Welcome to the archive

It turns out that you can export and import posts from WordPress. Who could possibly have guessed? Unfortunately it also turns out that the default importer can only cope with files of size 50 Mb or less; so I’m having to learn how to cut up the archive and do it in bits. So far I’ve added 2017 – at least I have, if I get lucky.

Stoat-William-Connolley

If this works, then I’ll have to make up my mind whether I want to continue with WordPress at this mirror of the old site, scienceblogs.com/stoat/, or continue at mustelid.blogspot.com.  Do you have an opinion? Then tell me about it in the comments. I’ll update the below as I go on. In case you’re wondering, this is WordPress’s “free” option.

NOTE: you’re welcome to comment here, but be aware that in the “transition period” (roughly now to the end of the month) there will uncertainty over what gets preserved for the future; some comments may be lost. Furthermore, while I will see all comments here, over at scienceblogs.com/stoat, and at mustelid.blogspot.com; most readers will only be looking at one of those sites.

Blogger: pros

  • Google. Although not really up to their usual.

WordPress: pros

  • I can edit the comments.
  • I know how to configure moderation, to some extent.

Notes

I did 2017, 2016 and 2015; and then realised that links I’d inserted are to the old blog. They work at this moment, but will go blank. For 2014 I re-wrote the URLs courtesy of Perl.

Some old draft, now published

* The skeptics case? [2012]
* Time considered as a helix of semi precious stoats [2011]
* Sunday misc [2011]
* Whats going to kill us all? [2008]

The export / import process

Email from Sb said “To export your blog, go to your Dashboard and then Tools –> Export. “All Content” should be selected. When you click the download button, your exported content will be written to an XML file. You can then import the file on a new site via Dashboard –> Tools –> Import.”

That’s true as far as it goes.

Missing: WP won’t import a large blog all at once. You’ll need to split it up. I found year-by-year worked best; anything much larger and WP got Sad.

Missing: you may want to rework internal links within your old blog. I found:

perl -i -pe "s/http:\/\/scienceblogs.com\/stoat/https:\/\/wmconnolley.wordpress.com/g" 

works for me. Possibly-arguably those links should have been written as relative in the first place; but they weren’t.

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Dynamics of Stoats

It seems that the cat is out of the bag: scienceblogs is shutting down. Well, nothing lasts forever; or as Bowie – who also didn’t last forever – put it: breaking up is hard, but keeping dark is hateful. I regret the close, partly as a disruption to my quiet routine but also as the end of someone’s dream.

However, it has become clear that the original concept has faded; perhaps the great Pepsi revolt (or my take – notice how little I cared) was fatal.

Greg Laden (arch) has some notes that may provide background.

So I’m going back to the old place: mustelid.blogspot.com. Do join me there, or not, as you please. Speaking of which: I expect to change my style somewhat. Whilst Sb never exercised any editorial control, nonetheless I did feel somewhat constrained; you’ll have noticed perhaps that I sometimes put more “personal” entries over at wmconnolley.blogspot.com. I expect to do less of that in future. Anyway, for what I do intend to write about rather than what I don’t, please come over.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

 
I leave you with a picture, since we were recently talking of cathedrals. This one isn’t hard.

DSCN6170

Gunz: constitutionalism and majoritarianism

auschwitz-programmwJPG As the increasingly sparse readership of this blog will have noticed, I’m writeing less and less about science – science is hard, and increasingly GW science isn’t terribly interesting, whatever James may say – and becoming increasing interested in the fringes of politics and philosophy, in which any old fool can have an opinion, and usually does. But as a terrible warning to anyone feeling too clever, my image for this post is a “welcome” leaflet for Emma chapel, doubtless thought to be very deep by those who commissioned it, but felt to be less than tactful by many others.

Recently, gunz are all de rage (archive), because some nutter killed lots of people. And in the usual way of such things, killing lots of people in a newsworthy way gets you lots more attention than all the other people who kill people, including themselves, in rather less newsworthy ways.

Via The Mass Shootings Fix at FiveThirtyEight (which, irritatingly, appears undated. But from context is 2016) I get this pic, which tells me something I didn’t know, at least quantitatively, that mass killings are a tiny portion of the total, with single-death incidents approximately 90% of the total gun deaths in the USA. And so I say: if you’re pretending to take a principled stand, rather than just ghoulishly reacting to exciting horror, why be especially concerned now?

Enough of that, though. The question is “what to do about it”, which of course brings in the politics. The New Yorker, linked above, I take as representative of the “it is about time to do something about it” school of though, and it draws heavily on the idea that there is popular support for Something Must Be Done1. And at that point I leave gunz for the moment, since it was only an example, and wish to consider the more general point: if a majority of people want something in a democracy, should they get it?2 The New Yorker pretty well takes it as read that all Right Thinking People will agree without discussion. This is, I believe, commonly called majoritarianism. It is not without flaws. It didn’t go well in Egypt under Morsi; and in general the idea that because you’ve won the election, you can do what you like, infects many African democracies. In the UK the regular counter-example is that the public would bring back hanging if it could; or you could use Brexit if you liked. But the UK doesn’t have a constitution, parliament is supreme; so let’s turn to the USA which is after all where we started, and which provides the example of Jim Crow. Which for those like me unfamiliar with your funny ways, were racist laws passed by democratic majorities, and eventually struck down by the courts for violating the constitution.

Which brings me to Constitutionalism, which is effectively “majoritarianism, but bound by a constitution”. If you think that a democracy should have the right to pass racist “Jim Crow” type laws if only the majority wants it, then you can reject constitutionalism with a clear conscience. But if you think the laws are bound by the constitution when it says things that you like, but not when it says things that you don’t, then you don’t have a coherent position (unless you want me to believe that “the law should do whatever I want it to” counts as coherent; but I don’t).

From here we pass to the yet-more-general question of how would you design the laws for a state, if you and your descendants have to live in it? In general this isn’t done; states just grow; but there is one particularly important example of this, which is the founding of the USA. And I am no constitutional historian, obviously, but it seems clear enough to me that your3 founders did deliberately choose to put restrictions on the majority4.

And from there we return to the start: specifically, the vexed question of the “militia clause”; or more generally, the problem of interpreting your constitution. Here we see the wisdom of Hobbes’s view, that the sovereign must be judge in all cases, because if it isn’t, then whoever is judge is effectively sovereign. Which is perhaps pushing it too far; but obviously the “militia clause” can either be neglected entirely – as it is at the moment – or ruled to be vital, effectively removing the protection of the constitution on the right to “bear arms”, however “arms” might be interpreted5. Or then again, there is the ringing declaration of independence, all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness that was somehow interpreted as compatible with slavery.

Anyway, there you go. Obviously, I’m in favour of constitutionalism; majoritarianism is for demagogues.

Notes

1. Though the main statistic they quote, In a Quinnipiac University poll that was taken in June, fifty-four per cent of respondents said that they supported stricter gun laws, while forty-four per cent said that they opposed them, doesn’t sound overwhelming.

2. Recalling of course Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

3. You understand that, for dramatic effect, I speak as though to one of these colonials.

4. The recent sad case of Trump being elected despite losing the popular vote is another possible example.

5. You didn’t want me to express an opinion as to which is correct, did you? I’d go for “the commas render the entire sentence non-grammatical and therefore void”.

That it is easier to agree on economics than morality

When I argued for treating GW as economics not morality, I didn’t trouble myself to say “and I think it is easier to agree on economics than on morality”, because it hadn’t occurred to me that people might disagree. But of course, this is the internet, so people do disagree. CIP says so, for example. To start off, consider the usual pieties about the intertwining of economics and morality to have been uttered.

This post won’t be as brilliantly convincing as most of mine, because I haven’t really thought it through; it being so obvious to me, as I said above. It’s almost a layers / category type thing: morality is more personal, economics is more public. We have large elements of shared morality, of course, otherwise society would not function, but those shared elements largely cover items we have experience of. Whenever new things arise, we are much less likely to agree. And conversely, there are any number of economic things we disagree about; a good example is the perennial popularity of protectionism on both right and left, despite economists telling us it is a bad idea.

Um. In a sense, that exhausts my coherent thinking on the subject. Doubtless I’ll develope my ideas further in reaction to your wise comments.

Refs

* Quotation of the Day… from CH
* ATTP doesn’t understand
* Paul Heyne‘s 1993 article “Economics, Ethics, and Ecology,” as this article is reprinted in the 2008 collection of Heyne’s writings, “Are Economists Basically Immoral?” and Other Essays on Economics, Ethics, and Religion – from CH

Morality and economics

I seem to have run out of variations on Architecture and morality and Weasels ripped my flesh so I thought I’d drop the obscurity for once and use a simple post title which actually described the subject, rather than through several levels of indirection1.

9611495264_2afcd92a91_o

The recent trigger to this was mt’s The Seventieth Generation wherein mt extolls the virtues of thinking of the future, even the far future, using as an example the building of cathedrals2. I’m all for thinking forwards, of course, but not so happy with mt’s climate change is an ethical problem, not merely an economic one, for reasons I’ve tried to explain before. I was largely unsuccessful then, and don’t expect to do any better now; so I’ll just note that having read my post and most of the comments, I don’t feel inclined to shift my position. I don’t, of course, mean to suggest that it is entirely an economic and not at all an ethical problem. I mean to suggest (see aforementioned post) that thinking about it primarily as ethical is unhelpful3, 6. I hope you’ll also read the comments on mt’s post.

In the meantime not a great deal of new stuff has come by (do you think otherwise? Has time or experience refuted my arguments? Do tell me). The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression provides further arguments (I say) for regarding it as desireable not to base your economics on ethics. See-also Talking with the taxman about carbon.

Notes

1. For example, I no longer have any idea of what Common people was actually about. But the law of conservation of obscurity obliges me to offer a difficult picture. If you can work out what it is without peeking, you’re doing well. If you can work out where it is without peeking, you’re doing exceptionally well.

2. It is a little known fact that I love cathedrals and their stonework, indeed all old stonework, and at one point considered becoming a stonemason. I didn’t because, well, “it would have been weird” given my life-trajectory to that point. I now build, or perhaps better said help to extend, 15 year old software; which by internet standards is perhaps mediaeval; it saddens me somewhat that my dimwit employers want to throw it away.

[Update: I was uneasy with the “cathedrals” example, and this comment crystallises why, as well as pointing out the dangers of failing to think like people did then.]

3. FWIW – though this isn’t my main point, which is why I relegate it to a note – I also disagree with mt’s diagnosis that the eternal has been systematically removed from public discourse though I may be somewhat misinterpreting his “eternal”. The days of the cathedral builders are so far distant from us their thought processes are not like ours, so it isn’t possible to usefully use anything they did or thought to help guide our own actions5. I think they expected to live in a static society whereas we expect progress, for example; that may not even be the major difference. As a side note, a few years ago we visited the Peloponnese and it occurred for me for the first time that the people who built this stuff had no thought for the likely lifetime of their work; they were building for forever. They made not the slightest attempt to “optimse” the expected lifetime of their work against its cost4

DSC_3847

4. Though I may be idealising. Perhaps some did; in which case their “optimised for 100 year lifetime” work has not, of course, survived for my scrutiny.

5. Well, that’s too absolute of course. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that in order to “use” their example, you’d have to hedge around with so many caveats about the passage of time and the changing of patterns of thought and society, that you might as well start from scratch. But sitting in a dim cool cathedral and feeling the slow flow of time is an excellent use of anyone’s time.

6. If you’d like an academic paper that appears to directly disagree, then Economics, Ethics and Climate Change by Simon Dietz, Cameron J. Hepburn and Nicholas Stern (2008) may serve. For example Thus, although ethical considerations are an essential feature of all public policy debates, they are fundamental in a particularly direct and obvious way to climate-change policy. However, I don’t see that their preceding two paragraphs justify that conclusion. But their For instance, we are likely to have to face trade-offs between minimal rights today to a basic standard of living, which might plausibly be compromised by very strong, very rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and counterpart rights in the far-off future, threatened by climate change seems sensible.

Refs

* Building For The Past, Remembering The Future – TF also disagrees with mt, and may agree with me, it is unclear.
* Kevin Anderson provides an example of the sort of attitude that I think is stupid; note the magical thinking re regulations, inter alia.

Carbon taxes: Macron is an idiot

Zut alors! Ze Chef Frog, Macron, ‘e iz not ‘appy wiz ze prix of ze Carbon: Europe needed a significant minimum carbon price to boost investment in its energy transition, and a European carbon tax at the bloc’s borders to guarantee fair competition for its companies… Macron said Europe had to give “the right price signal” for carbon emissions, and make them sufficiently high enough to attract investments. He said that a carbon price below 25 to 30 euros ($35.31) per ton was not efficient to spur investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. If in the years ahead, we don’t have a significant price of carbon per ton to allow for a profound change in our economies, then it would be worthless. France has also been pushing for a reform of the carbon European Emissions Trading System (ETS). Carbon prices under the system, which charges companies for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit, have fallen to about 7 euros a ton from about 30 euros in 2008 because of a glut of permits.

…and zo on and zo forth. But all of this is vair silly, because as any fule kno, when you issue carbon permits, as the ETS does, you limit your emissions, because in your wisdom you have decided how much CO2 you wish to emit. So, a glut of permits means your schemes have been a brilliant success: emissions have indeed been limited, just as you wished. Had you wanted a price on carbon, you should have imposed a carbon tax instead. Obviously, no-one would suggest that the EU was too stupid to think of this; nor that the ETS was doomed from the start because a bunch of pols would certainly dish out an excess of permits to their favoured industries in order to buy votes, thereby totally undermining the scheme.

Is this all a bit negative? Couldn’t I at least give Macron some credit for at least wanting to raise the price, even if he’s a bit clueless about how to do it? Meh, maybe. Perhaps I’m being too radical. But I’d really rather him just to admit that the ETS is a failure, rip it up, and replace it with a carbon tax. Also, I suppose it is possible that Reuters have garbled his words; I haven’t found what he actually said. Furthermore there are hints about carbon tax in his election manifesto, but I haven’t found that, either. I did find Climat : Qu’est ce qu’il se joue réellement aujourd’hui au niveau mondial ? but apart from offering the amusement of Google translate turning “J’adhere” into “I adhesive”, wasn’t much use.

Refs

* Yet more carbon tax
* A response to a response to a proportionate response
* Rendre notre planète géniale à nouveau
* Macron’s ‘Make Climate Great Again’ campaign hires US scientists – although not literally; actually “Macron is scheduled to unveil some of the marquee scientists selected on December 12th”.

Global Warming Advocate Shoots Self in Head?

According to robbservations.blogspot, which may not be the most reliable of sources. Also, it is from 2009, so not fresh either; but someone asked about it so I thought I’d reply. Context:

The theory of anthropogenic Global Warming rests on the so-called “idealized greenhouse model”. This Wikipedia link (Idealized greenhouse model) by a “climate researcher” and global warming advocate presents the core theory, and offers excellent insight into the problems of the fundamental premise of global warming, though that is not his intent.

It might be fairer to look at the version from December 2009, but I don’t think it has changed greatly since. First off, this was aimed at me, and although I had the last edit at that point, I didn’t create it or even add most of the content; that was User:Incredio, inactive since 2013 (no-one from the outside understands wiki). But it is fair to say that AGW “rests on” the ideas in that page. If you’re interested, I have a 2014 post grinding through the details1; R. W. Wood: Note on the Theory of the Greenhouse is also worth a read. Continuing:

The principle cause of any greenhouse effect is that of a one-way thermal blanket — one which passes most wavelengths of the sun’s energy, yet insulates infrared from the other direction — energy radiated back up from the heated ground below. This is how a real greenhouse works — most energy is in the visible bands, and it passes through glass panes to heat the ground. The ground heats up and re-radiates back in the infrared wavelengths for which the glass is opaque.

Calling it a “thermal blanket” is unhelpful but commonplace. Asserting that this is how a real greenhouse works is wrong: real greenhouses work by suppressing convection; see the R. W. Wood link, for example. But although this indicates that Rob’s observations may not be entirely reliable, they aren’t yet fatal to whatever he is trying to say, because whatever heats a real greenhouse is irrelevant. Continue, Rob, but do try to focus.

The premise of global warming is that certain gases in the upper atmosphere — principally water, CO2 and Methane — are disposed to absorb infrared. In the simplified analysis, they absorb ALL the infrared coming up from the Earth. The absorbed radiation eventually is re-emitted, but isotropically — in all directions. Consequently, 50% of the absorbed infrared is radiated up toward space, and the other 50% is “trapped” — radiated back toward the Earth. This causes the Earth’s surface temperature to rise till a state of equilibrium is reached, where the rate of re-radiation into space increases till it balances the energy absorbed from the Earth below.

He’s doing pretty well with this, so on:

In essence the Greenhouse hypothesis is developed like this:

  1. The atmosphere is transparent to all solar energy (not true);
  2. The Earth absorbs all incident solar energy without reflection (not true);
  3. The ground and heated air above the ground re-radiate the solar spectrum with a blackbody temperature shifted downward toward the infrared spectrum (true);
  4. Certain atmospheric gases make the atmosphere mostly opaque to all this ground radiation (false);
  5. The ground radiation is absorbed in thermally broadened atomic lines of certain gases concentrated in an infinitely thin atmospheric layer (reasonable);
  6. The absorbed ground radiation is radiated isotropically, so half of it goes back toward Earth, raising the surface temperature (reasonable).

1 is indeed the usual approximation. It isn’t true – and indeed, you don’t even need to assume it in the idealised model – but you may as well assume it because it makes the basic principles clearer, simplifies the maths, and doesn’t lose you any precision because so many other things are imprecise anyway. Abstraction is important when trying to understand the underlying principles of things; don’t get bogged down in details until you need to. All that is actually necessary for the model to work is this regard is that the atmosphere is transparent to most or just to some of the incoming solar; and this is undoubtedly true.

2 is also a usual approximation, and just like 1 is a useful simplification. Just like 1 it isn’t necessary; all that is necessary is that some is absorbed at the surface; or even more generally that the atmosphere is heated from below. 3 we’re agreed on, although he’s garbled it slightly. 4 is again an approximation, depends on wavelength; again, see 1. 5 and 6 will do. OK, so, great: where’s the great Head-Shooting going to happen?

There’s then a couple of paragraphs worrying about exactly which bands CO2 (and methane) absorb in, and how these interact with water vapour absorption. Then:

The Wiki article calculates and asserts that if the atmosphere absorbs 78% of all radiation from the ground, it predicts the average global temperature of 288K to within 0.3 degree. Remarkable. I’m in awe.

Rob is looking for something to attack, so attacks some spurious precision, but this is unimportant. The entire model is an approximation. You can get lots of different numbers out of it, depending on exactly what constants you put into it. One of the more important is Earth’s albedo to incoming solar shortwave radiation, which obviously you can’t calculate from this model and need to specify. Then:

calculates from this an average global temperature increase [due to CO2 doubling] of 1.2K in the absence of water vapor (clouds)

Oh. Oh dear. We’re now onto looking at GW with this simple model; but we’ve failed to identify any important flaws in the model, other than that it’s an approximation, but we already knew that. This is disappointing, but let’s push on; perhaps there’s some flaw in how it handles GW that’s of interest.

some hand-waving assumptions that says higher surface temperature increases water vapor with positive feedback (because water absorbs longwave radiation up from the Earth), so the real temperature rise from a doubling of CO2 will be 2.4K — even more dire.

Even more disappointing. Positive feedback on water vapour (only a colonial would write vapor) is indeed a commonplace, but it is no part of the idealised model. If you’re interested in how the real world will respond to CO2 increases then you’ll need to think about how water vapour will change; but that’s a different matter. Let’s plough on a bit further:

higher water vapor (from evaporation of the Earth’s oceans and lakes) means more clouds, and more clouds means more sunlight is reflected back into space. This will reduce the amount of solar energy absorbed by the Earth.

Indeed. How cloud feedback affects the overall feedback is an interesting and complex research item; but it forms no part of the idealised model, because it can’t. The idealised model is too simple to contain clouds, except subtly folded into things like the overall albedo. You can, if you like, specify changes in cloud albedo into the model; but you can’t possibly deduce them from the model. So Rob has wandered well off his subject onto other matters, without as far as I can see making the slightest dent on the idealised model. Is there more? Alas there is:

To say that this is an egregious omission is being inadequate. It would be like saying ignoring the Nazi conquest of Poland…

Godwin!. Rob loses. There’s another post which (I didn’t bother read the details, I hope you understand) appears to be doing the usual there’s-a-lot-of-overlap-with-water-vapour-so-CO2-doesn’t-do-anything stuff. What happens is this: people read the simple explanations (like the wiki one) and perhaps other stuff from govt websites; and then from whatever source discover the overlap stuff, and have the arrogance to assume that this is a major hole in the theory that people haven’t thought about, just because they haven’t seen it written into the popular expositions. Weird. Anyway, see stuff like
A Saturated Gassy Argument
if you want the std.reply.

Notes

1. Sigh: some of the pix from someone else’s site have rotted; never mind, they’re only the take-down.