Thursday, June 22, 2017

Liberals in the desert they made for themselves

Emmett Rensin writes at the Los Angeles Review of Books (excerpts):

Liberalism is not working. Something deep within the mechanism has cracked. All our wonk managers, our expert stewards of the world, have lost their way. They wander desert highways in a daze, wondering why the brakes locked up, why the steering wheel came off, how the engine caught on fire. Their charts lie abandoned by the roadside. It was all going so well just a moment ago. History was over. The technocratic order was globalizing the world; people were becoming accustomed to the permanent triumph of a slightly kinder exploitation. What happened? All they can recall is a loud thump in the undercarriage, an abrupt loss of control. Was it Brexit? Trump? Suddenly the tires were bursting and smoke was pouring into the vehicle, then a flash. The next thing they could remember, our liberals were standing beside a smoldering ruin, blinking in the hot sun, their power stolen, their world collapsing, their predictions all proven wrong. …

The most significant development in the past 30 years of liberal self-conception was the replacement of politics understood as an ideological conflict with politics understood as a struggle against idiots unwilling to recognize liberalism’s monopoly on empirical reason. The trouble with liberalism’s enemies was no longer that they were evil, although they might be that too. The problem, reinforced by Daily Kos essays in your Facebook feed and retweeted Daily Show clips, was that liberalism’s enemies were factually wrong about the world. Just take a look at this chart …

This shift was a necessary accommodation to the fact that, beginning with Bill Clinton, the slim ideological differences that existed between the Democrats and the GOP were replaced with differences of style. Clinton’s “Third Way” promised to be every bit the dupe-servant of war and profit its rivals were, but to do it with the measured confidence of an expert. The New Democrats would destroy the labor movement, but sigh about it. They would frown while they voted to authorize the next war. They would make only the concessions necessary to bolster the flailing engine of finance capital, but they would do it with the latest research in the world. …

The notion that knowledge asymmetries lay at the root of all political conflict was quickly transmuted into the basis of policy itself. …

The result was an American political movement whose center was a moral void. …

The 2016 presidential election was meant to be the final victory of the wonk-managers, the triumph of a West Wing fantasy wherein the leadership class didn’t quite do anything beyond displaying the sublime confidence of cerebral people hurrying down the hallways of power with matters well in hand. Donald Trump was a perfect foe: the forces of stupidity and reaction, starkly manifested, were about to be dispatched. By this point, the knowledge-asymmetry theory of politics had become a commitment so pervasive that its champions could articulate it explicitly: Hillary Clinton was the most qualified candidate in history, full stop. The Clinton campaign was technocratic liberalism incarnate. Its surrogates might have been empty or evil, but they were smart. Its ideas might have been inert, but they were backed up by the latest charts. The campaign’s messaging apparatus was a digital marvel, cooked up by the best computers Robby Mook could buy. The Clinton campaign believed that it would win because it predicted that it would win, and because the capacity to predict and manage was precisely the competence Clinton’s team was selling. But then Clinton lost. The car crashed in the desert instead. …

Politics, in its classic incarnation, is the art of deriving an is from an ought; the point, as Marx famously said, is not to describe the world but to change it. But if the world is as it ought to be already and the essential task is to maintain it — that is, to police the circumscribed boundaries of permissible behavior and ideas — then those tasked with that maintenance must conceive of themselves as acting above politics itself. They become a superego, beyond the libidinal whims of any faction and dedicated not to some alternative vision of the world but to resisting all impulse toward alternatives. Possibility goes in, correction comes out. The End of History suggests a perfectly healthy mind; thus, any attempt to alter this situation is dangerous. But the trouble with superegos is that, once they have taken on this role, they cannot cease to perform it. When the id can be kept in control, all is well. But when it can’t, then the result is not the superego’s surrender — it is repetitious, manic dysfunction. …

If liberalism has ceased to function as a political faction so much as a censorious regency for capital, then there is little difference, in its view, between left and right — both are id-ish impulses that must be suppressed. The language of irresponsibility and childishness is not just a messaging contrivance but an explicit statement of core values: the trouble with all of these radical politics is that they want to pull society up by the root — and the root, as any adult knows, must be kept firmly in place. The fact that the right receives a larger share of liberalism’s disdain is not a reflection of a larger distaste but simply of the fact that the right happens to be winning. That it might be winning because managerial liberalism has hamstrung progressive impulses is an unthinkable idea, dutifully suppressed.

Like any superego, managerial liberalism is concerned first and foremost with appearances. This explains why, in the face of so much bad policy, liberals are incessantly talking about decorum. …

For 60 years, liberal managers believed that their political authority was derived from their intellectual authority. When their political authority was suddenly and violently ripped away, they tried to reestablish it by reminding the world that they still knew better than the rest of us. But they got the order of their power backward: without political power, there is no power to assert the boundaries of the normal. … The truth is that intellectual authority does not cause political authority, and political authority does not cause intellectual superiority. Both are derived from class power. …

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Rare earths and wind turbines: Yes, it’s a problem

Despite wind industry lobbyists and apologists asserting otherwise, rare earth metals, particularly neodymium, are indeed extensively used in wind turbine magnets.

‘Permanent magnet machines feature higher efficiencies than machines with excitation windings (absence of field winding losses), less weight and the advantage of having no slip-rings and brushes. Machines above kilowatt range (and most below) employ high-specific energy density PM material, preferably of neodymium-iron-boron (Nd-Fe-B).’ —Wind Energy Systems for Electric Power Generation, by Manfred Stiebler, Springer, 2008

‘The data suggest that, with the possible exception of rare-earth elements, there should not be a shortage of the principal materials required for electricity generation from wind energy. ... Sintered ceramic magnets and rare-earth magnets are the two types of permanent magnets used in wind turbines. Sintered ceramic magnets, comprising iron oxide (ferrite) and barium or strontium carbonate, have a lower cost but generate a lower energy product than do rare-earth permanent magnets comprising neodymium, iron, and boron (Nd-Fe-B). The energy-conversion efficiency of sintered Nd-Fe-B is roughly 10 times that of sintered ferrite ... As global requirements for rare-earth elements continue to grow, any sustained increase in demand for neodymium oxide from the wind resource sector would have to be met by increased supply through expansion of existing production or the development of new mines. ... An assessment of available data suggests that wind turbines that use rare earth permanent magnets comprising neodymium, iron, and boron require about 216 kg [476 lb] of neodymium per megawatt of capacity, or about 251 kg [553 lb] of neodymium oxide (Nd₂O₃) per megawatt of capacity.’ —Wind Energy in the United States and Materials Required for the Land-Based Wind Turbine Industry From 2010 Through 2030, by U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior, Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5036

‘Five rare earth elements (REEs)—dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium—were found to be critical in the short term (present–2015). These five REEs are used in magnets for wind turbines and electric vehicles or phosphors in energy-efficient lighting. ... Permanent magnets (PMs) containing neodymium and dysprosium are used in wind turbine generators and electric vehicle (EV) motors. These REEs have highly valued magnetic and thermal properties. Manufacturers of both technologies are currently making decisions on future system design, trading off the performance benefits of neodymium and dysprosium against vulnerability to potential supply shortages. For example, wind turbine manufacturers are deciding among gear-driven, hybrid and direct-drive systems, with varying levels of rare earth content. ... Neodymium-iron-boron rare earth PMs are used in wind turbines and traction (i.e., propulsion) motors for EVs. ... the use of rare earth PMs in these applications is growing due to the significant performance benefits PMs provide ... Larger turbines are more likely to use rare earth PMs, which can dramatically reduce the size and weight of the generator compared to non-PM designs such as induction or synchronous generators. ... Despite their advantages, slow-speed turbines require larger PMs for a given power rating, translating into greater rare earth content. Arnold Magnetics estimates that direct-drive turbines require 600 kg [1,323 lb] of PM material per megawatt, which translates to several hundred kilograms of rare earth content per megawatt.’ — Critical Materials Strategy, by U.S. Department of Energy, December 2011

‘In the broader literature ..., concerns have been raised about future shortage of supply of neodymium, a metal belonging to the group of rare-earth elements that is increasingly employed in permanent magnets in wind turbine generators.’ —Assessing the life cycle environmental impacts of wind power: a review of present knowledge and research needs, by Anders Arvesen and Edgar G. Hertwich, 2012, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 16(8): 5994-6006.

‘A single 3MW wind turbine needs ... 2 tons of rare earth elements.’ —Northwest Mining Association

Also see:

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Brief summary of CBD (cannabidiol) effects

Endocannabinoids (naturally produced in body):
Anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamine, AEA) and 2-arachidoylglycerol (2-AG) are the main endogenous agonists (activators) of cannabinoid receptors. They are produced in response to intracellular calcium as part of neurotransmission homeostasis.

Cannabinoid receptors (naturally present in body):
CB1R is most prominent in neural cells and is mainly targeted by AEA; activation inhibits anxiety response. CB2R is most prominent in immune cells and mainly targeted by 2-AG; activation causes inflammatory response.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is the main phytocannabinoid in cannabis besides tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the intoxicating cannabinoid). Together, CBD can reduce the intoxicating effects and enhance the medicinal effects of THC, which binds directly with CB1R but at higher concentrations can increase anxiety. In ‘hemp’, which has negligible THC, CBD is the main cannabinoid, and it can be extracted from the stalk, not just the seeds and flowers.

CBD reduces anxiety and depression by preventing the breakdown of AEA and 2-AG, respectively. CBD binds with fatty acid–binding proteins (FABPs) that transport AEA and 2-AG, respectively, to the enzymes fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL).

  • CBD binds with CB2R as an inverse agonist, reducing inflammatory response.
  • CBD binds with 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT, serotonin) 1A receptor, reducing depression.
  • CBD binds with transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1 (TrpV1, vanilloid receptor 1, capsaicin receptor) as an antagonist, reducing pain response.
  • CBD binds with peroxisome proliferator–activated receptor (PPAR) gamma, reducing inflammation.
  • CBD has direct antioxidant effects.
Cannabidiol in Pubmed-indexed science publications

Monday, April 24, 2017

Recent notes on the Irish language

(in reply to a question of why Irish spelling is so weird)

One reason for some of the quirks is the (generally) precise indication of consonants being broad or slender. This is reflected in pronunciation most obviously for d, t, and s. Broad d is like a hard [TH], slender d like [j]. Broad t is like a soft [th], slender t like [ch]. Broad s is [s], and slender s is [sh]. Spelling rules require that when consonants are broad they are flanked by broad vowels (a, o, u) and when slender by slender vowels (e, i). So there are often vowels that are there not for their own pronunciation but to indicate that the consonant has broad or slender pronunciation.

Many of the double-vowel and triple-vowel combinations (as in the name Saoirse [Seershuh or Sairshuh]) likely evolved out of the above rule.

Then there’s the softening (or aspiration or lenition) of consonants, which is indicated by an h after the consonant. (In traditional Irish, it is indicated by a dot over the consonant.) Some softened consonants are pronounced differently when they are at the start, middle, or end of a word. And if they are broad or slender. Often the lenition makes them silent.

Besides causing lenition, various declensions cause eclipsis of a consonant at the start of a word, a voicing or nasalization indicated by an eclipsing consonant in front, so that the original consonant after it is essentially silent. Examples are mb, gc, nd, ng, bhf, bp, dt. In words starting with a vowel, an h (sometimes hyphenated) is added before, but does not “eclipse”, the vowel.

Some declensions also cause an h or t to be added to the start of the word. If the word starts with an s, the added t eclipses it (eg, the street: an tsráid [un trawd].

Those are some of the reasons there often seems to be too many letters, even though there only 18 in the traditional alphabet.

PS: In 1948, Irish spelling was standardized and greatly simplified!


(in reply to a shared article by Barry Evans, on distinct “do” (particularly in the past tense, e.g., “I do not think ...”) and “-ing” forms betraying a Celtic influence in the formation of English)

Irish (these are all literally present-tense forms):
Scríobhim - I write
Tá mé ag scríobh - I am writing [at this moment]
Bím ag scríobh - I am (‘I do be’) writing [these days] (present habitual tense of “be”)
Tá mé tar éis scríobh - I was just (‘I am after’) writing
Tá mé scríofa - I have written [in the past]
Tá leabhar scríofa agam - I have written a book
Tá an leabhar ar scríobh - The book has been written
Also of interest is the past habitual tense compared with the conditional mode:
Scríobhainn - I would (‘I used to’) write [in those days]
Bhínn ag scríobh - I would (‘I used to’) be writing [in those days]
Scríobhfainn - I would write [if I could]
Bheinn ag scríobh - I would be writing [if I could]
Note: “scríobh” is a verbal noun (gerund) and “scríofa” is a verbal adjective.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Letter in support of proposed wind turbine sound rules

To the Clerk of the Vermont Public Service Board:

I support the proposed wind turbine sound rules as a first step to protect the aural environment of our mountains.

As you know, a quiet rural night in Vermont is likely to have a sound level of only 25 dBA or even less. An increase in ambient noise of 5 dB is recognized as a cause of widespread complaints. So limiting the sound level at night to 35 dBA is not severe but actually rather lenient.

The proposed rule does not address low-frequency noise, which Denmark (the world's leader in wind energy technology and implementation) since 2011 has limited to 20 dBA indoors (10-160 Hz).

Infrasound (which is not heard but instead felt) is also a concern, with many acoustic engineers determining that a C-weighted indoor limit of 50 dB is necessary to protect health.

Nor does the proposed rule address amplitude modulation, the distinct "swish" or "thump" of large wind turbines. In the UK, planning permission for the Den Brook project included a rule to limit amplitude modulation: A 125-ms pulse of 3 dBA or greater (3 dB being the difference in noise level detectable by the human ear) can not occur in any 2-second period five or more times in six or more minutes of any hour, when those minute-long average noise levels are 28 dBA or more.

While these limits, as well as the proposed setback of 10 times the total height from residences (which should be at least 15 times the height, and from property lines, so that people can enjoy all of their property), begin to protect human neighbors, they do nothing to protect the wildlife of the mountains, who in most cases are much more sensitive to sound than humans.

[See also:  Proposal and comments for implementing a rule regarding sound from wind generation projects, by Stephen Ambrose]

Monday, March 20, 2017

Devils take you.

Irish curse:  Go mbeire an dhá dhiabhal dhéag leo thú.

Pronunciation:  Guh mairuh un gaw yeewul yayug luh hoo.

Translation:  May the twelve devils take you with them.

Actual word order:  That carry the two devils ten with them you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Jet lag, depression, and the circadian rhythm

From “The Sleeping Cure”, by Richard A. Friedman, New York Times, March 12, 2017:

When you quickly cross several time zones, your circadian rhythm remains stuck in the city you left behind. Arriving in Rome with your New York City brain is what produces the unpleasant symptoms of jet lag: fatigue, malaise, poor concentration and mood changes.

When you leave New York at 6 p.m., the Italians are probably in bed asleep. But you won’t feel ready for sleep until around 11 [p.m. New York time, or around 5 a.m. in Rome]. To make the right adjustment, you need to shift your internal clock earlier by six hours.

Unfortunately, exposure to light in the middle of the night will do the opposite. Instead of shifting you earlier to Italian time, it makes you feel it’s even later — that the night is over and it’s already morning.

If you’re ever in that situation, close the shades and put on dark sunglasses. Keep the glasses on until lunchtime in Rome — or 7 a.m. back home. Then go out into the sun, have an espresso and enjoy the splendor of the ancient city. This will shift your clock closer to Roman time.

The clock in your brain doesn’t just take cues from light, but from the hormone melatonin as well. Every night, about two to three hours before you conk out, your brain starts to secrete melatonin in response to darkness. Taking a melatonin supplement in the evening will advance your internal clock and make it possible to fall asleep earlier; taking it in the morning will do the opposite. (You might assume this would make you even more tired during the day but it won’t; you could think of it as tricking your brain into believing you slept longer.)

So now you know the fix for jet lag: Travel east and you’ll need morning light and evening melatonin; go west and you’ll need evening light and morning melatonin.


Researchers have developed a limited form of sleep deprivation that is euphemistically called wake therapy. It has been shown to have sustained antidepressant benefit in patients with bipolar disorder and major depression. The idea is to get up for the day halfway through the usual sleep period, which shifts the circadian clock to an earlier time. It’s thought that this works by realigning the sleep cycle with other circadian rhythms, like changes in levels of body temperature and the stress hormone cortisol, that are also out of sync with each other in depression.

Studies show that it is possible to make wake therapy even more powerful by incorporating two additional interventions: early morning light therapy and what’s called sleep phase advance, in which the patient goes to bed about five to six hours earlier than usual and sleeps for about seven hours. This combination of treatments is called triple chronotherapy, and the typical course involves one night of complete sleep deprivation followed by three nights of phase-advanced sleep and early morning light.