Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It would explain a lot....

Inspired, of course, by Ms Lambie's radio appearance yesterday, which international readers can google for themselves.   

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Another Abbott weathervane moment

From The Age, in 2010:
Australia's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council will be dumped if the federal opposition wins government.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd was the driving force behind the bid for a temporary seat in 2013/14, although his successor Julia Gillard is continuing the campaign.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said it was not a good use of taxpayers' money in tough economic times.

"There are vastly higher priorities for Australia right now than pursuing a seat on the security council," he told reporters in Melbourne, adding that dropping the bid would save $5.7 million this financial year.
Two years later:
Opposition leader Tony Abbott said he was pleased with the win, but wanted to ensure Australia did not squander the opportunity.

He indicated the millions spent to secure the position could potentially have been better resourced.
"I welcome the win, it was an expensive win and I think it probably owes at least as much to Kevin Rudd as Julia Gillard," Mr Abbott told the Nine Network.

"A win's a win, I welcome it. Let's hope we put the next two years on the Security Council to good use."
Today:
The Abbott government's push for a full independent investigation into the downing of MH17 over Ukraine has been backed by a unanimous vote UN Security Council, increasing pressure on Russia to facilitate access to the crash site.

In a joint statement with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop released on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Tony Abbott hailed the result saying that the resolution lent the Security Council's ''full weight'' in condemning the attack.
His inconsistencies on all manner of policy issues show his judgement is hopeless.  

Then as now?

Asia today echoes divided Europe of 1914

A somewhat interesting comparison by Hugh White of the geopolitics of the world at the start of the 20th century, and those that exist today.

Krugman being optimistic

An Imaginary Budget and Debt Crisis - NYTimes.com

Paul Krugman argues that there is reason to be optimistic about America's long term debt position, and notes that budgetary changes would not need to be all that great to make it even better.

I get the feeling that a similar column could be written about Australia.   And the first two points would be -

1.  don't give up revenue that you don't need to (carbon prices and mining tax.)

2.  don't start spending money on one man's pet idea that hardly anyone actually supports.

I might also add (and the same in the US):  don't increase defence spending beyond your means.

As for Australian pessimists, I see that Garnaut has that title currently.   I don't really understand the proposal though - how does a dramatic increase in productivity really happen these days?   He does mention the Australian dollar needing to come down (and even Judith Sloan mentioned that in her eye rolling performance with Joe Stiglitz a couple of weeks ago.   As I complained some time ago - right wing debt obsessed economists complained bitterly about Labor government spending and wages during the Gillard reign but barely mentioned the high Australian dollar which soared during her Prime Ministership.  Now that it's a Coalition government, have they decided it's the right time to acknowledge the problem?) 

No substitution effect

Does marijuana affect sales of alcohol in legal states?

Early figures from Colorado indicate that legal marijuana has coincided with an increase in sales of alcohol.

The suggestion is that this is caused by marijuana tourism.  Either that, or all the discussion of drugs makes all legal drugs look good?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Yet another potential cosmic worry?

Quantum bounce could make black holes explode : Nature News & Comment

So, Nature has a story up about the suggestion that black holes could become "white holes".  The story is more intriguing that I thought:

The theory suggests that the transition from black hole to white hole
would take place right after the initial formation of the black hole,
but because gravity dilates time, outside observers would see the black
hole lasting billions or trillions of years or more, depending on its
size. If the authors are correct, tiny black holes that formed during
the very early history of the Universe would now be ready to pop off
like firecrackers and might be detected as high-energy cosmic rays or
other radiation. In fact, they say, their work could imply that some of
the dramatic flares commonly considered to be supernova explosions could
in fact be the dying throes of tiny black holes that formed shortly
after the Big Bang.
Given that small black holes from the start of the universe might be everywhere, it would seem any planet could be in for a surprise at anytime.  At least, if this idea is right.

The glum world, and the 30 minute survivalist

Gee, it's hard to be cheery about the state of the world at the moment, isn't it?

Israel, Iraq, Ukraine, Syria:  all a mess with no obvious resolutions in sight.   China has had a strong typhoon that has killed 18; barely noticed amidst all the other death and mayhem.

All we need now is for Tokyo or LA to have their long awaited earthquake disasters and people will stop getting out of bed. 

Speaking of which, as a depressing distraction, does anyone else ever think about what they would do if they knew they had to clear out of home due to earth shattering disaster that may mean living off the land for a protracted time?   Being a cheery soul who likes science fiction-y scenarios, I often think of this while driving between Brisbane and Toowoomba, because the geography of that area makes it clear that if one knew that a mini asteroid had hit the middle of the Pacific, and a gigantic tsunami was on the way,  collecting the family and heading up to Toowoomba at the top of the Great Dividing Range would be one of the safest things you could do.  (Or if aliens had started picking off capital cities one by one, War of the Worlds style, getting up to the vast and relatively sparsely populated area west of the range would be a good idea too.) 

But if I only had 30 minutes or so to pack the car with gear that might best equip my family for the end of civilisation for a time, what household items should be given the highest priority?   I keep thinking of steak knives, or any good kitchen knive really;  any axe or shovel lying around; any rechargeable batteries in the house and a radio to go with them; tarpaulins; ropes; sleeping bags; warm clothes (no matter what time of year);  a few substantial saucepans; a magnifying glass (for both starting fires and reading in my old age); and any medicine in the cabinet.   Oh, and water containers.  Buckets and any water container.  And any spare sets of prescription glasses, even if out of date.   Dry food from the cupboard too (pasta and rice especially - perhaps?), but I think I would still have room in the car.  I don't think I would take the family tent - it takes up a lot of space, and long term, you would probably be better off building a shelter.

Beyond those, I have trouble deciding what household items are really going to be valuable, either for direct use, or trade.  I can imagine soap, shampoo and toothpaste being in high demand, but would I be better off taking whatever of that I have in the bathroom, or my binoculars instead?   How much modern stuff would be adequately circulating from ransacked stores amongst survivors?

I wonder if Douglas Adams advice about the importance of towels is really worth paying attention to?

I've been meaning to post about this for some time - the glum state of the world seems to make it an appropriate time to write it.

Update:  as an addendum, you can add the speculation "if you live within five minutes of a supermarket [I do, as it happens], and could get into it, what further items would you take from there before heading off to the mountains?"  

A few things immediately spring to my mind - any vegetable seeds if they stock any, and a range of vitamins.  Also, bandages, razor blades, disinfectant in large quantities.  And more tarps, if they have any.  Matches - but no need to go overboard - you just never let the fire die once it's going.


Tony's mixed bag

Interesting poll results out in Fairfax today show that people still believe Tony Abbott can get things done; it's just that they don't like the things he achieves and don't trust him to do what he said he would.

I can't see his response to the MH17 tragedy helping much here with his popularity - unlike John Howard and his action on guns after one mass shooting too many, it's not as if there is much Tone can directly do. (Beyond, perhaps, agitating to get an uncooperative Putin out of the G20 meeting, but would that count for much in public opinion?)

Tough talk still off putting

Phil Coorey says in AFR this morning:
Tony Abbott’s handling of the MH17 atrocity is being universally admired.
Not by me, or at least in one respect.  I thought his reference to lives being "snuffed out" yesterday on Insiders was a case of him wanting to sound Clint Eastwood style tough, but I doubt it had the right sort of sensitivity to use for relatives of the deceased who may be watching. 

That is my opinion.      

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A foolish thing

He's mildly offended by the title of the post, but my son has been learning saxophone for a year or two now, and here he was recently, doing pretty good once he gets going...



(You have to add something visual to post a file on youtube, and that was just at hand.)

No, it's not. [Alternative title - When nerds try to scare themselves around the campfire]

Slate has an entertaining article up with something that must be approaching the best click bait title, ever:  The Most Terrifying Thought Experiment of All Time

As the many comments that follow it show, normal people tend to be underwhelmed, but amused.   It seems that it may be that the originator of the meme also denies he believed it.

However, I did like the last paragraph:
I worry less about Roko’s Basilisk than about people who believe themselves to have transcended conventional morality. Like his projected Friendly AIs, Yudkowsky is a moral utilitarian: He believes that that the greatest good for the greatest number of people is always ethically justified, even if a few people have to die or suffer along the way. He has explicitly argued that given the choice, it is preferable to torture a single person for 50 years than for a sufficient number of people (to be fair, a lot of people) to get dust specks in their eyes. No one, not even God, is likely to face that choice, but here’s a different case: What if a snarky Slate tech columnist writes about a thought experiment that can destroy people’s minds, thus hurting people and blocking progress toward the singularity and Friendly AI? In that case, any potential good that could come from my life would far be outweighed by the harm I’m causing. And should the cryogenically sustained Eliezer Yudkowsky merge with the singularity and decide to simulate whether or not I write this column … please, Almighty Eliezer, don’t torture me.
There was also a reference to a book or article which I should look up, but later:
(I’ve adopted this example from Gary Drescher’s Good and Real, which uses a variant on TDT to try to show that Kantian ethics is true.) 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Carbon burnout

Bernard Keane's take on the repeal of the carbon pricing scheme seemed pretty spot on to me.  I liked these bits in particular:
It’s an attack, primarily, of old white men, men in complete denial about climate change, on the future and on the young....

But ultimately, this is the result of the right-wing putsch in 2009 that replaced Malcolm Turnbull, a man genuinely committed to action on climate change, with Tony Abbott, a climate denialist and rank opportunist who, in a short period of time, had occupied every single possible position on climate change and what to do about it, except the one he ended up advocating as policy — the risible “Direct Action” policy mocked from the most froth-mouthed climate denialist all the way to the most fervent Trotskyite environmentalist.
And as Lenore Taylor points out:
Perhaps the last word should go to those well-known job-destroying, economy-hating, green-left anarchists in the federal treasury, whose comments in the "blue book" prepared in the event of a Coalition victory in 2010 were released under freedom of information.
Treasury described a carbon-pricing mechanism as "the only realistic way of achieving the deep cuts in emissions that are required".
They went on: ''A market mechanism can achieve the necessary abatement at a cost per tonne of emissions that is far lower than alternative direct-action policies. Moreover, many direct action measures cannot be scaled up, and, for those that can, the cost per tonne of abatement would rise rapidly, imposing further costs on taxpayers and consumers. All of this serves to underscore the conclusion that the sooner an emissions trading scheme can be implemented the better.
"Too much time has already been wasted, for which the Australian community will necessarily pay a high price."
Now everyone knows I think this is the most foolish government lead by a flakey PM, but looking at Abbott last night on 7.30, and on other recent occasions, I honestly get the feeling even he knows he's going to go down as weak and a failure as a PM.  

(And incidentally, the ability of Sarah Ferguson to persist and make all politicians uncomfortable by not having the ability to easily fob her off has become awesome.  She should remain as host.) 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What he said


Sinclair Davidson, March 27, 2014 (based on tobacco industry claims regarding sales):
What a policy disaster! The situation of the ground must be even worse. These figures only include legal tobacco. So once we add on the illegal stuff – including the sophisticated counterfeiters I suspect tobacco consumption has increased substantially above the 0.3 per cent increase.
Sinclair Davidson, July 17, 2014 (based on national survey results of actual use of tobacco):
The proportion of daily smokers has fallen – smoking in Australia is in long-term decline and has been so since the 1960s.

Furthermore, putting on a brave face that there must be something in the survey results that he can cling to:
What is problematic for the nanny staters is the increase in tobacco consumption by young women. Despite media reports suggesting that “young people” are smoking less, the data do not support inference when looking at women aged 18 – 29.
If I understand the table he posts correctly, the figures do show that of young women who smoke, the mean number of cigarettes they smoke per week has increased by between 2 to 3 since 2010.   Horrors!  The difference in health effects between 77 cigarettes per week and 75 (for that is indeed the type of numbers we are talking about) must be wrecking terrible havoc on those women!  

But why would the desperate professor even bother grasping at that when the very same table shows young men's consumption is down between about 11 to 16 per week, depending on the age group?  (And I would also note that another table in the survey shows that are slightly less young smoking women than men anyway - by about 2%).

No matter what attempt at desperate spin and piffle you put on the tables, total young people's mean consumption is down significantly - about 10% in the case of 25 to 29 year olds. 

What's more, with one tiny exception, the survey confirms the percent of young people smoking at all is down, down, down over time: 

Table 3: Tobacco status, people aged 12 years or older, by age, 2001 to 2013 (per cent)
Smoking status 2001 2004 2007 2010 2013
12–17
Daily n.a. 5.2 3.2 2.5 3.4
Occasional(a) n.a. 1.5 0.9 1.3 *1.6
Ex-smokers(b) n.a. 1.7 0.9 1.6 *0.3#
Never smoked(c) n.a. 91.6 95.0 94.7 94.7
18–24
Daily 24.0 20.2 16.5 15.7 13.4
Occasional(a) 8.1 5.3 4.9 4.9 5.1
Ex-smokers(b) 10.2 9.5 8.3 7.3 4.7#
Never smoked(c) 57.7 65.1 70.3 72.1 76.8#
25–29
Daily 27.0 25.8 25.8 19.3 16.1#
Occasional(a) 6.0 6.5 5.8 5.8 5.5
Ex-smokers(b) 17.5 16.6 16.6 14.8 15.1
Never smoked(c) 49.5 51.1 51.8 60.1 63.3

Hey - daily smokers in the 12 to 17 year group has apparently gone up nearly 1 per cent!   Horrors again - the most immature group of people surveyed just might have had no reaction (yet) to plain packaging.

Of course, a reasonable person might suspect that they will always be some small proportion of young teenagers who will be risk taking and smoke, but if that percentage stays at anything around 3%, it's hardly going to matter as the goal is to get total smoking below 10%.

Obviously, what is important is the percent of young people who are legally able to buy tobacco and can afford it who smoke   The most encouraging thing of all is the number of "never smoked" by age of 24 - now up to nearly 77% and showing no sign of stopping.

The survey also contains no joy for the prematurely hyperbolic Professor's claim that illegal tobacco use is probably soaring.  I'm having trouble cutting and pasting that table, but it shows unbranded tobacco use going down - and quite a lot over time.  (The notes do indicate some caution is warranted due to methodological matters.)   Now whether this just means "chop chop" - or illegally imported but unbranded tobacco - I'm not sure.  But I would guess that illegal but branded cigarettes are counted in the normal smoking figures in the survey anyway.

Here's the thing - not only Sinclair Davidson, but the entire group of Catallaxy and The Australian's "free market" economists and journalists leapt on dubious figures put out by an industry with a reputation for deception on a campaign to stop plain packaging spreading, and made grandiose claims about the policy being a public health "disaster".

Good quality survey evidence shows their gullibility and "ideology over quality evidence" approach to just about every damn thing.

UPDATE:   Heh.   The desperation continues.

The apparent .9% rise in 12 to 17 year olds smoking is latched onto by Sinclair as evidence of the plain packaging not being a success.

Predictable; yet another case of (wilfully) not being able to see the wood for the trees.  



School voucher system not so successful after all

Sweden school choice: The country’s disastrous experiment with Milton Friedman and vouchers.

The term "disastrous" in the heading may be a bit too strong, but nonetheless, the faults found in the Swedish system sounds entirely like what would reasonably be expected if you try an intensely market based system for schooling.

Is Finland, with its diametrically opposite approach to education, still doing well?

How long can this go on?

More than 150 asylum seekers whose boat was intercepted near Christmas Island more than two weeks ago are being held behind locked doors on a customs ship in rooms without windows on the high seas, with no clue to where they are or where the Abbott government plans to take them. 
And all Morrison can do is tell Labor that they are "jellyfish" for not going along with this.  
 
While fully acknowledging that the moral issues involved in people seeking to enter Australia by boat do not all run in one direction, it is still extremely difficult to see how people, if properly informed, could endorse this government's actions.   That's why the government is doing its hardest to keep people ignorant of what's going on, and in that respect, they are morally bankrupt.

Meanwhile, in an alternative universe



Inspired by today's news:
The daily smoking rate plunged from 15.1 per cent to 12.8 per cent between 2010 and 2013, according to the largest and longest-running national survey on drug statistics.

Most people are now 16 before they smoke their first full cigarette, up from 14 in 2010, and 95 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds have never smoked. 

Public health experts say the findings of the National Drugs Strategy Household Survey vindicate plain-packaging laws, which tobacco companies recently claimed to have boosted cigarette sales by leading to a price war.... 

The survey of nearly 24,000 Australians was conducted between July and December 2013, before the new 12.5 per cent tobacco tax.

Update:  the website for the Survey itself gives us more detail -
  • People aged 40–49 were the age group most likely to smoke daily (16.2%).
  • People aged 18–49 were far less likely to smoke daily than they were 12 years ago, but over the same period, there was little change in daily smoking by people aged 60 or older.
  • Proportion of 12–17 year olds who had never smoked remained high in 2013 at 95%, and the proportion of 18–24 year olds who had never smoked increased significantly between 2010 and 2013 (from 72% to 77%).
  • Younger people are delaying the take up of smoking—the age at which 14–24-year-olds smoked their first full cigarette increased from 14.2 in 1995 to 15.9 years in 2013.
  • Smokers reduced the average number of cigarettes smoked per week; from 111 cigarettes in 2010 to 96 in 2013. Smokers aged 50–69 continued to smoke the largest number of cigarettes per week on average (about 120), nearly double the number for smokers in their 20s (about 75).
  • About 1 in 6 smokers had smoked unbranded tobacco in their lifetime although only 3.6% currently smoked it, declining from previous years.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Old fashioned Kevin

I forgot to mention that there was an interesting profile of the long time conservative education advocate Kevin Donnelly in the Sydney Morning Herald on the weekend.

Despite his years and years of column space to air his views in The Australian, I didn't know anything about his background.  Here are some key points:

*  gee, in appearance he has a very "Alan Jones" vibe about him, doesn't he?  

*  he was a radical, hippie Lefty as a young man, no doubt under the influence of his Communist Party joining, but alcoholic, father.  It seems he switched, perhaps in his late 20's but it's not 100% clear, to be an aggressive conservative.

This seems to me to be surprisingly common - those who are most passionately ideological and aggro about things having undergone something of a 180 degree conversion from their former beliefs.   Knowing this about someone makes me trust their judgement less, as it shows their emotional commitment to a cause is probably more about being fickle rather than having a balanced and well reasoned view of life.  Whether it be on politics or matters of religion - Centrists who haven't swung wildly from one side to the other Rule, OK? - and are nearly always more trustworthy.

*  He had a terrible relationship with both parents, and also suffered the tragic loss of a son.

*  He's Catholic, apparently, although the article doesn't explain how he got there.  A strong Pell supporter, one would have to suspect.

*  He's nervous about being profiled - having withdrawn co-operation.

Donnelly is also in the news this week for saying that he thinks corporal punishment could be usefully re-instituted in schools, if the school wants it.  Pyne has distanced himself from this suggestion pronto. 

To my mind, Donnelly represents what is typical of the Coalition's sadly redundant "culture war" mentality that seeks to continue a war when it hasn't realised that the Left has already moved to a more centrist position on many matters since the 70's and 80's.  I think this is true in Donnelly's field as with other issues, although pockets of nonsense in education and social theory no doubt still exist - they always will, just like you'll always have libertarian fantasies about how society could or should operate too.

To tell the truth, I think elements of the national curriculum do sound a bit silly, but I am also not convinced that those elements have much effect on teachers on a day to day basis.   Certainly, I am not likely to be on board with an attempt to go to a curriculum that is a reversion to the 1950's either, which seems to me that Donnelly pines for.

Big numbers

I've been getting a bit mind boggled at the numbers quoted for bacteria that we live with.  For example, from the New York Times recently:
We may think of ourselves as just human, but we’re really a mass of microorganisms housed in a human shell. Every person alive is host to about 100 trillion bacterial cells. They outnumber human cells 10 to one and account for 99.9 percent of the unique genes in the body....

Our collection of microbiota, known as the microbiome, is the human equivalent of an environmental ecosystem. Although the bacteria together weigh a mere three pounds, their composition determines much about how the body functions and, alas, sometimes malfunctions.
I take it that our personal bacteria are really small then...

And this from a review of a book at the TLS:
 When pathogenic bacteria were discovered to cause disease in the nineteenth century, the body was assumed to be in a pristine state until invaded and rendered sick. The appreciation of healthy carriers shattered such illusions. Now we learn that a single gram of faeces contains 100 million archaea and 40 billion bacteria.
A gram of poo has 40 billion bacteria?   I thought it might be a typo, but no, I go to the journal Gut and find this at the start of an article about measuring bacteria from the colon:
Antigens, both of dietary and bacterial origin, are abundantly present in the colonic lumen. Bacterial antigens predominate as there are as many as 10^11  bacteria per gram contents while most dietary antigens are degraded. It is important to realise that over 99.9% of the colonic microflora are part of a relatively stable ecosystem consisting of possibly as many as 400 different indigenous species as well as a few recently arrived species. Most of these anaerobic bacteria are not infectious and each person has a characteristic combination of these micro-organisms.
 Yeah, that's 10 to the power of 11 per gram.

But wait - don't go thinking a nice salty dip in the ocean will help you:
A millilitre of seawater from the North Atlantic contains 15 million viruses. 
By way of comparison, I had forgotten how many sperm cells your average male orgasm may release.  The total, of course, varies by volume, but a very detailed article from the Journal of Andrology indicates that it can be up to (a rather surprising) 1.2 billion*.  But it also shows volume varying from .7 to 8.6 ml, so I assume the big numbers come from the high end of the volume scale.    But if a ml weighs about a gram, you're looking at an average of about 100 million cells, which again just goes to show how tiny our gut bacteria seem to be.  (Or is it just that they are packed in incredibly closely in the gut?) 

I'm not sure you should talk about this at work during today's coffee break, but feel free to quote me...

*  it seems that even allowing for a high proportion of dud sperm cells, it should only take a month or so for one male to populate a planet.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

It actually went something like this...


Update:  hey, it has to be noted that it seems Paul Keating was sitting on one side of Murdoch last night, and Abbott on the other.  (And Shorten and other Labor identities were there too.  Not Whitlam, I presume, who I assume would have torn up an invitation if he had the strength.)  

I can't recall what Keating's view of Uncle Rupert is, but I am surprised that such a large Labor attendance was there for a paper which has become a mere Right wing blog.

I see Kathryn Murphy was pretty scathing of Abbott's speech:
The most powerful person in Australia (that's Abbott, the prime minister, not Rupert) was just delighted to have scored an invitation to such a glittering party with so many powerful powerful people.
[Having worked at The Australian for a couple of years, and been treated very decently by the people running the paper while I was there, I of course wish the paper the best for its anniversary.]
But Abbott's speech struck a bizarre tone. He is the prime minister.
He is the powerful person. From his disposition you would not have understood the hierarchy.
The prime minister loved The Australian. Under its editor in chief Chris Mitchell, the national broadsheet was one of the great newspapers of the world. It was Australia's only national paper. (Sorry, Financial Review. Apparently you don't count.) Murdoch had changed the world. Truly, that's how it was.
That Abbott thinks the Australian is a "great newspaper of the world" under Mitchell is pretty hilarious, even by the standards of having to say something nice about a host at a big dinner.

Betting on parasites

Who's best at predicting the World Cup – Nate Silver, bankers or a cat parasite? | News | theguardian.com


The Guardian notes here that predicting World Cup results on the basis of a nation's toxoplasma infection rates worked out reasonably well.   (Having a higher rate helps, it seems.) 

Paid to condescend

Surely I can't be the only person who's finding the outright bitchiness of Judith Sloan towards economists (or economics writers) she disagrees with to be so unprofessional that it's pretty funny.

Her total disdain towards Joe Stiglitz, which she seemingly chose to keep covered up until she was sitting on the QandA panel with him last week is today given full flight in The Australian.  (I assume he has flown out of the country?)  

First, she spends a fair amount of time telling us how we shouldn't be so impressed with economists just because they won a Nobel prize.   (Just a little bit jealous about the attention prize winners get, Judith?)

Then it's the use of "pal" that's dripping with condescension:
Here’s a tip, pal: there is no evidence Abbott thinks that the American model, whatever that might mean, should be emulated. In fact, Americans should be asking us for advice. After all, we are entering our 23rd year of continuous economic growth, per capita income has grown strongly and unemployment is lower than in the US.

Winging his way around Australia, the Nobel-winning evangelist hardly drew breath while spreading the gospel about the many evil aspects of his country, including its universities, its healthcare system and its financial sector. He pleaded with us not to follow suit. Here’s another tip, pal: we are not about to become America anytime soon.
Well isn't that just a bit bizarre - a labour economist (I'll come to that later) who blogs at a libertarian site which routinely supports American libertarian and Republican ideas regarding the importance of low minimum wages, deregulation of just about everything, and ignoring climate change as not happening is telling an American economist to come and copy our ideas?   (And who was that woman in the audience at QandA who took the same line with Stiglitz - a friend of Judith's, or at least a member of the IPA, I'd be prepared to take a wager on that.)


I don't have a problem with Sloan running a line like "let's not exaggerate and say that the Abbott changes will result in something identical to the American system."   But at the same time, she can't credibly deny that on the scale between existing Australian ways of doing health, education, welfare and climate policy (for example), and the American approaches to those matters of government,  there is no doubt that  Abbott  is moving the country much closer to the American end of the scale.   (I would say that the biggest difference between the countries will remain in health, but the "big bang" change to full university fee deregulation is a move most people have already worked out is getting too close to the American system.)  

There was no need for Sloan's condescension in the debate, and if she is going to only deal with economists not in complete agreement with her by considering them fools, perhaps she should give up the pocket money she makes from writing for a national newspaper.

The other funny thing she wrote recently was at Catallaxy, where she opens a post disagreeing with a column Ross Gittens wrote:
Actually, Ross, the debate on the minimum wage has come and gone and Gittins is the one looking the goose.  And here’s the thing: I am a labour market economist and you are not.
 Ha!   

She then spends time telling us what the state of play is regarding certain labour economics ideas.   Yet Matt Cowgill, in a post in which he refrains from using the word "bitchy," explains that we have good reason to be skeptical of Judith's explanation of the state of play amongst "labour economists" on at least one issue.

The funniest thing by way of understatement happens in comments to Cowgill's post:
In my opinion, Judith is someone who perhaps allows her political ideology to overly influence her economic perspective. I wonder if, as a result, she’s not open minded enough to evidence that might conflict with her preconceived views.
Perhaps? !!   Ahahahaha.   There is no "perhaps" about it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Avoided topic now dealt with

I really wasn't going to add to the "Ian Thorpe comes out" brouhaha [now there's a word I don't use often], but then I read this column that's more about [some of] the public's "unhelpful" reactions to the story, and thought it was pretty good.  This part, for example:
So you didn't say this was disgusting - but did you go with, say, "Pfft, like we didn't already know!"
Well, aren't you Captain Gaydar! You totally knew Thorpe was gay! And it's people saying helpful things like that publicly that helped prevent him coming out earlier.

Ideally, we'd all know and be comfortable with our sexuality nice and young. I lucked out, discovering mine when I was about eight and first saw the Divinyls' video for 'Boys In Town'. Oh, Chrissie Amphlett, you're too good for the afterlife…

But Thorpe had people calling him gay since his teens, when he claims - perfectly plausibly - that he still wasn't certain what his sexuality was. He went to an all-boys school, a dangerous place for people to come out at the best of times, and was quizzed in the media about it when he swam at the World Championships at the age of 16.

He said he was straight, because what serious choice did he have at that point? And then it was a matter of public record and he didn't want to look like a liar. The very brilliant Rebecca Shaw explains this very point, teasing out why a young person might not want to come out under a barrage of constant questioning from people.

So having folks go "but you're gay, really, right? Seriously, I know you said you're not gay - but I totally know you're gay" did a lot to keep making him think this was a matter of public interest.
The writer then goes on to point out the inherent contradiction in people saying "But nobody cares!" when both the media and the public kept the question alive for about 14 years.

Sure, part of this weekend's disdainful reactions might be because some genuinely think it was distasteful that the topic was being played up yet again by the media (certainly, that was my attitude), but I still think this Vine article is right:   a huge number of people are clueless if they don't realise that the questions/jokes/rumours were not in themselves intimidating no matter how much they claimed to be in the context of  "mate, it doesn't matter, just tell us."

And one other thing:  how many people have forgotten this from a 2002 interview he gave (I certainly had, although I think I may have seen the interview at the time)?   It shows that matters of his sex life were putting him under much pressure back then: 

IAN THORPE: You know, reading between the lines in the letters, through my knowledge of what was happening in all of those situations, in a way where it was just going to compromise myself in terms of either publicly, financially. There’s a number of ways and a number of reasons and certain level of intent that I think was behind those letters that actually seconded my feelings and the police agreed with me. The police thought the same thing.

MONICA ATTARD: Do you think they were out to blackmail you?

IAN THORPE: I think that was a strong possibility

MONICA ATTARD: And did they have anything with which to blackmail you?

IAN THORPE: At that stage, no.

MONICA ATTARD: Because when police searched their house they found a video labelled “Thorpe sex”. Do you have any idea what the contents of that tape might be?

IAN THORPE: I know that I’m not involved in it but, I mean, I have not seen the tape but that was one of a number of things that was found.

MONICA ATTARD: And when you say that their intention was to get you into a compromising situation, what do you mean by that? What do you think?

IAN THORPE: Well there’s a number of different things that it could be.

MONICA ATTARD: What? What?

IAN THORPE: Looking at “Thorpe sex” tape I think gives a strong example of what one of the possibilities may have been, and then there’s other things. There’s a number of ways that anyone that has either a high profile or a certain level of wealth can be blackmailed into a position that compromises them.

Finally:  the whole episode illustrates that modern popular attitudes are still, to an enormous degree, entrenched in seeing sexuality as a simple dichotomy instead of a scale like Kinsey argued, and people like Thorpe actually help this by treating "gay" as an inherent identity that they finally have to admit to.   This emphasis on identity elevates in importance aspects of personality which some previous societies used to accept (probably not always, in the case of "third sex" men, but often) as being more or less just matters of taste and potential variance over a lifetime.

In fact, I took it when reading reports of the interview that Thorpe's opening words on the topic - "I'm not straight" - might have been carefully chosen, and that he might have followed it up by taking the line that perhaps he could have been called bisexual (as he clearly still claims to have had heterosexual experiences), even if he was now satisfied that he enjoyed intimate relationships with men more than with women.  But no, it seems he went with the full on "I've come out as gay" in the subsequent parts of the interview, and once again reinforced gay identity as being an all or nothing thing.  Bit of a pity, really, if he is interested in defusing the issue for future teens in his situation.

Update:  what I think was my very first post on sexual identity in the West back in 2007 still seems very apt.   This post from 2009 on what can happen with young teens when there is rather intense concentration on the matter of sexuality in High School was worth re-reading too.  And there's another post around about young adults and sexual identity that I was re-reading last night, but I can't find it again right now.  The mystery of why Google search works poorly in my own blog remains....

Update2:  OK, here it is.

The horror...the (fluffy) horror

Have I mentioned hamsters' unsavoury habits here before?  I certainly have read about them being amongst the worst rodents for maternal cannibalism, but this hamster-ghoulish article at Slate makes the case that these cute as a button rodents are actually the Hannibal Lecters of the rodent world:
It’s also strange that Syrian hamsters should be popular, considering they’re ferociously territorial. If you’re going to keep two or more adults in the same tank, they require lots of personal space. The animals have scent glands on their flanks, which they use to mark territory, so it’s also recommended that you provide separate food, water, and bedding sources. Fail to give them enough space or resources, and they’ll eat each other for fun.
I’ve seen it.

I thought I’d provided Frank and Shirley with a hamster Taj Mahal. They had tubes leading to running wheels and skylights and loop-de-loops. Fresh water and all the seeds they could eat. All the same, one day I came home from elementary school to find Shirley huddled up in a corner. What was left of Frank—a wad of wet fur, a few toothpick-like bones—lay among the wood chips.
And we get a fair bit of detail about how extremely common it is for hamster mother's to snack immediately on a couple of offspring:
For those in the hamster biz, it’s accepted that more than 75 percent of Syrian hamster dams (mommies) will cannibalize part of their litter within the first day of birth. Beery’s own research suggests this estimate is probably on the low side.
In fact, in an experiment that had her up at all hours of the night checking for births, Beery found that 100 percent of her dams ate between 2 and 11 pups. (A second experiment showed a cannibalization rate of 74 percent, though Beery says they only checked the litters in the morning, which means they likely missed middle-of-the-night cannibalization in the other 26 percent.)
The reasons why they do this are not at all clear, as you can read in the article.   And even in the wild, adult hamster life is a constant danger, at least for the males (even though, oddly, it seems the Mums prefer to eat their female babies):
Unfortunately for the hamsters, the carnage extends beyond birth. Syrian hamsters are solitary in the wild. When they’re not in heat, females are extremely aggressive. And because estrous occurs about one out of every four days, that means enterprising males run the risk of disembowelment about 25 percent of the time. (Remember those scent glands? A male hamster’s ability to detect estrous may save his life.)
I'm not sure that there is any popular pet with quite the same disturbing habits.

Pet rats, incidentally, have a much nicer reputation re cannibalism.

Only Slartibartfast knows

There's a rather excellent article over at Nature about the great confusion that astronomers are now in regarding their theory of how your average solar system forms. 

Long story short: sure, a nice simple-ish set up like in our solar system with rocky planets near the sun, and gas giants further out, lent itself well to a pretty easily understood core-accretion theory of how planets are made; but the discovery of hundreds (probably thousands) of (to use an Americanism) weird-ass solar systems with things like gas giants incredibly close to stars, and super Earths (which make up a huge 40% of exoplanets found so far) has thrown the whole field into disarray.  

Mind you, the article doesn't even mention the peculiar Titus-Bode law regarding the spacing of planets in our solar system, which I have always suspected was a bit of a subtle hint from Slartibartfast* about his personal involvement.

Anyway, go read the whole article.  It's a very good summary of the current state of play in exoplanet discoveries, which I must admit I have not kept up with as much as readers might have expected given my general science interests.  [The problem is there have been too many announcements "oh, another "super Earth", this one only 30 light years from here.  Ho hum." ]


*  For those who arrived late.

Some (pretty rare) good news on ocean acidification?

Researchers discover oysters can adapt to climate change - ABC Rural (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

From the article:
Sydney rock oysters can adapt to ocean acidification, a key effect of
increased carbon levels, within two generations, researchers have found.
Research on Sydney rock oysters and ocean acidification has been going on for years, I believe, although I bet that most of the public is not aware of it.

Two things make me cautious, though, about this apparent good news re adaptation:

1.   in the US, ocean pH has already been clearly implicated in widespread oyster die off in certain coastal parts where upwhelming deep water already causes big pH changes.  So, the thing is, while oysters may cope with gradual average changes in pH, I wonder whether even in Australia they might be made more susceptible to temporary drops in pH when  the average has gone down.

2.  I think the evidence from the last huge ocean pH change was always that clams dominated the ocean floor, so I am not surprised that bivalves might be able to adapt.  However, there is also little doubt that the last event involved acidification at a much slower rate than what we are doing, and still the oceans ended up having a huge extinction of species.   The success of oysters may well be not that much to celebrate, even if they are tasty.

As I was predicting

Carbon tax going, but don't expect big savings

From Peter Martin's column today -

But they are unlikely to save anything like the $550 claimed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the Queensland Liberal National Party
convention at the weekend.


"It's adding 9 per cent to your power bills, it's a $9 billion handbrake on our economy and it's costing average Australian families $550 a year," Mr Abbott said, referring to the carbon tax. "So it must go."

The $550 figure comes from Treasury modelling ahead of the introduction of the tax in 2012. But only $250 of it came from electricity and gas prices. The rest came from much smaller imposts on items such as food ($46)  clothing ($29) and rent ($23). Many of the items modelled by the Treasury had price impacts described as "less than 10 cents per week".

The latest iteration of the legislation will include no penalties for businesses who don't pass their energy savings on, making a one-off saving of $250 per household more likely.

"I think that's an overestimate,” Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said on Sunday. "Gas prices are climbing sharply for reasons unconnected with the carbon tax, so it's unlikely there will be any cut in the gas price".

Australia's largest supermarket chain, Woolworths, has said that because it avoided price rises when the carbon tax was introduced there would be little room to remove them when it came off.

Coles says it is "working with suppliers to understand the implications of the change and if we identify any savings attributable to the tax changes we will pass them back to our customers".

Qantas has removed the carbon surcharge on domestic flights but says market conditions do not allow it reduce its standard fares.
So, credit for removing it is unlikely to be all that significant.  In fact, today's Newspoll showing that 53% of voters want it repealed*, yet who are still giving Labor a significant TPP lead, already indicates that this policy doesn't have the electoral magic that the Coalition thinks it does.


*  Of course, people are being asked during a cold winter snap of a few week duration across the nation, and according to Peter Brent, this might be the first time Newspoll has called it a carbon "tax".  Had they been asked in the middle of a heat wave, I reckon the figure would drop to somewhere in the 40% range.  Brent argues that most voters are not that invested in the issue - although there is little doubt that the most rabidly Right wing voters have tied up (in their minds) a huge amount of "culture war" significance to it, as they are wont to do with anything to do with climate change.  


Long term drying modelled well and expected to increase

Australia drying caused by greenhouse gases and ozone

Things don't look so good for Perth in particular.  In fact, all of the long term drying through the most populated parts of the country are a bit of a worry.

A band considered

Tommy Ramone died: They Might Be Giants' John Flansburgh pays tribute to longest living member of The Ramones.

Not that I ever heard more than a handful of their songs, I guess*, but the oddness of The Ramones and their place is music is well discussed by one of the John's in They Might be Giants on Slate.

*Update:  Actually, I think I tell a lie.  I'm pretty sure I bought a late album of theirs on vinyl, listened to it once or twice, and that was it.  I liked one or two of their songs on Rage, though. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

An operation that may be a bit less popular soon

Vasectomy raises risk of lethal prostate cancer, study shows | Society | theguardian.com

From the report:
Harvard scientists analysed the medical records of nearly 50,000 men
and found that those who had the operation were 10% more likely to be
diagnosed with the disease.
The study revealed a stronger link with the most serious forms of prostate cancer,
with rates of advanced or lethal disease rising by 20% in men who had
the procedure. The danger seemed to be highest among men who had a
vasectomy before the age of 38.
As the article goes on to note, the rate of increased risk amongst men who have had the snip is not exactly dramatic, but it's still pretty bad PR for an operation that I suspect has peaked in popularity.  (Just taking a guess on that point.)

The caffeine of war

How Coffee Fueled the Civil War - NYTimes.com

Here's something a bit out of the blue:  a great read about the huge importance of coffee to the soldiers in the American Civil War.  For example:

The Union Army encouraged this love, issuing soldiers roughly 36 pounds
of coffee each year. Men ground the beans themselves (some carbines even
had built-in grinders) and brewed it in little pots called muckets.
They spent much of their downtime discussing the quality of that
morning’s brew. Reading their diaries, one can sense the delight (and
addiction) as troops gushed about a “delicious cup of black,” or fumed
about “wishy-washy coffee.” Escaped slaves who joined Union Army camps
could always find work as cooks if they were good at “settling” the
coffee – getting the grounds to sink to the bottom of the unfiltered
muckets.
This actually explains something.  As a child, I had a quite nicely detailed soldier set of the Civil War.  It came from my eldest sister, who had married an American.  Actually it might have been my brother's set, as there was also a set of American World War 2 soldiers fighting the Japanese, if I recall correctly, and maybe we had one set each.  In any event, I ended up playing with both sets, although it is possible that my brother eventually took them with him.  He retained a fondness for setting up war scenes with soldiers well into his marriage!

Although these sets were made of plastic, I have never since seen ones that were of similar detail, perhaps short of what you can buy and paint in modeller's shops in those boxes where you only get 6 or so in a tiny set.   (I can't remember how many figures we had in ours:  I would guess a good 30 to 40 figures on each side, together with equipment.  The pieces were not designed for painting - they were able to be used just as they were, and a human figure was perhaps 3 cm high.  You sometimes see really ultra low quality soldier sets of similar size in KMart or discount variety stores, but they are absolute rubbish compared to the quality in the sets I'm talking about.)

Anyhow, I remember that the Civil War set included little pieces of camp cooking equipment, which included something that did look like a coffee pot.   So, this is the reason why, and it was indeed accurate.

PS:   it also brings up one of those fascinating odd points about the US - obviously, coffee has long been important to Americans, but it seems almost universally agreed by Australians and Europeans who visit there that the "standard" version of coffee they now consume is pretty bad compared to what we have after developing a "coffee culture" in the space of only about the last 30 to 40 years.  Did their making do with coffee brewed from whatever water was available in a field in the Civil War permanently degrade their taste for it?   Just wondering.  (And a disclaimer - I am not really a coffee snob, and I did not have a coffee habit
when I was last there over 20 years ago.  So maybe it is just coffee snobbery I am hearing - but the complaint does seem so common, I assume there is something to it.)

The Old Man and the Sea

Fight climate change by building away from sea: Rupert Murdoch

In a big weekend for disclosures that didn't really surprise anyone, the more important one was that Rupert confirmed his climate change skepticism and suggested the magic solution is (to paraphrase) "I don't know if its happening, but even if it is, don't bother trying to limit it:  just don't build big houses on the seashore."

Thanks for the sage advice, Rupe.

Another test

A test.

Update:  I just needed to post a pic from my tablet, and having done this one some time ago, just decided to use it.  But I have to say, if ever we did need a pantomime Queen Liz for a Parliamentary kid's show, it would be like he was made for the role, no?

Testing an app, just ignore

Saturday, July 12, 2014

"Say anything" Clive

No, Tony Abbott, nothing about the Senate negotiations was 'normal' | World | The Guardian

As Lenore Taylor notes:

This is, after all, the bloke who said this week, while launching a
publication on the renewable energy target:, “When it comes to fighting
climate sceptics you have to persevere.”


But before the election, asked on the ABC whether he agreed that
global warming would have a big impact on Australia, he said: “No, I
don't believe that's so. There's been global warming for a long time. I
mean, all of Ireland was covered by ice at one time. There were no human
inhabitants in Ireland. That's how the world has been going over
millions and billions of years and Ross Garnaut knows that's true, so I
think that's part of the natural cycle.”
Surely this wild inconsistency has to sink in soon through the skulls of the unengaged voters who got him in?

Sack him

Operation Sovereign Borders chief unable to answer asylum questions | World | The Guardian

The role Angus Campbell is playing in this government's refusal to supply basic information as to its conduct is a disgrace:
Asked where the 153 asylum seekers were, Campbell said: “In regard to
that issue and the venture that you speak of, that is a matter under
consideration by the high court so it would be inappropriate for me to
comment further.”...


Campbell was later questioned about the capabilities of vessels
involved in asylum-seeker operations. Asked by the Greens senator Sarah
Hanson-Young what the capacity of the Ocean Protector was, he said:
“Again I don’t have the answer to that at hand and if you wish me to
take it on notice I will refer that to the Australian Customs and Border
Protection Service.”


Hanson-Young then asked: “And how many people would the Triton hold?”

Campbell: “I’ll have to refer that to the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.”

Get a room, you two

Rupert Murdoch: It’s one of my lifetime achievements | 50th Birthday | News | | The Australian

Good Lord, hasn't it been embarrassing watching Paul Kelly write page after page for what seems like the last 6 months about the grandeur of the 50th birthday of Rupert Murdoch's newspaper which has sunk to the level of objectivity shared by Green Left Weekly?

I trust Kelly, always a tedious analyst who loves to take 1000 words to say what could be said in 200, is at least  getting paid well for such PR guff and embarrassing promotion of a boss who increasing looks like Mr Burns.  Actually, Mr Burns can open his eyes wider that Rupert appears now capable of doing.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Kant is hard work

Kant confusion | TLS

This review of another book about Kant's moral philosophy starts out well, pointing out the problems people see with the categorical imperative, but as it gets more and more into the detail of Kant's terminology, the more one remembers what hard work it can be to follow his arguments.

Still, it's worth a read.

And it reminds me - one of my fantasy film scripts or novels was going to be about Kant not being a fussy virgin who never left his home town, but an early James Bond doing secret spy work across 18th Europe during university holidays.   I mean, just look at those bedroom eyes:


Image result for Kant

This could be the hardest pitch ever to a Hollywood studio - but you have to admit it is original.  (I hope.)

He (and they) really likes the film

Boyhood review – one of the great films of the decade | Peter Bradshaw | Film | The Guardian
 Like the fabled Jesuit, Richard Linklater has taken the boy and given us the man. In so doing, he's created a film that I love more than I can say. And there is hardly a better, or
nobler thing a film can do than inspire love.
It has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes too, which is rare.   I will see it.

Relationship problems, Adam?

If anyone has read Adam Creighton's blog entry in The Australian today,  and understands his point, could you kindly drop by and explain it to me?

My quick take is that it's an impenetrable mish mash of a discussion about no fault divorce and economic consequences of divorce and how women now do things differently and that may not be good and maybe we'd all be better off (how exactly is not explained) if there was fault based divorce that still didn't actually require fault.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Highly Radioactive Man

The Tragic Tale Of Atomic Man: Life As A Radioactive Human | Gizmodo Australia

I don't recall reading the story of Harold McClusky before.  It seems remarkable he survived so long...

A Bolt apology

Andrew Bolt the latest to apologise over Tony Abbott's wall punch | Richard Ackland | Comment is free | theguardian.com

It's a pity he only had to make it on radio.  Didn't he suggest the Ramjan incident didn't happen in his blog?  I would have expected so, but can't be bothered looking.


Comedian needs another job

I never thought Jimeoin was particularly funny:  inoffensive though.

But from the parts of SBS's "Full Brazilian" show I have seen: man oh man, does this comedian need to find another line of work, or what?   Or are other, completely burnt out, unfunny writers responsible for the dire lack of successful humour that he tries to deliver on the show? 

It's been awful.

I feel a bit mean saying it, in a way, because his dumb persona is successful to the extent that one imagines he is unemployable for any more challenging task.  And he is still inoffensive.

Lucky no one much reads this blog, then. 


Ice, ice, baby

Cooling protects oxygen-deprived infants : Nature News & Comment

A team led by Denis Azzopardi, a neonatologist at King’s College London, lowered the body temperature of 145 full-term babies who were born after at least 36 weeks of gestation. All were at risk of brain damage because they had been deprived of oxygen during birth — a problem that is often caused by troubles with the placenta or umbilical cord, and affects nearly 750,000 babies a year in the United Kingdom.

The researchers cooled the infants to between 33°C and 34°C for 72 hours, starting within 6 hours of birth. The technique is known to boost the chances that children avoid brain damage until they become toddlers2, but any longer-term benefits have remained unclear.

The study finds treated babies had better mental and physical health than untreated infants through to ages 6 or 7: they were 60% more likely to have normal intelligence, hearing and vision. Those who survived to childhood also had fewer disabilities such as difficulty walking and seeing.
Interesting, eh?

The dumb Right celebrates

Andrew Bolt is happy to see himself on the cover of The Spectator, but is cranky that the Senate is not supporting budget measures that were supposed to make up for loss of revenue from the carbon price.

There are two possible ways of looking at this:  the first, that by softening cuts, Palmer (and Labor) actually help Abbott's position with many in the electorate who have stop supporting him since the budget.   Maybe Abbott will happily enough muddle through to the next election.

The second:  that this is really untenable, and a double dissolution is needed to give one side or the other some clear air going forward in terms of long term fiscal and policy approach.

I'm still leaning towards the second view, but want more rope out there for Palmer and his Senate fan club to hang themselves with (metaphorically speaking, of course) before the next election.

I would say a double dissolution by early 2015 would do OK, thanks.

Update:  the ideological driven Right celebrates too, with much excitement over a bald Senator who got there by a combination of deception and luck (don't believe me? - check the LDP vote in every other State, including WA in their rerun) mouthing philosophical platitudes that give them a warm inner glow but reflect next to nothing on the practicalities of running a modern society and government, except in the fantasy Libertarian World that's been overtaken by about 180 years of history. 

Amusingly, the LDP with it abhorrence of taxes (just because they are taxes) is also crushing the Coalitions budget, but not for political gamesmanship of the kind Labor and the Greens are engaging in (carrying on in the same manner that the Coalition did in opposition) but because they really truly believe it - that repairing a budget is best achieved by giving up lots of tax revenue.   (Oh, OK, they would fix that by simply stopping government spending instantly on a multitude of things, overnight.   Leyonhjelm's alternative budget was a stinking pile of poo that outdoes the wrong priorities of Abbott by at least one order of magnitude.)

So what's worse - politicians who block things for the purposes of tactical advantage, or ones who block things because of ideologically driven wrong headedness?   I already know the answer to that - there is no arguing with Leyonhjelm or his ilk because they are purely ideologically driven.  The sooner he is out of the Senate, the better.




Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Stem cell failures we don't hear (much) about

Stem cell treatment causes nasal growth in woman's back - health - 08 July 2014 - New Scientist

I've always been somewhat skeptical of stem cell therpy, and the enthusiasm with which researchers wanted to mash up embryos to get them.  (I know, the title story of the nose growing on a woman's spine is not involving embryonic cells, but I am still leery of playing around with embryos for any reason.)

So it's interesting to note that there have been spectacular failures in their experimental use, and that we don't seem to ever hear much about them:
There are thought to be more than 1000 ongoing stem cell trials, including two on the US clinical trial register ClinicalTrials.gov, which use olfactory ensheathing cells (see main story, above). However there is an unknown number of people visiting private clinics for unregulated stem cell treatments.

As there is no global register it is unknown how many people have developed additional problems as a result of such therapies, but a few cases have come to light of tumours or excessive tissue growth. One of the first people to receive fetal cells to treat Parkinson's disease was a 50-year-old US citizen in China. Upon his death in 1991, 23 months later, he was found at autopsy to have a teratoma growing in his brain that contained hairs and cartilage (Neurology, doi.org/tjt).


A more highly publicised case was in 2009, when an Israeli teenager developed brain and spinal tumours  after receiving several implants of fetal stem cells in Moscow to treat
a rare degenerative condition. And in 2010, a 46-year-old woman developed multiple tumours in her kidney after having her own bone marrow stem cells injected at a private clinic in an attempt to treat her kidney failure.


There have also been at least three cases of people developing leukaemia after receiving stem cells from umbilical cord blood. However, that is less surprising as ordinary bone marrow
transplants – which are a source of blood stem cells – also carry that risk.

As someone says in the article:
"It is sobering," says George Daley, a stem cell researcher at Harvard Medical School who has helped write guidelines for people considering stem cell treatments. "It speaks directly to how primitive our state of knowledge is about how cells integrate and divide and expand. "


The case shows that even when carried out at mainstream hospitals, experimental stem cell therapies can have unpredictable consequences, says Alexey Bersenev, a stem cell research analyst who blogs at Cell Trials. "We have to realise complications can also happen in a clinical trial," he says.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Meanwhile, in Bahrain

Man arrested for cross-dressing in Bahrain | GulfNews.com
A man was sentenced to one month in prison followed by deportation after he was apprehended for wearing women’s accessories and makeup in Bahrain.

The expatriate Arab was arrested by a police patrol as he was walking “in a feminine way” in the Bahraini capital Manama and attracted the attention of the servicemen.

He said that he worked in a women’s beauty salon and that his profession demanded that he always looked elegant and wore the latest fashion accessories to set a positive example for his clients.

The public prosecution was not convinced by the arguments and charged him with encouraging debauchery. He was subsequently referred to a court that ruled to keep him in jail for one month.
Well, I certainly hope that Arab police are given adequate training at their academies on how to spot questionable "walking in a feminine way".

More generally:
Cross-dressing is banned in Bahrain and in the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states — Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Foreigners who are apprehended for their “unacceptable looks” in public are often jailed for a short period before they are sent home.
Local conservatives have regularly called for tougher measures against cross-dressers and gays, accusing them of spreading vice, particularly among young people.

Sort of good news

Significant step towards blood test for Alzheimer's