Something for the weekend #22

My round-up of the week’s causes for optimism, discussions of optimism/pessimism gap, and debunkings of optimism/pessimism, as noticed in the media.

* India no longer houses the world’s largest number of extreme poor. As you might imagine, the announcement was greeted with a global yawn.

* The first “global-scale assessment of the occurrence of sandy beaches and rates of shoreline change”. Published in Nature, the research found that… “28% are accreting [i.e.: are growing] and 48% are stable”. Only 24% of sandy beaches are eroding at significant rates, despite the natural and gradual rate of sea-level rise.

* An initial real-world test of automated gene-tech mosquito eradication is a success in Australia. “80 percent of the target mosquito species, Aedes aegypti, was suppressed along Queensland’s Cassowary Coast.”

* The privacy-invading ‘Snooper’s Charter’ has been ruled ‘unlawful’ in UK. The government now claims it will respond by scaling back the laws. But, given the scale of the Brexit betrayal here, few will now trust our current UK government about anything.

* The National Review magazine lets an intern review Steven Pinker’s optimistic new book Enlightenment Now. “Mostly Correct” is the verdict. It follows an earlier and rather sniffy review-article on the book, in a March issue of National Review. The New Zealand Herald‘s “We don’t know how lucky we are…” review is rather more gushing about Enlightenment Now, and also about Hans Rosling’s Factfulness… “Best of all, New Zealand has it better than nearly anyone. What a time to be alive. I’m really enjoying freaking out less after reading these books.”

* The Heartland Institute reviews the new book The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos (2018), “A Captivating Chronicle of the New Space Trailblazers”.

* Wireless charging of electric vehicles now possible through concrete. Just add graphene, of course. Although is seems that heat is an unwelcome by-product of the transfer, at least until further refinements are made.

* Many of the fishery schools in the Philippines are located in remote places with intermittent Internet connection and power, and the field-trips are even wilder. The nation’s tax-payers do provide print libraries, but now the undergraduates also have access to 64Gb of core research in a self-powering digital box. Which looks suitably waterproof.

* Five books to cheer you up this summer, via MoneyWeek. All good picks. Note that Changing Places is much better as a book than as the TV series adaptation.

* Economist and speaker Tom Woods made a zinger of a speech, and now has it online as a podcast. It’s his opening keynote at the recent Mises University program, titled “Socialists and Other Ingrates”. He goes through many of the economic reasons for rational optimism, while usefully pointing out the utter ingratitude for progress which appears to be ingrained in the leftist stance and worldview. He then goes on to settle some scores with what sound to me like some agent provocateurs within the American libertarian movement, though that scene is beyond my ken and interest. Anyway, the core 20-minute bit you want is from 6:20 minutes to 26:30 minutes. (Direct .MP3 link)

* While Tom Woods opens the attack on Ingratitude (see above), the libertarian Atlas Society launches an Anti-Envy Campaign.

* Now being successfully tested in Canada, ‘BlackFly’, a flying car prototype. It’s a one-man low-power electric ultralight, and “the range with reserve is expected to be 25 miles in the USA and over 40 for the rest of the world”. Looks sweet, appears to work as intended, and seems set to get regulatory approval somewhere in the world. Somewhere like the Australian outback, at a guess? But I doubt we’ll ever see them widespread though, because of the potential for mis-use by terrorists. Unless… they can be made into autonomous taxis and made totally un-hijackable.

* Some optimism, debunked. “Don’t hold your breath for allergy-free cats” says the MIT Technology Review magazine. Aww…

Picture: Rescue-cat, available today at Iris’s Cats in Need in Stoke-on-Trent.


Something for the weekend #20

My round-up of the week’s causes for optimism, discussions of optimism/pessimism gap, and debunkings of pessimism, as noticed in the media. We’re in the ‘silly season’ for news, so there’s not as much around to find as otherwise.

* “Gallup poll: 55 Percent of U.S. Adults Say ‘Country’s Best Days Are Ahead of Us'”.

* website on “Boeing’s Hypersonic Vision: A Sleek Passenger Plane That Can Hit Mach 5”.

* India’s The Hindu newspaper muses on “What we’ll do in the future” if we work hard enough to ensure plenty and reliable automation. “As we inch closer to a world of plenty, the value of curation increases many-fold.”

* “Associations of intelligence across the life course with optimism and pessimism in older age”, a new academic journal article in public open access. A large Scottish cohort was studied. Translating from psychology-speak, the key finding seems to boil down to: if you were an intelligent kid, and then remain intelligent into your 80s and 90s, then you’re more likely to have lower levels of pessimism in old age than otherwise. That seems fairly obvious, but I guess it’s nice to have it nailed down.

* Forbes asks “What Ever Happened To Peak Oil?”. (Not a direct link to Forbes, as they seem to have problems with UK and EU visitors).

* A new Royal Society study debunks the happy-clappy optimism around open-plan offices. “Impact of Open Offices on Collaboration”. “Contrary to common belief, the volume of face-to-face interaction decreased significantly (approx. 70%) in both cases [in ‘open’ offices], with an associated increase in electronic interaction [The ‘open’ space triggered] a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email.”

* The EU has voted to reject automated ‘copyright filters’ for the Internet, by a vote of 318 to 278. But the unworkable ‘magical thinking’ on this issue is now set to return for a second-round try at becoming law, in September.

* “Montana tribes push state to restore wild bison herd”. “Montana’s tribal nations will no longer wait for state officials to decide whether bison will be allowed to roam free somewhere on public land, even though the state acknowledges the need for action. If the state can’t establish a wild bison herd, individual tribes will restore herds on their reservations.”

* AllAfrica reports that “Gorilla Population in Africa Rises”. “The population of mountain gorillas, which survive on the forest-cloaked volcanoes of central Africa, has increased by a quarter to over 1,000 individuals since 2010, wildlife authorities said.”


Something for the weekend #17

A round-up of the week’s causes for optimism, and discussions of optimism/pessimism gap, as noticed in the media:

* “Overflowing With Optimism” says Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. in speech (may require VPN to reach). He’s…

“the first sitting Israeli ambassador to visit Detroit in 20 years […] “Israel is overflowing with optimism,” Dermer said. “Reports that Israel is continually isolated globally is certainly fake news. Israel boasts diplomatic, social, economic and academic relations with China, India, Japan and (countries in) Africa. Israel has 10 times the population it did in 1948, but it has less water scarcity because we have pioneered and continued to improve techniques in water desalination and conservation. These are technologies Israel is proud to share with our diplomatic partners.””

* 29 million less people smoked tobacco in 2016, compared to 2000. Tobacco smoking has decreased globally from 27 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2016. The World Health Organisation spins it for every depressing angle it can find on the story, of course.

* Pockets of optimism emerge in the moribund Greek economy.

* The UK is actually having a half-decent summer, so far. Even Scotland is having a summer, for once.

* A new type of robo-spectacles. Stanford University researchers have developed auto-focal spectacles that combine eye-trackers with a depth-sensor. The resulting data-stream automatically adjusts the focus in the spectacles. “In an evaluation with 24 users aged between 51 and 81, participants reported better [sight] at near distances than with traditional […] lenses.”

* How progress turns scarcity into abundance. CATO, responding to the usual leftist attacks on Steven Pinker’s new book on optimism and the enlightenment.

* A fine new Tom Woods podcast this week: Episode. 1178: “Who’s Afraid of Robots?”. The guest is Political Economy editor at Forbes, giving a very clearly delivered and upbeat take on the future of work in an age of robotics and automation. But without the heavy brain-grinding excursions into economic theory that you sometimes encounter on the show.

* Humpback whale baby-boom near Antarctica. ($, The New York Times).

“Humpback whales in the southern oceans around Antarctica appear to be breeding successfully, recovering their population.” “Dr. Todd said the new study confirmed the growing abundance of humpbacks that he had noticed on annual trips to Antarctica. When he first started going in the early 2000s, he would see a few humpbacks every trip in February and March. Now, he sees them as early as December, he said, “to the point that you can lose count of how many are around you.””

Something for the weekend #15

A round-up of the week’s causes for optimism, discussions of the optimism/pessimism gap, and debunking of pessimism, as noticed in the media:

* It’s all going bananas: Trade journal Feedstuffs, “Agriculture truly is ‘glorious summer'”. Despite the dire alarmist of the 1970s and early 80s, “agriculture has managed to fight off those predictions of peril.” The article points out that we shouldn’t just cheer the greatly increased volume of food production, but also our ever-increasing ability to store and deliver items. Such as “fresh bananas in Pittsburgh amidst a winter snowstorm” and then to keep them fresh longer on the store shelves and in the consumer’s home.

* The Commonwealth in action: The Queen backs Africa digital rumour-management scheme… “Otunga’s initiative won the Commonwealth Digital Challenge, launched by the Thomson Foundation, to support cutting-edge media initiatives devised by people under 35, across the Commonwealth nations.”

* Alarmism logged: “Turns Out Those Stats About Our Destroying the World’s Forests — Totally Fake” says The Western Journal; and the Foundation for Economic Education on “The Myth of Deforestation”… “Yearly, net deforestation is fast approaching zero and according to current trends, within the next couple of decades, net afforestation will be the norm.”

* Hits and Mises: “The Mises Institute’s Case for Optimism”, new this week from Mises… “There are few socialist economists remaining. There are millions of voters who call themselves socialists, but they cannot describe the system they claim to support.”

* More shades of Pinker: A few late items of commentary on the new Pinker book. “A Full-Throated Defense of Western Enlightenment Values” proclaims a short review from The Heartland Institute; “Is Life Getting Better?” asks the central American Pan-Am Post in a deft little article that gets the message out without waffle; The Gospel Coalition review notes “The Enlightenment Improved the World — But Not without Christianity”; and the Asian edition of businesses newspaper Inc. notes that “Everyone gets Enlightenment Now wrong”

“Calling Pinker an optimist, as nearly everyone does, misses his call to act. He doesn’t say we’ve succeeded and therefore should just be happy or content with Enlightenment values. He says work got us here and we should keep working. … His calls to strive and act for democracy and other issues are also based not on merely recognizing values but acting on them.”

* The pool life: Dolphin ‘happiness’ is measured for the first time.

Something for the weekend #13

A round-up of the week’s optimism, causes for optimism, and discussions of optimism/pessimism gap, as noticed in the media:

* It’s all going Pinker: The Hindu: Steven Pinker: “People are safer now than they were several hundred years ago”. European Scientist: “Resisting Collapseology with ‘Enlightenment Now’ (Part Two – beyond the book summary)”. The Japan Times: “Promoting a new global optimism”. Gulf News: “Debating humanity’s ‘huge’ recent progress”.

* Days of Whine & S’poses: The Conservative Woman on a report from The Centre for Policy Studies, “With values like these, no wonder The Youth are depressed”. Taki’s Magazine on “The Gloom and Doom Generation”.

* 50-somethings are ripening nicely: The Federalist‘s PodcastOne interviews “Jonathan Rauch On Happiness And Why Life Gets Better After 50”… “Jonathan Rauch is a Senior Fellow at Brookings and author of the new book, “The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50.” Rauch researched the feeling of malaise and dissatisfaction that many adults feel in their 40’s. He explains how this slump is a natural and essential part of life, but also how to find a path through it.”

* Pleasant peasants: Peasant houses survived in Midlands England. “Radiocarbon and tree-ring dating has now revealed that thousands of ordinary medieval homes are still standing in the English Midlands” in the UK. They’re now mostly renovated and highly-desirable cottages or live-work offices. In more recent times their continuing survival is largely down to Mrs Thatcher, I should think, and her mid-1980s boom. Thank you, West Midlands’ capitalists.

* Making it up: Adam Smith Institute: “In which we refute Piketty – thusly”. “94 per cent of the [new, UK] rich-list is comprised of self-made entrepreneurs”.

* Fur-reee!: South Georgia Island Declared Rat Free in Conservation Success. “The salt-spray lashed paradise for wildlife has been completely cleared of rats in the largest rodent eradication of all time”.

* On the up: Border Wall Construction Underway in the USA. Not quite the gold-plated Wall of the God Emperor, yet. But it’s a start.

Something for the weekend #10

A weekly round-up of optimism, noticed in the media:

* Chew on this: Plastic-eating enzyme hailed as breakthrough in recycling, reports The Times of London (£, popup screen-blocker)…

“Scientists from Britain and the United States believe that their work could result in an enzyme that would degrade [depolymerise] polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and turn it into its original chemical chains, ready to be used again.” “Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth and Dr Gregg Beckham at NREL solved the crystal structure of PETase—a recently discovered enzyme that digests PET — and used 3D information to understand how it works. During this study, they inadvertently engineered an enzyme that is even better at degrading the plastic than the one that evolved in nature. The research team can now apply the tools of protein engineering and evolution to continue to improve it.”

* A little slip: Microengineered slippery rough surface for water harvesting from air. That’s water simply sucked from the air…

“Simon Dai was looking at combining different biological strategies to create a slippery solution for water harvesting. […] If the new SRS material is produced at scale, the team estimate they can collect over 120 liters of water per square meter of the surface per day”.

* Cashing in: “The world is getting richer or freer – probably both” given reports on the growing demand for cash, says the Adam Smith Institute.

* The tide turns: UK Government announces £61 million package to tackle marine litter.

* Dutch swingers: Dutch happier says hope barometer.

“The Happiness Economics Research Organisation and the Institute for Leadership and Social Ethics, asked 1,600 Dutch people about their hopes for the future and analysed the results” […] “for the first time there were more positive than negative people in the country”.

* The pop kids are alright: Population boom: not a problem. Even in the big nations in Africa…

“… it’s looking as if the dire predictions of Malthus and Ehrlich will never come to pass. Unlike other animals, humanity has voluntarily limited its reproduction. The population bomb has probably been defused.”

* Perusing the future: Low-income young adults in Peru show the effects of hope on life outcomes. A rare grassroots study of why and how the young in the developing world are so optimistic. In Peru they are…

“… growing up at a time in Peru that poverty has been falling markedly, while a nascent — and very visible — lower middle class is emerging, as in many other emerging market economies.”

* ‘Have a heart, old chap’: Optimistic people ‘less likely to have heart attacks’ reports Spectator Health.

* The view from Nebo: From 1950s rationing to modern high-tech boom: Israel’s economic success story, from The Times of Israel ($, popup screen-blocker).

* Beating the bush: Tiny Aboriginal community in remote bush builds $6 million airport, runs it themselves at a profit, and after seven years have just paid off the loan…

“Djarindjin Airport on the Dampier Peninsula, 75 miles north of Broome, has become a one-of-a-kind in Australia as it is fully staffed and managed by local indigenous workers with zero tolerance to drugs and alcohol. The operation provides work for about 20 people from Djarindjin and surrounding Aboriginal communities Ardyaloon and Beagle Bay and is expected to do so for many years to come … At the moment airport teams are hot refuelling up to 24 helicopters daily…”

New Book: Factfulness by Hans Rosling

The new book from the recently departed Hans Rosling, the Swedish statistician, science populariser, and pessimism debunker: Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.

Looks good, despite being rather off-putting recommended by the lefties at BBC Radio 4. There’s coverage of the new book at the Financial Times: “Why the world isn’t nearly as bad as you think it is” (£) and Telegraph Science “Do you have a distorted view of the world? Why life is better than we think” (£). The latter cheerily leading with a picture of an atomic bomb exploding. Gotta work on your visual positivity, guys…