Saturday, June 24, 2017

Photos from Science

These just caught my eye:


I didn't realise that giraffe skulls looked so much like a dino skull.  Don't you think?

But real dinos were really big: 


And numbats are remarkably attractive:






Failure unforeseen (and an excuse to talk about Tom Cruise)

We get Graham Norton's UK chat show about 3 or 4 weeks after it screens there, and it's often very funny.  (It is just about the most relaxed celebrity chat show ever made, I reckon - is it because of the alcohol served?)

Anyway, last night's episode featured Tom Cruise promoting The Mummy (along with his female co-star whose name I don't recall), and Zac Efron, appearing to promote Baywatch.

Both movies were - shortly after that show was taped - pretty much panned by most critics and are already considered box office failures.  (Although, I see that The Mummy has made $300 million internationally in a few weeks of release, so at a claimed production cost of $120 million, it's not a complete disaster - even allowing for the rule of thumb that a movie has to make about 3 times its production costs before it becomes profitable.  Baywatch is doing considerably worse.  But for a complete, it won't even make its production cost disaster, look at Guy Ritchies' King Arthur movie.  Why does anyone employ him?)

However, on last night's appearance on Norton, both Cruise and Efron seemed very genuinely positive about their respective movies.   Either they are really good at faking it; really unable to see defects in their own movies; or the movies are better than what most critics and audiences seem to think.  (I seriously doubt that with respect to Baywatch, where even Zafron was talking about its high quotient of  penis jokes.)

Anyway, somehow while browsing the net after the show, I stumbled across a Simon Pegg twitter account, and he was talking about being in Queenstown, New Zealand, shooting for Mission Impossible 6.  Indeed, it has been in the New Zealand media.  I wonder if NZ is standing in for some other country? 

 

More reason for disliking Monsanto

You may know my position:  I think the Monsanto tactic of genetic modification of food crops to tolerate weed killing chemicals is a bad idea.  (I think the reason is kind of obvious, but see the links at this previous post, and this one too.)

Here's another story of where this agricultural technique is going wrong:
Arkansas's pesticide regulators have stepped into the middle of an epic battle between weeds and chemicals, which has now morphed into a battle between farmers. Hundreds of farmers say their crops have been damaged by a weedkiller that was sprayed on neighboring fields. Today, the Arkansas Plant Board voted to impose an unprecedented ban on that chemical.

"It's fracturing the agricultural community. You either have to choose to be on the side of using the product, or on the side of being damaged by the product," says David Hundley, who manages grain production for Ozark Mountain Poultry in Bay, Arkansas.

The tension — which even led to a farmer's murder — is over a weedkiller called dicamba. The chemical only became a practical option for farmers a few years ago, when Monsanto created soybean and cotton plants that were genetically modified to survive it. Farmers who planted these new seeds could use dicamba to kill weeds without harming their crops.

Farmers, especially in the South, have been desperate for new weapons against a devastating weed called pigweed, or Palmer amaranth. And some farmers even jumped the gun and started spraying dicamba on their crops before they were legally allowed to do so. (Dicamba has long been used in other ways, such as for clearing vegetation from fields before planting.)
The problem is, dicamba is a menace to other crops nearby. It drifts easily in the wind, and traditional soybeans are incredibly sensitive to it. "Nobody was quite prepared, despite extensive training, for just how sensitive beans were to dicamba," says Bob Scott, a specialist on weeds with the University of Arkansas's agricultural extension service.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Nuts have been with us, always

I am on the email list for Literary Review, but they mostly now just contain links to old reviews from their archive.  This one, though, by the late John Mortimer in 1997, talking about a sensational defamation trial in England in 1918, is very amusing.  Not sure that I have heard of the Pemberton Billing trial before.  Some extracts:
Reference was made throughout the proceedings to a mysterious German ‘Black Book’, which was said to contain the names of 47,000 prominent British homosexuals, lesbians and secret agents working for the enemy. The names included, it was said, Asquith, Margot Asquith, Lord Haldane and many others of the great and good. When a Mrs Villiers-Stuart (later imprisoned for bigamy) shouted, from the witness box, that the judge’s name was in the book, the proceedings reached a level of insanity beyond anything achieved by Mr Justice Cocklecarrot....

....Decadence, however that pejorative word is defined, is by no means synonymous with homosexuality.

Noel Pemberton Billing MP, of course, was sure that it was. He had been an actor, a barrister, the inventor of a ‘self-calculating pencil’ and a ‘flying boat’ which failed to take off. He had founded the Vigilante Society with an Admiral’s son called Henry Hamilton Beamish who believed that Britain was ruined by ‘Jewalisation’ and that the Jews were responsible for a quarter of the casualties in the war. The Vigilantes published a paper called the Imperialist, which announced ‘the existence in the “Cabinet Noir” of a certain German prince, a book which contains reports from the agents ‘who have infested this country for over twenty years’, agents spreading such debauchery and such lasciviousness as only German minds can conceive and only German bodies execute’.

Billing was anxious to spread his beliefs, not only to Parliament and the Press, but in the Courts of Law. His opportunity came when a private production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, a play banned from the public by the Lord Chamberlain, was proposed. The Vigilante carried a paragraph mysteriously worded ‘The Cult of the Clitoris’ and went on: ‘To be a member of Maud Allan’s performances of Salome one has to apply to a Miss Valetta of 9, Duke Street, Adelphi, WC. If Scotland Yard were to seize the list of members, I have no doubt they would secure the names of several of the first 47,000 [in the Black Book].’ Maud Allan charged Billing with criminal libel and he decided to defend himself at the Old Bailey.

Mr Justice Darling, a small, dandified figure, much given to flippant little jokes at which the Court was expected to laugh heartily, was caricatured by Max Beerbohm wearing a black cap with bells on it. He allowed the loud-voiced Billing, who stood with his monocle fixed in his eye and his arms crossed, to dominate the proceedings. Hours were spent discussing the contents of the Black Book which probably only existed in the fertile imaginations of Billing, his mistress Mrs Villiers-Stuart, and some other dubious witnesses....
The tone of the trial was further lowered by the evidence of the loathsome Lord Alfred Douglas, who attacked Wilde in general and Salome in particular. He also said that prime ministers, judges and ‘greasy advocates’ all conspired to ‘support perverts’. The judge and lawyers seemed too innocent for any such task. They had great difficulty in understanding the word ‘clitoris’ and the QC for the dancer-actress Maud Allan, apparently hearing the word ‘orgasm’ for the first time, asked if it meant some sort of unnatural vice.

I am reminded somewhat of one Graeme Bird, too.  

Update:  Something else has occurred to me:   our current nutty Right wing conspiracists are decidedly lacking in numerical specificity, compared to their predecessors.  Joe McCarthy's list of subversives was either 57 or 205, but it was a very specific either way.  These days, we just have to wonder how many are in Washington's Deep State: wingnuts don't cite a number, as far as I know.  Disappointing.

Yes, ban it

Interesting article at The Conversation asks the question whether pro-anorexia web sites should be banned or criminalised.

Not sure 100% sure whether criminalisation is the best response to removing them off the net, which should be the first priority, but can't say that I would have a moment's concern about an attempt to criminalise them. 

The article doesn't agree, and runs the odd argument that many women (well, it is much more common with women) end up at these sites because they already have an eating disorder and are looking for support.   But, of course, it's exactly the wrong sort of "support" that these people will get from a "pro" site.

Free speech ninnies can get lost, as far as I'm concerned:  Western society is not going to collapse because of legal interference with some websites (or their owners) who are clearly encouraging self harm of otherwise healthy people which is likely to end in death.   

A dreamy post

NPR has a post up talking about the scientific understanding of dreams, and it opens noting that Freud is not doing well in science circles:
"For 100 years, we got stuck into that Freudian perspective on dreams, which turned out to be not scientifically very accurate," says Robert Stickgold, a sleep researcher and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "So it's only been in the last 15 to 20 years that we've really started making progress."
Yet further down, it has a peculiar claim:
A number of Freud's observations about dreams are still relevant, even if his interpretations of them are less than scientific.
For example, he observed that certain dream elements are common, if not universal. Teeth, for example.
"A particularly remarkable dream symbol is that of having one's teeth fall out, or having them pulled," Freud wrote in A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. He goes on to say that's usually a symbol for castration "as a punishment for onanism." The castration explanation may be off base, Baird says. But problems with teeth are, indeed, something many people report in their dreams. "It's weird," he says. "What has that got to do with anything?" Baird suspects we share many dreams like this because we share the same nervous system design, and many of the same anxieties.
I say peculiar, because I don't recall ever having an odd tooth related dream.

I would have thought that the more useful common dreams to mention would have been:   being accidentally nude, or somehow exposed, in public;  the "what - I have no idea how to answer these exam questions"  dream; and the "I can levitate if I really concentrate" dream.   All of which I think are common.  (OK - not certain about the last one - I think flying dreams are pretty common, but I have found that some people claim never to have had one.   The run of odd levitation dreams I was having really ran for a long time - and oddly, some involved trying to prove to other people that I was not dreaming.  Hence, waking up from them was particularly annoying, because in the dream I thought I had the video proof that would satisfy everyone, including myself, that it was real.)

Anyway, I like how the article notes this:
Dreams may be so hard to pin down scientifically because they are so closely related to consciousness, a concept that has bedeviled scientists and philosophers for centuries.

We all somehow know we are conscious. But it's been difficult to define precisely what consciousness is, let alone determine how it is generated by the brain.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pleb who can't handle the truth

I don't usually bother much with reading Andrew Bolt's persistent foolishness on climate change, whereby other mere polemicists (Delingpole, Monckton) and a handful of contrarian science types are taken as knowing the Truth that All Other Scientists, Their Professional Bodies, and 90 Something Percent of Governments Just Won't Admit.

But I did today, and noticed this in comment with some amusement:

Heh.

Peter, Peter.  If you knew not to listen to Bolt, you wouldn't need correcting.

Back to McArdle

I see Megan McArdle's "let's not blame governments for the Grenfell fire - they were just acting as libertarians like them to act " column at Bloomberg has now reached nearly 2000 comments, with probably 95% of them ridiculing her.

As I noted in my previous post, it was pretty disingenuous of her to concentrate only on the issue of the cost of retrofitting fire sprinklers, when the more obvious problem was regulations regarding the cladding.   Does she really have to be reminded that if the cladding didn't burn, the entire building might not have gone up and the issue of sprinklers could have been much less important?

In any event, even her argument about sprinklers is looking shaky for two reasons:

a.   it is starting to look like the cost of retrofitting them is actually not as high as I would have guessed:
The British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA), the trade body for the fire sprinkler industry, said retrofitting Grenfell Tower with sprinklers might have cost £200,000. This is the figure for installing a sprinkler system but does not include potential maintenance fees or costs associated with the wider redevelopment of a building.
And another Council has already decided to retrofit 25 high rise blocks at a cost of ten million pounds.

b.   McArdle's argument - that every dollar governments spend on sprinklers would divert it from other life preserving things like hospitals - conveniently, and in a very libertarian/small government way, ignores government's ability to raise extra money for worthwhile things by raising extra taxes.  Oh noes - we can't have that.

Now, this is not to deny that there might still be a legitimate argument to be had, by appropriate experts, about cost benefit analysis of retrofitting sprinklers to certain buildings.  

But clearly, McArdle's position was to start from a presumption not only that it's always best to leave it to the market to decide (a silly thing to be talking about when these residents did not have market power - and also, to the extent that you could say the market, in the sense of builders quoting for a job, came up with a disastrous result on the cladding in this case); but that you should never be too tough on government for making decisions on a cost benefit basis, even when there is no evidence around that cost benefit was considered in this case.   (And, that in fact, money saved on public housing and other Council functions was given back to the well off in the Council!)

 

Skeptic win?

Back in 2010, and again in 2014, I posted about the very interesting parapsychology experiments of Daryl Bem, and it's time to look at how the work is viewed now.

Not all that well, apparently.  Slate ran a lengthy article about it a couple of weeks ago, but I think this commentary on it (taking a quite sympathetic approach to Bem personally) is better reading.

The argument is that it was all a problem with statistical analysis, and that it really set off the reproducibility crisis in the whole field of experimental psychology.  

The lack of replication is, obviously, a concern; but I wish I understood statistics a bit better to understand some of the arguments that rage about their appropriate use.

Brisbane's wooden high rise

I posted about this plan to build a 52 m high wood office building in Brisbane recently, and now The Guardian has a lengthy report about it.  (Probably prompted by renewed interest in how easily buildings can burn.)

While I think it's a very interesting project, there's one issue I have my doubts about - the claim that this type of wood building is definitely healthier for the workers.   The reason - the wood product used is actually a cross laminated material - timber sheets glued together - and I am curious as to whether the glue used slowly leaks any chemical into the air over time.

I could well be being overly cautious here - but it just seems to me that its likely to emit some smell, at least early in its life.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

When Presidents tweet

Several American sites are noting that Trump's tweet re North Korea:
While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!
 is dangerously ambiguous.  As New York Magazine writes:
But if Trump’s tweet is just mindless bluster, that hardly makes it less unnerving. In their joint military exercises, the United States and South Korea have rehearsed preemptive strikes against North Korea, ones designed to kill Kim Jong-un before he has a chance to press the proverbial button. Arms-control expert Jeffrey Lewis has warned that the implication of these exercises aren’t lost on Pyongyang: Kim knows “he has to go first, if he is to go at all.”

Just because savvy news consumers in the United States are comfortable assuming that Trump is merely talking trash doesn’t mean that North Korea is. In April, the president suggested that the day Beijing’s efforts to rein in Pyongyang failed would be the day that America took action against Kim Jong-un’s regime.

“Well if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you,” Trump told the Financial Times.

The fact that the American president is an emotionally volatile reality star — who publishes his foreign-policy musings directly to the internet — has always been dangerous. In the context of a military standoff with a nuclear-weapons state, it may prove fatally so.
They are right - and you would have to be completely foolish (as Trump supporters are) not to see the impropriety and danger in this idiot President tweeting to the world.

A happy Hollywood story

Here's a long interview with all-grown-up (and rather plumper and hairier) actor Haley Joel Osment.   As the interview makes clear, he had really good experiences in making a couple of very high profile movies as a child - and it sounds like sensible parents were an enormous part of that.

Of course, the fact that he worked with Spielberg on AI - a movie Osment and the interviewer both love (I think it is very under rated) - makes me particularly interested in him.

Many more micro satellites on the way (and mobile phone talk)

Foreign Correspondent moved away from its normal political/social emphasis last night to look at the growing industry of micro satellites, and it was pretty fascinating.

I liked the way the guy from Planet explained how the origin of the idea was just to put mobile phone technology into space:  he emphasised the technological marvel that the commonplace mobile phone is these days, just as I like to do.

I am itching to buy a new mobile phone at the moment, and I am contemplated being unfaithful to Samsung.   (I may need to visit the confessional.)   The Moto G5 Plus seems to have everything I want in a mobile phone - except, I admit, the wonders of a beautiful Samsung AMOLED screen.

To get all that I want, ideally, I would buy a $650 Samsung A5.   But for $250 less, the Moto one has NFC - needed for using your phone to make paywave payment (an odd exception from Samsung J5 and J7, which cost the same or more as the G5 Plus), and a gyro sensor (which I understand is important if you want to use it to live in a VR world - and also not in the equivalent priced Samsung models.)   But the A5 does have a gorgeous looking screen, and is quite waterproof.     (Note that I have ever dropped a phone in the toilet - yet.)

Bizarrely, I have noticed that the cheap Samsung J range has this weird thing where some of the cheaper models have an AMOLED screen, and even my two year old cheapo J1 has NFC;  but the top end of the J range (J5 and J7) don't have either of these.  Hence Samsung are still making things rather confusing with the features in their model range.

How to make money from drugs

Hey Jason, if you don't like this story in the Atlantic, I'd be very surprised: How Two Common Medications Became One $455 Million Specialty Pill.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Horse fat? (Actually, a potato post)

Some unexpected information in The Guardian about Belgian chips (my bold):
Whether eaten with mayonnaise or taken au naturel, the Belgian chip is up there with chocolate, beer and the national football team in the nation’s psyche. No public square is complete without a frietkot, or chip stand, where sellers swear by double frying bintje potatoes in beef or horse fat to achieve the ideal combination of a succulent centre and crispy exterior.
I don't much like horses:  I'd just as soon they stayed out of any chips I might be eating, as well.  If ever I get to Belgium, that is.

Speaking of potatoes, I recently made nice sautéed potato with fennel seeds thrown in.  (Boil cubed potato first, for only about 3-5 minutes, then sauté in non stick frying pan with a fairly small amount of olive oil, with fennel seeds and salt, 'til crisp outside. Delicious.  And not a horse to be seen.)

And finally:  after some resistance from my wife,  who doubted I would use it, I acquired a potato ricer a few months ago, for use in making mashed potato.  One of these things:


While I wouldn't go so far as to claim that it has changed my life (I do, after all, only mash potatoes about once a month), I have to say that using a ricer gives extremely pleasing results.   Even before this, I made the best mash in the house;  now the quality is uniformly great - so much so that I sometimes worry that it's so smooth that it seems manufactured.  I still love it.

Why repeating lies makes them seem true

Vox talks about the "illusory truth effect", which surely has become something dangerous in the world of social media and other forms of echo chamber:
Psychological science consistently finds when a lie gets repeated, it’s slightly more likely to be misremembered as truth. It’s called the “illusory truth effect.” It’s a tendency the whole news media — as well as consumers of news — should be wary of. And it’s a reason not to give notorious bullshitters such a substantial spotlight. Especially bullshitters whose lies hurt others and whose lies have a track record for virality....

The illusory truth effect has been studied for decades — the first citations date back to the 1970s. Typically, experimenters in these studies ask participants to rate a series of trivia statements as true or false. Hours, weeks, or even months later, the experimenters bring the participants back again for a quiz. 

On that second visit, some of the statements are new, some are repeats. And it’s here that the effect shows itself: Participants are reliably more likely to rate statements they’ve seen before as being true — regardless as to whether they are or not. 

When you’re hearing something for the second or third time, your brain becomes faster to respond to it. “And your brain misattributes that fluency as a signal for it being true,” says Lisa Fazio, a psychologist who studies learning and memory at Vanderbilt University. The more you hear something, the more “you’ll have this gut-level feeling that maybe it’s true.” 

Most of the time this mental heuristic — a thinking shortcut — helps us. We don’t need to wrack our brains every time we hear “the Earth is round” to decide it’s true or not. Most of the things we hear repeated over and over again are, indeed, true. 

But falsehoods can hijack this mental tic as well.

Hating regulations because they're regulations

I know that it is actually probably more complicated than it may first appear - the matter of what claddings are allowed to be used on high rise buildings.   I say this because I was reading the CSIRO's guide on the matter, produced in 2016, which can be found via this page.

Nonetheless, I find it difficult to not marvel at the stupidity of the libertarian response to the Grenfell fire, with people like Stoat (who is on the right side of climate change, but otherwise likes to take contrarian positions on various things) saying things like:
But buildings *are* very heavily regulated. They are not “deregulated”. This can just as easily be seen as a failure of the “regulate everything and all will be well” approach
And he cites Tim Worstall:
So, layer upon layer of intrusive regulation and government made this happen.
The solution is more layers of intrusive government and regulation. That’ll work, won’t it?
As someone says in response to Worstall:
I don’t know, but what do you suggest as an alternative? Fewer fire regulations? No fire regulations?
And someone back at Stoats writes:
Timmy’s argument is ludicrous: the Graun describes how the designers and builders failed to comply with the building regulation requirement that “the external envelope of a building should not provide a medium for fire spread”, and other factors contributed to the death toll. Timmy jumps to:
“So, layer upon layer of intrusive regulation and government made this happen.”
False as the regulations are not “layer upon layer”, they have repeatedly been revised, tested, and reexamined in relation to experience, as well as getting watered down by dogma against regulation.
Ludicrous as, by Timmy’s argument, regulations against murder make murders happen.
The other ludicrous line that some on the Right are running is that the building was only clad in flammable cladding because of Green/climate change regulations for insulation.    (Some have been trying to bring EU regulation into it too - which hardly makes any sense if it is true that Germany does not allow the use of this material on its buildings.) 

This was pretty quickly extensively fact checked and found to be the misleading furphy that one might expect it to be.  It seems that the Right has become so stupid as to not even want to admit that insulation on buildings is an inherently good thing for, you know, making a residence more comfortable to live in.   (The link notes how the Grenfell tower had windows that for safety reasons could not be opened far - making it hot in summer.  And I assume that any residence in London benefits from insulation in winter.) 

This is a case where common sense makes sense:   this is a problem of inadequate/poorly designed/poorly enforced regulation.   It's nonsense to take a line that it's due to over regulation.



Bad reasons for eating animals

I was watching the 7.30 report on dog meat being eaten in Bali (a relatively recent cultural innovation, apparently), and I annoyed to see one old Balinese guy say he eats it because it keeps you healthy, especially in winter.

What is the name for the belief that eating particular animals is particularly good for you, in certain ways?   Most notoriously, it pervades Chinese medicine, and other Asian cultures, but I suppose it hangs around in lots of other continent's native cultures too:  the idea, in a generic sense, that eating a particularly strong or fierce animal (or a particular organ of it) will pass on some of its character to the eater.

It kind of drives me nuts:  a quasi spiritual idea that has been responsible for the endangerment of so many species for completely spurious reasons.  (Or is it a case of a placebo effect meaning it actually does help people?  But even if it is, can't they move onto using sugar pills instead of God knows what animal's penis, or heart, or whatever?)

I know people aren't evil for eating dogs, although my personal fondness for them means, of course, that I wish people wouldn't.  And, I know, they aren't endangered and never will be.   But if the motivation is simply because they are supposed to be particularly healthy for you - that just annoys me in particular.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Another 50 year anniversary: You Only Live Twice

Every time I see a Space X rocket landing vertically, I'm reminded of You Only Live Twice - the first Bond film I saw as a child , at a drive in, and it remains a Bond favourite to this day.

The Japan Times points out that it's the 50th anniversary of the movie, and has a lengthy account of Fleming's interest in Japan, which centred around the exploits of an Australian reporter, Richard Hughes, who was (apparently) transmogrified in the novel into one "Dikko" Henderson.  The story goes like this:
After less than a year in Tokyo, Hughes, sensing the imminence of war with Japan and keen to alert Australia and America to the danger, packed his own notebooks full of sensitive information and headed back to Australia at the beginning of 1941.

When the war ended, Hughes returned to live in Japan, now under American Occupation, and became manager of No. 1 Shimbun Alley, a rowdy foreign correspondents’ club situated next to the residential wing of the Soviet Embassy. The club was the meeting ground of reporters, former soldiers and spies, many of whom conducted illicit liaisons in its bedrooms.

The Cold War deepened in 1948 over the Berlin Airlift. Hughes was dismissed as manager of the club and swore never to return to it. At the same time, he started working as a foreign correspondent for London’s Sunday Times, under its foreign manager Ian Fleming, who had played a distinguished role in British naval intelligence during World War II and presided over many crucial covert operations.
Hughes now created his own intelligence network by founding the Baritsu Chapter, supposedly the Asian section of the Baker Street Irregulars, a Sherlock Holmes appreciation society first founded in the U.S. in 1934. “Baritsu” is the name given to a fictional form of martial art that Holmes is described as using to defeat his arch-nemesis, Moriarty, while wrestling with him at the Reichenbach Falls.
Hughes went on to become a double agent, fooling the KGB, and (much later) took Fleming on a boozey research tour of  Japan for the novel.

Worth reading in full...  


Would you buy a Nimble Dragon?

There seems to be some renewed effort from the nuclear power industry generally to push small, modular nuclear reactors.   I say this based on an interview I heard on Radio National one recent morning with what sounded like a PR person for the industry out to sell the idea.   Actual product ready to sell, though, is still not around, despite years of talking about this potential industry.

But I see in the Japan Times that the Chinese may now be trying to develop this as a market:
China is betting on new, small-scale nuclear reactor designs that could be used in isolated regions, on ships and even aircraft as part of an ambitious plan to wrest control of the global nuclear market.

Within weeks, state-owned China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) is set to launch a small modular reactor (SMR) dubbed the “Nimble Dragon” with a pilot plant on the island province of Hainan, according to company officials.

Unlike new large scale reactors that cost upward of $10 billion per unit and need large safety zones, SMRs create less toxic waste and can be built in a single factory.

A little bigger than a bus and able to be transported by truck, SMRs could eventually cost less than one-tenth the price of conventional reactors, developers predict.
Sure they make great mobile phones, but not entirely sure (to put it mildly) that they have the runs on the board re environmental responsibility to trust a nuclear reactor shipped out from there.

Strop it

I was at Target recently, hanging around the (mainly women's) toiletries while my daughter looked  for a possible gift for a friend, and noticed that on a "discount" shelf they had a cheap version of one of the razor blade sharpening products that I had occasionally noticed at The Razor Shop; but at $20 or $30, I hadn't ever bought one.

The Blade Buddy only cost $5, so I bought it out of curiosity.

The operative part is just a slab of rubber or silicon, I'm not sure which, with some ridged sections, and all you do is rub the razor blade upwards on it (with a bit of shaving cream for lubrication) about 15 to 20 times before shaving.  It doesn't take long.

The packaging says it works by "re-aligning" the blades, or some such, which sounds very improbable, so it was with low expectations that I started using it.

But, I have to say, I think it is working.   I did start with a new blade cartridge (a cheap 4 - or is it 5?- blade razor that Coles and Woolworths both sell), but after a week, I have the distinct impression that it feels sharper than if I hadn't used the Buddy device.

Mind you, I have been able to get about 3 to 4 weeks out of one of these cartridges anyway, so maybe it is an illusion.  But I don't think so.

When I google the topic, I see that there is actually a lot of material out there saying that these razor cleaning devices do work just by cleaning the blade, in a very similar way to the old "stropping" of a blade on a leather strap.   Makes sense.

In fact, there is also material out on the web about just using old denim to "strop" a cartridge razor.  And one guy - whose video I haven't properly watched - claims to have gotten 3 years out of one cartridge(!).  Maybe there's black magic involved...

Nevertheless, it seems clear that there is good reason to believe you can get very substantial extensions to the "normal" life of razor cartridges.    And to be honest, I don't mind the procedure:  it makes shaving more feel more, well, ritualised.  (You have to remember that I enjoy using shaving soap and a brush, too.)

Given the ridiculous cost of brand name, multi-blade cartridges, I am very surprised that this is not better known.   Certainly, I had never thought of it before - I just assumed that cartridge blades were so thin that they developed pits and holes that you couldn't do much about it.

It would seem I was mistaken. I will revisit the topic in a month or two's time...

Update:   more on using denim jeans to strop a razor cartridge.  The guy claims to be using the same cartridge for 8 months at the time he wrote that...

Ridiculous performance art

I suppose there will always be eccentrics, and/or the disturbed, who will want to create performance art involving blood and gore.   

What I find a bit more disturbing is that they can find a paying audience. 


Bruni on the state of political discourse

Bruni's column ("I'm OK - you're pure evil") about the coarsening of political discourse in the US, and in particular the dangerous role of social media in the process (something of a favourite theme of mine) is pretty good:
Over the past decade in particular, the internet and social media have changed the game. They speed people to like-minded warriors and give them the impression of broader company or sturdier validation than really exist. The fervor of those in the anti-vaccine movement exemplifies this. So did the stamina of Americans who insisted that Barack Obama was born abroad — and who were egged on by Donald Trump.

Admirers of a responsible politician or righteous cause coalesce quickly, but the same goes for followers of a hatemonger or crackpot. One good articulation of this came from David Simas, who was Obama’s political director, in a New Yorker article by David Remnick that deconstructed the 2016 election.

What people find on the web “creates a whole new permission structure, a sense of social affirmation for what was once unthinkable,” Simas told Remnick. Obama, in his own comments to Remnick, picked up that thread, saying, “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll.”

“The capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal — that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate,” Obama added. Suspicion blossoms into certainty. Pique flowers into fury.
Writing about last week's shooter of the Repbulican Congressman:
His life online reflected the goosing, goading, amplifying power of social media and the eminence of outrage in public debate. As Michael Gerson noted in The Washington Post after the shooting, today’s partisans “have made anger into an industry — using it to run up the number of listeners, viewers and hits.” Mocking and savaging political opponents have been “not only normalized but monetized,” Gerson added, and he stated the obvious, which needed stating nonetheless: “If words can inspire, then they can also incite or debase.”

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Left wing violence revisited

Good article at NPR:  

FACT CHECK: Is Left-Wing Violence Rising?

Some extracts:
The idea that some on the far left are openly condoning violence is a red flag for extremist group monitors.
"This is a dangerous game; people are going to die. No one's died yet, but it's just a matter of time," says J.J. McNabb, an expert on political extremism at George Washington University.

McNabb says white supremacists and neo-Nazis are widely condemned — and deservedly — for their violent tendencies. But she says the Antifa shouldn't get a pass on their violence just because they oppose white supremacists....

Still, their numbers are tiny in relation to the mainstream political left. And, say experts, it's misleading for right-wing groups to suggest that the Antifa are more violent than right-wing extremists.

"The far left is very active in the United States, but it hasn't been particularly violent for some time," says Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism.
He says the numbers between the groups don't compare.

"In the past 10 years when you look at murders committed by domestic extremists in the United States of all types, right-wing extremists are responsible for about 74 percent of those murders," Pitcavage says.

You have to go back to the 1970s to find the last big cycle of far-left extremism in the U.S. Both Pitcavage and McNabb say we have been in a predominantly far-right extremist cycle since the 1990s — the abortion clinic bombings and Oklahoma City, for example. And, more recently, racially motivated attacks such as the one at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the mass shooting at a black church in Charleston, S.C., and last month's stabbings on a commuter train in Portland.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Megan, Megan, Megan...

Just at a time when millions of people in Britain, Australia and other countries have been watching TV and saying "What?? Governments haven't been bothered to regulate whether developers can wrap a 30 or 40 story apartment building with stuff that can burn intensely and wildly out of control far beyond the reach of any firefighting service?!",  along comes Megan McArdle to write an article with the lines:
When it comes to many regulations, it is best to leave such calculations of benefit and cost to the market, rather than the government. People can make their own assessments of the risks, and the price they’re willing to pay to allay them, rather than substituting the judgment of some politician or bureaucrat who will not receive the benefit or pay the cost.
Opportunistically,  she also concentrates on just one safety matter relevant to the Grenfell fire - the decision not to try to retrofit a sprinkler system.

Megan, Megan, Megan:  this is such a extraordinarily tone deaf time to be talking the benefits of  letting markets (and residents) decide relative levels of safety because (so your argument goes) everyone makes safety trade offs (such as living further out in a city and taking the risk of dying in a car crash while commuting), I cannot believe the editor at Bloomberg let you publish it. 

She does make the following concession:
Grenfell Tower, of course, was public housing, which changes the calculation somewhat. 
Yes!   Because it wasn't a case of market choice at all for those residents. 

But even then,  she tries to make anti-regulation hay while the building is still smouldering:
And yet, even there, trade-offs have to be made. The government spends money on a great number of things, many of which save lives. Every dollar it spends on installing sprinkler systems cannot be spent on the health service, or national defense, or pollution control. Would more lives be saved by those measures or by sprinkler systems in public housing? It’s hard to say.
Look, there is time to make a statement of the bleeding obvious - not all government funded enterprises can be made perfectly safe if the cost of doing so is going to be astronomically high - and there is a time to instead make another bleedingly obvious one:   it is a bad idea for governments to leave it up to builders to decide whether to make high rise apartment buildings flammable, especially when the additional cost to use non flammable material is small.  


Just as I wrote a couple of weeks ago that you could expect anyone in the media to be pilloried if  their first reaction to a major Islamic terrorist attack (like Manchester's) was be to start comparing it with furniture accidents fatalities,  Megan deserves all the criticism she will undoubtedly get for making the wrong argument at the wrong time.

Update:  some example of Twitter reaction:




Friday, June 16, 2017

Poor New Zealand

Well, I didn't know this:
A new report by Unicef contains a shocking statistic - New Zealand has by far the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world.
A shock but no surprise - it's not the first time the country tops that table.
The Unicef report found New Zealand's youth suicide rate - teenagers between 15 and 19 - to be the highest of a long list of 41 OECD and EU countries.
The rate of 15.6 suicides per 100,000 people is twice as high as the US rate and almost five times that of Britain.
I suppose it is not a great surprise to read that the rates are particularly high amongst young Maori and Pacific Islander males - it ties in with what happens in the Australian aboriginal population.

I also learned something new and surprising about the Australian suicide rate at this site:
Suicide rates in Australia peaked in 1963 (17.5 per 100,000), declining to 11.3 per 100,000 in 1984, and climbing back to 14.6 in 1997. Rates have been lower than this since that year. The age-standardised suicide rate for persons in 2015 was 12.7 per 100,000. 
Why was 1963 a peak year for suicide?   Certainly puts nostalgia for the Golden Age of Menzies into a bit of perspective...

Some media observations

*  why do people care so much about what Mia Freedman and her "what women talk about" website Mammamia say or do?    I gather she's an "oversharer", as (it seems to me) a lot of women now tend to be.  I also take it that she unintentionally upset an obese guest but many people (mainly women) don't see it that way.   Big deal.

*  I think that Benjamin Law often writes well  in his Weekend Magazine gig for the Fairfax press, but I have tried a couple of times watching his (more or less) autobiographical family comedy/drama-ish show The Family Law, and can't say that I'm impressed.   Much of the humour is based on his oversharing/embarrassing mother, and is often somewhat scatological (something of Law's special field of interest, apparently) but it really seems to me that the jokes and writing are strained, despite a cast that is doing their best with the material.   I feel I have to say it, again:  I don't think the material produced by Australia's gay writer/comedians is all that funny, but they do seem to have the orientation that makes funding their shows a whole lot easier at SBS or the ABC than it really deserves.   (Come on, Josh Thomas fans, attack me again for not liking Please Like Me.)    I wanted to like Law's show - it's even made in Queensland, a rarity for Australian TV, and I'm sympathetic to Asian family comedy - but I just don't find it worth watching. 

*  I see that Pirates 5 has already made $600,000,000:  maybe will top $700 million?   (The last one made more than a billion dollars, believe it or not.  I think this one will come in well under, but still nothing to be sneezed at.)    I wonder if a No 6 will be on the way.  

How's that Trump isolationism going?

The Pentagon will send almost 4,000 additional American forces to Afghanistan, a Trump administration official said Thursday, hoping to break a stalemate in a war that has now passed to a third U.S. commander in chief. The deployment will be the largest of American manpower under Donald Trump's young presidency.

Urban planning revisited

Simon Jenkins' take on the Grenfell first sounds a bit extreme...: 
How many times should we say it? Don’t build residential towers. Don’t make or let people live in them, least of all families. They are antisocial, high-maintenance, disempowering, unnecessary, mostly ugly, and they can never be truly safe. No tower is fireproof. No fire engine can reach up 20 storeys, period.

Towers are again raising their heads across the urban landscape, creatures of egotistical architects, greedy developers and priapic mayors. We gasp at their magnificence, their extravagance, their sheer height. Yet like Grenfell they are alien creatures in a British city. They do not converse with their context, they thumb their noses at it.
...but he has a point, at least when it comes to government funded housing for the relatively poor.

I've heard it said elsewhere recently, but high rise is not necessary for high density:
Hence the most “crowded” parts of London are not around towers but in eight-storey Victorian terraces. The boulevards of central Paris have treble London’s residential density without towers. Westminster council’s aborted Paddington Pole, at some 60 storeys, had fewer housing units than the high-density street housing suggested by its opponents. The tall blocks wanted by Boris Johnson for Clerkenwell’s Mount Pleasant estate are at a lower density than the low-rise town houses proposed by the consultants Create Streets.
And, I am also reminded of Kevin McCloud's 2010 documentary on lessons to be learnt about high density living from the Mumbai slums.   And also, how Japan manages to cram in extremely high density but with most residential blocks of relatively limited height. 


What bullet?, and up the Nile

That was some pretty amazing TV, as the ABC journalist in the Philippines gets a neat hole in the neck, and doesn't realise why until he has an x ray.  (Hey, there's a bullet in there.)  If you missed it, you should watch it.

I have also been meaning to recommend the (possibly repeated? - it's from 2010) Joanna Lumley's Nile series that been showing on ABC.   Surely no one could possibly dislike Lumley - or is it just a 50+ male thing that I believe the entire world must surely find her charming?   Anyway, her travel shows are always entertaining and enlightening, and this one where she is travelling right up to the source of the Nile shows her in some very isolated places (Sudan, parts of Ethiopia) way, way off the normal tourist track.  

Last night, where she was visiting a spring that is considered the source of the Blue Nile, and which is considered by the local Christians to be holy water with miraculous curative powers (even curing HIV, according to some type of priest!) was really remarkable.  An earlier episode featuring the old guy on a boat in the Nile who said devils lived around that particular part of the river, and could appear in any animal or human form, and had once set his boat alight, was also remarkable as an example of the grip that old religious/superstitious belief still has in that part of the world.

Good viewing.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Get the boss

Another story of Islamic inspired lawfare, this time in Dubai:
DUBAI: A senior bank manager was arrested last week after a Muslim colleague filed a complaint accusing him of insulting Islam.
E.D. from Goa, India, was taken into custody within hours of the incident at the Bur Dubai branch of a local bank on June 7. He was held at Al Raffa Police station before being released on bail.
The complainant T.A., 30, from Bangalore, India, said his boss E.D. made religious slurs against him and ridiculed Islam when he asked him for leave to go to Makkah for the Umrah piligrimage.
“This happened during our morning huddle. In front of several staff members, E.D. mocked me saying that if I was so keen to perform Umrah then instead of the Kaaba, I may as well take rounds (tawaaf) of his villa in Victory Heights,” T.A. said in an interview with XPRESS.
“I was shocked but I kept my cool and told my boss that he had no right to make such blasphemous comments against my religion but he remained unrepentant and went on to blame Muslims for terror attacks including the recent one in London. He also made jibes at my appearance, particularly my bloodshot eyes. He said they make me look as if I was drunk. I told him they were caused by lack of sleep during Ramadan but he refused to listen and said Ramadan was a month of giving but all that I gave him during Ramadan was pain. The same day I filed a police complaint.”

Violence and politics

The Trump supporting Right, be it in American or Australia is, virtually by definition, too blind and/or stupid to argue with.  

So, after the shooting in Virginia today,  they will bounce off the walls with ridiculous arguments about violence being committed only by the Left, and newspapers critical of Trump having "blood on their hands", while completely and utterly having no problem with Trump repeatedly vilifying Mexicans and other immigrants en mass for political purpose, and barely being able to find time to comment on subsequent racially motivated killings.  

They will not acknowledge the existence of Right wing violence and extremism in the US, and would not read an article such as this one, which appeared recently at PBS  putting some perspective on matters.   The point made:   Islamic extremist attacks have distracted the public (but not Homeland Security) from the very real and ongoing issue of Right wing extremist attacks:
Between 1990 and 2014, the ECDB has identified 38 homicide events motivated by Islamist extremism that killed 62 people. When you include 9/11, those numbers jump dramatically to 39 homicide events and 3,058 killed.

The database also identified 177 homicide events motivated by far-right extremism, with 245 killed. And when you include the Oklahoma City bombing, it rises to 178 homicide events and 413 killed.

Although our data for 2015 through 2017 are still being verified, we counted five homicide events perpetrated by Islamist extremists that resulted in the murders of 74 people. This includes the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, which killed 49 people. In the same time period, there were eight homicide events committed by far-right extremists that killed 27 people.

These data reveal that far-right extremists tend to be more active in committing homicides, yet Islamist extremists tend to be more deadly.

Our research has also identified violent Islamist extremist plots against 272 targets that were either foiled or failed between 2001 and 2014. We are in the process of compiling similar data on far-right plots. Although data collection is only about 50 percent complete, we have already identified 213 far-right targets from the same time period...
  Far-right extremists, who typically harbor anti-government sentiments, have a higher likelihood of escalating routine law enforcement contacts into fatal encounters. These homicides pose unique challenges to local law enforcement officers who are disproportionately targeted by the far right.
A good article.

I also thought Peter Beinart's article in The Atlantic The Blurry Line Between Violence Talk and Violent Action was moderate and balanced and appropriate.

Clean coal, Finkel, etc

To be honest, I've been busy and haven't heard enough about the Finkel review proposal regarding a clean energy target to know whether it's all good, or a bit fanciful.   (My suspicion is that the modelling is a bit fanciful.)   But it has the feeling of "a lot better than nothing" about it, nonetheless.

I am encouraged by the fact that it would seem that the Abbott objections are not getting all that much support from within the party room, and even Barnaby Joyce seems to be giving up the argument and just wants to get this divisive issue behind him.

Could it be that the Coalition is genuinely in a process of permanently sidelining the climate change fake skeptics, lukewarmers and conservative culture warriors for whom a matter of science has become, weirdly and corrosively, an emblematic issue?   I'm starting to get my hopes up...

In the meantime I remain completely skeptical about clean coal, and hope the Coalition does not fund it.






Wednesday, June 14, 2017

High rise fire

This tragic London apartment tower fire raises the question - what is it that burns so well in a tower block like that?   I reckon that the sight of a high rise almost entirely on fire internally is shocking because I would normally assume that it would mainly be only furnishing and curtains that can really burn well, so shouldn't any fire be readily contained to within one apartment, or at worst, one floor?  

But it obviously doesn't work like that...

I see that there is a Wikipedia entry up for the Grenfell Tower fire already, and it notes this:
In November 2016, a residents organisation, Grenfell Action Group, published online an article attacking KCTMO as an "evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia" and accusing the Borough Council of ignoring health and safety laws. The Group suggested that "only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of [KCTMO]". The group had also published articles criticising fire safety and maintenance practices at Grenfell Tower.[12][13]
This is going to be in the news for quite a long time, by the sounds.

Magnetic eels

Hey, Norway gets a mention, too:
Now, researchers at the University of Miami and the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research have shown that the eels use Earth's magnetic field to determine which direction to swim. In a Norwegian fjord, they placed locally caught glass eels in a mesh container that was suspended from a surface float. A camera recorded the behaviour of the eels and the team found that they tended to swim in a southerly direction at ebb tides. The same glass eels were then placed in a specially designed tank in which they are shielded from external stimuli such as daylight. Magnetic fields were applied to the tank, which effectively rotated the magnetic north–south axis by 90°. During periods of ebb tides, the team found that the eels oriented themselves in a southerly direction as defined by the applied magnetic field. This led them to conclude that the glass eels navigate using Earth's magnetic field in a manner that is linked to the local cycle of tides. This, they believe, could help the eels to use the tides to reach freshwater in rivers. "It is incredible that these small transparent glass eels can detect the Earth's magnetic field," says Miami's Alessandro Cresci. "The use of a magnetic compass could be a key component underlying the amazing migration of these animals," he adds. "It is also the first observation of glass eels keeping a compass as they swim in shelf waters, and that alone is an exciting discovery."

TV recommendations

*  the "invisible city" series showing on SBS on Sunday nights - where they go underneath various Italian ancient cities and map them in 3D detail with laser scanners - has been really interesting.   Last week's episode, about Rome itself, really surprised me as to the vast extent of ancient, empty quarries underneath it.   (As well the awesomeness of Roman engineering generally.)   You see some of the scanning results at this website, and I'm sure it would still be able to be viewed in the SBS on Demand.

*  Last night's Foreign Correspondent about the large Kerokbokan prison on Bali was pretty fascinating too.  A more or less self run (by the inmates) prison, it seems a remarkably happy and relaxed place, despite serious overcrowding.  (Apparently, the prisoners who never attempt breaking out despite the relatively low tech security arrangements.)   Perhaps it has a not so scary atmosphere because most of the prisoners are just unlucky drug users/couriers/dealers?    Or is it because there is pretty access to drugs within the prison - a point the show did not spend any time explaining?   (With the relaxed looking monthly family days, smuggling drugs in does not look like a problem at all.)

With shows like these, I always feel like chaining News Ltd columnists and whiny Catallaxy economists to a chair and make them watch such quality TV which is unmatched by commercial networks.   Do they want us to only watch fake reality TV contests and pathetic things like shows made about other people watching shows?  

How often do I get to put "lesbians" and "Nazis" in the one post title?

Researcher sheds light on life of lesbians in Nazi Germany

Long story short:  the Nazi's didn't get as worked up about lesbians as they did about gay men.
The systematic persecution of gay men under the Nazi regime has been well documented by historians. The regime's laws explicitly criminalized homosexual acts between men. About 50,000 men were convicted for being homosexuals and between 5,000 and 15,000 were imprisoned in concentration camps, where up to 60 percent of them died, according to scholars.

But how lesbians fared is less clear. Females were excluded from the law that made homosexual acts illegal. Aside from a few cases that have been uncovered by a handful of scholars in the United States and Germany, little documentation exists describing how the Nazis treated lesbians.

There were still some attempts at prosecutions, though, and the article notes 8 cases on the records where the women were not convicted.  One was particularly odd:
Liu née Holzmann, whose lesbian relationship was also documented in a recent German monograph, struck Huneke as particularly strange. Holzmann was a Jewish lesbian who lived in Nazi Berlin. In 1941, she married a Chinese waiter and received Chinese citizenship, which the police insisted shielded her from deportation to a concentration camp. Once Holzmann's husband became aware of her lesbian relationship, he filed for divorce and contacted the police.

Yet, as in the other three cases, the police opted not to intervene. "It is frankly bizarre that the criminal police would insist, in multiple documents, on the protections conferred a German Jewish lesbian by virtue of her de jure Chinese citizenship," Huneke wrote.



Magnetic brain rewiring for depression

They should make this available to the threadsters of Catallaxy:
The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA is one of a handful of hospitals and clinics nationwide that offer a that works in a fundamentally different way than drugs. The technique, , beams targeted magnetic pulses deep inside patients' brains—an approach that has been likened to rewiring a computer.

TMS has been approved by the FDA for treating that doesn't respond to medications, and UCLA researchers say it has been underused. But new equipment being rolled out this summer promises to make the treatment available to more people.

"We are actually changing how the brain circuits are arranged, how they talk to each other," said Dr. Ian Cook, director of the UCLA Depression Research and Clinic Program. "The brain is an amazingly changeable organ. In fact, every time people learn something new, there are physical changes in the brain structure that can be detected."

To Norway, again

My interest in Norway is piqued again by an article in the NYT (with some photos too) about the Americans building a new radar on an isolated Norwegian island, and the Russians are not happy about it:
The joint American-Norwegian radar project, which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and consume substantial amounts of electricity, has infuriated Moscow, which sees it as part of a Pentagon drive to encircle and contain Mr. Putin’s resurgent Russia. The Russian ambassador in Oslo, Norway’s capital, recently warned Norway that it should “not be naïve” about Russia’s readiness to respond.
“Norway has to understand that after becoming an outpost of NATO, it will have to face head-on Russia and Russian military might,” the ambassador, Teimuraz Ramishvili, told Norway’s state broadcaster, NRK. “Therefore, there will be no peaceful Arctic anymore.”
The new radar system at Vardo will merely upgrade an earlier American-built radar system and continue its mission, Morten Haga Lunde, the chief of Norway’s military intelligence agency, said in a cryptic statement last year. That mission, he added, is to track space debris like defunct satellites and to “monitor our national area of interest in the North.”
But Russia’s generals and many Norwegians have dismissed the space-trash story. They say they believe that the new Globus 3 radar is part of the Pentagon’s efforts to develop a global missile-defense system, making it a prime target for attack in the event of a conflict.

Send in the cows

How do you start a dairy industry overnight in a wealthy desert nation with its transport links blockaded? You buy 4,000 cows from Australia and the U.S. and put them on airplanes.

That is what Qatari businessman Moutaz Al Khayyat told Bloomberg he is doing. The airlift will require as many as 60 flights on Qatar Airways, but Al Khayyat said, "This is the time to work for Qatar."
Here's the link.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Putin on the risk (to the tune of...never mind)

There's a pretty decent article on why Putin is probably feeling pretty cheery about how things are going for Russian influence at the Interpreter, and one odd bit in particular I wanted to extract:
Taking into account all of the above, it seems remarkable that some foreign commentators still find it difficult to see that Putin has been engaged in an all-out attempt to bring his Western enemies down, by whatever means. If 'enemy' seems excessive, let us recall that the standard KGB expression for the US during the Cold War was 'chief adversary', and that until quite recently the Secretary of the Russian National Security Council, Patrushev, was claiming publicly that US hostility to Russia was 'systemic' and 'immanent' – that is, no matter who was president, the US would continue to seek to 'dismember' Russia.

As Robert Horvath noted in an unpublished address to the Pacific Institute in February (cited here with permission), the most lurid specimen of this propaganda is the allegation that Madeleine Albright once said it would be impossible to construct a just world while Siberia's vast natural resources were controlled by Russia alone. That allegation was first aired in an interview in the Russian government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta with a former KGB general about an occult secret project to read the minds of Western leaders. This project was the source of the Albright-Siberia claim.
So one bit of notorious Russian fake news has started from their secret mind reading projects? Huh.  How more "fake news" can you get?

And for a tale of Putin and strong suspicions of his knowledge of hits on Russians who have crossed the interests of Russia:  there's a rather interesting report on Buzzfeed about a death in Britain in 2012 which everyone, apart from the British, think is highly suspicious.  The British investigation does sound rather, shall we say, oddly lacking in curiosity.

I see that I still haven't managed to fit the word "risk" into the post in order to justify the attempted musical pun in the title.  Well, here's a Bloomberg article from early 2016:  Putin is a Compulsive Risk Taker. Hey, it's the best I can do.

Unwanted movie review

In my never ending search to find more than one A grade movie on the Stan streaming service, I watched the 2014 Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle Nightcrawler last weekend.  It got a 95% rating on Rottentomatoes, which just goes to show how unreliable it can be.   (Metacritic gave it a much more reasonable 76%, but I would put it much lower than that.)

It's a very peculiar movie, seemingly made mainly to show off Jake's earnest ability to make himself look physically quite awful and act as really oddball sociopath.   A mix of Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) and Nathan (from Nathan for You - the somewhat amusing but disorientating comedy series also on Stan - you should try it), the role is very menacing and cringingly funny, but it doesn't ever really dramatically build up to much. 

Thematically,  it did keep reminding me of Network,  not that I particularly enjoyed that movie either. 

Good acting in search of a good story, I would say.   4.5/10.   

Addictions of the religiously conservative

For a socially conservative religion, it sure sometimes seems that Muslims have quite the problem with drug addiction.   Although, to be a little bit fair when I don't really want to be, I suppose you could have said the same thing about Catholic Ireland's reputation for overindulging in alcohol.  Which leads me to this extract from a paper talking about the Irish and their reputation for heavy drinking:

Mind you, I should be targetting the Scots instead, perhaps - look at this per capita consumption of spirits table from the same paper:

Gosh.

Batman, too considered

I have to say, prompted by all the commentary appearing with the passing of Adam West (who seemingly was a nice enough, self-effacing fellow), that the amount of words devoted to analysis of his 1960's lightweight show is rather excessive.   The show was mildly amusing for children and adults, but was not all that culturally significant.  You can stop talking about it now...

A mentally unhealthy blog

The threads of Catallaxy, which have become a self selecting support group for the perpetually angry conservative, culture warrior Right, have long made me suspect that many who cyber-live there have, at least, actual personality defects, if not more serious mental health issues.

Yesterday, one of their regulars spoke seriously about feeling depressed and angry to such an extent that he recognises he has a problem, but does not know how to address it.  (He is a teacher, and doesn't trust antidepressants, based on how he has seen them affect children.)

Well, the responses did indeed surprise me, to the extent that so many "regulars" did volunteer that  they have had serious issues with depression - with several mentions of suicidal thoughts and bouts on antidepressants.  (Most of whom indicate they have recovered, of course, although some made it clear it was a continuing battle to some extent.   One of the more unpleasant regulars said he had more or less been born depressed - I can believe that, and would add in "angry" - and was fanatical about exercise as a way of battling it.)

Now I am not wanting to mock those who have bouts of depression, however caused, and of course there be would abundant numbers of people on the Left who have suffered from it as well.

But it does strike me that living your mental life in a perpetually angry Right wing echo chamber, and one which is undoubtedly in denial on several major culture war issues (climate change, and that the younger generation accepts changing marriage to include gay relationships, to give the two clearest examples), is actually not a mentally healthy place to be in the long run, if you are inclined towards depression.

The relief they may feel that "I'm not the only one who thinks like this" has to be off set by the fact that it encourages them to continue denying reality, and thus leading to frustration that, if so many can (apparently) agree with them in this corner of cyberspace, what is wrong with the rest of society?   The site reinforces their sense of anger, ultimately, but based in large part on a denial of reality.

Thus I say that Sinclair Davidson's blog is not only a corrosive one for civil political discussion, it's probably mentally unhelpful for its own community, in the long run.   

Update:  just to show I am not making up the startling outpouring of admissions of past depressive illnesses, here's what the recent depression sufferer has noted today:

All completely normal..not

Much well deserved mockery of Trump's "you must pledge your allegiance to me and proclaim how brilliantly I am performing" public cabinet meeting.

Seriously, no amount of culture war warrior-ing, or just shrugging shoulders and saying "we can work around him to get policy we want"  can excuse defending this fragile, narcissistic ego as normal or nothing to worry about in a leader with the power of POTUS.  

And as for Newt Gingrich, who is credited with starting the Republicans decent into "let's win at all costs, who cares about evidence based policy" stupidity,  his reversal within a month just shows how incredibly shallow and untrustworthy he is.  Just like his President.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Bring back the old Conversation

Can I say, I don't care for the way The Conversation is going under its new leadership, with headline articles like this:

Not merely costume: the power and seduction of the Queen’s hats

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Swimming with Lincoln

Also at NPR, a story about how the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC is to be drained and cleaned to try to rid it of a parasite that's been killing ducks, and can irritate humans too.

Interestingly, the article then wanders into a discussion of how the pool has never had swimming allowed, but obviously this was not always strictly enforced, as this photo from the 1920's shows:


Where did they swim officially around Washington?:
According to the site Histories of the National Mall, the District of Columbia operated three small whites-only public pools near the Washington Monument in the mid-1920s and early '30s, which were demolished in 1935.

The site says that starting in the 1880s, there were segregated swimming areas near the Mall in the Tidal Basin: "In 1914, Congress voted to create an official beach on the Tidal Basin for white patrons. African Americans swam nearby in a segregated area that never received funding or buildings. Facing increased criticism from black leaders and concerns that the water was polluted, Congress voted to ban swimming in the Tidal Basin in 1925."
Considering that the Brisbane Spring Hill Baths, which I wrote about in detail in 2011, were opened in 1886, it would seem we were pretty advanced compared to other cities in providing that type of facility.

Still pretty dark in parts of Africa

A surprising story at NPR:
Authorities in Mozambique say bald men are being killed, allegedly because of the belief that their heads contain gold.
So far five bald men have been killed, all in central Mozambique: two in May in Milange district close to the border with Malawi and three this month in the district of Morrumbala.
Bald men across the country are afraid of exposing their scalps. Some stay indoors. Others hide their baldness with caps....

Dina accused traditional healers of conniving with the murderers of bald people because of the cultural belief that their heads contain gold. It is also possible that the goal is to obtain body parts to use in rituals aimed at bringing wealth — the reason that albinos have been targeted for their body parts in some countries.

Ready for her close up

There's been too many words here lately, and not enough cute.  Here's some:



And here's a prisma filtered shot:


Cockroaches, retrocausality, event horizons, and Titus-Bode is still a thing...

I've been scrolling through arXiv again, as you do on a rainy day, and suggest the following papers are worth a look:

* Can we Falsify the Consciousness-Causes-Collapse Hypothesis in Quantum Mechanics?
I see that it's co-authored  by someone from the School of Humanities and Liberal Studies from San Francisco State University - which sounds about the unlikeliest school on the planet to expect a groundbreaking paper in quantum physics to come from.

Sorry, perhaps that's too impolite, because I did like it.  As you may see, the paper discusses experiments that could use living creatures to test the hypothesis - with cockroaches being touted as a potential candidate.  (Cats who can walk through walls are one thing, but I hope cockroaches never manage that trick.)  Anyway, it ends up making the point that CCCH (see the title) is probably unfalsifiable, because to test it properly would require removing any arguably conscious thing (a cockroach brain, for example) out of the thermal effects that (apparently) can confound such an experiment.  In other words, whatever you use would have to be taken down to a temperature within a few degrees of absolute zero.  Since no one expects that anything arguably conscious can be conscious at that temperature, it's effectively unfalsifiable.   Neat argument - I wonder if it is right?

*   Did you know that there was a Centre for Time at the University of Sydney?  No, nor did I, but someone from there has written a short paper outlining the way that retrocausality can help sort out some of the perplexing problems in quantum mechanics.   (The only problem is, I thought that some experiments designed to show retrocausality hadn't come up with anything yet.  I have some posts about Cramer's experiment in the past, but here's a not so old media story about his failure.)

*  It's not quantum physics (although it involves it), but there is still some argument happening about whether event horizons really exist around black holes.  Because if they don't, it avoids the information loss paradox.   (I see one of the authors is from Macquarie University, by the way.)  

*  Hey, I didn't realise that scientists still puzzled about the Titus-Bode rule that applied to planetary orbits around the sun, but they do.  (I remember that in a Heinlein novel, the interstellar explorers find that other solar systems exhibited the same rule, and it was still being puzzled over.  I either hadn't heard, or had forgotten, that we already know that some other observed systems do eem to follow the rule.)   I learnt all of this from the intro to this paper, which is short but argues a physical cause for it.  It's not the clearest explanation I've ever read, but here's the abstract:
We consider the geometric Titius-Bode rule for the semimajor axes of planetary orbits. We derive an equivalent rule for the midpoints of the segments between consecutive orbits along the radial direction and we interpret it physically in terms of the work done in the gravitational field of the Sun by particles whose orbits are perturbed around each planetary orbit. On such energetic grounds, it is not surprising that some exoplanets in multiple-planet extrasolar systems obey the same relation. On the other hand, it is surprising that this simple interpretation of the Titius-Bode rule also amounts to a straightforward refutation of the celebrated theorem of Bertrand that has been in existence since 1873.