November 9, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Trumpkins Accused Him of Being the Whistleblower. They Were Wrong. (Will Sommer,  11.08.19, Daily Beast)

Former Obama White House staffer R. David Edelman woke up Thursday to a bizarre new reality: Many people on the pro-Trump internet were convinced that he was the anonymous whistleblower at the heart of the impeachment proceedings. 

And then the death threats started. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Don't Ban Fracking -- Pass A Carbon Tax Instead (Steve Chapman, November 8, 2019, National Memo)

Some of the candidates, unfortunately, are enamored of the old command-and-control approach to environmental protection: forbidding this and requiring that. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris support a ban on fracking, a method that has greatly increased U.S. oil and gas production. Almost all the candidates would end new oil and gas leases on federal lands. Raising vehicle fuel economy standards and setting a deadline for all vehicles to achieve zero emissions are common ideas.

These proposals all suffer from the same flaw: dictating purported solutions from on high, with little regard for side effects, instead of devising incentives for creative, inexpensive remedies. This approach guarantees that the cost will be higher than necessary and results worse.

It appeals to politicians, though, because it allows the illusion that major progress can be made without any sacrifice by voters, except maybe those who frack for a living. The assumption is that if people realize environmental improvement is not cost-free, they will run screaming from the room.

That theory has prevailed for decades. So I am startled but pleased to discover that this year, many Democratic candidates have decided to treat voters as intelligent people who can be persuaded to embrace optimal remedies.

The best of all is a carbon tax, which would raise the price of different fossil fuels to reflect the harm they do. Among the candidates who favor it are Sanders, Warren and Harris, as well as Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Julian Castro.

It would advance these purposes without draconian regulations, inflexible bans or cumbersome bureaucracy. The money collected could be rebated to every American -- yielding a net tax increase of zero.

Posted by orrinj at 3:11 AM


THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CHARLES WILLEFORD--MIAMI'S WEIRD, WONDERFUL MASTER OF NOIR: For years he searched for a subject worthy of his talents. Then he found Miami and the '80s. Crime fiction would never be the same. (CRAIG PITTMAN, 10/18/19, CrimeReads)

Orphan, hobo, painter, poet, boxer, book critic, decorated tank commander, actor, truck driver, teacher, author and inveterate prankster--Charles Willeford led a life that could provide him with a zillion stories, each one touched with his distinctive view of the world. He spent three decades cranking out pulp fiction classics like Pick-Up and Cockfighter that earned him very little money and hardly any notice from the critics.

Then, in 1984, he wrote a poker-faced comic thriller called Miami Blues that suddenly made him a hot commodity. He followed it up with three more off-kilter books about his unlikely hero, the leisure-suit-wearing Sergeant Hoke Moseley of the Miami Police. On the strength of those four books, the Atlantic magazine dubbed him "the unlikely father of Miami crime fiction."

One of the Hoke Moseley sequels was called Sideswipe. His widow Betsy says that not long after that book came out, Willeford got a package in the mail. When he opened it, he found a hardbound copy of Sideswipe that someone had shot. Accompanying the book was a note, written in all-caps, saying "It's a crime to charge $15.95 for s[***]t like this." It was signed, "A Dissatisfied Customer."

When Willeford mentioned this to some friends they became concerned for his safety. One asked, "Have you alerted the FBI?" He replied, "No, it's always good to get feedback."

There are plethora of Willeford anecdotes, but I think that one might be my favorite. (Incidentally, Mrs. Willeford recalled that the book had been shot once, but a 1988 news story said five times. Fortunately the Broward County Public Library has Willeford's papers, so I checked with them. Librarian Erin Purdy sent me photos showing that that copy of Sideswipe had SIX bullet holes.)

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Founding Deists and Other Unicorns (JAMES BRUCE, 10/28/19, Law & Liberty)

The Enlightenment is, of course, a heavyweight contender for the title of Most Influential to the Constitution. Matthew Stewart, for example, claims that Benedict de Spinoza was the architect of the political philosophy that flowered in the United States, and that John Locke was the acceptable face of the movement. Hall calls such an adventure in revisionist history "pure fantasy."

Few scholars claim Spinoza for the American founding. Many more claim Locke, and so, Hall turns his attention to him. In a sentence, the reports of Locke's influence have been greatly exaggerated. Donald S. Lutz's survey of 15,000 works from 1760 to 1805 says only 2.9% of citations reference Locke, in contrast to 34% of all citations referencing the Bible. (And Hall notes that, if anything, "Lutz undercounts references to the Bible because he excludes from his sample political sermons that do not contain references to secular authors. If he had included these sermons, references to the Bible would have absolutely dwarfed any other grouping of texts.") This difference in frequency should not surprise us: Locke's Second Treatise was first published in the United States in 1773 and was only republished in 1937--hardly what one would expect for the seminal political work by a leading figure of the British Enlightenment who was supposed to have substantial influence on the American founding. "If Locke's works were late to arrive on America's shores," Hall writes, "the Bible was virtually omnipresent from the first days of the Puritan settlement."

Let's consider one concrete case in order to illustrate Hall's method. In 1784, Patrick Henry proposed a bill to tax individuals for the support of their local churches. James Madison wrote his celebrated Memorial in the summer of 1785 in the hopes of preventing the bill's passage that autumn. On a standard telling of the American story, an Enlightenment Madison saved the country from religious fanatics. Is that, in fact, what happened?

Not at all. Hall notes that "an earlier evangelical petition" received far more signatures, by a margin of 4,899 to 1,552 (out of 10,929 Virginians who signed any petition on the matter). That petition said Henry's bill was "contrary to the spirit of the Gospel" and that the church was not helped "when Constantine first established Christianity by human laws." Lest we think Madison's Memorial spawned the other petitions, including this evangelical one, Hall notes that the evangelical petition was written at least seventh months before Madison wrote his Memorial. Furthermore, Madison's Memorial itself includes "a number of overtly religious arguments," suggesting a broader purview than the unaccompanied Enlightenment. And let's be clear: almost half the Virginians who signed a petition signed the evangelical one, thereby endorsing its Christian appeals for religious freedom. The Memorial by itself, based on its share of signatories, could not have carried the day. The evangelical petition, all by itself, could have.

Why? Concerns for religious liberty did not commence in the 1780s. William Penn, writing in 1675, said "force makes hypocrites, 'tis persuasion only that makes converts." Though Quakers could not testify in criminal trials in England until 1828, Quakers could do so in Rhode Island as early as 1647, due to an enacted law that allowed them to offer "solemn profession or testimony" instead of an oath. To be clear, Spinoza and Locke were teenagers in 1647; though undeniably precocious, they were hardly the inspiration for Rhode Island's religious accommodation.

In addition to concrete cases, Hall considers the question of broad support for Christianity itself. That makes sense. After all, a basket of disparate ideas does not a Christian founding make. So Hall considers the founders' self-conscious support of religion. Following James Hutson, he delivers a founders' syllogism. Here are the premises: republican government requires a moral citizenry; morality needs religion. The conclusion is thus that republican government requires religion. And Hall goes further. "When America's founders spoke about 'religion,'" he writes, "virtually all of them--even those most influenced by the Enlightenment--meant Christianity." He quotes Chief Justice John Marshall to great effect: "Christianity and religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity."

Not everyone believed the syllogism, of course. But few championing a godless founding would find them all comfortable bedfellows. "For instance, in one remarkable case, slavery led John Rutledge of South Carolina to reject the almost universal consensus that religion and morality should inform public policy." And, besides, most founders did endorse the syllogism: "Examples of founders insisting that religion is necessary for morality, and that both religion and morality are necessary for republican government, could be multiplied almost indefinitely." the Christianity of Locke's political philosophy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Nuclear fusion is 'a question of when, not if' (Matt McGrath, 11/06/19, BBC)

[P]erhaps the major excitement comes from private companies. They are usually smaller, nimbler, and they develop by making mistakes and learning from them quickly.

There are now dozens of them around the world, raising funds and pushing forward often with different approaches to fusion than that seen in Iter and in the UK.

Here's a brief sample of some different approaches to fusion.

First Light: This company originated in the University of Oxford and was founded specifically to address the urgent need to decarbonise the global energy system. Their idea involves firing a projectile at a target that contains hydrogen atoms. The shockwave from the impact of the projectile creates a shockwave that crushes the fuel and briefly this reaction will produce plasma that is hotter than the sun and denser than lead.

Commonwealth Fusion Systems: A private company created by former Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) staff, CFS has raised significant funding of over $100m. It is focusing on developing a Tokamak system but its key innovation is in superconducting magnets. They hope to build powerful enough magnets so they can build smaller and cheaper Tokomaks to contain the plasmas required to generate fusion.

TAE Technologies: With backing from Google and other high tech investors, this California-based company is using a different mix of fuel to develop smaller, cheaper reactors. They want to use hydrogen and boron as both elements are readily available and non-radioactive. Their prototype is a cylindrical colliding beam fusion reactor (CBFR) that heats hydrogen gas to form two rings of plasma. These are merged and held together with beams of neutral particles to make it hotter and last longer.

US Navy: Worried about how to power their ships in the future, the US Navy has filed a patent for a "plasma compression fusion device". The patent says that it would use magnetic fields to create "accelerated vibration and/or accelerated spin". The idea would be to make fusion power reactors small enough to be portable. There's a lot of scepticism that this approach will work.

One of the main challengers with ambitions to make fusion work is a company based in British Columbia, Canada called General Fusion. Their approach, which has gathered a lot of attention and backing from the likes of Amazon's Jeff Bezos, combines cutting edge physics with off the shelf technology.

They call their system "magnetised target fusion".

This approach sees a hot gas plasma injected into a ball of liquid metal inside a steel sphere. It is then compressed by pistons, much like in a diesel engine.

"The pistons all fire simultaneously and collapse the cavity with the fuel inside," said Michael Delage, the company's chief technology officer.

"So at the peak of that compression when the fuel bursts into fusion reaction, it is surrounded on all sides by liquid metal so the energy goes into the metal and you take this hot liquid metal and boil water, make steam and make electricity."

General Fusion say they hope to have a working model within five years.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Massacre That Spawned the Alt-Right: Forty years ago, a gang of Klansmen and Nazis murdered five communists in broad daylight. America has never been the same. (SHAUN ASSAEL and PETER KEATING, November 03, 2019, Politico)

The communists planned to begin their march at noon, moving from the housing project to a local shopping center. But just after 11:20, a caravan filled with real Klansmen and Nazis surprised them, snaking through the neighborhood's narrow byways. As the protesters stood their ground, a man in a white T-shirt leaned out the passenger window of a canary-yellow pickup truck, and yelled, "You asked for the Klan. Now you got 'em!" The station wagon behind him carried four Nazis. Seven more vehicles followed, carrying nearly 30 more men, including an Imperial Wizard of the Klan.

What happened next took just 88 seconds, but still reverberates 40 years later. In a confrontation where white supremacists began firing pistols, rifles and shotguns, and with television cameras rolling but police nowhere to be found, five communists were shot dead in broad daylight. Ten others were injured, some left to lie bleeding in the streets.

But that November morning became momentous for more than the grotesque video footage that still lives on the Internet: The Greensboro Massacre, as it became known, was the coming-out bloodbath for the white nationalist movement that is upending our politics today.

Before Greensboro, America's most lurid extremists largely operated in separate, mutually distrustful spheres. Greensboro was the place where the farthest-right groups of white supremacy learned to kill together. After November 3, 1979, it was suddenly possible to imagine Confederate flags flying alongside swastikas in Charlottesville. Or a teenager like Dylann Roof hoarding Nazi drawings as well as a Klan hood in his bedroom while he plotted mass murder.

Today, white nationalism is closer to the mainstream of American politics than ever before. The far right's fears about "replacement" of the white race and outsider "invasions" have become standard tropes at conservative media outlets, and its anger is routinely stoked by the president of the United States. At the same time, right-wing violence is on the rise: Far-right terrorists accounted for the overwhelming majority of extremist murders in the U.S. last year, according to a January report by the Anti-Defamation League.

The seeds for this iteration of white supremacy were planted 40 years ago in Greensboro, when the white wedding of Klansmen and Nazis launched a new, pan-right extremism--a toxic brew of virulent racism, anti-government rhetoric, apocalyptic fearmongering and paramilitary tactics. And this extremism has proven more durable than anyone then could imagine.

...which folks get hysterical about Antifa fighting back.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Unplugging PG&E Is Easier Said Than Done: Who can--or even wants--to take over this burning hellscape? (Marisa Endicott, 11/06/19, MoJo)

As California finally takes control of the fires that have been burning for weeks, PG&E is--and will continue to be--in the hot seat. It seems likely that transmission equipment from the utility, which supplies power for roughly 40 percent of Californians, sparked the recent Kincade fire, a blaze that pushed over 180,000 people from their homes in and near Sonoma County, destroyed 374 structures, and burned almost 78,000 acres. As many as 16 fires burned across the state over the past several weeks, and at the same time PG&E was intermittently cutting power to millions of people--a practice the company's CEO predicts will continue for another decade. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency and hasn't been shy about calling out the company for it's mismanagement and incompetence. 

This has put PG&E, which filed for bankruptcy in January over its role in other recent wildfires, in the crosshairs of just about everyone--customers and legislators, as well as the governor--and state officials are looking desperately for a savior to rescue the crumbling grid and the flailing utility.

But right now, it's really difficult to foresee what the future holds for PG&E--and more broadly for energy across California. Newsom has hinted the government, if it's not satisfied with the pace of bankruptcy proceedings, could step in and try to take control of PG&E, but he also recently called on Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway to make a bid for the company. (Berkshire Hathaway's energy subsidiary is deeply invested in utility companies and renewables in California and several other states.) The governor has also been open to the idea of municipalities taking over their own power management, which some of the cities themselves have echoed. At the same time, in ongoing bankruptcy proceedings, PG&E's shareholders are fighting its bondholders, who've formed an alliance with fire victims, for control.   [...]

Whoever ends up in charge of PG&E, it's important to remember that the utility giant didn't hit rock bottom on its own--and, accordingly, a better future system will almost certainly need more than new ownership. People have long criticized PG&E's uncomfortably close ties with former Gov. Jerry Brown's administration and the revolving door between the California Public Utilities Commission and the utilities it regulates. PG&E has spent over $31 million on lobbying in California since 2001, over $8 million of which was spent in 2018. "The regulatory model holds a fair amount of blame" for the current situation, Geesman says. But, "I don't think this is a problem where you can rationalize, 'Well, I'll just appoint better people.' You really need to focus more on changing that system rather than the individuals responsible for administering it."

"It's pretty easy to hypothesize from your office on Wall Street that you could just hire better managers and potentially slice and dice that $20 billion revenue stream. Wolves have an innate ability to sense protein."
Regulators have failed to hold PG&E accountable in many instances. For example, utilities can use funds from the PUC for certain needs like maintaining equipment, but once they have the money, "very rarely does the commission actually attach strings to that money," Wall Street Journal energy reporter Rebecca Smith explained on KALW's "Your Call." "I think this has allowed the company to do whatever it wanted." Neglecting to adequately spend on maintenance and equipment over time is one of the biggest criticisms leveled against PG&E. It's unclear if that kind of (or lack of) oversight would push another company to behave better. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Phenomenology's Influence in the West (GRAHAM MCALEER, 10/31/19, Law & Liberty)  

Continental philosophy is housed in Europe, with a few exceptions. It is the exceptions that kick off the argument of Edward Baring's Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy. Baring, who teaches history at Drew University, observes that philosophy in the British Isles, in Scandinavia, and in America's vast university system, is mostly analytic. The exceptions in the United States are Catholic universities and seminaries, where Continental philosophy is typically taught. [...]

If Cartesian subjectivism was about the projection of human reason, it had hit significant bumps along the road. The French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon left a bad taste and the Industrial Revolution spread squalor. Widespread was the belief that human willfulness brought ruination, and Romanticism potently encouraged the idea of a return to the ideals of nature, community, and craft culture last seen in the West in the Middle Ages. Thomistic metaphysics strongly affirmed a sacral universe, and the hunt was on in Catholic circles for an intellectual partner to help update Aquinas and bring his basic insights into conversation with the modern sensibility.  Husserl's method of inquiry and desire to reaffirm objectivity seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Seemed to, is an important part of the story. Catholics started to teach Husserl's phenomenology in their colleges, but there would arise a problem. One of the truly great philosophers, Husserl was productive until the end of his life. And in his later work, he backtracked, thinking Descartes was right, after all. Husserl was also inspirational, and radically influenced two Catholics, Heidegger and another German philosopher, Max Scheler (1874-1928). Together, this triad make the core of phenomenology. To this day, their thinking is the benchmark of Continental philosophy. The problem for Catholicism, as wonderfully explained by Baring, is that Heidegger and Scheler did not remain Catholic. The Church had made common cause with a method that seemed to attract Catholics and then promptly alienate them.

We avoided untold damage by sticking to faith instead of adopting Reason.