Friday, March 23, 2018

The answer is "Yes"

At the Atlantic:

Can Electrically Stimulating Your Brain Make You Too Happy?

Uh oh

NPR puts it this way:

Trump National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster To Resign, Be Replaced By John Bolton

....But if Trump liked that vision, he apparently grew to dislike McMaster.

According to inside accounts, the two men clashed when McMaster's cerebral briefings crashed into Trump's more freewheeling style.
Places in the world where much of the population's general anxiety just bumped up a few notches:

South Korea

I think only the wingnuttiest of wingnuts will be pleased with this.   I will be curious which right wing sites positively support it. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Autism and transgender

Slate has an article discussing something I didn't know:
“We have enough evidence, across multiple studies internationally, to say that autism is more common in gender-diverse youth than in the general population,” said John Strang, a neuropsychologist and founder of the Gender and Autism Program at Children’s National Health System in Washington. Strang authored a 2014 analysis that found that more than 5 percent of autistic youth sampled for his study also displayed some level of desire to be the other gender, according to parental reports. (He cautioned that it’s too soon to say what the exact percentage in the overall population may be.) Another widely referenced study found that 7.8 percent of young people being treated for gender dysphoria at a clinic in Amsterdam had a confirmed diagnosis of ASD.
I wonder if this has anything to do with some rather nerdy professions - IT and engineering, for example - perhaps being disproportionately over-represented in transgender numbers?  (I'm not 100% sure that they are, but I have a vague feeling that I have read something indicating that.)

Brexit analysis

This ex-politician's analysis of several authors' take on Brexit is pretty good, and witty as well.  Roger Scruton is described as "a kind of mystical Brexiteer";  Corbyn gets mentioned this way:
Following the thinking of Jeremy Corbyn is also difficult, owing to its apparent absence, but from the leader himself down to militant Guardian columnists the anti-migration sentiments of voters are denied, played down, or avoided.
As for "brains for Brexit":
The “brains for Brexit” camp voiced little or no concern over immigration, a silence that impugned the judgement of the voting masses. Playing the populist defender while being sniffy about popular thinking is an inglorious intellectual posture.
Go read it all.

The unknown China

Quite a remarkable article at Foreign Policy about the extraordinary difficulty (or impossibility, perhaps?) of knowing what's really going on inside China on any issue at all.

How cheap can film making get?

I'm surprised to read that Steven Soderbergh's latest film was shot completely on an iPhone (!).   This article says it makes for some "harsh and uncompromising" visuals, but it suits the story.  

Just saying...

...if the Austin bomber had been a Muslim instead of a home schooled Christian, conservative wingnuts would be bouncing off the walls right now, and would continue doing so for days.

Instead, because it appears his apparent conservative views would fit right in with those expressed by most commenters at Catallaxy, they are expressing next to no interest in the matter at all.    

De-hyping the last paper

Just in case you've noticed any headlines about Stephen Hawking's last paper and how it says something remarkable about how we may detect other universes, you need to read Sabine's post debunking such reporting.   An extract:
Allow me put this into perspective.

Theoretical physicist have proposed some thousand ideas for what might have happened in the early universe. There are big bangs and big bounces and brane collisions and string cosmologies and loop cosmologies and all kinds of weird fields that might or might not have done this or that. All of this is pure speculation, none of it is supported by evidence. The Hartle-Hawking proposal is one of these speculations.

The vast majority of these ideas contain a phase of inflation and they all predict CMB polarization. In some scenarios the signal is larger than in others. But there isn’t even a specific prediction for the amount of CMB polarization in the Hawking paper. In fact, the paper doesn’t so much as even contain the word “polarization” or “tensor modes.”

The claim that the detection of CMB polarization would mean the multiverse exists makes as much sense as claiming that if I find a coin on the street then Bill Gates must have walked by. And a swarm of invisible angels floated around him playing harp and singing “Ode To Joy.”

In case that was too metaphorical, let me say it once again but plainly. Hawking has not found a new way to measure the existence of other universes.

Stephen Hawking was beloved by everyone I know, both inside and outside the scientific community. He was a great man without doubt, but this paper is utterly unremarkable. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Reminds of something...

I'm talking about this cringe worthy picture I saw today at Vanity Fair:

Took me a few minutes, and then I realised - it looks as if it was lifted from a Zoolander movie.

(I did watch the second one recently on Netflix - it was funnier than I expected.)

Someone likes Spielberg

Ready Player One is receiving some good, some not so good, reviews; but the guy who writes BBC Culture reviews is a Spielberg fanboy who loved it, and I endorse his take on the director:
It’s dazzling stuff. Recently, a generation of directors has been paying homage to Spielberg’s popcorn films (in Super 8, Jurassic World, and Stranger Things, for example), but with Ready Player One he proves with stunning aplomb that no one does Spielberg quite like Spielberg. No one has more empathy with pasty American kids from broken homes. No one packs scenes with so much information, or elaborate action set pieces with so much energy, while ensuring that you always know what’s going on and why.
Exactly.   Contrast the complete mess of the action fights of Black Panther.   (That movie seems to be doing an Avatar - a film that I really don't doubt will be seen in only a few years as being puzzlingly popular given its inherent quality.)  

Anyway, this is not to deny that I might be cool on RP1 myself - not coming from a big gaming background, I may not care for all of its cultural references.  But I should get back into viewing VR stuff on my phone and cheap headset - I think there is a chance that the movie will make that past time more popular, and I want to be "cool" ahead of the rest.  :)

New reason not to go down to the woods today...

This sort of thing, if it turned up on some American crime show, would probably make you think  "how unlikely is that!":
A secret "gingerbread house" deep in a forest sounds like something from a fairy tale, but investigators in Seattle say the one they found was anything but. Now, 56-year-old Daniel Wood faces charges of possession of depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct, according to the Seattle Times. 

An employee for Washington's Department of Natural Resources discovered bedding, food and a large amount of child pornography in an elaborate treehouse cabin in the Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest about 50 miles east of Seattle in Nov. 2016.

This set off a months-long federal investigation, that eventually led to Wood.

Forest Service employees had known about the treehouse for about seven years, but nobody knew exactly who had built it. The last time it had been inspected was nearly three years ago, and no photos of the cabin existed....

The employee with the DNR heard rumors of the cabin and decided to try to find it. He looked for it on five separate occasions, and then finally found the treehouse and its cache of pornography.

It looked like a gingerbread house on the outside. The cabin was "dark brown in color and built approximately 8 feet off the ground," according to FBI's Seattle office. "There was a porch around the structure, a front door, and windows on the side, as well as a pitched roof, and a ladder from the ground to the porch.

But, when he looked inside, the employee found something startling.

"On all four walls were framed pictures of fairy-like figures or of what appeared to be young girls, approximately 8-12 years old," per FBI reports.
 Here's the "house":

A hormonal post

There's quite a detailed, balanced and interesting article up at The Guardian: 

Does testosterone make you mean?

The answer seems a definite "it's complicated."

It does note one experiment I don't recall reading about:
Because women are more responsive than men to supplemental testosterone, they were used in one of the key studies into how testosterone essentially removes the burden of empathy from moral decision-making. It’s known as the “trolley car experiment”. Picture a runaway tram hurtling down the tracks towards five unsuspecting workers. There’s a lever that would divert the tram to another track, but there’s someone working on that track, too. “You have to kill somebody to save five others,” says Ryan, and you have to act fast.

The researchers at Utrecht University gave some of the subjects a shot of testosterone the night before presenting them with the dilemma. “The number of respondents who were willing to kill in order to save people, and their confidence in carrying out the act were enhanced,” says Ryan. “And the equivocation they demonstrated was significantly reduced.”
Based on this, I diagnose Chidi in The Good Place as suffering from low testosterone!

(By the way, I've nearly finished Season 2 of that show, and it continues to be a delight.  I see that it has been renewed for a 3rd series, which gives me some concern as to how the creativity of the show can continue to be sustained.) 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Another tax cut fail

I've noted many times how the Laffer inspired and endorsed tax cut experiment of Kansas had been a failure, but I think I had missed that Oklahoma had gone down a similar path to similar failure.  From a report in February this year:
Riding high on the oil boom of the late 2000s, the state followed the Kansas model and slashed taxes. But the promised prosperity never came. In many cases, it was just the opposite.

Around 20 percent of Oklahoma's schools now hold classes just four days a week. Last year, Highway Patrol officers were given a mileage limit because the state couldn't afford to put gas in their tanks. Medicaid provider rates have been cut to the point that rural nursing homes and hospitals are closing, and the prisons are so full that the director of corrections says they're on the brink of a crisis.

In her State of the State address Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin expressed the state's frustration.
"We have two clear choices," she said. "We can continue down a path of sliding backwards, or we can choose the second path, which is to say 'Enough is enough! We can do better! We deserve better! Our children deserve better, too!' "

Many of the tax cuts and subsequent revenue failures have happened on Fallin's watch. Now she wants to fix it, and she's gotten behind a large coalition of business leaders who have come up with a plan to raise taxes and enact reforms.
Where's the "tax cuts always work" crew on this? 

Can someone explain?

Judith Sloan makes this claim re dividend imputation, and while she seems to claim that this should be obvious to commentators, if not us poor plebs, I just don't get how it makes sense:
When an individual earns less than $18,200 and pays no tax, then the individual receives a cash ­refund of 30 per cent. This is only fair. Without cash refunds, the ­effect on very low-income earners would be a tax of 30 per cent on dividends.
Why?   How is it that paying no tax on the dividend and not receiving a cash rebate for tax not paid has the effect of a tax of 30 per cent on dividends??

She seems so apparently confident on the point that I don't know whether it is a problem with my English comprehension, or maths comprehension, or am I am simply being gaslighted??

Go 5-2

I really need to diet again, and once again I will probably try the 5-2 diet, from which I fell off the wagon last time because of apparent reflux issue that started to develop.   I think that's sorted.  Next time, got to get onto 6-1 as a maintenance diet.

Anyway, the diet seems to do good things with the way the body processes fat in the blood.  Sounds good:
In the first study of its kind, researchers from the University of Surrey examined the impact of the 5:2 on the body's ability to metabolise and clear fat and glucose after a meal and compared it to the effects of weight-loss achieved via a more conventional daily calorie restriction diet. Previous studies in this field have predominantly focused on risk markers taken in the fasted state, which only tend to be, in for the minority of the time, overnight.

During the study, overweight participants were assigned to either the 5:2 diet or a daily calorie restriction diet and were required to lose five per cent of their weight. Those on the 5:2 diet ate normally for five days and for their two fasting days consumed 600 calories, using LighterLife Fast Foodpacks, whilst those on the daily diet were advised to eat 600 calories less per day than their estimated requirements for weight maintenance (in the study women ate approx. 1400 calories, men ate approx. 1900 calories/day).

Under the expert guidance of the team, those on the 5:2 diet achieved 5 per cent weight-loss in 59 days compared to those on the daily calorie restriction diet who took in 73 days. 27 participants completed the study, with approximately 20 per cent of participants in both groups dropped out because they either could not tolerate the diet or were unable to attain their 5 per cent weight-loss target.

Researchers found that following weight-loss, participants who followed the 5:2 diet cleared the fat (triglyceride) from a meal given to them more efficiently than the participants undertaking the daily diet. Although there were no differences in post meal glucose handling, researchers were surprised to find differences between the diets in c-peptide (a marker of insulin secretion from the pancreas) following the meal, the significance of which will need further investigation.

Self involved? Moi?

It's a testament to the dearth of decent conservative writing available in Australia today that Quadrant has run a tedious book review by Catallaxy inmate "lizzie" - the one with the obsessional need to tell everyone what a fabulous lifestyle she leads with the fantastic husband who adores her, after having risen above a poverty stricken childhood in the West from a family with its fair share of mental illness.   (As is typical with the commenters at that blog, she is apparently a reformed "lefty" who has found the true path of political righteousness.  Climate change is, of course, in her and her allegedly smart husband's view, part of the grand conspiracy of socialist domination of the world.)

As is her wont, the review is roughly 50% about herself. 

Strangely, some at Catallaxy think her circuitous, enormously self-involved and self promoting writing style is very readable.   It is, in fact, the opposite.   She's like the conservative mirror image of Helen Razor, now that I think of it.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Unwanted movie review: Road to Perdition

Finally got around to watching the all star cast (Hanks, Newman, Law, Craig) in the Sam Mendes directed 2002 gangster film, Road to Perdition.

First:  what a fantastic looking movie.   I've only seen a few other Mendes films, and while I don't think American Beauty was particularly memorable for its cinematography (or for anything, really, other than a very unconvincing plot contrivance), I did think Skyfall was a remarkably great looking film.  With Road, it's just every single shot is gorgeous - a combination of fantastically detailed art direction, a cinematographer who I should probably look up, and good direction.   (It's always a bit unclear to me who to credit most between director and cinematographer as to the look of a film, but I assume the director tells the latter what he/she wants and checks throughout that he/she is getting it.)

As to story:  a bit thin and unconvincing in terms of exposition.   One key fortuitous event is left completely unexplained (anyone who has seen it probably knows what I mean), and it's a bit puzzling that more care was not taken to explain why or how it happened; or for that matter, why a more convincing motivation of the crucial killing that sets the story going is not really given.   The movie is based on a graphic novel, and it seems easy to blame that as the reason.    I think it fair to say that I haven't ever seen a film of such origin that has completely convinced me.  

Despite this, I thought Hanks was surprisingly good in a less than entirely sympathetic role.   All of the actors were pretty good really;  the whole movie just suffered a bit from a screenplay inadequacy that prevented it being truly great. 

Definitely worth watching, though.

About that white guy/black guy dance thing...

The controversy over whether and why (American) black guys are just natural "movers" on the dance floor compared to white dudes can look at this for a bit of evidence.   (Yeah, sorry, they just are.   Wakanda and the secret deployment of vibranium into black communities probably has something to do with it.)

Update:  further, perhaps better, evidence along the same lines:

This has also brought up a memory, but I forget which movie it's from:  the one where some older white guy - an authority figure - unexpectedly and in overt racist stereotype fashion tells the black guy to dance, it's in his blood.   What movie am I thinking of?     

An unobjectionable Cohen

Look, Nick Cohen did recently get, shall we say, somewhat carried away with apparent enthusiasm for authoritarian solutions to obesity and lifestyle induced ill health.   All well intentioned, no doubt, but over the top.

Anyway, all can be forgiven with his latest column:  Cranks have turned the world upside down, it's time to fight back.      (Subheading: Conspiracy theories were once a fringe interest. In the era of populists, they’ve now gone mainstream.)

I don't think there's anything in there worth objecting to.  

What's happening?

With Trump going on a twitter storm about the unfairness of the Mueller investigation, everyone's expecting that he's either building up to, or (possibly) testing the water for Republican support of, sacking Mueller.   I don't know that he's rational enough for testing the water; I think he's just waiting for Sean Hannity to tell him to sack Mueller or it's a crisis. 

Because, as Jonathan Swan at Axios says:
On this issue, Trump is dug in and angry. He views the leadership of the FBI as arrayed against him. And that red line he drew in the interview with the N.Y. Times last year — where he said he wouldn’t stand for Mueller prying into his family finances — still stands.
  • One crucial variable in all this is Fox News. Trump feeds off the moods of his favorite hosts. If Sean Hannity and Judge Jeanine Pirro turn it up a notch, saying the deep state is out to get him and Mueller is out of control, there’s no telling what Trump will do.
Don't Trump cultists see anything suspicious in their soiled political saviour freaking out when his finances are at risk of coming under scrutiny?    (Ha!, there I go again, thinking that cultists can think for themselves.) 

And isn't it a truly shocking state of affairs that Trump is so beholden to a handful of media commentators - experts at nothing other than beating up stories towards a biased conclusion - at Fox News?   

Which leads to the mystery of what is going on in the head of Rupert Murdoch:  he would obviously see the power that a handful of staff have over Trump.   Why wouldn't he want to give out subtle directions as to which way he would like Trump to jump?      If he doesn't want the turmoil that sacking Mueller would entail, why doesn't he pull strings on Hannity and that ridiculous "Judge" Pirro in that regard?     Or is it a case that he just doesn't care as long as he can count the money coming in from higher ratings?   Is constitutional quasi crisis good for his business, so he doesn't care?

It's a really bizarre situation....

Friday, March 16, 2018

Well, duh

Time magazine has a profile of Fox News's Shepard Smith, the who sticks out at the network like a sore thumb for his sometimes effective criticism and debunking of Trump.   (He's also gay, in a place renowned for straight men behaving badly.)  But how's this for the biggest understatement of this century (my bold):
Despite being the cable-news ratings leader, Fox News’ audience is also old. The median Fox News viewer in 2017 was 65 overall, the same as MSNBC, and 66 in primetime, the highest of all cable news networks. “I think that our audience skews conservative. We learn about our audience through research and data,” says Smith. A 2014 study by Pew Research Center indicated Fox News was the most-trusted news source for “consistently conservative” viewers, edging out the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the Drudge Report.

How to annoy Russia

Someone at New Statesman, talking about how Britain should react to Russian assassinations on British soil, concludes:   If we really want to annoy Russia, we should cancel Brexit.   Makes some amusing sense:
So: economic sanctions are hard, war is bloody stupid, and we probably don’t want to get into the habit of trying to knock people off in Moscow restaurants. What we really need is a non-violent action that will definitely undermine Russian interests, doesn’t require US leadership and, ideally, doesn’t cost any money.

Over on Twitter, Jonnie Marbles, who you may recall from his sterling work in the field of hitting Rupert Murdoch with pies, has come up with the perfect idea: cancel Brexit. It’ll make us less dependent on the whims of Donald Trump. It will, if anything, strengthen the economy. And we all know that steps towards European unity annoy the hell out of Putin.

What’s more, the response to the events in Salisbury that's come from Brussels has been far, far warmer than the one that’s come from Washington. Earlier today, the European Parliament’s Brexit supremo Guy Verhofstadt tweeted that, “An attack against one EU & NATO country is an attack on all of us.” It’s like we’ve been beaten up, and the only one who gives a shit is the ex we just dumped in the most humiliating possible way. 

Bowling ball theory

It seems to have taken a surprisingly long time to work it out, but it does sound very likely that Politifact has correctly identified how Trump mangled a legitimate safety test into a "bowling ball" test, misunderstanding and misrepresenting its point completely in the process. 

How did he even know about this, though?   It must have been rumbling around somewhere on a wingnutty site as unfair to American cars, surely?

Of course I negotiate in bad faith - funny hey!

Even the cultist idiots, the wingnut defenders of Trump, aren't putting much effort into defending his open admission that he negotiates in bad faith - just making up claims when he had no idea if they are true or not.

Isn't it incredible that Trump admits this?  Did he do so because he thinks his guess was later vindicated?  I found that part of the quote in the initial report hard to follow.

Clarification can be found at Hot Air, which remains about the only conservative site worth visiting, explaining as follows:
Is that true, that we “lose” $17 billion a year to Canada? It is, just like you “lose” every time you go to the grocery store and hand over cash for food. But if you look more closely at the numbers, you’ll see that Trump is cherry-picking: We “lose” only if you’re comparing exports and imports of goods. If you look at the total trade balance between U.S. and Canada, which includes goods and services, we “win.” In 2016, our trade deficit with Canada in terms of goods was $12.1 billion but our trade surplus in terms of services was $24.6 billion, with exports of $54.2 billion versus imports of $26.9 billion. Even by Trump’s own strange metric of trade “winners” and “losers,” America comes out ahead overall in the relationship by about $12.5 billion.

But even if it was Canada that ended up with the surplus, the volume of trade between the two countries is so enormous that it’d be bananas to risk the relationship over a rounding error like $12.5 billion. Total trade between the U.S. and Canada in 2016 was $627.8 billion, with exports supporting more than a million American jobs. Last year, the $282 billion in goods that the U.S. sent north across the border was the largest amount of exports to any single nation on Earth. Even using Trump’s own math, the trade deficit in goods is a measly three percent of total U.S./Canada trade, which probably explains why Trudeau was insisting “we have no trade deficit.” Effectively, we don’t. And as I say, when you include services, there’s *really* no deficit. It’s a surplus for the U.S.
Slate puts it more bluntly (my bold):
Judging America’s trade performance based on goods alone would not make any sense, mind you; exports are exports, whether you’re talking about cars or financial services. But perhaps Trump heard that number, and mistakenly took it to mean that the U.S. has an overall trade deficit with Canada.

If that’s the case, it would still be a cause for concern. Trump is trying to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, and being misinformed about basic trade statistics makes it even less likely that he will make rational decisions about the future of the pact. 

It’s also possible that Trump is surrounded by yes-men, one of whom fed him a misleading statistic in order to confirm his own mistaken assumption. That would also obviously be cause for concern. 

But in the end, this is all just a reminder a broader problem: Our president lives in a solipsistic fantasy world, where facts mostly exist to confirm his own intuitions, and his staff either aren’t capable of correcting him or don’t want to. When it comes to legislation, that ignorance limits him to making nonsensical demands of Congress, because he simply doesn’t understand the issues. But when it comes to issues like trade, where he can unilaterally change U.S. policy with the stroke of a pen, his ignorance is an immediate menace. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Changing a policy that never made sense

A couple of comments on Labor's proposed policy change on tax credits being able to be converted to cash for people who never paid tax anyway:

1.   How did the policy ever make any sense anyway???    It really doesn't make sense as a tax policy.   As John Kehoe writes (with my bold):
My self-funded retiree father complained during a phone conversation this week about Labor's "tax grab" on refundable dividend imputation credits.

I shot back asking why asset-rich retirees should get away with paying negative tax rates for owning shares, when younger workers like me front up at the office each day and lose 30-50 per cent in tax?

2.   Is this why it hasn't (as far as I know) yet been condemned by any of the economists who hang around the IPA and Catallaxy?

3.  It is pretty hilarious some of the examples appearing in the Murdoch press as to how it will affect people:

Update:   Davidson and the IPA were slow off the mark, but of course as the policy leaves more money in the hands of government,  they are against it.  Got to strangle tax so as to be able strangle size of government, after all.   I think there will be other economists willing to put the boot into the way Sinclair tries to spin this:
Labor’s problem is that they are being too clever by half. They want to increase taxes without clearly saying so. That is profoundly dishonest. Receiving a tax refund is not welfare. In the same way receiving your change from the supermarket isn’t corporate charity – it is a return of your own money. Millions of Australians overpay their tax liabilities each and every year and receive a refund from the government. Labor proposes to stop paying refunds to older Australians – both now and in the future....

Permanently wrong

Wow.  Look at all the examples Jonathan Chait has quickly provided about the wrong predictions of Larry Kudlow.   The article opens:
A dozen years ago, I wrote a book about the unshakable grip of supply-side economics upon the Republican Party. Supply-side economics is not merely a generalized preference for small government with low taxes, but a commitment to the cause of low taxes, particularly for high earners, that borders on theological. In the time that has passed since then, that grip has not weakened at all. The appointment of Lawrence Kudlow as head of the National Economic Council indicates how firmly supply-siders control Republican economic policy, and how little impact years of failed analysis have had upon their place of power.

The Republican stance on taxes, like its position on climate change (fake) and national health insurance (against it), is unique among right-of-center parties in the industrialized world. Republicans oppose higher taxes everywhere and always, at every level of government. In 2012, every Republican presidential candidate, including moderate Jon Huntsman, indicated they would oppose accepting even a dollar of higher taxes in return for $10 dollars of spending cuts. They likewise believe tax cuts are the necessary tonic for every economic circumstance.

The purest supply-siders, like Kudlow, go further and deeper in their commitment. Kudlow attributes every positive economic indicator to lower taxes, and every piece of negative news to higher taxes. While that sounds absurd, it is the consistent theme he has maintained throughout his career as a prognosticator. It’s not even a complex form of kookery, if you recognize the pattern. It’s a very simple and blunt kind of kookery.
 Yes, it is a faith, and one in which incorrect predictions are never, ever cause for revising the belief.   (The reason being, as I only realised relatively recently, that there is always so much going on in the world that can contribute to economic outcomes, there's a permanently moving feast of  information that can be twisted to make some kind of excuse for failed prediction.   Thus it's never the theory that's at fault.   And yet, ironically, it's typically the same supply side believers who claim - completely without merit - that climate change is a case of "unfalsifiable" science.)   

I see that Krugman has re-tweeted DeLong's take:
Larry Kudlow has not been an economist in at least a generation. Rather, he plays an economist on TV. Whatever ability he once had to make or analyze or present coherent and data-based economic arguments is long gone—with a number of his old friends blaming long-term consequences of severe and prolonged drug addiction.

The right way to view this appointment is, I think, as if Donald Trump were to name William Shatner to command the Navy's 7th Fleet.

That said, probably little damage will be done. The major day-to-day job of the NEC Chair is to coordinate the presentation of economic policy options to the President, and to try to keep the agencies and departments on the same page as they implement policy. Kudlow has negative talents in either organizing and presenting alternative points of view or in controlling bureaucracies. Therefore the agencies will each continue marching to its different drummer, and there will be no coherent presentation of policy options to the President. But that will not be new.
And yet JC from Catallaxy, who doesn't seem to bother making snark comments here much anymore, thinks he's a great choice.    Yeah, sure.   

On Hawking

As I hoped she would, Sabine Hossenfelder has a post up looking at the scientific legacy of Stephen Hawking, and it's larger than I would have guessed.    Roger Penrose's great obituary in The Guardian is the other essential read.

As it happens, I was going to post last week about the last bit of media attention he was getting::
Hawking's answer to the question "What was there before there was anything?" relies on a theory known as the "no-boundary proposal."...

According to TechTimes, Hawking says during the show that before the Big Bang, time was bent — "It was always reaching closer to nothing but didn't become nothing," according to the article. Essentially, "there was never a Big Bang that produced something from nothing. It just seemed that way from mankind's point of perspective."

In in a lecture on the no-boundary proposal, Hawking wrote: "Events before the Big Bang are simply not defined, because there's no way one could measure what happened at them. Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the Big Bang."

This isn't the first time Hawking has discussed this theory. He previously delivered lectures on the topic and starred in a free documentary about it, available on YouTube.
I think it's worth noting that Hawking himself didn't really believe his own PR, or perhaps to be more kind, the PR sometimes foisted upon him.  I posted a link in 2014 to this article - Hawking: Is he all he is cracked up to be?  and it still seems a fair take.   I suppose one may question why he was happy to insert himself into popular TV shows that pandered to an inflated view of his scientific importance, but I would presume it was well intentioned to help give science itself a high and "cool" cultural profile.  And probably fun for him too, and it would seem churlish to complain about what a person with such disability should do for a bit of amusement. 

Finally, I just stumbled across this talk his gave on his website:  Godel and the End of Physics.
It's aimed at a general audience, and was delivered in 2002, but I don't recall reading it before.  It's pretty good, although I don't know if he subsequently modified his views later. Certainly, Peter Woit, while not dissing him, regrets that Hawking did start promoting a multiverse view which Woit has spent years arguing is not really scientific.

Update:   I don't really want this to be the "final word" on the post, but I just can't help illustrating again the spectacular way in which a middle aged, conservative Catholic former blogger doesn't know what he doesn't know:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

In search of Ancient India (and the elephant man)

Reuters has an article up about this:
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appointed a committee of scholars to prove that Hindus are descended from India's first inhabitants. Members of the country's Muslim minority worry the government wants to make them second-class citizens.
Of particular interest to me is the part which is strikingly similar to what Creationist Christians like to do:
Culture Minister Sharma told Reuters he wants to establish that Hindu scriptures are factual accounts. Speaking of the Ramayana, the epic that follows the journey of a Hindu deity in human form, Sharma said: “I worship Ramayana and I think it is a historical document. People who think it is fiction are absolutely wrong.”  The epic tells how the god Rama rescues his wife from a demon king. It still informs many Indians’ sense of gender roles and duty.

Sharma said it was a priority to prove through archaeological research the existence of a mystical river, the Saraswati, that is mentioned in another ancient scripture, the Vedas. Other projects include examining artifacts from locations in scriptures, mapping the dates of astrological events mentioned in these texts and excavating the sites of battles in another epic, the Mahabharata, according to Sharma and minutes of the committee’s meeting.

In much the same way that some Christians point to evidence of an ancient flood substantiating the Biblical tale of Noah and his ark, if the settings and features of the ancient scriptures in India can be verified, the thinking goes, then the stories are true. “If the Koran and Bible are considered as part of history, then what is the problem in accepting our Hindu religious texts as the history of India?” said Sharma.
It gets even more extraordinary:
 During the 2014 inauguration of a hospital in Mumbai, Modi pointed to the scientific achievements documented by ancient religious texts and spoke of Ganesha, a Hindu deity with an elephant’s head: “We worship Lord Ganesha, and maybe there was a plastic surgeon at that time who kept the head of an elephant on the torso of a human. There are many areas where our ancestors made large contributions.” Modi did not respond to a request from Reuters that he expand on this remark.
Gosh.   But apparently, it's not hard to find scholars who think Indian culture pretty much pre-dates humans.  It's reminiscent of Creationists with their men riding on dinosaurs:
Nine of 12 history committee members interviewed by Reuters said they have been tasked with matching archaeological and other evidence with ancient Indian scriptures, or establishing that Indian civilization is much older than is widely known. The others confirmed their membership but declined to discuss the group’s activities. The committee includes a geologist, archaeologists, scholars of the ancient Sanskrit language and two bureaucrats.

One of the Sanskrit scholars, Santosh Kumar Shukla, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Reuters he believes India’s Hindu culture is millions of years old.


Frum's right

I reckon David Frum, writing in The Atlantic, is right in his interpretation of Trump's reluctance to point the finger at Russia:
“As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.”
That is not support for Britain. It is the direct opposite.

Britain and the United States share intelligence information fully, freely, and seamlessly. It’s inconceivable that the U.S. government has not already seen all the information that Theresa May saw before she rose in the House of Commons to accuse Russia.

If the U.S. government had a serious concern about the reliability of that information, it would have expressed that concern directly and privately to the U.K. government before May spoke. But the U.S. had no such concern—that’s why the now-fired secretary of state and the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom both endorsed May’s words. When Trump raises doubts about the facts, about American agreement with its British ally, about the accuracy of the British accusation against Russia, Trump is not expressing good-faith uncertainty about imperfect information. Trump is rejecting the consensus view of the U.K. and U.S. intelligence communities about an act of Russian aggression—and, if his past behavior is any indication, preparing the way for his own determination to do nothing.

It echoes the approach he took toward Russian intervention in the U.S. election to help elect him in 2016: Feign uncertainty about what is not uncertain in order to justify inaction.

The U.S.-U.K. response to the Russian nerve gas attack should have been coordinated in advance. It was not. The U.S. statement of support for Britain should have arrived on the day that the prime minister delivered her accusation. It did not. The retaliation—if any—should also already be agreed upon. It plainly has not been.

The United Kingdom does not find itself deprived of U.S. support because of some British mistake or rush to judgment. Most of the U.S. government shares the British assessment of what happened—as attested by Tillerson’s statement in support of Britain, which would have relied on U.S. intelligence agency reports. Only Trump stands apart, vetoing any condemnation of Russia and perhaps punishing his secretary of state for breaking ranks on the president’s no-criticizing-Putin policy.
Other support for not blaming Russia for Russian double agents (and British civilians) being killed/seriously endangered by nerve gas invented by Russia:   "strong man" fan CL:

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pondering Xi and Putin, and their nations

With Xi getting China's top job for as long as he likes, there's a lot of commentary around about how much the rest of the world should be concerned about it.  Chris Uhlmann, who makes a side living in professional China fretting, wants Australia to "challenge" the country.  Yeah, right.   (I also assume that he's not planning on holidaying there any time soon, given some of the more inflammatory parts of that commentary.)

But how much of a worry is China compared to Russia?    Jason Soon will probably roll his eyes, but to my mind, there is something so personal about the tracking down of ex double agents for assassination by Russian authorities that the ruthlessness of Putin's Russia puts me at more unease than the actual potential global economic domination of  Xi's China.  Sure, China might soon be wanting to shoot at ships or planes testing their stupid mid-ocean territorial claims, but that feels more like regular military business, by comparison.

Let me expand on this.    No doubt I am far from well informed, but every show I see lately about life in Russia fills me with pessimism about the Russian character and the future of the country.   For example, despite the occasional bit of protest, it still appears that Putin is ridiculously popular with your average young Russian.  The Washington Post reports:
According to a December survey by independent polling firm Levada Center, 81 percent of adults approve of Putin as president — including 86 percent of Russians 18 to 24 years old. Among the age group, 67 percent told Levada they believed the country was going in the right direction, compared to 56 percent of the general public.

The most internationally connected generation in Russian history, with access to more information than any of their predecessors, is now helping Putin solidify his authoritarianism.
  Rather than dwell on Putin’s crackdown on his opponents, young Russians draw a sense of personal liberty from those freedoms they do enjoy — a mostly open Internet, an open job market and open borders. Many of them reject state TV as propaganda but nevertheless repeat its central tenet — that Russia needs Putin to stand up to U.S. aggression. And perhaps most important, these Russians seem shaped by a collective history they never knew — by fear of a return of the crisis-stricken 1990s or the stifling Soviet era.
Potentially, it would seem, there is a bigger chance of democracy changing things in that country compared to China, but it seems culturally to be very much like a Trumpocracy - as if the wingnuts of America had been  transplanted to an empty land where they get to continually re-affirm via a quasi democracy the power of the "strong man" who they think will re-instate their nation's former greatness.    It's a very backwards looking sentiment; blind to the actual problems, and always putting more emphasis on perceived slights and propaganda than facts.  (The only difference in Right wing propaganda being that Rupert Murdoch makes it for profit in the US; in Russian the poor government has to pay for its own.)  Even how they treat themselves has similarities - Russian perpetual dissatisfaction leads to early death by alcohol in huge numbers;  in Trumpkins, it's opioids.   

So, it's easy to see Russia as playing the role of belligerently dangerous loser in the future of global geo-politics, lashing out with resentment at their lack of success and always wanting to blame other nations for their shortcomings.    A bad psychology for a nuclear power to hold.

Now, while I feel I have no detailed knowledge of Chinese run propaganda, I currently find it hard to be as pessimistic about the psychology of the Chinese.   Sure, nationalism is riding high (although perhaps not quite as high as it sometimes seems), and the level of technologically aided State surveillance is getting to be mind-blowingly powerful, but here's my current perception broad brush perception of the Chinese:

On the downside:   too many people too concerned with making money,  leading to a remarkable level of potential corruption and public hazards, such as the food contamination and environmental degradation of recent years, and at the cost of family life (with economic internal migration like nothing we've seen in the West.)   On top of this, of course, lies a State which has exercised fascistic control over the most intimate details of life and death, such as the one child policy, and using prisoners as a smorgasbord for organ supply to those who could pay.   Not to mention my great dislike for Chinese willingness to cast a swathe through wildlife to feed the fantasy belief system that is traditional Chinese medicine.  They seem, by culture, to be about  the least environmentally conscious people on the planet. 

On the upside:   well, to take those last few points in reverse order -

*  the dire industrial pollution near major cities has perhaps reached a tipping point, whereby the government is recognizing that they just can't keep poisoning the air to the extent they have allowed thus far.  When it comes to global warming, it's bizarre to find that a Communist nation actually acknowledges scientific reality while the science idiocy of the current American administration does not.  

* it's reported that younger Chinese are developing a conscience of Western style when it comes to wanting to preserve wildlife internationally (and even regarding the love of domestic animals);

*  the one child policy and use of prisoners for organs - which would surely have to count as the ultimate examples of State interference in free lives (short of actual genocide, I suppose) - have been wound back.   Hopefully, this means the State is recognizing some limits, or at least, some unintended consequences (such as the massive gender imbalance) to such control.

There is also the prospect that materialism is being somewhat modified by the growth of religion (Christianity) and philosophy (Confucianism), although I see that there is good reason to view the government endorsing the latter with cynicism.  

Even with their current activities in ingratiating themselves with African and other third world nations, obviously with self interest in access to resources and global control as motivation, I find it hard to take too much offence at this revival of economic colonialism.   I mean, it (for now) feels less exploitative than the West's colonialism of the 19th and 20th century, and given the way many post-colonial nations have struggled, I am tempted to view Chinese investment as a case of soft exploitation that a lot of these nations need. 

And besides, let's face it - they have become fantastically good at making stuff the rest of the world wants.   I mean, even the most pro-Russian Western communist much have struggled with enthusiasm for driving a Lada, but everyone genuinely loves the wonders of high tech equipment coming out of this other communist regime.

Am I being swayed too much in my (guarded) optimism for how China will develop because I really love my smartphone?  Maybe.   But the country is devoting a lot of enthusiasm for research and development of all kinds, and is getting close to the same GDP spend on this as the US and other Western nations.    For techno-optimists, it's easy to suspect that some huge breakthroughs might come out of China; whereas the ridiculous anti-environmental science of the Trump administrative  gives me cause for pessimism. 

So, have I made out at least a plausible case for why I feel vaguely optimistic about China?   I think so.   And Putin deserves a date with some of his own nerve gas.

The appendectomy in history (subtitle: now is a pretty good time to be alive)

Via Dr Beachcombing's site, this link discusses briefly the history of the appendectomy:
In 1735, Dr. Claudius Amyand performed the world’s first successful appendectomy, at St. George’s Hospital in London. The patient was an 11-year old boy whose appendix had become perforated by a pin he had swallowed. The first successful operation to treat acute appendicitis was performed soon after, in 1759 in Bordeaux.  General anesthesia was not available until 1846, so these operations required many assistants to restrain patients during what were undoubtedly very painful procedures.

Surgical treatment for appendicitis began in earnest during the 1880s. Although doctors struggled to decide who should undergo the knife – some patients would recover on their own without surgery – surgical technique and anesthesia had improved outcomes to such an extent that surgery would rapidly became the gold standard approach. By the end of the 20th century, laparoscopic surgery replaced open surgery in most cases, and laparoscopic appendectomy is now considered one of the safest, lowest-complication surgical procedures performed today.
I didn't know that it could often be successfully treated with antibiotics:
More recently, researchers are revisiting the question of whether antibiotics are just as effective as surgery for treatment for acute appendicitis. In the 1940s and 1950s, doctors in England began treating patients with antibiotics – with excellent results. During the Cold War, men on submarines received antibiotics instead of an appendectomy, as the submarines could not surface for six months or more, and patients reportedly did well with this approach.  And five recent European studies reported findings consistent with those anecdotes: 70% of patients recovered using antibiotics rather than surgery in these studies. In light of this evidence, a new study in California will attempt to verify whether antibiotics may be as good as surgery and offer a less invasive approach to the treatment of appendicitis.


Psychopaths considered

A somewhat interesting piece by Ed Yong on some recent research on psychopaths.  (The suggestion being that they can see things from other people's perspectives, if they try, but they don't do it automatically like your normal person.)

The details of the study described, though, does give another idea of the very airy fairy, "open to interpretation" nature of a lot of psychological testing.  (As I was complaining about recently when it comes to violence in gaming studies.)

A likely hit?

Spielberg's Ready Player One - a movie about which I have no particular expectations, given that I was never a gaming nerd - seems to have largely gone over well at its first nerd screening.  (Some  nerds, being nerds, weren't happy, but that was probably always on the cards.)

The PC problem that isn't that big a problem?

Matthew Yglesias argues, using survey results mainly, that the debate over US campus "PC versus free speech" issue is not exactly the crisis that conservatives and libertarians like to claim it is.

Good to see this position being put, as I suspect there is an element of truth to it.   (Even though, yes, it does seem stupid PC based on identity politics is having a significant revival, after quietening down for a while.)

And so it goes

The never ending back and forth about social disadvantage in remote aboriginal communities continues, with Warren Mundine, who now seems constantly in a state of flux between supporting relatively conservative views and relatively progressive views, writing that they do need economic involvement, not closure, and maintaining some sort of vague hope that economic activity can be created in them.

This seems rather pie in the sky to me.   Surely there have been previous attempts to get some communities to do their own maintenance, for example?   

There was another bit of political commentary by Noel Pearson last weekend, which seemed pretty balanced to me, and I must go find it and extract parts here...

Monday, March 12, 2018

Well, they do take their football seriously..

Look at what Russian media is suggesting about possible motives as to why Britain (yes, Britain) poisoned their Russian double agent in public:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Living high has its down side

High altitude living - even at pretty modest altitude - seems associated with more suicide:

High-altitude areas--particularly the US intermountain states--have increased rates of suicide and depression, suggests a review of research evidence in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry.

The increased suicide rates might be explained by blood oxygen levels due to low atmospheric pressure, according to the article by Brent Michael Kious, MD, PhD, of University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and colleagues. Pending further research, the evidence may point to possible treatments to reduce the effects of low blood oxygen on mood and suicidal thoughts....
They analyzed 12 studies, most performed in the United States, including population-based data on the relationship between suicide or depression and altitude. While the studies used varying methods, most reported that higher-altitude areas had increased rates of depression and suicide. In general, the correlation was stronger for suicide than for depression.

The highest suicide rates were clustered in the intermountain states: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. (Alaska and Virginia also had high suicide rates.) In a 2014 study, the percentage of adults with "serious thoughts of suicide" ranged from 3.3 percent in Connecticut (average altitude 490 feet) to 4.9 percent in Utah (average altitude 6,100 feet).

Other key findings from previous research on altitude and suicide included:
  • Populations living at higher altitudes had increased suicide rates despite having decreased rates of death from all causes. Rather than a steady increase, the studies suggested a "threshold effect": suicide rates increased dramatically at altitudes between about 2,000 and 3,000 feet.
  • Suicide rates were more strongly associated with altitude than with firearm ownership. Other factors linked to suicide rate included increased poverty rate, lower income, and smaller population ratios of white and divorced women. However, the studies could not account for all factors potentially affecting variations in suicide, such as substance abuse rates and cultural differences.
  • While more than 80 percent of US suicides occur in low-altitude areas, that's because most of the population lives near sea level. Adjusted for population distribution, suicide rates per 100,000 population were 17.7 at high altitude, 11.9 at middle altitude, and 4.8 at low altitude. Studies from some other countries, but not all, also reported increased suicide rates at higher altitudes.
 I find this quite surprising.

More UFO talk at the Washington Post

Surprisingly, the Washington Post has another opinion piece by the guy who sounds to have come from a credible background, but who is now associated with what sounds like a dubiously motivated, money raising project:
Christopher Mellon served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. He is a private equity investor and an adviser to the To the Stars Academy for Arts and Science.
Interestingly, though, the piece contains (what I think is) a new video of what looks like a small, fact moving UFO over the ocean being tracked from an aircraft.  The pilots sounds excited, but don't seem to be making comments that indicate they are worried by what they see.

Mellon claims that different parts of the military have different bits of UFO evidence, but there's not overarching attempt to work out if they are seeing new, earth based technology, or something extraterrestrial in origin: 
I served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence for the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations and as staff director for the Senate Intelligence Committee, and I know from numerous discussions with Pentagon officials over the past two years that military departments and agencies treat such incidents as isolated events rather than as part of a pattern requiring serious attention and investigation. A colleague of mine at To the Stars Academy, Luis Elizondo, used to run a Pentagon intelligence program that examined evidence of “anomalous” aircraft, but he resigned last fall to protest government inattention to the growing body of empirical data.

Meanwhile, reports from different services and agencies remain largely ignored and unevaluated inside their respective bureaucratic stovepipes. There is no Pentagon process for synthesizing all the observations the military is making. The current approach is equivalent to having the Army conduct a submarine search without the Navy. It is also reminiscent of the counterterrorism efforts of the CIA and the FBI before Sept. 11, 2001, when each had information on the hijackers that they kept to themselves. In this instance, the truth may ultimately prove benign, but why leave it to chance?
It seems to me, from the audio on these recently released videos, that the pilots are assuming something high tech from Earth, but I could be wrong.

Mellon links to an interview done with that "Academy" with the retired Navy pilot who appeared on some media recently.   I don't like the way there are occasional edits, but he certainly sounds sincere, and his description of what happened is very hard to explain as a mis-identification:

Mellon also makes mention of Putin's recent surprising claims of Russian developments which might be relevent: 
Putin’s speech, less than three weeks before the Russian presidential election, represented an escalated level of martial rhetoric even by his pugnacious standards. For the first time, Putin claimed that Russia had successfully tested nuclear-propulsion engines that would allow nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and underwater drones to travel for virtually unlimited distances and evade traditional defenses.
 I find it hard to believe that Russia could keep such propulsion technology a secret for so long;  but then again, they are good at ensuring that potential spies know they'll be targeted no mater where they might try to live.

It's all very puzzling...

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The socialist capitalism of Singapore

Found via a Peter Whiteford re-tweet:   an article explaining another way (the first, which I have noted before, is their health system) in which Singapore is hardly the shining example of a free market capitalist dream state that some American, "less government is always best", Right wing think tanks seem to think it is:
 In the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, Singapore ranks as the second most “economically free” country in the world just behind Hong Kong. Since many use this index as a shorthand for “most capitalist” countries, a lot of prominent people end up saying some really weird things about Singapore. For instance, in his Liberty Con remarks, Bryan Caplan claimed Singapore was one of the closest countries to the capitalist ideal.

It is true of course that Singapore has a market economy. But it’s also true that, in Singapore, the state owns a huge amount of the means of production. In fact, depending on how you count it, the Singaporean government probably owns more capital than any other developed country in the world after Norway.

The Singaporean state owns 90 percent of the country’s land. Remarkably, this level of ownership was not present from the beginning. In 1949, the state owned just 31 percent of the country’s land. It got up to 90 percent land ownership through decades of forced sales, or what people in the US call eminent domain.

The Singaporean state does not merely own the land. They directly develop it, especially for residential purposes. Over 80 percent of Singapore’s population lives in housing constructed by the country’s public housing agency HDB. The Singaporean government claims that around 90 percent of people living in HDB units “own” their home. But the way it really works is that, when a new HDB unit is built, the government sells a transferable 99-year lease for it. The value of that lease slowly declines as it approaches the 99-year mark, after which point the lease expires and possession of the HDB unit reverts back to the state. Thus, Singapore is a land where almost everyone is a long-term public housing tenant.

There are more paragraphs at the link that provide more details, then this point:
Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t generally associate state ownership of the means of production with capitalism. One way to see whether libertarians or conservatives actually think Singapore’s system is uber-capitalistic is to imagine how they would respond to someone who ran a campaign in the US aimed at bringing the country up to the Singaporean ideal.
What is it, exactly, that causes people like Caplan not to be able to acknowledge that the country has been very successful under a wildly different system from what they think is the best for the US and every other country under the sun?   

The culture war Right in search of a hero

This whole Jordan Peterson thing - it's one of those odd situations where I have the feeling that I should be more sympathetic to his philosophical approach to life, having shared some of his general Jungian interest in what mythology, religion and philosophy has been trying to get at over millennia, but I just can't muster the enthusiasm, and suspect there is less to him than meets the eye.

You can read here (out from behind The Australian's paywall) what fan girl Caroline Overington  says about his talk this week in Melbourne.   (Yes, a rare occasion where that blog's threads serve a useful purpose.)  There are certainly signs of crank eccentricity in there regarding diet, which I hadn't heard about before.  As for his long term bouts with depression - it raises some concern about his judgement, although if it is well managed, I know it shouldn't.

He certainly got lucky with that ridiculous BBC interviewer.   It seems to have doubled or tripled his fame overnight. A good profile of his sometimes rather murky or semi contradictory beliefs is in  this recent New Yorker review of his "rules for life" book, although it doesn't add that much to a previous profile of him I had read, which I can't find again at the moment.     

Perhaps I would feel less cynical about it were it not for the disproportionate enthusiasm disgruntled conservatives and Right wing culture warrior types have for him.   It seems to me that they are looking for a hero, and not finding one in the current somewhat charred reputation of the major Churches (which are either too dogmatic or too "social justice" for them, and caught in their own slow moving crisis of understanding the modern world), they have latched onto Peterson as a de facto leader.  I don't really want to use the meme in response, but I have to:  "Sad!"

Friday, March 09, 2018

Signs of decline

Seriously, these statements of Paul Keating about Trump and foreign policy make no sense whatsoever:
Mr Keating on Friday said he had not expected Mr Trump to have "such a pragmatic" foreign policy on China and Russia, and he urged the President to continue down the path he was on.
Um, can Keating tell us what path Trump is on?   Especially when Keating goes on to say:
Mr Keating argued the US should be a "balancing power" in Asia and learn to relinquish some control of the region.Mr Trump's strategy of using partnership diplomacy with China was a better approach than what Democrat Hillary Clinton would have adopted if elected, he added.
What the heck gives Keating the impression that this is the path that Trump is trying with China??

My old rule of thumb - it's unfortunate but true:  virtually everyone reaches an age by which their analytical judgement can start to safely be ignored.   Seems that 74 is about that for Paul.   (Bit younger than average, but it's in the ball park.)

Useless violence studies

I made mention in a recent post how people who defend high level, realistic looking violence in video games having no skepticism at all of psychological studies that claim "no connection with violent behaviour".

Here's a good example:  a website reporting on Trump meeting with video game industry people says:
A recent York University study backs up the ESA’s claim, finding no evidence of a link between violent video games and violent behavior.
When you go to the linked report on the study, this is what they did:
The dominant model of learning in games is built on the idea that exposing players to concepts, such as violence in a game, makes those concepts easier to use in 'real life'.

This is known as 'priming', and is thought to lead to changes in behaviour. Previous experiments on this effect, however, have so far provided mixed conclusions.

Researchers at the University of York expanded the number of participants in experiments, compared to studies that had gone before it, and compared different types of gaming realism to explore whether more conclusive evidence could be found.

In one study, participants played a game where they had to either be a car avoiding collisions with trucks or a mouse avoiding being caught by a cat. Following the game, the players were shown various images, such as a bus or a dog, and asked to label them as either a vehicle or an animal.

Dr David Zendle, from the University's Department of Computer Science, said: "If players are 'primed' through immersing themselves in the concepts of the game, they should be able to categorise the objects associated with this game more quickly in the real world once the game had concluded.
Um, yeah.  Tells me a lot about freaking realistic gun violence in video games.

OK, maybe another study did more:
In a separate, but connected study, the team investigated whether realism influenced the aggression of game players. Research in the past has suggested that the greater the realism of the game the more primed players are by violent concepts, leading to antisocial effects in the real world.

Dr Zendle said: "There are several experiments looking at graphic realism in video games, but they have returned mixed results. There are, however, other ways that violent games can be realistic, besides looking like the 'real world', such as the way characters behave for example.

"Our experiment looked at the use of 'ragdoll physics' in game design, which creates characters that move and react in the same way that they would in real life. Human characters are modelled on the movement of the human skeleton and how that skeleton would fall if it was injured."

The experiment compared player reactions to two combat games, one that used 'ragdoll physics' to create realistic character behaviour and one that did not, in an animated world that nevertheless looked real.

Following the game the players were asked to complete word puzzles called 'word fragment completion tasks', where researchers expected more violent word associations would be chosen for those who played the game that employed more realistic behaviours.
Oh come on.

Look, common sense tells us that this is going to be hard to study.  Not many people in the world are of a mind set, or have the weaponry available, to replicate in real life an ultra violent scenario in a video game.    (I suppose they could ask to do studies with criminals already in prison for violent crimes - has anyone actually done that?)

Common sense also tells me that these sort of studies as described above are highly unlikely to tell us anything about the worst possible influence with these games.  Because no, I am not worried that they turn a relatively normal person into a willing mass murderer.  But that's not what I'm interested in. 

So how about some skepticism about what these airy fairy studies about "priming" can actually tell us?

Here's what annoys me - video games can be made to be exciting without the highly realistic and bloody depiction of killing people (or for that matter, aliens or animals.)    To my mind, repeated depictions of sadistic and graphic violence is just obviously morally dubious - sadism should not be not something for which people should be encouraged to get a participatory thrill.   I don't need a freaking psychological study to tell me that - just as I don't need a psychological study to tell me that a porn video of some guy having sex with an underage girl (even if with her full consent) is wrong.  Or put it this way - it should not be made, regardless of whether you can prove that, on balance, it might mean less pre-teen sex by adults because they masturbated over the video, rather than encourage men to seek out underage sex.   (And I would say the same even if it was a question of a computer generated video of underage sex.)

If game makers were moral, and serious, they could still make exciting games that do not raise legitimate concerns over the deadening effect on some deadbeat's qualms about actually doing a mass shoot up, of the kind he has probably rehearsed on a video game scores of times.

But they don't.  Because they can show gross and graphic head explosions with bullets, they do it - looking for violent novelty all the time.

This is not a good thing.  It is, in fact, a bad thing.

The Entertainer, part 4 (or 5, whatever)

Look, I'm not going to bother copying any of this rather unhinged comment by my "favourite" nutcase in need of medication at Catallaxy, but if you enjoy theories of how the forces of global socialism are encouraging free porn on the internet and thereby low sperm counts by too much masturbation, all as part of the plan to kill off the righteous "Western male," knock yourself out...

Nunberg explained

Yes, the Stephen Colbert explanation of Sam Nunberg's wild (drunk? drug affected?) afternoon of media appearances was pretty funny:

They like tough men so much, they enjoy being bullied

The way the Trump tariff process has been announced sounds to me very much like behaviour that in schools or the workplace would be called bullying.

"Look, I like some of you, and I might exempt you from my new policy of delivering 25% of your lunch money to me everyday, as long as you to come to me and offer me something in return and/or tell me how great I am."

Yet what's the bet that the wingnutty world in Australia (hello, Kates and followers) will call it a brilliant bit of negotiation?   Almost guaranteed.   Because they like what they think is "alpha" tough guys so much they actually enjoy being bullied by them.

Update:  this article in the Washington Post earlier this week referred to Trump's tactics as bullying, and made the point that he's going completely the wrong way if the intention is to get at China.  As for Gorka's claims - yes, they are ridiculous.

But Trump's base is so dumb, they just have to hear a Trump lackey say "our opponents disagree with us because they are socialists" and they swallow it as true.   That's how basing all your ideas on a belief in a fundamental culture war works.  Any Republican - and there are many in this sordid bunch - who continually calls a different policy to theirs "socialism" is an idiot hurting America.

Update 2:  this was written prior to the actual announcement, but is still valid:

Trump’s tweets put the governments of Canada and Mexico in an awkward position. Before tariffs were an issue, all three countries could at least pretend they were trying to negotiate some sort of win-win compromise. Now, if our neighbors make consolations on NAFTA, it will look as if they are caving to Washington’s bullying tactics, which will almost certainly play poorly with voters back home. Maybe that’s Trump’s intention; perhaps he is trying to throw yet another wrench into the NAFTA-bargaining process in order to finally kill the pact. Or perhaps he’s thinking just the opposite; it’s possible he’s worried that the tariffs aren’t playing well enough with the public and hopes that tying them to an inevitable deal with Canada and Mexico will give him an excuse to drop the whole ill-conceived lark while still claiming victory. You can only guess with Trump. But by ostensibly resorting to blackmail, the president may be making it politically harder, not easier, to strike an accord. 

The president’s loose thumbs aren’t doing the administration any legal favors, either. Trump plans to impose the new tariffs under a law—Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act—that gives him broad powers over trade specifically in order to protect national security. As part of that process, the Commerce Department has produced two elaborate reports arguing that the steel and aluminum industries need to be protected for the sake of American safety and well-being. But by telling Canada that it might be able to get rid of the tariffs by letting U.S. dairy farmers sell more milk in Toronto, Trump is making a mockery of that carefully wrought legal fiction. After all, if the health of the steel and aluminum industries were actually essential to U.S. security interests, the president probably wouldn’t be willing to barter them for butter sales.

A confession

When I first read the headlines yesterday about McDonalds in the US flipping its symbol upside down for International Women's Day, I thought "What?  To make it look like a pair of breasts?  Kinda controversial, no?"    Only today did I realise it was to make it into a "W" for women.

True, if embarrassing...

Thursday, March 08, 2018

A culinary observation

Duck fried rice is particularly delicious.   The greater depth of flavour of duck meat makes it considerably tastier and satisfying than chicken fried rice.

You may return to your duties...

More history: railway surgeons

The article is a couple of years old, but Beachcomber recently linked to it.   I didn't know that the advent of the railways, and the injuries railway workers suffered, led to the speciality of the railway surgeon:
For rail workers and passengers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, train travel — while miraculous for the speed with which it carried people across vast distances — presented ghastly dangers. Brakemen commonly lost hands and fingers in the hazardous coupling of cars. Exploding boilers released high-pressure steam that scalded stokers. Passengers were maimed or crushed when trains jumped the tracks, or telescoped into tangles of wreckage. And in the hours they spent aboard, travelers and workers suffered heart attacks, strokes, seizures, all the health hazards of daily life, but far from their family doctor — or sometimes any doctor. One in every 28 railroad employees was injured on the job in 1900 — and 1 in 399 died.

These grim statistics helped spark the development of a new medical specialty during the Victorian Era: railway surgery. Physicians in this field focused on the injuries and maladies specific to workers and passengers. Eventually, railroad companies would open hospitals close to the tracks in remote locales otherwise without medical facilities. Professional organizations arose that furthered railway-related medical knowledge and investigated new avenues of preventive medicine. And within a century, railway surgery met its own untimely end — but its influence continues today....

... at their peak, about 35 railway hospitals had opened in the U.S. These included the Southern Pacific’s 450-bed hospital in San Francisco, the second medical facility in the country to operate an intensive care unit — a specialized approach to treatment much needed by maimed railroaders. Other rail systems contributed to existing hospitals on their routes, or set up mutual benefit associations for workers that covered the treatment of injuries. This was long before other industries considered providing health care services to employees.

So expansive were these railway medical systems that in 1896, just one railroad, the Missouri Pacific, treated more than 29,000 patients in its medical system and clinics, comparable to major metropolitan hospitals. “The direct descendants are employer-based insurance and employer-based health care,” says Stanton. “A lot of the larger corporations still do that. They have a medical center and a medical staff inside the factory that does the initial evaluation before getting patients out to the emergency room or hospital. What’s come out of railway surgery is our current employee-based occupational health system.”