Something for the weekend #8

Optimism and causes for optimism, spotted in the media this week:

* Smashing capitalism: British exports hit a record high / UK’s National Living Wage increases are making SME jobs more fulfilling / U.S. Economy is booming… and “Labor Department puts unemployment at 17-year low”.

     → Smashing news, keep it up!

* Trump-tastic!: “American optimism about the next generation’s future is up seven points since 2016. According to a recent Gallup poll [sample size: 1,503 adults], about 6 in 10 Americans (61%) say it is very (18%) or somewhat (43%) likely that the next generation will have a better life than did their parents.” Gallup stated: “Americans are generally feeling optimistic about the direction of the economy, and recent Gallup polling suggests that Americans still think the American dream is alive.” A related Gallup poll asked women about how well they’re doing: “Fifty-three percent of American women say they’re thriving”.

     → My Google News search suggests this has been buried by the media since its release two days ago, as it has only been covered in about four news outlets. And one of those, still deep in Trump Denial Syndrome, feigned a perplexed air and asked: “Major mystery: Why are Americans suddenly so optimistic?”

* Taking waste for a spin: A new spinout company from the University of Oxford is “founded on technology that can turn waste from plastic, tyres and biomass into high quality transportation fuels and chemicals”.

     → Admittedly it’s only a new startup, but the technology involved is from a highly reputable university and it appears to be sound and scalable. There’s also good news this week of the discovery of new ways to extract the firmly-embedded plastics found in electronic waste such as old circuit boards.

* Moo knew?: “Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions”.

     → The link is to is a very dense peer-reviewed science paper, but the paper is handily translated into plainer-English by the bovine boffins at The Cattle Site: “Our four-year study suggests that [multi-paddock] grazing can potentially offset greenhouse gas emissions [to the extent that] beef production could be a net carbon sink”. It appears that a few relatively simple and do-able changes in how we raise beef cattle can vastly reduce their various forms of greenhouse gas emission, and even make raising beef cattle into a carbon sink — while also cleaning up local fish streams. The McDonalds fast-food-chain appears to have jumped on this beefy new science, and are saying this week that… “By 2030, the company plans to work with suppliers and franchisees to cut emissions 36% compared to 2015, even as the chain grows.” Now if only they can do something similar for all the litter that their ignorant customers generate.

* Great steaming fools: “A History Lesson in Technological Optimism: Simon, Jevons, and Lardner”.

     → The Competitive Enterprise Institute looks back to the 1840s and finds much the same moaning and gloom about the steam engine as we later endured in the 1970s under Erlich et al, and with much the same effects. We can now see that… “Those who gave in to pessimism and fear did little more than inflict misery (and their own hot air) on the rest of humanity”.

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Private Cities

An excellent Tom Woods Show, on the idea of autonomous Private Cities and how they might work. If you’ve begun to give the show a miss due to dry topics such as the Sherman Antitrust Act, FDA regulation, or Fractional Reserve Banking (I know I had), then this fascinating episode is an excellent corrective. The guest Titus Gebel is very cogent and succinct in presenting an outline of his ideas.

However, the guest’s mention of one prominent group of seasteaders and their progress is out of date. Their attempts to woo the government of French Polynesia appear to have abruptly failed. According to March 2018 reports in Business Insider someone misinformed the government there that the ‘steaders were just trying to set up a libertarian tax haven, and the locals annulled the deal they’d made. It’s a pity. But if the locals were going to be that screwy and unreliable, it’s probably best that the ‘steaders learned that before they even started building platforms out in the ocean.

Picture: Evolo skyscraper design challenge: the ‘Gerridae’ tidewater towers.

New book: 2020 & Beyond

Superversive Press is a rare publisher specialising in traditional heroic and conservative science-fiction (tagline: “books for a more civilised age”). One of their most recent books is the optimistic and future-facing conservative sci-fi anthology MAGA 2020 & Beyond (Nov 2017)…

“MAGA 2020 & Beyond tells the tales of a prosperous future where evil is defeated, the border wall is built, society has righted itself, space exploration is common and world peace has been attained. These aren’t just fantastical stories of a far-fetched future, they are stories of a future that can be obtained.”

For my piffling £3 I got 340 pages of optimistic essays and futurist articles and short fiction. Available on Kindle.

I see they also have a forthcoming sci-fi anthology for readers who are “sick of today’s portrayals of men as toxic or bumbling idiots”. The call for that book was last September, so I’m guessing it’ll be available soon.

I have to say that 2020 & Beyond doesn’t have the best front cover. I want a bit of curvy eco-green in my future city, not some re-hash of a tired 1980s conception of a future city. And while I can see how the gold typeface is meant to evoke MAGA/Trump, it’s in such a cheesy font and the gradient is naff. I do wish people would use cover consultants and put a bit more thought into covers, but I guess bad covers are now just a near-unavoidable occupational hazard for science-fiction authors. Very few get the superb covers they deserve. That said, many of Superversive Press’s steampunk and art-lit covers are definitely above average.

Something for the weekend #7

Your weekly round-up of optimism I’ve noticed in the media:

* Bungs of cash bombard boffins: An Uptrend in U.S. R&D Spending: possible breakthrough period ahead

     → “The U.S. is now three years into this stretch of real spending increases [on R&D], and it bodes well for the next few years. More importantly, much like what happened in the prolonged period of spending increases after the 1990 recession that lead to the technology boom of the late 1990s, this would be the first seven to eight year stretch of meaningful annual spending increases since that time.”

* They’re just about moan-aging: UK investment is at a record high. So why has almost no one reported it?

     → Only noticed by the financial paper, the FT.

* Many happy returns: “Optimism is a Force Multiplier”.

     → “The effect of a leader’s enthusiasm and optimism is incredible. The impact of leadership’s pessimism can be equally impactful but in the wrong direction.” This one is more from the ‘happy-clappy’ / ‘management techniques’ end of the optimism spectrum. But it has some wise words nonetheless.

* Life’s a beach: Is South Florida Doomed By Sea-Level Rise? Experts Say No. In Fact, They’re Optimistic.

     → Good news, we’ll adapt. But once past the headline and opener the article becomes infested with a swarm of ugly and disreputable headline-grabbing attempts, and the WGCU/WLRN journalist is obviously too clueless to challenge even the most basic of these. For instance:

“If all of Greenland melted, that would be 27 feet equivalent” of sea level rise globally, [scientist] Ben Kirtman says. “Twenty-seven feet is a little bit like the national debt. It’s beyond my imagination.” But, he adds, scientists are certain that people alive today won’t be around to see that.

Whereas he should have been honest, rather than grossly alarmist and highly misleading. He is slyly insinuating that one’s grandchildren could face 27ft of sea-level rise from Greenland alone, and the journalist is letting him get away with it. But we know, for instance, that Greenland’s ice-cap will still be about 98.5% intact by 2200 (more figures here).

Long Now: Steven Pinker

A new Seminar About Long-term Thinking, at the Long Now: Steven Pinker giving a long lecture on the themes of his new book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Followed by audience questions with the venerable Stewart Brand.

In the Q&A there’s some moaning about Trump (who I seriously doubt is channelling the 1920s ideas of the likes of Ernst Junger, as is suggested by Pinker), but it’s easily chuckled at for credulously buying into the muddle-headed ‘Trump is Hitler’ stance of the far-left.

Something for the weekend #6

Your weekly round-up of optimism in the media:

* Another grip in the wall: The Queen’s Crown Estate has installed a new type of moss wall in central London, for tests and trials. It’s a vertical “City Tree” green wall of mosses, cultivated to thrive in urban areas [and theoretically] capable of gripping onto and reducing air pollutants “including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter from the surrounding area by up to 30%”.

     → It has nice seats with backs, too. Such seats are becoming all too rare in the UK, as any opportunity to sit down in comfort for free is slowly but assiduously being removed from public spaces.

* No more ‘secret science’: The USA’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will make all of its science and data public, adopting a policy suggested by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

     → Specifically the EPA… “will reverse long-standing EPA policy allowing regulators to rely on non-public scientific data in crafting rules. [and in future] EPA-funded studies would need to make all their data public.”

* He cracked it: “Why The ‘Father Of Fracking’ Probably Deserves A Nobel Peace Prize” suggests The Federalist.

     → “George P. Mitchell has unleashed a ripple of wealth and peace around the globe.”

* The rising tide of cash: Saudi Arabia plans to invest $10 billion in buying a group of islands in the Indian Ocean.

     → According to increasingly questionable computer models, these islands should have long since sunk beneath rising waves.

* Pop up!: In the face of continuing high levels of piracy and sharing (and some frankly mediocre pop music-making) the U.S. Music Industry sees fastest growth in more than 20 years

     → “U.S. recorded music sales climbed 17 percent to $8.7 billion last year, the second straight gain in domestic revenue, the Recording Industry Association of America said Thursday.”

* It’s a riddle: “Bad news is sudden, good news is gradual” says Matt Ridley (author of The Rational Optimist).

     → In the face of huge and increasingly well-documented reasons for optimism “… the bias against good news in the media seems to be getting worse.”

* New science, old school: A new book, Rock, Bone, and Ruin: An Optimist’s Guide to the Historical Sciences.

     → Geology, palaeontology, archaeology and ancient genetics are seeing surging progress, and also very significant synergies with each other and with Big Data. The book suggests that this… “gives us every reason to be optimistic about their capacity to uncover truths about prehistory”. The author… “examines and refutes arguments for pessimism about the capacity of the historical sciences [and] argues for a creative, open-ended approach, ’empirically grounded’ speculation.”

* My bad: Thomas Sowell’s new book Discrimination and Disparities demolishes claims that ‘bad outcomes’ in life are always attributable to discrimination and prejudice.

     → The new book has a very clunky and offputting cover, but it’s great to see Sowell is still cogent and publishing timely new works at age 89.

* Happier frogs: In French only, the book Environnement : les années optimistes (trans: Environment: the Optimistic Years)… “reports the most significant environmental gains made in recent years.”

     → Though I note that its list of reasons for optimism appears to omits the overall re-greening of the planet.

* Sprogs with nogs: Martin Seligman’s well-regarded 1995 book The Optimistic Child: A Revolutionary Approach to Raising Resilient Children is being republished in the UK as an affordable Kindle ebook. I see that a Trantor unabridged audiobook edition also became available in the UK in 2017.