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Dave Cohen
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Denial is not just a river in Egypt.
Interests: evolution, energy, the economy, climate, astrobiology, music, paleontology, culture
Recent Activity
Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world — Archimedes I went to my local bar last night with a blank piece of paper and a pen. I jotted down some notes. ultra-social monkeys telling often self-serving stories highly defended against threatening realities, including of course realities which reflect badly on them since these monkeys are such fuck-ups, there's no end to painful, disgraceful realities that have to filtered, covered up, or distorted beyond all recognition And so on. Then I got drunk. I really should finish that... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Decline of the Empire
There's been an interesting development these last few weeks. The Fed has threatened to start normalizing monetary policy, hinting that they might raise short-term rates by 25 basis points (1/4 of 1%). Some normalization! But normalizing monetary policy in our abnormal "new normal" scares the bejesus out of lots of people who have benefited from the current arrangement, or those who believe Fed policy has provided substantial benefits to the broader U.S. economy (i.e., the official jobless rate). Among the latter, a contradiction arises because these people are now forced to argue that the U.S. economy actually sucks, meaning that... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Decline of the Empire
There is chaos in global markets. I may post everyday because finally something is happening. Something any reasonable person expected to happen. The only mystery is why it took so long. I never thought this central bank reflation nonsense was going to work, and it's imploding right now all over the world. Mighty China is leading the way down. The nitwits on NPR were talking about "learning lessons" today as they urged people not to panic and stay in the market. They were so desperate to prop up the status quo that they started talking about how loss aversion causes... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Decline of the Empire
U.S. stocks rallied today, which was not a surprise The S&P 500 finished the day down 1.4%. A trader named "Fly" takes a longer view. Futures are lifting off and all is well in China, following a clown-car like -5.5% open. Right after those communist bastards (extra Red Scare) fixed their markets higher, Japan followed suit. Commodities are up and all is well again [oil prices here]. Here is what I am wrestling with now. This feels different. Previous market dramas were caused by superfluous events: Greek-German comedies, Federal Reserve maladies and a series of stupid things purported by Congress... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Decline of the Empire
The bloodbath "correction" in global markets continues today. The Shanghai Composite? Forgettabout it! American stocks? Flirting with disaster! All weekend long we were assured that "corrections" are normal and there's no need for panic. I agree. Words like "pop", "burst", "meltdown" or "collapse" have lost their force in the 20th year of the Bubble Era. Surely we are used to such "volatility" by now. Surely we know that what goes up must come down. Never forget that these events have lots of Entertainment Value. I invite central bank-inspired gamblers investors all over the world to say hello to my little... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Decline of the Empire
Elizabeth Kolbert's The Weight of the World, subtitled Can Christiana Figueres persuade humanity to save itself?, starts off like this. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or U.N.F.C.C.C., has by now been ratified by a hundred and ninety-five countries, which, depending on how you count, represents either all the countries in the world or all the countries and then some. Every year, the treaty stipulates, the signatories have to hold a meeting—a gathering that’s known as a COP, short for Conference of the Parties. The third COP produced the Kyoto Protocol, which, in turn, gave rise to another... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at Decline of the Empire
I became more and more pissed off as I read Brian Merchant's By 2100, Earth Will Have an Entirely Different Ocean (Vice, August 13, 2015). It’s not just that the ocean is absorbing more heat than at any point over the last 10,000 years, and that its levels are rising. It’s also becoming more acidic. Its very chemical composition is changing. Ecosystems will be reordered, currents altered. To the billions who live closest to it, it will be more hostile. Coastal flooding will threaten cities, Arctic passageways will open new trade routes, and fishermen who depend on the seas will... Continue reading
Posted Aug 19, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Over at the Huffington Post I saw a sarcastic headline: Breaking News: The Rich Discover Inequality. I had to take a look. The article was by Jeff Faux, author of The Servant Economy (2012). This is great stuff. After forty years of rising income and wealth inequality, some of America's rich seem worried that maybe things have gone too far. In a recent New York Times Op Ed (August 9), for example, Peter Georgescu, CEO emeritus of the multinational public relations firm, Young and Rubicon, wrote that he is "scared" of a backlash that might lead to social unrest or... Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Pardon this interruption, but has anybody noticed that the global economy is going down the tubes? There doesn't seem to be anybody looking at the global economy as a whole. This post is not about Donald Trump. There is some focus, and appropriately so, on China's Long Minsky Moment (The New Yorker, August 14, 2015). China is in big trouble. John Cassidy's article is quoted beneath the fold. The Minksy moment is that dreaded moment, named after the late post-Keynesian economist, when euphoria is replaced by pessimism, asset prices start to plummet, lenders discover that their creditors can’t repay their... Continue reading
Posted Aug 14, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Poor Dylan Matthews. Dylan spent a weekend at Google talking with nerds about charity ... and came away ... worried. We've got great stuff today. Dylan's article is an Idiot's Guide To Flatland. And Dylan, you should be worried. There are some remarkable insights in Dylan's article, but then there is the usual stumbling around in the dark. I shall point out both, but Dylan got more right than he knows about. Dylan attended the Effective Altruism Global conference held in Mountain View, California earlier this month (Silicon Valley, home of Google). "There's one thing that I have in common... Continue reading
Posted Aug 12, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Perhaps you think the human condition could not be more absurd. If you think it could not be worse, I offer you the NPR story The Twisty Logic Of The Drought: Grow Thirsty Crops To Dig Deeper Wells. Here's the audio and a transcript (emphasis added). I'll say a few things at the end. AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: We've all heard reports about how California is running out of water, but there is water in California, tons of it deep underground in the Central Valley aquifer, the big underground pool that everyone shares. And there's a race on to get what's... Continue reading
Posted Aug 10, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
The title question occurred to me as I watched the video below. Reich believes the Fed should not raise interest rates because keeping rates at the zero-bound is creating jobs and propping up wages. And in so far as inflation is non-existent, there is no reason to raise rates. After 7 years at the zero-bound, the job market is still very weak and wages are going nowhere. If you think the unemployment rate (5.3%) is a positive indicator, check out the labor force participation rate (62.6%, a 38-year low). If that's not Epic Failure, I don't know what is. And... Continue reading
Posted Aug 7, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
At The New Yorker you will find a story called Who Would Kill A Giraffe? Well, Sabrina Corgatellli would, and did (Facebook). You've probably heard about Cecil the Lion, but you didn't know about this anonymous giraffe. This text is from The New Yorker's Robin Wright. ... I lived in Africa for seven years, and few sights were as magnificent, or calming, as a herd of giraffes loping gracefully across the savannah. Giraffes seem the most harmless of beasts. But giraffes are increasingly vulnerable in the wild. The world’s giraffe population has plummeted, by more than forty per cent, over... Continue reading
Posted Aug 5, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Clearly the study I reported on in yesterday's post makes climate activists nervous. So Climate Central's Bobby Magill sought out Harvard's Robert N. Stavins for comment. Robert N. Stavins, a professor of business and government at Harvard University’s Environmental Economics Program, said that it is well known that the Great Recession contributed to a fall in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in addition to utilities switching from burning coal to natural gas. Stavins said that if the study’s methods prove to be rigorous, its results would be “interesting, but not revolutionary.” “The fact that emissions fell because of decreased economic activity... Continue reading
Posted Aug 3, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
A recent paper which appeared in the journal Nature Communications has not gotten nearly the attention it deserves. This is not surprising in so far as the conclusions of those who wrote it are not compatible with human expansion on this planet. The paper is called Drivers of the US CO2 emissions 1997–2013, and one of the co-authors was quoted in a Climate News Network story as follows: If we don’t understand the factors that led to this emissions reduction, we won’t know how to effectively reduce emissions in the future. That statement is touchingly naive, but is undoubtedly an... Continue reading
Posted Aug 2, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
“…As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, people are going to keep burning them and going to find them, to dig them up wherever they can find them. …what we need to do is add a gradually rising fee to the fossil fuels, which you would collect from the fossil fuel companies at the source... And that money should be distributed to - all legal residents of the country. That way the person who does better than average in limiting his carbon footprint will make money, and it will be a big incentive for them to pay attention... Continue reading
Posted Jul 29, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Back in 1968 during the Vietnam War, long before many of those reading here were born, an AP reporter quoted an army officer to terrible and absurd effect. A famous quote from the Vietnam War was a statement attributed to an unnamed U.S. officer by AP correspondent Peter Arnett in his writing about Bến Tre city on 7 February 1968: "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it," a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong. Now... Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
All the world's a stage ... and we've seen this drama several times before, always played by the same actors. ACT 1 Protagonist/Prophet of Doom — retired NASA climate scientist James Hansen often plays this role. True to form, he (along with 16 colleagues) has issued a new paper which claims (based mainly on Eemian/marine isotope stage 5e paleoclimate data) that we could see "potentially rapid sea level rise combined with more intense storm systems" in the next 50, 100 or 200 years. Hansen plays the leading role with gusto, concluding for example that sea level rise is “the big... Continue reading
Posted Jul 22, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
In an otherwise silly post at Collective Evolution called How Humanity Enslaved Itself, a graphic appeared which made my day. I wish I'd had that graphic when I wrote the Flatland essays. If you substitute "instincts, motivations, defenses, biases" for "belief system" in the above, you get a pretty fair description of how the human mind works. And, yes, it truly is unfortunate, so unfortunate. in fact, that there likely won't be anybody around to look at that graphic a few centuries from now. The author Andrew Barker quotes the confused "mystic" and cult leader "Osho" to make his point.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Believe it or not, the United States has some of the best managed fisheries on Earth. This surprising fact is entirely due to the so-called Magnuson-Stevens fisheries act passed back in 1976. The United States rightfully boasts many of the best-managed fisheries in the world thanks to a 1976 ocean fishery management law, which today is known as the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the statute, the primary law that governs fishing in U.S. ocean waters, emerged from an era that saw an awakening of environmental consciousness: The Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species... Continue reading
Posted Jul 18, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Bernie Sanders, presidential candidate and "self-described socialist" in every mainstream media report about him, has noticed that economic growth has no point if most of the gains make the rich richer (Washington Post, July 14, 2015). There are very few unspoken rules among major-party candidates for president, and Bernie Sanders is breaking one of them. Actually, there are boatloads of unspoken rules among presidential candidates, but let's ignore the Flatland bullshit. He’s saying that America’s leaders shouldn’t worry so much about economic growth if that growth serves to enrich only the wealthiest Americans. “Our economic goals have to be redistributing... Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
I see that Germany (among others) butt-fucked Tsipras and the Greek people. Surely this is a new low for the Eurozone, but that's not what got my attention today. It was this item that made my day Due to an unusually windy day, wind farms in Denmark managed to produce 140 per cent of the country's electricity needs. By Thursday evening [July 9], the Nordic nation's wind turbines were producing 116 per cent of Denmark's electricity needs, a figure that rose to 140 per cent in the early hours of the morning. As reported by The Guardian, 80 per cent... Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
This is a follow-up to Why Should We Protect Nature?, which I wrote earlier this week. The title quote occurs in a recent Huffington Post report called This Is How A Species Goes Extinct: More Than A Ton Of Frozen Pangolin Meat Seized In Indonesia. Pangolins are one of the planet's most unique and adorable species. The scaly, anteater-like creatures live in parts of Asia and Africa, and there's an entire task force dedicated to their protection. A popular Pokemon character, Sandslash, was even based on these "artichokes on legs." And yet, humans can't seem to stop killing them. Authorities... Continue reading
Posted Jul 10, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
The title question appears in Brad Plumer's What bees can teach us about the real value of protecting nature (Vox, July 6, 2015). Plumer's article is based on a study of wild bees which recently appeared in Nature Communications. Conservation biologists have two problems. The greater problem is that there isn't much conservation going on. After all, we are in the midst of a mass extinction. The lesser problem is deciding on what arguments to use to induce or persuade humans that other species are worth conserving. There are only two such arguments: (1) the moral argument—other species have intrinsic... Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Paul Krugman is hot and bothered about the situation in Greece, which is a strong signal for yours truly to run the other way. And that's my natural inclination in any case. It is however worth noting that somebody had better give the Greeks some cash this week to prevent a total collapse in the birthplace of democracy. Surprisingly, it seems that humans have turned a blind eye toward the extreme weather afflicting the world in 2015. It was a cool and wet June here in Pittsburgh, and that trend continues in July. But I didn't realize, though I should... Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2015 at Decline of the Empire