AR   2019-05-22
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⦿ Dorset for Europe
Proportional Voting for the European Parliament
England, Scotland and Wales: Illustrative Example
Step 1
Imagine 5 parties contesting 5 seats in a region. If the Brexit party has the most votes,
the first MEP seat goes to the candidate at the top of the Brexit party list (see table).
Step 2
The number of votes for the Brexit party is divided by 2 (its number of seats + 1).
The Lib Dem party now has the most votes, so the second seat goes to the top Lib Dem candidate.
Step 3
The number of Lib Dem votes is divided by 2 (= 1 + 1), so the third seat goes to the Brexit party,
which now has 50 votes, the highest number. The seat goes to the second person on the party list.
Step 4
The original number of votes for the Brexit party is divided by 3 (= 2 + 1).
Lib Dems and the Greens both have 40 votes and win the fourth and fifth seats.
One seat goes to the second Lib Dem candidate and one to the top name on the Green list.
The table:

Lib Dem

Votes step 1

Votes step 2
100/2 = 50

Votes step 3
80/2 = 40

Votes step 4
100/3 = 33


UK Seats in the European Parliament
The UK is divided into 12 electoral regions: 9 in England, 1 each for Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
The contesting parties each submit a list of candidates to voters in each region. In all there are 73 UK MEPs.
The SW Region of England (including BCP and Gibraltar) elects 6 MEPs.

Poll Data (Best for Britain, May 19, sample size 9,260)
National Vote Share
Brexit 34%, Lib Dem 17%, Labour 15%, Conservative 11%, Change UK 9%, Green 4%, other 10%
SW Region Vote Share
Brexit 42%, Lib Dem 20%, Green 12%, Conservative 9%, Labour 8%, Change UK 4%, other 5%

SW Region: Tactical voting to stop Brexit
If 1.5 million people vote (30% turnout), projected results are (in thousands, rounded)

Lib Dem

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5

Step 6


In this case, Lib Dems only need 20k more votes to change the result to: Brexit 3, Lib Dem 2, Green 1
Tactical advice: Vote Lib Dem

Ditch Brexit

Click for printable A4 page

Timothy Snyder
Timothy Snyder
Judenplatz, Vienna
May 9, 2019

Quantum Computing
for Everyone

By Chris Bernardt

My Amazon review

Duncan Laurence
⦿ Ronen Zvulun
Duncan Laurence sings
Arcade (3:44)

Boris Johnson

A Horror Story

Among the Dead Cities
By A.C. Grayling

My Amazon review

Weimar flag

The Essence and
Value of Democracy

German Historical
Museum, Berlin
2019-04-04 — 2019-09-22


2019 May 22

A Speech to Europe 2019

Timothy Snyder

The European story is a nice story that there were small European nation states who in their nice little way realized that economic interests united them. The history of the 20th century is that European powers, which for the previous 500 years had dominated the world, found themselves forced to pull back to Europe, and there created something new.
The European Union is a new thing.
We have to remember the Holocaust. It was an event on a scale that defies national memory. It had three basic causes: ecological panic, dehumanization, and state destruction. The Jews were blamed by Hitler for believing that science might provide us all with answers for the ecological crisis and for claiming that humans should recognize other humans according to a principle of solidarity.
You Europeans have disempowered yourselves by getting your past wrong. Look at the United States of America. Its current predicament is a direct result of our getting its imperial past wrong. You are not far away from us, but you still have a chance to see that the EU is the one successful answer to the most important question in the history of the modern world.
You have created a huge zone of exception. You have created the largest economy in the history of the world, in a series of contiguous functioning welfare states and democracies. There is nothing like this anywhere else in the world. Outside the EU, there is still empire.
Ecological panic is all around us, most obviously in the form of global warming. The people who tell us that global warming is not a problem are the same people who tell us that the refugees and migrants are our enemies, and that some races are different than others.
The EU strengthens the European state. The debate about sovereignty makes no sense. The EU makes European states stronger internally by supporting the welfare state. The EU protects them externally because it is the most powerful buffer in the world against the forces of globalization.
Think about the Holocaust. Jews were sent to Treblinka because the food they consumed was judged to be worth more than the work they produced. This is an artifact of the industrial world, judging us just as objects who do physical work. The human rights tradition answers that each of us is an irreducibly different human being.
Today, human rights are challenged in a different way. The digital world reduces us to our most predictable and simplest responses. It turns us into caricatures of ourselves, into instruments of faraway commercial and political entities.
Unlike any other entity in the world, the EU has made progress toward digital human rights. The EU can protect humanity by resisting the monopoly of big American companies, by resisting the digitization of education, and by letting journalists expose more facts.
Memory can go into reassuring myth or into history. You Europeans ran the world for half a millennium, created something new in the second half of the 20th century, and now bear particular responsibility for how things turn out in the 21st. In the questions of ecological panic, state destruction, and dehumanization, the EU has more power than any other entity on Earth. The history will lead to pain, but it will also lead to power.

UN Report: UK Workhouses

The Guardian

UN rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston compares Conservative welfare policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses and warns that unless austerity is ended, the UK's poorest people face lives that are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short".
In his final report, he accuses UK government ministers of imposing policies since 2010 that have led to the systematic immiseration of a significant part of the population and warns that worse could be yet to come for the most vulnerable if Brexit proceeds.

AR The UK establishment looks after its own. The rest can fend for themselves. Social solidarity has failed in the UK.
Brexit offers a smokescreen for the immiseration of the working poor, who in an age of increasing automation will soon be redundant anyway. Welfare cuts will cull the "useless eaters" [nutzlose Fresser] and prepare the way for more drastic social engineering.
The UK establishment can change — or be changed.

2019 May 21

A Dog's Breakfast

Daily Mail

Theresa May was monstered from all sides tonight after she offered a vote on a second referendum
in a last push to deliver her Brexit bill.
The PM made an emotional plea for MPs to get on board with her "bold" package:
 Tried to reassure Brexiteers by saying the government is still seeking alternative arrangements
    to avoid the Irish backstop
 Told Labour MPs she would seek legal guarantees that workers' protections will be just as good
    in the UK as in the EU
 Said MPs will be able to decide between a temporary customs union with the EU and the
    government's customs proposals
May: "If MPs vote against the second reading of this bill, they are voting to stop Brexit."

A Unity Alliance

Daily Echo

A "bold and ambitious" alliance combining Liberal Democrats, Christchurch Independents Group, Poole People's Party, Labour, Greens, and other independents is now at the helm of the £700 million Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole (BCP) council.
The Unity Alliance was elected at the first full council meeting at Bournemouth University on Tuesday night. The new leader is Poole Lib Dem councillor Vikki Slade.

AR At least I exchanged a few friendly words with Vikki last Tuesday at a hustings for SW region European parliamentary election candidates to present themselves.

2019 May 20

Islam and the West

Rowan Williams

For three centuries, the Ottoman empire was the unsettling Other to Western Europe. Western thinkers used what they knew about Islam and its world to make their points.
Westerners praised the discipline of Ottoman armies, the visible piety of Muslim citizens, and the orderliness of Levantine households in order to reproach their own societies. They deplored Ottoman tyranny and cruelty, praised Ottoman discipline and efficiency, magnified the Ottoman threat, or predicted the collapse of the empire, as it suited them.
Polemicists in the Byzantine empire had viewed Islam as a distorted form of Christianity, a heresy. In the medieval West, Muslims were simply infidels, like pagans or idolaters, and Muhammad was seen as an ambitious fraud. But as confidence in claims to supernatural revelation weakened, there was a gradual recognition that any claim to an authority based on revelation could be seen as fraud.
Western writers described Ottoman polity as despotic. In contrast to Western monarchies, the Ottoman sovereign was not embedded in a complex of subsidiary jurisdictions or bound by feudal reciprocities. Just as the Muslim religious world presented an austere landscape purged of the clutter of saints, sacraments, and priests, so the Muslim political environment offered a starker picture.
This could be set out as a condemnation of Ottoman polity. It could also be seen as a more positive pattern for the modernising trends in Western monarchies. Just as a Unitarian rejecting the Christian Trinity might see Islam as an early template for doctrinal reform, a political theorist might consider the Sultan as the single source of legitimacy to be an appealing model for the rational state.
The Ottoman empire prompted Europeans to think about religion and politics. Arguments about Islam and Christianity address the future in western Europe.

AR Rowan is admirably thoughtful and wise on this topic.

2019 May 19

America Versus Iran

Michael Burleigh

Iran is a major nation with 80 million people, 450,000 battle-hardened troops, and a huge stockpile of weapons, plus heavily armed proxies on the border of Israel. A war would have global effects.
America claims that the ruling mullahs are close to developing nuclear weapons, that the regime sponsors world terrorism, and that it threatens US troops in the region. Israeli intelligence agency Mossad say Iran is planning strikes against US bases in Iraq. The US Congress wants to see proof.
President Trump unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 deal that lifted international sanctions in return for Iranian guarantees it would not develop nuclear weapons. Iran had stuck to its side of the bargain. Its Shia militias and ally Hezbollah had fought against the Islamic State and its secret service has helped combat the Afghan Taliban.
The driving force for a new war in the Mideast is an unlikely alliance of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The Saudis and Emiratis want to crush Iran. These autocratic Sunni monarchies feel menaced by a Shia Islamic republic. Israel sees Iran as a threat and points to Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The alliance seeks US military power. US national security adviser John Bolton is a foreign policy hawk and loathes international organizations. He wants to overthrow the Iranian regime.
Iran may abandon its nuclear restraint. The stakes are high. War could raise the price of oil.

Eurovision Song Contest 2019

The Observer, 0006 BST

The Netherlands Win

The battle for top spot in the Eurovision song contest was a tight fight between Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, and North Macedonia.
The public voted Duncan Laurence from the Netherlands with his ballad Arcade the winner, with a total of 492 points. His haunting track was already a big hit on streaming services. This is the first Dutch win since 1975.
The Eurovision show brought together acts from 41 countries. The UK finished last in the final, with 16 points. The contest was staged in Israel.

AR Iceland were crap, Madonna was didactic, the staging was great.

Planet Discoveries Pile Up

Rebecca Boyle

Since its launch in April 2018, the NASA Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has found hundreds more exoplanets orbiting nearby stars. But a mysterious gap in their sizes shows we need new ideas on how planets are made.
The galaxy hosts a lot of small planets measuring 2 to 4 times the radius of Earth and others about the same size as Earth. But for some reason, planets with radii 1.5 to 2 times that of Earth are rare. This "Fulton gap" first appeared in the findings of the Kepler Space Telescope.
TESS deputy science director Sara Seager sees three main ideas:
⦿ Perhaps bigger planets hold on to their atmosphere, and so look even bigger, while smaller
     ones lose it and look smaller.
⦿ Perhaps the size gap results directly from how planets form in the primordial gas and dust
     around the young star.
⦿ Perhaps as midsized planets radiate away their internal heat, they blow off their atmosphere,
     leaving them below the gap.
In many exoplanet systems, smaller worlds tend to orbit close to their host stars, and bigger planets are more distant. Small planets could lose their atmospheres, and mass, to the searing heat and UV radiation of their stars.
Super-Earth or mini-Neptune planets are rock balls shrouded either in thick clouds of hydrogen gas or in water. Computer simulations suggest they are water worlds, either fluid all the way down or compressed into forms such as superionic ice deep below the surface.
TESS will survey the whole sky and will focus on nearby stars.

2019 May 18


Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

The axion is a particle that may be produced in the early universe. I have no idea if the axion is real. Everything theoretical physicists do is speculative, and likely wrong, except for things we get right.
The existence of the axion was originally hypothesized to prevent particles that we know to be real from developing properties that we are pretty sure they don't have. It exists to stop the standard model of particle physics from endowing neutrons with properties that are inconsistent with our laboratory observations.
The neutron has no overall electric charge. But it is made of quarks, which do have a charge. The mystery that the axion clears up is why the distribution of positive and negative charges has precisely zero electric dipole moment.
This is all hypothetical. The neutron may have a very small electric dipole moment. But this would create the problem of why it is so small. Even if the electric dipole moment is zero, it is entirely possible that the axion still doesn't exist. Maybe we need a different approach.
Theoretical physicists ask questions about the nature of the evolution of spacetime and everything in it. We have exactly one universe to work with, and it operates entirely beyond our control. The best we can do is collect information, by taking images of distant stars and galaxies with telescopes, by testing ideas about how particles interact with each other, and by detecting gravitational waves.
To interpret this data, we make some mathematical assumptions, and we use the data to hone our assumptions. We develop ideas about what happened, and then we refine or radically alter those ideas, based on new evidence. Then, we try to convince ourselves and each other that our ideas are realistic models of the universe.

BoJo Crushes Rivals

The Times

Boris Johnson is the clear favourite to be the next prime minister, according to the first poll of Conservative party members since the start of the leadership contest:

Boris Johnson
Dominic Raab
Michael Gove
Sajid Javid
Jeremy Hunt
Andrea Leadsom
Penny Mordaunt

Support %

In a head-to-head run-off, Johnson beats Raab by 59 points to 41. But Johnson would be a divisive choice. Some 31% of Tory members think he would be a poor leader, including 65% of those who voted Remain.
Johnson regards himself as the only candidate capable of taking on Nigel Farage. He is seen by 70% of Tory members as the most likely figure to win a general election if he became leader.
YouGov interviewed 858 Tory members between May 10 and 16.

2019 May 17

Europe: A Council of Nations

Simon Kuper

We have improvised our way into an EU that works for our generation. We now have a Europe of nations. The big decisions are made not by Brussels bureaucrats, or the European parliament, but by national leaders acting in concert.
After a string of big crises, the European Council meets 6 or 7 times a year, peaking at 10 in 2015. In addition, the Eurogroup of finance ministers usually meets monthly, and the Foreign Affairs Council of foreign ministers at least that.
Probably never before have different countries worked together on such an everyday basis. The biggest states speak loudest in the European Council, but the smallest get heard too. The Union is not a state but a union of states.
The main federalist project of the previous generation was the euro. That has given us a strong European central bank, the European stability mechanism, and something like banking union. Otherwise, federalists look on in frustration.
National leaders making decisions together is more democratic than a union run by technocrats. If citizens dislike EU decisions, they can vote out their leaders. Here is a mix of nationalism and Europe that works for our generation.

Brexit: Cross-Party Talks Fail

Oliver Wright

After 6 weeks of talks, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn say they can do no cross-party deal to deliver Brexit. Labour was demanding a full and permanent customs union and legal pledges on future EU environmental and social legislation. May was prepared to agree to a customs union with Brussels only until next general election.
Corbyn is a Eurosceptic and calculates that without Brexit dominating the political agenda Labour could focus on other issues. But there is no political mileage to be gained in propping up an unpopular government pushing through a deeply divisive policy. A Brexit deal would have alienated more Labour voters than it satisfied.
More than a third of Labour MPs are disillusioned with Corbyn and hope to reverse Brexit through a second referendum. But Labour party members are overwhelmingly pro-EU. They will be needed to win a future general  election.

May: The End is Nigh

The Guardian

Theresa May has agreed to set a timetable for her departure as prime minister in the first week of June, leading MPs to believe she will trigger a leadership contest before the summer.
Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers, said she would agree a timetable for the election of a new leader after her Brexit legislation returns to parliament for a last rejection in the first week of June.

Boris: The Second Coming

BBC News

Boris Johnson has said he will run for the Conservative party leadership after Theresa May stands down. Asked at a business event in Manchester if he would be a candidate, he replied: "Of course I'm going to go for it."

AR Man the barricades!

2019 May 16

Europe Must Unite

Angela Merkel

Europe needs to reposition itself in a changed world. The old certainties no longer apply. America, China, and Russia are forcing us, time and again, to find common positions.
Many people are concerned about Europe. Our political power is not yet commensurate with our economic strength. I feel a duty to join others in making sure that Europe has a future.
This is a time when we need to fight for our principles and fundamental values. Seven decades of peace no longer suffice to justify the European project. Without forward-looking arguments to justify Europe, the European peace project would also be in jeopardy.
It is heart-breaking to see how the situation on environmental protection has worsened in so many ways. There is clearly a lack of consistent political action, on a global scale. What is key is for us to be economically successful. That is my greatest worry.
Nine countries aim to attain climate neutrality by 2050. I am firmly convinced that this can only be done if one is willing to capture and store CO2. We could pump CO2 into empty gas fields, but if I wanted to do this in Germany, people would rightly ask me how realistic it is.
In order for the UK to leave the EU, there needs to be a parliamentary majority in London for, rather than merely against, something. Should there be anything to negotiate, the European Commission will do so on behalf of the 27 member states, as it has done so far.

Brexit Britain and Weimar Germany

Martin Kettle

The German Historical Museum has a new exhibition about the Weimar republic, the first sustained German attempt at parliamentary government. It was formed in the wake of WW1 and destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. It was the ultimate stress test of representative liberal democracy in the face of nationalism, racism, violence, and populism.
The Berlin exhibition is not just about how democracy unravelled in the decade that followed the first Weimar elections in 1919 but also about whether something like that may again be happening across Europe in 2019.
Weimar was overwhelmed by a potent narrative of national betrayal and the allure of a strong autocratic government. In Brexit Britain, too, there is a surging narrative on the right about national betrayal, which seems likely to score heavily in the European polls next week.


Edward O. Wilson

Genesis: The Deep Origins of Society is one of the most important books I've written.
I invented the Encyclopedia of Life, putting out all the information on all known species. I invented, named, and gave the first synthesis of sociobiology, which in turn gave birth to the field of evolutionary psychology. My fourth book, The Insect Societies, was a finalist for the National Book Award, which surprised me.
My 1975 book Sociobiology included new research on the social behavior of primates. I suggested that a lot of human social behavior could be explained by a natural selection of certain activities and steps, leading to ever more complex group selection.
Some of my colleagues had problems with the idea that there could be instincts in humans. But with time, the notion that this book was harmful began to fade. Genetics is an effective way to understand many aspects of evolutionary biology and behavior.
Two years later, I received the National Medal of Science from President Jimmy Carter. I also wrote and published a book on sociobiology for a broader audience, On Human Nature. It won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.
William D. Hamilton had this brilliant idea that social behavior originated with kin selection, where individuals within a group behaved altruistically toward those they shared the most genes with. The ultimate result of kin selection would be a kind of altruism.
Like me, Martin Nowak and Corina Tarnita had misgivings about kin selection. In 2010, we published a paper asserting that Hamilton's theory was fundamentally flawed. We felt it could not explain how complex societies arose.
In Genesis, I want to settle the questions about group selection once and for all. Group selection can be exactly defined.
My colleague David Sloan Wilson says that within groups, selfish individuals will defeat altruistic ones. However, in conflict, groups of altruistic individuals will defeat groups of selfish individuals.
Mathematical models can predict these things with precision. Biological research tests those models. This kind of science will give us a firmer base on which to save the natural world.

AR Admired his work for years. Must read Genesis.

Vote Down Brexit


Doris Day
Doris Day
An icon of my childhood

⦿ AR

No Brexit

Vince Cable
⦿ The Guardian
Sir Vince Cable with Lib Dem
manifesto for May 23 poll

Trump business losses
over $1 billion


2019 May 15

Brexit: Stand and Fight

Max Hastings

In 2016, a substantial majority of Conservative MPs judged quitting the EU to be mistaken. Yet today Jeremy Hunt claims to have become a Brexiteer. I am convinced that he and others still privately regard Brexit as a ghastly mistake.
Leavers have forged an alliance of convenience with the mob. Closet-Remainer Conservative MPs calculate that most of their voters are now committed or resigned to Brexit. Resistance is futile.
Such pragmatism requires acceptance of Brexiteer claims that the Irish border issue is a mere technicality, that defiance of "Brussels bullying" will win concessions, that the US will offer a sweetheart deal, that the UK can unilaterally curb non-EU migration, and that the UK alone can secure better global trading terms than those available to EU members.
Boris Johnson may be the next Conservative leader and form an Extreme Right Government (ERG). Jeremy Hunt might seek to head off an ERG by embracing the Brexiteers.
Indulging the mob is dishonourable.

2019 May 14

Gulf War 3?

The Times

The United States and Iran are at risk of stumbling into war by accident. Fears are rising of military confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz, amid tension between Iran and the US over ending the 2015 deal designed to keep Tehran's nuclear ambitions in check.
The Trump administration will not renew exemptions that allow oil buyers to continue importing Iranian crude. Iran retaliated by saying that it would cut back cooperation under the nuclear deal.
President Trump: "We'll see what happens .. It's going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens, I can tell you that. They're not going to be happy."
UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt: "We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident with an escalation that is unintended."

State of the UK

Jeremy Hunt

We live in a multipolar world without the assurance provided by unquestioned American dominance. We face a more aggressive Russia and a more assertive China. We do not know what the balance of power in the world will be in 25 years.
Britain stands for the defence of democratic values. The UK will never leave its great ally, the United States, to perform this task alone. It is simply not sustainable to expect one NATO ally to spend nearly 4% of its GDP on defence while the others spend between 1 and 2%.
Over the coming decade, we should increase the proportion of GDP we devote to defence. The new domains of space and cyber and the capabilities of artificial intelligence will transform the conduct of warfare. The conflicts of tomorrow could well start with a cyber-attack, then escalate into strikes by hypersonic missiles and unmanned aircraft.
We cannot defend democracy if people believe we are ignoring it at home. Many feel that modern capitalism only works for a privileged few. When it comes to civic decision making, people want more power and agency over the decisions taken by people in authority. We need a renewal of the social contract between state and citizen.

Forces in Dimensions 8 and 24

Erica Klarreich

Maryna Viazovska had already found the densest way to pack balls in dimensions 8 and 24. She and her team have now used the configurations solving the packing problem in those two dimensions to solve much harder problems.
In each dimension higher than 3, we can construct a configuration like a tennis ball pyramid. As the dimension increases, the gaps between the balls grow. At dimension 8, you have enough room to fit new balls into the gaps. Doing so produces a highly symmetric configuration called the E8 lattice. In dimension 24, you get the Leech lattice by fitting extra balls into the gaps.
These two lattices crop up in one area of mathematics after another, from number theory to analysis to mathematical physics.
Viazovska considered repulsive forces. The rule that balls do not overlap translates into an infinitely strong repulsion when their centers are closer together than their diameter. For any one of these forces, the challenge is to find the ground state for an infinite collection of particles. One can find lower bounds on the energy of the ground state by means of auxiliary functions.
In dimensions 8 and 24, the bounds came close to the energy of E8 and the Leech lattice. For packing balls, Viazovska had found an auxiliary function that gave a bound matching the energy of E8 or the Leech lattice. In the case of a repulsive force in dimension 8 or 24, she found auxiliary functions for every repulsive force.

2019 May 13

The Civilizational State

Adrian Pabst

After the Cold War, Western elites assumed that the worldwide spread of liberal values would create a new global order based on sovereign states. But today we are witnessing the end of the liberal world order and the rise of the civilizational state. In China and Russia, the ruling classes reject Western liberalism and the expansion of a global market society.
The rise of Russia and China is weakening the West. Their leaders reject universal human rights, the rule of law, and a free press in the name of cultural difference. Geopolitics is no longer simply about the economy or security but largely sociocultural and civilizational.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping champions a model of socialism with Chinese characteristics fusing a Leninist state with neo-Confucian culture. Vladimir Putin defines Russia as a civilizational state that is neither Western nor Asian but uniquely Eurasian. Donald Trump rails against the European multicultural dilution of Western civilization.
Geopolitics has turned into a contest between alternative versions of civilized norms. Within the West, there is a growing gap between a cosmopolitan EU and a nativist US. Brexit, Trump, and the populist insurgency sweeping continental Europe mark a revolt against liberalism.
The idea that Western civilization represents the forward march of history toward a single normative order rests on a common cultural heritage of Greco-Roman culture and Judeo-Christian norms. Liberalism is eroding these foundations by promoting standards that glorify greed, sex, and violence. Too many liberals ignore the achievements that make the West a recognizable civilization.
The rejection of Western universalism by the elites in Russia and China challenges the idea of the nation state as the international norm for political organization. But neither the West nor China and Russia can resist the disruptive forces of technology and economic globalization. The world is sliding into a soft totalitarianism.

Twisted Graphene

David H. Freedman

Pablo Jarillo-Herrero has found superconductivity in twisted bilayer graphene, a monatomic sheet of carbon crystal on top of another one but rotated to leave the two layers 9.2 milliradian askew.
Allan MacDonald had seen how the misalignment of the two sheets creates an angle-dependent moiré pattern. He reckoned the amount of energy a free electron in the cell needs to tunnel between the two graphene sheets varies with rotation angle. He calculated that when the angle decreases to 9.2 mrad, the tunneling energy falls to zero.
For Jarillo-Herrero and his team, the challenge was to create an ultraclean, highly homogeneous pair of graphene sheets and to overcome their natural opposition to being askew. The sheets had to be in near vacuum and cooled to almost 0 K to give a chance of seeing correlated electron behavior. In 2017, his team produced a new device that behaved as an insulator in an electric field, but when they increased the field it suddenly became a superconductor.
Magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene can illuminate the mysterious properties of superconductivity. It seems to act like a cuprate, a ceramic in which superconductivity can occur at temperatures up to about 140 K. But cuprates are complex crystals that superconduct only when precisely doped with impurities. Twisted bilayer graphene is just carbon.
The stakes are huge. Reducing the energy loss in electric power transmission would boost economies and cut harmful emissions around the world. Qubit fabrication could usher in the rise of quantum computers.

2019 May 12


Camilla Cavendish

The UN report into biodiversity warns that human overpopulation is harming the species we rely on for survival. A background level of extinction is normal. But now we face a mass extinction brought about by humans.
Scientists have catalogued only a small fraction of all species. We know far too little about which bricks in the pile might, if removed, topple whole structures. Complex ecosystems are extremely hard to recreate once damaged.
We are out of our depth trying to fathom or control the biosphere's complex connections. It is hard to disentangle the threat to species from climate change, for example, because each problem exacerbates the other. Species find it harder to survive as temperatures warm and a loss of carbon sinks accelerates the volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Scientists have been warning of the danger for decades.
The human population is still growing. The global population increased from 1.5 billion in 1900 to 6.1 billion in 2000. The UN forecasts global population growing to 11 billion in 2100.
Having more children is not in our interest as a species. It is irresponsible for governments to welcome the UN report while promoting increases in population.

2019 May 11


Constanze Stelzenmüller

American presidential daughter-in-law Lara Trump opined on Fox Business that Angela Merkel's welcome of refugees in 2015 had been Germany's downfall and one of the worst things to ever happen to Germany. She probably hasn't visited Germany lately.
German efforts to tackle the influx of more than a million refugees have had mixed results. Deporting those who can't claim asylum and integrating those who can stay has been a struggle. But 400,000 now have jobs or are in training. For Germans, downfall was 1945, not 2015.
Robert Kagan worries that a failure of the European project might see the return of the German Question. He admires Germany's democratic transformation but says: "Think of Europe today as an unexploded bomb, its detonator intact and functional, its explosives still live."
No nation has profited more handsomely from the postwar European order than Germany. None has a greater interest in preserving it. The real risk to Europe's prosperity and safety is a Germany that seeks to hedge against a bullying and erratic America with the help of Russia and China.

2019 May 10

US−China Trade

Lily Kuo, 0458 UTC

Last-minute talks in Washington between Chinese vice premier Liu He and US trade representative Robert Lighthizer have failed to salvage months of talks on a deal. On Friday US tariffs on Chinese goods were raised to 25% from 10%.
China: "The Chinese side deeply regrets that it will have to take necessary countermeasures .. It is hoped that the US and the Chinese side will work together to resolve existing problems through cooperation and consultation."


Marcus du Sautoy

A mathematician is a pattern searcher. In my own research, I am trying to understand the world of symmetry. A typical day might involve some hours in deep mathematical meditation at my desk.
Creativity comes in waves. When you've hit your first peak, there will inevitably be a fallow period before the next peak arrives. Mathematics is our best tool for making predictions and planning.

2019 May 9

The Brexit Question

Andy Ross vs Ben Aston
A public debate, Southbourne
My speaking notes (PDF, 11 slides, 55 KB)

Black Ice

Joshua Sokol

Superionic ice is a new phase of water, black and hot, and four times as dense as normal ice. Across the solar system, more water probably exists as superionic ice filling the interiors of Uranus and Neptune than in any other phase, including the liquid form in oceans on Earth.
Scientists have already discovered 18 architectures of ice crystal. After ice I, which comes in two forms, the rest are numbered II to XVII. Superionic ice is ice XVIII.
Ice XVIII is part solid, part liquid, where the oxygen atoms form a cubic lattice, but the ionized hydrogen atoms spill free, flowing like a liquid through the rigid cage of oxygens. It conducts electricity, like a metal, with protons playing the usual role of electrons. The loose protons also boost its entropy, making it stable and raising its melting point.
Marius Millot and colleagues hit water with laser blasts between diamond anvils. As the water began crystalizing into nanoscale ice cubes, more laser beams vaporized a sliver of iron next to the sample, flooding the crystalizing water with X-rays, which then diffracted from the ice crystals, allowing the team to discern their structure. Ice XVIII has a cubic lattice with oxygen atoms at every corner and the center of each face.
Uranus and Neptune have lumpy and complex magnetic fields, with more than two poles, misaligned with the rotation axis. One way to produce them would be to confine the conducting fluid responsible for the dynamo into a thin outer shell of the planet, instead of letting it reach down into the core. But the idea that these planets might have solid cores seemed unrealistic.
Inside Uranus and Neptune, a thick mantle of superionic ice might begin at about 8 Mm down. That would limit most dynamo action to shallower depths, accounting for their unusual fields. Superionic ice could be common throughout the universe.

2019 May 8

Trump Power Play

The New York Times

President Trump asserts executive privilege to shield redacted parts of the Mueller report.

Brexit Power Play

Financial Times

Downing Street says Theresa May will not quit as prime minister until the UK leaves the EU.

Mathematical Conjecture

Robbert Dijkgraaf

Mathematics has elevated the formulation of a conjecture into high art. A great conjecture must meet a number of stringent criteria:
1 It should be nontrivial, or not too easy to prove.
2 It also has to be deep. Once the conjecture is proved, it is not so much the endpoint of an arduous journey but rather the starting point of an even greater adventure. For example, the Riemann hypothesis unlocks many other insights and suggests vast generalizations.
3 It must have substantial evidence. The first 10 trillion cases of the Riemann hypothesis have been checked numerically using computers. But all this supporting material does not satisfy mathematicians. They demand a conclusive proof.
4 It helps if the challenge can be stated concisely. The conciseness of a great conjecture adds to its perceived beauty.
5 The conjecture may be refuted. For two millennia, people tried to prove that Euclid's fifth postulate can be derived from the other four axioms of planar geometry. Then mathematicians constructed examples of non-Euclidian geometry, which led to Einstein's curved spacetime. Similarly, when Kurt Gödel published his incompleteness theorem in 1931, he essentially answered in the negative one of Hilbert's problems about the consistency of arithmetic, but he also induced a blossoming that led to the development of modern computers.

2019 May 7

Breaking Brexit, New Series

Laura Kuenssberg

Theresa May's unofficial deputy David Lidington confirms UK will hold European elections later this month, as MPs run out of time to agree a Brexit deal before the vote.

Berlin Speech

Prince Charles

Today, we are friends and natural partners, bound together by our common experience, mutual interests and shared values. But whatever the shape of our future relationship, it is more clear to me than it has ever been that the bonds between us will, and must, endure, and that our young people, and future generations, will have as much cause to cherish those bonds as our generation has had. Our countries and people have been through so much together.
As we look towards the future, I can only hope that:
We can also pledge to redouble our commitment to each other and to the ties between us.
We can ensure that our continent will never again see the division and conflict of the past.
We will continue to be an indispensable force for good in our world.
The friendships and partnerships that bind us together will continue.

2019 May 6

Destruction of nature is as big a threat to humanity as climate change

New Scientist

"The evidence is incontestable. Our destruction of biodiversity and ecosystem services has reached levels that threaten our well-being at least as much as human-induced climate change."
Robert Watson

A major UN report on the state of nature around the world is mostly grim reading. We humans have already significantly altered three-quarters of all land and two-thirds of the oceans. More than a third of land and three-quarters of freshwater resources are devoted to crops or livestock.
Our expanding farms and cities are leaving less room for wildlife. The other major causes are the direct exploitation of wildlife such as hunting, climate change, pollution and the spread of invasive species. Climate change is set to become ever more destructive.
The aim of the report is to provide an authoritative scientific basis for international action. All countries except the USA have ratified the 1992 UN Convention of Biodiversity and are supposed to be conserving biodiversity and promoting its sustainable use. Despite this, more than 80% of the agreed international targets for 2020 will not be met.

IPBES Report

⦿ Carola Radke / Museum für Naturkunde Berlin
A million species are now threatened with extinction

Voting May 23

Lib Dems

"The beginning of
the end of Brexit"
Sir Vince Cable


Anne Hathaway
"Finding yourself takes as long
as it takes .. learning how to
be kind to yourself while
you're discovering who
you are is something I
wish for everybody."
Anne Hathaway


Mass Extinction


Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating. Grave impacts on people around the world are now likely, warns the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
IPBES chair Sir Robert Watson: "The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide."
Around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades. The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than a third of all marine mammals are threatened.
Global goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories. Goals for 2030 may only be achieved through transformative changes.

Apocalyptic Redistribution

Walter Scheidel

To bring change in today's world, simply electing the right politicians is not enough. The lesson of history is that only violence can ensure the redistribution of wealth. The big equalizing moments in history shared one common root: massive and violent disruptions of the established order.
War is one horseman of the apocalypse. World War II hugely reduced inequality in the United States, Europe, and Japan.
Another horseman is plague. The outbreak of the bubonic plague in 14th-century Eurasia killed a third of the population and made labor scarce. As a result, wages grew, and the gap between rich and poor narrowed. But inequality went up when the population began to increase again.
The rich are beneficiaries of the state. If states fall apart, everybody is worse off, but the rich have more to lose. Their wealth is wiped out by the destruction of the state, as in the fall of the Mayan civilization or Chinese dynasties.
I am not advocating war, but repeating the same old ideas ignores the lessons of history. To create lasting change, something big has to happen.

AR The UK was also equalized by WW2 but has relapsed far enough to forget the value of the EU.

2019 May 5

We Can Stop Brexit

Vince Cable

Liberal Democrat members are strongly committed to carrying their success through into the European elections. We have a clear mission to stop Brexit.
People ask if there is anything that can be done to stop the remain vote fragmenting. European elections operate on proportional representation, but the system is still unforgiving to split voting.
We hope is that voters will think hard about who can make an impact. Lib Dem MEPs have a strong record of campaigning on the environment, consumer protection, and animal welfare.
People have said for decades they would support the Lib Dems if more other people were doing so. Liberal Democrats need the support of everyone who wants to stop Brexit.

"Just get on with Brexit" — really?

Mike Galsworthy

Those final results, expressed as % change from 2015:

Liberal Democrat



[hard Leavers, want out at all costs]
[soft Leavers, want deal if possible]
[undecided, mixed messages]
[Remainers, want hard EU green regs]

AR Mike is the founder of Scientists for EU.

2019 May 4

Local Elections: Summary

The Times

UK prime minister Theresa May will be told by senior Conservative party members that she must set a date for her departure next week. The party was given its worst drubbing in local elections in almost a quarter of a century.
Conservatives lost 1334 councillors and control of 44 councils. Labour lost 82 councillors and 6 councils. Lib Dems gained 703 councillors and 10 councils. Greens added 194 councillors. UKIP lost 144 councillors.

Local Elections: England

The Guardian

Liberal Democrat






AR On discrepant numbers, see last FT checkpoint below.

Local Elections: Bournemouth-Christchurch-Poole

Bournemouth Echo

Final results for the new BCP Council: 36 Conservative, 15 Liberal Democrat, 11 independent, 7 Poole People, 3 Labour, 2 Green, 1 Alliance for Local Living, 1 UKIP
Overall result: No overall control, turnout 33%.

Local Elections: Lessons

Financial Times

Revenge of the Remainers: The Tories suffered their worst results in parts of England where most voted to Remain in the 2016 EU referendum. The Conservatives loss is the worst since 1995.
 Lib Dems unleashed: The Liberal Democrats were the clear victors. LD gains were spread evenly across Remain and Leave voting areas, maybe due to anger at both big parties.
 Labour pains: Tory setbacks were not matched by Labour gains. The vote for Labour held up in strongly Remain areas. Most councils where Labour lost control were in majority Leave areas.
 No business as usual: The two big parties now have their lowest share of councillors since 2010. Extrapolations of the vote to the entire UK put both Conservatives and Labour at 28%.
 Not all numbers say the same: Some calculations differ on the changes, since there have been boundary changes, reductions in the size of assemblies, defections, and by-elections.

AR Greens did very well, perhaps thanks to Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion.

2019 May 3

The UK should resile from its decision to leave the EU

Andy Ross

Most of the votes cast in England in the 2016 referendum on whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union were in favour of leaving. The result was marginal and unexpected, and it was widely seen as having been driven by a mixture of anger and pride. Cooler heads continue to say it provides no good basis for redirecting national policy.
.. [more]
There is still time for UK politicians to resile from that decision. For the sake of all we hold dear, defying the populists who would drag us all into anarchy and chaos, they should show some

PDF, 10 pages, 7000 words, 330 KB

2019 May 2

Net Zero

Committee on Climate Change

The CCC recommends a new emissions target for the UK: net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050. For Scotland, it recommends a net-zero date of 2045, reflecting Scotland's greater relative capacity to remove emissions. For Wales, it recommends a 95% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.
A net-zero GHG target for 2050 will deliver on the commitment the UK made by signing the Paris Agreement. It is achievable with known technologies, alongside improvements in people's lives, and within the expected economic cost that parliament accepted when it legislated the existing 2050 target for an 80% reduction from 1990.

The Sun

Natalie Wolchover

Gamma rays radiate from the Sun seven times more abundantly than expected. A narrow bandwidth of frequencies around 10 YHz is absent. The gamma-ray signal also extends to higher frequencies than predicted, and it varies across the face of the Sun and throughout the 11-year solar cycle.
Cosmic rays from outer space get mirrored by the solar magnetic field. On their way out, the rays collide with atoms in the solar atmosphere and fizzle in a flurry of gamma radiation. The mirroring process is efficient enough to give a faint glow of gamma rays.
The NASA Fermi gamma-ray space telescope detects many more gamma rays during solar minimum. This makes sense if cosmic rays are the source. During solar minimum, more cosmic rays can plunge into the solar magnetic field and get mirrored, instead of being deflected sooner by the turbulent tangle of field lines in the inner solar system.
The solar magnetic field remains poorly understood. These fresh clues about the structure of the magnetic field could help explain why the Sun changes polarity every 11 years.

UK Defence Secretary Sacked

Martin Kettle

UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson is a minnow who got himself fired because of his ambition. The prime minister holds him responsible for the leak of a discussion in the National Security Council last week. The leak enabled the Telegraph to name five ministers who had attacked the involvement of Huawei in the UK telecoms system and to report that Theresa May had overridden them.
As an error of judgment, what Williamson did was monumental. No one will be sorry to see him go.

"Perhaps [his] threats over military spending, and his boast that he made Theresa May and could break her, will have been as responsible for his downfall as his alleged leaking was."
Daniel Finkelstein

2019 May 1

Global Change

Thomas L. Friedman

We are at a moment when the world is experiencing four big changes at once:
 Climate: Heatwaves, floods, droughts, and wildfires are getting more extreme.
 Globalization: Our interconnected world is becoming an interdependent one.
 Work: Machines can often handle information better than human beings.
 Communications: Cloud devices empower people to act with global reach.
We are seeing the erosion of democracy and order. We need leaders who appreciate that the challenges destabilizing the world today are global in nature.

Black Hole Jets

James Miller-Jones et al.

Black holes accreting mass from companion stars can emit powerful relativistic jets. For stellar-mass black holes, the accretion flow that launches or redirects the jets shows precession due to frame dragging when the spin axis is misaligned with the orbital plane of the companion star.
We model a rapidly changing jet orientation on a time scale of minutes to hours in the black-hole
X-ray binary V404 Cygni as the precession of a vertically extended slim disk that arises from the high accretion rate. Similar dynamics should govern any misaligned accreting black hole.

Dark Matter

Charlie Wood

The NASA Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope appears to be picking up too many gamma rays from the galactic center. Perhaps dark matter particles in the center annihilate in a burst of gamma rays. Or perhaps the rays shine from pulsars too dim to be seen individually.
Rebecca Leane and Tracy Slatyer modeled the Milky Way galaxy with stars, gas, dust, and known pulsars. Then they added dark matter and further small pulsars and saw surprising results. As more dark matter was added, the more the model mistook that dark matter for pulsars.
The International Space Station Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) experiment has detected more antiprotons than expected, another possible sign of dark matter. The dark matter that would match the AMS data could also cause a gamma glow in the galactic center.
Leane: "Potentially we are seeing the first signal of dark matter."

Emperor Naruhito

⦿ Kyodo
Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako inaugurate the Reiwa (Beautiful Harmony) era




St George

Vote stay


2019 April 30

Japanese Emperor Resigns

The Times

Emperor Akihito has reported his abdication to the gods. TV images showed him entering a shrine to report his retirement to the goddess Amaterasu.
The abdication will be publicly marked by a ceremony in the Imperial Palace on live TV. Attendees will include empress Michiko, crown prince Naruhito, crown princess Masako, prime minister Shinzo Abe, the heads of both houses of parliament, and supreme court justices. Imperial chamberlains will carry state and privy seals along with a sword and a jewel, which together with a mirror are the three sacred treasures.
Akihito's reign runs through to midnight, when Naruhito becomes Japan's 126th emperor in a hereditary monarchy dating back to the 5th century CE.

AR All this trumps the routinely European UK monarchy.

2019 April 29

Military Expenditure 2018


World military expenditure is estimated to have been $1822 billion in 2018, 2.6% higher in real terms than in 2017 and 5.4% higher than in 2009.
The top 15 military spenders in the world in 2018 were the same as those in 2017. The five biggest spenders in 2018 were the United States, China, Saudi Arabia, India, and France, together accounting for 60% of global military spending. The top 15 countries spent $1470 billion, accounting for 81%.
At $649 billion, US military expenditure accounted for 36% of global military spending in 2018.

Top Ten Military spending in (estimated, e) US$ billion:



United States
Saudi Arabia

250.0 e
067.6 e


United Kingdom
South Korea


AR Note that the UK falls between France and Germany.

2019 April 28

China Watches Western Cannibalism

Nic Robertson

As London and Washington convulse, China keeps going. The Belt and Road Initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping seeks to build infrastructure on a mass scale, ultimately improving transport ties with China across the world. Xi is threading the world in a web of dependency.
Meanwhile, the United States and the UK are imposing political crises on themselves. In the United States, a presidential election campaign pitching President Donald Trump against a crowd of Democratic foes will be firing up in the coming weeks.
China is creating a society without public debate in which unelected officials use artificial intelligence to control everything. It holds its population in a grip that no one living in a democracy could ever countenance.
Yet US and UK leaders seem focused on petty personal attacks. Debate is shrill, opinions entrenched, democracy weakened. US and UK electorates will emerge bitter and divided.

Demokratie in der Defensive

Ralf Fücks

Willy-Brandt-Gespräch 2019 (35:50)

AR For those who can follow it, this is a good lecture. I was expected left-liberal platitudes but heard an intelligent and thoughtful contribution to a big debate.

2019 April 27

Conservative Armageddon

Matthew Parris

The UK may well have three prime ministers this year and either revoke its notification to leave the EU or commit to a fresh referendum. Consider:
 A clear majority of this (or probably the next) parliament wants to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
 No majority exists for any deal that leaves Britain in vassal or satellite status, a.k.a. Brino.
 Many MPs in the Conservative party and almost all of its members want a no-deal Brexit.
Conservatives face a bad result in the local elections on May 2 and a dreadful result in the European parliamentary election. With the party reeling, Nigel Farage crowing, and a Brexit cliff edge approaching, the proverbial men in grey suits must surely come for Theresa May.
Among the obvious contenders as successor, Boris Johnson has a good chance. If he won, he would have to call an immediate general election because a dozen or more of his outraged colleagues would resign the Tory whip. He would then lose the general election.
Jeremy Corbyn would become prime minister, but probably without a working majority. The Brexit deadline of October 31 would loom. France and Germany would confront the UK with revoke, referendum, or the bum's rush. Corbyn would choose revoke or referendum.
By Christmas, the UK could be on its third prime minister this year and still be in the EU.

2019 April 26

Vladivostok Summit


Russian president Vladimir Putin hosted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vladivostok.
Putin: "We welcome DPRK leadership's steps to establish a dialogue with the US and to normalize relations between South and North Koreas. We're coming from a stand that there's no alternative to peaceful solution of nuclear and other problems of the region."
Dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington has faltered since the summit in Hanoi.
Putin: "I will speak [Friday] in Beijing with the leadership of the People's Republic of China, but we will also openly and frankly discuss today's meeting with the American leadership. There are no secrets here."

Conservative Despair

The Guardian

Theresa May's government is one of the least successful in UK history.
On Tuesday, the government's national security council, which is chaired by the prime minister and contains senior ministers as well as security officials, agreed that the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei could build parts of the UK's 5G network. The Huawei decision would normally be tightly guarded and unpublicised, but it was reported in detail the following morning.
When ministers or officials on the NSC unilaterally leak details of its decisions to the press, something has gone very rotten in government. Many ministers seem to have returned to Westminster this week blinded by ambition to succeed May as prime minister. Yet a leadership challenge could easily trigger a general election in which the Conservatives are massacred.
Tories are showing all the dignity and judgment of a headless chicken.

Cosmology Explained

Andy Ross

My review of a Springer book by Delia Perlov and Alex Vilenkin

2019 April 25

Joe Biden Announces 2020 Run for President

The New York Times

AR Good news: He can defeat Trump.

The US Military

Bret Stephens

The traditional model of US military power is being disrupted. On future battlefields, swarms of intelligent machines will deliver violence at a greater volume and higher velocity than ever before.
US Navy aircraft carriers are priced at $13 billion each and their fighter jets at $90 million each. We are burning through billions of dollars by deploying such resources against technologically primitive enemies in the Mideast and Africa. And we are burning through trillions in order to build a relatively small number of such platforms that are increasingly vulnerable to detection and destruction by adversaries like China and Russia.
Emerging technologies like hypersonic propulsion, space-based weapons, and quantum sensors makes this a recipe for rapid military defeat. The answer is to radically increase the numbers of military platforms, lower their costs, and enhance their autonomy. Instead of straining to reach a target of 355 ships, the US Navy should be aiming for many more, including drones.
Between them, the Pentagon, Congress, and a serious president could change the way America prepares for war.

Revoke Revamped

Andy Ross

Read it now (PDF, 4200 words, 6 pages)

2019 April 24

The UK should revoke its notice to leave the EU

Andy Ross

Most of the votes cast in England in the 2016 referendum on whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union were in favour of leaving. The result was widely seen as having been driven by a mixture of anger and pride.
Many voters in the north of England were angry that their regional interests and concerns were apparently being ignored by the governing class in Westminster, while many voters in the south of England were proud of their British heritage and felt that political union with continental European states was intolerably humiliating.
Despite majorities against leaving the EU in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the result in England and Wales was to precipitate the political crisis that has rocked the UK ever since.
.. more

2019 April 23

St George's Day

BBC News

To prevent an overlap with Easter, the Church of England says St George's Day does not fall on the usual date of April 23 this year but April 29. Catholics will transfer the day to April 30.

AR St George had a Turkish father and a Syrian mother, was a Roman citizen, died in Palestine, never visited England, and didn't kill a dragon.

America: The Prize

Joe Lockhart

For Democrats, leaving Donald Trump in office is the best chance for fundamental realignment of American politics in more than a generation. Trump is three years into destroying what we know as the Republican party. Another two years just might finish it off.
Trump has abandoned most of the core principles that have defined Republicans for a century. He should be impeached because he is unfit for the presidency. He represents a clear and present danger to US national security. But impeaching him is likely to be bad politics.
Nothing will unite the Republican party more than trying to remove the president anywhere but at the ballot box. Allowing Trump to lead the Republican party into the next election is the better bet to deliver progressivism in America.

Britain: The Opportunity

John Thornhill

British governance is in a crisis. Politicians must reimagine how to run the UK. The crisis has created the conditions to reshape its institutions.
Entrepreneurs love nothing better than to highlight opportunities amid chaos. Nation states have a powerful monopoly position within a territory and important responsibilities, all compromised and challenged by machine learning. National governments may decide shaping the values of a society is too important to be left to multinational companies.
UK voters have seen the ineffectiveness of their political institutions. They may welcome a few radical ideas:
 Reshape environmental policy by using tax incentives
 Digitize the NHS and secure the transfer of medical data
 Prepare students for the digital age by teaching tech skills
 Limit concentrations of economic power and redistribute gains
All this can be done within the EU.

2019 Earth Day

Existential Crisis

Greta Thunberg

People are slowly becoming more aware, but emissions continue to rise.
This is not just young people being sick of politicians. It's an existential crisis. It's something that will affect the future of our civilization. It's a crisis and we must take action accordingly.
I support Extinction Rebellion. What they are doing is good. Civil disobedience is important to show this is an emergency. We need to do everything we can to put pressure on the people in power.
We won't be satisfied until they meet our demands and act.

Progressive Capitalism

Joseph E. Stiglitz

The American economy is failing its citizens. The United States has the highest level of inequality among the advanced countries and one of the lowest levels of opportunity. Americans forgot that the true source of the wealth of a nation is the creativity and innovation of its people.
Politics has played a big role in the increase in corporate rent-seeking and the accompanying inequality. Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.
The prescription begins by recognizing the vital role that the state plays in making markets serve society. We need regulations that ensure strong competition without abusive exploitation. We must be as resolute in combating market power as the corporate sector is in increasing it.
Progressive capitalism is based on a new social contract between voters and elected officials, between workers and corporations, between rich and poor. The neoliberal fantasy that unfettered markets will deliver prosperity to everyone should be put to rest.

UK Meltdown

John Gray

We are witnessing a meltdown in British politics with no historical precedent. Both main parties are losing their traditional supporters fast.
Not much more than half of 2017 Conservative voters intend to vote Conservative at the next general election. The Conservatives could lose much of their constituency infrastructure. People may turn to extremes to vent their anger and disgust at the government.
The EU high command fears that a group of far-right parties from France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and other countries will become the pivotal force in the next European Parliament. New British MEPs could join them.
The number of Conservative defectors would be almost halved if Boris Johnson became prime minister. Johnson is despised by many Tory MPs, but this could change if they panic after the local and European elections.
More European leaders may then decide the EU will be better off without the UK. A No Deal exit looms.

Earth Shaped Humans

New Scientist

We are living in the Anthropocene era. Our appetite for natural resources and industrial products is eradicating species, warming the oceans, and disrupting the global climate as never before. It is the most severe jolt since 55 megayears ago, when within 100 kiloyears the temperature of the planet jerked up by between 5 K and 8 K, held for a while, and then fell again.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. Methane on the sea floor trapped within ice was safely sequestered until the ice melted. Volcanic eruptions put enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to raise the temperature, releasing methane and raising the temperature further.
The warming led to a burst of evolutionary diversification, creating ungulates, which are critical to human societies around the world, and early humans, who rapidly dispersed from East Africa across Asia, Europe, and North America.
Our large brains emerged in response to complex and rapidly changing surroundings. East Africa dried out, driven largely by tectonic plate movement, which made mountains that blocked the westward movement of moisture-laden clouds. The changing availability of water favored the evolution of more versatile human behavior.
Our ancestors walked out of Africa and into Asia when Earth was in the depths of its most recent ice age. Global temperatures were lower, the climate was drier, and the great ice sheets locked up water, lowering global sea levels.
Early humans in Asia walked into Malaysia, Indonesia, New Guinea, and Australia. A land corridor linking Siberia and Alaska let them trek into the Americas. Then the land bridge was flooded, and two human populations grew independently. Once the ice age ended, climatic stability since then has let civilizations emerge.
The staple of most of our diets became cereal crops from grass species that had proliferated around the world as Earth cooled and dried. The animals we domesticated were mostly the ungulates that dominated the grassy ecologies.
Planetary forces dictated where the first cities formed. Mesopotamia is the result of continental drift that caused the Arabian plate to slam into the southern margin of the Eurasian plate, forming the Zagros mountains, whose weight created a basin that filled with sediment.
The Harappan civilization emerged along the Indus valley at around the same time. The Indus flows along a basin beside the Himalayas, which formed when India crashed into Eurasia. Active plate tectonics provided the fertile basins for our first civilizations.
Anthropocene climate change is dangerous. Many regions will see increasing droughts or the loss of fertile land as deserts form, while others will experience more intense bursts of rainfall and flooding. Melting polar ice caps will raise sea levels and flood coastal areas and cities, while melting mountain glaciers will reduce water supplies. Tropical diseases will spread, heatwaves will kill people, and mass migration will follow.

Jesus Christ

History/A+E Networks
The life of Jesus Christ has been given the big-budget docudrama treatment by the US satellite channel History. Expert contributor
Simon Sebag Montefiore: "The number of people who are religious in all the Abrahamic faiths is increasing all the time .. Jesus's
life story is absolutely gripping and fascinating .. and therefore the perfect subject for a documentary."


Machines Like Me

Notre Dame, Paris
sky news
Notre Dame, Paris

AR If this were the
Palace of Westminster
we might have lost
a few MPs.

What if the army had
deposed Hitler in 1936?


Katie Bouman
Katie Bouman


2019 Easter Sunday

Trump Is Corrupt

Paul Waldman

Vladimir Putin wanted Donald Trump to become president of the United States and undertook a campaign to make sure it happened. Trump might be the only person left in America who disagrees with this fact. Trump, his family, and his campaign may not have set up a criminal conspiracy to cooperate with Russia, but they were enthusiastic about Russian interference in the election.
Trump made comprehensive and far-reaching attempts to obstruct justice, including urging officials to pressure the FBI, trying to fire the special counsel, and lying to the public. He lied seemingly every time Russia came up and regularly instructed aides to lie to the public. Nearly everything he called "fake news" turned out to be true.
Trump has no concern about whether his actions are illegal or unethical. He brought to the Oval Office his boundless willingness to lie and have others lie for him, his complete disregard for any norm of integrity or propriety, and his belief that the entire US government exists to serve his personal ends. This president is profoundly corrupt.

2019 April 20

The Danger Facing American Democracy

The New York Times

The Mueller report is categorical: "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion."
Russia's interference in the campaign was the core issue that Mueller was appointed to investigate. The report details serious and dangerous actions against the United States that Trump has never overtly confronted, acknowledged, condemned, or comprehended.
The report documents Russian efforts to contact the Trump campaign through business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for Trump to meet Putin, and plans for improved American-Russian relations. Both sides saw potential gains.
The president refuses to see that he has been used to damage American democracy and national security.

2019 Good Friday

The Mueller Indictment

The New York Times

Robert Mueller and his team found substantial evidence that President Trump broke federal law on numerous occasions by attempting to shut down or interfere with the Russia investigation. The report revealed a White House riddled with dysfunction and distrust, one in which Trump and his aides lie with contempt for one another and the public.
Mueller: "We determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the president committed crimes .. fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment when no charges can be brought .. If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state .. The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president's corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law."
When notified that a special counsel had been appointed to scrutinize his behavior, Trump reportedly slumped in his chair and said: "Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm fucked."
There's still a long way to go before it can be said that justice has been done.

UK: Sick Man of Europe

Martin Wolf

The UK is undergoing six crises at the same time:
 Economic: Productivity and real incomes per head are stagnant.
 National identity is being linked to questions about loyalty.
 Brexit has weaponised identity, leading to accusations of treason.
 Political divisions based on identity are destroying both main parties.
 A referendum is being used to resolve a constitutional question.
 Leadership: With its present leaders, the mess can only worsen.
The UK will remain sick for a while.

2019 April 18

The Mueller Report: Live Analysis

The New York Times

After a sweeping 22-month investigation, Robert S. Mueller III found there was insufficient evidence to establish that Donald Trump or his associates engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia to disrupt the 2016 election.
Investigators identified numerous contacts between campaign advisers and Russians affiliated with the government during the campaign and after the election. But the special counsel did not establish that the contacts added up to an illegal conspiracy.
The report detailed Trump's efforts to thwart the investigation, and the Mueller team debated whether the episodes amounted to criminal obstruction of justice. The report said that, by virtue of his position as president, he had the authority to carry out several of the acts in question, including firing James B. Comey as FBI director.

Read the Mueller Report: Full Document

2019 April 17

Climate Change

Greta Thunberg

Our house is falling apart. Our leaders need to start acting accordingly because at the moment they are not.
If our house was falling apart our leaders wouldn't go on like we do today. If our house was falling apart, you wouldn't hold three emergency Brexit summits and no emergency summit regarding the breakdown of the climate and the environment.
The extinction rate is up to six times faster than what is considered normal, with up to 200 species becoming extinct every single day. Erosion of fertile topsoil, deforestation of the rainforest, toxic air pollution, loss of insects and wildlife, acidification of our oceans — these are all disastrous trends.
It is still not too late to act. It will take a far-reaching vision, it will take courage, it will take fierce determination to act now, to lay the foundations. It will take cathedral thinking. Wake up. Make changes.

Machines Like Me

Ian McEwan

Adam was not a sex toy, but he was capable of sex. This highly advanced model of artificial human was advertised as a companion, an intellectual sparring partner, friend and factotum who could wash dishes, make beds, and think. In every moment of his existence, everything he heard and saw he recorded and could retrieve.
What I wanted to pursue was the idea of a creature who was morally superior to ourselves. My ambition was to create a set of circumstances in which Adam would make decisions that we would see as severe and antihuman, but in many senses were both logical and ethically pure. Novelists throughout time have pursued the field of play within a love triangle, in which moral certainties and doubts can run against each other.
The situation in which I imagine an artificial creature would give us great trouble would be one in which someone we love takes an act of revenge, and that revenge is righteous. It seems inevitable and has a distinct and decent moral cause. The question is how to punish that person when you oppose the notion of revenge with the rule of law. Adam takes the view that the rule of law must always be followed, and that any act of revenge is the beginning of social breakdown.
Our own lack of self-knowledge will make it very difficult to encode a being that is good in the sense that we would find good. It might make ruthless logical decisions that we would find inhuman even though we in a sense might agree with them. I think we will run into enormous but fascinating problems.

2019 April 16

European Parliament Address

Donald Tusk

The Article 50 extension agreed last week has a few advantages:
1 A long extension ensures that all options remain on the table, such as ratification of the current withdrawal agreement, or extra time to rethink Brexit, if that were the wish of the British people.
2 It allows the EU to focus on other priorities that are at least as important, such as trade with the US or the new EU leadership. Since the very beginning of the Brexit process, the UK has been a constructive and responsible EU member state. We have no reason to believe this will change.
3 The flexible extension delays the possibly of a no-deal Brexit by six months. Thanks to this, millions of people and businesses have gained at least some certainty in this unstable time.

German Foreign Policy

Heiko Maas

We are living through a new age of great power competition. If we want to stand our ground, we have to confront this as Europeans. If some EU member states allow themselves to be bought out, then Europe will become a mere object of world politics. That cannot be our goal.
In Germany we have outlined a path that takes us to 2024, when we will spend 1.5% of GDP on defense. That is an increase of 40%. Both from a financial and a political point of view, that is for the German public an ambitious project. I know there is irritation on this issue, but we will deliver.
Our policy on Saudi Arabia is correct. You cannot sit in the UN Security Council and call on the conflict parties involved in Yemen to stop the war, and then go out and act as if nothing happened. Changes in American foreign policy mean we now have to take on more responsibility ourselves.
The Iran nuclear agreement has been pronounced dead so many times it should have broken down a long time ago. But Iran has an interest in keeping the agreement alive. It gives Iran access to Europe. I think this deal has a future.
Britain cannot drag out Brexit for a decade. Another extension could send the signal that the UK plans to stay in the EU after all. You cannot say you want to leave and then hold a European Parliament election.

Queen Elizabeth II

Suzanne Moore

The Queen presides over an institution that symbolizes a system of representation that cannot cope with globalization, migration or technology.
The right talk about vassal states and sovereignty. The sovereign UK has a monarchy that legitimates hereditary privilege, the Lords, and owning half of Scotland. Even sensible people fall for the circus of honors, ermine and empire, while young men get their legs blown off to serve Queen and country.
Dismantle the monarchy. When the Queen dies, let the whole monstrous shebang go with her. Only then can the UK be a sovereign country.

2019 April 15


The Guardian

A climate rebellion that organisers say could last several days has blocked central London. Thousands of people occupied major junctions and demanded urgent action over the escalating ecological crisis. The protests are part of a global campaign organised by Extinction Rebellion, with demonstrations planned in 80 cities across 33 countries in the coming days.
New Internationalist contributing editor Jamie Kelsey Fry: "This is not a political movement; this is a movement of humanity. We are all backgrounds, all ages, all races, bound together in one wish, one dream, which is that we will have a good, decent, loving future, for generations to come."

2019 April 14

Global Warning

Extinction Rebellion

★ We declare nonviolent rebellion against the US government for its criminal inaction on the ecological crisis.
★ We demand that the US government tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency. It must reverse all policies not in alignment with that position and must work alongside the media to communicate the urgency for change, including what individuals, communities, and businesses need to do.
★ The US government must enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and take further action to remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases. It must cooperate internationally so that the global economy runs on no more than half a planet's worth of resources per year.
★ We do not trust the US government to make the bold, swift, and long-term changes necessary to achieve these changes and we do not intend to hand further power to our politicians. Instead we demand a Citizens' Assembly to oversee the changes, as we rise from the wreckage, creating a democracy fit for purpose.
★ We demand a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty —

AR Sorry, stop there. Identitarian thoughtcrime.

Academic Warning

Niall Ferguson

The North Atlantic Treaty was signed by 12 governments in Washington on April 4, 1949. NATO played a key role in deterring the Soviet Union from attempting to extend its power any further west than the River Elbe. During the Cold War, Moscow sought to expand its influence worldwide, but it left western Europe alone.
In those days, a small group of western academics did what they could to expose communism and to support political and religious dissidents in the Soviet sphere of influence. A member of that group was Roger Scruton, who in 1998 was awarded the Czech Republic's Medal of Merit by its then president Vaclav Havel.
Last year, Sir Roger Scruton was appointed chairman of a UK government commission on buildings. Almost immediately, the attacks from the left began. Last week, the government took the bait and sacked him.
A direct descendant of the illiberal, egalitarian ideology that once suppressed free speech in eastern Europe is now shutting down debate in the West. An attack on one of us must be considered an attack on all of us. Let us sign a new Nonconformist Academic Treaty.

AR Nonconformists are the new conservatives.

Bomb the Rubble

Matthew Parris

Before I die, I want to see UK politics move on from bickering about Europe. But the fetishizing of compromise proposed by archbishops, royalty, scared business leaders, and most of the really nice people in British public life bids fair to prolong these agonies indefinitely. Compromise can be the most corrosive outcome of all.
Remainers should vote for a confirmatory referendum in hopes of revoking. Leavers should do so in hopes of staying in the game. Then let the electorate settle it.

AR Kill the issue. Burn out all traces.

2019 April 13

Is Superintelligence Impossible?

David Chalmers and Daniel Dennett

An Edge conversation hosted by John Brockman in Brooklyn on April 10, 2019


Mihir Bose

Today marks the centenary of a British general gunning down unarmed Indians who had gathered peacefully in a park in Amritsar. Mahatma Gandhi had helped recruit soldiers during WW1 to preserve the empire, but the Amritsar atrocity prompted him to see British rule as satanic.
Indians contributed massively to the WW1 victory. They were confident the British would reward them with dominion status. But the war cabinet had secretly concluded it would take Indians 500 years to learn to rule themselves.
When the British introduced draconian powers of search and arrest without warrant, and detention without trial, tensions escalated. British troops killed about 15 Indians, and Indians killed 5 British civilians in retaliation. On 13 April 1919, General Reginald Dyer marched in.
Dyer led a small party of soldiers into the heart of Amritsar. There 15,000 to 20,000 had gathered, including women and children. Without warning, Dyer ordered his soldiers to fire. They fired for 10 minutes and stopped only when they ran out of ammunition. By then 337 men, 41 women, and a baby had been killed, with another 1,500 injured.
The British in India saw Dyer as the saviour of the Raj. In the House of Commons, the secretary of state for India, Edwin Montagu, was portrayed as anti-Dyer, and the House debated a motion to reduce Montagu's salary. Montagu was Jewish, and that became the central issue.
The British political class talk of the Commonwealth as a family. But the British empire was at best a real-life Downton Abbey, with the black and brown people downstairs and the whites upstairs.

AR See the Richard Attenborough movie Gandhi.

2019 April 12

Black Hole Image: The Crucial Algorithm

The Guardian

The Event Horizon Telescope relies on interferometry to combine the signals from 8 telescopes into a graphic image. The data collected was physically shipped to a central location, the MIT Haystack Observatory, on 500 kg of hard drives. Dr Katie Bouman led the development of new algorithms to combine the data, filter out noise, and synchronize the signals from the telescopes.

Black Hole Image: The Crucial Person

BBC News

Dr Katie Bouman, 29, led work on the computer program that assembled the black hole image. She started 3 years ago as a grad student at MIT and led the project, assisted by a team from the MIT CSAI Lab, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the MIT Haystack Observatory. Bouman, now an assistant professor at Caltech, says the team deserves equal credit.

2019 April 11

Halloween Brexit

Daily Mail

European Council president Donald Tusk: "Tonight the European Council decided to grant the United Kingdom a flexible extension of the Article 50 period until October 31 .. During this time, the [UK] can still ratify the withdrawal agreement, in which case the extension will be terminated. It can also reconsider the whole Brexit strategy .. Until the end of this period, the UK will also have the possibility to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit altogether."
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker: "In June when we meet again .. the withdrawal agreement should .. not be called into question because that would jeopardise the backstop agreement .. There will probably be a European election in the UK .. we must respect European laws. I do rather regret the fact that we only talk about Brexit .. in October we'll see what happens."

AR Relief — time to hold an election or a referendum and then revoke A50.

Seeing Black Hole M87

Janna Levin

Black holes were conceived of as a thought experiment. Karl Schwarzschild discovered this possible solution to Einstein's general theory of relativity and inferred that spacetime effectively spills toward the crushed center. Even light gets dragged down the hole, casting a shadow on the sky bounded by the event horizon.
When a dying star is heavy enough, gravity causes it the collapse catastrophically. The event horizon is left behind as an archaeological record while the stellar material continues to fall inward to an unknown fate. In our own Milky Way galaxy there could be billions of black holes.
Supermassive black holes, millions or even billions of times the mass of the sun, anchor the centers of nearly all galaxies. Maybe they formed from dead stars that merged and escalated in size, or maybe they directly collapsed out of more primordial material in a younger universe. There are as many supermassive black holes as there are galaxies.
The Event Horizon Telescope is a testament to bold ideas. Exploiting large radio telescopes around the globe, EHT became a composite telescope the size of the Earth. As the planet spins and orbits, the target black hole rises into the field of view of component telescopes around the planet. To render a precise image, the telescopes need to operate as one, which involves sensitive time corrections so that one global eye looks toward the black hole.
Messier 87 is an enormous elliptical galaxy 55 million light-years away that is known to harbor a supermassive black hole between 3.5 billion and 7.2 billion times the mass of the Sun. It is illuminated by debris caught in a hot disk orbiting very near the event horizon. The disk appears to surround the black hole, allowing for a bright contrast against which its shadow is visible.

AR The disk radiation wraps around the black hole due to gravitational bending, so the result resembles what we call an Einstein ring.

M87 black hole

Black Hole M87

A team processing results from a worldwide network of powerful radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) has
released this first-ever graphic image of a black hole. The image depicts the supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy
Messier 87. The hole is 55 million light years away and has a mass 6.6 billion times that of the Sun.
To prepare the historic image, which represents radio signals with red light, the EHT took several petabytes of data collected in
2017 and 2018 and processed it in Boston, USA, and Bonn, Germany. The EHT has such a high resolution that a person in London
with eyes this sharp could read a newspaper as far away as New York.

AR The image conforms to the expectations we have from general relativity. The event horizon on the bright side is moving
toward us, as illustrated in Kip Thorne's simulation for the movie Interstellar.

"It's better than anything
on Netflix."
Aleksander Kwaśniewski


2019 April 10

Rocket Science

Matthew Parris

At lunch at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in Pall Mall last week I met up with an old friend, a distinguished engineer and researcher on rocket technology who has worked for NASA. Over coffee, he leant across the table: "Can you explain Brexit to me? I just can't get my head around it."

2019 April 9

Brexit Extra Time

The Times

UK prime minister Theresa May visits Angela Merkel in Berlin and Emmanuel Macron in Paris today, before the EU summit tomorrow. EU leaders will ask the UK not to block or disrupt EU decisions during an extension period that may be up to March 31, 2020, to end early if the withdrawal agreement is approved by MPs.
A senior EU official: "If there is a wild Brexiteer as a new Tory PM, they would be able to do nothing until after March 31, 2020, unless they subscribe to the withdrawal agreement. We will simply not hold talks. If a new British leader refuses these terms, it will simply be no deal on the date, with plenty of time for us to prepare."
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier: "If the UK were to leave the EU without a deal, we would not discuss anything with the UK until there was an agreement for Ireland and Northern Ireland as well as for citizens' rights and the financial settlement."

EU Withdrawal (No 5) Act

The Guardian

A new act of parliament delays article 50 and forces the government to set out its timetable for the length of the Brexit delay in order to prevent the UK exiting the EU with no deal.
The bill devised by Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin passed its final stages in the House of Lords on Monday night and was approved in the Commons by 392 votes to 85.
The EU Withdrawal (No 5) Act received royal assent just after 11 pm Monday. The government then tabled a motion setting out its plan to seek an extension until 30 June.

Secure Cryptography

Kevin Hartnett

EverCrypt is a new set of digital cryptography tools. It is invulnerable to all the main types of hacking attacks. Its developers specified exactly what their code is supposed to do and then proved it does that and only that, ruling out the possibility that the code could fail under unusual circumstances, by means of formal verification.
Work on EverCrypt began in 2016 as a part of Project Everest, an initiative led by Microsoft Research. The team developed a programming platform that could express all the different attributes they wanted in a verified cryptographic library by creating a new programming language that put the math and the software on equal footing.
EverCrypt is proven to be free of coding errors, mathematical errors, and data leaks.

AR Formal verification uses the logic I researched some 40 years ago.

Poole Bay, Spring 2019

Poole Bay, April 8

Civaux, France
Civaux, France

The Brexit Debate
I shall speak for Remain

Jeremy Corbyn

"Let us be patient."
Donald Tusk

Bloch spheres
Nonlocality and contextuality
are complementary
of realism

Revoke Article 50 petition
exceeds 6 million

Hamming cube
Hamming cube, N = 3


2019 April 8

Chinese Eurasia

Niall Ferguson

The rise of China is the great economic and political fact of our lifetime. China launched its Belt and Road initiative OBOR in 2013 to expand Chinese influence in Eurasia. So far, 12 EU members have signed OBOR memoranda of understanding.
China is threatening to dominate the entire Eurasian landmass. German companies see China as the key to the future of their export-led economy. Yet the German industrial organization BDI warns that Chinese practices pose an existential threat.
EU leaders have taken the first steps to constrain Chinese economic expansion in Europe. Britain is merely a discordant noise offstage as it bungles Brexit.

AR The UK lacks politicians with the bandwidth and legroom to tackle such global affairs. The EU offers the better base for the job.

2019 April 7

Uninhabitable Earth

David Wallace-Wells

If we do nothing to stop carbon emissions, the planet will warm by over 3 K. Over a hundred major cities will flood and the world economy will lose a cumulative $550 trillion. Wars will break out over access to fresh water, millions will die due to heat waves, floods, wildfires and pollution, and drought will fuel political extremism — all this within our lifetimes or those of our children.

Nuclear Power

Joshua S. Goldstein, Staffan A. Qvist, Steven Pinker

To solve climate change, we must eliminate fossil fuels by 2050 — or we're cooked.
Germany went for renewables, but if the world went that way it would take more than a century to decarbonize. France and Sweden decarbonized their grids decades ago and enjoy much cheaper electricity than Germany. They did this with nuclear power.
The only reasons the United States and other countries don't expand their nuclear capacity are economics and fear.
New nuclear power plants are hugely expensive to build in the United States today. But they don't need to be. The keys to building affordable nuclear plants are standardization and a sensible regulatory framework. This depends on overcoming an irrational dread among the public.
Nuclear power is safe. In all its 60 years, only three accidents have raised public alarm: Three Mile Island in 1979, which killed no one; Fukushima in 2011, which killed no one; and Chernobyl in 1986, the result of extraordinary Soviet bungling, which killed 31 in the accident and perhaps several thousand from cancer, around the same number killed by coal emissions every day.
Nuclear power plants cannot explode like nuclear bombs, and they have not contributed to weapons proliferation, thanks to robust international controls.
Nuclear waste is compact and can be stored safely. After we have solved climate change, we can either burn the waste as fuel in new reactors or bury it. This is a far easier environmental challenge than coal waste.
Nuclear can become the new green. We can solve climate change and leave our grandchildren a bright future. We can end the idea that we're cooked.

Quantum Theory and Reality

Anjana Ahuja

The quantum story of how the world works at the atomic level offends intuition. Albert Einstein championed realism. Niels Bohr said no such realist picture is possible. Anti-realism won the day.
Einstein began in 1905 by embracing the idea of photons. Louis de Broglie said if light can be both a wave and a particle, the same duality can be true of other particles. Erwin Schrödinger invented the math. Bohr announced the birth not just of a new physics but of a new philosophy.
Lee Smolin says realistic science is under attack: "So maybe it's all up to a brilliant student some­where, impossibly arrogant, as the young Einstein was, but blindingly talented enough to absorb the essentials of all we have done, before putting them to one side and confidently starting over."

AR Waves are premonitions of particles, before they settle into 4D locations within a cosmic flux that cools into the 4D forms of both us and them. Thus I reconcile realism and anti-realism. The math is beyond me.

2019 April 6


Andrew Adonis

Theresa May has surrendered any right to be seen as a prime minister acting in good faith. From the moment she pulled the vote on her withdrawal agreement, she has consistently placed her own interests above those of the UK. Her request for a short extension makes a mockery of her negotiations with Labour. She cannot let go of the idea that she may yet triumph.

EU Stress Test

Jonathan Freedland

ERG extremist Jacob Rees-Mogg says if the UK stayed in the EU it could veto any increase in the budget, obstruct the putative EU army, block new integrationist schemes, and elect Tommy Robinson to the European parliament.
Since the UK triggered Article 50, the EU27 has shown extraordinary solidarity, whereas the UK has a split parliament, split government, split opposition, and split cabinet. When the EU27 threw its collective weight behind Ireland, it ended centuries of abusive British relations with the Irish.
The past three years have discredited British politics and advertised the benefits of European cooperation.



A model of synchronization in a population of oscillators shows why coupled oscillators spontaneously synchronize. Computer simulations show mixed "chimera" states of synchrony and asynchrony.
The brain looks like a complicated chimera that sustains both synchronous and asynchronous firing of neurons. Perhaps consciousness arises in a complicated and delicate balance of synchrony and asynchrony.
Networks can break up into clusters of synchronized oscillators. Indirectly linked oscillators can form a cluster, while the oscillators between them form different clusters or drift. They can even form chaotic states.
Synchronization is a manifestation of symmetry and symmetry breaking, where network symmetries reflect the ways oscillators can be swapped without changing the network.

2019 April 5


The Guardian

Theresa May has written to European Council president Donald Tusk asking for an Article 50 extension up to 30 June 2019, or earlier if a deal is reached, and promising continued preparations to hold European parliamentary elections.
Tusk would like to offer Theresa May a one-year "flextension" to keep it simple, so long as the EU27 agree unanimously at the summit on 10 April. Tusk is offering flexibility to avoid any suggestion that the EU is seeking to trap the UK.

2019 April 4

Roof Leaks: Commons Adjourned

BBC News

During a rainy-day debate on taxation, Justin Madders MP struggled to be heard as a water leak in the roof of the Commons chamber grew louder. The sitting had to be suspended at the conclusion of his speech. The House of Commons adjourned for the day.

AR The Palace of Westminster is in urgent need of a renovation that will cost billions. It seems a fitting metaphor for Brexit Britain.

Brexit: Commons Passes Cooper−Letwin

The Guardian

MPs have voted through an emergency bill to instruct Theresa May to seek an extension to Article 50 and avoid a no-deal Brexit.
The bill, spearheaded by Labour former shadow minister Yvette Cooper and Conservative former minister Sir Oliver Letwin, passed half an hour before midnight, after MPs had defeated a number of obstructive amendments.
MPs had initially voted by 312 to 311 to let the bill proceed. Cooper and Letwin then had six hours to pass its second reading, committee stage, and third reading through the House of Commons. It finally passed its third reading by 313 to 312 and must now pass the House of Lords.
The government opposed the bill.

AR Seeking an extension is only half the job. The EU will only agree to an extension if the UK participates in the European parliamentary elections on May 23.

Goodbye EU, Goodbye UK

Philip Stephens

The Brexit story was supposed to be about the UK leaving the EU. It has turned into a runaway national crisis. Brexit is really about identity and culture.
A strain of Conservatism has never come to terms with the loss of empire. But Brexit is an English rather than a British enterprise. It belongs overwhelmingly to provincial England.
Theresa May's government insists that powers returned from Brussels will be hoarded at Westminster. The prime minister wants to reduce immigration. Scotland sees no reason to shackle itself to the rule of English nationalists.
Nor can Northern Ireland's place in the UK be taken for granted. The DUP is adamant that a deal with the EU27 does not differentiate between NI and the rest of the UK. But nothing has done so much as Brexit to reopen the question of Irish unification.
Britishness is an invented identity. It was promoted during the 19th century to cast empire as a joint project of the four nations of the UK. More recently, as the empire came home, it has provided a welcoming mantle for immigrants from former imperial outposts.
Allegiance to England is predominantly for white nationalists. The threads of Britishness unravel. Identity politics elbows aside common purpose.

AR If the UK leaves the EU, the smaller, older, poorer union will soon decay.

2019 April 3

The English Nationalist Revolution Is Over

Paul Mason

The illusions of the May administration have crumbled. After years of civil service expertise wasted, economic growth lost, and legislative time squandered, Theresa May has turned for help to Jeremy Corbyn. She has bottled out of a fourth meaningful vote, ditched the threat of no deal, and thrown herself on the mercy of parliament.
Labour's proposed Brexit deal would sign Britain up to the customs union and enter a state of "dynamic alignment" with the rules of the single market. If May can accept this, thus splitting the Tory party for a generation, Corbyn should consider the offer. But May will lose her authority when her party sees the scale of her defeat.
Any deal done must be put to a second referendum, with remain as the other option. Despite getting 6 million signatures on a petition, the simple revocation of Article 50 would have zero democratic legitimacy. To cancel the disastrous effects of the 2016 referendum, we need another one.
May's bombshell means the Little English nationalist revolution is over. This is a victory for the democratic process. Let's find out now what there is a majority for and test it at the ballot box against the most obvious solution: Remain in the EU.

EU Victory

Daniel Finkelstein

William Ury says breakthrough negotiation is the art of letting the other person have your way. First identify your own interests and your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA.
The EU interest is for the UK to remain a member and accept the four freedoms. The EU has a fairly strong BATNA and the UK has a weak one. But many negotiated deals are better for the EU than its fallback position.
Brussels has an interest in holding out for a deal. Once a long extension begins, it can relax. Ury: "Even if you have a decisive power advantage, you should think twice before lunging for victory."

Quantum Games

Kevin Hartnett

Nonlocal games involve quantum entanglement. Two players are each asked a simple question. They win the game if their answers are coordinated in a certain way. They cannot communicate with each other, but if they share pairs of entangled quantum particles, they can enhance the correlations between their answers.
For some nonlocal games, the more pairs of entangled quantum particles the players share, the better they can play. Optimal play needs infinitely many pairs of entangled particles or properties. So it is impossible to compute the maximum-win probability for such games.
The two players in a nonlocal game are kept from coordinating their answers in two ways:
1 Physically isolate the players from each other. We analyze this case using the tensor product model and use it to compute a floor for the maximum-win probability of nonlocal games: the algorithm pushes it above some limit.
2 Require that the order in which the two players measure their entangled particles cannot affect their answers. We analyze this case with the commuting operator model and use it to compute a ceiling on the maximum-win probability: the algorithm pushes it below some limit.
The longer the algorithms run, the more they appear to converge. To establish that they converge to infinity, we would need to prove the two models equivalent. Then the ceiling and the floor converge to a single value. Otherwise, pushing the limits might push the ceiling below the floor.
Calculating more exact maximum-win probabilities for nonlocal games is exponentially hard, an NP problem.

2019 April 2

Brexit Shitshow

The Guardian, 1714 UTC

After a 7-hour cabinet meeting, Theresa May calls for a further extension of Article 50 "that would be as short as possible" and would end once a deal is struck.
She says any plan both she and Jeremy Corbyn agreed upon would be put to MPs for approval with a view to it being taken to the European Council meeting on 10 April.
If she and Corbyn cannot agree a unified approach, a series of options for the future relationship would be put to the Commons in a series of votes. The government would abide by the decision of the House if Labour did so too.
May says she wants the process to be finished by 22 May so that the UK does not have to take part in the European Parliament elections.
She says the debate cannot be allowed to drag on and any deal must include her withdrawal agreement.

AR I predict that May's call for a "short extension" will fail and no deal will be agreed by 12 April. To save the UK, MPs need to force revocation of Article 50 before 12 April.

2019 April 1

Brexit Folly

BBC News, 2108 UTC

Tonight MPs cast indicative votes to defeat four Brexit motions:
 C: Customs union (possibly without freedom of movement)
    — votes for 273, votes against 276
 D: Common market 2.0 (EEA/EFTA option, including a customs union, rather like Norway)
    — votes for 261, votes against 282
 E: Confirmatory public vote (a second referendum to be held on any deal agreed in order to
    confirm or reject it)
    — votes for 280, votes against 292
 G: Parliamentary supremacy (if no agreement is reached by April 10, the PM is required to
    request the EU for an extension, and if none is granted to repeal Article 50 forthwith)
    — votes for 191, votes against 292
Conservative MPs were given a free vote on the motions, but the cabinet was told to abstain. Labour MPs were urged to back motion D.

Change Mixes Order and Randomness

Kevin Hartnett

Tim Austin has proved the weak Pinsker conjecture and showed that dynamical systems blend chance and determinism.
A dynamical system starts with some input, applies some rules, and produces some output. You can repeat this process: Take the new state, apply the same rules, and get the next state.
Some dynamical systems can be seen as combining two simpler systems. The two systems act independently but together form the more complex system. The two naturally simplest systems are deterministic ones and random ones.
The weak Pinsker conjecture is that for a certain large class of dynamical systems, each system is a mix of a random system and an almost completely deterministic system.
Austin analyzed dynamical systems running in discrete space and time, with a dynamical system outputting a sequence of 1s and 0s. He analyzed these bit strings using Hamming cubes, in which each vertex is assigned N bits. Moving from one vertex to another flips one bit, and the distance between any two vertices equals the number of flips between the bit strings.
Considering how frequently a dynamical system produces a given bit string, Austin found the strings cluster on the Hamming cube in a way that blends chance and determinism.

AR A basic result for all coding geeks.

House of Commons, 2019-03-29


What the f**k is going on?

Jonathan Pie

AR A comic rant that gets
to the rot at the core
of Austerity UK

The Times

Oliver Letwin
Sir Oliver Letwin
MP for West Dorset

Mein Urlaub
in Deutschland:

Michael Heseltine
Michael Heseltine

Michael Heseltine's
Saturday speech on Brexit


Bollocks to Brexit

Vladimir Putin


2019 March 31


Niall Ferguson

Britain and Japan have much in common. Both are densely populated island nations off the vast Eurasian landmass. Both were once mighty empires. Both are still quite rich. Both are constitutional monarchies. Yet while Britain today is in a state of acute political crisis, Japan seems a model of political stability.
You might think Japan has much bigger problems than Britain. The ratio of people over 65 to those of working age is 46%, the highest in the world. The gross public debt is now 238% of GDP, again highest in the world. Britain leads Japan in terms of innovation, economic and political freedom, ease of doing business, and even happiness.
Britain has embraced immigration. Japan has resisted it. There are now almost 1.3 million foreign workers in Japan, just 2% of the population. The figure for the UK is 13%. Perhaps conservatism is incompatible with immigration on this scale and the Brexit breakdown is a symptom.

2019 March 30

Article 13 Explained

New Scientist

The EU has issued a major new directive on copyright laws. Its Article 13 makes websites responsible for ensuring that content uploaded to their platforms does not breach copyright. Owners of websites where people can post content will be responsible for ensuring no unlicensed material appears.
To comply with Article 13, big platforms will need to ensure that any copyrighted material on their sites is licensed. The rules are intended to end music and video piracy online, ensure artists receive a fair payment for their work, and force tech giants to pay for content they aggregate.
Certain services are exempted, including non-profit sites, software development platforms, cloud storage services, and websites with less than €10 million annual turnover. Website owners are not required to install content monitoring software to detect copyright material.
EU member states must now pass legislation to implement the directive.

AR I trust this blog is not in new jeopardy.

2019 March 29

Meaningful Vote 2.5

BBC News, 1442 UTC

The House of Commons has rejected Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement for a third time, this time by 286 votes for the deal and 344 against.

Past Caring

Nicholas Watt

An unnamed UK cabinet minister, when asked why Theresa May is holding another Brexit vote, said: "Fuck knows, I'm past caring."

2019 March 28

Brexit Deal Vote Tomorrow

BBC News, 1748 UTC

MPs will be asked to vote again on Brexit on Friday but only on part of the deal negotiated with the EU. They will vote on the withdrawal agreement but not the political declaration. This complies with House speaker John Bercow's ruling that the same deal cannot be introduced a third time.
Labour will not back the deal. Labour MPs called the new vote "extraordinary and unprecedented" and "trickery of the highest order" while shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said: "We would be leaving the EU, but with absolutely no idea where we are heading. That cannot be acceptable."
The DUP say they will not back the deal and several ERG members refuse to back it. Boris Johnson said it was "dead" but he would reluctantly support it. The withdrawal agreement must be passed by close of play tomorrow to meet the EU requirement for a delay of B-day to 22 May.

A Way Forward

Oliver Letwin

The issue is whether parliament can come to a majority in favour of a way forward on Monday. MPs will be voting on the basis of seeing what happened last night. And either the prime minister will have got her deal through on Friday, in which case all this is unnecessary, or people will see that isn't going to happen by 12 April. Quite a lot of Tories who didn't vote for any of the options may then come round and say: OK, we'll choose among these options.
It's very difficult to translate how people vote the first time, when they don't know how other people are voting, to how they will vote when they can see how other people are voting, under new circumstances. Many of us think leaving without a deal on 12 April is not a good solution. But is parliament on Monday willing to come to a majority view about a way forward?

DUP Thwarts May Gambit

Financial Times

Theresa May has gambled her premiership to win support for her Brexit deal. She hoped to make a third attempt to pass her Brexit deal on Friday. But the Northern Irish DUP says it will continue to vote against it. Steve Baker and other ERG Brexiteers say they will also vote against it. On May's offer to resign, Baker said: "I'm consumed with a ferocious rage after that pantomime."

No No No No No No No No

The Guardian

In a series of indicative votes in the Commons, all eight proposed alternatives to the government's Brexit deal were defeated. The two closest:
 A plan to negotiate a "permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU" in any Brexit deal, proposed by Conservative veteran Ken Clarke and others, was lost by 264 votes to 272.
 A plan to require a second referendum to confirm any Brexit deal, proposed by Labour former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, was lost by 268 votes to 295.
Oliver Letwin, who pushed to let MPs take control of the order paper for the votes, said the results were "disappointing" but hopes for more clarity after new votes on Monday.

AR Only the option that dare not speak its name remains: Revoke Article 50.

2019 March 27

May Vows To Quit

BBC News, 1943 UTC

Theresa May has promised Tory MPs she will resign as prime minister if they back her Brexit deal.
A smiling Boris Johnson says he will now back the deal.

AR Excited commentators are saying this is the biggest thing in British politics since the fall of Neville Chamberlain and the rise of Winston Churchill in May 1940.

European Citizens

Donald Tusk

We should be open to a long extension if the UK wishes to rethink its Brexit strategy. We cannot betray the 6 million people who signed the petition to revoke article 50, the 1 million people who marched for a people's vote, or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the EU. They may feel they are not sufficiently represented by the UK parliament, but they must feel that they are represented by the European Parliament. Because they are Europeans.

AR I am by UK law a subject of the Crown and by EU law a citizen of the European Union. Losing my preferred citizenship but retaining my embarrassing subjection is utterly dismaying to me.

The Brexit Delusion

Martin Wolf

Brexiteers say the UK is going to take back control. This was the biggest delusion of all.
Control is different from sovereignty. The UK was already sovereign. Control is about power.
The EU is more powerful than the UK. For the EU, the UK market is important. For the UK, the EU market is vital.
The world contains three economic superpowers: the United States, the EU (without the UK), and China. These generated about 60% of global output in 2018. The UK contribution was 3%.
The UK is a trading nation and has no future as anything else. Markets all over the world cannot compensate for reduced access to the market of 450 million people on its doorstep.
The United States will impose hard terms in any bilateral bargaining with the UK. Both China and India will insist on UK acceptance of their terms. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand together contain fewer people than the UK.
Outside the EU, the UK will not have greater control over its global environment. Trade agreements are increasingly about regulatory standards. The UK will often have to align itself with the standards of others.
The UK will not take back control by leaving the EU.

2019 March 26

Brexit: Taking Back Control

Financial Times

Theresa May on Monday night risked losing control of Brexit, after MPs voted to seize control of the House of Commons timetable and test support for alternatives to her withdrawal deal. She had ordered her ministers to oppose the Letwin amendment.
Former Conservative minister Sir Oliver Letwin hoped his amendment would give parliament a chance to find a cross-party way forward on Brexit. Several senior ministers say there is a growing possibility that a general election might be needed to end the stalemate.
May warned of a protracted "slow Brexit" if an extension to the Article 50 process were agreed by the EU and the UK took part in European elections. She remains at loggerheads with the hardline ERG Brexiteers.
Letwin: "This is just the beginning of a very difficult process as we struggle to find consensus across the House."

AR Oliver Letwin is a former Cambridge philosopher. His prizewinning PhD thesis was on emotions and led to his 1987 book Ethics, Emotion and the Unity of the Self.

Grand Wizards of Brexit

The Jouker

A while back, we all had a good laugh at Jacob Rees-Mogg's European Research Group naming their elite team of lawyers the Star Chamber.
The Star Chamber was a court of inquisitorial and criminal jurisdiction in England that sat without a jury, used arbitrary methods, and imposed severe punishments. It was abolished in 1641.
May met leading ERG members at Chequers on Sunday for crisis talks on Brexit. The hard Brexit day-trippers failed to reach an agreement with her.
BBC reporter Laura Kuenssberg: "The 'Grand Wizards' (the new name for the Chequers day-trippers apparently) also had another meeting this morning .."
Grand Wizard was a title used for the leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

AR Kuenssberg later said it was just a nickname, but the Grand Wizards of ERG in their Star Chamber are no joke.

An Island Alone — No!

Michael Heseltine

Brexit is the biggest peacetime crisis we have faced. A no-deal Brexit could provoke a national emergency. The most sensible step would be to put the issue on hold, complete the negotiations, and then hold a referendum.
I dismiss with contempt the image of us as an island wrapped in a union jack, glorying in the famous phrase that captured, for so many, Winston Churchill's spirit of defiance in 1940: "Very well, alone." I was there. I saw our army evacuated, our cities bombed, our convoys sunk. Churchill did everything in his power to end this isolation. Alone was never Churchill's hope or wish: it was his fear.
Now, I look back over the years: 70 years of peace in Europe, 50 years of partnership between the UK and the rest of the EU. The fascists have gone from Spain and Portugal, the colonels from Greece. Now we have 28 democracies working together on a basis of shared sovereignty, achieving far in excess of what any one of us could individually. Never forget that it was the memories of Europe's war that laid the foundations of the European Union today.
Margaret Thatcher would have been appalled to see Britain excluded from the top table. Theresa May dashed across the Channel last week, only to be excluded from a meeting of our former partners, and presented with a take-it-or-leave-it offer. That is what the Brexiteers have done to our country: a national humiliation, made in Britain, made by Brexit.
Britain cannot run from today's global realities of a shrinking world menaced by terrorism, international tax avoidance, giant corporations, superpowers, mass migration, the rise of the far right, climate change, and a host of other threats. Against them, our duty is to build on our achievements in the areas of peace and security that the EU has given us, to maintain our trade access where it matters and to keep our place at the centre of the world stage.
We have a responsibility to hand over and pass on to a younger generation a country richer, more powerful, and safer than that which we ourselves inherited. And doing so in partnership with Europe is our destiny.

AR A great speech — Heseltine's finest hour.

2019 March 25

Brexit: Parliament Seizes Control

BBC News, 2248 UTC

By 327 votes to 300, MPs pass a motion as amended by Sir Oliver Letwin allowing the Commons to take control of the parliamentary agenda to hold indicative votes on Brexit options. The amendment was passed by 329 votes to 302. Three government ministers resigned to cast their votes.


Sylvie Kauffmann

Europe is under attack. For the United States, China, and Russia, Europe is a political and economic target.
Russia has been at work for some time. Moscow's efforts to undermine democratic processes and the cohesion of the EU are now part of the political landscape. In parallel, Russia is increasing its economic footprint in EU countries that are more welcoming than others.
Chinese president Xi Jinping wants to connect Europe to China economically. China has bought the port of Athens and some other gates to southern Europe. The Belt and Road Initiative has involved setting up an organization called 16+1 (16 European former Communist states, 11 of them EU members, plus China) to help them build infrastructure.
The United States has its own fight with China. In a normal world, Washington would have enrolled its European allies in its fight. But Trump America treats Europe either as a competitor or as a vassal.
Europe is a soft target, hampered by its complex politics. The Brexit chaos will leave a mark. Europeans must decide whether they wish to let their continent be cut up by competing big powers, or whether they want to regain their strength and control their own destiny.
French president Emmanuel Macron: "Europe is not just an economic market. It is a project."

European Struggles

Gideon Rachman

Last Saturday, Remainers protested in London and gilets jaunes again came out in Paris and other French cities. The previous weekend saw mass demonstrations by Catalan separatists in Madrid.
Britain's crisis is part of a wider pattern. Its vote to leave the EU in 2016 was swayed by the German refugee crisis of 2015. Radical Leavers have taken to wearing yellow vests, as in France. The independence referendum in Catalonia was inspired by the referendum in Scotland in 2014.
Europe is changing. Nationalist-populist governments are in power in Italy, Hungary, and Poland, and form part of the coalition government in Austria. The far right has also performed strongly in elections in France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and is making gains in Spain.
European leaders have to ask whether to cut Britain loose to discredit radical forces across the continent. But they risk deepening the crisis. Their decisions will affect the whole of Europe.

British Contagion

Nic Robertson, CNN

The British state is not faring well. The UK political establishment appears to be crumbling, as a pioneer of modern democracy flounders in archaic and arcane process. Attitudes are stiffening in Europe, as the EU resolves to protect European democracy from British contagion.

AR Economic inequality, democratic dysfunction, mass immigration — go figure.

2019 March 24

Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy

The New York Times

The investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III found that neither President Trump nor any of his aides conspired or coordinated with the Russian government's 2016 election interference, according to a summary made public by the attorney general.
The special counsel's team lacked sufficient evidence to establish that President Trump illegally obstructed justice but stopped short of exonerating Trump.

Putin's Russia

Andrew Higgins

Russian president Vladimir Putin sits atop a ramshackle system driven more by the calculations of competing bureaucracies and interest groups than by Kremlin diktats.
Ekaterina Schulmann: "This is not a personally run empire but a huge and difficult-to-manage bureaucratic machine with its own internal rules and principles. It happens time and again that the president says something, and then nothing or the opposite happens."
Russia today resembles not so much the Soviet state ruled by Stalin as the dilapidated autocracy of Russia in the early 19th century. Czar Nicholas I presided over corrupt bureaucracies that led Russia into a disastrous war in Crimea and let the economy stagnate.
Schulmann: "It is a great illusion that you just need to reach the leader and make him listen and everything will change. This is not how it happens."
In his annual state of the nation address last month, Putin stressed the need to let business people work freely. He admitted he had made the same demand in a previous address: "Unfortunately, the situation has not improved much."

Brexit: May Meets Rebels

The Guardian

UK prime minister Theresa May met with a group of senior Conservative rebels including Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Steve Baker, and Iain Duncan Smith at her Chequers country retreat today.
Chancellor Philip Hammond: "I'm realistic that we may not be able to get a majority for the prime minister's deal, and if that is the case then parliament will have to decide not just what it's against but what it is for."

Article 50 Petition: 5M+

The Guardian

Brexit petition to revoke Article 50 exceeds 5 million signatures.

March, London, 2019-03-23

Photo: EPA
The crowd on Piccadilly
The Guardian: People's Vote Brexit rally draws 1 million marchers (2:32)
BBC News: People's Vote march to Westminster — sped up (1:30)

AR I was there too, alongside a million people aiming to send a message to
HM government. Whether it succeeds, only the next few weeks will tell.

Put it to the people
London, Saturday

K.K. Uhlenbeck
K.K. Uhlenbeck


2019 March 23

Trump Investigation

The New York Times

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has delivered his report to the US Justice Department.

2019 March 22

EU Lifeline

The Times

EU leaders give Theresa May 3 weeks to come up with an alternative Brexit plan if MPs reject her deal again. May now has an unconditional extension until April 12. If her deal is passed, she has until May 22 to pass legislation implementing Brexit.

Strategic Failure
Confirmation that a longer extension may still be on the table makes May's defeat more likely. Brexiteers will say no deal remains the default outcome. But defeat of her deal will not end this drama: Those holding out for a softer Brexit or no Brexit at all will hold out.
Ministers opposed to no-deal thought they had a commitment from May to seek a long extension if a deal had not been agreed, and then to hold indicative votes to find an alternative way forward. They now see she is ready to take the UK out of the EU with no deal.
MPs can seize control of events to vote on alternative strategies. That probably means resigning the whip. To prevent no-deal, parliament may need to find a new prime minister.

AR My former ministry had plans: Operation Yellowhammer was to start Monday, with thousands of troops on standby and reservists called up. Hard Brexit would trigger Operation Redfold, run from a crisis room in the nuclear bunker deep beneath Whitehall.

UK Political Breakdown

Gary Younge

The idea that Brexit has broken the UK gives too much credit to the Brexiteers. The two main trends in postwar electoral politics have been the decline in turnout and waning support for the two major parties. Brexit merely shows the UK system is bust.
Since the 2008 crash, most Western countries have seen electoral fracture, the demise of mainstream parties, a rise in nativism and bigotry, increased public protest, and general political dysfunction. The virus that drove the UK mad is on the loose.

AR Time to re-engineer Western democracy.

2019 March 21

"No deal for sure"

CNN, 1430 UTC

French President Emmanuel Macron: "In case of no vote — or no — I mean directly — it will guide everybody to a no deal for sure. This is it."

Brits Are EU Citizens Too

Timothy Garton Ash

More than 16 million British citizens voted for Britain to remain in the EU in 2016. European citizenship is at stake.
The UK contains three nations: England, Wales and Scotland, together with a part of a fourth, Ireland. The EU27 member states have been impressive in their solidarity with Ireland. But Scotland voted by a majority of 62% to 38% to remain in the EU.
Europe will lack the power to defend our shared interests and values in the world if Brexit goes ahead. Not harmonious cooperation but dissonance will almost certainly be the consequence.

Brexit On Hold

Oliver Wright, Henry Zeffman

UK prime minister Theresa May wrote to European Council president Donald Tusk asking for B-day to be delayed until June 30.
Tusk responded by making a short extension conditional on MPs approving her deal next week. A short extension can only last until May 23, the date of European Parliament elections, as the UK seats will then be redistributed among other member states.
May is likely to ask the Commons to vote on her deal again (MV3) on Monday. MPs may refuse. The last date the UK can opt to take part in the European Parliament elections is April 12.

"Nuke it from space"

BBC News

"Time to take [Article 50], bin it, set the bin on fire, kick it over, and nuke it from space
— we're done."
Dr Mike Galsworthy about the trending petition Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU

AR Update 1504 UTC: Petition has 1,012,938 signatures and counting (site keeps crashing)

2019 Vernal Equinox


Theresa May, 2041 UTC

You want us to get on with it, and that is what I am determined to do.

AR She still hasn't given up.

Europe and China

Financial Times

The EU summit this week will focus on China. EU official: "While we were absorbed in our own crises for 10 years, the GDP of China soared and Trump was elected. We entered a different game."
The EU is China's largest trading partner, and China is the EU's second-largest, behind the US. In 2018, China accounted for about a fifth of EU goods imports and more than a tenth of its exports. Levels of Chinese direct investment in the EU have soared.
German economy minister Peter Altmaier says China's growing technological prowess shows Europe needs a new industrial strategy. Chinese investments in Germany raise fears in Berlin about sensitive areas of the economy. German Council on Foreign Relations director Daniela Schwarzer: "For a long time the business sector was highlighting the relationship with China as a bonus but they are now highlighting the cost of this kind of engagement. The debate now is risk minimization."
In the EU, 13 member states have signed endorsements of China's Belt and Road program. Northern member states call it opaque and strategically aggressive and say China can impose crippling debts on recipient states.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi: "Europe will surely keep its fundamental long-term interests in mind and pursue a China policy that is consistent, independent and forward-leaning. Overall China and Europe relations are in good shape. There are far more areas where we agree than disagree."

Abel Prize 2019

Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

The Abel Prize for 2019 goes to Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck of the University of Texas at Austin for her pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory, and integrable systems, and for the impact of her work on analysis, geometry, and mathematical physics.
Her theories have revolutionized our understanding of minimal surfaces, such as those formed by soap bubbles, and more general minimization problems in higher dimensions.
Uhlenbeck developed tools and methods in global analysis, which are now in the toolbox of every geometer and analyst. Her work also lays the foundation for contemporary geometric models in mathematics and physics.
Her fundamental work in gauge theory is essential for the modern mathematical understanding of models in particle physics, string theory, and general relativity.

AR I'm awed. This is stuff I struggle with.

2019 March 19

Brexit Crisis

BBC News, 1612 UTC

Theresa May is writing to the EU to ask for Brexit to be postponed until 30 June with the option of a longer delay. A cabinet minister says there was "no agreement" in the cabinet this morning. Under current law the UK will leave the EU with or without a deal in 10 days.

Physics Beyond Higgs

Natalie Wolchover

In 2012, the Higgs boson materialized at the LHC, leaving open many mysteries about the universe.
We understand little about the Higgs field, or the moment in the early universe when it shifted from being zero everywhere into its current state. That symmetry-breaking event instantly rendered quarks and many other particles massive, which led them to form atoms and so on.
Perhaps Higgs symmetry breaking led to matter-antimatter asymmetry. Another question is whether the Higgs field is stable or could suddenly trigger vacuum decay. A growing bubble of true vacuum would swallow up the false vacuum we live in, obliterating everything.
A proposed supercollider would collide electrons and positrons with energies tuned to maximize their chance of yielding Higgs bosons, whose decays could be measured in detail. In phase two, it would collide protons, resulting in messier but much more energetic collisions.
We want to observe the triple Higgs coupling in which a Higgs boson decays into two of itself. The Standard Model predicts its value, so any measured deviations would signify new particles. Measuring the coupling would also pin down the shape of the Higgs field.
Should we invest billions of dollars in a machine that might simply sharpen up our knowledge?

AR Better to invest in this than in nuclear overkill.

Milky Way

Andrew Whyte / Sony
Milky Way viewed from the cliffs of the Dorset coast

Revoke remain rebuild

British Empire

IV. Reich

Brexit and Democracy
PDF: 2 pages


2019 March 18

Brexit: No Return

BBC News, 1557 UTC

Commons Speaker John Bercow has ruled out the government holding another vote on its previously rejected Brexit agreement if the motion remains substantially the same.

Brexit: No Delay

Stefan Kuzmany

Theresa May will probably ask the EU to give her more time. The EU-27 should refuse. We have enough problems without this farce called Brexit. The EU urgently needs reform. Letting the divided Brits remain, only to have them hinder progress, would be fatal. They must go.

European Nationalists Love Israel

Ivan Krastev

National populists in central Europe are fascinated with Israel and its right-wing prime minister.
Zionism mirrored the nationalistic politics in central and eastern Europe between the two world wars. European populists see Israel today as an ethnic democracy. It has preserved the heroic ethos of sacrifice for the nation that nationalists covet for their own societies.
Central and eastern Europeans see Israel as winning the population war by reversing demographic decline. At a time when the population of eastern Europe is shrinking fast, Israel is persuading diaspora Jews to return and convincing Israelis to have more children.
European populists agree with Yoram Hazony that the big political clash in world history is not between classes or nations but between nationalists who believe that the nation state is the best form of political organization and imperialists who push for universal empire.
Israel faces existential threats. The threats are real. Whereas the European states are in the EU.

AR Brexiteers see Israel as a model for Fortress UK: defiant, militarized, and tight on immigration.

Enola May

Peter Müller, Jörg Schindler

UK prime minister Theresa May is the main impediment to solving the Brexit mess.
Last week, May was humiliated by her own party once again. Parliament rejected her divorce deal for the second time, again by a huge majority. Whatever happens now is no longer up to her.
May has led her country, her party, and herself into a labyrinth. She has neither the power nor the ideas to find a way out. Now, for many, Brexit has become a vote of confidence in May herself.
May vacillated for months before defining her Brexit. And then she got it wrong. She set bold red lines, she uttered hollow phrases, and she miscalculated the kind of deal parliament would accept.
May said what matters is the "will of the people," but she was mostly thinking about her own party. To push Brexit over the finish line in a third vote this week, she is again looking to hard-liners.
May could still choose a different path.

AR To quote Prince Charles: "Really? You don't say."

British Science

Alice Gast

Science is one area where Britain is world-class. As Brexit and immigration checks loom, we must keep Britain attractive for scientists.
Breakthroughs in frontier science rely on EU collaborations. EU peers want continued frictionless partnership in the Horizon program.
We cannot afford to lose talent mobility in Brexit. UK universities attract the world's best scientists. Brexit Britain could lose them.

AR Science is universal: British science is an oxymoron.

2019 March 17

United Ireland

Timothy Egan

For going on three years now, Britain has taken a holiday from sanity. But from the depths of British bungling, hubris, and incompetence is emerging a St Patrick's Day miracle: the real chance of a united Ireland.
After more than 800 years, London's ruling reach in Northern Ireland may end with the whimpering last gasps of Brexit. Don't wait for Her Majesty's government to resolve the sovereignty issues holding up the divorce between Britain and the European Union. There is no solution.
What UK prime minister Theresa May calls "our precious union" is held together by 10 MPs representing the old hatreds of North Ireland: the DUP. Given a choice, a majority in Northern Ireland could well be persuaded to ditch what is left of Britain and form a single Irish nation.
This was all Britain's doing — a single Irish nation finally free of foreign rule.

2019 March 16

Mathematical Models

Patrick Honner

Mathematics has a long history of defying expectations and forcing us to expand our imaginations. So mathematicians strive for proof. Still, evidence is important and useful in mathematics.
The twin primes conjecture is an example. The twin primes conjecture is not the twin primes theorem, because no one has been able to prove it. Yet almost everyone believes it is true, because there is lots of evidence that supports it.
As we search for large primes, we continue to find extremely large twin prime pairs. The largest currently known pair of twin primes have nearly 400,000 digits each. We know that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by no more than 246, but we still haven't proved the twin primes conjecture that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by 2.
Mathematical models are used everywhere in science and can used to study mathematics itself. They are powerful tools that let us trade a problem we don't fully understand for one we have a better handle on. But we can never be certain that our model behaves enough like the thing we are trying to understand to draw conclusions about it.
Mathematicians know to be cautious when working with their models.

AR This recalls for me the book Proofs and Refutations by Imre Lakatos, which I read with pleasure in 1972, in which he espoused an evolutionary conception of mathematics (inspired by the philosophy of Karl Popper), and which I soon used to develop my own dialectical picture of logic, mathematics, and reality (inspired by the works of Hegel, Frege, Gödel et al.).

Dreams of Empire

James Meek

What may seem, rationally, to be dead, gone, and buried is actually still there, immanent, or hidden, or stolen. An empire. The past week has laid bare the crisis in British politics.
Leavers dream about the Britons who endured the Nazi siege of the early 1940s as "we" who feel bound to re-enact the slaying of a European dragon every few generations.
A subliminal empire persists in their dreaming. From Margaret Thatcher they take the credo that nationalism and borderless capitalism can easily coexist. This idea makes sense only if your country happens to control a global empire.

AR Empire 2.0, Commonwealth 2.0, Common Market 2.0 — all seek refuge in the past.

Common Market 2.0

Nick Boles

Next week the prime minister will hold a third "meaningful vote" on her deal. A third defeat is likely.
A Brexit compromise many MPs could support is Common Market 2.0: the UK would join Norway outside the EU but inside the single market.
The UK is already a member of the EEA, which covers the EU and EFTA. All it would need to do is secure consent to renew its EEA membership after it left the EU and join EFTA by the end of 2020.
Common Market 2.0 would leave the UK out of EU policies on agriculture, fishing, justice, defence, and foreign affairs, out of ECJ jurisdiction, and paying only for chosen programs and agencies.
The UK would have to accept the free movement of people, but with an emergency brake.

AR I could accept this as an alternative to EU membership.

2019 March 15

A Fourth Reich

Thomas Meaney

First Reich — God the Father and the Hebrews, Second Reich — Jesus and the Christians, Third Reich — the Nazis. More prosaically, the First Reich of the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne and the Second Kaiserreich secured by Bismarck led to the Third Reich under Hitler.
The Nazis deprecated the term "Third Reich" because it suggested a coming Fourth Reich. SPD intellectuals drafted a constitution for the Fourth Reich that would come about after the fall of Hitler. It would be dedicated, they said, to global democracy and the equality of peoples.
Since 1945, talk of a Fourth Reich offers perspective for calibrating the rise of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). There were several right-wing German parties in the postwar years. The Socialist Reich Party was founded in 1949 but soon banned by the fledgling Federal Republic.
Today, European critics view the European Union as a kind of Reich in thin disguise. The history of the European Union can be written as an origin story that begins with Hitler but was only realised in opposition to his aims. Europe is now too anglo to have patience with a German Reich.

AR A provocative train of thought, but worth a moment.

2019 March 14

Brexit: UK To Request Delay

BBC News, 1823 UTC

House of Commons passes the following motion by 412 votes to 202:
The government (1) will seek to agree with the EU an extension of the period specified in article 50;
(2) agrees that, if the house has passed a resolution approving May's deal by 20 March, then the government will seek to agree with the EU an extension of the period specified in article 50 for a period ending on 30 June for the purpose of passing the necessary EU exit legislation; and
(3) notes that, if the house has not passed a resolution approving the negotiated deal by 20 March, then it is highly likely that the EU would require a clear purpose for any extension, and that any extension beyond 30 June would require the UK to hold European Parliament elections in May 2019.
Amendment (h), calling for an extension to article 50 to allow time for a referendum on Brexit, was rejected by 334 votes to 85.
Amendment (i), calling for time next week for a debate that would start the process of allowing MPs to hold indicative votes on Brexit alternatives, was rejected by 312 votes to 314.
Amendment (e), calling for an extension to article 50 to provide parliamentary time for MPs to find a majority for a different approach to Brexit, was rejected by votes 318 to 302.

AR Some of these questions will be revisited as events unfold in the coming weeks.

Brexit and Democracy

Andy Ross

A democratic political system is a formalised way of enacting the will of the people. Since no individual politician can credibly claim to know the will of the people directly, the system forms a snapshot of that will by collecting the votes of the people and subjecting them to some simple procedure, such as counting, to assemble a pixelated image.
We can safely leave the technicalities of the pixelation process and the production of a snapshot to the political experts. Experience of many systems over many years has reduced the business, if not to an exact science, at least to a fine art. What remains is to evaluate the meaning and the importance of the portrait of the people that results.
Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer: This piece of folk wisdom constrains the value of the individual pixels that depict the will of the people. A simple yes-no question generates black or white pixels from which only a grainy outline image can be extracted. On the other hand, a nuanced question will mean different things to different people.
Whatever the outcome, the paramount risk in a democratic system is that the image is taken as the reality. However flawed, the portrait becomes an icon, a sacred symbol toward which politicians must perform holy rites to appease their voters. The risk is that the people, thus venerated, develop an inflated sense of their own importance.
Traditional religion, for all its flaws, drummed humility into its followers, and a traditional monarchy drummed humility into its subjects. But a modern democracy invites its voters, or at least those of them who are on the winning side in a division, to imagine their sovereign will is supreme. This used to be condemned as the Christian sin of pride.
Self-will, in all its forms, is a dangerous spur to action. The momentary self of an individual person may prompt overindulgence of a vice such as gluttony or lechery, but the larger shared sense of self of an organised group of people, as in a political movement, can lead to catastrophic outcomes. History is awash with cautionary examples.
For this reason, in modern times, the nation states of Europe have organised themselves into a superordinate body, the European Union, that contains and shapes the sovereignty of its members and preserves a modicum of order between its peoples. Similarly, in earlier times, the different peoples on the British Isles organised themselves into the United Kingdom. In both cases, the aim was to limit and channel the expression of political self-will toward higher values or virtues that might better serve the common interest.
In recent years, the UK has found itself on a collision course with the EU. The titanic parliamentary juggernaut of the UK establishment, trailing a historic wake of martial and imperial glory, is now grinding disastrously against the massive continental iceberg into which the formerly fractious nations of Europe have frozen their animosities. The predicted outcome toward which all sober expectation converges is that the EU, for all its obvious flaws and weaknesses, will be less damaged by the collision than will the UK.
The bigger picture is worth pondering. The victory of democracy in 1945 led experts to conclude that politicians heeding the popular will, as expressed in democratic elections and parliaments, were stronger than dictators in more authoritarian systems who failed to carry the people with them on their political adventures. That conclusion has been allowed to decay in recent years into a lazy acceptance that populism, in which demagogues uphold relatively wild expressions of popular will for opportunistic reasons, is a valid way to continue the democratic tradition.
In Ancient Greek philosophy, the decay of democracy into populism was a precursor to tyranny: A populist leader channels the popular will by means that short-circuit the checks and balances of the usual democratic processes until that leader finally usurps the popular will and rules as a tyrant. For some observers, President Trump in America illustrates the early stages of this process. For others, the emergence across Europe, including Russia, of popular and increasingly authoritarian leaders reveals the same trend.
In the wider sweep of politics, it is worth remembering that democracy is a means, not an end. Individual people will this or that end in ways that can only be deconflicted in a system that balances the conflicting ends against each other, and democracy has proved to be a simple and robust mechanism to establish and deliver that balance. By contrast, an authoritarian system will prioritise one set of ends above all others and force the losers to swallow their pride and accept defeat, if not total ruin.
Populists on the path to tyranny tend to take a crudely pixelated image of the popular will and weaponise it against all opposition. Soon enough, the image becomes an abstract icon, like a cross on the shield of a crusader, and the people are praised in name only under the tyrant's rule. This is the road the Bolsheviks took in Soviet Russia when they established the dictatorship of the proletariat, first under Lenin and then under Stalin, before proceeding to ruin old Europe.
Applied to the collision between the UK and the EU, the drift from democracy to populism is evident in the aggressive sacralisation of the 17.4 million votes for the Leave cause in the 2016 referendum. That cartoon snapshot of the will of the people may be upheld as iconic, but like the 2005 Danish cartoon of Muhammad it serves more to divide than unite us. Times change, and reasonable people are not too proud to change their opinions to reflect new facts.
More specifically, UK parliamentarians have acted in genuflection to the 2016 icon without due appreciation of the need for a better portrait of the people. The 2017 general election offered no royal road for voters disaffected by the icon and thus deepened their disaffection. The obvious solution is to commission a new portrait.

Print version (2 pages)


The Guardian
UK papers, Thursday morning

EU gap

WWW @ 30

Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented
the World Wide Web
30 years ago.

AR And changed my life
— thanks, Tim!

From a video on how to
visualize quaternions

JooHee Yoon


2019 March 13

Brexit: No No Deal

BBC News, 1950 UTC

House of Commons passes motion to reject no-deal Brexit on 29 March by 321 votes to 278,
amended to reject a no-deal Brexit at any time (approved by 312 votes to 308), but
lacking the "Malthouse compromise" amendment (rejected by 374 votes to 164).
The motion and its amendments are expressions of feeling with no legal force.

AR Sterling rises on the news.

Brexit: On The Brink

The Times

Only 16 days before the UK is due to leave the EU, Theresa May's strategy for delivering an orderly departure lies in tatters.
May pursued an unsound strategy, misread her opponents in Brussels, and refused to be honest about the compromises and trade-offs that the rupture of relations with the EU was bound to entail. Instead she tried to conduct the negotiations by stealth, running down the clock on her cabinet, her party, parliament, and the public.
The result of all this dissembling has been a calamitous loss of trust. The prime minister long ago forfeited the trust of Brexiteers. She is not trusted by Remainers. Above all, she has forfeited the trust of the EU.
Last night May was forced to concede a free vote today on whether parliament should back leaving the EU without a deal. That is an admission that the government is no longer able to provide leadership at this time of crisis. On Thursday she will almost certainly have to offer another free vote on whether to extend Article 50.
The Conservative party may now decide that only a new leader can find a way forward.

AR Parliament has legislated for Brexit on March 29. Only a surprise plot twist can stop it.
ERG chair Jacob Rees-Mogg: "I think our expectations are that we will leave without a deal."
Remainers must force a surprise twist. The End of Days scenario is too grim to contemplate.

2019 March 12

Brexit: Titanic Defeat

BBC News, 1922 UTC

House of Commons rejects Theresa May's deal by 391 votes to 242.

Brexit: Avoidable Damage

The Times

Today MPs will be asked to cast what will almost certainly be the most important vote of their lives on a Brexit motion that they will have had just hours to assess.
Brexit is not just about economics. MPs will vote at a time of intense geopolitical volatility, when the unity of the western alliance has never looked less certain. How their decisions affect this instability should be uppermost in their minds.
The degree of fragmentation of the western alliance was scarcely imaginable when Britain voted in 2016 to quit the EU. New sources of tension between the allies are emerging almost daily.
President Trump will decide within weeks whether to launch a trade war with the EU. There are also multiple tensions within the EU itself, not least a new war of words between France and Italy.
There have been tensions between NATO members before. But they never undermined the strategic cohesion of the West. The last time the world faced such a geopolitical shift came with the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire.
A no-deal Brexit would be a profound geopolitical shock. We cannot assume strategic and security partnerships are unaffected by economic relationships.

AR See my recent essay Ringlord.

AI Is Changing Science

Dan Falk

Machine learning and AI offer a new way of doing science. Generative modeling can help identify the most plausible theory among competing explanations for observational data, based solely on the data. This is a third way between observation and simulation.
A generative adversarial network (GAN) can repair images that have damaged or missing pixels and can make blurry images sharp. The GAN runs a competition: A generator generates fake data, while a discriminator tries to distinguish fake data from real data. As the program runs, both halves improve.
More broadly, generative modeling takes sets of data and breaks each of them down into a set of basic blocks in a latent space. The algorithm manipulates elements of the latent space to see how this affects the original data, and this helps uncover physical processes at work in the system. Generative modeling automates part of the process of science.
Perhaps future machines will discover physics or mathematics that the brightest humans alive cannot find on their own. Perhaps future science will be driven by machines that operate on a level we can never reach.

AR In 1988, in a Springer physics newsletter, I said simulation was a third way of doing science, between observation and theory.

2019 March 11

Brexit Showdown

The Observer

What happens this week is likely to prove decisive. If May loses the vote on her deal on Tuesday as expected, will parliamentarians rally round a referendum on the deal as the only realistic route out of this mess? If they don't, they will edge closer to the cliff edge and a binary choice between May's deal and no deal. And they will be entirely complicit in whatever follows.

AR Vote for a people's vote.

Animated Math

Grant Sanderson

3blue1brown centers around presenting math with a visuals-first approach. That is, rather than first deciding on a lesson then putting illustrations to it for the sake of having a video, almost all projects start with a particular visualization, with the narrative and storyline then revolving around it.
Topics tend to fall into one of two categories:
 Lessons on topics people might be seeking out.
 Problems in math which many people may not have heard of, and which seem really hard at first,
    but where some shift in perspective makes it both doable and beautiful.
I think of the first category as motivating math by its usefulness, and the second as motivating math as an art form.
 The YouTube channel

AR I've liked Grant's work for years.

2019 March 10

America vs China

The New York Times

By imposing tariffs on Chinese imports, President Trump created an opportunity to improve the US economic relationship with China. His decision to go it alone, rather than making common cause with longstanding allies, was ill advised, and his trade war has caused pain for many Americans.
The proper measure of any deal is whether it persuades China to curb its use of state subsidies, regulations, and various kinds of informal interference that limit the ability of American companies to sell goods and services in China, and help Chinese companies sell goods in the United States.
The United States has focused its demands on making it easier for American companies to operate in China. But the United States has failed in past efforts to hold China to its commitments. The risk is that Trump will accept a deal that allows him to claim a superficial triumph.

A Rogue President

James Kitfield

President Trump reportedly plans to transform America's alliances into a protection racket with a "cost plus 50" plan that would require allies to pay 150% of the cost of hosting US troops, with a good behavior discount for those countries willing to take their marching orders from Washington.
Former NSC staffer Kori Schake: "The question that dominated the Munich Conference was whether the United States would once again lead the Western democracies after Trump is gone, or whether the Europeans need to protect themselves further against a disruptive America."
Former US defense secretary Bill Cohen: "Why has Trump adopted an agenda that exactly replicates Vladimir Putin's bucket list? .. The President of the United States may well be compromised by the Russians, which I truly believe is the case. And he is unfit to serve."

2019 March 9

Neuroscience and Consciousness

Philip Ball

Consciousness is a hard problem in science. A new project funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation aims to narrow the options for tackling it. Researchers will collaborate on how to conduct discriminating experiments.
Bernard Baars and Stanislas Dehaene suggest conscious behavior arises when we hold information in a global workspace within the brain, where it can be broadcast to brain modules associated with specific tasks. This view is called global workspace theory (GWT).
Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi say consciousness is an intrinsic property of the right kind of cognitive network. This is integrated information theory (IIT). IIT portrays consciousness as the causal power of a system to make a difference to itself.
Koch and Tononi define a measure of information integration, Φ, to represent how much a network as a whole can influence itself. This depends on interconnectivity of feedback.
Researchers have now designed experiments to test the different predictions of GWT and IIT. According to GWT, the neural correlates of consciousness should show up in parts of the brain including the parietal and frontal lobes. According to IIT, the seat of consciousness is instead likely to be in the sensory representation in the back of the brain.
Anil Seth thinks the Templeton project may be premature.

Animals Are Emotional

Frans de Waal

I believe we share all emotions with other species in the same way we share virtually every organ in our bodies with them. Like organs, the emotions evolved over millions of years to serve essential functions. Their usefulness has been tested again and again, giving them the wisdom of ages, and none is fundamentally new.
Open your front door and tell your dog that you are going out for a walk, then close the door and return to your seat. Your dog, who had been barking and wriggling with excitement, now slinks back to his basket and puts his head down on his paws. You have just witnessed both hope and disappointment in another species.
Whatever the difference between humans and other animals may be, it is unlikely to be found in the emotional domain.

AR Who doubts it?

Are We Alone?

Rebecca Boyle

Enrico Fermi said there are lots of stars and extraterrestrial life might be common, so we should get visitors. But where are they?
In a new paper, Jonathan Carroll-Nellenback, Jason Wright, Adam Frank, and Caleb Scharf model the spread of a settlement front across the galaxy, and find its speed is strongly affected by the motions of stars. A settlement front could cross an entire galaxy based just on the motions of stars, regardless of the power of propulsion systems.
The Fermi paradox does not mean ET life does not exist. The Milky Way may be partially settled, or intermittently so. The solar system may well be amid other settled systems and has just been unvisited for millions of years.

AR We are not alone.

Crew Dragon returns

NASA (1:07)
SpaceX Crew Dragon returns to Earth in Atlantic splashdown


"Trump is not forever.
Brexit is. Britain's youth
oppose it. A decision of
this import should be
grounded in reality."
Roger Cohen

Stop Brexit


2019 March 8

Quantum Computing

Katia Moskvitch

The Large Hadron Collider generated about 300 GB of data per second. To make sense of all that information, the LHC data was pumped out to 170 computing centers in 42 countries. This global collaboration helped discover the Higgs boson.
A proposed Future Circular Collider would create at least twice as much data as the LHC. CERN researchers are looking at the emerging field of quantum computing. The EU has pledged to give $1 billion to researchers over the next decade, while venture capitalists invested some $250 million in quantum computing research in 2018 alone.
Qubits can be made in different ways. Two qubits can be both in state A, both in state B, one in state A and one in state B, or vice versa, to give four probabilities. To know the state of a qubit, you measure it, collapsing the state. With every qubit added to its memory size, a quantum computer should get exponentially increased computational power.
Last year, Caltech physicists replicated the discovery of the Higgs boson by sifting through LHC data using a quantum computer based on quantum annealing. Dips in a landscape of peaks and valleys represent possible solutions and the system finds the lowest dips via quantum tunneling.
There are three other main approaches to quantum computing: integrated circuits, topological qubits, and ions trapped with lasers.
Quantum chips are integrated circuits with superconducting quantum gates. Each quantum gate holds a pair of qubits. The chip is supercooled to 10 mK to keep the qubits in superposition. A useful machine needs about 1,000 qubits with low noise and error correction to make up just one logical qubit. So far, we only have error correction for up to 10 qubits.
Topological qubits would be much more stable. The idea is to split a particle in two, creating Majorana fermion quasi-particles, so that one topological qubit is a logical one. Scaling such a device to thousands of logical qubits would be much easier.
Trapped ions show superposition effects at room temperature and each ion is a qubit. Researchers trap them and run algorithms using laser beams that write data to the ions and read it out by change the ion states. So far, the ion qubits are noisy.
Meanwhile, at CERN, the clock is ticking.


Theresa May

Next week MPs in Westminster face a crucial choice: whether to back the Brexit deal or to reject it. Back it, and the UK will leave the European Union. Reject it, and no one knows what will happen. We may not leave the EU for many months, we may leave without the protections that the deal provides. We may never leave at all.

AR Revoke, remain, repent, reform (UK and EU)

2019 March 7

To Poole

Drove from Amiens to Cherbourg, then enjoyed a stormy sea voyage from Cherbourg to Poole

2019 March 6

To Amiens

Drove from Gaiberg to Amiens, then enjoyed a fine dinner in that beautiful city

2019 March 5, Faschingsdienstag

Europe Renew!

Emmanuel Macron

Citizens of Europe, I am taking the liberty of addressing you directly ..
Never has Europe been in such danger. Brexit stands as the symbol of .. the trap that threatens the whole of Europe: the anger mongers, backed by fake news, promise anything and everything.
Europe is not just an economic market. It is a project .. European civilisation unites, frees, and protects us .. We need to .. reinvent the shape of our civilisation in a changing world.
Now is the time for a European renaissance .. I propose we build this renewal together around three ambitions: freedom, protection, and progress .. We need to build European renewal on these pillars .. In this Europe, the people will really take back control of their future.
The Brexit impasse is a lesson for us all. We need to escape this trap and make the forthcoming elections and our project meaningful .. Together we chart the road to European renewal.

AR Good — Britain needs a hero like Macron.

Russian Doll

Chelsea Whyte

Russian Doll is a dark comedy starring a woman stuck in a time loop. She dies, only to be resurrected in a new branch of the multiverse.
Nadia has to convince someone that she is reliving the same night. She meets Alan, who also keeps dying and reliving the same day, and sees their experience as a video game. Their inner lives continue as one linear experience while their bodies keep dying.
Nadia: "Time is relative to your experience. We've been experiencing time differently in these loops, but this tells us that somewhere, linear time as we used to understand it still exists."

AR Experienced time is the innermost bastion of consciousness. Its linearity through outer confusion (in this case sorted into a multiverse experience) is a criterion of rationality. To lose the thread is to lose your mind.

2019 March 4, Rosenmontag

Upside to Brexit?

Jochen Bittner

Brexit may have an upside. When its most globally minded member leaves, the EU must rethink its mission and vision.
The new global rivalry is between free and unfree market economies. China has decoupled personal freedom from freedom of innovation. With a GDP of close to $25 trillion, China is potentially the most powerful economy in world history.
For the first time in modern history, technological leadership is being assumed by a power unchecked by the democratic vote. China's legal tradition puts collective interests above individual rights.
China maintains a clear strategic outlook. Chinese Communists appear to have learned lessons from both the rise of the British Empire and the fall of the Soviet Union. Unlike Europe, China speaks with one voice, and expresses one vision.
The West needs a stronger alliance to compete. Brexit could force Britain and Europe to push back against China.

China vs Germany

Wolfgang Münchau

Germany is ambivalent about China. It needs Chinese technology. But Germany also worries about Chinese companies acquiring its technology.
Germany once saw China as an export market for machinery with which China would develop its industrial base. Today, China is becoming the senior partner in the relationship.
The two countries have a lot in common. Both are export-driven economies with large external savings surpluses. But German economic strategy is not nearly as consistent.
In Europe, macroeconomic policy, industrial policy, and foreign and security policy are run independently of each other. China has an integrated approach to policy.
The Europeans did not see this coming. Complacency is about to turn into panic.

Europe vs Brexit

Manfred Weber

The European way of life includes fundamental values and rules: the rule of law, democracy, independent media, the social market economy, and the equality of men and women.
Developments across Europe are shocking. Antisemitism is returning with a bang. The development of a European Islam rooted in our fundamental values has not been successful.
I am concerned that populists could become stronger in the European Parliament. Brexit shows what happens if you follow the simplistic answers presented by populists.
We have been negotiating with Britain for almost three years and we have hardly made any progress. I have little sympathy for a postponement that would simply prolong the chaos in London.
The participation of British voters in the EU election is inconceivable to me. I can't explain to people in Germany or Spain that people who want to leave the EU should be given a vote on its future.
The EU must reform its institutions, limit migration, and face up to the challenges presented by Donald Trump, such as a trade conflict. I can't let the British tragedy infect the rest of the EU.

Utterly, Utterly Stupid

Simon Wren-Lewis

What the UK is doing is utterly, utterly stupid, an act of self harm with no point, no upside.
The days when Leavers talked about the sunlit uplands are over. Instead there has emerged one justification for Brexit: the 2016 referendum. People voted for it, so it must be done.
Warnings from big business become an excuse to talk about WW2 again. The case for Leaving has become little more than xenophobia and nationalism.
The worst excuse not to hold a people's vote is that a second referendum would be undemocratic. Orwell must be turning in his grave.

2019 March 3

The Trump Narrative

Larry Jacobs

President Trump has been a magician in masterminding a narrative that he's going to stand up for America and he's not beholden to the swamp. This week put the lie to his narrative.
The collapse of the talks in North Korea has put the lie to his story that he had a historic accomplishment. There has not been a breakthrough, and Trump conceded the point and left.
Back home, the idea Trump is a beacon of truth was seriously damaged by what Michael Cohen said and the people he identified who will be brought forward to testify.

Cosmic Expansion

Dennis Overbye

A changing Hubble constant suggests dark energy might be increasing. To calibrate the Hubble constant, we use supernovas and variable stars whose distances we can estimate.
NASA HST results give 72 km/s per Mpc for the Hubble constant, and other results agree. But the ESA Planck map of the CMB predicts a Hubble constant of 67. We have a problem.
We can use quasar emissions to trace back the history of the cosmos nearly 12 billion years. The rate of cosmic expansion seems to deviate from expectations over that time.
The cosmos is now doubling in size every 10 billion years. String theory allows space to be laced with energy fields called quintessence that oppose gravity and could change over time.
In the coming decade, ESA mission Euclid and NASA mission WFIRST are designed to help solve the problem with the Hubble constant.

2019 March 2

Europawahl: Briten Raus


Europäischen Volkspartei (EVP) Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber (CSU): "Eine Teilnahme der britischen Bürger an der Europawahl ist für mich undenkbar. Ich kann doch in Deutschland oder Spanien niemandem erklären, dass Bürger, die die EU verlassen wollen, noch mal wesentlichen Anteil daran nehmen sollen, deren Zukunft zu gestalten."

AR Weber hat sicherlich recht: Schmeißen die Briten raus!

The Brexit Mess

Sir Ivan Rogers

Four weeks before the Brexit deadline, the British political class is unable to come to any serious conclusion about what kind of Brexit they want.
The UK political elite has fractured in both parties. In British politics, unless you occupy the center you are finished. But the center has largely collapsed and populists have gained more influence.
Theresa May wants to reduce the numbers of people coming into the UK. Having started with her hardline position, every time she moves a little bit back, the right wing of her party cries betrayal.
I have worked with several prime ministers very closely, and none of them had a deep understanding how the EU works. The UK has always had a rather mercantile relationship with its neighbors.
European leaders spend too little time thinking about how the continent should look in future after Brexit. Assuming Brexit happens, German politicians must ask how we are going to work together.
Europeans need to tell the UK what they want. They will need to be told what degree of divergency the UK wants and why. This will take years.

AR Perhaps 40 years in the wilderness will teach Brits some manners.

2019 March 1

Fast Radio Bursts

Joshua Sokol

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are millisecond-long blips of intense radio signals that pop up all over the sky. To explain them, we need an object that can emit lots of energy and a way to transform the energy into a bright radio signal.
FRBs may arise from a magnetar, a young neutron star that can emit charged particles into the surrounding clutter and create a shock wave, which beams a brief flash of radio waves into the universe. Some FRBs repeat at unpredictable intervals from dense regions of plasma with extreme magnetic fields. Each burst contains sub-bursts that shift from higher to lower frequencies.
In models of nuclear detonations, the shock fronts sweep up more gas as they expand outward. That extra weight slows down the shock, and because it slows, radiation released from the shock front shifts downward in frequency.
Flares from a magnetar run into particles emitted during previous flares. Where new ejecta meets older debris, it piles up into a shock, inside which magnetic fields soar. As the shock presses outward, the electrons inside gyrate around along magnetic field lines, and that motion produces a burst of radio waves. That signal then shifts from higher to lower frequencies as the shock slows.
If the model is correct, future FRBs should follow the same downward shift in frequency. They might show gamma-ray or X-ray emission and should live in galaxies that are producing fresh magnetars. When they repeat, they should take breaks from bursting after a major flare.
Coming soon: new data to help us explain them.

Andy, Rolf

Flying with Rolf Kickuth in his gyrocopter over Mannheim, Germany, 25 February

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