would want to be British prime minister after that, and have to tell the British people they will be poorer, with rising prices, a falling pound, and fewer jobs?

A wipeout for the Tories beckons.


Israel Rosenfield and Edward Ziff

On September 1, 1953, William Scoville performed brain surgery on HM. From then on, HM could no longer remember anything he did. He could not remember what he had just eaten or find his way around the hospital. He failed to recognize hospital staff he had met only minutes earlier.

After surgery, HM was insensitive to pleasure and pain. This is critical to understanding his loss of memory. All of our memories are subjective. The loss of pleasure and pain is a loss of subjectivity, which HM lost when Scoville removed his hippocampus. The hippocampus is essential to convert short-term memories to long-term memories.

The hippocampus is made up of cells with different functions. Place cells respond to location in space, creating mental maps of the environment. Other cells help establish our relationships to many other types of environmental and internal stimuli. Hippocampal neurons convey relationships to our consciousness.

Our memories are created from the point of view of the individual who is remembering. We have a sense of self because we have a preexisting sense of our body that contains that self. The basis of our subjectivity is our body image, which the brain creates from our movements and from the sensory responses to those movements.

When memories are first formed, they are short-term and unstable. With time, the physical representation of the memory in the brain formed by the synaptic junctions between neurons becomes more stable. The stabilized memories then become long-term memories. Even long-term memories are dynamic. Each time the brain tries to activate a memory trace, the nature of that trace changes. Memories are altered every time the brain recalls them.

2017 September 1

North Korea

Vladimir Putin

Russia believes that the policy of putting pressure on Pyongyang to stop its nuclear missile program is misguided and futile. The region's problems should only be settled through a direct dialogue of all the parties concerned without any preconditions. Provocations, pressure and militarist and insulting rhetoric are a dead-end road. The situation on the Korean peninsula is balancing on the brink of a large-scale conflict.

Hubble Finds Water Near Trappist-1

Jon von Radowitz

Astronomers say Hubble Space Telescope data suggests life might have evolved on planets orbiting Trappist-1, a dwarf star 40 light years from the Sun. A total of 7 planets similar in size to Earth orbit the star in its habitable zone — and now it seems the outer planets still have plenty of water.

UV radiation can dry planets out by breaking up its water molecules. Levels of UV radiation emitted by Trappist-1 suggest its inner planets could have lost 30 Yg of water in the last 250 Ps. But its outer planets may have lost less than 4 Yg of water, leaving oceans on their surfaces.

AR See blog 2017-02-23 and 2017-05-13.


Anil Ananthaswamy

From dolphins to slime moulds, organisms throughout the evolutionary tree seem to make sense of the world mathematically, deciphering its patterns and regularities in order to survive.

Any form of life that interacts with its environment needs an implicit model of that environment to function. Yet these living modelers are unaware of what they are doing. Even we human beings are unconsciously doing some pretty complex mathematics when we run or catch a ball.

Humans invented numbers. Our symbolic language for mathematics allows us not only to overcome certain limitations of our subconscious mind but also to explore abstract concepts in depth and communicate them to others. Perhaps we are born with a conscious sense of numbers in the same way we are conscious of colors.

Humans have built an immense pyramid of mathematical knowledge. The more we learn about the hidden workings of the universe, the more such mathematical innovation seems to describe the things we see. The success of mathematics as a language speaks to its primacy in the organization of the universe.

Max Tegmark thinks the universe is a mathematical structure that we are slowly uncovering to reveal the reality. He says the biggest hurdle is a mathematical description of consciousness: "That's going to be the final test of the hypothesis that it's all mathematics."

AR I've done that bit — see my book Mindworlds.


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