June 12, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


Trump's unlikely allies on North Korea talks -- progressive Democrats (ANITA KUMAR, June 11, 2018, McClatchy)

President Donald Trump has found an unlikely source of support as he meets with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un: Democrats.

Some of the same far-left Democrats who complain that he stole the election and want to impeach him praise him for trying to engage in diplomacy.

"We are encouraged by your efforts to pursue direct diplomacy with North Korea with the dual goals of resolving the nearly seven-decade-long conflict and achieving the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," 15 House members wrote in a letter to Trump on Monday. "Diplomacy is the only path to resolve the tensions between our countries."

The Left and the Right--but I repeat myself--love dictatorships, the more brutal the better.  They keep their people quiet and out of our hair.

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


Iran's Rouhani asks Macron for action to save nuclear deal: IRNA (Reuters, 6/12/18) 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned world powers on Tuesday that it was impossible for Tehran to stay in the nuclear deal if it cannot benefit from the accord after the U.S. withdrawal.

Posted by orrinj at 3:14 PM


Trump had a chance to cut Canada's dairy tariffs. He walked away (Alanna Petroff, June 12, 2018, CNN Money)

As one of his first official acts as president, Trump pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But Canada went on to complete the massive free trade deal with 10 other nations, including Japan, Australia and Mexico.

The deal allows signatories to send an increasing amount of dairy products to Canada over the next two decades -- with zero tariffs. That includes milk, cream, butter, cheese and ice cream, among other products.

"The US would have enjoyed these benefits had it not decided to exit the original TPP deal," said Christophe Bondy, a trade negotiation expert and special counsel at law firm Cooley.

Another recent free trade deal is opening up Canada's market to cheese from the European Union.

By 2022, the amount of tariff-free European cheese that will be allowed into Canada will reach 16 million kilos -- the weight equivalent of 78 Statues of Liberty.

Posted by orrinj at 1:06 PM


The Universe Is Not a Simulation, but We Can Now Simulate It (Natalie Wolchover, June 12, 2018, Quanta)

[R]ecently, the scientists seem to have begun to master the science and art of cosmos creation. They are applying the laws of physics to a smooth, hot fluid of (simulated) matter, as existed in the infant universe, and seeing the fluid evolve into spiral galaxies and galaxy clusters like those in the cosmos today.

"I was like, wow, I can't believe it!" said Tiziana Di Matteo, a numerical cosmologist at Carnegie Mellon University, about seeing realistic spiral galaxies form for the first time in 2015 in the initial run of BlueTides, one of several major ongoing simulation series. "You kind of surprise yourself, because it's just a bunch of lines of code, right?"

With the leap in mock-universe verisimilitude, researchers are now using their simulations as laboratories. After each run, they can peer into their codes and figure out how and why certain features of their simulated cosmos arise, potentially also explaining what's going on in reality. The newly functional proxies have inspired explanations and hypotheses about the 84 percent of matter that's invisible -- the long-sought "dark matter" that seemingly engulfs galaxies. Formerly puzzling telescope observations about real galaxies that raised questions about the standard dark matter hypothesis are being explained in the state-of-the-art facsimiles.

The simulations have also granted researchers such as Di Matteo virtual access to the supermassive black holes that anchor the centers of galaxies, whose formation in the early universe remains mysterious.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


Trump: U.S. ending "war games" on Korean peninsula (Axios, 6/12/18)

President Trump confirmed that the United States would be ending its joint military exercises with South Korea at a press conference after his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, calling them "a very provocative situation."

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


In Iceland, World Cup players aren't gods. They're neighbors. (Chuck Culpepper, June 10, 2018, Washington Post)

The 21st World Cup, set to distract the planet beginning Thursday in Russia, will bring its usual masters such as Brazil (population: 207 million) and Germany (80 million) and its frequenters such as Nigeria (190 million) and Japan (126 million). In the case of tournament debutant Iceland (340,000), it's as if Bakersfield, Calif., made the World Cup, or, as the 24-year-old Iceland-apparel-store owner Bergthor Thorvaldsson said, like "a town in Texas."

Yet as stunning as was the passage of this wee, noiseless island where hardly anybody ever honks a horn, as remarkable as it was that Iceland won its qualification group outright in the most dreaded of earthly footballing continents, and as deserving as it is among the pantheon of sports feats in this desperate, underdog-eat-underdog world, it manages to become more staggering with familiarity. It manages to lap at the shores of absurd.

They've all accessed the World Cup from a handsome little stadium, Laugardalsvollur, with one scoreboard clock and open ends and four stalwart light stanchions either reminiscent of a Texas high school football joint (or smaller). When a ball sails over a goal and crosses the running track -- yeah, the running track -- someone runs to retrieve it, reminiscent of teenagers chasing down extra points on an American Friday night. They've reached the World Cup from a country where people speak of standing next to the prime minister in line -- at shoe repair.

Still more than all that, it's how many times you hear someone say that everyone seems to know someone with the team, or knows someone who knows someone, until you start thinking that everyone knowing someone or knowing somebody who knows someone might be some kind of national motto.

It's the mad, mad reality conveyed by the 27-year-old defender Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson. While the likes of Brazil and Germany will play before their droves of fervent strangers, Eyjolfsson said that if he happens to glimpse into the stands while playing . . .

"You know where your people are sitting, obviously, but yeah, definitely, you can look into the stands and know somebody."

"Into any section?"

"Probably. Yes."

He laughed.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


There Are No Laws of Physics. There's Only the Landscape. (Robbert Dijkgraaf, June 4, 2018, Quanta)

Suppose Alice and Bob are both asked to prepare a meal. Alice likes Chinese, Bob likes Italian. They each pick their favorite recipe, shop at the local specialty store, and carefully follow the instructions. But when they take their dishes out of the oven, they are in for a big surprise. The two meals turn out to be identical. We can imagine the existential questions Alice and Bob must ask themselves. How can different ingredients produce the same dish? What does it even mean to cook Chinese or Italian? And is their approach to preparing food totally flawed?

This is exactly the perplexity experienced by quantum physicists. They have found many examples of two completely different descriptions of the same physical system. In the case of physics, instead of meats and sauces, the ingredients are particles and forces; the recipes are mathematical formulas encoding the interactions; and the cooking process is the quantization procedure that turns equations into the probabilities of physical phenomena. Just like Alice and Bob, quantum physicists wonder how different recipes lead to the same outcomes.

Did nature have any choice in picking its fundamental laws? Albert Einstein famously believed that, given some general principles, there is essentially a unique way to construct a consistent, functioning universe. In Einstein's view, if we probed the essence of physics deeply enough, there would be one and only one way in which all the components -- matter, radiation, forces, space and time -- would fit together to make reality work, just as the gears, springs, dials and wheels of a mechanical clock uniquely combine to keep time.

The current Standard Model of particle physics is indeed a tightly constructed mechanism with only a handful of ingredients. Yet instead of being unique, the universe seems to be one of an infinitude of possible worlds. We have no clue why this particular combination of particles and forces underlies nature's structure. Why are there six "flavors" of quarks, three "generations" of neutrinos, and one Higgs particle? Furthermore, the Standard Model comes with 19 constants of nature -- numbers like the mass and charge of the electron -- that have to be measured in experiments. The values of these "free parameters" seem to be without any deeper meaning. On the one hand, particle physics is a wonder of elegance; on the other hand, it is a just-so story.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:14 AM


Sadr welcomes return of Iraqi Jews (Saad Salloum, June 11, 2018, Al Monitor)

In a bold move, Iraq's Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr spoke in favor of the return of the Jews who were evicted from the country half a century ago. Sadr responded to a question posed by one of his followers June 2 on whether Iraqi Jews have a right to return after having been forcibly displaced due to previous Iraqi policies, noting that they used to own properties and were part of the Iraqi community. He said, "If their loyalty was to Iraq, they are welcome." His answer was taken as tantamount to a religious edict, or fatwa.

The response has won him even more popularity and admiration for his policies and unexpected moves. His bloc, the Sairoon Alliance, won the largest number of parliament seats after allying with the Communist Party in an unprecedented move. This opening to ethnic and religious diversity reflects a shift in the personality of a Shiite religious and political figure known for being rebellious and defiant over the past 15 years.

However, an overview of Sadr's previous positions reveals that this positive attitude toward Iraq's Jews is not really new. In an interview with journalist Sarmad al-Tai in 2013, Sadr said he "welcomes any Jew who prefers Iraq to Israel and there is no difference between Jews, Muslims or Christians when it comes to the sense of nationalism. Those who do not carry out their national duties are not Iraqis even if they were Shiite Muslims."

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


China's Long Game for the Singapore Summit: While Trump and Kim play checkers, Xi has the Go board out. (James Stavridis, June 8, 2018, Bloomberg)

China is playing a very long game indeed. While the Pentagon is excited about developing a new five-year plan, the Chinese are thinking about how the region comes out in 200 years. They have three crucial strategic objectives in the region, which they will continue to hammer home. 

First, they want undisputed control over the South China Sea, principally for the hydrocarbons. Second, they want to consolidate Chinese influence around its periphery, especially full incorporation of Taiwan (they hope without a fight, but if necessary, they will eventually take the island militarily). They will also seek a dominant partner in the Philippines and/or Vietnam. Third, they want a divided Korean Peninsula so they can maintain dominant influence in the north and check the U.S. influence in the south.

China will use the North Korea-U.S. summit to further these ambitions. For Beijing, the best outcome would be an agreed framework that puts off any actual relinquishment of North Korea's nuclear weapons into the distant future. This will ensure the long-term survival of the Kim regime and the continuation of a divided peninsula. 

It will also ensure the need for China to be back at the table (presumably with South Korea in four-party talks) as quickly as possible. The Chinese will also use their influence with North Korea to help Trump claim some kind of a victory, thus proving that all roads to Pyongyang lead through Beijing. President Xi Jinping has played his hand of cards well.