Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Olde time surgery

Everyone gets a laugh out of historical tales of ridiculous self surgery, don't they?   From a review of a book that sounds like gory fun:
Arnold van de Laar, the Dutch surgeon, opens this fascinating history of surgery with the tale of a 17th-century blacksmith who had been so sorely disappointed with the botched operations performed by the scalpel-wielders of his day that he took matters into his own hands and cut a 4oz stone from his own bladder while his wife was at the shops.
Today, with decent hygiene, bladder stones are rare, but then they were rife. From a simple urine infection, they would grow like pearls inside oysters, pressing on the sensors that prompt urination while impeding the act. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, would have counselled any doctor against attempting to remove one, as the operation was more likely to kill the patient than the stone itself. But the pain drove sufferers to seek the relief offered by professional "cutters", even though the procedure had a 40pc mortality rate.

It was only after two cutters had failed to remove 30-year-old Jan de Doot's stone that he decided to do it himself. He made a surgical knife in his own forge, then instructed his apprentice to hold his scrotum out of the way as he made three, deep horizontal slits in his own perineum, and extracted a stone larger than a chicken's egg. De Doot succeeded where the experts had failed, and became famous for his extreme DIY.
Um, I assume there was a mirror involved too?  Might have to buy the book to find out...


Oh, please

I also can't stop reading breathless, ecstatic commentary on how Black Panther is going to change everything.  Latest example, in Slate:  What Black Panther could mean for the Afrofuturism Movement. 

Apparently, watching fantasy physics about fantasy materials is going to encourage black kids to get into STEM.    OK, I might have to concede Star Trek might have had an influence on making science education cool, but Marvel level fantasy physics having the same effect?    Can't see it.

And most of the article just reads like fantasy to me.

Hard to avoid watching the car wreck

That's how I feel about reading about the Right wing reaction to the latest mass shooting in America - it pretty much nauseates me as offensive both to reason and emotion, but can't stop looking.   

The latest:   as Jason Wilson writes in the Guardian, they're attacking the very idea that teenagers who survive a school shooting should be paid any attention.   Because, you know, teenagers.   Even Ben Shapiro, barely out of braces himself, is taking that approach.  

The line between emotional and rational decision making is, as it happens, in the matter of gun control, one where the emotional does deserve extra weight.   Because you can rationalise away legislative responses to almost any tragedy if you want to, and gun rights nutters are highly motivated to do so.  The easiest way - routinely deployed - make the perfect  the enemy of the good.    It's a rational argument in its own way - you need emotional clout to say "stop deploying what you think is a 'rational' response to repeated death and mayhem, when there are sensible things that could be done."  

Second point:  Trump's response is only to call again for banning bumpstocks - not even implicated in the latest killing.    At this rate, he'll contemplate increasing the age for buying AR-15s after another 6 mass shootings by teenagers.

Third point:  a lot of discussion happening about how the attitudes of under 35's towards gun control is not as "liberal" as you would expect.    Vox has a good article about it, but one thing I reckon would be important about this - the way polling is conducted on this issue is, I suspect, particularly open to uncertainty, given the speed with which recent shootings drop out of the public mind, and the very vagueness with some of the terminology such as "gun control".    Hence it is an issue where politicians are entitled to take a lead and not just try to work out a response based on imprecise readings of what steps a majority would approve.   But of course, politicians on the Right are the least likely to want to make any effort at all.  

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

American gun paranoia at work

I had heard of this before - the guns rights organisations in the US are paranoid about the idea of the government having an easy to search, computer based system for tracing ownership of guns used in crimes.  The result - a mountain of paper and microfiche records that are searched through (surprisingly, sometimes still successfully.)

This great national embarrassment - borne of simple paranoia that if the government knows who has a gun, they'll come and take it off you - is explained in detail, with photos, here at GQ (of all magazines.)  

Call for assistance

Can someone with time and better photo editing skills than me please convert this using Barnaby Joyce and Malcolm Turnbull's faces?:


I guess it has to be Barnaby on the left.   Julie Bishop is in the background...

OK, well my pathetic, hurried abilities have to go on display again:



King t'Urnbull confronts Killmarriager

 

Just not getting this...

I don't want to go on too much about the chronic over-rating of Black Panther, but I did forget to mention in my review that I didn't even find it visually very interesting.  Hence comments like this one, to be found on Wired, leave me gobsmacked:
Visually, no other Marvel movie has ever come close to Black Panther—the lush Wakandan landscapes, the vibrantly colored costumes, even the wearable tech was beautiful. And that moment where the Royal Talon Fighter dips below the veil and we get an aerial look over the Golden City? Jawdropping.
Um, convincing looking fantasy cities, either functioning or dystopian, are a dime a dozen in movies these days, Marvel made or not.   In fact, I was distinctly underwhelmed by the first appearance of the Wakanda city - it had African touches, but seriously, it was nothing groundbreakingly impressive, which the lead character had led us to expect.  

And as for the interior of the vibranium mine where the (underwhelming) climatic fight between the two main characters took place - it was one of those examples of complete CGI background gone too far, and looking unconvincing for it.    A bit like the climatic setting of the last Guardians of the Galaxy movie, now that I think of it.  Completely fake backgrounds have a way of making me too aware that the fighting is happening in front of green screen, and as such, there is no tension that they might fall off that (obviously unreal) high platform, for example.  

Angry woman

I don't usually bother watching QandA on ABC anymore, but it happened to be on in the background last night, and I noticed when an angry aboriginal woman started going on in a shouty way about sovereignty not being conceded, the government should shut up and list to aboriginal voices, stop failing them dismally, and spend more money on them, etc.

It seems to me, following the Australia Day marches, that there is something of a revival of aboriginal "sovereignty talk" amongst aboriginal activists.   Has this come via some influential adviser, or something?    Because, after Mabo, I thought all mainstream activists had given up on this type of talk.   But it seems to be back with a vengeance.

And I can't see how it is going to help.

Last night's activist, Shareena Clanton, an actor who I have not heard of before, at one point made the point that it was aborigines themselves who were making the change to improve themselves, and then listed a bunch of relatives who were educating themselves and getting good jobs.   

Well, good.   But sort of undercuts the "it's outrageous that you're not spending enough money on my people" line a bit, doesn't it?

Aboriginal advocacy is becoming more strident, but I suspect it could do with a bit more plain speaking about the practical difficulties of dealing effectively with (in particular) disadvantage for remote communities with little economic tie to society....

Don't mention the war - still

Victor Venema, a Dutch climate scientist with a blog who works in Germany, has a short post up noting that Germans are treated by other nationalities as if they personally started World War 2.  And many Germans feel guilt about it, no matter how many decades after the war they were born.

I didn't really appreciate that this was still such an issue, but apparently it is...

Dark side hidden

Interesting story at Hot Air, about the couple who Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz was living with after his adoptive mother died.

Sounds like they were good to him and tried to be very responsible about his guns.

A few lessons from this can perhaps be drawn:

*  Better background checks may have had no effect
*  An FBI field officer may well have been satisfied that he wasn't a real threat despite saying stupid things on social media.
*  What may have had an effect - his not being able to own assault rifles at all, especially at his age and given his mental issues which people close to him did not realise were so deep.


Trendy drug taking

So, someone at Vox writes about his ayahuasca taking retreat at Costa Rica.

It sounds like a rather expensive, New Age-y sort of place, with 4 nights of drug taking, with lots of crying (and puking) and apparent insight which nonetheless seems to have worn off after a few weeks back in normal land.

I remain unconvinced that the benefits some people feel from the experience are worth it.   While open to the idea that people with certain specific psychological issues might benefit from controlled usage of certain psychedelics, my overall impression is the experiences usually give an emotional insight that is later seen as a false dawn.   

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Right Wing hand wave machine

Wow.  PJ Media has an article "When Will We Have the Guts to Link to Link Fatherlessness to School Shootings?" 

Geez, Cruz's adoptive father died of a heart attack a few years ago.   His adoptive mother died in November.    The evidence is she tried to get police to help control her son - if so, she was presumably well intentioned.   (I have seen some idiot on twitter say that it always comes down to bad parenting.)

So seems a tad pointless to be raising that as an issue now, unless the proposal is that loners with no father in the house can't have guns.  Yeah, sure, how likely is that the real intention of the article?    And anyway, what about the mother who has guns in the house - which shooting was it where the guy used his Mom's (legal) guns?  There are so many it's hard to keep count.

This and that

*   Given certain articles appearing in the Right wing media, it would appear a vague hope that the Florida shootings may actually result in some legislative changes for gun control.   I bet it will not extend to banning the sale of military looking semi-automatics, though.   The fantasy that the gun nuts of American need to be ready to save the country from invasion, or the next Democrat President, is too strong.

*  Yes, the Left wing does take too much time taking offence, and this article at The Atlantic gives a good example.  So does Mary Beard, who is a perpetual target of alt.righters, but also found herself on the receiving end of some Lefty attack.   She can't win.    Social media, especially Twitter, with its required compression of thoughts leaving little room for nuance, is so often to blame.   The Professor should probably stay off it.

*  In one of the very, very few critical readings of the politics of Black Panther, someone writing in the Boston Review has a problem with how the conflict in the movie is resolved:  BIG SPOILER BELOW, if you intend seeing it:
By now viewers have two radical imaginings in front of them: an immensely rich and flourishing advanced African nation that is sealed off from white colonialism and supremacy; and a few black Wakandans with a vision of global black solidarity who are determined to use Wakanda’s privilege to emancipate all black people.

These imaginings could be made to reconcile, but the movie’s director and writer (with Joe Cole), Ryan Coogler, makes viewers choose. Killmonger makes his way to Wakanda and challenges T’Challa’s claim to the throne through traditional rites of combat. Killmonger decisively defeats T’Challa and moves to ship weapons globally to start the revolution. In the course of Killmonger’s swift rise to power, however, Coogler muddies his motivation. Killmonger is the revolutionary willing to take what he wants by any means necessary, but he lacks any coherent political philosophy. Rather than the enlightened radical, he comes across as the black thug from Oakland hell bent on killing for killing’s sake—indeed, his body is marked with a scar for every kill he has made. The abundant evidence of his efficacy does not establish Killmonger as a hero or villain so much as a receptacle for tropes of inner-city gangsterism.

In the end, all comes down to a contest between T’Challa and Killmonger that can only be read one way: in a world marked by racism, a man of African nobility must fight his own blood relative whose goal is the global liberation of blacks. In a fight that takes a shocking turn, T’Challa lands a fatal blow to Killmonger, lodging a spear in his chest. As the movie uplifts the African noble at the expense of the black American man, every crass principle of modern black respectability politics is upheld.

In 2018, a world home to both the Movement for Black Lives and a president who identifies white supremacists as fine people, we are given a movie about black empowerment where the only redeemed blacks are African nobles. They safeguard virtue and goodness against the threat not of white Americans or Europeans, but a black American man, the most dangerous person in the world.
Actually, I think he has a point.   Surely the better way to resolve this would be to have Killmonger either repent, or kill himself either deliberately or accidentally  (as an example of radical violence, no matter how well intentioned, consuming itself.)  

Maybe when all the hype has died down, this type of re-assessment of the dubious lessons of the film will become more widely accepted.  At the moment, it is all swept away by some strange, very peculiarly American, I reckon, excitement about an all black movie.

*  The Catholic Church's slow moving crisis of revised understanding of its authority and conscience (its been going on since the 1960's) is getting very close to the top when an American Cardinal is making statements as reported here.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A couple of questions about the FBI (and the appalling Republicans)

With the news this morning that the FBI got a very specific tip off about concern over the guy who went and shot up the Florida school (and the information did not get passed down to their Florida office), I am curious about two things:

*  Just how many tip offs are received each year in a nation so brimming with private fire arms? 

*  What can the FBI do anyway, unless the guy under scrutiny turns out to have an illegal fire arm or to be so nutty he can be forced into immediate psychiatric treatment?

I see that at least partial answers are at this article at PBS:
FBI assessments are routinely opened after agents receive a tip, which could be sparked by something as simple as noticing odd activity in a neighbor’s garage or a classmate’s comments. Agents routinely face a challenge of sifting through which of the tens of thousands of tips received every year — and more than 10,000 assessments that are opened — could yield a viable threat.
And as to what they can do - as I expected, often it will turn out to be "nothing":
FBI guidelines meant to balance national security with civil liberties protections impose restrictions on the steps agents may take during the assessment phase.

Agents, for instance, may analyze information from government databases and open-source internet searches, and can conduct interviews during an assessment. But they cannot turn to more intrusive techniques, such as requesting a wiretap or internet communications, without higher levels of approval and a more solid basis to suspect a crime.

“It’s a tricky situation because sometimes you get information regarding individuals and they may be just showing off, blustering,” said Herbert Cousins Jr., a retired FBI special agent in charge.

A vague, uncorroborated threat alone may not be enough to proceed to the next level of investigation, according to Jeffrey Ringel, a former FBI agent and Joint Terrorism Task force supervisor who now works for the Soufan Group, a private security firm.

Many assessments are closed within days or weeks when the FBI concludes there’s no criminal or national security threat, or basis for continued scrutiny. The system is meant to ensure that a person who has not broken the law does not remain under perpetual scrutiny on a mere hunch —- and that the FBI can reserve its scarce resources for true threats.

Had he had pledged his allegiance to the Islamic state, for example, investigators might have had enough evidence to proceed with a more intrusive probe.

Tips like the one that came in about the Florida gunman are among countless complaints that come into the FBI daily with varying degrees of specificity.

“How many of these do you expect the FBI to handle before it becomes the Federal Bureau of Complaints,” said Hosko. “They could spend their entire workforce tracking down internet exchanges that never going to go anywhere.”
And, as the article earlier says, some recent high profile killers were looked at by the FBI, who decided nothing could be done:
In the last two years, a man who massacred 49 people at an Orlando nightclub, another who set off bombs in the streets of New York City and a third who gunned down travelers at a Florida airport, had each been looked at by federal agents but later determined not to warrant continued law enforcement scrutiny.
Of course, we all know that Trump and Republicans will make big claims about how this Florida killing was the FBI's fault, because it helps in their self serving PR war with the bureau,  and because it provides yet another way to claim mass shootings are about poor enforcement of current laws, despite the fact that so many of them are done with legally purchases assault weapons, or mental health, even going back to decrying liberals for 'de-institutionalisation', as if it would be easy to lock away every loser with a gun collection on mental health grounds.

Amongst other stuff I thought worth reading after the Florida shootings, I liked this piece by James Fallows pointing the finger at the very specific role of Mitch McConnell, old turtle head, on preventing a reasonable set of gun law reforms proposed by Obama after Sandy Hook.

And speaking of Obama, just have a read of this Fact Check piece on the claim that Obama "flip flopped" on gun control.  The short answer is that he didn't, and when you read the quotes from Obama, it's hard not to impressed that he was so consistent and reasonable on the whole issue.   There used to be a moral adult in the office.

And another responsibility avoiding line the Right is now taking - saying that Democrats used to control congress and why didn't they pass control then?   Two points I thought are pertinent:

*   just how much of a good argument is it to say "the other side were too cowardly to risk votes to bring in gun control."   It's pretty much arguing "if they were cowards, we can be cowards too."

*  there have more and more school shootings since then anyway.    The reason for action becomes more apparent, and it's a cop out handwave to say "well they didn't do anything so we won't either."

Update:  look at the information in this tweet going around:



Friday, February 16, 2018

Save me, hat..

So, Barnaby's just given a "get stuffed, Malcolm, I'm not going" press conference, wearing his biggest, cleanest hat by the looks!   Does he think the hat will save him in the bush?

Looking at twitter, his support numbers, already low, are just plummeting downwards....

Update:  someone else thought the big hat deserved ridicule, and created this very quickly

About that Black Cat movie..

Just in case people think I've become something of a Marvel fanboy because I saw Black Panther so soon on its release - my son had a free ticket he had to use by yesterday, OK?

And as for the movie - it's one of those cases where the critical reception is more interesting (for how wildly it varies from my perception) than the movie itself.

Look, it's not offensively terrible (no Marvel movie is):  it's just pretty bad.

Even my 17 year son immediately rated it as clichéd;  I don't think he disagreed when I pointed out it was like The Lion King as done by Marvel but without the charm or emotion.

None of the acting is bad, but nor is it worthy of some of the ridiculous over-praise it is receiving, particularly in American reviews.   It has some humour, but not much;  it is too long,  fairly dull in large part, and I even started feeling the head piece of the costume is a bit silly.

But my main criticism - I think the action scenes, particularly at the climax of the film, are terribly directed and over-edited.   They were to me completely unengaging and tensionless, and I would never trust any critic who calls the climax of the movie "thrilling".   (The only other major large scale action set piece - and there are only two in the entire movie - in Busan, Korea, was a little better, but even then the editing gave no sense of continuity in the car chase, and the whole sequence came across as a James Bond piece poorly done by Marvel.)

So, as to the reasons it is getting many rave reviews:   honestly, it's hard to see how it isn't being reviewed under undue influence of its alleged black empowerment (even, black Africa as saviour of the world) theme.   Not that there's anything wrong with black empowerment - God knows I have sympathy for how the community is faring under Trump - but really,  it seemed dubious to me that there should be black pride taken in imagining a modern African technological fantasy land where leadership is still decided by the equivalent of duelling to the death.

I suspect you have to live in America (and be of liberal persuasion, as most reviewers obviously are)  to share in great enthusiasm for the film.   Again, NTTAW with being a liberal reviewer:  readers would know I generally dislike those directors highly praised by Right wing websites.    But here critical judgement has been led astray, I think.   Interestingly, when I check the long list of reviews on Rottentomatoes, two of the mere handful of negative reviews are Australian.    There should be more of that....

Update:  I see the movie is getting some pushback in user reviews at IMDB - but how many of those are genuine and not part of a stupid alt.right organised push, I don't know.  


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Take a hint

Turnbull's press conference sounded like an enormous hint to Barnaby to resign.

How humiliating for all concerned that Barnaby is trying to ride it out.

Will he take the hint, or do we have to wait for another story of his private behaviour to come out as confirmed? 

Stupid comments on shootings

Just to get his off my chest:

One of the stupidest things some people say after American school shootings is that the problem is no armed guards/metal detectors at the school.   Um, at the risk of stating the obvious:  schools have long boundaries and (usually) several entrances:  while you can insist that all students funnel into the school at one entry point, just how much money would it cost to turn every single American school into a hard to penetrate high security compound?   Get real:  schools and educational places are always going to be easy places for armed killers to gain access to.   They are also big - just how many armed guards do these people think it would take to stop a dozen dead in one room in a hail of bullets?

And don't get me started on teachers should all be armed too...yes, poor old Mrs Smith who was about to retire should have realised when she became an elementary teacher that by 2018 it would become a job in which paramilitary training was essential.

Oh - and what a disgusting idiot is Jim Hoft (Gateway Pundit), with his immediate rush after every mass shooting to try to pin the killer as an Islamist/Democrat/Left winger, usually relying on material that quickly turns out to be deliberate misinformation or mistaken identity.  He makes me sick. 

Update:  during lunch, I saw some guy on PBS from the local area talking about the plans the school had made to be prepared for such an event.   He said it was very detailed and as well prepared as a school could be.

Also, it may well be that Jim Hoft has his stupid "we must know who this guy would support politically" post 100% wrong in this case.  He's an utter creep.




Rabbit history (and a bit about rats, too)

Ed Yong writes about the great confusion over how rabbits became domesticated.   Apparently, there have been a few science-y urban myths floating around about this for some time (not that I had heard of them before.)  But I also learnt some things about how rabbits have been used:

Archaeological evidence tells us that people in Spain and France were eating rabbits as early as the Epipaleolithic period, between 20,000 and 10,500 years ago. During the Middle Ages, they became a high-status food and people started carrying them across Europe. But it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this happened because of, as Irving-Pease and Larson note, “the intrusion of rabbits into archaeological stratigraphies.” Translation: It’s hard to know if a rabbit bone came from an ancient rabbit, or a recent one that went digging...

....Rabbits are among the most recently tamed animals, and yet neither history nor archaeology nor genetics can accurately pinpoint when they were domesticated. “There is solid genetic evidence that domestic rabbits are closely related to wild rabbits from France, from which they were mostly derived,” says Miguel Carneiro from CIBIO, who recently did his own genetic study of rabbits. “But the timing, initial motivation, and the underlying process remain poorly understood.”

Larson thinks that’s because people tend to wrongly picture domestication as a singular event. “Everything’s the same, and everything’s the same, and something changes like a bolt from the blue, and now everything’s different,” says Larson. “A lot of our narrative structures hinge on that. But if you’re looking for a moment of domestication, you’ll never find it. It’ll recede from your fingertips.”

Domestication is a continuum, not a moment. Humans hunted rabbits, tens of thousands of years ago. They transported the wild animals around the Mediterranean. The Romans kept them as livestock in structures called leporaria. Medieval Britons kept them in “pillow mounds”—raised lumps of soil that acted as earthen hutches. Later, they used actual hutches. Eventually, we bred them as pets. None of these activities represents the moment when rabbits hopped over the domestication threshold. But collectively, they show how wild bunnies turned into tame ones.
Yong says domestication of animals is hardly ever deliberate, anyway:
The problem is that there’s no solid evidence that humans domesticated anything deliberately (with the possible exception of tame foxes that were bred for scientific purposes). There’s no unequivocal case where humans grabbed a wild animal with the express intent of domesticating it. Instead, for example, it’s likely that scavenging wolves were attracted to human hunts or refuse piles, eventually developing a more tolerant attitude that led to their transformation into dogs. Similarly, mice were attracted to our grain stores, and cats were attracted to the mice. “There is no why to domestication,” says Larson. “That implies a directedness that appears not to exist.”
 I wonder, however, if Yong is overlooking the matter of Jack Black, rat catcher to the Queen, who is credited with taming wild rats into pet fancy rats.   Maybe Yong doesn't consider that pet rats are truly domesticated, but there is perhaps a debate to be had about that.  From a book "Domesticated:  Evolution in a Man-Made World":



Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Depressing American story of the day

The New York Times depresses us all by explaining that meth is making a big comeback in many parts of the US, after dropping out of the limelight for a few years due to the deaths caused by opioids.   On the upside, there are fewer meth labs;  on the big downside, there's heaps more meth around:
The scourge of crystal meth, with its exploding labs and ruinous effect on teeth and skin, has been all but forgotten amid national concern over the opioid crisis. But 12 years after Congress took aggressive action to curtail it, meth has returned with a vengeance. Here in Oregon, meth-related deaths vastly outnumber those from heroin. At the United States border, agents are seizing 10 to 20 times the amounts they did a decade ago. Methamphetamine, experts say, has never been purer, cheaper or more lethal.

Oregon took a hard line against meth in 2006, when it began requiring a doctor’s prescription to buy the nasal decongestant used to make it. “It was like someone turned off a switch,” said J.R. Ujifusa, a senior prosecutor in Multnomah County, which includes Portland.

“But where there is a void,” he added, “someone fills it.”

The decades-long effort to fight methamphetamine is a tale with two takeaways. One: The number of domestic meth labs has declined precipitously, and along with it the number of children harmed and police officers sickened by exposure to dangerous chemicals. But also, two: There is more meth on the streets today, more people are using it, and more of them are dying.

As for the libertarian "all illicit drugs should be legalised" line, it's hard to see what difference that would make when the drug is dirt cheap:
When the ingredients became difficult to come by in the United States, Mexican drug cartels stepped in. Now fighting meth often means seizing large quantities of ready-made product in highway stops.The cartels have inundated the market with so much pure, low-cost meth that dealers have more of it than they know what to do with. Under pressure from traffickers to unload large quantities, law enforcement officials say, dealers are even offering meth to customers on credit.

Nearly 100 percent pure and about $5 a hit, the new meth is all the more difficult for users to resist. “We’re seeing a lot of longtime addicts who used crack cocaine switch to meth,” said Branden Combs, a Portland officer assigned to the street crimes unit. “You ask them about it, and they’ll say: ‘Hey, it’s half the price, and it’s good quality.’”

Nationally, nearly 6,000 people died from stimulant use — mostly meth — in 2015, a 255 percent increase from 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Viewing intention

I've changed my mind - Black Panther has received such good reviews, with many noting that its funny in parts, that I've decided to see it.   Probably tomorrow night.

In other personal media consumption news:  am making my way through the second season of The Good Place, and am knocked over by how great and clever this reboot of season one continues to be.   One observation - the transformation of Jason (from silent, serious monk to dumbest doofus on TV) has given me some of the biggest laughs and perhaps deserves some sort of acting award.  (Some guy writes at length here as to why he also finds the character his favourite in the show.)    And here's the actor talking about the role - amusingly, he sees it as almost a breakthrough because it's the opposite of most Asian characters on TV and movies now:
Do you think Jason subverts stereotypes?
Definitely. I think when they were coming up with Jason/Jianyu, they were trying to figure out something different and one of the things that popped up was that you don’t really see a lot of dumb Asian guys on mainstream television. He’s usually intelligent or the model minority. I’m not saying playing Jason is pioneering, but it’s so great for me to do because it’s not a stereotype. Getting to put a bit of a twist on that and showing a different dynamic towards an Asian character is really cool. And I feel that the fans like the fact that I’m not some super-smart student.
You’re not the IT guy.
Exactly. And I’ve had my fair share of those, so I guess you just have to go through the ranks before you get to be Jason Mendoza.

Science -V- (Real) Fake News

Scientific American talks about some psychological studies relating to misinformation in the news:
Fake news can distort people’s beliefs even after being debunked. For example, repeated over and over, a story such as the one about the Pope endorsing Trump can create a glow around a political candidate that persists long after the story is exposed as fake. A study recently published in the journal Intelligence suggests that some people may have an especially difficult time rejecting misinformation. Asked to rate a fictitious person on a range of character traits, people who scored low on a test of cognitive ability continued to be influenced by damaging information about the person even after they were explicitly told the information was false. The study is significant because it identifies what may be a major risk factor for vulnerability to fake news.
I guess that conclusion is not that surprising, but I hope it's not one of those psychological studies that later is discredited.  

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Another Barnaby observation

Is he still Deputy Leader?   What a glutton for punishment.

I would guess that tweets about him are running at  98% calling for resignation, immediately.  A good media adviser would be pointing this out to him.   Andrew Bolt has called for him to go.   You have to go to ratbag central (Catallaxy) to find any support at all, and even then it's more culture war games than actual support.   Why prolong the agony?   Everyone suspects he'll have a job on Gina's payroll if he wants it.

Speaking of Gina, now when I see this photo ...



...I'm getting the sleazy sax opening to "You Can Leave Your Hat On" starting up in my brain and I can't stop it.   Very distressing, and surely a completely unwarranted thought - especially if any lawyer on her payroll is reading.

More PR - but does it ever sell anything?

Boston Dynamics has been making creepy animal-motion robots for a long time, and they are fun to watch, but have they ever actually commercialised any of these things?  How does it survive if it doesn't?

Anyway, the latest - the robot dog like thing opening a door - is doing the rounds.


The questionable science of paleoanthropology

For whatever reason, I've never had much interest in which group of humans or proto-humans went where in pre-history.   But it sure sounds like the people who work in the field can make some very big claims based on very dubious evidence:
When researchers made the astonishing suggestion last year that early humans settled the Americas 100,000 years earlier than thought, they asked doubters to keep an open mind and consider the evidence backing their claim. But their study1, which proposed that mastodon bones from California were broken by an as-yet-unidentified group of early humans 130,000 years ago, was instantly questioned by archaeologists. Most researchers agree that humans settled the Americas around 15,000 years ago.

Nearly a year later, the sceptics are still not convinced. In a rebuttal to the work, published on 7 February in Nature2, archaeologists say that modern construction equipment better explains the mastodon bone damage than does the handiwork of ancient hominins. They present an analysis of mammoth bones from Texas that, they say, have similar-looking damage, which was caused by natural wear and tear and heavy equipment.

In the original study, a team co-led by Tom Deméré, a palaeontologist at the San Diego Natural History Museum in California, examined bone fragments of a mastodon (Mammut americanum), an extinct relative of elephants, that had been found during roadworks in suburban San Diego in the 1990s. Deméré and archaeologist Steven Holen at the Center for American Paleolithic Research in Hot Springs, South Dakota, contended that the remains bore telltale fractures seen in bones struck by the stone tools of early humans. No obvious stone tools or human remains were found at the site.
Deméré’s team also established that the mastodon bones were around 130,000 years old, and suggested that an unknown hominin species had reached California by that time. Current scientific consensus on settlement of the Americas is that early humans from Asia crossed the Bering land bridge into Alaska around 20,000 years ago, a theory based on archaeological research and studies of modern and ancient DNA.

To rebut the mastodon claim, Ferraro’s team examined a site in Waco containing the remains of at least 26 mammoths that died about 60,000 years ago. Archaeologists have previously looked for evidence of humans at the site and found none. According to Ferraro, some of the mammoth bones were battered and broken in the same way as the bones from the San Diego site.

Ferraro thinks that construction work — some of the Waco mammoth bones were found during a building project — and natural wear can explain the similarities.

More Barnaby

A few comments on the walking dead red:

*  I don't think he realises that the continual appeal to "private matters" that have hurt his family actually comes across as insincere and self serving attempt to try to shut down discussion.  "Stop it, media, you're hurting my lovely wife and children, who have been hurt enough already."   Yeah, by who? is the way most people probably react to that.

*  Very hard to believe he would bring defamation action over the bum pinching allegation.

*  So, how long before the mainstream media picks up on that odd looking independent media site that has published that he had an affair with a lobbyist in 2014.   The article says they gave notice of the story to relevant parties, and seems to have received no threat of defamation action in response.  Will the mainstream media take another 4 months, or 4 years, to report on that allegation?

Update:  that "True Crime" website has taken down the story alleging the earlier affair (and other assorted alleged misconduct) for "tactical reasons" according to Twitter.   So, I guess someone's lawyer finally got out the warning letter?   Still, given other hints by even Miranda Devine that there are things Barnaby would not like us to know, I strongly suspect more is yet to appear in the mainstream media.

You think propaganda is bad now...

A pretty interesting article at Buzzfeed News about some tech dude who reckons that things might be bad regarding "fake news" propaganda now, but it's going to be a disaster once very sophisticated video and audio fakery starts being used widely.  

Maybe the answer is to work on the psychology of people, to get them to learn to think for themselves about manipulation, rather than the (perhaps hopeless task) of tacking new technology.  Yeah, big ask, I know.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Time to go, Barnaby

Surely it's only the wafer thin majority of the Turnbull government that it making them want to try to tough it out with Barnaby.   (That and the threat that if Labor politicians keep making a fuss, the Coalition will make sure more Labor affairs are outed - what a sleazy tactic.)

The Coalition must know that even if they manage to squeeze past legalistic problems with what went on (his pregnant girlfriend not being his "partner", for example), it still just doesn't smell right.

Reports are saying that the affair did cause problems in his office with other staffers - stressed at keeping his whereabouts a secret from his wife.   That and the jobs created for her, said by the Coalition to be something arranged within the National Party and therefore not needing specific approval by Turnbull, might save Turnbull's job but makes the Nationals look complicit.   And why accept rent free accommodation from a businessman when you're on a $400,000 plus salary, and until recently, your new girlfriend was pulling in $190,000 as well?   

Now, I see some guy on Twitter is saying he'll be publishing the story of a 2014 affair with a lobbyist.  Miranda Devine already hinted on the weekend that there had been other affairs.

So it is looking very much like Barnaby, good old Catholic conservative Barnaby, has been sleazy for a long time, and when the chickens came home to roost via pregnancy, he made sure the media was  stonewalled on all questions asked before and during the by-election campaign as to what was going on.

To top this all off - he's going to be Acting PM next week!   What an embarrassing look for the nation.

He is making the whole government look duplicitous, hypocritical and unethical.  

And the funny thing is I had warmed to Barnaby a bit over the last couple of years, despite his  stupidity on climate change, and other things such as his pork barrelling orced relocation of an Authority to Armidale.  Turns out there was no reason to like him, after all. 

Local UFOs

The Brisbane Times has an article about UFO research organisations in Queensland, inspired by this State Library blog post.

The articles note some interesting cases from the mid 1960's, which appear to have been reported by sincere country folk.

As for the only UFO group still around - UFO Research Queensland - it seems to have been the hobby of the Gottschall family for a very long time.   I am pretty sure that was contact name for the group in the late 1970's, when I wrote them a letter asking if they had public meetings.  (Letter writing to find out about a club - that's what people used to do pre-internet.)   Forgive me if I have mentioned this story before, but to my surprise, in response, I unexpectedly had a visitor arrive at my parent's front door one evening asking for me.   (I was still living at home.)  He was a pretty young guy, perhaps university student age (as I would have been), and I seem to recall an afro-ish style haircut and a somewhat eccentric air about him.   In fact, I think one of my parents said "there's some strange looking guy at the door for you."   He told me he had come in response to my letter.

I was pretty taken aback that a mere letter enquiry resulted in a personal visit - he was no Man in Black, but it still had an invasion of privacy feel about it.   I politely ended the visit quickly at the front door and don't think I ever bothered getting the details of where and when they meet.   I never bothered following up anything about them again, but I think I later established that they used the old Adamski UFO on their insignia (you know, the one that in fact turned out to be a chicken coop lamp).   I've never taken them seriously since then.

Update:  interestingly, that last link is to a blog that I didn't realise existed run by long time UFO skeptic and debunker Robert Sheaffer*.  I see that he had written a couple of posts (here's the first) about the recently released UFO videos taken from Navy Hornets, but the debunking of them seems to be more difficult than usual.  He points out the claims from someone else that they are very similar to a video of a distant jet in a case from Chile.   And he does make likely sounding claim that the glowing aura aspect of the videos is an artefact of the IR imaging.

But, the problem is the audio (and interviews with one of the pilots) just doesn't seem to fit the "mistaken identity of a distant jet" theory at all.

It might be that audio and video has been fiddled with, but really, I don't think Sheaffer's attempted debunking is presently anywhere near successful.  In fact, he spends more time going on about the funding from the Pentagon to Bigelow, which is an odd story, and some of the claims made do not sound credible.

But the two videos - they remain pretty strange and unexplained.

* Update 2:  I meant to mention - I am pretty sure that it was Robert Sheaffer who gave a talk that I attended in Adelaide in the late 1980's about his UFO debunking.  In fact, I even spoke to him briefly afterwards, noting that I had found J Allen Hynek's books quite convincing, and I was surprised at some case or other in which, Shaeffer argued, Hynek had been completely conned.   He said he had met Hynek, who was a nice guy, but just too gullible when it came to liars and fabulists.   

Only worth defending if white

Have a look at this Axios post noting Trump's history of giving "the benefit of the doubt" (or more) for guys accused of sexual impropriety/domestic violence, and how it ends.

It doesn't even mention his infamous advertisement re the Central Park five.

Just another potential supereruption to worry about

I guess it's better than Mt Fuji erupting, at least for Tokyo, (I'm just guessing, really), but still:
Some 7,300 years ago, a supereruption devastated the southern islands of what is now Japan, burying most of the archipelago in thick ash. Known as the Akahoya eruption, the blast was so powerful it caused the volcano’s magma chamber to collapse, leaving a 12-mile wide scar called Kikai Caldera, which is mostly underwater.
Now in a study published Friday, scientists have discovered that a dome of lava lurks beneath the caldera. By studying its magma plumbing, volcanologists could gain insight into the entire caldera system, which could help them better predict when another eruption in the Japanese archipelago might occur.
“The most serious problem that we are worrying about is not an eruption of this lava dome, but the occurrence of the next supereruption,” said Yoshiyuki Tatsumi a volcanologist at Kobe University in Japan and lead author of the study that appeared in the journal Scientific Reports.
Dr. Tatsumi’s previous work has suggested that the chances of a supereruption happening in the Japanese archipelago in the next century are only about 1 percent. But if a volcano in this area erupts, it could eject nearly 10 cubic miles of magma, covering almost all of the country and its 120 million people in nearly eight inches of thick ash, he found.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Byrne does Bowie

David Byrne recently did a cover of Bowie's Heroes with the Choir Choir Choir people.  I think his distinctive voice does very well with the song, and I can actually understand more of the words, too.



If you like pop songs done by or with choirs, it's well worth looking at some of their other videos.  I liked this one from a couple of years ago, with Colin Hays singing Overkill:




Yet more unwanted movie reviews

*   Rushmore:  even though I have been underwhelmed by Wes Anderson's last couple of movies, I thought I would see what his shtick was like when it was new, back in 1998.   The verdict:  yeah, it was pretty amusing and likeable.   The story's eccentric in a way that made me think parts of it were probably autobiographical, and I read afterwards that my hunch was right: 
Rushmore Academy was where Wes Anderson went to school. Well, not exactly – it was called St John's School, and it was only after he scoured private schools as far as the UK that he realised his alma mater was the perfect setting for his semi-autobiographical movie about a precocious turd who forms extracurricular clubs and falls head over heels for a hot school teacher. In a very Anderson-y way, he banked his private school experience for Rushmore. Like Rushmore's main skeeze Max Fisher, Anderson, too, was academically underachieving and had a throbbing crush on an older woman.
Certainly, no other movie before or since is likely to feature the word "handjob" quite so often.   Recommended.

*  The not fully viewed Tropic Thunder:   Last night I tried getting past the first 20 minutes of this awful thing, and just couldn't.   I cannot fathom the good reviews it largely received.   First, it seems weird that a 2008 movie would be bothered mocking the overly dramatic Vietnam war movies such as Platoon which were big 20 years previously.  Had the screenplay been rattling around unmade since 1990, because it felt awfully dated?   Movie-within-movie satires are a delicate thing - if you push the ridicule too hard (such as this movie does, in spades), it just doesn't work in any way.  (I'll allow it might work as a absurdist 3 minute piece in sketch comedy, but that's it.)   A bunch of actors who have been funny in other movies (and Tom Cruise, who critics seemed to think was hilarious in this) cannot save it as far as I'm concerned.   Gives me all the more reason to never trust vehicles Matthew McConaughey is in, and I'll add that when Ben Stiller makes and awful movie, they really, truly stink.  I think his hit rate of good movies is actually pretty low.

Vanilla Sky (2001, Tom Cruise version.)    Giving up on Cruise's over the top act in Tropic Thunder, I switched over to see him in this.   I' hadn't seen the Spanish original, which no doubt helps.  (I seem to recall that quite a few art house type critics, such as David Stratton, resented this film as being an unnecessary remake.)

I thought it was pretty great - well directed,  really good acting by all concerned, Penelope Cruz at what may have been her peak of youthful charm and beauty, and a story that finally made some relatively straight forward science fiction-y sense.  (Although it is one of those films open to other interpretations.)    

Two surprises which, if I had known, would have made me watch it earlier:   a brief cameo by Steven Spielberg (yay), and the incredibly magnetic Tilda Swinton turns up at the end too.    They are like the exact opposite of McConaughey - lucky charms indicating that a movie is probably well worth watching.   (The negative power of McConaughey is something even Spielberg struggles to overcome - Amistad was an  interesting story that nonetheless is one of Spielberg's least memorable movies.)  

I had what seemed a lengthy dream last night in which I had inherited the Courier Mail, and kept trying to work out who to consult to learn how to run a newspaper.  It was not an unpleasant dream, though, and clearly came to me a result of Vanilla Sky.

Recommended.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The propaganda problem described clearly, but no solution identified

You really should read Ezra Klein's terrific column at Vox:  Donald Trump, Fox News and the Logic of Alternative Facts.

It's a clear and convincing identification of how Right wing propaganda is working, with one key point being:
What Conway and others understand is that if you’re just trying to activate your tribe, you don’t have to win the argument, you just need to have an argument; you need to give your side something to say, something to believe. Something like the Nunes memo or the various out-of-context texts aren’t part of a search for truth — they’re an ammo drop, or, to go back to the way Ball put it, “a semi-plausible (if not entirely coherent) counternarrative.”

Charlie Sykes, a conservative talk radio host turned Trump critic, put it well. “The essence of propaganda is not necessarily to convince you of a certain set of facts. It is to overwhelm your critical sensibilities. It’s to make you doubt the existence of a knowable truth. The conservative media is a giant fog machine designed to confuse and disorient people.”.....
And so, although fact checking can show how the "counternarrative" is not true, those who already chose to believe it cannot be bothered following the fact checking process:
If you want to believe that the Nunes memo, the FBI texts, or the Warner texts show an anti-Trump witch hunt on the part of the FBI, and if you’re following politicians and media organizations that want you to believe that, it’s easy enough to believe it. The argument has internal logic, it sounds plausible, it fits what you’re hearing, it aligns with whom you trust, and you’re seeing what looks like documentary evidence. 

Yes, there are plenty of outlets trying to fact-check these claims, plenty of outlets working hard to align their reporting with reality, plenty of outlets trying to explain what’s actually happening. Explaining why it’s not true takes some time, it takes dates, and it takes an interest in the explanation and some interest in the people delivering it. This work never reaches most of the people convinced by the original stories, and it likely wouldn’t be credible to them even if it did. As David Roberts wrote in his important essay on tribal epistemology:
Information is evaluated based not on conformity to common standards of evidence or correspondence to a common understanding of the world, but on whether it supports the tribe’s values and goals and is vouchsafed by tribal leaders. “Good for our side” and “true” begin to blur into one.
Now, while there has been despair about how to counter this (people interested in getting governments to make sensible climate change policies have been debating how to deal with propaganda for a  good decade), there are a couple of points I don't hear said enough:

*   Political spin is one thing;   outrageously misleading and inflammatory claims made with no regard for truth is something else.   It's ethically wrong and in the case of Fox News as a money making machine, cynical to the point of evil.    (Who really believes that the drama queen acts of Hannity and that ridiculous Jeanine Pirro are entirely sincere?   If it is, they're so stupid they should be taken off the air anyway.)

My point is:  as far as I can tell, the network continues to host at least 2, maybe 3?, token moderate  journalists/hosts who don't go along with the lines put out by the overwhelmingly pro Trump propaganda machine that the network is.  

They shouldn't stay there!   No ethical person should participate in such a corrupt machine in the interests of thinking it needs them to give it a shred of credibility.    Their co-workers (and presumably, the bosses) are cynical propagandists with no interest in truth and objectivity - and as Klein explains, no counter explanation given by them is going to be accepted by the 95% of  viewers who are there for the propagandists anyway.

*   There needs to be more calling out of such deliberate deception as evil, not by other journalists, but by everyone with any moral standing and a public voice.   Stop pretending it's just politics and spin that's always been with us - it isn't.    It is sophisticated and cynical manipulation of people who have given up caring if they are being manipulated.   It is dangerous, and anathema to good decision making in a democratic system.   Call it out. 

Friday, February 09, 2018

The sound of heads pointlessly hitting brick walls, again

Sinclair Davidson sure knows how to run a stupid argument.

Today it's to suggest that the ABC must be failing its purpose (or not be good value for money) if people pay for cable television too.

Apparently, a really, really good national broadcaster can run enough programming that satisfies everyone at every minute of the day.  I don't know:  perhaps inflate their budget by 10, give them more bandwidth, and they could.* 

It's an extraordinarily dumb line to run, even by his stagflated standards.

And then the minions get to bleat again about how much they hate the ABC, because bias, climate change, etc.   Sad place, really.  


*  that was just a guess, but maybe not far off.  I see that the Nine Network annual report from 2014 says they had total revenue that year of about $1.5 billion.   The ABC in its entirety - TV,  radio, internet and other assorted stuff  - operates on just over a billion dollar budget.  

Every Clint Eastwood film in ten words

"...and then righteous testosterone did what had to be done."

[A post inspired by the rather bad reviews of his latest movie, for which I have to join in with every writer and say "not to detract from those guys did, which was really outstanding".   But Eastwood's thematic interests really are limited to the above to a cliche extent, aren't they?]

Back to Barnaby

It was an interesting discussion on Radio National Breakfast this morning about the matter of the public's right to know about Barnaby Joyce's affair.

Fran Kelly indicated that lots of listeners were very angry that it had been not been reported on by most media during his re-election campaign.

Of the panel of journalists, one went with "well we did try to investigate it and couldn't confirm it", one went with "really, it was a personal matter that we don't like to touch" and one went with (I'll paraphrase) "this is absurd, of course the public has a right to know if a Deputy PM facing re-election in a by-election that could bring down the government has done something that would be controversial in any workplace - got a staffer pregnant.  Journos just didn't want to upset the convenient compact they have with politicians."

I'm with option 3.

As for the "we did  try to investigate it" - some have linked to how the Inverell Times asked questions of Joyce's media office specifically about the status of his marriage and why he was being asked in public places about his mistress.  The paper was fobbed off.  Nice to know someone made at least a token attempt - but come on, as Caroline Overington (option 3 above) argued, as if journalists really interested in this couldn't get to the bottom of a rumour that so widespread. 

Also, the other female journo on today who said "we did try to investigate" claims that journalists had in some cases not just been fobbed off, but been lied to.

That should be news itself, if true, but is the story of lies to cover an affair also not being reported because of the mutually convenient pack between politicians and journos? 


Of course politicians on both sides are running with the "it's a private matter" line - they have a great incentive in the keeping the compact of not reporting on infidelity no matter the circumstances - given it almost certainly happens to a higher extent in both their professions than it does in the general public. 

I'm glad to see that I'm not the only person thinking this is a clear case where the general principle of avoiding unnecessary interest in personal lives has been taken way too far in this case.   


Just an opinion

I can't stand Senator Jim Molan - his whole manner grates, and he strikes me a prime example of how the Army office corps allows pompous, overly self assured twits to have a career.

Brave advertising

I'm sure many must be amused to see this advertisement appearing on Twitter recently:


So, some advertising exec, and the fund itself, thought it was clever to call it "Apollo" yet use the space shuttle as a graphic, despite it having nothing at all to do with the Apollo program, and being the only famous spaceship design to actually destroy itself not once, but twice.

I can't decide whether that is what can be called irony, or whether it's just honesty, given what the cryptos have been doing lately...

Nice research from QUT

QUT researchers have identified a drug that could potentially help our brains reboot and reverse the damaging impacts of heavy alcohol consumption on regeneration of brain cells.

Their studies in adult mice show that two weeks of daily treatment with the drug tandospirone reversed the effects of 15 weeks of binge-like alcohol consumption on neurogenesis – the ability of the to grow and replace neurons (brain cells). The findings have been published in Scientific Reports.
  • This is the first time tandospirone has be shown to reverse the deficit in brain neurogenesis induced by heavy alcohol consumption
  • Tandospirone acts selectively on a serotonin receptor (5-HT1A)
  • The researchers also showed in mice that the drug was effective in stopping anxiety-like behaviours associated with , and this was accompanied by a significant decrease in binge-like alcohol intake
"This is a novel discovery that tandospirone can reverse the deficit in neurogenesis caused by alcohol," said study leader neuroscientist Professor Selena Bartlett from QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation.
Link is here.

Liberated German kids

Well, while I knew that Japan raises kids to travel around the city alone and not be afraid, I didn't know that Germany had a view to child raising that emphasised independence too.   (I suppose I shouldn't be surprised - it has been brought to my attention that the Japanese have similar attitudes to the Germans on many things.)

Slate notes that there's a book out by an American women noting the stark differences between the two countries' attitudes to child raising:
In a memorable scene of Sara Zaske’s guide to German-style parenting, Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children, Zaske sends her 4-year-old daughter Sophia to her Berlin preschool with a bathing suit in her bag. It turns out, however, that the suit is unnecessary: All the tykes at Sophia’s Kita frolic in the water-play area naked. Later that year, Sophia and the rest of her Kita class take part in a gleefully parent-free sleepover. A sleepover! At school! For a 4-year-old! These two snapshots of life as a modern German child—uninhibited nudity; jaw-dropping independence—neatly encapsulate precisely why Zaske’s book is in equal turns exhilarating and devastating to an American parent. 

Zaske argues that thanks in large part to the anti-authoritarian attitudes of the postwar generation (the so-called “68ers”), contemporary German parents give their children a great deal of freedom—to do dangerous stuff; to go places alone; to make their own mistakes, most of which involve nudity, fire, or both. This freedom makes those kids better, happier, and ultimately less prone to turn into miserable sociopaths. “The biggest lesson I learned in Germany,” she writes, “is that my children are not really mine. They belong first and foremost to themselves. I already knew this intellectually, but when I saw parents in Germany put this value into practice, I saw how differently I was acting.” Yes, Zaske notes, we here in the ostensible land of the free could learn a thing or zwei from our friends in Merkel-world. It’s breathtaking to rethink so many American parenting assumptions in light of another culture’s way of doing things. But it’s devastating to consider just how unlikely it is that we’ll ever adopt any of these delightful German habits on a societal level.
The attitudes really are very, very different:
Although Zaske does end every chapter with well-meaning suggestions for how American parents and governments (ha) might deutsch-ify their approaches, the book’s many eye-popping (but fun-sounding) stories—solo foot commutes for second-graders; intentionally dangerous “adventure playgrounds”; school-sanctioned fire play; and my personal favorite, a children’s park that consists solely of an unattended marble slab and chisel—just remind me of all the reasons my American compatriots will double down on their own car-clown garbage lifestyles. I found myself frustrated into tears while reading Achtung Baby, because the adoption of any German customs stateside would require nothing less than a full armed revolution. 

For example, when Sophia starts first grade, school administrators remind parents that under no circumstances should they drop children off in an automobile. Could you imagine? I can’t. In the contemporary United States, even in larger cities (with New York being the only notable exception), school is so synonymous with the interminable “drop-off line” that its vicissitudes are the subject of bestselling mom-book rants.
I think that Australia is too closely aligned with the American views, especially in the vast over-reaction to child being in a public space alone.  

Update:  There is an odd combination in Japan, and by the sounds of it, Germany, in relation to the matter of childhood social compliance combined with greater independence.   Japanese social cohesion is emphasised from a young age, in terms of learning societal politeness, group effort and cohesion (for example, the way all school kids are engaged in cleaning the school each day), and even the acceptance of family/public nudity in onsen.   (It's probably no co-incidence that countries that are relatively casual about social nudity - the Scandinavians, Germans, Japanese - tend towards strong welfare state/socialist tendencies.    Well, perhaps describing the Japanese post war system like that is a stretch - but you certainly don't have a highly stratified income and lifestyle difference between the wealthy and middle class.) 

But within that sort of society that expects strong social compliance and contribution in certain respects, they can allow greater independence in terms of how children grow up.

On the contrary, the US right wing tendency towards complete adult autonomy and freedom from government interference leads to a society with little social cohesion and a feeling that it is simply not safe to allow children to be independent on a day to day basis.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Qualms rapidly overcome

Gee, it was only a couple of years ago, when the HIV prophylactic drug Truvada was first becoming available, that there were articles talking about how some gay men were stigmatised by other gay men for using it.  It was a controversial question - will it give licence to men to go back to behaviour of the kind that led to the HIV breakout in the first place - lots of non safe, casual sexual encounters with low regard for consequences.

How quickly the qualms seem to be vanishing, with news that the government is almost certainly going to subsidise its use.

I can understand that their might be an economic benefit to using it - if the cost of prevention is cheaper than the cost of treatment.   I see from a post here in 2014 that it was estimated then that the cost of antiviral treatment was $18,000 per year per person.   I wonder if it still runs at that cost.   How did Africa get around that problem - I don't know the details of that story,

And I guess that guys (and the odd woman) using PReP may not be using it all of their life - if ever they decide that having sex with one, non infected person is the easiest way to not catch HIV. 

But - it still grates that, unlike your average drug, it is not treating an illness, but is more like a super expensive version of a condom for people who refuse to use other, pretty simple strategies (like condoms or other forms of safe sex until reaching high confidence of mutual monogamy with a partner with no disease - how radical) for having a healthy sex life.

One thing I bet will be an outcome - a continuing rise in other STDs due to the non use of condoms.

When will Kates question this?

When will Australia's most Trump adoring economist (Kates) ever get around to questioning the fact that Trump and his Republicans indisputably do not care about the budget deficit (now that they are in power):
Back in 2012, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the budget deficit “the nation’s most serious long-term problem.” That same year, House Speaker Paul Ryan called it a “serious threat” to the economy. They were full of it. 

Not just in the narrow sense that they both went on to enthusiastically endorse a $1.5 trillion tax cut late last year. Nor even in the somewhat broader sense that the real cost of that tax cut is much higher than $1.5 trillion when you consider the various accounting gimmicks and bad-faith phaseouts that were used to squeeze it under that figure. 

Even under the weird linguistic conventions of American conservative politics where deficits caused by tax cuts don’t count as real deficits, today’s budget deal — a big, multi-billion dollar increase in military spending “offset” by a nearly-as-large increase in non-military spending — gives up the game entirely. They don’t care, on any level, about the size of the federal budget deficit.

The Barnaby silence

I see that Jacqueline Maley at Fairfax claims that her papers never ran with the story last year because:
The reasons were less conspiratorial than they were journalistic: we couldn’t stand it up.
The rumours were so widely circulated it seemed clear there was some truth to them. But until now, no one, within the press gallery or outside it, could firm them up to a publishable standard.
I find this hard to believe.  Did they ask Barnaby specifically what was going on?  Did they ask the ex staffer?  Did they speak to Tony Windsor?   Why did they think it not worth pursuing after the Murdoch tabloids published about?

No - it is much, much more credible that they thought (wrongly) that they were being principled by not pursuing his "private life", even when it was an affair with a staffer causing widespread and open rumours on the internet.

UPDATE:  despite my apparent support of the Murdoch press in running with the story to some degree last year, obviously I don't agree with their sleazy way of dealing with it yesterday by putting the photo of the pregnant staffer on the front page.   Surely Blair and Bolt should acknowledge that puts the emphasis on the wrong person.

So, as far as I'm concerned, none of the media has dealt with this appropriately.

Some error or other

Since yesterday, I'm getting some intermittent loading error with the blog, which is usually fixed by clearing history and reloading.   But that's a pain.   There is Google forum entry on the error code, but I don't have time to check it out properly yet...

As foreseen by Michael Nesmith

You have to give it to Elon Musk - the image of a Tesla in space is indisputably the historic pinnacle of corporate self promotion.  (It won't be beaten until a certain fast food chain paints a giant "M" on the moon.)

It did, though,  put me in mind of a song by Michael Nesmith from the 1980's, which had very similar imagery:


Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Science fiction writer who can't read science fiction

I've only read one (I think) book by Charlie Stross, but I was interested to read on his blog how he just can't get into recent science fiction by other authors.   

That's a lot of money

If I had been asked to guess, I would never have been near this figure for the cost of US involvement in Afghanistan.   Axios notes:
The assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, Randall Schriver, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that the U.S. will spend an estimated $45 billion on the war in Afghanistan this year, the Hill reports.
 I see that all of NASA gets by on just over $19 billion a year in its budget.

And there was another item up recently at Axios about how the Taliban and local farmers are getting back into opium poppies in a big way.  (I wonder - is there no biological agent they can deploy to eat into their flowers?   No particular beetle that loves poppy buds?)  

Even the Air Force Times had a detailed story throwing doubt on the effectiveness of the recent strategy of bombing heroin labs in the country.

What a hopeless country.   Trump and the rest of the world would be better off building a wall  around it, rather than down Mexico way.

Cryptocurrency targetted

I don't think that the future of cryptocurrency is looking at all bright.

Sorry, libertarian dreamers.   You'll have to pay for your apartment and dinner on a floating island with Peter Thiel (who maybe just lost about $10 million on cryptos) some other way. 

Small hands compensates with big missiles

This seems just childish, doesn't it?:
Pentagon and White House officials have started coordinating a parade to showcase America's military strength, per the Washington Post, after Trump said he wanted "a parade like the one in France." The Pentagon confirmed the report.

Why it matters: Per the Post, costs associated with such a parade "could run in the millions" after shipping "tanks and high-tech hardware to Washington." Trump said he was inspired by Paris' Bastille Day Parade last year, and told French President Emmanuel Macron that the U.S. is "going to have to try to top it."

A lot of trouble to go to for a better memory

A short report at Nature:
A well-timed zap to a brain region involved in learning can improve memory.

Michael Kahana at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and his colleagues studied memory in 25 people who had had electrodes implanted into their brains for medical reasons. The researchers recorded brain activity while the individuals studied a list of words that they later tried to remember. Using computer algorithms, the team identified patterns of brain activity for each person that predicted whether the individual would remember or forget a word.

Next, participants studied another set of words. Whenever the algorithm predicted that a word was not being encoded well, the researchers applied electrical currents to a brain region called the lateral temporal cortex, changing the brain’s activity patterns. Precisely timed electrical stimulation improved people’s chance of recalling a word by an average of 15%.

How the media should respond, Part 2

So, back to Barnaby Joyce.

I posted at length last October about the matter of the weirdness of what was going when only parts of the media thought it was OK to report on claims of sexual impropriety circulating on the internet (sourced from ex political Tony Windsor) during the Joyce election campaign.

I don't see any reason to change my views. As many, many people on Twitter are pointing out, there are a bunch of circumstances as to why it was actually pretty perverse the media to not report on the true Joyce situation last year:

1.   (I don't think this is really the highest reason, but many people think it is) - he was a prominent conservative arguing against same sex marriage on "traditional value" lines - making the matter of the break up of his own marriage vows in an unseemly fashion a matter of apparent hypocrisy;

2.   His affair was with a staffer - a situation well known for at least the potential for causing workplace trouble.   Furthermore, it had been in the media in mid 2017 that a prominent public servant was caught up in a relationship issue that apparently has caused problems:
Sources say Roman Quaedvlieg​ has taken leave for a matter relating to his personal behaviour, rather than his official duties.
According to reports, Mr Quaedvlieg is facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour relating to a personal relationship. 
According to the Daily Mail:
And it has now been claimed the 52-year-old was allegedly involved in a relationship with a fellow ABF employee in her early 20s, with her colleagues saying she received a promotion after their relationship began, the 
OK, you might argue, if other staffers of Barnaby didn't complain of favouritism, then it's not the same.   But really, I don't think that washes.

If a prominent public servant places himself in a such a position and gets media publicity as a result, why does the Deputy PM doing something so obviously unwise to workplace harmony get a "no publicity" pass from the media?

3.   Tony Windsor had tweeted that there was something going on - his claim (making sound like sexual harassment) was obviously defamatory if untrue, yet a large part of the media said "we're not going to ask Barnaby about this"?

4.   This was happening during an unusual election campaign.

5.   As I noted in my previous post, Joyce himself looked unusually glum and distracted about the dual citizenship issue - and in retrospect it would not be surprising if the turmoil over the affair was affecting Joyce's work performance. 

6.   The same Left leaning media that was critical of conservative dissing of Julia Gillard for her relationship status effectively gave protection to Barnaby from criticism from conservatives for his relationship status.   (Yes, go read Catallaxy - they are uniformly disgusted with him.)

7.  Joyce was the subject (apparently) of a sympathetic puff piece in The Australian in only March last year, which from later reporting would appear to be after the start of his affair.    If the media is going to aid his profile that way, in a way which in retrospect looks dishonestly manipulative, it should be prepared to at least report on the status of his marriage later.

To again be clear:  it all depends on the circumstances as to whether a politician's marriage break up or affair is newsworthy .   But in this case, it was in the public interest to disclose this, and I remain quite surprised that the "principled" media cannot acknowledge this.