Saturday, April 30, 2011

By the numbers

Our typical math skills seem quite undeveloped relative to our nuanced language skills [perhaps because in the world in which we evolved] communication was life and death, math was not. Have you not admired, as I have, the incredible average skill and, perhaps more importantly, the high minimum skill shown by our species in driving through heavy traffic? At what other activity does almost everyone perform so well? Just imagine what driving would be like if those driving skills, which reflect the requirements of our distant past, were replaced by our average math skills!
-- Jeremy Grantham in Quarterly Letter, April 2011
An estimated 1,400 billion tons of methane is stored in [East Siberian] deposits. By comparison, total human greenhouse gas emissions (including CO2) since 1750 amount to some 350 billion tons...Release of ECS methane is already contributing to Arctic amplification resulting in temperature increase exceeding twice the global average. The rate of release from the tundra alone is predicted to reach 1.5 billion tons of carbon per annum before 2030...
-- Agnostic and Daniel Bailey on Wakening the Kraken at Skeptical science.

Transmutation man

Acord was in favour of nuclear energy, and saw changing one element into another as the realisation of "mankind's most innate desire": alchemical transmutation. But he was wary of the nuclear industry's secrecy. Acord saw art as the way to wrest power from the hands of nuclear scientists. His aim was "to increase understanding and openness and transparency about nuclear issues".
-- from an obituary of the remarkable James Acord

Guerre des Etoiles Existentielles

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


We spend money we don't have, on things we don't need, to make impressions that don't last, on people we don't care about.
-- Tim Jackson quoted by Pat Kane

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The nation delights in servitude

We fought for the public good and would have enfranchised the people and secured the welfare of the whole groaning creation, if the nation had not delighted more in servitude than freedom
--John Cooke, quoted by Geoffrey Robertson


Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.
-- Christopher Hitchens

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Home of the unfree

America now jails more of its people than any country, including all totalitarian states. We pretend to a war against narcotics, but in truth, we are simply brutalizing and dehumanizing an urban underclass that we no longer need as a labor supply.
-- David Simon

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The sense of time

Time isn’t like the other senses, [David] Eagleman says. Sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing are relatively easy to isolate in the brain. They have discrete functions that rarely overlap: it’s hard to describe the taste of a sound, the color of a smell, or the scent of a feeling...But a sense of time is threaded through everything we perceive. It’s there in the length of a song, the persistence of a scent, the flash of a light bulb. “There’s always an impulse toward phrenology in neuroscience—toward saying, ‘Here is the spot where it’s happening,’ ” Eagleman told me. “But the interesting thing about time is that there is no spot. It’s a distributed property. It’s metasensory; it rides on top of all the others.”
-- from The Possibilian by Burkhard Bilger

Friday, April 15, 2011

Not getting somewhere, but being somewhere

Once, our ancestors walked the world. Then came domestication of animals and the wheel, and now the car. Today walking can be hard, as settlements and transport have become rearranged beyond our control. Many people still walk for pleasure, in urban parks or in the countryside. But few of us now walk far as part of daily lives. This disconnection from regular contact with the land has shifted our perspectives on memory, place and time. A few people have walked all their lives, and have seen how the land has changed. Ronald Blythe remembers that footpaths were once full of people moving about, working, interacting. These were like today’s main roads, except people talked and walked and watched. The old countryside was peopled. Blythe writes, “friends never tire of telling me that my life would be transformed if only I could drive a car, quite forgetting how transformed it has been because I cannot.” The trouble is, we get out less today, and the resulting alienation from nature is contributing to environmental problems. We are suffering in short from an extinction of natural experience. “I wish to make an extreme statement”, said Thoreau, “walking is about the genius for sauntering. It is not about getting somewhere, but being somewhere.” Edward Abbey was blunter: “you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees.”
-- Jules Pretty

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Opening up the dimension of time

With Yasujiro Ozu, Orson Welles and others like Jean Renoir, you get images that no longer are strictly driven by the narrative purpose but start to take on a descriptive function.

The link between perceiving the world...[and] knowing how to act on it in order to transform it, that link has now undergone some kind of crisis, some kind of breakdown.
-- from Alan Saunders and Robert Sinnerbrink on Gilles Deleuze and the philosophy of film

Sinnerbrink calls two recent Australian films -- Samson and Delilah, and Ten Canoes -- Deleuzian. Agreed. Another could be a film that influenced many that came after it: Walkabout.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Sunday, April 03, 2011


The total costs of coal may be high, but the total costs of nuclear power are, in any meaningful sense, incalculable.
-- Thomas Noyes

P.S. 6 April: a roundup on the nuclear debate by Mike Child, and Joe Stiglitz on risk

P.S. 15 April: (surprise!) nuclear operators in Europe 'want liability capped at €0.7bn or at most €1.3bn '

Friday, April 01, 2011

Jeremy's stiffs

Last year I suggested that Jeremy Clarkson be held to account for extra deaths attributable to the switching off of speed cameras in Oxfordshire. Now it looks as if the evidence is in:
Speed cameras in Oxfordshire, which were switched off for cost-cutting reasons, have been turned back on again following publication of higher casualty figures...

...Superintendent Rob Povey, head of roads policing for Thames Valley, said: "This is important because we know that speed kills and speed is dangerous. We have shown in Oxfordshire that speed has increased through monitoring limits and we have noticed an increase in fatalities and the number of people seriously injured in 2010."
P.S. 20 May: 'Speed camera switch-off empowers reckless driving,' writes George Monbiot.

'Trump in 12'

In 2004 I took the URL for this web site from what seemed like a third rate joke. If I were updating it now I would call it 'Trump in 12'. Thanks to Lewis Black for showing the way.

Joe Stiglitz anatomizes the consquences of the rule of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%.