Sunday, October 31, 2021

"The amount of work that once bought an hour of light now buys 51 years of it"

This piece is from a site that Ezra Klein convinced the WaPo to host for a while, Wonkblog. That was after JournoList came to light and before Vox (and subsequently the NYT).

I'm posting it today for a couple reasons: 1) because I sincerely hope someone in authority at the COP26 climate confab recognizes that it gets dark pretty early in Glasgow in early November. Keeping the lights on is a good thing. And 2) because the research is from Professor Nordhause at Yale, one of the very few economists we actually listen to.

I used to point out that the good Professor had written books, articles, chapters and papers with at least three Nobel Prize winners but then the old boy went and got himself one so now I ramble about the fact he is the eleventh economist who worked at the Cowles Foundation before going on to win the Nobel. He is one of the giants of climate economics, a fact that really pisses-off some activists. More on that as the conference gets going.

Here are some of our Nordhaus posts, we've been stalking him for going-on fifteen years.

Wonkblog has been shut down for a while so here's a link at the Tampa Bay Times


The summer solstice is now behind us. The sunlight fades, the flowers droop, the darkness creeps a little closer with each passing day. Do you feel the chill in the air? Winter is coming.

No need to be glum about it, though. Our early ancestors conquered the darkness roughly half a million years ago, give or take, when they learned how to control fire. The light was flickering and dim, yes, but the taming of fire meant that the night was finally less dark, less full of terrors.

It wasn't easy. The eternally optimistic data nerds at the libertarian Cato Institute's HumanProgress project recently highlighted a fun solstice factoid: Back in the prehistoric era a person would have to gather, chop and burn wood for roughly 10 hours a day for six days straight in order to produce the equivalent light of a modern lightbulb shining for about an hour.

Today, the same amount of labor could light a room for over 50 years.

Those figures are courtesy of a fascinating 1994 paper by Yale economist William Nordhaus. He was trying to construct a measure that could compare standards of living across radically different time periods — say, the Neolithic era and today.

He settled on lighting as a way to do that. The archaeological and historic records paint a fairly complete picture of lighting technologies over the millennia. Pick a standard quantity of light output, calculate how much labor it would take to create that much light given the technology of the era and voila -- you've got a fairly robust and comparable metric of quality of life going back millennia.

The first major improvements over open fires were, in Nordhaus's telling, oil-burning lanterns. Around the time of the Babylonian empire, circa 1750 B.C., 60 hours of labor could buy the equivalent of 88 minutes of today's light. Conversely, "a rough calculation indicates that an hour's work today will buy 300,000 times as much illumination as could be bought in early Babylonia," Nordhaus wrote.

Then along came candles, which dominated the interior lighting landscape from the Greco-Roman era to the 19th century. Around the year 1800, you could get about 10 hours of modern-equivalent lighting from animal fat candles for 60 hours of labor. Not too shabby, if you didn't mind the smell of burning animal byproducts.

Around this time, none other than George Washington estimated that the cost of burning a single candle for five hours each night worked out to about 8 British pounds a year, or well over $1,000 in current dollars.

Then the Industrial Revolution brought with it a revolution in lighting. The first was gas-powered street lighting, showing up in London around 1807. Sixty hours of labor would net you 16 hours of lighting. Not bad, if you didn't mind the risk of explosion — as D.C. residents learned in November 1898 after an incident at the U.S. Capitol.

That explosion happened at a turning point in lighting history, right after the introduction of Thomas Edison's incandescent electric bulbs around 1880. These were far more efficient than lighting by earlier methods — 60 hours of work would translate to 72 hours of lighting, nearly a five-fold efficiency increase over early gas lights.

Lighting efficiency improved exponentially in a short period of time, particularly with the introduction of fluorescent lamps. By 1950, the technology had progressed to the point that 60 hours of labor would light a bulb for a whopping 28,723 hours, or nearly 1,200 days.

By 1994, at the time of Nordhaus' paper, the new hotness on the market was the CFL, or compact fluorescent. For 60 hours of labor, your typical short shorts-wearing cool ’90s dude could light a bulb for over 51 years, fanny pack not included.

The intervening decades have witnessed the introduction of LED lighting, pushing efficiency even further. Light is now something most of us take for granted, rather than a luxury.

"So the darkness shall be the light," as T.S. Eliot wrote, "and the stillness the dancing."

Not Kidding About The Davos Crowd and Mushrooms

After posting last week's "So, What Food (besides insects and weeds) Do the WEF Folks Recommend To Save The Earth?" a very sharp young lady told me the attraction was the acronym WEF = Wild Edible Fungi.

And the latest from our favorite globalists, October 28:

How mushrooms and microorganisms could transform food packaging

  • Too few companies take any tangible action on making packaging more sustainable simply because it’s relatively hard.
  • Being able to ensure freshness, convenience and food safety, while meeting esthetical standards and minimizing the ecological footprint, is not an easy challenge.
  • Some companies are trying to capture this growth in demand for innovative packaging solutions using cutting-edge technology or never-before-seen ingredient combinations.

As consumers demand more environmentally friendly practices from companies and brands, sustainability has become a buzzword in the food industry. The most common pledges go from reducing food waste, supporting regenerative farming, cutting animal proteins consumption, and more generally reducing carbon emissions. Yet, still too rarely do companies actually take any tangible action on packaging. Why? Well, because it’s very hard.

Being able to ensure freshness, convenience and food safety, while meeting esthetical standards and minimizing the ecological footprint, is not an easy challenge. However, sustainable packaging solutions are expected to become increasingly important over the next few years, as consumers’ preferences progressively shift towards products that are planet-friendly at an all-around level.

With two-thirds (67%) of consumers considering it important that the products they buy are in recyclable packaging, and the same percentage consider themselves environmentally aware, the global sustainable packaging market is projected to reach $470 billion by 2027, up from an estimated $305 billion in 2020.

Indeed, there are some companies trying to capture this growth opportunity as early innovators, using cutting-edge technologies or never-before-seen ingredient combinations to bring to the market innovative packaging solutions.

Following are five surprising solutions and strategies to tackle this problem. We hope this could serve as a source of inspiration for food industry experts and consumers willing to make a full-on sustainable shift in their operations.

From mushrooms and fungi to mycelium

Mycelium is an innovative packaging material very similar to polystyrene foam. Lightweight, easy to mould, and easy to produce – all favourable traits for materials used in packaging – mycelium is cost-competitive with polystyrene foam, making its most common use as a replacement where Styrofoam is typically used, e.g. to protect glass bottles and jars for shipment....

So you're saying we could make the packaging for mushrooms out of mushrooms?

"The Anglo-French fish war of 2021 has begun"

Unlike Canada's claims to the North Pole - "Santa is Canadian, eh" - and Hans Island, the British-French dispute could actually hurt relations quite seriously.

From UnHerd's The Post, October 28:

Do not underestimate the level of pettiness we are about to encounter

The great Anglo-French fish war of 2021 has begun.

Two British scallop boats were challenged by the “Gendarmerie Maritime” in the Bay of the Seine on Wednesday morning.

One had no licence for French waters and was forced into Le Havre to face charges. The other refused at first to stop and was charged with trying to evade controls (although it had otherwise done nothing wrong).

In fact, this was probably just a routine check by the French maritime authorities. It has been spun nonetheless by Paris as part of France’s escalation of a bad-tempered and seemingly trivial dispute with the UK over post-Brexit fishing licences. Just today, France’s Europe minister said that the UK only understands the “language of force”.

Now it is threatening from next Tuesday to impose pettifogging bureaucracy on trucks arriving in France from Britain — something that could gum up the Channel Tunnel and Channel ports and further disrupt Britain’s already suffering post-Brexit trade with the continent.

There is also a secondary threat by Paris to reduce or increase the bill for electricity supplies from France to Jersey and Britain — but not to cut off cross-Channel power cables as originally and foolishly threatened.

The dispute between two neighbours and allies and deeply intertwined defence partners (Brexit or no Brexit) may appear absurdly overblown. Fisheries are a tiny part of the economy in both countries: 0.06% of GDP in France; 0.1% in the UK.....



And Previously:
"French Navy ready to act if Scallop War clashes erupt again"

I thought the last contretemps had ended up in a Coquilles Saint-Jacques digression but see instead that for some reason I started blathering about Scotland:
"Macron vows to defend French farmers, fishermen in uncertain year"

I won't get into Nicola Sturgeon and the possible EU fishing fiasco with the Common Fisheries Policy and the Scots yearning to breathe free or at least as members of the EU and the trade deficit with England and the decline of the North Sea oil and frankly it gets a bit confusing.

"...China releases reserves of gasoline, diesel"

 Not much impact on the futures.

Reuters via ChannelNewsAsia:

TOKYO : Oil prices fell on Monday after China said it released reserves of gasoline and diesel to boost supply, while investors unwound long positions ahead of an OPEC+ meeting on Nov. 4.

China released reserves of the two fuels to increase market supply and support price stability in some regions, the National Food and Strategic Reserves Administration said on Sunday.

Brent crude futures dropped 20 cents, or 0.2per cent, to US$83.52 a barrel by 0039 GMT, after gaining 6 cents on Friday.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures slid 37 cents, or 0.4per cent, to US$83.20 a barrel, having risen 76 cents on Friday.

Both benchmarks fell slightly last week, marking the first weekly drop in eight weeks for Brent and the first decline in 10 weeks for WTI.

"Investors are adjusting positions after the news of China's release of fuel reserves and ahead of the OPEC+ meeting," said Hiroyuki Kikukawa, general manager of research at Nissan Securities.

All eyes are on the Nov. 4 meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and their allies, together called OPEC+, with analysts expecting them to stick to their plan to add 400,000 barrels per day of supply in December....


Ransomware: Police Sting Targets Suspects In Ukraine and Switzerland Thought To Be Behind 1,800 Attacks

 From ZDNet. October 29:

Ransomware: Police sting targets suspects behind 1,800 attacks that 'wreaked havoc across the world'
Twelve high-value individuals suspected of spreading LockerGoga, MegaCortex, Dharma and other ransomware across 71 countries have been targeted in Ukraine and Switzerland.

Twelve people have been targeted by an international law enforcement operation for involvement in over 1,800 ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure and large organisations around the world. 

A statement by Europol describes the 12 suspects in Ukraine and Switzerland as "high-value targets" responsible for "wreaking havoc across the world" by distributing LockerGogaMegaCortexDharma and other ransomware attacks against organisations in 71 countries.

But it's unclear if the individuals have been arrested or charged – a Europol spokesperson told ZDNet that "the judicial process is ongoing".....


It is always about raising their cost of doing business.

From The Economist August 24:

From pirates to ransomware: the secret economics of extortion 

In 74BC a band of pirates made a terrible mistake when they captured a ship off the coast of Asia Minor, now Turkey. They kidnapped one of the passengers, a young Roman citizen named Julius Caesar, along with his entourage, and demanded a ransom of 20 talents (about 650kg in silver) for his release. Caesar, in his mid-20s and on his way to study rhetoric in Rhodes, burst out laughing. Didn’t they know who he was? He was worth 50 talents, not a mere 20! Unsurprisingly the pirates agreed to this higher ransom, and released some of Caesar’s associates to raise the money.

Pirates were the scourge of the Mediterranean, bribing their way around efforts to suppress them. But despite their fearsome reputation, Caesar refused to be intimidated. He told them to be quiet when he wanted to sleep, “as if the men were not his watchers, but his royal bodyguard”, writes Plutarch. He joined in their games and regaled them with speeches and poetry, mocking them as illiterate barbarians. Once he was free, he said, he would execute the lot of them. According to Plutarch, “the pirates were delighted at this, and attributed his boldness of speech to a certain simplicity and boyish mirth.”

When Caesar’s friends arrived with the ransom the pirates released him. He went straight to Miletus, a city on the coast of Asia Minor, raised a fleet and returned to the pirates’ camp. After helping himself to their treasure, he captured most of the pirates, took them to the city of Pergamon and asked the local governor to execute them. When the governor wavered, Caesar had the pirates crucified, even though he lacked permission to do so.

Like all entrepreneurs, criminals must constantly reassess the relationship between risk and reward

Later in his career Caesar used this story to illustrate the need to be tough on pirates, rather than turn a blind eye or demand a cut of their profits. But the anecdote has another lesson, one that is still relevant 21 centuries on. Like all entrepreneurs, successful criminals must constantly reassess the relationship between risk and reward.

Caesar’s captors had a poor grasp of the economics of extortion. Their hostage was more valuable than they bargained for: though young, Caesar was already a distinguished soldier, lawyer and orator. His aunt had been married to Gaius Marius, a famous general and seven times consul of Rome. His father had been governor of Asia Minor (which may explain why the people of Miletus were so willing to help). The pirates underestimated the risk they were taking by kidnapping him – with fatal consequences.

Medieval knights wore coats of arms on shields and armour which, in showing what illustrious family they came from, indicated their value as a hostage. This labelling system made them less likely to be killed in battle: they were worth more if captured alive.

King Richard I of England was kidnapped in 1192 on his way home from the crusades. Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor, demanded 45 tonnes of silver (the origin of the phrase “a king’s ransom”). Henry played his hand well: he made Richard swear an oath of allegiance to him, ignored the pope’s objections that he had imprisoned a crusader, then used the ransom to fund an invasion of Sicily. He correctly judged both risk and reward.....
....Kidnapping data is less risky than kidnapping people and the rewards can be large. Barriers to entry are low, with criminals needing little technical expertise. “Initial access brokers” break into networks and sell their backdoor pass on the dark web, where you can also buy ransomware software. You can even outsource the business of negotiating a ransom. Probing companies’ networks for vulnerabilities is quick and easy and there are millions of potential victims.
Ransomware attackers have few overheads: cyber-criminals were pioneers of WFH
There are few overheads: cyber-criminals were pioneers of WFH and can operate from anywhere in the world....

"Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air"

I was told the links in yesterday's "How To Understand Energy Before COP26 Kicks Off Tomorrow" were not working for some readers. I do not know why and am without technical assistance until tomorrow.

So here is another attempt to share the best (accessible) book ("") on energy you are likely to find, wrapped with a different repost.

"Green economic growth is an article of ‘faith’ devoid of scientific evidence"

The author of this essay, Nafeez Ahmed, has, over the years written some things that are borderline brilliant and some things that are totally whack. I think the piece below is closer to the former than the latter, especially in light of his generally left-of-center political views. It takes some courage to be the straight-shooter when the powers-that-be are obsfucating.

The key point is that in the current discussion of changing humanity's sources of energy there is a great glossing-over of just how difficult the transition will be; You end up with a lot of pressure groups, poseurs and posturing politicians who: state the problem - do a lot of hand-waving - paint the picture of  the 'broad sunlit uplands' at the end of the journey. The people who do this tend not to be very accomplished in mathematics, physics or engineering. Hence the handwaving in the middle.

For years when folks wanted to engage me in talk of energy and energy policy I would ask them if they were familiar with David MacKay and had they read his book "Sustainable Energy – without the hot air"

If they had not, I would recommend they read the book and continue our conversation at a later date, MacKay could teach them more in a couple hours than they could glean from me in a couple weeks. 

He was more formally known as Sir David John Cameron MacKay Kt, FRS, FInstP, FICE, Regius Professor of Engineering at the University of Cambridge and was Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change. Before he became the first Regius Professor of Engineering at Cambridge he hung his hat at the University's Cavendish Laboratory where 29 people who went on to win Nobel Prizes, mainly in physics but also the odd chemist, had also hung out over the years.

The gist of his book is that the coming transition will not be easy.
The Economist called it a "tour de force", the journal Science "... a cold blast of reality ... a must-read analysis..."

You should read it. And there is really no reason not to. Concurrent with it being published, Dr. MacKay put it online on a dedicated website: "".

And if the reader is interested we put some of our earlier links in 2016's "Energy and Artificial Intelligence Expert Professor Sir David J.C. MacKay Has Died, Age 48".

Now on to the headline story.

Via Medium, July 6, 2020:

Crack team that advised UN Global Sustainable Development Report settle a longstanding debate with hard empirical data

For years, financial institutions and governments have been focused on the idea of ‘decoupling’ GDP growth from resource use. This has been driven by the recognition that to stay within the ‘safe limit’ of 2 degrees Celsius, we have to dramatically reduce our material consumption.

The goal is to keep our economies growing to sustain prosperity while reducing our actual resource use and material footprint. The bottom line is that without reducing our overall use of planetary resources, we are bound to cross the line into a dangerous climate. But is doing so consistent with the continued increase in economic growth?

The conventional belief has been most recently articulated in a recent book, More From Less, by Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist the MIT Sloan School of Management. Financial and other data, McAfee argued, shows we can actually easily reduce our material footprint while continuing to grow our economies in a win-win scenario.

But new scientific analysis by a group of systems scientists and economists proves that this contention is completely groundless. Far from being based on hard evidence, this sort of claim is instead derived from egregious selective readings of statistical data.

Decades of research on material flows confirm that there are “no realistic scenarios” for such decoupling going forward.

Combing through 179 of the best studies of this issue from 1990 to 2019 further reveals “no evidence” that any meaningful decoupling has ever taken place.

“The goal of decoupling rests partly on faith”, conclude the team from the BIOS Research Institute in Finland, an independent multidisciplinary scientific organisation studying the effects of environmental and resource factors on economy, politics, and culture. The BIOS team have previously advised the UN Global Sustainable Development Report on the risks of emerging biophysical limits to endless economic growth.

This is how UN scientists are preparing for the end of capitalism
Capitalism as we know it is over. So suggests a new report commissioned by a group of scientists appointed by the UN…

Their new analysis comes in the form of two peer-reviewed research papers published in June.
Narrowing the window

The first, published in Environmental Politics, points out that currently the environmental impacts and resource use of many national economies is unsustainable. The only way the economy can grow or even remain at the present level is to ‘decouple’ it from these environmental impacts, thus staying within the planetary boundaries of resource use.

The problem is that many of the accounting measures used to conclude that decoupling is happening tend to systematically obscure or exclude critical data.

“The existence of decoupling in a bounded geographical area or economic sector does not, as such, mean that decoupling is happening in a wider context,” argue the BIOS team.

“Well-known and widely studied phenomena such as Jevons’ paradox, rebound, and outsourcing show that sectoral and local decoupling can co-exist with and even depend on increased environmental impact and increased resource use outside the analysed geographical or sectoral unit.”

Much of the data marshalled by McAfee and others, for instance, represents cherry-picking from a narrow window that focuses on a particular region or sector without acknowledging the wider impacts outside that region or sector.

As a result, much deeper environmental impacts of resource use can often be excluded from the analysis simply by narrowing down that data-focus.

In other words, just because we are dramatically improving efficiencies in technology production, does not mean we are actually reducing our real-world material footprint. In fact, often greater efficiencies can even translate into heightened environmental impacts because they enable greater levels of consumption at lower cost.

Within a wider capitalist system incentivising maximisation of profits, this can actually accelerate resource consumption overall. But by narrowing their ‘accounting’ lens, authors like McAfee can make a case that resource consumption is declining, by basically ignoring the relevant data and focusing only on the efficiency data that suits the narrative....


"Half a century ago, Lewis Mumford developed a concept that explains why we trade autonomy for convenience"

 From Real Life Magazine:

The Magnificent Bribe

SYLLABUS FOR THE INTERNET is a series about single books or bodies of work written prior to the rise of the consumer internet that now provide a way to understand the web as we know it today. View the others here.

Whenever there are disturbing revelations about the actions of a tech company, or around a certain set of technologies, a cycle begins that is becoming depressingly familiar. The initial story draws attention to the issue; in response to the initial exposé, there is a further outpouring of commentary; those in positions of authority are exhorted to do something; nothing much actually changes; and then a few weeks later, the cycle repeats. From Facebook to Amazon, from e-waste to the energy demands of crypto-currency, from facial recognition to the latest wearable gadget — we consumers find ourselves buffeted back and forth between the promise that high-tech devices are going to solve all of our problems, and the mounting evidence that those same devices are exacerbating many of our problems. And through it all, even as frustration mounts, we still find ourselves posting on social media, dutifully replacing our smartphones, taking advantage of next-day shipping, and streaming the latest show that everyone is talking about. 

Surveying the state of the high-tech life, it is tempting to ponder how it got so bad, while simultaneously forgetting what it was that initially convinced one to hastily click “I agree” on the terms of service. Before certain social media platforms became foul-smelling swamps of conspiratorial misinformation, many of us joined them for what seemed like good reasons; before sighing at the speed with which their batteries die, smartphone owners were once awed by these devices: before grumbling that there was nothing worth watching, viewers were astounded by how much streaming content was available at one’s fingertips. Overwhelmed by the way today’s tech seems to be burying us in the bad, it’s easy to forget the extent to which tech won us over by offering us a share in the good — or to be more precise, in “the goods.” 

It is often easier to describe an intimidating dictatorial system 
than it is to explain why people go along with it. Thus, the bribe

Nearly 50 years ago, long before smartphones and social media, the social critic Lewis Mumford put a name to the way that complex technological systems offer a share in their benefits in exchange for compliance. He called it a “bribe.” With this label, Mumford sought to acknowledge the genuine plentitude that technological systems make available to many people, while emphasizing that this is not an offer of a gift but of a deal. Surrender to the power of complex technological systems — allow them to oversee, track, quantify, guide, manipulate, grade, nudge, and surveil you — and the system will offer you back an appealing share in its spoils. What is good for the growth of the technological system is presented as also being good for the individual, and as proof of this, here is something new and shiny. Sure, that shiny new thing is keeping tabs on you (and feeding all of that information back to the larger technological system), but it also lets you do things you genuinely could not do before. For a bribe to be accepted it needs to promise something truly enticing, and Mumford, in his essay “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics,” acknowledged that “the bargain we are being asked to ratify takes the form of a magnificent bribe.” The danger, however, was that “once one opts for the system no further choice remains.” ....


Saturday, October 30, 2021

Simply Spooktacular: FT Alphaville's Halloween Reading List (plus the sadocratic impulse; random acts of cruelty; Slender Man and maybe QAnon)

Something old, something new.

First up,  a repost from October 30, 2010.

As I was pondering putting together some Halloween linkbait [ooh, the story of "The Monster Mash"! -ed]
I wandered through the back alleys of Alphaville until I came upon:

Further reading, special Halloween meets finance edition

Some financial ghoul links for Halloween:
- 13 money-themed costumes for Halloween.
- Living in a ghost town.
- Six nightmares for Wall Street.
- The average US credit score is 666.
- Ireland’s unfinished developments are ‘ghost towns’.
- Haunted foreclosures.
- For Halloween, I’m going as a MERS Vice-President.

And many MORE

And from FT Alphaville October 29, 2021:
Creepypasta and the age of the digital myth
Or: how the tale of Slender Man can explain the rise of QAnon. 

"we didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time..."
These words, posted on a forum in 2009, were accompanied by a black and white image of school children, a vague but distinctly inhuman figure hovering in the background (see above).

The response was positive: on a thread dedicated to creepy photo edits, the combination of a vague but ominous caption and an even more nebulous photo edit made it a favourite among others who posted.

The mythos of the Slender Man, the name given to this figure on the forum, grew. Soon, other stories and pictures of the faceless humanoid emerged from different creators and on different channels. Its powers multiplied; later iterations often featured inky tentacles. And as the stories grew, so did the number of supposed victims of its attacks — though its choice of clothing, a G-Man-esque suit and tie, remained consistent across most accounts.

The idea that this would end up inspiring a real-life stabbing half a decade later would have seemed ludicrous at the time. But perhaps more disturbing is the fact that the evolution of the Slender Man mythos offers a model to understand how posts on digital platforms can lead to events ranging from a riot on Capitol Hill to Wall Street Bets’ ‘revolt’ against hedge funds. For all the talk of an enlightened age, myths can still impact how we live on a fundamental level.

Enter The Slender Man....


Alphaville home. 

And finally some nastiness from just after the Great Financial Crisis:

And since real estate was much on people's minds, a mashup of monsters

Social Sadism and the Sadocratic Impulse

A couple stories about our changing culture.
The first may take some flexing of the memory muscle but it is probable that wary reader saw a version of  it at the time, October 2011. We noted the story in:

"Top US foreclosure law firm threw Halloween party where staff dressed as homeless, foreclosed-upon Americans"

And a month later in "Sleazebag Robosigning Foreclosure Mill Shuts Down".

Here's Salvage Quarterly going a bit meta on the wider picture:

The Sadocratic Impulse 

Two women sit leaning against a wall, wrapped in dirty clothes. Their hair is raddled, their faces filthy. One holds a bottle, the other a cardboard sign on which is scrawled a slogan both plaintive and defiant. But their smiles are arch, and the schmutz on their faces is as artlessly precise as a child’s clown makeup – easy on, easy off.
Halloween. This is a fancy-dress party, and the women have come as the destitute.
Marie Antoinette performed rustic fantasies of peasant life to herself and her sycophants in Hameau de la Reine, her pre-Disney theme park. The privileged have long enjoyed playing at poverty.
The dominant mode of these games shifts. Class spite, always present, stops half-heartedly disguising itself with bowdlerising condescension, as in Versailles. It’s a rampant articulating principle in the venom of TV comedies, in the ‘chav parties’ so in vogue at elite institutions in the late 2000s. At a gathering at Sandhurst in 2006, Prince William talked all common, like, ‘swaggering from side to side’, the Sun reported, in his baseball cap. The Halloween party dress-up was in this tradition, and was also its intensification.

It occurred a little after the high point of the jocular pleb-sneer: two years, instead, into the eruption of the financial crisis, simultaneously with a historic peak in foreclosures. Nearly 2.9 million US properties had foreclosure actions against them initiated in 2010 – huge numbers improperly, even according to the system’s own rules – up 2 per cent from 2009, itself a record. Millions were fighting, and failing, not to lose their homes. These 2010 Halloween celebration occurred at the Buffalo, New York, law offices of Stephen J Baum, a specialist firm acting mainly for banks and lenders. It was what’s known as a ‘foreclosure mill’, the largest of its kind in the state: its expertise was evicting the poor.

This wasn’t, then, some generalised, timeless jeer. It was more specific and pointed, gleeful malice at those whose lives were, at that very moment, being ruined, directed at them by those doing the ruining.

In the photos, props embody favourite ideologemes of the rich: the booze, the misspelt signs denouncing the injustice. The homeless are drunkards; the homeless are stupid; the homeless take no responsibility. But these gestures are perfunctory; they make no attempt to convince. The anonymous former employee who leaked the images in 2011 did so aghast at what she called a ‘cavalier attitude’, but what’s on display is the opposite: not cavalier, but considered. She decried a ‘lack of compassion’, but what’s visible is a swaggering presence – of cruelty.

‘Will worke [sic]’, one sign reads, ‘for Food.’ The sign’s the prop of a comedian waiting for the laugh. The homeless are starving. We made them homeless and now they’re starving. Laugh laugh laugh laugh.
Capitalism’s history might be tracked in a genealogy of the corporate apology. That of Baum’s eponymous head was typical of this sub-epoch of viciousness, mawkishness and entitlement. An initial denial of anything untoward; a rapid U-turn and apology for ‘inappropriate’ behaviour, ostentatiously meeting a homelessness activist; ultimately, parading in the mourning clothes of victimhood. Three weeks after the exposé – of a firm already under investigation – the company closed. ‘There is blood on your hands’, Baum wrote to Joe Nocera, in whose New York Times column the scandal broke. ‘I will never, ever forgive you’.

Baum’s quivering lip should provoke only piss and vinegar. It’s true, too, that the ritual slaying of a designated scapegoat, however just, can serve as exoneration by and for the system that threw up, nurtured, rewarded their behaviour. Our rulers and their media clercs are shocked, shocked by such Baum moments, these cruelties-too-far. As if there hasn’t always been, in capitalism’s marrow, a drive not only to repression but to cruelty, to down- punching sadism. They denounce it, partake of it, propagate it.
Consensual peccadilloes are not at issue here: this is about social sadism – deliberate, invested, public or at least semi-public cruelty. The potentiality for sadism is one of countless capacities emergent from our reflexive, symbolising selves. Trying to derive any social phenomenon from any supposed ‘fact’ of ‘human nature’ is useless, except to diagnose the politics of the deriver. Of course it’s vulgar Hobbesianism....MUCH MORE

But be forewarned: what starts as a screed pretty quickly becomes a rant.

And from Real Life Magazine:

December 17, 2018 
Ambient Cruelty
The ability to ruin a stranger’s life is a feature, not a bug of consumer rating systems

It is a truism, backed with some evidence, that negativity makes a person seem smarter. In the 1980s, Harvard researcher Teresa Amabile took two pieces of literary criticism from the New York Times’ book reviewing section — one positive, one negative — and showed them to 55 students. The students found the writer voicing negative opinions much more intelligent and persuasive than the one voicing praise. In fact, it was the same reviewer, and the two pieces of criticism were adapted versions of the same review. John Stuart Mill wrote, “I have observed that not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage.”

In part, this is because blame is actually more rare than praise. In the past 50 years, cross-cultural studies have demonstrated a phenomenon referred to as linguistic positivity bias: human speech is studded with words like “great,” “adorable,” and “amazing,” while words like “dreadful,” “ugly,” or “terrible” show up less frequently. It may be that people use language primarily as a means of drawing closer together, which raises the frequency of words that create a feeling of community. Negative words stick out because they are not the norm, and this in turn signals to readers or listeners a person who is setting themselves apart from the group.

For this reason, negativity as a tonal choice not only lends an air of discernment, but brims with expressive opportunity: the diction of dissatisfaction offers its own satisfactions. On Twitter, a winning persona blends quotidian venting with cultural critique. Hating on things can scratch an individual itch or put a finger on shared experiences — there’s a bond in hating the same stuff, as evidenced by the popularity of the “Gopher Gripes” segment on the Gimlet podcast Reply All (the spiritual heir of a long succession of indie-media rant lines). Yelp offers a platform for individuals to denounce bad service, whether creatively or simply self-righteously. Of the services I use most frequently that are also the most universally hated, Greyhound buses seem to inspire some inventive criticism. In 2012, a user called Sonia B. typed the following ode:
Greyhound, Greyhound
You’re not that fast,
If you were in a race you’d probably finish last.
I use you sometimes when I’m going far,
Even though your service is kind of sub-par.
But when I consider gas prices these days,
You really often are the cheapest way.
(Especially the advance webfare).
I will hazard a guess and say Sonia B. probably doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to publish her verse in the traditional press. This is a major factor that motivates Yelp reviewers: not necessarily to express passionate opinions about products and services, but to express themselves period, and to make themselves visible to others. In a 2014 Fast Company interview, Yelp’s vice president said, “if you’re writing great things on Yelp, you know that a lot of people are going to read them. You’re going to have a voice. You’re going to have a megaphone. Yelp is that megaphone.”

More megaphones means more opportunities to emote. But amplifying negative expression has serious consequences in the contemporary gig economy. The freedom to vent feels empowering, but when unleashed on a reputation-based labor market, where a widespread reliance on reviews and ratings is the primary monitor of quality assurance, negative self-expression allows users of apps like Uber or TaskRabbit to enjoy the benefits of an arbitrary power of punishment free of guilt. By emphasizing the user’s “right” to have their opinions heard, and to dissatisfaction with any less-than-perfect “experience,” platforms encourage users to be cruel without feeling cruel. Normalizing negativity creates a slush fund of data that employers can use at their discretion against employees....MUCH MORE, and much less ranty.

And speaking of random acts of cruelty:

Why Did the Washington Post Get This Woman Fired?
"We blew up this woman's life for no reason." In 2018, Schafer attended a Halloween party at the home of Tom Toles, the Post 's Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist. The basis for....

"DeLorean redux"

An old story from the Dublin Review:

The fade of a November day in Los Angeles, on West Century Boulevard, and the light fats up, and the last of the sun’s glare fixes on the plate-glass windows of the Sheraton Gateway hotel. Every ninety seconds or so, a plane takes off from LAX nearby. Homebound traffic slopes along Vicksburg Avenue and Avion Drive. The air has its typical, local heaviness, its gasoline spice. The flags of twenty-one nations hang limply from their poles on the Sheraton’s breezeless concourse. At a slight remove, on West 98th Street, in a rented Hyundai, parked discreetly beneath a beech tree, lurks the artist Sean Lynch. He is working a telephoto lens. He rings me in County Sligo and minutely describes the scene. Then a confession:

‘I’m worried about the valets,’ he says.

Lynch is learning the art of the stakeout. He must appear nondescript and innocent; he must will himself to recede into the shadows. Despite the suspiciously milling valets, he manages to keep a steady eye trained on suite 501 of the Sheraton and he shoots off some film. Suite 501 is slightly less than halfway up the twelve-storey building and a little in from its eastern edge. Lynch says it is difficult to date the hotel precisely, but it probably looks much as it did the last time there was a stakeout on 501.

That was on 19 October 1982, when the hotel was still known as the Sheraton Plaza La Reina. The stakeout concluded with the arrest of the car maker John DeLorean for the alleged possession of sixteen million dollars’ worth of cocaine. At the end of a long, media-saturated trial, the judge ruled that the FBI had engaged in entrapment and DeLorean was cleared of all charges. But the affair effectively signalled the end for the DeLorean Motor Company and its manufacturing plant in Dunmurry, Co. Antrim, outside Belfast. A lot of investors lost their money, among them the British government, Johnny Carson, and Sammy Davis Jr.

DeLorean – the name carries a charge yet for us children of the ’80s, evoking a species of burly entrepreneurship so redolent of that decade. Sean Lynch grew up in Moyvane, north Kerry. His father was a car mechanic and ran a garage on the main street there. The DeLorean sports car, the DMC-12, was always in the news. It was a flash of colour on our grainy screens, a little smirk of sexiness. ‘DMC’: DeLorean Motor Company; ‘12’: it was to retail for $12,000. The car’s trademark: the gull-wing doors that opened up, not out. Those of us of a certain age swooned at the smoothness of the movement, and at the car’s distinctive shape. It was at once boxy and curvaceous.

Lynch has for long months now been immersed in an ocean of DeLorean material. He has visited scrap dealers all over Ireland in an attempt to trace the old panels and moulds that shaped the DMC-12. He has commissioned an engineer in Co. Wexford to recreate the exterior panels. Next year, he will exhibit in London his reminted DMC-12, along with text, photographs and ephemera gathered during his investigation. He believes his artistic method is in many ways consistent with a historian’s practice. His DeLorean project is an attempt to document and preserve the kinks and nuances of a fading industrial saga. His work is at once playful and sternly attentive to detail. The Wexford panels are being made from stainless steel, as was DeLorean’s practice. During his period at General Motors, the American automobile industry was frequently accused of manufacturing cars that would need replacing inside a few years. By producing the DMC-12 in a material that would never rust, DeLorean believed he was making a car that could live forever.

Now an oxblood dusk settles on the LA airport zone, and it is past midnight in Ireland – the flood waters rise in the swamplands of the south Sligo bayou, and it is the end of a troubled decade in a troubled new century. But as Lynch and I speak, we are spiritually in the early 1980s. I ask him how long he intends to persist with the stakeout.

‘As long as it takes,’ he says....


Now "Hear Me Out: The Rolling Stones Don't Have A Drummer Or Bassist...."

What the internet was made for:


How about:


...Sounds like a mess. Pepper, we hardly knew ye.

Although, thanks to FT Alphaville's editor we have a great pic o'Pepper:
Or not.
My reaction at the time:
Anthropomorphic/biomimetic robots creep me out.
There, I said it.
Spot the Dog is even worse. 

"Rents Are Skyrocketing. Let’s Buy Back The Land."

Oh, this idea will put some undies in a bunch. Starting with the Duke of Westminster.*

From Noēma Magazine, October 26:

Landlords have made a fortune on climbing land values. What if land was held by the public instead?

Berlin residents recently voted for a bold change to the city’s housing landscape: the transfer of more than 200,000 units of housing to public ownership. Though the referendum is nonbinding, the move raises a question that’s resonating in a world of rising rents: To whom do the fruits of urban growth belong? This question becomes more salient when you consider how much of the wealth captured by private landlords in cities is actually created by the public.

Land’s value — and what can be charged for renting property on that land — has much more to do with its location and productivity than it does with any specific improvements landowners have made to it. Writing about agricultural land rents in the 18th century, Adam Smith noted that “the price paid for the use of the land is naturally a monopoly price. It is not at all proportioned to what the landlord may have laid out upon the improvement of the land, or to what he can afford to take; but to what the farmer can afford to give.”

And there is no real estate that is more productive or desirable in developed countries than urban land in growing cities, where job growth is increasingly concentrated. Housing shortages in these areas have caused rents to soar, and the propertied class has experienced a decades-long windfall.

Take Berlin as an example. The 200,000 housing units that voters want the government to purchase — making up about 11% of all rental units in the city — used to be publicly owned and were privatized in line with international trends toward liberalization over the last quarter of the 20th century. In the intervening decades, Berlin faced a housing shortage and rents climbed.

While privatization did little to spur the necessary development to meet demand and stabilize prices, it did enrich private landowners. According to a recent report from Berlin-based real estate firm Guthmann Estate, rents have surged by 13% in Berlin in the past 12 months alone. Activists pursued the expropriation measure after Germany’s high court found Berlin’s 2019 rent caps unconstitutional

“Landowners are seeing massive, unearned increases to 
their wealth while tenants are left to pay the ever-
climbing tab.”

In American cities, too, a growing share of renters are competing for a largely stagnant pool of rental housing. For decades, urban counties have been the source of most U.S. population growth, while rural communities have aged and emptied out — and 2020 census data shows this trend is only continuing. Between 2010 to 2019, rents went up 36% nationwide, while incomes only increased by 27%. The pandemic briefly disrupted this trend, but rents alone in many places have all but recovered to pre-pandemic levels (not to mention the housing sale price mania that has characterized the past year).

Landowners are seeing massive, unearned increases to their wealth because of these trends — all while tenants are left to pay the ever-climbing tab. On top of this, infrastructure projects paid for by taxpayers — any light rail, bike lane or pedestrian improvements to neighborhoods, for example — all increase land values. At the same time, the social services that cities need, like public transit and affordable housing development, remain underfunded....


Here is some more A. Smith:

"Every increase in the real wealth of the society, 
every increase in the quantity of useful labour employed within it, 
tends indirectly to raise the real rent of land."
-Adam Smith, "The Wealth Of Nations"
Book I, XI. Of the Rent of Land, Conclusion

The idea of the public owning the land is tangentially related to Henry George's Land Tax but goes much further and is more direct.
"Who owns central London?"
Who Owns England? "A guide to Modern Domesdays"

And on Berlin:
....So with all this running through my head, the first thing I saw regarding German politics on Monday was that the referendum to expropriate and socialize Berlin apartments from Germany's largest landlord had passed. Although the referendum is not binding on the Berlin government the result 57% ja/39% nein is one heck of an indication of the political zeitgeist.....
August 25
"Uganda receives 51 out of expected 2,000 Afghan refugees"
Oh dear. You can just imagine the conversation:
"What's this? Kampala? There must be some mistake, I signed up for the Berlin package: Ku'damm, techno, Tiergarten, last of the hipsters. Not Uganda."

How To Understand Energy Before COP26 Kicks Off Tomorrow

This is the obituary of one of the smartest people I never had the chance to meet (there are millions-and-millions but he was up near the tippy-top of the pyramid)

Friday, April 15, 2016

We visited Dr. MacKay once per year, on average, usually in the spring.
From The Register:

Brit AI daddy Sir David MacKay dies
Polymath rebooted debate on climate change, co-founded software biz

David MacKay, or more formally Sir David John Cameron MacKay, FRS, FInstP, FICE, was a true polymath who achieved greatness in the fields of physics, computer science and energy policy. He died of cancer this week aged 48. 
His Royal Society Biography listed just some of his achievements here:
 David developed a way to correct signal interference, which is now used in digital broadcasting and magnetic storage of information, such as on computer hard drives. He also advanced the field of machine learning by improving artificial neural networks. Furthermore, he invented Dasher, an assistive software application that enables communication in any language with any muscle of the body.
He also co-founded Transversal, a software company that specialises in search based on natural speech and wrote the textbook "Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms", available online for free. 
In the wider world MacKay is best known for his 2008 book “Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air, (it’s free in PDF format), which had a major impact on thinking about energy. Within nine months of its publication, MacKay was appointed Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, a role he occupied until 2014.
The Register is a fan of his book: In our 2009 review, we wrote: 
Steering away from politics and economics, Sustainable Energy is satisfied with providing you with the numbers that are both thought provoking and easy to grasp. MacKay encourages you to make your own mind up - leaving you to ponder the hard facts (which are simplified by using a single measurement for each form of power consumption and production) and decipher sense from nonsense when looking at the alternatives to fossil fuels. 
So why did he feel compelled to venture into such a thorny area? "I was distressed by the poor quality of the debate surrounding energy," he said in 2009, in an interview with The Guardian. 
"I was also noticing so much greenwash from politicians and big business. I was tired of the debate - the extremism, the nimbyism, the hairshirt. We need a constructive conversation about energy, not a Punch and Judy show. I just wanted to try to reboot the whole debate. Most of physics is about energy, and physicists understand inefficiencies. I wanted to write a book about our energy options in a neutral, human-accessible form."...MORE
HT on his passing, Next Big Future.

Cambridge's Varsity has "Tributes paid to Professor Sir David MacKay"

I said in last October's "Bill Gates: ‘We Need an Energy Miracle’":
For folks who are actually interested in this stuff and not just talking political b.s. while nibbling the canapés, from April 2014's "If It's April It Must Be Time to Visit Professor MacKay and His Map of the World":
...David  MacKay used to hang his hat at Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory.
I don't really know what they do at the lab, I think it's where the Nobel Prize in Physics is made.

Mackay left the lab in 2013 to be Cambridge's first Regius Professor of Engineering.
He has a bunch of letters after his name.
April, 2007
Sustainable Energy-without the hot air
April 2013
Here is THE Problem Facing Alternative Energy

We also visited the Professor in 2012. By then I had shortened the introduction to:
His Wikipedia entry is basically "David J.C. MacKay, see: heavyweight."*
Here's another April 2013 visit:
"16 Lectures on Information Theory and all that"

Here's his Cambridge website.
When people want to talk energy with me I usually ask if they have read his book

And if you don't read his book, you have no excuse. He put it on the internet for free download.

60 Years Ago Today: Tsar Bomba, The Largest Nuclear Explosion In History


Big Ivan, The Tsar Bomba (“King of Bombs”)
The World's Largest Nuclear Weapon
Test:No. 130
Device:RDS-220 (Big Ivan)
Time:11:32 AM 30 October 1961
(Moscow Time)
Location:Mityushikha Bay test range, test
field D-2, Novaya Zemlya Island
(located above the arctic circle
in the Arctic Sea). Approximate
coordinates were 73.85N, 54.50E
Test Height and Type:Parachute retarded airburst,
4000 m altitude
Yield:50 Megatons

The device offically designated RDS-220, known to its designers as Big Ivan, and nicknamed in the west Tsar Bomba (and referred to as the Big Bomb by Sakharov in his Memoirs [Sakharov 1990]) was the largest nuclear weapon ever constructed or detonated. This three stage weapon was actually a 100 megaton bomb design, but the uranium fusion stage tamper of the tertiary (and possibly the secondary) stage(s) was replaced by one(s) made of lead. This reduced the yield by 50% by eliminating the fast fissioning of the uranium tamper by the fusion neutrons, and eliminated 97% of the fallout (1.5 megatons of fission, instead of about 51.5 Mt), yet still proved the full yield design. The result was the "cleanest" weapon ever tested with 97% of the energy coming from fusion reactions. The effect of this bomb at full yield on global fallout would have been tremendous. It would have increased the world's total fission fallout since the invention of the atomic bomb by 25%.

The nickname Tsar Bomba is a reference to a famous Russian tradition for making gigantic artifacts for show. The world's largest bell (the Tsar Kolokol) and cannon (the Tsar Pushka) are on display at the Kremlin [Kalinin 1994; pg. 33]. Having come to power by overthowing and assassinating the last royal family of Russia, the Soviet leadership would never have countenanced such a royalist name, but this designation has become popular in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The test was conducted by air dropping the bomb from a specially modified Tu-95N "Bear A" strategic bomber piloted by mission commander Major Andrei E. Durnovtsev. It was released at 10,500 meters, and made a parachute retarded descent to 4000 meters in 188 seconds before detonation. By that time the release bomber was already in the safe zone about 45 km away. The drop area was over land at the Mityushikha Bay test site, on the west coast of Novaya Zemlya Island, above test field D-2, near Cape Sukhoy Nos. [Podvig et al 2001; pp. 466, 498], [Khalturin et al 2005]. Durnovtsev was immediately promoted to lieutenant colonel and made Hero of the Soviet Union. The Tu-95 was accompanied by a Tu-16 "Badger" airborne laboratory to observe and record the test. The time of the test is given by [Adamsky and Smirnov 1998] as 11:32 AM Moscow Time; it is listed in [Podvig et al 2001; pg. 498] as occurring at 06:33 Moscow Decree time.

The test location was about 55 km north of the Severny settlement and 250 km north of the headquarters at Belushya, from where it was observed by the State Commission. The bomb design team and the test supervisors, headed by Major General Nikolai Pavlov, Chairman of the State Commission, monitored the test at the airfield near Olenya station on the Kola Peninsula 1000 km away. Observers were also at many other locations. Among these were Soviet Minister of Medium Machine Building Efim Slavsky and Marshal of the Soviet Union Kirill Moskalenko, deputies to the 22nd Congress of the CPSU then in session, who had arrived by plane on the day of the test to observe the explosion. They observed the test aboard an Il-14 "crate" at a distance of several hundred kilometers from ground zero. Sakharov himself stayed by the phone, presumably at Arzamas-16, waiting for a call from Maj. Gen. Pavlov.

The effects were spectacular. Despite the very substantial burst height of 4,000 m (13,000 ft) the vast fireball reached down to the Earth, and swelled upward to nearly the height of the release plane. The blast pressure below the burst point was 300 PSI, six times the peak pressure experienced at Hiroshima. The flash of light was so bright that it was visible at a distance of 1,000 kilometers, despite cloudy skies. One participant in the test saw a bright flash through dark goggles and felt the effects of a thermal pulse even at a distance of 270 km. One cameraman recalled:

The clouds beneath the aircraft and in the distance were lit up by the powerful flash. The sea of light spread under the hatch and even clouds began to glow and became transparent. At that moment, our aircraft emerged from between two cloud layers and down below in the gap a huge bright orange ball was emerging. The ball was powerful and arrogant like Jupiter. Slowly and silently it crept upwards.... Having broken through the thick layer of clouds it kept growing. It seemed to suck the whole earth into it. The spectacle was fantastic, unreal, supernatural.....

Friday, October 29, 2021

"Bioengineering The Age of Designer Plagues"

This article is five years old and quite amazing, in part because of that fact. Here is one of the middle paragraphs:

....Those that do keep working, medics and police in particular, are likely to catch the virus. We should expect that most economic activity, public services, production of essential goods, and transportation may cease. To minimize inventory costs, businesses, even hospitals, now have “just-in-time” delivery of supplies, sourced from lowest-cost providers on the other side of the world. Even if your local trucker decides to continue working, with multiple long-distance suppliers and shippers involved in moving foodstuffs, a contagious pandemic would certainly disrupt the flow of essential goods. Panic-buying and hoarding will add to the problem of getting food to the population. How long will our public water supplies continue functioning when maintenance personnel fail to report for work? Our highly interdependent, just-in-time delivery economy is very vulnerable to disruptions. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, an expert in risk and thinking about rare events, points this out: “Our connected world appears to be more efficient. But when there is a disturbance, the setback is much harder to handle. Not only are we building riskier systems, but also the risks involved in failure are a lot larger.”6....

From The American Interest, September 20, 2016 

The growing ease of genetically modifying bacteria and viruses presages real trouble ahead.
The world is likely entering the age of bioengineered viral pandemics and collapse—BVPC for short. New technologies like bioengineering enable terrorist groups, or even one dedicated individual, to modify and release new viruses that could cause both a pandemic and, as people react, a likely collapse in economic activity and possibly even of law and order. Many experts say natural or bioengineered viral pandemics (BVP) are inevitable as it becomes increasingly easier to modify an existing pathogen, making it more lethal and transmissible. Should there be a deliberately loosed pandemic, revolutionary changes will flood our economy, military, foreign policy; we will not live as before during the Age of Bioengineered Viral Pandemics and Collapse. 
This bleak Age may be unavoidable, but we can prepare ourselves to minimize its dangers. Yet the specter of biological attack, especially by hard-to-identity and hold-to-account (let alone deter) non-state actors, is little addressed by the media or even inside the U.S. government. Nuclear terrorism we fear and try to deal with, no doubt because we have mental images of nuclear weapons going off to provide a sense of dark possibility. But we seem to suffer from a near total failure of imagination when it comes to bioterrorism, even though for a host of technical and other reasons—simpler engineering, much lower cost, quicker critical mass generation, smaller cadre of workers, smaller facilities for concealment purposes and ordnance delivery—it would be vastly easier for bad non-state actors to master a bio-attack than a nuclear one. We need to overcome that failure of imagination. 
In December 2011 national media reported that scientists had created a deadly virus with 60 percent lethality. Since then, new “CRISPR” technology makes it much easier to manipulate DNA—with kits as cheap as $130 available. 
Genetic engineering, or bioengineering, is the manipulation of an organism’s genetic material. Scientists have been creating genetically modified organisms (GMO) since the 1970s, and in 2010 the first synthetic new life form was created. Genetic modifications are common in nature—that’s why we continuously get new strains of flu and have had viral pandemics (like the 1918 Spanish Flu) on account of some of them. Now it is possible to accelerate genetic change, creating viruses and bacteria that never existed. With newer techniques, a simple, cheap lab (perhaps in a neighbor’s garage) can generate millions of recombinants in minutes. Through bioengineering a lone terrorist or a Revolutionary Guards lab in Iran can intentionally create a human-to-human transmissible version of avian flu, or modify a lethal virus to have a longer latency period, which would facilitate its undetected spread.
While biotechnology promises great new treatments and advances in medicine, it will also likely be used to design such deadly new viruses. It is too late to stop the spread of this technology and its misuse. We have been so cavalier about this mounting problem that we have never bothered to assemble a national or a global data base so that we have some sense of what kind of experimentation is going on for what purposes and under whose aegis. The only good news is that well-prepared people and nations should be able to survive and adapt.
As Tara O’Toole, former director of Johns Hopkins University Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies, warned in congressional testimony: “We are in the midst of a bioscientific revolution that will make building and using biological weapons even more deadly and increasingly easy.”1 The Director of National Intelligence has added bioengineering technology like CRISPR to the list of mass-destruction threats. If a lone terrorist or lunatic launches the virus, it may not spread far before we detect it and limit the devastation. But if an enemy nation spreads a bioengineered virus with high lethality and transmissibility, plus a long period when carriers are contagious but not suffering from the illness or symptoms, it might kill hundreds of millions. This scenario could leave survivors in a radically disrupted social, political, economic, and security environment for years.
A bioengineered virus, launched in our crowded, interconnected world by an enemy working to spread it widely before it is detected, could yield a more devastating pandemic than anything experienced in the past. Smallpox killed as many as 90 percent of the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas during the European conquest of the New World, and it killed 500 million people in the 20th century. A smallpox outbreak could be even worse now, since our immunity has expired and our populations are far more vulnerable.A smallpox outbreak could be even worse now, since our immunity has expired and our populations are far more vulnerable. For example, Stanford Professor Dr. Nathan Wolfe warns that, “if terrorists ever got their hands on one of the few remaining vials of smallpox, the results would be devastating.”2 Smallpox has been found in recent years in laboratories, and its genetic code has been posted on the internet. 
Eckard Wimmer, who headed the team of researchers at SUNY Stonybrook that made live polio virus from scratch as part of a Defense Department project to prove the threat of synthetic bioweapons, said that any one of thousands of members of the American Society for Virology could figure out how to do the same. Rob Carlson, a physicist-turned-biologist, like many others in the biotech field, warned that developing lethal viruses is increasingly cheap and easy. There is no need for a national program, a big lab, expensive equipment or specialized expertise. With a human-to-human transmissible virus there is no need for difficult weaponization efforts—the malefactor could readily find a simple means of infecting people in crowded public transportation centers and let them spread the virus. 
A virus released in multiple airports would reach every city and probably most small towns in the United States within a few days. Moreover, if the virus is genetically modified, the limited supply of vaccines we have for smallpox may not even work.
If smallpox is too difficult to obtain or synthetically create, someone can use a deadly virus like Ebola or avian flu—viruses still active in areas of the world. Donald Henderson and other scientists, writing in an article on biosecurity, warned that H5N1 avian influenza kills about 60 percent of its victims, compared to just 2 percent for the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed about fifty million: 
Like all influenza strains, H5N1 is constantly evolving in nature. But thankfully, this deadly virus does not now spread readily through the air from person to person. If it evolved to become as transmissible as normal flu and results in a pandemic, it could cause billions of illnesses and deaths around the world.”3
In 2011, Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam turned the H5N1 virus into a possible human-to-human flu by infecting ferrets repeatedly until a form of H5N1 that could spread through the air from one mammal to another resulted. This was not high-tech bioengineering, but simply swabbing the noses of the infected ferrets and using the gathered viruses to infect another round.
A team of scientists at China’s National Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory combined H5N1 with genetic attributes found in dozens of other types of flu. Some of their “man-made super-flu strains” could spread through the air between guinea pigs, killing them. This was condemned by scientists around the world as “appalling irresponsibility” since the new viral strains created by mixing bird-flu virus with human influenza could escape from the laboratory and cause a global pandemic—killing millions of people. With researchers tampering with H5N1 to make it human-to-human transmissible, we should not be surprised if terrorists and some state regimes are doing so as well.....

We do not like Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam.

June 18, 2021
Hey, Remember Those Wacky Dutch Scientists Who Weaponized Bird Flu To Kill Half The World's Population?
I had forgotten about Ron Fouchier until a friend sent an article from the journal Science. But sure enough we had November 2011's "UPDATED--"Dutch Scientists Have Genetically Altered the H5N1 Bird Flu Virus to Make it More Contagious" (could kill half humanity)" and then when they wanted to publish the recipe and the U.S. said no: "Psychotic Dutch Scientists: "Killer flu doctors: US censorship is a danger to science".

Our outro from that long ago post was 

"The U.S. National Institutes of Health funded the research. They own it. If Fouchier doesn't understand the implications of publication the NIH had to step in. This is just nuts." 

And the article from Science?

March 9, 2012
Surprising Twist in Debate Over Lab-Made H5N1....