Solar And Wind Lock-In Fossil Fuels, And That Makes Saving The Climate Harder And More Expensive

Michael Shellenberger in Forbes:

Privately, many climate and energy experts admit that the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to decarbonize energy supplies is with nuclear power.

How could they not? France and Sweden proved it.

As a result, the two nations enjoy vastly cheaper and cleanerpower than solar and wind-heavy Germany and Denmark.

And yet many of the same experts proclaim publicly, “We need a clean energy mix!” — one that includes solar and wind.


The reason has nothing to do with technology, engineering, or economics and everything to do with politics.

As a result, we are at grave risk of locking in fossil fuels and making the decarbonization of energy harder, slower, and more expensive than it needs to be.

More here.

It’s Time for Technology to Serve all Humankind with Unconditional Basic Income

Scott Santens:

Imagine a year where what we’ve long taken for granted, that technology destroys jobs but also creates new and better jobs, is discovered to no longer be true. Instead, machines permanently displace human labor, and what new jobs are created, are mostly worse jobs.

An ever decreasing percentage of the population is employed, and for a majority of those left in the labor market, incomes decrease, hours worked increase, monthly income variance grows more extreme, time between jobs grows, jobs themselves become more akin to tasks, employer-provided benefits become more rare, and the bonds that hold society together begin to fray as inequality grows ever more extreme.

What year do you predict such a future comes to pass? 2030? 2040? 2050 and beyond if even then?

The answer will vary nation by nation, but in the US, the answer is right around 1990. Yes, it already happened. It’s not in the future. It’s in the past.

More here.

William Trevor’s quiet artistry

Jon Banville at The New Statesman:

William Trevor was the literary heir of Chekhov, Maupassant and the James Joyce of the short-story collection Dubliners. He was one of the great contemporary chroniclers of the human condition, in all its pathos, comedy and strangeness. As a writer he looked at the world with an always surprised but never scandalised eye, and his writer’s heart was with those awkward and obscurely damaged souls who cannot quite manage the business of everyday life – all of us, that is.

The philosopher John Dewey beautifully designated Ralph Waldo Emerson “the poet of ordinary days”. The same can be said of Trevor. As every maker of fiction knows – and, indeed, as every poet knows, too – the most difficult thing to write about is the so-called ordinary. Emerson himself declared that “a man is a god in ruins”, and although Trevor’s epiphanies are small-scale and even mundane, nevertheless the god is radiantly manifest in all his work. What this wonderful writer shows us is that in fact there is nothing ordinary about the ordinary.

more here.

True Grit’s Perfect First Paragraph

Emily Temple at Literary Hub:

Fifty years ago today, the first installment of Charles Portis’s True Grit was published in the Saturday Evening Post. It was reprinted in book form by Simon & Schuster later that year, adapted into a movie (with John Wayne!) the year after, and became a bestseller. It had entered into the murky realm of cult literary classic when it was adapted to film for a second time (with Jeff Bridges!) in 2010, and now I’d rate it as Pretty Famous. If you haven’t read the novel, I will tell you that—even for someone who doesn’t typically go in for Westerns—it is wonderful, due in large part to its narrator, Mattie Ross. There may be action and adventure between these pages, but Mattie Ross’s voice is what makes this novel unforgettable. As Ed Park once put it, Mattie’s “steadfast, unsentimental voice—Portis’s sublime ventriloquism—maintains such purity of purpose that the prose seems engraved rather than merely writ.”

more here.

J. Robert Oppenheimer and Black Holes

Jeremy Bernstein at the LRB.

With the death of Stephen Hawking and the discussion it produced on black holes it was a little surprising that there was little or no mention of the man who created the subject, J. Robert Oppenheimer, who died in 1967 at the age of 62. He often said that the J stood for nothing but I have a copy of his birth certificate on which his first name is given as ‘Julius’. In his day Oppenheimer was the most celebrated physicist in the United States. His portrait had been on the cover of Time magazine and he was on first-name terms with much of the Washington establishment, until he lost his security clearance in 1954.

It was said by people who had known him before that the experience changed him profoundly and he appeared diminished. He did not appear diminished to me when when I arrived at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 1957 and was ushered into his office. The first thing he asked me was what was ‘new and firm’ in physics.

more here.

How Big Data Is ‘Automating Inequality’

Liza Featherstone in the New York Times:

Upper-middle-class professionals love data. We tend to think that the smug, smart people who run companies like Google and Uber have some secret knowledge; we even give them our personal information, uneasily, but ultimately with a bit of a shrug. We’re seduced by similar smug, smart, supposed innovators hawking data’s potential to revolutionize health care and education. We assume technology and the information it yields is making everyone’s life easier, freer and more comfortable.

Virginia Eubanks begs to differ, with the authority to do so. For the poor, she argues, government data and its abuses have imposed a new regime of surveillance, profiling, punishment, containment and exclusion, which she evocatively calls the “digital poorhouse.” While technology is often touted by researchers and policymakers as a way to deliver services to the poor more efficiently, Eubanks shows that more often, it worsens inequality. Data can’t provide what poor people need, which is more resources. Indeed, as with the 19th-century poorhouse, she argues, the shiny new digital one allows us to “manage the individual poor in order to escape our shared responsibility for eradicating poverty.”

Although Eubanks is an activist and a political-science professor (at the University of Albany, SUNY), “Automating Inequality” is a work of investigative journalism. She travels to Indiana, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, conducting illuminating interviews with administrators, social services staff and, most powerfully, people unlucky enough to reside in the digital poorhouse.

More here.

Code to joy

Andrew Smith in More Intelligent Life:

I remember the moment when code began to interest me. It was the tail end of 2013 and a cult was forming around a mysterious “crypto-currency” called bitcoin in the excitable tech quarters of London, New York and San Francisco. None of the editors I spoke to had heard of it – very few people had back then – but eventually one of them commissioned me to write the first British magazine piece on the subject. The story is now well known. The system’s pseudonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, had appeared out of nowhere, dropped his ingenious system of near-anonymous, decentralised money into the world, then vanished, leaving only a handful of writings and 100,000 lines of code as clues to his identity. Not much to go on. Yet while reporting the piece, I was astonished to find other programmers approaching Satoshi’s code like literary critics, drawing conclusions about his likely age, background, personality and motivation from his style and approach. Even his choice of programming language – C++ – generated intrigue. Though difficult to use, it is lean, fast and predictable. Programmers choose languages the way civilians choose where to live and some experts suspected Satoshi of not being “native” to C++. By the end of my investigation I felt that I knew this shadowy character and tingled with curiosity about the coder’s art. For the very first time I began to suspect that coding really was an art, and would reward examination.

Machines drove the first Industrial Revolution. The power of the one roiling our world now lies not in silicon and brushed steel but in a teeming cosmos of software: the code conjured by an invisible cadre of programmers. Unlike the achievements of previous revolutions, what code does is near impossible for most people to understand. Museums around the world memorialise the age of steam; picture books explain to children how engines work. It is hard to imagine how you might curate an exhibition on the age of code. Yet though most of us barely give it a thought, our relationship with code has become symbiotic, governing nearly every aspect of our lives. The accelerator in your new car no longer has any physical connection to the throttle – the motion of your foot will be converted into binary numbers by some of the 100m lines of code that tell the vehicle what to do. Turn on your TV or radio, use a credit card, check in a bag at the airport, change the temperature in your fridge, get an X-ray at the dentist, text a family member, listen to music on anything other than vinyl or read this article online and each of your desires will be fulfilled by code. You may think you’re wedded to your iPhone – what you really love is the bewitching code that lies within it.

More here.

Saturday Poem

The Difficult Word

The oaks reluctantly let their leaves fall,
And hesitatingly allow their branches to be bare;
And the bear spends all winter in separation.

The beauty of marriage is such that it dissolves
All earlier unions, and leads man and wife
To walk together on the road of separation.

It’s a difficult word. The thought frightens us
That this planet with all its darkening geese
Was created not for union but for separation.

Suppose there were a dragon curled inside each drop
Of water, defending its gold. It’s possible
That abundance has the same effect as separation.

We all knew nothing of this when we floated
In the joy of the womb; but when our lips touched
Our mother’s breast, we said, “This is separation.”

It is my longing to smooth the feathers
Of brown birds, and to touch the sides of horses
That has led me to spend my life in separation.

by Robert Bly
from The Night Abraham Called to the Stars
Harper Collins, 2001


Drunk on Genocide: How the Nazis Celebrated Murdering Jews

Edward B. Westermann in Alternet:

It was noon in early 1942 as Johann Grüner approached the ‘German House’ in the Polish town of Nowy Targ for lunch. As a mid-level Nazi bureaucrat in occupied Poland, he enjoyed the privileges of power and the opportunity for career advancement that came with duty in the East. The German House, a mix of cultural centre, restaurant and pub, was one of the privileges enjoyed by the occupiers. As he entered the building, he could hear a boisterous celebration within. At the front door, a clearly inebriated Gestapo official passed by, a beer coaster with the number 1,000 written in red pinned to his blouse. Addressing Grüner, the policeman drunkenly bragged: ‘Man, today I am celebrating my 1,000th execution!’

At first glance, the incident at the German House might appear to be a grotesque aberration involving a single depraved Nazi killer. However, such ‘celebrations’ were widespread in the occupied Eastern territories as members of the notorious Schutzstaffel (SS) and the German police routinely engaged in celebratory rituals after mass killings. In fact, among the perpetrators of genocide, heavy drinking was common at the killing sites, in pubs and on bases throughout Poland and the Soviet Union. In another horrific example, a group of policemen charged with the cremation of some 800 Jewish corpses used the occasion to tap a keg. In this case, one of the men, named Müller, had the ‘honour’ of setting fire to ‘his Jews’ as he and his colleagues sat around the fire drinking beer. In a similar case, a Jewish woman recalled the aftermath of a killing operation at Przemyśl in Poland: ‘I smelled the odour of burning bodies and saw a group of Gestapo men who sat by the fire, singing and drinking.’ For these Gestapo men, ‘victory celebrations’ proved to be the order of the day, and followed every killing action or ‘liberation from the Jews’.

More here.

The Literature of the Lebanese Civil War

M. Lynx Qualey at The Believer:

When civil war broke out in Lebanon in the mid-1970s, Lebanese art had just gone through an avant-garde flowering, much of it detached from the grit of daily life and driven by a search for its own text-centric truths. The war’s opening battle, in 1975, between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Kataeb Christian militia, brought writers, along with everyone else, to the ground. The initial conflict inspired alliances in accord with relatively clear political and religious affiliations. A young Elias Khoury, compelled by the injustices done to Palestinians—which he would later explore in Gate of the Sun—fought on the Palestinian side. But Khoury didn’t last long as a simultaneous novelist and soldier; his 1981 novel, White Masks, drove a wedge between him and the PLO.

more here.

A Soutine Retrospective

Peter Schjeldahl at The New Yorker:

“Flesh,” the title of a small, potent, and timely Chaim Soutine retrospective, elegantly curated by Stephen Brown, at the Jewish Museum, is genteel. “Meat” would better fit the show’s focus on the ferocious paintings of plucked fowl and bloody animal carcasses that the great and, I believe, underrated Russian-French artist made in the mid-nineteen-twenties, in Paris. Other uses of “meat,” for an argument’s main point or for any solid content, apply as well. The centerpiece of the show, “Carcass of Beef” (circa 1925), on loan from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, in Buffalo, activates all those meanings. Painted in reds and blues as luminous as those of Gothic stained glass, it communes with Rembrandt’s seventeenth-century masterpiece “The Slaughtered Ox,” which Soutine contemplated often and intensely in the Louvre, and it crackles with formal improvisations (one swift white line rescues a large blue zone from incoherence) and wild emotion. It’s an event—an emergence, an emergency—that transpires ceaselessly while you look. Soutine has long been a marginal figure in modern-art history. Clement Greenberg, in 1951, adjudged his work “exotic” and “futile,” owing to its lack of “reassuring unity” and “decorative ordering.” But today Soutine feels of the moment, amid quite enough reassurance and decorativeness in recent art.

more here.

Is the Cemetery Dead?

David Sloane at The Boston Globe.

Cemeteries face a sort of life-or-death crisis. The increasing popularity of cremation has meant that cemeteries are no longer critical to storing remains, while mourning on social media has removed the necessity of cemeteries as a primary place to mourn. Public mourning also has re-emerged with the widespread acceptance of roadside shrines, ghost bikes (white bikes placed on the roadside where a cyclist died), memorial vinyl decals for the back windows of cars, and memorial tattoos. While zombies roam the big and small screen, real death has returned to our streets, building walls, vehicles, and even bodies.

more here.

Seven Moral Rules Found All Around the World

Oliver Scott Curry at The Evolution Institute:

What is morality? And are there any universal moral values? Scholars have debated these questions for millennia. But now, thanks to science, we have the answers.

Converging lines of evidence – from game theory, ethology, psychology, and anthropology – suggest that morality is a collection of tools for promoting cooperation1.

For 50 million years humans and their ancestors have lived in social groups. During this time natural selection equipped them with a range of adaptations for realizing the enormous benefits of cooperation that social life affords. More recently, humans have built on these benevolent biological foundations with cultural innovations – norms, rules, institutions – that further bolster cooperation. Together, these biological and cultural mechanisms provide the motivation for social, cooperative and altruistic behavior; and they provide the criteria by which we evaluate the behavior of others. And, according to the theory of ‘morality as cooperation’, it is precisely this collection of cooperative traits that constitute human morality.

More here.

To Build Truly Intelligent Machines, Teach Them Cause and Effect

Kevin Hartnett in Quanta:

Artificial intelligence owes a lot of its smarts to Judea Pearl. In the 1980s he led efforts that allowed machines to reason probabilistically. Now he’s one of the field’s sharpest critics. In his latest book, “The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect,” he argues that artificial intelligence has been handicapped by an incomplete understanding of what intelligence really is.

Three decades ago, a prime challenge in artificial intelligence research was to program machines to associate a potential cause to a set of observable conditions. Pearl figured out how to do that using a scheme called Bayesian networks. Bayesian networks made it practical for machines to say that, given a patient who returned from Africa with a fever and body aches, the most likely explanation was malaria. In 2011 Pearl won the Turing Award, computer science’s highest honor, in large part for this work.

But as Pearl sees it, the field of AI got mired in probabilistic associations. These days, headlines tout the latest breakthroughs in machine learning and neural networks. We read about computers that can master ancient games and drive cars. Pearl is underwhelmed. As he sees it, the state of the art in artificial intelligence today is merely a souped-up version of what machines could already do a generation ago: find hidden regularities in a large set of data. “All the impressive achievements of deep learning amount to just curve fitting,” he said recently.

More here.

Carceral Capitalism: A Conversation with Jackie Wang

M. Buna in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

M. BUNA: In the introduction to Carceral Capitalism, you advance race and anti-blackness as the main foci of your analysis, which you say is necessary, given the current realities of the Prison Industrial Complex. Could you expand on this particular stance of choosing to focus primarily on the anti-blackness of the PIC, at the risk of minimizing other structural forces, such as global capitalism/neoliberalism, that enable and buttress the carceral state?

JACKIE WANG: This book, in part, comes out of my engagement with the literature on financialization and the debt economy. The idea to assemble this collection of essays into a book came to me when I read Maurizio Lazzarato’s The Making of the Indebted Man. From Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empireto Costas Lapavitsas’s Profiting Without Producing, post-Marxists have analyzed the changing nature of value and work within the context of globalization. What I felt was missing from these analyses (of late capitalism, financialization, and neoliberalism) was an analysis of racializing processes — an examination of how logics of differentiation mediate capitalist accumulation. The United States has a very particular history of racism. The various techniques of socially managing nonwhite populations that have been deployed in the United States are inextricably linked to slavery, expropriation of native lands, immigration policy, and so forth. What I feel that some of these post-Marxist analyses get wrong is the assumption that the dynamics of late capitalism tend to homogenize subjects, rather than producing difference as a way to enable extraction. Capitalism has no fixed morality — it can absorb anti-racist, even anti-capitalist, critique. But even though capitalism is somewhat indifferent to our identities so long as they can be commodified, late capitalism produces difference, insofar as the most extreme methods of dispossession and extraction first require the subject to be rendered lootable (devalued on the level of subjectivity).

More here.

More on Laurel and Yanny

The New York Times has made a cool tool that lets you play with the Laurel/Yanny phenomenon. Try it.

Yohan John has written an explanation of the effect.

And finally, here is Rachel Gutman in The Atlantic:

When you speak, you’re producing sound waves that are shaped by the length and shape of your vocal tract, which includes your vocal folds (vocal cords is a misnomer), throat, mouth, and nose. Linguists can study these sound waves and separate them out into their component frequencies, and display them in something called a spectrogram. Here’s the spectrogram for the yanny/laurel recording:

Higher frequencies (up to 5,000 hertz, or waves per second) appear toward the top, and lower ones (down to zero) toward the bottom. The dark bands are called formants; they’re the resonant frequencies of the vocal tract, and they depend on the length and shape of your vocal tract—i.e., all the space between your vocal folds, where the sound waves begin, and your mouth and nose, where they’re released.

The length of your vocal tract depends mostly on physiology: Women’s vocal folds tend to be higher up, so their tracts are shorter. The shape is largely based on where you put your tongue, like when you place the tip of your tongue between your teeth to make a th sound. By moving your tongue around in your mouth and opening and closing your lips, you change the sounds you’re making, and the formants you see in the spectrogram.

Chelsea Sanker, a phonetician at Brown University, looked at the spectrogram above to help me figure out what was going on.

More here.

Our brains are obsessed with being social

From Phys.Org:

Our brains are obsessed with being social even when we are not in social situations. A Dartmouth-led study finds that the brain may tune towards social learning even when it is at rest. The findings published in an advance article of Cerebral Cortex, demonstrate empirically for the first time how two regions of the brain experience increased connectivity during rest after encoding new social information.

…For the study, 19 participants were asked to complete social encoding and non-social encoding tasks during a brain scan session while undergoing fMRI. Before encoding, they had a baseline rest scan and after each , a resting state scan of 8.4 minutes, where they could think about anything, as long as they stayed awake.

  • For the social encoding task, participants were asked to look at a photograph of a person, their job title such as “doctor” and two traits used to describe the individual such as “educated, sincere.” They were then prompted to evaluate the impression of the person by rating the person’s warmth and competence on a scale of 1 to 100 on a computer screen.
  • The non-social encoding task was similar only participants were presented with photographs of a location that was paired with two traits used to describe it upon which they were asked to evaluate the place on warmth and pleasantness.

The participants encoded 60 social trials and 60-non-social trials. Some had the social encoding task first while others had the non-social one first. Right after the scan, participants completed a surprise, associative memory test in a quiet testing room, to assess if they could accurately identify certain photos of persons and places, and their respective set of traits, which were presented earlier. The findings revealed that during the rest period after social encoding, there was an increase in connectivity between the and tempoparietal junction regions. The greater the connectivity between these two default network regions, the higher the levels of social memory performance. The researchers observed an order effect in which participants who encoded the social information or photographs of persons first maintained higher levels of connectivity between these two during the post social rest and also the non-social rest period; however, this was not found to be the case for those who were presented with the non-social task first.

The study demonstrates that it appears that the brain consolidates as soon as it has the opportunity to rest. “When our mind has a break, we might be prioritizing what we learn about our social environment,” added Meyer.

More here.

Thursday Poem


What is a wound but a flower
dying on its descent to the earth,
bag of scent filled with war, forest,
torches, some trouble that befell
now over and done. A wound is a fire
sinking into itself. The tinder serves
only so long, the log holds on
and still it gives up, collapses
into its bed of ashes and sand. I burned
my hand cooking over a low flame,
that flame now alive under my skin,
the smell not unpleasant, the wound
beautiful as a full-blown peony.
Say goodbye to disaster. Shake hands
with the unknown, what becomes
of us once we’ve been torn apart
and returned to our future, naked
and small, sewn back together
scar by scar.

by Dorianne Laux.
from The Academy of American Poets