Green Industrial Strategy

Lachlan Carey in Phenomenal World:

Biden’s green industrial strategy is both impressive in scale and in its passage amidst highly complex political circumstances. After fractious negotiations, Congress authorized over $4 trillion in new investment between its four major pieces of economic legislation. Officially, around $500 billion of that spending goes towards climate-related spending, most of which is contained in the Inflation Reduction Act. According to our estimates, the US federal government will spend an average of over $100 billion each year on climate mitigation over the next ten years, about two and a half times the annual average from 2009-2017.

Source: RMI

Even this figure is likely a significant underestimate. Since many of the tax credits contained in IRA are uncapped, total public expenditure is limited only by private demand for these incentives. If deployment of key clean energy technologies, such as solar or green hydrogen, were to be in line with a 2050 net-zero pathway, we estimate that total spending in the IRA alone could reach $1 trillion. A recent Brookings analysis reached a similar figure even without the net-zero constraint. This discrepancy is particularly large in renewable energy spending, which could see twice as much spending in a climate-aligned pathway—green hydrogen could see five times the spending, and the electric vehicle (EV) supply chain a staggering ten times the official Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates if consumers rush to buy cheaper EVs.

More here.

Non-Identity Crisis

Stephen Mulhall in the London Review of Books:

For David Edmonds​, and for many other philosophers, Derek Parfit, who died in 2017, was one of the greatest moral thinkers of the past century, perhaps even since John Stuart Mill. Edmonds rightly believes that if Parfit’s ideas about personal identity, rationality and equality were absorbed into our moral and political thinking, they would radically alter our beliefs about punishment, the distribution of social resources, our relationship to future generations, and more. So it’s easy to see why he wants to make Parfit’s ideas more widely known outside the academy. What is less easy to understand is his belief that the best, or even an appropriate, way of achieving this goal is to write a biography of him.

There was a time when biographies of philosophers weren’t just common, but expected and even required. Following Socrates, the great schools of Hellenistic philosophy (the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Neoplatonists) all tried to encourage the pursuit of a certain kind of life. For them, philosophy wasn’t primarily something you learned, but something you practised, with a view to self-transformation. So it was indispensable in critically evaluating a philosopher to critically evaluate their way of life, for that life was the definitive expression of their philosophy, and their writings were primarily a means of achieving that essential work on the self.

More here.

Is Equal Opportunity Enough?

A Boston Review Forum, with a lead piece by Christine Sypnowich:

The last decade has delivered increasingly bleak portraits of vast inequalities in income, wealth, health, and other measures of well-being in many rich capitalist countries, from the United States to the United Kingdom. What should we do about them?

One common response is to argue that inequalities are only a problem to the extent that they reflect unequal opportunities. Economist Jared Bernstein—a longtime advisor to Joe Biden, now a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers—expressed this view clearly in 2014 when he stated, “Opportunity and mobility are the right things to be talking about. . . . We always have inequality, and in America we’re not that upset about inequality of outcomes. But we are upset about inequality of opportunity.” Accordingly, in his first executive order as president, Biden proclaimed that “equal opportunity is the bedrock of American democracy.” For his part, British Labour leader Keir Starmer has stated his party’s aim should be to “pull down obstacles that limit opportunities and talent.” And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has intoned that in Canada, where I live, “no matter who you are . . . you have every opportunity to live your life to its fullest potential.”

These statements are typical. In much of the West the tendency is to see equality as a matter of fairly distributed opportunities and to view an interest in outcomes as unreasonable, naïve, or even authoritarian. A similar focus on equality of opportunity is evident in the dominant strain of political philosophy in the Anglo-American world, liberal egalitarianism. In short, the prevailing political common sense tends to converge on the assumption that our egalitarian aspirations are realized once we have ensured equality of opportunity.

I think this view is seriously mistaken.

More here.

Tales of the tongue

Elizabeth Pennsi in Science:

Twice, quarterback Patrick Mahomes has led the Kansas City Chiefs to victory in the Super Bowl, the pinnacle of U.S. football. Although most fans have their eyes on the ball as Mahomes prepares to throw, his tongue does something just as interesting. Just as basketball star Michael Jordan did as he went up for a dunk, and dart players often do as they take aim for a bull’s-eye, Mahomes prepares to pass by sticking out his tongue. That may be more than a silly quirk, some scientists say. Those tongue protrusions may improve the accuracy of his hand movements.

A small but growing group of researchers is fascinated by an organ we often take for granted. We rarely think about how agile our own tongue needs to be to form words or avoid being bitten while helping us taste and swallow food. But that’s just the start of the tongue’s versatility across the animal kingdom. Without tongues, few if any terrestrial vertebrates could exist. The first of their ancestors to slither out of the water some 400 million years ago found a buffet stocked with new types of foods, but it took a tongue to sample them. The range of foods available to these pioneers broadened as tongues diversified into new, specialized forms—and ultimately took on functions beyond eating.

More here.

What’s the Point of Prizes?

Roger Rosenblatt in The New York Times:

Ah, the magical season of prizes is once again upon us. Each spring brings, along with warm rains and budding flowers, Fulbrights, Rhodeses, Pulitzers and Guggenheims, as well as Oscars, Tonys and Indies — which are thought of so fondly they come with their own nicknames. Everybody, it seems, loves honors and prizes. And they certainly make for great entertainment. The award ceremonies for literary prizes are usually demure, decorous little things, but award shows on TV are like a country music hoedown. And the Oscars rank so high in the culture that actors measure their worth by rehearsing their acceptance speeches.

Is there anything seriously wrong with all of this? Not that I can see. Winning a prize is an undeniably thrilling, magical thing. It is, in essence, the world’s way of telling you that you’ve done something noteworthy and valuable. It’s your moment to shine. But on the whole, do prizes do any good? Are they shallow or meaningful? Motivating or stultifying? Would the minds and achievements of Copernicus, Galileo, Vermeer or van Gogh have suffered chilling effects from winning prizes? What if Beethoven had squatted on his haunches after receiving a lifetime achievement award for his Fourth Symphony?

More here.

The Life of Martin Luther King

Kenneth W Mack at The Guardian:

Who was the Rev Martin Luther King Jr? In America, the civil rights activist and Baptist minister is now embraced across the political spectrum even as the teaching of the history of discrimination and segregation that shaped him is being actively suppressed in many parts of the country. Beyond the US, he is widely celebrated in nations confronting difficult questions about their own racial pasts.

At the time of his assassination in 1968, however, most Americans had a negative view of him, and the National Security Agency had tapped his overseas phone calls. As late as the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan could state that it was still an open question whether he had been a communist dupe, as King’s enemies at J Edgar Hoover’s FBI had long alleged. By the end of that decade, however, with a national holiday in his honour (reluctantly assented to by Reagan) and prize-winning biographies by Taylor Branch and David Garrow in print, King’s image had undergone a remarkable transformation.

more here.

Susan Sontag ‘On Women’

Becca Rothfeld at the Washington Post:

The great French writer Colette once speculated that “certain highly complex human beings” are marked by their “mental hermaphroditism.” The fabled essayist Susan Sontag was among them. She was a woman, but she dressed in the glamorously genderless garb of an intellectual celebrity and wrote on the weighty topics usually reserved for her male peers. In her journals, she mused that “to be an intellectual is to be attached to the inherent value of plurality.”

At her best, Sontag refused to truncate herself in the interest of legibility or to simplify her thinking in the service of easy answers. At her worst, she was dodgy and noncommittal. For the duration of her romance with the photographer Annie Leibovitz, which lasted from 1989 until Sontag’s death in 2004, she never publicly identified as a lesbian. An acquaintance, the formidable critic Terry Castle, recalls that Sontag’s “usual line (indignant and aggrieved) was that she didn’t believe in ‘labels.’”

more here.

Saturday Poem


Body my house
my horse my hound
what will I do
when you are fallen

Where will I sleep
how will I ride
What will I hunt

Where can I go
without my mount
all eager and quick
How will I know
in thicket ahead
is danger or treasure
when Body my good
bright dog is dead

How will it be
to lie in sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye

With cloud for shift
how will I hide?

by May Swenson
Strong Measures
Harper Collins, 1986

‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ Was Tina Turner’s Defining Hit. It Almost Didn’t Happen

Solcyre Bulga in Time:

When Tina Turner died on Wednesday after a half-century career full of legendary anthems, many remembered her as the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” But the chart-topping hit for which she will perhaps be most remembered isn’t a rock song—and that fact almost got in the way of the song ever being released. “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” which debuted in 1984, spent 28 weeks on the Billboard chart—including three at No. 1, making it one of just six top-10 hits from Turner’s solo career. The single went gold, and the album on which it appeared topped 5 million units sold; the song also provided the title for a Turner biopic of the same name, for which lead actress Angela Bassett was nominated for an Oscar.

But “What’s Love Got To Do With It” was different from Turner’s previous hits.

More here.

Scientists near a breakthrough that could revolutionize human reproduction

Rob Stein on NPR:

Researchers are inching closer to mass-producing eggs and sperm in the lab from ordinary human cells. The technique could provide new ways to treat infertility but also open a Pandora’s box.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: It’s a Wednesday morning at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in downtown Washington, D.C.

ELI ADASHI: Welcome, everybody, to the National Academy of Medicine workshop.

STEIN: Dr. Eli Adashi from Brown University opens the Academy’s first gathering to explore the latest scientific developments and complicated social implications of something known as in vitro gametogenesis, or IVG, which involves making human eggs and sperm in the laboratory from any cell in a person’s body.

ADASHI: It is on the precipice of materialization, and IVF will probably never be the same.

STEIN: Japanese scientists describe how they’ve already done this in mice, coaxing cells from the tails of adult mice to become what’s known as induced pluripotent stem cells, or IPS cells, and then coaxing those cells to become mouse sperm and eggs. They’ve even used those sperm and eggs to make embryos and implanted the embryos into the wombs of female mice, which gave birth to apparently healthy mouse pups. Mitinori Saitou joins the workshop via Zoom from Kyoto University.

More here.

A multi-day descent into AI madness

Maxwell Strachan in Vice:

After 35 years of living in relative control of my decisions, I had decided to see what would happen if I asked AI to control my life instead. Years of suboptimal performance, both personally and professionally, and numerous failed attempts at self-improvement had convinced me there had to be a better way, and I wondered if the collective knowledge hidden inside OpenAI’s hit tech product could help me. But when I asked Sam Altman’s ChatGPT to become my all-powerful leader, it seemed reticent, at least at first.

“While I appreciate your willingness to explore new possibilities, I must emphasize that I cannot truly take control of your life or make decisions on your behalf,” ChatGPT said as it ominously labeled our conversation “Control Your Life.” As someone who was hoping to have his entire life controlled by AI, I found the answer frustrating.

More here.

Friday Poem

O, Scallion!

The first time I cut into a scallion,
I leapt back, watching it splinter
into a thousand translucent Os
that skipped across the counter
like flecks of young jade.
I was enamored by its crinkle,
its staticky scrunch. How it
doubled over, limp,
in a melodramatic act of being
O so done with this world. Its
rubbery stems, capped in mottled
whiskery faces, like a deep-sea
bottom feeder, gasping as soon as
pulled from dark moist. I marveled:
O, tenacious green, teenage
zest. Skins that smear
in protest against board
when knife is too dull.
O, child of spring, ripped from home
far too soon, dug up for babyish
bulbs, your final form forgotten.
I confess, I sometimes falter when
you’re tucked between cousins
in camouflage of leek, shallot, chive—
and then I swore
to one day snip
a fistful of scallions
right at the end
of their hollowness,
stand them
in shallow water
and witness how,
when allowed to,
unfettered and alone,
they bloom.

by Sofia Koyama
Brooklyn Poets

Game-changing obesity drugs go mainstream

Mariana Lenharo in Nature:

A new generation of drugs is revolutionizing the treatment of obesity and astonishing researchers with their potency. The drug semaglutide, for example, enabled one-third of clinical-trial participants to shed at least 20% of their body weight1. Tirzepatide, a competing therapy, achieved similar results in more than half of study participants2.

Despite their high effectiveness, researchers are learning that these drugs are not necessarily the solution for everyone living with obesity. “Everybody wants to try them but not everyone responds to them,” says Andres Acosta, an obesity specialist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Now that semaglutide and tirzepatide have been around for some time, health-care providers are beginning to identify who is likely to benefit the most from them — and to recognize challenges in the drugs’ use.

More here.

Look at what hedge funds really do – and tell me capitalism is about ‘rewarding risk’

Brett Christophers in The Guardian:

Coming up with economic policy is a difficult, unforgiving task. To make the best of it, it helps to work with an accurate model of how the economy works. If you use a misleading model and act on it, you can’t reasonably expect good outcomes: in that scenario, we end up, as JM Keynes warned in the 1930s, with “madmen in authority”, acting according to the precepts of “some defunct economist”.

But that’s exactly where we are. One of the most deeply held and frequently heard propositions about capitalism is that it revolves around private companies and individuals taking risks. When, earlier this year, the US government arranged a rescue package for Silicon Valley Bank, for instance, among the many objections to it was the claim that the rescue contravened capitalism’s risk norms.

More here.

On Hans Pfitzner & The Conservative Artist

Adam Kirsch at The New Criterion:

When Hans Pfitzner’s opera Palestrina premiered in Munich in June 1917, it found an enthusiastic admirer in Thomas Mann. “Quickly I made this difficult and audacious production into my own, my intimate possession,” Mann said in Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man (1918), the nonfiction book he spent most of World War I writing. “Its appearance at this moment brought me the consolation and blessing of complete sympathy.” Before the year was out, he saw the opera performed five times.

Pfitzner continued to compose until his death in 1949 at the age of eighty, yet Palestrina is his only work widely known today. Part of the reason is that his reputation went into a deep eclipse after World War II—a backlash against his celebrity status in Nazi Germany, where he was one of the regime’s favored composers. It is only in recent years that many of his chamber, orchestral, and choral works have been recorded. None of them, however, seems likely to join Palestrina in the canon. Pfitzner’s magnum opus continues to repay listening and reflection today for the same reason that it fascinated Mann more than a century ago: its powerful expression of the pathos and the perils of conservative artistry in the modern world.

more here.

The Playoffs: A Dispatch

Rachel B. Glaser at The Paris Review:

I like when the refs touch each other in any way, but especially when all three of them put their arms around one another, huddling to discuss a difficult call. I like watching endless replays of fouls, trying to decide whether something was a block or a charge, or who touched the ball last. I like when the commentators disagree with the refs and when the broadcast cuts to the former ref Steve Javie in some NBA warehouse in New Jersey, standing in front of TV screens, calmly hypothesizing what the refs are discussing.

I love the emotions, which in other sports are often hidden under the players’ helmets and hats. Jamal Murray’s arms outstretched in joy as he backpedals after nailing yet another three. Jimmy Butler’s and Grant Williams’s noses touching while they scream at each other like two feuding angelfish. Robert Williams’s head in his hands on the bench.

more here.

Martin Amis’s 15 Rules For Writers (2014)

From Essayful at Twitter:

1. Write in longhand: when you scratch out a word, it still exists there on the page. On the computer, when you delete a word it disappears forever. This is important because usually your first instinct is the right one.

2. Minimum number of words to write every day: no “quota.” Sometimes it will be no words. Sometimes it will be 1500.

3. Use any anxiety you have about your writing — or your life — as fuel. Ambition and anxiety: that’s the writer’s life.

4. Never say ‘sci-fi.’ You’ll enrage purists. Call it SF.

5. Don’t dumb down: always write for your top five per cent of readers.

More here.