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Links and Notes for October 15th, 2021

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

Below are links to articles, highlighted passages[1], and occasional annotations[2] for the week ending on the date in the title, enriching the raw data from Instapaper Likes and Twitter. They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts. YMMV.

[1] Emphases are added, unless otherwise noted.
[2] Annotations are only lightly edited.

Table of Contents

COVID-19

The NYT’s Partisan Tale about COVID and the Unvaccinated is Rife with Sloppy Data Analysis by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“To be clear: there is no question that COVID-19 vaccines are a safe, effective, and important tool in protecting people from severe disease and death. The vaccination rate for rural counties is 41.4%, while the rate in urban areas is 53.3%. This difference also surely has an impact on the different rates of death from COVID-19. But this is only one part of the equation, and The New York Times’ recent viral article contained no such nuanced or informative discussion about this complex web of interrelated factors influencing disease burden and health outcomes. If you search the article for any mention of ‘age,’ or ‘rural’ you get no results, because these factors didn’t appear in their analysis at all. In any discussion about factors influencing COVID-19 mortality rates, failing to mention the role of these important demographic influences is journalistic malpractice that grossly distorts reality.
“For this paper [The New York Times], it appears that feeding its readers’ desire to feel intellectually and morally superior to “Red America” is of utmost importance, even if it comes at the expense of accurately reporting on the complex reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Economy & Finance

The Bitcoin Fountainhead by Daron Acemoglu (Project Syndicate)

“With the price of Bitcoin reaching new highs, and El Salvador and Cuba deciding to accept it as legal tender, cryptocurrencies are here to stay. What implications will this have for money and politics?”

That is such a stupid thing to write. You can’t actually use Bitcoin as currency. And what if it craters? Are we supposed to assume that it will never come down? Bitcoin has both a huge transaction cost and huge volatility, relative to other currencies. It is unclear why the author would say that it’s “here to stay”.

“To argue that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are merely a confidence game – or a speculative bubble, as many economists have emphasized – is to ignore their popularity.”

Wow. One thing has nothing to do with the other. That they have no obvious value but are popular is actually more evidence that they are a confidence game.

“The risk of Western governments producing runaway inflation or undermining the international monetary system is vanishingly small. The real existential threat today lies in political polarization, the unraveling of democracy, and democratic political systems’ inability to keep economic elites and authoritarian politicians in check.


The Great Strike of 2021 by Jack Rasmus (CounterPunch)

“Starting last June 2021 many Red state governors and legislatures unilaterally and pre-emptively cut unemployment benefits, even though the benefits were to continue until September. The[y] then went silent as data over the summer showed that the few ‘blue’ states that did not cut benefits early—like California, New Jersey, etc.—actually showed a greater rate of return of workers to their jobs over the summer than did Red states that cut unemployment benefits early.”
“The restructuring of US labor markets now appearing is just the beginning The Great Strike of 2021 is but the symptom. Product markets and global distribution of goods and services are under similar great stress and change as well. Not least, the full effect of financial asset markets—i.e. stocks, bonds, derivatives, forex, digital currency, etc.—is yet to be felt as well. That one is yet to come and when it does may prove the most de-stabilizing of all.


Look Out for Cops in the Pump and Dump by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“If Bitcoin goes to $100,000, the residual claimant ends up owning $75,000 worth of Bitcoin after paying off $25,000 worth of stablecoins (and makes a $45,000 profit). If Bitcoin goes to $30,000, the residual claimant ends up owning $5,000 worth (and losing $25,000). If Bitcoin goes to $20,000 the residual claimant is wiped out and the stablecoins are no longer stable but what are the odds of that.

“My point here was, one, to explain that this basic approach — tranching of a risky asset into junior and senior claims — is the main move in traditional finance, and that combinations and variations on this move are most of what the financial system does.”

“When I say “this is magic,” I don’t just mean “this is pretty cool.” I mean that it feels like magic, that it is a sleight of hand, that to work effectively it demands willing suspension of disbelief from its observers, that it requires a mystery.

“When you open a bank account, the bank doesn’t tell you “well we have a 9% capital ratio, so if our loans lose 9% of their value or less your account will be money-good, and our loans are made at an average loan-to-value ratio of 68%, so if the underlying assets lose 32% of their value or less our loans will be good, and if you multiply that it means that your cash won’t be touched unless the underlying assets lose more than 38% of their value in a correlated way, which we have calculated has a less than 1-in-1,000,000 chance of happening.

“If your bank told you that you would never give them your money. What your bank tells you is “if you put a dollar in this account it’s a dollar.” There are enough layers of opacity between your deposit and the underlying risky assets that you don’t think of them as being at all connected.”


The financial sector after the pandemic by John Quiggin (Crooked Timber)

“Much of the profitability of the corporate sector derives from socially undesirable activities such as tax avoidance.”
Having escaped any consequences for nearly destroying the world economy, the financial sector was, if anything emboldened. A steady sequence of scandals showed them engaged in everything from market-rigging to tax evasion to the provision of finance for terrorists and drug dealers. In every case, the response of regulators was the same. The banks paid a financial penalty representing a small proportion of the profits their manipulations had generated, and were told that next time there would be really consequences.”


Making a Living by Aaron Benanav (The Nation)

“For the longest part of our history, humans lived as hunter-gatherers who neither experienced economic growth nor worried about its absence. Instead of working many hours each day in order to acquire as much as possible, our nature—insofar as we have one—has been to do the minimum amount of work necessary to underwrite a good life.
Leisure afforded long periods of hanging around with others, which led to the development of language, storytelling, and the arts. Human beings also gained the capacity to care for those who were “too old to feed themselves,” a trait we share with few other species.”
“As Suzman explains, this shift in how we understand the relative fortunes of hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists makes the three major transitions that followed fire—for Suzman, agriculture, the city, and the factory—much harder to explain. Their advent cannot be told as a progressive story of humanity’s climb out of economic deprivation.
“Unlike desires based in social status, which can be infinite, absolute needs are limited.”
“[…] a long history of technological progress has made it possible to fulfill everyone’s needs in ever more resplendent ways with ever fewer hours of work. Keynes predicted that by his grandchildren’s generation, we would have at our disposal such an immense quantity of buildings, machines, and skills as to overcome any real scarcity of resources with respect to meeting our needs (including new ones like the 21st-century need for a smartphone).”
“Only reducing levels of inequality would relieve society-wide status anxieties, since each individual’s relative position would then matter much less. With enhanced production capacities and absolute needs met, Keynes argued, people would stop feeling so frustrated and striving so hard.
Why do we continue to cling so hard to our work-based identities, in spite of an inner nature that tells us not to work so much? Long after Keynes’s own metaphorical grandchildren (since he had no direct descendants) have grown up, grown old, and had children of their own, we continue to work long hours, consuming ever more and posing an ever-greater threat to the biosphere. “Humankind,” Suzman writes, is apparently “not yet ready to claim its collective pension.” So why haven’t we traded rising incomes for more free time?
“The point is not really to meet people’s needs (most of which are manufactured wants in any case) but to keep workers employed and wages growing. In other words, expanding production serves as a distraction from the fraught issue of economic redistribution. As long as everyone’s income is growing, we don’t worry so much about who has more than whom.
“Long before we produce enough structures, machines, and equipment to meet the needs of all humanity, Keynes said, the rate of return on investment in these fixed assets will fall below the level required to balance out the risks for private investors. In other words, long before we reach post-scarcity, the engine of capitalist prosperity will give way. The result is not a reduced work week for all but rather underemployment for many and overwork for the rest.
“Governments have faced enormous pressure to get our stagnant economies back on track. In order to revive economic growth rates, one country after another has tried to entice private investors to invest more by spending in excess of tax receipts, deregulating the economy, reducing taxes, and beating back the strength of organized labor. That has encouraged an increase in the number of poor-quality jobs and caused inequality to rise, but it has done little to revive the economic growth engine.
“Keynes styled himself in the tradition of Mill as a “liberal socialist”: What he imagined might come after the onset of economic stagnation was a barrage of public investment, which would displace private investment as the primary engine of economic stability. This public investment would be deployed not to make private investment more attractive, but rather to improve our societies directly through the provision of public goods.
“Mill sounds almost like Marx when addressing the subject: “All privileged and powerful classes have used their power in the interest of their own selfishness.” Elites would never abandon the current engine of economic growth and put public powers, rather than private investors, in the driver’s seat unless they were forced to do so.
“From a deep historical perspective, the capacity of the “haves” to determine the rules of state politics, and to prevent the “have-nots” from seizing the reins of power even in representative democracies, would have to be counted among the most important forces slowing our progress toward a post-scarcity future.

Public Policy & Politics

Noam Chomsky: The GOP Is a “Gang of Radical Sadists” by David Barsamian (Jacobin)

“Apart from the social cost, which is huge, they’re endangering people. The unvaccinated are endangering others. They’re severely endangering children who can’t get vaccinated yet. They have no protection. They’re even endangering the vaccinated. I mean, the vaccine is very effective, but not 100 percent. So they’re endangering the vaccinated, too. And on top of that, they’re creating a pool in which the virus can mutate freely, maybe leading to variants that might not even be treatable. It could be a raging, untreatable pandemic.”
“Why is this done? Liberty? There’s no such liberty. There’s no liberty that allows you to drive through a red light because you feel like it and you don’t want to be inhibited. Nobody’s ever claimed such a liberty. It’s outlandish. You want to hurt people? Okay. Go find a plot of land somewhere, sit on it, don’t take any benefits from the government, and don’t take any responsibilities. The whole libertarian thing is pure nonsense.”
“In other words, you want to harm the employees in a restaurant? Feel free to do it. It’s your right to harm them. That’s the Republican Party. They also tried to cut off funding for Afghan refugees. I mean, the political leadership is just a gang of sadists. And the shamelessness is indescribable.
“Let’s start with August 9. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with its latest report, very dire. It said, far more clearly than before, that we’re at a critical moment. We have to start reducing fossil fuels steadily right now, continuing until we’re free of them by essentially mid-century. That was August 9. What happened on August 10? Joe Biden issued an appeal to OPEC, the oil cartel, to increase oil production so as to reduce gas prices in the United States, which will help his electoral prospects. Is that the party we’re supposed to be lauding?”
“Take a look at the business press, especially the petroleum journals. The major oil companies are absolutely euphoric. They’re beside themselves. They’re finding new areas to explore. The current budget for the US government continues to provide subsidies to fossil fuel companies. Republicans wouldn’t tolerate anything else. Canada’s bad enough, and other countries aren’t doing that wonderfully. But the United States is indescribable.
“The Republicans established an absolute red line: no increase in taxes for the superrich and the corporate sector. You cannot touch Trump’s one legislative achievement, a tax scam that stabbed the country in the back, including the working classes and the middle classes, in order to enrich the very rich. That’s a red line. Furthermore, another part of the red line is that you can’t fund the IRS to enable it to catch tax cheaters — rich people and corporations with huge numbers of corporate lawyers who figure out how to rob the population of trillions of dollars. You can’t fund the IRS to investigate them. That’s the former Republican Party. We’re looking at a group of radical sadists.”
“The United States has gone so far to the right that even policies that are normal in most of the rest of the world are considered radical.”
“You recall that the first Bush administration refused even to join the Kyoto Protocol. We have to keep to the high priorities: enrich the very rich and maintain massive profits for the corporate sector. What happens to the country and the world is secondary.”
“They’re stuck in a Fox News and Republican leadership bubble, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be moved. It’ll take effort and work, but they’re human beings. They care about their children. They care about the environment. And they can be reached.
“Is that an irrational answer? No, I don’t think so. Those are people that can be reached. It’s not a lost cause. But it’s going to take serious, committed work, with sympathy, understanding, and dedication. We don’t have to cover up what’s going on among the major criminals. But there are possibilities to move forward.”
“But by 1969, it was clearly a disaster. We couldn’t bring democracy to the people of South Vietnam at a cost that was acceptable to ourselves. That’s the extreme criticism on the Left. Were we trying to bring democracy? You don’t have to argue that that’s true by definition again. Was it an effort to do good? By definition, it was, because we’re so magnificent. Is the only issue that the cost was too high? Well, you could think of some other issues. Could it possibly have been the worst crime of aggression since World War II, of the kind for which German war criminals were hanged at Nuremberg? Well, it couldn’t have been that, even though it was.
“So, in the United States, if you’re a privileged person like Edward Said or me, punishments are not too bad. Maybe vilification, denunciation. Said had to have police protection. He had a buzzer in his apartment so he could call the police in case he was attacked. If you’re Fred Hampton, a Black Panther organizer, you can be assassinated by the national political police. It depends on who you are.
“[…] they didn’t know that al-Qaeda was responsible for 9/11. In fact, eight months after 9/11, the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, gave his first major press conference, in which he was asked, of course, what have you found out about 9/11? And he said — this is after probably the greatest investigation in history — “We assume that it was probably al-Qaeda, but we haven’t been able to prove it.” That’s eight months after the United States invaded to show its muscle and intimidate everyone. Of course, that’s not the story you read. But it’s the fact.”
“Because it brings a backlash that is worse than the action itself, because people aren’t prepared to understand it. Civil disobedience, to be an effective tactic, has to follow educational programs, which bring the target audience to understand what you’re doing. I have good friends who I greatly respect and who are marvelous people, who don’t understand this. Quaker activists, Catholic activists who go into the submarine base in Connecticut and smash the hulls of nuclear submarines without any preparation for it. The workforce is infuriated. Why are you taking our jobs? What the hell are you doing? A bunch of crazies. The general community doesn’t understand what’s going on.”


US Writes Belarus into Its Familiar Regime-Change Script by Alan Macleod (Mint Press News)

“The NED was set up by the Reagan administration as a front group for the CIA, to continue the agency’s work in destabilizing other countries. “It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA,” Gershman said, explaining its creation. Another NED founder, Allen Weinstein, was perhaps even more blunt: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” he told The Washington Post.”
Tsikhanouskaya received what she was looking for: an endorsement from the president of the United States. After an in-depth meeting with Joe Biden, he promoted her as the true leader of her country. “The United States stands with the people of Belarus in their quest for democracy and universal human rights,” he said in a statement. She also received NATO’s blessing, meeting with senior figures from its think tank, the Atlantic Council, on several occasions.”
“Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, an organization described by The New York Times as a “worldwide propaganda network built by the CIA.””
“At an Atlantic Council event in July, Tsikhanouskaya called on the West to do more to overthrow her opponent, saying “I think it’s high time for democratic countries to unite and show their teeth.” According to the NED’s Gershman, the U.S. continues to work “very, very closely” with her.

And that would be democratic, of course. The actual elections are fixed, so overthrowing is an improvement? And then what? Is there an election? How can you then believe that that election is more free? Wouldn’t it be suspected that the country that overthrew the regime would be interested in fixing the election to get the right candidate? You know, so they don’t have to overthrow again?

“Like Tsikhanouskaya, Añez was also an obscure political figure held up by the United States as the savior of democracy. Despite describing herself as the “interim president,” she immediately began radically transforming the country’s economy and foreign relations, privatizing state assets and moving Bolivia closer to the U.S. She also suspended elections three times before being forced to concede after a nationwide general strike paralyzed the country.”
“Protasevich had, in fact, been a member of the infamous Azov Battalion, a Neo-Nazi paramilitary that did much of the heavy lifting to overthrow Yanukovych. He was literally the group’s poster child, appearing on the front cover of its magazine Black Sun in full fatigues and holding a rifle. The Azov Battalion has since been absorbed into the Ukrainian armed forces.
“In August of this year, the U.S. announced a new round of sanctions, specifically targeting state-owned businesses in an attempt to make them less profitable. The European Union did likewise, also promising to pull Belarus out of its downturn if it overthrew Lukashenko. “Once Belarus embarks on a democratic transition, the E.U. is committed to help Belarus stabilise its economy, reform its institutions in order to make them resilient and more democratic, create new jobs and improve people’s living standards,” they announced, adding, “The E.U. will continue to support a democratic, independent, sovereign, prosperous and stable Belarus. The voices and the will of the people of Belarus will not be silenced.””
“Russia is by far the most popular country among Belarusians, 32% of whom want to formally unify with their larger neighbor. Only 9% want to join the E.U. and only 7% wish to join NATO. The U.S. is the most distrusted country, even among the young, urban tech-savvy citizens Chatham House and RUSI polled. Thus, while Tsikhanouskaya consistently claims to be the authentic voice of Belarus, it appears her prime constituency is in Washington and Brussels.
“Living under an authoritarian system, Belarusians understandably dream of a more democratic future. However, they should be extremely careful whom they align themselves with: the U.S., NATO and the World Bank’s vision of democracy and prosperity might not align with what they naively had in mind.


Die Linke’s Defeat Is a Dire Warning for the Left by Loren Balhorn (Jacobin)

“Still one of Germany’s nonfiction bestsellers six months after its release, Wagenknecht’s book attempts to grapple, albeit polemically, with the impasse facing Die Linke. Her arguments draw heavily on Thomas Piketty’s diagnosis of a “Brahminized” left and are worth taking seriously (something that, regrettably, relatively few of her critics have done).
A collective No vote would doubtless have alienated some supporters. But it also would have polarized the electorate and bolstered Die Linke’s profile as an antiestablishment party right before the election. Any losses among center-left voters (who all appear to have deserted the party this time around anyway) could probably have been compensated for by picking up protest votes to their left.”
“Demanding climate action, it seems, does not necessarily correlate with voting for a socialist party. And why should it? Recognizing that climate change poses an existential threat to humanity does not negate class and material interests. Many young people taking to the streets over climate change may be as driven by concerns over their own future prosperity as by any kind of deeply egalitarian impulse. Most likely, the reality is somewhere in between.”
“Die Linke’s problem has never been that it was wrong on the issues, but rather that it failed to communicate them in an effective way and struggled to define its audience.
Voters neither want nor need a slightly more progressive version of the SPD or the Greens. That, more than anything else, should be the conclusion drawn from last month’s election.”


Roaming Charges: Supply Chain of Fools by Jeffrey St. Clair (CounterPunch)

“After Kellogg’s moved to cut their pay and benefits, the workers who make your Fruit Loops and Rice Krispies went on strike at all of the company’s US cereal plants, fed up with 7 day work weeks, 16-hour shifts of forced overtime and work schedules that often saw them working 120 straight days. While the company pleaded economic necessity, their own SEC filings told a much different story. Kellogg’s amassed over $1 billion in profits last year and their CEO pocket $11.6 million in total compensation.”
“Forest firefighter Kristen Allen, a 25-year veteran, on this summer’s Dixie Fire: “15 years ago, a 100,000-acre fire would be the largest fire of your career. Now, we have one-million-acre fires. It’s hard even for us to comprehend.””

Science & Nature

Is Nuclear Power Our Best Bet Against Climate Change? by Samuel Miller McDonald (Boston Review)

It is unsurprising that mass evacuations and skin-melting radiation poisoning from nuclear accidents would provoke more visceral fear than the slow violence of fossil fuels. Further encumbering nuclear energy is its unfortunate, inextricable association with weapons of mass destruction, and the fact that it operates on atomic principles more opaque than the logic of burning fossilized biomass. It’s college physics versus campfires.”
“[…] profit-driven markets cannot be relied on to sustain a nuclear transition. To scale nuclear up globally would likely require mass state investment, a stark challenge in a world of near total neoliberal capture. With a problem like climate change, which requires rapid transition—scaling up of new non-carbon energy and scaling down of fossil fuels—the slowness, costliness, and inflexibility of nuclear power is a major hindrance, even if potential innovations could alleviate these problems.”
“Looking beyond direct sources of carbon emissions, the processes behind nuclear electricity production are still heavily carbon-dependent, from the mining, processing, and transportation of uranium to the construction of the power plant, while nuclear plants also use emergency diesel generators as backup sources of power. Renewables share this problem because they, too, are dependent on heavy fossil fuel infrastructure for mining and shipping their components and constructing them. Balancing all these effects, it is not so clear that nuclear power would even be low carbon.”
“Energy scientist Amory Lovins even makes the case that “building new reactors, or operating most existing ones, makes climate change worse compared with spending the same money on more-climate-effective ways to deliver the same energy services,” due primarily to how slow and expensive nuclear reactors are to build.
“Decentralized, distributed energy production like renewables can have a broader disruptive impact on energy infrastructures and how they interact with social and political relations. Integrating distributed, small-scale energy generation within towns and cities can make them more self-sufficient; whereas most people now are alienated from their modes of energy production, bringing production into their spheres of governance and living can alter that relationship in positive ways.”
“These are very serious objections, and ultimately they must be weighed against what is politically, technologically, and socially possible, especially in the short term. We undoubtedly face stark tradeoffs in thinking about how to transform societies that demand massive amounts of energy to function.
“Transitioning from fossil fuels to nuclear energy is supposed to protect future generations of humans and other species from catastrophic climate impacts, but if the long-term safety of radioactive waste cannot be guaranteed, nuclear energy looks less like a solution for the future and more like a stop-gap that benefits those in the present at the expense of those future beings.
“Further, the ecological crises that get worse every day threaten to fracture political orders and make those regulatory frameworks—at state, sub-state, or intergovernmental levels—incapable of maintaining safe facilities.
“Nuclear energy advocates are keenly waiting for reactors that recycle nuclear waste back into a source of energy to become commercially viable, effectively doing away with the need for much nuclear waste storage. But, to reiterate, these innovations are far from guaranteed; even in the best cases they likely would not arrive for decades, a period of time in which continued technologically advancements cannot reasonably be presumed.”
“This is just one of the many Earth systems now in critical condition, any one of which could throw the capacity for complex states and economies into question in the relatively near future.”
“If thresholds like ocean conveyor collapse—or others like permafrost melt, forest diebacks, and polar glacier melt—have already been crossed or are likely to be crossed in the near future, then we need to be preparing for a world that is much less stable than the one nuclear energy, and indeed all of modern civilization, has taken for granted. As such, we cannot assume that the technologies that have served us reliably in the latter twentieth century will still serve us reliably in the latter twenty-first century and beyond.”

“Nuclear energy—with its dependence on heavily militarized and organized states—relies on one kind of civilization. Renewable energy—with its capacity to be owned and managed at local levels, cooperatively—opens the potential for radically different ones. Neither course, nor both combined, doom society to particular paths, but they certainly narrow the range of possible options, especially in the short term.

“The debate that needs to occur around nuclear is not just whether it can reduce carbon emissions, or provide efficient electricity, or whether it is “safe and clean,” but also whether it should be part of the vision for how human societies adapt and, with any luck, thrive in the new and more dangerous world we have created.


In Global Energy Crisis, Anti-Nuclear Chickens Come Home to Roost by Ted Nordhaus (Foreign Policy)

“Germany and California have prioritized closing nuclear plants over decommissioning coal and gas plants.”
“Once the share of variable renewable energy (i.e., solar and wind) begins to approach 20 percent or so, it swamps the electrical grid whenever the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. Surges of wind and solar power at particular times of the day not only undermine the economics of other power sources on the grid but also undermine the economics of adding additional wind and solar. This phenomenon, called value deflation, is already eroding the economics of wind and solar in California and elsewhere—even at relatively low shares of grid penetration.”

We’d Ike to use clean energy, but, unfortunately, capitalism won’t let us. What a pity. I guess we’ll just choke and cook to death.

“But the fact that the state has not allowed its dirtiest natural gas plants to close for the better part of a decade makes clear that the new temporary gas plants are likely to remain running for years to come. Worse, the temporary plants the state plans to procure are substantially more polluting than the new permanent plants it had originally proposed.”
Belgium, bowing to pressure from the country’s Green parties, is moving forward with plans to retire its nuclear power plants by 2025 without so much as a pretense of replacing them with clean generation. Instead, it will subsidize construction of new natural gas plants. Spain, meanwhile, just announced electricity price controls in response to spiraling natural gas and electricity prices, a move that threatens both its renewable energy and nuclear power sectors.”
“To speak of these failures is often seen by green energy advocates as an attack on renewable energy. It is not. There is no reason wind, solar, and other sources of renewable energy can’t play a significant role in modern electrical grids and the fight against climate change. Far more dubious, though, is the notion that wind and solar energy might be the sole or even primary source of energy for modern economies. The problem, in other words, is not that the countries now experiencing energy crises have invested considerable effort in scaling renewable energy. It is that they have done so largely to the exclusion of all other low-carbon energy technologies—and exacerbated this problem by simultaneously shutting down nuclear power plants.
“[…] these baseload plants would not run constantly as in the past but mostly sit idle, ramping up and down in response to the vagaries of the wind and the sun. In the case of coal and gas plants, they would also capture all their carbon. In theory, nuclear, coal, and gas are all capable of playing this role. In practice, nuclear and coal are not terribly well suited to doing so. Both have huge upfront capital costs and significant operating costs that must be maintained whether they are burning fuel or not.
“An honest discussion of the path to a renewable energy future would acknowledge the critical role natural gas plays and is likely to continue to play for many decades to come. There is no shortage of gas globally and ample opportunity to develop new reserves in the coming decades. But that would require environmentalists and proponents of renewables to come to terms with fracking and pipelines in the near term, and carbon capture technology longer term, both of which they mostly oppose.

Except there is never a plan to do this equitably. Foreign Policy authors and their friends are in no way affected by fracking, so they don’t care how dirty it is. Those who are affected are generally powerless and our economy, our form of capitalism doesn’t include or reward compensation for moral reasons, so … we don’t do it. We steal from the weak instead, steal their health, their livelihood, their dignity.

In virtually every country that has closed nuclear plants, clean electricity has been replaced with dirty power, a testament to the unique capabilities of nuclear technology to produce vast quantities of always available electricity without carbon emissions.”

He keeps calling nuclear “clean” and “carbon-free”, neither of which is true. It’s like saying an electric car has no carbon footprint. You have to consider the energy used to manufacture the vehicle and you have to consider the source of the energy used to charge the vehicle. Nuclear has a huge carbon footprint that needs to be amortized over its lifetime. Then there are the costs associated with mining and transporting the uranium fuel and with storing the waste. By this definition, wind and solar also have a carbon footprint, but it’s much, much smaller.

“The cost of building a nuclear power plant in any given nation today is roughly proportionate to the influence of the environmental movement in that particular place. China, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia have all demonstrated in recent years that it is entirely possible to build cheap, reliable, and safe nuclear power plants when anti-nuclear peccadilloes are disregarded.”

Here, the author’s prejudices are showing again. Calling legitimate concerns “anti-nuclear peccadilloes” is condescending.

“In the face of its escalating energy crisis, Britain has just announced a crash program to build over dozen new nuclear reactors by 2035. Policymakers and green advocates across the West are facing, or soon will face, a similar choice: build more nuclear or accept a continuing and significant role for fossil fuels for many decades. The current wave of electricity crises worldwide is what happens when they pretend that choice need not be made.”

Philosophy & Sociology

On the Winds by Justin E.H. Smith (Hinternet)

“If I could I would draw up the true map of Europe, with a thick line demarcating its two broad regions: in the one of which the inhabitants believe that a current of air running through your home, with a window open at each end, is a dangerous thing that can kill you, or at least make your joints ache; and in the other of which the inhabitants find nothing more vivifying, nothing more life-affirming, than such a draft. This line would correspond roughly to the one marked out by the Protestant Reformation,
“In both agricultural and maritime settings, the names of the winds were at once practical and phenomenologically basic: to step outside and to feel them was to know how things were in the most basic sense, to “know which way the wind is blowing”, as we still vestigially say, and to find the language to speak of it.”
“If I were ever permitted to teach a course on the philosophy of wind, I would begin with the questions: How did the winds lose their names? And what does it mean for us to live in a world of nameless winds? I step outside and I feel a gust. “That’s wind,” I think to myself, and I have nothing more to add beyond that. I don’t know the winds.”

We name our winds in Switzerland, as do many cultures. On a bike ride two days ago, we were very aware that we were riding into the Bise when we rode eastward. See List of local winds (Wikipedia).

Technology

Worst Case by Tim Bray

“Bear in mind that Republicans hate Amazon because of Bezos’s Washington Post and because the whole tech industry is (somewhat correctly) perceived as progressive.”

This is such a stupid misconception. Tech companies are, generally, regressive. The bigger they get, the more regressive they are. They support change within narrowly defined parameters that guarantee their giant profit margins and keep their monopolistic business model safe. They’re progressive until they’re established, then they pull up the ladder—just like everyone company before them. Our form of capitalism demands it.

“If it were me in my ideal world, I’d have copies of everything stored in S3 because of its exceptional durability; I sincerely believe there is no safer place on the planet to save data. Then I’d have a series of scripts that would rehydrate all my databases and config from S3, reconfigure all my code, and fire up my applications. I’d test this script regularly; any more than a few weeks untested and I’d lose confidence that it’d work.

Programming

Are SPAs better than MPAs? − HTTP 203 by Surma & Jake (Google Chrome Developers) (YouTube)

  • MPAs can load additional content faster than SPAs because the browser is much better at streaming and rendering content asynchronously.
  • Server-side rendering is considered to be a good first step these days.
  • Waiting until client-side rendering is also a kludge that avoids the streaming and rendering power of the browser.
  • The problem these days is “hydration”, where a server-side skeleton or full version is then enriched with client-side improvements, or “islands” of SPA-style dynamic content
  • “If the browser can do it, then let the browser do it.”
  • Don’t bet on your page being left open like an “app”. If your app is slow to load and slow to reload, be very sure that users aren’t reloading it a lot. That’s a downside for pure SPAs.
  • They discuss how awful YouTube Music is with its “bet” that it would be an always-open “app” (as well as its horrible, internal, SPA-style, and non-browser-friendly navigation).
  • For MPAs, the history API is not good and doesn’t store enough information (e.g. scroll positions) for developers to build their transitions the way they want to. So they move to an SPA (that can sometimes be the only reason some devs use React) in order to control transitions and animations.
  • Consider using React to build an MPA, rendering it with Preact
  • Consider memory-usage: SPAs tend to not let memory go. Then a reload is the only way to manage/reduce memory, which ends up being slow for the user (retrieving everything again from the server).
  • And don’t forget about lower-end devices, which are going to be optimized for MPA-style apps


How I built a modern website in 2021 by Kent C. Dodds

“Deploying the Node server to multiple regions is only part of the story though. To really get the network performance benefits of colocation, you need your data to be close by as well. So Fly also supports hosting Postgres and Redis clusters in each region as well. This means when an authorized user in Berlin goes to The Call Kent Podcast, they hit the closest server to them (Amsterdam) which will query the Postgres DB and Redis cache that are located in the same region, making the whole experience extremely fast wherever you are in the world.

“What’s more, I don’t have to make the trade-off of vendor lock-in. At any time I could take my toys home and host my site anywhere else that supports deploying Docker. This is why I didn’t go with a solution like Cloudflare Workers and FaunaDB. Additionally, I don’t have to retrofit/limit my app to the constraints of those services. I’m extremely happy with Fly and don’t expect to leave any time soon.”

“When the value is read from the cache, we return the value immediately to keep things fast. After the request is sent, we determine whether that cached value is expired and if it is, then we call cachified again with forceRefresh set to true.

This has the effect of making it so no user ever actually has to wait for getFreshValue. The trade-off is the last user to request the data after the expiration time gets the old value. I think this is a reasonable trade-off.”

“Another cool thing I’m doing that you may have noticed on the blog posts is on the server I make a request for the banner image that’s only 100px wide with a blur transform. Then I convert that into a base64 string. This is cached along with the other metadata about the post. Then when I server-render the post, I server-render the base64 blurred image scaled up (I also use backdrop-filter with CSS to smooth it out a bit from the upscale) and then fade-in the full-size image when it’s finished loading.

I feel strongly that magic links are the best authentication system for an app like mine. Keep in mind that pretty much every other app has a “magic link”-like auth system even if it’s implicit because of the “reset password” flow which emails you a link to reset your password. So it’s certainly not any less secure. In fact, actually more secure because there’s no password to lose.