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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.

2019/01 update

I come across a quote, via CafeHayek:

Economics can appraise policies as means toward particular ends, but economics alone cannot lay down the ends that policy “ought” to aim at. For this reason, a supporter of any economic policy must rest his case not only on economic analysis but also on his idea of what is “desirable” – on his conception of the “good society” – on his so-called “value judgments.” Fortunately, intelligent discussion will often reveal a broadly-based agreement on fundamental values.

There’s more, but the rest is about Free Trade, not the focus here. So arguably this is saying the exact reverse of what I am: that we have a fundamental shared broad morality. And, indeed I agree.

I think the only way to rescue myself is to lean on that word “broad”. I think if you look through the lens of Economics, then the aspects of Morality that you see should be common and broad. Whereas if you start from Morality, you’ll get bogged down in specifics. I’m not sure my thinking on this is at all clear, though, and I suspect my writing of being even less clear.


* 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.


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.


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


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.


* 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.