Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Competition, The American Way

The problem with education is becoming more and more public, right along with the whole progressive MEME with is realistically described as an oblique assault on western civilization.  We had made choices in the past that were essentially torn down by our foes or at least easily led fools.

it is practical to accept a three part division of student talent.  The bulk will fit comfortably into the middle seactor.  The lead sector will be optimistically two fifths to encourage talent, and the middle two fifths to produce teachable students and the bottom one fifth are those unable to rise to the challenge.

A lot is said about vocational training but that also needs to be thought out better.  everyone needs skill training either at home or at school.  Yet proper skill training is plenty of repetition.  how about spending four hours grooming a woodlot with a proper cutting tool.  You will learn to use it safely.

Everyone needs to work confidently with our day to day tools.  so teach it properly.

understand that in a class sample of 150 back in the day, only thirty volunteered to do grade 13 which was university prep and obviously Testing.  of the thirty, perhaps six were good candidates for the university grind.

when the money became available ,the universities opened things up bigly.  so now we have STEM with most focused on IT and a deeply watered down super curriculum.  worse our highschool intake is plausibly getting weaker.

Curiously, i would also insist on  extensive practise in reading and written critiques in classroom time.  That talent allows tackling any thing.  We are still tucking plenty else in there, but forc0ing the central issues of reading and physical skills is naturally cumulative.

Competition, The American Way

FRIDAY, APR 26, 2024 - 07:20 PM

Our K-12 educational system is designed to serve much less than 50% of American students.

For decades the cry has been that “all kids must go to college.” Yet, only a minority do so and fewer graduate.

Our high schools have been turned into college prep schools. Shop classes have been eliminated, along with other useful courses. Most students who don’t go to college have been deprived of the education they need to be successful. And businesses looking for hungry, well-prepared personnel have been deprived of good candidates.

A 2022 report from American Compass suggests that “for every young American on the idealized path, there are ten who never enroll in college or else fail to complete a degree.” Various studies show different percentages, but all show that most students don’t complete, or even enter, college. Studies also show that fewer young people are even applying to college.

This is a real, self-imposed crisis. It also has a major impact on many of those in poorer circumstances or who get bored with college prep courses and drop out of school before graduating.

Given this well-documented reality, why has our K-12 education system not reformed itself to address this glaring problem?

Once you understand the problem, it is not difficult to figure out how to fix it. In the K-8 system, every student should be taught the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic, plus some civics and history to start them on the road to being good citizens.

When students get to high school, they should be offered a two-track program. Keep the college prep program going for those who want to go on to postsecondary education. Also, another track should be introduced for the majority who don’t plan to go to college.

In addition to the basics such as English, history, civics, and a few others, students should have the option to take various kinds of vocation-based classes that teach the skills that are needed in the job market. We should be preparing all our young people to be good citizens, but also for good-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree.

Then, we need to strengthen our trade schools, the community college system, and internships, which would further prepare these young people to be successful in their careers. During the four to six years others are spending in college, young adults who take this track would be able to work and earn money instead of accumulating debt. In many cases they could make as much, or even more, than many college graduates.

The benefits of creating a two-track system would be immense. First, we could expand our labor pool quite a bit. Our country is facing a labor shortage. The birth rate has been down for a number of years, so fewer young people are entering the workforce, and an increasing number of people are retiring. Our immigration policies are not allowing enough skilled labor into the country.

The answer to these problems is to tap into that large, untrained, unmotivated pool of talent our schools are leaving behind. Doing so would have many benefits, both for the individuals and for the country.

For the individuals, it would provide them with a good middle-class, or higher, lifestyle. It would give them a sense of pride, of accomplishment. It would keep many of them from committing crimes and staying out of jail, and it would lead to much happier lives.

For the country, it would provide a large pool of trained workers. It would add to our gross national product. It would reduce the amount of money we spend on law enforcement and incarceration. It would prevent the enormous waste that results from theft and other crimes.

For a great many jobs, a two-year certificate from a community college or additional trade school training is all that may be needed to get a good start in a career. And, from there, meritocracy determines the rest.

This project should be taken on by the states. Education is a state responsibility and should not wait for the federal government to shoulder this responsibility. The fastest, most efficient method is for the states to act now.

Of course, those states that do act would be creating the best-trained workforces and would be growing their economies and attracting businesses. A little competition, the American way, is always a good thing.

NATO starts deploying troops as Russia races to win

Way too late here folks.  The Ukraine has burned up its manpower reserve and the russians have only started and have also learned to be careful.  And war is about numbers when the hardware is pretty well common.

I suspect that the ukrainians cannot handle another major loss of manpower.  And throwing up missles does little except to turn over the mud.

I am also sure that NATO knows this and sending in volunteers to stiffen the Ukrainians is about all that can be done now.

NATO starts deploying troops as Russia races to win

The plan to try and ward off disaster seems to be to fill in gaps in Ukraine’s forces by importing ‘advisors’

APRIL 26, 2024


Dutch Minister of Defense Kasja Ollongren on April 17, 2024, tries out the cockpit of a Dutch F-16s, three of which were delivered to the European F-16 training center in Romania. Training of Ukrainian pilots reportedly is going slowly, suggesting that experienced non-Ukrainian pilots may be needed to fly the sophisticated planes against the Russians in the Ukraine War. Photo: X

NATO is starting to deploy combat troops to Ukraine. Soldiers from Poland, France, the UK, Finland and other NATO members are arriving in larger numbers.

Although Russia says there are over 3,100 mercenaries in Ukraine, these newly arriving troops are not mercenaries. They are in uniform, home country proclaimed via insignia. They mostly are concentrated in the western part of the country, although in some cases they are close to the actual fighting in the east.

NATO is putting out the word these are not combat soldiers but are in Ukraine to operate sophisticated western hardware. But if they are firing at the Russians the only proper way to interpret their presence is that they are playing an active part in the shooting war.

More or less this is the same pattern that the US used when it sent “advisors” to Vietnam. In fact, they were US Special Forces who engaged in combat.

The Biden administration, at least for public consumption, says it opposes sending NATO soldiers to Ukraine. But Biden in truth may be waiting for his reelection before he gives the order for US soldiers to fight in Ukraine. After Biden is reelected, he will have a free hand. The recent passage of the $60 billion air bill for Ukraine signals that Congress will go along with whatever the Biden administration wants to do “fighting the Russians.”

The national security establishment fears a Russian victory in Ukraine. It would constitute a major setback in America’s security strategy and would be a blow, even a fatal one, to NATO.

Reportedly the Russian army is now 15% bigger than it was before the Ukraine war. It is also far more experienced, and the Russians have found ways to deal with US high tech systems, such as jamming and spoofing.

Meanwhile NATO is far behind Russia in weapons, manpower and industrial might. Furthermore, stockpiles of weapons are very low and equipment supposedly for national defense has been sent to Ukraine, leaving defenses wanting.

The consensus opinion in the US National Security establishment is that Ukraine is losing its war with the Russians and could potentially face the collapse of its army.

There already are reports that some brigades in the Ukrainian armed forces refused orders from their commanders. Those include the 25th Airborne Assault Brigade; the 115th Brigade; the 67th Mechanized Brigade (which abandoned positions in Chasiv Yar) and the 47th Mechanized (which demanded rotation after more than a year on the front lines). These are top Army brigades and not territorial defense units.

The Russians know what is going on and they are targeting foreign forces while also grinding down Ukrainian fighting units, inflicting heavy casualties. The Russians say Ukraine has already lost almost 500,000 troops in the war, and the numbers destroyed in combat grow on a daily basis.

Ukraine is desperate to find new recruits, and it is getting some help from countries where Ukrainian draft-age refugees are hiding out. Lithuania is planning to send Ukrainian draft-age men home. So is Poland.Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and Lithuania’s Defense Minister Laurynas Kasciunas meet in Kyiv on April 10, 2024. Photo: Ukraine Presidential Office

A report on training of Ukrainian F-16 pilots also is revealing. According to some of the western officers working with the Ukrainians, progress even after a year teaching pilots to operate F-16s has been less than a success. Language barriers and unfamiliarity with western systems and combat tactics, has proven to slow the learning process. Rumors have it that when the F-16s finally begin arriving in Ukraine this summer, the planes are likely to be handled by “retired” pilots from European air forces.

NATO’s plan to try and ward off disaster seems to be to fill in gaps in Ukraine’s forces by importing “advisers,” waiting for the US to commit its army to the battle after the election in November. The Russians know this and are in a race to try and collapse Ukraine’s army before Biden returns to office, if in fact he does. If the Russians are successful, a bigger war in Europe will be avoided. If not, with the introduction of US forces, Europe will be plunged into World War III.

Stephen Bryen served as staff director of the Near East Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as a deputy undersecretary of defense for policy.

The US imperialist hegemon, in his quest to be the undisputed dictator and tyrant of the globe, is totally reckless and infinitely dangerous; and the spectacle of a hideously servile Europe in its effort to satisfy His Master’s wishes is truly deplorable. I wholeheartedly wish for Russia to prevail against her abominable foes…

U.S. “Know Your Customer” Proposal Will Put an End to Anonymous Cloud Users

Well it is a start.  However, i want to see full disclosure as a matterof course.  Recall now crank phonecalls ended with number recognition.  If you have something to say, then your identity needs to be part of it.

Most of the problems we have will then go away when everyon can investigate sources.  Anf Why not?

Only the perps think otherwise.  It also potentially kills unsourced spam from advertisers..

U.S. “Know Your Customer” Proposal Will Put an End to Anonymous Cloud Users

yesterday by Andy Maxwell


Late January, the U.S. Department of Commerce published a notice of proposed rulemaking for establishing new requirements for Infrastructure as a Service providers (IaaS) . The proposal boils down to a 'Know Your Customer' regime for companies operating cloud services, with the goal of countering the activities of "foreign malicious actors." Yet, despite an overseas focus, Americans won't be able to avoid the proposal's requirements, which covers CDNs, virtual private servers, proxies, and domain name resolution services, among others.

It’s long been the case that access to certain services, whether on or offline, will only be granted when customers prove their identity.

Often linked to financial products but in many cases basic money/goods transactions carried out online, handing over a name, address, date of birth and similar details, can increase confidence that a deal will more likely than not go according to plan. In some cases, especially when buying restricted products, proving identity can be a condition of sale.

Yet, for many years, companies operating in the online space have been happy to do business with customers without knowing very much about them at all.

In some cases, where companies understand that a lack of friction is valuable to the customer, an email address has long been considered sufficient. If the credit or pre-payment card eventually used to pay for a product has enough credit and isn’t stolen, there seems very little to be concerned about. For many governments, however, any level of anonymity has the capacity to cause concern, and if that means unmasking everyone to identify a few bad actors, so be it.

Improving Detection and Prevention of Foreign Malicious Cyber Activity

Perceived and actual threats from shadowy overseas actors are something few countries can avoid. Whether in the West or the East, reports of relatively low-key meddling through to seriously malicious hacks, even attacks on key infrastructure, are becoming a fact of modern life.

After being under discussion for years, late January the U.S. Department of Commerce published a notice of proposed rulemaking hoping to reduce threats to the United States. If adopted, the proposal will establish a new set of requirements for Infrastructure as a Service providers (IaaS), often known as cloud infrastructure providers, to deny access to foreign adversaries.

The premise is relatively simple. By having a more rigorous sign-up procedure for platforms such as Amazon’s AWS, for example, the risk of malicious actors using U.S. cloud services to attack U.S. critical infrastructure, or undermine national security in other ways, can be reduced. The Bureau of Industry and Security noted the following in its announcement late January.

The proposed rule introduces potential regulations that require U.S. cloud infrastructure providers and their foreign resellers to implement and maintain Customer Identification Programs (CIPs), which would include the collection of “Know Your Customer” (KYC) information. Similar KYC requirements already exist in other industries and seek to assist service providers in identifying and addressing potential risks posed by providing services to certain customers. Such risks include fraud, theft, facilitation of terrorism, and other activities contrary to U.S. national security interests.

While supposedly aimed at external threats, only positive identification of all customers can eliminate the possibility that an ‘innocent’ domestic user isn’t actually a foreign threat actor. Or, according to the proposal, anyone (or all people) from a specified jurisdiction at the government’s discretion. Upon notification by IaaS providers, that could include foreign persons training large artificial intelligence models “with potential capabilities that could be used in malicious cyber-enabled activity.”

Scope of IaaS and Customer Identification Programs

Under the proposed rule, Customer Identification Programs (CIPs) operated by IaaS providers must collect information from both existing and prospective customers, i.e. those at the application stage of opening an account. The bare minimum includes the following data: a customer’s name, address, the means and source of payment for each customer’s account, email addresses and telephone numbers, and IP addresses used for access or administration of the account.

What qualifies as an IaaS is surprisingly broad:

Any product or service offered to a consumer, including complimentary or “trial” offerings, that provides processing, storage, networks, or other fundamental computing resources, and with which the consumer is able to deploy and run software that is not predefined, including operating systems and applications.

The consumer typically does not manage or control most of the underlying hardware but has control over the operating systems, storage, and any deployed applications. The term is inclusive of “managed” products or services, in which the provider is responsible for some aspects of system configuration or maintenance, and “unmanaged” products or services, in which the provider is only responsible for ensuring that the product is available to the consumer.

And it doesn’t stop there. The term IaaS includes all ‘virtualized’ products and services where the computing resources of a physical machine are shared, such as Virtual Private Servers (VPS). It even covers ‘baremetal’ servers allocated to a single person. The definition also extends to any service where the consumer does not manage or control the underlying hardware but contracts with a third party for access.

“This definition would capture services such as content delivery networks, proxy services, and domain name resolution services,” the proposal reads.

The proposed rule, National Emergency with Respect to Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities, will stop accepting comments from interested parties on April 30, 2024.

Given the implications for regular citizens, many of whom are already hanging on to what remains of their privacy, the prospect of handing over highly sensitive information just to obtain a product trial is a real concern. The potential for leaks grows with each disclosure, as does the possibility of personal information ending up for sale on the dark web.

Which is where the threat actors will obtain other people’s credentials to masquerade as regular users when subjected to a Know Your Customer process. For IaaS services themselves, the largest will have few problems implementing customer identification programs and may even consider them useful. On one hand, they can help to stop threat actors and on the other, take the opportunity to build a database containing the personal details of every single customer.

AI Starts to Sift Through String Theory’s Near-Endless Possibilities

Complexity is climbing exponentially and it is hard to see how this could ever work out.

Now understand that my Cloud cosmology uses only a 3D manifold and the additional assumption of an act of creation to produce both TIME and the object we call the SPACE TIME PENDULUM.  this then triggers the ongoing production of additional objects naturally at light speed.  It sort of looks like the BIG BANG.

self assembly does the rest.  not so difficult either as any object forms a tetrahedron which can then pack into platonic solids to form up the neutral electron pair and from that to form up the neutral proton pair.  Decay of these objects produces hydrogen and further self assembly produces all our elements.

using mathematics extending the Pythagorean theorem allows us to calculate the generated spatual fields.  Simple really, but uses massive computation power to pull off.


AI Starts to Sift Through String Theory’s Near-Endless Possibilities

Using machine learning, string theorists are finally showing how microscopic configurations of extra dimensions translate into sets of elementary particles — though not yet those of our universe.

What macroworld emerges from string theory depends on how six small spatial dimensions are bundled up.

Kouzou Sakai for Quanta Magazine

ByCharlie Wood

April 23, 2024


String theory captured the hearts and minds of many physicists decades ago because of a beautiful simplicity. Zoom in far enough on a patch of space, the theory says, and you won’t see a menagerie of particles or jittery quantum fields. There will only be identical strands of energy, vibrating and merging and separating. By the late 1980s, physicists found that these “strings” can cavort in just a handful of ways, raising the tantalizing possibility that physicists could trace the path from dancing strings to the elementary particles of our world. The deepest rumblings of the strings would produce gravitons, hypothetical particles believed to form the gravitational fabric of space-time. Other vibrations would give rise to electrons, quarks and neutrinos. String theory was dubbed a “theory of everything.”

“People thought it was just a matter of time until you could compute everything there was to know,” said Anthony Ashmore, a string theorist at Sorbonne University in Paris.

But as physicists studied string theory, they uncovered a hideous complexity.

When they zoomed out from the austere world of strings, every step toward our rich world of particles and forces introduced an exploding number of possibilities. For mathematical consistency, strings need to wriggle through 10-dimensional space-time. But our world has four dimensions (three of space and one of time), leading string theorists to conclude that the missing six dimensions are tiny — coiled into microscopic shapes resembling loofahs. These imperceptible 6D shapes come in trillions upon trillions of varieties. On those loofahs, strings merge into the familiar ripples of quantum fields, and the formation of these fields could also come about in multitudinous ways. Our universe, then, would consist of the aspects of the fields that spill out from the loofahs into our giant four-dimensional world.

String theorists sought to determine whether the loofahs and fields of string theory can underlie the portfolio of elementary particles found in the real universe. But not only are there an overwhelming number of possibilities to consider — 10500 especially plausible microscopic configurations, according to one tally — no one could figure out how to zoom out from a specific configuration of dimensions and strings to see what macroworld of particles would emerge.

“Does string theory make unique predictions? Is it really physics? The jury is just still out,” said Lara Anderson, a physicist at Virginia Tech who has spent much of her career trying to link strings with particles.

Lara Anderson, a physicist at Virgina Tech, helped develop machine learning algorithms to approximate the shapes of Calabi-Yau manifolds.

Laura Schaposnik


Now, a fresh generation of researchers has brought a new tool to bear on the old problem: neural networks, the computer programs powering advances in artificial intelligence. In recent months, two teams of physicists and computer scientists have used neural networks to calculate precisely for the first time what sort of macroscopic world would emerge from a specific microscopic world of strings. This long-sought milestone reinvigorates a quest that largely stalled decades ago: the effort to determine whether string theory can actually describe our world.

“We aren’t at the point of saying these are the rules for our universe,” Anderson said. “But it’s a big step in the right direction.”

The Twisted World of Strings

The crucial feature that determines what macroworld emerges from string theory is the arrangement of the six small spatial dimensions.

The simplest such arrangements are intricate 6D shapes called Calabi-Yau manifolds — the objects that resemble loofahs. Named after the late Eugenio Calabi, the mathematician who conjectured their existence in the 1950s, and Shing-Tung Yau, who in the 1970s set out to prove Calabi wrong but ended up doing the opposite, Calabi-Yau manifolds are 6D spaces with two characteristics that make them attractive to physicists.

First, they can host quantum fields with a symmetry known as supersymmetry, and supersymmetric fields are much simpler to study than more irregular fields. Experiments at the Large Hadron Collider have shown that the macroscopic laws of physics are not supersymmetric. But the nature of the microworld beyond the Standard Model remains unknown. Most string theorists work under the assumption that the universe at that scale is supersymmetric, with some citing physical motivations for believing so while others do so out of mathematical necessity.

Second, Calabi-Yau manifolds are “Ricci-flat.” According to Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the presence of matter or energy bends space-time, causing so-called Ricci curvature. Calabi-Yau manifolds lack this kind of curvature, though they can (and do) curve in other ways unrelated to their matter and energy contents. To understand Ricci flatness, consider a doughnut, which is a low-dimensional Calabi-Yau manifold. You can unroll a doughnut and represent it on a flat screen on which moving off the right side teleports you to the left side and likewise with top and bottom.

Six-dimensional shapes called Calabi-Yau manifolds (3D slices of which are shown here) come in increasingly complicated varieties. In string theory, a microscopic manifold lies at every point in our 4D universe and determines the laws of physics we experience.

O. Knill and E. Slavkovsky


The general game plan for string theory, then, boils down to searching for the specific manifold that would describe the microstructure of space-time in our universe. One way to search is by picking a plausible 6D doughnut and working out whether it matches the particles we see.

The first step is to work out the right class of 6D doughnuts. Countable features of Calabi-Yau manifolds, such as the number of holes they have, determine the countable features of our world, such as how many distinct matter particles exist. (Our universe has 12.) So researchers start by searching for Calabi-Yau manifolds with the right assortment of countable features to explain the known particles.

Researchers have made steady progress on this step, and over the last couple of years a United Kingdom-based collaboration in particular has refined the art of doughnut selection to a science. Using insight gathered from an assortment of computational techniques in 2019 and 2020, the group identified a handful of formulas that spit out classes of Calabi-Yau manifolds producing what they call “broad brush” versions of the Standard Model containing the right number of matter particles. These theories tend to produce long-distance forces we don’t see. Still, with these tools, the U.K. physicists have mostly automated what were once daunting calculations.

“The efficacy of these methods is absolutely staggering,” said Andrei Constantin, a physicist at the University of Oxford who led the discovery of the formulas. These formulas “reduce the time needed for the analysis of string theory models from several months of computational efforts to a split second.”

The second step is harder. String theorists aim to narrow the search beyond the class of Calabi-Yaus and identify one particular manifold. They seek to specify exactly how big it is and the precise location of every curve and dimple. These geometric details are supposed to determine all the remaining features of the macroworld, including precisely how strongly particles interact and exactly what their masses are.

Completing this second step requires knowing the manifold’s metric — a function that can take in any two points on the shape and tell you the distance between them. A familiar metric is the Pythagorean theorem, which encodes the geometry of a 2D plane. But as you move to higher-dimensional, curvy space-times, metrics become richer and more complicated descriptions of the geometry. Physicists solved Einstein’s equations to get the metric for a single rotating black hole in our 4D world, but 6D spaces have been out of their league. “It’s one of the saddest things as a physicist that you come across,” said Toby Wiseman, a physicist at Imperial College London. “Mathematics, clever as it is, is quite limited when it comes to actually writing down solutions to equations.”

Eugenio Calabi (right) conjectured the existence of shapes with a certain type of symmetry and mathematical flatness. Shing-Tung Yau (left) set out to prove him wrong, but discovered he was right. Today these shapes, known as Calabi-Yau manifolds, play a crucial role in string theory.

Jean François Dars


As a postdoc at Harvard University in the early 2000s, Wiseman heard whispers of the “mythical” metrics of Calabi-Yau manifolds. Yau’s proof that these functions exist helped win him the Fields Medal (the top prize in mathematics), but no one had ever calculated one. At the time, Wiseman was using computers to approximate the metric of space-times surrounding exotic black holes. Perhaps, he speculated, computers could also solve for the metrics of Calabi-Yau space-times.

“Everyone said, ‘Oh, no, you couldn’t possibly do that,’” Wiseman said. “So me and a brilliant guy, Matthew Headrick, a string theorist, we sat down and showed it could be done.”
Pixelated Manifolds

Wiseman and Headrick (who works at Brandeis University) knew that a Calabi-Yau metric had to solve Einstein’s equations for empty space. A metric satisfying this condition guaranteed that a space-time was Ricci-flat. Wiseman and Headrick picked four dimensions as a proving ground. Leveraging a numerical technique sometimes taught in high school calculus classes, they showed in 2005 that a 4D Calabi-Yau metric could indeed be approximated. It might not be perfectly flat at every point, but it came extremely close, like a doughnut with a few imperceptible dents.

I thought, if [a neural network] can outperform the world champion in Go, maybe it can outperform mathematicians, or at least physicists like me.

Fabian Ruehle

Around the same time, Simon Donaldson, a prominent mathematician also at Imperial, was also studying Calabi-Yau metrics for mathematical reasons, and he soon worked up another algorithm for approximating metrics. String theorists including Anderson started trying to calculate specific metrics in these ways, but the procedures took a long time and produced overly bumpy doughnuts, which would mess up attempts to make precise particle predictions.

Attempts to complete step 2 died out for nearly a decade. But as researchers focused on step 1 and on solving other problems in string theory, a powerful new technology for approximating functions swept computer science — neural networks, which adjust huge grids of numbers until their values can stand in for some unknown function.

Neural networks found functions that could identify objects in images, translate speech into other languages, and even master humanity’s most complicated board games. When researchers at the artificial intelligence company DeepMind created the AlphaGo algorithm, which in 2016 bested a top human Go player, the physicist Fabian Ruehle took notice.

“I thought, if this thing can outperform the world champion in Go, maybe it can outperform mathematicians, or at least physicists like me,” said Ruehle, who is now at Northeastern University.

Impressed by the ability of machines to best humans at board games, Fabian Ruehle, a physicist now at Northeastern University, wondered if similar algorithms could calculate shapes of 6D manifolds in string theory.

Courtesy of Fabian Ruehle


Ruehle and collaborators took up the old problem of approximating Calabi-Yau metrics. Anderson and others also revitalized their earlier attempts to overcome step 2. The physicists found that neural networks provided the speed and flexibility that earlier techniques had lacked. The algorithms were able to guess a metric, check the curvature at many thousands of points in 6D space, and repeatedly adjust the guess until the curvature vanished all over the manifold. All the researchers had to do was tweak freely available machine learning packages; by 2020, multiple groups had released custom packages for computing Calabi-Yau metrics.

With the ability to obtain metrics, physicists could finally contemplate the finer features of the large-scale universes corresponding to each manifold. “The first thing I did after I had it, I calculated masses of particles,” Ruehle said.

From Strings to Quarks

In 2021, Ruehle, collaborating with Ashmore, cranked out the masses of exotic heavy particles that depend only on the curves of the Calabi-Yau. But these hypothetical particles would be far too massive to detect. To calculate the masses of familiar particles like electrons — a goal string theorists have chased for decades — the machine learners would have to do more.

Lightweight matter particles acquire their mass through interactions with the Higgs field, a field of energy that extends throughout space. The more a given particle takes notice of the Higgs field, the heavier it is. How strongly each particle interacts with the Higgs is labeled by a quantity called its Yukawa coupling. And in string theory, Yukawa couplings depend on two things. One is the metric of the Calabi-Yau manifold, which is like the shape of the doughnut. The other is the way quantum fields (arising as collections of strings) spread out over the manifold. These quantum fields are a bit like sprinkles; their arrangement is related to the doughnut’s shape but also somewhat independent.

Ruehle and other physicists had released software packages that could get the doughnut shape. The last step was to get the sprinkles — and neural networks proved capable of that task, too. Two teams put all the pieces together earlier this year.

An international collaboration led by Challenger Mishra of the University of Cambridge first used a homegrown neural network to calculate the metric — the geometry of the doughnut itself. Then they harnessed additional original algorithms to compute the way the quantum fields overlap as they curve around the manifold, like the doughnut’s sprinkles. Importantly, they worked in a context where the geometry of the fields and that of the manifold are tightly linked, a setup in which the Yukawa couplings could be calculated in an alternative way, although this had never been done before. When the group calculated the couplings in both manners, the results matched. Moreover, the couplings they found hinted at a separation between particle masses — a mysterious feature of the Standard Model.

“People have been wanting to do this since before I was born in the ’80s,” Mishra said.

Andrei Constantin, a physicist at the University of Oxford, recently used a horde of machine learning algorithms to calculate the precise masses of fundamental particles in specific examples of string theory.

The Royal Society

A group led by string theory veterans Burt Ovrut of the University of Pennsylvania and Andre Lukas of Oxford went further. They too started with Ruehle’s metric-calculating software, which Lukas had helped develop. Building on that foundation, they added an array of 11 neural networks to handle the different types of sprinkles. These networks allowed them to calculate an assortment of fields that could take on a richer variety of shapes, creating a more realistic setting that can’t be studied with any other techniques. This army of machines learned the metric and the arrangement of the fields, calculated the Yukawa couplings, and spit out the masses of three types of quarks. It did all this for six differently shaped Calabi-Yau manifolds. “This is the first time anybody has been able to calculate them to that degree of accuracy,” Anderson said.

None of those Calabi-Yaus underlies our universe, because two of the quarks have identical masses, while the six varieties in our world come in three tiers of masses. Rather, the results represent a proof of principle that machine learning algorithms can take physicists from a Calabi-Yau manifold all the way to specific particle masses.

“Until now, any such calculations would have been unthinkable,” said Constantin, a member of the group based at Oxford.

Numbers Game

The neural networks choke on doughnuts with more than a handful of holes, and researchers would eventually like to study manifolds with hundreds. And so far, the researchers have considered only rather simple quantum fields. To go all the way to the Standard Model, Ashmore said, “you might need a more sophisticated neural network.”

Bigger challenges loom on the horizon. Attempting to find our particle physics in the solutions of string theory — if it’s in there at all — is a numbers game. The more sprinkle-laden doughnuts you can check, the more likely you are to find a match. After decades of effort, string theorists can finally check doughnuts and compare them with reality: the masses and couplings of the elementary particles we observe. But even the most optimistic theorists recognize that the odds of finding a match by blind luck are cosmically low. The number of Calabi-Yau doughnuts alone may be infinite. “You need to learn how to game the system,” Ruehle said.

One approach is to check thousands of Calabi-Yau manifolds and try to suss out any patterns that could steer the search. By stretching and squeezing the manifolds in different ways, for instance, physicists might develop an intuitive sense of what shapes lead to what particles. “What you really hope is that you have some strong reasoning after looking at particular models,” Ashmore said, “and you stumble into the right model for our world.”

Lukas and colleagues at Oxford plan to start that exploration, prodding their most promising doughnuts and fiddling more with the sprinkles as they try to find a manifold that produces a realistic population of quarks. Constantin believes that they will find a manifold reproducing the masses of the rest of the known particles in a matter of years.

To make it interesting, there should be some new physical predictions.

Renate Loll

Other string theorists, however, think it’s premature to start scrutinizing individual manifolds. Thomas Van Riet of KU Leuven is a string theorist pursuing the “swampland” research program, which seeks to identify features shared by all mathematically consistent string theory solutions — such as the extreme weakness of gravity relative to the other forces. He and his colleagues aspire to rule out broad swaths of string solutions — that is, possible universes — before they even start to think about specific doughnuts and sprinkles.

“It’s good that people do this machine learning business, because I’m sure we will need it at some point,” Van Riet said. But first “we need to think about the underlying principles, the patterns. What they’re asking about is the details.”

Plenty of physicists have moved on from string theory to pursue other theories of quantum gravity. And the recent machine learning developments are unlikely to bring them back. Renate Loll, a physicist at Radboud University in the Netherlands, said that to truly impress, string theorists will need to predict — and confirm — new physical phenomena beyond the Standard Model. “It is a needle-in-a-haystack search, and I am not sure what we would learn from it even if there was convincing, quantitative evidence that it is possible” to reproduce the Standard Model, she said. “To make it interesting, there should be some new physical predictions.”

New predictions are indeed the ultimate goal of many of the machine learners. They hope that string theory will prove rather rigid, in the sense that doughnuts matching our universe will have commonalities. These doughnuts might, for instance, all contain a kind of novel particle that could serve as a target for experiments. For now, though, that’s purely aspirational, and it might not pan out.

“String theory is spectacular. Many string theorists are wonderful. But the track record for qualitatively correct statements about the universe is really garbage,” said Nima Arkani-Hamed, a theoretical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

Ultimately, the question of what string theory predicts remains open. Now that string theorists are leveraging the power of neural networks to connect the 6D microworlds of strings with the 4D macroworlds of particles, they stand a better chance of someday answering it.

“Without a doubt, there are loads of string theories that have nothing to do with nature,” Anderson said. “The question is: Are there any that do have something to do with it? The answer might be no, but I think it’s really interesting to try to push the theory to decide.”

Monday, April 29, 2024

MSG and Free Glutamate: Lurking Everywhere

What this tells us is that you are getting too much too quickly and some of us do not do do well.

Sadly, most canned goods lose a lot of flavor through the heating process mandated.  Thus depend on frozen goods.

In fact presume all canned goods are at least suspect to just revese flavor loss.  Campbell soup uses MSg and without the flavor is likely all over.

Easy to avoid if you are intolerant.

MSG and Free Glutamate: Lurking Everywhere

By Sally Fallon Morell

April 26, 2024

Some time ago, on a trip to British Columbia, I ate in a local restaurant. When eating out, I always try to order something simple, without a gravy or sauce, since these sauces are bound to contain MSG.

So, I ordered a plain crab cake with rice and vegetables — no sauce, no mayo. Boy, did that crab cake taste good! About midnight I knew why. I woke up with a dry mouth, a terrible thirst and a headache. The next day I felt sore all over, like I’d been in a fight. My hands felt like they had arthritis.

Fortunately, since I don’t eat food containing MSG very often, the symptoms cleared by the next day. Unfortunately, I attended a reception that evening, and since I had skipped lunch and was hungry, I ate things I shouldn’t have, including a peanut sauce I am sure came from a can. That night, the same thing happened, and the next day I was stiff and sore from head to toe.

Of course, I knew the reason why and just resolved to be more careful going forward. But suppose I was a person who ate a lot of processed or restaurant food and didn’t know about the dangers of MSG. I would feel awful all the time: headache, dry mouth, excessive thirst, and aches and pains like arthritis.

I might be told I had the disease du jour: fibromyalgia. But there is no treatment for fibromyalgia so I would probably be treated for the runner-up disease du jour: Lyme’s disease. The treatment for Lyme’s disease is courses of antibiotics, which would probably make my condition worse.

If I complained to the doctor about the dry mouth and thirst, I would be tested for diabetes; and if I sought treatment for headaches, I’d end up on some pretty powerful pain killers.

Which brings us to the question: could all these conditions, especially the rheumatism-like achiness that plagues so many people, be due to MSG and similar substances added to virtually all processed food?

Glutamine Versus Glutamate

For example, MSG allows food manufacturers to make something that resembles gravy — which we make at home with good drippings, flour and genuine bone broth — with water, a thickener, artificial coloring and artificial flavors, especially MSG.

Apologists for MSG point out that it derives from glutamine, an amino acid needed for protein synthesis, immunity, liver health, detoxification and maintenance of acid-alkaline balance, among many other roles.

Our bodies can make glutamine; however, in times of rapid growth or healing — especially healing of the gut — we need more glutamine than we can make and must get it from food. Homemade bone broth is an excellent source, one explanation for bone broth’s reputation as a healing food.

Glutamine is a precursor to glutamate, an important neurotransmitter, for which we have receptors in the brain and all over the body. Apologists for MSG argue that the additive is not really different from glutamate (or its cousin glutamic acid).

For example, journalist Liz Roth-Johnson writes, “Despite their different names, glutamate, glutamic acid, and monosodium glutamate are essentially the same molecule and behave the same way in our bodies.” She provides the following diagram.

Roth-Johnson notes that ripe tomatoes and aged cheese contain high levels of glutamate, so what could be the problem with MSG? The problem is that most people don’t get headaches and arthritis-like symptoms when they eat ripe tomatoes and aged cheese.

One explanation is that the sodium molecule added to glutamate makes it a very different molecule — after all, adding chlorine to sodium to make nutritious salt makes chlorine very different from poisonous chlorine gas! Small differences in molecules can make huge differences in the body.

Free Glutamate Can Overload Your System

Free glutamate is formed during fermentation — of milk into cheese, of soybeans into soy sauce, etc. That’s what gives these foods their delicious meat-like umami taste. Most people can eat small amounts of slowly and naturally fermented soy sauce without problem, but react strongly to cheap soy sauce made by rapid protein hydrolysis with added MSG.

Another difference: most of the glutamate in our body does not come from free glutamate in our food but from the breakdown of protein into its separate amino acids. It’s a good assumption that these enter the bloodstream more slowly than MSG added to food, or even to glutamate naturally formed in food, so that their transformation into neurotransmitters is more controlled.

Eating foods containing MSG or a lot of added free glutamate, can overwhelm the system, so to speak. And free glutamate is everywhere, I mean everywhere, usually not labeled but lurking in other food additives.

Ingredients That Contain Free Glutamate

Here’s a list of ingredients that contain free glutamate in one form or another:

And these are foods that can contain a lot of free glutamate formed during processing:

And these are foods that extremely sensitive people have reacted to:

Fermented Foods May Trigger Reactions if You’re Sensitive

Furthermore, these sensitive souls need to avoid anything fermented, including natural cheese, naturally fermented soy sauce and homemade sauerkraut, and even tomato paste.1

Interestingly, the late Jack Samuels, creator of truthinlabeling.org (which created the above lists), told me that he could eat cheese made with old-fashioned animal rennet without problem, but reacted strongly to cheese made with vegetarian rennet (which is produced by genetically modified bacteria).

I always purchase organic herbs and spices, often not reading the labels. But I looked carefully at the label of some organic chili powder I recently bought and was shocked to read that it contained “organic rice concentrate.”

Rice concentrate is not in any of the above lists, but it is obviously a processed ingredient and why would the company add it to chili powder unless it contributed some kind of zip to the flavor? Just shows you can’t be too careful! Always read labels!

But back to the main point: if you are suffering from any kind of chronic pain or discomfort, try limiting yourself exclusively to whole natural foods that you have prepared yourself. I’m betting you will see an improvement without taking any drugs.

Security for Chinese workers in Pakistan will always be elusive

This gives us a snapshot of just how wonderful the bromance between Pakistan and China happens to be.  both are authoritarian in nature by way of either the CCP or the Pakistan Army, which drives militant opposition in some form or the other.

So all the radical hardcases take on available chinese nationals.  CCP enthusuasm for Pakistan is looking misplaced and will be understood as neocolonialism which it is of course.

And i do think that tribals there still know how to deal with that. 

China really needs to enter into a mutual joint venture with India to jointly develop all of Western China.  This sounds crazy and completely unlikely, but would change everything for both countries.  Yet a massive capital investment on the mountain tops to induce a cloud column would plausibly waterr it all, challenging as the idea is.

Security for Chinese workers in Pakistan will always be elusive

Closeness between neighbors remains somewhat superficial

Ayesha SiddiqaApril 23, 2024 17:00 JST

Volunteers carry the casket of a Chinese engineer killed in a suicide bombing in March in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. © AP

Ayesha Siddiqa is a senior fellow with the department of war studies of King's College London and was previously director of naval research for the Pakistan Navy.

Like his predecessors, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has repeatedly promised China that he will protect its workers and investments in his country.

Yet deadly attacks continue to occur as frequently as ever. A suicide attacker rammed his explosive-laden car into a bus last month killing five Chinese engineers. Another attack last week hit a convoy of Japanese workers who police believe had been misidentified as Chinese.

Beijing wants foolproof security for its 1,200 workers building critical infrastructure and teaching in Pakistan. In the face of persistent attacks, Beijing has asked Islamabad to allow it to deploy its own security personnel, but Pakistan has yet to agree.

I have been told that Islamabad came close to accepting Beijing's demand around 2016 during Nawaz Sharif's third term as prime minister, but the Pakistan Army blocked the plan. Raheel Sharif, then the military chief, instead created new army and naval units with around 12,000 personnel with the ostensible mission of protecting China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects.

Yet these forces have failed to end deadly attacks against Chinese workers in Pakistan in any way. When a suicide bomber killed three Chinese language teachers at Karachi University in 2022, Islamabad made the concession of permitting Beijing to send in its own investigators for the first time while making more promises to provide better protection.

Officials in Islamabad are certainly well aware of the importance of protecting Chinese workers given that Beijing's support remains critical for Pakistan's own financial and military security. The country has accumulated about $67 billion in debt with China and Beijing's forbearance about repayment has so far been vital in keeping Islamabad from defaulting on its international obligations.

But the military's special CPEC security units are not well managed and lack the proper wherewithal to address sensitivities involving Chinese workers' security. Although the CPEC army division is run by military officers, much of its ranks has been filled with civilian police lacking sufficient training.

As with other police in Pakistan, these personnel have often been deployed on domestic political missions, such as providing security for local officials, raiding the homes and offices of opposition politicians or suppressing the activities of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan.

This has resulted in a loss of focus, as seen with last month's killing of the Chinese engineers. Investigators have found that contrary to security protocols, the workers were being transported in an unsecured bus, vulnerable to bullets and bombs.

In a broader sense, Islamabad's focus has drifted away from the CPEC and China's ongoing projects -- and China has also become increasingly wary.

Domestic political and economic crises in Pakistan have consumed attention in Islamabad in recent years despite recurrent references by the leaders in power to the importance of the CPEC.

It simply no longer appears to be a top priority. The emerging reality is that while rhetoric about Pakistan's deep friendship with China is still frequently heard, officials are increasingly signaling an interest in making room for other foreign investors, even in areas that had been informally reserved for Chinese use.

In particular, Islamabad seems keen to attract Saudi investment and American assistance for mining projects in southern areas, including Balochistan province, long a center of Chinese attention.

Pakistani officials are believed to have held discussions with the Saudi sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF) about taking over state-owned shares in Reko Diq, a huge planned copper and gold mine in Balochistan.

Gwadar, the province's main seaport, which was previously almost a no-go area for Western diplomats and is home to what some have suggested is a nascent Chinese naval base, has been visited several times in recent years by British and American diplomats while China's top local envoys have not been seen.

These developments certainly do not mean that China has become unimportant to Pakistan. Beijing is now the only major source of weapon systems for Pakistan and key to its defense industrial infrastructure.

Yet Qamar Javed Bajwa, who succeeded Raheel Sharif as army chief in 2016, often spoke privately about feeling more affinity with the West than with China. At a private briefing at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London in 2019, he remarked that Pakistan has "genetic ties with the West" that could supersede its links with China.

Gen. Asim Munir, who replaced Bajwa in 2022, seems even keener to engage with the U.S., especially to enlist its support in securing financial relief for Pakistan from the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral aid donors. Munir's first visit to Washington in December led to U.S. promises of support in areas including agriculture and mining as well as combating insurgents.

Gen. Asim Munir, center, visits a man wounded in a suicide attack in Peshawar in 2023: The army chief seems especially keen to engage with the U.S. (Pakistan Prime Minister's Office via Reuters)

It seems conceivable that Beijing could begin to feel a sense of envy regarding other nations' activities in Pakistan.

Canada's Barrick Gold, which operates and owns half of Reko Diq, has come under relatively little criticism from Baloch nationalist groups nor suffered physical attacks, in stark contrast to Chinese companies operating in Balochistan. It seems possible the Saudi PIF might be similarly tacitly accepted at Reko Diq.

From the point of view of Baloch nationalists, Chinese state companies and workers are in cahoots with what they see as an oppressive Pakistani state apparatus. Other foreign companies like Barrick generally operate with a much lighter physical presence, making them less of a target for criticism or attack. Additionally, as home to members of the Baloch diaspora, Western countries are seen as much more potentially sympathetic to the Baloch cause than Beijing is. Saudi Arabia also is home to a Baloch community that may translate into a degree of a goodwill.

For now, China and Pakistan will remain closely tied. Yet suspicions of each other's motives and intentions seem bound to fester.

What would Thucydides say?

And just who else can we hold up as an example of historical writing?  We have way more Athenian and ancient Mathematicians remembered.  It was then on the dawn of scholary invention that he emerged and exactly who since?  most later histories follow the path of Caesar as useful propaganga.

I do think that caesar wrote his stuff with an assist from scribes.

The important historical question is whether we will ultimately have the RULE of TWELVE.  fully applied, all risk of social conflict and gratuitous revolution should disappear which will be the final blessing provided by Yesua.

We would all discover happiness if authority is thus tempered and revolution itself becomes impossible.
even Thucydides would argue that history has ended.

What would Thucydides say?

In constantly reaching for past parallels to explain our peculiar times we miss the real lessons of the master historian

Thucydides. Photo by Alamy

is assistant professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the history of democratic thought and, especially, on early attempts to understand and theorise Athenian democracy.

In the weeks after Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte seized power and declared himself Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, Karl Marx sat down to write a history of the present. The purpose of this work was straightforward. Marx wanted to understand how the class struggle in France had ‘made it possible for a grotesque and mediocre personality to play a hero’s part.’ Much of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852/69), as the work would be known, accordingly consisted of fine-grained political and economic analysis. But Marx opened in a more philosophical vein. After quipping that history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce, he reflected upon the role that historical parallelism played in shaping revolutionary action:

The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem engaged in revolutionising themselves and things, in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle-cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honoured disguise and this borrowed language.

This tendency had pervaded European history, Marx thought, and occasionally served the ends of progress. The cloak of Roman republicanism, for instance, had helped French society lurch blindly forward during the revolution of 1789. In the present case, however, the appropriated symbolism of that earlier revolution served no higher purpose than to veil a grifter’s power grab in a more compelling guise.

Marx points toward one of the more paradoxical tendencies of modern political life: the more times feel unprecedented, the more we reach for past parallels. We do so, however, not only to legitimate new regimes. Just as often, historical analogies are invoked to explain, predict and condemn. The past decade alone offers a trove of examples. Among them, the use of ‘fascism’ to characterise Right-wing populist movements has generated the most heat, giving rise to a multifaceted debate about the legitimacy of historical analogy as a mode of political analysis. But there are others that have occasioned less self-reflection. In reckoning with the possibility of open conflict between the United States and China, for instance, foreign policy experts have routinely likened the escalating tension to the Cold War, the First World War, and even the Peloponnesian War. Similarly, in the early days of COVID-19, many dealt with the uncertainty of the pandemic by turning to the Spanish Flu, the Black Death, and the Great Plague of Athens for guidance. Something of the sort is also happening in real time with generative AI. How we interpret the risk that it poses hinges in large part on which analogy we favour: will it be most akin to the Industrial Revolution, the nuclear bomb, or – perhaps most horrifying of all – the consulting firm McKinsey?

If many of these parallels seem self-evident, one recurring point of reference does not: Thucydides, the ancient Athenian general and author of History of the Peloponnesian War. Though hardly a household name, he has been a favourite of those intent on doom-scrolling the historical record for relevant exempla. In the first month of the COVID-19 shutdown, for instance, so much was written about his account of the Athenian plague that one prominent scholar deemed Thucydides himself to be a virus. Something comparable could be said of Thucydides’ role in the viral discourse surrounding Sino-American relations. Ever since the early 2010s, when Graham Allison began referring to the stress on global order produced by hegemonic rivalry as ‘Thucydides’ Trap’, foreign policy discussions have themselves often appeared trapped by the need to balance geopolitical analysis with exegesis of an ancient text.

However strange Thucydides’ prominence may seem, the tradition of looking his way in moments of existential crisis is well established. During the American Civil War, for example, his ‘Funeral Oration of Pericles’ served as a model for Abraham Lincoln’s famed Gettysburg Address, while his account of Athenian defeat helped inspire an overhaul of the US Naval War College curriculum during the war in Vietnam. In Europe, both English and German propagandists excerpted History of the Peloponnesian War during the First World War in support of their causes, and soldiers reported reading Thucydides in the trenches. In subsequent decades, prominent writers in both England and Italy used Thucydides to reflect their concerns over the rise of European fascism.

This cultish appeal has nevertheless come at a cost. While many have tried in earnest to wring wisdom from Thucydides’ text, others have sought little more than an ancient authority for their shower thoughts. Careless glosses and misattributed quotes abound, both in the anarchic spaces of social media and in others that should be held to a higher standard: the website for Harvard’s Belfer Center, for instance, which features an apocryphal quote lifted from the first Wonder Woman movie, or on the desk of the late Colin Powell when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

If this should seem a sad fate for any writer, it is a particularly ironic one for Thucydides. He was both a vocal proponent of accurately accounting for the past and a careful analyst of the textured nature of historical repetition. Resistant to simplification and rich in ‘unuttered thoughts’ (to quote Friedrich Nietzsche), Thucydides recognised that an effective understanding of the relationship between past, present and future would be both highly complex and absolutely critical for prudent political judgment. This combination did not bode well for the ancient Athenians, who ended up suffering dearly for their mishandling of historical analogies, and it is not clear that we have the resources to do much better. But we stand to learn more by thinking with Thucydides about the role of historical analogy in political life than by simply pilfering his text in search of such analogies. If nothing else, taking such a tack helps to remind us of the risks involved in abusing specious parallels in the way that we are prone to do.

Thucydides was unusual among classical writers in stating directly what he hoped his readers would gain from his work. He would be content, he says, if History of the Peloponnesian War was deemed ‘useful’ by those who wanted ‘to scrutinise what actually happened and would happen again, given the human condition, in the same or similar fashion’ (my translation). The description nevertheless leaves readers wanting. How exactly such knowledge should prove useful is underspecified, and scholars have long disagreed over what Thucydides expected the utility of his text to be.

Most assume that Thucydides tried to offer his reader a type of foreknowledge that could potentially translate into active control over the politico-historical process. Taken to its extreme, this ‘optimistic’ interpretation reads History of the Peloponnesian War as a sort of ‘political systems users’ manual’, as Josiah Ober put it, capable of creating expert political technicians. Recognising regularities in the historical process, it is thought, should lead to predictive capacity, which in turn allows for political mastery. Proceeding in this fashion, Thucydides takes himself to be training master statesmen capable of solving the fundamental problems of political life.

Others detect a more pessimistic outlook in Thucydides’ stated ambition. They suggest that the lessons on offer are insufficient to produce control over events even if they can help the reader detect regularities in the political process. Unexpected events will often upset our expectations, as the plague did in Athens, and the ignorance of non-experts will often disrupt the translation of technical insight into effective policy. This problem will be particularly acute within a democratic context, where a popular eagerness to apply bastardised versions of such insights may even make matters worse. In this interpretation, Thucydides is ‘useful’ to the extent that he can temper the ambitions of those wishing to impose rational order onto political life. The best we can hope for, it seems, is to minimise our self-harm.

We must learn how to choose the right parallels if we are to judge well in politics

At issue between these two interpretive poles is the basic presumption of applied social science: to what extent can the recognition of recurring patterns translate into effective political policy? Yet, Thucydides was not writing social science as we know it. To the extent that his text articulated anything like fundamental laws of political behaviour, it did so through exemplary instances and carefully curated parallelisms. The Peloponnesian War served as a paradigmatic event for Thucydides: a particular instance that revealed general truths. It served this representative role, however, not because it was typical. Rather, it was exemplary because it was uniquely ‘great’. The war would prove useful, in other words, not because of history’s strict repetition, but by the pregnancy of similarity and the reader’s ability to parse analogies effectively.

Thucydides schools his readers in just how difficult such acts of analogical interpretation can be. A series of carefully considered verbal parallels, or what Jacqueline de Romilly has called fils conducteurs (‘guiding threads’), extend through Thucydides’ narrative like a web, ensnaring the reader in a constant and, at times, overwhelming sense of déjà vu. Sometimes, repetitions point towards important explanatory insights. But they also suggest likenesses that can lead the reader astray. Time and again, Thucydides confounds the expectations he has created. Even upon rereading, one can feel an internal tension between what one knows to be the case and what one is nonetheless led to expect will happen. Whether it is your first or your 15th read, you can still catch yourself thinking: this time surely Athens will win.

The evident lesson behind all of this is that we must learn how to choose the right parallels if we are to judge well in politics. But Thucydides also knew that we did not have full control of the analogies that shape our deliberations, especially in public life. Our analogical vocabulary is woven directly into the cultural fabric, a product of the contingencies that shape collective memory. We choose them no more than we choose the language we speak. (Once again, Marx: ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.’) Some events, such as the Persian Wars in Thucydides’ day or the Second World War in our own, simply loom too large to avoid, and we are easily held captive by the emotional weight of their cultural significance. Thucydides measured this gravitational pull also in terms of ‘greatness’, a concept that he identified closely with the production of collective trauma.

The danger inherent in this, of course, is that emotional resonance is often a poor guide to explanatory power. The most immediately compelling analogies can prove deeply misleading. The most haunting Thucydidean parallelism to highlight this point occurs through the phrase ‘few out of many returned home again’. Thucydides repeats this line three times, each to memorialise a harrowing military defeat: two massive Athenian expeditions, first to Egypt and then to Sicily, and a surprise attack that caught an entire army of Ambraciots asleep in their beds. Thucydides’ verbal repetition tempts the reader into seeing these events as an analogous set. Yet the last of these to occur, the Sicilian disaster, could not have been prevented by learning the lessons of the previous two. Quite the opposite. Rather than suffer from neglect by the metropole, as the Egyptian Expedition had, the Sicilian Expedition failed in large part due to the city’s miscalculated interventions. Rather than profit from the creative generalship of Demosthenes, which had proven decisive in the victory over the Ambraciots, his arrival in Sicily only further exacerbated the carnage.

The seductive pull of ‘great’ events is not an incidental danger to the use of historical analogies. If historians tend to debate the appeal of these parallels primarily in terms of their explanatory value, the motive behind their day-to-day use is arguably more visceral. Analogies serve more as vehicles for generating awe and outrage than for unearthing more nuanced understandings. Yet, even when used merely as rhetorical tools, they can carry serious diagnostic implications.

These implications aren’t always detrimental. Figurative rhetoric can use the resources of collective memory to move people toward better policy when explanatory traction aligns with affective resonance. Thucydides’ Pericles appears exemplary of this. Early in the war, the celebrated Athenian leader faces a crowd wearied by plague and the general miseries of war. In an attempt to steel their resolve, he draws on two coordinated analogies. In the first, he describes the Athenian struggle in terms of a Greek hero overcoming labours in the pursuit of glory. In the second, he likens the democracy’s empire to a tyranny that, in defeat, must confront the widespread hatred it has incurred.

In paralleling the Athenians to two of the most provocative figures in the Greek imagination, Pericles goads the people back to their original resolve with the alternating spikes of pride and fear. And he does so perceptively. Thucydides draws on the same analogical models when characterising Athenian power and political culture in the opening pages of History of the Peloponnesian War. It’s to Pericles’ further credit that he doesn’t simply discard the analogies after they’ve served his immediate purposes. Rather, the need to balance the ‘heroic’ and ‘tyrannical’ elements of the imperial democracy serves as a framing priority for his entire war strategy – a strategy that Thucydides himself explicitly praises.

This is not to say that Periclean policy does not prove costly for the Athenians. It serves to enhance the devastation of the plague by demanding that the Athenians crowd together behind their city walls, thereby exacerbating Athenian deaths. But the costs of this policy do not arise from Pericles’ misuse of analogical rhetoric. The experience of the plague only proves a point that should already be obvious, namely, that using analogies well cannot save us from forces beyond our control. Elsewhere, however, Thucydides makes it clear that the misuse of analogies can actually invite catastrophes on par with those suffered by chance.

A false version of the story weighed heavily on the minds of the Athenians as they made a series of bad decisions

Nowhere is this message more clearly drawn than in Athens’ climactic defeat in Sicily. The toll of this disaster is hard to overstate: not only did Athenian casualties approach those of the plague, the mishap so shook the city’s faith in popular rule that an oligarchy temporarily displaced the democracy in its aftermath. Many events contributed to this grim result. Yet Thucydides’ own explanation of why the expedition failed began with a story about an event that had occurred nearly a century before the Athenian fleet set sail.

Harmodius and Aristogeiton were towering figures in Athenian civic legend. As ‘the Tyrannicides’, they were credited with putting an end to Athenian despotism and instigating the transition towards democracy. For this, they were heroised and memorialised with unparalleled reverence. And yet, Thucydides tells his reader, their reputation was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what they’d actually done. Far from being civic benefactors or even tyrannicides, Thucydides reveals, they’d murdered the tyrant’s younger brother in a romantic rivalry gone wrong. The consequences of this murder were devastating: the previously beneficent ruler spiralled into paranoia, resulting in increasingly harsh treatment of the Athenian people.

Athenian lore had gotten everything backward: the so-called Tyrannicides, far from saving the city from despotism in an act of self-sacrifice, had caused this despotic turn for eminently personal reasons. Nevertheless, it was this false version of the story that weighed heavily on the minds of the Athenians as they made a series of bad decisions in the early days of the Sicilian Expedition. It did not do so unprompted. Rather, this misunderstanding proved a useful tool among aspiring elite leaders within Athens, each of whom was eager to clear a path for their own ascent. Standing in the way of most, however, was the Sicilian Expedition’s most talented general, a brash and charismatic leader named Alcibiades. When a series of sacrilegious acts occurred on the eve of the expedition, Alcibiades’ rivals pushed the (false) Tyrannicide parallel, suggested a tyrannical coup was afoot, and implicated Alcibiades. There was no evidence for this, but in the resultant hysteria it did not matter. Faced with certain prosecution, Alcibiades defected to Sparta, turning the tide of war against Athens.

This elite manipulation of popular misunderstanding effectively inverts Pericles’ constructive use of heroic and tyrannical parallels. By painting Alcibiades as a potential tyrant, his opponents easily conjured up an exaggerated state of fear that allowed them to achieve their private ends at the expense of the city. In the end, Thucydides shows that the analogy between past and present was indeed illuminating: personal rivalries once again led to civic casualties that resulted in brutal and self-undermining politics. But the cost of this collective delusion would become clear only later. Hindered by increasingly poor generalship and an opponent emboldened by Spartan help, ‘few out of many’ would make it home from Sicily, and Athens would soon devolve into civil war.

In May 1861, Marx found himself increasingly depressed about the American Civil War. The best he could do to mitigate his low mood, he told a friend, was to read Thucydides. ‘These ancients,’ he explained, ‘always remain new.’ They do so, we might add, by forever remaining old, thereby creating the space we need to find ourselves in the contrast.

It is tempting to see Thucydides’ digression about the tyrannicide analogy as the key to understanding his historical method. Had the Athenians only understood the truth of their own history, we might think, they wouldn’t have made such easy prey for self-serving politicians. In this vein, Thucydides’ project may seem to be that of saving future generations from comparable mistakes. As the ‘greatest’ conflict to ever beset the Greeks, unique in both its glory and its trauma, the Peloponnesian War would soon usurp the Tyrannicides and the Trojan War as the privileged source of political analogy. As such, it promised unparalleled resources for anyone trying to persuade others to their cause. It is reasonable to think that Thucydides expected his work to hinder the ability of bad actors to abuse this power. At the same time, it is unclear just how far it was in his ability to do so. The Athenians, after all, had everything they needed to realise the truth about the Tyrannicides. What they lacked was the will to scrutinise something that they felt to be intuitively correct. Thucydides could give posterity an account of the Peloponnesian War that might stop it from becoming fodder for false parallels if considered carefully. But he could not thereby prevent opportunists from constructing misleading analogies on its back.

Approaching Thucydides’ text from the angle of historical analogy does not resolve the age-old disagreement between his optimistic and pessimistic readers. It may nevertheless encourage us to recognise that a more realistic approach to political agency must exist somewhere between these two poles. Thucydides intimates that the careful art of drawing fitting analogies, honed as it may be through the diligent study of political history, will assist some to think more clearly about the present. But mastering this art should not be confused with political mastery. The power of ‘great’ events will remain too easily harnessed, and too hard to control, to serve only those who are clear-headed and well-intentioned. Specious analogies will remain a danger for as long as people stand to benefit from them, and their emotional pull will continue to knock even the most astute off balance. And yet, if there’s little chance that political life will ever be freed from distortive thinking, it may still prove less hazardous for those who look toward history as something more than a sourcebook of convenient parallels.