2021-02-26

Shamima Begum cannot return to UK, Supreme Court rules

PXL_20210226_102316064 Not the real supreme court, of course, just the UK one. From the Beeb:

It did not give the home secretary's assessment the respect which it should have received, given that it is the home secretary who has been charged by Parliament with responsibility for making such assessments, and who is democratically accountable to Parliament for the discharge of that responsibility... The Court of Appeal mistakenly believed that, when an individual's right to have a fair hearing... came into conflict with <something else>, her right to a fair hearing must prevail.

I find stripping someone of their citizenship dubious, and the home secretary's rational for refusing entry ditto, but those aren't the issues I'm interested in here, rather it is... primarily, just how much money-aka-resources should we fling at men-in-wigs?

And this is in regard to Adam Smith's acute

Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things. All governments which thwart this natural course, which force things into another channel, or which endeavour to arrest the progress of society at a particular point, are unnatural, and to support themselves are obliged to be oppressive and tyrannical.

Searching around for that quote, I find Timmy saying roughly what I want to say, and indeed what I've said before: that we should take "tolerable" seriously; that flinging too many resources at abstract justice isn't a good idea. Sadly that wasn't any basis for today's ruling - well, it's not the kind of thing you expect meninwigs to say.

Secondarily, there's an issue of the balance between executive and judicial branches. Which I personally feel has tilted too far in the direction of excessive judicial review recently, so I think did not give the home secretary's assessment the respect which it should have received is good.

You might say, where is my sympathy for SB? I have little-to-none. Functionally, none. If I was going to be sympathetic to poor folks abroad, I'd put the poor sods in Yemen, Somalia, Syria all suffering through no fault of their own waaay above SB. And I'd rather use all these judicial resources more fruitfully in the UK, where any number of cases are disgracefully delayed.

2021-02-18

Rush

_Starman__emblem_(Rush__2112__album)Another one bites the dust: Rush Limbaugh, from lung cancer, which is surely how he'd have wanted to go. Not everyone is sad; Emily "who?" Atkin isn't; and nor it would seem are the Watties, who have ignored this world-shaking event.

I only know RL as a right-wing-shock-jock-global-warming-denying-nutter; if you doubt the latter, RS provides a delightful example of his crass ignorance and willingness to fall for anything that leant his way. But "environmental issues" is only a small part of his Wiki article, so clearly I've seen only one facet.

However we can tell he's not really famous, because I never troubled with him here on this blog; I think in GW terms he has long been a has-been; he got more mentions in sci.env days, perhaps.

The best defence I can find from vaguely reliable sources is he was the quintessential American entertainer by Dominc Pino. That article doesn't really even attempt to defend what he said in any serious terms, and just regards it as entertainment. Which is probably correct: as the RS example shows, he was lamentably ignorant of science, and I've no particular reason to think he was any better informed on anything else; but that didn't matter to his large audience, because people want to be entertained. In the end, if forced to defend him - which I'm not, so I won't - I'd blame Dumb America. You get the right-wing-global-warming-denying-nutters you pay for.

Refs


* What do prime-age ‘NILF’ men do all day? A cautionary on universal basic income
Rush Limbaugh galvanised and embodied the modern American right - The Economist doesn't mention GW either.
* What I worked on - Paul Graham

2021-02-08

The Tyranny of Merit?

PXL_20210208_174839188 The Tyranny of Merit or What’s Become of the Common Good? is a book by Michael J. Sandel. You will without doubt find people speaking kindly of it, for example here. For my part, I think it a poor book badly written.

By coincidence I'm (re-)reading Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies, and I find the conflict between rationalism and irrationalism has become the most important intellectual, and perhaps even moral, issue of our time. This book stands on the wrong side of that division: it is polemic, rhetoric, populist, careless of contradiction and fact.

Of course, it is not entirely without merit (fnarrr). It correctly notices that those who have risen through their own merit may well come to believe that they have risen through their own merit, and disdain those who have not so risen; whilst those who have failed to so rise may come to despair. Unfortunately, that's pretty well it for the good bits. And when his editor said "that's an excellent start Michael but I'm afraid you'll have to pad it out a bit" he duly did so.

His central problem is his failure to understand meritocracy4. For him, meritocracy is where the the "best" people rise to the top and/or are in charge, and get the rewards they "deserve". By using the word deserve, he tangles it all up in morality: if I am born clever, do I really "deserve" the rewards that come with that? But this is wrongthink; the word "deserve" is confused. Instead, the world pays people well who are able to do useful things; note that we're talking at this point about an idealised meritocracy; the issue of are we a fake one can come later; at this point we're interested - or he is - by whether a meritocracy is just1. There's no requirement or even meaning to asking if those people "deserve" those rewards. Instead, they are paid them for a reason: so they will do that job, instead of a different one. It is as stupid as asking what the "true" dollar-value of a product is; the answer is always "what people will pay for it".

Eventually (p 125) he comes to consider two other systems: free-market liberalism (a-la Hayek) and welfare state liberalism (a-la Rawls). He presents Hayek giving exactly my argument. He presents Rawls saying... something, but I didn't pay much attention; I already know I disagree with Rawls. So how does he get rid of Hayek's view? He doesn't. He just says "morally and psychologically, the distinction between merit and value becomes vanishingly thin". But this is no answer to a defence of "true" meritocracy. It only leaves him the rather thin "disdain" idea.

The assertion (p 136) that Hayek doesn't understand that things other than market value, have value, is drivel. So what we get is a fatal problem for his theory: market value isn't moral worth. His answer (again, p 136) is to take market value as a proxy for social contribution, which is lying worthy of Plato.

In his version, free-market liberalism differs from meritocracy. In mine, it doesn't5.

There's some discussion of social mobility, and of credentialism. This discussion is somewhat confused because whilst vaguely related to meritocracy the connection is weak, and he isn't ever clear whether he means true, false, or well-that's-what-you-see-in-the-world meritocracy.

His solution


By p 155, we begin to come to his solution. Should we go back to hiring based on prejudice? Fortunately, he doesn't suggest that, though his "does not mean that merit should play no role in the allocation of jobs" is rather weak. Presumably, he does think that something other than merit should play a (substantial?) role - but he doesn't say what that thing or things should be. But his main suggestions are about education, and work.

Because he is a Harvard professor, he distains to think about anything as plebian as early education, and instead thinks only about college. He asks (p 169), should higher education retain its role as arbiter of opportunity? As soon as you ask this question you - but not, alas, our author - realise that the answer is that "should" is again wrongthink. No-one has designed or legislated the system that way; it has simply grown up, as a result of many many choices, and so there is no "should". To change it... where would you even start? He doesn't know, so instead proposes making entrance into Harvard more of a lottery.

As to "work", his idea appears to be recognising the dignity of labour3. Unfortunately, he then decides that the most important role we play in the economy is as producers, not consumers2. There may be points of view (his is "civic conception") from which this makes sense; but it is also the all-too-common view that leads to protectionism and other such stupidity; so it is a dangerous idea to push. It gets worse; he realises that our wages don't represent our true "value" - see above - but instead says that our true value is (p 209) the "moral and civic importance" of our work, As though that can in any meaningful way be evaluated. Instead it just leads to the politics of envy: "my morality says you are not worth your wages", an all-too-common view... which he proceeds to display, in discussing finance, lower down: did you know, some of those dirty financiers get more than Harvard professors do?

Anyway, back to dignity of labour. He's for it. It is important to our self-esteem, and so on. But - ironically, he too has confused meanings of value - he means people getting decent-paying jobs. His ideas for achieving this, though, are thin and vague: "some restrictions on trade, outsourcing, and immigration" - i.e., protectionism; more of Trump. No thank you.

But he has another idea about work. First he begins by making an all-too-common mistake: that the finance industry is non-productive. His solution? A financial transactions tax. Which is fuckwitted, albeit all-too-often popular. The EU is in favour of it: need I say more? But... as a solution to societies problems, it is weak to the point of confessing that you don't really have any solutions.

P 210: cites Hegel as a reference for his ideas. FFS. Has he no shame; has he not read Popper? That seems a good point to end this review.

What would you do instead?


Once you, unlike our author, realise that meritocracy is just free-market liberalism, the answer becomes obvious: don't do something else. Don't read this book; read Hayek instead.

Update: practical politics


Reading the Graun (a crap article that upholds the usual journalistic practice of beginning with several paragraphs of irrelevance) I find The Tyranny of Merit is Sandel’s response to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. In this review I've largely ignored the practical politics side, because I was more interested in the idealised, theoretical view. the book doesn't really distinguish the two; we swap from one to another and back as we go along. So, a better book would have much more sharply distinguished the two.

The idea that the "metropolitan elites" look down upon the "proles" is a commonplace, though. Our author gets no points for that. He would get points if he could clearly tie that attitude into his theorised meritocratic disdain. But other than hand-waving, he doesn't do that. Did the Lords of say 16th century England despise the peasants of their day? In my image of the times, yes; on our author's theory, they shouldn't have; or at least, less than the ME do today. Do you believe that? I'm doubtful.

As to the "disdain effect", I think he remains confused, as to whether it means meritocracy is overall a bad thing, or whether it is merely a defect in meritocracy. For example, from the Graun: Even a perfect meritocracy, he says, would be a bad thing. “The book tries to show that there is a dark side, a demoralising side to that,” he says. Notice the contrast of the Graun's "a bad thing" and his "dark side". So if it is merely a defect, then how much of a defect is it? It could just be a minor one - I think it is - hardly worth much worrying about. How would you know? Simply repeatedly emphasising that the defect exists gets you nowhere.

Update: Book Review: The Cult Of Smart by Fredrik DeBoer by SSC/AST


This review touches much of the same ground, ending with a plea against formal educattion.

Notes


1. He doesn't do a good job of defining just (rather as Plato fails) and the word is susceptible to intuitions. Fortunately his discussion around p 124 is sufficiently muddy that an exact definition would not help. For myself, I prefer Hobbes' defn: that which is not unjust. And what is unjust? Breaking covenants. Therefore, a meritocracy is just. As is a dictatorship. Which just shows you that it isn't a good question.

2. He then compounds his error by asserting that  consumption-is-primary is "today so familiar that it is hard to think our way beyond it", quoting the Sainted Smith. Again, his thinking is muddled: this is the primary view of std.economics, but not of the public, and not of pols.

3. Dignity of labour is a good idea. But the trouble is that is what it is: an idea; a state of mind; an opinion. Anyone can have it. Anyone flipping burgers at MacDonalds can have it. But our author is not brave enough to argue that people should think like that. Because he has fallen into his own traps: he has confused value with dollar-value. The idea of burger-flipping fills him with horror, and he cannot really conceive of anyone doing that having any dignity in their labour; he is, in the end, a snob.

4. Of course, he could solve this problem by clearly defining meritocracy, in his favour. If it means "rewarding good work / good deeds (merit) because people of merit deserve (in a moral sense) those rewards", then he'd be OK. But in his characteristically mushy way - in stark contrast to Popper - he never does define meritocracy, as HarvardMag notes. They suggest defining it as Amartya Sen suggested: a system for “rewarding good (or right) deeds for their incentive effects, but that's my defn, because of the use of "incentive" rather than "deserve".

5. If your prejudices lead you to think that think implies that "that the only gauge of merit is what it can be sold for" then you really need to work on your prejudices. Or, you can try reading the comments.

Refs


* Growth, Not Equality: American history shows that expanding the economy benefits everyone by Amity Shlaes.

2021-02-05

EU carbon price soars to record highs

1612193175008-e213e0a7-48cc-41e5-849d-1f4468e92c4e_~2 The price of carbon in Europe has soared to a fresh record high near €38 a tonne, with prices adding more than 13 per cent over the past two sessions as traders rushed to secure supplies of EU emissions allowances says the FT. That the price is rising towards something plausible is good; that this is happening for trading reasons is not so great. This illustrates the problem with permit trading as against a nice simple carbon tax: the system is a boondoggle for traders and speculators. Which is one of the reasons that the EU prefers it.

As a good free marketeer I am of course happy with speculative trading in general; but I think I disapprove of govts deliberately creating such markets, where the price - as the FT makes clear - depends less on real world fundamentals than the political whims of the EU.

Refs


2021-02-03

The dim and distant history of global warming: sea ice betting

paladin People routinely spout nonsense, but are somewhat more reluctant to dribble actual money away. So offering to bet against people spouting nonsense - aka put-up-or-shut-up - has some plausibility. It isn't perfect - I might have a lot of money and very poor judgement; but then again, people with very poor judgement do tend to lose their money fairly quickly. Or, some words from 2006.

And so when the Arctic sea ice was low in 2007 and the usual doom-mongers said the usual things, I offered to bet that there wouldn't be a new record in 2008. Inevitably, the actual doom-mongers wouldn't pony up but some brave souls did. I won. And offered to bet that there will be more ice in 2009 than in 2007 (this may all have been inspired by James Annan's earlier bet in 2005; don't miss Lindzen wimping out. But then there was my post from early 2005).

[And by complete co-incidence, Big Gav writes Don’t climate bet against the house at RC.]

I got some takers for the 2008-9 season, and won that too (with, technically, a marginal loss to RMG on a slightly different bet, but that wasn't for cold hard cash so didn't count).

For 2009-10, it looks like people had got tired of being prepared to bet on a new minimum, so I decided that my "default" prediction was a linear trend, with a "buffer" around it. And the result was... no-one won, since the result was inside the buffer, i.e. on-trend.

By this point it was kinda painfully obvious that neither the gloom-mongers nor the denialists were prepared to bet on ridiculously high or low ice levels, and the negotiations on terms were becoming ever more intricate. Which revealed something, if you knew how to think, so could be considered a success.

At this point it starts to get blurred and I cannot be bothered to tie all the pieces together. In 2011 there were multiple bets going, covering multiple years; after all, just one year is a casino.  2012 was a new record low, so I lost a couple of bets. But in 2014 a couple if the multi-year bets with Crandles came in my favour; and another in 2015.

But more excitingly, also in 2011, I bet Rob Dekker $10k on seaice-to-2016; that being a five-year trend which might be more meaningful; five years was a compromise: climatologically quite short, but within the span of human interest. In order for us both to preserve our... sanity?... we agreed on a wide-ish dead zone: If both NSIDC and IARC-JAXA September 2016 monthly average sea ice extent report are above 4.80 million km^2, RD pays WMC US$ 10,000. If both are below 3.10 million km^2, WMC pays RD US$ 10,000. In all other cases the bet is null and void. Alas, in the end the result was a draw.

I think things mostly petered out then. In later 2007, Joe Romm was prepared to bet on "an essentially ice free Arctic by 2020". He ended up losing that one, obvs, but 13 years is a long time and his email address no longer works. If you know him, let him know he owes me $333.

Caveat: all this was a long time ago. Links have rotted, as has my memory, so very likely I have missed stuff.

Notes

1. In the middle of the first sea-ice bet, in May 2008, there was some nonsense about predicting cooling, but I don't think anything came of it.

Refs

* Arch of the IInternetArchive of the Romm post.
* More Wadhams.
* Who is the farting three-legged dog in this scenario, you ask?
* Probably not betting on climate with Lubos Motl

If the aspiration is, as leaders of all stripes have said, to “lower the temperature,” we do not need simply calmer politics or different politics. We need less politics.

2021-01-12

Coronavirus days: how's my vaccinating?

1610023068469-16cf3c99-8fe2-4404-bc75-a2d3df9758f4 Vaccine rollout begins, but I notice a curious lack of numeracy, or so it seems. Sometimes numbers are reported, sometimes vague deadlines like "spring" or "autumn". I wonder, how does it stack up?

The UK govt plan says we have already vaccinated over 2 million people, and are on track to deliver on our commitment to offer a first vaccine to everyone in the most vulnerable groups by the middle of February. Later, "mid" becomes clearly "15th"1, and the four groups are those in care homes; 80+ and frontline health and social; 75+; 70+ and clinically extremely vulnerable1.

Update: (thx AS): note that "offer", above, is weaselly. If they offer appointments for three days in advance, then on the 15th they can claim to have "offered" everyone an appointment. Furthermore, are they factoring in the proportion who will decline, when offered?

And the numbers are then 0.3 + 0.5 + 3.3 + 2.4 + 1.4 + 2.3 + 3.2 + 1.2 = 14.6 million, unless I've miscounted (ah, but they says that total priority cohorts 1-4 is ~15 million). Since we're currently on ~2.4 million vaccinated (we claim 2.4 million, OurWorldInData says 4.2% which I make about 2.8 million; and I'm accepting first-dose-only as good enough for now), that's an additional 12.2 million in 34 days, or  375 k / day. Our current best rate looks to be a shade under 200 k / day, so... we're not going to make it. The plan says By late January we aim to have the capacity to vaccinate at least 2 million people each week, but that is somewhat under 300 k / day, so even if we hit that target, it won't be enough. And that's assuming working seven days a week, which I think we currently aren't.

So even on their own terms, they won't hit their target, and yet they claim to be "on track". And, here I return to my point about numeracy, they carefully avoid calculating the rates they need and seeing if they are indeed on track.

Did I get my numbers right? I find this (sorry, it's the Sun) which talks about 13 million by mid-Feb, so I think my 14.6 is about right. This, from Sky, says 14 million in six weeks, and agrees with my calculation of ~400 k / day (although the "conclusions" section seems rather muddled to me).

FWIW I think that, in retrospect, we were far too slow at approving the vaccine, and should have accepted greater risk.; and wasted our opportunities when the infection rates were low However, I didn't say that at the time so can't really complain at other's lack of prescience; and doubtless there would have been endless hand-wringing from the usual suspects if the vaccine had been "rushed".

My picture shows a French snail-collector, somewhere near Verdun, who I met one misty morning in 1989, on my way to Nis.

Updates


Vaccination rates do seem to be going reasonably well: 324k on the 15th, and just under 300k on the 16th, a Sunday 277k on the 16th, a Saturday. I say reasonably well, but they aren't good enough to hit the targets, so hopefully they will improve (update: they didn't: down to only just above 200k on the 18th). There seems to be some nonsense about doses being wasted - see, e.g. this, where the bureaucracy discovers that it needs to give permission not to waste them - but I suspect this is a minor effect.
export
2020/02/05. Still going well, the 7-day average is over 400k.

Triumphal conclusion


It would appear - quite to my surprise - that we have indeed met our target. Unlike those useless furriners in the EU, who have resorted to lying about it; happily for them the Graun is happy to publish their lies.

But as of this morning we're claiming 15,062,189 and I see no particular reason to doubt those numbers. Everyone is sounding happy, the govt is rolling in credit, and pressure for ending lockdown is starting to grow. Could people - gasp - be allowed to go on self-catering holidays?

Incidentally, there's a strong weekly pattern in the vaccination rates; I haven't seen anyone explain them.

Notes


1. There is some possible scope for ambiguity in these groups. I believe that by "four groups" they mean everyone in one of the first four (numbered 1-4) priority cohorts, of which there are eight different groups (for example, care home residents and residential care staff are two separate groups in cohort 1).

Refs


* Reflections on the President’s Conduct by Robert A. Levy - Cato: In short, President Trump’s conduct has been unacceptable. To be sure, the nation needs time to heal. So, the decision – urged by some observers – to impeach the President a second time, or remove him from office by invoking the 25th Amendment, may well hinge on prudential rather than legal assessments. Still, at a minimum, a congressional censure – joined in particular by Trump’s Republican enablers – would be both welcome and warranted.
* They were good questions then and they remain good ones today. From The rediscovery of character: private virtue and public policy by James Q. Wilson in the Fall of 1985 - TF.
* Walter Williams; The State Against Blacks: on the racial effect of the minimum wage laws.
Fidelity to the Rule of Law demands not only that a government abide by its verbalized and publicized rules, but also that it respect the justified expectations created by its treatment of situations not controlled by explicitly announced rules - Lon Fuller.
* And by bizarre co-incidence from that last quote, the EU's mask slips; see-also Marina Hyde taking the piss.
* In Praise of CVS by David Henderson

Notes


2021-01-07

All this fuss over one dickhead

IMG_20210101_211331_410 I think the DailyMash called this right: All this fuss over one dickhead: THE world cannot believe that all this fuss is being caused over one mumbling, egotistical, incoherent dickhead. Of course, that means I too have fallen into the trap, for which I apologise. But! I have my own iconoclastic take on this, which few others are saying, so my words are so worth it.

The reaction is all overblown. In some vague sense this was indeed a coup attempt, but in such a pathetic weak disorganised and always utterly hopeless way that it doesn't really deserve the name. Better said, it was a riot, with (as many have commented) laughably weak policing in stark contrast to how BLM was handled. But - as is evident from the pix and vidz - the rioters had no plan, and no idea what to do when they got in. And they could not have had a plan, because what could it have been? Seize the building and hold it? Why: what use would that be: none at all. The only plan that would make sense would be: seize-and-hold and then wait for the national insurrection, which you've just inspired. But, there was none, and their could not have been, cos all the nutters they could dredge up were in the riot.

This brings me to part B, the twilight of the Trump. Various folks have said that Trump will remain dominating the Repubs; might even run in 2024, and so on. I don't believe it. He has not the patience, or the staying power. He will just fuck off and ghost-write his memoirs, or retreat to playing golf, or some other stupid thing.

Other commentary

Which I'll update as interesting things come in. Do I agree with "Don’t exaggerate the threat of the Capitol rioters" from Spiked? Mostly. Certainly the initial stuff. But he disappoints with his But I’m more worried about the anti-democratic elites - which he mostly targets at fb and Twatter for blocking the Mango Mussolini. I think fb and Twatter are being reasonable; even restrained. But I do hope this small episode isn't used to push for yet more securitisation of pols.

Update: impeach?

Effort to impeach Trump again gathers pace after 'attempted coup' at Capitol says the Graun, and plenty of others (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would move forward with impeachment if Mr Trump did not resign immediately). Mostly this is rather unattractive you-lost-we-won-now-we're-going-to-grind-your-face-in-the-dust kind of stuff, which is the antithesis of democracy. Remember, part of making transitions violence-free is the assurance that the losers will not be punished - just look at all those African (or Syria) strongmen hanging grimly onto power because if they lose it, they'll be strung up.

At this stage, impeachment seems symbolic, perhaps even nakedly political: there seems little prospect of it going through in time, and perhaps the only real Dem aim is to be able to say later "but Repub X refused to join in". The Dems are spinning the symbolism as "no bad deed should go unpunished" but I don't agree. Lots of bad deed should go unpunished. The best thing to do with Trump is to forget him, not martyr him.

Update: there is unclarity on this. For example, Mitch McConnell: Senate can’t consider Trump impeachment until after term is up would make the impeachment moot; and I think the Dems know this, but they still want to go ahead. So all the twatting about nuclear codes is so much drivel. Is it even possible to impeach someone once they've left office? This tells me that “shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” which makes me doubtful that it is possible (though the linked article convinces itself otherwise).

Update: Twatter and Free Speech

Twitter permanently suspends Trump's account says Aunty. I have mixed feelings about this. As so often happens (I've seen this on wiki too) after a long period of trouble the actual words cited as outrageous appear rather if not totally innocuous then as rather thin grounds for a ban. The hyperbolic responses that this is the death of free speech are foolish, with proponents of that view unable to see the contradiction in Trump's widely-reported comments on the attempt to silence him.

The first amendment says "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press" and that is good; but that says nothing about the decisions privately made by private entities. Wiki's FoS page says Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. and the only difficult word there, for these purposes, is "censorship", which it defines as the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or "inconvenient." Censorship can be conducted by governments, private institutions, and other controlling bodies. I consider the inclusion of private entities dubious.

Anyway, my mixed feelings: shutting Trump's account may calm things down, at a time when some calm would be valuable; it also sends a signal concerning what are the limits of tolerable behaviour. But it seems terribly late to be doing this, and in not-very-long it will be irrelevant. This kind of political censorship should only be done if necessary, and I am very doubtful that it was necessary.

Refs

* It was all a waste of time: Congress confirms Joe Biden's victory - Beeb.
* Editorial: Another call for the justices to speak to the country - SCOTUS blog: an examle of the kind of thing that won't happen.
* IS TRUMP READING BREITBART OR THE GUARDIAN? - though I preferred the original title.
* Capitol riot: Recriminations and arrests after Washington violence - Beeb - for all those saying "why hasn't X been arrested?"
* Social Censorship: The First Offender Model - SSC
* Quotation of the Day… nationalism, socialism, liberalism.
* SCOTUSblog: Justices issue more orders from Friday’s conference, decline to fast-track election-related cases. The Supreme Court on Monday morning issued more orders from the justices’ private conference last week. After adding 14 new cases to their docket for the term on Friday afternoon, the justices were not expected to grant review in additional cases on Monday – and they did not. Monday’s order list was nonetheless noteworthy because the justices turned down a group of requests to expedite the consideration of petitions for review in cases seeking to undo the results of the 2020 presidential election. The denial confirms that the justices will not consider the petitions until after the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, effectively rendering the disputes moot.
* Parler sues Amazon for kicking it off the internet.
* The Economist explains: Can the Senate hold an impeachment trial after a president leaves office? The constitution does not forbid it, but it is uncharted territory.
* Sedition Charges Are Almost Always a Terrible Idea: Laws against sedition have historically been used by insecure officials to punish critics. J.D. TUCCILLE 

YouTube suspends Donald Trump's channel - Beeb. It kinda looks like his power is ebbing away.

Biden's Endearing but Collectivist Speech

2021-01-04

In many Congressional districts, the primary is more important than the general election?

PXL_20210101_192041129~2 It is a commonplace that

In many Congressional districts, the primary is more important than the general election. In those districts, extreme partisan politics is rewarded and centrist politics is punished. This makes bipartisan legislation impossible, because a representative who votes for such legislation will be branded a traitor and voted out of office in the next primary.

But why is this so? In a simple model of politics (the real election, not the primary) voters are sprinkled left-to-right, and each of two candidates wins all the electors "closest to them"; which is to say, all the electors on the side away from the other candidate, and all the ones in-between that are closer to them. This model tends to push candidates towards the middle of the spectrum.

Now consider the primary. Exactly the same applies, except the electorate is different - most points are now either to left, or to right, of the center. So why do we see quotes such as the above (that do seem to have some basis in reality). I'm thinking of primaries in districts where one side is almost certain to win, so the primary is effectively the real election - but nonetheless, the same logic would appear to apply: you should get candidates pushed half-way out, not to extremes.

2021-01-01

Have we reached peak CO2 emissions yet?

50735769393_7be4a73eb1_o Have we reached peak CO2 emissions yet? wonder Ken Caldeira and Ted Nordhaus. There's all of $2k at stake, with KC taking "no" and TN "yes". TN's argument is that it would have peaked mid-20's, but the Covid-decline of ~7% means the peak is now past. KC is more optimistic about the South's econ dev, and more skeptical of new tech.

I'm not sure; it's an interesting question. I'm inclined to believe in a rapid recovery from Covid, looking somewhat on the bright side by hoping for a not-too-badly-fucked-up-vaccination, but a recovery probably accompanied by much more homeworking, which will help suppress emissions. And I'm more optimistic than KC about new solar+wind+tech-in-general, and China and India's adoption of it, and decline in their usage of coal.

Nordhaus expands on his reasoning.

 My pic is of Christmas Unikitty who, let me remind you, will tolerate No Negativity At All (as seen as a full-size model in the local Grand Arcade).

Betting

Per comments, we have our own betting ring running:

* Anteros: offers £150 (to my £100) of KC's side, up to 2023.

* rustneversleeps: $100 of KC's side, up to 2022.

* Tom: $50 of KC's side, up to 2022 (I presume).

All bets in your preferred currency. I'm not sure exactly what we use as CO2 emissions data... we'll have to be gentlemanly about it; probably (per comments Global Carbon Project). I propose that if it is "close" - defined in some sensible way, possibly as in different data sets give different answers - then the bets are void; they only pay if the answer is "clear".

Refs


* And at ATTP.

BATTER my heart, three person’d God

IMG_20200803_120259 Aka the year in Stoats, 2020. Once again, top posts ordered by comments by month. This year I've gone through and reviewed all my drafts, and either discarded them entirely or posted them, fragmentary as they are, as valuable evidences of the evolution of my deeply interesting thought processes.

Jan: Socrates, himself, is particularly missed; A lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he's pissed (42) - Australian wildfires. Bonus: reviewing drafts, I decided to publish the fragment 0.5°C makes a big difference for mitigation?

Feb: Tasting the whole worm; or; "Pielke shumps the jark?" (13).

Mar: Coronavirus days: policy? (30).

Apr: Coronavirus days: masks (16). Bonus: I used to think that climate change denial was built on some logical argument...

May: Coronavirus days: regionalism, modelling, hypocrisy, global warming (27).

Jun: Legislation: BOSTOCK v. CLAYTON COUNTY, GEORGIA (72).

Jul: Into the distance disappear the mounds of human heads (26).

Aug: Coronavirus days: France (7) Bonus: The Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis: report.

Sep: Russell on Aristotle's Politics (61). Bonus: Kant on Morality.

Oct: Me on USAnian politics (51).

Nov: The dim and distant history of Global Warming on Usenet (14).

Dec: A warning on climate and the risk of societal collapse? (61).

The theme for the year is clear enough, but the winner is the more abstract legislation of June. And so another year has slipped by... Happy new Year to all and my thanks for your continued readership.

Note: this isn't the post reviewing what the Coronavirus year has been like, I'm still turning that over in my mind.

Pic

Me, D and E on top of Point Louise, Ecrins on a cloudy day. Follow the link for more pix. And any resemblance between the title and the picture is, I swear, entirely accidental and only noticed in arrears.

Books

Exciting new feature: books of the year (prompted by someone else doing it properly). Except it isn't really that, it's just the books I have reviewed. I do these partly to record what I have read, but it's an incomplete list. And, a couple of films.

Dec: Look to Windward

Nov: Howard Zinn: A People's History of the United States (incomplete)

Sep: Space, Time and Nathaniel

Aug: Bastiat: The Law

Jul: Consider Phlebas

Jun: For Whom the Bell TollsThe Undercover Aliens

May: The White Mountains, Big Planet, The Mirror and the Light

Apr: Emphyrio

Mar: The Brightness Reef trilogyMusical review: Hamilton

Feb: Starship TroopersThe Guermantes WayFilm review: Starship TroopersBring up the Bodies

Jan: Family film night: the Matrix

Ergs

New Year's Day 10k: 40:50.2. A minute slower than last year. HR max 167, 4 lower.

Brexit

We've finally left. In one sense I think "thank goodness the endless chatter and speculation is finally over"; but I very much doubt it is. My initial view - which you're doubtless interested in - is that the "deal" looks not totally insane, in that it roughly mimics EU membership whilst regrettably losing things like free movement; but really it looks like "why would you bother" - the nominal sovereignty gains appear weak enough to be not worth it, except to fanatics.

But I hope to think about this more carefully in future.

And, well, I suppose the promoters of "Singapore-on-Thames" will get their chance to show they mean it. Ho ho.

Refs

You ain't ever gonna burn my heart out (2019)

* The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne (2018)

* Donne via Time considered as a helix of semi precious stones via Goe, and catche a falling starr.

2020: A year in review - ATTP

* My Top 12 Blog Posts of 2020 by David Henderson

* When May We Be Happy? by Bryan Caplan

Christmas Trilogy 2020 Part 3: The peregrinations of Johannes KCharles not Ada, Charles not Charles and Ada, just Charles…

2020-12-29

Carbon taxes and pandemics

PXL_20201224_103929583 Prompted by an exchange on Titter beginning with that nice JA: a pandemic is such a problem for the right, as it's an existential threat to their entire philosophy of individualism. There's a lot of language clutter in there which is probably irremovable (I don't regard myself as part of the "right" but I am very keen on "individualism" re-written as "lack of coercion" or as "as opposed to tribalism") but the exchange continues with my CC can be (largely, in theory) solved by carbon tax; but it is hard to see a pandemic equivalent.

The carbon tax part first, prompted by the-Ken-formerly-known-as-ATTP's not understanding my carbon taxes are ensuring that the costs of emissions are factored into those emissions; a subtle but important difference [from the idea that they are a payment for the damages]. I say "my" but the idea is of course not mine, and was transmitted to me by Timmy (via PeteB in that case, but I'm pretty sure there's a better example I failed to find). Also, disclaimer, IAMAE. This is all part of prices-are-information theory. For most things, the price of the thing reflects the cost of making it (and marketing it, and so on) and you-the-consumer get to decide if that price is low enough for you to want to buy it. And so we have economically sane activity: things are bought (and therefore, are made) if there is demand, at price. But there are externalities, the most obvious of which is CO2, whose cost is not in the product. And so we risk economically insane activity: things being made, whose (total, true) cost is less than their sale price. Which is to say, the process destroys rather than creates value.

This version of the theory doesn't require govts to use the carbon tax proceeds for any particular cause... building windmills, paying for storm prevention, insulating homes, whatever. The other version, KR's which I shall unkindly call the "naive theory", is that the carbon tax is paying, in advance, for a cost that will be incurred). This is - I now think - a mistake, but one I've made before1. If it is a mistake, it should have some consequences; ideally I'd be able to say "but then when you apply it to this, it all goes wrong". But I think it is only a theoretical mistake; sort-of like the way using a Hamiltonian helps you to get from classical to QM physics.

Pandemics

The Covid pandemic rolls on, depressingly. There's a new strain, of greater transmissibility but as yet not-known-greater-damage; Cambridge(shire) is in tier 4, thus scuppering my plans to visit the Lakes (I say these things for context so that when I come back in years future I'll know about where we are).

But just as, in theory, a carbon tax is a liberty-preserving solution to GW, is there an equivalent to lockdowns (which greatly resemble, because indeed they are, regulation). JA offers In theory we could pay for people to isolate as required. That itself wouldn’t solve the problem but it would surely help but I think that's problematic (I think he intends this as a liberty-preserving solution, not as a solution; but I don't think it is. The liberty it doesn't preserve, in case it isn't visible at first sight, is of the people you'll have to take the money from). If you want the "std" answer (with the caveat that there isn't a std answer4) then I think the best presentation I've seen is Life-Years Lost: The Quantity and The Quality by Bryan Caplan. This attempts to use cost-benefit analysis3 to show that reaction2 to Covid has cost more than the unchecked pandemic would have cost (and was therefore a bad idea).

I don't know whether I believe it or not; I incline towards belief. The analogy I'd use - and argument from analogy is always valid, recall - to answer the inevitable "but people would die; life degraded through lower quality doesn't matter in the same way; you can't sum up lives" is with the inevitable reactions to protectionism: the benefits (preserving our jobs) are visible and accrue to obvious people; the losses (higher costs for everyone; bureaucracy; more govt) are diffuse and hard to see.

interreg

interreg isn't a thing I'm familiar with. My picture is of a poster - found on the kiosk on Jesus Green near the lock - which says there is an initiative to increase tree cover in Cambridge. I can't say I've noticed any such, or even that there are obvious ways to do so. It might draw a hollow laugh from the folks on Milton road who have tied yellow ribbons around their trees to protest plans to cut them down. But don't let me be too negative; there may be some as-yet-unperceived value in the scheme. Indeed this bit is part of Nature Smart Cities across the 2 Seas programme and specifically the Cambridge bit is Cambridge Canopy Project: the average tree canopy cover figure is 16% in England. Cambridge currently has 17% tree canopy cover. We are working to increase this to 19%, which will need more than 800,000m2 of new tree cover

more-covid

Update: Schadenfreunde

Probably a mistake, but I can't resist. At the time of the initial outbreaks, much was made of the incompetence of the right-wing US and UK govts in contrast to the more successful socialist responses of various countries, most notably Germany. But that success - though you could note various factors that made it plausible - was always a bit mysterious, and has fallen apart recently. Though I've left it long enough that they're back below us now (although possibly the over-Christmas data isn't totally reliable, and the sharp falls from US, Germany and France might be spurious). And yes, if you count cumulative deaths then Germany has done significantly better.

Update: economics and morality

The Twitter conversation continues as, apparently, a sequence of misunderstandings on my part: see the conversation, perhaps ending at KR's All I really mean is that how we assess the costs cannot really be done in a truly value-free way.  So, even if we do decide to estimate the price of carbon emissions and to then use that to set a carbon tax, this is not a value-free assessment. With which I have no disagreement. Some aspects of economic costs of GW are explicitly value judgements: how much do we value lost mountain glaciers? And some are value judgements, but wrapped in economics: if we lose winter skiing, how many jobs are lost? The latter is more measureable, but still value judgements, because the choices of the people that wanted to go skiing are inevitably part of the economics.

You might - if you have a decent memory - object that this contradicts my earlier That it is easier to agree on economics than morality and in some ways it does, or at least pushes against it. And so - given that there are people who would make the mistake of calling economics value-free - it isn't unreasonable for KR to make this point. I'll paraphrase what I said at Morality and economicsI don’t, of course, mean to suggest that it is entirely an economic and not at all an ethical problem. I mean to suggest (see aforementioned post) that thinking about it primarily as ethical [value-judgement] is unhelpful.

Update: FT's sausage pic

Updated, in response to CIP's comment, the FT's "sausage" pic, which to me shows that initially it was all EU and US; in the middle, EU dwindles to nothing and the US is a small proportion of the global total; and now Europe plus US is 60+% ot the total whilst everyone else is sort-of stable. Admittedly, these are reported, so perhaps it is possible that Europe and US are better at the reporting; but I can't see how that explains it all.

cov

Refs

* Congratulations to James and Jules for being part of Science breakthrough of the year (runner-up).

* Donald Trump's influence will evaporate once he leaves office. Here's why; Julius Krein, in the Graun. This is close to what I think, but few others seem to be saying; our celeb-obsessed news world, sez I. Trump, out of power, will fade away; and doesn't have the staying power to regroup for 2024.

Not even half-way there - JA

* New Year Wish: Political Wars of Religion? by Pierre Lemieux - the will of the People

Matt Zwolinski Replies

Notes

1. Also I have a feeling that when I said this before, Richard Tol said no, it was also paying for damages, so if you prefer you may take his viewpoint with some degree of support.

2. An analogy that he doesn't make is the immune system's allergic response.

3. See my failed attempt to propose similar.

4. Another is Lockdowns and the Presumption of Liberty by Don Boudreaux; or Nice vaccine; pity there's no distribution mechanism by Scott Sumner

2020-12-15

A warning on climate and the risk of societal collapse?

PXL_20201212_185625846 Just when you were bored with Covid, along comes a little light relief in the form of A warning on climate and the risk of societal collapse. It is full of the usual ill-defined hang-wringing, will be ignored - we can hope - by just about everyone, except for the denialists (who will use it as yet more evidence of alarmism), the nutters (whose belief in collapse will be reinforced) and the commenterati who will entertain themselves writing pointless blogs about it. Like this one :-)

Or so I wrote about a week ago, thought "nah, even I don't care enough", and left it in draft. But now, you lucky people, you get to read these words 'cos ATTP has blogged on it3 - and tastefully quotes me, always nice to see. His justification is I think we should be willing to discuss worst-case scenarios so as to, ideally, avoid them, and while that is an uplifting sentiment, it doesn't justify the letter, because the letter adds absolutely nothing, and we're already discussing GW, under whatever name you please. As usual in these discussions, there's a sop to the whatever-you-call-them by talking about "global north" but this is a pointless distinction best ignored. There are various WYCT countries where society actually is collapsing - Sudan, say; or Yemen, depending on your standards for this ill-defined "collapse" - but this has little to do with GW2 and almost everything to do with crap govt, either in the country concerned or its neighbours.

Having said that, since I bothered to write the words below, I'll publish them:

Let's start with While bold and fair efforts to cut emissions and naturally drawdown carbon are essential. That sounds both noble and bold. One pictures a mighty Climate Leader, helping hand supporting some oppressed peasants, noble chin uplifted and mighty hand pointing boldly forwards into the glorious carbon-neutral future. But actually, restricting yourself strictly to "fair" efforts is a mistake: would you really refuse to save the planet, if it was only possibly to do so unfairly? And notice that they say that fairness is essential, so that is what they are saying. Nor can it be turned around: it is not plausible to claim that only fair efforts have any chance of success. Similarly, I'm doubtful of the bold part of the claim, with it's implication of extraordinary efforts designed to scare off people who are doubtful of the Cause. More likely commonplace efforts and sanity (like the Krauts not shutting down their nukes, the Yankees not slapping tariffs on Chink solar panels) and a carbon tax would do1.

Continuing, researchers in many areas consider societal collapse a credible scenario this century. Do they really? How might we evaluate such a claim? Well, if only the idiots who wrote the letter had provided some details, or even a link to the details elsewhere, it could be evaluated. Failing that, it's just empty words. For my part, I think certain groups of people are rather prone to overestimate the fragility of society; everything from Covid to the so-called Great Recession is taken of evidence of such fragility, rather than what it actually is, i.e. the reverse.

I think you can tell how broken their thinking is from their worry about the way modern societies exploit people. Yes, exploiting people is indeed a concern, but has little or nothing to do with the possibility of collapse. It is a perfectly valid concern about fairness, which they're entirely welcome to worry about, but mixing it all together with GW into a muddy slurry of words helps no-one.

Who is responsible for this guff? If you click on "246 others" you end up at http://iflas.blogspot.com/2020/12/international-scholars-warning-on.html which leads me to https://www.cumbria.ac.uk/research/centres/iflas/our-people/ which leads me to Jem Bendell. Say no more guv.

Update: so, does thinking about "societal collapse" help? Although I've criticised their thinking as broken, what about the underlying idea: does framing the problem in terms of societal collapse help at all? It doesn't seem to have helped them - other than in the matter of that all-important publication count and getting your name in the papers - because they didn't manage to say anything interesting or new. The "bar" of interest is I think 2 oC - or arguably 1.5 oC - because we've already "agreed" so-to-speak to limit ourselves to +2 oC, so anything that kicks in much higher than that isn't very interesting. Would SC happen before +2? If ecosystems collapse, then perhaps, but we're already worrying about EC, so that gets you nothing. Is there some excitingly non-linear effect that we're missing? If so, we're missing it, and this hasn't helped find it. Perhaps the subtext is "ooooooh, modern society is so complex and therefore fragile, we should, like, go back to a simpler era maan and live in harmony with nature". But that's wrong: modern society is complex and therefore resilient.

Refs

If it isn’t catastrophic we’ve got nothing to worry about, have we? - my post that ATTP refs, but at the Wordpress address. Those were the days when I could just toss off a quick post. * Welfare in the 21st century: Increasing development, reducing inequality, the impact of climate change, and the cost of climate policies - BjornLomborg4
The impact of climate change, and the cost of climate policies - ATTP.

Recommendations for Improving the Treatment of Risk and Uncertainty in Economic Estimates of Climate Impacts in the Sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report?

Notes

1. You could argue that such efforts are out of the ordinary, which in this world alas is true. And yes, I know it's too late for the Krauts.

2. And phrasing it as "Not all of this is climate related" is I think deceptive.

3. Which is fine. Re-reading this, I may sound a bit harsh on him, which I don't intend, but rather than rephrase anything I'll just add this little note which will make everything better.

4. Reminder. Inclusion of a reference does not imply that I agree with it.

2020-11-30

The dim and distant history of Global Warming on Usenet

125035466_1640259442837036_5068309285886602215_o Once upon a time, before blogs and wiki and even before the web, there was Usenet; and on Usenet there was sci.environment. This was a loooong time ago. Punting back through Google Groups I can find stuff going back to the unimaginably distant past of 1994. Here's a link to it. My recollection is that Usenet groups were not archived; disk space was scarce in those days, and anyway Usenet was for discussion; why would you bother archive it? Things that needed archiving were kept elsewhere; for example, every now and again Robert Parson would post a link to the Ozone FAQ. Dejanews began archiving in 1995; and later got bought out by Google, which accounts for the beginnings I now see.

I turned up somewhat earlier, but I cannot now recall how early; certainly, after I joined BAs in 1990. Almost the first thing I saw was the classic "what do you mean 'we', white man?" joke, immeadiately followed in true welcome-to-Usenet style by some fool misunderstanding it and getting all huffy. 

The great virtue of Usenet was that no-one owned it and anyone could post. The great vice of Usenet was that no-one owned it and so anyone could post1. My recollection is that things got worse, particularly as internet access became more common and more fools came online, but that may just me believing in the Age of Gold, which you shouldn't, except for exceptional cases. Nonetheless, it did do away with tedious arguments about comment censorship on blogs, and I did sometimes advise people to post there during the period they ran in parallel; I gave up Usenet in 2006. 

The cast of characters in those days was rather different. When I turned up folks like Robert Grumbine, Michael Tobis were already there, and now I look at early 2005 so were Raymond Pierrehumbert, Len Evens, Carlo Izzo, Robert Parson, Rich Puchalsky, John McCarthy, Jan Schloerer, Dean Myerson, David B. Benson, Paul Farrar, Carl J Lydick, James Annan, Ian St. John, David Ball, Coby Beck, Lloyd Parker, FerdiEgb, Roger Coppock, Eric Swanson, Steve Schulin, Scott Nudds, Bruce Hamilton, Thomas Palm, H. E. Taylor, Steinn Sigurdsson, Alastair McDonald, Peter Hearnden, James B. Shearer, Josh Halpern and probably many others who I have rudely forgotten, but those are all names I recall, somewhat vaguely, and could probably divide roughly into "good", "bad" and "squonk", which latter class I've just had to invent; if it helps, JMC is put into it. For these were early days, the science of GW was unclear (do not believe the fools that tell you we knew it all in 1960, or 1970, or 1980...), most of that science was not on the web (because the web didn't exist; recall that Netscape was formed in 1994) but was "hidden" in hard to access libraries; even the 1990 IPCC report wasn't widely available. "Yeah, GW might be a thing, but I am unconvinced" wasn't an unreasonable position, for anyone unfamiliar with the science. The unambiguously "bad" were a small minority.

So quite a lot of the conversation was noobs asking noob questions and getting polite and useful replies. The rest of it, apart from pure noise, was the usual kind of global warming wars. Over time, it became obvious that something more consolidated and buildable was more useful for the general-questions aspect; Wikipedia came to fill that role.

There was also sci.geo.meteorology, which was more science-like, as you'd hope, and thus lower traffic, as you'd expect. For example, someone in 1995 asked for the BAS website, and I pointed them to our FTP, which had GTS data. There was also talk.environment, but that was even noisier than sci., and I think I ignored it.

What did we talk about? The earliest thread I can find is about what would a zero CO2 world be like? JMC wanted to tell us why we should postpone coming to a steady state in population, energy use, and flow of materials for 50 or 100 years. Hugh Easton got in early on that perennial favourite, Will polar ice melt more quickly than previously thought? There was a kinda thread on can-forcing-produce-negative-output but it didn't go terribly well. We even did solar cycle length and solar forcing; but that was before Damon and Laut.

Well, that will do. On the whole, I didn't find wading through the past particularly enlightening.

Notes


1. Late on - 2006, I see - "we" created a moderated group, see James' Announcing: Moderated global change discussion forum, and at one point JA discouraged comments at his own blog, in favour of responses there, if I recall correctly (I can find one instance of me doing similar). As a noble attempt to deal with the S/N ratio problem on sci.env, without being subject to the whim of one person's moderation, it was a bold endeavor, but I believe it failed.

Refs



2020-11-26

Coronavirus days: SCOTUS

PXL_20201112_103007048 What with Trump giving up, things were in danger of becoming dull, but happily the SCOTUS has come along to liven up our lives, by upholding the constitution1, in particular the "free exercise" clause of the first amendment. Which I think is beautifully crafted, so I'll quote the whole thing: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Bold for the FE clause, obvs, is not in the original.

You might thing that the "Congress" in that limits the clause to the Feds, but this is not so, by the incorporation doctrine; for "Congress", read "any layer of govt". 

People make the most basic of errors in reporting on this2. The NYT, which really should know better, asserts that "In an unsigned opinion, the majority said Mr. Cuomo’s restrictions violated the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion". But that's not true. Instead, it has said that the applicants "have shown that their First Amendment claims are likely to prevail". This is, after all, but an injunction, not a judgement. It merely prevents NY from "enforcing Executive Order 202.68’s 10- and 25-person occupancy limits on applicant pending disposition of the appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari, if such writ is timely sought". This is the court doing the bare minimum it can, whilst having regard to the constitution; and reserving the right to change it's mind later. Doubtless they hope that the lower courts will decide, and it won't come back to them, now they've fired this warning shot.

The facts of the case are generally agreed, except for how restricted the religious were, in comparison to comparable secular institutions. Here the concept of "essential" businesses comes in, and NY (and the dissents) rely rather heavily on the literal use of the word essential. If this word could be clearly used and had a clear meaning that might work; but it can't and it doesn't: businesses are things that sell things or services, and one persons essential is another's frippery; as Gorsuch notes, "acupuncturists, and liquor stores" are on the essential list. The religious also note, and I don't see NY denying, that large stores had no attendance limits imposed on them. The imposed limits made no concessions to the size of the building, and this seems like a simple error on NY's part, as the ruling makes clear: "Among other things, the maximum attendance at a religious service could be tied to the size of the church or synagogue". If NY offers any explanation for why it refuses to do this, I missed it. And I really really hate it when da govt behaves unreasonably and refuses to explain itself.

Although the case turns on FE, I'd also take more seriously "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"; ideally laws should simply not mention religion; they should be written in a general way ("any building may only have x people per y square meters of floor area...").

The dissent leans on the religious being treated no more harshly than, say, lecture theatres or cinemas. And there's a question there: do you compare the treatment of the religious to those you're treating most harshly, or those you're treating least harshly, or those you think are most comparable, in some sense. G deals with this by asserting that if you create a "favoured" class - the so-called essential - then you must compare the religious to that. This is, incidentally, admitting that the FE clause isn't absolute; that the state may override it if essential; and that deference is due to the executive; but this is nothing new.

Roberts says that the case is moot - as it technically is at this point - because the religious are not currently afflicted by the zones; and therefore would deny relief, whilst admitting that if things change, they could come back. That seems like a combination of an attempt to keep the peace of his polarised court, and a laudable attempt to avoiding ruling where no ruling is needed. Although "keeping lawyers out of USAnian life" is a ship that has sailed.

Overall, I think this represents the court giving a rap over the knuckles to arbitrary govt, and I approve of that. If your response is "but this will lead to super-spreading" then you've failed to notice that all agree that it is currently moot.

Other people's opinions

Brian: I'm shocked at how conservative judges have manipulated the law but shouldn't be. Power to quarantine is a fundamental power of govt dating centuries. Right not to be quarantined is an unenumerated right wholly invented by conservatives, in the last year. My reply: That seems mad. You may not like the decision but it could be reasonably argued either way.

So, the main point: Brian errs, I am certain, by regarding the judgement as outside the bounds of reason. I happen to think it was right, but had it gone the other way, it would have been merely a different and not unreasonable interpretation. Secondary: Brian is here trying to win the argument by "stealing" words. There is no "Right not to be quarantined" and no-one has suggested there is any such right; instead, there is a right to liberty and freedom from unreasonable govt interference, and the quarantine is just an aspect of that. "Power to quarantine" is somewhat dubious; this rests less on anything explicit and mostly on people-have-done-that-before; like, for example, interning Japanese-ancestry folk during WWI.

Cuomo speaks

There's been a fair amount of complaints in the UK about the govt not showing proper respect for court judgements, and I think complaints about Trump, too; so what about Cuomo. I think he fails: the NYT quotes him saying "You have a different court, and I think that was the statement that the court was making... We know who [Trump] appointed to the court. We know their ideology".

Follow-ups

Christian school in Kentucky asks justices to intervene in dispute over in-person classes at religious schools looks to be taking the piss: this is a case where the state has closed public and private elementary, middle, and high schools and the religious want a pass. I think they'll lose, and that they should.

Notes

1. Yes yes I know, I'm being provocative, this is the broad-brush intro, read on for the details.

2. A hostage to fortune if there ever was one. Go on, do your worst.

Refs

BLACK MONOLITH STUNS UTAH XENOCLIMATOLOGISTS

* The Pivotal Justice in the Supreme Court Decision? by  Pierre Lemieux. The "The" point is one I thought about then decided to ignore, as uninteresting. But the last para is worth copying: An observation of a different sort is that all three Justices nominated by outgoing president Donald Trump voted to defend freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment, which is a good point in his favor—although he himself, to say the least, did not demonstrate strong preferences for the free-speech protections in the same amendment. The Supreme Court decision also suggests that conservative judges are often more likely to protect individual liberties than “liberal” ones, even if caveats are in order, including regarding Justice Roberts in this case. We are told that Trump consulted the Federalist Society on judicial nominations instead of relying on his empty and dangerous intuitions. One wishes he had done the same on trade and other economic matters.

Hire people who give a shit

* SOUTH BAY UNITED PENTECOSTAL CHURCH, ET AL., v. GAVIN NEWSOM, GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA, ET AL. ON APPLICATION FOR INJUNCTIVE RELIEF