"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Radical Patience?

When you characterize another culture by its most extreme proponents, you are doing the extremists a huge favour.

Angry people who take ancient books too seriously are dangerous. That's surely true. But it really doesn't matter much which book they are worked up about.

There are sane and crazy people in every corner of the world, saddled with social pressures to profess some religion or ideology. The way to fight extremists is not by hating or abusing all their demographic peers.
For every person who really wants a holy war there are a hundred who just want to get along with their own community. Forgive them. Cut them slack. Give them a way to save face. Don't indulge the them-or-us view. Don't hate them.

As I see it, there are people who benefit from us hating each other; these people are power hungry cynics who want to weaken everyone but themselves.

In today's social media world, they easily masquerade as extremists egging us on to mutual hatred. 

There are plenty of reasons in today's world to be angry at sincere people who are confused and do damage as a result. But they're not what's driving us off the cliff. It's hard to distinguish the cynics from the sincere, but it's suicidal to hate people who don't know they're lying. And even the cynics (not hard to think of one these days is it?) are less than whole people and in some ways deserve our sympathy.

I think maybe what I'm advocating is radical, extreme patience.
I have as much trouble living up to it as anyone. Cynical liars make my blood boil, and of course it's hard to tell who believes their own fabulations. It's easy to get into fights with people whose only goal is to defeat you by any means available. It's also easy to disengage.
But it's not enough to disengage, and it's counterproductive to exchange contempt for contempt.
It may be too late for these insights. Everyplace that isn't an autocracy is coming undone. The totalitarian friendly information environment that Arendt warned us about is upon us, and social media platforms are mostly profiting from it.
I can only hope for an international movement of reasonable, sane people, more motivated by love and awe than by anger, hatred, and contempt. I don't know why there isn't one, really.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

On Having an Inkling About How Much You Don't Know

There's this:

and then there's that:

How Long Do We Have to Reduce Emissions to Avoid Catastrophe?

Quora question:

How long do we have to reduce emissions to prevent catastrophic temperature rise?

There is both unclarity and uncertainty making it difficult to answer your question.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Moving Away from Twitter

OK, so it may be time to move on from Twitter.

Let's talk about some risks from the post-Elon Twitter, and what we can do if there's a need for an alternative.

One risk is that you won't be able to avoid Elon at all! He may set himself up a sort of super-account which everybody "follows" and nobody can block! Consequently his eccentric pronouncements will dominate the conversation even more than Trump's did.

And he'll let Trump back in on day 1.

So basically the noise level will skyrocket. This could happen as soon as next week.
Another risk is that his very takeover will ruin morale enough that too many people quit for the system to remain stable. Twitter may just choke on its own scale with the talent lost. This is alluded to in the Times piece:


As is my wont, I am rereading old futurism. I'd like to call your attention to something Arthur C Clarke said in the early 80s, somewhat in defence of the techno-libertarian free-speech absolutist view.

So Clarke was worried about irresponsible journalism, but he wasn't worried about pseudo-grass-roots propaganda.

This is forgiveable, he was a visionary in so many ways and an optimist, and he didn't foresee quite how much everybody-is-a-publisher would change the picture.

The Holocaust Museum had a traveling exhibit on Propaganda which among other things showed how effective Goebbels was in turning the public against the Jews by a concerted effort at rumour-mongering in the various small towns. Social media weaponizes this technique.

In my view, the precipitous decline of democracy that we're seeing now is only secondarily because of the stresses of the pandemic and the struggles to cope with climate change. I think the primary factor is the resurgence of malicious propaganda supercharged by the new media.

On the other hand, it's hard to argue against free speech. There's a huge appeal to the idea that everyone is a sort of equal on these platforms, and that we can share our evidence, our opinions, our complaints, our hopes. We need some sort of internet public sphere.

So what can we do to decrease the visibility of malign speech and increase the visibility of benign speech; to decrease the visibility of celebrity and increase the visibility of creativity; to decrease the visibility of resentment and increase the visibility of love?

I propose that a key problem with social media is very similar to the key problem with old school journalism. They are set up as for-profit business.

Unconstrained, this is inimical to the public interest.

And we not only can do better, we already have the tech we need!
So I propose we go back to RSS readers and blogs; but we should also each set up some sort of headline "tweet" feed.

(Google Reader was working fine for me. It was its collapse that sent me to Twitter.)

The public sphere needs to move off the for-profit platforms. We can do this just by doing it.

This won't solve the propaganda problem altogether, but it will solve a couple of problems.

An immediate advantage is for those of us who have the skills and understanding to do it - we'll be free of whatever travesties Musk inflicts on this platform as soon as we do, at least to the extent that the folks we follow maintain a suitable RSS feed.

In the long run we can hope and reasonably expect that tools emerge that make the RSS experience as close to that of social media as possible. The general public will then perceive the syndico-sphere as a viable alternative to social media. (And Musk's investment will evaporate!)

I recommend:
  • Set up an RSS reader account
  • Set up or revive your blog
  • Increase participation in blog conversation
  • Make sure anything you tweet is duplicated in a syndicate feed 

Follow me here and I'll keep you posted on my progress with this and offer advice. Thanks for your attention.

photo of Elon Musk is in the public domain. see https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SpaceX_CEO_Elon_Musk_visits_N%26NC_and_AFSPC_(190416-F-ZZ999-006)_(cropped).jpg

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

"The Earth Will Be Fine, It's Humanity that Needs Saving" NOT

I find it odd that people are telling themselves "The earth will be fine; it's humanity that needs saving." I am firmly convinced that neither part of this is true.

Yes, it is all too plausible that humans will encounter a massive mortality event. But neither conclusion follows.

The earth will not be fine because the worse humans do, the more severe the extinction event will be on the way down. Desperate people do much more environmental damage than comfortable ones, for instance, finding wood to burn for fuel. Ocean acidification, soil depletion, microplastic pollution, trace chemical distribution, these sort of things aren't going away when we do. A major extinction event depletes the earth for millions of years.

And humanity viewed *as a species* does not need saving because in the event of a major extinction, we are the most stubbornly adaptable species ever.

The most likely outcome of continuing collective human stupidity will be a great loss of human life, yes, but we will be the LAST vertebrate species to go utterly extinct, and one of the last species altogether, vertebrate or not. We are heading for a much depleted planet with a few people huddling in highly engineered environments, not some imagined return to Eden.

I am sorry to say this, but it is clearly the more likely outcome. I think people want to think otherwise because it helps them to deal with their terror and guilt. Alas, hoping for a return of the natural past after humanity is gone is not the right way to cope, because it is not going to happen.

Always remember that it's easier to Mars-form the earth than to terraform Mars.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

mt's position on climate summarized:

 While I am a bit disengaged on climate right now, largely because I think we have more immediate existential threats than climate, I want to say a few things in case we don't succumb to our present dysfunctions.

In brief, I am NOT saying we don't need cost-benefit analysis, nor am I saying that money isn't important. What I AM saying is, hmm, five things.


mt's position summarized:

1) Money tells you nothing on century time scales.

2) Even if money did tell you something on long time scales, IAMs tell you nothing about money on those timescales.

3) If we take climate change seriously, we are entering a HIGH growth period, not a low growth one! People get this backwards.

4) Every decarbonization policy is a carbon tax. We're only debating details.

5) Economics as currently constituted can help us reach our objective but can't help us set it. We should just just stick to 2 C.


1) Money tells you nothing on century time scales.

Money is a metric that is valuable in the short term but meaningless in the long. We don't know what the cost function we ought to be that we're optimizing for. Total dollar equivalent wealth or total dollar equivalent economic throughput are signs of thriving in the short run but there is no reason to believe that across scenarios the world with the greatest gross economic product or the greatest constant-dollar denominated wealth will be the one we prefer. 

2) Even if money did tell you something on long time scales, IAMs tell you nothing about money on those timescales.

We need economists to think about these things, and we need ways to evaluate tradeoffs and outcomes over the long run, but I see very little sign that economics (or the IAM community if regarded as separate from economics) as currently constituted has any meaningful skill at doing so. The fact that we WISH IAMs were useful, and that IAMs are indeed an inevitable exercise, in no way indicates that their results are useful. I have looked under the hood of DICE. Its approach is risible, and anyone familiar with conceptual modeling and simulation of physical systems would (or at least should) dismiss it as worthless. 

Look. I read Asimov's Foundation series as a child. I love the idea that the future could somehow be predictable using statistical methods. But Salvor Hardin's dream is obviously impossible. And even if in some universe it were possible, it wouldn't be possible in an Excel spreadsheet taking ten year time steps. 

IAMs are toys. You can't be basing policy on them. Just because you wish they were useful doesn't make them so.

3) If we take climate change seriously, we are entering a HIGH growth period, not a low growth one! People get this backwards.

Following on point 1, there's a bit of a conundrum in the observation that short term policy (to me, obviously) optimizes for increasing economic throughput aka "growth" and long term policy (to me, obviously) does not. This requires a direction of serious thinking from specialists of which I have seen precisely none; instead there's some rather simple-minded polarization between "pro" and "anti" growth. I despair for the academy sometimes. It may have once been a bit less stupid; I suspect so.

Fortunately, as Tidal has convinced me in our conversations, there is no rush in resolving this if we take decarbonization seriously. The amount of economic activity required to replace our energy infrastructure in a reasonable time is immense. If we take this on, it will be an enormous, sustained, multi-decadal stimulus to growth, whether we should or do wish it were so or not. 

This is a recent change in my perspective.

4) Every decarbonization policy is a carbon tax. We're only debating details.

I'm opposed to relying on a direct proportional carbon tax as the sole method to achieve carbon neutrality; it puts the burden on small users rather than large ones. It will exacerbate already fierce competition between rural conservative/reactionary impulses and urban liber/radical ones. It basically amounts to a wealth transfer from rural areas to urban ones. It's only going to make the politics of the situation that much harder.

But that said, some people think it's a bad thing when the price of fossil energy goes up and at the same time are concerned about climate. This doesn't work. Any adequate policy of any sort *will* create an artificial scarcity which *will* drive prices up. Any policy which keeps prices down will encourage continued use. This totally obvious to anyone with the slightest sense of what economics is. It isn't Nobel-worthy economics! (I'm not sure, though, that anything is.) 

5) Economics as currently constituted can help us reach our objective but can't help us set it. We should just just stick to 2 C.

One might wish that it were otherwise, but (see points 1 and 2) we don't have enough skill in economics to set a target. Consequently we need to set a target (GMST, CO2 concentration, emissions pathway) more or less intuitively. For a number of reasons I think 2 C is a good one. I would suggest that one reason for using it as a stretch goal is that twenty years ago it was being talked about as a worst case. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

A conversation with Google support

 You’re connected with agent Grace.

3:59 PM

Hi Michael Tobis. Thanks for being a Google One member. My name is Grace. How are you today?
Grace · 3:59 PM
OK thanks
I'm getting emails from an account hosted elsewhere flagged by gmail.
Gmail could not verify that it actually came from electricstreet.art. Avoid clicking links, downloading attachments, or replying with personal information.
This is interfering with my relationships with customers and vendors
My hosting service says DKIM is set up correctly
4:01 PM
I see, don't worry we will check on that.
I’ll do my best to help you. If we can’t find a solution, I will collect feedback for our developers and give you an external resource you might be able to use.
Can you please provide me with a screenshot of the error message you were getting when trying to send email messages?
Grace · 4:04 PM
The messages go through but they are flagged as quoted above...
Checking, thanks.
Alright, may i know when this issue started? And are you getting the same message when trying to send to other recipients?
Grace · 4:09 PM
Yes, all email from electricstreet.art is being flagged in this way; I have such an account and my wife has another. This was working fine until last weekend.
I have admin privileges at the host. These emails have all been sent via gmail via the 3rd party host
4:11 PM
Okay, and may I know if this email is a G=suite account or under Google My business?
Grace · 4:12 PM
I have no idea...
4:13 PM
I mean this electricstreet.art account, is it a Workspace account?
Grace · 4:13 PM
My screen says "Google One" and I have a "Google My Business" account and I never have any idea what these terms mean.
4:15 PM
Alright, but the email you were having issues with is a Google My business email, right?
Sorry for the delays as I experience technical issues.
Grace · 4:20 PM
I'm sorry but I am confused. I manage a small business listing through Google My Business. I am looking to see if the emails are listed there, but I don't recall connecting any email to this listing.
The domain is managed by a2hosting
4:22 PM
Grace · 4:22 PM
You guys are flagging emails from there suddenly and they don't see anything wrong on theor end
4:23 PM
Please check your emails (both body and signature) for spammy content e.g. lots of exclamation marks; "must read"; attention getting, large and/or gaudy coloured text; text the same colour as the background; tiny text; [almost] zero height images; links hidden under text, images or links with a different URL; etc. All or any of these may mark you as a spammer at Google.
Grace · 4:23 PM
Promise there is nothing. We are a very staid little business. We sell original artworks and we communicate in plain text.
But the domain extension is ".art"
I am thinking this may have been a mistake!
4:24 PM
I see.
Also, if your recipients have previously marked your email as Spam, Google will have learnt from this. The recipients will need to mark as "Not Spam".
Grace · 4:26 PM
Look, this isn't marked as spam, it is marked as "not authenticated"
4:27 PM
MIchael, when you create or set up the gallerista@electricstreet.art email account, have you done this via Google My business?
Grace · 4:28 PM
Just through gmail settings
4:29 PM
Do you mean the gallerista@electricstreet.art is not an actual email?
Grace · 4:31 PM
It is an email account at a2hosting; gmail is set up to interface to it.
We send from gmail; it authenticates with a third party host; then other people's gmail accounts flag it as illegitimate.
Or, to be fair "unverified beware of the rabid tiger"
I *need* to know how to turn this off. Your help screen says something about DKIM, but DKIM is set up.
4:36 PM
Alright, here is what we are going to do since your emails seem to be business email accounts which I have limited access to, we have a separate team that can help you further with this.
I'll provide you with the contact link for better help.
Grace · 4:37 PM
I'm not sure that "business email accounts" is correct from your point of view. These are just accounts.
However if you wish to put me in touch with somone else I will be fine with trying again.
4:39 PM
Grace · 4:39 PM
I do not have a google workspace account
So that won't work
The hosting service says everything is OK on their end. I need to get Google to stop flagging me.
4:41 PM
Okay, however your email does not have a Gmail domain, so this might be the issue preventing me from digging deeper in sorting things out.
Kindly provide me the page where you originally created the email?
Grace · 4:43 PM
This are ordinary gmail messages
4:44 PM
Yes, the site where you created gallerista@electricstreet.art account.
Grace · 4:44 PM
you mean the host service? a2hosting.com
4:44 PM
Okay, I’d like to be respectful of your time and point you to the best resource to have your issue resolved. The Help Center is the same resource we’d use on our end.
I'll check possible reasons why your email is being flagged.
Grace · 4:48 PM
Authentication-Results: mx.google.com;
spf=softfail (google.com: domain of transitioning gallerista@electricstreet.art does not designate as permitted sender) smtp.mailfrom=gallerista@electricstreet.art
Received-SPF: softfail (google.com: domain of transitioning gallerista@electricstreet.art does not designate as permitted sender) client-ip=;
4:48 PM
Michael, can you please try to send screenshot instead?
Grace · 4:49 PM
Of the headers?
I already sent a screenshot of the warning
4:49 PM
No, the authentication settings page.
Grace · 4:49 PM
here it is again
Look I found a clue "(google.com: domain of transitioning gallerista@electricstreet.art does not designate as permitted sender"
I am not sure what you are looking for, though
My gmail settings for the account?
4:51 PM
Yes, the authentication results.
Grace · 4:51 PM
I am sorry, what do you mean?
4:52 PM
And upon further checking, if this is about more on email forwarding issues , just note that some email software or services change the envelope sender to your domain when forwarding messages. If the envelope sender is changed to your domain for forwarded spam, Gmail might learn that your domain sends spam. Gmail might treat future messages from your domain as spam.
I am referring to the authentication results that you have sent above, if you can send a screenshot instead of pasting the text.
Grace · 4:52 PM
Again, this isn't about spam. It's about "does not designate as permitted sender"
4:53 PM
You can see possible reasons there why you are being flagged.
Grace · 4:54 PM
This is not being marked as spam
I'm sorry but I have already said this several times. This is not a spam filter issue.
I am asking how to resolve "does not designate as permitted sende
4:56 PM
We have established that belongs to Google. So what is happening seems to be that Google does not trust Google.
4:58 PM
It seems that this might have something to do with your email domain. Gmail doesn't accept allowlist requests from third-party email senders. We can't guarantee messages will pass Gmail’s spam filters.
Grace · 5:00 PM
This has nothing to do with spam.
Two different gmail loging have both started sending out error messages to my customers telling them to beware of me.
and my partner
Pretty much simultaneously.
Alright, let me further check on this.
Please allow me 3 - 5 minutes.
Grace · 5:06 PM
I guess I need an IP range to permit
5:06 PM
Let's see.
And when you try to send out using your personal email are you getting the same messages saying that it's been flagged?
Grace · 5:08 PM
no, if I use mtobis@gmail.com as far as I know there is no problem. The problem is pretty clearly authentication at a2hosting.com accourding to the link I found (through your excellent search engine!)
It appears I have to greenlight some google IP addresses
5:10 PM
Okay, thanks.
Thanks for patiently waiting.
Can we please try to add the email address in your contact and see if it's not blocked?
Grace · 5:17 PM
Again I don't understand your question
5:18 PM
Can we please try to add the email address in your contact?.
Grace · 5:20 PM
"the email address in your contact"? I do not know what you mean
You probably should be pointing me to https://support.google.com/a/answer/10684623?hl=en
5:23 PM
Oh, please try these steps.
Please open the email from the sender you want to add to your contacts.
Grace · 5:25 PM
I think you're typing into the wrong conversation at this point.
There is no "sender" other than myself
5:29 PM
I mean the recipient.
Then please tap the three dots icon to the right of the message.
Please let me know if you need more time.
Grace · 5:35 PM
You want me to open the headers of the message I sent?
5:35 PM
The email where you get the error message.
Grace · 5:36 PM
I have clicked the 3 dots
The sender doesn't see the message; the recipient does. I can give you either one as I have two accounts open in 2 browsers
5:36 PM
Then please click Add to Contacts list and it will be saved instantly.
Grace · 5:37 PM
I'm sorry, add whom to whose contacts?
5:38 PM
To your contact please.
Grace · 5:39 PM
The sender or the recipient? I have both accounts open.
But I do not have access to the account of my customers and vendors, so cannot add a contact. Further, this will not resolve the issue with the SPF record.
This is not a spam filter issue.