Profile cover photo
Profile photo
Matt McIrvin
Matt's interests
View all
Matt's posts

Post has shared content
An interesting thing about this is that, in some ways, it's the opposite of the old Peak Oil apocalypse scenarios. The Carbon Bubble pops not because our civilization is completely dependent on energy sources that run out, but, in part, because means become available to reduce or eliminate that dependency--and the environmental costs of retaining it become too high. And even if we delay that reckoning here, we're always part of a global market.

Post has attachment
How 20th century segregation worked in the North, and its persistent effect on racial distribution and election results.

Another way to put it is that we had a huge internal refugee crisis originating from the South, which white Northerners responded to with ethnic cleansing.

Post has shared content
Via +Raja Mitra.

It looks to me as if, proportionally speaking, the greatest discrepancy is actually in the United States. Americans give about the same numbers as Europeans if you ask them what fraction of the US is Muslim, but the actual fraction of Muslims here is much lower, about 1% (eyeballing it, I think the graph in the Guardian article might have it a little low, but the Pew study seems to use the correct number).

American perceptions of Europe are, I think, even further off: a fair number of Americans believe "Eurabia" theories about how Muslims are on the verge of becoming a controlling majority in Europe.

Asking about 2020 is odd because 2020 just isn't that far off; the numbers for 2020 couldn't possibly be that different from the numbers for 2016. But maybe it sounds further off because it's a round number.

Post has shared content
A good explanation of climate contrarians' favorite misleading debating tactics.

The article explains that Ted Cruz's graph reproduced below has a cherry-picked time window, but it didn't even mention that it's also cherry-picked in another way. The specific dataset he used is for a layer in the atmosphere (the lower troposphere) where temperature tends to have relatively large year-to-year fluctuations, so there's the most noise to obscure long-term trends and drive further cherry-picking. Climate denialists frequently gravitate to those lower-tropospheric numbers, and when you see that, it's generally a sign that they're going to pull something like this.

These are the insidious, misleading tactics that climate change deniers use. Innoculate yourselves against them.

Post has shared content
They may be able to purge the DOE, but they can't purge reality, which is the great problem with this approach.

Post has shared content
This story is being reported as if the IAU is somehow changing the name of Alpha Centauri to "Rigil Kentaurus". It's getting the same kind of baffled/amused/mildly-upset attention as all the stories about Pluto not being a planet, or the supposed "13th zodiac sign".

But I don't think that's what's happening at all.

See, there are lots of ways to refer to stars. Most of the fairly bright, naked-eye stars in the sky have Bayer designations: a Greek letter and a genitive form of the constellation. "Alpha Centauri" is one of those. It's still valid; it's not going anywhere.

The Bayer designations go into upper- and lower-case Latin letters after the Greek alphabet runs out. There are also Flamsteed designations, which are numerical with a constellation, like "30 Orionis". And there are also various enormous catalogs that give basically every charted star a unique number.

But the very brightest stars, and a few others, also have traditional names, many going back to antiquity or to medieval Arab astronomy, some more recent. Some of these are well-known, such as "Betelgeuse" or "Aldebaran" or "Polaris". Some are less well-known.

Alpha Centauri has several of these, of which the least obscure is "Rigil Kentaurus" or "Rigil Kent", Arabic for "the centaur's foot". I've seen the name on star maps. It's also been known as "Toliman", which seems to be a bad transliteration of a different Arabic name. And there was one writer who named it "Bungula" with a somewhat obscure etymology; nobody calls it that, but the name seems to come up whenever somebody feels compelled to list them all.

Anyway, for whatever reason, Alpha Centauri's Bayer designation is more generally known than the star system's various traditional names, especially in science fiction. I think part of it might be that most people in the Northern Hemisphere can't actually see it, so they think of it less as a visible star in the sky, and more as a subject of popular-science exposition or science fiction: the closest star system to our own! The Bayer Greek-letter designation sounds more sciencey and futuristic than "Rigil Kentaurus". Also, the name sounds similar to Rigel in Orion (Orion's foot), though it's hardly the only ambiguity of that type.

All the IAU has done is give their imprimatur to "Rigil Kentaurus" as the preferred name to use if you want to use one of those traditional names. They haven't invalidated "Alpha Centauri" as the Bayer designation. You don't have to stop staying that. It's still perfectly correct.

So far, so good. The one thing I think is a little weird about the IAU's choice is that they insist specifically on giving the traditional name to Alpha Centauri A, by the general rule that the brightest star in a multiple star system gets the name. But Alpha Centauri A and B are similar in brightness, and close enough together in the sky to appear as a single star, so if you want to be traditional you'd surely share the name between the two of them. (Not all three, since Proxima Centauri is so far from the other two that if it were bright enough to be visible to the unaided eye, it'd look like an unrelated star.)

So we have an odd situation in which Alpha Centauri A has an official traditional name (Rigil Kentaurus), and so does Alpha Centauri C (Proxima Centauri), but Alpha Centauri B is nameless, despite being surely a major contributor to the traditional Rigil Kentaurus's shine. Well, it'll always have catalog numbers.

Post has shared content
Via +Nila Jones. All I have to add is this:

Reading these "what to do in the event of totalitarianism/authoritarianism" articles, this one and the articles from the likes of Sarah Kendzior and Masha Gessen, tends to fill me with despair, because no matter how they phrase it, the impression they give is that this is a completely inexorable process.

(I think 1984 is actually kind of a bad book to read in this context because the story, with the possible exception of the appendix, stresses at every moment how completely impossible it is for the good guys to win. If it's like that you might as well give up and choose to love Big Brother at square one.)

It's not inexorable. In fact, I think it's entirely possible that because we have historical examples, because people see this coming and are pushing back, the worst abuses are avoided, mitigated or limited in scope. If that happens, or if the roll-in of the abuses is slow and gradual, the people producing these warnings will get ridiculed as overdramatic. I think we shouldn't fall into that trap either, because avoiding the worst outcomes is exactly what they're trying to accomplish.

I do think the point of retaining skepticism in the face of a horrifying terrorist attack is particularly important. The author mentions the Reichstag fire, but obviously the example everyone my age has in mind is 9/11, which an American administration less obviously unfit than Trump's used as justification for curbs on civil liberties and wasteful and badly executed wars. The scale of destruction caused by 9/11 was something of a fluke, but a rash of smaller attacks, say public mass shootings on the scale of these guys with guns who like to say they're affiliated with ISIS, could accomplish the same thing.

The attack doesn't have to be fake or "false flag"; 9/11 wasn't. The propaganda from hashtag-terrorist groups like ISIS stresses that they want to "eliminate the greyzone", that is, make it impossible for Muslims to live peacefully with non-Muslims so they can provoke the apocalyptic conflict they want. This is the same goal that authoritarian anti-Muslim bigots like Frank Gaffney or Gen. Flynn have; it's part of the goal of white-supremacist racists like Steve Bannon. George W. Bush, for all his faults, actually was not an anti-Muslim bigot, though some of his advisers and supporters were. Now we're going to have one right at the top, a dangerous and unstable situation.

I've quoted the whole thing below (though I made one note about the false PropOrNot site -- oops).


Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.

Here are 20 lessons from across the fearful 20th century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You've already done this, haven't you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of "our institutions" unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don't protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of "terrorism" and "extremism." Be alive to the fatal notions of "exception" and "emergency." Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don't fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don't use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps "The Power of the Powerless" by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes. [Well, not THIS site! See here:]

10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

Post has attachment
The cartoonist/illustrator John Huehnergarth was, I think, an underappreciated genius, a kind of mildly satirical depictor of mid-20th-century technocracy. His fantastical machines remind me a little of Daniel Mróz's illustrations for Stanisław Lem's Cyberiad, and a little of Dr. Seuss.

More on his thoughts and work:

Post has attachment
Donald Trump is a sore loser... of the popular vote. Of course, there is absolutely no evidence of "millions of people who voted illegally," and that Trump is even bringing this up suggests that he may be laying the groundwork for a refusal to vacate the White House peacefully if he loses in 2020.

Post has attachment
So apparently what Trump and Kris Kobach actually plan to do here is reopen the Bush-era program registering immigrants from some list of countries with terrorism problems (which Kobach was involved in creating, and which led to many interrogations, detentions and deportations but no prosecutions, and was generally regarded as useless and needlessly intrusive).

Many are probably going to be lulled by the fact that this program already existed before; but for the people affected it was just one harassment after another, with no discernible effect on terrorism.

What they clearly would like to do is something more like tracking all Muslims. This is the version they can get away with. Demagoguing against Muslims is what Trump ran on, and he's going to throw his fans a bone.
Wait while more posts are being loaded