November 19, 2022

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


'Arthur Miller' Review: Only Truth for Sale: a review of   Arthur Miller: American Witness by John Lahr (Willard Spiegelman, Nov. 10, 2022, WSJ)

He does not seem to have been destined to shine, other than in the eyes of his mother, who worshiped him, calling him "God's chosen" in the wake of his success with "Salesman." He always felt that she was watching over him, "the boy-child, half lover and half rebel against her dominion."

The title of the book is particularly disgraceful given that the author of Witness fought communism, not America. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM


On the right tracks: meeting the man behind Thomas the Tank Engine in 1979 (Emma Beddington, 13 Nov 2022, The Observer)

Before the Angry Engines became a global megabrand and Ringo Starr's side hustle, The Observer (22 July 1979) went to meet their creator: the Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry. Then 68, retired and living in Stroud, he appears otherworldly and bemused at his own celebrity, in a surprisingly loud checked jacket, dog collar and tinted specs. [...]

The lucky Observer writer gets access to Awdry operating his model railway in the spare room, like watching Leonardo doodle, I suppose. 'Mr Awdry attached a wooden box to a canvas belt about his waist and proceeded to operate it faultlessly for half an hour.' She devotes a chunk of the article to the Rev's happily absorbed narration: 'This is Ffarquhar, the main terminus on Thomas's branch line. (Gordon thinks branch lines are vulgar.) We will do the section 6.45 to 11.48... 7.25 here's Toby.'

Put on the spot to choose between 'puffed up and boastful' Gordon, 'wilful and disobedient' Henry and 'saucy, plucky' Thomas, Awdry refused to play favourites. 'Suppose you had a family of 10 or 12 children and I asked you which was your favourite? What would you say?'

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 AM


So this is what capitulation by a great power looks like (Peter Hartcher, 11/16/22, SMH)

So this is what capitulation by a great power looks like.

After all the rants and insults, the political freeze and the trade bans, the president of China brought his intimidation campaign of Australia to a politely meek end.

thanks, Vlad!

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 AM


Who Is Dying from COVID Now, and Why: Nearly three years into the pandemic, COVID's mortality burden is growing in certain groups of people (Melody Schreiber, November 16, 2022, Scientific American)

Today in the U.S., about 335 people will die from COVID--a disease for which there are highly effective vaccines, treatments and precautions. Who is still dying, and why?

Older people were always especially vulnerable and now make up a higher proportion of COVID fatalities than ever before in the pandemic. While the total number of COVID deaths has fallen, the burden of mortality is shifting even more to people older than age 64. And deaths in nursing homes are ticking back up, even as COVID remains one of the top causes of death for all ages. COVID deaths among people age 65 and older more than doubled between April and July this year, rising by 125 percent, according to a recent analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. This trend increased with age: more than a quarter of all COVID fatalities were among those age 85 and older throughout the pandemic, but that share has risen to at least 38 percent since May.

Where people live also affects their risk level. The pandemic first hit urban areas harder, but mortality rose dramatically in rural areas by the summer of 2020--a pattern that has held. The gap is currently narrowing, but people living in rural areas are still dying at significantly higher rates.

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 AM


Can Africa power with renewables as it grows? (Beatrice Christofaro, 11/12//22,Deutsche-Welle)

Africa has the potential to become a renewable powerhouse.  

With much of it bathed in sunlight year-round, the continent has 60% of the world's best solar resources. And it has enough wind potential in a year to meet its electricity demand 250 times over, with resources stretching all the way from Algeria to South Africa.  

Countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia already cover more than 80% of their consumption with hydropower -- but there is room to produce even more across the continent. Meanwhile, Kenya is a world leader in harnessing geothermal energy.  

Though the use of clean power varies greatly across Africa, the continent as a whole still gets almost all of its energy from fossil fuels. As half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa doesn't have access to electricity, there are hundreds of millions of customers waiting to enter the market.

Other continents electrified off the back of coal, oil, and gas and, to different extents, are now trying to transition to renewables. Could Africa skip fossil fuels and service new consumers with green energy?  

"What makes Africa the right continent to roll out those [green] technologies is the simple fact that they are there in abundance," said Tony Tiyou, CEO of the engineering consultancy Renewables in Africa that works in Kenya, Mozambique, Ghana, Nigeria, and Benin. "I call it the promised land."

For people living in Africa, leapfrogging to clean power has one very clear benefit: Mitigating the climate crisis, because they have felt the effects of burning fossil fuels first-hand. This process releases greenhouse gases that heat the atmosphere, which makes extreme weather events more likely and more severe. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 AM


John Milton's free speech crusade: His vision of liberty is more potent than ever (ANDREW DOYLE, 11/11/22, UnHerd)

Milton was a free-thinker whose worldview was grounded in reason. At a time when the divine right of kings was rarely contested, Milton considered it unreasonable that a man should be king on the basis of an accident of birth. He believed in meritocracy, which is partly what drew him to Cromwell.

Milton had his inconsistencies. He was a profoundly religious man, but nonetheless wrote extensively about the right to divorce. Most remarkably, his puritanical strain was at odds with his eschewal of the Calvinist notion of predestination. For Milton, free will was an essential aspect of our humanity. The fall of man depicted in Paradise Lost is meaningless unless Adam and Eve have chosen freely to partake of the forbidden fruit.

But Milton's commitment to individual liberty is most keenly expressed in his Areopagitica (1644), a counterblast to the Licensing Order of June 1643, which decreed that all printed texts be passed before a censor in advance of publication. Often cited as a defence of press freedom, the text carries resonance for us at a time when liberalism and free speech is increasingly under threat. Rarely has the case been made with greater elegance and clarity. "Give me the liberty," he writes, "to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties".

Of course, Milton's conceptualisation of "liberty" differs significantly from ours. His was a specifically Christian notion of liberty, predicated on this idea of virtuous self-regulation. He was at pains to distinguish between what he called "licence", the freedom to do whatever one desires, and "liberty", by which the faithful man is called to purge those passions and temptations that enslave the soul. "Licence", Milton contends, is no freedom at all, but an indulgence that amounts to a form of self-imposed tyranny.

Amid all this, Milton is adamant that we are not the merest marionettes, guided by divine providence, but individual agents with responsibility and choice. The act of censorship, he argues, deprives us of our right to determine for ourselves how best to conduct our lives. He makes the case that censorship might begin with good intentions, but that subjective judgement will always blur the line between the heretical and the distasteful. As he puts it in Areopagitica, censors do not "stay in matters heretical" but "any subject that is not to their palate".

Posted by orrinj at 12:13 AM


Brazil's "Moderated" Liberty (Leonidas Zelmanovitz, 11/15/22, Law & Liberty)

The traditional division of power, since Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws, has been one of three branches of power, the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary, all of them having popular sovereignty as the sole source of their legitimacy.

Benjamin Constant later proposed a different separation of power. It was based on the recognition that in England, the quintessential constitutional monarchy at his time, in the words of Adolphe Thiers: "the king rules but does not govern." Based on that observation, Constant proposed that the king had a "moderating" power, with the executive power vested in the cabinet of ministers, and the king acting as an impartial "judge" of the political game. Constant is mostly understood as describing, in more detail, a liberal conception of constitutional monarchy with popular sovereignty exercised by a parliament, and not as challenging such conception.

However, that was not what was institutionalized in Brazil.   

The charter Dom Pedro I gave the country concentrated power in his hands to intervene in the political process whenever he deemed it necessary. To that end, he institutionalized a power of "tutelage" of the exercise of popular sovereignty for himself. The emperor at his sole discretion could fire the cabinet, dissolve the parliament, call new elections, command the armed forces, and enjoy legal immunities, among other prerogatives. Soon he abused that power. A crisis ensued and, for all practical purposes, he was forced to resign in 1831. His son, Dom Pedro II, exercised that power more prudently, if not more sparingly, until the monarchy was abolished by a military coup in 1889.

Although Brazil, once it became a republic, has never again explicitly acknowledged the right of someone to exercise "tutelage" over the political process in its formal constitutions, first the army and more recently the Supreme Court have claimed such powers time and again.

Aside from other minor and not-so-minor incidents, Brazil had military coups in 1889, 1930, 1945, and 1964. More recently, the Supreme Court has claimed to have powers not considered by most legal scholars to be authorized by the current Brazilian constitution of 1988.

With more or less acknowledgment, all those instances of tutelage over the political process are manifestations of the "moderating power." It is part of the real, unwritten Brazilian Constitution.

At a minimum, republican liberty has to be paramount. The sovereign power has to be bound by the same laws as the lowest peon.

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 AM


How to slash carbon emissions while growing the economy, in one chartMore than 30 countries have already broken the link between emissions and economic growth. (Sigal Samuel, Nov 13, 2022, Vox)

There's a common intuition that says we can either have a healthy climate, or a growing economy, but not both.

Economic activity, so long as it's powered by fossil fuels -- which still provides about 80 percent of the world's energy -- creates greenhouse gas emissions. So it seems to follow that if we want to emit fewer greenhouse gasses, we're going to have to sacrifice some economic growth, even though raising average income levels is a key part of reducing poverty.

This creates a horrible dilemma, because fighting climate change and fighting poverty are both hugely important goals. As developing countries are making clear at the ongoing COP27 climate summit in Egypt, we really don't want to shortchange either one.

Fortunately, we may not have to.

The evidence comes from more than 30 countries that have already achieved what's known as "absolute decoupling." That means they've figured out how to reduce carbon emissions while continuing to grow economically, so those goals are not incompatible. Note that these are not just per capita measures; we're talking about total emissions and total economies here.

Over at Our World in Data, the researcher Max Roser created a great chart that shows 25 of the countries that have pulled off this feat over the past couple decades.

That was easy.