Resist the Tentacles

By | June 24, 2019

Had a dream that I was on a team in charge of fighting the return of Cthulhu. As we strode out to do battle for the last time I announced, “I’m going back for my sword.”

A woman on my team said, “Do you even know how to use a sword, and how is that going to help in fighting an extradimensional horror like Cthulhu?”

I said, “No, not really, but if I am going to die by having my mind pulverized by an unutterable terror from outside the universe, I am going to look cool as all hell while doing it.”

So, pretty much like me in real life.

Everyone, Nearly

By | June 24, 2019

People have a truly terrible understanding of risk and its mitigation, particularly risks with catastrophic consequences that unfold slowly.

Yes, I am thinking about climate change but it is true of any similar risk: drinking, smoking, caloric intake, etc.

How much money or time should you spend if the risk is catastrophic but only has a 1/10 of 1% chance of occurring? If it’s truly catastrophic, then you’d spend much, much more than 1/10 of 1% of your budget (if you don’t believe me, ask literally any insurance actuary).

So let’s think about it like an actuary would, just for fun.

First, check this report. Here are some highlights.

The value at risk to manageable assets from climate change calculated in this report is US$4.2trn, in present value terms

The tail risks are more extreme; 6°C of warming could lead to a present value loss worth US$13.8trn, using private-sector discount rates.

From the public-sector perspective, 6°C of warming represents present value losses worth US$43trn—30% of the entire stock of the world’s manageable assets.

Remember, there is no “average” climate change but there is potential existential risk — so this is not a normal actuarial calculation! It’s more appropriate to consider tail risk here, with some premia thrown in for existential risk. Again, not a normal calculation, so what do insurance companies do when insurance is hard to calculate? That’s right, it gets much more expensive. Ever checked Lloyd’s rates? I have, and oh boy. In other words, to put it in more formal insurance terms, the actuarial assumptions here are extremely shaky so the price goes up.

However, to get an idea, and to avoid worthless disputation, we’ll just use basic insurance ratios only. Going simple here is better since many of the risks, though relatively high (in both magnitude and likelihood) are nearly impossible to estimate. (And I know already that the “simple” scenario will still be very expensive.)

I’m skipping over a lot here, but insurance companies calculate something called “Loss Cost” or as its sometimes called, “Pure Premium.” This is the measure of the average loss per exposure. Further, the premium (what you pay) is calculated using this number. However, given the “you” is “all civilization” these two in our case will be the same.

When you do this calculation with global climate change, it produces some very funny numbers indeed. Because when insurance companies calculate loss cost, the equation is “losses, divided by number of exposures.” But what happens when you do this in the case of climate change? The loss cost is $43 trillion (remember, insurance premia definitionally are based on potential worst-case losses, not actual) and $43 trillion divided by 1 exposure is…$43 trillion.

So we’ve come ’round to the same number we started with, using standard insurance actuarial calculations. Huh. Fancy that.

(In reality, there is a further calculation that is done in insurance that determines the actual paid premium [sort of] by dividing the premium by number of exposures, but that will be the same here as well.)

A better way to think about this, though, given both the simple truth and absurd results I mentioned above is how much should each human on earth pay as a “premium” to forestall, mitigate, or prevent the tail risk of $43 trillion of losses? And that calculation comes out to be about $600 for every woman, man and child on the planet.

Given that a significant percentage of the population doesn’t and never will have that much cash, and is less responsible for global warming than others, how about the richest 500 million? What’s their premium?

It’d be about $8,600.

So that’s how much every well-off person in the world should be paying to “insure” against climate change: about $8,600, In reality, as already mentioned it should be higher as there is no actuarial past data, mostly, to establish a true risk profile and the risk is potentially infinite (existential). However, as also mentioned, I chose to use very simple and well-accepted insurance industry calculations for exposure to determine my premium as those are much harder to object to for any quibblers.

Noise Poise

By | June 24, 2019

I remember. My brain still sometimes interprets non-noisy computers as “broken” as that’s what any computer from 1980-2000 or so would’ve been. Modems screeching, hard drives yammering, chattering and seeking, CD-ROMs winding up like a UH-1 Huey, floppy drives grinding and groaning — a working computer to me is a noisy one.

Without question, I prefer the quietude of today’s machines. However, I grew up on computers that were a complete chaotic cacophony of sonic assaults so it will always be embedded somewhere in the back of my brain.

Net Weak

By | June 24, 2019

Oh, that’s great. Love it. Because it’s not just the users who say, “The entire network is down” when in fact it’s almost never the network. Screaming this also are other sysadmins, management, etc., when an incident occurs.

Hint: It’s almost never the network. In my experience, it’s a network issue about 5% of the time. The rest of the time it’s either not a real incident, it’s related to some hardware failure, it’s just user error, or someone has pushed bad code.

But people always, always blame the network first and then you have to waste valuable time proving it’s not.


By | June 23, 2019

The guy on the right is 58. Looks 35 or so. That’s roughly my fitness goal, though I don’t want to be quite so lean. I’m about halfway there, though the last half will take longer than the first half. In about two years, I’ll be there. Just takes work, and that work is worth it to not have aggressive amputations due to completely-preventable diseases, etc.


By | June 23, 2019

Western liberalism (in the broadest sense*) is probably incompatible with any chance of dealing with the climate crisis.

The question then becomes, is anything else, any other ideology or method of organizing society adequate to the challenge? And if so is there a way from this metastable peak to the one over there somewhere?

I have no idea. I suspect the answer is no, but I’d love to be wrong about this.

*Western liberalism here includes Republicans, nearly all Christians, and all people who call themselves liberals, libertarians, etc., because they all basically think the same way, have the same minds.


By | June 23, 2019

Reading some philosophy tonight (Greg Anderson’s The Realness of Things Past: Ancient Greece and Ontological History, if anyone cares) and thinking about so-called polarization.

I don’t think it’s really polarization as we conceive of it through the lenses of our past perception. It’s more of a lurch to positions to deal with increasing destruction of knowledge heuristics that no longer function, or that input nonsense and also output the same.

Let’s look at some Anderson.

In short, we see in Athens nothing less than the “total suffusion of…society with the gods and their concerns.”

All of this is common scholarly knowledge. And as such, it presents significant challenges for mainstream historians, who, it goes without saying, do not readily accept the reality of Greek divinities. How exactly can one account historically for a past world where the primary actors were apparently unreal, ahistorical beings, pure figments of the imagination?*

The reason I quote this passage is that society is undergoing an enormous phase transition now and the prior decades are becoming just as illegible to many as the Greek method of sense-making Anderson cites. This transition, unrealized by nearly all and denied by many, is intensely fascinating to observe because these society-wide sociopsycho-epistemological (apologies for this word, but there literally is not a word for what I mean in English) transformations only occur once every few hundred years. The last came about as a consequence of the printing press, and I was not around for that one.

It’s intensely difficult if not impossible to truly understand these metamorphoses as they occur. Foucault attempted this and he only got it less than half-right. He didn’t experience much of the internet, which vastly intensified what he’d already observed in more unhurried form. So I’m reading all I can about old worlds of nous, now departed and nearly incomprehensible, to try to grasp something of the new.

Back to polarization and the world being built now — or the one that is constructing itself. I’m considering surveillance and self-surveillance in a loop of recursivity. I’m thinking about how algorithms have replaced state actors at many levels. I’m pondering that information is now as solid (which it say, not) and shifting as Saharan dunes reconfigured by a samoon. As a result of this, what we see is not polarization, but performative certitude that is just as likely to mutate not due to new evidence but because of the results of algorithmic proddings, self-surveillance and that recursive spiral, and the nature of shame in an intensely-surveilled culture.

*p. 134 of the OUP 2018 edition

Prog Bord

By | June 22, 2019

The liberal idea of open borders springs I think from their conception of diversity, which is “people who think, act, and dress just like I do, but who have different skin colors.”

Open borders can only work with countries roughly on the same level of socioeconomic development and culture. Otherwise, it essentially destroys both countries and cultures over time. But…I am not so sure the left is against this destruction. That might be the point for some of them?

Anyway, belief in open borders is totemic and aspirational rather than based on anything real. It’s a way of signaling commitment to harmful ideas as a proof of allegiance. It’s nothing more than that, and when it is more than that, it’s invariably from someone who’d experience no consequences from the terrible “open borders” idea.

That said, I am for open borders.

Doesn’t that seem to contradict the above? It does, but I am for it in a world where the socioeconomic and cultural status of societies is closer to convergence. If climate change doesn’t end civilization, I’d say that’d occur in about 500 to 1,000 years from now.