Friday, February 05, 2016

Taxes, etc

Paul Keating's endorsement of spending cuts may have given small government lovers a thrill, but how seriously one should take someone who was for a consumption tax before he was against it, and who had a budget cutting job in very different social and economic circumstances from the present, I don't know.  (See Peter Brent making the same point, in better detail.)

And even he thinks a modest GST increase tied to health funding is arguable.

I find all this debate back and forth a bit tedious, because I decided what is politically safe enough and reasonable back in September, and I'm just waiting for the politicians to catch on:
1.  a modest increase in the GST rate to 12.5%.   This is low enough to not really be noticed, but I'm pretty sure it still raises quite a lot.  As for its expansion - I would be inclined to leave it off fresh food, but wonder whether a reduced rate could be added to education services - say 5%?  OK, that would be a hard sell to Liberal constituents, but it might be something Labor could live with;

2.  superannuation tax concessions at the high end wound back harder;

3.  a staged reduction in negative gearing.  Not too staged.  And didn't I suggest once that it be time limited, to like for the first 5 years?   Increased turnaround in investment property sales would be good for stamp duty revenue too, as well as placing properties back on the market for potential owner/occupiers.   Someone needs to point out to me the downside, as there almost certainly would be one.  
 As for spending cuts:   it's a continual irony that Liberals and Republicans always claim there is a government spending emergency, while at the same time ramping up defence spending and using defence in some of the most expensive ways possible.

In the Australian context:   how tied are we really to the  F 35 purchase?  Why does it take a (Left) liberal (see Canada) to point out that you can get by with other, cheaper, fighters?   Is there scope to at least cut back the number we intend buying?

I would still build submarines here, though.   Forget about economic purism - supporting manufacturing abilities is a good thing, and shipbuilding seems a decent enough way to do that.

What about the cost of the paramilitary (and creepy fascistic Abbott idea) Border Force?   It would do a lot for the country's self image to dismantle it as soon as possible, especially if doing so has increased costs.

As for welfare spending:  I'm not sure if it is really worth it or not, and it would be mainly Sydney and Melbourne affected, but pensioners sitting in an expensive enough home - let's say $1,000,000 plus? - should face some formula for putting at least part of the value of their home into the assets test.

But as for taxes overall, let's not forget this point:


Update:   I've sort of grown tired of pointing out Senator Blofeld's "look at me" speeches to an empty Senate.   He isn't even proposing running again, so the publicity he craves is for just for his ego and his minuscule fan club.   Anyway, apparently progressive taxation is "immoral", despite what Popes and bishops  have maintained.

All in the mind

It's not about sex, it's about identity: why furries are unique among fan cultures | Fashion | The Guardian

Where else but the Guardian would you expect to find a sympathetic article about "furries" - people who really like to dress as animals - either realistic version animals, or cartoon version, apparently.

The article does say that it's not a sexual fetish for most (as was portrayed on a CSI episode which I happened to see), but it's still weird:
“People don’t realize it, but the whole anthropomorphism is very mainstream,” says Gerbasi, who spearheaded the multidisciplinary Anthropomorphic Research Project, which has studied about 7,000 furry fans from all continents, except Antarctica (which actually had a small furry gathering, too). While there are certain demographic trends – almost 80% are male, many work in science or tech, with a disproportionate share not identifying as heterosexual – the data, by and large, shows no indication that furries would be psychologically unhealthy.

“Cartoon animals have a universal appeal,” says Conway, who fursuits as ‘Uncle Kage’: a samurai cockroach. “A love of animals and a fascination with the idea of them acting as we do transcends most national, geographic and religious boundaries.”

While the fursuits are the most visible, they only make up only about 20% convention-goers, Conway adds: the rest are performers, writers, puppeteers, dancers, artists and “just plain old fans”.

For a minority, however, it is more than that: 46% of furry fans surveyed by Gerbasi reported identifying as less than 100% human – with 41% admitting that if they could be not human at all, they would. Twenty-nine percent of them reported experiencing being a “non-human species trapped in a human body”.

The parallels with gender identity disorder, upon which the hypothesis was modeled, were striking: much like some transgender individuals report being born the wrong sex, some furries feel a disconnect with their bodies, as if they were stuck in the wrong species. The condition, which Gerbasi et al labeled “species identity disorder”, had a physiological component too, with many reportingexperiencing phantom body parts, like tails or wings.

Gerbasi still has no answers to why these individuals feel they’re not human, but stresses the importance for health providers to take them seriously, and without the ridicule that sometimes afflicts even her own research.
What a world.  Sometimes it seems to me that no one is told these days that their self understanding is nutty and/or quite possibly transient and/or best not indulged.   Or at least not indulged in the way they want it indulged.

For those who like Richard Ayoade

I do wonder sometimes how much of Richard Ayoade's Moss-like comic persona as a socially uncomfortable uber-nerd, which he seems to carry into everything he does, is a bit of an act.   But I don't really care - I find him very funny regardless.   (I mean, who cared whether Jack Benny was really a tightwad, or not.)

I'm also not sure if his Travel Man series has been shown on SBS before.  But in any event, I've found that some kind English person seems to have recorded them and put the full length episodes on Youtube.  (I suspect they won't be allowed to stay there for long, however.)

I'm working my way through them, but so far, I think the one with fellow IT Crowd actor Chris O'Dowd is the best.  They really seem to enjoy each other's company, which is nice to see:






Thursday, February 04, 2016

What? Why?

Microsoft testing underwater data centers ‹ Japan Today: Japan News and Discussion

OK, it still doesn't quite convince me that the underwater hacking sequence in Mission Impossible 5 made any sense, but I am surprised nonetheless that this idea is even being trialled:
Microsoft on Monday revealed that as the world turns to computing
power in the cloud it is working to put data centers under water.

Researchers working on “Project Natick” tested a prototype vessel on
the ocean floor about a kilometer off the U.S. Pacific Coast for about
four months last year....

With about half of the world’s population living near large bodies of
water and a shift to accessing software hosted in the Internet cloud,
having data centers submerged nearby could save money and speed up
access to information, Microsoft reasoned.

Currents or tides can be tapped to generate electricity to power data centers, and the cold depths provide natural cooling.

“Deepwater deployment offers ready access to cooling, renewable power sources, and a controlled environment,” Whitaker said.
 Very odd, if you ask me...

Well, that's OK then...

Riyadh spares Palestinian ‘apostate’ from beheading | GulfNews.com: Riyadh: A court in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday revised the punishment given to a stateless Palestinian poet convicted of apostasy, reducing it from death to eight years in prison, 800 lashes and public repentance, his lawyer said.

The poet, Ashraf Fayadh, had been sentenced to beheading because of the apostasy conviction announced in November, based partly on his published poetry.

Krugman on Rubio

Well, in my pre-Iowa notes I called the Republican primary right:
I know what will happen on the Republican side: someone horrifying will come in first, and someone horrifying will come in second.
Let me add that someone horrifying also came in third. Marco Rubio may seem less radical than Cruz or Trump, but his substantive policy positions are for incredibly hawkish foreign policy, wildly regressive tax policy, kicking tens of millions of people off health insurance, and destroying the environment. Other than that, he’s a moderate.
Link.  

Seems it will be worth seeing

Critic Reviews for Hail, Caesar! - Metacritic

Now that I expect to live to 120, I should revise my superannuation

Researchers extend lifespan by as much as 35 percent in mice

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Morally offensive

The questions the ABC did not ask

Seriously, I find the gung-ho Andrew Bolt attitude of "I blame everyone but the government for what happens when you lock hundreds of people, including children, together on a hot rock of an island for years with no hope of satisfactory resolution;  oh, and are those kids really being raped and self harming anyway - I have my doubts" expressed in this column to be pretty damn offensive for its moral triteness.   And pretty dumb, given the experience of allegations made against Save the Children workers.  

Update:  with a High Court "win" for the government, the moral question of the extent to which you can justify the continuing punishment of one set of people (particularly children) to act as a  deterrent to others from attempting to enter the country in a particular way is one which is now clearly "owned" by Malcolm Turnbull, and any politician with a sense of morality.   One suspects he would have been relieved by a High Court decision against the government on this, but no such luck.

Nasty way to go

Elephant in Thailand kills British tourist in front of his teenage daughter | Home News | News | The Independent

I wouldn't have thought there was much danger of this happening on a tourist elephant ride.  And statistically, I suppose there isn't.  But it would still make me reconsider getting on the back of one for fun.

Kind of funny

San Francisco's tech bros told: get out of the gayborhood | US news | The Guardian

From the link:
When Cleve Jones, a longtime gay activist who led the creation of the Aids Memorial Quilt, went to his local gay bar in the Castro district, he saw something that shocked him.

“The tech bros had taken over The Mix. They commanded the pool table and the patio. These big, loud, butch guys. It was scary,” he said. “I’m not heterophobic, but I don’t want to go to a gay bar and buy some guy a drink and have him smirk and tell me he’s straight. They can go
anywhere. We can’t.”

Residents of San Francisco’s historically gay Castro district are worried that it’s changing, as speculators come in to flip the few remaining ramshackle old Victorians and the old-timer gay bars shutter. In a recent small survey, 77% of people who have lived in the neighborhood for 10 or more years identified as gay, while only 55% of those who moved in the past year did.
One would have thought that gay activists would welcome this as a sign of the normalisation of homosexual relationships;  they no longer need their special enclaves.  But no, they can be very hard to please...

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

My Kitchen Rules and comedy writing

It's all artifice, I'm sure, but watching early episodes of My Kitchen Rules makes for particularly amusing viewing in terms of watching how the "baddies" are identified and play up to their allocated role for the season.

This year's team are a full on "11" on the annoyance factor scale - married, rich, young, gym fit lawyers.  (Well, apparently they are, because it is hard to believe that practising lawyers - he looks like a barrister? - would make themselves such easy targets for ridicule if they are working in the public eye each day.)   As Ben Pobjie - always the funniest Fairfax reviewer of this show - accurately writes, this is how Zana plays her role:
Zana reacts to the menu the way she reacts to everything: by sticking her lips out a metre in front of her face and looking like she's just been asked to bathe in urine. Zana thinks the menu is too simple. Zana thinks the human race is too simple. Zana is so sophisticated it's taking all her self-control to not spit on everyone at the table. Zana gets a look at the entrée and there is no vinegar on her rocket, which means "it's just lettuce", which means her mouth is now twisted into such a vicious sneer she's in danger of dislocating her jaw. Though why someone who doesn't know the difference between lettuce and rocket should act so superior I couldn't tell you....Zana is also no fan of the chips. She prefers her own chips. "Whose are better?" she asks Gianni, the threat of castration implied in her eyes. He agrees that his wife's chips are better than the strangers' chips, and Zana resumes sucking her invisible lemon with a look of triumph.
Funny stuff.

Monday, February 01, 2016

X Files noted

A few quick comments on last night's short season opener for X Files in Australia:

*  I don't think Channel Ten could possibly have done more to attempt to ruin the atmosphere of the show, what with its advertising of Shane Warne and the execrable "I'm a Celebrity" show  running along the foot of the screen after every ad break.   Way to make people really hate you, Ten...

*  Look, I still like the actors and the re-visiting of old conspiracies, but the whole problem with the main conspiracy in the show being the alien/human hybrid stuff was that it never made sense as to why it was being done and to what end.  I'm not at all sure that re-visiting this aspect of the series is at all wise, but that seems to be where we are heading.

*  Scully's hairstyle was hardly flattering.  

*  Still, I'll be watching it again tonight, even while I grind my teeth about Channel Ten.


Monday quantum science

[1512.08275] The Too-Late-Choice Experiment: Bell's Proof within a Setting where the Nonlocal Effect's Target is an Earlier Event

This seems relevant to what Sabine was saying at Backreaction recently about free will and the quantum world, although (of course) I am not sure exactly sure what retrocausality means for free will.  The abstract:
In the EPR experiment, each measurement addresses the question "What spin
value has this particle along this orientation?" The outcome then proves that
the spin value has been affected by the distant experimenter's choice of spin
orientation. We propose a new setting where the question is reversed: "What is
the orientation along which this particle has this spin value?" It turns out
that the orientation is similarly subject to nonlocal effects. To enable the
reversal, each particle's interaction with a beam-splitter at t1 leaves its
spin orientation superposed. Then at t2, the experimenter selects an "up" or
"down" spin value for this yet-undefined orientation. Only after the two
particles undergo this procedure, the two measurements are completed, each
particle having its spin value along a definite orientation. By Bell's theorem,
it is now the "choice" of orientation that must be nonlocally transmitted
between the particles upon completing the measurement. This choice, however,
has preceded the experimenter's selection. This seems to lend support for the
time-symmetric interpretations of QM, where retrocausality plays a significant
role. We conclude with a brief comparison between these interpretations and
their traditional alternatives, Copenhagen, Bohmian mechanics and the Many
Worlds Interpretation. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A review of an interesting sounding book

Paul Krugman Reviews ‘The Rise and Fall of American Growth’ by Robert J. Gordon - The New York Times

Here's what it's about:
Robert J. Gordon, a distinguished macro­economist and economic historian at Northwestern, has been arguing for a long time against the techno-optimism that saturates our culture, with its constant assertion that we’re in the midst of revolutionary change. Starting at the height of the dot-com frenzy, he has repeatedly called for perspective.  Developments in information and communication technology, he has
insisted, just don’t measure up to past achievements. Specifically, he has argued that the I.T. revolution is less important than any one of the five Great Inventions that powered economic growth from 1870 to 1970: electricity, urban sanitation, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the internal combustion engine and modern communication.
In “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” Gordon doubles down on that theme, declaring that the kind of rapid economic growth we still consider our due, and expect to continue forever, was in fact a one-time-only event. First came the Great Inventions, almost all dating from the late 19th century. Then came refinement and exploitation of
those inventions — a process that took time, and exerted its peak effect on economic growth between 1920 and 1970. Everything since has at best been a faint echo of that great wave, and Gordon doesn’t expect us ever to see anything similar.

Over him, at last


About time the public got over Tarantino, the most undeservedly praised director/writer of my lifetime, I reckon.  

Too hot for Interstellar?

OK, I still haven't seen Interstellar (I've read too much about it that puts me off, but I'll get around to it one day), but it seems that the whole physics set up (giant planet around a black hole "star") gets the details wrong, after all.  (Not sure what Kip Thorne, the physicist who came up with the movie scenario, thinks of this.)

From New Scientist:
Wondering if any more power might be available, the team turned to the film Interstellar, in which a world called Miller’s planet orbits very close to a massive, spinning black hole called Gargantua. General relativity means the black hole’s gravitational pull slows time on the planet so that 1 hour is equal to seven years off-world, a factor of around 60,000.
“We saw the movie, it was a very interesting idea, but then we started thinking about the problems,” says Opatrný.
The energy of light is proportional to its frequency. This means that when light from the CMB hits Miller’s planet, and its frequency is increased by this time dilation, its energy increases. With a time-dilation factor of around 60,000, Miller’s planet would be heated to nearly 900 ˚C.
In the film, the planet is swept by huge tidal waves of water, but Opatrný says his calculations mean molten aluminium would be more likely. Conditions would be cooler if the planet were slightly further out from the black hole, lessening the effects of time dilation and making it more hospitable to life. “It’s interesting that [the analysis] suggests the microwave background would be disastrous for observers on the planet, making the movie once again less realistic,” says Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University.

Friday, January 29, 2016

For those who like reading about Scruton

A Very British Hatchet Job - The Los Angeles Review of Books

Here's another review of Roger Scruton's recent book, which I have noted previously.  

Toilet espionage

Stalin 'used secret laboratory to analyse Mao's excrement' - BBC News

Remarkable (if true):
Mr Atamanenko claims that in December 1949, Soviet spies used this system to evaluate the Chinese leader Mao Zedong who was on a visit to Moscow. They had allegedly installed special toilets for Mao, which were connected not to sewers, but to secret boxes.

For 10 days Mao was plied with food and drink and his waste products whisked off for
analysis. Once Mao's stools had been scrutinised and studied, Stalin reportedly poo poo-ed the idea of signing an agreement with him.

Bad HIV news

HIV becoming resistant to key drug, study finds - BBC News
Splitting the sample size roughly into two groups the study found that in Africa 60% of patients were resistant to Tenofovir, whereas in Europe the figure was only 20%.

The paper, which has been published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal,
said poor administration of the drug, in terms of regularly taking the right levels of Tenofovir could be explanation for the discrepancy.

"If the right levels of the drug are not taken, as in they are too low or not regularly maintained, the virus can overcome the drug and become resistant," Dr Gupta told the BBC News website.

"Tenofovir is a critical part of our armamentarium against HIV, so it is extremely concerning to see such a high level of resistance to this drug," he added.

The paper also suggested that Tenofovir-resistant strains of HIV could be passed on from person to person.

"We certainly cannot dismiss the possibility that resistant strains can spread between people and should not be complacent. We are now conducting further studies to get a more detailed picture of how Tenofovir-resistant viruses develop and spread," Dr Gupta said.

So that's what a physics professor's whiteboard looks like?

Bringing time and space together for universal symmetry

Go on:  have a read of the article, but also look at the whiteboard.  

The lonely professor

Was it mere co-incidence that the day after there were several news reports about the record low rate of smoking amongst Australian youth (something that the stories noted might be at least partially attributed to plain packaging - but the claims was cautiously made) that Sinclair Davidson posted a long critique of another paper that looked at whether plain packaging was making adults more likely to quit.

For those who could even bother following the highly technical argument, the bottom line is that the evidence from the study isn't that overwhelming.   M'eh.

Seems a bit beside the point, when before its introduction, I believe the main hoped for effect of plain packaging was to be to discourage young people taking up the habit, and the study wasn't even looking at that.  The survey evidence which did get publicity does indicate that it may be having that effect.  

So the Professor's attempts to deride plain packaging as possibly being effective are being seen, even by some who comment at his blog, as rather obsessive (and, I would add, desperate).  As someone in comments said:
Sinc: wish you would drop this embarrassing obsession
Every time I see Simon Chapman on the TV talking up dropping smoking rates, I imagine a blood pressure spike happening in a certain office at RMIT.  And then a scurry to look at some anti tobacco research or other to see what pointless nitpicking can be made of it.

Update:  if you want to read (or at least glance at) evidence for a truly obsessive personality disorder, you need only read the extremely lengthy comments that commenter "Some History" comes up with at every single post where the Prof whines about plain packaging not being proved to be effective.  

Update 2:  Oh!  A new post by SD  seems to be correct in saying that the paper discussed in the news (linked above) may have mis-spoke when saying that youth smoking was at "record lows".   Although, truth be told, how much weight one should put on the difference between 2.5 and 3.2% in voluntary responses on surveys by teenagers is debatable.

Still, as usual, the overall picture remains a matter of not seeing the wood for the trees.  Just like with climate change.

Mosquito borne diseases and climate change

While it seems that a feared expansion of malaria due to a warming climate hasn't happened (and the reasons why are a matter of much debate), there is renewed concern with the zika virus outbreak that other mosquito borne diseases are spreading faster because of the increased range (and life span?) of mosquitoes.  As explained in this Vox article, there are pretty good reasons to suspect a warming, wetter climate is already playing a role:
The spread of Zika is part of an unnerving trend: Several mosquito-borne tropical illnesses have lately been spreading into regions of the world that have never experienced them.

A viral disease called chikungunya — which had never appeared in the Western Hemisphere until 2013 — has lately affected Central and South America, even making an appearance in Florida last year. (Its name comes from the Makonde language of Tanzania, where it was discovered in 1952; it means "that which bends up," referring to the contorted physique of a person afflicted by the virus.)

Dengue fever, known as "breakbone fever," has also seen new outbreaks in Puerto Rico, Florida, Gulf Coast states, and Hawaii — all places that hadn't usually been affected. In 2015, Brazil reported nearly 1.6 million dengue cases, a big increase from 569,000 in 2014.

Zika, dengue, and chikungunya are all spread by a species of mosquito called Aedes (in particular the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes). For reasons researchers don't understand, these mosquitoes have been more effective at bringing diseases to new places lately, affecting fresh populations that don't yet have the antibodies to fight off the viruses.

Heidi Brown, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Arizona, explained there are at least three factors that help these illnesses spread: the number of mosquitoes out there, the number that are biting humans infected with the virus, and the number that are surviving long enough to infect other humans.

"The survival of the mosquito is driven a lot by temperature," she added. Mosquitoes thrive in warm and moist environments. "So people go to the idea of global warming — that climate change and changes in precipitation patterns and temperature are helping mosquitoes survive in different areas." In other words, warming is helping expand the range of places that are habitable to mosquitoes.

There are other factors that may be driving the trend, too: People are traveling more than ever, bringing diseases to new locales. More and more people live in crowded cities, where it's easy for viruses to jump from person to person and for mosquitoes to find large concentrations of humans to feast on.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Eye maintenance is more complicated that I thought

BBC - Future - Why do we get sleep in our eyes?

I didn't know this:
It all begins with tears – or more precisely the tear film that coats our eyes. Mammalian eyes of the terrestrial variety, whether they're found on the faces of humans, dogs, hedgehogs, or elephants, are coated in a three-layered tear film that allows the eyes to function properly.
(Tears work somewhat differently in marine mammals like dolphins and sea lions.)

Closest to the eye is the glycocalyx layer – a layer made mostly of mucus. It coats the cornea and attracts water, which allows for the even distribution of the second layer: the water-based tear solution. It might be just four micrometres thick – about as thick as a single strand of spider silk – but this layer is very important. It keeps our eyes lubricated and washes away potential infections. Finally, there is an outer layer composed of an oily substance called meibum, which is composed of lipids like fatty acids and cholesterol.

Meibum has evolved to be exquisitely tuned to the mammalian body. At normal human body temperature, it is a clear oily fluid. At just one degree cooler, though, it becomes a white, waxy solid – the familiar eye gunk.

Large flakes of this solid can form during sleep for a couple of reasons. First, the body cools down a bit at night in general, so some of the meibum becomes cool enough that it moves below the melting point and turns solid. Second, according to Australian ophthalmologist Robert G. Linton and colleagues, "sleep relaxes the [muscular] action on the [meibomian] gland
ducts…[which] is sufficient to cause far in excess of the normal to exude onto the lids and eyelash roots during sleep". In other words, our eyes are coated with more meibum than usual at night – and so when that meibum cools we can end up with appreciable amounts of eye gunk.

Media notes

*   ABC has been running the BBC quiz show Pointless before the 7pm news; hence I sometimes catch the last 5 or 10 minutes of it.

I assume there are people who will disagree, but I think it's the most stupendously stupid quiz show idea ever conceived, and it's as boring as hell too.   Could the host possibly be any duller?

Vox has a lengthy piece on the woeful prospect of Hollywood being stuck for the next 20 years in "expanded movie universes".  The worst news in the article: 
The Transformers films, for example, are no longer being treated as a single series but as a larger world to explore.

Last summer, Paramount hired a gaggle of writers to spend a few weeks brainstorming ideas to broaden the series, an effort that apparently produced at least nine different movie ideas — and producers have said that five of those ideas look viable.
*  To my surprise (as I didn't care much for the second one), Kung Fu Panda 3 is actually getting good reviews.   It may be maintaining its popularity better than Shrek.  

Depressed about physics

The problem that some physicists warned about - what if the Large Hadron Collider finds Higgs, but nothing else very interesting - seems in danger of becoming a reality; and given that there's a more widespread acknowledgement than ever that string theory is an untestable waste of time (well, this is my impression, anyway), it seems that the physics community has fallen into a bit of a depression recently.

Here are a few pieces to back this up:

a.  John Horgan wrote a great piece this month "How Physics Lost its Fizz", and his explanation of why he (used to) find physics so fascinating mirrors a lot of my own interests.    But whether it deserves this full amount of pessimism still seems a bit unclear to me - the problem being that you never know what is just around the corner in both theory and experiment, although it certainly seems true that the era of building ever larger particle colliders is over. 

b.  Starts with a Bang notes that early inflation of the universe sets a natural limit on how far back you can see, as explained in the post "Physicists Must Accept That Some Things are Unknowable".   Not a new idea, perhaps, but good to be reminded.   (And by the way - I really don't quite understand the way inflation is so widely accepted when, at the same time, as far as I know, there is no clear understanding of what caused it.  It has always seemed to me to have more than a touch of the Deus ex machina about it.)

c.  You can also watch a Downfall parody video with a difference:  Hitler doesn't get a postdoc in High Energy Theory.  Somewhat amusing, and realistic, apparently.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Against against the stimulus

Idiotic Anti-Stimulus Talking Point Won’t Die -- NYMag

Heh.  Jonathan Chait writes of the chart that I am sure I have seen at Catallaxy (I think posted by S Davidson himself?):
As I noted before, we can’t prove that the stimulus reduced unemployment because we can’t
measure exactly what unemployment would have looked like otherwise. But the talking point that the stimulus failed because unemployment exceeded the forecasted level is not a serious argument. No reasonably informed person could take it seriously. And yet this blunt and easily refuted bit of propaganda continues to circulate seven years later within the airless bubble of the conservative echo chamber.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Why so many awards?

I'm honestly interested in the question "how many Australians understand our awards system in any detail?", because unless I'm doing some unfair extrapolation from my own ignorance, I would say that there are very, very few.   (And most of those being "establishment" types who have been around a while and keep an eye on which of their colleagues have got a gong when they haven't yet.  In fact, it may only be those Australians who have a clue about the difference between an AO, AM and an OAM.)

And looking at the list of award recipients this year:   aren't we starting to run out of people worth congratulating when there are so many each year?   Patsy Biscoe may have done a lot for the community of the Barossa, and I know nothing of the charitable efforts of Liza Wilkinson, but this type of work is its own reward, surely?

And, of course, how can I overlook the award given to "Groucho" Henry Ergas?   Here's what he wrote in a piece kept at the IPA website since 2009:
The myth is that evidence-based policy is good policy: nothing could be further from the truth. The value of public policy does not depend on whether it rests on evidence, but on whether it seeks goals that are worth pursuing.
Well, talk about your succinct summary of all that gone wrong in Right wing politics and policy over the last decade or so, particularly in the US! 

To be fair to Ergas, even though he doesn't deserve it because those lines are such a poor explanation of what he is trying to say, his article is actually arguing more that statistics and "evidence" is malleable, depending on the end result desired.   In the article, he later clarifies his position to:
Evidence is perhaps a necessary condition for sound policy, but it is far from being sufficient. 
"Perhaps"!   How generous of him to allow evidence to reach the heights of "perhaps" being important to policy.

And, strangely, the citation in the SMH says he is getting his OA partly for distinguished service to "higher education".   Yet in 2014 he wrote a column in The Australian that complained:
That is not to deride our institutions of higher learning. But a stroll down the corridors of even highly rated universities would shock the most hardened of ­troopers. Entire buildings seem to have been struck by specially ­developed neutron bombs: the structures are intact, but the ­academics are nowhere to be seen.

What teachers there are tend to be tutors, all too often foreign postgraduates struggling with the ­mysteries of the English language, and part-timers on short-term contracts.

No doubt many academics take their vocation seriously, but they are swamped by those too intellectually feeble to get employment elsewhere, too satisfied ever to leave and too young to retire.
This prompted actual teaching academic Harry Clarke to write:
Your views on inactivity in the universities are just wrong and outdated. Education and teaching are central priorities and have been for several decades. But that is just my claim just as your views are a claim. You provide no evidence to justify your impressions.  Why do Australian universities do so well in international rankings if they are so poor? Why do we attract so many international students? Is this  export success story based on wrong information? Your judgement about academics being intellectually feeble likewise reflects pure prejudice partly because many of them don’t take you very seriously. Most academics regard your politics (and your propensity to dominate verbal exchanges with long rambling monologues) with well-deserved disgust.  You are wrong about professors regarding teaching undergraduates as only a burden.  It is simply untrue – good researchers are invariably good teachers since the two things go together.
Now, I don't know much about Ergas' contribution to infrastructure economics, and (to my surprise) economics journalist Peter Martin seems to think Ergas is a worthy recipient, but I'm pretty convinced that his getting this award makes for a great case that the country is giving out too many. 


Monday, January 25, 2016

Short version: "With low expectations, you'll probably enjoy it"

TV Review: Mulder and Scully Return in a New 'X-Files,' Conspiracy Theories Abound - The Atlantic

And you thought the Freemasons were bad

Australian politics is pretty boring at the moment:   Malcolm Turnbull would easily win the election if only he could continue doing nothing before it has to be called.   Just like the Queensland Premiership, where Annastacia Palaszczuk maintains popularity by simply keeping a pretty low profile, the non-scary leaders who get to follow those who do scare the public have a pretty easy run for quite a while.   

Of course, there is the bizarre spectacle of Kevin Rudd thinking he would be good for the United Nations - but surely that is more of a matter of entertainment than a serious possibility.   Why would Julie Bishop say the government would even consider it, though?   (Kevin doesn't look all that well to me in recent photos I've noticed, too, although they might be old file ones I suppose.)

So without politics to worry about at the moment, I wandered over to Arts & Letters Daily, to read a scathing review of book about Augustine.    It's lengthy, but this episode is noteworthy for its insight into ancient rumour mill:
The story begins when Augustine, as a Manichee, may have heard (must have heard according Lane Fox) an anti-Manichaean slander that the cult’s Elect, at their secret meals, had sex on top of flour spread on the floor. Their joint juices were spilled on the flour, and the male like some unknown Onan spilled his seed upon the ground, making the flour a carrier of the particles of light from the Elect, as the members of the Manichee sect were called. Bread was then made of the flour for the Elect to consume. Like most attacks of bigotry, this slur was illogical. What good would it do for the Elect to recycle light out into bread and then back into the source of the light in the first place? There is no way to know how widely this crude attack was known to people, much less to know how many credited its nonsense. 
 Erk.  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Down the black hole to a new universe

An abstract on arXiv:
 We investigate the effect of a black hole as a nucleation cite of a false vacuum bubble based on the Euclidean actions of relevant configurations. As a result we find a wormhole-like configuration may be spontaneously nucleated once the black hole mass falls below a critical value of order of the Hubble parameter corresponding to the false vacuum energy density. As the space beyond the wormhole throat can expand exponentially, this may be interpreted as creation of another inflationary universe in the final stage of the black hole evaporation.
I'm pretty sure I saw another paper making the same argument on arXiv last month, but I forgot to note it.  (I think Sabine H saw it too.)   Should try to find it...

Friday, January 22, 2016

Maybe this will help...




OK, if you don't understand, listen to this.

(It appears Nesmith has required all YouTube's of Elephant Parts to be taken down from YouTube, which is fair enough I guess.)

How good a debater is Cruz? (A short, funny Colbert piece)

Surely even Republicans would find this funny:



And while you are on the Colbert channel, you may as well look at this clip just to see how extraordinarily similar Colin Hanks talks, looks, and acts like his father Tom.   As many people say in comments after, it's almost spooky.

Ross Douthat confesses

My Sarah Palin Romance - The New York Times

It was, however, a very brief romance.

And look, if one looks back at this very blog (no, I'm not going to help you find it), one will see that I too thought that her very first appearance on the national stage showed an impressive and natural confidence that might work well.   But then, as Douthat says, she had to talk national policy to the media, and it all fell apart.

So I actually have a bit of sympathy here for Ross.   But I still don't think he knows the way forward for the Republicans.   No one on the Right has a proper grip on what has happened to the American Right, if you ask me.

The Gaia bottleneck?

The aliens are silent because they're dead

Interesting idea, I guess...

Don't worry, Catallaxy, we already know you don't "do" science

That’s a silly number | Catallaxy Files

Being ideologically dedicated to as tiny a government as possible because - well, just because! - the economists of Catallaxy don't like the idea of government funding science.   Which is consistent with the blog being deeply devoted to climate change denial.

The blog would be better served by just not discussing science at all.  Crank economics is enough of a burden, let alone taking on crank science.

Trend change discussed

Changes | Open Mind

Tamino notes that, for most climate change indicators, it's not yet clear whether the trend rates are changing (that is, accelerating.)  But, of course, the actual current trends are worrying enough.

Furry empathy, re-visited

Consoling Voles Hint at Animal Empathy - The Atlantic

I like research into niceness, but I see that people were doubting that rats saving other rats were displaying empathy.  But perhaps this study into prairie voles makes a stronger case.  (I'm still generous in my interpretation of the rat study, too.)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Seems a significant graph

Just noticed on twitter:


They have their standards

Once again (and there are a million other examples), I am bemused by the Catallaxy outrage at how leftists "hate" (someone said something mean about the late Bob Carter, and Sinclair Davidson thinks its worth noting), while over at another thread a "leftist" ABC journalist is called (for no apparent reason relevant that I can see) a "$20 a trick hooker", and no one else in the thread bats an eyelid.

(Incidentally, that Riccardo Bosi is one of the nuttiest of any commenter on the Australian blogosphere.  Here's his follow up to the "hookers" comment:
There’s a very good reason why I went public with my name, and I’m just getting warmed up. The hookers at the ABC are just one group who will eventually be taking a long walk off a short pier.
He's ex-Army, rabidly Christian and anti-abortion, hates Islam with a passion, and has said he's going to be undertaking some speaking tour of Australia to convince everyone of God knows what.)

More about the geologist to the "lay person"

I see a common theme that runs through the many Bob Carter condolence comments made at climate change denying sites such as Catallaxy and Jonova is that many felt he was great at explaining clearly to the non scientist "lay person" why AGW was a nonsense.

Just as anti-vaxxers should realise that the fact that the mere handful of anti-vax doctors always seem to be talking to groups of "lay people" instead of other doctors might be a clue as to the real quality of their advocacy, those who refuse to believe in AGW are oblivious to their own gullibility.

Yesterday, in Alan Moran's post at Catallaxy, for example, he linked to a video of a recent (little noticed) talk Carter was giving at Paris last year on behalf of the Heartland Institute.  (It's the 5th video down.)

I started watching it, and was surprised to hear him claim within the first few minutes that it was "irrelevant" climatically as to whether there has been a 16 or 18 year "pause" in the warming.  You have to look at climate change on the longer scale of 30 years (he says that the last 150 years only has 5 climate data points.)

Well, that's interesting, because here's what he was saying in The Age a mere 5 years ago at the height of the argument about an Australian carbon tax:
Fact 1. A mild warming of about 0.5 degrees Celsius (well within previous natural temperature variations) occurred between 1979 and 1998, and has been followed by slight global cooling over the past 10 years. Ergo, dangerous global warming is not occurring.
Fact 2. Between 2001 and 2010 global average temperature decreased by 0.05 degrees, over the same time that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increased by 5 per cent. Ergo, carbon dioxide emissions are not driving dangerous warming.
Seems strangely like he is encouraging his readers in 2011 to believe that the "pause" is indeed climatically significant, but apparently it's not unless you look at the 30 year period.   Which, a few days after his death, looks like this:


The appeal to, and deliberate confusion of , the "lay person" is not something we have much sympathy for when it comes to anti-vaxers.  The only reason people might be less harsh towards climate change deniers and advocates to the gullible like Carter is probably because with climate change there is not such an easy present day attribution to death, as there is with a baby who dies of whooping cough, for example.

But long term, the problems Carter was trying to deliver to humanity on ideological grounds were, of course, worse.  (Even if you want to argue that stopping all vaccinations might kill just as many people as climate change, the realisation of a mistake with that policy would be quickly reversible.   Carter and his ilk always skipped over the fact that their advocacy for delay makes the problem - if they are wrong - essentially  irreversible.) 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The irony meter will never recover

Anthony Watts writes this at WUWT about the sudden death of one of the two Australian geologist global warming star "skeptics", Bob Carter:

Anthony Watts, whose blog is the home for the wilfully and gullibly ignorant of the United States, bemoaning the "cult of ignorance" in his country.  Wow.

Regardless of his personal qualities (of which we pretty routinely give the recently deceased the benefit of any doubt), if people cannot work out that Carter was intellectually leading them up the garden path with misdirection and science-y sounding argument about climate that actually did not bear even moderate scrutiny, then they're too silly to continue arguing with.

And that's probably why Watts sounds sort of depressed these days - actual climate scientists are (rightly) more than ever just ignoring his beloved "work" of spreading disinformation.  Even he is started to get that it has been for nought. 

A bit of insight into the ways Americans think about slavery

I used to lead tours at a plantation. You won’t believe the questions I got about slavery. - Vox

It's a good essay, and sheds some light on the change in thinking that I think has become much more prevalent in the US since the rise of the ideological, "evidence, what evidence?" American Right over the last decade or so.