Monday, February 21, 2022

Presidents' Day Links

  • Within the footprint of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, which oversees a large regional grid spanning from Louisiana to Manitoba, Canada, coal- and gas-fired power plants supplying more than 13 gigawatts of power are expected to close by 2024 as a result of economic pressures, as well as efforts by some utilities to shift more quickly to renewables to address climate change. Meanwhile, only 8 gigawatts of replacement supplies are under development in the area. Unless more is done to close the gap, MISO could see a capacity shortfall, NERC said. MISO said it is aware of this potential discrepancy but declined to comment on the reasons for it. Curt Morgan, CEO of Vistra Corp., which operates the naton's largest fleet of competitive power plants selling wholesale electricity, said he is worried about reliability risks in New York, New England and other markets as state and federal policy makers pursue ambitious goals to quickly phase out fossil fuel-fired power plants. His concern is that the plants will retire before replacements such as wind, solar and battery storage come online, he said, given the cost and challenge of quickly building enough batteries to have meaningful supply reserves. "Everything is tied to having electricity, and yet we're not focusing on the reliability of the grid. That's absurd, and that's frightening," he said. "There's such an emotional drive to get where we want to get on climate change, which I understand, but we can't throw out the idea of having a reliable grid." [WSJ]
  • Tesla started talking about battery swap. And it was very strange because Better Place’s business model was built around swap, and it made sense for them. With Tesla, it didn’t really make sense because if you own the car, and you own the battery, and you’ve taken care of that battery, do you want it swapped out with some battery whose provenance you’re not familiar with? Probably not. And so I became really intrigued by it. And I couldn’t find anybody describing actually using the station. They unveiled it. There was all this fanfare. Musk said it was all automated. But it was all happening behind a curtain. This was 2015. [Edward Niedermeyer]
  • What you bring home from a trip is half the fun. On the way back from Procida, Italy, I packed yet another goodie. This time it was lemons. Not just any lemons. The biggest, sweetest lemons you've ever seen--so sweet you can eat the pith. And Procidans do, in their Lemon Salad. Here's the recipe: Peel and chop several lemons into wedges and toss them in olive oil with chopped red onion, mint, and dried chile flakes. Season with salt. No soaking. No cooking, just straight up eat those lemons. And it's good! Sure, you have to like bold flavors to enjoy it, but I didn't see one puckered mouth at my Procidan luncheon. [Bon Appetit]
  • Wherefore sexism? (i.e., what is the CAUSAL explanation for the tradition of excluding women from positions of power, decision-making etc that seems to have convergently evolved in many different places?) The explanation that seems to make most sense [and this has been discussed before] is group selection resulting from asymmetry in outcomes in war defeats; men wiped out, women get new (better?) male partners. But this is still missing some mechanics; presumably over time a lot of matriarchal tribes arose and failed. What did that look like exactly? What do women try to do when they have a lot of power & run all the institutions? [Roko Mijic]
  • Augury is the practice from ancient Roman religion of interpreting omens from the observed behavior of birds. When the individual, known as the augur, interpreted these signs, it is referred to as "taking the auspices". 'Auspices' is from the Latin auspicium and auspex, literally "one who looks at birds." Depending upon the birds, the auspices from the gods could be favorable or unfavorable (auspicious or inauspicious). Sometimes politically motivated augurs would fabricate unfavorable auspices in order to delay certain state functions, such as elections. Pliny the Elder attributes the invention of auspicy to Tiresias the seer of Thebes, the generic model of a seer in the Greco-Roman literary culture. This type of omen reading was already a millennium old in the time of Classical Greece: in the fourteenth-century BC diplomatic correspondence preserved in Egypt called the "Amarna correspondence", the practice was familiar to the king of Alasia in Cyprus who needed an 'eagle diviner' to be sent from Egypt. [Augury]
  • Historian Carl L. Becker in History of Political Parties in the Province of New York, 1760–1776 (1909) formulated the Progressive interpretation of the American Revolution. He said there were two revolutions: one against Britain to obtain home rule, and the other to determine who should rule at home. Charles A. Beard in An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913) and Economic Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy (1915) extended Becker's thesis down to 1800 in terms of class conflict. To Beard, the Constitution was a counter-revolution, set up by rich bond holders (bonds were "personal property"), in opposition to the farmers and planters (land was "real property"). The Constitution, Beard argued, was designed to reverse the radical democratic tendencies unleashed by the Revolution among the common people, especially farmers and debtors (people who owed money to the rich). In 1800, said Beard, the farmers and debtors, led by plantation slaveowners, overthrew the capitalists and established Jeffersonian democracy. Other historians supported the class conflict interpretation, noting that the states confiscated great semifeudal landholdings of Loyalists and gave them out in small parcels to ordinary farmers. Conservatives such as William Howard Taft were shocked at the Progressive interpretation because it seem to belittle the Constitution. [Charles A. Beard]
  • To simplify, let’s first identify and categorize two classes of people in society, who we could say tend to navigate and interact with the world in fundamentally different ways. The first is a class that has been a part of human civilization for a really long time. These are the people who work primarily in the real, physical world. Maybe they work directly with their hands, like a carpenter, or a mechanic, or a farmer. Or maybe they are only a step away: they own or manage a business where they organize and direct employees who work with their hands, and buy or sell or move things around in the real world. Like a transport logistics company, maybe. This class necessarily works in a physical location, or they own or operate physical assets that are central to their trade. The second class is different. It is, relatively speaking, a new civilizational innovation (at least in numbering more than a handful of people). This group is the “thinking classes” Lasch was writing about above. They don’t interact much with the physical world directly; they are handlers of knowledge. They work with information, which might be digital or analog, numerical or narrative. But in all cases it exists at a level of abstraction from the real world. Manipulation and distribution of this information can influence the real world, but only through informational chains that pass directives to agents that can themselves act in the physical world – a bit like a software program that sends commands to a robot arm on an assembly line. To facilitate this, they build and manage abstract institutions and systems of organizational communication as a means of control. Individuals in this class usually occupy middle links in these informational chains, in which neither the inputs nor outputs of their role has any direct relationship with or impact on the physical world. They are informational middlemen. This class can therefore do their job almost entirely from a laptop, by email or a virtual Zoom meeting, and has recently realized they don’t even need to be sitting in an office cubicle while they do it. For our purposes here, let’s call these two classes the Physicals and the Virtuals, respectively. When considering the causes and character of the current protest, and the response to it, I would say the divide between Physicals and Virtuals is by far the most relevant frame of analysis available. In fact I’d say this is among the most significant divides in all of Western politics today. [The Upheaval]
  • I just spent a week in Panam√° City, and figured I'd share my observations in case they're useful to anyone else interested in similar questions. The purpose of the trip was to research locations for a gene therapy/stem cell clinic that my friend is planning to start. I also explored a few of Panam√°'s Special Economic Zones (SEZs) as part of my ongoing research about startup cities, as well as to learn about the opportunities they offer for businesses like my friend's clinic. The fact that this was a goal-oriented trip actually made it even more fun. I recommend this as a way to organize your travels. For me, travel is most satisfying when I have a concrete goal—in this case, "where's the best place to open a gene therapy clinic in Central America?"—because it forces you to actually learn about the place rather than take whatever path just happens to be pre-paved for tourists. You bump up against real constraints in the real world, rather than interacting with some manicured narrative of what the place is about. Best yet, you learn about what its future might be, not just the past. [Devon Zuegel]
  • The physicist John Wheeler once stated a useful principle to guide research: “In any field, find the strangest thing and explore it”. One great thing about maps is that they suggest strange things. This is true even when the map itself is familiar, like the periodic table. We can ask ourselves: where are the strangest “places” in the periodic table? And then challenge ourselves to explore those places. [Michael Nielsen]
  • A form of bias I’m interested in is the great deference we pay to power, often far more than is warranted by the facts. I’m particularly interested in the damage this does to powerful people, since it greatly reduces the incentive they have to perform well (if people are going to pay attention to you anyway, you have less incentive to improve your ideas), and it also diminishes feedback that can help them improve their ideas. [Michael Nielsen]

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