2020-03-31

WATN: John Brignell

90896053_1428597724003210_5764002353552293888_o Alas, poor John Brignell, he has suffered the sad fate of being declared NN. Cue paroxysms of faux outrage about censorship from the Dork Side, if they can still remember who he is: they have memories like goldfish. Even more humiliating for him, I don't appear to have bothered to diss him. He survived a previous debate in 2007, but only by "no consensus". As the closer of that debate said: it would be appreciated if the numerous sources and references provided in this discussion were to wander their way onto the article. This reflects the usual pattern: people show up at AFD, vote keep, and then can't be bothered to improve the article. That was back in the days when I cared a bit, and !voted weak delete, based on Brignell being certainly less notable than Lambert.

To establish his place in the world, here's WUWT approving of him; or his own Global Warming as Religion and not Science (arch).

I'm pretty sure he's now pushing up the daisies, but I can't find any actual source saying so, just absence.

Refs


* COVID-19, climate and the plague of preprints - by Richard Telford
Sometimes it’s never good enough - ATTP
Is R0 larger than people think? - JEB
* Speaking of WATN, Pielke appears to be back Twatting.
* Teaching Teaching by Bryan Caplan
* Climate Change: What is (Not) To Be Done by Pedro Schwartz - another in the regrettable series of "Libertarians" (well, EconLib) saying regrettable things about GW.

2020-03-26

Coronavirus days: and global warming?

90797873_10157993526827350_1355840889523535872_o ES makes two predictions:
1) Things are going to be okay if we follow the advice of actual experts and stay home for several weeks or more.
2) If things actually do turn out okay (because we stayed home), 1/2 the country will say this shows the experts were unnecessarily "alarmist".
Both of those sound reasonable, though 1 might be a touch optimistic. But suppose (1) is not only true but, to our joy, things are even more OK than we dare hope now. Then people connecting CV and GW, and saying things like planning for low probability, high impact, worst case scenarios1 is looking pretty smart right now are going to get the Dork Side saying "See! You told us to trust science, and we did, and we got all this lock down and economic damage for nothing; you think we'll ever trust you on GW? Ha!"2.

That happy event is unlikely, though.

In other news, I bought some US, on the grounds that the SP500 seems to have bottomed out. That doesn't mean things are getting better yet, just that the bad stuff has likely been (over)priced in. I could be wrong about that, too.

My photo shows the beginning of another day of hell in the office. See how green my lawn is; though not quite as smooth as it should be.

Update: Jem Bendell is an idiot


I don't think this is worth promoting to a full post, but his name comes up sometimes so I need Google to find what I've said about him. Up to now, nothing, for he is, after all, an idiot.

Here's some useless nonsense: Professor Sees Climate Mayhem Lurking Behind Covid-19 Outbreak
By Saijel Kishan at Bloomberg. Oreskes, also an idiot, Twats a mirror of it, because she is too dumb to link to the original. There's also This Is Not a Drill review – an Extinction Rebellion handbook from the ever-gullible Graun.

He has all the customary signs of idiocy, including puffing his CV: Bendell is a former consultant to the United Nations, has presented papers to the European Commission, co-authored reports for the World Economic Forum and advised Britain’s Labour Party.

Happily the Light Side is onto him: Michael Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, said that Bendell “gets the science wrong on just about everything.” I think that'll do.

Uupdate: the experts made mistakes


It now becomes ever clearer that some of the expert analysis was, errrm, poor; or "the supposed experts churning out dross on an industrial scale" as JA put it. And people inevitably are thinking about using that.

Notes


1. also now I come to re-read it, it's a slightly odd comment. We should indeed factor low-prob hi-impact scenarios into our calculation, but not really plan for them; the problem seems to be getting people to plan for the hi-prob cases.

2. Perhaps Delay is deadly: what Covid-19 tells us about tackling the climate crisis by Jonathan Watts in the Graun would be a fairer target.

Refs


Fitting the COVID-19 SEIR model to data, part 2 - JEB
Protect The NHS - Timmy

2020-03-24

Coronavirus days: policy?

90343127_10157291987478869_2697016565970239488_o Before you read on, consider Flatten the Curve of Armchair Epidemiology by  Noah Haber: Vet your sources or more people will be deluded. And also Noah Kaufman insightfully TwitsNew essay: "COVID Changes Everything Except 1 Thing" which impatiently explains why everyone must immediately drop their opposition to my long-held policy prescriptions. An example of wishful thinking is Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently. Here’s How from Politico. Leaving aside the question of why so many Noahs, we come to... (trigger warning) Trump Twatting "we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself" (except he said it in shouty all-caps, because he's a shouty sort of person). Naturally he got flamed for saying that, and I'm all in favour of flaming Trump, because he is a wazzock, and only a nation of idiots would put him in charge1. Anyway, I'm disappointed by the lack of cost-benefit analysis; at least, I haven't seen one.

I shall attempt one. Recall that this sequence of posts is to some extent in the nature of a diary of the plague season, so I'm recording my thinking, and what I see around me. Let's suppose a life is worth £1 million (on the low end I know, but these are mostly elderly folk dying... let's hope my mother doesn't read this...) and we (in the UK) might end up with 500 k deaths if we do nothing, then that's a cost of £500 billion. Which sounds like a large number, but you have to be careful with things that look like large numbers. UK GDP is about 2 trillion, so if we lose 20% of GDP this year that would be... £400 billion. Did I get my numbers right? That suggests that at least in ballpark, costs and benefits about balance; in which case it doesn't seem unreasonable to err on the side of humanity. That's assuming no knock-on cost to GDP in future years, and on the other side, that 500 k mostly elderly deaths wouldn't affect much GDP.

Alternatives to lock down?


The current lock down looks like a very blunt instrument. You can argue, and probably will, that even that blunt instrument is misunderstood, and that the govt-to-public interface is incapable of transmitting anything but a blunt message. But that won't stop me thinking that it is all rather badly done and could be done better. Examples abound: I can't work-from-work, even though I'm about the only person on my floor, and the risk is negligible; certainly less that the risk from going into a supermarket. Speaking of which, at the local Sainsbury's, precautions seemed minimal: no hand-san on the way in, no staff wearing masks. It feels like everywhere is suffering policies that are more tuned to large cities.

Update: would wearing masks help?

There's almost no mask usage in the UK. And pols never wear them when gathered together. This Tweet points to the Czech's making their own; see this Google docAs more and more people took to the streets and social media with masks, on March 17 at the daily government press briefing, all members were wearing masks. It seems to me this is at least worth considering. The point being that you don't need medical-grade-certified masks to make it less likely to transmit.

I'm not the only one to think of the obvious... Scarves now, masks later; and Bring on the Masks and Gloves! And Lithuania starts producing reusable N100 face masks. It took just 4 days from idea to government contract of 1 million units. Costs 1.5 EUR per unit, production capacity 10,000 / day.

FACE MASKS: MUCH MORE THAN YOU WANTED TO KNOW: slatestarcodex.

Uupdate: I wrote a post about it.

News


UK now in "lock down" by which we mean don't leave your house unless necessary; but with a fairly broad definition of necessary, including a free pass for going out for a run. In a token of madness, even single sculling is now banned, presumably in order to prove that the world is insane. On a personal level, work has now bowed to the inevitable and sent me home. I'm anticipating that the garden will be at its best this spring, especially if the good weather continues.

Updates


I had some blogs by others queued up to comment on:

* Trump Murders Someone: The weapon: stupidity: DA/QS. Meh, more like suicide by stupidity. Anyone dumb enough to follow Trump's advice deserves a Darwin award.
* New York vs Italy - EarlyWarning: New York is in serious and, I would guess, irrecoverable containment failure; or you may prefer his We Are About to Lose New York City to Covid.
* Let Decadent Airlines Go Bankrupt by Pierre Lemieux at EconLib.
* Some thoughts about science advice - ATTP
* Uncertainty in the COVID-19 model - JEB: I think one thing that can probably be concluded is that the parametric uncertainty isn't hugely important for the broad policy advice. Rather like climate science, in fact :-).
That Oxford study, in full, in brief - JEB
Harsh But True - Timmy suggests Africa may show what happens without lockdown; though a commentator points out that they skew young, which helps.
* Open Borders: Now Do You See What We're Missing? by Bryan Caplan
* A battle fought on a million fronts by Scott Sumner
* J-value assessment of how best to combat Covid-19 by Philip Thomas
What About Economists’ Expertise?
* When Free-Market Prices Are Banned by Pierre Lemieux
* How long the lockdown lasts is not just a medical question – it's a democratic one; Richard Denniss - Graun
* Economic crash could cost more lives than coronavirus, says expert - The Times - Philip Thomas, Jvalue stuff.

Notes


1. and only a party of utter morons would have put up a candidate he could beat. It looks like they have actually learnt something this time round; I'm astonished.

2020-03-21

Coronavirus Days: nice pix

As I said, we visited the National Gallery. There's some nice stuff there. Here's some of it. These are in some kind of order... the order I saw them, which is roughly by age. They are all clipped, mostly not very much, cos I don't like to see the frame. Despite my best efforts, not all of these are perfectly lit (or, for the longer ones, perfectly flat) so you may prefer a better repro elsewhere.

As to COVID itself I have nothing new to say today; I found How much ‘normal’ risk does Covid represent? by David Spiegelhalter interesting.

The Wilton Diptych (right hand panel). 139x. Gets a small room all to itself. Lovely, but I wish I could stop seeing the background as the fuzzy pegboard stuff.

IMG_20200315_113241

Christ showing his wounds. Weirdly modern-looking in structure and colour - to me - but about the same age as the diptych above. If you look at it from a distance you may not notice that his robe is rent and there's a gash in his side. The apostles coyly hide behind him in their haloes.

IMG_20200315_122623

A fairly typical scene of St Michael defeating the devil, but a gorgeous example. The armour! The serene face! The fearsome devil! The gorgeously folded cloak! And the benefactor, unfazed, kneeling. Bartolom√© Bermejo, the most important fifteenth-century Spanish painting in Britain.

IMG_20200315_120621

Saint Veronica with the Sudarium: According to her legend, Saint Veronica saw Christ fall as he carried his Cross to the site of his crucifixion. Taking pity on him, she offered her linen handkerchief (called a sudarium) to wipe the sweat from his face. When he returned it, an image of his face was imprinted upon it. One of the many many weird ones in there; well, St Michael and the devil is pretty weird, too.

IMG_20200315_115630

Christ being taken down from the cross. A nimble boy at the very top of the painting attempts to support Christ’s weight while clinging on to the arm of the Cross, hooking one ankle over it to prevent himself from falling headlong. Which is the bit I liked: his contorted spidery appearance and, because of his colouring, his visual identification with Christ, is good. As is the odd gilded niche in which the action is placed.

IMG_20200315_115404

Mr and Mrs Andrews. This one is famous because it was in my school history textbook about the changing face of England in the 18th century.

IMG_20200315_131451

The Fighting Temeraire. 1839. Massively famous, a good painting, well worth a look.

IMG_20200315_131642

Lord Ribblesdale. 1902. Just to prove I can like things other than intricately detailed pain. Lifesize or more, hung on the wall of the mail hall.

IMG_20200315_131335

Refs


Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (Uffizi)

2020-03-18

Coronavirus Days, part two: drivel

90252544_10157958933532350_9084115092445855744_o (1) The opening shot in today's drivel wars is fired by doughty campaigner John Vidal in the Graun, with 'Tip of the iceberg': is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?3;The answer is of course No, as Michael Mann should have known. But I told him anyway. To make it more explicit, We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host is wacko. Viruses or any other kind of disease are not happy little things secure in their environment, and only "trying" to look for a new host(s) if their existing host(s) get offed. This is a mistake of teleological proportions. They have no will or desire; they just blat about randomly; if you keep on eating bushmeat or whatever you increase your chances of catching something regrettable; and that's true whether you also cut down the trees or not. The rest of the article is anodyne, merely noting that Research suggests that outbreaks of animal-borne and other infectious diseases such as Ebola, Sars, bird flu and now Covid-19, caused by a novel coronavirus, are on the rise and The disruption of pristine forests driven by logging, mining, road building through remote places, rapid urbanisation and population growth is bringing people into closer contact with animal species they may never have been near before. Destroying nature doesn't cause these diseases; it's just the getting closer that does it1, coupled with our new-fangled ability to spread them across the world quickly.

Moving right along we come to Jim "back to Plato" Al-Khalili with A Physicist for President?, part of a long tradition2 of "people more like me should be in charge". Jim is a bit thin on any examples where his Physicist-President would break out the pencil and solve problems, but that hardly matters, because really he's just trolling; or perhaps more generously, trying to make you think about the different ways things could be handled. Pushing the obvious aside, his philosopher-physicist would never get nominated, much less elected. Because PP's on the whole tend to be not really people people. And on the whole they don't have a good grasp of history or politics which would allow them to function usefully in a political role. More fundamentally, they probably think like Jim in terms of "we must also find solutions to the climate crisis... to our energy needs" as though the state, or the President, needs to solve those problems. But it doesn't. It needs to impose a carbon tax and mostly get out of the way. Jim's PP would I fear be all too hands-on, getting in the way. [See-also: ATTP's view].

Lastly - and only at best ambiguously drivel - we have Scientists have been sounding the alarm on coronavirus for months. Why did Britain fail to act? by Richard "is editor of the Lancet medical journal" Horton, as Twat by James. And my only complaint is, as I said, is "What does Horton's own record on sounding the alarm look like?". Because although the piece is unflinching in its criticism of everyone else in not raising the alarm, it is notably short of "look, here, at what I said months ago, why didn't you listen". Perhaps he is just too modest to link to his own wise words of warning.

Closer to home, Waterstones Cafe on the second floor is now closed, and the ground floor one is takeaway only; how can I be expected to finish The Mirror And The Light under those conditions? School will go virtual from Friday, and what will happen next term is a mystery; ditto for D's 4th term at Cambridge. The shops are out of bread flour; all the yummy mummies desperate to fill their child-enriched hours with baking, no doubt.

Notes


1. Perhaps something the back-to-nature folk might like to think about.

2. I'm sure that's true but can I justify it? Well, there's Plato of course. And now Al-Khalili. And Heilein's vets in Starship Troopers. Oh go on, you can fill in your own examples.

3. Of course, the logic of the piece is clear: environmental destruction is not just bad, it is a sin, desecration; and so like any sin it must invoke punishment from the Gods; and is not a plague a punishment from the Gods?

Refs


How they got it so wrong - a theory - JEB
Coronavirus – getting angry - Bronte Capital
* Covid-19 and Conservative Liberalism - by Dan Klein
IF YOU WERE ALIVE IN 2005, YOU READ IT HERE FIRST

2020-03-17

Coronavirus Days

89982123_10157965695152350_6353842693486936064_o In these days of people at home dying of boredom my contribution should be blog posts; so here's one.

Life is steadily moving from dim-and-distant problems-of-other-people to closer-to-home. Last weekend I rowed in the third leg of the Winter League, and watched the lightweight races; but now all rowing is cancelled on the Cam and The Boatrace is off; even more horrifying, Mays will probably not happen; at least we had Lents. We went up to London to see Hamilton; though my mother sensibly didn't come because she is Old; now all the West End is shut. We looked round a rather quiet British Museum and National Gallery; now they are shut. I got to run in the Cambridge Half, but the Paris Marathon is, oddly enough, not going to happen. E sneaked in her grade 8 clarinet exam on Monday; from today, all that is off; what will happen to A-levels1 can only be conjectured. My work has decided all-but-essential folk should work from home; M's cannot be far off. For those who sit at desks this is not too much hardship.

As you see I have some fine-quality literature lined up to last me for... at least a couple of days, when the apocalypse comes. After that I guess it will be back to Marcel and his ilk.

Of the Dread Lurgi itself I have nothing useful to say; I read people like James Annan with interest but no doubt you will find many more similar.

But - and you understand that I write this more in the spirit of writing something to read in the future and be amazed at my lack of perspicacity - what of the future? Civilisation collapsing seems unlikely. We have shortages in the shops of bogroll and handsan (fortunately E still has some supplies from her expedition to Bolivia last summer) but other stuff seems to be there for now; and probably will continue to be, if the evil capitalist supply chains are allowed to continue without too much help from the pols3. The markets aren't looking too healthy2 but I think the same thing applies. The govt apparently promises £330B in loans and holidays and the US and Frogs too are talking of throwing money around. The hospitals are not yet full of the dead, but these are early days.

Refs


'Tip of the iceberg': is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19? - John Vidal in the Graun. Answer (of course): No. Bonus answer: you're an idiot.

Notes


1. Actually Pre-U.

2. Excellent news for those who decided to buy the first drop...

3. Boris's amusing-but-incompetent schtick is starting to wear thin even to his own people; Trump looks ever less competent; maybe some good will come of this. Mind you it's not just them; the whole structure doesn't look good when obliged to actually do something rather than just negotiate with other drones.

2020-03-09

Red team goes up

87937686_1406827916180191_2092134331442003968_o A follow-up to Red team goes down; but this is Lents, not Mays. In an inversion of last year, Maggie were now about 30 seconds faster than Caius over 2 km - as revealed by Newnham regatta - and Pembroke regatta had fallen victim to Wind, familiar to all those who lived through this winter. Indeed Torpids had to be cancelled; excess stream I think; and WeHorr too.

And so on Wednesday. Maggie caught Caius, and yet I cannot write "predictably enough" because it happened unpredictably: Caius 5 seat had seat troubles, and Caius didn't last past First Post; which was regrettable, it would have been good to see the proper fight. Meanwhile Pembroke caught Downing to go third. Thursday saw puzzlement at the Plough as Pembroke and Downing failed to show up for the practice starts; eventually the truth came out: Pembroke, in a fit of careless coxing during warm-up on the Reach, had smashed into the back of Downing causing much damage, and had been awarded a technical bump against1. So 'binson, at 5, didn't get to try themselves against Downing and instead went down to FaT. On Friday, predictably enough, Pembroke re-bumped Downing; and on Saturday got Caius; but didn't get a chance against Maggie - but while that would have been good to see, I don't think they'd have done it.

For the women, Newnham - to my surprise; so certain was I that they would row over that I didn't bother follow it - went down to Jesus and then fell two more in subsequent days, before redeeming themselves by bumping Emma back on Saturday; in the wings, Downing started rising, and on their second go, on Saturday, went head; so congratulations to them.

Charts to help you through this maze at various places but I used CamFM. And you can re-live the full bumps experience with the Youtube playlist.

Wattmageddon


I'd been doing some longer pieces on the erg, partly because 10 k had come to seem too short, and partly as a way of getting distance in this wet-feeling winter. So friend Tom invited me to his marathon-on-the-erg at City's glorious new boathouse on February the 29th. I was the weakest of the four; the others all got sub-3; Tom in 2:51 which is 2:01.x. I did 3:04:39 which is 2:11.2. It's a somewhat weird experience. I found the last 8 k the easiest; I'd kinda settled in by then. My arse was fine (I had a seat pad); I got a small blister on my left hand early on but put on my fleecy cycling glove and was then fine. No food or drink during it, though I had bananas, gels and a water bottle standing by. My back was also fine. A few times I started to feel stiff in the shoulders and solved this by weird-looking wriggles as I came forwards. And the ?tendons? above my knees started to feel a bit odd around half-way, but came back to normal after a bit.

Cambridge half


Another year, another Cambridge half marathon. This year a glorious new course that went through Kings. I was a bit weaker than last year - somewhat speculatively, perhaps not fully recovered from the previous week's ergathon - and got 1:43, which was my target (1:45 is my limit of respectability, and I wanted to do better than that). I should note that my watch - like last year - thought the course was a bit short, at 20.9, but another 200 m would have been less than a minute so definitely under 1:45 any way you look at it. There was something of a headwind on the way out, and as my pace dropped I found I was telling myself how 1:45...or perhaps 1:46... would be perfectly acceptable; but either I bucked up or the tailwind coming back helped, but all the excuses weren't needed. Gels at 8 and 13 k, somewhat early, and then a race-provided one at about 17 k. Miranda also ran this year, her first, in 2:10.

Paris, postponed


I entered the Paris marathon, for the start of April. Sadly, it is postponed to October due to Coronavirus. I may just go and run anyway.

Notes


1. Downing cox had to go to hospital as a precaution but was unharmed; Pembroke cox was banned for the remainder of the bumps; Downing's boat will require extensive repairs.

Refs


* Lents 2019.
* The Leiter-Caplan Socialism Debate by Bryan Caplan

2020-03-07

The Trials of the State

89511586_10157933757712350_3351801376970637312_oA slim volume by Sumpers, who I've disagreed with, though only mildly, before. I picked it up on New Year's Eve fully expecting to dislike it but was increasingly enchanted and instantly resolved to blog it; now it is nearly the end of February well into March.

Before reading my ill-informed opinions you'll want to read others. keepcalmtalklaw says it argues that law, and its modern fixation on rights and due process, has now largely filled the space previously occupied by politics and political debate - for better or for worse3. Or you can read Stephen Sedley in the LRB,  who seems to disagree with Sumpers a lot; perhaps professional enmity or just the desire to have something to say, I don't know, I got a bit bored reading him5. Anyway, enough of these other people, "what of me?" I hear you cry.

Chapter 1: Law's expanding empire


The law used to regulate religion, and ban homosexuality. Now it regulates neither, and indeed bans discrimination. Animal welfare legislation, by banning fur farming on moral grounds, has enforced a common morality: what could have been an entirely personal moral decision, to purchase and wear fur or not, has been made common (he declines to argue the rights and wrongs of fur; as he does for other things; this is correct; his discussion is not over the rights and wrong of these choices, but whether they should be covered by law). This leads me to reconsider his point re non-discrimination: the law could have simply withdrawn from the area, but did not; it chose to ban discrimination. Per Gay Cakes I think the answer is that the law should ban discrimination by the govt (ideally in the glorious words of the US constitution: shall make no law concerning...), but not by individuals, leaving the question of large companies somewhat unclear but my inclination would be to have the law by default stay out when it can. JS's opinion is that we are afraid to allow people to make their own moral judgements, in case they disagree with our own.

A little later he asserts that the advance of law into ever more areas is simply a fact, which we shall have to get used to. It is certainly an observed fact of recent times, but not quite the fact-of-nature that he appears to consider it; perhaps it is not an area he wishes to discuss so closes it as quickly as possible.

After morality, he considers risk, and notes that we become ever more risk averse and insist on the law protecting us, at the inevitable cost to our liberty.

Chapter 2: In Praise of Politics


By constantly disparaging pols I may have given the impression that I disparage the concept of the political process, but this is not true; see for example Aristotle's Politics. JS, while aware of political failings and the public's opinion of pols, nonetheless notes the importance and elusiveness of the concept of "legitimacy": people will accept decisions they disagree with as long as they accept the legitimacy of the decision-making process.

But it is necessary to counter the tyranny of the majority; JS asserts two parts to this: representative democracy, and law.

JS's defence of RD is not convincing to me. Chiefly, it is that it is superior to direct democracy (which is just-about-now just-about-possible1) because pols are less likely to sacrifice the long-term good of the country to short-term interests. In asserting that we use RD as a matter of principle, he ignores the obvious, that current pols would fight tooth and nail to keep their jobs and power, and that any change would have to come through them, the most opposed to change. SJ acknowledges this view as perhaps "elitist", but not his own bias for it as a member of the elite. He then goes on to defend political parties, on the grounds that they are flexible and balance interests. Since this is all in the context of Brexit, he has to bring that in, and finds himself obliged to say that "Europe has become the defining issue which determines party allegiance". This is nonsense. Brexit cuts across party allegiances.

We move on to law; but almost immeadiately return to the prior theme, of increasing, umm, activity of law in the political process, or "law as the continuation of politics by other means" (a familiar idea from the USAnian climate change cases). As far as I can tell nowhere does Sumpers admit the obvious conflict of interest here: judges are awarding themselves more power. Briefly, he touches on the appointment of judges in the UK. They are nominally nominated by an independent panel. But actually this just means they are nominated out of public site by an opaque process. JS appears opposed to something similar to the USAnian political appointment process, but admits that with judges becoming more political, this may be inevitable2. But then we get to the more interesting point: that judges are intrinsically unable to mediate; that it is a zero-sum game; and cannot accommodate diverse opinions the way politics can (if it works well). This point is a good one, but only quasi-true. Reading the deliberations of the SCOTUS (I recommend Scotusblog) I think it becomes clear that in many cases the judges are trying to strike a balance, and will only come down hard on one side if given no choice.

Chapter 3: Human Rights and Wrongs


Human rights have a long common-law foundation, but there is an awkward problem of definition; what exactly are they? I like Hobbes's view (see wiki) which I assert the USAnian constitution largely subscribes to: that "rights" are things you have naturally, that laws constrain those rights by imposing obligations, and that the constitution imposes restrictions on the state as to what constraints it may impose. Thus the first amendment says 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; and does not state that people have the right to freedom of religion or a right to freedom of speech; and I strongly criticise the European approach, which is to award people rights by writing them down on pieces of paper. Anyone with any knowledge of the USAnian constitution will of course object that they do not everywhere follow the wise model of the above words; and I can only reply that no-one is perfect.

JS's issue is the public concern that HR law is independent of democratic choice, and protected against amendment by a democratic legislature; or equivalently that HR law has exceeded it's proper sphere and trespasses on politics.

Shifting over to the ideal domain, JS notes that democracies can enact what rights they want; if there is to be some over-arching HR, then that requires some legitimacy; otherwise, HR are just whatever your law currently defines. Once, religious authority might have supplied that legitimacy; no more. Some rights can be considered fundamental, because without them society as we desire it cannot exist; equality before the law, freedom of speech.

What he doesn't say explicitly is something I've said before: that there's a problem in the gap between "rights" which sound excellent when considered in their prime formulation, and the consequences that flow from them4. He does however implicitly consider this, because we move onto...

We then get a lot of technical stuff about the structure of HR legislation, which I think you should read from him not my poor paraphrase; but cutting to the chase we end up with extensions of the text which rest on the sole authority of the judges of the Strasbourg court. This is, in  reality, a form of non-consensual legislation... most of the rights which the S court has added to our law are quite unsuitable for inclusion in any HR instrument. We're back to legitimacy, and the problem of taking difficult and disputed decisions out of the political (i.e. public) sphere and "privatising" them (that's my phrase, not his) by calling them matters of law. This is correct, and accounts for much of the public discussion' which discussion is not, of course, on these rarefied terms; and part of the public anger is I think at it's inability to articulate it's unease.

Chapter 4: Lessons from America


The primary lesson is that he isn't too keen on a constitution, for reasons I find unconvincing. He does note that the SCOTUS has made some rather broad and arguably bad decisions: finding a right to privacy (which underlies Roe vs Wade) and Dred Scott. Otherwise, we're left with judges not being able to save society single-handed, which is or should be uncontroversial.

Chapter 5: Constitutions, New and Old


Spends most of its time arguing against  changing to a written constitution, which is pointless, because that's not going to happen. Does the familiar bemoaning the decline in citizen participation in politics, but finds nothing new to say on the subject. Argues against PR, pointlessly; and of course I disagree. So I'm glad to be able to some extent to regain my prejudices against him in this last chapter.

Update: on reflection


On reflection, prehaps I was close tothe truth when I said "enchanted" and perhaps I should have said "bedazzled". I feel there is somehow less ot this than meets the eye, as exemplified by my failure to find any "key points" to pull out. Except I still like his point re legitimacy.

Notes


1. Note, this doesn't mean clumsy referenda. It would mean internet-based voting on a far more regular basis. It is not going to happen, so carefully considering the exact details is pointless.

2.See-also the timely Boris Johnson takes on the judges, and Why pruning the British judiciary’s powers will prove tricky from the Economist.

3. And this is wrong, because the thinks it is for worse.

4. I'd suggest some kind of "back flow": if you can reason from your universal rights to a decision that is wrong, then (assuming your reasoning survives scrutiny) you have to reconsider what you think of as rights. "wrong" here might be slippery. JS makes a good point in that if it is a question of morality, and you assert universal rights, then significant rational disagreement amounts to it being in error.

5. Re-reading SS I retain the same antipathy; for example, in 2011... attacking the judiciary of which he was now a member for methodically invading the territory of politics... he has returned to the theme of the deference owed by law to politics. It is his bad luck to have done so at a moment when the UK’s political process, both in and outside Parliament, has been in functional meltdown and moral decline, while both his own court and the lower courts have remained a source of constitutional principle and political stability. I think this misses the point; that adverse-to-politics judicial decisions are part of the political problem.

2020-03-05

Zharkova is a tosser

87025852_1397434010452915_1819510646673244160_o At last, a female winner of the prestigious Tosser award for behaviour above and beyond the call of stupidity. Z gets it not for writing crappy papers that everyone can see are wrong and even Nature eventually realises have to be retracted. No, she gets this for writing silly review comments on someone else's paper. From the comments on Prediction of the strength and timing of sunspot cycle 25 reveal decadal-scale space environmental conditions by Prantika Bhowmik and Dibyendu Nandy (a perfectly sensible paper as far as I know, though I haven't read it)
the authors did not cite a single paper, which predict an imminent Maunder-like grand minimum (GM) that can lead to cooling of global climate. This is a violation of the intellectual property rights for the authors who did such the predictions...
Wonderful stuff. The other comments, on a quick scan, don't really live up to this opening, sadly.

Other views:

Zharkova et al. – retracted - ATTP
Sunblock Applied - DailyKos
Why are so many solar-climate papers flawed? - Gavin at RC

Freeman Dyson is dead


Read about him from many people, including David Appell. I don't know much about him; from what I gather, he was a respectable physicist who went somewhat emeritus in his later years, as so many do. I don't bear him any ill will; his forays into talking nonsense were few and, I think, rather half-hearted. He gets Freeman Dyson on global warming in 2006; and then a by-blow in On its hundredth birthday in 1959, Edward Teller warned the oil industry about global warming?; meh.

On the Dems


So, it's down to Sanders versus Biden. An uninspiring choice but I would choose Biden without hesitation, both to be the candidate - as having a better chance of beating Trump - and as Prez - as not being an over-enthusiastic socialist. I'd have preferred Bloomberg, but you can't always get what you want. Side note: it was weird the way all the other Dems like Warren attacked Bloomberg at the last debate, when Sanders was ahead. It was like they weren't playing to win, just to prevent someone else winning; like they weren't even serious or not really thinking.

Update: Of the women


Well, Warren. I paid no attention to the others. As the NYT sez, Warren had an avalanche of policy plans and I thought she was bad for that reason. That same article describes Sanders as "liberal" which is odd to me; he is far from a classical liberal but apparently "liberal" is one of those words that means different things in the US of A. Presumably Warren now gets to decide who to sell her endorsement to.


Other views:

* Campaign postmortems - magical thinking edition - TF
Bernie Sanders is more electable than Joe Biden and will win - VV
Elizabeth Warren, Once a Front-Runner, Drops Out of Presidential Race - NYT
Nicholas Kristof: Why Biden is the change candidate - SLT