Showing posts from February, 2019


Six million years ago a couple in Africa had two sons and their names were Cain and .... Let me try that again. Six million or so years ago there was a population of apes living in Africa who shared a lot of DNA (like 99%) with their surviving descendants, chimpanzees, bonobos and humans.  They probably looked a lot like those descendants, had brains about like chimps, were hairy like chimps and gorillas, and walked like them, but we really don't know because there is no trace of them in the fossil record.  Some of their offspring became chimps and bonobos, but we don't know much about their evolution since they didn't leave any trace in the fossil record for another 5 plus million years.  Other branches did start leaving traces a couple of millions of years later and they tend to be chimp sized, with chimp sized brains, but may have walked slightly more like humans. By about three million years ago some definitely upright walkers appeared.  They were still about chimp

Carbon Taxes

Sensible people* agree: carbon taxes are the simplest and best way to control carbon emissions. So why can't we do it, and I'm talking mostly about the US here? Because people don't like them.  Of course people mostly don't like any taxes, but carbon taxes are particularly anathema here in the US of A, and that goes double for the West, where roads are long and places worth stopping at are hard to come by. I estimate that roughly 90%** of the vehicles that I see daily are pickups, and a good percentage of them are 4x4s with monster tires. A good chunk of these secure those tires with beadlock rims.  I can't think of anybody who needs beadlocks who doesn't do serious off-roading and rock crawling.  If all those beadlock bedecked tires are out crawling every weekend it's hard to believe our mountains aren't already dust. Anyway, people out here love their SUVs and trucks, so any residual concern for the grandkids takes a poor second to the prime di

Nietzsche - Zarathustra

After study and contemplation I have concluded that Nietzsche was wrong: what doesn't kill me usually just makes me easier to  kill next time.

More is Different and Less is More

Perhaps the most consequential difference between humans and our fellow great apes is the radical increase in brain size that occurred in the human lineage.  It seems plausible that that is closely associated with the development of speech and technology that have made us so numerous and ubiquitous.  Oddly enough, though, when genes expressed in the brain are compared, they show less divergence between chimp and human than any others (the most divergent are genes expressed in the testis). What does seem to have changed in those brain genes is that their expression has be up-regulated - in some ways a human brain is just an overclocked or increased displacement chimp brain.  This is not terribly surprising if one considers recent progress in artificial neural networks - the main difference between the neural networks of twenty years ago and the modern, super smart ones is scale - the number of neurons (nodes) and interconnections. One prominent difference between chimps and humans a

Another Piece of the Wall

Trump and Beto gave duelling speeches in El Paso tonight a mile or two apart.  Oddly enough, it was quite difficult to get to the anti-Trump rally, because a long train of flatcars carrying military vehicles was parked squarely across all the convenient streets leading to the rally. Who do you suppose ordered that?

Hail Something, Full of Grit

Sometimes, five seconds of news is all I can take.  Whatever channel I flicked thru had some Kennedyish looking ginger fellow speaking at what appeared to be a rally to announce Elizabeth Warren's presidential campaign. I caught these memorable words: "Phoenix, a city full of grit..." I never found out where that was headed, since I had hit the off button, but I did find myself thinking that that was mainly during the summer, when the city gets blasted by the occasional great Arizona haboob. They are gritty indeed.

Colored People

At one point during his State of the Union speech, Trump pointed out Melania for some reason and she stood up.  She was a shade of orange that almost made the Donald look Caucasian. 

Inequality and Technological Progress

Another favorite trope of the right is that inequality is necessary for technological progress.  Like many fantastical tales, this has a germ of truth, but seems to be more false than true.  What is clear is that technological progress requires accumulation and allocation of capital.  The plausible mechanisms for that are capitalism and socialism.  It's probably not a coincidence that every successful economy in the world today is mixed, with both capitalist and socialist elements. Most pure science, for example, is almost purely socialist, practiced and driven by institutions which are funded and run in a socialized fashion, with profit motives being a minor or nonexistent component of their operations.  One can not imagine, or at least I can't imagine, CERN or the Space Telescope Institute run as for profit organizations.  Both of these institutions, and all similar ones, do depend heavily on profit making institutions to supply their instruments, infrastructure and element

Technological Advance and Capitalism

There is a fantasy in some quarters that capitalism is what made the modern world of rapid technological advance happen.  It would be a good deal more accurate to say that technological advance made capitalism possible.  Capitalism doesn't really work in a technologically and economically stagnant world, because competition reduces return on investment toward zero. Neither of the foregoing really captures the reality very well though.  Technological advance comes almost entirely from scientific advance, and historically, scientific advance comes almost entirely from socialized institutions like universities and government laboratories.  What capitalism is really good at, though, is exploiting technological advance to create economic change.  Socialism, by contrast, seems to be rather bad at that.