November 21, 2022

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


AN INNOCENT AT RINKSIDE (William Faulkner, 1/24/1955, Sports Illustrated)

Excitement: men in rapid, hard, close physical conflict, not just with bare hands, but armed with the knife blades of skates and the hard, fast, deft sticks which could break bones when used right. He had noticed how many women were among the spectators, and for just a moment he thought that perhaps this was why--that here actual male blood could flow, not from the crude impact of a heavier fist but from the rapid and delicate stroke of weapons, which, like the European rapier or the frontier pistol, reduced mere size and brawn to its proper perspective to the passion and the will. But only for a moment because he, the innocent, didn't like that idea either. It was the excitement of speed and grace, with the puck for catalyst, to give it reason, meaning.

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 AM


Amazon can't get enough human workers -- so here come the robots (Joann Muller, 11/17/22,  Axios)

Amazon is rolling out an army of robots that could soon select and sort the majority of the 13 million packages it delivers every day.

Why it matters: Increased demand for expedited delivery has the e-commerce giant looking for ways to shave package processing time.

Speed pressure has triggered union organizing efforts at some Amazon warehouses by workers who complain of injuries and exhaustion.

Turnover rates are so high the company fears it could run out of people to hire in its U.S. warehouses by 2024, according to Recode, citing internal Amazon research.

No one will miss labor.

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 AM


Super-hot salt could be coming to a battery near you: New battery chemistries can help unlock more renewable energy for the grid. (Casey Crownhart, November 17, 2022, MIT Technology Review)

With the mismatch between lithium-ion batteries and our future energy storage needs, it seems like everybody is working on an alternative way to store energy. In just the last year, I've covered iron air and iron flow batteries, plastic ones, and even one startup using compressed carbon dioxide to store energy. 

Now, another technology is making the jump from the lab to the commercial world: molten salt. 

Ambri is a Boston-area startup that's building molten-salt batteries from calcium and antimony. The company recently announced a demonstration project deploying energy storage for Microsoft data centers, and last year it raised over $140 million to build its manufacturing capacity. 

The company says its technology could be 30-50% cheaper over its lifetime than an equivalent lithium-ion system. Molten salt batteries can also exceed 80% efficiency, meaning that a relatively low amount of energy that's used to charge the battery is lost to heat.  

Ambri was founded in 2010 based on research from Donald Sadoway's lab at MIT. The goal was to develop a low-cost product for the stationary storage market, says David Bradwell, the company's founder and CTO. 

The inspiration came from an unlikely place: aluminum production. Using similar chemical reactions to what's used for aluminum smelting, the team built a lab-scale, low-cost energy storage system. But turning this concept into a real product hasn't been so straightforward.

The magnesium and antimony-based chemistry the company started out with proved difficult to manufacture. In 2015, after continuing issues with the batteries' seals, Ambri laid off a quarter of its staff and went back to the drawing board. 

In 2017, the company pivoted to a new approach for its batteries, using calcium and antimony. The new chemistry relies on cheaper materials, and should prove simpler to manufacture, Bradwell says. Since the pivot, the company has worked out technical glitches and made progress on commercialization, going through third-party safety testing and signing its first commercial deals, including the Microsoft one. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 AM


How Republican Anti-Vax Madness Killed Off Their Party's Midterm Voters (Lucian K. Truscott IV, November 17 | 2022, National Memo)

From DeSantis in Florida to Abbott in Texas, Republican governors were in a hurry to get their states out of lockdown but in no hurry at all to get people vaccinated. In fact, some red states passed laws making mandatory vaccination requirements imposed by county and city governments illegal, and in some Republican states, governors forced school boards to re-open their schools before administrators and local school boards thought it was safe.

Here is the way that's paying off for them. According to figures published recently by the Pew Research Center, death rates in urban areas during 2020 and early 2021 were nine times higher than those in rural counties. In the waves of the disease that followed - the third wave, after the first vaccine roll-out; the fourth or Delta wave; and the fifth, or Omicron wave - the figures were reversed. Death rates in rural areas went up, while those in urban areas went down.

The pattern began to mimic the way people voted in America. In the early stages of COVID, counties that voted Democratic had much higher death rates than rural Republican counties. By the third wave of the disease in the fall of 2020, "Counties that voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden were suffering substantially more deaths from the coronavirus pandemic than those that voted for Biden over Trump," according to Pew. As the vaccine roll-out went on, the difference between red and blue counties became more pronounced, even as the total number of deaths in the country began to fall. As the fourth wave of the disease set in, "death rates in the most pro-Trump counties were about four times what they were in the most pro-Biden counties," according to Pew.

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 AM


Don Quixote Tells Us How the Star Wars Franchise Ends: We can predict what will happen to Disney brand franchises by studying how past pop culture narratives collapsed (Ted Gioia, 11/09/22, Honest Broker)

Cervantes's knight was the famous Don Quixote, celebrated in the book of the same name. And we could argue endlessly whether this book was, in fact, the first novel. The exact chronology here isn't the key issue. The more pressing point is that Don Quixote made all the earlier books about knights look ridiculous. In other words, Cervantes pursued the literary equivalent of a scorched earth policy.

The title character in his book is a shrunken and shriveled man of about 50, who has gone crazy by reading too many stories about knights and their adventures. In a fit of delusion, he decides to leave home and pursue knightly adventures himself--but the world has changed since the time of King Arthur, and our poor knight errant now looks like a fool. Other characters mock him, and play practical jokes at his expense--and simply because he believes all those lies in the brand franchise stories.

We start to feel sorry for Don Quixote, even begin cheering for our hapless hero. Thus this protagonist, in Cervantes's rendering, is both absurd and endearing. This is what raises the novel above mere satire--because we eventually come to admire Don Quixote for holding on to his ideals in the face of a world where they don't fit or belong.

In other words, there is much to praise in this book, but this three-layered approach to reality is perhaps the most interesting aspect of them all. Here are the three layers:

Don Quixote is just an ordinary man, not a hero by any means.

But in his delusion, he pretends to be a hero, following rules and procedures that are antiquated and irrelevant. They merely serve to make him look pitiful and absurd.

Yet by persisting in this fantasy, he actually does turn into a hero, although a more complex kind that anticipates the rise of the novel. He is the prototype of the dreamer and idealist who chases goals in the face of all obstacles.

The reality is, of course, exactly the opposite of the usually perspicacious Mr. Gioia's contention.  Hilariously, not only did readers treat the Don as a hero for being Arthurian but even Disney retold the Arthurian tales. Indeed, Star Wars not only relies on Knights with swords and heroes following chivalric codes but Luke is essentially just another Wart, who discovers his real lineage via a wizard and magical sword.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


The Diminishing Returns of Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric: A majority of voters want balanced solutions. (ALAN CROSS  NOVEMBER 17, 2022, The Bulwark)

Since 2014, conventional wisdom for many on the right has been that stoking fears of immigrants and refugees is a winning strategy. That year, Eric Cantor, the GOP House majority leader, experienced a shocking primary loss to David Brat; Tea Party opposition to immigration reform was an important factor in Cantor's loss, and the new hardline stance Brat advocated would become Republican writ following Donald Trump's successful, openly nationalist--at times, even nativist--campaign for the presidency in 2016. Republicans have since assumed that making overt appeals to anti-immigrant sentiment and fear of white replacement--concerns party operatives take to be widespread among voters but kept under wraps for fear of censure--would not only secure primary victories among the base, but also win the party control of Congress and the White House.

How has that worked out for them? Well, after Trump won in 2016, he spent two years calling for limits to legal immigration, invoking travel bans, and implementing a de facto family separation policy at the border. The 2018 midterms were, in part, a referendum on America's immigration policies, especially after Trump made migrant caravans his messaging focus in the run-up to the election. But after Democrats gained 41 seats and took control of the House that year, Trump dropped the dropped the caravans issue, and it soon fell out of the news.

By 2020, Trump's anti-immigrant emphasis was fading, and as it became less of a priority for him, it also became less of a concern for voters. While 70 percent of registered voters polled in 2016 said that immigration was a top concern going into the election, only 65 percent said so in 2018, and by 2020, that number had dropped to 52 percent. The Trump campaign still talked about immigration negatively as he ran for re-election, but by then he had shifted his rhetorical emphasis more to law and order. But the sentiment was locked in and people remembered. He lost the presidency and Democrats held the House and won control of the Senate, giving them a governing trifecta.

This year's midterms arrived following the admission to the United States of tens of thousands of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees, and in the midst of a COVID-related buildup of asylum seekers and higher than normal numbers of border encounters. Even so, immigration has remained a relatively low-priority issue for American voters, at least from a negative sense, with only 54 percent rating it as an issue of major concern in Pew's pre-election poll. (This was the first year since Trump's 2016 win that the issue did not make the top ten in Pew's poll.) Some on the right tried to make the border situation a major campaign focus, but the issue just didn't resonate negatively with voters in the same way it appeared to during Trump's original campaign. In the news networks' exit polling, 10 percent of respondents said immigration was the most important issue for them, ranking just below gun policy and crime, and far below abortion and inflation. (Of that 10 percent of voters who prioritized immigration, about three quarters were Republicans and one quarter were Democrats.)

Years of negative rhetoric aimed at immigrants and refugees hasn't changed the public's positive perception of them: Polls consistently show over 70 percent of Americans believing that immigration is a good thing for the United States. 

It is the aesthetics of people sneaking over the border that upsets people, demonstrating that government can't control events, an illusion they require.  Admit immigrants freely at designated sites where they can be processed in an orderly fashion.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Don't Blame the Immigrants. It's Our Laws That Are Criminal.Our immigration problem is that we're not politically capable of fixing the broken system. (MONA CHAREN, SEPTEMBER 21, 2022, The Bulwark)

Around the time that Venezuela was a prosperous country, the Republican party was guided by leaders who sympathized with the plight of those fleeing oppression, and took pride in the fact that so many aspired to come here. But today's GOP is in the grip of populists who portray desperate asylum seekers as hostile invaders. The Democrats, in this telling, are part of a conspiracy to flood the nation with immigrants who will "replace" the current dominant groups and reliably vote Democrat forever. (It's ironic that Republicans are actually increasing their share of the Hispanic vote.)

Many on the right portray illegal immigrants as criminals who are "breaking into our house" and deserve to be treated as such. So a word about the law. Under U.S. statutes, if a migrant comes into this country, turns himself in to a border guard or other authority, and asks for political asylum, he is entitled to a hearing. Asylum seekers are not "illegal" immigrants. They are simply following the law we enacted. There are some kinds of attempted entry that are illegal. These include using a fake passport, attempting to cross the border anywhere other than a border inspection point, or attempting to enter on false pretenses. The Venezuelans that DeSantis treated so shabbily were guilty of none of those things. They were simply desperate people hoping for a better life. DeSantis didn't see suffering human beings. He saw props. He saw Fox News coverage. (Fox, unlike the governor of Massachusetts, was tipped off in advance). And he saw the chance to show the GOP base what a jerk he could be.

The DeSantis justifiers object that border states are being flooded with illegals and that it's unjust that red states are bearing all of the burden. But the border states are not handling it alone. The federal government has spent roughly $333 billion on border security and immigration enforcement in the past 19 years, with much of it targeted on the southern border. As for the burden of immigration, it's debatable that immigrants represent a burden at all. Many studies show that they pay more in taxes than they cost in social services and they are more likely to work, start business, and seek patents than the native born (and less likely to commit crimes).

In any case, southern states have no monopoly on immigrants. In Texas, 17 percent of the population is foreign born. That's about the same as Massachusetts (16.9 percent), and only somewhat higher than the District of Columbia (14 percent), another city that has been the recipient of special delivery immigrants courtesy of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. While protesting the cost of handling immigrants, Abbott has spent $12 million in taxpayer funds busing immigrants to Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City. New York, as it happens, has a higher percentage of foreign born residents (23 percent) than Texas. While the typical image of an illegal immigrant is a person desperately scaling a fence or fording a river from Mexico, a large proportion--in some years, an outright majority--of illegal immigrants are those who overstay their visas.

Those who believe the propaganda that immigration is destroying America should ponder our neighbor to the north. Is Canada a hellscape? The proportion of foreign born there is 21 percent, compared to the American average of 13.7 percent.

In truth, the vast majority of would-be immigrants have done absolutely nothing wrong. It is our own laws that are the problem. Because our political system is so steeped in bile and demagoguery, we can't adapt to changing circumstances. We desperately need workers, yet the wait for legal immigration options is years long. People ask, "Why can't illegal immigrants wait in line?" But there is no line. We resolutely decline to accept guest workers in large numbers, who could fill jobs and return home (without affecting voting patterns, by the way). And so the only way to gain entry is to put feet on American soil and ask for asylum.

We have two aesthetic "problems" that undermine confidence in the capacity of government to function well: immigration and deficit spending.  Even, or especially, a narrowly divided government ought to deal with these, as we did under Reagan and Clinton respectively. As to immigration, return to an Ellis Island system where we admit those who wish to come to America but process them in an orderly fashion as we do so.