2018-08-31

Touch me... how can it be?

The sun always shines on TV (oh, but Love will tear us apart). What has that got to do with anything? Nothing. I'm just listening to it.

This is but a minor post, to muse on something said explicitly at Cafe Hayek (I write it that way to put off all the H-haters) as almost an aside. The main point is worth saying again; the text is from Dawkins: if you start with a complicated working mechanism... there are many more ways of making it worse than of making it better. Obvious but easily missed; and very obvious when you see wazzocks like Trump or Maduro flailing around desperately trying to change things; by now we're into their phase n, where they're trying to patch up the results of phase n - 1, which was them trying to patch up the multi-order consequences of their previous actions.

Anyway, onto what DB wants to say, which is
there are many more ways of making the economy worse than there are of making it better. Therefore, the wise course is to devolve decision-making down to as low as level as possible. Let each person survey his or her immediate economic surroundings and, using his or her unique knowledge and perspective, adjust. If that person adjusts in a mistaken way, the harm will be localized and he or she has a powerful incentive to get it right on subsequent tries. Private property and contract rights encourage this localized decision-making. But state intervention is not localized; it’s systemic and large-scale. The chances that the state will get it right are slim; the unintended, unseen ill-consequences of such intervention are always almost certain to swamp whatever benefits such intervention brings.
I largely agree, but (and I thought of commenting there, but I know it won't work, so didn't bother) the idea that everything should devolve down seems wrong, by analogy to solving fluid dynamics equations. The kind of thing I'm thinking of is stuff like multigrid, terribly popular when I was doing my doctorate. If you just solve problems locally, global convergence is very slow, and gets worse as your local grid becomes finer. I'm not sure how good an analogy that is, though, because that's about the flow of information, and nowadays information flows very well, to anyone interested. One could think about the flow of rules, perhaps. There's no absolute boundary, but I'd travel in the direction that DB suggests, from where we are today.

Refs


* My exciting response to mt's anti-driverless-car urtext on Medium, which I don't much like.
Venezuela’s tragedy shows the folly of messing with markets.




2018-08-30

Basic Science of a Changing Climate?

ohdear
I don't seem to have taken the piss out of the nutjobs recently, so it seems only fair to post this. This is a conference, "Basic Science of a Changing Climate". I haven't of course looked at the details but with these two, and Nils-Axel Mörner also on this list, it can't be good.

What amazes me is the lack of grooming, or rather the lack of effective grooming, and now I think about it the ability of both to look terrible, for completely contrasting reasons. Lord M has clearly been groomed to within an inch of his life, but the pic is still crap, he looks smug and self-satisfied. Piers... is clearly a disaster area, visually; scientifically I'll defer to myself in an earlier incarnation. Maybe he is trying for the mad scientist look?

Anyone wishing to claim "you're no picture yourself" is invited to gaze in awe at the pic below. Don't blame me for the framing, my wife took it.

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Taken in Argentiere in the "Petit Verte", gazing up at the Verte, which appears to be a 5-star mountain.

Refs


*  I am Peter Wadhams, and will have later additions to make to this stub - Wadhams appears to rather regret the "Three scientists investigating melting Arctic ice may have been assassinated, professor claims" story.
THE SHADOW PM'S MORE INTELLIGENT OLDER BROTHER.

2018-08-29

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

TF is having an Auden jag, so I got to read Musée des Beaux Arts (text), which is another of those weird things, like Dover Beach, that somehow touches my heart: About suffering they were never wrong.

The painting is striking; I am saying nothing new of course. The style is antique but the concept seems modern; or rather I mean that it seems odd that the antients would have thought it: to put the peasant figure of the ploughman in the centre, and then to so weirdly stylise his ploughing.

Why the antients were so good and so much of modern art rubbish is a mystery easily solved: selection. Over the centuries the trash has been discarded; in a century we'll discover what tiny fraction of modern art was considered worth keeping.

This then (yes at long last I'm coming to my rather ill-defined point) links to a conversation with CIP that I've recorded under Conservatives find liberals deficient in some other stuff; you will (and, I suspect, so will I in a year's time) rather struggle to understand what all that is about; the key (as far as I am concerned) is this commentLiberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away.

Since I'm on pix, here are some fragments from the Uffizi. In case you're wondering: no, don't go there in August.

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(which is a fragment of this)

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(I liked the parrot wings. A fragment of this)

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(the angel is so tentative, uncertain of his reception perhaps)

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(the dynamism)

DSC_7656



2018-08-27

L'affaire Hayhoe, part II

hey_ho Someone kindly sent me a screenshot of what fb blocking your campaign looked like while I was on hols, and I've finally got round to looking at it. In the course of which I went back to my original post, and then to KH's original tweet. or rather, I tried to, and got what my screenshot shows: "You are blocked from following @KHayhoe and viewing @KHayhoe's Tweets". Which doesn't exactly raise KH in my estimation. Does it raise her in yours? Let's hope not.

In case KH is blocking you too, I can reveal that it is trivial to view the super-sektrit tweet, for example via this archive.

ho_hum Aanyway, here's what fb telling you that your account isn't authorised for political content looks like.

Seems pretty clear to me: the bit about "your account not authorised" is obvious, but strangely didn't make it's way into KH's original tweet. Getting a bit pissed off when something you're worked on can't be promoted because you can't be bothered to jump through the appropriate hoops is entirely understandable. I hate bureaucracy too.

But lying to people by omitting important readily available facts isn't excusable.

Note: per The Science Video Facebook Did Not Want You To See? I left a comment on Dan Satterfield's blog.

2018-08-26

Yet more climate suing

DSC_7576 Or, Youth Climate Case in Washington State Dismissed by King County Judge. This isn't Photogenic teens sue US government, but it's kinda the state-level version; the other is the federal one. The result, in an eerie echo of the Alsup case and the New York City suit, is King County Superior Judge Michael Scott sent this one to an early defeat, ruling that these issues should not to be resolved by a court, but are political questions best addressed by the legislative and executive branches. There are so many of these things; watching all of them getting tossed out is going to get dull.

In the course of poking this, I found Strategies in and outcomes of climate change litigation in the United States, Sabrina McCormick, et al., Nature Climate Change (2018). It's paywalled so I haven't read it, but it starts rather dubiously with The courts have played a central role in climate policy, so I doubt it is much cop. Here's someone else writing about it.

In vaguely related news that oddly enough you won't see prominently displayed elsewhere, SEC Ends Investigation, Will Not Punish Exxon Over Climate Risks. That was always a pile of dingo's kidneys anyway, however much the believers in fairy stories closed their eyes and wished very hard.

My picture shows Darling Daughter still on nominal glacier, though it is somewhat rubble covered, above the Sele hut. The route to the col sweeps left, then from L to R above the rock band on the now you-have-to-be-a-bit-careful upper glacier. We didn't make the Boeufs Rouges, but we did get to Pointe 3402.

Refs

A classic screed that few would read - TF
* A shilling life will give you all the facts - TF
* A mean wind blows over Lake Żabińskie - Richard Telford

2018-08-25

Did you miss me (yeah) when I was away?

DSC_7992 Glitter isn't entirely in fashion nowadays for regrettable reasons, but hey I like the song. My three week odyssey around Europe is complete; having driven through France, Italy, Switzerland, and back through France2 without hitting anything, no mean feat on narrow mountain roads and around lake Garda, I managed to prang someone in Waitrose car park. Is that fair?

There will be a pile of pictures at some point, but in the meantime Climate change is melting the French Alps, say mountaineers looks like a suitable text for a cheapo post. It is of course fundamentally true; you can't walk or climb high in the mountains without noticing the obvious signs of glacial retreat over the past few decades. We went to the top of the Sele pass from the Sele hut side, and looked down into the Pilatte basin. The descent is a most unattactive steep scree followed by ice and crevasses; though I suspect it's really not that hard. But 25 years ago it was pleasant snow for most of it. And the Glacier Blanc hut has a nice map of the glacial tongue showing it's retreat over the years. Though to be fair you also can't walk there without seeing the clear signs of much older retreat.

Because it's a newspaper article, the journo is obliged to throw in something stupid an innumerate. Our man Simon Birch has chosen to demonstrate that he is an idiot with Another key impact of climate change in the mountains is that it is leading to an increase in the number of rockfalls; more than 550 occurred in the Mont Blanc massif alone between 2007 and 2015. I won't bother point out the obvious problem. I'm a touch dubious about A stark consequence of the melting Mer de Glace is that 100m of ladders have now been bolted onto the newly exposed vertical rock walls for mountaineers to climb down onto the glacier. As my pic shows, there were pretty damn extensive ladders there 25 years ago; I doubt they've grown as much as 100 m since then. The source of the article seems to be more about permafrost melting leading to more rockfalls; that could easily be true, and might also be somewhat worrying, as in general you kinda hope for all the serious rockfalls to happen out of season.

There's also Significantly, climate change is happening almost twice as fast in high mountains as compared to the rest of the planet. That's sourced directly to a scientific paper - good heavens - Mountain Climates and Climatic Change: An Overview of Processes Focusing on the European Alps by Martin Beniston. Sourcing to a paper is to be commended1, though in general newspaper should - like wiki - avoid referencing the primary literature, although the paper is an overview. But it is from 2005, and the mountain-vs-world temperature comparison it uses is for the Swiss Alps only, dates from 1997, and actually says it is three-fold higher; perhaps that seemed implausibly large to the journo who decided to tone it down to two-fold. It's not a focus of the paper, though, and isn't even mentioned in the conclusions. Perhaps a better source would have been Elevation-dependent warming in mountain regions of the world, by the "Mountain Research Initiative EDW Working Group", an irritating group of people who link to some of their papers - because the metric all scientists care about more than anything else is papers - and some (inevitably mangled) press coverage, but don't actually bother to tell us what their conclusions were. Never mind, it was enhanced warming compared to the global average (inevitably, since land warms more than ocean) and likely more than the land average, given obvious albedo-y effects and so on.

Notes


1. Actually reading the paper would be even more commendable.

2. On about 4- tanks of diesel, so since I was one of four my personal contribution is about 80 litres. Apparently a Jumbo from London to New York burns about 70k litres of similarish stuff, between 450 people, which is about 160 litres each, and my daughter recently went both ways, so I'm at least doing better than her.

Refs


* Global Carbon Sink Holding Up So Far


2018-08-16

Hothouse tipping elements of no return

39196777_10156512217517350_3994653278469095424_o The undiscovered link between global warning and the English constitutional conflicts of the 17th century is the role of the sectaries; those for whom incremental change was not good enough, they must push for the kingdom of god on earth. They didn't get it, of course: they got the restoration.

Today we have Will Steffen offering us the problem is neoliberal economics. But he isn't totally wrong: he does get the solution has more to do with economics than science correct. I think the term "neoliberal economics" is poorly defined; I think WS has little idea of what it means1; I think he's using it as a vague bugaboo for "things I don't like and which get in the way of me reorganising the world in the way I would like".

Before I return to the wild-eyed fanatics, I delegate my commentary on the underlying "paper" itself to Richard Betts who has a clear advantage over me: he's read it (so has ATTP; that weed JA hasn't ventured a commentary). I shall pick out his They argue – or perhaps speculate; and One thing that strikes me about the scientific literature on “tipping points” is that there are a lot of review papers like this that end up citing the same studies and each other.

one of the main barriers between us and a stable planet — one that isn’t actively hostile to human civilization over the long term — is our economic system


Mmmmm. But this, as always with such things, ignores the benefits of the economic system. The current economic-political-scientific-engineering world system supports 7 billion people, albeit at some cost to the long-term sustainability of the planet. Most of those people would die if the Evil Economic System were removed. If the system were suddenly, sharply, changed it is likely the disruption would kill lots of people. FWIW, I think a more liberal economic system and a smaller less corrupt political system would be a benefit. And it would be nice if we could have an intelligent press, too. It's hard to run an intelligent voting system if the voters are fed pap.

We need to immediately stop deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and other tropical forests, and start reforesting them. That means a U-turn in terms of how we operate the world’s economic systems


I'm all for stopping deforestation. Indeed, I am the proud owner of a "reforest the Earth" tee-shirt of thirty years vintage, that I still wear sometimes. But I'm doubtful that economics is the main reason for deforestation; I'd say it is mainly the corrupt politics. Which is fed by money, yes, but that's different. If you want to solve problems you need to get the right analysis.

What is actually going to solve the problem? Certainly not physical scientists spouting off about economics and politics. I grow hopeful that solar photovoltaics will be important. One barrier to these is the idiot Trump administration's tariffs on Chink panels; the solution to which is Free Trade; which all people of Good Will are in favour of... right? Oh.

Refs


Runaway tipping elements of no return (2007).
Why Liberal Media Need Conservative Columnists.
* Engine summer.

Notes


1. These two statements are not contradictory. "neoliberal economics" is generally used as a term of disapprobation by the "progressives", but that's about as far as an agreed definition goes. To my surprise, "site:mustelid.blogspot.com neoliberal" returns no hits. Over at wordpress, I find myself taking the piss out of someone called "Paul Mason" for writing By neoliberalism I mean the global capitalist system shaped around a core of neoliberal practices and institutions, which is the sort of thing I'd expect WS to write.

2018-08-15

English Constitutional Conflicts of the Seventeenth Century

20180813_174053 English Constitutional Conflicts of the Seventeenth Century is, as I think is well known, a book by J R Tanner that is largely a collection of lecture notes on the obvious subject. Although it might not be well known, it may just happen to be that I own it. My notes inside the front cover indicate that I got as far as page 9 some while back; but a recent holiday has given me the opportunity to read further, and so to recommend it to you. It forms a rather useful prelude to  Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man, which - I warn you - I shall trouble you with somewhat later. These are only some incomplete notes; they reflect my own interests more than the book.

Before I go on, recall: The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

The complex history of the 17th century stands in stark contrast to the simplicities of TRoM; and clearly influences the framers of the USAnian constitution, and aided them by many illustrative examples of how to do it wrong3. The most obvious of these is the need for separation of church and state; time and again people fall apart over the forms or substance of religion; the association between religions and various political factions; the degree of toleration to be afforded some but not all other religions. As the bible itself tells us, no man may serve two masters; as Hobbes pointed out this means there cannot be both an ultimate civil and religious authority; and yet the sectaries were so blinded by their religious enthusiasm they were unable to see they could not live on earth their way. Even the concept of general toleration or separation seems to have not been thought of; everyone, though keen for toleration of their own pet thought would not extend that to all others.

The other great point to come out of all this is money. Or, if you prefer, resources. Or, said another way, economics. Does that sound at all familiar? Problems come to a head when the sovereign runs out of money - often, ultimately, the money to pay the troops - and then the power of the people - or at least, of those who are being taxed - comes sharply into play. And this in a sense shows the truth of the idea that ultimate power comes from the consent of the governed4, in which case it is better to align the nominal structures with the underlying reality.

An aspect I'm interested in, that becomes clear in the course of the history but which isn't stressed, and which Hobbes ignores entirely, is something that perhaps doesn't have a name but could be called the weight of the fabric of society. If law is custom, and your authorities have been stable, then you have a reasonable idea of where you stand. But if your form of government is shifting, if the "foundation" is a constitution of no clear status which can apparently be re-written on desire and which has no clear interpreter1, then all except the most ardent will long for the Olde Wayes. For example, (p. 253) James II asserted that his dispensing power enabled him to override the Test Act and the judges agreed (Godden vs Hales), at a stroke removing all the protections that parliament thought it had put in place against a Catholic army and civil service.

"The power of kings had been a mysterious uncertainty" (p. 216) but by putting it to the test that uncertainty had been removed: kings could be beaten in battle by not-kings; Heaven would not intervene. To us this is obvious; to them it was, as far as I can understand it, uncertain. They preferred not to put it to the test until there was no alternative.

The book is a work of history, not political philosophy. It presents the often somewhat confused arguments people made at the time, applying where possible the precedents and law they knew, in response to the often confusing situations they found themselves in; rather than a principled statement of "rights" from which to attempt to derive a logical structure.

And lastly: if we ignore details - like the English Civil War and the Protectorate - then we could say that England had a relatively smooth transition from the monarchy of the Tudors to the modern parliamentary democracy with a nominal monarch; whereas the unfortunate Frogs went through the abrupt transition of the Terror and all that Napoleonic stuff, to end up at roughly the same place. Is either path better, or in the long run does it all just wash out?


Notes


1. The James Naylor incident apparently (p 190) brought home to Cromwell the need to have some body to interpret the Instrument of Government. Because of there is no interpreter, who can say if the Commons do something outside their powers, that they claim is within? Cromwell's answer2 was a second chamber, but as Hobbes pointed out, if someone else is in charge of interpreting the law,  then they're effectively in charge.

2. Well, his proposed ultimate constitutionally stable answer. His immeadiate answer was of course that he was in charge.

3. An expert is someone who has made every possible mistake in a given field.

4. He who pays the piper calls the tune, perhaps. Not all life can be reduced to proverbs, but much of it can be.

2018-08-02

In the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis?

That's the claim from the NYT. Weird, I know. Or in more detail:
The world’s major powers came within several signatures of endorsing a binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions — far closer than we’ve come since. During those years, the conditions for success could not have been more favorable. The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way — nothing except ourselves.
I don't think the overall sentiments are true. The last part - nothing except ourselves - is sort-of but not really true as well. And the idea that something like GW could be solved by a couple of signatures is magical thinking; or, put another way, confuses law with legislation.

One can argue a lot about exactly when "we knew enough", and what "enough" means, or even what "we" or "knew" means (who exactly is "we"? Scientists? The political elite? The public?) and I've tried to do that before, but I find it hard to believe that even the first IPCC report would be considered sufficient evidence. So any time before 1990 is definitely unreasonable.

Before then - in the 1980's - there was little public awareness of the issue, and no political support for anything GW related that would cause the electorate any kind of pain (so if there was "nothing but ourselves" in the way, that wouldn't help, because we were in the way). The scientific support for anyone who would want to suggest such a thing was lacking. And the technological support for solutions was also lacking (so it wasn't true that only ourselves were in the way; we lacked any kind of fix).

The NYT tells us:
A broad international consensus had settled on a solution: a global treaty to curb carbon emissions. The idea began to coalesce as early as February 1979, at the first World Climate Conference in Geneva, when scientists from 50 nations agreed unanimously that it was “urgently necessary” to act.
But my notes from the same say:
of possible warming from CO2 rises they say: "...increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by about 15% during the last century and it is at present increasing by about 0.4% per year. It is likely that an increase will continue in the future... it appears plausible that an increased amount of CO2 in the atmosphere can contribute to a gradual warming of the lower atmosphere, especially at high latitudes". This isn't a prediction of warming such as you would find in the 2001 IPCC TAR, its a much weaker statement of plausib[i]lity appropriate to the level of knowledge of those times.
And I wrote that more than a decade ago. The NYT's description of the 1974 CIA report on climate change also somewhat differs from mine. Most importantly, the NYT has failed to realise that the author of the CIA report was clueless about climate (though doubtless an excellent spy).

After that there are an awful lot of words, many of them doing that tedious journalistic thing, the "personal story" (Jim cut down on his work hours, leaving the Goddard Institute at 5 o’clock each day, which allowed him to coach his children’s basketball and baseball teams), rather than recounting facts. And as to the things that are facts, I'm not at all convinced it is a reliable history of what happened; you're much better off with Spencer Weart's version. There are so many documents out there from those times that you can, by selective quotation, get almost anything you want.

Refs


The world is losing the war against climate change - the Economist (via RS)
* Joe Romm doesn't like the NYT piece either (h/t DB) but IMO for the wrong (i.e., not the same as my) reasons. Instead, he is as usual keen to make sure all the world's ills are blamed on Evil Industry and the Evil GOP. After all, it is hardly possible that anyone else could be "to blame", is it?
The Krypton Cataclysm: Why So Few Survivors?
* Discounting the Future - CIP