January 9, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


Hydrogen fuel cell train planned for Scotland (TIM SANDLE, 1/09/21, Digital Journal)

A greener transport solution could becoming to the UK. A Scottish project plans to have a train powered using a hydrogen fuel cell operational by the end of this year.

The new project is being led by Arcola Energy. The company is collaborating with a consortium of train operators and the UK state-owned rail network on a hydrogen fuel cell train. The aim is to have a fully-working demonstration model operating by November 2021. Also involved in the project are Scottish Enterprise, Transport Scotland and the Hydrogen Accelerator (which is a start-up company based at the University of St Andrews). The Scottish government is seeking the complete decarbonization of its train fleet by 2035.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Good News: Trump's ANWR Oil-Lease Sale Was a Failure (Wes Siler, Jan 8, 2021, Outside)

On Wednesday, while a mob of domestic terrorists stormed the U.S. Capitol, something else undemocratic was going on: the Trump administration was holding the first-ever sale for oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). And, like the attempted coup, it was a complete failure--one that's likely to lead to permanent protections for the country's last unspoiled wilderness. 

"Today's sale reflects the brutal economic realities the oil and gas industry continues to face after the unprecedented events of 2020, coupled with ongoing regulatory uncertainty," said Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, an industry advocacy group, in an emailed statement. 

They'll drive to their next putsch in Volts.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


SOME ECONOMICS OF THE MIDDLE CLASS (Timothy Taylor07/01/2021, BBN Times)

In the first essay, Bruce Sacerdote asks, "Is the Decline of the Middle Class Greatly Exaggerated?" [...]

For a flavor of Sacerdote's argument, define the middle class as those with between 75% and 200% of the median income. Then over time, the share of household incomes going to this group does decline. However, a closer look shows that the reason for the decline in the share of household incomes in the "middle class" category is not because the share in the below-75-percent-of-median group has rise, but rather because the share going to the above-200-percent-of-median group has risen.

In an arithmetic sense, this is a decline of the middle class. But it is not a shift to a bimodal or two-humped income distribution with both poor and rich rising. Instead, the middle class still has the largest share of income overall and is declining only because more households are moving up to the higher category. [...]

Sacerdote also refers back to the findings of an OECD study in 2019, which argued that "middle class" is associated in people's minds with certain kinds of consumption: in particular, it's associated with a certain level of housing, with relatively easy access to health insurance and health care, and with access to higher education. In the US and around the world, prices for housing, health care, and higher education have risen faster than average incomes. As he points out, one can "ask whether homeownership or college attendance for children in the family has risen or fallen for people in the middle quintiles of the income distribution. I find that since the 1980s, homeownership, square footage of housing consumed, number of automobiles owned, and college attendance have all been rising. The one exception is the modest dip in homeownership that occurred immediately after the financial crisis of 2008."

My sense is that rising inequality has meant that our market-oriented economy will tend to focus more on what it can sell to the rising share of households with higher incomes than on the falling share of househoods with middle-class incomes. But again, the stress of the middle-class looking at this shift, or the stress of those have crossed over into the upper income class only to find that their housing, higher education, and health care expenses still look pretty high, is quite different from arguing that the middle-class are objectively worse off.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The broken circle (Daniel Johnson, Jan. 9th, 2021, The Critic)

Above all, philosophy was materialist -- though not materialistic. Medieval philosophy had been the handmaiden of theology; in the twentieth century, it was to perform the same service for science. Mach's remarkable book Die Mechanik in ihrer Entwicklung (The Science of Mechanics) exercised a decisive influence on Einstein by denying Newton's notion of absolute time and space, so paving the way for relativity. The introduction to the first edition of Die Mechanik in 1883 describes its tendency as "an enlightening one or, to put it more clearly, an anti-metaphysical one". That was also the motto of the Vienna Circle.

A key aspect of Mach's philosophy was his deconstruction of the unity of the self. In his major work, Die Analyse der Empfindungen (The Analysis of the Sensations, first published in 1885), Mach declared: "Das Ich ist unrettbar." ("The self is beyond saving.") Following the ideas of Hume, underpinned by experimental evidence, Mach's materialism depicted man as a bundle of sense data. Not only did the self have to go, but the soul and anything beyond the senses with it.

Some reacted to this bleak but bracing vision with despair. Vienna's leading poet, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, wrote a key Modernist text, The Lord Chandos Letter, incorporating Mach's ideas in a self-portrait of an Elizabethan nobleman whose personality is disintegrating. Lenin was so appalled that he wrote an entire book, Materialism and Empirio-criticism, to refute "Machist gentlemen" like Hofmannsthal. Lenin's book later became the bible of Soviet philosophers -- so much so that when, decades later, the FBI visited Philipp Frank, one of the Vienna Circle, in his Harvard exile to ask about his alleged communist connections, he was able to show the two detectives a passage in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism in which Frank was denounced by Lenin as a Machist. The FBI men "practically saluted him, and left speedily and satisfied".

As Mach's successor, Schlick was the natural leader of what, in the mid-1920s, had become known as the Wiener Kreis, the Vienna Circle: a motley gathering of thinkers from various fields, united by their commitment to a wissenschaftliche Weltauffassung, or "scientific world conception", which Edmonds, following academic usage, calls logical empiricism, but is better known as "logical positivism". Their public face was the Ernst Mach Society, which held open meetings and lectures, but the Circle was by invitation only. And the invitation had to come from Schlick. He saw their common goal of ushering in a new Enlightenment as a blessing for humanity, not least by countering the rising irrationalism of the day, but he was resolutely apolitical.

Schlick followed the gospel according to Wittgenstein. It was an ascetic aestheticism, given physical embodiment in the Palais Stonborough, the house he built for his sister Margaret on the Kindmanngasse. Austere beauty of the Modernist kind does not always make for comfort. Though the mysterious, wandering scholar never actually attended the Circle or any of the international conferences organised in its name, his early philosophy was embodied in the only book he ever allowed to be published, written during the war: the Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung, later translated as Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. In this austere, introspective world of pure logic, there could be no place for systems of philosophy, let alone for politics. "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

For Schlick, the Tractatus had the status of holy writ; accordingly, the Circle treated it as such. In his own remarkable little book, Problems of Ethics (published in the Circle series Schriften zur wissenschaftlichen Weltauffassung in 1930), Schlick bases his ethics not on the Kantian foundation of absolute duty -- then fashionable in Austro-German culture -- but on probability: "Moral rules, too, must refer to the average."

As Hume said, no one can actually live that way.