2022 March 31
Putin Massively Misjudged Ukraine War
A British spy chief says Putin has massively misjudged the invasion of Ukraine. Russian soldiers are refusing to carry out orders and sabotaging their own equipment.
UK signals intelligence agency GCHQ head Jeremy Fleming said in a speech in Australia that Putin had overestimated the abilities of his military and his advisers were afraid to tell him the truth about a campaign beset by problems.
Sir Jeremy in his own words
Russia's invasion of Ukraine .. has been shocking .. we're now seeing Putin trying to follow through on his plan. But it is failing. And his Plan B has been more barbarity against civilians and cities ..
Putin has massively misjudged the situation. It's clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people. He underestimated the strength of the coalition his actions would galvanise. He underplayed the economic consequences of the sanctions regime. He overestimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory.
We've seen Russian soldiers − short of weapons and morale − refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment, and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft ..
Putin's advisers are afraid to tell him the truth ..
Putin has brought upon himself exactly what he was trying to avoid − a Ukraine with a renewed sense of nationhood, a NATO that is more united than ever, and a global coalition of nations that condemn his actions ..
Putin's campaign is beset by problems − low morale, logistical failures, and high Russian casualty numbers. Their command and control is in chaos .. Putin has miscalculated ..
Through the National Cyber Security Centre, a part of GCHQ, we've seen sustained intent from Russia to disrupt Ukrainian government and military systems .. Russia's cyber actors are looking for targets in the countries that oppose their actions ..
We've seen cyber hacking and ransomware groups pledging allegiance to both sides. We've seen businesses all over the world distance themselves from the Russian economy. We've seen technology providers step up ..
Russia .. has made a strategic choice to align with China .. We know both Presidents Xi and Putin place great value on their personal relationships ..
China believes Russia will provide .. impetus and support to its digital markets and its technology plans .. China is bringing all elements of state power to control .. the cyber and the fiber ..
There is no doubt that democratic nations are facing a moment of reckoning.
AR Xi, wake up.
2022 March 30
The idea that Brexit might be followed by WW3 was widely attacked as Project Fear. With Russian aggression in Ukraine and rising nationalism in Europe, it now looks less alarmist.
Both NATO and the EU have been important to the stability of Europe in the postwar era. We cannot be confident that the Atlantic alliance will remain as strong over the next few decades as it has been since 1945.
American support for European democracy and security has been so steady that we forget how controversial it once was. American right‑wingers now oscillate between admiration for authoritarianism and refusal to let anyone push Americans around.
Europe cannot rely on US leadership and support in future. We in Global Britain must face our security challenges as Europeans.
AR Lord Finkelstein still can't seem to condemn Brexit.
A Tory Budget
Chancellor Rishi Sunak made his Spring Statement in the Commons last Wednesday.
He aimed to please everyone. He cut fuel duty, announced plans to cut income tax, and raised the threshold for paying National Insurance.
He insulated the owners of capital from the funding crisis. He failed to raise capital gains tax. He rejected a windfall tax on oil and gas companies.
His prior decisions to hike corporation tax rates, freeze income tax thresholds, and raise National Insurance contributions will bring in four times as much as the new cuts cost the Treasury.
Sunak focused on making work pay. Unemployment has been low since the pandemic, and Sunak is trying to incentivise work yet further.
Britain is heading for the biggest fall in living standards since records began. IFS director Paul Johnson: "Those on benefits are really going to struggle."
AR Britain needs more socialism.
Quantum Black Holes
When two black holes collide, they make gravitational waves. We use general relativity to predict them and LIGO and Virgo to detect them.
When two black holes spiral inward and collide, the shape of the resulting spacetime waves depends on their masses, spins, and other properties. We calculate precise waveforms in supercomputer simulations, which take time to run.
From afar, black holes look like massive particles. We understand how quantum particles collide in a vacuum using amplitudes. A 4‑point amplitude describes two particles coming in and two particles going out. We apply such amplitudes to the motion of black holes.
A collision described by a 4‑point function can create any number of transient particles and have an infinity of possible loops. For black holes, we also consider the 5‑point function (a collision emitting one graviton), the 6‑point function (two gravitons), and so on. We can see a gravitational wave as an infinity of gravitons. The more of them we consider, the better our prediction.
We can use quantum theory to calculate properties of a collision between two classical bodies and to calculate classical wave properties. Quantum systems have two key features. They have uncertainty, and their equations feature the Planck constant ℏ. Classical systems can be described without ℏ.
To study classical waves, we can stop at the 5‑point amplitude. The simplest 5‑point amplitude has two parts, one with ℏ and one without. We ignore the first part and use the second. We hope all n‑point amplitudes for n > 5 are either all quantum or reducible to simpler functions.
In short, quantum descriptions of classical waves are useful in gravitational wave astronomy.
AR I find this intriguing.
2022 March 29
The UK in the World 2021−22
The UK in the World 2021−22: Testing the Ambitions of the Integrated Review is Dr Robin Niblett's final paper as Chatham House director. It assesses UK performance against the objectives in HMG's Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, from March 2021.
Dr Niblett says the UK must rebuild its relationship with the EU and avoid being excluded from closer US−EU cooperation. Brexit has provided some new opportunities to pursue trade deals, but recent cuts to foreign aid and a failure to support refugees undermine Britain's reputation.
AR In short, Brexit has been a bust.
Do We Still Need Religion?
If religious belief arose from ignorance and superstition, you might expect it to fade away as societies became better educated.
Religions persist because religious people tend to be happier and healthier, live longer, and be more likely to feel they belong to a community. They are depressed less often, feel their lives are more worthwhile, are more engaged with their local community, and feel greater trust toward others.
Religious rituals trigger the brain's endorphin system. This mechanism underpins social bonding in primates. Endorphins produce bliss, calmness, warmth, relaxation, and trust. They elevate pain thresholds and trigger the release of natural killer cells in the body's immune system.
Endorphins underpin the bonding of friendships and supportive groups. This effect is strong in the context of rituals. Religions reinforce a sense of community cohesion, which assists in wellbeing and survival.
Human community sizes reflect a relationship between group size and brain size in primates. Each species has a characteristic group size determined by the size of its brain. Ours is about 150. This is the average size of personal social networks and the optimal size for religious congregations.
Religious discussion depends on the mentalising skills managing everyday relationships. These skills allow us to understand what someone else is thinking, to grasp their intentions. Religious bonding promotes survival, allowing superior mentalising skills be passed on to a new generation.
Minds that can handle religion let us ask about the world in science and imagine fictional worlds. Religion led to science and stories.
AR Dunbar is an esteemed voice here.
2022 March 28
Saving UK Royals
Respect for HM the Queen has seen off threats to the UK monarchy for decades, but she is mortal. With King Charles III on the horizon, republicans are sharpening their guillotines.
The Prince of Wales has long planned a slimmed down monarchy. His coronation will be a shadow of his mother's. There is talk of the new king living in a "flat above the shop" rather than a chunk of Buckingham Palace.
These moves do not go far enough. To secure the monarchy, Charles must reform more radically. Instead of seeming to be pulled along by public opinion, he should leap several steps ahead of it.
Support for the monarchy is dwindling in Australia and Canada. King Charles should stress a desire to continue as brother and sister nations without the formalities. He should repatriate some of the spoils of empire in the royal collections.
Charles could cut a swathe through the forest of titles that belong to a different age. He could reduce the privileges given to minor royals and banish the uncomfortable etiquette. To avoid accusations of meddling, he could terminate the weekly audience with the PM.
The Queen once compared a hereditary monarchy and an elected government: "Each, in its different way, exists only with the support and consent of the people. That consent, or the lack of it, is expressed for [a government] through the ballot box .. For us, a royal family, the message is often harder to read .. But read it we must."
AR The UK is a little English empire.
⦿ Aly Song
2022 March 27
The Sunday Times
No sooner had Biden ended his speech in Warsaw last night than the White House issued a statement saying he was not referencing a regime change: "The president's point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region."
Ukraine's military intelligence chief General Kyrylo Budanov says Putin aims to split Ukraine in two: "Putin is .. trying to impose a dividing line between the unoccupied and occupied regions of our country. In fact, it is an attempt to create North and South Korea in Ukraine."
• French president Emmanuel Macron called for calmer language as he distanced himself from Joe Biden's speech in Warsaw.
• President Zelensky told a group of Russian journalists that Ukraine was prepared to discuss adopting a neutral status as part of a peace deal with Russia, but it would have to be guaranteed by third parties and put to a referendum.
AR Clear as mud.
2022 March 26
Biden: Putin 'Cannot Remain in Power'
The New York Times, 1835 UT
Speaking in Warsaw, President Biden said of Putin's invasion of Ukraine: "For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power."
War in Ukraine: analysis
One month after Putin said Ukraine should be liberated, the Russian defence ministry says its war aims are limited to the Donbas region. This does not mean a rapid end to the war:
• Russia will focus on one target at a time. Once Mariupol falls, Kharkiv will be next. A push north along the Dnieper to link the Donbas and Crimea will meet stiff resistance.
• Putin's view of Kyiv as Russian will be unchanged. Negotiations will merely shift the intensity and emphasis of Russian aggression.
• Because Russia aims to annex more Ukrainian territory, western sanctions will persist. Any lull in the fighting will let the Russians regroup.
• Ukraine will not wish to see a ceasefire let Russia dig in along a new line of contact. This will amount to it taking the country bite by bite.
• A general collapse in Russian forces offers the best chance for Ukraine to retake what was lost in 2014 and 2015. President Zelensky will not wish to stop short.
AR Putin must fall.
2022 March 25
Chancellor Olaf Scholz stood up in the Bundestag and declared a Zeitenwende. Angela Merkel's policy of trying to tame Russia by tying it down in a net of commercial deals is over. German Angst has given Scholz the space to make a radical U‑turn.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to the Bundestag last week by video link, despairing of Germany's passive stance and economic opportunism in the build-up to Putin's war. His appeal was left to echo around the chamber unanswered. German euphoria over the U‑turn was followed by a characteristic lethargy.
Germany doesn't do war. Days before the Russian invasion began, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock explained how the historic German responsibility toward Russia meant it could not supply weapons to Ukrainian forces. Her line of argument was typical of the lazy excuses doing the rounds in Berlin.
A generation of German millennials has grown up in a world innocent of Realpolitik. Germans have disarmed not just militarily but also intellectually. Their younger politicians and analysts are unable to imagine war as a geopolitical strategy.
Pacifism was a big historic achievement for postwar Germany. Talking about Germany defending itself feels difficult. Baerbock is still struggling with the idea of Germany taking the lead.
To push on toward military leadership, Germany will need psychological help from its European partners. At first, this will mean constant and repeated reassurance that no one sees Germany as a threat or an enemy anymore.
If Putin is to lose this war, the West must be united. The UK is geographically a part of Europe. There can be no more waxing lyrical about going it alone, about freedom from the shackles of the EU. Putin's attack on Ukraine is an attack on the principles of liberal democracy and on the Ukrainian wish to join the EU.
Putin's war is forcing every country in Europe to face up to its past miscalculations. This is certainly the case for Germany. The UK must grasp the moment and renew its European alliances.
AR Hear, hear.
2022 March 24
The New York Times
Ahead of President Biden's meetings with European and NATO leaders, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine renewed his calls for more weapons.
NATO has doubled the number of its troops along its eastern front in response to Putin's invasion of Ukraine. About 40 000 troops are currently deployed under direct NATO command across Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria.
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg: "President Putin has made a big mistake, and that is to launch a war, to wage war, against an independent sovereign nation."
AR Three summits today: NATO, G7, EU.
Days after Putin's invasion of Ukraine, German chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany will increase its defense budget beyond the NATO target and invest €100 billion to turn around years of underfunding of the German military.
Scholz: "It is clear that we must invest much more in the security of our country, in order to protect our freedom and our democracy."
SWP international security head Claudia Major: "The German military was starved of money for years because we had a strategic partnership with Russia."
The Germans are a weak link in the NATO chain. At the end of the Cold War, West Germany had more than 500 000 soldiers and spent 2.7% of GDP on defense. Today, Germany has 184 000 soldiers and spends 1.5% of GDP on defense.
German soldiers were deployed in Lithuania after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. Along with soldiers from seven other NATO nations, they man the NATO frontline.
But even in the flagship German NATO mission in Lithuania, some armored vehicles are 50 years old and the radios 30 years old.
The challenge is to ensure that the €100 billion in special funds for the German military are spent fast and wisely.
Major: "We need to reform the entire procurement bureaucracy."
AR Fast and wisely − hard to do.
2022 March 23
Putin's War: Analysis
If Putin had got it right, Ukraine would now be under Russian control. Instead, the Ukrainians have started to take back some of the terrain they lost.
Military veteran Justin Crump: "Putin might not see that as defeat, but it is certainly a moral one."
After years of training to get their forces to a NATO standard, the Ukrainians have used smart tactics that take advantage of what they have to inflict huge losses on the Russians. They have integrated light infantry with antitank weapons, drones, and artillery fire to take out much larger Russian units.
The Ukrainians say the Russian forces have been decimated. Russia does not even control the skies.
Russian forces have command and control issues and struggle to integrate assets or make decisions in real time. Combat forces lack air support and use unclassified communications. Russian generals are being killed when they go to the front to motivate demoralised troops.
Western officials think the Russians will grind forward slowly, flattening cities, while the Ukrainians contain them without repelling them.
Crump: "Putin's strategic gamble has cost him a very great deal."
AR WWZ may yet be contained.
2022 March 22
Diamonds May Stud Mercury
Billions of years of meteorite impacts may have baked a third of Mercury's surface into diamonds.
Diamonds are forged on Earth under high pressures and temperatures at least 150 km down and are pushed to the surface during volcanic eruptions, but they can also be made by meteorite impacts.
Surveys of Mercury's surface and experiments with molten rock suggest that its crust may retain fragments of an old shell of graphite. Mercury had a primordial ocean of magma, and graphite would have crystalized out of it.
Computer simulations of 4.5 Gy of impacts show that if Mercury had a graphite crust 300 m thick, the impacts would make 16 Zg of diamond. Later impacts would destroy some of it, but not all.
The ESA BepiColombo mission reaches Mercury in 2025.
AR Cheap diamond would be an excellent transparent building material.
No Dark Matter Found
Dark matter might be made of particles that are so light and numerous that we best see them as a scalar field permeating the universe. It would ripple with a characteristic frequency and perturb the properties of other particles and fundamental forces.
Gravitational wave detectors could spot such a ripple using a beam splitter. When the scalar field reaches peak amplitude, the strength of the electromagnetic force weakens, causing atoms in the splitter block to shrink. When the amplitude drops, the glass block expands, changing the distance for the reflected light but not the transmitted light, to give an interference pattern.
A search through data from the GEO600 gravitational wave detector looking for interference patterns found nothing.
LIGO data could reveal hypothetical dark photons with ultra-long wavelengths. They would mostly interact with other dark matter particles but would occasionally strike normal atoms. They would randomly push the mirrors in an interferometer differently, changing the relative lengths of the arms. Random pushes on the mirrors of one interferometer would have correlated effects on detectors Mm away. But a data search found nothing.
AR Dark matter is an artifact of torsion-free general relativity.
⦿ Janek Skarzynski
Ben Wallace in Poland
2022 March 21
Ben Wallace 4 PM?
While war rages in Europe, Conservatives agree this is no time for a leadership contest. But voter confidence in Boris Johnson has taken a big hit.
In the competition to succeed him, a new contender has emerged. Defence secretary Ben Wallace has impressed colleagues with his competent and statesmanlike response to the war in Ukraine.
Wallace, 51, has a military background. When he was a boy, his army father used to take him on visits to the Bovington Tank Museum. He went on to Sandhurst before joining the Scots Guards and was a young officer in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
Wallace rose to captain. He entered politics in Scotland and earned the nickname "Captain Fantastic" for his dogged optimism, then became the MP for Wyre and Preston North in May 2010.
Wallace is in the core of "true believers" who supported Johnson from the beginning. After the 2019 general election landslide, Johnson appointed him defence secretary.
In a cabinet full of political appointees, Wallace has won credit among Tory MPs for getting on with the job. When he tweeted that he was cancelling his weekend plans to focus on the unfolding situation in Afghanistan, the dig at deputy PM Dominic Raab was obvious.
While Wallace is focused on his job, someone who shares his thinking has reported on his foresight in calling on government colleagues to supply arms to Ukraine: "Ben Wallace has been brilliant."
Wallace: "I am a firm believer in small government. People and communities should be left alone by Whitehall .. Government should be in the business of rewarding aspiration and not in the business of protecting privilege. It should stand up for those who live by the rules."
AR Is he any good beyond defence?
P&O = Brexit Fail
P&O Ferries has sacked 800 workers. A pre-recorded Zoom message told crew members they were losing their jobs. The firm deployed officers to Dover in case of a backlash. Coaches of replacement agency workers were waiting to board the ship.
Brexiteers promised an end to importing low-cost European labour that "undercut" British workers. The P&O action shows the problem was not freedom of movement but a loosely regulated labour market and poorly enforced labour laws.
There are many cracks and grey areas in UK employment rights. Unscrupulous employers outsource work to agencies that pay lower wages and allow fewer rights. They existed before Brexit, and they will persist after it.
AR Shame on Bodger.
Captured Russian R‑149MA1
Unified Command Vehicle
My wise thoughts on Brexit,
Putin, America, China,
and even Ukraine
2022 Spring Equinox
World Events: Johnson Speaks
Boris Johnson says Putin is trying to build an authoritarian world order and warns China it risks being on the wrong side of history: "I think that in Beijing you are starting to see some second thoughts."
On a trip to the Mideast, Johnson met with the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, who own a big slice of global oil and gas reserves, and asked them for help. He returned empty handed.
On Putin: "If you look at what went wrong in 2014 .. he was able to keep pushing his .. hydrocarbons on European consumers, and that financed his war machine."
On the war in Ukraine: "I don't think I have ever seen such a clear case of right and wrong .. right is overwhelmingly on the side of the Ukrainians."
On President Zelensky of Ukraine: "I like him very much. He's an absolutely charming guy but he's also proved to be an inspiration and a heroic war leader .. I have a very, very strong desire to support him in any way I can."
Johnson compares Ukraine and Brexit
Speaking at the Conservative party conference, Boris Johnson described Russia's invasion of Ukraine as "a vicious and a barbarian attack on innocent civilians" and said a Russia win would mean the end of freedom in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.
Johnson: "I know there are some .. who say that we're better off making accommodations with tyranny. I believe they are profoundly wrong .. I know it's also the instinct of the people of this country to choose freedom every time .. When the British people voted for Brexit in such large numbers .. it was because they wanted to be free to do things differently, for this country to be able to do things differently and run itself."
Tory peer Lord Barwell: "Apart from the bit where voting in a free and fair referendum isn't in any way comparable with risking your life to defend your country against invasion plus the awkward fact the Ukrainians are fighting for the freedom to join the EU, this comparison is bang on."
Johnson causes fury
Toby Helm, Daniel Boffey
Former European Council president Donald Tusk: "Boris Johnson likens Ukrainians' fight to British people voting for Brexit. I can still remember the enthusiasm of Putin and Trump after the referendum. Boris, your words offend Ukrainians, the British, and common sense."
Former Tory deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine: "Boris Johnson cannot escape his responsibility for the disasters of Brexit by a cynical exploitation of the incredible bravery of the Ukrainian people."
Labour MP Stella Creasy: "No decent Conservative can look the people of Ukraine in the eye if they support Boris Johnson in suggesting Brexit is any way comparable to the horrors happening to their nation."
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey: "Johnson is needlessly creating division. To compare a referendum to women and children fleeing Putin's bombs is an insult to every Ukrainian. He is no Churchill."
Best for Britain CEO Naomi Smith: "Equating the Brexit vote to Ukrainians' plight is not only a disgraceful insult to those in the grip of war, it dismisses the fact Ukraine has applied to join the EU, the greatest peace project in human history."
AR Shame on Bodger.
⦿ Sergei Supinsky
Ukrainian soldier with NLAW,
Irpin, near Kyiv
2022 March 19
Ukraine: Antitank Weapons
Ukrainian soldiers patrol to an ambush point with large green tubes carried on their backs. In a matter of seconds, a soldier can unsling the weapon, unfold its aiming sight, release a safety catch, and wait for a Russian tank to appear.
The next-generation light antitank weapon NLAW is a lightweight guided missile that helps even the balance of power in combat between the battle tank and the soldier.
Compared to the US-made Javelin antitank weapon sent to Ukraine by the thousands, the NLAW weighs about half as much, costs far less, can be easily discarded, and is good for shorter-range fights against invading Russian forces.
The NLAW is a product of Swedish company Saab and has been sold to several NATO countries. The British Army began purchasing NLAWs about 10 years ago and now assembles them in Belfast.
A British diplomat says Britain has sent more than 4,200 NLAWs to Ukraine: "We still assess it to be one of the best short-range defensive antitank weapons around."
Both the Javelin and the NLAW can be fired directly at targets or programmed to hit vehicles from above. The Javelin can pop up and then dive down to impact and explode, whereas the NLAW flies over its target and fires its charge downward.
The Javelin has two parts: a 7 kg reusable launcher with thermal cameras that can zoom in and out for finding targets, and a 15 kg disposable tube containing a heat-seeking missile. It can kill tanks up to 4 km away.
The newer NLAW weighs about 12 kg and is most accurate for targets up to about 1 km away. The soldier points it at a moving vehicle, engages the guidance system, and tracks the target for a few seconds before firing. The missile flies to where it predicts the target will be.
The Ukrainians have shown the will and the nerve to get close to tanks and destroy them in these missile attacks.
AR Tanks need infantry support.
BUY ON AMAZON
2022 March 18
Russian Invasion Stalls
UK Ministry of Defence, 0723 UT
Russian forces have made minimal progress this week.
Ukrainian forces around Kyiv and Mykolaiv continue to frustrate Russian attempts to encircle the cities. The cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remain encircled and subject to heavy Russian shelling.
The UN now states that the number of refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine has already surpassed 3.2 million. This number will continue to rise as a result of ongoing Russian aggression.
AR Encouraging news.
Putin Warns Russians
Putin has enjoyed consistently high ratings in Russia, but he is now turning to intimidation to keep Russians on side. From his speech Wednesday:
"The West will try to rely on .. national traitors, on those who earn money here with us but live there. And I mean 'live there' .. according to their thoughts, their slavish consciousness. Such people who by their very nature, are mentally located there, and not here, are not with our people, not with Russia."
His threat: "But .. the Russian people, will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors, and simply spit them out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths, spit them out on the pavement."
Why autocracies fail
Joe Biden correctly argues that the struggle between democracy and autocracy is the defining conflict of our time.
For several years, autocracies have seemed to have the upper hand. In autocracy, power is centralized. Leaders can respond to challenges quickly, shift resources decisively.
In democracies, power is decentralized, often polarized and paralytic. The US political system is distrusted and dysfunctional. A homegrown would-be autocrat won the White House.
A realistic assessment of authoritarian ineptitude reveals weaknesses:
• The wisdom of many is better than the wisdom of megalomaniacs
• People want their biggest life
• Organization man turns into gangster man
• Ethnonationalism self-inebriates
• Government against the people is a recipe for decline
AR Autocrats turn sour.
2022 March 17
Britain Cannot Ignore Europe
The war has caused an earthquake around the world. Relations between the UK and the EU must again be on the British agenda. NATO remains the rock on which Western security stands, but Trump America could yet betray us.
So long as what used to be called the Conservative party and is now the Brexit party controls the country, the UK is not going to rejoin the EU. But there is a growing understanding for a new European defence posture. A possible EU army could become the European leg of NATO.
UK foreign secretary Liz Truss is more pragmatic and flexible than her critics expected. The relentless exchange of childish insults between Paris and London has virtually stopped. Any sense that the EU was "the enemy" has evaporated in the face of a real enemy.
Brexiteers tend to ignore geopolitics and concentrate on recent British successes. They see signs that Britain still counts. The British government has done better so far in the Ukraine crisis than its critics expected.
For the past few years, British politicians have behaved as if the views and actions of Brussels are irrelevant. A Starmer government would seek to do better.
A senior Labour figure: "Evidence to confirm that withdrawal was a catastrophic error mounts by the day .. Promising at least a closer relationship with Europe is the expedient course of action."
AR Putin backed Brexit for good reason.
Webb mirrors correctly aligned: It will be months before Webb goes to work, but the optical system is working well.
Putin and the Power of Stories
In 2015, the first season of Occupied was broadcast on Norwegian television. The series depicts a Russian occupation of Norway that is tacitly accepted in the West to restart oil production shut down by a green Norwegian government.
My aim for the show was to focus on the moral dilemmas faced by ordinary people in an extreme situation. The international balancing of political principles against economic and security considerations was the backdrop.
In the age of fake news, where leaders are elected on a wave of emotion rather than their merits or political viewpoints, facts no longer carry the weight they once did. The first casualty of war is the truth.
The fiction writer does not need to worry about the facts. The aim is to say something true enough to move hearts and minds. This freedom is what gives fiction its power.
Films are a perfect vehicle for shaping popular opinion, because watching a film provides people with a galvanising, shared experience. Hollywood marketed American military ideals throughout the cold war, and it continues to do so now.
Today, the entire world is essentially sitting in the same movie theatre, watching events unfold in Ukraine. But what we are seeing are dubbed versions, featuring subtitles in our own languages. These are different versions of the story.
We might hope that the truth will win. Faced with a tangle of different versions of reality, we do not have to accept every version as true. Some are truer than others.
Putin's narrative for the Russian war in Ukraine is gaining ground with Russians who lack access to social media or foreign reporting. But the younger generation in Russia can access different views on what is happening.
The war for the narrative is the long war Putin will lose.
AR True and good, but the artist risks bien pensant groupthink.
2022 March 16
World War Z
Putin had no reason to think he might not get away with his invasion of Ukraine. The West has spent 22 years placating him.
The Biden administration continues to operate under illusions:
• Sanctions may devastate Russia in the long term. But the immediate struggle in Ukraine is short term. They may help Putin by weakening political opposition.
• Arming Ukraine with Javelin and Stinger missiles has wounded and embarrassed the Russian military. Providing Kyiv with fighter jets could help turn the tide.
• Suggestions that Putin has already lost the war are grossly premature. The ability to subdue a restive population is chiefly a function of the pain an occupier is willing to inflict.
• Refusing to impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine exceeds the risks NATO countries are prepared to tolerate. But the idea that doing so could start WW3 signals weakness.
These illusions could collapse very suddenly.
Expect Putin to double down.
Russian Military Weaknesses
The Russian performance in Ukraine is abysmal:
• The Russians have poor standards for performing basic tactical tasks such as combined arms operations. They are poor at maintaining their vehicles and weapons and poor at logistics.
• The Russian military has many conscripts. Its vehicles are getting mired in mud. The Russians are not performing sufficient preventive maintenance on their equipment.
• The Russian equipment is unimpressive. Their precision munitions are imprecise or lacking. The Ukrainian Air Force is still flying.
• The Russians have problems in basic tasks such as staying dispersed. The long traffic jam we saw outside of Kyiv is just incompetent movement control.
• They seem incapable of integrating air and ground operations together.
• Russian cyberwarfare has not taken down the Ukrainian command and control system or President Volodymyr Zelensky's internet access.
• The Russians have nowhere near enough soldiers to take Kyiv. They are running out of certain weapons systems and munitions.
This war looks like a bloody quagmire for Russia.
AR A dangerous mess − Putin could go nuclear.
⦿ Evgenia Novozhenina
Xi, Putin, Kremlin, 2019
Ukraine: Pressure + Negotiation
Putin has miscalculated badly. The Ukrainians are fighting for their homeland. Even if he succeeds in subjugating Ukraine by force, the subjugation cannot be sustained.
The West needs to ratchet up pressure. There is no political support for NATO to engage Russia directly. But Putin is threatening NATO while we say we will not use force.
The West also needs to push for a negotiated settlement. Putin deserves nothing but total defeat, and the final decision in any negotiation rests with Ukraine.
Europe and the United States will need new security arrangements for Europe and Russia. China will not want to confront the West on this issue.
AR But Xi's China has a "no limits" pact with Putin's Russia.
2022 March 15
China Cannot Abandon Putin
On 4 February, Vladimir Putin flew to Beijing to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Together they set out their vision for a new global order and said there were "no limits" to the partnership between Russia and China.
Putin and Xi have aired their shared worldview in frequent summits. Xi calls Putin his "best, most intimate friend" as Putin praises the "truly unprecedented nature" of their relationship.
Their shared opposition to the United States is key. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying recalls the history of US military action around the world and cites the NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999: "NATO still owes the Chinese people a debt of blood."
China abstained from voting on a UN Security Council draft resolution condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Chinese media outlets have avoided criticizing the invasion.
German Marshall Fund of the United States director of the Asia program Bonnie Glaser: "The Chinese have made it clear that they think Russia has legitimate security concerns, they have blamed NATO's expansion as the cause of the problem, they won't even call it an invasion."
Ukraine is part of the Belt and Road Initiative, and its president Volodymyr Zelensky says his country is a potential "bridge to Europe" for Beijing. In January, Xi and Zelensky exchanged messages and vowed to strengthen their "fruitful" cooperation.
Glaser: "Even though they are discomfited by what Russia is doing, I doubt that China is going to make a clean break with Russia."
AR A thin hope of mediation is better than no hope at all.
Superdeterminism is a response to the apparent randomness of quantum events, their apparent dependence on human measurement, and the nonlocal correlation of measurement outcomes.
Einstein said quantum mechanics must be incomplete; there must be hidden variables that the theory overlooks. Superdeterminism is a radical hidden-variables theory proposed by John Bell, who is renowned for his 1964 theorem exposing quantum nonlocality.
Sabine Hossenfelder: "In quantum mechanics we can only predict probabilities for measurement outcomes, rather than the measurement outcomes themselves. The outcomes are not determined, so quantum mechanics is indeterministic. Superdeterminism returns us to determinism."
Superdeterminism posits that even our behavior, including our choice to do one experiment rather than another, is predetermined. Can we reduce psychology to physics?
AR Not yet − see Mindworlds.
2022 March 14
Europe and Ukraine
Luuk van Middelaar
Ukraine has won the battle for European public opinion. We see it as a champion of democracy and its president Volodymyr Zelensky as a hero.
Germany has reawakened. Massive defense investments, military support for Kyiv, recognizing gas dependency as a strategic error: German chancellor Olaf Scholz calls it a turning point for Europe.
The EU will deliver weapons worth €450 million to Kyiv. The European alliance for peace is now a party in a conflict with a military and nuclear superpower.
While Germany remained militarily reluctant, Europe was weak. Now Germany is accepting the realities of power. Poland and its neighbors have warned for years against Russia.
The Kremlin sees NATO and EU promises to Kyiv as provocative. The EU summit in Versailles should not repeat for the EU what the Bucharest summit in April 2008 did for NATO by opening its door now.
Ukraine can only join the EU if it becomes a NATO member too. Poland and the other new members joined NATO before the EU for good reason.
AR Let's win WWZ before we think about expanding the EU and NATO.
2022 March 13
Russia vs Ukraine: China Can Help
Putin seems to have underestimated the fierce resistance from Ukraine. He will likely feel pushed to take more extreme measures, such siege tactics and attacks on civilian areas.
China has an economic interest in a quick resolution to the war. China enjoys strong ties with both Russia and Ukraine and can act as a neutral mediator between them.
Russia may possess a mighty military, but its economy is in structural decline. For all the talk of ties with Moscow, China has far greater economic interests with the West. Its economic links with Moscow gives China leverage in negotiations.
China wants this war to end. Beijing aims to show Europe and America that the rise of China is not a threat. Playing a constructive role in ending the war can help.
Ideologically, China has common ground with both Ukraine and Russia. Securing a multilateral resolution to the conflict will be a challenge, but no country is better placed to do so than China.
AR Do it. Otherwise, we are on course for Russia vs NATO and nuclear escalation.
2022 March 12
Putin Risks Kremlin Coup
President Putin has put his future at stake. Kremlin figures will be plotting his downfall.
Putin may face an "armed escort either to the grave or to retirement," says former Russian diplomat Andrei Kozyrev: "I very much expect there to be resistance growing and discontent growing."
Kozyrev became foreign minister of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1990 and stayed in post when the Russian Federation gained independence in 1991. He now lives in Miami.
On Putin's war: "Even if he takes Kyiv with a couple of other cities, it leads nowhere. This war is unwinnable for Putin because he fights against the people."
Kozyrev scoffs at the nuclear risk. Putin has family, friends, and too much liking for women and wine: "He's just a kind of guy able to be brazen and he has more risk tolerance."
AR Seems a fair assessment.
⦿ Joan Valls
Demo sign in Barcelona
2022 March 11
Putin's War Is Failing
Putin's war against Ukraine is a staggering and almost incomprehensible failure of judgment.
The poor performance of the Russian armed forces exposes weaknesses. These problems should alarm the Kremlin. They raise questions about how wisely the Russian military budget is spent and whether the armed forces are learning from past blunders.
The Ukrainian population will not simply accept the loss of their independence and the rule of a puppet president. A military occupation will bring huge and unsustainable costs for Russia. Russia is tied down in Ukraine, and its weaknesses erode its credibility.
The disaster calls Putin's own credibility into question. His war is failing.
AR A lot more pain and suffering lie in wait.
People in Power
Jonathan C Gold
We are all subject to biases that prevent us from acting in our own best interests. Craving for the security of a strong political leader is a delusion. Ruthlessness and brutality are evidence of a serious disorder of the mind.
A protector lacking compassion and heedfulness might kill you tomorrow. He is untouched by social norms that prevent lies and manipulation. He knows you support him out of fear and stokes it to hold you.
Sociopaths use manipulation and ruthlessness to succeed in business and politics. Normal social checks do not restrain people without shame and remorse. A propensity to antisocial behavior should disqualify a leader.
Symptoms of antisocial personality disorder recall descriptions of Vladimir Putin.
AR Gold wants ASPD tests for aspiring leaders.
Home Office vs Ukrainian Refugees
The Home Office has made it almost impossible for any Ukrainians to reach the UK.
On Monday, home secretary Priti Patel gave the Commons the wrong information about which visa application centres were open and where they were.
On Tuesday, she let a junior immigration minister say refugees could always take advantage of the seasonal agricultural worker scheme.
On Thursday, Patel said refugees with Ukrainian passports and family in the UK would now be allowed to apply for their visas online. But the Home Office first needed to ensure all necessary security measures were in place.
Patel said the Tories had a "world-beating" record on refugees.
AR Sack her.
2022 March 10
Putin Is Isolated
Vladimir Putin's decision to invade Ukraine has left Russia more isolated than ever. In this, Russia increasingly resembles its president.
Putin's seclusion and inaccessibility, his belief that Russian domination over Ukraine must be restored, and his decision to surround himself with ideologues and sycophants have all led to crisis.
Putin spent the spring and summer of 2020 quarantining. He was accompanied by Yuri Kovalchuk, the largest shareholder in Rossiya Bank and a friend and adviser since the 1990s.
Kovalchuk has a doctorate in physics. He combines Orthodox Christian mysticism, anti-American conspiracy theories, and hedonism. Since 2020, he and Putin have been making plans together to restore Russia's greatness.
Putin has lost interest in the present. He no longer meets with his buddies for drinks and barbecues. No one can see him without a week's quarantine.
His cronies tell him exactly what he wants to hear. The whole world saw on the eve of the invasion how he summoned top officials, one by one, and asked them their views on the coming war. All of them understood their task and submitted meekly.
This televised ritual session was supposed to smear all the top officials with blood. But it also showed Putin's contempt for them. For him, they are nothing but yes men.
Putin thinks only he can save Russia.
AR Mad dictator, as in a Bond movie.
Mark Landler, Stephen Castle
When Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky thanked British MPs for their solidarity on Tuesday, he singled out the prime minister: "I am very grateful to you, Boris."
The outbreak of war in Europe lets Johnson pose as a global statesman, supplying Ukraine with lethal defensive weapons and pushing Western allies to impose crippling sanctions on Russia.
The prime minister has put his relationship with Zelensky at the heart of that effort. The two have spoken almost every day since the Russian invasion began. They have forged a rapport.
Former Foreign Office head Simon Fraser: "He's identified that Zelensky is very much the man of the moment .. Boris has a nose for these things."
In the wake of Brexit, British backing of Ukraine is a reminder of its role as an anchor of NATO and its track record of tough action against Russia. The crisis has also shown up London as a magnet for corrupt Russian money.
Former British national security adviser and ambassador to France Peter Ricketts: "It was extremely convenient for Johnson to change the subject from the domestic controversies he's been facing."
Forging an alliance with Zelensky was a natural impulse for Johnson. In his speech to the Commons, Zelensky quoted Winston Churchill's famous 1940 never-say-die speech.
Zelensky took Johnson on a tour when he visited Kyiv last month. They discussed Shakespeare over dinner. In his speech to the Commons, Zelensky quoted Hamlet.
Johnson's poll ratings have improved just in time for local elections in May.
AR The greased piglet gets lucky again.
Oligarchs in the UK
HM government says it will root out Russian oligarchs and kleptocrats. But the economic crime bill being debated today in the House of Lords shows a staggering complacency toward dirty money.
This bill tweaks the sanctions regulations and imposes transparency on offshore companies that own property in the UK. It was rushed through the Commons on Monday.
The bill aims to stop oligarchs owning mansions and estates anonymously. But an oligarch can avoid its provisions by sharing ownership of his offshore company equally with five close relatives, so that no shareholder reaches the 25% threshold for significant control. Or he can name a professional corporate trust provider on the ownership documents. Or he can provide false information.
The home secretary says the government is hurrying to table a second economic crime bill. Yet HM government has let this legislation sit on a shelf for almost four years.
Even then, the National Crime Agency and Serious Fraud Office lack the resources to go after financial criminals effectively. HM government has not begun to solve the problem.
AR Don't expect Boris to do better.
Starstreak surface-to-air missile system
Britain is to send its state-of-the-art SAM system as military aid to Ukraine. Starstreak can shoot down helicopters and fighter jets.
UK defence secretary Ben Wallace says it will help Ukrainians to better defend their skies.
2022 March 9
Theory of Cold War deterrence: (1) we have enough weapons to wipe each other out, (2) we all love our children, and (3) if we fire the weapons, all the children will die, so (4) we won't fire them.
If the theory is wrong, the risk of a confrontation with Russia involving nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction is much higher than we thought.
Putin's invasion of Ukraine seems unreasonable. Yet we assume Putin and his regime are reasonable. We assume they think success in Ukraine isn't worth the risk of a nuclear war.
With NATO, we have extended a nuclear security guarantee to lots of countries. We thought such promises would never be called upon. We need to think again.
AR If Putin invades "one inch" of NATO territory, conflict escalates to nuclear war. NATO is a critical mass comparable to the linked network of Great Powers in 1914 or the linked network of bank loans and liabilities in 2008.
Peptides on Stardust
Peptides, the molecular subunits of proteins, can form on dust particles in space. The peptides could have traveled inside comets and meteorites to the young Earth. This mechanism is a promising alternative to terrestrial processes.
Cells use amino acids, genetic instructions, and catalytic enzymes to make peptides and proteins. Outside cells, making peptides is an inefficient process of first making amino acids and then removing water as they form polymers. Both steps have a high energy barrier.
Peptides could be made directly in the dense and frigid clouds of dust and gas that linger between the stars. These molecular clouds are rich in carbon monoxide, atomic carbon, and ammonia.
Reactions in the gas clouds would likely deposit carbon onto cosmic dust particles and form aminoketenes. These would link up to form polyglycine. By skipping the formation of amino acids, reactions would not need outside energy.
Researchers deposited carbon monoxide and ammonia onto substrate plates chilled to 10 K inside an ultrahigh vacuum chamber, then deposited carbon atoms on top of this ice layer to produce polyglycines.
We can test the idea that peptides on cosmic dust could have fallen to Earth in meteorites when OSIRIS‑REx returns samples from the asteroid Bennu.
AR Cosmic chemistry is fun.
Russian Defence Ministry
Russian Su-34 off to Ukraine
Yelena Burainchenko, another
casualty of World War Z
2022 March 8
Russia−Ukraine War: Not Good
Christopher S Chivvis
War games suggest only two ways to end Putin's war of choice in Ukraine: continued escalation, potentially across the nuclear threshold, or a bitter peace imposed on a defeated Ukraine.
Putin wants to subjugate Ukraine. His might make an example of a city like Kharkiv and then threaten to burn Kyiv to the ground. He needs to remove the Zelensky government and install a puppet government in Kyiv.
The United States and its allies may seek to support a Ukrainian insurgency. This could escalate to a wider war between NATO and Russia.
If the insurgency prevailed and took the fight into Russia, Putin would probably feel threatened and go nuclear. Regime change in Russia is the only way out.
Russia might use a small nuclear weapon against a military target in Ukraine to demonstrate the will to use nuclear weapons. A more likely option would be a sudden nuclear test or a nuclear airburst that damages the electrical grid over a major city.
The best US response would be to respond in kind, followed by restraint and diplomacy. In most games, Russia still responds with a second nuclear attack. In games that go well, the sides then de-escalate. In all the other games, the world is basically destroyed.
Growing conventional force buildups, higher defense spending, a continuing US presence in the Mideast, and weakened competition with China are better than nuclear war.
We must end Putin's war.
China can help stop the war
Vladimir Putin is now trapped in a fight to the finish. Xi Jinping has the power to halt the bloodshed. A month ago, Putin visited Xi and no doubt said it would be a quick war.
Xi will have calculated that Washington would lose its focus on Beijing. Americans targeting China must now return to Europe. Xi sees the West cannot do both at once.
Russian aggression makes Russia more dependent on China. Xi knew Putin would sign their joint statement proclaiming "no limits" to their cooperation. China is the stronger neighbor and can bind Russia into an alliance.
Xi has called Putin to encourage negotiations, but China is opposed to sanctions and will not force meaningful negotiations. This is a tragedy and a mistake.
The West is now arming to defend democracy. Perhaps the miscalculation visible in Moscow can also occur in Beijing. Business leaders who have lost money in Russia will see that the same can happen in China. A long conflict in Ukraine will encourage Taiwan.
Xi will see that Russia can never subdue Ukraine. A longer war will kill more Russian soldiers, wreck Russia's economy, and maybe end Putin's rule. Xi can help stop it.
China can't help Putin's economy
Vladimir Putin has misjudged everything. China can't bail him out:
• China cannot supply some things Russia needs, like spare parts for Western-made airplanes and high-end semiconductor chips.
• China is deeply integrated into the world economy. Chinese businesses dealing with Russia will fear a backlash from consumers and regulators in bigger markets.
• China and Russia are far apart. Most of Russia's economy is west of the Urals, while most of China's is near its east coast. Beijing is nearly 6 Mm from Moscow.
• China and Russia differ too much in economic power. China's economy is now 10 times as large as Russia's. Russia would be practically a Chinese client state.
AR Nuclear doom, China wins.
Over 1 million Ukrainians
have fled to Poland
Over 1.5 million refugees
have fled Ukraine
since Feb 24
The UK has granted
50 visas to the
2022 March 7
FSB: War Total Failure
Spies in the Kremlin security agency FSB, successor to the KGB, were kept in the dark about the plan to invade Ukraine. A whistle-blower says the war is a "total failure" comparable to the collapse of Nazi Germany.
An FSB analyst reports there could already be 10 000 Russian dead but no one in government knows: "We have lost contact with major divisions."
FSB officers were ordered to evaluate sanctions as a paper exercise: "Russia has no way out. There are no options for a possible victory, only defeat."
Russia has no hope of occupying Ukraine: "Even with minimum resistance from the Ukrainians we'd need over 500 000 people, not including supply and logistics workers."
Russian foreign intelligence service SVR was asked to "dig up dirt" to say Ukraine had built nuclear weapons, a pretext for a pre-emptive strike.
The report says the war has a "provisional deadline" of June because by then the Russian economy will have collapsed: "I won't exclude that we will be pulled into a real international conflict, just like Hitler in 1939 .. Our position is like Germany in 1943−44 − but that's our starting position."
Russian senator Lyudmila Narusova: "I do not identify myself with those representatives of the state that speak out in favour of the war. They are following orders without thinking."
AR How reliable is this report?
Never in my life have I seen an international crisis where the dividing line between right and wrong has been so stark, as the Russian war machine unleashes its fury on a proud democracy.
This is not a NATO conflict. No ally has sent combat troops to Ukraine. We have no hostility toward the Russian people.
Putin is attempting the destruction of the foundation of international relations and the UN Charter. His assault on Ukraine is sinking into a sordid campaign of war crimes and unthinkable violence against civilians.
We saw what Russia did in Georgia in 2008, in Ukraine in 2014, and even on the streets of Salisbury. We must restore effective deterrence in Europe.
Russia has overwhelming force and apparently no regard for the laws of war. We need to prepare now for even darker days ahead:
1 We must mobilize an international humanitarian coalition.
2 We must do more to help Ukraine to defend itself.
3 We must maximize the economic pressure on Putin's regime.
4 We must prevent any normalization of what Russia does in Ukraine.
5 We should always be open to diplomacy and de-escalation.
6 We must act now to strengthen Euro-Atlantic security.
AR We must indeed.
Destroyed bridge in Irpin, near Kyiv
2022 March 6
Putin the Christian
Western media paint Putin as evil. In 2013, I and a delegation of three others met with Putin in his dacha near Moscow. Before the meeting, we waited under a picture of the first Crimean war, when Christian Russia was shocked that the Christian west had sided with Muslim Turks.
Putin said young Russians must start going back to church. He wore a cross around his neck. He questioned me about Christian faith. In all the propaganda and nonsense, we are missing the religious dimension in his thinking.
In 988 CE, King Vladimir of the Rus was the first Christian convert. He summoned the citizens of Kyiv to the banks of the Dnieper for a mass baptism. Holy Mother Russia was born. In 2019, the Ukrainian church broke with the Russian church. Putin will not accept this.
Putin in 2013: "We see many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of western civilisation. They are denying the moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious, and even sexual."
He is attacking Kyiv to preserve Christian Russia. Evil is the right word.
AR Religion can be a force for bad.
Ulrich Schlie, Thomas Weber
In 2019, most Germans disagreed with Americans over military spending and defending NATO allies against Russia.
Putin's war against Ukraine boosts the case in Germany and elsewhere in Europe to forge a revived transatlantic alliance.
Europeans and Americans must increase military support for Ukraine and end dependence on Russian energy supplies.
Americans and Germans need to relearn what unites them and lead the free world.
AR An EU−US special relationship is good news.
The British Monarchy
Alex von Tunzelmann
Royalty is the mythological engine that powers the British state. Even today, the government is Her Majesty's Government.
Royals retain a form of spiritual power. When Diana died in 1997, a floral tribute outside Kensington Palace read: "Born a Lady. Became a Princess. Died a Saint."
Republicanism in Britain is a minority faith. For the last few decades, support for an elected head of state has hovered at around a fifth to a quarter of the population.
Some Brits want to reduce the cost of the monarchy. They cite bike-riding royal families in Europe. But change is unlikely unless there is something convincing to change into.
Even in Victorian times, rationalists assumed that Britain would soon ditch the monarchy, the House of Lords, and the Church of England. They were wrong.
AR The UK is a rotten relic.
Israeli PM Naftali Bennett
met with Putin in Moscow.
Zelensky wants Israel to
mediate a ceasefire
CNN, 1819 UT
2022 March 5
WELCOME TO HELL
Banner over the road to Kryvyi Rih, the mining city and childhood home of Volodymyr Zelensky: "Welcome to Hell, Russian Occupant."
Russians advancing toward Dnipro must pass through Kryvyi Rih. Its inhabitants are preparing for street battles with Russian troops pushing northward.
Kryvyi Rih military administration head Aleksandr Vilkul: "All of us here and all in Ukraine have rallied around Zelensky. He is a brave fighter who chose to stand among his people and unite them."
The war has already reached Kryvyi Rih. A Russian attempt to land paratroopers at the airport was thwarted. An armored column pushing toward the city was driven back. The streets are barricaded by Ukrainian troops and armed civilians.
Vilkul: "We won't retreat. We'll stand and fight."
Russian failures from the start
Russia has committed most of the combat power it deployed around Ukraine. Its missiles have rained down on the country, destroying critical infrastructure, cutting utilities, and leaving buildings in ruins. But its forces have not gained control of the skies or knocked out Ukrainian command and control.
IISS senior fellow for land warfare Brigadier Ben Barry: "If Putin and his military leadership thought Ukrainian forces would put up little opposition and Ukraine would welcome them as liberators, they've had a huge shock."
The spirit of independence
Ukrainians have become the embodiment of the spirit of national independence. Their collective defiance and bravery in the face of a terrifying menace will live for centuries.
The West has rediscovered something like pride and purpose. Its brand of freedom and democracy is preferable to the tyranny and oppression meted out by Putin. NATO is necessary to protect free nations from a mighty aggressor.
Putin has reminded us that the EU was founded out of the conviction that the only future for Europe is to share sovereignty rather than to kill for it. The EU has always been about safety and peace. How shaming to think that the British contribution to this noble postwar ideal was to abandon it.
An EU watershed
Caroline de Gruyter
Putin's brutal war on Ukraine is shaking Europeans to the core. They are shocked that Ukrainians must not only defend their country against Russian aggression but also defend democracy, freedom, and their sovereign right to determine their destiny − all EU ideals.
This war reminds us that the EU is a peace project.
AR The EU and NATO complement each other.
Explaining Cosmic Acceleration
The Standard Model implies that the Higgs field is full of energy. The equation for the Higgs boson mass includes terms from all the massive SM particles contribute. The Higgs should interact with particles up to the Planck mass.
The hierarchy problem is why the Higgs boson is so lightweight. We guess some Planck contributions are negative and others positive, so they cancel out.
Another unnatural problem is that space should sizzle with energy. When we add up all the presumed contributions to the energy of space, the terms from Planck masses should rip space apart. But space is expanding and accelerating only slowly.
When we zoom in on something, we find smaller and more energetic things. We refer to low-energy, long-distance physics as the IR, and high-energy, short-distance physics as the UV, by analogy with infrared and ultraviolet light.
We can describe events at the IR scale without knowing what happens at UV scales. We say IR and UV scales decouple. An effective field theory models a system over a range of scales down to its UV cutoff. Below the cutoff, an EFT adds corrections for unknown effects.
Naturalness can help us find an EFT cutoff. If an energy parameter has a high cutoff, its value should naturally be large, pushed higher by all the UV corrections. If the parameter is small, the cutoff energy must be low.
The hierarchy problem hints at few heavy particles beyond the SM. If the SM cutoff were up near the Planck scale, then the UV corrections to the Higgs mass would be huge.
If two particles collide hard enough, they form a black hole. A quantum gravity theory describing their interiors reverses the usual relationship between high energies and short distances. Maybe the interplay between IR and UV effects defies the usual decoupling.
EFT reductionism says IR physics emerges from UV physics, but not vice versa. Maybe UV-IR mixing breaks it.
The number of high-energy states you can fit in a box before it collapses to a black hole is proportional to the three-fourths power of its surface area. This is a new UV-IR relationship. The size of the box limits the number of high-energy states within it.
Applied to the universe, this bound predicts the observed rate of cosmic acceleration.
AR This seems logical.
⦿ Sergei Malgavko
Russian tank with Mad Max cage on top, seen in north Crimea, 2022-02-24
The West and Russia have different tank philosophies. We build tanks that protect the crew and that let the engine be replaced quickly in the field.
Russians see tanks as disposable units. The tank starts rolling, gets hit, and stops. Then new tanks with new crews roll up to the front. Expensive protections and high reliability are neglected. With enough tanks in reserve, the Russian strategy works. From our point of view, it is inhumane.
The standard Russian tank is the T‑90. It is designed to win through sheer numbers. The idea is to throw a dozen tanks at a Leopard tank and hope a few survive. The Leopard takes more hits and hits back better, but eventually a T‑90 will win.
The Russian tanks in Ukraine strike fear and destroy things. Ukrainians can kill them with modern anti-tank weapons. But that only works if the Russians are careless. A tank should fight alongside troops in armored personnel carriers who can protect it.
The cage on top of the tank is to protect against bazookas and petrol bombs, which do little damage if they explode on the cage. Reactive armor tiles on the tank detonate outward when hit by a missile or projectile, again to reduce damage.
The logistics for the tanks will be crucial.
AR Robot tanks will transform land warfare.
2022 March 4
Russians Attack Nuclear Plant
BBC News, 0837 UT
Nuclear experts watching the attack and fire at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant say this is not "another Chernobyl" but is risky.
Sheffield University professor Claire Corkhill: "For the first time this morning, I'm frightened."
Only one of six reactors at the plant is now operating as the reactors are taken offline: "They're shutting down the nuclear reaction and putting them into a safe and stable state."
She adds this might have been Russia's intention: "If you want to target their power supply, you attack a building close to the power plant and force operators to shut it down."
The Guardian, 0955 UT
Imperial College London Dr Mark Wenman: "The Zaporizhzia nuclear plant has six VVER‑1000 pressurised water reactor units producing 20% of Ukraine's electricity. The plant is a relatively modern reactor design .. and hence there is no real risk, in my opinion, at the plant now the reactors have been safely shut down."
University of Bristol professor Tom Scott: "Radiation levels around the plant are reportedly normal and five of the six reactors are now turned off .. Their inherent safety design should mean they are naturally quite resilient to any external perturbations."
AR This is nuclear terrorism.
"Nothing so reveals the reality of Brexit as the meeting of European leaders in Brussels, in the aftermath of Vladimir Putin's assault on Ukraine. Our continent faces a threat as severe as anything since the end of the cold war. I am ashamed that the country that in my lifetime saved European democracy has now absented itself as others determine Europe's response ..
That is what Brexit means."
AR A British collapse, funded by Putin.
⦿ Birol Bebek
Bayraktar TB2 drone in Turkey: Ukrainians are deploying them against Russian aggressors
⦿ Evgenia Novozhenina
Seen in Moscow:
A Crushing Moral Defeat
The invasion of Ukraine is a waking nightmare, horrible and absurd, being done in our name. Russia has become an outcast, despised nation, not just economically isolated but actively shunned by the rest of the world. It is a crushing moral defeat.
The Kremlin says 68% of Russian citizens support the war. But the survey never mentioned war and only asked people whether they support a "special military operation" aimed at "preventing a NATO base in Ukraine" and "denazification" of Ukraine.
Thousands of people across Russia have taken to the streets in protest. Some are covering walls with the call: "No to war." Others are laying flowers on the Kyiv monument near Red Square, which commemorates the bravery of its defenders in WW2.
A petition condemning the war already has more than a million signatures. People in the Russian Orthodox Church are demanding that it stop immediately. Russians are realizing that Putin is a danger to the whole world.
AR Putin has joined Hitler in infamy.
Liberalism seeks to control violence by lowering the sights of politics. People will disagree but need to tolerate fellow citizens with different views. Liberals respect the equal rights and dignity of individuals through a rule of law and constitutional government.
Classical liberalism led to modern natural science and the view that science can help us to understand and manipulate the world to our benefit.
Populist conservatives resent the open and diverse culture that thrives in liberal societies. They long for a community with one religion and one ethnicity.
Populists chafe at laws and constitutions. Leftists challenge tolerance and free speech and bemoan economic and racial inequality.
Some question the authority of science. Conservative identity encourages skepticism toward expertise. Malevolent actors use online freedom to spread disinformation and hate speech.
Classical liberalism evolved. Neoliberals in advanced democracies began trimming back welfare states and regulation. Cuts removed the buffers and led to extreme inequality.
The right pushed economic freedom to unsustainable extremes. The left focused on individual choice and autonomy at the expense of social norms and community.
Liberalism is valued the most when people experience life in an illiberal world. The EU and the global order created by US power got a boost when communism collapsed.
People took the liberal world for granted. Populists saw the EU as tyrannical and compared government rules on masks and vaccination to Hitler's treatment of the Jews. Such people had no experience of real dictatorship.
Authoritarians admire Putin.
A Russian holy war
Putin's invasion of Ukraine marks a breakdown in the international system like that in 1914.
Putin aims to bring Ukraine back into a Russian sphere of influence. A Blitzkrieg would impose regime change in short order. But Ukrainian partisans could wage guerrilla war for many years.
Putin may see an endless bloodbath in Europe as a potent weapon. Western Europe has freeloaded on the US security guarantee for too long.
Putin's power is precarious. Oligarchs could mount a coup. The Soviet state was brought down by nationalism, religion, and the failure of perestroika and glasnost.
Putin likes to cite religious philosopher Ivan Ilyin. His foreign minister denounces the West for backing Ukraine's church. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow has come out in support of Putin. Ukraine is being invaded to reclaim Kyiv for Holy Russia.
Putin is the face of a world in which war is a fact of life.
AR Our choice: Liberalism or an ELE war.
⦿ Gleb Garanich
Yermak, Zelensky, 2020
2022 March 3
A Million Refugees
BBC News, 1025 UT
Ukrainian refugees are crossing to neighbouring countries such as Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova, and even Russia and Belarus. The UN says over a million people have entered these countries from Ukraine.
The age of levity is over
Russia's military aggression has burst over Ukraine like a storm. The Kremlin claims to be landing surgical strikes. The reality for civilians on the ground is butchery.
The Russian line that Ukrainians need rescuing from their own government is grotesque. The shock is producing big policy changes across Europe. For Germany, it is a new era.
The British weakness is a refusal to see the EU on its own terms as a strategic alliance, a framework of law and economic integration to lock democracy in and tyranny out.
The British prime minister plays at being Churchill without Churchillian gravitas or accountability. What was a question facing Britain in 2016 to which Brexit was a sensible answer?
The age of levity is over. We need to restart relations with our neighbours and learn to speak the language of European solidarity.
Help us show Putin the mistake he has made
President Vladimir Putin claimed Russia would free Ukraine. But Ukraine does not need to be freed from the liberated path it has chosen.
I am writing this appeal from a bunker in the capital, with President Volodymyr Zelensky by my side. For a week, Russian bombs have fallen overhead. We stand firm and united in our resolve to defeat the invaders.
The West is just now waking up to the existential challenge Putin poses to the world order. This war is not just about Ukraine. The Kremlin wants to create a new Russian empire.
We Ukrainians have proved that we can repel the invasion force alone. We have used the weapons the West has provided. We are thankful to our friends.
Russian forces will continue to terrorize Ukraine to induce surrender. If they don't succeed, they will burn it all down. We beseech our Western allies and partners to make the costs unbearable for Russia now.
Zelensky and I are there in spirit with every brave Ukrainian fighting for this country. Stand with us today and help us.
AR Putin is a monster.
⦿ Viacheslav Ratynskyi
⦿ Sergey Bobok
Russian army in Kharkiv
⦿ Serhii Nuzhnenko
Street scene near Kyiv
2022 March 2
David E Sanger
President Biden called on Americans to unite behind his confrontation with a brutal Russian leader. He said Putin's aggression has strengthened NATO, and Russia will be weakened by his "premeditated and unprovoked" war.
Biden: "Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies, in the event that Putin decides to keep moving west .. When dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos."
Three endgame scenarios
Thomas L Friedman
The battle for Ukraine has the potential to be the most dangerous confrontation for the world since the Cuban missile crisis.
◼ Disaster scenario: Putin kills as many people and destroys as much infrastructure as necessary to erase Ukraine as a free independent state and culture and wipe out its leadership.
The globalized world has never had to deal with a leader accused of such war crimes whose country is so big, is a major oil and gas provider, and has a huge arsenal of nuclear warheads.
Every day Putin refuses to stop, we get closer to the gates of hell. Intervening risks igniting a war in Europe involving nuclear weapons. Letting Putin reduce Kyiv to rubble would create a European Afghanistan, spilling out refugees and chaos.
Putin cannot just install a puppet leader in Ukraine. He needs to station a large army in Ukraine to control it. It is terrifying how little Putin has thought about how his war ends.
Putin is not just motivated by a desire to keep Ukraine out of NATO. He believes Ukrainians and Russians are one people and his mission is to regather them. He says anyone who gets in his way should be ready to face "consequences they have never seen" before.
◼ Compromise scenario: The Ukrainian military and people hold out long enough for both sides to accept a dirty compromise.
Putin would have to admit that he was unable to achieve his vision of reabsorbing Ukraine into the Russian motherland. Ukraine would lose part of its territory and become a DMZ between Russia and the rest of Europe.
◼ Salvation scenario: The Russian people oust Putin from office.
This last scenario is the most unlikely of them all, but it is the one that holds the most promise of achieving the dream of a Europe whole and free.
Convoy snaking toward Kyiv
Three Ukrainian cities may have been encircled by Russian forces last night as a military convoy 60 km long edges closer to Kyiv.
Russia has moved most of the force it deployed along the borders into Ukraine. Only a fraction of them have been engaged in combat as forces mass for an assault on Kyiv.
UK MoD: "Ukrainian forces continued to hold the cities of Kharkiv, Kherson and Mariupol. However, all three cities are now likely encircled by Russian forces."
Satellite images show Russian forces gathering near Kyiv, with a column of armored vehicles, artillery, and support and supply vehicles positioned north of the capital.
An observer says the column looks like a medieval siege train: "Its slow speed and massed nature actually reflects Russian failure in early planning, with troops fighting the wrong war, with the wrong mindset."
A regime ruled by a gangster
Putin may be the most dangerous man who has ever lived. He is dedicated to restoring Russia's lost empire, indifferent to the fate of his own people, and master of a vast nuclear force. He has reminded us why so many countries joined NATO.
Europe will change. Germany will become the heart of a European security structure, and Britain will remain a European power. The Russian people live in a regime ruled by a gangster.
AR This is getting scary.
2022 March 1
Message from Kyiv
BBC News, 1856 UT
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky in his bunker in Kyiv says "Ukraine will fight stronger than anyone else" but cannot manage the war against Russia on its own.
He says ceasefire talks can only be serious if fighting stops first: "If you do this, and both sides do this, it means they [Russia] are ready for peace. If they don't ready [sic], it means you're just wasting time. We'll see."
AR Brave man.
British tank in Estonia as part of NATO deterrent force
The Guardian, 1658 UT
Boris Johnson, Estonia: "I think that [Putin's] only instinct is going to be to double down and to try and 'Groznify' Kyiv, if you know what I mean .. I think that that would be an unalterable moral humanitarian catastrophe and I hope he doesn't do that."
AR Well, sure.
Putin Has Already Lost
Yuval Noah Harari
Putin may win all the battles but still lose the war. His plan was to hit Ukraine hard and fast, decapitate its government, establish a puppet regime in Kyiv, and ride out western sanctions. He gambled that the Ukrainian people would accept his puppet regime.
His gamble is failing. To win the war, the Russians would have to hold Ukraine, and they can do that only if the Ukrainian people let them. By spilling more and more Ukrainian blood, Putin is making sure that Ukraine will henceforth spurn Russia.
The stories of Ukrainian bravery inspire the whole world. Ukrainians don't want to live under a new Russian empire. But how long before this message penetrates the Kremlin's thick walls?
AR He could go nuclear before it does.
Climate Breakdown Accelerating
The damage from global heating is already hitting hard. The new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says what is at stake: "A liveable and sustainable future for all."
The report, based on 34 000 studies, documents "widespread and pervasive" impacts on people and the natural world from increasingly frequent and intense heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods. Some impacts are now irreversible.
Heat is killing more people, drought is killing more trees, and warming oceans are killing more coral reefs. Without action, worse is coming, faster than we thought.
Respond with action
Climate breakdown is accelerating rapidly. Many of the impacts will be more severe than predicted. Nowhere will be spared.
The latest IPCC report is scientific, with numbers and notes, but with a clear conclusion: We are moving into the nightmare scenario scientists warned us about.
US special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry: "The question at this point is not whether we can altogether avoid the crisis − it is whether we can avoid the worst consequences."
The best response is climate action.
AR Hard to do when there's a big war raging.
The ruble sank to a record low against the dollar after an escalation in economic sanctions from the West.
The ruble fell by 30% yesterday before rallying after the Russian central bank raised interest rates to 20%, ordered exporting companies to sell 80% of their foreign currency, and closed the Moscow stock exchange.
Gas and oil prices rose again yesterday as the tougher sanctions endangered supplies to the EU. Gas prices rose to about 6× levels a year ago. Oil prices rose to over $100 a barrel.
Defence stocks rose on news of talk of rearmament in Europe. BAE Systems shares rose by 10% to value the business at over £22 billion.
Switzerland will adopt the EU sanctions and impose its own sanctions on Putin and others close to him.
AR What a mess.
⦿ Markus Schreiber/AP
2022 February 28
Peace and Security in Europe
With his attack on Ukraine, Russian president Putin has launched a war of aggression. He wants to divide the continent by force. Lasting security in Europe is not possible against Russia. Putin is now jeopardizing this security.
• We must support Ukraine. Germany will supply Ukraine with weapons to defend the country. This is our answer to Putin's aggression.
• We must dissuade Putin. The war is a catastrophe for Ukraine, but it will also be a catastrophe for Russia. We have passed an unprecedented sanctions package.
• We must invest more in security. The federal budget for 2022 will provide a special defense fund of €100 billion. We will invest more than 2% of GDP in our defense every year.
• We will overcome our import dependency on individual energy suppliers. The faster we can expand renewable energy, the better. Europe is our framework for action.
• We will not refuse talks with Russia. Diplomacy will keep the channels of communication open.
We stand for peace in Europe. We will not rest until peace is secured in Europe.
Ukrainian Presidential Office via Associated Press
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine is defiant (0:32)
The New York Times live feed, 2022-02-25, 2020 UTC
2022 February 27
RUSSIAN INVASION SLOWS DOWN
BBC News, 1351 UTC
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the Russian military to put its nuclear strategic missile forces on "special alert" − the highest alert level. He says NATO nations have taken "unfriendly actions" and imposed "illegitimate sanctions" against Russia.
Putin faces international isolation
Ukrainian soldiers and armies of citizen volunteers are putting up fierce resistance against the Russian invasion. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky defiantly brushed aside Putin's ultimatum demanding Kyiv's surrender. Morale in Kyiv remains high. Around Ukraine, Russian forces were not confirmed as having control of a single major city on Saturday.
• Germany will supply Ukrainian troops with 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles from its own military reserves.
• German chancellor Olaf Scholz: "The Russian assault on Ukraine marks a turning point. It threatens our entire postwar order. In this situation it is our duty to support Ukraine .. Germany stands closely on the side of Ukraine."
• The German government has agreed to exclude Russia from the SWIFT banking payments system. Ministers are discussing measures to hit the right people and not cut off aid agencies in Russia.
• Hungary"s leader Viktor Orban says he will back all EU sanctions against Russia.
• Turkey is considering blocking the passage of Russian naval vessels into the Black Sea.
• The Kremlin has banned street protests and restricted access to social media. A growing list of Russian celebrities and influencers back global efforts to stop the war.
• The US will send a further $350 million of military assistance to Ukraine, taking its total for the past 12 months to more than $1 billion.
• China chose to abstain rather than back Russia in a UN resolution on the invasion.
We have never been here before
Thomas L Friedman
This is the first war that will be covered on TikTok. Acts of brutality will be documented and broadcast worldwide. Millions of Russians will see the horrific images that emerge on social media as it enters its urban phase.
President Vladimir Putin has the firepower to bring Ukraine to heel. But the EU is Ukraine's biggest trading partner, not Russia. If the EU boycotts a Russia-controlled Ukraine, Putin will have to use Russian money to keep Ukraine's economy afloat.
Poland is Russia's key land bridge to Western Europe. If Poland just halts truck and rail traffic from Russia to Germany, it will create immediate havoc for Russia's economy.
China's economy is more dependent on Ukraine than Russia's. And China is the EU's biggest trading partner. President Xi Jinping cannot afford for the EU to be embroiled in conflict with an aggressive Russia and unstable Putin. China's stability depends on a stable and growing world economy.
Putin, your name will live in infamy. But in this World War Wired, the rest of us are not insulated from your madness.
AR Putin may escalate to avoid a long war.
⦿ Sasha Mordovets
A Napoleon or a Hitler?
2022 February 26
ASSAULT ON KYIV
CNN, 1110 UTC
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky: "I am here. We are not putting down arms. We will be defending our country, because our weapon is truth, and our truth is that this is our land, our country, our children, and we will defend all of this .. Glory to Ukraine."
Zelensky has turned down a US offer of evacuation from Kyiv: "The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride."
Images show severe damage to the outside of an apartment building in western Kyiv, with the outer walls blown out entirely for several apartment units. Emergency workers are on the scene, helping to evacuate residents.
UN deputy high commissioner for refugees Kelly Clements: "We now see over 120,000 people that have gone to all of the neighboring countries. And I have to say, the reception that they are receiving from local communities, from local authorities, is tremendous. But it's a dynamic situation. We're really quite devastated obviously with what's to come, and we would say that up to 4 million people could actually cross borders, if things continue to deteriorate, which they have until now."
The Russian Defense Ministry has not reported a single combat casualty from the military conflict in Ukraine. In its latest Saturday update, the ministry only lists losses of military equipment on the Ukrainian side.
President Zelensky says Ukrainian forces have killed "hundreds" of Russian soldiers.
AR How many refugees will Britain take?
A Napoleonic Figure
Vladimir Putin is a great man. He rose from the ruins of the Soviet system and aims to rewrite world power politics. He is a Napoleonic figure.
Putin complains that the West has reneged on promises not to push NATO to Russia's borders after the Soviet collapse. He complains of being fooled, lied to, belittled. But none of this justifies his new project.
In Britain, the network of rich Russians in public life goes far beyond Tory advisory boards. Since 2008, they were welcomed with golden visas.
AR The NATO push toward Russia recalls the Versailles treatment of Germany, and the assault on Ukraine recalls the Blitzkrieg on Poland.
Inside the mind of the British PM
Boris Johnson's friends and enemies say he is talented and charismatic, but can be lazy, manipulative, dishonest, and ruthless.
Max Hastings: "If Boris Johnson wanted to be a Churchillian figure, he'd have to work a bloody sight harder and he'd have to pay attention. He's quite unwilling to do either of those things."
Reality may finally be catching up with Johnson.
AR Vlad may be a new Adolf, but Boris is no Winston.
We British prefer to see war as a sporting fixture, preferably an away match, strictly time-limited, against an obviously dastardly opponent in which it's us versus the villain.
Putin is an obvious villain. A sustained allied campaign, coupled with determined resistance from Ukrainians, could end his reign in Russia. The British task is to close London to his kleptocracy.
Putin floats on a large raft of individuals who are doing well out of his ascendancy, buying property in Britain, sending their children to British schools, treating Britain as a home from home. We should be uncomfortable about this.
AR Well, yes.
⦿ Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency
Olena Kurilo after a missile strike near Kharkiv
2022 February 25
RUSSIA INVADES UKRAINE
Ukrainian president Zelensky says Russian special forces have entered Kyiv: "This morning we are defending our state alone. Like yesterday, the world's most powerful forces are watching from afar."
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba: "Horrific Russian rocket strikes on Kyiv. Last time our capital experienced anything like this was in 1941 when it was attacked by Nazi Germany."
Antonov airfield, 20 km outside Kyiv, is said to be back in the hands of Russian paratroopers after an intense battle for control. Ukraine had regained control of the airfield last night.
US intelligence officials say more than 160 missiles have been launched against Kyiv. Russian forces seized control of the skies over the capital last night, preparing for a ground offensive on the city.
Zelensky says at least 137 Ukrainian troops were killed in the first day of the invasion, with hundreds more injured as Russian troops advanced on three fronts to encircle Kyiv.
Columns of Russian tanks were reported to be crossing the border into Ukraine last night as the ground offensive against the capital and other key cities gathered pace.
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg: "Peace on our continent has been shattered. This is a deliberate, cold-blooded, and long-planned invasion. Russia is using force to try to rewrite history."
A British view
UK defence secretary Ben Wallace: "I will not trigger a European war. But what I will do is help Ukraine fight in every street with every piece of equipment we can get to them .. Putin is not rational. He doesn't believe the Baltic states are really countries. We all have to stand up to him."
This changes the face of Europe
Timothy Garton Ash
This is much more serious than the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. Ukraine today is a sovereign state with a large army and a people who declare themselves determined to resist. This could be the largest war in Europe since 1945.
Russia is one of the strongest military powers in the world. It is now a rogue state, commanded by a president who has threatened us with nuclear war.
• We need to secure the defence of every inch of NATO territory. The security of London is now intertwined with that of cities in Estonia and Poland.
• We must offer all the support we can to the Ukrainians. Those Ukrainians who resist will be fighting to defend the freedom of their country.
• We should impose stronger sanctions on Russia. Putin has a war chest of more than $600 billion and a hand on the gas tap to Europe.
• We must be prepared for a long struggle. Ukraine is a European country being attacked by a dictator. This will shape our views of Ukraine forever.
AR Indeed − this is historic.
Chuhuiv military airfield on the outskirts of Kharkiv burns
Putin: "Consequences as you
have never experienced
in your history"
2022 February 24
RUSSIA ATTACKS UKRAINE
The Times, 0810 UTC
Russia launched an assault on Ukraine this morning, sending troops pouring across the border into Kharkiv and mounting an amphibious landing in the port city of Odessa. Explosions began before dawn across Ukraine, including around Kyiv, Odessa, Mariupol, and Kharkiv.
Russian president Vladimir Putin: "To anyone who would consider interfering from outside: If you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history. All the relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me."
A war of aggression
CNN, 0726 UTC
Russian forces have begun an attack on Ukraine, with reports of troops crossing the border to the north and south, explosions in multiple cities including the capital Kyiv and warnings from Putin of bloodshed unless Ukrainian forces lay down their arms.
The first blasts were heard at around 5 am Thursday. As air raid sirens rang out across Kyiv, Ukraine moved to enact martial law and government ministers accused Moscow of launching an invasion. The Ukraine foreign minister called it a war of aggression.
It began when Putin announced a "special military operation" in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. In the address, broadcast live on Russian national television, he urged Ukrainian forces to lay down their arms and go home:
"Our plans are not to occupy Ukraine, we do not plan to impose ourselves on anyone .. Whoever tries to interfere with us, and even more so to create threats to our country, to our people, should know that Russia's response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences as you have never experienced in your history."
US president Joe Biden: "President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering. Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable."
Ukraine is under attack from Russian forces to the north in Belarus and the south from Crimea, says the Ukrainian State Border Service. Troops landed in the city of Odessa and crossed the border in Kharkiv. Control centers such as airfields and military headquarters were hit by shelling in Kyiv and Kharkiv, and there is artillery fire along the border.
Russian military statement: "The Russian Armed Forces are not launching any missile or artillery strikes on the cities of Ukraine. High-precision weapons destroy military infrastructure."
Wednesday night, UN Security Council, US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield: "This is a grave emergency. The council will need to act. We will put a resolution on the table tomorrow."
AR China's response is key.
General relativity explains a lot about nature, but it doesn't explain what happened at the Big Bang, what happens inside black holes, or the future of the universe.
A more complete theory can answer such questions. Machine learning architectures can look at large cosmological data sets and derive a theory of gravity. Simulations on a supercomputer can build a universe and predict which theory will work.
I put my money on teleparallel gravity. In general relativity, spacetime curvature tells you about the distribution of matter. Spacetime is more curved around the Sun. In teleparallel gravity, the Sun forms something like a tornado and spacetime is twisted, in torsion.
We find the equations of teleparallel gravity can match the cosmological data without dark matter or dark energy. Teleparallel gravity differs from general relativity in the very early universe, so data from the Webb telescope will let us test it.
AR I bet on teleparallel gravity too.
Trump On Putin
"I said, 'This is genius.' Putin
declares a big portion of ..
Ukraine .. as independent ..
I said, 'How smart is that?'
And he's going to go in and
be a peacekeeper .. We
could use that on our
2022 February 23
A Historic Mistake
In early 2000, I became the first senior US official to meet with Vladimir Putin in his new capacity as acting president of Russia. Flying home, I recorded my impressions: "Putin is small and pale, so cold as to be almost reptilian .. Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness."
Putin now calls Ukrainian statehood a fiction and decrees the independence of two separatist-held regions in Ukraine. Invading Ukraine would ensure his infamy by leaving his country diplomatically isolated, economically crippled, and strategically vulnerable in the face of a stronger, more united Western alliance.
Putin's actions have triggered massive sanctions. What is sure to be a bloody and catastrophic war will drain Russian resources and cost Russian lives. It will generate fierce Ukrainian armed resistance, with strong support from the West.
The Biden administration and its allies have offered to talk with Moscow on a range of security issues. But Russia must act in accordance with international standards applicable to all nations. Ukraine is entitled to its sovereignty.
AR Putin seems doomed to fail.
Close to Home
My father was born in the city now known as Lviv, in west Ukraine. In 1939, Stalin invaded the city and pronounced it part of the Soviet Union. My grandfather was sent to the gulag in Siberia.
What is now Ukraine has a complicated ethnic and political past that Putin is trying to exploit. But whatever its past, a free, independent, and democratic Ukraine is part of Europe's future.
The Economist Intelligence Unit has a democracy index that uses a scoring system to measure democratic health. Lower economic growth is related to declining faith in democracy. Authoritarian leadership attracts admiration from people who otherwise diverge politically.
Ukraine is far from a perfect. The index classifies it between a flawed democracy and an authoritarian state. What we are supporting is the promise of Ukraine.
The democracy index classifies even the United States as a flawed democracy. It still sees the UK as a full one. The UK can offer leadership.
AR The EIU is British ..
President Putin (circled) chairs a Russian security council meeting, Kremlin, Monday
2022 February 22
Bundesregierung stoppt Gaspipeline NS2
Der Spiegel, 1143 UTC
Die Bundesregierung zieht die Konsequenz aus der Eskalation in der Ostukraine und hat das Genehmigungsverfahren für die umstrittene Erdgaspipeline Nord Stream 2 gestoppt. Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz: "Ohne diese Zertifizierung kann Nord Stream 2 ja nicht in Betrieb gehen."
Russia vs Ukraine
The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) head says Russian forces have eliminated two groups of saboteurs that crossed into Russia from Ukraine.
Ukrainian spokesman: "This whole false claim of a Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance team being caught somewhere near the Russian border is completely false."
A Russian video calling for the evacuation of Donbas because of an alleged Ukrainian offensive was recorded two days before it was dated.
Hopes for a diplomatic solution faded on Monday night after a Russian national security council meeting to cement the decision to recognise the separatist regions as independent republics and send in forces on a peacekeeping mission.
Senior Russian officials repeated Kremlin claims that Ukraine was seeking to mount a military offensive to retake the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Ukraine calls for an emergency session of the UN security council.
This is Putin's war
Thomas L Friedman
Russian president Vladimir Putin says Ukraine is an integral part of Russia. He's basically saying to Ukrainians (more of whom want to join the EU than NATO): "You fell in love with the wrong guy. You will not run off with either NATO or the EU."
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States decided to expand NATO.
Clinton administration defense secretary Bill Perry said in 2016: "In the last few years, most of the blame can be pointed at the actions that Putin has taken. But in the early years I have to say that the United States deserves much of the blame. Our first action that really set us off in a bad direction was when NATO started to expand."
In 1998, immediately after the Senate ratified NATO expansion, I called George Kennan, then 94, who was the US ambassador to Moscow in 1952 and arguably America's greatest expert on Russia.
Kennan: "I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else .. Our differences in the Cold War were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime."
Putin is a bad leader. But America and NATO are not just innocent bystanders.
AR I agree.
2022 February 21
Russia vs Ukraine
Der Spiegel, 1808 UTC
Das Minsker Friedensabkommen ist gescheitert. Russlands Präsident Putin hat die abtrünnigen Regionen Donezk und Luhansk in der Ostukraine als unabhängig anerkannt. Diese hatten zuvor um "militärischen Beistand" gebeten.
AR So it begins.
"The main purpose of my art
is to turn two people who
love each other into
one being again."
The Benefits of Brexit
The HMG report The Benefits of Brexit is disingenuous in its misdescriptions of the consequences of Brexit and shameless in its inflated claims about joys to come in future. Its 100+ pages of exultation contain four main strands:
1 Changes that the UK could make today which could have been readily made as a member of the EU
The report claims as benefits of Brexit changes which are at best only marginally facilitated by Brexit and at worst of no relevance at all it. It does not separate changes enabled by Brexit from changes that could have been made within the EU. The result is analytical mush.
2 Changes which are a consequence of Brexit, but which entail disadvantages for the UK, not advantages
A spectacular misdescription is found in claims about action taken to reduce friction at GB borders. Technical work to make export health certificates operate digitally is presented as a means to reduce trade barriers.
As far as trade with the EU27 is concerned, this is about reducing the costs of the frictions introduced as the direct consequence of Brexit. Withdrawal from the EU guarantees exposure to the barriers to trade which, inside the EU, membership has consigned to history. That is not a benefit but a cost of Brexit.
The other manifestations of this sly attempt to depict attempts to reduce the harm flowing from Brexit as benefits are equally unconvincing.
3 Changes which are highly unlikely to be made for good economic, political, and legal reasons
Much of the report is devoted to bite-sized summaries of gleefully bright horizons across the economy. There is barely any recognition that regulatory changes may face opposition by interest groups, contradict economic rationality, or even violate international legal norms.
The UK is simply not big enough to become a dominant regulator. The report fails to engage with challenges to its portrayal of Brexit as a new dawn for UK regulatory freedom.
4 Changes which are little more than pie in the sky, vague appeals to an imagined future world of bounty
The tone is bright and breezy, sunnily optimistic, and fatuously uncritical. The newly unshackled UK is about to soar to success on a wave of fresh and energetic regulatory reform.
Five stated regulatory principles burst the banks of banality. Sector by sector, the barrage of jubilation goes on and on, a cascade of unverifiable claims to current superiority and future pre-eminence.
The relentless buoyancy robs the narrative of any depth or persuasiveness. The report fails to demonstrate that regulatory freedom will permit choices delivering superior outcomes.
The UK government in 2022 still echoes the Vote Leave rhetoric of 2016.
AR I skim-read the report weeks ago − see ALBION (pp 435−6).
Russia vs Ukraine
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi: "No country should be obsessed with turning back the wheel of history and making the mistakes of the past of forging rival alliances."
AR Quite so.
Russian−Belarusian exercises, here shown Saturday, were due to end Sunday.
"Belarus and Russia, due to military activity near the borders and escalation in the Donbas,
decided to continue joint inspections of response forces."
Belarus defense minister, Sunday
Ukrainian Naval Forces
Ukrainian Marine Corps tank
2022 February 20
Russia vs Ukraine
The Sunday Times
Russian president Putin has launched massive nuclear drills, including sea launches of hypersonic and cruise missiles at land targets. He watched them with Belarusian president Lukashenko.
US−UK intelligence sources expect the Russians to follow up false flag operations and skirmishes against Ukrainian troops in eastern Donbas with an attack by separatist forces before Russian troops "take a bite out of Ukraine" or launch an invasion.
'Bloody and protracted'
Boris Johnson says evidence suggests Russia is planning "the biggest war in Europe since 1945."
Intelligence suggests Russia aims to launch an invasion to encircle Ukrainian capital Kyiv.
Johnson: "I think .. what a catastrophe it would be for Russia."
AR Putin and Lukashenko must be decisively defeated.
2022 February 19
Russia vs Ukraine
At the Munich Security Conference today, US vice-president Kamala Harris accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of engineering a false pretext for invading Ukraine and warned the consequences would be "severe and swift" for Russia.
After speaking with NATO leaders yesterday, US president Joe Biden said he believes Putin has made the final decision and "slammed the door shut" on a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Harris: "There is a playbook of Russian aggression, and this playbook is too familiar to us all. Russia will plead ignorance and innocence. It will create false pretext for invasion, and it will amass troops and fire power in plain sight. We now receive reports of what appears to be provocations, and we see Russia spreading disinformation, lies, and propaganda. Nonetheless .. our forces will .. defend every inch of NATO territory."
German chancellor Olaf Scholz: "Peace can only be preserved if borders are accepted as they are. That is the only principle that can guarantee security in Europe."
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg: "The danger now is the combination of this massive military build-up with the very threatening rhetoric. This is a new normal, that we have a Russia which is openly contesting core values for European security and then demonstrating their will to use force or the threat of force to get their will."
Russia has not sent a representative to MSC 2022.
AR It's starting ..
NCI Hengistbury Head
View from Hengistbury Head over Poole Bay as Storm Eunice blows in
2022 February 18
Pig farmers, apple growers, flower producers, fishing fleets, road hauliers, house builders, medicine suppliers, and care home managers all benefited in the past from the open market in European labour. All must now lobby Whitehall for permits, visas, waivers, or compensation.
Brexit is a bust. Hundred-page documents must accompany every food convoy to and from Dover and Belfast. Jobs must be categorised by specialism, shortage, pay, and length of stay. Brexit employs a civil service army of 50,000 new officials, more than the entire EU bureaucracy in Brussels.
Leaving the EU had some arguments for it. Leaving the single market had none. Leaving it has wrecked supply chains, terminated scientific collaboration, undermined recruitment patterns, destabilised Northern Ireland, and crippled the fishing industry.
Rejoining the EU is politically unthinkable
A future HM government could rejoin the European single market or the customs union. But there is no prospect of the UK rejoining the EU anytime soon. Joining the EU is a long process, and rejoining would not return to the status quo ante.
AR Fortress UK is a disaster zone.
Neuromorphic computing matches the way our brains work. A neuromorphic architecture puts computing units (neurons) next to memory (stored in synapses). Combining neuromorphic chips with analog computing gives a new architecture for AI.
Neuromorphic chips promise to cut the energy consumption of AI. But AI algorithms trained on digital computers work badly with the analog chips due to device mismatch. On a neuromorphic chip, the mismatch ruins their performance.
The brain's spike signal is binary, but spikes are sent over time as an analog signal. Brain neurons decide to send out a spike based on a voltage that changes over time. A spiking neural network can work with the chip to compensate for device mismatch.
BrainScaleS‑2 analog neurons mimic brain neuron IO current and voltage changes. A spiking NN can learn to correct for the changes. A new algorithm changes the connections between neurons to minimize errors and learns to match the device.
AR Good work from Heidelberg.
NASA Imaging X‑ray
Polarimetry Explorer image
(magenta) with data from
NASA Chandra X‑Ray
Observatory (blue) of
2022 February 17
DeepMind Controls Nuclear Reactor
MIT Technology Review
DeepMind, in collaboration with EPFL, has trained a deep reinforcement learning algorithm to control the superheated plasma inside a nuclear fusion reactor.
Controlling nuclear fusion is hard because atomic nuclei repel each other. A reactor requires extremely high temperatures, up to hundreds of MK, so the nuclei form a plasma.
The task is to contain the plasma in a reactor for long enough to extract energy from it. In a tokamak, the plasma is trapped in a magnetic cage to hold its shape and stop it touching the walls.
Controlling the plasma requires constant monitoring and manipulation of the magnetic field. The team trained its algorithm in a simulation, then let it control the magnets in the Variable Configuration Tokamak (TCV) in Lausanne. The AI controlled the real reactor without further tuning.
Ten thousand times a second, the trained neural network takes in 90 different measurements describing the shape and position of the plasma and adjusts the voltage in 19 magnets in response. The AI is split into two neural networks. A large network, the critic, learns by trial and error how to control the simulated reactor. A small network, the actor, runs the real reactor.
AR I once edited a NATO volume on research in using an NN to control a tokamak plasma.
Brexit Is Unravelling
The wreckers of the European dream proclaim their 2016 referendum triumph as the unique achievement of Boris Johnson and praise his historic success in the 2019 election with the slogan: "Get Brexit done."
I'm the president of European Movement − Andrew Adonis is chair − and between us we agreed that this link needed a public airing. We say: "If Boris goes, Brexit goes."
The past few weeks have been a torrid time for the prime minister. If he is found to have lied to parliament and to the people, what defence is there to the allegation that the Brexit cause was conducted with the same disregard for the truth?
We all have a clear memory of the Brexit campaign and what was said. The Brexiteers then claimed that their bare-bones trade deal was "oven ready" and would get Brexit done. Johnson secured his mandate. But their deal didn't get Brexit done.
Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg is now bypassing the civil service to ask if anyone else in the country has any ideas about Brexit benefits. He invites Sun readers to write to him with suggestions.
Last week, the Public Accounts Committee said UK trade had been "suppressed" by a combination of Brexit, Covid, and global economic problems. The MPs said it was "clear" that Brexit had an impact. UK exports to the EU in the first ten months of 2021 were 12% lower and UK imports from the EU were 20% lower than before the pandemic.
Rees-Mogg: "I think Brexit has been extremely beneficial for the country. I think the evidence that Brexit has caused trade drops is few and far between."
AR For my gripping account of the Brexit and Johnson drama, read ALBION.
Russian tanks on exercises near the border with Ukraine
2022 February 16
NATO No Threat
BBC News, 1758 UTC
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg sees no sign of de-escalation by Russian forces near Ukraine and says Russia still has a huge force ready to attack Ukraine.
He warns the threat from Russia is the "new normal" in European security and says NATO is considering setting up new battle groups in central and SE Europe.
Europeans have spent $270 billion to bolster their defenses since 2014. Stoltenberg aims to reassure Russia that NATO is not a threat.
Russian Defense Ministry
Units of the Southern Military District (AFD) that have completed participation in tactical exercises on the Crimean peninsula are redeploying to permanent locations by rail.
AR This looks ominous.
NATO und Russland
Klaus von Dohnanyi
In der gegenwärtigen Situation sollten Frankreich und Deutschland Putin zusichern: Von uns wird es für mindestens zehn Jahre keine Zustimmung zu einem ukrainischen NATO-Beitritt geben. Das ist eine Frist, die man nutzen kann, um eine vernünftige Sicherheitsarchitektur in Europa zu errichten.
NATO könnte durchaus eine Struktur gewinnen, bei der eine NATO-Mitgliedschaft für Russland keinerlei feindlichen Charakter haben würde.
AR This seems reasonable.
The team at the Karlsruhe Tritium Neutrino (KATRIN) experiment reports that neutrinos have a maximum mass of 0.8 eV. When a tritium nucleus decays into a helium nucleus, it emits an electron and an antineutrino. KATRIN measures the electron energy. The energy released by the decay minus the electron energy yields the neutrino mass.
AR Cosmology suggests m(νe) ≤ 0.2 eV.
Quarks live inside protons and neutrons and never appear alone. But our theory of the strong force between them fails to predict their behavior.
Quantum chromodynamics (QCD) is our theory of quarks (in six flavors: u, d, s, c, t, b) and gluons (the strong force bosons).
QCD depicts quarks as swapping gluons with an intensity that grows with distance, like the tension in an elastic band. When quarks get too close, the elastic goes slack and QCD works well. But when the elastic stretches, the math breaks down.
Lattice QCD lets us simulate interactions on supercomputers. We divide space into a grid and time into discrete moments. We put quarks where the grid lines intersect and gluons on the links between them, then calculate what happens frame by frame.
We simulate pairs of protons (u, u, d) or neutrons (u, d, d) as clouds of quarks and gluons. When the protons or neutrons are about 1 fm apart, they attract as if by exchanging pions (qq, for q = u or d). The attraction turns into repulsion when the particles get closer.
The LHC experiment ALICE tracks hadrons (multiquark particles) produced in proton collisions down to 1 fm. This is femtoscopy.
AR QCD is complicated.
Putin, Scholz, Moskau
2022 February 15
Scholz in Moskau
Der Spiegel, 1432 UTC
Kremlchef Wladimir Putin hat in Moskau Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz empfangen. Mehr als vier Stunden dauerte das Gespräch: neben der Ukraine ging es auch um Wirtschaftsbeziehungen usw.
Vor seinem Treffen mit Putin hat Scholz es abgelehnt, sich von russischer Seite auf Corona testen zu lassen. Stattdessen entschied sich er dafür, den für den Zutritt zum Kreml erforderlichen PCR-Test nach seiner Landung in Moskau von einer Ärztin der deutschen Botschaft vornehmen zu lassen. Die russischen Gesundheitsbehörden seien eingeladen worden, bei dem Test dabei zu sein.
◼ Russland verkündet Abzug erster Einheiten: Einige russische Truppen werden laut Kreml aus der Grenzregion zur Ukraine abgezogen. Kiews Außenminister hält eine Eskalation vorerst für abgewendet.
Jörg Römer, 14. Februar
Bundesaußenministerin Annalena Baerbock berichtet, dass es keine Anzeichen dafür gebe, dass eine kriegerische Auseinandersetzung schon beschlossene Sache sei. Doch an der russisch−ukrainischen Grenze lässt Wladimir Putin weiter Soldaten und Kriegsgerät auffahren.
Auswertungen von Satellitenaufnahmen zeigen, dass die Truppenbewegungen in eine neue Phase eingetreten sind und sich russische Bataillone in grenznahe Regionen bewegen.
Angesichts der Bedrohung bittet die Ukraine ihre Partner in Europa und den USA um Unterstützung. Botschafter der Ukraine Andrij Melnyk forderte von Deutschland erneut die Lieferung von Defensivwaffen, vor allem die Panzerabwehrlenkwaffe MILAN.
AR Soweit ermutigend.
2022 February 14
Scholz ruft zur Deeskalation auf
Nach Gesprächen mit dem ukrainischen Präsidenten Wolodymyr Selenskyj in Kiew hat Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz Russland zur Deeskalation aufgerufen.
Scholz: "Die militärischen Aktivitäten an der russisch−ukrainischen Grenze sind für uns nicht nachvollziehbar. Wir erwarten von Russland eindeutige Schritte zur Deeskalation der Spannungen."
Scholz versprach die schnelle Auszahlung von €150 Millionen aus einem laufenden Kredit an die Ukraine. Hinzukommen solle ein weiterer Kredit in Höhe von €150 Millionen. In den vergangenen Jahren habe kein anderes Land die Ukraine finanziell so unterstützt wie die Bundesrepublik.
AR Das Geld spricht.
Steinmeier bleibt Bundespräsident
Der neue Bundespräsident ist Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Er ist mit großer Mehrheit von der Bundes–versammlung im Amt bestätigt worden. Der 66-Jährige erhielt mit 1045 von insgesamt 1425 gültigen abgegebenen Stimmen im ersten Wahlgang die absolute Mehrheit.
Steinmeier: "Ich danke für das Vertrauen derer, die mir ihre Stimme gaben, und ich bitte um das Vertrauen jener, die sie mir nicht gaben .. Wer für die Demokratie streitet, der hat mich auf seiner Seite. Wer sie angreift, wird mich als Gegner haben."
Steinmeier hat sich in den vergangenen Jahren mit vielen Menschen getroffen, wegen der Pandemie waren die meisten der Begegnungen virtuell, manchmal lud er Bürgerinnen und Bürger in seinen Amtssitz ein, nach Schloss Bellevue.
Steinmeiers Antrittsrede macht da Hoffnung: "In die Winkel unserer Gesellschaft" wolle er in den kommenden Jahren vordringen und sich Zeit nehmen für eine Reise durchs Land, auf der Suche nach einem "neuen Zusammenhalt".
Außenpolitisch fand Steinmeier klare Worte. Er wies einzig und allein Russland die Verantwortung für die derzeitige Eskalation zu: "Ich kann Präsident Putin nur warnen: Unterschätzen Sie nicht die Stärke der Demokratie .. Ich werde als Bundespräsident keine Kontroverse scheuen."
AR Gut so.
Mosaic from Webb telescope shows 18 images of star HD 84406 from the Near Infrared Camera, one for each of the 18 primary mirror segments. The images will be used to align the segments. The process of capturing them generated 54 GB of raw data.
2022 February 13
Neutron Star Hyperburst
A huge underground thermonuclear explosion may have heated neutron star MAXI J0556−332 to almost 400 MK. The star was discovered in a binary pair some 1.3 Zm from Earth in 2011.
Neutron stars in binary orbits can suck huge amounts of gas onto their surfaces, making them hot and fueling detectable bursts when H and He burn. Superbursts occur every few years as C burns about 100 m below the surface. Hyperbursts are stronger still and occur 500 m down as O burns.
Compressing enough mass to drive a hyperburst takes time. This may be the only one we ever see.
2022 Darwin Day
Making Neural Networks Robust
Scaling up neural networks enables them to grasp more. This is overparameterization.
To identify objects in images, we feed an NN images and object labels and train it to learn the correlations between them. Given enough training data, it can identify the object in an image it has already seen and predict the labels of objects it has never seen. This is generalization.
NNs describe images by a value for each pixel. The free values are the coordinates of a point in a d‑dimensional space, where d is the dimension.
Robustness is the ability of a network to deal with small changes. Geometrically, it is equivalent to smoothness. Smoothly fitting n data points, each of d dimensions, with a curve requires n × d parameters. Overparameterization makes an NN robust.
AR Makes sense.
Mapping Meaning in the Brain
Visual and memory representations appear in slightly different locations in the brain.
Comparing a semantic map of the brain to show which areas of the cortex respond to linguistic information about a range of concepts with a map showing where the brain represents categories of visual information, we see differences like those seen in studies on vision and memory.
A memory is a reconstruction of the original experience based on its semantic content.
Subjects watched hours of silent videos while inside fMRI scanners. Segmenting the data into records for small voxels of brain tissue showed where hundreds of objects and actions were represented across the cortex. The patterns form a map of visual meaning.
Subjects listened to hours of podcast recordings while scanners measured how their brains responded to the concepts they heard. The result was a map of linguistic meaning.
Researchers mapped what each voxel responded to among semantic categories found in both the video and the linguistic stimuli. Voxels at the anterior edge of the region represented place words. The posterior part responded to place-related images. In areas closer to the front, both place images and place words were represented.
For all the categories, the representations aligned in transition zones that formed a ribbon around the visual cortex. The visual cortex interfaces with the rest of the cortex through these ribbons.
This may have implications for how our abstract knowledge of the world develops.
AR Good work.
2022 February 11
UK Economy Rebounds
UK GDP rose 7.5% over 2021 compared with 2020 as the economy rebounded from the pandemic. But in 2021 Q4, GDP was still 0.4% below its level in 2019 Q4. In contrast, output in the US, China, and the EZ recovered ground lost during the crisis.
Pantheon economist Samuel Tombs: "The UK economy's performance continues to underwhelm relative to its peers in the G7."
AR Growth without justice is no gain.
UK Economic Death Spiral
The British economy is dysfunctional. Brexit has made it worse. The UK could fall into a crisis of falling living standards and financial and business distress.
A 54% rise in energy bills will trigger inflation this spring to over 7% and impose the biggest squeeze in household spending power since records began.
The fall in consumer demand over the next few years plus weak investment and weak exports due to Brexit will cut growth to 1% in 2023 and 2024. The IMF expects stagnation.
Manufacturing drives 45% of British exports and two thirds of all R&D spending. Some 8 million jobs depend on its vitality. Yet the manufacturing sector is flatlining.
Two thirds of manufacturers say they are hampered by Brexit. The creative industries are also suffering. Banks, asset managers, and law firms are boosting their EU operations, deterring inward investment from overseas.
A million workers have left the UK labour market. Coupled with the collapse in EU inward migration, this has led to acute labour shortages.
The UK risks a wage−price spiral. High interest rates may cause a crash in property values and mushrooming loan defaults. Low interest rates let inflation become so embedded it becomes impossible to correct.
HMG publication The Benefits of Brexit ignores the problems confronting the car industry, the creative industries, and financial services. To big up small domestic initiatives, it cites opportunities overseas already open to EU member states.
The UK has abandoned an industrial strategy and doubled down on the failed thinking of the last 40 years. Brexit compounds those errors.
AR I sense much truth in this view.
Met Chief Out
Dame Cressida Dick has been forced to resign as head of the Metropolitan police.
London mayor Sadiq Khan: "I made clear to the Metropolitan police commissioner the scale of the change I believe is urgently required to rebuild the trust and confidence of Londoners in the Met and to root out the racism, sexism, homophobia, bullying, discrimination, and misogyny that still exists."
AR Dick was soft on macho cops.
2022 February 10
UK foreign secretary Liz Truss talked with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov today in Moscow.
Truss: "If there were to be a Russian incursion into Ukraine, the Ukrainians will fight .. The UK and our allies would put in place severe sanctions targeting individuals and institutions .. Russia .. can pursue the path of diplomacy, work with NATO to improve European security, or continue .. amassing troops on the border in a threatening way."
Lavrov: "Our conversation turned out like the mute with the deaf .. Our detailed explanations fell on unprepared ground .. As for the ultimatums and threats, this is a dead end and will yield nothing. Unfortunately, some of our western colleagues are carried away by this in their public statements .. I can't call this diplomacy."
AR On a PPP basis, Russia has the world's 6th largest economy and the UK the 10th.
Brexit has a price: Imports of UK goods into Germany fell 8.5% last year. Britain also fell out of the top five of Germany's largest trade partners. Germans traded more with EZ neighbours.
Destatis reports UK imports into Germany fell in 2021 to €32 billion. Total goods imports into Germany rose by 17.1% in the year to €1.2 trillion, including a 16.8% rise in imports from EU members and a 20.8% rise in imports from China.
German exports to the UK fell by 2.6% during 2021 to €65.4 billion. Overall, German exports rose by 14% in 2021.
AR The Brexiteer Bolsheviks deserve execration in hell.
Eugenic ideas flourished around 100 years ago. Progressive thinkers supported them. Eugenics was linked with the classification of human beings into racial categories.
Eugenics was rejected after WW2. Since then, the idea of progress has been spelled out in terms of greater personal autonomy and social equality.
Edwardian and Nazi schemes for weeding out the human attributes they judged undesirable were unworkable. Advances in gene editing invite loose talk of increasing the IQ of future generations, but nothing we know suggests this is practicable.
Eugenic ideology depicted the evils of Western societies as resulting from the inferiority of those they oppressed. Poverty arose from stupidity and fecklessness. The ethical problem is that eugenics licenses some people to decide whether the lives of others are worth living.
Transhumanism is not racist and involves no collective coercion. But transhumanists still understand human betterment to be the production of superior people like themselves.
A transhumanist world divided between a rich, smart, beautified few who live long and a mass of unlovely, disposable deplorables who die young is a vision of hell.
AR Hell it may be, but get ready for it.
Joint European Torus, Culham, Oxford
2022 February 9
JET Fusion Energy Record
Culham Centre for Fusion Energy
Record results announced today are the clearest demonstration worldwide of the potential for fusion energy to deliver safe and sustainable low-carbon energy. EUROfusion consortium researchers at the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) site in Oxford have demonstrated 59 MJ of fusion energy output at the Joint European Torus. This is enough to fuel a Tesla Model S at full power for 3 minutes.
UKAEA CEO Ian Chapman: "These landmark results have taken us a huge step closer to conquering one of the biggest scientific and engineering challenges of them all .. We're building the knowledge and developing the new technology required to deliver a low-carbon, sustainable source of baseload energy that helps protect the planet for future generations. Our world needs fusion energy."
AR Collaboration EU, a success.
UK Border Blockade
UK border controls could block Dover for traders and travellers this summer, suggests a new House of Commons report criticising of the government's management of the UK border after Brexit.
EU biometric border controls will create long delays unless EU and UK authorities work together to resolve issues. Independent modelling projects queues of up to 47 km.
Logistics UK head of European policy Sarah Laouadi says the Entry/Exit System could delay traffic at the Channel ports: "The new EES passport checking system needs urgent attention."
The 27-page report from the Commons public accounts committee says the government promised Brexit would free British businesses, but the reality has proved very different.
Committee chair Dame Meg Hillier: "The only detectable impact so far is increased costs, paperwork and border delays."
Boris Johnson has appointed Jacob Rees-Mogg as the new "Brexit opportunities minister" and asked him to draw up an action plan with "1,000 regulations we want to get rid of".
International Chamber of Commerce UK: "We don't want a wild bonfire of regulations .. Consumers, businesses and civil society all want high standards and that means smart regulation."
AR Fortress UK, a failure.
Big Oil Profits
BP profits in 2021:
Shell profits in 2021:
Consumer fuel prices
have soared since
2022 February 8
Six Million People
BBC News, 1246 UTC
UK health secretary Sajid Javid says the government plans to tackle the backlog in NHS treatment. Because of the focus on urgent Covid care, 6 million patients were on waiting lists for operations and procedures in England in November 2021. More than 300,000 people have waited longer than a year for care.
Many people stayed away from the NHS during the pandemic rather than seeking care, so the NHS estimates that about 10 million people are waiting for care.
Javid says the government plan will let the NHS conduct 9 million further checks, tests, and procedures by 2025 by making "greater use of the independent sector" to start bringing the waiting list down in 2024.
The government plan was due to be announced last year but was delayed for political reasons.
AR Thanks to Brexit, the NHS is grossly understaffed.
Scuffle in London
On Monday, Labour leader Keir Starmer and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy were surrounded by protesters near parliament with shouts of "traitor" and "Jimmy Savile" before being bundled into a police car.
MPs accuse the PM of whipping up political poison against Starmer. Lammy: "The conspiracy theorist thugs .. repeated slurs we heard from Boris Johnson last week at the dispatch box."
Conservative former chief whip Julian Smith: "It is really important for our democracy and for his security that the false Savile slurs made against him are withdrawn in full."
On Monday, a small band of protesters near parliament harassed Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, along with the shadow foreign secretary and the Labour leader in the Lords. The incident reignites anger in the Conservative party at the PM's false claim a week ago that led later to a No 10 resignation.
BBC News, 0908 UTC
No 10 says the PM has no intention of apologising for his false claim that Sir Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile: "He's got other stuff to get on with today."
AR The PM disgraces his office.
Scholz in Washington
US president Joe Biden says to German chancellor Olaf Scholz: "I am pleased that we now have the opportunity to get to know each other better personally."
Biden and Scholz spend a good three hours together in the White House. Russian activity around Ukraine is their focus. Scholz seeks to dispel US doubts about German loyalty.
Biden: "Germany is one of our closest allies and we are working hand in hand to ward off possible Russian aggression in Europe. Germany is absolutely reliable .. I have absolutely no doubts about Germany."
When Scholz is asked why Germany refuses to send arms to Ukraine, Biden steps in and emphasizes the "important contribution" of German financial support to Ukraine and German involvement in diplomatic efforts to contain the crisis.
Biden says the NS2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany will not go ahead if Russia invades Ukraine. Scholz avoids making a clear statement on the subject.
Scholz explains German refusal to supply arms to Ukraine by citing German law that prohibits arms exports to crisis areas.
AR Germany is right to hold back.
Macron in Moscow
Christina Lever, Britta Sandberg
Russian president Vladimir Putin and French president Emmanuel Macron talk to each other for more than five hours in the Kremlin.
Putin complains that the government in Kiev continues to dismantle the Minsk accords and accuses the West of ignoring Russian security demands.
Putin thanks Macron: "We'll wait and see how his talks with President Zelenskyy progress tomorrow and then talk to each other again."
Putin no longer threatens "unfriendly steps" or "technical military solutions" if the West fails to meet its demands for clear security guarantees.
Macron says NATO will not change its line, but we need a new understanding of security in Europe. Russia is part of Europe.
Macron and Putin agree there should be no new military measures from the Russian side, talks will be held on the Russian military presence, and a dialog on strategic issues will be opened.
Macron: "President Putin has assured me of his willingness to engage in this direction .. There is no security for Europeans if there is not also security for Russia."
AR Invite Russia into NATO.
Putin talks with Macron in Moscow
2022 February 7
Macron Visits Putin
President Macron will offer President Putin a peace plan including western gestures toward Moscow when he visits the Kremlin today on a mission to ease tensions over Ukraine.
Macron has ideas for a new security order in Europe. His attempts to broker a diplomatic solution are agreed with Germany. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is in Washington today to face US unhappiness over his tolerant stand toward Russia.
Macron: "The geopolitical goal of Russia today is clearly not Ukraine but to clarify the rules of cohabitation with NATO and the EU. It is urgent to advance towards a new order which our Europe needs profoundly and which rests on the cardinal principle of sovereign equality among states."
He says the EU and NATO can guarantee the sovereignty of former Soviet members and reassure Moscow: "We must protect our European brothers by offering a new balance that can preserve their sovereignty and peace. At the same time this has to be done while respecting Russia and understanding its modern traumas."
He says Russia is rights to seek security guarantees: "The security and sovereignty of Ukraine or any other European state cannot be a subject for compromise, while it is also legitimate for Russia to pose the question of its own security."
Conservatives in Germany accuse the Scholz of weakness. CDU opposition leader Friedrich Merz: "I'm amazed at how badly this government is doing."
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan: "If war breaks out, it will come at an enormous human cost to Ukraine, but we believe that based on our preparations and our response, it will come at a strategic cost to Russia as well."
AR Macron reassures me.
In quantum theory, we usually take the measurement frame as classical. The system we measure is quantum. Between the two is the Heisenberg cut.
We can switch between quantum reference frames. We can move the Heisenberg cut to put Schrödinger's cat in a definite state and the observer outside the box in a superposition, entangled with the lab outside. Entanglement is a matter of perspective.
Wigner's friend opens the box and finds the cat alive. For Wigner, outside the lab door, the cat is still in a superposition and is entangled with his friend. Wigner's description and his friend's description are mutually exclusive.
In quantum theory, Wigner and his friend make different Heisenberg cuts. The friend cuts between herself and the box, Wigner between himself and the lab.
Flavio Mercati and Giovanni Amelino-Camelia show how observers can create a shared reality by exchanging qubits.
Let Alice and Bob send each other quantum particles in a particular spin state. Alice sends Bob a particle, Bob tries to figure out its spin, Bob sends a new particle with the same spin back to Alice, and Alice confirms he got it right. They don't know the relative orientation of their reference frames.
If Alice sends Bob just one particle, he cannot decide the spin. The variables for spin along different axes are complementary, so the uncertainty principle applies. If he wants to measure spin along what he thinks is her x-axis, he must guess. If he is wrong, he erases all the information.
If Alice and Bob exchange lots of particles, they can learn how to translate from one view to another in special relativity. By sending messages, they can derive spacetime.
Gaining information about a quantum system costs energy. Every time Bob chooses the correct axis, he loses a bit of energy; when he chooses wrong and erases information, he gains some. Because the curvature of spacetime depends on energy, when Bob measures his relative orientation, he also changes the orientation a tiny bit.
If space is non-commutative, Alice and Bob actively forge spacetime with their choices as to which axes to measure. Their exchange of qubits constructs their mutual reality.
AR This illustrates the dialectical logic I once developed.
Online event, 2022-02-10, 1800−1900 UTC
2022 February 6
David Chalmers says if you're not seeing someone when you Zoom them, then we never see each other. We have long ago given up the naive idea that we can perceive things directly. We know all perception is mediated.
He asks whether a Full VR would be a genuine form of reality or an alternative to it. What you see in VR is, by definition, not real. A virtual cat is not a real cat, but it is a real virtual cat. This isn't semantic quibbling.
Quantum physics has shown us that what underpins the apparently solid objects of our world is largely empty space. Their appearances do not reveal their most basic nature. In a virtual world, virtual objects would be similarly real.
Chalmers argues that by "real" we can mean one of five things: it exists; it has causal powers; it's mind independent; it's non-illusory; and it's a real instance of the thing it is taken to be. He says a Full VR could tick at least four boxes.
A digital dog certainly in some sense exists. In Full VR, a virtual dog has causal powers. And it's mind independent. Less obviously, a digital dog can be non-illusory.
Chalmers cites the concept of cognitive penetration: When you look in the rear-view mirror of a car, does what you see appear to be in front of, or behind, you? Strictly speaking, it appears in front of you. But we know it is a reflection and see it as behind us.
Something similar can happen in a virtual world. Over time, the virtual nature of a simulated world becomes something "you just kind of bake into your perception of reality."
We could already be living in a simulation and not know it.
Chalmers: "If you think that social media is a problem now because Facebook is running the newsfeed, wait until these social media corporations are running our daily life in virtual worlds."
AR Such corporations already shape our political world.
Clinging on to Power
The Sunday Times
Boris Johnson is determined to cling on to power in No 10. A senior adviser: "He's making very clear that they'll have to send a Panzer division to get him out of there."
He plans to overhaul his top team after the departure of five senior aides last week. Steve Barclay, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, will be the new chief of staff and set up a new Office of the Prime Minister.
Former Johnson aide Guto Harri will be director of communications. In 2018, he said of Johnson: "Unfortunately he is now dragging us into a place where we think that we can joke about suicide vests and that we can be sexually incontinent."
Johnson acts upbeat. A No 10 official: "He keeps yelling 'Onward!' at people."
The resignation of Munira Mirza was a big loss. A minister: "If he's lost her, he really is screwed. There really isn't anyone left. It's a bit like losing Carrie."
Sources say Carrie feels it might be better if he quit. An insider: "She was saying she'd had enough a couple of weeks ago. She was telling friends the pressure on her was too much."
A book funded by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft claims Carrie Johnson has influenced Downing Street policy and staff.
Culture secretary and Boris loyalist Nadine Dorries: "This book is based on a tissue of lies .. If it ever sees the light of day, it should be filed under fiction."
Boris and Carrie first appeared together in public when Johnson launched his leadership campaign in June 2019.
A source: "For Boris, Carrie was a fling. He never expected to be with her long term. He was shocked when Marina said she was divorcing him."
An insider: "Boris is trapped in an emotionally disruptive relationship. I think he's definitely scared of her and I think she dominates him."
Greeted with bafflement
Conor Burns: "He is delivering. Steve Barclay is a talented and serious minister and Guto Harri is a professional operator. Both great appointments."
Elsewhere the appointments caused bafflement. Barclay is MP for North East Cambridgeshire and also sits in the cabinet as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Harri said in 2018 that Johnson would be "hugely divisive" as PM.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner: "Boris Johnson is panicking as he frantically rearranges deckchairs .. This is a farce."
An inevitable tragedy
Johnson loyalist Sir Charles Walker and former vice-chair of the 1922 Committee: "It is an inevitable tragedy. He is a student of Greek and Roman tragedy. It is going to end in him going, so I just want him to have some agency in that."
Walker is understood not to have submitted a letter of no confidence in Johnson. Tory backbenchers say they think submissions are only 10 to 20 short of the 54 needed for the 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady to act. More letters are expected before MPs go into recess on Thursday.
Nadine Dorries blames Remainers for plotting against the PM.
AR Tragedy, comedy, farce ..
⦿ Jack Hill
Tobias Ellwood, MP for
2022 February 5
'Put NATO Troops Into Ukraine'
Tobias Ellwood handed in his letter to Sir Graham Brady on Wednesday: "I felt it was the right thing to do. Trying to justify the current style of government was untenable .. This is overshadowing, and distracting from, everything else .. The trajectory only heads one way."
On Boris Johnson: "His set piece response to the Sue Gray report was to bring up Jimmy Savile, which has gone exactly the wrong way .. This Trumpian approach to dealing with problems .. needs to be quashed straight away .. This is the wrong thing to say at the wrong time."
Ellwood chairs the defence select committee. Before he became an MP, he was a captain in the army and served in Bosnia and Northern Ireland. His elder brother Jon was killed in the bombing by Islamic militants in Bali in 2002. Tobias is best known for his heroic attempt to save the life of PC Keith Palmer in the Westminster terror attack in 2017.
Ellwood says it is right to praise the PM for getting Brexit over the line, securing a large majority, and the vaccine rollout: "But these are previous battles. The situation ahead is very, very different, requiring a new set of skills."
He is scathing about Johnson's ability to tackle big international issues. He was aghast when on Monday the PM postponed a phone call with Putin to give a statement about Partygate: "You don't put off a phone call with Putin. That is the priority."
Ellwood thinks NATO should put a division of troops into Ukraine: "That would be ample to make Putin think twice. He will not risk a war with NATO."
AR He's a good MP.
UK Cabinet Rancour
The cabinet descended into rancour on Friday night over Boris Johnson's future after both Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak rebuked the prime minister.
A cabinet loyalist: "Once the May elections are out the way there'll be a reshuffle. Sunak has to go."
On Friday morning, Johnson held a staff meeting. About 70 crowded into the cabinet room to hear him speak. Quoting Rafiki, the shaman mandrill in The Lion King, he said change was "good and necessary" even when it was difficult. He gave a pep talk like a rugby captain, urging them to spit out their orange slices, put back their gum shields, and get back on the pitch. He took no questions.
When Munira Mirza quit on Thursday in protest at Johnson's smear of Sir Keir Starmer, two staffers resigned too, not on Friday and Monday as planned. Hours later, chancellor Rishi Sunak rebuked the PM for his comments about Starmer.
On Friday, health secretary Sajid Javid said Starmer had done a "good job" as director of public prosecutions and deserved "absolute respect" for his work in the post.
The PM is said to have attended six parties, with pictures of him delivering a speech at one of them. On 13 November 2020, the gathering is said to have included political aides who had no pass to Downing Street. Their names are recorded on the police log. If Johnson is fined, he will face a vote of no confidence.
He will scorch the earth
MPs are hesitating. Some long for the dilemma to be resolved for them by a dramatic development. The bandwagon will start rolling and they can jump on.
But this is now a matter of conscience, after a remark Boris Johnson threw across the dispatch box as he sought to deflect attention from the Sue Gray update.
Johnson accused Sir Keir Starmer of "failing to prosecute" paedophile Jimmy Savile. This was false. The key decision on the Savile case was taken by others before Starmer was in post.
Johnson knew that. But he said it anyway. When besieged by scandal, he says, the best defence is more scandal. Keep throwing out ever more outrageous statements, which the press will dutifully report. Soon everyone will forget how it all began.
It worked. For much of the last week, we were talking not about parties but about Starmer and Savile, falsely linked in the same sentence. The effect is poison.
The move was classic Trump. Johnson will bring down the temple, scorch the earth.
AR Sack him first.
⦿ David Levene
Trucks queuing on the A20 to Dover
2022 February 4
Big Drop in UK Living Standards
UK households will suffer the biggest fall in their living standards since records began as inflation, taxes, and energy bills all rise. The Bank of England says net pay will fall by 5× as much as in the financial crisis of 2008. Higher prices and costs will cut household net incomes by 2% after inflation.
Energy regulator Ofgem says the price cap on energy bills for 22 million households will rise by 54% from April. The Resolution Foundation says the number of people living in fuel poverty will double to 5 million. Oil giant Shell reported a quadrupling of annual profits to £14 billion, but ministers rule out a windfall tax on the industry.
UK chancellor Rishi Sunak: "I believe after recovering from the worst economic shock in 300 years, when borrowing spiralled to levels that we have not seen since WW2, that it is right and responsible to tackle that and get our borrowing and debt down to sustainable levels."
AR Rejoin the EU.
⦿ Rosemary Schonfeld
2022 February 3
An Accelerating Avalanche
BBC News, 1909 UTC
Boris Johnson's chief of staff Dan Rosenfield and his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds have quit their jobs, adding to the exodus from No 10.
The Times, 1900 UTC
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has publicly rebuked Boris Johnson for accusing Sir Keir Starmer of failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile. Sunak: "Being honest, I wouldn't have said it, and I'm glad that the prime minister clarified what he meant."
BBC News, 1854 UTC
Number 10 director of communications Jack Doyle has resigned. He told staff: "Recent weeks have taken a terrible toll on my family life."
The Guardian, 1802 UTC
UK Statistics Authority chair David Norgrove has "rebuked" Boris Johnson and the Home Office for misleading use of crime figures after claiming offences had fallen when in fact they increased.
Boris Johnson's policy chief Munira Mirza has quit over the PM's attempt to link Keir Starmer with the failure to prosecute paedophile Jimmy Savile. Mirza: "This was not the usual cut and thrust of politics; it was an inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse."
Bookmakers .. expect Boris Johnson to exit Downing Street this year .. His net satisfaction ratings are minus 46% .. it's time to write the political obituary .. Johnson's premiership has been largely spent sabotaging his own Brexit agreement with the EU and mismanaging Covid-19.
AR Going down ..
More Troubles: Boris and Brexit
The Conservatives risk being locked in a protracted leadership battle, foreign office minister James Cleverley has warned as he defended Boris Johnson's angry slur on Monday linking Sir Keir Starmer to convicted paedophile Jimmy Savile.
As head of the CPS, Starmer was ultimately responsible for the decision not to prosecute Savile, but the scale of Savile's offending was revealed only four years after the decision. A few years earlier, Margaret Thatcher had secured a knighthood for Savile.
Thirteen Tory MPs have now called on Johnson to resign over his handling of Partygate, including five in 24 hours. Another five are expected to do so in the coming days.
If Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, receives 54 letters then the PM will face a confidence vote among his parliamentary party. The steady drip of new letters shows that the PM has failed to stem the unease over the issue in his own ranks.
Sir Gary Streeter, MP for South West Devon, says he has submitted a letter. Anthony Mangnall, MP for Totnes, says so too: "Standards in public life matter .. I have submitted a letter of no confidence."
Tobias Ellwood, MP for Bournemouth East and a former minister who chairs the defence select committee, also says so: "We're back in this holding pattern, waiting for another announcement, with the prospect of a steady drip of stories .. this is all going only one way and will invariably slide towards a very ugly place. I believe it's time for the prime minister to .. resolve this so the party can get back to governing."
Brexit: Dover bottleneck
The queue of HGVs bound for France activated the Dover emergency system twice on Wednesday. Operation Travel Access Protocol is triggered by a request from the port authority or the police to the National Highways agency. TAP has been activated 20 times so far this year, compared with 69 times for the whole of 2021.
HGV drivers are not paid for time spent queueing. They are easy to spot in Dover as they walk around holding sheaves of paperwork. The holdups are due to the extra time needed by staff to check the forms. HM Revenue and Customs launched a new IT platform, the goods vehicle movement system for cargo moving into or out of GB and NI, on 1 January.
Brexit: NI unrest
Northern Ireland first minister and DUP representative Paul Givan is ready to resign over Brexit. This also forces deputy first minister Sinn Féin NI leader Michelle O'Neill to resign. DUP representative Edwin Poots has ordered a halt to Brexit checks on food and farm products coming into NI from GB.
All this threatens the future of both the Stormont government and of the NI protocol.
AR The whole loathsome Bodge is falling apart.
Steve Bray congratulates Ian Blackford on telling Boris Johnson he is a liar in parliament
2022 February 2
Russia and Ukraine
Andrew Roth, Julian Borger
Vladimir Putin accuses the US of ignoring Russian security proposals. He told journalists at the Kremlin he was unsatisfied with the US response to Russian demands that NATO remove troops and infrastructure from eastern Europe and agree never to accept Ukraine into NATO.
Putin imagined Ukraine joining NATO and seeking to retake Crimea: "That's sovereign Russian territory. So now we have to start a war against the NATO alliance? Did anyone think about this? I don't think so."
US secretary of state Antony Blinken told Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov the US is ready for a substantive exchange with Russia on mutual security concerns but demands an immediate Russian de‑escalation and the withdrawal of troops and equipment from Ukraine's borders and threatens "swift and severe consequences" otherwise.
AR Keep talking.
The Gray update
Led By Donkeys
Boris Johnson: "All guidance
was followed completely
in No 10."
2022 Chinese New Year − Year of the Tiger
Failures of Leadership
Boris Johnson has been insisting that parliament and the public should wait for the publication of Sue Gray's report into Downing Street parties before passing judgment.
Thanks to the inept late intervention of the police, what Gray handed to the PM yesterday was not her full report but an "update" on her investigation.
It is damning. Johnson is now presiding over a Downing Street operation under criminal investigation for 12 of the 16 parties identified. Gray says the parties represent a "serious failure" to observe the expected standards and finds failures of leadership and judgment.
Johnson apologised, but there was little in his performance in parliament to suggest he meant it. He hopes the scandal will be so drawn out the public gets bored and the push to oust him ebbs.
Shaming and damning
The report is grim. Much material has been held back at the request of the police, but 12 separate events reach the threshold for criminal investigation.
It is shaming that Sue Gray finds "a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also the high standards expected of the entire British population at the time".
It is extraordinary that "too little thought was given to what was happening across the country" and damning that "there were failures of leadership and judgment" at the very top of government.
Difficult to justify
Boris Johnson faced a wall of anger from Conservative MPs in the House of Commons after the Gray investigation concluded that many of the 16 parties were "difficult to justify" and condemned "failures of leadership and judgment" at the top.
Scotland Yard officers have obtained more than 300 photographs and 500 pages of documents.
Johnson pledged a shakeup of his Downing Street operation. At first, he defiantly refused to commit to publishing the full report. But former ministers forced him into a U‑turn.
The PM refused to say whether he was present in his No 11 flat for the party on 13 November 2020. He had previously denied in the Commons that any party took place on that date.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford was thrown out of the Commons for accusing the PM of having "lied and misled" parliament.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer: "The prime minister himself is now subject to criminal investigation."
Hanging by a thread
Boris Johnson has long been fascinated by the fall of the Roman Empire. Now his government risks a fall of its own.
On Monday, an inquiry led by Sue Gray found that "failures of leadership and judgment" lay behind Partygate.
As more and more lurid details have emerged, the Conservative party has steadily fallen in the polls, and Johnson's approval rating has sunk to 22%.
His troubles are far from over. The police investigation will be deeply damaging. And local elections in May will give voters a chance to display their anger.
On the fall of Rome: "When things start to go wrong, they can go wrong at extraordinary speed."
Fixing the drains
Dominic Cummings says removing Boris Johnson from power is "an unpleasant but necessary job. It's like sort of fixing the drains."
"In January 2020, I was sitting in No 10 with Boris and the complete fuckwit is just babbling on about: 'Will Big Ben bong for Brexit on the 31st of January?' He goes on and on about this day after day."
"He sees his job as just to babble to the media every day .. He said to me, 'I'm the fucking king around here and I'm going to do what I want.' That's not okay."
AR Oust him now.
Sunday noon − must be global warming
2022 January 31
Germany and Ukraine
Germany has dithered on whether to sanction Nord Stream 2, questioned the wisdom of suspending Moscow from the Swift international payment system, and refused to send weapons to Ukraine.
Brookings Institution chair Constanze Stelzenmüller: "The Biden administration has been bending over backwards to work with Germany and it is dismayed at the hot mess coming out of Berlin."
MSC head Wolfgang Ischinger: "How many people in Berlin are actually aware of the massive damage our confused Ukraine policy is doing, not only to Germany but the whole of the EU?"
Chancellor Olaf Scholz presides over a fragile coalition of three parties with big differences over foreign policy and was elected on a largely domestic agenda.
CDU Bundestag opposition leader Friedrich Merz says Americans see Germany as woolly and unreliable: "And that is your responsibility, Herr chancellor, that's your policy. You do not lead, either in Germany or in Europe."
SPD foreign policy spokesperson Nils Schmid: "We have been consistent in emphasising the formula of deterrence and dialogue .. Germany .. reopened this little door for diplomacy."
AR Not a pretty sight.
The Soul of Europe
Karl von Habsburg
The Pan-European Union will hold a jubilee congress in Vienna in November 2022. Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi thought about European foreign policy, security policy, and free trade.
The European Union has free movement of services, capital, people, and goods, but we still have to fight against national egoisms and protectionist measures within the EU.
The EU needs a European foreign and security policy. We need a European constitution to lay down this foreign policy competence for the EU. This ideal requires political will to achieve.
My father Otto von Habsburg became vice-president of the Pan-European Union in 1957 and said Pan-Europe is all of Europe. The European idea exists. There is a European identity and a European soul.
The task of the liberal constitutional state is to guarantee justice and freedom.
We have come to live in a state in which everyone expects the state to implement their idea of freedom. A massive loss of confidence in politics is the result.
We must talk about redimensioning the state, about deregulation and cutting back on dense regulation. European tradition offers us a useful instrument for this. Subsidiarity is a natural principle of order that includes the principle of in dubiis libertas.
Pope Pius XI: "Just as that which the individual can accomplish on his own initiative and with his own powers must not be withdrawn from him and assigned to the activity of society, so it is contrary to justice to claim for the wider and superior community that which the smaller and subordinate community can accomplish and bring to a good end; at the same time it is exceedingly disadvantageous and confuses the whole social order."
Catholic social teaching gives us a clear guideline for resolving the political conflict of objectives in the welfare state when the state interferes in too many areas of life.
My father: "The Christian faith has made possible the growth and strengthening of Europe. The concept of human dignity and the development of human rights are inconceivable without Christianity and its Jewish roots."
Help to once again uncover the soul of Europe!
AR Worth pondering.
⦿ Amel Emric
Tom Tugendhat MP: "Serving as PM would be a huge privilege."
2022 January 30
A Greased Pig Wriggles Free
Operation Fightback is an organised and ruthless Tory operation to show that Boris Johnson will fight to the end to save himself.
The Met announcement on Tuesday has galvanised the PM. When he arrived in his Commons office on Wednesday, he pumped his fist in victory and said: "Come on! Good noise from the colleagues."
Sue Gray had been sharing information with Scotland Yard. She was furious when the Met said she should only include "minimal" information about the key cases under investigation. Westminster now sees Johnson as a greased pig wriggling free of his critics.
On Friday, Johnson held a Zoom call with dozens of his MP supporters to thank them for turning things round. A Tory strategist: "The message is: I'm still Billy Big Bollocks. I'm not going to go quietly. And I'm still in charge around here. Project strength."
The Met looks complicit
There are no laws that require the Met to ask Sue Gray to redact her report or that require her to comply. There is no legal reason for the Met to delay the report.
The Met request makes the Met look complicit with the PM in trying to delay the truth.
AR Vote for Tom Tugendhat to replace the pig.
2022 January 29
The Gray Report
Sue Gray was frustrated and angered when Scotland Yard told her not to publish key aspects of her report. Either she publishes a partial version of the report with key findings excised or she chooses to delay until after the police investigation, which may take months.
Former chief constable of Greater Manchester and head of national counterterrorism Sir Peter Fahy: "It feels to me that she [Cressida Dick] strangely allowed Boris to get off the hook."
Former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald of River Glaven QC says the Met request seems disproportionate because lockdown breaches result only in fixed penalty notices.
A cabinet minister says Johnson is now "out of the danger zone" and a confidence vote and a leadership contest are now unlikely.
A Whitehall source: "The delay just creates an air of conspiracy. Sue's integrity is at real risk here. If a partial report is produced it will look like she's been got at."
Former Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption: "The police have no legal right to demand that Sue Gray delay publication of her report and it is constitutionally undesirable that they have done so."
Conservative MP for Christchurch Sir Christopher Chope: "There is no reason for the Metropolitan Police to be able to require Sue Gray not to issue her report in an unamended way for the benefit of the prime minister who ordered that report, and for this House."
This is a ludicrous situation. The immediate winner is Johnson. All week the PM has looked upbeat. As a veteran of countless scrapes in politics and in his private life, he knows when his pursuers have run into a dead end.
Stitch-up or farce?
MPs accuse Dame Cressida Dick, Britain's most senior police officer, of presiding over a stitch-up and a farce after her decision to launch a Met inquiry into the parties in Whitehall.
The Met says the Gray report should make only "minimal reference" to the events it is investigating. This offers the PM a breathing space.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey: "A stitch-up between the Met leadership and No 10 will damage our politics for generations, and it looks like it is happening right in front of our eyes."
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford: "This does look as if it's a stitch-up, and the only person that benefits from that is Boris Johnson."
Tory grandee Sir Christopher Chope: "I thought that it was this house which held the government to account for its policies, and not the Metropolitan Police."
Ambushed with a cake
Boris Johnson ended the week safe in his country retreat of Chequers. He chose not to mention the Met request to his cabinet on Tuesday. Ministers were among the last to hear the news.
Johnson and his allies are fighting back hard. At PMQ on Wednesday, the PM was boisterous and defiant as he called Sir Keir Starmer "a lawyer, not a leader".
Labour MPs later hit back on Twitter, calling Johnson "a liar, not a leader" − language banned in the House of Commons.
Fresh evidence has emerged about Johnson's alleged role in authorising the evacuation of animals from Afghanistan. Emails show Foreign Office officials suggesting the PM had approved the airlift when British troops were deciding whom to airlift from Kabul.
Johnson dismisses the claims: "Total rhubarb!"
An MP ridiculed colleagues awaiting Gray's verdict: "What's she going to say? Three words: 'It's a shitshow.' Why do you need to wait for that?"
After the news broke of a birthday party for Johnson in 2020, the Daily Mail front page said the nation had lost all sense of proportion.
Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns: "It was not a premeditated, organised party. He was, in a sense, ambushed with a cake."
AR A leader does not resort to angry bluster but is calm and wise. A leader does not think of himself first but puts the wider good first.
"My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence."
Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery
⦿ Jennie Edwards
No Garden of Eden
John Wheeler's "it from bit" idea is that physical objects are ultimately grounded in a level of bits. Physical objects are still real, but there's a level of computation beneath the level of physics.
Our evidence about reality is indistinguishable from the evidence we would have in a perfect simulation. The hypothesis that we're in a perfect simulation may be impossible to refute or to test. It may not be a scientific hypothesis, but it's meaningful.
You can lead a meaningful life in a virtual world. But for many years yet, physical reality will be central. VR will be an extension of it, not least because of the role of the body. Current VR technology is no good for eating and drinking or birth and death.
Physical reality and virtual realities are analogous. In both cases, we have a subjective experience of a physical reality. I call this our Garden of Eden picture of reality, with familiar objects in a 3D space.
A VR is no Garden of Eden, but nor is physical reality. The world of quantum wave functions or relativistic spacetime, or strings, is very different from our intuitive models. VR is at least as real as that kind of physical reality.
We can still have accurate beliefs about the world, even if it's no Garden of Eden.
AR Dave has good ideas.
New UK border checks cause
queue for Dover that's longer
than Channel Tunnel
2022 January 28
Biden vs Putin
The New York Times
President Biden held a video call with European leaders about Ukraine this week. His war council had seats for the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and the UK.
Biden has emerged as the leader of effort to confront the threats from President Putin of Russia. Putin wants the West to pledge that Ukraine will never join NATO. He gave a cool reception to the US and European responses on Thursday.
Biden told President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that the United States and its allies would "respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine" and that the United States was considering economic help for Ukraine.
The United States has put 8,500 troops on alert to be deployed to Eastern Europe, sent defensive weapons to Ukraine, and is negotiating to divert natural gas from other suppliers for Germany and other countries.
Putin shows little interest in striking a deal. Former British diplomat Ian Bond: "He senses weakness in Biden and a certain amount of political churn in Europe: Germany has a new government finding its feet, French elections, UK not in great shape, Europe emerging from pandemic. I think he does see Biden as a quite weak transitional figure."
Europe, NATO, and the United States agree not to send combat troops into Ukraine but to impose sanctions on Russia.
AR China can help Putin see reason.
US officials fear they will be unable to impose effective sanctions on President Putin if Russia invades Ukraine because of years of British tolerance of money laundering in London.
US State Department officials express "dismay and frustration" at the UK failure to take tough action: "The fear is that Russian money is so entrenched in London now that the opportunity to use it as leverage against Putin could be lost."
AR This is a national disgrace.
Gray Report: Met Block Details
The Metropolitan Police have told Sue Gray not to publish key passages from her report in case it prejudices a criminal investigation.
Met: "For the events the Met is investigating, we asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report. The Met did not ask for any limitations on other events in the report, or for the report to be delayed."
Technology minister Chris Philp: "The government have no influence and no involvement in how Sue Gray and the police conduct their respective reports and investigations."
PM spokesman: "We are in no way seeking to block the report .. It remains our intention to publish the report as it is received from the investigation."
Sir Keir Starmer: "The prime minister is .. using both Sue Gray and the police as a shield .. But I think the big-ticket item here is the paralysis of our politics caused by a criminal investigation brought about because of the activities of the prime minister."
Theresa May: "Like so many, I was angry to hear stories of those in Number 10, who are responsible for setting the coronavirus rules, not properly following the rules .. All those working at the heart of government should conduct themselves with the highest of standards."
AR Stop procrastinating!
2022 January 27
We first see a new particle as a bump on a curve on a plot. A bump is the signature of resonance. An object with natural frequencies resonates when it feels a force oscillating at close to one of its natural frequencies.
For a system driven at the resonant frequency, the amplitude of the motion increases to infinity. Driving a system too hard at that frequency can wreck it. More often, energy loss prevents the motion of a physical system from growing unchecked.
Start with a low note and go up in pitch. As we go past the resonant frequency of a wineglass, the sound briefly gets much louder. The sound waves arrive at the glass in sync with its own vibrations. A plot of the sound amplitude against frequency traces a curve with a bump around the resonant frequency like the bumps for particle discoveries. The bump width shows how lossy the system is.
In quantum mechanics, light consists of photons with energy proportional to the frequency of a wave, and particles like electrons sometimes behave like waves, with the same relation between frequency and energy.
The solutions of the Schrödinger equation for the hydrogen atom are waves oscillating at a set of natural frequencies. Each solution represents a possible state of the orbiting electron. The electron can hop up to a higher orbit by absorbing a photon whose frequency is the difference between the natural frequencies of the orbits.
Such transitions are a form of resonance. Like a wineglass, an atom only absorbs energy from waves with specific frequencies, and it can also shed energy by emitting waves with those frequencies.
Electrons bound to atoms are like sound waves trapped inside flutes. Many kinds of atomic nuclei only exist in our universe because of resonance. Resonant transitions lie behind the nuclear fusion reactions that transmute one atomic nucleus into another.
Quantum field theory is the language of particle physics. In QFT, the elementary entities are fields that fill all space. Particles are localized, resonant excitations of the fields. Their frequencies stem from fundamental constants and set their masses. Blast a vacuum hard enough at the right frequency, and out pop particles.
Resonance is the workhorse of experimental particle physics. Particles produced in collisions appear as peaks in the detection rate as we vary the collision energy.
AR Well explained.
Imagine a world where encrypted files are suddenly cracked open. This is the quantum apocalypse.
Faced with a big problem like trying to decrypt data, a classical computer would take many years to solve it, if ever. But a quantum computer could do it in seconds, in theory.
Every day, vast quantities of encrypted data are being harvested without our permission and stored in data banks, ready for the quantum apocalypse.
PostQuantum chief strategy officer Harri Owen: "Everything we do over the internet today .. is encrypted. But once a functioning quantum computer appears .. to break that encryption .. it can .. clear bank accounts [and] shut down government defense systems. Bitcoin wallets will be drained."
Quantinuum chief executive Ilyas Khan: "Quantum computers will render useless most existing methods of encryption. They are a threat to our way of life."
The US National Institute for Science and Technology aims to develop a strategy to protect industry, government, academia, and critical national infrastructure against a quantum apocalypse.
Doing nothing is not an option.
2022 January 26
NATO Members Differ on Russia
NATO members Germany and France have differed for decades with the US and UK on the best way to handle Russia.
France does not expect an imminent invasion of Ukraine. In 2019, President Emmanuel Macron called for an end to the frozen conflicts with Russia. In June 2021, he offered President Vladimir Putin a summit. He plans to talk to Putin this week.
Germany takes a stubbornly forgiving and optimistic approach to Putin. Berlin refuses to allow Estonia to send arms manufactured in Germany to Ukraine. Chancellor Olaf Scholz says the decision is rooted in decades of Ostpolitik.
Following the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, three former chancellors of Germany − Helmut Schmidt, Gerhard Schröder, and Helmut Kohl − all warned Angela Merkel not to isolate Moscow.
During the cold war, the Soviet Union and Germany agreed to exchange natural gas from the USSR for German pipes and steel. By 2018, Germany accounted for 37% of Gazprom sales, and the NS2 pipeline had been agreed. German exports to Russia rose 5× between 2000 and 2011.
Scholz and his team aim to inject values into German foreign policy.
AR I like the Franco-German approach here. The US and UK can afford to be aggressive behind their anti-tank ditches. We need patience to tame Russian militarists.
Russia and Ukraine
Last summer, President Putin published a long article on the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians. He evoked that same type of ethnonationalism which played out across Europe for centuries and still has the potential to awaken ancient hatred.
He claims that Great Russia, Little Russia, and White Russia are a single people, with a single language and church. But Russia recognised the sovereignty of Ukraine as an independent country and guaranteed its territorial integrity.
AR Ethnonationalism was the motive for Brexit.
2022 January 25
PM Parties: Police Investigating
The Guardian, 1029 UTC
Metropolitan police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick: "As a result of the information provided by the Cabinet Office inquiry team .. the Met is now investigating a number of events that took place at Downing Street and Whitehall in the last two years in relation to potential breaches of Covid‑19 regulations."
Call the police
The Treasury has written off £4.3 billion of the £5.8 billion that was stolen from its emergency Covid schemes. The government is abandoning efforts to recover billions fraudulently claimed by profiteers even as it launches a scheme to recoup trifling sums in overpaid child benefit. This is unfair.
Boris Johnson attended two birthday parties in Downing Street during lockdown. The first was organised by his wife Carrie. The second was attended by family members that evening.
The public has listened with growing incredulity to increasingly implausible explanations regarding Downing Street lockdown parties. The Metropolitan Police should open an investigation.
Scandal after scandal
Boris Johnson has inflicted deep and lasting damage to Britain: Inflation is soaring, the tax burden is rising, fuel prices are surging, the waiting list for NHS operations stands at 6 million in England, the backlog of cases in criminal courts exceeds 60,000, the social care system is close to collapse, the civil service is broken and demoralised, the union with Scotland is in jeopardy, relations with France and Europe are dire, the pensions system is no longer fit for purpose, and so on. He should resign.
Another party at No 10
Boris Johnson attended a birthday party in Downing Street on 19 June 2020, when social gatherings indoors were banned. Carrie Johnson and Lulu Lytle are said to have presented the PM, who turned 56, with a cake while staff sang a chorus of Happy Birthday.
It was attended by about 30 members of his team in the cabinet room. This was just before the PM was due to chair a Covid strategy meeting on the lockdown.
Downing Street: "A group of staff working in No 10 that day gathered briefly in the cabinet room after a meeting to wish the prime minister a happy birthday. He was there for less than ten minutes."
Sir Keir Starmer: "We have got a prime minister who believes that the rules that he made don't apply to him .. We cannot afford to go on with this chaotic, rudderless government. The prime minister is a national distraction and he's got to go."
The public have power
Sue Gray is asked to pronounce on whether the Downing Street parties broke either government guidance or the law and on whether Johnson deliberately deceived parliament. She reports to the PM and is unlikely to tell him he must go.
The ministerial code can be enforced by a Commons vote of no confidence. Or Conservative MPs may pass a vote of no confidence in a secret ballot. Or voters may say he must go.
More billions wasted
Counter-fraud minister Lord Agnew of Oulton has quit. He attacked the government's "desperately inadequate" efforts to stop taxpayers' money being stolen.
He accused the government of "schoolboy errors" such as giving Covid loans to companies that were not trading during the pandemic.
He said the Treasury appeared to have "no knowledge or interest in the consequences of fraud to our economy or society" and the government machine had been "almost impregnable" to his "endless exhortations" to take the issue seriously.
He estimated the total cost of fraud to the taxpayer was £29 billion a year: "The current state of affairs is not acceptable."
The Treasury has written off £4.3 billion of the £5.8 billion that was stolen from its emergency Covid schemes. Losses due to fraud and companies being unable to repay loans across all Covid schemes were likely to amount to almost £20 billion.
AR Get Bodger gone.
2022 January 24
Delusions of Grandeur
Remarks by the British foreign secretary Liz Truss that China could engage in military aggression in the Pacific are demented.
Britain suffers delusions of grandeur and relevance deprivation. Truss would do us all a favour by hightailing it back to her collapsing, disreputable government, leaving Australia to find its own way in Asia.
Xi Jinping told the audience at Davos this week that major economies should see the world as one community.
AR He's right. So is Xi.
2022 January 23
Inside the Number 10 Bunker
Early last week, parliamentary private secretaries met to express their displeasure at the chaotic mess of the PM's operation. Dan Rosenfield said Boris Johnson would ride out the scandal when Sue Gray completes her investigation.
On Tuesday, 20 rebel Tory MPs counted how many had submitted a letter to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, demanding a vote of no confidence in the PM: 10 so far and 10 more to go.
The PM has lost faith in chief whip Mark Spencer. Three former whips and his former PPS Conor Burns have set up a shadow whipping operation.
Johnson is in emotional torment, his mood fluctuating wildly. His temper veers between complacent confidence and a determination to fight. He fears his magic is gone.
A Downing Street official: "A lot of his trains of thought didn't make a lot of sense. He's quite up and down. He doesn't trust any of his team."
In his calls with cabinet ministers last week, the PM expressed anger that he had been let down by his team. But he was cocky when he addressed a meeting of Tory peers on Wednesday evening.
A peer: "He turned up and was quite dismissive about the inquiry, talking about when all this stuff has blown over. He seemed to think the report would be fine."
On Wednesday, just before PMQ, Christian Wakeford defected to Labour. At the end of PMQ, David Davis told the PM: "In the name of God, go."
The whips and the shadow whips were accused of veering toward bribery and blackmail.
Insiders say Gray is stunned at the chaos and dysfunction she has uncovered.
Lacking in direction and grip
The way 10 Downing Street lacks direction and grip. Key for the PM is the morning meeting in the Cabinet Room.
It is attended by around 15 people, including chancellor Rishi Sunak, chief whip Mark Spencer, principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, chief of staff Dan Rosenfield, director of communications Jack Doyle, and head of policy Munira Mirza.
It begins with a review of the day's papers. The discussion ranges over whatever stories the PM is interested in, leading to freewheeling sessions that lack structure and purpose.
Johnson is reluctant to work through his daily red box of papers. In meetings, he actively resists being managed. There is rarely an agenda at the morning meeting.
Johnson's staff bear some of the blame. An adviser: "The PM is often the only one who comes with energy."
Those blackmailing whips
Marie Le Conte
Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee chair William Wragg:
"It is, of course, the duty of the government whips' office to secure the government's business in the House of Commons. However, it is not their function to breach the ministerial code in threatening to withdraw investment from members of parliaments' constituencies which are funded from the public purse."
Defecting MP Christian Wakeford says Tory whips threatened to pull funding for a new school in his constituency unless he voted their way.
No leader in waiting
Conservative local councillors are furious. One predicts the local elections in May will be a catastrophe. Another spends free evenings persuading colleagues not to quit the party or fight as independents. A third says the party membership is witless.
Most MPs are not about to revolt. The next election is at least two years away and the electoral waters can be tested by the councillors in May. Of the available replacements as PM, none is supreme in the party.
A terribly ratty state
Peter Hennessy: "For someone like me, who has looked at the constitution for a very long time, it's just madness that the premiership could turn on all this linguistic stuff about whether a garden is part of an office, or whether a party animal PM knows he's at a party."
Hennessy's "good chap theory of government" sounds very British. He knows the constitution can get stretched too far but says the "knicker elastic" of code and convention will eventually snap back into place.
He says the UK is in a "terribly ratty state" from Brexit when Britain muddled out of Europe: "Johnson has more disdain for the constitution than any other PM."
AR Can't be long to wait now.
⦿ Tyler Hicks/NYT
Ukrainian border guard at Belarus border in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
US-Präsident Joe Biden hatte Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz einen kurzfristig anberaumten, persönlichen Termin in Washington angeboten.
Doch Scholz soll abgelehnt haben: Die nächsten Tage seien verplant, mit Reisen und wichtigen Sitzungen. Nun suchen beide Seiten einen neuen Termin: Womöglich findet das Treffen erst Anfang oder Mitte Februar statt.
Da baut Russland die größte Drohkulisse seit dem Ende des Kalten Krieges auf, zieht an der Grenze zur Ukraine rund 100.000 Soldaten zusammen, stationiert Kampfpanzer, Artilleriegeschütze und Raketenwerfer.
Die Koalitionsparteien in Berlin bekräftigen in diesen Tagen lieber, welche Druckmittel gegen Moskau sie nicht anwenden wollen.
AR Friedrich Merz hätte entschlossener reagiert.
2022 January 22
Ukraine: NATO vs Russia
Thousands of combat troops could be deployed rapidly to reinforce the NATO presence in eastern Europe if Russia invades Ukraine.
NATO: "Since 2014, NATO has made its largest-ever increase to its collective defence as a response to the aggressive behaviour of the Russian Federation. This includes tripling the size of the NATO response force and increasing NATO’s presence in the eastern part of the alliance through the creation of the enhanced forward presence battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland."
US supreme allied commander Europe General Tod Wolters has overall command of the NATO response force.
About 5,000 troops from 20 NATO members are deployed as four armoured battle groups led by the UK in Estonia, by Canada in Latvia, by Germany in Lithuania, and by the US in Poland. NATO: "Their presence makes clear that an attack on one ally will be considered an attack on the whole alliance."
Two dedicated quick-reaction forces are also available for deployment. One has 40,000 troops and the other is a very-high-readiness joint task force of 20,000, with elements ready to move in 2−3 days, formed around the Franco-German Brigade and the French rapid-reaction corps.
Other options include sending more warships to the Baltic and Black Seas, and additional fighter jets for combat air patrols over the Baltic states, Poland, and Romania.
President Biden rules out sending US troops to Ukraine. Russia has around 100,000 troops massed around the Ukraine border.
AR This is ominous.
Downing Street staff have been told they may have to fall on their swords to save Boris Johnson. A senior Conservative: "He's a lame duck. It's a question of days and weeks now, not months."
The PM is preparing for a confidence vote. He will spend much of this weekend ringing waverers in a bid to shore up support. Operation Big Dog is being led by three loyal former whips who have set up a shadow whipping operation.
The Gray report may arrive on Thursday. A poll shows over half of the public say he should go regardless of what it finds. A friend of Boris: "The prime minister .. wants to outlast Dave."
Government by stag do
The usual rules of politics do not apply to this prime minister. He has an enduring ability to connect with the public. But the act is wearing thin.
We are seeing what happens when he gets desperate. Operation Red Meat, a stream of rushed policy announcements, included scrapping the BBC licence fee and sending asylum seekers to Ghana − a suggestion met with a swift rebuttal from Accra.
William Wragg MP says Conservative whips are blackmailing would-be rebels into supporting the PM by threatening to remove taxpayer funds from their constituencies.
This Tory government is beginning to resemble a stag do where a bunch of blokes get tanked up, shout silly slogans, and wreak havoc on the rest of the public.
The PM can expect a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
Tories need a dull leader
PMQ this week was a must-watch, like a prize fight, a penalty shoot-out, with the PM slamming into the ring, the baying front benches, the betrayal, the cacophonous rage. Politics conducted at this pitch is no good for anyone. The Tories need a new leader who is unafraid to be dull.
Brexit is the virus
The crisis that now engulfs the prime minister is also about a Conservative party that is no longer conservative as previously understood:
◼ There was a time when no Conservative would have dreamed of partying in a government building on the eve of a royal funeral, even with no pandemic.
◼ The culture secretary is passing a death sentence on the BBC, an institution that all but defines Britishness, and thinks her mission is to smash it into pieces.
◼ Jacob Rees-Mogg belittles the elected leader of the Scottish Conservative party, ignoring that regarding Scottish voters with contempt imperils the union.
Brexit has filled the Tories with revolutionary zeal. The government bridles at restrictions of any kind. Freedom is their rallying cry, even as they deny it to everyone else.
Brexiteers believed the 2016 referendum made them anointed instruments of the will of the people. The 2019 victory reinforced that conviction. It was a toxic combination.
Brexit is the virus. Boris was only ever a carrier.
Sir Tony Blair
I understand completely the rage against what happened in Downing Street during lockdown .. But the real problem for Britain is the absence of a government plan for Britain's future.
AR Vote Labour.
View of Poole Harbour on my Thursday afternoon walk
2022 January 21
Pedro Vieira, Andrea Guerrieri, and João Penedones (VGP) have bootstrapped a number that matches the string theory prediction for quantum gravity.
The number is the minimum possible value of α, the first and largest term to add to Einstein's gravity equations to describe an interaction between two gravitons.
We can add a series of possible corrections to general relativity that might dominate at short distances. We start with the standard term from relativity, then add new terms α, β, γ, .. that matter more as distances get smaller.
In practice, α has only been explicitly calculated in string theory for highly symmetric 10D universes, where α ≥ 0.1389. Other quantum gravity ideas do not yet predict α.
VGP worked out how α can satisfy two consistency conditions. Unitarity says the probabilities of different outcomes must always add up to 1. Lorentz invariance says the same laws of physics hold from all vantage points.
They compared their bootstrapped range of permitted values of α in supersymmetric 10D universes to the string theory prediction that α ≥ 0.1389. Their computation gives α ≥ 0.14, a good match.
String theory says a graviton is a loop in its lowest-energy vibration mode, in which an equal number of waves travel either way around the loop. Supersymmetry doubles the number of string vibration modes to pair fermions and bosons.
String theory works in 10D. In our 4D world, supersymmetry is broken, with 6 dimensions compactified. Their possible arrangements affect terms like α differently.
If string theory is the only consistent quantum gravity, we live in a string universe. The VGP work may help us prove string universality.
AR Exciting result.
Bill Fefferman and Zachary Remscrim have proved that any quantum algorithm can be rearranged to move measurements performed in the middle to the end of the calculation without changing the result or drastically increasing the amount of memory required.
Quantum computers encode information in qubits. If in a calculation you measure the information contained in a qubit, the qubit collapses into a bit. We now know quantum algorithms can safely defer intermediate measurements until the end of a computation.
AR Good news.
Analyzing brain scans of people engaged in a memory task shows that signals encode an estimate of what they think they see. The statistical distribution of the noise in the signals encodes the uncertainty of the memory.
Bayesian inference addresses how confidently one can expect an outcome to occur given what is known of the circumstances. Perhaps the brain makes sense of neural signals by constructing a likelihood function.
Bayesian decoders can analyze neural activity to predict what people are looking at from brain scans. The decoders produce a probability distribution. The mean of the distribution represents the likeliest prediction. The standard deviation may reflect uncertainty.
The idea that our brains work with probability distributions is extremely general. The system evolved long ago.
AR Makes sense.
2022 January 20
The Wannsee Conference
On January 20, 1942, 15 Nazi officials met in a villa on Lake Wannsee on the edge of Berlin to discuss the details for a "final solution" of the Jewish question in Europe. SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich led the meeting. The participants were senior civil servants and party officials.
Adolf Eichmann took minutes: "With appropriate prior authorization from the Führer, emigration has now been replaced by evacuation of the Jews to the East .. In the course of this final solution of the Jewish question, roughly 11 million Jews will be taken into consideration."
Bundespräsident Frank-Walter Steinmeier read the minutes: "What we see is a smoothly functioning administrative machine, departments coordinating, templates and procedures which apart from the content of the meeting are indistinguishable from those that we still have .. It is the ordinary, the familiar, that jumps out at us, horrifies us, and unsettles us."
AR A chilling crime.
⦿ Guy Smallman
NET ZERO NOW
Yesterday the prime minister suffered the indignity of David Davis urging him to go.
Boris Johnson now says of allegations that staff had warned him about the event on May 20, 2020: "Nobody told me what we were doing was against the rules."
Sir Keir Starmer asked when the prime minister "first became aware that any staff had concerns" about the gathering. The prime minister chose not to give a direct answer.
Johnson says he takes full responsibility. But he was not prepared to repeat in parliament his assertion that he was not warned that the event broke the rules.
Davis was right to point to a failure of leadership.
Boris is a spiffing winner
Alexander von Schoenburg
Boris Johnson has done your country an enormous service. He pulled off Brexit and won the war on the virus. He's now winning the peace.
Johnson has admitted to spending 25 minutes in his garden when some of his thirstier colleagues had decided it was a shame to waste such a lovely day inside.
I think it's about time to turn your attention to real politics. Boris is an entertainer. When it matters, as a statesman, he is unrivalled.
We Krauts were very keen on a Brexit deal. Luckily, your people did an excellent job and we all walked away from a nightmare with a sigh of relief.
No change on Brexit
No likely successor to Boris Johnson is about to budge on Brexit. In every leadership contest, the party members have backed the more right-wing candidate.
In the 2017 election, Theresa May won the highest Tory vote share since 1997. Johnson won only 330,000 more votes in 2019. The collapse of the Labour vote was decisive.
Tory debates about Brexit are about further divergence. No leadership contender can afford to be seen as going soft. The next Tory leader will still be a Brexiteer.
AR And Brexit is still a bummer.
2022 January 19
'In the Name of God, Go'
BBC News, 1240 UTC
Veteran Conservative backbencher and former Brexit minister David Davis calls for Boris Johnson to resign. He says he expects leaders to take responsibility for their actions: "In the name of God, go."
SNP Commons leader Ian Blackford: "This week was supposed to be Operation Big Dog, but it's become Operation Dog's Dinner."
Bury North MP Christian Wakeford is sitting behind Sir Keir Starmer, having defected from the Conservatives to Labour.
Sir Keir accuses the PM of "defending the indefensible" while Labour has been developing a "serious plan" to help people deal with surging energy prices. He says the Tories have been "too distracted by their own chaos" to come up with a plan of their own: "The prime minister is out of touch, out of control, out of ideas, and soon to be out of office."
2022 January 18
Did PM Lie to Parliament?
Dominic Cummings accuses Boris Johnson of lying to parliament.
Cummings says he discussed the May 20 drinks party with Johnson and told him: "You've got to get a grip of this madhouse."
He says Johnson waved it aside. He says he and another senior official told Johnson's PPS Martin Reynolds, who had sent an email inviting staff to the party, that the event was in breach of the rules, and Reynolds said he would check with the PM.
Cummings: "The PM lied to parliament about parties."
Rebel Tory MPs are upping pressure on Boris Johnson to quit over the Partygate scandal. They are pressing colleagues to submit letters of no confidence in the PM.
The campaign to oust Johnson is dubbed Operation Rinka, after the dog shot dead in 1975 that led to Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe standing trial for conspiracy to murder.
Many of the 2019 intake of Tory MPs who owe their job to Johnson are frustrated that attention on Partygate has distracted from delivery on key policies.
Steve Baker MP, a Brextremist who helped bring down Theresa May: "People are very upset and angry .. I would still prefer that Boris Johnson were a roaring success. But .. I think people may well be too angry to forgive."
MPs say their inboxes are "off the scale" with complaints about Johnson. Local Conservatives hope he will be replaced before local elections on 5 May.
Who will wield the knife?
The Partygate revelations have driven many MPs to distraction. Members of local Conservative associations take an extremely dim view of lax attitudes to the rules. Councillors who have seats up for grabs in May are eager to see the PM go.
Many MPs think Johnson will cling on until May. The next Tory leadership contest will not be easy. The two frontrunners are Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. A "Stop Truss" contingent is forming against the grassroots favourite.
Johnson loyalists could stage a backlash: "A lot of colleagues want him to take us into the local elections and let the public vote on him."
AR Recall the 2019 local elections − a disaster for Tories.
Red Meat policies include
cutting BBC funding
2022 January 17
The Sunday Times
Boris Johnson apologised to the Queen for parties held at No 10 on the eve of her husband's socially distanced funeral. The Queen stripped Prince Andrew of his titles and military honours over allegations that he had sex with a teenager trafficked by the pedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein.
The British government and monarchy have been degraded by two buffoonish figures and the people around them. Voters get the politicians they deserve, so blaming civil servants is fruitless. And the Queen is struggling to hold together the warring factions in the House of Windsor.
From accident to gutter
At the next general election, the Conservatives will ask for a fifth consecutive term in power. Of their three most recent leaders, one had to resign after leaving the EU by accident, one was defeated by the task of clearing up the resulting mess, and the last has dragged his party into the gutter.
What the Conservative party needs now is a workhorse of a leader, with an eye for detail and a record for delivery, who can do the boring work of running a country. But party members still drunk on ideology refuse to face the truth about Brexit.
The game is up for Boris Johnson. The investigation by Sue Gray is just a fig leaf to buy him time. He hopes to use that time for tempers to cool and for people to lose interest in his malfeasances.
Gray will surely conclude that improper behaviour took place in Downing Street on various occasions. Johnson would then have three options: to resign at once, to invite his party to propose a vote of confidence in him, or to carry on and hope it blows over.
The head of government cannot tell the truth and seems not to care. It is shameless. Johnson needs to understand the humiliation that awaits him.
AR End this farce now.
Boris Johnson's personal
approval ratings fall below
the worst figures recorded
by Theresa May
2022 January 16
Operation Save Big Dog
The Sunday Times
Boris Johnson complained to aides: "How has all this been allowed to happen? How has it come to this? How haven't you sorted this out?"
A senior government source: "He made it clear he thought they had let him down. Boris's view is that he is not to blame. That everyone else is to blame."
A cabinet minister: "No 10 is a fucking mess .. it's a fucking disgrace, heads have to roll."
Johnson calls the effort to blame his staff Operation Save Big Dog and his plan for policy announcements to woo MPs and voters Operation Red Meat.
An MP: "Boris is preparing to lay down the lives of his staff to save his own."
A senior Westminster figure says the number of letters of no confidence submitted to the backbench 1922 Committee had risen to 35; 54 are required to trigger a vote.
Conservative MP and former Labour councillor and miner Lee Anderson: "I await the findings of the inquiry. I think that's a fair and reasonable thing to do. But in the meantime, I have contacted .. over 4,000 residents on my mailing list to ask their views and I have been in touch with my association chairman to gauge the views of the membership, to get their thoughts. I'm not just going to make a rash decision."
Investment platform billionaire Peter Hargreaves, who gave £1 million to the Tories for the 2019 general election campaign: "The guy has no patriotism. He doesn't want to do good; he just wants to be prime minister. That's his only agenda. He changed from a Remainer to Brexit specifically because it would give him a chance to be prime minister."
Lead or step aside
UK defence select committee chair, MP for Bournemouth East, and former defence minister Tobias Ellwood says Boris Johnson must "lead or step aside" and says Johnson must "show some contrition" and get a grip on the situation.
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen: "I don't need to see what Sue Gray says to know that for me Boris Johnson has lost the moral authority to lead the country. If there's another emergency where he has to call on the public to make sacrifices, he doesn't have that authority. That makes his position in my book, as prime minister, completely untenable."
No 10 has apologised to the Queen for two staff parties held on 16 April 2021, the night before the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral. They involved about 30 people and are said to have converged in the Downing Street garden, where they continued past midnight. Someone came back from a nearby shop with a suitcase "filled with bottles of wine".
At the time, England was under Step 2 restrictions that stipulated people could not socialise indoors, except with those from their household or support bubble. People could socialise outdoors in groups of up to 6 people or 2 households.
A man without shame
Sir Ed Davey
Boris Johnson is a man without shame, or scruples. While he was enjoying an illegal garden party, others were attending socially distanced funerals. No 10 held a raucous party the day before the Queen grieved alone at Prince Philip's funeral. The Queen sitting alone, mourning the loss of her husband, was the defining image of lockdown. Now it unites us all in disgust at Boris Johnson and the rotten government he leads. He must resign and face justice.
AR Chuck him out.
View eastward on my walk Friday afternoon
2022 January 15
The Celestial Sphere
We want to use quantum field theories to describe gravity, but this is work in progress.
By the holographic principle, AdS/CFT duality says a conformal field theory (CFT) describes gravity in anti-de Sitter (AdS) space. A finite boundary can surround an infinite world.
Because our universe is largely flat, we seek a celestial CFT living on a sphere of infinite radius. Fundamental symmetries constrain this CFT.
By colliding particles together, we can see if their scattering is governed by forces other than gravity. We can calculate the results of these scattering problems using QFT.
Quantum gravity reproduces the predictions of general relativity. Measured scattering amplitudes let us fix some rules for a hypothetical celestial CFT.
We look for symmetries. We calculate scattering amplitudes, then we look for patterns colliding particles make in a detector. These give us the symmetries of the scattering process: Certain transformations to the detector should not change the scattering.
We hope to translate scattering problems into symmetries on the celestial sphere, then use these symmetries to write the celestial CFT rules.
The symmetry algebra for a celestial CFT dictates how different symmetry transformations combine to form new transformations. The group of symmetries on the celestial sphere obeys an algebra we have seen in certain string theories.
The CFT transcends locality. Spacetime emerges from a more fundamental theory.
AR Spacetime emerges from qubit entanglement − yes!
2022 January 14
The UK Is Dying
In 2022, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is close to dissolution. In the last twenty years, it has effectively lost two wars and seen its grand strategy collapse, first with the 2008 financial crisis, which blew up its social and economic settlement, and then in 2016, when it chose to rip up its foreign policy by leaving the EU.
The UK combines England, Scotland, Wales, and the disputed land of Northern Ireland. With the passing of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, it is now one of the rare states in the Western world whose name is not simply the nation it represents.
Brexit is a spasm of English nationalism that broke the social contract holding the UK together. The UK is an unequal union, of the English, by the English, for the English. Brexit was opposed by Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The UK is failing because it has grown lazy and complacent, unable to act with speed and purpose. The state has stopped paying attention to the basics of government. A failed elite has allowed separatism to flourish, wealth to concentrate in London and its surrounding areas, and the insiders to ignore the public mood.
The breakup of the UK is certainly not unthinkable. Only a few generations back, the UK lost a major chunk of its territory when London failed to build a nation from the state it had created between Britain and Ireland in 1800.
The Republic of Ireland is the product of Irish secession in 1921. The UK that existed before that is the product of not only the union between England and Scotland, from 1707, but also that between GB and Ireland, from 1800.
Scotland today feels almost like a foreign country. It is a land from which the British state has all but withdrawn. When Tony Blair devolved power from London to Edinburgh, opponents warned it would undermine the integrity of the UK.
Scottish voters can elect lawmakers to the British Parliament in Westminster, whose votes decide policies that only apply in England. English voters have no say over policies decided by the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. In most of his duties, Boris Johnson acts as the de facto prime minister of England.
The loss of faith in Britain is pervasive. The union is being questioned not only by Welsh, Irish, and Scottish nationalists, but also by the middle classes in England for whom Brexit means the UK will diverge from the other nations of Europe. The UK is dying.
AR Adieu UK, hello EU.
2022 January 13
A Sorry Sight
Boris Johnson is famously reluctant to say sorry. When pressed, he prefers to bluster or banter his way out of a tight spot with joviality.
He has hit the limits of this approach. Johnson mouthed an apology of sorts but did so to introduce the outline of his defence rather than express contrition.
Johnson defended himself by saying the garden was an "extension of the office" and he "implicitly believed" the party was a work event. This is at best a mitigation, without intrinsic plausibility.
Pressed to resign, he told Sir Keir to wait for Sue Gray's report. He said he would then take the appropriate course. From someone with integrity, that's a commitment to resign if censured.
New poll results fatal
The Guardian, 1057 UTC
Focaldata has shared new poll results:
• Almost 7 out of 10 voters (68%) think Boris Johnson's apology yesterday was not sincere.
• Keir Starmer has opened a huge lead over Johnson on the question of which leader is more trustworthy: 51% say Starmer is more trustworthy, and only 16% say Johnson.
• Starmer also leads on who would make the best PM: 40% of respondents say Starmer would make the best PM, and 30% Johnson.
• More than 6 in 10 voters (64%) think Johnson should resign. Among people who voted Tory in 2019, more think he should resign than think he should stay.
Focaldata collected data from a nationally representative sample of 1,003 adults and weighted the results by age, gender, region, education, and 2019 voting.
AR Get him out.
Sir Oliver Letwin: "Our great
United Kingdom is actually
entirely run by a lady called
Sue Gray, the head of ethics
or something in the
2022 January 12
BBC News, 1219 UTC
Boris Johnson: "I want to apologise .. I know the rage they feel with me .. there were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility."
Sir Keir Starmer: "After months of deceit and deception .. offensive to the British public .. Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?"
BJ: "I accept that we should have done things differently on that evening."
KS: "The prime minister is a man without shame."
Inside the garden party
On May 20, 2020, when England was in a full lockdown, the prime minister's principal private secretary Martin Reynolds sent an email to 100 staff at Downing Street: "After what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening."
That afternoon, a row of tables was set up on one side of the garden to act as a bar. More tables were set up in the garden. Officials and advisers began arriving shortly after 6 pm. About 40 came. Many took up Reynolds' suggestion to "BYOB" − bring your own booze. The drinks table was well stocked.
The prime minister attended and was seen wandering round gladhanding people. His fiancée Carrie also attended. A senior official at the event joked about the risk of surveillance by drones.
A No 10 adviser: "There was a sense that we had lashed ourselves to the mast while the rest of the civil service had gone home. The work people were doing in No 10 was of a high degree of importance and couldn't be done remotely .. Looking back on it we were deeply mistaken."
Senior civil servant Sue Gray is investigating the events of that evening and others in 2020. A government source: "In No 10 they seem to think they can ride it out .. They're wrong. The problem is the entire top brass is implicated. It points to systemic rot. Sue is fierce, forensic and has a real sense of right and wrong."
Boris Johnson has repeatedly refused to comment.
PM's position untenable
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner says Boris Johnson's position would be untenable if it turns out he has attended lockdown-busting parties at Downing Street because that would mean he had lied to the House of Commons.
Is it best for PM to quit now?
The most economical solution would be for Conservative MPs to agree a single leadership candidate who would become prime minister at once. Johnson's best hope is to apologise today, wait for the Sue Gray investigation to conclude, and hope that it doesn't offer him with the political equivalent of a revolver and a bottle of whisky.
AR Get him out.
5 × 5 is easy, 6 × 6 is not
2022 January 11
Euler's Puzzle Solved
Imagine 6 army regiments each have 6 officers of 6 different ranks. Can the 36 officers be arranged in a 6 × 6 square so that no row or column repeats a rank or regiment?
Leonhard Euler thought no such 6 × 6 square exists. Yet solutions exist for any number of regiments and ranks greater than 2 except 6.
Latin squares are filled with symbols that each appear once per row and column. The 6 × 6 puzzle asks for an orthogonal Latin square, in which two sets of properties both satisfy the rules of the Latin square at once.
A group of researchers in India and Poland have found a way to solve the puzzle, so long as the officers can have a quantum mixture of ranks and regiments.
Quantum objects can be in a superposition of multiple possible states. Entries of quantum Latin squares can be in superpositions. A quantum state is represented by a vector. A superposition combines multiple vectors. The states along each row or column of a quantum Latin square have vectors orthogonal to each other.
Imagine the 36 officers as colorful chess pieces, whose rank can be king down to pawn and whose regiment is a color, where officers are in superpositions of ranks and regiments.
The quantum states for these officers are entangled. If a red king is entangled with an orange queen, then even if both are in superpositions of multiple regiments, seeing that the king is red tells you the queen is orange. Officers along each line can all be orthogonal.
The researchers made a 6 × 6 array of quantum officers. They put a classical near-solution into a computer and applied an algorithm that tweaked it toward a quantum solution. When they repeated the algorithm over and over, the array cycled closer to a true solution, until they could fill in the few remaining entries by hand.
Officer ranks are entangled only with adjacent ranks and regiments with adjacent regiments. The coefficients in the quantum Latin square, the weights for the superposition terms, turn out to be 1.618.., the golden ratio.
This is relevant for applications including quantum error correction.
AR Charming work!
The Power of the Dog
2022 Golden Globes
2022 January 10
NATO vs Russia
NATO will engage with Russia this week to try to avert war in Ukraine. A compromise can address Kremlin security concerns.
Russian president Vladimir Putin demands a comprehensive rewriting of the European security system in draft treaties with the US and with NATO. He is fixated on keeping Ukraine out of NATO and building a buffer zone on Russian borders.
For NATO to deny membership to Ukraine would contravene its founding treaty. Its members will not reward Russian bullying by changing the treaty.
Putin proposes a ban on deploying IRBMs outside Russian and US national territories. This could be the basis for talks. Russia and NATO could explore new controls on conventional force deployment and exercises and agree to renewed transparency and communications.
NATO might reconsider troop deployments in frontline countries if Moscow made peace with Kyiv and accepted limits on its forces in Belarus or Kaliningrad.
Putin can walk away and using the failure of talks as a pretext for attack. Progress will require goodwill on both sides.
AR Taming the Russian bear requires patience.
Instead of reforming UK democracy, UK prime minister Boris Johnson and his lieutenants are seizing control for themselves and stripping away basic freedoms.
A raft of bills likely to pass this year will set Britain on the road to autocracy:
◼ The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill effectively bans protest in England and Wales. The police would be equipped to shut down demonstrations that create serious disruption, such as making noise, on pain of prison sentences or hefty fines. Police officers would have widespread access to private education and health care records. Their new powers to stop and search without suspicion would further alienate ethnic minority communities.
◼ The Nationality and Borders Bill seeks to criminalize asylum seekers who take unsanctioned routes. Refugee claimants would be kept in concentration camp-style housing and offshore processing centers. The government could remove British citizenship from dual nationals without notice. It could deport foreign nationals and deny them recourse to the law.
◼ The Elections Bill aims to furnish the government with new powers over the independent election regulator, sealing up the political process.
◼ The Judicial Review and Courts Bill would enable Johnson and his ministers to overrule judicial review findings that challenge their agenda.
◼ The Online Safety Bill could be used to silence critics on social media.
Nations sleepwalk into tyranny. British nationalists are wrong to think authoritarianism is foreign to English democracy. Establishment politics are no match for the determination of Johnson and his Conservative majority.
Once these bills are law, their authoritarian bias will prove very tricky to unpick. Their miserable shadow is likely to last far longer than this PM.
AR Oust Bodger now.
2022 January 9
Qubits can be protected from errors just as well as bits can. Researchers combined two compatible classical methods and invented new techniques to prove their properties.
The new method maintains constant performance as the number of qubits scales up. It can also play a role in making classical bits testable for errors.
We store classical information as sequences of bits. But in electrical circuits, noise causes random bits to flip. Adding new bits to the bit sequence as receipts to say how some of the initial bits should sum up lets us check the data bits against the receipt bits to detect and correct errors. The longer chain of bits can be repaired, at the cost of being less efficient.
Qubits are susceptible to two kinds of errors, which either collapse them to a single value (0 or 1) or throw off the balance between them. Protecting qubits is complicated.
A good classical code has three properties: It can correct many errors, it requires few receipt bits to be added, and it has constant scaling. We have quantum codes with these properties.
We also need a fourth property: A low-density parity check should let each receipt only sum up a small number of bits or qubits.
The new quantum code combines all four properties. It combines classical codes with high symmetry, so it has high symmetry and constant scaling.
Quantum codes now match classical codes in their combination of properties. This can make quantum computers more efficient.
AR More good news.
2022 January 8
Webb Deploys Mirror
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope team fully deployed its 6.4 m primary mirror, successfully completing the final stage of all major spacecraft deployments to prepare for science operations. A joint effort with the European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency, the Webb mission will explore every phase of cosmic history.
AR Good news.
2022 January 7
Munich: The Edge of War
The novelist Robert Harris has long seen Neville Chamberlain as an inspiring politician with foresight rather than a hopeless negotiator.
In this Netflix movie, adapted from his 2017 novel Munich, Jeremy Irons brings tenderness and subtlety to the role of Chamberlain in Munich in September 1938, caught between a bellicose Adolf Hitler, incarnated by Ulrich Matthes, the pressure for peace at all costs, and the lurking knowledge that war is inevitable.
A breakneck game of brinkmanship unfolds. Chamberlain veers from irritable to imperious to occasionally bamboozled, but always shows a deep humanity as a canny strategist embracing Realpolitik: "I can only play the game with the cards I have been dealt."
Chamberlain believes in the power of leadership: "I fear for the spiritual well-being of our people if they don't see our leaders doing everything, absolutely everything, to prevent another conflict."
German director Christian Schwochow creates a credible London of sandbags and barrage balloons and evokes a deep sense of unease in 1938 Munich, where the Hitler Youth exercise in the park while Jews are attacked in the streets.
Recast as a hero
Alex von Tunzelmann
Neville Chamberlain is remembered for his policy of trying to appease and contain Hitler.
Robert Harris: "Chamberlain is a tragic hero to me. He fails, but there's something noble in the attempt − not squalid, which is the way it's normally written."
Harris was convinced his friend Jeremy Irons should play Chamberlain. The two discussed it in 2016, a year before his novel came out.
Irons: "I only knew him as history has sent him down to us, as the appeaser .. I was very excited to be part of what I thought was a real re-evaluation of this historical figure − a great man."
In September 1938, Hitler wanted to invade Czechoslovakia and annex the Sudetenland. Chamberlain flew to Germany three times to try to persuade the Führer out of war. His third visit was for the Munich Conference, the subject of this film. On screen, the negotiations become a tense thriller driven by a fictional plot.
Chamberlain and Hitler both signed the Munich Agreement, letting Germany annex the Sudetenland. That was the appeasement: giving Hitler what he wanted in the hope it might satisfy him. But the next morning Chamberlain persuaded Hitler to sign a separate declaration in which Britain and Germany promised never to go to war again. This was the famous piece of paper that Chamberlain waved triumphantly on his return, claiming that he had secured "peace for our time".
Munich makes the case that Chamberlain's avoidance of war in 1938 was a boon to the allies, allowing Britain time to rearm.
Harris: "I don't seek to denigrate Churchill in any way. He clearly was a brilliant war leader and an inspiring person. But he certainly went out to denigrate Chamberlain .. Chamberlain was a very convenient scapegoat."
Munich aims to shift British views of their national story. Harris: "I'm arguing against a tidal wave of 80 years of the other view."
AR I finished reading the novel last night − it's excellent.
⦿ Nina Subin
2022 January 6
The Right to Sex
Amia Srinivasan challenges us to rethink the common view of sexual attraction as fixed and not open to critique. Current feminism forbids interrogating women about their desires. Srinivasan says sexual desires are shaped by social assumptions and prejudices.
She finds the reduction of sexual orientation to genitalia puzzling, but genitals are attached to different kinds of bodies and other things that prompt desire beyond our control.
Despite her interest in incels, she fails to mention older women. Women over 40, let alone over 60, are written off by many men their own age, while plenty of women are interested in older men.
She attacks carceral feminism, which deals only with patriarchal oppression uncomplicated by factors of caste, race, or class.
She says internet pornography has fundamentally changed sex for young people, but not for the better. She calls for education to embolden the sexual imagination.
Pedagogy is erotically charged. For decades, academia has wrangled over how much agency students really have, how much power professors have over them, and whether rules can prevent two people from coming together.
Srinivasan says you shouldn't sleep with your students because they are young and because sex can spoil their education.
She says criminalization harms sex workers. Making their work illegal merely puts them at the mercy of the police. But selling sex is rarely voluntary, and only the small percentage who freely choose their profession call for decriminalization. Most sex workers are trafficked immigrants or poor girls and women lured into the trade as teenagers and controlled by pimps or criminal gangs. They say sex work is damaging and risky to safety and health.
Srinivasan says male violence toward women is exacerbated by unemployment and poverty. But she admits that rape and abuse are not reducible to poverty.
AR Praise to Professor Srinivasan for tackling a tricky topic.
Knoll Beach, Dorset, January 2
2022 January 5
My new book is now published with Amazon − buy your copy now!
On the beach
2022 January 4
Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man
Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man, Thomas Mann's 500‑page tract on the rights and wrongs of World War 1, appeared in September 1918. In the following decades, Mann became a famous writer, a Nobel laureate, and a symbol of German cultural opposition to Hitler.
In his tract, Mann complains about the self-righteousness of the liberal and attacks the cultural elitist who "completely perceives the life of his own people, the human reality as it surrounds him, as basically hateful and common."
He deplores the idea that a good writer "incessantly pursues humanitarian-democratic progress, insinuates the concept of democracy into every work."
He attacks the culture and character of the Entente countries, extols war as a morally elevating force, argues for Germany's right to world supremacy, and insists that authoritarianism is the best form of government for the Germans.
Four years after the war, Mann renounced his former sentiments and pledged support for the Weimar Republic. He became a chief target of Nazi hatred and the symbolic leader of Germany's émigré writers and artists after he moved to the United States in 1939.
Mann was an aristocratic conservative. He said the genius of the German people lay in the realm of culture and spirit, not politics. He sided with their struggle to preserve the German national character in face of the advance of liberal democracy.
The opposition between shallow French civilization and profound German Kultur had been a central theme of German nationalism. Mann personalized this struggle between modernity and tradition, intellect and art, French esprit and German Geist.
Mann wrote that pre-war Europe was a "ghastly world .. swarming with vermin of the spirit like maggots, interested in nothing but money and pleasure. Against this background, the war came as "a purification, a liberation, and a tremendous hope."
Mann: "Depth and irrationality suit the German soul, which shallower peoples find disturbing, strange, disgusting, even savage."
Mann says civilization's literary man is a French type, not a German one. He writes that literature and democracy are really the same thing. The truly German art form is music.
But Mann is a novelist, not a musician. He sees he's argued himself into a morally untenable position. A few years later, he emerged as a supporter of democracy, humanism, and Western values.
AR I'll soon be reading The Magician by Colm Tóibín (it's about Mann).
2022 January 3
The New York Times
After four years of chaos, cruelty, and incompetence, most Americans were desperate for some peace and quiet. On the surface, we have achieved that. But our republic faces an existential threat.
The violence and mayhem broadcast live around the world a year ago was only the most visible and visceral part of the effort to overturn the election. The effort extended to the Oval Office.
Over the past year, Republican lawmakers in 41 states have been trying to advance the goals of the January 6 rioters, not by breaking laws but by making them. Hundreds of bills have been proposed and nearly three dozen laws have been passed that empower state legislatures to sabotage their own elections and overturn the will of their voters.
A healthy political party faces its electoral losses by assessing what went wrong and redoubling its efforts to appeal to more voters the next time. The Republican party is not doing this. Party leaders portray the Democrat victory in 2020 as fraudulent.
The overwhelming majority of Republicans say Joe Biden was not legitimately elected. About a third of them approve of using violence to achieve political goals.
US democracy is in grave danger.
US fascism by 2030?
American democracy could collapse, causing widespread instability and violence. By 2030, if not sooner, the United States could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship. The risk to Canada could be existential.
Donald Trump and his acolytes and wannabes have transformed the Republican party into a fascistic personality cult. If he returns to office, he'll be the wrecking ball that demolishes democracy.
The process will produce a political and social shambles. Then the stage will be set for a more managerially competent ruler to bring order to the chaos.
AR Americans must act.
⦿ RK Sreejith
At Valayanchirangara primary school in Kerala, girls wear green crop pants and boys wear blue
2022 January 2
Kerala state's ruling Communist party of India supports unisex school uniforms, saying they help bridge the gender gap. Kerala has India's highest literacy rate, but there is a higher literacy rate for men. Valayanchirangara primary school has also introduced its own gender-neutral textbooks.
Islamic organisation Sunny Students Federation leader Jafer Neroth: "The government is helping the implementation of liberal ideologies on students and without consultation with religious leaders. Biologically, men and women are different, and it is the denial of diversity."
AR Communists right, Islamists wrong.
The Sunday Times
The Brexit withdrawal agreement kicked in last January. The OBR predicts UK GDP will be cut by about 4% in the long term due to Brexit, double the impact of the pandemic.
In January 2021, the value of goods exported from the UK to the EU in crashed by 45% on the previous month. Imports from the EU fell 34%.
Since then, exports have grown, but are still below pre-pandemic levels. Imports from the EU also remain low, despite no UK checks on them.
Financial services exports to the EU fell by nearly £2 billion in 2021 Q2 against 2020 Q2. They increased by about £500 million to non-EU countries in that period.
The UK trailed the recovery of other G7 nations in 2021 Q3, but the OECD and the IMF say the data for the whole of 2021 will look better for the UK.
Brexit caused EU citizens to depart. The UK government grant of emergency visas for HGV drivers failed, but it will grant new visas for agricultural and social care workers. The tech industry was granted visas for skilled workers.
The government has signed about 70 new trade agreements so far. Most of these copy previous EU deals, but the agreement with Australia was new. The government sees it as a bridgehead to join the CPTPP. But CPTPP regulations differ from those in the EU.
A free-trade agreement with the US is not yet in sight. The Biden administration has grave concerns about UK threats over the NI protocol.
Under the NI protocol, certain goods face EU checks to enter NI from GB. The PM may invoke Article 16 and try to dump the ECJ role in the arbitration of disputes. This could trigger a trade war between the EU and UK.
Many small firms have given up on selling to the EU. Some have set up EU subsidiaries to bypass the paperwork.
The UK is introducing new checks this weekend on EU imports.
AR In short, Brexit has failed.
2022 January 1
Arise, Sir Tony
The Queen has appointed former Labour prime minister Tony Blair a Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter, England's oldest and most senior order of chivalry. She did so without asking the current PM. She has up to 24 "knight and lady companions" of the order, founded in 1348.
AR Excellent choice.
Roxie Nafousi: "I hated the fact I was having a baby with someone I didn't really know .. I was so disgusted in myself. Every day was an immense struggle just to stay alive."
Just before she got pregnant, Nafousi had started sessions on her Instagram feed where followers would ask for her advice on personal problems. "This was the only thing to hold me together. It gave me a real sense of purpose."
Fear and doubt ruled her earlier years, despite her father being a wealthy Iraqi businessman. She began coaching and manifested her book: "I put on my Instagram, 'I'm thinking of writing a book,' and a good publishing house reached out and very quickly gave me a great offer."
Manifest: 7 Steps to Living Your Best Life
1 Be clear in your vision
2 Remove fear and doubt
3 Align your behaviour
4 Overcome tests
5 Embrace gratitude
6 Turn envy into inspiration
7 Trust in the universe
AR OK, good publishing house, make me a great offer for ALBION!