Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 13th, 2020

BC Firm Lobbying Washington On Proposed Efforts to Suck Carbon Directly From The Atmosphere

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If the technology passes muster, then I think one sensible option would be for the government to take on a few cents per gallon to build a great many of these CO2 scrubbers and run them. I would think that one big plant could account for many cars, and taxing fossil fuels to pay for the removal of the CO2 they produce makes sense to me.

From the article by Sean Craig at the link:

A B.C. carbon capture firm has tapped a U.S. lobbying firm to build congressional support for fighting climate change by pulling CO2 emissions right out of the air.

Squamish-based Carbon Engineering (CE) paid about $30,000 in the first three months of 2020 to AJW, Inc., a firm that specializes in energy and environmental government relations, to meet with U.S officials in order to push carbon capture legislation, according to congressional records.

U.S. lawmakers are currently considering a handful of bills that could bolster investor appetite for the technology. They are at the centre of an emerging bipartisan approach to climate change legislation that relies on market incentives rather than spending, meaning the bills have a better chance of passing both houses of congress. (For example, the big spending, Democrat-backed Green New Deal was last year rejected by the Republican-led Senate).

One bill which is the focus of AJW’s lobbying, the Carbon Capture Improvement Act of 2019, would allow local or state governments to issue tax-exempt bonds in order to build carbon capture projects.

It was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet and cosponsored by his Republican colleague, Rob Portman of Ohio. House Republican Tim Burchett of Tennessee introduced the bill in the lower chamber, arguing it “allows the free market, rather than the government, to determine innovative ways to go green.” . . .

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2020 at 7:48 pm

Walkies, cold-smoked fish, and XP

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By the way I saw these flowers, though in fact there was an abundance — perhaps two — of flowers. This was just to show that I did indeed walk  — almost 1 1/2 miles (1.445 miles according to my odometer app) to the Finest at Sea local seafood store, where I purchased several cold-smoked fish. I just had some cold-smoked sable fish with Victoria Distillers Left Coast Hemp Vodka (scroll down here), which drinks very like a Martini from an alternate universe. I take it plain, on the rocks, though a twist would not be amiss. I’m now trying the cold-smoked albacore tuna. I prefer cold-smoked to hot-smoked because cold-smoked is closer to sashimi. And I also tried the cold smoked salmon. In order of preference (most preferred first): sablefish, albacore, salmon. That was a surprise.

And I’m going great guns in Duolingo’s Esperanto course. You’ll never catch me now. Note the trend in daily accumulation of XP. I have to say that I like Duolingo more and more as I understand what they’re up to and how they go about it. Eble mi komencis blogi en Esperanto….


Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2020 at 4:48 pm

On Asking People What They ‘Do’?

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I have not asked that question of any new acquaintance since the time someone responded with some sense of despair, “I just lost my job, so right now I’m unemployed. What I “do” is look for a job?”

That made me realize how intrusive the question can be and reminded me of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s dictum “Questioning is not the mode of conversation among gentlemen. It is assuming a superiority, and it is particularly wrong to question a man concerning himself.

I do realize the question is commonly asked, and it seems not inappropriate if you’re at some business conference or convention. This piece discusses the switch from “Where are you from?” to “What do you do?”

The world became modern when people who met for the first time shifted from asking each other (as they had always done) where they came from – to asking each other what they did.

To try to position someone by their area of origin is to assume that personal identity is formed first and foremost by membership of a geographical community; we are where we are from. We’re the person from the town by the lake, we’re from the village between the forest and the estuary. But to want to know our job is to imagine that it’s through our choice of occupation, through our distinctive way of earning money, that we become most fully ourselves; we are what we do.

The difference may seem minor but it has significant implications for the way we stand to be judged and therefore how pained the question may make us feel. We tend not to be responsible for where we are from. The universe landed us there and we probably stayed. Furthermore, entire communities are seldom viewed as either wholly good or bad; it’s assumed they will contain all sorts of people, about whom blanket judgements would be hard. One is unlikely to be condemned simply on the basis of the region or city one hails from. But we have generally had far more to do with the occupation we are engaged in. We’ll have studied a certain way, gained particular qualifications and made specific choices in order to end up, perhaps, a dentist or a cleaner, a film producer or a hospital porter. And to such choices, targeted praise or blame can be attached.

It turns out that in being asked what we do, we are not being asked what we do, we’re being asked what we . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2020 at 3:29 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Memes

Deaths of despair

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Joshua Cohen talks to Angus Deaton in the Boston Review:

Angus Deaton, Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of Economics and International Affairs Emeritus at Princeton University, has been widely recognized for his work on capitalism and inequality. Awarded the Nobel Prize in 2015 for “his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare,” the British American scholar was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II the following year for “for his services to research in economics and international affairs.” In the mid 2010s, he and economist Anne Case turned their attention to what seemed to be a startling trend: the reversal of declines in mortality rates for white working-class Americans in middle age. That research culminated in the March 2020 publication of their book Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism. Last month, Boston Review editor Joshua Cohen spoke with Deaton about this new work—the narrowing economic horizons for the U. S. working class, the relationship between culture, financial hardship, and health, and prospects for change.


Joshua Cohen: In mid-March you and Anne Case published Deaths of Despair. As the book appeared, much of the country was shutting down because of COVID-19. But the book is about a terrible problem that significantly predates COVID-19, will almost certainly outlive COVID-19, and in all likelihood will be made worse by COVID-19. We’ll come back to the COVID-19 connection at the very end, but I want to focus the conversation on the terrible problem that the book identifies. What were the initial reasons that led you to what you call “deaths of despair”?

Angus Deaton: Like many things that surprise you, you fall over it accidentally. We were working together on suicide, and discovered a remarkable increase in suicides among white non-Hispanics in midlife. We were going to present that at a conference, and it seemed like a good idea to put it in the context of all-cause mortality.

When we pulled that data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), we were astonished to find that the long-term decline in mortality in the twentieth century for all racial groups—a trend I’d written about for my previous book, The Great Escape (2013)—had stalled or reversed for white non-Hispanics in midlife. That seemed extraordinary. I should note that African Americans, who have historically had higher all-cause mortality rates, and indeed still do, were making real progress in terms of falling mortality rates.

At the same time, Anne was working on pain—she suffers from very severe lower back pain herself—and she knew there’d been an increase in pain and other morbidity in the same group. And we saw very quickly that this was happening to both men and women, and, most importantly, that this decline was only happening to white people who didn’t have college degrees. Those of us with at least a bachelor’s degree, the educational elite, were somehow exempted from these horrors.

So first we wrote about it in a 2015 paper. When we saw the rise or cessation of fall in all-cause mortality rates, we did what seems like a reasonable thing: we looked at what other things were rising really rapidly and found three that Anne later christened “deaths of despair”: suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholic liver disease. What we got wrong at the time—as Jon Skinner and Ellen Meara picked up very quickly—was that even the rapid rise in these three things could not account for the increase in all-cause mortality. Deaths from heart disease, which had been falling rapidly in the last quarter of the twentieth century, had stopped declining. Lots of people die from heart disease; adding that to the deaths of despair that were going up very fast accounted for the all-cause mortality rates. We had missed that.

We also missed—and the book is clear about this—that these deaths of despair are getting worse not just for white people in middle age (45–55 years old), but for younger people as well. When we wrote in 2015, it was also too early to see the increase in drug overdose among African Americans once fentanyl reached the inner cities after 2013.

JC: In the book you focus on these deaths of despair: 158,000 in 2018, about 100,000 of which are above and beyond what we would normally expect, an excess that is almost entirely among white non-Hispanic men and women without a college degree. The category covers three different causes of death: alcohol, opioids, and suicide. Could you talk about why you group them together?

AD: Initially, “deaths of despair” was a label of convenience. It helped express the sense that these deaths were sort of caused by your own hand—unlike COVID-19, say. We had this sense that you have to look at what’s happening to people in their lives, rather than some fault in the medical systems. Anne thought up that term in an interview, I think. And that led us back to Durkheim, whose thinking about suicide proved very useful and provided some intellectual framework—not something that economists are brought up on.

JC: Yes, it’s not exactly a common American Economic Review reference, but it’s important. To what extent is this fundamentally an opioids issue, rather than an issue of alcohol and suicide as well?

AD: Some have taken the position that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2020 at 3:21 pm

Fungi’s Lessons for Adapting to Life on a Damaged Planet

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Merlin Sheldrake talks to Robert Macfarlane:

Merlin Sheldrake’s new book Entangled Life looks at the complex world of fungi, its adaptive ability, and its interconnectedness with all other forms of life. He spoke with Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland, about his relationship to fungi and its strategic lessons on growth in the face of climate crisis.


Robert Macfarlane: I want to plunge straight in and ask about the title of your book, Entangled Life. I hear echoes of Darwin’s famous “tangled bank” paragraph, closing the later editions of On the Origin of Species, and “entanglement” is one of the favorite tropes of what might be called Anthropocene ecology, conspicuous in the work of Anna Tsing and Donna Haraway, for instance. What do you mean by “entangled”—and for that matter, what do you mean by “life”!?

Merlin Sheldrake: Plunge! I think of the word “entangle” as a knotting and re-knotting, a ravelling, an intertwining. The word appears to have some of its roots in Nordic and German words for “seaweed,” presumably because they are life forms that knot and clump with themselves—besides oars and fishing nets. According to the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology “entangle” was originally used to describe human involvement in “complex affairs” and only later took on other meanings.

Entangled Life is a book about fungi, most of which live their lives as branching, fusing networks of tubular cells known as mycelium. Mycelium is how fungi feed. Animals tend to find food in the world and put it in their bodies; fungi put their bodies in the food. To do so, they must ceaselessly remodel themselves, weaving their bodies into relation with their surroundings. This entanglement—with themselves, with their physical surroundings, and with other organisms—is their staple mode of existence. On a very literal level, then, I use the word entangle to refer to the ancient growth habit of this little-understood kingdom of life.

But fungi don’t keep to themselves. Mycelium is the living seam by which much of life is stitched into relation. Fungi string their way through the soil, through sulphurous sediments on ocean beds, through coral reefs, inside plant leaves, roots and shoots. Bacteria use mycelial networks as highways to navigate the bustling wilderness of the soil. Nutrients circulate through ecosystems through fungal networks. Tug on strand of mycelium and you’ll find it hitched to something else. Fungi embody the most basic principle of ecology: that of the relationships between organisms. This is another sense in which I use the word entangled. Fungi form literal connections between organisms and in doing so remind us that all life forms, humans included, are bound up within seething networks of relationships, some visible and some less so.

This relates to your question about life. Evolution’s most well-worn iconography is that of a tree, mirroring the genealogical trees used to portray lines of human descent. Since Darwin, the dominant narrative within evolutionary circles has portrayed lineages as endlessly diverging from each other like the branches of a tree. But over the last several decades, it’s become clear that divergence is only part of the story. Some of the most dramatic moments in the history of life occurred when single-celled organisms engulfed unrelated single-celled organisms which continued to live inside them. Within the bodies of these new composite organisms, branches of the tree of life that had been diverging for hundreds of millions of years did something entirely unexpected, and converged.

In light of these discoveries, many biologists have begun to reimagine the tree of life as a reticulate mesh formed as lineages not only branch, but fuse and merge with one another. Strands of the mesh loop in and out of the realm of viruses—entities that many don’t consider to be living organisms at all—and make it clear that life shades off into non-life gradually. If anyone wanted a new poster organism for evolution they needn’t look far. It is a vision of life that resembles fungal mycelium more than anything else.

Are we in broad agreement, would you say?

RM: Yes, I think so. I remember in reading Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus, where they take aim at the ubiquitous metaphor of the “tree” on basis of its implicitly hierarchical-vertical structure; they propose, as you know, in its place the model of the “rhizome,” which weaves and moves by node and network. But I always felt they were a little harsh on trees; for as your research as a plant scientist, and your writing in Entangled Life both reveal, trees are themselves participants in a vast web of mutualisms, wafting aerosol signals between each other above ground, and sharing resources below ground via mycorrhizae…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2020 at 3:14 pm

Posted in Daily life, Memes, Science

A physics-based Covid-19 risk estimator for leaving the house

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This Medium article by Elena Polosova is interesting. It begins:

So we’re quarantined. We’re social distancing, avoiding groups, and staying 6 feet apart as much as possible. But this still leaves so many questions!

  • What if the sidewalk is only 4 feet wide — should I #stayHomeSaveLives?
  • How does “riskiness of the hangout” scale with “length of the hangout”?
  • How risky is going to Costco vs. going to the corner store?
  • How does this all change if we’re wearing masks?

I’m a mathematician, and I’m quarantined in a community house with nine other people. I also worked part-time for three years as a network epidemiology research assistant at MIT. Burning questions like this came up at all my house meetings, so to sync our collective understandings, I made a physics-based activity risk model and fed our questions into it.

In the rest of this article, I’ll step through the answers, and I’ll show you how to use the model to answer questions of your own!

Disclaimer: all models are wrong, but some are useful. I think this one is useful, but please bear in mind that I made it in a week. The exact percentages are definitely inaccurate. I’m sharing because I think the general, directional trend information it reveals — distinguishing between a 1% risk and a 10% risk — is much better than no information at all.

The Model

How to Use It

Here’s the link to download my Jupyter notebook on GitHub. And, here’s a link to a Google spreadsheet version, if you prefer that format. The parameters are documented in the code — change them to match your scenario!

Update May 1st, 2020: Ezekiel Sebastine made a web app version, linked here! This is the most user-friendly, but also the least flexible.


Many specifics of coronavirus transmission are still being debated, so I kept my math at a high level. I considered three widely-agreed-upon kinds of transmission:

  1. Surface-based: you touch an object that has virus on it, then touch your face.
  2. Warm-body-based: you come near a living, breathing infected person, and viral particles from their breathing then infect you in a diffusion-based way.
  3. Wildcard: a catch-all for everything else that’s beyond the scope of this model. Fluid dynamics of airborne particles are weird enough that this term is definitely nonzero, though it’s hard to say exactly how big it is. Probably small? . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2020 at 9:16 am

Dark-Chocolate shave

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A little pick-me-up for midweek: dark chocolate seemed just the ticket. My Simpson Chubby 1 Best made a good lather, but I didn’t catch must fragrance this morning and so I naturally thought “Covid-19!!!” But I persevered with the shave and my Phoenix Ascension did a marvelous job — this really is an excellent razor.

And, to my relief, the splash of the aftershave was redolent of dark chocolate: crisis forestalled if not averted.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2020 at 8:15 am

Posted in Shaving

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