Thursday, August 31, 2023

Thursday Night Links

  • Thoreau’s hissy fit in Civil Disobedience was motivated in part by his desire to avoid service in such a just, quick, winnable, and decisive war that won the United States the most valuable real estate in the world, the Pacific coastline, including much of the Mountain West. That millions of New Englanders later eagerly volunteered to invade their own country in a much bloodier war of attrition showed that it was not pacifism that motivated them, but their own “leapfrogging loyalties.” [The Tom File]
  • Out of a million lives our knowledge came, A million subtle craftsmen forged the means; Steam was our handmaid and our servant flame, Water our strength, all bowed to our machines. Out of the rock, the tree, the springing herb We built this wandering beauty so superb. [John Masefield]
  • Instead of “reasoned debate” from within the leftist worldview, an entirely different approach to historiography is required – one that interprets the world through a Classical lens. If the United States is to maintain a self-image based on pride and truth, we need a way of thinking that recognizes the propaganda war being waged over the meaning of American history, but steps over it. A historical view which actively upholds Columbus, for example, as opposed to merely resist his destruction. Within this framework the subconscious and aesthetic associations of great men like Columbus must not be merely neutral, but positive and inspirational. If revisionist historical discourse aims to humiliate, we should use history to celebrate and uplift. [Alaric]
  • Cumulatively, these effects are at first linear over time, then quadratic, and eventually exponential. The forces are proportional to the square of velocity, so faster HSR trains damage rails faster. The Tokaido line averages around 140 mph (somewhat less than its peak of ~185 mph), but increase that speed by just 40% and rail lifetime will (at least) halve, while track maintenance costs (at least) double. Maintenance costs that were already on the order of $200,000/km/year, in 2003 dollars. That’s $400m/year just for rail maintenance for the LA-SF route, once we correct for inflation and a higher design speed. [Casey Handmer]
  • Nolan’s early films were strange, seedy and suggestive. In an alternate reality, or a previous epoch, he continued developing his insights, and became an excellent psychological filmmaker — as good as De Palma, maybe. But with his success after Batman, his technique became aggressive and clumsy, to the point of abuse. The attractive delusion that Oppenheimer is “brilliant” extends from its blinding quality. The film as a whole is defined by a graceless and overblown use of music and a barrage of short cuts and short scenes which pummel the audience into hypnotic submission. Even in the endless interrogation scenes which dominate the last act of the film — a textbook case of diegetic failure — Nolan continues to pound away at his audience, drowning-out the dialogue with telegraphed emotional manipulation. This is the antithesis of confident, masterful filmmaking, which respects intelligence, and enhances sensitivity, instead of attacking it. Nolan’s cinematic technique only partly deflects from a script which exhibits the same problems as his visual style. It is surprisingly hard to say what Oppenheimer is about. [Daniel Miller]
  • Duck, especially the pressed duck, is the speciality (Canard à la presse, Caneton à la presse, Caneton Tour d'Argent, and recently renamed “Caneton de Frédéric Delair”). The restaurant raises its ducks on its own farm. Diners who order the duck receive a postcard with the bird's serial number, now well over 1 million. (Serial number #112,151 went to U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, #203,728 went to Marlene Dietrich, and #253,652 went to Charlie Chaplin). [La Tour d'Argent]
  • People just seem to spend 25-30% of their income on housing (with about half of that going to “shelter”). And this seems to be true as far back as we have data: in 1901, Americans spent on average 24% of their income on housing. That’s slightly below what we spend now, but this has been pretty consistent over time, with notable exception of the Depression. Truncating the y-axis really distorts the picture here: this is consistently within a band of 22-28%. The 1950s through the 1970s do seem a bit more “affordable” than today, but since the 1980s there has been no big increase (once again, a mild decline). [Jeremy Horpedahl]
  • Shortly after my fourth child was born over the summer, I understandably got quite behind in my reading. I think that I had as many as twelve unread posts. I would try to catchup on the days that I stayed home with the children. After all, they don’t require constant monitoring and often go do their own thing. Then, without fail, every time that I pull out my phone to catch up on some choice econ content, the kids would get needy. They’d start whining, fighting, or otherwise suddenly start accosting me for one thing or another – even if they were fine just moments before. It’s as if my phone was the signal that I clearly had nothing to do and that I should be interacting with them. Don’t get me wrong, I like interacting with my kids. But, don’t they know that I’m a professional living in the 21st century? Don’t they know that there is a lot of good educational and intellectually stimulating content on my phone and that I am not merely zoning out and wasting my time? No. They do not. [Zachary Bartsch]
  • Further stacking the deck in favor of batteries is the fact that power arbitrage depends on differences in demand, and there is a lot more spatial correlation than temporal correlation in energy demand. For example, over a 500 mile grid people will be using power for cooking and heating at the same times of day, while local weather systems will impact wind and solar generation in a correlated way. Conversely, power demand varies by a factor of two or three over a 24 hour cycle, every day, like clockwork. Why do batteries pay for themselves in 18 months while transmission lines, if built, lose money? Wonder no longer. [Casey Handmer]
  • This is interesting – it goes against our intuition about the virtue of high efficiency and high capital utilization. But it’s not particularly mysterious. Hydrogen is an energy product, and if we’re doing it right then 70-80% of the product cost will be electricity opex. This is particularly important in the context of solar cost continuing to decline. A high capex option will still cost a lot even if electricity cost goes to zero, whereas a lower efficiency, higher power consumption option will pass cost savings on cheap power through to the consumer. Practically speaking, the best way to “short” future solar cost declines is to develop infrastructure now that achieves highly scalable low capex by trading away some electrical efficiency and being flexible enough to consume intermittent renewable electricity sources. [Casey Handmer]
  • At present rates of growth, non-solar sources of energy will likely be excluded from the market by 2030. As costs continue to fall, fixed asset payback times for solar and batteries will reduce to the neighborhood of 24 months. Ultimately, the price of electricity for the consumer will fall enough to transform the way our society uses energy, opening up further opportunities for industrial growth. [Casey Handmer]
  • Yeah, I really struggle with that. I have a whole bunch of books that I haven’t finished which I really should just toss. Patrick Collison talks about this too. The problem of having to finish every book is you’re not only spending time on books you shouldn’t be but it also causes you to stall out on reading in general. If I can't start the next book until I finish this one, but I don't want to read this one, I might as well go watch TV. Before you know it, you’ve stopped reading for a month and you're asking “what have I done?!” I think that's part of it. This moral hectoring of ‘don't do that’ which can only be so successful. The other technique is to read a dozen books at a time. [Marc Andreessen]
  • There are a lot of books out there, and I don’t have the time to get through them all. So when I’m investing time in reading, I want to keep curiosity in the driver's seat and not let it slip out the back door (and no, my home is not on wheels). Forcing myself to trudge through a boring book can put my reading habit at risk, as I imagine it does for a lot of people. What’s nice about the above process is that it can take 15 minutes or an hour—however much time I want to invest in it—but I no longer have the mental baggage of lugging around a huge list of books that I’m “going to read one day.” I can just buy books as people recommend, and follow the above process to see how interested I am. [Brian Tobal]
  • One very interesting point by Sirower is that the U.S. legal system encourages acquirers to overpay. As a shareholder of a company that makes a stupid acquisition, you have no recourse. The managers are protected by the business judgement rule. But the shareholders of the target have much more protection against their corporation being sold "too cheaply". The equilibrium result is that acquisition prices are too high and transfer value from acquiring firm shareholders to target shareholders. [CBS]

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