The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Quick Takes: American Can’t Build Ships; Plants Feel Pain & More

As long as I’ve been blogging, I’ve made notes of articles I wanted to write about at some point, and then, mostly, I haven’t written about them, generally because they don’t support a full article.

When I was the managing editor at the Agonist I’d put up a quick takes post fairly often, and use those links. The difference from Tony’s excellent roundups, is that every link gets some commentary.

I’m going to start doing “Quick Takes” here, and if people like them I’ll continue.


One of the signs of America’s decline is that it can’t make warships anymore. The Chinese produce better ships at one-third the price and are producing more than the Americans. American allies in Japan and South Korea produce slightly better ships than the Chinese at reasonable prices and have the ability to churn them out in numbers, so the suggested solution is to get them to build the ships.

This is similar to the F-35, which came in way over budget, is ludicrously expensive and while it might be the best jet in the world, certainly isn’t worth the price.

Everything in the US is too expensive. America is a rentier society: the idea is to make money without really doing anything; without making anything. That means high costs for things like housing, food, medicine and so on, which means high wages and high costs for most things made American. To bring production back to America means ending that, and it also means breaking up monopolies and oligopolies. When Clinton forced defense contractors to merge in the name of efficiency he destroyed their actual engineering cultures.

Late Imperial corruption, degeneration and decline.

Most people never really come to grips with the metaphysical horror of life on earth. We now know that trees are likely conscious and it turns out that most plants probably are conscious and can feel pain. So going vegan isn’t a solution to the problem of causing suffering just by eating to stay alive. Just as there are ethical concerns about how we produce meat, there should be ethical concerns about how we treat plants and all the trees we chop down. One issue, other than the whole pain thing, is that modern monocrops lose the ability to communicate with each other, which they normally do to say things like “hey, insects are eating me, better manufacture some poisons to keep them away.”

That means needing more insecticides (terrible for us), but hey, we could also be subjecting plants to the equivalent of solitary confinement.


China had planned to build a bunch of floating nuclear reactors in the South China Sea, but has decided not to. Why? Well, a few reasons but the primary one seems to be someone (the US) blowing up the Nord Stream pipelines. That got the Chinese thinking what Americans would do to their offshore nuclear reactors, not even necessarily in the case of war, but in the case of not-quite-war. (After all, at least in theory, the US and Russia are not at war.)

Offshore reactors make a lot of sense, because there’s plenty of water to keep them cooled, and they are part of a solution to climate change, but hey, America has the right to blow anything up, anywhere.

One key thing to remember about the 1920s is that the US was the world’s most important economy, and among major economies, the best performing. The Great Depression started in the US because it was the world’s lynchpin economy: it was the driver keeping consumer prices down, the primary manufacturing economy and so on. When it ditched, no one else could pick up the slack.

Which is why I keep a wary eye on China, whose economy now serves the same purpose. Yes, I know Americans like to pretend that America is world’s most important economy, but it isn’t and hasn’t been for at least a decade. It’s China that kept inflation under control for decades (with a solid wage crushing assist from Western central banks) and it’s China that is (as regular readers are tired of me saying) the primary manufacturing center. It’s even China who produces the most patents, and it isn’t close.

So China’s the one to watch, and that’s why I keep a weather eye on stories like China’s manufacturing activity contracting May. One month doesn’t matter, but people who get all happy when China stumbles don’t seem to get that it’s the one everyone else has their arm slung around so they can walk.


That will do for now. Quick takes will return.

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Wagner Mercenary Company Chief Prigozhin Has Gone Over The Line


Quick Takes 2: The End Of Wild Fish Approaches, Decline Of The Dollar, And More


  1. Kevin

    Absolutely would love more quick takes like this

  2. DMC

    There’s so much happening in the world that bite size intros like this are really invaluable. More like this please.

  3. mago

    Yes. Quick takes are good.
    About plants: I think they have a certain kind of consciousness without sentience in terms of an ego and self awareness. They don’t dream for example, while animals and humans do.

    However, they do communicate in some way and are responsive to each other and those around them both human and animal.

    There’s a pine tree partially obstructing my window view overlooking vast space, and it would be easy enough to cut the obtrusive limbs that grow longer every season, but I can’t bring myself to disturb and harm the situation.

    I could go on. Just my observational take a plant matters.

  4. different clue

    Some wag once said . . . ” The F-35 is the Swiss Navy Knife of combat aircraft.”

    If enough other wags decide to say it too, then it may enter the language. If they don’t , then it won’t.

  5. different clue

    The item on plants reminded me of an image and a tiny video-clip I saw once. I can’t find either one. I can only describe them and hope other people here remember them and so can get the point I will use them to point to.

    One was a Hare Krishna resing sculpture from back when the Hare Krishnas did outreach on various college campuses and stuff. The sculpture was of a cow-headed man about to chop the head off a man-headed cow with a big sharp fireman’s ax. And I thought of redoing that sculpture to be a sculpture of a cabbage-headed man about to chop the head off a man-headed cabbage plant with that same fireman’s ax.

    The other was of the start of a classic Star Trek episode. Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy encounter some very strange seemingly alive phenomenon on the Lost Planet of the day. ” Is it . . . life, Bones?” ” It’s life, Jim. But not as we know it!” (dramatic music) . . .

    So imagine Kirk and the Doctor looking at a plant. ” Is it . . . sentience, Bones?”
    ” It’s sentience, Jim. But not as we know it!”

    The plants were here first. We , the animals, are the aliens here on this Planet of the Plants. They have learned how to exploit our presence. If our presence has now become unbearable to them, will various ” plant spirits” be among the “Purifiers” who carry out a cleansing referred to by some as the “Purification” and by others as ” Fourty Years of Vengeance”? ( Not that I believe in such things. I! am a Rational Blockhead in the Western Tradition).

  6. Cael

    These are great. Love the format and look forward to reading more.

  7. Soredemos

    For the article about warships, the stuff about costs is fair enough. But no one can make any firm judgements about the qualities of these vessels in comparison to each other until they actually fight. Saying ‘this ship has more firepower’ is a meaningless statement. All modern ships have enough firepower to sink any other warship with a single missile. This isn’t the age of armor and shells. It’s all the other systems involved in actually landing a missile on target, or preventing the same, that matter.

    Also the F-35 is garbage. If and when there’s an open confrontation between the US and a peer enemy, the F-35 is going to die in droves as Russian and Chinese AA sees right through its ‘stealth’. Assuming any of the hanger queens can even get into the air to be shot down in the first place, of course.

    For plants, don’t anthropomorphize. In fact, there’s an arrogance to doing so. Plants are a very different branch of the evolutionary tree. It’s interesting that they seem to have certain traits reminiscent of humans and animals, but there’s literally zero reason to think they’re conscious, at least not in any way similar to humans. I for one will happily continue my yard work without worrying about inflicting pain on weeds. A plant is, in fact, not a person.

  8. Purple Library Guy

    The ships thing is, well, yet another symptom all right. F-35s meanwhile are from many things I have read not good planes at all; there’s this feeling that at that price they must somehow be good, but no, they really don’t seem to be.

    The article about plants doesn’t impress me. The things it advances as evidence of consciousness do not strike me as being anything of the sort. Anesthetics interfere with metabolism. It is interesting that they also interfere with plants’ metabolisms, but that is not evidence that plants are conscious. And what I mean by that is not only that it doesn’t in any way PROVE that plants are conscious, but that it isn’t evidence of it at all–that it does not even point towards such a conclusion. It’s being presented as some kind of gotcha and it’s just not relevant. If anything, it’s a sort of cognitive trick; it’s trying to get us to draw a conclusion based on a sort of familiarity, an association of concepts in our minds that don’t actually have a logical connection. Ironically, it’s drawing on the kind of human-centric thinking that this guy at other times explicitly rejects. I’m sorry, but serious researchers into consciousness think a lot more carefully than that.

    This isn’t to say that I think plants can’t possibly be conscious. I don’t think they are, and I don’t think they do anything in terms of reaction to stimuli that’s more complex than stuff people could breadboard circuits to do back before transistors, but if someone had some really well designed experiments that were able to make a stab at ruling out alternative explanations for the facts, I might be persuaded. This guy isn’t doing that; I don’t think he represents a real contribution to any discussion of the topic.

    Meanwhile, the whole argument about classification seems very muddled and maybe self-contradictory. So first of all, it should be conceded that yes, many people, some of whom are in the sciences, believe that there is a ranking of life forms, with humans at the top. And this view was more prevalent, and certainly more prevalent in the sciences, back in say the 19th century. And OK, I don’t mind someone arguing against that view, although it’s kind of stupid to say it should be turned upside down, which would just substitute one irrational, unfounded valuation for another. But this article makes a much stronger claim: “Coccia argued that our biological classifications are not grounded in science. They are strongly influenced by theology and are dominated by two ideas: the supremacy of the human race and the world as a place humans must bend to their will. And then there is our centuries-old compulsion to categorize everything.” Um, yeah, that’s bullshit. As I say, there are informal attitudes, including attitudes of people in the sciences, that believe in the supremacy of the human race. And well, people root for their own team, go figure. Sentient plants would probably figure THEY were the best. But be that as it may, actual scientific classification has nothing to do with any of that stuff. It’s about figuring out the differences and relationships between things that are different and related. And sure, there’s an impulse in science to categorize things–but I don’t see how that is bad or “unscientific”; if there are a lot of different things, how do you know anything about them if you don’t even know the difference between one thing and a different thing? When indigenous groups know shitloads about the distinctions between all the masses of different creatures and plants in their territory, nobody claims THAT’s somehow a bad thing. But when scientists and “Westerners” do it, it’s suddenly a problem? It’s bullshit. And I’m not even sure what the guy thinks he MEANS when he claims that this is “not scientific”. Like is he claiming that scientific classification systems are unscientific because . . . they classify things? (“compulsion to categorize everything”) And yet, apparently he’s got his own, different categories, but that’s NOT unscientific? I dunno if this guy’s a charlatan or just a really fuzzy thinker, an example of the worst, mystifying aspects of continental philosophy. But whatever, I’m very unimpressed and would not buy a used model of plant consciousness from this man.

    Moving on. Mr. Welsh says, “Offshore reactors make a lot of sense, because there’s plenty of water to keep them cooled, and they are part of a solution to climate change”

    No, they don’t and they aren’t. First, fission reactors as a power source do not make sense in general. They are too damn expensive. And they’re dangerous, and way too expensive, and there’s the waste, and lord they’re so expensive, and they’re extremely slow to deploy which is important right now, and did I mention they’re ridiculously expensive? Most of these problems are compounded by making the blasted things offshore. Offshore things are generally more expensive than onshore things. Meanwhile, an offshore reactor would necessarily be a new design, and new designs for nuclear reactors are always more expensive than old designs, and take even longer to build. I can’t see an offshore reactor being very safe; US sabotage aside, what if there’s a bleedin’ tsunami? Or just a bad climate-change-pumped hurricane? Offshore oil wells are fairly safe–but only FAIRLY safe, not EXTREMELY safe. And the waste has to get transported places by ship, wonderful, what could possibly go wrong? But the big issue is time and money and opportunity costs. Every 30 billion dollars spent on one of these boondoggles is 30 billion not spent on five times as much solar power. And there’s no way one of these things would be built and operational before the mid thirties which, given our climate change timelines, is a little late. It’s a stupid idea and I’m glad they found an excuse to abandon it. I don’t really understand why we’re still messing with a power source whose main reason for existing in the first place was to act as propaganda to get people to be more accepting of nuclear bombs.

  9. someofparts

    I like the short takes too. Look forward to seeing more.

    For some reason, pondering plant sentience makes me flash back to old Zappa lyrics – “Call any vegetable. Call it today. Call any vegetable and the chances are good … that the vegetable will respond to you.”

  10. Curt Kastens

    Because I believe that institutional balances of power are more important that one man one vote in achieving results that are not the worst to expect I too figured that something must be done to prevent China from becoming a new post US hegemone.
    But a solution to preventing China from becoming to powerful must not be seen by the Chinese as anti Chinese.
    My solution was (well technically is but since the world is toast everything is past tense) to create a Japanese- Korean- Russian. Kazak- Ukraine- Belorus economic bloc.
    But to appease Chinese concerns about being cut off from the natural resources of Siberia in favor of the Japanese and Koreans the Chinese would get Alaska in Return, under the condition that Alaska be a military free zone and that the resources moved from Alaska to China would be moved on ships crewed by US personnel.
    Of course this plan that I euphamistically call a soulution does nottuln to address the unsustainable nature of industrial civilization.

  11. Scott Stiefel

    I’ve heard the screams of the vegetables
    Having their skins being peeled

  12. different clue

    I agree with Purple Library Guy about floating nuke plants offshore of China or anywhere else. One need not invoke the specter of American Attack to think about the threat they pose to every part of any body of water they sink in or melt down on. ( Or any accident or spillage from any ship or plane transporting fuel to them or waste from them.) And any of the things that PLG referrenced could make them sink or “go Chernobyl” in place, sending plumes of super-hot corium juice and corium dust into the blue Pacific. Probably every one of the Pacific Ocean governments anywhere near China quietly pointed that out to the ChinaGov and told them that a fleet of floating nuke accidents waiting to happen was no way to make friends and influence people who hope to keep eating fish from the water.

  13. anon y'mouse

    when i used to be a vegetarian, i dated a guy who would regularly say “if you think that carrot would not have ripped itself out of the ground and run away as fast as it could, if it had the means to do so, you’re kidding yourself”.

    granted, he wasn’t attacking my ethical stance.

    as for “consciousness”, we don’t even really know what that is. all our definitions are based around ourselves and our own experiences, so ruling anything in or out as having it is an exercise in human aggrandizement.

    as far as i am concerned (because this is obviously a religious question) all living beings have “it”. of course, the First Nations believed the inanimate earth objects (the rocks and stones, the water, etc) also had “it”.

    who are any of us, really, to argue against these ideas when we can’t even prove -we- have “it”?

  14. Willy

    Consciousness is rooted in a desire to preserve good feelings via the interplay between electrochemical connections in sensing organs and controlling organs. Yet plants sure do look happier when growing conditions improve. And computers still just do however they’ve been programmed to do.

    Which of course brings us to the powerful imbeciles controlling most of the world, who behave as a cross between a programmed computer and a garden vegetable. So maybe there’s more to this “consciousness” of which we speak.

    One good thing about China being economically ascendant, is that it may increase the level of sentience we experience in our semi-sentient citizenry, if not our carrot brained elites. Maybe a mixed economy which successfully keeps personal ambitions disciplined by all kinds of altruism, is the best way forward after all?

  15. different clue

    Plant sentience ( if any ) and plant intelligence ( if any) would be so different from animal sentience ( if any) and animal intelligence ( if any) that it would be difficult for plants or animals to even really know.

    Perhaps we should speak of “plantience” and “plantelligence” to respect the near-impossibility for animals to ever really know or perceive it.

  16. Bobby FK West

    For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time.

    But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.

    -Douglas Adams

    I can’t find it now, but I remember reading about one of the foremost dolphin and whale researchers of the early-mid 1900’s who suddenly up and left his profession. His reason: These animals are operating at an “intelligence” level far superior to anything humans can even begin to understand – at least at our current level of operation.

    He believed all animals should be set free, including of course “his” dolphins who were being detained for “study” in human-designed-and-made aquariums – as opposed to enjoying their natural environment.

  17. Trinity

    We share DNA with every living thing (or used to live) on earth, however small the sequence may be. But maybe not tardigrades, I can’t remember.

    Another problem with seawater and nuclear power plants is that the water must be entirely free of minerals to cool the rods. So, the extra step is still needed to purify the water.

    Not to mention a meltdown would be catastrophic in that environment, given all the ocean currents, wind, and the natural warming/cooling cycles in deep water. For there to be downwelling there has to be upwelling somewhere.

    There is no “downstream” anywhere on earth that doesn’t “come back” in some fashion. It would be nice if Melon Husk would send some of those spent fuel rods right into the Sun. Or even one day’s worth of our waste.

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