Weekly Round Up: fuel crises, antibiotics, start ups, vaccine refusers and hotels in space

Well, we think they’re more than run of the mill!

Fuel prices If we had been really serious about renewables around 2015, we wouldn’t be in this mess now. As Michael Bradshaw explains in The Conversation. Tell them that in Kazahkstan.

https://theconversation.com/energy-prices-are-unlikely-to-fall-in-2022-or-beyond-not-until-major-importers-get-serious-about-green-transition-174437

Antibiotics and a virus, yet? You should never waste antibiotics on viral diseases, or so we have been told. But there is intriguing evidence of an Egyptian study which may give pause for thought. Mostafa Rateb for the Conversation explains all:

https://theconversation.com/covid-is-caused-by-a-virus-so-why-are-researchers-treating-it-with-antibiotics-171897

Lessons from the Theranos debacle That most admirable of publications, Nature, points out that the only salvage from this mess will be to learn lessons. Here’s how, they think:

Elizabeth Holmes has been found guilty of fraud against investors in her blood-testing company, Theranos. Holmes was acquitted on charges related to defrauding patients. Theranos claimed it could run more than 200 health tests on just a few drops of blood taken from a finger prick — but the claims were exaggerated. The story has become a cautionary tale for blood-diagnostics companies and scientists with entrepreneurial interests. In particular, it reminds executives at start-up firms to share their data early on, and participate in some kind of peer-review process, say experts.Nature | 5 min read

Understanding the unjabbed John Harris is one of the most thoughtful, listening journalists of the last ten years. He still thinks it would be crass to sanction vaccine rejectos, wahtever we think of them. Here’s why:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jan/02/understanding-not-judgement-unjabbed-uk-vaccination-gap

At last, a cocktail bar in space! Followers of this blog’s cocktail column (LSS passim) will slaver at the thought of a real bar in outer space. As the poor old ISS creaks to the end of its working life, commercial replacements offer exciting vistas. Here’s Ryan Morrison for the Mail:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-10304067/Stunning-concept-images-reveal-commercial-space-stations-future.html

#space stations #antibiotics #covid-19 #sars-Cov-2 virus #fuels #energy #crisis #renewables #climate change

Friday Night Cocktails: this year’s colour

And so it is…….every year has a must have an “it” colour. According to the cognoscenti, this year it’s periwinkle blue. [1] To us, the humble periwinkle (Vinca minor) is just another garden flower, useful no doubt in the right bed or pot. But whose purply blue shade will dominate the catwalks, dress design workshops, accessories, Prime Ministerial drawing rooms and the covers of every magazine in vogue in ’22. Unless something goes wrong in the Ukraine and we all end up in khaki, that is.

So to celebrate the choice of the Fashion Industry, our cocktails are designed to let bring the best out of your clothes, by either matching or contrasting this year’s shade de mode, according to the science of colour matching.

Matches We found it hard to get the precise shade of the periwinkle. But here’s two nice blue ones which are near as dammit, and have the advantage that we haven’t covered them before.

Drunken Mermaid We can’t do better than recommend a website called I am Baker [2] which lays out la vida y milagros, as the Spanish say, of this cocktail at considerable length. Basically it’s a mix of Blue Curacao, vodka, syrup and lime juice over ice which should give you a good blue tint.

China Blue [3] This one might suddenly turn topical! A glance at the superb Diffords Guide website will reveal the precise recipe, but basically you’re mixing lychee liqueur, blue curacao, grapefruit juice and lemon juice. Warning: could get lost next to Carrie Jonson’s latest handbag-if there were any social events in Downing Street, that is!

Contrasts If you can’t match, contrast. According to the experts the best contrast to periwinkle blue is a strong brash orange. So, following our redoubtable Ultimate Cocktail Book from Hamlyn, we recommend the Luigi. Put three ice cubes in a mixing glass. Add one measure of fresh orange juice, 1 of dry vermouth.0.5 measures of Cointreau, 1 measure of grenadine and 2 of clear gin. Stir and por mix into a standard cocktail glass, sans ice and decorate with a slice of orange. Honestly, we’ve really tried this, a lot, and it’s delicious.

other ideas: Harvey Wallbanger, stormy weather, gin tropical.

So now you can sip your cocktail while relaxing in the sure knowledge that you are matched to twenties fashion to the highest degree. Until next year, that is.

[1] https://www.goodnet.org/articles/color-year-2022-bluepurple-periwinkle

[2] https://iambaker.net/drunken-mermaid/

[3] https://www.diffordsguide.com/cocktails/recipe/419/china-blue-cocktail

Was Oumuamua not aliens after all?

About a year ago, we published a little blog (LSS 21 1 21) in which we at least considered the theory of Professor Avi Loeb that the object Oumuamua, more commonly by its everyday name of I/2017/U1, was in fact an alien spacecraft, or a fragment of one. We even opined that, if so, it could be a Good Thing as the threat from it might prevent the warring tribes of nations and football supporters from knocking six bells out of one another for a while.

No such luck. For two scientists called Steven Desch and Alan Jackson of Arizona State University have made a pretty convincing case that the thing was natural. It seems to be a chunk of frozen nitrogen, which is common in the bitterly cold regions of our own solar system, and so must be among the Oort clouds and Kuiper belts of our neighbouring stars. Here’s a link below[1].

For us, as ever, the key point is to keep an open mind and consider both sides, a la Bertrand Russell. We always felt that as Oumuamua was the first ever interstellar object, it would be an error to draw vast conclusions until we had seen a few more. But Professor Loeb is an erudite man and if you still want his side of the story, we reference his book [2]. Reference, not plug, notice. Because when we read it we felt it contained a little too much information about Professor Avi Loeb and his life and times, and a little too little about Oumuamua and his findings. Well, it is quite a small object for a very large book.

So it’s back to the petty jealousies of many football supporters, [3]dictators and peasant types, all knocking six bells out of each other and making the world a far worse place as they do it. Only the imminent threat of real aliens might convince them of the tininess of this planet, and their own tiny minds at the same time.

[1] https://phys.org/news/2021-03-scientists-extra-solar-oumuamua.html#:~:text=I

[2] Avi Loeb: Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth Houghton Miffin Harcourt 2021

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/football/2021/jul/12/absolute-bedlam-how-ticketless-fans-stormed-wembley

astrobiology #extreterrestrial #alien #search for life #seti #space #astronomy

How Marlboro Man changed the face of advertising forever

Further proof of our utter unfitness to write this blog, nay, anything at all-comes in the shape of a little You Tube Video called How Marlboro Changed the Face of Advertising Forever. For it makes LSS and its belief in Reason and a Whiggish sort of progress look so hopelessly misguided that you wonder how humanity could ever have progressed from caves.

Before we throw you this gem of despair, gentle readers, a brief summary. Back in the 1950s there was growing evidence that smoking tobacco was highly dangerous, and many of the companies that sold it began to panic big time. Not so the heroes at Marlboro! Taking a 1%-of-the-market product which had been targeted mainly at women, they quickly turned it into the fourth largest brand in the world, all in the space of a year. How? By targeting men via a chap called the Marlboro Cowboy. Who apparently embodied the manly values of roughness, ruggedness and freedom. Well, with all those stallions hanging out in long shot, who wouldn’t get the message? Marlboro had realised one vital fact about human nature-most people don’t care about research. They buy a packet of cigarettes to be cool. Lifestyle, they call it.

And so it goes today with advertising, illegal drugs, fashion, fast foods, tabloid newspapers and many a political campaign. We, who live by facts and reason, are never going to break through. And so, for this New Year of 2022, we set you a task, gentle readers-what are our options?

For thoughts on where all this might end we suggest the 2006 film Idiocracy from Mike Judge and Etan Cohen. This IMDB link should suffice

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387808/

Save Capitalism: vote for Inheritance Tax

What is the sure sign of a decadent nation? One that is steadily losing territories and markets, while obsessing over the glories and rituals of the past. Another? The growth of a vast ecology of lawyers and propagandists devoted to shoring up the causes of that decline. What are the consequences? When the inefficiencies become unsustainable, a collapse into a murderous nihilistic revolution, whose consequences last for generations. Ask any of the inmates of Russia, Iran, or Venezuela.

As go nations, so go individuals. No heir will possess the hunger and aggression for risk of the dynasty’s founder. For an heir, the smart move, as Michael Corleone would say, is stay cautious, preserving all that is, rather than risking it in adventures. Admirable, no doubt; but not the qualities to win new markets, or prevail in negotiations. Once the energetic merchants and sailors who had built the Italian Republics like Venice and Genoa passed on to their heirs, those states quickly declined from world powers to tourist attractions. In England, the system of inherited power and wealth has produced leaders like Cameron and Johnson. If men like these reach the top, it is because they have not had far to climb. Compare them with Margaret Thatcher who, born far from the networks of privilege was forced to weigh every decision, and make it count. And ask yourself who was by far the better Prime Minister. By its very existence inheritance is inimical to the meritocracy which capitalism promises.

Opponents of Inheritance Tax argue; “why should I be taxed twice on the money I have earned.” But it is the heirs who pay the tax, not them. A sure sign of a narcissistic father is that he cannot separate himself psychologically from his children. Healthy parents have no interest in the private financial arrangements of their offspring. The best inheritance to give a child is a good education, health and the promise of a society in which there is a low chance of being murdered by a stranger. All the evidence suggests[1] that this is best achieved in high tax equal societies like Japan or the Scandinavian countries.

A real capitalist society offers the true promises of efficiency and meritocracy. The bravest and most able, ruthlessly sieved in the schools of learning and decision, rise by their efforts to the best houses and incomes and so on. A strong inheritance tax would keep it that way.[2] Patriots of all sorts ought to applaud.

[1] Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson The Spirit Level Allen Lane 2009

[2] Thomas Piketty Capital in the 21st Century Editions de Seuil 2014

#inheritance tax #inequality #margaret thatcher #david cameron #boris johnson #russian revolution #iranian revolution #wealth

The amazing George Magnus, and why everything we thought we knew was wrong

So, who is George Magnus when he’s at home?

He’s the former chief economist of UBS and a Research Associate at both Oxford University and SOAS London. And he thinks that China has got real problems.

Hang on- I thought they were growing so fast that they would overtake the US before Cowes week, and would go on to rule the world. Or something like that. What’s gone wrong?

According to George, they’ve fallen into the same trap as the USSR and Japan.

What trap?

Back in the 1950s everyone said the USSR would overtake the USA and go on to rule the world. Then in the 1980s it was going to be Japan. Remember them?

You mean it doesn’t happen-why?

All these places, China, USSR, whatever, start out well with masses of investment, low consumer consumption and all that. A real Puritan dream. For a few years the economy booms. Even the CIA admitted Soviet GDP figures were real horrorshow in the 50s.

But then?

The tight political stability which let them grow starts choking off the new ideas you need to move to the next stage. Old party cronies take over. The result is a real misallocation of capital and investment. Look at the Evergrande affair, says George.

But China was growing twice as fast as the US between 1900 and 2020, right?

Key word is was. There are signs that the US is pulling away again. That means real problems for Mr Xi as he tries to divide up the cake. But don’t take our word for it. Have a look at George’s piece in the Guardian here. [1] He’s got a fact-packed website of his own here [2] And, if you’ve really nothing to do over the holiday he’s even written a book which we reference here [3]

But it could happen, right? After all Manchester City overtook Manchester United, didn’t they?

Powerful metaphor. But the key point is wait and see. And never take anything for granted.

[1]ttps://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/dec/28/from-economic-miracle-to-mirage-will-chinas-gdp-ever-overtake-the-us

[2] https://georgemagnus.com/

[3] Magnus, G Red Flags: Why Xi’s China is in Jeopardy Yale University Press 2018

#Peoples Republic of China #United States of America #Geopolitics #Economics #world trade

Is the Nation State fit for purpose any longer?

As we write, the economies of advanced countries are once again prostrated by another variant of Covid-19. It could have been avoided. If they had spread every vaccine they had around poorer countries, the virus would never have mutated into the omicron form. And we would have been well on the way to saying goodbye to the pandemic forever.

But why should Britain, for example, give up all its doses if it cannot be sure that others would not? For that would leave Britain at immediate disadvantage. Even if all these competing jurisdictions had got their acts together, it would have been far too late, as the virus was already mutating. Yet, clearly, no nation has benefitted from serving only its local interest.

All of the world’s other important problems, such as antibiotic resistance, climate change, inequality and misinformation require global solutions. it is true that the nation state has, up to now, been the best available model for organising groups of people. Yet History shows that nation states are subjective, and do better when they pool resources. Would the people of Mercia have done so well if they had not joined with Wessex and Northumbria to form England? Did not the 13 colonies of revolutionary America quickly pool their sovereignty into a single nation? Perhaps the best example is China, where the Q’in Dynasty managed to finally merge the warring states into the longest lasting and most successful nation in the world?

We at LSS are always suspicious of simple solutions. We agree with Edmund Burke that change must be considered very carefully indeed before it is considered. And we are aware of the colossal practical difficulties in reconciling the jealousies of the elites in each country, and the superstitions of their followers. But computers replaced adding machines, and even washing with soap was eventually taken up by most people, most of the time. It would be a shame if we did not start to think about what a World Government might entail, and the blessings which it could bring.

#covid-19 #pandemic #antibiotic resistance #climate change #inequality #world government

Solar power shows the danger of simplistic solutions

South of energy-hungry Europe is a vast hot empty desert. Stretching across the deserts of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya is a belt of unused land whose abundant sunshine could power the whole of Europe and much of the Middle East. What better and easier idea than to cover the lot in cheap solar panels, and end our dependence on fossil fuel forever?

Except it isn’t that simple, as a remarkable piece of research by Zhengyao Lu and Benjamin Smith makes abundantly clear in their excellent write-up for The Conversation[1]. The devil, as always, is in the detail. Solar panels, at least in their current form, only absorb 15% of irradiation. The rest gets transmitted into the ground as heat. As the authors make clear, covering anything between 20% and 50% of the Sahara would release vast amounts of uncontrolled heat energy into the environment. It will massively affect wind patterns, leading to droughts in areas like the Amazon, assuming Bolsonaro and has chums have left any. It could even add to overall global warming. How’s that for the law of unintended consequences?

To write small, the solution is to integrate certain amounts of Saharan solar power into larger, diverse systems including nuclear, tidal and wind energy. But to write big: the solution is to always, always beware of simple solutions. Of slogans whose consequences have never been thought out or through. Of quick fixes to sudden surging anxieties, particularly in the elderly and those sodden in drink.

Of course the world has got itself onto a terrible path with fossil fuels. And there are many other problems too, like the lack of antibiotics. But this time-let’s think carefully and come up with solutions that work. Long term. Well, it’s something different for a new year.

We thank Mr Peter Seymour of Hertfordshire for this story

[1] https://theconversation.com/solar-panels-in-sahara-could-boost-renewable-energy-but-damage-the-global-climate-heres-why-153992

##global warming #renewable energy #bolsonaro #solar power #sahara #climate change

Something strange is stirring in the world of Palladium

In 1989 Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischman stuck a rod of palladium in some water. Weirdly, it began to get hot and give off things like tritium, or so they said. For a brief ecstatic period the world seemed to stand on the edge of a new era of cheap abundant energy called cold fusion. Until no one else seemed to be able to repeat the results, and cold fusion and all its works were relegated to obloquy. [1]

Except it has never quite gone away. Almost like an underground heresy, it still has its little groups of adherents beavering away in obscurity, although sometimes backed by some significant patrons like defense departments and Google[2]. So what?

Well, we couldn’t help noticing that Russian mining giant Nornickel [3] has been running ads in prestige outlets like New Scientist offering money for anyone who can do something clever with palladium. There are to be big prizes from$200,000 downwards, all to be given away at a super slap up in New York next September. Good luck with that Nornickel-anything to encourage learning and scholarship, and so get people out of the pubs.

Yet we can’t help wondering. Palladium is a humble, everyday sort of metal with dozens of mundane uses from catalytic converters to dentistry and jewellery. So why the sudden spurt of awards, mass advertising campaigns and a dragnet for some of the cleverest people on the planet? Has someone, somewhere got Something Else Big in mind? If so, you saw it here first, gentle readers.

[1] Brooks, Michael: 13 Things that Don’t Make Sense Doubleday 2009 ISBN 0307278816

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_fusion

[3]https://www.nornickel.com/company/about/#about-2

#cold fusion #nuclear fusion #nornickel #palladium

Thank you for 2021

A big thank you to all our readers, contributors and ideas-people at the end of another long year. The blog is read in so many different countries, and we are deeply humbled that so many seem to like our eclectic mix of science, economics and diverse other topics which so many of you have been kind to suggest.

So a Happy Christmas and New Year to all of you, of any faith or none. Please eat and drink responsibly and we look forward to serving as a clearing-house of your ideas next year