Saturday, April 21, 2018

Kevin's having trouble walking back

I found that I was able to read the whole of a WSJ article by recently fired conservative opinion writer Kevin Williamson, in which he (as you would expect) bemoans the unfairness of his treatment for his views on abortion.    I don't know if this link will work for my reader, but here it is.

I think there are two remarkable things about the piece:

*  no where does he simply say "Of course I do not genuinely support capital punishment for women who have abortions."   Instead, his statements all seem to contain hedges:  "I am generally opposed to capital punishment"  No one asked him "Did I really want to set up gallows, despite my long-stated reservations about capital punishment?"  "I’m not eager to be any sort of executioner."   Yeah, way to convince us you're not a little bit disappointed you were born in the wrong era to be a member of the witch hunting Inquisition, Kevin.

*  his thinking on abortion is problematic because it is so fundamentally over-simplified, of course it is going to make him wonder whether it would be a good idea to execute a woman or two as an example for the rest:
Let’s not equivocate: Abortion isn’t littering or securities fraud or driving 57 in a 55-mph zone. If it isn’t homicide, then it’s no more morally significant than getting a tooth pulled. If it isn’t homicide, then there’s no real argument for prohibiting it. If it is homicide, then we need to discuss more seriously what should be done to put an end to it. For all the chatter today about diversity of viewpoint and the need for open discourse, there aren’t very many people on the pro-choice side, in my experience, who are ready to talk candidly about the reality of abortion.
That sentence in my bold - it's so patently not obvious, it's startling that Williamson can't see it.

Of course you can oppose abortion morally without thinking it is the same as,  or classified as,  homicide. Of course people draw distinctions between interference with something with the potential for fully formed human life, and something that has achieved capacity to have independent human life.   If Williamson wants to be consistent, why isn't he writing articles calling on pro-lifers to rally in protest in front of fertility clinics which can hold a thousand tiny embryos on ice, and then let hundreds of them defrost and die.   Is that the same as Hitler gassing Jews?   Williamson seems so incapable of drawing the most obvious of distinctions, I wouldn't put it past him to argue it is.

As long time readers would know, I do have pretty conservative views when it comes to sex and reproduction - I regret the IVF industry as going a step too far in commodifying a process which should be a more natural.  I certainly think surrogacy is morally flawed for similar reasons, especially when used by gay men.   

Yet I am capable - as every normal person with common sense is - of drawing distinctions between, say, a woman who takes a "morning after" pill that might prevent a pregnancy by stopping a fertilised egg from implanting, and a woman who demands a right to abortion of a fully formed fetus capable of independent life if she discovers it has a feature she does not view as desirable.   (The case of a Melbourne woman who wanted a very late abortion due to dwarfism being a good example of the latter.)  

If Williamson's only point were to be to criticise the "fundamentalism" of pro-choicers who argue that abortion right up to the day before the birth of a healthy baby is something a mother should never be criticised for - well, very few people could disagree.  

But the formulation of what he sees as the problem with abortion just reads as complete and unthinking fundamentalism of the most extreme kind in the other direction - and one which indicates a desire to punish women more than men.  (Not only that, as I mentioned in my previous post, historically, even religious authorities with political power have rarely considered it an appropriate response.)    

What Williamson did was troll about women deserving death for doing something against his fundamentalism.   Yes, he deserved to be sacked from writing for a respectable magazine.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Lost looks great

Lost in Space, that is.  On Netflix.  Watched the second episode yesterday.  Was better than the first.

I heard some critics talking about it on Radio National yesterday.   It's being taken that seriously.  It seems everyone likes Parker Posey as the female incarnation of Dr Smith.  (I'm not so sure, yet.)  Much discussion about how Maureen is now the smart spouse instead of being the Housekeeper in Chief, as her character was in 1966.   John Robinson seems a bit of a resentful "you need to respect me more"  meathead so far.  Yet Mum's not perfect - their two girls are the smart kids easily selected to leave Earth, while poor old Will only got on board by his Mum's (easy as pie) computer hacking.   Yet I would still say that Will (played by a likeable boy actor) and his now somewhat creepy Robot are still at the emotional heart of the show.  

Nevertheless, I get the feeling the show must be being despised by 4Chan and alt.righters due to the modern girl power aspect.  (At least the gender reversal of Doctor Smith makes sense in that it balances out any suggestion that all women are smarter and more sensible than men.) 

All of this is prelude to making my key point - I'm loving the production design.   The Jupiter 2 is just like the perfect update of the old TV version.  (I realised last night that I love spaceships in a flying saucer design.   I fondly remember a toy spaceship of generic, Jupiter 2-ish design given to me as a birthday or Christmas present in the late 1960's.  I kind of wish I still had it.  I guess other people like saucer designs too, given the fondness people have for the Millennium Falcon.  Perhaps there is a Jungian explanation to be contemplated.)  The new chariot is a pretty cool update too, although I had to laugh when what's-her-name last night (one of the girls, I forget who is who) used a corded radio microphone.  Maybe it was done as a deliberate reminder of the 1960's looks?  

Good work on the ABC

I saw most of the Leigh Sales interview of James Comey on 7.30 last night.  I thought it was a good interview - both performed well.   Apparently, Helen Razer doesn't think so, but fortunately her verbiage is mostly behind a paywall.

You know, she works as a strong disincentive for me to consider subscribing to Crikey.   I would like to be able to read Bernard Keane and even Guy Rundle in full when I want to, even though I get the impression the former's output has lessened in recent months. (Is he well?  I always worry he might be verging on actual depression).  But I feel can't indirectly support Razer.


According to Axios:
President Trump told former FBI Director James Comey at their private dinner in January 2017 that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn "has serious judgement issues," according to the Associated Press which obtained Comey's memos.
That would have to be the blackest pot calling out of a kettle in the history of kitchenware.  

The shallowest of shallow analysis

While I'm in an anti Tim Blair mood, he today claims that California is "broke", linking to a LA Times story to show it.

What's this?,  I thought - I recently linked to stories showing that tax increases under Jerry Brown had paid off $32 billion of debt, leaving it debt free for the moment.

And indeed, that is still true, as the LA Times article shows.

It goes on to note, however, that long term commitments - payments to retired public servants is the biggest one mentioned - means that there is a lot of future projected debt. But the article shows it is Jerry Brown himself who has been warning of this future problem, which certainly indicates he is not avoiding it as an issue.    And it's a long term thing - the article does not specify over what period the projected $242 billion relates to.

If that's Blair shallow definition of "broke" - governments that have large future projected budget debts but haven't yet worked out how it will be funded - then he may as well be talking about the entire US government being broke and being made far more broke by Trump and the Republicans.  Oh, but they're part of his tribe, so he'll just talk about Trump Derangement Syndrome instead.

He's pretty dumb, let's face it.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Bit of an oddball, really

This TLS article, about theatrical productions based on Charles Dickens novels, starts by noting how Dickens as a young man was very attracted to the idea of being a professional actor.   But he missed an audition and gave up on the idea, even though his behaviour when alone could still be very "theatrical":
...the fact that Dickens could imagine such different outcomes with equal conviction indicates that he did not simply abandon his theatrical ambitions when he became a full-time writer. Instead he absorbed them into his daily routine. His daughter Mamie once observed him in the process of composition:
. . . my father wrote busily and rapidly at his desk, when he suddenly jumped up from his chair and rushed to a mirror which hung near, and in which I could see the reflection of some extraordinary facial contortions which he was making. He returned rapidly to his desk, wrote furiously for a few moments, and then went again to the mirror. The facial pantomime was resumed, and then turning toward, but evidently not seeing, me, he began talking rapidly in a low voice.
It was like a private version of the “monopolylogues” Dickens had enjoyed watching as a young man, farces at Covent Garden and the Adelphi Theatre in which the virtuoso actor Charles Mathews took on all the parts himself, swapping facial expressions and voices like a series of hats. For Dickens the blank page had become a stage on which he could perform his own inimitable one-man show.

Makes me think of boxing, for some reason...

A single concussion may increase risk of Parkinson's disease

People who have been diagnosed with a mild concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury, may have a 56 percent increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease, according to a study published in the April 18, 2018, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

"Previous research has shown a strong link between moderate to severe traumatic brain injury and an increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease but the research on mild traumatic brain injury has not been conclusive," said senior study author Kristine Yaffe, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. "Our research looked a very large population of U.S. veterans who had experienced either mild, moderate or severe traumatic brain injury in an effort to find an answer to whether a mild traumatic brain injury can put someone at risk."

Moderate to severe traumatic brain injury was defined as a loss of consciousness for more than 30 minutes, alteration of consciousness of more than 24 hours or amnesia for more than 24 hours. Mild traumatic brain injury was defined as loss of consciousness for zero to 30 minutes, alteration of consciousness of a moment to 24 hours or amnesia for zero to 24 hours.
Article may be read here.

Tim Blair and suicide

Recently, Tim Blair posted about the 60 year old American lawyer who committed suicide by self immolation and left a note making it clear it was a "lack of action on climate change" political protest.

Blair made light of it in a ironic "solar proponent needed fossil fuel to kill himself properly" way, which I thought in poor taste; but somewhat worse was that the photo at the top of the post was captioned "Brooklyn lawyer David Buckel died hilariously".   Given the odd ways you never quite know who in a newspaper is responsible for captions or headlines, I let it pass.   But seriously - since when does anyone consider suicides "hilarious" regardless of motivation?   Especially the patently gruesome style of suicide that is self immolation - which all normal people just think are awful for onlookers and emergency services to deal with and wish would not happen - and about as far from hilarious as it is possible to get.

So, object of Blair's obsession, Jonathan Green, then tweeted that this was a "new low" for Blair.

Personally, I think his utterly unwarranted ridicule/attack on a Labor politician for having a husband who has completely rehabilitated himself after being a heroin user and serving time for some dealing was worse, as it had obvious potential to be read by said politician and her children, and made no moral sense whatsoever.

Blair now posts that he has received a polite note from some mental health advocate asking that he edit or delete his original post.  Blair has declined, arguing as follows:
You know, it just might be that the reverence and solemnity now surrounding suicide is adding to the problem. It just might be that socially-enforced solemnity over poor decisions actually helps validate those decisions, and may encourage others to follow similarly ruinous paths.
He makes half a good point.   The media reaction to, say, teenagers who have suicided claiming bullying as the motive does concern me as indeed inadvertently encouraging other teenagers who feel victimised to think that, at least in death, they will get the respect and a kind of revenge.  This is legitimate concern, and is well discussed in recent years, such as the reaction to that Netflix show "13 Reasons Why".

But is Blair not bright enough to understand that the appropriate counter-reaction to "overly solemnise"  does not have to be "finding hilarious" actual gruesome suicides?  

It occurs to me about twice a week that Tim is not very bright - given that he swallows and repeats all climate change denialist claims completely uncritically - obviously not caring to look up the wealth of material on the net about what is actually happening; preferring to be a mini Delingpole going "ha ha ha - as if".    The faults and errors in his ignorant attempts to defeat science by laughing at it like an idiot laughs at something he doesn't understand are so obvious that critics have largely stopped engaging with him on that point.  Similarly with Bolt.  They are not serious; yet the consequences of their position is serious.

So when it comes to suicide in a far away country and one by a Greenie, it's all worth a "hilarious" reaction too.  It's letting dumb-ass culture warrioring make him think and sound like a minor psychopath.

And he can't see that.  But as I say, not very bright.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

And now to quote Adam Gopnik

I liked Gopnik's article about the danger in Trump's appalling tweets, and it's worth reading it all.  But I think these are the key paragraphs:
The trouble is that the damage done by Trump’s words is damage enough. In a contestatory democracy—where the core notion, however debased by overuse and however degraded by money and power, is that political differences are settled by debate—words have, of necessity, a quality not so much sacred as practical. They’re the currency of open societies, which rest on the primary foundation of having exchanged weapons for ideas. There’s a reason that the great crises of this democracy have been met by an efflorescence of language, a reason that we turn to Hamilton and Franklin and Lincoln and King not just for wisdom about crises past but for a vocabulary for crises present. Words are what governments with a liberal public face have to live by. We know tyrannies by their temples; we know democracies through their tongues.

Trump’s words don’t debate or even discredit. They degrade and delegitimize. They’re insults so crude that it’s difficult to believe that anyone could find them persuasive, but that are clearly intended to appeal to a part of what is called the “base”—an unintentional, if somewhat Shakespearean, pun. One miserable truth of humanity is that cruel impulses are easy to awaken in large numbers of people, if they’re told by those in power that those impulses are now acceptable, and the form that such permission takes is invariably a reawakening of the language of demonology.....

Trump, in maintaining that the opposition is not merely wrong but criminal, not mistaken but illegitimate, undermines not a norm or a manner or some stuffy curlicue of liberalism’s house rules; he assaults its essence. We are shocked by Trump’s language not because we’re prim but because we understand intuitively, instinctively, that the language is itself an assault on the rule of law, not merely a prologue or preface to it. It’s not a puff of air. It has real consequences. James Comey registered this shock just the other morning on NPR: “President Trump, I don’t follow him on Twitter, but I get to see his tweets tweeted, I don’t know how many, but some tweets this past couple of days that I should be in jail. The President of the United States just said that a private citizen should be jailed. And I think the reaction of most of us was, ‘Meh, that’s another one of those things.’ This is not normal. This is not O.K. There’s a danger that we will become numb to it, and we will stop noticing the threats to our norms.” To which one might add only that it isn’t norms but premises that are being undermined. Every time Trump calls his critics or political opponents “crooks” or “slime balls,” it poisons the possibility for open debate.

Rupert runs a propaganda network to troll his son?

Well ain't this grand news (assuming it is accurate)?

I have complained often about Rupert Murdoch's role in not moderating his pro-Trump propaganda network (Fox News.)   According to Vanity Fair:
Rupert Murdoch has not been pleased with the current Fox leadership team’s crisis-management abilities, sources said. The 87-year-old mogul has been recovering from a severe back injury at his Bel Air estate after falling on his son Lachlan’s yacht shortly after the Christmas holiday. Earlier this month, Murdoch was upset that Fox didn’t forcefully defend Laura Ingraham, who faced an advertiser boycott for mocking Parkland survivor-turned-gun-control activist David Hogg.

Now, Murdoch is back at work. According to a source, Murdoch returned to the office yesterday and appeared invigorated. “He looked taller,” the source said. In ultimately deciding how to handle the Hannity crisis, Murdoch is facing competing impulses. On the one hand, Hannity is a ratings machine and winds up liberals, including his son James, in a way that is entertaining to Murdoch. But Hannity is also Trump’s most unapologetic booster at a time when sources said Murdoch may be cooling on Trump. One person close to Murdoch told me Murdoch called Trump to complain about the trade tariffs. (A Murdoch spokesperson denies this.) Another source said Murdoch was not invited to the upcoming state dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron, and only was added to the list after calling the White House. (Murdoch’s spokesperson denies this.)
Good grief - the Laura Ingraham comments re Hogg were low and she deserved ridicule and an advertiser boycott.

But even worse - Rupert finds it funny that Hannity winds up James?? 

As I have said before, he doesn't care as long as the network brings in cash by catering to conspiracy minded wingnts, and he's still getting invites to state dinners.

A pretty appalling man.

What's in a name

John Quiggin has decided to reclassify his political position as "socialist", rather than "social-democrat".

I tend to agree that this political classification stuff has become all rubbery and a tad pointless.  I liked this line in JQ's post:
As has been true for most of the history of the modern world, the only serious threat to democracy is now coming from the right.
Not sure about the part before the comma, but agree with the second part while ever Trump is in the chair.

On the other side of the political spectrum, I suspect Australian would-be libertarians have embraced "classical liberal" instead with relish in recent years to avoid association with American Rand-ian inspired libertarianisn,* which still has something of an air of obsessive nuttiness about it.   I've noticed that one defining thing about Australian "classical liberals":  their complete policy indifference  on climate change.   Yeah, they fret a lot about whether bicycle helmets are really worth it, people's right to inhale lead and formaldehyde laced e-cigarette vapours, and Andrew Bolt claiming trauma by going to court over the Racial Discrimination Act; but something that is literally going to re-shape the face of the planet  - well they have no interest, apart from whining about market distortion when governments support renewables.   They're about the last people who should have political power at the moment.

And by the way:  Graeme Bird is apparently commenting at JQ's post, and managing to sound eccentric, but not entirely mad.  The medication must be helping...

*  yeah, yeah, she denied she was one, but she was an unreliable nutter generally


More entertainment to be found from the dude who does RSL and pub gigs for a living (I'd love to know if he was playing near Brisbane:   I would think of getting a triggering T Shirt made up to wear - "Make Australia Great - support UN Agenda 2030").

TV viewed

*  Netflix's Lost in Space:  only seen the first episode, and while not totally thrilled, it's promising enough to keep going.   Oddly, though, I don't understand why people like to rubbish the movie version (which I am one of few people to defend - I really quite liked it) on the grounds that it  made tension within the Robinson family a key part of the plot, when this update does something similar but is generally receiving kinder reviews.   Netflix is promoting it very heavily, which I have read is a ploy to get more family friendly material, and I like that the company is doing that.  

* Netflix's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency:   I was dubious on viewing the first episode: too many plot threads and I was finding Dirk a bit, I dunno, verging on camp fey?   But I came back to it recently and watched a few more episodes, and it has grown on me considerably.   Most episodes have a good few laughs, and a surprise or two, and the leads are good together.   It takes a too violent turn every now and again, and the basic plot is as silly as a Doctor Who episode, but I'm glad I came back.

* Mr Robot Season 3:  3 episodes in and I think it's moving faster than some of the glacially paced talky episodes in Season 2.  The weirdness of the writing of some characters continues.  Got a good laugh when it incorporated the matter of how Trump got elected.   He obviously hasn't seen the show, or he would be decrying it as fake news, even though it's not news.   Given the key "Dark Army" out of China aspect, I can imagine Jason Soon getting a thrill from it...

Tony was wrong? (Read as sarcasm)

Australia's renewable energy capacity is set to exceed a target the Federal Government said was impossible to reach by 2020, according to new research from Green Energy Markets.

In its quarterly Renewable Energy Index, GEM said the amount of renewable energy generated in 2020 was set to exceed the original 41,000 Gigawatt hour (GWh) Renewable Energy Target (RET) that was in place before being scrapped in 2015 by the federal government led by then prime minister Tony Abbott.

The original RET was put in place to help Australia meet its 2030 climate change commitment to cut emissions by 26 to 28 per cent from 2005 levels.

It was replaced by a less ambitious target of 33,000 GWh after the Abbott government characterised the original RET as impossible to achieve, while arguing there was already too much generating capacity.

The GEM study funded by activist group GetUp found estimated eligible generation would hit 41,381 GWh by 2020, not only exceeding the current RET, but the original RET as well.
Mind you, it is so hard to understand disputes about energy policy in Australia that I wouldn't be surprised if someone turns up pointing to some misleading aspect of this perhaps overly positive report.    I mean, you do get the feeling that each side exaggerates in their own self interest.  And as for what the Liberal's National Energy Guarantee even means, let alone an objective assessment of it - well, I have yet to see a good, clear explanation.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Must make Murdoch proud

I'm referring to Hannity failing to disclose during rants against the (judicially authorised) Cohen raid that he was a client of Cohen.  How spectacularly self-interested and unethical was that?

What I don't understand is why the few allegedly neutral journalist/commentator types who work at the network don't all resign due to the network's overall design of being the ultimate pro-Trump/conspiracy  network.  Have some self respect, guys.

Chait on the failure of moderates to moderate the GOP

Good article by Jonathan Chait on the problem of Republican "never Trumpers" just giving up.

Monday, April 16, 2018

A bad look for UQ

At the ABC, a rather surprising story:
The University of Queensland (UQ) and two international medical journals are investigating alleged ethical violations in research around Universal Medicine (UM), an organisation based in Lismore in New South Wales, which touts the healing power of "esoteric breast massage" and other unproven treatments.

Founded by Serge Benhayon — a former bankrupt tennis coach with no medical qualifications who claims to be the reincarnation of Leonardo Da Vinci — UM is a multi-million-dollar enterprise with 700 mostly women followers in 15 countries.

UM practitioners are also taught by Mr Benhayon to carry out esoteric ovary massage to "help women connect back to their body".

An ABC investigation can reveal three members of UQ's faculty of medicine have publicly advocated for the controversial group.
Eminent medical educator John Dwyer, the former head of immunology at Yale University, said the researchers had "an unbelievable conflict of interest" as "apostles for Universal Medicine, heavily involved in the organisation and the teachings of the group".
UM is linked to Mr Benhayon's Way of the Livingness religion, with UM followers urged to follow his strict lifestyle instructions from diet and sleep to sex.
Mr Benhayon's acolytes include Christoph Schnelle, a UQ faculty of medicine researcher who was the lead author of three articles on UM health practices.
He and eight co-authors are now under scrutiny for an alleged failure to declare their roles in what has been described as "a dangerous cult" by Professor Dwyer, who is now based at the University of New South Wales.
The ABC has obtained video of four of the researchers publicly advocating UM practices, including two doctors.
 How very odd...

Right wing cranks are cranky

Well, as if you didn't know they live in their own little, intensely unhappy, bubble world, I've just noticed that many of the self admitted inmates of Catallaxy have, by and large, been saying that they didn't watch a minute of Commonwealth Games coverage and (seemingly) avoided the whole thing more-or-less on principle. 

Given that the crowds at the Games seemed reasonably large and enthusiastic, and Channel 7 killed it in the TV ratings, they are confirming again how they live in their own bubble world, where unless it's an angry white guy on Sky News going off about Malcolm Turnbull or political correctness, they aren't interested in TV.

Right wing bubble world is a pretty sad place...and angry.  Very, very angry.  And funnily enough, while they disparage Hollywood stars who threaten to leave the US if a candidate they hate were to get elected, the Catallaxy inmates frequently make very similar statements, about how they would get out of Australia if they could.  Because it's gone to the dogs, obviously.  

Very low level of self awareness going on...

A post is coming

I haven't posted anything specifically about climate change news for some time.

I have been saving some links and intend to make a climate change bad news mega-post soon.

Just in case any of you thought I wasn't worrying about it any more...

Funniest Commonwealth Games Closing ceremoney tweet

It was, I suppose, kind of refreshing to have Channel 7 hosts bag their own broadcast as soon it finished.  I guess seeing they were standing in front of an empty stadium they had little choice.

I saw bits and pieces of it, and the choices did all seem very bizarre. 

Anyway, the funniest tweet I saw about it all was this:

Sunday, April 15, 2018

That sinking Roman feeling

An article at The Guardian talks about the increasing number of disastrous sinkholes appearing in Rome - associated, it seems, with increased rainfall:
It’s not a new phenomenon: there have been an average of 90 sinkholes a year in Rome since 2010. In 2013, there were 104 and 2018 will surely surpass even that record. The problem is clearly getting worse: the streets are beginning to look like black emmenthal and everyone in Italy is wondering why the earth seems, in the words of the Jewish prophet Isaiah, “to stagger like a drunken man”.

Some blame the rain. Romans are used to wearing sunglasses all winter, but this has been the wettest six months in living memory. There have been plenty of what are melodramatically called bombe d’acqua, water bombs. In September last year, flooded subways were closed as rivers cascaded down the escalators and stations became huge shower rooms with water gushing through ceiling cracks. Thousands of cars were in water up to their wing mirrors.

In November – and this is a sure sign things are serious – Lazio’s football match against Udinese was postponed due to torrential rain. Last week, there was more flooding of the subway. In the past month, central Italy has had 141% more “anomalous rainfall” than average.
It then goes on to talk about Rome's geology (built on soft sediments), but it fails to mention something that was dealt with on a BBC documentary that I mentioned last year:  the extraordinary degree to which modern day Rome is built on top of ancient, underground quarries and other empty spaces.  (Oh, I see the link in my previous post no longer works - here's one to the BBC showing just one clip.)  Anyway, there was one map on that show that indicated that Rome was like swiss cheese below ground - not just aqueducts and sewers, but vast cavernous spaces carved out 2,000 years ago.  No wonder heavy rain is causing problems.   

Seems just a little overstated, and I get back to normal about sport

According to News Corp, Australia's netball team losing to England means this:

As the Commonwealth Games near an end, may I also revert back to some more typical anti-sporting sentiment?:

*  I can't for the life of me see why netball has a significant following in this country.   Just can't see that it's a technically interesting sport to watch.

*  To be honest, I have no interest in women's team sports of any colour.  Sure, I can admire female swimmers, athletes, cyclists, etc;  but put a team of women playing something that only ever used to be played by men - looks a bit weird to me.  There are men my age who seemingly don't share this view, but with my low interest in sports anyway, there just seems something not quite right about women teaming up for chasing games (see my last comment below.)

*  Really, I'm never going to get used to women's boxing.   The sentiment is growing, with great justification, for men's boxing to be banned;  but at least that sport can be argued as a safer formalisation of testosterone fuelled aggro between men.   With women - yes, I'll say it - it's an unnatural look.

*  Also not a good look to see a marathon runner collapsed on the ground.   I have never understood the public's interest in watching or participating in that event either - just seems to me to a sport so far outside of the bounds of any "natural" activity that it becomes a little, well, silly.   Like free diving.   I mean, ball games like rugby and soccer likely have appeal due to the unconscious reminders of ancient male hunting and chasing on the plains of the Serengeti, or wherever;  but actually testing yourself as to how far deep you can go on a held breath, or how many minutes you can shave off a distance no one ever needs to run: well, it's all rather pointless to my way of thinking. 

Recipe reminder - pumpkin soup

Yesterday we ate at a Yum Cha restaurant in a (I think) Vietnamese run restaurant.  It was very nice (although I have had better chicken feet), cost $64 for four (bargain), and it remains one of my favourite ways to lunch.

Not being sure of its origin as a way of eating, I found the Wikipedia entries on yum cha and dim sum quite helpful.

Anyway, this is all prelude to explaining that we needed a lighter than average evening meal, so I made for the first time in many, many years some basic pumpkin soup following a recipe I wrote in the back of a cookbook maybe 25 years ago.   (I forget where I got it from originally - oh, now I remember, it was on the side of a can of evaporated milk!)   I was pretty sure my wife, or one of the kids, had said many years ago that they didn't care for pumpkin soup, and hence I had not made it for at least a decade, I suspect.   But being told that this was no longer the case, I went ahead and resurrected it, and the result did seem particularly delicious - perhaps it was just the right sort of pumpkin (kent, I think) that came from a roadside sales bin when we trekked off to  Mulgowie last week.

As this blog occasionally serves as a (hopefully permanent) repository for some key recipes I don't want to lose, here goes:

750 g of cubed pumpkin
1 1/2 cups of water turned into chick broth using a stock cube or powder
a large onion
15 g of butter (just a large knob, I guess)
normal size can of lite evaporated milk

That's it.   In a fairly wide saucepan, fry off the onion in the butter to soften it a bit, throw in the pumpkin, water and stock cube/powder and let it simmer, uncovered, for 25 minutes.   Blend what's left in the saucepan (a stickblender should work fine), add the can of evaporated milk, some nutmeg and maybe a little bit of salt to taste.   Reheat gently, and eat.    Toast and some garlic fried beans as a side.  Nice.

Zero Dark Thirty: another in the series of "Late Movie Reviews"

Watched Zero Dark Thirty, the Kathryn Bigelow directed movie about the hunting down of Osama Bin Laden, last night.  This discussion may contain spoilers, on the assumption that most readers who were interested in it have already seen it.

I think it's very much of a piece with Black Hawk Down, which I happened to watch for the first time last week:  high on military realism, but very shallow on depth of characterisation, and little attempt at character development.   I think the latter is more of an issue for ZDT, because it follows one character (a real female CIA agent who did play a large role in finding Bin Laden) over 10 years.  The film gives you the impression she has no inner life at all.  At the start she seems a friendless workaholic; by the end she's moved on to be an even less likeable obsessive friendless workaholic. 

Yet I see, now that I look up articles about the accuracy of the film, that this might actually be an accurate character portrayal, if this part of a 2012 Washington Post article  is anything to go by:
This spring, she was among a handful of employees given the agency’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal, its highest honor except for those recognizing people who have come under direct fire. But when dozens of others were given lesser awards, the female officer lashed out.

“She hit ‘reply all’ ” to an e-mail announcement of the awards, a second former CIA official said. The thrust of her message, the former official said, was: “You guys tried to obstruct me. You fought me. Only I deserve the award.”
Not exactly a generous spirit, by the sounds.  (She was also passed over for promotion, according to the report.)

As to the accuracy of the film overall,  I see from this article in The Telegraph that it is pretty true to life, although (amongst other quibbles) some of the things the SEALs do in the Bin Laden compound raid are not technically correct.   I haven't read whether one thing that bothered me in the film was accurate or not - the way this white, red haired, female CIA operative drove herself to and from work in Pakistan.   Seemed a kind of dangerous thing to do - I would have assumed female CIA agents in that country would have had male drivers and bigger cars.

One small but surprising detail in the film is this (from the Telegraph article), although perhaps I had heard it before:
One of the most intriguing cameos in Zero Dark Thirty is that of Fredric Lehne, who plays the CIA’s counterterrorism chief, referred to only as “The Wolf”. Despite being a key figure in the fight against Islamist militants, when we meet him in his office he is practising Muslim prayer.

As surprising as it sounds, this is true, at least according to a report by the Washington Post in March last year: the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC), and the leader of the hunt for bin Laden, really has converted to Islam. Named only as “Roger” by the newspaper, he is in his late fifties and has worked for two presidents, four CIA directors and four directors of national intelligence.

His conversion to Islam came after he married a Muslim woman, but, according to the Washington Post, there is no prayer rug in his office. He is, however, known to clutch a strand of prayer beads.
But what about its portrayal of torture as a sometimes useful undertaking?    I think it's hard to deny that the film works as an apologia for torture, and a disingenuous one at that.   I think it tries to show sympathy to anti-torture advocates in the way it starts with our heroine Maya being disturbed by it, and later the male interrogator who feels he has to get out that line of work for a while because it's doing his head in, too.   Yet the film suggests that, while it doesn't always work, information from some interrogations was useful.

This article in The New Yorker argues that this is where the film falls down:
 In addition to excising the moral debate that raged over the interrogation program during the Bush years, the film also seems to accept almost without question that the C.I.A.’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” played a key role in enabling the agency to identify the courier who unwittingly led them to bin Laden. But this claim has been debunked, repeatedly, by reliable sources with access to the facts. As the Washington Posts Greg Sargent first reported, shortly after bin Laden was killed, Leon Panetta, then the director of the C.I.A., sent a letter to Arizona Senator John McCain, clearly stating that “we first learned about ‘the facilitator / courier’s nom de guerre’ from a detainee not in the C.I.A.’s custody.” Panetta wrote that “no detainee in C.I.A. custody revealed the facilitator / courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts.”
Well, yeah, that is a bit problematic for how one should view the film morally, I reckon.

So, overall, it's an interesting film as a bit of slightly fictionalised quasi-documentary, which turns out to have a morally dubious take on a key controversy; but even apart from that issue, I don't quite understand why it received so many completely uncritical reviews.   As with Black Hawk Down, these types of film are very impressive as recreations, but they lack emotional kick and the sort of imagery that really makes a film powerful.  Worth watching, but ultimately, not worth endorsing as great movies either.

Saturday, April 14, 2018


So, I'm in the somewhat painful process of trying to work out a holiday, and found this photo, from a Mercure Hotel room...

...and I find it triggers claustrophic feelings just from looking at it. 

It's a seriously off-putting photo.

Friday, April 13, 2018

What's happening to me?

The issue:  the Commonwealth Games is making me feel all warm and gooey towards sports.  This is very much out of character. 

I guess I felt somewhat the same when the Sydney Olympics were on - I think it's partly a weird parochial pride that our country can organise these things well.  

I have to say, the TV coverage by the Seven Network has looked and sounded very professional.  It's pretty remarkable, really, that there are any commentators for some esoteric sports who can sound confident and knowledgeable during live commentary.   Who'd have thought there was anyone out there who could talk up the excitement of, I don't know, a 10m air gun target competition, for example?

I also have liked the way that the paralympic events have just been mixed in between the (what's the politically correct term?) able bodied(?) events.    Makes them seem much more relevant, and it seems to me the Olympics would be wise to copy that, if it was at all possible.  

We all know that the Games will have been a mixed economic blessing to businesses on the Gold Coast.   Yet the images on TV have looked so good, and the Australian medal tally so impressive (especially for swimming, which looked to be in an incredible funk only a short time ago, but is once again full of charismatic, spectacularly fit and good looking young folk) that it's hard to believe that it will not be viewed as a success.   Sure, I understand the Olympics are a gargantuan waste of money for host cities and everyone thinks it needs to be reformed, but a more modest scaled event like this looks, well, just about the right size.

But don't worry, I'm be back to my normal dismissive attitude to each and every sport any day now...

Calm and angry comments about Chris Berg

Oh dear.  I was criticising Chris Berg earlier this week for writing vapid papers on blockchain, now he's contributing a vapid, self serving piece on The Conversation:

Are Australians ready to embrace libertarianism?

Everyone agrees that the answer is "no", but I've been torn as to how angry to sound in this post detailing why.

OK, here's the calm response.    If you missed it last year,  I recommend you look at Will Wilkinson's explanation about why purist libertarianism is a utopian idealistic belief system, and those are not a way to make sound policy. 

And here's the angry response:






Thursday, April 12, 2018

Outrageous lying politician poisoning politics in his country

Newt Gingrich on Fox and Friends, about the Cohen FBI raids:
We're supposed to have the rule of law. It ain't the rule of law when they kick in your door at 3:00 in the morning and you're faced with armed men and you have had no reason to be told you're going to have that kind of treatment. That's Stalin. That's the Gestapo in Germany. That shouldn't be the American FBI.
You can imagine a large number of the gullible Trumpers watching this thinking that this reflects reality,  when Cohen himself said:
Trump's personal attorney tells ABC News FBI raids were 'respectful' and 'courteous'
WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen told ABC News Tuesday that FBI agents did not storm in, but simply knocked on the door, as they raided his office, hotel room and home Monday.

There were no SWAT teams, no guns drawn. The operation was "respectful" and "courteous," he told ABC News on Tuesday.
All after, of course, various Republican justice officials went to a judge and got a warrant for this.

I mean, seriously, no matter how loony you think parts of the Left have gone in the US, with its intense identity politics and University political correctness, surely all fair minded people should be appalled that it is a famous Republican political actually poisoning political discourse by such ridiculous and deliberately misleading hyperbole. 

To anyone who thinks Trump's tough guy tweets indicate there's no shady connection with Russia...

...I make the following comments:

*  we all know he's an empty shell with no consistent principles, able to be influenced by the last thing he heard, and his fragile buffoon ego always wants to claim he's a "winner".   It's not surprising that one minute he'll decide to sound tough on Russia/Putin, and the next he'll try to walk it back a bit;

*  that's pretty much what we are seeing now. Look at these tweets and their tone of "Jeez, don't blame me for things being bad with Russia.  If it weren't for those damn Democrats persecuting me I'd have it all back on track and things would be great with Russia":

*  there is also the possibility that his peanut brain is just smart enough to think "I'd better sound tough on Putin so that people don't think I'm under the Russian thumb."

*  tax returns?   A very plausible theory is that Trump is scared of the investigation not because he was closely involved in collusion re Russian interference in the election (although his having some knowledge of seedy contacts by his staff is quite likely), but that the investigation will turn up financial ties to Russians that he does not want to see disclosed.  Again, this would justify a "better sound tough, but still want to be friends with Russia" back and forth in his rhetoric.  

Conversion for politics

Interesting article up at The Atlantic:

Converting to Buddhism as a Form of Political Protest 

Low-caste Indians are leaving Hinduism en masse—partly to stick it to their prime minister.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Sounds a lot

China and clean air don't exactly go hand in hand, and it's reflected in lung health:
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is widespread in China with 8.6 percent of the country's adult population - almost 100 million people -suffering from the chronic lung disease, according to a new Tulane University study published in The Lancet.

The study, which provided lung-function screenings for more than 50,990 participants, is the largest survey of COPD across age groups ever conducted in China, researchers say.

COPD, an inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow into the lungs, is the third leading cause of death in China. It is caused by long-term exposure to irritants in the air, including cigarette smoke. During the past decade, ambient air pollution has become a major public-health crisis in the country while cigarette smoking remains high, especially among men, says senior author Dr. Jiang He, Joseph S. Copes Chair of Epidemiology at Tulane University School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine.

Yes, exactly

Just noticed this on Twitter (the bit in red is the main part, but the tweet above that is relevant too):

John Gray on "hyper-liberalism"

There's much of interest in John Gray's piece at TLS on what he calls hyper-liberalism.

Just one part, which I will extract here, is about Marx writing about colonialism:
The complex and at times contradictory realities of empire have been expelled from intellectual debate. While student bodies have dedicated themselves to removing relics of the colonial era from public places, sections of the faculty have ganged up to denounce anyone who suggests that the legacy of empire is not one of unmitigated criminality. If he was alive today one of these dissident figures would be Marx himself, who in his writings on India maintained that the impact of British imperialism was in some ways positive. Acknowledging that “the misery that was inflicted by the British on Hindostan is of an essentially different and infinitely more intensive kind than all Hindostan had to suffer before”, Marx continued by attacking the “undignified, stagnatory and vegetative life” of Indian villages:
 we must not forget that these idyllic village communities, inoffensive though they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of Oriental despotism, that they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it within traditional rules . . . . England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindostan, was actuated by only the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England, she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution. (“The British Rule in India”, New-York Daily Tribune, June 10, 1853)

 Of course, Marx may have been mistaken in this judgement. Along with most progressive thinkers of his day, he assumed that India and other colonized countries would replicate a Western model of development. But like other progressive thinkers at the time, he also took for granted that this was a question that could and should be debated. He never believed that colonialism was self-evidently damaging in all of its effects.

A modest proposal

So, maybe the Chinese want a military base on Vanuatu?

Well, instead of complaining about it, we've got lots of Northern land not being used.   Maybe not many great harbours, but there's probably an adequate one up there somewhere on Cape York.   Also, some aboriginal settlements with limited economic activity.

My modest proposal:   let the Chinese build one up there.   Benefits:  economic activity in an underdeveloped area of Australia; more people with money to spend in Cairns; our military intelligence has an easy place to spy on to get good knowledge of how the Chinese military operates; if they start misbehaving, we just send in the trained attack crocodiles.  Or our fighters from the "bare base" known as RAAF Base Scherger, near Weipa.  

Downsides:  they'll probably blow up every reef within 100 km just as a precaution.   But we can keep the bond money if they do that.

Come on, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Time to address universal basic income

Readers may, or may not, have noticed that despite it having an increasing amount of publicity in the last year or two, I've never mentioned the idea of a universal basic income.

That's because I always felt intuitively that it just surely can't be a good idea, at this stage of technological development, anyway.

I agree that this Club Troppo post does deal with it well.   It's not a good idea, and my intuition was right.

Quiggin on free market economists

I liked John Quiggin's latest post about the free market economists in the US who have capitulated to Trumpism.   His final paragraph:
The last decade or so has been pretty devastating for the idea of economics as a science or profession. As I argued in my book Zombie Economics, ideas that have been utterly refuted by the evidence of the Global Financial Crisis shamble on in an undead form. The hackery I’ve described here isn’t being produced by marginal figures like Larry Kudlow but by some of the leading lights of the “discipline”. In the end, all their expertise turns out to be nothing more than a fig-leaf for service to financial capitalism. As with evangelicals, libertarians and the Republican base as a whole, the last few years have shown that the most lurid leftwing caricatures of free-market economists have turned out to be understatements.

Smoking vomit

I see the NYT has a story about an increase in a painful vomiting syndrome caused by heavy cannabis use:
“After marijuana was legalized in Colorado, we had a doubling in the number of cases of cyclic vomiting syndrome we saw,” many of which were probably related to marijuana use, said Dr. Cecilia J. Sorensen, an emergency room doctor at University of Colorado Hospital at the Anschutz medical campus in Aurora who has studied the syndrome.

“C.H.S. went from being something we didn’t know about and never talked about to a very common problem over the last five years,” said Dr. Eric Lavonas, director of emergency medicine at Denver Health and a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Now a new study, based on interviews with 2,127 adult emergency room patients under 50 at Bellevue, a large public hospital in New York City, found that of the 155 patients who said they smoked marijuana at least 20 days a month, 51 heavy users said they had during the past six months experienced nausea and vomiting that were specifically relieved by hot showers.
Googling the topic, I see that it has the been subject of many stories in the last few years, but I don't think I've posted about it before.

Apart from this particular problem, I find it hard to believe that such regular users don't have some other effect on their health and lives as well.   (Although heavy users do develop a tolerance to the intoxication effect, if I recall correctly.)

The result everyone sensible expected already here?

Where's Laffer to explain how the Congressional Budget Office is wrong?:
Last month, the federal government spent roughly $371 billion, up $7 billion from February 2017. Tax receipts, meanwhile, fell to $156 billion from $172 billion a year earlier.

Interest payments on the nation's debt, Social Security and Medicare, and outlays by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense, are the areas where spending has gone up the most, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The CBO attributed the drop in revenue to higher tax refunds and a reduction in income and payroll tax withholding in the wake of the tax cuts that went into effect on January 1.

For the first five months of this fiscal year, which began on October 1, the country's deficit totaled $391 billion, which is $40 billion higher than the same period last year.

For the full fiscal year, Treasury now projects the annual deficit will near $833 billion, and then $984 billion in fiscal 2019.

The climb back to trillion dollar deficits — a hallmark of the financial crisis — has been hastened by policies put into place in the past several months.
The Americans have the examples of Kansas, Oklahoma and California to show the simple relationship to taxes and deficits, but because laughing Laffer drew a graph on a napkin, it's all going to be OK, according to Republicans.

Get a real job, Chris

I've often said that Chris Berg was the likeable IPA face when he turned up on the ABC to sell its esoteric and unpopular fringe ideas to the public.

But he seems to have thrown his lot so completely in with Sinclair Davidson, whose influence I strongly suspect (if judged by media and ABC appearances) has been deservedly dwindling, that I reckon he's wasting his professional life.

Now, he seems to spend all his time writing science fiction tinged guff about how blockchain is going to change everything (including doing away with money, if you read his latest co-authored campfire story to other science fiction reading libertarians), and writing a book with SD to be published by the right wing cranks' publisher of choice (Connor Court) about how the ABC should be privatised.

I suppose someone (RMIT?) is paying for his musings, but really, I think he would be better off getting a real job. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Funny because it's true

I'll cut and paste this edition of the New Yorker's Borowitz Report in full:
NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—Fox News Channel announced on Monday that it would decide what Donald J. Trump’s Syria response will be in the next forty-eight hours.

At a press conference at the network’s headquarters, Sean Hannity, Judge Jeanine Pirro, and the “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy said that, as the people who have been entrusted with the decision of whether to use military force, they were not taking their responsibility lightly.

“The U.S. military is the mightiest force in all the world,” Hannity said. “However we decide that President Trump will use that force in Syria, we promise that it will be a decision he will be proud of.”

Pirro said that she and her colleagues were taking “full advantage of the entire Fox News brain trust” to craft Trump’s Syria response. “The American people should sleep well at night knowing that we are keeping Tucker Carlson in the loop,” she said.

Ending the press conference on an urgent note, Doocy spoke directly to President Trump. “Mr. President, we’ll have a decision for you in the next forty-eight hours,” he said. “Don’t change the channel.”

Just plain salt

Both Soon and Soutphomasane (traditionally ideological opponents) are swooning on twitter over a story by Liaw regarding the invention of chicken salt in South Australia.

Is this a "Asians who want to be bogans" thing?   Because I don't care for chicken salt at all, and always go for plain.  Preferably the greenish flakes full of ocean flavour from some seaside pond in France, or the metallic tang of Himalayan salt.*

Chicken salt - puh.

*  just kidding - just trying to sound like a Guardian reading salt connoisseur.  We do have the pink allegedly Himalayan stuff now at home though, but I have no idea where it really comes from.

Building and buying global power

Look, China is a worry, given their system of government and rapidly developing high tech population control techniques, but it's still kind of fascinating watching how they're trying to buy their way into total global control, more or less.   It makes for a pretty fascinating contrast with Soviet Union attempts to win control and influence people.   Maybe if smart phones and electronic devices had been invented by the 1960s, it would be Russia that could have become assembly central for the rest of the world and gained riches that way?   Then again, China didn't never had a vodka problem, and Mao apparently dealt with opium...  

Go away, Adam

Hasn't Adam Creighton long argued that the family home should not be exempt from the old age pension assets test?   A truly enormous change that would have very far reaching consequences for many on the age pension.

Yet here he is today, co-writer of an article of the type we will see re-cycled endlessly in The Australian before the next election, taking a sympathetic approach to rich self funded retirees whining about how Shorten's changes to dividend imputation would reduce their income.

Apparently, Creighton has oodles of sympathy for self funded retirees who pay no tax on superannuation earnings, but very limited sympathy for pensioner folk who are the (often inadvertent) beneficiaries of capital gain on a asset which doesn't produce income for them:

Labor’s push to slap a minimum 30  per cent tax on dividends hasn’t only enraged tax purists by tearing up an 18-year-old tax principle, it’s incensed the nation’s million-plus army of self-funded retirees who are increasingly asking “why did we even bother saving?’’

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s policy to cease cash refunds for dividend franking credits should Labor win the election has potentially left up to one million self-funded retirees out of pocket.
John Bolton, a 64-year-old ­retired lawyer from Caloundra, in southeast Queensland, said Labor’s plan to “defraud” him of his retirement savings had made him reconsider a lifetime of hard work, describing the proposed changes as “grossly unfair”.

“I’ve had my children, I’ve raised my family, I’ve done a lot of free legal aid work and made my contribution to society,” Mr Bolton said. He likened Labor’s plans to “playing a game of football and the referee saying ‘that’s no longer a goal because I’ve changed the rules’”....

Despite his effort to put aside enough money to ensure he would not be a drain on public funds, Mr Bolton said Labor’s proposal meant he was seriously considering going on “back-to-back overseas trips until my money runs out so I can seek a pension”.

The former lawyer, who retired earlier than anticipated after his wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer, said he had always adopted a practical financial approach, working 10-14-hour days, weekends and public holidays for most of his working life. “I have planned my life around the rules as they exist,” Mr Bolton said. He said he cried when at 24 he had to sell his boat in order to ­afford his first home, but “it was just what you had to do”.

“Unlike the kids of today who claim they’re priced out of the housing market when they can’t live on Sydney’s north shore,” Mr Bolton said. “We sold our toys and bought a block of land for $8500, about an hour out of town.’’
Yeah, sorry about your wife and all that, Mr Bolton, but telling the story of crying at 24 when you sold your boat to buy a block of land - yeah, I would have held that bit back if you're hunting for sympathy.  Also - there are other ways to arrange your investments to reduce the effect of the change.  But no, you go and spend it all on yourself in a fit of pique that governments sometimes reverse poorly justified policies. 

And Creighton I still think is awful on policy.

Always the legend in his own mind

I see via a Catallaxy cut and paste that Kevin Rudd has written to the AFR and is still keen to defend his legacy by attacking Gillard.   How unpleasant to watch a bitter man doing this.   It was an enormous mistake for Labor to make him leader in the first place.  

In more rodent news... seems that medical scientists may have been keeping lab mice a bit too clean for their (the scientists) own good:
What Pierson is doing breaks the rules. For more than 50 years, scientists have worked to make lab mice cleaner. In most labs today, the animals’ cages are sanitized, and their water bottles and food are sterilized. “We really go to great lengths to keep natural infectious experience out of the mouse house,” says David Masopust, an immunologist at the University of Minnesota who heads the lab where Pierson works. Those efforts have paid off: with the confounding effects of pathogens controlled, mouse experiments have become less variable.

But a raft of studies now suggests that this cleanliness has come at a cost, leaving the rodents with stunted immune systems. In a quest for standardized and spotless mice, scientists have made the creatures a less-faithful model for human immune systems, which develop in a world teeming with microbes. And that could have serious implications for researchers working to usher treatments and vaccines out of the lab and into the clinic. Although it’s not yet possible to pin specific failures on the impeccable hygiene of standard mouse models, Masopust thinks the artificial environment must have some effect. It’s no secret that the success rate for moving therapies from animal to humans is abysmal — according to one estimate1, 90% of drugs that enter clinical trials fail. “You have to wonder if you might sometimes get misinformed simply because you’re in a clean environment,” says Masopust.
Read the whole thing, at Nature.

A balanced look at Trump and trade

This article at The Lowy Institute's Interpreter blog seems a very balanced one on the matter of Trump and trade and its historical precedents.

Giant rats to the rescue, again

You've probably seen those African giant pouched rats used as landmine detectors before, and it turns out they are good at detecting disease too:
Rats are able to detect whether a child has tuberculosis (TB), and are much more successful at doing this than a commonly used basic microscopy test. These are the results of research led by Georgies Mgode of the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania.

The study, published by Springer Nature in Pediatric Research, shows that when trained rats were given children's sputum samples to sniff, the animals were able to pinpoint 68 percent more cases of TB infections than detected through a standard smear . Inspiration for investigating the diagnosis of TB through smell came from anecdotal evidence that people suffering from the potentially fatal lung disease emit a specific odour. According to Mgode, current TB detection methods are far from perfect, especially in under-resourced countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia where the disease is prevalent, and where a reasonably cheap smear test is commonly used. Problems with this type of test are that the accuracy varies depending on the quality of sputum sample used, and very young children are often unable to provide enough sputum to be analysed.

"As a result, many children with TB are not bacteriologically confirmed or even diagnosed, which then has major implications for their possible successful treatment," explains Mgode. "There is a need for new diagnostic tests to better detect TB in children, especially in low and middle-income countries."

Previous work pioneered in Tanzania and Mozambique focussed on training African giant pouched rats (Cricetomys ansorgei) to pick up the scent of molecules released by the TB-causing Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium in sputum. The training technique is similar to one used to teach rats to detect vapours released by landmine explosives. In the case of TB, when a rat highlights a possibly infected sample, it is analysed further using a WHO endorsed concentrated microscopy techniques to confirm a positive diagnosis.

Monday, April 09, 2018

On Malcolm

Malcolm Turnbull is a disappointing Prime Minister leading a disappointingly shallow and untalented party.

He's almost certainly the best to be leader out of the unimpressive bunch, however.   Also, given the ridiculous ease with which tax reform can be made the subject of a scare campaign, he likely stands a 50/50 chance of winning the next election, after which the country would continue to stumble on in a generally less than satisfactory manner.

I don't have any doubt that it is actually Labor that is (on the whole) doing serious and useful policy reform work on tax and other matters that is more in the long term interests of the nation.    Sure, Bill Shorten has a charisma deficit, but provided he can resist the temptation to increase spending on new ideas (he has enough on his plate funding current ones), he's likely to do more good for the long term budget deficit than Turnbull.  

Labor's instincts on most matters are currently pretty  consistent and reasonable, I reckon;  the Liberals and Nationals, on the other hand, are all over the shop, being riven as they are with undue influence from objectively long discredited American right wing ideologically motivated policy positions.

So, here's to a new Labor government early next year.  I hope.

Radin on magic

Dean Radin has done some pretty "high woo" studies in parapsychology (try "Effect of intentionally enhanced chocolate on mood" for a starter), yet he sounds pretty sensible and rational in interviews, such as this one.

His new book coming out on "real magic", however, may well push his credibility out further than I would like.

On Kevin

I have the urge to weigh in on the Kevin Williamson matter.  First, I should note that it's no wonder I get confused about who is who in American commentary, when the editor of The Atlantic is Jeffrey Goldberg and Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor at National Review.

As most readers would likely know, Williamson has long written diatribes at National Review, sometimes amusingly, and he is a strong "never Trumper", which means I don't disagree with every word he has ever written.  But I did note over the last couple of years that his comments on Obama and Chelsea Clinton were ridiculously over the top:  his supporters claim he can argue powerfully, but I reckon he's often a conservative troll more than anything else.  

So anyway, Jeffrey Goldberg hired him briefly for The Altantic, using the "diversity of opinion" justification, only to sack him a few weeks later when he realised that Williamson had suggested/proposed that women who had an abortion should be treated as murderers, and suffer capital punishment for it - hanging, he has quipped, on more than one occasion.

Williamson's tendency to rhetorical exaggeration no doubt means his anti-abortion (or rather, anti-women who have abortions)  musings shouldn't be a complete surprise.   Certainly, that's what his supporters want us to believe.   Jonah Goldberg says he was "sardonically" suggesting that such women be hanged.   I had to double check the meaning of that ("characterized by bitter or scornful derision; mocking; cynical; sneering: a sardonic grin") and I'm not sure it's apt.  His not so subtle view is apparently that he is generally against capital punishment, so of course he wouldn't argue that American women should hang for abortion, but... Well, here, you read the summary of his more nuanced (ha) view in an article in The Atlantic (Jeffrey Goldberg is a pretty fair editor!) arguing against his sacking:
My own reaction is informed by an interview Williamson gave at Hillsdale College where he was asked by a student if he really argued that all women who have abortions ought to be hanged.
He called that an “intellectually dishonest” accounting of his deliberately provocative viewpoint. “I am generally against capital punishment, I am generally against abortion, I am always against ex-post facto punishment and always against lynching,” he said.

Cathy Young, who is especially clear-eyed about the uncertainty around Williamson’s exact position, probes all the nuances for those so inclined, but as best I can tell, his position is this: if he were writing the laws, abortion would be treated as homicide but homicides would not be punished by death; whereas in places where the law did punish homicide by death, he’d nevertheless favor charging abortions as homicides.

Does he want to execute women who have abortions? No. Would he charge them with homicide even knowing that the state would kill them were they convicted? Yes.
Well, that helps, I say sardonically.   (It doesn't really.)

Here's my take on the whole matter:

*  Goldberg, Jeffrey, was wrong to hire him in the first place due to the high "troll" content of much of Williamson's writing on all issues.   

*  Goldberg, Jonah, is wrong to carry on about him being a "thought criminal".   Take another example and see how Goldberg would run with it - if Williamson had argued (as some in the American conservative Right would still agree) that homosexuality is against the laws of nature and God's laws, and a seriously Christian society should feel fully justified in executing recalcitrant men practising sodomy with other men in the same way that they carry out executions for other capital offences.  You know, provided that everyone knew it was against State law, and the men had plenty of warning but still insisted on carrying on that practice.  

Would Goldberg (Jonah) have then run with "of course that's a logical argument - not a popular one, and he was being deliberately provocative when saying he has no problem with Islamic or Christian states treating sexual morality really seriously by throwing gays off buildings.   Why should The Atlantic condemn him for such a "thought crime"?"  

And might I point out here that Williamson would almost certainly here have a stronger case from a historical perspective - sodomy was a capital offence for three to four centuries in England;  there appears to have been no similar period of consistent dire punishment for women procuring their own abortion in the West in the same period.  (Have a look at the Wikipedia entries here and here, but also this article, the accuracy of which I would not necessarily vouch for.)

So, Williamson is suggesting a more extreme position than anyone in the West has for centuries, and we're just supposed to say oh - we shouldn't expect a liberal leaning publication to sack him for his thoughts?   Get out of here.  

*  It's not a free speech issue - he's free to spout off about this back at any publication that will have him.

*  It is the Right which has moved away from the centre on all sorts of issues, from gun control to their profoundly anti-science attitude on climate change,  not to mention their shrug of the shoulders endorsement of patently authoritarian chants at Trump rallies and the "who really cares?" attitude to his non-disclosure of his personal finances and Russian interference in his election.   No, the Left and the "old" centre does not have to give them respect for their new, nutty and dangerous views and excuse making for things conservatives of only 30 years ago would have found repulsive.   

Sunday, April 08, 2018

The One Hour Survivalist

As I was driving out to Mulgowie yesterday, my mind wandered to the scenario of hiding from an alien invasion.   Perhaps influenced by the recent Youtube clips from the US military planes*, it started with thoughts about how electrifying it would be to see a clear-as-day, pulsating UFO cross the sky at low altitude ahead of the car while driving.  I can imagine the heart rate soaring, and my brain exploding with the implications, particularly if the radio confirmed there were UFOs appearing elsewhere, likely leading to a good vomit on the side of the road.

But, more interestingly, what would I think I should do, pending the determination of whether our visitors from the sky were friendly or not?

On returning home, I think there would be a good case to be made for an immediate "bugging out" of large cities, they being obvious targets for any invasion bent on sterilizing the planet for their own purposes, at least until the reason for their visit was known.   Could I sell that to my family?  

The scenario that has some appeal is to go bush for a period, in or near a heavily forested area that may make detection difficult.   Particularly in South East Queensland, we have some pretty thick subtropical rainforest not too far from the city, with lots of water and dense canopy that would surely hide your infrared signal pretty well.   There is Lamington National Park, but it's very up and down, and I imagine most flat sites under cover to be some distance from water.  Instead,  I have one particular State forest area in mind, where I went camping (not entirely legally) in my early 20's.  As far as I know, it remains undeveloped.  The creek is substantial and very clean, and few people have likely have seen much of it beyond the one swimming hole/picnic area, because there are no paths going upstream - you can follow the creek and there are other waterholes further up there, but it's not the easiest of walks, involving as it does going through water and scrambling over boulders.  No, I'm not telling you where this is, because it's my secret, illegal hideout, not yours.

Here's the part that I like fantasising about  more:  if the reason to get out of the city was becoming very clear and urgent (say, reports of major cities in the Northern Hemisphere starting to be nuked), what would I urge the family to collect from the house (and the nearest - perhaps in the process of being ransacked - shops)  if I only had an hour to organise the car being packed for an indefinite period of survival in the bush?   My scenario is a bit like Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds, except he had no time at all - the tripods were just a few blocks away.

Hence the title of this post:  what is the best strategy if you suddenly become "the one hour survivalist"?

I was a bit surprised to find that Googling that phrase doesn't produce anything useful, but rather has links to some video games.

I've never spent much time looking at American survivalist websites, but they are (of course) more about years of planning for economic collapse and defending your homestead - lots and lots of emphasis on shooting and having a decade's worth of ammo - rather than people who are suddenly pressed into running away.

I found one web page semi-helpfully entitled The Quickest Way I Know to Get a Family of Four Prepped for the Coming Collapse (Updated for 2018).    (Good to know the author keeps updating it.)   His main recommendation, though, is to be buy a year's worth of survivalist food from America's survivalist food specialist company - Augason Farm.   (Only in America, I would guess, can one make a successful family business out of a perceived need for tasty survival food that has a shelf life of up to 25 years.)   The cost of a year of food seems to have gone up a bit from what that first link indicated - it's now $5,000.   They don't ship outside of America, though - not even to Alaska or Puerto Rico, which seems a bit unpatriotic of them. 

So that link is not as useful as one might hope.

There is the more directly on point article from the (UK) Telegraph - Could you survive an alien Invasion? 8 ways to stay alive if disaster strikes.  Now we're talking.

It does feature UK "Prepper" Steve Hart, who " sees prepping as an “enjoyable hobby” primarily, but knows his meticulous preparations may just help him survive in the unlikely event of evil aliens running riot."

Actually, must of what he says is very similar to the thoughts I had in the car yesterday:
The survivalist likens having an underground bunker stocked up with food to “lasting a bit longer in your own coffin” but explains that he does have three ‘bug out’ locations he can go to in the event of a ‘Doomsday’ scenario....
He adds: “I would only leave my house if the situation was so bad that I feared for my life. There could be a virus or a pandemic moving towards me and you obviously need to put as much distance between you and ‘it’ as possible. It could be that I have some aliens coming towards me, I’m going to leg it and I’m not going to try and stay and fight.
“I have three 'bug out' locations,  these are areas that I go to, regularly, minimally stocked up with enough supplies for a few days … all within three days walking distance of my house, in different directions. That’s how most preppers would work.”
OK, so he takes it much more seriously than me, although I suspect that, if I had to walk, I could reach my "bug out" location within 3 days - perhaps 4.  Generally speaking, though, it looks like British "prepping" is more about bushcraft and skills without guns, unlike US prepping sites which all unduly obsessed with ammunition.

Back to my imagined problem:  the big complication is, of course, not knowing how long you may have to live out of town.   Camping stuff is an obvious start, but should you worry about the folding stretcher bed or folding chair if you just have one car to take?  Probably not.  Any tents and tarpaulins - obviously.  Warm clothes and sleeping bags, yes - might be a nuclear winter coming, and if it's the reverse, it's easy to not wear clothes.  My mind keeps running to knives, lots of knives, and any sharpening method available - I imagine kitchen cutlery can be shaped into good spear heads.  Ropes, strings, fishing tackle, at least one good shovel and any garden saw - all crucial.  As are water containers.  All medicine in the house I would take.  If I could find the big glass magnifying glass, I would definitely take that.

From the food cupboard, I would think going for dry foods (rice or beans, especially) would have to be the priority, followed by anything high fat and therefore high calorie.  (Not that we tend to buy Spam or canned corned beef.)  Based on something I read on some survivalists site - salt.   A very useful product if permanently trying to live off the land, large amounts of it would be one of the first things I would steal from the local Coles.  That and vitamins.   And dried beans.  Matches and fire starters, of course.  Soaps and detergents in pretty high quantity too - they are not going to be easily replaced with something from the wild.

And that's were my imagination starts to dry up.  One of the main things I think would be very useful, and which I don't own, is a solar cell charger for mobile phones and rechargeable batteries.   They are pretty cheap now, but it does seem redundant when you have electricity at home and rarely camp away from power.

I keep getting the feeling I am missing something important in that quick list.  Anyway, doomsday is hopefully far enough off that my mental listing for it may be improved.

We all need a hobby...

Update:   One key thing I think would be useful, provided I had the means of recharging the smartphones and tablets in the house, would be downloading some books on first aid, survival medicine, local bush foods, and off line maps of South East Queensland.   Shouldn't take up more than 10 or 15 minutes of the hour, provided the internet is still up. 

Secondly - you know one thing I can imagine causing the biggest argument:  toilet paper.   It's not as if civilisation is based on it, but I can just imagine everyone else wanting to take every roll in the house, and my arguing for sacks of salt in the space 50 rolls would take up.

*  about which I retain, I should hasten to add, some skepticism arising from how there were released and their limited  context.  But that pilot interview about what he saw - that was more convincing that something was odd.  Even then, though, there should be more willing to talk about his incident, no?