BLOG 2020 Q4

EU-UK deal signed
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel
sign the EU−UK trade agreement in Brussels on Wednesday morning

The end


2020 December 31

EUFRA 2020

The Guardian

HM the Queen gave royal approval to the future relationship bill at 12.25 am on Thursday morning.
Her signature puts the agreement into law as the European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020.

AR Was she a useless appendage or a willing accomplice?


We Are Free

Stephen Glover

The year 2021 may be remembered as one of those great turning points — like the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which laid the foundations of parliamentary government, or the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, which ushered in nearly a century of global dominance for Britain.
Eurosceptics in both main parties were for decades a despised minority. They were seen as fruitcakes and nutters. But millions of British people dared to love their country and to believe in it. For many of them, there were more important concerns in life than money. A majority voted to leave.
We are free. We're free to chart our own course as a sovereign and independent nation. A new chapter miraculously begins.

We have failed
Jonathan Powell

We have ended up with a poor agreement. On every major economic point, the EU has got its way.
 We massively overestimated the strength of our negotiating position. We and the EU are equally sovereign, but not sovereign equals.
 We fired the starting gun before we had worked out our own position. We should have decided what we wanted and only then pulled the trigger.
 We prioritised sovereignty over economic interests. In any international agreement, a state limits its sovereignty in return for practical benefits.
 We wilfully destroyed EU trust in our commitment to implement what we had already agreed and were then forced to back down.
 We never developed a strategic plan for the negotiations. The agreement ended up being mostly what the EU wanted.
We are embarking on a long journey. We will have to do a lot better.

AR Both writers aim their 'we' too nationalistically.




2020 December 30

UK−EU Deal Done

The Guardian, 1609 UTC

Boris Johnson has signed the trade and cooperation agreement with the EU on behalf of the UK.

MPs pass deal
BBC News, 1441 UTC

MPs back the government's post-Brexit trade deal with the EU by 521 votes to 73.

AR The end


UK Approves Second Covid Vaccine

The Guardian

The UK medicines regulator has approved the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) approved the vaccine after weeks of examining the trial data. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine currently in use needs storage at −70 C and is hard to deploy. Because the Oxford vaccine needs only normal refrigeration and comes from UK factories, it can be rolled out swiftly to GPs and care homes.

AR I hope to be vaccinated in February/March.


UK Breakup

The Guardian

The UK government's approach to Covid may catalyse the breakup of the UK. When the pandemic began, Boris Johnson acted for the whole of the UK. He soon found that on Covid he was the prime minister only of England.
Scotland took control early of its Covid policy. SNP first minister Nicola Sturgeon began regular Covid briefings in March and has held them ever since. Sturgeon now has a net approval rating of +61 among Scots for her handling of the pandemic, while Johnson has a net rating of −43. In Scotland, 17 successive opinion polls show majority support for breaking away from the UK.
The consequences are visible in Wales and Northern Ireland, and even at English local level too. If the SNP wins a fourth successive Holyrood victory in May and claims a mandate for a new independence referendum, it will be seismic.
Brexit was key in creating this volatile mix. The English and Welsh voted to leave the EU. Scotland voted decisively to remain. EU27 unity during 2020 trade talks contrasted with UK4 disunity.
To Johnson, the Brexit slogan "Take back control" invites a push to rebuild Westmonster sovereignty. An existential crisis for the UK is nigh.

Will 2021 be better?
Katy Balls

Boris Johnson's problems are about to get worse. A Downing Street staffer: "It's hard to state how bad January and February are going to be."
The government is optimistic. A member: "There's going to be a shift now Brexit is done. The prime minister gets it. It's going to be about competence."

AR After so many centuries, England alone.


2020 December 29


Jörg Schindler

In London they call it the Christmas Eve Agreement. When Big Ben tolls at 11 pm London time on New Year's Eve, Brexiteers will cheer in triumph.
Economists, politicians, and lawyers are still bent over the 1246-page agreement with its countless additional declarations and protocols. But its pitfalls are already clear.
London and Brussels agree that goods trade should continue to flow duty-free and without volume restrictions. But there will be new controls at the borders.
The UK service sector is not covered. London banks hope for an equivalence certificate. But Brussels will only issue one, subject to revocation at any time within 30 days, if UK remains in full compliance.
The UK government says the UK will in future be an "independent coastal state" with "full control" over its fishing grounds. EU fishermen will have to return a quarter of their catch for the next 66 months.
EU companies that want to invest in the UK have no planning security. A dispute settlement procedure is defined in case the UK lures investors with lax environmental laws or lower social and labour rules.
London agrees that Northern Ireland will remain part of the EU internal market, where the European Court of Justice has ultimate jurisdiction.
At least the CEA stops EU citizens from coming and going as they please.

AR Abolish the UK!



Fintan O'Toole

The last fifty years of Britain in Europe have not been mired in futility.
British ambition, energy, and effectiveness did two huge things in the history of the EU: the single market and enlargement.
Margaret Thatcher pressed hard for the single market. But she could not see the need for common social, environmental, and safety standards, with mechanisms to enforce them.
Thatcher also proclaimed the goal of enlargement in 1988. Without Britain, the EU may not have responded after 1989 by opening talks on membership with central European states.
The EU let Britain transcend its imperial past, imagine a European future for itself, and settle the conflict in Northern Ireland.

AR Banish the Westmonster!



Julian Baggini

A special relationship has been turned into a purely transactional one.
In 1989, I was one of the earliest British students to participate in the Erasmus scheme. I found philosophy contains more than we dream of in Britain.
The trade deal is a turkey with no trimmings to make it palatable.

AR Cold turkey for Brits!


2020 December 28

EU Green Light

BBC News, 1206 UTC

EU ambassadors in Brussels have unanimously approved the trade deal with the UK to come into provisional force on January 1.


A Deal — The End

Martin Wolf

After four and a half years, we have reached the end of the beginning of Brexit. We have a deal.
Brexit brings some benefits for the EU. The UK and the EU are equally sovereign, but they are not equally powerful. The agreement on the level playing field is symmetrical, but the reality is asymmetrical. The EU has granted the UK access to its single market where it has a comparative advantage and blocked access where it has a comparative disadvantage. In the UK, Brexit will separate reality from delusion.
The UK will be substantially poorer in the long run under this deal than as an EU member.

AR A defeat for the UK, wreathed in fantasy.


Brexit Is No Good

Nikolaus Blome

Am Brexit ist absolut nichts Gutes. Die Europäische Union ist an diesem Austritt noch kein Stück gewachsen.
Sarkasmus und Schadenfreude passen nicht zum Brexit, nur Entsetzen.

AR Untergang UK — Endspiel kommt noch.


- European Commission:
deal, details, documents

AR This deal is a disaster
for the UK.


2020 December 27

Brexit Trade Deal

The Observer

The agreement that Boris Johnson struck with the EU on Christmas Eve is no political triumph. It will set in train significant economic damage. A responsible prime minister would have sought to unify the country by pursuing the least divisive form of Brexit.
An honest case for Brexit was not strong enough to win a popular vote. Rather than confront the public with the truth, Tory Leavers promoted boosterism and lies. Our children and grandchildren will look back and feel embarrassed by Brexit.

Boris the human bulldozer has freed us from the EU
Mail on Sunday

Few prime ministers actually manage to change the countries they govern. Now, thanks to his achievement of a negotiated departure from the EU, Boris Johnson joins that number. Having won a majority that fashionable opinion said was unattainable, he has once again pulled off what almost everyone said was impossible. Four days from now, Britain will be a fully independent country again, for the first time in almost half a century.

Boris gets his Hollywood ending
Tim Shipman

On Monday night, Boris Johnson told Ursula von der Leyen: "I cannot sign this treaty, Ursula, I can't do something that is not in my country's interests."
Earlier that day, VDL had tabled what she called the hammer, granting Brussels the right to retaliate across the board if Britain sought future reductions in access to its waters for EU fishermen.
Johnson: "We can't have this Monty Python situation, where we are trapped in the car with a giant hammer outside the gates to clobber us every time we drive out."
VDL: "OK, thank you, Boris."
She put aside the hammer in a call on Wednesday.
On Wednesday evening, Johnson updated the cabinet. Michael Gove: "Rejoice!"
On Thursday, Johnson spoke again to VDL: "We really need to get this over the line now. We've got to get Frosty and his team home for Christmas."
Johnson called Frosty and said: "Go and close it out." Twenty minutes later in a call with VDL, Johnson asked: "So do we have a deal, Ursula?"
She replied: "Yes, we do."

By jingo, we're out
Tim Adams

In 2015, Neil MacGregor left the UK to chair the board for the Humboldt Forum in Berlin: "German people see the whole purpose of a political leader as to make successful alliances. The proper use of sovereignty is all about pooling it to achieve your aims. The British idea that you should entirely do these things on your own and try to assume total control over your environment is unthinkable."

AR Albion will be alone in a sea of troubles.


2020 Boxing Day

We Have Taken Back Control

Michael Gove

Whatever the original nobility of the European project, the reality for many Britons was an erosion of control of their lives. Laws were made by people they hadn't elected, rules were laid down by institutions they couldn't change, power was exercised without accountability. Their voices could be ignored and all too often were.
In the referendum they couldn't be ignored. The change for which we voted wasn't just a demand for a new relationship with the EU but also for a new settlement within the UK. Families and communities that had been overlooked and undervalued wanted to make our political system more responsive to their needs.
We can now embark on a new, more hopeful, chapter in our history. We are committed to a fairer, more inclusive country in which those whose horizons were narrowed through no fault of their own enjoy the dignity they deserve. The tools that Brexit places in our hands will be used to level up opportunity.
There is much to be done.

AR He wants to be PM.


We Germans Helped Get Brexit Done

Alexander von Schönburg

I predict that Britons will look back on Brexit and credit two unlikely factors with saving the day: the pandemic and the Germans.
While the French were all for giving you Brits a punishment beating, Berlin was always more inclined to part as friends. In Berlin, the view was that to isolate Britain when the Covid situation is so dire would be very unwise.
This was not down to a sudden outbreak of sentimentality. It is not in the German best interest to blow apart an export machine that was already stuttering dangerously.
Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen took it upon themselves to break the logjam. VDL also had one or two chats with her former mentor Angela Merkel. Tuesday's late-night phone call between Johnson and VDL was the game changer.
A Norway-style deal would have made the UK a satellite state of the EU with no say on the rules. A departure on WTO terms would have forced up prices and created shortages.
Johnson has got an agreement that gives the UK full access to its most important market while being able to write its own laws and standards, as long as it plays fair.
Your prime minister has achieved a deal which is nothing short of sensational.

AR Given the mess, it's still a deal. Well done, VDL.


Nothing to Celebrate

Jonathan Lis

Boris Johnson said this was a good deal. It allowed us to take back control and provided certainty for business.
He was wrong. This was the thinnest deal available within the ruinous red lines he had laid out, and preferable only to no deal at all. We already had control of everything he claimed to have won back.
Ursula von der Leyen emphasised the EU success in ensuring a level playing field for competition. The UK would lose key rights such as financial passporting. It would no longer enjoy automatic access to EU security databases.
Boris Johnson took to bluster. He dismissed the media question about security. He batted away the ending of UK access to the Erasmus scheme. Only on services did he concede that access wasn't as deep as he'd have liked.
The deal is no surprise. Johnson surmised the painful personal consequences of a calamitous crash out and wanted to avoid a legacy of failure. Any comparison to what was promised in 2016 is a joke.
This deal is going to hurt. We have lost a continent to gain an empty husk of sovereignty.

AR My view too ..


2020 Christmas Day

Brexit: A Welcome Deal

The Times

A deal has finally been reached on a new relationship between the UK and the EU. Brexiteers will want to search it for any signs of concessions on British sovereignty. Business leaders will look for details on regulatory cooperation to minimise disruption.
The deal falls far short of what Vote Leavers promised during the referendum. The PM acknowledges that trade will be far from frictionless but calls the increase in fishing quotas for British fleets in British waters a victory. The deal does not cover financial services and puts a goods border between GB and NI.
Both sides now have a foundation for a new trade and security partnership. There will be further negotiations and tensions, but the two sides can work as allies.
Boris Johnson has delivered on his promise to get Brexit done.

PM: 'Glad tidings of great joy'
Johnson calls the deal "a great treaty" which allows the UK to "take back control of our destiny" and resolves a question that has "bedevilled" British politics for decades. He urges people to read the deal after Christmas lunch: "I believe it will be the basis of a happy and successful and stable partnership with our friends in the EU for years to come."


UK−EU Trade Deal Agreed

Financial Times

The UK and the EU have sealed a new economic and security accord that allows them to rebuild their relationship. UK prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen clinched the deal after nine months of negotiations.
BJ: "We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny."
VDL: "To our friends in the UK, I want to say, parting is such sweet sorrow."
VDL: "The negotiations were very difficult. A lot was at stake for so many people."

The deal
 Will come into force on January 1
 Was welcomed by business groups as an amicable divorce
 Is big (exports of £294 billion and imports of £374 billion in 2019)
 Does not do "as much as we would have liked" for financial services
 Avoids any oversight role for the ECJ
 Protects the EU against unfair competition
 Was sealed on Thursday afternoon

An EU success
London and Brussels have struck an agreement that will maintain free trade in goods. The EU task was to limit the damage from a UK withdrawal.
For the EU, the deal is a success. The EU has preserved the integrity of the single market. The UK has agreed to binding constraints and adjudication.
Political turmoil in the UK hinders EU support for Brexit. The EU has entered a more assertive phase: France and Germany have more influence.


UK and EU Agree a Deal

The Guardian

After nine months of talks, the deal was secured at 1344 UTC on Christmas Eve.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will brief EU ambassadors on Christmas Day.
In the UK, Tory MPs await the verdict of a Star Chamber convened by the ERG.
Boris Johnson: "This European question's been going on for decades. I think this gives us the platform, the foundation for a really prosperous new relationship .. We have taken back control of laws and our destiny .. We have taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered .. British laws will be made solely by the British parliament, interpreted by British judges, sitting in the UK courts."
BJ raised a copy of the 500-page document: "The oven-ready deal was just the starter. This is the feast — full of fish, by the way. I believe it will be the basis of a happy and successful and stable partnership with our friends in the EU for years to come."
The OBR expects Brexit to shave 4% off UK GDP in the medium term. UK nationals will lose the right of free movement and British businesses will face extra costs in doing business in Europe.

European sovereignty
Ursula von der Leyen

This whole debate has always been about sovereignty. But we should cut through the sound bites and ask ourselves what sovereignty actually means in the 21st century.
For me, it is about being able to seamlessly do work, travel, study, and do business in 27 countries. It is about pooling our strength and speaking together in a world full of great powers. And in a time of crisis, it is about pulling each other up, instead of trying to get back to your feet alone.
The EU shows how this works in practice. In today's world, we are one of the giants.
We have got a good deal. It is fair. It is a balanced deal. And it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides. At the end of a successful negotiation, I normally feel joy. But today I only feel quiet satisfaction and, frankly speaking, relief.
Parting is such sweet sorrow. To use the line from T.S. Eliot, what we call the beginning is often the end, and to make an end is often a beginning. I think it is time to leave Brexit behind.

AR Für Briten leider nicht.


2020 Christmas Eve

Brexit: A Deal Is Done

BBC News, 1535 UTC

1502: European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen: "We have finally found an agreement. It was a long and winding road, but we have got a good deal to show for it."
1506: "This whole debate has always been about sovereignty. We should ask as ourselves what sovereignty means in the 21st century. It is about pooling our strength and speaking together in a world full of great powers. It is about pulling each other up in times of crisis instead of trying to get back to your feet alone. And the EU shows how this can work in practice."
1509: "We are long standing allies. We share the same interests."

1532: UK prime minister Boris Johnson: "We have taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered."
1534: "Of course, the arguments were sometimes fierce, but this I believe is a good deal for the whole of Europe."
1535: "But above all it means certainty for business."

AR The UK goes free? I shall have less freedom in 2021.


2020 December 23

'Brighter Skies Ahead'

BBC News, 1614 UTC

UK health secretary Matt Hancock: "We know that we can control this virus; we know that we can get through this together. I believe that everybody will do what is needed to keep themselves and others safe, especially this Christmas. And I know, from the bottom of my heart, that there are brighter skies ahead."

AR A voice of sanity


Brutaler Brexit

Der Spiegel

Hunderte deutsche Trucker stecken in Südengland fest.
NHS bittet Johnson um Brexit-Aufschub.
Raus aus der EU, rein ins Elend.

AR Der Clown lässt nicht los.


Lufthansa Airlift

The Guardian

Lufthansa flies in 80 tons of fruit and vegetables to help restock UK supermarket shelves:
A Boeing 777 freighter landed at Doncaster Sheffield airport at lunchtime.

AR A nice gesture


Spukhafte Fernwirkung



2020 December 22

Plague Island

The Guardian

The New York Times: "Britain, christened not long ago by a pro-Brexit lawmaker as 'Treasure Island' for the riches it offers, earned another moniker on Monday as a new variant of the coronavirus ripped through the country and set off blockades at its borders: Plague Island."

Die Welt says "the yawning gulf between the prime minister's airy promises and the real world" has left a vacuum "fast being filled with the anger and fear of a nation hit ever since by horror story upon horror story" just days before the Brexit deadline: "Corona chaos will merge seamlessly into Brexit chaos. Few will then be able or willing to tell which bottleneck and which new emergency measure is due to what. But the frustration .. will be the same."

Libération says the continental blockade is even more effective than that decreed by Napoleon in 1806 at isolating the UK from the rest of Europe. A few days before the British exit from the single market, the island is getting a foretaste of its regained sovereignty.

AR Schadenfreude


Another British Fiasco

Anthony Costello

When the first wave of Covid-19 in Britain, I said the government should pursue a maximum suppression strategy. When a virus is allowed to spread, it evolves and mutates. We now face a mutant variant of the coronavirus with 17 alterations to its genetic sequences.
The UK government strategy has been only to slow the spread of the virus. The result is that the UK has recorded 970 deaths from Covid per million people. By contrast, China and South Korea have recorded 3 and 12 deaths per million people respectively.
The new mutant seems to be accelerating transmission. The greater the number of people who are infected, the more chance a virus has to evolve. A surge in cases in southern England, where transmission is high, will spread across the country and beyond.
Government mismanagement of the pandemic created the conditions for mutations to occur. An earlier lockdown by just one week in the spring could have halved the death rate. After the lockdown, the government again failed to do what was needed in time.
The UK has now been effectively placed in quarantine by the international community. The prime minister's repeated dithering and delays have led Britain to have one of the worst death rates in the world.

AR The UK government has shamed Britain and endangered the world in an attempt to protect an already shamefully mismanaged economy.


Waste, Negligence, Cronyism

The New York Times

When the pandemic exploded in March, British officials embarked on a desperate scramble to procure the PPE and other supplies critical to containing the surge. In the following months, the government handed out thousands of contracts, some of them in a secretive VIP lane to a select few companies with connections to the Conservative party.
Of the roughly 1200 central government contracts that have been made public, together worth nearly $22 billion, about $11 billion went either to companies either run by friends and associates of politicians in the Conservative party or to ones with no prior experience or a history of controversy.
The procurement system was cobbled together during a meeting of anxious bureaucrats in late March. Wealthy former investment banker and Conservative party grandee Lord Paul Deighton became the government czar for PPE. He helped the government award billions of dollars in contracts, including hundreds of millions to several companies where he has financial interests or personal connections.
The government cast aside the usual transparency rules and awarded contracts worth billions of dollars without competitive bidding. Over half of them remain concealed from the public.

AR A plague on them all!




2020 Winter Solstice

UK Quarantined

The Times

The UK is going into international quarantine after a faster-spreading variant of coronavirus broke out in SE England. The border with France is closed and Channel Tunnel services are suspended.
Flights, ferries, and trains from Britain are banned after European countries including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden announced travel bans.
UK health secretary Matt Hancock: "The new variant is out of control."

AR All this and Brexit too.


Brexit Crisis

Peter Walker

Downing Street: "The transition period will end on December 31."
Bournemouth East MP Tobias Ellwood: "Let Brexit trade talks continue .. If there's no deal by new year let's .. pause the clock."
North Dorset MP Simon Hoare: "Daily clarity of the dangers to our already pressured economy of no deal is alarming."

Tory media bite back
Nick Hopkins

Daily Mail: "Does the prime minister have any idea what he's doing or where he's going?"
The Sun: "Boris Johnson has made a pig's ear of things recently."

AR I despair.


The Clown
Extra3 (2:31)



2020 December 20

Coronavirus Cancels Christmas

The Times

Christmas plans for millions of UK families were in chaos last night after tougher coronavirus restrictions were introduced to contain a more infectious strain of the virus.
Boris Johnson unveiled tier 4 restrictions for London and southeast England that will prevent 16.4 million people from mixing indoors over the festive period.
The decision to scrap the planned relaxation of Covid rules for Christmas was blamed on the spread of the mutant strain, which has raised infection rates.
Minsters alerted the WHO to the outbreak and expect other countries to stop UK residents from passing through their borders.

No longer cavalier
Tim Shipman

During yesterday's 10 Downing Street news conference, Boris Johnson began to shake his head, stumbling over his words, scarcely able to believe what he was saying: "It is with a very heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned."
Last week Johnson pronounced such a move "inhuman" and mocked Sir Keir Starmer for suggesting it. Yesterday he said: "When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defence."

AR Cancel Brexit too.


2020 December 19

Operation Capstone

The Times

Whitehall played the wargame Operation Capstone last week. Government officials modelled a series of events following the ending of the transition period in a no-deal Brexit:
  Channel ferries on New Year's Day face a blockade of fishing boats from France and Spain
  The motorway to Dover is jammed solid
  Medicines cannot reach hospitals overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases
  Criminal gangs try to hijack a consignment of vaccines
  A large care home provider closes suddenly because it cannot hire staff from the EU
  Two storms lead to flooding in northern England
  Police face public disorder in protests by pro and anti-Brexit groups
  There is an explosion in Gibraltar
A government source: "The system worked. It went well .. We're ready for no-deal."
Boris Johnson is upbeat. A source: "That has been his one consistent message — that if we leave on WTO terms we cannot be seen to be running back."

AR The Clown is leading us to ruin.


Stronger Than Brexit

Theresa Reintke

No matter what is going to be in the deal that might or will hopefully shape the EU−UK relations in the future, one thing is absolutely clear.
The best deal the UK can get, and it will stay that way, is to be part of the European Union, to sit here around the table in Brussels and take decisions together. No matter what happens in the next days, weeks, months, years ahead, our interdependence will always be stronger than Brexit.
Our ties will always be stronger than Brexit and our friendship will always be stronger than Brexit.

AR  ♥


2020 December 18


The Times

Last night, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen talked with UK prime minister Boris Johnson. He called on the EU to drop its demand for the right to subsidise industries while denying the UK the same right and said the €750 billion EU pandemic recovery fund will be used to support industries and put UK firms at a competitive disadvantage.
Downing Street sources say in the event of a no-deal Brexit the UK will not return to the negotiating table and will instead trade on WTO terms: "The prime minister has always been the loudest voice in the room on this. If we don't get a deal now, we won't be going in January to restart talks. That's not going to happen."

AR Exit Britannia, as Big Ben bongs.


Math of the Amplituhedron

Kevin Hartnett

Lauren Williams studies the positive Grassmannian and the amplituhedron.
As a toy example, the Grassmannian Gr(1,3) deals with 1D lines in a 3D space. Imagine all the lines through the origin of this space and a sphere centered on the origin. Each line intersects the sphere twice, so we can forget one hemisphere. The northern hemisphere is Gr(1,3), and the positive Grassmannian is a quarter of the northern hemisphere.
Each point on Gr(1,3) encodes the properties of a line passing through the origin. Each line in Gr(1,3) is defined by a 1 × 3 matrix. The numbers in the matrix are the coordinates of the point in the Grassmannian that encodes the line.
Many matrices have a determinant and subdeterminants, which we calculate from the matrix. A 1 × 3 matrix has three subdeterminants, which can be positive, negative, or zero. With the positive Grassmannian, they can only be positive or zero. The subdeterminants of a 1 × 3 matrix have eight different sign patterns: (000), (00+), (0++), and so on. We can neglect (000), leaving just seven categories.
The categories sort points into cells. The seven cells for Gr(1,3) are the seven parts of the positive Grassmannian. Williams devised a formula for counting the number of different cells in positive Grassmannians of any dimension.
The amplituhedron helps us predict outcomes of elementary particle collisions. Such collisions are described by an amplitude, and the amplituhedron is a way of calculating amplitudes. A set of colliding particles defines an amplituhedron, and its volume gives the amplitude for a collision.
One way to calculate its volume is to break the amplituhedron into pieces by triangulation. The amplituhedron is related to the positive Grassmannian. Williams has shown that the cells of the positive Grassmannian can triangulate the amplituhedron.

AR Promising work — if I could follow it!


A Cosmic Crisis

Natalie Wolchover

The ESA Gaia spacecraft has measured the parallaxes of 1.3 billion stars. Its new data has sharpened the problem known as the Hubble tension.
Most Milky Way stars show a tiny parallax in a telescope. Detecting the motion requires specialized instruments. Gaia was designed for the purpose.
The telescope works by looking in two directions at once. Accurate parallax estimates require the angle between the two fields of view to stay fixed. Early in the Gaia mission, scientists found errors. But as data accrued, they found ways to separate the fake parallax from the real. The final parallax data is corrected for a star's position, color, and brightness.
Cosmic measurements of distance rely on distance ladders. The first rung his standard candles close enough to show parallax. We compare their brightness with that of fainter ones in nearby galaxies to deduce their distances. These galaxies with Type 1a supernovas let us gauge the relative distances of more remote galaxies with Type 1a supernovas. The ratio of their speeds to their distances gives the cosmic expansion rate.
We predict the universe should currently be expanding at a rate of 67 km/s/Mpc. Yet the new data peg the expansion rate at 73 km/s/Mpc.

AR Exciting chance for new science!


Milky Way
European Space Agency
The Milky Way
Image made from early data release EDR3 by the data processing and analysis consortium DPAC
using detailed information on more than 1.8 billion sources detected by the Gaia spacecraft

US Covid death toll

US economy trackers



2020 December 17

America Is Being Hacked

Thomas P. Bossert

At the worst possible time, the networks of the United States government and much of corporate America are compromised by a foreign nation.
The cybersecurity firm FireEye has been hacked. Its clients, which include the federal government, have been placed at risk. SolarWinds, a company that provides software to tens of thousands of government and corporate customers, was also hacked.
The attackers gained access to SolarWinds software before updates of that software were made available to its customers. Unsuspecting customers then downloaded a corrupted version of the software.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has issued an emergency directive ordering federal civilian agencies to remove SolarWinds software from their networks. The remediation effort will be enormous and take years.
All indicators point to the Russian government. The United States must publicly attribute responsibility for these hacks. Leadership is essential.

AR China virus, Russian hack — American doom?


China Brings Moon Rocks to Earth

The New York Times

China has returned 2 kg of lunar rocks and soil to Earth. The Chang'e-5 spacecraft gathered the samples from the volcanic plain Mons Rümker.
NASA is currently limited from directly working with CNSA or Chinese-owned companies. US law prevents Chinese scientists from looking at the moon rocks NASA astronauts brought back during the Apollo missions.
China plans to build a space station in Earth orbit, to send Chinese astronauts to the Moon in the 2030s, and to build a lunar base to support exploration in the decades to come.

AR This is good news.




2020 December 16

People of the Year

Financial Times

Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahin are the co-founders of BioNTech. They developed the first safe and effective vaccine for use against Covid-19, and did so using new and challenging mRNA technology. They are the Financial Times People of the Year for 2020.
FT editor Roula Khalaf: "They epitomise scientific endeavour at its very best."

AR Excellent choice


History of the Milky Way

Charlie Wood

Epic collisions shaped the Milky Way, and the galaxy continues to churn. New digital simulations showing how a galaxy like ours forms and evolves feature a lot of old disk stars.
Many of the earliest stars are poor in metals (elements above H and He). The smaller ones are still shining. Most are in the halo, but some are in the disk, the youngest region of the Milky Way.
The ancient stars are immigrants. Some of them were born in ancient clouds that deposited them into orbits that later formed part of the galactic disk. Other stars came from dwarf galaxies that slammed into the Milky Way.
We see a huge number of halo stars ping-ponging back and forth in the center of the galaxy as if they had come from a single dwarf galaxy that collided with the Milky Way perhaps 10 billion years ago.
The Milky Way is now calmer, but the Magellanic Clouds are coming in fast. The disk, with us in it, is moving toward where the Large Magellanic Cloud was a billion years ago.

AR Fascinating


Asteroid Dust

Agence France-Presse

JAXA scientists are amazed by their samples of asteroid dust. Hayabusa-2 collected surface dust and pristine material from the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 Gm away. The probe dropped off a capsule containing the samples, which landed in the Australian desert and were transported to Japan.
Hirotaka Sawada: "When we actually opened it, I was speechless. It was more than we expected and there was so much that I was truly impressed. It wasn't fine particles like powder, but there were plenty of samples that measured several mm across."
Seiichiro Watanabe: "There are a lot [of samples] and it seems they contain plenty of organic matter. So I hope we can find out many things about how organic substances have developed on the parent body of Ryugu."

AR Good work


2020 December 15

Know Thyself

New Scientist

"Know thyself" — the first of three maxims said to have been inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. What it actually means is a matter of debate, and modern science has made things much more complex.
How the physical substance of our bodies creates our sense of being a consistent entity, and what it means to have that sensation, is a puzzle. But our rapidly expanding knowledge of genetics and cell biology, plus our psychological insight that we are all a bundle of delusions and biases that prevent self-knowledge, give new perspectives on old debates and spark new ones:
 You are stardust: The long view of when your existence really began
 How nature, nurture, and randomness combine to make a unique you
 Think your sense of self is located in your brain? Think again
 You are not one person: Why your sense of self must be an illusion
 Why it's the aliens living inside you that create your sense of you
 Do we have free will or are all our decisions predetermined?
 If we can't change the world, does anything we do matter?
 Why we're in tune with our emotions, but suck at judging our smarts
 If the multiverse exists, are there infinite copies of me?
It is possible to take introspection too far: "Nothing to excess" and "Surety brings ruin" were the two other Delphic maxims. But delving into the mysteries of ourselves helps us to understand others better too.

AR New Scientist — my favorite magazine for over fifty years.


⦿ Jane Bown
John le Carré


2020 December 14

England Versus Europe

John le Carré

I'm not just a Remainer. I'm a European through and through, and the rats have taken over the ship.

AR Quoted today in a tweet by Donald Tusk.


Brexit Deadline Extended

The Times

Speaking on behalf of the UK and the EU, Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen pledged to "go the extra mile" yesterday to try to secure a post-Brexit trade deal by extending talks after positive discussions on how to ensure an economic "level playing field" after Brexit.
Johnson: "I'm afraid we're still very far apart on some key things, but where there's life, there's hope. We're going to keep talking to see what we can do. The UK certainly won't be walking away from the talks .. But what we can't do is compromise on that fundamental nature of what Brexit is all about."
The EU wanted the power to impose tariffs on Britain if the government fails to keep up with future EU rules and regulations. The UK rejected this ratcheting clause as a threat to sovereignty. Lord Frost and Michel Barnier made "limited" progress in narrowing the gaps between the two positions.
VDL: "Our negotiating teams have been working day and night over recent days. And despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations, despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over, we think it is responsible at this point to go the extra mile."

AR Wait for 2021-01-01, I guess.


Medicine and Morals

Ashley K. Fernandes

Many professions were taken in by Nazi philosophy, but doctors and nurses had a peculiarly strong attraction to it. Physicians joined the Nazi party in droves, much higher than any other profession.
Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis murdered many millions of innocent persons. Doctors participated in the medicalization of death, from eugenics to euthanasia to Auschwitz. German eugenicists cooperated eagerly with the Nazi party.
For Hitler and the Nazi physicians, the German Reich was a body. Whatever contributed to its health and well-being was to be preserved, that which did not was a disease, to be cut out before it poisoned and killed the body.
The Nazi euthanasia campaign was said to be good science, humane, rational, and good for the racial state. It led to the technological and medical surge responsible for genocide at the death camps.
The Holocaust is an enduring lesson in philosophical ethics:
 We must affirm that a person is the fundamental unit of value of our society.
 We must have rigorous conscience protection for physicians and health care providers.
 Science must rely on philosophy to say whether a particular medical practice is morally good.
 Physicians and health professionals must remain sensitive to dehumanization.
 A physician must serve the individual patient before the good of the state.
Medical professionals should always uphold the life and dignity of the human person.

AR This issue needs more debate.




2020 December 13


Al Gore

Twenty years ago, I ended my presidential campaign after the Supreme Court abruptly decided the 2000 election. I presided over the tallying of Electoral College votes in Congress to elect my opponent. This process will unfold again on Monday, reaffirming the continuity of our democracy.
This weekend also marks the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Agreement. Nearly four years ago, the United States pulled out of the accord, signed by 194 other nations to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases threatening the planet. President-elect Joe Biden plans to rejoin the agreement on his Inauguration Day.

AR Sanity is restored.



The Observer

The shambolic, self-destructive, and humiliating consequences of Brexit are coming into focus. The emerging picture is worse than its most pessimistic opponents feared. As the mist of lies, illusions, and jingoism lifts, we see not the sunlit uplands of a newly liberated nation but endless queues of diesel lorries blocking the Garden of England.
The strangulation of Britain's ports is already under way. Operators report unprecedented container backlogs, with some deliveries cancelled altogether. This is not a mere logistical, pandemic-related hiccup. It is an augury of panic-inducing food and medicine shortages, rising prices, and huge economic pain.
Any half-sensible prime minister would have asked the EU for an extension to the Brexit transition period. Brussels would have agreed, and British voters would have understood the delay. But Boris Johnson could not see it. Blinded by ego and his schoolboy brand of nostalgic English nationalism, he bumbled on toward the abyss.
No-deal Brexit irreparably damages Britain and hurts our closest neighbours, friends, and competitors. They will not quickly forgive a wantonly hostile act that undermines their principles and prosperity, nor should they.
Johnson was heard singing Waltzing Matilda in Downing Street last week. That song's jolly swagman drowns in a billabong. With a bit of luck, no-deal will be Bodger's end.

AR Sack the scoundrel.


2020 December 12

Brexit: Europeans Close Ranks

The Independent

Boris Johnson has been snubbed by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron after he requested a phone call with them to try and unblock talks. A senior EU official said the request for a three-way call on Monday was rejected because all negotiations should go via the European Commission.

No reprieve
Katya Adler

Boris Johnson's declaration that he would go to Paris, travel to Berlin, "do whatever it takes to reach a deal" was quietly rebuffed again by the EU on Friday. Europe's leaders won't personally intervene in the current impasse in trade talks.

AR Bo fail


Merrie England

Marina Hyde

+ And to have access to the single market
+ And to prosper mightily
+ And to be able to use the weights room without paying gym membership
+ And to have some me-time
+ And to explore an open relationship for a bit
+ And to get a Regret Nothing tattoo



2020 December 11

Brexit: No Deal Probable

Ursula von der Leyen

There is higher probability for no-deal than a deal. Positions remain apart on fundamental issues. We will decide on Sunday whether we have the conditions for an agreement or not.
It is only fair that competitors to our own enterprises face the same conditions in our own market. But this is not to say that we would require the UK to follow us every time we decide to raise our level of ambition, for example in the environmental field. They would remain free sovereigns. We would simply adapt the conditions for access to our market according to the decision of the UK and this would apply vice-versa.

AR The UK needs a new PM by Sunday.


Europe, Hungary, Poland

Timothy Garton Ash

The EU faces two urgent crises:
 Putting through its €1.8 trillion budget and recovery fund
 Overcoming threatened vetoes from Hungary and Poland
It took a marathon summit this summer to agree the budget and recovery fund, over fierce resistance from the "frugal four" of Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
The Hungarian and Polish governments make Margaret Thatcher look like a Europhile. They stand to be enormous net beneficiaries from the budget and recovery fund, yet they refuse to accept basic rule-of-law conditions.
Hungarian and Polish leaders are telling German and Dutch taxpayers: "We will block funds to southern EZ countries like Italy and Spain unless you let us go on using large amounts of your money to undermine democracy."

AR Good commentary, as always from Ash.


Quantum Simulation


When two heavy ions collide inside a particle accelerator, they produce a fluid containing an assortment of elementary particles. An accurate classical computer simulation of drop of this hot and dense fluid would take longer than the age of the universe.
Researchers are collaborating to explore how to run a simulation on a quantum computer.
A quantum computer swaps the deterministic property of charge or no charge for a quantum property such as electron spin. When measured, the spin settles into spin-up or spin-down. But until it is measured, the spin is a superposition of up and down.
Each qubit behaves like a tiny probability spinner that can be tuned and controlled by a computer program. The tuning is coded by a complex number that replaces the binary 1 or 0 of classical bits. Theoretically, a small collection of qubits can store a huge amount of information.
The collaborators recently simulated a heavy particle after it passed through a quark-gluon plasma. Quark-gluon plasmas are produced in extremely energetic heavy-ion collisions. The researchers ran their simulation on both a real quantum computer built by IBM and on a classical computer configured to emulate a quantum computer.
They demonstrated that these kinds of calculation are already feasible today.

AR Good news


2020 December 10

EU Plays Hardball

The Times, 1200 UTC

EU unilateral no-deal contingency plans are harder than a trade agreement on existing terms. The UK would have to continue to follow European competition and level playing field rules as the price of allowing planes to fly or British lorries to continue to operate in the EU. The EU could ban British airlines from serving European destinations unless the UK government allows European fishing vessels access to UK waters.

AR Good so — hit hard. It's the only language the mutt ("fitter than a butcher's dog") in 10 Downing Street understands.


EU Offer

The Guardian, 1159 UTC

The European Commission offers to keep planes, coaches, and freight operating across Europe for six months after a no-deal exit — if the UK government agrees to maintain a "level playing field" by continuing "to apply sufficiently high and comparable standards" during the period.
The EU will also offer British fishermen access to its seas and open negotiations over quotas, if the UK government reciprocates, to avoid the worst disruption, again assuming "equivalent" regulations.
UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the talks were unlikely to be extended beyond the Sunday deadline without substantial concessions from Brussels: "We're not going to be treated .. in a way that no other country would accept, and nor would the EU accept. It's about some basic respect for democratic principles."

AR Basic respect for democratic principles would require abandoning Brexit, given polls showing 51% against it and only 38% for.


Barack Obama, Writer

Michiko Kakutani

Barack Obama's new memoir A Promised Land is unlike any other presidential autobiography from the past — or likely future.
Obama talked about his favorite American writers: "Whether it's Whitman or Emerson or Ellison or Kerouac, there is this sense of self-invention and embrace of contradiction. I think it's in our DNA, from the start, because we come from everywhere, and we contain multitudes. And that has always been both the promise of America, and also what makes America sometimes so contentious."
As a teenager in Hawaii and a student at Columbia University, Obama read everything from classics by Hemingway, Dostoyevsky, Cervantes, to novels like Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, and works by Robert Stone. He read philosophy, poetry, history, biographies, memoirs, and books like Gandhi's Truth by Erik Erikson.
The reading he did then, combined with his love of Shakespeare and the Bible and his ardent study of Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Reinhold Niebuhr, would shape his long view of history.

Writing and hope
Barack Obama

As much as anybody, when I think about how I learned to write, who I mimicked, the voice that always comes to mind the most is James Baldwin. I didn't have his talent, but the sort of searing honesty and generosity of spirit, and that ironic sense of being able to look at things, squarely, and yet still have compassion for even people whom he obviously disdained, or distrusted, or was angry with. His books all had a big impact on me.
I think whether you're talking about art or politics or just getting up in the morning and trying to live your life, it's useful to be able to seek out that joy where you can find it and operate on the basis of hope rather than despair.

AR Sublime


European Commission
Berlaymont, Wednesday, L to R: David Frost, Boris Johnson, Ursula von der Leyen, Michel Barnier

Jeanne d'Arc


Boris and Ursula dine
in Brussels tonight


2020 December 9

Brexit Deal Deadline Sunday

The Guardian, 2228 UTC

A Brexit deal must be sealed by Sunday or there will be no deal, Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen agreed after dinner.
President von der Leyen tweeted: "We had a lively and interesting discussion on the state of play on outstanding issues. We understand each other's positions. They remain far apart. The teams should immediately reconvene to try to resolve these issues. We will come to a decision by the end of the weekend."
Johnson said he could not accept terms in a treaty that would tie the UK to EU rules. The EU will publish its no-deal contingency plans "very soon indeed" to keep planes flying and protect borders.
Downing Street statement: "The prime minister and Von der Leyen had a frank discussion .. Very large gaps remain between the two sides and it is still unclear whether these can be bridged. The prime minister and Von der Leyen agreed .. that by Sunday a firm decision should be taken about the future of the talks."
If necessary, the House of Commons could sit on Christmas Eve.

AR Forget it — no deal.


A Brexit Deal?

Angela Merkel

I don't think we will know before the EU summit tomorrow if a Brexit deal will be agreed or not. We are still working on it.
But if the British side proposes conditions we cannot accept, we will go on our way without an agreement. We must maintain the integrity of the single market.
A number of complicated questions remain. Most of them are on how to deal with the dynamic. We currently have harmonised law, but in future it will diverge on environment law, labour law, health legislation, everywhere.
We need to talk about how we react when laws change either in the EU or the UK. We need a level playing field not only today but also in days to come.
This issue of fair competition between two diverging legal systems is now the big issue we need to solve.

AR Untergang UK


Brexit Nightmare Scenario

The Times

A 10 Downing Street unit will coordinate the government response to the "nightmare scenario" of a no-deal Brexit plus a Covid surge and extreme winter weather.
The winter control and coordination cell will provide daily briefings to the prime minister as part of a wider D20 contingency operation. The briefings will bring together information from the Brexit and Covid operations committees, the civil contingencies secretariat, and other Whitehall departments.
Loathsome ideologue Michael Gove oversees the D20 plan and chairs the Covid and the Brexit operations committees.

The long nightmare
George Osborne

Each step Britain has taken in the post referendum world has been in the direction of a hard Brexit. We now face a rupture with our closest neighbours that only a small minority of a small majority would have supported back in 2016.
The main victors are those who could never accept the EU laws and court rulings that were the price we paid for the benefits of membership.
Other victors include those who saw the EU as an agent of globalisation and want big government to shield them from it. Left-behind towns, pensioners, fishing communities, and rural areas wanted protection from change. That's where the Conservative Party now draws its support.
Nationalists are victors too. Nationalists in Scotland and Northern Ireland may be the biggest beneficiaries of Brexit.
Leaving the EU is so unattractive that no other nation will do it.

AR In the long term, Brits are killing the UK for the EU.




2020 December 8

UK Drops Illegal Threat

Lisa O'Carroll, 1528 UTC

The UK government is dropping plans to break international law in relation to Brexit.
The government will abandon all the Brexit clauses relating to Northern Ireland in the internal market and finance bills. In exchange, the EU will minimise checks on controls imposed on food and medicines going into NI from GB.
UK cabinet minister Michael Gove and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said in a joint statement: "In view of these mutually agreed solutions, the UK will withdraw clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the UK internal market bill, and not introduce any similar provisions in the taxation bill."
NI Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connolly: "We still need the conclusion of a free trade agreement to remove customs frictions, and with three weeks left to go we still will need an implementation period to allow us to comply with the new requirements."

AR No more Rule Britannia, Britannia waives the rules ..


EU27 Backs French Brexit Stance

Jon Henley

Emmanuel Macron may be talking tougher than the rest of the EU27 as Brexit talks reach their endgame, but France's concerns are widely shared across the EU27.
An EU diplomat: "A bad deal poses fundamental risks to the EU in 10 years' time. We are all with the French on this."
Institute for Government Europe specialist Georgina Wright: "If France were the only member state to have concerns and reservations, we would be a lot closer to a deal than we are now."
French Europe minister Clément Beaune: "The main players have all realigned behind the same position. There is unity on the message and on the strategy .. The UK's gamble on a split in the EU has failed."

Global Britain?
Rachel Sylvester

Former Foreign Office permanent secretary Lord Ricketts: "We always had a reputation as a country that was pragmatic, hard-headed and full of common sense. We were seen as good negotiators who knew what we wanted. That's been badly damaged if not destroyed by what looks from abroad like a long period of indecision and trying to pursue completely incompatible objectives."
Vote Leave mythology is about to hit reality. Other nations are watching and learning from British mistakes.
Lord Ricketts: "It's been pretty clear to observers abroad that this has been largely a psychodrama about the Conservative party and its internal obsession with the EU. There's a feeling that the government is in hock to a smallish group who are the hardest end of that spectrum and are prepared to ride roughshod over the usual parliamentary conventions."
Potential allies around the world see a UK that seems untrustworthy, petty, and confused, with a deluded belief in British exceptionalism.
A former cabinet minister: "We have gone from punching above our weight to bragging above our weight. Serious people around the world don't like braggarts. I get the feeling people are sad for Britain, not angry. They .. think Brexit is being done without a clue."

AR United EU, clueless Brits — go figure.


2020 December 7

Brexit: No Deal Visible

BBC News, 1917 UTC

Another long phone call between UK prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen resulted in a joint statement:
"As agreed on Saturday, we took stock today of the ongoing negotiations. We agreed that the conditions for finalising an agreement are not there due to the remaining significant differences on three critical issues: level playing field, governance and fisheries. We asked our chief negotiators and their teams to prepare an overview of the remaining differences to be discussed in a physical meeting in Brussels in the coming days."

AR Bodger has destroyed the UK.


Terry Reintke
⦿ Cornelis Goilhardt
Terry Reintke MEP


Getting the UK back into Europe

Terry Reintke

We want to keep close ties with the UK after Brexit. We had British MEPs and MEPs from other member states working together. That's how I came up with the idea of starting a friendship group.
Looking back, I think maybe more Europeans should have come to the UK from another EU country explaining to UK citizens why to them it is important to be a member of the European Union.
There's a whole narrative about these unelected technocrats in Brussels. Very often the language we use here and the way we interact with people in Brussels and Strasbourg is very professional, very rational, very serious.
There is a reason for that, because you want to appear like a serious institution and we're doing serious work here. At the same time, I think it can put a big distance between the European institutions, the European parliament, the European Commission, and the citizens. We're working on legislation. It's really hard sometimes, it's really technocratic.
The worst thing that can happen right now is for us to lose hope.

AR We Terry




2020 December 6

Brexit: 'No agreement is feasible'

The Sunday Times

UK prime minister Boris Johnson says Britain must have freedom to make its own rules. Cabinet ministers say he should pursue a no-deal Brexit unless Brussels backs down.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen agreed with Johnson last night to a "final throw of the dice" this week to try to salvage a deal. They agreed that "no agreement is feasible" without movement on fishing quotas, regulations, and governance.
If there is no progress, Johnson's team is discussing plans for him to announce no-deal in a televised address to the nation, blaming EU and particularly French intransigence.
Even cabinet ministers who backed Remain say Britain should prepare for no-deal and Johnson should not bow to EU demands. A former Remainer: "Just get it done."

Whistling Waltzing Matilda
Tim Shipman

Boris Johnson is now preparing for the UK to do business with the EU on the same terms as Australia, a.k.a. WTO terms.
Last week, Ursula von der Leyen encouraged Michel Barnier to reach a speedy conclusion. He tried, but Emmanuel Macron accused him of "going soft" and urged EU member states to take a stand.
David Frost then faced new text on the level playing field and consulted with the PM. Johnson: "There's no way we are going to do that."
Then they saw new EU plans on fishing quotas. Johnson: "That's not acceptable."
Sir Ivan Rogers: "The UK evidently thought it could use late concessions on fish to buy much lighter level-playing-field rules; the EU that .. the PM had no real choice but to cave in fully on their level-playing-field demands at the end."
 On Saturday afternoon, Johnson spoke by phone from Chequers with Dr von der Leyen.
Brussels wants a deal by Tuesday so that the legal text can be translated ahead of an EU summit on Thursday. EU leaders want Johnson to ditch the Internal Market Bill, due in the Commons on Monday.
If it's no deal, Michael Gove will wheel out Operation Yellowhammer plans to keep the lights on.

AR "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."
     — Sir Edward Grey, August 1914


2020 December 5

Quantum Local Friendliness

Anil Ananthaswamy

In 1964, John Stewart Bell proved a theorem. It assumed (1) signals are local, not superluminal, (2) a hidden deterministic reality explains quantum mechanics, and implicitly (3) we are free to choose which measurements we make. Experimenters used it to rule out assumption (2).
A new Local Friendliness (LF) theorem goes further. It suggests an experiment with results that may force us to reject one of three assumptions: (1), (3), and (4) measurement outcomes are objective facts for all observers. The LF inequalities go beyond the Bell inequalities.
Eugene Wigner imagined an experiment. His friend is inside a lab and measures the state of a particle in a superposition of 0 and 1. The measurement is either 0 or 1, and friend records the outcome. Outside the lab, Wigner sees the lab and friend evolving together, entangled in superposition, even though friend thinks he has already collapsed it.
The LF theorem duplicates the Wigner setup. We have two labs. Alice is outside one, and her friend Charlie is inside. Bob is outside the other, and his friend Debbie is inside. We take a pair of entangled particles and send one each to Charlie and Debbie, who each measure it and record the result.
Alice and Bob each now makes a measurement. They can (a) ask the friend what the outcome of the measurement is, (b) reverse the quantum evolution of the entire system, to undo the friend's measurement, erase the friend's memory, and restore the particle to its initial condition, or (c) choose between one of two different measurements, measure the particle, and record the result. They do this for many entangled pairs.
A proof-of-principle experiment starts with a photon in each lab. A simple setup makes a measurement on the photon, which takes one of two paths or enters into a superposition of taking both paths at once, depending on its initial state. The friend is a qubit.
The proof-of-principle experiment was run about 90 000 times. It showed the LF inequalities are violated. We may doubt that a qubit is an observer, so the team envisions doing the experiment with an AGI inside a quantum computer.
If the inequalities are still violated, we must give up one of the three assumptions. Rejecting (4) would cast doubt on the Copenhagen interpretation.
Copenhagen-like interpretations include quantum subjectivism and relationalism (quasar). The LF theorem lets us distinguish between Copenhagen and quasar.

AR Nice — "quasar" is my bad!


2020 December 4

Brexit Talks Paused

BBC News, 1944 UTC

The conditions for a post-Brexit trade deal have not been met and talks are paused. Michel Barnier and David Frost say "significant divergences" remain. Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson will talk tomorrow.

AR Roll back Brexit now.


Brexit Talks: 'Difficult Point'

BBC News, 1703 UTC

Downing Street says talks to reach a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU are at a "very difficult point".
The two sides still disagree on state aid subsidies, fishing, and enforcement. If a deal is not agreed this month, the UK and EU will trade on WTO rules.
A spokesman says the government is "committed to working hard to try and reach agreement" but the UK will not "agree a deal that doesn't allow us to take back control".
An EU source: "Both sides are giving it their all — we'll try and get this done this weekend if at all possible."
The European Parliament must ratify any deal, perhaps all 27 EU national parliaments too.

AR Endgame for Bodger


Johnson's First Year

Martin Fletcher

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed Boris Johnson as weak, vacillating, and incompetent.
Despite spending more money fighting Covid-19 than any other G7 country save Canada, the UK has suffered the second highest death rate after Italy.
Johnson has:
 Debased his office and weakened the institutions of government
 Condoned the breaking of international law
 Stuffed his cabinet with pliant mediocrities
 Sought to bypass parliament
 Ousted good public servants but retained bad ministers
 Obfuscated and dissembled with facts
 Lost all credibility
Global Britain is sinking into mean, ugly nationalism.

AR Vernichtend


Ursula von der Leyen


2020 December 3

European Commission Presidency

Financial Times

Ursula von der Leyen was born in Brussels and grew up there. As president of the European Commission, she says: "I always wanted, in politics, to come home."
German chancellor Angela Merkel was taken aback when French president Emmanuel Macron recommended her for the job and said she needed her back in Berlin.
UvdL says her first year on the job was turbulent. Brexit was no longer such a threat to the EU, but then the coronavirus struck. EU members states shut their borders and hoarded medical equipment.
UvdL rallied international support for vaccines and raised €7.5 billion for research and then coordinated a €750 billion borrowing plan for the recovery: "Merkel made an extraordinary move. She knew what was needed to keep the union together."
The July agreement gave the commission the fiscal muscle to allow a more even comeback between prosperous northern states and struggling southern ones. Now nationalists in Poland and Hungary want to water down legislation binding recipients of EU funds to adherence to the rule of law.
The European green new deal aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and establish the EU as the global leader on climate change. UvdL: "If you look at the time left before tipping point, not many parties have understood that this green ambition is right."
On the election of Joe Biden: "We're not going to pick up where we left off in 2016 .. The last four years have taught us .. that we have to define our position as Europeans."

AR Well done




2020 December 2

China: Moon Success

Agence France-Presse

The China National Space Administration says its Chang'e-5 robot spacecraft has landed successfully on the Oceanus Procellarum on the Moon. It will gather 2 kg of lunar rocks and soil for return to Earth next month.

AR Well done


Coronavirus: Lockdown Risk

Financial Times

A Chinese study in Hunan province shows that Covid-19 transmission during lockdown was decreased for community interactions but increased for household interactions. The results, published in Science, traced 80% of secondary infections back to 15% of primary infections. Contacts between members of the same household posed the greatest risk of transmission, followed by contacts between extended family members. The transmission risk was lower still for social contacts and community encounters, such as those on public transport.

AR Seems plausible to me.


America: Presidential Pardons

The Guardian

President Trump may be considering sweeping pardons before he leaves office next month. A 20-page US justice department filing alleges that [a redacted individual] offered "a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence" and [two redacted individuals] acted improperly as lobbyists in the "bribery-for-pardon schemes" [details redacted].

AR Going down in a blaze of toxicity.


UK approves Pfizer vaccine
for rollout next week


UK Covid death toll
passes 75 000


UK: Conservatives Rebel

The Times

In a Commons rebellion last night, 55 Tory MPs voted against HM government. But Labour abstained, so the motion was passed by 291 to 78. The motion returns England from lockdown to a toughened three-tier lockdown system of coronavirus restrictions, but it would have been easily defeated if all the opposition parties had voted against it.

AR The Johnson government's majority is vulnerable.




2020 December 1

Coronavirus: Wuhan Report

Nick Paton Walsh

Exactly a year after the first known case of Covid-19 in the Hubei city of Wuhan, a leaked 117-page report from the Hubei center for disease control (CDC) is revealing.
On January 10, officials said the SARS testing kits used to diagnose the new virus were ineffective, regularly giving false negatives. Health officials began to use clinical diagnoses, but first added the new cases to the confirmed numbers in February.
On February 10, China reported 2478 new confirmed cases nationwide. The documents show Hubei recorded a total of 5918 new cases. The discrepancy arose because Hubei health officials relied on flawed testing and reporting mechanisms.
National protocols told doctors when to label a case "suspected" and to call a case clinically diagnosed only if symptoms were confirmed by an X-ray or CT scan. Positive PCR or gene-sequencing tests were needed to confirm a case.
In February, officials improved the reporting system to class clinically diagnosed cases as confirmed, and speeded testing of suspected cases. But the diagnostic criteria did not count asymptomatic cases.
In the first months, the average time taken to process a case from onset to a confirmed diagnosed was 23 days. By March 7, the system had much improved.
The report reveals a system constrained by bureaucracy and rigid procedures. But it does not reveal a deliberate attempt to obfuscate findings.

AR Looks a plausible picture to me.


Austrian cartoon, 1919


America: Heed Germany

Jochen Bittner

President Trump's "Stop the Steal" campaign is an attempt to elevate "They stole it" to the level of legend.
A hundred years ago, the conservatives who led Imperial Germany into war refused to accept they had lost. Their denial gave birth to the Dolchstosslegende — stab-in-the-back myth.
The myth was that Germany never lost WW1. In late 1918, returning German soldiers were greeted with the slogan Im Felde unbesiegt and cartoons of soldiers being stabbed in the back.
The 1919 Treaty of Versailles fed a desire to restore German national honor and greatness. Resentment and anger let Adolf Hitler crack down hard on perceived traitors, leftists, and Jews.
This looks too much like what is happening in the United States today.

AR Let this be a warning.




Europe: Brexit Negotiations

The Guardian

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney: "The truth of Brexit is now being exposed in terms of the challenges of it. This is something that the UK and the EU have to find a way forward on as opposed to focus on a blame game as regards who is at fault."
German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We hope that these talks will come to a happy ending. We don't need an agreement at any price. We want one but otherwise we'll take measures that are necessary. In any case a deal is in the interest of all."
French European affairs minister Clément Beaune: "We are still very far from an agreement. There can be no agreement unless there is one that gives sustainable and wide-ranging access to British waters."
Downing Street says it will not compromise on taking back control of fishing waters. The fishing sector adds 0.2% to UK GDP.

AR Tear it all up and extend the transition.


Proteins: Deepmind Breakthrough

The Times

Deepmind researchers have solved one of the greatest challenges in modern biology by developing an AI method to visualize proteins.
EMBL deputy director-general Ewan Birney: "I nearly fell off my chair when I saw these results. It's hard to know what the impact will be because it's been such a holy grail."
Researchers will soon have a tool that can achieve in days what previously took years. Deepmind is owned by Google.

AI cracks protein folding
The Guardian

The DeepMind AI program AlphaFold can predict how proteins fold into 3D shapes.
DeepMind founder and chief executive Demis Hassabis: "These algorithms are now becoming mature enough and powerful enough to be applicable to really challenging scientific problems."
Protein folding has been a grand challenge in biology for 50 years. Proteins are chains of amino acids that fold into shapes that determine their function. We know of more than 200 million proteins, but structures are known for only a few of them.
DeepMind researchers trained their algorithm on a public database of about 170 000 protein sequences and their shapes. Running on GPUs, the training took a few weeks.
In the biennial competition CASP, where entrants are given the amino acid sequences for about 100 proteins and asked to solve them, AlphaFold not only outperformed other programs but reached an accuracy comparable to slow and expensive lab methods.
EMBL European Bioinformatics Institute director emeritus Janet Thornton: "Knowing these structures will really help us to understand how human beings operate and function, how we work."

AR AI will rule the world.


Gripen E
Saab Gripen E



2020 St Andrew's Day

EU−US Summit

Financial Times

The EU will call on the US to seize a "once-in-a-generation" opportunity to forge a new global alliance. A draft EU plan proposes new cooperation on such issues as digital regulation, tackling the pandemic, and fighting deforestation. The EU−US partnership needs "maintenance and renewal" if the democratic world is to assert its interests against "authoritarian powers" and "closed economies" and to meet the "strategic challenge" posed by China. Prepared by the European Commission and the EU high representative for foreign policy for endorsement on December 10−11, the plan proposes an EU−US summit in early 2021.

AR Good plan


2020 November 29

Roger Penrose

Graham Farmelo

Roger Penrose is the greatest living contributor to the development of Einstein's theory of gravity. Penrose proved that the existence of black holes is a robust prediction of the theory.
Penrose studied mathematics and took his PhD at Cambridge in 1957. He then got a job at Birkbeck College, London.
In 1964, he applied Einstein's theory to a star imploding under its own gravity to form a black hole. He proved that a singularity is inevitable. A black hole must contain a singularity.
Stephen Hawking, in his PhD thesis, used Penrose's methods to show that according to Einstein's theory of gravity the universe began in a big bang.
Penrose and Hawking joined forces two years later to write their classic account of what became known as the Penrose−Hawking singularity theorems.
In 2016, astronomers working at LIGO announced that they had detected gravitational waves. According to Einstein's theory, the waves were emitted in a cataclysmic collision over a billion years ago between two black holes.
The central challenge of modern physics is to bring together quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of gravity. We think the solution will entail a radically new understanding of space and time. Black holes are the best laboratory for exploring this program.
In 2020, Roger Penrose was awarded the Nobel prize for physics.

AR Great work


Akshata Murty, Rishi Sunak
Rishi is a former Goldmann
Sachs banker, educated
at Winchester and Oxford.
Akshata is the daughter of
an Indian billionaire.


Rishi Sunak Backs Brexit

William Keegan

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is a Brexiteer. His friends say he has been a Brexiteer since the age of 18.
Whitehall insiders know that Brexit, with or without a deal, is an economic disaster. The official estimate is that without a deal, national income would be lowered by 7.7% over 15 years, and even with a deal the hit would be almost 5%.
Sunak now finds himself losing popularity as he warns of budgetary restraint to come. Yet he is willing the country on to go ahead with Brexit, which would severely damage the economy's capacity to generate tax revenue.
By championing Brexit, our chancellor is a party to a process that is guaranteed to remove a huge chunk of the economy whose taxable capacity would make it easier for him to cut government borrowing in future.
Andrew Bailey is the governor of the Bank of England and the chair of the monetary policy committee. The looming chaos at the ports in the new year, and the inflationary impact of Brexit on the prices of the vast quantity of food we import from the continent, must be a serious worry to him.
The governor says that no-deal would be even more damaging to the economy in the long run than coronavirus.

AR Sack Sunak, back Bailey.




2020 November 28


Borexino Collaboration

The carbon-nitrogen-oxygen (CNO) fusion cycle helps power the Sun. It is the dominant power source in heavier stars, but it has not yet been directly detected in a star.
Stars mostly fuse hydrogen into helium. In lighter stars, this mostly happens through proton-proton (pp) chains. But in heavier, hotter stars with high metallicity (elements above helium), the CNO cycle predominates.
Neutrinos emitted from the pp chain have a different spectral signature than neutrinos emitted from the CNO cycle. Spectral measurements could confirm CNO burning in the Sun, where it may add 1% to the solar flux.
Central metallicity, as determined by the CNO neutrino rate from the core, is related to metallicity elsewhere in a star. Neutrinos are the only direct probe we have for stellar cores, but they are hard to measure.
The Borexino collaboration detects neutrinos as flashes of light produced when neutrinos collide with electrons in a scintillator. It may detect CNO neutrinos.

AR We hope so.


2020 November 27


Pope Francis

Our lives are a gift. We grow by losing ourselves in service. Looking to the common good means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate.
There is always a way to escape destruction. We have to act precisely there, where the door opens. This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities, and to commit to act on our dreams.
We cannot return to the false securities we had before the crisis. We need a politics that can integrate the poor and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that affect their lives.
No one is saved alone. We are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different, human future.

AR My cut is drastic.


Brexit explained



Richard J. Evans

The UK joined the European project in 1973. Its terms of entry were changed in 1984. The Single Market was created in 1993.
The end of the Cold War brought back the spectre of the threat of Germany. The right wing of the Tory party portrayed the EU as a front for German domination.
Immigration and the financial crisis persuaded many voters to back Leave in 2016. Older voters were less educated and more likely to vote Leave.
The official Remain campaign was feeble and poorly led. It made no attempt to counter scaremongering on immigration. Both sides campaigned against the EU as it then existed.
The failure of the EU to take firm action against Poland and Hungary is a betrayal of its values. But the continuing cohesion of the 27 remaining member nations in the Brexit negotiations is impressive.
English nationalism has driven hostility to the EU. Scotland voted by a large majority to remain in the EU. Northern Ireland voted to remain. Brexit draws a hard border either down the Irish Sea or in Ireland itself.
Brexit will make the UK relatively poorer. It has unleashed demons in England. It has damaged the national culture.

AR Brexit is a disaster all round.





Stuart Clark

When we measure the rate the universe is expanding, we get different results if we extrapolate from the early universe than if we look at exploding stars in nearby galaxies. New measurements have made the problem worse.
The rate of universal expansion is accelerating. We say this is due to dark energy. Also, galaxies and clusters of galaxies rotate too fast to match the visible matter they contain. We say this is due to dark matter.
The standard model of cosmology is known as ΛCDM, with Λ for dark energy and CDM for cold dark matter. It accounts well for the data and fits with our best map of the cosmic microwave background (CMB).
The close fit with the CMB suggests a test of consistency. We can measure the cosmic expansion rate when the CMB was released and use the model to wind forward and predict the current rate of expansion, the Hubble constant.
Winding forward from the big bang using ΛCDM, we get a Hubble constant of 68 km/s/Mpc. But measuring the distance to stars in nearby galaxies, we get 73−74 km/s/Mpc. This discrepancy is the Hubble tension.
Last year, a measurement made using a third method matched the higher value. This summer, a new look at the CMB matched the lower value. Changing ΛCDM to adjust the Hubble constant spoils the other predictions of the theory. Something is wrong.
Elie Cartan proposed a simple extension to general relativity called torsion. Einstein assumed mass is the only property of matter that warps spacetime. Cartan proposed that spacetime may also be affected by the quantum spin in celestial objects. Adding torsion could solve the Hubble tension.
We can test the idea of torsion by comparing two ways to measure distance on cosmic scales. One computes the distance of standard candles by their angular diameter. The other computes the distance by their luminosity. In general relativity, a distance-duality equation relates the two distances. Torsion changes the equation.
In the next few years, we expect a flood of new data. Both ESA and NASA plan missions to measure the shapes and distances of remote galaxies. This may be the end of ΛCDM.

AR Adding torsion is a good move.


Boris: Options



2020 November 26

UK Economic Emergency

Financial Times

UK chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs yesterday that UK government borrowing in 2020−21 is set to be the highest ever in peacetime and warned of the worst economic contraction in 300 years. He called the outlook an economic emergency. The OBR estimates the deficit for 2020−21 at almost £400 billion, almost 20% of GDP.

AR Cut back on vanity projects (big weapons and Brexit).


Brexit: EU Seeks Compromise

Daniel Boffey

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warns that without a major shift by Downing Street he will pull out of the Brexit negotiations. He says further negotiations are pointless if the UK will not compromise on the outstanding issues.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen: "These are decisive days for negotiations with the UK .. We're ready to be creative. But we are not ready to put into question the integrity of the single market."
She said legal texts on judicial and social security coordination, trade in goods and services, and transport were almost finalised. But three issues can still make the difference between a deal and no deal: fishing rights, state aid, and legal remedies.
EU leaders meet on 10 December. The European parliament meets on 28 December to consent to a deal. Any agreement needs time for legal and parliamentary scrutiny and translation.

AR My national government is not representing me.


Brexit: Capitalists Seek War

George Monbiot

Brexit is the outcome of a civil war between housetrained capitalism, which seeks to live within the administrative state, and warlord capitalism, which seeks to rip up regulations and deconstruct democracy.
Chaos is an opportunity for the warlords to slash regulations and get rich. A no-deal Brexit will unleash dog-eat-dog capitalism. Housetrained capitalists are horrified that Brexit will let warlords wipe them out.
Warlord money bought the Johnson government. The worst companies and oligarchs spend money on politics to avoid regulation, so they dominate political funding. They see the UK as a beachhead among the rich nations.
Nigel Farage and similar blowhards pumped out a smokescreen of xenophobia and culture wars. The media reported the smokescreen, not the battle. Remainers got lost in a culture war.

AR Politics in the UK is deeply corrupt.


2020 November 25

America Is Back

The Times

Joe Biden: "America is strongest when it works with its allies. Collectively, this team has secured some of the most defining national security and diplomatic achievements in recent memory, made possible through decades of experience working with our partners. That's how we truly keep America safe."

Total mess
Business Insider

Joe Biden's secretary of state pick Tony Blinken last year said Brexit was a "total mess" and added: "This is not just the dog that caught the car, this is the dog that caught the car and the car goes into reverse and runs over the dog."
He said "our interests clearly would have been in keeping Britain in" and the Irish peace process would be "a heck of a lot tougher" after Brexit.

AR Good


No End of Physics

Robbert Dijkgraaf

Defining progress in terms of discovering new particles or forces is a myopic view of physics. The aim of physics is to understand in a precise, mathematical way all manifestation of matter and energy in the universe. We have barely started.
Instead of studying a phenomenon and then discovering a law of nature, we can first design a new law and then reverse engineer a system that displays the phenomena. In the 20th century, scientists sought out the building blocks of reality. This century, we will begin to explore all there is to be made with these building blocks.
Natural evolution is accelerated to breakneck speeds in the laboratory. A genetically designed bacterium is no less worthy of study than one found in the wild. New technologies effectively bring quantum mechanics to the macroscopic scales of everyday life. At some point, we will be able to order every item on the menu of reality.
Once we are fully aware of this grander scope, a different image of the research enterprise emerges. The ship of science is leaving the safe inland waterways carved by nature, and is heading for the open ocean, exploring a brave new world.

AR Wow


2020 November 24

Your Brain Is Not for Thinking

Lisa Feldman Barrett

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

AR I agree with all this.


Computational Physics

Dennis Overbye

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

AR Impressive!


2020 November 23

Oxford Vaccine Effective

The Times

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

AR More good news


2020 November 22

The Brexit Revolution

Pete North

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

AR My short cut of a polemical text


2020 November 21

US: Biden Wins Big


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

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


UK: Home Office Scandal

The Times

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

Warned in 2019
Daily Mirror

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

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


Wolfram's TOE

Physics arXiv Blog

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

AR See my blog 2020-06-20.




2020 November 20

A Promised Land

Jennifer Szalai

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

AR Good president, bad times.




Britannia Rules the Waves?

Daily Mail

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

AR Money to buy off the jingoists.


2020 November 19

US: Over 250 000 Covid Deaths

The New York Times

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

AR We know who to blame.


UK: More Billions 4 Weapons

The Times

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

AR Spending money we don't have.


UK: Big Majority Says Brexit Wrong

Business Insider

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

AR We say revoke, rejoin, repent.


UK: Green Recovery

Boris Johnson

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

AR That's better, thank Carrie.


Season's greetings



2020 November 17

UK: Women Take Over

Rachel Sylvester

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

AR So kick him out.


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


Genome Junk Evolves Vital Genes

Viviane Callier

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

AR Fascinating!




2020 November 16

US: New World Order

The New York Times

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

AR All good news


UK: The Johnson Legacy

Martin Wolf

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

Behind  the lies, chaos
Dominic Grieve

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

AR Boris, extend the transition and resign.


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



2020 November 15


ZDF-Live, 1230 UTC

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

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




UK: Downing Street Disorder

Tim Shipman

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

Lee made Allegra cry
The Observer

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

Carrie hated Lee and Dom
Daily Mail

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

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


2020 November 14

UK: Brexit Standoff

The Guardian

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

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


2020 November 13

US: Biden Wins

CNN, 1914 UTC

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

AR No doubt now


UK: Cummings Out

BBC News, 1552 UTC

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

AR Good riddance



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

AR Alles klar


Nuclear Diamond Cells


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

AR Sounds good


2020 November 12

US: Washington Power Struggle


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

AR Trump, it's over.


UK: London Power Struggle

Financial Times

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

AR Boris, heed Carrie, dump Dom.


What Huygens saw on
Saturn's moon Titan


The Pattern Seekers

Paul Broks

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

AR No surprise there.


Big Bang Nuclear Fusion

Thomas Lewton

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

AR Well done!


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



2020 November 11

Trump: Bunker Mentality


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

AR Alles im Griff.


Brexit: Deal or No Deal?

Rafael Behr

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

AR Hamlet: Answer the question!


A Fine Bodge!

Daily Mail

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

AR I checked — this is not fake news.


John Major



2020 November 10

Coronavirus Vaccine

New Scientist

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

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

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

AR A happy story




2020 November 9

Coronavirus Pandemic

BBC News, 1130 UTC

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

The bad news
The Guardian

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

AR A vaccine — this rescues next year for us.



Killian Fox

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

AR My long review


Carbon Dioxide + Water + Sunlight = Food

Robby Berman

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

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


Massive Information?

Philip Perry

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

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




2020 November 8

America: The People

Joe Biden

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

We the people
Kamala Harris

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

The people
Thomas Frank

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

Yesterday's people
Tim Shipman

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

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


Pa 4 Biden

Pennsylvania's 20 votes
go to Joe Biden

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

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


2020 November 7

Biden Wins Presidency

The New York Times

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


POTUS 46 = Joe Biden

CNN, 1630 UTC

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

AR Hallelujah!


US Election Endgame

The Guardian

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

AR Republicans: Expel Trump.




Germany Looks Across the Atlantic

Severin Weiland, Christoph Schult

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

AR Sighs of relief in Berlin, then.


Endgame for Johnson

Jonathan Lis

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

AR Trump goes, ergo Johnson goes.


2020 November 6

Biden's Nevada Lead Widens

John King, 1717 UTC

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


Biden Takes Lead in Georgia

CNN, 1031 UTC

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


Horror Story

Donald Trump, Thursday

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

AR Republicans: Invoke the 25th.


Britain Is Not America

Polly Toynbee

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

AR Boris: See reason.


2020 November 5

US Presidential Election

The Guardian, 1120 UTC

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

Well, that was scary
Gail Collins

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

Hard left president
Guy Adams

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

UK will suffer
Paul Baldwin

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

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


The dS/dS Correspondence
M. Alishahiha et al.

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


Two Bowls Form Holographic Universe

Natalie Wolchover

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

AR Old news, new to me.




2020 November 4

US Presidential Election

BBC News, 1900 UTC

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

AR Biden tentatively tipped to win.


2020 November 3

Vote to Start Over

The New York Times

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

AR Just do it.


2020 November 2

Keeping the Lights On

Scholars of Authoritarianism

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

AR Critical day: 2021-01-20


China, Covid, and the West

Will Hutton

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

AR And with China.


Johnson, Brexit, and the Plague

William Keegan

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

AR Rejoin the EU.


2020 November 1

President Harris?

The Times

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

AR Seems OK to me.


UK Lockdown

BBC News

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

AR Science comes first.


Black Holes Regurgitate Information

George Musser

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

AR Alles Quatsch!


Evangelicals say democracy
is less important than
the will of God


2020 October 31

End Times

Alex Morris

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

AR Dump Trump




Artemis Base Camp


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

AR And Russia, China?




2020 October 30

American Exceptionalism

Bob Carr

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

AR An Australian view


2020 October 29

Boaty McBoatface

Jennifer Finney Boylan

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

AR Shame on Republicans.


Are brains like deep
neural networks?



Epigenetics and Addiction

R. Douglas Fields

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

AR Good work!




2020 October 28

US Global Role

Martin Wolf

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

AR Vote Biden.

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



2020 October 27

Germany: Defend Europe

Constanze Stelzenmüller

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

AR We need an integrated European approach.


Biden Can Save Tories

Robert Shrimsley

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

AR Probably right, but Bodger is a lost cause.


Brits Want Calm

Rachel Sylvester

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

AR Keir Starmer seems calm.


A Long Tunnel


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

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


Water on the Moon

Scientific American

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

AR Maybe a megaton of water: not much.


2020 October 26

US Defeat


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

AR Sad


US Election 2020

New Scientist

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

AR I give the record an F.


China: World Domination

The Times

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

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


Brexit No Aberration

Vernon Bogdanor

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

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


Nave Andromeda

Daily Mail

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

AR Well done, lads.


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



2020 October 25

Ban the Bomb

The Guardian

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

AR Good news, if only aspirational.


Johnson Chose Trump

Toby Helm, Julian Borger

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

AR Dump Trump, bin Bodger.


Berlin Beats London

Financial Times

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

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



Inside Story
by Martin Amis
new reviews


2020 October 24

Boris Johnson's Reputation Collapses

Luke McGee

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

AR Get him out now.



247 zs

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


2020 October 23

A Calmer Debate

The New York Times

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

Who won?
The Guardian

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

AR No bold visions on offer.


UK−Japan Deal

Financial Times

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

AR Better than no deal.


Bodger Spurns Compromise

Martin Kettle

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

AR Get rid of him.


2020 October 22

Vote Biden−Harris


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

AR Biden will have Harris and Obama at his side.


Stop the Lies

The New European

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

AR Hear, hear!


2020 October 21

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

Bill Gates

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

AR A man with a plan — excellent!


Bennu image from rehearsal
flyover in August


Osiris-Rex Kisses Bennu


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

AR Good news




Superluminal Quantum Tunneling

Natalie Wolchover

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

AR Quantum disentanglement seems superluminal too: no problem.


2020 October 20

China Wins Corona War

Claus Hecking

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

AR Good news


Taiwan Faces China Danger

Gideon Rachman

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

AR Stay alert


UK: Squandered Trust

Rachel Sylvester

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

AR Bin Bodger


Britain as a Service

Robert Shrimsley

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

AR Invalid model


The Gambler: Tom Bower on Boris Johnson



2020 October 19

UK Sick Man of Europe

Richard Horton

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

AR The UK needs a political revolution.


Good Riddance to Normal Life

Pilita Clark

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

AR Pompeii, Chernobyl, London ..


2020 October 18

$421 Million Peanut

The New York Times

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

AR DB was unwise.


2020 October 17

End US National Crisis

The New York Times

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

AR How can any reasonable person disagree?


Johnson Hopes Trump Wins

Jonathan Freedland

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

AR All the more reason to sack Bodger.


When Boris Met Jennifer

Barbara McMahon

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

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


Kamala Harris


2020 October 16

American Global Dominance

Stephen Wertheim

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

AR Stand down or go bust.




Brexit: Prep 4 WTO 2021

The Guardian

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

AR Bodger is playing hardball. He will lose.


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


2020 October 15

The American Constitution

Edward Luce

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

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


Customer Experience


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

AR Eleven years on, my CX is fond.


Superconductor at 15°C


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

AR This is intriguing.


Dorset 4 Europe
Dorset 4 Europe



EU to UK: Our Terms or No Deal

Daniel Boffey

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

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




2020 October 14

Artemis Accords


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

Lunar law
The Times

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

AR The AA will lead to war on the Moon.




China Stocks Over $10 Trillion

Financial Times

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

AR For influence in China, buy now.


Tiers of a Clown

John Crace

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

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




2020 October 13


Daniel C. Dennett

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

AR Thanks, Dan, good reading tip.




Chemical Origins of Metabolism

John Rennie

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

AR So far, so good.


2020 October 12


The New York Times

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

AR OK, game on.


Nobel Economics

The Guardian

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

AR Dom Cummings: Study this work.




Brexit Seen From Germany

Paul Mason

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

AR Bodger is a dunce.


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




2020 October 11

Manic Panic on the Potomac

Maureen Dowd

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

AR Slowly but surely, the Titanic is sinking.


Brexit Needs Trump

Nigel Farage

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

AR Last blast from a loser.



Robin McKie

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

AR Brexit puts Britain out of ESA.


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



2020 October 10

A Surreal Reality Show

David Smith

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

Trumpism unmasked
Jonathan Freedland

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

AR Invoke the 25th and lock him up.


John Lennon
80 today


2020 October 9

Brexit: No Surrender

The Times

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

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


Chancellor of Germany

Jean-Philippe de Tonnac

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

AR ♥




2020 October 8

Education of a Poet

Louise Glück

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

AR Writing is not heroic.


Nobel Literature: Glück


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

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

AR Ein Glück, dass sie gewonnen hat.




Pence vs Harris: Who Won?

Henry Zeffman

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

AR Harris for Prez.




Nobel Chemistry: CRISPR


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

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




2020 October 7

Bodge Back Better

Financial Times

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

A pivotal moment
The Guardian

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

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


Roger Penrose
Roger Penrose in 1980


Sgr A*
X-ray image of Sgr A*


Roger Penrose
From Penrose's 1965 paper


Roger Penrose
Sir Roger Penrose


High Time for a Nobel

The Times

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

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


Milky Way Prizes


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

A big hole

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

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


Black Holes Are Real


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

AR I this stuff.


2020 October 6

Penrose Wins Nobel

Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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

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




Trump Out Front


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

AR The danger is not over yet.


The Future of Tropical Forests

Arie Staal et al.

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

AR Rainforest resilience — hmm.


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

David Attenborough
David Attenborough


2020 October 5


Lea Boecker

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

AR Einleuchtend


2020 October 4

Proud Boys

Sarah Baxter

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

AR AA neofascism seems on side with Putin Russia.


2020 October 3

German Reunification

Richard von Weizsäcker

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

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

AR ♥


2020 October 2

Trump Tests Positive

The New York Times

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

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

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



CNN: EU launches legal
proceedings against UK
after Commons passes bill
breaching 2019 Brexit deal.
YouGov poll: Brits asked last
week if they backed Brexit:
39% said yes, 50% said no.


Johnson Fails Test

Harry Lambert

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

AR Toss out Jo-Cum now and revoke Brexit.


Local Council Coup

BBC News

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

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




2020 October 1

How Science Works

Joshua Rothman

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

AR So far so good, but theory counts too.


Primordial Cosmic Strings

Thomas Lewton

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

AR As usual, we need more data.


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