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. 

23 August 2023

Disqualifying Trump under the 14th Amendment

Although I am not particularly optimistic for success, I don't see any alternative but for pro-democracy Secretaries of State in every state where they exist to conduct some kind of formal inquiry, and render an opinion that under Sec. 3 of Amndt. 14 of the US Constitution, that Donald Trump is disqualified from running for office, and therefore cannot be place on their states' ballots. This will almost certainly end up before the Supreme Court. But for it not to be a foregone conclusion that the multi-state disqualification will be unsuccessful, a concerted effort to make sure the process is initiated and performed professionally and competently wherever possible must be made. 

Even in states like Alabama and Mississippi there should be at least an attempt made, probably by the filing of a constitutional lawsuit if and when Trump's name is accepted for candidacy by the State. Every effort to enforce this Constitutional provision, which in my opinion unquestionably applies, will have an effect in the Zeitgeist surrounding this issue, even in states where litigation is unsuccessful. 

Believing he can cancel the constitution should be DISQUALIFYING

Just sayin'.   Remember when Donald Trump said in a tweet that the totally imaginary problem with the 2020 election "allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution."

As Liz Cheney said in late 2022, "Donald Trump believes we should terminate "all rules, regulations and articles, even those found in the Constitution" to overturn the 2020 election. That was his view on 1/6 and remains his view today. No honest person can now deny that Trump is an enemy of the Constitution."

These quotes should be featured in pro-Biden advertising hot and heavy from now until Trump is either out of the race or soundly defeated in November 2024. This statement, all by itself, is disqualifying and totally contrary to the oath anyone elected president must take in order to take office. (Including Donald Trump, who took that oath in 2017). 

Russia vs. India

There is a certain rather blatant symbolism in the fact that within the week the Russians utterly failed to land a probe on the Moon (something the Soviet Union accomplished 50+ years ago), whereas India succeeded in doing the same thing, with an actually useful scientific project at the South Pole of the Moon. 

21 August 2023

Lowest electricity production price ever: SOLAR

 Still think renewable energy is unable to compete with fossil fuels for energy production? Think again. Recent solar installations are now producing energy for the lowest inflation adjusted price for energy ever. 

The reality is that the Climate Holocaust can be avoided. The impediments are nearly all political, not technical and not even fundamentally economic. 

13 August 2023

Really compelling: Lex Fridman interviews Bioscientist Michael Levin

I already recommended Lex Fridman's longform podcast interview (with video) of Nick Lane, but this guy, Michael Levin,* has got to be one of the smartest people on Earth, and this interview is extremely compelling and idea-changing. (Absolutely not to be confused with the xenophobic racist neanderthal asshole of the same name). The interview is 3 hours. Break it up. Watch parts over. But, seriously, it's worth your time. I don't philosophically agree with everything especially Fridman says in this interview, but it's all very much worth the time to think about. 

(Fridman's interview of Cool Worlds Lab astronomer David Kipping is very interesting too, but this one is on another level altogether). 

12 August 2023

Description of the Republican Party as it exists now

 I was struck by Heather Cox Richardson's description of the contemporary Republican Party. 

"I am struck by how completely the Republican Party, which began in the 1850s as a noble endeavor to keep the United States government intact and to rebuild it to work for ordinary people, has devolved into a group of chaos agents feeding voters a fantasy world."

Lex Fridman interview with Nick Lane

Lex Fridman interview with Nick Lane. Origin of Life, Consciousness. A very long interview, not for everyone (try 1.5x), but just plain ab fab. 

11 August 2023

Climate change video

I was listening to Laurie Garrett (aka Cassandra) about the collapse of the AMOC (see video), and the fact that for the first time in human history sea ice off Antarctica is not increasing at all this winter, and I felt like climbing up on the roof and jumping off to the concrete driveway 30 ft. below. But then I watched this helpful video. Here. Yes, climate change is happening faster and more gravely than what was thought most likely even a decade ago, but concluding that there's nothing we can do and we're all just screwed isn't helpful either. 

We can overcome the anthropogenic climate crisis. But determination and activism is how to do it, not despair. 

(To be fair, Garrett hasn't actually said otherwise, but she does seem to focus on the scariest, most negative view. Taking the threat seriously is important, but scaring the bejeezus out of people to the point they think it's over and there's no hope doesn't help either).  

09 August 2023

Why I believe AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) is impossible

There is a lot of discussion these days about "Artificial General Intelligence" (AGI), by which term a purely hypothetical phenomenon better described as "Technology-based Consciousness" is usually meant. I refer to it as "hypothetical," because, like "extraterrestrial intelligent beings," it is a category the existence, or even the possibility, of which remains to be demonstrated. In the case of  ETs, my gut instinct is that they exist but are rare. In the case of AGI, or better, my term, TBC, I believe, in the absence of evidence one way or the other, that there is no such thing, never has been anywhere in the universe, and likely never will be. 

My reasons, which are purely philosophical as opposed to scientific, center around what I think of as the "Star Trek transporter paradox." If such a transporter actually existed, there is no real reason why the person entering the "Send" station wouldn't simply remain in existence after the signal to recreate his scanned "image" was sent, to emerge as another version of him. Or, if the scanning were destructive, I have to ask, in what sense have you not just killed him? How do you actually know that the replica that emerges from the "Receive" end isn't an entirely different person, who just happens to have a mental image of the prior life of the "sent" version of "himself?" But what is the actual continuity from the point of view of the person that got in the transporter in the first place? I would argue that there is no way to know. The qualia of seeming continuity between one moment to the next could well be terminated for the person getting in; and the person emerging only has the illusion of continuity. There is simply no way to know. Very sophisticated philosophical treatments of the nature of consciousness and the perception of time, including some ancient but highly complex and subtle ruminations by Buddhist sages, have dealt with this issue, but I would argue that no one really knows what the real essence of the perception of continuous consciousness is. We only know that it seemingly emerges in minds, but, so far anyway, insofar as anyone can determine, only in minds of biological origin.

People will express the opposite view quite easily, but I am unconvinced. I have never perceived any reason to believe that a computer (such as ChatGPT, which I have interacted with a fair amount), which can be turned off so that it is an inert object like a brick, then turned back on, is in any way conscious. Even "a little." A system can mimic the externalities of an intelligent mind, which could lead you to infer the existence of consciousness, but the externalities are not actually evidence for any kind of subjective experience at all. I would argue, in fact, that there are indications to suggest that there is no subjective awareness whatsoever. As I said, my gut instinct is that there is simply no there there. The "smartest" computer is only a universal computing machine running an elaborate algorithm. The same may be true of our own minds; that can be argued forever too. But I remain unconvinced that a machine can be built that suddenly, and for no apparent reason, experiences emergent subjective consciousness. I just don't buy it. 

I suppose on some level it doesn't matter. If some biosphere-derived natural conscious being evolved somewhere and built a "machine civilization" entirely out of computer operated effectuators (spacecraft?) --that proceeded to self-replicate entirely without subjective experience, our experience of that "civilization," were we to encounter it, might be indistinguishable from an encounter with conscious minds. For that matter, solipsism aside, we wouldn't really know if an actual alien life form was conscious or merely a sophisticated algorithm, even if it were unquestionably biological. Our "theory of mind" gives us pretty good confidence that our fellow humans, and even animals more or less closely related to us, have some form of subjective consciousness, but beyond that, there is a vast forest of the unknown. And even that, I think, is an ever so slight-seeming leap of faith, because we can only assume that other instances of what appear to be minds actually have their own inner experience, entirely inaccessible to us, as individuals.

Regardless, these considerations have led me to the working assumption that artificial, technology-based consciousness is an intriguing, comprehensible idea, but one which does not correspond to any reality, existing at any time, anywhere.

Some further thoughts on the Fermi Paradox

Apropos Prof. David Kipping's take on the so called Fermi Paradox, see this ("Cool Worlds"): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbUgb2OPpdM. (FWIW, I'm not critiquing fantasy or speculation about "how it might've been," which is fun and the basis of most science fiction. I'm just trying to take the serious facts and questions and posit what might actually be the reality of the matter). 

Dr. Kipping asserts that it isn't reasonable to dismiss AGI (Artificial General (read human-level) Intelligence), and that if it exists in the universe at large then the problem of interstellar distances becomes less of a problem.* "Sentience" should be, well, everywhere by now, in a 13+ billion year old universe. I question that. I think it's likely that there is some really fundamental reason that self-aware artificial intelligence is either very unlikely or impossible. We are nowhere near achieving it here, despite all the hype. But I can't pin down all the reasons why that might be so, so let's just take it as a given that he's right, and AGI is potentially relatively common in the universe, with all that implies. 

The problem with Kipping's I'll call it Weak Anthropic Galaxy/nonrare roaming AGI theory is that on the scale of a galaxy like ours, other galaxies aren't all that far away. If the Milky Way is one in a million, in not being colonized by indigenous AGI, then the Andromedan AGIs, who colonized THEIR galaxy say 2 billion years ago, would have already colonized OUR galaxy too, since it's only a few tens of galactic diameters distant... so it doesn't really work. (More typical spiral galaxies like ours are in large clusters and even closer to each other, which just compounds the problem). Somewhat like the panspermia hypothesis which just shifts the origin of life to a larger stage and possibly earlier time but doesn't really explain it, this theory can't work unless there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea that sentience and the capability of galactic scale colonization is common, and we are an "anthropic" exception.

That leaves the origin of complex biospheres, like Earth's, which would, it seems to me, be absolutely necessary for AGI to arise in the first place. It's not going to pop into existence of its own accord; it has to be created by biologically originated beings with natural general intelligence, and these have to have evolved abiotically in planetary environments. No one has come up with plausible alternative scenarios to the best of my knowledge, and, after all, we're trying to explain why they're not here, not how they might somehow exist. The currently fashionable "metabolism first" theory wants to make the abiotic origin of life common, but the truth is that even its proponents admit there are several steps that seem to be "really hard," such that life is possible but not necessarily likely. And some of them, like oxygen generating photosynthesis (necessary for any reasonable degree of biosphere efficiency), and a number of other "great leaps," may actually be quite unlikely to arise in the available time and actually prevailing planetary conditions, generally. Unlikely x unlikely x unlikely x easy x easy still comes out to exceedingly unlikely.  I think it's a safe bet that when all is said and done the Fermi Paradox and the Origin of Life Paradox will be seen as one and the same, and the answer, kind of unfortunately from a certain perspective, is that life, and in particular sentience, is possible, but not at all likely, and in the wider universe intelligences like ourselves, or hypothetical AGI "successors" are very, very rare. At least for now. In the distant future, it's not too hard to imagine that from very widely scattered origins, sentient life may slowly but surely fill the cosmos. Which is an exciting prospect even to the most staid of imaginations. 
*If this isn't obvious, the point is that artificial minds can probably just turn themselves off for the 10,000 or even 100,000 years it might take to travel across the Galaxy from Pt. A to Pt. B, assuming, as Kipping does, and I do as well, that faster than light travel is, even in principle, forever impossible. These long time periods are obviously highly problematic for organic living beings; less so for (hypothetical) artificial minds powered by technology.

08 August 2023

New Grand Canyon area National Monument

I celebrate especially Clinton's, but also Obama's setting aside additional lands as national parks/monuments (partially reversed by Trump). This is something pretty much only Democrats do and it's an area where there are limited presidential powers without the need for legislation. Just facts. Biden is going to make some of the lands adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park a new National Monument. Yay! Here

03 August 2023

American Nazis, for real

There are some annoying commercials to skip in this video, but the content is important. We really do have actual Nazis in our country who are prepared to unite with the lunatic right politically to stir up serious race-based violence. Our country is in crisis and the only way out is an informed and determined electorate that simply will not tolerate this crap. 

26 July 2023

Google Bard answers about the Age of the Universe

I tried Google Bard, Google's alternative to ChatGPT.

Here's what it said when I asked it if there were good reasons to believe recent reports that the age of the universe is about 27 Ga, much older than previously thought. Here's what it said. Pretty basic, but actually about what I'd have said if I thought about it a bit.

There are some good reasons to believe recent reports that the age of the universe is 27 billion years, much older than previously thought.

One reason is that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been able to observe galaxies that are much older than what was previously thought possible. The JWST was launched in December 2021, and it has been able to see galaxies that formed just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. This is much earlier than the previous estimates of the age of the universe, which put it at around 13.8 billion years old.

Another reason to believe that the universe is older than previously thought is that there are some theoretical models that suggest that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. If this is true, then it means that the universe is older than what we would expect if it was expanding at a constant rate.

However, there are also some reasons to be skeptical of the recent reports that the age of the universe is 27 billion years old. One reason is that the models that suggest that the universe is accelerating are not yet fully understood. It is possible that these models are wrong, and that the universe is actually expanding at a constant rate.

Another reason to be skeptical is that the observations of the JWST are still being interpreted. It is possible that the galaxies that the JWST has observed are not as old as they seem. It is also possible that there is some other explanation for the observations that does not require the universe to be older than previously thought.

Overall, there are both good reasons to believe and to be skeptical of the recent reports that the age of the universe is 27 billion years old. More research is needed to confirm or refute these reports.

(ChatGPT probably wouldn't answer this as well, because its database is not kept updated to the present (on purpose), so it doesn't even have this information in its database. It would answer anyway, but its answer would probably be meaningless. )

22 July 2023

Are EVs truly more optimal than legacy internal combustion technology?

I pose only a question here, although I will probably spend a bit of time trying to answer it, from whatever reliable information I can find. 

Which is more optimal, internal combustion motor vehicles or electric vehicles if you take it as a given that to consider the true efficiency of each, you need to take into account not only the onboard vehicle efficiency, but the environmental and financial cost of producing and delivering refined fossil fuel, and the environmental effects and financial cost of operating the vehicles over an arbitrarily equivalent "lifetime" (which may ignore superior longevity of EV systems)(and this would have to include impact on climate, which is not zero EVs)?

I'm pretty sure this exercise will show that EVs are greatly better in all important respects, even if you burden them in your weighing of effect with the cost of building out new charging infrastructure. Since we probably aren't considering the very costly geopolitical actions of governments to ensure access to oil (or rare earth metals for that matter), it seems a little unfair to burden the EV paradigm shift with the economic costs of the disruption to legacy internal combustion industry. Particularly since most technological changes intended to reduce the impact on climate are similarly disruptive, and even the mere continued use of ICE technology has many negative and disruptive effects on civilization. 

What are Toyota and Nissan doing/thinking?

According to Sam Evans, The Electric Viking on YT, both Toyota and Nissan are falsely claiming that they are about to begin production of breakthrough solid state batteries for EVs (which would be great if true). He says the complete and easily detectable lack of prototypes or activities related to such a product are the evidence. 

W t f-ing F? 


20 July 2023

A slightly personalized ramble on the EV phenomenon

We've owned an all electric car for a over three years now, and although it's largely anecdotal, here's my take. (We also own a plug in hybrid). 

The pure battery electric car has one major drawback, which is gradually getting better and will disappear entirely fairly soon, probably within the decade. And that is the inadequacy of the charging network/charging technology. Newer battery technology is or promises to very soon be faster, better, made from non-rare materials, and cheaper. The buildout of the "NAS" (Tesla) charging standard, and conversion to it, at least here in No. America, over the next decade will render "range anxiety" and difficulty of charging EVs on road trips pretty much ancient history. In the near future nearly all EVs will charge up to drive two or three hundred miles at a fast charger in less than 20 minutes. Not quite there yet, but getting there. And just as gas stations started appearing everywhere in the late teens of the 20th century so that by 1925 you could get gas almost anywhere, the same is happening with chargers. Look around the built environment. Tesla superchargers, or other chargers, are appearing in parking lots, shopping malls, etc. The most logical next phase of buildouts will be restaurants, fast food places, existing gas stations, commercial parking lots, and even on street parking. Why not? Electric power is available almost anywhere and the cost of mass production and installation of self-contained charging units is coming down almost exponentially. Soon they will be everywhere, and queues to charge your car will be a thing of the past. 

Apart from that one drawback, EVs are superior in every way. People often don't think of not only how expensive gas is, but what a waste of time. Except on roadtrips, which, after all, is only a relatively minor part of most peoples' driving, EVs charge while you're doing something else. Usually at home or work, or while parking someplace. Admittedly, this is more of a problem for renters who can't install chargers in a garage, but this, too, is undergoing a transformation and in the not too distant future small modular charging units will be built into virtually all residential and commercial parking facilities. The logic is inescapable. But having to put gas in a car is a hassle and a waste of time. Not to mention the well recognized health issues associated with gasoline vapor and the pollution from internal combustion. 

Then there's the cost. Electric power transfer to mobility in an EV is much more efficient, despite the losses from batteries, than burning gasoline. This wasn't always true, but it is now. And the cost is about 1/5 the cost of using gasoline. 

Then there's maintenance. Modern cars don't need as much maintenance, but think about it (assuming you're a driver). You know that "30,000 mile service" that costs hundreds? Ever had to change a timing chain, or a clutch, or get transmission service? Although dealers try to get you into their service bays so they can change your cabin air filter, EVs are far simpler and more reliable than ICE cars. The motors are good for about a million miles. The brakes last longer because much of the braking is regenerative, using the electrical system of the car. There is no transmission, no clutch, no engine oil to change, no fan belts, complicated fuel injection systems... on and on. Electric cars are no longer all that much heavier than other cars, so the tires last about the same length of time. Batteries now last years, and are resistant to significant degradation, as well as being modular and replaceable. The replacement of batteries is about on a par with major engine work always necessary in an ICE car eventually, and are actually cheaper, as they are being designed to be modular and upgradeable as technology improves. As many commercial vehicle users have now realized, electric vehicles are only slightly if at all more expensive to buy initially, and are invariably cheaper to maintain and operate than ICE vehicles. The overall cost per mile in 100,000 miles, which is only a fraction of the life of an EV generally, will be substantially lower, on average, with the added benefit of course of zero emissions. Coupled with the changeover society wide to renewable electricity generation and upgraded electric infrastructure, the benefits to the environment are all positive and represent a huge cost saving, long term. 

An early complaint was ineffective air conditioning and heating, but the introduction of heat pump technology as essentially removed that concern completely.   

OK, car buffs. Like to shift gears and vroom around? Well, get over it. Drive an EV. The instant torque, fantastic acceleration, terrific road hugging capacity, and overall driving experience are all vastly superior. You not only get used to how quiet it is, you come to relish that and miss it when you have to drive some old fireburner. Just try it, I virtually guarantee you'll be convinced. Dirty little secret: the performance divisions of major legacy car makers (like Dodge, in particular), have realized that they simply cannot compete with electric cars. Most electric cars are purely utilitarian, but even they have great performance and pickup. The dedicated performance car EVs are absolute ICE killers. In the 1950s a "muscle car" with a huge guzzling V8 might get zero to sixty in ten or eleven seconds... maybe... under ideal circumstances. In the 60s and later, better engine design and engine management technology (complex, expensive and unreliable) gave better performance. But they just can't compete with zero to sixty in three seconds, which is fairly easily achievable in a purpose built EV. Even the consumer products generally have excellent performance by any standard. 

EV sales worldwide are just beginning the upward trajectory of exponential growth. Automakers who are not already producing viable EV products will be challenged to their foundations, and some, even some pretty big companies with big market shares (already peaked and going down), will likely not survive. The Japanese especially seem to have missed this paradigm shift, almost across the board, and the possibility of economic collapse in Japan, where the auto industry is hugely dominant in the economy, is a real threat. The reverberations of a general collapse of the Japanese economy could be pretty devastating, and the time to think about mitigating that is now. EVs are a huge leap forward, but like many major technology shifts, it has the potential to be hugely disruptive. Governments, especially Japan's, had better sit up and take notice, and start taking actions to assure that something resembling an orderly transition takes place. 

18 July 2023

Biden should use Trump's own negativity against him

A continual theme in Donald Trump's hideous and deranged rally rants is "America is in decline;" "going down rapidly," etc. Biden should seize on this. "Donald Trump wants you to believe our best days are behind us. With him as president, that's a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially since he only talks about himself and his sense of entitlement. Not about you, and what's good for you and our country. But I believe America is a great and resilient nation, and our people are strong and resourceful. Our best days are yet to come, and with your help, we can make great progress towards an even more just and prosperous society!" 

Simple and effective.

Shaky republic at grave risk... for real

I've allowed myself to believe that Americans will not actually elect the maniacal narcissist would-be autocrat again. And, if we had a functioning presidential election system, there would indeed be zero chance. But, given the anti-democratic Electoral College system, whereby the only time a Republican has won the popular vote since 1988 was 2004, when the reverberations of 9/11 were still ringing, the right can take power despite being a minority by a significant margin. By any fair standard, given gerrymandering and the Senate system, the right has never won a national election in the current era, but our system actually could put them in power again despite minority status. Terrifying. We must unite and make sure we win, up and down the ballot, by the largest possible margins!

17 July 2023

RFK Jr, bullshit artist and political landmine

In case you don't already have enough proof that RFK Jr. is a nut job conspiracy theorist and willing would-be spoiler for the insurrectionist candidacy of Donald Trump, please read this.  RFKJr Bullshit

This guy is a total disgrace to whatever legacy of genuine leadership his family might once have been able to lay claim to. I truly hope he crashes and burns completely and early, because there is huge potential for tremendous harm to our country. And given his apparent admiration for, and acceptance of evil lies of, Vladimir Putin, the possibility that his misdirection and exploitation of his name to do our country harm is intentional on his part cannot be ignored. The fact that essentially all his money is from dark right wing sources, like the shadowy money behind the phony "No Labels" cabal, is a clue. 

There was a time when as an environmental activist, I admired him and what he seemed to be trying to do as a legal advocate against corporate pollution. But starting with his irrational anti-vax nonsense and culminating in a totally wacko top to bottom conspiratorialist mindset, he has squandered any good will or claim to be taken seriously by anyone. 

A precept I live by (one of several)

Everyone has some sort of precepts they live by, even if they haven't exactly formulated them in words. I heard one today in a video about music I care about, and I realized that I do, in fact, pretty much live by it. 

«Nulla dies sine Bach.»

No day without Bach. 


Note to Toyota and Stellantis: resisting technological change is a loser

People of my age often grew up in "Ford" or "GM" (or, less often, "Chrysler/MoPar") households, where, usually the dad, was a dedicated customer of one of these, time after time. In the 70s lots of people gave up on the Big 3, buying Japanese or German cars, leading to a good deal of brand loyalty, especially towards Honda and Toyota. The reason? Economics. The cars were better and cheaper to operate. 

Now, decades later, after being bailed out by the government (twice in the case of Chrysler), the Big 3 are really the Big 2, with Chrysler a subsidiary of the European company that's a merger of Peugeot group, Fiat, and Chrysler (which is mainly Ram and Jeep nowadays). And, interestingly, the likely future biggest US automaker, Tesla, draws the largest groups of its customers from former customers of Honda and Toyota, which have entirely missed the boat on the market disruption to EV dominance. Ford and GM are trying mightily to make this conversion, but the Japanese and Stellantis aren't. GM and Ford are trying to hold on to some market share. But what are Toyota and Stellantis (Chrysler+) doing? They are trying the political road, trying to lobby the US govt. to back off its industrial policy to encourage the switch to zero emission vehicles so they can go on making gas cars according to their outdated paradigms. 

This strategy is doomed. If Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Suzuki (notice a theme?), plus Stellantis and BMW all just give up on EVs and try to use public policy to save themselves, they will fail. Tesla and at least 18 Chinese manufacturers are already at the point where their cars will soon be cheaper than gas cars, and while the buildout of the charging infrastructure is slow and incomplete, it is happening. Batteries are better and better, and cheaper, and use less and less rare materials. People are already abandoning outdated technology for  the simple reason that, very soon, per mile driven, EVs will be substantially cheaper, not to mention far less polluting, than internal combustion. And Toyota, Nissan and Honda's sales have collapsed in China (the world's largest car market) already, and are down now everywhere. Particularly Nissan, which is already experiencing sales falling off a cliff, not just in China, but in the US as well. And Honda and Toyota sales are slack and looking bleak as well. What new cars do you see more and more of? Tesla. In Europe (not here due to tariffs) ... Chinese manufacturers like MG (not British anymore), Volvo (also Chinese). Sales of legacy automakers' gas cars have peaked across the board and are very clearly on the downslope. Everywhere in the world. A totally predictable development. 

Toyota and Stellantis are firmly on the side of the dinosaurs, with the asteroid bearing down. Not to give financial advice, but I wouldn't touch their stock. They're doomed. Radical to say the largest automaker in the world, Toyota, is doomed? I don't actually think so. They've failed to invest seriously in battery technology, failed to develop a single practical EV template, much less electric cars anyone would buy, and are chasing ridiculous technologies like hydrogen powered V8s. (Not fuel cells, actual internal combustion engines powered by hydrogen, for which no infrastructure exists or is planned anywhere in the world). They're spreading outright lies about battery technology and new EV manufacturing methods which have already proven themselves. These legacy companies are almost literally tilting at windmills. Bah bye, Toyota, we knew you when. (When you made economical and practical cars while America's makers were the ones floundering). No longer so. And I'll make an easy prediction: when the dust settles, in a decade or so, the biggest automakers will be Tesla, those legacy makers like Daimler, Volkswagen (maybe), Hyundai group, Ford, and GM, which are maybe late to the party but are at least working on the conversion to an EV future. And the Chinese, probably winnowed down to Geely (Volvo), BYD, and a few others. The laggards and denialists, Stellantis, BMW, and all the Japanese companies, will be scrambling, or, in the case of Stellantis, I'd say probably already bankrupt and gone within ten years. Toyota has huge resources, you say? Yeah, but the two biggest corporate debts in the world, in order, are Toyota and Volkswagen. VW is at least working on the problem. Toyota is fat, but not happy, and is whistling past the graveyard while watching their gas powered empire beginning its inexorable collapse. 

Their strategy of going after regulation and industrial policy cannot work, because while these things are helping to bring about the conversion to EVs, what's really driving it is vastly improved technology. And, sadly, the Japanese in particular, and Stellantis most among the Western makers, are just not doing it well enough or fast enough to emerge as major players when the dust settles. 

We suffer more in imagination than in reality. 
-- Seneca 

16 July 2023

Political and physical geography... not always a match

A small observation. Political divisions sometimes trace actual geographic or geological divisions, such as the St. Lawrence and its lakes forming much of the border between Canada and the US in the area. Or the UK occupying a pretty recognizable island province (plus a chunk of someone else's island province, but leave that alone. But often physical geography is not reflected in political division. Oregon and Washington fairly neatly divide into the coastal provinces, where most of the people live (in Oregon the Willamette Valley seaward of the Cascades and a good part of the coastal range; all of this sits atop the geological terrane called Siletzia, which docked with North America about 50 million years ago. The rest of the state is either very mountainous or arid. Same with Washington, where the Sahalish (Puget Sound) basin and the same Siletzia terrane contains most of the people, while the rest of the state is pretty mountainous, sparsely populated, and arid. New Guinea is divided east/west politically into Papua/West Papua (which Indonesia claims, formerly Irian Jaya) on the western half, and Papua New Guinea in the east, an independent nation since 1975. But the geographical division of the island is into a northern and southern province, with the North the collisional (slab failure) mountains formed by the collision of the Australian plate into the Philippine Plate, and the south the portion of the Australian plate that's still colliding. 

15 July 2023

Abiogenetic origin of life-- Metabolism First?

I am reading a truly interesting book, called Spontaneous Order and the Origin of Life (Steven Bratman), on the biochemistry of the origin of life (for nonscientists, although conceptually it does get a teeny bit hairy here and there). The simplest gist: spontaneous (abiogenetic) chemistry precedes actual life: Metabolism First. I feel that this idea is essentially correct (and I use the word "feel" rather than "think" to denote a partially intuitive response). And here's the interesting part: if this is right, then the chemistry of life actually precedes Darwinian evolution and operates more like a non-equilibrium phase shift. Which, if true, for reasons I could almost explain, in turn means that at its metabolic core, life probably really is more or less inevitable if the conditions for it exist. And, according to most planetary formation theories, it should. Not everywhere, but lots of wheres. 

Parenthetically, the sine qua non "conditions" include the functional equivalent of "white smoker" hydrothermal vents, which were present on Earth within 300-500 mA after the inception, and are likely present on at least some substantial percentage of aqueous lithic planets literally everywhere in the universe. By "substantial" I mean, say more than half a percent or so, since there probably are many, many ways for things to go wrong. I like the term "aqueous lithic" better than "terrestroid" or "earthlike," which are somewhat inaccurate in their implications. Most such planets are likely actually quite unlike Earth, since there seems to be growing evidence that Earth is close to the lower mass threshold for such essential qualities as plate tectonics and moderately deep oceans-- most planets that have these features are probably so-called "Superearths," with masses between 1.0 and 2.0 Earth masses, or so. The larger range of Superearths, which by definition are up to the mass of Neptunelike planets able to hold onto hydrogen in their atmospheres, around 3.0+, are almost certainly uninhabitable for other reasons. 

12 July 2023

Font rant

You read a lot of conflicting information, most of it not evidence based, with precious little reference to actual scientific studies on the subject of which is more readable (or legible, which is more technically defined): serif or sans serif fonts. So the choice has a significant proportion of subjective esthetic judgement involved. 

So, here's my take. Sans serif fonts like Helvetica and Arial arose out of the Bauhaus or Brutalist architectural esthetic of the early to mid 20th century. The dogma that they are "cleaner" and "easier to read" is, in my view, largely false. They were probably adopted for computer screens because, at low resolution, they are easier to reproduce and easier to decipher. But there actually is considerable evidence that not only are serif fonts, when accurately imaged, are at least as easy to read for large amounts of text, and they are generally preferred by readers in such formats as books, journals, and magazines. 

I personally despise the Brutalist esthetic whole cloth, and dislike sans serif fonts for most purposes. Where they are marginally better, I find semi-serif fonts, like Asul or Optima, are even better... such as for screen fonts. But even for e-mail I prefer a nice serif font, like Palatino or (a new favorite) Caladea. Fonts that have genuine italics (which are completely different, not merely algorithmically derived slant).  

I find most people barely notice these differences, but, as someone who had to prepare "camera ready" legal copy for 35 years using ordinary word processing applications, I have strong, and likely unshakeable views on the subject. Down with Arial! Grind it into the dust! Helvetica is only marginally better. It looks and feels anti-human, machinelike, indifferent to emotion, flying in the face of beauty. (By the way, the skinny and really quite ugly Times New Roman is very probably my least favorite serif font). 

I rest my case, and if you are unconvinced I banish you to the virtual realm of the Philistines! You can come out when activities are not textual! 

(G-mail does not offer a full range of fonts. This e-mail should appear in most browsers and e-mail apps in a generic serif font, based on my choices, but many programs substitute fonts willy nilly). 

10 July 2023

Tectonic revolutions and the weirdness of Western North America

About 40 years ago a good friend introduced me to the concept that the Sierra foothills and Coast Range in California were accreted to North America as "island arcs" comparable to Japan, and I found that fascinating, but I admit I pictured Honshu smashing California, one and done. I probably would've been flabbergasted to realize that it wasn't just one island arc, but a whole series of "exotic terranes," and it wasn't just California. All or nearly all of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and most of California are made up of exotic slivers and slices, some having moved along faults or caught up in moving plates that originated far away. Some less far. So a big island system, actually probably closer to Kamchatka than Japan, collided and slid along (now North, then mostly east along the now-western, then equatorial and E-W oriented margin of Laurentia (North America). That superterrane, now called Intermontane, consisted of two detached pieces of old North America with a slice of coastal material from Gondwana... now Indonesia... slivered in between. It collided about 170 million years ago. I won't try to account for all of this in a paragraph, but another big one, the Insular superterrane (docked with N. Amer. about 100 million years ago), forms a lot of British Columbia and Alaska. It consisted of Wrangellia, which originated in what is now coastal Siberia (it's controversial) docked way out in the ocean, which was probably the Kula ocean, not the modern Pacific (it's really complicated), with a slice of continental crust, the Alexander Terrane, that made its way along the Uralian ocean then east and north of North America from a point near Europe. A long way, but this was before the modern Atlantic opened up. And that's how the Yellow Aster formation in North Cascades National Park is actually a little piece of the red sandstones that the founder of modern Geology, James Hutton (1726-1797) referred to as the Great Unconformity (coining that word). In Wales. Rocks identical to rocks in Wales are found in the Pacific Northwest, not because they're similar, but because they are the same rocks. So if that doesn't boggle your mind just a bit, you aren't really thinking about it. 

I said this was weird, but actually there are a lot of places in the world that are similarly complex, with bits and pieces rifting, translating, docking... it's extremely complex. There have been at least two, probably three sequences where all the landmasses have come together in a supercontinent, most recently about 400 million years ago as Pangaea. Most people have heard of Pangaea, but the details of how the surface of the Earth has evolved over time are truly amazing, and virtually all of this science has arisen in my lifetime. 

03 July 2023

Lithic worlds, Earths and Super Earths

If the whole subject of speculation about the prevalence of life and the nature of exoplanets makes your eyes glaze over, you may want to skip this musing. 

I have come to what I consider an inescapable conclusion, which I believe will eventually just be one of those "background wisdom" things everyone knows.

Our Solar System (our star system, or SS) has four inner "terrestrial" (terrestroid would be a better word, or perhaps even better, lithic) planets. Some star systems do not have inner lithic planets; some have all or mostly lithic planets, not necessarily close in; and a good fraction of such planets are of the SE type (Super Earth), mass between 1.1 and 2.0 Earth masses, a common enough type that it seems the majority of SSs have at least one. Another type, still lithic but clearly hopeless for life, would be the 2.0 to 3.5 or so range, which are also common and usually lumped in with SE, but actually are clearly different. Beyond 3.5 or so they hold hydrogen and are Neptune-type. No example of a Super Earth exists in our SS. 

But here's my conclusion: 

Our SS has examples of 3 extremely common types, which exemplify, respectively, the large majority of lithic worlds in the universe. Runaway greenhouse, which can happen easily inward of the socalled habitable zone (Venus), but can also happen within and even beyond the habitable zone (colder, farther from star). The second is cold, dry (Mars) type, which can range from Moon size up to a good deal larger than Earth, which is where liquid water did not take hold sufficiently to create an atmosphere that retains water vapor and ozone (a neat, tightly balanced trick). Cold dry worlds (Mars) are probably the most common type of lithic planet, with SEs being second. The third, Mercury, is the hot dry type, which are just too hot, inward of habitable zone, to retain any liquid water or much of an atmosphere at all. Mercury would be Mars type if it were further out. Hot dry worlds are usually tidally locked; a whole other subject which limits habitability even further, but I won't go into that further. If Venus, even though almost Earth size, were where Mercury is, it would look more like Mercury than it does. So this is a separate type, but small lithic bodies quite near stars are also extremely common. 

The gas planets in the SS, apart from being all bunched up and pretty far away, which is not typical but not rare, are nothing special, apart from Satur's especially beautiful rings. 

Which, of course, leaves Earth. Earth is the anomaly, the rarity. And not just because of life. It formed from a major collision, ending up with a large moon and relatively lower density (only slight, but definitely abnormal). It acquired a lot of probably cometary water (not necessarily typical). It is inward of a large gas giant that caused the heavy bombardment period to peter out early. It developed, of course, the unique chemistry of life, quite early on, which came to regulate surface temperature despite the universal tendency of main sequence stars to increase continually in temperature throughout their main sequence lifetimes. And, probably because of life and the advent of free oxygen and thus ozone in the upper atmosphere, it is 1) protected from lethal radiation at the surface and 2) retains water, which otherwise would eventually dissociate at the edge of space into hydrogen and oxygen, and the hydrogen would all escape, converting the Earth into Mars type. This is the usual fate of worlds situated in Earth's approximate position. The presence of oceans for billions of years, therefore, led to plate tectonics, which didn't kick in until about 1 billion years after the origin of the planet, and which is almost certainly necessary to retain habitable conditions on the surface, but which is probably highly unusual in the universe. Quite a number of just barely stable conditions, all of which are necessary for the habitable conditions remaining stable on this planet for more than 3 billion years. 

In other words, Rare Earth. It really is true: a lot of things that can easily stray into the "easy" part of the graph, and cause a planet like Earth to resemble either Venus or  Mars. Only a tiny fraction end up with conditions where life is possible for long periods of time, and of course the regulatory (Gaia-like) nature of biospheres themselves play a big role in that. 

This explains the Fermi Paradox completely, and means that naturally habitable planets are rare as hen's teeth. It is the evolution of intelligent life, however common or rare that turns out to be, that will make life in the wider range common in most of space possible. The natural origin of life really is a near miraculous concatenation of not particularly likely-in-combination factors. 

One countervailing factor: SEs may have all of these characteristics, although probably only at the relatively lower end of mass range. Planets between about 0.9 and 1.5 Earth masses are probably candidates for liquid oceans and plate tectonics. I've seen in print the "educated guess" that the majority of living worlds are probably closer to 1.5, meaning, as living worlds go, Earth may be near the lower end of the mass range. Planets like Mars, or even up to 0.7 or 0.8 Earth masses, probably cannot sustain plate tectonics or retain liquid water over eons, no matter what else may be going on. But it seems likely that most planets that have liquid oceans and plate tectonics are, in fact, SEs. 

The fact that 70%+ of all stars are probably too dim to have a habitable world at all (Class M or red dwarf stars) is another limiting factor, of course, but that's another topic. 

30 June 2023

The court, the oh-so-undemocratic Court

    Courts are inherently not democratic institutions, but it seems to me that when, through a profoundly anti-democratic campaign lasting decades, a high court is stacked with extremists, whose views and decisions are consistently well outside what at least 3/4 of the people regard as just and moral, the governance of that republic can not really be said to be operating on democratic principles. It is too much of a compromise. "America is a compromised republic, where one of the key branches of government is representative of a tiny elite and is willing and eager to impose its policies, despite the opposition of 75% of the public." Like the sound of that? I don't. We must resist. 

There is precedent, principally during Reconstruction, when the Congress exercised its rightful Constitutional power to determine policy, and, particularly, to determine the makeup and jurisdiction of the courts. In recent decades there is a false blanket of tradition, wherein the Court can't be challenged (or even, it seems, be made subject to the most fundamental of ethical rules). Time for that to end. We must take charge of the court, first within the existing Constitution. Impeach miscreants like Alito and Thomas on quite valid grounds of ethical improprieties. Add 4 new seats. Remove the power of the court to restrict the right to vote (this can be done by statute, as reflected in a legal opinion by CJ Roberts himself written while working as a OLC lawyer for Reagan in the early 80s). Outlaw gerrymandering nationwide by statute (tricky, but legally feasible). Declare a right of a woman to control her body, including the right to end a pregnancy up to viability, as medically determined. 

If and when we are able again to amend the Constitution, impose a ten year limit for all Federal judges, no exceptions (except maybe the 10 years starts again if elevated to the CofA or the SC). Create explicit rights to privacy, and, as far as possible, to medical care, to access to food and housing, to a safe environment and sustainable livelihood.

I won't add in ending the Electoral College or the grossly disproportionate representation in the Senate, as these issues are separate from the Court issues, but it's all of a piece: reinforce and augment democracy, including ditching undemocratic provisions in the Constitution where necessary. The current historical impasse on amendments will not last forever. 

We need to not only restore our democratic-principled republic, by wresting power from the elitist court, but also to improve it, to make it more democratic than ever, more robust, more dedicated to the principle that governance must ultimately be with the consent of the governed, and that government does indeed have a role in "promoting the general welfare," which takes precedence over elite privilege when the two are in conflict. 

29 June 2023

Old fart experience with new toy.

I am reasonably handy with tech stuff on a consumer level. Was a relatively early adopter of personal computing. Waited a bit on smartphones but got one before 2013. Can usually make stuff work, even semi-experimental music software like Jamkazam, which I used a lot during COVID to play music over the internet with close to zero latency. Which statement in and of itself proves my point, since most folks have no idea what that even means. 

But I bought a Sonos smart speaker on sale to play music from streaming, primarily, through WiFi rather than bluetooth. I spent an hour or so following the instructions but it didn't work through WiFi and sounded only fair through bluetooth. So I packed it up and am sending it back. Satisfaction guaranteed; I ain't satisfied. 

My only reason for this little rant is the observation that high tech appliances these days are not really very user friendly (too often), and, in particular, are just not designed for older people who didn't grow up with computers and can't easily read 5 pt. sans serif type on a booklet 4" x 4" that contains about 3000 words, some of which are actually important. Usually I power through all that; I'm pretty good at intuiting control designs and making stuff work through trial and error. But this thing just didn't work as intended after numerous tries and careful reading of the instructions, and to the extent it did work, it was difficult to find the music I wanted to hear using their App and the sound was just OK. And the damn thing kept losing connection to WiFi and had to be "found" again. I'd heard one of these in someone else's house and I thought it was surprisingly good, but in my own home and the best I could do to get it working, it was crap. 

I have to admit I sometimes pine just a little for the old days, when you took something out of the box, plugged it in, and it worked. Or, even setting up a stereo system with all the speaker wires and everything... that was a bit of a hassle, but it was easy to understand and after 20 min., it was fine, worked completely intuitively, and didn't involve deciding to "live with" unsatisfactory half-measures. I find that phones, laptop computers, tv streaming devices, etc. almost all work with some issues; some frequent glitches and need to restart, relocate wireless connections, etc. My verdict: there's a way to go to make the "internet of things" that we keep hearing about actually workable. 

27 June 2023

Nix on "Independent State Legislature" theory

I'm not really sure how likely it ever was that the SC would accept the nutso butso "independent state legislature" theory, that would have essentially de-democratized US elections permanently. But the fact that they REJECTED it, 6-3 has to be counted as a "save."  

25 June 2023

Facing the Antrhopocene

We as a species really, really need to face the facts. And now. 

One of a series:  Facing the Antrhopocene

23 June 2023

Highway names in regional dialects

Perhaps commonplace dialect observations. I had to make the transition from 1 to 2 in order not to be immediately identifiable as one of the loathed California transplants (which I am, of course, but I like to say Oregonian by choice).

1.  In California, in times past we used to say "Hollywood Freeway" instead of "the 101," and still do for some of the old landmarks. They do this somewhat in Chicago too. "The Kennedy," "The Eisenhower," etc. (In Calif. names after presidents or other public figures don't go over well. The Richard M. Nixon Freeway is very short (incomplete, as are many golden age freeways) but it's never called that, nor is the Simi Valley Freeway called "The Reagan Freeway." Ever.) Anyway, over the last 50 years the "Golden State Freeway" became, mostly, "the 5" (which is also the Santa Ana Freeway and many others of course). "The 5," not just "Five." "The 405;" "The 101."
2.  In the Pacific Northwest, you never say this. It's just "205," "99," etc. You do say "The Ross Island Bridge," but it's never "the 26."
3.  In the Eastern Seaboard, you usually say "I-x" for interstates. Not "The I-95," just "I-95." In the PNW folks never say this. It's not "I-5," it's just "Five." 

You're welcome for this useless information, which is nonscientific, just based on my observations. 

21 June 2023

The Anthropocene: Where on Earth are We Going (Will Steffen)

This video by Will Steffen (Climate Council of Australia) is genuinely excellent and shows how some policy considerations that we consider purely "matters of opinion" in America really do verge on "consistent with what is real" vs. "total delusional about the consequences". And that's very, very worrisome indeed, as this video makes all too clear. Video

Supreme Court impeachments and increase

Generally, I think we have to be wary of changing goalposts and hypocrisy, even for a good cause. Consider the current Supreme Court scandals. Is there a danger of that here? The scandal mostly seems to center around expensive perks given to right wing judges by people who pretty clearly are trying to influence them or, more likely, ensure their compliance with an agenda that sometimes causes them to shred the law and even logic. Thomas seems to be the worst: expensive private vacations, education expenses (much like Trump's lackeys), for which I'll bet no one paid any taxes; real estate sweethearts. Alito took expensive vacations from a billionaire with actual cases before the Court. But is this out of norm, or new? What was Scalia doing at a super private richy rich resort when he died? If we were calling these things out just to get at our least favorite judges (which we are, to an extent), and these things were just business as usual for all the justices, I would be sympathetic to an argument that it's a double standard. But that does not appear to be the case. It's the cynical and unprincipled right wingers who do this stuff. The more honorable justices (which I'm guessing includes Roberts and former Justice Kennedy) have avoided quid pro quos, and even the appearance thereof. So, no, this stuff is already against recognized judicial ethics standards, whether or not these are enforceable canons against the untouchable Supreme Court. 

We certainly can make newly black-letter the requirement that justices of the SC accept no emoluments of any kind. Increase their pay, to say $750K (it's now nearly $250), but impose strict ethical standards beyond any doubt. And, meanwhile, in the cases of Thomas and Alito, in a fine day after the 2024 election, one hopes, the Congress should impeach and convict those two for ethical lapses. There is certainly basis in the constitution for removing them from office for "bad behavior." In Thomas's case, there are other grounds as well, since he clearly voted on cases in which his wife had a pretty well-defined interest. 

This is only one element of dealing with the crisis caused by the far right takeover of the Court. The other is to pass the expansion of the Court to 13 that has already been drafted and presented as a bill. There is precedent for that, too, and the Congress unquestionably has the power to do that (subject to presidential veto). 

I disagree with the Biden wing of our party that seems to think that no interference with the court is ever justified. But the fact is, the court has been hijacked, and the means to do it, if not outright illegal, certainly make a mockery of how the constitution is supposed to work. So, I say, a some extraordinary measures to right the course are called for. 

Of course we can do very little if we don't win. Democrats, who are now the "big tent" party that includes or at least pulls in temporarily everyone who believes in the continuity of small-r republican government, need to push for a full-on landslide at all levels in 2024, so we can undertake the kinds of actions that will not only "right the course," but ensure that the ol' ship o' state stays on course for a good long while afterwards. 

15 June 2023

Child labor

I had naively thought that the whole issue of no child labor had been settled a long time ago in this country, in favor of civilized behavior. Apparently I was wrong. 

Comment on the prevailing lack of interest in geology

For some reason, most educated people know a fair amount of geography, both human and even physical (such as, they know approximately where Tahiti and Madagascar are, for example). And a smattering of interest in where resources come from (oil, mining, etc.) isn't unusual. But interest in deep time, paleontology and historical geology, is actually pretty unusual. I find that it's a surprise to most people, for example, that over the course of the last 150 million years, North America, on the west, docked with a huge archipelago, much as Australia is now doing with Indonesia and New Guinea, and ended up incorporating it into its western margin. If the names Wrangellia, Siletzia, and the Insular and Intermontane superterranes sound like something out of a fantasy novel for you, you're missing out on one of the most interesting reorderings of scientific knowledge of the last 50 years, which basically explains why and how 1/3 of our country is mountains and where they came from. Other parts of the world have similar stories, of course, but you would think people would be a little more interested than they are in how our homeland came to be. The big picture, such as Central Washington University's Nick Zentner explains in a long series of YouTube lectures, is actually pretty easy to grasp, once you realize that there's actually quite a lot we know about this stuff, which was pretty much a complete mystery before the 1970s and the plate tectonic revolution.