Monday, February 29, 2016

Economist confirms economics fail

Economics: Current climate models are grossly misleading : Nature News & Comment

Well, now even Nicholas Stern is joining in on the "economic modelling we've been using for climate effects is almost certainly a crock for being too optimistic" line.

Seems a bit late for that now, doesn't it?   He should have been arguing that about 10 years ago, and just saying something like this:  "Ha!  you expect us to be able to calculate the effect of climate change of various types and uncertain extremity on GDP in 100 years time?   Forget it.   There's obvious potential for massive damage to humanity and its built and natural environment: you just need to get urgent policies into place to get CO2 down now."

Oscars not worth my consideration

I'd be slightly worried that it might be a sign of old age that it seems that each year, the Oscars have become less relevant than the year before to the type of movies I actually want to see, were it not for the fact that the badly declining ratings for the show indicate I am far from alone.

I mean, the movies which probably got the biggest pre and post release publicity (Force Awakens, and perhaps Spectre) are of no real interest to the Academy, it seems. 

But I did see Bridge of Spies, which was OK, if a tad underwhelming, so I should still watch it for a glimpse of my directorial hero and his wife.

Actually, I do want to see Spotlight, too.  And that adult stop motion mid life crisis story Anomalisa, which (strangely) is being shown at a brisbane  art-house cinema once a day at lunchtime.   Perhaps that should be another Google Play rent...

Funniest Oscar related tweet you'll probably see

Only 10 years late

Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid, reviewed.

I mentioned last week that I saw and liked Journey to the West, a well directed kung fu-ish Buddhist comedy.

It was directed by Stephen Chow, who I didn't realise has been a huge name in Hong Kong and China (and relatively well known in the West too) until I read up about Journey. 

He's now got an enormous hit on his hands in China with The Mermaid, which I see has a one cinema release in Brisbane (in one of the more Chinese heavy suburbs.)

I also see from Reddit that lots of people love his 2005 film Kung Fu Hustle, which I found on Google Play movies, and have "rented" to watch sometime in the next month.

(This is the first time I have rented a movie from Google Play.  I see that buying movies from them has attracted much criticism, as they apparently do not allow the downloaded movie to be moved, ever, from the location it was downloaded to.  And that can't be a PC hard drive: it has to be an Android device or a Chromebook tablet.   I also am curious about the SD picture quality.  But all will be revealed when I start watching the downloaded movie...)

Douthat trying to walk that tightrope again

It's one of the signs of the current Republican (almost obscene) clueless-ness that some of them are trying on the "this Trump phenomena - it's all the fault of Obama" line.   Jonah Goldberg had a particularly ludicrous go at this a couple of week's ago at the LA Times, which opened with this:
In Springfield, Ill., last week, President Obama commemorated the ninth anniversary of his bid for the White House. He admitted that one of his “few regrets” was his inability “to reduce the polarization and the meanness in our politics.”

To conservative ears, Obama's comments fell somewhere between risible and infuriating. Obama has always done his best to demonize and marginalize his opponents. Either the president honestly cannot see that or he's cynically pretending that the fault lies entirely with his critics. If only there were some way to figure out whether he's sincere.
(OK, so the column wasn't directly about Trump - it was about how Obama shouldn't appoint the next Supreme Court judge as a way of making it all up to the Republicans who have been hurt by his refusal to bend to their will by things like, well, undoing his signature health care policy.   But you can see how this plays into the "he has caused Trump" line.)

Now it's Ross Douthat's turn, and as usual, he tries to take a more considered, reasonable sounding line.

Look, there is one element of truth in there:  that Obama's first campaign was big on "hope" rhetoric and light on policy - as I've said many times, he didn't impress me as a well qualified person for the job, at all.   And the "change" rhetoric leaves me cold generally - it was too much like the Kevin Rudd line with its shallowness.

But seriously, there is no comparison between the concern that reasonable people may have had about the suitability of Obama for the job with that which they should have with blowhard, "say anything" ratbag Trump.

As the top comment after the article says (typos and all):
We could see this coming, couldn't we? It was inevitable that establishment Republicans would blame Donald Trump's successful insurgent campaign for the GOP nomination on Obama. Ross Douthat ties himself in knots making the argument that it's all the fault of Obama and the Democrats.

But here's the real connection: the election of Barack Obama gave Republicans the opening to make incivility in politics He made it possible for them to claim that the president of the United States was born in Kenya; they could yell "You lie!" as he delivered his State of the Union; they could boast that they were going to kick his rear end out of the White House. They did all this and their constituents loved it.

Donald Trump is riding that wave, quite possibly all the way to the Republican nomination. Is it Barack Obama's fault, or the fault of a party that has gone so far off the rails that a carnival barker like Trump is now seen as a plausible leader?
I didn't mind this comment further down, too:
Ross, you're better than this.

Commenters who point to Reagan's imagery, in his campaigns and in office, are completely right. Obama did some over the top stuff in his first campaign, but he didn't invent the celebrity politics business which, at a minimum, goes back to JFK and Jacquie.

You know as well as your readers that the most important influences leading to Trump were: the Southern Strategy, stagnant wages, loss of good jobs, leadership failure of "the elites."

Any contribution from "politicians as celebrities" is completely overshadowed by the take-no-prisoners politics that emerged with the removal of the "fairness doctrine" for broadcast. That, in turn, gave rise to Limbaugh and company, followed by Gingrich revolution in the mid-90s, the rise of Fox News, and, now, the evolution of cable news, a media-politics complex that has turned the Presidential election process into a non-stop source of programming.

Tracing this to something Obama did is, I think, beneath you.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Holding the candle for Tony

I can only assume that it's courtesy of former Daily Telegraph editor Paul Whittaker's taking on the top job at The Australian that it has become so firmly the National Paper of Yearning for the Return of Tony Abbott.  

Which is really pretty hilarious.   No matter how badly Turnbull may be perceived to perform, there is no way that voters are going to think the solution is to go back to gormless Tony.   I work around people pretty passionately against Labor - none of them thought Abbott was a success as a PM.   They think he was an inarticulate idiot in the role.

But it's good to see The Australian sinking further and further into negative credibility and/or irrelevance. 

Update:  as people on Twitter are saying:

Friday, February 26, 2016

Evidence for harmful reef effects already taking place

Landmark experiment confirms ocean acidification’s toll on Great Barrier Reef : Nature News & Comment

Given the complexity of this type of experiment, I would still be a little cautious about its conclusions.

But it's still not good news for the long term prospects for the GBR.

Something I would have thought obvious, but evidently not...

Yeast study offers evidence of superiority of sexual reproduction versus cloning in speed of adaptation

Apples in India

While reading about that too-good-to-be-true cheapo smart phone in India last week, I was reminded about how iPhones barely sell there:
Now, a sales target of a million iPhones is within breaching distance in a country where the installed base of smartphones is very low. According to Counterpoint Technology Research’s senior analyst Tarun Pathak, 106 million smartphones were sold in India in 2015 but 300 million more smartphones are expected to be sold in the next two years. Significantly, Apple has only about 1 percent share of this booming smartphone market. “It is a huge, enticing market that just cannot be disregarded,” says Pathak. “India is a high-potential market not only in terms of volume but also the massive scale and opportunity that lies ahead.”
Amazing.  (But then again, it could just be that I'm easily amazed.)

It would be, like, Peak America

Douthat Apologizes For Trump Joke | The Daily Caller

Poor old Ross Douthat attempted a joke about how an assassination attempt (like one in a movie, which involved the target using a baby to shield himself and thus losing credibility) could end the Trump campaign.  He's since deleted the tweet and said sorry.

Well, normally, conservatives would complain about PC self censorship, but not now, hey?

Because, honestly, who with any imagination at all hasn't had an idle thought about how deeply ironic and "peak America" it would be if Trump were shot on the campaign trail, preferably by some schizophrenic migrant nutter with no health care plan (perhaps with immigrant parents from Mexico?) who had still managed to legally buy a gun with cash supplied by the Koch brothers?

And, as I have noted before, Right wing nutters have been fantasising about Obama being shot for his e-vil (non-existant) plans to seize American's guns.

So Ross should be cut some slack...

Ooh, a mystery!

BBC Future - The quest to solve YouTube’s strangest mystery

I suppose if I read Reddit more carefully, I would have known about this earlier.  And now it's slightly more mysterious, given that when I check the channel in question, it seems the recent Youtubes have been taken down.

All sounds very "numbers station" to me...

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A reasonable take on lock out laws

Sydney wasn't vibrant before these alcohol laws, it was embarrassing - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Inner city areas change all the time - weren't people complaining about Oxford Street dying long before the lock out laws?   As the author writes in this very fair minded article, it's also the case that 24 hour liquor licences and sudden popularity with hoards of drunk youngsters crowds out other, more sedate, businesses (like restaurants).

Overly liberal licencing laws therefore benefit some type of businesses at the cost of others.  Tightening those laws means there may be a transition to the other type of businesses in the area.   Residents may well find their property values increasing; drug peddlers, prostitutes and strippers may have to find some other area to work from.  Such is life when governments decide, with voter approval, that regulation needs tightening.

President Troll

I was going to post about how much Trump's campaign behaviour resembles one gigantic troll of the Republican party, and the entire planet, but I see the point has been made before.

The thing is, some trolls can be pretty funny, and I'd be pretty sure that at some of those supporting him think it is all part of a game.

But I can't see it lasting all the way to the White House.

The fact that the Koch Brothers are starting to fight harder against him doesn't mean much - didn't they blow a huge amount of money on the Romney run?

Trump winning the candidacy would therefore have a couple of benefits - it may further impoverish the Koch's bank account and influence, and (presumably) blow up the Party whose behaviour and nonsense ideology for the last decade deserves blowing up.

I also didn't mind this article that gives a possible explanation as to why even evangelicals are voting for Trump:  as a "last hurrah" against a lost culture war.  Or, maybe, evangelicals just enjoy a funny troll, too...

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

About that Safe Schools program...

Many years ago, I wrote a post complaining that American schools with their gay support clubs were going too far, in the sense that I don't see that teenage sexuality really warrants school based scrutiny or endorsement.   All sensible adults don't really want high school teenagers of any type having sex;  that complete sexuality self understanding is not something that teenagers (in particular) actually need to be certain of seems badly unacknowledged these days; and an emphasis on the right to privacy in terms of sexual feelings should (to my mind) be the priority.   But, as is usual, I find it hard Googling my own blog successfully, so I haven't re-read it for a while.  I think that is how it went.

So now we have some hoo-ha about an anti-bullying program that concentrates on sexuality based bullying.  The idea of an anti bullying program that incorporates sexuality based bullying is fine.   Part of the concern about the Safe School program, though, is that some of the suggested exercises seem a tad too advanced for the age intended.   (The bit about asking 11 year olds to imagine they're 16 and with "someone they're really into".   My recent experience with 2 former eleven year olds is that this would have been like asking them to imagine they're an aardvark - it would have been pretty incomprehensible. )  But as I understand it, educational material like this is not set in concrete - the manual gives suggested exercises that teachers can pick and choose from, as would appear to suit their circumstances.

So part of the complaint appears overblown to me; but it probably does grate somewhat against my views about how sexuality is dealt with not just in schools, but in the media and broader society these days.

Can't an anti-bullying program just emphasise that it's none of  a student's business to care or complain about which gender a fellow student might feel some sexual attraction towards, and that bullying based on that will be sternly dealt with?

But this is not to say that I have any particular problem with school based, quite detailed, sex education material regarding how your basic sex works, and its practical and emotional consequences.  (And contraception, of course.)  After all, the European approach to this does seem to work reasonably well.  And as if teenagers want to hear the details about it from their parents...

A modest proposal

Malcolm Turnbull sticks to Tony Abbott's defence spending pledges in long-awaited white paper - ABC News 

Well, Malcolm Turnbull seems to be truly turning into an Abbott Lite (or "Not So Lite") with this announcement that we'll be going for 12 new submarines.  (And a commitment to a 2% GDP defence budget.)

Now, I like defence technology as much as the next, um, man/woman/transgender defence person, but the whole problem with our submarine fleet has long been not being able to convince sailors to serve on them, hasn't it?.  

How do they propose getting around that problem with a fleet of 12?

My proposal - which will presumably cut costs too - subcontract out their running to the Filipinos.
I understand that they already run a huge percentage of cargo and passenger shipping.  They'll work for half the salary, too, provided they are left with tips after a successful voyage.

I cannot see why I'm not a politician. 

Amazing technology

Li-fi '100 times faster than wi-fi' at shine of a light presented at Mobile World Congress - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Did I post about this before?  I forget, but I have read about it previously.  I find it hard to believe that an LED bulb can transmit data this quickly:

Laboratory tests have shown theoretical speeds of over 200 gbps —
fast enough to "download the equivalent of 23 DVDs in one second",
founder and head of Oledcomm Suat Topsu said.

"Li-fi allows speeds that are 100 times faster than wi-fi" which uses radio waves to transmit data, he said.

Fair enough

Proposed Senate electoral reform is essential

The man with the dorkiest face pic at the Conversation (please change it, Adrian) writes about the Senate voting reform, and figures that (unlike Labor's concerns) that Labor and the Greens may benefit from it.

Brain parasite reconsidered

The Myth of "Mind-Altering Parasite" Toxoplasma Gondii? - Neuroskeptic

Hey, maybe cats aren't quite as evil as we all suspect.*   Read above for an interesting study looking again into the question of whether toxoplasma gondii has much effect on human behaviour.

* I doubt this.  I have a theory that they may explain libertarianism.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Marked "not to be trusted"

Chris Uhlmann should mind his language on 'cultural Marxism' | Jason Wilson | Opinion | The Guardian

Interesting column here about Uhlmann believing a right wing campfire scare story that I had never bothered looking into because I always thought it improbable.

Look, my rule of thumb for reliability across a spectrum of subjects holds good here:  Uhlmann years ago made it plain that he thought belief in AGW was more religion than science - a favourite trope of climate change denialism.   This alone indicates he's not the brightest, and his time as host on 7.30 confirmed him as not particularly quick witted, and routinely soft on the Coalition and dismissive of Labor. 

You can't really trust him on anything.

Entirely reasonable

Government set to change Senate voting in bad news for 'micros'

I find it hard to credit that making people vote so as to indicate their actual preferences, as opposed to letting people vote when they are absolutely in ignorance of where their preferences will go, can be argued as being bad for representative democracy.  

I suppose that the "micro" argument is that, regardless of how they get there, having more micro members (so to speak) in the Senate is better for democracy.   They like the current system, but they should be more upfront that it pretty much like running a lottery for a handful of Senate seats each election. 

I would also assume that, should this reform be followed by a double dissolution, it will be goodbye to my favourite Senator to hate, Leyonhjelm.  I will have to re-focus the target of my political hatred elsewhere if that happens.  But I can live with that.  

Goodbye to Ms Lee

Harper Lee, Author of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ Dies at 89 - The New York Times

I did enjoy this obit for Harper Lee last week.

One thing I am curious about:  it reminded me that she had said her father (a lawyer) was the model for Atticus Finch, and according to her obit, she appeared in photos with him in a profile done once she was famous.

But, with To Set A Watchman, which was virtually an early (although very different) draft of Mockingbird, she painted a father with racist attitudes.

So, has anyone worked out what the true attitude of her father was? 

News of no interest to Republicans, I presume

Seas Are Rising at Fastest Rate in Last 28 Centuries - The New York Times

It's a bit weird, isn't it, that despite some Republican friendly East coast states of the US having increasing coastal flooding problems, Republicans seemingly don't believe this could be tied to global warming.  Because, I guess, they just don't believe AGW is possible, as the water laps around their ankles?

OK, time for a new theory, that ties in with my last post.

The Right in American is currently so bizarrely nutty (hello, Trump: but also nonsensical tax plans and climate change denialism of the rest of the candidates) that there might be a hitherto unknown pathological cause.  A mosquito borne virus, perhaps?

You heard it here first...

A panic worth having?

At first I thought that the spread of the zika virus might not be as big a global health concern as some seemed to think.  (Although, of course, it would be a big worry if you were planning on having a baby in a poor area with poor mosquito control.)

But more recent articles tend to make it sound definitely worth worrying about for a variety of reasons.

This article in the New York Times talks about its possible mental health consequences, for example:
The possibility that in utero infection could contribute to mental illness first emerged with an observation in 1988 by Finnish researchers that children born during the 1957 Asian flu epidemic had high rates of schizophrenia later in life.

Researchers have long noted that schizophrenia is highest in adults who were born in winter and early spring — just after the peak of flu season.

But estimates of the size of the risk vary. One 2011 analysis of other studies estimated that maternal infections of any kind account for 6 percent of all cases of schizophrenia. (Researchers have done very large studies in Finland, Sweden and Denmark because they have cradle-to-grave records on millions of citizens.)

By contrast, a 2001 study of adults born to mothers infected with rubella, or German measles, during the last American epidemic, which lasted from 1964 to 1965, found that 20 percent had schizophrenia symptoms. The expected rate among adults is below 1 percent.

Dr. Alan S. Brown, the director of birth cohort studies at Columbia University Medical School and leader of that study, said it was “certainly possible” that Zika posed a similar risk, “although ideally, you’d want a controlled study.”
And at Vox, this article starts with the surprising information that:
Before last year, scientists knew very little about the Zika virus. As late as 2007, there had only been 14 documented Zika cases in the world. Research on the virus was so limited, in fact, that printouts of all the world's published literature could basically fit into a shoebox.

A bit of a worry...

Monday, February 22, 2016

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Journey recommended

A couple of weeks ago, SBS showed a Chinese comedy fantasy which really catches one's attention with its opening sequence.

The movie is Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, and its only towards the end that it became clear (to me) that it was like the origin story for the Buddhist Monkey King.  It is on SBS on Demand., and I think its success in China was well deserved.

Friday, February 19, 2016

A salacious South Seas post (part 5)

Well, time to remember that cultural misunderstandings, bacteria and viruses can all conspire to darken the picture.    From this post, I also get the answer to the earlier question about Captain Cook's attitude to his crew's frolics:
Europeans frequently misinterpreted Polynesian codes regarding dress and bodily performance. For example, as Anne Salmond has explain in Aphrodite’s Island, a history of Europeans and Tahitians in which sex plays a central role, “in Tahiti people stripped to the waist in the presence of gods and high chiefs, and a high-ranking stranger was often greeted by a young girl swathed in layers of bark cloth who slowly turned around, unwinding the bark from her body until she stood naked—a ritual presentation with no necessary implication of sexual availability.”[7] Captain Bougainville’s men, who had not seen women in many months, misunderstood the ritual’s meaning, and some of the girls sent to greet the first European ships in Tahitian harbors narrowly escaped (and sometimes did not escape) sexual assault. Not at assaults were simply the results of misunderstandings, of course. A little over a decade later, Captain James Cook would discipline his men for raping women on those same Tahitian beaches.[8]

Consensual or not, sex between Europeans and Islanders had devastating results. Rates of death due to diseases, particularly those sexually transmitted, were extremely high. As Nicholas Thomas notes, the extent of population decline “is highly debatable, indeed this is one of the most controversial topics in public as well as academic argument about the Pacific past.”[9] The debates stem from the fact that there is no reliable data on population before contact. What is clear, though, is that populations declined significantly. In the Marquesas, Thomas’s particular area of expertise, he notes that between 1800 and 1840 the population dropped from at least 35,000 to under 20,000.[10] Howmuch the population had already declined before 1800 is not clear. Some sailors were unaware of the effects of these diseases, but most Islanders and Europeans figured out what was going on; figuring out how to stop it was another, far less successful, matter.

On Cook’s third and final voyage, the one on which he “discovered” the Hawaiian Islands, his crew was riddled with gonorrhea and syphilis after their 1777 summer in Tahiti. Cook demanded that his crew cease sexual contact with Islanders. He threatened his crew with harsh punishment, including flogging (something he did far more often on the third voyage than on the first two, as Gananath Obeyesekere famously emphasized), if they had sex with women. Upon their return to the islands, nine months later, they approached Maui, a considerable distance from Kaua‘i, where they had been earlier in the year. Cook surmised that the people of Maui were indeed of the same people group as those in the western Hawaiian islands. He quickly published an order prohibiting any contact with the islanders. It was already too late, though. He recorded the November 26, 1778 entry in his diary: “Women were also forbid to be admited [sic] into the Ships, but under certain restrictions, but the evil I meant to prevent by this I found had already got amongst them.”[11] The population of the Hawaiian Islands was decimated.
 But back in Europe, Michael Sturma (who I quoted earlier) explains how the tales of Tahitian sexual mores became a public sensation:

Sturma writes that this publicity lead to a bit of revisionism by Cook and some colleagues, who started insisting that the Tahitian women who not as bad as all that - those who were married were generally chaste, and not all of the unmarried were throwing themselves at the sailors.   Sturma suggests it was concern over the effect on public morality that was behind this.   Indeed, there was a bit of press backlash against the book:
Hawkeworth's Account raised so many unsettling questions about the true nature of society that he was widely attacked in newspapers, journals and pamphletts for his 'immoral' book.   The resulting furore was blamed for sending the Account's now notorious editor to an early grave six months later.

But, the sensationalism continued:

The general English and European fascination with Tahiti was aided by a 2 year visit to Britain of Omai, a handsome young man with good manners brought there courtesy of one of Cook's ships in 1773.  A brief summary of how his time went in England can be found here.  

It would seem that all of this was part of the motivation for setting up the London Missionary Society (although the "need" for conversion of India and other parts of the world played a large role too.)  

But things did not go easily for them when it came to Tahiti (in 1797):
Nearly seven months later Wilson anchored the Duff off the island of Tahiti, after a voyage via Gibraltar and Cape Horn. Seventeen missionaries were to disembark here, including all those who were married. As the island came into view, the missionaries on board began to sing a hymn, `O'er the gloomy hills of darkness'. The weather was bad, so Wilson moored out at sea for the night, dropping the missionaries by boat around midday the next day. ...

    The men Wilson dropped that morning wore tail coats, high stockings, knee breeches and buckled shoes; their wives wore bonnets and heavy cotton skirts. The missionaries' immediate instructions were commonsensical, if vague: to make as friendly contact with the islanders as possible, build a mission house for sleeping and worship, learn the language of the island and, until able to preach in the native tongue, offer examples of `good and co-operative living'. The Tahitian king, Pomare, who came to examine them from the beach, wore a girdle of bark cloth, jewellery of shark teeth and shells, and a crown-bunch of feathers. He rode astride a slave crawling on hands and knees.

The missionaries who had been left in the South Seas quickly discovered an unforeseen problem. Since Cook's voyages, other ships of exploration and whaling (Russian, French, British and American) had paid visits to the islands. Rum and firearms were now a part of life, as were disagreements and occasional violence between crews and islanders. The natives watching the missionaries disembark from the Duff were as wary about their intent and greedy for their possessions as they were incredulous at the sight of them. The introduction of firearms into Tahitian warfare had made the islands increasingly dangerous places, but most dramatically, bacterial diseases carried to Polynesia by European crews had had a terrible impact on the populations: some islands had seen their numbers decimated. Though the islanders seemed to attribute these plagues to vengeance by their own gods, they were still wary of the crews. The missionaries left on Tahiti probably would not have obtained Pomare's permission to settle at all, had it not been for a marooned English-speaking Swedish sailor called Peter Haggerstein, who had been living on the island for four years and who was able to act as interpreter.

    Of those left on Tahiti, eight of the seventeen soon wanted to leave. Another two, the harness maker Benjamin Broomhall and the Reverend Thomas Lewis, `went native'; the latter having first taken a native woman as his wife. (Broomhall was never seen again; Lewis's broken skull was found two years later.) Most of the deserters left Tahiti aboard the first ship to stop there, a British vessel on its way to Sydney two months later. Two of them had gone mad; one missionary suffered a nervous breakdown, during which he tried to make love to King Pomare's wife and teach Hebrew to her court.
Yet, they persevered and attained success, as you can read at the previous link.

And this seems as good a point as any to end this bit of public self education.

A salacious South Seas post (part 4)

So far, we haven't much touched the matter of same sex sex in the Pacific.   From this review of a 2003 (very academically oriented, by the sounds) book, it would seem that being a good looking fellow on a trip with Captain Cook could get you involved in a bit of unwanted attention with the local royalty:
Although most commentators focus on the relationships between Cook's men and the Polynesian women, his journals show "an inscription of masculinity that is not yet our own" (p. 45), particularly in the form of the aikane, comely young men who were apparently sexual favorites of the Hawaiian royalty. According to one report from Cook's voyage, "their business is to commit the Sin of Onan upon the old King" (p. 45). Strikingly, the aikane does not exhibit gender inversion, as do the Tongan fakaleiti, the Tahitian mahu, or the Samoan fa'fafine, which will be discussed later. Perhaps because of the influence of Said's model of the male Western conqueror and the feminized subaltern, these gender-inverted figures are far better known than the aikane.
Wallace is particularly interested in the attempt by Cook and his men to write about the phenomenon of the aikane with objective disinterest, which stands in contrast to their reports of active participation in the sexual customs that take place between men and women on the islands. There are, however, breaks in the record, when Cook and his men reveal some level of participation in the erotic relations between men in Polynesia. The Hawaiian nobleman Kalinikoa reportedly asked to retain at least one of the attractive men from Cook's crew as an aikane. Far from rejecting the proposal out of hand, Cook, his man, Kalinikoa and his aikane exchanged names "in the Tahitian manner" (p. 47), which Westerners at least conceived as a kind of Polynesian male-male marriage ceremony. Subsequent scholars have found in these reports evidence that there was "something about" some of the sailors, particularly Captain Bligh. As Wallace argues, the point is not that scholars and film-makers have used such anecdotes to question Bligh's sexuality, but that these pejorative representations produce--and continue to reproduce--a modern understanding of homosexuality"(51).
  More about the cross cultural confusion here:

Funny how none of this intrigue during Captain Cook's time in Hawaii seems to get a mention in popular histories about him.

Must be about time to wind this all up.  One more part to write....

A salacious South Seas post (part 3)

OK, not exactly South Seas this time, but if you thought the Tahitians were relaxed about sex, seems to me that they may have had some fierce competition from the pre-contact Hawaiians.

This chapter from a book gives an eyebrow raising account of societal sex arrangements, and there are too many matters of explicit detail to mention here; but in terms of general description of a relaxed attitude to sex and relationships, this section is worth reading:
Until fairly recently, the birth of an infant to an unmarried female in Hawai‘i, as elsewhere in Polynesia, was not a problem for her or society. Her fertility was proven, and the infant was wanted and taken care of by the extended ‘ohana (family). illegitimacy, in the Western sense, is inapplicable in regard to traditional Hawai‘i (Pukui, Haertig, and Lee, 1972, p. 96).

While betrothals occurred, occasionally arranged by parents of chiefs or by other prominent persons, such formalized relationships were uncommon (Kamakau, 1964, pp. 25-26). Specific words for “husband” and “wife” did not exist; he was simply called kane (man) and she wahine (woman) (Handy and Pukui, 1958. p. 51; Sahlins, 1985, p. 23).

Individuals stayed together or not by choice rather than by commitment or obligation. One member of a pair could be monogamous while the other was polygamous. While public announcements of intentions to stay together among ali‘i were noteworthy and often elaborate affairs, they were uncommon. David Malo, an advisor to King Kalakaua III and an Hawai‘ian convert to Christianity, wrote in 1839: “Of the people about court there were few who lived in marriage. The number of those who had no legitimate relations with women was greatly in the majority. Sodomy and other unnatural vices in which men were the correspondents, fornication and hired prostitution were practiced about court” (Malo, 1951, p. 65) 9.

A “pairing” ceremony among commoners was even more rare (Sahlins, 1985, P. 23). Couples that wanted to sleep and live together just did so (Sahlins, 1985, p. 23). Typically, no contract was expressed openly, although there probably was a vague set of expectations that linked the couple. Sahlins (1985, p. 23) expressed the situation thus: “For the people as for the chiefs, the effect of sex was society: a shifting set of liaisons that gradually became sorted out and weighted down by the practical considerations attached to them.”

Monogamy, polygyny, and polyandry coexisted among ali‘i and among commoners. Often, polygamy involved siblings (Morgan, 1964, p. 361).10 Taking another sexual partner usually was acceptable if the first mate knew about the relationship and sanctioned it. Secret relationships were not approved of, however, although the discovery of such a relationship usually was disruptive only temporarily. Such sexual license greatly disturbed the early Christian missionaries. The “crimes” most commonly reported by the haole (foreigner, now refers to Caucasians) to occur among the Hawai‘ians, recorded as being 4-5times more common than theft or property crimes, were fornication and adultery (Sahlins, 1985, p. 24); these terms, of course, had no meaning to the Hawai‘ians.

“Adultery” came to be defined by the Hawai‘ians as “sexual activity with a nonregular partner within the hale. If the coitus occurred outside the house in private, it was not a problem to the Hawai‘ian, since it did not disrupt the status quo.

Sexual exclusivity was not associated with “marriage.” Such an idea would have been unusual to Polynesian society (Danielsson, 1986, p. 115). Gregersen (1982, p. 250) reported monogamy in only 30 of 127 Pacific island cultures studied, the rest of the cultures being polygamous. Worldwide, Ford and Beach (1951, P. 108) found multiple mateships permitted in 84% of the 185 societies in their Human Area Files sample.

Relationships were dissolved at the desire of one or both partners. Sex with others was not seen as a cause for separation. Jealousy was considered unwarranted. Handy and Pukui (1958, pp. 57-58) wrote: “… where love of one man by two women were involved [and vice versa], it was considered bad manners (maika‘i ‘ole, “not good”) for apunalua (lover) to hold spite or malice in their hearts towards each other. The very existence of the formal [punalua] relationship. . . worked against ill feeling...
The Christian missionaries really had their work cut out for them!

But it's funny:  no matter how libertine a society can organise itself in some respects, it seems that it can't resist having silly rules about something:
 Under the kapu system, there were forms of bondage and slavery, human sacrifice (Valeri, 1985), and infanticide (Malo, 1951, p. 70; Kamakau, 1961, p. 234). While adult females were afforded many rights and some had great status, it was kapu for them to eat certain foods; they could be put to death for eating pork, certain kinds of bananas or coconuts, and certain fish (Malo, 1951, p. 29). Poi and taro4 (basic staples of the Hawai‘ian diet) were not to be eaten from the same dish by males and females. Furthermore, in certain circumstances upon threat of death, adult males and adult females were not allowed to eat together, although they could have sex together. Religious laws controlled eating more than they controlled sex.
(Yet another instalment to come...)

A salacious South Seas post (part 2)

Reverting back to the story of the first European ship to arrive in Tahiti (The Dolphin) in 1767, a review of another book makes it clear that the sailors did not, ahem, waste any time:
Salmond recounts the moment the trade of sex for nails began in 1767 via the landing of a food-gathering party from Captain Samuel Wallis' ship HMS Dolphin, with "a Dear Irish boy, one of our Marins" having sex with a Tahitian woman in front of his companions. He got a thrashing from his fellow sailors for his lack of decency in not going behind a bush; his excuse was that he was afraid of losing the honour of being the first.
The watching Tahitians may have made a different sense of this public display. Their arioi (a largely male religious and aristocratic society, to grossly simplify their multiple roles in Tahitian society) would occasionally perform ceremonial public sex in their symbolic negotiations with 'Oro, a god associated with thunder, power and consequently sex.
In another of the Tahitians' efforts to manage the assumed ancestral power of the arriving strangers, women of the islands would circle the Westerners' boats, stamping their feet, grimacing, exposing their genitals and yelling. This potent display of unrestricted feminine power was meant to demean and work upon the restricted power of men, but the sailors seem largely to have interpreted it as a simple offer of sex.
I'm sort of interested in the matter of whether any English captains actually ever thought they could control their crew's behaviour.   It seems that Cook didn't try, but a bit to my surprise,  at least the Spanish may have tried to keep their sailors on the leash.  From the same link as before, there's this story of cultural differences causing serious issues when played out in front of others:
Vehiatua, a Tahitian ari'i, visits a Spanish ship whose crew have been forbidden to have sex and whose ceremonial cross has already been planted on shore, and he proceeds to have oral sex with his "servant" (possibly a mahu, a man who lived as a woman) in the sergeants' mess. The pair are discovered and roundly thrashed by a common sailor, setting in motion orders and counter-orders of offence. The Tahitians' dignity is assaulted by their leader being beaten by a sailor; the sailor's dignity is assaulted by a male-to-male exchange so differently managed in ship-board life.
What about these arioi?  A description of their rather charmed life (save for the fact that they practiced infanticide - I gather that having kids around would be considered a drag on their lifestyle) is found in a paper with the hi-falutin' title "Getting Nailed: Re-inventing the European-Pacific Encounter In the Age of Global Capital":

Not entirely sure how one got to join this caste.  Invitation only, I guess?

Anyhow, it's worth at least one more post...

A salacious South Seas post (Part 1)

I suppose we all know of the reputation of the South Pacific as a place of sexual liberty from the (flawed) work of Margaret Mead in the 1920's; and a viewing of Mutiny on the Bounty would indicate that sailors encountering welcoming parties of scores of topless Tahitian women may have pushed its sensual reputation back much further in history; but I didn't really know much about this topic.

So, it's with some interest that I stumbled across this subject yesterday.

Here's an extract from Michael Sturma's South Sea Maidens:  Western Fantasy and Sexual Politics in the South Pacific:

OK, time for a diversion.  Can't say that I've heard the story of Jeanne Baret before.   She was, however, the subject of a book that was discussed at NPR.   Unfortunately, it appears that the story of her "outing" as a woman may not be as harmless as Sturma believes:
Glynis Ridley, author of The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe, says Baret would have been the obvious choice to serve as Commerson's assistant on the Etoile's journey, except for one thing.
"A French Royal ordinance forbade women being on French Navy ships," Ridley tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz. A little theater was necessary.
"The couple formulated a plan for Baret to disguise herself as a young man [and] offer herself as his assistant on the dockside."
After Commerson "accepted" Baret into his service, the couple was able to keep their secret from the crew of over 100 men for some time. Baret's real identity was cruelly revealed, however. The commander of the expedition claims it happened when the Etoile landed on the island of Tahiti.
"Bougainville said that a group of Tahitian men surrounded Baret and immediately identified her as a woman," Ridley says. "Because she was worried about what might happen, she supposedly revealed her true identity so that her countrymen, the French, could save her from what she took to be an imminent sexual assault."
But after poring over the diaries of crew members, Ridley doesn't believe Bougainville's tale.
"That story is peculiar to Bougainville's journal," Ridley says. "In fact, three other members of the crew contradict this story and say that Baret was, in fact, brutally exposed." According to the other journals, Baret was discovered and gang-raped by her crewmates in Papua New Guinea.
Back to the Sturma explanation of the allure of Tahiti:  as we all know, Captain Cook kept visiting the island, and while he was restrained himself, his famous young passenger Joseph Banks didn't:


There is much more of interest on this topic, but I think I'll have to break it up across a few posts...

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pell, Minchin et al

I think most people would assume that George Pell has, in the past, not been as sensitive to the issue of clerical child abuse as we now expect Church leaders to be.  He may deserve some criticism for that.    On the other hand, as far as I can tell, the worst claims about things he is supposed to have said are from single sources and are unlikely to warrant serious findings against him.  I could be wrong, but in the terrible matter of child abuse, not every claim made by victims recalling events decades ago is necessarily credible.

That said, I am tired of the circus like quality to the media interest in Pell giving evidence again to the Royal Commission.  I don't know, for example, why all media outlets (including the commercial ones, not just the ABC - despite Bolt's silly frothing that they are following the story closely) have given such huge coverage to Minchin's song.

I've never cared for Minchin - he's always struck me as the embodiment of arrogant and crude Left wing comedy.  (And I say that fully aware that virtually all comedians are going to be Left leaning; it's just that some are more annoyingly arrogant and self assured that they understand every issue the "right" way.)

I also don't know why, with cheap and reliable video calls being the norm these days, the Commission did make such an initial issue of Pell appearing in person.

But having said all of this, in a broader sense, the value of this commission has been much greater (in the sense of the public feeling that grave wrongs have had the full airing they deserve) than any of  the politically motivated Abbott enquiries into the Labor government.   It's an absurd Right wing meme that it was called to harm Abbott - a man who left the seminary because he felt it wasn't macho enough, and whose connection with Pell seemed to be largely diminished in recent years anyway.

But it will still be good to get this over with.

A domestic issue

I was wondering:  does anyone know if there is a way to stop an 8 month old Jack Russell/Shitzu cross from sniffing out cane toads, biting/licking them, and then frothing at the mouth and requiring her owners to wash it out and rub her gums with a cloth (being the recommended "first aid" for cane toad poison in the mouth)?  Is our pup evidence for the urban (possible) myth that some dogs like the trippy effect of cane toad poison?

Oh, and for those who have good reason to kill cane toads (such as having an 8 month old Jack Russell/Shitzu pup), this product, of which I was previously unaware, does kill toads in a pretty efficient but not painful looking way:

Available at Bunnings.

Update:  the toad licker in question:

Not your average looking drug user, but you never know...

I'm thinking of sending her to military school to straighten her out.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Update: never mind "our knowledge", what about me personally?  I see that according to a post at io9 a couple of years ago, estimates of the storage capacity of the human brain range from 300 MB (ha - too low) to 2,500 TB (seems too much.)  One simple estimate based on synapse numbers is more like 100TB.

Being generous, if we allow 300TB, I expect to be preserved in glass for at least 10 billion years. 

Meanwhile, in Egypt

The extraordinary amount of effort that goes into pursuing people who cause offence in some Muslim countries surely must detract from them doing more useful things?:
Cairo: Egypt’s chief prosecutor on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant for a blogger over his controversial TV remarks against rural women, sparking outrage, legal sources said.
Taymour Al Subki claimed on the TV show Possible, aired on private television station CBC, that wives in conservative Upper Egypt are unfaithful to their husbands who work outside the country.
The remarks prompted dozens of lawsuits against Al Subki. The ensuing uproar prompted CBC this week to halt the programme after making an apology to the nation’s women.
Parliamentarians, representing Upper Egypt, also condemned Al Subki and the broadcaster. Some Upper Egyptian men reportedly threatened to kill Al Subki in retaliation.

A dangerous holiday

Nearly 90,000 hospitalized during three days of Lunar New Year holiday in Vietnam

Apropos of nothing, I decided to look at a Vietnamese news site, and learnt that the holiday season there is kinda dangerous sounding:
The combined number of deaths and fatality prognosis cases was 88, a
one percent drop, while the number of people under emergency care rose
113 percent against the previous year.

Over 17,000 people fell victim to traffic accidents nationwide in the
period, the newswire quoted the ministry as saying. Eleven percent of
the victims suffered brain injury, the ministry said.

Some 2,000 people were admitted to infirmaries in the country due to
physical confrontations, an 83 percent year on year decline.

Ten people died in the conflicts, six cases more than last year, according to the Ministry of Health.

It added that 2,000 cases of food poisoning were recorded during the three days, the peak of the Lunar New Year holiday.

The National Traffic Safety Committee said in a recent report that over
64 people died in traffic accidents that happened across Vietnam
between February 7 and 9.

Mind you, I see that its population is nearly 90 million (much higher than I would have guessed), so I suppose you have to take that into account.

A complicated political and sex life

Funnily enough, although I have read probably 95% of his books, I've never really bothered digging into the complicated personal life of Robert Heinlein.  

I see that it was summarised in this post at io9 in 2014, which I may have missed.   Strangely, it seems he was clearly on the Left of politics prior to World War 2, then moved to the libertarian right with his second wife.  But both marriages were (apparently) open, with the first one including a 3 way relationship with L Ron Hubbard for a time (!)

He really was a very odd character.

Laser pen menace

How dangerous are lasers to planes? - BBC News

Laser pens are not illegal in the UK and are widely available online,
costing anything from £20 to £500. Those sold in the UK are usually
classified in accordance with the current safety standards.

However, stronger lasers can be imported via the internet. One South
Korean-based website offers to ship the "world's most powerful handheld
laser" to the UK, starting from $199 (£137).

According to David aylor, of National Police Air Service (NPAS), it is "extremely easy" to
pick up lasers on the internet that are about 5,000 times more powerful
than the strength of a typical classroom pointer.


At a loose end, Andrew?

Andrew Bolt has lost his TV show (for now, at least), and appears to have additional time to be more aggro than ever on his blog.   (His show had, I take it, failed comprehensively in terms of ratings comparison with Insiders, despite having a good start early on.  This was hardly surprising - even his fans at Catallaxy used to complain about his chronic presenter interruptus.) 

Bolt is enthusiastically joining in with a revival of "the ABC must be attacked at all costs" at The Australian, which is looking more right wing than ever.  But I think his rush to take offence on behalf of Tim Wilson, the recipient of gushing praise from George Brandis, was over the top in the way it decided to talk about the gay relationships of ABC staff.  

Really, Andrew should get out of this commentary business, I think.  It's doing his head in and leading him down an isolated path of unhelpful contribution, to put it mildly.  

Feels like an El Nino summer...

The latest figures from NASA indicate that January was hot globally, especially in the Arctic, where ice extent for winter is at a record low too.  (See the same link.)

As far as I can make out, this summer's been a mixed bag in Australia:  it seems to have been exceptionally stormy in Sydney (but not in Brisbane);  Adelaide and Perth have had heatwaves;  Melbourne I think hasn't been exceptionally hot at all; but back to Brisbane - it's been a summer of stifling humid hot nights which I seem to recall being the hallmark of the last big El Nino summer in 1998. 

It's rather unpleasant, this night heat without the benefit of cooling storms.

Not very encouraging

New NASA data show how the world is running out of water - The Washington Post

 OK, perhaps that headline is misleading, but the article is about water in aquifers, and it seems many of them around the world (often in the poorest parts) are dropping due to overuse.

Douthat does his balancing act

Ross Douthat does a neat bit of balance in this column.  He at least, amongst conservative columnists, talks honestly about Republican economic fundamentalism being a problem:
But the Clintonian synthesis has been orphaned for ideological reasons, not because it was tested and found to fail. Liberals simply don’t want to believe that low-income Americans, black and Hispanic as well as white, might benefit from public paternalism in welfare policy, soft “values” rhetoric on marriage and family, and restrictions on illegal immigration — even though the working class’s best recent decade featured a Democratic president who embraced all three.

They don’t want to believe that soaring incomes for the 1 percent, their great bugaboo, can coexist with real gains for the middle class – even though the two coexisted in the late 1990s.

They don’t want to put any limits on soaking the rich and their investments — even if that means going way above the tax rates that prevailed during the economy’s last impressive boom.

Not that conservatives have been all that interested in learning from Clintonism either. Two decades after the G.O.P. insisted, wrongly, that any tax increase on the rich would devastate the economy, the Republican tax agenda is still founded on a supply-side absolutism the ’90s boom should have laid to rest.

This leaves our politics in a peculiar place. Within the memory of everyone save the youngest Bernie Bros and social socialists, there was an era that delivered something for the many, that put almost every trendline on a better arc.
Yet the politics of that era are orphaned — so much so that not even a Clinton will defend Clintonism anymore.

Piketty on how American policy has changed

The Guardian is running another fascinating piece by Thomas Piketty, putting historical perspective on American tax rates.   Read it all:  like Krugman, he really knows how to make a very plausible argument:
Let’s glance back for an instant. From the 1930s until the 1970s, the US were at the forefront of an ambitious set of policies aiming to reduce social inequalities. Partly to avoid any resemblance with Old Europe, seen then as extremely unequal and contrary to the American democratic spirit, in the inter-war years the country invented a highly progressive income and estate tax and set up levels of fiscal progressiveness never used on our side of the Atlantic. From 1930 to 1980 – for half a century – the rate for the highest US income (over $1m per year) was on average 82%, with peaks of 91% from the 1940s to 1960s (from Roosevelt to Kennedy), and still as high as 70% during Reagan’s election in 1980.

This policy in no way affected the strong growth of the post-war American economy, doubtless because there is not much point in paying super-managers $10m when $1m will do. The estate tax, which was equally progressive with rates applicable to the largest fortunes in the range of 70% to 80% for decades (the rate has almost never exceeded 30% to 40% in Germany or France), greatly reduced the concentration of American capital, without the destruction and wars which Europe had to face.

A mythical capitalism

In the 1930s, long before European countries followed through, the US also set up a federal minimum wage. In the late 1960s it was worth $10 an hour (in 2016 dollars), by far the highest of its time.
All this was carried through almost without unemployment, since both the level of productivity and the education system allowed it. This is also the time when the US finally put an end to the undemocratic legal racial discrimination still in place in the south, and launched new social policies.

All this change sparked a muscular opposition, particularly among the financial elites and the reactionary fringe of the white electorate. Humiliated in Vietnam, 1970s America was further concerned that the losers of the second world war (Germany and Japan in the lead) were catching up at top speed. The US also suffered from the oil crisis, inflation and under-indexation of tax schedules. Surfing the waves of all these frustrations, Reagan was elected in 1980 on a program aiming to restore a mythical capitalism said to have existed in the past.
The culmination of this new program was the tax reform of 1986, which ended half a century of a progressive tax system and lowered the rate applicable to the highest incomes to 28%.
The bold is mine, because it reminded me of Trump (and Cruz), the two appalling lead contenders for the Republican presidential candidacy.

Meanwhile, I wonder what Australian right wing, small government economists are talking about?

Oh, they're blaming Obama for Muslim inspired instability throughout the world, and still fretting obsessively about numbers on a government website to do with plain packaging of tobacco.  (To be fair to poor old Sinclair, I think he has given up on Kates as having any political sense whatsoever.)

Update:  look at the appalling tax plans of the Republican candidates.  As the article notes about Cruz in particular:
...the plan would cost more than Bush or Rubio's proposals but somewhat less than Trump's. Including both lost revenue and interest, Cruz's plan would cost $10.2 trillion over 10 years. Bush's costs $8.1 trillion, Rubio's $8.2 trillion, and Trump's $11.2 trillion. In its first decade, Cruz's plan would increase the debt by 35.7 percent of GDP; over two decades, that figure rises to 68.7. The current level is about 100 percent of GDP, so Cruz would spike it dramatically. And even more than his rival's plans, Cruz's concentrates its benefits heavily among the richest Americans....

The sheer cost of Cruz's plan is also worth dwelling on. If unpaid for, it increases the deficit by more than $1 trillion a year, and would require about $860 billion a year in spending cuts to avoid that. And Cruz has said he wants to balance the budget, so spending cuts are how the plan would have to be paid for if he keeps that promise.
Those are truly epic spending cuts. Again, Cruz needs $860 billion less spending every year. By comparison, eliminating Medicaid entirely would only save about $500 billion a year. Eliminating Obama's subsidies would only save $92.5 billion.
The biggest economic menace to America is Republican economic ideology.

When will they come back to some common sense?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Current dissatisfactions

A list of things I am currently dissatisfied about:

1.  My shoulder.  It still hurts from a simply executed backwards wrench in the surf on New Year's Day.   Maybe worth a post of its own...

2.   The new X Files - last week's episode ("Home Again") was unnecessarily violent, overly dramatic with Scully, and had a stupid, utterly unrealistic monster with no proper explanation.

3.  Scully's centre hair part in the X Files.   Sure, she's supposed to be smart, but seeing what looks like 15 cm of forehead is just too much.   Bangs, Scully:  bangs.

4.  How long it is taking for Malcolm Turnbull to get his act together.   Feels like we're watching a drifting ship of state, with a slowly increasing rate of escapees on life boats.  (Except for Abbott, who actually deserves to be tossed overboard, perhaps with a life jacket if I'm feeling generous.)

5.  My inability to read books due to:

     a.  the "I'm sure I'll find something interesting soon" stream of new information on the internet;
     b.  getting sleepy pretty quickly when I try to read.

I used to deal with the latter adequately by doing things like reading books in a park during lunch times at university, or on the beach during school holidays.   Now that I mainly try to read while in the house, it's harder.

6.  Aging men who chant "the war on drugs has failed", and  shrug their shoulders about the dance party drug culture scene.  Last night's Four Corners was as po-faced as it comes with ex federal police, Nicholas Cowdery, and (of course) party doctor Alex Wodak all saying its hopeless to try to stop it.   All instead of doing what older men and women are supposed to do:  decry a culture of self indulgent, hedonistic, extended adolescence that mature people in past times would have said is bad for society and individuals and should be stopped.    Just ban dance parties:  with the lock out laws we're already half way there to crushing this degeneracy, aren't we?    And seriously - it is degeneracy.  Can't convince me otherwise.  

7.   Channel Ten doing its utmost to ruin the viewing experience of The X Files.   It's appalling, the ads that take up at least a quarter of the bottom of the screen while Scully is mourning (with unconvincing acting) the death of her mother.

8.   That my list of dissatisfactions is full of X Files related complaints.

9.   The lack of good, intriguing new UFO cases.   The last one I can recall was the really weird incident at O'Hare airport in 2006.   Ten years is a long time between good UFO sightings.

10.  Reading newspapers on the net.  Last Saturday, I found myself the only person in a South Brisbane bar, enjoying a craft beer and reading a Sydney Morning Herald that had been left there.   I subscribe to the SMH digitally, but I had forgotten how much more satisfying, and better informed I feel, after spending 45 to 60 minutes reading a physical paper, compared to the digital experience.   Firstly, with digital subscription it still feels like you're only getting half the articles that appear in the hard version.  Maybe I'm wrong - but there seems to be a lot more in the hard paper.   Secondly, digital reading is all about the eye scanning mere snippets of information and moving on in a way that reading a hard copy discourages.   You just feel smarter for the experience of spending time with an actual newspaper.   I really wish we had something such that we saw on Minority Report:   a flexible plastic large format reader which could download any paper and present it in tabloid format sized pages.   Perhaps such a reader does exist, but is considered too specialised a use to ever market.  (And certainly, it could be a pain to carry around all day just to be able to read it on the train on the way to work.   Maybe it needs foldability?)  But yeah, I think we're losing something valuable by going purely digital with newspapers, even with tablets.

Noted at The Onion

Obama Compiles Shortlist Of Gay, Transsexual Abortion Doctors To Replace Scalia

 WASHINGTON—Moving quickly to begin the process of filling the unexpected
vacancy on the Supreme Court bench, President Obama spent much of the
weekend compiling a shortlist of gay, transsexual abortion doctors to
replace the late Antonin Scalia, White House sources confirmed Monday.
“These are all exemplary candidates with strong homosexual values and
proven records of performing partial-birth abortions, but am I missing
anyone?” Obama reportedly asked himself while reviewing his list of
queer, gender-nonconforming, feminist Planned Parenthood employees, all
of whom were also said to be black immigrants. “I definitely have enough
post-op transsexuals on the list, but it is a little light on pre-op
candidates. And I should probably add a cop killer or two on here just
to round out my options.” Sources later confirmed that Obama was
attempting to rapidly narrow the list down to the single best nominee to
submit to the Senate in hopes of wrapping up confirmation hearings
before his choice had to leave to attend the Hajj pilgrimage.
 Of course, about 20% of Tea Party voters will believe this is all true.

Mice in the news

*  Important research news from Japan:   
A trio of researchers working in Japan has found via experiments they conducted, that male virgin mice prefer to watch videos of other mice fighting with one another, than videos of mice having sex.
 *, which seems to run a lot of stories about the relatively recent realisation that a lot of mice based medical research has been stuffed up for decades by the researchers not housing or caring for their furry subjects in the same way, has another story about this.   (It's funny how long it can take smart people to realise they are overlooking something important.)

*   Mice seem to have an odd brain structure that "throttles" violent rage:
New evidence shows mice have a brain structure that throttles rage.
The structure is called the lateral septum. It’s physically connected to and receives electrical signals other parts of the brain that control emotions, learning, aggression, and hormone production.
Damage to the lateral septum can trigger a cascade of activity in other brain regions that produced “septal rage.” These sudden, violent acts, mostly attacks on other mice, have long been seen in rodents with a damaged lateral septum, and in some birds, researchers say.
“Our latest findings show how the lateral septum in mice plays a gatekeeping role, simultaneously ‘pushing down the brake’ and ‘lifting the foot off the accelerator’ of violent behavior,” says study senior investigator Dayu Lin, an assistant professor at New York University.
Lin emphasizes that septal rage is not known to occur in humans, but that studying male aggression in mice might help to map the circuitry involved in controlling other forms of aggression, including violent behavior in humans.
Another Japanese mice study indicating that staying hungry may help with better ageing:
Researchers in Japan have showed that stimulating secretion of the ‘hunger hormone’, ghrelin, in mice using the traditional Japanese Kampo medicine rikkunshito had beneficial effects on aging-related diseases. The article was published in Molecular Psychiatry. ...
Previous studies have shown that caloric restriction (CR)—reducing calorie intake without incurring malnutrition or a reduction in essential nutrients—slows aging and delays functional decline as well as the onset of some diseases. Ghrelin, which regulates energy metabolism, is secreted in the stomach in response to CR and fasting.

Monday, February 15, 2016


Lawrence Mooney harasses.... female journalist for Adelaide Fringe review

I think Mooney can be somewhat likeable as host of Dirty Laundry Live, but I did see him do some live stand up show on TV recently, and I didn't care for it at all. 

[By the way, why do so many comedians, when it comes to doing stage comedy, have to dramatically increase the swearing and ribaldry compared to how they present in other forums?   Mooney wasn't the worst in this regard, but he did spend an awful lot of time discussing his regret at his infant circumcision in a way that wasn't particularly funny, or made much sense.]

And to be honest, I didn't sense that the theatre audience was into it as much as he might have thought they were.

So I am inclined to think that the short review linked above may be about right, and that by his reaction Mooney has shown himself up as an insecure guy (or jerk, if you will) who should get out of that form of performance.

Goodbye Tim

What have I said about Tim Wilson before?  That his primary talent and interest is self promotion?

Nothing much changing, then.   But has he got his head screwed on right?   When you look at the work experience of his main competition for the seat:
Ms Downer is a lawyer turned diplomat who served in Australia's embassy in Japan for four years. The mother of two has a Masters in Public International Law from the London School of Economics and degrees in Law and Commerce from the University of Melbourne. She is fluent in Japanese and French.
A member of the Victorian Liberal Party's administrative committee, she also made regular appearances on The Bolt Report...
Versus "I used to work for the IPA, got an ill defined job with the HRC with lots of travel with the primary purpose of annoying Lefties, and take a selfie at least every second day"?  I mean seriously, if the Liberals select him over her, they'll want their head read.
But, in a spirit of generosity that I don't like to show him, he at least made the right call on the matter of the government's unwarranted attack on Save the Children staff on Nauru.

Suddenly sounded credible on tax

Chris Bowen and Bill Shorten are currently on the front foot.

I happened to see Shorten in Question Time last week before Stuart Robert got dumped, and he looked really confident and impressive.  (The government benches decidedly glum, as they do when they know the inevitable will happen, just that they have to wait for a bit of process to finish.)

Chris Bowen is also sounding very on top of his game, too, on the new negative gearing/CGT policy.

This is looking like how policy development and announcement should be done, for a change.

And Rupert's hobby paper The Australian is showing signs of being worried, wheeling out Sloan and Ergas in the one edition today to attack Labor for daring to have a policy other than merely "cut spending." 

(I don't subscribe, so it's hard to tell for sure, but I think by the looks of its website, the paper has become more like the Daily Telegraph since Whittaker took over.  And we all thought Chris Mitchell was bad...)

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Friday, February 12, 2016

A pretty good explanation

Gravitational waves: A triumph for big science - BBC News

I thought this explanation of how the gravity wave detection was achieved is clear and understandable.

I'm not all that excited about it, though:  I mean, if every single other test of general relativity had been proved, there wasn't any reason to suspect gravity waves wouldn't be detected, eventually, was there?

Yes it's a brilliant technical achievement, but of itself, I can't see it leading anywhere new in particular.

A studio's deceptive advertising?

Unlike some people, I tend to read some reviews of movies before I see them.  Hence I know that I won't be going to see Marvel's Deadpool, because it's said to be hyper-violent, sweary and have relatively strong sex scenes, even if it is of genre (funny superhero) that I sometimes like.  It has an R rating in the US and  MA15+ here, which means under 15 year olds must be accompanied by an adult.

But - the TV advertisements that have been running in Australia give absolutely no idea that it is a very adult audience film.   It is in fact so blatantly bland - giving the impression that it's just a somewhat comedic superhero who suits up like Spiderman - that I reckon it's virtually deceptive advertising.  The fact that it is from Marvel compounds the problem.  (The film is not from Disney, but how many people think it might be?)

I would say it is a near certainty that there are going to be some parents (Dads, probably) who are going to take their 10 to 14 year old sons to see this, having no idea that the content is not age appropriate.  Same thing with DVD hire (or streaming viewing) in future.

Hasn't anyone else noticed this?

Update:  I suppose the same claim could have been made to similar films like Kick-Ass, except I don't really remember any television advertisements in prime time for that film at all, and I guess the very title indicated a teen to adult audience.

Also - The Guardian writes at length about how the Deadpool character is meant to be "pansexual", yet spends the movie only having sex with his girlfriend.   I guess kids get more than their fair share of pansexuality if they watch Doctor Who, but it still might be a confusing factor for a 10 or 12 year old viewer.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Touch the mango

China's curious cult of the mango - BBC News

Gee, the BBC website has a knack for bringing us obscure and odd bits of history from 20th century communism.   Last week, it was the secret Soviet analysis of Mao's poop;  this week it is the very strange period in which mangoes (re) gifted by Mao gained a semi-sacred status.

New CO2 removal ideas

Emissions reduction: Scrutinize CO2 removal methods : Nature News & Comment

Not a bad article here, looking at some old (and new) ideas for removing CO2.  I had missed this odd one, for example:

More recently, other, potentially more controllable, ocean-based CO2-removal techniques have been suggested, such as the cultivation of seaweed to cover up to 9% of the global ocean12
I suppose as long as it was edible varieties, it could help feed the planet too.

But all of these ideas have to work on such a massive scale, they all appear implausible, for now.

Doubts arise

I hadn't read anything about the CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshal until his decision to cut hard into his organisation's climate change arm.

But this morning, he well and truly put himself in the "intellectually suspect" list when he complained that the reaction against his decision "almost sounds more like religion than science to me."   What a foolish thing to do: use a favourite climate change denial line when he says he is upset that people are claiming he's a closet climate change skeptic!

Actually, I did notice a headline from last year about him at The Australian's website recently, but I didn't follow up on it.  The story is, however,  that he has some serious sounding troubles lingering from his time in venture capital and high tech start ups.  Have a read here and here.

And even the Australian Skeptics have their doubts about him, over statements he has made that he thinks there just might be something to water divining!   (I'm sympathetic to, and interested in, many paranormal and weird science claims, but water divining is one of the easiest things to test, and am pretty sure that no one has ever shown convincing evidence it worked.)