Why success can turn to failure It’s funny how thriving all powerful organisations can suddenly dwindle. Why? Rasmus Andersen thinks he knows why. They think lazily instead of following the cold logic of the gambler. Here’s his acerbic TED talk-you’ll leardn a lot about life in general
we thank Mr Peter Seymour of Hertfordshire for this link
Superimmunity Why does a vaccine seem to boost your immunity more than a natural infection? It seems counter-intuitive. Nature tries to understand why:
People who have previously recovered from COVID-19 have a stronger immune response after being vaccinated than do those who have never been infected. As the world watches out for new coronavirus variants, the basis of such ‘super-immunity’ has become one of the pandemic’s great mysteries. Researchers hope that, by mapping the differences between the immune protection that comes from infection compared with that from vaccination, they can chart a safer path to this higher level of protection.Nature | 9 min read
Dropping Hints at Ancient diets
According to The Guardian, Bronze age miners enjoyed a rich diet of beer and blue cheese. How researchers found this is a compliment to their disinterested pursuit of knowledge. Yeecchh!
The great thing about Google Earth is that it’s democratic. Everyone’s on it. My house is on it. Your house is on it. So are the houses of the richest and most powerful people in the world. So is the village of Babawayil, nestled in the Himalayan foothills in Indian-administered Kashmir. Go there, with your google, and visit it. Have a good look in all humility. Because the residents are doing something very special indeed. They’ve abolished marriage dowries.
The whys and the hows are beautifully explained by Aakash Hassan in The Guardian, and there’s no way that we can improve on this beautifully heartening piece of writing. Suffice it to say that the reform has reduced the sufferings of women enormously. A good, hard headed, practical action, obtained through the carefully-obtained consent of the people concerned. Let’s hope the idea spreads.
Let’s hope too that the same moral courage and initiatives are shown as the world’s leaders gather in Glasgow for the COP26 Summit next month. Do we, gentle readers, imagine them to be the equals of the villagers of Babawayil? Are we?
What have atoms, neurons, genes, proteins, species, agents, the climate and flocks of starlings all got in common? They are examples of complex systems. And until very recently the human response to how they all worked together was to hold our heads in our hands and and cry “we don’t know!”
Now Italian scientist Giorgio Parisi has changed all that. His work, together with that of Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselman has been so profound that all have been awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize for Physics. We’ll let the Nobel Foundation  and Nature  do the heavy lifting for those who may be interested. Suffice it to say that when some airhead claims that models of climate change are flawed, you now know they are only demonstrating their own ignorance.
For us at LSS, Parisi stands in the great tradition of Italian science and learning. The achievements of late Middle Ages with thinkers like Pacioli and Fibonnacci grew into the Renaissance, the true fons et origio of the scientific tradition. Yes we will cite Galileo and Leonardo-but did you know that painters like Uccello and della Francesca were more than journeymen mathematicians as well? We could go on, but as the tradition carried in into modern times, we’ll end where we started with Parisi, a worthy link indeed in this great chain. Thank you, Signore Parisi for deepening our understanding of the world around us. Grazie, Chiarissimo Professore for such interesting insights. And above all for creating another defiant spark of light in the darkness of dense ignorance and stupidity that surrounds us all.
Well, not in so many words, but by his actions clearly. Despite the imminence of the fuel crisis, the supermarket crisis, the energy crisis, rising inflation, government borrowing constraints, clashes between Ministers, acute problems with his old allies in the EU, and growing threats to his new allies in the Pacific, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken his latest wife and child off to a well-earned break in Marbella. This is not Lefty propaganda, the story is taken from the impeccably right wing Daily Mail, his staunchest supporters.
In a story called I’M WORKING FROM HOME IN MY £25000 A WEEK VILLA, a whole platoon of Mail writers explain how the Prime Minister has got the work-life balance just right. It’s not that he isn’t working, he’s just doing it from a warm sun lounger in one of Europe’s sunnier locales. He can be on the phone or looking at the villa fax within minutes of something happening. Or read about it in good old fashioned newspapers like the Daily Express, which are still delivered as paper copies along the Costas (although in our experience they can be a day late!)
And that’s what we at LSS like to see. Our thoughts on slowing down, chilling out and working less hours, made flesh, however pressing the problems seem. One day they’ll go away. Like Boris Johnson-from the villa, you understand.
Always in the office? And if not, taking work home, even at the weekends? Answering calls at the dinner table? And all the time getting snarky comments saying you’re never at work because you go home at seven in the evening? Take a breath, because help may be at hand.
The revolt against the long hours tyranny may just be beginning. Writing in the Guardian, Sarah Jaffe reviews the work of a number of thinkers who are just daring to think that there may be alternatives. That maybe only 32 hours, or possibly even 15, may be enough to get us all we need to lead a balanced life. Keynes was trying to suggest something along these lines as early as 1930, but it never really kicked in. And starting in the 1980s, the cult of hyperworking had taken root, when the rewards started going to those damaged souls who managed to be present 16 hours a day, regardless of the costs to their families, mental health and drink problem. (how truly productive they are is another question).
The problem is that it is easier for lazy bosses to measure hours rather than value, and activity rather than productivity. Rewards like promotion go to the workaholic company man, thus reinforcing the cycle. Everyone ends up in a frenzied cycle of overwork just to keep up, with the results spent on overpriced consumer goods of questionable long term value, to say the least. Of course we all have to work, but does it really have to be this way?
Readers of LSS are distinguished by their ability to think differently, as your feedback makes clear. So we urge you to consider Sarah’s article, however radical it appears. If there is one possession you should care for, it is your time.
stories which we think will outlast this week’s news cycle
China Crisis Up to now the consensus seems to be that the phenomenal economic success of China will lead it to attack. But what if China has already entered its decline? Hal Brands and Michael Beckley consider this startling possibility for Foreign Policy. Either way, the options look grim
AI writes the music Fans of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) will regret that he died before he had barely sketched his 10th symphony. Now a team of AI specialists and musicologists claim to have constructed the symphony, which will be premiered tonight. Can we build a robot that can paint like Velasquez?
French Connection at Fifty Older readers will recall that the 1970s had their own version of modernity, rather different from that we know now. No one captured that gritty, smoke-filled IT-less reality better than William Friedkin in The French Connection, a veritable time machine as well as a great thriller movie to this day as Scott Tobias explains for The Guardian. Did we really, really dress like that?
If you are going to have a well-earned end of week glass tonight, raise it to Dmitri Muratov and Maria Ressa. For their levels of physical and moral courage are beyond anything that we at LSS could ever hope to equal, we confess. Their bravery has tried to keep alive the spirit of free independent journalism in the face of brutal, oppressive regimes as our link to The Guardian  shows. It has won them a Nobel Peace Prize; but that is small recompense for what they go through daily.
We will let one extract from the piece by Jon Henley and Rebecca Ratcliffe, which quotes the Nobel Citation, do the talking
“Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda,” Reiss-Andersen said, praising the two journalists’ “courageous fight for freedom of expression, a precondition for democracy and lasting peace”.
You can say what you will about journalists, and some of the ones in certain British Tabloids are morally squalid, it’s true. But at their best, journalists are the first line of truth tellers. And if you suppress them, the next truth tellers in line will be scientists, engineers and doctors. In such societies, truth is traded for money and fear. Buildings fail, because no one can say the President’s brother has been dealing in defective steel and concrete. Hospitals close, because the Government cronies have looted all the drugs. The economy regresses as no one can trust official figures any more when they invest. And this is true for regimes of all types-Left Wing, Right Wing, Populist or Religious. You know the places we have in mind.
So if you are free enough to read this tonight, think what Dmitri and Maria must be living through. Guard your freedom-and remember how easily it can be stolen.
Well done to Emma Radacanu and all the other top sportspersons who flit across the pages of the world’s sporting journals. There, we’ve said it. But readers of LSS, being an educated. discerning bunch, look elsewhere for persons to celebrate. That’s why autumn is important to us, because it’s Nobel Prize season.
Poor old Emma! One day she will learn the sports celebrities are here today and gone tomorrow. Ever heard of Alfredo di Stefano or David Beckham? Thought not.* But Nobel prize work is like laying stones in the enormous cathedrals of human learning. It’s important at the time-and other people will come along and build on it. So today we are going to celebrate the work of chemists Benjamin List and David MacMillan (see Nature below) We won’t say much, but their work will reduce pain, increase life and make people happier for centuries to come (assuming Mr Biden and Mr Xi don’t blow up the world between them) It’s without frontiers, because molecules don’t have countries. And in that sense, it tells a tale. Read, we beg you.
Elegant catalysts win chemistry Nobel
Chemists Benjamin List and David MacMillan share this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing a technique called asymmetric organocatalysis, which is widely used today for the production of drugs and other chemicals. The process relies on small organic molecules rather than big biological enzymes or compounds based on heavy metals. That makes it a cheaper, and more environmentally friendly, option for some reactions List and MacMillan separately developed some of the first organocatalysts and showed that they can drive asymmetric catalysis, where a reaction produces more of the left-handed version of a molecule than the right-handed one, for example. This is important in fields such as medicine, where the two mirror images of a molecule can produce very different biological effects.Nature | 5 min read
It’s strange, it’s insoluble, but it always works. 3X+1 is in infamous Collatz conjecture. And it works like this. Take any positive integer(whole number). If it’s odd, multiply by three and add one. If even, divide by two. And just keep going. And going. And going. Sooner or later your operations will end in a loop of just three integers:4, 2 and 1. No one has formally proved it yet, but every number tried always ends up the same.
This is the fascination of mathematics. It’s one of those curious small ideas which suddenly produce a vast ecology of learning. Like fractals, imaginary numbers, fibbonacci sequences and so on. Mathematicians spend careers studying them, ending up with mountains of data and vast computer algorithms. Sometimes they get a formal proof, sometimes they don’t. But for us, it’s not quite the point, maybe because we are not mathematicians.
What we are is scientists, much of the time. Or at least Natural Philosophers. And what interests us is the way these mathematical conjectures describe deep patterns in nature. Take fractals-they are more than a mathematical game, they describe patterns of growth in all sorts of living things. The Collatz conjecture seems to accurately describe the way corals grow. Imaginary numbers were entirely made up-but you can’t understand the equations for all sorts of electromagnetic phemonena without them. Are all these formulae hinting at deeper structures in reality which we do not yet understand, or have hardly glimpsed?
We have a nice video by some enthusiastic Americans which explans Collatz incredibly well. You’ll be amazed by the amount of data they have squeezed out, and the pictures. And remember, any learning, if honestly done, will probably be useful some day.
stories which we think will last for more than one day
Electron crystals-clear? When we were young, we were taught that everything was built out of atoms. Now, amazingly, someone has had a go at making a form of matter from the next level down, tiny electrons. This was so impressive we had to put it first. Read this report from Nature, This is a solid made of electrons
If the conditions are just right, some of the electrons inside a material will arrange themselves into a tidy honeycomb pattern — like a solid within a solid. Physicists have now for the first time directly imaged these ‘Wigner crystals’, named after theorist Eugene Wigner. Researchers built a device containing atom-thin layers of two semiconductors and cooled it to just a few degrees above absolute zero. This slowed the electrons between the two layers enough so that they formed the elusive material.Nature | 4 min read Reference: Nature paper
What happens to old Windfarms? They’re clean, they’re green they’re productive-what’s not to like about windfarms? Well, there’s what to do about the old blades for one thing, because they only last about thirty years. And now, not only are they piling up by the thousand, they’re very hard to recycle. We’ll reproduce a thoughtful blog which at least gives an introduction to this issue. But we think it’s going to be very big, very soon.
Turkey Carvings We at LSS have always been big fans of the Neolithic. It’s like crossing your first farm set with The Golden Bough-all those sheep, cattle, wheat and buildings combined with deeply felt and bizarre fertility rituals. It’s amazing how early it got going in some places as Sam Tomkin explains for the Mail online: