AR   2020-11-24
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Gripen E
Saab AB
Swedish Gripen E fighter

Trump administration
releases presidential
transition funds

View from Finland

Priti Patel
Priti Patel


Pfizer and BioNTech say final
analysis shows coronavirus
vaccine is 95% effective
with no safety concerns


2020 November 24

Your Brain Is Not for Thinking

Lisa Feldman Barrett

Your brain runs your body systems to keep you alive and well. Neuroscientists say your conscious thoughts and feelings are more in service to the needs of managing your body than you realize.
Your brain acts largely outside your awareness. In every moment, your brain figures out what your body needs for the next moment and executes a plan to fill those needs in advance.
Your brain runs your body in a budgeting a process called allostasis. It automatically predicts and prepares to meet bodily needs before they arise. It views your mental life as a series of deposits and withdrawals.
There is no such thing as a purely mental cause. Every mental experience has roots in the physical budgeting of your body. Physical actions can help in addressing psychological problems.

AR I agree with all this.


Computational Physics

Dennis Overbye

MIT has a new Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Fundamental Interactions.
Director Jesse Thaler: "Researchers from a variety of different fields of physics, as well as researchers who work on computer science, machine learning, or AI, can come together and have dialog and teach each other things."
MIT physicist Max Tegmark: "We're hoping to discover all kinds of new laws of physics. We're already shown that it can rediscover laws of physics."
Tegmark and his team showed a neural network a video of rockets flying around. The computer discovered the essential equations of motion using a recursive method known as regression.
Thaler and his team fed LHC data to a neural network. With no knowledge of quantum field theory, the system distinguished between quarks and gluons and found that quarks exist in different types, like up and down.

AR Impressive!


2020 November 23

Oxford Vaccine Effective

The Times

Oxford University is poised to apply for approval of its vaccine after trial results show it is effective at stopping Covid-19. Initial findings suggest that tweaking the dosing schedule may make it around 90% effective. Also, the vaccine seems to lower rates of asymptomatic infection.
The vaccine is cheap and easy to handle and can be stored in an ordinary fridge. It uses an adenovirus vector to insert genetic code for coronavirus surface fragments into human cells. The cells then make fragments to trigger the immune system.
AstraZeneca will make and distribute the vaccine.

AR More good news


2020 November 22

The Brexit Revolution

Pete North

Boris Johnson is not an ideologue. He just wants to be popular. He never had the stomach to do unpopular things.
The Brexit revolutionaries are serial incompetents. They made Johnson the leader of their movement. They knew he was an opportunistic charlatan but went ahead and deceived themselves anyway.
Johnson believes he can pivot away from Brexit and the hard right to resume business as usual and turn things around in time for the next election. He does not anticipate the kind of chaos most are now predicting. This is not going to work.
Johnson cannot sweep Brexit under the carpet. He either has to stick it out or run away. Somebody is going to have to explain the discrepancies between what the Leave campaign said and what is unfolding in reality.
The humiliations the UK will endure flow from refusal to adopt a Brexit plan. The Brexiteers did not know what they were doing. They will be defeated.

AR My short cut of a polemical text


2020 November 21

US: Biden Wins Big


Joe Biden has decisively won the US presidential election and the popular vote. He has won nearly 80 million votes, more votes than any US presidential candidate in history by a big margin. Donald Trump got fewer than 74 million votes but still refuses to concede defeat.
In the Electoral College, Biden is projected to get 306 electoral votes while Trump gets 232. Trump is refusing to concede the race, making false claims about widespread voter fraud with no evidence, and attempting to undermine the democratic process.
The president and his allies have refused to cooperate in a transition of power. This blocks the Biden team from accessing millions of dollars in taxpayer funds and other resources. Biden's team warns of damaging consequences for Americans.

AR Republicans: Invoke the 25th, let Mike Pence take over, and get on with the transition.


UK: Home Office Scandal

The Times

Boris Johnson told Conservative MPs to protect home secretary Priti Patel after an official inquiry found that she swore, shouted at, and bullied senior officials. His demand came after he took the unusual step of overruling Sir Alex Allan, his adviser on ministerial standards, who said Patel had breached the ministerial code of conduct. Sir Alex resigned after his findings were published and Johnson chose not to accept them.
Johnson told Conservative MPs to "form a square around the prittster" [sic].

Warned in 2019
Daily Mirror

Former home office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam says he told Priti Patel not to shout and swear at staff soon after she became home secretary in July 2019. He resigned over the row and launched a constructive dismissal claim. He says he was not asked to contribute to the new report.

AR British infantry at Waterloo formed squares to protect themselves from French attacks.


Wolfram's TOE

Physics arXiv Blog

Stephen Wolfram has spent much of his career studying and categorizing cellular automata. His main finding is that the simplest algorithms can produce huge complexity.
In 2002, he published his results in A New Kind of Science.
Wolfram now claims the laws of physics emerge from this complexity. Relativity and spacetime curvature are an emergent property in these algorithmic universes. Quantum mechanics is an emergent property in them too.
His theory of everything (TOE) is that relativity, quantum mechanics, and computational complexity are essentially different ways of viewing the same thing.
His theory suggests:
  The elementary length is about 10−93 meters (not the Planck length 10−35 m)
  The radius of an electron is about 10−81 m
  Mass is quantized into units about 1036 times smaller than the electron mass
  Particles like electrons are composed of much simpler elements
  An electron is composed of about 1035 of them
  Such elements may make up dark matter
Wolfram is a maverick.

AR See my blog 2020-06-20.


2020 November 20

A Promised Land

Jennifer Szalai

Barack Obama's new memoir ends in 2011, shortly after his roasting of Donald Trump at the White House Correspondents' Dinner and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The book testifies to his faith that if he just describes his thinking in sufficient detail, and clearly lays out the constellation of obstacles and constraints he faced, any reasonable American would have to understand why he governed as he did.
Obama addresses the book to the next generation, but the story he tells is less about unbridled possibility and more about the forces that inhibit it.
He inherited a state of emergency, when the economy was getting devoured by the Great Recession. He had ambitious ideas for structural change, but his team said attempts to mete out Old Testament justice to the banks would send markets into a panic.
Conservatives were quick to seize on this and use to their advantage. Republicans exploited the feelings of helplessness and resentment that their own policies had helped to bring about. The result was a drubbing in the 2010 midterms.
Obama's commitment to moderation rankled some progressives. Yet Republicans were petulant at the prospect of working with his administration: "It was as if my very presence in the White House had triggered a deep-seated panic."

AR Good president, bad times.


Britannia Rules the Waves?

Daily Mail

Boris Johnson: "We shall use our extra defence spending to restore Britain's position as the foremost naval power in Europe, taking forward our plans for eight Type 26 and five Type 31 frigates, and support ships to supply our carriers."
France currently has more warships than the UK. A Royal Navy source: "If you look at the list of the French ships, some of those are getting on for 20 years old. This is going to be the most modern fleet in Europe. We are going to develop the next generation of warships."
Johnson says HMS Queen Elizabeth will head to the Indian Ocean and East Asia next year: "We shall forward deploy more of our naval assets in the world's most important regions, protecting the shipping lanes that supply our nation."
On a more futuristic note, he said: "Our warships and combat vehicles will carry directed energy weapons destroying targets with inexhaustible lasers, and for them the phrase 'out of ammunition' will become redundant."
Britain will have RAF Space Command to launch British satellites on a British rocket in 2022. A British cyber force will take down enemy computer systems and hack into enemy air defences to protect British warplanes.

AR Money to buy off the jingoists.


2020 November 19

US: Over 250 000 Covid Deaths

The New York Times

The United States has now recorded over 250 000 coronavirus-related deaths. The number is expected to keep climbing steeply as infections surge nationwide. Back in March, Dr Anthony Fauci predicted the virus it might kill up to 240 000 Americans. It has now passed that mark, with no end in sight.

AR We know who to blame.


UK: More Billions 4 Weapons

The Times

Boris Johnson has pledged to end Britain's "era of retreat" with the largest investment in the military since the Cold War and plans for a new space command and artificial intelligence agency. The prime minister will reveal a four-year funding settlement for the Ministry of Defence today, worth an additional £16.5 billion, to transform the armed forces and bolster global influence.

AR Spending money we don't have.


UK: Big Majority Says Brexit Wrong

Business Insider

A new poll find support for Brexit in the UK is at the lowest point since the referendum: 51% say leaving the EU was the wrong move, but only 38% say it was right.

AR We say revoke, rejoin, repent.


2020 November 18

US: Lady Liberty

Thomas L. Friedman

Lady Liberty was walking across Fifth Avenue on November 3 when out of nowhere a crazy guy driving a bus ran the red light. Lady Liberty leapt out of the way barely in time, and she's now sitting on the curb, her heart pounding, just glad to be alive. But she knows how narrowly she escaped, that this reckless driver never stops at red lights and is still out there, and, oh my God, lots of his passengers are still applauding the thrilling ride.

AR Start fixing the problem in 2021.


UK: Green Recovery

Boris Johnson

Now is the time to plan a green recovery with high-skilled jobs that give people the satisfaction of knowing they are helping to make the country cleaner, greener, and more beautiful.
My 10-point plan:
 Make the UK the Saudi Arabia of wind
 Turn water into energy with investment in hydrogen
 Take forward plans for nuclear power
 Invest in electric vehicles, charging points, and batteries
 Have cleaner public transport, green buses, and cycle lanes
 Achieve transatlantic fight with a zero-emission plane
 Make homes, schools, and hospitals greener
 Establish an industry in carbon capture and storage
 Plant many hectares of trees and rewild the countryside
 Commercialise new low-carbon technologies

AR That's better, thank Carrie.


Season's greetings

SpaceX launch
SpaceX Falcon 9 with Crew
Dragon bound for ISS

Moderna releases clinical
trial results of a Covid-19
mRNA vaccine showing
an efficacy of 94.5%



2020 November 17

UK: Women Take Over

Rachel Sylvester

Last week's power struggle in Downing Street culminated in the departure of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain. The women around Boris Johnson mounted a daring attack on the Vote Leave bully boys in an attempt to force the prime minister back to the centre of the political board. They also exposed a culture of misogyny in No 10.
The briefing war showed the machismo that had taken hold. Carrie Symonds was called "Princess Nut Nut" and Allegra Stratton was reduced to tears by personal attacks on her. The atmosphere was so toxic that some young female staff felt scared to go into work and former aides were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Amber Rudd: "The Vote Leave crew wanted to turn everything into a battle. It was deliberately violent, the language was terrible, and they made the rules to suit them."
The women asserting themselves have different priorities and temperaments. Symonds is a green campaigner, Stratton wants to address regional inequalities, and Munira Mirza is a former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party who wants a culture war. They are united only in hating the macho culture in Downing Street.
A senior Tory: "The real problem is that Boris is prime minister and he's not willing to make decisions."

AR So kick him out.


Genome Junk Evolves Vital Genes

Viviane Callier

Essential genes are often thought to evolve only slowly because changing would be fatal. But a new study shows that a large class of genes in Drosophila fruit flies are both essential for survival and evolving rapidly. The young genes are as likely as old ones to encode essential functions.
The ZAD-ZNF genes are a family of transcription factors in insects. About 70 of them are present in all Drosophila species, but 20 were gained and lost several times over 40 million years of evolution. Among the 20, the most rapidly evolving genes are much more likely to encode essential functions than the others.
Nicknack and Oddjob are two essential ZAD-ZNF genes that evolve quickly. They do not localize to euchromatin, the part of the genome where most genes are located. Instead, they localize to the heterochromatin, the regions of DNA that contain genomic junk. They evolve rapidly to remain functional.
Researchers swapped copies of Nicknack between D. melanogaster and D. simulans and found Nicknack from melanogaster saved simulans females but not males. The simulans males have a Y chromosome full of junk that overwhelms melanogaster Nicknack, whereas the Nicknack restores enough function for survival in the females.
HHMI researcher Harmit Malik: "What if it's actually the evolution of these heterochromatin sequences that created the need for this essential function first?"

AR Fascinating!


2020 November 16

US: New World Order

The New York Times

President-elect Joe Biden will restore dignity to the badly sullied image of the United States. He will take a more predictable, nuanced, and sympathetic approach to foreign relations.
Biden will promptly rejoin the Paris accord on climate change and make climate action central to his administration. He will restore the US relationship with the WHO and join forces with the rest of the world to halt the rampage of the coronavirus.
Biden is also expected to recommit the United States to exposing human rights abuses. He aims to revive the nuclear deal with Iran and agree with Russia on limiting strategic nuclear arms. America will return to a role in the world that reflects its historical values.
The United States has always derived much of its strength from its soft power, multiplied by its alliances. The Biden−Harris administration will lead America back.

AR All good news


UK: The Johnson Legacy

Martin Wolf

Boris Johnson will leave as his legacy a transformation of the UK relationship with the EU. He has determined the nature of Brexit.
The UK government estimates that "no deal" on trade lowers UK GDP by about 8% over 15 years relative to staying in the EU. That might amount to halving cumulative growth in GDP per head. Even a free trade agreement could cost 5%. Yet the issues over which the government is fighting with the EU are absurd.
Johnson wishes to blame the inevitable pains of Brexit on EU intransigence. His English nationalism could be the end of the union of England and Scotland. His populism targets parliament, business, the civil service, the judiciary, human rights, and the BBC. The mess he has made in managing the pandemic is staggering.
Johnson is not a serious man. He is unlikely ever to govern competently. He is an important politician, but a damaging one.

Behind  the lies, chaos
Dominic Grieve

Dominic Cummings and his associates will leave behind a legacy of destructive mayhem.
We saw the loss of any standards of conduct at the heart of government. This has backfired spectacularly, prompting a rebellion in both Commons and Lords and souring relations with the new US president.
Younger people see their government is corrupt. The public has been misled about UK strengths and weaknesses. The country faces massive challenges that will require hard choices.
The prime minister in action shows engaging optimism. But behind him is chaos.

AR Boris, extend the transition and resign.


Volkstrauertag. L to R: Duchess of Cornwall, Prince of Wales, Elke Büdenbender,
Bundespräsident Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Bellevue Palace, Berlin



What is a particle?

Nice house

What Huygens saw on
Saturn's moon Titan


2020 November 15


ZDF-Live, 1230 UTC

Seine Königliche Hoheit, Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales und Duke of Cornwall,
hält die Gedenkrede im Bundestag.

AR Charles: "Wir werden immer Freunde, Partner und Verbündete sein."


UK: Downing Street Disorder

Tim Shipman

On Wednesday evening, Boris Johnson spoke with the Queen and with Carrie Symonds.
On Friday evening, both his chief adviser Dominic Cummings and his Downing Street director of communications Lee Cain were gone.
This was fallout from a power struggle over government communications between Cain and Allegra Stratton, the new Downing Street press secretary. Symonds and Stratton wanted Johnson to set a new tone as PM.
Cummings had no time for running 10 Downing Street. Johnson had discussed the chief of staff role with Sajid Javid and Lord Feldman, but neither wanted to work with Cummings.
Cain was already doing parts of the job. He had the idea of holding media briefings on camera but did not want Allegra to front Downing Street press conferences.
Johnson urged Allegra to apply for the job. She did, and she accepted it on the basis that she would report to Johnson. She told Cain: "I can't work with you."
On November 4, Johnson invited Allegra to lunch with him and Carrie at Chequers. He suggested Cain as chief of staff, but both women expressed concerns about the macho culture in Downing Street.
On November 8, Johnson and Cain dined in Downing Street and discussed what was going wrong.
On Monday evening, Johnson told Cain he wanted him to be chief of staff. Cain said he would need an OK from Carrie. Ministers and MPs reacted with fury, Carrie was unhappy, and Allegra said she would have to quit.
The episode exhumed old hatred of Cummings and his culture of aggression. Mistrust was increased by a leak when the media reported plans for a second national lockdown even before Johnson had made up his mind. Cain and Cummings were both accused of being the "chatty rat" behind the leak.
A Whitehall source: "Boris was apocalyptically incandescent."
On Friday, Johnson called in Cain and Cummings to tell them it was their last day in 10 Downing Street. He was angry at the media briefings against Carrie.
A former cabinet minister: "We have a constitutional conundrum that the prime minister's girlfriend is deciding senior non-ministerial appointments, which I think is without precedent."
Vote Leavers saw a pair of "posh southern women" ousting the working-class northerner Cain who got the job on merit. They fear Stratton and Symonds will lead Johnson astray.

Lee made Allegra cry
The Observer

Former Guardian and TV journalist Allegra Stratton was in tears on Saturday after being the butt of negative briefings by former director of communications Lee Cain.
Boris Johnson was warned that her appointment would look like cronyism because of her friendship with former CCHQ communications director Carrie Symonds.

Carrie hated Lee and Dom
Daily Mail

On Friday evening, hours after Dominic Cummings had left 10 Downing Street, his allies say they heard the sounds of a victory party from the upstairs flat inhabited by Carrie Symonds. Her friends deny there was a boisterous celebration.
At the end of the summer, Boris Johnson and Symonds hosted a dinner at Chequers. Johnson said to Allegra Stratton: "Come and be my spokesperson, you would be great. Obviously there has to be a process, but I want you."
Carrie was keen for Stratton to represent the government at daily TV press conferences. Stratton got the job and starts in January. But then she started clashing with Lee Cain and Cummings. The chemistry between her and Cain was bad, and both threatened to resign.
Allies of Dom and Lee say Carrie has hated Lee since 2017, when she applied for the job of special adviser to then foreign secretary Johnson and lost out to Lee. Now they say she calls No 10's private office up to 20 times a day and texts Boris up to 25 times an hour over policy issues.
Stratton is a Cambridge graduate and a broadcaster who fought off competition to get the job and will front White House-style press briefings. Cain said she was aggressive and divisive. His friends say she would "pop upstairs for a cosy drink with Carrie in the flat" whenever he argued with her.
Cain let a hard-drinking and sexist macho culture flourish in No 10. Vote Leave loyalists called Carrie Symonds "Princess Nut Nut" behind her back. Friends of Carrie say she has no regrets about opposing Cain's appointment.
During his meeting with Cummings and Cain, Johnson grilled them on the turmoil of the past few days. He confronted them with hostile texts forwarded to Symonds and told them to get out and never return.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis said of Cummings: "The relationship with the prime minister fell off a cliff."

AR Former Daily Mail journalist James Slack, author of the notorious 2017 headline ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE, replaces Lee Cain as Downing Street director of communications.


2020 November 14

UK: Brexit Standoff

The Guardian

CSU MEP Manfred Weber: "I see what is happening now in Downing Street. We can also see this as a quite chaotic situation .. So don't tell us we should be ready for compromise .. We need a clear idea from Boris Johnson now and I think it's now time for leadership .. It's time to take over responsibility and come to a common understanding."
UK government official: "David [Frost] and the team are completely focused on the negotiations. The prime minister has been clear that he wants a deal if there is a deal to be done .. We need to see some realism and creativity from their side if we are to bridge the significant gaps that remain."

AR Extend the transition period by a year. Hold a second referendum.


2020 November 13

US: Biden Wins

CNN, 1914 UTC

Joe Biden wins Georgia, bringing his total Electoral College votes to 306, compared to Donald Trump's 232. Trump had won by 306−232 in 2016.

AR No doubt now


UK: Cummings Out

BBC News, 1552 UTC

Boris Johnson's chief adviser Dominic Cummings has left Number 10 with immediate effect. He left 10 Downing Street carrying a cardboard box. His departure was brought forward given the "upset" in the team.

AR Good riddance



German federal president Frank-Walter Steinmeier has hopes on three main issues with Joe Biden as POTUS 46.
Democracy: "Let us seize this opportunity to join forces with a US led by Joe Biden and reinvigorate democracy and the power of reason in our societies."
Pandemic: "No country is as sorely missed as the United States in the efforts of the international community to present a united front against the pandemic."
Europe: "We Germans must understand that a strong Europe is our investment in this transatlantic relationship."

AR Alles klar


Nuclear Diamond Cells


A nuclear power cell can last for thousands of years without ever being charged or replaced. It runs on radioactive diamonds made from nuclear waste.
Betavoltaic cells produce tiny amounts of power for a long time. They can provide a steady drip of electricity to small devices for millennia. They can be used whenever we cannot regularly swap out a battery, such as sensors in remote or hazardous locations, or for pacemakers or wearables. There are no health risks.
A typical betavoltaic cell consists of thin layers of radioactive material sandwiched between semiconductors. As the nuclear material decays, it emits beta particles that liberate electrons in the semiconductor to create an electric current.
The radioactive isotope carbon-14 can function both as a radioactive source and a semiconductor, and it has a half-life of 5700 years. We can grow artificial C14 diamonds in a chemical reactor. We can recover C14 from the graphite blocks for the control rods in a nuclear reactor, which are otherwise nuclear waste.
Such cells will need years of refinement in the lab.

AR Sounds good


2020 November 12

US: Washington Power Struggle


Messages from foreign leaders to president-elect Joe Biden are sitting at the State Department but the Trump administration is preventing him from accessing them.
On Tuesday, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo refused to acknowledge Biden's victory: "There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration."
As the election count continues, Biden's lead has grown to more than 5 million.

AR Trump, it's over.


UK: London Power Struggle

Financial Times

Downing Street was in chaos on Wednesday night as Boris Johnson's communications chief quit in a power struggle. Lee Cain said he would quit after the PM reversed an earlier offer to make him his chief of staff.
The Vote Leave cabal's influence in Downing Street seems to be waning. Chief spad and Cain friend Dominic Cummings was in talks with the prime minister about his future. Brexit talks negotiator and Cain ally David Frost was also said to be considering his position.
Johnson's partner Carrie Symonds was among those urging him not to appoint Cain, saying he needed better advice. Conservative ministers and MPs are celebrating the end of the Vote Leave grip.
Earlier on Wednesday, the official number of UK Covid deaths exceeded 50 000.

AR Boris, heed Carrie, dump Dom.


The Pattern Seekers

Paul Broks

Simon Baron-Cohen says human invention began 70K−100K years ago. Evolution reconfigured the functional architecture of human brains and enabled our ancestors to use recursive thought to grasp causal chains in events.
Baron-Cohen says the genes for autism drove the evolution of human invention. A systemizing engine that drove us to ask questions and to experiment with patterns used an empathy circuit to bridge minds for communication.
The human cultural explosion began around 40K years ago.

AR No surprise there.


Big Bang Nuclear Fusion

Thomas Lewton

Physicists in the Laboratory for Underground Nuclear Astrophysics (LUNA) in Italy have recreated a nuclear reaction that happened 2−3 minutes after the Big Bang (BB). Their measurement helps us understand BB nucleosynthesis.
BB nucleosynthesis began when protons and neutrons fused to form deuterium (D), an isotope of hydrogen (H). Most of the D quickly fused into elements like helium (He) and lithium (Li). The new measurement has pinned down the fusion rate of D with a proton to form the isotope He-3.
We can say how various isotopes of H, He, and Li formed. But uncertainty about the fusion rate of D to He-3 stopped us calculating what the cosmos looked like 12 Ts later, when the universe first lit up to us. A theoretical estimate of the rate in 2016 disagreed with a lab measurement from 1997.
LUNA measured a fusion rate between the 2016 prediction and the 1997 measurement. Fed into the equations of BB nucleosynthesis, it predicts a primordial matter density and a cosmic expansion rate that match observations.

AR Well done!


Brexit Buyers' Remorse
⦿ Simon Hix from YouGov data
Poll question: "In hindsight do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the EU?"



2020 November 11

Trump: Bunker Mentality


The Trump administration is tottering, with loyalty tests, attacks on the military chain of command, a bunker mentality, and delusional claims of political victory.
President-elect Joe Biden is projecting calm amid the chaos. He is taking calls with leaders of top US allies in preparation for his ascent to power. While Donald Trump is staying behind closed doors, tweeting in all-caps, and purging the Pentagon leadership, Biden is reassuring the American people.
Trump is withholding the access and funding that incoming presidents normally rely on to get started. He will remain president until January 20.

AR Alles im Griff.


Brexit: Deal or No Deal?

Rafael Behr

A shock is coming when transitional arrangements expire on 1 January. The shock is double if negotiations collapse. The border is not ready and there will be no goodwill on the EU side to finesse a UK shambles.
Boris Johnson can choose between a hard landing and a crash landing. A rational audit of national interests points him to a hard landing. But Johnson could choose a big row with Brussels.
Then he would face a row over the Irish border. President-elect Joe Biden sees sabotage of the Good Friday agreement as foul play and an affront to his Irish ancestry. Washington will side with Dublin. An EU deal is needed first for any US deal.
Johnson is fine with a messy Brexit, but he wants it not to be his mess. He would rather say mission accomplished than make yet more excuses. That leaves Britain without a policy on Europe.

AR Hamlet: Answer the question!


A Fine Bodge!

Daily Mail

Boris Johnson's message of congratulation to Joe Biden was a bodged overwrite of an unused message to Donald Trump.
HMG spokesman: "As you'd expect, two statements were prepared in advance for the outcome of this closely contested election. A technical error meant that parts of the alternative message were embedded in the background of the graphic."

AR I checked — this is not fake news.


John Major


⦿ Daniel Casanave
Yuval Noah Harari


2020 November 10

Coronavirus Vaccine

New Scientist

The Pfizer candidate vaccine is more than 90% effective in preventing covid-19. The phase III trial found more than 90% fewer symptomatic coronavirus cases among trial participants who received 2 doses 3 weeks apart compared to those who received a placebo. Pfizer is developing the vaccine in partnership with German biotech company BioNTech.

Vaccine BNT162b2
In the phase III clinical trial, the companies gave the vaccine or a placebo to 43 538 participants in a double-blinded study. They waited until there were 94 confirmed cases of covid-19, then unblinded the study and found that about 90% of the cases were in the placebo group.
The trial will go on until there have been 164 confirmed infections, with another interim assessment after 120 infections. That could happen before Christmas. But the chances of the result flipping are vanishingly small.
Pfizer expect to produce up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021. Phase IV trials are also required to pick up any rare adverse reactions. The vaccine is an RNA vaccine that uses mRNA from the virus to elicit an immune response, so there may be surprises.

German biotech company BioNTech is based in the city of Mainz. Its shares shot up 23.4% on Monday morning to a total value of $21.9 billion. The company employs 1300 people and only made its debut on the US stock market a year ago.
Scientists Özlem Türeci and Ugur Sahin and oncologist Christoph Huber founded BioNTech in 2008, originally to develop new types of immunotherapy against cancer. When news of the coronavirus first emerged, they redirected their resources.
Sahin said the company could develop a vaccine but would struggle with distribution. Pfizer paid $185 million upfront and will release another $563 million when development is complete.
Türeci and Sahin are children of Turkish Gastarbeiter. They met at Saarland University and have been married since 2002.

AR A happy story


2020 November 9

Coronavirus Pandemic

BBC News, 1130 UTC

The first effective coronavirus vaccine can prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19, analysis shows. The developers — Pfizer and BioNTech — described it as a "great day for science and humanity" and will apply for emergency approval to use the vaccine by the end of the month.

The bad news
The Guardian

October was the worst month for the pandemic so far. The number of Covid-19 cases worldwide has passed 50 million. The second wave in the past 30 days accounts for a quarter of all cases.
The United States is the worst-affected country, with 10 million cases, and has lost about 240 000 people to the pandemic this year. The global death total is over 1 250 000.
Edinburgh professor and SAGE expert Mark Woolhouse says half of the positive cases in the UK are not being identified.
China reported 33 new Covid-19 cases on 8 November and said 32 of the cases were imported in people returning from overseas.

AR A vaccine — this rescues next year for us.



Killian Fox

Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari's brief history of humankind, has been one of the most spectacular publishing successes of the past decade. It grew out of an undergraduate lecture series on world history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Harari and his husband and agent-manager Itzik Yahav talk of a TV adaptation and a touring exhibit.
Harari: "Nuclear war, ecological collapse, and the rise of disruptive technologies like AI — these three threats can really destroy human civilization if we don't handle them correctly. And all three demand global cooperation to deal with them. If we react in the wrong way to the present crisis, it will destroy whatever remains of global cooperation."

AR My long review


Carbon Dioxide + Water + Sunlight = Food

Robby Berman

A company from Finland, Solar Foods, is planning to bring to market a new protein powder, Solein, made out of carbon dioxide, water and electricity. It's a high-protein, flour-like ingredient that contains 50% protein content, 5−10% fat, and 20−25% carbs. It reportedly looks and tastes like wheat flour. The manufacturing process is carbon neutral and the potential for scalability seems unlimited. It will be launched in 2021.

AR Will virtuous healthivores browbeat us all into subsisting on Solein?


Massive Information?

Philip Perry

Melvin Vopson says information has mass. He supports this claim using special relativity and the Landauer principle. Rolf Landauer calculated in 1961 that erasing a bit of information releases a tiny amount of heat and said this proves information is not just mathematical but links it to thermodynamics: Irreversible computation raises entropy.

AR This is an off-the-wall proposal by Vopson, but there is scope to clarify it a little:
If the heat released by erasing 1 bit is 10−21 J, then the mass of 1 bit may be 10−38 kg,
but the total information in the known universe adds up to around 10+123 bits,
suggesting that the total mass of the information defining it is around 10+85 kg,
whereas the total visible mass of the known universe is around 10+53 kg. Oops!
There is scope for the idea that information has mass, but present knowledge is way short of enabling us to put a number on the mass per bit.
Anyway, what about qubits?


Kamala Harris, Joe Biden
⦿ Erin Schaff / The New York Times
Kamala Harris, Joe Biden



One down

Pa 4 Biden

Pennsylvania's 20 votes
go to Joe Biden

Electoral College
Biden 273, Trump 214
(so far, 270 to win)

Popular vote
Biden 74 478 345 (50.5%)
Trump 70 329 970 (47.7%)

Heiko Maas

Lord of Misrule
Rory Stewart on
Boris Johnson

US mask
A masked Trump supporter

The dS/dS Correspondence
M. Alishahiha et al.

We present a holographic
duality for the de Sitter
static patch ..


Sean Connery
Sean Connery


2020 November 8

America: The People

Joe Biden

We have won. I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify, who doesn't see Red and Blue states, but a United States, and who will work with all my heart to win the confidence of the whole people. For that is what America is about: the people.

We the people
Kamala Harris

America's democracy is not guaranteed. It is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it, to guard it and never take it for granted. Protecting our democracy takes struggle, it takes sacrifice. There is joy in it and there is progress, because we the people have the power to build a better future.

The people
Thomas Frank

Ding-dong, the jerk is gone. We have come to the end of a season of extreme misrule. Voters have rejected what can only be described as the crassest, vainest, stupidest, most dysfunctional leadership this country has ever suffered.
MAGA madness got nixed. The Democrats won. But it was their shabby experiment in centrism that led to MAGA. When the party of the left abandoned its populist traditions, the road was cleared for a particularly poisonous species of demagoguery. Republicans became ever bolder in their preposterous claim to represent the aspirations of ordinary people.
Republicans have not been permanently defeated. Their preening leader has gone down, but his toxic brand of workerism will soon be back, enlisting the disinherited and the lowly in the cause of the mighty. America's toboggan ride to hell will not stop until a Democratic president faces up to his party's mistakes.
America has grown sick of plutocracy. We don't enjoy sluicing everything we earn into the bank accounts of a few dozen billionaires. We want a healthcare system that works and an economy in which ordinary people prosper.

Yesterday's people
Tim Shipman

A Democrat in Biden's campaign team: "They do not think Boris Johnson is an ally. They think Britain is an ally. But there will be no special relationship with Boris Johnson."
A senior US politician: "If you think Joe hates him, you should hear Kamala."
A former Obama press aide called Johnson a "shapeshifting creep" and added: "We will never forget your racist comments about Obama and slavish devotion to Trump."
Johnson's relationship with Trump and his past association with Steve Bannon make him toxic to Biden and his team.
Biden's international priorities will be to reconnect with the EU and NATO and rejoin the Paris climate accord.

AR Biden: Be bold and banish Boris and his Brexit Britain to the back of the queue.


2020 November 7

Biden Wins Presidency

The New York Times

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was elected the 46th president of the United States on Saturday, promising to restore political normalcy and a spirit of national unity to confront raging health and economic crises, and making Donald J. Trump a one-term president after four years of tumult in the White House.


POTUS 46 = Joe Biden

CNN, 1630 UTC

Joseph R. Biden Jr. has been elected 46th president of the United States.

AR Hallelujah!


US Election Endgame

The Guardian

Donald Trump still has more than 10 weeks of power after losing the election. He plans to use this time to ratchet up the rhetoric to fever pitch and damage America.
Trump will lose the popular vote by millions of votes. He should be preparing to leave the White House, not be instructing his lawyers. There is no evidence of widespread illegal votes in any state.
The dispute could remain unresolved on January 20, 2021. US attorney general William Barr could say it is legal to recognize Trump for a second term while Democrats take to the streets.
Joe Biden will have work to do in the White House. Trumpism has hollowed out US government institutions. Biden needs to be focused on running America.

AR Republicans: Expel Trump.


Germany Looks Across the Atlantic

Severin Weiland, Christoph Schult

German foreign minister Heiko Maas says the transatlantic relationship must be patched up:
"We need each other."
The German government and the rest of the Berlin political establishment is now looking across the Atlantic with deep concern.
Bundestag foreign affairs committee chair Norbert Röttgen says a re-elected Trump would be "completely unleashed" and Germany "would face a heightened need to more decisively defend" itself.
Trump undermined US relations with Germany from day one. Angela Merkel found his brand of politics both abhorrent and difficult to deal with.
Röttgen: "One thing would change immediately: We would once again treat each other sensibly."

AR Sighs of relief in Berlin, then.


Endgame for Johnson

Jonathan Lis

Boris Johnson faces the return of Brexit. The likeliest outcome remains a deal, which will require major UK concessions. He will be accused of betrayal from Brexit hawks. If he goes for no deal, he will alienate Tory moderates.
Many Conservatives still think nothing much will change in January and people will not perceive a big difference to their lives. Others face political consequences from disruptions. All will face anger in the New Year if things go wrong.
Johnson will not find it easy to cement a special relationship with Joe Biden. One of Johnson's few good cards was his close relationship to the US presidency and the prospect of a US trade deal.

AR Trump goes, ergo Johnson goes.


2020 November 6

Biden's Nevada Lead Widens

John King, 1717 UTC

In Clark County, Nevada, Joe Biden received 19,995 votes in the latest ballot drop, and President Trump received 9,357. This tells you all you need to know. In the new votes, Joe Biden gets 65%. Statewide, he's just shy of 50%. As votes come in, Joe Biden builds the lead.
Donald Trump knows he's behind in Pennsylvania, behind in Georgia, behind in Arizona. If the dynamics of the race are going to change, Donald Trump cannot keep coming in underneath Joe Biden, certainly not with Joe Biden getting 65% with every batch of new votes.


Biden Takes Lead in Georgia

CNN, 1031 UTC

Joe Biden holds a 253−213 lead in the Electoral College. Ballots are still being counted in several key states. In addition to Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, the races in Alaska and North Carolina are still too close to call.


Horror Story

Donald Trump, Thursday

If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us .. They're trying to rig an election, and we can't let that happen .. We think we will win the election very easily. We think there's going to be a lot of litigation because we have so much evidence, so much proof, and it's going to end up perhaps at the highest court in the land .. We're hearing stories that are horror stories.

AR Republicans: Invoke the 25th.


Britain Is Not America

Polly Toynbee

Forget the special relationship. America is a foreign country.
Trump's supporters dream of American opportunity while their kleptocratic plutocracy cheats most of them. The deformities and corruptions of this obscenely unjust society get worse and worse.
Britain needs to make a break. Brits need to cultivate other languages and other communities. Like it or not, Brits need to pivot back toward Europe, because America is only an imaginary friend.
Boris Johnson will feel the chill if Joe Biden wins. A UK that walks away with no EU deal will get no US trade deal either. No amount of "world-beating" boosterism can disguise the problem.
The only way forward for Britain is to return to Europe.

AR Boris: See reason.


2020 November 5

US Presidential Election

The Guardian, 1120 UTC

Electoral College results so far: Biden 264, Trump 214 (270 to win)
Popular vote so far: Biden 72 136 589, Trump 68 649 947
Senate seats called so far: Democrats 48, Republicans 48
House seats called so far: Democrats 204, Republicans 190
Electoral College votes expected: Alaska 3 (Trump), Georgia 16 (Trump),
Nevada 6 (Biden), North Carolina 15 (Trump), Pennsylvania 20 (Trump)
The expected result: Biden 270, Trump 268 — Biden wins

Well, that was scary
Gail Collins

Election night wasn't a real thriller for a whole lot of people. The postelection fog was so thick we lost track of who was winning.
Joe Biden certainly seems to be doing better at getting the most votes. Donald Trump has responded by declaring victory while waving around lawsuits.
"This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country," said the man who is definitely an expert in being fraudulent and embarrassing.

Hard left president
Guy Adams

Most Americans think Joe Biden will not complete a full term in the White House. But Republicans are terrified by the prospect of Kamala Harris as president. She sides with progressives on abortion, gun control, and tax reform.

UK will suffer
Paul Baldwin

President Biden could become a reality. If so, Britain will face terrible economic damage. And the fault will lie squarely at the feet of Theresa May and her rabble of Remainer cohorts dragging their unwilling heels on Brexit for three years.
Uncle Joe doesn't like Leavers. His loyalty lies with the EU.

AR America: Expect a bumpy ride. Britain: Cleave to Europe.


Two Bowls Form Holographic Universe

Natalie Wolchover

We think spacetime is an emergent fabric stitched out of quantum threads. Juan Maldacena made a toy model of how it can work — a universe in a bottle.
The spacetime filling the bottle exactly maps to a network of quantum particles on the bottle's surface. The interior universe projects from the boundary like a hologram — a working example of a quantum theory of gravity.
Inside the bottle is a hyperbolic anti−de Sitter (AdS) space. Moving outward from the center, it curves toward the vertical, to give a boundary where a conformal field theory (CFT) maps to the holographic universe within.
In reality, we inhabit an elliptical de Sitter (dS) space without bounds. Xi Dong, Eva Silverstein, and Gonzalo Torroba (DST) have made a hologram of dS space by taking two AdS universes, cutting them, warping them, and gluing their boundaries together.
DST cut off AdS space at a large radius to create a Randall−Sundrum throat. This space is still approximated by a CFT that lives on its boundary, but the boundary is at a finite distance. They used string theory on two Randall−Sundrum throats to energize them and form two bowl-shaped dS spaces. Then they glued the two bowls together along their rims. The CFTs describing the bowls couple to form a single system that is holographically dual to the entire space.
The resulting spacetime has no boundary and is dual to two CFTs. The construction is called the dS/dS correspondence.

AR Old news, new to me.


2020 November 4

US Presidential Election

BBC News, 1900 UTC

Electoral College results after 42 of 50 states counted:
Biden 227, Trump 213 (270 to win)
President Trump has tweeted multiple times today promoting claims of voter fraud without
providing any evidence and is hinting at conspiracy theories about rigged elections.

AR Biden tentatively tipped to win.


2020 November 3

Vote to Start Over

The New York Times

Americans go to the polls today, the last day of voting in the 2020 election. Republican officials are working frantically to discourage voting and to prevent ballots from being counted. Other officials in many states have made it easier to vote than ever before.
Millions of Americans plan to put on masks on Tuesday and vote in person. Some will wait for hours in long lines — a heroic response to a disgraceful reality — to exercise their right to pick the people who will serve them in future.
State election officials have an obligation to ensure that all of these votes are counted. The courts have a paramount duty to maximize the opportunity to vote and ensure that ballots are counted.
The election is just a beginning. America was struggling to address a range of problems before 2016. Over the past four years, those challenges have only increased.
A free and fair election is a chance to start over.

AR Just do it.


2020 November 2

Keeping the Lights On

Scholars of Authoritarianism

We see the signs of a global crisis of democracy. We must:
 Resist the temptation to take refuge in a figure of arrogant strength
 Safeguard critical thinking based on evidence by supporting investigative journalism,
   science and the humanities, and freedom of the press
 Secure commitments from corporate media organizations and governments to tackle
   misinformation and media concentration
 Reveal and denounce any connections between those in power and vigilante and militia
   forces that use political violence
 Defend pluralism and democracy against communal violence and authoritarianism
 Defend the integrity of the electoral process and ensure the widest possible voter turnouts
 Commit to a global conversation on support for democratic institutions, laws, and practices
 Turn away from the rule by entrenched elites and return to the rule of law
 Replace the politics of internal enemies with that of adversaries in a marketplace of ideas
 Work together to keep the light of democracy shining

AR Critical day: 2021-01-20


China, Covid, and the West

Will Hutton

The Communist Party of China says collective development is at the heart of all China's achievements. Human rights mean sharing in economic and social advance.
China has contained Covid-19. Its economy has provided 60 million new jobs in the past five years. China aims to achieve self-reliance in science and technology by 2025.
The United States and Europe are descending into prolonged recession. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, along with the philosophy they represent, need to go.
East Asian societies have the social capital and mutual support to contain Covid-19. The West can do it too, but only if everyone cooperates. Britain needs to start working with Europe.

AR And with China.


Johnson, Brexit, and the Plague

William Keegan

Dominic Cummings is waiting for the result of the US election before opting for a no-deal Brexit.
As the reality of Brexit sinks in, even writers in the Daily Telegraph are getting worried. Brits now disapprove of Brexit by 50% to 38%. Alas, Boris Johnson thinks he is Winston Churchill.
Leaving the single market will be extremely disruptive. Without a deal, a national emergency can only be avoided by agreeing with the EU to extend the transition period.
Brexit is a plan to deepen the economic crisis. Going ahead with it in a time of plague is mad.

AR Rejoin the EU.


2020 November 1

President Harris?

The Times

Political author Sally Bedell Smith: "People are .. voting with the assumption that Kamala Harris is going to step into the presidency at some point in the next four years, and most certainly is going to be the Democratic nominee in 2024."
Joe Biden: "When I agreed to serve as President Obama's running mate, I told him I wanted to be the last person in the room before he made the important decisions. That's what I asked Kamala. .. To always tell me the truth .. Ask the hard questions."

AR Seems OK to me.


UK Lockdown

BBC News

Boris Johnson: England will enter a month-long lockdown on Thursday.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith says the PM is "giving in to the advice of his scientific advisors" and warns of "dire consequences" for the economy.

AR Science comes first.


Black Holes Regurgitate Information

George Musser

Information escapes from a black hole. If Hawking radiation is random, black hole formation and evaporation is irreversible, violating the time symmetry of quantum theory. But quantum entanglement links the radiation and the hole. The radiation only looks random.
Consider a black hole lifetime. At the start, before any radiation is emitted, the entanglement entropy (EE) is zero. At the end, there is no longer a black hole and the EE is zero again. As radiation escapes, the EE grows, but this trend reverses at the Page time. The EE of black holes follows the Page curve and information comes out.
For a bounded universe, AdS/CFT duality says a black hole in the bulk has a boundary governed by quantum physics that preserves information, so the black hole does too.
A quantum extremal surface carves the bulk into two pieces and maps each to a part of the boundary. Early in the evaporation process, when the EE of the boundary is rising, a quantum extremal surface pops up just inside the event horizon. As the hole shrinks, so do the quantum extremal surface and the EE. Late in the process, particles deep inside the black hole are no longer part of the hole and no longer contribute to the EE, so it falls. The EE tracks the Page curve.
In the case without AdS/CFT duality, quantum gravity says a Feynman path integral over all possible spacetime geometries lets us identify saddle points.
The EE is defined as the logarithm of a matrix. The matrix requires evaluating the path integral. But consider checking whether a coin is fair by tossing two replica coins and noting how often they land on the same side. If they do half the time, the coins are fair. This is like not knowing the full matrix for the black hole, yet still its EE.
A gravitational path integral over replicas gives a new saddle point containing multiple black holes linked by wormholes. The wormholes and the regular geometry of a single black hole are inversely weighted by how much EE they have. Wormholes have a lot of EE, so they have low weights at first. But their EE decreases, whereas that of the radiation increases. Eventually the wormholes dominate the dynamics. The shift is a quantum process.

AR Alles Quatsch!


Fox spider
Several members of the critically endangered great fox-spider, in the wolf-spider Lycosidae family, were discovered in England.
The 55 mm predators hunt at night and immobilise their prey by injecting them with venom that liquifies internal organs.
They live in silk-lined burrows.

Evangelicals say democracy
is less important than
the will of God


Are brains like deep
neural networks?

Ivanka Trump, Milwaukee


2020 October 31

End Times

Alex Morris

I was taught that Christians would be raptured up to heaven and the wicked of the Earth would be left to suffer while the Antichrist established the New World Order, then Jesus and his raptured church would return and usher in a thousand-year golden age.
Most white evangelicals hold this view. The Left Behind series of novels by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye that dramatizes this theology has sold more than 80 million copies (as of 2016) and has been made into multiple feature-length films.
Donald Trump has filled his administration with fundamentalists who believe they're bringing about the Second Coming. His agenda appeals to them:
  Environmentalism lacks faith in God's power over his own creation, so gut the EPA, pull out of the
   Paris climate accord, and scoff at climate science.
  Conservative judges are bulwarks against all manner of satanic liberalism, and women's rights
   subvert the hierarchy God created for the home.
  Socialism is a plan to subvert God's dispensation of riches. Inequality proves mankind is broken.
   Only Jesus can heal us.
  The coronavirus is a punishment, and a proactive response is government overreach.

AR Dump Trump


Artemis Base Camp


NASA is preparing to land humans on the lunar South Pole in 2024 and to establish sustainable exploration by 2030.
The Artemis Base Camp concept includes a modern lunar cabin, a rover, and a mobile home. A fixed habitat at the Artemis Base Camp will house up to four astronauts for a month. NASA is working with industry on a combined home and office in orbit.
Astronauts will embark on extended expeditions on the Moon to collect samples and set up experiments. NASA is building spacesuits providing high mobility, modern communications, and a robust life support system.
NASA has proposed two lunar surface transportation systems: a lunar terrain vehicle (LTV) and a mobile home and office. The LTV will be an unpressurized vehicle that astronauts can drive in their spacesuits. NASA is in the early idea stage for a pressurized rover.
The Artemis program will lay the foundation for a sustained long-term presence on the lunar surface.

AR And Russia, China?


2020 October 30

American Exceptionalism

Bob Carr

The United States is still settling rules for the presidential election next week. A patchwork of state laws and regulations will govern it. Elected state officials are deciding who goes on the roll, how many voting machines go where, and how long postal votes will be counted. All this is subject to appeal to a partisan supreme court.
The American electoral system defies democratic norms. Voter suppression tactics such as strict voter ID laws and cutting voting times place special burdens on racial minorities and poor voters. If such systemic voter suppression were practised anywhere else, it would be a domestic scandal and an international embarrassment.
America has a glorious heritage of constitutionally entrenched freedom of expression and assembly. But the Founding Fathers made it a republic, not a democracy.

AR An Australian view


2020 October 29

Boaty McBoatface

Jennifer Finney Boylan

Four years of a joke president is long enough.
When Donald Trump won the election in 2016, the joke was on him. Don Jr said his father "looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears — and not of joy."
Many of the people who voted for him probably thought it was a joke, too. They chose him because a system they despised deserved to be trolled.
Trump was the American Boaty McBoatface.

AR Shame on Republicans.


Epigenetics and Addiction

R. Douglas Fields

Craving for addictive drugs like alcohol and cocaine may be caused by dopamine controlling genes that alter the brain circuitry underlying addiction.
All genetic information is encoded in the DNA sequence of our genes, and traits are passed on in the random swapping of genes between egg and sperm. Genetic information is coded in a sequence of nucleotides (A, T, G, C) on a long, coiled strand of DNA.
Cells constantly turn specific genes on and off throughout life to make the proteins cells need to function. When a gene is activated, special proteins latch onto DNA, read the code there and make a disposable copy on messenger RNA. The messenger RNA takes the code to ribosomes, which read it and make the protein specified by the gene.
An epigenetic process lets us inherit traits our parents acquired in life, without changing the DNA sequence of our genes. It works by selectively unspooling the DNA tape to control which code is read. The DNA code of a gene is wound around a histone spool marked with a tag that directs other proteins to unwind the code from that histone.
The neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine are involved in depression, anxiety disorders, and addiction. Serotonin helps regulate mood, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are effective for treating chronic depression. Dopamine produces a spurt of euphoria in the brain when we win. Addictive drugs increase dopamine levels, and the dopamine reward leads to further cravings.
Serotonin can bind to histone H3, which controls the genes responsible for transforming stem cells into serotonin neurons. When serotonin binds to H3, the DNA unwinds, turning on the genes that dictate the development of a stem cell into a serotonin neuron, while turning off other genes by keeping their DNA tightly wound.
The same enzyme that attaches serotonin to H3 can also catalyze the attachment of dopamine to H3. By binding to the H3 histone, serotonin and dopamine can regulate transcription of DNA into RNA and the synthesis of specific proteins from them.
This may control drug-seeking behavior. Long-term cocaine use modifies neural circuits to need a steady intake of the drug to operate normally. An epigenetic mechanism controls the genes that make the proteins for those changes.
The discovery that monoamine neurotransmitters control epigenetic regulation of genes has implications for other neurological and psychological illnesses.

AR Good work!


2020 October 28

US Global Role

Martin Wolf

This US election is the most important since 1932, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president in the depths of the Depression.
The United States was the most potent republic since Rome. It is the paramount model of a liberal democracy, leader of the countries that share these values, and an essential player in resolving any big global challenge. The great American project worked.
Donald Trump rejects all of this. His goal is to do whatever he likes. He runs a corrupt, malevolent, and incompetent government. He admires autocrats, is indifferent to past US promises, rejects multilateralism, and betrays commitments and institutions.
If Trump retained the presidency, US credibility as a model of competent and successful democracy would be shattered, its believability as leader of an alliance of democracies would be over, and its engagement in addressing shared global challenges would end.
Constructive and competent American leadership is needed more than ever. Trump cannot provide it.

AR Vote Biden.


PzH 2000
Bundeswehr Panzerhaubitze 2000 fires 155 mm round, Kairiai, Lithuania

"Very nice!"


2020 October 27

Germany: Defend Europe

Constanze Stelzenmüller

Berlin has many troubles with Washington: German trade surpluses, the Iran nuclear agreement, being soft on Beijing, the NS2 pipeline, and Germany spending less than 1.5% of its GDP on defence.
A victorious Donald Trump may end US wars in Afghanistan and the Mideast and pull US troops out of Europe. He may try to ally with Russia against China. It would almost certainly be the end of NATO.
Joe Biden cherishes NATO and appreciates the EU. Yet his administration would focus on China. Europe would have to defend itself.
German defense minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer says Germany must become a "strategic giver" and play a stronger role in European security.
Germany foreign minister Heiko Maas warns of the "profiteers on our differences" sitting in Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, and Pyongyang.
Berlin aims to avoid dictation from Washington.

AR We need an integrated European approach.


Biden Can Save Tories

Robert Shrimsley

Joe Biden sees Boris Johnson as a British Trump and Brexit as foolish. A Biden win would tilt opinion back to traditional alliances, multilateral bodies, and support for action on climate change.
Johnson has fashioned a platform around active state intervention and conservative social positions. This is now centrist British politics. But his incompetent government has let down its supporters.
Brexit has uncorked forces Johnson will struggle to contain. Tories have been punished before for being on its wrong side. A Biden win would save them from themselves.

AR Probably right, but Bodger is a lost cause.


Brits Want Calm

Rachel Sylvester

Relentless anger in politics has provoked a desire for tranquility. In America, Joe Biden is ahead because he offers stability to voters exhausted by Donald Trump.
Many Brits want a politics that stays in the background. By a ratio of more than two to one, polled Brits say that "for the future of our country, it is especially important that we stick together despite different views" and be willing to compromise.
The Johnson government is obsessed by creating divisions. The rhetoric is always angry. Voters are listening for a still small voice of calm.

AR Keir Starmer seems calm.


A Long Tunnel


The longest combined road and rail tunnel in the world will descend to 40 m beneath the Baltic Sea to link Denmark and Germany. The Fehmarnbelt Fixed Link will run for 18 km between the German island of Fehmarn and the Danish island of Lolland and will shorten the land route between Sweden and Germany by 160 km. It will have two double-lane motorways and two electrified rail tracks, cost over €7 billion, and open in 2029.

AR As a future EU member state, England needs such a tunnel under the English Channel alongside the present tunnel.


Water on the Moon

Scientific American

In 2018, a NASA team used the NASA Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) to study the sunlit lunar surface and detected a strong IR emission at λ = 6 μm, indicating water.
Apollo 17 geologist Jack Schmitt: "Heating of hydrogen-bearing regolith to several hundred degrees would result in some of the hydrogen reacting with oxygen in silicates to produce water almost anywhere on the Moon."
Another study of images from NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter found numerous permanently shadowed lunar cold traps down to 1 cm in diameter that could sequester water ice indefinitely. This raises the total lunar surface area with the capacity to trap water to roughly 4 Mha.

AR Maybe a megaton of water: not much.


Lily Allen
⦿ Ellen von Unwerth
Lily Allen, chief liberation officer, Womanizer

AR Why doesn't my bed have such practical accessories?



2020 October 26

US Defeat


White House chief of staff Mark Meadows: "We are not going to control the pandemic."
Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris: "They are admitting defeat ..
This is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of America."

AR Sad


US Election 2020

New Scientist

President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic will be on voters' minds. But his record on health, space, and environment policy during his time in office are also worth a look.
Trump has removed America from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. His administration has rolled back endangered species protections, limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and emission standards for power plants and vehicles. It has scrapped federal emission standards and reduced federal protection for streams and wetlands.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, resulted in 20 million more people having healthcare insurance. It is still in place, but Trump has been chipping away at it. In the first three years of his tenure, the number of uninsured people in the US rose by 2.3 million. Trump hasn't delivered a healthcare plan to replace the ACA.
In space, Trump directed the creation of the US Space Force. NASA will return to the Moon, and eight countries have signed up to its Artemis Accords, which set rules and standards for working on the lunar surface. China and Russia haven't signed up.

AR I give the record an F.


China: World Domination

The Times

China is close to world domination and Europe must wake up to the danger, says former German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) head Gerhard Schindler.
He says Germany has neglected some of the most serious threats to its security. China is Germany's largest trading partner, with bilateral exports and imports of €206 billion last year. In the coming weeks, Germans will decide whether to exclude Huawei from their 5G network.
Schindler: "China is going about things very cleverly, very quietly, but all the same with an astonishingly consistent strategy .. we in Europe hardly notice this dominant behavior. Our stance toward China has been dominated by business relations. We need to reconsider that."
He says Huawei technology is so far ahead of European rivals that we can no longer tell if back doors in its networks siphon information to Beijing. He is more relaxed about Russia.
Schindler has another concern: "If we can't integrate hundreds of thousands of young, male Muslims, then these people are programmed to fail."

AR Ask Huawei to educate us all on its 5G work.


Brexit No Aberration

Vernon Bogdanor

Brexit poses questions for the EU as well as the UK. It challenges the ideology of Europe.
Donald Tusk, 2016: "It would be a fatal error to assume that the negative result in the UK referendum represents a specifically British issue .. the Brexit vote is a desperate attempt to answer the questions that millions of Europeans ask themselves daily."
In 2010, German chancellor Angela Merkel pointed to a tension between supranational Europe and intergovernmental Europe. If that tension is disturbed, and supranational policies intrude upon national identities, there will be popular resistance.
The strong executive action needed to resolve the euro and migration crises could only be taken by national governments working together. The crises were confronted primarily by the governments of the member states in the European Council.
Further integration is the last thing Europe needs. Few in Europe seek to submerge their national identity in a federation. They seek to pursue their own national interests constructively within a cooperative European framework.
What Europe needs is not more Europe but better Europe. The EU must remain primarily an intergovernmental institution in which the member states dictate the pace of change.
Brexit was not an aberration.

AR A better Europe can only come via EU member states.


Nave Andromeda

Daily Mail

SBS commandos retook an oil tanker off the Isle of Wight coast in 7 minutes after Nigerian stowaways on board threatened the crew.
Crew members hid in a safe room on the Liberian-registered oil tanker Nave Andromeda, which was due to arrive at Southampton at 10.30 am Sunday.
The Special Boat Service landed 16 personnel aboard the vessel via air and sea following a 10-hour standoff. Two Royal Navy Merlin helicopters and two Wildcats were also used in the operation. A frigate stood by but was not needed.
House of Commons defence committee chair Tobias Ellwood said no one was hurt. The 22 tanker crew members are safe, and the 7 stowaways are in custody.
The Nave Andromeda can carry 42,000 tons of crude oil. The captain put out a call for rescue after the stowaways smashed glass and made threats.

AR Well done, lads.


Cathedral of the Armed Forces, Patriot Park, Kubinka, Russia

⦿ Guillem Casasús
Trump has destroyed the
Republican Party

John Wilson
John Wilson films the lives of
his fellow New Yorkers while
offering everyday advice

Ireland Basinger Baldwin
She voted

Inside Story
by Martin Amis
new reviews

247 zs

Scientists have timed how
long it takes a photon to
cross a molecule of H2:
247 zeptoseconds
1 zs = 10−21 s

Bennu image from rehearsal
flyover in August

British army deploys bug drones


2020 October 25

Ban the Bomb

The Guardian

Despite opposition from America, Russia, China, Britain, and France, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will become international law in January 2021.

AR Good news, if only aspirational.


Johnson Chose Trump

Toby Helm, Julian Borger

Boris Johnson may be waiting for the result of the US presidential election before finally deciding whether to risk plunging the UK into a no-deal Brexit.
Former UK ambassador in Brussels Sir Ivan Rogers says Johnson is biding his time and is likely to opt for no deal if his friend Donald Trump prevails over Joe Biden. With a Trump win, Johnson would aim to strike a quick and substantial post-Brexit US−UK trade deal. A Biden administration would be a problem for Johnson.
Former UK ambassador in Washington Sir Kim Darroch: "Whoever wins in November, the bedrock of the relationship — defense, security, and intelligence collaboration — will remain as strong as ever. But if it's Biden, there are likely to be some issues. The Democrats don't like or support Brexit."
Biden believes Johnson has imperiled the Irish peace process. Foreign policy advisers around him see Johnson as part of the same populist phenomenon that brought Trump to power. For them, a UK outside the EU will be a less important partner.

AR Dump Trump, bin Bodger.


Berlin Beats London

Financial Times

Boris Johnson has formed a strong bond with Donald Trump. Downing Street was hoping the good will between them would help smooth the path of a trade deal.
The negotiators say their main problem is time. Any US-UK agreement must be in place by April. British officials are trying to draw up trade proposals that can win Biden's approval, such as including tougher protections for the environment and workers' rights.
British diplomats accept that a Biden administration is unlikely to prioritize a trade deal with the UK. Biden is likely to make Berlin his first contact in Europe.

AR My call to Biden: Back Berlin, let London linger.


2020 October 24

Boris Johnson's Reputation Collapses

Luke McGee

Boris Johnson wanted to boost British optimism after Brexit that the UK had a brighter future outside the EU. He vowed to level up England's deprived areas and to strengthen the bond between the four nations of the UK.
But his government is losing good will fast. Johnson's inattention to detail and instinct for combative politics is causing a shift in public perception of him from affable optimist to incompetent bully who is out of his depth.
This week, Johnson fought with the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham. Johnson wanted the city to enter tight Tier 3 Covid restrictions. Burnham wanted more financial support to do so. The fight was a mess.
A government minister said Burnham was playing politics. But the resulting dip in trust for Johnson in parts of the country that historically vote Labour is toxic.
Another row this week concerned continuing free school meals for children over Christmas. Despite public pressure, the government refused to fund them. Johnson had to U-turn earlier this year on exactly this issue over the summer.
Former Conservative special adviser Lauren McEvatt: "People will remember .. that the government didn't seem to care if children went hungry over Christmas during an economic crisis .. It feeds into a narrative which still exists that Conservatives ultimately don't care as much about poor people."
Johnson's fellow Tories implied that some poor parents are feckless and not interested in feeding their children and that children have always gone hungry anyway.
A senior Tory lawmaker: "From the start, this government set out to hyper-centralize everything from a small team in Downing Street in order to have a tight grip on the Johnson project."
The government team relies on focus groups to track public opinion. They help it to make decisions and to sell policy to the public, but they also lead to major policy U-turns.
The lawmaker: "Normal practice in government is to find the right policy and sell it to the public, not the other way around."
Johnson's credibility took a big hit this year with a scandal over his senior adviser Dominic Cummings, who claimed he broke lockdown rules to provide childcare for his young son.
A former minister: "The refusal to show any kind of contrition led to a big change of mood. That episode symbolizes what has been wrong about the approach."
Boris Johnson is vulnerable to those who paint him as a mean-spirited bully running a shambolic government. He was never the man to unite a divided UK.

AR Get him out now.


2020 October 23

A Calmer Debate

The New York Times

In a more restrained appearance, Donald Trump depicted Joe Biden as an ineffectual Washington insider. Biden accused the president of heartlessness for separating migrant families and inflaming racial tensions.
Biden: "You know who he is. You know his character. You know my character. You know our reputations for honor and telling the truth."
Trump: "He wants socialized medicine."

Who won?
The Guardian

Jill Filipovic: Trump has nothing to say. He has no agenda. He has no plan. He has no ideals or hopes or purpose. All he wants is power.
Art Cullen: He bulled over the moderator, he sucked up the time, spread scurrilous claims, said he did more for black people than anyone since President Lincoln — and those children in cages were well cared for.
Lloyd Green: Biden reinforced his message: Medicare, check; social security, check; compassion, check. The president engaged his base. Biden spoke to a country.

AR No bold visions on offer.


UK−Japan Deal

Financial Times

The UK has completed its first large post-Brexit trade deal after signing an agreement with Japan.
UK international trade secretary Liz Truss: "It used to be said that an independent UK would not be able to strike major trade deals, or they would take years to conclude. But today we prove the naysayers wrong."
Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi: "We have maintained Japan's high level of access to UK markets .. and for some products .. we realised improved access."
The new deal largely replicates the existing EU−Japan deal.

AR Better than no deal.


Bodger Spurns Compromise

Martin Kettle

Boris Johnson spurns basic political skills. He talks about bringing England together as one nation. Yet he is no good at negotiating. He doesn't know how to compromise. His version of coming together means accepting his terms.
His continuing refusal to get any kind of a grip on the Brexit withdrawal talks with the EU has caused disbelief among business leaders. He is unable to negotiate the post-Brexit trade arrangements for the UK that he promised.
No other prime minister of modern times would have taken this insouciant and slovenly approach to such a serious matter.

AR Get rid of him.


2020 October 22

Vote Biden−Harris


Former US president Barack Obama pounced on Donald Trump's admission that there is "not much" he would change in his attempts to quell the coronavirus: "Really? Not much? Nothing you can think of that could have helped some people keep their loved ones alive?"
On Joe Biden: "Joe's not going to screw up testing. He's not going to call scientists idiots. He's not going to host a super spreader event at the White House. Joe will get this pandemic under control."
Obama cited a finding that Trump has a bank account in China: "Listen, can you imagine, if I had had a secret Chinese bank account when I was running for re-election? You think Fox News might have been a little concerned about that?"
Obama belittled Trump for "tweeting at the television" and warned: "This president wants full credit for the economy he inherited and zero blame for the pandemic he ignored."
A clincher: "With Joe and Kamala at the helm, you're not going to have to think about the crazy things they said every day .. You might be able to have a Thanksgiving dinner without having an argument."

AR Biden will have Harris and Obama at his side.


Stop the Lies

The New European

German MEP Theresa Reintke: "Boris Johnson has been lying to the people in the UK. The £350 million for the NHS after Brexit; no customs checks between Northern Ireland, Ireland, and the rest of the UK; and then this over-ready deal that basically just needed signing on the future relations between the EU and the UK. Come on! These lies have to stop."
She urges him to tell the truth: "First, Brexit is a mess, second, finding a solution to this mess is not going to be easy for either side, but thirdly, and I think this is important, there might not be a good outcome to this but there are many different levels to how difficult this can become. So, prime minister, stop blaming others for your own actions. "

AR Hear, hear!


2020 October 21

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

Bill Gates

I've been working for some time now on a book about climate change. In it, I'll share what I've learned from more than a decade of studying climate change with experts and investing in the innovations we'll need to address it. I hope to explain the science in a clear and compelling way. I'll also propose a plan for what we need to do over the next decade and beyond to build the tools that will help us eliminate greenhouse gas emissions while scaling up the powerful solutions we already have. And I'll suggest some concrete steps that individuals, governments, and companies can take to make it happen. The book will be published by Knopf on February 16, 2021.

AR A man with a plan — excellent!


Osiris-Rex Kisses Bennu


The NASA Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft briefly touched asteroid Bennu to collect dust and pebbles from the surface for delivery to Earth in 2023.
Bennu is currently more than 320 Gm from Earth. The team needs a few days to check the sample the spacecraft collected. If it is big enough, mission teams will command the spacecraft to head back to Earth in March 2021. Otherwise, they will try again in January.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine: "This amazing first for NASA demonstrates how an incredible team from across the country came together and persevered through incredible challenges to expand the boundaries of knowledge. Our industry, academic, and international partners have made it possible to hold a piece of the most ancient solar system in our hands."
OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta: "After over a decade of planning, the team is overjoyed at the success of today's sampling attempt."

AR Good news


Superluminal Quantum Tunneling

Natalie Wolchover

Quantum tunneling explains various chemical bonds and radioactive decays and how hydrogen nuclei in the Sun can overcome their mutual repulsion and fuse.
Quantum tunneling seems to be superluminal. Thomas Hartman found in 1962 that when a particle tunnels, the trip takes less time than if there were no barrier. Thickening the barrier hardly increases the time it takes for a particle to tunnel across it. With a really thick barrier, particles could hop from one side to the other faster than light in free space.
Quantum theory says that until a particle strikes a detector, its position is uncertain. Picture a wave packet as a bell curve representing the possible locations of a particle, centered at position A and moving toward B. When the wave packet hits a barrier, it splits in two. Most of it reflects, heading back to A. But a smaller peak keeps going toward B. The particle has a chance of registering in a detector at B.
Before it was detected at B, the particle was a two-part probability wave, both reflected and transmitted. Any particle that starts at A and ends at B interacts with the barrier in between, and this interaction occurs in time. After a wave packet hits a barrier, at each instant there's some probability that the particle is inside the barrier.
Clocking the difference between a departure time from A and an arrival time at B doesn't tell you a unique particle's time of flight, because a particle detected at B was anywhere and everywhere in the initial probability distribution. We sum up the probabilities at every instant to derive the average tunneling time.
Aephraim Steinberg and colleagues used the Larmor clock method to gauge how long rubidium atoms took to tunnel through a repulsive laser field. When a charged particle with spin is in a magnetic field, the spin angle precesses. A Larmor clock uses this precession as a clock hand.
The Steinberg team used a laser beam as their barrier and turned on a magnetic field inside it. They then prepared Rb atoms with spins aligned in a particular direction, and sent the atoms drifting toward the barrier. Next, they measured the spin of the atoms that came out the other side. Measuring any individual atom's spin always returns the answer up or down. But repeated measurements reveal how much the angle of the spins precess, on average, while the atoms are inside the barrier, and thus how long they typically spent there.
The Rb atoms spent, on average, 0.61 ms inside the barrier, less time than they would take to go in free space. If you made the barrier really thick, the speedup would let atoms tunnel from one side to the other faster than light.
Superluminal tunneling doesn't allow superluminal signaling because although tunneling through a very thick barrier is very fast, the chance of it happening at all is very low.

AR Quantum disentanglement seems superluminal too: no problem.


2020 October 20

China Wins Corona War

Claus Hecking

China reports an increase in economic output of 4.9% compared to Q2 and an increase of 0.7% over 2019 Q3.
Merics chief economist Max J. Zenglein: "The numbers look solid. I'm pretty optimistic that China will get out of the crisis."
Chinese electricity consumption is rising, as is the number of cars and domestic flight tickets sold. Many shopping malls are as full again as they were before the pandemic, and traffic is building up again in cities.
China was good for German car companies in Q2: Volkswagen sold 53% of its exported cars there, Daimler 45%, and BMW 44%.
CAR director Ferdinand Dudenhöffer: "If there's one growth driver in this industry, it's China."

AR Good news


Taiwan Faces China Danger

Gideon Rachman

China could take advantage of political confusion in America to make a move on Taiwan.
Global Times editor Hu Xijin: "The only way forward is for the mainland to fully prepare itself for war .. The historical turning point is getting closer."
For decades, Washington has stopped short of an explicit security guarantee for Taiwan. But as America stages a divisive presidential election, the Chinese government may doubt continuing US commitment to Taiwan. A window of opportunity could open after November 3 if the election result is disputed and Americans are plunged into crisis.
President Xi Jinping says reunification with Taiwan is a crucial part of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. If America fails to defend Taiwan, US allies in the region will lose faith. Chinese hegemony in the Asia-Pacific is then inevitable and irresistible.
A full-scale Chinese assault on Taiwan would be formidably risky. Beijing will more likely attempt to erode Taiwanese morale and autonomy in small steps. The danger: Beijing might misread Washington's response.

AR Stay alert


Nork Wisdom

Joshua Berlinger

On October 10, North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un shed tears while apologizing to his people for the hardships they've had to endure in 2020.
Then his regime showed off advanced military hardware, with fighter jets roaring through the night sky and soldiers marching in perfect unison. The nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs have made incredible strides under his stewardship.
Kim has also delivered diplomatically with America and China. Portrayed domestically as a man of the people, he keeps a busy schedule and pounds the pavement constantly, smiling and hugging people.
Former State Department expert Evans Revere: "Kim Jong Un understands that the essence of the deal that he has with Trump continues to be no long-range ballistic missile testing and no nuclear testing."

AR Sound leadership


UK: Squandered Trust

Rachel Sylvester

Boris Johnson learnt from his father Stanley the motto: "Nothing matters very much, and most things don't matter at all."
The prime minister has sacrificed trust as he faces multiple crises. Negotiations with the EU depend on building a relationship of trust so that compromises can be broached in a spirit of honest exchange. But the prime minister has been playing politics all along. Nobody believes his claim that we are heading with "high hearts" for no deal.
If he is serious, the UK will be unprepared for the cliff edge. If he's not, then his games will make it harder to reach a free trade agreement by the end of the year.
Johnson has sacrificed the trust of the public and of his own MPs through his chaotic management of the coronavirus crisis. Trust has broken down between local and national politicians, between ministers and their scientific advisers, and even within the cabinet.
Confucius said three things are needed for government: food, weapons, and trust. A leader should give up weapons first, food next, and trust last.
Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: "Deception is the real enemy of trust."

AR Bin Bodger


Britain as a Service

Robert Shrimsley

Brexit is now a fact. As a NATO and UN Security Council member, G7 economy and nuclear power, the UK still matters. A policy review draws on Brexiteer belief in UK exceptionalism to propose a model: Microsoft.
For Brexit Britain, the Microsoft model means marketing British values as a comprehensive service with limitless chances to upgrade. Buy into the UK and you get a champion of world order plus legal and education services and fintech expertise.
The UK is pushing the case for turning the G7 into a D10 group of democratic nations (adding India, South Korea, and Australia). An "Indo-Pacific tilt" will see a formal push to join the CPTPP with Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Chile, and Vietnam.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab is courting Vietnam. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand are also in focus. To adapt a Microsoft slogan, the UK wants to be "where's next" in a rising market.
The UK is wary of souring relations with China. And the tilt must not neglect Europe or its markets. History shows few European crises stop at the Channel.

AR Invalid model


The Gambler: Tom Bower on Boris Johnson

President Trump warned Sunday
that Joe Biden would "listen to
the scientists" if elected.

AR So vote Biden.

Sanna Marin
Finland's prime minister
Sanna Marin, 34
Trendi, October


Kamala Harris


2020 October 19

UK Sick Man of Europe

Richard Horton

Global Burden of Disease 2019 tells an alarming story. On some of the most important measures of health, the UK is the "sick man" of Europe.
In 2019, life expectancy at birth in the UK was 82.9 years for a woman and 79.2 years for a man, with an average for both of 81.1. Spain and Italy both had an average of 83.1, France 82.9, Sweden 82.8, and Germany 81.2. The western European average was a year longer than in the UK.
Across the UK, Scotland has the lowest life expectancy (79.1), followed by Northern Ireland (80.3), Wales (80.5), and England (81.4).
The average healthy life expectancy for the UK in 2019 was 68.9 years. People in the UK spend an average 12.2 years living with some kind of illness. This is the worst healthy life expectancy of any other European country. There is an 8-year difference in life expectancy between northern and southern England. The lowest life expectancies track the upsurge in coronavirus.
Social inequality and a decade of cuts to social protections left many people in the UK vulnerable. A national revival is possible only if the government takes the health of its citizens seriously.

AR The UK needs a political revolution.


Good Riddance to Normal Life

Pilita Clark

I went back to the office for the first time in seven months the other day. A colleague who did the same thing said he had found his desk still covered in newspapers from the days before the building emptied in mid-March, plus a withered sandwich from the same era.
My desk looked exactly as I had left it. The rest of the office looked much same, except for the lavish supplies of hand sanitiser and face masks. Yet it was also deeply different, subdued, with only a few people, many working quietly alone.
A passing bus in a city street looks as it always did, until you see it has just one lonely, masked passenger. A store looks the same as ever until you see it has shut down. An office that still looks like an office is a pale version of what it once was.
The longer the pandemic goes on, the clearer it is that much of what was deemed to be normal life should have been binned years earlier.

AR Pompeii, Chernobyl, London ..


2020 October 18

$421 Million Peanut

The New York Times

President Trump paints a rosy picture of his financial condition, calling his debt coming due "a peanut" and saying he borrowed it as a favor to lenders.
Trump had to personally guarantee $421 million in debt, a rare step that lenders only require of businesses that may not be able to repay. The commitment puts his assets on the line.
Trump posted losses that allowed him to pay no taxes in 10 of the previous 15 years. A long audit battle with the IRS could cost him more than $100 million.
The bulk of his debt appears to be owed to Deutsche Bank.

AR DB was unwise.


2020 October 17

End US National Crisis

The New York Times

Donald Trump's re-election campaign poses the greatest threat to American democracy since WW2.
Trump's ruinous tenure has gravely damaged the United States. He has abused the power of his office and denied the legitimacy of his political opponents. He has subsumed the public interest to the profitability of his business and political interests. He has shown a breathtaking disregard for the lives and liberties of Americans. He is unworthy of the office he holds.
During Trump's term, we have called out his racism and his xenophobia. We have critiqued his vandalism of the postwar consensus, a system of alliances and relationships around the globe that cost a great many lives to establish and maintain. We have deplored his divisive rhetoric and his malicious attacks on fellow Americans.
We counsel Trump's political opponents to focus on defeating him at the ballot box.

AR How can any reasonable person disagree?


Johnson Hopes Trump Wins

Jonathan Freedland

The impact on the United States of a second Trump term would be transformative. But it would have a special impact on UK politics.
Boris Johnson says Brexiteers view a no-deal crash-out "with high hearts and complete confidence" and would feel boosted by a Trump victory. The Illiberal International embodied by Viktor Orban, Jair Bolsonaro, and Vladimir Putin would draw strength from it too. Although Johnson does not like to put himself in that company, he and his Brexit government would be lifted by US confirmation that the spirit of the age is not international cooperation but a world of competing states, each dedicated to making itself great again.
Defeat for Trump would signal that the populist fever had broken. With Trump gone, Johnson would look beached and alone.

AR All the more reason to sack Bodger.


When Boris Met Jennifer

Barbara McMahon

Jennifer Arcuri had a four-year affair with Boris Johnson while he was married to Marina Wheeler, his second wife and mother of four of his children.
Arcuri: "Boris has a record of falling madly .. You'd have to be a fool not to get swept away by those avalanches of passion .. Boris wanted to drink wine, have sex, and be totally involved in politics."
Arcuri received £126,000 in public money for various business ventures and went on three overseas trade trips led by BoJo. When she met a new man, BoJo kept calling her until she blocked him.
Arcuri later befriended Petronella Wyatt. BoJo had an affair with Wyatt while they were both working on The Spectator. Johnson was later fired from the shadow cabinet for lying about the affair.

AR I find it hard not to recoil from the stink of all this.


2020 October 16

American Global Dominance

Stephen Wertheim

The United States has no obvious purpose for vast global power. Both liberals and conservatives will face pressure to cut the trillions lavished on national security.
Eighty years ago, as it prepared to enter WW2, the United States made a fateful choice not only to pursue military supremacy but also to sustain it long into the future.
The American ruling class wished to interact and transact across the globe. Axis power endangered its expansive vision of itself. So long as totalitarians stalked the earth, the United States retained a coherent rationale for its costly pursuit of armed dominance.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States was the global colossus. Today the United States deploys troops in more than 170 countries. Its military operates against terrorism in roughly 40% of the world's nations. Dozens of countries are targets of US sanctions.
Many in Washington now acknowledge excesses. Yet leaders in both parties say China is the adversary whose containment could restore purpose to American power.
China is not Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. China is open for business. China has long abstained from armed conquest.

AR Stand down or go bust.


Brexit: Prep 4 WTO 2021

The Guardian

Downing Street spokesman: "The trade talks are over — the EU have effectively ended them yesterday when they said they did not want to change their negotiating position."
UK prime minister Boris Johnson: "It's clear from the [EU] summit that after 45 years of [UK] membership they are not willing, unless there's some fundamental change of approach, to offer this country the same terms as Canada. I concluded that we should get ready for 1 January with arrangements that are more like Australia's."
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen: "The EU continues to work for a deal, but not at any price. As planned, our negotiation team will go to London next week to intensify these negotiations."
UK chief negotiator Lord Frost told EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier there was "no basis for negotiations in London as of Monday" unless Brussels came up with a new plan over the weekend.

AR Bodger is playing hardball. He will lose.


Toward the end of the 2020 bathing season: my local beach today

Christian Klein
Christian Klein


2020 October 15

The American Constitution

Edward Luce

Americans revere their constitution. Its separation of powers between the legislature (Congress), the executive (the presidency), and the judiciary (the Supreme Court) was designed to check the power of any one branch of government.
Donald Trump has stacked the Supreme Court with conservatives. Congress cannot stop him. A congressional staffer: "Trump treats subpoenas like toilet paper. There is almost nothing we can do about it."
Top of any liberal wish list of future amendments would be to scrap the electoral college. Twice in the past 20 years a US president has won election having lost the popular vote.
But the American constitution is a roadblock to change. A country that prided itself on its political radicalism now turns to the ancestor worship known as originalism.
University of Chicago Law School professor Eric Posner: "Originalism is a bit like the Protestant Reformation. You have to go back to the original text and read it literally."
A crisis is looming. Even if Joe Biden defeats Trump by a landslide, the Senate could block him just as it blocked Barack Obama. Also, the Supreme Court would strike down an obligation on everyone to buy health insurance under Obamacare.
Berkeley law professor John Yoo: "America was designed to be a republic, not a democracy. By design, change is hard to bring about. The founders deliberately built in protections against the tyranny of the majority."
Republican senator Mike Lee: "We're not a democracy. The word 'democracy' appears nowhere in the constitution."
University of Texas Law School Sanford Levinson: "The US Senate is an affirmative-action program for white, rural, Christian conservatives."

AR Write a new American constitution. Use the German constitution as a model.


Customer Experience


SAP CEO Christian Klein launched the SAP Customer Data Platform during his keynote at the virtual SAP Customer Experience live conference.
SAP is committed to the growing market for customer experience (CX) software and its role in building the intelligent enterprise. The new platform will enable organizations to create individual but anonymized customer profiles using data from multiple sources.
Klein: "You cannot think about CX separately; it needs to be considered as an integral part of an intelligent enterprise. That's why CX is one key element of SAP's holistic strategy."
Klein says meaningful customer experiences are personalized, seamless, and delivered across all channels: "At the center of those experiences is one key ingredient: data. That's why I'm so excited to launch our new SAP Customer Data Platform."
SAP Customer Data Platform aims to add context to commerce, sales, and service experiences, as well as providing a more effective tool for marketing. It is built on the foundation of SAP Customer Data Cloud.

AR Eleven years on, my CX is fond.


Superconductor at 15°C


We have found a material that seems to superconduct at up to about 15°C under pressures approaching those at the center of Earth. A mixture of carbon, hydrogen, and sulfur was placed between the tips of two diamonds, where laser light triggered chemical reactions to form a crystal. Its electrical resistance dropped to zero as the temperature was lowered. Increased pressure raised the transition temperature. The highest transition temperature was 287.7 K at 267 GPa.

AR This is intriguing.


Dorset 4 Europe
Dorset 4 Europe






EU to UK: Our Terms or No Deal

Daniel Boffey

At the EU summit in Brussels, French president Emmanuel Macron said the UK must accept EU conditions or expect a no-deal outcome in trade negotiations.
Macron: "Under no condition can our fishermen be sacrificed during Brexit. We didn't choose Brexit. It's the British people's choice."
He insisted on EU level playing field demands to ensure neither side can undercut standards or over-subsidise parts of the economy to gain a competitive advantage.
Macron: "I want to be clear: this deal will not be made at any price. If these conditions are not met, it's possible there won't be a deal. We are ready for that."
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte: "For a breakthrough, movement from UK side is really necessary."
German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We want an agreement, but of course not at any cost. It has to be a fair agreement from which both sides can profit. But all the effort is worth it."
European Council president Charles Michel: "We are ready to continue to negotiate with the UK. These are difficult negotiations. We all know that."
Irish taoiseach Micheál Martin: "Time is running out to ensure that a deal can be in place before the end of the year. I am urging the British side to engage meaningfully."
Draft summit communique: "Progress on the key issues of interest to the union is still not sufficient for an agreement to be reached."

AR I back the EU: It is for the UK to back down.


2020 October 14

Artemis Accords


NASA is leading the Artemis program to send astronauts to the surface of the Moon in 2024. International partnerships will play a key role in achieving a sustainable and robust presence on the Moon later this decade while preparing to conduct a human mission to Mars.
The Artemis Accords will be implemented through bilateral agreements. The founding signatories are Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States of America. The partners will comply with the accords in carrying out future cooperation.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine: "Artemis will be the broadest and most diverse international human space exploration program in history, and the Artemis Accords are the vehicle that will establish this singular global coalition. With today's signing, we are uniting with our partners to explore the Moon and are establishing vital principles that will create a safe, peaceful, and prosperous future in space for all of humanity to enjoy."

Lunar law
The Times

The Artemis Accords provide a framework for exploiting the Moon. They require that signatories keep each other informed of activities, use compatible systems, and provide emergency assistance to each other as they mine for resources.
UK Space Agency international policy head Arfan Chaudhry: "These are key principles for devising a sustainable presence on the Moon while preparing for onward human missions to Mars. What we are talking about is a safe, transparent and prosperous route for developing outer space. It's about the practical aspects: ensuring the safety of operations, reducing uncertainty, providing clarity."
The accords were signed without the endorsement of China or Russia. China is concerned about the articles allowing for resource extraction and for safety zones around national Moon bases that other nations are asked to respect.
Journal of Space Law editor-in-chief emerita Joanne Gabrynowicz: "The Outer Space Treaty says you can't appropriate land by claim, use, occupation, or any other means. A safety zone is appropriation by other means."

AR The AA will lead to war on the Moon.


China Stocks Over $10 Trillion

Financial Times

China's economic recovery is accelerating. The market cap of all shares listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen hit $10.08 trillion, according to Bloomberg data. Bank of America Asia Pacific global capital markets co-head Craig Coben: "Investors are looking for growth and finding it very scarce elsewhere, so they see an enormous amount of opportunity in China."

AR For influence in China, buy now.


Tiers of a Clown

John Crace

Labour leader Keir Starmer has distanced himself from UK prime minister Boris Johnson by calling for a 2−3 week "circuit breaker" to halt the spread of the coronavirus. His speech was delivered with the conviction of someone with the SAGE scientists and most of the public on his side.
With the test-and-trace system barely working and the rate of infection going up in 19 out of the 20 regions with local lockdowns, now is not the time for half-measures. Johnson's 3-tier system is as doomed to failure as his previous compromises to bring down the infection rate.

AR The Covid crisis requires a government of national unity. Bodger is only resisting because he knows its first act would be to delay Brexit.


2020 October 13


Daniel C. Dennett

Early Christian fathers said: Don't marry your cousin! Joseph Henrich says this prohibition changed the face of the world, by eventually creating societies and people that were WEIRD: Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic.
Roughly, we weirdos are individualistic, think analytically, believe in free will, take personal responsibility, feel guilt when we misbehave, and detest nepotism. The rest identify more strongly with family, tribe, clan, and ethnic group, think more holistically, take responsibility for what their group does, feel shame when they misbehave, and see nepotism as a duty.
WEIRD folk are a recent development, growing out of the innovation of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, the birth of states and organized religions about 3,000 years ago, and early weird steps over the last 1,500 years, culminating in the modern world in the last 500 years or so. WEIRD minds evolved by the natural selection of memes.
Henrich: "The accidental genius of Western Christianity was in 'figuring out' how to dismantle kin-based institutions while at the same time catalyzing its own spread."

AR Thanks, Dan, good reading tip.


Chemical Origins of Metabolism

John Rennie

A central pillar of all cellular metabolism is a complex 10-step chemical process variously known as the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, the citric acid cycle, or the Krebs cycle. We suspect the TCA cycle was one of the early reactions to establish itself in the prebiotic soup.
We now know glyoxylate and pyruvate react to make a range of compounds that include chemical analogs to all the intermediary products in the TCA cycle except citric acid. These products all form in water within a single reaction vessel, at temperatures and pH conditions mild enough to be compatible with conditions on Earth.
This is not yet a cycle. But precursors of cells with those molecules at their disposal might have performed some of the synthetic chemistry useful to life. A linchpin of modern metabolism could have emerged under minimally demanding conditions.

AR So far, so good.


2020 October 12


The New York Times

The Earthshot Prize announced Thursday by Prince William, second in line to the British throne, along with the venerable English broadcaster and natural historian Sir David Attenborough, proposes to award five £1 million prizes every year for the next 10 years toward five environmental goals:
  Fixing the climate
  Cleaning the air
  Protecting and restoring nature
  Reviving oceans
  Tackling waste
Any person, group, or corporation around the world is eligible, and any suggestion is welcome, so long as it is applicable on a global scale. Attenborough says the goal is to repair our planet by 2030.

AR OK, game on.


Nobel Economics

The Guardian

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the 2020 Nobel prize for economics to game theorists Paul R. Milgrom and Robert B. Wilson for their work on auction theory. Stanford professors Milgrom and Wilson helped develop mathematical models that introduce incentives and information into the auction bidding process to maintain a fair market and prevent collusion among bidders.

AR Dom Cummings: Study this work.


Brexit Seen From Germany

Paul Mason

Boris Johnson is preparing for years of rhetorical conflict with the EU. Ministers no longer care whether they get a deal or default to WTO rules, because the economic costs are swamped by the Covid-19 recession and its fiscal black hole.
Faced with Johnson's posturing, European governments and institutions have shifted their priorities. The EU will pool its economic response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The German government has thrown aside fiscal conservatism and extended its wage subsidy scheme until the end of 2021.
Germans now see the Brexit project as an attempt to create a state-subsidised chumocracy with no clear global purpose. German foreign policy is consolidating the European economy by adopting a tough approach to Russia and switching its focus from China to Japan.
Johnson has a weak position. Because the UK opted to leave the EU, and Johnson aims to adopt different laws and standards, an economic border has to be drawn between the two entities. To get a deal, Johnson opted to draw that border in the Irish Sea.
If Johnson reneges on his deal, the UK may lose access to the biggest market in the world, be forced by an international court to accept a customs border on its own territory, and still pay the EU billions for the privilege.
Johnson seeks confrontation with Europe to please old English Tories. He will use the Withdrawal Agreement as German fascists once used the Treaty of Versailles.

AR Bodger is a dunce.


There was a young man
From Cork who got limericks
And haikus confused


2020 October 11

Manic Panic on the Potomac

Maureen Dowd

Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, 78 and a polio survivor, wasn't taking any chances. He could see that President Trump was courting danger.
McConnell did more than physically distance himself from Trump. He politically distanced himself as well. He knows a loser when he sees one.
Trump spoke to Rush Limbaugh on Friday: "I said, 'How bad was I?' They said, 'You could have been very bad. You were going into a very bad phase.' .. I was not in great shape .. I might not have recovered at all from Covid."
Was it all finally sinking in? Were the stresses of Covid and steroids mixing with his fear of hearing "You're fired!" from the American people?

AR Slowly but surely, the Titanic is sinking.


Brexit Needs Trump

Nigel Farage

In true Hollywood style, President Trump has recovered and returned to the Oval Office. He is now putting out a positive message that just as he has recovered, the USA will too.
Trump has a strong record to defend. Prior to the Covid outbreak, America was doing very well. In in my view, Trump is best placed to rebuild the economy post Covid.
Trump is the most pro-British president for many years. I do not see any prospect of a free trade deal with the USA under President Joe Biden. I want Trump to win.

AR Last blast from a loser.



Robin McKie

European Space Agency officials will unveil plans at IAC 2020 next week to work with NASA, JAXA, and the Canadian Space Agency to return humans to the Moon by 2024.
ESA projects include construction of the crew module for the Gateway orbiting lunar space station, making the power and propulsion units for the NASA Orion spacecraft scheduled to fly in 2021, and designing and building the communication and refueling unit Esprit for use on the lunar surface.
Robot probes suggest that water ice exists at the lunar south pole. Finding it would help in the construction of future lunar colonies. Separating water into oxygen and hydrogen by electrolysis could provide fuel and air for astronauts.
ESA head of robotics David Parker: "We'll get back to the Moon during this decade and spend 15 to 20 years doing everything that needs to be done to explore the Moon. Then we can think about the next step: going to Mars."

AR Brexit puts Britain out of ESA.


Korean Central TV
North Korea unveiled what analysts believe to be one of the world's largest ballistic missiles at a military parade
in Pyongyang to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Workers' Party on Saturday.
NK leader Kim Jong Un: "We will continue to strengthen war deterrence as a means of self-defense."


"Like Churchill in 1942,
Boris Johnson will prove the
moaning minnies wrong."
Andrew Roberts


John Lennon
80 today



Roger Penrose
Roger Penrose in 1980

Sgr A*
X-ray image of Sgr A*

Roger Penrose
From Penrose's 1965 paper

Roger Penrose
Sir Roger Penrose

Covid response


2020 October 10

A Surreal Reality Show

David Smith

Last Saturday, Donald Trump, 74 and clinically obese, woke up in the presidential suite at the Walter Reed medical center in Bethesda, Maryland. Seven doctors in face masks emerged from the hospital to say he was beating the coronavirus.
Apart from supplemental oxygen, the treatment consisted of an experimental antibody cocktail, the antiviral drug remdesivir, and the steroid dexamethasone. The steroid can cause manic behavior.
On Sunday evening, Trump rode in an armored limousine outside the hospital and waved to supporters. Experts said he was endangering his Secret Service detail in the airtight vehicle. An attending physician at Walter Reed called the stunt insane.
On Monday, just in time for the evening news, Trump took a triumphant helicopter flight back to the White House, climbed a staircase to the balcony, gave a double thumbs up, peeled his mask off, and staged a "Mussolini moment" of macho rhetoric punctuated by labored breathing. Then he unleashed a blitzkrieg of wild tweets.
On Tuesday, Trump again compared Covid-19 to the seasonal flu, just as he did at the start of the pandemic. He tweeted videos of his sunset return accompanied by heroic music: "Nobody that is a leader would not do what I did. And I know there's a risk, there's a danger, but that's OK. And now I'm better. Maybe I'm immune! I don't know."
On Wednesday, Trump returned to work in the Oval Office and let rip with another fusillade of tweets. He claimed his infection was "a blessing from God" and gave an interview on the Fox Business channel: "I'm feeling good, really good. I think perfect."
Former Obama chief strategist David Axelrod: "This POTUS has turned his own political suicide into a surreal reality show."

Trumpism unmasked
Jonathan Freedland

Donald Trump tried to blame his infection on the grieving relatives of slain soldiers: "They want to hug me and they want to kiss me."
Trump said his attorney general William Barr would find himself in a "sad, sad situation" if he didn't indict Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden for "the greatest political crime in the history of our country" — the inquiry into his campaign links to Russia.
On Thursday, when 13 men were arrested in Michigan over a violent plot to kidnap the state governor and try her for treason, Trump fired off a rebuke to the governor for failing to say thank you to "my justice department" for uncovering the conspiracy.
Trump thinks he can do whatever he likes, and to hell with the "suckers and losers" who suffer as a result. His disdain for facts and for science has cost the lives of more than 200,000 Americans.

AR Invoke the 25th and lock him up.


2020 October 9

Brexit: No Surrender

The Times

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier says a UK−EU post-Brexit agreement is close but urges European leaders to demand further UK concessions and not let the EU summit next week become a negotiating deadline.
European Council president Charles Michel says there will be no agreement unless the UK prime minister makes "significant" concessions: "This is the moment of truth."
UK Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm is concerned that UK business is not taking the deadline seriously: "There isn't going to be an extension and they really need to be ready."

AR I encourage the EU to stay hard. The UK under the present government is heading for a historic fall. If a no-deal Brexit occurs as Boris Johnson threatens, the mess that follows will condemn him and all his minions and works to one of the deeper pits of hell for the rest of recorded history.
Suck on that, Bodger.


Chancellor of Germany

Jean-Philippe de Tonnac

Angela Merkel lives like any other German citizen and shops in a Berlin supermarket.
Reporter: "Do you remember I took a photo of you in this same dress ten years ago?"
Merkel: "My mission is to serve my fellow Germans, not to be a model."

AR ♥


Education of a Poet

Louise Glück

"The fundamental experience of the writer is helplessness .. dignified, I think, by yearning, not made serene by sensations of achievement. In the actual work, a discipline, a service."

AR Writing is not heroic.


2020 October 8

Nobel Literature: Glück


The 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to the American poet Louise Glück "for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal."
Yale English professor Glück made her debut in 1968 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 and the National Book Award in 2014.

From Nostos
There was an apple tree in the yard —
this would have been forty years ago ..
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.

AR Ein Glück, dass sie gewonnen hat.


Pence vs Harris: Who Won?

Henry Zeffman

Kamala Harris gave a strong first answer, on coronavirus, condemning "the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country" and putting Mike Pence on the back foot.
Harris was steady and composed. Pence used a question about abortion laws to talk about the US strike on Qasem Soleimani. In a low moment, Harris gave a two-minute recitation of her CV.
The debate was dull, like politics used to be. The candidates evaded questions and the moderator put them under no pressure. A fly on Pence's hair lingered there for two minutes.

AR Harris for Prez.


Nobel Chemistry: CRISPR


Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin, and Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their development of CRISPR/Cas9 genetic editing.
In a 2012 paper, they showed that key components of the ancient immune system found in bacteria and archaea could be retooled to edit DNA.
Genome editing is now commonplace in laboratories around the world. It has enabled researchers to probe the functions of genes at will, to innovate new methods of plant breeding, and to develop promising new gene therapies.
Most prokaryotic organisms have an odd structure in their genome. A portion of their DNA consists of many short, repetitive base sequences, interspersed with other short, variable spacer sequences, a.k.a. CRISPR, for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. Next to the portion is a CRISPR-associated system (Cas) of genes for enzymes that can cut DNA.
The CRISPR/Cas system might serve as a kind of immune system for fighting persistent viral attackers. When bacteria survive a viral infection, they store tiny fragments of scavenged viral DNA in the CRISPR part of their own genome for future reference. If the same virus attacks again, the bacteria can somehow use the viral DNA on file to direct Cas enzymes at the invaders.
Charpentier and Doudna borrowed this genome slicing capability from the bacteria and turned it into a more general genome editing tool, with the CRISPR genetic structure as a targeting tool and the Cas9 enzyme to do the cutting.

AR A cut-and-paste tool for genes — brilliant.


2020 October 7

Bodge Back Better

Financial Times

In his keynote speech to a virtual Conservative conference, UK prime minister Boris Johnson tried to quell party criticism of his leadership and concerns over his big state interventions in the UK economy and erosion of civil liberties during the coronavirus crisis.
Johnson: "I've read a lot of nonsense recently about how my own bout of Covid has somehow robbed me of my mojo. This is self-evident drivel, the kind of seditious propaganda you would expect from people who don't want this government to succeed."
He said wars and plagues can trigger "acceleration of social and economic change" and the UK cannot return to life as it was before the pandemic. He aims to fix the social care system and the "broken" housing market and plans a green energy revolution, a hospital building program, and a national advanced research and projects agency.
In his vision of the UK in 2030, Britons would return from a trip abroad on a zero-carbon passenger jet made in the UK, flash their "Brexit blue passport" and see a country at the cutting edge of technology, with excellent education and health services.

A pivotal moment
The Guardian

Boris Johnson's coronavirus stewardship has been disastrous. The utter incompetence and abject lack of strategy at the heart of his government has rattled Conservative MPs. In the last few months, he has only provided broken promises and empty hyperbole.
Bodger said Britain was broken before he became prime minister. He aims for a "dynamic recovery" led by the free market to "build back better" in an authoritarian state. He wants to put the economy in the hands of business interests that back the Tories.
Bodger's breezy optimism is not enough.

AR This "Brexit blue" nonsense is all so last century.


High Time for a Nobel

The Times

Roger Penrose received a phone call while "stark naked in the shower" to tell him he had won the Nobel prize for work he published in 1965. Sir Roger, 89, said it was perfectly timed: "If you've got grand ambitions, it's bad to get a Nobel too early. [It] gets in the way of your science."
Einstein's theory of general relativity predicted that big spherical masses could collapse to objects so dense that no light could escape. Penrose found a way to prove that even nonspherical stars imploding asymmetrically could become black holes. He followed through on the idea in collaboration with Stephen Hawking.
Astronomer royal Martin Rees: "He and Hawking together showed that the development of a singularity, where the density goes infinite, was inevitable once a threshold of compactness had been crossed .. Sadly, this award was too much delayed to allow Hawking to share the credit."

AR The text in The Times concludes with an irrelevant anecdote about toilet paper.


Milky Way Prizes


2020 physics Nobelist Sir Roger Penrose OM FRS, Rouse Ball professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Oxford, demonstrated how, according to the general theory of relativity, black holes could form under realistic conditions and would give rise to singularities.
Rival teams led by 2020 physics Nobelists Andrea Ghez and Reinhard Genzel used the Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the Very Large Telescope in Paranal, Chile, to study the stars at the centre of the Milky Way. They mapped a dense cloud of stars at the centre buzzing around at high speeds, consistent with the radio source Sagittarius A* marking the site of a supermassive black hole with a mass of several million ⦿.
Crucial to the mapping was finding ways to boost image resolution. The teams first used speckle imaging to cancel the distortion caused by the turbulence in Earth's atmosphere and later used adaptive optics to correct for the distortion. This let them track the motion of stars in 3D.
The conclusion that there is a supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way was the culmination of big team efforts.

A big hole

Roger Penrose proved that in general relativity the gravitational collapse of a big enough mass into a black hole is inevitable. Whatever you do to the hole, its event horizon will only grow.
Nobel physics committee member Ulf Danielsson: "Penrose laid a theoretical foundation so that we could say, yes, these objects exist. We can expect to find them if we go out and look for them."
The Sgr A* black hole has a mass of 4 M⦿ and is 250 Em away. The teams led by Andrea Ghez and Reinhard Genzel made a movie of a star near it and proved it was orbiting a huge mass.

AR You can see a fine example of a nonperiodic pattern known as a [Roger] Penrose tiling on the courtyard of the Andrew Wiles Building, Mathematics Institute, University of Oxford.


Black Holes Are Real


Black holes are regions that contain so much matter packed within so little space that gravity collapses the matter toward a central singularity. Everything within a certain distance of the singularity becomes gravitationally trapped, even light.
Roger Penrose showed in 1965 that black holes actually form in the universe. He showed that deviations from spherical symmetry cannot prevent spacetime singularities from arising. A trapped surface is a closed 2D surface that lets light in but not out, and he found that space and time switch roles inside a trapped surface. Time points toward the center, so escaping a black hole is as impossible as going back in time.
Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez led teams that studied the center of the Milky Way. They pioneered approaches to remove the blur of Earth's atmosphere. Speckle imaging involved combining multiple brief exposures, each short enough to avoid extended atmospheric distortion. Adaptive optics involves beaming a laser into the night sky, creating an artificial star that reveals atmospheric distortions, which are then counteracted by small actuators deforming the telescope mirror in real time.
Both teams observed a star, S2, that orbits close to the compact object in the galactic center known as Sagittarius A*. The trajectory of S2 proves that Sagittarius A* is smaller than 125 AU, even though its mass is 4 M⦿. It can only be a supermassive black hole.

AR I this stuff.


2020 October 6

Penrose Wins Nobel

Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2020 goes to:
 Roger Penrose, University of Oxford, UK
 Reinhard Genzel, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany,
    and University of California, Berkeley, USA
 Andrea Ghez, University of California, Los Angeles, USA
Penrose wins half of the 10 million Swedish kronor (almost €1 million) prize for his discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity. He proved in 1965 that black holes really can form and described them in detail. His proof used ingenious methods to show that black holes are a direct consequence of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity.
Genzel and Ghez share the other half for their discovery of a supermassive compact object at the center of our galaxy. They each lead a group of astronomers that focused on the Sagittarius A* region and mapped the orbits of the brightest stars closest to the middle of the Milky Way. They found an invisible object of around 4 million solar masses within a region no larger than our solar system. They developed methods to see through interstellar gas and dust to the center of our galaxy and refined new techniques to compensate for distortions caused by the Earth's atmosphere. Their work has given us the most convincing evidence yet of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
Nobel committee for physics chair David Haviland: "The discoveries .. have broken new ground in the study of compact and supermassive objects. But these exotic objects still pose many questions that beg for answers and motivate future research."

AR The Nobel prize committee has at last accepted that black holes are real. The big prize for Penrose may reflect the fact that they missed the chance to award a Nobel to Stephen Hawking, which many of us thought he deserved.


Trump Out Front


President Donald Trump, back in the White House: "We're going back to work. We're gonna be out front. As your leader I had to do that. I knew there's danger to it but I had to do it .. I stood out front. I led. Nobody that's a leader would not do what I did."

AR The danger is not over yet.


The Future of Tropical Forests

Arie Staal et al.

Tropical forests modify the conditions they depend on through feedbacks that shape their resilience to deforestation or climate change.
By looking at local-scale tipping points and regional-scale forest-rainfall feedbacks across the tropics under the recent climate and a severe climate-change scenario, we find that forest-rainfall feedback expands the geographic range of possible forest distributions, especially in the Amazon. The Amazon forest could partially recover from complete deforestation but may lose that resilience later this century. The Congo forest currently lacks resilience, but is predicted to gain it under climate change, whereas forests in Australasia are resilient under both current and future climates.
Our results show how tropical forests shape their own distributions and create the climatic conditions that enable them.

AR Rainforest resilience — hmm.


HMS Queen Elizabeth
HMS Queen Elizabeth leads Royal Navy Carrier Strike Group on joint operations with NATO allies in the North Sea.
The group includes HMS QE, Type 45 destroyers HMS Diamond and HMS Defender, US Navy destroyer USS The Sullivans,
frigates HMS Northumberland and HMS Kent, Dutch Navy frigate HNLMS Evertsen, and two Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships.
The group hosts a total of 15 F-35B fighter jets from a Royal Navy squadron and a US Marine Corps squadron,
11 helicopters, and 3,000 NATO personnel.

⦿ Jez Coulson
Cleveland Proud Boy Mike

⦿ Jez Coulson
Cleveland Proud Boy Aaron

David Attenborough
David Attenborough


CNN: EU launches legal
proceedings against UK
after Commons passes bill
breaching 2019 Brexit deal.

YouGov poll: Brits asked last
week if they backed Brexit:
39% said yes, 50% said no.


2020 October 5


Lea Boecker

Bei Donald Trump kommen sehr viele Auslöser für Schadenfreude zusammen:
 Die Überlegenheit und Dominanz eines Menschen: Vor allem Menschen, die ihren Status durch Dominanz und Einschüchterung anderer erlangt haben, auslösen Schadenfreude.
 Ob die Person das Unglück verdient hat, weil sie sich womöglich ignorant und überheblich gegenüber Risiken gezeigt hat: Wenn dieser Person ein negatives Ereignis widerfährt, fühlt sich das gerecht und manchmal sogar befriedigend an.
 Abneigung gegenüber Personen oder deren Gesinnung: Auch da bietet Trump breite Angriffsfläche.
Trump hat sich überlegen präsentiert und hat die Gefahr des Virus kleingeredet. Rutscht eine solche Person ab, wird Schadenfreude hervorgerufen.
Schadenfreude anzeigt, dass Gerechtigkeit hergestellt wird. Wenn jemand sich moralisch fragwürdig verhalten hat und in der gleichen Domäne abgestraft wird, fühlt sich das für viele Menschen, als würde die Welt nach gerechten Regeln funktionieren.
Schadenfreude zeigt sich im MRT-Scan als komplexeres Gefühl als Freude. Der Scan verriet, dass eine Person Perspektivenübernahme beherrschen muss, um schadenfroh zu sein.

AR Einleuchtend


2020 October 4

Proud Boys

Sarah Baxter

I was in Cleveland, Ohio, ahead of the presidential election TV debate there. Proud Boys wearing army camo and carrying guns milled around their white battle bus.
In the debate, Donald Trump said: "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what .. somebody's got to do something about Antifa [anti-fascists] and the left."
The Proud Boys were ecstatic. Trump's call-out and "What are your orders, Sir!" were soon on PB shirts selling on Amazon.
Cleveland Proud Boy Mike, 33: "We handle security for events. If Antifa show up, it's good to have us and make sure nobody's going to be a problem. We're not going to beat someone to a pulp, we're more like bouncers."
Aaron showed me his Ruger AR 566 semi-automatic rifle, with ammo clip modified to hold more bullets. Inside their battle bus, guns were mounted under the windows.
Native Brit Gavin McInnes launched Proud Boys in 2016. They say rights for women and gays show West is best. They wear black Fred Perry shirts trimmed with yellow for an "an-cap" message: black for anarchy, yellow (gold) for capitalism.
Their British allies include English Defence League brawler Tommy Robinson. Mike: "If he was in America, he'd be a Proud Boy."
The group's name is taken from the song Proud of Your Boy in the Disney stage musical Aladdin: "Believe me, bad as I've been Ma, you're in for a pleasant surprise."
The Proud Boy battle bus pumped out music: "If Heaven ain't a lot like Dixie, I don't wanna go," by Hank Williams Jr.
Proud Boy degrees of membership include swearing allegiance to the fraternity, getting beaten up until they can recite the name of five cereal brands, adhering to a "no wanks" pledge, and getting a Proud Boy tattoo.
Aaron, 33 and single, says the ban on wanking "does wonders for your determination, energy levels, and productivity" but doesn't make them misogynists: "We want to put women back on their pedestal."
Aaron says a further degree for members is "getting into a physical altercation with Antifa" — he fulfilled that pledge in Kalamazoo.

AR AA neofascism seems on side with Putin Russia.


2020 October 3

German Reunification

Richard von Weizsäcker

"Der Tag ist gekommen, an dem zum ersten Mal in der Geschichte das ganze Deutschland seinen dauerhaften Platz im Kreis der westlichen Demokratien findet."
 Bundespräsident Richard von Weizsäcker, am 3. Oktober 1990

[The day has come in which for the first time in history the whole of Germany has found its lasting place in the circle of western democracies.]
Zitiert in Wie wir wurden, was wir sind, von Heinrich August Winkler (Verlag C.H. Beck, 2020)

AR ♥


2020 October 2

Trump Tests Positive

The New York Times

President Donald Trump tweet, 1 am Friday: "Tonight, FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19."

Trump Drove Infodemic
Cornell University researchers analyzed 38 million articles about the coronavirus pandemic in English‑language media around the world. Mentions of Donald Trump made up nearly 38% of the "misinformation conversation" driving the "infodemic" around the pandemic.
Cornell Alliance for Science director Sarah Evanega: "The biggest surprise was that the president of the United States was the single largest driver of misinformation around Covid. That's concerning in that there are real-world dire health implications."

AR Today poetic justice has been served. A fat old man with mental issues may soon be gone.


Johnson Fails Test

Harry Lambert

A prominent Conservative MP on Boris Johnson: "He genuinely doesn't give a flying fuck what the policy is .. he's never done the homework, so he doesn't know anything."
Johnson has proven far less able in office than many hoped. When Covid-19 struck, Number 10 had MPs pass the Coronavirus Act, granting the government wartime authority to act unilaterally.
Number 10 later admitted the already existing Civil Contingencies Act required parliament to renew the government's authority every 30 days. The Coronavirus Act imposes only a six-month renewal date on the government.
Number 10 owns the past six months. The role of Dominic Cummings is an ongoing insult. When the coronavirus crisis hit, Conservative MPs watched Cummings display the same contempt toward the public that he has shown toward them.
Cummings and the Vote Leave veterans in government believe they won a unique mandate in 2016. Claiming the will of the people, they brush any obstacle aside. The caste at the top appears accountable to no one.
Tory MPs were elected to get Brexit done. But that guiding star casts a dim light. The persistent cry of incompetence will only grow louder.

AR Toss out Jo-Cum now and revoke Brexit.


Local Council Coup

BBC News

Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole (BCP) Council leader Vikki Slade has been ousted following a Tory vote of no confidence stating "a high level of public frustration and mistrust" in her administration. Lib Dem councillor Slade led a Unity Alliance made up of Lib Dem, Poole People, Labour, Green, and independent councillors in BCP following the 2019 elections.
The Conservative motion passed by 39 votes to 33 during an online meeting of the council. Conservative group leader Drew Mellor said residents had been failed by a "hapless" administration: "Our fears of what would come to pass have been sadly confounded as the Unity Alliance lurched within 24 hours from one crisis and one U-turn to another."

AR Drew, I think you mean "confirmed" — unless you had nobly changed your fears to hopes.


2020 October 1

How Science Works

Joshua Rothman

Michael Strevens says pursuit of scientific studies requires an inhuman degree of focus on facts. The single greatest obstacle to successful science is the difficulty of persuading brilliant minds to give up the intellectual pleasures of speculation and theorizing and to turn instead to a life of producing experimental data.
An iron rule tells scientists not what they can think but what arguments they can make as scientists: They must uncover or generate new evidence to argue with, and they must conduct all disputes with reference to empirical evidence alone.
In the prescientific world, thinkers tended to inquire into everything at once. Often, they arrived at conclusions about nature that were fascinating, visionary, and wrong. Looking back, we usually say they were insufficiently methodical and empirical.
The iron rule bids thinkers to rely only on evidence they can verify. It lets scientists step away from the quest for completeness. By authorizing shallow explanation, the iron rule offers an empirical bridge across a conceptual chasm.
Without the iron rule, quantum physicists would be arguing endlessly about metaphysics. Following the iron rule, they can make progress empirically even though they are uncertain conceptually. We can spend billions of dollars on huge machines to explore the quantum world.
Strevens says the iron rule created science. Scientists are people who like to win, but this is part of the scientific game. Winners have to follow the iron rule.

AR So far so good, but theory counts too.


Primordial Cosmic Strings

Thomas Lewton

In the beginning, all the forces of nature may have been unified. But as the universe expanded and cooled, this superforce condensed into the familiar forces.
The cosmos may have cooled so quickly as to crumple the fabric of spacetime, creating a network of energetic cracks in spacetime stretching across the observable universe.
We may have glimpsed evidence of these cosmic strings. NANOGrav astronomers looked at 12 years of data from dozens of pulsars and found the timing of the pulsar blips was distorted as if by gravitational waves.
Pulsars are precise cosmic timekeepers. Gravitational waves that change the arrival time of their blips on Earth could come from the thrumming of cosmic strings, collisions of supermassive black holes, or other violent cosmic processes.
Any cosmic strings grew with the universe. Every so often, they crinkled up or hit other strings, causing loops to pinch off in bursts of energy. These loops vibrated for billions of years, losing energy as gravitational waves.
Alternatively, the NANOGrav signal came from supermassive black hole mergers or from primordial black holes.

AR As usual, we need more data.


⦿ Stephane de Sakutin
Why Europe wins

"Proud Boys, stand back
and stand by!"
Donald Trump

"Will you shut up, man?"
Joe Biden

"A shitshow"
Dana Bash




EU passport
"An EU passport is one of
the most desirable documents
on the planet. Its bearer
can live and work in 27
different countries."
The Economist

⦿ Chris Riddell

German humor

Red light
The Atlantic
The election that could
break America



2020 September 30

Climate Change

China Daily

President Xi Jinping's speech last week at the UNGA was a thoughtful, conciliatory, constructive, and dignified look forward to a peaceful world. Three highlights:
 Fighting Covid-19: "We should follow the guidance of science, give full play to the leading role of
    the WHO, and launch a joint international response to beat this pandemic."
 "We should stay true to multilateralism and safeguard the international system with the UN at its
    core .. we should respect a country's independent choice of development path and model."
 Climate change is an urgent issue. The world must act effectively without ruining economies.
    Xi called on all countries to pursue innovative, coordinated, green, and open development.
China aims for CO2 emissions to peak by 2030 and for carbon neutrality by 2060.

AR ♥


Trump vs Biden

Financial Times

The first US presidential debate of 2020 degenerated into an ugly spectacle. Donald Trump repeatedly interrupted Joe Biden, declined to condemn white supremacist groups, and suggested he might not accept the results of the election. It was chaotic.
Biden: "Folks, do you have any idea what this clown is doing?"
Trump: "If it is fair election, I am 100% on board, but if I see hundreds of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can't go along with that."
Biden: "If we get the votes, it's going to be over. He can't stay in power."
Trump: "This is going to be fraud like you've never seen. We might not know for months because these ballots are going to be all over."
Biden: "You are the worst president that America has ever had."
University of Virginia politics expert Larry Sabato: "You cannot have a civil debate if Donald Trump is on the stage."

National humiliation
David Smith

Donald Trump ensured the debate was the worst in American history, a national humiliation. If Trump is re-elected, this dark, horrifying, unwatchable fever dream will surely be the first line of America's obituary.

US democracy in danger
Thomas L. Friedman

President Trump has made it unmistakably clear that there are only two choices before voters on November 3 — and electing Joe Biden is not one of them.
If he does not win the Electoral College, Trump will muddy the results so that the outcome can be decided only by the Supreme Court or the House of Representatives. Trump wins in both right now.
Our democracy is in terrible danger.

AR Biden needs to win by a landslide.


2020 September 29

US Tax System Broken

The New York Times

Before he became president, Donald Trump lived lavishly while paying little in federal income taxes. He lived a life of comic excess and yet, in many years, paid nothing in federal income taxes.
The 400 wealthiest households paid 70% of their total income in taxes in 1950, 47% in 1980, and 23% in 2018. The share of all tax returns subject to an audit declined by 46% from 2010 to 2018, but by 61% for millionaires.
The rich keep getting richer, while the Internal Revenue Service keeps getting smaller. Cracking down on rich tax cheats is a basic function of government to ensure that people are playing by the rules.
Adding $40 billion to the IRS budget over the next decade can yield at least $103 billion in tax revenue, says the CBO. Natasha Sarin and Lawrence Summers say restoring IRS funding and modernizing collection will let the government collect $1 trillion of unpaid taxes.
Strict enforcement should start with the president to show that no American is above the law. Paying taxes is a civic duty. The US government needs the money.

AR US federal government is broken.


Big Brother UK

The Times

Conservative MPs accuse Boris Johnson of ruling by decree after creating a new array of coronavirus offences without consulting parliament.
Health secretary Matt Hancock: "The exponential growth of the virus means that there are in reality only two paths: either to control the virus or to let it rip .. letting the virus rip would leave a death toll too big to bear."
 In NE England, meeting people from other households in pubs and restaurants is now illegal.
 Students in areas with high rates of coronavirus may be asked to self-isolate before returning to their families for Christmas.
 The 10 pm curfew could be doing more harm than good, say police and scientific advisers, but ministers reject calls for a review.
 People will be fined if they do not stay at home after testing positive or being told to isolate, with penalties of up to £10,000. Fines will start at £4,000 for those in "reckless" disregard of the rules.
 People who falsely report others as a close contact, who knowingly give false information, or who fail to ensure that children under 18 self-isolate, face fines of £1,000.
 Workers told to self-isolate must tell their employer before they are next on duty or face a £50 fine. Employers who pressure isolating staff to work face a £1,000 fine.
 Covid marshals and police may use "reasonable force" to make people self-isolate.
 Pubs, cafés, restaurants, and other hospitality businesses must stop customers singing and dancing and must not play music at more than 85 decibels.

AR Big Brother — the oppressive state in George Orwell's novel 1984


2020 September 28

Trump Tax Facts

The New York Times

Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750. He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years.
Trump faces hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed. Also hanging over him is a long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund he received after declaring huge losses. An adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million.
The tax returns Trump tried to hide tell a different story from the one he tells the American public. Trump takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he employs to avoid paying taxes. He depends on income from businesses that conflict with his job as president.

AR This must kill him in November.


Germany: 30, 71, 149, 1220?

Timothy Garton Ash

Germany is 30 years old on October 3. Or 71, counting from the foundation of the Federal Republic in 1949. Or 149, if we go back to the unification of the German Reich in 1871. Or 1220 years old, if we start the First Reich with the coronation of Charlemagne in 800 CE.
In any case, the last three decades have been the best. In a world roiled by populism, fanaticism, and authoritarianism, the Federal Republic is a global beacon of stability, civility, and moderation.
German democracy has not yet faced a really major economic crisis. This is due to its great economic strength, to export markets such as China opened up by globalization, to trading with the euro, and to a reservoir of cheap skilled labor in Europe.
Germans were amazed and appalled by Brexit. Then they were contemptuous of the mess Britain is making of it. If they had done anything like it, they would have convened a cross-party Bundestag commission to work out a sober, rational plan for implementing it.
Being embedded in the European Union has an existential significance for Germany that it does not have for Britain. It is possible to imagine an EU without Britain. It is impossible to imagine an EU without Germany.
The First Reich — the Holy Roman Empire — is a fact of German history. German medieval and early modern history involved multiple layers of law, sovereignty, and authority. The German future is inseparable from that of the European Union.

AR I concur with this view.


2020 September 27

US Supreme Court

Lara Bazelon

President Trump's promise to name a woman to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg was cynical and insulting to the millions of women who view the late Supreme Court justice as a feminist icon. His pick, Amy Coney Barrett, is no Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The next Supreme Court justice will vote on women's rights to control their own bodies and to gain access to affordable health care. Whether she is a woman matters less if she does not support the causes Justice Ginsburg championed.

AR Politics as usual ..


UK in Crisis

The Observer

A curfew was imposed by the governments in Westminster, Wales, and Scotland last week.
The UK testing system has been overwhelmed. There was no strategy to prioritise access to testing, while 90% of tests take more than 24 hours to return a result.
Thousands of students are now trapped in student halls after moving to start their courses when their teaching is online and social activities are restricted.
As the furlough scheme comes to an end, millions are likely to suffer months or years of unemployment on paltry levels of benefit, with little support for retraining.
Backbench libertarians concerned about the economic impact of further restrictions say there is no point in doing more than shielding the most vulnerable.
Considering both economic cost and mental health, it would be better to take tough action now rather than leave it too late and risk a full lockdown.
Instead of building social solidarity, the prime minister is trying to shift the blame.

AR Götterdämmerung UK



Nick Cohen

Sweden has no need to curtail civil liberties and wreck the economy to curb Covid-19. Its government merely imposed a ban on gatherings of more than 50, restrictions on visiting care homes, and a shift to table-only service in bars.
Sweden offers an escape from the social catastrophe now engulfing the UK. Brits need Swedish levels of sickness benefit to ensure that carriers stay at home and quarantine, of housing benefit to avoid eviction from those same homes, and of unemployment benefit and retraining.
Covid-19 is exposing the lack of social solidarity in Britain. By not locking down in the spring, Sweden had a more protracted Covid-19 outbreak, with far more deaths per capita than its neighbours. But the UK death rate was worse because no other European country put the village idiot in charge.
Sir Graham Brady: "Sweden today is in a better place than the United Kingdom."

AR It has been for decades.


2020 September 26

America vs Europe

Luke McGee

US president Donald Trump is no fan of the EU. He talks positively about Brexit and claims the EU wants to "take advantage" of the United States.
US ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra hosted an event at his embassy for Forum for Democracy (FvD), a far-right, anti-immigration, and anti-EU party.
Former Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake: "The Trump administration has shown time and again that its allies are the Euroskeptics like [Nigel] Farage and FvD, not the governments of the day."
Trump has appointed a number of divisive ambassadors like Hoekstra in Europe who erode transatlantic ties, enrage their hosts, and represent Trump's personal interests in Europe.
Trump's ambassador to UK Woody Johnson was alleged to have used his position to lobby for the British Open golf tournament to be held on one of Trump's golf courses. He also openly supported Brexit.
Within hours of starting the job, former US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell tweeted: "German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately."
Trump praised Euroskeptic Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban during his trip to the White House last year: "Highly respected, respected all over Europe. Probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that's OK."
A German diplomat: "Trump and his diplomats have given the impression that they want to punish the EU for some reason or another."
A senior EU official: "Under Trump, it seems [US officials] never miss a chance to try and undermine the EU .. we started to see it as an opportunity to be more independent in certain areas like defense and geopolitics."
Schaake: "The transatlantic relationship is robust. But the ability for the two sides to work together, both bilaterally and as a united front on the global stage, has been undermined by the Trump administration."

AR No 2 Trump + No 2 Brexit = I'm 4 EU.


2020 September 25

UNGA Remarks

Donald Trump

I have the immense privilege of addressing you today as the elected leader of a nation that prizes liberty, independence, and self-government above all.
The United States, after having spent over $2.5 trillion since my election to completely rebuild our great military, is also, by far, the world's most powerful nation.
The free world must embrace its national foundations. It must not attempt to erase them or replace them. If you want freedom, take pride in your country. If you want democracy, hold on to your sovereignty. And if you want peace, love your nation. Wise leaders always put the good of their own people and their own country first.
The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots. The future belongs to sovereign and independent nations who protect their citizens, respect their neighbors, and honor the differences that make each country special and unique.
China declined to adopt promised reforms. It has embraced an economic model dependent on massive market barriers, heavy state subsidies, currency manipulation, product dumping, forced technology transfers, and the theft of intellectual property and also trade secrets on a grand scale. To confront these unfair practices, I placed massive tariffs on Chinese-made goods.
America will never be a socialist country. We must always be skeptical of those who want conformity and control. We in America believe that every child, born and unborn, is a sacred gift from God. The United States will always uphold our constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
Liberty is only preserved, sovereignty is only secured, democracy is only sustained, greatness is only realized, by the will and devotion of patriots.

AR Trump is so wrong.


2020 September 24

America Endures Trump

David Smith

Donald Trump held a White House press conference and careered from touting miracle vaccines to building supreme court suspense to kneecapping American democracy.
The first question went to Playboy reporter Brian Karem: "Will you commit to make sure there's a peaceful transferral of power after the election?"
Trump: "We're going to have to see what happens, you know that. I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster."
Karem: "I understand that, but people are rioting. Do you commit to make sure that there's a peaceful transferral of power?"
Trump: "Get rid of the ballots and you'll have a very peaceful — there won't be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation. The ballots are out of control. You know it."
Karem later tweeted: "This is the most frightening answer I have ever received to any question I have ever asked. I've interviewed convicted killers with more empathy."

AR Trump wants civil war.


Germany After Merkel

Roger Boyes

Angela Merkel has barely a year left in office before the autumn 2021 election. Polls show the CDU on 36%, SDP on 14%, Greens on 22%, and AfD on 8%. Two CDU men are jockeying to replace her.
Foreign affairs committee chair Dr Norbert Röttgen would be tougher on Russia and China and more active in NATO. Friedrich Merz spent years in business, and some fear he would undo years of social liberalism.
Röttgen says the CDU should stop being afraid of the far right now the migrant crisis has relaxed. If Germany can take more refugees, the gesture would help him to forge a coalition with the Greens.
The time is coming for a CDU-Green pivot as climate change targets start to press and Covid-19 starts to fade. Earlier, Röttgen was environment minister and argued for an end to nuclear power.
Röttgen wants to scrap the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline agreement with Russia and wants to get rid of Huawei involvement in German 5G. These are the battle lines.

AR I find Dr Röttgen sympathetic.


Primordial Black Holes

Joshua Sokol

LIGO data shows there must be more black holes out there than we thought.
Primordial black holes may have been born during the Big Bang. The first LIGO data in 2016 revived the primordial black hole hypothesis. But then a 2017 calculation showed that if the baby universe spawned enough black holes to account for dark matter, then over time, they black would merge at rates thousands of times higher than LIGO sees.
In a paper published last week, Karsten Jedamzik shows how a large population of primordial black holes could perfectly match what LIGO observes.
We think small primordial density fluctuations left some regions with enough mass to collapse into a black hole. A few μs ABB, the universe cooled enough for quarks and gluons to bind into protons and neutrons. The pressure drop may have helped more regions collapse into black holes.
As the universe kept cooling, other particles formed, with another pressure drop and maybe more black holes. The first black holes sucked in about one solar mass of material from within their event horizon. The second round may have taken about 30 ⦿, like the holes first seen by LIGO.
Primordial black holes would form binaries. Jedamzik calculated that in a universe teeming with black holes, a third black hole would often approach the initial pair and change places with one of them. This process would repeat again and again.
Over time, this swinging from partner to partner would leave binary black holes with almost circular orbits. These pairs would be very stable. Even a huge population of primordial black holes would fit LIGO observations.
Primordial black holes would sit in dark clusters a few light years in diameter — just where we imagined dark matter.

AR At last we can forget wimps and machos.


Airbus MAVERIC demonstrator pushes innovative aircraft design to the limit

Trump America
200 000 C19 deaths
Over 20% of global total
330 000 000 people
Under 5% of global total

Covid UK


⦿ Mandel Ngan

Inside Story

Didymos and Didymoon


2020 September 23

Trump America

Frank Bruni

President Donald Trump gets three Supreme Court appointments. Seldom has a president's impact been so inversely proportional to his warrant.
President Barack Obama appointed 2 Supreme Court justices, George W. Bush 2, Bill Clinton 2, George H.W. Bush 2, Ronald Reagan 3.
If Trump acts before the election, he'll match Reagan's tally in half the time, with a mere fraction of his popular support and respect.
America has become a country where the minority rules. In 2018, Democrats won 22 of the 35 Senate elections, with candidates who got roughly 17 million more votes than the Republican candidates got. Yet the Senate is controlled by Republicans.
Trump is president because of the Electoral College. Joe Biden might have to win the popular vote by more than 5 million ballots to be sure of an Electoral College victory.
A Supreme Court with three Trump appointees could act on abortion, gay rights, voting rights, and affirmative action.

AR Rewrite the American Constitution.


Putin Russia

The New York Times

Alexei Navalny was poisoned with Novichok. Did President Vladimir Putin order or approve the attempted assassination?
Even if it was an operation ordered at low level, the attack on Navalny breaks new ground. Attacking two former Russian double agents, Sergei Skripal by nerve gas and Alexander Litvinenko by radiation, is hard to exceed in brazenness.
Navalny was not a former spy but a popular and visible political opponent of Putin. His exposés of official corruption were widely circulated, detailed, and credible. Those who tried to kill him were attempting to silence him.
Russia is a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and after Germany established that Navalny had been poisoned, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons stated that any poisoning of an individual through the use of a nerve agent is considered a use of chemical weapons.
President Trump has largely closed his eyes to Putin's serial transgressions.

AR Rewrite the Russian Constitution.


2020 Autumn Equinox

UN Assembly

Julian Borger

The 75th UN General Assembly will be a week of pre-recorded video messages from world leaders
that kicks off this morning with:
 Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil
 Donald Trump, USA
 Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey
 Xi Jinping, China
 Vladimir Putin, Russia

AR O joy (not)


UK Lockdown

Janice Turner

This weekend had a fin de siècle air. In the late summer glow, young folk in shorts drank pints on pavements, flirted and laughed. For the first time since March, I visited an art gallery, then sat outside eating food someone else had cooked. Bliss! I felt intoxicated by ordinary life.
The government should forget any measures that stop us going outdoors as much as we like. The pandemic revealed that some people will sit happily inside darkened rooms in front of flickering screens, but many of us had to get outside to look at trees, walk streets, and go for a run.
The next six months are crucial, say the scientists. Just one more push. But it sounds like placating a restless child on a long car journey. Nearly there! No, we're not. In fact, we may well be lost.

AR End of an era


OK Venus

Christoph Seidler

German aerospace company OHB has a plan for a trip to Venus: An Ariane or a SpaceX Falcon Heavy would launch a craft of mass 2 Mg that would orbit Venus at an altitude of around 50 km and release two aircraft into the atmosphere to fly autonomously for up to three months and collect data. The mission would cost around €500 million.

AR I it


2020 September 21

UK: Rule by Decree

The Times

Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, accuses Boris Johnson of treating the public like children and ruling by decree. Sir Graham is pushing for a debate and vote on coronavirus powers before they are extended. His amendment will cover the use of powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020 and the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.

AR Quite — the UK is supposed to be a parliamentary democracy.


Rage: Trump Unleashed

Peter Conrad

Donald Trump on Bob Woodward "I love this guy, even though he writes shit about me. That's OK."
"I bring rage out," Trump tells Woodward. Like every statement he makes, it was a boast. Much as he dotes on adulation, he is equally happy to be loathed, and he regales Woodward with video clips: "See the hate!" he says, weirdly elated.
Having tracked his antics all year, Woodward ends with a solemn reminder of the president's constitutional duty. Trump was alerted to the imminence of a deadly pandemic in January yet went on saying Covid-19 was a hoax concocted by the Democrats.
Trump allowed Woodward to record their interviews, so this is an oral history in which a self-obsessed but blithely unself-aware blabbermouth blows the whistle on himself.
"I'm comfortable," he says when questioned about the virus. "I'm comfortable. I'm comfortable." Later the contagion is wished away in an almost musical crescendo: "It's gonna go. It's gonna leave. It's gonna be gone. It's gonna be eradicated."
Trump's monologue is autocratic. "The ideas are mine, Bob," he insists. "The ideas are mine. Want to know something? Everything's mine. You know, everything is mine."
When Woodward asks about underprivileged Americans, Trump says: "I'm not feeling the love."

AR He seems not to be feeling the hate either.


2020 September 20


David Smith

Donald Trump was piqued that he did not take part in Bob Woodward's previous book, Fear, so was determined to give his version of events for Rage. But there are moments when he seems too eager.
Woodward recalls a "surreal time" starting last December, when Trump initiated seven phone calls, conjuring the image of a president rambling around the White House at night without much else to do: "I call him the night prowler. I think it's true. He doesn't drink. He has this kind of savage energy."
Woodward: "He allowed me to press him personally and I could do an interrogation of him that the House and the Senate could not do on impeachment. I let him have his say .. I learned an awful lot about his attitudes .. It's all there."
The book opens with a secret briefing on 28 January. National security adviser Robert O'Brien warns Trump: "This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency."
Trump told Woodward in February the coronavirus was "more deadly than even your strenuous flus" yet publicly minimized the risk: "I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."
Woodward: "It's a grotesque, sad, tragic failure .. The historians are going to put it all together as the lost month of February 2020."
Woodward reaches an unequivocal conclusion: "Trump is the wrong man for the job."
Woodward says Trump was elected to violate norms: "That's what the expectation was. We missed the pivot in history .. The old order before was dying and it was replaced by a new order."

Loser wins
Josh Glancy

The Donald Trump who emerges in Bob Woodward's book is a confidence man, always closing, always boasting, twisting, overstating.
Imagine a president hearing one thing from his health and security advisers, and then turning around and telling the American people the exact opposite.
His boosters say Trump wanted to avoid undue panic in a crisis. This defence ignores the vast middle ground between panicking and deceiving the people.
Millions of Americans failed to take the virus seriously enough, early enough. More masking, more distancing, more gravity in the public sphere would likely have saved lives.
Trump's former director of national intelligence Dan Coats: "It's just what he thinks. He doesn't know the difference between a truth and a lie."
Optimism in the face of all things is the secret. Total, unwavering self-belief no matter the facts is a powerful force. Trump wins even as he loses.

AR I'm reading Rage now — very enjoyable.



Mail on Sunday

Boris Johnson is a man with "misery etched on his face" as Covid and money troubles wear him down. He has lost 10 kg since April and is said to be missing his former wife Marina Wheeler despite his new relationship with Carrie Symonds.
Sir Humphry Wakefield, father-in-law of Dominic Cummings and a former colonialist, told a visitor to the family's ancient and historic Chillingham Castle in Northumberland that Johnson was hit so severely by Covid in the spring that he would quit his job next year.
A witness at a Commons meeting with Johnson last week: "He certainly wasn't as lively as you'd expect. Does that go back to the illness? Is it the weight of responsibility or is it maybe just a recognition that he's not always very well briefed on things?"
Johnson has money worries. His income has dropped from more than £350,000 a year as a backbench MP, including £275,000 from the Daily Telegraph, to just £150,000 as prime minister. He has to pay taxes and buy food. He is still providing for four of his children and paying for his divorce.
A person who knows both his former wife and his new mistress: "Carrie does genuinely love him and he loves her. But .. Marina was .. was instrumental in the organisation of his life from an intellectual standpoint."

AR A muddled life for a muddled man with muddled views on Brexit.


2020 September 19

UK Government vs Parliament

Financial Times

Boris Johnson has united a US presidential candidate, the European Commission president, five former UK prime ministers, and a former Conservative leader in condemnation of his threat to break international law.
A veteran Conservative MP: "It's driving me bonkers. We're in one hell of a mess."
Johnson may have to start listening to parliament. His promise to deliver a trade deal with the EU is a key test. Coronavirus is also a big test, where MPs attack him over the testing system and for failing to get a grip.
Tory MPs in the green shires are agitated by his aim to reform the planning system in England in order to build 300,000 homes a year. Other Conservatives are alarmed that the chancellor plans to introduce big tax rises for higher earners.
A party official: "Boris won the referendum and the election thanks to the Vote Leave cabal .. their deficiencies will undermine his whole government."

Brexiteer ignorance
Jonathan Freedland

Boris and the Brexiteers are eager to forget about Europe and focus on the Anglosphere.
They want a quick trade deal with Donald Trump, but they forget that deals take time and any agreement must be ratified by both houses of Congress.
Joe Biden takes pride in his Irish ancestry. The United States and Ireland have a special relationship. No US−UK trade deal can happen unless Dublin is happy.
Brexiteers dare not endanger the Good Friday agreement or split the UK. But any EU-UK border either divides the island of Ireland or falls in the Irish Sea.
Boris and the Brexiteers forgot that only EU membership solved the Irish problem.

AR Sack Bodger, reunite Ireland, and rejoin the EU.


Math and Particle Physics

Charlie Wood

QED, quantum electrodynamics, is a pillar of the standard model of particle physics, but it was glued together with a hack called renormalization.
Richard Feynman and others made the hack. When a QED calculation leads to an infinite sum, cut it short. Put the part that wants to become infinite into a coefficient in front of the sum. Replace that coefficient with a finite measurement from the lab. Then let the new sum go back to infinity.
Feynman: "It's what I'd call a dippy process."
In QED, the electron has two charges: an infinite theoretical charge and a finite measured charge. Quantum field effects cloak the electron, so we measure a small net charge.
We now say effective charge varies with distance. The more you zoom in, the more charge you see. Renormalization is like a zoom lens.
The Ising model is a grid of atomic arrows pointing up or down that predicts the behavior of magnets. At low temperatures, most atoms align, magnetizing the material. At high temperatures, they grow disordered and the lattice demagnetizes. The way things vary around a critical point looks identical in the Ising model, in real magnets of varying materials, and even in unrelated systems.
A block spin technique breaks a complex Ising grid into modest blocks with a few arrows per side. The average orientation of the arrows in a block is the value for the block. Repeating the process blurs away fine details.
Ken Wilson united these ideas in his renormalization group. The group justified QED and made a ladder between the scales of universal systems, like a theory of theories connecting big and small. It changed physics forever.
The renormalization group helps identify which big quantities to measure and which details to ignore. Feynman was right to renormalize QED because the theory works best over a certain size range. Renormalization zooms out from small scales.
Zooming in closer is a major goal of new physics.

AR I find this stuff important.


2020 September 18

Covid-19 in the UK

The Guardian

A second wave of Covid-19 in the UK seems to be coming. Official figures confirm a 75% increase in positive weekly cases across England last week. More than 11 million people in England will soon be subject to enhanced lockdown measures.
MPs say the UK coronavirus test and trace system is "barely functional" and demand is many times capacity.
NHS test-and-trace program head Dido Harding: "I strongly refute that the system is failing."
Fewer than 2% of people using a home test kit in England got their results within 24 hours in the week to 9 September. One third of results from in-person tests were turned around within 24 hours, down from two thirds the previous week.
Harding: "We made a conscious decision because of the large increase in demand to extend the turnaround time in order to process the number of tests in the last couple of weeks."
A contact tracer: "Some people are being told by test and trace that they need to self-isolate when their isolation period has been and gone."
Liberal Democrats health spokesperson Munira Wilson: "The testing system is in meltdown. People can't access tests, turnaround times are down, cases are rising. The government is at risk of losing control of the virus."

"Chaos and inefficiency"
The Times

A scientist who toured government labs processing coronavirus tests says he was appalled to find they were struggling to cope with demand. The labs use cumbersome techniques, are running out of staff, and have failed to set up automatic processes in preparation for a second wave.
Baroness Harding of Winscombe is responsible for the system. She says predictions by scientific advisers had not anticipated demand for tests.

AR Germany is #1 in a Covid-19 regional safety assessment of over 250 countries and regions by the
Deep Knowledge Group.


Hera Asteroid Mission

Stuart Clark

European Space Agency has awarded a €129 million contract to the German space company OHB for the design, manufacturing, and testing of Hera, the European contribution to a planetary defense mission called the asteroid impact and deflection assessment. The other component is the NASA double asteroid redirection test DART.
Both spacecraft are designed to visit the asteroid Didymos (780 m diameter) and its small moon Dimorphos (160 m). In September 2022, DART will crash at high speed into the moon Dimorphos to alter its orbit by a small amount.
Hera will launch in 2024 and arrive in 2026, running under an automated guidance, navigation, and control system developed by ESA. It will also deploy the miniature satellites Juventas and Asteroid Prospection Explorer.

AR Recall the movies Armageddon and Deep Impact.


Poole Harbour
⦿ HR
Sunset, Poole Harbour, Thursday

Auf Wiedersehen

SOTEU 2020

The New European
UK government "Rule of 6"
for social distancing makes
exception for hunting
parties — er, why?

A good reason to vote Labour


2020 September 17

EU−UK Trade Deal

Financial Times

European president Commission Ursula von der Leyen says the UK decision to pursue legislation overriding elements of the withdrawal agreement came as a "very unpleasant surprise" to the EU and it is down to London to restore trust and remove the question mark it puts over the treaty.
She says EU−UK talks should continue: "I am still convinced it can be done. It is better not to have this distraction questioning an existing international agreement that we have, but to focus on getting this deal done, this agreement done — and time is short."

Bodger Bill Still Breaks Law
BBC News

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has amended his Internal Market Bill to head off a backbencher rebellion.
Former Conservative leader Lord Howard: "The government is still asking parliament to break international law."
Sir Keir Starmer: "The latest fudge by way of amendments doesn't take the problem away, it just changes the problem."
Johnson believes the EU may not be negotiating with the UK in good faith in trade deal talks.

UK vs US
The Guardian

US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden: "Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period."
Former Conservative cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith: "We don't need lectures on the Northern Ireland peace deal from Mr Biden. If I were him, I'd worry more about the need for a peace deal in the US to stop the killing and rioting before lecturing other sovereign nations."

AR Trust Bodger to turn a divorce into a shitshow.


State of the Union

Ursula von der Leyen

A virus laid bare the strains on our health systems and the limits of a model that values wealth above wellbeing. It brought into sharper focus the planetary fragility that we see every day through melting glaciers and burning forests.
This is the moment for Europe to lead the way toward a new vitality. As individuals, we have all sacrificed a piece of our personal liberty for the safety of others. And as a Union, we all shared a part of our sovereignty for the common good. We showed what is possible when we trust each other and trust our European institutions.
This is our opportunity to make change happen by design, not by disaster or by diktat from others in the world. We have everything we need to make this happen. We have the vision, we have the plan, we have the investment.
[ ... ] We need new beginnings with old friends on both of sides of the Atlantic and on both sides of the Channel.
Negotiations with the UK have not progressed as we would have wished. The Withdrawal Agreement took three years to negotiate and we worked relentlessly on it. The result guarantees our citizens' rights, financial interests, the integrity of the Single Market, and the Good Friday Agreement. The agreement has been ratified by both parliaments and cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded, or disapplied. This a matter of law, trust, and good faith.
Europe will always be ready to build strong partnerships with our closest neighbours.

AR The UK should rejoin the EU.


Brexit Plan Breaks UK

Philip Stephens

Brexit has made Scottish independence inevitable.
Government legislation to create a new UK single market across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland shows contempt for the UK constitutional settlement. The Anglo-Scottish union of 1707 was a contingent agreement. Boris Johnson's claim that there is no border between the two nations shows ignorance.
Brexit can be the occasion for a new settlement between the four constituent parts of the union. Powers reclaimed from Brussels can be distributed to every corner of the UK. Johnson declares in public that he is a unionist, but privately he says Scotland spends money raised from English taxpayers on lavish welfare.
The legislation now before parliament to create a UK single market would tighten England’s grip over the rest of the UK. Decisions on norms, laws, and standards hitherto shared with Brussels will belong solely to Westminster. Powers held by the Scottish parliament and Northern Ireland and Welsh assemblies will be diluted.
Scotland is imprisoned by English Conservatives.

AR The UK is past its best-before date.


Planar Graph Algorithm


A new algorithm for determining when you can add edges to a graph so that it remains planar is exponentially faster than the previous algorithm from 1996.
Graphs are sets of nodes connected by edges. They can be used to represent everything from a social network to road systems to the electrical connections on a circuit board. If the graph is not planar, two roads or wires cross each other.
The 1996 algorithm runtime was proportional to the square root of the number of nodes in the graph. The new algorithm runtime is proportional to the cube of the logarithm of the number of nodes in the graph — an exponential improvement.
The same planar graph can be drawn in many ways. By showing that a flip that helps you add a new edge also makes the graph a better drawing, the new algorithm puts a backstop on the number of flips you may need to add an edge.
The new algorithm performs flips one at a time, searching for a solution. Either the algorithm finds a way to insert the desired edge, or the next flip undoes the previous flip, at which point you know you cannot add the edge.
Its runtime approaches the lower bound for this kind of problem. In real-world applications, graphs are usually simple enough to check by brute force.

AR Nice work!


2020 September 16

The Abraham Accords

The Times

President Trump heralded the "dawn of a new Middle East" yesterday: "We are here this afternoon to change the course of history .. The people of the Middle East will no longer allow hatred of Israel to be fomented as an excuse for radicalism or extremism. This is an incredible day for the world, this is a really wonderful and beautiful occasion."
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the accords "the greatest diplomatic triumph of our history" and told Trump: "You have a key to the hearts of the Jewish people."

AR Wait a few months to see how well it sticks.


Getting Brexit Done

Financial Times

The message "Get Brexit Done" helped return Boris Johnson as prime minister with a big majority last December.
Labour leader Keir Starmer now says Brexit cannot be reversed. He says the Conservatives are wrongly "reopening old wounds on Brexit" with their legislation to override parts of the divorce deal signed with the EU last year.
The bill increases the prospect of a no-deal exit at the end of the transition period on December 31, but Labour is pushing for the best possible trade deal with UK partners in the EU.
Sir Keir says the government should be focused on tackling the pandemic rather than Europe.

Brexit Shenanigans
Rafael Behr

Boris Johnson claims to have signed an international agreement by mistake. In his telling, the UK was bamboozled into a bad deal last year. He is either a fool or a crook.
He defends his bill on the grounds that Brussels threatens the "territorial integrity" of the UK. He conjures the prospect of a blockade, a depiction too twisted by mendacity to work even as a caricature of the facts.
Downing Street is concerned that UK businesses operating in Northern Ireland would be subject to Brussels regulations regarding industrial subsidy. The rules might "reach back" from Belfast to the rest of Britain.
Johnson sounds like a man resting a baseball bat against a shop window and telling the proprietor what a shame it would be if his premises were to come to any harm.

AR Give NI back to Ireland and rejoin the EU.


Toffs and Sex

Sophia Money-Coutts

Posh men are slightly scared of sex and learn early to treat it like a bloody good laugh. Ridiculing sex, making it less terrifying, is also why poshos love a slang word for it. When I worked at Tatler, we wrote pieces on the etiquette of the threesome, posh girls with whips, spanking, and telling dog toys from sex toys. Toffs often treat the act itself as a field sport, just like shooting. Both can be done outside. Both can be done in wellies. Both are often frightfully messy, but you clear up afterwards with a jolly hot bath.

AR For more nuance on sex, read Martin Amis.


Martin Amis
⦿ Elena Seibert
Martin Amis: "I was horrified that Trump got in .. This election is going to be a referendum on the American character."

Arch White
Edinburgh, Monday

Eugène Delacroix
Liberty leading the people

Venus rising
⦿ Christy Lee Rogers


I Am Greta

⦿ Brett Battles
Sun, from California

Protest, Saturday
Noon, Chequers


2020 September 15

Trump vs Science

Stephen Collinson

Donald Trump again ditched research and data on multiple fronts Monday with America under assault from concurrent crises.
His spinners are trying to cook the facts on the pandemic, which has claimed almost 200,000 Americans partly as a result. Trump continues to flout epidemiological guidelines by cramming people into indoor events that risked spreading Covid-19.
The president harbors bizarre theories on health, the environment, and other issues. He has turned away from science and expertise.
Trump visited California for a briefing on the fires that have consumed more than 3 million acres in a record year and have also ravaged other Western states. He said a failure to rake forest floors was responsible for creating tinderbox conditions.
Scientists say longer dry seasons and warmer weather are worsening forest fires. A local official told Trump it was time to take "our head out of the sand" by relying on the forest management excuse.
Trump: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch."
Official: "I wish science agreed with you."
Trump: "I don't think science knows, actually."

AR We don't think Trump knows.


The Coronavirus Pandemic

Bill Gates

I warned that we were not prepared for the next pandemic. Our foundation can help fund scientists, but we cannot solve all the world's health problems.
Diagnostics were very poorly orchestrated in the United States. We should never have paid for test results that took longer than 24 hours. We should ensure that tests are available in the poorer areas of a city and not just for wealthier patients. The US response is much worse than it should have been, and the political leadership is responsible for this.
If this presidential election goes one way, the US will stay in the WHO and continue to pay its contributions without interruption. If the choice goes the other way, I still hope to convince the government that the money for WHO is well spent, even by the selfish yardstick of America First.
Aside from the US government, our foundation is the largest investor in vaccines. We invest billions and billions of dollars in development.

AR Here's a man who understands science.


Ed Miliband Humiliates Boris Johnson

John Crace

The House of Commons debated the Brexit withdrawal bill last night. Former Labour leader Ed Miliband ripped into Boris Johnson and left him hopelessly exposed.
Johnson opened the debate in person. The EU wasn't negotiating in good faith. It was trying to blockade clotted cream being imported to Northern Ireland from Devon. No British parliament could possibly sign up to this.
Former attorney general Jeremy Wright challenged Boris on the ministerial code of breaking international law. Johnson said his attorney general had reckoned that the government could do anything Boris wanted it to. Wright just shook his head.
Miliband goaded the prime minister for his failure to understand Northern Ireland protocol and asked how he expected other countries to take us at our word if we broke international treaties. At first Boris merely rolled his eyes, willing Ed to disappear, but by the end there was nothing but cold fury in his stares.
Miliband delivered his arguments with the panache of a man who knew he had right on his side: "Come on, I know you're a details man. Show me the blockade. I will give way to you."
Boris remained almost immobile, the blood draining from his face, busted. He sneaked out of the chamber shortly after his evisceration, humiliated.

AR Thanks to mad UK rules, Boris still won the vote on his bill by 77 votes.


The Romantics and Us

Melanie Phillips

Sir Simon Schama says the preoccupations of our modern era, such as equality, sexual licence, or veneration of the natural world, go back to the Romantic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This was a revolt against convention and authority, elevating the rights of the individual and downplaying reason in favour of emotion and sensibility.
The Romantics belief the world could be remade through creativity and passionate emotion. Beauty was associated with generous behaviour, poetry with moral truth. The 1830 painting by Eugène Delacroix, Liberty leading the people, became the poster symbol of the 1968 student uprising in Paris.
Romantic idealism articulates feelings we all most deeply share. The imagination is a potent source of human sympathy, and Romanticism seems generous and inclusive. But often, the dreamers betray us all.
In the British Enlightenment, compassion was a social virtue. In France, the Enlightenment was not so benevolent. And the German Romantic movement developed both communism and fascism.
Schama is a Romantic. His new TV series is a source of enchantment. The heart soars, even though the head may shake in sorrow.

AR Typically, Phillips has soured this review with snide praise for Britain over the nasty continentals. The German Enlightenment — Hegel and all that — was glorious.


Alien Life in the Clouds of Venus?

New Scientist

Astronomers looking at Venus using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile see signs of phosphine gas in the Venusian clouds.
The only way phosphine is made on Earth is in laboratories or by microbes. The researchers tested a variety of ways to produce phosphine on Venus but failed to account for the observed quantity.
The surface of Venus is hellish (740 K, 90 bar), but conditions are temperate (300 K, 1 bar) at 50−60 km above ground level, where the phosphine was found.
The researchers say phosphine on Venus should persist for less than 30 Gs before it is destroyed, so something must be continually replenishing it for it to exist in the observed concentrations.
We would like to sample the atmosphere and chemically analyze it. A couple of balloons have been sent to Venus, but this is a tough engineering challenge.

AR I think Venus is more promising than Mars for life.


2020 September 14

UK Trade Deals

Financial Times

The new UK trade deal with Japan commits it to tougher restrictions on state aid than the ones it is currently offering the EU in the Brexit talks.
In the bilateral UK−Japan agreement announced in principle on Friday, London and Tokyo have agreed to replicate the restrictions on subsidies in the EU−Japan deal that went into effect last year.
The EU subsidy regime is the main sticking point in the EU-UK negotiations. The UK government faces a major contradiction.


Honour rests on keeping our word

Geoffrey Cox

When the Queen's minister gives his word, on her behalf, it should be axiomatic that he will keep it, even if the consequences are unpalatable. By doing so he pledges the faith, honour and credit of this nation and it diminishes the standing and reputation of Britain in the world if it should be seen to be otherwise.
No British minister should solemnly undertake to observe treaty obligations with his fingers crossed behind his back. The withdrawal agreement and its attendant Northern Ireland protocol represent treaty obligations of this country to which the government, in which I had the honour to serve as attorney general, gave its solemn and binding word. It is therefore obliged to accept all the ordinary and foreseeable consequences of the implementation of that agreement.
Those manifest consequences included the inevitable application of EU tariffs and customs procedures to certain goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain and of the EU's state aid regime to the province. There can be no doubt that these were the known, unpalatable but inescapable, implications of the agreement. They included a duty to interpret and execute both the agreement and the protocol in good faith.


Bodger and his gang of bovver boys

Andrew Rawnsley

Boris Johnson is ready to violate a treaty that he negotiated less than a year ago, made the centre of his election campaign last December, and then had the Commons rapidly ratify in January.
Margaret Thatcher would melt in horror that a government that calls itself Conservative is fighting for the right to use government subsidies to subvert the single market.
Dominic Cummings wants to direct government aid in support of tech ventures. He wants to splash taxpayers' money at any "moonshot" idea that launches off the top of his head.
A senior Tory: "The climate of fear in Whitehall that [Johnson and Cummings] have created means officials don't rush to warn them when they're about to make a mistake."

AR I hope the bill will be defeated today.


2020 September 13

Irresponsible, Wrong, and Dangerous

John Major, Tony Blair

Last October, the UK concluded an international treaty with the EU for the terms of Brexit.
Last week, with the Brexit negotiations in disarray, the UK government published a bill that it openly admits is a violation of that treaty.
The government says breaking international law is necessary to save the Good Friday agreement. We disagree. If parliament passes this bill, the UK will end up before the European Court of Justice.
This way of negotiating is irresponsible, wrong, and dangerous. This latest ruse has spectacularly misfired.

A lamentable summer
The Observer

Boris Johnson has made himself the target of excoriating criticism from two former prime ministers.
His government's internal market bill allows ministers to unilaterally overturn parts of the EU withdrawal agreement, in contravention of international law.
The EU has threatened legal action if the government does not alter the bill by the end of the month. The UK threat undermines trust and reduces the chance of an agreement.
The apparent intention was to lay the blame with the EU if no deal is reached. It seems there is no principle Johnson will not trample over if it suits his political agenda.
The government is threatening to rip up the Good Friday agreement. Any other government would have pursued a Brexit that kept the UK aligned with the single market and customs union. Johnson is willing to play petty politics instead.
The consequences will be felt too in our relationship with the United States. There are also broader repercussions for Britain's international standing.
Britain is on the cusp of a second pandemic wave, and we have a charlatan as our prime minister.

AR Bodger has ruined Britain.


The Roots of Populism

Matthew Goodwin

This is the age of populism. The populists may have had a terrible crisis, with their poll ratings crashing in most democracies, but their lingering presence reminds us of a deep reservoir of disillusionment and despair.
David Goodhart says our societies elevate highly educated cognitive elites (the Heads) above manual workers (the Hands) and people who care for their families and fellow citizens (the Hearts).
Goodhart previously identified a conflict over values between the Somewheres, who cherish their ascribed identities (faith, flag, family) and the Anywheres, who cherish their achieved identities (degree, career, success).
Given the AI and robot revolution, cognitive elites no longer have the world to themselves. Bespoke design jobs led by Hands and jobs that require emotional intelligence led by Hearts will boom in the years ahead.
Populist rebellions were driven by the Hands and Hearts. Britain has seen one of the strongest backlashes against Heads, although the irony is that voters have turned to renegade Heads to lead the revolt.
For the first time in the postwar era, Heads are having to make room for Hands and Hearts, who want to stay rooted in their communities and to enjoy an improved social status.

AR The AIR revolution magnifies the real power of the Heads, so much so that they can indulge the demands of Hands and Hearts.


2020 September 12

Calamity for Britain

Peter Oborne

Twenty years ago, Boris Johnson hired me as political correspondent at the Spectator magazine. He was a joy to work for, a fine editor, and a loyal colleague. He stood up for the rule of law, for the UK, for the international order, and for honest politics.
This week, prime minister Johnson has deliberately trashed Britain's reputation around the world. Never before has a cabinet minister stated in the Commons that he knew a course of action was unlawful, but that he was going ahead to do it anyway.
Here is my own attempt at reconciling the inspirational editor I worked for two decades ago with the dishonest lawbreaker in 10 Downing Street today.
Early last year, Johnson entered into a bargain with Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings. They would propel him to Downing Street, enabling him to realise his ambition to become prime minister. But Gove and Cummings are in power. This is their policy.
Johnson is scared. His government is a national disaster. He senses that history will damn him as one of Britain's worst prime ministers. The nation needs a sober leader at this grave and terrible time.

AR Dump Dom.


The Future Has Arrived

Peter Gleick

Too much of the western United States is on fire. The fires are earlier, bigger, and hotter than usual.
We are reaping the consequences of more than a century of using the atmosphere as a dumping ground for carbon dioxide. For more than half a century, scientists have been warning of the growing threat of climate change.
The future has arrived. What we see now, with massive wildfires, worsening storms, unprecedented heat, and record droughts and floods is just the beginning of the climate changes to come. On top of rising oceans, the accelerating destruction of the Arctic ice cap, expanding water crises, and new health disasters, these climate impacts are something no human society has ever experienced. We remain woefully unprepared.
The influence of climate change on wildfires is easy to see. Global warming is diminishing our mountain snowpack, leading to hotter and drier summers. Severe droughts over the past decade have killed hundreds of millions of trees in our forests, adding to the fuels available to burn. Higher temperatures further dry out forest and rangeland soils.
The wildfire signal of climate change is being seen around the world, in southern Europe, Canada, Australia, South America, and Africa. Other climate-change impacts are accelerating too, in the form of storms, melting glaciers, rising seas, and more.
It is time for our politicians to lead or get out of the way. There is no time to waste.

AR America: First ratify the Paris accord.


2020 September 11

EU Warns UK

Financial Times

EU officials told the UK on Thursday to immediately scrap its plans to override the Brexit treaty or face legal action.
The European Commission gave the UK government a deadline of the end of September to withdraw its planned internal market bill, warning that it threatened the Good Friday Agreement and "seriously damaged trust" between the EU and the UK.
EU diplomats say they have no intention of immediately shutting down the trade talks, as this would fall into a trap set by the UK. A diplomat: "If the UK wants a no-deal, it should just say so. We are working calmly and patiently towards a deal."
Former Tory party leader Michael Howard joined former prime ministers John Major and Theresa May in accusing the government of tarnishing Britain's international reputation.
EU options include hauling the UK before the European Court of Justice or launching an arbitration process.

AR EU right, UK wrong.


Universal Emptiness

Charlie Wood

The modern universe looks too dilute.
On its way to Earth, light from a distant galaxy passes lumps of dark matter and clouds of gas. These bend the light gravitationally and kink the path of light reaching us. We can map statistical distortions in the shapes of huge numbers of distant galaxies across the sky.
The Kilo-Degree Survey (KiDS) observed millions of galaxies up to 100 Ym away. Calculated average distributions of hidden gas and dark matter showed clumps almost 10% thinner than the ΛCDM forecast. Multiple surveys using different techniques find similar results.
We need more data.

AR As always!


Milky Way
⦿ Lilia Alexander
Milky Way over Mount Taranaki, New Zealand




John Cameron Mitchell
New American Dream



2020 September 10

Trump Misled America

David Smith

Bob Woodward conducted 18 interviews with Donald Trump between December 2019 and July 2020 to write his new book Rage.
On January 28, US national security adviser Robert O'Brien warned Trump that Covid-19 would be the biggest national security threat of his presidency.
On February 7, Trump told Woodward: "It goes through the air. That's always tougher than the touch. You don't have to touch things .. you just breathe the air and that's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one .. This is deadly stuff."
On March 19, Trump told Woodward: "I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."
On April 3, Trump said at the White House: "I said it's going away and it is going away."
On April 5, he told Woodward: "It's a horrible thing. It's unbelievable."
In May, Woodward asked Trump if he remembered O'Brien's warning in January. He replied: "No, I don't, I'm sure if he said it — you know, I'm sure he said it. Nice guy."
In July, Trump told Woodward: "The virus has nothing to do with me. It's not my fault. It's .. China let the damn virus out."
Trump dismisses the book as "just another political hit job" and adds: "We wanna show confidence, we wanna show strength as a nation, and that's what I've done. And we've done very well from any standard."
America has the highest Covid caseload (6.35 million infections) and highest death toll (over 190,000) in the world. It also has one of the highest fatality rates per 100,000 population, at 58.

AR Damning


The Nuclear Threat

Jessica T. Mathews

In the early 1960s, USAF Strategic Air Command was asked how many Russians, Chinese, and Eastern Europeans would die from its nuclear war plan. The answer was 275 million, just from the blasts.
The United States and the Soviet Union each accumulated more than 30,000 nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Since then, the deployed US and Russian nuclear arsenals have been cut by nearly 90%, but we are not safer today.
China is now aggressively modernizing and enlarging its small nuclear arsenal. Russia and the United States are modernizing their arsenals with entire menus of new weapons. And there is deep and growing distrust among the great powers.
There are no metrics to measure what makes a deterrent credible. For the case that deterrence fails, making weapons and plans for every situation may be misunderstood as preparing an attack. Reasons to think that planning for limited nuclear war is fantasy emerge from any study of history, of how humans act under pressure, or of government.
At a disastrous briefing for Donald Trump in the summer of 2017 in the Pentagon, he was shown a chart illustrating US and Russian success in cutting their arsenals from more than 30,000 warheads to about 6,000 each. Why aren't we building back up to 30,000, Trump demanded in a tantrum. Modernizing the entire strategic nuclear force is now his top priority. The estimated price tag over the coming 25 years is $1.7 trillion.
The Trump administration has announced it will withdraw from the INF Treaty. The only remaining limit on strategic arms is New START, which expires in early 2021 unless extended by mutual agreement. The treaty limits each side to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 launchers.
Trump seems eager for a new arms race. US arms control negotiator Marshall Billingslea: "We know how to win these races, and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion."

AR Madness


2020 September 9

European Reshoring

Franck Riester

A Brexit deal remains unattainable so long as the UK remains unwilling to be bound by rules that would ensure a level playing field in trade with the EU.
We in France will try to stay calm and serene but firmly behind the line of the EU27. A compromise can come into play, but it is unattainable until the UK moves on the essential matter, which is the ability to ensure that trade is fair.
Europe needs to ensure respect for a certain number of principles such as reciprocity, the fight against global warming, mobilising for biodiversity, and so on. I think the coronavirus crisis has accelerated the awareness in public opinion and among different leaders.
Reshoring production of certain items is not about making everything in Europe or saying we will never again import raw materials, products, or services. It's about ensuring that we are self-sufficient in certain sectors or for certain products that seem essential.
The EU needs to look at those strategic sectors in which we should have some sort of autonomy in Europe. Globalization must not be detrimental to certain common goods: biodiversity, climate, child protection, the things essential to the world we live in.
We are reshoring and fighting for European sovereignty. But we want to keep the spirit of winning and expanding internationally.

AR Vive l'Europe!


British Brain Drain

Ulf Schmidt

After more than 25 years in the UK, I am leaving to take up a professorship at Hamburg University in Germany. England no longer feels like home.
England seems characterized by an impassioned anti-intellectualism that seeks simple answers and negates context and complexity. Politicians and university leaders need to see that commodification and commercialization of knowledge is fundamentally flawed.
Young people are told they are "consumers" in a shop where they can choose what and when to learn. They can expect a "service" and can take their university to court if their course did not "deliver" promised results. This is no longer a viable, decent learning environment.
Britain's cherished higher education sector, once the envy of the world, is on the brink of collapse. The sector is bankrupt, not just financially, but morally.

AR Sehe ich auch so.


Neuromorphic Computing

Danijela Marković et al.

Neuromorphic computing takes inspiration from the brain to create energy-efficient hardware for sophisticated information processing. Systems built with standard electronics achieve gains in speed and energy by mimicking the distributed topology of the brain. Scaling up such systems and improving their energy usage, speed, and performance by several orders of magnitude requires a revolution in hardware.
Including more physics in the algorithms and using nanoscale materials for data processing could have a major impact in neuromorphic computing. Results that leverage physics to enhance the computing capabilities of artificial neural networks include using resistive switching materials, photonics, and spintronics. These approaches could lead to low-power, miniaturized chips that infer and learn in real time.

AR Bio-inspired Computing (deutsche Fassung)


2020 September 8

Outlaw Government

BBC News, 1547 UTC

UK government Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis told the Commons: "Yes, this does break international law in a very specific and limited way. We're taking the powers to disapply the EU law."

"A new ace up Britain's sleeve"
Marina Hyde

This is yet another crunch week in the Brexit we apparently got done eight months ago. But the government is now affecting not to understand the Brexit deal it has already signed and will seek to override it.
According to the Daily Telegraph, "Brexit deal never made sense," said the prime minister who negotiated it, then made his "oven-ready" Brexit deal the centrepiece of his election campaign.
UK Brexit negotiator David Frost cites his inspiration as Charles de Gaulle: "[He] always behaved as if his country was a great country even when it seemed to have fallen very low, and thus made it become a great country yet again."
But Britain is not behaving like a great power, despite the Daily Express describing some nonsense wheeze as a "new ace up Britain's sleeve" — a metaphor that simply confirms the UK is a country that cheats at cards.
The best you could say is that Britain is behaving like Donald Trump. Lying, reneging, then lying about the lies you told leave people believing there are no objective facts and all news is fake.

AR Must we break the law to oust this rotten regime?


British Brexit Brinkmanship

Financial Times

Boris Johnson's government plans to publish a bill to nullify the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement already signed with the EU that Brexiteers say stops the UK reclaiming its sovereignty. But even as a mere tactic to break the deadlock in talks, the thinking here is flawed.
The gambit suggests that bluster and bluff lay behind signing the withdrawal agreement last year. The hardball tactics may be aimed at providing cover for later backroom concessions by the government. Yet every hint from a London official that compliance with UK commitments to the EU is optional has only increased resolve in Brussels to make them legally binding.
Brandishing the nuclear option of failing to comply fully with the withdrawal deal risks triggering the collapse of the talks. While the government may feel the economic damage of a no-deal Brexit is easier to hide in the midst of a global pandemic, the harm to the UK will not be lessened. A sudden rupture with its biggest trading partner during its deepest recession for decades would magnify the harm of coronavirus.
One thing worse than a no-deal Brexit would be one where Britain also calls into question its readiness to abide by treaties. Johnson is playing with fire.

AR Get Bodger and his mistress and his Dom out of No 10.


2020 September 7

The Tyrant Clown

Robert McCrum

My long affair with America, as an idea as much as a reality, began in the bicentennial year, 1976. Today, I lament the end of a long love affair.
I first felt it when, visiting New York in 2017, I attended a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in Central Park. From the moment a strawberry blond Caesar in a MAGA baseball cap bounded on stage in a white shirt and a long red tie, this was a polemic on the leadership of an orange monster, half-clown, half-tyrant.
Like many US admirers, I've argued that America is not broken. But my admiration for the United States choked and died this year, bludgeoned by the racism, cruelty, corruption, and outright stupidity of the current administration.
Part of America's appeal, as a democratic experiment, is its Anglo-Saxon pragmatism, its willingness always to frame its radicalism as provisional, a work in progress. Such drive is exhilarating. Its audacity remains the age of reason's best assertion of human ambition.
The American ferment of ideas is noisy, messy, and occasionally violent. The tree of liberty was watered by the blood of patriots. But America's fundamental humanity was an inspiration.
Now it feels as if the well of US independence has been poisoned. Where language once provided a narrative line, now we find hate-filled presidential tweets. Ideas used to be a basis for community, now they only sponsor a raucous shouting match.
For the whole world, this is a democratic emergency. America was always a shining ideal, a society engaged in moral choices about improving the way people live. Today, that light has gone out.
We, once faithful supporters, have lost our appetite for the American ideal. When we contemplate the imminent battle, we feel dismay.

AR Sad, but the truth will out.


Germany Does Things Better

John Kampfner

In January 2021, Germany will be 150 years old. The country has developed a maturity that few others can match, and it has done so the hard way.
Coronavirus provided the ultimate test of leadership. Angela Merkel rose to the challenge. She told Germans in precise detail the sacrifices they would have to make and the emergency laws her government would have to impose. She never boasted.
Britain provided a case study of how not to deal with a crisis. The bombast of Boris Johnson was in inverse proportion to his government's competence. With a mixture of libertarianism and English exceptionalism, the prime minister declared that Britain would get through it.
The UK has had the highest death toll in Europe. This tragedy followed Brexit. Germans watched in horror as a country they admired for its pragmatism fell into pseudo-Churchillian self-delusion.
The beautiful border city of Aachen tells the German and European story in microcosm. This was the front line where the Germans sent troops into Flanders in 1914 and where American tanks crossed the Siegfried Line in 1944. Under Allied control, the city became a test bed for postwar democratic reconstruction.
Aachen is the centre of Europe, the cradle of Western European culture. It is synonymous with Charlemagne, who brought most of Europe under his wing. In 1806, when Napoleon invaded the city, he declared: "Je suis Charlemagne."
The city made its first annual Charlemagne award in 1950. Among the Charlemagne laureates are Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill, Robert Schuman, Edward Heath, Roy Jenkins, Tony Blair, Jean-Claude Juncker, Angela Merkel, Donald Tusk, and Emmanuel Macron.
Germany is a bulwark for decency and stability, the standard bearer for liberal democracy.

AR Defend it, support it.

AR Explaining the tail-enders: Switzerland is a haven for tax exiles who want to launder their loot in secrecy,
Norway has oil revenues it wants to keep out of the hands of EU big spenders, and the UK has been hijacked
by a cabal of disaster capitalists who aim to skim blood money from Brexit into their offshore accounts.



Kim Darroch
Donald Trump tweet:
"The wacky ambassador that
the UK foisted on the United
States is not someone we are
thrilled with, a very stupid
guy .. We will no longer
deal with him."
Sir Kim resigned when
Boris Johnson failed
to back him.

Emily Riehl
Emily Riehl

We are EU

God VIII = Globorg
God IX = Gaia



2020 September 6

Trump Tattle

The Sunday Times

Donald Trump says he has not seen proof that Alexei Navalny, the Russian activist in a German hospital, was poisoned. He says what happened was "tragic" but urges the media to focus on China.
The Atlantic claims that in 2018 Trump refused to visit a US cemetery in France because he thought the rain would upset his hair: "Why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers."
Trump denies the allegations: "If people really exist that would have said that, they're low-lifes and they're liars."
A Fox News reporter says Trump said anyone who served in the Vietnam War was a "sucker" and asked: "What's in it for them? They don't make any money."

AR I judge not, lest I too be judged.


Brexit: "We won't blink"

Lord Frost

We want to be able to control our own laws and do things our way.
We are not going to be a client state. We are not going to compromise on the fundamentals of having control over our own laws. We are not going to accept level playing field provisions that lock us in to the way the EU do things. We are not going to accept provisions that give them control over our money or the way we can organise things here in the UK.
That's what being an independent country is about, that's what the British people voted for, and that's what will happen at the end of the year, come what may.
What we want is the restoration of our own sovereignty and freedom as a country. This happens whether the EU likes it or not at the end of the year.
We are not going to agree to any arrangement that leaves the EU with some say over what we do with our money. We're not going to accept that sort of control because that wasn't what Brexit was about.
We want to get back the powers to control our borders. If we can reach an agreement that regulates trade like Canada's, great. If we can't, it will be an Australian-like trading agreement. We are fully ready for that.

UK chief Brexit negotiator David Frost studied medieval European history at Oxford: "My view is that medieval history is just as relevant to making decisions as more recent history."

AR Bring on the siege engines: Starve the Brexiteers into submission.


The Brexit Election

David Graeber

The 2019 general election in the UK was a victory for older voters. Swing voters broke right, not left.
In the Labour party, Blairites had defined the pragmatic center of British politics, where the UK economy would continue to be driven by finance, construction, and real estate. The result was that almost everyone spent more time filling out forms. The UK is now home to almost half a million accountants and lawyers.
Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Labour leader to turn the party back into a social movement. Young people began to join Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) to move to grassroots democracy. For them, the real issues were austerity, wages, health, education, and public services.
For most in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), these developments caused alarm. They found themselves so out of step with their CLPs that they saw any effort to democratize the internal workings of the party as a threat.
Ever since the economic crash of 2008, the left had tried to make villains of the bankers. Yet this approach gained little traction. The right instead tried to make villains of the bureaucrats.
Around the globe, developed economies have seen a huge growth (1) of clerical, administrative, and supervisory work, and (2) of care work: medical, educational, maintenance, social care, and so on. Productivity in the caring sector has decreased, largely due to the growing number of administrators. This decline has squeezed wages.
A global revolt of the caring classes benefited not the left but the right. Formerly leftist parties from the United States to Japan had rebranded themselves to represent the new middle classes. They learned to see society, democracy, and rule of law less as a web of human relationships than as a set of rules and institutional procedures.
For most caregivers, administrators are the enemy. If you are a nurse, they are your real class antagonist. The managers not only get big salaries but also hire useless flunkies who then create endless reams of new paperwork.
Labour incorporates both the teachers and the school administrators, both the nurses and their managers. The party finds it hard to speak for the revolt of the caring classes.
The new populists present themselves as the precise opposite of the infuriating administrator whose rules, meetings, paperwork, and seminars make it impossible for you to do your job. Brexit politics pushed Labour into defending administrators.
The Leave campaign took aim at immigration and at distant and uncaring Brussels bureaucrats. Leavers argued that Remainers in Whitehall were using every sort of procedural trick in the book to thwart the popular will.
The UK rejected centrism. It now has a hard-right government with no idea how to translate Brexit into economic prosperity. Boris Johnson may be remembered as one of the most disastrous prime ministers in British history.

AR Managers versus carers: Populists have swallowed a neo-Marxist narrative.


2020 September 5

The Trump Malignancy

Jonathan Freedland

Donald Trump reportedly described US troops who died for their country as "losers" and "suckers" and demanded that a military parade exclude wounded veterans.
Close to 200,000 Americans are dead thanks to a pandemic that Trump refused to admit was happening. The US economy lies in tatters, racked by mass unemployment.
This week, Trump urged his supporters to vote early by mail-in ballot and then turn up in person on election day to vote again. He was urging them to break the law.
Earlier, Trump said postal voting was bound to lead to "the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT election in history" and suggested delaying the election.
Trump has installed a head of the US Postal Service who is gutting its ability to process mail-in ballots in time. And he's starving the service of cash.
Trump: "If they don't get those two items, that means you can't have universal mail-in voting because they're not equipped to have it."
The choice in the November 3 election is between democracy and autocracy.

AR QAnon: Where We Go One We Go All


Red Pill

Michael Gorra

The narrator of Hari Kunzru's sixth novel is a Brooklyn academic who has a nameless dread that "something profoundly but subtly wrong" is about to happen in the world. He is offered a fellowship at a Berlin think tank.
The think tank is on the Wannsee and looks across the water to the villa where the Nazis planned the Holocaust. The narrator quickly begins to see the study center as oppressive. When he makes a stand, he is ordered to leave immediately.
Just before leaving Berlin, the narrator meets Anton, who says those who can't take the truth about human life are squeamish. The narrator later stalks Anton on the web, into a territory of alt-right message boards and conspiracy theorists.
Kunzru is a shrewd observer of recent politics, as when the narrator lets one of the villa's cleaning staff, a former East German punk rocker, describe her experience of Stasi persecution.
Red Pill ends in November 2016.

AR I think I'll hold fire on this one.


Oxford #1

The Guardian

Oxford alumni dominate the cabinet, sit at the head of boardrooms, preside over courtrooms, and run newspapers. The university's success in placing its graduates in jobs has seen it unseat Cambridge in the Guardian University Guide for the first time since 2011.
Oxford vice-chancellor Louise Richardson: "It isn't just the outdated image of an ivory tower. This is an institution that is deeply engaged in the world. There is a real entrepreneurial culture here."

The Best Universities 2021
1  Oxford University
2  University of St Andrews
3  Cambridge University
4  Durham University
5  London School of Economics

AR With 3 degrees from Oxford and 1 from LSE, I'm cheered.


2020 September 4

Higher Category Theory

Emily Riehl

Editorial Introduction
In 1945, Samuel Eilenberg and Saunders Mac Lane proposed that mathematics needed to replace the notion of equality with the deeper idea of equivalence. They developed new mathematical structures that captured the many ways two things might be equivalent.
In higher category theory, mathematicians also think about equivalences between equivalences, and equivalences between equivalences between equivalences, and so on upward in an infinity category.
Emily Riehl and Dominic Verity are nearly finished writing a book on the foundations of infinity categories in mathematics.

ER When I was an undergraduate, I was really attracted to abstract algebra. I found the proofs really satisfying. I had the sense that the abstract things are somehow clearer to me than the more concrete things, because I was just more confident that I was understanding them correctly. Category theory is like that to the nth degree.
Over time, mathematicians have developed an increasingly flexible view of what it means for two objects to be the same. Two objects in a higher category should be considered the same when they are equivalent, which means seen as the same by all other objects in the higher category.
This book describes results from papers I've written together with Dominic Verity starting in 2012. We've been developing a new approach to the foundations of infinity category theory. Those foundations were developed by André Joyal and independently by Jacob Lurie.
Dom and I feel like our perspective is mature enough to rewrite the theorems in a more accessible form directed at somebody who's learning this stuff for the first time. We're trying to give a user-friendly rewrite of Lurie. The theorems are the same, but I think the new proofs are better.

AR I found Lurie's work too daunting. Perhaps Riehl and Verity can help me out.


2020 September 3

IIEA Keynote Address

Michel Barnier

We are now less than four months away from 1 January 2021. This is the date chosen by the UK for its economic and commercial Brexit, after the political Brexit in January 2020.
We have three major tasks for this year:
1 Negotiating our future partnership
I am worried and disappointed by the UK's lack of engagement on three points:
1.1 Since the start of these negotiations, the UK has refused to engage on credible guarantees for open and fair competition. A level playing field is the only way to start a new relationship between the EU and the UK on a firm and sustainable footing.
1.2 The UK has not shown any willingness to seek compromises on fisheries. The UK would lock out the fishermen of many countries from waters they fished in long before 1973. That is not acceptable. Without a solution on fisheries, there will be no new economic partnership with the UK.
1.3 The UK has been extremely reluctant to include any meaningful dispute settlement mechanisms in our future agreement.
On all these issues, we are simply asking to translate the political engagements taken in the Political Declaration into a legal text. Yet, on all these issues, the UK side continues to disappoint.
2 Implementing the Withdrawal Agreement
Before the end of the year, we need to ensure the full and effective implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. This is the only way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and preserve the all-island economy, it is the only way to preserve the integrity of the Single Market and all its guarantees, and it is a precondition for the EU and the UK to be able to forge a meaningful partnership built on trust.
3 Getting ready for changes at the end of the transition
On 1 January 2021, the UK will leave the Single Market, the Customs Union, all EU policies, and all of our international agreements. No trade agreement can change this.

AR This is tragic. Damn Bodger.


Bodger Flubs Again

John Crace

Boris Johnson is failing at being prime minister. In this week's Prime Minister's Questions session, Sir Keir Starmer asked a straight question on the exam chaos, but Boris resorted to bullshit and bluster in reply. Starmer is the one who looks fit to run the country.

PMQs 2020-09-02

KS: Let me start today with the exam fiasco .. We learned yesterday that the education secretary knew well in advance that there was a problem with the algorithm .. When did the [PM] first know that there was a problem with the algorithm?
BJ As a result of what we learned about the tests .. we did act.
KS Let me ask again: when did the [PM] first know that there would be a problem with the algorithm?
BJ Ofqual made it absolutely clear .. All summer long, he has been going around undermining confidence and spreading doubts .. the parents, pupils, and teachers in this country are .. going back to school in record numbers, in spite of all the gloom and dubitation that he tried to spread.
KS The [PM] is just .. playing games .. fooling nobody. Even his own MPs have run out of patience .. [One] of his MPs .. said: "It's mess after mess, U-turn after U-turn .. It's a fundamental issue of competence, God knows what is going on. There's no grip." His own MPs are right, aren't they?
BJ This is a leader of the opposition who backed remaining in the EU and now is totally silent on the subject. Now he has performed a U-turn .. This is a leader of the opposition who supported an IRA-condoning politician who wanted to get out of NATO and now says absolutely nothing about it.
KS  I worked in Northern Ireland for five years with the police service of Northern Ireland, bringing peace .. I ask the [PM] to have the decency to withdraw that comment .. [T]he next major decision for the [PM] is on the furlough scheme .. will he act now?
BJ We are .. getting our pupils back to school .. and we are getting people back to work. What he wants to do is extend the furlough scheme .. we would rather .. get people into work.
KS I asked him to do the decent thing but doing the decent thing and this [PM] don't go together. This has been a wasted summer. The government .. have lurched from crisis to crisis, U-turn to U-turn .. [with] 12 U-turns and rising, the only conclusion is serial incompetence.

Provocatively poor
Henry Deedes

Boris Johnson was provocatively poor in the first PMQs of the new term. He hadn't done his holiday reading or even prepared any new gags.

AR Bodger: Roll back Brexit and resign.


2020 September 2

Dodecahedron News

Erica Klarreich

A trio of mathematicians has resolved a basic question about the dodecahedron: Suppose you stand at one of the corners of a Platonic solid. Is there a straight path you can take to return you to your starting point without passing through another corner?
For the cube, tetrahedron, octahedron, and icosahedron, the answer is no. For the dodecahedron, Jayadev Athreya, David Aulicino, and Patrick Hooper have shown there is an infinite number of such paths. Their solution required modern techniques and computer algorithms.
To understand straight paths on a Platonic solid, start by cutting open enough edges to make the solid lie flat, forming a net.
Flatten out the dodecahedron, walk along this flat shape, hit the edge of the net, hop to a different pentagon, and rotate by some multiple of π/5.
Alternatively, when we hit an edge of the net, glue on a rotated copy of the net, continue straight on, and add a new net whenever we reach the edge of our world.
When we have traveled through 10 nets, the next net we add has the same orientation as the first, related to it by a translation. We can glue the edge of the 10th net to the corresponding parallel edge in the original net. Gluing all such corresponding edges gives us a translation surface.
The translation surface is a representation of the dodecahedron with 10 copies of each pentagon and shaped like a torus with 81 holes. It also represents a double pentagon made by attaching 2 pentagons along a single edge and then gluing together parallel sides to create a torus with 2 holes and a rich collection of symmetries.
The trio used the symmetries to classify all the straight closed paths through a corner on a dodecahedron.

AR Wow — we can still say something new about the dodecahedron.


2020 September 1

A Global Hit

Tom Whipple

Several billion tons of plasma, thrown off by the Sun, whizzed past Earth in September 1859. The Carrington Event is now referenced on national risk registers. In 2015, the risk of solar storms was considered by the UK government committee SAGE.
University College London professor of disasters and health Ilan Kelman: "The possible consequences are immense. Anything which is not shielded, anything which cannot deal with sudden current fluctuations, could be damaged and potentially put out of service .. There could be trillions of pounds of immediate damage."
Solar storms happen regularly. Humans survive them just fine, but our electronic infrastructure is in jeopardy. Small solar storms have knocked out major grid transformers.
When the Sun blasts out a great glob of magnetic plasma, it does so asymmetrically. Coronal mass ejections spring out from the rotating Sun on a fixed trajectory. In 1859, a glob hit us square on. In 2012, we watched a similar eruption whizz past harmlessly.
First to arrive are the X-rays. They reach us in 8 minutes and interrupt HF communications. An hour later come the charged particles. They leave a trail of destruction among orbiting satellites and produce auroras in the upper atmosphere. Days later, the coronal mass ejection arrives.
Professor Kelman: "What are we going to be doing in that time? If we suddenly had three days' notice that all of the information and communication technologies are going to go down — that credit cards, debit cards, ATM machines, mobile phones are going to go down, what happens?"
Heads, the magnetic field of the plasma is oriented in the same direction as the Earth's and passes harmlessly by. Tails, it's not. Then the coronal mass ejection will hit and cause a catastrophic surge in power grids worldwide. The UK National Grid has a plan to reboot after a failure. The US grid is more vulnerable.

AR This is not the Sunfall scenario, but it's related.


Brain Implants

Moises Velasquez-Manoff

We are at the dawn of a new era where people control intelligent machines merely by thinking.
We can already use machine learning to read what a subject is viewing. A team showed volunteers in fMRI machines movie clips. By matching brain activation and images, an AI built a model of how the visual cortex worked. As the volunteers were shown movie clips, the model visualized what it thought they might be looking at. The patterns of brain activity were translated into moving images.
Advances in technology at the interface of flesh and machine are important, but the AI matters more. Trying to understand the brain from outside the skull is hard. A thinking cap needs to know what's happening in the nearly 100 billion neurons in the brain.
Implanted sensor arrays can let paralyzed patients move robotic arms or cursors on a screen just by thinking. The next step is to let them move a paralyzed arm or hand and regain sensation. A man paralyzed from the chest down had sensory information from a robotic arm into the part of his cortex for his hand and learned to feel a robotic hand as his own.
Neuralink is a brain-sensing tech that requires surgery, but it's thin, flexible, and can adjust to the hilly topography of the brain. It has hairlike filaments that sink into brain tissue. Each filament contains multiple sensors, allowing the capture of more data than flatter arrays on the brain surface. It can both read and write to the brain, and a robot assists with the implantation.
Nanotech sensors may be small enough to avoid an immune reaction. Neural dust could be powered by beams of microwaves or ultrasound from outside the skull. Smartphones could process data from chips and sensors around the body. Glasses and earbuds could give us a web interface.
One technology that can read and write to the brain uses genetic engineering. First, mice are infected with a virus that inserts two genes into their neurons. One prompts the cells to produce a protein that make them sensitive to infrared light; the other makes the neurons emit light when they activate. When the neurons fire, we see them light up and activate them with an infrared laser. We can both read the mouse brain and write to it and manipulate the mouse like a puppet.
Such brain technologies are fast approaching. We need to be prepared for them.

AR I predicted this in 2010.


Automating Math

Stephen Ornes

Set theorist Paul Cohen once predicted that all of mathematics could be automated. Computers are useful for big calculations, but proofs often require complicated creative thinking. Can a system generate an interesting conjecture and prove it in a way that people understand?
Fields medalist Timothy Gowers sees theorem provers replacing human referees at major journals. They offer a way to keep the field honest by checking proofs. They can also be useful teaching tools in computer science and mathematics.
A group at Google Research sees the challenge of automating proofs as a subset of natural language processing. The group wants to capitalize on recent advances in language recognition to use neural networks to generate new proofs. The neural net could learn to understand what a proof looks like.
No one knows whether these efforts will fulfill Cohen's prophecy. Gowers predicts mathematicians will enjoy a kind of golden age, when mathematicians do all the fun parts and computers do all the boring parts: "But I think it will last a very short time."

AR I predicted this in 1989.


⦿ William Abranowicz/Architectural Digest
Kendall Jenner finds refuge in a serene Los Angeles home bathed in warm tones and organic textures.

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