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2020-09-14

Russell on Rouseau and the Romantics

119194030_1580768688786112_4489331878176668598_o The chapter on Rousseau begins with the witty Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–78), though a philosophe in the eighteenth-century French sense, was not what would now be called a 'philosopher'. Nevertheless he had a powerful influence on philosophy, as on literature and taste and manners and politics. Whatever may be our opinion of his merits as a thinker, we must recognize his immense importance as a social force. This importance came mainly from his appeal to the heart, and to what, in his day, was called 'sensibility'. He is the father of the romantic movement, the initiator of systems of thought which infer non-human facts from human emotions, and the inventor of the political philosophy of pseudo-democratic dictatorships as opposed to traditional absolute monarchies. Ever since his time, those who considered themselves reformers have been divided into two groups, those who followed him and those who followed Locke. Sometimes they co-operated, and many individuals saw no incompatibility. But gradually the incompatibility has become increasingly evident. At the present time, Hitler is an outcome of Rousseau; Roosevelt and Churchill, of Locke. I skip over the matter of his personal morals.

Closer to my particular point is the chapter preceding, on the Romantic movement:

It is not the psychology of the romantics that is at fault: it is their standard of values. They admire strong passions, of no matter what kind, and whatever may be their social consequences. Romantic love, especially when unfortunate, is strong enough to win their approval, but most of the strongest passions are destructive—hate and resentment and jealousy, remorse and despair, outraged pride and the fury of the unjustly oppressed, martial ardour and contempt for slaves and cowards. Hence the type of man encouraged by romanticism, especially of the Byronic variety, is violent and anti-social, an anarchic rebel or a conquering tyrant.

This outlook makes an appeal for which the reasons lie very deep in human nature and human circumstances. By self-interest Man has become gregarious, but in instinct he has remained to a great extent solitary; hence the need of religion and morality to reinforce self-interest. But the habit of forgoing present satisfactions for the sake of future advantages is irksome, and when passions are roused the prudent restraints of social behaviour become difficult to endure. Those who, at such times, throw them off, acquire a new energy and sense of power from the cessation of inner conflict, and, though they may come to disaster in the end, enjoy meanwhile a sense of godlike exaltation which, though known to the great mystics, can never be experienced by a merely pedestrian virtue. The solitary part of their nature reasserts itself, but if the intellect survives the reassertion must clothe itself in myth. The mystic becomes one with God, and in the contemplation of the Infinite feels himself absolved from duty to his neighbour. The anarchic rebel does even better: he feels himself not one with God, but God. Truth and duty, which represent our subjection to matter and to our neighbours, exist no longer for the man who has become God; for others, truth is what he posits, duty what he commands. If we could all live solitary and without labour, we could all enjoy this ecstasy of independence; since we cannot, its delights are only available to madmen and dictators...

The romantic movement, in its essence, aimed at liberating human personality from the fetters of social convention and social morality. In part, these fetters were a mere useless hindrance to desirable forms of activity, for every ancient community has developed rules of behaviour for which there is nothing to be said except that they are traditional. But egoistic passions, when once let loose, are not easily brought again into subjection to the needs of society. Christianity has succeeded, to some extent, in taming the Ego, but economic, political, and intellectual causes stimulated revolt against the Churches, and the romantic movement brought the revolt into the sphere of morals. By encouraging a new lawless Ego it made social co-operation impossible, and left its disciples faced with the alternative of anarchy or despotism. Egoism, at first, made men expect from others a parental tenderness; but when they discovered, with indignation, that others had their own Ego, the disappointed desire for tenderness turned to hatred and violence. Man is not a solitary animal, and so long as social life survives, self-realization cannot be the supreme principle of ethics.

It looks like he agrees with Popper - or perhaps vice versa  - over Hegel (both Fichte and Hegel were philosophic mouthpieces of Prussia). All this may become clearer when I write my long-delayed review of TOSAIE. But I stopped too soon; back directly to Rousseau:

In theology he made an innovation which has now been accepted by the great majority of Protestant theologians. Before him, every philosopher from Plato onwards, if he believed in God, offered intellectual arguments in favour of his belief. The arguments may not, to us, seem very convincing, and we may feel that they would not have seemed cogent to anyone who did not already feel sure of the truth of the conclusion. But the philosopher who advanced the arguments certainly believed them to be logically valid, and such as should cause certainty of God's existence in any unprejudiced person of sufficient philosophical capacity. Modern Protestants who urge us to believe in God, for the most part, despise the old 'proofs', and base their faith upon some aspect of human nature—emotions of awe or mystery, the sense of right and wrong, the feeling of aspiration, and so on. This way of defending religious belief was invented by Rousseau. It has become so familiar that his originality may easily not be appreciated by a modern reader, unless he will take the trouble to compare Rousseau with (say) Descartes or Leibniz... 

The rejection of reason in favour of the heart was not, to my mind, an advance. In fact, no one thought of this device so long as reason appeared to be on the side of religious belief. In Rousseau's environment, reason, as represented by Voltaire, was opposed to religion, therefore away with reason! Moreover reason was abstruse and difficult; the savage, even when he has dined, cannot understand the ontological argument, and yet the savage is the repository of all necessary wisdom. Rousseau's savage—who was not the savage known to anthropologists—was a good husband and a kind father; he was destitute of greed, and had a religion of natural kindliness. He was a convenient person, but if he could follow the good Vicar's reasons for believing in God he must have had more philosophy than his innocent naïveté would lead one to expect.

Apart from the fictitious character of Rousseau's 'natural man', there are two objections to the practice of basing beliefs as to objective fact upon the emotions of the heart. One is that there is no reason whatever to suppose that such beliefs will be true; the other is, that the resulting beliefs will be private, since the heart says different things to different people.

Update


There's a bit more worth adding, for my future reference if nothing else. The end of the chapter: The Social Contract became the Bible of most of the leaders in the French Revolution, but no doubt, as is the fate of Bibles, it was not carefully read and was still less understood by many of its disciples. It reintroduced the habit of metaphysical abstractions among the theorists of democracy, and by its doctrine of the general will it made possible the mystic identification of a leader with his people, which has no need of confirmation by so mundane an apparatus as the ballot-box. Much of its philosophy could be appropriated by Hegel5 in his defence of the Prussian autocracy. Its first-fruits in practice were the reign of Robespierre; the dictatorships of Russia and Germany (especially the latter) are in part an outcome of Rousseau's teaching. What further triumphs the future has to offer to his ghost I do not venture to predict.

And then there's Kant, who doesn't really belong here, but at the moment I don't want to give him a page to himself, and Russell has him in the "Romantic" tradition. See-also Kant's Cats where Popper tries to make sense of him. Kant is held to be "difficult" and obscure, and I've not read him; and of course I'd be reading a translation, which will inevitably filter in the translators ideas, because Kant is so obscure as to be hard to translate, unlike Popper. Anyway.

One of Kant's proofs of the existence of God is given as The argument is that the moral law demands justice, i.e. happiness proportional to virtue. Only Providence can insure this, and has evidently not insured it in this life. Therefore there is a God and a future life; and there must be freedom, since otherwise there would be no such thing as virtue. This is an interesting thought, but obviously also bollox.

There's also Kant's apparent belief in what I think are called synthetic a priori, which is things not of pure logic that can be deduced outside of actual experience. Of which - I think; but it is obscure, and his defenders obscure it more - the Euclidean nature of Space is one. As Russell puts it: The transcendental (or epistemological) argument, which is best stated in the Prolegomena, is more definite than the metaphysical arguments, and is also more definitely refutable. 'Geometry', as we now know, is a name covering two different studies. On the one hand, there is pure geometry, which deduces consequences from axioms, without inquiring whether the axioms are 'true'; this contains nothing that does not follow from logic, and is not 'synthetic', and has no need of figures such as are used in geometrical textbooks. On the other hand, there is geometry as a branch of physics, as it appears, for example, in the general theory of relativity; this is an empirical science, in which the axioms are inferred from measurements, and are found to differ from Euclid's. Thus of the two kinds of geometry one is a priori but not synthetic, while the other is synthetic but not a priori. This disposes of the transcendental argument. Or in other words, Science 1, Philosphy 0. Again.


Refs


SAGE versus reality - James; not forgetting the Weekly RRRRRRReport.
* It's Complicated: Grasping the Syllogism by Bryan Caplan: interesting, but not one of his best.
* An Unpersuasive Book with Some Encouraging Insights - Henderson on Raghuram Rajan's "the Third Pillar".

2020-09-09

Bad beekeeping Autumnm 2020

After Bad beekeeping 2020 we come to the autumn edition. Here's the "before" picture, though I admit that, almost unbelievably, this is after some tidy up. The huge green leaves to the left are a horse raddish, or so I was assured. I've not tried to dig up the roots.

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A bit more hackery got me access to both, and now it's time to open up. Notice the smoker is more gaffer tape than anything else.

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"Old Faithful" on the left. I only opened up the top super, which is mostly full. On the right, a filled frame from the middle; on the left, a largely empty frame from the edge. Needs emptying really to give them some space come springtime. Note hive tool: also excellent for weeding between paving slabs.

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On the right, "Coppertop" with three supers. The top one is somewhat less full than OF...

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...and the middle super was completely empty, the bees having ignored it in preference to the heights. Well, they're like that sometimes.

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So I've ordered some Apistan to treat them, and when that turns up will set to and take off some of their excess before winter sets in.

Aftermath

A few days later - the 12th - was a sunny Saturday with little wind, perfect for taking off some honey, and putting in my Apistan. The pix below are largely for my mythical records. Let's start with OF; here we are at the brrod box, with the comb looking mighty dark, time for some refresh come spring I think.

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I took out five frames - here they are - from the top. I can't recall looking at the lower super much; but from the recalling lift, it was maybe half or two thirds full.

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Oh yes I recall now: fairly busy, but mostly uncapped; here's an example. So I left it.

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Here's CopperTop's brood box, with the tabs of the Apistan showing where I've inserted them. I'm a bit late doing this, so finding time to take them out will be tricky. The new queen excluder here has too much space underneath hence the blobs of comb / honey; and also the mesh is falling away from the frame, must find some time to repair that.

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And here's CT just before reassembly, with OF in the background.

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I took four frames out of CT, for nine in all, span them that afternoon, getting about 16 lbs, which is decent for ~one super, effectively. Tracking mark: WMC-2020-A(utumn); and -W(arm) for that which I heated.


Refs

* A VEGAN SOLUTION TO SEA LEVEL RISE?
* Two Cheers for Small Business by Alberto Mingardi
* Misinformation and foreign policy by Scott Sumner

2020-09-03

Russell on Aristotle's Politics

IMG_20200825_143407_207 I'm (re)reading, for various purposes, Russell's A History of Western Philosophy. As with so many things outside my field, the problem is to find reliable opinions. I like Russell's text. Unlike many books discussing other philosophers, Russell is not afraid to speak his mind and has meaningful opinions1. Far too many others are so in awe of their subjects that they say nothing useful about them. Looking at the wiki article I can see he has wound up the usual suspects, which is a good sign. Who can forget the immortal The critic George Steiner, writing in Heidegger, described A History of Western Philosophy as "vulgar", noting that Russell omits any mention of Martin Heidegger.

However, I think he gets Aristotle's Politics wrong. Firstly he misses its practical nature, in comparison the the idealism of Plato. There is far more discussion of what actually happened; and different constitutions. And secondly, he misses - I think due to his egalitarianism, or equalitarianism - what I was pushing before: that simple majoritarianism isn't a good idea.


Refs


* The text is available here.

* What Is Populism? The People V. the People by Pierre Lemieux


Notes


1. Example: I conclude that the Aristotelian doctrines with which we have been concerned in this chapter are wholly false, with the exception of the formal theory of the syllogism, which is unimportant. Any person in the present day who wishes to learn logic will be wasting his time if he reads Aristotle or any of his disciples. None the less, Aristotle's logical writings show great ability, and would have been useful to mankind if they had appeared at a time when intellectual originality was still active. Unfortunately, they appeared at the very end of the creative period of Greek thought, and therefore came to be accepted as authoritative. By the time that logical originality revived, a reign of two thousand years had made Aristotle very difficult to dethrone. Throughout modern times, practically every advance in science, in logic, or in philosophy has had to be made in the teeth of opposition from Aristotle's disciples. Compare The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or Wiki.

2020-08-13

Coronavirus days: France

IMG_20200725_080843 We went on holiday to France at the end of July / beginning of August. This isn't about the holiday, but about the Covid aspects. Nothing dramatic, but it may be of interest.

We drove, via Eurotunnel. That probably involves the least human contact. For fans of CO2 accounting, it was about three tanks of diesel, about 240 litres or a little less. For Covid reasons, Eurotunnel doesn't let you out of your car on the trip, and for bonus points someone wanders around during the transit cleaning the sides of the carriage that you can't touch cos you can't get out... Before you go, Eurotunnel solemnly tells you on the website that you need to fill out a form for the French govt solemnly swearing that you haven't got Covid, and so on. We solemnly did this, and it was a total waste of time, as absolutely no-one looked at them. 

The French mountain huts website told us to fill out a similar form, and it too was a total waste of time. Somewhat more annoyingly, the sites told us that due to Covid there would be no blankets and we needed to bring up our own sleeping bag. That turned out to be nonsense too but cos us 1 kg each. As it happened, it was a fairly warm period, and I just slept in my sheet liner anyway.

IMG_20200802_074936 Within the refuges, the sense was of having rules, but not really caring about them. Here are the Glacier Blanc's. They carefully have a "circulation system" that makes no sense at all, because there is only one staircase, and only one entrance. People tended to wear a mask when they first went in, realise no-one else was, and then stop. They did make some attempt to enforce "only 10 people in the lobby" but although it is a fairly expansive boot-room, you can barely fit more than 10 even if you try.

In practice, we were outdoors by ourselves almost all day most days; or in the valley in our own apartment (which I chose slightly at random but was better for lack of human contact than a hotel). In the evening the huts did group meals as usual and as usual made no attempt to use all of the tables.

Supermarkets tended to have hand-san. Restaurants, supermarkets, cathedrals, buildings in general were mask-obligatoire indoors, and everyone did that. Since it was mostly rather warm, eating outdoors was hardly a restriction. On the drive back it was so hot in Dijon that it would have been quite nice to go inside into the air-conned restos, but we decided not to. Here's a pic of Vallouise's weekly outdoor market.

We may have got out just in time. The papers tell me that the govt is considering adding France to the quarantine list; not that it is clear that the UK quarantine means anything. But, we can all sleep better knowing that "Matt Hancock [is] closely monitoring [the] situation". Update: it's happened.

I think that's it. I leave you with a pic: walking up to Les Bans.

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Refs

* What’s Destroying Our Culture?
* You Will Not Stampede Me by Bryan Caplan
* A blurb too far - Kerry Emanuel on Schellenburger.
* The new McCarthyism by Scott Sumner

2020-08-11

Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Hockey stick controversy

IMG_20200725_082845_240 Alas poor HSC, I knew it well. Too well perhaps. You can still view its magnificent bloated final state at archive.is, but if you visit the original wiki URL you'll now get redirected to Hockey stick graph. The delete discussion is at Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Hockey stick controversy. I think the decision itself is arguably wrong, and indeed I argued against it; certainly some of the arguments for delete were weird.

My keep rational was
I think the controversy is notable. Arguably the article is too long, but that can be fixed by shortening, not deleting it. Also I don't think its a fork; it is its own subject. Saying it gives undue weight to the political debate is somewhat odd, because the political debate is the main point of the controversy.
G replied but the political debate was not in good faith, that's the point. The "controversy" was engineered and sustained by the climate change denial industry which to my mind is just wrong, because, as I said That the controversy was not in good faith is irrelevant to the deletion debate; that's a discussion about the page content. FWIW, though, I do not believe that the debate was entirely or originally "engineered"; it would be better to say that the flames of what could have been a valid scientific discussion were fanned out of all proportion. And of course the degree of plausibility of debate has changed over time; nowadays, with multiple independent repros, there's nothing left, scientifically, but this article isn't (shouldn't be) about the science. You are I think right that the page is too huge and doubtless duplicates much that is in the HS page.

But maybe this is a sign o' the times: all these controversies we so lovingly participated in, in the olde dayes, are of no interest to yoof today: the HS is just accepted, unless you're a nutter.

Refs


* Pic: cat of Troyes.

2020-08-09

Did you miss me yeah, while I was away?

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I'm back. Did you miss me? Well no probably not. We were back in the Ecrins, I shall bore you with more pix later, but for now this is a placeholder to excuse my failure to respond to comments and posts.

This pic largely summarises our holiday, if you know where to look.  Taken from the Montagne des Agneaux which I have finally got up. It is a good route, but long. Center: Glacier Blanc, and high point slightly L is the Barre des Ecrins. Sadly, bits of serac had fallen off not long ago and so it was strongly deconseillee. Instead we did the Pic du Glacier D'Arsine - on the spine to the R of the Gl Blanc - and Point Louise - again on the spine but further back. Before the Agneaux we did the Dome du Monetier, well sort of, actually the Pic du Rif, which is above the snowy glacier to the L, from the Lac d'Eychauda, which is off the pic and too low to see L. Peaking out off R are just visible two milky blue lakes at the Col d'Arsine, where we walked up to camp for our last night up. Looming darkly mid-L are the dents of the Pelvoux, which we once again didn't even attempt.

2020-07-22

Into the distance disappear the mounds of human heads

covid Mandlestam, of course. But it isn't quite working out like that. My graph shows a puzzle: in orange, right axis, the USA new cases. In blue, right axis, new stiffs. Both with Excel's finest 7-point smoothing applied, without which you see a distinct weekly cycle.

When the case numbers started going up - quite a while ago now - you could fairly hear the slavering in some quarters. But the deaths - whilst higher than we'd like - are resolutely refusing to skyrocket1. And even the new cases seems to be slowing somewhat. Before you splutter with outrage into your cornflakes, I'm not claiming this is a glorious success.

Explanations for the odd failure of deaths to increase vary. If you're Trump, you'll laud the increase in testing. There was some weak evidence I saw suggesting more Yoof were getting it, and they don't tend to die. And maybe the sawbones have worked out how to keep it from killing people.

The Russia Report


Meanwhile in the UK the Russia Report turned out to be rather dull. In other news, the US maintains a chain of radio stations intended to influence behaviour. The best they could do was The British government and intelligence agencies failed to conduct any proper assessment of Kremlin attempts to interfere with the 2016 Brexit referendum, which does seem rather careless. OTOH, comparisons with the Dem leaks seems foolish: we didn't find out about those due to the spooks, we found out because they were published. And all this is the product of 18 months’ work involving evidence taken from the UK’s spy agencies and independent experts - how you can take that long to draw such negligible conclusions is hard to understand, unless you're on per diem. Disclaimer: I haven't read the actual report. Has anyone else bothered to, and if so, does it say anything interesting? James has his own conclusions.

Jem Bendell is an idiot


ATTP has belatedly discovered that Jem Bendell is an idiot.

Notes


1. I do hope this post doesn't jinx them.

Reading the report


I found the report (thx Graun) and am obliged to say that they get the Commies spot-on in their intro:

The security threat posed by Russia is difficult for the West to manage as, in our view and that of many others, it appears fundamentally nihilistic. Russia seems to see foreign policy as a zero-sum game: any actions it can take which damage the West are fundamentally good for Russia. It is also seemingly fed by paranoia, believing that Western institutions such as NATO and the EU have a far more aggressive posture towards it than they do in reality. There is also a sense that Russia believes that an undemocratic ‘might is right’ world order plays to its strengths, which leads it to seek to undermine the Rules Based International Order – whilst nonetheless benefitting from its membership of international political and economic institutions. Russia’s substantive aims, however, are relatively limited: it wishes to be seen as a resurgent ‘great power’ – in particular, dominating the countries of the former USSR – and to ensure that the privileged position of its leadership clique is not damaged.
I don't care for The clearest requirement for immediate action is for new legislation, because yet more bloody legislation is always the answer any of the cttees always produce, and the govt happily jumps on it. And in this case they are vague as to what it might be; the usual "throw some more words at the problem" approach.

Although the reports asserts that GCHQ assesses that Russia is a highly capable cyber actor with a proven capabilityto carry out operations, all the examples it then gives are either abroad, or mere attempts. There's nothing about actual success in the UK. This seems rather a large gap. Are we forced to assume that Ivan's successes against the UK are so brilliant (and well hidden?) that we'd better not mention them? There is a link to Reckless campaign of cyber attacks by Russian military intelligence service exposed which do appear to be reckless and rather badly targetted, unless they really intended to damage their own central bank.

Continuing, Russia’s promotion of disinformation and its attempts at broader political influence overseas have been widely reported, which is nice, but this is all publicly available stuff and so also rather dull. They do have the grace to say We note that Russia’s disinformation efforts against the West are dwarfed by those which the Russian statec onducts against its own population.

By para 31 we're onto The UK is clearly a target for Russia’s disinformation campaigns and political influence operations and must therefore equip itself to counter such efforts. Unfortunately, being the sort of people they are, their ideas for doing this are all fun sekrit stuff, rather than the dull but necessary business of building civil society. For example, we could have a govt that people trust to provide statistics on Covid deaths, thereby helping to remove FUD. And then predictably enough they go in for another round of fb bashing; clowns.

I think that's enough great analysis for now. Oops no just one little extra gem: The impact of any such attempts [Russia sought to influence the2016 referendum] would be difficult – if not impossible – to assess, and we have not sought to do so looks like a cop-out.

Refs


BlueSkiesResearch.org.uk: Back to the future; ATTP: Climate sensitivity – narrowing the range (and links therein);

2020-07-14

Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate Plan

74324786_1511965192333129_1503775106073515566_o Or so says the NYT. Which appears to be having a spot of bother just recently. Not to mention SlateStarCodex. Never mind, we'll press on. If you're at all familiar with my thinking, you'll guess with no trouble that I think his plan is stupid. Without even having to read it! How can I know this? Because his principal aim is to spend $2T. Instead, implement a carbon tax, sit back in your golfisnoozemobile and bask in the warm glow of a job well done.

There are two articles: first, July 9th, In ‘Buy American’ Speech, Biden Challenges Trump on the Economy; then July 14th, Biden to Release $2 Trillion Climate Plan which refs the first. The first is obviously stupid: economic nationalism is dumb, and attempting to out-orange the Mango is even dumber. Why can't Biden make a principled stand for free trade, lower barriers between nations, international friendship and cooperation, instead of trying to outdo idiot protectionism? There must be a constituency in the USA that is economically literate and probably includes many Conservatives who are sick of Trump's vandalism in this regard and would like the chance to vote for someone who isn't an economic vandal. So let's move on to the second.

The NYT worries the plan will also test whether Mr. Biden has found a way to win over environmental activists and other progressives who have long been skeptical about the scope of his ambitions on climate. But anyone like that is already a not-Trump-therefore-Biden voter - unless they're mad - so doesn't need appeasing. I react very badly to The plan also calls for establishing an office of environmental and climate justice at the Department of Justice. And The plan also will call for investing in carbon capture and storage technology is doubtful: CCS wasn't ready for the big time a year ago and I don't think it is now.

The Graun offers The new proposal outlines $2tn for clean energy infrastructure and other climate solutions, to be spent as quickly as possible in the next four years, what would be the Democrat’s first term in office. Last year, he proposed $1.7tn in spending over 10 years (my bold) and that just looks like a recipe for disaster.

Enough second hand stuff. Why not just read his own words. First para: create millions of good-paying jobs blah blah motherhood-n-apple-pie, and a bad idea. Second para: he's talking about Trump. FFS. This is supposed to be his plan! Has he really got so little to say? Third para: he's still talking about Trump! Skips a bit: Create millions of good, union jobs rebuilding... No, I can't read any more. What's the most important thing to do to curb police brutality in the USA? Curb the police unions. what's the most important thing to improve public-school teaching? Curb the teaching unions.

I can't raise any enthusiasm for Biden. He's better than Trump, he's better than Sanders, he's more likely to get elected than Clinton, but that's about it.

Meanwhile, speaking of stupidity, Huawei 5G kit must be removed from UK by 2027. Although, we've mostly caving in to pressure from the Mango Mussolini. Perhaps if Biden gets in we'll just change our mind again.

Refs


The world’s wealth is looking increasingly unnatural - Economist

Wikipedia: the dim and distant history of NPOV

blog-grant2 Someone asked me by email about the shifting history of NPOV on wiki; as is my wont, I'll answer by blog. For those not part of the in-crowd, that's Wikipedia:Neutral point of view:
All encyclopedic content on Wikipedia must be written from a neutral point of view (NPOV), which means representing fairly, proportionately, and, as far as possible, without editorial bias, all the significant views that have been published by reliable sources on a topic. NPOV is a fundamental principle of Wikipedia and of other Wikimedia projects. It is also one of Wikipedia's three core content policies; the other two are "Verifiability" and "No original research". These policies jointly determine the type and quality of material that is acceptable in Wikipedia articles, and, because they work in harmony, they should not be interpreted in isolation from one another. Editors are strongly encouraged to familiarize themselves with all three. This policy is non-negotiable, and the principles upon which it is based cannot be superseded by other policies or guidelines, nor by editor consensus.
So that's all very nice. How does it actually work?

Describe the controversy?


One way of "dealing" with a difference of views is to simply write down the two opposing sides, perhaps in some sense doing so at length proportional to the weight (in vociferousness or reliability) of either side. There's a strong tendency for articles to veer in this direction, sometimes as a result of editorial compromise: you want this bit of text, I want that bit, let's put both in. But this he-said-she-said type of text doesn't work for the reader, and this has been policy for ages: Segregation of text or other content into different regions or subsections, based solely on the apparent POV of the content itself, may result in an unencyclopedic structure, such as a back-and-forth dialogue between proponents and opponents. It may also create an apparent hierarchy of fact where details in the main passage appear "true" and "undisputed", whereas other, segregated material is deemed "controversial", and therefore more likely to be false. Try to achieve a more neutral text by folding debates into the narrative, rather than isolating them into sections that ignore or fight against each other. So the answer is that ever since I've been aware of this, the idea is to have one unified text. The ultimate unversion of this is the POV-fork, where people attempt to have two independent articles presenting different viewpoints. This is forbidden, correctly.

Due and undue weight, balance, false balance


The good book tells us that Neutrality requires that each article or other page in the mainspace fairly represent all significant viewpoints that have been published by reliable sources, in proportion to the prominence of each viewpoint in the published, reliable sources. In the case of global warming, this presents a problem for the nutters, because their views are almost invariably published in unreliable sources like blog posts (pttiiiing!!!) or drivel on the Heartland site or similar. So - and I'm going by memory here rather than tedious trawling back through diffs and long-archived talk pages - the "compromise" by the Forces of Good was to actually allow more "septic" content than was really warranted; since even a decade or more ago the scientific balance was at least 95% "pro" GW, the "anti" sections would have been very short indeed had we followed the "prominence" guideline, from a scientific point of view. There's a get-out, of course, in that we can also include political prominence, but then the septics tended to get sad when we write things like "of course it was politically controversial but they had no science to back up their politics".

Fight!


All of this used to be dead exciting and it was a constant - chooses word carefully, who knows, people might quote me - struggle to keep content scientifically sane against the forces of unreason. I am not, of course, speaking only of my own efforts. But nowadays the Forces of Evil seem to have pretty well given up the fight; the height of their ambition appears to be to remove the dreaded D-word from  articles of no importance, and when their feeble efforts come to naught they simply slink away. This has had mostly good effects: people can get on with improving articles without worrying that some idiots will hack them up. Sometimes though the lack of stimulus leads to articles stagnating somewhat; I think that Attribution of recent climate change isn't as up to date as it could be, for example.

Ch-ch-ch-changes


And how has this all evolved over time? This alas is a difficult question as I kept no notes and my memory is fallible. Per The dim and distant history of Global Warming on Wiki: Introduction, when I first arrived in 2003, things were very much Wild West and almost anything went, there wasn't even any 3RR, can you believe that? And when 3RR did turn up, it was very strictly 3R in 24h, which you could keep up for days; nowadays you'd get blocked for that.

I don't think the policies themselves evolved much (other than WP:BLP) but people's awareness of them did, and how much people used them in argument. Example: I was an active climatologist back then and Knew Stuff so quite often I'd simply write things into articles with no sources. Naughty me. But recall back in those days there were far fewer online sources. Over time, we attached sources to the words. My point of view was that truth was more important than exact sourcing, and in this I differed from policy. But I was always happy with the NPOV policy.

During the initial Wild West there was a tendency for articles to end up somewhat he-said-she-said, but this was always against policy; it's just we didn't know it, or know how to reach an acceptable compromise. Over time, this got flattened out; partly as newer editors came on board. And the gradual shift in tone of, say, the GW article reflects the change in science over the last ~2 decades: naturally, the "voice" has firmed up as things once tentative became clear. This you would expect. The appearance of successive IPCC reports were I think milestones in this process; they were exactly the kind of synthesis that wiki asks for (it prefers secondary sources to primary ones).

The Great Big Arbcomm Case


See here on my talk page for full - ahem - details; or see my blog post of the time, They make a wasteland and call it peace. As you'll notice, I wasn't happy with that: unthinking and stupid is a fair brief summary. But by then I already knew that Arbcomm collectively were idiots, like most committees, however intelligent they might be individually. But note that in terms of content it had little effect.

Water vapour


Not vapor, Yankee scum. The role of water vapour in GW is an interesting case in point. Septics like to say it is far more important than CO2. Sane people have been pointing out for ages that Water vapour is not the dominant greenhouse gas. But the problem was that (since tis was f*ck*ng obvious to people of the meanest intelligence) no-one had bothered write it down in a scientific paper or other RS. Eventually (if I recall this right) Gavin actually did some work to quantify things; and now there are perfectly decent sources.

Refs


* NPOV Blues - 2004; promising title, but alas not informative.
* Firing and the Left by Bryan Caplan

2020-07-13

Orange Man Bad

Via TF comes this glorious piece of nonsense: USA TODAY: The claim: Trump campaign shirts feature imperial eagle, a Nazi symbol: Our ruling: True. Fortunately, the Trump campaign is onto this one, responding This is moronic. In true "we don't really have a clue, but we know we don't like Trump" style, the article ends by twisting the claim into a new form: The claims that a Trump campaign T-shirt has come under criticism for using a symbol similar to a Nazi eagle is TRUE.

But much as it is fun to shoot fish in a barrel, what I actually wanted to post about was the Dork Side (sorry, slumming again) who respectfully name check your humble author. The article is Climate Wars: Try Removing the Word “Denier” from a Wikipedia Entry wherein Willie Soon (for it is he) complains I should have stated more clearly the big problem in Wiki related to William Connolley; the tyrant at Wiki. None of us can correct for the entries calling us climate change deniers: start with Robert Carter and Sallie Baliunas.

Nice though it is to be the source of all evil, I had nothing to do with this, but I was vaguely watching. So EW removed the dreaded D-word, saying Removed the word "denier". People who dispute the climate consensus find the term "denier" offensive, is it really necessary to use it. This is charmingly naive: Wiki, as it says of itself, is Not Censored; and if it is going to post images of Mohammed, then "I feel a bit sad about this" isn't going to go anywhere. Though FWIW, I think that the sourcing for the D-word in the article is dubious. Thankfully, that nice DS has now fixed it.

If you make the mistake of reading the desultory comments, you'll find some idiot demonstrating their anti-wiki credentials with You will not find a Wikipedia description of how China attempts to use diplomatic pressure to stop the Dalai Lama from meeting with foreign government leaders in the US President. And yet 14th Dalai Lama contains The Chinese Foreign Ministry has warned the US and other countries to "shun" the Dalai Lama during visits and often uses trade negotiations and human rights talks as an incentive to do so.[61][62][63][64][65][66][67][68][69] China sporadically bans images of the Dalai Lama and arrests citizens for owning photos of him in Tibet.[70][71][72] Tibet Autonomous Region government job candidates must strongly denounce the Dalai Lama, as announced on the Tibet Autonomous Region government's online education platform, "Support the (Communist) Party’s leadership, resolutely implement the [Chinese Communist] Party’s line, line of approach, policies, and the guiding ideology of Tibet work in the new era; align ideologically, politically, and in action with the Party Central Committee; oppose any splittist tendencies; expose and criticize the Dalai Lama; safeguard the unity of the motherland and ethnic unity and take a firm stand on political issues, taking a clear and distinct stand".[73] The Dalai Lama is a target of Chinese state sponsored hacking... Naturally, no-one points out this crass error. Saying ridiculously stupid things goes all across the spectrum.

No Parlez


WS expressed himself on Parlez, cos that is dead fashionable nowadays. I now have an account, no prizes for guessing my handle. So now I can see WS's wildly exciting... parle? To encourage him, I've added a helpful comment, sadly I can't work out how to link to it direct.

I'm somewhat disconcerted that Parlez's suggestions for people to follow includes the Daily Heil and Prager U.

Update


PG - who was the editor EW credited with trying to help - now feels rather let downI have now been made aware of the [[Watts Up With That?]] article [https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/07/12/climate-wars-try-removing-the-word-denier-from-a-wikipedia-entry/ Climate Wars: Try Removing the Word “Denier” from a Wikipedia Entry] where Eric Worrall says he started this as "an experiment". Oh. Then I shouldn't have taken it seriously. Unless others indicate support, I won't continue this particular argument. [[User:Peter Gulutzan|Peter Gulutzan]].

Refs


SOON DENIES EINSTEIN CALLED THE TYRANT A GANGSTER - vvutts.
When asked about George Floyd’s death by CBS News, President Trump said it was terrible but stated more white than Black people are killed at the hands of police in the U.S., without giving any evidence of the claim - Reuters, via TF

2020-06-30

The dim and distant history of Global Warming on Wiki: Introduction

Ages ago - 2014 - I wrote some notes on what I could recall about The dim and distant history of climate blogging, and I can also find some 2005 notes about various fora. But now it is time to look at the early history of the Global Warming page on Wiki, and related matters. There's a page Wikipedia:List of Wikipedians in order of arrival/2003 which I added myself to a long time ago, with the comment "(By invitation :-). First edit on Global warming as 192.171.137.16)" which I expect is or was a BAS IP (it looks like it belongs to JISC). I recall debating about what user name to have. I realised that it was going to become obvious who I was, so I decided to start as obviously-me.

Note: this was written sort-of on request, so it isn't quite pointless navel gazing.

In 2010 I was asked about this and wrote "As it says on that last page: I was invited, I think by Sheldon Rampton, and think it was to sort out [[global cooling]], which is a subject I've had a long interest in, dating from usenet days: http://www.wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/iceage/ In those days, things were free-n-easy, and there were lots of terrible climate pages in bad need of updating: not just because of bias, though there was some of that, but just because many pages hadn't had more than a cursory glance from anyone competent."

In fact the very first version of GC dates from August 2003, and was extracted from the now dearly-departed Global Warming Skepticism article, and is vaguely sane; though you'll notice the extracted and inserted text doesn't quite match.

But back to the mainstream of GW. My very first edit was uninspiring. The state of the page at that point was poor, and it wasn't clear what to do about it, so I just quibbled The factor which correlates most closely with observed temperature increases and decreases in the earth's atmosphere is solar activity with but correlation-is-not-causation, when I should just have ripped it out; but Damon and Laut came out later. This is characteristic of the early days. A little later in the day I did better, demoting the text and wrapping it in weasel words. Not long later I made my first unexciting edit as me and then created my userpage. A few days later I created Instrumental temperature record with mostly new text and information. Over at Urban heat Island I was again just reacting to what was there, quibbling the silly SEPP view with This argument conveniently ignores the fact that the marine temperature record is essentially in agreement with the land-based one. Touching up the Ozone Hole article was less controversial, but again we see how poor the state was, and the "informality" shall we say of my additions. I put up the first meaningful version of the Satellite Temperature Record page, based on the discussions I was familiar with from sci.env. Over at Attribution of recent climate change I edited to Remove anti-IPCC bias (sigh). Add fuller text of IPCC role. You get the idea I hope: lots of things were wrong, I was feeling my way.

This is all going rather slowly. I'm going to call this "Introduction" as an excuse to break off here.

2020-06-28

Neoclassical tipping points of no return

IMG_20200627_142039 Via Twatter on Patreon and now semi-digested via ATTP, Steve Keen is complaining about "The Appallingly Bad Neoclassical Economics of Climate Change". Although he isn't really - the word "neoclassical" is just thrown in there as a kind of dog-whistle; what's he's really objecting to is current IAM damage functions, which is fuck all to do with neoclassicality.

I've talked about DICE damage functions before, and really all the same problems apply: yes there are problems with them, but you need to stop whinging about them and propose something better.

SK's conclusion - that these methods are Drastically underestimating damages from Global Warming - is I think largely unfounded based on his analysis, even if you grant most of his case; because almost all of his argument is attacking the existing damage functions, without replacing them, so he is in no position to estimate damages himself. SK notes that Natural scientists' estimates [of the damages from climate change] were 20 to 30 times higher than mainstream economists, which is fair enough, but doesn't resolve anything: those who know about GDP think the damage is low, those who know about the physics think it high. Another nice quote is it was hardly surprising, given that the economists know little about the intricate web of natural ecosystems, whereas natural scientists know equally little about the incredible adaptability of human societies.

SK tells me that Nordhaus assumes that 87% of GDP is unaffected by GW, and I'll assume that's true: Nordhaus justified the assumption that 87% of GDP will be unaffected by climate change on the basis that: for the bulk of the economy—manufacturing, mining, utilities, finance, trade, and most service industries—it is difficult to find major direct impacts of the projected climate changes over the next 50 to 75 years. (Nordhaus 1991, p. 932). SK is clearly not happy with N's analysis but provides nothing to dispute it; and it seems not implausible to me, and likely that the not-affected share will rise over time.

Other than disliking IAM's damage functions, and - I rather suspect, given his apparently gratuitous attacks on "neoclassical" economics - cost-benefit analysis at all, it is hard to know what SK's positive programme is. My guess is that he'd like to dispose of the CBA, and simply use something like a 2 oC temperature limit instead. This amounts to throwing out not just neoclassical, but all, economics and replacing it with a finger-in-the-air temperature target, albeit one that is widely diffused. I think that's a bad idea.

Keen: who he?


Who was that masked man, you'll be wondering. There's a wiki page. Guess what? He's a brexiteer (boo, hiss). He endorsed Corbyn, tee hee. Possibly more relevant to the issues here is his Debunking Economics.

Refs


* Cost and the Agony of Choice by Steven Horwitz at EconLib
Crop Yields Under Global Warming - 2018
Mass starvation is humanity’s fate if we keep flogging the land to death? - 2017
* According to the profession’s most popular theoretical models, optimal tax rates on capital
should be equal to zero in the long run–including from the viewpoint of those individuals or
dynasties who own no capital at all - Piketty and Saez (whose personal opinion differs) - h/t Timmy.
The Opportunity Costs of J. Alfred Prufock - Econlib.
* "New paper @NatureClimate on DICE modelling in support of Paris Agreement targets. Typically Nordhaus' DICE yields 3-4C as "optimal" temp by 2100". Paywalled, so I haven't read it, but I think they've just near-zeroed the discount rate.

2020-06-27

Yet moah climate suing

tempt There's not much going on right now, so time for some low-grade climate suing news. Of which the last was in 2018... can that really be so? No, there's this from 2019 too. But is about time for yet moah. Why is it time for moah? Perhaps the 2020 election season approaches, a time when public official spaff taxpayers money against the wall on lawyers in an effort to look good for re-elections?

First, it's good to see that our old friend ClimateLiabilityNews is back, with a new name, ClimateDocket sounding eerily like ClimateDepot. It isn't clear whether we're supposed to know they are the same thing, or indeed if they are exactly the same thing, but climateliabilitynews.org1 redirects to climatedocket.com, which is something of a hint, and CD's "about" page says "The editorial content of CLN is not subject to approval or influence by CCL or its donors" which looks like a careless failure to update (h/t The Dark Side). Also, their page source includes some "yoast-schema-graph" gumpf which still include "name":"Climate Liability News" Aaanyway, enough of that, who cares who they are really.

There's DC Files Latest Climate Suit Vs. Big Oil and also Minnesota Sues Fossil Fuel Industry for Climate Fraud. They look to be run-of-the-mill kind of stuff. For the second, the Dork Side helpfully supplies me with a link to the suit which contains The economic devastation and public-health impacts from climate change were caused, in large part, by a campaign of deception that Defendants orchestrated and executed with disturbing success. I suppose it has to; they have to at least assert cause. I don't think it is true (in two senses: there is no current economic devastation from GW in Minnesota3; and GW isn't in large part caused by Evil Fossil Fuel Company propaganda; this is the familiar "if only it weren't for you EFFCs everything would be spiffy" nonsense.

The next point is around timelines, who-knew-what-when, and I think that will fail, as I've said before and more (caution: link may2 contain picture of monkey genitals). Para 214 asserts a scientific consensus as early as 1982, which is drivel.

Browsing along, I'm struck by how badly researched the complaint is. Important facts about EFFC profits are cited to the Graun, not to some authoritative source. That CO2 causes GW is just stated and not cited, although there's all that nice stuff in Alsup they could cite - perhaps they don't want to draw attention to Alsup and hope that if they pretend it doesn't exist, no-one will notice? It starts to resemble that carbon tax proposal that appeared to have been written by children. Well, if you think it's doomed and only done to bolster your re-election, there's no need to put much work into it.

Para 55 and on is the by-now-familiar drivel that we knew all of this in the 50s. Including the stuff about Teller. Why are they doing this? There's no chance of it standing up. There are pages and pages of this, all boiler-plated from stuff they've been fed I suspect. Para 84 is the wearying Despite their superior understanding of climate change science, which is a lie: the EFFCs knew nothing that the govt didn't know, that wasn't in the scientific public domain. Para 87 is Instead, they engaged in a campaign of deception. As I said beforethe API and its friends, most obviously Exxon under Lee Raymond, said things sufficiently misleading to constitute misinformation and probably lies. But just how evil was this campaign of deception? Para 89 tells us: This deliberate campaign of deception and half-truths is described, in part, by internal strategy documents: A 1988 ExxonMobil internal document states that Exxon... Urge a balanced scientific approach. Fuck me that's Evil (but yes of course, I've been deceptive in what I've elided).

Para 93 is Defendants’ misleading statements were part of a conspiracy to defraud consumers and the general public, including consumers and the public in Minnesota, about climate change and the role of fossil-fuel products in climate change. This I think goes to the heart of their problem (though I'm guessing of course, because I don't know the details of their law or how it is likely to be interpreted; para 185 appears to say that the law doesn't require any actual damage). Simply being misleading is unlikely to be criminal or attract large damages. They need to show intent to defraud. This is going to be tricky, because they'll need to show a net loss, which so far they haven't even attempted.

Para 125 is ...Defendants secretly paid scientists to produce research that supported their campaign of deception. However, the only one they can find is Willie Soon. They try to pad it our with William Happer but are obliged to admit that he has never published a peer-reviewed article on the topic. Unable to find a second scientist to justify their plural, they fall back on These examples are part of a pattern and hope no-one will notice.

Ah, at last: para 139 at last attempts to demonstrate harm (they won't, as they should, try to balance harm against good; but I'm not expecting miracles from them). There were nearly 60 heat-related deaths between 2000 and 2017 (they don't mention that the largest year was 2001). Was this larger than the previous 20 years? They don't say. What does the long-term trend look like? They attempt no attribution. Have winter cold deaths changed? They don't thik to comment. They note that High temperatures can also lead to crop damage but don't note that yields are increasing; to understand that properly you'd have to extract the various causes. In contrast to the vagueness of temperature-related damages, they can find lots of $ for flooding damage, but make only the sketchiest attempt to attribute the floods to GW.

Para 249 asks that hizzoner Order ExxonMobil and Koch to disgorge all profits made as a result of their unlawful conduct. Which sounds odd: those companies no longer have those profits, of course. They've been paid out in dividends and so on. It also isn't clear whether Minnesota wants all of the profits for itself, or only its share, measured by some as yet to be determined sharing theory.

So, meh, another suit. Will it do any good, other than to the pockets of lawyers? I'm doubtful.

Notes


1. Weirdly, that link shows you a nearly-there page. But just select the URL in your URL-bar and press return, and you'll get redirected to CD.

2. Oh, all right, does.

3. They assert Minnesota has already experienced billions of dollars of economic harm due to climate change since Defendants began their deceptive campaign; if they provide a source, I'll let you know. Looks like no... para 54 begins Without Defendants’ exacerbation of global warming caused by their conduct as alleged herein, the current physical and environmental changes caused by global warming would have been far less than those observed to date... but still no source. Ah, read on; it comes in para 139.

4. Para 94 says Defendants’ websites contain misleading statements about climate science but doesn't quote any of the misleading statements, and contains no URLs, references no archived copies. It all just hopeless, amateurish, pathetic.

2020-06-23

Climate change: Govt policies 'can do more harm than good'

IMG_20200616_093957 Or so says Aunty. Although not quite in those words of course. Aunty is a creature of govt and would not be so ungrateful. Instead, the actual headline is Climate change: Planting new forests 'can do more harm than good'. However if you read past that you get financial incentives to plant trees can backfire and reduce biodiversity with little impact on carbon emissions... The study looked at the example of Chile, where a decree subsidising tree planting ran from 1974 to 2012, and was widely seen as a globally influential afforestation policy... lax enforcement and budgetary limitations meant that some landowners simply replaced native forests with more profitable new tree plantations... "If policies to incentivise tree plantations are poorly designed or poorly enforced, there is a high risk of not only wasting public money but also releasing more carbon and losing biodiversity," said co-author Prof Eric Lambin, from Stanford University. "That's the exact opposite of what these policies are aiming for." So, usual stuff: govt screws up by getting the incentives wrong. Cue howls of outrage: it isn't the policy that's wrong, it is the evil people taking advantage of the incentives. But there will always be such people; the best you can do is not to be idiot enough to encourage them. The actual paper is Impacts of Chilean forest subsidies on forest cover, carbon and biodiversity by Robert Heilmayr, Cristian Echeverría and Eric F. Lambin.

That was part one. Part two is: A second study set out to examine how much carbon a newly planted forest would be able to absorb from the atmosphere... the researchers looked at northern China, which has seen intensive tree planting by the government because of climate change but also in an effort to reduce dust from the Gobi desert. Looking at 11,000 soil samples taken from afforested plots, the scientists found that in carbon poor soils, adding new trees did increase the density of organic carbon. But where soils were already rich in carbon, adding new trees decreased this density. The authors say that previous assumptions about how much organic carbon can be fixed by planting new trees is likely an overestimate. But the relevant figure, if you're interested in CO2 levels and attempting to assert "more harm than good", is new CO2 fixed versus any soil C lost, which of course Aunty doesn't give. Neither does the abstract of the paper. It does however say By extrapolating the sampling data to the entire region, we estimate that afforestation increased SOC stocks in northern China by only 234.9 ± 9.6 TgC over the last three decades, so the net effect even just in the soil was still positive. I don't know why they say "only"; perhaps they were expecting a larger number; if so, they don't give it. The paper is Divergent responses of soil organic carbon to afforestation by Songbai Hong et al..

My picture shows a bee orchid, in my front garden. Indeed, it is the only bee orchid in my front garden, and as far as I know it is the first year it has grown there. They are not wildly uncommon in long grass around here.

Refs


National Economic Planning: What Is Left? - CH Quote-of-the-day
* UK government development bank to end fossil fuel financing - Graun

2020-06-15

Legislation: BOSTOCK v. CLAYTON COUNTY, GEORGIA

curse SCOTUS sez:
Congress outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.
One can consider the morality of the underlying matter - and I will at the end - but unlike gay cakes this was a matter of interpretation of (Federal) legislation, not the Constitution. And the text to be interpreted was "sex". The judgement spends quite some time noting that the discrimination, if it were illegal, would be illegal if "sex" was only a (possibly minor) part of the reason for the firing. But (as Alito points out) nobody disagreed with that, so it looks like squid ink. The crucial part, is does discriminating on the basis of being transgender, or homosexual (which includes being lesbian) intrinsically include discrimination on sex? The majority say it does; Alito (and Thomas and Kavanaugh) say it doesn't; I agree with the latter three.

The reason is tolerably obvious: I could be (as it happens I'm not, you'll be pleased to know) rampantly prejudiced about people attracted to their own sex; but equally prejudiced against queers of both sex. And therefore, my prejudice would have nothing to do with the sex of the person concerned; but be entirely a matter of their sexual orientation. The court even manages to consider pretty well exactly this case (p 18). The base of their argument (shorn of the irrelevant black / catholic element) appears to be discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex; the first cannot happen without the second, but this is still iffy2: I think they're trying to say that, yes, you may not be biased against either sex, but nonetheless since homosexuality can't exist without distinctions-of-sex, it is therefore protected. This is certainly an interpretation, but I don't think it is the obvious one; or the one that the writers intended.

The majority correctly note that the mere fact that those who wrote this legislation did not intend this result (or so I would guess and everyone in this case seems to assume) is no bar to reaching it: Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result... But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands. When the express terms of a statute give us one answer and extra textual considerations suggest another, it’s no contest. Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit. The legislation is what is written (and how it is interpreted) and if there is a clear and unambiguous reading, then there is no issue. But of course there is not a clear and unambiguous reading - well, IMO there is one obvious reading and it's not the one they make -, and their attempt to assert one is mendacious.

In the case of ambiguous reading - which I think is the best they could assert in their cause in this instance, though since they're fully aware of what I'm about to say next they take care not to admit that - then it is natural to consider the intent of those who wrote the legislation, as Hobbes says. And, clearly they don't want to do that, because in 1964 discrimination against gays was all fine and dandy, as far as the law and those who wrote it was concerned1.

Yet another wrinkle on this - that I learn from Alito's dissent - is that there is legislation in Congress (or just failed? Not sure of the details) to specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Which would be pointless if the existing legislation was clearly in their favour. Perhaps ironically, it may now be dropped because the law now is in their favour.

Another aside: the pension-fund contribution precedent they cite on p 13 was I think correctly decided on the law, but nonetheless stupid, for the obvious reasons. Happily it only arises in defined-benefit schemes which are on the way out anyway, and that departure will be speeded by such rulings.

As something of an aside, both majority and dissent stress that words and phrases in legislation are to be interpreted "with their ordinary meaning" rather than absolutely literally. This sounds terribly public-friendly, and may even be a good idea, but I have a sense that it opens up avenues of interpretation better left closed. But then again, per Hobbes, law always requires interpretation. Alito stresses that the interpretation should be based on the common meaning at the time the law was written. This too seems correct; if the word "fish" were to shift it's common-place meaning to include - let us say - whales, the interpretation of "fish" in legislation pre-dating that change should continue to exclude whales.

The Court’s opinion is like a pirate ship


Aka, Alito's dissent. Can you tell that he's not happy? He really isn't happy. Since I'm in agreement with his view of the legislation, I don't need to say much more here.

Who decides?


Kavanaugh's dissent, as far as I can tell, introduces nothing new.

Morality


Having decisively dealt with the legislative aspect, there's the moral aspect to consider. Morality is not the same as law, and will not reach identical conclusions on all occasions (as a gentle hint that this is so, we have different words for the two concepts). Here we should acknowledge a conflict, and toss into the gutter the opinions if not the persons of anyone too stupid to accept that there is a conflict. The conflict is between the liberties of the employer, and the "rights" of the employee. This is similar to the conflict of the rights of seller and would-be purchaser in the gay cakes case. The liberty of the employer is infringed when he is obliged to employ someone he doesn't want to. The "rights" of the employee are somewhat more diffuse; they have no "right" to any particular jobs, they do have a "right" to decent treatment. Incidentally, this conflict only exists between private entities; the state, of course, is obliged to treat all equally under the law (I mean, in theory; in practice, gays were banned in the military for ages, as were women, and so on and so forth). My own personal preference would be to not discriminate pointlessly; if we follow the law-is-custom maxim, then in the West custom has definitely shifted against discrimination. However, rather than solving the problem this way it would have been better to amend Title VII itself.

Update: it woz the govt wot dun it


David Henderson points out that one of the discriminators was Clayton County. A govt entity. Which, as I said above, isn't allowed to discriminate. I'm astonished that the court didn't consider that matter. For them, there's no need to even consider title VII.

Economics


The economic view, of course, is that a company that fires people for their sexual orientation is, we must presume, losing access to valuable talent, and therefore likely to suffer a loss (we'll gloss over the possibility of having prejudiced customers for this purpose). Therefore, the pressures of the Free Market act to suppress discrimination. Isn't that nice to know?

Update


Textualism and Purposivism in Today's Supreme Court Decision on Discrimination Against Gays, Lesbians, and Transsexuals: The decision in Bostock v. Clayton County is well-justified from the standpoint of textualism (a theory associated with conservatives), but less clearly so from the standpoint of purposivism (often associated with liberals) - Ilya Somin, Volokh. Various commentaries now exist, but most simply repeat the judgement or the bits of it they like, or celebrate it; there's precious little analysis or thought. This is the best I've seen; it puts forward the interesting example of interracial prejudice: would this example be analogous to the homosexual one? It's a nice try but no cigar I think.

Notes


1. Hobbes explicitly says that if you're in doubt, you can go off and look at the speeches of the legislators, if you want to know what their intent was. And the custom of the SCOTUS to treat the Federalist Papers seriously means they know this. And yet the majority manage to say (in an effort to explain away subsequent Congress not adding explicit language) Maybe some in the later legislatures understood the impact Title VII’s broad language already promised for cases like ours and didn’t think a revision needed, without making any attempt to reference any of the debate. Alito bemoans why in these cases are congressional intent and the legislative history of Title VII totally ignored? Any assessment of congressional intent or legislative history seriously undermines the Court’s interpretation.

2. And apparently contradicted by evidence, as the dissent says: At oral argument, the attorney representing the employees, a prominent professor of constitutional law, was asked if there would be discrimination because of sex if an employer with a blanket policy against hiring gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals implemented that policy without knowing the biological sex of any job applicants. Her candid answer was that this would “not” be sex discrimination.10 And she was right.

Refs


* The Outrage Epidemic: How the New Information Landscape Fuels Tribalism by Russ Roberts
* SCOTUSblog: Ryan Anderson: Symposium: The simplistic logic of Justice Neil Gorsuch’s account of sex discrimination.
* US supreme court: Don't be fooled. The US supreme court hasn't suddenly become leftwing by Nathan Robinson. In which the Graun considers all possible motivations for the judges, other than that they were doing their best to interpret the law.
* An example of the courts simply interpreting the law, despite their clearly expressed wishes to do otherwise (Exxon).
OPINION: The ‘villain’ in gay workers rights case has plenty to say.
* The Supreme Court is a follower, not a leader by Scott Sumner at Econlib.




2020-06-11

On statues

In Ukraine: Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation I said Lenin statues toppled in protest [in Ukraine] Aunty continues, which has ominous echoes of the disaster area that we made of Iraq; not that the statue-toppling was the problem itself; indeed the people’s joy is clear. And of course the famous destruction of Saddam's statue is famous, and I approved of it. Alas all did not end as happily as one might have hoped. And yet I don't approve of the toppling of Edward Colston in Bristol.

How can I possibly justify a different response in these different situations? After all, they are in all cases statues that people don't like - what other possible differences could there be?

Weight of opinion


This isn't really my determining factor - I think, I might change my mind later, recall that I'm writing this post to try to understand my underlying principles - but I think weight of opinion matters. In the cases of Iraq and Ukraine (and all over the former Soviet Union, anyone who had had to live under Communism) pretty well everyone hated the regime and wanted the statues down3. So there was none of this "we tried doing it democratically and it didn't work"; in fact they hadn't tried at all, because of cause trying would have been death, earlier; but the formal-democratic route wasn't needed, because the actual-democratic - participatory, not representative - gave a clear mandate.

And yet, recall Socrates and the Athenian Admirals.

Actual grievance


Also known as "standing": do you have an actual concrete injury that needs addressing? In the case of Iraq or Ukraine, yes: these people had lived under an oppressive regime. By contrast, the problems of the poor folk of Bristol are all rather feeble first-world-problem snowflakery: "I felt a bit sad"5. This is closely related to, but not quite the same thing as, my first version, which was length-of-time: the grievances in Iraq and Ukraine were present-day, or at least only-yesterday, and fresh. Those in Bristol were stale, and needed to be dragged to people's attention for anyone to care.

Mob rule?


I've seen and heard - within my own household, forsooth2 - the argument "Why was that statue removed in the way that it was removed? Because for 20 years, protesters and campaigners had used every democratic lever at their disposal, petitions, meetings, protests, trying to get elected politicians to act, and they couldn’t reach a consensus and they couldn’t get anything done" (that example is Lisa Nandy) and although she, being a pol, is too measly-mouthed to complete the thought, the implication is "and so they were justified in taking the law into their own hands".

But no, that's not how it works. There's no rule that says "if you really really want something but you can't get it, then after a while you just take it". And yet that, effectively, if what is being said. Obviously, this only applies to things that Nice People approve of. If you really really want the Sudentenland, that doesn't mean you can have it. Everyone knows that1.

Indeed, if you've tried really hard for ages and failed, perhaps you should stop and think why you've failed. Perhaps it wasn't such a brilliant idea after all. Perhaps the people that disagree with you are right.

Another argument is that the mob rarely stops at a sensible place; indeed, you don't really expect sense from a mob, if you think about it. Consider4 After Colston, figures such as Drake and Peel could be next from the Graun, containing A founder of Guy’s hospital in south London, he made his fortune through owning a large number of shares in the South Sea Company, whose main purpose was to sell slaves to the Spanish colonies. But Wiki tells us By the late 1670s, Guy had begun purchasing seamen's pay-tickets at a large discount, as well as making large loans to landowners. In 1711, these tickets, part of the short-term 'floating' national debt, were converted into shares of the South Sea Company in a debt-for-equity swap. The South Sea Company was a government-debt holding company, and while there was a brief attempt to sell slaves in Spanish America, this was completely unprofitable in Guy's lifetime.[3] Therefore, while he is sometimes erroneously portrayed as having profited from slavery,[4] this is incorrect. In 1720, the year when the South Sea Bubble burst, he sold 54,040 stock for £234,428, making a profit of about £175,000.[5] He then re-invested this money in £179,566 4% government annuities, £8,000 of 5% government annuities, and £1,500 East India Company shares.[6]. Looking at the talk page is also enlightening.

Those who know me will find me a somewhat curious defender of the Rule of Law. But this isn't the post to explore that.

Edgy tighters


Those who feel an actual personal grievance I have some sympathy for, though I think they're largely misguided. As the wise but slightly damp Mr Smith once opined, people are generally prepared to grin and bear up under oppression, achieving a level of happiness; whereas a grievance that might be redressed can lead to great unhappiness. There are many mottoes in those thoughts (which alas I can't find the exact page reference for). The poor man's son, whom heaven in its anger has visited with ambition also bears reading, as do Hobbes's thoughts on Felicity. Consider then professional agitators, aka pols; their task is to stir up the populace, nominally to the said public's gain but often with more direct motives; such people do not want a happy populace.

Refs


Locals prevent removal of Baden-Powell statue from Poole Quay - sort of reverse mob justice. Which, I'm obliged to admit, I kinda approve of.
* African-American lives matter by Scott Sumner
* In defence of liberalism: resisting a new era of intolerance; Our public figures must rediscover the true spirit of liberty - Spectator
* The American Press Is Destroying Itself; A flurry of newsroom revolts has transformed the American press by Matt Taibbi.
Buddhas of Bamyan.

Notes


1. Godwin; I lose. So sue me. OK, we can use Crimea instead if you like.

2. NSFW. And it should be "father" of course.

3. And of course they keep some of them in parks where they can be regarded, but in a safe way; e.g. Hungary's Memento Park, or Russia's Fallen Monument Park.

4. h/t Timmy.

5. That is, their grievance from the statuary. Britain - sez oi from my position of privilege - isn't particularly racist, but there are genuine grievances, like the over-representation of blacks in the stop-n-search figures. But this post isn't intended to be an examination of racism in the UK today. There's also some question as to whether pratting around with statues isn't a distraction from actually fixing real problems.