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Kerim's Triptych for Sunday, June 16th, 2024

Kerim's Triptych for Sunday, June 16th, 2024
Photo by brother-in-law of Tithi Bhattacharya in Delhi

Welcome 👋 to Kerim's Triptych, a free newsletter that delivers three fabulous links to your inbox, two or three times a month. (If you didn't intend to subscribe, or you don't want to receive these anymore, there is an unsubscribe link at the bottom.)

Announcement 📣: After one year, I’ve decided to slightly tweak the schedule in order to give myself more flexibility. Previously, the newsletter was sent “just three times a month,” but now it says “two or three times a month.” This change allows me to skip a week if I need to, ensuring that you receive only the very best links. I also hope that it will allow me to do a better job of pairing articles together by theme. And, most importantly, it ensures that that this newsletter remains fun for me—not an additional source of stress in my life.

1️⃣ Antimarket

This past week, Tithi Bhattacharya shared this picture on Facebook from her brother-in-law in Delhi. It’s a picture of his thermostat. 56°C is 132.8°F. What I draw from this is that large sections of this planet won't be livable for much longer. Part of the problem is that we are still largely relying on "the market" to fix the problem when what is needed now is radical government intervention. William Davies discusses this problem in his London Review of Books review of The Price is Wrong: Why Capitalism Won't Save The Planet by Brett Christophers.

One thing that really struck me is that it isn't enough to just have government subsidies, or to make renewables "profitable" because the return on investment (ROI) is lower on renewables than it is on traditional energy sources. There is also greater risk with newer technologies.

The problem, from the perspective of investors, is ‘bankability’. Investors want as much certainty as possible regarding future returns on their investments, or else they require a hefty premium for accepting additional uncertainty.

Accordingly, the book advocates government policies that are less focused on bring down costs for consumers and more focused on ensuring profits for investors. This just depresses me. But Davies argues that what we need now is a solution that is at a sufficient scale to address the problem, wherever that solution might come from:

Waiting for solutions to emerge in a bottom-up fashion, whether from activists or from markets, is not sufficient. Only the state has the power, the money and the coordinating capacity to direct capital investment at sufficient scale and speed towards the renewables sector. In practice, the distinction between a ‘de-risking’ state (which tops up private sector profits) and a Green New Deal (which builds new public infrastructure) may be less clear-cut than it appears on paper. The priority, as it has been now for decades, is to go as big and as soon as possible.

2️⃣ The Moral Economy of the Shire

Nathan Goldwag read James Scott's The Moral Economy of the Peasant in college and, in this banger of a blog post, applies its lessons to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Here are a couple of the questions he answers in his post:

How can Hobbits have so much leisure time?

The implication in both books and movies is that most Hobbits spent their time either farming or enjoying leisure time, but this makes little sense, when one considers what we know about premodern agriculture and what little of life and culture in the Shire. . . The Shire has a well-developed economy, with mills, full-time craftsmen, inns, and the large-scale cultivation of luxury crops, despite having almost no foreign trade . . . or industry.
There’s actually a very obvious answer, which is that our protagonists aren’t typical Hobbits. Bilbo, Frodo, Merry, and Pippin are all very clearly members of the landed gentry, the landowning class that controls most means of economic production and maintains social dominance over the Shire.

What is the role of gift giving?

We’re told repeatedly that gift-giving and hosting feasts are two of the primary preoccupations of Hobbits. To modern ears, this may come across as utopian, or idyllic, but these sorts of status displays were a key part of many economic and social systems.
The Shire clearly has a monetary economy, but gift-giving remains important. The entire first chapter of Lord of the Rings is devoted to Bilbo’s 111st birthday party, which is a huge event that attracts intense attention from across Hobbit society, and involves massive displays of largess, solidifying the Baggins’ social position, and cementing ties with neighboring families and rival clans. Or at least, it would have been, if Bilbo hadn’t had an ulterior motive.

There is more as well, such as the changes that take place over the course of the novel, but I'll leave it there for now.

3️⃣ Painting With Particulates

The above picture is by Robin Price and it makes visible the pollution at IIT Nursery Playground, in New Delhi. At the time this picture was taken the level of PM 2.5 matter was 500–600 micrograms per cubic meter.

Light painting is a technique used in both art and science that involves taking long-exposure photographs while moving some kind of light source—a small flashlight, perhaps, or candles or glowsticks—to essentially trace an image with light. A UK collaboration of scientists and artists has combined light painting with low-cost air pollution sensors to visualize concentrations of particulate matter (PM) in select locations in India, Ethiopia, and Wales.


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