Saturday, July 13, 2024

Just Spain Pictures

The world's largest wooden structure

Toledo Spain is nicer than Toledo Ohio. (Bench Plaza Espana, Sevilla.)

Sevilla Alcazar, which we got to visit with thousands of our closest friends.  
(But the pictures came out nice.)


We really liked Cordoba - much more than Sevilla.
The Mezquita (above and below) was a huge mosque. After the Xtians took it back, they built a cathedral in the middle of it. Very cool! (And not overrun with tourists.)

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Noah Smith: Lifting humanity out of poverty is Job #1.

Mezquita in Córdoba, Spain
(Not related to post)

Somewhat related to "There are enough people," Noah Smith explains "The elemental foe." (A portion relevant because a friend's life was quite possibly just saved by antibiotics.) Excerpts:

I remember a particular scene out of a book that terrified me when I was seven years old. During an argument, some minor character talks about having been to Calcutta and having witnessed the desperate poverty there. He describes seeing beggars on the street, starving, covered in sores. That mental image stuck in my mind for weeks. Even as a child, having never myself known absolute poverty, I had an elemental terror of it. [I wonder if this book is A Fine Balance, a book that horrified me. -ed]

look at animal existence in the wild places of the world — a constant desperate struggle for survival, where populations are kept in equilibrium only by starvation and predation. That is the natural state of most life. Then look at how humans lived for the vast majority of our history — indigent subsistence farmers forever skating on the rim of famine. That is the natural state of preindustrial humanity.

When we spin fantasies of our collective past, we write about kings and princesses, because they’re the only ones who lived lives we could even remotely relate to today. Even then, the comparison is only approximate — the mightiest emperor of yesteryear had plenty to eat, but lacked antibiotics, vaccines, flush toilets, or air conditioning.


In the developed societies almost all of us manage to stay a few steps out of reach of that monster for our entire lives, and this fact is the wonder of the world. The artifice we have built to keep it at bay — vast farms blanketing whole continents and tended by fantastic machines, sprawling landscapes of ersatz caves to keep us sheltered from the elements, endless roads and rails, an empire of warehouses and supermarkets and pharmacies and just-in-time logistics — is the only meaningful thing that has ever been built within the orbit of our sun in billions of years.

It is industrial modernity — our single weapon against the elemental foe. It took centuries of blood and sweat to build, centuries of sacrifice by our sturdiest workers, our most brilliant inventors, and our most visionary leaders. And it is fantastically complex, far beyond the ability of even the most brilliant individual to understand in full; only collectively, at the level of society, do we shore up its fragile walls and keep it from collapse every day.

When smug intellectuals sneer at “economic growth” or “GDP”, they are denouncing the very walls of the fortress that has allowed them to live more than an animal existence. Safe within its sheltering bastions, they are free to indulge in the extravagance of pretending that the foe isn’t lurking right outside. They revel in the luxury of their material security by staging mock revolutions over differences in social status and relative wealth among the elite. With their bellies full of industrially grown sugars, they wander through pleasant fantasies of an imagined past — pastel-colored worlds filled with noble savages, happy indolent peasants, and glossy 1950s advertisements. Sometimes they imagine they could move to one of those fantasy worlds.

As shallow as all that sounds, it’s precisely to allow the luxury of shallowness that humanity struggled so long and hard. Yet we can never afford for luxury to become complacency, because the foe has not been defeated.


As you read these words, there are still billions of humans living outside the sheltering walls of industrial modernity — still grappling hand to hand with the foe. Less than half of humanity lives on more than $10 a day. Almost two billion live on less than $3.65. Two billion lack access to safely managed drinking water. Every day, 190 million people go hungry in India alone.

No redistribution of resources from Europe and America to India and Africa will fix this. The wealth of the world is not a fixed lump of treasure to be plundered; that is simply another daydream. Our true wealth is not gold and paintings lying in vaults in rich men’s mansions; it is the system of industrial production and logistics that is built and rebuilt and maintained every day by billions of human hands. Foreign aid is helpful, but it cannot substitute for economic development. Industrial modernity must be built out where it does not already exist.


It is our highest task to push that foe ever backward, to build out the fortress of industrial modernity, to reclaim the Earth for the safety and comfort of beings that think and feel.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

PS re: Taste & Chicken & "Do No Harm"

Follow-up to yesterday:

Lewis Bollard of Open Philanthropy recently noted that plant-based chicken nuggets beat animal-based ones in a taste test (Column C; the top bar is the plant-based option). The plant-based tenders were very close.

But as I mentioned in yesterday's post, people don't seem to even try plant-based chicken when it is right in front of them and free. 

Combine that with the fact that One Step's "Please don't eat chickens" has as much impact on red meat consumption as chicken

Considering all this, I believe more strongly than ever that we should only ever discuss the horrors of chickens being factory-farmed. Everything else drives a net move from red meat to chicken.

Monday, July 8, 2024

Taste, Price, Convenience, Chicken

Tim Story: In This Small Spot 

#TeamChicken (look closely)

As I've written ad nauseam, most everything we* do as advocates increases the number of animals being factory-farmed

Watching the relentless increase for the past decades ...

...made supply-side advocacy more attractive. It was 2006 when I first started arguing that we should just give people what they want but plant-based. Make it easy for people to make a better choice - match the taste, price, and convenience of animal meat - and people will stop making "bad" choices. 

And in the past decade or so, more people and companies have adopted this view. (Impossible Foods founded in 2011; Beyond Meat in 2009, going public in 2019.)

Yet in terms of animals suffering, there is zero evidence of any impact of this work, either.

In the past few months, I spent many hours on different occasions in an airport lounge in Los Angeles. The food was free (can't beat the price). Plant-based was right next to the animal chicken (perfect convenience).  

Yet watching the buffet, not a single person even tried the plant-based chicken.

This is just an anecdote, of course, although it is supported by the statistics. More, from the Wall Street Journal Food Forum:

The McDonald's president was asked when we'll see more plant-based options at McDonald's. He responded by saying that no one wanted the McPlant, their customers don't want plant proteins from McDonald's, the consumer wants more chicken, and they now sell more chicken than beef at McDonald's.

I don't say this to be a downer. But if we want to have any chance of actually reducing suffering, I do think we need to start by being honest.  

And we need to explicitly give people reasons specifically not eat chicken.

* In the United States. However, as documented at the end of 2022, even meat reduction in Germany led to more animals being factory-farmed. The very latest data indicates this might be turning around. Even with the most optimistic projections, it will be a while before the number of animals killed per capita returns to where it was ten years ago.  

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Weekend Q&A with Matthew Yglesias (warning: politics)

From here

Is your main worry about a second Trump term his personality? Near as I can tell, MY seems to have come around to some more traditional GOP ideas: a stricter immigration system with deportations fully on the table, a more stringent justice system generally, and a quicker approach to the break with the entitlement state that is going to happen anyhow?

I have significant concerns about Trump’s personality, but setting that all aside, I think that Donald Trump’s stated policy ideas are terrible, as evidenced by the fact that Tim G is not even stating them correctly.

  1. I am glad that the Biden administration is moving to crack down on asylum abuses, but I support an increase in legal immigration, while Trump wants to cut legal immigration.
  2. I support deficit reduction (almost certainly including entitlement reform), while Trump supports a massive increase in the budget deficit.
  3. I care a lot about the interests of poor Americans, while Trump wants to raise their taxes.
  4. To me, the intersection between points (2) and (3) is really hideously evil — it’s one thing to promote some economic sacrifice of poor people’s interests in pursuit of fiscal prudence, but to raise taxes on poor people while snatching away poor people’s social safety net while also increasing the budget deficit is so cartoonish that I’ve never met a Trump supporter who can articulate why it’s a good idea.

Broadly speaking, I would say that rather than having “come around to some more traditional GOP ideas,” I’ve just stuck with what I think of as traditional Democratic Party ideas. If my ideal point is roughly the Obama 2012 platform, then I think Biden 2024 is a bit to the left of that, while Trump 2024 is way to the right.

That said, I do also think that there is a rich guy demographic that likes the idea of making the poor suffer for their personal financial benefit and which is therefore unimpressed by this case for Biden. Those people, I think, are making an error by neglecting the downside risk to their interests of electing someone who might succeed in turning the whole federal government into a shakedown/extortion racket and gut the rule of law that’s been the foundation of American prosperity. Even there, though, I wouldn’t call this a question of Trump’s “personality.” In his stated political views, he frequently expresses admiration for various foreign thugs and strongmen. I think he has a considered zero-sum worldview in which he wants to be the top dog, and I think that’s bad.

There hasn't been a year where GDP has grown more than the deficit since 2007! 17 years, 3 presidents and no end in sight. You're recommendation in the past was to use deficit spending to boost the economy. This was done under Trump and now Biden. What is your recommendation now on how we move past the point of needing stimulus to generate positive economic growth?

This isn’t true. The deficit shrank as a share of GDP in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2021, and 2022. It’s true that I advocated deficit spending to boost the economy when unemployment was high and inflation and interest rates were low. Now the situation is reversed, and we need deficit reduction, as I’ve been saying repeatedly. In terms of plausible political mechanisms, a bipartisan fiscal commission is probably the best path forward, though I wrote my personal favorite ideas here.

I will just repeat, though, that not only did the deficit grow faster than the economy during every year of Donald Trump’s presidency, he is running on proposals that would cause the deficit to explode. Biden’s deficit reduction proposals are not entirely aligned with my preferences, but his budget submissions do reduce the deficit. 

Friday, July 5, 2024

Weekend Travel Tips from Dynomight

Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain

Also in Cordoba, same day

View from the porch at our Cordoba Airbnb

Obvious travel advice, excerpts:

  1. Who you go with matters more than where you go.

  2. Cultures vary in lots of arbitrary ways—how loud to talk, how (or if) to wait in line [edit: in Spain, they don't give a darn about lines, boarding groups, entrance time, etc.], how close to stand to other people, how to [eat]... It’s good to be aware of these both as a producer of behavior (not offending others) and a consumer of behavior (not being offended when you’re not “supposed” to be).

  3. You can wash clothes in the sink. I think basically everyone does this but doesn’t talk about it? [We had laundry in or near our lodging on our last trip, allowing us to live out of carry-ons for weeks.]

  4. When looking at reviews, consider (1) sorting by new, (2) looking at the pictures (I told you this would obvious), (3) possibly—umm—possibly taking the ethnicity of reviewers into account, and (4) if one reviewer is really swaying you, checking out their history to calibrate for how effusive they tend to be.
    Despite being only 0.3% of the world’s population, Australians seem to make up 10% of overseas visitors everywhere on the planet. [This was definitely true of our latest trip, OMG!]

  5. If you like isolated beaches or hikes, get up early. [+1!] In touristy places there are often nature things (hikes, beaches, views) that make it into guidebooks and become insanely crowded while there are almost equivalent things nearby that are nearly empty.

  6. The human, after drinking liquids, must pee. So if you’re about to go somewhere where peeing is impossible, maybe don’t drink a lot of liquids. [Oh boy do I have a story about that from Spain....]

  7. Time seems to speed up as you get older. And you wonder—is it biological, or is it because life had more novelty when you were a child? Travel partly answers this question—with more novelty, time slows way down again. [This was my seventh European trip, and the time dilation was the most intense of all. After two days, it felt like we had been gone for weeks; after a week, it felt like over a month. We both experienced this and commented on it regularly on the trip.]

  8. My favorite part of travel is the perspective it gives on “regular” life.

  9. Don’t confuse scarcity with value. A really good afternoon in the park (a really good one) is maybe about as good as it gets. [Sometimes!]

Sunday, June 30, 2024

This isn't about Biden

Two words for you: 

Access Hollywood

How is anything that happens in 90 minutes in June remotely comparable to "Grab 'em by the ..." on a constant loop in October?

Then, for all of us to see, Tangerine Palpatine incited an attempted coup, a rebellion against the United States government. An insurrectionist mob that killed cops.

None of this is about Biden, his voice, his energy, his age. [More specifics from Andrew Tobias.]

This is 100% about us

Decency loses because too many on the left care more about being self-righteous than winning and actually making the world better. We spend our limited time and resources whining about things we can't influence instead of working to change what we can.

The other side does the opposite. 

I would bet that more people know about Biden's debate performance than know that Mr. "Grab 'em by the..." was found to have raped E. Jean Carroll. 

This is because so many people who supposedly oppose Republican policies will go out of their way to amplify anything against Democrats. 

The other side does the opposite.

Don't curse the ground. Get back up. Move ahead. Your personal opinion and posts and emails about what Biden should do are irrelevant... 

...except in so far as they take time and resources away from knocking doors, stuffing envelopes, putting up campaign signs, and sharing positive stories.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Skip (Personal) - Green Day Makes a Life

Made my day:

How often do you get to see someone experience the greatest moment of their life?  

Billie Joe (lead singer and guitarist for the trio) brings up a fan, gives him his guitar, and sings a song together before a massive crowd in Glasgow. And boy oh boy is the kid into it - when was the last time you smiled like that?

BTW, Green Day's latest album, Saviors, has grown on me (much as a workout soundtrack). On first listen, I thought it was older guys trying to prove they could still rock. Power chords and yelling! But songs like Bobbie Sox - modulated but still rocking in parts - are really good. Suzie Chapstick is a lovely, sad song, and Father to a Son - quite moving, IMO.

Saviors is no American Idiot or 21st Century Breakdown, but still good.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Rerun: An Honest Discussion re: Humanity

Follow-up to Monday's post, from 2022: 

It can seem like only people on the Right are intolerant and close-minded. But sometimes, I come across something on the Left that makes me sad rather than angry.

On Thanksgiving, I came across a tweet about an article about the Voluntary Human Extinction movement. Now don't take my word for what the article says, go read it yourself. It isn't long.

This article features Les, a guy who seems to have absolutely no ill will for anyone alive today. Les is cheerful and generous. He is kind and helpful. He hosts parties. Everything Les advocates is voluntary. His idea follows directly from facts that anyone is free to discuss and debate.

The person who tweeted about this article -- a very intelligent and dedicated altruist -- said "Can't get over how pernicious this kind of misanthropic propaganda is." 

Think about that for a second. 

Ignore the "propaganda" slander. Just focus on "misanthropic," which Google defines as "disliking humankind and avoiding human society." 

That obviously does not describe Les. 

Stupidly (but, in my defense ... OK, it is Twitter, my bad) I tried to engage. (Yeah, I know. But these are supposed to be my people [2022]. I really admire[d] the original tweeter.)

I noted that it is possible to both 1. like people and 2. think the world would, on the whole, be better off if no one were to have any more children. That is not the same as hating humanity. 

My comment did not go over well. 

One person replied that Les clearly hated people because future people "are humans too." I noted that future people are ideas, not humans. For example, every child I failed to sire was not a murder on my part. Every child Anne didn't bear was not because of misanthropy. It is not a tragedy that I don't have grandchildren. 

Theoretical, non-existent people are just that -- non-existent. Les isn't saying that anyone should be tortured or exploited or killed. He's saying those who don't exist should simply remain non-existent, exactly like my and Anne's many other children are non-existent.

Another Twitter commenter accused Les (and me) of advocating "genocide."


Godwin's Law for the win.

Condoms and the Pill = Auschwitz and Buchenwald.


At no point in the Twitter exchange did I say that Les was correct or that I believed it would be better if humans went extinct. [It is worth considering.] I just noted that he was expressing an entirely reasonable thought. His opinion hurts no one, and yet he is slandered as slinging pernicious misanthropic propaganda, hating humans, and being the next Hitler.

That just made me sad.

It truly makes me wonder where, if anywhere, there might be good-faith exchanges of ideas and open discussion of important topics.

I will note:

1. Unlike Les, misanthropes are not concerned with making the world a better place. Misanthropes are the ones plotting mass shootings and studying advanced viral engineering, not hosting nude croquet matches.

2. You can love humans and embrace and advance the view that every child deserves a minimum threshold of well-being. It is something I discuss in Losing My Religions and is promoted by The Fair Start Movement.

3. It seems utterly beyond debate that humans have made the world hell for hundreds of billions of non-human animals. That's not me passing judgment. As Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer noted, “In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.”

Maybe you disagree! Maybe you (like some EAs) believe non-human animals don't matter morally. Maybe you think humans do so much good elsewhere that it offsets the world's factory farms. You can make those arguments.

But what does it say that you won't make those arguments? That you simply shout down and vilify anyone who differs?

Please stop with the name-calling and accusations of genocide. It isn't a winning or logical argument. To anyone who is not a True Believer, it just sounds desperate. And sad. It makes us all worse. And makes the world a worse place. Unlike Les.

Monday, June 24, 2024

There are enough people

I recently came across yet another doom-and-gloom article about declining birth rates, this time from a "liberal" at Vox who has three kids and plans to have three more.

Now I understand everyone wants their views to be "right" and popular. But arguing that it is bad that there aren't more people is simply bonkers

Since the end date here, global population has increased to more than 8.1 billion. Where is the emergency? 

As I discuss in both "Fight the Power" chapters of Losing My Religions, I think that our genes, families, and society "conspire" [sic] to pressure us to have children. This is not to say that no one should reproduce, but simply that we should question whether reproducing would make our life better and also provide a good existence for another person.

But on the macro level - there are enough people. When I hear people talk about declining birth rates, I can't help but hear "not enough white babies are being born." (Or Japanese, or Korean.) 

Despite a lot of progress, many hundreds of millions of people live in terrible poverty right now. Instead of trying to convince educated yuppies to have more babies, we should create policies that help people who already exist - through greater immigration and / or aid + trade.

(I get the political obstacles of trying to help non-white non-Americans. But working in this difficult area seems much much better than complaining about car seats.)

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Early Monsoon, 2024

Monsoon (summer rains) usually don't start until July, but we had our first big rain on Solstice, June 20. [Edit: Saturday, June 22, we got 2.21" of rain! Most ever in one day since we moved here in 2007. For context, the entire summer monsoon in 2020 had 1.6" of rain total.] 

Here are sunset pictures, each all taken within a minute (facing East, South, and then West):

Friday, June 21, 2024

Weekend Read: Discussion re: Effective Altruism and Progress Studies

Toledo. Spain, not my hometown. And ducks!

The EA-Progress Studies War is Here, and It’s a Constructive Dialogue! 

I used to care about all this more, before writing Losing finished my transition to anti-utilitarian. But I still thought this was an interesting and informative exchange.

This might be my favorite quote:

I don’t think there’s a natural, sequential progression from Singer to Oxford, then out to California, culminating in longtermist concerns about human extinction. Rather, I think these were all separate strains present in the movement from the beginning. Will MacAskill and Toby Ord at Oxford were developing Giving What We Can, which was then just focused on global poverty, at around the same time that Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld were figuring out that GiveWell should focus on global poverty charities (instead of, say, public schools in New York City), and Eliezer Yudkowsky was debating Robin Hanson on the likelihood that superintelligent AI would lead to human extinction [and thus we should literally bomb data centers! -ed]. (This is roughly 2007-2009). For various historical, contingent reasons these groups of people have done a lot of work together, and of course they’ve influenced each other, but even today, they haven’t fully merged. 

This sounds like a nitpick, but I think it matters, because while EA can look very unified from the outside, in my experience it’s really a lot of different priorities and worldviews that share a belief that "doing good" is something we can quantify and should be cause-agnostic about. 

Also good:

I think EAs should pay careful attention to how all these issues are playing out — not only in excruciatingly detailed blog posts, but in the actual arena of politics. Otherwise they risk becoming, in practice and in effect, neo-Luddites, even if in theory and in their hearts they are temporarily embarrassed techno-optimists.

Monday, June 17, 2024

One Question Pop Quiz

When was this written?

Veganism is skyrocketing across the US and shows no signs of stopping any time soon.  

A. 1990, shortly after I went vegan

C. 2005, when I was inducted into the "Animal Rights Hall of Fame" [sic]

D. 2014, when One Step for Animals was founded

E. 2024, with per-capital consumption of animals at an all-time high

Answer below the picture.

Italian wine with chicken on the label!

It is a trick question! 

That "skyrocketing" line (or something like it) has been written at least every year since I went vegan. This particular version was written this year, along with the contention that it is "probable" the US will go vegan. So don't worry - everything is going according to plan.