2020-06-30

The dim and distant history of Global Warming on Wiki: Introduction

Ages ago - 2014 - I wrote some notes on what I could recall about The dim and distant history of climate blogging, and I can also find some 2005 notes about various fora. But now it is time to look at the early history of the Global Warming page on Wiki, and related matters. There's a page Wikipedia:List of Wikipedians in order of arrival/2003 which I added myself to a long time ago, with the comment "(By invitation :-). First edit on Global warming as 192.171.137.16)" which I expect is or was a BAS IP (it looks like it belongs to JISC). I recall debating about what user name to have. I realised that it was going to become obvious who I was, so I decided to start as obviously-me.

Note: this was written sort-of on request, so it isn't quite pointless navel gazing.

In 2010 I was asked about this and wrote "As it says on that last page: I was invited, I think by Sheldon Rampton, and think it was to sort out [[global cooling]], which is a subject I've had a long interest in, dating from usenet days: http://www.wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/iceage/ In those days, things were free-n-easy, and there were lots of terrible climate pages in bad need of updating: not just because of bias, though there was some of that, but just because many pages hadn't had more than a cursory glance from anyone competent."

In fact the very first version of GC dates from August 2003, and was extracted from the now dearly-departed Global Warming Skepticism article, and is vaguely sane; though you'll notice the extracted and inserted text doesn't quite match.

But back to the mainstream of GW. My very first edit was uninspiring. The state of the page at that point was poor, and it wasn't clear what to do about it, so I just quibbled The factor which correlates most closely with observed temperature increases and decreases in the earth's atmosphere is solar activity with but correlation-is-not-causation, when I should just have ripped it out; but Damon and Laut came out later. This is characteristic of the early days. A little later in the day I did better, demoting the text and wrapping it in weasel words. Not long later I made my first unexciting edit as me and then created my userpage. A few days later I created Instrumental temperature record with mostly new text and information. Over at Urban heat Island I was again just reacting to what was there, quibbling the silly SEPP view with This argument conveniently ignores the fact that the marine temperature record is essentially in agreement with the land-based one. Touching up the Ozone Hole article was less controversial, but again we see how poor the state was, and the "informality" shall we say of my additions. I put up the first meaningful version of the Satellite Temperature Record page, based on the discussions I was familiar with from sci.env. Over at Attribution of recent climate change I edited to Remove anti-IPCC bias (sigh). Add fuller text of IPCC role. You get the idea I hope: lots of things were wrong, I was feeling my way.

This is all going rather slowly. I'm going to call this "Introduction" as an excuse to break off here.

2020-06-28

Neoclassical tipping points of no return

IMG_20200627_142039 Via Twatter on Patreon and now semi-digested via ATTP, Steve Keen is complaining about "The Appallingly Bad Neoclassical Economics of Climate Change". Although he isn't really - the word "neoclassical" is just thrown in there as a kind of dog-whistle; what's he's really objecting to is current IAM damage functions, which is fuck all to do with neoclassicality.

I've talked about DICE damage functions before, and really all the same problems apply: yes there are problems with them, but you need to stop whinging about them and propose something better.

SK's conclusion - that these methods are Drastically underestimating damages from Global Warming - is I think largely unfounded based on his analysis, even if you grant most of his case; because almost all of his argument is attacking the existing damage functions, without replacing them, so he is in no position to estimate damages himself. SK notes that Natural scientists' estimates [of the damages from climate change] were 20 to 30 times higher than mainstream economists, which is fair enough, but doesn't resolve anything: those who know about GDP think the damage is low, those who know about the physics think it high. Another nice quote is it was hardly surprising, given that the economists know little about the intricate web of natural ecosystems, whereas natural scientists know equally little about the incredible adaptability of human societies.

SK tells me that Nordhaus assumes that 87% of GDP is unaffected by GW, and I'll assume that's true: Nordhaus justified the assumption that 87% of GDP will be unaffected by climate change on the basis that: for the bulk of the economy—manufacturing, mining, utilities, finance, trade, and most service industries—it is difficult to find major direct impacts of the projected climate changes over the next 50 to 75 years. (Nordhaus 1991, p. 932). SK is clearly not happy with N's analysis but provides nothing to dispute it; and it seems not implausible to me, and likely that the not-affected share will rise over time.

Other than disliking IAM's damage functions, and - I rather suspect, given his apparently gratuitous attacks on "neoclassical" economics - cost-benefit analysis at all, it is hard to know what SK's positive programme is. My guess is that he'd like to dispose of the CBA, and simply use something like a 2 oC temperature limit instead. This amounts to throwing out not just neoclassical, but all, economics and replacing it with a finger-in-the-air temperature target, albeit one that is widely diffused. I think that's a bad idea.

Keen: who he?


Who was that masked man, you'll be wondering. There's a wiki page. Guess what? He's a brexiteer (boo, hiss). He endorsed Corbyn, tee hee. Possibly more relevant to the issues here is his Debunking Economics.

Refs


* Cost and the Agony of Choice by Steven Horwitz at EconLib
Crop Yields Under Global Warming - 2018
Mass starvation is humanity’s fate if we keep flogging the land to death? - 2017
* According to the profession’s most popular theoretical models, optimal tax rates on capital
should be equal to zero in the long run–including from the viewpoint of those individuals or
dynasties who own no capital at all - Piketty and Saez (whose personal opinion differs) - h/t Timmy.
The Opportunity Costs of J. Alfred Prufock - Econlib.
* "New paper @NatureClimate on DICE modelling in support of Paris Agreement targets. Typically Nordhaus' DICE yields 3-4C as "optimal" temp by 2100". Paywalled, so I haven't read it, but I think they've just near-zeroed the discount rate.

2020-06-27

Yet moah climate suing

tempt There's not much going on right now, so time for some low-grade climate suing news. Of which the last was in 2018... can that really be so? No, there's this from 2019 too. But is about time for yet moah. Why is it time for moah? Perhaps the 2020 election season approaches, a time when public official spaff taxpayers money against the wall on lawyers in an effort to look good for re-elections?

First, it's good to see that our old friend ClimateLiabilityNews is back, with a new name, ClimateDocket sounding eerily like ClimateDepot. It isn't clear whether we're supposed to know they are the same thing, or indeed if they are exactly the same thing, but climateliabilitynews.org1 redirects to climatedocket.com, which is something of a hint, and CD's "about" page says "The editorial content of CLN is not subject to approval or influence by CCL or its donors" which looks like a careless failure to update (h/t The Dark Side). Also, their page source includes some "yoast-schema-graph" gumpf which still include "name":"Climate Liability News" Aaanyway, enough of that, who cares who they are really.

There's DC Files Latest Climate Suit Vs. Big Oil and also Minnesota Sues Fossil Fuel Industry for Climate Fraud. They look to be run-of-the-mill kind of stuff. For the second, the Dork Side helpfully supplies me with a link to the suit which contains The economic devastation and public-health impacts from climate change were caused, in large part, by a campaign of deception that Defendants orchestrated and executed with disturbing success. I suppose it has to; they have to at least assert cause. I don't think it is true (in two senses: there is no current economic devastation from GW in Minnesota3; and GW isn't in large part caused by Evil Fossil Fuel Company propaganda; this is the familiar "if only it weren't for you EFFCs everything would be spiffy" nonsense.

The next point is around timelines, who-knew-what-when, and I think that will fail, as I've said before and more (caution: link may2 contain picture of monkey genitals). Para 214 asserts a scientific consensus as early as 1982, which is drivel.

Browsing along, I'm struck by how badly researched the complaint is. Important facts about EFFC profits are cited to the Graun, not to some authoritative source. That CO2 causes GW is just stated and not cited, although there's all that nice stuff in Alsup they could cite - perhaps they don't want to draw attention to Alsup and hope that if they pretend it doesn't exist, no-one will notice? It starts to resemble that carbon tax proposal that appeared to have been written by children. Well, if you think it's doomed and only done to bolster your re-election, there's no need to put much work into it.

Para 55 and on is the by-now-familiar drivel that we knew all of this in the 50s. Including the stuff about Teller. Why are they doing this? There's no chance of it standing up. There are pages and pages of this, all boiler-plated from stuff they've been fed I suspect. Para 84 is the wearying Despite their superior understanding of climate change science, which is a lie: the EFFCs knew nothing that the govt didn't know, that wasn't in the scientific public domain. Para 87 is Instead, they engaged in a campaign of deception. As I said beforethe API and its friends, most obviously Exxon under Lee Raymond, said things sufficiently misleading to constitute misinformation and probably lies. But just how evil was this campaign of deception? Para 89 tells us: This deliberate campaign of deception and half-truths is described, in part, by internal strategy documents: A 1988 ExxonMobil internal document states that Exxon... Urge a balanced scientific approach. Fuck me that's Evil (but yes of course, I've been deceptive in what I've elided).

Para 93 is Defendants’ misleading statements were part of a conspiracy to defraud consumers and the general public, including consumers and the public in Minnesota, about climate change and the role of fossil-fuel products in climate change. This I think goes to the heart of their problem (though I'm guessing of course, because I don't know the details of their law or how it is likely to be interpreted; para 185 appears to say that the law doesn't require any actual damage). Simply being misleading is unlikely to be criminal or attract large damages. They need to show intent to defraud. This is going to be tricky, because they'll need to show a net loss, which so far they haven't even attempted.

Para 125 is ...Defendants secretly paid scientists to produce research that supported their campaign of deception. However, the only one they can find is Willie Soon. They try to pad it our with William Happer but are obliged to admit that he has never published a peer-reviewed article on the topic. Unable to find a second scientist to justify their plural, they fall back on These examples are part of a pattern and hope no-one will notice.

Ah, at last: para 139 at last attempts to demonstrate harm (they won't, as they should, try to balance harm against good; but I'm not expecting miracles from them). There were nearly 60 heat-related deaths between 2000 and 2017 (they don't mention that the largest year was 2001). Was this larger than the previous 20 years? They don't say. What does the long-term trend look like? They attempt no attribution. Have winter cold deaths changed? They don't thik to comment. They note that High temperatures can also lead to crop damage but don't note that yields are increasing; to understand that properly you'd have to extract the various causes. In contrast to the vagueness of temperature-related damages, they can find lots of $ for flooding damage, but make only the sketchiest attempt to attribute the floods to GW.

Para 249 asks that hizzoner Order ExxonMobil and Koch to disgorge all profits made as a result of their unlawful conduct. Which sounds odd: those companies no longer have those profits, of course. They've been paid out in dividends and so on. It also isn't clear whether Minnesota wants all of the profits for itself, or only its share, measured by some as yet to be determined sharing theory.

So, meh, another suit. Will it do any good, other than to the pockets of lawyers? I'm doubtful.

Notes


1. Weirdly, that link shows you a nearly-there page. But just select the URL in your URL-bar and press return, and you'll get redirected to CD.

2. Oh, all right, does.

3. They assert Minnesota has already experienced billions of dollars of economic harm due to climate change since Defendants began their deceptive campaign; if they provide a source, I'll let you know. Looks like no... para 54 begins Without Defendants’ exacerbation of global warming caused by their conduct as alleged herein, the current physical and environmental changes caused by global warming would have been far less than those observed to date... but still no source. Ah, read on; it comes in para 139.

4. Para 94 says Defendants’ websites contain misleading statements about climate science but doesn't quote any of the misleading statements, and contains no URLs, references no archived copies. It all just hopeless, amateurish, pathetic.

2020-06-23

Climate change: Govt policies 'can do more harm than good'

IMG_20200616_093957 Or so says Aunty. Although not quite in those words of course. Aunty is a creature of govt and would not be so ungrateful. Instead, the actual headline is Climate change: Planting new forests 'can do more harm than good'. However if you read past that you get financial incentives to plant trees can backfire and reduce biodiversity with little impact on carbon emissions... The study looked at the example of Chile, where a decree subsidising tree planting ran from 1974 to 2012, and was widely seen as a globally influential afforestation policy... lax enforcement and budgetary limitations meant that some landowners simply replaced native forests with more profitable new tree plantations... "If policies to incentivise tree plantations are poorly designed or poorly enforced, there is a high risk of not only wasting public money but also releasing more carbon and losing biodiversity," said co-author Prof Eric Lambin, from Stanford University. "That's the exact opposite of what these policies are aiming for." So, usual stuff: govt screws up by getting the incentives wrong. Cue howls of outrage: it isn't the policy that's wrong, it is the evil people taking advantage of the incentives. But there will always be such people; the best you can do is not to be idiot enough to encourage them. The actual paper is Impacts of Chilean forest subsidies on forest cover, carbon and biodiversity by Robert Heilmayr, Cristian Echeverría and Eric F. Lambin.

That was part one. Part two is: A second study set out to examine how much carbon a newly planted forest would be able to absorb from the atmosphere... the researchers looked at northern China, which has seen intensive tree planting by the government because of climate change but also in an effort to reduce dust from the Gobi desert. Looking at 11,000 soil samples taken from afforested plots, the scientists found that in carbon poor soils, adding new trees did increase the density of organic carbon. But where soils were already rich in carbon, adding new trees decreased this density. The authors say that previous assumptions about how much organic carbon can be fixed by planting new trees is likely an overestimate. But the relevant figure, if you're interested in CO2 levels and attempting to assert "more harm than good", is new CO2 fixed versus any soil C lost, which of course Aunty doesn't give. Neither does the abstract of the paper. It does however say By extrapolating the sampling data to the entire region, we estimate that afforestation increased SOC stocks in northern China by only 234.9 ± 9.6 TgC over the last three decades, so the net effect even just in the soil was still positive. I don't know why they say "only"; perhaps they were expecting a larger number; if so, they don't give it. The paper is Divergent responses of soil organic carbon to afforestation by Songbai Hong et al..

My picture shows a bee orchid, in my front garden. Indeed, it is the only bee orchid in my front garden, and as far as I know it is the first year it has grown there. They are not wildly uncommon in long grass around here.

Refs


National Economic Planning: What Is Left? - CH Quote-of-the-day
* UK government development bank to end fossil fuel financing - Graun

2020-06-15

Legislation: BOSTOCK v. CLAYTON COUNTY, GEORGIA

curse SCOTUS sez:
Congress outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.
One can consider the morality of the underlying matter - and I will at the end - but unlike gay cakes this was a matter of interpretation of (Federal) legislation, not the Constitution. And the text to be interpreted was "sex". The judgement spends quite some time noting that the discrimination, if it were illegal, would be illegal if "sex" was only a (possibly minor) part of the reason for the firing. But (as Alito points out) nobody disagreed with that, so it looks like squid ink. The crucial part, is does discriminating on the basis of being transgender, or homosexual (which includes being lesbian) intrinsically include discrimination on sex? The majority say it does; Alito (and Thomas and Kavanaugh) say it doesn't; I agree with the latter three.

The reason is tolerably obvious: I could be (as it happens I'm not, you'll be pleased to know) rampantly prejudiced about people attracted to their own sex; but equally prejudiced against queers of both sex. And therefore, my prejudice would have nothing to do with the sex of the person concerned; but be entirely a matter of their sexual orientation. The court even manages to consider pretty well exactly this case (p 18). The base of their argument (shorn of the irrelevant black / catholic element) appears to be discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex; the first cannot happen without the second, but this is still iffy2: I think they're trying to say that, yes, you may not be biased against either sex, but nonetheless since homosexuality can't exist without distinctions-of-sex, it is therefore protected. This is certainly an interpretation, but I don't think it is the obvious one; or the one that the writers intended.

The majority correctly note that the mere fact that those who wrote this legislation did not intend this result (or so I would guess and everyone in this case seems to assume) is no bar to reaching it: Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result... But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands. When the express terms of a statute give us one answer and extra textual considerations suggest another, it’s no contest. Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit. The legislation is what is written (and how it is interpreted) and if there is a clear and unambiguous reading, then there is no issue. But of course there is not a clear and unambiguous reading - well, IMO there is one obvious reading and it's not the one they make -, and their attempt to assert one is mendacious.

In the case of ambiguous reading - which I think is the best they could assert in their cause in this instance, though since they're fully aware of what I'm about to say next they take care not to admit that - then it is natural to consider the intent of those who wrote the legislation, as Hobbes says. And, clearly they don't want to do that, because in 1964 discrimination against gays was all fine and dandy, as far as the law and those who wrote it was concerned1.

Yet another wrinkle on this - that I learn from Alito's dissent - is that there is legislation in Congress (or just failed? Not sure of the details) to specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Which would be pointless if the existing legislation was clearly in their favour. Perhaps ironically, it may now be dropped because the law now is in their favour.

Another aside: the pension-fund contribution precedent they cite on p 13 was I think correctly decided on the law, but nonetheless stupid, for the obvious reasons. Happily it only arises in defined-benefit schemes which are on the way out anyway, and that departure will be speeded by such rulings.

As something of an aside, both majority and dissent stress that words and phrases in legislation are to be interpreted "with their ordinary meaning" rather than absolutely literally. This sounds terribly public-friendly, and may even be a good idea, but I have a sense that it opens up avenues of interpretation better left closed. But then again, per Hobbes, law always requires interpretation. Alito stresses that the interpretation should be based on the common meaning at the time the law was written. This too seems correct; if the word "fish" were to shift it's common-place meaning to include - let us say - whales, the interpretation of "fish" in legislation pre-dating that change should continue to exclude whales.

The Court’s opinion is like a pirate ship


Aka, Alito's dissent. Can you tell that he's not happy? He really isn't happy. Since I'm in agreement with his view of the legislation, I don't need to say much more here.

Who decides?


Kavanaugh's dissent, as far as I can tell, introduces nothing new.

Morality


Having decisively dealt with the legislative aspect, there's the moral aspect to consider. Morality is not the same as law, and will not reach identical conclusions on all occasions (as a gentle hint that this is so, we have different words for the two concepts). Here we should acknowledge a conflict, and toss into the gutter the opinions if not the persons of anyone too stupid to accept that there is a conflict. The conflict is between the liberties of the employer, and the "rights" of the employee. This is similar to the conflict of the rights of seller and would-be purchaser in the gay cakes case. The liberty of the employer is infringed when he is obliged to employ someone he doesn't want to. The "rights" of the employee are somewhat more diffuse; they have no "right" to any particular jobs, they do have a "right" to decent treatment. Incidentally, this conflict only exists between private entities; the state, of course, is obliged to treat all equally under the law (I mean, in theory; in practice, gays were banned in the military for ages, as were women, and so on and so forth). My own personal preference would be to not discriminate pointlessly; if we follow the law-is-custom maxim, then in the West custom has definitely shifted against discrimination. However, rather than solving the problem this way it would have been better to amend Title VII itself.

Update: it woz the govt wot dun it


David Henderson points out that one of the discriminators was Clayton County. A govt entity. Which, as I said above, isn't allowed to discriminate. I'm astonished that the court didn't consider that matter. For them, there's no need to even consider title VII.

Economics


The economic view, of course, is that a company that fires people for their sexual orientation is, we must presume, losing access to valuable talent, and therefore likely to suffer a loss (we'll gloss over the possibility of having prejudiced customers for this purpose). Therefore, the pressures of the Free Market act to suppress discrimination. Isn't that nice to know?

Update


Textualism and Purposivism in Today's Supreme Court Decision on Discrimination Against Gays, Lesbians, and Transsexuals: The decision in Bostock v. Clayton County is well-justified from the standpoint of textualism (a theory associated with conservatives), but less clearly so from the standpoint of purposivism (often associated with liberals) - Ilya Somin, Volokh. Various commentaries now exist, but most simply repeat the judgement or the bits of it they like, or celebrate it; there's precious little analysis or thought. This is the best I've seen; it puts forward the interesting example of interracial prejudice: would this example be analogous to the homosexual one? It's a nice try but no cigar I think.

Notes


1. Hobbes explicitly says that if you're in doubt, you can go off and look at the speeches of the legislators, if you want to know what their intent was. And the custom of the SCOTUS to treat the Federalist Papers seriously means they know this. And yet the majority manage to say (in an effort to explain away subsequent Congress not adding explicit language) Maybe some in the later legislatures understood the impact Title VII’s broad language already promised for cases like ours and didn’t think a revision needed, without making any attempt to reference any of the debate. Alito bemoans why in these cases are congressional intent and the legislative history of Title VII totally ignored? Any assessment of congressional intent or legislative history seriously undermines the Court’s interpretation.

2. And apparently contradicted by evidence, as the dissent says: At oral argument, the attorney representing the employees, a prominent professor of constitutional law, was asked if there would be discrimination because of sex if an employer with a blanket policy against hiring gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals implemented that policy without knowing the biological sex of any job applicants. Her candid answer was that this would “not” be sex discrimination.10 And she was right.

Refs


* The Outrage Epidemic: How the New Information Landscape Fuels Tribalism by Russ Roberts
* SCOTUSblog: Ryan Anderson: Symposium: The simplistic logic of Justice Neil Gorsuch’s account of sex discrimination.
* US supreme court: Don't be fooled. The US supreme court hasn't suddenly become leftwing by Nathan Robinson. In which the Graun considers all possible motivations for the judges, other than that they were doing their best to interpret the law.
* An example of the courts simply interpreting the law, despite their clearly expressed wishes to do otherwise (Exxon).
OPINION: The ‘villain’ in gay workers rights case has plenty to say.
* The Supreme Court is a follower, not a leader by Scott Sumner at Econlib.




2020-06-11

On statues

In Ukraine: Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation I said Lenin statues toppled in protest [in Ukraine] Aunty continues, which has ominous echoes of the disaster area that we made of Iraq; not that the statue-toppling was the problem itself; indeed the people’s joy is clear. And of course the famous destruction of Saddam's statue is famous, and I approved of it. Alas all did not end as happily as one might have hoped. And yet I don't approve of the toppling of Edward Colston in Bristol.

How can I possibly justify a different response in these different situations? After all, they are in all cases statues that people don't like - what other possible differences could there be?

Weight of opinion


This isn't really my determining factor - I think, I might change my mind later, recall that I'm writing this post to try to understand my underlying principles - but I think weight of opinion matters. In the cases of Iraq and Ukraine (and all over the former Soviet Union, anyone who had had to live under Communism) pretty well everyone hated the regime and wanted the statues down3. So there was none of this "we tried doing it democratically and it didn't work"; in fact they hadn't tried at all, because of cause trying would have been death, earlier; but the formal-democratic route wasn't needed, because the actual-democratic - participatory, not representative - gave a clear mandate.

And yet, recall Socrates and the Athenian Admirals.

Actual grievance


Also known as "standing": do you have an actual concrete injury that needs addressing? In the case of Iraq or Ukraine, yes: these people had lived under an oppressive regime. By contrast, the problems of the poor folk of Bristol are all rather feeble first-world-problem snowflakery: "I felt a bit sad"5. This is closely related to, but not quite the same thing as, my first version, which was length-of-time: the grievances in Iraq and Ukraine were present-day, or at least only-yesterday, and fresh. Those in Bristol were stale, and needed to be dragged to people's attention for anyone to care.

Mob rule?


I've seen and heard - within my own household, forsooth2 - the argument "Why was that statue removed in the way that it was removed? Because for 20 years, protesters and campaigners had used every democratic lever at their disposal, petitions, meetings, protests, trying to get elected politicians to act, and they couldn’t reach a consensus and they couldn’t get anything done" (that example is Lisa Nandy) and although she, being a pol, is too measly-mouthed to complete the thought, the implication is "and so they were justified in taking the law into their own hands".

But no, that's not how it works. There's no rule that says "if you really really want something but you can't get it, then after a while you just take it". And yet that, effectively, if what is being said. Obviously, this only applies to things that Nice People approve of. If you really really want the Sudentenland, that doesn't mean you can have it. Everyone knows that1.

Indeed, if you've tried really hard for ages and failed, perhaps you should stop and think why you've failed. Perhaps it wasn't such a brilliant idea after all. Perhaps the people that disagree with you are right.

Another argument is that the mob rarely stops at a sensible place; indeed, you don't really expect sense from a mob, if you think about it. Consider4 After Colston, figures such as Drake and Peel could be next from the Graun, containing A founder of Guy’s hospital in south London, he made his fortune through owning a large number of shares in the South Sea Company, whose main purpose was to sell slaves to the Spanish colonies. But Wiki tells us By the late 1670s, Guy had begun purchasing seamen's pay-tickets at a large discount, as well as making large loans to landowners. In 1711, these tickets, part of the short-term 'floating' national debt, were converted into shares of the South Sea Company in a debt-for-equity swap. The South Sea Company was a government-debt holding company, and while there was a brief attempt to sell slaves in Spanish America, this was completely unprofitable in Guy's lifetime.[3] Therefore, while he is sometimes erroneously portrayed as having profited from slavery,[4] this is incorrect. In 1720, the year when the South Sea Bubble burst, he sold 54,040 stock for £234,428, making a profit of about £175,000.[5] He then re-invested this money in £179,566 4% government annuities, £8,000 of 5% government annuities, and £1,500 East India Company shares.[6]. Looking at the talk page is also enlightening.

Those who know me will find me a somewhat curious defender of the Rule of Law. But this isn't the post to explore that.

Edgy tighters


Those who feel an actual personal grievance I have some sympathy for, though I think they're largely misguided. As the wise but slightly damp Mr Smith once opined, people are generally prepared to grin and bear up under oppression, achieving a level of happiness; whereas a grievance that might be redressed can lead to great unhappiness. There are many mottoes in those thoughts (which alas I can't find the exact page reference for). The poor man's son, whom heaven in its anger has visited with ambition also bears reading, as do Hobbes's thoughts on Felicity. Consider then professional agitators, aka pols; their task is to stir up the populace, nominally to the said public's gain but often with more direct motives; such people do not want a happy populace.

Refs


Locals prevent removal of Baden-Powell statue from Poole Quay - sort of reverse mob justice. Which, I'm obliged to admit, I kinda approve of.
* African-American lives matter by Scott Sumner
* In defence of liberalism: resisting a new era of intolerance; Our public figures must rediscover the true spirit of liberty - Spectator
* The American Press Is Destroying Itself; A flurry of newsroom revolts has transformed the American press by Matt Taibbi.
Buddhas of Bamyan.

Notes


1. Godwin; I lose. So sue me. OK, we can use Crimea instead if you like.

2. NSFW. And it should be "father" of course.

3. And of course they keep some of them in parks where they can be regarded, but in a safe way; e.g. Hungary's Memento Park, or Russia's Fallen Monument Park.

4. h/t Timmy.

5. That is, their grievance from the statuary. Britain - sez oi from my position of privilege - isn't particularly racist, but there are genuine grievances, like the over-representation of blacks in the stop-n-search figures. But this post isn't intended to be an examination of racism in the UK today. There's also some question as to whether pratting around with statues isn't a distraction from actually fixing real problems.

2020-06-02

Coronavirus days: more endless summer

May has become the sunniest calendar month on record in the UK says the UKMO, and it feels like it. I spend my work days in a chair looking out onto the garden1, watching my cat stretch in the heat, watching the plants grow, watering the plants, and wishing it would rain a little bit.

And in the brief intervals between work, various blogging items emerge. I largely endorse JA's The utterly vacuous, self-destructive, hopelessly incompetent nature of our government is beyond my ability to put into words, and so I haven't been saying much, as it does all seem such a train wreck that it is hard to see how any sane suggestions for improvement could have any effect.

My inlined pic is JA's daily.

Testing


It feels like we are in a fog, unable to see "the enemy", and the obvious answer is ubiquitous testing. Unfortunately, the govt has so thoroughly fucked up the testing regime, it is hard to see where to go. Even the UK Stats Org is now telling the govt they are clueless. The problem, apart from basic sanity, is windbaggery and lies: the govt unwisely promised N tests by some random date, and in order to pretend to hit that target were obliged to twist the results into lies. But now they can't untwist, so no-one knows how many tests are being done. That in a sense is no longer very important, because I don't think anyone takes the govt lies seriously any more, but they still can't untwist, and so we can't tell, from the stats, tests-performed against tests-mailed-out; actual individual tests against number of people tested, if they're tested multiple times; and so on.

This carries over into the stupid 14-day quarantine for international travellers. The obvious alternative is just to test people on arrival.

Incidentally, whilst some of the incompetence and lies are clearly govt (see stupid target, above) I'm rather less convinced that the govt-as-in-the-party-in-office, rather than the civil service and associated machinery, is to blame for everything.

Meester Cummings


No post about Covid would be complete without a mention of Dom. And no post about Dom would be complete without a mention of his role in getting the lockdown imposed as early as it was: Boris Johnson’s most powerful political aide pressed the U.K.’s independent scientific advisers to recommend lockdown measures in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus, according to people familiar with the matter... According to two people involved, Cummings played far more than a bystander’s role at a crucial SAGE meeting on March 18, as the panel discussed social distancing options to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak. Weirdly, no-one wants to talk about that.

The other Cummings thought: AFAIK, his little jaunt did no harm of itself; the harm came from Joe Public becoming aware of it, and thus going "sod it! If he won't, I won't", and going outside mixing with fellow plebs and catching horrible diseases and dying. Now obviously the hypocrisy is bad - considered as a stain on his character - and the blog editing is bad - considered as a blow to his techno-competence - but on that reading, the people responsible for the extra deaths are the press, not him. During wartime, the press get censored to prevent bad news leading to despondency; I'm not sure I agree with that even in wartime, and this isn't as bad as wartime, and I would oppose govts attempts to censor this episode had they tried; but there is a case for press self-censorship, if the aim is to avoid people dying. Of course, that might not be your aim. Your aim might be bashing the govt; either for personal satisfaction or for the long-term good: a bashed govt might fall and lead to a better govt. Or perhaps the virtue of free reporting is so great that it is worth a few deaths2. And these are all trade-offs that can be considered. But pretending that the press had no choice to make; that once the info was in their hands they were obliged to publish and thus had no moral choice; it just lying to themselves.

FWIW, though the Graun insists the Tories poll lead has collapsed, their pix show the approval-of-covid numbers have hardly shifted, though BoJos rating has fallen.

Update: Evil Mastermind? JA wondered if I was a fan of the Dim and Dom show, which to my mind is an odd thing to wonder, since I've repeatedly called Bojo a Tosser. As to Cummings, I said As for Cummings, you should fear him; but with luck Boris will enough to sack him a while ago. I've linked approvingly to some of his posts, in particular some discussion of the willingness to fail conventionally - which insight I owe to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, which you should definitley read. I found JA's attempted takedown of Dom less than convincing, although to be fair it was more an expression of his opinion than anything intended to convince.

But enough equivocation, what do I actually think of him? As to his role in the current govt, I think there is very little public / hard evidence; he is an advisor, rarely speaks, and if there is visible documentation of what he says, it is thin / unreported / I haven't been diligent enough to find it. I judge the entire-govt performance in Covid to be poor, but don't know whether to blame him for that or credit him with making it better than it otherwise would be (see the lockdown-earlier link). In terms of performance effectiveness, I mainly judge him for his success in winning the Brexit referendum; that didn't have the result I wanted; but looking at his effectiveness (note for simplicity I'm giving him most of the points) I think that indicates that some of his ideas - as expounded on his blog, and relevant to the entire-govts poor performance - are sound, even if I'm somewhat baffled why someone clearly intelligent would choose to head in the direction he has.

Uupdate: lying in politics. JA's riposte is Apart from a few good slogans and the strategy of lying bigly, what has he actually done? which of course deserves the traditional reply. However, this touches on something I wanted to say, so I will: many people blame him (and Leave in general) for lying through their teeth5. I don't. Not because I like lying: I don't. I think people should tell the truth, and strive to do so in my life4. However, in politics lying is widespread if not universal. Why? Are pols especially evil? No: they just live in a system where lying is rewarded and telling the truth isn't. As usual, I blame Joe Public, who fail to punish lying pols. As to the specific case of £350M/week: yes this was probably a lie (TBH I didn't greatly care so never bothered to check the details) but it was widely called out as a lie at the time (indeed, I heard about it far more from people calling it a lie than from people saying it). So anyone who cared had the truth available. In fact this is analogous to information about GW: the truth is there, for anyone how cares to see it. Anyone who is being lied to, and is believing the lies, is culpable, not the liars: they are simply being fed what they want to hear. I doubt many took it seriously: it worked not because it was true or was believed, but because it indicated a direction of travel that resonated.

How are we doing?


Not well, obviously. But not outstandingly badly (please don't interpret that as a defence of the govt). Currently worldometers.info/coronavirus has us at #5 in the world in deaths per population; or ignoring tiddlers, behind Belgium and (to the level of accuracy I suspect this data has) tied with Spain and Italy. Mind you... Spain and Italy... not what comes to mind when you think of paragons of competent govt we'd like to compare ourselves to.

Is science being set up to take the blame?


Asks Ross Anderson at Light Blue Touchpaper. But SAGE comes out pretty badly from his reading of the minutes (the usual bureaucratic problems of committees: not dealing with the whole problem, continual refusal to admit mistakes, and the whole wearily familiar list; see my "I don't just blame the govt", above). I really ought to try a similar reading for myself some time.

Personally


The bumps are still off, but sculling is back, and I'll probably go out tomorrow. The krauts are back in eights, lucky them. Work isn't looking to get us back until September, in general, which makes sense as most of us are productive at home; some of us more so. I'm starting to eye up the Alps, perhaps in August.

Mark Zuckerberg criticised by civil rights leaders over Donald Trump Facebook post


Not strictly Covid, but relates to the freedom-of-expression begun above. The Graun is sad because the Mango Mussolini gets to say bad things on fb. I'm sad too, because having a populace that votes for such a POTUS is distressing3. But I'm also sad because having "civil rights leagders" (the heads of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Color of Change) say “We are disappointed and stunned by Mark’s incomprehensible explanations for allowing the Trump posts to remain up” indicates a level of stupidity and failure to think that you'd hope not to see in those nominally leading opposition to TMM. Yes, it is entirely possible for people of good faith to argue that fb's decision was wrong - FWIW, I think it was right - but to argue that it was "incomprehensible" is either stupid, ignorant or windbaggery. And the defense is free speech, of course. We don't want it to be restricted without good reason. Note the absence of contradiction to the Dom stuff above, since that was about self-control, not imposed control.

Update: some good news


UK electricity coal free for first month ever: Coronavirus slump and sunniest spring on record send green energy soaring.

Adam Smith


The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.

Refs


* A "Hodgepodge" of State-Based COVID-19 Rules May be Just What the Doctor Ordered by Richard B. McKenzie at Econlib.
Making sense of nonsensical Covid-19 strategy - FT Alphaville. It fails (but it is reading the minutes).
Supercentenarians and the oldest-old are concentrated into regions with no birth certificates and short lifespans and Supercentenarian and remarkable age records exhibit patterns indicative of clerical errors and pension fraud.
* The emergence of modern astronomy – a complex mosaic: Part XXXVII
Doubling times and the curious case of the dog that didn't bark - JEB
* The Two Kinds of Moderate - Paul Graham - December 2019
BUSH DID NORTH DAKOTA - the 33% effect in polls, and lizardmen - SlateStarCodex

Notes


1. When it isn't so hot and sunny that I have to twitch the curtain across. Adaption!

2. How many deaths? I have no idea. If I took seriously the headlines trumpeting the complete collapse of the govts moral authority in imposing lockdown, lots. But in practice I rather doubt that. The sot of people who used this to give themselves license had no discipline anyway.

3. Thought for the day: a key element of democracy - well, of a functioning system of govt - is allowing people to defect. The absence of this is obvious in dictatorships, like Syria or Venezuela. But it is also applies in strong party system states, like the USA or the UK. But no, I don't think the USA is heading for dictatorship.

4. Other than when replying to axe-murderers seeking their victim's location, or answering despotic regimes, or when your Aunt Petunia asks if you like the sweater she knitted you; there's general agreement that lying then is acceptable; but except when it's acceptable to lie, you should tell the truth.

5. Evil DC, that is; not nice JA.