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Book Review: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, by Bill Gates

 Bill Gates made an enormous fortune at a young age, and ever since, he and his wife Melinda have given much of it away.  He has solid credentials as both a Cassandra and a doer of good deeds.  More than six years ago, he was warning the World of the dangers of a major pandemic and urging the world leaders to prepare.  He was ignored, and covid-19 has swept away millions of lives and trillions of dollars in economic output.  His foundation’s global health initiatives are distinguished by careful analysis and scientifically targeted actions. He brings the same analytical mindset to the problem of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), namely by asking the fundamental questions: what is the threat, what can be done, what are the obstacles, and how much would it cost.   His book is not the place to find a careful analysis of the scientific basis and understanding of AGW or the evidence for it.   He accepts the testimony of the experts and looks squarely at the practical problems of effecti

Big Government

When Ronald Reagan first became a movie star and started making big money, he discovered that he had to pay taxes, and a lot of them.  This traumatic experience turned him from a Democrat into a Republican, which made him another type of star on the plutocrat speaking tour and and, later, Governor and President.  He popularized hatred of the government and became its biggest spokesman.  Today, Republicans living on one form or another all over the country think of themselves as anti-government activists. Political theorists have conjured up all matter of reasons why as to why governments were instituted among men, but history suggests that instituting irrigation was a major impetus, and subsequently, protecting crops and people from those who would appropriate them.  For a long time, government was the principal means by which development proceeded.  The development of Capitalism, and its apotheosis at the hands of Adam Smith and others, showed that there was another way.  By establish

Man and Mouse

Things to think about: Mice are rodents, and the rodent and primate lines separated a long time ago, probably on the order of about 75 million years ago. Mice are small-brained; they possess a neocortex but it is much smaller relative to that of primates, and, of course, minuscule in comparison to ours. Yet, comparison of mouse and human genomes reveals that greater than 99 percent of all genes in the human have a mouse counterpart, and vice versa. In fact, 96 percent of all genes in the human are found in the exact same relative order in human chromosomes as in the mouse chromosomes. This is a remarkable degree of similarity. These figures tell us that in the course of 75 million years of mammalian evolution, and at least 55 million years of primate evolution, our genome and that of a rodent contain essentially the same genes in mostly the same organization. Carroll, Sean B.. Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo (pp. 269-270). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Ed

Mau-mauing the Meritocracy

 Not being the sort of person who is tuned into such matters, I suppose that the first I heard about meritocracy being controversial was Dr. (DPhil, Oxford) Connolley's review of Michael Sandel's The Tyranny of Merit.   I tend to view his evaluations with skepticism, especially when he cites Hayek, but at least he is more entertaining than his guru.  He didn't like the book, and really, it is hard to dislike merit, though maybe not so much if it is purely priced in market value. I didn't think much about the subject until I noticed The Atlantic running a bunch of stories on the subject.  One of them was by Daniel Markovits , a Yale Law professor, who, among other things seems to have picked up a couple of degrees from Oxford, and is author of The Meritocracy Trap which anticipated Sandel by a year or two.  I haven't read his book either, but I did read his article in The Atlantic:  How Life Became an Endless, Terrible Competition  Meritocracy prizes achievement abo

Conquering Europe: Book Review

The Making of Europe, by Robert Bartlett. Before Europe conquered the world, Europeans conquered Europe (950-1350).  More precisely, one group the Normans, or Anglo-Normans, after conquering England, went on to conquer and colonize Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Spain, Portugal, much of Italy and Greece, much of the Baltic, and even a lot of the Holy Land.  Besides personal ferocity, they brought important military technology: armored heavy cavalry, the castle, and the crossbow.  Their victims, especially in the British Isles and the around the Baltic mostly lacked these, though they were bloody enough warriors themselves: slavers, pillagers, and cattle rustlers.  Their blades and light armor were no match for a charge of heavy cavalry paired with swarms of archers, and their counterattacks were defeated by the castles built by the conquering Franks, as they came to be called. The Muslims of Iberia, Sicily, and the Middle East had more sophisticated military technology, but at first, anyway

The SAT and the ASEA

The SAT test was invented when James Bryant Conant and a few others decided that smart kids from modest backgrounds should get a chance to attend university.  Lately, though, many top universities have gone to a test optional stance on admissions.  The purported reason for this is that such exams give an advantage to students with the resources to prepare for and do better on such exams. A more honest justification would call such policies the Asian Student Exclusion Act, or ASEA for short.  Elite schools at every level have seen their test qualified classes filling up with students of Asian ancestry, while the number of whites and especially students of color has shrunk. Similar reasoning has changed the admissions policies at our highly selective public high schools.  These schools have famously been incubators for some of our top scientists, mathematicians, and others.  A good question is whether eliminating the highly selective admissions tests will dilute student quality to a poin

Economics Zero

Economics is the science that is, among other things, concerned with the allocation of scarce resources.  Ever since the invention of agriculture and civilization, the most central scarce resource has been  agricultural land.  Such land has always been a scarce resource because of the principle discovered by Dr. Malthus - reproduction will tend to exceed the replacement rate and the Earth isn't making more land.   The dramatic expansion of the feudal system in the centuries just before and after the start of the Second Millennium of the Christian Era owes its dynamism to this fact.  Household knights usually could not marry unless they had a fief of land, and younger sons of a lord also faced the prospect of social status loss.  The solution for such a younger son was to recruit some landless knights and soldiers and set off for a foreign land to rob the local inhabitants.  If such a venture was successful, as in the case of William the Conqueror, the foot soldiers would become kni