31 May 2023

Terrane Accretion Animation, Western North America since 170 Ma

This is a really long, albeit to me totally fascinating, video about the mantle tomography evidence for major terrane and plate movements on the margin of North America mostly between about 100 Ma* and 50 Ma. But I'm not proposing my farflung correspondents watch the whole thing necessarily. But, please pull it up and watch between 56:00 and 60:00 to see how, much like Australia ramming New Guinea, several large and small microcontinents (comparable to Borneo, Sumatra, or Japan, say) were accreted to North America to make the Western Mobile belt, which is all of the three West Coast states, and some adjacent areas (not including the Rockies, a different story), much of Mexico, all of Brit. Columbia, and all of Alaska. From 170 Ma to the present. If this doesn't pique your interest just a little bit, you're hopeless when it comes to "lay interest in science." No offense.  

(*means "million years ago," usually pronounced "M-a"... notice that Karin sometimes just says "Years," since it's obvious she means "million years").

These ideas are somewhat controversial in detail, but in general the fact that something very like this happened is by now indisputable. 

29 May 2023

Biological Imperative

My impression is that even many "futuristical" thinkers and science fiction writers have not yet fully absorbed what I believe is the emergent picture of where we, as an intelligent, inchoate technological species on a relatively isolated natural life-bearing world in a quiet spiral arm of a (relatively) quiet galaxy, find ourselves. 

Here's how I see it, as succinctly as I can manage. I'll put it in Powerpointese (aka bullet points). 
  • Whether through the Anthropic Principle or otherwise, the universe is much the same, at least in the filaments rather than the voids, everywhere: galaxies form stars, which are accompanied by planets. This process is stochastic, but it is possible for planets to be relatively stable for very long periods of time with conditions favorable for the origin and persistence of life. And, at least occasionally, life evolves self-awareness and intelligence, which in its broadest strokes means the ability to correctly perceive the actual nature of the cosmos, and use technology to expand life beyond the surface of the single planet of origin. 
  • Although this process is clearly possible, there are very good reasons to believe that it is somewhere between exceedingly and very rare. The origin of life may be (just barely) "downhill," meaning it is likely to happen given the initial conditions favorable for it, which clearly occurred on Earth fairly quickly after the surface cooled down and the early solar system era of heavy bombardment had come to an end. (In some systems this bombardment phase might never end, which would be one of the filters making life and advanced life respectively less common than they otherwise would be). 
  • On the other hand, there are clearly "choke points," developments in the history of life which are not likely to happen, and so typically only happen in the history of any given life bearing world after long periods of trial and error. And some may, occasionally, never happen in any given system. Examples are the origin of a reliable and accurate system of coding and transmitting genetic information; the origin of oxygen production through a particularly efficient form of photosynthesis (necessary ultimately for the survival of any but the most limited and basic chemoautotrophic life); the parallel and concomitant evolution of respiration, which makes life much more energy efficient; the origin of a eukaryote-like cellular structure (making sex possible and evolution more efficient, also making the emergence of macroscopic life possible); and the origin of human-level intelligence, which has the potential to speed up evolution enormously by introducing the ability of organisms to perceive their situation and respond to it rationally rather than purely through trial and error type biological evolution. If any of these kinds of transitions (there are several others) were to fail to happen, then life would be stuck, and would not evolve to a "higher phase." What the "higher phase" that results from the evolution of intelligence looks like we do not yet fully know or understand, but it appears that it is of at least equal importance in the evolution of life on, or from, this planet, as the evolution of photosynthesis. 
  • Stars, especially little red dwarfs (over 70% of all stars), and planets (nearly all stars have planets)... are, on the other hand, very common. So there is plenty of undeveloped but developable real estate. A big catch is that stars, vis a vis other stars, are very, very far apart. This may be a feature, not a bug. If stars are too close together, as they are near galactic centers, encounters and such things as proximal supernovae, are probably common enough to disrupt most planetary systems before life really has a chance to evolve to higher levels there. But distance makes interstellar exploitation of resources very difficult. We have to solve some truly humongous engineering problems to be able to make use of "the stars," literally. But in the meantime our "solar nursery" is actually quite large and resource-rich. Once our civilization has achieved sustainable advanced technology on our planet, we can become a "system" civilization, with orbital habitats, asteroid mining, and even some utilization of the planets and moons of the Solar System.
  • From the foregoing facts it becomes inescapable to conclude that a sort of universal biological imperative exists: to go forth into wider space, and spread life as far and as wide as possible. To seek out and colonize habitats; make use of matter and energy available literally everywhere to expand the sphere of life to encompass the entire universe. While not embracing a religious or teleological perspective, this seems to be pretty clearly the "purpose" of intelligence: to figure this out and accomplish it. I don't doubt that somewhere out in the vast cosmos others are dealing with these same issues, or have long since passed the initial phases and are well along on such a program. But here and now, in this little corner of the cosmos, we are it, and this is our history, our task, and our fate. 

23 May 2023

We need to start thinking WIPEOUT

I keep thinking that the election in my lifetime that 2024 should most closely resemble should be 1964. The complete wipeout of an extremist and a lot of his party by the onrushing of common sense in a somewhat battered electorate. Of course in many ways 1964 was still the 50s and it was a very different time, but I think Simon Rosenberg might be onto something when he talks about going all out, pushing for a 55% landslide and taking back the House, keeping the Senate, and making gains in some surprising state races, like Mississippi. Dobbs may turn out to be the Fascists' Achilles' Heel. 

22 May 2023

Chinese "manipulate" their market, but there's absolutely nothing anyone can do about it

You kinda gotta hand it to the Chinese. Rather than impose even more prohibitive tariffs (which is what Trump did), they have announced emissions requirements for new cars to be sold in China that essentially prevent any but full battery-electric-drive cars from being sold. Guess what? The Japanese makers, who formerly depended on the Chinese market, have no competitive vehicles to sell there, and won't for some time, if ever. Ford and GM have a small number, and so will lose most of this market. Mercedes will do halfway OK, but all other European makers are screwed. Since China has 18 different EV manufacturers, including the second largest (BYD), only Tesla, which manufactures many of its cars there, among foreign manufacturers, will be competitive in the Chinese market, starting next year. This is hugely disruptive, although in the case of the Japanese, they've pretty much lost this huge market already. 

19 May 2023

Step down already, Dianne Feinstein

It's kind of sad, really, but Dianne Feinstein has probably already lingered past her best-advice retirement date long enough that overstaying her incumbency is likely to be what she is most remembered for, at least for the next few years. I happen to think she has never been the kind of public-service oriented Democrat we need more of, but her recent tenancy in office has been mostly a problem, not part of any solutions.  

There is no shame in recognizing that it's time to step down. And, hey Dianne, come on. It couldn't be more obvious that it's past time. 

18 May 2023

Biden must announce that the 14th amendment makes the debt ceiling moot.

I will reiterate. I think Biden makes a mistake every day he fails to announce that the Administration is going to regard the fourth clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which requires that the debt of the United States not be subject to "question," as supreme. Regardless of what the Congress does. Let the anti-US fascists file in some right wing district court; the Supreme Court will have no choice but to take the case instanter. And, OK, we'll be rolling the dice. But the supposed textualists of the Supreme Court, however mad they may be, are beholden to the big business interests that are truly horrified by the prospect of default. And how could they possibly twist their doctrine to say that a WW1 era statute should trump the black letter of the Constitution? Well, sure, they could, but I can't believe they would. Dumbos like McCarthy, Gosar and MTG may think somehow it would inure to their advantage to crash the world economy and destroy the advantageous position America derives from having the reference currency and most desirable bonds. But I cannot believe a Supreme Court majority would do that. And if I'm wrong, we would be no worse off, because if we again give in to this extortion, by a minoritarian party that will probably never receive a majority of the popular vote nationwide, we will have lost our democracy anyway. 

16 May 2023

China No. 1 vehicle exporter in the world

I know, I know, electric cars, again? But a milestone just occurred, according to respected economic metrics. As of around now, China will have surpassed both Japan and Germany as the world's top vehicle exporter.  (Almost all EVs or plug in hybrids... including Tesla and other foreign manufacturers with plants in China, but only Tesla constituted a significant fraction). This reverses an economic status that had lasted for almost 50 years. Chances are this development will not go backward any time in the foreseeable future. The only country that is not importing Chinese cars at record rates is the US. Which has its pluses and minuses. 

Most countries outside Europe and North American now import most of the cars sold there from China. China strategically targeted the auto industry as the next phase of its long term economic development, about 15 years ago, and realized immediately and correctly that battery electric vehicles would be the future. A conclusion several of the legacy car makers, especially in Japan, have still not accepted. 

If you think this is no big deal, consider this: At least two thirds of Japan's industrial economy is based on the auto industry. They dominated (especially Toyota) for half a century. But that dominance is over

12 May 2023

Town Hall fiasco: Get to 55

Apologize for belaboring the point, for those who are following the long nightmarish trainwreck that is Donald Trump. But not only was the CNN "Town Hall" a free, handpicked Trumpster-audienced infomercial for Trump (when's Biden getting a Town Hall on CNN?)... it was a total fiasco. I did not watch it, but I've seen enough to get the gist. Trump is a complete idiot, digging himself in deeper and deeper with admissions of criminal conduct on the record. And he clumsily evaded questions on support for Ukraine and the human right of women to control their own bodies. Both of which are strong majority issues where Republicans are totally out of touch. Not only that, but I have to believe that however much red meat he may be giving over to his moronic, White Supremacist cult followers, he is making it abundantly clear to the normal majority that he is completely nutso, and must never, ever be allowed anywhere near public office again. 

I could be wrong. I am dumbfounded that more than single digits of the population can even entertain the notion of another Trump presidency. But I almost feel at this point that when it comes right down to it, however problematic voting for an 80 year old "pol" like Biden may seem to some especially younger, so-called "independent" voters, it will be no real contest. I am drawn to Simon Rosenberg's idea of "get to 55" (percent)... that Democrats can not only can win, but we can blow out the election. And this is worth whatever time and money we beleaguered normies can muster. 

(Watch out for "no labels," because they are completely fraudulent; they would rather elect Trump again with a spoiler candidate than help Biden win. This cannot be allowed to happen). 

(Rosenberg is the Democratic electioneer/pollster who correctly predicted the much stronger than expected showing in 2022, apart from New York, which pretty much lost us the House all by itself). 

07 May 2023

Example of extended mind

An example of extended mind from things like e mail. 

Many years ago in a Chinese language class I adopted Shang Da Wen (), with appropriate tones, as my "Chinese name." Shang, 尚, meaning something like "Esteem," is a common Chinese surname. Da Wen means "great literature," but it's actually not something the Chinese would recognize as a name. 大衛 , dà wèi, is the more usual form for "David."

But a few years ago (apparently) I poked around and decided I liked 城大衛 , Chéng dà wèi, better. It means "City of David", or, perhaps, David Towne.

Thing is, I had forgotten this. It ceased to be part of my conscious mind. But stumbling around in gmail's settings brought it back again. 

We are groping around in the dark with this digital augmentation of mind thing, but it is already real, and is already making our lives qualitatively different from the lives of humans of any previous time. 


Extended Mind

We are asked to believe that there is this inchoate thing called Extended Mind, already nascent. So, say, a pen and notebook (or ancient equivalents) are "technology" to help you remember things, and even becomes a separate mode of expression after a surprisingly short time after writing was invented. But they're not actually a part of mind, merely tools of mind. You have to go and find the notebook, physically, and decipher it using the extremely slow and inefficient frontal cortex. It's a big picture machine, but when it has to decipher symbols and such it's actually s l o w .  But, the idea is, digital technology is getting close to the point where it can update mind and memory in real time. Already if you are by a computer (phones are computers, just not very good ones), you can remember almost anything from general knowledge, and, if you're so inclined, you can organize for retrieval images and sounds from your life. I don't choose to do that, but one could. And the means to retrieve digitized data through some sort of neural link or digital/bio-analog translator may well be at hand, or nearly so. 

I dunno. I suppose so. Anyone who tries the impossible task of writing "hard" science fiction, meaning based on reasonable extrapolation of the way things really are rather than endless Deus-ex-machinae, will now I suppose have to take into account that human minds are on the verge of expanding exponentially; something that probably hasn't happened for, oh, a million years. Give or take. 

06 May 2023

Coronation nonsense

I honestly don't care much about whether the Brits keep or ditch their anachronistic monarchical system. We have our own problems. But "God Save the King?" Whatever... not my king, and I disapprove entirely of monarchy from top to bottom. 

04 May 2023

When Justices accept bribes

I know this is pretty commonplace, but I can't resist. Does anyone believe for a second that if a "left leaning" judge accepted tuition for a kid in private school being paid by George Souros the right wouldn't have a collective paroxysm? Well, that is exactly what Clarence Thomas did with Harlan Crowe (still can't believe that name). And that was only one of many thinly disguised bribes. There is no other word that fits. If it were Kagan or Sotomayor there'd be impeachment hearings scheduled already.  

03 May 2023

Simply Refuse to let the US default on its debt

I am completely uninterested in legal technical reasons against my view that what I'm suggesting here is the way forward given the insane intransigence of the Republican caucus in the house with regard to the debt ceiling. We are beyond the phase where legal niceties can be allowed to impede action to protect our country from catastrophe. I won't even go into why using the already incurred debt of the United States is profoundly damaging to the country and downright unpatriotic in its essence. I think everyone of good faith and even modest intelligence already understands that. But my point is this: the extortion of the Republicans is an anti-constitutional, wholly unjustified, and potentially truly devastating action which has no justifiable rationale or purpose other than naked, anti-democratic power grabbing. So, I argue, the response must be equally blatant and willing to set aside tradition based on civility and "not upsetting the applecart." Too late for that: the applecart is racing toward the cliff edge, and it's getting close fast. 

Section 4 of the  Fourteenth Amendment reads: "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned."

So, the Biden administration should get an OLC opinion tout de suite to the effect that the WW1 era debt ceiling law is unconstitutional under this provision, and the administration simply will not default on the US debt no matter what the House or Senate do, because the Constitution trumps their actions. 

Of course, the Righties will sue. Take it to their stacked Supreme Court. But that will put the issue in its most naked power-struggle terms: Will the Supreme Court actually vote to throw the world economy into depression, and probably destroy the advantageous position of the US dollar as the reference currency and its debt as a "gold standard," foreverMaybe they will, but as I see it there is no real alternative if the Rightists in Congress refuse to secure the debt, and the question must be pressed. The fact is that by any reasonable interpretation the debt laws do contradict the 14th amendment, in that there is no way to satisfy the provisions of both if the Congress refuses to act to secure the debt. The Biden administration should try in good faith to get them to back down, without giving in to blackmail on policy that is, in fact, profoundly and overwhelmingly unpopular. But if, as appears likely, the fascists in the Right Wing caucus refuse to protect the financial stability of our nation, the administration should simply say that in their view the Constitution prohibits this from happening, so they're just not going to do it. We will pay the debts our nation has incurred, no matter what the right wing traitors say. 

Paul Krugman a while back opined that this was probably the fallback position, or something like it, for the Democratic administration. But I would argue that the time is at hand. In order to protect our country from serious negative impacts which even the threat of default (as we learned in 2011 when they tried this before)... can cause. The announcement should be prepared, and should actually be given, soon. This charade needs to be brought to a final and decisive end, soon. And if the Supreme Court decides to pitch us into a global financial crisis and at the same time probably the worst Constitutional crisis since the Civil War, so be it. At least the battle lines will have been drawn unmistakably. 

Japan is in trouble

As some of my farflung correspondents will no doubt have noticed, I harp on the electric car revolution a lot. This post expands that a bit, to the looming facts about Japan, which sits poised to nudge the entire world economy into global recession (if the idiots in the Republican caucus of the House don't do it for them first). 

Contemplate this. Since 1990, Japan has lost its lead in several areas of global commerce. Sony invented the walkman and was a major player in consumer electronics in the 80s and 90s, even buying Columbia and CBS in the US as if they were just crumbs from the table. But they missed the "chip" revolution and failed to develop the iPhone or anything like it... and this is just symptomatic. The Japanese are barely in the consumer electronics or large appliance markets anymore, sectors largely dominated now by South Korea and the US, with some participation by Europe especially in larger appliances. China makes these things for its domestic market, as well as under contract to US and Korean manufacturers. In fact, other than scientific and technical instrumentation (important but not huge), and autos and other transportation technology such as shipbuilding, Japan is no longer at the forefront of any global technology. 

And now, the handwriting is on the wall. They have completely missed the boat on the EV revolution. They were pioneers, developing the hybrid drive and some early electrics (e.g., the Nissan Leaf), but they aren't even in the top 25 of any electric vehicle sales anywhere, and they have been resistant. Mitsubishi, Mazda, Subaru, Suzuki, and Honda have no potentially viable mass market electric vehicle even in preproduction, much less production. Toyota and Nissan are way behind too, with no credible plans to mass produce EVs at a profit anytime soon. Toyota, Nissan and Honda, the Japan big 3, all have global sales (of all cars, not just EVs) down 20 to 40% year over year due to their failure to produce cars that people want to buy. In the US a significant part of this sales loss has gone to Tesla, which is also the #1 seller of EVs in China. But the #2 to 20 or so brands are all Chinese, and the Chinese are poised to start selling their well engineered and popular cars (dominated by BYD) everywhere (except North America, interestingly). And EVs by Tesla and the Chinese are all going down in price, to levels that only Ford, GM, and possibly one or two European makers (not including BMW) have a prayer of matching. 

So what is the takeaway? Autos are 65-70% of Japan's manufacturing exports. And they are losing their market share at an alarming rate, with no end in sight. Japan has a national debt, that, proportionally, is far worse than America's. There is every reason to believe that Japan is headed for a massive economic downturn that may last for decades, and could drag the whole world economy down. 

Cheers, enjoy the springtime everyone.