30 November 2023

Noting the passing of historic figures

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

29 November 2023

Very interesting commentary on AI \ Sean M Carroll

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


23 November 2023

Elon Musk and his wacko beliefs

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all. 

/David and Brad 

11 November 2023

Busting EV myths

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

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

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

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


10 November 2023

Not a "both sides do it" situation

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

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

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

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

09 November 2023

Some stark reality for ya

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

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

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

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

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

Inconvenient truths, indeed. 

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

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

06 November 2023

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

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

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

04 November 2023

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

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

02 November 2023

Acapulco nearly destroyed

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