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Member since: Sat Mar 29, 2008, 10:11 PM
Number of posts: 40,138

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On The Beach

NASA-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for 'irreversible collapse'?


A new study sponsored by Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of 'collapse' are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that "the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history." Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to "precipitous collapse - often lasting centuries - have been quite common."

The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary 'Human And Nature DYnamical' (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.

It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

"The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent."

Read the rest of the article at the link.

Asimov's guide to understanding people...

Since we have been talking about Asimov lately I thought this quote from Foundation's Edge was interesting.

“There’s nothing to it. All you have to do is take a close look at yourself and you will understand everyone else. We’re in no way different ourselves... You show me someone who can’t understand people and I’ll show you someone who has built up a false image of himself.”

Chapter 11 “Sayshell” section 3, p. 205

"If you suspect that my interest in the Bible is going to inspire me with sudden enthusiasm"

If you suspect that my interest in the Bible is going to inspire me with sudden enthusiasm for Judaism and make me a convert of mountain‐moving fervor and that I shall suddenly grow long earlocks and learn Hebrew and go about denouncing the heathen — you little know the effect of the Bible on me. Properly read, it is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived. -Isaac Asimov

"I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it."

"I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I'm a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time." -Isaac Asimov

The single most powerful moral statement the USA could make against Putin moving into Crimea

Put Dick and Dubya on trial for Iraq.

Extra points for conviction of war crimes.

DougJ @ Balloon-Juice: "I believe that trolling is the highest form of human expression."

DougJ is hands down the most brilliant troll I have ever seen in my extensive online wanderings, he mostly trolls conservatives including quite a few "journalists" but he is not above trolling his own OPs with sockpuppets too.


I believe that trolling is the highest form of human expression. Art, music, and literature are too often about fantasies, the notion that the world is beautiful, that human beings have some decency, things that no adult could possibly believe. Trolling, by contrast (when done properly), illustrates the most profound eternal truth, that people are mostly ignorant, delusional sociopaths. I believe that the Socratic method is just a sophisticated form of trolling since its goal is to get people to say things so stupid that they’re temporarily shocked into trying to think.

This clip of Alex Pareene on CNBC is trolling at its best. Pareene says Jamie Dimon should step down as head of JP Morgan because of all the JP Morgan scandals. Who knows if he’s serious or not — though his point about bad PR is more relevant than his interviewers want to admit — but he gets Maria Bartiromo to sputter “the New York Times!”, revealing to all that she’s a teahadist whack job who has no place in journalism.

The comments on this OP are worth a look too, for instance:

I love the sarcastic way Bartiromo shouted “Oh, the New York Times,” as if it were the National Enquirer or Weekly World News. It really is mind-boggling how often ostensibly media savvy people unthinkingly make complete asses of themselves on national TV. It’s like watching self-proclaimed gun experts repeatedly shoot themselves in the gut while cleaning their rifle collection.

What a Godlike power to tap into people's webcams and watch them when they think they are in privacy

Every move you make every step you take I'll be watching you

I can read your mind

Get in touch with the people Big Brother

The Experience So Many Will Go Through… That Will Disrupt The Auto Industry


One of our writers, Sandy Dechert, recently sent me an excellent GMO Quarterly Letter—in particular, she sent along a part of it written by Jeremy Grantham regarding the Tesla Model S. I’ll first share this segment of the letter before adding my own commentary:

I recently took a drive in a GMO colleague’s Tesla from New York to Boston. Now, I am about as far from a car freak as you will easily find. I just turned in a 12-year-old Volvo that unfortunately had been sideswiped, for otherwise it was good for years more. But I have to say that my recent Tesla journey was my #1 car experience ever. Three years ago I test drove a Tesla in Boston and it was a tinny, rattly, super-expensive toy. Its battery alone cost $50,000! Last month, its chief engineers suggested its cost today is $22,000. In three years they and other experts are confident that the battery will be less than $15,000 and probably its weight will have fallen also. The Tesla feels like the $75,000 vehicle it is and not simply adjusting for the fact that it is electric, but on its own merit. Many of you will know that this vehicle has a range of 150 to 270 miles depending on battery size and that it received two prestigious car of the year awards2 along with being given the highest crash ratings of any vehicle ever! Consumer Reports gave it the co-equal highest ratings in the magazine’s 77 years! Even more importantly for me, there was this series of what I can only describe as my first iPad moment: “Wow, that’s cool!” And cool it was as the extreme acceleration pushed me back into the passenger seat for the first time in my life, aided, it must be said, by an exuberant new owner at the wheel. We had enough charge to reach Boston easily, but out of curiosity and in need of a coffee break, we stopped to charge the battery at the one and only charging station halfway home. Twenty-five minutes later, we were back on the road, fully charged up. And for free! (Full disclosure: I regrettably have owned no shares in Tesla.)

Okay, “Enough!” you say. But at $10,000 to $15,000 per battery in three years plus some economies of scale, there will probably be a $40,000 vehicle that even die-hard cheapskates like me will have to buy. (Our stop-gap Jetta diesel, which gets an honest 41 miles to the gallon, was $24,000.) One can easily see that in 10 years there could be a new world order in cars…. The idea of “peak oil demand” as opposed to peak oil supply has gone, in my opinion, from being a joke to an idea worth beginning to think about in a single year. Some changes seem to be always around the corner and then at long last they move faster than you expected and you are caught flat-footed.

So, that was a stellar write-up of this Tesla/EV story—perhaps the best I’ve seen outside of what we’ve published on EV Obsession and CleanTechnica. But there are a few key points here that I want to talk about in my own way.

1. Tesla is in a league of its own. As Grantham notes, the Model S in 2012 and 2013 got a Consumer Reports score of 99/100, the best rating the magazine has ever given. That was a full 4 points above 2013′s runner-up. The car is not cheap, but it is the best car on the market. Furthermore, it’s only the second model Tesla has developed, and the first that it has fully designed to take advantage of its electric power source. Tesla is moving down the ladder from super expensive to affordable. It’s not going to make big compromises on quality as it moves down—the downward steps are essentially based on the falling prices of batteries… as well as improvements in Tesla’s manufacturing skills and economies of scale. All of this is why Tesla’s stock is sky high. Many, like me, even think it’s too high for the time being, but if you look at what Tesla is actually aiming to do, maybe not.

2. However, in many respects, Tesla’s secret sauce is available to all the other auto companies out there. An electric car is simply a much better drive, a much more efficient drive, and also a more convenient car. Grantham complained about the Tesla Roadster, but he also noted that he was “about as far from a car freak as you will easily find.” Furthermore, as implied above, the Roadster was Tesla’s first model, and the company wasn’t yet able to build a car completely around the benefits of an electric drive as it did with the Model S. What’s my point with all of this? I have two points, actually. My first point is that, despite its higher value, a sports car isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. However, as Tesla and electric cars as a whole make it into other market segments, more and more customers will have their “iPad moment” and jump into the electric car era. Furthermore, other auto companies can also create excellent electric cars, if they really try to. GM put a fair amount of effort into the Chevy Volt and also had amazing results in terms of customer satisfaction and product reviews. Nissan aimed for a lower segment of the market right off the bat, sacrificing range for a lower price in order to capture those early adopters who are ready for the electric thrill but don’t have the money for a Model S. The Nissan Leaf is the best-selling electric car in the world and recently passed 100,000 sales—much faster than the highly popular Toyota Prius passed that marker when it was getting started (and with good right, because not only is the Leaf super efficient—much more efficient than the Prius—it’s also a ton of fun to drive). As batteries improve and come down in price, more segments of the market will open up, the Leaf will come with greater range, Tesla will have a more affordable product on the market, and more and more people will come to think, “How did I ever put up with driving a gasmobile?” It’s not Tesla vs everyone, but Tesla + everyone. It’s just a matter of time.


John Scalzi: Tax Frenzies and How to Hose Them Down


A question in e-mail based on all the recent “rich people feeling not rich” nonsense, and the associated commentary online:

Why is it that the people freaking out the most about taxes on the rich are the ones who don’t seem to know how the tax code works?

The answer is in the question: Because they don’t know how the tax code works. The major failing seems to be an incomprehension regarding marginal tax rates, but people also seem to fall down on the matter of taxable income vs. gross income (i.e. how deductions can work for you!), how to apply tax credits, and other various and fairly basic aspects of the tax code here in the US.

If you don’t know that stuff — if you basically wander through your life thinking the government taxes all of your income based on the highest possible percentage — then I suppose it’s no wonder you freak out. But it also kind of makes you the financial equivalent of the people who think that Darwin said we are all descended from monkeys, or that the Bible says “God helps those who help themselves.” In short, it means you’re a bit ignorant. You should stop being that. It’s easily correctable. In any event, at some point in time, real live grown-ups should understand the concept of marginal rates. It’s not that difficult to grasp.

There is another answer as well, which can be paired with the above or stand on its own, and it’s that there’s a certain sort of person who believes that all taxation (or all taxation outside of one or two very specific things of which they approve) is theft. Naturally that sort of person will fly to the defense of any who bleat about their taxes being too high, even if in point of fact, the wealthy in the US are currently being taxed at historically low rates (“but they’re still too high!”).

I really don’t know what you do about the “taxes are theft” crowd, except possibly enter a gambling pool regarding just how long after their no-tax utopia comes true that their generally white, generally entitled, generally soft and pudgy asses are turned into thin strips of Objectivist Jerky by the sort of pitiless sociopath who is actually prepped and ready to live in the world that logically follows these people’s fondest desires. Sorry, guys. I know you all thought you were going to be one of those paying a nickel for your cigarettes in Galt Gulch. That’ll be a fine last thought for you as the starving remnants of the society of takers closes in with their flensing tools.

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