URLs du Jour

2020-01-10

  • Well, gosh, Robby Soave at Reason takes a swing at playing the blame game: If Iran Shot Down the Ukraine Jet, the U.S. Government Deserves a Little Blame.

    Regardless of why it may have shot down the plane, Iran is primarily responsible for the deaths of those 176 passengers. But it is not absurd to assign the U.S. some responsibility, given that Iran's combat offensive was prompted by the Trump administration's decision to kill Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike.

    If you extend a causal chain of events back far enough, branching in the right directions, you can always attach "some" responsibility to whomever you might want. At least Robby's only going back a few links.

    Note: as I type there are 461 comments on this article. I have to wonder what the guy typing comment number 461 was thinking. "Yeah, this will set everyone straight."


  • Daniel J. Mitchell looks at Tax Policy and Migratory Patterns of the Golden Geese. It's got one of those things for which I'm a sucker: state-by-state comparisons. The Tax Foundation is quoted:

    States compete with each other in a variety of ways, including attracting (and retaining) residents. Sustained periods of inbound migration lead to greater economic output and growth. Prolonged periods of net outbound migration, however, can strain state coffers… While it is difficult to measure the extent to which tax considerations factor into individuals’ moving decisions, there is no doubt that taxes are important in many individuals’ personal financial deliberations. Our State Business Tax Climate Index uses over 100 variables to evaluate states on the competitiveness of their tax rates and structures. Four of the 10 worst-performing states on this year’s Index are also among the 10 states with the most outbound migration in this year’s National Movers Study (New Jersey,  New York, Connecticut, and California).

    New Hampshire ranks #19 overall, net in-migration. Surprisingly, Vermont is #1! (But it's been lower in the past.)


  • The Google LFOD alert rang for this "Energy News" article, tsk-tsking our fair state: New Hampshire a regional outlier on climate, clean energy under Gov. Sununu. And unsubtly suggests we should bow to peer-group pressure, wondering at our Mad Max dystopian hellscape:

    New Hampshire has long prided itself on a small-government approach, as suggested by its official state motto: Live free or die. The state has no sales tax or income tax. Motorcyclists may ride helmet-free. Auto insurance is optional for drivers. And the state ranks last in the nation for its level of fiscal support for higher education.

    With strong support from conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity, as well as the state’s leading business lobby, Sununu has applied that hands-off philosophy to state energy policy throughout his three years in office. His administration’s 10-year energy strategy emphasizes cost effectiveness above all, noting that New Hampshire has some of the highest electric rates in the nation.

    My own state senator, David Watters, bemoans our (so far) refusal to go along with the "Transportation and Climate Initiative" (TCI) which would raise (for example) gas prices by (its backers estimate) 5 to 17 cents/gallon.

    If New Hampshire decides to sit [TCI] out, Watters said he fears the state will be at an economic disadvantage.

    “We will not then have that money to invest in efficiencies,” he said. “Other states will have it to put into electrification, or making grants to the trucking industry to increase the efficiency of their fleets, and so on.”

    Which kind of gives the game away. When Watters says "we", he's really referring to the state government, which will have more cash to shower on "efficiencies".

    Almost needless to say: if they were true "efficiencies", they wouldn't need to be state-subsidized; people would naturally invest in such measures themselves, with their own money.

    And the arrogance just keeps on coming, with this aside about the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a similar boondoggle:

    New Hampshire’s participation in RGGI has resulted in annual proceeds ranging from $11 million to $24 million over the past few years. However, the state has not invested as heavily in energy efficiency and renewables as other states. Legislation passed in 2012 requires most of the money to be rebated back to ratepayers.

    “The rebate is throwing the money away basically,” said state Rep. John Mann, D-Alstead, who sponsored legislation last year to repeal that requirement. The bill passed, but the governor vetoed it.

    Yes, Alstead Mann thinks that rebating incoming cash to ratepayers is "throwing it away". Who knows, they might spend it differently than he would! Best just send him your entire paycheck, so he can spend it on whatever he deems wise.


  • On a related matter, I noted this article at Granite Geek: Push for carbon fee will show up at some town meetings, of all places.

    As I report in today’s Monitor (story here), Citizen’s Climate Lobby has volunteers in at least 60 towns getting signatures to put a petitioned warrant article supporting the idea of a carbon fee that would be reimbursed to households in the state. They’re emphasizing this you’ll-get-a-check aspect: “The money goes back to the people, it doesn’t go into Exxon’s profits or Saudi Arabia’ pockets.” The name of the drive makes that clear: Carbon Cash-Back Coalition.

    Putting a per-ton price on carbon emissions is generally acknowledged to be the most straightforward and one of the most effective ways to tackle climate change. Make the cost transparent and humans will respond to the incentive, or so goes the thinking.

    Uh huh. I took some time to compose a comment, which I'll copy here:

    I have to take issue with “transparent”. Such schemes are anything but. Clue number one is the “you’ll-get-a-check” marketing, appealing to the folks who are gladdened by an IRS tax refund. (They really should put “Thanks for the interest-free loan, sucker” on those checks.)

    Incentives? If everyone got back exactly what they paid in, there would be zero net incentive. And the whole endeavor would be pointless. So there will, of course, be net winners and losers, but that’s obscured by the “money going back to the people” gimmick. The who wins/loses ball will be hidden for as long as it takes to pass the legislation.

    People might notice the direct effect: higher prices for gas and oil. Less obvious will be the hidden sales tax on anything you buy that has fossil fuel energy involved somewhere in its supply chain. (To a first approximation that would be “everything”.) That “tax” won’t be broken out as an explicit number; you’ll just maybe notice the price has gone up for some reason. Again, the opposite of “transparent”.


  • And also on the LFOD alert, a Rolling Stone snippet: Matt Taibbi's 10 Laws of New Hampshire Primary Reporting. Here they are:

    1. The candidate references Tom Brady.
    2. The candidate drops the name of a local eatery (“So, I was eating the Hash Benny at the Red Arrow the other day…”).
    3. Reporters (in vain) scan the crowd for African-American faces.
    4. Reporters ask each other what “the ethanol of New Hampshire” is.
    5. The phrase “right here in New Hampshire” is in the speech.
    6. Live free or die” referenced in Q&A.
    7. Man with Sophocles beard and chamois shirt posed among the supporters behind the candidate.
    8. Photographers jostle to capture the moment when the candidate looks with dismay at the size of the selfie line.
    9. Your “tiny Dixville Notch” story is filed from the Radisson in Manchester.
    10. Before hitting “send” to your editor, you check to make sure you didn’t use the phrases “key battleground state,” “fierce independence,” or “Yankee frugality.” You probably used at least two of them.

    Amusing! Local quibble about number 9: the Radisson was renovated and converted into a Doubletree in 2018. I guess Matt was filing his story from somewhere else

Something Deeply Hidden

Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime

[Amazon Link]

When Virginia Postrel asked her Facebook followers for science writer recommendations, I immediately suggested Sean Carroll, Caltech research professor in physics. And that was when I was only part way through the second book I've ever read from him. He's a very good writer at the dilettante level (which is where I am these days, even though I was a physics major), writing with insight and wit.

Richard Feynman, in his day, famously said that he was confident that nobody really understood quantum mechanics. It's just weird. And it hasn't gotten any less weird since then. Part of the problem is that a key feature in QM's standard "Copenhagen" interpretation is kind of loosey-goosey: the act of observing a quantum state causes its Schrödinger wave function to "collapse" to some definite value. But unless that state is (somehow) measured, asking what it "really" is is nonsensical: it's in a superposition of its possible states. This gives rise to the good old half-dead Schrödinger cat, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen "paradox", and other oddities. And there's a lot of handwaving about the nature of wave function collapse; when does it "really" happen, how long does it take, etc.

That doesn't sit well with some scientists, even though decades of experiments don't contradict it, and much modern technology relies on it being correct down to many decimal places. There have been alternate explanations offered. One of the most thought-provoking was offered by Hugh Everett back in the 1950s: quantum events spawn, literally, multiple universes, one for each possible outcome. That's the version of QM Carroll prefers and he explicates it well.

So, for example, Schrödinger's cat isn't half-dead. He's alive in one universe, dead in another. (Carroll, being a more humane physicist, dinks the experiment so the cat is asleep/awake instead of dead/alive.)

The book made me aware of the Universe Splitter©, an iPhone app you can get for a mere $1.99. Need to make a binary decision? Well, just fire up the app and…

Universe Splitter© will immediately contact a laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, and connect to a Quantis brand quantum device, which releases single photons into a partially-silvered mirror. Each photon will simultaneously bounce off the mirror and pass through it — but in separate universes.*

Good news: if you use the app to make all your decisions (and you can always break down complex decisions into binary ones), then there will be a universe out there where you've made all the right decisions!

And, unfortunately, there will also be a universe where you've made all the wrong ones.

Anyway, I've babbled enough. The book is a lot of fun, and Carroll goes into other areas as well, like (see subtitle) where time and space "come from". He argues that they may not be fundamental, but emergent properties of "something deeply hidden". Fine. His argument is (unfortunately) at the layman level, so there's a lot of handwaving over what in actuality is some pretty, very serious math. Still, the book is full of "did I just blow your mind?" arguments and descriptions.


Last Modified 2020-01-11 7:00 AM EST