Sunday, December 17, 2017

Galactic empires discussed

Via Peter Whiteford's fantastic twitter feed, a link to a review (a few month's old, but still) of a John Scalzi book, which is most interesting for its opening description of the common theme of galactic empire science fiction:
ACCORDING TO Donald A. Wollheim, Golden Age science fiction typically imagined the future would unfold according to a certain pattern:
  1. humans explore and colonize the solar system;
  2. humans explore and colonize extrasolar planets;
  3. a Galactic Federation/Republic/Empire emerges;
  4. the Empire enjoys a peak period characterized by a stable metropole in the galactic center (however constituted) and ongoing exploration at “the Rim”;
  5. this peak period is followed by decadence and collapse;
  6. the collapse is followed by a Dark Age (of whatever length);
  7. a second Empire is established that is imagined to be perfected and permanent;
  8. and, finally, the people of the future undertake The Challenge to God: sometimes this literally culminates in overthrowing some sort of malevolent God Thing, while at other times it involves innovating some way to survive the heat death of the universe (or evolving into energy beings of pure light, et cetera).
From Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov to Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas (and on and on), one discovers this basic narrative recurring over and over again in science fictional narratives about the human “destiny” to inherit the stars. 
[Speaking of reviews and science fiction-y writing, I also saw that The Australian yesterday put on its twitter feed a link that actually worked to a review of Helen Dale's Kingdom of the Wicked: the first mainstream media review I have seen.   (At Amazon, women who writes at The Spectator sometimes, as does Dale, complains that reviewers are deliberately ignoring the book because they are all Lefties still wanting to punish her for the Hand That Signed the Paper hoax.)    Anyway, the review is not good.] 

Listening in from a distance

Readers probably have already seen the various reports that some scientists decided to turn a radio receiver towards that elongated asteroid now heading out of the solar system, just in case it was a spaceship or something artificial.

I meant to post this part of that story, because it says a lot about the sensitivity of radio telescopes:
Breakthrough Listen announced Monday that the program will start checking ‘Oumuamua this week for signs of radio signals using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The interstellar asteroid is now about twice the distance between the Earth and the sun from our planet, moving at a brisk clip of 38.3 kilometers per second. At this close distance, Green Bank can detect the faintest frequencies. It would take the telescope less than a minute to pick up something as faint as the radio waves from a cellphone. If ‘Oumuamua is sending signals, we’ll hear them.
And here's a report on the first results:
The first batch of four observations ran from 8.45pm UK time on Wednesday until 2.45am on Thursday morning and spanned a frequency range from 1 to 12 GHz. While the search for alien signals has so far found nothing in the 1.7 to 2.6GHz range, the rest of the data is still being processed.

Andrew Siemion, director of Berkeley Seti Research Center, told the Guardian that a review of all four bands observed Wednesday night had come up blank. “We don’t see anything continuously emitting from ‘Oumuamua,” he said. “We’re now digging into some of the intermittent candidates, and trying some new machine learning-based techniques we have been working on. We expect our next observation window to be scheduled for Friday or Saturday, when we should get a view of additional phases of ‘Oumuamua as it rotates.”

A very UFO Christmas

Just when we all thought all genuine UFO research had been made redundant by the plague of floating fire lanterns, flares, rocket launches/re-entries, meteors and (now especially) cheap LED drones which have probably been behind 99% or more of claimed sightings over the last 20 years, the New York Times reports that the Pentagon says it funded new research into them from 2007 to 2012.

The big catch:  it seems it was mainly a subcontract with Robert Bigelow, who came to the project already with complete belief that we have alien visitors.   As someone in comments to the story says:
A billionaire with a secret govt. contract does not help the credibility of this program
And it's true, part of what they were doing is what I've long considered the least credible line of UFO research, as it has followed dead ends so many times I didn't think anyone took it seriously:
Under Mr. Bigelow’s direction, the company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena.
Also, Harold Puthoff got involved.  I really don't think it helps Bigelow to be taken seriously when he gets on board the guy who had convinced himself Uri Gellar was psychic.  (Mind you, I still find some things reported about early Gellar puzzling.) 

And yet - some of the details in the story are still surprising.   First - why don't I remember the video in the article showing something with clear edges (although with an apparent glow around it) rotating and puzzling the military pilots?

Secondly, what about this?:
By 2009, Mr. Reid decided that the program had made such extraordinary discoveries that he argued for heightened security to protect it. “Much progress has been made with the identification of several highly sensitive, unconventional aerospace-related findings,” Mr. Reid said in a letter to William Lynn III, a deputy defense secretary at the time, requesting that it be designated a “restricted special access program” limited to a few listed officials.

A 2009 Pentagon briefing summary of the program prepared by its director at the time asserted that “what was considered science fiction is now science fact,” and that the United States was incapable of defending itself against some of the technologies discovered. Mr. Reid’s request for the special designation was denied.
But the ending doesn't all that inspiring.  The one guy in the Pentagon who used to look after such research (I hope his office looked like Mulder's in X Filers) has resigned, but it now talking up a commercial venture:
Mr. Elizondo has now joined Mr. Puthoff and another former Defense Department official, Christopher K. Mellon, who was a deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence, in a new commercial venture called To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science. They are speaking publicly about their efforts as their venture aims to raise money for research into U.F.O.s.  In the interview, Mr. Elizondo said he and his government colleagues had determined that the phenomena they had studied did not seem to originate from any country. “That fact is not something any government or institution should classify in order to keep secret from the people,” he said.
I find this all rather puzzling.   If some modern military video/radar cases are truly inexplicable, why wouldn't the top end of the Pentagon and government admit it?   God knows, if Trump had been told UFOs were real, we would have heard about it on his Twitter feed by now.  Maybe childish hints along the lines "I've just been told the biggest secret ever by someone - I can't say who, but he wore a uniform - and it's huge.  Really huge."  

Is it a case that if something is inexplicable, someone just files it away as "interesting" and it doesn't really get followed up?  And Presidents who ask are told "we don't think it's anything to worry about, Mr President"?

Saturday, December 16, 2017

China and the libertarians

One of the reasons I am reluctant to go onto Twitter is because it often drives me nuts not understanding clearly what people think when they link to something with scant comment about it.  If I was able to respond tweet, I would have the urge to frequently try to clarify the degree to which they approve of the material, or challenge support which appears inconsistent with other views, or out of character, or whatever.

Case in point:  yes, it's J Soon time again.   Having linked to an interesting article about how the Chinese are actively taking Africans to teach them about the Chinese system of government and development,  I know from other tweets that Jason is not exactly a fan of Chinese influence in other countries.   Yet he also is supportive of the moderate libertarian position of less US involvement internationally, at least militarily.  As a generic fan of smaller government, I don't imagine he is all that impressed with government supplied international aid to poor countries.   International effort to reach agreements on CO2 decrease seems to carry little interest, too:   I don't think he cares at all about the Trumpian withdrawal from that (quite vital) field of international effort.

(Sorry to speak of you in the third person, Jason.  Please correct anything in comments.)

And yet - isn't following those views an actual, active encouragement for a liberty challenged superpower like China to fill in the voluntarily created void by Trump and his libertarians quasi supporters in international influence in the developing world?

I'm not exactly a fan of China's political, legal or social system either - except that I think that it is an example of  development which actually shows up how economists like the woeful bunch at Catallaxy are wrong - there is not one way for making rapid economic advancement, and the (even quite heavy) hand of government involvement is not always a poisonous path to socialist collapse.   (I would think a similar thing can be said about South Korea; and to a lesser extent, perhaps, the Scandinavian countries.) 

I was reading Science magazine this morning (go on, subscribe for just $55 a year) and noted how there are pages and pages of advertisements encouraging scientists to come work in Chinese universities and technical institutions.   Again - a nation taking science and development really seriously, while America reverts to nonsense culture war refusal to believe in it, and the libertarians there just shrug their shoulders and go "well, what can ya do?" 

So yeah, I would like to know how Jason squares the circle around this.   The way I see it, if you're a small government libertarian, you're part of the problem of letting China take the place of Western influence.


I think there may need to be a category above "First World problem" for this...

At NPR:

Avocado Hand Injuries Are Real. Is A Seedless Fruit The Answer?

The flesh of the seedless avocado in the photo looks as pale and unappealing as a cucumber.   Seriously, Western people who can't cut an avocado without lobbing off a hand:  are you actually growing so useless that the idea of living in a Matrix-like wet pod while you have your nutrition pumped into you seems like a good idea?

Friday, December 15, 2017

The story the world was [not] waiting for...

Wow.   Talk about The Guardian scraping the bottom of the music journalism barrel to come up with this:

Can't stand the song; couldn't stand the group. 

Deep salt

I happened to be watching Michael Portillo wandering around England on trains again on SBS last night, and was surprised to learn about an extensive underground rock salt mine that still operates at Winsford.  Here's a BBC article about it, as well as the mine's own website.

Started in the 19th century, it's about 150 m underground and huge - 160 miles of tunnels, and vast open spaces supported by pillars of salt left in place.  (I'm a bit puzzled how they know, structurally, how wide a space they can leave unsupported):




A part of it is now also used to store archive materials!

This rock salt was all laid down 220 million years ago, when England had salty inland seas.  

This is something I found completely unexpected and very interesting...

Too much of anything is bad for the environment

Surely I'll find a happier story soon, but in the meantime - this article at The Atlantic indicates that we should think not only about Bitcoin chewing up electricity, but the explosion in internet porn, too.

The entertainer: the only problem with the world is the 50% of it that doesn't share my genitalia


Lower end of the range looking increasingly unlikely

ATTP notes that there is increasing confidence that the Nic Lewis/Matt Ridley promoted "lower end of climate sensitivity is more likely" argument is wrong.

There was also an interesting recent post at Carbon Brief noting how closely the rise in CO2 follows the general slope of temperature increase:




Well, that's depressing

From an NPR article  about how American schools have to include "lock down" drills:
On average, there's nearly one school shooting a week in the United States, according to Everytown Research, a non-profit organization which advocates for gun control. Just in the past month, six people, including the shooter, died in a school shooting in Rancho Tehama, Calif. Three people, including the shooter, were killed in a shooting at Aztec High School in New Mexico.
But guns everywhere makes gun lovers feel better, and that's what's really important.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Worst tagger ever

(LONDON) — A British surgeon has admitted assaulting two patients by burning his initials into their livers during transplant operations.
Simon Bramhall pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of assault, in a case a prosecutor called “without legal precedent in criminal law.”
Bramhall used an argon beam coagulator, which seals bleeding blood vessels with an electric beam, to mark his initials on the organs.
Here's the link.

The entertainer is back

Sometimes, the reaction to events involving sexual and "normal" politics at Catallaxy is so ridiculously, stupidly, extreme it makes me laugh out loud.   One of my "favourite" commentators makes this observation post the Roy Moore non-election:


A series of minor observations

*  This seems to be a good season for big, tasty, and cheap mangoes.  Stone fruit:  not so much.  Still waiting to see how the lychees pan out.

*  Summer in Brisbane so far has been rather pleasant - days not too hot or humid; nights still cooling down considerably.   Very little need for airconditioning, so far.

*  Perhaps it's due to Brisbane's mild winters, which don't really require any night time heating, but we got our most recent electricity bill, and it was just under $300 for the quarter.   This is for a family of four - two adults, two teenagers - with solar hot water but no solar panels.  We actually currently have three refrigerators running, all quite large.  (One is kept on the minimum setting and is not often opened, but we are finding unlimited fridge space quite a pleasure at the moment.)  

Anyway, for all the talk of high electricity costs in Australia, doesn't this seem remarkably cheap?   The key may well be in the solar hot water system - people north of Sydney who don't have one are crazy.

* My daughter has a completely unreasonable fixation on owing an iPhone - she doesn't care what size or model, as long as it is an iPhone.  It would appear that she does not know a single female friend (and she seems to have a lot) who uses an Android phone, as she is forced to.  When walking down the street, she looks at every phone other people are using, and if it is an iPhone, she knows which model.   (It's like walking around with an annoying car obsessed guy who comments on every single car passing on the street, regardless of what you may be talking about.)  

My wife objects to any 15 year old being gifted a $500 (minimum!) phone which is eminently lose-able or broken, yet it would appear that the vast majority of other parents of teenage girls don't care.  Maybe many are hand-me-downs from parents who upgrade?

I am very happy with my $350 Android (Moto G5 Plus, in case you had forgotten), and my wife is happy enough with hers.   The complete domination of Apple with teenage girls is something of a puzzle to me. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Curb your enthusiasm

It's cheering that Alabama has shown that the South is not completely mad;  on the other hand, it's a little depressing to see the racial divide in the voting pattern*:


Well, how depressing it must have been for Obama to get just 15% of the white vote there!   While today's result is much more encouraging, 70% of white voters preferred Moore?  

It's still a worry.

* that's from the Washington Post exit poll analysis, which cuts the results up in many interesting ways.

It's Christmas soon, so let's talk - Nazis

Vox talks about a new study that suggests it was economic austerity policy that helped lead to the rise of Hitler:
The standard explanation is that German voters flocked to the party in Germany in 1932 and 1933 in response to the pain of the Great Depression, which conventional parties proved unable to end. But others have sought to explain Hitler’s coup, in whole or in part, by reference to German culture’s obsession with order and authority, to centuries of virulent German anti-Semitism, and to the popularity of local clubs like veteran associations, chess clubs, and choirs that the Nazis used to help recruit.

A new paper by a team of economic historians focuses on another culprit: austerity, and specifically the package of harsh spending cuts and tax hikes that Germany's conservative Chancellor Heinrich Brüning enacted from 1930 to 1932.

In the paper, released through the National Bureau of Economic Research, Gregori Galofré-Vilà of Bocconi University, Christopher M. Meissner of UC Davis, Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and David Stuckler at Bocconi are clear that they don’t think austerity tells the whole story. It’s one factor among many. But they think austerity helps fill in some gaps in the conventional, Great Depression-focused narrative of the rise of the Nazis.
Over to you, Homer!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Goodbye, Sam

Labor's looking more credible with the resignation of Sam Dastyari.   If he ends up being replaced by Kristina Keneally (if she fails to take Bennelong), it's all upside as far as most people would be concerned.

Now if only Malcolm Turnbull could get Tony Abbott to resign, things would be looking even better in Parliament.  

Free market triumph

An NPR story:

Why A Pill That's 4 Cents In Tanzania Costs Up To $400 In The U.S.

The further adventures of Margot & Robert

Someone should be running a contest for sequel storylines for both Margot and Robert (with an emphasis on the American setting):

For Margot, all of the alternatives I've thought of so far is that she:

a.   buys a pistol and get a concealed carry licence;
b.   calls Gloria Allred;
c.   finds religion and marries a Republican 5 years older than Robert;
d.   organises the next campus Slut Walk;
e.   experiments with lesbianism;
f.    re-locates to Minneapolis to take up job as assistant producer in small television news room.  (Modern twist:  soon hit on by bald boss.) 

For Robert:

a.   finally gets around to taking the dead cats out of the freezer and to the taxidermist;
b.   buys a simple bed base for his mattress and finds women will now actually stay until morning;
c.   buys the AR 15 he's always wanted and shoots up the cinema (sorry - so plausible in America it's not even vaguely witty);
d.   goes to a doctor for his sore back caused by the sexual encounter, becomes addicted to opioids (see previous rider);
e.   changes voter registration from Independent to Republican. 
f.    takes up sheriff job and finds mysterious 11 year old girl in the woods with psychokinetic powers.

A public service post, for those outside of North America

This is what Red Vines are:


Well, now that I understand that, I can see more clearly how flawed Margot's judgement was right from the second sentence.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A complicated life

A few months back, I posted about the fight that took place between Max Eastman and Ernest Hemingway, caused by the latter not caring for a book review by the former.

I knew little about Eastman, but I see there's a review of a biography about him at Reason, which begins:
"It doesn't cheapen the aims of this biography or the ambitions of its subject," writes Christoph Irmscher, "to describe what follows as a story largely about sex and communism." What follows is the life of Max Eastman—poet, nudist, women's suffragist, war resister, socialist editor, and finally a self-described "libertarian conservative."

He makes today's "libertarian conservatives" seem rather boring.  

But then again, boring is sometimes more praiseworthy than "incident filled."   I see from another review of the same book that his sex life was ridiculously active:
When he was young these affairs could be sexy and glamorous. As he aged, they came to seem sad and compulsive. “My love, I would give my soul to lie in your arms tonight,” he wrote to the 24-year-old Florence Deshon in 1917, when he was 34. Twelve years later, at the age of 46, he was making a version of the same speech to the 17-year-old painter Ione Robinson, a protégé of his second wife. A decade later, now 56, he wrote to the 18-year-old Creigh Collins: “I want to sit all day in the big arm chair with your head warm between my knees, and poetry, poetry floating around me on your young voice as though thrushes carried its meaning to my ear.” A year later he impregnated his secretary, the 25-year-old Florence Norton. When she asked for his help in getting an abortion, “Max provided a doctor’s address but otherwise became ‘hysterical’ and essentially abandoned her.” While she was getting a “painful, nauseating abortion,” Eastman was at his house in Croton-on-Hudson, safely back in the orbit of his wife.  
But here is why he is remembered from his early, pro-Communist days:
The list of things Eastman did that mattered on the left, from about 1910 to 1940, is staggering. He published John Reed on the Bolshevik Revolution and Randolph Bourne against the war. He smuggled Lenin’s last testament out of Russia, and translated Trotsky into English. He stood up to the U.S. government, and won, when they tried to imprison him for spreading sedition in The Masses. He was one of the earliest American Trotskyists, and then one of the most important skeptics and rejecters of Trotskyism. He was also, in everything he did, an important symbol to many of a certain way of being and acting.
Then he swung around:
After breaking with the socialist left, Eastman didn’t cease to be good-looking or charismatic, but the easy alignment between his persona and his politics broke down. He began writing for Reader’s Digest, perhaps the least revolutionary of American publications. He articulated a more conservative politics, in defense of the un-romantic virtues of liberal democracy against the revolutionary claims of socialism. He became a cautious defender of Joseph McCarthy, and a scourge of left-wing and liberal intellectuals whom he believed were wrong on communism and the Soviet Union.
A bit like Steve Kates, who says he went from youthful hippy Lefty to intensely uncritical Trump lover, but about 10 times more interesting.

That story

Well, noticing one of the first recommendations on Twitter of the short story "Cat Person" in the New Yorker, I did read it yesterday. And yes, it does show how memorable and good a short story can be.

There's an interview with the writer, who is probably stunned at how suddenly famous her story is, at the magazine too.   She sounds pretty sensible.  Read it after the story.

I probably found the young woman more annoying and blameworthy for her post coital predicament than the author intended.  But yeah, the last word is a killer as far as the guy is concerned.


Must limit reading

I see that tweets after the first screening of The Last Jedi are extremely positive.  However, I am reluctant to look too much into comments anywhere about this film in case of spoilers.  Unfortunately, I think it was on a Reddit thread that I learned the fate of Han before I saw Force Awakens.

Official reviews in the mainstream press are usually safe.  I will just scan them as they become available.

Less rubbish please

NPR reports that China has played a huge role in recycling American rubbish, but its coming to an abrupt end:
The U.S. exports about one-third of its recycling, and nearly half goes to China. For decades, China has used recyclables from around the world to supply its manufacturing boom. But this summer it declared that this "foreign waste" includes too many other nonrecyclable materials that are "dirty," even "hazardous." In a filing with the World Trade Organization the country listed 24 kinds of solid wastes it would ban "to protect China's environmental interests and people's health."

The complete ban takes effect Jan. 1, but already some Chinese importers have not had their licenses renewed. That is leaving U.S. recycling companies scrambling to adapt.
I think most people my age sense that the increase we've seen in the use of plastics in food and beverage containers since we were kids seems excessive, but we've figured that a large recycling industry was taking care of it.   But now it seems the recycling industry is in crisis, and perhaps its time for a big return to less use of plastic, in particular.

Touchy feely

Here's a column on what I think is an interesting topic:   men touching men (nonsexually, Jason:  nonsexually.)

I can't say that I've ever regretted the matter of not hugging another male since - well, since forever - but the way in which things changed culturally in America over a 100 years or so (not sure about Australia) is at least interesting.  And I have thought that the fear of homosexuality from casual contact of any kind - a pat on the shoulder even - was ridiculous:
...many men self-police their hands around each other. In younger men this manifests in the ubiquitous “No homo!” response if they accidentally touch another guy, and in older men it translates into the same awkward discomfort (read: fear) that I, and many men, experience when faced with reaching out to another male, even an intimate. Yet these reactions are a relatively modern phenomena. Men shared the same bed with strangers in early American taverns, and scholarship is unearthing letters — including ones from Abraham Lincoln — revealing how men sometimes nurtured same-sex friendships that were more emotionally and physically intimate in nonsexual ways than the relationships they shared with women. Some 19th-century tintypes, such as those collected in the book “Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection,” illustrate this.
I thought the way it's put in this paragraph is funny:
The psychologist Ofer Zur notes that for most 20th- and 21st-century American men, physical contact is restricted to violence or sex. As the sociologist Michael Kimmel, who studies masculinity, said in an email, touch between straight men can occur only when physical contact “magically loses its association with homosexuality” — as happens in sports.
As for contact with children, some claim it is very significant:
The fear that girds the lack of platonic touch among American men also fuels the destructive force of their hands, a 2002 study in the journal Adolescence found. Dr. Field was the lead author of the study, which looked at 49 cultures. “The cultures that exhibited minimal physical affection toward their young children had significantly higher rates of adult violence,” she said. But “those cultures that showed significant amounts of physical affection toward their young children had virtually no adult violence.”
 I wonder how Japan figures into that.  It's a country famous for not kissing children, but perhaps there is a lot of physical intimacy made up in the much more likely scenario of sleeping in the same room with parents until a quite advanced age.

Mind you, if that study was accurate, you would imagine that some European countries - perhaps Italy in particular? - where parents seem very affectionate to children and even men seem much more physically affectionate with other men, should be the least violent places on the planet.  But I'm not sure that holds true.

Update:  speaking of the situation with male friendship in the 19th century, I think I failed to note at the time the somewhat interesting article by Frank Moorhouse a month or so ago in which he discussed the intense male friendship that Henry Lawson had, and also his somewhat effeminate characteristics which were commented on at the time.   A bit of a surprise, given the physical look of the guy and the content of his fiction, I think.  But Moorhouse (himself gay or at least bisexual?)   seems to make a decent argument that Lawson's alcoholism was to do with unresolved sexuality.  Or is it a case of overenthusiastic claiming of someone to the gay clubhouse, as modern gays are sometimes inclined to do?

IQ problem

A column in The Guardian notes this:
Research published in the journal Intelligence, a very intelligent publication, has found having a superior IQ is a “risk factor for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities”. These results are based on a survey that researchers from Pitzer College, in California, and Seattle Pacific University sent to Mensa members. To join Mensa, you have to score in the top 2% of the population on an approved intelligence test, which normally means an IQ of 132 or higher (the average being around 100). You also, I imagine, have to have a higher than average Insufferable Quotient – but that is beside the point. The survey found Mensans were more likely than the rest of the population to have conditions such as mood and anxiety disorders, allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases.

This isn’t the first study to deduce that a great mind can weigh heavily upon someone. As the researchers note, “it is hardly a new notion that unusually high rates of adult psychopathology are displayed among some of the most eminent geniuses”. But while the research may not be revolutionary it is revelatory in relation to the current political situation. People are always wondering why Donald Trump is so temperamental and now, I think, we have the answer: his disordered moods are a result of his oversized IQ. Sad!
Obviously, the writer is not really taking the argument very seriously, and besides, the research can probably be criticised as not being about people with high IQ generally, but about those with the sort of personality who want their IQ recognized by something like joining Mensa.   But I had not realised how often Trump had claimed high IQ:
 We know that Trump has a high IQ, possibly even higher than mine if I’m being modest, because he never shuts up about it. In 2013, for example, he tweeted: “I’m a very compassionate person (with a very high IQ) with strong common sense.” He followed these pearls of wisdom with another tweet, a month later, saying: “Sorry losers and haters, but my IQ is one of the highest – and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault.” In fact, he has tweeted about his IQ at least 22 times. In October, he also responded to reports that the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, had called him a “moron” by telling Forbes that he would beat Tillerson in an IQ test.
Says something about his narcissistic, needy personalty.  

Certainly, the lengthy New York Times piece about how he spends a huge amount of each day following TV coverage about himself (which is summarised at Axios) shows a personality you really don't want in a politician:
"Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals."
Yet this, of course, is precisely what appeals to a an element in the Right: it's the same psychological attitude I've commented on from time to time as being on regular display at Catallaxy, both in its nutty collection of commenters but also at times in Sinclair Davidson himself (and now, to an extreme extent, in Trump cultist Steve Kates.)  .   As with Trump, though, it doesn't come from a position of strength; it in fact signals resentment at being on the losing side of historical changes in everything from culture, the influence of religion on society, to economic theory.  To the extent the GOP is currently getting its way is but a temporary aberration - the damaging consequences of their attitude to everything from tax policy to climate change is entirely predictable and there is no serious view in the collective body of experts that their policies can be sustained.   

The NYT summarises Trump this way:
As he ends his first year in office, Mr. Trump is redefining what it means to be president. He sees the highest office in the land ... as a prize he must fight to protect every waking moment, and Twitter is his Excalibur. Despite all his bluster, he views himself less as a titan dominating the world stage than a maligned outsider engaged in a struggle to be taken seriously.
I wonder if Trump knows about Catch 22:  if your main obsession as a politician is to be taken seriously, you can't (and shouldn't) be taken seriously.    
  


Sunday, December 10, 2017

For want of proof of gay

Many surprising details are to be found in this Good Weekend article about how the Australian Administration Appeals Tribunal tries to work out whether those claiming refugee status due to being gay are faking it:
While no one is suggesting the Tribunal's job is straightforward – having to decide, for instance, whether the approximately 100 asylum seekers who apply for a protection visa each year on the basis that they're gay are telling the truth – there are criticisms about Tribunal officials' lack of qualifications and training in refugee issues. Tribunal officials have long been accused of judging applicants based on a slew of Western gay stereotypes, such as effeminate manner or dress. In one notorious case, an applicant was deemed not gay after failing questions about Madonna, Bette Midler, Oscar Wilde and Greco-Roman wrestling. The man barely spoke English and was mystified by the topics. "I don't understand it," he said to his interviewer. "I'm sorry."....

More recent cases don't give great reason for comfort. Last year, a man from Bangladesh was rejected in part because he was unable to correctly pronounce or spell the name of a Sydney gay club he'd visited called the Stonewall, according to Tribunal documents – which incorrectly referred to the nightclub as a "day venue". In a similar 2014 case, an asylum seeker was told he wasn't gay because, although he described having two monogamous relationships, he hadn't "explored his homosexuality" by going to Sydney's gay bars, and had little knowledge of Oxford Street.

Questions about sexual encounters can centre on who is the "top", and who is the "bottom", or the use of lubricant. Some desperate applicants even resort to offering videos or images of themselves having sex to prove their case. Some officials consider this material and others reject it. Because there are no guidelines for dealing with LGBTQI applicants, a Tribunal member is at liberty to ask pretty much any question they wish, for this is no court room.
The article points out that there have been clear cases of migration agents telling claimants how to fake being gay, so it is a very tricky issue.  

But honestly, doesn't this seem a weird thing for the Tribunal to admit is taken as a source of information?:
In the past, the Tribunal has been criticised for using sources like the Spartacus International Gay Guide as a source for determining whether a country is hostile to LGBTQI people. The annual guides are designed for tourists and rarely focus on conditions outside the major cities, let alone the situation of ordinary people living in these countries. Recent cases have involved Tribunal members using online gay travel guides to Turkey, Lebanon and Nepal: Neil Grungras says these sources are totally inadequate for determining how safe or unsafe a country is for LGBTQI people.

When I approached the Tribunal for a statement, I was astonished when they mentioned the Spartacus publication, which is targeted at white gay men, as a reliable source of information on anti-homosexual persecution. It said in a statement: "Members invariably take into account a broad range of information about the conditions of an applicant's country of origin when making a decision; this includes publications such as the Spartacus International Gay Guide."
Sounds to me like they really need some serious re-consideration of how to deal with these cases.

Seems a nice guy

Interesting to read some autobiographical detail from Rick Stein in this interview that turned up in Fairfax.

It would seem that his pleasant on screen persona is not fake. 

Speaking of guns...

I am not inclined to watch the video of the poor guy in Arizona who was shot while trying to comply with bizarre shouted instructions of the police.   I accept, given the wide condemnation of the shooting by even Right wing outlets (HotAir, and National Review - but I don't see it on Breitbart, oddly enough), that it is an appalling case of police killing, but a dumbass jury (which yes, did see the video) nonetheless acquitted all involved.

But - if writers from the Right are going to condemn it (and they should - no doubt) - I do wish they might comment in their pieces about something glaringly obvious:   American police are ridiculously trigger happy because gun laws ensure a huge number of concealed carry guns on the streets.  

And the NRA wants to make more that way - with the legislation passed in the Senate this week that would force all States to be dragged down to the concealed guns laws of the most gun happy of the States. 

It's a guaranteed way to make sure that police will shoot more people whether armed or not.

After Sandy Hook

The consequences of a bigger interest in guns (either to buy, or perhaps even just getting existing ones out to clean) might account for a surge in post Sandy Hook gun deaths:
A surge in gun buying in the months immediately following the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, corresponded with an increase in accidental gun deaths in the United States, one-third of them in children, according to an analysis published today in Science.

About 60 additional unintended shooting deaths, roughly 20 of them in children, occurred in the 5 months after the shooting, conclude the study’s authors, economists Phillip Levine and Robin McKnight of Wellesley College in Massachusetts. For all of the 2012 calendar year, there were 545 accidental shooting deaths, or about 45 per month, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So a 60-death bump in a 5-month period is a considerable one.
Some researchers have been very critical of the study, but this is all discussed in detail at the Science Magazine article. 

Some nuance on Jerusalem

The Lowy Institute's blog is always a good place for some calmly reasoned discussion of foreign affairs matters, and its take on the Jerusalem declaration by Trump is typically nuanced.

However, I am more convinced by Thomas Friedman's criticisms of it:
Trump could have said two things to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. First, he could have said: “Bibi, you keep asking me to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. O.K., I will do that. But I want a deal. Here’s what I want from you in return: You will declare an end to all Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, outside of the existing settlement bloc that everyone expects to be part of Israel in any two-state solution.”...

 Trump also could have said, as the former United States ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk suggested, that he’d decided “to begin the process of moving the embassy to western Jerusalem, but at the same time was declaring his willingness to make a parallel announcement that he would establish an embassy to the state of Palestine in East Jerusalem” — as part of any final status agreement. That would at least have insulated us from looking like we made a one-sided gesture that will only complicate peacemaking and kept the door open to Palestinians.
Friedman's bigger point is that Trump claims to be a "deal maker", but in fact, as with trade, he is just tearing things up with no sign of deals to come.  He just gives advantage away, then leaves it others to hopefully put together something better from the broken pieces.

Seems to me to be a very valid criticism.   (Could be applied to Brexit and the Right wing generally - cut taxes on the rich, work out what to do about lost revenue later, for example.  Try to destroy Obamacare, work out what to replace it with later.)   It's what happens when "winning" a culture war is all you worry about.  

Deep South

Hotair has a story about some Alabama focus group comments regarding Roy Moore, and some of the quotes are astonishing:
Actual quote: “Forty years ago in Alabama, there’s a lot of mamas and daddies that’d be thrilled that their 14-year-old was getting hit on by a district attorney.” That’ll make a fine epigraph for the 2017 chapter in American history textbooks.

And:
 There’s a reference to George Soros and his scheming too, which is in keeping with Moore’s own talking points. A few days ago he cast aside the warning to judge not lest ye be judged and told American Family Radio of Soros, “No matter how much money he’s got, he’s still going to the same place that people who don’t recognize God and morality and accept his salvation are going. And that’s not a good place.” Occasional pronouncements on who is and isn’t destined for hellfire will be a fun bonus of Senator Moore’s congressional tenure.
(To be fair, Hotair does then go on to point out that the polls at the moment are wildly erratic as to which of the two candidates is really in the lead.   It's not a certainty that he will win, but with the disgusting turnaround of Republicans, Trump and all key conservative media to support him, I think most now expect he will win.) 

As other articles sometimes remind us, even before the unusual adult interest in young teenage girls came to light, Moore was a terrible candidate based on his judicial behaviour and fundamentalist views.

Scrooged re-visited

I was pleased to see that Netflix has the 1988 Bill Murray Christmas comedy Scrooged available, and I re-watched it last night, probably for first time since viewing it on VHS tape in perhaps '89 or '90.

After Groundhog Day, the obviously best thing he has done, I reckon Scrooged is the second best movie Murray has ever been in. 

I don't quite understand why so it got some (although not uniformly) really bad reviews - at Rottentomatoes the summary of the Variety review is "An appallingly unfunny comedy, and a vivid illustration of the fact that money can't buy you laughs."  (The original review is no longer at the link, so I can't see any more.)  

Well, I liked it the first time I saw it, and it made me (and my son) laugh quite a lot last night  Murray does "obnoxious guy redeemed" very well; Carol Kane's violent fairy act is eccentric and very funny for it;  and was Bobcat Goldwhait ever better?  It even felt strangely relevant to America today, with its mocking of gun laden violence entertainment in the first 5 minutes, and even featuring a crack about Trump Towers! 

I had also completely forgotten that Karen Allen played the love interest, and her open, smiling face is given lots of screen space in a way that makes you feel that she simply must be a charming, lovely person in real life.  She was never exactly classically beautiful;  maybe her looks and voice just always hit a sweet spot of "potentially accessible imaginary girlfriend" to the average male viewer?

Anyway, a happy re-visit to a pretty good movie.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

More famous than I knew

I knew Adam Gopnik could be a fine essayist, and I have linked to his work several times over the years.

But I didn't really know anything about his personal life, and just how famous he actually is.

This has been corrected by this interview in The Guardian today.  

I also went via there to read his lengthy 1998 essay on undergoing 6 years of Freudian psychotherapy in New York.   Yes, it's an amusing, humane and interesting read, like all of his writing.  He's great.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Colbert on Moore

Stephen Colbert's recent piece on Roy Moore was pretty funny:


The Empire secret

The best part of this amusing Jimmy Kimmel chat with Last Jedi cast members is Mark Hamill's explanation of how they kept "I am your father" a secret in Empire Strikes Back.  




Hmmm

I'm surprised this isn't a bigger story in Australian media today: 
President Trump has scheduled a physical health exam for early next year at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and will share the results with the public, the White House announced Thursday, a day after Trump's slurred speech sparked concern about his health.

Trump slurred his words during a policy address Wednesday about Israel, inspiring media speculation that he may have had a dental or health problem. But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that Trump simply was suffering from a dry throat.
Having just watched it, I'm going with the loose denture theory, myself.

Barnaby's split

So, Barnaby Joyce has confirmed separation from his wife, but not the circumstances leading to it.

Tony Windsor had suggested something which sounded like it could be due to unwelcome drunken advances towards a young female staffer.  Given the current situation with sexual workplace harassment being so much in the news, if it turns out that the media know more details and the situation was something that could be classified as harassment, but they are sitting on it due to their squeemishness about talking about politician's sexual affairs, I think it will look pretty stupid of them.

Similarly, if anyone of them is sitting on more material about Abbot/Credlin which only comes out in 20 years time, that would be wrong, too.

I think it is OK for journalists to leave out talking about relationship breakdowns, generally speaking, as not being relevant to politician's jobs, but there are times when such relationship issues are genuinely in the public interest.

Friday space

Some space themed stories for a Friday:

*  it's interesting to read recent astronaut memoir author Scott Kelly talk about how he has struggled all his life with writing at any length.   I guess that means many of us can say we can do something better than a famous test pilot/astronaut.  

*  apparently, the next international joint space project might be a space station orbiting the Moon.   This article at Nature suggests some science that could be done from there, outside of the Earth's magnetic field, but it avoids mentioning the obvious - that means potentially risky human exposure to much larger amounts of radiation.   (The story at the previous link about Scott Kelly notes the he received about 10 chest X rays worth of radiation per day, and that's in the somewhat safer for radiation low earth orbit.)  

Surely the radiation issue would make for a tricky design.  Even relatively short stays by astronauts would have some danger unless there is a radiation proof corner of the station they can shelter in during solar storms.   (They were worried during Apollo that a strong solar flare could fry all of the astronauts.)   Perhaps it would be a good place to test active radiation shields.  Somewhere around the house in a box I think I still have copies of an old article from the 1980's talking about such shielding, but I don't know how much research has gone into their design.   

*  I seemed to have missed news about the creation of the first "virtual nation" in space:
Later this week, Earth will communicate for the first time with a nation based solely in space. If you consider a tiny cubesat about the size of a toaster to be a nation, that is.

The small satellite goes by the name Asgardia-1 and makes up the entirety of the territory of the virtual nation of Asgardia, the pet project of Russian/Azerbaijani scientist and businessman Igor Ashurbeyli, an entrepreneur and investor with a Ph.D. in engineering. In his mind, Asgardia planted its flag in space when it launched from NASA's Wallops Island last month aboard an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft.

"From a legal standpoint, the satellite is the first sovereign territory of Asgardia nation," Ashurbeyli told me over the phone via a translator. ....

The digital nation in a box will then begin orbiting Earth, and when it starts transmitting about 30 minutes later, the self-proclaimed "space kingdom" will be the first off-earth territory to be officially open for business.

Asgardia is an unusual diplomatic, legal and philosophical experiment. For now, anyone can become a citizen by simply signing up online and agreeing to accept the official constitution, which adopts an official policy of pacifism and gives Ashurbeyli the first term as "Head of Nation," among other things.

He explains that each Asgardian citizen is also entitled to up to 300 kilobytes of storage on Asgardia-1. Asgardians are encouraged to upload photos, personal documents and other digital trinkets to establish their virtual residency in space.
Given recent publicity regarding what (some) men like to suddenly show to strangers, I do have to wonder   if any nerd has yet put a photo of you-know-what appendage in orbit. 

Link to the Asgardian home page is here.   I wonder if eventually they'll be issuing passports?  Well, that's the plan:
Could you please explain passports and IDs?
We are working on creating the Parliament, creating the government, and creating the banking system and the national currency SOLAR. The ID card at this point is the card that will be a fully protected, chip-integrated card that would eventually allow you – when they are available – to receive services Asgardia will provide, and to operate within the currency system.

We will start issuing passports as booklets for traveling only when we have reached the recognition with other states as a state that they recognize Asgardia’s passport as a valid document for crossing national borders. We are very realistic, this is a long-term goal.

IDs and passports would only be received in person. We are now asking everyone, and it’s at your own discretion, to fill in your profile. This data needs to be correct. When you decide to claim your documents, you would be asked to present yourself to the ambassador of Asgardia or a consul or a national representative (this title has not been decided upon yet). Documents are taken very seriously. In the long run, it is planned to have six permanent embassies around the world, per number of continents.
I am tempted to get in early.  Having a planetary passport might come in handy during an alien invasion, perhaps...

Thursday, December 07, 2017

How not to get out of politics gracefully

How much more spectacularly can Mark Latham embarrass himself?    Literally kissing up to fellow professional troll, Milo Y, and now launching a fundraising campaign to keep Australia Day on 26 January.   Fools and their money being easily parted, he's probably got a couple of thousand for that vital (ha) campaign already.

Actually, looking at that photo of Latham slobbering Milo, he (Mark) does physically resemble that Pepe frog character, no?

Twitter on fire

This tweet, and many like it, are currently to be found on Twitter:


Actually, it's not 100% clear to me that it has been confirmed that his house is actually on fire.  But many Tweeters have their fingers crossed...

So that explains it...

The headline: Frances Abbott shows off her engagement ring from weightlifting fiance Sam Loch

The picture to which I think it refers. (Sorry.)

Just..not...funny (and likeability discussed)

I haven't seen alleged comedian Tom Ballard very often on TV, but on the occasions I have, I didn't recognize much sign of talent.  

A month or two back, when the ABC was running promos of him as star of a new daily (for goodness sake!) half hour format of comedy news commentary, I meant to comment that it looked very amateurish - remember him swinging around on a chair with his hands in the air?   Just looked like they didn't have a clue as to what to do to make a smart or witty promo.

I tried watching the actual show last night.   Even the name ("Tonightly") has "lame" written all over it.

Truly, it was awful, and I still utterly fail to see that he has any natural talent as a comedian, or basic likeability, at all.  A half hour of topical material every day is a big ask for him, and his writers, but honestly, if it's going to be as bad as this, it deserves not even trying.

Speaking of basic likeability:   I don't know anything about how amateur chat show Aaron Cheng Tonight came to be made - it looked more like a university student media project than a serious effort at TV - but I have to say, Cheng and some of the others on the show did have an appealing, dag-ish likeability which made it watchable, even with a very high rate of joke failure.   

And another show I have only recently started watching:  Rosehaven.    The leads are really good in their roles, I think.   Not the funniest show on TV, but it's quite appealing in its way.


All Hail Google

Here's something I didn't realise 'til I looked it up last night, as I waited in a vast car parking area at 11.15 pm to collect a couple of teenage girls from a concert.  (Don't worry, one was my daughter.)*

You can tell Google Maps to show your location to someone in your contacts, and just for a limited time. 

A very helpful idea when trying to meet someone in an open, crowded area.  

*  I had heard people complaining before about the complete failure of the Brisbane Entertainment Centre and/or Council to work out a way to let the car park empty in less than about 75 minutes after a concert.  Yes, it's all true.  Hard to believe, really, given the way the centre is not far from two major roadways you can use to get into the city. 

Back to Portugal

I see that The Guardian is running another article in praise of Portugal's drug policy.   Surely Jason wouldn't be goading me by tweeting it?

As far as it goes, the article isn't too bad - it contains some nuance in its noting that the law reform (decriminalisation of personal use) was not the only thing that helped reduce the impact of illicit drugs in the country.

The thing is, the country switched suddenly from a very conservative view of prohibition and lack of support services to one in which the view of drug use as a public health problem gained primacy.  But even then it's not exactly a libertarian approach, with users being able to referred to panels that may push them towards health services

But as for lessons for Australia - our governments have long been willing to address the public health aspects, including (as I have mentioned before) a methadone program available through pharmacies even in conservative stick Bjelke Peterson's Queensland in the early 1980's, if not before.   Then, of course, there is needle exchange, and (to a very limited extent) safe injecting rooms.  I would be surprised if many European countries had not followed the same path of making public health support available for those who want it, while maintaining prohibition on possession (but not making enforcement of that a priority.)

The answer to the question the article proposes "why hasn't the rest of the world followed Portugal" is therefore that, in many respects, they (more or less) were already there.

Given the involvement of drugs in cases of poverty in Australia (see Struggle Street), I remain as ever a cynic about the benefit of a full decriminalisation policy.

A sudden Spielberg surprise

The director more talented than 10 Eastwoods, 20 Tarantinos, and 50 mentally disturbed Gibsons seems to have a critical success on his hands with The Post - currently getting 82 on the (much better than Rottentomatoes) Metacritic site.   (A good sign:  I see a couple of British reviewers liking it too.)

I have to admit, though:  the trailer for it was not that inspiring.   It does make it look very "old school", and as my handful of regular review readers will recall, I wasn't actually all that sold on The Bridge despite its strong reviews.   But who knows - War Horse was very 50's Hollywood, and featured an animal I consider more-or-less evil, and yet it was pretty terrific.

So, I will attend with modest but hopeful expectations.


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A pretty clear explanation of the quantum puzzle

Here, at the TLS, of all places, is a pretty good and succinct explanation of how quantum theory evolved, in the context of the contribution of Erwin Schrodinger.   (His complicated love life was mentioned here before in a recent post - it gets a brief mention again in this article, too.)


Struggling through Struggle Street

Can't say that I exactly long to watch the SBS documentary/reality TV show Struggle Street, but I did last night, particularly interested because this season it featured a couple of Brisbane suburbs I have passing familiarity with.

I have to say, the four "strugglers" they featured last night really pushed the boundaries of sympathy:

*  the 55 year old invalid pensioner woman who was being tossed out of the rented Inala house by the unappealing guy who had let her live with him.  The cause for eviction was not well defined, and the bloke himself may well have been obnoxious, but one suspects that her filling up a couple of rooms of a small house with hoarder's quantities of dolls, ceramic butterflies, cheap stuffed toys and general junk might have had something to do with it.   She also smokes inside the house (one of the apparent lessons of the show seems to be that no matter how badly off, those in poverty in Australia all manage to pay the exorbitant cost of tobacco), and for recreation she zooms around the suburb's footpaths in her mobility scooter (gifted to her by the Salvation Army) at what looked to be dangerous speed.    She has three adult children, who don't live close, and indicated that she had a strained relationship with them due to her "meeting the wrong men" in the past, although there seemed to be details left hanging.  (One suspects the men were abusive to her or her kids.)

At least she wasn't a drug addict, but a key theme seemed to be a life of "bad choices", including getting hooked on acquiring junk toys and trinkets because they make her feel better. 

*  The Melbourne former heroin addict who spent half a day trying to find where he had hidden the rent money, gave up and went to the community housing office to confess he had lost it while on an alcohol (and pot?) bender the day before, only to be told that he had in fact already paid it a couple of days before!   He had completely forgotten, and made the observation that maybe he did do too much marijuana.  (Well, duh.)   He was a cheerful soul, who got out of his recently inherited late mother's car carrying a tall bottle of beer, and complained about his brother who lived in the Mum's house and with whom he was fighting about the estate.

This does not bode well.   On the face of it, he will end up with half the value of the house in cash, and I would not have a great deal of confidence that the money won't go up in drugs of one kind or another.

He also indicated that, with his new set of false teeth, he expected to be pulling in the ladies soon.  (That's another lesson of the show:  no matter how poor and drug addicted your are, you'll be able to "pull" a partner with equally bad judgement.   Unless you are actually living under a bridge, perhaps.)

* The most depressing scenario - the ice addicted mother and father of four kids living in a shelter in Inala.  Him with biker friends, a criminal history (not sure for what), domestic violence orders, and seizures from his drug use, caught in his car with synthetic marijuana saying he wasn't aware it was illegal.  The mother was apparently prone to screaming violent rages from the ice and confrontations with the husband, who was too "controlling".   He did sound like a jerk, but she looked so unhealthy and self pitying, I again had trouble with feeling sympathy.

The worst thing of all, in a way, with parents like that is listening to their endless claims that they know they have to get clean and live straight, and they know that if they don't they're ruining things for their kids who they really, really, really love, and knowing they are no where near actually taking action.   I don't know how social workers put up with listening to such guff that seems to go on for years before people might finally actually get clean.

And, of course, the other lesson from this is the sad fact that children (usually) still love the parents who they know are self destructive and don't want to be away from them.   I did, of course, feel very sorry for them - although I would rather that the 16 year old wasn't already smoking too.  (She complained she was sick of being the de facto mother to the two youngest, who looked like well behaved, even if stressed out.)


I'm not sure what exactly is the right way to feel about all of this:   it's easy to have sympathy to people who are pure victims of misfortune (ill health, accident, crime);  but it is so, so common that poverty is caused or accompanied by things you know can be overcome if sufficiently motivated - drug and alcohol addiction, bad choices in how money is spent, staying with partners who are clearly hurting prospects of improvement.

You can't stop people making bad choices at first, but when it comes to government and charitable intervention, it is with much chagrin that you have to watch the bad choices continuing.    
 






  

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Scruton all over the shop

In an opening paragraph that I assume will cause hairs to be raised on any free market economist who supported Brexit,  Roger Scruton explains why Brexit is good for the English countryside:
The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy was designed to support the small farmer, and it is fair to say it has failed to achieve that purpose. Because subsidies have been calculated by acreage, they both push up the price of land and benefit those who own the largest chunks of it — which means absentee agribusinesses. The CAP is indeed one major cause in the decline of the real rural economy — the economy of the small farmers who live and work in the fields. Leaving the EU is our opportunity to devise a new system of subsidies, one that will achieve what the public really wants from farming, which is not only food, but the two precious attributes that large-scale agribusiness threatens: beauty and bio-diversity.

The Left should be embarrassed, too, but still...

I do get rather sick of the Right going "ha ha Lefties - look at Venezuela  - look where your socialism takes countries".  

But, admittedly, it was remarkably stupid of any Left wing politician (or commentator) to be endorsing the (to my mind) obviously economically extreme policies of Chavez, and it  should be embarrassing to them that some did so.

That said, there is a more-or-less sensible centre to politics and economics, and I don't think you can plausibly argue that embarrassingly short sighted endorsement of Chavez reflected mainstream centre Left economic policy views for the rest of the world.  

That rabid Right wingers pretend otherwise (and, in American, carry on like pork chops about, say,  universal health care being "socialism" that will lead to the collapse of the country) just shows they can't see the sensible centre either.


The Right should be embarrassed - but "culture wars" or something

Jeff Sparrow's examples of Milo's "jokes" at his shows just emphasises what an embarrassment it should be, if they had any sense of shame or brains,  that Right wing commentators from Bolt, Cameron to Jones are encouraging this guy's tour.   Sure, Bolt had him on his show and apparently told him he's hurting his message by using crude and ugly hyperbole:  yeah, that'll really teach him - being MC at his stage shows and then hosting him on TV and saying "I don't really approve of your methods..."

And that's even before we get to Leyonhjelm, whose sense of humour I've called immature before, thinking it's worthwhile having the guy give a talk in Parliament House.  Here's his comments about that:
'I wouldn't call myself a disciple of him by any means,' Senator Leyonhjelm told AAP, adding he didn't agree with all his controversial views.

He expects Yiannopoulos to embark on an 'outrage campaign' to stir up the politically correct.

'I'm expecting to be amused more than anything,' Senator Leyonhjelm said.
Yup, just as I had expected...


Now that's planning ahead

I haven't been visiting arXiv much lately, but here's a paper with someone doing some maths about keeping the Earth going despite the Sun heating up:
The 'Earth Rocket': a Method for Keeping the Earth in the Habitable Zone

The Sun is expected to increase its radiant output by about 10% per billion years. The rate at which the radius of the Earth's orbit would need to increase in order to keep the present value of the Sun's radiant flux at the Earth constant is calculated. The mechanical power required to achieve this is also calculated. Remarkably, this is a small fraction (2.3%) of the total solar flux currently intercepted by the Earth. Treating the Earth itself as a rocket, the thrust required to increase the orbit is found, as well as the rate of mass ejection. The Earth has sufficient mass to maintain this rate for several billion years, allowing for the possibility that the Earth could remain habitable to biological life for billions of years into the future. 
The method:  hundreds of rail guns shooting mass off the planet.   Surprisingly, according to his calculations, you could do it in sufficient quantities for a billion years and only have lost 1/16 of the Earth's mass.  We'd hardly notice!

I see that the author is from a community college.  I have no idea if his math is correct, but I like guys who think big, anyway.

And by the way, this puts me in mind of a short article that I am pretty certain appeared in Omni magazine decades ago, where someone did the back of envelope calculations on the idea of using the Moon as a replacement Sun, if you had Earth and Moon wandering the Universe unattached to a star. The figures, using lots of lights powered by (I think) fusion looked pretty good.  

I wonder if any reader remembers that article....   

Monday, December 04, 2017

Bitcoin and the contest of ideologies

I see that Lefty John Quiggin is still a complete skeptic on Bitcoin, and that Sinclair Davidson and anyone vaguely libertarian seems to think it probably will work.   But re Davidson:  as with many people, I suspect, I find the Berg/Davidson/Potts papers they keep promoting (which are more about blockchain than Bitcoin) impossible to understand.  They're excited about it, and getting invited to lots of conferences overseas where fellow nerd types seem to spend all day telling each other how it's going to change everything, but the rest of us mere mortals don't understand why the technology, as described, is actually all that revolutionary.    However, pro Bitcoin guest pieces have been posted from time to time at Catallaxy, and so I think SD can be counted as a Bitcoin supporter of some hue, anyway.

Stiglitz has also weighed in saying it ought to be outlawed.    Libertarians and small government types dismiss him routinely for his other views, so dismissal of his views on Bitcoin are just par for the course for them.

Despite the Japanese government, for some strange reason, giving Bitcoin a credibility boost, I am firmly in the skeptic camp.    I can't see the problem that Bitcoin is intended to solve, and the problems of people who seek to trade in the proceeds of crime, avoid tax, or to enable their rogue regimes or companies to have some sort of undercover profit, are not problems that deserve solution (or, the solution will usually deserve prevention by government.)    The energy usage to make cryptocurrencies seems extarordinarily wasteful, and the present speculation driven rise only encourages more coal burning. 

Libertarians like it because they are prone to fantasies about how good everything can be with no, or next to no, government.  But reality is different from fantasy.  

The Atlantic had a pretty good article What on Earth is Going on with Bitcoin and it ends with the simplest explanation, which sounds entirely plausible to me:
4. Maybe it’s just this simple: Bitcoin is an unprecedentedly dumb bubble built on ludicrous speculation.
It seems strange to call a currency a bubble. But lacking more specific terminology, bubble seems like the only word that would apply.
Even if one buys the argument that blockchain is brilliant, cryptocurrency is the new gold, and bitcoin is the reserve currency of the ICO market, it is still beyond strange to see any product’s value double in six weeks without any material change in its underlying success or application. Instead, there has been a great and widening divergence between bitcoin’s transaction volume (which has grown 32 times since 2012) and its market price (which had grown more than 1,000 times).
Surveys show that the vast majority of bitcoin owners are buying and holding bitcoin to exchange them for dollars. Let’s be clear: If the predominant use case for any asset is to buy it, wait for it to appreciate, and then to exchange it for dollars, it is a terrible currency. That is how people treat baseball cards or stamps, not money. For most of its owners, bitcoin is not a currency. It is a collectible—a digital baseball card, without the faces or stats.
The article goes on to note that maybe something good and dramatically different comes out of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, just we don't really know what it will look like yet.   We'll see, but for the moment, I'll remain a blockchain skeptic too.    

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Nazis, music and a dog

Courtesy of my daughter's involvement in the Queensland Youth Orchestra, we were offered a few free tickets to a performance this evening by Camerata - a youthful Queensland chamber orchestra - at the Performing Arts Centre.

I haven't seen them before, and assume that most of their shows are straight music.  But this one, at least, was sort of a mini play, The White Mouse, telling the story of famous World War 2 resistance fighter Nancy Wake.

It was pretty terrific:  2 actors on stage, one playing Wake, the other a guy playing several men in her life; they both address the audience and re-enact key events while the orchestra was also on stage for the many musical pieces interspersing the story. 

A dog makes a brief appearance too.  As does a female singer with a couple of French songs, and the show ending on (of course) Je Ne Regrette Nien.  The orchestra themselves were great, making you realise just how much musical talent there is in the world, when a place like Brisbane can produce this.

To be truthful, while I had read some articles about her in the newpapers years ago, there wasn't a lot I could recall in detail about NancyWake, and my teenage kids unfortunately had never heard of her.  This was a really good way for them (and me) to learn about her:  told with verve, humour and minimalist but effective staging.   A fair bit of "strong language" too - Nancy apparently swore like a trooper - but hey if it's accurate to her personality, I don't mind.  I wonder how much swearing there is in her autobiography?

As far as I can tell, though, this show has only been performed twice - once in Toowoomba, and once in Brisbane.   A great effort, yet a relatively limited audience.  At least half of the audience in Brisbane gave it a standing ovation.  I reckon they ought to take it to all the capital cities, at least.

Tom, a Mummy and technology (not necessarily in that order)

So, last night, due to another offer from Google Play on my TV for an "any movie" hire for .99 cents, we watched  the widely panned "The Mummy". 

[On a side note:  I feel very sorry for anyone who might have invested in DVD hire vending machines, thinking there would be a market for them after the disappearance of video hire shops.  I mean, I hired perhaps less than 10 times from a DVD machine myself, and thought it was a pretty good system.  Then I bought a Smart TV (Samsung - it's excellent), got the NBN connected (it works well at very acceptable cost), subscribed to Netflix, and now I just don't see much incentive to ever hire a DVD again.  If there is nothing we want to watch on Netflix, Google Play hire for even quite recent movies is usually around $6, and I don't have to drive to return the DVD.

Have I mentioned how sorry I feel for newagents, too?  And what is it with the occasional surviving one that stocks crappy, kitchy gift items?  Have you ever seen anyone in a newsagency buying a porcelain angel, or cat, for someone's gift?  I don't believe I have ever seen anyone even looking at the crap gift shelves.  It's one of life's mysteries...]

Back to the story:  surely The Mummy was worth .99 cent hire?   Yes, actually, I think I would go as far as to say it was worth a $4 hire.   Maybe not $5, but a solid $4.

It's hardly perfect, but it's not as bad as people say.   It looks expensive, has some good action, Tom Cruise running (as Honest Trailers says, it's in his contract for every movie - "must have running sequence") and I even liked some story elements.  (The use of mercury to contain a Mummy). 

On the downside, it does this strange thing where at the beginning, it feels too simple a story, and then towards the end, too complicated.  I don't think anyone quite understood the curse thing, and what exactly was going on with Cruise's flashbacks (I thought reincarnation was being suggested at one point.)   Maybe it would make more sense on a second viewing, but the screenplay was definitely flawed.   What was Tom meant to have become by the end?   Surely there could have been a better hint than the murmuring explanation of a very tubby looking Russell Crowe.  No doubt it was going to be explained in a subsequent movie in the Dark Universe, which I see Universal has now abandoned completely!  

On another minor note:  it was probably a mistake to have Dr Jekell as a key figure in this film, without giving some of his backstory to a young audience.  My son didn't even know the character from fiction, which is a bit of a worry, but I would be sure he would not be alone.

Anyway.   You could worse than watch this movie.  If you like Tom Cruise, generally, I don't think you're going to hate it.

And speaking of Tom, I'm feeling sorry for him having two underperforming movies this year:  the one I just discussed, and the much better reviewed (actually, well reviewed) American Made.  The latter seemed to have some sort of marketing fail, to me.   I'll watch it soon.

But as for proof that Tom is actually a good actor, I reckon that this performance with Conan O'Brien is not only funny, but actually a convincing bit of performance by Tom.   Watch it if you haven't before: