AR   2020-06-04
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I can't breathe
⦿ Andrea Fasani/EPA
Milan, Italy

⦿ Manuel Nieberle
A test center in Rosenheim

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

UK Parliament
UK Parliament

I can't breathe

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


2020 June 4

Angry and Appalled

James Mattis

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

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


Germany Got Coronavirus Right

Guy Chazan

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

AR I'd rather be living in Germany.


2020 June 3

US Fascist Dictatorship

David Smith

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

US Evangelicals
Matthew Teague

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

US Mayhem
Julian Borger

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

US Racism
Paul Krugman

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

AR As Justin Trudeau said, horror and consternation.


UK Government

Financial Times

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

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

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

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


Modeling the Pandemic

Karl Friston

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

AR Physics to the rescue.


2020 June 2

Stop Killing Us!

The New York Times

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

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

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


Brexit Nightmare

Luke McGee

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

UK−EU Negotiations
Michel Barnier

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

Johnson Weak
Nick Cohen

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

Expect No Deal
John Keiger

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

AR Brexit is Boris Johnson's shameful legacy.


2020 June 1

Energy and Entropy


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

AR This is really important.


Poole Bay, Saturday morning

This Life

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

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

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

Dominic Cummings
⦿ Peter Summers
Dominic Cummings

Richard Barrons
General Sir Richard Barrons

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


2020 May 31

America Aflame

Michelle Goldberg

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

AR Brexit Brits want to boogie with Trump America?


2020 May 30

This Life

Knox Peden

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

AR I like it.


2020 May 29

Coronavirus UK: Second Wave

David Hunter

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

AR Hunter is professor of epidemiology at Oxford.


Boris Johnson

Alex Massie

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

At Risk
Katy Balls

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

On Fire
Philip Collins

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

AR Kick out Bodger and his evil daemon.


2020 May 28

Coronavirus US

The New York Times

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

AR Blame Donald Trump for a bungled response.


Coronavirus UK

Financial Times

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

AR Blame Boris Johnson for a bungled response.


2020 May 27

Dominic Cummings

Financial Times

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

The Debacle
Polly Toynbee

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

The Man
Martin Farrer

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

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


2020 May 26

Memorial Day

The New York Times

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

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


Boris Has Blundered

The Times

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

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


2020 May 25

Cummings: A German View

Jochen Buchsteiner

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

AR Schmeiß ihn weg!



Helen Pidd

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

Boris Cummings
Daily Mail

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

AR Cull the spad, kill the spat.


2020 May 24

The Future of War

Richard Barrons

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

AR Medical systems and services can be war vectors too.


2020 May 23

German Lessons

Roger Cohen

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

AR Well said.


2020 May 22

Brexit Disgrace

Martin Wolf

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

AR Bodger is bungling Brexit [smiley]


Neuronets Do Hard Math


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

AR This approach resembles human math skill.


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

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

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

Lisa Piccirillo
Lisa Piccirillo

A Spirit of Trust
by Robert Brandom

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

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

AR Ouch!


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

"Stay out of my moist
breath zone!"
Shirley Şerban, NZ


2020 World Bee Day

Conway Knot Problem Solved


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

AR Respect.


2020 May 20

Mother Nature

Thomas L. Friedman

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

AR Good analysis.


2020 May 19

America vs China

The Times

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

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


Britain vs China

Rachel Sylvester

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

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


2020 May 18

Delay Brexit?

William Keegan, Dominic Lawson

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

AR Revoke Brexit. Help Europe recover.


2020 May 17

A Spirit of Trust

Crispin Sartwell

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

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


2020 May 16

Brexit: No Deal

Markus Becker

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

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


2020 May 15

Battle of the Bulge

James Forsyth

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

AR Lose weight, protect the NHS, live longer.


2020 May 14

UK Pandemic Response Disaster

Caroline Lucas

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

AR A damning critique from a Green MP.


AdS Spacetime Is Unstable


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

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




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

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


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

My lockdown free zone


EU view
Serendipitous reflection

Europe Day


2020 May 13

A European Republic

Lorenzo Marsili, Ulrike Guérot

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

AR A communist manifesto?



Julian Borger

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

AR Fortress America?


US to UK: US or China

Patrick Wintour

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

AR AA Weltuntergang?


UK Crisis Response

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

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

AR Fair comment?


2020 May 12

Weltuntergang, American Style


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

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


Breaking Global Britain

Ed Balls

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

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


Stay Alert

David Hunter

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

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


2020 May 11

Gone Viral

Thomas L. Friedman

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

AR Brexitrumpandemic is lethal.


Stay Alert

John Harris

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

AR Best, worst — sign of a sick psyche.


Brexit Bad

Simon Tisdall

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

AR Break Boris, break Brexit, be good.


2020 May 10

How Britain Failed

The Guardian

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

AR Revile AA economics and rejoin the EU.


How Science Works

Jim Baggott

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

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


2020 Europe Day

Message of Solidarity and Friendship

EU ambassador to UK et al.

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

AR Oh, Boris, what have you done?


American Disaster

Barack Obama

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

AR Obama handled the Ebola crisis superbly.


Quark Math


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

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


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

VE 75

Death Star

Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer
The next British prime minister?



Me at work today

WHO calls Swedish
pandemic response
a model for world

Laurie Garrett
Laurie Garrett

Still European

SARS-CoV-2 virus


2020 May 8


Der Spiegel

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

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


VE Day

Max Hastings

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

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


Angela Merkel, Global Leader

Ivana Kottasová

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

AR Frau Dr Merkel hat etwas bewundernswertes geschafft.


Trump Death Star

The Guardian

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

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


2020 May 7

Task Force Trump

The New York Times

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

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


A Better World?

Timothy Garton Ash

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

AR Goodbye capitalist democracy, hello meritocratic authoritarianism.


2020 May 6

UK Death Toll

BBC News, 1852 UTC

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


Trump's Worst Mistake

Peter Bergen

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

AR Americans need to respect scientific expertise.


Atlee's Worst Mistake

Daniel Finkelstein

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

AR Brits need to correct the error of Brexit.


2020 May 5

Trump Versus Accountability

The New York Times

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

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


UK #1 in Europe, #2 in World

The Times

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

AR A record to be proud of — not.


An Electr(on)ic Bike


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

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


Five Eyes Say No

Dan Sabbagh

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

AR The Murdoch press is trash.


2020 May 4

Five Eyes on China

Der Spiegel

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

AR Sounds like the Soviet authorities after the Chernobyl accident.


Coronavirus in Germany

The Guardian

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

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


UK Trade Minister Resigns

BBC News

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

AR Brexiteer Burns earned my detestation in 2016.


UK Needs Good Government

Jenni Russell

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

AR The leader is a showboating slacker.


2020 World Press Freedom Day

Reopening the US Economy

Robert Reich

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

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


Mainstream News

Alan Rusbridger

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

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


EU Covid-19 Lead

The Independent

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

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

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


Coronavirus Cassandra

Laurie Garrett

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

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Vanity Fair

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

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


Computers with Common Sense

John Pavlus

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

AR We're making progress there.


2020 May 2

UK Seeks Access to EWRS

Jennifer Rankin

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

AR Rejoin the EU, you Downing Street numpties!


Is the Universe Conscious?

Michael Brooks

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

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


2020 May 1

World Leadership

The Times

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

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


Making a COVID-19 Vaccine

Charles Schmidt

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

AR Mastering the challenge will define our decade.


The Eye of God
"The eye of God" — one of the best Hubble pictures

Rainer Weiss
⦿ Nobel Media
Rainer Weiss


The Sound of the Universe

The New York Times

In 1916, Albert Einstein made a prediction he thought could never be proved. He proposed that the acceleration or collision of stellar masses, such as black holes, would cause ripples that warp space and time. He called them gravitational waves. But he also supposed they would be far too small to detect. How do you measure something invisible? Nearly five decades later, Einstein's unsolved mystery drove MIT physicist Rai Weiss to hunt for answers.
Weiss co-founded an observatory to prove the unprovable. Years passed. Then in 2015, the LIGO team found that gravitational waves exist and can be measured. The collaboration brought about one of the most important scientific breakthroughs in recent history.

The Chirp Heard Across the Universe
The New York Times, 2016-02-16

By coincidence, at about the same time that the LIGO discovery was announced, the House passed a bill requiring that National Science Foundation grants be justified in the national interest. It is doubtful that LIGO would have survived such political meddling.

The chirp heard around the universe (0:12)

AR Support LIGO.


Colonel Tom
WW2 veteran Captain Tom Moore turns 100 today. During the war he served in a tank regiment in Burma. Today he is a national hero
after raising £30 million for NHS workers by walking 100 laps of his garden with his Zimmer frame in the weeks up to his birthday.
His day began with an RAF flypast of a Spitfire and a Hurricane, and 140,000 birthday cards for him are displayed in a school hall.
The Queen has approved his promotion to honorary Colonel of the Army Foundation college. And his recording of the song
You'll never walk alone with Michael Ball is number 1 in the charts.

AR Happy birthday, Tom.

⦿ Susanne Lencinas
Heidelberg, April

Germany Hit

The coronavirus crisis
is hitting Germany hard.
Ifo expects the German
economy to shrink 6.6%
this year. GDP shrank 1.9%
in Q1 and is expected to
shrink 12.2% in Q2. The
ifo Business Climate Index
crashed to 74.3 in April,
its lowest ever.




Scenes from my seaside
walk this morning

UK Cabinet Office
prepared a 600-page
National Security
Risk Assessment

warning HMG in 2019
to plan for a

Covid-19 Deaths

World: ca. 200 000
US count: > 50 000
UK count: > 20 000
Germany: <  6 000

Ancient Mariner
Pan Macmillan

Guam (red)


2020 April 30

Coronavirus Fund

Financial Times

US National Academy of Medicine president Victor Dzau has turned to an old friend in Europe, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, to help raise billions of dollars to boost global development and equitable distribution of fast and affordable testing, treatment, and vaccines for Covid-19. A fundraiser is set to be hosted in Brussels on Monday.
Professor Dzau: "The initiative is to help all countries — including low-income countries — because the big focus is not only how you accelerate the development of vaccines, treatment and diagnostics but how [you] have equitable distribution and access."

AR This is good news.


2020 April 29

The President's Daily Briefs

Washington Post

US intelligence agencies issued warnings about the new coronavirus in more than a dozen classified briefings prepared for President Trump in January and February, when he played down the threat.
The repeated warnings were conveyed in the President's Daily Brief (PDB), a sensitive report issued before dawn each day to call Trump's attention to global developments and security threats.
For weeks, the PDB traced the spread of Covid-19 around the globe, made clear that China was suppressing information about its transmissibility and lethal toll, and flagged up the possibilities.
But the alarms failed to register with the president, who routinely skips reading the PDB and has at times shown little patience for even the oral summary he takes two or three times per week.

AR Why am I not surprised?


EU-UK Impasse

Gabriela Baczynska

Negotiations between the EU and the UK over future trade arrangements are at an impasse. Halted when the coronavirus epidemic started, the Brexit talks were renewed a week ago but soon hit snags.
EU diplomat: "We are at an impasse. There are plenty of minor technical details where we could find solutions. But on the fundamental goals each side is trying to achieve — the differences are enormous. Things cannot move without a political push. And it's missing."
Downing Street: "They are not taking into account the UK's status as an independent state. Clearly there will need to be political movement on the EU's side to move negotiations forward, particularly on fisheries and level playing field issues in order to help find a balanced solution."
EU diplomat: "Talks are not advancing and there seems little idea for the time being on how to get a breakthrough."

AR Why am I not surprised?


2020 April 28

2020: A Very Hot Year

Jonathan Watts

This year is on course to be the hottest since measurements began. Meteorologists say there is a high chance that 2020 will break the record set in 2016.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calculates a 75% chance that 2020 will be the hottest year since measurements began, and is sure to be one of the top five.
The NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies calculates a 60% chance 2020 will set a record.
This January was the hottest on record. In February, a base in Antarctica recorded a temperature of more than 20 C for the first time. A base in Greenland set an April record of 6 C on Sunday.
Oxford climate scientist Karsten Haustein: "The climate crisis continues unabated. The emissions will go down this year, but the concentrations keep on rising. We are very unlikely to be able to notice any slowdown in the built-up of atmospheric GHG levels. But we have the unique chance now to reconsider our choices and use the corona crisis as a catalyst for more sustainable means of transport and energy production."

AR Use the crisis to reset the economy for sustainability.


Universal Expansion

Thomas Lewton

The expected rate of cosmic expansion is based on measurements of the CMB from 12 Ts ABB. When we plug the data into the standard model of cosmic evolution and run the model forward, we find the universe is expanding faster than predicted, with a discrepancy known as the Hubble tension.
The standard model incorporates all the familiar forms of matter and radiation and their interactions. It also includes dark energy and dark matter, which together make up some 96% of the cosmos.
Perhaps dark matter decays into a lighter particle and a dark photon. As dark matter decays over time, its gravitation pull decreases and cosmic expansion accelerates, relieving the Hubble tension. By varying the decay rate and the loss per decay, one can tune the model to agree with observations.
Repulsive dark energy remains a mystery. The simplest idea is that it is the cosmological constant in the Einstein field equations. Other ideas are that the density of dark energy oscillates, or rocks, while in others it rolls down from a high value to zero, in all cases going to zero by 12 Ts ABB.
Any dark energy that changes with time is a tweak to the standard model with no clear justification. But similarly, cosmic inflation was driven by a different kind of dark energy than what we see today.
In the standard model, all known forms of matter and radiation, plus dark matter and dark energy, are fed into the Einstein field equations to predict how space expands as a result. Perhaps the Einstein equations need changing.
The coming years will bring new observational data on cosmic evolution.

AR A lot still up for grabs here — exciting.


2020 April 27

Coronavirus Responses

Bill Gates

China did a lot of things right at the beginning. Some countries did respond very quickly and get their testing in place, and they avoided the economic pain.
You would have expected the United States to do this well, but we did it particularly poorly.
This is the time to take the great science we have, the fact we're in this together, fix testing and treatments, get that vaccine, and minimize the trillions of dollars and many other things that are awful about the situation we're in.
I think there's a lot of incorrect and unfair things said, but it's not yet time for that discussion.

AR China has competent people in power. America lets the Donald rule over betters like Bill.


2020 Misericordias Domini Sunday

China: Global Takeover

Edward Lucas

China may have overtaken America. China has a bigger share of global purchasing power, a better system of government, greater global popularity, and a stronger economy. America is a plutocracy, enfeebled by greed, inequality, and political dysfunction. China is gaining the edge in artificial intelligence, robotics, life sciences, and space technology.
The contrast between Donald Trump's bombastic "Make America Great Again" and the efficient stewardship of the Chinese Communist Party's plan for "national rejuvenation" is glaring. In the last 30 years, the bottom half of the US population has experienced stagnant wages, but China has enjoyed its most prosperous and stable years since 221 BCE.
Chinese diplomats used to project an image of China as a reliable and unthreatening partner. They now practice "wolf warrior diplomacy" to reflect a changing balance of power.
Chinese−American relations are icy. US politicians are furious with China over the coronavirus. Corporate America is bruised by decades of Chinese state-sponsored intellectual property theft, protectionist restrictions, and competition.
The Obama administration shied away from confrontation with China. The South China Sea has now been turned into a fortified Chinese lake. Transgression could have been met with US countermeasures, but now it is too late.
China is not invincible, but the West is divided. We must try to rebuild an international order to channel China toward cooperation rather than conflict.

AR Lucas should try appreciating the Chinese position more warmly. Beijing faces Trump America.


Brexit: Extend Transition

Norbert Röttgen

Before the current coronavirus crisis, I think it would have been possible to have a minimum agreement with the UK on the broad outlines to avoid the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal, with more detailed negotiations then taking place afterwards.
I can't imagine now that this is possible, given the fact that all the EU countries, Brussels and London are so absorbed by the pandemic — and this will go on. Given this situation, I don't believe that there is a realistic possibility any longer to even achieve the necessary minimum. We have to extend.
The pandemic will cause more economic damage than we can now imagine. That you would wish to then add to this extraordinary situation a disorderly exit — this is unimaginable to me. I think everyone will say this is not in the British interest or in the interest of any of us.

AR Boris, see reason or step down. Your protest against the EU and all its appurtenances has been generously tolerated, but most of us have no problem with the EU and just want to live our lives in peace.


Brexit: Extend Transition


EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier says of the post-Brexit trade talks: "The objective that we had for tangible progress .. has only been partially achieved. The United Kingdom did not want to engage seriously on a certain number of fundamental issues."
Downing Street: "The UK remains committed to a deal with a Free Trade Agreement at its core [but there are] significant differences of principle in other areas."
The trade talks entered high gear in March but were suspended to focus on the pandemic. If no deal is reached by December 31, WTO rules with high tariffs and customs barriers will come into force between the UK and the EU.
Boris Johnson insists on the current deadline. An extension would require the UK to obey EU rules and regulations.

AR BoJo is thick as a brick when he wants to be. He believes in the power of human will to defeat facts of all kinds.


Brexit: Extend Transition

Alex Dean

The Brexit transition is set to expire on December 31, but the UK government only has until July to request an extension from the EU.
Former Brexit department chief civil servant Philip Rycroft: "It is simple common sense to ask for an extension of the transition period."
Downing Street: "We will not ask to extend and, if the EU asks, we will say no."
The UK and the EU start from a position of close alignment, but they will diverge. The UK needs time to prepare for the new frictions, install customs procedures and staff, and replicate the regulatory agencies the UK is leaving.
The pandemic has given the case for delay even more force. The consequences of the coronavirus crisis will last into 2021 and beyond.
Former UK permanent representative in Brussels Ivan Rogers: "HMG is in reality forcing firms which are facing an existential crisis over Covid-19 right now and for the next several months to prepare simultaneously for a no-deal exit at year end."

AR A BoJo with mojo would scrap Brexit altogether and take the Leaver flak.


2020 April 25

Trump Is Self-Destructing

Frank Bruni

Donald Trump is panicked that he'll lose to Joe Biden in November. His optimistic pronouncements about imminent deliverance from the current misery are a bigger gamble than the many others he has taken. If he's wrong, there's no hiding it. If he's reckless, the toll is American lives.
Trump carries the secret weapon of his spectacular shamelessness. He's all the escape artists of history and fiction rolled into one and swirled with golden-orange topping. He's lucky — but his luck will run out.
Trump is making a repellent fool of himself. He is a tone-deaf showman who regards everything, even a mountain of corpses, as a stage.

AR If Trump were to win in November after all this, I'd smile at a US military coup.


Covid-19: US Miracle Cure

The Guardian

The leader of a US group peddling industrial bleach as a "miracle cure" for coronavirus wrote to Donald Trump earlier this week to say chlorine dioxide was "a wonderful detox that can kill 99% of the pathogens in the body [and] rid the body of Covid-19."
Days later, Trump promoted the idea of using disinfectant as a treatment for the virus: "Knocks it out in a minute. One minute!"

AR The Trump believers too! Perhaps this is the best cure for the Republican base.


Covid-19: UK Scientific Advice

The Guardian

Downing Street chief special adviser Dominic Cummings and the data scientist Ben Warner who worked with him on the Vote Leave campaign for Brexit are on the secret scientific group advising HM government on the coronavirus pandemic.
Cummings and Warner were among the attendees at the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) meeting on March 23, the day Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown.
SAGE met to discuss Covid-19 on January 22 and 28, then met 9 times in February and 10 times in March. Its membership and its advice are official secrets. Several members say the secrecy risks straining public trust in the UK response to Covid-19.
SAGE members say the Downing Street advisers participate in discussions about the group's advice. Cummings is not a scientist but reports to the prime minister.
Former chief scientific adviser Sir David King: "If you are giving science advice, your advice should be free of any political bias. That is just so critically important."

AR Demonic Cunning will steer the ship of state into the fogbank of fear, where secret spin will calm the critics as he shoots the Albatross.


"We are embarked now on a great voyage"

Boris Johnson, 2020-02-03

This country is leaving its chrysalis .. We are re-emerging after decades of hibernation as a campaigner for global free trade.
And .. when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other.
We are embarked now on a great voyage .. championing global free trade.

AR Bozza will skipper the brig into the Corona Sea, where free trade will go viral and plague the crew with his Albatross of shame.


Trump Ends Guam CBP


The United States Air Force (USAF) has ended its Continuous Bomber Presence (CBP) in the Western Pacific (WP).
US Strategic Command Major Kate Atanasoff: "The United States has transitioned to an approach that enables strategic bombers to operate forward in the Indo-Pacific region from a broader array of overseas locations, when required, and with greater operational resilience, while these bombers are permanently based in the United States."
USAF bombers in Guam were within short flying time of Pacific flashpoints. China developed the DF-26 IRBM in part to hit bases on Guam, and North Korea tested the Hwasong-12 IRBM to contain Guam.
US President Trump on exercises in South Korea: "The war games are very expensive; we paid for a big majority of them, we fly in bombers from Guam. That's a long time for these big massive planes to be flying to South Korea to practice and then drop bombs all over the place and then go back to Guam. I know a lot about airplanes, it's very expensive."

AR Bombers on Guam and carriers in WP were sitting ducks. Better project US power with subs and SLIRM (cruise).


"We did it to ourselves"

Phoebe Weston

UNF senior fellow Thomas Lovejoy: "This pandemic is the consequence of our persistent and excessive intrusion in nature and the vast illegal wildlife trade .. it was just a matter of time before something like this was going to happen .. This is not nature's revenge; we did it to ourselves. The solution is to have a much more respectful approach to nature, which includes dealing with climate change and all the rest."

AR The pandemic will cost us $1 trillion in 2020, says WEF.


Hubble Space Telescope celebrates 30 years of viewing: big red nebula NGC 2014 and small blue nebula NGC 2020
in the Large Magellanic Cloud, 163 000 light years (1.54 Zm) away

In Trump We Trusted

"Thank God he's released
me from any responsibility
for what he's been doing ..
The only national emergency
is that our president
is an idiot."
Ann Coulter

St George

If — how to be a
prime minister

UK Body Count

Pandemic has already caused
41 000 deaths in UK, says FT
analysis of ONS data.

AR More than Luftwaffe
managed in 1940/41.

Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman

Earth: a fish-eye view

Narendra Modi
Namaste: learn it, do it

Medic, Dresden
Medic, Dresden

Die Toteninsel
New York


2020 April 24

The Pandemic

Bill Gates

The coronavirus pandemic pits all of humanity against the virus. The damage to health, wealth, and well-being has already been enormous. This is like a world war, except in this case, we're all on the same side. Everyone can work together to learn about the disease and develop tools to fight it. I see global innovation as the key to limiting the damage. This includes innovations in testing, treatments, vaccines, and policies to limit the spread while minimizing the damage to economies and well-being.

AR Bill Gates for president.


Transaction Man

Rick Perlstein

At the turn of the century, corporations were assigned no responsibility other than to make as much money as possible. Then the economy collapsed.
Michael Jensen says markets are the only fair and rational way to apportion value in a society. He and other financial economists said stockholders should drum into corporate managers that their jobs depended only on maximizing profits for stockholders. To encourage them, companies should take on much more debt.
Jensen and his colleagues not only provided the intellectual justification for things like paying corporate officials in stock but also invented the mathematics behind index funds that increased the number of people with a stake in bigger corporate profits. As Jensen wished, corporations learned to abjure stability and love exotic forms of debt.
Dismantling the New Deal regulatory regime returned America to the days when corporate finance was characterized by prestidigitation and skullduggery. The dismantling was underwritten by doctors of economic philosophy who said the flow of dollars was the most democratic way to judge what was worthwhile in society.
The market for corporate control that Jensen had promoted led to fewer jobs. Those laid off were victims of the age of transaction. After the economy collapsed in 2008, Jensen decided his theories had failed only because economic actors had not yet learned to act rationally.
Jensen said companies adhering to the ideas of Werner Erhard would perform better economically than companies that did not.

AR Werner Erhard offered EST training through the Forum, which I enjoyed in 1985.


2020 St George's Day

A Failed State

George Packer

The coronavirus crisis demanded a swift and rational response. The United States reacted instead like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.
Donald Trump saw the crisis almost entirely in personal and political terms. He declared the coronavirus pandemic a war and himself a wartime president. But like France in 1940, America in 2020 has stunned itself with a national collapse.
Trump came to power as the repudiation of the Republican establishment. He began to immolate what was left of national civic life. He never even pretended to be president of the whole country. His main tool of governance was to lie.
Trump acquired a federal government crippled by years of ideological assault, politicization, and defunding. He set about destroying the professional civil service. His main legislative achievement was one of the largest tax cuts in history.
The pandemic should have united Americans against a common threat. To be a target, you just have to be human. But years of attacking government, squeezing it dry and draining its morale, inflicted a heavy cost that the public had to pay in lives.
All the programs defunded, stockpiles depleted, and plans scrapped meant that America has become a failed state. We can learn from this that the alternative to solidarity is death. We should not forget what it was like to be alone.

AR Coronavirus is to the USA what Chernobyl was to the USSR.


UK and EU PPE Procurement

The Times

The UK government knew of the EU joint procurement of ventilators and PPE for medical staff and chose not to take part. British officials attended four meetings of the EU health security committee when procurement was discussed but expressed no interest.
FOPUS Sir Simon McDonald told MPs this was a deliberate political decision but was forced to retract the claim as an "inadvertent misunderstanding" five hours later. The question was discussed at COBRA meetings at the start of the pandemic without a clear decision amid an "added dilemma" because of the politics of Brexit.

AR FOPUS = Foreign Office permanent undersecretary (a high mandarin)


UK: "It's all got to change"

Philip Pullman

It's all got to change. If we come out of this crisis with all the rickety, fly-blown, worm-eaten old structures still intact, the same vain and indolent public schoolboys in charge, the same hedge fund managers stuffing their overloaded pockets with greasy fingers, our descendants will not forgive us. Nor should they. We must burn out the old corruption and establish a better way of living together ..
Then we must educate our children properly .. The present dreary culture of mechanistic tests and meaningless league tables .. should be swept away like filthy cobwebs; children need light and drama and music and poetry and science and art and curiosity and libraries and plenty of grass to play on, and plenty of time to run about and fool around ..
If it turns out to be true that the government for Brexit-related reasons refused to take part in the procurement advantage offered by EU governments, thus making it harder for the NHS to deal with the Covid-19 and placing thousands of people at risk, the entire front bench .. should be arraigned on charges of conspiracy to murder ..
There are so many clear advantages to being in the EU, and the benefits of leaving are so tenuous and fanciful, that we must revisit the referendum ..
There's so much more that needs to be done, but this is how I think we should start.

AR Philip, you should read my new book ALBION.


2020 Earth Day

Earth Care

Prince Charles

Air, water, soil, and landscapes are vital to human health and wellbeing. Biodiversity, the incredible interconnectedness of life, which we are rapidly destroying, holds insights and solutions that we have yet to discover. Its protection and sustainable management is vital to our survival as a human species. It is increasingly clear that when we care for our planet we fundamentally care for ourselves.


US Coronavirus News

The New York Times

There are signs that the spread of the coronavirus is slowing across much of the United States. Testing is critical to allow a sustainable resumption of economic activity. It permits the substitution of targeted quarantines for general shutdowns, it lets public health authorities identify people who fall sick and those who have been exposed to the virus, and it lets people start returning safely to work, to school, to stores. The United States still lacks the means to perform enough tests.


UK Coronavirus News

Daily Mail

A new medical trial finds that coronavirus patients treated with the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine touted by President Trump are more likely to die than those treated by conventional means.
The new but empty 4,000-bed NHS Nightingale hospital in London turns away 30 critical coronavirus patients from other packed London wards because it lacks nurses. It has treated a total of 40 people since it opened on April 7.
A delayed RAF plane finally lands in Britain with half the PPE promised because it cannot carry the full load of 84 tons. Government ministers ignored offers of 16 million masks in March.
UK health secretary Matt Hancock holds out no hope of an end to the lock-down as the death and infection charts stay obstinately high. Boris Johnson agrees restrictions should stay.


Universal Basic Income Now

Ian Blackford MP et al.

We are urgently calling on the UK government to prepare for a recovery universal basic income in response to the coronavirus crisis. As the scale and duration of the crisis becomes clear, it is essential that we take steps now to ensure that when we emerge from lockdown, we do so with a fairer and more resilient society and economy.
We are likely to face a damaging recession, as well as ongoing economic insecurity, that will affect all of us. There will be more economic shocks from financial, climate and pandemic crises over the coming years. Income protection is too inflexible a tool on an ongoing basis and our current social security system is too cumbersome.
This is why we need to put in place plans for a recovery universal basic income — a regular cash payment to every individual. The payments should be sufficient to provide economic security for people. This will provide an income floor nobody falls below and a springboard to recovery.

AR This is the least the government can do for its citizens in a society where everything costs money. It has the added benefit of allowing a great simplification of the benefits system.


2020 April 21

"You're on your own"

The New York Times

Weeks into the pandemic, not nearly enough is being done to protect US front-line workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has taken a largely hands-off approach. Only last week did OSHA prioritize investigating health care facilities for complaints about coronavirus safety procedures. OSHA: "OSHA does not have any jurisdiction on enforcing anything related to Covid-19 at this time."

AR Trump, do your job: Give OSHA teeth!


US Oil Price Dips Below $0

Financial Times

Benchmark US oil prices crashed into negative territory for the first time in history as the evaporation of demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic leaves the world awash with oil and not enough storage capacity.

AR Do the climate a favor and leave it in the ground.


UK Health Stocks Run Low

Financial Times

As the number of NHS staff who have died of Covid-19 increases, a story emerges of initial underestimates of the volume of PPE needed, and the difficulties of distributing it, plus reliance on a pandemic stockpile tailored to a flu outbreak. The result is a mismatch between public assurances from government ministers and NHS leaders that PPE problems have been resolved, and the reality of insufficient kit on hospital wards and in GP surgeries across the UK.

AR Blame Austerity, Brexit, Conservative cost-cutting.


We Need Lockdown

Rafaela von Bredow

If we want to prevent an inferno, we need to maintain the social lockdown.
A shutdown that has to be reinstated again and again whenever governments seek to relax it is a catastrophic scenario. We would have to spend most of our time in isolation so as not to overwhelm the health system.
We are only at the beginning of the pandemic. The virus confronts the world with the unbearable dilemma of a life in lockdown against the risk of letting the disease run free to kill millions of people.
Politicians expect answers from scientists. The sun is shining, and people are fed up with the shutdown. Science will provide these answers, but it takes time. Politicians cannot order them to recommend easing.
The safe way to contain Covid 19 is a complete and total lockdown.

AR People: learn to live more humbly, patiently.


2020 April 20

American Renewal

Bernie Sanders

We are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the meltdown of our economy. We must examine the foundations of American society and fight for a fairer and more just nation.
The absurdity and cruelty of our health insurance system should now be apparent to all. As we move forward beyond the pandemic, we need to guarantee health care to everyone.
Many in our country are now beginning to rethink the basic assumptions underlying the American value system. In a truly free society, economic rights are human rights.
I will do everything in my power to help defeat the most dangerous president in modern American history. We need to articulate a new direction for America.

AR He backs Joe Biden.


American Austerity

Rana Foroohar

Americans have encouraged the growth of a financial sector that has repeatedly brewed up asset bubbles to support the spending that real economic growth could not. The years 2009−2020 saw the creation of a vast asset price bubble in just about everything. That bubble is now bursting.
Like the decade leading up to 2008, the Roaring Twenties were marked by technological wonders, easy money, and massive income inequality. All that ended in tears in 1929. The US personal savings rate rose to 28% during WW2, and federal spending rose to over 40% by the end of the 1940s.
Today, reshoring supply chains may benefit US industry and boost wages. But companies that survive the lockdown will replace as many workers as they can with software, so unemployment will remain high. Public sector spending will also skyrocket, which will further hurt economic performance.
What the US government is doing now is not a Keynesian spending program but a bailout of everything. Perhaps some wise fiscal stimulus in areas such as infrastructure will make some of that new debt load more productive. But the US economy will struggle to grow out of the hole.
Americans are going to have to save a lot more. Policymakers need to think about how to incentivize savings, the Fed will have explain how it will shrink all that debt off its balance sheet, and everyone will have to think about thrift. Enter the new age of American austerity.

AR The 2020s won't be roaring.


2020 April 19

American Apocalypse

The Guardian

President Trump wants to reopen the US economy. Scientists and public health officials say three pillars need to be in place first:
1 Mass testing to identify those who are infected
2 Contact tracing to isolate other people who may have caught Covid-19 from them
2 Personal protective equipment (PPE) to shield frontline healthcare workers
Experts warn that with testing, tracing, and PPE in critically short supply, Americans are heading for a second massive failure of governance under Trump. The consequences could be devastating.

AR Stop him.


L2R: Boris Johnson (Oxford, Classics), Dominic Cummings (Oxford, History), Michael Gove (Oxford, English), Dominic Raab (Oxford, Law)

AR (Oxford, PPE — Philosophy, Politics, and Economics): There is clearly a disastrous lack of PPE among the Bonzes of Brexit.

Drew Barrymore
"When we come out of this ..
we'll come out in full energy
and more appreciative,
more excited to be
out in the world."
Drew Barrymore


Merkel, Macron
⦿ Philippe Wojazer
German chancellor Merkel,
French president Macron
"We are at a moment of truth,
which is to decide whether
the European Union is a
political project or just
a market project."
Emmanuel Macron


Bill Gates

Obama, Biden
Barack Obama endorses
Joe Biden as POTUS 46

Trump, Monday:
"The President of the
United States calls
the shots."


A British Coronavirus Disaster

The Sunday Times

December 31: China alerted the WHO that several cases of viral pneumonia had been recorded in Wuhan. The UK government sent tons of personal protective equipment (PPE) to China in response to a cry for help. Boris Johnson was on vacation with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds in the Caribbean.
January 16: Edinburgh professor of global public health Devi Sridhar called for swift action to prepare for the virus. She had predicted two years earlier that a virus might jump species from an animal in China and spread quickly to become a human pandemic.
January 17: An Imperial College London team led by Neil Ferguson produced a modelling assessment of the impact of the virus. It said 3 cases of the virus had been discovered outside China and said there could already be as many as 4,000 cases: "The magnitude of these numbers suggests substantial human-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out. Heightened surveillance, prompt information-sharing and enhanced preparedness are recommended."
January 22: Chinese scientists warned that the virus had an infectivity rate of up to 3.0. This was high enough to force a lockdown. The UK government convened the first meeting of its scientific advisory group for emergencies (SAGE) to discuss the virus. It is usually chaired by the chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical adviser Professor Chris Whitty.
January 24: The UK government held a meeting of COBRA, its national crisis committee, normally chaired by the prime minister and including cabinet ministers, intelligence chiefs, and military generals. Boris Johnson was not there. Health secretary Matt Hancock said the risk was low. Johnson was in Downing Street, but he missed four further COBRA meetings on the virus.
Downing Street source: "There's no way you're at war if your PM isn't there. And what you learn about Boris was he didn't chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn't work weekends .. he didn't do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be."
The UK was in a poor state of readiness for a pandemic. Emergency stockpiles of PPE had severely dwindled and gone out of date after becoming a low priority in the years of austerity cuts. The training to prepare key workers for a pandemic was on hold for years while contingency planning was diverted to deal with Brexit.
January 25: Whitty: "COBRA met today to discuss the situation in Wuhan, China. We have global experts monitoring the situation around the clock and have a strong track record of managing new forms of infectious disease."
January 29: The first Covid-19 cases were found in the UK. The government raised the threat level from low to moderate.
January 30: The WHO declared the coronavirus a global emergency. UK scientific advisers said plans for a pandemic were robust. The plans had once been a priority and were well funded up to 2010. But then austerity cuts struck. A 2016 pandemic exercise predicted the NHS would collapse and highlighted a lack of PPE and ventilators. Its list of recommendations was never implemented.
Downing Street source: "If you were with senior NHS managers at all during the last two years, you were aware that their biggest fear, their sweatiest nightmare, was a pandemic, because they weren't prepared for it."
The government failed to stockpile testing equipment. The source: "We should have communicated with every commercial testing laboratory that might volunteer to become part of the government's testing regime, but that didn't happen."
The government failed to stockpile PPE for health and care workers. The pandemic plan was for the NHS to draw on "just in case" stockpiles of PPE. But these had dwindled and become out of date. The idea was to fill the shortfall by activating "just in time" contracts. But these were mostly with Chinese manufacturers.
February 13: Johnson left Downing Street for a 12-day vacation in the country with Symonds. He was secretly engaged to her. Relations with his children were difficult. His divorce had to be finalised. He and his wife reached a settlement.
February 25: Johnson returned to London for a Conservative fundraising ball, where a donor pledged £60,000 for the privilege of playing a game of tennis with him. By then, Johnson had missed five COBRA meetings on the preparations to combat the looming pandemic.
February 26: Ministers were warned that the UK faced catastrophe unless drastic action was taken: 27 million people infected, 220,000 intensive care beds needed, death toll 380,000, urgent need for a lockdown.
February 28: UK reported cases 19, stock markets plunging. Johnson summoned a TV reporter into Downing Street: "The issue of coronavirus is something that is now the government's top priority." He spent the weekend at Chequers with Symonds, where the couple released news of the engagement and their baby.
March 2: At a COBRA meeting with Johnson in the chair, a "battle plan" was signed off to contain, delay, and mitigate the spread of the virus. But there was more delay as Johnson and his advisers debated what to do. Then Johnson fell sick with the virus.
April 17: Downing Street spokesman: "Our response has ensured that the NHS has been given all the support it needs to ensure everyone requiring treatment has received it, as well as providing protection to businesses and reassurance to workers. The prime minister has been at the helm of the response to this, providing leadership during this hugely challenging period for the whole nation."

AR Vernichtend


2020 April 18

US: Premature Reopening?

The Guardian

White House coronavirus taskforce lead Mike Pence: "Our best scientists and health experts assess that today we have a sufficient amount of testing to meet the requirements of a phase one reopening if state governors should choose to do that."
Donald Trump tweet: "The States have to step up their TESTING!" He also tweeted "LIBERATE" protests against lockdown measures in three states led by Democratic governors.

AR Pence would be a better president than Trump.


UK: Science in Charge?

The Times

While UK PM Boris Johnson remains in convalescence, several cabinet members are increasingly concerned that the scientists are effectively in charge. A minister: "Nobody is willing to take any political risk. We are in a holding pattern until Boris gets back."

AR UK deaths so far over 15,000, with thousands more in care homes.


Germany: Outbreak Under Control?

BBC News

German health minister Jens Spahn says the month-long lockdown has brought the coronavirus outbreak under control in Germany. The infection rate has dropped to 0.7, and since April 12, the number of recovered patients had been consistently higher than the number of new infections.
So far, fewer than 4,000 have died of Covid-19 in Germany. But the number is still rising, as is the number of infected health care workers. Almost 134,000 people have been infected.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced tentative steps to start easing the lockdown. Some smaller shops will reopen next week, and schools will start reopening in early May. Sports and leisure facilities, as well as cafes and restaurants, will remain closed indefinitely.
German diagnostic labs responded rapidly to the pandemic. By early April, it was doing more than 100,000 swab tests daily, enabling more coronavirus carriers to be traced than in other EU countries.
German companies aim to produce 50 million face masks a week for healthcare workers by August. In Sachsen and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, wearing masks is compulsory on public transport and in shops.

AR Oh, to be in Deutschland, now that Covid's here.


2020 April 17

The Overton Window

Jeremy Lent

The impact of the new coronavirus on our global civilization is only just beginning.
If Covid-19 were spreading across a stable and resilient world, its impact could be contained. But it is revealing structural faults in our world that have been growing for decades. Economic inequalities, ecological destruction, and political corruption all lean on each other and may collapse together.
The Overton window is the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time. During normal times, only a limited range of ideas are considered. But in a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, ideas are discussed that were previously dismissed as fanciful or unacceptable.
The triumph of neoliberalism has led to the greatest inequality in history. It has allowed the largest transnational corporations to establish a stranglehold over other forms of organization. The relentless pursuit of profit and economic growth has propelled human civilization toward a climate crisis that imperils our civilization.
Even if the climate crisis is somehow brought under control, continued economic growth will bring further existential threats. We risk letting the same forces currently driving our world to crisis accelerate us toward global catastrophe.
Leaders around the world are taking advantage of the crisis to clamp down on individual liberties and move toward authoritarianism. Increasing surveillance is undermining previously sacrosanct privacy rights. In a Fortress Earth scenario, big power blocs could eliminate many freedoms and rights.
The Overton window is revealing new possibilities. Covid-19 has been more effective in slowing down climate breakdown and ecological collapse than all other impulses combined. The emergency response initiated so rapidly by governments across the world has shown what is possible in a crisis.
The neoliberal era has pursued globalization based on free market norms. The effects of Covid-19 could lead to an inversion of these norms. Many people are rediscovering that they are far stronger as a community than as isolated individuals.
The neoliberal era was constructed on a myth of the selfish individual as the foundation for values. In fact, humans have prosocial impulses that cause us to identify with something larger than our own individual needs. We must define the new era by extending fairness and compassion to the global community and to all life.
The Covid-19 disaster is a great opportunity, a terrible thing to waste.

AR Exactly — see my next book.


2020 April 16

US Collapse

Financial Times

New data on the US economy revealed that the collapse in consumer demand, industrial activity, and confidence from coronavirus lockdowns is deeper than feared. US industrial production showed the biggest monthly decline since WW2. Retail sales dropped by the most since records began in 1992.

AR Brutal


Neutrino Asymmetry

Natalie Wolchover

Evidence of a difference between neutrinos and antineutrinos could help explain why so much more matter than antimatter arose during the Big Bang.
The T2K team started seeing signs of a discrepancy in the behavior of neutrinos and antineutrinos in 2016. Their new data rises to the 3σ level (p < 0.003) of evidence. A result needs 5σ (p < 0.0000006) to count as a discovery.
Neutrinos spew from nuclear reactions in the sun and stars and stream through space in vast numbers. As neutrinos and antineutrinos fly along, they oscillate between three flavors: electron (e), muon (μ), and tau (τ).
T2K scientists generate muon neutrinos νμ and antineutrinos ν̄μ in Tokai and beam them 295 km to Kamioka. They look for neutrinos and antineutrinos that have oscillated from νμ/ν̄μ into νe/ν̄e during their journey. Their data shows neutrinos have a higher probability of decaying than antineutrinos.
CP violation among neutrinos supports a theory about how matter came to dominate the universe early on. The theory involves the fact that neutrinos are all left-handed (a neutrino shooting toward you spins clockwise), whereas antineutrinos are right-handed.
A seesaw theory says neutrinos and antineutrinos once had heavy counterparts with opposite chirality. These formed in the very early universe and quickly decayed into lighter particles. But if they decayed asymmetrically, they could have produced the matter that makes us.
If this theory is true, any CP violation among light neutrinos and antineutrinos would likely be mirrored by their heavy counterparts.
The NOvA experiment is also measuring neutrino oscillations and finding hints of CP violation. But even the results of NOvA and T2K combined do not reach 5σ. The future experiments DUNE and T2HK should nail it.

AR Physics — an endless source of good news.


US Vandalism

Andrew Gawthorpe

In a parody of self-destructive nationalism, Donald Trump yesterday decided that an unprecedented global health emergency was the perfect time to withdraw American funding from the organization whose job it is to fight global health emergencies. His decision to suspend contributions to the WHO is an extraordinary act of moral abdication and international vandalism at a time when the world desperately needs to find means of working together to combat an unprecedented global threat.

AR Verbatim


2020 April 15

Cut Funds for WHO?

The Guardian

President Trump has put US funding of the WHO on hold "to assess the World Health Organization's role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus."
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres: "Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread .. But now is not that time .. It is also not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the [WHO] in the fight against the virus."
Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton: "Every scientist, every health worker, every citizen must resist and rebel against this appalling betrayal of global solidarity."

AR Trump is angry that his beloved economy is ruined.


World Economy Collapsing

Martin Wolf

The global shutdown is much the biggest crisis the world has confronted since WW2 and the biggest economic disaster since the Depression.
As a baseline, the IMF suggests global output per head will contract by 4.2% this year, with a dip of 12% between Q4 2019 and Q2 2020 in advanced economies and of 5% in other countries. If Q2 is the nadir, the IMF forecasts a 3% global contraction in 2020 and a 5.8% expansion in 2021.
The IMF offers three alternative scenarios:
1 Lockdowns 50% longer: 2020 global output 3% below baseline
2 Covid-19 back in 2021: 2021 global output 5% below baseline
3 Both: 2021 global output almost 8% below baseline
Things might get worse. Help with the health response and economic help are essential for poorer countries. Trade must flow freely.
We must bring the disease under control. We must spend whatever it takes. We must help billions of people.
In a pandemic, no country is an island.

AR We need effective global coordination: GO


Coronavirus in the UK

Financial Times

The Office for Budget Responsibility warns the UK economy faces a 35% dip in output in Q2 2020 if a coronavirus lockdown remains in place for 3 months, and government borrowing rising by £218 billion to £273 billion in 2020-21, taking the deficit to 14% of GDP.
The Office for National Statistics reports 16 387 deaths for the w/e April 3. The number linked to Covid‑19 is 50% is more than stated by the health department and includes deaths at home and in care homes. The ONS number excludes another 2112 Covid-19 earlier deaths registered later.

AR The UK must relent and rejoin the EU.


2020 April 14

Trump America

Stephen M. Walt

President Donald Trump's response to the Covid-19 pandemic will end up costing Americans trillions of dollars and thousands of otherwise preventable deaths. This epic policy failure will tarnish the US reputation as a country that knows how to do things effectively.
For over a century, US influence around the world rested on three pillars. The first was its awesome combination of economic and military strength. The second was support from an array of allies. A third pillar is broad confidence in US competence.
The glowing reputation that Americans used to enjoy was built up over many decades. The United States was a place where people knew how to set ambitious goals and bring them successfully to fruition. People around the world looked upon the United States as a meritocratic, accomplished, and above all, competent country.
Trump's handling of the Covid-19 crisis has been an embarrassing debacle from the start. His long business career has shown that he was more of a showman than a leader, better at conning people out of money and evading responsibility than at managing complex business operations. His tawdry personal life offered equally clear warnings. Since taking office, Trump has perfected the art of the lie, while gradually purging his administration of people with genuine expertise.
How could a serious country possibly choose as its leader a narcissistic, manifestly unqualified self-promoter with a long track record of failure and deceit?

AR Democracy needs reinvention.


Brexit Talks

Financial Times

The EU and UK will return to the Brexit fray tomorrow. Michel Barnier and David Frost will fix dates for rounds of virtual negotiations on the future partnership.

AR Let's call the whole thing off.


Freeman Dyson

Robbert Dijkgraaf

Freeman Dyson made a theoretical breakthrough in quantum electrodynamics. Julian Schwinger had developed a complicated theory that few understood. Richard Feynman had posited a deceptively simple set of diagrams that described particle interactions. In 1948, Dyson united the two.
Nobel Prizes soon followed for Schwinger, Feynman, and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, who had independently found a third approach. Dyson missed the boat.
Dyson then designed rockets driven by nuclear explosions. He imagined a Dyson sphere: An advanced civilization will try to capture all the energy of its star by surrounding it with a spherical arrangement of orbiting structures.
Dyson was a contrarian on climate science.

AR He thought new biotech such as black trees would one day cool the Earth. He also imagined nanotech spacecraft blown by solar wind.


Maks Viktor Antiquarian Books
"The English patient had caught it on the beach. 'I should have stayed home,' she said. Now she was in quarantine in the dark house
of splendid isolation. Still, hope springs eternal. With a little bit of luck, common sense, and personal hygiene, the corona book
of horror stories must end soon. Always remember, clean hands save lives, and when in doubt, don't go out!"

Joe Biden
Joe Biden

Personal protective equipment
is in short supply in the UK

Red star

Bournemouth beach
unusually empty

Rita Ora
Rita Ora

Covid-19 Deaths

US count: over 14 000
UK count: over  7 000
Germany: over 2 000

Stay safe


2020 April 13

Reopening America

Joe Biden

The plan to reopen America has to start with responding effectively to the immediate medical crisis.
1 We have to get the number of new cases of the disease down.
2 We need widespread testing and a contact tracing strategy.
3 We have to make sure our health care system is ready for more.
Once we have taken these steps, we can begin to reopen more businesses and put more people back to work.
We need to be working right now on the conditions under which our economy will operate as America gets back to work.
If I were president, I would convene top experts from the private sector, industry by industry, to come up with new ideas.
The only complete solution is finding a vaccine.
We know what we have to do.

AR Joe for prez.


2020 Easter Sunday


The Observer

The UK government faces calls for the urgent recall of parliament in virtual form as MPs and peers demand the right to hold ministers to account over the escalating coronavirus crisis. The demands came from all sides as the death toll from Covid-19 in the UK approached 10 000. All parliamentary business was suspended on 25 March due to fears that MPs would contract and spread Covid-19.
Sir Keir Starmer: "[There is] no substitute for parliamentary scrutiny [particularly] at this time of national crisis. The best decisions are those that are challenged and subject to scrutiny. And by that process issues can be resolved, mistakes quickly rectified and individual concerns addressed. That will help save lives and protect our country. But if parliament is not sitting or functioning effectively that cannot happen."

AR Methinks Johnson has no enthusiasm for recall.



The Observer

Boris Johnson, Saturday night: "I can't thank them enough. I owe them my life."
He was paying tribute to NHS staff, followed a few days when he was rushed to hospital, admitted to intensive care, given oxygen, and released back on to the ward to recover from Covid-19.
Former Tory MP and journalist Paul Goodman, who worked with him at the Daily Telegraph:
"I remember he always seemed to regard being ill as a form of moral weakness."

AR Perhaps we can hope for a Damascene conversion.



Niall Ferguson

The world economy looks dead, brought to an abrupt standstill by the Covid-19 pandemic. Countless businesses have been told to cease trading and millions of workers have been told to stay at home. Central banks and finance ministries are injecting money by the trillion.
The economic consequences of this disaster cannot be offset by a monetary and fiscal splurge. US GDP is now less than 80% of its level in Q4 2019. I expect a drop in GDP for Q1 2020 and a collapse in Q2. The coming year will see a depression. The resurrection will take a while.

AR Ferguson sees downside but a reset will do us good.



Mail on Sunday

The Chinese laboratory at the center of scrutiny over the coronavirus pandemic used US government money to carry out research on bats from caves in Yunnan. The Wuhan Institute of Virology undertook coronavirus experiments funded by a $3.7 million US government grant.
Covid-19 was first thought to have transferred to humans at an animal market in Wuhan but genome sequencing traced it back to bats found in Yunnan. The revelation sparks fears that the lab may be the original outbreak source.
US pressure group White Coat Waste president Anthony Bellotti: "Animals infected with viruses or otherwise sickened and abused in Chinese labs reportedly may be sold to wet markets for consumption once experiments are done."
The $37 million Wuhan Institute of Virology is based 30 km from the wildlife market thought to be the location of the original transfer of the virus. Scientists there experimented on bats as part of a project funded by the US NIH.
Biosecurity expert Richard Ebright says Covid-19 may have from the Wuhan lab while it was being analyzed. He suspects scientists there studied the viruses with only level 2 security, rather than the recommended level 4.

AR Did US funding lead to a lab outbreak?



Julio Vincent Gambuto

Gaslighting is defined as manipulation into doubting your own sanity. Pretty soon, as America begins to recover, powerful forces will try to convince us all to get back to normal.
What the pandemic has shown us cannot be unseen. A carless Los Angeles has clear blue skies as pollution has simply stopped. In a quiet New York, you can hear the birds chirp in the middle of Madison Avenue. Coyotes have been spotted on the Golden Gate Bridge. These are images of what the world might be like if we let it.
We have also witnessed a health care system that cannot provide basic protective equipment for its frontline, businesses that do not have enough cash to pay their rent or workers, a government that has left us without basic facts that can save their lives.
Americans are busy. We have goals to meet and meetings to attend and mortgages to pay. And when we get home, we relax just enough to get up the next day and do it all over again.
Well, the treadmill just stopped. The Great Pause is the greatest gift ever unwrapped. The crisis has given us is a chance to see ourselves and our country in the plainest of views.
We Americans will get hit by the greatest campaign ever created to get us to forget we ever saw an utter failure of leadership and systems. We are about to be gaslit in a big way.

AR The Great Reboot can start now.


2020 April 11

US Unemployment

The New York Times

In the past 3 weeks, roughly 10% of American workers filed for unemployment benefits. Congress overwhelmed the Small Business Administration and erred in relying on banks to make loans. European nations are fighting mass unemployment by paying companies to hold on to their employees. American businesses and workers urgently need federal help.


UK Exceptionalism

Fintan O'Toole

On 20 March, Boris Johnson closed pubs, clubs, and restaurants: "We're taking away the ancient, inalienable right of free-born people of the United Kingdom to go the pub. And ... I know how difficult this is, how it seems to go against the freedom-loving instincts of the British people."
English exceptionalism helped to shape his policy toward the Covid-19 crisis. It lies behind both the idea that there should be a distinctive British response to this global challenge, and the assumption that there was something peculiarly unnatural in expecting Brits to obey drastic restrictions.
Johnson on Churchill: "There is a sense in which his eccentricity and humour helped to express what Britain was fighting for — what it was all about. With his ludicrous hats and rompers and cigars and excess alcohol, he contrived physically to represent the central idea of his own political philosophy: the inalienable right of British people to live their lives in freedom, to do their own thing."
This innate resistance to conformity is a myth. This is obvious from the persistence of an equal and opposite cliché of Englishness: the queue. Orderliness is just as prominent as waywardness in the English self-image. Neither of these truisms is worth a damn in a time of plague.
Covid-19 is a global threat.


2020 Good Friday

Climate Relief

Jonathan Watts

The environmental changes wrought by the coronavirus are visible from space. As motorways cleared and factories closed, dirty brown pollution belts shrank over cities and industrial centers within days. Huge falls in emissions are greatly improving air quality and reducing health risks.
The planet is expected to see its first fall in global emissions since the 2008 financial crisis. Oil is the biggest source of the carbon emissions that are heating the planet and disrupting weather systems. The crisis could mark the beginning of the end for oil.
In America, oil company executives have lobbied President Trump for a bailout. His administration has rolled back fuel economy standards for the car industry, the EPA has stopped enforcing environmental laws, three states have criminalized fossil fuel protesters, and the government is giving a huge bailout to aviation companies.
If governments prime the economic pumps with the intention of a return to business as usual, environmental gains are likely to be temporary or reversed.
Leaders and activists are pushing for an urgent public debate. Scientists ask governments to use recovery packages to shift in a greener direction rather than going back to business as usual. If we neglect the planet, we put our own wellbeing at risk.
Whether this pandemic is good or bad for the environment depends on us. If there is no political pressure on governments, the world will go back to business as usual rather than emerge with a new sense of what is normal.

AR Let us press.


2020 April 9


David Frum

The United States is on trajectory to suffer badly from Covid-19. This is the fault of President Trump. His administration had dissolved the NSC directorate responsible for coping with pandemics.
Trump at Davos, January 22: "We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It's going to be just fine."
Senator Chris Murphy left a White House briefing on the coronavirus on February 5: "Bottom line: they aren't taking this seriously enough. Notably, no request for ANY emergency funding, which is a big mistake."
On February 28, Trump accused the Democrats of politicizing the coronavirus as "their new hoax."
When financial markets crashed and schools, cities, and states closed, the overwhelmed president responded by shifting the blame to others: "I don't take responsibility at all," he said on March 13.
The United States has utterly failed to lead. Responsibility falls upon Trump. This American catastrophe is on his hands and on his head.



The New York Times

The European Union is ill suited for crisis. It is an alliance of sovereign countries, not a central government. Its executive branch, the European Commission, can only seek cooperation, not order it. Public health is left entirely to national governments.
True leadership requires more. A virtual meeting of EU leaders intended to show unity and resolve turned into a debate on whether to issue a coronabond to share the economic damage from Covid-19. The European Union must live up to its name.


2020 April 8

American Confusion


President Donald Trump set out Tuesday to look like a leader: "What we have is a plague, and we're seeing light at the end of the tunnel."
He instead put on a display of the habits that have defined his presidency:
 He sparked concern that he will prevent oversight of the $2 trillion rescue package by removing an official responsible for overseeing it.
 He insisted he hadn't seen January memos by a top White House official warning about the pandemic when he was dismissing the threat.
 He announced he was placing a "very powerful hold" on funding for the World Health Organization.
 He celebrated the "roaring success" of the business rescue package and credited his daughter Ivanka with personally creating 15 million jobs.
 He lashed out at mail-in voting, making claims at odds with the facts, even though he recently cast such a ballot himself to avoid infection.
Just another day of the Trump presidency.


German Competence

Daily Mail, 0333 UTC

NHS England Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty admits that the UK should have acted earlier on mass testing. Germany started mass testing of the population much sooner than Britain, and now its death toll is less than a third of UK's yet almost double the confirmed cases: The UK has 6159 deaths from a total of 55 242 positive tests so far, Germany has 1800 deaths from 100 000 positive tests. Germans have tested more than 50 000 people per day, Brits only 11 000.


European Bureaucracy

Financial Times

European Research Council president Mauro Ferrari has resigned after failing to persuade Brussels to set up a scientific program to fight Covid-19: "I have been extremely disappointed by the European response to Covid-19. I arrived at the ERC a fervent supporter of the EU [but] the Covid-19 crisis completely changed my views."
Professor Ferrari, an Italian-American pioneer of nanomedicine, said his rift with the European Commission started in early March: "It became evident that the pandemic would be a tragedy ... I thought that at a time like this, the very best scientists in the world should be provided with resources and opportunities to fight the pandemic."
The ERC Scientific Council rejected the idea, saying its remit is to fund bottom-up research proposed by scientists, not top-down programs. Ferrari said this was no time to worry about distinctions between bottom-up versus top-down research. He plans now to set up an international research initiative to fight Covid-19 from the USA.


Does Time Flow?

Natalie Wolchover

Nicolas Gisin sees the problem of time as mathematical. He says time and the present are easily expressed in intuitionist mathematics, which rejects the existence of numbers with infinitely many digits. Intuitionist math describes the evolution of physical systems in terms of new information created in time. Strict determinism gives way to unpredictability.
He says we must formulate laws of physics that cast the future as open and the present as real. This may bridge the conceptual divide between the determinism of general relativity and the inherent randomness of quantum systems.
The deterministic picture of time in classical physics implicitly assumes the existence of infinite information. But information is physical. It requires energy. Any volume of space has a finite information capacity. The block universe is impossible.
Intuitionist mathematics is constructed. Numbers must be constructible, their digits calculated or chosen or randomly determined one at a time. Numbers are processes that become ever more exact as more digits reveal themselves in a choice sequence.
Intuitionism implies that the law of excluded middle is invalid. Statements about a number might be neither true nor false at a given time, until a more exact value has revealed itself.
Consider a real number x near 0.5. Say the value of x is 0.4999, where further digits unfurl in a choice sequence. If the sequence of 9s continue forever, x converges to exactly 0.5. But if at some future point a digit other than 9 crops up, then no matter what happens after that, x < 0.5. Before then, we don't know. The law of the excluded middle fails for the statement x = 0.5.
Moreover, the continuum cannot be cleanly divided into two parts, one for all x < 0.5 and one for all x ≥ 0.5. If you try to cut the continuum in half, x will stick to the knife. The continuum is sticky.
Gisin sees a connection between the unspooling decimal digits of numbers in this mathematical framework and the physical notion of time in the universe. Materializing digits correspond to the sequence of moments defining the present, when the uncertain future becomes concrete reality. The lack of the law of excluded middle is like indeterminism about the future.
He used intuitionist math to formulate an alternative version of classical mechanics that casts events as indeterministic. Time is a creative unfolding. He hopes to provide a common, indeterministic language for both classical and quantum physics.
In quantum mechanics, information can never be created or destroyed. Yet if the digits of numbers defining the state of the universe grow over time, then new information is coming into being, created during a measurement process.
Infinity appears in quantum mechanics in the tail problem. An electron on the Moon has a super small probability of being also detected on Earth. The tail of the function representing position becomes exponentially small but not zero. In intuitionist math, the electron is on the Moon, and its chance of turning up on Earth is zero.
The intuitionist idea that we cannot cut the continuum in two is like our sense that the present is a substantive moment rather than a point that cleanly cleaves past from future. The intuitionist continuum suggests that time is thick, in the same sense as honey is thick.

AR Wonderful. I spent my best student years on exactly these questions. But I failed to build a formalism that worked for physics. Well done, Gisin.


Einstein in England
The Times Literary Supplement

In September 1933, Albert Einstein stayed in a holiday hut near Cromer in Norfolk. He had renounced his German citizenship
several months previously and fled mainland Europe. In 1927, Einstein said in Britain "my work has received greater recognition
than anywhere else in the world" and once declared: "I love this country." When he finally found a safe haven in America, he said
"the most civilised country of the day" was Britain. He said Britain had "always produced the best physicists" and kept portraits
of Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, and James Clerk Maxwell in his study in both Berlin and Princeton.

Global Cases

Over 1 300 000 diagnosed
Over 75 000 deaths

Covid-19 Deaths

US count: over 10 000
UK count: over  5 000


Wer rechnen kann und ein
Zahlenverständnis hat, ist dem
Schwindel der Statistik nicht
wehrlos ausgesetzt. Das ist in
der Corona-Krise nützlich

Keir Starmer
YouTube (8:40)
Sir Keir Starmer elected
as new Labour leader


2020 April 7


Helen Davidson

China reported 0 new Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday: The National Health Commission reported 32 new cases across China and 30 new asymptomatic cases. Some restrictions in Wuhan will be lifted.



The Times

UK PM Boris Johnson was moved into intensive care Tuesday night after his condition worsened amid concerns that he may need a ventilator. Foreign secretary Dominic Raab will deputise for him.


2020 April 6


Frank Bruni

When the direness of this global health crisis began to be apparent, I was braced for the falsehoods and misinformation that are Donald Trump's trademarks. I was girded for the incompetence that defines an administration with such contempt for proper procedure and for true expertise. But what has taken me by surprise are the aloofness, arrogance, pettiness, meanness, narcissism, and solipsism that flourish in him, even during an emergency that demands something nobler.



Frank Bruni

Boris Johnson spent the night in hospital due to continuing Covid-19 symptoms as a "precautionary step" but is "in good spirits" and said to still be leading the government.


2020 April 5

UK: A Better Future

Keir Starmer

Under my leadership, the Labour Party will be a responsible opposition. I will fundamentally disagree with the prime minister. But Labour can and must engage constructively with the government.
The coronavirus is a national emergency. The public is placing an enormous trust in the government at the moment. It is vital that that trust is met with openness and transparency about its mistakes and the decisions that have been made:
1 We are far behind on testing. We must make sure the promise of 100,000 tests a day is delivered and that these tests reach those who need them most, including frontline NHS staff.
2 Success requires the UK to have a comprehensive national vaccine program in place so that the minute a vaccine becomes available we can begin to protect the entire population.
3 The government must listen to frontline NHS and care workers. We have heard too many stories of staff unable to get the equipment they need to keep them safe or to care for patients.
4 We need an exit strategy. We should know what it is, when the restrictions might be lifted, and what the plan is for economic recovery to protect those who have been hardest hit.
There will be many more difficult days ahead. We must build a fairer, more equal society. There can be no return to business as usual.
This crisis has highlighted the desperate fragility of the UK safety net and the unfairness of a broken system: from our chronically underfunded NHS and care service to a woefully inadequate social security system and the lack of protection for self-employed and small businesses.
Labour will make the argument for a better future. I promise to do my utmost.


Germany and Coronavirus

Philip Oltermann

In the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, key policy areas, including health, fall under the jurisdiction of the 16 Länder. German public health services are provided by about 400 public health offices, run by municipality and rural district administrations.
At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, Angela Merkel could only make recommendations that the federal states were free to implement or ignore. Yet Germany is now being held up as the model to be emulated for its high rates of testing.
Around 250 laboratories are carrying out 300 000−500 000 tests for Covid-19 every week, largely autonomously. Some started offering tests long before health insurers offered to pay for them, giving Germany a head start.

AR The NHS is far too centralized.


2020 April 4

A Crisis Like No Other

Financial Times

The coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns imposed by governments on both sides of the Atlantic have pushed the global economy into the sharpest downturn since the Great Depression. IMF head Kristalina Georgieva: "This is a crisis like no other. Never in the history of the IMF we have witnessed the world economy coming to a standstill. It is way worse than the global financial crisis."


Coronavirus in America

Ed Pilkington

On March 6, Imperial College London epidemiologists gave a White House briefing. They said if nothing was done to halt the spread of Covid-19, within weeks it would infect 81% of the US population and kill 2.2 million Americans.
On the same day, President Trump toured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offices in Atlanta. On the epidemic: "All I say is: Be calm."
On March 31, he said America was in for a "very, very painful two weeks" and should be prepared "for the hard days that lie ahead".
This is the worst public health disaster in America in a century.

AR Obama would have handled it better.


A Turning Point in History

John Gray

The crisis through which we are living is a turning point in history. Globalization has peaked. The task ahead is to build economies and societies that improve on the anarchy of the global market.
The virus has exposed fatal weaknesses in the economic system of liberal capitalism. When the economy restarts, it will be in a world where governments act to curb the global market. Economic expansion can only worsen climate change and turn the planet into a garbage dump.
The most successful responses to the epidemic thus far have been in Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore. China has responded to the pandemic by expanding the surveillance state and introducing stronger political control.
The EU has responded to the crisis by revealing its essential weakness. If it survives, it may be as something like the Holy Roman Empire in its later years. Russia supplies natural gas to EU states and can use energy as a political weapon.
In Trump America, with an all-time high jobless rate, a decentralized system of government, a ruinously expensive healthcare system that leaves millions uncovered, a colossal prison population, and cities filled with homeless people, curtailing the shutdown could mean the virus spreading uncontrollably, with devastating effects.
The US position in the world has changed irreversibly. The global order set in place at the end of WW2 is fast unraveling. The virus has hastened a process of disintegration that has been under way for many years.
What we call an apocalypse is the normal course of history. Covid-19 shows that humans are still part of the biosphere. Technology will help us adapt, but the virus shows progress is reversible.

AR True so far, imho.


Chinese national flag, Tiananmen Square, Beijing


European economic activity
crashes: The EZ composite
PMI index of services and
manufacturing fell from
51.6 in February to 29.7
in March, its lowest ever.
The UK index fell from
53.2 to 34.5.

Standard Model


UK page
WHO Health System
Response Monitor

Inside Luftwaffe medevac




2020 April 3

Coronavirus and Democracy

Karolina Wigura, Jarosław Kuisz

Closing national borders during the pandemic may have been a rational health response, but the longer-term political consequences are troubling.
Italy closed its borders on 10 March, when the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases had already exceeded 10 000. Over the next five days, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary closed their borders one after the other, even though by that time in any of them the number of confirmed cases had not reached 100.
Suspending free movement is understandable. Leaders naturally wanted to act quickly to avoid an Italian scenario in their lands. But the way the Schengen provisions were suspended in central and eastern Europe is telling.
For decades, the states in central and eastern Europe suffered cyclical collapse, loss of sovereignty, and existential threat from totalitarian systems. They chose to join NATO and the EU to guarantee their safety and stability.
The brain drain of doctors has damaged many healthcare systems in the region. Closing the borders has led to relief in the pandemic. Authoritarian populists already see the emergency as a win for the nation-state over a helpless EU.
In Hungary, Viktor Orbán has been allowed to rule by decree during this state of emergency without any clear time limit and with special measures include jail terms for spreading misinformation.
In Poland, the government changed the electoral law overnight to let presidential elections go ahead in May, hoping the only candidate able to run a campaign is current president Andrzej Duda.
A quarantine that lasts for weeks or months will only consolidate the illiberal order.


Particle Mass Puzzle


Three progressively heavier copies of each type of matter particle exist, and no one knows why. A new paper by Steven Weinberg takes a stab at explaining the pattern.
Electrons and two types of quarks, dubbed up and down, mix in various ways to produce every atom in existence.
But this family of matter particles is only the first of three generations of particles, each heavier than the last. The second- and third-generation particles transform quickly into their lighter counterparts, but they otherwise behave identically.
The Standard Model does not predict why each particle has the mass that it does. The electron mass is 0.5 MeV, the muon mass is 105 MeV, and the tau particle mass is 1776 MeV. Similarly, the up and down quarks in the first generation are lightweights, the charm and strange quarks in the second quark generation are middleweights, and the top and bottom quarks in the third generation are heavy, with the top at 173 GeV.
The third-generation particles all weigh thousands of MeV, second-generation particles weigh roughly hundreds of MeV, and first-generation particles come in at around an MeV each. As you go each level down, they get much lighter.
In the Standard Model, the mass of each particle corresponds to how much it feels the Higgs field. Top quarks are heavy because they feel drag as they move through the Higgs field, but electrons fly through it. How each particle feels the field is an intrinsic attribute of the particle.
The top quark mass happens to be roughly the same as the average energy of the Higgs field, so we can guess that only the top quark moves through the field in the standard way.
The other particles feel the Higgs field indirectly. Quantum uncertainty lets particles materialize for brief moments. These form clouds of virtual particles around real ones. Virtual top quarks crowding around a muon could make it feel the Higgs field by means of a mutual interaction with some new particle. But because the exposure is indirect, the muon stays much lighter than the top.
A second round of this game of quantum relay makes the electron lighter again, explaining the rough generational spacing of thousands, hundreds, and a few MeV of mass.
Weinberg considers a variety of ways this relay game could work. He says the entire third generation of matter particles can feel the Higgs field. Mass trickles down to the second and first generations via interactions with virtual particles.
The proposal is only a rough sketch, but it may spark new ideas.

AR A plausible hint.


2020 April 2

1M Cases Worldwide, 5K Deaths in US


More than 5,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. About a million people are infected worldwide.


Nature and Markets

Thomas L. Friedman

The coronavirus spread in America because President Trump looked at the problem through the lens of the markets first and the science of natural systems second.
Nature was not impressed by Trump or his markets. Nature is just chemistry, biology, and physics. Do not mess with Nature. But that is exactly what Trump did initially with the coronavirus and is trying to do still with climate change.
As we do battle with the coronavirus, it is vital that we keep in mind just how much more destructive climate change could be for all of us. Climate change doesn't peak and then flatten out so normal life resumes. When the ice melts, it's gone forever.
The first rule of scientists for climate change mitigation is also the first rule for public health officials of Covid-19 mitigation: Manage the unavoidable so that you can avoid the unmanageable.


Germany 100K: Britain 8K

Robert Hardman

Disgracefully, that's how many tests each country does a day. The reason for the difference? Efficient Teutonic planning and a ruthless determination to work together.

AR Breaking news: Matt Hancock sets 100K goal for UK.


Coronavirus and Brexit

Rafael Behr

Covid-19 has halted Brexit negotiations and infected the lead negotiators. All Whitehall capacity is being spent on the immediate crisis.
Covid-19 has already ravaged conservative orthodoxy. Fiscal discipline is gone. A few more weeks of lockdown and Brexit hardliners might be persuaded to rubber-stamp a second year of transition.
Boris Johnson was elected to get Brexit done. If there is one person in Britain capable of serving hard Brexiteers something softer while claiming the taste is the same, Johnson is that man.
Coronavirus makes Brexit look small.


2020 April 1

UN: Worst Crisis Since WW2

The New York Times, 1511 UTC

The S&P 500 fell nearly 4% in early trading, extending its losses from March (12.5% drop, the worst month for stocks since 2008). Harvard economist Kenneth S. Rogoff: "This is already shaping up as the deepest dive on record for the global economy for over 100 years. I feel like the 2008 financial crisis was just a dry run for this."
White House charts show death projections of 100,000−240,000 Americans even if the US abides by stringent social restrictions that choke the economy and impoverish millions. President Trump: "I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead."


Quantum Measurement

Philip Ball

Quantum mechanics is silent about how system states collapse from probabilities to certainties. But recent experiments have let us see collapse as it happens. The results could lead to a new theory of quantum measurement.
The Schrödinger equation describes a wave function that lets you calculate the odds on which of the various possible properties you get if you measure a quantum object.
John von Neumann said the wave function collapses when that the selection of a single outcome on measurement from all the possibilities happens randomly and instantaneously, with odds predicted from the Schrödinger equation. He said so as a way of getting unique results.
A recent experiment to probe quantum measurement relies on quantum trajectory theory (QTT). Nothing in QTT deviates from regular quantum mechanics, but it can describe the way quantum objects interact with their environment, via decoherence, and get jostled by the environment in return via back-action.
A team used superconducting qubits to build an artificial atom and watch it jumping from one energy state to another. They used microwaves to excite their atom, then watched it emit microwave photons as it returned to its ground state.
The atom kept jumping to the excited state and then, under the influence of the back-action caused by probing it, falling back down again. It only stuck in the excited state when a true quantum jump occurred. The team tracked this jiggling back and forth.
The team saw a quantum jump unfolding over time. The jumps occurred at random moments, but there was a precursor signal when one was imminent: the jiggling caused by quantum back-action became unusually quiescent. Given this advance warning, the team fired microwaves at the qubits to catch and reversed the jump as it was taking place.
The quantum jumps experiment was monitoring the collapse. As the artificial atom was continually driven toward an excited state, measurement kept collapsing it to the ground state. The result shows collapse is a physical process that can be seen as it unfolds.
The work even raises the prospect of avoiding collapse altogether while making a measurement. This would mean controlling the interactions of a quantum entity with the environment so carefully that there is negligible back-action and minimal disturbance. The measurement would probe the system at the Heisenberg limit.
The notion of wave function collapse is a crude way of talking about the change that occurs when a quantum system gets entangled with its environment.
A team performed an ideal kind of quantum measurement that doesn't destroy the quantum state but shifts it to another state that can be measured again. Superpositions are normally destroyed by measurement, but they can survive such an ideal measurement. The team saw a gradual change in state rather than an abrupt collapse.
The challenge now is to build a theory of quantum measurement.

AR A big challenge.


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