Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Call it a Cameron

David Cameron has done it.  The United Kingdom is breaking apart, the EU is getting ready to toss the Brits and the economic damage already exceeds two trillion, which whatever the Weasel may think is real money.  And oh yes, the torch Cameron lit is being used to burn out those the leavers denigrated.

There was no reason for last week's referendum except Cameron's desire to cement his position in the Conservative Party. The incompetent way that he set the terms of the vote and prepared for it would, were there justice, lead to derision being showered upon him should he dare show his face in public.

Eli proposes that "a cameron" from here on out be used to describe disasters caused by unlimited self regard and incompetence.   Hopefully Donald Trump does not get his turn to pull a cameron

Amongst the link list, James Annan puts it best.  Go there and read his post, but Eli strongly disagrees with 

I can't help but conclude that the best outcome would be for the new Govt to reject the referendum result (and fight an election on that basis). There is no good exit plan or outcome that I can see. Of course it would inevitably destroy a few political careers and we'd have a bit of rioting, but that's better than the alternatives.
This is simply not on offer.  The rest of the EU will not go forward with the UK as a member given the history of special pleading and how the EU became an excuse for everything that was wrong in Britain and the current political situation.  Eli really cannot see the Poles or really any of the others being generous about any terms, let alone continued membership.

So what is on offer? At best membership in the EFTA with Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein.  The EFTA (European Free Trade Association) gets access to the EU single market under the condition of following all EU rules including those covering free movement of people between all the EU and EFTA members.  The get to follow the rules, but not make them.  The EFTA members favor England and Wales joining because it would allow them to have a bit more input into negotiations with the EU, but to a country the EU is not happy with the Brits so there are no guarantees on that.  Norway is not really on board but offering them the Shetlands would be an interesting bribe.

Of course, that leaves Scotland and Northern Ireland.  If the EU figures out how to cover the transfer payments from the UK to both, then, they are probably gone.  Northern Ireland could rationally have a status as a special administrative area in Ireland that the Unionists might be happy with.  A unified united Ireland is not likely, but as James and others point out, closing the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would wipe out all the gains following the Good Friday Agreements.
The Irish question hasn't been addressed at all, as far as I can tell. It seems near-inevitable that Brexit will rip up the Good Friday Agreement, since that is underpinned by free movement over the border and the primacy of the European Convention on Human Rights. Sinn Feinn are already agitating for reunification, and I can't blame them at all. Even a prominent Unionist politician is openly encouraging Northern Irish to apply for Eire passports (another outcome of the GF agreement) and the Belfast PO quickly ran out of forms. The Good Friday Agreement, which successfully drew a line under 100 years of terrorism and violence in Northern Ireland and the mainland UK, was the one remarkable achievement of an otherwise unremarkable Major administration and it's a great shame to discard it so casually and with so little forethought. I'd think the best outcome we could hope for there would be a relatively straightforward and peaceful reunification process for Ireland as a whole, but there will be a whole lot of unhappy people whatever happens, and the peace there was fairly fragile in the first place.
Eli recommends reading Shoco's series of tweets to get a better idea of the coming disaster if the border is closed.  There are 42 tweets, despair in all.

Scotland is simply gone from the UK.

So, is there any hope for England and Wales.  Not with the current crew. 

England and Wales need a government of national unity that will face up to the cameroning and start to dig out.  There is obviously no one in the House of Commons up to the job. Perhaps there is one in the House of Lords. 

One name suggests itself to Eli, but admittedly Eli is an not a Brit, Gordon Brown. As former Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer he has the tools, and perhaps a dour Scot for a dour time is needed, but certainly the fractured political system can not continue if anything is to be left of the United Kingdom.

Monday, June 27, 2016

News From Ethon

Eli made an interesting point on Twitter (this assumes that a) Eli can make and interesting point and b) that an interesting point can be made on Twitter, but no matter) about energy mix. 

The nature of the thing is that the world's electrical energy needs can be met by renewables, e.g. solar, wind and hydro, but the intermittent nature of the first two require overbuilding both the installation and the distribution network and as the complexity of the distribution network increases, so does that cost and the time needed to deploy.  It can also lead to sudden surges in birthdays when the network fails.

Nuclear baseload on Eli's other hand can balance the amount of overbuilding necessary but it was pointed out that the balance requires controlling costs and reducing construction time.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Federation of Planets hits a setback

Cameron should've found out what was said in the speech.

I used to be a fervent supporter of limited, democratic international government, and I remain a much more jaded supporter of same. We'll get there in a century or so barring the Singularity, but we just hit a snag with Brexit.

William's got a good post on it, as does most anyone with a brain outside of Britain and nearly half the people inside it. I'll add to his points that the situation reminds me a little of the runup to the Iraq War, where the entire rest of the world said "WTF?" to us Americans (partly excepting the Brits) and that made virtually no difference to our politics. 

I also agree with him that immediate economic repercussions will likely be somewhat limited. Regardless, we'll need a few more days to see what the short-term impact will really be. Medium-term it depends on what the Leave campaigners and the EU seem to be aiming at - if it's a Norway-style, you obey all the rules but have no control and that somehow feels good outcome, then the economic impact could stay limited. If they want to take actual economic control of their borders, then they're in for serious problems.

Mostly in agreement with William about the stupidity of EU leaders threatening to punish Britain. I think they're not taking the long-term view - if the election had been held ten years from now, the Remain side would've won - and maybe it will, if you don't go out of your way to alienate them. (My idle speculation, btw, is that Cameron is stalling to October in case the economy or something else gives him a chance for a redo election.) Where I'd disagree somewhat is that EU's primary job during the split is to look out for their side. They shouldn't go out of their way to punish Britain, but protecting Britain's interest is the task of the British negotiators. 

Interesting article here on Greenland's exit from the EU thirty years ago - it took them 3 years of contentious negotiations to get this island of 60k people out, and now some people there want back in. Have fun, everybody.

Finally, various people like Kevin Drum have said stop blaming the economy, that there's an obvious xenophobic and racist component in significant parts of the support for both Brexit and Trump. That just sends us to the next question though - why are they happening now. In America at least, I doubt our racism is stronger now, certainly not stronger than 20 years ago. So there is more to it - maybe just an accident of political conditions, or maybe something more is happening.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Margin Call, or Jo Nova, Wanna Be Hedge Fund Manager

Jo Ann Nova, David Evans and a guy by the name of Chris Dawson, CEO of the Lord Monckton Foundation are asking for donations to establish a something or other, in which said something or other will do something in some undisclosed way to slay the sky dragons.

Chris Dawson is cagey about what the something or other will be except it will be a hedge fund, whatever that is, and everybunny knows that hedge funds are the key to riches and have special tools and by the way climate change is a crock and the hedge fund of Jo Ann's dreams will . .

. . . short-selling overvalued renewables stocks, and doing other things that profit from cooler weather or collapsing subsidies — but which fund could you invest in to manage that? It’s a niche crying out to be filled. David and I liked this idea so much when we were approached by Chris Dawson two years ago, we got involved in developing Cool Futures (and obviously stand to benefit if this comes together, see the Disclosure at the end). Cool Futures could change the game in so many ways.

. . . . With a self funded, highly profitable due diligence process and cost benefit analysis on the science, economics and finance of climate change, we will literally hedge our bets on climate change and on changing climate change policy.
The Weasel has expressed a few words of derision,
Bored with force X from outer space? Was Force F just too fuckwitted, and part 22 just too dull? Then why not play “hedge funds”? Hedge funds do lots of complex maths and make lots of money (only not so much recently); they also have the advantage of being opaque. So play today, with Jo Nova and her band of performing marsupials. Yes, I know, its a picture of a monkey with an arrow up it’s bum, and a monkey is not a marsupial. But no known mediaeval manuscripts feature marsupials.
Context, context: I forget the context in my obsession with primate posteriors. coolfuturesfundsmanagement is, like, a hedge fund. Run by Jo Nova! And some others. Or perhaps better, a wannabe hedge fund with a severe shortage of moolah. And its going to hedge against cooling, maan. Tagline: “Are we preparing for catastrophic warming when we should be preparing for cooling?”
It's hard figuring out exactly what this "fund" is going to do except raise money to figure out what they are going to do and indeed Chris Dawson is pretty cagey about this because it would be dangerous to actually say that they are raising money for a hedge fund because investment in hedge funds are limited to a qualified (e.g. very rich) people who know what they are doing and can afford to lose their money.  Minimum US qualifications are a net worth of a million, and income of over $200K in the past two years, and oh yes, prospects of making that or more into the future.

But no, there is no such hedge fund, but the ask is for money to "set up" such a hedge fund which will then go seek investors. And, of course, since it will be housed on one of the Caribbean islands well known for housing tax evasion schemes, Eli assumes that the incorporation papers will be drawn up by Mossack Fonseca. Of course, hedge funds being inherently risky this becomes a lot like asking rich people to contribute mega dollars to Donald Trump so he can rip them off.

But wait, why the Cayman's or similar to house this "hedge fund"  Well, guess what, there are no limits on who is a qualified investor in a Cayman "hedge fund", unlike the US where you have to have a minimum of a million net worth and an income of $200K.  Given this and a good guess at how much the net worth and income of the inhabitants over at Nova's offered this kinky opportunity.  Now some, not Eli to be sure.

ATTP points out that, well, the facts assumed are taken from a rather tall cherry tree, but the grifters have already scored over 42K$ US.   This gave rise to a hilarious (well Eli is easily amused, how else do you think he has made it to a ripe old age) series of tweets, starting with

upon which Paul, just Paul borrowed the Pielke humphing apparatus and replied

and it goes neener neener for a while as twitter is won't, but, the answer is simple, these clowns are not hedge fund managers, they are hedge fund manager wanna bees. 

A bunny wanting to flush their hard earned dollars down the toilet would do better giving directly.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Someone else notices gas stations are disappearing

This time it's Daniel Gross at Slate, noting a 25% decline in stations over a decade. He acknowledges the importance of extraneous forces like pricier real estate and fleet vehicles switching to natural gas, as well as future impacts from driverless vehicles. Gross also highlights electrical vehicles and plug-ins as a force, though. He doesn't quite get to the virtuous cycle argument - that as market share for electric increases, the market for gas stations suffers, gas stations disappear, gas vehicles become less convenient, and market share for electric increases even more. But he's heading in that direction.

Among the other tidbits Gross finds is Norway contemplating a ban on gas engine vehicle sales starting in 2025 (with Netherlands and even India saying something similar, but I find Norway more believable).  EVs are 20% of current sales in Norway - when penetration reaches those levels, then these proposals don't seem outlandish. It's one way to accelerate the virtuous cycle of EVs replace ICEs.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Astrobiology Is a Crok

Now some, not Eli to be sure, want to know why Eli thinks astrobiology is a crok.  Ever helpful, allow the Bunny to explain.  There are many reasons but it starts with Enrico Fermi.

Lots of things do.  Fermi was the type of thinker Eli has always aspires to and hopefully on occasion is.  As Philip Morrison wrote, a Fermi question allows

... the estimation of rough but quantitative answers to unexpected questions about many aspects of the natural world. The method was the common and frequently amusing practice of Enrico Fermi, perhaps the most widely creative physicist of our times. Fermi delighted to think up and at once to discuss and to answer questions which drew upon deep understanding of the world, upon everyday experience, and upon the ability to make rough approximations, inspired guesses, and statistical estimates from very little data." [Philip Morrison [1]]
The story goes that one day Fermi was munching at lunch with colleagues when the question of extraterrestrial civilizations came up.  They went through the exercise of thinking about how much time and resources it would take to spread through the galaxy and
Fermi realized that any civilization with a modest amount of rocket technology and an immodest amount of imperial incentive could rapidly colonize the entire Galaxy. Within ten million years, every star system could be brought under the wing of empire. Ten million years may sound long, but in fact it's quite short compared with the age of the Galaxy, which is roughly ten thousand million years. Colonization of the Milky Way should be a quick exercise.

 So what Fermi immediately realized was that the aliens have had more than enough time to pepper the Galaxy with their presence. But looking around, he didn't see any clear indication that they're out and about. This prompted Fermi to ask what was (to him) an obvious question: "where is everybody?"
Now this is not quite astrobiology which in its weak form merely asks if there is any biology out there, but at this point it would be well to look at Brian's most recent post, where he discusses the morality of research on better ways of extracting fossil fuels.  There is, sad to say, a strain of people who want to escape to space, terraform Mars, visit the stars, so that we can escape responsibility for dealing with the problems we are creating for ourselves on Earth.  Even sadder and more common is the fixation of many more on an afterlife, the belief in which is coupled to escaping not only the responsibilities for this Earth but also the trials and tribulations of the same.  Decoupling of this sort is not a good thing.  Before flaming, allow Eli to point out that this is not an attack on the religious or the space mad, but rather on those who use either to ignore responsibility.

The last part is from personal experience.  The NASA Astrobiology Program was started as a consequence of a claimed finding of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH in the business) in a meteorite that was expelled from Mars, landed in the Antarctic and was discovered.

This was amazing.  To Eli what was amazing was the study that showed the rock came from Mars.  He was rather more skeptical of the analytical chemistry and the possibility that the rocks had been contaminated over many thousands of years on Earth, but that is not the story.  What the story really is, is how the news was received at NASA.

NASA is chronically underfunded and survives only because of public support driven in large part by the public's interest in space.  To the NASA administration the Public Affairs Office is the key part of the agency.  Evidence of "life" (OK of PAHs, but they didn't sell it that way) was immediately seen as a great way to sell both space science and the manned space program, two of the main parts of the Agency.

At the time Eli was running a summer program at Goddard working with the University Affairs Office there.  The Director of the Office, Gerry Soffen was an amazing guy (you can read about him here and here).  He also was one of the most important people in the agency who was a biologist, having been the Project Scientist for the Viking landers on Mars which search for life there and did not find it.  True believers still believe Gerry lied.

In any case Gerry was tasked by Headquarters with putting together a much larger program than the small one that existed called exobiology.  The idea was to not anchor the program in a single location but rather creating a distributed institute which had obvious political advantages and off they went.

The meteorite discovery was an important impetus for Mars exploration missions, even though doubt has been cast on how pristine the rock was and how the issue was handled since then.  When Gerry asked Eli what he thought, the Rabett replied that although that he was amazed by the rock solid evidence that the meteorite came from Mars, he was less impressed by the chemistry knowing something about the technique used and the focus of research in the lab where the chemical characterization was done.  In short they were not geochemists.

The doubts about the meteorite results arose very quickly, within two years, but by that point NASA had already decided to emphasize astrobiology.  And many things became astrobiology which are really astrochemistry and astronomy.

All of which is why Eli believes astrobiology is a crok.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Researching cheaper fossil fuel extraction is unethical

That's not to say that researching fossil fuel extraction in general is bad. New technologies to make it safer, less environmentally damaging, and better understood in terms of environmental impact is fine. Research to make fossil fuel use cheaper also may not be a problem if the research improves the energy efficiency, in effect reducing the carbon emissions from fossil fuel use. The problem is research that provides no help with emissions but instead harms the low-carbon market in the future.

We need to transition away from fossil fuels, especially coal but not just coal. I don't know if emissions 15 years from now will be lower than today but it would be better if they were, and they must trend downward. Research that makes fossil fuel extraction cheaper has no immediate economic benefit, it just changes price levels down the road as it succeeds and spreads. Fracking is a good example of something that was decades in the making and is still spreading internationally.

While some research may be applied quickly, the more likely and widespread application of some bright new idea that arises today is 10-20 years in the future. Low-carbon power sources will be much more widespread then, so the alleged need for fossil fuels will be less, and the urgency to stop using fossil fuels will be even greater.

As usual, natural gas is the trickiest component, but just as new natural gas plants don't make sense, new research to make natural gas cheaper doesn't make sense. Any bridge argument for natural gas has little bridge left to cross in 10-20 years in the future, and becomes a liability instead. And as with new gas plants, investment in research requires a payback period. Researching cheaper fossil fuel now is an attempt to promote fossil fuel use over renewables 20 to 40 years from now.

I think ending this type of research at the university and governmental level should complement the current divestment movement. My alma mater, Stanford, did the right thing by divesting from coal but refused full divestment. I know that Stanford has some complicated investments that would take some time to unwind, and I believe they're in natural gas. The complication by itself isn't a barrier to divestment - I think no one would object if Stanford took a little more than the typical five years to complete divestment. What may be a barrier, though, is the research aspects.

Getting to a speculative level, I suspect that Stanford's complicated investments have a significant research component, and that the real financial value Stanford sees is in its research paying off - i.e., making fossil fuel extraction cheaper. That's problematic, and I don't think they have thought it through or even have been confronted with it.

As the link shows, Stanford is establishing a climate task force to examine operations, research and teaching (investment is somehow not mentioned, must just be an oversight). This could be an opportunity to examine whether Stanford should research or should invest in research that makes fossil fuels cheaper in the future, right at the time that we need to end using them.