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Links and Notes for January 8th, 2021

Published by marco on

Below are links to articles, highlighted passages[1], and occasional annotations[2] for the week ending on the date in the title, enriching the raw data from Instapaper Likes and Twitter. They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts. YMMV.

[1] Emphases are added, unless otherwise noted.
[2] Annotations are only lightly edited.

COVID-19

Here’s what we know about the new variant of coronavirus by Sharon Peacock (The Guardian)

“Most mutations aren’t concerning because they don’t result in a change in one of the amino acids that generate the proteins the virus is made from. When they do, that’s worthy of serious attention, especially when the mutations (or deletions) occur in a region of the virus that could change the way that it interacts with its human host. In particular, changes in the spike protein, which festoons the outside of the virus and is the mechanism by which it attaches to and enters the host cell, where it can replicate, are of great interest.”
“There is currently no evidence that lineage 1.1.7 causes more severe disease or that it evades the immune system. There is also no reason to think that the vaccines being rolled out or under development will be less effective against it. But what does look increasingly likely is that this lineage is more transmissible.
“What this means in practical terms is that all our efforts to prevent spread – by washing hands, wearing masks and social distancing – become even more important. There’s nothing to suggest that the new lineage is somehow able to circumvent these, so long as we’re doing them properly.”

Finance & Economy

End of the Year Thoughts on Inequality and Its Remedies by Dean Baker (CEPR)

“Most of my work for the last several years has been focused on ways to reduce before tax inequality by reducing the amount of before-tax income that goes to those at the top of the income distribution. For better or worse, there don’t seem to be a lot of progressives that share this beat. There are a few points that are worth making.”
Rich people don’t like to pay taxes. They can and do find ways to avoid and evade taxes. Insofar as they are successful in these efforts, we fail to reduce their income in the way intended, we create a huge tax-gaming industry, which is a source of economic waste and itself a generator of inequality, and we undermine faith in the system.”
“As a practical matter, it is much easier to design systems that don’t give rich people billions of dollars in the first place, than to try to impose taxes that pull most of their billions back after the fact.”
“Changing the rules of corporate governance (these are set by the government) to give shareholders more control over CEO pay can lead to lower pay at the top and therefore less inequality.”
“In the 1980s and 1990s private equity companies were able to find many underpriced companies, turn them around and make large profits reselling them when they took the company public. This no longer seems to be the case as their returns have largely followed the market since 2006. This means that there is no reason for pension funds, the major source of private equity funding, to be tying up their assets with them.
As a general rule when it comes to the financial sector, we want it small and we want it simple. If we see lots of resources being devoted to the sector, it is clear indication we have a problem.”
“But ignoring the Trump confusion, the issue with Section 230 protection is why should Internet outlets be protected from damages, when the exact same material in a traditional print or broadcast outlet could lead to a lawsuit costing millions? Just to be clear, the issue is not directly posted material. If Facebook itself were to post libelous material it would face the same legal liability as the New York Times or CNN. The issue is third party content, where social media companies are completely protected.”
“In both the 2016 and 2020 elections, the public was in the position of begging Mark Zuckerberg to be responsible in the material he was allowing to be spread across his network. We should never be in the position of hoping some billionaire media mogul acts responsibly, with enormous consequences for democracy if they don’t.”

Public Policy & Politics

Veteran diplomat: US confronts China to protect supremacy, not security by Aaron Maté (Grayzone)

This is a really great interview with Chas Freeman (Wikipedia), who was a crucial part of America’s China policy from 1965 until 1995 and has kept a hand in ever since. “He speaks fluent Chinese, French, Spanish, and Arabic.” The rest of the Wikipedia page describes what an American statesman should sound like.

You can also watch it or listen to it as a video:

Veteran US diplomat: US confronts China to protect supremacy, not security (YouTube)

“But it is still the heir to the contending parties in the Civil War. So from the Chinese point of view, this is a war about who runs China. And what Chinese territory is, and Chinese feel very strongly about that. The balance of fervor, in other words, favors China.

“Americans, some Americans may care about Taiwan, and I care about it. But I certainly don’t make it the centerpiece of my national policy in the same way that the Chinese do.”

Once again, the U.S. is breaking all of its agreements with another country, in this case China—all the while with our cape of moral superiority flapping in the wind behind us.

“We agreed to cap the quantity and quality of arms sales gradually, to reduce them, to Taiwan; we’ve completely blown that restriction away. We agreed, no official relationship with Taiwan; we’ve just spent $250 million to build something that looks an awful lot like an embassy in Taipei. We agreed there would be no official relations; were just sent to Cabinet Secretaries, or people with cabinet rank rather, to Taipei. We agreed that all military installations and facilities and troops would be withdrawn; and we’re clandestinely reinserting forces into Taiwan.
“There is not a single aspect of US-China relations — whether it is economic interaction, technology, cultural exchange, student presence, science and technology cooperation, whatever it is, and military intercourse, whatever it is. We’re trying very hard to push China back. So all the smiles and so forth… at the top are obvious hypocrisy, and I think have been seen that way by foreign leaders from the very beginning. They are insincere. They are simple flattery. They are transparent hypocrisy, and they don’t work. This is not a successful diplomatic technique.
“The Chinese claim that they have evidence that we were in fact active and promoting the unrest in Hong Kong. I’m not prepared to accept that. But I think we certainly bear some degree of responsibility for creating a context for that unrest and essentially, anarchy. I mean, you had riots that were, in many ways, on a par with those that we’ve had here on the Black Lives Matter issue. And we rather, I think, hypocritically condemn the Chinese, even though no one in Hong Kong was killed by the police, no one was killed by the police. There were very few injuries. That is not the case in the United States with the urban rioting we have had. Our police are apparently not as well-trained and gentle as those that the British left behind in Hong Kong.”
“If you meet Uyghurs, as I have, some of them will lament that the Soviet Union — which under Stalin attempted to peel them off from the rest of China and failed — did not succeed. Because they say: “Well, if we just been part of the Soviet Union, we’d be an independent country now,” like Kazakhstan, or Kyrgyzstan, or Uzbekistan, or Turkmenistan, Tajikistan — the other Central Asian republics.”
“I don’t think what the Chinese are doing in Xinjiang is at all well conceived, or likely to work, and it’s certainly highly objectionable. From any perspective, whether it’s genocide or not, is a matter of dispute. It is certainly an attack on the the culture of the Uyghurs, and on their practice of Islam. And it is very un-Chinese because Chinese traditionally have not forced assimilation on other peoples. They have, they have created incentives, which cause that to happen gradually.”

“[An incentive-based assimilation] was interrupted by terrorism, frankly, the Chinese have a real terrorism problem with the Uyghurs. Many Uyghurs fought in Afghanistan.

“[…] But I think the Chinese response is both misguided and frankly, from any liberal perspective, completely appalling.

I think there’s just a general atmosphere in the US government and present of anti-China sentiment, and a great deal of credulity about charges against China. So the bias is in favor of accepting any claim against China no matter how ill founded or lacking in evidence it may be. I don’t have any doubt whatsoever that there are horrors going on in Xinjiang. The precise details — the numbers and other things, I think are highly questionable, and no doubt they change over time.

“I wouldn’t call these concentration camps, by the way. The British invented those in the Boer War in South Africa, to confine the Afrikaners — women and children, men behind barbed wire. They were horrible. They were starving them and mistreating them. I think there is certainly psychological abuse of what I would consider to be an intolerable nature going on in these facilities in Xinjiang, but they’re not properly called concentration camps.

“You know, and I also I wonder, they resemble prisons, they are supposed to re-educate people. I suspect that they’re rather like our own prisons, which actually educate people to be more criminal than they were when they went in the beginning. This is all going to be counterproductive for the Chinese. And I, in my own conversations with those who listen among Chinese friends, I have told them I think they’re making a great mistake.”

“And China stands against the annexation of territory; it has not endorsed either NATO’s detachment of Kosovo, or the Russian use of that precedent to annex Crimea back to Russia from Ukraine. You can work with China, but Chinese have their own interests and their own principles. And they’re now much less diffident in defending and asserting those principles.”


Stephen F. Cohen on Russia’s democratization and how US meddling undermines it by The Grayzone (YouTube)

This is a (short, 15min) interview by Aaron Maté with the inestimable Stephen F. Cohen (Wikipedia), who died last year. He was “an American scholar of Russian studies. His academic work concentrated on modern Russian history since the Bolshevik Revolution and Russia’s relationship with the United States.”

“I keep coming back as a historian to bearing in mind that when Gorbachev began—and Gorbachev is still alive—and he watches this. And, when I see him as I do when I go to Russia, he’s torn because he’s the “father” of whatever democracy is going to emerge in Russia and, as the father, he’s worried about his offspring and its health and its behavior. But it’s a very messy, protracted process—and how could it be otherwise.

“One of the things that American politicians—I think of Senators—who speak about things of which they know nothing. And the New York Times and the Washington Post, who are always choosing sides and editorializing is, we do Russian democrats no good with this kind of interventionism. Or with the kind of stunt that then-Vice President Biden pulled by going to Russia and telling Putin he shouldn’t return to the presidency.

“We undermine authentic democratization in Russia by this kind of interventionism. And, we should feel a little shame-faced, considering the fact we’re very busy accusing Russia of intervention, of meddling with our election.”


Must There Be Consequences? by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

The objective is to do better by black teenagers for the mis-steps of their youth, not to do excessive harm to white teenagers to balance out the social justice perception of karmac damage. Rather than try to do better by kids, all kids, Burnett would have no mercy for a young woman, but only if she’s white.”


Testing Categorical Prosecutorial Discretion by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“What is happening is that prosecutors, on their own, are deciding what acts of their state legislatures and governors are worthy of enforcing. […] Who cares if all the elected lawmakers in a bicameral legislature have argued for days, weeks, months, agonizing over whether to enact a law, how to word it, where to draw lines and what crossing those lines will mean?”
“[…] does the fact that the voters elected him mean that the processes of governance are thrown out the window and he’s unconstrained by law? Do the LA County voters get to reinvent their state government by electing a progressive prosecutor?


Comment on Bernie Sanders New Year’s Resolutions by PoorMansPaulRudd (Reddit)

 News Clipping of Bernie Sanders's 1978 New Year's Resolution (Hidden)The original comment from Bernie Sanders from 1978 (42 years ago) was good:

“In 1978, as in other years, I hope to be able to play some role in making working people aware that the present-day reality of poverty, wage-slavery, and mind-destroying media and school is not the only reality—but simply a pathetic presentation brought to us by a handful of power-hungry individuals who own and control our economy.”
Bernie Sanders in 1978

To which the Reddit user PoorMansPaulRudd added that, this year Bernie had

“[…] spent his entire Christmas and new years week on the senate floor. Alone. Talking to cameras, trying to get you a 2k check.”

To comments that Bernie Sanders, with $2M in assets is “rich”, he responded,

“[…] if you have worked a remotely normal job for 40 plus years. And your wife works too, and you write a best selling book, you should 100 percent be able to be as “rich” as Bernie Sanders by the time you’re his age. That’s what he is fighting for! Your ability to work one full time job and not be a broke dumb ass.”


TK Newsletter: 2021 Has to Be Better Edition by Matt Taibbi (SubStack)

“The fact that a year ago, anyone thought it made sense to tell the millions of people forced daily to navigate all this stupidity [of life for most people in the U.S.] that they needed to focus on a labyrinthine political controversy in Ukraine — and to blast them for deficits of “sobriety and clarity” when they didn’t — told you everything you needed to know about the cluelessness of the people who run this country.”

“Most of our lives are online now, an ironic reward to intelligence services that went unpunished after illegal surveillance programs were disclosed in the Obama years.

“After all that upheaval, the White House is about to be re-occupied by a political fossil from the eighties, surrounded by a zombie cabinet of Iraq War supporters, drone assassination proponents, corporate lawyers, lobbyists, and neoliberal economists, coming from places like Amazon, DuPont, and Raytheon […]”

“Distortions on CNN or in the New York Times drive people crazy, but that’s only because they remember trusting those sources. They’ll forget soon and learn to walk right past mass media blather as if it were just amusingly terrible wallpaper, the way Soviets eventually did with Pravda and Izvestia. Student debt is crushing and college is an overpriced scam, but a reckoning of sorts is coming when people stop being ashamed of vocational school.”


Mank: A Great Screenwriter in Search of a Great Biopic by Eileen Jones (Jacobin)

“Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) and Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley) of MGM Studios, both of whom appear frequently in Mank, were the actual moguls who did indeed kneecap Sinclair. From their perch at MGM, they launched a nasty media smear campaign consisting of filmed interviews with supposedly ordinary citizens, many of them actors hired to represent Sinclair backers with “undesirable” qualities such as the appearance of ragged indigence or foreign birth.”


None Dare Call it Stolen by Mark Crispin Miller (Harper's Magazine)

“The press has had little to say about most of the strange details of the election—except, that is, to ridicule all efforts to discuss them. This animus appeared soon after November 2, in a spate of caustic articles dismissing any critical discussion of the outcome as crazed speculation:”
“Concerning the decisive contest in Ohio, the evidence is lucidly compiled in a single congressional report, which, for the last half-year, has been available to anyone inclined to read it. It is a veritable arsenal of “smoking guns”—and yet its findings may be less extraordinary than the fact that no one in this country seems to care about them.”
“Just as 2+2=5 in Orwell’s Oceania, so here today the United States just won two brilliant military victories, 9/11 could not have been prevented, we live in a democracy (like the Iraqis), and last year’s presidential race “was, at the end of the day, an honest election.” Such claims, presented as the truth, are nothing but faith-based reiteration, as valid as the notions that one chooses to be homosexual, that condoms don’t prevent the spread of HIV, and that the universe was made 6,000 years ago.”
“[…] even if the exit poll estimates are erroneous, Edison/Mitofsky still isn’t wrong-because they just add in the actual vote numbers to ensure everything checks. This practice is by no means secret, although perhaps the average voter or election-night network-television watcher might not have been aware of it. I certainly wasn’t. Maybe knowing this should serve to highlight the risks of viewing exit polls as a hedge against improprieties in the vote count.”


Need a New Year’s Resolution? Try Boredom by Bonny Brooks (ARC Digital)

“You know that feeling. No matter how surrounded by people we are, we’ve all had it. The one that comes after the Zoom window disappears, the door closes or the confirmation hasn’t come, or it’s — even just for a minute — too quiet.”

I only know this feeling when I’m otherwise psychically unwell, like in the first few days of adjustment after my wife goes to her family for a month, or when my longtime companion Louis (a rabbit) suddenly (and recently) died of a kidney complication. At those times, you’re desperate to drown out the thoughts that come rushing in.


We Need a Socialist Reset, Not a Corporate “Great Reset” by Slavoj Žižek (Jacobin)

“When we try to guess how our societies will look after the pandemic will be over, the trap to avoid is futurology — futurology by definition ignores our not-knowing. Futurology is defined as a systematic forecasting of the future from the present trends in society. And therein resides the problem — futurology mostly extrapolates what will come from the present tendencies. However, what futurology doesn’t take into account are historical “miracles,” radical breaks which can only be explained retroactively, once they happen.
“Biden’s victory means “future” as the continuation of the pre-Trump “normality” — that’s why there was such a sigh of relief after his victory. But this “normality” means the rule of anonymous global capital which is the true alien in our midst.
“Gates became one of the richest men in the world through appropriating the rent for allowing millions of us to communicate through the medium that he privatized and controls.”
“We learned the first lesson now: “shutdown light” is not enough. They tell us “we” (our economy) cannot afford another hard lockdown — so let’s change the economy. Lockdown is the most radical negative gesture within the existing order. The way beyond, to a new positive order, leads through politics, not science. What has to be done is changing our economic life so that it will be able to survive lockdowns and emergencies that are for sure awaiting us, in the same way that a war compels us to ignore market limitations and find a way to do what is “impossible” in a free market economy.”
“In principle the answer to “What is to be done?” is easy ­here: we have the means and resources to restructure health care so that it serves the needs of the people in a time of crisis, etc. However, to quote the last line of Brecht’s “In Praise of Communism” from his play Mother, “It is the simple thing, that is so hard to do.””
So how — if — will the Communist tendency prevail? A sad answer: through more repeated crises. Let’s put it clearly: the virus is atheist in the strongest sense of the term. Yes, it should be analyzed how the pandemic is socially conditioned, but it is basically a product of meaningless contingency, there is no “deeper message” in it […]”

“To quote Greta Thunberg again: “Doing our best is no longer good enough. Now we need to do the seemingly impossible.”

“Futurology deals with what is possible, we need to do what is (from the standpoint of the existing global order) impossible.”


The Kafkaesque Imprisonment of Julian Assange Exposes U.S. Myths About Freedom and Tyranny by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“Those who render themselves acquiescent and harmless that way will — in every society, including the most repressive — usually be free of reprisals. They will not be censored or jailed. They will be permitted to live their lives largely unmolested by authorities, while many will be well-rewarded for this servitude. Such individuals will see themselves as free because, in a sense, they are: they are free to submit, conform and acquiesce.
“Those who do not seek to meaningfully dissent or subvert power will usually deny — because they do not perceive — that such dissent and subversion are, in fact, rigorously prohibited. They will continue to believe blissfully that the society in which they live guarantees core civic freedoms — of speech, of press, of assembly, of due process — because they have rendered their own speech and activism, if it exists at all, so innocuous that nobody with the capacity to do so would bother to try to curtail it.
“Similarly: powerful officials in Washington can illegally leak the most sensitive government secrets and will suffer no punishment, or will get the lightest tap on the wrist, provided their aim is to advance mainstream narratives. But low-level leakers whose aim is to expose wrongdoing by the powerful or reveal their systemic lying will have the full weight of the criminal justice system and the intelligence community come crashing down on them, to destroy them with vengeance and also to put their heads on a pike to terrorize future dissidents out of similarly stepping forward.
“But those like Julian Assange who publish similar secrets but against the will of those elites, with the goal and outcome of exposing (rather than obscuring) ruling class lies and impeding (rather than advancing) their agenda, will suffer the opposite fate as Woodward: they will endure every imaginable punishment, including indefinite imprisonment in maximum-security cells. That is because Woodward is a servant of power while Assange is a dissident against it.
“That is what makes the ongoing imprisonment of Julian Assange not only a grotesque injustice but also a vital, crystal-clear prism for seeing the fundamental fraud of U.S. narratives about who is free and who is not, about where tyranny reigns and where it does not.”
“That means that — absent a pardon by Trump or the withdrawal of the charges by what will become the Biden DOJ — Assange will be locked up for years without any need to prove he is guilty of any crime. He will have been just disappeared: silenced by the very governments whose corruption and crimes he denounced and exposed.
“Under this propagandistic framework, not only the governments that grant asylum against U.S. persecution (such as Ecuador and Russia) but also the individuals who seek asylum from U.S. persecution (such as Assange and Snowden) are cast by the U.S. and British media as villains and even criminals for availing themselves of this internationally guaranteed asylum right.”
“Snowden’s asylum in Russia — the only thing standing between him and decades in a high-security cage in the U.S. for the “crime” of revealing unconstitutional spying by Obama officials — is similarly scorned in elite U.S. media and political circles as something shameful and even treasonous rather than a perfectly legal shield under international asylum conventions against persecution by the vengeful and notoriously repressive U.S. security state.”


The Threat of Authoritarianism in the U.S. is Very Real, and Has Nothing To Do With Trump by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“Rejecting demands to exploit a public health pandemic to assert extraordinary powers is not exactly what one expects from a striving dictator.”
No journalists were jailed for criticizing or reporting negatively on Trump, let alone killed, as was endlessly predicted and sometimes even implied. Bashing Trump was far more likely to yield best-selling books, social media stardom and new contracts as cable news “analysts” than interment in gulags or state reprisals.”
“The last gasp for those clinging to the Trump-as-dictator fantasy (which was really hope masquerading as concern, since putting yourself on the front lines, bravely fighting domestic fascism, is more exciting and self-glorifying, not to mention more profitable, than the dreary, mediocre work of railing against an ordinary and largely weak one-term president) was the hysterical warning that Trump was mounting a coup in order to stay in office.
There was never a moment when it appeared even remotely plausible that it would succeed, let alone that he could secure the backing of the institutions he would need to do so, particularly senior military leaders.”
Whether the U.S. was a democracy in any meaningful sense prior to Trump had been the subject of substantial scholarly debate. A much-discussed 2014 study concluded that economic power has become so concentrated in the hands of such a small number of U.S. corporate giants and mega-billionaires, and that this concentration in economic power has ushered in virtually unchallengeable political power in their hands and virtually none in anyone else’s, that the U.S. more resembles oligarchy than anything else:”
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.”
“[…] the premises of pre-Trump debates over how grave a problem this is have been rendered utterly obsolete by the new realities of the COVID era. A combination of sustained lockdowns, massive state-mandated transfers of wealth to corporate elites in the name of legislative “COVID relief,” and a radically increased dependence on online activities has rendered corporate behemoths close to unchallengeable in terms of both economic and political power.
“[…] they are the recipients of enormous amounts of largesse from the U.S. Government, which they control through armies of lobbyists and donations and which therefore constantly intervenes in the market for their benefit. This is not free market capitalism rewarding innovative titans, but rather crony capitalism that is abusing the power of the state to crush small competitors, lavish corporate giants with ever more wealth and power, and turn millions of Americans into vassals whose best case scenario is working multiple jobs at low hourly wages with no benefits, few rights, and even fewer options.
“[…] this is a classic merger of state and corporate power—also known as a hallmark of fascism in its most formal expression—that abuses state interference in markets to consolidate and centralize authority in a small handful of actors in order to disempower everyone else.”
“The dominant strain of U.S. neoliberalism — the ruling coalition that has now consolidated power again — is authoritarianism. They view those who oppose them and reject their pieties not as adversaries to be engaged but as enemies, domestic terrorists, bigots, extremists and violence-inciters to be fired, censored, and silenced.
“Those who spent four years shrieking to great profit about the dangers of lurking “fascism” will — without realizing the irony — now use this merger of state and corporate power to consolidate their own authority, control the contours of permissible debate, and silence those who challenge them even further.”


Washington’s favorite Venezuelan opposition leader exposes links to Colombian death squads and narco networks by Ben Norton (The Grayzone)

“HRW has spent years heroizing the coup-plotting Venezuelan opposition leader, portraying López as a “prisoner of conscience” and “Venezuela’s most prominent political prisoner” before he was released in a failed coup attempt on April 30, 2019.”

Technology

Surfin’ USA by Vincent Bevins (The Baffler)

“The internet is very much an American thing, both in its concrete origins as well as the rules that govern it.”
“And today, a vast majority of online “content” is created or curated by U.S. companies. Even if Americans now make up less than nine percent of internet users, just five U.S. companies—Google, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix and Microsoft— recently accounted for two thirds of all “primetime” internet traffic, worldwide.
“Westad (who is Norwegian) asserts that “globalization” is the wrong word for the rapid expansion of a specific type of capitalist order in the late twentieth century. A better word, he says, is “Americanization.”
“But in truth, for a majority of people, those are just sites where you click away four to five pop-ups before giving up and returning to scrolling through the news on social media. Mainstream media sites these days get all their money from guilty liberals.”

Good Lord, is that really true? I fear that it really might be. I use alternate news sites nearly exclusively. I don’t use any social-media site for my newsfeed, nor do I use any large aggregator like Apple or Google News. I follow individual blogs or small magazines (like The Baffler, cited here) for everything.

“[…] when you are on the internet, you are basically in the United States.”
“That is what the internet is like, wherever you are. It is loud; childish; desperately commercial; militaristic; incredibly rich but shockingly dysfunctional; and most of all, it is deeply annoying.”


New battery chemistry results in first rechargeable zinc-air battery by John Timmer (Ars Technica)

“[…] it’s clear that this isn’t necessarily a competitor for many lithium battery use cases. But that may not be a problem. Storage for the electric grid doesn’t necessarily need a fast rate of discharge from individual batteries, as long as enough batteries are available to match capacity needs. And here, zinc might be a bonus—it costs less than a quarter what lithium carbonate does, and that’s for pure zinc. Plus, having zinc available to cover other needs would free up lithium for uses where its performance characteristics really matter—something we may need if we try to make the grid renewable at the same time we electrify transportation.
“Finally, the researchers note that the same sort of chemistry could work with other metals, including magnesium and aluminum, both of which are also relatively inexpensive.”


Why AI is so power-hungry by Kate Saenko (Ars Technica)

“Among the risks is the large carbon footprint of developing this kind of AI technology. By some estimates, training an AI model generates as much carbon emissions as it takes to build and drive five cars over their lifetimes.
“Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst estimated the energy cost of developing AI language models by measuring the power consumption of common hardware used during training. They found that training BERT once has the carbon footprint of a passenger flying a round trip between New York and San Francisco. However, by searching using different structures—that is, by training the algorithm multiple times on the data with slightly different numbers of neurons, connections and other parameters—the cost became the equivalent of 315 passengers, or an entire 747 jet.
“All of this means that developing advanced AI models is adding up to a large carbon footprint. Unless we switch to 100 percent renewable energy sources, AI progress may stand at odds with the goals of cutting greenhouse emissions and slowing down climate change. The financial cost of development is also becoming so high that only a few select labs can afford to do it, and they will be the ones to set the agenda for what kinds of AI models get developed.”
“What does this mean for the future of AI research? Things may not be as bleak as they look. The cost of training might come down as more efficient training methods are invented. Similarly, while data center energy use was predicted to explode in recent years, this has not happened due to improvements in data center efficiency, more efficient hardware and cooling.

Science & Nature

The Biology of Mistletoe by Rachel Ehrenberg (Smithsonian Magazine)

“Back in 2001, Watson made the case in an article in the Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics that mistletoes are keystone species on which much of the life surrounding them depends. Evidence for this role has since grown. A study of mistletoes in the savannah of Zimbabwe, for example, found that mistletoe leaf litter pumps additional nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients into the soil, influencing the diversity of grasses.”
“Today’s varieties invade plants of all stripes, including themselves — a number of species have been documented parasitizing other mistletoes. They’ve even been spotted going three layers deep: a mistletoe on a mistletoe on a mistletoe.

Programming

[Concurrency] Evolving the Concurrency design and proposals and Swift Concurrency Roadmap

“Our goal is to make concurrent programming in Swift convenient, efficient, and safe.

“This document outlines a number of proposed additions and changes to the language to achieve this, through the implementation of asynchronous functions and actors.”

Spoiler alert: the proposal introduces the async and await keywords that build on a Task API (that looks a lot like the one in .NET), but also introduces explicit actor classes, with their own asynchronous isolation. They still have to stay interoperable with Objective-C.


Names are not type safety by Alexis King (Lexi Lambda)

This is an article by the author of Parse, don’t Validator on November, 2019, which I also read recently and which was also quite good.

“All of this is a consequence of the fact that the constructive modeling is intrinsically type-safe; that is, the safety properties are enforced by the type declaration itself. Illegal values truly are unrepresentable: there is simply no way to represent 6 using any of the five constructors. The same is not true of the newtype declaration, which has no intrinsic semantic distinction from that of an Int; its meaning is specified extrinsically via the toOneToFive smart constructor. Any semantic distinction intended by a newtype is thoroughly invisible to the type system; it exists only in the programmer’s mind.”
“In application code […] but the churn of a production codebase tends to weaken encapsulation boundaries over time, so correctness by construction should be preferred whenever practical.”
“[…] we sometimes use types to help ourselves avoid making logical mistakes. We might use separate Distance and Duration types to avoid accidentally doing something nonsensical like adding them together, even though they’re both representationally real numbers.”


A new Type of Atomic Clock Uses Entangled Atoms. At Most, it Would be off by 100 Milliseconds Since the Beginning of the Universe by Brian Koberlein (Universe Today)

“In 1967, we moved away from astronomy altogether when the length of a second was redefined in terms of an atomic clock. The measured oscillation is based not on an atom, but the light emitted by an atom. Atoms create light when an electron moves from a higher energy state to a lower one.”
“Although the modern standard is officially exact, it isn’t actually exact. Two atomic clocks of the same design keep slightly different times. By statistically comparing atomic clocks, we know they are accurate to about one second in thirty million years. That’s probably accurate enough for everyday use, but it isn’t accurate enough for some scientific purposes.”
“If the atom could be kept perfectly stationary when it emits light, then the frequency of the light would be exact. But quantum mechanics keeps the position of an atom a bit fuzzy, meaning that the frequency of emitted light is also a bit fuzzy. This effect is known as the standard quantum limit.
“Statistical analysis of this new clock shows that it can function within an accuracy of 100 milliseconds over the age of the universe. The clock is so precise that it could test whether universal physical constants change over time.”
“When we do, a clock based upon quantum entanglement could be the solution. If that’s the case, our official clocks will use quantum weirdness to overcome quantum fuzziness.

Fiction

The Wizard by Alyssa Pelish (The Baffler)

“Usually, in LA, I spend my days in my apartment. I don’t like being alone with the scripts, but I can’t spend money every day at a Starbucks. The ghost town of a cubicle colony in processing that still existed when I got my contract has since been cleared to make way for an employee climbing wall that looms over a fleet of C-suite walking desks.”
“Her voice is wobbling, even as she raises it to speak over the eerie static of the baby. Water delivery has gotten spottier lately, people have been saying. The price has gone up, and you can’t count on it either. She needed water, Macy says, to mix the baby’s formula. Even what she set aside just for him, like she always does, had run out. And so she boiled some water from the tap—she boiled it, really she did—and used that. She was just crossing her fingers, hoping it’d be okay for just the next little while.”
“So many digital displays and hard plastic arms and PVC bags hung like transparent bladders from metal hooks. There’s the wire that goes from the tip of his finger to a monitor that shows fractions and degrees and something like the stalagmites of a quarterly earnings chart. There’s the long, thick, corrugated tube emanating from a black-screened machine that’s segmented in an almost anatomical way, which plugs into a plastic socket in his neck. There’s the thin strip of a translucent straw that issues from one of the dangling PVC bags and snakes into one nostril. There’s the opaque tube that emerges from the bedsheets and drains into a different PVC bag, lower down. There’s the other thin, clear tube that sprouts from a drip bag and burrows into the veined back of his hand.”