Sunday, October 22, 2017

Yes, John Kelly is creepily elitist in a Starship Troopers kind of way

I think it's pretty clear what happened in the Trump telephone call to the mother of the deceased soldier:  Trump asked John Kelly what he should say; Kelly gave him an outline of what had worked for him (so to speak) when his own son had been killed,  involving in part something like "he knew what he was signing up for".  But Trump delivered that line in a ham-fisted way that made it sound insensitive (and it is, frankly, no mater what Kelly may think, a line that is readily capable of coming out sounding wrong, and he might have thought more carefully how it could go wrong in delivery from his far from eloquent boss.)

So was Kelly right to be upset with the Congresswoman for her criticising the line?   Maybe, to some extent, but as many in the American media has noted, it was Trump himself who started politicising the whole matter of Presidential contact with "Gold Star" families, so it seems a bit rich to be weighing in on how outrageous it was for Wilson to say what she did.

And let's face it, a more presidential President might have reacted to the news with an apology to the mother if his meaning had been misunderstood, and then expanding on exactly what he had intended - reading off a card to make sure he gets it right, if necessary.  Instead, what did we get - a typical Trumpian "I am always right" line of denial that he had said it at all!   (Which was, essentially, contradicted by John Kelly in his appearance.)

But the more important aspect of this now is the creepily elitist militaristic line that John Kelly took in his press appearance.

Some might think that Misha Gessen at the New Yorker went too far with his assessment in "John Kelly and the Language of Military Coup, but I think he was basically right.   I liked how he pointed out that Kelly actually exaggerates the numbers, as if the nation barely knows anyone who has ever done military service (an argument I found odd, given the amount of fawning of the military you see as part of certain sporting events there):
Fallen soldiers, Kelly said, join “the best one per cent this country produces.” Here, the chief of staff again reminded his audience of its ignorance: “Most of you, as Americans, don’t know them. Many of you don’t know anyone who knows any of them. But they are the very best this country produces.

”The one-per-cent figure is puzzling. The number of people currently serving in the military, both on active duty and in the reserves, is not even one per cent of all Americans. The number of veterans in the population is far higher: more than seven per cent. But, later in the speech, when Kelly described his own distress after hearing the criticism of Trump’s phone call, the general said that he had gone to “walk among the finest men and women on this earth. And you can always find them because they’re in Arlington National Cemetery.” So, by “the best” Americans, Kelly had meant dead Americans—specifically, fallen soldiers.
To anyone sensible, this should be starting to ring authoritarian elitist alarm bells.

And it elevates the moral importance of what the military does in ways that are not really justifiable.   Sure, we can all agree that all fighters who died in a "good war" as clear as World War II died in an entirely morally justified enterprise.   We can also all agree that, even in times of relative peace, each individual soldier deserves respect for doing their government's bidding to the point of risking their life. 

But because the use of the military for much of the time is in enterprises that involve various shades of grey, we should reject any suggestion that military service per se is a morally elevating thing that makes you a "finer person" that the rest of society.

An article in Slate notes that Kelly being a Marine is probably part of the problem here.  Of all the services, they are most inclined to believe their own PR:
It’s striking that Kelly feels comfortable highlighting the civil-military divide, and even emphasizing its virtues, from the lectern of the White House briefing room. Kelly’s remarks break with the popular view among many of his contemporaries that the divide is a bad thing and that the military has grown too far apart from the nation during the 44 years of the all-volunteer force. Indeed, Defense Secretary James Mattis (Kelly’s former comrade from the Marine Corps) edited a book on the topic last year before joining the Trump administration. But perhaps Kelly’s views should not be surprising given his pedigree as a retired Marine (the Marines have always stood apart from the other services with respect to their martial virtues) and his own record of service and family sacrifice. Kelly reflects a slice of military sentiment that exists in barracks and team rooms across the globe but rarely appears in public.

Nonetheless, the implications of Kelly’s performance should worry us. If there’s no role for civilians to play other than to salute the military and give them resources, that would seem to invert the relationship between the military and the nation it’s supposed to serve.
 And at Vox, an article is accurately summed up in its subheading:
The chief of staff divides America into those who “serve” in uniform — at home and abroad — and those who should shut up.
 From the body of the piece:
In Kelly’s eyes, those who serve America understand it and those who do not simply don’t. The latter, in fact, can’t really be trusted to preserve America’s goodness.

“We don't look down upon those who haven't served,” Kelly said at the end of the presser. “In a way we're a bit sorry because you'll never experience the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kind of things our service men and women do.” 

In fact, he said at another point, they “volunteer to protect our country when there's nothing in our country anymore that seems to suggest that self-service to the nation is not only appropriate but required. That's all right” (emphasis added).

So when Kelly waxed nostalgic about the days when certain things were “sacred” — women, religion, and battlefield sacrifice — he wasn’t just echoing the complaints of so many who support Donald Trump because they too feel America is no longer great. He was saying that there are Americans who have kept the flame of American greatness alive — those who serve the country for a living — and that the best thing the rest of America can do is keep a respectful distance.
It all puts me in mind of the military elitism apparently promoted by Robert Heinlein in Starship Troopers, and I'd be surprised if I am the first to write that.  

Oh yeah, as usual, I'm not:
 So, Kelly won't event take questions from people who aren't sufficiently close to the military.  It's a step towards Starship Troopers.
The thing to remember about Kelly, too, is that no matter how good his reputation as a military leader may be, anyone willing to work for a person like Trump has to be suspect in judgement.   


Weekend observations

*   When did the frequent use of the word "bespoke" become a thing?   I noticed it on (I think) Radio National this week, and then realised how it's appearing everywhere in the media, the same way viral catchphrases get used by teens.  I also realised I didn't even clearly understand what it meant, and now that I've looked it up, I'm not even sure that everyone is using appropriately.   I don't approve.

*   I thought that it had become almost impossible to find the original cut of Blade Runner on DVD, and (as I have explained before) I am apparently one of the few people who prefer it with the voice over narration.  So I was pleasantly surprised to find last night that the version on Stan (from which I haven't yet got around to un-subscribing) is the original, and I re-watched it in full last night.   Yeah, it's still pretty good.  I never thought it was the greatest movie, but it is very Philip K Dick thematically, and sure, you have to admire the production design.   Would be funny (not the right word) if due to a Trumpian nuclear holocaust, LA really does end up under a perpetual cloud of yellow smog by 2019.   I haven't yet gone to see the sequel, but will soon.

*  I'm very much enjoying the current springtime season of cheap Australian asparagus.  Last night it made an appearance in my Spanish style omelette/fritatta, which is a really easy by tasty light dinner.   It's so simple it seems hardly necessary to record the recipe, but I will anyway:
Roughly cube enough potato to cover frying pan.   If they are clean, just leave the skin on.  Start cooking on low heat in about 1 cm of olive oil.  After a few minutes, add in a rough diced onion, and about five minutes later some red capsicum and chopped up chorizo.  Stir them around every now and then.  The potato should be soft at about the 15 minute mark, then drain off most of the oil.  Push the cooked mix to the side and fry briefly some chopped asparagus, then spread the contents around so that you have an even mix across the fry pan. Spinkle on some salt and pepper, and pour in 5 or 6 beaten eggs over the top and shake the pan to make sure it is reaching the bottom.   Cook under low heat til you can see the mix harden, but it will need to be placed under a griller to get the top firmly set and a bit browned too.  I usually sprinkle on a bit of cheese on top before grilling, although I expect that is not a Spanish thing.   Eat with bread and a side vegetable like beans.  Delicious, especially if using a good quality chorizo.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

6 dimensional chess?

What is going on in Australian political reporting?

The Murdoch tabloid press has decided to run prominently the fact that Barnaby Joyce is the subject of pretty clear Twitter suggestions from his enemy Tony Windsor that he's been sexually harassing a young staffer who has since departed the scene.   (Seems the Weinstein publicity has been used as reason to bring it up now.)   Right wing bloggers Bolt and Blair are happy to draw attention to it too.

But Fairfax and the Guardian are steering clear of it (so far - I think.)

What interest does the Murdoch tabloid press - apparent friend to the Nationals - have in promoting such rumour?  Do they think a pre-emptive airing of the issue helps Joyce in the long run, rather than letting it slip at the start of a likely by-election campaign?   I've seen someone on Twitter suggest that it was actually part of a plot to discredit both Turnbull and Joyce so as to let Team Abbott (precise membership - about 3 as far as I can tell) make a leadership move and start all over again!  Surely that can't be right.  But look at the reaction of Bolt - saying that if its true (even though we have such scant detail) - then Joyce is a goner.   Seems a premature assessment to me. 

The news in any event does make some sense, in that Joyce seemed exceptionally glum after the citizenship issue came to light.   Sure, that was embarrassing for him, but it did always seem to me that his appearance of having slipped into depression over it was a bit of an overreaction.  

Friday, October 20, 2017

Euthanasia arrives in Australia, soon?

This Victorian push for euthanasia laws seemed to arrive pretty much out of no where, didn't it?

Oddly, I notice that opponents have included some unusual bed fellows, such as Paul Keating, and Sinclair Davidson.   (They wake up screaming in the morning.)   The former thinks it's a case of "sending the wrong message", and the latter says he doesn't like slippery slope arguments, but it's a slippery slope.  The state will be coming to encourage him to drink the hemlock soon, apparently.

 In any event, I am pleased that some notably non religious people have, for once, made an argument that aligns with religious views, but using secular arguments.   I find it surprising that (as far as I know) not one prominent non religious person has made a similar approach on same sex marriage.  I find that rather irritating, because I actually think my lack of support* for SSM is not particularly religiously motivated.   (In fact, I think that Catholicism is in the throes of coming to terms with a modern understanding of sexuality whereby homosexuality as a practice is not going to be viewed as inherently sinful.)

As for the Victorian law, it does seem from this description of how it would work to be relatively conservative, as far as these types of laws go.   It doesn't appear to enough to allow relatives wanting the suffering of an uncommunicative loved one ended early by euthanasia if said patient has not already asked for it:  even though I guess that is actually probably the circumstance in which most people would like to see it able to be deployed.  

It's a bit like SSM  - I don't support the law myself, but I'm not going to lose sleep over it being introduced in as "safe" a form as possible.   Certainly, the type of "anyone should be allowed to top themselves with help whenever they want" nuttiness of Philip Nitschke should be rejected thoroughly.  His involvement with the movement probably set it back politically a decade, at least.


* I am simply not voting in the current flawed exercise.

In other religion news..

The good reviews for Thor: Ragnarok, which indicate it's pretty much a comedy, make me inclined to see it.   (Many reviews note that Jeff Goldblum is at his peak of Goldblum-anity in it, and perhaps that alone may make it worthwhile.)  

This led me to Google the topic of modern Thor worship, and to a slew of articles from 2015/16 about an Icelandic religious group about to build a modern Norse temple in Reyjkavik.  It would appear that it is was supposed to be finished this year, but isn't yet.   In fact, I can't even see what it is meant to look like, although one of the links notes:
The temple will be circular and will be dug 13 feet down into a hill overlooking the Icelandic capital Reykjavik, with a dome on top to let in the sunlight. It will host weddings and funerals.
It goes on:
Iceland's neo-pagans still celebrate the ancient sacrificial ritual of 'Blot' with music, reading, eating and drinking, but nowadays leave out the slaughter of animals.  
Can't they make mock sacrificial animals out of tofu, with beetroot juice standing in for blood?  (Just trying to be helpful).

Anyway, perhaps these guys, who appear to like to dress in quaint fashion, didn't have enough money to get the temple up as fast as they would have liked. 

100 years ago in Portugal

Non Catholics may have missed the fact that this month marks the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparition at Fatima, but Catholic media has been reminding its readers.

I have written before that it is rather odd (or just a sign of advancing age) that in my own lifetime, the diminution of devotion to Mary has been such a clear evolutionary change in the Catholic Church:  at least in Australia, and, I suspect all English speaking countries.     All tied up with feminism as a broad movement, I guess.

The events at Fatima remain about the strangest Marian event of all.  The prophesies have sort of lost their mystery and significance, but the "Miracle of the Sun" is one of the oddest cases of an alleged multiple witness miracle ever recorded.   I was creeped out in my teen years by reading a book that noted that many accounts of it sounded like a UFO disk obscuring the sun, and suggesting that the whole event was a case of trickster aliens messing with poor Portuguese kids minds.   (Readers with long memories may recall I mentioned this 8 years ago.)

In any event, here's a post which sets out some more background information to the events in Portugal which I don't recall reading about before.  Apparently, a spiritualist circle in Portugal was predicting the day of the first Marian apparition (in May) as one of great significance.   Peculiar, or pure coincidence?



Thursday, October 19, 2017

A lot of killing

NPR has an interesting story up:

Declassified Files Lay Bare U.S. Knowledge Of Mass Murders In Indonesia

which is all about the ruthless killing in the mid 60's of communists/ communist supporters by the Indonesian Army under Sukarno (and then Suharto?):
At the time these memos were sent, from the closing months of 1965 through the opening months of 1966, the Indonesian military was engaged in a brutal crackdown on its communist party and suspected supporters. Prompted by an alleged coup attempt, the military collaborated with Muslim militias in the systematic murder of at least 500,000 people and the imprisonment of even more.
I wonder which side the modern wingnut wants to take, given the choice between Muslim militia and communists.   Anyway, more detail:
The CIA would later describe the atrocities as "one of the worst mass murders of the twentieth century, along with the Soviet purges of the 1930s, the Nazi mass murders during the Second World War, and the Maoist bloodbath of the early 1950s."

And while it's been known for some time the U.S. was aware — and was reportedly at times even an active supporter — of the crackdown as it unfolded, scholar Brad Simpson tells NPR the newly available documents "show in even greater detail how the U.S. Embassy was receiving a stream of updates and intelligence information about the scope and extent of the killing from the very start."

Simpson, director of the National Security Archive's Indonesia/East Timor Documentation Project, says the U.S. maintained a policy of public silence, even as he says Washington quietly began supporting Indonesia "in the form of financial assets and communications equipment" in late October 1965. This was around the same time one Indonesian official told embassy staff "that the Army had already executed many communists but that this fact must be very closely held."

One month later, another declassified consular dispatch from the city of Surabaya reported the scene there: 25 bodies spotted floating in a river by a missionary, 29 more spotted in the river by another, at least five railway stations closed, with employees afraid to come to work "since some of them have been murdered."

One of the missionaries "heard largest slaughter had taken place at Tulungagung where reportedly 15000 Communists killed," according to the cable.

Late in December, less than a month later, the embassy told the State Department of the "striking Army success" in consolidating power: Despite Indonesian President Sukarno's protests against the military's "jolts" against the PKI, those jolts had continued, resulting "in an estimated 100,000 deaths."

At least the killings were being carried out "evidently on lesser scale and in more discreet manner," the U.S. consul in Surabaya observed at the end of the month. "Generally victims are taken out of populous areas before being killed and bodies are being buried rather than thrown into river."

 It's easy to forget how much mayhem there was in South East Asia in that period, even without considering Cambodia and Vietnam...

Kiwi Labour's turn

I don't think many people were expecting Winston Peters to side with Labour forming the government in New Zealand.   

A case of the writing on the wall for Malcolm Turnbull, I'm afraid.

Malcolm is in such a long run of  bad Newspolls, legislative failures in the Senate, and sniping from Abbott, that it really feels like Australia has already been treading water for a long time while waiting for a change of government that is still so far away.

But then again, I suppose in theory, if one B Joyce has to go to a by-election, we could see an earlier than expected change of government.  Not holding my breath, though.

Fusion woes

Would be sort of funny for any libertarian techno-optimist who supported Brexit ("these regulations, they're just holding back our glorious techno future utopia") if this comes to pass:

Europe’s largest fusion reactor, the Joint European Torus, could be shut down in the wake of Brexit.

(Mind you, I'm a fusion skeptic, myself.  Still....)

Just an observation...

Tim Blair does go on, and on, and on, about how much TV and radio stars make, doesn't he?  Or rather, about how much TV and radio stars that appear to be of Left-ish persuasion make.

I don't know that I have ever seen much interest expressed in how much Bolt makes, nor the other Sky News mini Fox News wannabe hosts.  

I think it sufficient to say - all media stars get paid what seem to nearly everyone to be ridiculous amounts of money.   Fights over who gets paid what, and the fairness of it, have been around for many years.  

The current Wilkinson wars are pretty uninteresting, if you ask me.


More on China and its international loans system

The Atlantic notes that China finances poor countries' development projects in a way that America has a problem with.   America probably has a point - but I can't see that the protectionist mood of Trump will in any way help change it.

A lava tube called home

Hey, I only recently mentioned lava tubes on the Moon as the obvious place for a future Moon base, and here's one that's been identified

What cheering news ....

Vox notes that Young Adult dystopia fiction is "out" (which is a bit of a pity for that long delayed final movie in the Mazerunner series), but it's been replaced by something worse - teen suicide:
In the early 2010s, young adult dystopias were so prevalent as to be a cliché. They were major best-sellers, and the basis of major film franchises. The Hunger Games made Jennifer Lawrence a household name. 

Those are not the stories that are making waves now. After the election of Donald Trump, as 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale climbed the best-seller lists, the emerging consensus was that the American people craved fiction about the destruction of the world to help them express the terror and uncertainty they felt about the future. But YA dystopias — the books that just a few years ago appeared to grant publishers a license to print money — have not experienced the same sort of sales bump. And no new YA dystopias have emerged to take the place of old stalwarts like Divergent and The Hunger Games.

Instead, a new kind of story is filling the niche in pop culture that YA dystopias used to occupy: the teen suicide story. Throughout this year, a new obsession has formed around books and TV shows like 13 Reasons Why, and stories about the spread of the (likely fictional) Russian game Blue Whale. The fatalism and self-destructive fantasies that our culture once expressed in teen dystopias have begun to come out in teen suicide narratives.
It's a pretty good article, if rather depressing.

Lots of adults of my vintage have been complaining for decades that most young adult fiction published (and studied in high school English) is depressing - concentrating on broken families and relationship crises of one kind or another.   I suppose, though, that most of it was meant to be ultimately about surviving it.

I don't really understand why there isn't some concerted pushback by authors or publishers to try and deliberately revive optimism and adventure in YA fiction.   (As young adult science fiction used to be in the 50's and 60's.)   But fantasy should be given a break - it doesn't teach realistic optimism for the world as it is.

Rather ironically, the way to be optimistic now regarding the future of the planet is to actually hope that the social conservatives who complain about fictional pessimism are defeated in their stupid, stupid conspiracy fantasy that the world isn't heating.   It's an odd situation - the way to be optimistic is to kill off those who claim to be anti-pessimists.   (Not literally, of course.  Kill off their ideas.   Gulags may or may not be necessary.)

Update:  just thought of another irony -  there seems to be a good case that it's the ageing white social conservatives who are disproportionately dying in the US from the opioid epidemic, and that it is their psychic pain of being left behind that makes them willing users of the drugs that often kill them.  So young people are dying because they are pessimistic about the world the oldies are leaving them (well, that and the damaging effect of social media);  older people are dying because the world is changing too much for them in other ways.   It's like a perfect storm of national discontent.  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A clean energy question

Given that it seems you can now get solar panels and battery storage at useful levels for around $12,000 to $15,000 (perhaps cheaper, if you don't use the Tesla powerwall), and that the cost of an average-ish house build here is (I would guess) around $250,000*, why doesn't it make sense for government to mandate it in house construction?    I mean, it's like a 5% increase in the cost of building, but with the money paid up front coming back in saved power costs to the owner-occupier anyway.

And while we are at it, what about compulsory solar hot water too?

There might be some locations and house positions where it would not work - but I suspect if you are putting it in from the start, you can make it work well enough in most cases. 

*  Update:  actually one site puts it at $300,000, which only helps my argument

In some optimistic, "we can do it" clean energy news...

*  NPR has an article about how Alaska actually has a lot of experience at running successful mini grids to buffer power outages (not always with clean energy, but still.)   One thing I was surprised to read in it was the successful use of flywheel technology to buffer demand:
In 2007, the utility set a goal of 95 percent renewable power. It built a handful of wind turbines, plus a bank of batteries to supplement the community's hydro power. That worked for a while. But then came a new challenge: the Kodiak port wanted to replace its old diesel-powered crane with a giant electric one.

The 340-foot tall shipping crane would be a massive power hog. Demand would spike every time it lifted a container off a cargo ship. When Rick Kniaziowski, the terminal manager for the shipping company Matson, first asked about getting it, the head of the local utility said no.

"His eyes got really big," Kniaziowski says. He was told, "Everyone's TVs are going to brown out, and they're either going to hate you or they're going to hate us.'"

But the utility looked around for a solution, and it found a European company, ABB, that offered a new kind of energy storage: flywheels.

There are two here now. From the outside, they look like a couple of white trailers behind a chain-link fence. But inside, they're cutting edge sci fi. In the corner of each trailer is a "six and a half ton of spinning mass," says KEA's Richcreek. "It's in a frictionless vacuum chamber hovered by magnets."

Here's how it works: When there's excess power on the grid, it spins the flywheel. The flywheel stores that energy as motion, and then pumps it back out the second a big surge is needed. When the crane isn't operating, the flywheels respond to fluctuations in wind power, working with the batteries to stabilize the grid. Kodiak is one of the first places in the world to use flywheels this way.
 *  The BBC has a short video up about the benefits of floating solar power.   I want someone to push my idea that part of the Snowy Hydro 2 project be powered by floating solar panels on the upper dams, powering the pumps that will bring water uphill for later release.   Send me the money now for this great idea!

*  Over at MIT, they are working on very high temperature ceramic pump components, with the idea being that super heated metals (rather than lower temperature molten salts) can be used to store excess renewable energy.

*  In the US, they are finding that improvements in wind turbine efficiency are so good it makes sense to refurbish some wind farms well ahead of their original estimated 30 year life.




It's all too complicated

I have a confession to make:   I feel I don't understand Australian energy issues enough to be able to write about them.

I didn't really get my brain around the Finkel proposal for a Clean Energy Target and how it was meant to work.   The main sign that it probably wasn't a bad idea was the fact that Tony Abbott, Alan Moran, Judith Sloan - all ideologically motivated climate science deniers - didn't like it.   But the problem is, the well intentioned environmentalists have come up with not great ideas before (emissions trading schemes instead of simpler and transparent carbon taxes), so energy policy just has this aspect that you can't always trust anyone to have the best idea.

Even today, with a vague sounding Turnbull energy plan, we have the mismatched pairing of Tony Abbott (poisonous shallow policy windvane) thinking it a win, as well as Peter Martin (moderate relatively reliable economics journalist).  But Greg Jericho - who I think would agree with Martin's takes about 90% of the time, tweets with apparent approval a Renew Economy post that is scathing of the policy.

I need more time for more commentary before I feel I can have a strong opinion.

In other TV viewing

I watched the first episode of the ABC's new attempt at a movie (and now TV) review show - Screen Time.

I have issues with it.

The main one is that, while I know any review/arts show on ABC or SBS is not going to have any reviewer who is  not of the left/liberal persuasion,  you at least had the feeling with Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton that they did not always see eye to eye on certain things such as acceptable levels of violence in film, and sometimes on feminist or other issues too. 

But this panel, perhaps because they are all so close in age, give no real sign at all of ever disagreeing seriously on anything.  There was perfect unanimity, for example, that shows depicting women talking frankly about sex (going back to Sex and the City, but also as reflected in Girls, and a recent show I haven't seen) were all great, groundbreaking stuff that was always refreshing and so well written, etc etc.  No one tried to slip in the (truthful and common) critique that Sex and the City was produced by a gay man and routinely felt more like listening to a circle of gay men talking sex than realistic mature women.  Sure they have the Pakistani male comedian on too, but he appears as liberal as they come.  Sort of a version of Waleed Aly - someone who viewers might ostensibly think by virtue of cultural background might occasionally express a conservative-ish view, but who can be safely relied upon never to do so and upset the happy panel vibe.   

Benjamin Law is on the panel too - a guy who can talk intelligently when he's not continuing his tweets about poo and gay sex, but whose own talent as a sitcom writer is, in my opinion, vastly overrated in a similar way as is virtually all comedy done by gay people working at the ABC and SBS.  The problem is, I think his views are going to be forever predictable.

I also really had a problem with the clips they showed from TV and movies in a time slot between 8 and 8.30 pm.   One from Girls in which a guy masturbating was made exceptionally clear, with the organ itself just barely out of shot?   A ridiculous pool sex scene from Showgirls?    Why did this think this was a good time slot to be showing these?

So, yeah, I did have a problem with the format, the people involved, and the selection of clips used.   

I don't think it is going to work.


Uh oh

I was half watching the Australian Story on Monday night about boxer Jeff Horn and his hard won fight with Pacquiao in Brisbane a few months back.  

First, I didn't realise until I saw more video of the fight that Horn did look so close to collapsing in whatever round it was.  Didn't realise there was so much blood flowing either.

But - the main thing of note was the concern his wife and family has that he doesn't cause himself brain damage by sticking around the ring for too long.   And then, Horn himself said something like "some nights I find I can't remember what I did during the day, and I worry is it just because I am so busy?"   He said he has "had himself checked out" and he is fine,  but really, it seemed to me that he and his family do indeed have something to worry about. 

It was not disclosed how much he made from the fight, but really, I think it would be a good idea if he went back to teaching...

Wrong accusation not corrected

I find it hard to believe that any politician or public servant takes Sinclair Davidson seriously any more (well, maybe public servants never did), when he makes an accusation that they have done something wrong, he is quickly corrected about facts in comments, and then never puts an update in the post to alert readers that, yeah, he wasn't aware of something that negates his original claim.

This is yesterday's example.  

But there remain posts on the blog from years ago that were clear cases of plagiarism by a "guest" poster, and that has never been the subject of an update in the post itself. 

It's a strange way to run a blog if you want to be known as someone careful about facts,  or integrity in publishing plagiarism.

PS:  still waiting for stagflation to arrive, 6 years on, too.


China lends money

In The Atlantic, an article about China's rise as an international infrastructure developer:
Now it’s China’s turn. The scale and scope of the Belt and Road initiative is staggering. Estimates vary, but over $300 billion have already been spent, and China plans to spend $1 trillion more in the next decade or so. According to the CIA, 92 countries counted China as their largest exports or imports partner in 2015, far more than the United States at 57. What’s most astounding is the speed with which China achieved this. While the country was the world’s largest recipient of World Bank and Asian Development Bank loans in the 1980s and 90s, in recent years, China alone loaned more to developing countries than did the World Bank....

Most of its funding will come in the form of loans, not grants, and Chinese state-owned enterprises will also be encouraged to invest. This means, for example, that if Pakistan can’t pay back its loans, China could own many of its coal mines, oil pipelines, and power plants, and thus have enormous leverage over the Pakistani government. In the meantime, China has the rights to operate the Gwadar port for 40 years.
Doesn't it seem to Americans that "America First" protectionism in terms of trade under Trump is only going to help China in its task of achieving world economic dominance?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Kimmy continues

I'm still watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (first series) on Netflix, and found last night's viewed episode "Kimmy Rides a Bike" particularly funny.

It is definitely an oddball show, and one where the unrealistic silliness of some (most?) of the jokes sometimes doesn't work, but at other times, it does to hilarious effect. 

This episode I refer to features heavy satire of incompetent lawyers (based on the OJ Simpson case); gulliby religious mid-Americans; and the Soul Cycle fitness chain which (as far as I know) has not yet extended its tentacles to Australia (correction: not very far, at least).   The over the top unveiling of the true nature of the cycling guru was so, I don't know, audaciously silly I am still thinking about it today...

The case for Titan (which doesn't convince me)

At NPR, a planetary scientist writes about the advantages of colonising Titan rather than Mars (or the Moon.) 

But the one clear benefit - a thick atmosphere that means protection on the surface from space radiation, and no need for a pressure suit as such - seems to me to overly offset by the freezing atmosphere which keeps water ice frozen solid and makes lakes full of frozen methane.   (Also - it's a long, long trip.)

Until you have great constant thrust rocket engines, I just can't see the value of talking about colonisation of such a distant part of the solar system.

And, as I have argued many times before, if the Moon turns out to have enough ice near the poles or elsewhere, and you have to wear a space suit on either Mars or the Moon on the surface, you may as well live on the closer neighbour, especially if there are convenient lava tubes in which to build underground. 

Oddly, the one thing the Trump administration and I agree on is a desire for a Moon base.    But the wishes are like those we have seen made by Presidents over many decades since Apollo:  all rather pie in the sky unless Congress pays for it and NASA is given a clear direction that isn't about to be overturned by the next administration.  Slate had an article recently against the idea, and that is the first sign that it won't happen.  Not yet, anyway.

The new political correctness attacked by an insider

A bisexual female philosopher complains about the atmosphere in US academia at the NYT:
...it is with some trepidation that I admit that the current political climate in academia confuses me. The more I read about trigger warnings, safe spaces and petitions to retract scholarly articles, the more my head spins. On top of that confusion, I harbor a fear of expressing views that will offend other progressives, scholars and teachers who may also be fighting oppression. And I fear being subject to public shaming on social media, and receiving private hate mail (I still am, after my response in May to the controversy over Rebecca Tuvel’s article in the journal Hypatia). In short, I find myself in an educational environment in which outrage, censoring and public shaming has begun to replace critique, disagreement and debate.
She partly blames social media:
 Although social media can be effective for organizing, and for forming communities (on both the left and the right), it is also often fueled by emotional reaction rather than thoughtful response. Life is flattened to fit the screen, and cute cat videos play next to photographs of the latest atrocity. Social media works by leveling and ripping bits of life from their contexts as a form of entertainment or news — the more outrageous, the better. As consumers, we engage in the virtual performance of pathos and moral virtue with our likes, crying or angry Emojis, and the circulation of outrage or sympathy through sharing petitions or calls for donations.

Not a good sign...

....when your likely new Right wing Chancellor of Austria:



keeps reminding you of the main character in American Psycho


Sure the lapels are narrower, but apart from that, the look is very similar.   (And he's 31.   That ridiculous nerd Caleb Bond will be working on a fashion maker over as a result of this.   His mini Piers Akerman with acne look is not going to cut it.)

A great explanation of Fox & Friends

Just read this in Slate.  It's both amusing and accurate:
These are remarkably stupid times. For a glimpse of why, consider the daily patter of Fox & Friends—or, rather, consider that I am even asking you to consider Fox & Friends. The show is by now known for being terrible television, something that is neither entertaining nor informative, that is best watched as the coffee brews and then forgotten as soon as the cup is empty. Or at least that once was the case. Since its 1998 premiere, Fox & Friends has largely existed, in ostensibly amiable morning-show form, to flatter the resentments of the network’s core fan base of elderly cranks who resent the existence of other channels. But one of those cranks is now president, and, consequently, Fox & Friends is having a moment.....

The hosts are a supergroup of sorts, and their signature tune is reactionary resentment. Fox & Friends is always hearkening back to the good old days. “Remember when the name of the Redskins was the biggest controversy in the NFL? Those were the good old days,” said Kilmeade on Thursday. “Remember when ESPN used to have sports on it? Those were the good old days,” said Doocy on Tuesday. “Twenty years ago, or maybe it was 30 years ago, when Johnny Carson was there at the Tonight Show, you couldn’t really tell his politics, because he just was an equal-opportunity joker about all that stuff,” said Doocy on Monday morning, in response to Jimmy Kimmel’s recent political opining on his own late-night show. “Things have changed,” agreed Earhardt.

Fox & Friends is bad in all of the ways that most morning television is bad—excessively perky and smarmy and dumb—while adding its own special authoritarian twist. There are workout segments and cooking segments and music segments, interspersed randomly with deranged political commentary and militaristic iconography.

In other Tesla news...

No one seems 100% sure of what to make of Tesla firing several hundred employees last week, but it is good to keep in mind it actually employs 33,000 in total, and 10,000 or so at its main factory.   That's more than I would have guessed.

Anyway, yesterday in Brisbane, I was driving behind a Tesla with the Queensland number plate NCC 1701, which amused me.

If you don't understand why, I'm a bit ahead of you in middle aged* nerd quotient. 

*  I'm working on the basis that anything between 40 and 60 is now the new middle aged. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Alcoholic news

I enjoyed a schooner of very nice alcoholic ginger beer at a craft brewery on the weekend.   Very spicy.  Not overly sweet, although my wife begged to differ.    The brewery?  Aether at Milton.   (Didn't get around to their beer beer, but the meat heavy menu wasn't bad, too.)

I occasionally enjoy a sweeter alcoholic drink, but different brands of apple cider tend to be rather similar, I find.   I did enjoy a cherry pear cider from Tasmania a couple of months back, though.  Did I post about that?  No matter, it was this:


Back to craft beers, though:   also at Milton, the Newstead brewery (which had its original outlet at Teneriffe) has a much nicer bar and cafe now just opposite Suncorp Stadium.  Went there for the first time a fortnight ago, and again last weekend.  Their antipasto platter and chips and pizza were all very nice, as were the three different beers I tried.    A very pleasant craft beer place.    

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Handy infomation

My son is approaching legal drinking age, although the level of interest in actually drinking is not very clear.   In any event, I should get him to read this soon.  (I didn't really know the detail about the slowness of breathing):
Still, there are a few simple ways to spot when someone’s blood alcohol level has entered the dangerous territory of alcohol poisoning.

UVA has developed the acronym ‘PUBS’ to help its students remember the signs someone may be dangerously drunk. Call 911 right away if someone is:
  • Puking while passed out
  • Unresponsive to stimulation (pinch or shaking)
  • Breathing (slow, shallow or no breathing)
  • Skin (blue, cold or clammy)
If a drunk person is asleep and breathing normally, something called the ‘Bacchus’ move is a way to help them stay safe and keep their airway clear. Using their own left arm as a pillow, roll the person onto their left side and drop their right knee forward to help stabilise them. Check often to make sure they’re breathing normally and regularly. The Mayo Clinic suggests a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths is a sign of alcohol poisoning.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Big Bang Theory gets it right

Peter Woit over at Not Even Wrong notes that a recent episode of Big Bang Theory gets the current worrying dead end-ish state of physics right.  For example:
SHELDON: What? Look. (sighs) Not all science pans out. You know, we’ve been hoping supersymmetry was true for decades, and finally, we built the Large Hadron Collider, which is supposed to prove it by finding these new particles, and it-it hasn’t. And maybe supersymmetry, our last big idea, is simply wrong.
LEONARD: Well, that sounds awful. Now I get why everyone hates me.

Penny later comes in:
PENNY: So you guys are upset because the collider thing disproved your theories?
LEONARD: It’s worse than that. It hasn’t found anything in years, so we don’t know if we’re right, we don’t know if we’re wrong. We don’t know where to go next…
PENNY: Come on. You guys are physicists. Okay? You’re always gonna be physicists. And sure, sometimes, the physics is hard, but isn’t that what makes it boring?
It's impressive to have a comedy that is accurate about something like that...

Weasel words confirmed

I said the NRA was using weasel words in its announcement that it thought bump stocks should "be subject to additional regulations".  This is confirmed:
The NRA came out against Sen. Dianne Feinstein's bill, which would make it illegal for companies and individuals to buy the firearm accessory, and Rep. Carlos Curbelo's bipartisan bill, which would ban bump stocks. "We oppose the gun-control legislation ... These bills are intentionally overreaching and would ban commonly owned firearm accessories," the NRA said. But "the ATF should review bump-fire stocks to ensure they comply with federal law."
The NRA is saying the ATF should do something it already determined it cannot do:  
But the ATF did finish a classification review of a bump stock, also known as a slide fire, in January 2010. It concluded that the device was a firearm part, not a machine gun, and therefore it was not regulated under the Gun Control Act or the National Firearms Act. 
The NRA is just playing games, as it always does.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Only interested in culture wars

Man, haven't the wingnut blogs gone into ecstatic overdrive about Weinstein.   It's given them (what they think) is valid cover to avoid talking about Trump's economic nonsense/BS from the Hannity interview (see previous post), his weirdly personal and vindictive take on aid to Puerto Rico (what is his problem with that place?), and the obvious fact that it is an open secret in Washington that large numbers of Republicans think Trump is nuts and unstable and needs constant "minding" by people who aren't impulsive and as wilfully ignorant as the current leader of the free world. 

It is, of course, just a sign of the sickness in Right wing politics that point scoring is more important than sensible policy or the very worrying situation of internal warfare within the Right.  

Anyway, I liked this Slate bit about Trump's stupid statement on Hannity:
I sometimes wonder if it’s worth cataloging the vapid things Trump says about the economy. On the one hand, he’s the president. It should matter if he thinks the national debt goes down when the stock market goes up, even in a vague, philosophical sort of way (and to be clear, it does not). On the other hand, anybody reading a center-left website like Slate.com knows that America’s guy in the Oval Office is terminally uninterested in fact or data, except insofar as a number paints his presidency in flattering terms. Remember how the unemployment rate was a fiction, until it wasn’t anymore? This is a man who can only view history and current events as fragments of light endlessly refracted through the prism of his ego. He draws logical connections where none apparently exist, living according to an almost premodern perspective that by merely mouthing an idea, however inarticulate, he makes it real. Maybe this is his power—maybe he really is the übermensch, breaking the chains of our middle-class morality, including the idea that what we say should have some grounding in the world around us, hoisting our politics into the realm of pure myth. 

Or maybe this was just word salad, a confused and careless man following his own babble to its own nonsense conclusion, “in a sense.” Thus sprach POTUS.
 Where is cult follower Kates's explanation of what Trump meant?

Update:  there have been a few article around like this one lately, pointing out that this doesn't actually make sense:


The article notes:
While it’s unclear what media Trump is consuming if he hasn’t seen wall-to-wall, practically deafening coverage of stock-market gains, he is correct that we are in the midst of a historic, if inexplicable, rally, and that unemployment is at a multi-year low. Unfortunately, he either doesn’t understand or is powerless to stop himself from seeking adulation for the very things that experts say point to an economy that doesn’t need a giant, deficit-funded stimulus in the form of big, yuge tax cuts. As the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s Maya MacGuineas told NPR, “If we have a tax cut right now at a time when the economy doesn’t need stimulus and our debt is at near record levels, that will do a lot of damage for the economy and it will be a huge missed opportunity.”

It's a living

I noted with some interest a skeptical take on the matter of lab grown meat having the potential that certain Silicon Valley types think it has, but I don't think it's all that good a piece.

But what I will point out is the title of the author:
Orson Catts:  Director of SymbioticA;The Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts, Professor in Contestable Design, University of Western Australia
His article is at The Conversation, but his job suggests "peak Guardian".

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Betel juice

A detailed report at the BBC about the problem of rampant betel nut chewing in Papua New Guinea and its terrible health consequences:
Papua New Guinea has the highest rate of oral cancers in the world. According to the World Health Organisation, nearly one in every 500 new cases of mouth and oropharynx cancer is in Papua New Guinea and it is the nation's biggest cancer killer. 
A parent says:
"When my children were just six or seven they already knew how to chew," the mother-of-four continues. "I tried stopping them, they were too young. But they grew up with betel nut. We have to educate the children to not chew."

Long term exposure to the mixture dramatically increases risk.

"If a child started chewing betel nut at a very early age, he would be likely to get cancer before reaching the age of 30," said Dr Paki Molumi, surgeon at the ear, nose and throat department at Port Moresby General Hospital. 

I also imagine that is one of the worst forms of cancer from which to die, and PNG one of the worst countries in which to suffer from it.  The article confirms that:
This in a country with limited and healthcare facilities, frequent drug shortages and few oncologists. At Papua New Guinea's only specialist cancer centre, radiotherapy treatments were put on hold after its only radiation specialist resigned last year. 

"Most patients come to the hospital very late. Our health system is fragile and cancer services are not fully functional, so the survival rates are low."

With the popularity of betel nut on the rise, the future burden of cancer treatment on the national health system is a ticking time bomb.
I had no idea its use was a health problem to that degree.

There's also a tie in with another PNG-centric disease, tuberculosis:
"The government has to stop people chewing because it makes so much rubbish. Everyone spits everywhere and it makes the place dirty - it's unhygienic."

One of the motivating factors behind the ban [in Port Moresby only] was to clean up the capital from this residue. The spitting of pathogenic saliva increases the spread of disease. In a country with one of the highest infection rates of tuberculosis in the world, this habit poses huge contamination risks.
What a country...

Oh, Good Lord

Come on, Trump quasi apologists, defend his level of understanding expressed in this:


Clearly, a moron

Am slightly curious to see how followers of the Cult of Trump will explain away this.  (Well, not really.  Their Moron in Chief has already told them it is "fake news", and they have brain washed themselves thoroughly enough by only believing what their inner circle of fellow cult members repeat that they will believe it.)

It's been clear from day one that normal people in the world of politics and government worry a lot about Trump and his capacity for the job.   The big question has always been - how long will key Republicans keep pretending that it's all under control, no need to worry, he's actually on top of things, etc.

Anyway, I liked the sub heading to Kaplan's commentary on the Trump Goes Nuclear story:
Only this president could think 4,000 nukes aren’t enough.  
From the body of the report:
All presidents are ignorant of certain issues when they come into office. Most are aware of their shortcomings and take care to study up on what they need to know. The uniqueness of Trump is that he has almost no self-awareness, deals with his flaws by projecting them onto others, and seems allergic to study. He has asked for his daily briefing to contain no more than three subjects, with no more than one page devoted to each, and containing only the consensus judgment with no space for dissenting views within the intelligence community. Presidents have easy access to the most highly classified information and, if they want, the most knowledgeable experts, in or out of government, on any subject. Yet Trump learns most of what he knows from Fox News and Breitbart.
Seems entirely accurate.

Allahpundit at Hot Air, no Trump fan, has nonetheless defended his right to be completely ignorant on the matter of the international nuclear arsenal and to put stupid ideas at meetings.  

If only we could all be so comfortable with having idiots completely ignorant of key things under their control in control of the US. 

To their credit, in another story, Hot Air does call out as rubbish the Trump tweet about "challenging" NBC's licence for running the story.    Again, true Cult of Trump followers, who have convinced themselves via conspiracy think that criticism of Trump is all just "the Establishment" undermining Trump by lies, so as to enable the coming Socialist Takeover of the World, will find a way to defend the idea.   They are incapable of believing their Glorious Leader really is a dangerous moron.   I'll go over to Catallaxy shortly to see if there are some examples there.

I've said before - Presidents don't have to be the smartest person in the room, but they should have good instincts, know who to take advice from, and have at least a basic level of understanding of key things both as they stand, and from history.

Just how many times does it need to be demonstrated that Trump does not even come up to that standard?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Lesson not learned

A good, pretty detailed explanation at the New York Times about how the Kansas experiment in tax  was a complete failure, yet the Republicans at a Federal level want to try the same thing.   (Not just a tax cut, but to do with the pass-through exemption.)

How can they not have learnt the lesson? 

Never been stupider, I keep saying - and with plenty of evidence.


Bannon BS noted


Men dancing

Seeing that most straight men who happen to see male ballet dancers perform are probably already thinking at one point or another "that looks pretty gay", is it such a big step to have ballets developed to show "two men fall in love"?   Maybe not, but one would have to bet that an art form that is surely already female heavy in audience is not going to do anything to change that by going into gay stories.   (I've never been to a ballet:  it's an artform I "get" in much the same way as I get poetry - pretty much not at all.)

Dance generally is a funny medium regarding this male sexuality thing.   I've probably mentioned this before, but for some reason, I've often felt that Australian male dance performance on Australian TV looked particularly, well, not exactly straight - but is it just a thing about Australian choreography rather than the dancers themselves?   I think that it is not generally noticeable in American movie or TV choreography.   It's a subtle thing, and a bit curious, as I would assume that dancing as a career in both countries attracts a somewhat higher than average number of gay men (as does many parts of show business.)  But look at the dancing in something like La La Land - you virtually never get a gay vibe at all.  Is it partly to do with more black men, with their annoyingly natural grace in dance movement, being in American dance? 

Just one of life's puzzles.

Oh, is that all?

Axios extracts the thoughts of Anne Applebaum on the matter of "what Putin wants":
...a concise description of what Vladimir Putin's Russia aims to achieve by interfering in elections in Germany and throughout the West this week on NPR's Fresh Air:
  • "It wants to end the European Union, which it sees as something that thwarts its ability to do corrupt deals, and do bilateral deals in Europe.
  • "It wants to end NATO, because it wants the United States and its influence out of Europe.
  • "More generally it seeks to undermine and dislodge liberal democracy wherever it can, partly for practical reasons because Russian companies do business using corrupt methods and it would be more useful to them to do business in states where rule of law isn't so respected and they can bribe people…
  • "But I think they also seek to undermine democracy for a bigger reason — namely that democracy rhetoric, or the ideals of rule of law, and freedom of speech and freedom of decision, these are ideals that are undermining for the current Russian regime. It's an oligarchic, corrupt dictatorship, so what it fears the most is people on the streets calling for democracy. So the extent to which it can undermine its neighbors, and undermine their democracies, it's good for them. Then they can point and say, 'look, democracy is a disaster, it doesn't work for the United States, it doesn't work for Germany, so why should you want it either?'"
And Jason - going to give a big "meh" in response?

The tantrum White House

I thought this was a pretty good look at all the reporting of Trump's tantrum problem. 

Cult followers will not have a problem with it, of course.  They just view their glorious leader as righteously angry.

Hollywood's a weird town...

You know Terry Crews - the muscle bound, very likeable, black actor who plays Sergeant Terry on Brooklyn Nine-Nine?   He's tweeted out a story of being openly groped by a "high level Hollywood executive" at a function only last year!   He wanted to floor the guy, but knew it would be bad PR, so just left (with his wife.)    He therefore finds it stressful reading about Weinstein's behaviour.

How remarkable.  First tweet about it is here.

A look at Mexico City

Given my general interest in Mexico, I was happy to watch World's Busiest Cities - Mexico City last night on the ABC.

I had not realised how many of the suburbs were more or less completely "owner built" - but by owners whose only qualification as builders was watching and helping their neighbours build their homes!    And God knows how such structures went in the recent earthquake.

It seems many suburbs have to rely on trucked in water, too.   It looks like such a ramshackle place to live, yet the ties of family and community always seem appealingly strong. 

The government is undertaking some grand improvement schemes for infrastructure, though: most notably a very large, deep sewer line.  Would have been a scary place to be during the recent earthquake, too.

The other thing that surprises me whenever I watch any documentary about Mexico is how the place genuinely does seem infested by roaming mariachi bands, which also seem to genuinely spend most of their time repeating the 2 or 3 greatest hits of Mexican music.  Don't the residents get sick of that!

Anyway, well worth watching...

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Harassment on the rocks

Well, just to show that it's not only Hollywood that's had a problem with sexual harassment over the last couple of decades, Science has details of some harassment claims from Antarctica, going back about 20 years, though:
The first complainant, Jane Willenbring, now an associate professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, part of the University of California, San Diego, alleges that Marchant repeatedly shoved her down a steep slope, pelted her with rocks while she was urinating in the field, called her a “slut” and a “whore,” and urged her to have sex with his brother, who was also on the trip.
The article notes that other women complained about him too;  but he also has his defenders.

The details are pretty strange.  I'll leave the reader to read more for themselves about the sexual taunts, but this just sounds like very childish bullying:
In another instance, Willenbring alleges in the complaint, Marchant declared it was “training time.” Excited that he might be about to teach her something, Willenbring allowed him to pour volcanic ash, which includes tiny shards of glass, into her hand. She had been troubled by ice blindness, caused by excessive ultraviolet light exposure, which sensitizes the eyes. She says she leaned in to observe, and Marchant blew the ash into her eyes. “He knew that glass shards hitting my already sensitive eyes would be really painful—and it was,” she writes.

Lewis, a glacial geologist who worked at North Dakota State University in Fargo until he emigrated to Canada last year, corroborates this anecdote in a written letter to BU. He writes that after Marchant blew ash in Willenbring’s eyes, she “yelled and cursed in pain. While she was doubled over, [Marchant] looked back at the other members of the field party and gave us a comical expression that I interpreted as meaning ‘oops, that went a little too far.’” Lewis’s letter also says that he saw Marchant grab and push Willenbring at least twice.





Controversy, please

I see that, for some reason, SBS ran two stories on Helen Dale launching her new book.  (Both sourced from AAP?)   One is about a Brisbane book store cancelling a book signing on slightly odd sounding grounds, and the other a more general one about how "hoax author braces for new controversy".

Given that the novel, which I gather from a piece about it in The Australian that appeared on the weekend, is an alternative history featuring Jesus and a Roman empire with technology (sort of Roman steampunk-ish, I think), it's a bit hard to imagine just why any controversy from such an eccentric sounding work can be expected. The article notes:
But Dale hopes readers take seriously her suggestion that in today's world Jesus, along with Islam's prophet Mohammed, would be viewed as terrorists under contemporary anti-terror laws, which she believes undermine civil liberties.
Actually, I think quite a lot of people wouldn't be too concerned about a modern Mohammed getting caught up in terrorist laws.  Apart from partaking in on the ground battles, he really had it in for critical poets, and was hardly one for free speech himself, to put it mildly.   Quite a different kettle of fish from Jesus's one bit of aggro in the Temple.


As I have mentioned before, alternative history fiction is a rather niche market (it certainly doesn't interest me, generally), and I just have this sneaking suspicion that Ms Dale would quite like some controversy, if it would help sales.   I find it hard to believe it will have a big market without it.

Still, I await reaction (from other than her odd, small, but strangely intense fan base) with interest.

When being half right is worse than being completely wrong

I remember years ago that I once posted a link at Catallaxy, in response to the increasingly foolish Rafe Champion, showing from part of one of the IPCC reports that it had always been acknowledged that there would be benefits to some parts of the globe from global warming, at least up to a point.   I think he pretty much ignored it.

It has thus long been a furphy from climate change fake skeptics that scientific and economic research into climate change has always ignored benefits.  The latest dimwit to grab that ball and run with it is Tony Abbott - to no one's surprise.   People knew he was lying opportunistically about believing in climate change when he was PM; the net effect of his speech is just further confirmation. 

However, there is a sense in which you can say Abbott is half right.    Journalists and others who are completely dismissive of global warming potentially having net benefits (at least, up to a certain level of warming) are wrong. 

But - he and the others in the cultural warrior/go for growth set make a much bigger mistake - they act as if either:

a. global warming will magically stop before the net detriments start to clearly outweigh the net benefits (ignoring, for the moment, the difficulty of accurately working that out equation with any precision - given that, for example, thousands of people with flooded homes in one part of the world may not feel all that cheered by the fact that some Russian farmers had a better crop of beetroot because of global warming); or

b. that stopping emissions and stopping further warming can done in an instant - when it clearly cannot.

Hence, the "catastrophists" may be making a misinterpretation of the what climate scientists and economists have said, but even so, it is not one that makes a change to sensible policy for the future benefit of the world.

Tony Abbott, Matt Ridley and all of their set of disingenuous twits, on the other hand, do want to set the world on the path of climate change destruction based on their mistakes and flim flam.

Their mistake is much, much more serious.

Monday, October 09, 2017

When self medication fails

Who knows, it may have flaws of some kind, but still, this study puts a bit of a hole in the argument that cannabis users (or at least, those with mental illness) just relax and chill out as a result of using it:
The research by Dr. Alexandre Dumais (MD, PhD, FRCPC, psychiatrist at the Institut Philippe Pinel) and Dr. Stéphane Potvin (PhD, professor at the Université de Montréal), which studied 1,136 patients (from 18 to 40 years of age) with mental illnesses who had been seen five times during the year after discharge, took into account substance use and the onset of violent behaviour.

Previous research has already shown that a cannabis use disorder is associated with violent behaviour. According to this new study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, users who reported at each follow-up visit that they continued to smoke cannabis presented an increased risk (+144%) of violent behaviour.

These results also confirm the detrimental role of chronic cannabis use in patients with mental illness. According to the principal researcher Alexandre Dumais (MD, PhD, FRCPC): "an interesting feature of our results is that the association between persistent cannabis use and violence is stronger than that associated with alcohol or cocaine."

Persistent cannabis use should therefore be considered as an indicator of future violent behaviour in patients who leave a psychiatric hospital for follow-up in an outpatient clinic, although the researcher points out that this behaviour tends to fade with time.

"This decrease could be explained by better adherence to treatment (the patient becomes more involved in their treatment over time) and by better support from their entourage. Even though we observed that violent behaviour tended to decrease during follow-up periods, the association remained statistically significant," noted Dr. Dumais.



Don't let Freud near this

It was posted on Youtube in July, but I just found it via The Anomalist:



Japanese advertising executives do have a certain talent for making me want to watch an ad for its eccentricity quotient, at least.

Believe it when I see it

What's Nature.com going on about seasteading for?   They write:
But the Seasteading Institute and the new for-profit spin-off, Blue Frontiers, have racked up some real-world achievements in the past year. They signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of French Polynesia in January that lays the groundwork for the construction of their prototype. And they gained momentum from a conference of interested parties in Tahiti in May, which hundreds of people attended. The project's focus has shifted from building a libertarian oasis to hosting experiments in governance styles and showcasing a smorgasbord of sustainable technologies for, among other things, desalination, renewable energy and floating food-production. The shift has brought some gravitas to the undertaking, and some ecologists have taken interest in the possibilities of full-time floating laboratories.

They do go on to express grounds for skepticism,  but honestly, unless you're a scientist who wants to do human embryo or head transplant research out of reach of all ethics restrictions (and frankly, that's not something that should be welcomed),  I can't see any reason to believe that research on an isolated lab has any greater chance of ground breaking advancement than in your conventional labs. 

Message to monty

Those who do bother engaging with you show no goodwill, use cringeworthy attempts at dismissive humour instead of genuine debate or rebuttal, live in political/cultural fantasy worlds that are so ingrained they'll never be broken out of them, and often suffer psychological issues ranging from obvious immaturity to (I'm pretty sure) actual personality defects.  It is pointless trying to score points against people like that.

All points made before, but after watching some exchanges you have, I just feel compelled to make them again.

How principled of him

The Atlantic has an article up about Brexit regret, noting many things of interest.  

I note this claim re Murdoch:
“There’s no point in vilifying Bregretters,” Mike Galsworthy, a scientist who founded the prominent anti-Brexit groups Scientists for EU and Healthier in the EU, told me. “Bregretters do have to accept some responsibility for this mess we’re now in, but blame also clearly lies both with Cameron for calling a referendum in the first place, and the 40-year dominance of euroskeptic media,” including Brexit-friendly outlets like The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, and, from Rupert Murdoch’s media portfolio, The Sun and The Sunday Times. “When Murdoch was asked why he was so anti-Europe he said: ‘That’s easy—when I go to Downing Street they do as I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice,’” Galsworthy told me.  These outlets are rife with Euromyths. (Perhaps the most legendary example is the bendy banana euromyth, which claimed that EU regulators banned imports into Britain of bananas that were bent out of shape. This turned out to be false—EU regulations simply stated that the pricing of bananas should be different according to their shape—but it may have had an impact on some people’s decisions to vote Leave, like the infamous Banana Lady.)
Sure, businessmen are often motivated by power and money;  but what's pretty sickening about Rupert is that to get his power, he trades in direct manipulation of the public.  

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Zero G woes

Hey, there's a great extract out (in the Fairfax weekend magazine) from a book by astronaut Scott Kelly explaining how sick he felt after returning from a year on the International Space Station.   (As well as a bit of an account of his morning routine while in space.)  For example:
I had been on the station for a week, and was getting better at knowing where I was when I first woke up. If I had a headache, I knew it was because I had drifted too far from the vent blowing clean air at my face. I was often still disoriented about how my body was positioned: I would wake up convinced that I was upside down, because in the dark and without gravity, my inner ear took a random guess as to how my body was positioned in the small space. When I turned on a light, I had a sort of visual illusion that the room was rotating rapidly as it reoriented itself around me, though I knew it was actually my brain readjusting in response to new sensory input.

The light in my crew quarters took a minute to warm up to full brightness. The space was just barely big enough for me and my sleeping bag, two laptops, some clothes, toiletries, photos of Amiko and my daughters, a few paperback books. I looked at my schedule for today. I clicked through new emails, stretched and yawned, then fished around in my toiletries bag, attached to the wall down by my left knee, for my toothpaste and toothbrush. I brushed, still in my sleeping bag, then swallowed the toothpaste and chased it with a sip of water out of a bag with a straw. There wasn't really a good way to spit in space.

It really doesn't make anything other than a short time in zero G sound much fun.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Sex in the news

*  Harvey Weinstein is surely a spectacular creep who sounds lucky to have avoided jail for indecent acts, but when anyone from the Right says "will he be treated by liberals like they treated Bill O'Reilly?  Hypocrites!"  it's at least right to note a couple of key differences:   Weinstein doesn't make a wealthy living out of telling America nightly (and in umpteen books) how conservatives values were being trashed in the nation and needed to be reinstated; and (unlike O'Reilly) he doesn't claim the women are all lying.   Still, yeah:  Democrats should be running away at a rapid pace from his money.

*  While just Googling for a link for the Weinstein story, I saw a link to this one about an American College that had a forthright practical suggestion as to how male students could avoid sexual assault problems.    The weirdest, dumbest thing is to see that whoever made that slide didn't think it would get back to Disney that they were using one of their characters to promote masturbation. 

This interview at Vox is with a guy who has made a documentary explaining that the internet, and tech heads who establish and run porn sites that provide copious free scenes out of other company's porn are making it extremely hard for the porn actors to make any sort of living out it anymore:
So a lot of people are making a lot less money and are working much, much longer hours to make that money. That’s happening a lot. Whereas the people in charge of PornHub are making so much money they don’t know what to do with it.

These tech people who’ve never set foot on a porn set in their lives, these optimizers and algorithm people and AB testers, these “respectable people” — they’re the ones who seem to be causing the most trouble [in] the lives of porn performers. 

I saw time and time again, people [in the porn industry] would have to move from pretty nice houses to much smaller houses. Porn performers have to go into escorting to pay the rent. More and more producers are going out of business. So in many ways it’s decimating the San Fernando Valley, but the tech people are doing very well....

Alexander Bisley

One of PornHub’s tech guys, exploiting performers’ work, boasted to you: “I’m not a piece of garbage, peddling smut.”

Jon Ronson

When I ask him about the people whose lives were being decimated as a result of the business practices, he went, “Ugh, okay. Their livelihood.” He talked like a tech utopian, somebody who thinks the tech world can do no wrong. A lot of tech people go out of their way to not think about the negative consequences. You shouldn’t not think about those insidious consequences.
Well, it's hard to know what to make of this.   I mean, on the one hand, who really wants to encourage anyone to get into the porn industry as a performer/producer?   Looking at it that way, the more unattractive it can be in remuneration, the less one would hope anyone ever thinks about getting into it.   On the other hand - surely it's wrong to dis-encourage something by more-or-less stealing income from them.  

The interview does explain one thing I never really understood before:
The volume of streaming sites and sharing methods makes it hard for porn companies, often strapped for resources, to fight piracy.

Friday, October 06, 2017

How Comey got it right

Trump has had a spectacularly bad week, what with the weird, weird optics of things like the Puerto Rico paper towel throwing, his utterly tone deaf attempts at a pep talk to officials there, the self promotion evident in his tweeted videos of his visit to Las Vegas, and his now disclosed fury at Tillerson not denying calling him a moron. 

It's been so obviously bad to all but cult followers like Steve Kates (honestly, how can any economics student at RMIT take him seriously?) that I haven't been bothered posting about each individual incident.

However, I thought this story from CNN about what was happening earlier this year when the FBI and intelligence agencies were looking into the Steele dossier was very instructive - it shows how government officials can reliably predict that Trump will be defensive and seek revenge if they present anything to him that he thinks hurts his image:

In the weeks before the US intelligence community published a January report detailing Russian meddling efforts in the 2016 election, top officials at the FBI, CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence discussed including parts of the Steele dossier in the official intelligence document, sources tell CNN.

The debate came in part because the FBI was concerned about being alone in shouldering the responsibility of briefing the incoming President about the allegations. FBI officials hopes that including the dossier allegations in the intelligence report would show the entire intelligence community speaking in one voice.

Then-FBI Director James Comey expressed concerns to his counterparts that if the FBI alone presented the dossier allegations, then the President-elect would view the information as an attempt by the FBI to hold leverage over him.

But the intelligence community had bigger concerns, sources tell CNN. The classified version of the report would be disseminated beyond then-President Barack Obama and the President-elect to other officials including members of Congress. And if that report included the dossier allegations, the intelligence community would have to say which parts it had corroborated and how. That would compromise sources and methods, including information shared by foreign intelligence services, intelligence officials believed.

In the end, the decision was made that the FBI and Comey personally would brief the incoming President on the allegations. That briefing occurred January 6 in a one-on-one conversation following a broader intelligence briefing on Russian meddling provided to then-President-elect Trump and his key staff.

Trump later told The New York Times in July that he took Comey's briefing on the dossier to be an attempt to hold it as leverage over the new President.

"In my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there," Trump said.

Exactly what Comey feared had come to pass.
Any intensely defensive, narcissistic ego at the top makes for extremely dysfunctional government - and to some extent I am put in mind of Kevin Rudd's nightmare of a government for the Ministers and public servants who had to work for him.  

A case could probably be made that Trump is like what you would get if you started with Rudd, but dropped the intelligence by 80% and cranked up the sexism and racism by 200%.    (OK, perhaps drop the empathy down 70%, too.)