Saturday, April 18, 2015

It's just natural

'Shallow, Selfish, and Self-Absorbed' Details Why Women Aren't Having Children — The Atlantic

Given the number of comments following this article, there certainly is a lot of interest in the question of why more women are choosing not to have children.  "Education" is given as the main answer, but then it dwells on the question of whether or not it is fair or right to call the decision selfish.

While I am fully supportive of the use of contraception to limit family size, I always took the view that having at least one child is just a natural part of most permanent sexual relationships, and is educational in itself.   I tend to be cautious about calling the decision "selfish", but I have always questioned why normal, basically happy, people would want to keep themselves out of this part of the natural aspect of  life, and not want to learn more about themselves and others by going through the experience directly.  In this way, I think I have viewed it in an intellectual way, just that I have come to a different conclusion to the educated who do not want kids.

I think the latter are misguided when they argue that they just never felt like they wanted kids - that's an appeal to emotion, and lots of people find their emotional response changes once they have a child.  In a similar way, I have repeatedly argued that couples who say they are emotionally crushed if they cannot have fall pregnant (and therefore demand experimental procedures such as "3 parent babies" just so they can have their own) are putting emotion at an far undeserved premium.

That's how I see it, anyway.   

All Stanned up

I've been trying the one of the on-line streaming media services - Stan (what an odd name) - because it has a free 30 day trial.  

The main reason for doing this was to see the more recent Sherlock episodes, and last night we watched the Watson wedding one.   I thought it was terrible - meandering, quite dull for most of its length, and with the stupidest "locked room murder" resolution possible.   [Spoiler]:  Apparently, you can put a skewer through a standing person's back and if you do it in the right  spot, they won't notice.  It looks like a show on its last legs.

More successful has been re-watching The IT Crowd from the beginning.   My mental chronology of when TV shows were on has gone rather wonky - I actually thought it was older than it is.   But re-watching (through the first two seasons anyway) has been a pleasure; it was often a very funny, if silly, show.   I never cared for Lineham's Father Ted at all; I just found the comedy in it too simple, and the characters completely unconvincing in any sense.   I could watch an episode and not laugh once.  It reminded me of the cringeworthy nature of Australian sitcoms.

While I can see how someone could make an argument that the IT Crowd style of humour is very similar, and therefore it's odd that I can dislike one and laugh madly at the other, that's just how it is for me.   I think I could make a case that the nerds of IT are at least recognizeably real, if exaggerated, whereas the Father Ted crew bear no resemblance to any priest I've ever met; but perhaps I haven't really tried watching FT long enough to properly put my finger on it.

I also seem to recall that one of the series of IT - perhaps the third, which I haven't re-watched yet - was going downhill.  But it happens with most shows. 

As for the Stan service, it seems to work well and has a pretty good back library of TV and movies.   Still not sure if I will stick with it after the first month, though...

Friday, April 17, 2015

A good Quiggin piece

Gambling on Climate Change - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

I have one quibble - I can't see on-line shopping meaning the complete death of shopping malls.  It's a bit like the predictions that TV, or cable TV, would spell the end of cinema.   They are different experiences.

The three reasons the new Star Wars trailer is creating buzz (to put it mildly)

1.  the music
2.  the fact that when on the ground, it doesn't look like one or two real people acting in front of a gigantic green screen (which is what made the prequels and the LOTR movies uninvolving - that and the fact George Lucas can't write a good screenplay to save himself and I am completely uninterested in Tolkien-lore)
3.  Harrison Ford looks better than expected as a aged Han Solo

A scandalous use of Commonwealth money

Abbott government gives $4m to help climate contrarian set up Australian centre | Environment | The Guardian

Lomborg has next to no credibility amongst climate change scientists and policy analysts who take climate change seriously.

And all you really need to know is this:
The Institute of Public Affairs responded to Lomborg’s new Australian operation by saying, “Bjørn, it’s great to have you!”

Quite an omission

It's rather surprising to find the academic author of a an article about how fatal shootings are reducing in several different Western countries says this in response to a comment about whether improved medical treatment is behind the dropping numbers:
Good question about medical treatment. That could certainly be one of the contributors to falling death rates. I’ve also seen a suggestion that mobile phones have made a difference, because they mean medical help can be called out more quickly. It would be interesting to look more closely at these possibilities.
If she had read this article before, I would have thought she would have answered more along the lines of "yes, there are certainly some experts in America who believe that is the case."

And I just noticed, further down in the comments thread Simon Chapman turns up with a pointed question to the author as follows:
Samara, in your declaration you say you "hold memberships with, and volunteer for, a range of not-for-profit firearm-related organisations." Could you please list these for the sake of transparency, and tell us whether any of these organisations or you personally are an advocate for watering down Australia's firearms laws in areas like ending gun registration, opposing restrictions on semi-automatic hand guns, allowing self defense as a reason to own a firearm, and introducing "right to carry" legislation in Australia of the sort supported by the US NRA and law in many US states. Do any of the organisations you are affiliated with have mutually supportive relationships with the NRA.
 She hasn't answered yet....

Who doesn't like futuristic weapons systems?

US Navy develops cannon-launched 'swarming' drones - BBC News

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cheese hackers

Interesting to read that some DIY work is being done by science/computer nerds on fiddling with DNA in yeast to get it to make milk, and thereafter Real Vegan Cheese.

Seems much more plausible to me than lab grown meat ever being particularly tasty, or texturally as good as, or economically viable compared to,  the real thing from a cow.

The only environmental concern, I suppose, would be if there was ever a chance that escaped milk producing yeast could interfere with the alcohol producing "natural" variety used in wine and beer making.  A great scientific dystopia it would be if in a 1,000 years beer brewing had to be abandoned because it kept going half milky! 

From Slate today

Still, the evidence suggests that America’s wealthiest faced a significantly higher tax burden during the country’s years of midcentury prosperity. Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, for instance, find that, once corporate and estate taxes are added into the mix, the top 0.1 percent of earners paid 71.4 percent of their income to the IRS in 1960, compared to 34.7 percent in 2004. Reaching further back and using slightly different methodology, the Congressional Research Service finds that 0.1 percenters paid an average effective personal income tax rate of 55 percent in 1945, compared to around 25 percent during the late 2000s. The tax code really was more progressive back in the day—and more aggressive.
Here's the link.

Not sure about this...

Why a 'Google tax' is not the answer to corporate tax avoidance

It's from the Lowy Institute blog, but it covers the issue pretty well.

Worrying about glaciers

A short video here showing why experts in the field of Antarctic glaciers think the situation is likely worse than thought only a decade or so ago:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Boys and Girls! You too can make something travel faster than light!

Can't say I had realised this before, but physicist Bee has a fascinating post that starts:
If you sweep a laser pointer across the moon, will the spot move faster than the speed of light? Every physics major encounters this question at some point, and the answer is yes, it will. If you sweep the laser pointer it in an arc, the velocity of the spot increases with the distance to the surface you point at. On Earth, you only have to rotate the laser in a full arc within a few seconds, then it will move faster than the speed of light on the moon!
Now a bit more explanation:
This faster-than-light motion is not in conflict with special relativity because the continuous movement of the spot is an illusion. What actually moves are the photons in the laser beam, and they move at the always same speed of light. But different photons illuminate different parts of the surface in a pattern synchronized by the photon’s collective origin, which appears like a continuous movement that can happen at arbitrary speed. It isn’t possible in this way to exchange information faster than the speed of light because information can only be sent from the source to the surface, not between the illuminated parts on the surface. 
Oh, and your average laser pointer won't still be visible on the moon, and I have my doubts a laser strong enough to be visible is available from scientific supplies shops.

But, it's still fascinating.

(And it's posts like this that I sometimes re-read years later and think "Geez, I do run a great blog!")

Sort of disappointing

Search for advanced civilizations beyond Earth finds nothing obvious in 100,000 galaxies

From the link:
"Whether an advanced spacefaring civilization uses the large amounts of energy from its
galaxy's stars to power computers, space flight, communication, or something we can't yet imagine, fundamental thermodynamics tells us that this energy must be radiated away as heat in the mid-infrared wavelengths," Wright said. "This same basic physics causes your computer to radiate heat while it is turned on."

Theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson proposed in the 1960s that advanced
beyond Earth could be detected by the telltale evidence of their mid-infrared emissions. It was not until space-based telescopes like the WISE satellite that it became possible to make sensitive measurements of this radiation emitted by objects in space.
Roger Griffith, a postbaccalaureate researcher at Penn State and the lead author of the paper, scoured almost the entire catalog of the WISE satellite's detections—nearly 100 million entries—for objects consistent with emitting too much mid-infrared radiation. He then individually examined  and categorized around 100,000 of the most promising galaxy images.
Wright reports, "We found about 50 galaxies that have unusually high levels of mid-infrared radiation. Our follow-up studies of those galaxies may reveal if the origin of their radiation results from natural astronomical processes, or if it could indicate the presence of a highly advanced civilization."

In any case, Wright said, the team's non-detection of any obvious alien-filled galaxies is an interesting and new scientific result. "Our results mean that, out of the 100,000 galaxies that WISE could see in sufficient detail, none of them is widely populated by an alien civilization using most of the starlight in its galaxy for its own purposes. That's interesting because these galaxies are billions of years old, which should have been plenty of time for them to have beenlled with alien civilizations, if they exist. Either they don't exist, or they don't yet use enough energy for us to recognize them," Wright said.

AI and "catastrophic forgetting"

​Teaching a Computer Not to Forget — The Atlantic


A glowing recommendation (heh)

Fukushima bottled water wins Gold Quality Award in Monde Selection ‹ Japan Today: Japan News and Discussion

Irvine on company tax (and the problem with economics)

Why Joe Hockey's tax review should focus on lowering company tax

Since returning to Fairfax, Jessica has been doing a pretty good job with explaining some economic issues.

The problem with economics (and I'd be sure this is not an original thought) is that there is "always something else going on" which makes pinning down cause and effect of particular policy settings very hard to work out.  And it enables economists from opposite and set ideological positions to look at the same set of global evidence and both claim they are vindicated.

Hence, with company tax, you can complain that the Australia rate is now uncompetitive, yet the American rate is even worse (and there appears little prospect of it dropping soon), but America is still achieving an economic recovery.  "Sure" the anti tax, small government economists will say "but if you look at countries X, Y and Z and their growth, consider how much faster the American recovery could have been!"  (And, of course, you can often look at some aspect of how country X, Y and Z operates which the ideologically committed would disagree with, so it's virtually impossible to find a country that you could say is a perfect example of following one consistent economic ideological line.)

I'm not saying that is impossible to ever get to a "truth" in economics; just that the very nature of it means that there are always going to ways for dubious economists to convince politicians that they are the ones who are right.

As with the world of moral philosophy, it pays to not tie oneself to any one analyst, and let intelligent common sense from outside the field guide your actions.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

UFOs and Poltergeists

J. Allen Hynek Writes Letter About Infamous Ghost Experiment - The Black Vault Case Files


J. Allen Hynek wrote very sensible books in a measured tone about UFOs at the peak of public interest in them, and ended up being a consultant to Spielberg for Close Encounters (as well as making a cameo appearance.)  

Interestingly, the letter at his link shows that, despite his reputation for leaning towards the "alien spaceship"  side of likely explanations for UFOs, he did have an interest in the possible interconnection between psychic phenomena, including ghosts and poltergeists, and UFO sightings.

I wonder whether it was conversations with him that got Spielberg interested in writing the story for Poltergeist.  I guess the answer to this might be in a biography of Spielberg on my shelf that I've never got around to reading.

Speaking of the very enjoyable Poltergeist, the remake is due out soon.  The first trailer left me a bit underwhelmed, but the second one that came out recently is making me much more inclined to see it.  It is, I think, a great example of a scary movie trailer, particularly when you consider most viewers probably know the story.

Watch it in a dark room with headphones on, and see if doesn't cause a jump or two:

Catallaxy propaganda

Sinclair Davidson is back to his long standing favourite line of arguing that because the Australian government's tax revenue (when looked at as a simple dollar figure) has, after a post GFC dip, continued to climb since the Howard government, this actually means there is no "revenue problem" but only a spending problem.

Funny how he doesn't mention either population growth (21,542,000 in September 2008, and 23,581,000 in September 2014 - close enough to a 9.5% increase).  Or the growth in GDP.   (Not sure if inflation has been factored in; maybe it has?)

In short - of course revenue should have grown over the period in dollar terms; the question is whether it is growing at expected rates to cover expected needs of a growing, aging population.  To dwell on the rise without context is just ideological propaganda.

And as for arguments about what government is better at covering rather than private enterprise:  the recent DeLong/Krugman writings about it are of great interest.

Update:   I see Andrew Bolt continues his gullible following of any argument Catallaxy runs and re-posts the Davidson graph and line.

Corporate tax considered

Of course, if the "small government at any cost" crowd at the IPA (and ideological anti-taxers like David Leyonhjelm) think that corporate tax per se is a bad idea,  it's a safe assumption that it's actually a good idea.   But seeing they are being given a bit of media space to run their arguments, I've been looking for some pro-corporate tax articles on the net, and here is what I've found so far:

10 Reasons we Should Tax Corporations

Why corporate taxes are good for you

Why we need the corporate tax income tax

The IPAers end their article as follows:
But even if the government wishes to keep the corporate tax fiscal illusion going, there's hope. For all the handwringing about the double Irish Dutch sandwich, one point often missed is that Ireland has been very clever. That country's low corporate tax rates have brought in multinationals, and with them jobs and investment.
It's not obvious those low rates have come at a cost to the Irish budget. Corporate tax revenue as a percentage of total revenue in Ireland is almost exactly the OECD average. There's no reason we couldn't copy the Irish example – get in on the Irish-Dutch sandwich ourselves. The Irish make their own luck. So should we.
 Of course, some countries can do well out of the race to the bottom, by being first to get there.  And they win at a real, impoverishing, cost to other nations who recover diminishing revenue from economic activity in their country.

But people with a moral sense above that of Scrooge McDuck  can see that you can't expect all countries to succeed in this race.   There's only so many multinationals minimising tax to go around...

Style consultant needed

Seriously, Noel Pearson is in the Australian this morning looking like he slept in that suit, and is taking his fashion tips from childhood memories of Homocide Homicide. 

(Or perhaps I should just stop reading Benjamin Law.  Then I might even stop spelling Homicide as Homocide.)

Too generous

Why Hockey will have to clean up Costello's superannuation mess in May budget

It's hard not to be convinced by Peter Martin's explanation here.  

Lincoln death details

After the Assassination: Images from HBO's Living With Lincoln Documentary - The Atlantic

A great article here with some fascinating photos and details about  Lincoln's death and aftermath.

I can't say I've heard of this before, for example:

After performing the inquest into Lincoln's death, U.S. Surgeon General Joseph Barnes cut off a lock of the dead president's hair and gave it to one of Lincoln's servants, a man named Thomas Pendel. Pendel, who became Lincoln's chief  doorkeeper in 1864, was noted for his striking resemblance to Lincoln: The doorman's lanky frame nearly matched the president's odd dimensions and his facial features were so uncommonly similar to Lincoln's that Pendel was sometimes mistaken for the president himself.

It was this uncanny similarity that initially endeared the doorkeeper to Lincoln's son Tad. And it was Pendel who was ultimately left to comfort Tad after news of the president's death reached the family home and Lincoln's son came running to his father's lookalike, screaming, "Oh Tom Pen! Tom Pen! They have killed papa dead. They killed papa dead."
Later that May, Mary Todd asked the servant to put on her husband's black broadcloth coat and model his presidential office suit in a posthumous portrait painted by the famed Boston-based artist William Morris Hunt.
Though Pendel was later described as a "simple, uneducated" man, his possession of this snippet of hair, cut from the head of his dead presidential doppelgänger, along with the
elegant broadcloth, made him a person of particular interest for Lincoln's archivists.
 If this had happened today, there would be an online community of Lincoln assassination conspiracists who have the real Lincoln living in Argentina, and 25% of the population would believe it.  

The fattening

I mentioned my BMI last week, which I checked using a calculator on the Australian Heart Foundation website.

Using sliders to adjust weight and height, it's also accompanied by a graphic of a body that grows fatter as BMI increases.  The trouble is, it might have a bit of a problem with the gradation.

Here it is at a BMI of 25 which, at this morning's DNW (dry nude weight, a term of my invention with which I dismay female workers at the office), I have achieved, the illustration is this:

Yes, I can live with that image - seems pretty accurate to what I'm seeing in the mirror.

But move the weight scale up 1 kg, and at a BMI of 26. this is what the drawing becomes:

And to think I was that hideous only a month ago...

Monday, April 13, 2015

Making it up as she goes along?

I just noticed Judith Sloan making a comment in a Catallaxy thread that didn't sound right:

Could that line about Tasmania be true?

In 2013, the Premier was claiming 27,000 public servants, but the person who wrote this post said that if you add in employment in Tasmanian government owned bodies, it's more like 33,000.   Then someone in comments points to a 2010 report which said this:
New figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday show 40,900 Tasmanians were employed by the State Government in June, more than 17 per cent of the entire state workforce.
The wages bill for state public servants also leapt by nearly 19 per cent in the past year, gobbling up 53 per cent of the state’s limited Budget in salaries.
The State Government now provides more than one in six of all jobs in Tasmania, compared to an average of one in eight jobs being state government-reliant across the rest of Australia.
But when all public servants over three tiers of government federal, state and local government are taken into account more than one in five workers are employed by a government of some kind in Tasmania, compared to one in eight nationally.
And, by the way, this report from Tasmanian Treasury in February this year says there are about 241,000 employed workers in the State.

Seems to me that for Judith's claim to be correct, there would need to be at least 3 times more public servants there than there actually are.

Quite the gaff from an economist who is routinely rudely dismissive of all economics commentators she disagrees with. 

Update:  more facts and figures on Tasmanian workforce here.  Seems to me that, even if you were talking full time employees (about 145- 150,000), and also treating every public servant  as such, there is still no way her quip could be true.

I am failing to see how the mistake could even have been made...

Aging graphically

From a New York Times article that talks about European (and other countries') ideas about how to get people to have more babies comes this chart:

One suspects the situation in Japan just can't happen.   Immigration, at least, would have to increase, one would think.  There will be lots of empty houses for migrants to move into, anyway....

Maybe more time before there are no stars in the sky?

Accelerating universe? Not so fast

Let's hope there is no connection

Mass beaching fuels fears of impending quake | The Japan Times

The mass beaching of over 150 melon-headed whales on Japan’s
shores has fueled fears of a repeat of a seemingly unrelated event in
the country — the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed
over 18,000 people.

Despite a lack of scientific evidence linking the two
events, a flurry of online commentators have pointed to the appearance
of around 50 melon-headed whales — a species that is a member of the
dolphin family — on Japan’s beaches six days before the monster quake,
which unleashed towering tsunami and triggered a nuclear disaster.

The junk science Senator

David Leyonhjelm writing in the AFR last week:
The only losers would be the major wind-energy generators, which are eagerly waiting to build dozens of new wind farms in an effort to meet the target and get on the subsidy gravy train. Against that, many people are hoping these are never built, among them those who suffer adverse health effects from the inaudible infrasound they generate...

Krugman on laughing Laffer

The Laffer Swerve -

The article in the Washington Post he links to is worth reading too...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Drug madness

Experience: my anti-malaria drugs made me psychotic | Life and style | The Guardian

I had heard that there was one anti-malarial drug that often gave people vivid nightmares; I assume it was Lariam as described in this interesting first hand account of how it sent one young guy completely psychotic for a time.   I didn't realise that it could have that drastic an effect.  Lots of people in comments tell of their bad experiences with the drug, too. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Fat but happy?

Underweight people face significantly higher risk of dementia, study suggests | Society | The Guardian

People who are underweight in middle-age – or even on the low side of
normal weight – run a significantly higher risk of dementia as they get
older, according to new research that contradicts current thinking.

The results of the large study, involving health records from 2
million people in the UK, have surprised the authors and other experts.
It has been wrongly claimed that obese people have a higher risk of
dementia, say the authors from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical
Medicine. In fact, the numbers appear to show that increased weight is

At highest risk, says the study, are middle-aged people with a BMI
[body mass index] lower than 20 – which includes many in the “normal
weight” category, since underweight is usually classified as lower than a
BMI of 18.5.

These people have a 34% higher chance of dementia as they age than
those with a BMI of 20 to just below 25, which this study classes as
healthy weight. The heavier people become, the more their risk declines.
Very obese people, with a BMI over 40, were 29% less likely to get
dementia 15 years later than those in the normal weight category.
This will set the fat cat amongst the public health policy pigeons.

Good news for me, at least, with my determined effort to keep at the very edge of BMI of 25.  (Actually, it seems according to one calculator, a 1 cm difference in my height is the difference between 25 and 26.  I must measure myself, somehow, again.)

The blob discussed

'Warm blob' in Pacific Ocean linked to weird weather across the US

In other weather/climate news, there was a story last night on 7.30 about the drought conditions out in Western Queensland, with many properties around Longreach being completely de-stocked.   As this is happening with (at best) a weak El Nino, it is not a good picture if a strong one develops later this year, as I think some suspect is on the cards.

Making rice better with coconut oil? (And let's talk food poisoning)

New coconut rice cooking method claims to slash kilojoules - Health & Wellbeing

Well, this sounds all very preliminary, and as if it is sponsored by a coconut oil manufacturer, but the claim is that adding a small-ish amount of coconut oil to cooking rice, then cooling and reheating it, makes it better for you by increasing the amount of resistant starch.  (It's funny how making starch indigestible seems to be a good thing for the gut, but there you go.)

The article also makes some points about being careful with re-heating rice so as to avoid food poisoning.

I've always had the intuition that, of the things that could give you food poisoning, reheated plain cooked rice would have to be on the low end of the scale of risk.  But, I was told decades ago by someone who worked in the microbiology, water and food safety field, that this was not true.  It's one of the riskier foods for it, apparently, but I don't know why.

The story above says to not keep rice in the fridge for more than 3 days.  I'm sure we often go way past that, and there is not a time I know of when eating re-heated rice has apparently made me sick.  In fact, I have been thinking lately, it's been a long, long time since I've had a stomach upset of any variety.

Re-heated rice from the microwave is a marvel.  In fact, if you only had a microwave for melting butter, defrosting meat, and re-heating cold or frozen rice, it would still be worth it.

And speaking of food poisoning, in my other wanderings around the net lately, I have come across a blog that is absolutely chock full of food poisoning news - the Barfblog.  (It's a more serious site that the name suggests.)

The main author at the site, Doug Powell, appears to be a Canadian who worked in Kansas, but his blog entries make enough references to Brisbane to make me suspect he might live here now. Maybe he can tell me what has caused a repeated series of food poisoning outbreaks at the wonderful (well, provided you don't eat there) Brisbane Convention Centre in the last 6 months?  I have never heard if the cause had been definitely identified.

The good news and the bad news (about Mars)

So, it turns out there might be quite a lot of ice just under the surface over quite a large part of Mars, and not just in the polar ice caps. 

The bad news for future human ice miners:  the planet also seems to have high levels of the toxic to the thyroid chemical perchlorate.   Bummer, hey?

The Laffer experiment the IPA doesn't talk about

Kansas GOP Governor Sam Brownback Retreats on Tax Cuts to Close $600 Million Budget Deficit — The Atlantic

How disappointing of Australian journalism was it that Arthur Laffer, on his recent IPA promoted comedy tour here*, was not asked about the complete failure of his policies in Kansas?  

* well, I didn't watch all of the video of his IPA talk, but it certainly opened with a sustained string of jokes to an adoring audience.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The big smash

Puzzle of Moon’s origin resolved : Nature News & Comment

Would have been something to see - a Mars size planet smashing into the early Earth.  If time travel is invented, that event should be high on the list of "to do's".

The tax race to the bottom

Countries slow race to bottom on tax competition -

With the Senate asking questions about how the multinationals shift money around to minimise tax, the whole question of whether international tax competition is an ultimately harmful "race to the bottom" that countries ought to stop is of greater interest than ever.

The article above (which you may have to answer a question to get to) seems a decent summary of the controversy regarding the matter.   (Of course, seeing libertarians are of the view that tax competition is fine and dandy, I think its a very reasonable conclusion that of course tax competition has become harmful, and that it can all be fixed by war being declared on Ireland, Bermuda, Singapore and any other country that is getting rich by enabling companies to impoverish the rest of the world.)

In other tax musings, I see that many are talking about the advantages of increasing land tax for revenue, and reducing stamp duty and other taxes.

While Jessica Irvine did a good job the other day explaining the advantages, transitioning to such a system would surely be complicated, and the idea that people having attained the "Australian dream" of home ownership with no mortgage now having to pay for the privilege is surely a hard, hard sell politically.

How much easier from a fairness point of view is it to say that companies have to pay local tax in the country where they generate the profit?   Of course, achieving that result with international co-operation is the trick.  I think my warfare plan, as well as rounding up the libertarians as enemies of the State to be interned until the cessation of hostilities, might have trouble being endorsed by politicians:  although I may be in with a chance with the Greens.

The Muslim conspiracy issue - again

'Iraq Is Finished' — The Atlantic

I've asked this before on this blog, probably quite a few times over the years:  why is it that out of all the peoples in the world, Middle East Muslims seem to be the most extraordinarily prone to believing in persecutory conspiracy theories?   Take this, from the rather good article linked above about the situation in Iraq:
 The conversation soon turned to Daesh (known as ISIS in the West), and how the group had formed. A common view I’ve heard in the region, propagated by Sunni and Shiite alike, is that Daesh is the creation of the United States. There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq or
Islamic State before the U.S. invasion in 2003. Therefore, so the twisted reasoning goes, the United States must have deliberately created the group in order to make Sunnis and Shiites fight each other, thereby allowing the U.S to continue dominating the region. Local media had reported on alleged U.S. airdrops to Daesh. Some outlets even referred to Daesh's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as an Israeli-trained Mossad agent.
Anyhow, the article in total is well worth reading.

Update:  well, to state the obvious, isn't Google great?   Here's an article from New Statesman last year asking the very same question, and mentions some other "greatest hits" of Muslim nonsense, which the writer notes, extends far beyond the Middle East:
A Pew poll in 2011, a decade after 9/11, found that a majority of respondents in countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon refused to believe that the attacks were carried out by Arab members of al-Qaeda. “There is no Muslim public in which even 30 per cent accept that Arabs conducted the attacks,” the Pew researchers noted.

This blindness isn’t peculiar to the Arab world or the Middle East. Consider Pakistan, home to many of the world’s weirdest and wackiest conspiracy theories. Some Pakistanis say the schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai is a CIA agent. Others think that the heavy floods of 2010, which killed 2,000 Pakistanis, were caused by secret US military technology. And two out of three don’t believe Osama Bin Laden was killed by US navy Seals on Pakistani soil on 2 May 2011.

Consider also Nigeria, where there was a polio outbreak in 2003 after local people boycotted the vaccine, claiming it was a western plot to infect Muslims with HIV. Then there is Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, where leading politicians and journalists blamed the 2002 Bali bombings on US agents.

Why are so many of my fellow Muslims so gullible and so quick to believe bonkers conspiracy theories? How have the pedlars of paranoia amassed such influence within Muslim communities?
The explanations are limited:
I once asked the Pakistani politician Imran Khan why his fellow citizens were so keen on conspiracy theories. “They’re lied to all the time by their leaders,” he replied. “If a society is used to listening to lies all the time . . . everything becomes a conspiracy.”
The “We’ve been lied to” argument goes only so far. Scepticism may be evidence of a healthy and independent mindset; but conspiracism is a virus that feeds off insecurity and bitterness. As the former Pakistani diplomat Husain Haqqani has admitted, “the contemporary Muslim fascination for conspiracy theories” is a convenient way of “explaining the powerlessness of a community that was at one time the world’s economic, scientific, political and military leader”.
Nor is this about ignorance or illiteracy. Those who promulgate a paranoid, conspiratorial world-view within Muslim communities include the highly educated and highly qualified, the rulers as well as the ruled. A recent conspiracy theory blaming the rise of Islamic State on the US government, based on fabricated quotes from Hillary Clinton’s new memoir, was publicly endorsed by Lebanon’s foreign minister and Egypt’s culture minister.
It's all rather depressing.

And what about the irony of how in the United States, the biggest long term dangerous conspiracy going around (climate change is a hoax) is held by those on the Right who are most rabidly anti-Muslim?  Just thought I would throw that in for good measure.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Arnie doesn't like what bodybuilding has become

Has gay panic ruined bodybuilding?

Well, Arnie's not a complete meat head, then.   But gosh he looks old and so far past his prime in those real estate ads showing on Australian TV.

When defence technology doesn't work

The Pentagon's $10-billion bet gone bad - Los Angeles Times

A great, eye catching photo starts this article on the Pentagon spending billions on technology that doesn't live up to its promise.

The LA Times also has a story today about the Cold War era games of Putin:
U.S. F-22 fighter jets scrambled about 10 times last year — twice as often as in 2013 — to monitor and photograph Russian Tu-95 "Bear" bombers and MiG-31 fighter jets that flew over the Bering Sea without communicating with U.S. air controllers or turning on radio
transponders, which emit identifying signals.

The Russian flights are in international airspace, and it's unclear whether they are testing
U.S. defenses, patrolling the area or simply projecting a newly assertive Moscow's global power.

"They're obviously messaging us," said Flores, a former Olympic swimmer who is in charge of Tin City and 14 other radar stations scattered along the vast Alaskan coast. "We
still don't know their intent."

U.S. officials view the bombers — which have been detected as far south as 50 miles off  California's northern coast — as deliberately provocative.

Speaking as I was about immaturity

Back in 2011, when David Leyonhjelm was only hoping that a party name confusing to the politically naive voter and a lucky ballot paper draw could inject him Federal Parliament (because his nutty gun loving, pet marsupial ideas certainly couldn't), he decided to drop into a dubious Catallaxy post to make an old, old sexist jape about how funny it could be if a man fooled a woman into having a grope of her breasts.

Hardly anyone at Catallaxy commented on the post, or the comment, and I suspected at the time because they realised that it was pretty immature and embarrassing.

But now that a couple of media outlets have highlighted it, the Catallaxy throng are out in defence of the Senator, and Sinclair Davidson has taken the utterly ridiculous defensive line that Lefties are attacking some valid contribution Leyonhjelm was making to breast cancer awareness.


These twits can't just fess up to Leyonhjelm repeating an old fashioned, sexist, immature joke he first heard (as I probably did) 30 or so years ago?   Wasn't funny then, nor is it now.    

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

To Mars

Given that I have been ridiculing the Mars One project lately, I was amused to see in last night's Big Bang Theory that Sheldon was an applicant.  (Actually, I only saw half of the show, so I am not sure if Mars One was mentioned by name, but it's clearly what it was referring to.)

Anyhow, Sheldon's application video really did make me laugh:

Beefy success in Japan

Full plate for Meat & Livestock Australia ‹ Japan Today: Japan News and Discussion

Lots of interesting facts and figures here about the success of Australian beef in Japan.

In other meat news - on Sunday, I tried braising a rolled lamb shoulder in wine and stock, with onion, garlic, carrot, parsnip and celery in the mix, and lots of rosemary.  This smells fantastic while its cooking, and after 2 hours,  the meat is falling apart tender.  But the meat flavour tends to be a bit weakened by being cooked in liquid, in a way roast lamb isn't.  Sure, the stock mix tasted nice, although as usual with herbs, if you cook them too long their taste starts to disappear.   The liquid also had a fair bit of fat in it, and it tended  to run off the meat and so didn't work so well as a seasoning.  I suppose one could cook this one day, and refrigerate the liquid so as to remove the fat, and then boil it down a bit to reduce it to a thicker consistency.   But this is starting to reduce the benefit of braising - put it in the oven and just come back in two hours.

I still thought it a moderate success, but the family outvoted me from trying again.  Such is life.

(Actually, I think these problems can be dealt with by using the very, very slow baking method instead.   That's what I'll try next...)

The Victorian roller craze

The BBC has quite a charming magazine article about Victorian England and its (short lived) craze for roller skating.   It let the young men and ladies mingle in quite a novel fashion, apparently:
By the mid-1870s, a craze for indoor rollerskating had come to Britain, with 50 rinks in place in London at one point. The press dubbed the phenomenon "rinkomania", but the healthy exercise that Plimpton had boasted of was not all that attracted the young "rinkers".
"The skating rink is the neutral ground on which the sexes may meet," reported Australia's Port Macquarie News of goings-on in London and elsewhere, "without all the pomp and circumstances of society. The rink knows no Mother Grundy, with her eagle eye and sharp tongue, for Mother Grundy dare not trust herself on skates, and so the rinker is happier than the horseman of whom Horace sang."
Holding hands and whispering sweet nothings became easier without Mother Grundy - a contemporary term for a stern matriarch - and her ilk tagging along. Prolonged eye contact with one's intended replaced stolen glances...
But rollerskating became less popular by the 1890s, with many rinks, built in a hurry at the height of the craze, going out of business. 
There's probably a cable TV series to be made out of that, somehow.  Especially if there was ever arson and crime involved.

Update: just googling around, it seems that the Suffragette movement used to meet at some roller skating venues, and famously (well, except for me) stayed out all night at one in 1911 to avoid the census.   All good fodder for a TV series...

Monday, April 06, 2015

Worthy movies noted

Seeing I was complaining about un-worthy Hollywood movies, maybe I should I mention two decent ones watched over this weekend:

Defiance, the 2008 film with Daniel Craig in the lead was shown on one of the free to air stations Friday night.  I vaguely remember a review of it on the Movie Show, and I don't think it made much money at the box office, but I thought it was very good.   Telling the true-ish story of a few brothers who helped hundreds of East Polish Jews hide out from the Nazis in  the forest was engaging and very interesting.  I felt sorry for Daniel Craig, whose make up requirements for most of the movie seemed to involve being sprayed with fake dirt and grime, but he gave a solid performance.

I see that Ed Zwick directed it.  He also made the under-seen American Civil War movie Glory, and I must catch up with that one again.

*  The Maze Runner:  my son had read the books and wanted to see the movie, so we got it out on DVD.   Sure, it's Young Adult territory here, and, somewhat improbably, the group of young men who have been experimented on in some mysterious fashion have set up an ordered, polite, functioning mini society that is like the exact  opposite of  Lord of the Flies.   (It was also never explained how they managed good hairstyling after three years - at the very least, the elevator supplies should have been shown as including hair wax.)

But I'm nitpicking.   It's actually (for the most part) well acted and crafted, and is rather good for its genre.   Certainly, the setting truly shows how these days, if you can imagine a physical setting, digital effects can easily make it seem convincingly real.  

The movie is set for a sequel, and I hope it at least makes the improbable set up for creating the Maze more convincing...

This doesn't seem very Easter-y

Is 10% of the population really gay? | Society | The Guardian

This seems a bit of a ramble through a complicated topic, but one novel thing I noted in it is about how  the survey evidence does suggest a very large increase in female same sex experimentation in recent decades.   Odd, that...

Update:  took me a long time to find it, but here is my 2013 post which linked to other studies that looked at the same question.  

America tax breaks and social spending considered

The False Hope of a Limited Government, Built on Tax Breaks -

Tax and social spending issues are rather complicated, no?

I'm not sure if all points in this article are valid, but it certainly seems to make a good case that many of the tax breaks in the US should be reviewed.

Good luck with that...

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Immaturity is hard to get into proper perspective

So, I was reading Giles Fraser's Guardian Easter column about Christianity being "a religion for losers" (you know, the first shall be last, etc; a not very controversial point, I would have thought, but it did bring out the Guardian atheists in droves - surely there is no paper on the planet with a more devoted atheistic readership), which led me to look at his earlier piece contemplating virtual reality paedophelia, in which he shares this:
And I have blown away my fair share of baddies in Call of Duty (cathartic relaxation for a vicar sick of having to be professionally nice).
Amusing.  You have to wonder a bit about what "cathartic" experiences celibate Catholic priests find over the internet, but let's not go there today.*

Back to the story.  I then read this opinion piece about the death of "bromance" films - inspired by the Will Ferrell film "Get Hard," which does sound genuinely terrible and retrograde.   And that led me back to a long, long piece by movie critic AO Scott in the New York Times last year.  I think I started reading it then, but didn't finish it. 

Scott's piece, entitled The Death of Adulthood in American Culture,  covers a lot of territory, noting that the big hits of TV drama over the last decade (none of which I have watched at length, incidentally, but who can avoid reading about them?) - The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad - are about male competence coming undone - the death of patriarchy, really.  Seems a valid enough point.

The next paragraph is key:
 This slow unwinding has been the work of generations. For the most part, it has been understood — rightly in my view, and this is not really an argument I want to have right now — as a narrative of progress. A society that was exclusive and repressive is now freer and more open. But there may be other less unequivocally happy consequences. It seems that, in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups.
Now, this is where it gets tricky.  As Scott writes:
In my main line of work as a film critic, I have watched over the past 15 years as the studios committed their vast financial and imaginative resources to the cultivation of franchises (some of them based on those same Y.A. novels) that advance an essentially juvenile vision of the world. Comic-book movies, family-friendly animated adventures, tales of adolescent heroism and comedies of arrested development do not only make up the commercial center of 21st-century Hollywood. They are its artistic heart.
Meanwhile, television has made it very clear that we are at a frontier. Not only have shows like “The Sopranos” and “Mad Men” heralded the end of male authority; we’ve also witnessed the erosion of traditional adulthood in any form, at least as it used to be portrayed in the formerly tried-and-true genres of the urban cop show, the living-room or workplace sitcom and the prime-time soap opera. Instead, we are now in the age of “Girls,” “Broad City,” “Masters of Sex” (a prehistory of the end of patriarchy)
Hmmm.  Let me start by noting that there can be both emotionally and intellectually quite mature "juvenile visions of the world", and terribly immature ones.   The suitability of a movie for a family audience says nothing about those qualities.  As for animation, the cultural example of Japan shows that there is nothing to be ashamed of in adults liking stories told in a graphic form, either on the page or animated.   And animation has reached levels of high art that pleases people of all ages.   Sure, you're not going to get too many adult angsty ones, but still, they represent a relatively small amount of movie output, and their general quality now is something to be celebrated, really.

The problem with the comic book superhero franchises, though, is the sameness of their themes, as well as the boring repetition of the computer generated action style which drains them of true thrills.  I'm also one of those people for whom their odd position between realism and  science fiction (what are they - sort of "fantasy science" science fiction?) usually makes them problematic at a plausibility level.   Still, there can be witty and engaging examples of the genre; but overall, yeah, they do have a "maturity" problem.

Surely the main example of the death of adulthood is the "arrested development" film, particularly the gross out ones with adult male protagonists.

To play devil's advocate, I suppose one could argue that Jerry Lewis built most of his career on the same theme 60 years ago; but his characters were usually  innocently naive of the ways of the world.   The modern version is, as the Guardian writers note, usually a promiscuous, slacker slob.

And while Scott notes the shows and movies about independent, sexually adventurous young women, he doesn't seem to quite mark them down as hard as he does the male equivalent,  even though he does acknowledge that they have their similarities:
The real issue, in any case, was never the ability of women to get a laugh but rather their right to be as honest as men.

And also to be as rebellious, as obnoxious and as childish. Why should boys be the only ones with the right to revolt? Not that the new girls are exactly Thelma and Louise. Just as the men passed through the stage of sincere rebellion to arrive at a stage of infantile refusal, so, too, have the women progressed by means of regression. After all, traditional adulthood was always the rawest deal for them.
But stepping back a bit, what is it that marks immaturity anyway?   It's clear that mere age is no guarantee of responsible adult behaviour in terms of sexual fidelity and child raising, at least.  Wisdom and respect for others can come with age, but it can be missing completely.

Scott does seem to approve of another writer's analysis that it often comes down to something that American literature tends to avoid: the adult theme of courtship and marriage.  And he then makes a point:
In the old, classic comedies of the studio era — the screwbally roller coasters of marriage and remarriage, with their dizzying verbiage and sly innuendo — adulthood was a fact. It was inconvertible and burdensome but also full of opportunity. You could drink, smoke, flirt and spend money. The trick was to balance the fulfillment of your wants with the carrying out of your duties.

The desire of the modern comic protagonist, meanwhile, is to wallow in his own immaturity, plumbing its depths and reveling in its pleasures. 
 It seems to me to be a reasonable argument - but why has protracted adolescence become such a "thing" in the West, at least?

Given that the rich have been always been able to be afford to be lazy party boys or girls - hello, Prodigal Son - the general rise in societal wealth might have something to do with it.  Effective and easy to use contraception and safe abortion makes protracted relationships with low risk of  responsibility inducing pregnancy much more common.  The increase in life expectancy probably also encourages people to have little sense of urgency as to forming what the participants consider a permanent relationship.   (My mother, born in 1923, used to say that as a child, she thought she would have lived a long life if she reached 50, or 60, tops.  Getting married at 19 made sense if war or disease always meant a short life was on the cards.)

One should also remember that fulfilling the responsibility of being a spouse and parent is hardly a conclusive sign of general moral worth - the Goebbels had cute looking kids, but it didn't end well.  (Joseph was having a Hitler accommodated affair from 1938, too.)

And it's not as if societies haven't previously fretted about the psychic corruption of its young men.  The book I've been reading about Hitler's World War 1 experience makes it very clear that there was a widespread view that a good war was just what was needed to get the German soul back on track, so to speak.  A military doctor is quoted as explaining:
"[War is] the only means by which we, as a nation, can be saved from physical and psychological lethargy and emasculation which are relentlessly threatening." 
 Or as a historian wrote:
Intellectuals, artists, and students, most notably the rebellious sons of Germany's educated middle class, valorised war as the repudiation of a bourgeois society that they condemned as decadent and overly materialistic; thousands of young men eagerly enlisted and zealously rushed off to the front, romanticising the danger and "vitality" of combat.
We now know the country may have been better served if the young men had been too busy on, well, whatever the equivalent was of staying indoors all day on Playstation in their parents' lounge, to bother enlisting.  In today's terms, who couldn't wish that there were more Islamic youths engaged in  illicit love affairs, rather than getting over their ennui by blowing themselves up in Syria in  expectation of the sensual pleasures in the afterlife.

The other thing is that, although I don't go to them, I take it that there is some sense of improvement in the male slacker by the end of these movies.  Even so, presenting them as loveable clowns for the first two acts probably makes any moral quite missable.

Perhaps that is the whole problem - making so many comedies about people who are commitment shy in love and self indulgent in everything gives them a quasi-endorsement.   It doesn't matter if the writer says that it's not intended - it happens anyway.  Writers can always claim they are reflecting society, not creating it, but if we're honest we all know it's really a hall of mirrors with two way influence. 

Despite all the reservations I've indicated, the coarseness of modern comedy, and the frequent themes in it and drama of neutral engagement with people who, in previous decades, would  have been called very morally dislikeable characters, is a matter of regret.   But it is so hard to talk about this without sounding like you're pining for something like the Hays Code for movie content.

No, I think we'd just all like to see more movies with responsible and basically moral characters who take life, sex and relationships seriously, and are that way from the start.

* I have to interrupt this narrative to once again complain about the messy way the likes of The Guardian and Slate now organise themselves.   Whereas it used to be clear that regular, professional journalists wrote opinion pieces in the opinion section, and Comment is Free seemed to be for anyone who wanted an occasional go at opinion (and was often more interesting for it), the Guardian on line just seems to jumble everything up together, although I still sometimes find myself in a Comment is Free section without knowing how I got there.  Searching for that as a section does not seem to work.   Even finding an opinion piece once can be rather hard to find again the same day.  And did Slate have the same web designers?   I take it this is all to do with a squillion readers now using their mobile phones  who can only scroll down through large lists of stories, and hate having to do one or two extra clicks that allow for a proper, logical branching of sections.   But jeez it annoys me, even when I am using my 7 inch tablet. 

Thursday, April 02, 2015

My pre-judging continues

The "honest trailer" for Interstellar makes it look even worse than I imagined.  I guess I have to watch it some day to confirm my intense dislike of it...

Why didn't I get into rat research?

I've said it before, but again I say - what fun it sounds to be a scientist coming up with experiments about what goes on in rat minds.  This one shows how careful one has to be with rat interior decorating:
Prior research has shown that both and mice display unique facial characteristics when undergoing pain—they flatten their face, squint their eyes, move their whiskers and puff out their cheeks and nose. Scientists have even created rodent pain charts that allow us humans to gauge the amount of pain a rodent is in, simply by looking at its face. In this new research, the team sought to learn whether the same is true for other rats.

To find out, the researchers took photographs of rats, both face and whole body shots while they were feeling neutral, and others while the rats were given an to the foot—they also photo-shopped some of the photos to cause blurring of different body parts. Then, they created a special cage for a group of test rats that had never been used for any kinds of experiments before. The cage had multiple "rooms" each decorated with the photographs they had taken. One room, for example, had photos of rats in pain, another had rats with neutral faces. The rooms were all interconnected so that the rats could choose where to spend their time. After dropping rats one by one into the cage and noting their behavior (timing how much time they spent where) the researchers found that the rats spent the least amount of time in the room with unblurred full face and body shots of rats in pain and spent the most time in the rooms with walls adored with neutral faced rats. This, the researchers claim, shows that the rats were able to recognize the pain in the faces of the other rats and avoided them.
There was another rat cognition study reported recently:
Even rats can imagine: A new study finds that rats have the ability to link cause and effect such that they can expect, or imagine, something happening even if it isn't. 
Luckily, they haven't worked out how to imagine the consequences of eating rat bait in my ceiling, yet.  It's a great pity they can't just stay away from there...

Not encouraging for California

California snowpack fades to shocking record low as water restrictions ordered - The Washington Post:
The mountain snows so crucial to California’s water supply failed to come yet again this winter and the normally white-capped high peaks are mostly barren. As of April 1, California snowpack is a scary-low 5 percent of normal....

Snowpack measurements have been kept in California since 1950 and nothing in the historic record comes close to this year’s severely depleted level. The previous record for the lowest snowpack level in California, 25 percent of normal, was set both in 1976-77 and last winter (2013-2014).