Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sorcerers don't have human rights, apparently

In something approaching a whole metaphorical forest being in the eye of a critic, The Independent notes the hide of Saudi Arabia criticizing Norway for its human rights record.

Meanwhile, back in the desert country, sorcerers are beheaded, government internet critics are arrested, and a fierce argument continues over whether women should be allowed to drive. 

Mini black holes under review

For those interested, here's a paper looking at mini black holes, noting that:

a. there is no evidence that they have been produced at the LHC thus far (mind you, its next run is - I think - at about double the previous energy);

b. searches for them from cosmic ray collisions in the atmosphere might have a better chance;

c. there are a lot of reasons why they might never be found - there are a lot of things not understood at that scale.

The IPA convenes emergency meeting to discuss push back to Abbott's increased tax plan

I'm pretty sure that's Sinclair Davidson in the middle. He hasn't been posting much lately.

What I learnt from My Kitchen Rules

*  Presumably, "deconstructed" (by which I mean "easier to make") versions of classic dishes are all the rage at high class restaurants (none of which I have been to for at least 12 months);

*  Presumably, the other half of the menu at such restaurants comprises "confit" items;

*  No one with a family would ever bother wasting an entire tin of olive oil on a confit dish, and who can be bothered standing there for 20 minutes with a thermometer anyway?;

*  even snooty women with disturbing mouths that keep reminding you of the Joker (once this has been pointed out to you) are capable of reproduction;

Ben Pobjie can be very, very funny

Mixed Spielberg news

I've been getting depressed waiting on Steven Spielberg to decide on his next movie project.  It's been a long time since he was filming Lincoln.

Of course, I was rather underwhelmed to read that he has committed to making a live action version of Dahl's BFG, which I have never read but assume to be rather slight. 

There has also been news that he may make a Cold War era film with Tom Hanks - that sounds a bit more promising, but I have grown fairly cool on Hanks, despite a pretty good turn he did as Captain Phillips.

Most promising of all, however, is that there is a script being developed by Tony Kushner for a recent book about the fascinating Egardo Mortara kidnapping case from Italy in the 1800's.  Now that's potential meaty material for a good Spielberg film.   I thought Kushner did a really good job on the Lincoln film, so here's hoping Spielberg takes this on.

As an aside, I don't really know what is coming up for the American summer movie season that is only weeks away.  Now that I check a list - wow, there is really little to be excited about.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Poor little rich country

BBC News - Has wealth made Qatar happy?

From the link:
Local media report that 40% of Qatari marriages now end in divorce.
More than two-thirds of Qataris, adults and children, are obese.

Qataris benefit from free education, free healthcare, job
guarantees, grants for housing, even free water and electricity, but
abundance has created its own problems.

"It's bewildering for students to graduate and be faced with
20 job offers," one academic at an American university campus in Qatar
tells me. "People feel an overwhelming pressure to make the right

In a society where Qataris are outnumbered roughly seven-to-one by
expatriates, long-term residents speak of a growing frustration among
graduates that they are being fobbed off with sinecures while the most
satisfying jobs go to foreigners.

Hugh White on defence spending

Defence challenge: reconciling Australia's warfare shopping list with reality

I knew it was probably all pie in the sky - the Abbott promise to increase Defence spending up to 2% of GDP.  Hugh White explains why:
Abbott has promised toincrease the defence budget, setting a target of 2 per cent of GDP by2024. That would be enough to cover all the current plans, but defence spending would have to grow at almost 5 per cent in real terms everyyear for a decade.

This would be unprecedented in peacetime. For example it is much faster than when the Howard government grew defence spending from 2000-2007, when fiscal and economic conditions were much rosier and the ADF was heavily committed to the war on terror. One wonders whether the Abbott government is really willing for Defence spending to grow so fast when it is cutting so hard everywhere else.

If not, then big savings will have to be found. And though efficiency campaigns and personnel cuts can deliver small savings, big savings only come from cutting big investment projects.

That puts the spotlight on four big new capabilities planned for the next decade. They are the new submarines, a new class of warships, a new fleet of armoured fighting vehicles for Army, and the F-35s. Without massive defence budget increases, at least one of these
projects will need to be scrapped or drastically scaled back if the government is to produce a financially credible defence policy.
 I say we keep the Army at home for a change, and put the money into the submarine program.

Getting both wetter and drier in India

Extremes in wet, dry spells increasing for South Asian monsoons

Ah, that old topic that climate change deniers can't get their brain around.  Yes, climate can get both wetter and drier (that is, more extremes of both can happen.)  It is apparently happening in parts of India, connected with the monsoon.  Is climate change the cause?  It's left as an open question, but you wouldn't be betting against a connection there.

But I use a deodorant...

The scent of a man: Mice and rats stressed by male experimenters

A rather surprising finding - just the smell of male experimenters causes a stress reaction in mice and rats in labs.  

Peter's list

I see that Peter Martin's list of hints as to what the Abbott could do regarding the Budget contains what I said in my post of a few weeks ago (keep the carbon tax, mining tax and raise the GST next election.)    He also notes that leaving the current carbon scheme in place is estimated to save the Budget $6 billion over four years.  That's pretty close to the money to be raised by the mooted "deficit levy", isn't it? 

I don't understand enough about superannuation and its tax treatment to follow the continual suggestions made to reform it.  It does seem there's significant room for movement there. 

Red alert at the IPA

Even while I have my doubts that the "deficit levy" is necessary or wise (as a lead up to a serious proposal to expand GST somewhat, and review some tax benefits which need cutting, it may be a reasonable step, I guess), it amuses me greatly to imagine the panic button being hit at the IPA that their hoped for pet government is even considering a new tax. Many phone calls are being made, I presume, although the attitude to the proposal by their major donors would be good to know. I mean, is reflexive opposition to all taxes written into the IPA's constitution, or does it depend on what their current major donor thinks? The first IPA attempt at pushback appears at the AFR this morning, apparently. It's boring and predictable.

Postscript:   why aren't any economics commentators making the point about the pain to the budget bottom line that abolishing the carbon tax and replacing it with Direct Action  involves?  I bet some people at least would prefer to have no levy and a carbon price.

Also - it is completely unpredictable what will happen with populist, but ignorant, crazy man Clive controlling the Senate.  You never know - sometimes you end up with compromises that are better than the government's original deal - but I sure don't feel confident with Clive (and anyone who would follow him) in effective control the Senate.

The sooner the Palmer Party fractures, the better.  Not that it will improve certainty in the short term, but it would make them unelectable next election.

Update:  much amusement to be had watching the rending of clothes happening at Catallaxy threads like this one, too.  Boys and girls, you conned yourselves into thinking the carbon pricing scheme and mining tax were ruining the country, despite no convincing evidence.   You wanted a populist PM who would promise to remove them, forgetting perhaps that this was leaving a multi billion dollar hole in the coming budgets at a time a deficit needed to be addressed, hey?  Your IPA inspired list of things the government should stop paying for is a just a dream people will not vote for - witness the 1.8% of the vote the party most committed to small government got in the WA election.  So reap what you sow in terms of increased taxes from elsewhere, buddies.

Update 2:   Ahah - here comes the media release, this time from Julie Novak arguing that:
 ... the proposed deficit levy sends the signal the government wants to punish people who work hard to improve the living standards of themselves and their families....

Those on higher incomes in the PAYG system already bear the brunt of the income tax burden, with more than 60% of net income tax paid by individuals earning over $80,000 each year.
 Ah, so it will hurt the "aspirational".  Funnily enough, remember just a couple of weeks ago Julie was complaining about increasing the GST would disproportionately hurt the poor.

It would simplify things greatly if the IPA would just release press releases saying "new taxes? - of course we always oppose them, for whatever reason strikes our fancy at the time."

Monday, April 28, 2014

It's all rather complicated..

Orthodox, celibate, gay and that's OK | David Benkof | Ops & Blogs | The Times of Israel

Gee.  Via First Things, I found this long column by a gay, celibate Orthodox Jew all about how he disagrees with some opinion within Orthodox circles that celibacy is not really a reasonable option to expect of gay men.

The variety of opinion within Judaism appears quite vast, including within the Orthodox branch.

Here's a particularly unusual part of the column (with frum meaning traditionally observant, as explained near the start of the article):
So what should a frum gay man who simply cannot achieve celibacy do? Actually, our tradition has addressed such questions. In the Gemara (Masechet Moed Katan 17a), Rabbi Il’ai states that if a man’s urges to see a prostitute overcome him, he should wear black, go to a place where he’s anonymous, and do what he must – so there’s no chilul Hashem (desecration of God’s name). That teaching shouldn’t be taken as a literal prescription for gay men looking for a legitimate sexual outlet. But it shows that the Torah doesn’t consider sexual behavior to be “all or nothing,” and that Jews should seek to attenuate sexual transgressions.

Indeed, there are vastly more possibilities than the three choices many Orthodox gay men describe: promiscuity, partnered sex, and total celibacy. Every frum gay man should
seek rabbinic counsel before determining his approach to private behavior. But here’s an example of something for which a gay man might request a heter: hiring a professional, straight, non-erotic massage therapist in order to experience occasional male touch. It’s not ideal because it could lead to arousal, but it’s definitely better than actual sexual encounters – whether with a life partner or a stranger.

Speaking of which, should a gay guy who feels he cannot remain celibate choose a private, exclusive bond with one man over occasional, discreet hookups with strangers? It probably depends on what “a private, exclusive bond” and “occasional, discreet hookups” mean. Such topics are precisely why Orthodox Jews go to their rabbis for
halachic advice.
Catholic reasoning gets exceptionally detailed in terms of what straight sex can involve (people don't realise this, I am sure, because nearly all priests have given up as a lost cause any attempt to actually try to spell out the details.  Given nearly all of the laity think Catholic teaching on contraception makes no sense, they have good reason not to discuss the other details of married sex.)   But what Catholic reasoning tends not to get into is the preferable ways to sin sexually if you really have to.  That's what makes these paragraphs sound odd.

Actually, it has also just occurred to me that the entire column doesn't mention masturbation, which seems a bit of an oversight if one is considering in nitty gritty detail what gay men can be (more or less) excused for doing.  Are rabbis just too queasy about that topic?  (Well, it's not as if there is much Christian discussion of that topic either - and it is probably fair to say that if want a religion where you'll find someone who'll excuse it for men, Islam is probably number one.  Of course, some Islamic analysis even allows for temporary marriages for travelling husbands too, which is perhaps the most flexible religious attitude for men wanting sex "legitimately" that has ever been devised.)

Anyhow, it shows again the extensive reconsideration going on across many religions about how to view homosexuality.

Update: it has also occurred to me that this sort of topic used to be the favourite one of conservative but gay Catholic blogger John Heard at his Dreadnought blog.  He always used to argue that Catholic insistence on celibacy for gay folk was not cruel.   Googling him this morning, I see that he has changed his mind on legal gay civil marriage - he now supports it. As I say, changes are happening across the board.

Camille really knows how to praise alcohol

Camille Paglia has an opinion piece in Time arguing that the US drinking age of 21 needs to be dropped to 18, and in the course of the argument, makes many points I have when comparing drinking to marijuana:
Alcohol relaxes, facilitates interaction, inspires ideas and promotes humor and hilarity. Used in moderation, it is quickly flushed from the system, with excess punished by a hangover. But deadening pills, such as today’s massively overprescribed antidepressants, linger in body and brain and may have unrecognized long-term side effects. Those toxic chemicals, often manufactured by shadowy firms abroad, have been worrisomely present in a recent uptick of unexplained suicides and massacres. Half of the urban professional class in the U.S. seems doped on meds these days.

As a libertarian, I support the decriminalization of marijuana, but there are many problems with pot. From my observation, pot may be great for jazz musicians and Beat poets, but it saps energy and willpower and can produce physiological feminization in men. Also, it is difficult to measure the potency of plant-derived substances like pot. With brand-name beer or liquor, however, purchased doses have exactly the same strength and purity from one continent to another, with no fear of contamination by dangerous street additives like PCP.

Exhilaration, ecstasy and communal vision are the gifts of Dionysus, god of wine. Alcohol’s enhancement of direct face-to-face dialogue is precisely what is needed by today’s technologically agile generation, magically interconnected yet strangely isolated by social media. Clumsy hardcore sexting has sadly supplanted simple hanging out over a beer at a buzzing dive. By undermining the art of conversation, the age-21 law has also had a disastrous effect on our arts and letters, with their increasing dullness and mediocrity. This tyrannical infantilizing of young Americans must stop!
 Maybe she goes a bit over the top, but I generally agree.  (Except with the decriminalising bit!)

Can't get enough Piketty

Piketty's "Capital," in a Lot Less than 696 Pages - Justin Fox - Harvard Business Review

I like this summary of the book.  In particular, it makes the same point that this article in Slate did - Piketty's approach is refreshingly evidence driven. (Apparently.)

So, being No 1 on the ticket wasn't why people voted LDP, hey?

I've been meaning to rub this in for a while.

The Liberal Democrat Party got a Senator (and one with a fairly high profile, as small party candidates go) in New South Wales when it got 9.5% of the vote.

Anyone inclined to argue that it was because people are warming to "small government" policies, and not because it ended up as effectively "first" on the ballot paper and had "Liberal" in its name never really had any credibility if one cared to look at the vote in the other States.

But given Leyonhjelm has had a fair bit of media exposure since his surprise win, how did the party fare in the Western Australian election?   Here we go:  1.82% of the vote, just beating the Australian Christians at 1.54%.

I think we can safely say there is no inherent electoral fondness for this party in Australia.

Just plain nuts

A journalist/writer for Esquire was at the Bundy ranch noting what the nutters (including Bundy himself) were saying, even before he gave the world his negro analysis. 

I see looking around the net that there is in fact an anti Hannity/Fox backlash who are upset at the way Bundy was dumped by the network.   The right wing nut-o-sphere is going to be very active this week in attacking Fox (and even Glenn Beck, who never thought Bundy's cause was just in the first place.)

Changing attitudes in Japan

First lady Akie Abe joins gay parade in Shibuya | The Japan Times

I didn't know they had gay parades in Tokyo, but it seems surprising that the wife of the PM had attended.

My impression is that the Japanese sort of ignore homosexuality, rather than actively discriminate against it, but I could be wrong.

While I'm praising the Weekly Standard...

...I will go on to note that they have an article arguing (with several points I had not heard before) against the "inevitable" movement towards marijuana legalisation in the US.

I would not mind betting that there is something of a push back against this policy in those States that do legalise it, perhaps within 3 to 5 years.

A Marx wannabe?

I've noted before that Henry Ergas physically reminds me of Groucho MarxI think he's now trying to emulate him (unsuccessfully) in other ways, too. (If you imagine this dire piece of writing set to music, perhaps.)

Such is the standard of right wing economic analysis these days, eh? 

The one right wing outlet that got it right

Uncivil Disobedience | The Weekly Standard

Several commentators are noting that The Weekly Standard called out Bundy and his supporters in very clear terms even before he made his "negro" commentary.

Some congratulations are in order for a small segment of the American Right, then.

Harsh, but probably fair

Climbing Everest is the peak of hubris | Tanya Gold | Comment is free | The Guardian

Inconsistency ignored

I suppose I can't complain too much, as I suspect that Australia can get by with a lot less than 72 of the JSFs.  But I didn't realise that blustering defence minister David Johnston has not been questioned by any journalist about his change of heart:
Why, then, didn't the RAAF get a boost from the heroic Liberal Government working tirelessly to redress the legion funding injustices rendered unto Defence by Labor? Dating back to 2009, Defence Minister David Johnston made clear that he thought an order for 72 a copout, complaining on November 26 of that year that "The 2009 Defence White Paper had outlined the purchase of 100 Joint Strike Fighters but the Rudd government will now only commit to a maximum of 72, with the rest to be considered 'at a later date'." 

Last year, Johnston was crystal clear in saying he thought a JSF order of less than 100 was a sign of incompetence, a broken promise, a number the Coalition supported. What's changed?

While talk is cheap - and fighter jets aren't - my takeaway from this is that a government of no surprises and no excuses surprised no observers by breaking a promise to sharply increase spending here, and didn't really offer an excuse. Seen through the prism of mooted pension and Medicare cuts, this might seem odd - but the Coalition relies on a quaint presumption that it's stronger on defence for little other reason than they say so.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Annoying leftisms noted

I don't care much for Bill Maher, but at least I give him credit for openly admitting that politically correct Leftisms can be really annoying and over the top.  His conclusion, though, is valid.  Watch the video here.

And you might also want to watch him on the Bundy matter, from whom right wingers are now running with great speed.

Sunday bug

Not a perfect shot, but it kept moving, dang it:

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saturday paper

Some weekends, the Saturday Sydney Morning Herald just seems to hit all the right notes.

I see that Mark Dapin has started writing for Good Weekend again.  He's the sort of bloke with whom I think I would have little in the way of common topics to talk about over a beer, but I have always enjoyed his wry, self deprecating writing style.  Take today's column, for example.  I found it particularly interesting for the mention of the "I'm not really dead, it's all a mistake" dreams after his grandfather died, since I had many of them myself after my father died.   As I think I have written before in this blog, they seem to be particularly relevant to how a certain resurrection story recently commemorated around the world may have been created; but then again, if lots of people have experienced parents dying young, as they often did back then, why wouldn't skeptics be saying  "don't be daft, you've just had the generic grief dream that we've all had when Pop died."   (I wonder if Mel Gibson knows how that translate that into Aramaic.)

One other writer who has started appearing regularly in Good Weekend is Benjamin Law.  Look, when he's talking about himself he can come across as too gay-ly self absorbed, but he does win me over with his cheeriness and (again) a large dollop of self deprecation.  He appears to enjoy good relations with his Asian family, despite his sexuality.   Here are his comments today about the weird reluctance of the Australian hotel industry to embrace wi fi.   He is, generally, I think, another good writer.

Speaking of self deprecation, Richard Glover reminds us (it's certainly not an original thought) that Australia loves a loser.  But, like him, I think it an endearing part of the national identity rather than a problem. 

As for straight journalism, David Wroe writes that one advantage of the JSF purchase is that it will boost local high tech manufacturing.   This is a not insignificant point, given what's happened to the car industry:
Some $335 million in manufacturing work has already gone to Australian firms and it is hoped this will rise to $1.5 billion. All up, including servicing and support over coming decades, the government says business opportunity could reach $7.5 billion. It will not replace the car industry, but it is high-tech work and a green shoot in manufacturing.

But those opportunities depend on our buying a decent number of the fighters, also called the F-35 Lightning II, from the US. The original expectation was for 100 aircraft. The Abbott government's announcement this week takes Australia's commitment to 72 - and possibly up to 24 more when the current Super Hornet is ready for retirement from 2030 onward.
I don't know enough to say how few fighter jets one can realistically purchase to have a viable set up of local maintenance and training, but given we virtually never use fighters for anything resembling real warfare, my inclination would be to keep that number as low as possible.  I suspect we could get by with many fewer than 72, though.   In the 50's would be my guess.

Update:  I forgot to add - Bob Ellis reviews Bob Carr's book (favourably, of course) but I can't find a link to it.  I also was interested in this article about the author Stefan Zweig, who Wes Anderson said "inspired" (very loosely, apparently) The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Friday, April 25, 2014

For Anzac Day

I noted here a couple of month ago how very, very impressed I was with the Australian War Memorial, after visiting it last Christmas for the first time in perhaps 25 years.

I hadn't looked at its presence on the 'net til today though.  It looks like its loaded with good stuff.   It is probably the only government website in existence that would be popular with all Australians of all political persuasions.  (Well, not entirely sure about some Greens..)

Lets's look at a digitised official war diary at random...

Here's one talking about the return to Australia by No 16 Quota AIF in 1919.  A pretty happy diary, given they were returning.  I see that a heck of a lot of time in camp and on the ship was spent in organised sport:  a good thing I wasn't there, then.

I also see that before they left England it was Anzac Day and there is reference to a march - I wouldn't have thought it was even recognised in 1919, but there you go.  The diary entry notes:
 "ANZAC DAY as far as possible observed as a holiday for all men remaining in camp."
Apart from the relentless number of sporting competitions organised,  there are many concerts mentioned, even a "fancy dress promenade and ball" on the ship which was pronounced to be one of the most successful events of the trip.   I can't quite work out if women were involved, however.  I think there is earlier mention of nursing sisters, but I don't think many, and one would imagine they would be kept far apart...

They weren't allowed to get off at Port Said.  The reason - naughty soldiers that were there before them:
"I consider that the troops of the Wyreema should be punished by the fact of their larrikinism at Port Said being put before the Public in some tangible form such as the press pointing out the effect it had on all subsequent Australian troops being treated as social outcasts at the ports of call en route to Australia".
The trip met some very hot weather after that - so much so that the ship's chef died of heatstroke and was buried at sea.  Later, another person died of appendicitis.

They were allowed ashore at Colombo (just for the day, not overnight.)  The next morning:
"A parade and roll call this morning disclosed the somewhat surprising fact that there were none missing"
The actual arrival home is not described in much detail.  One other odd thing - there is mention of men getting "inoculation anti-influenza".  With what, I wonder?

Anyway, just one glimpse of war time life from a random diary...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Background to Bundy

Bundy Ranch, vigilantism going mainstream: The idea that the Constitution is interpreted at the point of a gun isn’t new.

As the article says, the difference between the old constitutional vigilantism and the current version is support from the likes of Fox News and many in the Tea Party sympathetic Right wing blogosphere:
The protesters at Bundy Ranch voice the same rhetoric of constitutional vigilantism honed by the Klan, the Posse, and the militias. What has changed is that this philosophy is no longer limited to the radical fringe but has become a respectable position offered up by mainstream political figures like Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, who called the protesters “patriots,” and by a stream of Fox News commentators like Sean Hannity and Andrew Napolitano, who called Bundy a hero for standing up to federal abuse.
Emboldened by their apparent victory at Bundy Ranch, the new constitutional vigilantes are asking where they can take the fight next.  Cliven Bundy declared it a victory for “We the People.” But that can only be true if we want the Constitution to mean whatever an armed mob
says it means.
Stand proud, Rupert Murdoch.  Your search for ratings and profit is making America a more dangerous place.

Piketty responses

I haven't had time to read all of this, and will probably have a bit of trouble following some of the arguments, but Brad DeLong has an interesting looking summary of the reaction to Piketty, including the criticisms.

El Nino forecast update

I see that the BOM put out an update earlier this week, confirming that an El Nino is very likely, and could be confirmed by about July:
The likelihood of El Niño remains high, with all climate models surveyed by the Bureau now indicating El Niño is likely to occur in 2014. Six of the seven models suggest El Niño thresholds may be exceeded as early as July. 

The Pacific Ocean has been warming along the equator over recent weeks, with continued warming in the central Pacific likely in coming months. Another burst of westerly winds is presently occurring in the western Pacific, and is likely to cause further warming of the sub-surface.

El Niño has an impact across much of the world, including below average rainfall in the western Pacific and Indonesian regions, and increased rainfall in the central and eastern Pacific. For Australia, El Niño is usually associated with below average rainfall, with about two thirds of El Niño events since 1900 resulting in major drought over large areas of Australia.

The amazing, poisonous hypocrisy of the current Right wing tribalism

This article at Slate ("Conservative Tribalism") gives an account of some of the issues in American which the Right used to support, but about which they have done an about face for no apparent reason other than  Liberals (and Obama in particular) support them.   (The biggest example - the health care reforms that were good enough for Romney when he was governor, but are now supposed to be socialist extremism - turns out to be only one of many examples.)

And for a bit of humour, the ridiculous hypocrisy of Fox News on the Bundy confrontation was skewered perfectly by Jon Stewart recently.  You can watch it via Salon.

When will enough on the Right in America come back to common sense and send the Tea Party and their rich enablers packing?

Tattoo push back

BBC News - The ways tattoos can get you into trouble

It's not just religious sensitivities or cultural values at play. In October 2012, the head of the Metropolitan Police in the UK forbade police officers and staff from getting visible tattoos because they "damaged the professional image" of the force. The US Army has also just released a new rulebook on tattoos.
In addition to banning extremist, indecent, sexist and racist tattoos,
soldiers are now prohibited from having tattoos on their head, face,
neck, wrists, hands and fingers. Sleeve tattoos are banned below the
elbow and knee, with the number of visible tattoos - which must be
smaller than the size of the wearer's hand - limited to four. 
Excellent news.

Cannabis and hearts

I didn't see this one coming:
Marijuana use may result in cardiovascular-related complications—even death—among young and middle-aged adults, according to a French study reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association....

 Researchers note that marijuana use and any resulting health complications are likely underreported. There are 1.2 million regular users in France, and thus potentially a large amount of complications that are not detected by the French Addictovigilance System.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Economic guesswork (please see updates too)

Here are a couple of people with some apparent credentials in the field who think that the IPCC is doing a poor job at making accurate forecasts of the economic consequences of climate change.  (They seem to think it is being too optimistic.)

Common sense suggests they are right.

But while I would not want there to be less research on the topic, I'll repeat my gripe that I find it pretty incredible that anyone thinks that economic forecasting that extends beyond about a 10 to 20 year horizon, and which is trying to take into account large uncertainties in terms of the potential for natural disasters of a scale not seen since industrialisation, has any real hope of being accurate.

The simple point is - we do not want to have to re-order the world to meet a potential for 2 to 5 degree average global temperature rise (and a global rearrangement of rainfall that would surely also be involved) if we don't really have to.   Such an increase is self evidently going to be extremely disruptive (given that the difference between an ice age and a warm interglacial may be as little as 2.6 degrees), to countries both rich and poor, and the possible compounding effect of the types of natural disaster one upon the other are really impossible to foresee.

Economics should not be allowed to overrule common sense on this issue.  There is plenty of reason to assume some unprecedented disasters in terms of humanitarian, cultural and economic life, so act to limit the potential now.

Update:  for more detail on the confusing way economic analysis is used by the IPCC, you could do worse than read this post at Real Climate, and the comments following.

Update 2:  I note from poking around The Conversation (and finding a comment by Eli Rabbett) that there is other academic support for my common sense skepticism about applying economics to climate change.     Here is the abstract from a recent paper by Rosen and Guenther, which can be read in its entirety here:
The long-term economics of mitigating climate change over the long run has played a high profile role in the most important analyses of climate change in the last decade, namely the Stern Report and the IPCC's Fourth Assessment. However, the various kinds of uncertainties that affect these economic results raise serious questions about whether or not the net costs and benefits of mitigating climate change over periods as long as 50 to 100 years can be known to such a level of accuracy that they should be reported to policymakers and the public. This paper provides a detailed analysis of the derivation of these estimates of the long-term economic costs and benefits of mitigation. It particularly focuses on the role of technological change, especially for energy efficiency technologies, in making the net economic results of mitigating climate change unknowable over the long run.

Because of these serious technical problems, policymakers should not base climate change mitigation policy on the estimated net economic impacts computed by integrated assessment models. Rather, mitigation policies must be forcefully implemented anyway given the actual physical climate change crisis, in spite of the many uncertainties involved in trying to predict the net economics of doing so.
Rarely do I find such detailed and complete vindication for a position I've espoused as a matter of common sense from people who actually know what they are talking about!

Update 3:   as noted in this article in The Conversation by a couple of Australians, the IPCC is right to note that emissions cuts are about ethics too.  From the link:

Knowing the price of everything?

Judgements about value also come into the complex debate about future economic costs and damages from climate change.

All too often, analyses focus purely on the anticipated economic damage, using lower estimates as a rationale for less action on climate change. This is a simplistic view, as it misses three crucial points.

First, as humans we care about things that are not valued in economic markets. Most Australians care far more about the Great Barrier Reef than its (nevertheless impressive) tourism revenues would suggest. Most of us also care about species going extinct, on an emotional level quite separate from the environmental and health benefits of species diversity. Ignoring these concerns means ignoring many of the values that societies hold.

Second, climate effects will vary greatly across different regions and social groups, and this is usually not reflected in simple economic cost estimates. It is often the poor who are most at risk from climate change, and will find it harder to adapt or recover. If a citizen of an Australian beach suburb loses a A$2 million house, should this be counted as 200 times worse than a Vietnamese peasant losing their A$10,000 home?
Finally, and crucially, climate change is about risks. There is a risk – perhaps small, but we do not know how small – of catastrophic impacts. Should we ignore the risk of very bad outcomes for future generations, or should we give extra weight to them?

The IPCC’s report does not provide the answers, because the IPCC is not policy prescriptive. It aims to give decision-makers the latest reliable information, and a compass to navigate their way through decisions that should be based on deeper considerations than short-term economics or electoral tactics.

Rice issue

I didn't know that rice was a particularly problematic crop for picking up unwanted elements from the soil it's grown in.

Certainly sounds like excellent reason to always avoid Chinese grown rice, then...

Maurice does not have a clue

If ever there was proof needed that successful business men can be conned when it comes to science, Maurice Newman and his amazingly ignorant interview of last night provides it.

Basically, Newman seems to have read Ian Plimer's climate change denialism book and thinks it is the last word on climate science.   And, of course, Tony Abbott gets business advice from this guy.

The story of climate change denialism in the future history books will be about how a large slab of ideologically motivated people were conned for decades by a handful of contrarians, not even all of them being scientists (Monckton, etc).

George Brandis' silly complaint that "mediaeval' tactics are being used against climate change skeptics was equally nonsensical. 

I doubt I have seen a stupider Australian (Federal) government in my lifetime.  

Update:   the hard working Sou at Hotwhopper has a detailed take down of Newman's complete ignorance. 

Lead and crime; and somehow, Hitler and poo, too...

A good BBC magazine article looking at the claim that removing environmental lead has caused an international drop in crime over the past several decades.

I wonder if anyone has looked at the lead intake of international criminal Hitler?  Were his long standing illnesses consistent with lead poisoning?  As the article says:  "It causes kidney damage, inhibits body growth, causes abdominal pain, anaemia and can damage the nervous system."   He definitely had digestive problems, and certainly a shot nervous system at least in the last few weeks.

I just Googled "Hitler lead poisoning" and the first couple of pages don't have hits about it.  I doubt it would be true, but I am the first to make the suggestion?

Update:   I have previously blogged here about Hitler's chronic flatulence.  Just Googling now for articles on his health, I see this relatively recent post which is a fun read.  It notes the flatulence:
By the mid-1930s, Hitler was the ruler of Germany… and still farting like a horse.
but also adds this bit of info about the crank Dr Morell's medicine:
Morell served on the board of Hageda, a pharmaceutical company that manufactured a strange mediation called Mutaflor, whose active ingredient was live bacteria cultured from the fecal matter of “a Bulgarian peasant of the most vigorous stock.”

Mutaflor was intended to treat digestive disorders- the theory being that digestive problems were caused when healthy bacteria, which lived in the intestinal tract and were essential to good digestion, were killed off or crowded out by unhealthy bacteria. Ingesting the cultured dung of a vigorous, clean-living Bulgarian peasant, the theory went, would reintroduce beneficial bacteria into an unhealthy digestive tract and restore proper function.
Well, isn't it an odd thing that these days, doctors may well have tried a "fecal transplant" on Hitler using the poo of a healthy Bulgarian peasant, and it might have worked!  In fact, the Mutaflor idea was actually way ahead of its time, with just the delivery method being the problem. 

My conclusion:  we are lucky Hitler lived when he did and did not get a modern treatment that could have enhanced his health.  But on the other hand, would Hitler been the crazy man he was if he didn't have a regular painful gut?

I can see a science fiction movie in this - time travellers who seek to change the course of history via a surreptitiously delivered fecal transplant on Hitler.   (Of course, the highlight being the scene where some top Nazis investigate the noises coming from the bedroom, only to find a few men - our heroes from the future - attempting to insert the tube into the backside of an unconscious Adolf.  Can anyone suggest an appropriate line of dialogue for that scene, after the initial stunned silence?)    

[Update:  regardless of whether anyone has ever considered whether lead was in any of the medicines or diet of Hitler, I think I can be confident that no one in the world has previously had the idea in the last paragraph.  Isn't anyone going to give credit for originality? :) ]

Either from the edge of the universe, or the microwave in the staff common room

Arecibo Observatory Detects Mysterious, Energetic Radio Burst – Phenomena

(I'm not serious about the microwave being the problem, but the way.)

I don't remember reading about these extremely brief bursts of radio waves (apparently) from the far flung corners of the universe before, so it's an interesting read.  I see that one had been caught at Parkes radio telescope, too.  Why didn't they tell me that when I was visiting there at Christmas?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I would not have thought it possible

Teen stowaway survives flight from California to Hawaii in aircraft wheel well

Update:  a BBC article notes that most people who try this die, but there have been more survivors (and some over quite long flights) than I expected.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Having a good run

John Quiggin has a string of particularly good posts at the moment.  One on why he thinks small modular nuclear is going no where fast (you really have to wonder why, given vast experience with small nuclear reactors for ships and submarines);  the end of manufacturing in Australia (wherein he notes what I questioned as soon as I read Gittin's column last week - do we really call food manufacturing "manufacturing"?); and finally, a post against the tribalist Right and its tu quoque argument.

All really good reading, with many intelligent comments following.

Update:   By way of contrast, I wonder what I can learn from comments at that Right wing powerhouse of a blog, Catallaxy, today:

Update 2: More wisdom [sarc] from Catallaxy, this time from regular contributor Steven Kates, the Say's Law obsessive, from RMIT:
No one is uninterested in “the environment” and everyone wants to preserve the planet whatever that might mean. But global warming is so inane and so lacking in evidence that it separates those who have common sense from some kind of herd of conformity.

Butterflies have furry necks and hairy legs

So, I'm playing with the new, still pretty cheap, digital camera my wife brought back.  As I have said before, one of the best things about digital cameras is their ability to easily take macro - not to a professional standard, but to give good enough results for your average backyard photographer.

A butterfly just handily arrived as I was near the daisies:

This is from the version resized and sharpened on my computer.

I'll try uploading the unresized one to blogger and see what happens:

Not sure I can see much difference once Blogger has done its processing...

Anyway, here's a cropped shot from the unresized image (and added as "original size", even if it won't all fit in the column width.  Not bad what you get with 16 megapixels:

Blogworthy stories

*  The BBC notes one of the weirdest national fads ever:  Venezuelan women prepared to have silicone injected into their buttocks to make themselves more, er, attractive.
....the practice continues in spite of the ban. Up to 30% of women between 18 and 50 choose to have these injections, according to the Venezuelan Plastic Surgeons Association.

Men also get injected to boost their pectoral muscles, though the numbers are lower.
  The injections are made using a biopolymer silicone. The fact that this is injected freely into the body makes it more dangerous than implants, where silicone gel is contained within a shell.

The big attraction is that they are much cheaper than implants. An injection can cost as little as 2000 bolivares (£191, $318) and the whole procedure doesn't take more than 20 minutes.

But the risks are incredibly high.

"The silicone can migrate into other areas of the body, because it doesn't have any barriers. The body can also react immunologically against a foreign material, creating many problems," says Daniel Slobodianik, a cosmetic surgeon.

The Atlantic runs yet another story looking at why (American) conservatives won't support climate change policies, and blaming it on "framing".

I'm getting sick of this type of analysis, as it increasingly seems it is an exercise in excusing sheer bloody mindedness in a political wing which is determined to ignore evidence and scientific analysis on a major issue affecting not just them but the entire planet.  I mean, look at this chart from the article:

It is an indisputable fact that the scientific consensus has not changed over the decade of '02 to '12; the American (and Australian) right wing hostility to the issue is a factor of how their political culture has been played for the suckers that (a large part of them) are.    

*  Ross Douthat's initial take on Piketty is kind of interesting, even if not necessarily convincing.  I would have thought that Catholics who follow long standing Catholic social teaching would actually welcome Piketty's cautionary analysis.

*  In an essay from a Christian that probably contains a lot to annoy some atheists  (hello, JS), the ABC's John Dickson makes one point which I think particularly rings true:

Tip #8. Persuasion involves three factors

Aristotle was the first to point out that persuasion occurs through three factors: intellectual (logos), psychological (pathos), and social or ethical (ethos). People rarely change their minds merely on account of objective evidence. They usually need to feel the personal relevance and impact of a claim, and they also must feel that the source of the claim - whether a scientist or a priest - is trustworthy.
Christians frequently admit that their convictions developed under the influence of all three elements. When sceptics, however, insist that their unbelief is based solely on 'evidence', they appear one-dimensional and lacking in self-awareness. They would do better to figure out how to incorporate their evidence within the broader context of its personal relevance and credibility. I think this is why Alain de Botton is a far more persuasive atheist (for thoughtful folk) than Richard Dawkins or Lawrence Kraus. It is also why churches attract more enquirers than the local sceptics club.
Actually, now that I think about it, this analysis is also relevant to the earlier climate change issue, and suggests I shouldn't be so hostile to the "its all in the framing" argument.   I would be if it weren't the case that those promoting the "framing" towards inaction is actually actively promoting disbelief in the objective evidence.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ugliness, and beauty, at Easter

So, on Friday night I was home alone, deciding what to watch, when the well reviewed Clint Eastwood movie "In the Line of Fire" started on free to air TV, and I half watched the opening sequence while trying to find a DVD.

Sure enough, within 10 minutes there's been a pistol clicked at someone's head, a hostage with a plastic bag over his head is roughed up, and Eastwood blasts away a couple of (I assume) bad guys at close range in the room in graphic detail as if it was another day in the office.

I thought it was just typical of this guy's shtick.

And in case you didn't know already:  man, I just hate the guy's oeuvre - ugly, usually revenge themed, graphically violent and violence endorsing* junk, featuring an actor with a range from 0 to 1 if you're using a scale that goes to a hundred.   (And in recent incarnations, usually with lots of swearing too.)    As far as I am concerned, he's been a poisonous amoral stain on cinema, in fierce competition in my mind with Quentin Tarantino as to which modern film maker ranks highest in my contempt.   

Obviously, I did not continue with that film, and found the DVD of the recent science fiction film Looper that I was looking for.   (I bought it as an ex-rental for $2, as I was not completely confident that I would like it, but hey it got a very high rating on Rottentomatoes.)

Well, what a mistake that was.

I didn't mind the surprise element within the first few minutes when you see what "loopers" do - wait at the designated spot for a person being sent back from the future for immediate execution with a futuristic shotgun.  (It's the speed with which it happens that sort of shocks, and this first one is not shown in graphic detail.)

But that was the last indication I had that I might enjoy the film.

The thing that kept coming into my mind was how intensely ugly this film is.   Everything from Joseph Gordon-Levitt's face done up (with no success whatsoever, if you ask me) to look like a young Bruce Willis, the depressing future society portrayed (everyone packs a gun and uses it more or less casually, it seems, and drug addiction seems rampant - now that I think of it, it's probably pretty much how a libertarian led future would look), the entire stupid story set up, to the increasing level of violence as the movie progresses and continual profane dialogue.

Honestly, the whole scenario is pretty stupid and bizarre, and if I could make a guess, just seems to have been contrived to serve one idea pitched at some studio execs - a younger man has to fight the future version of himself. It has elements that I could see serve no real value at all (the bit about the future development of telekinesis in some people, for example.)

Now, I was so appalled by the bleak amorality of the entire exercise (not just the movie story, but the fact the movie was made at all) I could not really be bothered analysing the time travel contrivances for consistency.   But others have (in fact, many reviewers noted that they doubted that it was logically consistent), but one reviewer did a particularly good job at complaining how it was nonsense, even by the loose standards one has to bring to this genre.

I have no idea at all why it got good critical reception, and the fact that so few critics reacted against its bleak and violent nature just shows what a boiled frog in the pot of declining values, so to speak, the collective body of professional cinema critics has become.

So what could redeem the weekend?

Well,  I had another ex rental DVD I had been wanting to watch, and last night I did:  Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life.

This is an intensely beautiful work that I cannot recommend highly enough.

Certainly it's not a movie with any normal narrative; it's more an impressionistic contemplation of Christian theodicy that imitates how human memory really is experienced in an extraordinary way.

It's almost hard to fathom how it was made  - there are so many very short sequences you can't imagine it being scripted in any normal sense.  (I should go looking for interview with Malick about this, but I suspect he might have shot a huge number of scenes and the movie was really created in the editing room.)

The overall thrill of the thing is how so many beautiful images are blended together in a very kinetic way.   The camera is virtually never still; it swoops around but gracefully and never to jarring effect.  It enhances the half dreamlike quality of memory that the film captures so perfectly.  And I say that as someone who does not like the overuse of handheld camera in modern cinema, particularly action films.

Now, it is not at all clear what some sequences, particularly near the end, mean.  You are left with the feeling that main characters have reached resolution, but exactly how or why is not at all clear.  But hey, that is in a way one of the films features - I don't think there has ever been a movie more inviting for a re-viewing than this one.

And it is, in its way, a near perfect film for Easter (at least for those of a religious persuasion).

After Tree of Life finished,  I remembered that SBS was showing Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ.  I have never seen it - there were too many reviewers complaining of the near pornographic nature of the violence to encourage me to see it.   And indeed, as I turned to the channel, Jesus was on the cross, dying, and the soldier stabs his side with a spear and gets, not just blood and water flowing out as per scripture, but something like a brief fire hydrant effect.

It looked completely ludicrous, and hence I was at least satisfied that a 60 second viewing confirmed I should never bother with the film in its entirety.  (I have never cared for Mel Gibson and his movies either - but he is no where near as far down on my list of Hollywood loathing as Eastwood.)

And finally, my family arrived back from their trip overseas today, safe and sound, and that's a thing of beauty in itself...

* Yes, I am aware of the plot of Gran Torino.  My comment stands.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Important parapsychology news

Back in 2010 I posted about the remarkable parapsychology experiments of Daryl Bem which seemed to establish a small but consistent effect of precognition.   The experiments were very clever, and rather odd in many respects.  (The most successful one involved guessing behind which curtain was an erotic photo!  But I guess testing for precognition is always going to feel weird.)

In 2012, I noted that one attempt at replicating the experiments had failed.  (See, I am very fair.)

Now, Dean Radin reports that there has in fact been many experimenters who have had successful replication.

The full paper pre-print detailing this can be downloaded from here.  Although the statistical analysis talk is hard for a lay person to follow in full detail, the conclusion of successful replication seems very clear.  The paper's background discussion, and its concluding sections about implications for future science research, make it a very interesting read.

I guess one has to wait to see what the skeptics have to say about this (Radin is pessimistic they will ever be convinced), but this appears to me to very significant.

Update:  the original experiments were hotly contested by skeptic types, and early failure to replicate were treated as dismissing it all.  Bem himself spoke about the debunkers here.  

Tobis on the likely El Nino

Michael Tobis has his own take on climate change which I have always found pretty convincing (he has always emphasised "weather weirding" as being an important sign of climate change), and his recent post on the likely El Nino of later this year is an interesting read.

(Another idiosyncratic take on matters by MT is that he doesn't like the "redefining" of global warming to include ocean warming.  That seems a rather odd position to me.)

Anyway, he is betting that  the El Nino will (finally) lead to a globally hotter year than 1998, which will be followed by persistently hotter years as a further "step up" in the process of global warming.  This is pretty much what is needed to finally shut up and (further) marginalise the denialists.  They already are marginalised scientifically; what is needed is their marginalisation politically.

Incidentally, I just stumbled across in my old magazine collection (I am being put under pressure to thrown them out - I am resisting) a January 1986 Discover cover story on global warming.   Apart from the sensationalism on the cover (questioning whether New York would be more or less flooded by the 2030's), a quick peruse of the article itself shows that the scientific view and warnings (and appreciation of uncertainties) has been remarkably consistent since that time.   I have also read much of Stephen Schneider's book "Science as a Contact Sport", which gives a good background as to how science developed its concern about the topic, and one interesting point he makes is that Lindzen from the start was a skeptic about it being a problem.

Perhaps I should scan the Discover article and link it here one day, so people can see how fair it was.

Mining methane

BBC News - Methane hydrate: dirty fuel or energy saviour?

The article looks at the question of whether mining methane hydrates would be a good idea, or not.  One thing it doesn't mention is what sort of benefits could come from the widespread use of methane for fuel cells, rather than burning it.  I would like to know what difference that would make.

Update:  interestingly, via the link in the last paragraph, you can get to a Tim Worstall post about fuel cells, about which he seems to know quite a bit.  His conclusion:
My basic belief about solid oxide fuel cells is that they’re going to be the technology we all end up using. No, I don’t know the precise technology, rare earth, scandium, bismuth, that will win out in the marketplace. But my operating assumption is that wind and/or solar to the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen which is then stored to be run through a solid oxide fuel cell is the basic answer to future energy needs.
Carbon pricing to make that happen faster would help, no?

Give this man another job

Public bathrooms and homophobia: why are men afraid to pee together?

Am I the only person who finds Slate gay editor J Bryan Lowder consistently annoying?

I think it's rubbish to suggest that the majority of (male) paruresis is due to homophobia.  I very much doubt it has anything to do with the perceived sexuality of the unwanted observer for any sufferer. It's just a self feeding loop of "performance" embarrassment, I reckon.  (Years ago here, I noted my own - relatively mild - case being instituted by ridicule by a couple of older students in primary school.)

I'll also repeat my point that I think it is pretty easily relieved for many men by inexpensive bathroom design for simple privacy screens between the individual urinals that are now standard in public toilets.  I still puzzle why architects, or whoever it is comes up bathroom designs for new buildings, do not recognize the benefit of that simple feature.

Local cold can be very misleading

David Appell notes with a map how incredibly unwise it can be to extrapolate what global temperatures must be doing from one locally cold month.

So that's what it takes to get Gerard Henderson animated...

My goodness.  Gerard Henderson on Lateline is livid, shouting and being nonsensical about Barry O'Farrell being a victim of the ICAC process.

What is it with much of the Right in Australia with their acquired inability to deal with the rhetorical use of "truth" and "truthfulness" with care?   First, it was Julia Gillard and their insistence that an (alleged) broken promise was actually a deliberate lie.   (True, Gillard compounded the problem by wrongly conceding that her carbon pricing scheme was actually a broken promise - a tax - but still the Right wing echo chamber latched onto "lie" and never let go despite the lack of evidence.)   

Now it seems that Gerard Henderson has a poor grip on matters of "truth".  The journalist was saying that O'Farrell did not tell the truth, on the not unreasonable grounds that he today resigned when he admitted he must have given wrong evidence under oath to the commission yesterday.  "No", said an extremely agitated Gerard (I'm paraphrasing):  "you have no evidence to make the accusation of his untruthfulness and it's outrageous that you are - it's all explained by his having a poor memory."

Gerard, let's take this carefully:

1.  Giving detailed evidence under oath that something did not occur, and that he surely would have known if it had occurred, and then agreeing the next day that it now looks certain that it did occur, means the first evidence was not true;

2.  It is not a distortion of English to say that the first evidence which was given was "untruthful";

3.  What you and O'Farrell are arguing is that it was not deliberately untruthful;

4.  I believe if I check the transcript tomorrow that the the journalist you were shouting at and virtually telling to shut up was not even insisting that she believed O'Farrell had been deliberately untruthful.   

5.  There are, obviously, possible grounds for people to be inclined to disbelieve O'Farrell.  [Updateeven Andrew Bolt says that.  Are you getting out the whip to attack him?]  Whether or not you think people who think he was dishonest have formed a fair judgement is up to you to dispute, but don't get all high and mighty about how it is impossible for anyone to disbelieve O'Farrell's explanation.   People are disbelieved in court all the time, and it's not treated as some inherent outrage against justice.

6.  Even without believing him to have been deliberately dishonest, his performance raises pretty big questions about his competence and reliability, and it was without doubt a major embarrassment that even you seem to concede left him with little option other than to resign;

7.  As many have said, the allegation had been around for months; O'Farrell had time to check, and if he could find no evidence, he still would have been wise to give evidence of no recollection of the gift and emphasise that if it had been made it did not win any contract for the lobbyist anyway.   Sure, having "no recollection" from a politician does usually come across as weasel words of convenience (as it did with Sinodinos,) but if that's the truth, then it can be wise to use it.  Better than being emphatic about how you would have remembered if it had happened.

As with Andrew Bolt, O'Farrell's problem with the law was one which was self created, but at least he is man enough to take it on the chin and not complain (unlike Gerard, and Bolt regarding his own case.)

Update:  here is the grand low point of Gerard Henderson's political pundit career:

GERARD HENDERSON: Yeah, but that's a very unfair implication. You're suggesting the former premier may have given misleading evidence. There's no evidence to support that. That's your theory based on sitting in the room. He may ...

KATE MCCLYMONT: Gerard, he's resigned. He's resigned.

GERARD HENDERSON: Yes, because he said he forgot. So ...

KATE MCCLYMONT: No, no, he didn't resign because he said he forgot.

GERARD HENDERSON: No. No, no, he said he forgot. You're suggesting that he didn't tell the truth. That's what you're suggesting.

KATE MCCLYMONT: Yes, I am suggesting that.

GERARD HENDERSON: Well that's a very serious allegation to make with no evidence. You have no evidence that he didn't tell the truth. That's an outrageous allegation to make.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Talk about a curriculum in need of review...

Pakistan's Islamic seminaries pair science with the Quran -

An interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor on how the Madrassas in Pakistan hold back the country, by teaching (shall we say) to somewhat less than modern standards:
The students follow a 500-year-old curriculum adopted across South
Asia. The oversized book used in Mr. Haq's class, a collection of ahadith, or
sayings attributed to the prophet Muhammad, is centuries old and
written in Arabic. Commentary written in Urdu in present-day India fills
the margins.

“This country was built on Islam, the idea of following God's teachings. Here we are learning how to do that,” says Haq.

 What students learn, and don’t learn, in thousands of such private seminaries is a matter of concern for Pakistan’s government. Under a national security policy unveiled last month, Pakistan aims to bring madrassas under tighter state control, update their curricula to tone down extremist views, and introduce subjects like mathematics and science. The goal is to turn out graduates capable of getting decent jobs who won’t be tempted to join the Taliban or other militant groups.
But even government schools in the country have a little way to go:
... only 39 percent of government schools in Pakistan have electricity.  Three million children never attend a single class, according to an official 2011 survey. Critics say the focus on regulating madrassas ignores the broader failure of Pakistan's leaders to invest in primary
 Also, Tom Brown's School Days has got nothing on this:
Fakhar Kakakhel, a journalist who reports from the tribal areas, says around a hundred madrassas there are known to supply militants with child suicide bombers. Set up to help children memorize Islamic texts, these seminaries operate on a shoestring budget and are not registered with any clerical oversight body.

After a decade of war though, Kakahel says parents are starting to pull children out. “They
say we sent our kids to learn the Quran, not become suicide bombers.”
 What a country...

Blow up

Isn't it funny how an enquiry into corrupt Labor figures is leading to the downfall of well regarded Liberals (Sinodinos, now O'Farrell). 


Ted Cruz Is Beating Rand Paul in the Tea Party Primary - Molly Ball - The Atlantic

According to this article, Ted Cruz seems to be more popular than Rand Paul with the Tea Party.

That's not what's "hopeless":  it's the fact both of these politicians are terrible.

Best not eaten

Student's death in Colorado raises questions on pot and health - Los Angeles Times

I noticed this report last week but forgot about it til today.

Interestingly, it says there is concern about the sudden popularity of eating marijuana:
More attention needs to be focused on edible forms of the drug, which are especially popular with first-time users, health officials say. The treats, candies and elixirs are among the hottest new products since pot became legal, making up 40% of all sales so far. And while edible
products are packaged with warning labels and potency levels, officials worry those cautions may not go far enough.

By law, such products can contain no more than 10 milligrams of THC per serving, but often
consumers don't pay attention to serving sizes. One large brownie can contain up to 10 servings, or 100 milligrams, of THC.

Dr. Paula Riggs, a psychology professor and director of the division of substance dependence at the University of Colorado Denver, says smoking marijuana hits the central nervous system quickly. But edible marijuana has a delayed reaction so people often keep eating, looking for a buzz. "A half-hour later they are on their back," she said.

Least worthy academic suggestion of the year (so far)

From a navel gazing white looking gay aboriginal artist who appears to like making wool penis coverings:
 Perhaps what is needed now is the establishment of a field of Queer-Aboriginal studies where we can create discourse to assert ourselves from our own knowledge position.
[Crikey, I've gone all Andrew Bolt (and Steve Irwin) for a moment.  Slap me quick, someone.]

Amateur spies are downloading it now

Try the Super-Secure USB Drive OS That Edward Snowden Insists on Using

Making things still happening

Death of manufacturing nothing to whine about

Ross Gittons column going into details on how manufacturing has changed in Australia works as a bit of a corrective to overly pessimistic views on its future here.  (Although it does refer to making certain foods as "manufacturing" too, whereas that's a bit out of the mental image I usually have when I hear commentators talking about "manufacturing".  I'm  not sure that I would be happy with my country not being able to make anything out of metal, for example, even if it had world leading cup noodle manufacturing facilities.) 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A surprise in the letterbox

Finland’s graphic gay bondage stamps are amazing.

It's a great pity I don't have the postal address for some Catallaxy commenters, who are amongst the people on the internet most likely to be outraged if they received a letter using these stamps.  (And, truth be told, it is a weird decision from Finland to use these images.)

Stressed Dad makes for depressed offspring

Sperm RNA carries marks of trauma

This seems pretty odd and surprising, but stressing young male mice leads to them having more depressed offspring,  and it appears clear that it through the effect on sperm cells.  (They included a test to make sure it was not just being passed on "socially".)

Solomon Islands, floods and climate change

I've been saying for a few years now (following Australia's extraordinary run of floods in 2011/12) that more frequent, more damaging floods may well be the first really clear adverse consequence of climate change.

I have been curious to see whether the Solomon Islands devastating floods were the result of clearly exceptional rainfall, especially given that one would expect that an island in the South Pacific would be no stranger to some heavy downpours.

It's been hard to find precise figures for the Solomon Islands event, however.   Several websites referred to "record rainfall", without specifying how much of a record it was.  I think I heard someone on Radio National from the Island claim it was (from memory) much worse than anticipated levels for a 1 in a 100 year flood.  (He also said he had not heard anyone there claim it was due to increased illegal logging.)

The Solomon Islands weather bureau seems to be out of action for any such details, which is hardly surprising.

As for actual figures, I have at last tracked down some:
Around 138m of rain fell in 24 hours on 2 April in Honiara, and a further 318mm fell the next day. The Low Pressure System that caused the rainfall remains in the region and further rain is expected over the next 24 hours.
Not being a meteorologist, how big are those numbers?  Well, in a tropical Queensland context, pretty big.  From a November 2013 news report:
Parts of the north Queensland coast have been lashed by record rainfall with thunderstorms causing flash flooding.

Bowen on Queensland's Burdekin coast officially recorded 267 millimetres overnight.

That is more than double the previous 24 hour rain record for the month of 129 millimetres set in 1950.  Jonty Hall from the weather bureau says much of that came in an hour long deluge.

"Drainage really struggles to cope with that sort of rainfall especially over that period of time," he said.

In the Whitsundays, Hamilton Island registered 233 millimetres - also well up on the previous November record of 145 millimetres in 1991
But in absolute terms, 318 mm is just over a third of the record Queensland daily rain record (an extraordinary 907 mm in 1893, apparently.)   

I wonder what the previous daily record in Solomon Islands is, then.   This site indicates that the average monthly rainfall for March and April are about 350 and 220 mm respectively, which does show that one day of 318mm is a lot.   But in fact, Tully, widely regarded as Australia's wettest town, appears to have a March average rainfall of 752mm. 

So, it does seem that parts of Queensland are, on average, about twice as wet as the Solomon Islands, which is not something I would have expected.

Also, interestingly, this chart which is at a .pdf page you can link to from here, shows a long term trend of decreasing annual rainfall for Honiara:

So, this is another of those cases where climate change is not of uniform consequence everywhere, which scientists have known for a while, but which denialists can't seem to get their head around.  They also can't get their head around the concept of how climate change can mean that a local climate can (as apparently in Honiara's case) be both generally getting drier, but also intermittently be suffering worse floods than ever due to the intensity of rain when it does fall.   (Roy Spencer really jumped the shark with this post.)

But I still don't know how exceptional the rainfall in Honiara recently really has been, for daily local records.

Update:  it looks like the heaviest daily rainfall on at least at one part of Solomon Islands is only 380mm.  I guess the recent rains might still represent a record over a certain number of days, though; and also,  I don't know where Auki station is.