Happy New Stoat

It's that time again; the calendar rolls around and I look back over the year and feel old. My major life-event for the year was switching jobs, from Qualcomm to Roku, with a trip to the MonteRosaGruppe in the gap. This year I present the top-posts-by-month-by-numer-pf-comments in an exciting graphical format. Reading over what I wrote I realise how wise I was; and how little I seem to agree with my commentators; I must hope that my lurkers think differently. Speaking of which, Happy New Year, and do feel free to leave Seasons Greetings in the comments.

IMG_20210101_211331_410 loft-chimmney-tiles doughnut claw-of-the-conciliator
Jan - All this fuss over one dickhead (80) Feb - The Tyranny of Merit? (69) Mar - Doughnut Economics (23) Apr - Equity Isn’t Just Ethical, It’s Stupid (26)
PXL_20210516_112750999~2 bc1fc476-3108-48bc-b6d3-b09ed916e40b_IMG_20210622_144550_110 Julian Cope crocodile
Twenty firms produce 55% of world’s plastic waste, report reveals? (22) Separation of powers (19) Book Review: The Righteous Mind (12) Afghanistan (28)
roku tomatoes bigger-tomatoes 1638386151398-80c692d5-93a9-429f-a37e-cae6a182b848_christmas-head
Book review: Climate Shlock (18) Please Don't Give Up On Having Kids Because Of Climate Change? (8) Equilibrium climate sensitivity is... (49) McTaggart on Time and A Research Strategy for Ocean-based Carbon Dioxide Removal and Sequestration (5)
From the other blog, various book and film reviews that migth be of interest: (new) DuneWhite Queen; Time Bandits; Nemesis (Asimov)Moby Fucking Dick; or, The WailTill we have faces (Lewis); The HobbitColonialism, the Golden Years; LabyrinthsEuthyphro; ShikastaOut of the Silent Planet / Perelandra / That Hideous Strength; Lord of the Rings; Time RegainedThe Languages of PaoWhat Makes You Not a BuddhistH G Wells anthology (WOTW; TTM); Our fate moves invisibly! A mystery; I, Robot; Beasts; Foundation; Neuromancer; Swallows and Amazons; Madame Swann at Home; The Iron Dream; Engine Summer; The Communist Manifesto; Across Realtime; The Cadwal Trilogy: Araminta station; Ecce and Old Earth; Throy; The Silver Chair and Dawn TreaderRowan Williams, The Way of St Benedict.

Screenshot_20211231-220259 Possibly also: The hut on chicken's legs.


BATTER my heart, three person’d God (2020)

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

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

Goe, and catche a falling starr

2021: A year in review - ATTP

* Martin Rundkvist is Relatively Woke (in my world, anyone self-declaring as a Marxist is a nutter, but MR definitely isn't, so that's OK, errm).


Coronavirus days: Omicron

PXL_20211217_183113241 Did you know that Omicron means little-o, just as Omega means big-o? Obvious really. Anyway, with Covid surging and Christmas nearly upon us it is time for another post. Not that I have anything to say; this is merely a post-for-my-record so that when I look back, I'll know how things seemed then. 

My last post was in May on the Lab Leak theory. That continues to rumble around but people pay little attention. Lack of any further post since then is due to there not being much to say. Indeed Covid makes little impact on my life, in most ways. Perhaps the major one is that the office is rather quiet: I'm working-from-work, but many others are not; one of many instances where people are making up their own minds, rather than having to follow strict rules. Of course Omicron may well upset all that, depending on how bad it gets. James has a preview. What will happen seems unclear to me: it is very transmissible, but perhaps less severe, and anyway anyone sane is now vaccinated and most are boosted. Certainly the govt is quietly hoping that all will be well, and any new restrictions can be delayed until after Christmas; and I'm happy with that. UK cases are shooting up but deaths are not. And there are strong regional variations, with London worst.

The manager of The Plough in Coton, where we go to drink on Friday nights, was two weeks ago complaining about the vast number of cancellations he had had stretching into January. But on the other hand, last Friday we couldn't even get in because of a private party there, so he can't be doing that badly. So we went to the Blue Ball in Grantchester (see pic) which is in many ways a cuter place. And it has Adnams.

Here's the FT's overall pic:


Which I use as support for my general feeling of meh. It flares up in one place and down in another. Whether China will have to abandon its zero-Covid in the light of Omicron indicents is an interesting question.

Over on the politics side, well, there is still lots of politics but somehow it all seems rather unimportant. Every now and then people remind us that getting vaccines to the poor world would be a good idea; but attempting to say they should get priority over rich world boosters is clearly doomed, and is only ritual.


* Omicron Less Severe Than Delta, But More Contagious - DA.

Ted Nordhaus on how green activists mislead and hold back progress - Economist.

How do scientists assess policy-relevant risks? - Ed Hawkins.


Two quotes from Leviathan

PXL_20211210_210937610 From chapter 30: And because, if the essentiall Rights of Soveraignty (specified before in the eighteenth Chapter) be taken away, the Common-wealth is thereby dissolved, and every man returneth into the condition, and calamity of a warre with every other man, (which is the greatest evill that can happen in this life;) it is the Office of the Soveraign, to maintain those Rights entire... it is against his duty, to let the people be ignorant, or mis-in-formed of the grounds, and reasons of those his essentiall Rights; because thereby men are easie to be seduced, and drawn to resist him, when the Common-wealth shall require their use and exercise. And the grounds of these Rights, have the rather need to be diligently, and truly taught; because they cannot be maintained by any Civill Law, or terrour of legal punishment. For a Civill Law, that shall forbid Rebellion, (and such is all resistance to the essentiall Rights of Soveraignty,) is not (as a Civill Law) any obligation, but by vertue onely of the Law of Nature, that forbiddeth the violation of Faith; which naturall obligation if men know not, they cannot know the Right of any Law the Soveraign maketh. And for the Punishment, they take it but for an act of Hostility; which when they think they have strength enough, they will endeavour by acts of Hostility, to avoyd. My bold.

And later on: Good Lawes What: To the care of the Soveraign, belongeth the making of Good Lawes. But what is a good Law? By a Good Law, I mean not a Just Law: for no Law can be Unjust.... Such As Are Necessary: For the use of Lawes, (which are but Rules Authorised) is not to bind the People from all Voluntary actions; but to direct and keep them in such a motion, as not to hurt themselves by their own impetuous desires, rashnesse, or indiscretion, as Hedges are set, not to stop Travellers, but to keep them in the way.  And therefore a Law that is not Needfull, having not the true End of a Law, is not Good. Such As Are Perspicuous: The Perspicuity, consisteth not so much in the words of the Law it selfe, as in a Declaration of the Causes, and Motives, for which it was made. That is it, that shewes us the meaning of the Legislator, and the meaning of the Legislator known, the Law is more easily understood by few, than many words. For all words, are subject to ambiguity; and therefore multiplication of words in the body of the Law, is multiplication of ambiguity: Besides it seems to imply, (by too much diligence,) that whosoever can evade the words, is without the compasse of the Law. And this is a cause of many unnecessary Processes. For when I consider how short were the Lawes of antient times; and how they grew by degrees still longer; me thinks I see a contention between the Penners, and Pleaders of the Law; the former seeking to circumscribe the later; and the later to evade their circumscriptions; and that the Pleaders have got the Victory. It belongeth therefore to the Office of a Legislator, (such as is in all Common-wealths the Supreme Representative, be it one Man, or an Assembly,) to make the reason Perspicuous, why the Law was made; and the Body of the Law it selfe, as short, but in as proper, and significant termes, as may be.

Perhaps I have allowed myself more than two quotes. But both sre strikingly against modern practice. Hobbes clearly sees a need to educate the populace in the need for and meaning behind the laws. Yet while there are people who argue for this nowadays, it is neglected; certainly in England. For the second, Hobbes is keen on the meaning behind the laws rather than the exact wording. There is more than could be drawn out, but I'm sure you see the meaning yourself; and if you don't, I doubt I can help. Yes, this post is more for my benefit to store these quotes than for yours.



* Gordon Tullock on paying for higher education.

* Rule(s) of Law(s): The problem is monopoly, not violence by Michael Munger.

The ‘Greed’ Fallacy - CH

* CORONAVIRUS: Against Faucism


An International Institute Will Help Us Manage Climate Change?

PXL_20211205_095610540 Or so assert Sabine Hossenfelder and Tim Palmer. TP at least has some form in this stuff; SH rather less so; perhaps she is going for Publik Interlectewal status a-la ATTP? This is her second climate-y thing in SA with TP; the first was on a similar topic. Of course she has an entree there as a sane physicist and has on-topic articles back to 2015.

Anyway, what do she and TP want? They advocate 

the establishment of a federated international institute for climate prediction, much like CERN, the multinational collaborative particle physics laboratory. The institute would comprise several hubs in different countries, each with dedicated exaflop (one billion billion calculations per second) supercomputing facilities. The centerpiece of the institute would be the creation of a small number of ultrahigh-resolution climate models...

and so on. Does this make sense? Probably not. But the current situation of everybody having their own pet model no matter how rubbish also doesn't really make sense... at least, not in scientific terms. In politics-of-science terms it of course makes perfect sense. And indeed we do want a reasonable number of genuinely mostly independent models. And (they mention ECMWF, so they know this) ECMWF hasn't killed off national weather forecasts from anyone who has their own, though it may have stopped some people bothering to create them. To front-run some of the inevitable pork-barrelling, they suggest six hubs around the world for this "institute", which everyone could have fun fighting for.

Their main complaint and hence presumably the main purpose of all this is rez; A model with a resolution on the kilometer scale, as could be developed at an international institute, would not entirely eliminate this problem of structural error, but it would significantly alleviate it... but are then forced to confess The Destination Earth project, funded by the E.U. Green Deal, will shortly be undertaking important work in developing a prototype kilometer-scale climate model. Other projects to develop kilometer-scale models are beginning around the world. So if all this would do would be to speed things up by a few years, is it worth the money and effort?

The main argument is very much WG1 stuff: better (physical) models. When I read just the title, I thought they were, somewhat more sensibly, arguing for more cross-disciplinary stuff; but no. FWIW, I'm in the "we already know the WG1 well enough, compared to uncertainties elsewhere, but shouldn't stop doing WG1 stuff" camp. "shouldn't stop doing" doesn't imply simply drudging along familiar pathways and doing nothing new; but I'm pretty sure their proposed $1-2B/yr could be better spent.

Finally, although I disagree with the main argument it is mostly sane, unlike their None of the extreme events of 2021 can be simulated in current climate models, because the events were simply too extreme for the models which I think makes no sense. Those events are indeed puzzling; and AFAIK don't replicate in current models; but again AFAIK no-one has suggested model rez as the reason. They also ask How can a country prioritize its spending without knowing which is the more pressing threat: increased flooding and storms, or increased heat waves and drought? but don't extend the question to all the other things a country might wish to spend money on. And I doubt people are going to get good answers to those questions in the near future anyway.


A Research Strategy for Ocean-based Carbon Dioxide Removal and Sequestration

51733385119_ac259b3ac0_o A Research Strategy for Ocean-based Carbon Dioxide Removal and Sequestration is a report from the USAnian National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Apparently, they did a report in 2019 to provide a research agenda for advancing [Carbon dioxide removal] and, specifically, for assessing the benefits, risks, and sustainable scale potential for a variety of land- and coastal-based CDR approaches. The study found that, to meet climate goals, some form of CDR will likely be needed to remove roughly 10 Gt CO2/yr by mid-century and 20 Gt CO2/yr by the end of the century. To help meet that goal, four land-based CDR approaches are ready for large-scale deployment: afforestation / reforestation, changes in forest management, uptake and storage by agricultural soils, and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, based on the potential to remove carbon at costs below $100/t CO2. I missed that, and my prior is that CDR is significantly more expensive that $100/t so perhaps I need to update my priors. Anyway, that was the land report, this is the ocean report. There was a solar geoeng one a half year back, which I barely skimmed, instead concentrating perhaps wrongly on the silly overreactions of some Big Knobs.

What did they consider? Here I'll list their starting points, together with my haven't-read-the-report reactions.

Nutrient fertilization (Chapter 3): Addition of micronutrients (e.g., iron) and/or macronutrients (e.g., phosphorus or nitrogen) to the surface ocean may in some settings increase photosynthesis by marine phytoplankton and can thus enhance uptake of CO2 and transfer of organic carbon to the deep sea where it can be sequestered for timescales of a century or longer. As such, nutrient fertilization essentially locally enhances the natural ocean biological carbon pump using energy from the sun, and in the case of iron, relatively small amounts are needed. 

WMC: seems sane.

Artificial upwelling and downwelling (Chapter 4): Artificial upwelling is a process whereby water from depths that are generally cooler and more nutrient and carbon dioxide rich than surface waters is pumped into the surface ocean. Artificial upwelling has been suggested as a means to generate increased localized primary production and ultimately export production and net CO2 removal. Artificial downwelling is the downward transport of surface water; this activity has been suggested as a mechanism to counteract eutrophication and hypoxia in coastal regions by increasing ventilation below the pycnocline and as a means to carry carbon into the deep ocean. 

WMC: sounds a bit mad to me.

Seaweed cultivation (Chapter 5): The process of producing macrophyte organic carbon biomass via photosynthesis and transporting that carbon into a carbon reservoir removes CO2 from the upper ocean. Large-scale farming of macrophytes (seaweed) can act as a CDR approach by transporting organic carbon to the deep sea or into sediments. 

WMC: also a bit wild-eyed but perhaps possible.

Recovery of ocean and coastal ecosystems (Chapter 6): Carbon dioxide removal and sequestration through protection and restoration of coastal ecosystems, such as kelp forests and free-floating Sargassum, and the recovery of fishes, whales, and other animals in the oceans. 

WMC: sounds rather limited.

Ocean alkalinity enhancement (Chapter 7): Chemical alteration of seawater chemistry via addition of alkalinity through various mechanisms including enhanced mineral weathering and electrochemical or thermal reactions releasing alkalinity to the ocean, with the ultimate aim of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. 

WMC: really?

Electrochemical approaches (Chapter 8): Removal of CO2 or enhancement of the storage capacity of CO2 in seawater (e.g., in the form of ions, or mineral carbonates) by enhancing its acidity, or alkalinity, respectively. These approaches exploit the pH-dependent solubility of CO2 by passage of an electric current through water, which by inducing water splitting (“electrolysis”), changes its pH in a confined reaction environment. As one example, ocean alkalinity enhancement may be accomplished by electrochemical approaches. 

WMC: sounds expensive.

Immeadiately after this is their key take-home message in the form of table S1 on pages 18-21. At least I hope it is, then I can stop reading early. Unfortunately, despite the need they assess for ~20 Gt/y, their "scalability high" is only "more than 1 Gt/y". But happily, that knocks out half of the ideas, leaving only fertilisation, alkalinity, and electrochemical. Coming to cost, of those three only fertilisation comes at under $100, so we have a winner. Well, that was quick.

What do you mean we're not finished? Well, of course not: these are people looking for research funds. Even hopeless ideas will still get something, of course. And at this stage that isn't too silly. Although why they want to shovel the most money at the weird electrochem stuff I don't know.

Although the fertilisation stuff is, as you'd expect, mostly about iron the PR puff says Nutrient Fertilization — This approach adds nutrients such as phosphorus or nitrogen to the ocean surface and mentions iron nowhere, which makes me doubt their good faith. The PR fluff is also careful to avoid any mention of scalability or relative cost of the different approaches.

The recommendations tip-toe around, both to avoid treading on anyone's toes by closing off people's pet ideas, and desperately (and pointlessly) trying to stop the zealots from screaming at them. Recommendation 3, includes "Research agenda that emphasizes advancing understanding of ocean fertilization, seaweed cultivation, and ocean alkalinity enhancement" which is a bit odd; it isn't clear to me why they picked those three.

So, in the end, meh: yes, you shoud do some reseach.


1. Pic by Nordin Catic at the Christmas Head. We're a scratch mixed VIII.


* Such evidence of arrogance, incompetence and poor judgment would reflect badly on any government - the Economist on Bojo the Clown.


McTaggart on Time

1638386151398-80c692d5-93a9-429f-a37e-cae6a182b848_ AKA "Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them". Although in this case I mean philosophers, not intellectuals. And I don't really mean believe - I mean take seriously, give - ha - time to. There are so many totally dumb ideas that nonetheless get ritually considered, because they are part of the canon. And somehow philosophy has no way to purge itself of this stuff. And so we come to The Unreality of Time by the aforementioned McT. My link is to wiki, which offers us McTaggart argues that time is unreal because our descriptions of time are either contradictory, circular, or insufficient. That seems dumb to me: just because we've failed to decribe a thing doesn't make it unreal. I should warn you that I have very little patience with this drivel so haven't exactly studied in close detail; so this is just a rant. If you happen to be a McT scholar who believes this stuff is worth anything, do comment. 

Wiki is, in my opinion, often somewhat dodgy on philosophy, due to WP:OWN problems, so let's turn to SEP instead. That offers us McTaggart was also a dedicated interpreter and champion of Hegel, which lowers him in my opinion, since I take my opinions on H from Popper. It also offers us McTaggart is most famous for arguing that time is unreal. He was attracted to this conclusion early in his career, perhaps as a result of smoking too much weed1, which seems fair. If I follow SEP, then McT's argument begins "Time is real only if real change occurs". It isn't clear what this means. If you use as a model a 4-d space-time Newtonian universe, then in a sense nothing changes; or if you move along the time axis, then errm, things do change. Nothing makes clear which viewpoint he has in mind, if he has anything so clear anywhere. It doesn't get ny better than that, so I'll spare you any further analysis of the A-series and similar.

And lastly, consider the case of A J Ayer, who is I think not a clown, even if the cover photo he presumably chose for his The Central Questions of Philosophy makes him look like a bit of a ponce, although that page does say Beginning with his sceptical dismissal of metaphysics, particularly the British neo-Hegelian thinkers... I give you his text, below, if you can be bothered to try to read it. My wife, when she started reading it, didn't get far before bursting into laughter.

That wasn't very satisfying, was it? Well, not for you. But I enjoyed writing it.

Update: more Ayer

We're on page 32; I'm wading my way through a sea of blood, like MacBeth. He is trying to say something about reality and maths, I think, and asserts that even simple things like length are complicated, because no actual measurement can have an irrational number as its result. But this is wrong. We are used to measuring in units, and integer divisors of those units, but it isn't necessary. We could use irrational divisors of our base unit: I could declare that a given length has been measured as 1 + sqrt(2), just as easily as saying it is 2.141, to that degree of precision. For weights, he regards the possible (true) values (of weighing a given object) as rational but infinite in number (and therefore there are more values than our apparatus can distinguish). But I don't see why this is true; he knows atomic theory; the possible values are finite, even if there are very many of them; nor is it clear why they should be rational.

Another thought: evaluating text

Philosophy is words. Unfortunately, it is hard to evaluate words. Unlike, say, software, which can be evaulated by being compiled, run, tested. Or physics, which can be compared to reality. It is depressingly easy to write piles of words with no meaning; or with ambiguous and therefore useless meaning; and people are good at "rescuing" text from their favourites rather than admit that it is all wank; per Ayer on McT.


1. I have subtly altered this quotation, see if you can spot my change.

Text from Ayer

Starting at page 15: Let us begin then with the argument by which McTaggart sought to demonstrate the unreality of time. McTaggart begins by remarking that we have two ways of ordering events in time. We speak of them as being past, present or future, and we also speak of them as being before or after or simultaneous with one another. He then argues that the first of these ways of speaking cannot be reduced to the second, since the second makes no provision for the passage of time. Whereas the same event is successively future, present and past, there is no change in its temporal relations to other events. The fact that one particular event precedes another is equally a fact at any time. So to do justice to our concept of time, we have to make use of the predicates of past, present and future. But then, McTaggart argues, we fall into contradiction. For these predicates are mutually incompatible, and yet they are all supposed to be true of every event.

The obvious answer to this is that there would be a contradiction if we supposed these predicates to be simultaneously true of the same event, but that this is not what we suppose at all; we apply them to the same event successively. McTaggart considers this answer, and his rejoinder to it is that it escapes the contradiction only at the cost of launching us on a vicious infinite regress. We say of a contemporary event that it is present, has been future, and will be past; and what this means, according to McTaggart is that the event is present at a present moment, future at a past moment, and past at a future moment. But then the same difficulty arises with respect to these moments. Each of them is assigned the incompatible predicates of being past, present and future. We can again try to escape the contradiction by saying of the moments in their turn that they are present at present moments, past at present and future moments, and future at past and present moments, but then the same difficulty arises with respect to this second series of moments, and so ad infinitum.

The argument still seems sophistic, but it does pose a problem. So far as I can see, there are only two ways of meeting it. The one which I favour is to deny the contention that the predicates of being past, present and future cannot be reduced to the predicates of temporal order. If we take this course, we shall have to maintain that what is meant by saying of an event that it is past, present or future is just that it is earlier than, simultaneous with, or later than some arbitrarily chosen event which is contemporaneous with the speaker's utterance. On this view, the passage of time simply consists in the fact, which is itself non-temporal, that events are ordered in a series by the earlier-than relation. The passage of an event from future to present to past merely represents a difference in the temporal point of view from which it is described. This analysis has the effect of assimilating time to space, and it is, indeed, for this reason that some philosophers object to it. They feel that the river of time has somehow been turned into a stagnant pond.

The other course is to maintain that being present is not a descriptive property of an event, assigning it to a moment which itself can be described as present, past or future, but the demon strative property of occurring now. Once this is established, the past and future can safely be defined by their relation to the present. The regress is avoided by the fact that 'now' is tied to an actual context. We are not required to say when now is: our use of the word shows it. The disadvantage of this course, as opposed to the previous one, is that it introduces an irreducible element of subjec tivity into our picture of the world. It entails that an observer outside the time series, if such a thing were possible, would not be able to give a complete account of temporal facts. To do so, on this view, one has to put oneself into the picture, as an observer undergoing the passage of time.

We see, then, that while McTaggart did not prove time to be unreal, in the sense of showing all our temporal judgements to be false, his argument does... and he then proceeds to make some rather feeble excuses for why he bothered with this stuff.


Human society is basically a phenomenon of more or less stable beliefs and patterns of conduct. The principle of [classical] liberalism is that these are not fixed once and for all – historically through prescription by some supernatural (or charismatic) authority – but are always subject to question, discussion, and alteration by agreement. Free society thus stands for progress, and also allows for and approves of much variety in both belief and conduct. From page 125 of the original 1960 Harvard University Press edition of Frank Knight’s collection of lectures, delivered in 1958 at the University of Virginia, titled Intelligence and Democratic Action, via CH.