BLOG 2021 Q2




2021 June 30

Chinese Communism @ 100

The Times

The Communist Party of China (CPC) is celebrating its centenary, culminating on Thursday with a speech from President Xi Jinping.
CPC oath: "I will be loyal to the party, work hard and fight for communism throughout my life. I am ready at all times to sacrifice my all for the party and the people and I will never betray the party."
Xi asks the 92 million CPC members unite around him. He is campaigning for his third presidential term and to achieve the status of Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping.
Xi has published 66 books on his ideology. A list of the 100 top CPC quotes from the last 100 years includes 30 from Xi and 30 from Mao.
Xi: "The original aspiration and the mission of Chinese communists is to seek happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation."
Xi came into power in 2012. He has fought against corruption, cracked down on dissent in the party, and updated the CPC charter and the Chinese constitution. He says he will lead China to greatness.

AR All in one man: risky.




2021 June 29

Quantum Neural Networks


We look at how powerful and trainable quantum machine learning models are in relation to popular classical neural networks.
In machine learning, the power of a model is its capacity to express different relationships between variables. Deep neural networks are extremely powerful.
QNNs are variational quantum algorithms deployed on quantum computers and use quantum effects to perform computation:
1 Information is encoded into a quantum state using a quantum feature map.
2 A variational model containing parameterized and optimized gate operations is applied.
3 The output is extracted from measurements made to the quantum circuit.
We find that QNNs can train faster and express more functions than comparable classical and quantum models.

AR The source article is technical.


Quantum Technology

Maciej Lewenstein

Fault tolerant universal quantum computers with error correction do not yet exist.
A clean qubit operates in a fault tolerant way with error correction, but it requires 1000 or more supporting qubits. A quantum computer with 100 clean qubits is far beyond present technology.
A dirty qubit operates with some accuracy but undergoes decoherence and dissipation, introducing errors. Noisy intermediate scale quantum (NISQ) devices cannot yet do error correction.
Physicists working on quantum simulations claim practical quantum advantage for studying the dynamics of many-body strongly correlated quantum systems. NISQ devices might be useful here.
We are working on NISQ devices for optimization problems and machine learning.

AR A long way to go, then.




2021 June 28

Why do writers need agents?

Chris Paling

Writers need agents more than agents need writers.
I have had five agents in a long writing career. My career has been untroubled by huge success, but it also points toward another key role played by those who take 10% (plus VAT) of your earnings: the spinner of bad news. One of my former agents, instead of reporting each rejection as it came in, would save up the "nicest" of them and deliver them when asked.
In 2007, I attended a monthly group of novelists in a chilly upstairs room in a West End pub. I went anticipating sparkling conversation and often came away depressed by the whingeing over the impossibility of getting decent typewriter ribbons nowadays, the lack of interest from the TV and film industries, and the impossibility of getting a response from your agent.
Despite the responses, I persisted in writing.

AR I'm still refining the text of ALBION.




2021 June 27

England vs Germany

Roger Boyes

England and Germany will play a football match in Wembley on Tuesday.
Germans were grateful for the British troops on the Rhine. The troops were part of a deterrent against Russian tanks rumbling in. Many soldiers stayed long enough to marry Germans.
Germans sense the end of the Elizabethan era. The death of the Duke of Edinburgh marks the end of a German connection. German magazines that use British royalty for soap opera are losing readers.
British feelings about Germany are split. Turning animosity and rivalry into something more positive is the work of generations. Football plays a big role.

A special relationship
Jonathan Freedland

Germans lap up British pop culture. German tabloids still feast more eagerly on a football match against England than against any other opponent.
In 2019, the HdG museum in Bonn staged the exhibition Very British on the "special relationship" between the two countries. Germans after 1945 soon saw the British as liberators and protectors against the Soviet threat.
Germans were shocked by Brexit and took it as a rejection of a shared postwar project. They are now cooler toward Britain.

AR Sounds about right to me.




2021 June 26

Human Rights

Matthew Parris

I question the whole concept of fundamental human rights. It is so deeply flawed as to be fatal to all legal reasoning built upon it. The flaw is irremediable.
The American Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Life cannot be unalienable or fundamental: we manufacture weapons of death; we switch off life-support machines; we deny NHS patients access to expensive drugs. Liberty cannot be unalienable: your liberty to roam may conflict with my liberty to enjoy my own property. The pursuit of happiness ditto.
Look at the real moral and legal dilemmas we've faced in recent years. The language of unalienable rights in such cases is entirely unhelpful.

AR Correct — so scrap the ECHR?


Solar Power

Laura Snapes

Ella Yelich-O'Connor, aka Lorde, was 16 when her debut album Pure Heroine (2013) elevated suburban New Zealand adolescence to pop. Melodrama (2017) dramatised a fabulous night on the cusp of adulthood. Her new album Solar Power comes from "this feeling of the clothes coming off and the skin being exposed and feeling this playfulness".
Lorde: "I really think people need me to be able to see our world clearly .. I couldn't do that and remain online .. It would make me feel vulnerable sometimes, feeling that cut off .. But it's also very powerful, and I can understand that as something that is precious."

AR Fun — but major talent?




2021 June 25

Quantum Field Theory

Nathan Seiberg

QFT is by far the most successful theory ever created by mankind to explain anything. It's an amazing, spectacular achievement. But we cannot yet formulate QFT in a rigorous way.
My preferred maturity test for a scientific field is to look at textbooks. In a mature field, most of them follow the same logical sequence of ideas. That's not the case for QFT.
For QLT, imagine space as a lattice of points. For QFT, take the limit as the points approach each other and space becomes continuous. The challenge is to prove that the limit exists as the distance becomes small and the number of points becomes large.
The biggest challenge is to merge QFT with general relativity. In special circumstances, QFT describes quantum gravity.

AR QFT textbooks are hard going.


Brexit Bodge

Andrew Grice

Boris Johnson smells Labour weakness. Knowing that Brexit will have faded by the next election, he has stoked a divisive culture war to entrench Tory support in the red wall.
He breathes life into the Brexit issue by picking fights with the EU. He is not surprised at the way EU is implementing the protocol. This is a milestone on the road to a united Ireland.
Johnson should find a national message that resonates in both the red and blue walls and stop refighting the Brexit war.

AR Reform the EU, rejoin the EU.


HMS Defender
HMS Defender


2021 June 24

Crimean Naval Incident

BBC News, June 23

Russia says a Russian coastguard patrol ship opened fire on a Royal Navy warship in its territorial waters off Crimea and a Russian warplane dropped four bombs in its path.
Britain says HMS Defender was sailing in international waters at the time. Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
A BBC correspondent on HMS Defender says the Russian vessel tried to get it to change course, Russian military planes shadowed it, and he heard shots. Video shows the patrol ship approaching to less than 100 m away.

Britain defies Russia
The Times

Witnesses on board Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender say it was buzzed by more than 20 Russian aircraft flying as low as 150 m. A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 supersonic attack jet dropped four OFAB-250 bombs near the ship.
HMS Defender, armed with a Sea Viper air defence missile system, was accompanied by Royal Netherlands Navy frigate HNLMS Evertsen as part of the carrier strike group for HMS Queen Elizabeth. Most of the group, including QE, remained in the Mediterranean.
UK defence secretary Ben Wallace: "The Royal Navy will always uphold the international law of the sea and will not be impeded on innocent passage."



Financial Times, June 23

Germany and France call for a new EU strategy of closer engagement with Russia. Diplomats say Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron want to invite Vladimir Putin to a summit with EU leaders.
EU summits with Putin have been suspended since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. The proposed outreach to Moscow will alarm EU member states wanting a tougher line with the Kremlin.
An EU analysis warns of a negative spiral in relations and a need to counter malign actions. It proposes the summit reiterate EU willingness to engage with Russia on areas of common interest.

AR Brexit 101: The UK goes hard on Russia, the EU goes soft. Naval war in the Channel next?


Dorset coast: Studland view northward, 2021-06-23



2021 June 23

Time's Arrow

Benjamin Skuse

Compare thermodynamics with a casino. The first law of thermodynamics says you cannot create energy but only move it: You cannot win more than your bank account and the casino allow.
The second law says that, in any natural process, entropy increases: On any trip to the casino, you will end up losing cash.
But you can win along the way. In thermodynamics, these chance wins are the rare interactions between atoms and molecules where entropy is lost instead of gained, as if the process were running backwards in time.
In our world, the house always wins. But the nanoworld zooms in on individual players, who can get winning streaks. Random jiggling at the nanoscale causes fluctuations in the energy of a system, violating the second law.
A fluctuation theorem shows how entropy can rise or fall at the nanoscale yet increase on average at larger scales. New fluctuation theorems invoke quantum theory. Experiments violating the second law validate the theorems.
An equality resembling the fluctuation theorem, but with work replacing entropy, defines the maximum energy that can be freed from a system to do work.
Time's arrow emerges as we go to larger scales.

AR Intriguing topic ..



Jennifer Rankin

Five years ago today, the UK voted to leave the EU.
The EU survived. German MEP Bernd Lange: "Now even the right-wing populists aren't discussing leaving the EU. The threat of Frexit is gone. They are saying we need to change the EU."
Brexit helped the EU rediscover its purpose. Smaller EU member states were impressed by how EU backed Ireland in disputes with the UK over the Irish border.
Brexit helped EU member states work together. French MEP Nathalie Loiseau: "It created more common culture of what it means to have a single market, to have a level playing field."
Brexit educated diplomats about the EU single market and customs union. Along with the election of a hostile US president, it forged a new appreciation of the EU.
Brexit lets the EU pursue an ever closer union.

Brexit balance
Timothy Garton Ash

Two weakened unions, the British and the European, and bad-tempered relations between them: lose, lose, lose.
The weakening of the UK is obvious. Many Scots say Scotland should leave the UK to rejoin the EU. A vote in NI on Irish unification seems likelier than at any time since 1998.
The economic consequences of Brexit are dire. UK food and drink exports to the EU were lower by nearly 50% in Q1. UK service exports were lower by £113 billion in 2016−2019.
The weakening of the EU is less obvious. Most people in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain say the political system of the EU is broken rather than working well.
Europeans talk about the UK with exasperation. The EU has lost a member state and gained a third party.

AR Untergang UK


Fly antenna
⦿ Cheryl Power
Fly antenna carries receptors for scent detection



2021 June 22

How Smell Works

Jordana Cepelewicz

An animal can detect and discriminate between many scents. The receptors on its olfactory sensory neurons recognize a vast number of compounds.
Maybe receptors respond to a single feature of odor molecules, such as shape or size, which the brain then combines to identify an odor. Or maybe each receptor has multiple binding sites, enabling different compounds to dock.
In insects, olfactory receptors are ion channels that activate when an odor molecule binds to them. They may be millions of variants across insect species. They balance flexibility to detect many potential odors with selectivity to recognize the important ones for the species or environment.
A team of researchers used cryo-electron microscopy to look at an olfactory receptor as it binds to an odor molecule in a jumping bristletail insect. They looked at the structure of olfactory receptor either alone or bound to either the odor molecule eugenol or the insect repellant DEET to see how odor binding opens the ion channel and how a receptor can detect different molecules.
DEET and eugenol both dock at the same site within the receptor. A pocket lined with many amino acids lets eugenol and DEET lodge within it via different interactions. Each molecule can bind in many different orientations, and many other odor compounds can bind in a similar way.
The receptor consists of four protein subunits loosely bound at a central pore, like the petals of a flower. Only the central region is conserved as the receptor diversifies and evolves. This structure lets the receptor accommodate a wide degree of diversification.
Insects use many other classes of olfactory receptors. In mammals, the olfactory receptor belongs to a different family of proteins.

AR Quantum effects may modulate pocket interaction.



Andy Ross

Operation Barbarossa kicked off 80 years ago today.
Jonathan Dimbleby says it was Hitler's climactic aggression against the international order and marked the beginning of his end. In June 1941, his past was prelude to this supreme folly. By December 1941, his future was a postscript of accelerating failure and defeat toward death in a Berlin bunker. That six months was the most appalling orgy of senseless violence in modern times.
>>> more >>>




2021 Summer Solstice

English Nationalism

Chris Mullin

The Brexit referendum has ushered in a new era. English nationalism is on the rise. Passions that have long laid dormant have been unleashed. The leaders of the main political parties had failed to see it coming.
UKIP and the Brexit Party pushed the Tories to go for the hardest possible Brexit. After years of wrangling over the terms of the UK departure from the EU, the decisive argument in 2019 was: "Get Brexit Done."
The English political fault lines are now between young and old, those with higher education and those without, those who wanted to get Brexit done and Remainers. The Tories have discovered a new formula that works.
The Conservative Party is now firmly in the hands of English nationalists. A referendum on the reintroduction of the death penalty would require the UK to withdraw from the ECHR, but that may come.
Put Britain First set out the National Front program in 1970: "Reject the Common Market. Restore Capital Punishment. Make Britain Great Again. Scrap Overseas Aid. Rebuild Our Armed Forces."

AR England is regressing.




2021 June 20

Russian Military Power

Radosław Sikorski

Germany has around 250 battle tanks. France and the UK each have less than 230. Russia still has 13,000.
Russia has not only modernized its military but also keeps it on permanent standby with large-scale maneuvers. NATO has not practiced a big military operation with US troops in Europe for decades.
Russia has militarized the Kaliningrad Oblast. But Germans don't feel threatened. From their point of view, the Baltic states and Poland are anti-tank defenses to stop a Russian advance.
Russian forces have practiced invading the Baltic States and Poland, as well as detonating a nuclear bomb over NATO territory. They think they can neutralize us and resolve a conflict on their terms.
I propose we create a European legion with volunteers from the member states, ready for action.

AR Ominous


Chinese Military Move

Ian Williams

On Monday, NATO said China posed "systemic challenges" to the international order. On Tuesday, Beijing sent 28 aircraft, including fighter jets and bombers, flying into Taiwan's air defense buffer zone. They sent tensions across the Taiwan Strait soaring.
Beijing is approaching the July 1 centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. A Mao-style cult of personality is portraying party leader Xi Jinping as a transformative figure, restoring China's position as a global power, facing off against a declining West. The party is promoting strident ethnic nationalism.
An attack on Taiwan would be an assault on democracy. By his aggressive actions in Hong Kong, once seen as a model for Taiwan, Xi has made peaceful reunification less likely. US policymakers are pushing for a stronger security guarantee for Taiwan.

AR Ominous


Western Moral Problem

Matthew Syed

A lack of social trust unravels most of what matters about a society.
In Norway, 70% of people think most people can be trusted. In Colombia, only 4% do. In New Hampshire, 60% trust others. In Alabama and Mississippi, 20% do. Places high in trust enjoy faster growth, higher GDP, less corruption, and more effective government.
The same insight holds historically. Trust in the US government has fallen from 75% in the mid-1950s to 19% today. The election of Donald Trump was a watershed less in terms of his policies than in his repudiation of the moral foundations of America.
Social trust is corroded by extreme inequality. Social media replace human norms with algorithms that feed on polarization and mutual suspicion. Mainstream media pump out misinformation in pursuit of popularity.
The underlying moral problem demands a moral correction.

AR True




2021 June 19



German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke at the German−Russian museum in Berlin on Friday to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during WW2.
Steinmeier: "Nobody during this war mourned more victims than the people of the former Soviet Union .. It weighs on us that our fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers who waged this war were involved in these crimes."
Operation Barbarossa opened the eastern front in Europe. An estimated 30 million people were killed there, far more than any other theater during WW2.


New mRNA Cures

Der Spiegel

BioNTech says a third of all drugs will be based on mRNA in 15 years.
New mRNA therapies could soon work against HIV, flu, tuberculosis, many kinds of cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatism, allergies, inflammatory bowel diseases, Alzheimer's, cystic fibrosis, osteoarthritis, broken intervertebral disks, and malaria.
Treatments depend on reading DNA, and mRNA transports DNA instructions to the locations where proteins are assembled. But injected mRNA molecules are attacked by the immune system because they are foreign.
The uridine in mRNA triggers the immune system to attack the mRNA. If this uridine is replaced with similar nucleoside, the mRNA is no longer rejected.
Researchers have already developed an mRNA vaccine candidate against a strain of influenza and seek one to protect against all known influenza variants.
As for cancer, cancer cells usually have mutated tumor proteins, but in a tumor patient the immune defense has overlooked a cell and let it multiply.
Heidelberg immunologist Niels Halama: "Thanks to modern sequencing machines, the genome of a tumor and the genome of healthy tissue can be read out and the sequences can be compared with one another. You can see where the tumor has changed and recognize the peculiarities of each patient to select individual points of attack to counteract. That's a massive step forward."
With the help of mRNA technology, the patient can make tumor proteins to activate the immune system. For autoimmune diseases, mRNA preparations aim to calm the immune system. BioNTech can now stop the progression of multiple sclerosis using mRNA.
BioNTech could ship an mRNA cancer drug in 2023 or 2024.

AR This is exciting work.




2021 June 18


The New York Times

US president Joe Biden signed legislation on Thursday to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, enshrining June 19 as the national day to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. He said signing the law was one of the greatest honors he will have as president. The law went into effect immediately, making Friday the first federal Juneteenth holiday.
US vice president Kamala Harris: "Throughout history, Juneteenth has been known by many names: Jubilee Day. Freedom Day. Liberation Day. Emancipation Day. And today, a national holiday."
The name stems from 1865, when on Juneteenth the Union Army general Gordon Granger in Galveston TX proclaimed that all slaves are free.

AR Gee, happy day.


2D Quantum Gravity


A team of mathematicians has sorted out Liouville QFT, a 2D model of quantum gravity.
Vincent Vargas and others (VRKDG) formalized a rough formula for calculating averages of the Liouville field and proved it works.
Liouville field theory (LFT) is a QFT that describes a random 2D surface. LFT finds patterns in the landscape of all possible random surfaces and can be used to model strings and describe quantum gravity in a 2D world.
Gravity is spacetime curvature, but QFT gives us an infinite number of spacetimes. LFT puts them all together and gives the curvature anywhere on a random 2D surface.
Alexander Polyakov and others (PBZ) developed a bootstrap technique to find correlation functions, which say how the value of a quantum field at one point correlates with the value at another point. It worked for some simple QFT theories.
Trying to develop an LFT bootstrap, they started with the Feynman path integral, a weighted sum of all possible forms of a quantum field that works best for free fields.
Harald Dorn and others (DOZZ) solved LFT and its 2D quantum gravity. The DOZZ formula lets us make predictions in LFT.
VRKDG then clarified LFT and derived DOZZ from the path integral.

AR Heavy work!


Poole Bay, 2021-06-14



2021 June 17

Biden−Putin Summit

Emma Ashford

The Biden administration has created an opening for a more productive US−Russia dialog. The concrete steps they agreed to — a return of the ambassadors to Moscow and Washington, strategic stability, and talks on cybersecurity — are opportunities for constructive dialog with Russia where there is a prospect for progress.

Four stars
Stephen Sestanovich

A Russian friend told me his definition of a good summit would be one that (a) ended early, (b) was followed by no joint news conference, (c) got Putin no invitation to visit the White House, and (d) produced only an agreement to keep the experts talking. Check. Check. Check. Check.

AR A good day's work for Joe Biden.


ITER Progress

New Scientist

The central solenoid for the fusion reactor ITER is being shipped to France from California. It has 6 modules, each containing 43 km of coiled Nb-Sn superconductors. It will be 18 m tall and 4.2 m wide, with a mass of around 1 Gg and a magnetic field strength of 13 T. From 2025, ITER should generate 500 MW of usable energy from an input of 50 MW.

AR Then we can dump fossil fuels.


Model Society


2021 June 16

Moral Epistemology

Thomas Nagel

Freedom of thought and expression, freedom of association, reproductive freedoms, and so on are all supported by our sense of what may and may not be done to people.
Consequentialist values are utilitarian. Once we accept direct access to good and bad in our own lives, we extend these values to others. We add up the good or bad in the lives of all those involved and see which has the higher net balance.
Deontological values arise when we regard each person as the centre of a morally protected sphere of individual autonomy. Our deontological convictions are the subjective experience of running up against objective boundaries of inviolability.
Deontological intuitions may be internalised rules that serve the general good of society. The rules are products of instinct created by natural selection. Deontological morality offers a set of heuristics, but valid moral standards are utilitarian.
The problem of distinguishing between appearance and reality arises when we consider the way things seem to us as a fact about a creature in the world. We can ask whether the best explanation of a fact fits with our saying things are as they appear to be.
We cannot completely withdraw from our own point of view. Both deontological intuitions and consequentialist intuitions offer prima facie grounds for moral belief.
Human morality will evolve. Both Nazism and Bolshevism were presented as moral progress. Treating individuals decently come what may is the source of human rights.

AR Respect our evolved instincts and utilitarian calculations, then do what seems right.




2021 June 15

NATO Summit Communiqué


We, the Heads of State and Government of the 30 NATO Allies, have gathered in Brussels to reaffirm our unity, solidarity, and cohesion.
NATO guarantees the security of our territory and our one billion citizens, our freedom, and the values we share, including individual liberty, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. We are bound together by our common values. We are committed to the rules-based international order.
China's growing influence and international policies can present challenges that we need to address together as an Alliance. We will engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the Alliance.
China's stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to Alliance security. We welcome opportunities to engage with China.

AR Is NATO the right forum to engage with China?




Chinese Democracy

China Daily Global

China is the world's largest and most substantial democracy.
In China, Xi Jinping was elected president of the country at the first plenary session of the 12th National People's Congress in 2013. The Communist Party of China went through a long process before electing him as general secretary in 2012. The Chinese leadership has enjoyed very high favorability in years of surveys.
The Chinese democratic system is based on the people's congress at national, provincial, city and county levels. Deputies are elected by voters directly at the basic level and indirectly at upper levels, supplemented by people's political consultative conferences where public decisions are discussed beforehand.
Chinese leaders serve the people. The system features direct and indirect voting and democratic proceedings during decision-making, management of public affairs, and supervision of public servants. Almost everyone can interact freely with their representatives, political advisers, and officials.
China has been improving its democratic system since 1921.

AR China needs to de-emphasize its Soviet roots.




2021 June 14

Quantum Field Theory


QFT is the most sweeping and successful physical theory ever. But it is mathematically incomplete.
In QFT, quantum fields ripple across spacetime. As they interact with each other, particles emerge and vanish like fleeting wave crests. Until we observe them, we describe particle positions probabilistically, by assigning values to every point in a quantum field.
A QFT comes with a set of correlation functions to say how measurements at one point in a field correlate with measurements elsewhere. A matrix codes all the possibilities. The matrix for a measurement of position or momentum has infinitely many dimensions.
To say how two quantum fields interact, we multiply an infinite-dimensional operator for one field by an infinite-dimensional operator for the other at the point of interaction. To avoid the infinities, we use workarounds.
In perturbative QFT, we take a free field where nothing happens and dial up the interactions slightly. If we dial them up too far, instead of getting better results, we get worse ones. Perturbation is theoretically shaky.
In lattice QFT, we put a lattice on the quantum field and evaluate the field only at the lattice crossover points. We enhance resolution by drawing a finer lattice with more points. The idealized limit is a continuum field, but ever finer lattices have a countable limit.
QFT contains many symmetries defining how points in different parts of a field relate to each other. A QFT has a geometric space and correlation functions for observations at different points. Sets of correlation functions forming a basis for a QFT have symmetries with physical significance.
The Standard Model is a QFT. It contains 12 particle fields plus 4 force fields. It combines these 16 fields in one equation that describes how they interact with each other.
A complete mathematical description of QFT could complete our theory of physical reality.

AR More on this to come.


"The Brexit agreement was
written in English so they
could understand it."
Ursula von der Layen


The Post-G7 World

Simon Tisdall

Joe Biden's bid to build a democratic alliance to stem the authoritarian tide led by China and Russia could split the world in two, leaving Europe stuck in the middle, betrayed by the UK.
European leaders fear the EU may be sucked into a new cold war. Their concerns are well founded. China, Russia, India, and others have authoritarian governments that defy western norms.
The message to Europe in the G7 Atlantic Charter was clear. Boris Johnson wants Britain to be the US pet. Like Winston Churchill in 1941, he needs US backing. Biden can discipline him.
Europeans are losing confidence in US leadership. Many want the EU to be a powerful beacon of democracy and human rights. The next US president could break with liberal Europe.

AR A European alliance with Russia and China would doom any AA claim to global dominance.


2021 June 13

G7 Brexit Spat

The Guardian

Boris Johnson was embroiled in an extraordinary public spat with EU leaders over Northern Ireland on Saturday as tensions over Brexit boiled over at the G7 summit in Cornwall.
In tense bilateral meetings, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Ursula von der Leyen told im the UK must implement the Brexit deal in full. Johnson said he had urged his EU colleagues to "get it into their heads" that the UK is a single country: "I think we can sort it out, but it is up to our EU friends and partners to understand that we will do whatever it takes."
Former UK ambassador to the US and the EU Nigel Sheinwald: "The lesson of this week is that you can't have a global Britain which is genuinely respected and influential and impactful around the world if people doubt your basic bona fides. There is no point in writing new Atlantic charters which depend on mutual trust, mutual confidence, and the rule of law, when you're operating as chancers."

AR Bo, go for law [protocol] not [trade] war.


G7 Sausage Spat

The Sunday Times

UK prime minister Boris Johnson faced a united front from the EU on Saturday in bruising encounters with French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Angela Merkel, and then European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel.
Brexit minister Lord Frost, wearing Union Jack socks, attended all three meetings.
Johnson told Macron: "How would you like it if the French courts stopped you moving Toulouse sausages to Paris?"
Macron said Paris and Toulouse are part of the same country.
Johnson: "Northern Ireland and Britain are part of the same country as well."
The stage is set for a trade war between the UK and the EU.
Johnson: "If the protocol continues to be applied in this way, then we will obviously not hesitate to invoke article 16."
EU official: "We made our position clear, and the ball is now in the British court. There will be no wavering. Both national leaders and the two EU leaders are on the same page."
UK official: "We are not going to allow a situation to develop where we can't move meat from one part of the United Kingdom to another."

AR Wurst case scenario looms.





2021 June 12

G7 Infrastructure Initiative

The Guardian

The G7 will announce plans to set up an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative as part of a pushback against China. Other G7 leaders are urging Joe Biden not to push competition with China so far as to preclude cooperation over critical issues such as the climate crisis.
US official: "This is not just about confronting or taking on China. But until now we haven't offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards, and our way of doing business."



The Guardian

UK prime minister Boris Johnson held meetings with French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Angela Merkel, and with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel.
UK spokesman: "He made clear his desire for pragmatism and compromise on all sides .. He made it clear that the UK is committed to finding practical solutions within the framework of the protocol."

AR UK is on the defensive.


2021 June 11

Legal Purism

George Peretz

Brexit minister David Frost accused the European Commission of being "legal purists" when it came to UK obligations under the NI protocol.
There is nothing wrong with legal purism. The obligation of governments to comply with the law is fundamental in a democratic society. The law sets out the instructions that we, through parliament, have given our governments. If a government treats those rules as nothing but guidance, or ignores them completely, then we are no longer living in a democracy and there is no rule of law.
We should all be legal purists.

AR Sack Frost.




2021 June 10

NI: Biden Reprimands UK

The Times

US president Joe Biden has issued the UK with a démarche, a formal diplomatic reprimand, for imperilling the Northern Ireland peace process over Brexit.
The most senior US diplomat in London, US chargé d'affaires Yael Lempert, "slowly and gravely read her instructions aloud" to Brexit minister Lord Frost.
The démarche follows the failure of talks between Frost and EU vice-president Maroš Šefčovič.
Lempert said the US "strongly urged the UK to achieve a negotiated settlement" and was concerned about the stalemate on implementing the protocol undermining trust between the EU and the UK.
The EU accuses Johnson of putting Brexit ideology over NI interests. Frost says the EU has prioritised the integrity of the single market over peace in NI and suggests a less purist approach.
The EU is considering tariffs on the UK if it unilaterally extends exemptions from implementing the NI protocol.

G7 summit is a chance to show the world our values
Boris Johnson

We will relaunch the G7 as a means of expressing the values that unite us: openness, freedom, democracy, and free trade. We will be joined by our friends, the leaders of India, South Korea, Australia, and South Africa — a Democratic 11 with the UK a competitive and creative player in the centre of the field. We will work together to tackle the world's biggest problems.
President Biden and I will sign a charter that underscores our joint commitment to NATO. Britain has the biggest defence budget in Europe. We are contributing more troops than any other country to NATO's deployment in Poland and the Baltic states. We have committed our nuclear deterrent and our cyber capabilities to the alliance. Britain is doing more to guarantee the security of our continent than any other European power.
The UK can at once devise a vaccine against Covid, conduct nearly half of the world's genomic sequencing of new variants, bring the world's most powerful leaders to Cornwall, and send an aircraft carrier to the Indo-Pacific.

AR More Bodger bombast.




2021 June 9

G7 Summit

Carbis Bay, Cornwall, UK, June 11−13

The G7 members (UK, USA, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, EU) are all bound by shared values as open, democratic, and outward-looking societies.
In past years, the G7 has taken action to strengthen the global economy and combat tax evasion, save 27 million lives from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, and supported the education of millions of children in the poorest countries. In 2015 its members led the way in helping secure the historic Paris Climate Agreement to limit global emissions.
US president Joe Biden told reporters his aim for the summit: "Making clear to Putin and to China that Europe and the United States are tight and the G7 is gonna move."

AR Let's hope it works out.




2021 June 8

Quantum Computing

Scott Aaronson

A quantum computer big and reliable enough to outperform classical computers at practical applications is likely still a long way off.
In quantum mechanics, a superposition is a complex linear combination. A qubit is a bit that has a complex number called an amplitude attached to the possibility that it's 0, and a different amplitude attached to the possibility that it's 1. These amplitudes are closely related to probabilities.
If some contributions to an amplitude are positive and others are negative, then the contributions can interfere destructively and cancel each other out, so that the amplitude is zero and the corresponding outcome is never observed. Likewise, they can interfere constructively and increase the likelihood of a given outcome.
The goal in devising an algorithm for a quantum computer is to choreograph a pattern of constructive and destructive interference so that for each wrong answer the contributions to its amplitude cancel each other out, whereas for the right answer the contributions reinforce each other.
The point of quantum computers is to improve running time as a function of n, the number of bits of input data. Then, as n grows, a quantum speedup appears and then eventually comes to dominate.
In quantum algorithms research, the difficulty is often not so much proving that a quantum computer can do something quickly but showing that a classical computer can't. Alas, it turns out to be staggeringly hard to prove that problems are hard, as illustrated by the P versus NP problem.
The practical difficulty of building quantum computers is decoherence, or premature collapse of the qubits down to classical bits.

AR Scott knows his stuff.


New image of Ganymede: This week, NASA spacecraft Juno flew within 1 Mm of Ganymede, the largest of Jupiter's 79 known moons.
Ganymede is bigger than the planet Mercury and is the only moon with its own magnetosphere. NASA has extended the Juno mission
through 2025 to add 42 more orbits of Jupiter, including close flybys of Ganymede, Io, and Europa.



2021 June 7

Conformal Cyclic Cosmology

Andy Ross

Cycles of Time is a 2010 book by Roger Penrose introducing a new view of cosmology. Penrose presents a careful and thorough analysis of the concept of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics together with a deep view of spacetime using conformal (light cone) geometry to abstract away metric issues of scale. He uses these to argue for a cyclic cosmology in which the Big Bang becomes a smooth bottleneck and the concept of cosmic inflation becomes redundant.
There are plenty of mathematical complications in this approach that leave the case unproven, and Penrose limits his detailed arguments to those within the tradition of classical general relativity, but he suggests how quantum effects can be handled and is clearly in tune with some approaches to quantum gravity. Winningly, for me, he avoids superstrings and their clutter of higher dimensions and branes and so on completely, to leave a relatively simple case for others to develop further.
Entropy is mathematically straightforward: The cosmos starts in a state of low entropy and ends in a state of high entropy. Overwhelmingly the biggest contribution to this rising entropy is from matter and information falling into black holes. If, contra quantum mechanics, black holes destroy information, the shrinkage of phase space this causes can reduce entropy dramatically. With the right bottleneck constraints at recycling time, this may even the score to give a viable cosmology.
The conformal geometry handles the scale change at recycling time. At the bottleneck, the universe shrinks from a practically infinite expanse of isolated relics in thermal equilibrium to a volume so small that it seems likely quantum chaos reigns. Penrose talks breezily about the cold expanse of nothing "forgetting" its spatiotemporal extension as the new universe begins, and perhaps something can be made of this, but someone needs to do a lot more there to make it work.
I had planned to read this book when it first appeared, but I made the mistake of skimming its appendices first to get a preview of the upper bound to the mathematics invoked. Since I found the appendices incomprehensible, I was scared off the book. Then, in June 2021, I simply pushed into it and got started, and found the going as smooth as in any book by Penrose. Agreed, I had to take a lot of the mathematical detail on faith, but the main argument is clear.
Whether this cyclic cosmology will develop a scientific following is for the future. Most of us are busy enough getting the internal details of the Big Bang picture to work out right. But if the cyclic view can give us better insights into dark matter and dark energy than inflationary or multiworld scenarios can offer, it may have a future. For me, however, its silence on AdS/CFT duality and the ER = EPR idea linking wormholes and entanglement leaves too much unsaid.

AR The Road to Reality is his best book.


2021 June 6

Supermassive Black Holes

Andrea Ghez

Black holes represent the boundary of our understanding of how the universe works.
In our galaxy, as you go toward the center, the density of stars increases, the speeds of stars increase, and the strength of other characteristics increases. The center of the galaxy takes everything to the extreme.
Our galaxy also has a lot of dust in it. That dust makes it difficult for light emitted from the center of the galaxy to reach us. In the center of the galaxy, the crowding of stars becomes an issue as well.
When observing from ground telescopes, the atmosphere blurs the images. That makes it very difficult or impossible to distinguish stars at the heart of the galaxy from one another.
Think of the atmosphere as a circus funhouse mirror. With adaptive optics, we try to put a mirror on the telescope that makes things look flat again. That mirror moves very quickly to keep up with the atmospheric changes.
The star S0-2 only takes about 16 years to complete an orbit of Sagittarius A*. The orbits of S0-2 and a few other stars like it give us evidence that there must be a black hole there.
We still don't understand what a black hole is.

AR Ghez shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in physics.


Poole Harbour entrance, first day of summer 2021



2021 June 5

Global Tax Deal

Financial Times

The G7 advanced economies have struck a historic agreement on taxing multinationals. The US, Japan, Germany, France, UK, Italy, and Canada will stop companies shifting profits to low tax jurisdictions and ensure multinationals pay more tax where they operate.
US treasury secretary Janet Yellen called the agreement a "significant, unprecedented commitment" to a global minimum corporate tax of at least 15%.
German finance minister Olaf Scholz: "Very good news for tax justice and solidarity and bad news for tax havens throughout the world."
UK chancellor Rishi Sunak: "A historic agreement on global tax reform requiring the largest multinational tech giants to pay their fair share of tax."
French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said the G7 countries have paved the way for a global accord at the G20 in Venice in July.

AR Even Brexiteer tax dodgers should applaud.




2021 June 4

Publishers and Cancel Culture

Alison Flood

In the liberal industry of publishing, the tension between profit and morality is nothing new. But the debate over what should be published has reached a fever pitch. Publishing staff who feel uncomfortable about working on certain titles are speaking out more often and more loudly, through open letters and on social media.
Literary agent Clare Alexander told a House of Lords committee investigating freedom of speech this is a watershed moment, with a gap between older management and younger refuseniks.
Literary agent Rupert Heath: "Publishers .. have always exercised the right to reject problematic books .. The big difference we see now is in publishing staff, in many cases relatively junior staff, trying to dictate company policy."

AR Agents, publishers, editors, booksellers, and readers all exercise personal judgement, not always wisely.




2021 June 3

The Edge of Reason

Stephen Budiansky

Kurt Gödel published his incompleteness theorem in 1930, when he was 24. He proved that mathematicians cannot prove every true mathematical statement. His proof formulated a mathematical statement that was true but unprovable.
Gödel was born in 1906 to a prosperous family in Brünn, in the Hapsburg Empire. He had a happy childhood in a golden age before WW1. From the age of 4, he was always asking for reasons. He said his highest aim was the pleasure of cognition.
Gödel moved to Vienna in 1924, where he studied mathematics. He joined in the Vienna Circle, which tasked itself with discussing the transformations in scientific thought occasioned by revolutionary ideas in physics and mathematics.
Gödel left Nazi Europe and found a home at the Institute for Advanced Study in New Jersey. He went for long walks with his fellow institute scholar Albert Einstein, who called him the greatest logician since Aristotle. He died in 1978.

AR My second student thesis was on Gödel's theorems.


2021 June 2


Mark Sinclair

Henri Bergson developed a philosophy of time and life.
In his 1888 doctoral thesis on time and free will, he said time is not space.
If I conceive time as a series of instants with a present moment on a line of past and future instants, I view time as space. The idea of an instantaneous now gets its meaning against a background of space. We measure periods of time with units defined in space.
Bergson called the experience of the passage of time real duration. Real duration presents a fusion or interpenetration of the past and future in the present.
We experience this melting of the past and present into the future when listening to music. We respond to music not by distinguishing some sounds from others. Given that we say time is infinitely divisible, a search for atomic sounds will reduce the experience of music to a dust of instants without melody or duration.
Bergson said the self is the flow and enduring process of my past melting into my present open to my future. My free act is an expression of the history of my durational self.
On biological evolution, he said the driving force of life is élan vital.
Bergson won the 1927 Nobel Prize in Literature.

AR Einstein won the debate on time.


2021 June 1

Brexit Cut UK Exports

Financial Times

Experts at Aston University in Birmingham say UK services exports from 2016 to 2019 were £113 billion lower than if the UK had not left the EU. The researchers projected how various industries would have grown if they had continued as before and compared that with their actual progress.
The post-Brexit UK−EU agreement contains minimal provisions on financial and professional services. In 2019, the UK ran an £18 billion surplus in services trade with the EU, against a deficit of £97 billion in goods. Data for 2020 were not included in the study because of the pandemic.
Financial services exports were hit hardest, in monetary terms. Banks, insurers, and asset managers moved thousands of people and billions in capital from London to Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam, and Dublin. Other UK sectors affected included business services, travel, transport, and IT.
The data shows UK trade with the EU has fallen by a fifth because of Brexit.

AR This is disastrous for a weak economy.



Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Supernovas can cook up elements heavier than iron. Gases and plasma blown off at high energy can engage in forms of nuclear fusion not seen in their progenitor stars.
Type Ia supernovas can start from white dwarfs. These are the remnants of burnt-out stars. A typical white dwarf has a mass of 0.7 ⦿ and a radius of 14 Mm. They don't collapse further because of quantum pressure between their electrons.
White dwarfs can orbit regular stars in a binary relationship. The white dwarf's gravitation can rip gas away from its companion. Ultimately, it takes too much and goes supernova.
Type II supernova come from the collapse of a supergiant star. In extreme cases, the leftover core forms a black hole. In less extreme cases, it forms a neutron star.
Neutron stars are the most compact and dense objects we can see. They don't collapse further because of the quantum properties of the particles that comprise them.
Neutron star PSR J0740+6620 has a mass of more than 2 ⦿ but a radius of only 10−12 km. This is close to the limit where a black hole would form.

AR I find neutron stars fascinating.


Seafront selfie, 2021-05-31



2021 May 31

The Human Genome

New Scientist

We have finally sequenced the complete human genome. When scientists first announced that they had read it 20 years ago, they were still missing some bits. Now we have it all.
The human genome contains just over 3 billion letters. The genes are coded on long DNA molecules in cell nuclei as sequences of bases strung along a molecule.
The Human Genome Sequencing Consortium published the first complete genome in 2001. They filled in the gaps until 2004, when about 8% was still either missing or maybe wrong.
The HGSC read the DNA from cell line CHM13, from a single sperm. Normal human cells have two DNA strands, one from the mother and one from the father. This makes it harder to sequence because stretches can be mixed up. In CHM13, the two copies match.
In August 2020, a team at the National Human Genome Research Institute published the complete human X chromosome. They have now added nearly 200 million letters to that version, with 2226 sections that are near-identical copies of known genes.
The new genome has 63 494 genes, compared with 60 090 in the 2019 update. Genes that code proteins number 19 969, up from 19 890.
The team is now focused on segmental duplications. These account for nearly one-third of the new sequence and 7% of the genome. They play a role in human evolution as places where new genes can arise.

AR Hi-ho! Brave new century!


Boris weds Carrie
Boris weds Carrie


2021 May 30

Origin of Covid-19

New Scientist

Peter Ben Embarek led a WHO fact-finding mission into the origins of SARS-CoV-2: "We know that the first human cases that were detected were detected in Wuhan in December 2019. We also know that this virus belongs to a group of viruses that have their original niche in bat populations. In between these two points, we don't know much."
The WHO team concluded that an origin of SARS-CoV-2 in accidental release from a laboratory was extremely unlikely. The consensus view is that SARS-CoV-2 had a natural origin in a wild animal.
On March 4, a group of scientists called for an independent investigation on the grounds that the WHO "did not have the mandate, the independence, or the necessary accesses to carry out a full and unrestricted investigation into all the relevant SARS-CoV-2 origin hypotheses".
Since then, the governments of the USA, Australia, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, and the UK have expressed concern that the WHO lacked access to the full original data and samples.
Proponents of the lab-leak hypothesis say some characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 are hard to explain by a natural zoonotic origin hypothesis.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology may have let a modified virus leak through their biosafety net. The lab has worked with RaTG13, the closest known relative of SARS-CoV-2. Its genome sequence similarity of 96.2% is too distant for it to be the direct progenitor, but the missions to the site where RaTG13 was discovered also found eight other previously unknown SARS-like coronaviruses.
Pro lab, SARS-CoV-2 is the only member of its sub-genus to have a furin cleavage site in the spike protein that helps it to break into host cells. Pro zoo, furin cleavage sites seem to have evolved independently many times across the coronavirus family.
Pro lab, SARS-CoV-2 has a region of the spike protein that seems adapted to latch on to human cells. This adaptation was first observed in SARS-CoV-1 after it had jumped to humans. Pro zoo, the enzyme that copies the viral genome can stitch together bits of two coronavirus genomes in novel combinations, allowing a natural evolution to SARS-CoV-2.
Both lab and zoo hypotheses remain on the table.

AR I vote zoo, not lab, but who knows?




2021 May 29

Quantum Mechanics

Gerard 't Hooft

Systems with fast classical variables can look like quantum systems. In models with a conserved quantum energy, the fast variables stay mostly in their ground state. Physical states for the fast variables look smeared in the time direction.
To construct the models, we reformulate the quantum system so that wave functions take only the values 1 or 0. The evolution operators turn out to be elements of a permutation group, to give us classical physics.
Discrete classical systems can be turned into quantum systems without affecting the physics. In our models, the spacings of the energy levels are rational. In practice, the distinction between rational and real numbers is unnoticeable.
We transform our classical system back to a quantum model by limiting our observations to states smeared in time. We get quantum mechanics if we use probability for fast evolving variables in a classical setting. The slow variables interact with the fast variables.
Let both the number of fast variables and the dimensionality of the Hilbert space containing the slow variables be N. This is the number of normally observable states the system can be in. In a world model, N is its volume in Planck units.
Quantum mechanics is a way to handle the mathematics of discrete dynamical systems. If the joint evolution of fast variables and slow variables is classical, quantum mechanics emerges if we eliminate the fast variables.
We use statistics and probabilities with exact equations of motion. From unknown initial states, the final states form statistical distributions, but the equations determine the relation between initial state and final state precisely. If we let the Born rule define probabilities, we get a scheme for handling classical probability distributions.
The classical model describes the states we see plus fast, oscillating, hidden variables. We say the fast variables are in their lowest energy eigenmodes because the energy to excite them is not available. We appeal to energy conservation.
We set the total energy as an ontic observable. Energy is observable only if other ontic observables are smeared over time. Large energies in the fast variable equate to time smearing over tiny increments of time.
To turn a classical system into a quantum one, we define energy by diagonalizing the evolution operator and limit the fastest moving parts of the system to their lowest energy states. This smears time to reflect low time resolution.
There may be implications for cosmology. When the universe was small and the energy density high, all energy states may have been occupied. As the universe expanded and cooled, it lost its highest energy states, with quantum mechanics as a result.
We also see implications for quantum black hole physics.

AR QM as epistemology: I like it.


2021 May 28

Neutron Stars


Neutron stars have stellar masses in dense cores.
NASA experiment NICER measures the diameter of neutron star J0030 (mass 1.4 ⦿) to be about 26 km. Two independent teams now say neutron star J0740 (mass 2.1 ⦿) has a diameter of 24.8 or 27.4 km, with uncertainties of a few km.
Neutron stars form when a giant star of mass 8 ⦿ to 20 ⦿ exhausts its fuel at the end of its life. It collapses, and the outer shells blow out as a supernova. In the dense core left behind, below a thin crust of ions and electrons, protons and electrons are crushed into a sea of mostly neutrons.
We imagined massive neutron stars might crush neutrons down to quark soup, but quark stars would be even smaller. If neutron stars like J0740 contained quark soup, they should be from 9 to 16 km across. Yet we measure at least 22 km. It seems protons and neutrons persist even in dense cores.
Neutron stars spin, and hot spots on their surface flash X-rays. Their gravity bends many flashes our way. NICER measures the arrival times of the flashes, to let us calculate the size of the star.
Other results support NICER. By firing a beam of electrons into lead atoms, a team found the neutron skin on the nucleus was thicker than expected. This suggests neutron stars may be up to 2 km bigger than we thought.
All this needs to be checked and verified.

AR Adieu, quark stars.


Sea view
Sea view during my hike from Studland to Swanage and back,
Thursday. The sign says PRIVATE GREEN. So British.



2021 May 27

Dominic Cummings Testimony

The Times

In his evidence to a Commons select committee, Dominic Cummings said:
  Boris Johnson is unfit to be prime minister.
  Johnson was distracted in February 2020 because he was finalising the terms of his divorce, he had money problems, and his girlfriend wanted to tell the world she was pregnant.
  Johnson considered coronavirus no more serious than swine flu and suggested the chief medical officer inject him with it live on television.
  Ministers were too slow to realise the danger of Covid and too willing to condemn thousands to death by refusing to challenge the assumption that the virus could not be stopped.
  Health secretary Matt Hancock should have been sacked "for at least 15 to 20 things" and had lied repeatedly.
  Hancock reneged on a pledge to test hospital patients for coronavirus before they were sent back to care homes.
  Johnson thought Covid was "over" by last summer and regretted the first lockdown so much he delayed the second by weeks.
  Johnson refused to listen to evidence that a second wave was likely to happen unless he took pre-emptive action.
  Johnson said he'd rather "let the bodies pile high" than impose another lockdown in autumn 2020.
  People were frustrated by the difficulty of trying to get the prime minister to make critical decisions at key points in the pandemic.
  Johnson failed to consult cabinet colleagues about key decisions or listen to the evidence from scientific experts.

Dominic Cummings

Tens of thousands of people died who did not need to die.
Lots of key people were literally skiing in the middle of February.
He [Johnson] was finalising his divorce, his girlfriend wanted to announce being pregnant, an engagement .. he had a very difficult time mid-February in his private life.
In February, the prime minister regarded this as just a scare story .. the new swine flu.
We had this sort of completely insane situation in which part of the building was saying we're going to bomb Iraq .. the prime minister's girlfriend was going completely crackers about this story [about her dog] and demanding that the press office deal with that.
Helen MacNamara [deputy cabinet secretary] said: "I've come through here to the prime minister's office to tell you all, I think that we're absolutely fucked."
I said [to Johnson]: "This whole system is chaos, this building is chaos. You are more frightened of me having the power to stop the chaos than you are of the chaos, and this is a completely unsustainable position for us both to be in."
He [Johnson] laughed and said: "You're right, I am more frightened of you having the power to stop the chaos. Chaos isn't that bad, chaos means that everyone has to look to me to see who's in charge."
This is like a scene from Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum saying: "The aliens are here and your whole plan is broken, and you need a new plan."
As soon as you have some kind of major problem, you have that Spider-Man meme with both Spider-Mans pointing at each other. It's like that but with everybody.
It's crackers that Boris Johnson was in there, and that the [other] choice at the last election was Jeremy Corbyn .. There [are] so many thousands and thousands of wonderful people in this country who could provide better leadership than either of those two.
I regarded him [Johnson] as unfit for the job and was trying to create a structure around him to stop what I thought were extremely bad decisions.
No one could find a way round the problem of the prime minister, just like a shopping trolley, smashing from one side of the aisle to the other.
He [chancellor Rishi Sunak] was just desperate for a plan that was coherent, the government could stick to and, like lots of us, was just at his wits' end about the shopping trolley.
If the prime minister changes his mind ten times a day, and then calls up the media and contradicts his own policy day after day after day, you're going to have a communications disaster.
The problem in this crisis was very much lions led by donkeys over and over again.
Many senior people performed far, far, disastrously below the standards which the country has a right to expect.
I would like to say to all the families of those who died unnecessarily how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made and for my own mistakes.

AR This is fatal for the Johnson government.


Dominic Cummings says
Boris Johnson is not fit
to be prime minister.


2021 May 26

A British Republic

Tom Clark

Queen Elizabeth II took to the throne in 1952. Most of the guests at her 1953 coronation were aristocrats in a House of Lords where all the seats were hereditary, except those reserved for bishops in the Church of England.
In 2019, the Supreme Court struck down an arbitrary suspension of parliamentary democracy. The Queen had submitted to the PM's outrageous "advice" without demur. Only the lack of a credible alternative saved her from having to summon a new PM.
The monarchy is hugely popular. But only octogenarians and above remember a different monarch, so the institution and the person are not separate thoughts. It is easy to imagine a future king following his conscience into controversy.
King Charles III can help himself by reducing the Crown's role in the constitution. Royal Assent must go. So, too, must the requirement for the monarch to consent to a parliament legislating on royal powers and interests.
The Crown survives by submitting to reforms. Continental monarchies are much cheaper. The Queen should pay income tax and should not be exempt from inheritance tax. The Estate has been public property since Georgian times.
To put the Crown in its box, follow Sweden. The King of Sweden does not require ancient political privileges. Presidents in parliamentary systems can rise above faction.
A hereditary head of state is an affront. Separate the person and the office.

AR I agree.




2021 May 25

Apple M1 Chipset

CNN Business

Apple claims its new M1 chipset offers the world's fastest CPU core and fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer, with 3.5 times faster performance, up to 6 times faster graphics processing and 15 times faster machine learning compared to previous Macs, and promises 20 hours of battery life for its 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro — the longest in any Mac to date.
Apple launched its first iMac desktop and iPad Pro line containing M1 chips on Friday. Early reviews applauded the new models for unmatched performance speeds, longer-lasting batteries, and better graphics, all due in part to the processor.
Apple CEO Tim Cook: "When we make changes, it's for one simple but powerful reason: so we can make much better products. When we look ahead, we envision some amazing new products that transitioning to our custom silicon will enable us to bring to life."

AR My Macs are now outdated.




2021 May 24

Johnsonian Nationalism

Max Hastings

Boris Johnson has remade British politics. His personal popularity, rejection of Europe, willingness to embrace any policy that pleases voters, and brutal suppression of dissent have led to Johnsonian nationalism.
Thanks to the pandemic, the prime minister has a licence to address the nation at will, without facing tough scrutiny from the media. He and his chancellor have drowned discontent beneath a tidal wave of public money.
For Johnson, to govern is to fudge. He would like to make Britain a better place, where the trains run faster, schools educate, the north flourishes, and carbon targets are met. But he lacks the application to pursue effective policies.
Britain is cursed by self-importance, a belief in British exceptionalism. Brits feel smug when they gaze across the Channel toward so many unvaccinated Europeans. Yet since Brexit, London has lost 10% of its bank assets to the EU.
The US Council on Foreign Relations proposes a concert of major powers for ongoing discussions about global issues. Its membership would comprise America, China, Russia, India, Japan, and the EU.

AR After the clown, the bill.




Counterfactual Physics

Chiara Marletto

Constructor theory puts counterfactual constraints on physical reality. Counterfactual statements refer to what is possible or impossible.
Reducing everything to microscopic dynamical laws and initial conditions is one possible level of explanation. But there are other things that are also explainable in scientific terms, such as the laws of computation. If you stick solely to microscopic laws, you will miss those regularities in nature that allow for classical and quantum computers.
Quantum theory makes sense in relation to computation theory. I regard the theory of quantum computation as more fundamental.

AR Quantum computation is the new logic.


ESC 2021
Måneskin wins for Italy



2021 May 23

Italy Wins Eurovision

Eurovision Song Contest 2021

Glam rock band Måneskin is the winner of ESC 2021.
Måneskin is Italy's most popular rock band, with triple platinum awards for its debut album. Its name is Danish for moonshine and was proposed by its Danish bass player Victoria De Angelis.
When told Måneskin had won, lead singer Damiano David said: "Rock 'n' roll will never die!"
☆ 1  Italy / Måneskin — Zitti E Buoni (524 points)
☆ 2  France / Barbara Pravi — Voilà (499 points)
☆ 3  Switzerland / Gjon's Tears — Tout l'Univers (432 points)
☆ 25  Germany / Jendrik — I Don't Feel Hate (3 points)
☆ 26  United Kingdom / James Newman — Embers (0 points)

AR Well deserved!




2021 May 22

Israel and Gaza

The New York Times

Israelis should not have to live in fear of rockets raining down. Nor should people in Gaza live in fear that they might become collateral damage from Israeli bombs.
Israel has a responsibility to put a stop to the rocket attacks at their source. More than 4,000 were fired at Israel from Gaza in 10 days. Most were intercepted by the Iron Dome antimissile system.
Two million Gazans are penned into less than 400 km2 with no escape. The most intractable problems facing Israel and the Palestinians cannot be bombed away.

Guardian of the Walls
Yaakov Katz

Guardian of the Walls kicked off with a Hamas rocket barrage on Jerusalem.
Since 2005, Hamas has improved its capabilities. It now has more rockets with longer ranges and larger warheads, more tunnels, more fighters, and more sophisticated electronic warfare.
Hamas has built an underground tunnel network, the Metro, but the citizens of Gaza still live under the control of a terrorist group determined to sacrifice them in an unwinnable war against the IDF.
Hamas launched 170 rockets into Ashkelon within hours. This showed it has sophisticated command-and-control systems that remain undamaged despite the heavy IDF bombardment of Gaza.
Guardian of the Walls seems to be the most accurate and precise military operation in modern military history. Mapping the Metro and destroying parts will set back Hamas for some time.
The IDF bombed over a thousand targets in Gaza. The number of dead is about 230. The IDF says at least 160 of those were targeted terrorists, so about 60 of the dead were civilians.
Hamas can prevent such deaths with a simple strategy: Stop Shooting.

AR Humbling Hamas is like mowing the lawn.




2021 May 21

Black Hole Jet Engine

Natalie Wolchover

Black holes shoot out thin jets of plasma thousands of light-years long. The supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy M87 is about the size of our solar system, yet it shoots a 3 trillion YW current of hot plasma 5 kly into space.
The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) team has started to show how. The second EHT image of the glowing plasma around the M87 hole shows the light is strongly polarized. The spiral pattern indicates a strong magnetic field around the hole.
A spinning black hole drags spacetime around with it. Spinning black holes can slow down and transform their rotational energy into something else.
Roger Blandford and Roman Znajek said rotating supermassive black holes twist ambient magnetic fields into a tight helix, creating a voltage that draws energy up and out of the hole and along the helix in a jet. They said the huge, bright, radio-emitting blobs seen on either side of distant galaxies spew from jets that shoot out in opposite directions from a big black hole at the galactic center.
A big black hole at the center of a galaxy attracts a large amount of interstellar gas. The gas falls toward the black hole and rotates around it, forming an accretion disk. The gas heats up and forms a plasma that carries magnetic fields.
When magnetic field lines from the accretion disk fall onto the spinning hole, the rotation winds the field lines into a helix along the rotation axis. Magnetic fields in motion generate a voltage, so a current of electrons and positrons flow through the helix away from the black hole in both directions. This is the jet.
The Blandford−Znajek process offers a choice: SANE or MAD.
Models of stable and normal evolution (SANE) have magnetized accretion disks. Plasma swirls around the black hole like water around a drain, and weak, randomly oriented, fluctuating magnetic field lines swirl with it. Turbulence causes particles to collide and lose energy and angular momentum. They fall into the black hole and deliver weak magnetic field lines to it. Eventually the black hole has enough to launch a jet.
Models with a magnetically arrested disk (MAD) have stronger magnetic fields. A strong enough field becomes coherent and controls the accretion disk. Magnetic field lines form a force field around the black hole, preventing plasma from falling back down and forming the sleeve for a jet.
The new EHT image of the M87 hole shows a spiral polarization pattern as it rotates around the ring, exactly as expected in MAD models.

AR Good work.




2021 May 20

End Tax Havens

Der Spiegel

US President Joe Biden proposes a worldwide minimum tax on corporate profits. Germany, France, and Italy approve of the move, but some smaller EU states would lose revenue and jobs.
Before Biden called for a turnaround, corporate taxes worldwide were sinking. The share of corporate taxes is now less than 10% of US federal revenue, with taxes on labor more than 80%.
The Biden administration says the rate should be at least 21% worldwide. It wants to prevent US firms from moving profits or jobs abroad. Effective rates are about 2% in Luxembourg.

AR End UK tax havens too.


2021 May 19


Andy Ross

Inspiration has struck for Draft 15: Work starts immediately ..

AR Geist sei Dank!


2021 May 18

Women Rule Publishing

Johanna Thomas-Corr

Women dominate the publishing world. Across the publishing industry, 64% of the workforce is female. Women make up 78% of editorial, 83% of marketing, and 92% of publicity.
In 2020, 629 of the Top Thousand fiction titles were written by women, 341 by men, and 30 by multiple or non-binary authors. Within general and literary fiction, 75% were by female authors.
Dialogue Books founder Sharmaine Lovegrove says publishing is a monoculture dominated by "white, middle-class, cis-gendered, heteronormative women" who feel they are victims of the patriarchy.

AR Seems OK to me.




2021 May 17

The King of Little England

Fintan O'Toole

Boris Johnson used Brexit to exploit the desire of the affluent conservatives of the shires and the former proletarians of the vanished industrial heartland for revenge on cosmopolitans and liberals.
The May 6 elections assured the Tory Brexit party hegemony in provincial England. Yet Johnson's reign looks unstable. Allegra Stratton, whom Johnson chose as its public face, departed in April 2021. Then it was revealed that Johnson had personally phoned British newspaper editors to accuse Dominic Cummings of leaking that Johnson had promised to arrange tax favors for a rich businessman.
Cummings retaliated by publishing details of a scandal with a burlesque quality. Johnson makes a great effort to make it look like he doesn't care for keeping up appearances. But his partner, Carrie Symonds, clearly does. A magazine cover story on her in April reported that her makeover of the Downing Street flat was said to improve on the "John Lewis furniture nightmare" left by the former tenant. John Lewis is a brand most voters regard as rather upmarket.
Johnson is faux posh. He cannot afford the lavish refit of the flat. Before he could pay the bills, he apparently constructed an elaborate scheme of beggary involving the Cabinet office, the Conservative Party, and a private donor.
Brexit rumbles on. A report published at the end of April highlighted the plight of British exporters of meat and seafood to the EU. The Garden of Eden promised by Johnson has already become a dense jungle of bureaucratic red tape.
Britain has managed to turn back the clock. The blizzard of paperwork, the inky smudge of stamps, the exhausted scrawl of signatures, the vast waste of time and money are all part of the English glory days Johnson has restored.

AR Sleaze, class war, decline — I hoped Brits had left all that behind decades ago.


The Guardian (2:41)
Attacking Gaza

Black Holes


2021 May 16

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Patrick Kingsley

April 13. Israeli police officers entered the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, brushed Palestinians aside, and cut the cables to loudspeakers that broadcast prayers to the faithful.
It was the first day of Ramadan. It was also Memorial Day in Israel. The Israeli president was delivering a speech at the Western Wall, and officials feared the prayers might drown it out.
Later that week, Palestinian youths began attacking Jews.
April 21. Members of extreme-right Jewish group Lehava marched through central Jerusalem, chanting "Death to Arabs" and attacking Palestinians.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the middle of coalition negotiations and was accused of fomenting a crisis to rally Israelis around his leadership.
April 25. The looming eviction of the six families from Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, led to protests. The Israeli police responded. The neighborhood turned into a rallying point for Palestinians everywhere.
April 29. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas canceled Palestinian elections, fearing a humiliating result. Hamas saw an opportunity and began to reposition itself as a militant defender of Jerusalem.
May 4. Hamas: "This is our final warning. If the aggression against our people in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood does not stop immediately, we will not stand idly by."
May 7. Armed police officers burst into the Aqsa Mosque. Clashes with protesters left hundreds injured. The clashes were seen as a grievous insult to all Muslims.
May 10. A final court hearing on Sheikh Jarrah was set to coincide with Jerusalem Day. Jewish nationalists typically mark the day by marching through the Muslim Quarter. The Israeli government quickly rerouted the march away from the quarter.
The Israeli Army ordered civilians away from the Gaza perimeter.
That night, the rocket fire from Gaza began.

AR Robust Israeli actions ..




2021 May 15

Israel vs Hamas

The New York Times

Gazans already lived in a toxic slum with daily power outages and intermittent running water. Gaza usually gets roughly a quarter of its electricity from Israel. Now, the power lines to two Gaza sewage treatment plants are damaged or down, and the UN humanitarian aid coordination agency says a water desalination plant is out.
IDF officials say Hamas is using Gaza residents as a human shield. Colonel Elad Goren: "Instead of focusing on welfare and economy, it's focusing on violence and incitement."

AR Destroy Hamas.


ESA Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer
under test for launch in 2022
to arrive at Jupiter in 2029:
Juice will investigate moons
Europa, Ganymede, Callisto


2021 May 14

Israel vs Hamas

Bret Stephens

Terrorists in Gaza are firing rockets at Israel. Hamas houses its arsenals in schools and mosques, sets up headquarters in the basement of hospitals, and fires its missiles from sites next to crowded apartment buildings and hotels. For a Palestinian state to exist and succeed, Hamas must be humiliated and defeated.

AR I agree.


UK Government vs EU Citizens

The Guardian

EU citizens are being hit by a UK government "hostile environment" policy.
EU citizens with job interviews in the UK who plan to go home with an offer before applying for a work visa are being denied entry, locked up, and expelled.
MEPs wrote to the European Commission: "Sending young EU nationals to immigration detention centres is grossly disproportionate and breaches the spirit of good cooperation we would expect."
UK prime minister's spokesperson: "We are cooperating very much in the spirit and the terms of the agreements we have with the EU."

AR Blame Priti Patel.


UK Faces Hard Choices

Peter Ricketts

The UK faces four hard choices in its international relations:
1  Can we accept that Britain is no longer a great power? The UK is a middle-sized country that must work with allies to have influence. But Rule Britannia exceptionalism keeps breaking through.
2  Are we prepared to accept our need to make awkward compromises with bigger economies? In negotiating trade deals, Britain will constantly have to accept rules and standards set by others.
3  Can we work out a China policy within the force field of US/China confrontation? London will line up with Washington on national security but needs a working relationship with Beijing.
4  How long will we take to rediscover that British interests remain intimately bound up with what happens on the continent? European security is a precondition for global Britain.
The UK is still far away from a new national strategy.

AR Blame Brexiteers.


Matilda to Comet
The Tank Museum
British tanks evolved in WW2 from Matilda (left) to Comet (right):
The next "world" war will force a similar evolution in robot tanks.



2021 May 13


Isabel Kershner

As violence rocks Israel, opposition leader Yair Lapid blames prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for recent events: "They are exactly the reason why he should be replaced as soon as possible."
Lapid has until June 2 to form a coalition government. The coalition talks have been slowed down by the violence. Netanyahu: "We are working with all our might to protect Israel from enemies outside and rioters within."
Caretaker government defense minister Benny Gantz is supervising the military campaign in Gaza in coordination with Netanyahu.

Gaza ground ops
Oliver Holmes

Israel is drafting a plan for a ground operation in Gaza. Benjamin Netanyahu told cabinet colleagues that Israel has rejected a Hamas proposal for a ceasefire.
Racist mob attacks continue. Jewish mobs took to the streets across Israel searching for Arabs, while Arab Israelis clashed with police.
The Israeli air force has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza since Monday, killing at least 72 people. Hamas rockets have killed 7 people in Israel, and operations at Ben Gurion airport were briefly suspended after a rocket barrage on Tel Aviv.
US president Joe Biden: "Israel has a right to defend itself."

AR This looks grim.




2021 May 12

Israel vs Hamas

The Guardian

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "We eliminated senior Hamas commanders and this is just the beginning .. We will inflict blows on them that they couldn't even dream of."
Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz: "Israel is not preparing for a ceasefire. There is currently no end date for the operation. Only when we achieve complete quiet can we talk about calm .. We will not listen to moral preaching against our duty to protect the citizens of Israel."
Hamas: "The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades take pride in .. the martyrdom of the commander Bassem Issa."

Blaming Biden
Jerusalem Post

The Biden administration may have encouraged Hamas by restoring US aid to Palestinians cut off in 2018. Bar-Ilan University professor Eytan Gilboa: "Hamas and Islamic Jihad were looking and saying to themselves that if the US restored this aid unconditionally, then we can do whatever we want."

AR Israel seeks a final solution.




2021 May 11

Packaging DNA

Viviane Callier

In the biology of complex cells, histones spool DNA into neat bundles and unpack it when needed.
Billions of years ago, archaea were using histones much like our own. Eukaryotes arose about 2 billion years ago, when a bacterium that could metabolize oxygen for energy took up residence inside an archaeal cell. The new eukaryotes were free to expand the size and diversity of their genomes and to conduct myriad evolutionary experiments.
But the larger genome brought longer strings of DNA that had to allow transcription and replication without getting tangled up in a hopeless spaghetti ball.
Bacteria have a variety of proteins to supercoil their DNA. Eukaryotes use histone proteins, which spool the DNA to prevent it from clumping together and keep it functional. The four primary histones of eukaryotes assemble into octamers called nucleosomes that are the basic units of eukaryotic DNA packaging.
Archaeal nucleosomes are similar in structure to eukaryotic nucleosomes. They form loose assemblies of varying sizes and are not well organized. Stabilizing their DNA with histones may help preserve their DNA strands in extreme environments.
Eukaryotes first evolved when oxygen levels rose in the atmosphere and caused a global oxidation of metals like copper and iron. Since the reactions that produced energy required copper to function, cells that kept it in reduced form had an advantage. Copper can break DNA, and eukaryotic nucleosomes kept the DNA safely out of the way.
Histones have become linchpins for complex life.

AR Such complexity!




2021 May 10

Brexit Politics

Robert Ford

Brexit is done: In England, Leavers rewarded the Conservatives.
Class politics patterns are being replaced with divides by age, education, and Brexit choices. On all measures of socioeconomic conditions, the Conservatives prospered most in the most deprived places and Labour did best in the most prosperous areas.
The post-Brexit education divide has intensified, with big swings to Conservatives in wards with higher shares of voters with few or no formal qualifications, and modest swings to Labour in wards with larger concentrations of university graduates.
Greens did well in England. The strongest Green showings were in areas with the most graduates and professionals.
Covid did not break the hold of Leave and Remain identities.

BBC News

143 of 143 councils declared.
















Liberal Democrats















No overall control






AR I'm going Green.





2021 Europe Day

The Boris Balloon

Tim Shipman

Boris Johnson and his blustering optimism have captured the public mood. Commentators say he has realigned British politics. A Tory aide: "People like Boris."
Johnson has an almost magical connection to the man in the street. When he took his victory lap of Hartlepool, he was greeted by a giant inflatable version of himself. He strode straight toward it and asked: "Who's that fat bloke over there?"
His mischievous personality is authentic. His new voters admire his weaknesses. He needs to show them he can change their lives and justify their faith.

BBC News

Sadiq Khan was re-elected as London mayor with 55.2% of the vote. Labour also won mayoral elections in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, and West of England. The Conservatives made significant gains of councils across England, adding 12 councils and an extra 239 councillors to their overall tally by the end of Saturday.

BBC News

The SNP has won 64 seats in the Scottish Parliament election: 1 short of a majority but 1 more than it won in 2016. Nicola Sturgeon hailed her party's fourth consecutive victory as a "historic and extraordinary" result.

AR No Europe news at all in the mainstream British press today. Just echoes of a days-old story about Royal Navy gunboats ending a blockade of Jersey by French fishermen.




2021 May 8

UK Regional and Local Elections

Laura Kuenssberg

UK politicians are getting a blast of public opinion, but many counts are yet to conclude. Boris Johnson finds he is a magnet for millions of voters as Tories trample further into areas where they used to be alien. Sir Keir Starmer finds Labour repels swathes of voters and may be yet to hit rock bottom.

BBC News

The BBC projects the SNP will end up with 63 seats, 2 below overall control, a result like 2016 but with more Greens. Conservatives are forecast to get 31 MSPs, Labour 22, Greens 9, and Lib Dems 4.

BBC News

There were 60 seats up for grabs. Welsh Labour won 30 of them, about 40% of the constituency votes, and will retain power. Conservatives have 16 seats, Plaid Cymru 13, Lib Dems 1.

AR England Conservative, Scotland Nationalist, Wales Labour.


2021 May 7

'Jabs and Jobs'

The Times

Boris Johnson promised to deliver "jabs, jabs, jabs and jobs, jobs, jobs" today as he hailed the Conservative by-election win in Hartlepool.
Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer won the former Labour seat with a majority of nearly 7,000 and 52% of the votes cast, a swing of 16% from Labour, which had held the seat for 57 years.

Labour loses Hartlepool
Daniel Finkelstein

Labour's defeat in Hartlepool will make things much more difficult for Sir Keir Starmer. Labour has not recovered much, if at all, from the last general election.
For at least 15 years, Labour has been losing working-class support to the Conservatives, while attracting younger urban support. And the problem for Labour is that their new vote isn't large enough to replace the old one.
The Tories have chosen to appeal to older, less urban, less ethnically diverse voters. Labour may eventually have the demographic upper hand. In the weeks ahead, criticism of Starmer will often settle on his tactics and even his personality. But the right thing to question is his strategy.

A transitional figure
Andrew Adonis

Average wages in Hartlepool are lower in real terms than in 2010, yet the Tories have just won an election there!
A Labour councillor: "We had no leader or message apart from our candidate, a great local GP — which just drew attention to the vaccine, which is Boris's equivalent of Thatcher's Falklands triumph."
Keir Starmer turns out to be a transitional figure. Does Labour need to lose another general election before choosing a leader who can win?

AR Boris wins big.




2021 May 6

Napoleon Bonaparte

Emmanuel Macron

The life of Napoleon is an ode to political willpower. The destiny of the child from Ajaccio who became master of Europe shows that a man can change the course of history.
What brings us together is the fight against ignorance, the love of knowledge and history, and the will to yield nothing to those who want to wipe out the past because it does not correspond to the idea they have of the present.
Napoleon is part of us because the lessons of this warrior, strategist, and builder carry through to this century. He became the part of France that conquered the world.
Napoleon laid the foundation of modern France, creating lycées, refining the legal system, erecting monuments, and forging our national identity. He gave substance to our political organization and administration.
He united the country behind a common enemy — England — and replaced the transcendence of the king with the notion that sovereignty lay with the people.

AR I'm grateful that he established the metric system.


M Barnier


2021 May 5

The Great Illusion

Michel Barnier

The current team in Downing Street is not up to the challenges of Brexit.
The future of Britain was determined by the quarrels, betrayals, and thwarted ambitions of a few Tory MPs who underestimated the legal complexity of Brexit and its consequences. Their party infighting became political piracy.
Theresa May was a courageous, tenacious woman surrounded by a lot of men busy putting their personal interests before those of their country. In the end, she exhausted herself fighting against her own ministers and for her parliamentary majority.
I never saw the point of Brexit. I wonder what prevented the UK from becoming Global Britain other than its own lack of competitiveness. Germany has become Global Germany from inside the EU and the EZ.
Boris Johnson always treated the negotiations strictly as a domestic matter. But he too seemed hobbled by the same British problem. When one of my team explained to him the need for customs and quality checks on the Irish border, he seemed only then to become aware of a series of technical and legal issues.
Brexit is a failure for the EU. It is also a waste, for the UK and for us. I still do not see the need for it, even from the point of view of the UK national interest.
Learn from Brexit to listen and respond to popular feeling in Europe.

AR This is an impressionistic cull from a big book.




2021 May 4

UK Identity

William Hague

The revival of the nation state exposes a crisis of national identity.
The Brexit referendum exposed a vast cultural gulf between London and provincial towns, and between England and Scotland. Elections this week will determine the timing and tactics of the coming struggle to save or break the UK as a state.
Francis Fukuyama identifies six attributes of countries with strong national identity: strong physical security, high quality of governance, facilitation of economic development, a wide radius of trust, a strong safety net to combat inequality, and reasonable acceptance of the views of others.
For two centuries, British leaders have not actively promoted national identity. Britain was distinctive in the world and most Britons were proud of it. But leaving the EU reveals the need to promote a modern British identity.
Promotion of a common identity is a matter of urgency.

AR Identify as as a pillar of a European union.




2021 May 3

The Clash of Civilizations

Richard McGregor

As vice-president, Joe Biden was skeptical of the notion that China, with its Communist party rule, could ever become a peer competitor to the United States, with its superior system of government, overwhelming leadership in hard and soft power, and an unmatched system of global military and intelligence alliances.
As president, Biden has clearly changed his mind. China has become richer and more powerful and developed the military capability to do things that the ruling party has long wanted to do. Xi Jinping is an assertive leader and has the military and diplomatic firepower to take risks.

AR Stay tuned for the big fight to dominate the century.


The Green Wind of Change

Philip Oltermann

A new German poll of polls puts the Green party three points ahead of the ruling CDU for the first time since June 2019. Conservative domination of the Bundestag could end on 26 September.
Green chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock, an LSE graduate, has co-led the Greens for three years but lacks experience in higher office. Her campaign theme is that Germany is more innovative than its political class.

AR Stay tuned for a big drama following election day.


The French Presidency

Adam Sage

National Rally leader Marine Le Pen accuses French president Emmanuel Macron of driving France towards chaos, violence, and economic decline. More than 20,000 soldiers and officers, mostly retired, say the military may be forced to intervene unless a clampdown is imposed on Islamism and violence in ethnic minority suburbs to prevent civil war.
Le Pen: "If, by the greatest of misfortunes for France, Emmanuel Macron ended up serving a second term of office, the chaos would be universal."
French citizenship minister Marlène Schiappa: "Chaos is the stock in trade of the National Rally, make no mistake about it."

AR Stay tuned for the presidential election in 2022.


Annalena Baerbock


2021 May 2

'President Klain'

Sarah Baxter

White House chief of staff Ron Klain knows the business of government. He is determined to secure Joe Biden's place in the pantheon of presidents.
Klain, 59, is a Harvard law graduate who became chief counsel to the Senate judiciary committee chaired by Biden in 1989. He served four years as chief of staff to Al Gore when Bill Clinton was president, then played the same role for Biden when Barack Obama became president.
Klain is behind the spendathon that defines Biden's first 100 days: "Everything we are doing is what we said we were going to do."

AR Klain has done good.


German Greens

Deutsche Welle

Green chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock, 40, wants a tougher German stance toward Russia and China.
She says increasing pressure on Russia over Ukraine should be a priority for Germany and ensuring stability between Ukraine and Russia should take priority over helping Ukraine join the EU and NATO.
She calls China's Belt and Road projects hardcore power politics and says liberal democracies must uphold their values.

AR AB is a contender.


The UK Monarchy

Mail on Sunday

Booker Prize winner Dame Hilary Mantel, 68, says of the Queen: "I wonder if she's the only person who really believes in the monarchy now .. I understand she thinks of this as a sacred task .. It's a conflict because most of the world sees the royal family as a branch of showbusiness."
On the future of the monarchy: "I think it's the endgame .. their last big era."

AR Mantel is right.




2021 May 1

Constructor Theory

Chiara Marletto

The standard laws of physics are formulated in terms of trajectories of objects and what happens to them. But to capture some phenomena in nature, you need counterfactuals.
A counterfactual is a statement about which transformations are possible and which are impossible in a physical system. A transformation is possible when you have a constructor that can perform a task and then retain the capacity to perform it again.
Constructor theory puts counterfactuals at the foundation of physics. Compared to classical information, quantum information has two additional counterfactual properties: For some pairs of information variables, you cannot copy both simultaneously with arbitrarily high accuracy, but you can always reverse any transformations on those variables.
A universal constructor can perform all physically allowed tasks. Once we can define constructor theory in physical terms and understand the principles that allow it, then we will know what are the elementary gates or elementary possible tasks that the universal constructor can use.
Constructor theory would explain the physics of life. DNA contains the instructions for building a cell, and the cell reads those instructions, constructs a new instance of itself, copies the instructions, and inserts them into the new cell.

AR See also blog 2021-04-15.





2021 Arbor Day


Suzanne Simard

Trees are in a connected society. They trade and collaborate and interact in sophisticated ways as a cohesive, holistic society.
Plants are obligate mutualists with fungi. They need them to gather nutrients and water from the soil, especially in a stressful environment. That is what all seeds encounter when they try to germinate. The boost provided by the fungi can make the difference between survival or death.
The mycorrhizal networks in the forest forms a biological neural network. The chemicals moving in those networks include glutamate, one of the dominant neurotransmitters in brains.
If you look at the sophisticated interactions between plants — and some of that happens through the networks — their ability to respond and change their behaviors according to this information all speaks of wisdom to me.
Plants are attuned to any kind of disturbance or injury, and we can measure their biochemical responses to that. Certain biochemical pathways are triggered to respond to stresses and disturbances, like chewing by herbivores.
James Cameron is making a documentary on the science behind Avatar. He based his idea of the hometree and the people connecting to the network on my work.
Go to the forest. Go and be with it and love it and care for it and show your respect for it. Connect back with nature.

AR Good advice.


Joe Biden plans $1.8T in
new spending on top of his
$2.3T infrastructure plan


2021 April 29

Biden: 100 Days In

Peter Baker

President Joe Biden laid out an ambitious agenda on Wednesday night to rewrite the American social compact by vastly expanding family leave, childcare, health care, preschool and college education for millions of people to be financed with increased taxes on the wealthiest earners. He unveiled a $1.8 trillion social spending plan to accompany previous proposals to build roads and bridges, expand other social programs and combat climate change.
Biden: "We have to prove democracy still works, that our government still works, and we can deliver for our people."

AR Gets my vote.




2021 April 28

MEPs Back Historic Mistake

Daniel Boffey

The European Parliament has given its overwhelming backing to the Brexit trade and cooperation agreement, with 660 votes in favour, 5 against, and 32 abstentions.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen: "I warmly welcome the European Parliament vote in favour of the EU−UK trade and cooperation agreement. The TCA marks the foundation of a strong and close partnership with the UK. Faithful implementation is essential."
European Council president Charles Michel: "It marks a major step forward in EU and UK relations and opens a new era. The EU will continue to work constructively with the UK as an important friend and partner."
The European Parliament also passed a resolution describing Brexit as a "historic mistake" with 578 votes in favour, 51 against, and 68 abstentions.

AR Now the EU can progress unhindered by "global" Britain.


Wagnerism by Alex Ross

Peter Conrad

Alex Ross looks far beyond the musical legacy of Richard Wagner, whose operas unsettled Friedrich Nietzsche and later besotted Adolf Hitler.
Ross likens the overwrought emotional state of the typical Wagner devotees to the Greek αγων (agon). Reverence for the "holy German art" extolled in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg has required others to pay homage to Germans as the master race.
Like Wagner with his repeated orchestral motifs, Ross tends to go round in circles. In this encyclopædic book, the plethora of interpreters makes Wagner mean anything or nothing. Martin Heidegger and Claude Lévi-Strauss lure him astray.
Wagner is finally absorbed by pop culture. The helicopter gunships that blast the Ride of the Valkyries in Apocalypse Now recall the opera's shrieking female warriors. Ross calls Tolkien's Lord of the Rings a "kinder, gentler" version of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.
At the end, Ross performs a cleansing ritual. My long slog through his book was not so cathartic.

AR I'm reading it now.


2021 April 27

Boris Johnson Under Siege

Daily Mail

Boris Johnson is said to have made a crass comment on lockdown deaths. Citing their own sources, the BBC and ITV both confirmed our report that Johnson said he would rather see "bodies pile high in their thousands" than order a third lockdown. Johnson denies it.
News of the Covid clampdown was leaked last October just hours after the decision was taken. An infuriated Johnson told the Cabinet Office to hunt down the "chatty rat" who leaked it. Johnson has now ordered a briefing war against Cummings, who says both the PM and cabinet secretary Simon Case had exonerated him.
Case confirmed to MPs that Johnson had sought to set up a charitable trust overseen by party donor Lord Brownlow to pay for the refurbishment of the PM's flat in 11 Downing Street. Brownlow said he had given the Conservative party £58,000 to cover it. Johnson has now settled the bill himself.

AR Not looking good ..


Suzanne Simard


2021 April 26

China Expands Navy

The Times

The Chinese Navy has unveiled three new warships:
 Hainan is a Type 075 carrier platform for launching an amphibious or airborne assault with up to 1200 troops plus dozens of helicopters and jump jets.
 Dalian is a Type 055 destroyer armed with anti-ship missiles, mid-range anti-air missiles, and new anti-submarine missiles.
 Changzheng-18 is an upgraded Type 094A nuclear-powered submarine for carrying 12 JL-2 ICBMs.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi: "China has no intent to compete with the US. What China focuses on is overtaking itself and improving itself. If there is only one model, one civilization on the Earth, the world will lose its vitality."


Wood Wide Web

The Observer

Trees can communicate and cooperate through subterranean networks of fungi. Suzanne Simard published her doctoral research in Nature in 1997, but many dismissed her finding that trees are more altruistic than competitive. Today, at 60, she is professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia.
Simard learned from her first job with a logging company that removing rival trees and undergrowth did not promote tree growth. At grad school in Oregon, she studied how paper birch and Douglas fir interact: "I knew that without birch, fir was not very healthy. When birch was removed from the ecosystem, infections would often get on to the fir."
She planted her seedlings in groups of three. Paper birch and Douglas fir form symbiotic relationships with fungi on the outside of their roots, and cedar forms a symbiosis with fungi inside their roots. Cedar was the control, getting its information through the soil.

A few remarks
Suzanne Simard

Trees perceive many things. They know when they're infected and have an instantaneous biochemical response .. Trees don't have a brain, but the network in the soil is a neural network and the chemicals that move through it are the same as our neural transmitters.
When you're walking in the forest, there is a whole city underfoot that includes myriad organisms, including actinomycetes [bacteria] that excrete chemicals that can make us a bit high — there's an aphrodisiac thing going on.
Some trees have lived for thousands of years. They get along, develop sophisticated relationships and listen. In western science, from Plato onwards, we've separated ourselves from nature. We are all part of this.

AR Avatar



Lao Tzu


2021 April 25

Cummings: Johnson Raised Covid Death Toll

The Sunday Times

Dominic Cummings is preparing a dossier of evidence to blame Boris Johnson for tens of thousands of excess deaths during the second wave of the pandemic.
He also said Johnson was too slow to shut the borders when the pandemic began. He said ministers failed to introduce travel bans for more than nine months after the virus came to Britain. The combined UK death toll is now more than 127 000.
Cummings went to war with No 10 in response to accusations that he had leaked details of the second lockdown before it was announced and had also made public the PM's 2020 texts with the billionaire Brexiteer James Dyson.
According to friends, Cummings "went nuclear" because of fears No 10 was attempting to blame him for the leaks, leaving him exposed to a potential police investigation.
Cummings will give evidence on May 26 to the joint investigation of the health and science select committees into the government's handling of the Covid pandemic.

Downing Street sleaze
The Observer

A sleaze crisis is engulfing No 10 amid growing cross-party uproar over a collapse in standards at the heart of government.
Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon: "The stench of sleaze that is surrounding this Tory government is becoming quite overpowering. There are very serious allegations being levelled at Boris Johnson and his government."
Many voters think Johnson and the Tory party are corrupt. Some 37% describe Johnson as mostly or completely corrupt, compared with 31% who say he is clean and honest. Yet the Tories are polling 11 points ahead of Labour.

A man without integrity
The Observer

Boris Johnson is a man who lacks vision, integrity, and principle. He brings the office of prime minister office into utter disrepute.
Johnson has faced questions about his integrity for as long as he has held public office. He did not decide whether to back remaining or leaving the EU until it was clear which would be better to further his own political career. During a national emergency, he is consumed with sowing division and picking culture wars to distract the public.
No set of rules can inject integrity and leadership into the character of a man who has none.

AR The UK has a corrupt government.


2021 April 24

Dominic Cummings vs Boris Johnson

The Times

Dominic Cummings attacked Boris Johnson last night, condemning his conduct and alleging he tried to stop a leak inquiry because it implicated Henry Newman, a friend of Carrie Symonds.
He also said Johnson had attempted to get party donors to secretly fund expensive renovations to his Downing Street flat and told the PM what he thought of the plan.
Johnson said Cummings was behind a series of leaks against him. A No 10 source said Johnson was "saddened about what Dom is doing" and Cummings was undermining the government and the party.
Johnson: "I don't think people give a monkey's .. What they care about is what were we doing to protect the health of the British public and that's what I care about."

Totally unethical
Dominic Cummings

The PM .. said to me: "If Newman is confirmed as a leaker then I will have to fire him, and this will cause me very serious problems with Carrie as they're best friends .. [pause] perhaps we could get the cabinet secretary to stop the leak inquiry?"
I told him that this was 'mad' and totally unethical, that he had ordered the inquiry himself and authorised the cabinet secretary to use more invasive methods .. because of the seriousness of the leak. I told him that he could not possibly cancel an inquiry about a leak that affected millions of people, just because it might implicate his girlfriend's friends.
I told him I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended.
It is sad to see the PM and his office fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity this country deserves.

AR Another failed bromance


2021 St George's Day

Sleazy Business

The Times

The danger for Boris Johnson is a cavalier approach to standards in public life, or what is more commonly referred to as sleaze.
The fact that Johnson promised Sir James Dyson to fix problems with the tax system is hard to get worked up about. What makes the story damaging is that it fits into a broader narrative of a government that has too often appeared willing to bend rules to the benefit of supporters and donors in ways that fuel charges of cronyism.
This is a government whose word is not to be trusted and which has much to hide.

Voice of the Mirror
Boris Johnson is launching an inquiry into who is embarrassing him rather than admitting mistakes. He should instead be promising to cleanse his sleazy government, but fat chance of that.

AR Sauhaufen


Dorset coast near Swanage, Earth Day



2021 Earth Day


Friedrich Merz

"Es gibt zur Bewältigung des Klimawandels bessere Instrumente als immer mehr Regulierung und Bevormundung. Mit marktwirtschaftlichen Anreizen lässt sich beides erreichen, denn dann haben Unternehmen und private Haushalte eine intrinsische Motivation, ökonomisch und ökologisch das Richtige zu tun."


Physical Reality

Carlo Rovelli

Basically, physics shows that the world is a web of interactions and nothing exists independently of that web. It is at the atomic and subatomic, or quantum, level that we confront this truth most dramatically.
We live in a quantum universe. It's just that, when many atoms come together, the quantum effects are washed out and it is possible to think of objects with an independent existence such as chairs and tables and people.
Physics has reinforced the fact that we are all part of an interactive web and there are no solutions to our global problems without recognizing and embracing that.

AR From talks with Marcus Chown.


2021 April 21

Armin Laschet?

Kate Connolly

Armin Laschet is the Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW) Ministerpräsident, CDU leader, and CDU/CSU Kanzlerkandidat for the September general election.
Laschet, 60, grew up in a Catholic household in Aachen. His life revolved around the church, where he met his childhood sweetheart and future wife. He still lives in Aachen. His core social network has remained much the same for six decades.
Laschet studied law in Munich but failed to complete his law exams. He became editor of a church newspaper, then an Aachen councillor, then a Bundestag MP, then an MEP. As CDU leader, he is criticized for hesitant and indecisive management.
Angela Merkel has refused to get involved in his candidacy. Recent polls show only 15% of Germans see him as a suitable chancellor candidate.

AR I'm not impressed.


Perseverance rover's drone
helicopter makes its first
flight on Mars and snaps
its own shadow


2021 April 20

Fast Problem Solving

Anil Ananthaswamy

Partial differential equations (PDEs) are notoriously difficult to solve, if they can be solved at all. Approximate methods can take months on supercomputers. New deep artificial neural networks can do the work orders of magnitude faster.
Neural networks have layers of artificial neurons. Each neuron takes in a set of inputs, multiplies each one by a weight, sums up the results, and determines an output based on that total. Deep neural networks have one input layer, one output layer and multiple hidden layers in between.
The input to such a neural net is a vector and the output is another vector. If a function maps a set of input vectors to a set of output vectors, the network can be trained to learn the mapping. Any function between two finite-dimensional spaces can be approximated by a neural network.
We train a neural network to learn the correlation between inputs and outputs from training data sets. We feed the network an input, let it produce an output, and compare it to the expected output. An algorithm adjusts the weights of the neurons to minimize the difference between the generated and expected outputs. We repeat this process until the network approximates the target function.
The new deep nets can map any set of functions on the input side to any set of functions on the output side. They can learn how to approximate not just functions, but operators that map functions to functions, to solve a whole family of PDEs at once — fast.

AR This is important: PDEs were a bottleneck.


2021 April 19

The Muon Result

Carlo Rovelli

"Could the new muon result be the real thing? Maybe, maybe not. On the same day news of the measurement was greeted with enthusiasm, a paper appeared in Nature presenting the results of a theoretical calculation using supercomputers indicating that the previous theoretical estimates of the muon were slightly off. Taking this into account, the theoretical value may be closer to the value measured last week. There might be no contradiction after all."

AR As I thought from the Quanta report (blog 2021-04-08): Real discoveries in physics tend to take a stronger confluence of hints than the loose talk of 4σ significance suggested.


2021 April 18


Carlo Rovelli

"To ask what consciousness is, after having unravelled the neural processes, is like asking what a storm is after having understood its physics: it is a question that makes no sense. To add in a 'possessor' of sensations is like adding Jove to the phenomenon of the thunderstorm. It is like saying, after having understood the physics of the storm, that there still remains, as [David] Chalmers would put it, the 'hard question' of connecting it with the anger of Jove."

AR This is right: The "I" at the end of the neuroscience story is like the electron at the end of the quantum-mechanical story, just a metaphysical flourish that under what we regard as normal circumstances adds a small increment of intuitive closure. As Wittgenstein said, the "I" can shrink to a perspectival vanishing point. This is the view of the matter I adopt in my Mindworlds story.


USS Ronald Reagan
Windsor Castle quadrangle, military parade at funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

AR Reminds me of the coronation in 1952 — one of my very first memories

Sandbanks today


2021 April 17

Memories ⊥ Sensations

Jordana Cepelewicz

The brain absorbs new sensory information and stores memories of earlier observations or events. To keep them distinct, it rotates sensory information to encode it as a memory. The two orthogonal representations draw from overlapping neural activity.
Researchers let mice listen to chord sequences over and over again. The mice associated the chords and could predict them. Over time, the neural representations of associated chords began to resemble each other. New sensory inputs interfered with representations by overwriting representation of previous inputs. The neurons changed their encoding of a past stimulus to match later stimuli.
Intact neural patterns encoding memories of the chord sequences were organized in a dimension orthogonal to the sensory representations. Computational models show this mechanism requires fewer neurons and less energy than alternatives.

AR Evolution is efficient.


A selfie


2021 April 16


Lisa O'Carroll

Brexit minister David Frost says talks between the EU and UK to ease tensions in NI are productive and constructive, with momentum established to achieve a solution to the crisis.
European Commission VP Maroš Šefčovič says the outcome must be jointly agreed, without unilateral action. The EU praises the solution-driven atmosphere in the latest talks.

AR Endless story ..


2021 April 15

Climate Emergency

Scientific American

Hurricanes, dam bursts, and sudden cold snaps are emergencies that require immediate action. Multiply these situations worldwide, and you have the biggest environmental emergency to beset the Earth in millennia: climate change. The climate emergency is here.


Quantum Logic

Chiara Marletto

The quantum theory of computation suggests seeing physics as the science of what might or might not happen. This "modal" science may help us with big questions.
Think of an electron in a certain spin state as a qubit that can instantiate a bit in multiple ways that cannot all be in focus at the same time. This qubit tells us which transformations you can and cannot perform. Rather than focusing on the actual world, we build a physics of counterfactual worlds.
Modal science lets us express physical laws for both classical bits and qubits. A computer bit holds information because once it has been set to 0, you can set it to 1, and vice versa, and you can copy its value. These properties are counterfactuals. Information theory is unified by modal principles.
Consider quantum theory and general relativity. Let two qubits interact with something else. If that something entangles the qubits, it must have quantum features. If the qubits are two quantum masses and the something is gravity, any entanglement refutes classical theories of gravity.
My team is pursuing constructor theory at Oxford. We hope it will lead to a technological revolution after quantum computation.

AR I inserted the word "modal" here from logic I studied almost 50 years ago.


USS Ronald Reagan
US Navy
Saber rattling: USS Ronald Reagan carrier group under USAF air cover led by B-52

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell used
set theory to prove
2 + 2 = 4


2021 April 14

America vs China

James Stavridis

I once commanded a fleet of destroyers in the South China Sea. That sea is almost as big as Western Europe. China claims ownership of it, and this worries the international community. China is building a massive fleet, and America, Japan, India, and Australia are looking on with concern. We are happy when our allies decide to work with us in the South China Sea.

AR Admiral Stavridis is a former SACEUR and co-authored 2034.


2021 April 13

The Elizabethan Era

Polly Toynbee

The Elizabethan age is slowly drawing to a close. The monarchy set a stamp of respectability on whatever rottenness hid beneath. The sovereign helped make a Conservative vote seem the British patriotic norm. The word "sovereignty" worked magic in the Brexit referendum.
The monarch never stopped the country electing a progressive government. But the pomp of the crown acted as useful cover for the wild insurgents subverting the Tory party. Their bulldogs hunt down imaginary slights among any who reject their Brexit blinkers.
A Soviet-style 24-hour shutdown of the major TV channels was not enough to appease the Brexiteer-founded Defund the BBC: "Disgraceful! The anti-British BBC has set up a form to encourage complaints about the volume of coverage of Prince Philip's death."
Unchecked, these bullies will terrorise all unorthodoxy as unpatriotic. Thugs disguised as Conservatives feel the Brexit vote gave a strutting ascendancy to their ersatz patriotism. There is still time to end the Elizabethan era with more dignity.

AR Too late: The UK is collateral damage.


A Cultural Wrecking Ball

Melanie Phillips

Correct English, it appears, is a tool of cultural oppression.
A number of universities have decided not to dock marks for spelling mistakes because requiring good English could be seen as elitist. So that no pupil should feel they have fallen at any hurdle, the hurdle of the incorrect answer is removed.
The attack on accuracy, precision, and correct answers replaces objective truth by subjective opinion. No hierarchy of values is permitted. Any such differentiation can be claimed as proof of discrimination or bigotry by an oppressor class.
In George Orwell's 1984, Winston Smith is tortured for insisting that two plus two equals four. Yet on Twitter, Brooklyn College professor of maths Laurie Rubel wrote that the 2 + 2 = 4 equation "reeks of white supremacist patriarchy".
The attack on correct answers is a cultural wrecking ball.

AR Defend math: Repel the attackers.




2021 April 12

England Alone

Philip Rycroft

The UK is in deep peril. The pandemic has deepened the crisis. A breakdown of communications with central government lets devolved leaders chart their own course.
Boris Johnson's cabinet is plagued by infighting over strategy amid growing momentum for a second referendum on Scottish independence and the deterioration of relations in Northern Ireland following the Brexit deal.
As the coronavirus crisis continued, Johnson announced the reopening of schools in spring 2020 without the consent of devolved nations. He ceased COBRA meetings and set up new committees lacking devolved representation.
Devolved leaders began to chart their own course. The public may be adapting to the strange idea of a prime minister who speaks for England alone.

AR Former DExEU permanent secretary Sir Philip Rycroft is now a senior visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge Bennett Institute for Public Policy.


2021 April 11

Prince Philip

Max Hastings

Prince Philip provided the monarch with companionship, support, counsel, and solace. He had courage, intelligence, wit, dignity, and discipline. He remained in spirit the naval officer of his youth, trained to the fulfilment of duty without parading emotion.
Philip was born into a Greek royal family borrowed from German and Danish stock. His parents were exiled, and Philip, a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria, was born on a kitchen table in Corfu. His parents separated and left him virtually an orphan. His school fees were paid by Sir Harold Wernher.
The Duke of Edinburgh was much the most intelligent of the last century's British royals. His troubled childhood created a toughness that armoured him against adversity. Sir John Wheeler-Bennett wrote that he was "a German Junker" at bottom: too loud and too opinionated.
Princess Elizabeth adored him and showed no interest in any other man. Someone said of him: "He's 150% male, and that's his trouble, really." Gordonstoun and the navy had formed him. His close friends were men's men.
Philip became a gilded prisoner in palaces, an accessory to the monarch. He was obliged to spend countless hours with bores and stuffed shirts, which sometimes provoked his wrath. He disliked and despised politicians even more than journalists.

He had it all
Michael Cole

He had it all. Handsome, intelligent, good at sports, envied by men, admired by women, and married to a queen, he had yachts, aircraft, polo ponies, and the free use of royal estates and palaces. Yet the Royal Navy was his only real home.
The romance with Elizabeth began when Philip was so poor that he was living in one room and had only one shirt. George VI was unsure about him. But the princess was smitten by the "Greek god" she'd first met before the war.

The legacy
The Observer

Prince Philip had an unwavering commitment to service to the UK. He deserves respect and acclaim.
His most notable achievement was the foundation of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, which since 1956 has enabled millions of young people around the world to undertake service in the community and enjoy the outdoors. But he also did much to advance British engineering and science and to highlight issues around conservation.
Prince Philip did not enjoy pomp and circumstance. He was not afraid to cause controversy.

AR I'm impressed.


Elizabeth and Philip
⦿ Ron Bell
Elizabeth and Philip during their halcyon days


Prince Philip
Prince Philip
"Duty first"

Amanda Gorman
"I am the daughter of Black
writers who are descended
from Freedom Fighters who
broke their chains and
changed the world."
Amanda Gorman

Brexit is the catalyst
for rioting in NI



2021 April 10

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

Stephen Bates

Prince Philip was the longest-serving royal consort in British history. He was intelligent, but he concealed his intellectual interests behind a bluff exterior.
Philip was born in 1921 into Greece's royal family, but he was from the Danish royal family, the Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburgs. He began his life in exile in Paris.
After an English prep school, he went to a school in Germany. In 1934, he was moved to Gordonstoun, the Scottish boarding school established by the German educationist Kurt Hahn. Philip loved it.
He went on to the naval college in Dartmouth. He was first introduced to Princess Elizabeth, 13, during a royal visit. He entered the Royal Navy as a midshipman but soon became a first lieutenant.
In 1946, Philip became engaged to Elizabeth. He acquired British citizenship and adopted the surname Mountbatten. The couple married in 1947. Elizabeth became Queen in 1952.
Philip: "It is a complete misconception to imagine that the monarchy exists in the interests of the monarchy. It does not. It exists in the interests of the people .. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves."
Philip Mountbatten-Windsor, Duke of Edinburgh, Baron of Greenwich, Earl of Merioneth, died aged 99.

AR Fascinating life story.


The Life of Philip Roth

Elaine Showalter

Philip Roth was widely regarded as the greatest living American novelist. He won nearly every literary prize except the Nobel.
In 1959, Roth's first book, Goodbye, Columbus, launched his career overnight. Reviewing it, Saul Bellow wrote, "At twenty-six .. he performs like a virtuoso". It won a passionate readership among young women as well as men.
Roth started going three times a week to see Dr Hans Kleinschmidt, a Freudian psychoanalyst in New York who loved celebrated and creative patients. Roth got his investment in the analysis back with interest when he wrote Portnoy's Complaint (1969).
Portnoy made Roth rich. He escaped the annoyances of fame in an elegant Connecticut retreat, where he led the disciplined life of a literary monk by day and pursued sexual pleasure with a series of young women by night.
In 1976, Roth connected with the English actress Claire Bloom. They divided their time between Connecticut, New York, and London, and finally married in 1990. After their divorce in 1995, she wrote an angry memoir.
In 1979 came The Ghost Writer, a masterpiece of theme and execution, in which he created the novelist Nathan Zuckerman as his avatar.
As Roth got older, the women got younger. His last years, from 2006 to 2018, were melancholy.

AR Martin Amis wrote on Roth in The War Against Cliché (pp. 285−297).


2021 April 9

Hawking Hawking

Philip Ball

Charles Seife's biography of Stephen Hawking is long overdue.
A wunderkind at Oxford, Hawking had just begun his seminal work on gravitational theory when in 1963 he was diagnosed with ALS. He worked on from a wheelchair, helped by brilliant assistants.
Hawking produced remarkable work on singularities. With Roger Penrose, he showed how the mathematics of collapse could describe the Big Bang. In his greatest triumph, in 1974, he showed that black holes emit radiation and evaporate.
Once anything falls into a black hole, general relativity says its information is lost. But quantum mechanics says information is never lost. Hawking got stuck on this paradox.
When Jacob Bekenstein realized that a black hole could have a temperature and an entropy, Hawking criticized him mercilessly before coming up with the Bekenstein−Hawking relation.

AR Iconoclasm sells.


2021 April 8

Hint of New Physics

New Scientist

The strange behaviour of the muon may hint at exotic physics beyond the standard model.
Muons spin when put in a magnetic field. Their spin axis precesses, so we can measure the spin frequency. The frequency is determined by the g-factor. Using the standard model, we can predict this number precisely.
In 2006, Brookhaven National Laboratory measured a spin rate slightly faster than predicted. New results from Fermilab corroborate the concerns.
The anomaly probably arises from quantum fluctuations due to virtual particles. Virtual pairs appear randomly and can be any type of particle. Some might be new, but we can only predict the effect of ones we know.
Also, recent results from the Large Hadron Collider show something strange about muon decay.

Muon gyromagnetic ratio
Natalie Wolchover

Fermilab has found strong evidence that the standard model (SM) is incomplete. The measured value of the muon magnetic moment exceeds the best predicted value beyond the seventh decimal place at the 4.2 sigma level.
In 2020, a team of theorists known as BMW used a supercomputer to recalculate the most uncertain term in the SM prediction. The calculation differs from the value adopted in 2020 by the Theory Initiative consortium.
Both electrons and muons were long thought to have a g-factor (gyromagnetic ratio) of exactly 2. But in 1947, the g-factor of the electron was measured to be 2.00232. The corrections are due to quantum fluctuations due to virtual photons.
Muons are more massive than electrons and are more likely to be surrounded by heavy virtual particles. The Theory Initiative prediction of the muon g-factor is 2.0023318362. This is 3.7 sigma below the last Brookhaven measurement of 2.0023318416. But the BMW value is closer, at 2.00233183908.
Uncertainty about the SM prediction stems from hadronic virtual particles. This hadronic vacuum polarization contributes a tiny correction to the muon g-factor. Uncertainty about this term is the primary problem.

AR This could become exciting.


2021 April 7

Brexit 'Dishonesty' Fuels Anger

Lisa O'Carroll

Northern Ireland justice minister says UK government "dishonesty" over the consequences of hard Brexit angers loyalists.


2021 April 6

Russian Arctic Moves

Nick Paton Walsh


Russia is arming up in the Arctic. Moscow says its goals in the freshly ice-free region are economic and peaceful. It aims to export hydrocarbons along the route and to exploit regional resources.
The northern sea route (NSR) between Norway and Alaska along the Russian coast could halve the time it takes shipping containers to reach Europe from Asia via the Suez Canal.
Kremlin strategy aims to ensure Russian territorial integrity and regional peace. It also aims to raise living standards and economic growth in the region and to develop the NSR.
The ice melt has removed Russia's northern defensive wall. Satellite images show new Russian military bases and hardware on the Arctic coastline, including facilities for the latest weapons.
Fired from a Belgorod submarine, the Poseidon nuclear torpedo is designed to sneak past coastal defenses on the sea floor. It can deliver a multimegaton warhead to raise a radioactive tsunami.

AR As the ice melts, a new chill begins.


2021 April 5

Principles for Public Life

Zoe Williams

The Nolan principles for public life are selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership. Michael Nolan didn't have a lot to say about chastity or generosity or modesty or humility. He assumed that the public would provide that firewall themselves. Standards for officials assumed a baseline of normal human decency.
Asking whether the Number 10 incumbent(s) breached the Nolan principles is like asking whether two pigeons trying to shag mid-air have violated public decency legislation.

AR First principle of identity politics: I am what I am.


Grapefruit Black Hole Beyond Pluto?

Stuart Clark

Beyond the giant planets of the outer solar system lies a vast wilderness. We think it contains worlds like Pluto or smaller. But the aligned orbits of a group of smaller bodies suggest something big — P9 — is gravitating out there.
P9 has a few times the mass of the Earth. A planet could not have formed so far out and is unlikely to have been thrown out by Jupiter or Saturn. P9 may be a primordial black hole.
The Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) watches stars in the central Milky Way for sudden brightening caused by gravitational microlensing. The more sudden the brightening, the lower the mass of the lensing object.
Out of 2600 microlensing events that OGLE detected between 2010 and 2015, 6 were briefer than about 10 hours. Such events might be caused by primordial black holes with a few times Earth mass. P9 may be such an object.
Primordial black holes would be born fractions of a second ABB. A P9 black hole would date from the electroweak transition and now be about 9 cm in diameter.
NASA scientists could send a fleet of small probes using solar sails to the outer solar system. Deviations in their trajectories would tell us more about P9.

AR Grapefruit black holes — exciting!


Cairo, Saturday: Ancient mummies of 22 of Egypt's pharaohs were paraded through the streets from the Egyptian Museum,
their old location near Tahrir Square, to their new home, the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in al-Fustat.
The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities organized the event. President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi:
"This majestic scene is new evidence of the greatness of [the Egyptian] people."

The Guardian
A new canal along the
Egypt−Israel border?


2021 Easter Sunday

A walk beside the beach

A Narrative Masterwork

Cynthia Ozick

Blake Bailey's comprehensive life of Philip Roth is a narrative masterwork.
Recognition began with Roth's two earliest novels. Yet he had already published a collection of stories. He was notorious for the shaming and defaming of Jews.
In 1969, when Portnoy's Complaint was published and the uproar of Jewish bitterness grew louder, Roth was catapulted to instant renown. For the sermonizers, the malicious calumnies of Goebbels that had led to the chimneys were being trafficked anew, inconceivably by an American Jew.
Roth saw ignorant philistinism by minds impenetrable to the antic liberties of satire. Put aside the irony of a charge of antisemitism hurled against a writer for whom antisemitism was one of his most visceral antipathies. Roth insisted he was not a Jewish writer but an American writer.
A biographer molds mere chronology into a coherent theme. As in a novel, what is seen at first to be casual chance is revealed at last to be a steady and powerfully demanding drive.
Life itself could affront and ridicule and even torment the provocateur. Calamities were accompanied by illnesses, surgeries, agonies, suicidal breakdowns, panics, depressions and disorientations that dogged Roth for much of his life. In the intervals came the parade of book after book (31 in toto), award after award, and lover after lover.
The lure of attractive and loyal young women never cooled. Nor has the charge of misogyny waned, abetted by the roster of smitten young women, soon to be judged as discarded.
Roth: "I have chosen to make art of my vices rather than what I take to be my virtues."
Whether he is or is not a Jewish writer, Roth at times unwittingly advanced what he most railed against. In 2014, when he received an honorary degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary, he was moved to think how gratified his parents would have been.

AR Martin Amis led me to Portnoy's Complaint in 1970.


2021 April 3

Bouncing Back

Tim Shipman

Boris Johnson divined quickly that the UK obesity crisis was worth highlighting as an explanation for the high Covid death rate. Better that, from his point of view, than the alternative: that he locked down too late.
Johnson plans to put catching up at the heart of his plans for the rest of this parliament. Number 10: "Making sure children can read and write properly and have the skills they need to prosper is the prime minister's real central focus."

AR Appoint a new education secretary.


2021 April 2

Animal Robots

Philip Ball

A year ago, scientists made xenobots by taking cells from a frog embryo and shaping the cell clumps by hand. Since then, new xenobots have formed on their own, without human help.
The frog genome need not say exactly how to make a frog body. The genome programs cells to behave in ways that form an organism during embryogenesis. But in other environments, other shapes may emerge.
Cells communicate with each other. A cell might send a message by releasing a molecule that sticks to the surface of another cell, as in embryogenesis. Cells also talk by exchanging calcium ions, as between neurons.
The variety of body shapes and functions in natural organisms may be less the result of specific developmental programs coded in their genomes than of tweaks to cell behaviors.
Xenobots display the basic self-organization of multicellular aggregates. They result when the formal constraints and the environmental resources and opportunities are minimal.
A xenobot is an organism. It has a self. When xenobots meet each other and stick, they maintain and respect their selfhood. The implications for science may be huge.

AR This is big.


2021 April 1

Covid UK

Jonathan Bak

Toward the end of March, the UK Covid death rate per 100 000 people stood at 190, the highest in the G7. The UK has over 126 000 confirmed Covid deaths, by far the highest in Europe. The UK also had the largest GDP fall of any G7 economy in 2020.
A public inquiry into HM Government's handling of the pandemic is needed. Many HMG calls were wrong, but HMG has not admitted to any specific mistakes.
In Q1 2020, about 190 000 people flew into the UK from Wuhan and other high-risk Chinese cities. HMG held its first COBRA Covid meeting on January 24 but took no significant action to secure PPE supplies for a further 38 days. Its last pandemic rehearsal in 2016 identified PPE as a key gap.
In the six weeks after that first COBRA meeting, HMG failed to build an effective test and trace regime. The UK lacked the basic capacity and considered herd immunity.
On February 27, SAGE outlined a scenario in which over half a million people would die. The SAGE advice was not implemented in full for another four weeks.
The PM missed the first five COBRA Covid meetings and chaired his first on March 2. He then gave up COBRA meetings for daily strategy meetings in the Cabinet room.
By the time the UK locked down on March 23, over 15 000 elderly people had been discharged from hospital into care homes with no mandatory testing. The errors continued through 2020: premature reopening of the economy in June; the Eat Out to Help Out scheme; delayed second and third lockdowns; mismanaged school openings and closures.
The UK response to the pandemic was bad for three key reasons: (1) insufficient capacity in the system, (2) Brexit distracted HMG, (3) squabbling between institutions.
In the centralized UK government, the abilities and character of the PM dominate crisis response.

AR Sad story.


BLOG 2021 Q1

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