Thursday, September 18, 2014

Those gut bugs messing with our plans, again

Sugar substitutes linked to obesity
A team led by Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science in
Rehovot, Israel, fed mice various sweeteners — saccharin, sucralose and
aspartame — and found that after 11 weeks, the animals displayed glucose
intolerance, a marker of propensity for metabolic disorders.

To simulate the real-world situation of people with varying risks of these
diseases, the team fed some mice a normal diet, and some a high-fat
diet, and spiked their water either with glucose alone, or with glucose
and one of the sweeteners, saccharin. The mice fed saccharin developed a
marked glucose intolerance compared to those fed only glucose. But when
the animals were given antibiotics to kill their gut bacteria, glucose
intolerance was prevented. And when the researchers transplanted faeces
from the glucose-intolerant saccharin-fed mice into the guts of mice
bred to have sterile intestines, those mice also became glucose
intolerant, indicating that saccharin was causing the microbiome to
become unhealthy.

Wages of sin, continued

Yet more talk about the increasing rate of STD's in Australia, with syphilis in particular increasing, apparently largely in gay men.  The SMH even has an interactive map for looking at each State's rate over the last decade or so.  (One of more unusual uses of an interactive map you're likely to see.)

I am also surprised at the apparent popularity of ice amongst the gay community.   The Age had an article the other day:
Gay men are openly trading ice on dating apps such as Grindr as soaring use of the drug raises fears it is fuelling a 20-year high in Australia's HIV diagnoses.

Grindr, which has more than 63,000 active monthly users in Melbourne, connects men for casual  sex but is increasingly becoming an online playground for ice dealers.

The drug is popular with some gay men during sex as it causes a surge of the "happy" chemical dopamine, boosts libido and strips  away inhibitions.
Another article I linked to before said that ice was, in England, seen as only a rich, urban gay drug.

Like I say, I find it rather hard to credit that any people use the drug at all, when there is a very real risk of addiction and long lasting psychosis.  I also find it a little hard to credit that some gay men, living in an environment where free casual sex has become easier than ever to arrange, don't remain satisfied with the mere availability of sex, but want to actually artificially enhance the feeling of orgasm more and more.  (I suppose you could say that is part of what is behind ecstasy and cocaine use for straight rich people - although I see from some sites the latter can impair orgasm.  It at least won't end with making you feel you've got bugs permanently under your skin.  Bizarrely, I also see at a Reddit site that someone claims LSD can be great for sex.   I would be very surprised if that were consistently the case; I would have thought there is a fair chance it could involve your partner turning into a giant spider at an inconvenient time.)

I don't know - I just keep getting the feeling that being non judgemental about these things isn't working out great.   Isn't it time some people in drug and STD education started saying something obvious like:  "look guys, sex and orgasms are fantastic, but if you're doing it right, you don't need drugs to make it feel better.  Seriously.   We've got thousands of years of collective human experience to back that up.   Oh, and a chancre sore on your penis or mouth is a really bad look, and you kinda deserve to feel bad if you've spread it around to some stranger you met on Grindr."

Modern university

Harry Clarke's post on what it's like at a modern university teaching economics is pretty interesting.  I am a bit puzzled about the ability to skip tutorials, though.  Can't attendance at them at least be made more compulsory?  (Not that I recall them being particularly useful, though, to be honest.  I just don't like the idea of attendance at the university being more or less optional unless you actually are doing an on line course.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Audience shrugged

In news to quicken the heart of, oh, about 6 Australians who post or comment at Catallaxy, I see that the third instalment of Atlas Shrugged has opened in America.  The reviews are not positive. Here's Variety:
That must be the fault of those damn freedom-hating socialists, or perhaps it’s due to the fact that so few of the Tea Party types the series’ producers once hoped would queue up are, er, the literate sort. Or maybe it’s just that the prior installments weren’t very good movies, and it should surprise few that this last one is the worst of the lot.
Amusingly, I see it features a couple of cameos:
(Prominent conservative pundit types including Grover Norquist and Sean Hannity duly make cameo appearances as themselves here to further the cause.)
 And someone gives us a synopsis of the story:
For the blessedly uninitiated, Rand’s 1,168-page novel is the favorite book of many young sociopaths you meet in business schools. Published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged posits a hysterically overwrought nightmare dystopia in which government regulation has crippled the economy. Shadowy politicians conspire with corrupt union leaders to bleed corporations of their precious profits, with “parasites,” “looters,” and “moochers” living off the hard-earned wealth of the noble 1%. In this time of crisis, America’s captains of industry have had it up to here with poisonous concepts like “charity” and “altruism.” Inspired by a mysterious figure named John Galt, they sabotage their companies, trashing the country’s infrastructure before disappearing altogether. Basically, it’s all about a bunch of rich crybabies who don’t want to share their toys so they break them and go home.

Rugby mates a bit too matey

Rugby players risk infectious skin condition by swapping bacteria on shared razors and towels 

In England, an investigation into how 4 men at a rugby club got a serious skin infection resulted in this:
 Almost 20 per cent of players said that they regularly share towels,
while 10 per cent said they share razors and five per cent swap clothes.
Really?  Razor and smelly towel sharing?  Sport needs to be banned, I say, as a public health measure. 

GM not so great in one respect, at least

Cross-bred crops get fit faster 

As reported in Nature:
Old-fashioned breeding techniques seem to be leading genetic modification in a race to develop crops that can withstand drought and poor soils.

As the climate warms and rainfall becomes more erratic, farmers worldwide will increasingly need crops that can thrive in drought conditions. And the high costs of fertilizers — along with the environmental damage they can cause — are also pushing farmers to look for crop varieties that can do more with less.

The need for tougher crops is especially acute in Africa, where drought can reduce maize (corn) yields by up to 25%. The Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa project, which launched in 2006 with US$33 million, has developed 153 new varieties to improve yields in 13 countries. In field trials, these varieties match or exceed the yields from commercial seeds under good rainfall conditions, and yield up to 30% more under drought conditions.

An analysis published earlier this year reported that by the project’s end in 2016, the extra yields fromdrought-tolerant maize could help to reduce the number of people living
in poverty in the 13 countries by up to 9% (R. La Rovere et al. J. Dev. Areas 48(1), 199–225; 2014). In Zimbabwe alone, that effect would reach more than half a million people.

And here's the bit about GM:

Drought tolerance is a complex trait that involves multiple genes.Transgenic techniques, which target one gene at a time, have not been as quick to manipulate it. But CIMMYT and six other research organizations are also developing genetically modified (GM) varieties of
drought-resistant maize, in collaboration with agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto in St Louis, Missouri. Coordinated by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation in Nairobi, the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project aims to have a transgenic variety ready for African farmers by 2016 at the earliest.

A look at economic optimism

New Scientist reports this:
Is it too good to be true? Top economists this week lay out an audacious argument for transforming the world's economy into a low-carbon one. Even if you forget climate change, they say, it is worth doing on its own. That's because a low-carbon economy is an efficient economy that will deliver faster economic growth, better lives and a greener environment. Forget the costs, feel the benefits.

The report is published today, a week before world leaders gather at the United Nations in New York City for the UN Climate Summit 2014, which will discuss how to share out the cost of fighting climate change. But its optimistic message is that there is no cost to share. Nations should be cutting their carbon emissions out of self-interest.

The study – authored by the World Resources Institute, a think tank in Washington DC, the Stockholm Environment Institute and others – is published by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, an independent body chaired by Felipe Calderón, former president of Mexico, and Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics. (The Stern Report in 2006 first opened up a global debate about the economics of tackling climate change). A copy of the latest report, Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report, is available here.

"We can combine economic growth and climate responsibility," Stern said at a pre-publication press briefing. "The key is fostering the right investment, making it profitable to the private sector."
 They also link to another (pretty wildly) optimistic sounding report:
"You can go green and continue to prosper and develop," said Ed Davey, the UK secretary for energy and climate, yesterday. And the evidence is on his side. Economists say that, despite the expense, drastic cuts in the UK's carbon dioxide emissions will boost the country's economy.

The finding should encourage action to reduce CO2 levels, which reached a new high in 2013, according to a report by the World Meteorological Organization. The growth from 2012 was the biggest jump since 1984, and may be partly down to plants and other organisms taking in less CO2.

If climate change isn't incentive enough to cut emissions, try this: if the UK cut its carbon emissions by 60 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030, as it has promised, its GDP would be 1.1 per cent bigger than if it stuck with fossil fuels, says a study by consultants at Cambridge Econometrics.

About half the gain would come from cheap running costs for fuel-efficient cars, with 190,000 new green jobs and higher wages also helping. The average household would be £565 a year better off.
Maybe it's just me, but I do feel that even things like China deciding to be pickier about what coal it burns, and the Abbott government discovering that the Australian public actually loves renewable energy does make it seem that what Greenies have been saying for a long time may turn out right - the world is going to go cleaner and it's stupid to not take steps to encourage that in Australia too.

A look back at economic pessimism

In comments in a post here yesterday, I was arguing that those economists who are optimistic on the cost of taking serious action on CO2 emissions probably have history on their side, in that there are clear examples of where government mandated changes for environmental reasons did not have the terrible economic costs that the industry initially claimed.   The examples I gave were the introduction of unleaded petrol, removing CFCs, and catalytic converters in cars.

Now, I was  really just going by memory on these, but I've looked up what was said about catalytic converters in the 1970's, and it's very interesting to read in retrospect.  These extracts are from a Thomas Friedman book:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

From one extreme to another

Hello, Kurdistan :: Daniel Pipes

Gawd.  Daniel Pipes in this column notes that he used to oppose an independent Kurdistan in Iraq; now he thinks it would be a good idea for a transnational independent Kurdistan to be created in the region, looking something like this:

That'll go over well with Turkey and Iran.   Talk about your one extreme to another.

So which Australian politician is quoting this column with implicit approval?   Senator Blofeld Leyonhjelm.  (See his twitter feed.)   Along with his (apparent) view that cannabis should be sold from the supermarket, the government take over supply of ecstasy, gun laws be relaxed, and fixing the budget by a slash in both welfare and the top tax rate, he's a "big ideas" man with the luxury of not having to deal with the practicalities of ever putting them into effect.

An optimistic take on China and renewable energy

Economics: Manufacture renewables to build energy security

Quite a lot of surprisingly optimistic news on China and its rapid growth in renewable energy to be found in this article.  For example:
China generates more than 5 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, about 1 trillion kWh more than the United States. China's rapid economic expansion since it joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 has been based on fossil fuels: it consumes around 23% of the world's coal production for electricity. But fossil fuels alone cannot power the industrial growth the country needs to keep up with the West.

Since the mid-2000s, China has also pursued a low-carbon energy strategy. Investment in hydroelectric, wind, solar and nuclear-power generating facilities increased by 40% between 2008 and 2012 — from 138 billion renminbi (US$22 billion) to about 200 billion renminbi. The share of investment in fossil-fuel power facilities in China, meanwhile, fell from around 50% to 25% over the same period.
And for the big, big picture:
Our critics will counter that technology-based solutions raise concerns over the availability of industrial materials and land for building solar and wind devices and farms. But our calculations suggest6 that a global renewables push for an extra 10 terawatts of power-generation capacity could be achieved on current industrial scales over the next 20 years, by which time the world energy system would be well on the way to total conversion. Producing the extra 10 terawatts from renewables needed to transform global electric power would require more than 5 million square kilometres (about twice the size of Kazakhstan) filled with around 3 million wind turbines, 14,000 concentrated solar-power installations and 12,500 solar-photovoltaic farms. These technologies could perhaps be accommodated in the world's desert and semi-desert regions. The targets are large — but they are manageable compared with current world production levels of 1.75 billion mobile phones per year or 84 million vehicles per year6.

Yet more illustrations for the Right

Boy, isn't the increase in Antarctic sea ice getting a run for the money from the Right wing ignorance machine?

Looking around the web, here's a couple of comparisons for illustration:

The Arctic, today, at the end of summer, showing the extent of ice compared to a longer term average, compared to Antarctica with a similar comparison.

I'm not sure why even the likes of Andrew Bolt can't understand the point that loss of sea ice in summer in the Arctic is a much more significant issue for warming compared to an increase in sea ice in Antarctica in winter (because there is little sun in winter to have any effect anyway), but insist on adding up total sea ice and saying "Ha!" is what they do.

This recent paper also illustrates the complexity of the Antarctic situation, where there is the issue of the ozone hole and its contribution to circulating winds.   It appears that increasing winds have led to a decreasing or flat lining of sea surface temperatures much around the continent; and interestingly, a significant change in trend happened around 1980.

Climate change isn't simple, and not every effect at every part of the globe has been perfectly foreseen.

But it is clear to anyone who reads on the topic that the current Antarctic sea ice situation does not mean that global warming is not happening.

Even shorter version: they all hate each other?

The Christian Science Monitor has a short-ish guide to why the Islamic nations around Iraq and Syria are reluctant to be seen to be too involved in attacking ISIL, or whatever we're supposed to call it today.

Actually, I'm a bit worried that I found myself nearly agreeing with Rand Paul on something this morning, when I heard him on the radio saying this:
“I think the first 10,000 soldiers marching into battle need to be from Iraq, live in Iraq and need to be fighting for their homeland. The second 10,000 need to be from Saudi Arabia,” Paul said on Monday in explaining his support for the president’s plan. 
I feel rather ambivalent about  Australia's involvement.  Certainly, Abbott has had a "pick me! pick me!" enthusiasm about it that smells of seeking political advantage here.   On the other hand, actually using our Hornets for something useful is something that we probably should do every 15 years or so.  But overall, it still has an unpleasant feeling of an attempt to fix up what is essentially someone else's mess because we accidentally made it worse.

The big picture missing from The Australian

Doesn't the Australian today have yet another article promoting the Jennifer Marohasy screams of "Fraud!" against the entire Bureau of Meteorology?  Oh yes, it does, again smearing the Bureau on the basis of the claims of a biologist funded by a climate change denying fund.

I'm a little puzzled why the BOM doesn't come out and simply put these graphs more prominently on its website:

Here's the Bureau's explanation of the above graph:
Both adjusted and unadjusted temperatures show that Australia's climate has warmed. Since 1955 adjusted and unadjusted data are virtually identical. It is during this time that most of the warming has occurred in Australia.
The graph below shows temperature trends since 1910 from the unadjusted temperatures (AWAP), together with those that have been carefully curated, quality controlled and corrected for artificially induced biases (ACORN-SAT). Carefully curating and correcting records is global best practice for analysing temperature data.
 And the ocean temperature record around Australia follows a similar pattern:

 Again, why has the Right become so insistently dumb and gullible on matters of science?

Andrew Bolt, nuclear expert

Interesting to note that in Japan, some investigation statements relating to the Fukushima nuclear disaster have been released by the government, from which we learn this:
Plant manager Masao Yoshida envisioned catastrophe for eastern Japan in the days following the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, according to his testimony, one of 19 released by the government on Sept. 11....

In his testimony, Yoshida described the condition of the No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima plant between the evening of March 14, 2011, and the next morning: “Despite the nuclear fuel being completely exposed, we’re unable to reduce pressure. Water can’t get in either.”

Yoshida recalled the severity of the situation. “If we continue to be unable to get water in, all of the nuclear fuel will melt and escape from the containment vessel, and radioactive substances from the fuel will spread to the outside,” he said.

Fearing a worst-case scenario at the time, Yoshida said, “What we envisioned was that the entire eastern part of Japan would be annihilated.”
In Australia, local nuclear expert Andrew Bolt was writing this:
No, there won’t be a nuclear explosion, “China syndrome” or “another Chernobyl”. The situation today is better than yesterday, and as each day goes by the chances of a big accident lesson. The nuclear fuel remains contained.

This scaremongering over the crippled Fukushima nuclear complex is extraordinary. 
So while the actual plant manager was freaking out about rendering a huge slab of his country uninhabitable, Andrew Bolt was writing "stop your stupid panicking, environmentalists." I think I know which person to trust more in terms of the seriousness of what was going on.

Why has the Right become so insistently dumb on matters relating to science, technology and risk?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Garden fly

Drink your lithium and be happy

Should We All Take a Bit of Lithium? -

Here's a fascinating article about whether or not lithium in "natural" quantities in drinking water has a significant health benefit.
The scientific story of lithium’s role in normal development and health began unfolding in the 1970s. Studies at that time foundthat animals that consumed diets with minimal lithium had highermortality rates, as well as abnormalities of reproduction and behavior.
Researchers began to ask whether low levels of lithium might correlate with poor behavioral outcomes in humans. In 1990, a study was published looking at 27 Texas counties with a variety of lithium levels in their water. The authors discovered that people whose water had the least amount of lithium had significantly greater levels of suicide, homicide and rape than the people whose water had the higher levels of lithium. The group whose water had the highest lithium level had nearly 40 percent fewer suicides than that with the lowest lithium level.
Almost 20 years later, a Japanese study that looked at 18 municipalities with more than a million inhabitants over a five-year period confirmed the earlier study’s finding: Suicide rates were inversely correlated with the lithium content in the local water supply.
More recently, there have been corroborating studies in Greece and Austria.
Not all the research has come to the same conclusion.
Even allowing for that last sentence, why haven't I heard about this before?

Or maybe I have, but just don't have enough lithium in my diet.  (The article suggests it may help prevent dementia.) 

An innovative place to go looking for a new antibiotic...

Vaginal microbe yields novel antibiotic

Late movie review

I never got around to seeing Prometheus when it was at the cinema, and wasn't especially concerned because of the so-so reviews, but it turned up on commercial television last night and I did that rare thing that used to be common place - watch a Sunday night first release to free TV (I think) movie.

Well, what a complete and utter mess of a film.

It looks impressive for about the first 15 to 20 minutes or so, but my God does it go rapidly downhill in all respects after that.   As with Sunshine, this is a science fiction film in which it seems very big space ships are crewed by people who appear to be picked out of a hat, such that no one seems to know anyone else, everyone starts making stupid decisions and ignores anyone who says it's not a good idea, and the science of just about everything is dubious if not silly.  

It's a really awful script full of improbabilities, and the "big picture" of what's going on remains rather opaque all the way through.  Yet there is a sequel being made!   Why?

The only positive thing I can say is that it seemed surprisingly low on swearing.  But apart from that....

Update:   Unbelievably, I see from checking on Rottentomatoes that Prometheus got 73% approval rating; Sunshine, which I also disliked, got 75%.   But Oblivion, which I watched at home this last weekend on DVD (after seeing it at the cinema last year) got only 54%.    What gives?   Oblivion was about twice as enjoyable as those awful films. 

Technology news

Yessss!  Two months of insisting on staring at the glowing screens of the new Samsung Tab S every time I've been with anyone from my family anywhere near a shop that stocks them paid off!

I was given one (the smaller version) for my birthday last week, and it is awesome, especially if you're upgrading from one of the early Samsung Tab models, which now appears extremely underpowered as well as having a screen that looks like sandpaper.   (It never used to be a noticeably poor screen, but after looking at the ultrafine, colourful, better-than-real-life, screen that I've been using for a few days, I laugh at its primitive resolution.  [Insert mocking laugh.])

But apart from the screen, which I'll try to not mention another 5 times, what I thought on the old tablet was a slow wi-fi connection at the far end of the house turned out to just be slow processing speed.   The Tab S works likes lightning in comparison.

So, I'm very happy, and am currently on a new Tablet honeymoon that may see me posting less frequently.  The screen, the screen, the screen....I must look at it again...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

In the garden

Photos taken with the camera in the new device, more about which later....

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Priorities of a pathetic government

May this year:
...this government has slashed more than $450 million from key science agencies that have all suffered substantial losses, including:
A controversial tourism facility at a Cadbury factory partly funded by taxpayer dollars looks set to go ahead, with the chocolate maker announcing the "globally relevant chocolate experience" should be signed off within weeks.
Tony Abbott promised a $16 million grant to the Hobart project during last year's federal election, however questions have since been raised about the generous pledge given the Coalition government's refusal to provide taxpayer assistance to fruit cannery SPC Ardmona.

No reason

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Julia show

There are quite a few humorous tweets going down about the Gillard appearance at the Union corruption royal commission, but this one is perhaps my favourite:

Senator Blofeld is a bit of a nut...

Libertarian Senator David Leyonhjelm, pictured here:

sorry, I meant here:

is in the news today for having appointed Helen Dale, famous for getting into heaps of trouble for pretending to have a family background that was useful for promoting her novel. Well, she does have umpteen law degrees, seems to do nothing useful with them, and her blog is a bore, so she's qualified, but listen to what Leyonhjelm says about the fraudulent episode in Dale's past:
“I was impressed that she extended a work of fiction into the authorship, which I thought was entirely appropriate,” Senator Leyonhjelm told The Australian. “I regarded the controversy at the time as both absurd and amusing.”
 He's a nut.

Update:  more "fraudulently passing yourself off as someone you're not for notoriety and financial gain is hilarious"  analysis from Senator L:
"I recall at the time thinking it was hilarious, it was a big joke and she kept up the fiction for quite a while. Then, when they realised she was pulling their leg they turned on her, which I thought was very unkind."
 Update 2:   I'll make a prediction:  she will not be in the job for more than a year or two.

Update 3:  David Crowe does some sort of sucking up today for having released the story early, or something like that?  

Yesterday we learned that Paul "magic water" Sheehan has been to a libertarian conference, and also seems to think Ms Dale is the bees knees?    He notes this about a paper she gave:
Dale's presentation focused on social changes caused by technology, not expensive social engineering. Among many examples was a correlation between the removal of lead from petrol, paint and cosmetics and a decline in crime.        Practising law, she saw government regulation and compulsion as frequently having both adverse and unintended consequences.
Well, I hope her paper then went on to note that it was government regulation that forced the move to unleaded petrol, as I have the distinct recollection that there was resistance to the policy from motoring associations and oil companies.   I would like to see what the IPA was saying about it at the time, although, to be honest, I don't know that was as intensely ideological then as it is now.

Update 4:   Hey, I find something good to say - sort of - about Helen Dale's views as a libertarian.   She wrote only late last year:
5. Libertarians in particular need to drop their widespread refusal to accept the reality of climate change. It makes us look like wingnuts and diverts attention from the larger number of greenies who spew pseudoscience on a daily basis. That said, don’t confuse real science with greenie catastrophizing. When Matt Ridley pointed out (a) that climate change is real, (b) it is currently having beneficial effects, and (c) is likely to continue to do so for some time, he got a bucket of turds dumped on his head by both sides. Don’t do that. 
So, on the "up" side she should be off side with everyone who posts at Catallaxy then, her very very very good friend (he keeps telling us) Sinclair Davidson, Judith Sloan (who takes every opportunity to ridicule scientists and bodies pushing for a serious response to climate change), Kates, Moran, etc etc.

On the downside - one of the main figures she should be skeptical of is Matt Ridley, but she appears not to be.

And more downside - she's still happy to take a job with a Senator for a party whose official policy is to sit on the fence and do nothing because, you know, it kinda hates government doing things anyway...

I've read Andrew Bolt's blog today so that you don't have to.....

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Tony's persistent woman problem

Tony Abbott was long said to have a "woman problem", which I am sure Andrew Bolt and his  acolytes who have migrated to Catallaxy have ridiculed as a bit of Leftist smear and imaginings.   (Obviously, though, Abbott or his minders knew it was true, given the way they made his daughters stick by his side every single minute of the election campaign.)

Today's Essential poll (indicating a government pretty firmly stuck at 48/52 TPP with Labor in the lead) also notes about Abbott's approval:
52% of respondents disapprove of the job Tony Abbott is doing as Prime Minister – down 2% since the last time this question was asked in August – and 35% approve of the job Tony Abbott is doing (down 2%). This represents no change in net rating  at -17.

84% (up 4%) of Liberal/National voters approve of Tony Abbott’s performance, with 9% (down 3%)
disapproving. 87% of Labor voters and 79% of Greens voters disapprove of Tony Abbott’s performance.

By gender men were 42% approve/48% disapprove and women 29% approve/56% disapprove.
Well, I'm gobsmacked that 84% of LNP voters approve of him; but still, the main point is that Tony has a persistent woman problem.

Hydrogen power cycle into the future

Australia's first fuel cell bicycle

This sounds like really clever technology:

UNSW researchers have built an Australian-first bicycle that can take riders up to 125 kilometres on a single battery charge and $2 of hydrogen.

One kilogram of the standard metal hybride is capable of storing 100 litres of hydrogen, but Aguey-Zinsou and colleagues at the Material Energy Research Laboratory in nanoscale (MERLin) at UNSW are now developing borohydrides that could
store the same amount of hydrogen using just 50 grams of storage material.

Hydrogen for the Hy-Cycle can be produced with as little as 100 millilitres of water. The water is split into its elements – oxygen and hydrogen – and the fuel cell recombines the hydrogen with oxygen to produce electricity.

However, Aguey-Zinsou envisions a future where riders could purchase
replacement canisters from a network of distribution points, rather than
needing to produce hydrogen.
But does it come in different colours*, and what will it cost?

*  Allusion to old what's her name**, on The Inventors

** Diana Fisher - it just came to me.

Pining for the 50's

Dear old Philippa Martyr, who I find quite an interesting character, busy pining for the 50's at Catallaxy in sympathy with the only 40-something year old man alive today who was actually born in 1910 (Currency Lad):
There may be Liberal Party branches somewhere in Australia that still believe in scones, the flag, children being seen and not heard, the Golden Rule, live and let live, the value of honest work, the economic power of lower taxes, and the therapeutic power of a nice cup of tea.

I just can’t think of any.
Of course, the scones and tea would be made by the stay at home housewives while their husbands are out building houses by sawing up asbestos laden sheets in their Jackie Howe singlets. 

How dare Parkinson defend himself!

The print version of Catallaxy (The Australian) is full of indignation that Martin Parkinson has defended the response of the Rudd/Swan government to the GFC (they, after all, were following his Department's advice which he has fully endorsed), after current cigar smoking Finance Minister Cormann was out launching some attack on Parkinson's policy from a little known, IPA aligned, economist from that power house of economics, Griffith University.

Did you see how much Groucho Ergas went on about this yesterday?  Is he paid by the word?  Today it's the turn of the least favourite economist in the land for giving key note addresses at what is meant to be a celebratory dinner, Judith "You're all Lazy Idiots!" Sloan.

I thought these economists who are outraged at Parkinson being so "political" might have asked themselves the question - who started this in the first place?   Parkinson is leaving his job early because of the sway of the cranky and deluded IPA/Boltardian Right - of which Sloan, Ergas and Davdison are the leading lights (lights with about the same utility as glow in the dark dinosaurs) - because he believes in climate change and has the belief shared by nearly every other economist not of the Catallaxy brand that Australia's successful passage through the GFC probably was in some significant part due to the stimulus policy.

Furthermore, Cormann is not content to wait til Parkinson leaves to be seen endorsing Makin's attack on his views, he's doing it now.

The politicisation of the matter is all of the Right's doing.

Update:  by the way, the IPA's Chris Berg is widely regarded as the most affable of the Institute's talking heads that still get given a ridiculous amount of time on the ABC to sprout their one eyed views.   But his entry into the commentary on the politics and economics of the GFC stimulus last week I think shows him up as just another Right wing economic lightweight who has drunk the IPA kool aid.  [Update:  see how he wasn't taking any strong position on this only 12 months ago?]

It also seems to me that he never talks about climate change.  The most he has said (that I recall) is (my paraphrase) that if you have to have a policy to tackle it, a carbon tax is the way to do it.   (Even Sinclair Davidson has said that in the past I think.)

But anyone who works for the IPA is forever tainted by the fact they make their money from an institute supported by at least one prominent billionaire miner which pays people to ridicule climate science and all policy directed towards reducing CO2.   Berg gets too easy a ride for appearing nice (certainly, he doesn't come across as an aggressive and unpleasant fellow like Roskam)  but he should be shamed for working for the IPA at all.   

Update 2:   the blogging head of the Insane Clown Posse that is Catallaxy (I'm trying out for a sort of Bernard Keane degree of sarcasm today)   Sinclair Davidson joins in the criticism of Parkinson, claiming that Makin's critique is obviously right, and again confirming that the government should be completely political in immediate sackings of public servant heads.

Is all of this angst because Judith isn't getting Parkinson's job?  (Reference to likely joke rumour that I don't believe.)

A warning from an unusual source

Scots, What the Heck? -

Here's Paul Krugman warning the Scots about having its own government but not its own currency.

An unusual WWI story

World War I: Teenage girl Maud Butler cut hair, dressed as soldier and stowed away on troopship 
If I had read a novel in which this had happened, I would have thought it quite unrealistic...

Monday, September 08, 2014

What is going on at The Economist?

I was going to comment on The Economist's strangely enthusiastic investigation into prostitution, and endorsement of it as a career for those who chose it (not to mention complaining about it being "illiberal" to make it illegal) which appeared about a month ago, but I never got around to it.

Frankly, when economists start talking about things like the sale of bodies and sex, or illicit drugs, they can  work themselves up into enthusiasm for legalisation simply because of the money involved; but their discussions easily become an embarrassingly moral free zone.  Not that I am one to take a hard line stance on the question of legality for prostitution;  as with so many things, I tend to think that Australia gets the balance more right than many of the American States and without the sleaziness of some other countries, too.  But it's embarrassing to see an economics magazine downplay the exploitation inherent in such a large proportion of an "industry".   You certainly get the feeling that the number of women who were involved in compiling the story was nil.

And now we have even more cringeworthy  material appearing in the magazine:  a review of a book on slavery that sought to paint that enterprise as "not all bad".   This post at Boing Boing summarises the matter, and the Economist did withdraw the (anonymous) review and apologise.

Both of these stories indicate to me that something is amiss in the magazine's editorial decisions at the moment.

Update:  on the matter of the status of economics more generally, I thought that Harry Clarke's complaint about how the enthusiasm is now all for econometrics without tying it to theory was interesting.

It perhaps also explains why Piketty's work has been received with such enthusiasm - from what I can gather, it combined the novel compilation of figures with their analysis in terms of theory in a way not seen for some time.

Is it still under warranty?

And one other thing: quite a few people seem to have noticed on the web that Abbott seems to have had a cough or cold in interviews for months and months now. The opinion columnist with the biggest man-crush on Abbott in the world, Greg Sheridan, even questioned today whether Abbott is working himself too hard. Is his cough always a nerves thing? Or does he have some long lingering respiratory ailment? I don't think Mr Superfit is as fit as he used to be...

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Schwepped up in history

In my post a few days ago about a book on gin, I noted an extract from the review which mentioned the fountain in the Grand Exhibition of 1851, and gave the impression that it might have flowed with Schweppes tonic water.  Well, that's how I read this sentence:
Tonic wasn’t far behind; at the Great Exhibition of 1851, a 27ft (8.2m) fountain flowed with Schweppes.
But looking at a few websites about the Exhibition, and the fountain, it's clear that, at most, it was mineral water.  (I'm still not sure if there was any carbonation in it.)  Schweppes paid to have the drinks concession, and it was a great success for them.

It's been interesting reading about the Exhibition, and the history of Schweppes, which was the original large scale carbonated water manufacturer.  I was never sure of the fate of the Crystal Palace - but it was relocated after the Exhibition and then burnt down in 1936.   (Good thing it didn't make the bombing raids of World War 2, I guess.)  The fountain went with it, although it is forever incorporated in the Schweppes logo. 

It seems in those days just about anything new was seized upon as being of great health benefit, and the alkaline water craze (hello Paul Sheehan) easily goes back to Erasmus Darwin (!):

Jacob did not stay long in Drury Lane and by 1794 he had moved to 8 Kings Street, Holborn. He soon moved the factory again to 11 Margaret Street, Cavendish Square, Westminster at Michaelmas in 1795. In this street, at various addresses, he remained until he retired. In Geneva Jacob had received the fullest support from the medical profession and the leading physicians. In England, it was Dr. Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin who became their advocate. For the treatment of "Stone of the Bladder" he prescribe:
A dram of sal soda or of salt of tartar , dissolved in a pint of water, and well saturated with carbonic acid(fixed air), by means of Dr. Nooth’s glass apparatus, and drunk every day, or twice a day, is the most efficacious internal medicine yet discovered, which can easily be taken without any general injury to the constitution. An aerated alcaline of this water is sold under the name of factitious Seltzer water, by J. Schweppe, at no.8 Kings Street, Holborn, London : which I am told is better prepared than can be easily done in the usual glass vessels, probably by employing a greater pressure in wooden ones.
Erasmus Darwin was part of a group of philosophers and inventors who met regularly. In this circle were men such a Josiah Wedgewood the great potter, James Watt, Matthew Boulton (who made Watt’s first steam engine) and Dr.. William Withering. Boulton had been a regular drinker of Schweppes waters from as early as 1794. He told Erasmus Darwin about them and in a letter dated October 1794, he gives a fascinating insight into the waters being sold and the bottles used to contain the:
Mr. J Schweppe, preparer of mineral waters, is the person whom you have heard me speak of and who impregnates it so highly with fixable air as to exceed in appearance Champaign and all other bottled Liquors. He prepares it of three sorts. No 1 is for common drinking with your dinner. No. 2 is for Nephritick patients and No. 3 contains the most alkali and given only in more violent cases. It is contained in strong stone bottles and sold for 6s 6d per doz, including the bottles.
That's today's history.

The disgrace that is Graham Lloyd

The Australian Newspaper’s War On The Bureau of Meteorology � Graham Readfearn
We know that The Australian has been conducting a War on Climate Science for years, but it is still utterly gobsmacking that Graham Lloyd has been publicising the dog-returning-to-its-vomit stories of Marohasy, Jonova, Stockwell and others that the Australian temperature record has been deliberately (and without using the word itself, but clearly implying it continually - fraudulently) manipulated by the Bureau of Meteorology.

Graham Readfern's article above is a good summary.

The only conspiracy going on is in the paranoid imaginations of skeptics.  As Sou notes at Hotwhopper, wannabe King of Skeptics Anthony Watts appears close to breaking point recently.  He's long been a nasty, immature man when it comes to criticism.

And yet fools believe these people.

Wittiest comment of the day

There's an interview with Michael Palin up at the Guardian, because of the publication of the 3rd volume of his diaries.   From comments following, this was the wittiest response possible to a bore claiming he's a bore:

 Lest we forget:


Saturday, September 06, 2014

Another recipe for my future reference...

Tonight's recipe - Spiced Shepherd's Pie with Pumpkin - found here,  was nice. The spice combination was not overpowering but went well with the mashed pumpkin.   The recipe is too low on the salt, though, and I just used frozen peas instead of silverbeet.  I baked the pumpkin instead of steaming, too, and then mashed it.

Ingredients – serves 4
  • vegetable or olive oil, for cooking
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 500g/18oz minced (ground) lamb
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
  • 400g/14oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock (preferably salt reduced)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 silverbeet leaves, stalks removed and leaves shredded
  • 1kg butternut pumpkin, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • black pepper, to season
  • Heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan and cook the onion over a medium heat for 3-5 minutes or until softened.
  • Add the minced lamb to the pan and cook, stirring to break up lumps, until browned.
  • Add the ground coriander, cumin, cinnamon and chilli flakes to the pan and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Stir in the tomatoes, stock and tomato paste and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan forced/390F.
  • Meanwhile, cook the pumpkin in a large pan of boiling water for approximately 8 minutes or until tender. Drain and then mash the pumpkin in the pan.
  • Add the shredded silverbeet to the lamb, stir and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  • Place the lamb in an ovenproof dish.
  • Top with the mashed pumpkin and spread to cover the lamb.
  • Sprinkle over the grated cheese and pepper.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is golden and bubbly.

Why Saudi ridicule deserves to be ramped up

Readers may rightly note that I'm feeling particularly down on Saudi Arabia at the moment, and John Birmingham in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning helps explain why:
Where, then, are the battalions of those who should be concerned? The Saudi King warns that IS will be in Europe and America within months. The Saudi King, the closest thing we have to an absolute monarch outside of North Korea these days, has at his convenience an army of 75,000 men, including a 1000-strong tank armada which might even give Vladimir Putin a moment's pause if he found them sitting astride some patch of turf he might like to place within his possession. The Royal Saudi Air Force, deploying from bases somewhat closer to the Islamic State than Williamstown, boasts more than 300 combat aircraft, including F15E Strike Eagles and shiny new Eurofighter Typhoons, barely out of their bubblewrap.

And yet, in spite of King Saud's fit of the vapours about the threat of IS, there is no suggestion that these formidable war machines might do anything like deploy from those conveniently located Saudi air fields. No. His oil slaves will do that work. And many in his Kingdom will go on quietly supporting their Sunni brethren in IS.

So why are we going to another war? Surely not because the last one went so well?

Friday, September 05, 2014

What a country - again

I was Googling around looking for photos of the shopping mall at the Riyadh Kingdom Centre which featured in a post a couple of days ago [checking out the similarity of shopping malls in wildly disparate parts of the globe is an interest of mine - so sue me] when I stumbled across some 2012 news from Saudi Arabia   which I had missed:

I didn't realise that not only women suffer from not being to do things they've done in the West for, oh, like forever (such as being able to travel alone without being presumed to be a prostitute), but that the society also had such an intensely infantilising attitude towards single men too.   "No no no, you may be an adult but we know we cannot trust you to control your sexual urges when you are confronted with the alluring sight of a mall full of scenes like this:"

And yet, even the married men had gone all Stockholm Syndrome with talk like this:

So this is a society where young men cannot drink, cannot go to a cinema (apparently, they get one movie every 30 years, but there is a rumour that the government might be about to allow cinemas to be built).  Cannot (until recently) go to a mall because there might be a lot of women there. So what does the young man of Saudi Arabia do for entertainment?   Well, by the looks of this photo from the NYT in 2008 - go on a desert picnic with his best (male, of course) friend:

A thrilling day was had by all.

That NYT article's actually pretty interesting, by which I mean appalling, in the attitudes quoted by one of the young male subjects:
“One of the most important Arab traditions is honor,” Enad said. “If my sister goes in the street and someone assaults her, she won’t be able to protect herself. The nature of men is that men are more rational. Women are not rational. With one or two or three words, a man can get what he wants from a woman. If I call someone and a girl answers, I have to apologize. It’s a huge deal. It is a violation of the house.”

Enad is the alpha male, a 20-year-old police officer with an explosive temper and a fondness for teasing. Nader, 22, is soft-spoken, with a gentle smile and an inclination to follow rather than lead.

They are more than cousins; they are lifelong friends and confidants. That is often the case in Saudi Arabia, where families are frequently large and insular.
OK, so how do you sum up gender politics in this society:   women don't trust men; men don't trust men; men don't trust women; all men think women are stupidly pliable;  but - I don't know, I'm looking for an upside here - everyone likes camels?

Good to see someone keeping tally

From the Australian Financial Review today:
The Abbott government has broken more key promises than it has kept during the Coalition’s first year of power, an analysis by The Australian Financial Review has found.

The government has delivered on 13 promises and is making progress on 11 others – but has broken its word on 14 pre-election pledges.

Tony Abbott promised on the eve of last year’s election that there would be “no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS”.

The Abbott government has since proposed changes in all of these areas – except the GST.
 And the reason why the government is on the nose - it breaks promises to everyone, on both the Left and Right, meaning that it keeps no one happy. 

Update:  Lenore Taylor's summary was longer than mine, but pretty good too.

Quite a serious First Dog today...

First Dog on the Moon on ... hierarchies of oppression - cartoon | Comment is free |

Et tu, Barrie

Report card: strong ambassador, dud budget - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Barrie Cassidy on Tony Abbott today:
Whether it be repairing a damaged relationship with Indonesia,
responding to the Malaysian air crashes, standing up to Russia, or
confronting the brutality of the Islamic State, Abbott has been
Nothing impresses me about Tony Abbott, including his rush to embrace security issues as something that might be his saving grace in the public eye (as he thinks happened to Howard.)

And let's be honest - there has been nothing particularly brave about any of his responses to security issues - not like Howard and his gun law reform.  Rather, they been boiler plate responses, and not always hitting the right mark, but sounding just a bit too incautious and hairy chested.  Also, his personal popularity rating has not increased since these events happened, so it seems to me the public is not entirely convinced as well.  (Although, I suspect, the more dangerous international situation may account for some votes going back to the Coalition in polling, regardless of its leader.)

So I beg to differ with Barrie, and the only good thing about his column is it again makes a mockery of Andrew Bolt's moronic repetition "the ABC is out of control" (because they don't agree with him on politics.)

Poor old Ludwig, revisited; and the lives of the artistic, generally

A couple of months back, I posted some extracts from a review of a biography of Beethoven about his often unhappy life.

There's another review out on a different biography, and this paragraph is blogworthy:
This physical suffering was intensified by his inability to find the partner he craved so fervently. Beethoven kept on falling in love with women whose higher social status placed them out of reach. After the final collapse of his relationship with Josephine, Countess von Deym, he fled to the country estate of another aristocratic lady, Countess Erdödy, and promptly disappeared. It was assumed that he had returned to Vienna, but after three days a servant found him hiding in a remote part of the palace gardens, apparently trying to starve himself to death. Prudish in his attitude to the sexual behaviour of others - he even disapproved of the 'lascivious' subject matter of Mozart's Don Giovanni - he resorted increasingly to prostitutes for his own gratification. 'I am always ready for it,' he told his friend Baron Zmeskall, 'the time I prefer most of all is at about half past three or four o'clock in the afternoon.' His attempt to express his need for a lasting human relationship by adopting and then micro-managing his nephew Karl ended in disaster, when the object of his affection first ran away and then tried to shoot himself.
So, there you have it:  you now know the timing of Beethoven's sexual appetite down to the half hour.

I have to also say that it surprises me, this frequency with which the use of prostitutes (or at least mistresses) features in the lives of the artistically successful.  I've said it before, but if you're married by age 30 and have a long and happy marriage in which you never sleep with anyone else, it seems you can just about guarantee that you will not be a literary or artistic success.    I'm trying to think of a possible exception to this rule:  the 20th century's most famous Catholic writers certainly don't fit the bill - Graham Greene particularly, but I think Evelyn Waugh is thought to have been a frequent customer of brothels during his overseas travels.  CS Lewis is thought by most to have had a weird mummy thing going on with his deceased mate's mother.   Possibly GK Chesterton (although he's not considered exactly top of the range in the artistic ranks)?

A quick check of some biographic details indicate he did enjoy happy domesticity,  and this (rather interesting) essay about him generally argues with direct autobiographical quotes that whatever temptations he considered himself prone to, he specifically denied they were homosexual.   But really - with his rotundity, you would not expect him to have easy access to sexual liaisons of any kind - prostitutes would have feared for their lives, most likely.

So there you go - maybe I have found a famous-ish author who didn't seem to do anything too untoward in his sex life, although his physical characteristics make it questionable whether it was even possible.   Further examples from readers are most welcome.

Update:  from an essay about attitudes to prostitution generally:   
Many great writers, composers and playwrights have regularly indulged, patronised, and befriended prostitutes, including Franz Kafka, Guy de Mauppausant, Georges Rouault, Toulouse Lautrec, Dennis Potter, Picasso, Paul Verlaine. 
 Dennis Potter seems a bit out of place in that list!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Hope it's not a fizzer

It's a James Ashby interview that looks like it will shed further light on who in the Liberals helped him bring his case, and who lied about it.

Update:  what a tease the 60 Minutes trailer for the interview is.    Another allegation of sexual harassment (but not by who - if it's poor old Slipper, people will probably say "old news, can't he be left alone?");  someone called a liar;  a claim that is "dynamite".    Twitter is full of rumour that Pyne ought to be worried, but we shall see.

Update 2:  fizzer.  Although I did miss, while going downstairs to see where X Factor was up to, the bit that was "dynamite".

Look, anyone with any sense knows Pyne has been deceptive about this from the get go, and that Abbott has lied in the past about his role in political intrigue (Hanson), and almost certainly knew more about the Slipper/Ashby matter than he will admit.   Brough comes across as a complete sleazebag.  Yet   Ashby also remains a person impossible to sympathise with because of the way he played politics too.  

It was all a nasty bit of political dirty work from a Coalition that was desperate to seize power if they could.   [And now that they have it, they're still failing to win hearts and minds.]

But we knew all of this already.

Everyone needs a hobby...

These Two Guys Studied Their Feces for a Year - The Atlantic

(Actually, it's quite an interesting science story about gut biome again.)  

Fast food every night, then?

In what's probably just another bit of Slate click baiting, this article with the heading Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner is still a profoundly silly piece by Amanda Marcotte.

Yes, let's accept that working mothers can have a hard time juggling work and getting dinner ready every night.

But honest to God, the range of easily prepared meal components (by which I mean things like pasta or curry sauces in jars, meal "kits" in a box, pre-sliced or diced meats, even frozen vegetables) which, served up with a pile of steamed vegetables (just how hard is it to steam vegetables?) makes the modern cooking task for relatively healthy meals about twice as easy as it was 40 years ago.

And what does Marcotte or her quoted sociologists expect as an alternative?


I've been watching most of Working Dog's new show Utopia on the ABC, and I have to say it has grown on me.

As a satire of how the public service works (well, perhaps the semi corporatised version of the public service?)  I think it does very well.  

Last night's "job performance review" co-plot rang very many bells with I saw in my exposure to the PS, although that was a couple of decades ago now.  (I doubt that it has changed much, though.)

I thought the episode on the Very Fast Train was also pretty good, in terms of how economically unjustifiable ideas can refuse to die.

But I did miss the first episode - and I am bit puzzled as to how the Rob Sitch character has ended up as the boss of an outfit in which he is perpetually unhappy and never gets his way....

A problem easily fixed?

Seeing Adam Creighton is against an increase in compulsory superannuation, I now feel pretty confident that some increase was in fact warranted.  And let's face it, the Coalition is not saying they are against an increase happening eventually, they've just delayed it.

But what I wanted to note was Creighton's argument in the Australian this morning that compulsory superannuation is a "failure" because it is failing to reduce dependency on the pension to a large enough degree.

Yet the reason he gives for this - the pension assets and income test being too generous - is surely one of the economically easiest things to change in future.   And what's more, isn't ensuring that more money is in super in the first place one of the key ways of ensuring that the tightening of the test is easier to politically and economically justify?

Surely you would have more chance of arguing for phased in reduction of government contribution to pension support if you can point to the increase in superannuation income that you're also ensuring for the future?

Update:   just wanted to make it clear again that I was saying that changing the assets/income test is economically easy - in the sense that it can be relatively clear where to set the line and what effect it will have on future government outlays - but not that it was necessarily politically easy.    However, it becomes politically easier if you can tell people their superannuation will be larger too.

And here's another thing - I've noticed small government types are pretty hot for the Singaporean system of health care which works to a large extent on forced contributions to health savings accounts.   (Someone on boring old Amanda Vanstone's Radio National show was talking up something similar the other day.)  

So why are they so against compulsory super savings in Australia?  Is it just because of Union involvement in industry super?

And really, whatever arguments are against compulsory superannuation (due to fees and questionable tax treatment for those who need it least), do small government economists really think people left alone make adequate savings for retirement? 

I hear a lot of whining, but don't hear much about alternatives....

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The old Michael Ware is back on my TV

Seven years ago I noted how annoying I found former CNN war correspondent Michael Ware, an Australian given to talking in perpetual hyperventilating Steve Irwin style.

And he's on my TV right now, on The Drum, with Brisbane's Story Bridge in the background (he lives here?) and he's still the same, and still really irritating.

In other Arab news

While admitting that I like the idea of being in charge of an Australian version of the Saudi Arabian institution known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, I would have to run it better than this:
Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice on Tuesday removed four of its staff from the Riyadh office after it found them guilty of assaulting a British national and his Saudi wife....

Reports late on Friday said that the Briton was approached by the members of the Commission when he took a check-out at a supermarket reserved for women and families.

When they asked him about his presence in the special lane, he answered that he was with his wife and had the right to use it.

However, the Commission members felt frustrated by the answer and followed the couple until they reached their car outside the mall where they had a physical altercation.
Update:  a little bit of video of the guy being jumped on for being in the women's checkout lane can be seen at the Daily Mail here.

I'd hate to see what they do to someone who goes through the "12 items or less" lane with 13 things.

And by the way, the Daily Mail site has a picture of Riyadh, a city you don't often see much of:

What's the building that looks like the eye of a needle?  I'll have to check:  I see, it's Kingdom Centre, which has a shopping mall, hotel and apartments.   [And, being Saudi Arabia, public floggings in the courtyard on the hour for men caught looking sideways at women with accidentally exposed ankles.]

You can also go up to the "skybridge" at the top.  Photos at its website here

Update:   looking around at other local websites reporting this widely publicised story, I have to admit that most of the 40 comments at Arab News (most of which appear to be Saudis) are critical of the Virtue Police.   One comment details another incident, which I repeat for its comedy value (as long as you're not the victim):
There have been many such instances which either go unreported or no action is taken even after a complaint is lodged. A few years ago, the religious police raided a staff house belonging to a corporate in Olaya locality of Riyadh which housed a few Keralites among which one of them happened to be a friend. The religious police searched the entire flat and found a few pornographic CD's, all the flat members were locked up in the toilet from 10 PM to 4 AM and the entire duration was spent by the religious police examining the evidence thoroughly on a flat screen television. Fortunately the flat members were let out after the call for Fajr salah and the religious police left without saying a word.