Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Will it last?

As more states legalize marijuana, adolescents' problems with pot decline: Fewer adolescents also report using marijuana -- ScienceDaily

Interesting to read that marijuana use amongst teens in America overall seems to have declined a bit from 2002 to 2013.  Is there a reason it has become not so cool to try or use it?

In any event, with the high profile change in State law in Colorado taking effect only in late 2013, and with other States following, it will be interesting to see if this holds up.


Spielberg to speak at 365th Commencement | Harvard Gazette

I'll be looking out for the Youtube of that...

Update:  and to further bolster my belief that he is a genuinely nice guy, as well as being the most talented  director who has ever lived, a comment from actor Mark Rylance, who has worked with him twice now:  

Sex and the law

I take it from this article that, with reform of Queensland laws, the effective age of consent in all Australian states will be 16, regardless of the type of sex involved.  No, wait a minute, it's still basically 17 in South Australia, apparently.  And Tasmania.

I see that some Australian States do have the sense to also have "Romeo and Juliet" laws, which provide a defence if the age difference is not more than 2 (or 3, or even 5[?!]) years.  (In fact, it is Tasmania with the high age of 17 that has laws allowing a defence if up to 5 years age difference.  Odd.)

Queensland doesn't, though.   Wouldn't that seem a sensible reform?   If even Texas has it, can't we?

On a related issue, I did feel sorry for the old guys who appeared in the report on 7.30 last night who attended the Victorian government's apology for past governments having criminalised homosexual sex.  From this point in history, it is a little hard to understand the intense interest in policing such activities in the mid 20th century.   I guess part of it may have to do with people hating the idea of public sexual activity, which is something still to be disdained; but the irony is, I suppose, that making it a crime even in private almost certainly encouraged secretive and opportunistic liaisons in public.    

We all love reading about ancient toilets, no?

From an interesting feature article at Nature News, about ancient toilets:

Asteroid uncertainty?

How Big Are Those Killer Asteroids? A Critic Says NASA Doesn’t Know. - The New York Times

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Can you imagine the Gamergate guys' reaction to this?

It's Bond, Jane Bond: Gillian Anderson throws hat into the ring to be next 007 | Film | The Guardian

Stop paying attention

My feeling is that there are way too many words being written about Donald Trump. 

He's a joke who was helped to get where he is with minimal spend because of the fascination of the media with how far a joke campaigner could go.  Now the media is full of "maybe he's not a joke after all!" semi-panicked writing from all and sundry, on the basis of a polling boost from winning the nomination.   (Even though American polling is fraught with complications and a post nomination boost is not unusual.)

All this attention gives him a de facto credibility he doesn't deserve.   Not only that, it feeds his attention seeking bad behaviour.

I would suggest pundits ignore him til the Democrats stop squabbling and settle on Clinton;  perhaps even longer, to see how he performs in a head to head debate with her. 

I remain very calm that there is no way he will become President.

Not very encouraging

Chinese banks sitting on $1.7 trillion debt time bomb - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

At least, I suppose, in China you get a sense of active government involvement to head off any crisis.  In the West, it seems you don't enough economists even recognising the possibility of a crisis (and hence no government action) until it happens.

The IPA seeking fools, and their money

I won't post the video directly, but here, you can view it on the IPA's virtual blog.

A few observations:

*  does the IPA have some sort of grooming rules?   They tend to do their PR with young, very well groomed, men and women, with nary a hair out of place.   (Or, in the case of Sinclair Davidson, with nary a hair.)    Chris Berg is perhaps the exception - his slightly shaggy "do" puts him a bit on the outer.

*  I'd love to see the membership broken down by age - the video suggests a bit of a numbers gap in the middle age range.  The organisation is either for young, foolish, idealists (sort like the way the libertarian movement in the US attracts some of the college set, with some rebelling against their parent's views, no doubt), or the over 60's cashed-up-too-old-to-be-idealists-but-defiantly-foolish-despite-their-age set.

*  the video quite heavily promotes its credentials as a voice against climate change action.  When might the media (and which means the ABC, by and large) start  actively calling out the talking heads from that organisation for their involvement with an organisation that has spent years trying to persuade the public that climate change does not even exist?

I'm pretty sick of this:   as I'm sure I have complained before, why let the affable Chris Berg off the hook when he wants to present as Mr Reasonable Dry Right on matters economic and political when he is working for an organisation that has a position that is already completely unreasonable, if not down right evil, in terms of promoting the interests of the mining sector over humanity's long term interests?

Rise of the Kraken

Cephalopods like it hot, apparently:
Gillanders noted that after the El Niño and La Niña phenomena of 1997-98, for instance, warm Pacific waters apparently affected whole populations of Humboldt squid (also known as jumbo flying squid): unusually large Humboldts were found in large numbers swimming off Mexico, Peru and Chile.
The squid, which live longer than most other squid (two years, rather than one), can grow to nearly 5ft: after El Niño, they were found weighing between 25lb and 88lb.
More than a decade later, the long-lived squid were found to have adapted to the 2009-10 El Niño by moving 100 miles north of their usual territory. Others moved into the open ocean and began breeding much earlier than normal.

10 Degrees in Two Hundred Years?

I suppose a couple of cautions are in order:   I haven't seen any of the big names in climate science comment on this yet, and one of the authors is a Greens politician;  but still, this seems an interesting look at what may happen if you were to burn all fossil fuel reserves.  The abstract:
Concrete actions to curtail greenhouse gas emissions have so far been limited on a global scale1, and therefore the ultimate magnitude of climate change in the absence of further mitigation is an important consideration for climate policy2. Estimates of fossil fuel reserves and resources are highly uncertain, and the amount used under a business-as-usual scenario would depend on prevailing economic and technological conditions. In the absence of global mitigation actions, five trillion tonnes of carbon (5 EgC), corresponding to the lower end of the range of estimates of the total fossil fuel resource3, is often cited as an estimate of total cumulative emissions4, 5, 6. An approximately linear relationship between global warming and cumulative CO2 emissions is known to hold up to 2 EgC emissions on decadal to centennial timescales7, 8, 9, 10, 11; however, in some simple climate models the predicted warming at higher cumulative emissions is less than that predicted by such a linear relationship8. Here, using simulations12 from four comprehensive Earth system models13, we demonstrate that CO2-attributable warming continues to increase approximately linearly up to 5 EgC emissions. These models simulate, in response to 5 EgC of CO2 emissions, global mean warming of 6.4–9.5°C, mean Arctic warming of 14.7–19.5°C, and mean regional precipitation increases by more than a factor of four. These results indicate that the unregulated exploitation of the fossil fuel resource could ultimately result in considerably more profound climate changes than previously suggested.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Just don't do it

Three-person embryos may fail to vanquish mutant mitochondria : Nature News & Comment

Once again, I ask - why do this at all?   It's a bit sad that it's not safe for every mother to be able to have their own genes in their children, but with the ability to carry an embryo (via egg donation) with at least their partner's genetic heritage, they can still have the experience of carrying a child.

It's pretty much like the ultimate "First World problem", and I don't understand why medical science is so interested in fiddling with genetic material to solve it.

I still don't understand the dairy industry (and a segue into Heat In India)

There are two recent articles about the problems with the Australian dairy industry:   one in Fairfax by Peter Martin, and this one in The Conversation:  Murray Goulburn and Fonterra are playing chicken with dairy farmers, but I still don't really understand what is going on.

To do so, I need to understand more about dairy internationally. What happens to all the New Zealand exported dairy, for example? And I thought that to a large extent, New Zealand's recent financial success had largely been built on the back of their cows. If there are some international changes hurting the industry there, how will it affect their farmers, and budget bottom line?

It's funny, though, how it would seem that the sense most people have probably had for a few years now, that the price of supermarket milk just seems too cheap to be viable, may finally be being shown to be true.

Or, I could be wrong on that, too. I mean, I also find the price of carrots hard to believe; and have my doubts about how asparagus farmers in California, Mexico or Peru could find it worth their while to fly produce to Australia.  The economics of food seems full of surprises, to me...

Update:  by the way, which country do you think would be the world's biggest producer of milk?   According to the Times of India:
NEW DELHI: Dairy business provides livelihood to 60 million rural households in India and the country continues to be the largest producer of milk in the world, but global warming could result in adversely impacting the overall output in the coming years. 
 Speaking of India and climate change:  did you see the new all time record set last week of 51 degrees?   It's hard to believe that this is not killing hundreds of people there, but that aspect of the recent heat is not getting much publicity.  

Oh, here we go, a recent news story confirming the deaths caused in just one city:
NEW DELHI: Even Dante would’ve winced. Since the last week, with temperatures climbing  to 47 degree Celsius, Delhi is hot as hell. Around  350 have died on the streets. Water shortage of 7,949 lakh litres a day is dehydrating the city; a family uses 225 liters of water a day. Power outages are up to five hours daily as a result of a 20 per cent increase in demand up to 6,044 megawatts. But “no sweat” is the attitude of the Delhi government, which has no on the ground to handle the situation. In 2014, the Delhi High Court constituted a Joint Apex Advisory Committee (JAAC) to look into lack of summer shelter homes, but the committee has not held a single meeting in the last two years. The reason being Delhi government officials are too busy in “some other work” to even participate in any initiative to address the issue. But Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who has promised to compensate those affected by unscheduled power cuts issued a threat to power companies and asked them to limit power cuts to two hours on Saturday. “I have copies of official communication from Delhi government where it has said that the JAAC meeting can’t be held as officials are busy in other work. It seems that government is not concerned about people dying on street because of heat,” said Sunil Kumar Aledia of Centre for Holistic Development (CHD).
A majority of heat related deaths were of the homeless, their bodies found on roads, pavements and other open areas like parks, says CHD. The organisation works with the state government’s Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) for improving the conditions in shelter homes.
 I get the feeling that the lack of news reporting about deaths caused by heat waves may be explained by a couple of things - that it happens to some extent most summers, and also, the politicians don't like it to be publicised.

Weekend round up

*  Finally managed to bribe my kids to accompany me in seeing The Jungle Book, but only one of them so far is admitting that it was an enjoyable movie.  (The other is deliberately depriving me of the pleasure of saying "you were right:  I did like it.") 

It's hard to believe that anyone could really take a positive dislike to it - it has charm; looks great; the animated animals do such good animated animal acting (it really is amazing to think how much the people who create these in the computer must think about it - they sometimes just convey meaning through the slightest movement of the eyes, for example); and it has a certain gravitas that I like to see in children's movies.  If any reader does see it, you must also stay during the credits to listen to some good versions of the songs which play on over them.   I was very impressed.

*  Made good osso buco in the pressure cooker.  This is easy, but my special ingredient is - when frying off the meat (liberally dusted in seasoned flour) in the pressure cooker first, near the end throw in a teaspoon of fennel seeds, and maybe half a teaspoon or so of cumin seeds. 

The rest of the recipe:  take the meat out, then fry up some diced onion, celery and carrot, as well as cup or two of skinned diced roma tomatoes.   (I think fresh tomatoes give a nicer result than canned, but of course, they'll work quite well too).  Then put the meat back in, top up the liquid with some wine (a cup or so?), put the lid on and cook at pressure for 30 minutes or so.  Very tasty.

By the way, it was on some cooking show by an American Italian mother (I forget her name) that she recommended a bit of sugar when cooking tomatoes into a sauce.  Helps bring out the flavour, she said.   I tend to do that myself now, but on Saturday, I also used a not very dry rose for the osso buco - a somewhat sweeter wine than would usually be recommended for cooking meat.   But maybe that was why the sauce seemed to come out particularly nice this time?    I'm not sure...

*  Election round up - I heard it said on Insiders that polling for Labor in Queensland is not looking good.  Can this account for why the betting markets seem increasingly sure of a Coalition win, but Newspoll keeps showing a very close result, with national TPP in favour of Labor?

Why would the Queensland voters have turned strongly against Labor?   It's not as if any defence spending has been thrown Queensland's way, and how can Labor take the blame for Clive Palmer's failure to keep his plant open in Townsville?   I have long said that voters in Queensland are just weird and fickle.  They can never be properly understood.

Friday, May 20, 2016

What fool in the AFP made this decision?

It's absurd to think that it would have not have occurred to the AFP that conducting a "raid" on a Labor Senator and Labor staff on a matter not relating in any way to national security during an election campaign would be potentially politically damaging to the raided party.

And although the primary risk of political harm is to Labor,  there is a chance that Turnbull is also annoyed, given a risk of "blowback" due to suspicion that the government had a role in the timing, no matter how improbable that might be.

[Oh, I hear someone thinking - well, if the political risk is to both parties, then the AFP may as well go ahead anyway.   I would not agree - if the investigation is into a non urgent matter, not relating to national security, and has obvious potential to influence voter's perceptions no matter how it is explained them, then it is foolish of the AFP to be raiding any political party during an election campaign.]

I am curious as to what the Right wingers in the media will say about this.  I don't have high hopes - they are completely on side with Border Force bribing people smugglers on the high seas, and acting completely without public scrutiny under cloak of fake "operational matters" secrecy; but I could be wrong....

Update:  happily, I was wrong, in that even Andrew Bolt is questioning the AFP decision.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Oh dear

Henry Kissinger’s War Crimes Are Central to the Divide Between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

I didn't realise when I mocked Trump saying he'd meet Kissinger for foreign policy advice that Hilary Clinton says she sought his "counsel" when she was Secretary of State!

I also had missed this part of the Kissinger sin (from the same article above):
Personal involvement in a plan to kidnap and murder a journalist living in Washington, D.C.
I see from Googling Hitchen's book on Kissinger, that this was to do with Greek journalist Elias Demetracopoulos, and it was a Greek government plan which, by virtue of some pretty strong indirect evidence, Kissinger had approved.  

A bit of a worry...

England’s chief medical officer warns of ‘antibiotic apocalypse’ | Society | The Guardian

Bohm may be back

Pilot-Wave Theory Gains Experimental Support | Quanta Magazine

I hadn't heard of this recent support for Bohm's approach to quantum physics until this article - but Bee tweeted it, so it must be OK.  

Stop thinking you are a computer

Your brain does not process information and it is not a computer | Aeon Essays

Good essay.

Yet more on Trump stupidity

The Know-Nothing Tide - The New York Times

This paragraph was interesting, in particular:

Speaking of Israel, Trump says, “President Obama has not been a friend
to Israel.” Right, he has not been a friend to the tune of over $20.5
billion in foreign military financing since 2009. He has not been a
friend by providing over $1.3 billion for the Iron Dome defense system
alone since 2011. He has not been a friend by, in 2014, opposing 18
resolutions in the United Nations General Assembly that were biased
against Israel; by helping to organize in 2015 the first U.N. General
Assembly session on anti-Semitism in the history of the body; and by
working tirelessly on a two-state peace, not least on the security
arrangements for Israel that are among its preconditions. He has not
been a friend by turning the other cheek in the face of what Nancy
Pelosi once called “the insult to the intelligence of the United States”
from Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The parties' weakest members

An election campaign is generally pretty dull until you get to the policy speeches, and this one is certainly no exception.  But I thought I would list those characters who are obviously the most annoying from each party:

Liberals:   Peter Dutton wins hands down.  It's hard to imagine anyone liking him, no matter what side of politics, isn't it?  George Brandis perhaps comes in at a close second.  He seems to occasionally laugh at himself, however.  Dutton seems like a zombie.

Labor:  Stephen Conroy:  an annoying haircut, accent and general manner in a man who frequently lets his mouth run ahead of his brain.  Keep him off the airwaves as much as possible, Bill.

Nationals:  George Christensen.   An unpleasant, buffoony appearance in which the exterior matches the interior character.  Or so it seems.  Maybe he's a lovely man in private.  (Just kidding, it's too hard to imagine.)

Greens:  Adam Bandt:  just when the party gets a heterosexual, more or less reasonable sounding, leader, we still get reminded of the "preciousness" of a large part of the Greens whenever Bandt gets his head on TV. Sorry, I find him annoying. 

A genuine fool

Exclusive: Skeptical Trump says would renegotiate global climate deal | Reuters

The thing about him is that he is such an obvious fool, but he flip flops on most issues (save climate change, where he is continually wrong) that he well be malleable by advisers around him.  However, who could possibly trust his judgement about the quality of the advisers he would chose?

Not cheerful news

Scientists predict extensive ice loss from huge Antarctic glacier -- ScienceDaily

By studying the history of Totten's advances and retreats,
researchers have discovered that if climate change continues unabated,
the glacier could cross a critical threshold within the next century,
entering an irreversible period of very rapid retreat.

This would cause it to withdraw up to 300 kilometres inland in the
following centuries and release vast quantities of water, contributing
up to 2.9 metres to global sea-level rise.
 A full 300 km retreat may take "several hundred years", but still...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A dangerous precedent

Rodrigo Duterte’s Talk of Killing Criminals Raises Fears in Philippines - The New York Times

Reading about the trouble the Philippines has had with criminals and lawlessness in relatively recent history, it strikes me again as odd how some of the most overtly Catholic countries can have major trouble with gangs -  Italy's mafia, Mexico's drug gangs, and the Philippines with whatever their criminality has been about.

A very tricky issue

There's No Such Thing as Free Will - The Atlantic

This perhaps isn't the best article on the matter of free will, and the consequences of not believing in it, but still worth reading, I think.

As it happens, I noticed that the edition of Philosophy Now magazine  currently at my local newsagent had several articles on free will.  I haven't finished them all, yet, but I'll probably get around to mentioning one of them here, later.

[I keep thinking, incidentally, that the current way young folk in particular in Western society are thinking about gay and transgender issues is influenced not just by Freud, but by their increasing and almost unconscious acceptance that free will is not real, and our feelings are all determined by a dance of atoms that we have no control over.]  

An interesting result

Magic-mushroom drug lifts depression in first human trial : Nature News & Comment

As readers would know, I'm the last person to endorse recreation use of drugs (beyond alcohol), but persistent and deep depression is a very serious thing, and if one dose of a hallucinogen seems to be shown to help most people with the condition, it's worth considering.

The biggest buffoon to ever run for President

I had missed the "Trump complains about modern hairspray" story from last week, but here it is, covered by Colbert:

You would have to be seriously stupid to consider voting for this clown.

Oh look - Steve Kates is still making sympathetic posts about him.   (And a bunch of Right wing culture warriors still think he's great, 'cos he annoys "Leftists".)   I see that some anonymous contributor to the blog is also now re-posting items from a Fox News commentator about Hilary Clinton.   Seriously, the place has become so dire that you can feel it slowly sucking intelligence out of the universe. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Probably a bad thing...

If California legalizes marijuana, consumption will likely increase. But is that a bad thing? - LA Times: The data from Colorado and Washington, where voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, are still preliminary. We do know, however, that the number of Coloradans who reported using marijuana in the past month increased from about 10.5% in 2011-12 to nearly 15% in 2013-14. In Washington, reported use increased from just above 10% to almost 13%.

Given that both states' preexisting medical systems already provided quasi-legal availability, it is hard to imagine that commercial legalization did not account for at least some of these increases. (That said, other factors could influence marijuana use and it will be some time before researchers have enough data to conduct rigorous analyses. Some of the increase could also come from respondents being more honest now that marijuana is legal in their states).

But is an increase in marijuana consumption a bad thing from a public health standpoint? Not necessarily.
I didn't realise the increases were that large, but this article is from a pro-legalisation advocate.

On the matter of public health, the problem is partly the length of time it takes to work this stuff out.  The rate of increase in smoking in the relatively young is the major issue, but its full effect may take years to clearly establish.

Given that the worst possible health effect (apart from possible car accident death) is a really debilitating mental illness (schizophrenia), surely you don't need too much of an increase in the rate of that to say that its increased use is a real public health negative.

Good grief

Donald Trump to meet with Henry Kissinger on foreign policy.

I see that Kissinger is 92 now.  Mind you, his safe "use by" age was probably 40.

Viewing recommendations

Greece With Simon Reeve | SBS On Demand

This documentary/travel show about Greece (last night on SBS) was very good, if somewhat depressing, viewing.   From the (pretty obvious) environmental degradation of the Mediterranean sea around Greece, to the surprisingly nutty men of Crete, it was fascinating in a way I didn't quite expect.

After that, although I missed part of it, there was Matthew Evans' show What's the Catch, about where our seafood comes from.  This is a repeat, evidently, but I had missed it the first time around. 

Again, this was very eye-opening.   The fishing practices around Thailand, to make the fish meal that is fed to their cheap farmed prawns that I already refuse to buy at the supermarket, were a real worry.  The problem is, places like Dominoes pizza will source their prawns from countries with such dire environmental practices.

Anyway, all praise SBS and ABC, again: for running educational material you won't see on commercial television.

Looking at why evangelicals would support Trump

Trump’s success with evangelical voters isn’t surprising. It was inevitable. - The Washington Post

The short answer:  because the modern, politically engaged, American evangelical typically has views that are not really Biblically based at all - except when it comes to homosexuality, I guess. 

On the other hand, NPR has an article about some evangelicals who are saying they can't in good conscience vote for Trump.

Letting Laffer off lightly

Cutting taxes to balance the budget? You're having a Laffer - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

It seems to me that when journalists here write about Art Laffer, they tend to let him off pretty lightly.   (Kansas rarely gets a mention, strangely enough.  How's it going?  - still terribly, I see - you have to go to somewhere like Forbes to find a "free market" proponent to run the Laffer line that it'll all work out for the good - just you wait and see; give it a decade or so.  Oh, and universities and highway funding - who needs them? It's all a "spending problem", not a revenue one.  Lol.)

But nonetheless, Ian Verrender's explanation of what's happened with low interest rates (companies are paying out big dividends, while simultaneously having earnings decline) was interesting.

My duty to note Spielberg

A Word With: Steven Spielberg - The New York Times

I will read, and usually post about, any Spielberg interview I find.   As usual, he presents as the smart, self aware, and very likeable man I've always perceived him to be.

I see that The BFG seems to have received enough positive reviews at Cannes (well, it seems to me the British press were kinder to it than the US media) to ensure it will be a success.  

Trust me, I'm a business man

So, a high profile business man is not only able to completely misrepresent and massively exaggerate about a Labor Party policy, but he's also able to completely and utterly backtrack on a former position? :

That's what self serving business men do, hey Symond?  

Monday, May 16, 2016


Peta Credlin suggests government lawyers said boat turnbacks were illegal | Australia news | The Guardian

I'm not surprised:  advice given to Labor governments about the likely illegality of the practice would not have changed.

In my opinion, Australian journalism has been far too supine in accepting the Coalition government's refusal to discuss "on water" or "operational" matters.  And unwilling to spend the money to find out the fate of some returnees. 

Deep thoughts for a Monday

Physicist Bee H tweeted a link to this interview, so I presume she found it interesting.  Here's the best part:
Seeing as you’re a physicist who has thought so deeply about Gödel’s theorem, do you think the absence of a theory of everything in mathematics suggests there might be no theory of everything in physics?
I totally think about that. Why should we think, since physics is so rooted in mathematics, that there is going to be a physical theory of everything? The way we usually think about the Big Bang is: The universe is born, and it’s born with initial data. There are laws of physics, and somehow the initial data is just… something else. We really are dishonest about where that comes from. What if the law of physics that describes the origin of the universe is something that has to make a claim about itself, which is a classic self-referential Gödelian setup for a tangle. [A Gödelian tangle is an unprovable, self-referential mathematical statement, such as, “This statement is unprovable.”] What if the laws of physics have to make a claim about themselves in such a way that they themselves become somehow uncomputable?
I’m also super interested in the idea that the initial data of the universe could contain irrational or uncomputable numbers. Then the universe could never finish computing the consequences of the initial conditions. Maybe we can’t predict what’s coming next because every digit of the initial data is a toss of a coin.
But it’s not enough if I only have words, and I’ve never found something to write down in math, so I’ve just kind of waffled. I think a smart thing to do would be to look at a specific Gödelian tangle that exists in mathematics and try to map that to fictitious laws of physics. Then you would have a universe in which there was a Gödelian tangle. There are constructive things to try.

Just plain nuts

TLS | Otter ego

Is this to be taken seriously?   Sounds more like an April Fool's joke.   But if not, seems to me that this piece would be more appropriate in The Guardian as an example of self indulgent eccentricity, but here it is in the Time Literary Supplement.  An extract:
The real novelty of Foster’s approach, however, lies in his second
instrument. Foster is going to inhabit – not just imaginatively but
physically – the landscape of his target animals. He exchanges
hallucinogens in the living room for adoption of the lives of the
badger, the otter, the fox, the red deer, and the swift.

Foster is not someone who believes in half-measures. To replicate the
life of a badger, Foster and his eight-year-old son live for several
weeks in a “sett” – more accurately a hole in the ground gouged by the
JCB digger of a farmer friend – in the Welsh Black Hills. Like badgers,
they sleep in this sett by day, and crawl around the forest on their
bellies by night, eating worms, grasshoppers (and lasagne provided by
aforementioned farmer friend), licking slugs and smelling their
surroundings (they even construct a scent map of the forest). Over the
weeks, the importance of vision, in this new, dark, ankle-high world
they inhabit, is progressively replaced by hearing and smell.

If anything, Foster’s approach to being an otter is even more
demanding. Spraint is otter dung – used to mark their territory and
often deposited in highly visible locations, such as the rocks beside a
river pool. Foster enlists the help of his children, encouraging them to
deposit their own “spraint” along the riverbanks of Devon. They all
then learn to identify, using their olfactory abilities, each other’s
spraint, assigning individual piles of it to individual persons. Foster
completes his inhabiting of the life of an otter by sleeping in storm
drains by day – nestled warmly in a bed of nappies and syringes – and
swimming in the rivers of Dartmoor by night, attempting, unsuccessfully,
to catch fish with his teeth.
Update:  Ha!   I just click over to The Guardian, and what do I find?   Another story, this one about a British guy trying his hardest to become "goatman"!:
Thwaites spent three days in Alpine meadows, doing his best to mix with a herd of goats. “No one was using that much energy, there weren’t wolves around, we weren’t being driven along a mountain path, but it was still difficult, especially going downhill,” says Thwaites. “After a while, the prosthetics started rubbing, and I got sweaty and cold.” This physical discomfort “encroached” on his attempts to think like a goat.

Is there something in the water over there that the government ought to be looking into?

On shifting the blame for Trump

I don't always care for Bill Maher, but in this clip about how some on the American Right are attempting to blame the Left for the rise of Trump as a presidential candidate, he is spot on:

Saturday, May 14, 2016

For those of us who can't get enough Wittgenstein anecdotes

Freeman Dyson in a review in 2012 (don't think I've linked to it before, although I certainly did refer to the book he's reviewing):
When I arrived at Cambridge University in 1946, Wittgenstein had just returned from his six years of duty at the hospital. I held him in the highest respect and was delighted to find him living in a room above mine on the same staircase. I frequently met him walking up or down the stairs, but I was too shy to start a conversation. Several times I heard him muttering to himself: “I get stupider and stupider every day.”

Finally, toward the end of my time in Cambridge, I ventured to speak to him. I told him I had enjoyed reading the Tractatus, and I asked him whether he still held the same views that he had expressed twenty-eight years earlier. He remained silent for a long time and then said, “Which newspaper do you represent?” I told him I was a student and not a journalist, but he never answered my question.

Wittgenstein’s response to me was humiliating, and his response to female students who tried to attend his lectures was even worse. If a woman appeared in the audience, he would remain standing silent until she left the room. I decided that he was a charlatan using outrageous behavior to attract attention. I hated him for his rudeness. Fifty years later, walking through a churchyard on the outskirts of Cambridge on a sunny morning in winter, I came by chance upon his tombstone, a massive block of stone lightly covered with fresh snow. On the stone was written the single word, “WITTGENSTEIN.” To my surprise, I found that the old hatred was gone, replaced by a deeper understanding. He was at peace, and I was at peace too, in the white silence. He was no longer an ill-tempered charlatan. He was a tortured soul, the last survivor of a family with a tragic history, living a lonely life among strangers, trying until the end to express the inexpressible.

Friday, May 13, 2016

That is weird

The Mothership of All Alliances: Scientology and the Nation of Islam | New Republic

I now know slightly more about Nation of Islam, and am particularly surprised to learn it's a science fiction religion, just like Scientology (which it is in the process of embracing):

Farrakhan himself has called white people “a race of devils” and the
Nation teaches that the apocalypse will involve a UFO, or “mother
plane,” that will eradicate all Caucasians.However, there are
some striking theological overlaps that might help explain how Farrakhan
came to adopt a religion invented by a white man. There is, of course,
the attachment to science fiction: Scientologists believe in an alien
dictator, Xenu; the Nation holds that the white race was created by a
mad scientist named Yakub.


Marvel-lous box office (even if I don't care for them)

Here I was, idly thinking "is it just me, or has this latest Marvel Captain America movie really not had much build up and media attention - are people getting less excited about these multi superhero movies, which increasingly all look the same?"; and then I decided to check the box office numbers.

Worldwide gross of $765 million, in about a week??   Gee.   (It has had generally good reviews too, so it might not burn out as fast that [Bat V Super] x man critical failure.)

Marvel fanboys and fangirls obviously still care - as so do some reviewers - for a genre I don't (much). 

A gay explanation?

Genetic tug of war linked to evolution of same-sex sexual behavior in beetles | EurekAlert! Science News

In this study the scientists looked for evidence to support the
theory that genetic links exist between SSB and other characteristics
which carry benefits in one sex but not the other. Thus, SSB in one sex
could occur because genetically linked traits are favored by natural
selection in the opposite sex - the genetic tug of war.

The scientists based their hypothesis on the fact that most genes
are expressed in both males and females and often code for more than one
characteristic. For example, previous studies have reported that the
same genes that code for SSB are also the genes that code for mobility.
Mobility is known to be costly to female seed beetles as they do not
need to range as far as males to mate.

To test their hypothesis, the team of scientists selectively bred
male and female beetles to display increased SSB, studying how this
affected their mobility and reproductive success compared to beetles
that had been bred to display decreased SSB. The scientists showed that
when a particular sex had been bred for increased SSB, siblings of the
opposite sex enjoyed an increase in reproductive performance. They also
showed changes in traits such as mobility and sex recognition after
selective breeding on SSB, providing evidence for genetic links between
SSB and these traits across the sexes, according to the researchers.

Not sure about the design

Inside the world's largest cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas | Travel | The Guardian

There's no doubt about it, these massive new cruise ships look awesomely, um, massive, and are surely marvels of modern engineering.

The waterslides look a bit scary, though:

And I have two other reservations:  the way these cabins look across the void straight into other cabins - not much privacy there without a closed curtain (although no doubt much better than being stuck in an windowless internal cabin):

And - I'm no marine engineer, but the whole ship looks a bit disturbingly top heavy, doesn't it?:

There's a hell of a lot of ship for a side on wind to blow against...

Dubious journalism continues

The Right is thrilled that a person who appeared on Q&A and made an entirely valid point about tax rate changes turns out now to have some pretty serious sounding criminal convictions, too.

I would have thought sensible people would at least have misgivings about national media giving front page treatment to this guy's past - is embarrassing a Liberal politician on the ABC enough grounds for the Murdoch press to do that?   But, there is the aspect that an Q&A producer had (unwisely) referred to him as a "national hero" in a tweet, and the fact that lots of people promised money to him when they didn't know the full story.   So I find it hard to say that his background is completely un-newsworthy; but surely it is still being handled disproportionately and with no regard to how it may affect Storrar and his family.

Of course, Storrar himself could help by, say, getting someone to agree to be trustee of the money on a trust set up for his daughter's education and benefit.  That is, if any of the money promised now materialises.

And my complaint about Sinclair Davidson (who thinks the ABC should be running around investigating the private live of everyone who has ever appeared on Q&A) remains:  he was calling this guy a "parasite" before any of this came out, and simply because he doesn't pay net tax.

Update:  it's been decades since I have seen it, but the movie Absence of Malice just came to mind.  I remember few details, except I'm sure it dealt with the journalistic ethics of printing stories that were technically newsworthy, but which carried a strong chance of "collateral damage" to people who were part of the story.    (I only remember one scene, which must mean it was really effective - the poor woman who, I think, had had an abortion after an affair with a politician? running around the neighbourhood in the early morning, trying to pick up newspapers delivered on the front step before they could read them.  I wonder if I have that right?)   Pretty much the same goes here.

Update 2:  I just checked the plot of the movie on Wikipedia - I was pretty close.

New summer melt record seems increasingly likely

People who follow these things closely are increasingly saying that early conditions are so below average for this time of year, a record summer Arctic ice melt this Northern summer seems on the cards:

Not sure I'd feel comfortable within 20 m of it...

They've been talking about the need to clean up the Ganges River in India for years, possibly decades, but here we have another lengthy article at the BBC about the dire condition it's in.  How's this chart, for example:

And after that appears the line:
Here in Varanasi it is sometimes more than 150 times the recommended safe level for bathing, yet vast numbers of people bathe away regardless.

Mice behaviour

Mice cooperate if they benefit -- ScienceDaily

I didn't know mice often have communal nests:
Female house mice can raise their young with other females in a communal
nest. Two or several females pool their litters in one nest and jointly
care for all offspring, even if litters differ by a few days in age. As
the females cannot tell apart between their own young and the offspring
of the other females, they indiscriminately nurse all pups in the
communal nest. If one female has more pups than the others, she invests
the same into nursing but weans more young and therefore has an
All a bit socialist of them...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Help! Our cash reserves only went up $150,000 last year!

I love the way the IPA makes a call for membership/donations when there's an issue they think can motivate  the suckers  sympathising readers to part with their cash.

The reality is, as I'm sure I've pointed out before,  that the IPA already sits on a piggy bank of  cash that's been increasing substantially over the last 5 years.  Here, look at this page from their 2014/15 report:

Oh woe is them!  Cash reserves have only increased $1.14 million over the last 5 years. 

And for all of that, what did they get?   A Liberal PM who made promises directly to them that he didn't keep.    And even he's supporting the new PM in the superannuation changes the fight against which is supposed to be the rallying point for new membership.

If the IPA wants to run an advertising campaign supporting the ALP on this issue (lulz), why don't members (new or existing) tell them to use their growing cash reserves to cover it? 

Delcon dismay

The Delusional Conservatives who pine for the return of Tony Abbott as PM must be feeling some dismay at his lengthy support for the Turnbull changes to superannuation in the budget.

More skepticism on company tax cuts

Election 2016: The weak case for a company tax cut

Oh, so it's not just Crikey and Bernard Keane arguing that the benefits of cuts to company tax aren't proven.  Peter Martin now explains the reasons it might not be such a good idea, after all.

I find this issue confusing, partly because someone like Ken Henry, who was clearly perceived by some Right wing economists as being a soft headed friend of the Left, argued for it.  But as Martin says today:

And earlier plans to cut company tax were to be at least partly
funded by the companies themselves (Wayne Swan wanted to do it by
removing loopholes, the Henry review by a mining super-profit tax).
Turnbull's plan is different. It's give, without the take.

On the plus side he is cracking down on multinational tax avoidance, and to
some extent a lower company tax rate might itself make avoidance less

The centrepiece of his election campaign is far more than a thought bubble. It derives from serious economic modelling. But it might not yet have been completely thought through.
On the matter of the "Google tax", I heard on Radio National this morning that (based on Britain's experience, which Turnbull is copying), it's not really expected to raise much tax of itself, rather it is designed to encourage companies not to minimise their tax by their offshoring profit methods.  [Hence, it wouldn't do much to make up the loss in revenue that Martin explains today.]

Both sides take damage; but only one looks nasty

I didn't see Q&A on Monday night, but have been following the story about Mr Storrar, who argued that a tax change at the high end of the scale gives no benefit to people (like him, allegedly) with income at the bottom of the scale.  Fair enough argument, one would have thought, but he did paint it in a very personal light.

I take it that Kelly O'Dwyer (who, in my opinion, used to come across as very hard nosed and an economic dry, but has softened somewhat since having a baby) didn't counter convincingly.   Whereupon The Australian decided to follow up on Storrar's personal life not once, but two days running.  Meanwhile, a unionist set up a donation site which has led to much money being promised to Storrar, most of it perhaps by people who may not have realised he didn't live with his daughters and (from today's Australian) has an adult son who is estranged from him, claims he led him into drug problems, and is annoyed at the positive image his father got from his TV appearance.

Even before this morning's story in The Australian, Sinclair Davidson at Catallaxy was angry at this guy's "sense of entitlement" and quoting passages from Atlas Shrugged(!) at him.  In comments, he went as far as calling him a "parasite". 

As far as I'm concerned, the whole incident demonstrates three things:

a.  a certain gullibility on the Left to immediately accept appearances when it comes to "hard luck" stories;

b.  the somewhat creepy way The Australian has sought to attack government critics personally, whether they be statutory appointments (Triggs) or mere audience members on an ABC show.    Sure, they came up with the goods, so to speak, this time;  and perhaps they would not have thought it worthwhile were it not for the donations being sought for him.   But it still seems to me to have become an ugly, nasty paper, even with former editor Chris Mitchell leaving.

c.  the nasty and poisonous taint of Randian name calling that is just under the surface of part of the Australian Right.  That Sinclair Davidson, a man who seeks to be influential in Coalition policy, and is invited to talk at Liberal Party functions, should use "parasite" for someone who receives government benefits shows he has no idea how that language demeans himself in the eyes of the broader Australian public.  The extreme and eccentric views of Ayn Rand have never caught on here like they have amongst a certain political corner of America, and in our more egalitarian society they are never likely to do so.  As I have said before, the Liberals could only benefit by distancing themselves from the IPA, and him.*

So, I think both sides take some damage from this story, but only the Right ends up looking nasty.

* And why no ABC journalist ever questions him when he on TV or radio about statements he has made on his blog, but give him a clear run, is a bit of a puzzle.  Perhaps they need me to supply links?

Intersex issues

The spectrum of sex development: Eric Vilain and the intersex controversy : Nature News & Comment

A somewhat interesting article here about an intersex researcher who has had his share of controversy.

Here's one part (in the first paragraph) that I thought surprising, if true:
At Necker University Hospital for Sick Children in Paris in the
1980s, he says, doctors presumed that a child would be psychologically
damaged if he or she did not have normal-looking genitalia. In Vilain's
experience, that belief was so strong that doctors would take genital
abnormalities into account when deciding how hard to fight to save a
premature baby. “The unanimous feeling was that boys with a micropenis
could never achieve a normal life — that they were doomed,” he says.
(The paediatric-surgery department at Necker refused to answer questions
relating to past or current standards of care.)

DSDs occur in an estimated 1–2% of live births, and hundreds of genital
surgeries are performed on infants around the world every year1.
But there are no estimates as to how often a child's surgically
assigned sex ends up different from the gender they come to identify

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Of course they are right to worry

Packing Heat Onto College Campuses - The New York Times

Seems that there are a handful of sensible Republicans on guns:  such as this one:
The gun lobby’s relentless drive to arm students across the nation’s
college campuses ran into an unexpected hitch in Georgia last week when
Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a measure that would have let students carry
concealed weapons to class. Mr. Deal scoffed at the rationale of fellow
Republicans in the legislature that arming students would increase their
safety. “It is highly questionable that such would be the result,” he
stressed in his veto message.
But the best paragraphs of this article are at the end:
And in July of next year, all six  Kansas state universities and dozens of community colleges and tech schools must allow their students to carry concealed weapons on campus, classrooms
included.  A poll of 20,000 Kansas college employees found 82 percent said they would feel less safe on an armed campus, according to National Public Radio. Two-thirds said the presence of guns would necessarily hamper their freedom to teach effectively. Critics of the move wonder, what if students get into a gun fight in class? And what happens to open discourse in a place tense with concealed carry?

The legislative majorities pushing this issue as a public safety necessity insist armed students and professors are the best way to defend against armed intruders. But a new study of federal firearms data indicates licensed and armed private citizens wind up harming themselves or others with their guns far more often than shooting attackers. The study by the Violence Policy Center, a gun safety advocacy group, found that over a three-year period ending in 2014, less
than one percent of victims of attempted or completed crimes of violence used their firearms to try to stop crimes. The notion of quick-draw self defense remains a macho fantasy for gun buyers.

He's got it all covered...or so he thinks

Backreaction: Book review: “The Big Picture” by Sean Carroll

Well, atheist physicist Bee thinks atheist physicist Sean Carroll's book is very good.

The comments following her review are likely to go on for some time, and be interesting, at least in parts.

I see one of them refers to Peter Woit's more skeptical take on the point of the book.  In fact, Woit's comments make for more interesting reading than Bee's review.

Legal cannabis and driving is a serious problem, after all

Fatal road crashes involving marijuana double after state legalizes drug: Foundation research also shows that legal limits for marijuana and driving are meaningless -- ScienceDaily

I always suspected that this would be a likely problem, but the evidence to show that it was really was seems to have been slow coming forward.  And the thing is, because of the way THC works and hangs around for a long time at detectable levels, it's a tricky one to respond to.   (Short of saying any THC in the test will result in a punishment, I guess.)

Update:  here's a story about a recent case in Australia illustrating the difficulties of making "drug driving" laws for THC.  I see that the Greens recommend following British laws where they also test for impairment - but I've always been doubtful about the reliability of roadside impairment testing. 

Perhaps not quite as bad as it looked

Nearly 90 per cent of Fort McMurray still intact; 2,400 structures lost - The Globe and Mail

I was interested in the comparison with the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in 2009, and (apart from the death of 173 people making it obviously a greater human disaster) here are the figures for structures lost:

So, Australia, we still do bushfire disasters way better than the Canadians. Yay, sort of.... (Sorry, is that too black?  Pun not intended either.)

When even the TLS likes it, I should see it

The TLS blog: The Jungle Book rebooted

I've been telling my (now teenage) kids that, even though they had no inherent interest in it (and nor did I), The Jungle Book has been such a critical and popular success* that we ought to see it.

Now that it is even the subject of a blog review at the TLS, I am further sure of my view.

$783 million globally.

Claustrophobia, anyone?

Here's an illustration from an article at Slate about how the Hyperloop designs are going:

Seriously, is no one thinking of the claustrophobic effects of being in a tube (with no windows) for even half an hour? 

So the IPA wants you to vote Labor? Ahahahaha

Disunity is meant to be death in politics, and surely the IPA's proposed campaign against the Coalition's superannuation changes is only going to hurt Turnbull and his government in this election.

Now, some might say that the sight of a think tank campaigning on the grounds "but think of the rich...the poor mistreated rich!" might actually encourage swing voters who might have leant towards Labor to go for Turnbull after all;  but I can't see it working that way.    No, I think the effect will be more along the lines that they won't vote for the side of politics which the rich think they can push around to get changes back in their favour.  

It's early days, but I suspect the Coalition must be feeling pretty nervous about the way this election campaign is going so far.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Good quotes

John Quiggin has posted quotes from Jennifer Rubin (herself a conservative) writing at the Washington Post about the need for conservative politics in the US to reform itself, and I have to agree with JQ that they are very, very sensible:
Somewhere in that mix are the contours of a platform that is contemporary and conservative and for which there is arguably a broader demographic and geographic appeal. It should not include (for there is no political appetite for these things, and they are unattainable and/or unwise from a policy standpoint): opposition to gay rights; large tax cuts for the rich; protectionism; expelling women from combat in a volunteer army; rooting gays out of the military; obsessing over bathroom assignments; fixating on local ordinances about wedding services; keeping the status quo on entitlements; cutting out (as opposed to reforming) the safety net; never, ever raising taxes on anyone; and mass deportation.

What follows will be different from 1980s conservatism because we are more than three decades removed from Ronald Reagan. Our problems are different — stagnant wages, resurgent and varied enemies, the withering of communal organizations, crumbling infrastructure. We have recognized that the old solutions — a rising tide lifts all boats (not if you have no skills) — are insufficient. However, Republicans should not sell snake oil. Telling working-class whites that the problem is immigrants is a lie. The economic data overwhelmingly show that immigration spurs growth, creates jobs and aids innovation, and no amount of junk statistics from zero-population Malthusians is going to change this. (There are solutions for the tiny segment of the workforce, usually the last wave of immigrants, that might be adversely affected.) Telling workers that millions of jobs went to China is a lie, too. The problems are real, and the solutions must be real as well. We need the world’s best and brightest workers, a humane society and methods to control borders and prevent visa overstays.

 Along with all of this, conservatives have to end their intellectual isolation and self-delusions. They need to stop pretending that climate change is not occurring (the extent and the proposed solutions can be rationally discussed) or imagining that there is a market for pre-New-Deal-size government. Conservatives must end their infatuation with phony news, crank conspiracy theories, demonization of well-meaning leaders and mean rhetoric. It’s time to grow up, turn off Sean Hannity, get off toxic social media and start learning about the world as it is. (Read a book authored by someone without a talk show, spend time with non-Republicans, take an online course in economics.) Confirmation bias has become pathological.

Good marks for effort..sort of

Thai university students caught using spy cameras, smartwatches to cheat on medicine exam

Three students used glasses with wireless cameras embedded in their frames to transmit images to a group of as yet unnamed people, who then sent the answers to the smartwatches.

Mr Arthit said the trio had paid 800,000 baht ($31,000) each to the tutor group for the equipment and the answers.

"The team did it in real-time," Mr Arthit wrote.
Of more general interest in the report is the explanation that the Thai education system is not doing so well:
In the 2014 PISA rankings, which measures global educational standards, Thai students performed below the global average and much worse than those from poorer Vietnam in subjects like maths and science.

Last year, the World Bank said improving poor quality education was the most important step the kingdom could take to securing a better future, with one third of Thai 15-year-olds "functionally illiterate" — lacking the basic reading skills to manage their lives in the modern world.

Critics say the kingdom's high corruption levels and ongoing political instability has made deep-seated education reforms impossible over the last decade.

Then there were two

Had a very pleasant meeting last evening with a long term blog reader.  This is only the second reader (of the variety who only knows of me via the blog) I have ever met, and the first was maybe 9 years ago, so it doesn't happen often.   Mind you, with my scant hit rate, this still probably means I will have met all regular readers by the time I'm 80...if I haven't done so already.  :)

Monday, May 09, 2016

Nightwalkers of all kinds

Transvestite Vicar Ghost in Interwar England - Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog

Beachcombing tells the tale of a night time cross dressing English vicar in the 1920's, and it is odd and somewhat amusing.

But before he gets into it, he notes:

First, it might be worth noting that there were many nightwalkers in
Victorian and Edwardian England who were often mistaken for ghosts. Some
were men or women who used the night to walk naked through familiar
countryside, and a rarer category were men who used the hours of night
to dress in their wife’s clothing.
Can't say that I've heard before of naked, pale night walkers of England as an explanation for some ghost sightings in Victorian England!  

Update:  I see that "nightwalker" had a much earlier meaning in England, as explained in this article from an interesting looking site.

Are Donald and Art even talking?

In April, Art Laffer was claiming:
“You know, [Trump] wants to cut tax rates, Poppy. He does not want to cut taxes. He wants to cut tax rates to bring economic growth back in. He wants to bring jobs back into the United States by having a corporate tax of 15 percent versus the highest tax in the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development]. And he’s completely right on that. And by the way, so is Ted Cruz completely right on that. Everyone else is missing this.”
Some other claims by laughing Art in that interview were, um, interesting:
Laffer then said that Trump would cut the national debt by using “asset sales.”
Adding, “You have all these properties, you have the post office, you have Camp Pendleton, which is worth $65 billion. There are all sorts of assets.”
Harlow interject, “Who are you going to sell it to?”
Laffer responded that “Southern California beachfront property is still going very nicely. You’ve got the oil reserves. You’ve got gold in Fort Knox. You’ve got all of these assets — it could probably bring down the national debt.
Again, Harlow interrupted, “I’m asking but who are you going to sell it to to eliminate $19 trillion in national debt?”
“Well, you couldn’t eliminate the whole 19 trillion with asset sales, but if you brought the budget back in, you got economic growth, you wouldn’t reduce it to zero, but you can make a huge hit. I mean the tax amnesty program by itself, Poppy, with a good tax plan could probably bring in $800 billion. I mean just past taxes being paid.”
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Sunday he was open to raising taxes on the rich, backing off his prior proposal to reduce taxes on all Americans and breaking with one of his party's core policies dating back to the 1990s."I am willing to pay more, and you know what, the wealthy are willing to pay more," Trump told ABC's "This Week."
From the rest of the report:
The billionaire real estate tycoon has said he would like to see an increase in the minimum wage, although he told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday he would prefer to see states take the lead on that front instead of the federal government.
"I don't know how people make it on $7.25 an hour," Trump said of the current federal minimum wage. "I would like to see an increase of some magnitude. But I'd rather leave it to the states. Let the states decide."
Trump's call for higher taxes on the wealthy is a break with Republican presidential nominees who have staunchly opposed tax hikes for almost three decades. Tax hikes have been anathema to many in the party since former President George H.W. Bush infuriated fellow Republicans by abandoning a pledge not to raise taxes and agreeing to an increase in a 1990 budget deal.
Democrats, including presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, have pressed for increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans for years.
Trump released a tax proposal last September that included broad tax breaks for businesses and households. He proposed reducing the highest income tax rate to 25 percent from the current 39.6 percent rate.
He is evidently the "say anything" candidate. 

Oil sands and the fire

How bad will the fires in Fort McMurray hit the economy?

Interesting report in Macleans notes this:

There is also the risk no one wants to talk about just yet: the possibility that a return
to business-as-usual in Fort Mac may simply not be in the cards. Allan Dwyer, an assistant professor of finance at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, says the wildfire is merely the latest wound to be inflicted on the oil sands and its future—and therefore Fort McMurray’s as well.
In addition to a depressed global outlook for oil prices, the current list of headwinds facing the industry include the  fractious political debate over building more pipelines, mounting concerns about the impact on climate change and recently elected provincial and federal governments that promise economic diversification. “A few years ago, when oil was trading around US$110 a barrel, there would be no doubt about it being an all-hands-on-deck approach to rebuilding and getting people back to work,” Dwyer says. “Now it could be a different response.”
Dwyer also wonders how many homeless oil sands workers will be eager to return to Fort McMurray and rebuild given the doom and gloom that hangs over the sector. “There’s been a growing sense, as the global oil prices has gone down and stayed down, that the oil sands is
somewhat of a sunset industry—that it’s yesterday’s aggressive style of producing hydrocarbons,” Dwyer says. “This only adds to that creeping negative sentiment.”

A very cool video

Sky Magic Live at Mt.Fuji : Drone Ballet Show by MicroAd, Inc. from Sky Magic on Vimeo.

Nietzsche and his mum

From a review of new book about Nietzsche (and the reviewer, incidentally, in other parts of the review, is no anti-Nietzsche critic):
In fact, Nietzsche spent a good deal of his early years composing just such books. He completed his first memoir when he was just 13, and wrote another five over the next decade. They weren’t written to record his academic achievements (negligible), much less his prowess on field or track (non-existent), but, rather, according to Blue, as a ‘mirror’ in which, abstracted from history and environment, his ‘latent self’ would come into focus. ‘Autobiography’ was what Nietzsche wrote ‘in order to see who he was’.

On the evidence adduced here, what he was was a mummy’s boy. As late as her son’s undergraduate days, Franziska Nietzsche was still lecturing him on what coat and trousers to wear in the rain. And whenever a more metaphysical storm broke, mum was always Nietzsche’s first port of call. Even when he was called away from his studies for military service, he was granted a dispensation that posted him in his hometown — and allowed him not only to live at home with Mum, but to lunch and dine with her every day of the week. Blue, who seems to have read everything ever published on Nietzsche (and translated much new material hitherto available only in the German), doesn’t mention Joachim Köhler’s Zarathustra’s Secret: The Interior Life of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nonetheless, he does an awful lot to endorse Köhler’s suggestion that Nietzsche was a repressed homosexual.
Well, he was at the very least, rather eccentric from an early age.

More on Trump not winning

Donald Trump just threatened to cause an unprecedented global financial crisis - Vox

Scott Adams presumably thinks that things like this don't hurt the path of a "master persuader" to the Presidency.  Well, I have just checked on his blog, and all he seems to think Trump needs to do is this:

To be fair, Trump scares the pants off of about one-third of the public.
So “risky” will hit home for those voters. The problem for team Clinton
is that Trump has complete control of his persona. All he needs to do
is act less risky for a few months to prove his campaign persona was all for effect. That process is well underway.
I am completely unconvinced.  I think Adams himself is just a showman, milking this for all its worth.

Company tax cuts, again

I see Bernard Keane and Crikey are continuing the case against company tax cuts leading to increased investment.


Sunday, May 08, 2016

Not so much furious as incredulous

That was my reaction at watching Fury Road last night.

Look, post apocalypse movies are not generally my thing; nor are movies based on car crashes and violence.  (Chases are OK, of course, but the Mad Max movies - I gather, as this is the first I have watched - are all about the revving engines and the grinding sound of metal upon metal, often with human flesh squished between it.)

So, it's not as if I was ever destined to like it.  But really, the utter, utter ridiculousness and perverse lack of thrills I was experiencing did mean I kept watching it.  It doesn't reach the "so bad it's good" level, although I strongly suspect that there must have been a substantial part of the cinema audience like me - incredulous at the inanity of what they were watching. Seeing it after knowing it was strongly reviewed, nominated for and had won several Oscars, and made a reasonable amount of money at the box office, only added to the incredulity level.

Let me be specific about a few points:

*  I did not consider it well directed at all.  Good action directing lets you know who (or what) is where in a scene; this quality seemed to me to be distinctly lacking in most of the action sequences.  How Miller got nominated for a directing Oscar indicates something quite worrying about the current crop of Hollywood directors: they don't know good action direction when they see it. 

*  The film was supposed to be one that used little CGI.  Yeah, sure.   I'm not sure how many bodies I saw face plant into sand at about 80kph - it seemed at least a few dozen - but every time one did, of course it was obvious CGI was involved.   It reminded me a bit of the publicity about the much maligned Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which also claimed low CGI in its action sequences, but clearly there was plenty.  (Not that I minded much.  Unlike Road, it was a movie with a plot, after all.)

*  Of what little dialogue there was, I still had trouble understanding some of it, both audibly and narratively.   Was I alone in that?

*  What an embarrassing enterprise for adults to be involved in making; Miller in particular.  As someone writes at IMDB (where there is a bit of a backlash underway in user reviews, it seems):
 So what is this film's targeted demographic? I'm not sure. I can imagine that if you are a 13-year old boy, really into cars/trucks/slipknot, pretty redneck, and probably a little slow, this movie may seem pretty cool. I mean it does have ridiculous cars/trucks outfitted with lots of weapons, spikes, flame-exhausts, (breast-milk?) and guys playing "cool" guitar riffs for no apparent reason. There's also lots of explosions and fighting. And scantily clad women. And tornadoes. And skulls.
Exactly.  I said something more particular to my son as we watched it:  it's like it was written by a 13 year old boy - one who has grown up with aging heavy metal parents, still into Iron Maiden, who took him to every demolition derby and monster truck show in town since he was a toddler.  That Miller made the first couple of Mad Max films when he was a relatively young man is one thing; that he should want to wallow in this world with ever greater improbable visuals, scale and scenarios I have difficulty interpreting other than as an embarrassing sign of immaturity at heart.

*  The one thing I found vaguely interesting:  there was one, not very major, character who I suspect bore a deliberate physical resemblance to Philip Adams.  Adams famously loathed Mad Max, and wrote scathingly of it as violence porn.  (I suspect his reaction was actually a bit overblown, but that it still bore some truth.)   I am curious whether I am right about this being a deliberate joke on Adams on Miller's part. 

In any event, I see now that the movie was not quite the box office smash that its critical reputation suggests.  In the US it made a respectable but far from outstanding $153 million, and $378 million world wide.  

As I'm guessing that 1/4 to 1/3 of the audience actually didn't think highly of the film, I think I can fairly call it not that big a success after all.  Good.