31 December 2023

New Years

Happy New Year, everyone. 

In the coming year, may wisdom, compassion, and lovingkindness hold sway over deceit and hatred. May peace and well-being prevail. 



30 December 2023

Arbitrary comments on Bach vocal performance today

My tastes have changed, and/or the singers have gotten lots better. Or both, more likely. Years past I much preferred female altos and sopranos in, for example, Bach cantatas. The countertenors, when they existed, and the boy sopranos, sounded pinched, tight, and just not warm. There are still few male sopranos worth a listen, but the historical practice of using men for the alto parts is now enjoying a revival and in general, they're really good and sound great. Other aspects of performance practice (smaller, more professional choruses, for example) have also made Bach performance really shine in a way that I wouldn't be surprised if it outshone even the best performances Bach would've directed himself. Certainly, Bach recordings from the last 30 years or so are just better than recordings from the earlier years of sound recordings, and it's reflected in live performances too. But the sopranos... well, I wish they'd stick with women. They still do it better, for all intents and purposes, always. (And many women altos are absolutely fantastic Bach performers too). 


Celebrating the coming end of the year with ... Bach, of course

Here  is a lovely new year's greeting from the Bach Stiftung in Switzerland. A lovely live recording, good sound, with HD video, of a marvelous performance of one of Bach's loveliest solo cantatas: Gottlob! Nun geht das Jahr zu Ende, BWV 28.  ("Praise God, now comes the year to an end").


Nerd alert: perihelion coming up

I suspect my just hatched scheme to move New Years' to Jan. 3... because that's the date of the closest point between Earth and Sun in its orbit (perihelion)... is, well, stillborn. For some reason most adult humans don't care about vitally important things like that. (Most years it's January 2 anyway). 
Fun fact: Earth is more than 1 million miles closer to the Sun... more than 1% of its greatest orbital distance... shortly after the winter solstice in the North, which actually does moderate northern winters and make southern ones a little worse... although the effect is swamped by ocean currents, wind patterns, and the effects of mountains and large areas of open ocean, respectively, north vs. south. 


29 December 2023

California rejects Trump disqualification action ... for now

Although I am thoroughly convinced that Trump did indeed "engage in insurrection" after the 2020 election, and especially on Jan. 6, 2021, I am very skeptical of the political expediency of trying to disqualify him from the ballots in 2024. I suspect that Newsom's fairly strong tilt towards no disqualification in California will be influential here (baked up by California's Secretary of State), despite Colorado and Maine. What the Supreme Court decides will be instrumental. But I actually think our prospects of retaining democracy in our country by Democrats winning across the board in 2024 are better if this issue is allowed to die and we fight this fight at the ballot box. 

26 December 2023

AIs are fraudsters, but with no apparent motive (?)

I've been playing around with Google's version of GPT (called "Bard"). At first I thought it was a bit more accurate than GPT, which I tried using quite a bit earlier this year. But then I asked it to recommend some recent books on the Origin of Life. Ho boy. Not only did it fail to mention Transformer, by Nick Lane, which is probably the most important book on this subject for popular audiences in the last decade, but it recommended a very interesting sounding title by a well respected biochemist, supposedly published in 2021. Only problem? The biochemist is a real person, author of important text books and many scientific articles. He might well have written just the book described. But he didn't. There is no such book, as Bard readily admitted when challenged (with its fakey apologies). Apparently this is a big problem, which I asked Bard about. It said that just "cite checking" by algorithm isn't as simple as it sounds, and the problem with "large language models" making shit up (my words) is persistent and very problematic. Sean Carroll said he used the latest version of GPT to create a course syllabus on a subject he hadn't taught before. He said it looked great; covered all the topics, gave the right emphasis, and included a terrific sounding set of readings. Problem? Again, about half the works recommended didn't actually exist. Something weird about this, but I'm not sure exactly what it is. Maybe AI is accessing some of the other universes in the multiverse, where these books do exist? Borgesian weirdness abounds. 

AI has no consciousness, of that everyone seems pretty sure. But it definitely does unexpected things, so I hope as a species we tread a bit lightly, and don't give it the nuclear codes. 

Cheers and Happy New Year, o denizens of the Brave New World. 



25 December 2023

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas one and all, of whatever faith. For me, it's lovely to generate cheer and wish others happiness, just as the darkest day has passed and a new year beckons. May the coming year be good for all of us. 


24 December 2023

An example of AI coherence and ability to meaningfully and correctly answer qeustions about the state of knowledge

I asked Google Bard some questions about the origin of photosynthesis, and whether this was a one-off or might have occurred more than once in the history of life. Also, I asked it the same thing about C4 photosynthesis, which is a modified chemical pathway first appearing about 35 million years ago, and used by some plants, including corn (but not wheat) that make them more efficient at converting sunlight to living matter. This was its response, which I think you will agree is pretty stunningly coherent (and also, to my knowledge, quite accurate). 

Your questions delve into the fascinating history of photosynthesis on Earth, and here's what we know:
Origin of Photosynthesis:
  • The current consensus is that oxygen-producing photosynthesis (oxygenic photosynthesis), the dominant form responsible for Earth's oxygenated atmosphere, evolved only once. Evidence points to a common ancestor of cyanobacteria, from which all other oxygenic photosynthetic organisms (including plants containing chloroplasts descended from cyanobacteria) are ultimately derived.
  • However, older, simpler forms of photosynthesis that don't produce oxygen (anoxygenic photosynthesis) might have evolved multiple times independently in different ancient bacterial lineages. These simpler forms use various electron donors besides water and typically don't contribute significantly to atmospheric oxygen.
Krebs Cycle and Water Splitting:
  • The specific features of oxygenic photosynthesis you mentioned, the Krebs cycle for carbon fixation and water splitting for oxygen production, are indeed shared by all organisms using this process. This further supports the single origin hypothesis for oxygenic photosynthesis.
C4 Photosynthesis:
  • C4 photosynthesis is a specialized adaptation within some plant lineages (monocots and dicots) to improve photosynthetic efficiency, particularly in hot and dry conditions.
  • Evidence suggests that C4 photosynthesis has evolved independently multiple times in several unrelated plant lineages, both monocots and dicots. This highlights the convergent evolution phenomenon, where similar adaptations arise in different groups facing similar environmental pressures.
In summary:
  • Oxygenic photosynthesis: Likely evolved once, with all organisms using it sharing key features like the Krebs cycle and water splitting.
  • Anoxygenic photosynthesis: May have evolved independently multiple times in different bacterial lineages.
  • C4 photosynthesis: Evolved independently several times in both monocot and dicot plant lineages.
The field of evolutionary biology continues to unravel the intricate history of life on Earth, and further research might shed light on the exact number of independent appearances of different photosynthetic pathways and their adaptations.

I do find that it uses phrases like "x is a fascinating question" and "In summary,...." too much. (Especially in view of the admitted fact that "fascination," whatever it is, is not within the purview of AI, which has no self-awareness or emotional capability. But that a machine can process (and "seem" to understand) a detailed series of questions and almost instantly prepare a meaningful answer is pretty damn remarkable, I'd say. 

By the way, just playing around with it, after having done much the same thing with ChatGPT, I find Google's ability to accurately represent facts is better. It did fall down on things like identifying Bach as a "17th century composer" because he was born in the 17th century, but when I pointed that out, it readily corrected its answer. 

23 December 2023

AI writes a sonnet

I asked Google's generative AI, Bard, to write a sonnet on the emotional response to aging, along the lines of Shakespeare's That time of year thou mayst in me behold. The result isn't great literature, but I'm not sure whether to be mildly discomfited... or stunned. Here it is:

The mirror's gaze, a stranger in my face,
Shows lines etched deep where laughter used to bloom,
And hair once spun of gold, now frosted trace, 
A winter's touch upon a summer's tomb.
My limbs, once lithe, now creak a mournful rhyme,
Each step a sigh, a burden on the sand,
The fire that danced within my youthful prime, 
To embers wanes, held softly in my hand. 
The joys that chased like butterflies in spring, Now flit afar, on wings of memory, 
The songs that soared, on muted notes now cling,
 A wispy echo of what used to be. 

Yet, though the glass dims and the shadows fall,
Love's ember glows, a solace through it all.

21 December 2023

In one sentence why I'm not so thrilled with the DQ effort

My reasons for being doubtful about the Colorado DQ decision has nothing to do with the fact that DT is, no doubt, deserving of disqualification under the 14th. I just think when (not if) the US SC finds a reason to overrule Colorado, it will not help us to defeat this would-be dictator.  And if somehow they didn't, I just don't see MAGAworld accepting this, and it could really be highly divisive, even causing violence. And our politics just doesn't have a lot of flexibility left. 

20 December 2023

Trump DQ case: seems likely the Supreme Court will overrule in nationwide decision

  I think the Supreme Court will (properly, actually) see the Colorado Trump disqualification ruling as a case where its ruling on appeal has to be swift and applicable nationwide. Either the facts are such that Trump is ineligible to run under the pretty plain language of the 14th, or they are not. The Constitution does not require a trial (or a Congressional finding), so a finding of fact by judges is sufficient. (The Jan 6 trial with a guilty verdict would be more ironclad). I just don't see this SC letting the Colorado ruling stand. They can't really punt: they will have to rule "special case" that Trump is not guilty of "engaging" in insurrection (or, less likely since it would have unpredictable reverberations, that he was not at the time a "Federal officer" under the plain language of the provision). I think this case will end up resembling, perhaps more than any other, Bush v. Gore.  Same outcome: perpetuating right wing minoritarian rule. But in any case, they will not allow the election process to proceed with some states disqualifying Trump and some not; that in itself would be a Constitutional crisis. The amendment is pretty obviously intended to operate, with respect to Federal elections, at the level of the United States as a whole, not with each state making its own determination of whether or not the provision applies. 

One aspect of all this Con Law stuff that I don't really understand is whether the SC will be in any way bound by, or at least have to give lots of deference to, the facts found by the trial judge, which the Colorado Supreme Court accepted as governing the "law of the case." I suspect that the US SC justices will not find it too hard to find justification for overruling the facts as well as the legal rulings of the lower court. 

Trump DQ case

  I think it's pretty telling that the Colorado Supreme Court, which I understand is all mainstream (as opposed to "Federalist Society") judges, voted 4-3 in the Trump DQ case. This is not a clear cut Constitutional case where only one decision is obviously reasonable and the other way isn't. So, given that we have at least 2 justices on the US SC who vote on power, not principle, and it's a 6-3 "Federalist Society" majority, I will be surprised, maybe even shocked, if the court doesn't knock this down and establish a Bush v. Gore-like supposedly nonprecedential precedent that says either that a president isn't an "officer" of the US (which I regard as ridiculous) or that in the undisputed factual circumstances of this case the provisions of the 14th amendment do not apply. I disagree with that, but it's easy to see how they could tailor a ruling to that effect, and that's exactly what I expect. Maybe, just maybe, it's better anyway for our ailing democracy if we rally to defeat Trump at the ballot box. I suspect we're going to find out if we are able to do that regardless, as the Supreme Court really is highly likely to overrule Colorado. 

18 December 2023

Why not pay Thomas (and Alito) to vacate their seats?

All the buzz about Clarence Thomas threatening to resign 'cause he's so greedy he can't abide the modest Supreme Court salary ($285K): I would absolutely love it if some foundation or other would sneakily offer him an honorarium, say $2M/yr. on condition he resign. Be the best $2M a year anyone could spend, and I predict once he left the court he'd be dead within 5 years anyway. Hell, offer it to Alito too. He's almost as greedy. Normal jurists think it's an incredible honor to serve on the Supreme Court, and they'd probably do it for nothing. But if these guys are willing to give up their positions of outsize power (particularly given that they are way outside the mainstream of American policy views and are probably the most "judicial activist" judges in history)... well, hell, give 'em the money! We'd all be better off. 


EVs are rising; many automakers trailing

Here's why I think legacy automakers, and especially the Japanese, are likely going the way of Nokia and Kodak (i.e., rapidly marginalized by technological change). It's a number. 42. (Also the answer to the question what's the meaning of life, the universe and everything in the Hitchhiker's Guide). 42 is the percentage of all autos sold in the US last month that were fully electric. 

And here are the other numbers. Mazda sales in 2023 that are fully electric: 0.0%. And Subaru, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Suzuki, Daihatsu, and Honda are all under 5%. VW and Audi (thanks to Chinese plants) are over 10%, and Kia and Hyundai are struggling but getting up into that area, with plans to convert to all electric within a decade. Same for Volvo. Stellantis, Ford and GM are all in deep trouble. 


16 December 2023

A little note of cautious optimism

Political scientist Allen Lichtman, whose "keys to the White House" method (weighted factors; somewhat arbitrary, but effective) correctly predicted the outcome all US presidential elections since 1980 and is consistent with previous elections back to FDR, notes the following for those who are seriously worried about a Trump victory. (As we all should be). 

1. One of the most determinative factors is incumbency. In fact, although it's too early for the range of predictors to be fully determined yet, it is probably the case that Biden is in a better position, just due to this one factor, than any other Democrat. (Incumbency touts six other "key" factors in his system. And, although not an absolute, no president has ever been elected after losing previously to the same opponent. Ever. The most recent example is Adlai Stevenson, who lost to Eisenhower twice: the first time by a minor landslide and the second time in a blowout, in 1956). 

2. The economy, according to various measures, is (despite a lot of crowing) actually a plus factor for Biden, and strongly so. 

3. Trump's criminal indictments and lack of crossover support among almost any Democrats at all (and weak support among independents) are strong negatives, no matter what early polling may show. Should he be convicted before the election, it likely will cost him the election almost regardless of other factors. 

So, yes, of course, we have to work hard to ensure the outcome, but right now it's reasonable to say that the election of Donald Trump in 2024 is somewhere between quite and very unlikely. Events could intercede, of course, but that works both ways. And, oddly enough, the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, although both have cost Biden some support among Progressives, are factors in favor of an incumbent, according to Lichtman's successful method). 


14 December 2023

Soft landing, phooey, let's give some credit where due

Gotta say, it's a tad rich that the NY Times headline asks "has Jerome Powell pulled off a soft landing?"  Why is it that Republican presidents get all kinds of credit if the Moon fails to crash into the Earth during their term but a Democratic president who went from 9+% inflation caused by the pandemic (and also horrible Trumpian economic policies), a weak job market mostly distorted by people not returning to work after the pandemic, and predictions of recession from nearly every economist... to 3% (near background level) inflation, a soaring financial market, lowest unemployment since WW2, real wage growth in the working and lower middle class sectors (for the first time in years), tens of thousands of new manufacturing jobs, and real infrastructure projects underway after Trump did nothing but make empty promises... gets no credit and all people do is complain about how old he is. How about acknowledging that it's Biden, not Powell, who deserves most of the credit, and that it's not a soft landing but a nearly miraculous recovery from the pandemic downturn? 

I have my disagreements with Biden, but come on, folks, how can people not see that in pretty difficult circumstances, and with absolutely zero help from Republicans, he's done a remarkable job, especially with the economy? 

Of course, we no longer have two civil parties that contest elections in good faith. We have one such party, and the other is careening towards fascism as fast as it can go, and if it succeeds, we are in for the Dark Ages. So the only real choice is between Biden and perdition. We all kinda know this, and it's very unsettling. And any of my friends (and there are some) who vote for Jill Stein, Cornel West, or RFK Jr.... well, I'll forgive them if Biden wins anyway. But if not, I don't know. I just don't know. Some stupidity, that has potentially really terrible consequences, is pretty close to unforgiveable. 

The world is going through a really difficult period, but the US is doing better than expected, and better than most other countries in terms of economic recovery. Global stability is teetering and the world desperately needs a stable and leading US government committed to democracy and fact-based policies. If we lose that, we, our entire species, will be in for a world of hurt. No question about it. 

06 December 2023

Self driving cars? Not so fast.

I suspect this article is, well, not exactly unbiased, but the fact remains clear as day that driverless technology is proving to be a very, very much harder problem than initially anticipated. And, in fact, going all the way back to Marvin Minsky in the 1970s, the predictions of artificial humanlike mental capacities and capabilities have invariably been overestimated. Driverless cars need not be self-aware, but it took evolution over a billion years to create a prototype large animal that could avoid getting itself killed long enough to reproduce (enough of the time), so it's perhaps a bit arrogant to think we can achieve the equivalent in a decade or two. I don't doubt it's possible, but it's not going to be easy or quick. And as for "AGI," artificial general intelligence, which it's usually just presumed will be somehow self-aware, technology is nowhere near. Minsky thought we'd have it by 1980. But since current AI methods don't even address the question of functionality of consciousness, and current AIs have not just a little but quite literally zero self-awareness, I think the prospects for "humanlike" intelligence (including self-awareness and intention) anytime in the foreseeable future can be discounted all the way down to "effectively zero."  

30 November 2023

Noting the passing of historic figures

I mourn the passing of Rosalyn Carter. But not Henry Kissinger, of whom I believe the evidence that he committed at least two serious war crimes is compelling.   

29 November 2023

Very interesting commentary on AI \ Sean M Carroll

Carroll makes the point I keep saying: there is no evidence that any artificial "intelligent" system has any subjective experience or intention. We falsely assume that because an algorithm can sound human, it must have these human qualities. A nonsequitur. 


23 November 2023

Elon Musk and his wacko beliefs

I recently heard an interview by Molly Jong-Fast of Ben Mezrich, author of Breaking Twitter, an account of Elon Musk's foolish and malign buyout and subsequent near-total destruction of Twitter. Before this, I had wondered what could make someone like Musk, who is undeniably brilliant at some things, having made a fortune from Paypal, and founded and made really quite spectacular successes of SpaceX and Tesla (not to mention Starlink)... into such a total shit. Pardon my French. But, alt right nutjob, anti-semite, racist, anti-democracy oligarch, conspiracy theorist.... none of those is unfair to him and all are largely true. So what insight did Mezrich offer? Seems that, like Peter Thiel and Ray Kurzweil, Musk believes in the singularity.  (Kurzweil, at least, doesn't share the others' right wing politics). And Musk believes in the logic explored in the world of ideas by people like Sean Carroll and Max Tegmark, i.e., that it is "more likely than not" that what we perceive as reality is actually a simulation. If this concept is unfamiliar to you, you might want to look it up. It's wild. And, although I can only offer my instinctive reaction, I'm nearly certain it's just plain wrong. 

But that doesn't really explain what's wrong (spiritually and psychologically) with someone like Musk. And here's where Mezrich gives a further detail that I hadn't heard anywhere. Not only does Musk apparently believe that the whole universe is essentially a computer game, but he's crossed the line into believing that only he is real. He is the "player," the rest of us are just walk-ons. Bits and electrons in a great simulation of reality. The ultimate in malignant narcissism, mixed in a toxic brew with actual solipsism. (I'm thinking Trump would believe the same if he weren't too stupid to understand the concepts involved). 

Does this explanation comfort me? Hardly. Convinces me even more that this guy is dangerous as hell and that in the pretty near future his and other "supernational" players will have to be reined in. You can't give that much power to crazy people. 

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all. 

/David and Brad 

11 November 2023

Busting EV myths

Years ago (1990s) my uncle and his wife and colleague did a big consultancy project for the State of California on the prospects for EVs as part of a massive response to Climate Change, as well as older concerns about air pollution in general. At the time, having grown up with the usual American male love affair with cars, I was more than skeptical. People I respected said there was no way that burning coal or natural gas to produce power, then going through all the inefficiencies of batteries, etc., was going to make sense either economically or in terms of carbon emissions. And at the time I wasn't really wrong, but that was assuming that the still rather primitive EV systems then being tested (such as the EV-1) would remain more or less what EVs were. But now, as this "mythbusting" site notes, even when power to charge the batteries is produced from natural gas, the overall carbon emissions attributable to EV use are much lower, and are lower still over the longer life of the cars, than any combustion powered vehicles. Modern EV motors and batteries are good for well over 200,000 miles and the motors actually are serviceable for about 1 million miles... all the while not requiring a lot of replacements and maintenance, and paying down the carbon debt of their original manufacture with each additional mile. 

So, it's taken a while, but the era of battery EVs is here. Some of the legacy manufacturers, especially in Japan, are resisting the truth that hydrogen fuel cells or hydrogen internal combustion just doesn't work... so- called blue hydrogen is made from fossil fuels... so it's a dumb plan that has already been shown to be unworkable, in terms of infrastructure. And no serious person can argue that we should just continue to burn fossil fuels for transportation without a care. But batteries, on the other hand, continue to get better and cheaper, and in terms of simplicity, performance, and every metric other than the remaining need to build out the charging network over the next decades, are already on par in cost and far superior in performance to ICE cars. And, slowly but surely, we are transitioning to nonfossil sources for electric power. So a future with net zero carbon transportation is on the horizon. (The problems of air travel are much tougher to crack, but that's another matter). 

Honestly, I can no longer see the attraction of combustion engines and look forward to the day when the last one used to power a new motor vehicle is finally history. I think it's just possible I will live to see that day. 

(One of the dumbest myths mentioned, that an "old banger" is the green choice, is really laughable. The truth is that cars built before about 1970 on average produce about 100x the old smog pollutants than even modern ICE cars, and are woefully inefficient in terms of carbon emissions. Even more recent but worn out older cars are absolutely terrible in terms of efficiency and emissions.)


10 November 2023

Not a "both sides do it" situation

Now the Guardian, and not just the Daily Beast, is reporting Trump's hardly veiled threats to play the authoritarian dictator, complete with trumped up prosecutions, if returned to office.  https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/nov/10/trump-fbi-rivals-2024-election 

Trump says Biden has done this, but it's just not true. (One characteristic typical of malignant narcissists is projection; it's often noted that with Trump, every accusation is a confession). Prosecutions by their very nature are not truly impartial, but there is actual admissible evidence of crimes in Trump's cases, and so far, when pressed for evidence, Republicans trying to impeach Biden have produced zip in the way of actual, under-oath evidence of anything, so the idea that "everybody does it," and prosecutions of Trump's rivals will be on the same plane of legitimacy as the prosecutions of Trump just don't add up. There is a real, evidentiary, case against Trump. 

There is a wide consensus among historians, already, that Trump was and continues to be the most corrupt, and most contemptuous of the rule of law, of all presidents in our history. I regard this as virtually beyond debate.

US history (like the history of every country) is rife with instances of corruption and misuse of power. But when someone says they will weaponize the prosecutorial function, which is supposed to be firewalled against such use by the executive, and commit other atrocities of essentially totalitarian governance, you should believe them. This isn't a "both sides" situation. Only Republicans (although not only Trump) are making these threats. 

09 November 2023

Some stark reality for ya

 In the midst of this video the presenter notes that "a single paper" may not reflect a scientific consensus, but that it's also true that in a developing field of knowledge, it is often the case that the scientific consensus lags, and good research recently published is more likely in some cases to reflect the actual facts of the question. 

So, taking at face value this research on the inevitability of the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Shelf, which in turn will necessarily cause much of the continental ice sheet of Western Antarctica to slide into the sea and melt, the upshot is pretty stark: we are fucked. We failed to heed warnings in time and massive disruption is not preventable at this point. 

This process, alone, which will likely be only one of several ice melt events (Greenland, Eastern Antarctica) over the next 100 years, means a sea level rise of fifteen meters. (Likely much more when all the contributing factors add up). Where the Willamette River meets the Columbia north of Portland, where I live, the altitude above mean sea level is about 3 meters. Adding 15 meters to sea level, even though that will not translate directly to an additional 15 meters upriver from the ocean this far, will nonetheless likely flood significant parts of the Willamette Valley here in Oregon, including low lying parts of my city. 

And every other low lying or coastal city in the World. 

Our civilization is just not prepared to deal with this, especially with less than a century to go, and many other climate and scarcity related problems occurring simultaneously. 

Inconvenient truths, indeed. 

I am fairly confident our species will survive and eventually learn to cope with all these issues, but it's gonna be a very, very rough go for our global civilization in the latter part of this century, and that means in the lives of billions of people who are alive today. Disruption on a scale that we simply have not seen, even with the wars and other horrendous events of the earlier 20th century. It all comes together, and if we are not able to adapt and find ways to prevent further degradation of our environment, complete catastrophe and extinction are not out of the question. The challenge seems overwhelming. But somehow we must adapt, because there will be no other choices. 

I can't help but think about how young people around the turn of the coming century will look back at the people of the 20th and early 21st century and feel very angry, betrayed, and short-changed. And they will not be wrong. We have failed the future, and they will blame us. But, as David Wallace Wells likes to point out, it is never too late to start mitigating the disaster; every right thing we do, just like every wrong thing, is cumulative. If we are to emerge from this disaster sooner rather than later, and with a functioning global ecosystem that is resilient enough for us to continue inhabiting this planet, then there is no time to waste, no resources surplus to the effort, and no use for stupid, unworkable technologies like the carbon capture, biomass that equates to just cutting down trees, and the ethanol fraud, all of which only make the conversion to a completely renewable energy future harder and for it to take longer. 

06 November 2023

Trump will invoke Insurrection Act to quell any dissent if allowed to take power

If this doesn't scare you just a bit, you don't scare too easy. 

Along with this insanity, there are reports that the right wing think tanks like the Claremont Institute are drawing up a list of about 50,000 true Fascist believers to replace that number of civil servants essentially immediately should Trump take power. One of the first things they will do is reclassify tens of thousands of Federal civil service employees as "political appointees" and then fire them and replace them with an administrative shock troop contingent to carry out the conversion of America into an authoritarian autocracy.

04 November 2023

Why we need the National Popular Vote Compact and how it is actually possible

The National Popular Vote Initiative seems to have lost some steam recently, but this video makes clear that it is a vital step towards restoring basic democratic process, and, that it is a tough slog but not impossible. Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas. I think, in view of the current impossibility of amending the Constitution, it should be a widely discussed official Democratic position that this compact needs to become law in enough states to take effect. 

02 November 2023

Acapulco nearly destroyed

In the last 20-30 years, Acapulco has suffered, let's say, a sullied reputation. Due to gang activity, etc. But the media has apparently mostly failed to report that recent surprisingly strong hurricane Otis pretty much destroyed the entire city. Here

31 October 2023

Brad's pumpkin and our porch @ Halloween


My pumpkin for 2023.

Brad does one too but I got a jump on him.  

Supporting Joe Biden

I just contributed to the Biden campaign, even though it's more than a year out, and not because I agree with him on everything, because I don't. But because We cannot lose the struggle to retain our democracy. I've been saying this since 2016, of course, but if anything it's more stark than ever, with an actual Christofascist, MAGA Mike, who clearly doesn't value democracy at all, having been elected speaker by the entire House Antidemocracy delegation (including, to my personal chagrin, my Congressperson, who falsely ran as a "moderate." Remember, there are no moderates in the AntiDemocracy party.) 


Biking a car-free freeway... and dreaming of a better future

This (below) is interesting. There's a 50 year old science fiction story by Larry Niven in which, due to the development of transfer booths (more or less Star Trek transporters), the freeways have become unnecessary and had been turned into long, snaking parks. But you know, the park part (not the transfer booths, which probably violate at least one fundamental law of physics and so will be impossible forever)... isn't so far fetched. In the not too distant future, I picture the technology of tunneling becoming fully automated and far more effficient. We could have vehicles that are conjoinable and sent through pressurized tunnels controlled by AI, to emerge and become (electric, of course) driver-operated cars mainly only for the "last mile." Many existing roads and highways can be given over to green space. 

Our civilization has to return to dreaming of a better, more prosperous life, and get over all this senseless conflict in which, more and more, there can never be winners. 

Just as a few centuries ago alchemy became chemistry and, while they came to realize that you just can't turn lead into gold (at least not through chemistry), you can do all manner of seemingly miraculous things, we are just at the very threshold of a second Enlightenment and third Industrial Revolution that can transform human life from drudgery and tedium to nearly complete freedom. We can't zip around the galaxy, but there is a whole lot we can do. Or we can destroy ourselves. And the choice is pretty much entirely up to us. 

Happy Halloween

I'm one of those stick in the mud types of old fuddy duddy who is somewhat bewildered by how Halloween has become a "major" holiday, with costly decorations and even "Halloween lights" de rigueur. But Happy Halloween irregardlesslyfulness. Ihooditude. I do carve a pumpkin, so that's something. 

27 October 2023

Christofascist now Speaker of the House

I feel sure that chance has very little to do with the fact that we have ended up with an outright (and forthright) Christofascist as Speaker of the House. Third in line for the U.S. Presidency. 

This horrible man is an enemy of civil rights, free speech rights, personal liberty, reproductive rights, any concern for the "general welfare" (mentioned in the very first paragraph of the Constitution), or real religious freedom. (Which must include the right not to believe in any and not to be molested by members of any sect and their sanctimony in the public square or school). More and more, we shake our heads and look away from the gradual erosion of whatever there ever was of democracy in this country. 

We have to rise and fight against these developments, or, like many peoples in the past, we will lose what we had and rue the day it happened for a long, long time. 

19 October 2023

School Bonds

I remember nearly 60 years ago a grade school teacher of mine shaking her head and saying she just couldn't understand why people (most of whom had kids in those days) would vote "No" on school bonds. Actually, I don't particularly like bonded indebtedness as a way to pay for operations (as opposed to infrastructure), but in any case, I learned from her that indeed taxes, especially taxes for schools (and universities, and libraries, and some other things) are very much, as Justice Brandeis put it, the "price of civilization." Our off year election where I live consists only of a single issue, a school bond. Kinda steep, to tell you the truth. Going up about 40% to $1.63 per $1000 of assessed valuation (the wisdom of using property tax to pay for schools being another dubious policy value). But, I whipped out my pen and voted "Yes." Of course.  

Big Flip: Sidney Powell

Have to admit I was surprised that Sidney Powell has flipped on Il Donaldo. No escaping that she is admitting they tried to steal the election, and by the terms, she has to not talk to the press till the trials are over and testify against all the other co-defendants, truthfully.  Looks bad for Donnie. 

"Inevitable" war with China? WTF?

 This is very interesting, and I suppose it's inevitable and probably necessary that the DOD is thinking seriously about what armed conflict with China would entail, and preparing for that contingency, but I have to say that thinking in terms of "inevitability" or even likelihood of a war with China is just plain insane. If our civilization, which is already in many ways transnational, is to survive the crises of climate, resources, biodiversity maintenance, etc., we must learn to resolve our differences over hegemony and other such bullshit and learn to live together as a single world with a single humanity. To me it is so glaringly obvious that this must be our single overriding priority that I am speechless in the face of any other views. 

18 October 2023

Biden visit in light of cancellation by all regional partners other than Israel

Given that it is widely, even if likely incorrectly, believed in the region that the hospital calamity in Gaza was an Israeli missile, I think Biden's visit, which should not have been scheduled so soon in the first place, should've been "diplomatically postponed." The impression that the US, as usual, is pro-Israel reflexively and not an honest broker is being reinforced. The situation is calamity exponented. Yes, indeed, Hamas is a religious authoritarian terrorist organization that has held power without further elections for almost 20 years, and which launched an assault on civilians against international law. But this is not a fight of the pure against the despoiled; it is a war with tremendous injustice over decades by a powerful nuclear armed state against an occupied territory in its background. There can be no pretense of moral absolutism here. The US should do what it can to prevent a wider war or increasing tension. I'm fairly sure Biden's visit at this point is having the opposite effect.   

16 October 2023

Toyota's Pipe Dream

I just do not understand how Toyota can think that they can take the market by storm with an incredibly complicated hydrogen internal combustion powered pickup truck that will have 370 mile range, but cost at least twice as much as a comparable gasoline powered truck or electric truck such as Tesla's. Yet this is exactly what they're saying. Their timeline is "2028 to 2030" and such a project would depend on a multi-hundred billion dollar buildout, essentially from nothing, of a worldwide hydrogen production and distribution network. Their competition, battery electric trucks and cars, are already cheaper to build than ICE equivalents, and the charging infrastructure, while still in the development phase, is years ahead of any possible hydrogen infrastructure. And Rivian already has an electric truck with better specs, and Tesla soon will be manufacturing its cybertruck in large numbers at a profit. To me, this is so obviously a selection-bias driven pipedream likely to bankrupt Toyota and other makers following their lead that it isn't really even worth taking seriously at all.

13 October 2023

Bitcoin mining, WTF?

I came across the term "bitcoin mining" in a NY Times article... which didn't bother to even hint at what that meant, apparently assuming everyone knows. So looked it up in some reasonably reliable fact resources on the net, including wikipedia, having to learn the word "blockchain" to understand it. But I am left with a serious question to which I cannot fathom a reasonable answer. It is this: why on Earth would anyone assign any value to this nonsense and why do cryptocurrencies have any value whatsoever, since they apparently have nothing to do with any kind of useful production or even information? The factual accounts I read give no hint of any kind of sensible answer to my questions. 

08 October 2023

The horrible war in Gaza and Israel... an unorthodox view as an American

I can hardly read news coverage of the fighting in Gaza and Israel. After more than 50 years of this, it is all but unbearable to read about such folly and violence. 

 My view on this subject is not popular in my country, but it is one I haHove come to from many years of thinking about it. And it is this. Israel was formed out of a worldwide sense of guilt for what occurred in Central Europe... the Holocaust. But the truth is that the same kind of aggressive war and forced displacement was used to create a "Jewish nation" as was behind all the other wars of aggression in the first half of the 20th century. And the unjustified attack, including attack on civilians, against Israel in 1967 has led to the longest modern military occupation in history. Tragedy abounds. But so does fault. Israel has made Gaza into an open air prison, and repeatedly used white phosphorous against civilian populations... a war crime. The attack on Israel is calculated, deadly, directed against civilians... and unjustifiable. But hardly unpredictable or legitimately claimable to be anything other than the consequences of a military occupation. 

 So, unlike in Ukraine, where a 40 year UN member was unilaterally attacked in a war of territorial aggression, this is a situation where neither side has acted with fundamental justification, and, sadly, the world community has been unable or unwilling to pressure the Israelis to stand down an occupation and conclude a permanent peace. 

 Which is why, horrible as this situation is, I believe the US policy at this point should be to urge peace but remain de facto neutral. Just don't do anything to exacerbate the situation while doing everything possible to exert pressure on Israel's right wing government and, to whatever extent we have any credibility or influence with them, to encourage the cessation of hostilities by Hamas and to start, some how, yet again, to try to find a negotiated settlement. But no military aid to either side, ever again. 

 Unfortunately, the most likely outcome is the violent eradication of Hamas, which will entail terrible violence and suffering against civilians. This is not the way first world civilized nations are expected to behave. We have serious problems that require more and more substantial international cooperation than ever before facing us. We simply cannot afford this kind of thing, and we must make clear that no way will we support it. Israel can "defend" itself, no doubt, and has a right to, but what they intend is clearly retribution, which we must not participate in at all. 

 That's my view. 

04 October 2023

03 October 2023

A pet peeve

I swear I'm going to just plain stop doing business with companies that deliberately understaff their support departments to that a hold time of 30 min. or more, and, to add insult to injury, that deliberately play music so overvolumed and underbandwidthed for telephone that the result is actually painful distortion. They do this on purpose, I am convinced, to get people to hang up and give up. Oftentimes continuing to pay for some subscription service that has stopped working. But, oh, wait. I can't really stop doing business with companies doing this, can I? Because they all do it. Banks, insurance companies, mobile phone companies, cable companies, internet service providers, utilities, you name it. 

Just expressing my frustration. It really galls me, though, that it's become customary to treat customers as if their time was of no importance at all. My latest is Dropbox. I will be canceling out of an account I've had for more than ten years, because they are essentially incommunicado. Their support e mail fails to provide any real information, including even as to whether my disabled account is still being billed. I honestly think this kind of business practice needs to be illegal. If you want the privilege of using the Federally regulated banking system to collect money from American citizens, you should have to be available to communicate with, in a reasonable period of time, by means of public communication channels. Period, full stop, no ifs ands or buts. 

26 September 2023

Call them out with their leader's own words!

Democrats need to call out Republicans on every level as to whether they support the dangerous fascist who is the de facto leader of their party. This article is a good place to start: 27 things Il Trumpo has said he will try to do if, all that is good in the universe forfend, he is ever elected president again. 

22 September 2023

Dogs honored in Edinburgh

Traveling in UK for a short vacation, and visited this touching curiosity in Edinburgh Castle. It's a (mostly) military canine cemetery. Dogs who served their nation well were sometimes buried with full military honors. 

12 September 2023

Biden Impeachment Travesty

In the two Trump impeachments, the Nixon near-impeachment, and even the Clinton impeachment, there was actual, verifiable evidence of an actual crime, committed by the accused while in office. I think in the case of Clinton the refusal of the Senate to convict was the right decision. Not so in Trump's two indictments. He was guilty as hell in both cases of serious corruption, fraud and actions inimical to constitutional democracy, and should have been convicted, removed from office, and disabled from ever running again. 

In pure retaliation, with no evidence whatsoever of any crime or serious misconduct either before or during his current term of office, the Right Wing-dominated House is poised to launch an inquiry likely to result in the presentation of Articles of Impeachment against Biden, on so-far unspecified charges. This is a sham and makes a mockery of the Constitution and its plain meaning. Despite months and months of "Congressional investigation," zero credible evidence of significant wrongdoing on Biden's part has emerged. Zero. The Republicans behind this kangaroo court are not patriots; they harm our country by almost everything they do. And this, in particular, is a travesty. I hope they at least nominally redeem themselves by failing to pass any trumped-up (pun intended) Articles. There are at least some hints that a few more Republicans in the House than the very narrow majority margin may end up refusing to support an impeachment that just isn't based on any meaningful evidence of any wrongdoing. (It's a foregone conclusion that the Senate will never convict, but that's another story). 

10 September 2023

Huge Contrast

What a contrast between the pronouncements of the whiny, self-absorbed-beyond-all-reason criminal who is our most recent former president, and what President Biden just said in New Delhi. 

"One Earth, One Family, One Future," Biden told a meeting of the [just announced] Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGI). He called for "building sustainable, resilient infrastructure; making quality infrastructure investments; and creating a better future [that] represents greater opportunity, dignity, and prosperity for everyone."

And, still, something like 30% or more of America's voting population wants to give the former guy the nuclear codes. Again.

Vietnam, America's new "Critical Partner" in the Indo-Pacific

As very much a child of the Vietnam War era, I cannot help but muse over the "critical partner" move on the part of both the current Vietnamese government and the US to "counter" Chinese hegemony in the region. (China being Vietnam's historical enemy No. 1). President Biden went to Hanoi, the first American president to do so. 

What I'm reminded of is how Ho Chi Minh famously admired George Washington and the American Revolution, and fully expected (naively, as it turned out) for post WWII America to support his Anti-Colonial insurgency. 1950s and 60s America, in a very real sense, drove the Vietnamese into alliance with the Soviets and onto the other side of the Cold War, by, in effect, inheriting the colonialist mantle from the French. So convinced we were of the all-encompassing danger of Communism, when what the Vietnamese insurgency was all about, first and foremost, was nationalism... the desire of the Vietnamese people for self-determination after centuries of first Chinese then French domination. We see this now, with the Vietnamese regime, the direct peaceful successor to the North Vietnamese regime then, being most plausibly seen as a moderately authoritarian neoCapitalist government, which seems quite happy to align with India and the US with the IndoPacific "counterbalance" to China. 

None of this is sweetness and light all around, and no doubt there is an abundance of hypocrisy and double dealing involved in all quarters (as is pretty much always the case in international power politics). Still, it's hard not to think the US could fairly readily have handled affairs so that a long, debilitating and very deadly war in Indochina could have been avoided, and we would've been where we are now with Vietnam a long, long time ago. I suppose that would have required historically improbable vision, although there were plenty of people in the US as early as the late 1950s who didn't buy the concept of the "Domino" theory, or see Vietnam as any kind of threat to the US or its long term interests. And now? Lessons learned, one hopes, but perhaps doesn't quite believe. 

03 September 2023

The seeming improbability of a Trump

In any past relatively normal period of American politics, say, at any time between 1876 and 2015, the mere fact that a colorable argument for disqualification to run for the presidency under Pt. 3 of the 14th amendment could be made would make a politician's candidacy for the nomination of a major political party completely nonviable. Add to that said politician had been indicted for 91 counts of serious crimes (and counting) and would likely be tied up in trials and other legal proceedings for much of the campaign, and the very idea that such a person should be a party's nominee, still less that they might have any chance at all of actually winning the presidency, would seem utterly preposterous. 

But this is the time we are living in, and this is what is happening. 

24 August 2023

Future DeTrumpification? A role for government?

I've been studying a bit on the decline of the Nazi regime in 1944-45 and I'm struck both by the horrifying similarities to the Cult of Trumpism today and, in all honesty, by the fundamental differences. (I use Cult of Trumpism to refer to the core fanatical followers, whose loyalty to the person of Donald Trump exceeds their patriotism or concern for the USA per se, and in some cases even their religion; there acutally are "Trump Messianics" among the QAnon conspiracists, whose fanaticism invades even their religious beliefs). The Nazi leaders were, unquestionably, gangsters, as are Trump and his minions. Göring, in particular, was especially venial and self-dealing, in a way that puts one in mind of Trump, and the mass deception and use of propaganda techniques with complete disregard for truth or evidence are shockingly similar. But the murderous racial hatred that motivated the Nazis, while not entirely absent in Trumpism, does not in any way rise to the level of sheer depravity and atrocity that was typical of Nazi leaders like Klaus Barbie, Heydrich, Göbbels, Himmler, Bormann and, of course, Hitler himself, to name just a few key figures. Yes, Trumpism is malignant, duplicitous, and mafia-like, but it is not, at least not yet, genocidal. So, when we look at the somewhat checkered history of post-victory denazification of the German populace, we should take some comfort and hope that a carefully crafted information (as opposed to disinformation) campaign on what the key provisions of our Constitution and system of government really mean, and how facts matter, could ultimately be successful in healing the terrible rift that separates our people. Such an official program will have to be carefully crafted to be nonpartisan, non-political even, but, like the best of Cold War propaganda (and not like the worst of it), I believe there is a public information role in a post-Trump-defeat government to bring about renewed understanding and appreciation of basic civics, and how our system is crafted with checks and balances to preserve democratic republicanism and prevent the rise of autocracy and extremist ideology.