Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A thing of beauty

Sabine Hossenfelder's new book, Lost in Math:  How Beauty Leads Physics Astray is stirring up quite a stir with multiple reviews.  Hossenfelder has recently stuck her oar into the question about whether a new supercollider should be built as a follow-on to CERN.

The just-look-argument is of course well and fine. But, as I have pointed out many times before, the same just-look-argument can be made for any other new experiment in the foundations of physics. It therefore does not explain why a larger particle collider in particular is a good investment. Indeed, the opposite is the case: There are less costly experiments for which we have good reasons, such as measuring more precisely the properties of dark matter or probing the weak field regime of quantum gravity.
Eli got into this a little bit on Twitter
but the issue of beauty in physics, in science in general, what is worth doing, at least to Eli is of interest.  About a month ago the Rabett in a comment to Hossenfelder thought that beauty in physics was a matter of being terse, spare simple.  She really did not like that, and after all, who is Eli.  Reading the New Yorker this week a rather better description appeared in James Marcus' memorial to his father, a bioscientist, who died a difficult death.
Later, after his death, one of his colleagues noted that my father "believed that beauty would save the world".  My father would never have said that about himself.  Yet it was true, if you understood beauty to encompass not only ecstasy but precision, rigor a relish for the tiniest (literally microscopic) details. And it was true about me, too. We were a religious sect consisting of two people, and now half the congregation was gone. There would be no closure, no healing. I would simply adjust myself to a new and severely depleted reality. The world would come to an end, as it always does, one world at a time.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Paul Campos on dual loyalties, Israel and Omar

He sez:

....This whole sordid mess is a product of, among other things, the insidious idea that it’s undesirable for people to have “dual loyalties” in the context of their relationships to nation-states.  This idea is obviously absurd if stated as a straightforward proposition, which is why it almost never is.

People have multiple loyalties in every other aspect of their lives, so why wouldn’t or shouldn’t they in the context of their relationships with nations?  I’m not Jewish, but I think it’s completely ridiculous to criticize American Jews for feeling various levels of affection toward, passion for, and loyalty to, the state of Israel....

The accusation of dual loyalty, in other words, is based on a completely bogus theory of both human psychology and political morality.  And yes, I realize “dual loyalty” is a classic anti-Semitic trope, but that accusation only has bite because of a perverted concept of patriotism, which requires loyalty to the present government of the nation of which one is a citizen to always trump every other consideration.  In other words, “dual loyalty” is only bad per se if one accepts the essentially fascist concept of loyalty to a single nation state as the first duty of every citizen of the State.

Read the whole, etc. While I think he has good points, esp about fetishization of the state, the acknowledgment that we have biases doesn't remove the obligation to confront and control those biases, to the extent we can and acknowledging our limits. The issue runs both ways - anti-Semitism has woken from near death with the rise of conservative nationalism, while the left has an obvious point at how biased American foreign policy is toward Israeli right-wing government positions and against Palestinians.

My great-grandparents and their parents emigrated from Austria-Hungary to the US in 1910. My understanding is that German-Americans disproportionately opposed American entry into World War I. It's lost to time whether my relatives took part in those politics, but the German-American bias is worth acknowledging. It's not necessarily wrong - maybe we'd have fewer wars if people cared about the lives of family relatives in the opposing military trench. It does however complicate things.

I hope we can get a somewhat-more balanced perspective on Israel (given everything global, I favor a somewhat pro-Israel stance for the US) while confronting anti-Semitism and other biases wherever they arise.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Impossible Burger isn't good enough. The Beyond Burger is better (also, Beyond Sausage)

So I liked the hype, but after five or six attempts, I'm just not sold on the Impossible Burger. Maybe I need to try it well done, but every patty I've had ends up a thin gooey red mess in the center. I'm guessing it might be okay as a crumbled addition to a entree, like in omelettes or tacos, but not as a burger.

I've blogged before about Beyond Burger as a vegetarian alternative, and I think it's better. No clue why it sits in the grocery stores while Impossible Burgers command a premium at restaurants. Well, one clue - my wife can't stand coconuts, and it has a mild coconut smell and taste..

Anyway, not a burger substitute but far better than any vegetarian dogs I've had is Beyond Sausage, now showing up in my Safeway store. No coconut smell or taste btw. It wasn't so great on an electric grill, but sliced and fried up on a stove, it easily matches regular sausage.

Convenience marches on. Contra David Roberts, I think to the extent environmentally aware people can easily do something more, we should do so.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Please please please not Bernie or Biden (also, think carefully about Klobuchar)

There are ten thousand horrifying gifts regarding Trump's manifest unfitness for office. High up in the ranks of unfitness, because it's objective, is his age as the oldest president ever to assume office tied with his concealment of his health and mental health status. Why then would Democrats choose to nominate someone who is even older? Bernie and Biden are four and three years older than Trump respectively, and at that age that difference counts.

It's easy for me to say this in part because I'm not big fan of either men. Elizabeth Warren is three years younger than Trump. She's also at a point where her age counts somewhat against her - not against Trump, it's in her favor, but against the real chance that Mike Pence (10 years younger) or someone else will be the Republican candidate.

The first main point is that there's a wide range of Dems to choose from - why give up a huge advantage by choosing Biden or Bernie? Warren's age counts moderately against her too in my opinion but not as a disqualifying blow.

A similar analysis relates to Klobuchar - the current evidence seems to pretty closely tilt her from demanding to abusive. I'm not sure it's disqualifying yet, and apparently there's some smoke surrounding Bernie too and other male candidates that should be investigated, but we Democrats have the luxury of a wide range of choices. We can be picky.

The second main point, maybe one for another post, is that Trump's awfulness doesn't guarantee he's going to lose. The most important thing is to beat him, not to get the Democratic candidate that exactly matches our personal political preferences. Time to be picky regarding some political disadvantages among the candidates.

Last point - all Dem candidates, but especially the older ones, should undergo public reviews of their physical and mental health fitness for office. It is now a great time to establish this precedent, one that works against Trump and will be helpful in future elections.


UPDATE: For a contrary opinion, read Everett's multi-part diatribe against my evident ageism and stupidity in the comments. YMMV. FWIW, I'm hitting the age at which I'm just starting to get concerned about ageism as my career progresses, so I obviously don't like ageism. OTOH, despite Bernie's conclusory statement against ageism, I bet that if forced to do it, he'd acknowledge that if a candidate were 10 or 20 years older than him, that candidate's age should be considered as a factor. So should Bernie's.

There he goes again v.93 p.1221....


On his last visit, but before leaving
Ethon described a wonderful piece of misdirection from our friend in Colorado, who asks for advice on improving this:

No emissions reduction policy currently under discussion – from changes in personal behavior to those proposed under the Framework Convention on Climate Change – even if successfully implemented will have a discernible effect on the global climate system for at least 50 years.
and points to a statement
NCAR's Jim Hurrell observes, "... it should be recognized that mitigation actions taken now mainly have benefits 50 years and beyond now."
as support for the "scientific accuracy of the first sentence.

Now Ms. Rabett Sr. was school teacher and the first thing Eli noted was the difference between "mainly have benefits" and "no emisions policy will have a discernible effect on the global climate system".

So at a minimum Hurrell says that MOST OF THE BENEFIT will come later, but there will be some earlier than 50 years. He who must not be named twists this into NO DISCERNIBLE EFFECT. Several of the comments point out that policies implimented today will take time to establish, economic systems do not stop on a dime, and that even after the policies are implimented it will take time for the climate system to respond. However, let us look and see if

Monday, February 18, 2019

CA HSR, RIP (kind of)

So just as high speed rail gets a political lift via the Green New Deal, the one active effort bites the dust in California. Read the link though, it's not entirely dead - Newsom committed to a strange little stretch in Central Valley from Merced to Bakersfield that's already partly constructed, and put off the rest for another (undefined) time. Some Amtrak connection to Central Valley could end up making a mixed HSR/normal line run from the Bay Area to LA.

Still, it's depressing if not surprising (I've been hesitant about it for a while). Vox tries to explain why HSR has done poorly, a combination of cost overruns, delays, and political overrides of logic, but that's at best a first-level explanation. Why are cost overruns, delays and politics so much worse for American HSR than in other countries?

Maybe our love affair with cars means that everything else gets second-best efforts. There was also some argument making its way around several years ago that English-speaking advanced economies have far more expensive public infrastructure than in comparable non-English speaking countries (couldn't find a good link on a quick search). The reasons given that I recall were stubborn labor unions, which I find a doubtful distinction, and greater legal costs, which also seem overblown to me. The real cause isn't clear.

Anyway I view the HSR failure as a similar disappointment to each carbon-capture project that bites the dust, usually for the same reason of cost overruns and delays. We need these programs to work.

Still, HSR isn't entirely dead, and alternatives like high-speed autonomous EVs in dedicated lanes could provide similar benefits. And people keep trying CCS, maybe it will eventually work as something we desperately need in order to generate large amounts of negative carbon emissions.



UPDATE - some good analysis from Scott Lemieux:

The crucial underlying problem here is America’s fractured and extraordinarily high-veto-point system, which inevitably leads to substantial inefficiencies and inequities unless (as with roads) the support for them is extremely broad-based and the opposition very weak. Any remotely rational plan would have started with a San Diego-to-LA or an LA-Bakersfield-SF line and proceeded from there, but instead so many local interests had to be bought off that it became white elephant done in a completely irrational sequence, and collapsed. And that’s in one of the most favorable political contexts for such a project.

Another related problem is that NIMBYISM has a serious presence on the left, which can be seen in the fact that the Green New Deal completely ignores the critical need for upzoning and increased housing density. These are both very serious issues.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Eli Rabett's: Dividend and Fee Carbon Taxes


Eli has an idea.  Usual disclaimers.
Let's have a dividend and fee carbon tax. Let's pay the first year dividend and only start to collect the fee in the second, and let's even give bonus' for good deeds, like riding public transport, not using neonicotinoids, giving more carrots to the bunnies and your suggestion goes here.
The Overton window on this is being shoved too and fro.  On the one hand in the US there is a real shift in public opinion toward reality on climate change to it is real, and we must do something about it.  The Green New Deal has a bunch of momentum going for it.  On the other hand the French gilets jaunes have been raising holy hell in the streets of Paris. 

Thus Eli Rabett's simple plan: Pay the first year dividend without collecting the tax.  Institute the tax in the second year.  Where will the money come from the bunnies ask.  Well, think of it as the infrastructure week that the US did not have.  It's an investment, and more will be needed for supporting research and new infrastructure like new nuclear plants and electrical distribution networks.   

So back to the beginning.  Fee and dividend was an idea popularized by Jim Hansen, the idea being that there would be a revenue neutral carbon tax with the revenue being returned to citizens.  In the US this has been taken up by the Citizens Climate Lobby among others including a whole bunch of economists who argue for a carbon fee and dividend plan.  CCL calls for a 100% monthly per person dividend and a border adjustment which would cover the carbon generated in the production and transport of imports. (Eli notes he was one of the first bunnies to talk about the border adjustment feature in the 2007 Eli Rabett's Simple Plan to Save the World).

Now one can argue about the correct costing for a carbon tax, but the general idea is clear and the point of the dividend is to capture the advantages of eliminating CO2 emissions while returning the fee to the public.  Why return the fee, well, some high fees will be needed to get to zero emission, and people will not be happy with paying them (Pay no attention to the folks selling free beer).  Thus pay the dividend up front, tax the carbon later.  Everybody wins



Friday, February 08, 2019

Making Tracks in the US


So with the Green New Deal on the street there is considerable talk about improving railroad travel.  Eli has a couple of perhaps odd points to make.

First high density is NOT something that is needed for fast trains, as a matter of fact it is a hinderance.  It doesn't matter how fast a train is if it has to make a lot of stops and every stop includes significant time decelerating as well as accelerating.  Moreover close to stations a high speed train travels slowly over normal tracks into the station rather than over a high speed right of way.

Ideally the time between stations should be of the order of one to two hours.  For high speed trains this is somewhere between 200 and 400 km (in disgraced units between 120 and 240 miles).  Thus, the East Coast Corridor between Boston and DC might not be a very good place to start as can be seen from the marginal reduction of travel time between the faster trains (Acela Express) and the normal ones on the NY - DC route, much of which is due to additional stops for the slower trains.

So where would be a good place to start.  There are a couple which suggest themselves.  Eli might point to a route linking Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.


On Twitter, Paul Farrar, pointed out that Texas might be a good place to start.  Houston to Dallas  has been suggested, but such a route could be built out to include Oklahoma City, Kansas City, St, Louis and Chicago from Dallas, and to New Orleans and Austin from Houston.

So there are many possibilities for high speed rail in the US given the political will.

Which brings the blog to Eli's second point.  Railroads in the US are not electrified.  Even for freight there are places where considerable gains in decreased emissions and efficiency could be made by electrification of freight routes. One of the bedevilments limiting high speed rail passenger travel in the US has been that both freight and passenger trains travel on the same route.  Eli would propose that the lowest hanging fruit is electrification of the major freight routes, followed by building out a separate really high speed passenger rail network, starting in the middle of the country, where the land is mostly flat and population density outside of major cities is low.
   

It's perfectly fine to talk on a cell phone in an elevator

I have climate-related tabs piling up on my browser that I wanted to blog about, but felt I had to start with the important and pressing issue in the headline, first.

Mainly, the time spent in an elevator is brief and wasted, so why not continue a cell phone conversation? Should you really hang up for the 30-60 seconds that the elevator ride takes, and then call the person back, all so you could join the other people standing there facing a door (or possibly stare at your phone but without saying anything).

I don't see a point in not talking. On the train or bus, or maybe in a restroom, it's a longer time period where the other people are stuck with your conversation, so I'd understand a rule of courtesy there, but blab away on a brief elevator ride.

Glad to get that settled.